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2 Maccabees 4-6; 2 Corinthians 2

April 18, 2017

2 Maccabees 6:18-31 Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life. Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!” “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.

 Eleazar is one of the earliest models of martyrology, written to encourage God’s people in times of persecution.  If you are familiar with Saint Ignatius of Antioch, it is reminiscent of his martyrdom, how his Roman persecutors were almost embarrassed to take a dignified old man to his death, encouraging him to apostasize for decorum’s sake, but the great saint was cognizant of the importance of his example to young people and to all the faithful.  And the persecution goes on today, as it has for the last 2,000+ years.  And so does the inspiration. When ISIS was preparing to behead those Coptic Christian workers on the beach in Libya, one of their captives was a young non-Christian Ethiopian, whom they asked “What about you?”  His reply – as the Coptics prayed to Jesus – was “Their God is my God”, and he was beheaded too.  What an inspiration to us in this country who face soft persecution for our Christian beliefs!  May we all cling to Jesus, our one true unfailingly faithful friend in this life.

 

1 Maccabees 10-12; 1 Corinthians 15

March 26, 2017

1 Corinthians 15:19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

It is something that weighs heavier and heavier as I get older, the reality of physical death.  In the fullness of health and vitality as a young man, death was some vague rumor: I went to funerals of senior relatives, but what happened to them was impossible to relate to me. It’s not so impossible to relate to many years later. I am amazed at how fast the last twenty years sped by; e.g. it seems like we very recently had the Olympics in Atlanta, and it was 1996!  So I’m sure that the next twenty if I’m granted that many will be even more speedy. But my hope more and more resides with Christ.  I am the man blind from birth who had mud smeared on his eyes, washed, and now I see with eyes of faith, and worship him who has healed my spiritual blindness. And I live in great hope. I’m quoting from memory an episode Fr. George William Rutler’s series “Unchangeable Truths”:

In the Song of Songs the lover proclaims “Arise my friend, my beautiful one, and come! (Song of Songs 2:10) And Christ will say to us, even in the extremity of age, to us from our deathbeds “Arise my friend, my beautiful one, and come!”

Esther 7-10; 1 Corinthians 11

March 5, 2017

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

This is self-explanatory, and an issue for serious self-reflection for Catholics.  The question you need to ask yourself – as Dirty Harry would say – is do you believe the Eucharist is the real body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ?  If you don’t, then don’t read on, because you are not a devoutly believing Catholic (I’ll grant you “cultural Catholic”) and anything I have to say is pointless.  I was in my lukewarm days someone who took Communion despite being in mortal sin because I was concerned about what people would think, e.g. “Obviously that guy’s a sinner!”, like people would take that home with them and discuss my sinfulness around the Sunday roast beef and mashed potatoes.  If you truly believe in the Real Presence, then it’s not necessary to deeply dwell on Paul’s words and take them to heart, because they are already in your heart.  There was a time when Catholics perhaps as a whole were too scrupulous in receiving Communion – Jesus did say if we don’t eat his Body and drink his Blood we cannot have life within us – but now it seems to have swung too much the other way.  In making that observation I come dangerously close to being a Pharisee; I am not the judge of anyone’s soul.  But looking at the sheer numbers on communicants, which I’d say exceed 90% of those present at the Mass, I just ask everyone to prayerfully consider if the state of their soul mandates a visit to the confessional before receiving.  If Paul is right – and the Church says he is – taking Communion is healing for one’s venial sins, but toxic if one is in grave sin.  And nobody wants toxic.  A quaint way to look at it is if you were inviting Jesus into your home, maybe a couch pillow on the floor or some disarrayed “Better Homes and Gardens” on the coffee table aren’t a big deal, but you don’t expect him to come into a home that would be featured on “Hoarders”.

Esther 4-6; 1 Corinthians 10

March 3, 2017

1 Corinthians 10:13 No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

If you’ve ever been annoyed by someone telling you or overhearing someone tell another person “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”, here’s the Scriptural basis for it.  In my more impious days I would think “Try telling that to the 50,000 people killed in an earthquake in Turkey”, but now (hopefully) more spiritually mature, I realize death sometimes may be Paul’s way out.  Our natural reaction to the diagnosis of a terminal illness may be “There’s no way out!”, but with God’s grace it’s not a trial beyond one’s strength.  It’s definitely an opportunity of testimony and growing in the love of the Lord; maybe Nietzsche was wrong in many cases, that that which kills us can make us stronger.

