Welcome !

Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Psalm 131

This Sunday's readings contain one of my favorite Psalms:   Psalm 131,  it is short and it is humble.

Psalm 131: 1,2, 3:
Lord my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty.  I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me.  Rather I have stilled my soul, like a weaned child to it's mother, weaned is my soul.  Israel hope in the Lord, now and forever.

The response that we are to say is:  In you Lord, we have found peace.  Is that where you find your peace?  Why is peace so elusive?  Do you go to the Lord daily in prayer and give to Him all the things you busy yourself with through the day?  Do you fill your mind with the word of God, which is living and active? Could it be that we think that exterior peace leads to interior peace?

I know that there are times that my heart and soul get so wound up with activities great or small, debates about issues, great or small, that I am far from peaceful.  And when I am agitated and restless, I want to change everything around me, to do something that I hope will transform my turmoil into tranquility (or at least distract me from it). If I get everything in place around me, or if I can control my surroundings, I think that I should be able to attain peace in my soul.  I attempt to quiet my restless heart with what I do, what I have or who I love and am loved by in this world, so that I will be satisfied.

 But it is not so.  And it takes humility to realize it.  To humbly be weaned of the temptation to create false peace and to try so hard to control how others see you, treat you or honor you. We need to be content and humble in the presence of the Lord, or else we can fall into the trap of the Pharisees, who "preach but do not practice",  or the priests of Malichi 2, who" do not listen" and "do not lay it to heart".  They have achieved the places of honor, but have not submitted their hearts and minds to the Lord with humility and love.

 Thus, the Psalm is about prayer, and even great kings, who do have to busy themselves in the world with great and sublime things, must humble themselves and sit at the feet of the Lord where we all should submit our worries and joys, our successes and our failures to our true King.    And, if I do not understand that all true peace and lasting joy come from the Lord, and are gifts that are nurtured in prayer and quiet listening, even if I say I believe and trust in the Lord, I will fall prey so easily to false notions of peace, and false notions of faith. This Psalm calls us to a deep reliance and a stronger trust in the Lord, who at times seems to let the world spin out of control.

 The mother of a child who is being weaned knows that there are greater things for her child, and her child is ready to move on.  The child only knows that mother is withdrawing a comforting form of her nurturing love from him or her, and a very anxious child may be desperate to maintain this comfort with their mother. Here is where this child can grow in trust; the weaning process is not just the removal of a consolation and leaving the little one to comfort himself; what mother does not console her anxious child as they grow and mature leaving behind childish comforts?  But upon weaning they are beginning to understand that mother is still near, and still delighting in her child, and they can quietly rest in her lap without being upset at having moved on from earlier stages of nurturing.  She has not weaned them to burden them, but to free them.  Peace and humility are found in the trust and firm hope that even in middle of chaos and anxiety, when the Lord feels far away, He is still there, and nothing will separate you from His care.

Grace and Peace,

Here is some wisdom from Deacon Paul Rooney about the readings for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


April 1, 2008
Mary Anne Cronican

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gn 3: 9). This question has been asked since the beginning of recorded history and is still being asked today. It encompasses many aspects of human relationships and associations throughout our lives.  To begin, the question must be asked, “Who is my brother?”  As Christians, we believe that all creatures are related to each other since we have one Creator and were created in love.  Love, the foundation which makes us brothers and sisters in the person of Christ Jesus.  If love is to exist, then concern for each other must follow.  Love demands that we not only care for ourselves, but also are concerned with the welfare of others. 

Concern begins first with our families.  A family unit, in the light of Christian principles, is a unit of love and care, of giving and concern, of upholding and forgiving.  We are told in Sacred Scripture to correct albeit with love, those who are walking in error or are living a life contrary to the Christian way.  Too often, readiness to criticize and accuse is more prevalent than the approach of love and real concern.   If we cannot help those we love by gentle correction and encouragement, we must pray for them and ourselves to remain in the love and care of our God.

Often, in the workplace, we encounter peers who are laden with problems and difficulties.  Are we to ignore these opportunities to help thinking, “It’s none of my business”, or should we reach out with concern and love in an attempt to relieve the suffering which is being expressed.

 Opportunities exist regularly in daily life to be of service to one another.  As Christians, we are called to be servants to one another if we are to enter the Kingdom of God.  Some are able to leave home for missionary and relief work in far lands, yet within our own world, in our own lives, we are given the opportunity by God to be a servant to our fellow man.  Building homes for those who are struggling, helping to feed the poor by working in soup kitchens, clothing those who are in desperate need, counseling those who enter our lives and present a need for understanding and guidance, visiting the sick, helping our elderly brothers and sisters when loneliness sets in and limitations prohibit them from performing normal daily activities and even visiting those in prison—virtual prisons or the prisons of loneliness and depression. Those who are walking in the ignorance of our God are to be shown love and concern and presented with an invitation to learn and know what has been done for them and
for all humanity by the loving action of Jesus Christ. Fear or reluctance must not prohibit us from proclaiming the Gospel to our brothers and sisters.

Above all, we must care for our fellow creatures by praying for them.  In Christian charity we are called to pray for the building up of the Body of Christ, for conversion and in reparation for sins—including for those living and for the dead.

The corporal and spiritual works of mercy require us to truly be “our brother’s keeper” and to show Christian charity to them.  In doing so, we, ourselves, become more Christ like and are transformed into selfless individuals.  In order for a society to be transformed, each individual must be transformed.  Being concerned with only ourselves will not bring about this transformation.  The fabric of society, the soul of society cannot be changed unless we, the body of Christ live as people of the beatitudes and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  God’s great mercy is expressed on this earth in the prayers and actions of human beings who strive to live according to the teachings of Jesus. If we are concerned with the condition of the world, we must change the condition of ourselves.  In focusing on the needs and concerns of others in a most loving way, we understand that we are truly “our brother’s keepers”.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Reading October 22nd & 23rd

Sunday Reading October 22nd & 23rd
The Greatest Commandments

The readings for this Sunday remind us of the love God has for us and the love we are to have for Him and for our “neighbors.” God loved us first and that enables us to love Him.

