Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Triduum- On the Verge

We are on the verge of the holiest three days of the year. I'm ready. I love the solemnity of these days. The hush that falls over a soul as it contemplates the idea of God dying, and dying for us. The horror of what we have accomplished through our sins, and through it all the undying realization that we call the day of His death Good Friday. And it is good. It is good because in dying He destroyed our death, and in rising He restored our life.

I am ready. Three days; one event. The Church sees these three liturgies (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil) as one larger liturgy. And I see why. None of them are complete without the others.

I will leave you with a video. Because I love it. Big ol' H/T to Sarah at Fumbling Toward Grace for finding this particular version. (Btw, can I just say that I love Easter Vigil Mass? Best Mass ever!! And a big welcome to all who are joining the Church this year!!!)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Caiaphas

Pilate somehow has my sympathy. Though he is ultimately a weak man lacking the integrity to do what he thinks is right, I can at least see what some of his motives are and have a little sympathy for him. Caiaphas not so much. Caiaphas just seems to be out there hating. The Pharisees seem to have a deep love of the Law, which though it has become distorted to the point that they cannot listen to what God is teaching them, the motive at least starts in a good place. Not feeling that with Caiaphas. (Strangely, I also have no sympathy for Saducees.)

I wonder. Did Caiaphas truly realize what Christ was going to bring about? Did he understand that the high priesthood was about to change hands forever, from Caiaphas to Jesus? Was there any part of a good original motive to Caiaphas' hatred of Jesus? (Not that a good motive can make a bad thing good, but it can at least make it more understandable.) All I see when I look at Caiaphas is a man that wants his power and does not want anything to challenge it. He is not at all willing to listen to what Jesus is saying. Jesus is stirring things up, so Jesus must go.

Think about this, though. Caiaphas was the high priest that year. As such, he had authority given to him by God. Although he meant to use that authority in a way that pleased himself, the authority was bigger than Caiaphas and led to that authority being used for God instead. Are you confused yet?

Here's what I mean. As the Sanhedrin became more scared of Jesus and the miracles that He worked (afraid that it would lead to their land being taken), Caiaphas spoke up, "You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation does not perish." Caiaphas may have only meant to state his case and plot to kill Jesus. However, John says that there was more to it than that: "He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God." (See John 11:47-52)

I am blown away when I think of the malice intended by Caiaphas when he spoke those words, and the hope that they truly contain. Christ did indeed die for us, that we should not perish.

There is another action of Caiaphas' that I was reading about yesterday. It was an action that was meant to display the depth of Caiaphas' hate and malice towards Jesus. Yet it was in effect an acknowledgement of the handing over of the levitical priesthood to Jesus, the new high priest, who would be priest forever; a priest of a new covenant and a new law (see Hebrew 7:11-12).

Turn with me if you will to Mark 14:63: "At that, the high priest tore his garments..."

That does not sound like much to me, but if you read footnotes that smart people have written, it becomes so much more. In the Ignatius Catholic study Bible there is a footnote on this passage:

"The Bible often associates [tearing clothes] with overwhelming sorrow or distress (Gen 37:29; 2 Kings 19:1; Ezra 9:3). Here the high priest disregards Mosaic law, which forbids priests to tear their vestments (Lev 10:6; 21:10)."


It then goes on to quote what St. Bede had to say about this passage:


"The drama of Caiaphas tearing his vestments signifies the termination of the Old Covenant priesthood. In contrast, the seamless garment of Jesus is not torn, but remains intact (Jn 19:23-24), signifying that the new priesthood of Christ will last forever (Heb 7:23-24).




Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday at Every Mass

I am so excited about it being Holy Week. I love the solemnity of Holy Week. I love the "holy smoke". I love what it means to our lives. There is a lot of stuff that happens that I'm not sure about. But the Mass, the Mass I am sure about. Jesus' triumph over evil and death, I am sure about. And I am ready to remember and to take part.

Today is Palm Sunday. After reviewing some of the Old Testament events leading up to Jesus' passion and death, I was excited to re-read the accounts of the Passion. I had a feeling that there might be something that I was missing. I only got as far as Mark 11 yesterday, but there was definitely something that I was missing.

The beginning of Mark 11 is Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem (we read about it this morning before Mass in Luke's gospel). I was thinking about how it would have been 10 Nissan, the day that the Lamb is selected for the sacrifice of the Passover. The other thing that I was thinking about, that I always think about in reading this passage, is how fickle the crowd is! How can they be shouting hosannas one moment, and the next be screaming "Crucify Him!"? I never have understood how that change could come out of nowhere like that.

Only, maybe it doesn't come from nowhere.

Read the words that the crowds speak to Jesus as He rides in on an ass (Matthew 21:9):

"Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest."

"Hosanna" actually means come "please save" or "come save", but we use it now as praise as well, primarily because of this passage. These words are spoken referring to Psalm 118 (see verse 26). It is so interesting to go back and read the whole thing. This Psalm is referring to a Savior; this crowd is recognizing Him as the Messiah. But there's not just the joy and thanksgiving of victory in that Psalm; there is also a very broad hint of what is to come. For example, verse 22 talks about the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. In knowing the Psalm referenced, we should know that there is a rejection of the Messiah coming. But we should also know that He will triumph over it.

It turns out that my own ignorance is the only reason that I am somewhat surprised by the Passion after Palm Sunday. Further driving the point home that I should know what's coming is verse 27*:

"The Lord is God, and has given us light.
Join in procession with leafy branches up to the horn of the altar."

I don't really know what that meant in David's time, but suddenly I could see the crowds laying those branches up to the foot of the cross.

The CCC pointed out a little additional part of this. I never thought about it; the words are so familiar that I didn't stop to think about where they are familiar from. In the Mass, think of the "Sanctus" (Holy, holy, holy). For those of you that haven't been to Mass enough times to know it by memory, it goes like this:

"Holy, holy, holy, Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!"

Yep, recognize that second part? Here's what the CCC said (559): "[The crowd's] acclamation. 'Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord,' is taken up by the Church in the 'Sanctus' of the Eucharistic liturgy that introduces the memorial of the Lord's Passover."

I never realized in some small way that we relive these events of Holy Week in every Mass. Can you believe that I never realized where the words of the Sanctus came from? I never thought of it. They were simply beautiful words. Words that I loved, but I did not connect where they came from and why we said them at that moment of the Mass. (The first part is apparently adapted from Isaiah 6:3; I found some interesting things about that, too, but it would lead to too much of a tangent to include it in this post.)

Anyway, over and out for now. That's what I learned. I am so excited that it's Holy Week. I may not have quite as much time to blog, but that's probably for the best, because I can go on ad nauseum about this week!


* It's translated differently in the ESV and the NASB; this verse is from the NAB, and the RSV is very similar.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice- Korban Todah

In what may be the last post of this little series, we have to talk about Korban Todah, or Thank Offerings. Do you know what the Greek translation of "Thank offering" would be? Eukharistia. Yeah, pretty sure this should be discussed.

Before I read The Lamb's Supper by Scott Hahn, I knew that the Jews sacrificed stuff. I couldn't keep it all straight. Who could? All the different rules in Leviticus for various different sacrifices is overwhelming to say the least. I might have been vaguely aware of something about Passover sacrifices. I had heard of the Day of Atonement, though I really didn't know much about it. But Todah? I had never heard of such a thing.

The thank offering is a beautiful and rich thing. It could be offered for any number of reasons, as I understand it, but it was especially to be offered in four sets of circumstances: 1) After a safe journey across the desert, 2) after a safe sea voyage, 3) after a life-threatening injury or illness, 4) after being set free from prison. Really, though, any time one's life was in danger and one was delivered from that danger, a thank offering was appropriate. (2, 4)

It is difficult for me to tell whether the thank offering included a bloody sacrifice, or merely a bread offering (read Leviticus 7:11ff, and tell me what you think). However, what most of the Jewish sites I read mentioned was the bread offering, 30 loaves of unleavened bread and 10 loaves of leavened bread. Did you know that the bread all had to be eaten the day that it was offered? It's a little hard for the person offering that much bread to also eat it all in one day, even after the priest takes the portion that is his due. No, they had to invite others to join them. There's no way that they could eat it all on their own. That is very much a part of the thank offering, that it was done in community. In this way, the person offering the thanksgiving would then have the perfect opportunity to share what God had done to save this person from harm. (2)

Another possible reason that the command was given that the thank offering all had to be consumed in one day is because God's mercies are new every morning. The sacrifice was consumed that day so that the next day another could be offered. (2)

One of the questions that was raised is why the leavened bread? There were several possible reasons for this. One of the ones that I liked was that leavening was sometimes seen as a symbol of the way that evil spread throughout life, so why bring the "bad" with the good at the thank offering? The point was that we are as grateful to God for the bad things that He allows because of the good that He brings out of them. (3)

One of the things that I think is interesting is that the offering of the priest-king Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) is an offering of bread and wine. It is offered after Abram returned successfully from war. Is that seen as an early precursor to the thank offering? I found nothing suggesting that, but I wonder.

