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Bible Reflections View Comments

Our Encounters With the Divine
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 9, 2012
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Prophets don’t come into our lives every day, and they don’t always make the sort of impression that the biblical prophets must have made. But if we begin to understand how they experienced God, we might begin to see that even we ourselves have moments of prophetic insight.

Prophets are gifted with an intense personal awareness of God’s love for his people. Their call both inspires and compels them to preach this word to those who will listen—and to those who close their ears. From the time a prophet hears the Word of God, the burning desire is to find the words that will express this eternal message to the people of one time and place.

The Word of God was spoken to John, son of Zechariah, in the desert. He prepared himself not through the temple observances of his father the priest but through desert fasts and prayers. He came out of the desert preaching reform and conversion, telling all that the kingdom of God was at hand. Though his message might have seemed strange and radical to the people who heard him, it was much the same as the message preached by the great Hebrew prophets.

One of these prophets, Baruch, tried to stir the people out of their spiritual lethargy during their long exile in Babylon. He wanted them to live beyond their mourning, their passive longing for the old ways, the old days, their return to their homeland. He told them the Lord was near, the Lord was among them, the Lord would save them. Baruch encouraged the people on the strength of the covenant promise, the promise that had formed them and held them together as a people.

John the Baptist, of whom Jesus spoke of as the greatest of the prophets, desired nothing more than to tell people of the love of God. The call to be a prophet makes demands, asking one to risk everything for the Word. Through his long days and nights in the desert, John must have known the experience of being alone with only the whisper of God’s Word in his heart.

When John found his message, he clung to it: “Prepare the way of the Lord. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” That message still rings true today. We know that in our world, in our families, in our own lives, the Good News of God’s love often gets lost. We need to find ways to return to that word again and again. We need to find ways to share it with our loved ones. We need to let people know love is stronger than fear. We need to hold fast to our belief that God cares for our world, all appearances to the contrary.

We might ask what mighty prophets like Baruch and John the Baptist have to do with our lives today. We find the answer in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. His unabashed love for his community and his joy in the way they have responded to God’s Word comes through in every word. We need to be reminded to value the things that really matter—love, faith, justice, compassion. Paul’s prayer for his community becomes ours today: “My prayer is that your love may more and more abound, both in understanding and wealth of experience.”

The Lord is in our midst. We are called to share our stories of our encounters with the divine in our daily lives. We might think we’re voices crying in the wilderness. We might be afraid people will call us foolish. But in our day, as in John’s, the kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand.


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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