Archive for the ‘Abraham’ Category

The Holy Family and Yours

January 1, 2018

Every year, Holy Mother Church presents the Holy Family for our contemplation and imitation. Some imagine life in the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the soft, pastel colors of a Christmas card; so holy, so flawless, so unobtainable. We wonder, “Can the Holy Family and my family really relate to one another?” At least two out of the three members of the Holy Family never sinned in their entire lives together. We, meanwhile, could jokingly refer to the Feast of the Holy Family as “Elbow-Nudge Sunday.” Throughout the world this day, wives and husbands, parents and children, take turns gently nudging one another as they listen to God’s words about marriage and family life. The Holy Family was holy, but that doesn’t mean their lives were easy or smooth.

I’ve previously written about the stresses and difficulties of the holy couple leading up to the first Christmas: about Mary’s crisis pregnancy, about Joseph grappling with his wife telling him the child within her is the Son of God and Joseph contemplating a divorce, about their giving birth to that holy child in an animal stable. And their trials together continued after Jesus’ birth.

Imagine being Mary and hearing Simeon prophesy, “Behold, this child is destined … to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce…” How would that make you feel about the future for you and your child? Picture being Mary as her husband awakes and says “our boy is being hunted, we need to leave tonight.” Consider Joseph, the servant-leader of his family, having to pack-up quickly and leave so much behind to take his family into hiding in Egypt. Later, an angel tells Joseph to bring his family back into Israel. So Joseph returns with Jesus and Mary, but he’s afraid to resettle in the south because the son of Herod the Great now rules Judea. With the help of another dream, Joseph decides to resettle in the north, in Nazareth of Galilee.

I mention all this because St. Joseph, the just and holy man, feared an earthly king even as he trusted God. St. Mary at the Annunciation did not know all the details of her future, but she trusted in God by saying, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Our Lord Jesus, sweating blood from stress the night before he died, trusted God to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Their holy lives were often difficult, but God always rewarded their trust, bringing about good for them in the end.

In Genesis, Abram (whose name later got changed to Abraham) was promised a son by the Lord. But the childless Abraham looks at the old age of his wife and himself and asks, ‘Will my steward, Eliezer, be my heir?‘ God answers, ‘No, not him; your own flesh and blood son shall be your heir.’ Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” And Abraham put his faith in the Lord.

When I first heard this story (and maybe when you heard it too) I assumed this event happened at night. But the message is even more powerful if God told him to “look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can,” during the daytime. Where do the stars go during the day? We know they’re still there, even though the Sun’s brightness the sky’s blueness prevent us from seeing them. Abraham trusted in the Lord’s unwavering goodwill towards him and beheld God’s word fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. Through that son, Abraham received glory and the whole world was blessed.

One of the things Jesus says in the Gospels more than anything else is, “Be not afraid.” Sacrifice your fears. Imagine taking those obsessive worrying thoughts from your mind, placing them upon the altar, and lighting them afire like a sacrifice of old to God. “Let the peace of Christ control your heart…” Trust that “God works all things for the good of those who love him” and then “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

God not only wants peace within us, but peace among us as well. In our homes there is always room for improvement. The household of the Holy Family may have been a sinless one, but mistakes and miscommunications surely happened. Joseph probably broke or misplaced tools. Mary probably burnt an occasional loaf of bread. From the Gospels we know they both thought they knew where their 12-year-old boy was as they left Jerusalem for home; several hours passed before they realized he was missing. Even when we deeply love one another, we must learn and practice how to love and serve each other better.

We love each other in many ways, and the best modes by which we experience love can vary from person to person. The book “The Five Love Languages” lays out five major ways that we give and receive love, namely:

Gift Giving
Acts of Service
Affectionate Touch
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time

What are your top-two love languages? Can you guess the preferred languages of your spouse and children? Sometimes we try to love others as ourselves by loving them exactly as ourselves and we unfortunately miss our mark. For example, imagine a spouse complaining, “Why don’t you let me know that you love me,” when they really mean “why don’t you get me surprises anymore” (gift giving) or “why don’t you tell me that I delight you and you’re pleased with me” (words of affirmation.) At this, their spouse might reply, “What do you mean? I’m loving you all the time,” when they’re really saying “I take care of the kids and do housework” (acts of service) and “We eat and sit in the living room together every evening” (quality time.) These two loving spouses are loving past each other.

Learn the preferred love languages of your family members, and don’t expect others read your mind, sabotaging our own happiness. Tell them how to delight you. They love you and they want to make you happy. Don’t attack and criticize (“You always this” or “You never that”) but invite them to bless you. And pray together, as a couple and a family. The Holy Family surely did and its one of the most valuable things I can recommend. Some married couples, who have shared a bed for years, have never revealed their personal prayer requests to each other. Pray together, and then even whenever frictions arise, you will remember that you are on the same team, together on the same side with God.

Your home will never be perfect – not even the Holy Family’s was perfect. Life’s circumstances will go awry, and there will be sins we have to apologize for and forgive one another. But with trust in God and a daily commitment to loving and serving each other better, you too can live in the peace and joy of the Holy Family.

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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

Cut It Out — Thursday, 7th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

February 28, 2014

Gospel: Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

In establishing his first covenant with Abraham, the Lord said, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3) Likewise, Jesus declares that whoever does the least kindness to those in his covenant will be rewarded, while whoever leads one his own into sin faces dire consequences. Sin is a serious thing.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”

“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.”

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

Of course, Jesus does not want us to mutilate ourselves because our bodily organs are not the real cause of our sins. But let us consider: what actions or material possessions do I take in hand, to what places do I go by foot, what sights do I perceive with my eyes, that are near occasions of sin for me? Let us firmly resolve with the help of God’s grace to cut these things out of our lives, so that we may be a blessing to all and a scandal to none, the salt of the earth and never cast out.

