Tag Archives: John The Baptist

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Clear-Sighted Compassion

John the Baptist’s astute sight and sound: ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Jn. 1:29) takes my breath away. His vision stops me in my tracks and invites me to yield to Jesus whatever ‘sin-sickness’ needs His cure. He is masterful: re-entry into His wounds assures me that He will assume my dross while surrounding what is precious. And vulnerable. Repentance always requires healing Presence to fortify and lend form to what is weak but inclined to truth.

Last Sunday’s Gospel account met me poignantly, unexpectedly. Before the Lamb, I saw a picture of a car with a minor, almost unseen dent. The danger lay in rust slowly growing and extending its corrosive fingers from the minor injury. I knew what it was. Though familiar, the same new sin, it scared me. I needed to linger in the inner courts of the Lamb, facedown before the cleansing, healing flood still faithfully flowing from His wounds–a fresh washing, and drowning. I needed two things: to die afresh to that corrosion and to resubmit the wound to Him.

To be honest, that hurt my pride. And goaded my impatience. I am sick of this process! So easy to exalt the lifetime plan of becoming chaste—so easy until you hit a bump in it and are thrown off your proud horse, any illusion of having arrived.

I spent a longer time in His Presence than usual and asked what He was doing. Before I could hear, a deep sadness welled up in me, a nearly primal loneliness defined eloquently by Joseph Pieper ‘as a truly penetrating knowledge of created things that is associated with an abysmal sadness…which cannot be lifted by any natural force of knowledge or will.’

My first tendency is to renounce such sadness as ‘the worldly sorrow that brings forth death’ (2 Cor. 7:10). But this was different; God—not His enemy—was surfacing a deep sorrow related to historic disconnectedness. He timed it well, and I could see (my heart tends to ‘see’ things more than ‘hear’) His eyes looking at me with deep compassion. That freed me to grieve more deeply, and I recalled the many Gospel passages where Jesus looked at harassed, clueless people and had an immediate, gut-wrenching longing to help them, e.g. compassion (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:22; Mk 6:4; 8:2). He looks at me kindly too.

As I welcomed His consolation where I need it most, many faces of persons I love who also face a similar loneliness came to mind and I could see and weep for them with fresh compassion. I recalled a boy in my neighborhood whom I see often playing by himself; he is being raised by a group of ‘intersectional feminists’, I presume ‘lesbian’-identified, with one ‘transitioning’. His family beliefs preclude any bridge to manhood for him. I will advocate for him, starting on my knees: ‘Jesus, good shepherd, give me Your eyes and heart with which to see, to feel deeply, to act with compassion for him.’

May we welcome the Lamb of God where we most need Him and allow His compassion to infuse how we love others.

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Burn. Again.

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I [John the Baptist] am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the One coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…He will gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:10-12).

Weary and controlling after Thanksgiving (why do joyful occasions make me a jerk?), I extended my misery to Annette and hurt her. Badly. To an outsider, my sin may not have been a felony, but it was one of those flashpoint sins that bound up a host of smaller historic ones; together, they effectively bludgeoned Annette.

At Mass that morning, I brought my sin into the light and heard the invitation that Leanne Payne gave us continuously (out of the mouth of a C.S. Lewis character): ‘Die before you die; there is no chance after that.’ In choosing to lay down my sin and destroy it at the foot of His Cross (‘please God, may it be so this time…’), I perceived with the eyes of my heart a fire raging around me, licking up the mess. God in Christ came with fiery love to destroy the sin that destroys through me.

Advent, like Lent, holds up a mirror to the spiritual monsters we can be—on one hand, earnest and devout; on the other, blackening eyes with limbs we thought were amputated long ago. All this requires is that we look intently and beyond our own selfish rationales in order to behold the hurting eyes of another and finally, the blazing love of God in Christ who awaits our fleshly offering.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls the religious to repentance, rather than the more obviously disordered. Ouch. Annette and I now attend polite religious gatherings defined by worship that is choreographed, carefully. Our prayers tend more toward ‘us’ the privileged interceding for ‘them’, the unfortunates. That gets ‘us’ safely off the hook and frees us to retain our reserve; it frees us from the flames.

In truth, most of us are deeply divided souls and our religious devotion may well tempt us to hide those divides for both the sake of convenience and appearance. In muted tones, mid-week, we hear of crippled marriages, the beloved son’s suicide, the ex-married and ex-middle class Mom who works weekends to eat.

