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What’s In A Name?

In Christianity on June 30, 2020 at 4:30 pm

What’s in a name?

Sometimes a name is all we know about biblical characters. They speak just a few words or are only known by their mention in Sacred Scripture.

Elishama
By some estimates at least 2,000 names are recorded in the Bible, many mentioned only once. Elishama is a good example.

He is the scribe or court secretary in Jeremiah 36:12. He likely would be remembered for no more than that, except in the 1970s, a bulla was discovered in an antiquities shop with the inscription, “Elishama, servant of the king.”

A bulla is a small lump of clay impressed with the seal of an official (source of the contemporary term, “Papal bull”). The original location of Elishama’s bulla and the others found with it suggest this seal was indeed the “signature” used to authenticate documents that declared the king’s intent.

Melchizedek
A far more important figure who does not speak is Melchizedek. See Genesis 14:18, where he appears unexpectedly to bless Abram and is called “a priest of the God most high.”

His importance, however, extends far beyond this encounter with Abram because Melchizedek is an Old Testament “type” or pointer to Jesus Christ:

This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner, becoming high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.Hebrews 6:19-20

Yet Melchizedek in the Bible is silent.

Joseph
The most important silent figure in Scripture is St. Joseph, foster father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t speak a word, yet there is much to be learned from his silence — for Joseph’s Word is Jesus.¹

Jesus learned from St. Joseph … obedience to God. …People who knew Joseph, when they saw the Lord, somehow saw St. Joseph in the ways of Christ.  His way of speaking, his gestures, his customs, his tenacity at work, were a reflection of what he had seen and learned from Joseph. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (see Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3)

We cannot allow ourselves to read scripture so casually that Joseph becomes impersonal and sterile. He is not simply a bit player who takes Mary into his home, flees to Egypt with Jesus and Mary when warned, and returns home when an angel tells him of Herod’s death.

Joseph always did what the Lord asked him to do. This is deeply admirable — a person who humbly, simply, silently, follows God even into the unknown. Silent obedience that stems from trust; trust that is born of faith; faith that bears fruit in love.

The Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary, while not entirely silent in Sacred Scripture, speaks only four times: Luke 1:26-38, Luke 1:46-56, Luke 2:41-52, and in John 2:1-11. Yet her name must be mentioned here because many Christian denominations see Mary almost abstractly, an instrument in the salvation drama; a means of Christ’s birth.

By redeeming Mary before her birth and keeping her from sin throughout her life, we could even say that Mary’s name is God’s seal, the “bulla” and signature of His intent to redeem the world from sin through her Son, Jesus Christ. As the woman in Revelation 12:1-6, clothed with the sun and giving birth to a male Child who will rule all nations, her name and her role are rightfully revered (though never worshipped, as some would assert).

What’s in a Name?
An Old Testament picture of Christ; a New Testament man of silence; a humble woman of few words — and Jesus Himself, for as God said to Joseph about Mary: “She will bear a son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Like Joseph and Mary, may we

… let ourselves be led by God, doing His Will with simplicity and without protest, with confidence and without questioning, knowing that the Lord has a plan.

And may we look to their Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Whose Name is the only “name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” ²

 

 

¹ Here I gratefully draw on thoughts of Fr. Sergio Muñoz Fita of St. Anne Roman Catholic Parish, Gilbert, AZ. All indented quotations about St. Joseph are from an email to his parish dated June 25, 2020, “Fiat Voluntas Tua: Saint Joseph, the Righteous Man Who Always Did as the Lord Wanted.”

² Acts 4:12.

Wonder

In Christianity on June 26, 2020 at 6:59 pm

Wonder. We lack a sense of wonder.

Christianity Richly has, from the beginning, sought to answer the question, “Why should the Christian life be at all interesting to us? Why should we come to Christ?”

Because Christianity Is Rich
The answer, of course, is because Christianity is rich. It invites us to a gathering that features fine food and wine, good friendships, conversation about the topics that matter, and unparalleled support in times of need. More important but less obvious, it provides answers about our place in the universe and answers our deep-seated need for redemption and reconciliation.

If the words “support in times of need” suggest Christianity is just another self-help group, don’t pigeonhole it that way. When self is a part of the crisis we confront daily, then the idea of “self help” is an oxymoron, something that contradicts itself.

