Follow Br Jack by Email

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Staying in the Day

"Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near." (Is 55:6)

Staying in the day, staying in the moment is an important spiritual practice. Being alert to everything happening around us, without trying to control or manipulate our environment is a contemplative exercise that can serve us well in everyday life. More important, if we fail to pay attention to each day, we run the risk of getting trapped in the past or day dreaming about the future, an activity that diminishes our acceptance of each day and often damages our relationships. 

Today’s first reading from Isaiah is strong in this regard, reminding us to seek the Lord now, to call upon the Lord now while he is near. Most of us, because we are easily distracted, miss opportunities for intimacy and new hope. There’s a story, allegedly about St Bernard of Clairvaux, but told in many religious traditions, that makes this point well. St Bernard was riding his horse one day and was stopped by a farmer. “I envy you,” the farmer said, “for being able to ride that beautiful horse and say your prayers. It’s a lot easier than my lot in life. I have to work so much there is no time for prayer.” Bernard paused and said, “Prayer is hard work. But if you really think it is easier to pray than work, I’ll make you a deal. If you can pray the Our Father once without distraction, I will give you my horse.” The farmer smiled, assured Bernard that it would be easy for him, and began. “Our Father who art in heaven….Do I get the saddle, too.”

Many think that a life of prayer and reflection would be easy, especially if they lived in a monastery and had four or five periods of prayer together each day. In fact, prayer is hard work as St. Bernard insisted. Learning to let go of all of our distractions is the first step in attending to what is happening right in front of us and the foundation of a healthy prayer life.

Today, pray the Our Father slowly and don't worry about being distracted.

From whom did you learn to pray faithfully?

Friday, September 22, 2017

St Padre Pio

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light." Lk 8:16

What must we do when our inner demons urge us not to display the light God has given us? This is no idle question, but a deep struggle of conscience that many saints have had to face in their lives. The doctor of the church, St. Hildegaard of Bingen, very much wanted to ignore the dreams and visions she had from an early age, but her confessors and spiritual directors, convinced of their value, insisted that she share them. Eventually they reached St Bernard of Clairvaux, the great founder of the Cistercians, who brought then to Pope Eugenius III. When Eugenius read them, he knew they were a gift from God that would enlighten many peoples hearts with the power of the Gospel.

Padre Pio is another saint who struggled mightily with the gifts God gave him. Blessed with the Stigmata, Pio was frightened when first presented with the gift of Jesus' wounds appearing in his own body. Writing to his friend, Padre Benedetto, Pio told the priest that when he first received the Stigmata he thought he was dying, and would have died had not God intervened. Worried about the reaction of others, Pio asked God to take the outward sign of the Stigmata from him. Willing to endure the pain of the wounds, he did not want to face the questions and doubts of his confreres and superiors about their authenticity.

With both saints, there was no choice. God wanted to speak and be a light in the world through them. Neither Hildegaard nor Pio was permitted to extinguish their light or avoid public scrutiny. More important, while not as dramatic, none of us are free to let the light of God shining in and through us be extinguished. Rather, our lives of faith are designed to be a guide for others seeking to know God's Good News.

Today, let your light, no matter how weak, shine for God's glory.

What most troubles or unnerves you about being God's light in the world?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Women in the Church

"Some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

In the United States, at least, women have almost always carried the burden of keeping our parishes organized, welcoming an functioning smoothly. Where would our parishes be without the women who lead and teach catechetics, organize celebrations and picnics, and make sure the parish is active in reaching out to the poor and needy? This is not to say that men haven't played key roles in the church, but it is women upon whom falls the daily and weekly tasks that make a parish live and go. They are its face.

It seems St Paul benefited from the same kind of help from the women of his day. In Luke's Gospel, which scholars suggest tells Paul's story, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna were not only faithful disciples of Jesus, they were also generous in their support of Paul' missionary journeys.  Wouldn't it be good to know more about them? Unfortunately, in the ancient world, and too often in our world, women's voices are rarely heard, and their stories seldom told. We should work hard to change that.

