Monthly Archives: August 2012

To the Sun

 

 O let your shining orb grow dim,

Of Christ the mirror and the shield,

That I may gaze through you to Him,

See half the miracle revealed,

And in your seven hues behold

The Blue Man walking on the sea;

The Green, beneath the summer tree,

Who calles the children; then the Gold,

with pams; the Orange, flaring bold

with scourges; Purple in the garden

(As Greco saw); and then the Red

Torero (Him who took the toss

And rode the black horns of the cross –

But rose snow-silver from the dead!)

Journey with Weakness

Our readings at Mass can often tell us about ourselves and our situation. The reading  from the Book of Joshua for this Sunday is an example. It’s worth reflecting on.

If you remember  your bible history, Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of Jewish people when they came out of Egypt. A soldier, he led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, a disputed land then and a disputed land now.

The Book of Joshua is a litany of the battles this great general fought, beginning with the battle for Jericho. As the spiritual says, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin down.”

Today’s reading concludes the Book of Joshua. Joshua’s an old man now, over a 100 years old the bible says, and he’s getting ready to die, so the old soldier calls together the different tribes and families of Israel to Shechem to speak to them for the last time.

Your work isn’t finished, he reminds them. Our journey isn’t over. The old soldier doesn’t speak of military matters or plans for new wars. Something more important is on his mind. He reminds the people that they’ve been called by God. “Are you going to listen to that call or not?” he says to them. You can ignore that call or drift away.

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua says. And the people heartily join him in renewing their convenant with God.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Notice that Joshua and the people see God’s call not just as a personal call. They’re called by God as a people. When God called them from Egypt, he called them all, the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, to make the journey together and they did.

That’s the way the bible describes it and that’s the way it should be, even today. No matter how sophisticated our society gets, no matter how difficult our circumstances are, God calls us to make the journey together.

This isn’t just the wisdom of the bible. A French geophysicist,  Xavier Le Pichon, says that the world evolves the way it should when we respect the fragility of the earth and the fragility of our human community. We advance as a people when we take care of our weakest members; our earth community advances when we respect its fragile nature.

According to Le Pichon, who’s quoted at length on a recent NPR program, one important way we differ from the animals is the care we take of our weakest members. He adduces recent studies of our earliest ancestors, the Neanderthals, in whom this surprising trait appears over one hundred thousand years ago.

One study of a Neanderthal burial ground in Iraq revealed the skeleton of a 40 year old severely malformed male, who evidently had been carried from place to place by this group of hunters and buried with them. He was surely a burden to them, he must have slowed them down, but they carried him with them just the same. He meant something to them.

Unlike animals who cast aside their weak to die on the way, humans have developed a feeling for the weak, Le Pichon says. Like animals, they nourish and care for their young, but they reach further to the weakest. This sense of compassion separates humans from animals. It makes us humane.

Le Pichon disputes Darwin’s all embracing principle of the “survival of the fittest.” That principle, when applied to human evolution, does not take into account the spirit of compassion, he says.

Jesus, of course, taught the importance of this spirit of compassion when he told us that what we did for “one of these, the least,” you did it to me. You grow in love through your care of the least.

The thought of Xavier Le Pichon is worth following. Take a look at all the material on him at NPR.

The Silent Self

The silent self

 

Silence is

sitting still

standing still

lying still

consciously

gratefully

breathing

inspiring-

being inspired with life

and love

from him from whom these

gifts do come-

the Lord of life and love-

the living Lord Jesus.

And in the stillness

knowing

and joyfully acknowledging

that in Jesus alone

the silence of life and love is found.

Then to humbly rest

sit

stand

lie

to bow the knee

in all that satisfying silence-

and be fulfilled.

Harry Alfred WIGGETT, The silent self, in: Nigel Watts, Most this Amazing Day, Fount , 1998

Tell Us

We have had names for you:

The Thunderer, the Almighty

Hunter, Lord of the snowflake

and the sabre-toothed tiger.

