Life after Epiphany


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Permit me to draw your attention…

… just for a moment, to God’s awesomeness :-).

Remember that old cliche you’d encounter all the time in shows and cartoons when you were a kid? The whole “I could beat you with both arms tied behind my back!!” thing?

Well… as St Augustine and St Catherine of Siena both remind us, that’s precisely what Jesus Christ did. He had both arms pinned down… nailed… to a plank of wood so that He couldn’t move them. And even as He bled out – literally Love poured out – He defeated evil. He overcame the world.

Laudate Dominum!

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Feminists fighting females, socialists being anti-social… the types of people who think abortion is OK

I was on retreat this weekend. I switched my phone off, I left my laptop at home – I voluntarily disengaged from all news and contact with the outside world for 2 short but precious days of silence, prayer, and growth.

I returned home from that relative calm to read a report of chaos and violence in the following article:
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/the-left-reveals-an-ugly-face-in-antiabortion-rally/story-fni0ffxg-1226739222330

As I read the observations reported of what transpired in Melbourne during the annual March for Babies, I have to admit that as disgusted as I was, I wasn’t really all that surprised. This behaviour is GENTLE compared with the murderous practices for which these people are campaigning.

Fanatical feminists attacking women whose opinions differ from their own; socialists denying the right of ordinary people to rally against oppression… it is no wonder that the journalist reporting felt the need to conclude that the left in Australia is the “natural home of the totalitarian and the bully.” That is precisely what we are seeing here.

In this demonstration I saw socialists and feminists betray almost every principle they profess to hold.     ~ Andrew Bolt

Let it be understood that I am not promoting the right side of politics in Australia either. Both extremes are far from perfect and both hold unconscionable views on a range of issues of ethical import. On the issue of abortion, however, the ideological opposition to truth, goodness and beauty does appear to have its primary thrust from the left.

As we pray and work and try to make Australia better, there is something important that I think we need to keep in mind. Our well-intentioned efforts to make the world a better place can result in consequentialist behaviour, in the loss of our own ability to love God and others, if we go about things the wrong way. Father Paul Scalia teaches on this far better than I could, and so I direct you to his article and sincerely recommend that you read it with an open heart, lest we who wish to see peace fall casualty to our own battle against evil: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-church-militant-or-the-church-belligerent


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Don’t let academic hubris hijack theology…

infancyNarrativesJacket

I discovered something very ugly in myself today, as I reflected upon an event in my past.

As a novice, I was writing a paper that involved some exegetical work with the Psalms. During my private prayer and study, I encountered a fairly involved connection between one of the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew that excited me greatly! I added it to my paper as part of the case I was trying to build to support the central thesis of the paper and thought little more of it until the following day.

At the evening meal the following day, I was sitting at table with my sisters in the refectory, and listening to the spiritual reading selection of the evening as is monastic custom. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was hot off the presses and we were hearing it for the first time the very week it was released.

That evening at table, I heard THE VERY SAME EXEGESIS that I had prepared on the day prior, read from the work of the then Holy Father. Exegetical method AND conclusion were almost identical. And here it was, published by the Holy Father! But when I had typed it the day prior, that very same argument had been my own original work. Supposedly original.

So here is where my ugliness crept in.

I started getting all upset about INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY of all things. Can you think of anything more ridiculous than wanting to compete with the Pope over the intellectual property?

An account of my folly: I went to see my superior first thing the following morning. I wanted to know what to do from an academic honesty perspective. I didn’t want to cite the Holy Father. I felt I was justified in claiming the work as my own, given that I HAD arrived at the conclusions before encountering them elsewhere, even though they had existed elsewhere prior to my discovery of them. I wanted to use the electronic timestamp on the document in which I had written my paper to demonstrate that my conclusion was written prior to the night that it had been read to us at table.

PRIDE. How it corrupts the beauty that God created in me.

I write of it now because I refuse to let shame take a hold. Shame is a lie. Of COURSE I’m weak – why be scandalised by that?  Here is an opportunity. Out of the depths I can call upon the Lord. Out of my weakness, I can still witness to the Truth.

What is Truth, here?

I call upon ALL who read, study and pray with Scripture to recall that ANY time we are able to draw something from the Sacred Text, it is RECEIVED. It is a GIFT. It is the Word, GIVEN to us.

