Scenes from the first day in Sydney

Scenes from the first day in Sydney
D, the Opera House, and the Bridge

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Leaving for the Long Retreat...

Tomorrow morning, five of us will depart from Pymble to begin a three day drive across southern Australia to Seven Hill retreat house in the wine country near Clare. We'll begin by heading south into the famous Blue Mountains, where we're planning a six mile hike to take in the scenery. Then we head on to West Wyalong, where we will spend our first night in a parish there, and continue on the second day to Mildura. In Mildura, we'll stay at the parish where I'll eventually be giving retreats, and help out the local pastors by taking five of their Saturday and Sunday masses. We will arrive, if all goes according to plans, around dinner time on Sunday at the retreat house. The other 9 will all be flying on Sunday...

Many people ask, "what do you want to get out of your thirty days of silence?" Great question... actually, it's so helpful to begin by getting in touch with our hopes and expectations as we start retreat. More than anything else, I want to follow God's lead and not get in the way of what God wants to do with me. For my friends who are not believers, I would say this means that I want to be fully present, to the extent that I am able, to reality as it is- unvarnished and unadorned, rugged, beautiful, bare, complex, and simple. I want to be open to seeing parts of myself that I tend to keep in the shadows and to allowing them to be part of the whole of me. And I want to grow in awareness of the abundance that is nature, the gift of being alive and awake. For those reading this who are Christian, or respect Jesus as a teacher of wisdom and of compassion, I want to know him, love him, and follow him to the full extent of the potential that lies within me. And I pray that I might grow in freedom from myself that I might be more available to others.

Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, wrote quite profoundly of this invitation to realize our full potentiality:

It is very dangerous to go into eternity with possibilities which one has
oneself prevented from becoming realities. A possibility is a hint from
God. One must follow it. In every one there is latent the highest
possibility, one must follow it. If God does not wish it then let God
prevent it, but one must not hinder oneself...

And so I pray to stay out of my own way, and ask God that my ego might take a back seat to whatever the Spirit wills. Of course, it is pretty vain to be writing such lofty intentions and publishing them to the world, isn't it... clearly, I have my work cut out for me! So please pray for me, as well as for Dan, Gilbert, Johann, Charles, Peter, Joseph, Arthur, Lawrence, Bruno, Bill, and Simon, as well as our directors, Adrian, Joe, and Peter.

This is the last blog for the next five weeks or so, but in the meanwhile, if by chance you are looking for resources for your Lenten journey and prayer life, please check out "Pray as you go," a media service developed by the British Jesuit province:

Peace and all good things to you the rest of this Lent and Easter!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Magic Flute

Last night, thirteen of us were able to enjoy the second last night of Mozart's Magic Flute at the Sydney Opera House... a magical evening by all accounts. Thanks to Eszter Donald, the principle cellist and a friend, we had second row tickets and could see right into the orchestra. It was a beautiful evening, with a nearly full moon above.

The themes of the Magic Flute turned out to be good ones for our upcoming retreat, especially the importance of silence! Just two more days to go before we head west to Seven Hill.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Seven Hill Winery

To the left, St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits is pictured writing down notes for the Spiritual Exercises. What are the Exercises, you may be wondering? Well, I think the best analogy might be Ignatius' own. He described how any athlete who desires to reach the pinnacle of performance will adopt a disciplined regimen of training, including careful diet, stretching, a sensible but challenging routine of exercises and drills, along with excellent coaching... so to for a person who desires to grow in their life as a follower of Jesus. Based on his own experience of conversion, enlightenment, and maturation, Ignatius developed a handbook of transformative Christian spirituality that enables people to shed their false selves and discover their truest self in relationship to the Divine Source of all things.

Essentially, the purpose of the Exercises is to help free a person of "inordinate attachments", "disordered affections" (in other words, attachments, addictions, neurotic fears, etc) and from anything that turns us away from God, our true selves and our neighbors... so that a person is free for lifegiving service to others, intimacy, creativity, and co-laboration with God on behalf of the Kingdom. Does this really happen? Well, the testimony of hundreds of thousands of people over 450 years suggests that it does... that spending time in silence, reflecting on one's life, meditating on the Scriptures, and listening to the movements of one's heart really does lead to a transformation. Or perhaps better said, the Spiritual Exercises can facilitate our becoming more fully ourselves through relationship with God and the service of our brothers and sisters.

