Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Genesis Notes: A Stumble and a Son

GENESIS 20 & 21
Abraham plays the same old "Sarah is my sister" trick when he comes up against Abimelech. Sometimes we just can't help giving in to our worst instincts and despite Abraham's closeness to God, he is no different that we are in that quality. I always wondered what charms a 90-year-old woman had to make every man want to take her away. This makes it a little easier to understand.
... The average age span of that day was about 120-130 years; at the age of 90, Sarah would have been at the stage of her life equivalent to a 40-50 year old woman today.
I also like the fact that although Abimelech was innocent of any known wrong-doing he is told to go to Abraham and ask him for healing prayers. Not only does this show Abimelech just how close Abraham is to God but it shows us the power of prayer.

Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh's Palace by James Tissot.
Think about what we have observed up to this point in Abraham's life concerning prayer. It is really most remarkable. We have seen that God answered his prayers for mercy on Lot's behalf. This was a prayer he prayed out of righteous love of justice and love for his kinsman. We have seen that God showed mercy and favor to Hagar and Ishmael through the intercession of Abraham, even though the unfortunate circumstances that required prayer were due to Abraham's departure from God's plan for him. Now, in these chapters, we have seen God withhold His healing from a gravely ill man until he did what was right (restore Sarah) and had Abraham, the one who wronged him, pray for him. What can we make of all this?

The best way to understand what Abraham's life shows us about prayer is to remember a thought from the previous lesson. Recall that when God revealed His plan to judge Sodom to Abraham, it was Abraham's human voice that defended the justice and goodness of God against the appearance of something otherwise. That was a sign to us that when God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him, it was the beginning of the Great Reversal for His enemy, Satan. Why? Never again would human voices fail to defend the character of God, as Adam did in Eden. The life of God in men (which is "grace") will enable them to be His presence within the fallen creation. Flesh and blood will thwart and eventually, in the Incarnation, destroy the power of the devil, just as God promised in Gen. 3:15.

What was it that Adam didn't do in Eden? He didn't pray for help from God. He did not lift his voice to object to the serpent's attack on God's character, and he did not cry out for guidance about what to do next. What would that prayer, had he prayed it, have done? It would have preserved his supernatural grace, the likeness of God that was his as a gift. Instead, he lost it. He was still in God's image but not in His likeness. Abraham, as we have seen, prays. He asks God to act, and the details of his story in Genesis show very clearly that his prayers loose God's power and mercy. Even when he is weak and culpable, his prayers are efficacious. This is an astounding statement about prayer. As the Catechism says, "Prayer restores man to God's likeness and enables him to share in the power of God's love that saves the multitude." (2572) Just as the lack of prayer led to the loss of God's likeness in man, the action of prayer is the first step to its restoration.

When we get to the New Testament, we can hardly fathom the power of the prayers of the New Covenant family of God. What we see here in Genesis of the way in which God uses the prayers of Abraham as His instruments for unleashing His power, love, and goodness on fallen human creatures is only a shadow of what lies ahead. If we have been baptized into Christ, we share in that special relationship between the Father and the Son. Therefore Jesus says, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)

Once it sinks into our minds and hearts that prayer makes us like God and that, because He wants to vanquish His enemy through human beings, He uses our prayers to pour out His blessings on all mankind, we should comprehend why St. Paul says, in 1 Thess. 5:17, to "pray without ceasing." Amen!

Until going through this study I had never considered how deeply Abraham probably loved Ishmael. He would have been terribly grieved to cast him off and Ishmael would have been stunned to have his heretofore loving father cast him and his mother out. Why would Sarah have insisted on such actions?
... Isaac would have been perhaps 2 or 3 years old when he was weaned. At the feast given to celebrate his weaning, Sarah observed Ishmael (who would have been about 16-17 years old) "playing" with Isaac. St. Paul, in Gal. 4:28-31, says that this was not innocent child's play but "persecution." The implication is that Ishmael was mocking or taunting Isaac about becoming a "big boy" but not being as important as a firstborn son, as Ishmael was. This was the traditional Jewish understanding of this episode.
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Caique Oarsman

Caique Oarsman, Anders Zorn, 1886
I can feel the air and sun and spray. Ocean vacation anyone?

