When the Desert is Good.

I was shocked to recently learn that the largest desert in the world is the Antarctic Desert. Yes, like the south pole and all that. The 2nd largest is the Arctic Desert (aka where Santa lives). They qualify as a deserts because they get less than 10 inches of precipitation each year. Usually when I think of a desert I think of sand, cactus, and tumble weeds. But the largest deserts in the world are full of ice, wind swept rocks (no sand), and are cold. 

Whether the frigid polar deserts or the sand dunes of the Sahara, deserts are not comfortable places. Typically people who are caught in a desert want to get out as soon as possible. In movies when someone is caught in a desert, they are shown trying to walk out as soon as possible. We even use the metaphor of the desert to describe unhappy or uncomfortable times in our lives and in our faith. 

So it is a bit shocking in the gospel this Sunday when we read that, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert…” Capital “S” Spirit. It is the very Spirit of God that drives Jesus into the desert. In the desert Jesus will be tempted and tried by the devil. Jesus will suffer and sacrifice for 40 days while in the desert. Yet this is all part of God’s plan. God chose for Jesus to be put into a deserted place and to be subjected to temptations from Satan. 

The thing is Jesus doesn’t run from the desert. Jesus could have walked out in 40 days. Jesus didn’t flee from God’s will even when it was uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus even allowed himself to be challenged by his enemy in that place.

I think this teaches us something about the role of desert in our life and how we should respond to it. First we shouldn’t flee. When we encounter hardship and dry times in our life, we may be tempted to flee from them. This may lead us to seek comfort in the world. Instead, I think the answer is to be still. Rather than run, we should quiet our hearts and minds and be still right where we are. This will allow God to find us. This puts us in the place to experience what God wills for us in the desert. It also demonstrates that we trust God. If God wills a desert time, then show we trust God by leaning into it instead of running from it. 

Secondly, when we encounter a desert period in our life, we should be bold. When Jesus does leave the desert following the arrest of John the baptist, he begins to boldly proclaim his role and mission in the world. Jesus comes to call us to repent, join the movement of the Kingdom of God, and boldly believe in the good news that Jesus is here to save us from death. Whatever reason the Spirit of God has for driving us into the desert, we are being formed to go and boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord. 

If the desert is ultimately a gift from God to form us into courageous sons and daughter in faith, then when we experience it, we must be still and when we exit, be bold. 

Live It: Take out our phone, open whatever calendar app you use, and schedule a 30 minute meeting with you a God for sometime this week. During that time, sit in silence, be still, and wait for God to speak to you. Make some intentional desert time this week. (If you haven’t figured out what you are doing for Lent this year, maybe commit to this once a week or 15-20 mins a day?)

Sunday Readings for February 21st, 2021.


GW-2020-03-01Meta Image.jpg

I read online recently about a new concept that helps people control weight, have more energy, have a clearer, focused mental state, and sleep better. This new behavior seems to fix a number of problems plaguing Americans today. I fell for the click bait and read the article. 

What was the new miracle behavior? Fasting. The article explained the various ways athletes and celebrities are fasting from food to solve all their problems. Whether they were not eating very many calories on a particular day of the week or only eating for certain hours of the day and going 16 or more hours in a row without consuming anything, the article examined the tactics and benefits of this brand new way of self mastery. 

As a Catholic I tried not to roll my eyes and instead tried to find joy in the fact that people are discovering the temporal benefits of a 2000 year old traditional practice of Catholicism. It reminds me of a couple years ago when it was fashionable (and may still be) to give up meat one day a week for the environment. Well, duh. 

We hear this Sunday of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and his temptation at the hands of Satan. The very beginning of this reading says, At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” I think it is good to note that it is the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the desert. It was God’s will that he enter into a period of testing and self denial.

Also, I think the fasting was something Jesus chose to do. Maybe that is obvious to you, but in the past I kind of thought it was a trick of the devil to make him hungry. But that isn’t what the text says. Jesus’ 40 day fast wasn’t part of the devil’s plan, it was part of what Jesus went to go do in the desert. So why did he do it? Why fast?

Jesus was about to embark on his ministry to save the world. He was about to teach, preach, heal, uplift, convict and minister to those he encountered. Jesus was about to allow the very humanity he came to save to crucify him on cross and kill him. Jesus was getting ready to open the gates of heaven and triumph over Satan and death once and for all. To prepare for this, Jesus went into the desert to fast and to pray. 