This Advent I pray for the Cross to expose our Pharisaic mixtures and to provoke us into the flames, together, in this one body. I pray that simple songs might set our hearts aflame with His blazing love, that powerful preaching might convict us with signs and wonders following, that the Holy Meal endowed with the Spirit’s power might deliver us from demons, sear our flesh, and unite what’s left with God’s best for our broken lives.

Maybe John is asking us to lay down our linen blazers and tiny crosses around our fine necks; maybe he’s asking us to put our entire selves on the chopping block and to sob over the lies we told and the divided lives we lived. Maybe he’s asking us to forego social graces, to run boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:14-16) and get messy, stripped and naked, so that at last we might say we only want Jesus and that only He can clothe us (Rom. 13:14) with what we need to live undivided, grateful lives.

Maybe then we the Church would not have to worry so much about ‘how to reach the lost.’ They would hear the sobs and see the beeline straight to the altar and would fall face down with us. Together with all the saints, we might cry out for mercy amid the roaring blaze of Love from which none will escape.

‘On that day, the Gentiles will seek out the root of Jesse, for His dwelling shall be glorious’ (IS. 11:10).

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Expecting More, Together Andrew Comiskey Advent

Expecting More, Together

A young man who repented as a teen from ‘gay’ identification, Nate is growing into his masculinity as Jesus grows within him. I have the privilege of summoning what I see in this progressively robust man of God. Nothing brings me greater joy.

It is easy. Nate says ‘yes’ to Jesus and Jesus guides him into getting what he needs. You like me are called to confirm that growth in the lives of our fellow Christians. In the Spirit of John the Baptist, we can see Jesus growing in others, and speak out the truth of His Real Presence in their lives. That is the essence of Christian community. And its first and most beautiful expression lies in our fourth Advent reading—the visitation of newly pregnant Mary with her cousin Elizabeth (LK 1:39-45).

As soon as Mary sees Elizabeth, the latter, now ripe with John the Baptist, is stirred up by the fiery prophet within who jumps for joy (v.44) to welcome the Christ growing in Mary. Even the fetal John makes straight the way of the Lord! He cannot help it; Jesus is in his midst and even a womb cannot contain him from summoning the prenatal Creator and Redeemer of all.

Elizabeth follows the lead of her precocious son but fulfills a different yet equally important task: to encourage Mary with a Spirit-inspired prophecy. We can infer that a 14-year-old who just discovered that she had been impregnated by God might need a little solidarity (understatement duly noted).

Mary ‘hastens’ to Elizabeth because she needs her. The Mother of God knew somehow that the new life growing in her cousin would summon the new life growing in her. ‘Blessed are you, Mary, for you have believed what the Lord said to you would be fulfilled’ (v.45). Elizabeth nails it: ‘You are not crazy Mary; you are and will be forever blessed. God is growing in you and I honor your faith!’

Each of us needs that encouragement from wiser ones who like us have walked in faith against a cruel, unbelieving culture. Elizabeth had been barren and socially scorned; Mary could have been stoned for her mysterious pregnancy. They knew God alone had masterminded the divine gifts growing within them. Their bond of faith was profound and essential for the fulfillment of that faith.

Similarly, we whom Jesus leads out of any barren, shameful land need fellow pilgrims. We need the holy-wrinkled who have endured the desert longer. Jesus in our fellow humanity is stronger than Jesus in our own hearts. Why else do we go to church? Sorry, I do not go just to find my Head. I go to find His body. I need another to see and summon the Christ growing in me.

And I have the mutual privilege of summoning Jesus in my brother or sister. Nothing grants me greater joy than looking for the one in whom Jesus waits to be summoned behind a veil of sin or sadness. To be filled with the Spirit of John the Baptist or Elizabeth, my spirit leaping so I just have to say why ‘you’ are such a beautiful gift to this church…that is my joy.

We all hold promises in our hearts that need to be dusted off and reconfirmed in our believing communities. Go ahead. Be a prophet. Summon the divine life seated next to you at church. ‘Blessed are you who believe that what God has said to you would be fulfilled’(LK 1:45)!

Please Read The Desert Stream 2015 Year End Newsletter

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Do Good, Feel Better

Do Good, Feel Better

‘Bring forth the fruit of repentance’ (LK 3:8).

Righteous action burns off impure feelings—dread, suspicion, self-concern, lust. I can go to bed with holy intentions and wake up stewing in a pool of diseased emotions. That’s when I need to sit upright before the Crucified and silently thank Him for giving everything to gain this impassioned mess of a man. Usually my feelings settle down as I fix on Him. They find their ‘cruciform’ as I bow down.

