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Third Sunday of Lent, Yr A | A reader asks: Should we condemn parts of the Bible? (Part One)

Angelika Kauffmann Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the well 1796

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, Angelika Kauffmann, 1796, oil on canvas, Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

Today I’m going to depart from the usual format of commenting on the Sunday readings and take up a question from a reader of my Facebook page.  The question is this:

Why don’t Christians condemn the parts of their Bible that instruct non-believers must be killed.  While they are at it they could do the same about the bits that condone rape and the bits that say gays must die.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Bill for asking the question, and say that I had similar questions when I first took up the Bible to read it cover-to-cover.  But I found that the deeper I delved into Sacred Scripture, with the help of commentary from the best scholars, the more miraculous and life-changing the Bible became.

Today I will focus on the first part of Bill’s question, and I’ll take the second half next week.

With reference to ‘the parts of the Bible that instruct non-believers must be killed’, I’m not sure which particular passage Bill had in mind (sorry, Bill, I should have asked), but let’s take, for example, Deuteronomy 20:16-18:

But as regards the towns of those peoples whom the LORD your God is giving you as your heritage, you must not spare the life of any living thing.  Instead you must lay them under the curse of destruction: Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the detestable things which they do to honour their gods: in doing these, you would sin against the LORD your God.

 Sounds pretty violent?  Here are some thoughts on how to interpret this:

We need to understand the context of the story in order to understand why it says what it says.  This is not an instruction to us NOW to go out and lay anyone under a curse of destruction, and I have never encountered anyone suggesting such a thing (except non-believers telling Christians how violent the Bible is).  The Bible spans at least 2,000 years of history, and the parts of the Bible which have the most violence occur early in the history of the Israelites.  But still, it’s legitimate to ask, “Why is this violence there at all?”

  1. We don’t teach toddlers in the same way we teach adults, and neither does God.

The Bible is really a collection of books in different genres which trace the story of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind.  Now it’s not an easy task to teach humans anything, so God, in his wisdom, decided to select one particular nation – the Jews – and lead them gradually by methods that they could understand, to a fuller knowledge of Himself.  When we read Scripture, it helps to think of the question, “What is God trying to achieve?”  He wants the Israelites to be in a Covenant relationship with him – as children to a loving Father – and he wants them to learn how to listen to him and live good and holy lives.  It’s essential that we understand the covenantal love of the Father if we want to understand the Old Testament – God is creating a bond with creatures he wants to elevate to the level of family.

During the period described in the Deuteronomy passage above, the Jewish nation is still in its infancy.  Like toddlers, they are having great difficulty learning to listen to the voice of God, their Father, who, like a good parent, knows what is best for them.  By the time we get to this passage in Deuteronomy, we have seen numerous examples of the peaks and troughs of the Israelite journey.  One minute they are trusting in God with wholehearted self-abandonment, and are rewarded with blessings, next minute they are a nation of grumblers and mutterers who forget God’s help during the good times and are now backing away and suspicious of God’s intentions.  The Israelites have an unfortunate habit of thinking their own ideas are better than God’s.

The Israelites of this period are like spiritual toddlers, who are embedded in a culture that is not very nuanced or morally sophisticated, and so God has to achieve his purpose of returning them to the Promised Land by talking to them in the only language they can understand – the rather unsubtle Deuteronomic Law.

For more on this and how to understand the Bible generally, I would recommend reading Walking with God by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.

  1. Context is everything.

God had previously given peaceful instructions to Moses for re-entering the Promised Land (remember this is the land they had left about 500 years earlier, when they had relocated to Egypt during a famine), but they had failed to obey orders.  What, specifically, were these directives?

Look, I am sending an angel to precede you, to guard you as you go and bring you to the place I have prepared … I shall send terror of myself ahead of you; I shall throw all the peoples you encounter into confusion, and make all your enemies take to their heels.  I shall send hornets ahead of you to drive Hivite, Canaanite and Hittite out before you.  I shall not drive them out ahead of you in a single year, or the land might become a desert where wild animals would multiply to your cost.  I shall drive them out little by little before you, until your numbers grow sufficient for you to take possession of the land. (Exodus 23: 20, 27-31).

So this re-entry was meant to be accomplished without warfare, but merely through the Israelites trusting in God to drive the enemies of Israel out little by little as they were (a) thrown into confusion and (b) discomfited by something as relatively mild as an outbreak of hornets.

But, just when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, they got cold feet!  The reconnaissance party that had been sent out to assess the land, returned in fear, and their negative report caused the whole nation to waver and lose trust in God’s promise to be with them.

