Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Be free of anxiety

I should like you to be free of anxieties.
I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction. - 1 Corinthians 7:32a,35

St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was partly written to address questions posed by the Church there. In Chapter 7 marriage is discussed. It would appear that the Church in Corinth was advocating asceticism in matters of sexuality. In and of itself this is not a bad thing, but the Church at Corinth was distorting it in such as way as to make it the only good thing. This was causing some distress to some of the members of the Church at Corinth, and St. Paul took this opportunity to clarify things.

St. Paul mentions that unmarried people have anxiety about pleasing the Lord, while married people have anxiety about pleasing their spouses. This is not meant to say that an unmarried state is somehow better than a married one. The point lies in the word "anxiety." St. Paul is making the point that there should be no anxiety over pleasing the Lord or the spouse. Anxiety over right behavior should not take precedence over serving the Lord. Christ should be the center of the lives of those who are married and those who are unmarried. The anxiety over adhering to some custom only serves to distract people from the Lord causing them to focus on that custom rather than on the Christ and his teachings.

St. Paul is therefore saying regardless of the state you are in (married or unmarried), do not let anything distract you from Jesus. We are to keep in mind that the gospel of Jesus does not put restraints on people but frees them from anxiety and grounds them in love.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Stormy weather

He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” - Mark 4:39-40

After teaching the crowds, Jesus and the disciples get into a boat and cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus falls asleep in the stern of the boat, and as they cross, a fierce storm suddenly overtakes them and puts the disciples in a panic. Waves are crashing over the bow of the boat, and the disciples cry out to Jesus for help. (“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”) Now, with the benefit of hindsight, many people these days would see the disciples as begging for divine intervention from Jesus. In reality, the disciples were probably more perturbed that while they were perilously taking on water, Jesus was sound asleep. They were most likely saying, "Hey Jesus! Are you going to just lay there sleeping while we sink, or are you going to help us get rid of this water?" To their astonishment, he divinely intervenes and stops the storm. Not quite what they expected, but hey, it worked.

Nowadays we experience our own "storms" which overwhelm us, but unlike the disciples we are more likely to be astonished if Jesus does not divinely intervene the way we want. Our faith in Christ does not mean that he will intervene as we want, rather that we will rely on Christ to intervene as he knows best. Sometimes this can be a tough and painful lesson for us to learn, but that lesson will lead us to become less self-centered, and this in turn will allow us to grow in holiness. Is this not what God's plan for us is in the first place?

Sometimes when Jesus says, "Quiet! Be still!" he is not talking to the storm, but to us, calling on us to stop focusing on the storms of life around us and place our focus squarely on him. It is only then that he can effectively help us and calm the raging tempest.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The seed which produces a kingdom

Jesus said to the crowds, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, at once he starts to reap because the harvest has come." - Mark 4:26-29

I was intrigued with this passage because I am familiar with much of the gospels, but not this parable, so I thought I would contemplate it for today. It appears to be pretty straightforward. Jesus likens the kingdom to a man who plants seed, and with time the seed sprouts and grows, the mechanism behind this growth he cannot explain. Without any help from the man (other than sowing the seed) the land brings forth in its own prescribed manner the fruit of the seed, and when the time is right the man comes and harvests what he has sown and the earth has produced.

So, here is my take on it. This seed is the Word. The Word, by the way, is not the same thing as the scriptures although the scriptures are part of it. The Word is the Verbum Dei, or Jesus, the eternal Word of God. This is not merely the printed word on the pages of the bible, but the living Word of God as proclaimed by the Church which was given to her by her Lord. Jesus, the eternal Word, cannot be confined to words printed in a book.

Jesus teaches the twelve, and they go out and spread those teachings, the Gospel, to all the earth. The seed, God's word, has been scattered. It will grow of its own intrinsic power, a power present in humanity through the Holy Spirit, although how it works is not altogether understood by men. It is a mystery. The fruit which is produced is really two-fold. First of all, the Word effects a conversion in the individual which leads to spiritual maturity at which time it will be harvested, and the individual will be united with God in heaven. Secondly, the Word will lead to the foundation of the kingdom through its spread. It starts with Jesus and the twelve and on its own will take root throughout the world. This is exactly what the Church has done in both cases.

I suppose what makes this interesting is how people define the "kingdom of God." A lot of people I know say that it is heaven. That is part of it, but the kingdom of God that Jesus is referring to is the Church on earth as well. The Church started off with a small group of followers who safeguarded the seed, the Word which was taught them, and has grown into a mature and highly complex living thing just as Jesus said, which is guided and protected by the power of the Holy Spirit. The key to all of this is that the Church is a living thing. What gives it life is the Holy Spirit. What safeguards it from error is the Holy Spirit. What assures that it will achieve its full development is the power of the Holy Spirit.

Man will continue to spread the Word, the seed which bears much fruit. Indeed, the seed already has produced much fruit and from this fruit, more seed will be sown and more fruit will be produced, and the kingdom will never end. Blessed be God forever!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Power from above

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. - 2 Timothy 1:7-8

In his second letter to St. Timothy, St. Paul is admonishing St. Timothy to nurture the charism which he received through the laying on of hands. God's gift of the Holy Spirit imparted to St. Timothy through ordination was not to be neglected but fueled and fanned into a flame through the aid of the Holy Spirit so that St. Timothy would be emboldened to face the hardships which most certainly would face him in the coming years.

