Many years ago I attended the wedding of a couple I didn’t know at all.
At my first glimpse of the groom, I couldn’t help thinking that he was one of the most handsome men I had ever seen. The bride, on the other hand, looked rather plain. What did the groom see in her, I wondered? Yet the love that shone in his eyes as he watched her walk down the aisle was undeniable.
A similar situation appears in one of the meditations in Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s Praying the Gospels: Jesus Launches His Ministry. This time, though, the bridegroom is Christ, and the bride is the Church. Fr. Pacwa’s commentary and questions got me thinking. From where I stand, it is easy to see the shortcomings and weaknesses in the Church, of which I am a flawed member. What does Jesus see in her? In me? But Jesus has made his bride a new creation and looks on her with deep love. Do I reciprocate that gaze of love from Christ?
From beginning to end, Jesus Launches His Ministry stimulates this kind of personal reflection. Drawing from all four Gospels, Fr. Pacwa explores initial events of Jesus’ rich ministry years in a way that brings out their freshness and meaning. Each of the thirty-nine meditations includes helpful background about the passage: the setting, Jewish customs, and events from the history of Israel; related Scripture verses; and meditation questions that make it personal.
Baptized into Christ. Jesus walked this earth changing everything he touched. Water, wine, bread, and even people—after his coming, nothing remains the same. And that’s why I like this book: it helps remind me to live that transformation.
As I read the meditations on Jesus’ baptism, for example, l thought of the power of that event, which derives from his death and resurrection and is at work through the waters of the baptismal font in my own parish. Have I always been sufficiently aware of this power? Fr. Pacwa asks,
When you bring your children to be baptized, is it more of an opportunity to gather the family for a celebration, or do you think about what Jesus is about to effect within that child? Do you give pause to consider the drama of Jesus’ death and resurrection taking place within the soul of your child and its indelible character being stamped for all eternity by the Holy Spirit to mark the child as a citizen of heaven?
How wonderful to ponder the fact that baptism not only freed my children from sin but drew them into the mystery of Christ’s death so that they might rise with him. It’s like a passport opening the way for them to experience Jesus’ life and love in their own hearts!
On the Road with Jesus. Meditating with the help of this book is like joining Jesus as he walks around Galilee. “What would you say to him?” asks Fr. Pacwa. “What would he say to you?” Jesus is interested in our everyday, ordinary lives. Though without sin, he identifies with us and is for us. He stands with us against sin!
Fr. Pacwa’s reflections on the temptations of Christ underline this reality. In the same wilderness where the people of ancient Israel faced (and sometimes failed to conquer) their own temptations, Jesus stands up to his adversary, the devil. Nothing undermines his readiness to engage in the fight—not fear, love of creature comforts, or lack of trust in the Father. Now, because his Spirit lives in us, we can stand with him and know victory.
Recognizing the devil’s tactics will help us here, and some of the meditations point them out. Commenting on the third temptation, when Jesus is offered all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for breaking just one commandment (Matthew 4:8-10), Fr. Pacwa observes that the devil has an “end justifies the means” approach: “Committing a grave sin, such as worshipping him, in order to accomplish God’s mission of winning the world for the kingdom of heaven fits perfectly within his mentality.” The meditation continues with gentle but probing self-examination questions that help expose this trickery in our own lives.
Sometimes, especially after watching the evening news, I have asked God what I can do to stand against sin and help bring about his kingdom on earth. These meditations have helped me realize that each victory over my own temptations defeats sin in the world a little bit more. It’s not easy to face the enemy. But we don’t do it alone, for Jesus is like the valiant general who leads by being the first one on the battlefield and the last one off. He will not abandon us!
I Do! Perhaps the primary way Jesus leads us is by leading us to his Father. A thread running throughout this book is his relationship with the Father and his commitment to obey him. Fr. Pacwa encourages us to enter into that relationship, supplying suggestions for prayer after each meditation. Often he proposes the Our Father, which gives us the opportunity to pray with Jesus and address the Father as he did.
In Jesus Launches His Ministry, we see Christ on a quest to fulfill his mission and return to his Father—but not without his bride, the Church! He is firmly rooted in a higher love that somehow includes me.
I wouldn’t be the bride of just anybody. But Jesus has protected me from evil and offers me eternal life, if I accept him. How can I refuse? And besides, nobody has ever looked at me the way Jesus does, or has transformed me the way he has.
Lisa Sharafinski follows Jesus from her home in suburban Maryland.
Praying the Gospels with Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ: Jesus Launches His Ministry (softcover, 128 pp.) is available from The Word Among Us at www.wau.org and from www.amazon.com. To read an excerpt, visit our online bookstore.