Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What strikes me as incredible, though, is what happens next. As a slave in the house of Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram, the little girl has the ear of the master and his wife. When Naaman contracts leprosy, the little girl finds the courage to speak to her mistress about it.
“If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy.” We know this prophet. His name is Elisha, successor to Elijah. He is the one who asked for a double portion of the Spirit of the Living God – and got it.
Now, isn’t it incredible that this little girl remembered her faith at all, that her memory of the prophet of the Lord was so strong that she was able to pass the message along to her mistress, and that she even had the courage to speak, though she was a servant girl?
Even more amazing, Naaman took her advice, and with the king’s approval, he went to Israel and found Elisha. Naaman was healed, and the story has been captured for all time in Holy Scripture.
The net result of the child’s faithfulness is that the message and reality of God’s power spread throughout the land and throughout time.
Here’s the thing. We are that little girl. In a very real way, we are living in a foreign land. When it matters most, do we speak up and tell those in positions of power that there is one who can heal them? Do we even remember the faith at all, or have we forgotten to carry it with us as we labor in a foreign land. Do we consider ourselves unimportant in the presence of leaders and those with more money and prestige? Are we afraid to speak up? Or would we be willing to share the Good News as courageously as this little girl?
Our Mother, the Blessed Mother (and the archetype of Mother Church), has guided us and prepared us for every encounter we may have as we journey to our final homeland. While she longs for us to come safely into the arms of the Heavenly Father, she also instills in us the needs of those we meet along the way. She longs for them to encounter for themselves the Spirit of the Living God. And she knows that you may be the only mouthpiece God has to get their attention.
If a little girl, a slave in a foreign land, can share the good news of God without restraint, then so should we who have access to the Mother of Perpetual Help and the Lord Most High.
Monday, March 23, 2009
One day, Elisha asked his servant to find out from the couple what he, Elisha, could do for them. Could he put in a good word with the king? Could he ask for a favor from the commander of the army? Their answer was no, there was nothing that they needed.
But Elisha would not let the topic rest. Certainly, there must be something. The servant said to Elisha, they have no son and her husband is getting on in years. Elisha told the servant to call the wife to the door.
This time next year, you will have a baby boy. That is all Elisha said.
The woman wasn’t pleased, not because she didn’t want a child, but because she wanted one more than anything and had lost hope that such a joy would ever be hers. “Please, my lord, you are a man of God; do not deceive your servant.”
The following year, she gave birth to a son.
Now, if we took the time to stop at this point, assuming that this woman prefigures Israel and the Blessed Mother, what event might we expect to happen next?
Maybe you have guessed it.
When the boy was older, he went into his father’s field. One day, the boy complained of a terrible headache. One of his father’s servants carried the boy to his mother. The mother held him in her lap until noon, the hour of his death.
Immediately, she took a donkey and went in search of the prophet.
When she found Elisha, she fell at his feet and poured out her heart, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not beg you not to deceive me?”
All Elisha said was, “The Lord hid it from me and did not let me know.” But now that he knew, Elisha sent his servant ahead of him, and Elisha and the mother journeyed together to her home. When Elisha reached the house, he closed the door and prayed. Then he stretched over the boy and prayed. The cold and lifeless body grew warm. He rose and paced the floor and prayed.
And the boy’s life was restored to him.
Perhaps there is no greater example of human hospitality than when Our Lady gave her fiat. Certainly, there is no greater suffering than the piercing of her heart as her she watched her son die a most painful and humiliating death on a cross. And there was no greater joy than seeing that son rise again. To hold him in her arms once again. To hold his face in her hands. To sit at his side and hear him speak, to say the word mother and to be given the chance to respond, yes my son.
What does a Shunammite woman have in common with the Blessed Mother. Quite a bit. And yet, these women of the Old Covenant are mere glimpses of what God was planning for the woman who would one day be the Mother of His Own Son.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Yesterday, we read about Elijah. This prophet stayed with a widow during a great famine. While he remained with her, God multiplied her handful of flour and small portion of oil so that it fed them the entire year. And when her son died, Elijah prayed for him, and God restored the boy’s life. Prophetically, Elijah was demonstrating what Our Lord would do in his ministry – restore life and feed the hungry.
Today’s story is almost identical. In fact, if you do not read with an eye for the details, you might think I got lazy and just posted the same story today. But, no, this is a new story and another prophet.
God was ready to bring Elijah home. Holy Scripture says that God had already ordered a chariot of fire to go down and bring Elijah to heaven. And so, God announced the name of Elijah’s successor. Elisha.
Elisha is an interesting man, as was Elijah. He agrees to take Elijah’s place, but he asks for one thing. . . to receive a double portion of the Spirit after Elijah is gone.
Hmm. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I want a double portion of God’s Spirit, too. What a fantastic petition. Would God agree to Elisha’s request?
Elijah tells Elisha that it won’t be easy, but if Elisha is with him when God’s chariot comes, Elijah will leave the mantle behind, and with it, Elisha will receive the double portion. (I love this story, and when I became Catholic, it helped me to see that things can indeed be holy – like Elijah’s mantle – and that we can even request that Our Lady throw her mantle around us when we are afraid or tempted or feeling weak.)
Elisha is in the right place at the right time. The chariot arrives. As it rises with Elijah inside of it, the senior prophet drops the mantle down, and Elisha picks it up. The successor turns and begins his journey alone, and when he comes to a stream, he strikes the water with the mantle, and the water parts for him.
Eventually, Elisha encounters people who are in need, just as Elijah before him. Like the senior prophet, he visits a widow who complains to him that she, too, has nothing – or almost nothing. Her debtors are demanding money, and all she has is a little oil.