One of the most interesting things about the thank offering is this:

Chazal [the Torah-true sages] say: "The Korban Todah/ the thanksgiving offering will never cease to be brought. (1,4)

So, even in the age of the Messiah, there will always still be a thank offering. One source (4) puts forward the theory that this is because even though in the age of the Messiah, there will be no suffering, we will thank God for keeping the suffering away.

I liked Shlomo Katz's take on it better:

Why is [perpetual Korban Todah] a happy tiding? After all, the Korban Todah is brought by one who has been saved from danger. If the Korban Todah will never cease to be brought, that means that people will never cease to find themselves in danger!

He goes on to point out that danger is fine because God bring good out of danger and because hidden in every suffering, there is goodness. (1)

As a Catholic, I have this take on Korban Todah. All of the other sacrifices cease, because they were completely fulfilled by Christ on the cross. Sin, which animals could never removed, was removed by the blood of Christ. Yet, we perpetually offer thanks (Eucharist) for being saved from danger, not merely danger of physical death, but rather from danger of spiritual death. I love Christ was seen as being a priest forever, according the the order of Melchizedek. A forever kind of priest for a forever kind of offering.

Now if you'll excuse me, if I go get ready quickly I can make it to Mass this morning!




1) http://www.torah.org/learning/hamaayan/5762/tzav.html
2) http://www.ou.org/torah/savannah/5762/tzav62.htm
3) http://geshmacktorah.blogspot.com/2010/03/chametz-and-matza.html
4) http://www.thirdtemple.com/whenmoshiachcomes.html

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Mystery of the Missing Snot

All week last week, I had a little bit of a cough, but otherwise felt great. That all changed last Saturday. That's when I got knocked down by the big guns. Headaches, snot, phlegm, coughing that makes you sore all over, watery, burning eyes. The works. Good times! Saturday night found me laying on my couch with a Kleenex over my nose and mouth trying to create a small little pocket of humidity so that I wouldn't cough with every breath I took. Breathing was stupid anyway. I found myself slightly short of breath with anything I attempted to do. Ridiculous!

Nothing like being a little under the weather to compound any other issue a person may be having. Like the problems I was having with prayer. Have you ever been praying and stopped to wonder, "What is the point of this?"

I have not had a problem with the fact that God loves us. I understand in theory the fact that God brings good out of all things and that He has a reason for everything that He allows to happen. Fine, fine. Whatever. Here's my problem. I'm really tired of putting all this time and energy into prayer only to have God do whatever He's going to do anyway. Power of prayer? What does prayer really do anyway? For instance, one family gets an organ transplant that a family member needed. The patient's doing well and recovering, so the family rejoices in the power of prayer.

But what about the family of the organ donor? Did they not pray that their loved one would be spared? What of the power of prayer then?

What about prayer in the midst of someone's pain? Physical pain, emotional pain; it all hurts. What about when God allows that pain to continue, to drag on and on? Will He bring good out of it? No doubt, if we let Him. But I can think of several people right now in various kinds of pain right now that don't care, can't care, about that right now. In the immediacy of their pain, God's plan is no comfort. In the moments that the pain eases a bit, it might bring solace, but not when the pain is full on at its worst. Why won't God give them comfort?

Last weekend, there was a particular prayer on my heart. Something that I spent some serious time in prayer about, only to have it come crashing to my feet in pieces. I was angry. I was sure that God will bring good out of the situation and all of that, but if God's will and my will are never the same anyway, then I'm going to skip the prayer part and just work on accepting whatever He sends. Because that's what He's going to do, whether I pray or not.

I stopped short of openly defying God, but the attitude in my heart was, "Fine! Be that way! Just see if I offer any more prayers, since they're worthless anyway!"

As soon as the whisper of this thought made it to my conscious brain, I realized that's exactly what I had been doing. There were certain prayers in my life that seemed too big to ask for, so asking meant an automatic "No", so I wouldn't ask. For example, instead of praying for healing for someone, I would only pray that they have the strength to make it through. There were other prayers that I have been praying for years, to no avail, so I had stopped. I was tired of asking, tired of being ignored, tired of prayer.

However, I couldn't help but realize that my attitude was not what God wants from anyone. He wants us to ask. He wants us to come to Him with all of our concerns.

My response to this was highly mature as well:

"Fine! You want me to pray, I'll pray!"

So I showed God. You bet. I prayed for everything that I could think of. I prayed for all of the things that I have been praying about for years, I prayed for all of the people that are hurting, I prayed not only that they would have the strength to get through it, but that they would be healed. I prayed for people I knew and those that I didn't. I prayed for big things and little things, like healing from my stupid cold. I prayed for the big complex things that seem like they would be difficult even for God to straighten out, and I prayed for things that would seem to be a cinch if He would only get around to doing something about it.

Then I went to bed, strangely satisfied, despite my less than angelic attitude problems. It no longer mattered quite as much that I didn't understand prayer or any of the other frustrations, only that all of those things were in God's hands.

The next day, I woke up with every bit as many questions and problems with prayer. On the other hand, I realized that I woke up with considerably less snot. Actually, other than a little cough, my cold symptoms were nearly gone! Which led me to even more questions than I had had before. Is this just a brief respite before my nose plugs up again? That often happens to me when I have a cold. Maybe the germ I had wasn't so bad? Or was it the fact that I was taking Echinacea? I mean, I did still have the cough, so did it really have anything to do with the prayer?

I'm slow, so it took me a while, but I finally stopped with the questions. After all, I asked for healing, and God answered. Did He use the Echinacea to help? Who cares? The end result is the same. I was finally able to shut up, close my mouth and spend some time breathing through both nostrils. Though I wondered if it would last, I can tell you that that was Monday morning, and my nose has not been stuffed since, nor my head congested. I still don't know much, but I know this.

God is listening.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Letdown by LOST

Now, for those of you that do not keep up with LOST like normal human beings, but want to watch it later (Chrissy), this is not a spoiler post. But it does discuss an incident that occurred in this week's episode, so consider yourself forewarned.

Okay, let's talk about how a character commits manslaughter (an accident occurs in the heat of the moment). He is then given an opportunity to confess his sins to a priest. He brokenly confesses to the "murder" and begs for forgiveness. Then the priest says something to the effect of, "No. I can't forgive you. Murder is too big. Maybe, if you did enough penance, but there is not enough time; you're to be hanged tomorrow morning."

I don't remember the exact words spoken, because the wailing, "Noooooooooooo!!!!" in my head was too loud. That whole travesty was so wrong on so many levels! That is not what confession is all about. I hope that most Catholics and non-Catholics alike recognize that this whole scenario is not right. Still, there could easily be a few Christians out there that watch something like that and shrug, saying to themselves, "Glad I'm not Catholic; I just ask Jesus for forgiveness and it's taken care of." Or perhaps non-Christians that are made glad that they are not Catholic so that they don't have to have the added guilt piled on.

Can I just say, this is not right! Anyone can be forgiven of anything at any time! The only time a priest might withhold absolution is if he has very strong evidence that a person is not repentant. This character clearly was. Furthermore, penance is done to help separate a person from their attachment from sin, but it is not the pre-requisite for the sin to be forgiven! The sin is forgiven right away, no matter how big, or how many, simply because of the sinner's repentance turning to the abundant grace of Christ.

Although I enjoyed that episode, I was so sad to see confession, which is truly a wonderful gift, being portrayed in such a way.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice- The Day of Atonement

The more I study Judaism, the more I am convinced: one cannot truly understand Judaism from studying it. Judaism can only be truly understood from experiencing it, from living it. This has never been more obvious than in studying Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The more I learn, the more that I realize that I will never grasp the full meaning of what this highest of holy days is to a Jew without being a Jew myself. While there is a part of me that regrets not experiencing this with a Jewish understanding, at the same time I cannot leave where I am now. As a Christian, I have experienced an even more definitive understanding of the Day of Atonement. To our understanding, the Day of Atonement is no longer one that occurs yearly and must be repeated due to the fact that it cannot fully save us. Rather, the new and definitive Day of Atonement happened 2000 years ago. It happened on one day, but it is now eternally present to all of us in Christ.

