Archive for the ‘O.T. Figures’ Category

Jesus as the Anti-Cain

February 17, 2017

A Reflection on Genesis 4:1-15

Cain and Abel Mosaic in Monreale, Sicily, 12th century.Adam had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” Through Eve, Cain is the firstborn of man. Through Mary, the new Eve, Jesus is firstborn of God.

Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil, while Abel, for his part, brought one of the best firstlings of his flock. This implies that Cain is not offering his very best. Jesus’ sacrifice offers everything to God.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Jealousy and a hardened heart leads Cain to murder his brother in the countryside. Similar wickedness leads to Jesus being murdered by his own outside Jerusalem’s gates.

The Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He answered, “I do not know.  Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain is not a keeper of animals, but Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” (John 10:14)

The Lord God then said to Cain: “What have you done! Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!” The blood that Cain shed cried out to Heaven for vengeance, but “the sprinkled blood [of Jesus] speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:24) The blood of Jesus outpoured begs mercy, for the forgiveness of sins on earth.

Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. Since you have now banished me from the soil, and I must avoid your presence and become a restless wanderer on the earth, anyone may kill me at sight.” “Not so!” the Lord said to him. “If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold.” So the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight. Cain is given a protective mark (perhaps a tattoo, common in violent nomadic cultures.)

Jesus enjoys no protective  distinction: “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” Cain was not executed for his crime, but Jesus “was pierced for our sins” and “the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.” (Isaiah 53:2,6) Killing Cain would have returned “seven fold revenge,” but Jesus’ death  brings forth multitudes of mercy, as through the seven Sacraments.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the anti-Cain. Praise be to God!

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Reflections on Martyrdom

December 29, 2016

I have not seen and cannot recommend the recently-released Martin Scorsese film Silence, but reviewers describe it as haunting and unsettling for believers and non-believers alike. It is set in Japan during a fierce persecution of Roman Catholics in the mid-1600’s. In one scene, a Jesuit missionary is forced to watch arrested Japanese Christians be cruelly tortured before him. The young priest is told that these men and women’s sufferings will cease if he would only step on an image of Christ and renounce his faith. What does Jesus want his followers to do if faced with such a choice?

A person might think there is little harm done in trampling the crude likeness of someone, or by insincerely mouthing a few words, but Jesus told his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (1) At the very start of his ministry it seems that Jesus himself was confronted with the film’s test; the temptation to deny God so that human suffering would end.

After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” (2) But Jesus firmly refused. Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot 1886-1894.What was so wicked about the devil’s suggestion? What could be wrong with alleviating hunger? Imagine if Jesus had relented, waving his hand over a nearby brown stone and then biting through its soft crust. Then the devil could accuse him, “So, you have provided food for yourself—how can you now refuse to wield your power to feed the whole world!?” Satan also pressured Jesus to insist that the Father spare him from death: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from this great height]…” But Jesus again refused. The tempter preferred Jesus to be a messiah who would give people an abundance of material wealth and safety while leaving them in their sins, separated from God forever.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus accepted suffering with and alongside us as a crucified savior-king and never surrendered to the temptation of becoming an earthly ruler who had denied God and bowed to Satan. Jesus Christ understood that he would be Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as St. John the Baptist proclaimed him. (3) Even as his desert tempter invited him to end all earthly hardship, Jesus in some sense foresaw the multitude of suffering martyrs who would follow his path after him. Jesus did not waiver. Jesus refused to capitulate to evil for this world’s fleeting, lesser goods because was not the will of God, his Father.

These reflections came to mind last week on the December 28th Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little ones who died in place of Jesus Christ. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. (4) Modern biblical scholars estimate Bethlehem’s population was around 1,000 at that time, which means that up to about twenty infants were slain. (5)

These babies and toddlers have been venerated in the Church since the first century.  Early Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyon and St. Augustine, and the liturgical tradition of the Church have celebrated them as saints and martyrs. (6) This pair of titles is remarkable for those “who, though still unable to profess [Jesus] in speech, were crowned with heavenly grace on account of his birth.” (7) None of these young Jewish boys were baptized or made a conscious decision to die for Jesus, but they were all saved through Christ.

Jesus spoke of the importance of baptism for salvation, for instance saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (8) Yet he also said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (9) The Church, lacking an explicit teaching from Christ about children who die unbaptized, “can only entrust them to the [great] mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (10) Perhaps the Lord, knowing his own provisions for their salvation, has kept us in our uncertainty lest we employ the twisted logic of Herod, Pharaoh, or Pilate to rationalize the intentional killing of little ones. In any case, it has been the firm conviction and long tradition of Christ’s Catholic Church that the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem now dwell with him in Heaven.

