The Commandment Crisis, Part II

Today at Holy Mass we read the Ten Commandments, from Exodus 20. Let’s focus on the third commandment, since God Himself focused on it, by instructing the wandering Israelites to keep the sabbath, even before they arrived at Mount Sinai to receive the commandments.

moses_ten_commandmentsThe Western world has never officially adopted atheism as a principle of government, like communist Russia and China did. (France was officially atheist, but only for six months, during the 1790’s.) Here in the U.S., of course, we officially trust in God, as our money plainly indicates.

But: Hasn’t the sabbath vanished from our life as a nation? And doesn’t that mean that we are, if not atheist in theory, actually atheist in practice? I don’t intend this as a guilt-trip for anyone. Let’s simply consider what the sabbath means for our understanding of reality.

First and foremost, keeping the sabbath means that we put into practice our awareness that God is God. That He reigns supreme in unfathomable, holy goodness and beauty. That everything exists because of His merciful kindness.

Second, the sabbath means that we have immortal, spiritual souls. We human beings occupy planet earth in an utterly unique position, as the supreme pontiffs of creation. Among all the creatures here, we alone perceive the harmony and loveliness of God’s handiwork, and on the sabbath we praise Him and glorify Him for it.

These days supposedly sophisticated people don’t use the words “mankind” or “man.” Instead, sophisticated people say “humans.” But “humans” suggests that we are just one animal species among many. Whales, humans, monkeys, bats, etc. But mankind has a unique destiny, which we attain by keeping the sabbath.

deep seaSomeone rightfully asked me after my homily yesterday: Father, how can you say the crisis of our times involves the third commandment, when so many babies get aborted, in flagrant violation of the fifth?

An eminently reasonable question. But I think it actually serves to make my point. What would move us to such acts of violence? The crushing of innocent life in the womb, so full of promise for the future? The only explanation for millions of abortions and the culture of death is widespread desperate hopelessness.

So, why have we fallen into such desperate hopelessness? Because we have no silence, no rest, no interior space that God can fill with Himself—He Who is our only enduring joy. We never stop to contemplate Him. We have lost sight of the fact that contemplating God is the meaning of life. Life without the sabbath is a living hell. So it’s really no wonder that we have become so unchaste and violent.

But God is still God, of course. And mankind still stands at the pinnacle of creation as high priest. And Christ’s sacrifice still opens the heart of infinite divine mercy.

We can always find sabbath rest for our souls at the Church’s altars. And it seems to me that nothing will evangelize better than our having that sabbath refreshment within ourselves–and inviting others to share in its true joy.

Sabbath Dispute

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Moses by Michelangelo

At Holy Mass this coming Sunday, we will read St. John’s account of the Lord Jesus giving sight to a man born blind. Jesus worked the miracle on the Sabbath day. So a dispute ensued, regarding the Law of Moses.

Some of the Pharisees concluded that obeying Moses and following Christ were incompatible pursuits. They reasoned thus: Jesus, breaking the Sabbath to heal the blind man, while at the same time professing to do God’s work, either…

a. rendered the Law of Moses null and void, or

b. disqualified Himself as a prophet by unrepentantly violating a valid divine law.

Now, we could reject this reasoning as prissy, pointless pharisaism—if Lord Jesus Himself had not so punctiliously insisted that the Law of Moses does indeed remain altogether valid. Every jot and tittle remains in force, “until all things have taken place” (Matthew 5:18), as we read at Holy Mass today.

In fact, rejecting the Old Testament is a heresy that has a name: Marcionism. An orthodox Christian, on the other hand, believes that Christ Himself, the eternal Word, gave Moses the Law. The Law of Moses is Christ’s Law.

crispy_bacon_1But: We can eat bacon-wrapped shrimp. And we regard circumcision as a medical matter, not a religious one. And we don’t have to wail at the Wailing Wall. And we’re not still waiting for the Messiah to make Himself known.

What we cannot do, however, is: Imagine that we are any other people than the children of Abraham. Who are we? We are the same people that Moses led out of slavery in Egypt. Our forefathers and mothers prayed and waited for the Messiah to come, listening carefully to the words of the prophets. But then, when He came, we rejected and killed Him. Then, when He rose from the dead, we began to repent and believe in Him. He grafted our Jewish and Gentile forefathers together into His chosen people.

