Red Heifer Khok/Prefigurement

You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk. (Luke 11:44)

The Lord Jesus imprecated the hypocritical Pharisees with this mysterious insult. What exactly does it signify?

Under the Old Covenant, the Lord had divided the world into three sectors: the holy zone, the clean zone, and the unclean zone. The People of God occupied the clean land surrounding the Holy Temple. Outside: Gentile, unclean.

God has revealed Himself as the Giver of Life. Holy = living—fully eternally, vigorously living. Clean = animated by this holiness, the undying vigor that comes from God. Unclean = tending toward death.

No one and nothing unclean could have a part in any sacred ceremony. In other words, when the living touched the Source of Life, nothing pertaining to death could vitiate the communion.

One of the ways in which an Israelite would be rendered unclean would be to touch a corpse, or even a grave.

The Old Law included a provision for the purification of an Israelite rendered unclean by contact with a corpse. The procedure is an example of what the rabbis called khok, that is, a law with no apparent rational logic, which must therefore be of direct divine institution.

A perfectly pure red heifer would be slaughtered outside the city. The carcass would be burned, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet yarn. The ashes were put into a container of spring water. Anyone who had touched death could be purified by that water.

In order to maintain the purity of the water, children who had been born and reared in an area of Jerusalem known to be free of graves had to carry the water in stone bowls, sitting on top of wooden slabs placed on the backs of oxen. They traversed the Kidron Valley on an elevated causeway so as to avoid stepping on any of the graves there.

In other words: NO STEPPING ON GRAVES!!!! EVER!!!!!!!!!!

What the rabbis called khokim—laws with no reasonable explanation—we call prefigurements. Yes, these laws (which have now passed out of effect) do, in fact, make sense: they provide us with insight into the mystery of Christ.

The red heifer prefigures Christ, Who also endured His sacrificial death outside the gates of Jerusalem. His death inaugurated the sacrament of Holy Baptism, the cleansing water that frees us from eternal death.

When the Lord insulted the deluded, self-serving Pharisees, He did not just accuse them of being unclean themselves. He called them a source of uncleanness, called them hidden corpses that contaminate other Israelites without their even knowing it.

By saying this, Jesus helped us to understand the true meaning of the Old Covenant system.

The division of the cosmos into holy, clean, and unclean is fundamentally real. But the zones are not primarily in the physical world; they are found in our own souls.

We touch the unseen holy by sincere prayer, by truthfulness, by careful examinations of conscience. We defile ourselves by lies—above all, by lies we tell ourselves—and by actions that in one way or another crush the life out of ourselves or others.

And we can be purified of this uncleanness by the one, true source of purity and holiness—by Jesus Christ, Whose undying life is ministered to us in the sacraments of the New and everlasting Covenant.

Marrying Well

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. (I Cor 13:1)

All Christians clearly must take a stand for a few things in our day and age. Among these, “traditional marriage” has a nice ring to it. And we can take heart from the fact that statewide referenda have thus far defeated the idea of “same-sex marriage” 32 out of 32 times.

But if we really want to bear witness to divine love–the divine love we read about in St. Paul’s letter at practically every wedding–we have to dig deeper.

It’s not just that marriage is between one man and one woman. There’s also the fact that it involves a bond that only death can break. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

Still we have to keep digging. Why get married? According to God, the reason is clear enough: Be fruitful and multiply. Onan wasted his seed on the ground; what he did greatly displeased God (Genesis 38:10).

So: Marriage is not just between a man and a woman. It is between a man and a woman for life; for richer, for poorer, sickness, health, as long as we both shall live. And marriage is a partnership of the whole of life, in which the man and woman become one flesh, without impediments of any kind (barrier, chemical) being admitted to the marriage of true minds.

Forgive me; I can’t help it: the idea of “gay marriage” strikes me as simply ridiculous. How can anyone take it seriously? Maybe one reason is because there is so much divorce these days. Some people have gotten the idea that marriage is nothing but an arrangement for my enjoyment which I make at will and control at will. A false idea indeed. But can we doubt that a lot of people have come by this idea honestly, because that’s what they see when they look around?

Morose delectation: Three INTs in a row!
So we have to keep digging. Why are there so many divorces? Is it because the marrying public these days is so much more wicked than in the old days? Maybe. But such an explanation does not altogether satisfy. The Church Herself has granted annulments in many of these cases, which means that the spouses involved are not in fact bound by the vows they rashly made, and neither of them is necessarily wicked.

It seems to me that the whole contemporary “marriage problem” lies at the beginning of marriages. The perennial fact is: it is not easy to marry the right person. To enter prudently into marriage requires prayerful discernment over a significant period of time; it requires the discipline of chastity; it requires mature faith in God.

Thanks be to God, the Church possesses this art, the art of marrying wisely and well. It really isn’t anything too complicated. It’s just a matter of following our rules, living a life of prayer, staying out of potentially dangerous situations, and—above all—nourishing and strengthening oneself with the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Penance. The faithful lives of countless married Christians bear witness to the successful application of the Christian method of marrying.