Elisha tells her to send her children out to collect as many empty vessels as they can. Once her home is filled with pots, he tells her to close the door on her home, with only her children and herself left inside and to begin pouring into the empty containers from her reserve of oil. She obeys, and there is enough oil to fill every pot. When the last pot is filled, she announces that the oil has run out.
Elisha then commands the woman to sell the oil and pay her debtors and that she will have enough left to weather this difficult season of life. And so she does.
I find it interesting that these two stories both made it into Holy Scripture. Why do we need two stories that are almost identical? Perhaps it is to give us a preview of what Our Lord will highlight in his ministry. Restoring life and feeding the hungry. (Tomorrow’s “Elisha story” will focus on restoring life and once again we will see a parallel between Elijah and Elisha.)
Flour and oil. They are so important that these items appear almost weekly on the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry list in our parish bulletin. We are the widows, and like the widows in Holy Scripture, we tend to focus on how little we have and how far it has to stretch. But God tells us to give without fear, to give without restraint, and to give to the stranger as though he were a man of God. . . or even Our Lord himself.
It is an important lesson for our times. How can we receive the Bread of Life, but deny others the simple ingredients for mere bread? How can we enjoy Mother Church, where the doors of the House close, and we the children are permitted to remain inside and receive the gift of purest wheat, and then not go out those doors and give to others?
Find a food pantry and give today. Give without fear, give without restraint, and give as though the stranger were Our Lord himself.
The Blessed Mother, the Widow and Mother at the cross, has given us the Bread of Life. Let us go and do likewise.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Elijah is the greatest prophet.
In fact, at the Transfiguration, Elijah appeared with Our Lord, as did Moses. Moses represented the Law; Elijah represented the Prophets. And Our Lord was revealed at the Transfiguration as the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets.
Elijah was a larger-than-life kind of guy. He went toe-to-toe with the evil King Ahab and his even more depraved wife, Jezebel. He told them that God was angry with them for worshipping foreign Gods. “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.”
And so it did not rain. For years and years!
At first, God sent Elijah off to a brook and commanded the ravens to bring him bread and meat in the morning and the evening. But eventually, even the stream dried up.
Elijah followed the Spirit’s leading to Zarephath, where he met a widow and her son. Elijah asked the widow for something to drink and some bread to eat.
Sir, I have only enough oil and flower to make one small loaf of bread. Before you arrived, I planned to take that handful of flour and little portion of oil, bake it, share it with my son, and then we can die together.
But Elijah told her not to be afraid. God wouldl take care of them both, if she would take care of him. The widow could have told the prophet to leave. She could have clung to her last bit of food, perhaps even keeping secret the fact that she had any supplies at all. Instead, she did as the stranger said.
The handful of flour and little portion of oil lasted a year, and the three did not go hungry.
In time, the widow’s son became sick and died. Overcome with grief, the widow blamed Elijah. You have come to my house, and now God’s attention has turned to me and He has seen my guilt. And so, he has taken my son from me.
Elijah had compassion. Surely, he knew the woman’s virtues and vices well after a year. But the thing that touched his heart was that this woman, who had shared everything she had, now had lost the thing that was most important to her.
And Elijah took the boy in his arms. He carried the lifeless boy into the upper room where Elijah stayed, and he prayed over him.
If you are unfamiliar with Elijah, then you may not know that Elijah had God’s ear. He could ask God to hold back rain, and God would hold back the rain. He could ask God to bring down rain, and God would open the heavens and pour down rain like crazy.
He could beg for fire from heaven, and fire would come down and set a stack of wood ablaze – even though the wood was soaked with so much water that the water pooled up all around it.
And now, Elijah interceded for the widow’s son. Three times, he covered the boy and begged God to raise him. “O Lord, my God, let the life-breath return to the body of this child.”
And the son rose up, and Elijah gave the boy to his mother, saying to her, “Your son is alive.
According to tradition, Our Lady was a widow at the time of the crucifixion. Most theologians believe that St. Joseph had already passed away, or surely he would have been at Mary’s side.
And so, we see the parallel in the two stories. A mother who gives all that she has - bread for the prophet, only to lose a son - but ultimately that son rises again. Even the image of three petitions reminds us of the passing of three days.
Our Lady gave all that she had as well - Bread of Life to the world, only to lose a son - but ultimately that son rises again after three days.
This was not so that Mary could see and believe, as it was for the widow in Elijah’s day. It was so that the world would be able to say precisely what that widow said to Elijah when he gave her back a living son. “Now indeed I know . . . the word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.”
And today, every time we go to Mass, we can receive this One who is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. We can say to God, as Elijah said to the widow, please give me of this Drink and give me of this Bread, for I know, the word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.
Friday, March 20, 2009
And yet, there is so much more to this story. It isn’t simply about a king who sees a woman, summons a woman, seduces a woman and renders her pregnant and husbandless. While these offenses are staggering, we miss the whole point of the story if we don’t look further.
The prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him a little story, knowing that a parable sometimes convicts the heart far better than a tirade.
And David repents.
God hears his cry for mercy and forgives him.
Even though God is merciful, he demands recompense. David is heart broken when he realizes that his new son will pay the price for David and Bathsheba’s sin.
True to his word, God takes the life of the baby boy, but God blesses David once again, and we get a glimpse into the full plan of salvation.
All of us are part of fallen humanity. All of us have been born into sin and then added our own personal sin on top of that. We must repent, as David did. We will receive forgiveness, as David did. We must make restitution, as David did.
And God will bless us, as He did David.
It all pivots on the death of an innocent son. Indeed, a very high price to pay for sin.
But if this story reveals for us some of the mystery of salvation, then maybe Bathsheba reveals a few secrets about the Mother of the Son.
Bathsheba is given another son who is destined to be a great king. A son dies because of sin, and now a son lives because of blessing. And that son assumes the throne.