This is why we go into the desert of Lent to fast and pray. To prepare to remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  We fast and pray to get ourselves ready for the most momentous moment of your year – the remembrance and celebration of when you and were saved from certain death and eternal suffering. 

Why fasting and prayer? Because these actions are powerful. Saint Pope John Paul II said this, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” My encouragement this Lent is to actually try purposefully fasting. Really do it. And do it tied to prayer. 

If you have something you are praying for, big or small, I would encourage you to try uniting that prayer with sacrifice. If you know someone struggling or who is sick and needs prayer, offer those prayers, but tie in some fasting with it too. It is powerful. 

LIVE IT: Add fasting into your Lenten practice in some way. It isn’t just giving up food (although there is something to be said for fasting from food), but purposefully going without in an intentional way. Whenever and whatever you sacrifice, offer that sacrifice up in prayer by simply telling God your reason why. It’s that simple. 

Sunday Readings for March 1st, 2020.

Give up.

February 18th Sunday Readings.

What do you think of when you hear, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”?

For me, I get derek-story-306918worried and scared. I think, “I’m caught. He knows.” Sometimes, I even start to think of the things I’ve done wrong and worry about what Jesus, and maybe others will think once they know I am a fraud and a sinner.

It’s as if I am in a fortress and an invading general is calling for my surrender. It is as if he is calling for me give up, and open my doors so that his troops can come and take me away.
In the gospel and in our lives, the exact opposite is happening.

Instead of being the leader of the invading army, Jesus is the leader of the liberating army. In stead of screaming at the walls of my citadel for me to open my doors and receive my just punishment, Jesus proclaims with joy, “GOOD NEWS! It’s finally safe. You can come out, all will be forgiven.”

We still have to surrender. We still have to admit to my sins. We still have to give up and give in. But instead of surrendering to our enemy, we are surrendering to our savior. As long as the doors are shut to Jesus, the pestilence of sin persists. It’s not only safe to open the doors to Jesus, it is the only way we will survive.

Repent, and believe that when you do, God loves you unconditionally, and Jesus has saved you.

Repent! Step 1: make a list of the things you need to turn away from. Step 2: Confess it. (The best way, seriously, is in the Sacrament of Confession). Step 3: Believe the good news that God loves you unconditionally and you are forgiven.

I failed Lent.

March 12th Sunday Readings

I failed in one of my Lenten commitments on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. Yes, Fgradeliterally, on the 2nd day of Lent, I didn’t do one of the things I had committed to do. Part of me was, “Wow, that’s terrible.” This first born doesn’t like falling short.

As I was reflecting more on my failure, I started to feel a sense of relief. No longer was I bound by my desire to “pull off” a good Lent. No longer was it about my “perfect attendance” for my Lenten promises. I was free from having to do a good job, and could just see my Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving for what they were, a means to a end.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I mistake my means for my end. I think this is especially true when it comes to my spiritual practices. It’s as if I celebrate what is getting me to the thing I should celebrate.

In our gospel this Sunday, Peter makes the same mistake. Jesus is transfigured before him. Scripture says Jesus’ clothes turned dazzling white and his face shone like the sun. Peter got a taste of what Jesus resurrected looked like. Experiencing this moment, Peter asks if they can just stay on the mountain.

But Jesus eventually leads them back down to head into Jerusalem and ministry. The transfiguration wasn’t the end, it was the way in which God showed Jesus’ true identity and directly told the key leaders of Jesus’ followers that they should listen to Jesus.

Silhouette of Jesus with Cross over sunset concept for religion,The end was nothing less than Jesus’ death and resurrection and our salvation.

What if Peter had settled for the mountain top?

God used that moment to serve the bigger purpose. In the first reading, God tells Abram that he is going to make Abram’s family a great nation, but that is just a means in order to bless the whole world.

What is the greater purpose for your day to day actions? What are you working and living for?

Take 1 day or just 1 hour and every time you make a decision or do something, ask yourself, “Why?” Keep asking “Why?” until you think you’ve reached the end.

Above all else.

The Good Word for Sunday February 14th ~ for the complete readings click here.