They began disparaging the country they had reconnoitred to the Israelites, saying, ‘The country we have been to reconnoitre is a country that devours its inhabitants.  All the people we saw there were of enormous size.  We saw giants there too … We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them’

The whole community then cried out in dismay, and the people wept all that night.  All the Israelites muttered at Moses and Aaron, and the whole community said to them, ‘Would to God we had died in Egypt, or even that we had died in this desert!’ (Numbers 13:32-33, 14:1-2)

The consequence of the lack of fidelity shown by Israel, is that they have to wander in the wilderness for forty more years, before they can have another crack at the Promised Land.

Now this is where the book of Deuteronomy comes in (the violent passage quoted at the beginning).  What we have to understand about Deuteronomy is that it’s not God’s first choice – the name itself means, “second law” (Deutero = second, nomos = law).  The only law that is universal and continued into the New Covenant under Christ is the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) – and the principles derived from it.  Jesus himself gives a critique of Deuteronomic law when he talks about divorce in Matthew 19:8:

They said to him, ‘Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce?’  He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard hearted, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning.  Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife … and marries another, is guilty of adultery.’ 

Referring back to Deuteronomy 24:1, we can find out what ‘Moses’ command’ was.

Suppose a man has taken a wife and consummated the marriage; but she has not pleased him and he has found some impropriety of which to accuse her; he has therefore made out a writ of divorce for her and handed it to her and then dismissed her from his house; she leaves his home and goes away to become the wife of another man.  Then suppose this second man who has married her takes a dislike to her and makes out a writ of divorce for her and hands it to her and dismisses her from his house or if this other man who took her as his wife dies, her first husband, who has repudiated her, may not take her back as his wife now that she has been made unclean in this way.

See how different Jesus’ version is from that of Moses’ Law?  The Deuteronomic law was given for people whose hearts were already hardened to God.  Therefore the teaching about killing the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, and any other recalcitrant tribes, is also a ‘limited edition’ instruction which falls away under the New Covenant.

  1. The spiritual danger of being infected by Canaanite culture.

But why does Moses say, “You must not spare the life of any living thing”?   The reason that the Israelites must not contaminate themselves with Canaanite culture is made clear:

so that they may not teach you to do all the detestable things which they do to honour their gods: in doing these, you would sin against the LORD your God.

The thing that many people don’t appreciate is just how horrific and obscene the practices of the Canaanites were.  Think of it from God’s point of view – for the Jews simply to blend in with these Canaanites would be like your conscientious, God-fearing and well-behaved son getting involved with a bunch of drug dealers and sex traffickers.  Once his mind has been twisted by the wrong sort of friends, it will be very difficult for him to extricate himself.  Similarly, if the Israelites start intermingling with the deplorable Canaanites, soon their close, distinctive and holy relationship with the one true God will be so diluted as to be unrecognisable.

So what sort of things did the Canaanites, Hittites, and the rest of them get up to?

  • Idolatry: the Ancient Near East had a pantheon of ‘gods’– Ba’al, Anat, Dagon, Tanit, Asherah, Ishtar, to name a few. Unlike the God of the Israelites who is the single uncaused cause of all reality, these ‘gods’ were different in kind.  They were no more than mythical creatures whose moral code ascended no higher than soap-opera levels.  The Canaanite myth, El, Ashertu and the Storm-god (ANET, 519) illustrates this aspect.

The Storm-god [Baal] came to El-Kunirsha, the husband of Ashertu [Asherah], and entered El-Kunirsha’s tent … Thus said the Storm-god.  “When I entered thy house, Ashertu sent out her maidens to me, saying, ‘Come, sleep with me.’  Ashertu is impugning thy virility.  Although she is thy wife, she keeps on sending to me: ‘Come, sleep with me.’  El Kunirsha began to reply to the Storm-god: ‘Go sleep with her!  Lie with my wife and humble her!’

  • Incest: Not only does Ba’al have a sexual relationship with his sister, Anat, but also with his daughter, Pidray.  And if the ‘gods’ can do this, what does that mean for the example they’re setting?
  • Temple prostitution: the Canaanite religion included so-called sacred prostitution as part of their fertility rites – there were priestesses set aside for this, but it also affected the general population. Herodotus of Halicarnassus describes  the Ancient Near East worship in the temple of Ishtar as follows:

There is one custom amongst these people which is wholly shameful: every woman who is a native of the country must once in her life go and sit in the temple of Ishtar [Venus] and there give herself to a strange man.  The History of Herodotus, Book 1, 199.

  • Bestiality: This deplorable practice seems to have been condoned by this description of Ba’al’s activities, amongst others.  And if the gods can do this, what does this say about the humans that follow him?

Mightiest Ba’al obeyed.
He loved a heifer in the pasture,
A cow in the fields by the shore of the realm of death;
he did lie with her seven and seventy times,
she allowed him to mount eight and eighty times;
and she conceived and gave birth to a boy.  (Baal and Mot 5, v, vi)

and worst of all,

  • Child sacrifice: – both the Canaanites and the Phoenicians (who were related groups) practiced child sacrifice. Leviticus 18:21 describes the practices of the surrounding nations:

You will not allow any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God.