Jesus Christ and his martyrs, from Bethlehem to Japan, reveal and witness to strengthening truths: That this life, however long or short, is not all that there is. That God can bring salvation out of evil, even from crimes and disasters that break our hearts and surpass our understanding. And the martyrs affirm that, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Suffering is better than sinning. There is more evil in a drop of sin than in an ocean of affliction. Better [to] burn for Christ, than [to] turn from Christ.” Whatever terrible crosses may afflict us or those we love we can remember that our crucified Lord has suffered likewise and is always with us. Jesus tells us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (11)

26-martyrs-of-japan

A memorial to “The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan,” a group of Roman Catholics executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Their feast day (i.e., St. Paul Miki and companions) is February 6th.

Footnotes:
(1) –  Matthew 10:32.
(2) –  Matthew 4:1-11.
(3) –  Isaiah 52:13-53:12, John 1:29 & 1:36.
(4) –  Matthew 2:16.
(5) – Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp.104–121.
Donald A. Hagner, World Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1–13, pg.37.
“Holy Innocents” entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. 
(6) – Hugo H. Hoever, Lives of the Saints, pg.525.
(7) –  Opening Mass Prayer for The Feast of the Holy Innocents.
(8) –  Mark 16:16.
(9) –  Matthew 19:14.
(10) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1261.
(11) – John 16:33.

 

Catholic Teachings About The End Times

November 10, 2016

Catechism of the Catholic Church #668-679

I.  HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY
Christ already reigns through the Church…

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca, 1450-1463.        “Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” for the Father “has put all things under his feet.” Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendently fulfilled.

        As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. “The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery,” “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom.”

        Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at “the last hour.” “Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.

…until all things are subjected to him.

      Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” by the king’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. Until everything is subject to him, “until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God.” That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return by saying to him: Marana tha! “Our Lord, come!”

        Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love, & peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by “distress” and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.

The glorious advent of Christ, Israel’s hope

        Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent, even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed.”

        The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel,” for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles,” will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” in which “God may be all in all.” 

The Church’s ultimate trial

The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

        Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

      The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

        The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

II. TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

The Resurrection by El Greco, Madrid, 1596-1600.      Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

        Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.” Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.

God, in Trinity & History

August 24, 2016

This Monday, I dialogued with Muslims, Jews, and Unitarians in an online comments section. How’d it go? A Muslim man accused me of an “unforgivable sin” for espousing Trinitarianism. (I thought: “If that’s literally true, then that makes me less inclined to become Muslim. I mean, why bother?”) But the commenters were generally thoughtful and kind.

The blogger who hosts the website had written, “The Jews had no idea of the Trinity. Their faith was centred in the Shema: a unitary monotheistic confession.  Jesus clearly affirmed that very same unitary monotheism in Mark 12:29. [“Jesus replied, ‘The first (commandment in the law) is this: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord is one!”] How is it that Christians today have abandoned their rabbi on this point?” I felt moved to reply and what follows is based upon my responses.

A diagram of the ancient, orthodox, Christian conception of the Holy TrinityFaithful Jews recite the Shema prayer each morning and evening, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Is the oneness professed in this passage of God’s word irreconcilable with Trinitarian belief?

In declaring that “the Lord is one,” the Hebrew passage employs the word “echad” for “one.” Echad is often used to mean singularity, but sometimes the same word denotes a unified entity. For instance, in the Garden, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one (echad) flesh.” And again, at the Tower of Babel, “If now, while they are one (echad) people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach.”

God could have selected a different word to be inspired for this passage, but the one He chose allows a providential flexibility. Echad permits the unified oneness of the Persons of the Trinity without requiring this reading from the Jewish generations who came before Christ. So, contrary to the blogger’s claim, when Jesus quotes the Shema it is not clear that He is affirming the very same unitary monotheism assumed by his ancestors. Interestingly, the “oneness” of God taught in Deuteronomy 6:4 leads to the conclusion that we ought to love God with the unified oneness of three aspects of ourselves. The immediately following verse reads: “Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”

A Unitarian (a Christian who asserts God’s unity and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity) found this last observation interesting and asked me to recommend a book that makes a great case for the Trinity. To him, I replied:

