Follow Br Jack by Email

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Transfiguration of the Lord

"While he was praying Jesus' face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white." Lk 9:29

While change is necessary in all our lives, it always implies a struggle. Because we are comfortable in a particular circumstance despite its difficulties, we often choose to make excuses for not changing. Friends of mine, older now and needing to think about moving to a smaller home or condo, express a thousand reasons for staying exactly where they are. Despite the fact that their home presents some physical dangers for older people, they prefer to adjust and be careful not to hurt themselves rather than move, and while all of their friends understand their reluctance, it does make us wonder.

Jesus experienced resistance in his apostles as he headed for Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish life and power. His followers, delighted by their master's healing power and message of liberation for the poor, wanted to stay in the Northern part of Palestine and go from town to town gathering new disciples, thinking they would strengthen their hand when eventually they would arrive in Jerusalem. But Jesus would have none of it.

Determined to move towards Jerusalem, and his death, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Showing himself as the successor to Moses and Elijah, Jesus lets his friends know that he is more than they think and more than they bargained for. He is the Messiah of God, and his message and purpose go far beyond the liberation of the Jewish nation from Roman domination. Though it will be frightening and confusing, if Jesus' disciples want to continue to follow him, they must accompany him to Jerusalem and all that it implies. So must we.

Today, let the Lord show himself to you as he is.

What are your most challenging resistances to change?

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Witness of John the Baptist

“'I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.'... So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl."

The beheading of John the Baptist has always been one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to read. Horrific and barbaric, we cringe and withdraw from the image of someone bringing the head of another human being to a banquet to satisfy the rage of a woman whose marriage has been condemned.

Unfortunately, to the horror of most people in the world, this scene has been repeated too often in recent years with the deaths of Christians for no other reason than their faith is Jesus. Pope Francis, in responding to these atrocities, reminds believers that despite the awfulness of what we are witnessing, we must continue to live the Gospel: "Wars are always madness: All is lost in war, all is to be gained in peace, In deploring all of these, I wish to assure my prayers and my solidarity for those who are being held in captivity and for their families, and I appeal to the humanity of the kidnappers to free their victims,"  Solidarity with all people trapped by war and the willingness to seek new roads to peace is the only Gospel response.

Today, pray for anyone, especially children, caught in wars they cannot possibly understand.

What do you think is the Gospel response to overwhelming violence?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

St John Vianney

"Strive for unity, for there is nothing better. Help all, as the Lord also helps you; suffer all in love (indeed, you are doing this). Pray unceasingly. Beg for wisdom greater than you already have, be watchful and keep the spirit from slumbering. Speak to each person individually, just like God himself, and like a perfect champion bear the infirmities of all. The greater the toil, the greater the gain." St Ignatius of Antioch to Bishop Polycarp 1st century C.E.
The sentiments of Ignatius of Antioch challenge all of us called to leadership in the church, and whether we experience it actively or not, we are all called to leadership. The documents of the Second Vatican Council are clear about this. So is Jesus. We are called to be servants. We are, like Jesus, to kneel and wash the feet of others and to discern how best we can help build the reign of God on earth.  As Thomas Sweetser, S.J. and Carol Holden argue, leaders need to develop skills in "information gathering, decision making, community building, conflict management, and evaluation," (Cf Sweetser and Holden) if we hope to empower everyone around us to live and function well in the 21st century church.

There is no doubt that St John Vianney did this in his life. More than anything else he listened and responded to people where they were, and while he did this in the confessional, we all need to learn this art if we want to help others take their rightful place in a church that increasingly depends of lay leadership for its survival.

Today, listen to someone without defensiveness or feeling pressured to answer?

Who or what has been most helpful to you in your understanding and call to leadership?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Face to Face

"Then the cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling." Ex 40:34

Although the book of Exodus speaks of God as a cloud descending on the tent, believers wonder what God looked like. If God spoke with Moses face to face, how did God's face appear? Was God's face young, old, man, woman, fierce, kindly? These are questions without answers and in some ways irrelevant. That God spoke with Moses as one man or one woman speaks to another is the point of the text.

God is intimate with Moses. God draws near and speaks clearly because, the text implies, God wants to be close to us, and involved in our lives. Most important, God wants us to know that we have a purpose and a destiny, and will only reach our end if we live in peace, work for justice and find a way to care for all creation. 

God is clear. Life is a gift which we ought to enjoy and share. Giving Moses the commandments is a way of helping us understand what we must do and how we must live. Not simply a list of prohibitions, as they are sometimes presented and interpreted, the commandments remind us that every community needs order and boundaries in order to live well together. If we honor God and respect and love all that God gives us, life among us is rich and reverent.

Today, speak with the Lord face to face. Don't be afraid.

What experiences or activities bring you closest to God?


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Portiuncula (Little Portion) of St Francis

“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” Ps 64:69

Sometimes the psalms startle and stop us. Because they are prayer songs which we often recite by rote like a litany or the rosary, we can forget that they contain countless images that help us understand God, our faith and ourselves better. When Psalm 64 reminds us that God sees us in our lowliness and hears our confusion and upset, the scripture helps us remember that God draws closer to us when we are suffering. It is not that God will take away our pain. Rather, God will walk, stand or sit with us as we endure and eventually embrace the trials that come to all in life.

A friar friend, Tom Murphy, who died three years ago, was a shining example of this. Tom spent the majority of his ministerial life as a hospital chaplain. Not one to wait to be called to the bed of a sick person, Tom walked the halls of the hospital and nursing home where he served. Like St Francis of Assisi, Tom sought out those who were struggling the most. He always had time to sit down, listen and pray with those who felt desperately alone. And because Tom was bilingual, he was also able to attend to the large Latino population of the hospital and nursing home with a special tenderness. 

Tom did all this while enduring his own demons. His mental illness not only did not deter him from walking with the sick, it made him more compassionate. Tom, and so many others like him, remind us that God will not only not abandon us in our confusion, God will will seek us out and assure us we are not alone.

Today, seek out someone who is sick and listen.

Who or what most helps you when you are wrestling with life?

Monday, July 31, 2017

St Aphonsus Liguori

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it." Mt 13:46

Often great thinkers and saints come along at a time in church history when there is division, even chaos, and rage. Alphonse Liguori is one of those. Reacting to the harshness of Jansenism, which taught that everything of creation is intrinsically evil, Alphonse helped the church reclaim a moral theology that today might be called “virtue ethics.” More concerned with building up the good in people than rooting out every small sin, Alphonse brought civility, understanding, compassion and kindness back to moral theology.

The task today seems very similar. Sometimes the Catholic church is known more for what it condemns than what it promotes, but even a quick view of church teaching reveals a comprehensive concern for the human family. While the press  trumpets the church’s condemnation of abortion (not the woman who aborts!), the bishops remind us that we must have an “option for the poor and vulnerable,” and promotes health care for all, just to name two, if we are going to have an authentically formed Catholic conscience. 

Today, practice virtue and justice.

What do you think it means to be a faith filled citizen in the United States today?