One name we have held back

unable to reconcile it

with the mosquito, the tidal wave,

the black hole into which

time will fall. You have answered

us with the image of yourself

on a hewn tree, suffering

injustice, pardoning it;

pointing as though in either

direction; horrifying us

with the possibility of dislocation.

Ah, love, with your arms out

wide, tell us how much more

they must still be stretched

to embrace a universe drawing

away from us at the speed of light.

R.S.THOMAS, from: The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer, London, 1995

Grace Before Meals

“Not only in Israel, but among the ancient peoples generally, a meal was much more than a meal, understood as an occasion of eating and drinking. A meal was a sacred occasion, something that is hard for us to understand in these days of ‘fast food’, when eating is little more that  a biological function. Even a few decades ago, when  grace before meals was quite common in Western countries, there was some sense that eating and drinking are not merely biological occasions, but carry ( or may carry) many connotations.

The fact that grace before meals has become something of a rarity nowadays is symptomatic of the change that has taken place. Even when people sit down together at table they are often in a hurry to get away so that they can get to some other matter, whether business or pleasure, that seems to them more important. Even when graces are said nowadays, it is often on the least appropriate occasions, lavish banquets in city halls, colleges, or similar institutions.

But the point I want to make is that the disapperance of grace points to the fact that there has been a loss of any sense of the sacred ina meal, any sense of gratitude to God who has provided for the maintenance of life in his creation, or even to those human beings whose labor brought the fruitfulness of earth to a form in which it can nourish the human race.”

John Macquarrie, A Guide to the Sacraments, 102

 

Help Our Unbelief

Matthew’s gospel has shortened the account we read today (Matthew 17,14-20) of a miracle reported already in Mark’s gospel. A man steps out of the crowd and pleads on his knees for his son, who is a “lunatic… always falling into fire and water.” From the boy’s convulsions, he probably had epilepsy, but the people of Jesus day believed his condition was caused by the moon.

Even today people claim some lunacy come from a full moon.

I took him to your disciples and they were unable to cure him.” the father tells Jesus. In response, Jesus complains of “this perverse and crooked generation’s lack of faith.” Nor does he exclude his own disciples: they could do more to relieve those like the poor boy if they prayed and fasted more.

“Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured.”

I don’t know why Matthew left out the touching response the boy’s father makes to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” There’s something beautiful about his words that confess the measure of unbelief we all have and also our desire for a greater faith.

He speaks for us all. Help our unbelief.

Pilate Remembers

 

A friend from Belgium, Father Harry Gielen, has been collecting poems on the Passion of Jesus for years. He sent a selection of them to me recently and I hope to offer one each Friday.

 

Pilate Remembers

I wonder why that scene comes back tonight,

That long-forgotten scene of years ago.

Perhaps this touch of spring, that full white moon,

For it was spring, and spring’s white moon hung low

Above my garden on the night He died.

I still remember how I felt disturbed

That I must send Him to a felon’s cross

On such a day when spring was in the air,

And in His life, for He was young to die.

How tall and strong He stood, how calm His eyes,

Fronting me straight and while I  questioned Him;

His fearless heart spoke to me through His eyes.

Could I have won Him as my follower,

And a hundred more beside, my way had led

To Caesar’s palace and I’d wear today

The imperial purple. But He would not move

One little bit from His wild madcap dream

Of seeking truth. What wants a man with “truth”

When he is young and spring is at the door?

He would not listen, so He had to go.

One mad Jew less meant little to the state,

And pleasing Annas made my task the less.

And yet for me He spoiled that silver night,-

Remembering it was spring and he was young

William E. BROOKS, in: Chapter into Verse, Oxford University Press, 2000

How to Read the Bible

We’ve been blessed in recent times with a better understanding of the bible, thanks to scholarly studies of the last century or so.  Historians, archeologists, linguists are giving us a clearer picture of these ancient books, their meaning, when they were written, their historical context. New discoveries, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, have increased our knowledge of this book, which is really a library of Christian spirituality.

