Does Genesis give us hope?

Not a day goes by that there is not some mention of global warming or climate change. Some refer to it in derision or jest while others accept it as “gospel” truth. Honestly, I don’t know one way or the other. I’m certain there are fluctuations in temperatures over a period of time, but I’m not on the “let’s build an ark” as the seas are rising team. For my Millennial and younger readers, if you’re still with me, I grew up in a period of “global cooling!” Yes, especially after two dangerously destructive winters in 1977 and 1978, the science said we were headed for a new glacial age. If you doubt me here is the first paragraph from Wikipedia on the subject of “global cooling.”

Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth‘s surface and atmosphere culminating in a period of extensive glaciationPress reports at the time did not accurately reflect the full scope of the debate in the scientific literature.[1] The current scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth underwent global warming throughout the 20th century and continues to warm.[2]

My steady response to anything posted in the news or even from the scientific community is a definitive “Well, we’ll see!” Yesterday they forecast snow for today. I said “Well, we’ll see!” Today it’s snowing! A true forecast now gives them slightly above 50 percent accuracy over the long haul.

Other conjectures are still waiting confirmation. But this morning I served as lector at the 6:45 Mass and the first reading was from Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22. This is the account of Noah in the ark waiting for the water from the flood to recede and allow him and his family to escape from their floating zoo. You may be familiar with the story: Noah releases a raven, then a dove, that returns because there is no place to land, then again and the dove returns with a plucked-off olive leaf, and finally a third time and the dove does not return. Noah and his family and all the animals leave the ark. Noah rejoices that he can escape the stench of the ark and put his feet on solid ground. He offers a sacrifice that pleases the Lord and the Lord makes a promise, a promise that I read this morning in a new way.

When the LORD smelled the sweet odor, he said to himself:
“Never again will I doom the earth because of man
since the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start;
nor will I ever again strike down all living beings, as I have done.
As long as the earth lasts,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
Summer and winter,
and day and night
shall not cease.”

Whether “global warming” is a thing or not; whether it’s caused by man or not; God says that he will never again doom the earth because of man. That’s a message of hope right out of Genesis.

Does that mean we can be irresponsible? No, not at all! But what is responsible is to major on the majors and minor on the minors. The major issue facing mankind is our need to reconcile with our Maker, the Lord of heaven and earth. Once reconciled through our Lord Jesus Christ his only Son, how we treat each other and the earth he has given us to steward will have more impact than all the uncertain science we pretend to affirm. And please read much more into that statement on scientific facts than I am saying here for now! I want to hear more about the good news of reconciliation with God and man in homilies and if such is the case I expect God to keep his word!

 

Does Genesis give us hope?

What’s in a Name?

Several years ago I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping in a department store in midtown Manhattan. I was “on line” to check out. The cashiers were doing their best is accommodate the customers and get them on their way. Suddenly, one of the cashiers on seeing her manager approach cried out: “O Jesus, we’ve been waiting for you! I’m so glad you came!”

I stood there somewhat surprised by what I had heard. It sounded like an Advent/Christmas message wrapped up in two sentences. I quickly realized that Jesus had probably been born Jesús and that the English pronunciation of his name instead of Spanish sounded out of place in the retail setting. Yet Jesus, Jesús, Jésus, Gesú, Иисус, 耶穌, Ιησούς or אלוהים is not just any name, but as Christians declare that “name above all names!” (Philippians 2:9). There really is a lot in this name!

The angel told Mary, “And behold. you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31 RSV). And then in a dream the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b–21 RSV).

Today is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus would have been officially named on the eighth day after his birth at the time of his circumcision. His name, Jesus, means “God saves.” This is what the angel told Joseph: “for he will save his people from their sins.” Again and again in the New Testament we see salvation tied to the name of Jesus.

  • Acts 2:38—And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Acts 3:6—But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.”
  • Acts 4:12—”And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
  • Philippians 2:9–11—Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Collect for The Most Holy Name of Jesus

O God, who founded the salvation of the human race
on the Incarnation of your Word,
give your peoples the mercy they implore,
so that all may know there is no other name to be invoked
but the Name of your Only Begotten Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What’s in a Name?