Lagniappe: My hands were made for blessing, but not my feet

"Lord, if I have been a worthy servant to You, grant me one small favor. Let me at least hit him with this candle. After all, Lord, what is a candle?"

"No," replied Christ. "Your hands were made for blessing."

Don Camillo sighed wearily. He genuflected and left the altar. As he turned to make a final sign of the cross, he found himself exactly behind Peppone, who still knelt at the altar rail and appeared absorbed in prayer.

"Lord," groaned Don Camillo, clasping his hands and looking up at the crucifix, "my hands were made for blessing, but not my feet."

"There's something in that," replied Christ, "but, I warn you, just one."

The kick landed like a thunderbolt. Peppone didn't bat an eye. After a minute he got up and sighed.

"I've been expecting that for the past ten minutes," he remarked casually. "I feel better now."
Giovanni Guareschi, The Little World of Don Camillo
This is one of my favorite passages so naturally it is included in Scott's and my discussion of the book on our podcast. But for those who might not listen, here it is in good old print.

Julie and Scott are ready to start breaking candles over heads. And then, Christ spoke ...

"Just one," he said. "Just one." We're discussing The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovannino Guareschi at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Benedict, Jeremiah, or Gregory: Options for Living the Catholic Life

The "Benedict Option" is a phrase you might hear a lot in the near future. It was first coined by Rod Dreher several years ago, referring to “pioneering forms of dropping out of a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values.” And now he's got a book coming out which, as is Dreher's way, is controversial. So I thought I'd mention it ... along with my two cents, of course!

St. Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order,
Monastery of St. Gilles, Nimes, France, 1129
The Benedict referred to by Dreher is St. Benedict of Nursia who founded many monasteries and whose rule for living monastic  life is still the foundation of many monasteries today. The Benedictine monasteries are often credited with preserving Christianity, culture, and knowledge during the Middle Ages. Not surprisingly, St. Benedict is often called the father of western monasticism.

When he originally coined the phrase, Dreher wrote about literal flight from modern society. Many (including me) rolled their eyes. This is not the Christian way. What was that last command Jesus had for his followers?
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)
These followers had something so good and true that they were on fire to share it with the world. The Benedictine monks weren't running away when they built their monasteries. They were spread all over because they were taking the gospel, the good news of Christ, to the ends of the earth. The fact that they took medicine, farming, engineering, art, and more with them was just because that's how they lived. And also how they made life better for those they went to help.

I forgot all about the Benedict Option until the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Christian creating their own small communities. It mentioned Dreher's term and that he'd written a book about it which is coming out next month.

I took to the internet to refresh my memory and discovered that Dreher had expanded his concept when questioned about the problem of isolationism as a Christian lifestyle.
If all the churches did what they were supposed to do, we wouldn’t need the Ben Op. Thing is, they don’t. The term “Benedict Option” symbolizes a historically conscious, antimodernist return to roots, an undertaking that occurs with the awareness that Christians have to cultivate a sense of separation, of living as what Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon call “resident aliens” in a “Christian colony,” in order to be faithful to our calling.
("If churches did what they were supposed to do." If the government just did what it was supposed to do. If the school did what it was supposed to do. And then there's my next door neighbor. And so on and so forth. Ok, let's ignore that attitude and move on.)

First of all — the church is made up of the people. Therefore, if we all just did what we were supposed to do — I'll say it — we might not have this big mess right now. But we didn't, so here we are. Now, how do we live as Christians in a fallen world? (Not so sure what is new about all this, by the way.)