This hearkens back to the birth of the Church at Pentecost. On that day, the Apostles had met together when suddenly there was the sound of a violent rushing wind and tongues as of fire came to rest on the head of each of them and they were emboldened to proclaim the Gospel to all people. Here was a group of men who just a few weeks before were frightened out of their minds for fear that they would end up on a cross like Jesus now standing up and openly proclaiming him as Messiah in the synagogues.

Cowardice is defined as ignoble fear in the face of danger or pain. Ignoble is the key; completely lacking nobility in character. It is through the Holy Spirit that human beings are filled with dignity, a nobility that comes as a gift from God. Cowardice is not the natural state of human beings filled with the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit bestows dignity and nobility to us. It is not that we will never be afraid, but through the Holy Spirit, that fear can be overcome. This will give us power over fear, power to love freely without fear of repercussion.

As St. Paul calls St. Timothy to proclaim the Gospel unashamedly, so he calls each of us to do the same. This does not mean to stand up arrogantly for the Gospel but humbly and lovingly letting the Spirit lead us. We also must be prepared for rejection or mistreatment, but by surrendering ourselves to God, we will be able to face any hardship which may come our way with courage and strength.

St. Timothy and St. Titus, pray for us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


"The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice; for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard. Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name." - Acts 22:14-16

These are the words of the righteous man, Ananias, to St. Paul after his conversion to the faith on the road to Damascus. St. Paul is on his way to gather up followers of "the Way" and bring them back in chains to be punished for their adherance to the teachings of Christ when he is suddenly enveloped by a bright light, and he hears the voice of Jesus. Interestingly, in one account the companions of St. Paul hear the voice but see no one (Acts 9), and in another, they see the light but do not hear the voice (Acts 22). I have kind of contemplated why this discrepancy exists, and I have come up with a couple of ideas.

The first is that the importance of the event had little to do with the supporting players and their experience, rather it was about St. Paul's experience, for in each account, St. Paul's experience is exactly the same. The other thing I considered is that the fullness of the experience of the risen Christ, that of seeing the light and hearing the voice, was reserved for St. Paul since he was to lead the Church, and his companions were given incomplete signs; theologically, you can almost envision Moses in the tent of meeting conversing with God while the Israelites outside saw the theophany and knew God was present but didn't experience God in the same personal manner that Moses did.

The total blindness of Saul experienced on the road to Damascus and the restoration of his sight by the words of Ananias reveal to us an image of Saul's religious blindness as a Pharisee which is cured when St. Paul hears the Word from the mouth of Ananias. Sure, St. Paul's conversion experience was quite dramatic, but our own coversion experiences along our journey of faith, our own roads to Damascus, can be symbolized with images of blindness and restoring of sight. How often is the truth right before our very eyes, and we are completely blind to it, only to have our eyes opened through the power of the Holy Spirit working through another person. In our own way, each of us is a "St. Paul" who finds our way through an "Ananias."

If nothing else, St. Paul's conversion is a testamony to the power of God's grace. If a murderous hit man whose goal in life was to persecute Christ and his Church can end up spreading the Gospel and dying for the faith as one of its greatest apostles, I dare say it is quite true that anything is possible with God.

Holy Father Paul, I love you. Pray for us all that we may experience true conversion.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Relatives of God

And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” - Mark 3:33-35

Jesus used every opportunity to make a point. In this particular passage from St. Mark's gospel, Jesus was teaching when his relatives arrived, and a message was passed through the crowds informing Jesus of their arrival. Jesus saw this as a perfect time to teach and therefore announced that anyone who does the will of God is his true kinsman.

There are some who would say that Jesus was distancing himself from his relatives, most specifically, his mother. Now, Jesus was born under the Law, and since he was Jewish he would be obedient to the Mosaic Law. We all know that he would have honored his mother. Jesus therefore would not have used this opportunity to belittle his mother in front of a crowd of people. He was most certainly attempting to make a point with his lesson to the crowds.

And that lesson is this. When we are baptized, we are born again as members of the Body of Christ. As such, we are called to participate in the Great Commission in bringing the Gospel to all people. As Our Lady gave birth to Jesus and through this birth revealed him to the world, we have the power through the grace of the Holy Spirit and through our living the Gospel to reveal him to the world around us, to give birth to Christ, to be his mother. We are called to bring people to the waters of baptism where they will be born from above and become a new creation in Christ.

Rather than Christ chastising his mother, he was using her as an example, revealing to all those present a means for them to be able to participate in the salvific work which was begun with her fiat mihi. What a wonderful image for Christians to ponder.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What's good is good, and what's evil is evil.

Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin. - Mark 3:28-29

As I pondered this passage from the Gospel according to St. Mark, a couple of things came to my mind. First of all was Jesus' use of the term Amen. It is an interesting little word that is the response of the people at the end of a prayer through which we affirm with all our heart that the prayer just spoken is our own prayer; in essence we are saying "Ditto."

