The 21st-Century Commandment Crisis

This week at daily Mass, we read from Exodus about the Israelites leaving Egypt and coming to Mount Sinai. To show them that they could always trust Him, the Lord fed the wanderers with manna from heaven. He ordered them to gather an adequate portion every day—except on the sixth day, when they gathered double.

el_greco-sinaiNow, why was that? Why double on the sixth day?

Can’t figure it out, because your mind is too distracted by the cares and anxieties of daily life? We’ll come back to it.

As we read at Holy Mass today, Moses led Israel to Mount Sinai. Why? For the view? Reminds me of one summer day when some friends and I climbed Moore’s Knob in Hanging Rock State Park in NC. A large church group of boys, with men chaperoning, climbed when we did. At the summit, some of the boys tossed a few stones off the edge. One of the chaperones bellowed: “We did not climb this mountain to throw rocks!”

The Israelites did not go to Mount Sinai to throw rocks.

Now, many good Christians these days think that the commandment most ignored, most flouted, most desecrated is: the sixth. And certainly the sixth commandment suffers from grave neglect.

But if I can claim to have an over-arching theory guiding my ministry these 14 years and counting, it is this: Our real contemporary crisis has to do with the third commandment.

See? You’re not 100% sure what the third commandment even is.

Now: Yes, a lot of Catholics fail to get themselves to church for Sunday Mass. That’s a big problem. But I don’t think that’s the heart of the matter, the heart of the Twenty-First-Century Third-Commandment Crisis.

The Catechism has an electric sentence in the article on the third commandment:

The sabbath is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money.

A day of protest. Better than a march on Washington, in fact. Like the Polish workers shouting, with Bishop Wojtyla, on the plot of land where the Communists refused to build the parish church: ‘We want God!’

The Lord Himself spoke very forcefully to Moses on this subject:

You must tell the Israelites: take care to keep my sabbaths, for that is to be the token between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the Lord, who make you holy…

Six days there are for doing work, but the seventh is the sabbath of complete rest, sacred to the Lord…

So shall the Israelites observe the sabbath, keeping it throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. Between me and the Israelites it is to be an everlasting token: for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day he rested at his ease. [Exodus 31:13-17]

Yes, modern man has profound, and cruelly destructive, sexual problems, which arise from sixth-commandment breaking. But I think 21st-century man’s far-deeper problem is: The servitude of work and not knowing how to rest at his ease.

More on this tomorrow.

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Groundhog Day with No Variables

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Our Lady and St. Joseph took the Lord to the Temple on the fortieth day after His birth. They fulfilled an ancient law. “You shall redeem your firstborn by offering sacrifice to the Lord, because He slew the firstborn of the Egyptians to liberate you from slavery.”

The Passover. The angel of death passed over the households marked by the blood of the sacrificial lamb. The holy nation marched to freedom. Simeon saw the Lamb, God made man, ready to shed His Blood for His people. So the old man declared our Christian faith: “My own eyes have seen the light of salvation! Peace!”

Whom has God Almighty liberated from slavery? On whose heart has He daubed His own most-precious Blood? Upon whose faces has the undying Light shone?

candlemas…What is Candlemas all about? Why do we light the same little tapers we use only today and at the Easter Vigil? Why does the Easter candlelight fill our temple today?

We are the people. God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, master of times and seasons, governor of history—He has made Himself our kind Father. In the covenant consecrated by the blood shed on the cross, the Precious Blood of our Mass.

Frickin’ Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. But we set no store by such frivolous superstitions. Shadow/no shadow does not concern us.

For us, in our temple, February 2nd has no variables. Light wins. God is light, and His light wins. We are the People God has chosen to be His own. Not because we were good. He has chosen to form His people from the great mass of sinners.

We will march to freedom, because Jesus Christ is our God. In this world we will have troubles. But we rejoice because He has overcome the sin of the world.

What is a Jubilee Year?

Pope Francis at Holy Door St Peters

Is it when the Georgetown Hoyas beat the Syracuse Orange? We present another answer, from the Holy Bible…

In the beginning, the human race dwelt in paradise. God freely gave us everything we need.

But our First Parents fell. The human race became slaves of the devil, condemned to death. Malice and contempt entered into our relations with each other.

Before the Fall, our First Parents could easily understand themselves as children in the divine household, endowed with life through the infinite generosity of the omnipotent Creator. But as sinners we learned to put our selves at the center of all our reckonings. We human beings took up the business of ruthlessly competing with each other. We learned to deal harshly with others, seeking individual advantages at every turn.

We can pick up this story at the beginning of the book of Exodus. The fallen human situation manifests itself completely in the fate of the Hebrew people in Egypt.

Continue reading “What is a Jubilee Year?”

Halfway to Jerusalem: Remember to Remember!

