Follow Br Jack by Email

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Good Shepherds

 "Jesus said: 'I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'" Jn 10:11

God as our good shepherd has always been an attractive, inviting and empowering notion for believers. In the ancient world from which this image comes, shepherds were the underclass. Although they had no voice in the society, they played critically important roles, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own sheep pens, shepherds were hired to look over the sheep of many families in a common pen throughout the night, and  while they were able to rest, they could not sleep since it was their task to protect the sheep from predators. In order to do this effectively, shepherds would lie down across the opening of the sheep pen in order to protect the sheep entrusted to them. That the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament remind us that God and Jesus are shepherds, willing to give their lives for their sheep, is both comforting and challenging.

Parents are natural shepherds, willing to protect their children from anything and anyone who might threaten them. Parents almost always do this without personal concern or fear. They know it is their duty, especially in the first years of life, and would have it no other way. These days, because people are living so much longer, children often become parents to their parents, and it is these "children" caring for their parents who show us a new face of God's unconditional love. Every time I visit a hospital or nursing home and encounter people feeding and clothing their parents of a daily basis, I am moved and strengthened by their generosity and unselfishness. Theirs is a heavy burden, but like Good Shepherds, they do it graciously and compassionately.

Today, thank someone who has been a Good Shepherd to you.

What is your most helpful image of God?

Friday, April 23, 2021

Trusting Jesus

 "Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?'” Jn 6:67

When friends are not who we thought them to be, especially if they speak poorly of us, we are disappointed and disillusioned.  We might even be tempted to end our friendship, or at the very least step away from it for a while. Shock does that to us. Unsure of someone else, we also wonder how we missed something important about them. Were we so needy that we failed to realize that our relationship was not as secure or as deep as we imagined?

John's gospel reminds us that not all of Jesus' disciples remained true to him. Discipleship, like friendship, is built not on completely understanding the other, but on trusting that the relationship is authentic and rooted in God's love and the truth of the Gospel. Because we know that God is faithful, we can trust that whatever God teaches is for our good and glory of God. Trusting God is the root of our faith and faithfulness.

Today,  ask not for understanding but acceptance.

How do you manage the loss of a friendship?

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Conversion

 "Saul, Saul, why are your persecuting me?" Acts 22:7

Almost everyone has a conversion experience or three. Struggling for an identity or reflecting on the scriptures, there is a moment that stops us and reminds us who we are. Though it is not always life changing, it can be.

For St Paul, who thought of himself as among the most observant of Jews, it surely was. Blinded by a great light on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of Christians, he heard a voice telling him, "I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting." (Acts 22:8) Unable to see because of the great light, his companions led him into Damascus where Ananias healed him of his blindness and told him to return to Jerusalem and be baptized. Not long afterwards God told Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles among whom he would find his life's mission.

While it appears that for St Paul the memory of his dramatic conversion was all he ever needed, we can be sure that this is not true. While all who open themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit will be led more deeply into Christ and into mission, there will be moments of disabling doubt and confusion when we will wrestle with God and with life. Only after we lose the battle to be in charge of our own lives and throw ourselves again at God's feet and ask for mercy, will we find the path to the next stage of our journey. Indeed, God has a mission for all, but it is God's mission, not ours.

Today ask God to send you again on his mission, not yours.

How can each of us continue to be converted in Christ?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Understanding the Bible

 “'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'” Acts 8:30

Unfortunately, in a Twitter world where all communication is limited to 280 characters, too many believers cling to or focus on one phrase from the Gospel and use it as a lens for their spiritual lives. Doing this almost always leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The New Testament cannot be fairly read or understood when we remove it from its own cultural context and setting.

The Ethiopian eunuch reading the scriptures alone knew he needed help and asked Philip to instruct him There should be little doubt that Philip responded to this seeker's request using all the information and skill he had. Blessed with so much wonderful scholarship and insight, we ought to follow Philip's example in the 21st century. Don't just read the scripture regularly or return to your favorite passages, taste the Word of God, chew on it and savor it.

Today, pick up a Catholic study bible and read the introduction to one of the Gospels.

Who or what most helped you to understand the scriptures more deeply?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

More than Bread

 "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Jn 6:35

Jesus is many things to many people. For some he is healer; for others he is God's word who enlightens the whole world. In today's gospel, Jesus reminds all that he is not simply a source of free food, but the bread of life who will feed us forever if we form a relationship with him.

Right relationships, about which the prophets so often spoke, are always a source of life for believers in the one God. It is through right relationships with God, others and all creation that we enter into the mystery of God's love with awe and thanksgiving. 

Unfortunately, like the people in today's gospel, we too often want God to "give us bread" so that we can go about our lives without worry or need and return to God only when we want something else. More sadly, if God does not give us what we want, we seek other gods and cling to anyone or anything in our path that satisfies us for the moment. Money and the ownership of property, for instance, can appear to answer all our needs, but that is not what Jesus promises. Rather, he wants to enter a right relationship with us that "preserves the integrity, resilience, and beauty" (1) of God and all creation.

Today, examine your relationships and ask God to make them "right.".

Who do you most admire because of the integrity, resilience and beauty of their relationships?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Faith in Troubled Times

 "As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them;' and when he said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7: 59-60

The reasons we reject others are many. Sometimes we don't like or trust the person. At other times, their message annoys or upsets us, and unfortunately, there are some who reject others because of race, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation. Although most of us have been raised with the bromide, Don't judge a book by its cover, we all have our prejudices.

Stephen was rejected simply because he was preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ, a message that frightened traditional religious types who used their power to control others' lives. When Stephen's wisdom and spirit began to sway people towards Christ and away from the synagogue, his fate was sealed. Some scholars believe that Stephen had attended and worshiped at the synagogue in which he was preaching, making his sin even greater. To draw others away from the Talmud was bad enough but to do it to one's neighbors and friends was a much worse offense.

Today, be grateful for those who live and speak our faith with power no matter the cost.

Have you ever been attacked or rejected because of your religious faith?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Desiring Jesus for the Wrong Reasons

 “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled." Jn 6:26

While Jesus accepted the people who followed him for who they were, he also knew that some sought him out for the wrong reasons, and he regularly corrects and challenges them and us not to look to him  only for miracles and food, but to pray and work for a food that will last.

Although we know this side of Jesus, it can be difficult to accept his directives, especially when we are struggling. Anxious to be free of suffering for ourselves or others, we pray for God's intervention without bothering to think or even wonder whether our desire will help build God's reign.

When we read the scriptures about the people Jesus healed, we are reminded not to focus too narrowly on the wonder of healing, but on the life of faith which the healed person led. Mark's gospel is especially telling in this regard. "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." (Mk 10:52) Ultimately, the healing of Jesus is for others. Jesus expect those he heals to "go" and announce the Good News by the way they live and care for others. 

Today, feed someone with kindness.

What most interferes with your following Jesus freely?