When Jesus used the term Amen before he spoke, he was saying, "Listen carefully because this is crucial." (Or as we used to say in college and medical school, "This is going to be on the test.") Jesus was solemnly assuring us that what he was about to say held such importance that it must be adhered to in order for someone to be his follower. It was a verbal underlining or asterisk. Get the picture?

So, when Jesus spoke of blasphemy, he was very specific about what was serious blasphemy. Blasphemy of any kind would be forgiven, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because such blasphemy was an everlasting sin. Now, most people have this idea that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to not believe in God. This could very well fall under the definition, but I believe that the blasphemy about which Jesus speaks is something much more insidious than a glaring rejection of God by not acknowledging his existence.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in its ugliest and most insidious form can be deciphered by understanding Jesus' comment in the context of the discussion going on at the time. The scribes were accusing Jesus of being posessed by Beelzebul, and they proclaimed that it was through the prince of darkness that Jesus drove out demons. Jesus counters with the "a house divided against itself can never stand" argument, and then makes the statement about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The key to understanding what Jesus meant by that statement is based on this.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is simply reversing the roles of good and evil so that what is good is seen as evil and what is evil is seen as good. When you contemplate this, it is easy to realize why Jesus says that it is an "everlasting sin" because if you accept as good that which is really evil, you will never know to repent! How could you? You think it is good! And if you are convinced what is truly good is evil, you will always reject it because you are convinced it is evil (when in reality it is good). This is why it is so insidious, and why we must be open to God's truth for to close ourselves to it is to render as evil that which is good.

When we understand this concept, it is kind of scary to think of how much in today's secular world fits into this category. I mean, the obvious things are heinous evils like abortion, but more insidious is something like artificial contraception which the Church has always taught is intrinsically evil. In today's world, artificial contraception is touted as the answer to poverty and world hunger which has come about due to overpopulation. It is seen by the world as a good thing, and the Church is seen as evil for rejecting such a good thing as evil.

Ultimately we need to see blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as the perversion of the truth that it is. In today's secular world, the truth is relative to the individual. It is in this culture of relativism that we have been born, and it is only through understanding of the teachings of Christ, the eternal Word of God, that we can know the real truth and fight the perversion of that truth which is so rampant in our world today.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Heeding the call

And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. - Jonah 3:5

I love the book of Jonah.

A not necessarily quick refresher. Jonah was called by God to proclaim to the city of Nineveh that they had become so wicked that he was going to have to intervene with destruction. Jonah, instead of being obedient to the Lord, ran away boarding a ship to Tarshish. While he was on the ship, the Lord stirred up a hurricane which put the ship in great peril. While the crew was emptying cargo to lighten the load of the ship in hopes of preventing its destruction, Jonah was asleep down in the hold. He was awakened, and he and the crew cast lots as to whom was to blame for their current state of distress. Lo and behold, the lot fell to Jonah.

The crew asked Jonah who he was, where he was from, and what was his business. He replied that he was a Hebrew who worshipped the Lord. The sailors were frightened because Jonah also revealed that he was fleeing from the Lord, so Jonah volunteered to be thrown overboard to calm the tempest, which of course is exactly what happened. Oh, and he was eaten by a great fish and remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. While in the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord that "the vow I have made I shall fulfil!" and the fish vomited Jonah onto the dry land.

So, the Lord spoke to Jonah again, and this time Jonah was obedient. He told the Ninevites that they would be overthrown. Now, keep in mind that Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, a great enemy of the Hebrews, so when they heeded the call to repentance, and God relented and did not bring disaster to Nineveh, Jonah was sort of irritated. Well, he was very irritated, irritated to the point that he asked God to take his life, to which God replied, "Are you right to be angry?"

So Jonah left the city, sat down under a shelter he made, and waited to see what would happen. God took this opportunity to teach Jonah a lesson. He caused a plant to spring up that gave Jonah shade and calmed his temper, which made Jonah very happy. Then God caused a worm to attack the plant, and it withered placing Jonah at the mercy of the scorching heat which caused him to feel faint and beg for death. Again God asks Jonah, "Are you right to be angry about the plant?" To which Jonah replied, "YES! I have every right to be very angry!" And God said, "Wait, you mean to tell me you are concerned about a plant that just popped up one night and died the next, but I can't be concerned for Nineveh, a city of over 120,000 people who don't know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?"

What I find fascinating is that Jonah heard the call of God and ran away in fear. It took a near death experience for Jonah to repent of his disobedience to the call of God, yet God was merciful. On the other hand, the Ninevites, the mortal enemies of the Jews, heard the call of God to repentence and in fear of the Lord did not run away, but rather, they heeded the call and were shown the same mercy, for much to Jonah's chagrin, God loved the Ninevites as well. That is the theme of Jonah, mercy to those who heed God's call to walk in his path.

God calls us all to repentance through the sacrament of reconciliation which is a source of his great mercy administered through the Church. When God calls us to come home to the Church and be reconciled, the real question becomes are we going to be like Jonah and run away, or are we going to be like the Ninevites and heed the call?

I love the book of Jonah.

