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In the run-up to tomorrow’s inauguration of King Willem Alexander there has been much attention paid to Catholic notions of kingship. While Christ is the one King, the Church also teaches much about the duties of earthly kings. Bishop Jos Punt’s homily is an excellent example of the latter. It also contains an interesting glimpse of the religious landscape of the Netherlands and the role of tolerance, as well as a theological explanation of the globus cruciger. Recommended reading (for Dutch readers, the original text).
A recording of the Mass, by Dutch public television, may be viewed here.
In closing, some words by Father Jim Schilder, priest of the basilica of St. Nicholas:
“Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter. But is also two days before the inauguration of our Crown Prince. That is, you could say, a moment of renewal. A threshold to a new era, without breaking with the past. That is also what we see in this time of Easter. On the one hand it is a time of revolutionary renewal through the resurrection of Christ, and on the other hand a time of a new covenant rooted in the old. It is still about the way that God wants to travel with us, about his continuous invitation to follow Him. We can do this by answering the call of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This goes beyond the two commandments He gave before, and which were already present in the Old Testament: To love God, and your neighbour like yourself. In the Gospel of John He asks us to love each other as He has loved us. His love was characterised by the fact that His entire earthly life was devoted to the other. “I have come to serve.” May the same, we pray, also be true for our new head of state.”
Photo credit:  Isabel Nabuurs,  Fr. Jim Schilder.
Just before the March for Life took off in Washington, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, of Dallas, spoke about the Culture of Life in his homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of those homilies that, I imagine, Americans tend to be pretty good at: uplifting, positive and, most importantly, encouraging.
Although the past forty years have seen positive developments in the fight against abortion in the United States, but setbacks still exist, and in the face of them, Bishop Farrell writes, “we may feel like the “chosen people” of the Old Testament who wandered through the desert for 40 years. The Lord made a covenant with them that they would inherit the Promised Land, but with all the setbacks, the discouragement, the suffering and pain and the passage of time, they began to lose hope. Without faith, we too can begin to lose hope of ever changing the hearts of those who do not believe in the sanctity of human life. There is a real danger that we too can become complacent.”
But there is a strong reason to not give up: “Dear brothers and sisters, Christ has promised us that His Word will prevail. We cannot lose hope. We must continue the struggle in positive, life-affirming ways. We must pray and we must continue to make our voices heard so that our elected leaders know that there are many who stand for life. We must never give up…”
Good stuff, and an example for Bishop Farrell’s brother bishops – and all Catholics – in Europe. For those who want to read the homily in Dutch, you can do so here.
Photo credit: Nancy Phelan Wiechec/CNS photo
I don’t know about the custom in other parishes and churches, but I find that homilies often focus on the first reading and the Gospel reading, but tend to skip over the second one. Not to say that the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, or the Gospel reading are not worth spending many thoughts and words on, but the second reading, often from one of the letter of St. Paul, is also usually a rich treasure of devotion and knowledge of our faith. Take yesterday’s second reading for example, from the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14):
“Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Thus he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and faultless before him in love, marking us out for himself beforehand, to be adopted sons, through Jesus Christ. Such was his purpose and good pleasure, to the praise of the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in Christ, for him to act upon when the times had run their course: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth. And it is in him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as he decides by his own will, chosen to be, for the praise of his glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth and the gospel of your salvation, and having put your trust in it you have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance, for the freedom of the people whom God has taken for his own, for the praise of his glory.
Such an intricate text, which constantly doubles back in on itself, qualifying what came before, setting up what comes next. Saint Paul is surely not always an easy read, but one very much worth reading and reflecting upon. It’s food for thought, and an inspiration that invites to delve ever deeper into our own relationship with God, to understand it, and Him, and ultimately ourselves as well. Faith, a relationship with God and living life accordingly, is not simplistic or backward. On the contrary, it is challenging and progressive. Just as the Holy Father said at yesterday’s Angelus, “[T]he work of Christ and the Church never regresses, but always progresses”, so our faith life always progresses, propelling us forward towards the ultimate realisation of who we truly are, “adopted sons, through Jesus Christ”.
