At the start of each month I email members of the Confraternity of the Passion and anyone else who asks a calendar indicating the scripture readings for the Mass and the feast days of the saints we remember that month.
The reason I do is that following the church calendar is an important way to grow in faith.It puts us in touch with the scriptures in our daily lectionary and the wonderful world of the saints.
Reading the daily scriptures together with fellow believers throughout the world develops a common mind, as it were. Fortunately, not just Catholics use the daily lectionary, some Protestant churches use it now too; so more Christians read the same scriptures together through the year.
Praying together can bring us together, we hope. Praying the scriptures together, which the Catholic church encouraged at the Second Vatican Council, is a step towards Christian unity. Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist whose feast is August 26th was especially dedicated to the work of Christian unity.
This month at Mass we continue reading from Matthew’s gospel. With chapter 14, Jesus begins to establish his church, built on Peter, a rock, but a frail man who with the other disciples must follow Jesus to the cross.
The following chapters from Matthew offer an instruction about the nature of the church. Its members must care for each other and forgive those who have offended them. At the same time they’re obliged to correct their fellow Christians, even to the point of separation from the community. (Matthew 18)
During the first few weeks of August we’ll continue reading from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers about the Jewish exodus from Egypt led by Moses. Then we’ll read about their occupation of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges.
It’s a brutal occupation. Our lectionary softens our exposure to it by limiting what we read about it, but even so, why the violence? Why so many exterminated in the name of God? The scriptures raise questions and cause objections as well as give answers and raise our hopes.
Here’s where good commentaries and wise answers help; otherwise, we lapse into biblical fundamentalism. I’m reading the commentaries from the New American Bible, which recognize we can’t read these books as literal history. There’s a human hand at work in them.
God reveals himself progressively to the human family, which is intent on its own welfare and quick to destroy rather than build. God works in mud. Here’s a quote I like:
“Progressive revelation throughout Israel’s history produced far more lofty ideals, as when the prophets see all the nations embracing faith in Yahweh, being joined to Israel, and living in peace with one another (Is 2:2–4; 19:23–25; 45:22–25; Zec 8:22–23), and the New Testament teaches us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:43–45).” (New American Bible, Commentary)
There’s another way to look at the violence and exterminations found in the Book of Joshua:
“The theological message of the book is unmistakable. God has been faithful to the promise of the land. If Israel relies totally on the Lord for victory; if Israel is united as a people; if the law of herem is kept and no one grows rich from victory in war—then and only then will Israel possess the land.”
We’re a long way from possessing the land. “Your kingdom come.”