The conclusion I reached when working with the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew? It wasn’t mine. It was given to me, by the very same God who gave it to the Holy Father. Instead of resenting that he got there first, what on EARTH am I doing not giving thanks that such a thing was revealed to me, a mere child? (And a spoiled child at that!!) I give thanks now, and offer my very failure to do so earlier to the Lord that He may bring good out of it.

Curious to know what the exegetical conclusion was? Go read Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Benedict XVI. In the meantime, I pray for humility, and I return to my study of the Scriptures… on my knees.


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the harrowing of hell

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An empty tabernacle

In churches around the world today, the Tabernacles are empty. The Lord Jesus, who makes Himself truly present to us in the form of bread and wine and dwells Sacramentally among us in our churches, cannot be found where He usually resides.

The empty tabernacle calls to mind the Lord’s lifeless Body in the tomb. Jesus, who is God, truly died on that First Century Passover. What transpired between His Death and Resurrection? We profess in the Apostles Creed to believe that He descended into Hell, and on the third day rose from the dead.

The following is an “ancient homily on Holy Saturday” – a moving, powerful piece that dares to imagine the Majesty of the Lord enacting His victory over death:

The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and rasied him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I the Lord, took the form of a slave; I whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol o life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

— Taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday


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subverting shame – a symbol of love

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Crucifix laid out for Good Friday veneration.

 Shame is a lie.

Likewise, discouragement is a device of the evil one and must be seen for the deception it is.

Shame is our instinctive response to an internal acknowledgement of inadequacy or wrongdoing. Discouragement is a response to an awareness of shame. A spiral of lies.

Before Jesus shouldered our sin upon Himself and died to reconcile the world to Himself, the cross was the instrument of the most shameful death in society. Crucifixion was the execution of choice for criminals and agitators; there was nothing dignified nor heroic about it.

Setting humanity straight in more ways than one, Jesus subverts everything we think we know about the world. The Cross had no power over the Creator of its makers, nor the nails over the Lord of the man who hammered them into place.

A friend of mine wrote a wonderful song, a reflection on this very point. Her song was called “Not by Nails” and it speaks of the Love which held Our Saviour to the Cross. God is love, and Jesus is God. Jesus was physically nailed to the Cross but it was Jesus’ own choice to be bound by that physical reality. Love and obedience carried the day. Jesus did the Will of His Father out of such a pure, personal, particular and preferential love for you, for me, for each individual that ever has or ever will live that we can’t even begin to fathom it.

Horror is juxtaposed with beauty. That Holy Face which was Transfigured has, for a time, become disfigured. (Pope John Paul II writes eloquently on this reality in Vita Consecrata.)

As a child, I understood on some level my complicity in Christ’s death, but rather than solemnly contemplate in silent gratitude the gift of our salvation and the means by which it was wrought, I used to get very upset about the brutal way in which Jesus was executed. It took some time before I started to learn that love was more than a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is the choice symbolized by the Cross.

Before Jesus died for us, shame was the only appropriate response to sinfulness and inadequacy. In dying, Christ won for us the freedom to choose between  continuing to dwell in that shame, or a radically different response: love… and the trust and the gratitude that go along with it. I no longer look to myself and my weakness. Yes – my weakness is there… but I’m not scandalized, I’m not ashamed. No… I no longer look to myself. I have Christ ahead of me and I choose to look to Him, to He who is Love.


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avoiding accountability, refusing responsibility

pilate

The events of Holy Week present us with one of the most universal weaknesses to result from The Fall – the tendency to point the finger.

The similarities between The Fall and the Passion and Death of Our Lord can be summarised into four elements:

A – Desire to be without God

B – Enactment of selected means to be without God

C – Attempt to hide from consequences of act

D – Attempt to shift responsibility to another

The Fall

        Element A:

In the Garden, a crime occurred that amounted to deicide. The first
parents wished to be like God, but without God and not in accord with
God.

Element B:

The enactment of this desire was one of proud disobedience in eating the
fruit that God had forbidden them. This was essentially a severance of
their relationship with God and for all intents and purposes was for them,
within their scope of being, attempted deicide.

Element C:

After their act, when they hear God walking through the Garden, the first
parents attempted to hide from Him.

Element D:

In the interrogation/trial that follows, the man blamed the woman who in
turn blamed the serpent. When Adam blames Eve, it is interesting to note
that He also blames God – “the woman YOU put with me.”