The Law began in the very beginning. Christ hallowed the Sabbath with His own rest on the seventh day of the world. Since, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He is the Creator. The one God made human life what it is: namely, an existence that only makes sense when we worship, love, and obediently serve the Almighty.

Sabbath-breaking remains a grave sin, graver than ever. Christ has enlightened the eyes of our minds: We know who we are. We are freeborn children of God’s household. We are no man’s slaves, because we serve the divine Master. The Pharisees who objected to Jesus had it right—except that they were too blind to see that the one and only place where mankind can actually keep the Sabbath is in the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Nazareth.

Sabbath Homily–with Compendium, too

Just in time for your summer vacation, if you are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy one…

fishing1

The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8)

Whenever the Lord speaks about the sabbath, I try to take note.* [Scroll down or CLICK for a compendium of all the notes I have taken lately.]

Because I, for one, am not good at keeping the sabbath. I daresay that few of us really do it well.

One the seventh day, the Lord gazed upon all the good things He had made. He took delight in the grand spectacle. His work of creation complete, He rested in perfect contemplation.

DanielThe irony of sabbath rest is, of course, that for spiritually slothful people, it is simply impossible.

Sabbath resting comes from the interior peace of knowing that I have generously tackled the task entrusted to me for the past six days. Then, on the seventh, the Lord helps me to recognize that all that work is really His; the task is bigger than me alone

Because it is God Who truly brings about completion and fruition, sabbath resting in the power of God is the only real rest that a human soul can find.

Now, we know that the Lord Jesus spoke infrequently, and rather cryptically, about His identity. Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI has a chapter in his book Jesus of Nazareth about this fact, and he tries to explain the significance of Christ’s use of the phrase “Son of Man” to refer to Himself.

The prophet Daniel spoke of the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds, ushering in the everlasting sabbath of true peace and worship. And Christ referred to this Himself, during His night trial on Holy Thursday, before a few members of the Sanhedrin. “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” For these words, above all, the Lord was condemned—as He knew He would be.

Benedict Jesus of Nazareth InfancyThis mysterious “Son of Man,” the Christ—He is man ‘in full.’ He is man, having attained the full good and purpose of man’s existence. The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath not just because He is the Creator Who instituted the sabbath in the beginning—which He is—but also because He, Christ—and He alone—truly offers man a sabbath.

Who will give us rest from our weariness, besides Jesus Christ? Who else has come down from heaven, reconciled us as a race to the Father, and then returned to heaven, preparing a place for us there–a place with a perfectly human “shape,” a place to be filled by each of us as the men and women “in full” that we can be, by the grace of Christ?

The Son of Man is Lord of heaven. In heaven, may it please Him to get us there, we will find the true sabbath that our soul’s seek. And in the meantime, when we know that there is a heaven; when we know that, in the Heart of Christ, an eternal sabbath of peace opens up like an ocean—when we know all this above all the other things we know, including the contents of all our endless To-Do lists—when we know Jesus, we can find a way to rest a little and give it all over to God now.

Continue reading “Sabbath Homily–with Compendium, too”

Judgment according to Jesus

temple-wall

The gospel reading at Holy Mass today may strike us as a bit obscure. Some verses get skipped in the Lectionary.

Hopefully we recall reading about the cure of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, when the Lord Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk. Then the Temple authorities sought to arrest Him for breaking the sabbath.

In the chapter we read from today, the Lord points out to the crowd that it is considered legal to circumcise on the sabbath. So shouldn’t it be legal miraculously to heal paralytics on the sabbath?

The Lord seems to me to be getting at this question:

What is the foundation upon which we can base a consistent method of judging between right and wrong?

The idea in Jerusalem was: “We have the Law of Moses!” But Jesus pointed out: The very circumcision by which we identify ourselves as Jews—this practice is older than the Law of Moses.

In other words, Christ basically says: You really don’t have anywhere near as solid a foundation as you think you do. After all, here I am, pouring out divine love everywhere I go, and you consider me a criminal. Something don’t add up.

Then the Lord declares: ‘The foundation I have for all my teachings is the heavenly Father, Whom I have known perfectly for all eternity.’

Because Jesus possesses—and has always possessed—unique and perfect knowledge, He and He alone offers a true foundation for a consistent method of judging between right and wrong. Christ, and only Christ, offers us the basic reference point of life.

Away from Him–in the darkness of a life that does not have Jesus Christ for a daily companion–we know only confusion, shallowness, and ultimate self-destruction. But if we stay close to Him, we find the true path.