I hesitate to write what I have learned about the Jewish Day of Atonement. It is a beautiful and most sacred day, and as I am relying to a certain extent on impressions, I am scared of misrepresenting it. For a Jewish understanding, try here and here. To the best of my understanding, Yom Kippur is the day where the gates of heaven are opened and God is closer than ever to hear the prayers of His people, especially their prayers of repentance. This is the day that they celebrate with solemn prayer (for most of the day, they are at various prayer services), and fasting (25 hours without food or even water). In the 10 days leading up to Yom Kippur, the people also practice almsgiving and are to ask forgiveness from any people that they have wronged. When the day is done, people are joyful, rejoicing in the forgiveness that God has granted them.

I hope you will also dig a little deeper with me into the ancient practices of Yom Kippur. First, read Leviticus 16.

I am fascinated by the Holy of Holies. This is the one place that only the high priest could enter, and he could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. This was God's dwelling place on earth (see Leviticus 16:2). The veil separated this most holy place from everyone, reminding us that we cannot approach the holiness of God, that if we were to be in His presence, we should die. As you see in chapter 16, after the bull and one of the goats are sacrificed, their blood is brought into the Holy of Holies, where it is offered before the mercy seat.

Now look what happens as Jesus dies in Matthew 27:51: "And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom..." Whoa. No longer are we separated from God. There's some atonement for you!

What the Day of Atonement Means for the Mass

The Passover is critical for understanding of the Mass, but I think that the implications of the Day of Atonement on the Mass rocked my world even more. You know how in Hebrews 7:27, we are told that Jesus offers sacrifice once for all. I believe that, but I also believe that in the Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary is truly made present in an unbloody way. I do not believe that Jesus dies over an over, so what gives?

Jesus, besides being the sacrifice that is offered, is also the true High Priest that offers it. Like the goat, He died for the sins of the people. Like the High Priest, He enters the Holy of Holies to offer the blood of His sacrifice in the very presence of God.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)

So Jesus, who is eternally present before the Father, is eternally offering His blood for our sins. This once for all, but eternal, sacrifice is what is made present every single day in the Eucharist at the Mass. Thus Mass, for all that it is sometimes full of distracted people, really awful music at times, and, more often than not, its less than inspired homilies, is still heaven made present on earth.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

This Weekend

Thursday was beyond gorgeous, which led to some distinct problems yesterday when it began to snow. Yes, I said SNOW. I know that's a dirty, four-letter word, but I use it on my blog because sometimes you have to face the nitty-gritty of reality!

I was clearly depressed by the snow, but all of my patients assured me that it wouldn't be bad, it wouldn't stick, the temperatures wouldn't go below 35, it wouldn't affect my driving to a friend's house that night.

My patients, though sweet, were all WRONG. By 5:15, the grass that was only recently becoming a familiar sight was all covered with white again. By 7:00, it was sticking to the roads, and the temperature was 28. Definitely below freezing! It didn't stop me from seeing my friends, but it made the drive a lot longer. Given that all of us motorists had decided that the roads couldn't possibly be that bad since it was 60 the day before, we didn't drive real smart. Which explains all the cars in the ditches, including one I saw resting on its top. Not only that, but I was still too stupid to stay put, which meant that when I drove home, it was very difficult to tell where the roads were. Apparently the salt solution that they usually put down on the roads makes a big difference, because I don't think that they did it yesterday, so the roads were way worse.

Anyway, happy first day of Spring! At least it is true that this snow will not last, and will probably be gone by Monday at the latest.

~~~

Okay, this post may be some randomness put together, but can I tell you a story about how I can be a little overly dramatic sometimes? At least my thoughts can tend toward the ridiculous. I've been fighting some kind of bug, so I've been taking Echinacea pills. I don't do a lot of herbal remedies, but these seem to help. The problem is that I'm a horrible pill swallower, and the capsules are a little on the large side. Here's a sequence of thoughts that happened one night this last week:

"Ooh. That pill didn't down well. At least I didn't gag."

"Wait! That pill DIDN'T go down, and I can't gag right now!"

"It's stuck! It's stuck! Being single and living alone sucks in situations like this! I can't even call 911!"

Then, while my brain was frantically trying to figure out which piece of furniture I should use in case self-Heimlich became necessary, my ever practical body gave the tiniest of coughs and the problem was resolved. All those dramatics for nothing. Though it is impressive the number of thoughts that can fly through your brain in less than a second.

~~~

Finally, it's March Madness this weekend! Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Can I tell you that there's a 3G commercial that I think is the height of stupidity? First you see a basketball game, then the screen widens and you see that it's on 3G phone that's someone's watching. Then it widens further and you see that the someone is a groom at the wedding ceremony. The bride, of course, is incensed. Ridiculous! Who in their right minds would get married in March Madness!! There's 49 other perfectly good weekends in a year to get married! What did she expect if she didn't have better foresight in her planning than that??

Yeah, so besides napping, reading, and catching up on some paperwork, I might watch a little basketball this weekend! So go Jayhawks! And go to any of your teams that might be playing other teams besides the Jayhawks! :)

***Update: Basketball is officially over for the 2009-2010 season. If I wasn't a KU fan, it would be one of the things that I love about March Madness. As it is, I'm left questioning how a team can go to the Sweet 16 in a serious rebuilding year and not make it out of the first weekend in a year when they go into the tournament on top. So aggravating!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice- The Passover (III)

This last post is some important stuff about the Passover that I haven't quite managed to get to yet. I'll try to wrap it up, though, because I still want to talk about Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Korban Todah (Thank offerings).

The Passover in the Present

Something that we tend not to think about is that the Passover is not merely a symbolic gesture reminding the Jews of a past event. It is very rich in symbolism, but it is not merely a symbol. In a small way, the Jews throughout time actually experience a part of the Passover. Here's what George Robinson had to say:

"[The Jews] are asked in a small way to experience [the bitterness of slavery, the mortar of the bricks] at Pesakh (Passover) and at every Pesakh. The Haggadah (the "telling", a book used at the seder) is very explicit about this one: one is to retell the story of Exodus as if he, too, had been liberated from slavery in Egypt. Indeed, this idea is conveyed emphatically at several points in the text... "I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God."(1)

In a mysterious way, the Passover meal makes the events of the Passover present to the Jews celebrating. Obviously the people are different, and the lambs (when they were still sacrificing them) were different, but the God that was present that night to set the Israelites free from oppression from Egypt is the same God that is present every time the Passover is celebrated.

In a similar way, at the Mass, we do not merely recall Jesus' sacrifice, but actually participate in it. There is more to be said about this, and I will get to it eventually. For now let me just be clear that Catholics do NOT re-sacrifice Jesus at every Mass. Jesus only died once, and that sacrifice is made present in the Mass.

The Passover-Akeidah Connection

Our contemporary, western view of history tends to look at each event in separate little boxes. This is not the way to approach these events of history. The Akeidah foretold and gave meaning to the Passover; the Passover fulfilled the promise of the Akeidah, but also foretold something greater. One example of this connection is that there is a tradition that the Passover and the Akeidah happened on the same day of the year. (2, p.71)

In the Akeidah, Isaac freely chose to give himself up to be faithful to the covenant of God. God honored that faithfulness in the Passover when He freed the Israelites. Therefore, in a way, Isaac's sacrifice gave significance to the Passover sacrifices. (One Targum- a Jewish text that translated Hebrew into Aramaic along with interpretive glosses- states: "And when I see the blood [of the Passover lamb], I will pass over you- I see the blood of Isaac's Akeidah".2)

In fact, this is what Nash has to say about it: "The ancient Jews saw Passover as an initial, national fulfillment of Isaac's sacrifice that would one day culminate in universal redemption. The Passover lambs prefigured a greater lamb, the one God swore to deliver on Moriah." (2- pp.71-72)

Unleavened Bread

The 7 days of Passover are also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The night of the 13th of Nissan, faithful Jews search through the house to be sure that anything with any leavening has been found and removed. Unleavened bread is symbolic of removing the "puffiness" of sin in our lives, as well as reminding us of the way that the Israelites ate in haste as they prepared to flee Egypt. I love it, because Mass is definitely a feast of Unleavened Bread!

