Fifth Sunday in Lent

Thoughts on the First Reading

The days are coming, says the Lord, 
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel 
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand 
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; 
for they broke my covenant, 
and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant that I will make 
with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; 
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, 
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

                                                                   Jeremiah 31:31–34

 

The prophet Jeremiah knew that he lived at the end of an age.  The reign of good king Josiah (606–-598) was followed by the rule of his son Jehoiakim, himself politically ensnared and inept, vacillating between alliances with his powerful neighbors Egypt and Syria, presiding over a kingdom too weak to maintain its independence, with religion reduced to external observance. 

          These were not good days for prophets.  Jeremiah had begged off the job, arguing that he was too young and inexperienced to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:6-8).   It was always dangerous; Jesus would later make the persecution and murder of the prophets a characteristic of Israel (Matthew 5:12. 23:31).  Jeremiah’s prophecies had so irritated the chief priest that he had ordered Jeremiah “put in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the House of the Lord” (20:1-4).   Jeremiah complained bitterly that he had been deceived by the Lord.   He was commanded to proclaim violence and destruction, so that the words he spoke were a source of reproach and derision all the day long.   He had tried to be silent, but if he said, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,” Jeremiah’s heart became a burning fire within so that he was weary with holding it in, and indeed he could not.  So he heard whispering on every side, “Denounce him! Let us denounce him! Say all my familiar friends, watching for my fall”(20:7–11).  It was a hard lot; indeed Jehoiakim had ordered the death of the prophet Uriah, a fate from which Jeremiah would be saved by the fortunate influence of a court official, Ahikam, who was friendly to him (26:20–23). Continue reading “Fifth Sunday in Lent”

Fourth Sunday in Lent

When God Lets Us Go

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, till the wrath of God rose against His people, till there was no remedy.  II Chronicles 36:15

 

The account from the Book of Chronicles tells the story of the final events in the pre-exilic history of Judah, after which in 586 the nation would be taken captive into Babylon.   The history of Israel account in the concluding chapters of Chronicles is a particularly grizzly tale of national apostasy, idolatry, and the rebellion of the kings.  After good king Hezekiah came Manasseh, who built altars to the hosts of heaven, listened to sorcerers and wizards, and burned his sons as an offering in the valley of Hinom.  The story ends with the faithlessness of Zedekiah, who, refusing to hear the counsel of the prophet Jeremiah, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.   God “stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord.  The leading priests and people likewise were exceeding unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations, and they polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem” (Chronicles 36:11-14). Even then because He had compassion for the people and for His dwelling place, He “sent persistently to them by His messengers . . . but they kept despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against His people.” So God sent Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Chaldeans, and Israel went into slavery in a far land.       

           As it happens we have Jeremiah’s account of his prophecy to Zedekiah:  “It is I who, by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.  Now I have given this land to Nebuchadnezzar” (Jeremiah 27). Nebuchadnezzar was a notorious tyrant, a worshiper of false gods, but, like every circumstance of history, an instrument of God’s providence.    In His omnipotence and omniscience God had used circumstance to punish and chastise; when those He loves despise His words, He may withdraw for a time the hand of His blessing and give them over to evil. 

          It is possible to decline God’s message, to walk away from His commandments, as did Zedekiah and Israel.  In the New Testament the rich young ruler did just that.   He wanted to enter the kingdom, but when Jesus told him to sell his goods and give the money to the poor, he walked away (Matthew 19:21).  When the philosophers on the Areopagus heard Paul’s preaching of the resurrection some believed but some mocked, and others suggested politely that such a weighty matter should wait for another day (Acts 1:32-34). Continue reading “Fourth Sunday in Lent”

The 2018 Thomas Howard Lecture

The Lewis & Tolkien Society 
presents

“Telling the Story”
by

Guyanne Tittle Booth

author of

Robbers’ Roost, The Green Canoe, and Ann Brown (Not Alone)

