The Song of Moses and the Lamb

Zubaran agnus dei

They were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. (Revelation 15:3)

First of all, we know what St. John means by a ‘harp,’ right? A ten-stringed lyre? Correct: Living according to the Ten Commandments.

They sang the song of Moses. Remember how we discussed the relationship between the Lamb of God and the ancient Passover? The song of Moses celebrates what event? Horse and chariot He has cast into the sea. Exodus 15. The crossing of the Red Sea. The liberation of Israel.

The Israelites marched dry-shod through the sea, with the water piled up like a mound, with the floodwaters congealed to their right and to their left. God works His miracles of deliverance.

Where were they headed? To quote the song of Moses: To the mountain of God’s inheritance, to the sanctuary which the Lord’s hands established.

The song of the Lamb resounds in the eternal sanctuary: God is just; God is wonderful. Who will not glorify the Almighty? Who has done such deeds of loving kindness, redeeming the human race by the blood of the innocent Christ!

In every tabernacle in every parish church or chapel all over the world, the Lamb resides. He dwells with us, and He works His miracles of deliverance.

The Lamb on Mount Zion

lamb of god dormition abbey jerusalem
Lamb of God mosaic, Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem

The Lamb of God standing atop Mount Zion. Twelve groups of twelve thousand ransomed souls–all bearing the name of the Lamb, and of His Father.

Who first called Christ “the Lamb of God?” Correct! St. John the Baptist. ‘Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.’

The Catechism puts it like this: Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. St. John the Evangelist’s vision of the Lamb reigning in heaven reminds us of this. Reminds us of The Redemption.

God became poor to give us heavenly riches. The Son submitted in obedience to the will of the Father–to make up for our disobedience. He spoke truth to purify our minds. He healed bodies and souls. He conquered human death.

All to redeem us. To liberate us from our miseries by His perfectly honest work.

Our redemption is at hand. When did Israel first sacrifice the lamb? Correct! Passover. They marked their doorposts with the lamb’s blood, and the angel of death spared them. Then they marched away, out of slavery and into freedom.

What makes our lives on earth Egypt-like? Fatigue, discouragement. Our mortality. Our struggles to communicate, to love, to overcome our weaknesses. Our frustrations with others. Our frustrations with ourselves.

Jesus Christ redeems us from all of it. The Lamb who was slain now reigns. He leads us out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. The Redemption is real.

Steady March Through the Alaska of Books


Blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it. (Revelation 1:3)

From the beginning of the last book of the Holy Bible. St. John’s Revelation both begins and ends with exhortations about reading the sacred book. Exhortations that we can apply not just to this last book of the Bible, but to all of Scripture. St. John’s words echo Moses’ in the book of Deuteronomy. Carefully listen to, and heed, the Word of God. Change nothing.

How does St. John conclude the Bible?

I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from these words, God will take away his share in the tree of life and the holy city described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Church feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church listens to, and heeds, the words of Scripture. We know This Is Who We Are since: This is What a Mass Is.

The Catechism puts it like this: “The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as She venerates the Lord’s Body… In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” (CCC 103-104)

Sounds lovely and sweet. But we cannot get sentimental and pollyannish about something as genuinely intimidating as the Holy Bible.

To Brave AlaskaYou know I recently read about one young man’s ill-fated solo adventure in Alaska. Then I went on a binge and watched multiple movies about people daring the Alaskan wilderness. And losing the dare every time. “Into the Wild.” “To Brave Alaska.” “Rugged Gold.”

The point of this movie genre is: Only a fool underestimates the challenges involved in surviving in the Alaska bush. And my point is: The Holy Bible is the Alaska of books. Only a fool underestimates the challenges. Only a fool ventures out alone, unguided and without provisions.

So we read together. According to an ancient, well-established plan. With guides. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

When we read the Scriptures in union with the Church—systematically, year after year, guided by experts—then we survive and thrive. Then we enter into the joy of seasoned explorers.

A week from Sunday, we begin anew. We Catholic Scripture-reading survivalists understand the Lectionary cycle. This year we have had B-2. Which means on the first Sunday of Advent, we begin…

Right, amigo. C-1.

