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Saturday, February 20, 2021

God lives in the Desert

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him." Mk 1:12-13

Twice in the first chapter of Mark's gospel there is an Epiphany, a moment of enlightenment and clarity for Jesus and all of us, his followers. The first occurs as Jesus emerges, newly baptized, from the waters of the Jordan and hears God's words, "You are my beloved son; with whom I am well pleased."(Mk 1:11) This is an Epiphany of a kind we all enjoy and seek. It is an affirmation, a light come to us from afar, a confirmation of our identity as God's child.

The second Epiphany, about which we read today, follows immediately, but it is an Epiphany of a very different kind. Jesus is in the desert, the place of terrible cold at night and unbearable heat during the day, and he remains there for forty days and nights. This is a dark Epiphany, a time of affirmation surely, but accomplished in the shadows. Though Jesus is ministered to by angels, he is also among wild beasts. His life is being threatened and his integrity is being challenged. Today's Epiphany is daunting, one which most of us would rather avoid.

The challenge of the Gospel is clear. Are we willing to look for and find God both in the cleansing waters of new life, and in the desert darkness of fear and uncertainty? While it is natural and understandable that we would hope to find God in all the obvious places and situations, in a loving family, in a supportive community and in friends who know us inside and out, it is not enough for the Christian. Our task is more difficult, but also clearer.

Today, return to an unhealed place within your heart and let God be with you.

Recount a time when you discovered God in the "desert."

Friday, February 19, 2021

Not Judging

 "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do." Lk 5:31

When the leaders of the Jewish community challenged Jesus about eating with tax collectors, his answer was clear and straightforward. While acknowledging that tax collectors were sick, he reminded his listeners that sick people need help. If the Pharisees did not want to admit their own faults and sickness, they would have no need of God's help. Our first spiritual task is always to acknowledge our own faults, ask for God's mercy and accept it with joy when it comes.

In biblical times, tax collectors were hated. Not only were most of them Jews who worked for the Roman occupiers, they often charged more than necessary if they thought they could get away with it. More often than not, therefore, they would prey on the poor and the illiterate who were unable to calculate their own taxes. Men who took advantage of the poor were despised by Jesus, but if they showed a willingness to let go of their evil ways, Jesus, the merciful physician, would heal them.

Today, imagine yourself sitting quietly at your own "tax collectors table," and ask for help.

When are you most likely to judge others?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Other Centeredness

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Lk 9:24

The essence of Jesus' message is other centeredness, a virtue that is both difficult and dangerous. It is difficult because it demands that we think of others first, even when they haven't earned our attention or concern, but Jesus is clear when he tells us that it is the sick who need a physician, not the healthy. The gospel demands patience, consistency and compassion, but when the other person ignores our outstretched hand or pushes us away, we can be easily discouraged.

Other centeredness is also dangerous. Too often wanting to please others or being afraid of disappointing them, we worry more about our goodness than the other's need. Anxious to "fix" the sick as a way of proving our fidelity to God, we ignore others in need, even members of our own family. Having a good "soul friend" can help us avoid this danger. All of us need someone to show us how to let go of our pride and will in order to let God do God's work.

Today, pray for the gift of discernment to do God's will not your own.

When is it most difficult for you to be other centered?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Carrying Our Crosses

 “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Lk 9:23

Crosses come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, none of them easy but all of them real and important. Some carry a paralyzing fear, others an impenetrable darkness. Still others suffer addictions that terrorize them and their families, but most of us have simpler, if not less heavy, crosses. We talk or eat too much, we don't listen to our friends or God and we wonder whether our lives have impacted anyone or anything. These are heavy crosses indeed.

Following Jesus means accepting who we are, what we've done and what we have failed to do, while at the same time praying to be free of our self absorption and fear. Knowing the Lord will guide and lead us to places, situations and people that will allow him to be known and loved makes this possible and desirable.

Today, carry the first cross you encounter without grumbling.

What are your most difficult crosses?







Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ash Wednesday

 "Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:12

External signs of penance are common in most cultures and religions. Kneeling on the steps of a church asking pardon of those entering was common. Dressing in sackcloth and ashes and abstaining from meat were other ways of asking pardon of God and the community for serious faults and sins. Each and all of these penances were encouraged by the church both to help the sinner repent and remind the church community to be transparent examples of Gospel living. The book of Joel, however, is careful to remind believers that the mere exercise of a public penance does not guarantee reconciliation with God and the community. While the external signs of sorrow might be in place, the need for penitent hearts is still necessary, and this is the work we all must do during Lent.

Sometimes it is best to keep things very simple during Lent. Think of a penance that, while stressful, helps you open your minds to new ideas and your spirit to real transformation. It might be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes in the morning before you make coffee or plan your day. You don't have to do anything during this quiet time except make yourself available to God for God's work.

Today, don't just do something, sit there.

What have been your most memorable Lents?

Monday, February 15, 2021

God Loves and Protects each of Us

 "'Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees...' " Mk 8:14

The disciples were drawn to Jesus for many reasons. He spoke to their hearts. He addressed them with dignity. He was a healer and prophet and he spoke with power. But they were also cautious and afraid when he warned them not be swayed by the leaven of the Pharisees. The Pharisees could intercede for them with the Roman authorities when they were in trouble and they did not want to bite the hand that fed them. No doubt some moved to the background when they heard Jesus' warning. but others listened at a deeper level. Rather than retreat, they moved closer to him because they believed God would protect, guide and strengthen them when they were threatened. What is your temptation when you are challenged?

Today, ask God for the faith to believe in your own worth and not to let your fear get in the way of a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Do you believe that God cares about you and all people personally?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

God Everywhere

“Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Mt 8:12

How we miss the everyday Epiphanies in our life is always a mystery. The wonders of creation, the gift of faithful and faith filled friends, and the power of common worship all offer us opportunities each day to celebrate God's presence within and among us, but we fail. Admitting these faults allows us to begin again, but Jesus is angered with those who fail to see God all around them and have the gall to ask for new signs. Until we learn to slow down enough to celebrate the presence of God is so many people and places, we cheat ourselves and God of being grateful.

The saints are those who recognize their faults, ask for help to overcome them and are humble enough to begin their pilgrimage over again each day. St Augustine resisted God's call for years because he preferred to live comfortably and without responsibility, thinking he was better than others. His mother, like most mothers, knew better. She prayed that he might open his eyes, see God and be captured by God's love. Eventually, her prayers were answered and Augustine became one of the most prolific and effective preachers of the early church.

Today, open your eyes and let them slowly move around wherever you are to discover God's presence and promise.

What distracts you most from the presence of God within and around you?