Bathroom-door-signMy sophomore year of college I was part of a group of students who helped run orientation for incoming freshmen. During the orientation we were asked to share our most important piece of advice. My friend gave this advice, “Go to the bathroom whenever you want. Stand up in the middle of class and leave. If you gotta go, go.” This guy is a college professor now.

At the time I thought it was funny and maybe a little too specific. Only later did I realized at the core of what he was saying is that we are all given free will to make our own decisions and then experience the results of those choices.

Knowing that we all have the ability to make choices for ourselves makes this gospel story of Jesus Christ resisting the temptations of the devil even more powerful. Sometimes we forget that Jesus was 100% human (and 100% God). He knows what it is like to be tempted.

After 40 days without food, Jesus must have been hungry. Knowing his mission was to save the world, ruling over the world must have been tempting. Knowing that he would have to suffer to accomplish his mission, he must have wondered if shouldn’t test God to see if God would save him from suffering.

Yet, Jesus chose to be obedient to God instead. He chose his relationship with God over all else. If we are going to learn to be like Jesus, we must seek to try and live like Christ.

This is what we do in Lent. When we give up something we desire, it isn’t because we want to lose weight or just be more disciplined. We are saying, “I choose to obey God. I chose God over all else.” Why do we do what we do in Lent? For God. When we practice sacrificing something small, we get better at choosing God over all else.

Live It:
Connect prayer to your Lenten sacrifices. Did you give up something this Lent? Every time you desire it, say a quick prayer. Here are some suggested prayers: “Glory to you, God!” “All for you, Jesus” “Jesus, you above all else” or even just pray his name, “Jesus.” By connecting prayer to our practice, we make our actions about our relationship with God instead of just for ourselves.


Try, Try Again.

The Good Word for Sunday February 7th ~ For the complete readings click here.

Have you ever completely failed at something? In 7th grade I tried out for my school’s basketball team. I hadn’t played organized basketball since 3rd grade. I wore a velcro-wristwatch to tryouts. I was relatively short and slow compared to most basketballs players. It didn’t go well. Needless to say I was cut pretty quickly. I tried out again in 8th grade. Same result.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Simon, James, and John. Fishing was their profession and source of income. Fishing was how they fed their families. Working hard all night and then catching nothing must have been a terrible disappointment. For them fishing was literally life or death.

When this stranger, not a local fisherman, tells them to try again, they probably thought he was crazy. Then it happened. They caught so many fish that their nets were ripping – from nothing to great abundance. This advice to persevere and go deeper brought them success.

When they fished without the guidance or presence of Jesus, they failed. When they followed his direction and went into deeper waters, they caught an overabundance. For truly overwhelming results, all they had to do was being willing to listen to Jesus and try again.

The same is true with us and Lent. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some pretty tepid Lenten results. Okay, if I’m honest, I’ve failed at Lent. I don’t mean to say I didn’t keep my Lenten promise, but that my Lenten promise was lame, didn’t really mean anything to me, and didn’t help me grow spiritually. Nothing was different on day 40 of Lent from day 1.

If 2016 is going to be the best Lent we’ve ever had, we need to be like Simon, James, and John. Here’s how we do it:

  1. It’s about Jesus – No matter what we do, we need to make Jesus the most important thing. If giving up chocolate doesn’t really have anything to do with Jesus, then forget it. What thing are we going to do this Lent that helps us focus on Jesus? What can you do that will help you say Jesus’ name every day? What do you need to give up to make room for Jesus? Focus on Jesus.
  2. Try, try again – Had a bad Lent in the past? Never had a good Lent, like ever? Be willing to try again. Say like Simon, “I haven’t caught anything yet, but at your command Jesus, I will try again.” This time we need to fish in deeper waters. Maybe that means making a big Lenten promise this year that deepens our faith. Whatever we do, we need to try again this year.
  3. Look in a mirror – After the big catch, Simon figures out that there is something special about this Jesus. Simon knows he is a sinner and says so. Jesus forgives him and calls Simon to follow him. We do this by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We think about the ways we have failed to do good and avoid evil, we own up to it, God forgives us, and then we can more full say yes to Jesus. Lent is the perfect time to do this. (check the HNOJ Lenten Guide for increased Reconciliation times).