Cleitarchus describes the Phoenician method of child sacrifice:

There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Kronos [the Phoenician equivalent of Moloch], its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing until the contracted body slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the ‘grin’ is known as ‘sardonic laughter,’ since they die laughing. 

The commentary in the Jerusalem Bible says, “In Canaanite ritual, children were sacrificed by being made to pass through fire, i.e. by burning … The rite found its way into Israel, notably at the burning-place in the valley of Ben-Hinnom (‘Gehenna’), just outside Jerusalem.  The origin of the word Molech is Phoenician and designated a certain type of sacrifice.”

  1. Jesus is the ultimate reference point.

All Christians know that, whatever is said in the Old Testament, the fullest expression of the heart of God the Father is contained in Jesus Christ, the ‘icon of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15). Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God, who has assumed human nature and come to us to reveal the Father more fully.  Therefore the definitive guide for Christian behaviour is seen in the New Testament and explained by the Church which Christ established on earth.  The Church has clear teachings on the killing of others, grounded in Christ.  If atheists don’t hear Christians proclaiming these teachings week after week, it’s probably because they’re not in Church or looking in the right place.  In fact, today’s Gospel reading is perfect for illustrating Jesus’ method of approaching those who do not share Jewish beliefs.

  1. Nevertheless, Christians don’t condemn parts of the Bible

… because all Scripture has been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and describes how God has revealed Himself to mankind over the course of at least 4,000 years. Without God’s preparation of the Jews described in the Old Testament period, without their strengthening as a distinctive race with a distinctive Covenant relationship with God, the teaching of Jesus would have been incomprehensible, and his many fulfilments of prophecy would have been invisible.

(See here: Prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ)

Bill, I hope this has answered at least the first part of your question.  Stay tuned for next week, when I will tackle the second part.

Today’s readings:
Word format: Year A Lent 3rd Sunday 2017
Pdf format: Year A Lent 3rd Sunday 2017


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Holy Thursday | Where does Jesus ordain a new Priesthood?

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet-Ford Madox Brown

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1852-56), oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London.

Have you ever wondered why Catholics have priests, but many other Christians have ‘pastors’ or ‘ministers’ and shun the idea of priests because they equate them with the dreaded Pharisees and the teachers of the Law?

At the amazing ecumenical Bible Study I attend in our little seaside community north of Perth, we have been studying chapters 13 to 21 of the Gospel of John, or the ‘Book of Glory’ as this section is called.  This has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into the reading we will have on Holy Thursday:  Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  On the surface Jesus is talking about humility, selfless love and service to others, but when we start looking at the typology, a whole new world of meaning opens up.

In fact, Jesus himself tells us there is more under the surface when he says: “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  This reminds us of other times the disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about – Luke 18:34, for example, “But they could make nothing of this; what he said was quite obscure to them, they did not understand what he was telling them.”

   They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him.  Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.

   He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’  Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter, You shall never wash my feet.’  Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.‘ ’Simon Peter said, ‘Well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’  Jesus said, ‘No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over.  You too are clean, though not all of you are.’  He knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

   When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table.  ‘Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you?  You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am.  If I, then, the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.

‘In all truth I tell you,
no servant is greater than his master,
no messenger is greater than the one who sent him.’ 

So what points can we make to demonstrate that during this scene, and in the chapters following, Jesus is transforming the status of the disciples to that of priests and carrying out a mystical and sacramental act?  In fact, this would have been much clearer to the disciples and early Christians than to us, because they were familiar with the language and significance of the Old Testament.

  1. Jesus is acting as a High Priest about to carry out an act of expiation. The Old Testament prefigures and is fulfilled by the action of Christ in the New Testament, so we can look for parallel passages in the Old Testament which throw light on what Jesus is doing.  One such passage is Leviticus 16 which describes the action of Aaron, the high priest, for the Day of Expiation.  The table below shows the common elements between Leviticus 16 and John 13.
NEW TESTAMENT

The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet  (John 13)

Common elements OLD TESTAMENT

The Great Day of Expiation (Leviticus 16:23-25

… he got up from table, removed his outer garments The High Priest takes off his outer vestments. When he has sent the goat into the desert, Aaron will go back into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen vestments which he wore to enter the sanctuary and leave them there.
… and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. The High Priest carries out a washing ritual – but Jesus transfers the washing to the disciples. He will then wash his body inside the holy place …
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table.  Re-robing after the washing. …put on his vestments and come outside …
Jesus is about to offer his own life as the ultimate expiation for sin. Expiation … to offer his own and the people’s burnt offering.  He will perform the rite of expiation for himself and for the people.
  1. Jesus is wearing the garment of the High Priest. We know this because he has just taken off his outer garment – probably his prayer shawl.  So he must be wearing the seamless undergarment that John tells us about in John 19:23 – a characteristic of the High Priest’s linen vestment as well.  Josephus describes the seamlessness of the high priest’s garment in his History of the Exodus.

Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back. A border also was sewed to it, lest the aperture should look too indecently: it was also parted where the hands were to come out.(Antiquities, Book III, Chapter 7, 4.)

  1. Jesus is carrying out a ritual water purification prior to approaching the altar of sacrifice – where he will be the sacrifice. This is described in Exodus 30:17-21, except that instead of Aaron the High Priest and his sons, the Priests being purified, we have Jesus the High Priest purifying his spiritual sons, the Twelve Apostles, priests of the New Covenant.

You will also make a bronze basin on its bronze stand for washing.  You will put it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar and put water in it, in which Aaron and his sons will wash their hands and feet.  Whenever they are to enter the Tent of Meeting, they will wash, to avoid incurring death; and whenever they approach the altar for their service, to burn an offering for Yahweh, they will wash their hands and feet, to avoid incurring death.

 Note that John takes for granted that his readers would understand that the disciples would have washed their hands during the course of the Passover meal anyway.  There were three ritual hand washings during this meal: before drinking from the second cup during the reading of the Haggadah (Exodus story), before the unleavened bread was distributed, and after eating the roast lamb.   Only the feet remained to be done, and in fact Jesus may have replaced one of these hand-washings with the foot-washing instead.

  1. Jesus talks about the disciples “having a part in him” – so if he is the High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16), they are the regular priests. John uses the Greek term, meros (μέρος) for the disciples’ share (part, portion) in Jesus.  This is an unusual word to use, but when we look at its parallel usages in the Old Testament, it makes perfect sense.  Where God gives land to the tribes of Israel, he says to the Levites, the priestly tribe, “You will have no heritage in their country, you will not have a portion (μέρος) like them; I shall be your portion (μέρος) and your heritage among the Israelites” (Numbers 18:20).  Again in Deuteronomy 10:9,

The LORD then set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the LORD’s covenant, to stand in the presence of the LORD, to serve him and to bless his name, as they still do today.  This is why Levi has no share (μέρος) or heritage with his brothers: the LORD is his heritage (μέρος).

So when Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you can have no share (μέρος) with me,” (Ἐὰν μὴ νίψω σε οὐκ ἔχεις μέρος μετ’ ἐμοῦ), Simon Peter gets the reference to the ordination of Aaron and his sons, the priests, and wants to be anointed feet, hands and head!

  1. Servanthood = ministry. Another interesting point is that when Jesus says,

Amen, amen,
no servant is greater than his master,
No messenger is greater than the one who sent him.

the word doulos (δοῦλος) in Greek means both servant and minister, and the word for messenger is, of course, apostle or apostolos (ἀπόστολος), so Jesus is talking about appointing these apostles in a particular role as a ministerial priesthood.

  1. Jesus’ consecration of the Apostles during the High Priestly prayer. If we read further in John, we will come to Jesus’ act of consecrating Himself to the Father, and then consecrating his Disciples.  This is outside the scope of the Holy Thursday reading, but relevant to the consecration of Priests.  For ‘consecrate’ he uses the word, hagiazei (ἁγιάζει), which is also used in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers for the ordination of priests.

Consecrate them in the truth;
As you sent me into the world,
I have sent them into the world,
and for their sake I consecrate myself
so that they too may be consecrated in truth. (John 17:17-19) 

A lot more could be said on this topic than will reasonably fit into a blog post, but let me recommend Scott Hahn’s study, John, the Sacramental Gospel, particularly part 6, which covers the section from chapter 13 onwards, as well as Dr Lawrence Feingold’s treatise on the Typology of the Old Testament Priesthood, which goes into the comparison between the threefold model of High Priest, Priest and Levite in the Old Covenant, with the offices of Bishop, Priest and Deacon in the New Covenant.

Today’s readings (2nd Sunday of Lent):
Word format: Year A Lent 2nd Sunday 2017
Pdf format: Year A Lent 2nd Sunday 2017


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1st Sunday of Lent, Year A | Why do we need a Saviour, anyway?

fall-of-man-hugo-van-der-goes-999-px

The Fall of Man, Hugo van der Goes, 15th century, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

The first reading today goes to the heart of why we need a Saviour.  How many of us really understand Original Sin and can explain it to others?  I know I have trouble.  I have rewritten this blog post about four times and have almost given up.

  • The thing is, if we don’t understand how much God loves us, we won’t understand why sin is so terrible.
  • And if we don’t understand that sin has a seriously damaging effect on us and those around us, we won’t understand why we need a Saviour.
  • And if we don’t understand that we need a Saviour, we are at risk of losing out on eternal life.

