In some ways it is very fitting that on the last Sunday before Lent we hear the prophet Hosea talk about the desert: "Lo, I will lead her into the desert and there will I speak to her heart." The desert is a symbol of privation -- a lack of water and shade, a lack of comfort and company.
The Lord's "speaking to our hearts" is not limited to when we are in a desert -- spiritually deprived of consolations. For the Lord speaks to us constantly. It is, however, often easier for the Lord to get our attention when we are in the desert; there is less to distract us from His word.
In several of his sermons from Lent, St. Francis de Sales encourages us to fast from all things which could lead us away from God, not merely food: frivolous things which we look at and listen to, useless things we speak and think. And, as with all acts of penance, he cautions us that the end of all these "fastings" should be a greater charity in our daily life. So, we approach this Holy Season of Lent, let us embrace the desert -- in whatever form it shall take for us this Lent -- and let us welcome the Lord's word into our hearts.
"Long and immoderate fastings displease me greatly . . . . We are greatly exposed to temptation both when our body is too much pampered and when it is too much weakened. One makes it insolent with ease and the other, desperate with affliction. . . . Lack of moderation in fasting renders the best years of many unprofitable in the service of Charity."
St. Francis de Sales