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Saturday, December 2, 2017

First Sunday of Advent

"No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!" Is 64:3

Sometimes we watch too closely, pay attention to too many details and get ourselves in trouble.  Not only to do we miss the forest for the trees, we get increasingly anxious about things we can’t control.  Parents sending their children to school for the first time often do this, and it can happen to me when trying to o help a friend work his way through a troubling or difficult personal situation.  Both situations, while understandable and for some unavoidable, remind us of something wise people have said for a long time: Look but don’t stare.

The prophet Isaiah asks God not to stare at his people and punish them. Rather, the Prophet suggests that God could have been more forceful in helping the Israelites remain faithful to the covenant. “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” I can only imagine God smiling at Isaiah's intervention.

But Isaiah doesn't give up. Rather, while acknowledging the sins of the people, and admitting that they deserve condemnation, he also reminds God that God is the potter and the people are the clay.  Surely, God must know that no potter ever discards her clay.  Rather, she reworks it and shapes it into something new.  That is what Advent is all about, asking God to reshape and mold us into heralds of the Great King.

Today, imitate God by looking at yourself and others without staring.

What situations cause you to obsess about matters you cannot control?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Last Days

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Lk 21:36

Today is the last day of the liturgical year and a good time to make a simple review of our faith life. Four actions ought to mark the life of a faith filled Catholic and we can reflect on them through a series of questions. Have we been faithful to God and the community of believers by gathering regular for prayer and worship, especially on Sundays? Have we taken time to reflect on the mysteries of faith, especially as they are articulated in Scripture? Have we celebrated God's gifts with joy and gratitude? Have we served others as if they were Christ? 

Coming together regularly, studying and praying about God's care for us and serving those most in need are visible signs that God matters in our lives and that we want to witness to God's mercy before others. For most of us the only way we preach is through our actions. We can talk about faith all day, but if we never act on it, we are as Paul reminds us a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. We make a lot of noise but don't do anything for others but annoy them.

Today, be honest with yourself and God. Make no excuses for your faults. Ask to begin again.

Which dimension of our faith life most attracts and empowers you?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Fig Trees

"Consider the fig tree and all the other trees" Lk 21:29

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, especially about death and dying.

All of us must bear fruit. Given faith as a free gift, we need to spend it freely for the good of others, and we need to spend it now. 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?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Preaching with our Lives

"How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?" Rom 10: 14-15

Too often we reduce the ministry of preaching to the ordained or those specially trained to proclaim and interpret God's Word for retreats and day of prayer, and people who preach the word formally ought to be well trained. There should be no doubt of this in the United States. More than any other aspect of church life, poor preaching is cited as the primary reason that people stop attending church on Sunday's. Close behind preaching is a lack of warmth and welcome in our parishes, and this is the "preaching" that we should look at very closely as foundational to the ministry of Jesus.

Most people are not called to preach the Word of God formally, but all are called to "preach" with their lives. When we spend our time, talent and treasure for others, we preach loudly about our values, and often people ask about this. Why, they say, do Bill or Barbara, Juan or Minh spend so much time volunteering in soup kitchens, hospitals or homeless shelters? And the answer is faith. Because Jesus sends us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned, we preach when we offer anyone solace, comfort, food or drink, and we should never underestimate the value and power of these actions. If all we do is preach the word formally, but fail to live the Gospel, the faith will be empty and shallow.

Pope Francis has insisted on this: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” The message for Catholics is unmistakable. "Preach" the Gospel with your lives. Get dirty doing it and the message of Jesus will be be heard as a transforming promise, not a sterile set of rules.

Today, do something simple for God.

What keeps us from "getting dirty" in our efforts to proclaim the Gospel?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Relying of God

"Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking." Lk 21:14

Jesus makes a pretty big promise to his disciples, assuring them, even though they lack education or in many cases the ability to read of write, that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. While this might be the occasion for some of us to think we don't have to prepare a homily or a presentation on faith, there is no basis for this kind of thinking. Jesus is referring to those times when we are attacked unexpectedly and without provocation, not to the ordinary diligence we need to use to present our faith clearly and with passion.

Rather, the Lord wants us to trust in the Spirit of God to guide, direct, and challenge us everyday, and to realize that this is an essential dimension of our faith and its practice. Without this trust, we can only rely on ourselves or expert opinion, and no matter how knowledgeable we or our advisors might be, our insight will be insufficient.

Today, consciously commit yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit's strength and direction in your life?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Praise God at all Times

"All you hosts of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." Dn 3:61

Knowing or grasping God completely is impossible, but we must keep trying, and the scriptures offer us any number of images of God all of which can help at different times in our lives. The book of Deuteronomy reminds us praise and exalt God at all times,  and to remember that God is a healer, someone who is anxious to be with us and make us whole. No matter how broken our life might feel, God's compassion and kindness will triumph over the darkness if only we let God be God.

At the same time, no matter how hard we try, there are times when God's healing seems far away. A friend has recently been diagnosed with cancer of the bone and the doctors are not yet sure how much the cancer has spread. Living with this kind of uncertainty is trying at best, and depressing at worst. When news of our own frailty or the serious illness of friends emerges, it strikes us like a hammer, and our spirits are often numb as we try to process what is happening,

The simplest response we can make to times of struggle and confusion is usually the best. Ask for the grace to accept whatever is happening in your life and you can be sure, no matter how weak your prayer might feel, that it is what God ask of each of us. If we only thank God when we are feeling good about ourselves or our families, if we only praise God when life is going according to our plans, our faith will be unable to navigate the turbulent waters of doubt. God is merciful. God is kind. God understands and wants only to be close to us at all times, no matter where we are.

Today, ask God to let you know how close God is.

What images of God help you most to live life honestly as it happens?


Sunday, November 26, 2017

How much is Enough

"For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she (this poor widow), from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." Mk 12:44

There are two things in today’s gospel that move me and remind me that the gospel is about transformation, not just information. No doubt I have said this before, but I often worry that Catholics don’t think of themselves as disciples. Discipleship, they say, is too high an honor, and with a false sense of humility, suggest that they do not deserve such a title. Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve or gain discipleship. It is a free gift from God who has called all of us to discipleship through baptism. We are to speak and live the good news with integrity, honesty and conviction. Jesus’ response to the widowed mother in today's gospel is a perfect example for us to follow. 

Widows were in real danger in the world of Jesus. They rarely owned property, were often illiterate and had to rely on their eldest son for sustenance and a place to live. The widow in today's Gospel ignores these dangers. More intent on giving God her whole self, she offers everything she has to the Temple and God. Her generosity never fails to impress us. I wonder if anyone at the time, besides Jesus, even noticed.

There are so many people in our world who follow the Gospel not to be noticed but to give God all they have. Their example of selflessness challenges us not to worry so much about our security, but to trust that God will never abandon us even when we have nothing.

Today, give someone of your substance and do not count the cost.

What keeps you from being more generous with your time or resources?