Here’s an interesting thing about ancient civilizations, including this one. Because the king had many brides, a woman did not receive the title of queen until her son took the throne. The queen was not married to the king, because there were far too many wives vying for such a title. And they couldn’t all be called queen. Actually, the position of queen was held by the king’s mother. She was known as the queen mother. And so it was with Bathsheba. When Solomon was crowned king, his mother became the queen. Not Michal. Not Abigail. Not any of the other wives. Just Bathsheba.
As a former Evangelical Protestant, this was a great help to me in understanding how I can say, Hail, Holy Queen – without choking on the words.
If Mary’s Son has become the King of Kings (of both heaven and earth) then the Mother has become the Queen of heaven and earth.
And if this King assumed the throne, wouldn’t his greatest joy be to receive his Mother to Himself and bestow upon her the same kind of honor earthly kings give to their mothers?
The Queen Mother always intercedes for the people. She has influence with the King. And she has at her disposal many kingdom treasures, which she is authorized to dispense. (Sounds like Marian Theology to me.)
The next order of business for an earthly king, after taking the throne and naming his mother the queen, was to take a bride to himself.
Guess what, Church? You are the lucky bride! And He will come again for you.
While it is tempting to wallow in the scandal that typifies the story of Bathsheba, we actually miss the most important lessons of all if that is all we remember. As with most of the Old Testament stories, the New Covenant is hidden in Old Covenant, and the Old Covenant is fulfilled - and revealed - in the New.
Bathsheba and Mary, one woman pointing us to The Woman.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
But later, when David realizes that he will be passing their way again, David sends a request for provisions. Abigail’s husband blows him off.
A servant informs Abigail of her husband’s social faux pas. He’ll kill us all, I’m telling you. And your husband is a real jerk. He won’t listen to reason.
Abigail doesn’t join in the husband-bashing, but she does take matters into her own hands. She prepares a feast and delivers it herself. When she meets the traveling band of brothers, she gets off her horse and bows to the ground. She begs forgiveness and makes amends for her husband’s ingratitude.
And David accepts her offering. He promises Abigail that he will not retaliate, though he had surely planned to cut down every male, young and old, in her household.
She, alone, had turned back his wrath.
Days later, God shows that he isn’t persuaded so easily. Let the husband repent and be contrite for himself. When that doesn’t happen, God strikes down Abigail’s husband.
Enter the prince (or rather the king-to-be) on a white horse.
When David hears of Abigail’s plight, he sends her a message. Come to me. I will be your husband. I will take care of you, Abigail.
And so she does.
Let’s see. A woman who belongs to a group of people who refuse to acknowledge the one who preserved and protected them (we see this throughout the history of ancient Israel). A woman who stands alone to make amends. A woman who intercedes, runs to meet the King-to-be, and begs for mercy. A woman who rescues the entire household, except the one who holds stubbornly to his errors.
A woman who is plucked out of the quagmire and made the Bride.
Yes, even Abigail is a prefigurement of Our Lady.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
It’s easy to see what went wrong. When King Saul realized Michal was in love with David, he thought he could work it to his advantage. A marriage between the two would tie David to him more closely. And maybe, if Saul was lucky, David would die trying to collect the 100 Philistine foreskins he’d demanded for Michal’s hand in marriage.
But, as before, God’s hand of protection was upon the young man, and David returned with twice the requisite foreskins.
Michal was a happy bride. She even covered for David when her father became homicidally jealous and made plans to kill David. But that’s where Michal’s moral fiber begins to break down. The first thing she does after David escapes is lie to her father. He said he’d kill me if I didn’t let him leave. Don’t blame me, Father.
After David narrowly escapes Saul’s clutches, King Saul marries Michal off to another man. Maybe she had to go with it. Maybe she felt her father was testing her allegiance. Regardless of the reasons, Michal’s life begins to get more and more tangled.
It’s hard to know what was going on in Michal’s mind at this point, but definitely something snapped. She remarries and starts living life as someone else’s wife. Later, when David gains power, he sends for his wife, Michal, and she returns, reluctantly. In a scene that shows the absurdity of marriage and remarriage, Michal’s new husband follows his wife’s entourage from behind. Crying. Yes, crying.
Michal is tired of being an object in every man’s eyes. There is only one thing she has left to control, her own attitude. And so, she turns into a very bitter woman.
When David celebrates at the return of the Ark of the Covenant, Michal completely scorns him and unleashes her tongue against him. Ridiculing God’s anointed one (King David) is a pretty serious offense. What makes it even worse is that we know she is scorning the holiest thing the Hebrew people had. The Ark that contained the golden jar of manna, the Law of Moses on stone tablets, and Aaron’s staff which had budded.
This Ark, an object no man could touch without paying for it with his life, this gold-covered tabernacle for God’s greatest gifts to the Hebrew people, where the Shekinah glory of God rested, this Ark which prefigures Our Lady, this is the object of her scorn.
Is it any wonder that we, as a society, have difficulty recognizing the holy and sacred in things around us? When we are used and abused, what keeps us from becoming bitter? Don’t we do the same thing? Don’t we redirect our anger and frustration toward God and things that we should hold sacred and holy?
I’ve been there. The mixed messages from those in authority. The marriage gone wrong. The devastation of divorce. My own perception that Catholics make far too much of Mary (the New Ark of the Covenant). Self-righteous. Self-indignant. Self-satisfied.
I know Michal. I have been this woman.
To see the holy, to recognize the sacred once again, it requires a massive amount of grace.
And a little crack in the door to one’s heart.
Let us pray that Our Lady of Grace will look with mercy on those who have been ill-treated, and that little lost daughters will be brought back and given new hearts. May they be given hearts that can love God without bitterness or scorn.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
And with power comes great accountability.
Holy Scripture provides us with many examples of beautiful women who loved God above all and their beauty was His to use. We think of Queen Esther and Judith. Their beauty served God well.
