Follow Br Jack by Email

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Horror of Losing the Use of Our Senses

"As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging." Mk 10:46 

A older friend, struggling with his hearing and beginning to feel very isolated, told me he would have preferred to lose the use of his eyes than his ears. Embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves, he found himself not participating in conversations and shying away from communal gatherings. Though he has hearing aids, he still often feels alone in a group and ignored by people with whom he often had enjoyable conversations.

Whether one is struggling with blindness or deafness is not the point of today's Gospel. The isolation and loneliness that accompanies the loss of any our faculties is painful, unnerving and confusing, especially in a society that often looked at physical infirmities as punishment for sin, and it is this to which Jesus addresses himself. The Lord wants us to feel and be an integral part of his body, the church. Anything that inhibits or limits this participation is his concern, and should be ours.

Sometimes, although we see and hear perfectly well, we fail to respond to others who are struggling. Too busy, too self absorbed or too compulsed by the need to succeed, we are blind and deaf to the needy. Advent is a good time to open our eyes and ears to anyone, especially members of our family, who is struggling.

Today, listen to someone you normally avoid.

What have you been privileged to see or hear that opened your heart to the Gospel?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fig Trees Need Time

"For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?" Lk 13:7

At the time of Jesus, Palestine was an arid land with little water and shallow soil. Farmers had to use their resources carefully. Because they could not afford to allow fruit bearing plants or trees that did not produce a good crop to litter the land, they became a ready example for Jesus to teach.

All of us must bear fruit. Given faith as a free gift, we need to spend it freely for the good of others. Faith is not something that merely calls us to personal holiness. It is a treasure intended to help others know God and the Good News of Jesus. Only when we live faith in a transparent way does it bear the fruit intended by God.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk committed to the silence of the Cistercian life, insisted that anyone who sought entry into the monastery to escape the world did not have a vocation. Even, perhaps especially, monks dedicated to silence must bear fruit by being attentive to all believers in order to bring the concerns of God's people before God in prayer.

Today,  reach out for someone lost.

What keeps you from producing fruit for all to eat?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Letting Nature Speak

"Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" Lk 12:56

Jesus often uses nature to help his listeners understand how plain the Gospel message is. When he hear thunder or see lightning in the sky we know to get out of the water or away from trees. The sounds and sights all around us warn us to be take shelter and avoid danger. When Jesus' enemies and disciples ignored the obvious he was hard on them, demanding that they stop fighting to be right, and seek a place where everyone could be safe.

Our spirits regularly tell us that there is something brewing is us that needs attention. When we become moody or resistive to the simple requests of friends or family, it ought to be a clue that something is wrong and needs our response, not our reaction. More important, we need to listen to our inner voice when it urges us to reach beyond our normal boundaries to help others, many of whom we will never know.

Poverty is everywhere in the world, and we have no choice as Christians but to respond to those in desperate need. Not to look at or see the world's poor, especially migrants streaming out of countries where their own leaders torture and chase them is a horror too plain to ignore.

Today, listen to or watch a report on the world's hungry.

Are you rushing too much making it impossible to hear the signs of the times?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jesus the Leader

"I have come to set fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing." Lk 12:51

Leadership in an individualistic society like the United States is very different from leadership in a communal society like Japan or Korea. It is important to reflect on this in light of today's scriptures. The society into which Jesus was born was communal like Japan. The word Wa in Japanese means peace, harmony and balance and one must never disturb the Wa of a family, town or country. Each person in a communal society works naturally for the common good, and more easily lets go of his or her individual wants and needs for the sake of the community.
Leadership in this context is intuitive.  A leader protects, reminds and calls the family, village or nation to Wa, to harmony and balance.  On the other hand, in individualistic societies leadership emphasizes the hero, the person(s) whose personality strengths are such that they can push, pull, coax and manipulate those they lead in a particular direction.  Leadership is not simply about reminding others of the values a country or company espouses as much as convincing others that a particular course of action is best for all, and is dependent on the political capital that a leader has earned, begged, borrowed or stolen.