I found Dreher's expanded FAQ unclear and somewhat muddled largely because, I think, that's part of the problem with living as a Christian anyway. You can't nail down a lot of things especially when it comes to how we become better, more devout Christians. However, what I've gleaned is that he wants us living intentional lives devoted to Christ, prayer, and others. With a Church that supports, teaches, and defends authentic faith.

Well, duh. That is how every serious Christian I know is living their lives already. Certainly every serious Catholic. And I know a lotta them. Again, I'm not sure what is so new about this.

It would be nice if more Christians did that. And knew their faith better. And so forth. Who's going to teach them? Oh, the church. That is to say — us. One more time, not sure what is so new about this. Read the Acts of the Apostles. This is the continual struggle. And it is almost always in a hostile environment from the secular world.

Musing over the matter this weekend I realized that our parish could be considered a direct descendent of those Benedictine monasteries in a lot of ways. It isn't perfect, because what in this world is, but it is a shining beacon in so many ways, beginning with the marriage enrichment retreat I was helping with while I was musing.

Twice a year, we invest considerable time, effort, and money into helping enrich marriages. We do it for the couples. But it also overflows into the church and the world, because marriages are the cornerstone of society. Which overflows into the children, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances of those who attend. It's how you change a society with moral decay — which is much how the 1st century Christians did it, come to think of it.

I can list many more of our parish's good works which include facilitating not only personal relationship with Jesus but the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I won't subject you to the laundry list but you get the point. And there are plenty of other good parishes and churches around who are doing the same thing, beginning with the gospel women's prayer breakfast that was rocking the conference room next to ours on Saturday.

We all have to do our parts, but everything I read about Dreher's concept always left me with a sense of turning inward or retreating.

Gregory the Great dictating the Gregorian Chants
That's when I came across other commentary on the Benedict Option. Lots of other commentary. Most interesting to me were the other options people came up with. Because it is all about models of living, right?

My favorite is the Gregorian option. To be fair, it's kind of how I roll already. But these are all worth reading and pondering.
  • The Benedict Option: What Does It Really Mean? — briefly explains main points of Benedictine Rule for the modern world, from a Benedictine monk

  • What Would Jeremiah Do? — lessons from Jeremiah and the Babylonian exile for modern life in a hostile environment. "The piety that God encourages, therefore, can be practiced by ordinary people living ordinary lives under difficult circumstances. God enjoins the captives not only to live in Babylon, but also to live in partnership with Babylon. Without assimilating, they are to lay down roots, multiply, and contribute to the good of the greater society."

  • The Benedict Option or the Gregorian Option? — Take the bull by the horns, charge into that morally bankrupt void and claim it for Christ. Who knows? You might wind up with a new calendar, musical form, or economic model ... and change the world.

  • The Other Benedict Option — Bad Catholic comments and holds up the example of the other Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI

  • Strangers in a Strange Land by Charles J. Chaput — Chaput wrote one of my favorite books about Catholicism and politics in America (Render Unto Caesar). This one will be out soon and I can't wait. A vivid critique of American life today and a guide to how Christians―and particularly Catholics--can live their faith vigorously, and even with hope, in a post-Christian public square.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

4th Sunday of St. Joseph

Presentation at the Temple by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1342

Joys and Sorrows - I

To think about the life of Saint Joseph is to discover a life full of joys and sorrows. the Lord teaches us through the life of the Holy Patriarch that true happiness is never far from the Cross. If we bear that suffering and trial with supernatural spirit, we will soon be rewarded with clarity and peace. With Christ at our side, sorrows turn into joys.
[First Sorrow and Joy]
When Mary his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. (Matt 1:18) Joseph ... loved Mary with a pure and deep human love. Yet he felt obliged by his upright conscience to follow the Mosaic law in this regrettable situation. In order to protect Mary from public shame, Joseph decided to put her aside privately. This was a most painful test for both Joseph and Mary.

Just as his sorrow was great, so was Joseph's joy immeasurable when at last he was shown the ways of God's Providence ...

