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Bible Reflections View Comments

God Speaks in Unlikely Ways
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
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In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been speaking to the people in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. While they are initially awed by his proclamation of the word, they begin to resent what they see as a local boy getting too important for his own good—or their comfort. It was one thing when he was doing impressive deeds in Capernaum. But now he comes home to Nazareth and tells them that the status quo is going to change. He has read to them the passage in which the prophet Isaiah says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” They wait for him to interpret this passage for them in the way of the rabbis, and instead he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people of Nazareth think they know all there is to know about this Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph. How could he possibly be the fulfillment of the words of one of their greatest prophets? And then he tells them that it’s not about the hometown crowd at all. It’s about salvation being extended to all the nations.

We might talk about living in a global village in the twenty-first century. But really we can be as insular as any first-century village in Palestine. We have our families, our groups of friends, our coworkers, our fellow parishioners. We surround ourselves with the people who are like us, whatever that might mean.

We’re quick to judge other people: by appearance, by background, by familiarity, by behavior. Too often we dismiss them because they don’t meet some actual or imagined standard. We don’t even see the homeless person we pass each day on the way to work, the troubled student, the perpetually complaining coworker.

The people we think we know best are often the hardest to take seriously —an elderly parent, a confused teenager, an ambitious and upwardly mobile young adult. We put people into compartments so that we know how to respond without thinking.

The danger in this is that we can very easily miss the voice of God speaking through unlikely prophets. Often the greatest obstacle to moving forward, whether at school, at work, or in our families, is an inability or unwillingness to recognize that the people around us can change. And then we have to wrestle with the fact that they might have something to say that will challenge us to change our own lives.

St. Paul reminds us that love is more important than any other gift or talent we may possess. He says, “And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Whether we’re speaking or listening, we need to do it with love, with openness, with humility. We need to learn not to react out of anger and frustration.

Jesus knows his message, he knows his call. But he also knows that he will not always be accepted by his audience. He says what he has come to say and then he passes through their midst and away. It’s left to them to decide whether they’re going to hear and act on his words.

God can speak to us through anyone at any time. Will we listen? Will we be open to hearing God’s message? And perhaps most important of all, how will we respond?


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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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