I would suggest approaching the Holy Trinity in the same way the first Christians came to this knowledge; through Jesus of Nazareth. Some dismiss the Christology of John’s Gospel as later theological development, but even the Gospels thought to be written earlier show Jesus doing and saying things only God could rightly do (e.g., forgiving sins, declaring himself lord of the Sabbath, demanding an absolute total commitment to himself, etc.) A book I recommend that explores this is Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 “Jesus of Nazareth (Part 1)” In it, Benedict spends a good deal of time discussing Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s book, “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus.” The central issue that prevents that rabbi from believing in Jesus is the same scandal that led Jesus to his death: his revealing himself as God.
Trinity Symbol

To objections at Christians detecting in the Shema something which no Jews had previously held–indications of the Trinity–I answered:

In the course of the Jewish Scriptures, we can see God developing humanity along; from polytheism to monotheism, from polygamy to monogamy, from blood vengeance to “an eye for an eye.” That the LORD was not just one god among the many gods–but the only God, was a revelation His people learned over time. (For example, Moses must ask of God in Exodus 3:13: “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?”) When Jesus comes He extends the revelation further; “Love your enemies,” “What God has joined let no man separate,” “The Father and I are one.” My point is this: To argue Christian beliefs cannot be true because they were not previously known among Jews is like saying there cannot be only one God because this was not clear to the Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel.

One Muslim asked whether the Old Testament prophets who did not know about the Trinity would therefore be worshiping an incomplete God. I answered:

All analogies touching on the Trinity fall short, but imagine being introduced to a friendly and engaging man at a dinner-party. In the course of your conversation you learn that he is a doctor, married, and has three kids. Now these things were true about the man from the first moment you knew him but you came to know him more fully with time. Likewise, God has always been a Trinity of Persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; acting, speaking, and revealing throughout history. Abraham and the prophets’ understanding of God were not as filled-out as in later generations, but they did indeed know and love and worship God. Of course, the parallel I’m trying to draw is not that God is one person wearing three different hats like that doctor-husband-father (which is the heresy of modalism.) I’m noting how Abraham and the prophets could enjoy true relationship with the Holy Trinity without yet knowing of that doctrine.

Trinity Icon based upon the original by Andrei Rublev, c. 1408-25

A modern icon based upon Andrei Rublev’s “The Trinity” (also called “The Hospitality of Abraham“) from the fifteenth century.

Consider the interesting episode of Abraham’s three visitors in Genesis 18: “The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre… Looking up, he saw three men standing near him.” Now two of this trio are later called angels (Genesis 19:1) but more precisely these are “messengers,” and the Son and the Holy Spirit do indeed serve the Father this way, revealing God the Father and his will among men. Did Abraham perceive in his guests what Christians suspect in retrospect, that this was a manifestation of the Holy Trinity? Maybe not, yet Abraham could still commune in God’s presence.

I think something that trips people up about Christianity is imagining God the Father as the sole Divine Person in the Old Testament, with the Son and the Holy Spirit only appearing later in the New. However, if the Trinity is true it has always been true, and the three Persons (possessing the same Divine Essence the prophets praised) have been active in the affairs of mankind throughout history. Christians reflect back on the Jewish Scriptures and see the Persons of the Trinity at work together. Our Nicene Creed professes that the Holy Spirit has “spoken through the prophets.” Look at the episodes where a “messenger” speaks in the divine first-person (e.g., Genesis 22:12, Judges 6:16 & 13:21-22) I would say Abraham and the prophets’ experiences of God were Trinitarian even if they did not fully grasp it then. I believe the same is true for all today.

Abraham’s Intercessions for Sodom & Gomorrah

July 23, 2016

A Mathematical Analysis of Genesis 18:22-33

Conversation
Exchange
Bid # for Innocents
# Decrease
% Decrease
Factional Decrease

1st

   50

   –

2nd

   45

5

10% 1/10

3rd

   40

10

11.111% 1/9

4th

   30

10

25% 1/4

5th

   20

10

33.333% 1/3

6th

   10

10

50% 1/2

The Old Covenant’s (Surprising) Last Seven Prophets

May 6, 2016

A prophet is someone enlightened by God to reveal his message. Each Sunday, we familiarly proclaim that the Holy Spirit has “spoken through the prophets,” but the identities of the seven last Old Covenant prophets (as seen in the Bible) may well surprise you.

#7 :  The Author of 2nd Maccabees

Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament, yet the Bible’s books do not always appear in chronological order. Our separated Protestant brethren would identify Malachi as the last prophetic book in the Old Testament, but the Church’s Bible includes seven books which they exclude. The last of these is 2nd Maccabees, written during the 1st century BC.

