"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Lightning Bolt: "John Was Not The Light But A Witness To The Light" (Jn 1:8)

or my first point, we all know John the Baptist’s job is to point the way to Jesus, and he is good at it because his leading disciple, Andrew, when he says to him “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:37) Andrew and another disciple immediately follow Jesus. The two go out of their way to see and to stay where Jesus stays. John the Baptist act of pointing becomes contagious because afterwards the first act of Andrew is to look for another person, who is no less than his own brother. John must have heard with his own ears when his own followers exclaimed with amazement, "We have found the Messiah" (Jn 1: 41). In my experience of guiding retreatants, it is the same experience of John pointing another person to the Lord and when you hear a retreatant say to you, "I have found the Messiah, this retreat is my first or my closest encounter of him." I will be honest with you, I am overjoyed when you get to hear such affirmation. Who wouldn't? That is John the Baptist's greatest joy. No wonder every advent season, there is no other man who could point us to Jesus except John. Well the women may contest that and say there is another person, a woman who is no less than the Blessed Virgin Mary. But Mary did not just point Jesus to us, she brought Jesus to us. To end the debate let us just say John the Baptist and Mary have very unique roles to play.

For my second point I would like to use a natural phenomenon to describe how John points and guides people to Jesus. The moon at night has been traditionally attributed to refer to Mary as the one who brings to the world the light of her son Jesus. Similarly, I would like to use the image of ligthning bolt. A bolt of ligtning always comes first before you hear it. That is because light travels faster than sound. Nothing beats the speed of light. So even though lightning and thunder happen almost simultaneously, you do not hear thunder until much later than you have seen the lightning. Hopeful anticipation is like catching bolts of lightning with the assurance that God’s thundering voice will follow. "For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light" (Lk 8:17). Pay close attention to how you listen when there is no gentle thundering sound as yet, the light that is seen from a distance is already with us and it serves as wisdom, guidance and vision. Let us not miss out on the lightning bolt which is a concrete enough assurance along our pilgrim path on a day-to-day basis like the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:22) that accompanied God’s people in the desert. This is the same image to guide a retreatant when he or she enters a formal prayer period in a silent retreat setting. As soon as a prayer commences, catch sight of the ligtning bolts from heaven as sign posts of the graces we desire.

Fr James Martin SJ says, "desire is a key part of spirituality because desire is a key way that God's voice is heard in our lives. And our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God" (The Jesuit Guide to [Almost] Everything). A lightning bolt is formed because opposites attract. Once the negative charge at the bottom of the cloud gets large enough, a flow of negative charge rushes towards the Earth and positive charge flows upward from the ground. In the spiritual life, opposites attract through desire. Since any encounter with God has to do with desire, St Ignatius made it clear that "where I find what I desire, I will there remain quiet and reposed" (SE 76) and desire for and of God is already a consolation received at the outset of every encounter. It is a consolation of friendship with, in, and through God's holy desire that we remember being soaked in during prayer. In the third rule of the discernment of spirits, St Ignatius writes, "I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all" (SE 316).

Why does St Ignatius give great emphasis in being quiet and reposed whenever we have found what we desire? I would like to believe that there are conflicting desires many times. There are inordinate attachments that could numb our senses from recognizing our deepest and most authentic desire. The idiom “stealing one's thunder” comes from the dramatist John Dennis who conceived a novel idea for a thunder machine for his unsuccessful 1709 play Appius and Virginia. When he found out his innovation had been used at a performance of another stage play he cried out in a fit of rage: “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my plays.” That is what happens when one is not quiet and reposed. God sends the lightning but we miss out on the thunder. If you do not like your thunder to be stolen from you be vigilant because anytime the enemy of human nature, as St Ignatius would often call it, could rob you of your thunder like a thief in the night. If one fails to persevere throughout the appointed period of prayer, running out of fuel, the doors will be shut. Have you experienced being in the middle of a video chat when all of a sudden you do not hear the other party. You see but do not hear. In prayer it can come to that. What do you do? Pray more. Pray longer even says St Ignatius until you hear the gentle thunder.

For my third and last point, John the Baptist is given the highest possible praise no less than by Jesus. He is "a prophet and more than a prophet, the messenger before the Lord himself." Jesus is using the quotation from the prophet Malachi which was attached to the Baptist in the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Restraint, both internal and external, are found at the beginning of the purification process. John the Baptist is a model of purified desire which was his purpose in life. This is reflected in his diet of locusts and wild honey (Mt 3:4) not only for the goal of living a mortified life but to practice his own teachings. He says in Luke’s account, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:11). Without John the Baptist, Jesus could be stolen from us. Desires have to be purified and we allow time for purification to take place. That is why there is such a thing as advent which is waiting. But this is not a simple waiting it is hopeful and joyous waiting. Even when we know we still have many conflicting desires within us, we are already seeing the lightning. Jesus is waving to us a bright flag not too far away off but from a short distance. ‘Maranatha [1]—our Lord is there—Lord, come!’ Amen Fr JM Manzano SJ

1 Maranatha is an Aramaic word that means “the Lord is coming.”


  1. Lightning is one of my favorite natural phenomena in my Physics class. It always amazes me how it works! Thanks for giving me another way of looking at it applying or connecting in our way of spiritual life... Awesome!

    I can see the connection of this statement...
    " I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord..."

    to the movement of lightning striking the highest point in the ground... making connection to release or share the excess charges from the clouds... balancing or making later the atmosphere neutral/stable and equilibrium...

    Do you mind if I share a link about lightning?

    Thank you once again Fr. Jom! God bless us!

    1. Thank you for your enriching sharing from a Physics teacher point of view! I like so much the youtube link you sent here. Merry Christmas and a grace-filled New Year! GBU! 😇


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