Judith 7-9; 1 Corinthians 6

February 19, 2017

Judith 8: 9-17  So when Judith heard of the harsh words that the people, discouraged by their lack of water, had spoken against their ruler, and of all that Uzziah had said to them in reply, swearing that he would hand over the city to the Assyrians at the end of five days, she sent her maid who was in charge of all her things to summon Uzziah, Chabris, and Charmis, the elders of her city. When they came, she said to them: “Listen to me, you rulers of the people of Bethulia. What you said to the people today is not right. You pronounced this oath, made between God and yourselves, and promised to hand over the city to our enemies unless within a certain time the Lord comes to our aid. Who are you to put God to the test today, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs?  And now it is the Lord Almighty you are putting to the test, but you will never understand anything! You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can you fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan? “No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God. For if he does not plan to come to our aid within the five days, he has it equally within his power to protect us at such time as he pleases, or to destroy us in the sight of our enemies. Do not impose conditions on the plans of the Lord our God. God is not like a human being to be moved by threats, nor like a mortal to be cajoled. “So while we wait for the salvation that comes from him, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our cry if it pleases him.

 The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but excluded from Jewish texts and assigned by Protestants to the Apocrypha.  If you are not familiar with it, it is a brief but vivid read: the Assyrians are threatening, and who will save the day? Judith is one of the most memorable women of the Bible; if a movie were cast Angeline Jolie would probably be a leading candidate to play her.  A great speech here about the slippery slope of putting God to the test.

 

Nehemiah 7-9; Romans 14

January 31, 2017

Romans 14:9-12  For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God, for it is written:

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

 So [then] each of us shall give an account of himself [to God].

This another citation that can get people confused about “judging”.  Paul is referring to the judging that the Pharisees did; e.g. “You are a tax collector – a miserable sinner – and condemned by God.”  We are not to make judgments about what God sees in a person, or God’s plan for a person.  This is exactly why the Church has a process for declaring someone certainly in Heaven, but not one for being in Hell.  Not judging doesn’t mean accepting relativism: it is a spiritual work of mercy and love to admonish the sinner.  There is no greater love shown towards another person than desiring their salvation.  It is just there is a wrong way to admonish (With a bullhorn yell at a person “If you don’t stop <fill in the blank> you’ll BURN IN HELL!”) and a right way to admonish, although some of us are undoubtedly better than others at loving admonishment.  I probably despite my best efforts come across as Lou Grant interacting with Mary Richards:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etyO7T6WGwU

And RIP Mary Tyler Moore, you were one of the greats. May perpetual light shine upon you.

 

Sufferin’ Succotash

January 8, 2017

I recently watched a 60-minute movie on EWTN – a blend of drama and documentary – on Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa.  Here’s a link if you wish to know more:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandrina_Maria_da_Costa.

She kept diaries – reminiscent of Saint Faustina – detailing her conversations with Christ.  In the majority of these conversations, Christ rewarded her sanctity and faithfulness with more and greater suffering, which is so hard to get one’s arms around, because it is so counter-intuitive.  Maybe it is because of the way we are raised as children if we have good parents: if you are “good”, you get rewarded, if you are “bad”, you get disciplined in a proportionate way. In the Old Testament when Israel was “good”, things went well for them; when they were “bad”, not so much.  I can grasp Christ’s Passion as a proof of the Divine Love for mankind; I don’t have the IQ points to understand the concept of suffering as a “cosmic balancing of the scales”.  Christ used the word “reparation” a lot, in the context of joining Him in suffering was reparation for the terrible sins being committed during the 20th century.  There is a corporate aspect of sin.  From Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Apologia (247)

“The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”

We can find it easy to think that our sanctity or lack thereof of is between us and Jesus, but the sins of one affect the entire Body of Christ, so it seems.  I can’t explain it from a theological standpoint; maybe one day the light will come on for me.  I just cling to the fact that’s there’s one God, and I’m not Him.

I reflect on this regard this suffering going on in my immediate family at present, cancer and uncertainty about cancer.  Yet this program about Blessed Alexandrina rocked my world quite a bit.  My own personal sufferings are pathetic compared to what this woman went through.  I offer “reparations” every Friday by eschewing meat and coffee, but more than once I’ve stopped at Starbucks on Friday morning on my way to work and had a chai latte because of the burgeoning headache – hey, it’s not coffee! –  so I don’t know how truly united to Christ my so-called sufferings are.  She lived on nothing but the Eucharist for 13 years; between meals at work I’m frequently stuffing my face with something because waiting until mealtime is just too uncomfortable.  I live in a house with central air and cable and a refrigerator that’s always stocked, so suffering is relative obviously.  Why is your average Catholic Haitian – with a dirt-floored shack and without two nickels to rub together– joyful in spite of earthquakes, hurricanes, and political instability, while I’m Mr. Grumpy Cat because someone drank my last Frappucino?  I don’t have a good answer, which makes me grumpier.

Lord forgive me, a pathetic weak sinner, my pathetic weak sinfulness, and bring me into deeper friendship with you. Amen.