The author of 2nd Maccabees, who chronicles the Jews’ successful rebellion against their Greek persecutors, does not seem to know he writes by divine inspiration. In his closing remarks he adds, “If [this story] is well written and to the point, that is what I wanted; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that is the best I could do.” (15:38) However, neither does St. Paul appear to grasp that his letters to the churches would be revered on the level of Genesis, Joshua, or Daniel. This shows that God can use us in amazing ways, in perfect accord with his will, even if we fail to recognize it at the time.

#6 & #5 :  St. Zachariah & St. Elizabeth

The Visitation by BlocZachariah and his wife, Elizabeth, are old and childless. But the Archangel Gabriel appears to Zachariah in the Temple and says that they shall have a son. Although he knows that God has blessed with children elderly and barren couples of old, Zachariah disbelieves the message. In response, he is put on a forty-week silent retreat. Zachariah becomes mute and apparently deaf as well (since his neighbors and relatives will later resort to making gestures to ask him the name of his newborn son.) Though he cannot tell his pregnant wife of their unborn son’s great mission, Elizabeth receives insights from the Holy Spirit.

When she hears the greeting of her visiting relative, Elizabeth is “filled with the holy Spirit” and cries out in a loud voice, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The Blessed Virgin’s belly has not yet begun to grow, but Elizabeth prophesies and confirms to Mary that she is indeed pregnant with a boy who is “the Lord.” (Luke 1)

The Holy Spirit also seems to reveal to Elizabeth the name of her child: “John,” a name unfamiliar to her family. At the naming ceremony, Zechariah regains his voice, confirms her word, and “filled with the holy Spirit, prophesie[s]” through the canticle which bears his name. This holy, prophetic couple would ready their son for the great mission prepared for him by God.

#4 :  The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Philadelphia, 1898.The Archangel Gabriel declared unto Mary that she would conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. But is Mary a prophetess? Unlike Elizabeth and Zachariah, Luke’s Gospel does not say Mary, “filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied,” or “filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice.” However, as Fr. Raymond Brown observed, the Annunciation to Mary shares the biblical form of a prophetic calling (like those of Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel before her):

(1) An Encounter with God or His Angel
(2) An Introductory Word
(3) A Call or Commission
(4) Objection(s) to the Message
(5) Reassurance by God or His Angel
(6) A Sign is Given

In her later canticle, Blessed Mary speaks a prophesy which remains fulfilled in our midst: “Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary is a prophetess, filled with the Holy Spirit, who bears God’s Word.

Simeon Holding the Baby Jesus in the Temple as His Parents Look On#3 & #2 :  St. Simeon & St. Anna

When the baby Jesus’ parents brought him to the Temple for the first time, they were met by Simeon and Anna; she was “a prophetess” and  “[t]he holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple,” took Jesus in his arms, and declared him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Anna likewise came forward at that very time and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2)

Simeon may have been advanced in years, but “it had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” Anna, for her part, was an eighty-four-year-old widow who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” Anna and Simeon show us how the old can bless the young through sharing the word of the Lord they have personally come to know.

#1 :  St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist PreachingWe do not know exactly how many Old Covenant prophets God inspired after the author of 2nd Maccabees. (A case might be made for the Bethlehem shepherds and the Magi as well.)  But we do know that John the Baptist represents the last Old Covenant prophet, the forerunner to the New Covenant Christ. He is “more than a prophet,” Jesus says. “All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. … Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11)

At baptism, each Christian is entrusted with a prophetic mission. As those enlightened with God’s ultimate revelation, we are to share this Word. As great as it is to proclaim Christ’s coming, to proclaim his triumph is still greater.

Why?

January 22, 2016

As [Jesus] passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. [Jesus cures the man’s blindness, leading to his giving glory to God and salvation in Christ.]

—The Gospel of John, chapter 9

The question of Jesus’ disciples reflects an ancient assumption: that bad things happen to people as a punishment for their sins. In perhaps the oldest Old Testament book, the friends of Job insist that his great suffering must be his fault somehow. Before throwing out the man born blind, the Pharisees tell him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” While our own personal sins can carry with them their own punishments, innocent suffering also exists. Job was innocent. Jesus Christ was sinless, and his mother Mary, too. Yet each one suffered greatly through no fault of their own.