But then there’s Delilah. A real hottie, and her beauty wasn’t lost on Samson.
Samson was a judge in Israel, gifted by God with great power, something like God’s super-hero. The Philistines just couldn’t “get” why this guy was so strong. They had to know his secret. What would be akin to kryptonite for this guy? Did he have an Achilles’ heel?
But every man has a weakness, and Samson’s was a pretty face.
Delilah wooed him and when he was most vulnerable, she asked him to tell her the secret. Why are you so strong, my love?
When he wouldn’t tell her the truth (after pleading three times), she pouts. You don’t really love me, do you!
And so, in one of the dumbest acts in human history, Samson tells Delilah the secret he shares with God alone. He has a covenant with God; Samson can never cut his hair. To cut his hair is to break covenant with God.
When Samson is asleep, Delilah shaves his head, and when he awakens, the Philistines are upon him. Only this time, God’s favor is gone.
It was a difficult lesson. Years pass, and Samson is used and abused by the enemy. One day, the Philistines have a great party. They bring out Samson and chain him to the pillars, to get a laugh at Samson’s expense. He is old and blind. Humbled beyond recognition. But God has watched Samson, and He is ready to bless him once again.
Samson lifts a prayer to God, one more time. Bless me this one last time, Oh Lord.
And the power of God comes upon him, and he tosses back his head and shakes his hair like a lion in mid-roar.
He grips the pillars, and with a mighty effort, he pulls them to the ground.
The building falls and the enemy is crushed. Samson is among the dead.
We don’t know if Delilah is there. We aren’t told what happens to her. But we have seen pretty faces come and go. We can almost imagine her fate. We’ve known women with good looks (and an evil heart) and we’ve seen how miserable they are later in life. We can almost imagine Delilah after about a decade or two. Her beauty fades, and she is considered replaceable by the kind of men that gravitate to her. Eventually, all she has left are the bitter memories.
But it doesn’t end there. Imagine Delilah as she stands before God. . . and gives an accounting of what she did with the only gift she had.
Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman who honors the LORD deserves to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)
Friday, March 13, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The Ark of the Covenant was not a woman. Why, then, would I include a post about the Ark of the Covenant in a series about Women of Salvation History? Well, the Women of the Old Testament point to the New Eve. We have seen how these women reveal a little piece of God’s great plan for our redemption. This line of matriarchs quietly runs parallel to the line of patriarchs, and it culminates in the Immaculate Conception (Mary) and the birth of the Incarnate Word of God (Jesus). Any review of the great female prefigurements of the Blessed Mother must include an overview of the Ark of the Covenant, because there is no denying the truth. Our Lady is the New Ark of the Covenant.
My fascination with metaphorical language began in a senior-level English class in high school. I discovered that I love to sort through a novel or short story and unveil the literary symbolism hidden within the text. I think I knew even then that I would eventually study literature and writing.
Nothing compares to the delight I find in studying the metaphorical language contained in the Word of God, but over and over again, I am struck by the realization that what I am studying is more than a metaphor.
One such moment occurred when I took a closer look at Hebrews 9:4-5 (below), which is really a summary of many Old Testament passages that describe the sacred Ark of the Covenant. There is no denying the attention to detail, the significance of the items contained in the Ark of the Covenant, and their prefigurement of the coming Messiah.
First, we see the gold jar of manna, a direct link to the Christ who would become the Bread of Life (John 6:35 and John 6:49-51). Second, we see Aaron’s staff, which is nothing more than a branch cut from a tree, but by some miracle, life has sprouted from this dead branch. Certainly, this prefigures the one who would be conceived in a virgin’s womb, but even more so, the one who would turn death into life (John 5:24). And finally, we read that the Ark of the Covenant contained the stone tablets of the Law, a reminder that with the New Covenant, we would receive a Lord who would be the fulfillment of the Law of Moses.
Our God is a God of details. It’s almost like He was practicing for the big moment. It’s almost like He wanted to give the Israelites clues so they wouldn’t miss the Messiah when He finally came.
But the prefigurement doesn’t end there. Could there be a clue in the word overshadowing?
Could this word reveal the connection between the Ark and Mary? Let it be a sign to you, the virgin will be with child (Isaiah 7:14). Mary is so important, she was the sign. She was the way the people of God could know Jesus was the Messiah. In the Scripture, we see the word “overshadowing” only a few times: resting on the Ark of the Covenant, when the Spirit rested over the waters, at the Transfiguration, and when the Angel Gabriel explained how Mary would conceive. The power of The Most High will overshadow you (Luke 1:35), the angel says in answer to Mary’s question, how can this be (Luke 1:34).
A well known priest, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, once gave an extensive talk on Mary. At the end of the talk, an old woman came up to him and told him he missed the main point. With great humility, the priest asked the old woman what that point was. She told him the most important thing was that Mary was overshadowed.
Oh, to be overshadowed by The Most High, to welcome Jesus into our lives at any cost, to become, in our own small way, an Ark of the New Covenant! And every time we receive the Eucharist, for a space of time, we are an Ark of the Living Manna, the fulfillment of the Law, and the Tree of Life.
The God of yesterday, today, and forever gives us one more glimpse at the Ark. In the book of Revelation (11:19-12:1), we see the two Arks come together in heaven. Just in case we missed the connection, God superimposes these two Arks one last time. Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
Indeed, the Word of God is more than a metaphor.
Exodus 26 (construction of the Ark), 37(description)
I Chronicles 13 (transfer of the Ark)
Deuteronomy 31(the Law placed within the Ark)
Joshua 3, 4 (the Ark and the priests go before the Hebrew people as they cross through the Jordan and into the Promised Land)
Hebrew 9:4-5 (This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.)
