Tag Archives: scripture

Lamp for a Dark Place

Spring Lake even

The sky over the boardwalk at Spring Lake, New Jersey, is sometimes swept with colors before nightfall. Then, a lamp becomes the only light till dawn.


“I came into the world as light,” Jesus says in today’s gospel” so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.( John 12:44-50)


The sun will rise again and the great Sun will also rise again, Augustine says in one of his sermons. Then  “lamps will no longer be needed. When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself. Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.”

Darkness is temporary; we are meant for light.

“I implore you to love with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers. What shall we then see? Let the gospel tell us: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You will come to the fountain, with whose dew you have already been sprinkled.

“Instead of the ray of light which was sent through slanting and winding ways into the heart of your darkness, you will see the light itself in all its purity and brightness. It is to see and experience this light that you are now being cleansed. Dearly beloved, John himself says, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet been disclosed what we shall be; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

“I feel that your spirits are being raised up with mine to the heavens above; but the body which is corruptible weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind. I am about to lay aside this book, and you are soon going away, each to his own business. It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together. When we part from one another, let us not depart from him.”

Saint Jerome

jerome

St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who made the Bible better understood by western Christians through his translations from the Greek and Hebrew. “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” he said.

He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received an early education in Rome where he was baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius.

Brilliant and eager for knowledge,  Jerome traveled extensively. In Antioch in Syria he had a dream in which he saw himself rebuked by Christ for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Moved by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert. There he said he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.” The picture above portrays him praying to be delivered from temptation.

For penance Jerome threw himself into the study of scripture. He began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which later helped him translate and comment on the Bible. We usually think of penance as giving up things; Jerome reminds us it can also be taking on things.

Ordained a priest, Jerome arrived in Constantinople about 380 where he studied the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome and was given the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin by Pope Damasus. His translation, called the Vulgate, along with his learned commentaries and sermons, sparked a flowering of spirituality in the western church. Jerome won a devoted following, especially among Rome’s prominent Christian women eager to understand the bible.

Jerome had a biting tongue and was quick to find enemies. Some in Rome resented his caustic criticism and abrasive style. Because of their opposition, he left Rome in 385 for the Holy Land where he established a community at Bethlehem near the cave where Christ was born to continue studying the scriptures. Besides Jewish scholars, he utilized the great Christian library nearby at Caesarea Maritima.  Friends from Rome joined him, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem.

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem. Remains of Jerome’s Monastery are under the church

Besides scripture studies, Jerome continued to engage in controversies going on in the church, sometimes harshly.

In 410 Alaric and his warriors sacked Rome.  Jerome, shocked by the invasion, provided shelter for Roman Christians fleeing to the safety of the Holy Land. “I have put aside my studies to help them,” he wrote. “Now we must translate the words of scripture into deeds, and instead of speaking holy words we must do them.”

He died in Bethlehem in 420. His remains were taken to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. A doctor and teacher of the church, he recognized in himsel need for God’s mercy. Jerome is an example that saints are not perfect.

Here are excerpts from his writings:

“Lord, show me your mercy and gladden my heart.
I am like the man going to Jericho, wounded by robbers.
Good Samaritan, come help me.
I am like a sheep gone astray.
Good Shepherd, come seek me and bring me home safe.
May I dwell in your house all my days and praise you forever.”

“I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
 
Therefore, I will imitate the head of a household who brings out of his storehouse things both new and old, and says to his spouse in the Song of Songs: I have kept for you things new and old, my beloved. In this way permit me to explain Isaiah, showing that he was not only a prophet, but an evangelist and an apostle as well. For he says about himself and the other evangelists: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news, of those who announce peace.And God speaks to him as if he were an apostle: Whom shall I send, who will go to my people? And he answers: Here I am; send me.”

Let us glorify Christ In whatever sufferings are ours in this life.

O God, you yourself are both our crown and our shield: May we always follow only you and never depart from you!

Do not put your trust in your sword, or in your own strength; but rather, put your trust in the Lord!