The gospel for today is taken from Matthew 22:34-40.
“When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’"

The Jews of Jesus’ time had over 600 laws they were to obey. Jesus often commented about obeying the letter of the law versus the meaning behind the law. When I think about all these laws, I marvel at the complexity that must have existed. No wonder the Jews needed their elders to constantly interpret and monitor these laws.

Then Jesus spoke. He was God’s son, but was known as a simple man. A man of few words, carefully chosen and spoken often in parables. This time, Jesus spoke very clearly and distinctly. No hidden meanings, no metaphors. He condensed those 600+ laws into two basic commandments.

· We must love God with all of our being.
· We must love our neighbors as if they were us.

We move from complexity to simplicity. In all that we do and say we must consider the depth of our love for our God and the depth of our love for our neighbors. Everything else must be a subset of these two commandments.

We live in a complex world; often surrounded by sophisticated rules and challenges. And yet, if we look closely at our own lives and our world, it all boils down to our love of God and our love of humanity. Everything else becomes smoke and mirrors.

We hear in our first reading of today the words from Exodus 22:20-26 which remind us of our obligation to love humanity.

Thus says the LORD:"You shall not molest or oppress an alien,for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.”

"If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,you shall not act like an extortioner toward himby demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge,you shall return it to him before sunset;for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in?If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

God wants us to return of the complete love that He has already given us. We are capable of such love only because He loved us first. Our compassion for our fellow man comes from our remembrance that we too were once aliens and then God loved us and claimed us for His own.

The peace of Christ be upon you,

The Fulfillment of Our Deepest Desire

Here are the readings from the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time,  reading which alert us to perceiving and attending to the needs of those who God has placed before us. But,  the Gospel lets us know that first things are first.  " you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart , with all your soul, and with all your mind."

 All to often I feel that those who stress the social justice of the church use (misuse) Scripture to avoid dealing with some of the most miserable moral failings of our time.  In this case the first commandment (you shall love the Lord....) is ignored in favor of the second:  to love your neighbor as yourself.  Love of neighbor is quite important, but love of neighbor must be rooted in love of God,with all your heart, soul and mind.  You must be conformed to the Truth Himself first, or you will not be able to lead your neighbor to the living water that he or she so desperately needs.

  I have just recently witnessed a Facebook debate about "homosexual marriage" that has really driven home this in my heart. Those who claimed they are just being fair and merciful to those who have a same sex attraction made fervent appeals to the justice of Jesus, yet they can only barely scrape the surface of what His justice means, and often the larger, more transcendent realities goes by the wayside.  And the eternal God, who is the fountain of life, the living water, the source of all love, justice and peace takes second place to making sure that no one has to confront their own bondage, or that of their neighbors, so they can be truly free.

 John, Chapter 4 verses 4-7, 9-28:

He had to pass through Samaria.  So he came the the town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob's well was there, Jesus, tired of his journey, sat down at that well, it was about noon.  A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "give me a drink."

I have to stop right here, because I think that anyone who reads the Gospels with eyes to see and ears to hear ought to now discern what is happening in their own heart, because my heart always skips a beat when Jesus speaks, it skips a beat because my mind hears Him talking to me, the Beloved is talking to me!  Listen! Listen to him speaking to you!

The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you , a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman for a drink? "  (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered and said to her, " If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'give me a drink,' you would have asked him to give you living water."  The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where than can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?"  Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;  but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  The woman said to him, "Sir give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."  Jesus said to her, "Go call your husband and come back."  The woman answered and said to him, "I do not have a husband."  Jesus answered her, saying, " You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.'  For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true."

I bring this passage up because in the Facebook debate this Scripture was brought up to make a point that though human love is good, the love of God, the living water, is of highest importance, and no sacrifice is too great for it.  But one of the opponents (the pro homosexual "marriage" side) could only see that Jesus did not specifically mention homosexuality in this debate, so she could not see that it had any bearing on the discussion at all.  And it is so sad, because there is Jesus, sitting at the well, calling each of us out of our sinfulness, away from the distractions that we think will assuage the deep yearning for the Beloved.  He is the fulfillment of all our desires, but when God is not put first in all things, all that can be seen here is that Jesus was kind to a woman that others ignored.  He was more than kind, He was passionately showing her that all that she desired in her whole life was fulfilled in Him.  He was betrothing Himself to her.

We cannot always stop our loved ones from pursuing sinful lifestyles, but we can point to the one who will not just forgive, but forgive and heal us, with tenderness and love.  We can point to Him because we have experienced His love and forgiveness. Jesus can be living water through you and your steadfast devotion to Him.  We must order our love to God, with all of our heart, mind and strength, as the Holy Spirit to help, or we will so easily settle for the stagnant water from the earthly cistern, and that is all we will be able to offer those we love when they some in search of a drink!

 Moreover, to not put God first, blinds us to immutable truths:   Jesus did not hesitate to bring light and truth to the woman's situation in life. and she in return left her jar at the well to bring this truth to others.  But, really, either you struggle to live and proclaim the truth, or you will give it up totally.  You will be satisfied with stagnant well water. And this is tragic, when there is Living Water that is available to them.  You must at least point the way to the Living Water, the way to the Bridegroom who fulfills all our desires.

Before I go, since I veered from this Sunday's Gospel a wee bit let me link you to Deacon Paul Rooney's web site, where one can always get sound teaching on the Scripture, click  Didja Know for wisdom on this Sunday's Scripture in relation to immigration!

Grace and Peace,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"You are the salt of the earth" (Mt. 5:13)

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Mt. 5:13) Each of us may spend many hours reading, studying and praying over God’s words in the hope of breaking open the Bible and drawing closer to God. When we do this, we too are becoming the salt of the earth.