Nor are “banquet” or “feast” the right words to describe Christianity, even though both are true.  The richness of following Christ goes beyond the immediate pleasures suggested by banquet or feast, and responds to the deepest longings of our hearts.

What Does All of This Mean?
This way of thinking was suggested in a book by Andrew Louth titled, Discerning the Mystery.¹ The book caused me to remember a time when I was a child, lying on the grass at night, and looking at the dark sky and glorious stars. “What’s out there?” “Why am I here?” “What does this all mean?”

Do we still ask ourselves these questions today? Or are we so distracted by glittering rides at the carnival, that we simply become a cog in the cosmos — often an unwitting cog, no matter how proud we have become of our apparent capacity for self-determination?

If we look at the magnificent, complex, individual lives around us, eternally intertwined with others, how can not wonder and rejoice? Louth describes this as “wonder at the mystery of being.” This mystery presents, yet also holds us before, the ultimate mystery: God.² This “mystery questions us, demands of us a response, challenges us to decide what we are to do, what we are to make of our lives.”

It is because man is made by God in His image and likeness that he is ultimately mysterious and can never be understood as he really is in terms that prescind from [leave out of consideration] the mystery of personhood.

Wonder, But Don’t Despair
Don’t understand yourself some days? Most of us don’t. Come to the feast. Enter the conversation, realizing it is not simply a matter of us putting questions to God. The Samaritan woman at the well did that (John 4:4-26). But as we confront the wonder of our own personhood and the mystery of God, He also will question us — not in a hostile way, but in a way that turns-on a light; enables us to penetrate some of the darkness in our world and understand the otherwise inexplicable disappointments we feel at our own failures and the failures of others.

Wonder can shake us. It often disturbs us.

But . . . does the true sense of wonder really lie in uprooting the mind and plunging it into doubt? [The Samaritan woman could have ended up that way, if she had broken off the conversation too early.] Doesn’t it really lie in making it possible and indeed necessary to strike yet deeper roots?³

“Fides quærens intellectum,” St. Augustine wrote. Faith seeking understanding. Come. Be part of the conversation. Be one of those of whom it can be said,

They feast on the rich food of Your house; from Your delightful stream you give them to drink. For with You are the springs of life, and in Your light we see light. Psalm 36:9-10, Isaiah 55:1, John 4:14

 

¹ Andrew Louth, Discerning The Mystery (Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press, 2003). You will find Louth’s book on Amazon, but it would be better to go to AbeBooks.com, where you can select the seller you prefer.

² This statement and the paragraphs that follow draw on Louth’s chapter, “Living the Mystery,” especially pages 143-147.

³ Josef Pieper, Leisure (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009), p. 131. Quoted by Louth, p143.

 

Relationship — Not Rules

In Christianity on April 3, 2020 at 9:10 pm

In the COVID-19 crisis or just the “ordinary” challenges of everyday life, is there any point in turning to the Church? The only sensible answer is:

That depends on whether what the Church says is true of not.

If the Church is only a matter of rules and regulations, then forget it. Many have. If it is no more than a religious social club, then an athletic club would do us more good. If the Church is no more than a badly run organization providing social services, then others do that, sometimes better. Is there anything unique or worthwhile about the Church?

Yes.

If the Church exists based on an accurate account of Jesus Christ, Who actually lived in the same stream of history we do and did what He is said to have done, then there is a good bit that is unique and worth our attention.

Jefferson Was Wrong
“It’s all fairy tales. No one believes that miracle stuff any more.” This attitude is not new. For centuries, people have worked to downplay and even remove the miraculous from Christianity. Thomas Jefferson edited his Bible, doing a cut-and-paste job long before computers made that task easier. He sought to eliminate the supernatural and limit Christ to moral teachings.

The Church is Supernatural
“Supernatural” is not a smokescreen the Church hides behind when the Bible talks about “the mystery of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9). A mystery is something that can be experienced, even if it cannot be explained.³

Think of love. We know it exists. Most of us have experienced it. But can all the dimensions of love be explained? Or think of answers to the question “why?” In many circumstance, the impulses that affect our behavior and the behavior of others cannot be consciously explained, but affect us and are experienced nonetheless.

We sense what mystery is every day, when we feel that we seem to be made for more than we are.¹ We’re right about that. What’s more, if you take away the miracles, the Virgin Birth, healings, and Resurrection, then faith becomes dull and uninteresting — but more important, without power. The reality of God breaking into history, walking this earth, dying, and rising from the dead is the basis for faith (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Credo ut Intellegam
Credo ut Intellegam,” St. Augustine wrote. “Believe, so that you may understand.”