Every day Christ stands at the door to our hearts, longing to enter. Let us open wide our hearts to him, then, that he might come in, and dwell with us always.

God can only speak peace to his people when they hope in him with all their hearts.

God protects us as a Father, and as a hen guarding her chicks, lest a hawk snatch them away.

The shield with which God protects us is spherical, for it keeps us safe on all sides.

All Creation serves God as God ordains: all in Heaven obeys, all on earth obeys, but it is only unhappy man who alone who disobeys.

Every day Christ is crucified in us, for we are crucified to the world. And so Christ is crucified in us.

Happy are those in whose hearts Christ rises from the dead daily. And he will rise in us every day, if we who are sinners will but repent.

Happy the soul in whom God is always enthroned!

Let us never trust in ourselves, but rather, let us always trust In the mercy of the Lord.

Greater by far are the wounds Inflicted by the tongue than those by the sword.

When we give to the poor, let us give thanks to Christ. More than the poor man gives thanks to us, for the poor unknowingly do us a great service. Almsgiving atones for sins.

Quotations selected by Brent Cruz, Confraternity of the Passion.

Deified Worm and Threshing Sledge

Fra Angelico, Detail of the Crucifixion (ca.1437-46)

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 41:13-20; 45:8; Matthew 11:11-15

For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you.”
Fear not, you worm Jacob,
you men of Israel!

Isaiah 41:13-14

Political tempests, pandemics, earthquakes, tsunamis, economic disasters and the like make human beings feel small and helpless in a hostile universe, but we are not alone, the prophet tells us. The Creator of all will take us by the hand and lead us. The humbling title “worm” in reference to humanity sounds strange to modern ears, but it ultimately points to Christ. All of Sacred Scripture is reduced to “one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely.”1

Hugh of St. Victor, a twelfth-century mystic and theologian, summarized this exegetical principle: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”2

On a physical scale, worms seem insignificant. Yet worms, writes St. Ephrem the Syrian, “are able to consume hard wood, so that, in the future, they will destroy the pride and power of very strong kingdoms.”3 Above all, the inner kingdoms of pride and egotism must be dismantled, for all disorder in the world begins within the human heart. From the point of view of the gardener, worms are highly prized for their tunneling and consumption of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes. Worm castings fertilize the soil and enrich it with nutrients.

The Divine Gardener made nothing in vain and certainly does not recoil at his own creation, which he pronounced “good” in the first chapter of Genesis. The Father’s love for humanity has no greater proof than the sending of his own Son to assume the flesh of this “worm Jacob” in order to redeem the earth and transfigure it with the deifying grace of the Holy Spirit. The soil out of which Adam was formed by the “two hands” of the Son and Spirit was recreated by the Father’s infinite love.4

I will help you, says the Lord;
your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
Behold, I will make of you a threshing sledge,
new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
and you shall make the hills like chaff;
you shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away,
and the tempest shall scatter them.

Isaiah 41:14-16

The sharp-toothed threshing sledge hung on the Cross disguised as a dull and useless plank, but rose again to crush sin, death, and the minions of Gehenna. 

And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together;
that men may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:16-20

Images of a well-watered desert flourishing with life point to the eschatological deification of humanity accomplished in Christ. Nothing on earth compares with this transfiguration beyond human calculation and estimation in which “the least in the kingdom of heaven” is “greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). According to many Fathers of the Church, Jesus was referring to himself. “Least” and “greater” are relative terms inapplicable to the absolute diversity of persons; thus the expression is one of profound humility.5

Let the clouds rain down the Just One,
and the earth bring forth a Savior.

Isaiah 45:8 (Alleluia verse)

-GMC

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church 102.

2 Ibid. 134.

3 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Isaiah 41.14. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Isaiah 40-66, Steven A. McKinion, editor, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor, Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004, p. 27. 

4 The expression, “two hands” of the Son and Spirit, originated in patristic literature.

5 Persons transcend relativity. See the article, In the Image of the Trinity, for further clarification.

Seed on Tough Ground

Why did Matthew put the parables of Jesus, which we’re reading these days at Mass, in the 13th chapter of his gospel instead at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as Mark does, who puts them in the early chapters of his gospel? Might seem unimportant, but commentators think it helps understand them from a different perspective.

