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Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Holy Family

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Col 3:12

Being family can be hard work. So can being church. As children grow and develop their own religious values, politics and friendships, they can move away from their families of origin and even become separated at a deeper level. Painful though it may be for all involved, there is often little anyone can do except pray for patience and reconciliation. One wonders what Mary and Joseph's family thought when Joseph, warned in a dream, fled to Egypt. Did it hurt their families? Did they even know where the young family was going?

The Holy Family is sometimes held up as a model for all but for the wrong reasons. If we allow ourselves to idealize their life together as one of blissful peace and happiness, we cheat them and ourselves of finding in them a compass for our everyday lives. In fact, the scriptures offer evidence that Jesus regularly confused his parents. He stayed behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents, and initially refused to help the young couple at Cana, who because of poor planning, were running out of wine for their wedding. Mark's gospel goes further and suggests Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind. (3:21). Everything was not sweetness and light!

The Holy Family is important for contemporary Christians when we allow their experience as family to shape our attitudes towards one another and the world. When, as Paul reminds us, we put on compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness, especially towards people in our own families, we witness to the saving work of Christ in and for us and remind all that we are the Body of Christ.

Today, listen in your family twice as much as you speak.

What are the greatest challenges contemporary families face in living the Gospel?

Friday, December 25, 2015

St Stephen, Martyr

"Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke." Acts 6:8,9

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Putting Stephen's feast on the day after Christmas is no accident. The church wants believers to know there is a cost to following the babe of Bethlehem. The joy we feel at Christmas must be tempered by the challenge of every day faith, and though Stephen's witness leads to his death, he dies with gratitude and hope.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas

"She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Mt 1:21

For most believers, Christmas is a delight, a wondrous celebration of faith and family, but for some, Christmas is a terrible burden. Because expectations for Christmas are so great, we can try too hard to please God and others, and get in the way of God's plan. Only when we learn to slow down, listen, and respond rather than react to every situation, can we hope to know and live God's plan for us and the people we love.

When we take a few moments to reflect on the first Christmas, we realize both Mary and Joseph had to stay very centered as they traveled and waited for the birth of Jesus. Away from their families and without the security of a place to stay, they had to rely on a kind inn owner to find them a place for their child to be born. While the insecurity must have been very trying for them, they endured. Strengthened by Mary's yes to the angel, and Joseph's dream, they trusted that God would lead them where they needed to be to fulfill Jesus' destiny.

When we let God lead, everything changes. We understand, and more importantly accept, that no one lives on his or her own terms, and God will guide us if only we accept God's path. Mary and Joseph teach us this important and powerful lesson and Christmas is our opportunity to follow their example.

Today, give God permission to lead you.

What hurdles must you cross to celebrate Christmas with joy?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Zechariah's Joy

"Zechariah, (John the Baptist's) father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free.'" Lk 1:67

What a joy it must have been for Zechariah to announce that God had set his people free. In exile often, the Jewish people yearned for a military solution to the Roman problem. Invaded by Caesar's armies, Israel had little control of the land God had given to them, and they hated it. Zechariah's prophesy would have filled them with hope.

God's willingness to rescue his people is a constant theme in the Hebrew bible. No matter how often the chosen people turn away from his rule, God's mercy trumps his anger and God welcomes the Jewish people into his heart. Our biggest concern should be not taking God's goodness for granted. Rather, our gratitude for God's graciousness ought to be a sign to the world of our Gospel commitment.

It is important to speak our faith, especially on behalf of the voiceless and people in exile: immigrants, refugees and people living in shelters. When a society and a church ignore or turn away from those most in need, we deny God's concern for those who are lost and open ourselves to the criticism that faith is a crutch upon which we lean, not a dynamic and inclusive lifestyle that sees all people as brothers and sisters.

Today, say something on behalf of the needy.

What most inhibits your willingness to speak up on behalf of the voiceless?



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The birth of the Baptist

His mother replied: "He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Lk I:59

What's in a name?  In the ancient world, everything. Names were given to children by their fathers to honor his ancestors and elders. Mothers had no role in this ritual, but Elizabeth does. Only when Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet is his "mouth opened and his tongue freed." Clearly, Elizabeth's child John would play an important role in salvation history. John, whose name means God is gracious, would usher in a new order and a new way of being in the world.

Unlike so many, John would have no doubts about his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, despite the desire of so many who accepted his baptism. Rather, his entire life would consist in pointing to Jesus, and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Admitting that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandal strap and that he needed to decrease and Christ increase, John becomes a symbol for every Christian.

Our task as believers is not to posture or pretend that we are important, but to be grateful for the name Christian, and recognize Christ in every person and prepare others to receive his Good News. Accepting that we are God's children gives every Christian an identity that is empowering forever. We need not have any fear about who we are or what we are to do. Like John, we are to point to Christ as Redeemer and hope for all humankind.

Today, help someone find Christ.

What are the biggest obstacles we face in announcing the Good News?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mary's Hymn of Joy and Praise

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Lk 1:46

The Venerable Bede, an 8th Century monk, in an attempt to help us understand the depth of Mary's gratitude, expands St Luke's language:
The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. (Universalis)
These days as we creep ever closer to Christmas, the church cannot get enough of Mary. Full of anticipation, Mary sings but knows that words and music, no matter how beautiful, cannot express her joy at being the mother of Jesus. She can only offer thanks, and we would do well to follow her example.

Thanksgiving is the ground and base of Christian spirituality. If we do not practice Thanksgiving, we will never understand the Eucharist or fully appreciate God's total and persistent love of us. Only when we live gratefully for each day of life and faith are we able to proclaim the Good News unequivocally and completely.

Today, imagine where you would be without the love of God.

What are you most grateful for?



Sunday, December 20, 2015

Who is Mary to You?


"Blessed are you who believed." Lk 1:44

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a remarkably moving and demanding sermon, begs Mary to help her sons and daughters:
Let humility be bold, Mary, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
Reading Bernard's words always lifts my spirits. It is clear that the Saint thought of Mary as his sister, mother, and friend, someone to whom he could speak plainly and with abandon. Mary was not an historical figure, but a living, breathing companion with whom Bernard could plead and beg. His example should embolden us. Both Mary and Jesus are meant to be accessible players in our personal and communal lives. We should never be afraid to approach them and ask for help and guidance.

Today, imagine you are one of the people Mary passes on her way to see Elizabeth. Stop her and ask for direction.

What has helped you draw close to Mary and the saints?