When I was thinking about what is meant by the salt of the earth, I did some research. Did you know that salt is mentioned nearly 50 times in the Old and New Testaments? Salt was used as a condiment to flavor foods and as a preservative to keep foods from spoiling. Newborn babies were rubbed with salt to promote good health. In contrast, salt was used in the mummifying process in Egypt.

Salt was rare and very costly for most of the ancient world. Countries without salt had to import it, and a salt tax was prevalent. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, acknowledged that there was such a tax in his day. Romans used salt as an important item of trade; salt was even used as money. Many Roman soldiers may have received salt as part of their pay. Salt was indeed precious. Did you know that more wars have been fought over salt than over gold?

Salt served many other purposes as well. In Judges, we learn that when a city was destroyed and its inhabitants killed, the final act was to sow the city with salt. This rendered the ground barren and useless. (Jdg 9:45). In contrast, Elisha used salt as an antidote to the harmful water at Jericho. (2Kgs 2:19-22).

Salt was used to indicate the inviolability of the Covenant with God. Grain offerings and burnt offering to God were to be salted as a reminder of that Covenant. (Lev 2:13). In Leviticus we also learn that a covenant sealed with salt was indeed everlasting. God gave the kingdom of Israel to David and his sons forever, in a covenant made in salt.

In Biblical times, men carried pouches of salt and when a promise or contract was made, each man intermingled his salt with the salt of the others. Their salt was no longer separate and just as they could not pick out their salt from the rest, they could not go back on their word. Salt was emblematic of permanence or loyalty.

In Exodus, the Lord tells Moses how the incense of the temple should be prepared. It was to be blended from various aromatic substances and then salted to be kept pure and sacred. Again we see salt as a mechanism for keeping things pure and worthy of God (Ex 30:35).

Salt had another very important purpose but you may not be aware of this function. It was used as a catalyst in building a fire, in order to cook in the clay ovens of the time. The fuel in the ovens was not wood but animal dung mixed with salt. Among the household chores of a young girl was the collecting of dung and preparing it to be used as fuel by molding it into patties, salting it and letting it dry out in the sun. A block of salt was also placed at the base of the oven as a catalyst for the fuel. Salt is an aid in making fires burn and in keeping them burning.

Often in the New Testament, the references to salt are most likely referring to its catalytic abilities. The catalyst keeps the fire burning; the catalyst sees the fire through to completion. A catalyst is the conduit, the means for making something happen.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Mt. 5:13). If we are indeed the salt of the earth and the followers of Jesus, then we need to be the catalysts, the keepers of the fire of faith. As we walk the path of the believers, we need to keep the covenant with God alive in our hearts. By our words and deeds we are to influence the world.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul exhorts the new Christians to speak graciously and always “season their speech with salt” (Col 4:6). In other words, we are to speak with intelligence and as catalysts.

Finally, in the gospel of Mark, Jesus said: “For everyone will be salted for the fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its catalytic ability, how will you restore that? Keep salt in yourself and you will have peace with one another.” (Mark 9:49-50).

Each of us travel on our pilgrimage for closeness with God. As we enter the next phase, the catalytic phase, our goal should be to become that conduit for faith and deeper understanding. We, along with Jesus’ disciples, are called to preserve the society and the world around us from moral decay. We need to keep salt in ourselves. Jesus encouraged His disciples to usefulness, to fidelity and to their role in purifying the world. Remember “YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Effects of Hellenism on Jewish Culture and Religion.