A steady march through the beautiful bush. Blessed are those who listen to, and heed, the Word of God.

If Religion Comes Up…

at dinner, some advice:

At the end of the liturgical year, we find ourselves reading the end of the Bible at Holy Mass.  We read in Revelation: those who have won the victory sing the song of Moses in heaven, adoring God, and saying to Him, “your righteous deeds have been revealed!” (Revelation 15:4)

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbilliesThe Holy Bible contains the account of the righteous deeds of Almighty God, the work He has undertaken in the course of history. His works make our lives mean something; what He has accomplished gives us hope for eternal life.

So we rightly cherish the Holy Bible as an essential gift. We can’t imagine life without the knowledge that the Bible gives us. Certainly we would not understand life at all, if we didn’t know what the Bible teaches. We wouldn’t be able to deal with day-to-day life, if we didn’t constantly nourish our minds with reading the Bible.

The books of the Bible bear witness to the fundamental fact: Almighty God has established a covenant with His chosen people. This alliance that binds us to God involves specific historical things, like: the land of Israel, Moses and his staff, the ancient temple, Jesus laid in a manger, baptism with water, oils blessed by a bishop, and bread and wine consecrated on an altar. Our covenant with God is no generic ‘religion.’ God established the covenant through the specific events narrated in the Holy Bible.

All that said, though: the God of the Bible is bigger than the Bible. The God of our covenant is bigger than His covenant with us. The God of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is bigger than the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

The content of the Bible itself forces us Bible believers to have the humility to acknowledge: We do not know everything there is to know about God. Neither the Bible, nor the Church that has given us the Bible, have all the answers. We do not have the “God market” cornered.

God is God, and He has a plan for everyone to get to heaven.  The Bible reveals that magnificent fact.  He has a plan for everyone to get to heaven, including people in the mountains of west China who have never heard of the Bible, or Pope Francis, or a Thanksgiving turkey.  God has a plan for the salvation of every human being.  And our little role in that plan involves, above all, our being humble.

Happy Thanksgiving/End of the World


The annual cycle of the Catholic Church’s Sacred Liturgy goes way back. Back before even the Mayflower, or Plymouth-Rock pilgrims, or the untimely death of the first American turkey at the hands of a white man.

According to the ancient Liturgy of our Church, this is the week of the year to contemplate the end of times, the final tribulations, and the great apocalypse that will purify the earth.

According to our long-standing American custom, on the other hand, this is the week of the year to gather at the family hearth and give thanks to God for the copious fruits of the earth, and for all His many benefits to us.

So, on the one hand, in church: the book of Revelation, the wrath of God, the angels scourging the evil Babylons of the earth, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the arduous trial of faith by which the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our souls will truly shine forth and confound the devil’s minions.

On the other hand, at home: apple cider, pumpkin pie, and plenty of late-afternoon football, with each quarter punctuated by a nap.

Seems like two altogether different emphases. But, in fact, one common theme unites both observances. The gathering of the harvest.

We sit at table and eat and drink with each other to rejoice in the great gathering-in of the what the earth–with the labor of human hands, and fertilizer, and rain–has produced.

We will eat our turkeys. And a quiet and a joy will descend upon us with the early sunset and the fire burning. Because this harvesting and gathering that we human beings do touches the final harvesting and gathering that God will do.

Indeed, there is some glory in the Thanksgiving table even for the turkey. (Especially if it’s maybe baked in buttercloth, or basted with beer.) The turkey reaches a kind of goal, so to speak. Its little turkey life takes on meaning, as it sits beautifully on the table while the family members argue about Obama.

We, too, will find a place, in the end. The heavenly Father will gather us into His barns, as Jesus put it. The striving and straining and fussing of the pilgrim life will end. And, please God, the great peace of the divine kingdom will enfold us like a blanket.

Visitation Facts

Mets sweep Yankees

Blessed are you who believed that the promises of the Lord would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45)

The faith of the Blessed Virgin Mary offers us the antidote to the prevalent myth of the 21st century.

Because the myth contains an element of truth. Anybody remember? “Religion cannot have anything to do with knowledge, because God, if He exists, is too mysterious to be known. Religion is about your deepest personal feelings.”