Live It:
Sign up for a daily Lenten email. We recommend the “Best Lent Ever” emails from Dynamic Catholic. Every day you’ll get something to think about or do that will help you focus on Jesus, try again, and look in a mirror. Sign up here.

The Good Word for March 1

For the complete 2nd Sunday of Lent readings click here. 

I graduated from high school with just 123 classmates. I went to an all-boys Catholic college prep school in St. Louis, MO. Needless to say, I knew the other guys in my class really well. Except one guy – Dan the man. I can’t remember Dan’s last name and probably didn’t know it in high school either. Dan had big, thick glasses, wore outdated clothes, and was brilliant in Math and Science. In two years of Junior High and four years of high school, Dan probably said six words total. I’m serious. Gym class, lab groups, class discussion, Dan almost never spoke.

That was until our senior class retreat. On the first night of the four day retreat, Dan gave the opening talk. It was shocking. Dan spoke for over 30 minutes. He explained his non-traditional home life. He shared about who he was. And most astonishing, Dan recalled everything he had witnessed, good and bad, in six years of watching us interact as a group of people. For some of us, it was horrible. It was like having our conscious recall all of our sins against each other. Others felt a sense of relief because we weren’t mentioned, but then realized we also didn’t so anything to help others either.

What none one did was deny Dan’s observations because he spoke the truth, but also, because we knew he didn’t waste words. If he was going to speak, he was going to make it count.

In all the gospels, God only speaks twice. He speaks even less than Dan the man. During the gospel this Sunday we hear one of the few times God actually speaks in the gospels. And when God speaks, he doesn’t say much – just two sentences, eight words. So what does he say?

It’s simple. God says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” The message couldn’t be more straightforward. Jesus is the Son of God and God loves him very much. God speaks the truth and the rarity of his words gives us extra reason to pause and really pay attention.

So what are supposed to do? Listen to Jesus. This kind of listening isn’t just to “hear,” but rather to listen and obey. It’s the kind of listening we ask of our children. God is asking us to listen to Jesus, and listen by obeying his direction. Are you listening to Jesus? Are you read to listen and obey?

Live It:
Take 2 minutes to think about how your Lent is going so far. Have you been committed to renewing your faith this Lent? How is your prayer, alms giving, and fasting going? Here in the 2nd week, it is a great time to recommit to whatever Lenten practices we have begun.

The Good Word for February 22nd

For the complete 1st Sunday of Lent readings, click here.

What do you imagine when you hear someone is “driven?” Did you think about a wunderkind businesswoman or a navy seal? Maybe you imagine a spunky, undersized professional athlete that worked his or her way into the top tier of their sport. Maybe you thought about an inner-city high school teacher who puts in the extra hours to raise kids as well as grades. Just maybe you thought of someone you know personally and smiled out of pride.

Rarely do we think of Jesus as “driven.” Kind, loving, holy, good storyteller, even better beard – these are the things we think of when we think of Jesus. Yet, in our gospel today we hear that Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit. One could read this to say he went against his will, but the reality is that “the Spirit” is the Holy Spirit, the very spirit of God, who is one with Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Spirit that drives him into the desert. Jesus is driven.

Why does Jesus go into the desert? Why does the Spirit drive him there? One way to understand this moment in Mark’s gospel is that Jesus went into the desert to confront Satan directly. In the time of Jesus, the desert represented the wild, untamed, and even possessed land where evil spirits roamed freely. It was seen as the Devil’s domain. An early Christian could read this to say that Jesus was driven to go confront the devil to boldly challenge him. Jesus confronts evil at the very beginning of his ministry. Jesus doesn’t passively wait to save us; he confronts the Adversary, another name for Satan, and resists every temptation throw his way.

Jesus is driven to save the world.

Nothing we do can keep Jesus from coming after us to save us. No sin is too big, nowhere too remote – Jesus is coming for us.

Live it:
What are you waiting for this Lent? Don’t wait to encounter God or renew your faith. Do something radical this week to drive your faith further. Some ideas may be to stop by the Adoration Chapel at HNOJ for an hour. Visit the poor and vulnerable through one of the many charitable organization. Boldly share your faith with a friend or coworker. Pray with your family. Sign up for a daily Lenten email (check out HNOJ’s Facebook page for some ideas).