Leadership in a gospel context is relational. A leader's primary task is to call people to a union with one another that builds up the society and allows each one to contribute to the common good. Jesus prays for this as he nears death.
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 
Unity with one another is the primary sign that we are of God and from God. As Christian leaders, we must work for unity among all peoples and find ways to put aside the divisions that unnecessarily separate us and often cause scandal for those who expect more from believers in Jesus.

Today, ask God to make you a sign of unity in the world and the church.

What kind of leader do you want in your faith life?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Not Fearing Death

"You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Lk 12:40
Every major religious tradition reminds us that we cannot escape death, and all our attempts to deny this simple reality lead us nowhere. St Paul admonishes those who waste too much time worrying about death.  "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor 15:57) That Jesus has already rescued and saved us from ultimate death is a fundamental teaching of our faith.

Islam also insists that while death is inevitable, so is resurrection, but in order to be ready, we must work to get close to God now. “Though we know death is certain, we have not prepared ourselves for it. Though we know paradise is definite, we have not worked for it...What are you waiting for? Death is the first visitor from the Almighty bringing good or evil tidings… so get closer to your Lord!”(Hamid al-Qasyirasi)

Mark Twain reminds us that the fear of death is really the fear of life. Those of us who are afraid to live, even though we are breathing, are moving quickly towards death. In fact, if we don't resolve and ask God to help us live fully, we are already dead because we miss so much of life.

While all of us fear death since we know so little about it and often lack faith, the scriptures are clear:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. Jn 14: 1-3

Today, meditate on your own death and pray to accept what feelings arise.

Who has taught you most about death and dying?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Gratitude for Life

"Be vigilant at all times." Lk 21:35

Several years ago I was asked to help hear confessions in a Spanish speaking parish. Although the majority of the people were from the Dominican Republic and loved having me in the confessional since they realized that I struggled to understand them, a few were from Mexico and had been catechized in a way that touched me deeply.  Each of the Mexican penitents began: "Father, I confess that God is good and has given me faith. I confess that God has blessed me with a wonderful family, and I confess that I have friends who support me and love me."

Only after beginning with this non traditional formula of "confession" which immediately reminded me of St. Augustine's Confessions, did they begin to ask pardon for their sins, again with an unique introduction.  "So Father, because God has been so good to me, I must confess that I have been ungrateful in many ways. These are my sins."  Honestly, I delighted each time a person catechized in this way came into the confessional, and have used the same formula myself when celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.

Thinking about these men and women occasions fundamentally important questions for us as people of faith: Have we been grateful enough for God's presence, understanding, compassion and forgiveness?  Are we full of gratitude to the God who never sleeps, never forgets us, and is always ready to welcome us home? Are we more worried about avoiding sin than doing good and fostering the good news in our families, communities and churches??

Today, thank God for God's gifts and take nothing for granted.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Saints John de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, and Companions, Martyrs

"Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” Lk 12:12

One of the most difficult situations every missionary faces is learning the nuances of another language. Knowing the idiomatic expressions, the intonations and the humor of other languages requires a life long effort, and even then most people never lose the accent from their fist language. Nevertheless, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about what to say, that the Holy Spirit will teach you. Good advice, even today.

When John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions came to the New World they knew very little about it, and undoubtedly did things that frightened the Native Americans they encountered. Rene Goupil was killed for tracing the sign of the Cross on a child's forehead, and we will never know how the Native Americans interpreted his gesture. Could they have believed Rene was harming the child? Were the missionaries able to communicate their dreams and purpose? We trust that their intent was always good, but some of what they said and did was misinterpreted, and that is a good lesson for us.

Knowing the culture into which one is inserted, even while living in the United States, is vital for good and lasting relationships. While none of us want to make seriously egregious mistakes when speaking and living with people from different cultures, it is bound to happen, and this can lead either to a deepened appreciation for one another or create fissures between and among us that are very hard to heal. For those who desire a deeper relationship and not a lasting break, it is vital to listen deeply and ask the Lord for the words that will help us articulate the power of the Gospel in a way others can understand.

Today, listen to someone from another culture or race and say nothing.

Have you ever had to ask God for the words to speak the Gospel?