VisitationNow, the true part: Religion does indeed offend God if we offer it with anything other than absolute personal sincerity.

There’s only one way to address God honestly, and that is from the center of my heart and mind. No one else can have a relationship with God for me. I have to do it myself.

But here’s the thing; here’s what the Blessed Mother teaches us by her own absolutely intimate personal relationship with God:

When we stand in truth before our Maker, we see that we ourselves do not have what it takes to live, to thrive—even to exist. We are not sufficient unto ourselves. We depend on God for every moment’s breath.

And we need salvation. Death comes for everyone. No amount of personal feelings about God can keep me from dying. Death constitutes the ultimate objective, impartial, non-emotional fact. The only really honest feeling I can have about this fact is: “God, help me! Lord, save us!”

So, if we accept the true part of our century’s myth about God, then we see clearly how false the other part of the myth is. We need objective knowledge about God’s plan. Without it, we can have no real hope and no real joy. We need to hear His promises, believe in them, and believe in His power to fulfill them.

What did the Blessed Mother know about herself, above all? That she could not save herself. She was conceived without sin, by a special dispensation of the grace of the Cross. But her immaculate conception only made her more aware that she needed God. And more aware that God Who says, “I will save you,” will do it.

Marie OsmondWhat’s the difference between a Catholic and an Evangelical?

A Catholic believes everything an Evangelical believes about Jesus and the Bible. But you can sit and drink a beer with the Catholic; you can talk about the Mets sweeping the Yankees, and the Catholic will not feel obliged to bring up religion.

Now, in truth: This is the more genuinely evangelical approach. Catholicism survives and thrives precisely because it is perfectly compatible with living the life of a normal baseball fan.

But: we cannot accept; we must dispute; we have the duty to object to the idea that one religion is just as good as another, because it really has to do with your personal feelings. It doesn’t. Maybe some religions have to do with feelings. But ours has to do with what God Himself has said to the human race, the commandments He has given and the promises He has made.

So if my buddy says, in between reflections on Stephen Strasburg’s prospects, that his brother left the Church to marry a Mormon, but that’s okay because he’s happy! I have to reply, “Can’t agree with you there, pal. I would sooner die than miss Mass, even if I got to marry Marie Osmond. Cheers!”

Two Favorite Sentences

After almost ten years as a priest, you would think that I might have noticed before now that:

We read my two favorite sentences of Holy Scripture within eight days of each other every two years, in the weekday lectionary.

Last Wednesday, we read my second-favorite sentence of the Bible: “You knew that I was a demanding man.”

We know; it is simply a matter of recognizing reality, as plain as the noses on our faces. The cross weighs more than 100 pounds. If you want to get to heaven, you have to sleep little and on a hard surface. You have to get up before the sun rises and bathe in cold water. You have to endure protracted periods of fruitless silence, stay five steps ahead of all the lazy worldlings, read widely enough and deeply enough so that creative thoughts come to you while staring out the window. You have to love everybody, forgive everybody, and do everything for the love of the unseen God. He is demanding, and He holds all the cards.

My favorite sentence of Scripture is: “The wedding feast of the Lamb has begun.”

Champagne awaits. Softshell-crab sandwiches with heavenly fresh tomatoes and ambrosial mayonnaise. A breeze blowing in from the Spice Islands. Everything good, everything desirable.

The long, slow agony of wanting truth, peace, concord, and the perfect cup of coffee—and never quite getting it: the agony ends.

The sun will rise, and then it will set no more. We will dance away eternity with a band better than MC Hammer, U2, The Foo Fighters, and the Marsalis brothers all rolled into one.

We will be married to the Beautiful One forever and ever. More beautiful even than Lynda Carter in her prime.

Everything is prepared. The day comes. Perseverance pays.

Song of Moses in Eternal Context

They were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses. (Revelation 15:2-3)

The chapters of the book of Revelation which precede the passage read at today’s Mass narrate the struggle between the evil forces marked with the sign of the beast and the chaste legions marked with the name of the Lamb. In these chapters, the last book of the Bible’s mystical account of the great drama of salvation nears its climax.