In a world sinking deeper into fearful self-concern, we need yet another dose of the call to act, to repent. Advent insists on it by highlighting John the Baptist in three of the four Sunday Advent readings this year. This third week focuses on John calling us to prepare for Jesus by doing a host of practical, righteous things that have little to do with ‘feelings’: if you have more than you need, give your surplus away; stop cheating and slandering people; seek to be content with what you have (LK 3: 10-18).

It’s as if John the Baptist knows that overreliance on feelings can function like quicksand. President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Dr. Everett Piper, got a dose of the mire we are in when he preached a homily on I Cor.13 (the ‘love’ chapter) and a student approached him afterwards to say that he and his peers felt ‘victimized, made to feel bad, uncomfortable, for not showing love.’ To deep ‘feelers’ everywhere, Piper responded: ‘Students have become narcissistic and self-absorbed. The university is a place to learn that life isn’t about you but about others.’

Life isn’t about you but others. Or, in the spirit of John the Baptist, act first, your feelings will follow. It works. Last week at a convalescent home, I entered to lead the Sunday service, entangled in feelings that included self-pity. My first greeting came from an old African-American woman bound to a wheelchair and several wires which kept her alive. Bright as the sun, she returned my greeting with: ‘Praise the Lord, we are gathering with Jesus and I am so happy to be alive today!’

I got happy fast. Do good; feelings will follow. Who knows? You may even feel better. One is coming who will ‘baptize us with Fire and Spirit’ expressly for the purpose of burning off ‘the chaff from the wheat’ (LK 3:17). Might we prepare for Jesus this Advent with righteous acts that burn off the dross of selfish emotions?

Desert Stream 2015 Year End Newsletter

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Turn and Burn Andrew Comiskey

Turn and Burn

‘John was a lamp that burned and gave light.’ (JN 6:35)

I could hardly believe my ears. Surrounded by a host of earnest men, most cradle Catholics, the priest raged like a street fighter as he implored us to turn from what sickened, divided and ultimately would kill us. ‘Repent unto the love of Jesus! The love that woos you will only make you new if you turn from your sin!’

Pow. Right between the eyes. The priest mediated the spirit of John the Baptist unlike any other, fittingly so for the second week of Advent. The Sunday’s Gospel (LK 3: 1-6) declares John preaching ‘a baptism of repentance’, and implores us to ‘make a way’ for Jesus in our lives through turning from everything that hinders love. We know that holy love liberates our repentance. But the Baptist refuses to let us off the hook. We must level our mountains—the craggy defenses and soaring self-justifications—in order to break ground for His entry into our lives.

Incited by the sentimentality that surrounds ‘homosexuals’ in the Church today (victims in need of coddling, not the call to repent unto chastity like everyone else), I began to burn within as I recalled God’s dignifying call for my repentance. I realized I had a choice: turn from my ‘gay’ self and behaviors and live, or die in my sin. It was simple, stunning, and cost me everything. It set me free to follow Jesus.

Like Jeremiah (20:9), my stomach smoking, I declared to my brothers around that table the truth of my ‘gay ‘ past and gratitude for the Baptist’s call to repentance. ‘God in His mercy gave me a choice: He respected me enough to give me the freedom to surrender to Him the whole complicated mess of my sexuality. And He gives you the same gift to turn from whatever seeks mastery over you. You just have to act on it. No-one can do it for you.’

Admittedly, repentance isn’t the only factor in our restoration as persons. But no restoration can occur without it. Through His beloved forerunner John, Jesus reminds us this Advent to turn and so burn with the fire of divine love.

This Tuesday the 8th, Pope Francis initiates his Jubilee Year of Mercy. Would you pray with me throughout this important year for him? Following the Synod on the Family, the Pope is now weighing its report and sometime in 2016 will give his pastoral suggestions on a host of issues, including the pastoral care of persons with SSA. He has been ambiguous in the call for ‘homosexuals’ to repent, and he faces resistance for making such a politically incorrect call.

Perhaps Pope Francis can draw courage from John the Baptist who commanded repentance so clearly that Herod killed him for it (John challenged his sexually immoral relationship with Herodias and was beheaded; Matt. 14:1-12.) Pray for Pope Francis’ clarity, that he not bypass the clear command of repentance unto Jesus and the goal of chastity for all persons, including persons with SSA. To do so is a failure of mercy. We cannot have Jesus without His Baptist. We must turn in order to burn with holy love.

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