Art credit: “St. Paul reading and writing,” attributed to Guercino.
Yesterday evening I attended an ordination. Although it wasn’t a person being ordained, and it wasn’t actually called an ordination, the Mass had the basic structure of a priestly ordination. The bishop did the honours, we prayed the Litany of All Saints, there was anointing and a first Mass. What ‘got ‘ordained’ then? A new people’s altar.
Together with a new ambo, it was a gift from the parish council to the parish on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the consecration of our cathedral, St. Joseph’s. The new altar replaces a fairly simple but heavy wooden table. This one is smaller and therefore makes the entire sanctuary appear bigger. With its flat stone surface and legs crafted into the symbols of the four evangelists, it matches the rest of the sanctuary well. The only distractions are the two candle holders. Blue appears nowhere else in the sanctuary, and although the candles are nice and big, there should be six of them. A minor complaint about an otherwise nice altar.
The smaller size of the new altar means that the number of concelebrants is practically limited. In yesterday’s Mass, the bishop concelebrated with his vicar general and the cathedral administrator, and other members of the cathedral chapter were attending in choir. It certainly makes the sanctuary look less crowded.
Why such an elaborate ceremony for what is, essentially, a piece of furniture, though? It shouldn’t be a surprise that in a Church, nothing is just a piece of furniture, especially when it’s in the sanctuary. That altar, in fact, is one of the most important elements in a church, perhaps second only to the tabernacle. It is where Christ becomes present for us, where His sacrifice and resurrection are made present again for us, from where we receive Him in communion. Everything we do, have and know in our faith comes from there. That is why a new altar needs to be changed from just a piece of furniture into a sacramental. It needs to be prepare for its holy service.
That is why it is anointed., which may be seen in the photo below: Bishop de Korte is anointing the surface of the altar. That is why we pray for the intercession of all the saints, just as we do when a man is ordained to the priesthood. Our prayers will aid in receiving and benefitting from what we receive from the altar. In the surface of the altar, relics are embedded, as an altar exists in connection with the graves of the martyrs and, eventually, with the altars that Abel, Noah, Abraham and other Old Testament Fathers erected. The consecration of an altar is also a public act, since the use of the altar is public: it will allow the community of faithful to receive the Eucharist, and thus be united in faith.
The altar is no longer just a piece of furniture. It is a tool towards our salvation.
‘If the wicked, however, renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and upright, he will most certainly live; he will not die. None of the crimes he committed will be remembered against him from then on; he will most certainly live because of his upright actions. Would I take pleasure in the death of the wicked — declares the Lord Yahweh — and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?
‘But if the upright abandons uprightness and does wrong by copying all the loathsome practices of the wicked, is he to live? All his upright actions will be forgotten from then on; for the infidelity of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, he will most certainly die.
‘Now, you say, “What the Lord does is unjust.” Now listen, House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust? When the upright abandons uprightness and does wrong and dies, he dies because of the wrong which he himself has done. Similarly, when the wicked abandons wickedness to become law-abiding and upright, he saves his own life. Having chosen to renounce all his previous crimes, he will most certainly live: he will not die.’
In the text from Ezekiel (18:21-28), God today speaks to us about doing good and evil. He recognises two different scenarios: a wicked man denouncing all evil he has done, and a good man turning towards the wicked. This text tells us that God looks more to changing behaviour than to the mere acts of a person. While something like, say, murder is undoubtedly evil, God does not say that the murderer is forever lost: no, a change in his behaviour towards the good, in whatever form, will be redemptive. What form this change takes is a question with many answers, which is not covered by this text.
In the same way, no one is eternally good. We all run the risk of doing evil things, consciously or subconsciously. God seems to take a change from good to evil much more seriously than the opposite. A good person may be expected to be aware of the reasons for his good deeds, especially when he does them out of his faith (and in the Old Testament, this may be expected to be a matter of fact). Now that we know God and have expressed our faith at our confirmation and every day anew in prayer and Mass, we have no excuse not to follow His lead. If we decide to go off the path, so to speak, God will judge us accordingly. We break a promise we made. And taking someone up on that is not unjust after all.