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We find ourselves near the mid-point of Lent. Halfway to Jerusalem, so to speak. It seems like Lent only just began, so that means Holy Week will arrive before we know it: The week of our most intense commemoration, our most intense remembering.

Lent unites us with the ancient Israelites. God liberated them from slavery in Egypt. They journeyed home to the land that God had given their father Abraham. During that journey, God gave them their law.

One of the most important precepts of the law was: Don’t forget what happened in Egypt! No matter how settled you may get in the Promised Land, no matter how comfortable: never forget! You were beggarly slaves, living in cruel desperation. God Almighty reached down from heaven and freed you!

The Passover remembrance involved a lot more than just a yearly ritual. It actually gave the ancient Israelites the foundation for all their piety and their morality. By remembering that they owed God everything–that they owed Him their freedom and whatever prosperity they had–by remembering that they, too, had been desperate and poor, they kept compassion for the desperate and poor alive in their hearts. Their commemoration of the Passover taught them not to turn away from the desperate soul in distress. Because they, too, had been desperate souls in distress, and still would be–were it not for God’s gracious mercy to them.

el-grecost-paulAs St. Paul has explained, what happened in Egypt occurred in order to give us an image of what Jesus was to do in Jerusalem. In the days of Moses, God saved one nation from slavery.

Then God came to the earth Himself, and He saved all of us from an even more desperate and poor state. Slaves not just of Pharaoh, but of Satan. Destined to die in misery and languish forever in a hopeless netherworld.

But God did not turn away from us–desperate as we are, helpless as we human beings are, in the face of our own weakness and our inevitable death. He did not turn away. He turned toward us. He offered His face to buffets and spitting. He spread out His arms for the nails. He bowed His Head in death for us, and He overcame our Enemy and rescued us for eternal life.

The precept of precepts in our Gospel law is: that we never forget this! That we live with the constant memory of Christ redeeming us from the most desperate slavery. That we live with the constant memory of Christ giving us an unimaginably wonderful destiny, immeasurably greater than we could ever deserve.

This remembrance gives us the foundation of our piety and our morality, too. Christ laid down all He had for us, when we had nothing. So we have to lay down all we have, to help the brother or the sister who needs something.

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h/t Dr. Timothy Gray

Profligate Seed Sewing in the Desert

A sower went out to sew the seed. And he asked himself, “Can God spread a table in the desert?

No. Not true. The sower most certainly did not ask such a question. To the contrary, he scattered seed liberally, prodigiously. He scattered seed in what may seem to us to be a scattershot fashion. He scattered the seed, full of confidence that God can give the increase.

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableEven though birds peck, and the sun scorches, and thorns choke. Even in the desert, in other words: God can give the increase.

The Israelites marched across the Red Sea, as if supernatural amphibious units were transporting them to a grand invasion of the Promised Land. Things looked good. But then they came to the desert of Sin, and their march became a slog. They grumbled.

Compare this with the great divine sower of the parable. No slogging; no grumbling. He seems to dance His way across the arid plain. The pecking birds flutter around Him menacingly; the sun scorches down; thornbushes unfold their spikes to His right and to His left. But He utters nary a complaint. He just scatters seed far and wide. We might say that He appears to scatter life-giving seed in a footloose and fancy-free manner, even in the middle of the desert.

The seeds give life; they produce fruits; talents unfurl themselves in this world. To our judging eyes, these seeds may appear to have been misplaced, sewn in the wrong environment. Why is so-and-so such a good cook? God didn’t know what He was doing when He made her such a good cook. Why did He make such-a-one so thoroughly charming and confident? He didn’t know what He was doing. Why is that numbskull so good-looking? What was God thinking?

Jonathan Goldsmith most interesting dos equisThat’s us complaining, like the grumbling liberated slaves in the hard desert. We think we know better than the quiet, dancing, divine sower. Probably better not to sew seed around here at all. Better just to go back to Egypt. Freedom takes too much initiative and creative effort. Slavery is easier.

But how many times does it have to happen? Before we learn the truth? God can spread a table in the desert.

God can move hard-headed people like me to acts of kindness and humility. God can make selfish people like me into generous and loving and magnanimous Christians.

And it’s all because God provides. ‘God Provides’ is the #1 axiom of the world, because if God didn’t provide, there would be no world. If they were going to make a “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad with me in it, I would say, ‘I don’t often get the chance to order quail. But when quail’s on the menu, I always order it.’

God serves quail in the desert. The grumbling Israelites finally stopped talking and settled down to eat. The sun set over the dry and thorny landscape to the sounds of laughter and friendship.

The divine Sower does not take Himself so seriously as we take ourselves. He doesn’t have to, because the bag of seed He holds never runs out. Birds can peck all they want; the sun can scorch; thorns can choke. God will scatter more seed, and it will grow.

