Monthly Archives: March 2013

on the third day he rose again from the dead

Resurrection by Raffaelino del Garbo, 1510

From Pope Francis’s homily at today’s Easter Mass:

This is what Easter is: it is the exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness. Because God is life, life alone, and his glory is the living man.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ died and rose once for all, and for everyone, but the power of the Resurrection, this passover from slavery to evil to the freedom of goodness, must be accomplished in every age, in our concrete existence, in our everyday lives. How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbour, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones.

So this is the invitation which I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection! Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

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Holy Saturday Lamentation

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Look toward me, and have pity on me,
for I am alone and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
Put an end to my affliction and my suffering,
and take away all my sins.
Behold, my enemies are many,
and they hate me violently.
Preserve my life, and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
(Psalm 25:16-20)

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 635):

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. the earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

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Good Friday and Courage

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Lamentation of the Dead Christ (detail), by Giovanni Santi or Sanzio

“…for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds;
but this man has done nothing wrong.”
(Luke 23:41)

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out his soul to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 53:12)

The day after the cardinals elected him pope, the new bishop of Rome gave this message to those same cardinals in the Sistine Chapel homily for his first mass as pope:

The same Peter who has confessed Jesus Christ says to him, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it. I will follow you with other possibilities, without the Cross.”

When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross and when we confess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that everyone . . . should have the courage, truly the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord; to build up the Church upon the blood of the Lord that was shed upon the Cross; and to confess the only glory—Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will move forward.


A Prayer for Good Friday

O Jesus, Who by reason of Thy burning love for us
hast willed to be crucified
and to shed Thy Most Precious Blood
for the redemption and salvation of our souls,
look down upon us here gathered together
in remembrance of Thy most sorrowful Passion and Death,
fully trusting in Thy mercy;
cleanse us from sin by Thy grace,
sanctify our toil,
give unto us and unto all those who are dear to us our
daily bread,
sweeten our sufferings,
bless our families,
and to the nations so sorely afflicted,
grant Thy peace,
which is the only true peace,
so that by obeying Thy commandments
we may come at last to the glory of heaven.
Amen.

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The Last Supper

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Study of Christ for the Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1500)

Before Christ instituted the Eucharist, he taught his followers the meaning of his body and blood, the meaning of which he will later specifically attach to bread and wine. He created a point of tension that forced his hearers to make a choice — either to want to understand or to walk away. In John’s Gospel, chapter six, we read:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

[…]

After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.

It is interesting this is the only place in the Gospels, that I’m aware of, where it says many stopped following Jesus. It is interesting that it comes because of his teaching on the Eucharist. But his closest disciples stayed with him, their hearts being gradually prepared to hear more. Later Jesus will institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

How many who call themselves Christians today have also drawn back from His teaching and see the Eucharist as only a symbolic act? Perhaps this shift from sacrament to symbol has become a first step for many in crafting a more palatable gospel. I know it was for me, but then it gradually became a point of tension in my heart.

Lord Jesus Christ, at your Last Supper
you prayed to the Father that all should be one.
Send your Holy Spirit upon all
who bear your name and seek to serve you.
Strengthen our faith in you, and lead us
to love one another in humility.
May we who have been reborn in one baptism
be united in one faith under one Shepherd.
Amen.

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sharper than any two-edged sword

I want to explore a common misunderstanding.

Question: Is it true that the author of the letter to the Hebrews proclaims the Bible to be “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”? I grew up believing that it is, and I hear today from some Christians, mostly Protestants, that it is. But is that what this verse means?

No. That is a misinterpretation of that passage.

If we read Hebrews 4:12 in its context (see all of chapter 4 below) it becomes apparent that the issue at hand is whether the readers of this letter will enter into the “sabbath rest” because they have heard the word of God and obeyed it, or whether they will fail to enter that rest because, after hearing that word, they reject it and fall into disobedience. The author of Hebrews draws the connection up front: “For good news came to us just as to them”. And the problem of those who failed to enter God’s rest is because the good news “did not meet with faith in the hearers”. The author makes the comparison with those of the past ages by bringing up the creation story, Joshua, and David. When he says, “and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,” he wants his readers to understand the history of this good news, that it has been there from the beginning, is here today, and that all are called to respond. He wants his readers to respond positively and enter into God’s rest. He even says, “let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it.”

So why is this “word of God” not the Bible? First, we should remember that the phrase “word of God” is often used in Scriptures to mean Christ; see John’s Gospel chapter 1: “In the Beginning was the Word…” and “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. The phrase is more often used to mean the Gospel, or message of salvation: “And the word of God increased…” (Acts 6:7), “But it is not as though the word of God had failed.” (Romans 9:6), “…are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:14), “But the word of God is not fettered.” (2 Timothy 2:9), and many more. None of these passages diminish the Holy Scriptures, but it is clear that in the minds of the Apostles the phrase “word of God” has everything to do with what has been proclaimed by God since the beginning and what was being proclaimed to the world by the apostles, namely Christ.

If this is true, then we should ask what does it mean that this word of God “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Think of how many times in the New Testament, particularly in the Acts of the Apostles, that upon hearing the Gospel people respond (remarkably, miraculously) with belief: the Gospel is proclaimed and, along with the work of the Holy Spirit, the hearers are cut to the quick, convicted of their sins, repent, and seek reconciliation with God. That is the power of this Gospel. The author of Hebrews says, “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” To be open to that “word” is to be on the path to God’s rest. The other option is to harden one’s heart and turn away in disobedience.