Why does God (who is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful) allow the innocent to suffer? God certainly does not work evil, yet he clearly permits evils to occur. Why? St. Paul wrote, “We know that in everything, God works for good for those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) And St. Augustine rightly concludes, “God would never allow any evil if he could not cause good to emerge from it.” Like Jesus answered his disciples in regards to the man born blind, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

It is natural to question the plans of God in times of tragedy. But we Christians have reassurance even in the face of suffering and death. At the heart of our faith is the too-all-eyes senseless death of Jesus Christ, murdered on a cross. Yet from this evil God raised up great good for his Son, for us, and for the whole world. Like Christ’s first disciples, we do not always readily know the why’s and purposes of God, but in all things we have hope.

The Two (Old & New) Arks of God

December 17, 2015

Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark? The Ark that Indiana Jones and the Nazis were pursued in that entertaining film was the most precious object in the entire Old Testament. But what is lost on many is how that holy artifact is related to the most important woman in the New Testament and its New Covenant.

The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant was a box built in the days of Moses according to God’s instructions at Mount Sinai. It was made of wood overlaid with pure gold, inside and out. No man was allowed to touch God’s Holy Ark—lest they die—so it was designed to be carried about using a pair of poles. The Ark was the throne for God’s presence on earth. The wings of two, golden Cherubim angel statues atop the Ark’s lid served as his “mercy-seat.” The Ark itself contained within several interesting items from the time of the Exodus: the two stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, the wooden staff of Aaron (which miraculously blossomed to confirm his divinely-ordained priesthood), and a gold container holding some of the Manna from heaven which God provided to feed his people on their desert pilgrimage.

Ark

About 450 years after its construction, around 1000 BC, King David reigned over all of Israel. He tried to bring the Ark up to his royal city, Jerusalem, until one of the priests (who should have known better) touched the Ark and fell down dead. David exclaimed, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” He arranged for it to be kept at the house of Obed-edom in the Judean countryside. The Ark remained there for three months and manifestly blessed the whole household. When it was reported to the king how richly Obed-edom was being graced, King David decided to try transporting the Ark into Jerusalem once more. David himself led that procession, dancing and leaping before the Lord with joyful abandon.

The Ark would eventually reside in the Jerusalem Temple built by David’s son, King Solomon. It is written that before that Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC, Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and hid it in a secret cave, saying, “No one must know about this place until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy.”Unlike in the 1981 film, the Lost Ark has never been found, but a new Ark of God did appear.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant because she bears Jesus Christ, God’s fullest presence on earth. By God’s design, the first Ark was made of wood and covered with gold; Mary is a human being full with grace. The former Ark carried the word of God in stone; Mary’s womb carries the Word become flesh. Aaron’s dead staff miraculously flowered; Mary’s virgin womb blossomed with a bud from the stump of Jesse. The Ark held Manna from heaven; Mary bore the true bread from heaven. Mary’s womb holds Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

The Visitation by Albertinelli, 1503.As the Gospel of Luke tells us, after she was visited by St. Gabriel the Archangel at the Annunciation, “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” And Mary would bless them with her help and companionship, staying at their house in the Judean hill country about three months.

Like King David, St. Elizabeth questions and St. John the Baptist leaps for joy before the Ark of the Lord. St. Joseph, regarding the inviolable sanctity of his wife with reverent fear, never touched her virginity. Mary would also go on to literally serve as God’s throne, his mercy-seat; “On entering the house [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother.”

In the Book of Revelation, St. John’s vision of heaven includes a sighting of the Lost Ark: “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of his Covenant could be seen in the temple.” Then John beholds “in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” We soon discover that this  glorious woman is pregnant with “a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations….” This is the Christ, and she is his Holy Ark.

Now the Lord’s Ark is not meant to be worshiped. (Though among God’s most holy creations, an Ark of God is not divine.) Yet, as one draws nearer to the Holy Ark, one inevitably draws nearer to God’s presence. Just as the old Ark of the Covenant was of central (though secondary) importance in the Old Covenant, so God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary an essential role in his New Covenant. All who come to her are drawn nearer to her Son.

Imagine daring to enter the old Jewish Temple’s the Holy of Holies where the Ark of God was kept. What awe and reverence would you feel before the all-holy presence of God? Now consider drawing near to the even greater Ark, Mary the Mother of all Christians, who reaches out to each of us with love and takes away our fear. And now reflect upon the great privilege we have in approaching and even touching the Christmas Gift of God she bore, Jesus Christ himself. Mary is blessed among women and blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. But blessed are we who would believe in all that the Lord has revealed to us.