We can learn from Joseph's first sorrow and joy that the Lord will always enlighten those who seek him with a clean heart. God's light can shine through the most perplexing situations imaginable. 
[Second Sorrow and Joy]
And it came to pass while they were there, that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger... (Luke 2:6-7)

We can imagine Joseph going from door to door in search of shelter and hospitality for his pregnant wife ... What must this terrible experience have been like for Saint Joseph? What were his feelings at the sight of his weary wife, her clothing travel-stained and every feature proclaiming her utter exhaustion? ...

All of this anxiety and suffering was quickly forgotten from the moment Mary held the Son of God in her arms. Saint Joseph realized that the Son of God was now his son as well. He kissed and worshipped him...

This alternating sorrow and joy should teach us that serving God is worth the effort, even though we will encounter difficulties, and perhaps poverty and pain.

[Third Sorrow and Joy]
And when eight days were fulfilled for his circumcision, his name was called Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21) ... The actual ceremony was sometimes performed by the father.

... The name Jesus means Savior; it had been chosen by God himself and communicated through the message of the angel ... It was the desire of the Holy Trinity that the Son should commence his salvific mission on earth in suffering. It would seem fitting that Joseph was the one to inaugurate the mystery of the Redemption by shedding the first drops of his Son's holy blood. This blood would yield its full effect in the awful context of the Passion. The Child who cried upon the receipt of his name had thereupon begun his work of salvation.

Saint Joseph ... was well versed in the Scriptures and he knew, if only in an imperfect way, that there would come a day when his Son would have to shed his blood even to the last drop. Joseph was filled with joy to carry the child in his arms and call him Jesus ...

[Fourth Sorrow and Joy]
And when the days of her purification were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (Luke 2:22) ... When Joseph heard the prophecy of Simeon, surely a sword must have pierced his heart as well.

On that day in the Temple Joseph and Mary were given a more profound insight into the mystery of the Redemption which their Son would bring to completion. Saint Joseph was now able to understand a little better. He made this suffering his own...

Alongside this pain there was, of course, the joy of the impending universal redemption.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gone Retreatin' - to Help Good Marriages Get Better

We are off to help with our parish's Beyond Cana retreat. It is a labor of love and a pleasure to be part of the very special group of people putting this retreat on.

Please keep us in your prayers and, of course, also the attendees ... married couples who somehow were able to find the time to take 2-1/2 days apart from the world to focus on their marriages. These days that shows true dedication!

May this be a blessed time for everyone involved. Lord, hear our prayer.

(I'm outta here until Monday, not surprisingly! See y'all then!)

By the way - if you live in Dallas and are interested in finding out more, we hold these twice a year. You can get the basics here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Medieval Honey Bees

Medieval illustration from beekeeping manuscript
Via Animalarium where there is an antique treasure chest of illustrations for anyone who clicks through the link!

Well Said: The Path of Redemption

It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master; no path of redemption can make a detour around it.
Hans Urs von Balthasar
When I have this in mind it is so much easier to bear things that would otherwise really get me down. The challenge is often to keep it in mind instead of looking for that detour.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Well Said: Satan's Assurances

Before we commit a sin, Satan assures us that it is of no consequence; after we commit a sin, he persuades us that it is unforgivable.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Worth a Thousand Words: Water Spaniel

George Stubbs, Water Spaniel

Genesis Notes: Lot's Resume

I love these resumes. They pull together a Biblical figure's life in a way that gives me a whole new take sometimes.

Lot and his family flee from Sodom by Jacob Jordaens.
Jacob Jordaens

When still young, Lot lost his father. Although this must have been hard on him, he was not left without strong role models in his grandfather Terah and his uncle Abram, who raised him. Still, Lot did not develop their sense of purpose. Throughout his life he was so caught up in the present moment that he seemed incapable of seeing the consequences of his actions. It is had to imagine what his life would have been like without Abram's careful attention and God's intervention.