While there are a variety of formats available, the most intense version of the Exercises is the 30 day silent retreat. In this retreat, there are four themes that are engaged over the course of about a week each: the first week is an exploration of our limits and shadows in the light of God's infinite love for us; the second is the accompaniment of Jesus through his public ministry through meditation on the Gospels; the third is union with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and his crucifixtion; and the fourth is contemplation on Christ's joy in the resurrection events. While there's so much more that could be said, that's enough to give you a taste.

Jesuits usually make the Spiritual Exercises two or three times in their lives, first in the Novitiate, or first phase of formation, then again in tertianship (the phase I am in), and then sometimes at another juncture in their lives. Now, I have the good fortune that the retreat here in Australia happens at Seven Hill, one of the original Jesuit missions here downunder... and it just happens to be a winery! So, the picture of the grape vineyard isn't just for show... it's actually part of the property where I will be making retreat for the next month. Of course, wine isn't so helpful for staying awake in the course of five hours of meditation each day, but at least it will be nice to have a glass with dinner! While their specialty is altar wine, which is fortified and a bit sweet, they also produce a delicious riesling and a decent shiraz.

Seven Hill is 1400 km away, so five of us will be driving the cars across New South Wales and Victoria to Clare, where the retreat house is located.
(for more information: )

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Continuing the Lenten Journey: Growing in Integrity

As this first week of Lent comes to an end, and we are preparing to head into our month long silent retreat, I find myself dwelling on the question of integrity... what is it, and how do we grow in it? This question is prompted by readings from mass this past week, for instance from the prophet Ezekiel 18, where God praises the person who mends their ways and returns to a path of integrity, from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5, where he instructs his followers to be more righteous than the religious leaders of his day, and then later in this chapter, where Jesus tells them that they must be perfect as God is perfect.

Now, lest we get hung up on words, I know that the word "righteousness" has come to have a certain negative connotation, suggesting "self-righteousness"; however, in the Greek, the word for righteousness is dikaiosune, which means:

  1. in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God
    1. the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God
    2. integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting
  2. in a narrower sense, justice or the virtue which gives each his due (New Testament Greek Lexicon)
So, righteousness on one hand suggests "right thinking, right feeling, and right acting." Another way of thinking about righteousness is that it is about living in "right relationship" to everything: God, our neighbor, our selves, and all created things. Right relationship suggests that we are not thinking, feeling, and acting on the basis of psychological or neurotic compulsions, or of attachments, or addictions. Rather, our relationship with everyone and everything is characterized by a certain freedom for love, for service of others, for creativity, for the enjoyment of simple things without wanting more than we need, etc. Perhaps even more profoundly, righteousness is to feel as Christ feels, to think as Christ thinks, to act as Christ acts.

Righteousness also suggests integrity, or wholeness... a sense of being whole, healthy, sound.
If this still feels a bit abstract, we might think for a moment about times when we don't feel like we are whole, or integrated... when we have experiences of feeling fragmented (due to anxiety, or being overextended), or dishonest, or self alienated. During these times, we know that something is missing, and that we'd prefer to feel differently. I recall, for example, the experience of being caught in a lie as a kid... how awful this felt inside. In such times, if our conscience is working, we feel a bit guilty, maybe even ashamed when we are not living with integrity. Hopefully, these distressing feelings prompt us to change, to be honest, for instance, or to stand for what we believe in, or to embrace those parts of ourselves that cry out for integration. (The great danger is when we shut down our moral instinct and close off those feelings, losing any motivation to change.)

Integrity seems to have something to with wholeness more than perfection, and with a kind of harmony with Life more than a simple consistency between word and action. When we are thinking, feeling, and acting in harmony with Life (the will of God), we know it because we feel like we are in the Flow of something bigger than ourselves. We may experience what St. Ignatius called consolacion, which he described as a kind of energy, one which increased his sense of faith, hope, and love.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author reports how human beings are born naked, and die naked, and cannot take with them any fruit of labor that they can hold in their hands. By this, I interpret the author to be saying that the purpose of human life is not accomplishment (I get stuck on this one), not the acquisition of wealth, nor the building of prestige in the eyes of others. The purpose of human life, and the only thing that we will take with us beyond this life, is something less tangible, yet more precious than all these.

