Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thursday in the 2nd Week of Advent
Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Reviewing Our Blessings in Disguise

Readings: Isaiah 41:13-20; Psalm 145:1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab; Matthew 11:11-15


One of the distinctive characteristics of Ignatian spirituality is the importance placed on review. We see this emphasis in the life of St. Ignatius himself. Shortly after his conversion, for example, he starts keeping a journal of his spiritual experiences, carefully writing down the Lord’s words in red and those of the Blessed Mother in blue. And right up to his death, he practiced daily what he called the examination of conscience, wherein he reviewed the period of time that had just passed, to see where and how God had been communicating with him and how he had responded. He also recommends to those on retreat that after each period of prayer, they should take some time to review their prayer experience, and also to return, in subsequent periods, to those places in their prayer where they had experienced strong reactions. Why this emphasis on review, we may wonder?

Ignatius himself gives us an answer in his Spiritual Exercises, where he tells us that it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth (#2). By reviewing our experience, we allow our prayer to deepen. We give ourselves the opportunity to taste and see the many different ways that God has continually been present to us, ways that might even have been hidden to us before. To use a popular turn of phrase, we begin to see and to understand God’s blessings in disguise.

Isn’t this what Jesus is helping his listeners to do in today’s gospel? His words to them regarding the significance of John the Baptist begin a few verses earlier, where he asks them: what did you go out into the wilderness to see? What is Jesus doing, if not helping the people to review their experience of John the Baptist? Most likely this was not a comfortable experience for them. Not only did they have to travel out into the wilderness to see and hear him, but the Baptist himself was something of a wild man. Dressed in rough attire, he was surely not a sight pleasing to the eyes. Neither was his message of repentance pleasant to the ears.

Yet Jesus helps the people to see in review the great blessing in disguise that was John’s message and ministry. Because it was towards John that all the prophecies of the prophets and of the Law were leading. As rough and uncomfortable as the experience might have been for the people, in the Baptist, God was actually holding them by the right hand, and telling them: Do not be afraid, I will help you. By reviewing their experience with them, Jesus helps them to see and know… observe and understand that the hand of the Lord was making the barren wilderness of their lives a marvelously fertile place bursting with life in abundance. And in this renewed realization that the Lord is kind and full of compassion, they could find themselves moved to make known to all the mighty deeds of the Lord.

As we continue on our journey through Advent, what experiences might the Lord wish to help us review today? How is God continuing to hold us by the hand?

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