I am baptizing you with water
But one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
January 1, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
I’ve always found it challenging getting into the “spirit” of a “new year”. Why is that?
January does not seem to hold anything new, at least in the northern hemisphere. Rather everything seems to be the same—the same old dreary days of winter: cold and gray, short days and long nights.
It just does not feel right, to me at least, to say “out with the old and in with the new” when nothing about this time of the year feels “new” to me. Now, if New Year’s Day fell in mid-March when the leaves are starting to green up the grey sky and tulips are starting to paint the ground—now that would feel new to me.
And why do people decide year at this time of year to make “resolutions,” which they know they are not going to keep. I’ve been a regular at exercising ever since I was a kid—part of the blessing and curse of having a mom who majored in physical education—so working out at a gym or fitness center has been part of the fabric of my life. It never fails that this time of year new faces show up at the fitness center, and then they are gone by February.
Maybe I’m just getting older and turning into an old fuddy-duddy, but I don’t see the reason for saying January is a fresh start.
So, in the midst of all this looking ahead, I take great comfort in the example Mary gives at the start of it all, showing us the importance of looking back. On this solemnity celebrating her role as the Mother of God, she teaches us on this 1st day of the year to look back. Or this is how the evangelist Luke puts it:
She “… kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
There are no New Year’s resolutions for Mary, Rather, she teaches us how to pay attention to what is said about her Son. She shows us how to listen to what Jesus says and observe what he does, and ponder what this all means for our salvation. In the Gospel for this past Sunday, where Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus in the temple and he somewhat scolds them for not looking for him first in his Father’s house, the evangelist Luke notes that when Jesus goes home from the temple with Mary and Joseph that she “kept all these things in her heart.”
As the first disciple, as the One who models for us a life of discipleship, Mary teaches us that the first and most important thing is to reflect upon what Jesus says and does. To treasure these things in our heart, to look back at them and learn.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, taught his followers a specific way of looking back in prayer. Ignatius called this prayer the “Examen. It’s full title is the “Examen of Consciousness.” Ignatius instructed his brother Jesuits that if they were to do only one prayer in the day, then they needed to do this 5-10 minute prayer at the end of the day.
The structure of the “Examen” is quite simple. First, you call upon the Holy Spirit to illumine your day, to reveal what needs to be seen. Then, as you look back on the day by the light of the Holy Spirit, you give thanks for the specific blessings of God given that day. Next, and this is the heart of the prayer, you ask: “How did I respond to the visits of the Lord this day? When God’s face shone up me, did I turn toward Him or turn away? When I was given the opportunity to love the Lord Jesus coming to me through the people I encountered this day, did I choose to love Him or did I refuse?” Then follows a simple prayer asking the Lord to forgive you for not loving Him, for not responding to an invitation of love. Only after “looking back”, after reflecting in such a prayerful way do you then complete the Examen by looking ahead with hope to do better tomorrow.
As we conclude these 8 high holy days of the Christmas season, hopefully we have learned during this octave of Christmas that God became human so God could meet us in our lives as they are.
God is with us, Emmanuel. The Son of God walks with us. The Son of God wants us to open our eyes to see His presence.
Unlike the dramatic pledge of a New Year’s resolution, the slow work of reflection is a daily commitment to do something ordinary. But it uncovers the extra-ordinary presence of God. Right where we are, the Lord with us. In the middle of things. In the middle of our messy lives. The Son of God walking with us and CALLING US TO NEW LIFE!
December 23, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
All three readings for this 4th and final Sunday of Advent speak about how God works in unexpected ways. These Scriptures reveal a God who can and does work in surprising ways never dreamed of before.
There had been a long tradition of animal sacrifice in Israel’s covenant with God, sacrifices repeated over and over again for the forgiveness of sin. But the 2nd reading from Hebrews reveals that God will be doing something new through the gift of His Son’s body, a single sacrifice. Who would have thought that God would tire of sacrifices in the temple or make the human body his temple?