One of my sons once asked me, “Why would I want to believe in a God who sends people to Hell for all eternity just because they don’t believe in him?”  That kind of misses the point.  And is heavy with irony, because this particular son loves gaming and you can virtually guarantee that most games on the market are replete with rules that reward with eternal consequences (within the confines of the game) the characters living in them.

But somehow, despite my efforts at catechesis, he has appropriated this distorted interpretation of Scripture, so amusingly described by the incomparable Edward Feser:

Many people seem to think that the doctrine of original sin says something like this: Adam and Eve were originally made for the eternal bliss of Heaven, but because they ate a piece of fruit they were told not to, they came to merit instead eternal torture at the hands of demons sticking pitchforks into them as they roast over hellfire.  Though Adam and Eve’s descendants had no part in their fruit-stealing, they are going to be held accountable for it anyway, and merit the same eternal torture (demons, pitchforks, hellfire and all).  For they have inherited a kind of guilt-carrying gene, which will automatically transfer them into the custody of the pitchfork-carrying demons straightaway upon death unless God somehow supernaturally removes it.  For some reason, though, this gene doesn’t show up in biological research, and its existence must be taken on faith.

The way my son has framed the question suggests that he has created in his mind an image of God that is petulant, angry and shallow.  It’s easy enough to get this sort of God-caricature from our increasingly secularist culture (which itself is growing increasingly petulant, angry and shallow), but it’s not what the Bible actually teaches.

A careful reading of the Genesis narrative (and the Catholic church does not ask you to take it literally) shows a God who has been exceedingly generous and loving to the first humans who have been ensouled.  First he has woven all of space, time and evolutionary history together to set up the conditions favourable to the existence of this Paradise in which he has placed them, and then he generously says:

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful …
                Be masters of the fish of the sea …
                To you I give all the seed-bearing plants …

The Catechism tells us that God created man in his image and established him in his friendship (CCC 396).

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27) 

There’s a building and a gathering in these lines that suggests a circle of love and communion between God and the man and the woman.  Ed Feser again:

… According to Christian theology, God offered to our first parents more than what was “owed” to us given our nature.  He offered us a supernatural gift.  Here it is crucial to understand what “supernatural” means in this context.  It has nothing to do with ghosts, goblins, and the like.  What is meant is rather that God offered us a good that went above or beyond what our nature required us to have.  In particular, he offered Adam and Eve the beatific vision– a direct, “face to face” knowledge of the divine essence which far transcends the very limited knowledge of God we can have through natural reason, and which would entail unsurpassable bliss of a kind we could never attain given our natural powers.  He also offered special helps that would deliver us from the limitations of our natures – that would free us from the ignorance and error our intellectual limitations open the door to, the moral errors our weak wills lead us into, the sicknesses and injuries our bodily limitations make possible, and so forth.

By definition, none of this was “owed” to us, precisely because it is supernatural.  Hence while God cannot fail to will for us what is good for us given our nature, He would have done us no wrong in refraining from offering these supernatural gifts to us, precisely because they go beyond what our nature requires for our fulfillment.  Still, He offered them to us anyway.  But this offer was conditional. 

Indeed, God places limits on these first humans:

You are free to eat of all the trees in the garden.  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die. (Gen. 2:17)

The death referred to is spiritual death, a separation from that friendship with God that is engendered by trust, obedience and submission to God’s wisdom and authority.

So how did Eve succumb to the serpent’s temptations so easily?  What on earth was she thinking?

  • I need to exaggerate and embroider what God actually said: “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.”
  • I don’t think God was telling me the whole truth. Was he even lying?
  • This serpent is one smart cookie. He sounds like he knows more than God.
  • It’s OK to change my mind like the wind. I’m a woman.  Let your no be yes and your yes be no.
  • I can’t resist this delicious looking, mouth-watering fruit! Who needs self-control?
  • I want to be thought of as wise, knowledgeable and god-like.

Wow, she sounds just like me.  And then there’s Adam.  Don’t get me started on him.  I’ll just refer you to Monsignor Charles Pope who does a superb job on both Eve and Adam.

Anyway, getting back to how Original Sin is passed on:

The penalty was the loss of the supernatural gifts they had been given and that their descendants would have been given, and a fall back into their merely natural state, with all its limitations.  In particular, it was a loss of all the helps that would effectively have removed those limitations — and worst of all, loss of the beatific vision.

Similarly, we inherit the penalty of original sin, not in the sense that we’ve got some “original sin gene” alongside genes for eye color and tooth enamel, but rather in the sense that the offer of the supernatural gifts was made to the human race as a whole through their first parent acting as their representative.  Inheriting this penalty from Adam is more like inheriting your father’s name or bank account than it is like inheriting his looks or his temperament.  (Modern Biology and Original Sin

I would like to emphasise the effects of sin even more strongly than Professor Feser, because I myself have often wondered about  why God can’t just take us all to heaven without all the palaver of atonement – and I have prayed for Him to give me more understanding in this area.  [This is the wonderful thing about being a Christian.  We’re not just believing something from 2,000 years ago, but are having real live conversations with Jesus in the present.]  And every time I have done so, God has in the few days following, made me acutely aware of some sin or other of mine which has caused great damage.  Suddenly all the trauma of some situation from the past has been dredged up and re-presented to my mind, to the point where I have called out to God, “OK, ok, stop.  I get it now.”

So if we don’t understand Original Sin, or even bog standard everyday sin, neither will we understand why it was necessary that Christ should offer his life in atonement for us.  When I say ‘necessary’ I don’t mean it in the logical sense, because God is not constrained by this or that method of saving us, but God is perfect Justice, and therefore something has to offset the debt that has been racked up by our sins.  St Thomas Aquinas explains it perfectly:

That man should be delivered by Christ’s Passion was in keeping with both His mercy and His justice. With His justice, because by His Passion Christ made satisfaction for the sin of the human race; and so man was set free by Christ’s justice: and with His mercy, for since man of himself could not satisfy for the sin of all human nature, as was said above (III:1:2), God gave him His Son to satisfy for him, according to Romans 3:24-25: “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood.” And this came of more copious mercy than if He had forgiven sins without satisfaction. (Summa III:46:1)

… or as St Paul puts it in our second reading for this Sunday,

If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous … As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

Trust me, we can’t make ourselves fit for heaven, we can only get there by holding on to Christ’s hand.

Today’s readings:

Word format: year-a-lent-1st-sunday-2017
Pdf format: year-a-lent-1st-sunday-2017


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New for Lent: Saturday morning devotions!

rosary-wikimedia-commons-800px

New for Lent (and maybe beyond!)  Come and experience the power of prayer.  Join us on Saturday mornings for 8.30 a.m. Mass at the Presbytery at 3 Blaxland Ave, Two Rocks, preceded by Rosary at 08:00.  If you can’t join us, send us your prayer intentions and we will pray for you!

(Photo: By Daniel Tibi (Dti) | daniel-tibi.de – http://www.daniel-tibi.de/rosenkranz_gebetskette.html (own work), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=516637)

 


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Ash Wednesday Masses for Perth far Northern Suburbs 2017

ash-wednesdayHaving trouble finding an Ash Wednesday Mass which fits with your work schedule?  We have the solution – Masses arranged by time for the Perth far northern suburbs.

TIME LOCATION
06:45 Our Lady of the Mission, Whitfords (in the Church, not the Chapel)
08:00 St Andrew’s, Clarkson
08:30 St Simon Peter’s, Ocean Reef
09:00 Our Lady of the Mission, Whitfords
09:00 Presbytery, 3 Blaxland Ave, Two Rocks
09:05 St Luke’s, Woodvale (with the Primary School)
12:10 Holy Spirit Chapel, Joondalup
19:00 St Luke’s, Woodvale
19:00 St Andrew’s, Clarkson
19:30 Our Lady of the Mission, Whitfords


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Photos from our Church BBQ!

Thank you to everyone who attended the Yanchep Church BBQ last Sunday!  It was a great way to get to know each other better and farewell Fr Demetri who had been helping us out while Fr Augustine was on holiday.  Thanks especially to Cathy who hosted this at Seatrees Bed & Breakfast!


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8th Sunday, Year A | The depressed person’s guide to escaping from dark times

our-lady-of-walsingham-and-english-saints

Our Lady of Walsingham and English Saints, mural, hall outside Slipper Chapel Shrine, Walsingham. Photo by Norman Servais.

This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Whenever today’s Gospel reading comes up it takes me back to 1991.  This was the year my beloved father died and my daughter was born.  We had taken the decision that I would be a full time Mum some years earlier with the birth of my first child, so making ends meet was difficult, since my husband was in the process of building up his own business, with every spare cent being reinvested back into the business and Australia still suffering a loss of confidence following the 1987 share market crash.  But after Elinor’s birth, life was further complicated by my developing post-natal depression.

The winter of 1991 was probably a perfectly ordinary winter, as winter’s go, but inside my head, the landscape was bleak and, at times, terrifying.  It seemed to rain constantly so that I spent much of the time cooped up indoors with a two year old and an infant, and no support family within two thousand kilometres.  Odd things happened, like the Water Corporation invading the park behind our house to fix a sewerage problem, and the whole neighbourhood being filled with noxious odours for days on end, adding to my general feeling of malaise.  Then I had a great fear that I was going to develop a mental condition that was present in my extended family.  And of course I was grieving for my Father who had wasted away over five years until every breath was a struggle.

