Category Archives: Old Testament

Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. (Gn 3: 19)

About three years ago, my husband and I began to read the Gospels, (out loud) two chapters at a time, on Ash Wednesday.  We found that by doing so we could read all four Gospels by Holy Saturday.  The first time, we continued after Easter and read until the end of the NT.  Then we began the New Testament again and read it through 2 chapters a night.  Then, we began to read the Old Testament, the same way.  We are only to the end of Wisdom, so we have set it aside and began the Gospels again tonight.

Everyone else reads other books for their spiritual reading during Lent.  We just stick with the Gospels.  Doing so, we have had great Lents for the past three years.

So after dinner tonight, we began.  Matthew Chapters 1 and 2.  What is Jesus’ ancestry and where was He born?  I especially like the verses about St. Joseph dreaming of angels.  He was such a man of faith!  That we would have just a bit of his faith and humility, we too could dream of angels.

Finally, today’s liturgy is an invitation to penance.  The predominant thought of the day should be that while physical penance is okay, we need spiritual penance–humility, recognition of our faults, a steadfast heart, and the reformation of our lives.  The Lord wants us to be converted to Him with all our hearts, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning.  He wants us to “rend our hearts; not just our garments.”

Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil.  As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this day holy by our self-denial.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  (Liturgy of the Hours for Ash Wednesday-Evening Prayer)

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Who Did You Go Out to See?

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: What did you go out into the wilderness to behold?  A reed shaken by the wind?  Why then did you go out? To see a man dressed in soft robes? Behold, those who wear soft robes are in kings’ houses.  Why then did you go out?  To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’  Matthew 11: 7-10

St. John is no “reed shaken by the wind.”  He is not diverted from the path of discipline or mindful of earthly pleasures.

He is the greatest and last Old Testament prophet.  Jesus tells us though that even the “least” saint in the New Testament outshines St. John. John bears witness to Christ by his preaching, by his baptism of repentance, and through his martyrdom at the hand of Herod.  Jesus views John as going before Him in “the spirit and power of Elijah.”

Jesus never undermines the saintly life of John because he is more than a prophet.  He completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah.  The Holy Spirit concludes His speaking through the prophets with St. John and completes the careful search of the prophets and fulfills the longing of the angels.  “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. . .Behold, the Lamb of God.”  John 12: 33-36

Do we want to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ coming?  Then, we, like St. John the Baptist, must detach ourselves from earthly goods.  He went into the desert and lead a life of penance.  In so far as we are able, can we retire into the interior of our hearts to await Jesus’ coming in silence, solitude, and deep recollection?  Can we add a greater spirit of penance, generosity, and charity to our daily lives?  Can we give something up or take on something hard in the next two weeks?  The true Joy of Christmas is worth it.

We can’t doubt that Jesus came to save and sanctify us.  We can’t doubt that He is infinitely merciful and we can go to Him with complete confidence.  We can’t doubt that He loves us with an infinite Love; Love that we do not deserve and can never truly reciprocate no matter how we try in our clumsy, sinful way.

During this Advent, we are invited to listen to His voice and prepare ourselves.  I know that it is hard for me to quiet my continual chatter about useless things.  I know that my mind and heart can be like a raging sea of fantasies, thoughts and self love.  I have a hard time turning this off.  It’s hard to be calm during this season with all the distractions of shopping, parties, spending, and eating and drinking too much.

Yet, Jesus can calm the raging sea and quiet the tumultuous mind.  So, pray along with me, “Jesus, help me to quiet the chatter and calm my mind.  Teach me how to fasten my gaze upon you, so that all the rest will fade away.  Draw everything about me to Yourself.”

And, St. John the Baptist, pray for us.


Filed under Advent, Catholic, Charity, Holy Spirit, New Testament, Old Testament, Uncategorized

A Reasonable Hope?