The Seder

I can't finish without talking about the Seder meal ("seder" means "order"). I don't think that we can fully understand in our culture what it means to sit and eat with others. It was a way of ratifying friendships and covenants. It could even heal relationships between enemies. Nash alludes to the Seder meal as being a communion meal; one that unified the Jews as well as brought them in closer union with God. At any rate, eating the sacrificed Passover lamb was necessary to the celebration of the Passover in the time of the Temple.

This is so important in realizing the connection between the Passover and the Mass. It was not enough in the Passover for a lamb to be sacrificed, it also had to be eaten. It is very telling that none of the Gospels mention a lamb being served at the Last Supper. Clearly they focused on Jesus as the Lamb of the sacrifice.

The other food is important as well. Even now, the Haggadah is very explicit that an explanation of certain foods was needed. I hope you don't mind an extensive quote from the Haggadah:

Rabban Gamaliel used to say: Whoever does not describe the following three symbols on Passover has not fulfilled his duty:

PESAH, THE PASSOVER OFFERING
MATZAH, THE UNLEAVENED BREAD
MAROR, THE BITTER HERBS

Point to the shank bone:
The Passover offering which our ancestors ate in Temple days, what was the reason for it? It was because the Holy One, blessed be He, passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt, as it is written: "And you shall say, 'It is the Passover offering of the Lord, Who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians and spared our houses.' And the people bowed their heads and worshipped."

Point to the Matzah:
This Matzah which we eat, what is the reason for it? It is because there was not enough time for the dough of our ancestors to rise when the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them, as it is written: "And they baked the dough which they had brought out from Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread' for it had not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and they could not tarry; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves."

Point to the bitter herbs:
These bitter herbs which we eat- what is their meaning? It is because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors in Egypt, as it is written: "And they embittered their lives with hard labor, with mortar and bricks, and with every kind of work in the fields; all the work which they made them do was cruel.

Another part of the Passover is the four cups of wine that are drunk at various stages throughout the Passover meal.

In the Mass, the elements of the Passover meal are preserved: the Lamb, in the bitterness of His sacrificial suffering, gave us His flesh as true food and His blood as true drink (see John 6:36ff), in the unleavened bread and the wine.

Finally

This is just a bit of randomness, but I really liked the "Dayenu", one of the prayers in the seder (scroll down to the text).

(1) Essential Judaism, by George Robinson, p. 123.
(2) Worthy Is the Lamb, by Thomas Nash

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice- The Passover (II)

I'm up to my usual, starting posts that are supposed to be about something specific and then talking toward it, but not actually making it to the main event. That's what happened in Passover I. That's okay with me. I'm totally savoring all this. I love it! I know that at least part of this will be a review for a some of you but hopefully there will be some new information as well.

The stage has been set. The Hebrews have been oppressed in Egypt for 400 years and God is about to set them free. Turn with me, if you will, to Exodus 11. Moses and Aaron have been delivering the word of God to pharaoh, and have been backed by the plagues that God has sent on the people. Still pharaoh refuses to do what God has asked and refuses to let the people go. God promises to send one last plague.

Starting in verse 4, Moses addresses the people of God:

"Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go forth in the midst of Egypt; and all the first-born in the land of Egypt will die, from the first-born of the Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the cattle. And there shall be a great cry through the land of Egypt, such as there never has been, nor ever shall be again. But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl; that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel."

The Israelites couldn't just stand idly by and wait for this to happen. They had very specific instructions to carry out this night. Forgive me my extensive quotations, but here we go from chapter 12 (instructions of the Lord to Moses and Aaron):

"This month for you shall be the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of the month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household... Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old;... and you shall keep it until the 14th day of the month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it... It is the Lord's passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood. I will pass over you. and no plague shall fall on you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
"This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance forever."

So much there! Are you ready? Past ready? Wish I'd just get to it sometime today? :)

According to the Jewish calendar, this first month of the year is Nissan. Let's take a look at the 10th day of the month: on this day the Passover lambs were selected. They were to be without blemish and a year old (in the prime of life). Jesus entered Jerusalem on 10 Nissan, sinless and in the prime of life (traditionally He is believed to have been 33 years old).

The Passover lambs were sacrificed on the 14th. Jesus died on the 14th. The lambs were killed at the time that Jesus died on the cross.

The blood of the lambs on the doorposts is interesting. This actually didn't become a large part of the Jewish Passover celebration because the Jews were in Jerusalem, and were not at home. However, when God saw this blood, He passed over those households, sparing them from death. Just like the blood of Jesus on the cross allows us to be forgiven of our sins and escape death.

Then the Jews are to eat the flesh of the lamb. Christians are told to eat the flesh of the Lamb in the Last Supper.

This was also set up as a memorial to be observed "forever". Does this only mean until the New Covenant begins, or does it continue in the New Covenant, only in a fulfilled way? (Hebrews 10:1 ...the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities...)

Exodus 12:43-48:

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it... you shall not break a bone of it. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the passover of the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it."

Not a bone shall be broken... The soldiers came to break the legs of the condemned prisoners, but when they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs because He was already dead (John 19:33).

The rest should be very familiar for a Catholic with regards to the Mass. Only Catholics are allowed to join in the Eucharist. All Catholics are required to participate in the Mass. Others that would like to join are welcome, but they do have to fully join Catholicism first. The Passover is part of the Jewish identity; not to participate is to be cut off. This is not a punishment, but a matter of fact. To be a Jew is to participate in the Passover. It is part of who they are. (To this day, it is something that even most of those Jews that do not observe any other part of their faith have participated in the Passover at some point in their lives.) The same is true for Catholics. Participating in the Eucharist is who we are. To be Catholic is to participate in the Eucharist.

Can you handle a little more of the Passover? I'm not quite finished yet, but I think this post is long enough. I'm hoping to go back and find some more of the references for you, but I can tell you that a lot of the connections came from Worthy Is the Lamb, by Thomas Nash.

Happy St. Patrick's day, btw!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

One Year Ago Today...

... I opted out of getting a goldfish to talk to and started a blog instead!

Over the weekend, I had a friend over. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned something about blogging. Her response was, "Oh. You're one of those people."

Why, yes. Yes, I am one of those people, and I like being one of those people.

Thanks for reading along and making it so much fun to be one of those people!

Also, Andrea won the book, so, Andee, if you get me your address, I will send it to you! (You could email me, or you could call since it's probably been a year since I've talked to you!:)

I still wish I could get books for everyone that commented. Speaking of books, what books have changed your lives? I'm always up for new suggestions!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice- The Passover (I)

Some days you just have to be okay with failure. Today is one of those days. I have been absorbing as much as I can about the Passover. The more I learn, the more that I am blown away. The more I am awestruck, the more I am overwhelmed by the idea that there is no way that I can possibly do this subject justice. Therefore, I embrace the idea that failure imminent, at least with regards to fully being able to put it all into words. That way, I can at least partially put it into words, which is better than not sharing it at all.

To understand the Passover, we have to first understand the Abrahamic covenants in Genesis 15, 17, and 22. I talked about all of those briefly here. The promises God made to Abraham were not only for Abraham, they were for all of us. First for the Jews, and then for the rest of us. These are not just nice words spoked by God to Abraham, they are promises that will be fulfilled in very specific ways. One of the things that I have been coming to realize in my studies is that these are not just interesting history lessons. What we learn of Abraham, what we learn of these promises is a part of us, it's a part of our story. These are not just distinct past events, these are events that in some way transcend time and affect us all, even though they are a part of time and history. I don't know if that makes much sense, but that's what I warned you about!

In Genesis 15, God not only promised Abraham that his descendants would be a nation and that He would give them the land, but He also told Abraham this, "Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for 400 years; but I will bring judgement on the nation which they serve and afterwards they will come out with great possessions." That's pretty harsh. However, it gave the Hebrews something to hold on to while they were in the land of Egypt.

I also talked some about the Akeidah. I hope you don't mind, but I briefly want to go over what happened after the Akeidah. I realize that it's probably review for everyone, but as I try to organize my thoughts about the Passover, I realize that I need to have a better grasp of where it is on the Old Testament timeline. Feel free to skip it if you know right where you are in history.