Pope Francis continues to move the church in this direction by encouraging what he called,
The indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected." He also noted that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups" and he said he had hoped that "the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded."
Today,  pray for a woman you know who has been generous but under appreciated in her service to the church.

What steps can and should the church take to highlight the contributions of women to our faith communities?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

St Matthew, Apostle

"Follow me." Mt 9:10

Matthew must have been amazed and delighted when Jesus called him to follow. Amazed because he was a tax collector, a man despised for what he did and who he was. Tax collectors were most often Jews who worked for the Romans. Upfront, they would pay the Romans the taxes of those from who they collected taxes and then charge Jews whatever they could, and this would often be exorbitant and excruciating.

Matthew also would have been delighted. Here was Jesus, a prominent Jew and rabbi, calling him, accepting him, sitting down at table with him when everyone else in the community was shunning him. Matthew knew that he was being given a second chance and he was anxious to take it.

The message of the gospel is clear. All of us will get a second chance and it is up to us to take it, to follow the Lord and let go of behaviors and practices that oppose God's law and God's desire for us. As long as we are willing to admit that we are in need of a physician, the Lord will come to us like a doctor who sees only that we are in need. The Lord wants to heal us. How wonderful.

Today, acknowledge your weakness.

Who looked at you with love when you could not accept or love yourself?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

"Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources." Lk 8:2-3

Of the 98 Korean martyrs who Blessed John Paul II canonized in 1984, more than half were lay women, among them Anna Park Agi. Abandoned in prison by her husband and son who could not endure the torture imposed on them, Anna was steadfast. Even when her husband and son visited her, imploring her to remember her children and family, Anna refused to renounce her faith and begged her son and husband to return to the faith even if it meant a new imprisonment.

Women like Anna, even if they are not as well known or celebrated as Andrew Kim and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, who wrote and preached publicly in defense of the faith, continue to offer us a great challenge. How many people, especially women without the freedom to peach, continue to offer us an example of fidelity and courage despite the limitations imposed on them by the society and the church!

Today, thank of and pray in gratitude for a woman who has encouraged you in faith.

Who are the people without loud voices to whom you need to listen more?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Holiness for All

"Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money." 1 Tim 3: 2-3

The universal call to holiness is an important Catholic doctrine. In the fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium we read, "Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness." (LG)

For many older Catholics this teaching may sound strange, even wrong. As Catholics who grew up and learned their catechism in the middle of the 20th century, they learned that bishops, priests and nuns were called to holiness, but they rarely heard of their own call. The Second Vatican Council tried to change this, but old ideas die slowly.

It should not surprise us that it is difficult to change, but it should not discourage us. Over time, we can learn and grow, but we must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. A good place to start is reading the lectionary each day, or taking a course in Adult Religious education. Most important is to set aside a few minutes of quiet, reflection and prayer each day. All of this allows the Spirit to do God's work in us, and opens us to new possibilities and the holiness to which all of us are called.

Today, read the Gospel of the day slowly and savor it.

What inhibits your call to holiness?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Real Humility

"The centurion sent friends to tell him, 'Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.'" Lk 7 6-7

Most humble people have been humbled. Born into wealth or privilege, circumstances conspired against them and they lost everything. The proud complain or curse God; the humble realize that everything they had was a gift and not something they earned or deserved. The proud do almost anything to reclaim what they believe is theirs by divine right. The humble echo the Japanese proverb: When my house burned down, I could finally see the sunrise.

Remarkably, the centurion in the today's Gospel is not asking Jesus to help him but to heal his servant, and Jesus, obviously moved, is willing to respond to the centurion's request. But the centurion becomes an icon of humility for the ages when he acknowledges Jesus' power to heal without touch or physical presence. Not wanting Jesus to risk the condemnation of the rabbis for entering his house, the centurion asks Jesus only to speak a word of healing.

Today, be grateful for all of life no matter how humbling.

What keeps you from humbly acknowledging your weaknesses?