“Deserted” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel. “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
This word for “deserted” (erémos) is also translated as “wilderness.” It’s often used to describe the living conditions of John the Baptist. As a child, “he was in the wilderness [erémos] till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). As a man, he was found “preaching in the wilderness [erémos]” (Matthew 3:1). He even said of himself, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness [erémos], ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23). This word is also used in the New Testament to describe the conditions of the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness [erémos]” (John 6:31). “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness [erémos] of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush” (Acts 7:30). When Jesus went out to a deserted place, the imagery of communing with God comes to mind, the kind of communion experienced by John the Baptist and the ancient Israelites.
This word for “deserted” (erémos) is also where we get our word eremitic—a descriptor for the life of a hermit, which the Catechism describes as people who “manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ” (CCC 921). In one sense, Jesus going out to a “deserted” (erémos) place for prayer is like a hermit seeking personal intimacy with God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI teaches us that, in this scene, “the true centre of the mystery of Jesus appears” because in this deserted place, in this hermitic behavior, “Jesus was conversing with the Father and raised his human spirit in communion with the Person of the Son, so that the humanity of the Son, united to him, might speak in the Trinitarian dialogue with the Father; and thus, he also made true prayer possible for us” (Homily, February 2006).
Sometimes it’s important for all of us to be hermit-like—to go out to a deserted place and spend time in prayer, to enter into a personal intimacy with Christ, and to deepen our relationship with God. Those intimate encounters are the moments when the Lord replenishes our soul so that we can love him more fully and serve our neighbors more wholeheartedly. A deserted place isn’t truly a wilderness; it’s an oasis of peace.