Tuesday, May 29, 2007

heart, liver, and gall

Michael Barber has an awesome post today that discusses Pentecost in its Old Testament context. It gave me additional insight into what I was thinking yesterday when reading Tobit. The story of Tobias and Sarah is totally a parable of Christ and the Church, but I've completely skipped over the fact that the book is framed by the festival of Pentecost at the start of ch. 2 as Michael points out.

Tobit 2
1: When I arrived home and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me, at the feast of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of the seven weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I sat down to eat.
2: Upon seeing the abundance of food I said to my son, "Go and bring whatever poor man of our brethren you may find who is mindful of the Lord, and I will wait for you."
3: But he came back and said, "Father, one of our people has been strangled and thrown into the market place."
4: So before I tasted anything I sprang up and removed the body to a place of shelter until sunset.
5: And when I returned I washed myself and ate my food in sorrow.
6: Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said, "Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your festivities into lamentation." And I wept.

This gives important dimension to the story that unfolds. Tobit is celebrating Pentecost according to the law with the anxious anticipation for what is promised in Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:24-28, but he is drawn out of that earnest hope by the reality of sin in the world - the reality that the Spirit does not dwell in the hearts of men. This internal dwelling of the Spirit is no doubt signified by the use of leavened bread in the Jewish Pentecost festival. That is also key in the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, since the yeast of the Holy Spirit is given to us from the Resurrected Jesus - but not before giving it up, and then reclaiming it in glory.

John 19
30: When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 20
22: And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

And it is truly yeast for the milled wheat of our mortal existence, as Paul says:

1 Corinthians 5
7: Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
8: Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth

We must live and appear as unleavened so that there is no competition within us for the leaven that comes from the Holy Spirit. But even as we live and appear unleavened, Pentecost (and the sacrament of Confirmation) enact a reality of fulfillment that remains hidden to everything but faith as long as Christ's glory remains veiled to the world.

Micheal points out that in Acts 2 Peter talks about Pentecost in eschatological terms - as if Christ had returned. In a very real way he had, for at Pentecost, his body on earth - the Church - was sacramentally established. This is where the beautiful connection with Tobit comes in. Tobit, a just man, has been afflicted with suffering a la Job. He prays for the Lord to remove these burdens or release him from this world as Job does AND as David does in Psalm 22 in words ultimately written to be prayed from the cross. At the same time 7 men had died on their wedding night while seeking to consummate their union with Raguel's daughter Sarah.


Tobit 3
7: On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it also happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was reproached by her father's maids,
8: because she had been given to seven husbands, and the evil demon Asmodeus had slain each of them before he had been with her as his wife. So the maids said to her, "Do you not know that you strangle your husbands? You already have had seven and have had no benefit from any of them.
9: Why do you beat us? If they are dead, go with them! May we never see a son or daughter of yours!"
10: When she heard these things she was deeply grieved, even to the thought of hanging herself. But she said, "I am the only child of my father; if I do this, it will be a disgrace to him, and I shall bring his old age down in sorrow to the grave.
11: So she prayed by her window and said, "Blessed art thou, O Lord my God, and blessed is thy holy and honored name for ever. May all thy works praise thee for ever.
12: And now, O Lord, I have turned my eyes and my face toward thee.
13: Command that I be released from the earth and that I hear reproach no more.
14: Thou knowest, O Lord, that I am innocent of any sin with man,
15: and that I did not stain my name or the name of my father in the land of my captivity. I am my father's only child, and he has no child to be his heir, no near kinsman or kinsman's son for whom I should keep myself as wife. Already seven husbands of mine are dead. Why should I live? But if it be not pleasing to thee to take my life, command that respect be shown to me and pity be taken upon me, and that I hear reproach no more."
16: The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the glory of the great God.

So the righteous man and the righteous daughter are both seeking the mercy of God. God sends the archangel Raphael to lead Tobit's son to the house of Raguel where he will take Sarah from the demon and join with her in marriage, which results in a wealth of liberating grace for both families. There's all sorts of sacramental imagery with the fish and smoke and restoration of sight to the blind. But above all there is the typological representation of the Church. God's people have been freed from the clutches of Satan by the union Christ. This marriage was consummated on the cross and our new life in the Spirit was proclaimed at Pentecost. And though that is the true reality of the situation, our full understanding of it will not come until the film is removed from our eyes.