By Mary Anne Cronican

Hellenism is the term used to describe the assimilation of Greek culture into other nations and peoples.  The Greek influence in other nations and cultures is referred to as Hellenistic, especially after the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C.  Alexander, son of Philip II of Macedon, from 333-323 B.C., marched his troops across Asia Minor, Palestine, Egypt, the Near East, Mesopotamia and all the way to the boarders of India, conquering the greatest empires the world has ever known.  He conquered the Persian Empire around 331 B.C.    It has been said that, when he got to India, he wept because there were no more kingdoms to conquer, not knowing of the existence of China.  His purpose was not only political control of these territories, but, also, to introduce the Greek culture to unite his empire.  These conquests resulted in the synthesis called Hellenism.  As a result of the conquests of Alexander, the history, culture, languages and civilizations of the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean and Asia were forever altered.
Alexander established Greek colonies or city-states and military garrisons throughout Asia Minor, Syria-Palestine, Egypt and Mesopotamia.  These city-states were populated with soldiers and civilians from the Greek world.   Wherever he and his troops went in the world, such as Antioch in Syria, Philippi and Alexandria in Egypt, cultural changes were introduced that would promote Hellenism.  The word “Hellenism” means “becoming like Greeks” and is derived from the Greek Hellas Isles (Helles meaning Greek in the Greek language.)  This period was first designated “Hellenistic” by J. G. Droysen who believed that this era was particularly characterized by both Greek and Oriental cultures and paved the way for the spread of Christianity.  The Hellenistic age lasted from the death of Alexander (323 B.C.) until Rome’s defeat of Egypt (31 B.C.)  The influence of Hellenism continued to the age of the emperor Constantine (d. A.D. 337.)
As previously stated, all aspects of life were affected by Hellenism and this applied to the Diaspora Jews in Egypt and Palestine.  Within 100 years, Hellenism was dominant throughout the Eastern Mediterranean territory including Palestine/Syria, although it should be noted that Judea and the rest of Palestine experienced Greek influence before the time of Alexander.  Pottery from Athens reached Judea as early as the 7the century B.C.  Greek money was in common use after the 5th century B. C. and, in the post exilic period, Greek furniture was popular. 
 After the death of Alexander, two Empires emerged in the Middle-East—the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria.  Initially, the Jews were under the control of the Ptolemies.  However, after the battle of Panias in 198 B.C., Israel came under the rule of the Seleucids and their king Antiochus IV. 
In the conquered nations, the influence of Hellenism was manifested in language, government, literature, art and architecture, economics, athletics, theater.  Greek names were given to children in the Diaspora and in Palestine (e.g. Andrew, Philip, Alexander) and often Jewish names were altered to Greek names (e.g.  Joshua to Jason).   Food, clothing (some men adopted Greek dress) and furniture were Greek in style and in name.  Greek philosophy was taught in schools—philosophies of Aristotle, Plato, Epicureanism and Stoicism.   The Greek language became the Koine because of the assimilation into Greek from the areas into which it was diffused and borrowing a number of foreign words.  Hellenism also assimilated features of Oriental religion and cult.
After the conquests of Alexander and under the government of Ptolemy (who ruled from Alexandria in Egypt), certain government practices were introduced, turning the Jewish way of life toward a more Hellenistic culture.  Many Jews felt their ways to be old-fashioned and were embarrassed by their religious practices in contrast to the sophisticated culture of the Greeks.  Consequently, they enthusiastically embraced the Greek ways.  For others, their Jewish identity and way of life were thought to be threatened by the Hellenistic culture and cultural assimilation was a great concern in 1 and 2 Maccabees.
Hellenism penetrated most deeply into the larger cities.  The Jewish communities of the Diaspora retained only the law and the worship of the synagogue.  The surrounding rural areas were largely spared much of the influence of Hellenism.  Greek architecture had a major impact on the synagogues and in the governance of the communities.  Titles and the organization of Greek government were adopted.  Hellenism had a strong impact on Palestinian Judaism and reached its peak in the first half of the second century B.C. when Hellenism was adopted and fostered by the Priestly aristocracy.  However, the greatest impact and adoption of Hellenism for Judaism was in Egypt where the community became more Greek than Jewish.
As Hellenism spread throughout the Jewish Diaspora, a problem arose for Greek-speaking Jews.  They could not speak Hebrew and therefore, could not read the Scriptures.  Clearly, a Greek translation was needed.  In 285 B.C., a group of 70 to 72 rabbis were commissioned by Ptolemy Philadelphus, to undertake the task of translating the Hebrew Scriptures (the Torah) into Greek.  The work was begun in Alexandria, Egypt where Gentile Greeks were being brought into the Jewish faith. This translation is known as the Septuagint (the Latin word for “seventy”.) 
Hellenism became a tool for unifying a vast and disparate empire by introducing the Greek language and institutions throughout the land by means of founding hundreds of the city-states.  Greeks considered their language and way of life superior to others whom they considered “barbarians.”   Reaction to this was twofold:  the wealthy and educated accepted the ways of Greek culture enthusiastically (the “impious” Jews in 2 Maccabees) and others (those in rural areas) who considered it a threat to their traditional way of life and values. 
One area where this prevailed and was brought out so well in James Michener’s “The Source,” was the gymnasium.  Jews were encouraged to take part in sports and activities in the gymnasium.  In order to do so, they had to undergo a reversal of their circumcism.  They risked health and sacrificed sexual pleasure to “become one flesh” with the Greek culture.   Also, when taking part in the gymnasium sports and activities, they were required to exercise and perform nude—a great violation to Jewish law and practice.   Others fought against their brother Jews and the Hellenization of their people (1 Maccabees).
Jews in Palestine were forced by Syrian Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes to publically violate Jewish law in 168 BC.  Many were adopting Greek way of life the Jewish community as well as the priests.  Jason, through bribery, convinced Antiochus IV Epiphanes to appoint him high priest in Jerusalem (a pseudo-high-priest.)   He received permission to build a gymnasium and an educational institution in Jerusalem—a youth club-- and to enroll “the people of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch” (2 Macc. 4:9).   The youth club was an educational institution in which young men were trained in both Greek intellectual culture and in physical fitness (2 Macc 4:9 footnote.)  It was because of this that the author of 2 Maccabees blamed Jason for the excessive Hellenization of Jerusalem (2 Macc 4:11-17). 
When Antiochus was away on an extended military campaign, conflict arose in the Jewish community and Jason lost the priesthood to Menelaus.  Jason tried to drive Menelaus out of power.  Antiochus, upon his return, rescued Menelaus.  Antiochus, however, viewed the situation as rebellion and determined to impose strict Greek practices on the Jews, in particular, Greek worship (Dionysian? Zeus? Baal Shamin?)  He severely persecuted the Jews, ordering an end to the practice of their religion and decreed that they accept the pagan worship including eating unclean food.  The final blow was the sacking of the temple and the erection of a pagan altar over the altar of holocausts (the “horrible abomination” (1 Macc 1:54) where pagan sacrifice was offered.  It was at that time that the Jews rose up under the leadership of Mattathias and later his son Judas Maccabeus, against their Greek oppressors and eventually set up a Hasmonean State (the name derives from their ancestor Hasmoneus) which lasted until 63 BC.  Through many bloody wars, the Jews finally prevailed.  However, the influence of Hellenism was felt not only in the 4th century in both Egypt and Palestine, but also to the time of Jesus (in literature, theater, architecture and in pagan worship).  Both the priestly Sadducees and the Pharisees emerged during the time of the Maccabees.  At the time of Jesus, Hellenization had been in place for three hundred years.  Most in Palestine knew several languages including Hebrew, Aramaic (the language of Jesus), Greek and Latin.  Paul was a highly educated Hellenized Jew.
In Apostolic times, Greek was spoken by both Jew and Gentile.  Antioch in Syria was a large, cosmopolitan commercial city.  It was a major trading center and was made up of a diverse population of many different peoples and religions.  The population is believed to have been between 500,000 and 600,000.  Jews of the Diaspora had lived in Antioch since its founding in 300 B.C.  After the stoning of Stephen, many Jewish Christians fled to Antioch.  Even more entered Antioch after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.   Despite the mixed communities and Greek culture, the Antiochian community showed charity towards the Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem.  It was in Antioch that Paul and Barnabus began their ministry of preaching the Word to the Gentiles.  It became the cradle of Christianity.
Matthew wrote his gospel in Antioch.  The large cosmopolitan and diverse population of Greek-speaking Gentiles and Jews presented a particular challenge to Matthew.   The Church of Matthew, originally strongly Jewish Christian, had become one in which Gentile Christians were predominant.  The people were sophisticated.  They were products of the Hellenistic culture.  They enjoyed an easy lifestyle and put a high priority on leisure—the “Greek way.”  They were surrounded by different philosophical and religious beliefs.  Gnostism (simply put, salvation by knowledge), undoubtedly influenced by the syncretism promoted by Hellenism, was just one of the problems Matthew had to deal with in his ministry but a major one.  Because of Hellenism, there were a variety of religious alternatives, and many different religions were being practiced in Antioch.  According to Eerdmanns Dictionary of the Bible, some of the religions that existed at the time were the mystery religions and cults, Mithraism (the official cult of the Roman Empire), the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris, the worship of Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) and, as previously mentioned, Gnosticism.  All of these mystery religions, philosophies and worldviews influenced Christianity which followed in their wake.
Although Hellenization posed problems in preaching the Gospel, it opened the door to an acceptance of the Gospel by Gentiles.   As the Church began to emerge, it was made up of primarily Hellenized Gentiles.   For the Jews, little of its effects remain.  