With Carol Wood as Interlocutor

At Noon on Saturday March 17 
Church of the Holy Cross, Herschel and Douglas, 75219

Box Lunch and Mimosas

Suggested contribution thirty dollars or welcome
Please reserve at  www.lewistolkiensociety.org or
214-350-0039 or 214-350-2669 

Suggested contribution $30

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Third Sunday of Lent

Paul’s Gospel

Having been justified by faith, we have peace before God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand by faith.   And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we boast in tribulations knowing that tribulation produces endurance and endurance character and character hope, which very hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  

Romans 5:1–4  

     This text is an inspired summary of means and meaning of salvation as Paul knew it and taught it in years 35–65 the politically terrible years of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.  The underlying image is of a petitioner seeking access to an imperial official whom we are not on our own merits and standing able to approach, but in Paul’s Letter to the Romans it is not Tiberius but the Eternal Majesty, in whose gift lies every good thing, including the possibility of sharing in the glory that belongs to Him alone, in whose presence we are not worthy to stand.

     To gain such access the petitioner must be justified, he must be right, but here the word is a passive voice meaning, “having been made right,” made worthy to enjoy the promises of Christ, the passive voice indicating that this is the work of God in us.  It is the presupposition of the use of the words justify and justification that there is a standard that God expects His sons and daughters to meet, a standard before which, as Paul writes later in this text, we stand helpless.   We know that this standard is more than the keeping of the old law, for the entire Sermon on the Mount teaches that its propositions are to be surpassed, and we know that this law-surpassing goodness is the gift given at Pentecost, the gift of the new heart formed by God’s own love. Continue reading “Third Sunday of Lent”

Thoughts on the Gospel

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  Which Is Easier?

 “If you wish you can make me clean”
Mark 1:40

“Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk.’”
Matthew 9:5

Luke tells his readers that “many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha” (4:27) and in the time of Jesus they still were many.   That lepers would be healed was among the original promise of the kingdom, along with freedom to captives and sight to the blind (Matthew 10:8, 11:5, Luke 7:22).    It was one of a company of ten lepers whom Jesus healed who turned back to thank the healer (Luke 17:11–19).  Jesus was in the house of Simon the Leper when the woman came to pour precious ointment on the Lord’s head (Matthew 26:6).    Jesus had no fear of lepers, although their disease was fearsome, a wasting disease, caused as we now know, by bacteria that make the body visibly decay.  Leviticus commanded that lepers cry out “unclean” as they walked among other men and women, and that they live apart (Leviticus 13:45).   In the twelfth century there were two thousand hospitals for lepers in Europe, and lepers still carried a bell to warn of their approach.  

Often finally fatal, it made those afflicted repugnant.   When one sees a body horribly deformed from wounds or bearing the evidence of disease or born imperfect or with limbs falling away, although the second thought, the product of disciplined imagination, may acknowledge that the person must be treated with every respect, often    the first thought is to distance oneself from the painful sight.   In the worst case the person thus afflicted may be contagious; avoidance is intuitive.    Leprosy was a particularly disgusting disease, common in Palestine when Jesus taught.  Lepers were pariahs; that Jesus visited Simon’s house was a sign of His  love for the unlovely.  Continue reading “Thoughts on the Gospel”

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thoughts on the Reading

There is Hope for a Tree

 If a man die shall he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait
till my release should come.

Job 14:14

Near the end of their national existence Philo of Alexandria (BC 15–50AD) wrote treatises on philosophic topics in the way of Hellenistic Greek philosophers, but for most of their history Jewish thinkers avoided abstract questions about how we know the world and what its basic elements might be.  Jewish literary culture did however have a kind of writing called Wisdom literature that took up existential theological and ethical topics such as the situation of man in the world God had created and the meaning of finite existence.  The classic of the genre is the Book of Job, which goes beyond the usual terrain of Wisdom to be a kind of Gospel before the Gospels, recounting the conversion of the just man so that he becomes the man of humble and believing heart, but there were other books belonging to the genre, including the Book of Wisdom and Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, and along the way books such as Job and Ecclesiastes delve deep into the situation of man in whose heart God has put eternity yet not so that he can find out the beginning and the end (Ecclesiastes 3:1). (For more on Wisdom literature see Peter Kreeft’s Three Philosophies: Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs.)    