The Holy Innocents

Massacre_of_the_Innocents_(Cogniet)

One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible comes to us during the Octave of Christmas. Jesus is born in Bethlehem during the reign of Herod the Great. He is not a legitimate heir to the Jewish throne; he’s not even fully Jewish. He has been placed on the throne by the Roman emperor as payback for his support of Rome. And with all that he is very possessive of his throne and will do anything to keep himself in power, including killing his favorite wife and his son, his heir apparent.

So when magi come from the east and ask about the newborn King of the Jews, Herod and all his palace are obviously upset. Herod will do anything to wipe out this rival to his power. A little palace intrigue has him declaring his desire to pay homage to the infant king and asking the magi to report back to him so he can do just that. Whether they were wise to Herod before or totally relied on the dream from God, they didn’t return to Herod, so Herod had to take drastic measures. Drastic for us, but not for him, it actually fit right into his “modus operandi.” He ordered all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two to be slaughtered, determining the age of the new king by when the magi saw the star announcing his birth.

“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi” (Matthew 2:16 NABRE).

The work of art by Leon Cogniet depicted above captures the agony of one mother who will surely lose her son to Herod’s marauding henchmen. It’s hard to say how many baby boys lost their lives, but many place the number around 20 based on the size of Bethlehem at that time. For each son and his family this was a tragic loss. Down through history these baby boys have been considered martyrs for the cause of Christ. Today’s collect in the Mass has us praying this way:

O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying, grant, we pray, that the faith in you which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The plan to exterminate the Christ Child was bigger than something hatched up by Herod. It was a diabolical plan from the pits of hell to squash the eternal plan of salvation by taking out the One who was born to be Savior. Jesus found refuge in Egypt and at the appointed time willingly gave His life for our redemption. Thanks be to God!

The Holy Innocents

Stepping back into the Sepia of Nostalgia

marcela-r-209723-unsplash.jpg

I spent the final days of Advent, Christmas, and the first two days in Christmastide in my old stomping grounds. It was familiar territory, but it had the feeling of stepping out of life in “living color” into a portrait of sepia tones.

Stepping back into an old familiar place tends to do that. You never truly can go back. Going back 35 years means that more than landmarks have changed; people have passed on (as I discovered in the local cemetery); and most importantly I have changed. When I left with my young family, young myself (26), I had no real clue what I was doing and where it would all lead.

Our life thereafter took us to another state, two foreign countries, New York City, and finally, South Jersey. Now our children are grown, there are nine grandchildren, and my wife and I are truly enjoying this stage of our life together.

On top of the usual changes that a married couple experiences over 40 years, a major change came into our lives about three years ago. As meaningful as our lives had been and as fulfilling as our ministry had been, we found ourselves following God’s leading into a new expression and dimension of faith. The sepia tones of faith and experience that occasionally flashed with color, shifted dramatically to the multi-colored tones of historic Christianity.

Even daily existence is punctuated with the joy of partaking of the Holy Eucharist early before the day begins. The prayers of the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours join me to the men and women who have gone before and who now join me in prayer from heaven. Advent is more than a time of Christmas preparation, but a time to prepare my heart to celebrate the birth of our King and my soul for His Second Coming in glory.

I’m heading home today—back to the routine of life—but with the certainty that a little baby came and our lives are forever changed. Today’s Gospel reading on this feast day of St. John the Beloved reminds us of his encounter with the truth that brings us life.

Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed. (John 20:8 NABRE)

Christmas is more than a nostalgic trip, something I tried to make it for many years. Today it is a glorious reality. We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.

Stepping back into the Sepia of Nostalgia

Your Prayer Is Heard! Say What?

I love the Advent season, something I have mentioned here before. I love how Scripture introduces us to the main characters of the story that culminates with the birth of our Savior Jesus the Christ. How different that story is from the mind-numbing songs and stories that are paraded out right after Thanksgiving. What more can you tell me about Rudolph or Frosty or the Grinch or even Santa Claus?