New American Bible.  Gospel of Matthew.  1 & 2 Maccabees.
Wijngaards, John. “Matthew’s Gospel”.   (Online)
Wilson, Sara E. Wilson.  “Antioch, the Lost City.”  (Online)
The Word in the Hellenistic World. Denver Catholic Biblical School. New York:  Paulist Press, 1997.
Spiro, Rabbi Ken.  “Alexander, the Jews and Hellenism.”  (Online)
Perowne, Stewart.  The Life and Times of Herod the Great.   New York.  Abengdon Press, 1959 (Online)
Arendzen, J. (1909.)  “Gnosticism.”  New York.  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Robert Appleby Company.  Retrieved May 9, 2010 from http://www.newadvent.org
”How the Greeks Promoted the Blending of Religions.”  The Cultural Background of Early Christianity.   (Online) http://www.jesushistory.info/cultural_background_of_christianity.htm
Eerdmann, David Noel. Eerdmanns Dictionary of the Bible. Michigan: Eerdmann Publishing Company,    2000.
McKenzie, John L., S.J.  Dictionary of the Bible.   New York.  MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc and Collier MacMillan, Publishers, (London), 1965.
Perkins, Pheme.  Reading the New Testament.   “Gnosticism” (pp.286, 305-6,  326).  New York.  MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc.   1979.
Senior, Donald and John J. Collins, editors.  The Catholic Study Bible  (second edition).  NAB.  New York.  Oxford University Press, Inc.  2006.

Copyright 2011, Mary Anne Cronican

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunday Reading Oct 15/16th, 2011-- Taxation and Misrepresentation

The first reading in Isaiah, (45:1, 4-6) and the Gospel reading (Matt 22:15-21), both have to do with questions about governmental power over a conquored people. Isaiah is written during the time of the Babylonian exile, and in Matthew's time, the Roman government was the administration in power in the region of Palestine.

In Isaiah, the Israelites were hoping to be restored to their homeland, yet were in the position of living in a foreign country hoping for a change in emigration/immigration laws. The Lord, through the words of the prophet Isaiah, helps us to explore from a religious perspective the intellectual wrestling that comes from being a conquored people with the realization that the same power which first took them captive may be the very means for their liberation. Could this foreign monarch be the actual means of God's redemptive plan? A revolutionary thought for a montheistic people looking at a nation that did not worship only one God. Could King Cyrus (which means shepherd), be the instrument of the Lord, called by name by God Himself, even if Cyrus does not even know God's name?

The Jews looked back with nostolgia on the Davidic monarchy which at the time of Isaiah was the epitome of their own national history in terms of politcal autonomy. In captivity by a foreign king, what is the relationship between God and non-Jewish kings? If all power comes from God, and this man is the power-that-be, how is God using this man in salvation history? This reading sees minds stretching beyond the early selective localized prism of the Jewish salvation story, glimpsing inklings of a dawning more-global religious perspective and more integrated view of God's influence.

How can God's choice of this foreign power be justified? Isaiah says "to show that God is God alone, and there is no other." The Israelite prophets, though diverse, had one theme in common, and that was that there is one God who is creator rather than a plurality of gods running the universe. God is the one for whom all creation lives, moves and has its being. The Israelite people, through this Babylonian exile, experientially come to the realization that foreign kings are no exception. People that do not know God are also moved to action by God, whether they realize it or not. The Jewish people did end up being returned to the country from which they had been captured, and Cyrus was indeed the instrument of their peaceable return to their homes.

Several hundred years after that return, Jesus, in the Gospel, speaks as a prophet coming into a disordered world, to the Israelites, again a conquored people, conquored this time by the Romans. This time the Jewish people are ruled by foreigners but are not in exile. Essentially the same question comes up. Could the Roman authority and the sovereignty of God be reconciled, or were they mutually opposed? He comes up with a creative answer.

Jesus drew out of the crowd
(to present to crown-fishing Ceasar)
an Image untaxed nor withheld from musing Eleazar
and none too pensive to put in the saving of David

"Do we need to pay taxes to Ceaser?" is the question that the pharisees, the religious leaders use to test him. Jesus simply turns the question back on them--the money they hold has Ceaser's image, so why not give him back the portion he asks? He neatly sidesteps political intrigue or arguments regarding the legitimacy of the Roman presence in Palestine. The same story, if told in the present-day, might show Jesus sending a polemical person with a tax-bill in hand to pay their taxes rather than discussing taxation proposals, theories, or getting cornered into one unyielding political affiliation or another.