After a state visit which was also a pastoral visit and an opportunity to address issues in both Church and state, during which protesters – once again – failed to leave much of an actual impression (despite media efforts to place them firmly center stage) and politicians who stayed away out of protest made a right fool of themselves, it’s perhaps best to focus on what the pope came to say. The texts of the various addresses and homilies are online, and I have paid attention to a mere two of these.
Here is my selection of the most interesting and important passages from the texts, all according to me, of course. It’s by no means complete, and I recommend reading the full texts to get a sense of context and further development of the points touched upon.
On being part of the Church
“I would say it is important to know that being in the Church is not like being in some association, but it is being in the net of the Lord, with which he draws good fish and bad fish from the waters of death to the land of life. It is possible that I might be alongside bad fish in this net and I sense this, but it remains true that I am in it neither for the former nor for the latter but because it is the Lord’s net; it is something different from all human associations, a reality that touches the very heart of my being.” [Interview during the flight to Berlin, 22 September]
The link between freedom and religion
“Freedom requires a primordial link to a higher instance. The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom. The man who feels a duty to truth and goodness will immediately agree with this: freedom develops only in responsibility to a greater good. Such a good exists only for all of us together; therefore I must always be concerned for my neighbours. Freedom cannot be lived in the absence of relationships.” [Welcome ceremony in Berlin, 22 September]
The pope’s responsibility
“[T]he invitation to give this address was extended to me as Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, who bears the highest responsibility for Catholic Christianity.” (Address to the Bundestag, 22 September]
On what should ultimately matter for a politician
“His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Naturally a politician will seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right. Success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice. “Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”, as Saint Augustine once said.” [idem]
The limitations of the majority vote
“For most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion. Yet it is evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough: everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws.” [idem]
The limitations and dangers of positivism
“A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, as the natural sciences consider it to be, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers. The same also applies to reason, according to the positivist understanding that is widely held to be the only genuinely scientific one. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood. Hence ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field, and they remain extraneous to the realm of reason in the strict sense of the word. Where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else – and that is broadly the case in our public mindset – then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded.
“In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.”[idem]
A strong condemnation of Nazism
“The Nazi reign of terror was based on a racist myth, part of which was the rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ and of all who believe in him. The supposedly “almighty” Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God, the Creator and Father of all men. Refusal to heed this one God always makes people heedless of human dignity as well. What man is capable of when he rejects God, and what the face of a people can look like when it denies this God, the terrible images from the concentration camps at the end of the war showed.” [Meeting with Jewish community representatives, 22 September]
The relationship between Judaism and Christianity
“For Christians, there can be no rupture in salvation history. Salvation comes from the Jews (cf. Jn 4:22). When Jesus’ conflict with the Judaism of his time is superficially interpreted as a breach with the Old Covenant, it tends to be reduced to the idea of a liberation that mistakenly views the Torah merely as a slavish enactment of rituals and outward observances. Yet in actual fact, the Sermon on the Mount does not abolish the Mosaic Law, but reveals its hidden possibilities and allows more radical demands to emerge. It points us towards the deepest source of human action, the heart, where choices are made between what is pure and what is impure, where faith, hope and love blossom forth.” [idem]
Jersus’ identification with the oppressed Church
“On the road to Damascus, Christ himself asked Saul, the persecutor of the Church: “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). With these words the Lord expresses the common destiny that arises from his Church’s inner communion of life with himself, the risen one. He continues to live in his Church in this world. He is present among us, and we with him. “Why do you persecute me?” It is ultimately at Jesus that persecution of his Church is directed. At the same time, this means that when we are oppressed for the sake of our faith, we are not alone: Jesus Christ is beside us and with us.” [Homily during Mass at the Olympic Stadium, 22 September]
Christ takes our suffering on His shoulders
“Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us. He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good branches that produce good wine. In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives. It is important that we “abide” in Christ, in the vine.” [idem]
God’s most beautiful gift
“The Church, as the herald of God’s word and dispenser of the sacraments, joins us to Christ, the true vine. The Church as “fullness and completion of the Redeemer”, as Pius XII expressed it (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS 35  p. 230: “plenitudo et complementum Redemptoris”), is to us a pledge of divine life and mediator of those fruits of which the parable of the vine speaks. Thus the Church is God’s most beautiful gift.” [idem]