Who is St. Michael the Archangel?

November 12, 2015

(Based on his 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia entry)

St. Michael is one of the principal angels. His name (translated from Hebrew, “Who is like God?“) is the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the devil and his followers. His name is recorded four times in Scripture:

Daniel 10 — Gabriel says to Daniel, when he asks God to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem: “The Angel of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me … and, behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me … and none is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince.

Daniel 12 — An angel speaking of the end of the world and the Antichrist says: “At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who stands for the children of your people.

Jude 1 — St. Jude alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition of a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses: “[The archangel Michael] did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon [Satan] but said, ‘May the Lord rebuke you!’”

Revelation 12 — St. John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Following these Scriptural passages, Christian tradition gives to St. Michael four offices:

(1)  To fight against Satan.

(2)  To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.

(3)  To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.

(4)  To call men’s souls away from earth and bring their souls to judgment.

Regarding his rank in the celestial hierarchy opinions vary; St. Basil and other Greek Fathers place St. Michael over all the angels; they say he is called “archangel” because he is the prince of the other angels; others believe that he is the prince of the seraphim, the first of the nine angelic orders. But, according to St. Thomas Aquinas he is the prince of the last and lowest choir, the angels.

Thoughts About FOX’s “Lucifer”

August 7, 2015

So the FOX network plans to launch this new show in 2016:

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but previews for movies and TV shows these days tell us plenty about what to expect. Based on this trailer and its synopsis, I’d like to share my first thoughts about FOX’s Lucifer.

What “Lucifer” Gets Right
Giving Their Devil His Due

Our first encounter with FOX’s Lucifer is in a form such as we should expect him to appear. No horns, tail, or pitchfork. Nothing in his appearance to make us flee from him in horror. He’s attractive, wealthy, well dressed, and speaks with sophistication. He drives through the night self-satisfied, solitary, and yet pleased to have others serve him and line up eagerly at his door. His popular club is named “Lux” (Latin for “Light.”) “And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) He draws many to himself by means of human sensuality.

His name, “Lucifer Morningstar,” is drawn from Isaiah 14:12.
Church Fathers wrote that “Lucifer” was never the devil’s proper (or “God-given”) name but that it signifies the glorious state from which he fell. However, I give the show creators credit for a pretty good name choice.

FOX’s Lucifer is a denouncer, reviling “this human stain” and “your corrupt little organization.” This is in keeping with him being ‘the accuser of the brethren, who night and day accuses them before God’ (Revelation 12:10) as he did with righteous Job. (Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5) In fact, his most well-known titles highlight this trait: “Devil” comes from the Greek word for “Slanderer,” while “Satan” is Hebrew for “Adversary” or “Accuser.”

Lucifer is willing to transgress laws whenever it benefits him. Perhaps this is why FOX’s Lucifer will premiere in 2016 driving with expired tags on his license plate (but it’s more likely just a production mistake.)

What “Lucifer” Gets Wrong
The Devil They Know is Better
Than the Devil They Don’t

If there were people in the entertainment world who didn’t believe that Adolf Hitler really existed, I could imagine someone reenvisioning him to be some TV drama’s charismatic hero. Many people would be understandably offended and concerned about what evils could flow from presenting the leader of the Third Reich — a spreader of hate and murderer of millions — as primetime television’s next charming protagonist. Ordinarily, aware of Godwin’s Law, I would avoid drawing comparisons to Hitler. Yet as bad as Hitler was, the devil is much worse. The worst thing the show’s creators will get wrong about the devil is that he is certainly not, and will never be, ‘a demon with a heart of gold.’

When a young, dispirited pop star returns to Lucifer he counsels her, “Pull yourself together,” and comforts her. Following her sudden death, he looks on her lifeless body with shock and concern. He asks of the LAPD homicide detective, “What is your corrupt little organization going to do about this?” Later, he tells a female confidante, “Someone out there needs to be punished!” She replies, “Stop caring, you’re the devil.” Indeed, this does not fit with his true character. Unable to strike out at the Almighty, the devil attacks the human race God loves. The devil would not mourn the death of a young woman lost in her sins, he would desire her unhappy end and encourage it, as he did the suicide of Judas Iscariot. The devil hates us all.