Right after Abraham and Isaac got back after the Akeidah, Sarah died. (There is actually a Jewish tradition that Sarah died from the shock after she heard about what had happened on Moriah.) Isaac married Rebekah, and they had twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the firstborn, but Jacob eventually tricked Esau into giving up his birthright, and later tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn rather than Esau. ("Jacob" means "deceiver" or "supplanter".) Despite some shady dealings, God still worked through Jacob, and confirmed that it was through Jacob that the promises to Abraham would be fulfilled (Genesis 28:10-17).

Jacob fled from Esau (can't imagine why he he thought Esau might try to do something to him...) Eventually he ended up in the land of a kinsman and took two wives, Leah and Rachel. Between these two and their maidservants (who were concubines), Jacob eventually had 12 sons, who became the 12 tribes of Israel (Jacob's name was changed to "Israel" after he wrestled with an angel in Genesis 32). Many things happened (if you want to know why the Messianic line came from Judah, the 4th eldest son, and not the older three, you'll have to do some more in depth reading of Genesis!), but the biggest thing that happened is that the older sons were jealous of Joseph. Joseph was the son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel, and was therefore the favorite son. This eventually led to the older sons selling Joseph as a slave for 20 pieces of silver. (Pop quiz! Who else in the Bible was sold for pieces of silver and how many?)

Joseph did fairly well for a while as a slave in Egypt, but then he did the right thing and got burned for it and had to rot in jail for a number of years. God did not forget about him being there, but allowed him to stay until the right time. Then Joseph was saved from jail, and in the process became Pharaoh's right hand man. Through Joseph's stellar management (can we get him to come help out our government??), the Egyptians were not only able to survive a very difficult famine, but were able to prosper through it. When Joseph's brothers came searching for food, he was able to save them, despite their earlier treatment of him. Eventually, Jacob and all of his sons and their families moved to Egypt to be with Joseph. At first they were treated well because of the high regard that the pharaoh had for Joseph, but as generations passed, the Egyptians gradually came to fear the growing population of Hebrews and pressed them into slavery.

Thus we come to the point where the oppressed Hebrews were calling out to God. God heard them, and remembered His promises to Abraham in Genesis 15. It was time for the first covenant to be fulfilled. It was time for Abraham's descendants to be saved from slavery and to become the nation of Israel.

1) Worthy Is the Lamb, by Thomas Nash, pp. 71-72

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Old Testament

I am learning more and more to appreciate the Old Testament. Still, it always leaves me with a lot of questions. I've been studying up about the Passover, so today I decided I'd better re-read some of Exodus. I thought I'd share some of the questions that came to mind. As you might expect, some are more frivolous than others. But frivolous or not, I want to know!


The first thing was not a question, but something that I thought was curious. The Egyptians were scared of the Israelites because they "multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land became full of them." The more the Egyptians tried to oppress them, the more the Israelites "multiplied and spread abroad". So they told the midwives to kill the sons. The two midwives (Shiphrah and Puah, if you want their names). Only two midwives for such a multitude? Interesting.

My next question is to wonder whether it is okay to lie for the greater good. My answer is no, but then I read about the midwives that lied to the pharaoh about why they were not killing the Israelite males. True, it may have been more of an equivocation than a lie, but either way, it's questionable. They were blessed for the way that they feared God more than the pharaoh, and I wouldn't want them to do things any other way, but it still makes me wonder where the line should be drawn.


Moses had a brother, Aaron. We hear about how Moses' family saved Moses. Makes me wonder how they saved Aaron, and why they had to do things differently for Moses?

Back to the wondering about when the end justifies the means. When Moses grew up, he killed an Egyptian that was beating a Hebrew. The Bible neither condemns nor justifies this, but once again, when is this okay? My feeling is that the midwives did the right thing. I don't think that Moses was similarly justified. The Egyptian was clearly in the wrong, but I think Moses may have gone too far. Yet, I have no way of knowing that, and there may have been more extenuating circumstances than we read about here. For example, the Egyptian may have been beating the Hebrew to death. But then why would the other Hebrew accuse Moses later on in the chapter? I don't know. Was Moses a hero or a murderer? At any rate, if he was a murderer, he clearly repented, because otherwise God would not have been able to use Moses as an essential part of His plan of salvation.


I always used to wonder about God saying through the plagues that He "would harden Pharaoh's heart" so that He could show His power. That never made sense, but now I see it differently. God wouldn't interfere with Pharaoh's free will, but He knew what Pharaoh's response would be at every turn. By telling Moses that He would "harden Pharaoh's heart", He lets Moses know that none of this is beyond His plan. Although Pharaoh would choose to work against God and thwart His plan, God instead used Pharaoh's response in a very powerful way.

Why did God want to kill Moses in verse 24? Probably because Moses wasn't living according to the covenant and hadn't circumcised his son, but then why didn't Moses do it? It seems strange that God sent Moses on such a mission, and that either He didn't tell Moses to circumcise his son, or that Moses didn't figure out that it would be important or that Moses didn't do it. Thank goodness for Moses' wife being around!


Was Moses' mother his father's aunt? (Verse 20) Please tell me this is an instance of all near relatives being referred to as "brother" or "sister". Otherwise, that's a bit much for my contemporary American sensibilities.


If all of the water in the land of Egypt turned to blood, then how did the magicians also turn water to blood? What water was left for them to practice on? And why would they want to?