But God uses these moments of interior misery to bring us back to him. The children and I had joined the local playgroup which was run by some of the young mums from the Neo-Catechumenate group.  On one particular day, when our bank account was down to about $3 and I was wondering how we were going to manage until payday, the ‘Neocats’ invited me round for some Italian macchinetta-brewed coffee as well as prayer round their kitchen table.  By chance, their Bible reading for the day was this:

‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these.

  Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith?

  So do not worry, do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow, will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble if its own.’  (Matthew 6: 25-34)

Sometimes you just know God is trying to tell you something.  I went home and thought about it.  Depression is different from other medical conditions, in that there is a certain amount of control one can have over it merely through the choices one makes.  No, really.  (I can hear people disagreeing with me.)   I have met people who seem almost to identify with their depression to the point where they describe it as being part of their genetic makeup, and love-love-love telling you about how they and all the members of their family are living on anti-depressants due to congenital deficiencies in their parietal lobe.  Fiddlesticks to that, I say.

The reason I have my doubts is that we are humans who are free agents, and free agents can choose at each moment how they are going to behave.  We might not always be able to control how we think, but we can control how we behave.  I can remember thinking while I was depressed, that I was ever so bored with my brain which seemed to want to go round and round in an endless monologue over the same subject matter.  The trick seemed to be actually to do something which would change the subject.  What helped me escape from my depression was meditating on the above reading, telling God that I needed a hand and then going outside myself to think about other people who were in situations far worse than my relatively mundane and self-centred situation.  At one point, I remember seeing a picture in a newspaper about a young boy from Vietnam whose face had been terribly disfigured through burns, but who was coming to Australia for plastic surgery.  These things made me realise I needed to get out of my own head and start doing something positive, even if emotionally I didn’t feel in the mood.  I decided the cure for feeling miserable and broke was to start helping other people who were even more down-and-out than I was.  I looked up the nearest St Vincent de Paul Conference and went to their next meeting.  Soon I was in training with a senior member, learning how to discern whether someone required a food voucher or other assistance.  I had always been a Mass-goer, but now prayer and scripture reading became more of a daily feature of my life.  And the more I concentrated on helping others, the smaller my own problems seemed.  In addition to this, over time, God helped us to prosper our business and manage on our budget.  I look back on this period as my first great re-conversion to the Faith.

This didn’t just happen once in my life – over the course of decades, there have been several occasions where things have gone pear-shaped and I have been tempted to slip into depression and self-centredness.  And every time, God has reached in and shown me the way forward – because Jesus Christ our Saviour is the Light of the World, He cares about our individual situations, He wants us to come into a right relationship with Him, and He wants us to be filled with an unshakeable joy in the midst of life’s trials.

Lent is about to begin on Ash Wednesday.  This is a perfect time to pre-empt Satan’s plans for our misery by deepening our prayer life, coming close to God and asking Him to place in our path those people whom he wants us to help and encourage.

Today’s readings:
Word format: year-a-8th-sunday-2017
Pdf format: year-a-8th-sunday-2017


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Seventh Sunday, Year A | The Bible and the Love-Justice Dialectic

jesus-teaching-manuscript-francais-916

Jesus Teaching, Michel Gonnot (priest and scribe), 1474, Manuscript Français 916, fol. 69r, National Library of France, Département des manuscrits, accessed at http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8539714c/f143.item.

How do we love perfectly?  Jesus gives us some clear examples in our readings for today – and he doesn’t just talk in abstract and generalised terms, he talks in concrete examples that we can apply to our own situations.

‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away. 

 ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

Of course, we need to discern each case individually.  Because we are also told in the first reading: “You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence; this way you will not take a sin upon yourself.”  So by ‘offering the wicked man no resistance’, Jesus does not mean that we should avoid educating him about his wickedness – otherwise we would become willing participants in evil.  Jesus is talking here about going above and beyond the call of duty.

These statements by Jesus are the last of his Six Antitheses from the Sermon on the Mount, where he uses the form, ‘You have learnt how it was said … But I say this to you …”  Marcion, a second century shipping magnate who used his power and influence to cause a schism in the Church, took this to mean that the God of the Old Testament was mistaken, and that Jesus was correcting him.  Henry Chadwick in The Early Church, describes Marcion’s view in these terms:

The Gnostics liked to contrast the God of the Old Testament as the God of justice, whose principle was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, with the loving Father proclaimed by Jesus.  This antithesis was especially worked out by Marcion … He wrote a book entitled Antitheses …  in which he listed contradictions between the Old and New Testaments to prove that the God of the Jews, the creator of this miserable world, was quite different from the God and Father of Jesus of whose existence the world had no inkling until the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar when Jesus suddenly appeared preaching the Gospel. 

Tertullian tells us:

We know full well that Marcion makes his gods unequal: one judicial, harsh, mighty in war; the other mild, placid, and simply good and excellent. (Against Marcion, Book I, Chapter 6

So desperate was Marcion to demonstrate his case, that he (like many other heretics) then had to change Scripture to suit his interpretation: he rewrote Luke’s Gospel to remove any influence of “Judaising influences” and actually drew up the first canon of Scripture – which excluded all of the Old Testament and much of the New.