As with the Jewish people in the Babylonian captivity and the Jews of Jesus' time, there are many Christians, people of other faiths or no religious faith at all, in our own country and all over the world, that struggle with issues of how to live as good citizens and how to peaceably and effectively promote justice in their society, sometimes in the most difficult of situations. At times the questions may seem insurrmountable or the answers irreconcilable. In studying the Scriptures, much insight can be gained from both Jewish political and religious history as well as Jesus' ability to approach practical problems with creative answers, and, conversely, to approach intriguing problematics with practical solutions.

The second reading, from Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy to the early Christian community in Thessalonia going through difficult times of religious transition, is such an encouraging note, one that is timeless and appropriate communication for any group of faithful believers working with another group for peaceful solutions under any circumstances.

"We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for all of you, and constantly remember how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ. We know brothers, that God loves you... "



Timeless Stirrings and Ecclesiastes

Today is the birthday of my youngest child, Max, he is one year old.  It has been a graced year.  Graced with the quiet stirrings of the immortal God in my heart.  Stirrings that are so easily overlooked, but in God's mercy, I had an infant who forced me to stop, allowing me just be present to Him; while I was nursing Max or simply just holding him and rocking or walking, walking, walking.  And in those moments of nothingness, where I am not doing anything of high material value, moments where I am living the Gospel (albeit very imperfectly)  in such ordinary and unnoticed ways:  feeding, clothing, comforting,  if I am very quiet and still in my soul (because, you can be sure that there is not much quiet and stillness externally with very young children all around) my heart surges with thanksgiving, and here I can just begin perceive the eternal presence of God.

These thoughts brought to mind our OCBS study of Ecclesiastes and a verse from that book that whispers in my heart at these times, because these moments are so fleeting, and yet I want to cling to them not ever letting them go!  Alas!  And since I am celebrating a birthday today, I did not have time for a proper Scripture post soI thought that I would indulge myself and share, along with a video montage I made for my son's first year, my past musings on this verse!

       “He has made everything appropriate to its time and has put the timeless into their hearts, without men ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.” ( Ecclesiastes 3:11)

 I would love to freeze particular moments in which that sweet coalescence of joy, peace and security that in the blink of an eye are here and then scurry off only a moment later.   In these moments I can feel a stirring of the timeless in my heart.  Joy and thanksgiving surge forth from me, yet I also feel sorrow because I live in time and these perceptions and moments are so fleeting, and so other worldly.  They lift me out of time for an instant, and pierce my heart with an intense yearning for the eternal.  Are these moments invitations for a deeper meditation on things of heaven?  Did moments such as these, fleeting and passing, with no hope or expectation of them ever reoccurring, spur Qoheleth's deep questions?   With no afterlife to look to it must have been like a cruel joke to have such a yearning for the eternal in the heart with no possible way to satisfy it!

As each year passes in the lives of my children I strain to implant the memory of how they looked and talked; of the things they did that made me frustrated or made me laugh, or broke my heart with the beauty of it all.  I have taken countless pictures and written endlessly in journals just so I can cling to the memory of moments of perfection lost to time.  Yet, I still forget and I know that I have lost moments and memories in my life to the passage of time.   I pray to God, who has put that timeless yearning in my heart, to help me to follow the wisdom in the ponderings of Ecclesiastes:  To be faithful and attentive to the season that I am in.  I am thankful for the wisdom that says enjoy this moment now and do not worry about how time may fade the memory:    “For he will hardly dwell on the shortness of his life, because God lets him busy himself with the joy of his heart.”( Ecc 5:19) And beyond that I put my eternal hope in Christ, who makes all things new,(Rev.21:5)  and who does not put a yearning in my heart  that cannot be fulfilled.  Even in Ecclesiastes we hear an echo of this verse:  Verse 3:15 says "what now is has already been; what is to be, already is; and God restores what would otherwise be displaced." 

 Ecclesiastes vividly shows that this fulfillment is not to be had during our days under the sun. I can release my vain grasping at past happiness, it prevents me from living and enjoying the simple, fleeting pleasures of the time I am living in now.  Ecclesiastes highlights the problem of futility that only Christ can satisfactorily answer.  And as my heart is pierced with the joy and blessing of His eternal stirrings, awoken in the precious minutes with my children, I am learning to let it flow into to One who put that timelessness into my heart and the One who makes all things new!

Happy Birthday Max!  

 Peace an Grace to all!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Wedding Feast

I have been thinking about the “wedding feast” that God prepares for us. This Sunday’s readings have me wondering about the gift of free will that God has given us. Is free will really a gift or is it a curse? God invites us to the wedding and we can choose to accept or reject the invitation. So many times we chose to ignore the invitation and just continue on with our daily lives. We are distracted by the earthly things around us and refuse to see the beauty that God sets before us every day. His gift of His Son is always before us and available to us.

Isaiah 25:6-10 describes the beautiful gift that God will provide us as a feast of indescribable richness; perfect food and pure wine. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people He will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken. On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to safe us!” I have to ask myself, why do I find it so difficult to accept the invitation and so tempting to just stay closed to all that is offered and to keep walking through my daily life without accepting the fullness of the gift.

Psalm 23 expands upon the strength and gifts that God give us. As I mediate on this Psalm, I am reminded of all the unbidden things God does for me if I just open the door to Him and accept His invitation. Through Him, I want for nothing. In the dark days, He is with me, strengthening me and allowing me to accomplish all things in his name. Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” As I make my way toward the “wedding feast”, the kingdom of heaven, God not only provides for me but he also guides me on the trip. Again, the key is to be open to the invitation and to accept what God offers. The second reading, Philippians 12-14, 19-20 reminds us yet again that God will supply whatever we need. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” God has prepared everything for His faithful servants, but we must freely choose to accept what he offers and to prepare ourselves to enter the kingdom of God.

