Follow Br Jack by Email

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Our Spiritual Journeys

"Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth." Lk 1:39

The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is an important one in the Judeo Christian tradition. Believers are always on the way and reaching for something else. So is God. God seeks us out. God desires us, and in the Song of Songs the writer wants us to imagine God as a romantic lover who will leap mountains in order to be with us. And in the Gospel of Luke, God wants us to believe that winter's cold and darkness is over because the light has come into the world.

Mary learns the lesson of pilgrimage early. Almost as soon as she says yes to being the mother of the Messiah, she leaves her home and travels to be with Elizabeth, and her visit is not a drop in but a three month stay. What she will learn about Elizabeth and herself will shape her life and ours. Though we can only guess what happens in Mary's heart as Jesus grows in wisdom and age, we know that she was always near him, sometimes correcting, at other times consoling, but never abandoning her son despite the terrible personal cost.

If God is always seeking us and surrounding us with love, why should we be afraid? Mary's fear faded fast when she allowed the the Spirit to enter her. So should ours, and in the end, as long as we do not turn away from the journey, we have nothing to fear.

Today, take one step towards God and see how God responds.

What parts of your journey have most filled you with joy?

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Fruitfulness of Faith

"Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John." Lk 1:13

Barrenness is a particularly difficult burden to bear, and in the ancient world it was often seen as a punishment for sin.  Both the wife of Zorah, the mother of Samson, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist were barren, and we can only imagine the pain they felt.  No doubt both women were familiar with the words of Jeremiah who tells us that Rachel wept inconsolably because she was barren.  For Jewish women not to have children meant they had no identity, no value, and no blessing from God. Zorah's wife isn't even named. How great then the joy of both women when, in their old age, God blesses them with children whose role in salvation history will forever help believers to appreciate the greatness of God who blesses us when we least expect it.

In these last days of Advent, the same is true of us.  Our roles in the ongoing story of God's love for the world, while sometimes muddy and confusing, are radically important to God.  God wants to speak through us, to announce good news, not only through the strengths and gifts we each have, but through our willingness to endure weakness and suffering for the sake of building God's reign.

Today, pray to be fruitful for God's sake.

What are the gifts God has given you for the sake of others?


Thursday, December 17, 2015

St Joseph's Fidelity

"When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." Mt 1:24a

There are many ways to wake up. Sometimes, it is simple. Our bodies tell us to pay attention. We have a headache that will not go away or we discover a skin growth that looks strange. Our bodies are telling us to pay attention and take action. At other times, especially when we take time to relax and reflect, an idea that has been percolating in our minds and hearts, takes shape. We read about AIDS in Africa or the plight of refugee children in Syria, and we start searching the Internet for places and organizations that are addressing these vital concerns. Waking up to the challenge of acting on the Gospel is important for our own salvation and the good of others.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, troubled by his young wife's pregnancy, wakes up. Not wanting her to be stoned, he decides to divorce her quietly. In this way, Mary will have other chances to marry and build a family. But then Joseph has a dream and when he wakes up, he knows that God wants him to marry Mary despite his misgivings. That he listens and acts upon the message he receives is critical for Joseph's salvation and ours.

When Joseph allows the "dream word" to take root in him, he abandons his own instincts about Mary and welcomes her into his life. Not only did this act protect Mary, it legitimized Jesus in the eyes of the Jewish community and makes Joseph a model for everyone in the church. When we are open to God's voice, no matter how it comes to us, we make God's desire for the world possible.

Today when you wake up, pause and let God speak a liberating word to you.

Have there been moments in your life that changed the course of your faith?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Human History

"Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations." (Mt 1 16-17)

Genealogies are always intriguing and revealing.  The genealogy of Jesus is no exception. Matthew is intent on helping his readers understand that Jesus came from the tree of David and is the Messiah whose coming was promised long before his birth. 

Furthermore, a careful reading of Matthew's genealogy counts four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Women were rarely mentioned in Jewish genealogies, and the one's mentioned don't fit the mold one would expect in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar was abused and only conceived when she disguised herself as a prostitute in order to bear a child with Judah who rejected her.  Rahab is a prostitute and a non Israelite who should not have married an Israelite. Neither is Ruth an Israelite but Boaz who is the grandfather of David marries her. Finally, David spies Bathsheba bathing and is so overcome with desire for her, he has her husband Uriah killed in order to satisfy his own lust.  