The Passion & Death of Our Lord:

Element A:

Judas, the chief priests and eventually Pilate each wanted to be without
Jesus Christ, each for their own motive. In the case of Judas and the
chief priests, this was manifested by a conspiracy to kill Him. In the
case of Pilate, this was less of a pre-meditated reality and more akin to
looking for what he considered to be the “path of least resistance” from
the standpoint of maintaining control of the people under his governance.
Nevertheless, in all cases the desire to be no longer “inconvenienced”
by Christ is present and only differs in its degree.

Element B:

Fast-forward to another Garden.

Judas consummates his betrayal of the Lord with a kiss, having already
accepted money for his crime. The chief priests enact their part in the
conspiracy by giving over to Judas the promised 30 pieces of silver.
Pontius Pilate is a little more complicated – for him, Elements B, C and
D are all encapsulated in a single act – the ritual act of washing his
hands. The decision to permit the chief priests to have their way was the
internal enactment of Pilate’s desire to be rid of the inconvenience
Christ posed to him, and this was manifested in the external act of
washing his hands.

        Elements C & D:

The elements are a little less easily divisible in Judas’ case. Confronted
with the horror of what he had done, having now fled the garden, Judas
attempts to return the earnings for his treacherous deed to chief priests.
In desperation as a result of his inability to shoulder responsibility for
what he had done and seek forgiveness, Judas takes his own life. The
chief priests, concerned with the ritual uncleanliness of the money with
which an execution had been purchased, refused to take the money back.
In this case, the 30 pieces of silver are symbolic of responsibility.
Acceptance of the money is acceptance of culpability for deicide. Pilate
hides behind his office and his responsibility to the Emperor and washes
his hands of the whole affair, explicitly stating his desire to be
disassociated from the act and specifically casting responsibility for the
execution back onto the Jews.

I too

I too, am culpable of deicide. If evil, by definition, is the privation of a due good, then it stands to reason that to choose evil is to choose for the absence of God who is the embodiment of ALL good. I too attempt to hide from my wrongdoing and through each little self-lie I try to convince myself that I haven’t done anything wrong. I too look to blame my wrongdoing on others, or on circumstances, or on anything I can think of to shift the blame from myself.

Reparation & Reconciliation

In my fallen state, I sever my tie with God, I alienate myself from Him through sin. The best act of love that I can think of to offer my God in reparation for my sinfulness is to solemnly examine my conscience, admit my guilt and, realizing that I cannot undo the damage that I have done, turn back to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the gift by which the fruits of His Sacrifice, that is, reconciliation with the Father and a healed and renewed relationship with Him, is made legitimately mine. No longer do I feel the need to reach out and take for myself a forbidden fruit. The Lord Himself, who makes all things new, is OFFERING legitimate fruit to me, fruit that is wholesome and good. All I need do is have the honesty and humility to receive it.


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attributing motives to others: just another way we fool ourselves

imageI was reading a blog that I follow (and generally enjoy) and the blogger was speaking about trolling, and how anytime a particular angle was used with respect to the topic in which he was interested, it must surely be a troll post. As someone who, once upon a time when I had much less life experience, held the very position to which he objected, I know that the expression of this (however misguided I now know it to have been) was never intended as trolling. Perhaps it LOOKED that way, but it was not.

This got me to thinking about how easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming we know another’s purpose for a given word or deed. Happens all the time… In business (e.g. “He can’t change that term in the contract at the 11th hour, he’s dragged his feet up until now… He’s trying to sabotage this deal!!”) or in personal life (e.g. “She said that after all I’ve done for her? She must still be after revenge for xyz..”)

When I was a Novice, my Novice Mistress quoted an older Sister in the Community with the following wisdom:

Always give others the benefit of the doubt in assuming good intentions… if not good judgement!

It is so easy to get worked up on an interior level about a fabricated imitation of reality that reflects to us our fears in a situation far more than it reflects the objective reality. Psychologists such as Reeder have done studies that show how the tendency to do this arises with bias because of opposing views… His research is interesting and HE is an expert whereas I am not, but I’d hazard the suggestion that fear is truly what causes this behaviour. Fear would be the substance to which the opposing view was an accident, or at least, a trigger.

If you look at the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, you will see in annotation 22 an exhortation to extend the benefit of the doubt to others as a benchmark of basic civility. That this is included in this work, however, demonstrates that it is about more than playing nice with others… It is a crucial part of spiritual theology and has a direct bearing on our interior peace and the quality of our relationship with God.

