Friday, May 29, 2009


Okay.... remember the first book of the Bible, what is it called? Genesis! Yes. And the first part of the Bible is called....? The Old Testament! Yes, and the second part is....The New Testament! Yes, the Old one was written in....Hebrew, yes, and the New in....Greek! Very good, honorary sons & daughters.

Remember in Genesis, God created everything in two days, and! He needed 6 days! Oh yeah...six days. And then he rested from creating everything on the 3rd the 7th!...oh yeah, on Tuesday...ha! no, Saturday! Right, God worked for 6 days making everything, then he took the 7th day off which we call... Saturday. Yes.

In Genesis, chapter 1 is all about creation, days 1 through 6. Then at the start of chapter 2, we read "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." Now the Bible doesn't say the 7th day had a name. But it's the day God rested from all his work. We hear it two times in two sentences: God rested from all his work. When things are repeated in the Bible it's for emphasis: pay attention.

We know Genesis was written in....? Hebrew. Yes. The Hebrew word for 'to stop working,' or 'rest,' is Shabbath (I put it on the board). So on the 7th day God shabbathed, he rested. So what do we call that day of rest? It's almost the same in English as in Hebrew...oh! Sabbath! (Sabbath goes on the board under Shabbath) Yes, genius at work, Sabbath! So we still shabbath on the Sabbath, that is we....? Rest! Yes, we rest from our work. Since the Sabbath was the last day of the week, that's what day? Saturday. Yes, the day we go to Mass. But we go to Mass on Sunday, not Saturday! Oh yeah, Sunday is our Sabbath. Jewish people still have Sabbath on Saturday, why is Sunday our Sabbath? Because we go to Mass on Sunday. Yes, right, so why is Mass on Sunday? No guesses...OK, what day did Jesus rise from the dead? Easter Sunday! Yes, the Gospels actually tell us it was the first day of the week, Sunday. So the Christian Sabbath is on Sunday to mark the Resurrection.

By the way, in English the last day of the week is "Saturday"...who is it named after? Saturn. Yes, a Roman make-believe god. But some languages still use the word for Sabbath...como se llama Saturday en Espanol? How do you say Saturday in Spanish? Sabado. Yes (goes on the board under Sabbath), and in Greek it's Sabbato (Σάββατο), in Italian it's Sabato.

Back to resting: after all that work God did, I guess he was just exhausted, right? Ready to go to bed early? Do you think God gets tired? No.... Why not? Well, he's God. Right, God's all-powerful; a Latin word for that is omnipotent (goes on the board). God never gets tired. But I get tired, everybody I know who works hard gets worn slap out. But not God; so why did God rest, even though he wasn't tired? So we would rest when we were tired? Yes, to set an example for us. So who is the Sabbath, the rest day for? For us, for people. Yes.

And later, resting on the Sabbath became a rule, the third Commandment. In the Book of Exodus, it's long:

"Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or anyone in your town."

People were careful not to work on the Sabbath, but what's work? I mean, it's work if I go my office, but is it work to take out the trash? Or unclog a toilet? So people wanted to be sure, and in Jesus' day there were 39 rules about what was or wasn't work on the Sabbath. Jesus got into arguments with the Pharisees when he did things such as picking a handful of grain (act it out) or healing people on the Sabbath (act it out)....wasn't that doctor's work? But Jesus said, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Jesus didn't mean we can do whatever we want on Sunday. Rather we should make it a special day by doing things like paying God some attention, relaxing, having a good time with the family, or visiting someone in the hospital.

So think positively like Jesus about how to rest and keep the Lord's Day holy, not negatively like the Pharisees.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

David & Nathan

Tell me please, in the Bible who was the kid with the slingshot? That's easy, David. Yes, David. When he grew up, he became King of Israel. He was close to God, enjoyed God's favor for most of his life. He even talked straight to God, and God would talk right back:

David inquired of the LORD, "Shall I go and attack these Philistines?" And the LORD said to David, "Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah."

David asked, "Will Saul come down?" And the LORD said, "He will come down."

Then David said, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the LORD said, "They will surrender you." (all 1Samuel 23)

Whether or not David heard God speaking out loud isn't the point, although he may have. What matters is that David had God's ear, so to speak. He went straight to God and heard right back....Old Testament Instant Messaging.

Years later when David was king, he fell in love with a woman named Bathsheba, who was married to a man named Uriah. David wanted Bathsheba for himself, so he arranged for Uriah to be accidentally killed on purpose. Then David married Bathsheba. David clearly committed some serious sins, including conceiving a baby with Bathsheba while she was married to Uriah. (2Sam 11...act it out)

How did David do that ? Do what? You know...the baby. I tell you what, ask your parents if you want to know the details- they conceived you, after all.

Y'all don't know who Nathan is yet, do you? No. Nathan was a prophet who had been authorized by God to be the King's keep him out of trouble, and to scold him if necessary. Nathan knew David needed to repent of these serious sins in order to rule Israel well, but it's not smart to just tell a King, "hey King, you super sinner, everybody knows how bad you are, you'd better repent or else!" Kings have big egos, they think they're so great, a King would just get mad...that's how John the Baptist lost his head, by the way.

Instead of yelling at King David, Nathan tells him a sad story:

"O great King, let me tell you about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had lots of sheep, more than he needed, but the poor man had only one little lamb. It grew up in his family along with his children; it was like another daughter to him. (I pretend to cradle a dear little lamb.)
Then one day the rich man needed a sheep for a feast, but being a bigshot, instead of using one of his own, he took the the poor man's lamb instead." (this is from 2 Samuel 12; tell it your own way)
King David blew his top! He yelled, "that selfish jerk is gonna pay for that big time! That's outrageous! He treated that poor guy like dirt!"
But Nathan said, "That rich man is you! God's given you so much, but you stole Uriah's wife Bathsheba, and then had him killed to try to cover up your sins!"
Now, here's where it gets interesting. Did God already know David's sins? Yes. In fact, did God know David's sins before David was even born? Yes. And David's a smart guy, he would have known that God was aware of his sins, right? Right! And of course, David knew he had sinned by having, umm, married love with a woman he wasn't married to, and getting her husband killed.
So why hadn't David repented? Well, he just put it off. Yes. He could do what I like to do, just tell God he's sorry, what the heck, God knows all his sins anyway. He didn't have to admit it to anyone else, so he kept his pride. I like to keep my pride, too. Just like Adam and Eve.

But David acknowledged his terrible sins to Nathan, who was God's authorized advisor and scold. Instead of saying, "Interesting story Nathan, but I haven't killed any lambs, stop wasting Royal time," and later on going straight to God to apologize and seek forgiveness, he 'fesses up to Nathan, "
I have sinned against the LORD." Now, recap: did God know David's sins? Yes! And did Nathan know David's sins, at least a few really big bad ones? Yes! And did David know David's sins? Yes! And could David go straight to God for all sorts of stuff, as we saw earlier? Yes!

So....why did David bother to confess to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD"? OK....have you ever been mean to your Mom? Yeees.... And were you sorry right away? Yes! Did you 'fess up right away? Nooo... No, because you wanted to hang onto what Adam & Eve hung onto, your...pride! Yes, we all love our pride, ourselves, instead of loving others. What's the opposite of being prideful? Being humble! Yes.

Back to your Mom- when you felt sorry, did she know you were sorry without you saying so? Yes, she can tell. So if you apologize, you're just telling her what she already knows. So why does she want you to say you're sorry out loud? It makes her feel better. Yes, but there's another reason. When you tell her you're sorry, what does she say say back? She says that's ok, she forgives me. And how do you feel? Better. Yes, you humble yourself by saying that you did something wrong, and you're sorry; it's hard. But your apology allows your Mom to say she forgives you. It wouldn't be right for her to say it first, although she probably would want to because she loves you. You're humble; Mom's merciful. And after you say you're sorry and she says you're forgiven, how else might her body show you're forgiven? She'll hug me. Yes, and how do you feel? Happy. Yes, often we're happiest after we've just repented and been forgiven, in spirit and....physically! And what 2 things make a person, by the way? A body and a soul! Yes, they go together, bodynsoul. So if your soul is sorry, what else should be sorry? Your body! And one way your body shows it is? By saying you're sorry. Yes, out loud, just like King David. It's humbling.

Now back to King David. David didn't just privately confess to God. He confessed his sin to God through Nathan, who was God's physical representative. He physically humbled himself before another person, because being a bodynsoul his spirit had to confess to a spirit, and his body had to confess to.....? another body! Yes, and since Jesus wasn't around yet, God wasn't physically what did David do? He confessed to Nathan. Yes. And what does your Mom do after you say you're sorry? She forgives me! Yes. So guess what Nathan did after David confessed? Umm...he forgave David? Yes! Plain as day, Nathan said, "The LORD has put away your sin..." Trick question: how do you know if your Mom forgives you for something you do? Umm, she says I'm forgiven? Yes, the words go right out of her mouth and into your ear. Next trick question: how did David know his sins were forgiven? Nathan told him right in his ear! Yes! But David didn't sin against Nathan...who said Nathan could speak for God? Umm, God said so? Yes, God appointed Nathan, and gave him that authority. We know this because the Bible says that God would tell Nathan what to tell David. So when David heard the words from Nathan, he could believe them.

This story about David and Nathan should remind you of how Catholics confess our sins to God. Can we pray straight to God like David? Yes! But when we want to confess our serious sins, and be forgiven, what do we do? Confess to a priest. Yes, just as David confessed to Nathan. And how do we know we're forgiven? The priest says so. Yes, just like Nathan. And how do we know the priest can do that? He speaks for God. Yes...just like Nathan. He's got authority from Jesus' Church.

When I was a kid the priest would say: "May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen." The words are a bit different now, but the priest still speaks for Jesus so you can hear the words go right into your ear, just as Nathan spoke for God in the Old Testament. We and David are forgiven, body and...? Bodynsoul! Yes, bodynsoul.

By the way, after you are forgiven your sins, the priest usually wants you to do something......oh, penance. Yes. David had to do penance too, but that's another story.

So next time you go to confession, think about David and.... Nathan!


(How about that pic of David & Nathan at the top....some serious rebukin' goin' on!)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Whole Lotta Props

My Catechism class is held in a recently-renovated middle-school building. The classroom has a smartboard and other aids that I don't know how to operate, which may be for the best. I'm not teaching a full classroom of kids who'll be taking notes on several subjects during a 180-day, 6-hour per day academic year. We also don't watch movies, or do anything that takes time away from live instruction, 55+ minutes nonstop each meeting. Of course, the kids are tired in the evening, and 6th graders like the stimulation of visual aids (don't we all?), so in lieu of technology-enabled visuals, I provide...a whole lot of props.

Before I get to the props, some background. A constant theme in class is that God made us Body & Soul, two parts that make a unique, unified whole. I want the kids to think: I'm a Body & Soul; I'm a body&soul; imabody'n'soul, imabodynsoul...... Always think of them at once: bodynsoul. It helps to understand Catholicism. God communicates to us, loves us through both aspects, spiritually & physically; we respond likewise....bodynsoul. Most (not all) of the props have to do with telling Bible stories where something physical acts as a conduit for God's power. These lessons lay a philosophical groundwork for the kids to see the reasonableness of Sacraments. Let's Get Physical

With that very brief introduction, on to the props:

A plastic fetus comes in handy all the time...abortion, marriage, the Annunciation, Christmas. Doesn't everybody have one? Current Events

My jacket for portraying Elijah cloaking Elisha (1Kings 19), and for parting the Jordan (2Kings 2). We see the cloak used as a (physical) symbol of (invisible) authority, and as a medium for divine power. Wednesday Sunday School

A dishrag for portraying Acts 19:11, and to discuss relics & sacraments. The rag comes up later in a different context with a little American flag.

A long stick for portraying Moses striking the Rock (medium for divine power). Used again with a foot-long stick to explain canonization (from the Greek word for measuring stick, a rule, kanon / κανών) Church authority, and sacraments. Wednesday Sunday School

A rubber ball for explaining free will. The ball has no choice but to bounce back up or fall back down. Where there is choice, there's free will, and morality.

Balloons to discuss Mary's womb and body and soul. An inflated balloon is obviously more balloon-y than an airless one. Pneuma & Einstein

A chicken bone to portray how Elisha's bones brought a dead man back to life (2Kings 13:20), and to discuss relics, intercession, and sacraments. Recaps

A small American flag to illustrate respect for symbols and names (2nd & 3rd Commandments). I'll pretend to change my grandson's dirty diaper, and pull out a it ok to use this cloth to clean his little butt? Sure. I put it away, pull out the little American it ok to use this cloth to clean his little butt? No! From there we discuss respect for God's symbols, His name, and His Stuff (churches, priests, images, etc.)

A picture of my wedding day is frequently useful (wedding feast, marriage, fidelity, vows, covenants, children, Bride of the Lamb, celibacy (who does the priest marry), etc.)

A picture of my wife as an adult, and one as a child. I use these to discuss marriage, idol worship, the maturing process, and mortality. Barney & St. Augustine

A statue of Mary to discuss idol worship, very useful in the Bible Belt.

A crucifix to portray how 17th century Japanese Christians were martyred because they refused to stomp a crucifix. (respect for God's Stuff)

Copies of Rembrandt's Prodigal Son to facilitate discussion of Confession.

Copies of a painting of the Anastasis to facilitate discussion of the Resurrection, Jesus' descent into 'Hell', Sheol, Purgatory. Anastasis

A pre-Vatican 2 Latin Missal. It's useful just to show the kids some Latin. Plus there are some terrific illustrations on the opening pages of the Ordinary of the Mass. On two facing pages are shown the grapes & wheat; the bread & wine; the Crucifixion; the Last Supper; and a picture of the altar with the Priest and altar boy accompanied by praying angels, thus indicating the Heavenly connection. Trou de Ver & the Mass

Photo of me and two of my kids when they were about 2 and 4 'helping' me wash my car. I use it to discuss how God, who is omnipotent, nonetheless wants us to do what we can to help. Not because God needs helping, any more than I needed toddlers' help to wash the car, but for our own good. I usually introduce the phrase "cui bono?" as part of the discussion. Leitourgia

My key wallet for acting out Isaiah 22, a critical precursor to Christ giving authority to Peter.

An umbrella to visualize the recurring Biblical significance of overshadowing.

I think these are all the props I use. A great thing about them is they can be pulled out on short notice to recall a lesson the kids learned with the prop, then using that recap as a jumping off point for a new lesson.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Continuities & Manifestations

My college Art History courses have had a huge influence on my worldview, maybe as great as that of Latin and Catholicism....all three of which tend to run together for me, a citizen of the West. (for more on this: Education & All That)

My wife's an Art Historian (pure coincidence) and teaches college-level Art & Architectural History. Today we were discussing how in our lifetimes the emphases of Art & Architectural History have ebbed and flowed: history, context, culture, technique, original understanding, current theories, the artist's understanding, you name it. Our essential conclusion, which is hardly unique, is that art is best accessed through an understanding of the culture(s) which produced it and/or valued it. (Let me observe that an awful lot of piffle has been generated in the name of Understanding Art....caveat emptor.)

In some other posts I've looked at how non-material things exist in continuity with physical things: Energy and Matter, Soul and Body, Faith and Works. Expanding on Einstein, in each case the physical is a manifestation of the non-physical. There is a continuity between the two, but we are unable to perceive it. Thus, like the blind men feeling the elephant, we ascribe separateness to things which are not separate, due to our limits of perception. Yet to fully understand anything whose existence lies in both realms requires an awareness of both.

So it is with Art, Architecture, Music, etc.: they are physical manifestations of invisible culture. Culture itself is's only measurable by humans through the things people do or make. I might describe the spiritual component of culture as the collective soul of a group of people. As the Body is the manifestation of an individual Soul in spacetime, likewise is Art the manifestation of a people's soul, mediated through its individual artists.

In experiencing Art, try to perceive the continuous whole: the physical artifact; the mediator/artist; and the collective soul that it makes visible.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Yet another dose of the Holy Spirit?

At my parish kids are Confirmed in 7th or 8th grade. My 6th graders aren't far from that, so we cover some Confirmation fundamentals. Here's how we learn a few basics that'll prepare them for more specific Confirmation instruction in a year or so:

Who remembers what Messiah means? Umm...Jesus? Mmmm close, Jesus was the Messiah, but Mary never said, "Messiah, take out the trash....Messiah, fetch some water." It's not His name....what's Christos mean, we call Jesus the takers....OK, how about this, when a person was made king, like King David, what was rubbed on his head? Oh, oil! Yes, oil; another word for that oil is ointment. We don't say the King gets oiled, that sounds gross. Putting the ointment on his head is called what? Anointing! Yes. That's what we say in English. Sometimes we say Jesus was the Anointed One...why was that? Because he was a King. Yes.

Remind me please, what were the two main languages the Bible was written in...Chinese and Russian? No, Greek. Yes, Greek, and....? Latin? No, it was translated into Latin, that was later, good guess though. Who saw Prince of Egypt? Who were those people Pharaoh let go? Oh, Hebrews! Yeah, I guess they spoke Chinese? No, they spoke Hebrew! So the languages of the Bible are...Greek and Hebrew! Yes! And Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christos, or Christ would be...? Greek for anointed! Yes. They both mean anointed. At Baptism a baby gets oil put on its head, it's called Chrism, the Greek word for oil. When priests are ordained, their hands are anointed with Chrism, too. See how Christ and Chrism are related?

All these anointings with Holy Chrism mark a permanent change in the anointed people: the King is permanently King; a baby becomes a member of Christ's family; a priest is permanently a priest. When you are Confirmed, you'll be anointed, too, marking a permanent change in you. Sort of a spiritual doesn't come off. By the way, the Greek churches call Confirmation 'Chrismation'...why is that? Because that's Greek for Anointing? Yes, genius at work, you are right!

Somebody tell me, why were Abraham and Sara unhappy for a long time? They were sad because they couldn't have a baby. Yes, but God blessed them with a son even though they were very old...what was the son called? Remember Abraham nearly sacrificed him later....? Oh, Isaac! Yes, Isaac. And what does Isaac mean? Laughing! Yes, laughter; why is he called Laughter? 'Cause they were so happy to have a baby! Yes. I felt like laughing when my kids were born, too.

Isaac grew up and had two sons, Esau and Jacob. They were twins, but Esau popped out first, so he was the firstborn. The firstborn usually inherits from the father all the goodies (tents, camels, iPods) and the father's authority. The father blesses the firstborn son by laying his hands on him when he grows up; that's how he gets all the stuff and becomes the new boss of the family. But Esau wasn't too sharp, and Jacob tricked him out of his inheritance. Jacob and Rebekah, his mom, also tricked old Isaac, who couldn't see very well. They disguised Jacob, and Isaac laid hands on Jacob, and blessed him, but Isaac thought he was blessing Esau. So although in spirit he blessed Esau, with his hands Isaac blessed Jacob.

Esau found out about the trick, and told Isaac to bless him, too. But guess what? Isaac couldn't give Esau the blessing! And he couldn't take it back from Jacob, either! Isaac said, "Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing.” So even though it doesn't seem fair, Isaac's misplaced blessing was permanent. Not even Isaac could undo it.

Some blessings are like Isaac's: so special that they make a permanent difference. You can usually tell a blessing is special when someone with authority puts his hands on the head of the person being blessed.

(This story runs from Genesis 25 to 27; as time allows in class, I flesh it out from the barebones account above. It's a great one for acting out: "Dad, you what? I was supposed to get the camels and the iPods!")

There are lots of other times when people received special blessings or authority by having hands laid on them:

Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) laid hands on Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, one hand per head (Gen: 48, this is a great one to act out!).

Moses laid hands on Joshua; a man named Ananias laid hands on St. Paul after St. Paul was blinded when Jesus appeared to him; St. Paul laid hands on Timothy, one of the first bishops, and later instructed Timothy about laying his own hands on others.

(The Bible also shows that people can be healed through laying of hands and anointing, but that's a subject for another class.)

Starting with the Apostles and Paul, the Church maintains the Old Testament tradition by "handing" down blessings and authority through bishops laying hands. It's a 2,000 year living chain that connects us back to Jesus. So in a couple of years when you're Confirmed, you'll become a part of that chain.

And when y'all are Confirmed, are y'all going to be bishops? Ha! No! Oh....are you going to be priests or deacons? No, we just stay the same. Well, actually you don't stay the same, there is a change, but the change isn't obvious.

When a baby is born, what's the first thing Christian parents do? Get the baby baptized. Yes, when the priest squirts ketchup on it? No! He uses water! Oh yeah, water....what does the water wash away? Original sin! Yes...and if the priest prays real hard but doesn't pour water on the baby, does that work? No! Right; like Jesus said, you have to be born again of water and spirit. So the water and the Holy Spirit together change the baby. Can you tell the baby is different? His head's wet. Uh-huh, thank you for your contribution.....after his head dries off, he seems exactly the same as before, but the Holy Spirit's made a big spiritual change. Original sin is gone, and the baby is permanently changed, even if he sins when he gets older. He can never be un-baptized.

Through Baptism the baby is cleaned of Original Sin by a big first dose of the Holy Spirit.

But in the New Testament we see the Apostles get extra doses of the Holy Spirit after Baptism. The second time is when the resurrected Jesus breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20)

Then on Pentecost Sunday the Apostles got a third dose of the Holy Spirit. What did that dose look like? You could see it above their heads.... Oh, fire! Yes, fire; they were fired up! It made them understandable by speakers of other languages, and spiritually strengthened them so they could go out in the world and spread the Good News. (Acts 2)

So we know the Apostles got at least three separate doses of the Holy Spirit. I doubt they looked any different after any of them, so don't be disappointed if you look the same after Confirmation.

Later in Acts we read of the Apostles 'handing' out second doses of the Spirit to people who were baptized, like this: "Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-18) The Bishops today lay hands that same way.

The dose of the Holy Spirit we all receive at Confirmation doesn't authorize us to forgive sins, but it is a bit like the Apostles' last dose on Pentecost. You'll be spiritually strengthened, and receive what are called Gifts of the Holy Spirit; the Greek word for that is charism. Everyone doesn't get the same charisms: like St. Paul said, a body has different parts, but they all work together. So you'll get something, and it may be years before you realize what it is. It took me about 30 years. My charism is making 6th graders suffer! We know that already. Oh.

These are the things that will happen to you at Confirmation: the Bishop, who is a successor to the Apostles, will lay his hands on you in blessing. You'll be anointed with Holy Chrism. You'll receive another dose of the Holy Spirit, giving you Gifts to help to live your Catholic faith. All these things have been done for God's children for thousands of years, and soon you'll be a link in that living chain of spiritual fire.

Think about it when you're about to be confirmed! Laying hands! Anointing! And....dose of the Holy Spirit! Yes! At Confirmation, pay....? Pay attention!

Yes, good sons and daughters, always pay attention.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mary, come into my office please.

Mary's status as the Mother of God (the Theotokos) is a source of heartburn for many. To better understand the benefits & costs of such favored status, let's look at some status history:

After God established his Covenant with Abraham, his descendants enjoyed the status of being God's people, His children, His sons and daughters:

"....your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you."

But that status came with obligations:

God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.

Keeping the Covenant was first indicated by circumcision. Over time, other obligations accrued, including the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

So while being a Son of Abraham was a good thing, without observing God's ordinances that status wasn't good for much. It could even be disadvantageous. God did a whole lotta rebukin' of people who enjoyed his favor; the word 'rebuke' shows up 77 times in the KJV......

God rebuked Moses:

"The LORD said to Moses, "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."

So Moses....and Aaron gathered the assembly....and Moses said, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."

God rebukes King David through Nathan for his sins involving Bathsheba and Uriah:

"Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife.... Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me...Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun." Yikes....that's harsh.

God rebukes Sons of Abraham through Jeremiah:

For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt....I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. [But] Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not.

And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.

Isaiah rebukes King Hezekiah:

Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the LORD: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."

John the Baptist rebukes some more Sons of Abraham:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits of repentance:

And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Jesus counter-rebukes Peter the rebuker:

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Jesus rebukes Mary:

While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, " Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed." Based on a similar quote by Jesus in Luke 23, that must've been a common phrase to compliment a child and parent.

But He said, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."

Sorry to say this is not a rebuke of Mary, who as far as the whole chapter is concerned, isn't even around to be rebuked. Why would Jesus suggest that His mother isn't blessed? Does he want to rebuke Elizabeth as well? (Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb)

No. Jesus' point is not that his Mother isn't blessed. His point is that her blessedness doesn't come from her status as His mother, but from what she does; she heard the Word of God, and observed it. Jesus is telling the crowd that blessedness comes from faithful works, not status. And notice he doesn't say, "...blessed are those who hear the word of God and believe it." Jesus knows real belief, real faith is shown by one's fruits, one's actions.

Jesus makes the same point in this example in Mark 3:

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”
But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” Jesus essentially restates John's critique of the Pharisees, but in a positive way: works count, not status. He's not excluding his mother & brother, but showing how others can be included.

Jesus rebukes Mary again:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, "They have no wine." Jesus saith unto her, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

We tend to understand Jesus' use of the word 'woman' to be blunt, an admonishment, but the Gospels never have Jesus address his mother as "mother." Other people call her His mother, and He refers to her as 'my mother' (saying 'my woman' wouldn't do). But the only two times he addresses her directly, he says 'woman.' Once is at Cana; the other on the cross: "Woman, behold your son." Sorry, no rebuke.

But then Jesus says, "what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." This I do find brusque, but not accusatory. Thus far Mary has only made an observation. Jesus sounds like he's going into Rabbi mode, by asking a blunt question and waiting for a response before He does or says anything else. It's an opportunity for Mary to say or do something. Then Mary famously says to the stewards, "do whatever he tells you." Sorry again, no rebuke.

But some people say Mary was trying to run things at first, and only after being rebuked did she humbly bow out of the situation, leaving the rest to Jesus. Looking at other cases where people ask Jesus directly for a miracle, I don't think so:

"And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean."

"Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw."

"And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them."

"My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed"

"When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death."

"And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay."

All these people by a combination of words & actions said, fix this, Jesus. Did Jesus rebuke any of them for their effrontery, trying to tell Him what to do, presuming on His power & goodwill? Of course not. And could Mary have said anything milder to Jesus than, "they have no wine"? No. At worst Mary is guilty of asking Jesus to help someone else...a classic case of intercession, and hardly rebukable.

In conclusion I try to imagine myself, with my selfish worldview, rebuking anyone I love for observing to me that someone else has a problem I could help with. I don't think I would; how much less likely would Jesus be?

So don't worry about Mary's status; instead, use her as an example of what to do, just as Jesus suggested.

*Mary, I just wanted to tell you what a fine job you've been doing.....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mass Density (Mass, not mass)

The prior post (nthngbtcnsnnts) about Jesus quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah, using excerpts as oral shorthand to refer to the bigger passages, reminds me of my favorite part of the Mass, also notable for its Biblical density. It's right before Communion:

The priest says "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

Then, "Happy are those who are called to his supper."

And we reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

The Mass marinates in the Bible, but these three lines are especially appropriate at this particular moment, and combine to have a synergistic impact greater the sum of the parts. The high point of the Mass was a couple of minutes earlier, at the Consecration. Now we are moments away from receiving the Body & Blood. I'll shift now to classroom Q&A.

Hey, y'all, where in the Bible have you heard this line before: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?" No takers.....who's the Lamb of God? Jesus! So whoever is talking, is talking about...? Jesus? Yes, in fact the speaker may have been pointing right at Jesus.

So....who was the speaker? Peter? Mmm, a good guess, but no. This person was Jesus's cousin......was a little bit older.......Mary went to visit his mom when they were both pregnant......we call that visit the.....Visitation! Yes! And Mary's older cousin was....? Elizabeth! Yes again, honorary sons & daughters. And who was Elizabeth pregnant with, the baby that jumped inside her? Oh, John the Baptist! Yes, John the Baptist. John said that line to Jesus when He came to be Baptized. By the way, what did John eat in the desert? Bugs! Mmmm, tasty when dipped in honey!

Next line: "Happy are those who are called to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb." Where's the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? In heaven! Where else? At Mass! Yes, because Heaven and Earth are connected at Mass. Who says this line in Heaven? An angel. Yes, in Revelations.

Last line: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." I'll drop dead if anyone knows the Bible story this comes from. The words in Mass are way different from the Bible story. In Matthew & Luke's gospels this line is "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; only say the word and my servant shall be healed." Oh, it was the guy who wanted his servant healed... Yeah, that wasn't too tough after hearing it the regular way. Who was this guy....the popsicle man? No, a soldier. An Imperial Stormtrooper? Ha, no a Roman soldier. Yes. He was a pagan; he worshiped Jupiter, Vulcan, make-believe gods.

Back to the Mass, here's what happens: the priest raises the Host, and quotes John the Baptist: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." This reminds us that Jesus is just as physically present to us at that moment as he was when John said it at the Jordan River. It's the Lamb of God, it's Jesus. And what's the deal with the Passover Lamb? You have to eat it! Right. Kill, spill, your fill! Yes.

Then the priest quotes the Angel of Revelations: "Happy are those who are called to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb." This reminds us we're about to share in the Wedding Feast. It's in which two places? Heaven and Earth. And who is the Lamb marrying? The Church! Why? Because he loves Her! Yes. So much that He died for Her. So it's a happy feast, but serious, too.

Then we quote the centurion: "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; only say the word and my servant shall be healed." I really like to say this. I always have to pray for faith before Communion because it looks like bread. I struggle with doubt even while I believe. But I'm reminded of the faith of the centurion. He believed Jesus could miraculously heal his servant without even seeing him; and even though he was a Roman officer, he was so humble that he didn't feel worthy to have Jesus come to his house. If a pagan can have such faith and humility then it's not beyond my reach.

This is how the Church uses the Bible to prepare us to receive Jesus at Mass. But you have to know what the verses mean, and think about them, for it to work. Think about John and Jesus at the Jordan, the Wedding Feast, and the believing Roman officer, and why the stories are put together right before Communion.

At Mass you should attention! That's right!

(Doesn't that look like the Angel Standing in the Sun? It's the Rodina statue in Volgograd)

Friday, May 8, 2009


Can you read that? It's nthngbtcnsnnts!*

In 2004 archaeologists and researchers were able to translate a tiny silver scroll (shown above close to life-size) found in 1979 at Ketef Hinnom, an archaeological site near Jerusalem. It's understood to be the oldest extant written record of a Bible passage, dating back to the 6th century BC. Written in old Hebrew, it has no indication of vowel sounds. That's not unusual for very old alphabets. As far as I know, all alphabets started with just consonants. And not only were there no vowels, but there were no spaces between the words, or punctuation, or upper/lower case, which was also typical. For example, I don't think the West began to space words until the late Middle Ages. There wasn't much demand for making reading easy until the printing press made books widely available, and a newly-literate public didn't want to labor over their Romance novels. The scribes made a nice living for a few millennia...then literacy became a do-it-yourself job.

Imagine reading a manuscript which is simply page after page of a single uninterrupted stream of consonants. To read it at least the first time could require the assistance of someone who already knew what it 'said'. 'Reading' would be a combination of sounding out the text while hearing or remembering the meaning at least in general terms. And learning the contents of a book might involve more listening and repeating than time spent actually 'reading' the text, especially if a group of students and their teacher had but one copy to share. The Greek word 'catechize' hints at this, meaning to sound-out, or as its root suggests, to echo: the teacher speaks, the students echo back. What we'd call being functionally literate with the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, in Jesus' day would have thus been a full-time pursuit, involving years of reading/memorization, and restricted to such as scribes and Pharisees. But memorization (think of Homer and the Iliad) would allow for instant access to swathes of information that I can't come up with except by turning lots of pages, or cheating with an online Bible (heh). Easy-to-read prose has stunted my memorization skills. Pharisees would surely roll their eyes at me: just wait a sec, I gotta look that up.

I use the NAB (New American Bible) for general reading. For quoting, I usually use the KJV if it's not too fusty. I like the NAB for its notes; I haven't found another version whose references and commentaries suit me as well. They help me compensate for not having a scribe or Pharisee's instant command of memorized text.

Speaking of the Tanakh, have you ever heard this before:

"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them."

I understand this. Greedy moneychangers, no respect for the Holy Precincts, righteous anger, Jesus steps on other peoples' turf, heals a wretch or two. No problem. Heard this & read it for 40 years, I got it.

Then one day two items in the notes caught my eye: 'house of prayer' comes from Isaiah 56:7, and 'den of thieves' from Jeremiah 7:11. Oh. Jesus is quoting prophets; I thought he was just talking. But rest assured that any scribe within earshot knew right away that Jesus had just quoted Isaiah and Jeremiah, and wasn't just showing off. He was using the small phrases as oral shorthand to refer to the bigger passages in which they were found, and he meant something by putting both passages together.

Just wait a sec, I gotta look that up.

Isaiah 56:7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

Who's gonna be joyful? To get some context, we have to read verses 1-8 (edited):

1Thus saith the LORD: my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.

2Blessed is the man that keepeth the Sabbath.

3Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.

4For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and take hold of my covenant;

5Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

6Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath, and taketh hold of my covenant;

7Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

8The Lord GOD, which gathers the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

My synopsis: there will be a time when God's Covenant will extend to all people, including foreigners; even outcasts such as eunuchs. What will matter is not one's status as a son of Abraham, but whether one truly believes God's law and acts accordingly. Indeed the faithful eunuch may be closer to God than sons and daughters.

Just another sec while I look up the other one:

Jeremiah 7:11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of thieves to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Uh...watching what, exactly? Once again we need context, verses 1-15 (edited):

1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : 2 "Stand at the gate of the LORD's house and there proclaim this message:

"Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. 3 This is what the LORD says: Reform your ways and I will let you live in this place. 45 If you really change your ways then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers forever. 8 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"

9 "Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of thieves to you?"

12 "Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your fathers. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim."

My synopsis: Jeremiah stands at the Temple Gate and warns: one's status as one of the Chosen people will not compensate for failing to observe God's law. If God's people do not repent of numerous sins, He will not allow them to stay in "the land I gave your forefathers forever." God offers Shiloh's fate as an example of what could (and did, in 587 BC) happen to the Temple.

What happened at Shiloh? Just another sec while I look it up: 1Samuel: 4 (heavily edited):

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines; Israel was defeated. The elders of Israel asked, "Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today? Let us bring the Ark of the LORD's covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies."

4 So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the Ark. And Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark.

When they learned that the Ark had come into the Israelite camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid. "A god has come into the camp," they said. 8 Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with plagues. But the Philistines fought bravely, and the Israelites were defeated again. The Ark was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road. The man hurried over to Eli. "Israel has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured."

Eli fell backward off his chair, broke his neck and died. 19 His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant. When she heard that the Ark had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth to a son, but was dying herself.

21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, "The glory has departed from Israel"-because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, "The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured."

My synopsis: Shiloh was Israel's first assembly-place, a proto-capital where the Ark of the Covenant was originally kept in a tent. Thus it was where God dwelt among his people. Israel had a misplaced faith that God would never abandon them, regardless of any failure on their part to observe his law. The result was this catastrophic disaster. Israel could not have imagined that God would permit the loss of the Ark. Shiloh was destroyed as well (1067 BC). Israel eventually recovered the Ark, but it never was returned to Shiloh.

Now I assume that as fast as Temple cognoscenti heard Jesus say house of prayer and den of thieves, they would have recalled Isaiah and Jeremiah's prophecies; and any Jew would remember Shiloh, as I remember the Alamo and Pearl Harbor.

Putting Jeremiah and Isaiah together I get this:

Jesus stands at the Temple Gate as Jeremiah did, acting out Jeremiah's authority. He says the people (and especially the current Temple staff) are as unfaithful as they were in Jeremiah's day, and predicts through Jeremiah that Jerusalem will suffer a catastrophe as great as Shiloh, which was destroyed and never served as God's dwelling again. A disaster that exceeds any worst-case scenario. Yet somehow amidst that disaster, outsiders, outcasts, and Gentiles might join themselves to the LORD, take hold of His covenant, and enjoy a status that exceeds that of sons and daughters. And this will happen in God's house of prayer, which Jesus implies won't be in Jerusalem, which will have suffered Shiloh's fate.

I expect the chief priests and the teachers of the law understood Jesus' underlying, and more ominous message clearly and quickly; they'd have known the message was for their ears; they would have felt insulted and threatened far beyond the "house of prayer-den of thieves" couplet. And let's not forget, "....the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them." Jesus acts out Isaiah, receiving these outcasts into the Temple court, and shows his divine authority to admit them by healing them, a further provocation.

Small wonder that within a few days, Annas & Caiaphas arranged Jesus' crucifixion.

That's an awful lot of Christian prophecy to extract from the zipfile of "house of prayer/ den of thieves."

And this is the problem with lots of easy Bible reading: first I don't memorize, don't remember whole contexts (well, sometimes I do). Second, it's hard to extract deeper meanings from text that makes adequate sense on the surface. There's no boldface indicating "deeper meaning." So I have to ask myself how would a scribe read this? Or better yet, how would a scribe listen to it?

A possible help is that I don't read books of the Bible straight through, except for Philemon and other shorties. Probably due to the influence of my Latin training and 12 years of Internet use, I am always looking sideways as much as vertically. For every few passages I read in a given book, I'm reading another passage in another book, which may require reading yet another passage in a third book before returning to the original. This is why the Bible is so fascinating: the process of seeing and understanding the dim web that knits it all together is also the process of knowing the Mind of God. Sometimes it's exhilarating, like the Enterprise moving at warp-speed through the galaxy; or plunging through spacetime in the Millennium Falcon. Not that spacetime has anything to do with the Mind of God!

It'd be great to have the instant recall that those consonant-only scribes must have had. But in the meantime, thank ya Jesus, for the cross-references.

* nothing but consonants

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nomads & Revelations

Yet another example of 6th graders teaching themselves:

Hey y'all, what's a nomad? Somebody who wanders around. Do they live in houses? No, tents. Trick question: where do nomads start from? Nowhere, they just wander. Next trick question: where do they finish? They just wander, they don't start or finish!

Yes. What's a pilgrim? Somebody like a nomad?

Mmm...sort of. Who were the Pilgrims, the Thanksgiving Pilgrims? They were people from England who came to America. Yes. And they came here on a schoolbus, right? Ha! They came on a boat, the Mayflower!

Yes, a ship. And I suppose being like nomads they just wandered around the ocean until they bumped into Massachusetts? No, they were coming here on purpose. I see...and when they arrived, did they grab tents and horses and take off for California? No, they settled down where the Mayflower dropped them off. Oh. They weren't wandering then, they had a destination. So pilgrims aren't nomads; pilgrims don't wander.

Where'd the Pilgrims start? England. And they stopped in...? America. Yes, in Massachusetts. Did they vacation there & then go back home to England? No, America was their new home. And if you lived in one place but journey to another place to live you aren't wandering. Do you know what we call people who journey from an old home to a new one? No guesses? Who are these monkeys that invented Thanksgiving? Acrobats?

Yes, Pilgrims, they called themselves Pilgrims because they did not wander; they knew where they were headed, and when they got there, their journey was over.

Hey, at Mass, have you ever heard the priest say, "Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on Earth?" Ehh...yes? Of course you heard it, but if you were daydreaming you wouldn't remember.

Look at this beat-up book, what is this old thing? The Bible! (I hold it so that Genesis is loose in front and Revelations is loose in the back.) What's this book in front, the Adam & Eve one? Genesis! And this one at the end...the one where everything is finally revealed...? Revelations! A bit in the front, a bit in the back, and a thousand or so pages in between.

Speaking of Adam & Eve, in the beginning, in Eden, were they separated from God? No! Why not? They hadn't eaten the apple yet! That's right, they hadn't sinned. And Adam & Eve were unseparated too, in a way: Adam said Eve was 'bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh." Remind me again, was that his toe-bone? No, his rib! Which is near his...elbow? No, his heart! Because...? He loves her! Yes, with his whole heart.

Speaking of separation, what do we call it when souls separate from bodies? Death! And could souls separate from bodies in Eden? No! And why not? If you don't sin, you don't die. Right. In Eden, they sort of just hung out with God all the time....must've been great: pizza buffets and everything. So after they sinned, how were they separated from God? The angel threw them out of Eden! And not only were they separated from God, they would eventually have their souls separate from their bodies, and die. Man was created to be with God, but since we left Eden, we've been separated.

So back to the pilgrim Church...if it's a pilgrim Church, what is it it wandering? No. Right, it's not a nomad Church. So...if it's not wandering, what is the pilgrim church doing? It's going somewhere.

That's right...where's it going? No guesses? That's OK, it's a hard question. Look at the back of the Bible again: this last book....called....? Revelations. This last book tells us, reveals to us, where the Church is going. And are we part of the church? Yes. Right, all the faithful make up the Church. So if we're part of the pilgrim church that means we are....? Pilgrims. Who are on a...? A trip! Yes, on a journey. Just like the American Pilgrims, we and the Church will end our journey at our destination. Let's see what Revelations says about that destination.

The first thing we'll look at is the Second Coming. Who is coming the second time? Jesus. And when was the First Coming? What? When did he come the first time? Oh...Christmas? Yeah, at Christmas. And at the Ascension when Jesus rose up on a cloud, angels told the apostles, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." So, how is Jesus going to come the second time? C'mon, the same way he went up. He rose up to the sky on clouds, so how will he return? Umm, down from the sky on clouds? Yes. Or something equally impressive; I expect everyone will know what's going on.

The Second Coming will signal that it's time for the Final Judgment, when everyone in Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory gets their bodies back. People who are alive haven't lost theirs. Revelations says "the dead [are] judged according to what they had done" and "each person [is] judged according to what he had done." St. John, who wrote Revelations, says it twice....just to remind you, it matters what you do, not just what you believe. So everyone goes to Heaven or Hell with their body & soul no longer separated. Adam & Eve's sin caused body & soul to separate, but in the end they become one again. And those who go to Heaven are no longer separated from God by Adam and Eve's sin, but are reunited with Him. Ever since Genesis, people have suffered separation, but in Revelations, everything good is reunited: Creation, Man, and God are all together again, just as they were in Eden.

Because everyone has their bodies back, we'll have to live somewhere physical. But not on Earth as it is now, with hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Could weather kill people in Eden? No, there wasn't any bad weather. Why not? Because there was no sin. Yes. Sin doesn't just mess up the spiritual world, but the physical world, too.

And here's what St. John says about this physical place: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... " So we'll have a new home. And not only will Earth be new, but heaven as well, and they will also be one.

Then John says, "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." And I know exactly what John means. I remember how beautiful my wife was when she was walking down the aisle to marry me. Why, let's look at that picture again (I show a wedding photo they've seen before). She looks like she came down out of heaven just like the New Jerusalem. So where are we going to live? The New Jerusalem!

Then John says, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." Does anyone remember another time when God told someone "you will be my people, and I will be your God"? OK, this is from Exodus: "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. I will bring you out of Egypt and to the land I promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob." Who was God talking to? Moses? Yes, Moses. Didn't y'all see Prince of Egypt? But when God says it in Revelations, it means more. God brings us out of sin, and brings us to a perfect land, a perfect home.

Here's a question: Jews worshiped God in a temple in Jerusalem; where do Christians worship? In a church! Yes. Now, about the New Jerusalem John says, "I did not see a temple in the city." Why wouldn't there be temple or a church there? .....That's a hard question, tell me this: in Eden did Adam & Eve go to church to visit with God? No. Why not? They were with God already. Yes. But after they got thrown out of Eden, we had the Temple and the Church as ways to stay connected to God, even though sin had separated us from Him. In the New Jerusalem will we be separated from God? No. So why won't there be a temple or a church? Because we'll be with God again. Yes, not another place a long time ago which would be....? Eden! Yes.

So back to pilgrims. When the pilgrims were sitting at home in England were they pilgrims yet? No. Right, they were at home, not going anywhere. When they got on the Mayflower were they pilgrims? Yes! Once they settled down in their new home, were they still pilgrims? Not really. OK. Were Adam & Eve at home with God in Eden? Yes. But then they had to leave. We know from St. John that they and their children, that's us, will someday have a new home with God, the New Jerusalem. Right now we're on a long journey from our old home, Eden, to where? Our new home! Which is called...? The New Jerusalem! And when people are on a journey from an old home to a new home they are called...? Pilgrims! Yes, and that makes us...? Pilgrims, too.

Did the Pilgrims swim to America? Ha! No, we already said they took the Mayflower. Oh yeah....I forgot. Swimming is cheaper- why did they take a ship? 'cause it's safe. Yes, to have a safe ocean journey you need a sturdy ship. There's an Italian saint named John Bosco who once dreamed about a ship on a dangerous ocean. The ship was called the Bark of Peter. It wasn't a dog or a tree: the Italian (and Spanish) word for 'boat' is 'barco.' The captain was the Pope. What did the ship represent in the dream? A hard question? OK, What's the Pope in charge of in the real world? The Church. And in the dream he's in charge of the ship, so what's the ship? The Church? Yes...the Church is our Mayflower. It carries us safely from our old home to our new one. Is it a wandering Church, a nomad Church? No, a pilgrim Church. Yes, just like we hear at Mass.

So, look again at the Bible. One book in the front, about the old home before the journey became necessary, and one in the back about the new home, and all the middle books are about the pilgrims' progress along the way. A pilgrim's journey is called a pilgrimage; we are on a pilgrimage. We know where we're going, and when we arrive, our journey will be over.

When the pilgrims arrive in the New Jerusalem, they become united with God. Like in Eden, there won't be a Church or Temple...once the pilgrims arrived in America, they didn't need the Mayflower anymore, either. St. John explains why there's no temple in New Jerusalem. He says, "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple."

Revelations is the end of the Bible, and it marks the end of our pilgrimage. All the things that were messed up and separated by sin are healed and made whole: Man's body and soul are one; God and man are united; even Heaven and Earth are joined forever. John says, "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." And the great image of this unity is the wedding feast of....? The Lamb! Who is...? Jesus! And who does he marry? The Church! Yes, who St. John said was as beautiful as ....? as....? My wife when we got married! Do I need to show that picture again?

And the 6th grade boys say: NOOoooo!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Naissance de Français

It'd be hard to overestimate the influence Latin has had on me. This post isn't about Latin, though, except indirectly. But if my mind hadn't been trained by Latin, this post wouldn't exist. Specifically because Latin was my entree to French; but generally because Latin gave me an intellectual framework, a cadre, on which to hang practically everything I've learned. Latin provided a Grand Unified Theory of Everything such that no information is of value only in its own category, but incrementally adds to a coherent whole, the Biggest Possible Picture. And in the past 15 years or so, I've come around to the idea that all knowledge points to God...because it seems like more and more that's what my life points to, and everything I know reinforces if by accident.

Didn't I say this post isn't about Latin? That's right: it isn't. It's about...French?'s about people, and how God's creative energy infuses everything they do, especially when they speak.
In A.D. 842 a couple of Charlemagne's grandsons, brothers Ludwig and Charles, swore loyalty to each other and against third brother Lothar. The oaths they swore, and other information about the alliance, were recorded. What makes this otherwise mundane event fascinating is that while the clerks wrote their account of the event in Latin, they wrote Ludwig's oath in a kind of proto-French, the precursor to Old French, because that was the 'language' he was speaking when he took the oath; or to paraphrase Chris Tucker, because those were the words that were coming out of his mouth.

Why wouldn't Ludwig just speak Latin? Well, my guess is that he and the rustic Franks he was addressing thought he was speaking (vulgar) Latin, the Roman tongue. The clerks however, being familiar with written Latin, considered it something else. The Franks' vernacular Latin had diverged so far from written Latin that it was treated as another language.

Here's Ludwig's oath in English:

For love of God and for Christian people, and our common safety, of this day forth, as much as God gives me to know and to be able, I will protect this my brother Charles, and will aid him in each thing, as one in justice must protect his brother, in which he would do the same for me; and I will make with Lothar no pact, which of my will can injure this my brother Charles.

Here's what Ludwig said in the Rustic Roman of the day:

Pro Deo amur et pro Christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in ajudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il me altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui, meon vol, cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.

Here it is in modern French:

Pour l'amour de Dieu et pour le chrétien peuple et notre commun salut, de ce jour en avant, en tant que Dieu savoir et pouvoir me donne, ainsi secourrai-je ce mien frère Charles, et en aide en chacune chose si comme homme par droit son frère sauver doit, en ce (à condition) qu'il me fasse autant; et de Lothair nul accord jamais ne prendrai, qui par ma volonté, à ce mien frère Charles à dam soit.

If you're familiar at all with Latin, you'll see right away that Ludwig's oath just isn't very Latin-y; my first impression was that it was some primitive type of Spanish or Italian (Deo, poblo, nostro, podir, fradre); then looking at other words, it seemed a bit French as well (dreit, plaid, prindrai).

So even though it's not very Latin, it's not especially French...yet. Like a newborn baby it's distinct and separate from its mother, but not fully formed. So I think of the Oath of Strasbourg as marking the birth of French. But regardless of how we might name it, ('Rustic Roman,' for example; thus books written in the new Frankish common tongue were Romances) it shows how rapidly people will change a language. Practical changes; and aesthetic changes, which interest me more. Changes of rhythm, lilt, vowel and consonant shifts, stress, eliminating or adding sounds to existing words, I assume are made collectively over generations to make language more beautiful. People just can't leave well-enough alone.

Funny: growing up, the only speaking I thought was beautiful were some Southern U.S. accents, not often heard in South Louisiana. In high school, I had 2 years of Spanish; I decided Spanish was lovely too. Then 2 years of Latin, plus a pre-Vatican 2 Catholic childhood: discovered Latin was elegant. Over the next couple of decades, using my Latin cadre, I've learned other languages, some fairly well, others just at a tourist level...or less....and surprise, they are all beautiful. My preferred way to learn them is by memorizing poetry or better yet, songs. Beauty and affection first, then vocabulary and grammar.

Decades ago I was struck by Jesus' admonition in Matt 25:
'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' Could this be taken at face value? As many would put it: can you see God in other people? I decided to try. It was very artificial for the first few years, but I'm used to it now, though with room for improvement. Now virtually every good thing anyone does looks like God bursting out of them, like in Alien....bang! right out of their breastbones.

And that's how all language looks to me. Nameless, insignificant people in their millions create these beautiful systems, no two alike. A language contains not mere information, but also a way of thinking, a way of interacting with the world. People are created, born, little bits of God, but their creation continues under the influence of language. The power of language to shape our humanity is clear in this 1908 critique of the Polish-born polyglot author Joseph Conrad: "A writer who ceases to see the world coloured by his own language‑‑for language gives colour to thoughts and things in a way that few people understand‑‑is apt to lose the concentration and intensity of vision without which the greatest literature cannot be made." Yet Conrad said of himself: "...I have a strange and overpowering feeling that [English] had always been an inherent part of myself. English was for me neither a matter of choice nor adoption. The merest idea of choice had never entered my head. And as to adoption‑‑well, yes, there was adoption; but it was I who was adopted by the genius of the language..."

(As Peter Schramm's Hungarian father told his son in '56: we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.)

Both Conrad and his critic understood the power of language to affect who you are as a human being. The critic maintains Conrad can't be true to himself in English, Conrad responds that he can be true to himself only in English.

This gets to the point of the last....part of the value of speaking another language even a little bit offers a glimpse of who you might've become, what culture you might've belonged to, who your fellow citizens might've been, but for the accident of birth. And through another language you make a human connection to strangers, even if it's no more than 'gracias/ de nada.'

It helps us see we're all children of God; and reminds us, as the clerks in 842 may have noticed to their annoyance, that those children continue His creation in every good thing they do.

Trou de Ver & the Mass (not mass..the Mass)

Recent posts by RedCardigan such as And Sometimes Tea: Let the Mass be the Mass and And Sometimes Tea: Obedience and the Liturgy (or, Let Go, Already!) prompt me to elaborate on the 'continuity' theme discussed in Pneuma & Einstein. RedC stated, in reference to liturgy and its, ummm, variants, "The liturgy matters. And obedience in the liturgy, especially, matters." And I agree. In any given year, I probably attend Mass at 3 or 4 different parishes, and reflect on the likely effects of different ways of doing liturgy, i.e., effects upon the congregation, the servers, the priest. But as we know, the Mass is not just an Earthly process, but a Heavenly one as well, which makes me wonder, might changes in Liturgy affect the invisible parts of Mass as well? I don't know. It just occurs to me.

Critical to my thinking are ideas expressed by others, such as in A Short Primer on the I. Shawn McElhinney, wherein he quotes Dr. Jeff Mirus: "Catholic worship is not primarily about what we do for Christ, but about what Christ does for us......The Mass is first and foremost an action of Christ Himself......while a non-Catholic worship service is a human action, the Catholic Mass is a Divine action."

And Fr. Dwight Longenecker says in one of his books (I can't remember which, and so I paraphrase here), sacrifice opens a temporary door between Heaven and Earth; the sacrifice goes up, grace comes down.

I envision this door, this connection, as a wormhole, (French: trou de ver) which in this case doesn't connect two remote parts of spacetime; rather, it briefly connects spacetime to heaven. (And I wouldn't tell the kids this, but Jesus was a sort of wormhole connecting heaven to earth for 30 odd years.)

When we cover the Liturgy of the Eucharist in 6th grade, a major idea is that Mass takes place simultaneously in Heaven and Earth.

What do we call it when we go to church on Sunday? Mass. Yes. But over in the gym, where St. Rafka's meets, they don't call it Mass, they call it the Divine Liturgy. Mass is a Latin word, so Liturgy is probably....? Greek! Yes. Different words for the same thing. East and West. By the way, Liturgy means work, more or less: the -urgy is like the -ergy in energy. So Divine Liturgy means what? Divine Work? Yes. And if it's Divine Work, who's doing the work? God? Yes, God, and of course we and the priest do some work too, but God does most of the usual. Why doesn't God mind doing most of the work? Because he loves us. Yes. (a recurring question)

The kids already know the priest is an alter Christus. I draw an altar and a priest, and then some clouds above (clouds = heaven, see?) with Jesus and a couple of angels on them. Then I ask the children to describe any time-travel/ magic-door/ Stargate sort of movies they've seen (e.g., Lion/Witch/Wardrobe). Then we discuss how something similar happens at Mass, and I draw a wormhole/tornado connecting the clouds to the priest & altar. We note that we say 'Holy, Holy, Holy' and burn incense here, and the angels in Revelations do the same in Heaven, too. And at Mass we hear the priest say, "Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing." A quick quote from Rev 8 shows the Catholics aren't just making all this up: "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne."

Then we discuss how as a tornado can briefly connect the ground to the clouds, so can God create an invisible link from Heaven to Earth during Mass.

Trick question! Is the invisible link only spiritual? Yes!....wait, No!...Yes.......?

OK, when Jesus ascended, did his body separate from his soul? No! It went up, too.
And why didn't Jesus' soul & body separate? Because he didn't commit any sins! He couldn't die.
Right...Jesus' parts don't separate due to sin (except on the Cross, God died...they know).....what's his other part, besides the human part? He's God, too.
And would the God and Man parts separate? No.
So, Jesus where, the beach, the mall? Ha! to Heaven! Oh yeah, right...and where's his body? It's in Heaven, too. Yes....because His parts don't....? Don't separate!
Yes. So, at Mass, when God creates a special connection for a little while, the angel carries our offering up to heaven. What comes back down to us? The angel? I don't know, maybe...I'm looking for something else...let me read this again and you tell me what comes down:
"Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son.....Jesus! Jesus comes down!
Yes. Jesus comes down....just spiritually? No his body, too. Because...? The parts don't separate! Yeah? I look around at Mass, I don't see Him.....he's in the bread and wine. That's right. But to believe that, I need what? Faith. Yes. You know, I have to pray for faith every time I go up for Communion, because it just looks like bread to me.
So, back to the holy tornado that connects the earth altar and the heavenly altar: is that link just spiritual? No it's physical, too. Yes. because Jesus comes down spiritually and....? Physically. Which is nice, because Jesus has what two natures.....? Human and God. Yes, and they don't ever...? Separate. And we have two parts......? bodyandsoulandtheyshouldn'tseparate either! (learned early on in the year and regularly reviewed).
So when we are at Mass, body & soul, Jesus is there body and soul, too.
And if heaven and earth are not separated in all these ways at Mass, if we aren't behaving properly, not singing, looking around, daydreaming, nose-picking (EEeeeww!), could that affect what goes on in Heaven? Ehhh...ummmm....
Something to think about, maybe? Ehhh.....
OK class over, go to Mass this weekend and pay God some attention!