May the upcoming Passiontide, upon which we embark next week, draw us closer to the one and only true standard of judgment and reference point for life.

Numbers, Hosea, and the Non-Contradictory Contradiction of Sabbath Sacrifice

The Pharisees accused Christ’s disciples of breaking the Sabbath by “reaping” grain on the day of rest.

The Lord’s rebuttal makes two points. The second point follows what might at first seem like an odd, if not self-contradictory, line of reasoning. The conclusion exonerates the disciples completely. They are innocent men.

The Lord first establishes their innocence on the basis of their being hungry. According to the precedent of King David himself, hunger trumped legal considerations.

Christ could have left it at that. St. Mark, in fact, only recorded this first point which the Lord made. But Matthew gives us the second point, the one that seems so mystifying.

The Law of Moses not only allows, but in fact requires priests in the Temple to double their labor on the day of rest, since an extra sacrifice is ordered for the Sabbath.

Then Jesus cites the words of the prophet Hosea. The Lord declares that He does not desire the sacrifice of burnt offerings.

Okay.

But we can resolve this apparent contradiction by the other assertion that Christ made: “There is something greater than the Temple here.”

In the Temple, priests offered sacrifices to please God. Jews who loved God made pilgrimages to the Temple and offered animals to the priests to sacrifice. To say you are greater than the Temple is to say that you yourself constitute a pleasing offering to God.

A presumptuous thing to say? Certainly would be presumptuous for any humble sinner to say this. Would that I could claim to be a Temple where a pleasing sacrifice is offered to God! But, alas, I am selfish and disobedient, so my soul does not emit a pleasing aroma to heaven.

But the innocent Lamb, Who was never anything other than a Temple of perfect love and obedience, Who offered at every moment of His pilgrim life the sacrifice of undivided devotion: He could claim to be greater than the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Lord did not, in fact, contradict Himself in this second point. God desires mercy. Whose mercy? Well, first and foremost, His own. Mercy begins with God. He was the first to be aggrieved, so He must be the first to forgive. In fact, even before the first act of injustice, the Creator had already shown His infinite mercy by making us out of nothing for no benefit of His, but only for our benefit.

This infinite mercy of God is the perfect sacrifice of His Son. The Son offered Himself on the cross, in an odor of infinite sweetness, not for His sake, but for ours.

We sinners have no worthy sacrifice of our own to offer. We do much better to worry about begging pardon of those we have aggrieved and forgiving and forgetting the offenses we have suffered.

But that doesn’t mean that there is no more Temple, no more priests, no more holy bread, and no more Lord’s Day. No. The Temple is in heaven–and here on earth, wherever people believe in Jesus. The priests offer Christ’s Body and Blood, which is the bread by which we live forever. And the Lord’s Day is the eternal Sabbath that will never end.

At Work While Resting

My Father is at work until now, so I am at work. (John 5:17)

One of the great ironies of history: the Pharisees turned doing nothing into an intolerable burden. No job could have been more demanding than properly resting on the sabbath. The toil of the week might have been fraught with worries, but on the sabbath you had to be especially careful.

One of the great ironies of my own personal life: Nothing relaxes me, nothing soothes me or gives me rest, like a nice long run. Perhaps you non-runners will dismiss this as sheer insanity. But everyone can relate somehow. We find genuine rest not in supine couch-slouching but in some activity that harmonizes with a rhythm we have inside. Could be gardening, clubbing the little white ball around the dale, bridge or pinochle, kicking the soccer ball, downing beers in the Martinsville speedway infield, reading a book…In other words, in order to rest, we do something that requires attention and effort.

The Son of God became man to do the work He sees His Father doing. What does Christ see His Father doing? Only He Himself can answer that question completely. But, at the very least, He sees His Father doing what we see His Father doing—which is everything that gets done, except sins.

Make the sun rise, sustain the earth in existence, move us to do any good that we do, keep the possibility of heaven out there for another day—all in a day’s work for the heavenly Father. And He does it all day, day in and day out, 24/7, 365 or 366 days a year, for the entire length of the history of the universe.

Ought we to say, “Lord, we love You and we appreciate it. But You are working too hard. We are wearing You out. Take a day off and relax.”

No. The Lord has no trouble sustaining His unimaginably enormous workload. Being the Creator and sustainer of all things does not exhaust Him. It is, in fact, His pleasure. To work every good work that is worked provides God with a perpetual sabbath. He could do infinitely more work effortlessly.