If I am not mistaken, the readings I mention earlier point toward this precious and intangible purpose... that of living in harmony with Life, and of being whole. In this state, we come to the realization that integrity is really a kind of love... for God, for one's own self, and for our neighbors as (if they) are ourselves.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Quick Friday Night Posting of the C's

It's been a long week slogging through hundreds of pages of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, a foundational document for us as Jesuits-- but not always the most attention grabbing subject. Just two more days of study and presentations to go next week, and then it's on to preparing for our trip 1400 kilometers away to Sevenhill, the original mission of the Austrian Jesuits who founded the Australia mission back in the 19th Century. I'll write a bit more about that before we go, but the purpose of this road trip (5 of the 12 of us are making the trip by car) is to make the Spiritual Exercises at Sevenhill.

A few folks have written to express their delight in these Aussie slang expressions, so the list continues (though I can't imagine why "Crikey!" is not included... and I have left out a few expressions that seemed a bit too colorful for the kids):

Cab Sav : Cabernet Sauvignon (a variety of wine grape)
Cactus : dead, not functioning ("this bloody washing machine is cactus")
Cane toad : a person from Queensland
Captain Cook : look (noun) ("let's have a Captain Cook")
Cark it : to die, cease functioning
Cat burying shit, as busy as a : busy
Cat's piss, as mean as : mean, stingy, uncharitable
Chewie : chewing gum
Chokkie : chocolate
Chook : a chicken
Chrissie : Christmas
Christmas : see Bourke Street
Chuck a sickie : take the day off sick from work when you're perfectly healthy
Chunder : vomit
Clayton's : fake, substitute
Cleanskin : Bottle of wine without a label. Usually bought in bulk by companies who then add their own personalised label and use the wine as e.g. gifts to clients
Cleanskin : cattle that have not been branded, earmarked or castrated.
Click : kilometre - "it's 10 clicks away"
Clucky : feeling broody or maternal
Coathanger : Sydney Harbour bridge
Cobber : friend
Cockie : farmer (Farmers were called cockies in the early days of European settlement because, like the birds of the same name, they made their homes on the edges of permanent waterholes)
Cockie : cockatoo
Cockie : cockroach
Cockroach : a person from New South Wales
Coldie : a beer
Come a gutser : make a bad mistake, have an accident
Compo : Workers' Compensation pay
Conch (adj. conchy) : a conscientious person. Somebody who would rather work or study than go out and enjoy him/herself.
Cooee, not within : figuratively a long way away, far off - England weren't within cooee of beating Australia at cricket
Cooee, within : nearby - I was within cooee of landing a big fish when the line broke. He lives within cooee of Sydney.
Cook (noun) : One's wife
Corker : something excellent. A good stroke in cricket might be described as a 'corker of a shot'
Corroboree : an aboriginal dance festival
Counter lunch/Countery : pub lunch
Cozzie : swimming costume
Crack onto (someone) : to hit on someone, pursue someone romantically
Cranky : in a bad mood, angry
Cream (verb) : defeat by a large margin
Crook : sick, or badly made
Crow eater : a person from South Australia
Cubby house : Small, usually timber, house in the garden used as a children's plaything.
Cut lunch : sandwiches

Thursday, March 5, 2009

St. Ignatius Riverview

This has been a busy week with social engagements as our tertian class has enjoyed the hospitality of several welcoming Jesuit communities. On Monday, St. Aloysius College (secondary school), on Wednesday, St. Mary's Parish, and tonight, St. Ignatius Riverview. Suffice to say, it's a good thing the long retreat is coming up and we'll be on a bit more of an austere regime.

The view from the roof of the Main hall... Sydney in the distance.

A gorgeous school... details below.

Since its foundation in 1880 St Ignatius' College, Riverview has been under the care of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

While the founder of the school in the real sense was Father Joseph Dalton SJ, the school does have two other founders. The first one was Archbishop Roger Bede Vaughan who invited the Jesuits to Sydney on condition that they found a boys' boarding school and the second one was Father J J Therry, who, on his death in 1864 left the greater part of his property to the Society of Jesus.

Archbishop Vaughan's gift of a large sum of money out of the sale of Lyndhurst, the old Benedictine College at Glebe, and the Jesuits sale of one of Father Therry's properties, Josephton, at what is now Avalon, provided much of the finance needed for establishing St Ignatius' College.

After Archbishop Vaughan asked the Jesuits to open a day school in Sydney (St Kilda House, later to become St Aloysius' College) and a boarding college on the North Shore, Father Joseph Dalton purchased the Riverview Estate on behalf of the Society of Jesus.