The parable of the Wedding Feast in the Gospel of Matthew reminds us to accept God’s invitation and to be prepared to wear the wedding garment that God will provide.

Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the peoplein parables, saying,"The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a kingwho gave a wedding feast for his son.He dispatched his servantsto summon the invited guests to the feast,but they refused to come.A second time he sent other servants, saying,'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet,my calves and fattened cattle are killed,and everything is ready; come to the feast."'Some ignored the invitation and went away,one to his farm, another to his business.The rest laid hold of his servants,mistreated them, and killed them.The king was enraged and sent his troops,destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.Then he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready,but those who were invited were not worthy to come.Go out, therefore, into the main roadsand invite to the feast whomever you find.'The servants went out into the streetsand gathered all they found, bad and good alike,and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests,he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.The king said to him, 'My friend, how is itthat you came in here without a wedding garment?'But he was reduced to silence.Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet,and cast him into the darkness outside,where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'Many are invited, but few are chosen."

St. Catherine of Siena describes that garment as “clothing ourselves in the fire of blazing charity, which adornments of sweet solid virtue, with true holy patience. He does not want [us seeking our] personal honor, but God’s honor and our neighbors’ salvation.” God is inviting all of us to enter into His kingdom; the invitation is freely given. The question becomes, “Why is the invitation not freely accepted?” Why are we so easily distracted? Again and again the invitation is proffered and again and again we reject it. We are mired in our desires, our feelings of independence – that I can do it all, I don’t need anyone. I want the glamorous things of this world, money, status, power. Yet God continues inviting us. He continues to provide the wedding feast for all of us; but we must accept the invitation and then put on the garment of seeking God’s honor, not ours. These thoughts take me back to my beginning question – “Is my free will a gift or a curse?”
Peace to you all, Judy

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Baruch: The Man, The Book and His Writings

Marilyn Roche
April 8, 2010
OCBS Year 4    
Instructor: Sharon Nelsen

     Whoever heard of Baruch?  Do you know where to find Baruch in the
Bible?  My lady friend’s husband approached me with those questions late in 2009 or early in 2010 after mass one Sunday when one of the readings was from that old testament scripture.
        Most of us hardly realize when we were introduced to this talented, faithful servant of the Lord.  Probably it was in the book of Jeremiah.  Baruch is the son of Neriah.  Baruch was the companion and scribe of the prophet Jeremiah.  I seem to like and admire him.  This fondness most likely started because first I liked Jeremiah.  Then, when I read about Baruch in the Book of Jeremiah found in the Old Testament scripture, I saw how tenacious and dedicated he was.
        The story that really impressed me about the noble character of Baruch is found in chapter 36 of the Book of Jeremiah.  The truth was that the people of Judah did not want to hear the truth about their take-over by the Babylonians.  This was especially true of their petty, tyrant King Jehoiakim and his temple court.
        Jeremiah dictated and Baruch wrote down, in the form of a scroll, all of Jeremiah’s prophecies since the day of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.) as he had been ordered.  The main message from God to Jeremiah was that the Babylonians will come and overtake Palestine/Judah including the city of Jerusalem and its temple.  Really bad news for the Hebrews as the temple in Jerusalem was the mainstay of their religion here on earth and the connections there were very important in their beliefs and practices.
        One day Baruch read this scroll to the people who had gathered in the temple.  The words moved his listeners.  It wasn’t long before the king and his authorities heard of the reading and asked for a reading in their presence. The princes, knowing the terrible temper and authority of King Jehoiakim, recommended that both Jeremiah and Baruch go into hiding for their safety.
        The year is 605 B.C.E.  The reading before the king and his court did happen.  Baruch read.  As the king listened great displeasure and anger rose within him.  As Baruch would finish reading a part of the script King Jehoiakim would use Baruch’s knife to cut it off.  He would then throw it into the fire and let it burn!  All that time, effort, prophecy and history had gone up in smoke!  Can you imagine how Baruch must have felt?  He dared not show his frustration and sorrow.
        The king would not tolerate the truth of the situation so he attempted to use his powerful influence to subdue what he perceived as verbal insurrection from those traitors, Jeremiah and Baruch.
        An order was issued for imprisonment of both Jeremiah and Baruch.  But, do you know what?  When the authorities sought to arrest Baruch, the secretary, and the prophet Jeremiah, neither could be found.  Can you imagine?   
        Though that scroll had been destroyed by fire the words that had been written upon it and more came back to Jeremiah and, again, his faithful servant, Baruch, wrote what was dictated.
        Do you see the admirable qualities in Baruch’s actions?  He could so easily have been martyred.
        The year is now 587 B.C.E.  King Zedekiah was ruling over Judah from the city of Jerusalem.  King Nebuchadnezzar’s armies had come from Babylon and were besieging Jerusalem-and winning!  Jeremiah is already imprisoned in the quarters of the guard.  It is a time, not only of turmoil, but of defeat for the Hebrew people.  Yikes!  What does Jeremiah do?  He buys a now worthless field from his cousin.  Why?  It certainly wasn’t as a monetary investment.  Property during a siege is worth nothing.  Why, then?  His purchase of the property amounts to a parable in action, a profession of faith in God’s promise of restoration.  WOW!  What an expression of hope.  And hope and faith were in high demand here.
        As you can see the situation was desperate.  And to whom do you suppose Jeremiah entrusted the deed of purchase for the property?  To trustworthy Baruch, with the assurance that this land would one day again belong to the Israeli people.
        Baruch was blamed for Jeremiah’s speaking out against the survivors of the fall of Jerusalem migrating to Egypt.  It ended with both Baruch and Jeremiah being forced to go with the Jewish refugees to Egypt.  Here Baruch’s personal history becomes obscure.  Some believe from Egypt he traveled on to Babylon to continue his work there.
        Though Jeremiah speaks of God’s mercy to Israel and the nations, his main job seems to be the herald of God’s chastisement.
        As Jeremiah was God’s mouthpiece Baruch was Jeremiah’s mouthpiece.  Jeremiah was shy and sensitive.  Baruch would assert himself and Jeremiah’s messages as well as his own.
        The resource person, Mowvinckel, believes Baruch wrote the biographical prose narrative parts of the Book of Jeremiah.  This is evidenced on page 602 under the heading 487g in A New Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture.
        There is a deuterocanonical book located near the end of the Old Testament section of the Catholic Bible which bears Baruch’s name.  This book is preserved in Greek only, but is probably Hebrew in its original form.  Many believe this book is authored by many including Baruch.  In Old Testament times it was common to borrow another’s name to give credibility to writing. 
        “It was probably put together during the Maccabean period and before the end of
        the first century B.C.”
Its third and fourth chapters are used as the sixth reading in our Holy Saturday night services.  This reading praises wisdom and prudence. In the Book of Baruch the conditions for survival of Israel as a nation, if she was to remain spiritually healthy, was to practice true contrition and a firm purpose of amendment.  That would indicate an interruption of the historical round-robin recycling of:  sin, God’s punishment, repentance.   
        The organization of the book of Baruch is:  Introduction, a prayer of confession of national guilt with a petition for forgiveness with an expectation of Israel’s restoration, a poem of praise of wisdom, a poem in which a personified Jerusalem encourages the nation and instills hope, and the letter which Jeremiah addressed to the exiles in Babylon condemning idolatry.
        “Under the name, or rather pseudonym, Baruch have come down two
        apocryphal apocalyptic works. Apocalypse of Baruch, composed around
       100A.D. and the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, still more recent (c. 150A.D.).”