I guess my last question is how could pharaoh be such an idiot? Because there has to be some reason that he decided to ignore the power of God over and over. What is the reason? I would like to know what the reason is, because I would like to avoid such idiocy in my own life if at all possible.

~~~

Questions are interesting. Some might have answers, some there may be no way of knowing. I have started to notice that I don't necessarily need answers for all my questions. Sometimes it is enough to simply ponder the questions and learn from them, whether there's ever a definitive answer or not. Sometimes I know the answers (like the magicians wanted to turn the water to blood to show that they could, that they were as powerful as Moses), but I question it because even if I know what the answer technically is, I still don't think it makes sense!

Anyway, those are my questions. If you made it through my ramblings, I would like to know what your burning Old Testament questions are. What do you wonder about every time you read or hear about it? (I've wondered about the where the magicians found more water every time I read/hear it, ever since I was a kid!)

Friday, March 12, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday




I'm a little on the late side, but it is still Friday, so I'm going to play, too!

1) Things have been very busy, and going very well at work. It's so gratifying when you work hard and people feel better! However, sometimes I might get a little overly proud of myself. Never fear, there is always humility waiting around the corner to keep my feet on the ground... Like when I finished doing soft tissue work on someone's shoulder today; and then she informed that I had worked on the wrong shoulder! After 10 minutes of work! We were both a little red-faced after that... Good thing it wasn't surgery!

2) Oh, well. Work has made me brain dead. It is crazy how much more tired I get when I'm doing a bunch of new evals. Am I the only one that gets tired when I mentally exert myself? We had enough new evals this week that I couldn't remember which person was which (or which body part we were working on, apparently...)

3) The school in the town where I work is on spring break this week. I do not get any vacation, but I have a few patients that will be on vacation, and a few others that don't have to come before or after school. Therefore, I might have a few minutes to breathe this next week!

4) My boys won tonight! Go Jayhawks! We are now to the most important part of the season; the part where I hope they don't lose any of their games for the rest of the season. Though if they do have to lose one, it better be the next one and not any of the ones from this coming week!

5) I can't believe March Madness is here! I recently bought a TV (mine died a year ago at Thanksgiving, and I haven't felt the need to replace it before now). I'm really hoping that I can get March Madness, but it will only be if the antennae picks it up. I'm still in no rush for a cable bill. I love college basketball

6) I have been doing a lot of reading up on the Passover; I can't wait to get started on that post! Reviewing Abraham and Isaac has been helpful to me, but I have to admit that the Passover and Day of Atonement sacrifices are even more exciting to me.

7) There are still a few days left until the giveaway! Anyone that's interested is welcome to join that one. Only one winner, but you can comment on as many different books as you like.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice- The Akeidah

Turn with me to a story of a father offering his only son as a sacrifice. No, not in the Gospels. Genesis 22, the story of Abraham and Isaac. Seriously, I suggest reading that chapter before you read this post. Yeah, I know that's almost like homework, but you'll get over it. And I'm going to make you work extra hard for it and not link the chapter for you. Go open a Bible! :) (My dad tells me that extra work is character building. I'll take his word for it.)

Here's verse 1 and 2:

"Some time after these events, God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, 'Abraham!'
'Ready!' he replied. Then God said: 'Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.'"

Keep in mind that Abraham had another son born of his flesh, Ishmael. Ishmael had been sent away in the previous chapter (21:9-21) at Sarah's request and with God's blessing. Isaac really is the only son that he has left. As much as I admire Abraham's quick response, I wonder if he later wished that he had waited to see what God wanted before he responded (it probably makes me a terrible follower of God, but that's what I would have been thinking).

The "land of Moriah"; that's an interesting one. There are some traditions about this land. For example, it is thought to be in the land of Salem (meaning peace), the territory of the priest-king Melchizedek. (We'll talk more about Melchizedek and his thanksgiving offering of bread and wine later on.) Later on in the chapter, Abraham names the site Yahweh-yireh (God will see to it or God will provide). Some think that it was the combination of these names that led to the name Yireh-Salem (God will provide peace), in other words, Jerusalem. The tradition is that the mountain of this offering is, if not the temple mount itself, at least in the very near vicinity.

Think about verse 6: "Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife."

Can you think of another time when a man freely offering Himself took the wood of His own sacrifice on His shoulders and carried it up a hill in the area of Jerusalem?

When Isaac asks where the sheep was for the holocaust, Abraham's response was that "God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust." Let's leave that for a moment and come back to it.

Read verse 9. Abraham had to prepare the altar on which he would offer his son. Can you imagine how awful that would have been? Can you imagine how heavy his hands and his heart must have felt? Even though his faith was clearly much greater than mine, and he knew that God would somehow provide, this must have been nearly impossible to make himself do. Then he had to tie up his son Isaac and place him on the altar.

This is it, "the binding", or the Akeidah. The Jews look at this as Isaac's sacrifice as much as it is Abraham's. Isaac was likely somewhere between 18-37 at this time, and Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. The only way that Abraham bound Isaac is if Isaac let him do it.

We all know the glorious moment where God kept Abraham from killing Isaac, and instead they found a ram in the thicket. (Could it be that the ram was young enough to be a lamb?) He offered the ram, then he named the place "Yahweh-yireh".

Interesting, isn't it, that he named the place "God will provide" and not "God provided"? This points forward to another Lamb and another sacrifice. Because of this whole episode, God promised that all nations would be blessed because of Abraham.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's Time... For a Giveaway!

**Update: Giveaway is over. Thanks for playing! :)

I'm not going to lie, I never thought that I would be saying those words! You know that I am a nerd, but did you know that I am a Lord of the Rings nerd? I'm going to prove it. You see, I know that hobbits give other people presents on their birthdays. The idea is that those people in their lives are what make them who they are. That's what this giveaway is about.

About a year ago, I started writing a blog. I was pretty sure that no one would read it. Why would they, when there were so many great blogs out there? How would they ever find it? Not only that, but some of those first posts were not too great, and I wasn't sure that I even wanted anyone to read it! Eventually people did start to read it, you started to read it, and I want to take this time to thank you for making this blog worth writing!

Here's how this is going to work. I knew if I was going to do a give away it would have to be a book. It's who I am. At first, I was going to do one book. Then I was going to do another book. Then I couldn't decide which book to give! Since I am so undecided, you will decide. I'm going to give you a list of books that have changed my life (or that were just really good). Your job is to leave a comment about which book you want. If you want more than one, you can comment more than once. The more comments you have, the more chances to win. I'll use a random numbers thing to decide who wins. If you are related to me (you know, like a sister) and read only read because you feel obligated (or so you can procrastinate), you are still eligible. If this is the first post you've ever read here, but there's a book you're interested in, you're eligible. In other words, everyone can play!

Here is the list of books for you to choose from:

The first two books are Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn, and Surprised by Truth edited by Patrick Madrid. These are the first two books that I remember reading that really sparked my love affair with the Catholic Church. These are the books that I read back in high school that started me studying my own faith and not just following along with what my parents said. They are the conversion stories of people that entered the Catholic Church and why they joined. (The second is a collection of 11 stories.)

Next are some books that made me fall more deeply in love with the Mass. One is Worthy Is the Lamb by Thomas Nash. It is the starting point for a lot of what I've been finding as a research the OT roots of the Mass. I'm not going to say that it's an easy read, but it's pretty well written, not to mention fascinating. Another one is "The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth" by Scott Hahn. If you want to look at the Mass a whole new way, and look at the book of Revelation in a whole new way, then this book is it. I also love his intro to the Mass in the first part of the book.

Now, you know that I can't talk about life changing books without bringing up Theology of the Body! I will never see life the same, people the same, never look at God the way that I did before starting to study this. It is no exaggeration to say that in studying this, I have learned the meaning of life. There are a lot of them to choose from, but I'm going with all Christopher West. One great introduction book, written in a Q&A format, is The Good News about Sex and Marriage. Another one that I haven't actually read, but would be good for someone that just wants an introduction of what this crazy "Theology of the Body" is all about is Theology of the Body for Beginners. If you want a more in depth look, either as a beginner or someone that's already studied some but wants to go deeper, I highly recommend Theology of the Body Explained. In depth? Yes. Awesome? Yes. Life-changing? Absolutely. Finally, for those of you that have had some time to read and study this teaching and want to go deeper, I give you Heaven's Song: Sexual Love as It was Meant to Be. This is also a great book, but it really is for people that already have a good grounding in TOB.

Now I have to bring up a book that probably everyone's already read. The Eldredges' books are quite popular, but I was behind the curve a little on getting those. For me, Captivating was the right book at the right time about a year ago. I have one friend that spent some time telling me why she thought this was a dumb book (she had no idea that I liked it). I admit that if I had read it at an earlier point in my life, I probably would have agreed with her. However, at the time that I read it, it was exactly what I needed and helped me understand God's love for me in a new way.

That's just about enough, I suppose, but I have to throw in two more. The first I haven't actually read, but it's on my list. It is Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith by Christoph Cardinal Schonborn. I guess I have my doubts that it would actually classify as life-changing, but it looks really interesting. The last one is because I read so much fiction that I had to include at least one fiction book. I chose The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers. It's pretty intense, but very thought provoking and very good. Normally the fiction that I read is a lot less substantial, but this is the only one that seemed like it could fit on the list.

See? This is a crazy list! I wish I could give everyone as many books as they were interested in, but since I can't, I'll have to go with one book for whoever wins. I will pick a winner in one week on the 16th (the actual one year of this blog). Thanks so much for reading and for all your great comments!

The Greatest Sacrifice- The Covenant with Abraham

At first, I wasn't sure that I would talk too much about the Abrahamic covenant. However, the moment that I began doing my research, I knew that I was going to have to talk about it; not only talk about it, but start with it.

I have been thinking recently about the deepest desire of the human heart. There is something that we all long for, that we ache for at the very depth of our being. That is to know and be known. We want to find someone, a spouse, a friend, a parent, a child, who knows us, understands who we are, where we are coming from. We long for a love that knows everything about us, and not only loves us in spite of it, but loves us because of it. We want a love that doesn't leave no matter how many times that we mess up. We cry out for the security of that love, and the longing to know that we matter.

God know this about us; He created us this way, and He is the only one that can completely fill this deep ache. Think about this love of His. He gave us perfection in the Garden of Eden; we sinned and turned away. We completely cut ourselves off from God. There's nothing we can do about this. For everything that we do out of love or fear of God, we also do something to turn away from Him. A quick reading of Genesis shows all of the things that we are capable of: pride, murder (including fratricide), rape, incest, worshipping idols, and on and on.

You might object to my use of the word "we", but I stand by it. The story of Genesis is the story of humanity, our story. If we don't realize how intimately connected to it we are, then the story loses the most important parts of its meaning.

So there we are, failures that are incapable of anything but continuing to fail and continuing to sin. God knows this about us. He knows every bit of our motives, the good, the bad and the ugly. He knows that we don't love Him like we should. He knows that we are incapable of being faithful to Him. And He loves us anyway. He still chose to covenant with us.

What do you know about covenants? A covenant is not the same thing as a contract. A contract is an exchange of goods and services. A covenant is one person giving themselves to another; being bound to one another forever. Sounds like all sweetness and light, doesn't it?

Not the way that they did it then. Hebrews do not refer to "making" a covenant. They "cut" a covenant. An animal was brought and cut in half. The blood is allowed to pool between the two halves; then the two parties cutting the covenant walk through the warm, sticky blood. Covenants had both blessings and curses; blessings if they were kept, curses if they were broken. By walking through the blood, they were saying, "May it be done to me like this animal if I fail to keep this covenant". [1]

Let's take a look at Genesis 15. God promised that He was going to give Abraham an heir, and that Abraham's descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky. God also promised to give Abraham the land that they were in. Not explicitly mentioned, but implied is that Abraham and his descendants remain faithful to God. Then look what happened when they were to walk between the pieces of the animals. If God was represented by the smoking oven*, then what should have happened next was that Abraham should have walked through. But no, instead there was a flaming torch that passed through the pieces instead. VaanderLaan (in a lecture that I listened to on CD) says that this was God taking the place of Abraham. Can you imagine that? God knew that we would not be capable of keeping our end of the bargain, so He took our place! He was willing to do this, though He knew it was not a matter of if , but when we broke the covenant. He knew He was committing Himself to become like those animals.