This does not mean the uncritical acceptance of every crackpot idea that comes along. Rather, the belief Augustine had in mind is to accept the historical narrative of Jesus Christ — including the miracles because they are part of the narrative — then test it by application to our own lives.

How do we test it? We test the historical account of Christ through relationship, by entering into a relationship with Him. As the first Scripture reading of Good Friday says, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3, ESV translation).

G.K. Chesterton said:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” ²

To accurately say anything about Christianity other than, “I guess I never really tried,” we must open our lives to Jesus Christ. We must enter into a relationship. If we stop with only the rules, regulations, or ritual, we have stopped short of relationship.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.³  (Matthew 11:28)

Come.

 

¹ The Order of Things, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), page 19.

² G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910), chapter 1, section 5.

³ Longenecker, Dwight. Letters on Liturgy (Kindle Locations 554-555). Kindle Edition.

Be Simple, Be Bold

In Christianity on March 31, 2020 at 3:40 pm

Healing.

Healing is what we seek today, as COVID-19 ravages societies around the world. Thinking of “societies” rather than “countries” reminds us the virus’ most dramatic impact is on people, not just economic systems. We don’t live in GDPs, or Dow Jones averages, or currency exchanges. We live as people, among people, in societies.

No Coffee, No Concerts
The barista who greeted us every morning when we stopped for coffee is gone; the coffee shop shut. Coworkers at our office, factory, or school are in lockdown at home. The server who always recognized us, and cared for us so wonderfully at our favorite restaurant, is furloughed, maybe never to return. Doctors and dentists no longer see patients. Concert halls, theaters, and most heartbreaking of all, churches are shuttered. Where is God now when we need Him most? Has He turned His back on us, on our societies?

No Christ?
“I am with you always,” He says (Matthew 28:20). Thanks be to God, our pulpits are not silent and our priests offer Mass daily. One Mass is more powerful than all the stimulus programs in the world; more powerful even — without exaggeration — than a nuclear bomb. How? Because in the Mass, our world, our societies, our own lives, are visited by God.

The Unbounded breaks into the boundaries of earth. The Timeless breaks into time. The Eternal Other makes Himself present, comes to us, accompanies us through the dark valley.

It is no coincidence then, that the Gospel reading for the Mass two Sundays before Easter recounts Christ restoring Lazarus to life, healing his sickness, and restoring him to his family. Lazarus’ return to life foreshadows Christ’s rising from the dead on Easter morning.

Is God Indifferent?
In the Lazarus account, a touching lesson lesson for the present is offered to each of us. Fr. Sergio Muñoz Fita points out that despite Lazarus’ death, and despite Christ delaying His departure to visit Lazarus and his sisters, and even despite the apparent failure of Christ’s promise Lazarus would not die, the Son of God was not indifferent. He was not uncaring. He was not distant. As St. Augustine said: “Deus interior intimo meo.” God is closer to us than our own intimacy.

These sisters knew that Jesus loved their brother. They didn’t doubt His love even in terrible circumstances. The message they send to Jesus [“the one you love is ill,” John 11:3] is a supplication, a prayer that they throw as if it were a dart to the Heart of Jesus. “Lord, you love our brother . . . and our brother needs you now.”

Love and intimacy with Christ make them bold. It is a request like that of Mary at Cana: “They have no wine” [John 2:3]. These are people who trust the Lord and know how good Jesus is.  They don’t ask, they just express their need, in the hope that Jesus will help them as soon as he knows what their situation is.

No Fear!
This is the lesson for us: simplicity, boldness. As Catholic Christians we have many aids to faith — prayers, sacramentals, summaries of our beliefs in creeds and catechisms. Yet during this time when we are deprived of our chief aid, Christ in the Eucharist, He still is near. As Paul said to the intellectuals of Athens, “He is not far from any of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28).

Pray where it hurts. Pray about what hurts. Take your cares to God, just as Lazarus’ sisters and Our Lord’s own mother did. Be simple, be bold. Be not afraid. Believe — but not in belief itself, as if to say, “Oh, if I just have faith, everything will be OK. We will come through this.”

No! “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you and your household will be saved” (Acts 16:31).