All this is pretty messy stuff. Jesus has lots of "black sheep" in his family tree and the point of the scripture is that it doesn't really matter. Every honest look at the human family, and Jesus was really human, is full of failure, ambiguity and sin. That Jesus would be born of Mary, a virgin, is consistent with his genealogy.  There is no cause of scandal here, only rejoicing.  Jesus is like us in all things but sin. That Jesus wept over Lazarus's death, ached for the widow whose only son had died, and was drawn to the sick and the suffering reminds us everyday of his full humanity and fills us with hope for ourselves and our world.

Today, ask God for the humility to accept yourself and your family as you are.

Is there anything in your family history that needs healing?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speak the Truth in Jesus' Name

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Mt 7:22

Although tradition tells us that John the Baptist and Jesus were related, the scripture also seems to suggest that, for a time at least, John was unsure of Jesus' identity. Why else would he have sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the "one who is to come?" Jesus' response is clear. He assures John that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah the prophet and Jesus' answer sets the tone for his entire mission and ministry. He will be a healer who does justice, and it is his commitment to justice that will lead to his death.

John the Baptist, like Jesus, believed that the Jewish leaders had failed the poor and he was not afraid to voice his displeasure both in his preaching and lifestyle. John was a hermit who lived in the desert. His preaching attracted large crowds from among the poor because he spoke to their hearts and defended their rights, but when he attacked Herod for his marriage to Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip, John was a marked man.

Both John and Jesus remind us that speaking the truth, despite its consequences, is an essential element of embracing the Good News. This is not to say, as Pope Francis reminds us, that we should be strident and overly focused on one or the other issue. Rather, we need to read the signs of the times and speak up on behalf of those whose lives are most threatened.

Pope Francis has repeatedly mentioned the unemployment of the young and the loneliness of the old as growing problems in the 21st century to which the church must address herself. His concerns need not become normative for us, but ought to stimulate our thinking and action. In this way, we all become committed to the needy and forgotten.

Today, ask the Lord to free you from the fear of speaking truth to power.

What stops you from responding to the poor as God's favored ones?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Humility

"When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."(Mt 21:32)

Changing our minds is hard work, something that most of us do only reluctantly. Even when the truth stares us in the face, we resist. Perhaps we are afraid of losing something with which we are comfortable. Or we think that changing our minds might be interpreted as disloyalty to a friend or people in power. Whatever the reason for our resistance, letting go and changing our minds in order to follow the Lord more closely is a clear mandate in the gospel.

Today’s gospel portrays a community of Jewish leaders unwilling to change, even after seeing and experiencing the honesty and integrity of John the Baptist. When Jesus suggests that prostitutes and tax collectors are more willing to change than them, their resistance only deepens. To be compared to people at the bottom of the social ladder is an insult which they will not accept. Not only do they refuse to look at Jesus with open eyes and hearts, they begin to plot against him, not because of his ideas but because their power and standing in the community are threatened.

All of us have reasons not to change. We have lived faithful catholic lives. We have followed the commandments and tried to live the beatitudes, but the Lord often demands more. Perhaps we have been hurt by a colleague, a friend, even a spouse and we refuse to believe that they can and have changed. We avoid them, speak dismissively of their good works or smirk at their efforts to change. The problem is ours, not theirs, especially if they have discovered a way to follow Christ which might help us on our pilgrim journey.

Today, ask for a dose of humility that allows you to change you mind for the sake of God’s reign.

What helps you let go of old hurts and view others with God's eyes?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

St John of the Cross

"Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things." Mt 21:27

St John of the Cross was a very young man when St Teresa of Avila saw qualities in him he could never have seen himself. Bright and insightful, an artist and song writer, above all John was drawn to the mystical path in the spiritual life and was not afraid of the dark night to which he was called. Teresa knew John was different and although she was thirty years older than John, she wrote, "He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me."

John of the Cross was destined to be like Elijah the prophet, a fire and a flaming furnace of God's love. When he died at 49 he had helped found, despite enormous opposition from his own Carmelite brothers, many monasteries of discalced Carmelites who led an intense life of prayer and penance while also being hugely effective apostolic ministers, writers and preachers. The poet, Jessica Powers, shortly before she entered the Carmelites herself, wrote of John's books:
Out of what door that came ajar in heaven
       drifted this starry manna down to me,
       to the dilated mouth both hunger given
       and all satiety?
       Who bore at midnight to my very dwelling
       the gift of this imperishable food?
       my famished spirit with its fragrance filling,
       its savor certitude.
       The mind and heart ask, and the soul replies
       what store is heaped on these bare shelves of mine?
       The crumbs of the immortal delicacies
       fall with precise design.
       Mercy grows tall with the least heart enlightened,
       and I, so long a fosterling of night,
       here feast upon immeasurably sweetened
       wafers of light.
Today, ask God to let you see with God's own eyes.

What keeps you from a more intense prayer life?