The same thing goes for the Son made man. Did it exhaust Christ to teach the truth to the human race? Did He get tired of healing the sick and feeding the multitudes? Did it wear Him out to take all our sins on His back, carry them to Golgatha, and incinerate them on the altar of the cross?

No. Even descending into hell did not tire the Lord Jesus. He woke up refreshed, talked to Mary Magdalen, walked all the way to Emmaus, and He was still fresh as a daisy when He came to the upper room at supper time.

We must, however, obey the commandment and keep the sabbath rest. The Pharisees were right in this respect: Resting on the sabbath distinguishes the people of God. The pagans slave themselves and squander their vitality with fruitless agitations. But Israel heeds the law of Moses, which recounts the serene holiness of the Lord’s day.

So, how do we keep it? How can we act and rest at the same time, to the glory of God, Who moves the heavens without breaking a sweat? There is only one way: By believing in the Son Whom He has sent. Faith in Christ is the most fruitful work and the sweetest rest.

Sabbaticals

Come on, seventy degrees. Come on, baby. So close. Don’t be afraid. Come to papa!

…The Law of Moses bound the Chosen People to a weekly day of rest.

The Law of Death gave the human race rest from sin.

But this is the everlasting Sabbath: To believe in God and the One Whom He has sent…

…On the art beat:

The Sacred Made Real” in the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art is NOT TO BE MISSED.

If you do not visit the National Gallery of Art between now and May 31, you will have MADE A BIG MISTAKE…

Opera buffs:

Did you know that Scott Joplin wrote an opera? It is called “Treemonisha.”

They performed it recently at the Atlas Theatre, in my humble Northeast Washington parish.

Here is some of the cast singing one of the ditties:

…St. Patrick’s day is great. But let’s face it. The big day of the week is Friday, the Solemnity of St. Joseph.

All the laws of penance and abstinence fall by the wayside in honor of the holy Patron of the whole Church. (Click HERE if you want to get siked-up for St. Joseph’s day.)

Guilty of Neglect + Natural?

I just took a nice long look at my autographed Matt Bradley jersey. It reads, “To Father White, Thanks for Rocking the Red!”

To my horror, I realized: My pathetic blog has ignored the Capitals in a shameful manner.

At this moment: 1. The Caps are leading their division. 2. The Caps are tied with the Detroit Red Wings after two periods.

Who just scored? Matt Bradley, people! My man Matt Bradley.

Please forgive me for my inexcusable neglect of the best team in town. Mea culpa. Caps ROCK!

…Here’s a question: What comes naturally to us?

On the one hand, we could say that it comes naturally to us to acknowledge the awesome greatness of our Creator. It is natural to humble ourselves before Him and to want to please Him. We were made by God and for God, so to worship Him is the most natural thing in the world.

On the other hand, we could also say: It comes naturally to us to be selfish, lazy, obtuse, and given to seeking short-term gratification. We are born sinners, so sinning comes naturally.

Both of these answers to the question are true. How do we deal with this mess?

The short answer is this: Keep the sabbath.

Useless

Family Circus

A lot of people think that America sins against the Sixth Commandment more than any other. And we certainly sin against the Fifth Commandment a lot–4,000 abortions per day.

But the real problem with our culture is that we do not keep the Third Commandment. If we kept the sabbath, we could keep the other commandments. Without the sabbath, we turn into violent, self-indulgent beasts.

Continue reading “Useless”

3,000 Suscipiamurs, Plus Gluttony and Sloth

priest_jesus_mass

Wonders never cease! This morning there is an essay supporting the Pope in the Washington Post! On the other hand, the Baylor-Maryland women’s basketball matchup we hoped for is not going to happen.

…There are a few prayers of the Holy Mass which the priest prays silently. After the gifts are prepared on the altar, the priest bows and prays:

In spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito suscipiamur ad te Domine, et sic fiat sacrificium nostrum in conspectu tuo hodie ut placeat tibi Domine Deus.

(“In an humble spirit, and a contrite heart, may we be received by Thee, O Lord, and may our sacrifice be so offered up in Thy sight this day that it may please Thee, O Lord God.”)

This morning I bowed and said this prayer for the 3,000th time. May God be praised. Here is the homily I gave, the last in my Deadly-Sins series…

Continue reading “3,000 Suscipiamurs, Plus Gluttony and Sloth”