~~~

In three places, God made promises to Abraham. The first was this one in Chapter 15, that Abraham would become a great nation. This was fulfilled when the Hebrews are saved from Egypt and eventually become the nation of Israel (just wait until we get to talk about the Passover!). [2]

The next was in Genesis 17, God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations and that kings would come from him. This was fulfilled in the Davidic kingdom (and with the temple, we can talk about the Day of Atonement- Yom Kippur- sacrifices). [2]

Finally, in Genesis 22, Abraham's descendants would be a blessing to all nations. This is fulfilled in Christ. (There is a lot more to be said about this chapter; it's kind of the point of all of this.) [2]

This is kind of a side note, but Nash points out in his book (p.54) that the first two covenants were fulfilled with visible, human structures (the nation of Israel, the kingdom of David). I bring it up, because that is one of the reasons that it doesn't bother me that something as significant as God's kingdom (the subject of the 3rd covenant) would also be somehow manifested in a visible, human structure, no matter how much humans fill it with our own flaws.

*Why a smoking oven? No idea, but if I see anything that explains that better, I'll let you know.


1) "A Covenant Guarantee", by Ray VanderLaan at followtherabbi.com
2) Worthy Is the Lamb, by Thomas Nash, pp 53-54.
3) A Father Who Keeps His Promises, by Scott Hahn

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tonight

Tonight this is the song that is speaking to my heart (though I'm not going to lie, I like my songs better without the visuals of people singing earnestly; don't know why that distracts me so much...).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What I Would Like to Look at Next...

I really enjoyed doing a little research into Baptism. I learned more than what I could post. I think my favorite parts were looking into a deeper understanding of Judaism and I also loved how some of the quotes of the Church fathers were so close to exactly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church said. I love that there is such a continuity!

The last post was the most difficult to write, however. Not because it was hard to find the info or anything like that, but because my brain was already starting to flit ahead to what I would like to do next. During Lent, we gradually draw closer and closer to the death of Jesus. The passion and death of Jesus, the Mass, the Eucharist; all of these things are more and more on my mind as Lent moves closer and closer to Holy Week. These things are completely bound together, to study one is to study the others.

Things that I would like to look at in the next couple of days to weeks include:

Abraham's offering of Isaac.
Possibly the covenant between Abraham and God.
Passover.
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
Korban Todah (Sacrifices of thanksgiving).

You may notice that this is all Old Testament stuff. So true. It is easy to talk about the Eucharist and the Passion of Jesus by turning to the New Testament, but only looking at that misses SO MUCH. For example, you miss exactly why the Eucharist is so completely bound up with the sacrifice of the cross. You miss how the one sacrifice of the Cross can be the one sacrifice that is made present on the altar at Mass day after day week after week.

I can't wait to research this stuff, and I hope that you'll enjoy reading about it as much as I'll enjoy studying it!

A Catholic Understanding of Baptism- Part III

To finish with this little series (Part I is here, and Part II is here), I wanted to take a quick look at how baptism was in the early Church. We know that there was baptism from the very beginning. All you have to do is to read Acts of the Apostles to see that baptism was an integral part of joining the followers of Christ.

Like in this spot:

(After hearing Peter preach)

"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do?' Peter said, 'Repent and be baptized...'
Those who accepted his message were baptized and about 3000 were added that day." (See Acts 2:37-41)

Over and over again, when someone comes to believe in the teaching of the apostles, they are then baptized. Like the Ethiopian in chapter 8, or Saul (Paul) in chapter 9 or Cornelius in chapter 10. If you read Acts of the Apostles, it is evident that baptism had a prominent place of importance in new life in Christ. To be honest, when I read these texts, I think I could argue either baptismal regeneration (the idea that baptism itself cleanses a person from sin like it symbolizes) or believers' baptism (the idea that baptism is merely an outward sign of an inward change that has already taken place). However, I believe in baptismal regeneration, and I think that all of these are consistent with that belief. While it is not definitive proof, I think that the fact that baptism has such a prominent place in Acts speaks to a practice that has much deeper meaning than an mere external practice.

There is another important clue in Acts that points to the idea that baptism is more than an outward sign of an inward belief. If you will, turn with me to Acts 18:24-28. This is speaking of a young Jew who is well-educated and who has come to fervently believe in Christ. But verse 25 says that "he only knew of the baptism of John." Then others educated him more accurately in the Way [of God]. What was John's baptism? An outward sign of an inward conviction of repentance (the Greek for repentance, metanoia, means both turning away from sin and turning toward God.*) To me, contrasting the baptism of John with the baptism of the early Church implies a significant difference between the two baptisms, just as John said himself that he baptized with water, but the One who was coming after him would baptize with the holy Spirit (see Mark 1:8).

One verse in Acts that I do think points much more strongly to baptismal regeneration is Acts 22:16: "Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name."

Finally, a few quotes from the early Church fathers regarding how they saw baptism (I may have used some of these before):

Letter to Barnabas:

"This means that we go down into the water full of sins and foulness, and we come up bearing fruit in out hearts, fear and hope in Jesus in the Spirit." (Ch. 11:11)

Justin Martyr:

"As many are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. They then are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner that we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water... The reason for this we have received from the Apostles." (First Apology, Ch. 61)

Tertullian:

"Happy is the sacrament of our water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free, [and admitted] into eternal life!... But we, little fishes, after the example of our IXTHUS Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in [that] water." (On Baptism, Ch. 1)

"[T]he prescript is laid down that 'without baptism, salvation is attainable by none' (chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, 'unless one be born of water, he has not life' [Jn. 3:5])..."

Ambrose:

"Things which are impossible with men are possible with God; and God is able whensoever He wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven. And so it is possible for God to give us that which it seems to us impossible to obtain. For it seemed impossible that water should wash away sin... But that which was impossible God made to be possible, Who gave us so great grace." (On Repentence, Bk. 2, Ch. 2)

Cyril of Jerusalem:

"If any man receive not Baptism, he has not salvation; except only Martyrs, who even without the water receive the kingdom." (Catecheses, 3:10)



*This information brought to you by way of Bible footnotes. You don't really think I know Greek, do you?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Seriously?!

I was sitting down to write a blog post, but I can't because I'm falling asleep. At 9:30 on a Friday night! How lame is that?! Wait. I'm pretty sure I don't want you to answer that. Leave me alone! I work long hours.

I don't care how lame and how early it is, I'm still on my way to bed shortly. The only way I'm going to stay up longer is if I find some sticks with which to prop open my eyelids. And to what purpose? I have no plans for the rest of the evening, so bring on some blessed sleep and HELLOOO weekend!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Catholic Understanding of Baptism- Part II

I did all the research and writing on the first post before I started reading for this second post. I feel I should clarify that because the quotes I'm going to start with complement the ones about mikveh so well it looks like I planned it.

Today I am in more familiar territory: the Catholic view of Baptism. Just so we're all on the same page, I thought I'd start with the Catechism of the Catholic Church's definition of Baptism (it's a long one, but I think it's important):

1213 Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."

1214 This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature."

1215 This sacrament is also called "the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one "can enter the kingdom of God."

(Scriptural references for 1214 include 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; cf. Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12. Scriptural references for 1215: Titus 3:5; John 3:5.)

One of the things that came up in the discussion the other day is that M thought that it was wrong to think that all Catholics would be going to heaven just because they were baptized. She pointed out that many that are baptized as babies have nothing to do with their faith as they grow older, and many never choose to follow God in any way. She is right to think that baptism is not an automatic free pass to heaven. Baptism is new life in Christ, but like seeds that are planted, something can happen to choke off that life. Like in the parable of the seeds, the life may start to grow before it is cut off by weeds or by insufficient roots. Throughout our lives, we can either choose to nurture the life that we receive in baptism, or allow it to be choked out.

