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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Lord Is with You

From the teaching of James 1:3, "not many of you should become teachers,"  which was the subject of the last post, I would say "bloggers beware."      Or, "God is always watching."    One of the large themes of Gospel of Matthew is the presence of God. Below you will see that this is relevant to writers.     But first,  I can't discuss  this subject of the presence of God without going back to childhood  memories.  The Christian faith welcomes children, as did Jesus.
Carl Heinrich Bloch - Suffer the Children.jpg
Carl Heinrich Bloch - Suffer the Children.

Old Testament Presence of God 

It's the Old Testament stories which first taught me that God is close to His people.    As a first communion gift  in 1963 when I was in second grade one of our neighbors gave me the hugely popular  Catholic Picture Bible (1955 edition), by Fr. Lawrence  G.  Lovasik.  (Fr. Lovasik died in 1986.)    That was the peak of the baby boom, and no doubt many  thousands of second grade first communicants  got the same gift that year. 

From that children's picture Bible I saw God testing Abraham, with Abraham about to sacrifice  his own son with the knife  on Mount Moriah and the angel swooping in to save the day at the last second.   Skipping ahead, God comes to  Moses  in the burning bush,  and then He displays his power through Moses and Aaron  before Pharaoh in Egypt.  God takes his people through the Red Sea, and then He is present  with Moses up on on Mount Sinai where he gave Moses the law with thunder booming and lightning flashing.  He was present with His people  in the wilderness in the cloud by day and the fire by night, and providing His people with the  bread from heaven.  I was not any more  spiritual than the average kid in those days. I mainly cared about baseball.  But those stories did sink in.  For me in 1963, yes my hero was the Milwaukee Braves No. 44,   Henry Aaron.  But when I flipped through those pictures in the Catholic Picture Bible  my hero  was Moses.   

I'm quite sure that Moses was Jesus' boyhood hero as well.  That's not just speculation.  He came from an observant Jewish family which took the time to travel for the Passover feast.    From the Book of Luke we know that even as a 12 year old boy, when Jesus came down with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem from Galilee for the Passover he went to the temple "where he [was] sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions ...."   Luke 2:41-52.   From that I infer that even as a boy Jesus  knew how to read and that he studied the Torah, the five books of Moses.  

Moses was a friend of God.   As he taught,  Jesus frequently  referred to Moses by name, and he was up on the mountain with Moses (and Elijah) in the transfiguration.   Of the Old Testament Moses stories showing the presence of God,  it's the image of  God talking to Moses in the burning bush that stays with me more than any other.  Why? Maybe that enduring memory of  God in the fire has nothing to do with spirituality. After all, boys are fascinated with fire.  But if there is a spiritual reason  for why the burning bush is a strong memory, it has something to do with the fact that this  was Moses' first meeting with God, and perhaps that combination of the picture Bible and the first Eucharist was my first conscious encounter with Him as well.  

Now 48 years later, I am  looking at the text of the burning bush conversation where it says,    "But Moses said to God, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?'  He said, 'But I will be with you' ...." Exodus 3:11-12.  

Lately I have thought a lot about the presence of the Lord God  in the tabernacle, which was first a tent and then became the temple.   One of the echoes of the temple presence  in  the Gospel of John is the teaching that Jesus himself becomes the temple, but that will have to be the subject of another  post.

Relevance for Writers 

Back to Matthew.  In the last verse of the book  Jesus says,  "I am with you always, to the close of the age"  (Matt 28:20 RSV).  Is that something to keep in mind while writing?     Deacon Greg Kandra's  guidelines for people who comment on his blog of course applies to blogging as well.  He says, 

The author of life is among us — abiding with us, hovering by our keyboards, glancing at the furtive tap-tap-tap that hurls letters onto an electronic screen, where they eventually find their way into e-mail boxes and homepages and bookmarked websites, to be read by countless others, who may then pass them on to others still.
We may not always know who reads what we write. But we may think of those words differently, and give them more weight, if we write them with the certainty that one of those readers is, in fact, God.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Not Many of You Should Become Bloggers

Few should become teachers, says James.  As a blogger I don't want to run afoul of the law on this point.  But I do see a way out here, which is to apply the golden rule.  “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12 RSV). It’s frustrating to read  things  written by people who don't know what they are talking about, especially if they take five pages to say what they could say in one.   Applying the golden rule here means that  I can't  be writing that way either.    My application to this in the blogosphere: Avoid subjects which are too deep for me.   That is doable.  Take what you know, and reflect on that.  For someone like me who has been enjoying  the Bible as a layperson  for over 35 years, the texts which I have come to know and love  raise many  fascinating  issues to discuss.   I try to  avoid matters that should be left to the professionals.