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Every wife gets angry with her husband now and then. Even so, it’s a little surprising to run across a story about a ticked off wife in Holy Scripture. Aren’t holy women supposed to always be calm, cool, and collected? Aren’t they supposed to love and obey their husbands? Certainly, they aren’t supposed to get angry and take charge of the situation. Maybe Zipporah didn’t read the job description because she certainly wasn’t a passive wife.
Zipporah’s husband Moses was blowing her off. The boys weren’t circumcised, but when she approached Moses, he told her he’d get around to it - after he’d taken care of all the other stuff God wanted him to do. Free the Israelites. Get them through the desert. He had big fish to fry. The boys could wait.
And yet, Zipporah knew that faith started at home, in the family. A lack of faithfulness to God’s precepts in the home threw everything else out of whack. They were covenant people. Moses needed to be about the business of bringing his own sons into the covenant. She waited and waited. She probably began by hinting around at the subject. Then she probably asked him straight out in case he was too busy to catch innuendo. Then she probably begged him. Finally, she probably got really ticked off.
If the thing hadn’t been so important, she might have let it go. But these were her sons too! Let the rest of them cool their heels at the tent flap. Get the boys circumcised, Moses.
But he just kept ignoring.
I suppose the story is in the Bible because Zipporah didn’t act like a typical Old Testament woman. No second class citizen here. Sure, she was a foreigner. Sure, Moses’ own siblings disliked her and never really treated her like one of them. Who cares? All that matters is pleasing God. Not the in-laws. Not the throngs of Israelites. Not even Moses if it conflicted with what God wanted. Her duty to God came first.
That spunky woman took up the knife and did the job herself.
And Holy Scripture tells us that she did it for her sons. But she also did it so that God would hold His hand back from punishing Moses.
Many generations later, Mary would quietly embrace a New Covenant. She would give her consent to carrying God’s Son, even if it got her into a heap of trouble. Nothing mattered, except what God wanted.
She knew she wasn’t in charge of what Joseph would think or what the rest of the people would think. She didn’t pause to consider what retribution might come when the community discovered that she was with child. All that mattered was following God’s will, and ushering in the New Covenant. All that mattered was this Son and giving Him all that He needed.
The Book of Hebrews talks about the faith of the Old Testament men, and how it was credited to them as righteousness. There was a quiet faithfulness in women like Zipporah as well. And it was credited to her as righteousness. How do we know this? Because God held back His hand and did not punish Moses for this offense.
I suppose Moses was a little angry at his wife. Husbands are like that sometimes. But we wives must remember that God’s will comes first, especially when it comes to our children. We must make sure that they are raised in the faith, even if it means we attend Mass with the children and our husbands stay home. Even if we have to drive them to religion class or take a part-time job to pay for a Catholic school education. Even if it means we must present our children for baptism – or any of the sacraments – all alone.
If Zipporah could do it, so can we.
Render to God what belongs to God. And let the chips fall where they may.
Monday, March 9, 2009
She was probably about the age of the typical middle school girl. Maybe twelve or thirteen. Old enough for her spirit to be waking up to those first whispers of maternal instinct and the powerful love that comes with it, and to know the joy of lavishing that kind of love on a new little brother.
Old enough to have seen the dangers that lurk around this river. Old enough to know what those dangers can do to a baby boy like this one.
In obedience, she takes the baby she and her mother have hidden for three months and places him in a little basket. She walks to the water, with prayers on her tongue and tentative glances toward the reeds. Then she lowers the basket into the water.
The little baby doesn’t stand a chance unless God takes charge of the basket, and Miriam knows it.
With a heart that trusts when there is absolutely no reason to trust, Miriam gives the basket a push. It moves away from the young lady’s hands, into the deeper waters far from shore.
Miriam remembers how it felt to hold the sweet infant close and soothe him when he cried. How she whispered in his ears about the danger that would come if somebody heard him. How she had begged him to sleep, just keep sleeping. How she sang her life-saving lullaby for days and weeks and months, until he was too old for them to hide another day and keep quiet another night.
In this moment as she kneels beside the Nile River, Miriam remembers the many times she has seen this river claim lives, as rivers always do. And she prays that, this day, the river will not claim life, but bring life.
Even though she has absolutely no reason to trust, she trusts.
She moves along the shore and strains to keep her eyes fixed on the basket. Will he sleep? Will the lapping water work to their advantage? Or will the infant wake up and flail his tiny arms? Will his cry awaken a predator?
How can this go well? How can this end in any way but absolute tragedy?
The basket seems to follow a random course. But Miriam knows that God’s hand can sometimes seem just as random as the Nile’s current. And she watches and she prays.
So young, to have been entrusted to such a job. So young, to have endured such a moment. What should she do if the basket goes too far? No, not if, but when the basket goes too far? What will she do when the current takes him so quickly that she cannot see him any longer? Would it be better not to know or to know the worst because it happens right there in front of her eyes?
And then she hears voices and for just a second, her heart seems to stop beating altogether. Happy laughter. Carefree banter. Women bathing in the sacred waters. One of them sees the basket, and commands another to draw it from the water.
What is this? There’s a baby in here! Look, it is a Hebrew baby. Oh, isn’t he precious? Let’s keep him!
But, how will you feed him? He is so young. Certainly, he isn’t yet weaned.
We will find a wet nurse for him! Oh, won’t it be fun!
As the wind carries the conversation across the water to the ears of the older sister, Miriam realizes that something wonderful is happening. This is God’s work. Nothing is random. Nothing is beyond God’s watchful eye. Not even her baby brother.
She steps forward and very humbly lifts her voice, saying, I know a wet nurse. I’ll go get her if you wish.
The daughter of Pharaoh lifts her eyes from the baby who now rests in her arms. Oh, yes, please do that.
And Miriam races home to tell her mother the story. How God has saved their little boy, through water working in tandem with the Spirit of the Living God.