Evil is no trivial matter
“[I]nsofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. The question no longer troubles us. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter.” [Meeting with the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, 23 September]
The development of a shallow Christianity
“Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon – that bishops from all over the world are constantly telling me about – poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.” [idem]
In the face of secularisation
“Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task in which we have to help one another: developing a deeper and livelier faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God.” [idem]
The fundamental unity of Christians
“Our fundamental unity comes from the fact that we believe in God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. And that we confess that he is the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The highest unity is not the solitude of a nomad, but rather a unity born of love. We believe in God – the real God. We believe that God spoke to us and became one of us. To bear witness to this living God is our common task at the present time.” [Address during the ecumenical prayer service, 23 September]
Man’s need of God
“Does man need God, or can we do quite well without him? When, in the first phase of God’s absence, his light continues to illumine and sustain the order of human existence, it appears that things can also function quite well without God. But the more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in his hubris of power, in his emptiness of heart and in his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life. A thirst for the infinite is indelibly present in human beings. Man was created to have a relationship with God; we need him.” [idem]
Why faith is not subject to negotiations
“A self-made faith is worthless. Faith is not something we work out intellectually and negotiate between us.” [idem]
Mary, our mother
“When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them.” [Marian Vespers, 23 September]
Mary as a channel of grace
“Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes our fellow traveller and protector on life’s journey. “By her motherly love she cares for her son’s sisters and brothers who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home,” as the Second Vatican Council expressed it (Lumen Gentium, 62). Yes indeed, in life we pass through high-points and low-points, but Mary intercedes for us with her Son and helps us to discover the power of his divine love, and to open ourselves to that love.” [idem]
The quality of the saints
“Still today Christ comes towards us, he speaks to every individual, just as he did in the Gospel, and invites every one of us to listen to him, to come to understand him and to follow him. This summons and this opportunity the saints acted on, they recognized the living God, they saw him, they listened to him and they went towards him, they travelled with him; they so to speak “caught” his contagious presence, they reached out to him in the ongoing dialogue of prayer, and in return they received from him the light that shows where true life is to be found.” [Homily during Mass in Erfurt, 24 September]
“Faith always includes as an essential element the fact that it is shared with others. No one can believe alone. We receive the faith – as Saint Paul tells us – through hearing, and hearing is part of being together, in spirit and in body. Only within this great assembly of believers of all times, who found Christ and were found by him, am I able to believe. In the first place I have God to thank for the fact that I can believe, for God approaches me and so to speak “ignites” my faith. But on a practical level, I have my fellow human beings to thank for my faith, those who believed before me and who believe with me. This great “with”, apart from which there can be no personal faith, is the Church. And this Church does not stop at national borders.” [idem]
The hope of union with our closest brothers
“[A]mong Christian Churches and communities, it is undoubtedly the Orthodox who are theologically closest to us; Catholics and Orthodox have maintained the same basic structure inherited from the ancient Church; in this sense we are all the early Church that is still present and new. And so we dare to hope, even if humanly speaking constantly new difficulties arise, that the day may still be not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together (cf. Light of the World. A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 86).” [Meeting with representatives of Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Church, 24 September]
What the seminary is for
“As Saint Bonaventure once said: the angels, wherever they go, however far away, always move within the inner being of God. This is also the case here: as priests we must go out onto the many different streets, where we find people whom we should invite to his wedding feast. But we can only do this if in the process we always remain with him. And learning this: this combination of, on the one hand, going out on mission, and on the other hand being with him, remaining with him, is – I believe – precisely what we have to learn in the seminary.” [Meeting with seminarians, 24 September]
Learning about the present from the past
“In exegesis we learn much about the past: what happened, what sources there are, what communities there were, and so on. This is also important. But more important still is that from the past we should learn about the present, we should learn that he is speaking these words now, and that they all carry their present within them, and that over and above the historical circumstances in which they arose, they contain a fullness which speaks to all times. And it is important to learn this present-day aspect of his word – to learn to listen out for it – and thus to be able to speak of it to others.” [idem]
“Faith comes from hearing”