With that preface, here is the scary verse for bibliobloggers:  "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1 RSV).   And also consider this from  John Dyer:  

What few of us realize is that when we press those "Publish," "Post," "Comment," and "Send" buttons, we are making the shift away from merely "believing" truth and stepping into the arena of publishing that belief. In doing so we are effectively assuming a position of leadership and teaching that prior to 2004 was not available to us.
James warned us, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1, NIV1984). James goes on to graphically portray the incredible power that our tongues have both to praise and to curse especially in the context of teaching. He then says, "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life." (James 3:13). Solomon echoes similar wisdom, "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent" (Prov. 17:28).

"Not Many of You Should Presume To Be Bloggers,"  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/marchweb-only/bloggers.html

Or, like I tell my children,   the less said the better.  

But Ps. 119 becomes a kind of opposing thought to James 3:1.  Parts of Ps.  119 are the Responsorial Psalm for today's Mass.  In verse 33 the psalmist says, "Lead me in the path of your commands, for in it I delight."  We hear "Teach me" from Ps.  119 five times today.   A blogger like me is not likely to come up with anything new.  But in the act of republishing  the teaching of Jesus and one person's response to it, my hope is that I am adding just a little more of the light of Christ to a world which still has lots of darkness.     As the psalmist says, the teachings become a "path" and in it we "delight."   Most bloggers are not doing much teaching.  That has already been done by the Lord.  We are more like members of a chorus who agree with Ps. 119, giving praise to God for his teaching and asking God to help us follow it. 

Why is reading and reflecting on  God’s word an empowering experience?   Jesus answers that, quoting  from  Deuteronomy 12:32,   Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  (Matt 4:4 RSV) (quoting Deut. 8:3). 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Happy or Sad - Pope Benedict XVI

This question came up last time:  Is  'blessed'  (makarios) in Matt. 5  a promise for the future, or does it include the present? In the last post discussing  'happy or sad'  I mentioned that  Pope Benedict XVI helped me with this question.  In his book Jesus of Nazareth Vol I (2007), the Holy Father states:  "The paradoxes which Jesus presents in the Beatitudes express the believer's true situation in the world in similar terms to those repeatedly used by Paul to describe his experience of living and suffering as an Apostle: ...."  Page 72.   He proceeds to quote St. Paul extensively  from 2 Cor. chapter 4, where Paul describes his experience of joy in suffering. One of the quoted passages is  2 Cor 4:8-9 which sums it up well:  "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."  (RSV). 

Paul had "boundless joy" in the middle of all of his various trials, the Pope says.   (In the book the Pope does not get into these trials in detail, but look at 2 Cor 11 beginning at verse 23 "countless beatings, and often near death" for a pretty shocking list of horribles that Paul lived through.)   Pope Benedict concludes that the 'blesseds' in the Beatitudes are more than a promise for Paul.  They are a present reality, "the lived experience of the apostle."  Page 72.

Busy people have little  time to memorize scripture, but if they did, 2 Cor 4 (17 verses) should be high on the list.  In the middle of a pressure-cooker situation, you could draw on  these encouraging words.  I'm working on this now, and it is tough sledding, but I have found that the best way to memorize is to listen to  an audio replay of the chapter over and over again  in the car.   The listening is a great experience, even if  my progress with the memorization is slow.    That is something worth discussing in another post.

One last point on the subject of 'happy or sad.' The experience of 'troubles' should be dynamic, a growth experience taking you closer to Jesus each day, and here is my authority from St. Paul for saying so:  "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day."  2 Cor 4: 16  (RSV).  And  be careful.  While all of this is true, you don't go quoting Bible verses to people who are struggling.  That's what Job's friends did, and that was a big mistake.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Happy or Sad

Reading the 'be happy' beatitudes in  Matt. 5 I wonder, are believers in Jesus to be happy or sad?   Jesus describes those who follow his way as 'blessed' which in the Greek text of Matt is  is makarios.   Makarios makes for  great word study, but if you do that study you will discover that a decent translation of this word is our word 'happy.'   Now,  look at this opposing thought  in  Ecclesiastes:  "Grief is better than laughter, for sadness can improve a person."  Ecclesiastes 7:3 CJB   Complete Jewish Bible      I like the way the New International Version puts Eccl 7:3:  "Sadness is good for the heart. That's why sorrow is better than laughter." 

Jesus stirs up the pot with some antithesis  by saying, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." But I don't see this as hopelessly conflicting.  Good theology and all creative thought is paradoxical.  
You just have to get used to that.   This kind of tension between conflicting ideas  is what you expect from  the rich teaching of the Hebrew Bible and of  Jesus, which can't be reduced to any simple formula.  These highs and lows are something which the anawim (who are the subject of recent posts)  understand - you see that from a reading of the Psalms.  And this is just life, a mixture of good and bad.  The key is to 'offer up'  the sorrows as a Romans 12: 1-2 sacrifice, and to learn from them.