George Whitfield (a Sydney gunsmith) was the original owner of the Riverview Estate having purchased the property in 1842. He built a two storey stone retreat which he named Ormeau View, after the Ormeau district in his native Belfast. Whitfield met a violent death at the hands of a fellow gunsmith in 1864 and in the following year Ormeau View was put up for sale. Advertisements dwelt upon the scenic location of the property, its view of Sydney Harbour in the distance, its orchard of about four acres, enclosed with a wall, and a fine open piece of land, containing about 3 acres known as the 'Pigeon Ground'. The purchaser was Manuel Francis Josephson, who renamed the estate, Riverview.

When the Riverview Estate was put up for sale, Father Joseph Dalton concluded arrangements for its purchase on 28 June 1878. Eighteen months later Father Dalton was appointed foundation Rector of St Ignatius' College.
An advertisement was placed in the Catholic newspaper; The Express stating that boys aged between 8 and 12 would be received at Riverview 'as soon as possible after the Christmas holidays'. Classes commenced in the cottage in February 1880.

The cottage soon became very cramped as more boys arrived and in order to provide better accommodation St Michael's House was built. The building, designed by W W Wardell and opened on the feast of Saint Michael, 29 September 1880. Further building took place at the College in 1882 with the construction of a wooden boatshed and in 1883 the infirmary was built.

archives_fr_tucker.jpgIn its early years the College offered 'Classical and Modern Languages, History, Mathematics, the Natural Sciences and all other branches required for the Civil Service, the Junior, Senior and Matriculation Examinations.' It was advertised that the curriculum included a modern side - mercantile subjects.

By December 1882, with an enrolment of only 70 students, the College extended the curriculum to include English Composition, Writing, Music, Singing, Drawing, Painting, Irish History and Oral Latin.

Lessons were taught six days a week. The day began at 6.15 am, with prayers, Mass and study before breakfast at 8.30 am and concluded with night prayers at 8.30pm. On Sundays and holidays the boys were allowed to sleep in until 6.30am.

The main building of the College was constructed in three stages between 1885 - 1930 and the foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Moran Archbishop of Sydney on 15 December 1885. As originally designed by Gilbert, Dennihey and Tappin, of Ballarat, the building was to be a huge square, representing four identical fronts, but only the South front was completed according to plan.

Although the first dayboys were not officially admitted until 1923, there was a small group of pupils who were permitted to attend the college as dayboys. In fact, up until the 1960s dayboys remained relatively small in number and Riverview was mainly for boarders.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Garden

These two furry might look cute, and in fact, they really are. In fact, if you've got some veggie crudite to offer, neither will mind letting you scratch them between the ears; however, they've taken a liking to Fr. Desmond (Des) Purcell's roses, and now they're quickly rising to the top of the "endangered list" here on the Canisius College grounds.

A few flower shots before they're eaten...

So, you might be wondering, why the attention to the garden, to paying attention to the small things and smelling the roses, as it were. As the world goes down the economic tubes, fires are raging, and people are attacked by great white sharks (three in three weeks!), perhaps you're thinking there must be something more weighty and profound to reflect on in this blog. But somehow, taking time to smell the roses strikes me as a very sensible thing to do... one of the great temptations during these frightening and precarious times is to do something, anything, to try fixing our situation. Anxiety can provoke us to leaping before we look-- to all kinds of rash actions. I know, easy for me to say, as I spend eight months in this tertianship bubble.

But I wonder if these aren't also the times when we feel most alive, the times of crisis and opportunity that we will eventually tell stories about. Think of how experiences like the Great Depression affected our grandparents and great grand parents... formative times that often make a deep and lasting effect on who and what we become. So, is this not a time to pause, smell the flowers, be mindful about our priorities and purposes, and hold steady in our values while at the same time, adapting to circumstances as flexibly as we can?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Our Evening At St. Aloysius Gonzaga School in Milsons Point

It may be hard to believe, but this is the view from the roof of a Jesuit secondary school in Milsons Point, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a Sydney institution since 1879. Imagine their New Years Eve celebration! The Jesuit community hosted us for dinner this evening... I think they began to worry that we wouldn't leave!

A second view, this one including the Circular Quay and the Sydney Harbor Bridge... breathtaking, no?

And here are the twelve of us with the city skyline in the background. In the front row, Joseph Yao, Simon Bishop, Lawrence Grotek, and Arthur Leger. In the second row, Peter Scally, Bill Clark, Gilbert Sunghera, Johann Spermann, me, Charles Sim, Bruno Brantschen, and Dan White.