Tobit 11
1: After this Tobias went on his way, praising God because he had made his journey a success. And he blessed Raguel and his wife Edna. So he continued on his way until they came near to Nineveh.
2: Then Raphael said to Tobias, "Are you not aware, brother, of how you left your father?
3: Let us run ahead of your wife and prepare the house.
4: And take the gall of the fish with you." So they went their way, and the dog went along behind them.
5: Now Anna sat looking intently down the road for her son.
6: And she caught sight of him coming, and said to his father, "Behold, your son is coming, and so is the man who went with him!"
7: Raphael said, "I know, Tobias, that your father will open his eyes.
8: You therefore must anoint his eyes with the gall; and when they smart he will rub them, and will cause the white films to fall away, and he will see you."
9: Then Anna ran to meet them, and embraced her son, and said to him, "I have seen you, my child; now I am ready to die." And they both wept.
10: Tobit started toward the door, and stumbled. But his son ran to him
11: and took hold of his father, and he sprinkled the gall upon his father's eyes, saying, "Be of good cheer, father."
12: And when his eyes began to smart he rubbed them,
13: and the white films scaled off from the corners of his eyes.

This is similar to Paul's experience:

Acts 9
8: Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
9: And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10: Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani'as. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Anani'as." And he said, "Here I am, Lord."
11: And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying,
12: and he has seen a man named Anani'as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."
13: But Anani'as answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem;
14: and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name."
15: But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;
16: for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
17: So Anani'as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
18: And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized

The message of Pentecost - as with the book of Tobit, and the story of Paul's conversion - is that Christ has already made "all things new" but that we must search for, discover, and be remade by the Spirit as living organisms that grow and develop in the fullness of time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

the luminous mysteries

It just occurred to me (and I'm sure it's probably spelled out purposely in Rosarium Virginis Mariae) but the 5 luminous mysteries are strung together beautifully by the Gospel statements which encapsulate each.

1. The Baptism in the Jordan - Matthew 3:17
And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

2. The Wedding Feast at Cana - John 2:5
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

3. Proclamation of the Kingdom of God - Mark 1:14-15
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15: and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."

4. The Transfiguration - Matthew 17:5
He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

5. The Establishment of the Eucharist - Luke 22:19-20
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

There is such beauty in the way these phrases flow from one to the next - affirming, instructing, and establishing the scriptural, liturgical, and sacramental life of the Church, and the spiritual path each of us is called to walk. It's not rocket science, and it's not something only available to the intellectual and accomplished. These are the words of the Gospel that flow with the Holy Spirit for all. By embedding them in these Luminous Mysteries, John Paul gave all the faithful a means to learn them and lean on them under the care and guidance of Christ's Blessed Mother. I'm very grateful to him for this pastoral gift.

Monday, May 14, 2007

and He shall purify

Continuing on the topic in the post below , these verses from Malachi allow things to be developed in different directions.

Malachi 1
1: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple;

Suddenly. If our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, then the day of the Lord will present each of us with a moment where we "suddenly" behold this reality. If we are not diligent in building up an awareness of this inevitable revelation in our hearts, it will come as an unwelcome shock. It will be a shock, nonetheless - but someone striving to build their faith recognizes that humility is the key to accepting God's grace. If met with humility, the shock of that super-reality which transcends our current abilities to comprehend will be accompanied by the grace needed to endure it. And grace will be needed...

2: But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap;
3: he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD.


When we read about the purification of the temple in Maccabees (or at any point in the OT when Israel underwent violent refresher courses in covenant love) it is purposefully frightening - a marker on the road that points away from the journey of sin and back to obedience to the Father. Any sin is like a blot of ink in glass of water. In comparison to the "good" that is God (see Matthew 19:16-17) it is an infinite stain. The only way to remove comes from the infinite mercy of the Cross. And it is no small thing to behold the reality of our sin. It is the crucified Jesus. And as Zechariah and John both tell us, we "will look on him whom we have pierced." Asking for God's mercy in the face of this reality, with the veil of this world lifted, will be an experience similar to enduring the refiner's fire.

There is no way to avoid the implication in Scripture that our physical bodies - the temple of the Holy Spirit - are meant to physically endure this experience. But there is also no way to avoid that with the Holy Spirit within them, they will not endure it alone. Christ said, "my yoke is easy, my burden is light". Jesus plans to purify each one of us from within - to give us hearts of flesh, (Ezekiel 36:26) and then, in turn, make us into living stones to build the new temple of his body, the Church.

Malachi then describes what will become of us based on how we've endured the purification.

4: Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
5: "Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.
6: "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.
7: From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, `How shall we return?'
8: Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, `How are we robbing thee?' In your tithes and offerings.
9: You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you.