So I guess what I am saying is: I don’t think the world needs us just to be opposed to “same-sex marriage,” which of course we are. The world needs us to give freely one of the gifts that has freely been given to us: the humble and quiet art of knowing how to get married.

Rich, Who Won?

In this old clip, he only says “Hoyas win!” twice.

This afternoon, he said it nine times. It was unbelievably AWESOME!!! Yeah, buddy!!!!

We beat UConn soundly at the beginning of last season. But today’s win at the Verizon Center was one of the sweetest ever. The Hoyas are BACK, people!

…Here is a little homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Christ:

After Jesus had been baptized…a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” –Luke 3:21-22

These were the heavenly Father’s words to His Christ. The Son of God had just been baptized—not because He needed to be cleansed, but rather to give us the sacrament.

Continue reading “Rich, Who Won?”

Hidden in the Womb

The Basilica of the Visitation

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb. –Luke 1:41

We all started off our lives in our mothers’ wombs. We were hidden from the eyes of men, but we were very much alive.

When St. John the Baptist was in St. Elizabeth’s womb, he realized that the Son of God had come to his house. In other words, St. John exercised his mission as a prophet even before he was born.

Christ Himself also exercised His mission before birth. At the moment the Lord Jesus was conceived, God first lived with a human soul. At that moment, Christ made an act of submission to the Father. The act is perfectly expressed in the words of the fortieth Psalm:

I waited, waited for the LORD, who bent down and heard my cry, drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp, set my feet upon rock, steadied my steps, and put a new song in my mouth, a hymn to our God.

Happy those whose trust is the LORD, who turn not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood…

Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart!”

Our lives begin at the moment of conception. Life begins to unfold in the womb. St. John’s mission in life was to point out the Lamb of God. He began to fulfill this mission even before he was born. The Lord Jesus’ mission was to offer Himself completely to the Father, to sacrifice Himself for the redemption of the world. Christ accomplished His self-offering perfectly even while He was still hidden in Mary’s womb. His 33 years on earth were simply a matter of living out what He had already resolved to do.

Continue reading “Hidden in the Womb”

Mystical Body, Incorporated

Speaking of 65th anniversaries…Here is a summary I prepared for the 65th anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ.

Continue reading “Mystical Body, Incorporated”

Bigger and Better Things

Red in the red.  Caps out.
Red in the red. Caps out.
Dirk hit the...dirt.  Dallas out.
Dirk hit the...dirt. Dallas out.

My teams are out.

Now I have to come up with more subject matter. Yikes.

…By a strange co-inky-dink, a priest friend of mine from the Pittsburgh area is visiting this week.

Soon, he will return to the land of gleeful Penguins people. He promised that he would speak to them about our pain.

BrooklynTrolleyYes, the Penguins won the series fair-and-square. But it hurts. It hurts…

…Did you know that, back in the late 19th century, the borough of Brooklyn was thick with trolley cars?

There were so many trolley car lines in Brooklyn that Manhattanites called their Brooklyn neighbors ‘trolley dodgers.’

mannyThis is the origin of the name of Manny Ramirez’s team

Another question I have is: Why does Notre Dame University hold its graduation ceremony on Sunday? I thought college graduations were customarily held on Saturday, Sunday being the sabbath and a holy day…

…Finally, let’s discuss:

Was St. Matthias the first to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders from someone other than Christ Himself?

matthias

Musings on Mark 6, the Martyrs of Japan, Etc.

A faithful reader has a nomination for best scene from “Prince of Egypt.” It is pretty cool.

Another faithful reader asked me what I thought about the “Bishop Williamson affair.” The prelate in question is also known as the Dinoscopus. (You can read an eloquent letter if you click the link.)

I already spilled a little ink on this business. It looks like our Holy Father may not have written the letter I wished he would.

If he didn’t write it, I certainly don’t hold it against him. He knows better than I do. No one’s job is more demanding than the Pope’s.

That said, “being media-savvy” is not really part of the Pope’s job.

auschwitzAbove all, the Pope has to be a prayerful, obedient priest–obedient to the sacred inheritance that he has received. Secondly, the Pope has to try to be a loving father to ALL his children.

Continue reading “Musings on Mark 6, the Martyrs of Japan, Etc.”

Plenty to Look Forward To, Provided We Can Get There

dejection1Don’t get mad at me: I was hoping for the Chargers to beat Pittsburgh. Just to make it a clean sweep of upsets for the weekend.

What do football fans BOTH in Dixieland AND near the Empire State Building have in common? They are all wondering how their powerhouse teams managed to let it slip away.

Meanwhile, we mid-Atlantic-ers have the pyrrhic consolation of having two teams left. But there is no joy in it when one of those teams is the Philadelphia Eagles.

flaccoThis Flacco guy is good. When I lived in Mexico, they called me “flaco,” which is Spanish for ‘skinny.’

Whoever wins the AFC is going to win the SuperBowl. And we Redskins fans have to deal with the frustration that the NFC Championship game will be played by two teams we beat.

Here is a homily for yesterday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Continue reading “Plenty to Look Forward To, Provided We Can Get There”