Lucifer meets the police detective again and offers his assistance: “We should be out there punishing those responsible. Come on, I’ll help you.” However, the real devil does not accuse sinners and will their damnation out of a devotion to truth or justice. He tempts and condemns out of envy, to prove that others are no better than himself. “[B]y the envy of the devil, death entered the world…” (Wisdom 2:24) Jesus said of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

If you want to see something of what the devil is like, I suggest Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. (*) Heath Ledger described the Joker as “an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown,” and his portrayal of evil will be long remembered. However, I doubt the same will be true for FOX’s Lucifer.

Why I Doubt “Lucifer” Will Last
The Devil Has No New Tricks

What type of show is Lucifer? It’s a sometimes light-hearted police procedural with supernatural themes and a “will-they-or-won’t-they” romantic subplot. FOX’s Lucifer is basically like The X-Files with angels instead of aliens. However, I’ll be surprised if it survives beyond its first season. I am dubious about how original and well-written the show will be since it borrows so much from previous works:

— We saw charming, talented eccentrics tagging along with cops to solve crimes in The Mentalist, Castle, and Monk.

— We saw snarky jerks growing in their humanity in CommunityHouse, and Sherlock.

— We saw a fallen angel embracing human life and love in Los Angeles in Nicholas Cage’s City of Angels.

— We saw a brazen angel in human form magically attracting women in John Travolta’s Michael.

— We saw a female love interest be uniquely impervious to a dangerous hunk’s powers with Bella and Edward in Twilight.

— We even saw a demonic vanity license plate (“BAD 1″) in Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley’s Bedazzled.

— At least FOX’s Lucifer plays piano instead of a mean fiddle.

Will these recycled elements gel into a successful hit? Will solving crimes, landing insults, exposing hypocrites, titillating women, and facing-down CGI angels and demons be a long-winning formula? I’m skeptical, but either way, I don’t plan to be watching.

How We Should Respond
Resist the Devil and He Will Flee

In the preface to his spiritually insightful and quite funny book about demonic temptation, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

As it is with devils, so I think for this show. In the coming year, I expect it to attract more heat and noise of controversy, and I suspect the show’s creators will welcome the free publicity. We may be told that everyone must watch the series in order to form an opinion — as if forms of entertainment were somehow entitled to our time and focus. On one hand, we do not want to lend this show inordinate attention. On the other hand, ignoring its existence would be a mistake. We should respond to FOX’s Lucifer with both true teaching and prayer.

FOX Lucifer ImageJust like with the inaccurate history of Dan Brown’s
The Da Vinci Code, this regrettable new TV show will bring with it
opportunities for catechesis; to teach about angels and demons, temptation and discernment, and the war that is fought for every human soul. (Teaching can be as easy as sharing an article like this one.) We can discourage others from tuning-in but, whether we like it or not, questions will come our way and we should be well-prepared to answer with the truth.

We must also pray. In 2012, an 24-year-old gunman with red-dyed hair, reportedly self-identifying as “the Joker,” killed 12 people and injured 70 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater showing the third film of the Batman trilogy. On the human level, the responsibility for this crime lies with its perpetrator, but just as a movie can inspire an unstable person to imitate a villain, so a show about the devil can both lead the unwary into exploring the occult or subtly persuade others that the devil’s just a myth. Against such evils we should pray; not only for the impressionable viewers among the audience of millions, but for the creators of such art itself.

Spiritual connections are mysterious and rarely certain, but dabbling with satanic things can open doors to evil and burn us. Six months after the release of The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger, the actor who had immersed himself into the persona of the demonic Joker, was dead from a drug overdose. At one infamous concert in 1969, during which an audience member was later killed by “Hell’s Angels” working security, The Rolling Stones’ performance of “Sympathy for the Devil” was interrupted by a fight and the song had to be restarted. At the time, Mick Jagger remarked onstage, “We’re always having—something very funny happens when we start that number.”

For the good of everyone involved, I will be praying that the cast and crew of FOX’s Lucifer may soon find themselves safely employed in other work and, if Lucifer ever comes to air, that its harm may be minimal and a better show may quickly take its place. I invite you to join me in praying for the same by invoking the help of St. Michael, who fought the devil and the demons out of Heaven. (Revelation 12:7-9)

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us
in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray;
and may you, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.   Amen.

Three Crosses Line Break

(*) — Like the devil, the Joker in The Dark Knight is a liar, telling incompatible tales about his scars. He loves fire, chaos, violence, and death. Alfred the butler says of him, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” The Joker is an accuser of all: “See, their morals, their ‘code’…it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you, when the chips are down, these — ah — ‘civilized people?’ They’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” In the Joker’s climactic final scene, he is angered that those on neither ferry have blown the other up. Batman asks him, “What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you?!” The Joker tells Batman that they have been locked in “a battle for Gotham’s soul” while the camera films him, from an inverted perspective, having the likeness of one in an everlasting fall.