I think the other concern about baptism is rooted in the idea of the grace of God being dependent on being passed on by a physical sign like water. Friends, I don't have a problem with this. If God can become a man, then surely water, by the work of the Holy Spirit, can be a means of actually causing the new life that it symbolizes. (If you want to see more of the necessity of baptism, but also the exceptions of baptism by blood and baptism by desire, check out the CCC, paragraphs 1257, 1258, 1259, 1260, and 1261.)

Let's get to the fun part. What are some of the things that we can find in Scriptures about baptism?

I think that the biggest, most obvious thing that comes up is in John 3, when Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 3 that no one no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above, and in verse 5 clarifies that "Amen, amen I say to you that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Holy Spirit."

Never let it be said that Catholics do not take their Bible at its word. We take being born from above as involving actual physical water as well as the Holy Spirit. That is single biggest Scriptural reason that I can give you for the Catholic view of baptism. There are others, though.

Like the great commission in Matthew 28:19 "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit..."

That's the primary place where we get the understanding to baptize in the name of the holy Trinity. The other thing that I think is interesting is that if baptism were merely a symbol, no matter how powerful the symbol, then why would that be a part of the final command recorded in Matthew? I know it's not necessarily a great argument, but I think this part of the commission makes much more sense if baptism is actually effective.

In 1 Pet 3:20-21, Peter refers to Noah's ark. This, he says, prefigures "baptism, which saves you now." That seems to make a pretty strong reference to baptismal regeneration.

In my discussion with M, one thing that I could not quite get her to see was that baptism is not relying on water, a man (the priest), and a ritual to save you instead of relying on the grace of Christ. Rather it is relying on the grace of Christ to save you through the ritual of baptism. Some verses in Titus do a great job of explaining some of this (Ti 3:5-7):

"[N]ot because of any righteous deeds we had done
because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal
by the holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ
our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life."

There's so much more that I feel like talking about, but I'm kind of soaking in Paul's words to Titus right now. I think that's enough for now.







Monday, March 1, 2010

A Catholic Understanding of Baptism- Part I

I have said before that I love to learn about Judaism. The more I learn about the Chosen People and the way they live their lives, the more my own faith makes sense. Therefore, I couldn't start talking about how I see baptism until we look a little at the Jewish faith. (Big fat disclaimer: I want to know about Judaism, and I've tried to learn bits and pieces here and there, but my knowledge is very limited. Therefore I will try very hard not to overstep the bounds of what little I know, as I do not wish to misrepresent a faith that I greatly respect.)

To my knowledge, there is no Jewish ritual that directly relates to baptism. However, a greater understanding of the Jewish ritual of mikveh is enlightening.

First, from the Jewish Virtual Library, what a mikveh is:

MIKVEH (Heb. מִקְוֶה; pl. mikva'ot; Hebrew for a "collection" or "gathering" [of water]), a pool or bath of clear water, immersion in which renders ritually clean a person who has become ritually unclean through contact with the dead (Num. 19) or any other defiling object, or through an unclean flux from the body (Lev. 15) and especially a menstruant or postpartum woman...Mikveh immersion is also obligatory for proselytes, as part of the ceremony of conversion.

I also really liked the quote they included from Maimonides (a Jewish rabbi and scholar from the Middle Ages):

It is emphasized that the purpose of immersion is not physical, but spiritual, cleanliness. Maimonides concludes his codification of the laws of the mikvehwith the following statement: It is plain that the laws about immersion as a means of freeing oneself from uncleanness are decrees laid down by Scripture and not matters about which human understanding is capable of forming a judgment; for behold, they are included among the divine statutes. Now 'uncleanness' is not mud or filth which water can remove, but is a matter of scriptural decree and dependent on the intention of the heart. Therefore the Sages have said, 'If a man immerses himself, but without special intention, it is as though he has not immersed himself at all.'

The water of a mikveh must be from a natural source. Many are manmade, and at least the first time it is filled, it must use water from a natural source (often rainwater). According to the Mishnah*, there are six grades of mikva'ot. Listed from worst to best, they are 1) ponds, 2) ponds during the rainy season, 3) immersion pools containing more than 40 se'ah of water, 4) wells with natural ground water, 5) salty water from the sea and hot springs, and 6) natural flowing "living" waters from springs and in rivers. (1)

In my extensive studies brief Google search, my favorite was an article by Rivkah Slonim. If you want to learn any more, that's a good article to start with. (She talks a lot about the use of the mikveh following menses, which was pretty fascinating, but not quite as pertinent to the current conversation.)

The ritual of mikveh is very ancient:

Immersion in the mikvah has offered a gateway to purity ever since the creation of man. The Midrash relates that after being banished from Eden, Adam sat in a river that flowed from the garden. This was an integral part of his teshuvah (repentance) process, of his attempt at return to his original perfection. (2)

Other instances of mikveh in the time of the Old Testament include (2):

All of Israel after they were delivered from Egypt before the revelation at Sinai (Exodus 19).

Before Aaron and his sons were inducted into the priesthood.

In the time of the Temple, Jews wishing to enter would first immerse themselves.

The high priest would immerse himself prior to entering the Holy of Holies.

Here's a great quote that I thought helped explain why the first Christians, as Jews first, might embrace baptism as a source of new life (2):

In the beginning there was only water. A miraculous compound, it is the primary source and vivifying factor of all sustenance and, by extension, all life as we know it. But Judaism teaches it is more. For these very same attributes -- water as source and sustaining energy -- are mirrored in the spiritual. Water has the power to purify: to restore and replenish life to our essential, spiritual selves.

The mikvah personifies both the womb and the grave; the portals to life and afterlife. In both, the person is stripped of all power and prowess. In both there is a mode of total reliance, complete abdication of control. Immersion in the mikvah can be understood as a symbolic act of self-abnegation, the conscious suspension of the self as an autonomous force. In so doing, the immersing Jew signals a desire to achieve oneness with the source of all life, to return to a primeval unity with G-d. Immersion indicates the abandonment of one form of existence to embrace one infinitely higher. In keeping with this theme, immersion in the mikvah is described not only in terms of purification, revitalization, and rejuvenation but also -- and perhaps primarily -- as rebirth.

Rabbi Maurice Lamm wrote an article called "Mikveh: Immersing in the Ritual Pool". He had a lot to say about the role of mikveh in conversion:

The water of the mikveh is designed to ritually cleanse a person from deeds of the past. The convert is considered by Jewish law to be like a newborn child. By spiritually cleansing the convert, the mikveh water prepares him or her to confront God, life, and people with a fresh spirit and new eyes--it washes away the past, leaving only the future. Of course, this does not deny that there were good and beautiful aspects of the past. But, in the strictest religious sense, that past was only prologue to a future life as a Jew.

In a sense, it is nothing short of the spiritual drama of death and rebirth cast onto the canvas of the convert's soul. Submerging into waters over her head, she enters into an environment in which she cannot breathe and cannot live for more than moments. It is the death of all that has gone before. As she emerges from the gagging waters into the clear air, she begins to breathe anew and live anew--as a baby struggling to be born.

If we take this graphic metaphor a step further, we can sense that the mikveh is a spiritual womb. The human fetus is surrounded by water. It does not yet live. The water breaks in a split second and the child emerges into a new world. "As soon as the convert immerses and emerges, he is a Jew in every respect" (Yevamot 47b).

One thing that I had a hard time trying to figure out is how much of what is now said about this ritual was the same as it was at the time of Jesus and prior to it. I get the sense that while it is absolutely grounded in Torah, it may not be used now exactly as it was before, especially after the destruction of the Temple. Eh, well. Development of doctrine is not something that I have a problem with as a Catholic.

It just so happens that we were studying the first couple of chapters of Mark the other day at Bible study, which included discussion of where John "came up with" the idea of baptism. It was nothing new! He was encouraging people to engage in mikveh; note that he was baptizing in the Jordan river, so it was the "living" water, or highest grade of mikveh.

That's all I've got. I know it's a little long, but I hope it was interesting. I know I found it fascinating!

*Mishnah: an authoritative collection of exegetical material embodying the oral tradition of Jewish law and forming the first part of the Talmud.

(2) chabad.org, in an article by Rivkah Slonim
(3) Mikveh: Immersing in the Ritual Pool, by Rabbi Maurice Lamm