Many years would pass, and this little brother would save them by standing before Pharaoh and demanding that he let the Hebrew people go. God would work many miracles, part the waters, lead them through the desert by a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day, give them food from heaven, spare them from poisonous snakes, and teach them His law in a deeper way than ever before.
Miriam would see God do mightier things than rescue a baby from the water. That was only the beginning of God’s saving power. A moment when water and the Spirit kiss and a life is spared.
This young lady witnessed all of it. She held a baby boy in her arms and entrusted Him to God. And the Hebrew people find salvation because of her courageous act of faith.
And just as she did when she held the baby in her arms, she sings a song as the Israelites escape through the parted sea.
Our Lady probably wasn’t much older when she held a baby boy in her arms. This baby would be the savior of the world, prefigured by Moses, who saved the Hebrews from slavery. This baby would give to the people the saving water of baptism, prefigured by Moses, who was saved from the Nile and led the Hebrew people to safety through the parted sea as they fled Egypt. This woman would sing a song that would proclaim the good news, Our God saves!
It all began with the young lady named Miriam, who quietly waited among the reeds, interceding and pleading for God to spare the child. In many ways, we can see Our Lady in this young lady. But it doesn’t end there.
We also see Mary in Miriam’s mother. In this analogy, we are like Miriam, holding our breath for God to demonstrate His provision and protection, pleading for God to spare those we love, and springing into action when the moment of salvation is at hand, saying, “I know just the woman for you. Shall I go and call her to come?”
And Mary comes running, because she loves her son. She hears our petitions, because she loves her son. She risks everything, for love of the Son. She will go anywhere to care for the Body of Christ, just as Moses’ mother humbly took the title of a wet nurse so that she could bring life and nourishment to her son.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Okay, so it’s a trick question. We are saved by grace. But what about faith? According to James, faith without works is dead (2:26) – so our deeds must factor into the mix somehow. But how? Jesus makes it clear that in the end, He will divide the goats from the sheep. Who gets to be called sheep? Those who did the work of the Kingdom. Those who fed the hungry, those who visited the prisoners, and those who clothed the naked. They are the ones to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 25:31-46)
Jesus doesn’t ask them, Am I your personal Lord and Savior? The proof of that is in the pudding. In fact, in Matthew 7: 21 Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Believing is just the beginning of this journey. We are given the grace to believe, and then we are given the grace to act – to be His hands and feet to a world that desperately needs to be fed, clothed, and visited.
The problem is the word alone, especially when it comes after the word faith. That “alone” was added during the Protestant Reformation. It created two problems for believers. The first problem is that the essence of justification isn’t a faith versus works question. It isn’t an either/or situation. It is a both/and situation.
Second problem. In saying we are saved by faith alone (rather than grace alone), too many believers decided that works are worthless in the eyes of God. Well, some works are worthless. Romans 3:28 says that we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Greek Lexicon). Deeds of the law are worthless. But deeds of grace can mean the difference between being called a goat or a sheep.
I think there is something more, too. Any analysis of grace that doesn’t put the emphasis on God rather than us is simply wrong. The grace to believe comes from God. The grace to do good works (rather than works of the law) comes from God. We simply respond to the call of grace.
We are justified by grace alone. We aren’t justified by believing, because the Bible tells us that even the devil and his demons believe – and tremble (James 2:19). We aren’t justified by what we do – unless it is done in love for Christ. What you did, you did unto me, enter into your rest (Matthew 25). Yes, says the Spirit, they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them (Rev.13). Even if I have the faith to move a mountain and have not love, I am nothing (I Cor. 13).
Grace is a beautiful and mysterious thing. It helps us to believe as Christ would have us to believe, not as the demons believe, but as sons and daughters of the Most High God. They are the sheep who have an active faith. A faith that is not dead. They are saved by grace alone – which has enabled them both to believe and to do good works for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Holy Scripture says, she lifted the lid and found the baby. Instantly, she wanted to save him. Suddenly, her life changed because she knew this baby must be permitted to live.
This may be the first example of a conversion from the “culture of death” to the “culture of life.” This may be the first woman who accepted baby killing as “good for the society” – until she comes face to face with a baby and her heart tells her something else.
The pro-life movement has worked from this assumption – and Holy Scripture seems to underscore the message. If only you would lift the lid on the whole abortion thing and really take a good look at what’s inside, you would see for yourself that it is a baby. And your heart wouldn’t let you make any other decision.
The child must live, no matter what.
If only a few people in key places would have the courage to say what Pharaoh’s daughter said. This child must live.
So he told the midwives to kill every male baby they delivered. Throw them into the Nile, he said.
Into this mess, Jochebed delivers a son. She somehow manages to keep him quiet and hidden for three months. But, she was putting off the inevitable. Someone would find out eventually, and she knew it.
In one of the most amazing maternal acts of trust in God’s Providence, Jochebed placed her son in a basket and told her daughter to take the baby to the Nile. This river, which was supposed to take his life, would actually save it.
You know the baby as Moses. But he hadn’t yet received this name. The name was given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter, and it means I drew him out of the water.
Pharaoh’s daughter decides to keep him, and she sends for Jochebed to nurse the baby. I wonder how Jochebed felt as she held her own son, now that the worst was over, now that he had been spared a terrible death and adopted into the royal line. What was it like, later that same day, when she felt her body calling her to feeding time, and she could lift the baby to her breast as she had done for three months, this time without fear that they were living on borrowed time.
She had delivered a son, in the middle of one of the worst periods of infanticide. And God had spared him.
Moses, the one who was drawn from the waters, the one who would lead the Hebrew people through even greater waters and into freedom. Moses, the one who would give them the Law, the one who would lead them through the wilderness. The one who would intercede for them before God.
This was no ordinary boy child.
