In the Desert, With Wild Beasts and Angels

John Michael Reyes

For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California,  who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry.  Today’s post is from John Michael Reyes, who holds a Master of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. His spiritual formation, community life and heart is with the Franciscan School of Theology (Berkeley), now located in Oceanside, CA.  He has served as a hospital chaplain, liturgist and currently works at Santa Clara University’s Campus Ministry focusing on Sacramental Formation and Liturgy.  He is a native San Franciscan who enjoys working out at the nearest Orange Theory Fitness and is a parishioner of Most Holy Redeemer Parish, San Francisco. 

Today’s readings: Genesis 9: 8-15; Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1: 12-15.  You can find the readings by clicking here.

As I reflect on today’s readings, neither the desert nor Noah’s ark are speaking loudly to me as they have in years past. Rather, the mention of wild beasts and angels resonates strongly.  

The Gospel focuses on Jesus doing things on his own: after his baptism, he goes to the desert.  Many scripture scholars have likened this to a retreat in order for Jesus to focus on the momentous tasks ahead of him. In a way, this retreat is like what we Christians do to prepare for Easter: to fulfill that momentous task of, once again saying “Yes! I do” to the Easter promises when we are renewed in our ordinary humanity made extraordinary by our baptism.

The gospel makes a point to say that Jesus was not alone in the desert.  And I take comfort in that.  I am comforted because the mentions of wild beasts and angels reflect how I want to live and pray Lent this year.  I realize the importance of community because my humanity is more palpable than usual.

In the Fall of 2017, I had an experience of Lent: a recurrence of depression.  I excused myself from work to focus on myself.  LGBTQ+ people must confront stigma and prejudice based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and some must also deal with the societal bias against mental health conditions. I think of the many LGBTQ+ who might ask, “Does the Church (or God) think there’s something wrong with me?”  Because of depression and my identity, I have entertained this question.

Yet, in the weeks of treatment, I encountered others who shared my experience: we have wounds that need healing. I was not alone.  At times, I treated the experience like a retreat: I was quiet and observant.  I had the opportunity to listen to people who were suffering because of a vast spectrum of issues.  And yet, together, we expressed that we wanted to experience what being hopeful felt like again.   

I gradually experienced what those in the RCIA process (specifically, the Elect: those candidates who, at the beginning of Lent, express a desire to be baptized at Easter) will be undergoing in just a few weeks when they undergo the Scrutinies: rituals meant to uncover what is weak, and strengthen what is good. As I progressed through my healing, I noticed the things that were weighing me down and held them up to the light. As I listened to others go through the same process, I felt like I was that disciple whose heart was burning that first Easter when another shared their story of encountering the Risen Jesus.  I couldn’t help but ask, “You felt like that, too?”  Some words came out like wild beasts and other words were received like angels ministering to me.  Whether we knew it or not, we proclaimed with our lives that the reign of God is at hand: we want to get better and we are here to make it happen! As a person of faith, I wanted my heart to honestly tell me again, “You are a beloved of God.”  

In these days, I remember the need to be gentle with myself, that I am not alone or without friends, and that I do matter.  I need to remember that God is part of my Lenten journey, and that as the community gathers each and every Sunday, we make present the Christ who journeys with us.  

Lent is the time of spring cleaning: we dust off the dirt from our hearts and remember that we are loved and beloved. That message of love is the profound, lasting and healing covenant that God symbolized through the rainbow with Noah, and which God continually renews for us with the Eucharist. For Jesus, healing means that you belong once again, your life matters in community.

May we have the support around us to help us pray, to fast, and to give so as to celebrate the Lenten season with a renewed purpose.  Maybe this Lent, we can invite ourselves to celebrate the season with others. Instead of being individualistic, we can realize that this is a communal journey towards the one font of baptism, where all life is made new.  Hopefully, we can invite ourselves to do this before we even think of putting on our individual sackcloths.

John Michael Reyes,  February 18. 2108



8 replies
  1. Kris
    Kris says:

    A good and insightful article.

    Yes, you do need to be gentler with yourself.

    Allow yourself to fail, in whatever way. If we don’t make this allowance for ouselves, how can we know God’s mercy, for his mercy is balm for the weak, not the strong. (Besides, there is no such thing as ‘strong’ in this way.) At the risk of sounding profane, God’s mercy is our licence to fail. Don’t forget this.

    Embrace yourself daily, and physically; this is what Jesus would do if he were incarnate again. And in a manner of speaking, he is: in the physicality of each and everyone of us, even in a self-embrace, when we act in his name.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    In the Desert, With Wild Beasts and Angels

    John, thank you for your thoughtful reflections on today’s gospel. I particularly enjoyed your views about the RCIA. I am the director of the RCIA in a moderate sized parish in the southern San Joaquin Valley. I also just happen to be gay.

    This is the Sunday that we gather with all the other catechumens and candidates and go to the bishop for the rites of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion. Being the director is a major ministry and I am thankful that I have been guided by the Holy Spirit in my vocation and that I can be openly who I am. That makes such a difference; no more hiding or pretending.

  3. jmr
    jmr says:

    It is quite timely to have these readings and for dioceses around the world to celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion! (Actually, this is the first year that we will not be having adult baptisms in my community – even in our university setting. Please know that my prayers go with you and your RCIA team, and Elect (and candidates) as we journey ever closer to the great vigil of Easter. May God bring to completion the good work begun in us!


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