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Saturday, September 7, 2019

Doing the Right Thing Despite the Cost

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."

The use of the word hate in this translation is always troubling. How can anyone, especially those raised in communal cultures that so value relationships over personal accomplishment, hate family members? And is it possible to hate one's own life? Clearly, Jesus is demanding that we let nothing get in the way of doing the right thing, all the time. If for instance, as it might have been for the earliest Christians, your parents refuse to speak with you, shun you or consider you unclean if you will not reject the person and message of Jesus, you must be willing to let go of your parents despite the terrible cost.

This teaching might be easier to understand if we use a different example. Suppose someone promises you a million dollars if you are willing to lie about a candidate for office in order to get their family member elected as mayor or congressperson. While at times we might be slow to answer, especially if we are in deep financial need, we would not lie despite the "rewards." Jesus demands the same from his disciples. Unless his followers are willing to acknowledge how much faith in Jesus matters, despite the consequences, they cannot be his disciples, and faith continues to make these kinds of demands on us in the 21st century.

Racist, sexist and other bullying language and behavior, used repeatedly, must be addressed by Christians in the public sphere. Dismissive and vulgar remarks about entire cultures and religions must also confronted. Otherwise, our silence will be taken for agreement and Jesus' inclusive attitude towards all who are willing to hear, accept and live the Good News will be implicitly denied.

Today, do the right thing despite the cost.

Has your faith ever been the occasion for confronting evil?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Living the Sabbath

"The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Lk 6:5

Sabbath and Sabbath law is complex, confusing, impossible and important. Unfortunately, in Jesus' day those who interpreted Sabbath observance lost sight of the purpose of Sabbath and attached so many proscriptions to it that the average person could never hope to know or observe them all.

The poor knew they could glean corn and other produce after the owners or tenant farmers had picked the field clean, and could do this on the Sabbath because gleaning was not considered work by most rabbis. The Pharisees, however, said that rubbing the grains of corn off the cob was a form of harvesting and preparing a meal, and this was forbidden on the Sabbath.

In truth, there were many rabbis who would have suggested that the poor be encouraged to glean on the Sabbath since doing deeds of mercy was not only permitted but required. Because Jesus knew this, he reminded his listeners that David took the bread of offering and gave it to his companions as an act of mercy.

Sabbath observances and rest have a very distinct purpose. Because we so often forget who we are and how much God loves us, we need to stop every seven days and remember the mercy of God. If God's mercy does not encourage us to act like God, especially on behalf of the poor, then the purpose of the Sabbath is lost, and we would be better off not observing it at all.

Today, look at the people around you, not with the eyes of the law, but with eyes of mercy.



Do you take Sabbath rest seriously?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Christ has betrothed us to Himself

"Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?" Lk 5:35

Everyone in the ancient world knew how important weddings were. A time for families and tribes to deepen their bonds with one another, weddings lasted at least a week and the entire time was given over to the celebration of the new couple and the promise their marriage contained for their families, tribes and faith communities. No one would suggest that a wedding feast was a time to fast!  That is why Jesus uses the idea of wedding to help his disciples understand his commitment to them. He was their bridegroom and they were his bride.

Another aspect of weddings at the time of Jesus gives us even more insight. After a man was betrothed to his intended bride, he would leave her and return to his father's house, but before departing he would say, I go to prepare a place for you, the same words Jesus uses to assure his disciples that he would return for them after his death and bring them to the bridal chamber he had prepared for them forever in heaven.

Today, rest in the realization that Christ has betrothed himself to us forever.

What image do you use to help yourself remember Christ's eternal and total love for you?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Deepening our Influence

"Jesus said: 'Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.'"

Often, when I was involved in community organizing, we would say that we had a broad influence in the community and had developed leaders in many churches and congregations, but we did not have sufficient depth. In other words, we could have influence in a particular issue but probably did not have the kind of power that would last. Those with power were not likely to ask our opinion or be concerned with our position. They would not have to worry about us unless we put down deeper roots and became a more integral part of the community’s consciousness.