Exodus and Lumen Fidei

Reading the books of Moses for the first reading at Holy Mass these days… Reading our Holy Father’s encyclical…

Pope-Francis-Lumen-FideiIt all comes together in paragraph 12:

The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham’s faith.

Faith once again is born of a primordial gift: Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery. Faith becomes a summons to a lengthy journey leading to worship of the Lord on Sinai and the inheritance of a promised land.

God’s love is seen to be like that of a father who carries his child along the way. Israel’s confession of faith takes shape as an account of God’s deeds in setting his people free and acting as their guide, an account passed down from one generation to the next.

stained-glassGod’s light shines for Israel through the remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deeds, recalled and celebrated in worship, and passed down from parents to children.

Here we see how the light of faith is linked to concrete life-stories, to the grateful remembrance of God’s mighty deeds and the progressive fulfillment of his promises.

Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God’s light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation, and thus becomes capable of illuminating our passage through time by recalling his gifts and demonstrating how he fulfills his promises.

Christ’s Exodus, Stations, Marmion

Stations of the Cross

They spoke of His exodus, which He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:31)

The exodus of Christ. Yes: the same word as the title of the second book of the Holy Bible. The ancient Israelites languished as slaves in Egypt, away from their Promised Land, away from the sacred domain that God had given to Abraham their forefather. But then Moses led the Exodus: The Israelites escaped their bondage. They passed over the Red Sea. They made their way to their true home.

transfigurationAll of that happened by way of foreshadowing. It all symbolized the great exodus yet to come. God Himself would come to this Egypt and share with us sons and daughters of Adam the slavery of death. God Himself would walk in this foreign land–Justice and Truth Himself on an earth full of injustice and lies.

Why did He do it? He came to lead an exodus.

The Lord Jesus ascended Mt. Tabor and allowed His divine glory to shine through, and Moses and Elijah came to Him to talk—all for one reason: Apparently cruel, confusing, heartbreaking events would soon unfold in Jerusalem. The Lord wanted to show His chosen Apostles the hidden meaning of His Passion and crucifixion.

Yes, it will look like a defeat. Yes, it will appear to be an unmitigated disaster. But do not mistake it. It will be the beginning of a mighty and glorious exodus. God will in fact win a triumph in Jerusalem—a triumph so stupendous that it will make Moses parting the Red Sea look like a cheesy half-time show by comparison.

Now, pretty soon we will have a new pope. One thing a pope does is to declare saints. Pope John Paul II declared a great monk-priest named Columba Marmion to be a saint.

Dom Columba Marmion
Dom Columba Marmion
Blessed Columba Marmion lived a life of enormous holiness; he was holy in many different ways. Let’s focus on one: Dom Columba made the Stations of the Cross every day. In other words, he made them every Friday of Lent. Plus, he made them every other Friday of the year, since the Church keeps every Friday as a kind of little weekly Lent, year-round. Plus, Blessed Columba made the Stations every other day, also: Monday-Thursday, and Saturdays and Sundays, too.

Now, maybe you’re saying to yourself: “Father is telling me that this holy man—this saintly individual—that he made the Stations of the Cross every day. But I am not altogether sure what ‘making the Stations of the Cross’ means. What does it mean?”

Okay. Good question. Let’s start with a few words of Dom Columba’s, if I might quote them:

This contemplation of Jesus’ suffering is very fruitful…That is why, if, during a few moments, interrupting your work, laying aside your preoccupations, and closing your heart to all outward things, you accompany the God-man along the road to Calvary, with faith, humility, and love, with the true desire of imitating His virtues, be assured that your souls will receive choice graces, which will transform them little by little into the likeness of Jesus.

…It suffices to visit the fourteen stations, to stay a while at each of them and there to meditate on the Savior’s Passion…The more we enter into those dispositions that filled the Heart of Jesus as He passed along the sorrowful way—love towards His Father, charity towards men, hatred for sin, humility, obedience to the Father’s will—the more our souls will receive graces and lights.

Every parish church has the fourteen stations: Jesus condemned to death. Jesus taking up His cross. Jesus falling under the weight of the cross. Jesus meeting His mother in the street on the way Calvary. St. Simon helping Jesus to carry the cross. St. Veronica wiping the Holy Face. The Lord falling under the weight of the cross again. Jesus condoling with the wailing women in the street. Jesus falling a third time as He begins to climb Calvary Hill. The centurions roughly stripping Him of His tunic. The centurions nailing Him to the cross. They plant the cross in the earth, and, after three hours of agony, God dies. They take His Body down and lay Him in His Mother’s arms. Then they lay Him in the tomb.

Fourteen stations. On the Fridays of Lent, most of the parishes of the world pray the Stations together. In our humble cluster, we make our way through them together at 7:00 in the evening. On Good Friday, at 3:00 p.m.

