On their journey through the desert they set up a meeting tent:
“Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses. On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and worship at the entrance of their own tents. The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”
The tent, the cloud, the pillar of fire were signs of God’s dynamic presence, a presence not fixed, but leading them to another place. The Exodus story is a story of God’s presence leading humanity on.
God leads them to a place they don’t know. God’s not a wall making them safe and settled; God’s on the move, and God moves them on.
In his book “The Mystery of the Temple” the theologian Yves Congar, OP, says we need these “long” Old Testament stories to remind us of the dynamic presence of a God of tents who is a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.
God is our guide, the only map we have, who moves each of us and all of history to a new stage. “We are always tempted to confine ourselves to what we see and touch, to be satisfied with this and to think that a preliminary achievement fulfills God’s promise, ” Congar writes.
“Abraham thought God’s promise was fulfilled in Ismael, Joshua thought it was the conquest of Canaan. Solomon thought it was in his immediate descendants…”but these promises were capable of more complete fulfillment which would only materialize after long periods of waiting and urgently needed purification. Only the prophets–and this, in fact, is their task–draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises and to the progress of the latter towards their accomplishment through successive stages of fulfillment continuously transcending one another.” (p 31-32)
We may think it’s the end, but it’s only a beginning.
Finally, God speaks most familiarly with Moses in the desert, a place of homelessness and unease, the Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”
Will that be true for us too? Does God speak most familiarly with us when we’re in the desert, not sure where life is heading?
A Garden was our first home, but the human family was banished from that garden, Genesis says. Yet the ancient story offers hope in God’s call through the Jews, first of all. Then, Christianity further proclaims God’s promise of life, through Jesus Christ, God’s Son..
The psalms constantly recall the promise of God in the imagery of Genesis. Psalm I is an example:
The just are like “a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1)
“The just shall flourish like the palm tree.
They shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon.
planted in the house of the LORD,
they shall flourish in the courts of our God.”
The temple in Jerusalem continued to recall the Garden of the Lord, according to Psalm 80 and the Prophet Ezekiel. (Ez. 48)
As God banishes the human family from the first garden, God also makes a promise in the Book of Genesis itself:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel.” (Genesis 3,15)
More than just a declaration of enmity between the human family and the devil, or hostility of humanity towards snakes, Christianity saw the promise of Jesus Christ in these words. He blesses the human family and all creation again.
Jesus rose from the dead in a garden; the Cross he died on was a tree of life. Mary, his mother, is the new Eve, “mother of all the living.” In Christian tradition, she’s often represented crushing the serpent beneath her feet.
Our Mary Garden expresses this Christian vision. Mary holds her Son, who looks out on the garden as a place of promise, under the sky, through the seasons of summer, winter, spring and fall.
Millions of years ago, volcanic rock thrust up from the underland; a glacier brought rocks here from far to the north thousands of years ago. Flowers bloom for a season, trees and plants weather the days and the nights.
And the human family comes to this garden to remember what God has done and to pray.
At the name of Jesus every knee must bend, in the heavens, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue profess to the glory of God the Father–Jesus Christ is Lord!
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death Amen.
Mary stands in our garden holding her Son. Do we make too much of her?
We call Mary Mother of God in our prayers and creeds. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you…Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” She is “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”
We honor Mary because her role in the life and mission of Jesus Christ is beyond any other creature’s. We pray to her that “we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.” She leads us to him.
Mary, Witness to his Life, Death and Resurrection
Mary witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. She knew him, like Peter and the other disciples, but she knew him in a unique way. How do we know of Jesus’ birth and early life unless from her? She stood by the cross of her Son on Calvary. “She kept all these things in her heart and pondered over them,” St. Luke says. She was among the witnesses of his resurrection who gathered after he rose from the dead, the same evangelist states. Her memories of Jesus surely have a special place in the gospels.
Mary knew Jesus in a unique way. She knew him as his mother; he was subject to her as her son. When he began his public ministry and called disciples, she remained in Nazareth– although John’s gospel says she had a key role in his first miracle at Cana in Galilee, when he changed water into wine. As Jesus drew followers and performed great deeds, she was in Nazareth, living among those who mostly rejected him.
Mary was especially involved in two periods of Jesus’ life: his birth and early life at Nazareth, and his death on the cross and resurrection. Both periods belong mostly to his hidden life when his power was concealed. The Word of God humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, St. Paul says, hidden except from those with eyes of faith. Mary knew him by faith, and she guides those who walk by faith to know her Son.
