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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bible and Catechism in a Year: Days 31 and 32

I opted to volunteer at our parish's Jr. High Youth Ministry program last night, and so didn't have time to blog about my readings for yesterday.  So, courtesy of St. Michael's Edge, here is another Double Whammy Wednesday for you!

Genesis 48-50

As the first book of the Pentateuch draws to a close, we read of the end of Jacob's life and the "blessings" he bestows upon his twelve sons, who become the twelve tribes of Israel.  Some of these are not blessings, but curses for past evils.  Some of them are almost comical, such as Benjamin's, which gives some insight as to why Joseph gave him a fivefold portion when he first came to Egypt. 

Joseph keeps his word to his father to bury him in the land of Canaan with his ancestors.  I find it interesting that he is embalmed - I suppose this makes transporting the dead body such distance much more pleasant than it would have been, however. 

I find that Joseph's brothers are a bit thick at times, now being concerned that Joseph only dealt with them kindly for his father's sake.  Joseph has to reiterate that God permitted the evil to be done to him so that good might come from it.  We would do well to remember this in times of trouble.  God is not the cause of evil...and yet he can "mean it for good," in this case "to bring it about that many people should be kept alive."  If we imagine the ramifications of Joseph not appearing in Egypt, not just for his family, but for the land of Egypt as well, we can figure that many would have starved to death.

The book draws to a close with Joseph's own death, before which he tells his brother's of God's promise that they should  be brought up out of this land and to the land which was promised to Abraham.  Thus, the stage is set for Exodus...

Psalms 30 and 31:

Both of these Psalms make reference to the Lord's saints.  That makes me curious to see what the Jewish definition of a saint is.  I assume it means one who has been gathered to the bosom of Abraham, but I'll have to research that.

In Psalm 30, I am grabbed by the line "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."  This is probably because I often sing "Trading my Sorrows", which has a similar line in it.  I didn't know that it had come from a Psalm, though.

More rock, refuge, and fortress in Psalm 31, as well as steadfast love.  "Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Faithful God."  I love this line, not just because Jesus invokes it on the cross, but because of the redemption that is mentioned.  In light of the new testament, we know that redemption comes from Jesus committing his spirit to his Father at the end of His suffering.  There is a reflective quality in this writing that I could contemplate for hours.  Sadly, I don't have hours right now to do so...

Matthew 17-18:20

There is an awful lot of content here. 

First we have the transfiguration, where Peter makes another gaffe, since he still has a Jewish concept of Jesus as the Messiah.  He thinks that Jesus is ready to rule the earth in a material sense, and wants to erect tents to house Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.  But after the voice of God speaks and they fall on their faces, when they look up, they see only Jesus.  This is a very powerful often we get distracted or misunderstand what God wants.  If we can just look up and see "no one but Jesus only" then we won't go wrong.

Jesus seems almost frustrated when he comes down to find the other apostles distressed at not being able to cast out a demon.  He talks a bit about the power of faith, and how little they have. 

Then he tells them that he will be killed and raised on the third day...and they are greatly distressed.

And Peter then winds up fishing for money to pay a tax.  How is that for an act of faith?  I suppose it is easy to believe that casting one's hook will bring in a fish with money in its mouth, but hard to believe that the Son of God can be raised from the dead.

In chapter 18, we begin with Jesus' famous discourse on the place of children (and child like faith) in the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as the punishments for those who lead them astray. 

Then some judicious use of rabbinic hyperbole (if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you) to illustrate how we should avoid those things which tempt us to do evil.

Lastly, we have another important passage for Catholics about what do to when our brother sins against us.  First take it to him, then bring a few witnesses, then take it to the church.  That's church, singular, which he just got done telling us he is going to build on Peter.  The church must be able to speak with one voice, if it is going to make a judgement. 

If we imagine someone having a dispute with his brother today, and taking it to the church, and not getting an answer that he had hoped for, he might go to another church and get a second opinion...and a third....and perhaps a fourth, until his view was affirmed.  Let's face it, there are churches which say they are Christian which teach almost anything!  As such, veiled within this is the idea that if we are "church-hopping," trying to find a church that affirms and validates our views or makes us feel good, we might be missing the point.  The church which Jesus is pointing to is authoritative and must have some level of certainty to it in order to teach.

Thus Jesus then affirms that the apostles have the authority to bind and loose, giving them a share in what he has given Peter.  He is speaking in the context of the church here, not just as a community of believers (which it certainly is), but also as an organization which can make definitive judgements.

Catechism 249-267

Today we finish up a section on the most Holy Trinity.  This mystery is given to us purely through revelation and careful study of that revelation allows us to make some imperfect definitions.  We will never fully be able to explain the Trinity using human language or even human thought, for the very nature of the Trinity is infinite in power, love, majesty, and truth, while our minds and language lack a true capacity for the infinite.  Still, what we can know and understand is enough to ponder for a lifetime, so it isn't as if we've been shortchanged here.

God is one, but through hypostasis His divine nature (or substance) is held by three distinct persons.  We say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are consubstantial.  The divine nature is not shared, but wholly present in each, and yet, each is fully distinct from the other.  God is not modal...He doesn't put on His "Father hat" to do fatherly things (like create), and then his "Son hat" to do sonly things (like redeem), and then his "Spirit hat" to do spiritual things (like sanctify).  Rather all of these aspects of Himself are eternal and wholly God, yet the whole God is present in these three persons.  And, still, these persons are relative to one another.  The Father and the Son relate to each other, and each relates to the Holy Spirit as well.'s a tough concept.

Still, though, it is central to our faith, and the early church went through a lot of trouble to define to the limits of human language the nature of the Holy Trinity, mainly because so many errors regarding it were being preached. 

We have a sort of model of the Trinity in the domestic church (the family).  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and that love is so powerful and real (because God is Love) that it "spirates" from them in a third person having their same nature, that is, the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, in a family, A father and mother love each other and in their unity their love is made tangible in the creation of another member of the family.  Yes, the analogy breaks down since father, mother, and child are three distinct persons (but members of one family)...and, yet, as Steve Ray described it on a recent broadcast of Catholic Answers Live, Man has a duality in that man is created male and female in God's image.  As we read in Genesis, they become one flesh...similar to the one substance of the Trinity belonging to all three members.  Likewise, we have a duality in our existence as a body/soul composite.  So a being having more than one aspect is not entirely foreign to us, though introducing infinity can boggle the mind...

We don't confuse the persons of the Trinity, nor make the mistake of dividing the substance. 

The best hope we have of a better understanding is contemplation.  Even so, when we reach the limit of our own ability to comprehend, we must leave the rest to God:

I'll close with this beautiful prayer from Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.  May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery!  Grant my soul peace.  Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest.  May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.

Tomorrow's readings

Exodus 1-2
Psalm 32
Matthew 18:21-35
Catechism 268-274

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