This is the exodus of the Savior of the world. We celebrate it constantly in the Mass. As Bl. Dom Columba put it, “devotion to the sufferings of Christ in the Way of the Cross is the devotional prayer most closely linked to the Mass.”

Let’s assume we want to get to heaven. Failing to take advantage of this particular means of devotion would be like a miner failing to take advantage of a pickaxe, or a NASCAR driver failing to take advantage of a car. Sure, you can run 500 times around Daytona Speedway on foot. But why not drive? Likewise: yes, it is possible to get to heaven without praying the Stations of the Cross. But why not hop on board a train of prayer that is definitely headed in the right direction? Friday at 7:00 (check local listings).

A Vigil Ended

Why did the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the Temple? Because the Law of the Old Covenant commanded that every firstborn son be consecrated to the Lord and redeemed by a sacrifice.

Why did the Law require this? Because the freedom of the nation of Israel rested on the death of the firstborn throughout the land of Egypt, in the days of Moses. The consecration of the firstborn, as the book of Exodus puts it,

will be like a sign on your hand and a band on your forehead that with a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt (13:16).

Day and night, St. Simeon kept this sign on his hand and this band on his forehead. He kept a perpetual vigil of faith.

The Lord our God, the mighty and strong, slow to anger, swift to bless—He liberated us, brought us out of nothingness itself. He gave us our land, flowing with milk and honey. He gave us this holy Temple on Abraham’s mountain.

He did it all for a reason, His reason. And now we await the fulfillment of His plan, the consummation of our nation’s task. It will come in God’s time; it will come at the right moment.

I may grow old and blind and weary. But I will wait on the Almighty hand. I will wait here at the very spot where Abraham trusted God. Abraham trusted to the point of his own firstborn’s death…

So whispered Simeon to himself. And then the Blessed Mother walked through the door, with the God of Abraham in her arms.

Prayerbooks, prayerbooks (Roman Missal II)

The Last Supper involved the ritual commemoration of…

…the passing of the Angel of Death over the homes marked with the blood of the lamb;

…the passing of the Israelites over the Red Sea as on dry land;

…the exodus of the People of God from slavery to freedom, with unleavened bread for their food.

So, at the first Mass, a prayerbook prescribed the ceremony, the words and ritual actions.

The then-ancient events which the Passover Seder brought to mind, and to life: the Lord’s Supper, sacrifice, and victory fulfilled them all. The first Triduum revealed the true meaning of the exodus: it all occurred under Moses’ leadership as an image of the ultimate salvation of the human race in Christ.

“The Lord has come to His people and set them free…to worship Him without fear.” (Luke 1:68, 74))

The Lord Jesus and the Apostles sang Psalms from King David’s prayerbook at the Last Supper, and into the evening.

–Why were there psalms of David? Because pilgrims went up to the Temple in Jerusalem, and they sang en route. They sang the Psalms as they went up to the altar of God.

Indeed, the Israelites sang the Psalms all the time. The Psalms were (and are) the interior music of the soul of the true Israelite. Where does the recitation of a Psalm end and personal prayer begin? The child of Abraham has no truck with such a question. Utterly inseparable.

We go to the altar to offer our worship to the Almighty. We recall ancient events, the works of God, which have not faded away into the past like 19th-century Presidential elections or Japanese shogunates, but which last forever. That’s the thing about Christ: He lives. He feeds us with Himself from heaven, like He fed the Israelites with manna after they gave up the leeks and melons of Egypt.

But we are human. We are prone to forget things. We are prone to make up silly stuff.

If Christ Himself used a prayerbook when He established the turning-point of history, then, when we go to the altar to worship, we need a prayerbook. We need one given to us by the immemorial tradition of the People of God (like our Lord had to guide Him on Holy Thursday), full of David’s Psalms and other Scriptures. (And ours, of course, must also be filled with the words of Christ).

…More to come on this, dear reader.

…Hard to believe that it has been three years since I started this goofy weblog thingy. Thanks for sticking with me. I think that I had a contest for the stupidest post of the year on the one-year anniversary. I would be happy to take nominations again, although I know the competition is fierce.

Introduction to John 6

Like all the chapters of all the gospels, the sixth chapter of John proclaims that the Messiah has come, and it is Jesus.

Moses
Moses

It will help us to understand this chapter if we recall some of the great deeds the Lord did through His prophet Moses in ancient times. Through Moses, the Lord taught His people a lot about how to hope for the Messiah—about how to hope for freedom and salvation.

Let us recall the Exodus of the Israelites. By the power of God, Moses brought plagues upon the Egyptian slave-masters. Then he parted the Red Sea and led the people across it. Later, Moses turned the desert rock into a spring of water.

Moses also demonstrated the power of God when he brought the Law down from Mt. Sinai and then consecrated the people in a covenant of obedience to it.

Continue reading “Introduction to John 6”