If Moses prefigures Our Lord, who is the fulfillment of the Law, then Jochebed prefigures Our Lady – in many ways. It may have seemed like she, too, was pregnant at the worst possible time. It may have felt like her people were more slave than free. It may have seemed that only divine intervention could keep them alive as they passed through the desert (ironically from the Holy Land into Egypt rather than the other way around). But God had not blinked. This male child would deliver a fallen world, lead them through the desert, and show them the Promised Land His Father had prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
It takes a great writer to weave foreshadowing into the story line, but only God can write history this perfectly, carefully leaving clues for humanity, meticulously weaving a tapestry of Salvation History that would culminate in the New Adam and the New Eve. . . and ultimately in redemption and salvation.
-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Friday, March 6, 2009
There are many portions of the Liturgy of the Mass that resonate with me. It does something to my heart when I hear Father proclaim, This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Likewise, I am humbled when I say the words, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
Power-filled words. Truth. Life. There is nothing boring or redundant about this Liturgy. Like Peter, I know these are the words of life. Like Peter, I find myself saying where else can I go? This is where my soul is at home. This is where I find peace.
By nature, I am an anxious person. I worry about everything. Everything.
My children, my husband, my extended family. My students, their parents, the lesson plans. My dog and my house. I worry about what I will say, what I should have said, what I did say. I worry about what I will do, what I should have done, and what I actually did do.
I have sought peace on my knees many times, and sometimes peace has come.
I have put the day’s activities aside to enjoy some entertainment and a diversion from the chaos.
I have sat at the piano or called a friend or sent an e-mail, hoping for respite from my self-imposed stress.
Sometimes, these things work. Sometimes, I find peace and respite from the storms of life, but there is one place that has never failed to erase the anxiety. There is one place that I have always, always experienced grace, and I am freed from the concerns of my little life. Free us from all anxiety. Powerful words. Grace-filled words. Truth. Life.
The Liturgy of the Mass. In the Mass, I am healed and freed. In the Mass, I have some sense of what it was like when Our Lord walked up to someone, touched him, and said, Be healed. And the man went away dancing for joy.
Jesus, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace. Become the Master of our angry seas. And help us to walk on the waters, with our eyes clearly set on you.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
I bought a chicken at the store today. Nothing special. Just a bird. When I got back home, I unpacked the groceries and took a look at the receipt. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the chicken cost $49.35!
Of course, it was a mistake. The chicken was supposed to ring up $4.93.
I know the economy stinks right now. I know that many people are afraid. Our 401K is worth less than 1/2 what it once was worth. The Dow is crazy-low.
But the good news is that a chicken is still just 88 cents per pound. If I'm careful with the budget, I can still help out the food pantry and give to my parish. The sky isn't falling just yet.
Remember the Lenten trifecta: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Don't omit the last one just because the DOW is down and the 401K has taken a dive.
It's Lent. And we can still afford to give. . .
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
While Isaac and Rebekah are raising their twin sons (Jacob and Esau), Rebekah’s brother Laban is raising a couple of daughters back in the old country. Their names: Leah and Rachel. And God is about to write His third chapter of Salvation History.
Chapter one: Abraham and Sarah (along with Hagar)
Chapter two: Isaac and Rebekah
Chapter three: Jacob and ?
After Isaac inadvertently gives his blessing to the younger of his two sons, the older son Esau becomes enraged and vows to kill his usurping younger brother Jacob. Together, Rebekah and Isaac (the parents) decide that the best plan for young Jacob is to have him flee to the old country and find a wife among his mother’s kinswomen.
Basically, it’s time for Jacob to “get out of Dodge” for awhile, and give his brother time to cool off.
Their son Esau has two Caananite wives, a no-no in God’s eyes. Isaac agrees that Jacob’s wife must not be from the Caananite people since she will be the mother of the next heir to the blessing. So Jacob is sent away, to escape a brother’s retribution and to seek a wife among his mother’s people.
Rebekah’s brother Laban proves to be as devious as his sister Rebekah. Jacob is about to get a dose of his own medicine, and the prescribed treatment will last fourteen years.
It is practically love at first sight for Jacob. Before he even reaches the front door, he catches a glimpse of a beautiful shepherdess leading a flock of sheep. When Jacob discovers that Rachel, the lovely girl in the pastoral tableau, is none other than one of Laban’s daughters, it seems almost too good to be true. What luck! No doubt, this girl would have his father Isaac’s approval. This girl would make his mother Rebekah proud. Jacob sets out to do whatever he must do to have Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Laban agrees to give his daughter in marriage to Jacob in exchange for seven years’ servitude on the farm. At the end of seven years, Jacob marries Laban’s daughter, but after the marriage is consummated, the woman lifts her veil and Jacob discovers that he has married the older sister Leah. He is furious.
It is almost poetic justice. Laban’s trick ranks right up there with what Jacob did to his own father and brother. In one of the greatest ironies of Salvation History, the one who stole his older brother’s inheritance is taught a lesson in the protocol of birth order. The older daughters marry first.
The only consolation is that Laban agrees to give his younger daughter in marriage in exchange for seven more years of labor.
It is difficult to understand why Jacob would agree to such manipulation. Perhaps he surmised that it was still too soon to return home. Perhaps he suspected that Esau was still homicidally angry with him. Perhaps the humiliation of being tricked by his new father-in-law convicts Jacob so completely that Jacob’s response is more of a touché to God than anything else.
Whatever the reason, Jacob agrees to the proposal and works an additional seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Finally, Jacob marries Rachel and eventually Jacob reaches the limit of his tolerance for Laban’s shenanigans. Jacob packs up his wives and belongings and heads back home to the land of Canaan.