What are we to make of Jesus’s statements, then?  Pope Benedict XVI, in the Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini says,

The roots of Christianity are found in the Old Testament, and Christianity continually draws nourishment from these roots. Consequently, sound Christian doctrine has always resisted all new forms of Marcionism, which tend, in different ways, to set the Old Testament in opposition to the New.

… It must be observed, however, that the concept of the fulfilment of the Scriptures is a complex one, since it has three dimensions: a basic aspect of continuity with the Old Testament revelation, an aspect of discontinuity and an aspect of fulfilment and transcendence

Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times. 

Back to the Gospel, then.  Jesus is in continuity with the Old Testament in so far as he quotes from it (“you have heard it said”), but then he shows how he is fulfilling and transcending this teaching with something even more demanding.  He is raising the bar and drawing us into greater union with God.

Where the legal codes of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ found in Exodus are suitable for providing legal limits within a societal and juridical setting, if we apply these principles within our own families, we will be engaged in an endless cycle of retribution for wrongs small and large and never be able to escape the cycle of violence and egotistical score-settling.  Jesus is showing us how to love truly – how to have good will even towards those who have no love for us.

In Fr Robert Spitzer’s, New Proofs for the Existence of God, he describes the Five Transcendentals of the Divine Mystery: Perfect Truth, Perfect Love, Perfect Justice/Goodness, Perfect Beauty and Perfect Home, all of which aspects are found in the ultimate unconditioned reality we call God.

So if we relate these attributes of God to our Gospel reading, whereas last week’s antitheses were concerned  with Perfect Justice and Goodness in the areas of murder, adultery, divorce and the swearing of oaths, this week’s antitheses, with their focus on vengeance and hatred, seem to concentrate more on how we can practise Perfect Love.

Fr Spitzer describes love as a movement from autonomy to empathy to self-giving.

Though this unity with the feelings and being of another does not cause a loss of one’s self or self-consciousness, it does cause a break in the radical autonomy one can effect when one focuses on oneself as the centre of one’s personal universe (autonomy).  … This acceptance and identification of the feelings and being of the other give rise to concern for the other, which evolves into care for the other as the relationship grows.  This care, in its turn, can completely reverse the human tendency toward autonomy (over against the other) and give rise to a self-giving that can become self-sacrificial (agapē).

As far as justice/goodness are concerned, Fr Spitzer says,

The “love of justice and the good”  is a natural unifier, for it overcomes the natural barriers and enmity arising out of competition for scarce resources, fear of strangers, natural animosity, survival of the fittest, and suspicion of others’ potential injustice.  It overcomes the natural barriers and enmity of irresponsibility (responsibility to myself alone, or the complete abdication of responsibility), by calling individuals to a higher duty to the just society.  It can also lead to self-sacrifice (the sacrifice not only of one’s advantage and aggrandisement, but of one’s very self) for the sake of the good of society or for goodness and justice within society.

Drawing these two aspects together – Perfect Love and Perfect Justice/Goodness –

… we may do well to pause for a moment and consider the complementarity between love and the good in human self-consciousness.  Three of these complementarities are described in the history of philosophy by the “love-justice dialectic”: (1) Love tends to look first toward care for the individual and through this lens, to move towards care and co-responsibility for the group or even civil society.  Conversely, the good has the connotation of looking first towards the common good, that is, the good of civil society, the culture, and the group, and then moving from this to the good of the individual. (2) Love begins with care and empathy, and from this moves toward co-responsibility and duty.  Conversely, the good tends to move from co-responsibility and duty to empathy and care.  (3) Love proceeds from compassion and mercy, and then moves to justice and the need for law, whereas the good proceeds from justice and respect for the law and then moves to a specific application of the natural law, and then to respect for the individual protected by the law, and then to compassion and mercy under the law.  In sum, love and goodness must eventually overlap, but they overlap each other from opposite directions.

It seems to me that much of the imbalance in society right now, is that empathy towards certain individuals and sectors of the community is drowning out discussion of the common good as far as civil society and culture are concerned.  As Christians, we need to regain our ability to speak without fear about the common good of society, without sacrificing love.   There are arguments to be made about love vs the common good in the areas of immigration policy, the education of children, marriage and family, freedom of speech and freedom of religion, amongst others.  It’s not an easy task, especially when our own sinfulness leaves us open to accusations of hypocrisy, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  And in our personal lives, we need to have a good hard look at whether we are practising what Jesus is asking of us, especially in those relationships where we feel the most tension and would rather engage in a culture of avoidance than a culture of encounter.

Today’s readings:
Word format: year-a-7th-sunday-2017
Pdf format: year-a-7th-sunday-2017