Then we discover that Jerusalem will not be the birthplace of the savior, that he will be born in a little, out-of-the way place called Bethlehem. What a surprise this must have been to the people of Israel, who considered Jerusalem, the location of the temple and the capital city, to be the logical place for such an important birth.
Then there is this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, where it is revealed that God is going to make a new covenant with His people, but not with men as he has done in the past, but through a young woman. No one in that world, which was a “man’s world”, could ever have expected this.
In all these ways we discover a God who approaches us in unexpected and surprising ways.
So, this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is much more than two women sharing the joy of new life blossoming in their wombs. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is much more than two unexpectedly expectant mothers rejoicing in the gift of new life. This is a grace-filled story of God visiting his people. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit because the bringer of the Spirit blooms within Mary’s womb. Elizabeth blesses Mary and praises God for what God is doing in Mary’s life because the Son of God dwells within Mary—God is visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. Even the child growing within Elizabeth’s barren womb recognizes the presence of God and leaps for joy within her womb, pointing out the Savior as he comes, as John will do later in his adult life.
This Gospel passage of the Visitation is about God who visits His People. It is about God who embraces the lifeless and brings them new life. the God who comes to the hopeless and fills them with hope. It is about a God of surprises, who surprises those who have given up. It is about a God who does what we cannot imagine, choosing to leave heaven and divine privileges behind, the God of the universe confined to the tiny space of a woman’s womb, dependent upon His creation for life itself.
No wonder there is so much joy in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. God is visiting their home, the God who is the reason for joy and laughter and song. Immediately after this encounter with Elizabeth, Mary will break forth into song, s inging her praises of the God who has visited her & done great things for her.
Elizabeth is the patron saint of Advent because she teaches us to be watchful and alert for the visit of God. Elizabeth shows us that when we wait in faith, joyful in hope, that God will visit us in unexpected ways.
Who would have thought that Mary would make the difficult trip to Elizabeth’s home? This newly pregnant teenager takes an arduous journey from Nazareth into the hill country of Judah, a 78-mile trek by donkey and on foot.
So God comes to us, like a lover climbing up into the hills to find his beloved. Like a lover who will go to the farthest ends of the earth to be with his beloved, so our God is towards us. The God who is the source of all love will not be denied, for He will “make us” turn to Him so we might see His Face gazing upon us with tenderness and delight.
God visits humanity by becoming human in Jesus so that now all human encounters have the potential of communicating something of the Divine Presence and Love. The world changed with Mary’s “YES” as God was conceived in her womb, God came to dwell with the human race, so that God could continue to visit His people through the events of ordinary, everyday life.
Elizabeth challenges us to be alert and ready and watchful for these divine visitations. She teaches us that others can bring us into contact with the Son of God and his desire for us.
As we receive the visits of family and friends during Christmas and the joy-filled days of the Christmas Season, we welcome Him coming to us through others. In the gift that other people are to us, the one who is the Greatest Gift of all visits us. In the warmth of their love for us, we experience the warmth of his love for us. In the joy we share during this time, we taste something of the infinite joy awaiting us.
He is also knocking at our door, longing to visit us, in those with whom he most closely identifies: the poor and the outcast, the suffering, the stranger and the imprisoned.
We are surprised when we find God visiting us in the least of our brothers and sisters, a group the Old Testament calls the “anawim.” But that is what God does, coming to us in seemingly insignificant events and seemingly insignificant people.
All of life is Advent, for all of life is about the coming of God into our lives, the never-ending, always-surprising visits of God. This Advent Season prepares us for more than celebrating the birth of the Son of God. These holy days are meant to prepare us for him coming in so many unexpected ways each day.
We celebrate Christmas each year because we too often forget that God wants to be with us, that God desires us, that God longs for us with a never-ending passion. God becomes human like us to be with us wherever we are, to experience experience of heartbreak and joy of being human, to taste sorrow and delight, so that we will know his loving presence with us always and in ALL WAYS!