But the ancient story is ever new. I never tire of hearing the Old Testament prophecies and reliving the anticipation that Israel must have felt as the people awaited their Messiah. The angel Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and to Mary leave me with wonder. The hurried visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and the intrauterine celebration of John the Baptist filled with the Holy Spirit when he hears the voice of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of our Lord.

And just as certainly as we relive the “old favorites,” as is always the case with Scripture, there is always something new to discover. That happened to me today. The Gospel reading is found in Luke 1:5-25. It is the story of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah while he was serving in the temple. Now just a quick backstory: Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had been getting their Denny’s discount for many years. They were certainly senior citizens. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren all those many years. Then suddenly, while Zechariah was offering prayers in the form of incense on behalf of the multitude of people who were waiting outside, the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared.

You know the story: Zechariah is afraid; Gabriel tells him he will have a son; Zechariah is incredulous; and Zechariah is told that because of his unbelief he will not speak until the baby is born. Most of us know the way the story plays out. But today I saw something I had never seen before. I almost wonder if it was there before. Okay, I know it was, but I hadn’t noticed it until today.

And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:11-13 RSV)

Say what? Gabriel’s appearance and announcement to Zechariah was in direct response to Zechariah’s prayer. He had prayed that his wife would bear him a son. God had delayed the answer until the right time. Zechariah, Elizabeth and their son would become part of the great developing story of the coming of God’s salvation to the world in God’s time.

I tend to wonder why Zechariah reacted as he did, especially after the angel laid out all the particulars about this son that would be theirs:

“And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother’s womb.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:14-17 RSV)

What do I do when God assures me he has heard my prayer? I usually keep praying and wondering and sometimes doubting and looking for backup plans. Sound familiar? How does God assure me he has heard my prayer? I can only answer in one way. If God lays a prayer burden on my heart and makes it clear that he wants me to spend time in intercession, then I can be assured that he will also answer. You and I both know that it may not look exactly like what we imagine, but God will answer and it will be something he will use for his glory.

Zechariah expected a child from Elizabeth when they first married and for many years afterward. Yet the answer came when Zechariah was more fit to be a grandfather or even a great-grandfather. But the son did come and Jesus said of him, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11 RSV). By that time, no doubt, Zechariah had passed from the scene. He would not see John be used by God to announce the coming of Jesus. Mercifully he would also not witness his son’s martyrdom, but his prayer was answered.

That gives me great hope for the deep prayers that God has placed on my heart. With Zechariah I sing:

“And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
    by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
    to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 NABRE)

 

Your Prayer Is Heard! Say What?

I Am Not Worthy

The season of Advent grows in significance in my spiritual life with each passing year. I first discovered Advent as a ministerial student at Asbury Theological Seminary. There I was introduced to liturgy and the whole concept of the year being expressed by liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time.

I write on this Monday of the first week of Advent; the Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 8:5–13—Jesus and his encounter with the Roman Centurion who requests healing for his servant.

As he entered Caper′na-um, a centurion came forward to him, begging him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (RSV)

This morning before Mass, I sat down to pray this passage using Lectio Divina. After an initial prayer, asking God to speak to me through the Gospel, I read it carefully and three words jumped out at me: centurion, begging, and Lord.

The man who approached Jesus that day in Capernaum was a Roman centurion. A centurion was not a Jew, he was as I have already mentioned Roman, and commanded a “centuria” or century, that from 200 to 1000 legionaries. A centurion was a symbol of the oppression the Jewish population endured under Roman rule. His presence instilled fear, order and obedience, no matter how reluctant. As this centurion himself says, For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 

So here we have this powerful, brave and influential man coming to Jesus and begging him on behalf of a sick servant: “…my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” The centurion in his position with Rome could have ordered Jesus, a Jew, to come to his house and take care of his need. Instead we see the centurion in a posture of a mendicant, a beggar, not unlike others we see in Scripture, e.g. blind Bartimaeus. The posture of begging strips the centurion of his armor, his sword, his Roman swagger and his menacing demeanor. He comes to Jesus as we all must: nothing to brag about, nothing to hold on to, nothing to cling to. As the old hymn “Rock of Ages” says:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

The final word is Lord. The centurion says to Jesus begging: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And later he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Maybe, like me, you’ve read that story so many times or as a Catholic, repeated those powerful words in the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” For the centurion to call Jesus “Lord” was no small thing. For the centurion and all Romans of his time, Caesar was Lord. To call Jesus Lord was not only novel, it was blasphemous, dangerous and treasonous. Yet somehow the centurion recognized Jesus for who he was: Lord! Jesus is Lord! That became the creed of the early Christians: Jesus is Lord! not Caesar! Many of them gave up their lives for that affirmation of faith.