The Man comes around.
Now, when we keep the Vigil of Easter in the springtime, we generally sing a good number of psalms and canticles. But let’s just say we couldn’t sing all those psalms, for some reason. Let’s say we had to celebrate the Easter Vigil quickly, because we were on a battlefield, or in jail.

There is one of the Vigil canticles that we absolutely, positively have to sing, no matter what. Without this one particular Old Testament canticle, it is impossible to grasp the full meaning of the holy night of Easter.

Here’s a hint: Sing to the Lord! He has covered Himself in glory!

Who sang this? Moses and the people with him. They sang it because God had covered Himself in glory by doing what?

Casting Pharaoh’s horses and chariots into the sea. Delivering the Israelites from slavery. Leading them forward to the Promised Land.

The Sacred Scriptures make clear the full meaning of the ancient Passover of the Israelites. We read from the book of Revelation: The harpists standing on the sea of glass, who had won victory over the beast: They sang the song of Moses. Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God Almighty!

Faith turns the strife and drama of life on earth into a hopeful pilgrimage. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. He has risen and has ascended on high, to the pinnacle of the heavenly Mt. Zion. When Moses sang, he really sang about us; he sang about the chosen ones who believe in the victory of the Son of God. The Lord will deliver us from all evil, and the eternal Promised Land awaits. Therefore we keep the feast.

Wait, Storm Surge!

Let’s consider our first reading for All Saints Day, from our favorite book of the Bible, Revelation…

Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. (Revelation 7:3)

Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees. Yet. Wait to destroy it all. Wait to level the pillars of the earth. Wait to cast the stars down from the sky. Wait until the chosen people have been marked on the forehead with the seal of God.

“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” With these words, and with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we were confirmed as Christians. We cannot see the seal on each others’ foreheads now. But it is perfectly real and absolutely permanent.

The mark of fully initiated Christians cannot be seen by human eyes yet, but the angels see it. They see the cross of chrism that the bishop traced. The angels will see it there when our skulls lay in the grave. And we, too, finally will see it on our brothers’ and sisters’ foreheads—at the general resurrection.

So saith the angel sent by the Lamb of God: Wait, destroyers of the heavens and the earth! Wait. Wait until all the springtime confirmation Masses have taken place. Wait until everyone gets through RCIA. Wait until the last baby gets baptized. Then you can consume the earth in the great and terrible fire.

Scripture gives us our insight into this dramatic divine order: Wait.

We hardly need the Scriptures to teach us that destruction will indeed overcome the material cosmos. We see the force of destruction at work every day. Sometimes the force looms large, like a huge hurricane storm surge. On the other hand, more often we see the force at work in little ways. Things get old, fall apart, fail. Fan belts crack. Screws rust. Duct tape loses its adhesive power. Chaos sets in. Beautiful and complete wholes dissolve into piles of dust.

But the forces of destruction do not have infinite power. That is what we learn from God’s Word. The ultimate power allows destruction to do its work, but under this order: Wait until the people have been sealed.

The world will be purified by fire. Then the dead will rise again. The seal of the cross will mark the saints.

We live, therefore, in the gracious interval. We are living during time specifically ordained by God, ordained for one reason: our salvation. The love of Christ has given us the very days in which we live.

Why does this sacred time have light and sunrises and sunsets and autumns and springtimes? To build up the eternal city, to build up the kingdom of God for the day that will last forever, for the undying springtime that will never give way to a hurricane season. Every moment of time in our lives comes like a pregnant woman, ready to give birth to the eternity to come.

What does a saint do now, then? I protest that I myself don’t rightly know. But: Seems to me that a saint is simply a fully initiated Christian who greets every moment of time for what it is. Every second comes as a gift that God has preserved from annihilation. He has preserved it so that we could do something beautiful with it.

Old Made New

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

“Behold, I make all things new.” This is what the One who sat on the throne in heaven said, according to the vision of St. John.

Christ our King speaks to us from His throne of victory. He says to us:

My children, you have grown old.

The dreariness of sin and worldliness has exhausted you. You can barely lift up your eyes to see the sunlight.

But, behold! I make all things new!

Continue reading “Old Made New”