I sometimes say that Saint Paul wrote: “Faith comes from hearing” – not from reading. It needs reading as well, but it comes from hearing, that is to say from the living word, addressed to me by the other, whom I can hear, addressed to me by the Church throughout the ages, from her contemporary word, spoken to me the priests, bishops and my fellow believers. Faith must include a “you” and it must include a “we”. [idem]
Faith in a scientific world
“Our world today is a rationalist and thoroughly scientific world, albeit often somewhat pseudo-scientific. But this scientific spirit, this spirit of understanding, explaining, know-how, rejection of the irrational, is dominant in our time. There is a good side to this, even if it often conceals much arrogance and nonsense. The faith is not a parallel world of feelings that we can still afford to hold on to, rather it is the key that encompasses everything, gives it meaning, interprets it and also provides its inner ethical orientation: making clear that it is to be understood and lived as tending towards God and proceeding from God.” [idem]
The light of Christ
“While all around us there may be darkness and gloom, yet we see a light: a small, tiny flame that is stronger than the seemingly powerful and invincible darkness. Christ, risen from the dead, shines in this world and he does so most brightly in those places where, in human terms, everything is sombre and hopeless. He has conquered death – he is alive – and faith in him, like a small light, cuts through all that is dark and threatening. To be sure, those who believe in Jesus do not lead lives of perpetual sunshine, as though they could be spared suffering and hardship, but there is always a bright glimmer there, lighting up the path that leads to fullness of life (cf. Jn 10:10). The eyes of those who believe in Christ see light even amid the darkest night and they already see the dawning of a new day.” [Vigil with young people, 24 September]
“Dear friends, Christ is not so much interested in how often in our lives we stumble and fall, as in how often with his help we pick ourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but he wants his light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because he is good and he wants to make you his friends. Yes, you are the light of the world because Jesus is your light. You are Christians – not because you do special and extraordinary things, but because he, Christ, is your life, our life. You are holy, we are holy, if we allow his grace to work in us.” [idem]
Power and freedom
“There are theologians who, in the face of all the terrible things that happen in the world today, say that God cannot possibly be all-powerful. In response to this we profess God, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth. And we are glad and thankful that God is all-powerful. At the same time, we have to be aware that he exercises his power differently from the way we normally do. He has placed a limit on his power, by recognizing the freedom of his creatures. We are glad and thankful for the gift of freedom. However, when we see the terrible things that happen as a result of it, we are frightened. Let us put our trust in God, whose power manifests itself above all in mercy and forgiveness. Let us be certain, dear faithful, that God desires the salvation of his people. He desires our salvation, my salvation, the salvation of every single person. He is always close to us, especially in times of danger and radical change, and his heart aches for us, he reaches out to us. We need to open ourselves to him so that the power of his mercy can touch our hearts. We have to be ready freely to abandon evil, to raise ourselves from indifference and make room for his word. God respects our freedom. He does not constrain us. He is waiting for us to say “yes”, he as it were begs us to say “yes”.” [Homily during the Mass in Freiburg, 25 September]
Our personal relationship with God
“So let us ask ourselves, in the light of today’s Gospel, how is my personal relationship with God: in prayer, in participation at Sunday Mass, in exploring my faith through meditation on sacred Scripture and study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Dear friends, in the last analysis, the renewal of the Church will only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith.” [idem]
The exchange between God and man
“The Fathers explain it in this way: we have nothing to give God, we have only our sin to place before him. And this he receives and makes his own, while in return he gives us himself and his glory: a truly unequal exchange, which is brought to completion in the life and passion of Christ. He becomes, as it were, a “sinner”, he takes sin upon himself, takes what is ours and gives us what is his. But as the Church continued to reflect upon and live the faith, it became clear that we not only give him our sin, but that he has empowered us, from deep within he gives us the power, to offer him something positive as well: our love – to offer him humanity in the positive sense. Clearly, it is only through God’s generosity that man, the beggar, who receives a wealth of divine gifts, is yet able to offer something to God as well; that God makes it possible for us to accept his gift, by making us capable of becoming givers ourselves in his regard.” [Meeting with active Catholics, 25 September]
Detaching the Church from the world
“[I]t is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness. This does not, of course, mean withdrawing from the world: quite the contrary. A Church relieved of the burden of worldliness is in a position, not least through her charitable activities, to mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their carers.” [idem]
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There is a nice summation of what faith is in the second reading from today’s Mass:
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 1: 1)*
In his homily, Bishop van den Hende took the opportunity to delve a bit deeper in the definition of faith, and one of the points he raised was the difference between the Old and New Testaments when it comes to faith. In the Old Testament, faith is chiefly about trust in God and the things He does. In the New Testament, the meaning of faith shifts more to knowing, as a sort of completion of trust; we still trust in God, of course, but our faith is strengthened by what we know of Him through Jesus Christ, His Son.
