Follow Br Jack by Email

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Deserts

"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.

When we can allow God to be God and look for God in the dusty and suffocating corners of life, we are acknowledging that we are made in God's image. God is not made in ours. If we are only happy with God when life is a smooth sail across a calm sea, we will never know the fullness of God's love. Neither will we be able to appreciate or put on the suffering of Jesus. While we know that suffering is not something we seek in itself, we also know we cannot avoid suffering altogether. Every life is full of light and dark. Knowing that God is always with us, even when we cannot understand God's ways, is the key to our faith. The road to Easter joy must go through Calvary.

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 20, 2015

Sabbath Resting

"If you call the Sabbath a delight, and the LORD's holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways,...then you shall delight in the LORD." Is 58:13-14

For the Jews of old Sabbath was both an obligation and a privilege. Jews were obligated to slow down, to spend time with family, to honor God by letting go of the events of the week in order to pray, listen and celebrate all that God did among them. Sabbath was also a privilege because it reminded the community that God wanted to be close to them, to dwell among them, and to animate them for the works of justice.

Many years ago, while a student at Boston University, I asked an orthodox Jewish friend why it was forbidden to play the shofar on the Sabbath. His answer has remained with me for more than forty years. Because, he said, God wants even the air itself to rest on the Sabbath. To change the natural flow of air by forcing it through a shofar with one's breath dishonors the God who wants everyone and everything to rest one day a week and turn their thoughts and prayers to God.

Lent is a good time to reexamine our own Sabbath practices. Do we take time to rest, to listen to others intentionally and completely with our hearts as well as our ears? Do we pause to think about how God was present to us each week even when we failed to listen to God? AND, do we do this everyday?

Take a few deep breaths today and be grateful for God's presence within you and among us.

Do you live a "sabbath" life? Do you rest each day in the presence of God?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fasting

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own." Is 58: 6-7

It did not take the church long to place before us a telling and important reminder about our Lenten practices. Fasting is not a subtle way to lose weight. Neither it is a practice to give us personal satisfaction or assure us that we are close to God. Fasting, and every other Lenten practice, has only one purpose, to draw us into the heart of God for God's purposes, and its value will be known by its fruits.

Are we more just, are we more open to the stories of those who struggle with life and life's most basic demands? Are we slower to judge others? Are we content being God's servants? God's yoke, as Jesus reminds us, is easy. When an ox goes in a straight path, it does not even know it is saddled with a yoke. It simply goes where it is directed. Though a harsh image, imagining God putting the yoke of the gospel around us at Baptism can help us not to struggle against any correction or instruction we receive.

Today, yoke yourself to God and let God lead you.

What is your most difficult "yoke?"

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Losing our Life for Christ

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

We often do things to save ourselves. We lie, we deceive and manipulate others and situations, all to protect our reputation. Of course, we know that when we act in this way we are being dishonest, but the alternative seems uncomfortable at best and impossible at worst. Although we know that lies follow us around like a bad penny, we get trapped in our pride and embarrassment. Literature is full of stories that grow from a simple dishonesty into a terrible tragedy.

Is anyone in literature a more heinous liar than Iago in Shakespeare's Othello? While clever and insightful, Iago schemes, deceives, and manipulates others for his own gain. Eventually his lies result not only in Desdemona and Othello's death, but his own. Lies kill our spirits by diminishing both the liar and anyone who welcomes the liar's deceit for his or her own gain.

In today's gospel Jesus not only warns his disciples that he will be killed for telling the truth, he teaches them that wealth and power are unworthy goals for the believer. The only way to gain life, he insists, is to lose it, to let go, to put aside the mask of invincibility and put on the clothes of compassion and justice. Lent is about facing the lies we tell ourselves and examining the lies our culture promotes.

Today ask for the courage to face the truth about yourself.

What are the biggest lies our culture teaches us?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ash Wednesday

"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:13

Repentance or conversion, to which the church calls us as Lent begins, is really quite simple. We are to stop worrying about our troubles, our self image, our wealth, our health and everything else that distracts us from God.

Lent is a time to turn to God again. We are to think about what God wants of us and from us. We are to ask for insight to know God's will and the faith to do it. It is as if we have been sitting looking out a window, which might be very lovely and relaxing, but is not what God is asking of us. God is asking us to look at God and return to our belief in the Good News. Conversion is an English translation of the Greek word, metanoia which simple means to turn back or to turn around. Admitting we are lost in our own fantasies or struggles is the first step. Turning away from them to God is the beginning of our ongoing conversion.

Lent is a time to "gaze" at God and not at our own belly buttons. We need to open our eyes and spirits to everything swirling around us and find God at the center. God is here. Always and in all ways. God is present not only in the enriching, enlivening, uplifting moments of life. God is present when we worry, suffer, obsess and walk away. Lent is about finding God by turning away from everything that distracts us and turning back to God.

Today ask God to call your name so that you might turn to God again.

Share a moment of conversion that you experienced.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mardi Gras

"Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you." Ps 55

Though Mardi Gras is not celebrated in Northeastern United States with the same vigor as one might find in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro, it ought to be. Mardi Gras reminds us that while Lent challenges us to abstain from meat, especially on Fridays, and fast throughout the forty days, we do this, not because meat and food is bad, but because we sometimes take the simple joy of eating for granted.

More important, we often take faith for granted until we are tested. Mardi Gras reminds us not only to enjoy the delights of the palate, to savor them and to create a world in which everyone eats, it invites us to ready ourselves for the great pilgrimage of Lent when we plunge more deeply into the mysteries of faith.

As the colors of Mardi Gras, purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power, remind us, Christ came to establish justice for all, to deepen our faith and remind us that God is the source of all our power. Eat heartily today, enjoy the delights that God places before you and let us recommit ourselves to shaping a nation and world that demands clean water, adequate food, decent housing,and dignified work for all.

Today, take your time eating and be grateful for whatever you have.

Is there a Mardi Gras custom that brings you delight and challenges your faith?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Confronting Jesus

"Why does this generation seek a sign??

The Pharisees seem always to challenging Jesus, asking for signs that he is of and from God. Quick to speak and offer an opinion, they may have been of good will, but did not have good sense.They spoke to protect their interpretation of the Torah but were unwilling to investigate God's intent for Jesus and the result is predictable. Jesus turns his back of them and leaves for the other side of the lake hoping to find a community that yearns for Good News.

Most of us are too timid to take chances like the Pharisees. We wait, gauge our responses and hope for the best. Though we might avoid mistakes, we rarely witness to the one in whom we believe without dotting every I and crossing every T.  Do we dare ask for the courage of the Pharisees to speak up on behalf of the truth, but also beg for the humility to listen and  change for the sake of the Gospel?

Today, ask God for a big heart and passion.

Do you have or do you know someone who has the courage to speak up on behalf of others?