Welcome to the world, Walker Williams McCay.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Saul discussed his intention of killing David with his son Jonathan and with all his servants. But Saul’s son Jonathan, who was very fond of David, told him: “My father Saul is trying to kill you. Therefore, please be on your guard tomorrow morning; get out of sight and remain in hiding." 1 Samuel 19:1-2

The first reading for today's Mass from 1 Samuel (
here for reference) deals with two themes which are complete opposites of one another. The first involves King Saul. Saul and David have returned to Israel after David slayed the Philistine, Goliath. Upon their return, the women of Israel are rejoicing over the victory over the Philistines and sing a song “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7) Upon hearing this, Saul becomes intensely jealous of David, after all, it is Saul who is King of Israel, he should receive the greater glory. His jealousy is so intense that he plans to kill David. This jealousy is a result of turning inward and serving the self. It is the opposite of Charity.

Now, there are those who are quick to point out that even the Holy Scriptures describe God as "jealous" in the first commandment:
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments. - Exodus 20:5b-6
Unfortunately, human beings must use words to (inadequately) describe God, and in light of this understanding, we must realize that God is not "jealous" in the sense that human beings are. When we are jealous, we desire someone else's advantages. Well, everything that is is God's, so there is nothing more advantageous than that. Baal and Astarte are not. Money is not. Nothing is more advantageous. But God wants us to realize that there is nothing more advantageous because God knows and wants what is best for us, so he demands total fidelity, not because he needs it, but because we do. Fidelity to God results in true freedom. Infidelity to God results in slavery to what we put in God's place and the resulting punishment for rejecting God. So even God's "jealousy" serves the purpose of bettering humanity through charity. This brings us to point two.

Jonathan is the son of Saul, to whom Saul has revealed his plan to kill David. Jonathan is very fond of David, so he risks his relationship with Saul to inform David of Saul's plan. Now, keep in mind that Saul is King of Israel, so Jonathan stands to gain quite a bit by supporting his father. However, for love of David, who has been anointed by God, Jonathan tells David about Saul's plan to kill him. Jonathan even risks his position as heir to the throne to assure that David is being fairly and justly treated. This is an image of the theological virtue of charity in that Jonathan sacrifices his own good for the benefit of David. It is a characteristic of the inner life of the Holy Trinity which is imaged by human beings willing to give of themselves for the benefit of another.

So in the two characters of Saul and Jonathan are revealed two images of man. That of Adam, prideful and intensely jealous of God's supreme rule over the universe to the point of rebellion which led to death, and that of Christ, the new Adam, who emptied himself in submission to God's will, giving even his own life for the benefit of all humanity which leads to life. In Christ, God reveals his true nature, that of giving all for all. God reveals in Christ that he indeed is love.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Appearances can be deceiving

But the LORD said to Samuel: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart.” - 1 Samuel 16:7

The lesson the Lord teaches Samuel is one that is lost to our modern secular society. The longing for physical perfection has resulted in a boom of both medical (Botox) and surgical procedures (We all know what I mean; I don't have to spell it out.) geared toward sculpting the "perfect" body. Through this quest we see the outward appearance of the body as defining the person. God sees otherwise. He sees the person as defining the person. In other words, God sees who we are and altering our outward appearance does not change the essence of who we are, of what defines us in God's eyes.

Samuel has been given the order to go to Bethlehem to visit Jesse in order to annoint one of his sons as the new king of Israel to replace Saul. Recall Saul had failed to live up to God's commands, and therefore God stripped him of his kingship. He sees Jesse's sons, one by one, and one by one he rejects them as king of Israel until he gets to David, the youngest, who is out tending the sheep. This is who God chooses. Not exactly what Samuel and Jesse were expecting, but nonetheless God's chosen ruler of Israel.

God challenges us all to see as he does in our encounters with one another every day. We have to try hard to not let physical appearance define dignity in those we meet. Underneath that exterior, be it handsome or homely, lies the person created in God's image, an image of transcendant beauty. An image which God himself will reveal to us if we allow ourselves to see with the eyes of wisdom.

Just a side thought: can you imagine David's surprise? He wakes up that morning to tend the flocks, but by that evening he is King of Israel!

“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
That my hand may be always with him,
and that my arm may make him strong.” - Psalms 89:21-22

St. Anthony the Abbot, pray for us.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Obedient Sacrifice

But Samuel said: “Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the LORD? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams." - 1 Samuel 15:22

God instructed Saul to go and destroy Amalek in a war of extermination. All things both man and beast are to be destroyed, so Saul went to Amalek and destroyed all people and beasts except Agag, the king of Amalek, and the best of the fat sheep, oxen, and lambs which Saul intended to offer as a sacrifice to God. Upon his return, Samuel chastises Saul for his disobedience to God's command, disobedience that Saul has completely denied. This disobedience is so displeasing to God that Saul is rejected as king of Israel.

In the Psalms, Prophets, and the Gospels, this theme of obedience over sacrifice is played out again and again. In and of itself, sacrifice is not a bad thing but is a sign of a covenant forged between God and his people. The problem arises when God's people attempt to please him through performing a sacrifice while being disobedient to his covenant, as though they can barter for God's favor. Offering sacrifice while being disobedient is insulting because it is reaffirming a covenant in which one party (the one offering the sacrifice) has been unfaithful.