Just finished watching Wolf Hall and am contemplating the eternal fate of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. This is in light of the Reverend Robert Barron’s, now famous, statement that we can “have a reasonable hope that all are saved (no one goes to hell.)”

Henry was an adulterer, a murderer, and an apostate.   Historians say he wanted to be Catholic just not a Papist. However, whether or not he intended to do so, he founded the Church of England on divorce and murder. Thomas Cromwell, the King’s trusted adviser, who was partial to Protestantism, most notably Lutheranism, carried out Henry’s nefarious plans. These included the murder of Anne Boleyn, her brother, and two of her household servants, because Henry “wanted” Jane Seymour and Cromwell wanted more power. He was also responsible for the deaths of John Fisher and Thomas More because they were “Papists.” Thomas Cromwell deeply despised the Catholic Church and Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More were his way at getting back at that Church. According to 1 John 3: 14-15, “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

I think it’s pretty unreasonable that people like Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell were saved if that means they are not in hell with Judas. (Jesus, Scriptures-both old and new- the Apostles, and the early Church fathers all tell us that Judas is in hell.) I know. I know. I shouldn’t judge individual souls. However, the only people that we can be sure are in heaven are those that the Church has officially called Saints.

In order for someone to go to hell, it is necessary to willfully turn away from God and be unrepentant and persistent in sin until the end. In light of scriptures and Jesus’ teachings about the existence of hell, why would we ever have a reasonable hope that hell is empty, except for Satan, his minions, and Judas?

I would also think it unreasonable that anyone who rejects God, denies Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life can get into heaven. Of course, when the Apostles asked Jesus, “then who can be saved?” He responded that with God all things are possible. Do Satanists, witches, pagans, people who sin against the Holy Spirit ( a sin that can’t be forgiven in this world or the next, according to Jesus,) and those who despair and have no hope, reasonable or unreasonable; do they all go to heaven?

It would appear that I have so many questions and so few answers that my head is about to explode. I guess I’ll have to heed St. Paul and work out my salvation with fear and trembling and hope in the promises of my Savior. And that is the only hope that I feel is  very, very reasonable!

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Faith and the Search for God

#35  The Letter to the Hebrews tells us of the “just ones” who sought God even before He made the covenant with Abraham.  One of these was Enoch, who “had pleased God.”  We can’t believe God exists apart from faith.  In Hebrews 11:5, “whoever would approach God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”  God is not impossible to find.  He rewards those who seek Him by allowing Himself to be found.  (I love this statement from Lumen Fidei.  I believe that one of the prayers that He always answers if we pray sincerely is “Please show me that you exist.”)  “God is light and He can be found also by those who seek Him with a sincere heart.”

In the New Testament, the Magi are seekers.  The star is a sign of God’s patience with our human eyes.  He knows that we must grow accustomed to His luminous light, which is a bright as the primordial fire that it is.  As we approach God, we are not engulfed by the immensity of His fire, but rather we begin to shine all the more brightly.  “There is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up, illumined and purified by this light (fire.)”

Faith is a way, so if non-believers are sincerely open to love and search for whatever light they can, they, even without knowing it, are on the path to faith.  They intuit that the presence of God would make life’s grandeur and beauty all the more beautiful.  “Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by His help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love.” (I read this quote twice because it gives me hope.)

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Faith as Hearing and Sight

29.  St. Paul used the formula fides ex auditu (faith comes from hearing.)  He acknowledges that faith, linked to a word, is always personal.  Personal knowledge of the truth leads to “the obedience of faith.”  The Greeks, at that time, linked knowledge to sight and this would seem to be antithetical to the biblical understanding of faith-knowledge as coming from hearing the word.  However, the Old Testament combined both kinds of knowledge.  When we heard God’s word, we longed to see His Face!  It seems that God’s overall plan for salvation by faith includes both hearing and sight.