How do we rob from God? If all we have is from the Lord, and we choose to keep anything for ourselves - including any part of our hearts, minds, and bodies - then we have stolen. We must give all. Totus tuus. When we give the Lord all, he implores us to ask for more!

10: Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

And the next two verses are exemplary of the only person in creation to give all, ask for more, and whose body was thus made a perfect realization of the new temple. The daughter of Zion. The New Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant.

11: I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.

Compare with Revelation 12

1: And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
2: she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.
3: And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads.
4: His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth;
5: she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne,
6: and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God,

12: Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

Compare with Luke 1

46: And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
47: and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48: for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49: for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened

The ability to work with women in crisis, to allow them to voice their fears, grief, and weaknesses is a true gift. not every one could do what we do. and i say that not to brag about what we do, but rather in humility that we were given this ability to "walk with women and men in their darkest hours". we do not judge, we do not run away, we do not fear to hear the unspeakable. this is the work we do. some divine power has allowed us to be present in others' lives and bear their burdens for a bit, yet still have our own lives, our own joys. it can not have been an accident that we were granted this ability.

Diogenes at CWNews pulled this from an abortion clinic blog. He goes on to quote Hannah Arendt talking about how the rank and file Nazis were empowered to commit atrocities by self-pity. They were the victims for having to endure witnessing the suffering. This is the same shift in personal focus that was at the heart of Satan's first temptation of Christ in the desert.

Matthew 4
1: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2: And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.
3: And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."
4: But he answered, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"

Jesus is hungry. Satan wants Jesus to focus on how he is hungry, and that it is not fair for him to be hungry. After all, he's the Son of God. This is completely true. It was unjust for Christ to endure suffering of any degree. But that inequity is suffered intentionally out of love for us. As Christ said even about his own crucifixion.

John 10
17: For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.
18: No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father."

There is no self-pity in those words. Though they describe what is an ultimate, unapproachable degree of injustice, there is not a hint of "woe is me". Were Christ to have felt a smidgen of self-pity, we would all be dust once more. Love perseveres through slights and burdens upon our person. That is why Jesus directed Satan to the source of his ability to elude the temptation to self-pity - obedience to the will of the Father:

Deuteronomy 8
1: "All the commandment which I command you this day you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers. 2: And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.
3: And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
4: Your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years.
5: Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. 6: So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
7: For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills,
8: a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,
9: a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.

It is a simple decision to make. Self or God. Good or Evil. Beauty or Perversion. Truth or Lie. But once the wrong decision is made, the poisoning evil of self-pity wraps us up like a spider, and smothered in its numbing cocoon of death, our intoxication can present us with a reality where doing evil is doing good, slaughtering the innocent is harsh but noble burden, and glorifying our pathetic selves is actually doing the will of God.

The book Ordinary Men, by historian Christopher Browning, is another revealing study of how quick and completely we can surrender our humanity by making that one terrible decision and giving into the self-pity which transforms our evil undertaking into first a thankless necessity, and finally a divine charge.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

if the body is the new temple...

...then what is the abomination Christ is referring to?

Daniel 11
31: Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.

Matthew 24:
9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.
10: And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another.
11: And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
12: And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold.
13: But he who endures to the end will be saved.
14: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
15: "So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
16: then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains;
17: let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house;
18: and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle.
19: And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days!
20: Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath.
21: For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
22: And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
23: Then if any one says to you, `Lo, here is the Christ!' or `There he is!' do not believe it.
24: For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
25: Lo, I have told you beforehand.
26: So, if they say to you, `Lo, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; if they say, `Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.
27: For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man.
28: Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

I'm sure a very detailed case could be made using the language of JP II's Theology of the Body, that something which dramatically severs the relationship between the physical body and God the Father and Creator is an "abomination that makes desolate".

Since we are the branches of the vine, and the living stones of the new temple, what makes us desolate physically serves to reject the life of the Spirit that should be allowed freedom to transform us. And, through the covenant relationship that God set forth "in the beginning" with Adam and Eve - which is also reaffirmed throughout sacred scripture - the Spirit completes the building of the new temple, that same Body of Christ into which we are baptized.

So, what abomination makes our bodies desolate?
Contraception.

Since we are called to become one with Christ - who rebuilt the temple of the Lord's presence in three days - purposefully making the marriage union desolate is an abomination of the first order. It's bad enough that we as a people so easily dismiss the covenant bond necessary for physical union, its worse still for those who have joined in the sacrament of marriage to use artificial contraception. If our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and our union in marriage a living echo of the love of the Trinity, then to make ourselves desolate is a much worse offense than the pigs slaughtered on the altar by Antiochus Epiphanes.