Truth be known, being obedient to the will of God is a kind of sacrifice itself, the sacrifice of a humble heart. So what God desires is a sacrifice of humility which is obedient to him. This obedience is a sacrifice of self. For this reason, Christ's sacrifice is the perfect sacrifice. It is the humble and total giving of self in complete obedience to God's will.

Being obedient to the command of Jesus, the Church continues to offer this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which is the Body and Blood of Christ instituted in the Last Supper, the Holy Eucharist (which comes from the Greek word eukharistia or "thanksgiving"). When we eat Christ's Body and drink his Blood, we participate in that total giving of self which is the sacrifice of Christ that is brought forward in time. Christ's obedient sacrifice on Golgotha is made present to us through the Eucharistic sacrifice, and through this sacrifice, we offer ourselves to the Father along with Christ, uniting our sacrifice with his. We give our very lives to the Father along with the Lord Jesus.

This is the obedient sacrifice that God delights in.

Let thanksgiving be your sacrifice to God,
fulfil the vows you make to the Most High;
then if you call to me in time of trouble
I will rescue you and you will honor me. - Psalms 50:14-15

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Summons

When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” - 1 Samuel 3:9b-10

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,“Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” -which translated means Teacher-,“where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” - John 1:35-39a

Samuel was called by the Lord, but initially, Samuel thought that the one calling him was Eli. After a couple of episodes of Samuel waking Eli with the response, "Here I am. You called me?" Eli realizes that the Lord had done the calling, and so he directs Samuel to respond to the Lord, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

God ultimately makes the call for all of us to follow him, however, listening to the call is not enough. We must respond, we must take action to fulfill the purpose God has for us in our lives. Samuel has opened the lines of communication with God, and has taken the first step in answering the call.

In a similar way, St. Andrew heard the call of the Lord to repentance and followed St. John the Baptist. Like Eli does with Samuel, the Baptist directs St. Andrew to the true source of the call, Jesus, the Lamb of God. St. Andrew and his brother Simon answer the call by giving up their former lives and following Christ, an image of Israel leaving its former life in Egypt and following Moses to the Promised Land. This surrendering of their former lives was especially notable for Simon, whose faith was so great that Jesus even changed his name to Kephas or "Rock". Of course, we know him as St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles, whose calling was to confirm his brothers in faith, a calling which St. Peter carried out until his martyrdom in Rome.

God calls to us all everyday. He calls us to repentance. He calls us to holiness. He calls some to the priesthood or religious life; others he calls to the vocation of marriage and family. Our challenge is to discern his call which sometimes may be fairly easy (repentance from sin) and other times more difficult (ordained ministry). Whether it is fairly easy or rather difficult, it will entail surrendering our former lives (the kingdom of this world) for something greater (the Kingdom of God). It will require leaving Egypt in order to reach the Promised Land.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Your wish is my command

The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “Not so! There must be a king over us. We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” When Samuel had listened to all the people had to say, he repeated it to the LORD, who then said to him,“Grant their request and appoint a king to rule them.” - 1 Samuel 8:18-22a

Samuel was judge over Israel, but when he grew old, he appointed his sons as judges. His sons turned out to be corrupt, and this led to the elders of Israel meeting and calling upon Samuel to replace his sons with a king to judge them "like the other nations." Samuel was perturbed by this because he felt it was wrong, but nevertheless he assented since God told him to obey the wishes of the elders. However, God gave a warning that spelled out the disadvantages of having a monarchy like the other nations. I say disadvantages, but in reality it was more like hardships which would result in Israel crying out to God for relief.

Well, here is the problem. Israel already had a king in Yahweh, their God, but as Israel had done time and again, they rejected him and sought refuge in other gods. They wanted to be like the other nations which surrounded them who worshipped these false gods as well.

God's plan to bring humanity back to him was such that Israel, his chosen people, were to be examples of righteousness for the nations. Through this (in an ideal world), the nations would seek the source of this righteousness and be drawn to God. But Israel rebelled and wanted to imitate the nations surrounding them, the Gentiles. The problem was not in monarchy per se, rather it was in monarchy based on "the other nations." In rejecting God, their true king, Israel was thwarting God's plan for salvation for humanity, but since God is just, he allowed Israel to follow its own desire, but he fully warned Israel by saying something along the lines of, "Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it."

Like Israel of old, we are placed in similar situations in our daily lives. As Israel rejected God over and over after the exodus by turning to the false gods of their neighbors, so we too reject God after our exodus (through the waters of baptism) by turning to "false gods," but instead of turning to Baal, Dagon, or Astarte, we turn to money, alcohol, or power. As difficult as it may be at times, we must fight the urge to serve these false gods and strive to make God our king. The consequences of what or whom we allow to rule our world are as different as night and day. If our desire is to place anything above God in our lives, we have to remember, God is just and will comply with our wish, but in the same way that he warned Israel, he warns us: Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

St. Hilary of Poitiers, pray for us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Peace and Solitude

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. - Mark 1:35

This particular verse of scripture stood out to me as it was being proclaimed by the priest at Mass this evening. How often do we think about the prayer life of the Son of God? Most of the time when we think of Jesus praying, it is publically, but occasionally the Gospels give us brief insight into the Lord's private prayer, his intimate communication with his Father in heaven.