Imagine a tightly wound ball made from rubber bands… when we get caught up in others’ motives and what they might think of us, something inside of us gets wound up just like that ball… But instead of rubber bands, it’s a complicated entanglement of pride and fear. This image is another piece of wisdom I owe to my old Novice Mistress.

Truth needs to enter in. Really, if we allow ourselves to get worked up about imagined motives on the part of another, well, we’re fooling ourselves. We allow our reasoning to become compromised by the fallacy “ad hominem” and as such allow our view of the other to become poisoned. This is how relationships degenerate toward discord. Surely if we are going to hold an unfavorable opinion of someone we want it to be informed by truth, by what can be apprehended from objective reality, as opposed to emotional supposition, self-lie and the tangled mess of pride and fear?

If there is not enough fact to go upon then integrity is required to be able to admit to ourselves that we just don’t know why that person did or said what she did. And from there? Trust. We need to trust in the good intentions of others until their intentions are proven to be otherwise. The jaded person who employs cynicism about others as a defense mechanism doesn’t protect himself from deceit.

Perhaps he won’t be fooled by others. But he’ll be fooled by himself and he’ll have cheated himself of happiness.


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the saga is unfinished but the battle is already won: Ephesians 6:11-19 and what the Greek tells us

Some Context

 
This passage in Ephesians is St. Paul’s answer to Isaiah. Isaiah 59 speaks of the alienation between man and God caused by sins such as dishonesty, injustice, violence, contrivance, denial of the Lord… the picture he paints as a result of the alienation is one of the blind stumbling in the dark (Is 59:9-10) at which time the Lord will come and will

put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle.

Is 59:17

Isaiah speaks of how the Lord will come and bring justice to those who have done evil, and they shall fear Him, and they shall see His glory. He tells us:

And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from their transgression, says the Lord. And as for me, my covenant with them , says the Lord: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children’s children, says the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore.

Is 59:20-21

Isaiah illustrates the victory of the Lord over the darkness he describes in verses 9 and 10 when he describes the Lord’s coming as the rising of the sun (Is 59:19) and it is this total victory that makes the covenant described above possible.

Paul’s Answer

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  14 Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.  17  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,  19  and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel

Paul challenges the people of Ephesus to put on the armor worn by the Lord in Is 59. Paul frames his text within a battle against principalities, powers, the world rulers of this present darkness (referencing Is 59:9). He asks each Christian to equip himself for battle and to fight with these tools in order to withstand the wiles of the devil, and to quench his evil darts. He shows his reader that this is the way for him to begin living the covenant that Isaiah records the Lord making in chapter 59, where the Spirit is upon him and that the words of the Lord are being given him.

Where the Greek gets interesting

Verse 11 is enough to give me chills, and here’s why.

11 Put on the πανοπλιαν of God, that you may be able to stand against the μεθοδειας of the devil.

The two words of interest are πανοπλιαν (transliteration: panoplian) which literally means “whole armor” and εθοδειας (transliteration: methodeias) which means wiles/tricks. So far, so good… so what? At this point its all about the word selection Paul has made, and the word he chose NOT to use.

The pan prefix at the beginning of the word for “whole armor” is the part of the word that translates to “whole” (think panorama, pantheism, etc.)
eph_languageNotes
In biblical Greek, there are two words for wiles/tricks. One of the words is the one that Paul chose to use in this text, i.e. methodeias. The other word with the same basic meaning is πανουργια (panourgia.) Notice the inclusion of the prefix pan in the word that Paul chose not to use.

Why is this important? Paul is trying to illustrate that the battle is uneven… no, that its already won! God provides whole armor, complete protection. The devil doesn’t have a complete arsenal of tricks to throw at us, the kind of tricks that would match up to whole armor. This is highly encouraging!

Put on, then, the whole armor of God. Christ came, the Dawn of Compassion that broke among us, the Rising Sun that vanquished the rulers of this present darkness. He came, He fought and He won. We who follow Him are still playing our part, we are still fighting in the name of His victory as the saga of time and space plays out to its conclusion. If we fulfil our part of the covenant of the Lord by wearing His armor, quenching the darts of the evil one, praying at all times in the Spirit, keeping alert, persevering and making supplication for each other… so too will the Lord keep His promise to us – the Spirit will be upon us and His Word will always be with us. We will abide in Him and He will abide in us, participating in the Trinitarian Life that is the birthright of those adopted sons of God who were born to new life in baptism.