Tag Archives: Isaiah

“In your light we see light”

Icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania. Licensed by Sulfababy of en.wiki under CC BY 2.5.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Psalm 36; Matthew 13:10-17

The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?” He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. 

This text has been interpreted as dividing the world into “us” (insiders) versus “them” (outsiders), but for practical spirituality it is more helpful to think of the two as stages in one’s own journey. We all begin as beginners in the spiritual life, as infants needing milk and parables. If we receive divine nourishment willingly day by day, we will eventually be able to take the solid food of the deeper “mysteries.” But solid food is for the mature (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 3:2).

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.

It is helpful to ask oneself, when do I hear without understanding, or look without seeing? What are the obstructions that prevent union and communion in the Trinity?

Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Receptivity to divine mysteries is a matter of the heart. From the moment the seed of grace is planted in baptism, the lifelong process of watering, fertilizing and nurturing the new heart begins. Grace transforms stone into flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Spiritually enlightened eyes and ears develop as the Holy Spirit works from the inside out to transform every cell of our being.

For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light (Psalm 36:9).


“A bruised reed he will not break”

Byzantine icon, The Good Shepherd

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Matthew 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 

What a rabble-rouser, this Jesus! Picking grain on the sabbath, and then healing a man with a withered hand—in the synagogue, of all places! How dare he lecture the authorities on “doing good on the sabbath”! Such were the thoughts fomenting among the Pharisees. Buried alive under the letter of the law, their hearts turned stone cold when confronted with their twisted ethic of prioritizing an animal on the sabbath over a human being (Matthew 12:11). 

When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place.

There was no point in contending or debating. The hearts of the Pharisees were dead set against him. Another word from him would only add kindling to the fire.

Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.

People were suffering, and so the work of healing and mercy must go on. Jesus acted according to his nature; he could not do otherwise. Love must prevail over all obstacles, even the threat of death. The nature of divine love, however, is unassuming: it acts but seeks no credit. Goodness is as natural, abundant, pervasive, and invisible as the air everyone breathes. What need was there for any special recognition?

This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet: Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.

The Spirit-filled servant prophesied by Isaiah flowed as gently as water over hard and sharp rocks, but just as invincibly—smoothing them over time and conquering them by love. Uncontentious and without fanfare, the lamb of God came to lead the weak and frail to victory in the valley of humility. 

And in his name the Gentiles will hope.


Lessons from an Axe

Assyrian Relief Attack on Enemy Town from Kalhu (Nimrud) Central Palace during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (British Museum). Licensed by Allan Gluck under CC-BY-4.0

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Isaiah 10:5-7, 13b-16; Matthew 11:25-27

Thus says the LORD: Woe to Assyria! My rod in anger, my staff in wrath. Against an impious nation I send him, and against a people under my wrath I order him To seize plunder, carry off loot, and tread them down like the mud of the streets. But this is not what he intends, nor does he have this in mind; Rather, it is in his heart to destroy, to make an end of nations not a few.

These are troubling passages for modern ears. Does God play off the nations like pieces on a chess board? Assyria was described by Isaiah as a “rod” and “staff” in the hand of God to deal justice to the nations. As with Pharaoh, Herod, Caiaphas, Pilate and others, egotistical and private ends reached their finality in a higher, divine purpose: to call nations and persons back to their divine origin and unity.

With great drama and flourish, Isaiah painted a portrait of the imperious ego:

For he says: “By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am shrewd. I have moved the boundaries of peoples, their treasures I have pillaged, and, like a giant, I have put down the enthroned. My hand has seized like a nest the riches of nations; As one takes eggs left alone, so I took in all the earth; No one fluttered a wing, or opened a mouth, or chirped!”

When the whole world revolves around the “I,” the ego loses all sense of proportion and balance. Pride distorts inner vision and creates the illusion of power and control. 

Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts it, or a staff him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, And instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire.

St. Paul, steeped in the Hebrew Scriptural tradition, similarly used the image of a Potter and clay to describe the Creator-creature relation (Romans 9:20-22). 