The first thing that is apparent is that Jesus prayed when it was dark outside. The second thing is that Jesus prayed when no one else was around. Both of these insights would affirm that Jesus, when he was praying alone, wanted as few distractions as possible. When it is dark the world is calm. There is no hustle and bustle of people tending to their daily duties. There is simply quiet, peace. It is at times like this that the quiet whisper of God's voice can be heard because there is little to draw our focus away from him. Similarly, when you are alone, all of your thoughts can be lifted to heaven without distraction. The focus of prayer is God rather than God plus the people around you.

How did Jesus pray? The Lord's Prayer gives us some idea of the contents of the prayers of Jesus: the holiness of the heavenly Father, daily nourishment, and protection from the time of trial. I also believe that Jesus prayed the Psalms, Israel's prayer book, and this is the reason behind the praying of the Hours in the Church today. Another example of the Church following the lead of her Lord and Savior.

So, while the communal prayer of the Church is vital to the welfare of all Christians, private prayer in quiet solitude fosters a sense of devotion to the Blessed Trinity which in turn leads to greater love of and participation in the communal prayer of the Church. It is a circle of positive feedback.

In the daytime God sends his faithful love,
and even at night;
the song it inspires in me
is a prayer to my living God. - Psalms 42:8

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Exalting the humble and meek

“The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.” - 1 Samuel 2:4-5

The song of Hannah is in response to her bearing a son despite her prior sterility. This is a common theme found throughout the bible, a woman who is thought to be incapable of bearing children conceives and bears a son. Sarah and Abraham, Hannah and Elkanah, Elizabeth and Zechariah, all were thought barren, yet God in his mercy and love blessed them with sons who played a prominent role in salvation history. Hannah's song is a song of thanksgiving and love for God, and it reveals that God exalts those who are humble and put their faith in him while he humbles those who are exalted by the world. He seats the lowly with princes and in this way shows his justice and mercy, for in God's eyes, we are all on a level playing field.

This song is also along the same lines as Our Lady's Magnificat, in that through the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Mother has experienced blessing much the same way as Hannah did, and she gives glory to the Lord for his favor. Both Hannah and Our Lady gave birth to sons who sought to instill in the people of Israel the depth of their sinfulness and to lead them to repentance, a change of heart. Samuel can be seen as a forerunner (or type) of Christ. Perhaps Our Lady was familiar with Hannah's song and her son Samuel, and because of the similarities of their situation sang the Magnificat as an honor to them both and to God her savior.

He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. - Luke 1:51-55

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Look! though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, on you Yahweh is rising and over you his glory can be seen. The nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness. - Isaiah 60:2-3

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, "Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage." - Matthew 2:1-2

I love watching those shows on Discovery Channel, History Channel and The National Geographic Channel which have snappy titles like "Science of the Bible" or "History of the Bible" or "The Story of Jesus," but not for the reasons you might think. These are those programs that will take the stories found in the Gospels and piece by piece using modern techniques and interviews with all numbers of talking heads from the ivory towers of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale Schools of Divinity (I find irony in that) dismantle the stories, and then rewrite them according to what really happened. They seem to be quite proud of themselves for having gotten to the bottom of things as they really are, once again proving that Christ and the Church's teachings about him are all a big sham. Do I get irritated? I suppose on some level I do, but on a higher level I find humor in their ill fated attempts to rock my faith.

The star of Bethlehem is one such story that gets attention every year at this time. Some scholars will go out of their way to decry the myth behind the story saying it is absolutely preposterous that a star would behave in the manner described by St. Matthew, while others will actually attempt to explain it through some natural phenomenon such as a supernova or an allignment of planets or a comet or some other such hooey, while still others will explain it as a Christian answer to the Roman emporer Octavian Augustus who called himself divi filius (or son of god) and fashioned a star on coins with his image (these may actually be on to something, by the way). Regardless, they all for the most part miss the point.

Here is the point. For centuries the prophets had been proclaiming that the Gentiles would come to know and worship the true God, and they did this by using images of light and darkness. Darkness covered the earth in the sense that nations meandered with no clear cut path, for to the ancient Gentiles, time was seen as a circle, and history moved aimlessly like people who walk in the dark. It had no beginning or end. However to the Jews, time was a progressing line of history, a path with a beginning and an end, and God shed light to guide the people of Israel on the path. The passage from Isaiah shows that the glory of God is a light which shines on the people of Israel and will intrigue the nations (another word for the Gentiles) drawing their kings to its brightness.

St. Matthew picks up on this prophecy, for to him, Jesus is the light that arises from Israel and intrigues the Gentiles, and through Jesus, all people will be drawn to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, the only God there is. He uses the image of wise men from "the east" (which is somewhere near Timbuktu, i.e. vaguely distant) who were drawn to the infant King of the Jews by the rising of his star. Truth is, Jesus is the star, for he is the light which has guided Israel thus far and then intrigued and drew the Gentiles (represented by the three wise men from "the east") to himself, the Son of God. Why does the star come to rest over Bethlehem? Simple. Because that is where tradition says that Jesus was born (get it? the dawning or rising of the star over Bethlehem = the birth of the savior in Bethlehem who is the light of the world).