The fourth chapter of the book that bears his name finds Job world-weary because his days march on leading to nowhere, to nowhere but death, Sheol, that place of existence without hope.   Job is with the permission of God much afflicted in his body (Job 2:4–6). He is condemned to hear his three theological friends present version after version of the proto-Pharisaic claim that the righteous do not suffer, which by the lights of Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar meant that suffering Job has sinned and is stubbornly refusing to confess his faults.  This unhappy condition provides background of Job’s complaint, an episodic outbreak of a frustration bordering on despair.  

Has not man hard service upon earth,
And are not his days like the days of a hireling who looks for his wage, 
So I am allotted months of emptiness, Continue reading “Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time”

Ideas Have Consequences

Spring 2018

Mondays 7pm, Taught by Dr. Patrick

6-week course on “Ideas Have Consequences” by Richard M. Weaver

Suggested donation is $75 but all are welcome. Give what you can.

Christ The King Catholic Church
8017 Preston Road
Dallas, TX 75225

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Aquinas’s Ethics

Spring 2018

Tuesdays 7pm, Taught by Dr. Ledek

12-week course “Aquinas’s Ethics” by DeYoung, McCluskey, and Van Dyke

Suggested donation is $300, but all are welcome. Please donate what you can.

St. Mary The Virgin
1408 N Davis Dr.
Arlington TX 76012

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Christmas

Thoughts on the Second Reading
 for
 Christmas Day at Dawn

“Enter in; be born in us today.” 
Phillips Brooks

When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of His mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom He richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by His grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

                                               Titus 3:4–7

Christmas has many meanings, each of which has its proper place.  It is a holiday, which means it is a holy day.  Poor secularists, the very language resists them.  Changing the greeting from Merry Christmas to Happy Holiday still leaves a word that has its origin at the altar, for holiday really means the holy day of Christmas, the great celebration of the Savior’s Birth; and analogously the reflective will know that moving from AD and BC to Before and After the Common Era still leaves the inquisitive soul wondering what there was about a certain day in the reign of Augustus that made the world number time anew.  

The meaning of Christmas can be obscured only with difficulty, for it means many good things.   It means profit at last for the stores and industries that persisted profitless through the long summer, waiting for the day after thanksgiving when the ledgers will move into the black, prompted by that human activity called shopping, which usually means at Christmas shopping pursued with asperity but also with a touch of charity.  It mean  a day off from work, always welcomed in a culture marked by the relentless rhythm of the machine, enjoyed even by those who may not attach any meaning to Christmas .   And who can miss the note of delight that makes those who do not worship Jesus give gifts and decorate their houses.    Continue reading “Christmas”

Third Sunday of Advent

May the God of peace make you perfectly holy.
I Thessalonians 5:23

Sometimes heavily theological things just sneak up on one, and so it is for this third Sunday in Advent.  In what is probably the earliest of Paul’s letters to survive, the apostle prayed that the Thessalonians might be made holy by the God of peace.  In that short prayer there are two grand assumptions.   The first is that the goal of life in Christ is holiness; the second that this work is accomplished in us by God, is proclaimed throughout Sacred Scripture; “You must be holy for I your God am Holy” (Leviticus 19:2).  To be holy is to be set apart; as God is set apart from His creation, so Israel is set apart from the nations and their idolatry, so also the Church is set apart from the world.  Before the throne of God the four living animals, representative of all of animate nature, sing forever, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.”   The offering at the Eucharist begins with the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.  Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” The great prayer Our Lord gave His Church begins, “Our Father who art in heaven, let your name be held holy.” So Paul is teaching the Thessalonians and us that the end of life is to share in the life of God who is holy.