Jesus seems to be suggesting the same to his disciples. Because God’s love is deep, not just broad, we need to go into "deeper waters." God does not just love us as his children, but as Bernard Lonergan, the great Canadian theologian reminds us, God is in love with us. God’s love is active, powerful and transforming. God’s love is total, complete, everlasting and gratuitous. We cannot earn God’s love. God is in love with us as we are and calls us to love others as he loves us. Being in love with someone means that you have not settled for a good companion in life but are seeking to make the love you experience the foundation of everything you are and do.

Today, love someone more deeply than you loved them yesterday.

Who changed your life by loving you more deeply?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Solidarity

"Simon's mother in law got up immediately and began waiting on them." Lk 4:39

Many years ago on a trip to Honduras a priest friend who was ministering there told me a story that remains in my heart. Even though they were in grave danger, one community that he accompanied back to Salvador had taken the time to bury their church bell before fleeing their homelan, promising to ring it again when they returned from exile. Imagine their joy, he said, as they watched men from their village exit the buses, dig up the bell, hoist it to the tower and ring it in order to call everyone to a homecoming Eucharist.

How like Simon's mother in law! Cured, home again, she gets up and waits on others.

Today, pray in solidarity with the 40 million refugees in the world, more than 10 million of whom are hungry, sick and exposed to the elements.

What does "home" mean to you? How do you pass on your values to your children?

Monday, September 2, 2019

St Gregory the Great

" I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living." (Ps 27)

St Gregory, like so many others saints, lived fully in the world in his early days, but after five years as prefect of Rome, lost confidence in the society to direct or discipline itself. Hoping the monastic life would give him some clarity about how to live the Gospel, he joined the Benedictines, but shortly thereafter the Pope sent him to Constantinople as his representative.

Straightforward and scrupulously honest, when he became Pope,  Gregory disciplined wayward priests, used monies from the papal treasury to care for Jews and the sick, and reformed the liturgy. but it was his instructions to bishops on how to conduct their office, read for a thousand years, that sealed his place among the Greats of the Christian community.
It is with profound sorrow we have to admit that though the harvest is great, the labourers are few, because, though the people are ready to hear the Word of God, there are few to preach it. Lo, the world is full of priests, yet in the harvest of the Lord a labourer is very rare, for we undertake, it is true, the office of the priest hood, but its duties we do not fulfill. Yet weigh well, dearly beloved, weigh well the words of the text: "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He send labourers into His harvest." Pray then for us that we may have strength to labour for you as we ought, that our tongue may not be slack to exhort, and that, having undertaken the office of preaching, our silence may not prove our condemnation at the tribunal of the just Judge. (Homily of St Gregory)
Today,  dare to be great in Christ.

What most keeps you from the living the Gospel with abandon?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Perfectionism

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." Lk 4:18

Like most Catholics born in the middle of the last century, I was schooled to believe that the best way to live a devout life was to get to mass as frequently as possible, and to confession every week. These religious practices, good in themselves, often led people of my generation to worry about trivial matters in a way that was out of proportion to the faults themselves. Worse, we often struggled every day to be better, not so much to honor God, but to "earn" our salvation. Unfortunately, while we became good practicing Catholics, our call to discipleship often got lost in the shadows of our compulsions. When the focus of the spiritual life becomes our personal holiness, union with God often takes a back seat.

Today's gospel reminds us that Jesus had a different perspective. God is not someone hovering over us, counting our sins, but a healer who wants to lay hands of hope on the blind and draw ever closer to the oppressed. When we accept the help of the divine physician everything changes. Facing our weakness and acknowledging our poverty allows us not to obsess about our faults like we once did, but to celebrate God's tender mercy. More important, admitting our sins each day reminds us to be humble and non judgmental, and to look at every person with God's compassionate eyes.

Today, accept your need for God and glory in God's desire to be with you in your poverty.

Do you obsess about being perfect? What has this to do with the Gospel?