So, when seen in this light (pun intended), the people who make those programs like "Science of the Bible" end up looking rather blind or ignorant in their quest to disprove the historical accuracy of the stories of the bible. Whether the star was a supernova or a comet or not even a celestial event at all is irrelevant. Those of us who see with the eyes of faith get it. We know that the glory of the Lord has been revealed, and all flesh has seen it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. Amen.

While outward signs the star displays,
An inward light the Lord conveys,
And urges them, with force benign,
To seek the Giver of the sign.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Of Weddings, Water, and Wine

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. And they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the feast had all been used, and the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." Jesus said, "Woman, what do you want from me? My hour has not come yet." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." - John 2:1-5

This scene, the wedding at Cana, is full of stuff to talk about. First of all, isn't it interesting how St. John never refers to the Blessed Mother by her given name. She is called "the mother of Jesus" in this setting and also at the crucifixion. ("Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala." - John 19:25) Some would perhaps see this as a way of casting her off as unimportant, so much so that her name is never mentioned. However, I feel most likely this is done as a sign of respect and honor, much the same way that we do not refer to our mothers or our friend's mothers by their given names. To be honest, I find it quite difficult myself to refer to her as "Mary" alone, and generally I refer to her by titles given to her by the Church such as the Blessed Mother, the Mother of God, or Our Lady. But it is interesting that St. John mentions her presence along with the disciples, and were she not important (as some are so quick to point out), I dare say her presence would not have been mentioned at all.

When Our Lady mentions to Jesus that they have run out of wine, Jesus answers her by addressing her as "Woman." Now, this is a polite and normal form of address, but not typically one a person would use to address his mother. The meaning behind his use of this term is not particularly clear until Jesus uses this form of address for his mother again when he is on the cross. ("Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, "Woman, this is your son." - John 19:26) Now the point Jesus is making becomes more apparent, especially in the context of Genesis 3:15. ("I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will bruise your head, and you will strike his heel.") The Blessed Mother is the woman being described here, and Jesus is her offspring. In this manner, Jesus, in addressing his mother as "Woman," is referring to her as the new Eve, mother of all the living.

Now Our Lady has come to Jesus with a request, and Jesus knew full well what she was getting at. An interesting image was brought out at Mass this morning during the homily when our priest, Fr. Kenny Allen, said that this scene gives us wonderful insight into the interaction between Jesus and his mother. I mean, we all have been in the situation where our mothers put us on the spot and ask us to do something out of the ordinary, so Jesus, responding as most of us would have, says, "Well, what would you have me do? It's not my time." Our Lady's response almost seems to show her respectfully disregarding Jesus (as we have all had our mothers do to us by saying something like, "that's nice, dear.") when she quickly tells the disciples to "do whatever he tells you." (Jesus, according to Fr. Kenny, because he was without sin did not roll his eyes at the request.) Interestingly, this is pretty much what God the Father says from the "bright cloud" at the Transfiguration, "This is my Son, the beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him." (Matthew 17:5)

The story goes on to say that Jesus had the disciples fill six stone jars with water, draw some out and take it to the headwaiter, upon which it was noted that the water had been changed to wine (and not the bad wine, but the good!). Jesus chose the setting of a wedding to first reveal his glory at the request of his mother (a sign of her intercessory power, perhaps?). This is a prefiguring of the Holy Eucharist, the great wedding feast between Christ and his bride, the Church. It is also at this point that marriage is elevated to the dignity of a sacrament in that it is a sign of the love that exists between Christ and his Church and the love that is the Holy Trinity.

This was the first of Jesus' signs: it was at Cana in Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. - John 2:11

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ecce Agnus Dei!

John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.” - John 1:35-36

St. John in his writings often refers to Jesus as the "Lamb of God." St. John wants to use images of the Jewish Passover to define who Jesus is, and for this reason, Jesus is seen as the lamb without blemish who is sacrificed for the sins of the world. If you really think about it, the image of Jesus as a lamb fits well in the paradoxical scheme of things which is the life of Christ. After all, a lamb is meek and will not put up a fight. It is weak. Similarly, Jesus is meek and accepts his fate without putting up a fight. He appears to be weak, but through his sacrifice, we realize that the appearance is deceptive. In completely emptying himself, Jesus accomplished in one sacrifice something which could never be accomplished through the multitude of animal sacrifices which had been performed for millenia. In his perfect sacrifice, Jesus shows us an inner strength which is transforming, transforming weakness into strength, shame into honor, death into life. Through this single transforming sacrifice, Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world.

This also is a segue from the Baptist's call for conversion which leads to forgiveness of sins to Jesus' actually accomplishing this forgiveness through his death on the cross. St. John the Baptist directs two of his disciples to follow Jesus, the salvation of humanity, and in so doing, he fulfills his role of preparing the way for the Lord. He provides the reason for his decreasing while Christ increases: that Jesus is the Lamb of God. May we all heed the Baptist's call for conversion and listen to him as he reveals to us the "Lamb of God."