We know more about the scriptures today than we’ve known for centuries. Our new knowledge helps us to know Jesus Christ better, of course, so shouldn’t we be more acquainted with these readings? Unfortunately, Catholics are still slow to go to the bible for their spiritual nourishment, even though our liturgies have been enriched by readings from scripture since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

What bible should you read? Visit a book store like Barnes and Noble, go to the section where they’re selling bibles and you’ll find a bewildering collection of editions available today, going back to the old King James version.

The King James Bible is still the most popular bible read in the English-speaking world. For some fundamentalists it’s the only “Word of God.” But the King James version, for all its historical and literary qualities, has serious drawbacks. Since the time it was published in 1611, scores of ancient versions of the bible have been found, earlier than those on which this translation was based, and significant progress in biblical studies has also been made.

Because of this, many new translations of the bible have been published which take advantage of the new biblical resources. There are at least 30 new translations on the market today. In 1989, the New Revised Standard Version, a revision of the highly regarded Revised Standard Version, was published enlisting scholars from the major Christian denominations and authorized by these denominations. A fine translation.

In March 2011, a revised edition of The New American Bible (NABRE) was published. It’s a bible sponsored by the Catholic Church and it provides the readings found in its liturgies.  The last edition published 20 years ago was revised to take account of the new resources.

I like this bible myself for a number of reasons. For one, it’s available online free, so it’s always available if you have a computer, iPad, or iPhone. I appreciate especially the notes and introductory material, which may not be found in other versions of the bible. They are concise, clear and based on the latest scholarly research.

Another bible to take a look at is The Jerusalem Bible.

Catholics and other mainstream Christians hear the scriptures regularly from the lectionary during worship. The lectionary breaks down the books of the bible into parts, but there’s one drawback to reading the bible this way, I believe. We can read these parts in isolation, without enriching our reading with a fuller, more complete view that comes from reading the entire gospel or epistle, or prophet.

This month’s Sunday gospels from the 6th chapter of John, which begins with the miracle of the loaves and the fish, is an example. On the following Sundays we read sections of Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd, which is triggered by this powerful sign. Separated as they are from this key event, the readings can become disconnected from miracle and the overall themes that surround it.

There’s something to reading  from the bible itself, rather than settling for selections in the lectionary.

The Hand of the Lord Feeds Us

The Gospel of John, written around the year 90, is skillfully constructed  around seven wondrous actions of Jesus, seven “signs” that lead to his passion and resurrection. Our reading last week was about the fourth sign; Jesus multiplies a few loaves and fish to feed a hungry crowd of people near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6, 1-15)

After each sign, Jesus explains its meaning, and the gospels read on Sundays for the remainder of the month– all from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel– are the dialogue Jesus has with the crowd following this miracle.

They’ve followed him and are clamoring for more. He’s the bread come down from heaven, Jesus says, and he reminds them of a previous sign God gave their ancestors in the desert when he sent manna from heaven as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were hungry and God fed them.

He’s the new Moses come down from above to dwell with humanity, Jesus tells them, and he will feed them and lead them on their journey to God’s kingdom. Yet, like their ancestors described in our first reading from the Book of Exodus, this crowd grumbles too. Yes, they experienced a wondrous gift yesterday or so, but that was yesterday. They want daily miracles, something for their stomachs today.

But miracles of that kind don’t happen everyday. Miracles and exceptional signs from God are rare; we spend most of our years living by faith.

Yet, faith also needs something to go on, signs to help us on our way, and so Jesus leaves a reminder of the miracle of the loaves and the fish. He gives the Bread of the Holy Eucharist as a sign that he abides with humanity. We remember him in this sign, we recognize him and we receive him, the “true bread come down from heaven.”

Jesus came to satisfy our hunger, not just our basic hunger for food and drink, but the hungry for life in so many forms. “The hand of the Lord feeds us, he answers all our needs.”