Here is another way that you could frame the issue:    Are the 'blesseds'  (makarios) in Matt. 5  a promise for the future, or the present?   I'm sure that the bible scholars have many articles on this subject because the verb tenses in Matt 5: 3-12 have some of both.   After I first thought of this issue while studying the Sermon on the Mount with Jack, Joe and Carrie during Lent, it bothered me for several weeks.  But about a month ago  I got some help from  Pope Benedict,  reading  his  2 Cor. 4 example from St. Paul, but that is for another post.


Jesus talks about the peacemakers in Matt. 5. He says the peacemakers will be called God's children.  For me C.S. Lewis was a peacemaker.   His Mere Christianity was the first "Christian" book I ever read, when I was age 18 and the Jesus movement was getting going on campus in Madison, WI.  I will never forget his discussion in that book of how we are all to become "little Christs." Here is a great blog post on that subject by Bryan Owen quoting from the book:  http://creedalchristian.blogspot.com/2010/10/c-s-lewis-on-becoming-little-christs.html       To become a little Christ is to become a child of God, a new creation, and if you look at Matt. 5 you see that peacemaking is part of that.

We gospel people talk a lot about peace.  At Mass we shake hands and say, "Peace be with You."  We long for the peace of Jesus.  Sometimes  a beautiful idea becomes more clear from looking at a picture than from a study of words.

I love this pic of  C.S. Lewis sitting down for a smoke with his wife Joy who is knitting.    Contentment!

Photo  from 

I know from the movie and the book A Grief Observed, that this marriage brought peace to C.S. Lewis.     And yes, we see the pearls and the knitting here, but Joy Davidman  was no June Cleaver.  Here is a great story about her:

The Anawim

In the last post the  anawim  came up with reference to Pope Benedict's book, Jesus of Nazareth Vol.1. The  meaning of this word develops with the history of God's people.   The anawim were the oppressed in exile, and then they  show up in post-exilic psalms. These 'poor ones' become part of  some of the most important teachings of Jesus, which we see in Matt 5: 3 ff.    Here is Fr. Stanley's definition of anawim:

anawim (Hebrew), "afflicted poor, designated in O.T. the large class of people reduced to indigence under the monarchy of the oppression of the wealthy.  In post-exilic psalms the term acquires a religious sense, becoming synonymous with pious; in the beatitudes (Mt) it signifies those conscious of their need of God

David M. Stanley, S.J., A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises (1967), 336 (glossary of terms). 

Here is  'long answer' from Fr. Raymond Brown, and it is fascinating:

"The word Anawim represents a plural from the Hebrew anaw which, along with its cognate ani is a word for 'poor, humble, afflicted.'

"Although this title ["Anawim"] meaning the 'Poor Ones' may have originally designated the physically poor (and frequently still included them), it came to refer more widely to those who could not trust in their own strength but had to rely in utter confidence upon God: the lowly, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the widows and the orphans. The opposite of the Anawim were not simply the rich, but the proud and self-sufficient who showed no need of God or His help.

"There is considerable scholarly debate about the pre-exilic origins of the Anawim, and about the extent to which they constituted a class or community and not merely an attitude of mind. But a good case can be made for the contention that in post-exilic times the Anawim regarded themselves as the ultimate narrowing down of the remnant of Israel. The concept that God was not going to save His whole people but only a remnant was redefined many times. When the Northern Kingdom (Israel) was destroyed in 722, the Southern Kingdom (Judah) regarded itself as that remnant. When part of the Southern Kingdom was taken into captivity to Babylon (598 and 587), with part of the people left behind in Palestine, both exiles and Palestinians tended to regard themselves as the remnant.

"Eventually, under the catalyst of defeat and persecution, the remnant was redefined, not in historical or tribal terms, but in terms of piety and way of life. The parallelism in Psalm 149:4 equates the people of God with the Anawim: "The Lord takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the Poor Ones with victory." (see also Isaiah 49:13; 66:2). Very often, woven together with this piety of dependence on God was a "Temple piety". The mixture is explained by the fact that the appeal for God's deliverance of His Anawim was made in the psalms, and thus in a cultic setting. The "Poor Ones" showed their trust in God by being faithful to the times of prayer and sacrifice...

"The existence of a Jewish Christian Anawim is not purely hypothetical. In Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37 Luke describes with nostalgia... the Jewish Christian community at Jerusalem. These people sold their possessions and gave their wealth for distribution to the needy; thus they certainly qualify to be deemed "Poor Ones". Their poverty was leavened by piety, including "Temple piety" for they devoted themselves to prayer and attendance at the Temple...