Now, more Aussie slang, moving on to the "B"s. (As I mentioned, this blog is a mix of the sacred and the mundane!)

B & S : Bachelors' and Spinsters' Ball - a very enjoyable party usually held in rural areas
Back of Bourke : a very long way away
Bail (somebody) up : to corner somebody physically
Bail out : depart, usually angrily
Banana bender : a person from Queensland
Barbie : barbecue (noun)
Barrack : to cheer on (football team etc.)
Bastard : term of endearment
Bathers : swimming costume
Battler : someone working hard and only just making a living
Beaut, beauty : great, fantastic
Big-note oneself : brag, boast
Bikkie : biscuit (also "it cost big bikkies" - it was expensive)
Billabong : an ox-bow river or watering hole
Billy : teapot. Container for boiling water.
Bingle : motor vehicle accident
Bities : biting insects
Bitzer : mongrel dog (bits of this and bits of that)
Bizzo : business ("mind your own bizzo")
Black Stump, beyond the : a long way away, the back of nowhere
Bloke : man, guy
Bloody : very (bloody hard yakka)
Bloody oath! : that's certainly true
Blow in the bag : have a breathalyser test
Blowie : blow fly
Bludger : lazy person, layabout, somebody who always relies on other people to do things or lend him things
Blue : fight ("he was having a blue with his wife")
Blue, make a : make a mistake
Bluey : pack, equipment, traffic ticket, redhead
Bluey : blue cattle dog (named after its subtle markings) which is an excellent working dog. Everyone's favourite all-Aussie dog.
Bluey : heavy wool or felt jacket worn by mining and construction workers.
Bluey : bluebottle jellyfish
Bodgy : of inferior quality
Bog in : commence eating, to attack food with enthusiasm

Bog standard : basic, unadorned, without accessories (a bog standard car, telephone etc.)
Bogan : person who takes little pride in his appearance, spends his days slacking and drinking beer
Bogged : Stuck in mud, deep sand (a vehicle).
Bondi cigar : see "brown-eyed mullet"
Bonzer : great, ripper
Boogie board : a hybrid, half-sized surf board
Boomer : a large male kangaroo
Booze bus : police vehicle used for catching drunk drivers
Boozer : a pub
Bored shitless : very bored
Bottle shop : liquor shop
Bottle-o : liquor shop (originally a man with hessian bags going around picking up beer bottles in the 50's and 60's)
Bottler : something excellent
Bottling, his blood's worth : he's an excellent, helpful bloke.
Bounce : a bully
Bourke Street, he doesn't know Christmas from : he's a bit slow in the head. (Bourke Street is a brightly lit Melbourne street)
Bowl of rice, not my : not my cup of tea; I don't like it
Brass razoo, he hasn't got a : he's very poor
Brekkie : breakfast
Brick shit house, built like a : big strong bloke
Brickie : bricklayer
Brisvegas : Brisbane, state capital of Queensland
Brizzie : Brisbane, state capital of Queensland
Brown-eyed mullet : a turd in the sea (where you're swimming!)
Brumby : a wild horse
Buck's night : stag party, male gathering the night before the wedding
Buckley's, Buckley's chance : no chance ("New Zealand stands Buckley's of beating Australia at football")
Budgie smugglers : men's bathing costume
Bull bar : stout bar fixed to the front of a vehicle to protect it against hitting kangaroos (also roo bar)
Bundy : short for Bundaberg, Queensland, and the brand of rum that's made there
Bunyip : mythical outback creature
Bush : the hinterland, the Outback, anywhere that isn't in town
Bush bash : long competitive running or motorcar race through the bush
Bush oyster : nasal mucus
Bush telly : campfire
Bushie : someone who lives in the Bush
Bushman's hanky : Emitting nasal mucus by placing one index finger on the outside of the nose (thus blocking one nostril) and blowing.
Bushranger : highwayman, outlaw
Butcher : small glass of beer in South Australia - From the theory that a butcher could take a quick break from his job, have a drink and be back at work
BYO : unlicensed restaurant where you have to Bring Your Own grog, also similar party or barbecue

Aussie Slang...

Australians are known worldwide for their distinctive expressions and slang. Just to give you a taste, here are some of those expressions, beginning with "A". Check back here for more!

