About an hour outside of Phoenix, a church steeple rises over the desert landscape. Set starkly against the emptiness of the barren land is a temple holding the Earth’s greatest treasure — the Eucharist — and a community of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, who unceasingly adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Despite the dustiness and dryness of the land, the place is saturated with a soul-quenching spirit of prayer.
A visitor there might recall this week’s words of Isaiah:
The desert and parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
Even the desert, a perennial sign of forsakenness and desolation, becomes fruitful when the Spirit of God settles upon it, giving up an otherwise inexplicable fragrance from a rare and wonderful bloom.
John the Baptist lived in the desert until his imprisonment for his condemnation of Herod’s unlawful marriage to his brother’s wife. From prison, he sends his disciples to Jesus to inquire: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Most likely, John was sending his followers not because he wondered whether Jesus was the Messiah, but because he wanted them to hear and see for themselves the works of the Lord — after all, he knew that he was only setting the stage of conversion for the redemptive work of Christ. For their own sakes, he sent them to Jesus.
Jesus replies with words that echo the end of the first reading, describing miraculous healings, deliverance and good news. In other words, he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy and gives a positive answer to their question. As John’s disciples head back, doubtless full of joy and wonder, Jesus addresses his own followers, telling them that John, as uncultivated as the desert he dwelt in, has yet risen up as the greatest “of those born of women.” He is the last and greatest prophet, and after hundreds and hundreds of years, the “hardship and patience” of all the prophets, described by James in the second reading, has paid off.
God has been patient with his people, the prophets have patiently preached a long and hard message, and the Earth has groaned in the delay, anticipating its long-awaited redemption. Waiting is a kind of suffering, a slow readiness that aches for fulfillment. And at the appointed time, the land gives up “the precious fruit of the earth,” the “living bread” (John 6:51) — Jesus himself.
We wait, too, each Advent, “making our hearts firm” “because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We, who are used to everything instant, from drive-thrus, text messages and microwaves to same-day deliveries, are urged to remember the rhythms of the seasons and our dependence on the timetable of God. Like the farmer, laboring long days in the field, in the end we are simply reduced to patience, waiting, and holding tight to ancient promises.
In the meantime, our parched souls are refreshed each and every Mass with a particular coming: the Eucharist, rising in the hands of the priest over our interior deserts — and this time there is no doubt: “Here is your God.”
coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix,
where she lives with her husband and their six children.