What about human freedom? Where does that come into play? 

Authentic freedom is found only by walking in accordance with divine truth, goodness and beauty. Egotism cages the “I” within itself by a voluntary imprisonment. Enslaved to the passions, the egotist is preeminently unfree. Prideful individuals wreak havoc within and without by failing to align themselves with the laws of reality. Every pull away from the Source is its own punishment. Clashing egos, such as the warring nations in Isaiah, punish one another as the natural consequence of living in illusion.

Those who are moved by the Spirit dwelling within experience life differently: as free persons walking in sync with divine grace. Spiritually awake clay in the hands of the Potter may even derive benefit from the “rods” and “axes” that oppress: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Heroes like Joseph, the son of Jacob who turned his brothers’ treachery into profit for the entire world, is one of the finest examples in Scripture. 

With the simplicity of the dove and the wisdom of the serpent, may we learn how to transform calamities into blessings for others and ourselves.

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”


Mystery of Conversion

Prophet Isaiah, Russian icon from the first quarter of the 18th century (Public Domain)

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Isaiah 7:1-9; Matthew 11:20-24

When word came to the house of David that Aram was encamped in Ephraim, the heart of the king and the heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind.

Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm! 

Isaiah advised King Ahaz to put his trust in the Lord alone. His enemies, Rezin and Pekah, were no more than “two stumps of smoldering brands” ready to fizzle out. Ahaz needed to silence his trembling heart, “remain tranquil,” and transform fear into courage. Instead of turning to prayer and faith, Ahaz was tempted to seek the aid of the powerful Assyrians. 

With compassion, the prophet brought his son Shear-jashub, whose name meant “A remnant shall return,” as a sign for Ahaz. God cherished Judah and guaranteed a remnant for himself. Ahaz had every reason to hope in divine protection. His enemies were weak, and Ephraim (northern kingdom of Israel) had no more than sixty-five years left before being snuffed out. Isaiah laid the facts before the king.

In God’s dealings with his people, empirical facts and figures seemed to have had limited effect. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum witnessed some of Jesus’ greatest miracles and prodigies, yet their hearts remained unmoved. Had the wonders been performed in the Gentile cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, Jesus declared, repentance would have followed. 

Perhaps the religious status quo had become too comfortable and staid; Jesus met resistance and indifference among the chosen people, especially those in his native Galilee. The freshness and beauty of the person of Christ sometimes had greater impact on foreigners (e.g., the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman, and the Canaanite woman). The conversion of the Assyrian city of Nineveh was also one of the most successful outcomes in the history of the prophets (Jonah). 

King Ahaz had the guidance of the holy prophet Isaiah, a man whose lips were set afire by the seraphim to deliver God’s word. The people of Galilee had the Son of God himself in their very midst, with hundreds of people cured from various diseases. 

Conversion of heart is a mystery. Who can understand it?


A New Strategy

Carthusian motto: Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis (The Cross stands still as the world is spinning)

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 10:34—11:1

Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.

When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

The prophets obviously never read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. Addressing Israel by the notorious names of Sodom and Gomorrah could only win friends among the wise and humble. God’s rejection of the people’s “worthless offerings” in Isaiah’s messages were echoed by Samuel, Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos among others, and climaxed with the Son of God himself driving out the money-changers from the temple with a whip of cords (John 2:14-16 and Synoptic Gospels). 

If the prophetic tradition was subjected to a modern management effectiveness evaluation, the results would probably not be favorable. 

St. Stephen offered this assessment of the prophetic centuries: “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:52-53). 

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and lawyers, “Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed,” and charged them for all the murders from Abel to Zechariah, “who perished between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:47-51). 

“Your hands are full of blood!” Isaiah cried, “Wash yourselves clean!”

The serial rejection of the prophets clearly signaled the need for a new strategy. Jesus’ New Law of Grace came to replace the worn-out wineskins of external ritual and law, which alone were ineffective to transform and deify persons from the inside out. 