Guide to Australian Slang
Ace! : Excellent! Very good!
Aerial pingpong : Australian Rules football
Amber fluid : beer
Ambo : ambulance, ambulance driver
Ankle biter : small child
Apples, she'll be : It'll be all right
Arvo : afternoon
Aussie (pron. Ozzie) : Australian
Aussie salute : brushing away flies with the hand
Avos : avocados

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jesus' Temptation in the Desert

For thousands of years, it has been the custom of the Aboriginal peoples here in Australia to go on a "walkabout," an adolescent rite of passage where they head into the bush for up to six months to fend for themselves, retrace the "songlines" or paths and customs of their ancient ancestors, and imitate in their own way their forebearers' heroic deeds. A person was not considered adult until this experience was completed, and from that point on, the person took up new roles and responsibilities amongst the tribe.

It is hard not to think of Jesus' experience in the desert as a rite of passage of sorts, whereby he discovers that he has the wherewithal to transcend the temptations posed to him by Satan, and the faith he needs to move forward in his ministry. He takes up the prophetic mantle modeled by his forebearers and turns all of his energy toward his mission, proclaiming and revealing the Kingdom of God. While in the baptism, he experiences the revelation that he is the beloved son of God, it seems that it is only on the basis of this trial in the desert that this identity is proved. He knows now who he is, and what he must do. Strangely, it is only through this experience of temptation and trial that he discovers his mettle and comes to fully trust the providence of his Father. Perhaps this message is meaningful to us too?

Below is a reflection I found online concerning this passage in Mark's Gospel:

Mark 1:12-15

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.
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

The good news which is Jesus Christ

The first thing to notice about Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus is its brevity. Mark says everything in three unembellished sentences that do not even mention the content of the temptation. His account appears very bare vis-a-vis Matthew’s and Luke’s descriptive telling of the event.

To appreciate what Mark is trying to say, the reader must go back to the opening of the Markan Gospel, which reads like a title of the entire work: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” The original Greek expression can also be rendered in English with a slightly different nuance: “The beginning of the good news, which is Jesus Christ, Son of God.” When rendered this way, the term “good news” is understood not only as “concerning” Jesus Christ; rather, Jesus Christ is Himself the good news. The reader would then understand that Mark is not only giving information about Jesus Christ, but is rather making a disclosure about His identity. Thus, the bareness of the account of the temptation would come as no surprise because even here, Mark does not intend to tell his readers how the event happened, but to lead them to the identity of Jesus Christ.

Mark’s short account of the temptation is shot through with allusions from the Old Testament. When he speaks of Jesus’ being in the wasteland for forty days, one of the many events evoked in memory is the “undoing” of creation at the time of Noah, through forty days and nights of continued rains that brought about the killer-flood. Mark is insinuating to his readers that with Jesus’ forty-day sojourn in the desert, another “undoing” is about to take place.

He does not say it explicitly, but gradually leads his readers to recognize this through another allusion. He says that Jesus “was among wild beasts.” With this statement, Mark paints an image of peaceful coexistence, which is meant to remind the readers, first, of the pristine relationships of man and beasts that characterized creation before the fall (Gn 1:28; 2:19-20), and second, of the prophets’ vision of the coming age of salvation (Is 11:6-9; 65:17-25; Hos 2:18).

Thus, Mark leads the readers to identify Jesus as the second Adam, whose coming marks the dawning of the new creation. Jesus, like Adam, is tempted, but unlike Adam, He does not succumb. By His obedience, He counters the disobedience of the first Adam, and “undoes” the consequences of sin, thus ushering in the new creation, which is really a going back to the Creator. This idea of “going back” features prominently in the message that Jesus eventually proclaims as He emerges from the desert.

“Repent!” The Hebrew language conveys the idea of “repentance” with the word “shubh,” which literally means “to go back” to the right path, and therefore, to God. Jesus does not explicitly say how this return journey to God is to be carried out, but hHe immediately adds another imperative – “believe in the gospel!” To “believe in the gospel” is to “put faith in Jesus Christ,” for He Himself is the good news. To believe is not just to give one’s intellectual assent, but to commit oneself, to surrender one’s whole being to the object of one’s belief. This is how the return to God is to be carried out. To believe the good news is to commit oneself to Jesus Christ. This commitment can only lead to repentance, which is the return journey to God.

For a Christian, committing oneself to Christ is a moment-by-moment endeavor that stretches to the entire lifetime. Lest we forget this commitment, the Church sets aside forty days in the liturgical calendar to intensely remind us and call us to renewal.

SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail:; Website: