The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.

II Corinthians 5:17

At the heart of Paul’s genius is one grand, all-encompassing idea that is simultaneously a theology of nature, a theology of salvation history, and a theology of everyman’s soul’s pilgrimage. It is the image of a fallen cosmos, now groaning and travailing as it looks forward to redemption, of creation itself being made new in Christ in whom all things consist; of a chosen people reaching home in the Church, the company of Christ, in the New Jerusalem; and at its crown the image of man who grown old in sin set is at last set free and made new in the image of Christ. Sacred Scripture opens with the image of the Holy Spirit of God hovering over a world that has fallen into chaos, darkness, and emptiness, remaking it into the light-filled order and fullness of being that reflects the glory and perfection of its Creator. Continue reading “The Fourth Sunday in Lent”

The Third Sunday in Lent

His Name Shall Be Called Jesus

If they ask me, “What is His Name?” What am I to tell them? God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I am sent me to you”

Exodus 3:13–14

Revelation is knowledge, knowledge, given by God when in the fullness of time He wills to reveal Himself. It is addressed to the obedient intellect. God may make Himself known by His deeds: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:3). He may make Himself known to the prophets in visions. God may teach us through His providential government of our lives as we walk along the path He has given. But on a day in the desert, when Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, God commanded Moses’ attention by showing Him a burning bush that “though on fire was not consumed.” There is no description of what Moses saw at Mount Horeb, but Moses knew that God was present. As he approached the burning bush God warned Moses not to come nearer and commanded that he remove his sandals: “For the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moses, full of awe, asked the question one who encounters mystery is likely to ask. “Who are you; what is your name? Continue reading “The Third Sunday in Lent”

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Apostleship: What Paul Received

Apostleship: What Paul Received I handed on to you what I received as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

Last of all, as to one born outs of due time he appeared to me

Paul would write again of his place as an apostle teaching what he had received, for when he undertook to correct the Corinthian Church regarding their tendency to celebrate the Eucharist as part of a rowdy love feast, he appealed to the tradition he had received from the Lord: that on the night when He was betrayed he took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, This is my body… (I Corinthians 11:23–26). We cannot be sure that Paul ever saw Jesus or ever heard is voice before Jesus spoke to him as he rode to Damascus to persecute the Church in that city. What Paul knew in the ordinary way of knowing he had learned in part from his study of what he then considered a damaging deviation from Pharisaic orthodoxy. He then heard the testimony of Stephen, for Paul, an agent of the Sanhedrin, guarded the coats of those who were stoning the deacon who has always been considered the first martyr. Continue reading “The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time”

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joy in the Law

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, Interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe And the Levites who were instructing the people Said to all the people: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad and do not weep— For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. Do not be saddened this day.

The book of Nehemiah continues the account of Israel’s history begun in Chronicles, telling the story of the rebuilding of the city and the religious reformation of the people after their return from captivity in Babylon. The story is told in part in the voice of Nehemiah, a much favored Jew who had become cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, and who, when he had heard of the desolation of the city of his fathers, its gates destroyed by fire, had been permitted by the king to visit Jerusalem in order restore it. The text has its difficulties. Ezra, the priest-scribe who effected religious reform, and the royal emissary Nehemiah may not have been contemporaries. The return from Babylon had been accomplished haphazardly, over more than a century. It is difficult to identify precisely the book from which Ezra read, which may have been Deuteronomy or Leviticus or some other part of the Pentateuch. What we have is surely the best information available to an author who may have written a century after the event described in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, and who was himself the beneficiary of the reform he describes, a reform that gave Judah the Sabbath-observing, law-loving, ethnically- exclusionary character that would mark its existence as long as the city would endure. Continue reading “The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time”

The Feast of The Baptism of the Lord

God’s Gentleness

He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making His voice heard in the Street. A bruised reed He shall not break and a smoldering flax he shall not quench. Isaiah 42:2–3

Careful readers of Chapters 40–55 of the Book of Isaiah have long found in these prophesies distinctive themes of hope, and in the fifty-second and fifty-third chapters the prophet offers the image of a Savior who comes to comfort, who is bruised for our iniquities, who does not display the beauty that the world desires, and who deals gently with those He calls. It is an image that transforms the idea of the King, for the one who is coming calls us from a visage made undesirable by suffering. He comes not to judge but to heal. He will come in glory, but now He comes in gentleness. His kingdom in this world is a kingdom of the heart. His grace works from the inside out. Continue reading “The Feast of The Baptism of the Lord”

The Feast of the Epiphany

His Star

We saw His star as its rising And have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2

For the Mediterranean world, Greeks and Romans, Hebrews and Egyptians, life was part of a larger system and our lives were seen as dependent upon beings, God and gods, and upon events that happened elsewhere. For the Hebrews the pattern of nature was established and sustained by the eternal God who had created it, and the pattern of every life was determined by, or at least depended upon, the will of God, who, was known not only because the firmament showed forth his handiwork (Psalm 19:1) but who touched the believer through his providential presence and through his chastening absence. Mankind was never alone in the world for not only was God ever present, but the angels, both the fallen angels and the obedient angels, were influences usually invisible but sometimes apparent. Continue reading “The Feast of the Epiphany”

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

When the New Life Began

Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.
Luke 1:38

When the New Life Began

Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. Luke 1:38

The turning of the times from futility to fulfilment may be seen as the Gospel of John sees it, as the day when John the Baptist saw the Holy Spirit descending and recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. As the Church reflected upon its knowledge of the Lord it understood that the age of redemption had begun not when Jesus began to teach and heal but when He was born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostolic mission then knew that He had not become the Savior at the Jordan or in Bethlehem but that He had been the Lamb of God standing at the heart of the Trinity from the foundations of the world (Revelation 5:6), born for us of a chosen woman once in time. Thus, after much thought, it was determined that the birth of the Lord should be celebrated, and after a still longer time that the date of that celebration should be December twenty-fifth. And then in the fifth century, as the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the economy of God was more carefully considered, the Church understood that she is properly called the Mother of God, the title that ensured for all time that she would not be considered the mother of Jesus’ human nature only but of the mother of Incarnate Word. We cannot be certain but perhaps it was this awareness of her place in the mystery of our redemption that fostered, beginning in the sixth century, the celebration of the day when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Lord. And thus the Feast of the Annunciation came to be established on the 25th of March. Continue reading “The Fourth Sunday of Advent”