A Persistent, Predictable Trend

May 2, 2015

Wedding Cake Man and WifeIn the garden, the first married couple was approached by the tempter. He sowed distrust of God and His teaching within their minds and hearts. He told them to decide for themselves what was good for them. So they ate the fruit that God had warned them about, and they tasted its consequences. Yet God did not abandon them.

The early Church was not unaware of contraceptive means and methods. She insisted that acts of marital union must not be cut off from an openness to life. Before 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed, but one by one their positions changed. By 1968, some were surprised that Pope Paul VI upheld the Church’s teaching in Humanae Vitae. The pope warned that contraception would lead to increased fornication, marital infidelity, disrespect toward women, and government coercion. The world did not listen.

What has come from our culture intentionally severing an openness to life from its lovemaking? It has led to millions of children having single mothers because fathers considered themselves under no obligation. It has led to the death of millions of “mistakes” before they could be born. Contraceptives promised to make families stronger, but broken marriages are widespread.

The contraceptive mentality has progressed so far that many no longer see physical complimentarily as essential to marriage at all. How will children be impacted if new forms of marriage become the law of the land? If marriage is merely an emotional bond between persons, why should it be limited to pairs? Marital union between one man and one wife is a gift from God for love and life. And what God has joined, we human beings separate to our own harm.

We see the Sexual Revolution becoming an open war against the Bride of Christ and her sons and daughters. As Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who passed away last month, once said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” Trials await us. Yet, anchored in the truth, our hope always remains, for God will not abandon us.

“One on His Right, the Other on His Left”

March 24, 2015

Revealing fascinating prophetic connections between Moses, Joshua, Samson, and Jesus Christ on the Cross; featuring the religious paintings of James Tissot (1836-1902.)

By Satan’s Power — Friday, 27th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

October 10, 2014

Readings: Galatians 3:7-14; Luke 11:15-26

Some in the crowd said of Jesus, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” In a certain sense, those people would be right.

Satan’s power in the world led to Jesus’ Passion. The devil probably thought he was winning by getting Jesus crucified, for ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’ Yet Jesus surprised him by turning this curse into ‘a blessing for all nations.’ Jesus suffered Satan’s power, but brought good out of the evil. In this way, by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, Jesus drove out demons from the world.

Originally posted on October 8, 2010

“Get Behind Me” — 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

August 31, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

In Hebrew, “satan” means “adversary.” Peter is not the devil, but in opposing the Father’s true will for the Messiah, Peter is acting as an adversary and an obstacle to Jesus. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, during the temptation in the desert, Jesus told the devil, “Get away, Satan!” Later, in describing the Last Judgment, Jesus tells the unrighteous goats on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed…” Yet to St. Peter, Jesus says, ‘You are my friend, so get behind me… Stay close to me, and follow my lead.”

Enduring Deprivation — Monday, 20th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

August 18, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 24:15-23, Matthew 19:16-22

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, by a sudden blow I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes, but do not mourn or weep or shed any tears. Groan in silence, make no lament for the dead, bind on your turban, put your sandals on your feet, do not cover your beard, and do not eat the customary bread.” That evening my wife died, and the next morning I did as I had been commanded.

Then the people asked me, “Will you not tell us what all these things that you are doing mean for us?” I therefore spoke to the people that morning, saying to them: “Thus the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will now desecrate my sanctuary, the stronghold of your pride, the delight of your eyes, the desire of your soul. …  Your turbans shall remain on your heads, your sandals on your feet. You shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away because of your sins and groan one to another.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich HofmannWhat does Ezekiel in the first reading have in common with the young man in today’s gospel?

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” … Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The Lord asked the rich young man to give up something precious to him, and the Lord took away something precious from Ezekiel. What if Ezekiel had rebelled after his loss, refusing to do anything further in the Lord’s service? People sometimes react to tragic loss in this way. What if that rich young man who went away sad never changed his mind? Divine callings often entail hardship, but consider the greater loss of never fulfilling the purpose of one’s life.

Every good thing, every person or possession, has come to us from God, and his desire for us is our supreme good. Therefore, the Lord is worthy of trust, even if we are stripped of what is dearly precious to us. As the suffering Job observed,

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back there.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD!”