"In his discussion of the Epistle of James, Dibelius has shown the presence of a dominant Anawim mentality in a strongly Jewish writing composed in Greek quite late in the century. He argues that the traditional attitude of the Poor Ones, seen in Jerusalem Christianity early in the century, continued in the non-Pauline churches of Diaspora Judaism later in the century."

-Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 350-351, 354-355, as quoted by Steve Kimes at 
Thank you, Steve Kimes, for bringing Fr. Brown's  beautiful teaching on this subject to our attention.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Two Masters Won't Work

The Gospel reading for June 23 is Matt. 6:24-34, which is a section of the Sermon on the Mount.  You cannot serve God and mammon, Jesus says. After that comes a "Therefore" which is always a powerful word.  "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry ...."   Jesus reveals two huge gospel themes in this passage.  1) Avoid the love of money, which is driving force that becomes  a slavemaster who takes you away from God.   2)  Ignore this teaching of Jesus,  and  you are going to be worrying.  You will be miserable.   You are going to have anxiety.  This is the emotion which we call fear, an ongoing dread that something is going to go wrong.    He says, "Seek first the kingdom of God  and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."   Don't forget this connection between "two masters" and worrying.  Have the right master, and you will have peace.

For an example to follow, go back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount,  to Matt 5: 3-5, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and those who are meek, the so called anawim.   Who are the anawim whom Jesus called blessed?  They are the poor who trusted in God.  http://faithmag.com/faithmag/column2.asp?ArticleID=524      How do the anawim serve as an example to us in dealing with this "no two masters" issue?   Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth  Vol 1  ("J.O.N. I")  writes about the these humble poor, who are prominent in the history of Israel.   Most of God's people in exile in Babylon and coming out of exile were poor.  Israel recognizes that its poverty is what brings it close to God.  J.O.N. I  at page 75.  

Second, for more insight into the anawim, look at the Psalms.    Here from Steve Kimes and the Anawim Christian Community out of Portland, Oregon  are six  passages  from the Psalms which describe  the hopes and aspirations  of God's humble  poor.    htttp://www.nowheretolayhishead.org/anawimscriptures.html     

Third,   Pope Benedict cites  Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds of Bethlehem, and the Twelve whom Jesus called as examples of these poor who were looking to God for deliverance.   Matthew's gospel starts with these beautiful believers.  J.O.N. I at page 75.

The anawim whom we see in these examples from the Bible know that they have nothing to give to God. They are the poor in spirit who cry out to God for his mercy and help.  For the message of Jesus to get through to a person, he must be broken in this way.  God is my only hope.  And he will help me.  
Back to this passage of Matt 6:24-34 for one more point made by Jesus.  Jesus calls God "your heavenly Father" who takes care of the birds in the sky.   He says,  "Are you not more important than they?"   As we  struggle to shake off the demands of mammon,  it helps to  look to God as a heavenly Father who,  if  He cares for the birds of the air,  surely will take care of us. Meditate on the beautiful examples of the humble  poor from the history of Israel, and whom we see praying  in the Psalms,  and also picture the humble  people from  the opening chapters of Matt.who are  Mary and Joseph,  Simeon and Anna, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the shepherds of Bethlehem.    Here is a clear  theme from  this Matt. 6 passage: God is very  close, a Father to his children. These children are the poor in spirit who come to Him with nothing but their empty hands.  And He alone (and not mammon) is the master. But Jesus reminds us in Matt 6 that He is an unusual kind of master in that culture where the masters had slaves.   Yes, he is our master, but he is also our Father.                          

All of this still leaves at least one question unanswered for me.  How much potential spiritual capital  comes from being poor?  Those of us who are not poor have a duty to do justice, and fight poverty, which is a grinding and miserable thing, and we see from Luke chapter 6 that oppression of the poor by the rich bothered Jesus greatly.   Notwithstanding that, the Pope beautifully offers us the anawim, who couple their poverty with piety,  as a model for us to follow.   J.O.N. I at page 75.  Jesus reached out to the anawim, and I picture the blind and the lepers in particular.  There is this connection between poverty and blessings from God, but there is some mystery to it.    The anawim is a thick area of study, where  amateurs like myself can quickly get in over our heads.  Pope Benedict certainly has a handle on this, and the same can be said for  Fr. Stanley and Fr. Brown, whose writings will come up in the next post.    I don't have an answer to the question which I pose here,  but one thing from the gospels is for sure.  Being rich is spiritually hazardous.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Molly, Carrie and Katy in Seattle

Here is Molly, Carrie and Katy  in Seattle, St. Patrick's Day,  2011.    Great trip to visit our son, Jack.  I'm thinking about this today because it rains a lot in Seattle.  And that's what we need in Wisconsin right now, rain!   We are praying for rain.