Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Baptism of the Lord

"A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." Is 42:3

The images of John the Baptist that emerge in the gospels can sometimes be off putting. Like many prophets before him, John is direct and uncompromising, making him difficult to listen to, but this is not the case when John speaks of Jesus. John's humility about his own role and his assurance that Jesus is the Messiah lifts us up and sends us forth in hope.

Jesus, Isaiah and John remind us, has not come into the world to destroy it, but to assure all those listening, especially the poor, that his task is to heal the bruised reed and keep alive the flame of faith, but only if we accept his word and allow his power to transform us.

As Jesus begins his public ministry by having John baptize him, it is clear that he will risk anything so that his message from his Father will be clear and transparent. Jesus is among us to announce Good News, but his message will be difficult for those who want to cling to power, wealth and worldly prestige. Jesus wants to set us free from the domination of all systems that fail to create a just world. This message will be his downfall and our salvation.

Today, put aside your fears of being broken and weak. Our God heals.

Is it time to begin again your own ministry of service and freedom?

Friday, January 11, 2013

God's best men and women

"The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice." Jn 3:29

John the Baptist, in trying to help his disciples who were confused by Jesus' baptism, makes it clear that he sees himself as Jesus' best man, and it is his duty to rejoice in whatever Jesus does. Jesus is the bridegroom, the one all must honor, because through baptism he marries all of us.

The notion that Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the church, his bride is not new to us, but is almost always a hair unnerving.  Can it be possible that the gospel writer wants us to imagine Jesus, the bridegroom, in love with us, anxious to be with us always, taken up with our loveliness and determined to announce the Good News through us?

Yes, we are forced to admit, it is true, and like John the Baptist, it is our role to rejoice when we hear his voice. "Don't be afraid," he will remind us over and over again. We are the vine and he is the vine grower. He wants us to produce rich, succulent, grapes. We are his body. He is our head. Without us there is no body. We are essential to his work and the mission of his Father. What an amazing role we have. When we are joyful, we proclaim God's presence within and among us. It is that simple.

Today, pause to be joyful in the presence of a friend or the glory of a new day.

How best can we be good best men or women? How can we stand up for Jesus?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Eastern Epiphany

"Lord, every nation on earth will adore you." Ps 72

Some Eastern churches when speaking of the Epiphany refer not to the visit of the Magi, but to the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and insist that it is a feast even more important than Christmas.

St Proclus of Constantinople says it this way:
On the feast of the Savior’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger; but on today’s feast of the Epiphany it is the sea that is glad and leaps for joy; the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan. (Epiphany)
What a powerful image. Proclus asserts that the river Jordan leaps for joy because the Messiah has entered and transformed it. All creation has been affirmed as holy and, like Mary, full of grace. St. Proclus would have us entertain the idea that the river Jordan is pregnant with the Christ who will break its waters and emerge to begin his ministry of hope and salvation.

It is important for us not to be afraid to let our minds and spirits soar when trying to articulate what it is that God has done for us by sending us his beloved son. All that is has been confirmed in goodness and holiness. Otherwise, it would be impossible for God to come among us. God cannot enter evil. God can only inhabit good. The Jordan river is holy and good forever by the gift of Christ's baptismal bath.

Today, set your spirit free to dream of new ways to imagine God's love for all that is.

Does the created world lead you into God?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Praying in Christ

"He went off to the mountain to pray." Mk 6:46

There is nothing more settling, especially when preparing for a difficult conversation, journey or task, than quiet prayer.  Prayer centers us in ways we do not fully understand, and it alerts us to the presence of God.

At the same time, we should not be naive or overly expectant when we take time to be quiet and listen to God. God rarely hits us over the head with new insights. Rather, the simple prayer of breathing quietly and handing ourselves over to God for God's plan makes it possible for us to listen to others without having to respond immediately, and to believe even when life seems very dark.

Jesus often goes off to pray alone. (Mt 14, Mk 1), He prays before meals (Mt 26, Mk 8) and before important decisions, (Lk 6, Mt 26) but these instances merely point to who he was and suggest a path for us. Jesus was alert to and in union with his Father. He "prayed" always and that is our task as well.

Intentionally sitting quietly, breathing evenly and opening ourselves to God's desire prepares us, like Jesus, to be in union with God, alert to God's promptings and anxious to follow God's path.

Sit alone and in quiet for fifteen minutes. Don't be alarmed by your distractions.

What kind of prayer most grounds you and helps you listen to the cries of the poor?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Gospel Generosity

"Give them some food yourselves." Mk 6:37

Why does Jesus insist that his disciples feed the people who had been listening to him for a long time? Why doesn't he accept what seems like the  very reasonable suggestion of the disciples that Jesus dismiss the people so they can go to nearby towns to buy themselves a meal? Shouldn't we all take care of ourselves and anticipate our needs so that we won't have to be dependent on others for our everyday needs?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but there is a ready response to the disciples. Rather than placing the responsibility on those following him to feed themselves, Jesus wants his disciples to anticipate the needs of the crowds, no matter how large, and rely on God to show them how to live and act in the world.

The challenge is clear but sometimes overwhelming. The Christian community needs to anticipate the needs of those around them, not to enable them to do nothing, but to give them time to hear the Good News and and be transformed by it. We all know the simple truth that faces us. Unless we witness to the Gospel by putting ourselves second, we are not believable.

Today, ask someone what they need. Do not tell them what you are willing to give them.

Whose generosity most moves you to change your own mindset?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Visiting our Broken Selves

"When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali." Mt 4:12

The gospels tell us little about Jesus' early life. Although Matthew's gospel has an infancy narrative and reminds us that Joseph took Jesus and Mary to Egypt to flee the wrath of Herod, we know nothing of their life together in Egypt or what their life was like when they returned to Palestine after Herod's death.

The next we hear of Jesus he is baptized by John in the Jordan, and  between verses 11 and 12 in the 4th chapter of Matthew's gospel a year goes by before Jesus hears of John's imprisonment prompting him to move from his boyhood home in Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee.

Why Capernaum in the region of Zebulun and Napthali? Most commentators suggest  that Jesus moves to Galilee because, like the prophets, he wanted to go to the most forgotten and despised of places, areas where the Torah was only loosely lived, since that is how the Messiah would be known.

Little has changed in the intervening years. If we want to know who the Messiah is and how he acts, we do ourselves a favor by going to those places where no one expects much from the people living there. Ours is a nomadic God who accompanies those most in need, and unless we acknowledge our own weakness, we will never know God who seeks out the lost.

Today, visit a place within yourself that you fear or despise.

Have you ever been touched and lifted up by people from whom you expected little?