By the time Lot drifted out of the picture, his life had taken an ugly turn. He had so blended into the sinful culture of his day that he did not want to leave it. Then his daughters committed incest with him. His drifting finally took him in a very specific direction -- destruction.

Lot, however, is called "righteous" in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:7, 8). Ruth, a descendant of Moab, was an ancestor of Jesus, even though Moab was born as a result of Lot's incestuous relationship with one of his daughters. Lot's story gives hope to us that God forgives and often brings about positive circumstances from evil...

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • He was a successful businessman
  • Peter calls him a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7, 8)
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with decisions, he tended to put off deciding, then chose the easiest course of action
  • When given a choice, his first reaction was to think of himself
Lessons from his life:
  • God wants us to do more than drift through life; he wants us to be an influence for him
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Lived first in Ur of the Chaldeans, then moved to Canaan with Abram. Eventually he moved to the wicked city of Sodom.
  • Occupation: Wealthy sheep and cattle rancher; also a city official
  • Relatives: Father - Haran. Adopted by Abram when his father died. The name of his wife, who turned into a pillar of salt, is not mentioned.
Key verse:
"When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them." (Genesis 19:16)

Lot's story is told in Genesis 11-14; 19. He also is mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:9; Luke 17:28-32; 2 Peter 2:7, 8.

All quotes from Life Application Study Bible. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Holy Martyrs of Libya, pray for us

21 Martyrs of Libya
by Tony Rezk
(See more about this icon below)
The martyrs of Libya are the 21 young men who withstood imprisonment by ISIS for 40 days and then were murdered when they refused to renounce Jesus Christ.

They died with Jesus' name on their lips, saying "Jesus help us" and "My Lord Jesus."

It has been two years since they were martyred.
The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.
In these uncertain times, I am strengthened by their witness, faithful unto death. I pray that I may likewise bear faithful witness in whatever circumstances I find myself.

Let us pray for those persecuted for their faith, for the persecutors to recognize the truth they strive to silence, and that we will be as faithful our love and witness.

Holy martyrs, pray for us and for the whole world. Amen.
+Milad Makeen Zaky
+Abanub Ayad Atiya
+Maged Solaimain Shehata
+Yusuf Shukry Yunan
+Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
+Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
+Somaily Astafanus Kamel
+Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
+Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
+Girgis Milad Sinweet
+Mina Fayez Aziz
+Hany Abdelmesih Salib
+Bishoy Adel Khalaf
+Samuel Alham Wilson
+Ezat Bishri Naseef
+Loqa Nagaty
+Gaber Munir Adly
+Esam Badir Samir
+Malak Farag Abram
+Sameh Salah Faruq
+Matthew Ayairga, originally non-Christian, who was captured with the others and witnessed their faith. When terrorists asked if he rejected Jesus, despite knowing he would be killed, he said, "Their God is my God."

21 Martyrs of Libya icon

I discovered this icon at New Liturgical Movement which shared insights about the symbolism, always important for any icon.
[Matthew Ayairga is] represented here in the middle of the group. Note also that the rest of them are shown with the same face as Jesus, whose Holy Name they spoke as they were killed; the sea behind them is shown reddened by their blood. The red stoles and crowns above them symbolize their martyrdom; the stoles are arranged like those of Coptic deacons during the liturgy. ... The red stoles worn by Christ and the martyrs symbolize the cross identifying them as Christlike Cross bearers, (staurophoroi).

Here is an interview with Tony Rezk where he talks about his faith and the Coptic Church.

Holy Martyrs of Libya icon

Holy Martyrs of Libya
by Nikola Sarić
Notice how the waves of the sea stained with the martyrs’ blood are shown around the edge of the image; Matthew Arayiga is distinct among the group on the top right. The men were killed wearing orange prisoners’ jumpsuits; all them are looking at Christ except for the one at the bottom, who is looking out at us.