Way back in the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus called his disciples up a mountain and promised them a blessed life would come from following him. He taught a sublime message, and worked miracles to back up its truth. He then sent disciples out to proclaim his life-giving message ( chapter 10) , but tells them:   “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

They did what he told them, but found tough opposition, more than they expected. Jesus faced the same opposition,

Matthew’s gospel was written around 90 AD in Galilee when Galilee had changed from the time of Jesus.. After Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, Jews influenced by the Pharisees moved into Galilee in force seeking to rebuild Judaism. They strongly opposed the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

Matthew’s gospel, reflecting the increasing tension between Christians and Jews in his day, presents Jesus’ parables, not only meant for the people of his time, but for the new situation in Galilee.

It’s a society increasingly hostile to Jesus of Nazareth. Still, the seed must be sown, however it’s received. And don’t give up on the tough ground, don’t judge it hopeless, don’t be judgmental about it, Matthew’s gospel insists:

“A sower went out to sow. some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”

Some seed fell on good ground. Farming methods then involved throwing out the seed, however uncultivated the soil.

A lesson for us today? Seems so. .We’re like those who heard this parable originally and then, convinced it would be heard and understood and accepted, brought it to others.

The soil was unwelcoming then. Our soil seems unwelcoming now.. Still!

Catechetical Sunday

We call this Sunday “Catechetical Sunday,” because most parishes are beginning classes in religion this month and we’re asking God’s blessing on young people and teachers and all who are involved in religious formation programs. Passing on our faith to the next generation is one of the important challenges we face as a church.

Let’s remember, though, that children and young people are not the only ones who need to grow in faith. We all do. We may be able to recite the Creed at Mass and respond to the prayers pretty well, though some of us may still be learning the new wording that came out last year. But learning the words isn’t enough. We need to know what they mean and how they apply to our lives; that’s a life-long task
.
I can still recite answers to questions from the catechism years ago. “Who is God?” “Why did God make you?”

But is that enough? For one thing, the Second Vatican Council, which took place 50 years ago, gave some important new directions for growing in our faith. It told us to know God and love with our neighbor using the bible and the liturgy as guides.

For example, there’s a longer and fuller answer to that catechism question “Who is God?” in the scriptures today. (Luke 15, 1-32) God is like a woman who doesn’t want to lose what belongs to her and keeps searching for a coin she has lost. God is like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep. God is a wonderful father whose son–representing the whole human race–finds himself far from home and the place where he should be.
We are God’s children; we belong with him. God is the One who welcomes us, searches for us, waits for us, wishes the best for us, because we are his own.

No catechism question and answer could describe God better than Jesus does in the story of the Prodigal Son and in his parables. The scriptures give us a way to know God that’s never exhausted. At the heart of scripture is Jesus Christ, God’s Word to us. He lives what he teaches. We know God through him, and with him and in him. The more we know him, the more we know the One who sent him. The more we know him, the more we know how to love our neighbor.

Faith is not a private affair between ourselves and God. We don’t live it in a bubble. Knowing and loving God means knowing and loving our neighbor, for God and our neighbor belong together. “No one has seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4,12)

The Second Vatican Council made clear in its Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, for example, that faith leads us to life in our world, however complex that world may be. The scribe in the gospel asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He doesn’t ask Jesus “Who is God?” Perhaps that’s because our relationship with our neighbor is more immediate and complex than our relationship with God.

We can’t reduce loving our neighbor to a few things like lying, or cheating or killing one another. I was looking recently at the US Bishops’ site on the internet–a wonderful resource site about our faith, by the way– and noticed the many “neighbor” questions there. Questions like income inequality, immigration, housing, restorative justice, …They’re social questions, “neighbor” questions, dealing with a complex world that changes all the time.

The Second Vatican Council also opened the window to new cooperation with others who do not have the faith we have and urged us to work together for a better world.

Living our faith today is a challenging, life-long task. We’re all still in school.