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Adversaries and Opponents

Who is the liar?
Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.
Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.
Anyone who denies the Son does not have the Father,
but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. - 1 John 2:22-23

The term "antichrist" gets a lot of usage these days, especially in certain Christian fictional works about the last days. Truth be known, we have been in the "last days" since the Resurrection of Christ, and St. John reveals to us in his first letter to the universal Church how we may identify the antichrist. The antichrist is anyone who denies the Father and the Son. Simple enough, right? Perhaps. But I like to think about things such as this. For one thing, the antichrist can be viewed as the opponent of Christ or as the adversary, one who actively works against the mission of Christ and his body the Church in bringing salvation to the world. To that end, there have been any number of antichrists throughout history from the Roman emperors who demanded to be worshipped and adored, a prerogative of God alone, to the Gnostics who denied that Jesus was the Christ, to Arius who denied that the Son was one with the Father in divinity, to modern day antichrists such as secular humanists who attack Christ and the Church with great zeal. All of these denied the Father and the Son and as such were adversaries of Christ.

But I would like to delve even deeper. Who else is he that denies the Father and the Son? In the broadest sense, it is someone who rejects the will of God, someone who refuses to follow the Lord with their whole heart but rather turns inward to themselves and follows their own will. This is the same thing that Adam and Eve did in the beginning which led to the fall of man, and it should be painfully clear to all of us that this is the way which leads to ruin. When we sin, in a very real way, we become Christ's adversaries or opponents, and we interfere with his mission to spread the kingdom. We become antichrists. Shocking as it is, we find ourselves in the same position as the Roman emperors and the Gnostics of the past or the secular humanists of today.

The paradox of the cross is that Christ emptied himself of everything and became total giving, and while it appeared that through this giving, this sacrifice, that Christ was ruined through his death, the truth is that through his giving of self he was lifted up to eternal life. He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life will save it. This is the will of the Father as revealed by the Son. (Notice how St. John emphasizes the unity of the Father and the Son; they are like a "group package", you can't have one without the other.) If we follow this plan of giving of self, we further the kingdom and fight the adversary.

Through the intercession of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, may Christ have mercy on us and save us.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Brothers and sisters: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. - Galatians 4:4-5

The ark of the covenant conjures up visions of Indiana Jones these days. To the ancient Hebrews, the ark of the covenant contained their very identity as a people. The ark was a wooden chest which was overlaid with gold and topped off with two cherubim. In the ark were found the the word of God (the law) which was inscribed on stone tablets, a container which contained the manna from heaven which fed the Israelites on their journey through the desert during the exodus, and Aaron's staff which was symbolic of his priestly office. The ark was kept behind the veil of the sanctuary.

Interestingly, the ark was but an image or type which pointed Israel to another ark, the ark of the new covenant, Mary, the Mother of God. Let's think about this for a minute. Whereas the word of God was inscribed on stone tablets in the first ark of the covenant, the Word of God revealed in the person of Jesus was enfleshed in the new ark of the covenant, Our Lady. The first ark of the covenant contained manna from above which nourished the Israelites but despite its ability to nourish they still died, but the new ark of the covenant, Mary most holy, contained the bread which came down from heaven which if eaten will lead to eternal life. The first ark of the covenant contained a staff which was symbolic of Aaron's priestly office, the new ark of the covenant, the Blessed Mother, contained the high priest himself who would offer the perfect sacrifice on Golgotha. Our Lady, the new ark of the covenant, contained not just the identity of Israel, but the glorious hope of the entire human race.

A few other parallels between the ark of the covenant and the Blessed Mother. From the tent of meeting, the smoke from sacrificial offerings would descend and cover the ark which was symbolic of God being amongst the people. At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Our Lady, and she conceived Emmanuel, God with us. As King David set out into the Judean countryside with the ark of the covenant, so the Blessed Mother set out to the Judean countryside to visit St. Elizabeth. As King David lept and danced around the ark, so St. John the Baptist lept in his mother's womb when Our Lady greeted St. Elizabeth.

And finally, in the Book of Revelation Chapter 11:19 we read, "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm." This must have caused a stir to the first century Jewish Christians because the ark of the covenant had gone missing centuries earlier. But St. John clarifies his vision with the next description, Revelation 12:1-2,5, "A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod." Some would argue that the "woman clothed with the sun" is a symbolic image of the Church since the Church delivers Christ to the world, and I would agree, but I would also say that Our Lady is the personification of the Church herself since in her very womb she bore Christ, and through his birth, she delivered him to the world.

All of these images proclaim Holy Mary to be the ark of the new covenant. The new covenant is a person, Jesus the eternal Son, true God and true man. It is only fitting that the Blessed Mother, whose very being is centered in her son, Jesus, would have the title Theotokos, "God-bearer" or "Mother of God." This title was dogmatized at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431, thus revealing for all history that Christ's two natures, divine and human, are inseparable, and thus Our Lady could not be merely the mother of the human and not the divine. Since Jesus is God, Holy Mary is the Mother of God.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.