Mary’s Mission in the Church
Mary has a special place in the communion of saints, who from their place in heaven, “guide us still.” When doubts and confusion occurred in the early church about the identity of Jesus, Mary was called on to give witness, and she spoke through the Spirit that Jesus, her Son, was both human and divine. By the 5th century, churches and feasts honoring Mary, the Mother of God, appeared throughout the Christian world.
Through the centuries Christians called on her to be their companion and guide in prayer and in faith. They recognized the graces she received and her place among the blessed. She was conceived without sin and assumed body and soul into heaven. She reveals the sublime destiny awaiting us, “poor banished children of Eve.”
Mary, the new Eve, “mother of all the living”, has a special role when her children’s faith is threatened. Her appearances in recent times of unbelief to children and ordinary individuals at Fatima and Lourdes raised their hopes, and those of the church, in the promises of Christ.
What about today? We seem to be entering an age when, in face of climate change, not only faith is God is questioned, but also faith in science and in the earth itself is shaken.
In the 14th century, when the Black Death took countless lives in Europe, Christians turned to Mary. They prayed the rosary. They planted Mary Gardens, reminders of Eden, where God blessed the first human family with blessings. Mary had a special role in renewing their faith in a God of Life.
Read again the Book of Genesis and other promises of faith, Pope Francis said in his Encyclical Laudatò Si, about climate change and the care of the earth. Mary is the woman of faith, who holds in her arms the God of Life.
We live and build our cities near water. Our ancestors did that before us, and they recognized water as a gift in the stories they told about the world’s beginnings.
In the Genesis story water welling up from the earth brings a garden to life: plants, animals, finally human beings. There’s no life without it. From the garden, four mighty rivers bring life to other parts of earth. (Genesis 2)They even reached New York, NY.
We bless water in our prayers,: “All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord…Every shower and dew, bless the Lord.” (Daniel, 3, 57-58) It’s honored in the rituals we perform. The baptismal fount in our churches reminds us of it. We take it in our hand and bless ourselves with it as we go in and out of church.
Water is a blessing of God. Unfortunately, some are deprived of its blessing.
In September, 2018, Pope Francis said,
“I would like to draw attention to the question of water. It is a very simple and precious element, yet access to it is, sadly, for many people difficult if not impossible. Nonetheless, “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world owes a great social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” (Laudato Si., 30″
Water invites us to reflect on our origins. The human body is mostly composed of water, and many civilizations throughout history arose near great rivers that marked their identity. In an evocative image, the beginning of the book of Genesis states that, in the beginning, the spirit of the Creator “swept over the face of the waters (1:2)”.
In considering the fundamental role of water in creation and in human development, I feel the need to give thanks to God for “Sister Water”, simple and useful for life like nothing else on our planet. Precisely for this reason, care for water sources and water basins is an urgent imperative. Today, more than ever, we need to look beyond immediate concerns (cf. Laudato Si’, 36) and beyond a purely utilitarian view of reality, “in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit” (ibid., 159). We urgently need shared projects and concrete gestures that recognize that every privatization of the natural good of water, at the expense of the human right to have access to this good, is unacceptable.”
Can old stories throw light on new stories? Science speaks now about Deep Time, how the earth evolved over billions of years. Plants, animals, human beings came into existence long ago. Besides things evolving, mass extinctions have also taken place through the ages. An exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington called “Deep Time” explores the recent findings of science..
Our ancestors wondered about these things long ago. The Genesis story in the bible pictures the beginnings in poetic terms. But, can an old story throw light on the story science tells us now?
The most important light it offers is its claim to know the ultimate source of everything, a claim made in the opening sentence of our Christian creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” God is the One who creates and cares for all things.
How does God Create?
The Genesis story describes in a poetic way God’s creation of the world. Beginning with chaos, God creates light, then separates the waters from the earth, brings forth the night and the day, the sun and moon. God then creates plants, trees of every kind on the earth, the living creatures of the sea, birds of the air and animals of the land.
Then, “God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1, 28)
And “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” (Genesis 1,31)
An Interdependent World
Everything’s connected in the ancient creation story. Though human beings stand out in the story, we’re still connected to and dependent on the rest of creation. We come from the dust of the earth and depend on its life-giving waters; we need its soil, its plants and animals for our support.
In the creation narrative everything is connected. One thing prepares for and supports another.
That’s something we human beings must remember today.