30.  (This paragraph is so rich that I really suggest that you read the whole thing from Lumen Fidei for yourself.)  Here are some quotes to wet your appetite for doing so:  “Faith’s hearing emerges as a form of knowing proper to love:  it is a personal hearing, one which recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd.”  “But faith is also tied to sight.  Seeing the signs which Jesus worked leads at times to faith, as in the case of the Jews who, following the raising of Lazarus, ‘having seen what He did, believed in Him.'”  “If you believe, you will see the Glory of God.”  (Jn 11:40)

Christ is the Word made flesh Whose glory we have seen.  Our encounter with Christ is the perfect blending of faith by hearing and by sight.  Truth is disclosed by our contemplation of our Risen Lord’s life and our awareness of His Real presence in our lives.

31.  Jesus shared our humanity and brought to fruition a faith that comes from love for us.  St. John in his First Letter also speaks of faith as touch.  “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”  By taking flesh and dwelling among us, Jesus touched us.  Not just during His life on earth but also through His life given to us in the Sacraments.  So, in faith, like the woman with the hemorrhage, we can touch Him and be cured.  As St. Augustine said, “To touch Him with our hearts: that is what it means to believe.”

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Chapter Two: Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand.

I have been high-liting important passages in each paragraph and then paraphrasing them to present the “gist” of each paragraph.  Now, Lumen Fidei is getting so filled with hi-lites that to reduce each paragraph to a few salient points is getting harder.  I will probably be quoting more from the encyclical in some places and suggesting that you read certain paragraphs for yourself in other.  I really can do no better than Papa Francis’ * own words.

Faith and Truth

“Unless you believe, you will no understand. (cf Is 7:9)”

23.  The Greek version of the Hebrew Bible translated in Alexandria is “If you will not believe, you shall not be established.”  Terrified by the might of his enemies, King Ahaz wants to form an alliance with the great Assyrian empire because of the security that he believes that the empire can offer him.  “The prophet tells him instead to trust completely in the solid and steadfast rock which is the God of Israel.  Because God is trustworthy, it is reasonable to have faith in Him, to stand fast on His word.”  The prophet challenges the king and us.  He wants us to see God’s faithfulness; that God’s plan is best if we but have faith.  We must understand with St. Augustine the Truth of God.   He is a God that we can rely in order to be “established” in that Truth and to understand how trustworthy God is.

24.  Isaiah leads us to one conclusion:  faith without Truth can not save!  If faith is just a beautiful story with which we can deceive ourselves or a lofty sentiment that is incapable of sustaining us through life, the we, like King Ahaz, would be foolish to stake our lives or security on such a feeling or story.

25.  Relativism:  The denial of universal Truth and ultimately the denial of God’s existence.  “Today, more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age.”  At this point, the encyclical speaks beautifully of contemporary culture and its consideration of truth.  I suggest that you read all of paragraph 25 for yourself.  It is a priceless description of our culture.  Truth (with a capital “T”) is the origin of all.  In the light of Truth, we can glimp0se the goal and meaning of mankind’s common path.  It can “succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness.”

*Some of Lumen Fidei was written by our beloved Benedict XVI.

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Salvation by Faith

19.  When we accept the gift of faith, we become a new being as a child of God.  This relationship with our “Abba, Father” Becomes the core of our experience.  When Paul debated the issue of salvation with the Pharisees, he rejects the attitude that we are justified by our own works.  When we live so as to not recognize that all goodness comes from God; when we want to be the source of our righteousness, we soon find ourselves cut-off from the Lord and from others.  “Once I think that by turning away from God I will find myself, my life begins to fall apart. . .Salvation by faith means recognizing the primacy of God’s gift of grace.”

20.  Faith gives us a new way of seeing things.  This way is centered on Christ.  In the Old Testament, Moses tells the Israelites in Dt. 30: 11-14 that God’s command is not too high and not too far away.  In Rom. 10: 6-7, St. Paul interprets the nearness of “God’s word in terms of Christ’s presence in the Christian. . .Faith knows that God has drawn close to use, that Christ has been given to us a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us, and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life.”