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus’ words fell on deaf ears then and now, but his revolutionary strategy of offering himself upon the altar of the world caused time to stand still at the eternal axis of the Cross. All lines of history past, present and future converged upon this still point of theandric self-emptying. 

Centuries of chastisement and castigation availed little, but the love and humility of Jesus Christ opened the gates of Paradise to hardened rebels like the crucified thief beside him, the first of many whose hearts were crushed with sorrow at the selfless love of the Lord. 

The Trinitarian self-emptying of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the axis of the Cross, planted within the human person, remains the only truly effective strategy for deification.


Trinitarian Cosmos

Slavic icon of creation

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Mattthew 13:1-23

Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

In the light of St. John’s Prologue, this colorful, poetic prophecy of Isaiah is suggestive of the Trinitarian presence within creation: the Holy Spirit of life and fertility continually waters the earth, and the efficacious Word proceeding from the mouth of the Father unfailingly fulfills his will. The divine presence permeating all things assumed the entire cosmos and humanity in the Person of the Son, and bestowed upon them the seed of immortality by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

From the smallest quark to the furthest galaxies, all of creation “awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Humankind and the cosmos are not two, but one in spiritual and metaphysical solidarity. The deification of the cosmic, multi-personal Body began at the moment of the Woman’s “Fiat!” on behalf of Adam and his children. 

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

The Greek original for “bodies” is actually singular. Our Body encompasses the universe which is turned as one (uni-versum) towards the Trinity, and our communion personalizes every particle of matter. Nature is not impersonal but bears the stamp and breath of Three Divine Faces shining from within. At the level of matter, the immeasurable cosmos with its billions of light-years dwarfs the human figure, but each and every child of Adam utterly transcends it in person—the hidden “who” begotten in the Father’s Womb in the image of his Son. From the beginning, Adam’s vocation as King of the Universe was to divinize and personalize the universe in his Body. During this time of exile and return, something akin to consciousness—a mysterious desire—continues to radiate from matter in its yearning and groaning for transfiguration.

Christ, King of the Universe, fulfilled Adam’s vocation by crucifying in our Body the primal rebellion and making possible our adoption as children of the Father. However, the task remains for each person to freely respond in grace and be “baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3), dying to ego-separation from the whole and rejoining the One Many communion in the Trinity.

Personal response in the hidden depths of the heart is known only to the Father who knows us better than we know ourselves. The subjective element in receptivity is primary in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. The Holy Spirit whispers continually within and without both in nature and in divine revelation, but persons are ultimately responsible for tilling a fertile ground for the seed to take root, flourish, and bear fruit. Hidden in the bosom of the Father, we can help one another without conscious awareness. The receptivity of one mysteriously awakens the receptivity of others by virtue of our metaphysical unity. A single good thought or intention sends out an energetic love in synergy with the Spirit more powerful than all the invisible lines of force in electromagnetism. 

“The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 260). 


Silent Music

Isaiah the Prophet, fresco in Hermitage near Studenica, c. 1618. Licensed by Gmihail at Serbian Wikipedia under CC-BY-SA-3.0-RS.

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Isaiah 6:1-8; Matthew 10:24-33

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. They cried one to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

Divine mysteries are hidden and veiled; even the seraphim shielded their eyes from the brightness of their glory. The prophet Isaiah received the gift of seared lips and a contrite heart in preparation for his mission. Any words a messenger might use surely fall short of the reality. Words born of silent awe and the fear of the Lord have the power of the Spirit, “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). 

Silence is one of the rarest and most precious goods in our busy, distracted world. Yet it is free and available at all times if we make space in our hearts for it. It is the place of encounter with the Father who cares for the least sparrow and has counted every hair on our heads. The songs of praise and thanksgiving of the chirruping birds are often more eloquent than all of our words. Their music invites us to tune in to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.


From Womb to Womb

Icon of the Visitation

Isaiah 49:1-6, Psalm 139, Acts 13:22-26, Luke 1:57-66, 80

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works. (Psalm 139:13-14)

King David sang with lyre and harp the mystery of his origins. Like a loving mother, God stitched him with needle and thread in his mother’s womb. 