Everything’s important in the early creation story. Though human beings have dominion over all, it’s a God-given dominion to see things as God does. God sees everything as good and with a right to be. Made in God’s image, our task on earth is to care for creation as God does. We’re caretakers of God’s world.
Something else to remember.
In chapter 2 of the Genesis account, God creates a garden, where nothing grew before and where no rain fell. There God places man. The garden is our first home.
The garden is a marvelous symbol of the interconnectedness of creation. We’re placed in a garden, which we share in common with trees and plants, with the birds of the sky and the animals of the fields. Together, we’re sustained by water from the earth and air from the heavens. Even clothing, setting us apart, is done away with there. We’re human, from the earth. We cannot exist without it. Our first home is a garden.
In the garden, the ancient story says, humanity is forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why?
There are different interpretations. Some interpret eating from the tree as a decision of moral autonomy. To eat its fruit is to claim to know what’s good or evil, right or wrong. Some today claim absolute power to choose what’s right or wrong, good and evil. Rejecting human limits and finite human wisdom , they claim to know it all.
Another interpretation sees eating from the tree as a decision to trust only in human experience and the knowledge we gain as we grow as individuals and as a people. Like children distancing themselves from parents, we grow in self sufficiency, gradually relying on a wisdom of our own.
The danger is to have human experience and human wisdom become absolute. Some distance themselves from a timeless wisdom and trust only in the wisdom of today.
In his letter Laudato Si, on our common home, on climate change, Pope Francis speaks of the danger of “anthropocentrism,” putting human beings at the center of everything, a trend he traces back to the beginnings of the Enlightenment in the 16th century. It’s a way of thinking still with us today.
Trusting human knowledge and creativity, some believe that science and technology have the answer for a perfect world. But science and technology aren’t enough to meet our present environmental crisis, the pope says, we humans need to change. We need to humbly accept our place in creation, as God meant it to be.
We need to remember where we come from. Science tells us much, but let’s not forget an old story. Our first home was a garden.
[Saint Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church]
Ex 33:7-11; 34:5b-9, 28/Mt 13:36-43
31 Wed Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest Memorial
Ex 34:29-35/Mt 13:44-46
AUGUST 1 Thu Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Memorial Ex 40:16-21, 34-38/Mt 13:47-53
2 Fri Weekday [Saint Eusebius of Vercelli, Bishop; Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Priest]
Lv 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37/Mt 13:54-58
3 Sat Weekday [BVM]
Lv 25:1, 8-17/Mt 14:1-12
4 SUN EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23/Col 3:1-5, 9-11/Lk 12:13-21
Matthew places the parables of Jesus later in his gospel. Unlike Mark’s gospel which has Jesus addressing the crowds in parables, Mathew sees them addressed to the church of his day. This week we hear them from the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. They’re addressed to us today too.
Born in Lebanon, Sharbel Makhlouf was brought up in a tight knit village community high up in the mountains by an uncle who didn’t approve of his love of prayer and solitude and had other plans for him. Sharbel broke from family and village to enter the monastery of St. Maron where he became a monk and then a priest.
Then, following the example of the desert saints, Sharbel became a hermit, distancing himself further for the next 23 years from the society he lived in.
But like the desert saints– like St. Anthony of Egypt who attracted others into the desert by his life of prayer and solitude– Sharbel became a trusted guide and friend to those who came to the small rooms he provided in his hermitage for those seeking his wisdom.
They found him free from the lure of success, the love of money, the demands of society and family expectations. He reminded them of what’s above all: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Many miracles occurred after his death. Pope Paul VI said of him at his canonization in 1988: ” May he make us understand, in a world largely fascinated by wealth and comfort, the paramount value of poverty, penance and asceticism, to liberate the soul in its ascent to God.”
25 Thu Saint James, Apostle Feast 2 Cor 4:7-15/Mt 20:20-28
26 Fri Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of Mary (Memorial) Ex 20:1-17/Mt 13:18-23
27 Sat Weekday Ex 24:3-8/Mt 13:24-30
28 SUN SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME Gn 18:20-32/Col 2:12-14/Lk 11:1-13
Some important saints are remembered this week. Mary Magdalene, Bridget of Sweden, James the Apostle, and Joachim and Anne. They’re instruments God uses to teach and support the church. I will be commenting on them on their feasts.
The Passionists celebrate the Feast of their Martyrs of Damiel on July 24.
The readings from Exodus continue the story of Moses.