Looking back at the sentence from the Letter to the Hebrews, we may see a sort of basic evolution of faith. We start with hope, we grow to trust and finally we know. That evolution is not only visible in the history of humanity as a whole, but also in each of us
individually. These three steps are steps we all take, I believe. At least I did. The sense of hope, for example, had been there for years before I even considered walking into a church for anything else but sightseeing. I wanted to believe, but had nothing to ground that belief in.
Later, as I got to know the Catholic faith, I found myself able to put some measure of trust into the Church and so also into God. Trust and knowledge go hand in hand, strengthening each other, being each other’s basis, so to speak. If we know what we trust in, trust grows stronger. Hope too, grows in depth as trust and knowledge increase. After all, when we learn more, gain more knowledge, we get to know more of what we hope for, and so hope increases.
So faith is never as one-dimensional as some people want to have us believe. It is far more than a factual belief in the existence of someone or something.
*I used the translation from the New American Bible, instead of the New Jerusalem Bible, which I generally use in this blog, simply because this translation appealed to me more.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration. All three the synoptic Gospels include this occurence on Mount Tabor. St. Luke writes:
Now about eight days after this had been said, he took with him Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. And it happened that, as he was praying, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became sparkling white. And suddenly there were two men talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they woke up and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what he was saying.
As he was saying this, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’
And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.
Gospel of Luke 9: 28-36
This is not the only time that Jesus changes His appearance, but it is the only time before His death on the cross. After the Resurrection, there are multiple instances where He physically appeared to the Apostles (they could touch Him and they ate breakfast together, for example), and where they did not immediately recognise Him. The best example is perhaps the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Only when their fellow traveler broke the bread and said the blessing at the dinner table, did they recognise Jesus.
So the Transfiguration can perhaps be seen as a foretaste of what was to come. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gained a new body, and that, by the way, lies at the basis of the Catholic belief in the bodily resurrection at the end of time. My parish priest mused today that perhaps this was also a means of support for the Apostles, who would be scattered in the days surrounding the crucifixion, and who would suffer greatly. But Jesus showed them here that on the other side of the pain and suffering, beauty and glory lies.
The presence of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the prophets, and of course God’s cloud who descends upon the mountain (not unlike how He accompanied the people of Israel out of Egypt – Moses would not have been surprised), firmly places Christ in the history of salvation, in both the Old and New covenants. Not that he didn’t have this place before all this, but we, being both us and the Apostles, need to become aware of it.
The Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI’s message for Lent of 2010 yesterday. It is dated to October of last year, which seems a bit early, but as in previous year, the Holy Father treats these messages as lessons. He chooses a topic and holds a discourse about it. There is therefore no problem in preparing it in advance.
This year, the pope chose to speak about justice. He poses the questions of what justice is, what its causes are, how the people of Israel saw it and how God’s justice becomes manifest in Christ.