          In part God’s holiness is His otherness; what He is not, that He is not a creature and not to be worshipped under the image of anything on the earth, under the earth or in the sky above.  The existence of this Holy One, not a being but self-subsistent being Himself, who is conditioned by nothing on earth but who created every creature out of nothing through His will and is causing the existence of creatures moment by moment; who is personal and more than personal, and directs the ways of every person, who does not have justice but who is justice, who loves because He is love, and who will judge the world against the standard He has erected; be holy because I am holy.  His holiness is not an absence but a fullness, and having taught us that His beauty and His goodness are not of our conceiving, He assures us that as His gift these surpass what eye has seen or ear heard.  

         We are not holy in ourselves but we may become holy by participating in His holiness through our sharing in the life of Jesus Christ His son. The holiness He gives us is ours in fact, but it is not a thing but a relation, a gift of the companionship of God, which lives in the heart of the humble, and which, if it is not honored and nourished will turn dry, then hard, and then become a testimony against those who have presumed.   “Holy” is used rarely, if at all, of the living.  

          We achieve that participation not because we seek Him but because He seeks us and in seeking us gives us the desire to share His life and to do His will, which is the fruition of life in the Son who is consubstantial with the Father.  He makes us righteous and His sons and daughters in baptism.  Why every soul does not receive this gift is hidden in the particularity of a providence that chose Israel while neglecting the Greeks and Persians, and the destiny of those not, as far as  human eyes can see, enjoying this blessing must be left to Him.   Having justified us in baptism by His condescending charity through the sacrifice of Christ, His love does not let us go but through the sacraments, those holy-makers, makes us holy, that is, offered to God and called out of the world,  And this is, as Paul says, the work of God.

          In modernity this divinely revealed and accomplished pattern of our engagement with God is opposed by a noxious climate of ideas.   In an age that has lost interest in God, the temptation to see the principal work of the Church as the amelioration of human poverty and suffering tends to the derogation of Paul’s prayer that we must first be made holy to the Lord, whom we must first love before we touch the world, lest lacking charity, our works become as sounding brass and tinkling symbols, giving our goods and offering our bodies without the charity that makes then pleasing to God.

          Even more fundamentally damaging is the religious atheism that besets a still Christ-haunted world, a spirit unable to conceive that the world we know with its seemingly indefinite extension through galaxy after galaxy and its seeming persistence through ages upon ages is like a nut in the hand of the Almighty or a breath or vapor vanishing when morning comes.  And add to this debilitating blindness the insensitivity to things eternal that so easily allows the belief that the finality of life is the culture of comfort that dulls the taste for the adventure of the soul toward holiness which Paul commends, blotting out the light of heaven with the blue gaze of the electronic eye. And add the debilitating effect of a life of incessant noise and excitement, beside which the joys of sharing in the very life of God seems to a taste unaccustomed to the things of heaven to be a great bore.    The saints do not describe their journey toward holiness as vibrant, exciting, and innovative, but speak of peace, fulfillment, and sweetness.  

Paul adds to his words quoted in the superscript, “And may you entirely, spirt, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The life we live now in Christ is justified and perfected by its end, the return of Jesus.    For what life and indeed history mean is not an indeterminate process toward an unknown future but a Person.  Through whatever timefull meof companionship ans God repaired in nature the catastrophe of the fall, that process was perfect when God planted a garden in Eden.   The divine-human person who is at once the second Adam and the Son of God is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation,” in whom all things were created in heaven and earth .  .  .  .   He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. . . .  In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things, whether in heaven or on earth, making peace by the blood of His cross.”  

           This same Jesus in whom the creation of all things exists, this Person, is He who will welcome those who have walked in His way, wiping the tears of life from their eyes. He is causing at this moment the existence of the world of minds and men and oaks and animals. As the celebration of the Birth of Christ approaches, be it remembered that the Child born in Bethlehem is of one substance with the holy, immortal God who made the star that announced His birth.