Holy Scripture tells us very little about these two sisters. We know that Leah had beautiful eyes, but that Rachel was lovely in every way. We know that Jacob loved Rachel more than her sister, which makes Leah a sympathetic character. We know that God blessed Leah with one son after another while Rachel remained barren, but we know that God eventually blessed Rachel as well.
The themes of barrenness and blessing are alive and well in this generation as they were in the two preceding ones. Additionally, the jockeying for position and preference doesn’t end with Hagar and Sarah or Jacob and Esau. Rachel and Leah have their own little rivalry for Jacob’s attention and affection.
In time, however, these two women become the mothers of twelve sons and one daughter. The sons are no ordinary dozen. From ancient times, we have known them as the twelve tribes of Israel.
God began with one man, Abraham. The divine blessing spread to one family, through Isaac and Rebekah. And now the promise finds fertile ground in the sons of Israel (Jacob), the people of God, a holy nation.
Together, these two women, once rivals for attention, now form a composite of Mother Church, and they prefigure the Mother of Our Lord. Just as Sarah prefigured Mary in giving birth to Isaac (Isaac and Jesus both offered as a sacrifice on the same hill by their fathers, both sons of promise rather than flesh), so too the mothers of the twelve tribes prefigure the Mother of the Apostles, Mary, the Mother of the Church.
Just as twelve men become Our Lord’s disciples, laying the necessary foundation that enables the gospel message to reach the ends of the earth, the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob) lay the necessary foundation so that the Lord of the Gospel message may come to the earth in the first place.
Quite literally, the Messiah that links these two groups of men will come through the tribe of Judah. Our Lord’s foster father will trace his lineage through King David, all the way back to Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. But Holy Scripture tells us that Our Lady also is from the House of David. And so she, too, is part of this lineage. This is the genealogy of God’s son. No matter how you slice it, this is the human family of the Incarnate Word of God.
And though the lineage of the Messiah will run through Leah and Jacob’ son Judah, Rachel will be the mother of a beloved son by the name Joseph, also one of the twelve, who will save his brothers from famine and death (despite more rivalry, jealousy and treachery), so that Judah may survive and propel the lineage to its glorious fulfillment many generations later.
In short, Leah’s sons will need Rachel’s son. If we listen closely, if we study the point at which the lives of these two women and their sons intersect, we can hear the whispers of the salvation that is to come.
Human flaws of pride, deceit, greed and jealousy may seem to drive this handful of people, but the divine will of God triumphs in spite of humanity’s weaknesses. The sisters who rivaled for the bridegroom’s attention have now given rise to the House of Israel. The Bride of Christ can learn a thing or two about building up the People of God when human weakness seeks to bulid up rivalries and focus on yesterday’s mistakes.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Petition Opposing The Sebelius Nomination
Citizen Petition: Kathleen Sebelius Is Not Fit To Serve As Secretary of HHS
I know people who are carrying very heavy crosses. I am sure you do, too. Our Lord has promised to be with us, to help us bear our burdens, and to carry our crosses when we come to the end of our own strength.
In this world, you will have troubles. Do not be afraid, for I have overcome the world. - the words of Our Lord
Monday, March 2, 2009
Moby Dick begins with the opening line, “Call me Ishmael.”
I prefer the words, “Call me Hagar.”
I can relate to Hagar. Like Hagar, I have nursed my own big dreams. And I have seen those plans fall apart.
Hoping Abraham’s child would be her big break, Hagar becomes a little too sure of her position. The fact that it was Sarah’s idea all along means nothing. It carries no weight that Sarah, hoping to end their infertility, practically pushed her maidservant into Abraham’s tent.
Once Abraham’s legitimate wife conceives a child of her own, Hagar and Ishmael are yesterday’s news. Sarah bears a son, Isaac, the child of the divine promise. The culmination of Abraham and Sarah’s dreams. The fulfillment of an angel’s word. The mistress doesn’t stand a chance.
The surrogate mother is told to exit stage left.
Hagar has no options. It is difficult to set things right when they are built on poor decisions in the first place. If only Sarah had fully trusted in God to make good on His promise. If only she had believed that God can do anything. Instead, she tries to force the Hand of God, which is never a good idea. Hagar pays the price.
There’s always a price to be paid when people play God.
According to Holy Scripture, Abraham’s wife complains to him, saying that his illegitimate son is tormenting their son. She says the maidservant has forgotten her place. She says this will never do.
Abraham decides to send Hagar away. This is where Hagar has my sympathy. This is where I can relate.
A single mom on the road. I’ve been there.
Hagar didn’t have three children, but she did have Ishmael. She didn’t have a car to hold her belongings and transport her child. So she walked and walked.
She didn’t have child support, just some bread and a skin of water from Abraham.
She didn’t drive from the state of Georgia to Illinois so that she could live at her parents’ home, but she did return to Egypt, the land of her people.
And she didn’t drown out the pain by turning up the volume on the car radio, but she probably cried, like I did.
She probably wondered how she would make it through.
God remembers, and looks with kindness, even upon those who should have no claim to grace and mercy because they have walked outside His Divine Plan. Even those who have played at the God game, even these God protects. And He permits them to be a part of His Permissive Plan. . . until they are ready to turn to Him completely. But He waits patiently, until they are at the end of themselves.
As He did with me.
As He did with Hagar.
What is the matter, Hagar? Don’t be afraid; God has heard the boy’s cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hands, for I will make of him a great nation (Genesis 21:17-18).
Hagar didn’t deserve to have God’s help, and neither did I. God looks beyond the series of bad decisions and has mercy.
And God had mercy on Ishmael and Hagar.
Call me Hagar, because God found me in the desert and had mercy on me. The wrong has been set right, something only God can do.
Have I ever tried to play God? Have I wanted something so much that I have tried to make it happen? Lord, forgive me for my lack of trust. Help me to remember that You are in control and that, even when others disappoint me or things don’t go as I have planned, even then You are fully in control.