The prophet Isaiah received his name and mission “from my mother’s womb” to be “a light to the nations.” 

John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb… to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:15, 79).

The greatest of the prophets, the “Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14), Zechariah’s son was the first to be sanctified in the womb by the Holy Spirit, marking a turning point in salvation history. The Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation, inspired David’s psalms, and spoke through the prophets anointed the Forerunner of the Son of God in Elizabeth’s womb.

At six months of age, before his body was fully formed, John’s spirit was whole and awake before reason or the senses knew the light of day. At the voice of Mary, John “leaped” in his mother’s womb “and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). 

Mary, full of grace and the Holy Spirit, was immaculately conceived in her mother’s womb in preparation for her role as the Mother of God.

The Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was neither sanctified in the womb nor immaculately conceived, but beyond conception itself, though language must grasp at the graspable to express his beginningless beginning. The only-begotten of the Father was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s immaculate womb, uniting in his Person divinity and humanity, heaven and earth.

The new Eve, the new Adam, and the new Elijah closed the Old Testament and opened the New. The Holy Spirit, who was known only vaguely in the Old Covenant took center stage in the Acts of the Apostles after Pentecost. From womb to womb down the centuries, the Spirit of truth has led us back to the Eternal Womb of the Father from whom all persons originate. 

The spirit longs to soar beyond history to the eternal principle from which everything originates. Beyond the Story (history), beyond time and eternity, beyond the beyond…

“No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18).


2nd Sunday of Advent: “Go with Joy”

In the time of Jesus pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. A picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s shows that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.Jericho Rd  3
Jericho road modern

Now travelers go that route in air-conditioned buses. It took ancient travelers four days. Not it’s a few hours.

The bible sees the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding desert road as a symbol of our journey to God. We’re pilgrims on our way, The way’s still hard, even with air-conditioned buses.

John the Baptist preached where that winding, climbing road began. His father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told him at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1)

John invited weary pilgrims into the refreshing waters of the Jordan river, that they might be strengthened for the journey.

John Baptist preaching

Last week readings warned about falling asleep through complacency and laziness. This week readings remind us the day by day journey can tire us,  Life can wear us out, even a life doing good.

Then, unexpected things, like sickness, failures and disappointments, come along, robbing our energy. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on this road to Jerusalem. Unexpected things happen.

John the Baptist, and the Prophet Isaiah before him, spoke to weary pilgrims. “‘Comfort, give comfort to my people,’ says the Lord…They spoke words of hope to those on the way:

With God’s help, the winding, climbing, wearying road becomes a highway; every valley  filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the rugged land  made plain, the crooked way straight.

The Lord is ” a shepherd feeding his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 1-5,9-11) So don’t be afraid.

Advent is a beautiful season. “Go up with joy to the house of the Lord.”

What You Find in the First Week of Advent

The daily Advent readings at Mass for the first week of Advent are beautifully arranged..

In the Old Testament readings,  the Prophet Isaiah speaks as a fierce Assyrian army heads towards Jerusalem. Bad times ahead, but the prophet sees something else. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain.

The nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet says.  They’ll be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday),  the poor will triumph (Thursday),  the blind will see (Friday). Safe on this rock, children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet  challenges us to see our world in another way.

In the gospels  Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. The Roman centurion, humbly approaching Jesus in Capernaum, represents all nations approaching him. (Monday)  Jesus praises the childlike;  they will enter the kingdom of heaven.(Tuesday)  He feeds a multitude on the mountain.(Wednesday) His kingdom is built on rock.(Thursday)  He gives sight to the blind to find their way.  (Friday)

Many Advent readings in these early weeks of Advent are from the gospel of Matthew, who portrays Jesus teaching on a mountain (Isaiah’s favorite symbol). His miracles affect all. Jesus is the new temple, the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us. He brings hope beyond human hope.

Lord, help us see what you and the prophets see.