Looking Forward to Heaven — 2nd Sunday of Lent—Year C

March 3, 2013

In Genesis, God promises descendants and a land to Abraham.  However, Abraham and his wife are very old, and Abraham feels uncertainty about whether they will have children. Therefore, God says to Abraham: “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you can. So shall your descendants be.” You may imagine this happening at night, but perhaps God has Abraham look during the day. We cannot see the stars in the daylight, but we know that they are there. Likewise, God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled even though Abraham cannot see it.

Like Abraham, we hope in God’s promises about things we cannot see. While Abraham wants to have children so that his legacy continues, we want eternal life. He hopes that his descendants someday get the Promised Land. We hope for the Promised Land of Heaven. I think we should feel hope in these things more.

In the Gospel, Peter is euphoric about seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah and says something very silly. “Master, it is good for us to stay here and build three tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” How could Moses and Elijah prefer to live in tents on a mountain top on earth rather than return to paradise? Yet, sometimes we behave like our greatest hope isn’t heaven but to live here on earth forever.

Saint Paul says about sinners:  “… Just think of earthly things. We, however, are citizens of heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body… ” We all have a natural fear of death, and this is healthy and good. And we feel sad when persons depart from us, and this is understandable. But we should look forward to going to heaven. We should feel at least as much excitement about going to heaven as we would in winning an around-the-world vacation.

Have you encountered beauty here on earth? There is greater glory in heaven. Have you felt happiness and contentment here? There is overflowing joy in heaven. Have you known love? Every person loves perfectly in heaven. Which friends and family do you want to see again in heaven? Which saints or angels do you want to meet there? What will it be like to see Jesus face to face? Reflect on these things, and let this hope inspire you.

En el Génesis, Dios promete descendientes y una tierra a Abraham. Sin embargo, Abraham y su esposa son muy viejo, y Abraham se siente incertidumbre acerca de si van a tener hijos. Por lo tanto, Dios le dice a Abraham: “Mira el cielo y cuenta las estrellas, si puedes. Así sera tu descendencia.” Usted puede imaginar que esto ocurra por la noche, pero tal vez Dios ha Abraham mirar durante el día. No podemos ver las estrellas en la luz del día, pero sabemos que están ahí. Del mismo modo, las promesas de Dios a Abraham se cumplirá aunque Abraham no lo puede ver.

Como Abraham, esperamos que en las promesas de Dios acerca de cosas que no podemos ver. Mientras Abraham quiere tener hijos, para que su legado continúa, queremos la vida eterna. Él espera que sus descendientes algún día obtener a la Tierra Prometida. Esperamos que recibimos la tierra prometida de los Cielos. Creo que deberíamos sentir esperanza en estas cosas más.

En el Evangelio, Pedro es eufórico de ver a Jesús con Moisés y Elías y le dice algo muy tonto: “Maestro, sería bueno que nos quedarámos aquí y hiciéramos tres chozas: una para ti, una para Moisés y otra para Elías” sin saber lo que decía. ¿Cómo pudo Moisés y Elías prefieren vivir en tiendas de campaña en la cima de una montaña en la tierra en lugar de regresar al paraíso? Sin embargo, a veces nos comportamos como nuestra mayor esperanza no es el cielo sino a vivir aquí en la tierra para siempre.

San Pablo dice acerca de los pecadores: “…Sólo piensan en cosas de la tierra. Nosotros, en cambio, somos ciudadanos del cielo, de donde esperamos que venga nuestro salvador, Jesucristo. El transformará nuestro cuerpo miserable en un cuerpo glorioso, semejante al suyo…” Todos tenemos un temor natural de la muerte, y esto es sano y bueno. Y nos sentimos tristes cuando las personas salen de nosotros, y esto es comprensible. Pero debemos mirar hacia adelante para ir al cielo. Debemos sentir excitación cerca de ir al cielo como ganar unas vacaciones alrededor del mundo.

¿Se ha encontrado la belleza aquí en la tierra? Hay una mayor gloria en el cielo. ¿Se ha sentido la felicidad en la tierra? Hay mas alegría en el cielo. ¿Ha conocido el amor? Cada persona ama perfectamente en el cielo. ¿Lo que amigos y familiares qué quieres volver a ver en el cielo? ¿Que los santos y ángeles te quiero conocer allí? ¿Qué se sentiría al ver a Jesús cara a cara? Reflexiona sobre estas cosas que esta esperanza os inspire.

Rich Man’s Loss — 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 26, 2010

[The rich man] cried out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.”

Why does the rich man suffer in flames? It’s not that Abraham is unaware of him, for when the rich man speaks Abraham answers him. And it’s not that Abraham no longer acknowledges him, for Abraham calls him “my child.” It’s not that Abraham lacks in mercy, for Abraham once intervened to spare a city of sinners. The rich man is not in the flames because of Abraham, or Moses, or the prophets of God, for if he had listened to them he would not be in torment.

So why does the rich man suffer in flames? He suffers because he feasted each day, while Lazarus starved. Because he dressed in fine linen, while Lazarus went naked. Because he was clothed in purple, while Lazarus was covered in purple sores. Yet the rich man is not in the flames because he is rich, for King David was far richer than he and is heralded as a man after God’s own heart. The rich man suffers because the dogs who licked Lazarus’ wounds showed the poor man more kindness than he ever did.

The rich man was not unaware of Lazarus lying at his door, for he had passed him enough times to recognize him when he saw him. The rich man even knew Lazarus by name, for he calls out, “Father Abraham… Send Lazarus…”  The rich man suffers in flames because he did not care about Lazarus. The rich man suffers because he did not love. If we wish to avoid the flames, we should ponder and act on this question: Who is Lazarus in your life?