Does the Bible proclaim the Word of God? Absolutely! Are the Holy Scriptures one the “tools” God uses to convict sinners of their need for repentance, as well as of the incredible mercy of God? Yes! The Bible is our primary source for the teachings of the prophets of God, of the Apostles, and of Christ Himself. But, according to the author of Hebrews, the word of God is “living”, that is, it is the continuing proclamation of the Gospel through the ages, actively promoted by the Holy Spirit through the words and witness of the followers of Christ. The “word of God” is the good news, the promise of salvation, the Gospel. And that good news is is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.

Hebrews 4

¹ Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall never enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this place he said,

“They shall never enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he sets a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, when you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day. 9 So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; 10 for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Final thoughts:

Growing up a Protestant I know the lingo and presuppositions that pervade that sub-world, and lifting up the scriptures above all else is a big one. Now, Christians have always had a high view of the Holy Scriptures, and this is as it should be. For “God is the author of Sacred Scripture. ‘The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.'” (CCC 105) Protestants often claim to have a higher view of the Holy Scriptures than non-Protestants. Sola Scriptura is the classic rallying cry of Protestantism. Hebrews 4:12 is one of the popular texts frequently used to argue for this unique place of scripture as against tradition. Perhaps other arguments can be offered for this perspective, but Hebrews 4:12 offers none.

Why bring this up? Recently I have had the privilege of being in the midst of a debate on how to teach the theory of evolution within a Christian Classical Education context. Central to the debate is how we are to interpret scripture. All involved proclaim the importance of the Bible and see it as the inspired word of God. Not all agree, however, as to the specific nuances of what that means. I am inclined to see Holy inspiration as being more mysterious and unknowable than some. But the real crux came not about whether the Bible is the word of God, but rather what method of interpretation should one employ. In other words, some assumed that a literal interpretation — especially in regards to the first chapter of Genesis — was required in order to also assume inspiration and infallibility (an assumption that doesn’t make sense to me), and were surprised to realize that not everyone, including the tutor, held their perspective. In fact, the subtext, which remained barely below the surface (and not really below the surface at all) called into question the “authentic belief” of those who were not literalists. At one point Hebrews 4:12 was tossed on the table with almost the wave of a hand in order to champion the high place of Holy Scripture. The irony was that the true meaning of Hebrew 4:12 — that is, the deep and profound embracing of the Word of God through the conviction of the Holy Spirit resulting in a heart that loves truth and loves God — was evidenced by the non-literalist tutor in the responses given to serious accusations.

Perhaps the tendency to see the Bible as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” is because some like the idea of the Bible being a weapon against the world, of cutting others to the heart, of fighting the good fight. But to see this living, two-edged sword instead as the Word of God, as that which convicts and lays bare, as that which calls each of us to repentance, is to weep and call upon God for mercy. One perspective attacks, the other welcomes; one pushes away, the other embraces; one emerges out of fear, the other out of love.

My desire is that I would be someone who embraces the word of God. As a parent I am faced continually with the question: How do I model this for my children, how do I live it before them?

Finally, let us remember with humility, as the passage in Hebrews above begins, that “while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it.” The clear implication is that some of us will start of this journey to God’s rest and then fail to enter it. Perhaps that is because we hear the Gospel, embrace it at one level, but fail to love others as Christ loved us. God have mercy.

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Some thoughts on the Angelus

francis-angelus

Just the other day pope Francis led his first Angelus of his pontificate. Reports say there were 150,000 people in attendance, and it was broadcast worldwide. Certainly there is a great deal of jubilation for this new pope, even from Protestants. One article I read had the following snippet:

Although she couldn’t understand the content of his talk, the emotion of the moment got to Lucy Fanning of Pennington, N.J.

“This is …” she said before fanning her face with her hand.

“I’m not even Catholic, I’m Protestant, but this is messing me up a bit,” Fanning said, as her husband, Joe, a Catholic, smiled. The couple is escorting a group of private school Latin students around Italy.

“You can tell this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Casey McGovern, 16, explaining the group’s decision to brave the huge crowds only to get as far as a quarter-mile from St. Peter’s. “It’s his first address as pope to the people. You have to be here.”

Love this: “…but this is messing me up a bit.” I know that feeling. I too have been messed up a bit by my observations and experience of Catholicism.

Love this: “You have to be here.” Isn’t it interesting the attention the pope engenders? One could even say there is a kind of obsession with the Catholic Church over and above all other churches. The closest thing Protestantism has to a pope may be the head of the Anglican church, and not many cared all that much when they recently chose a new head.

One possible way to describe this is that there is only one church in the world that seems to stand for “the Church”, and that is the Catholic Church. When the secular media speak of the Church, they mean the Catholic Church. Everyone else is in relationship, one way or another, to it. Therefore, when the Church chooses a new pope, you have to be there. You may not know why, but you feel it. If one is Protestant, at least the American-fundamentalist-evangelical kind that I am familiar with, then one is likely not trained or prepared to know how to explain those feelings elicited by things Catholic, those feelings that “mess” one up a bit and make one just know it’s important to “be there”. It seems to be much more than just a big show, it seems to be fundamental.

Perhaps a truly honest assessment of those feelings may lead us to greater unity within the body of Christ.

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