March 1, 2009


At once, the Spirit drove him out into the desert…. – Mk 1: 12

There is no time for congratulations or post-baptismal receptions. There is important work to do & little time in which to do it. So the Spirit drives Him out into the desert to confront those serious temptations we all have to struggle with. Mark omits the details, but Luke fills them in for us: the temptation to satisfy our bodily needs to the exclusion of God’s demands; the temptation to power; & the temptation to wow the crowds with flashy miracles that test God’s power.

The baptismal gift of the Spirit, you see, is not a personal privilege but the foundation for a struggle. While we welcome the Good News, we must not forget that it coexists with a bad world. Satan might be characterized as the inner, invisible energy of people, groups, & social & political structures that inflict suffering on people. This adversary of God manifests itself through these people, groups & structures by turning them into “wild beasts” who devour God’s creation. Satan & the demons actively keep people alienated from God & divided among them selves. Jesus actively seeks to unite people to God & to one another. These two are irreconcilable.

Why is it so difficult to repent & believe the Gospel? Because we harbor so many other beliefs that do not fit into the Good News. Here are some examples:“ Health & beauty, money & power are necessary for happiness. I am identified by my body, personality & possessions. My welfare is more important than yours. No one can be trusted. They hurt me, so I must get even.” We are not always aware of these beliefs, but our instinctive & repetitive responses to certain situations can reveal our hidden beliefs.

Where do these beliefs come from? Some of them come from the mindless internalization of cultural assumptions. Others come because we have universalized one of our negative experiences. Instead of allowing it to be a partial & painful piece of life, we have made it into a norm that must be obeyed.

Again, we need to recognize that these beliefs have not been imposed on us. We hold on to them, nurture them by our attention & obedience. We enshrine them by allowing them to dictate our moods, decisions & actions.

Putting aside these beliefs is an involved lifelong process, & our Lord sets the standard for dealing with them constructively. He is the one who is supremely conscious of divine love & human solidarity, & initially there is a need to have faith in Him without having His consciousness. But eventually we all need to move away from complete dependency on Jesus & appropriate His consciousness as our own. St. Paul called it “putting on Christ.”

We can value ourselves for our beauty, our brains, our achievements, our ability to make friends, our wit, our charm, or any number of attributes; but they are all subject to the corrosions & thievery of time. What our Lenten struggle in the desert is about is learning to value ourselves in a way that time cannot destroy. Our faith IN Jesus will gradually change into a faith WITH Jesus. We will

see for ourselves what once we could only see by trusting in Him. This is not an adventure that can be confined to Lent, for it permeates all of life. AMEN!
We tie knots to our failures so tight we can barely breathe. We know we have to untie those knots, but we do not know how. Sometimes we untie them slowly; other times it is a swift blow that frees us. An unlikely Jesus comes out of nowhere & wields the words of freedom. We are “unparalyzed” & on our feet, knowing that forgiveness & walking are the same thing. AMEN!