21.  Those who believe are different because kthey have opened their hearts to a love that transforms.  As a Christian, we can see with Jesus’ eyes; we can share His mind; and we can share in His Sonship, because we share in His love which is the Holy Spirit.  “Without being conformed to Him in love, without the presence of the Spirit, it is impossible to confess Him as Lord.”

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The Fullness of Christian Faith

15.  St. Augustine stated that the Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham were saved by faith in Christ who was yet to come.  All Old Testament threads converge on Christ.  God guarantees His love by sending Christ to us thus Christian faith is faith in a perfect love; love that has the power to change the world.

16.  Christ died for our sake.  Because of this, Christ’s love for us is true and reliable.  By contemplating His death, our faith should grown stronger; receiving such a dazzling light that we can believe completely in His love.  His self-gift of embracing death for our salvation overcomes every suspicion I might have so that I can trust Him completely.

17. “Precisely because Jesus is the Son, because He is absolutely grounded in the Father, He was able to conquer death and make the fullness of life shine forth.  Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world.. . But, if God could not act in the world, His love would not be truly powerful, truly real. . .It would make no difference at all whether we believed in Him or not.”

18.  We need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned.  Christian faith turns to Christ as our authority.  Faith sees things as Jesus sees them.  Jesus IS the one Who makes God known to us.  St. John brings out the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus in order to truly know and trust God the Father.  We believe what Jesus tells us to be true.  We believe in Jesus when we welcome Him into our lives.  Christian faith is faith in the Word of God made man.  It is faith in a God who entered our human history.  He loves us completely and passionately and He love our world, so that He is constantly guiding it and us to Him.

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The Faith of Israel

12.  In the Book of Exodus, God promises to set His people free and Israel trusts in Him.  Their primordial faith leads them on a long journey and God is presented in the accounts of the journey as a Father.  Israel celebrates God’s mighty deeds by celebrating them and passing the account of them from generation to generation.

13.  The history of Israel shows us how we can be tempted to put our faith in idols.  I think Papa Francis’ own words are beautiful in this passage.  “Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our hands. . . Idolatry, then is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another.  Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.”  Believing in God and having a personal relationship with Him means “. . .entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history.”

14.  We encounter Moses in the faith of Israel.  Moses is the mediator between Israel and God.  He speaks to YHWH on the mountain and then tells others of God’s will.  God describes Israel as “My first-born son,” so that the whole community is seen as one.  Israel must learn to journey together as one.  They show us that through our encounter with other, “our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves.”  Accepting God’s free gift of faith calls for humility and courage; the courage to trust.

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We Have Believed In Love–Lumen Fidei–Chapter 1

Abraham, our father in faith

8.  Faith must be witnessed in the Old Testament if we want to understand it.  God reveals Himself to Abraham by speaking to him and calling his name.  Thus, faith takes on a very personal aspect.

9.  God speaks to Abraham a call and a promise.  Abraham’s faith is linked to his steps toward an unforeseen future.  Abraham’s faith is a response to God’s word.  Faith remembers the promise and is therefore bound up with hope.  Abraham doesn’t “see;” he hopes and believes.

10.  God is fidelity; so faith becomes “absolutely certain and unshakeable.”  God’s Word becomes a solid rock and a straight highway.  As St. Augustine explains: “Man is faithful when he believes in God and His promises; God is faithful when He grants to man what He has promised.”

11.  The God Who asks Abraham for complete trust reveals Himself to be the source of all life.  “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son and you shall name him Isaac” (Gen 17:19).  Faith in God helps Abraham realize that his life is NOT a chance happening.  Abraham is the fruit of the Creator; the Origin of all that is.  The Word could raise up a son to one who was barren.  And, so, the Word is a promise of a future beyond death.

Next time:  The faith of Israel

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