Where does that leave you and me? Time for confession, my confession. I tend to come to Jesus putting my best foot forward. That can look different at different times and places. I read the Bible thinking about all the times I’ve already read this passage instead of thinking about the fresh thing our Lord wants to say to me through it—like this morning! I start praying and present my list of petitions with the fixes I’m sure would make everyone and everything better, instead of quieting myself before our Lord and letting Him tell me how He wants to change me, which will change how I see the people and the things I want Him to fix. And even when I go to Confession, if I try to put my sins in the best possible light, instead of agreeing with the centurion that I am not worthy, no real forgiveness and cleansing can take place.

Lord, like the centurion, I put aside my perceived merits. I beg of you to hear my plea. I acknowledge that you are Lord and nothing in my life or in my world can compete with that, nor will you accept it. Lord, only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Amen.

I Am Not Worthy

I Want to See!

In my work with American Bible Society we seek ways to help people engage in Scripture, recognizing that time spent with the Word of God has the potential to impact lives through an encounter with the living God who has revealed His love and His plan for us through the written word.

In the retreat that I was on this past weekend I was given the opportunity to learn more about the Ignatian Prayer Form—a way to engage Scripture, especially the Gospels using the imagination and senses. One of the ways you can do this is to assume a role. You become, through your imagination, one of the characters in the story, such as blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46–52. In the exercise that I did over the weekend I chose the passage that tells of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus which follows on the heels of the story of James and John requesting of Jesus the privilege of sitting at his right and left. I treated that passage here.

Oratio: Mark 10:49–51—Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Meditatio: I can’t help but notice that the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus is nearly identical to the question he posed to James and John in the passage I did with Lectio Divina earlier. When they said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

You could say James and John were asking from a position of strength. They were already Jesus’ followers; they were from a good family, had a profession they could fall back on if the apostleship didn’t pan out. They were young and health, and as it turned out they wanted more to consolidate their upwardly mobile status, you might say. Jesus, knowing this still asked them what they wanted him to do for them.

On the other hand, Bartimaeus has been dealt a bad blow in his life. Because he is named in the Gospel, it seems that he has been someone; we even know the name of his father. Yet he has lost his sight and there is no rehab or blind school for him to attend. He has one valuable possession, a cloak. He uses it to keep him warm at night and to gather the alms given to him during the day. He has had to take on the role of a beggar, the only job open to him due to the catastrophic loss of his sight.

The disciples were annoyed with the brothers because of their request of Jesus, and now they are annoyed because the blind man wants to meet Jesus. They try to hush him up because he is an interruption, an inconvenience. So Bartimaeus cries out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus cannot resist someone who needs mercy and offers him rightful praise. Bartimaeus is no dummy. He knows Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus stops in his tracks and calls the blind man to himself. Here Bartimaeus reacts immediately and throws off the only thing of value he has, his cloak, and standing before Jesus he hears the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It seems intuitive that Bartimaeus would ask for his sight, after all that is such an important sense to regain, but it doesn’t necessarily make his life easy. He has no job and the only source of income he has is due to his blindness. But Jesus gives him what he asks for. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regains his sight. And what does Bartimaeus do? he follows Jesus on the way—to Jerusalem where Jesus will drink his cup and be baptized with the baptism that he must be baptized with.

Oratio: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Lord, let me see again!”

Contemplatio: Bartimaeus does not ask for power or position or security, only sight to be able to follow Jesus. How important it is to see, really see, not just what we think we see or want to see, but what we can only see through the sight that Jesus gives us. Too often I am blinded by my own humanity, my selfishness, my disobedience, my self-preservation. “Lord, let me see again!”

 

 

I Want to See!