        The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch describes revelations made to Baruch when

 Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. It goes into the Pharisaic view of doctrines regarding the Messiah and His kingdom, original sin and freewill, the future judgment and resurrection.
        The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch is of Jewish origin and relates his journey through the five heavens.



Attwater, Donald, A Catholic Dictionary.
New York: The MacMillan Co., 1942

Asimov, Isaac, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible.
Avenel Books USA, 1981

Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament.
New York: Paulist Press, 1984

Catechism of the Catholic Church.
San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1984

Ellis, Peter F., Baruch, Jeremiah.
The Collegeville Bible Commentary.
Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1989

Fuller, D.D, PhD., L.SS. Rev. Reginald C.,
A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture.
Camden, NJ: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1969. p111.

Heschel, Abraham J., The Prophets.
New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001

McKenzie, S.J. John L., Dictionary of the Bible.
New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1995

Nelsen, Sharon, Lecture Notes,
Year four O.C.B.S, 2009 – 2010

New American Bible. Saint Joseph Edition.
New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1991

Schoeman, Roy H., Salvation is from the Jews.
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003

The New World Dictionary Concordance to the NAB.
Canada: Catholic World Press, 1970. p54.

Winzen, Damacus, Pathways In Scripture.
Ann Arbor, MI: Word of Life, 1976

copyright 2011 Marilyn Roche

Martyr/Martyrdom, by Mary Dwyer

Originally the word martyr meant witnessThe word “martyr,” from the Greek martus, literally means “a witness who testifies to a fact of which he has knowledge from personal observation.  The definition was used both in the secular world as well as in the Old and New Testament of the Bible.  (Trites) The process of bearing witness was not intended to lead to the death of the witness, although it is known from ancient writers [Josephus] that witnesses, especially of the lower classes, were tortured routinely before being interrogated as a means of forcing them to disclose the truth. (Wikipedia)
Most scholars consider the Hasmonean traditions preserved in Maccabees as representing the earliest Jewish strata of martyrology.  A definition of martyrdom that includes:

  1.     public declaration of one’s allegiance to God and Torah in the face of official demands to betray that allegiance or die;
  2. .      the perception that this act fulfills a religious mandate (that death is what God demands when the alternative is apostasy);
  3. .      the passionate commitment of the adherent to both God and Torah;
  4. .      these deaths serve a larger redemptive purpose, generally for Israel as a whole; AND
  5. .      death [or near death experience of Isaac—as interpreted later—or Daniel]. (Lander)
 Jesus spoke of the time “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zachariah” [Lk. 11:51; Matt. 23:35] when referring to the martyrs of the Old Testament.  Since Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus was making a comprehensive statement covering the known Old Testament [Genesis—Chronicles].  (Vlach)
During the early Christian centuries, the term acquired the extended meaning of a believer who is called to witness for their religious belief, and on account of this witness, endures suffering and/or death. The death of a martyr or the value attributed to it is called martyrdom. (Wikipedia)   
The Catholic ideal of martyrdom is found in Christ’s words of the Gospel: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Mt 10:39]. (Curley)  Eventually the term “Christian martyr” became associated only with those who witnessed to Christ with their blood. (Encyclopedia) 

An example of Martyrs found in the Old Testament in which the witnesses did not die is the story of the three young men put into the fiery furnace by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.  “He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual and had some of the strongest men in his army bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and cast them into the white-hot furnace. [Daniel 3:19-20] Their belief in God saved them.
The Maccabees martyr stories are probably the most well know of the Old Testament.  Because these books are found in the Septuagint and Deuterocanonical I think it is important to provide some information on the split between Jews and Catholics about the Maccabees books.  Lander’s writes that there is evidence in both Josephus and in the writings of fourth century church fathers that the Jews of Modin and Antioch revered the Maccabees martyrs at their tombs. That Jews at Antioch built a shrine which purportedly contained the bones of the Maccabees mother of the seven sons. Jews as well as Christians would visit this shrine seeking healing and other miracles, an intermingling evidenced at the shrines of other Biblical sites in the Greek east. 
What changed over the years creating the split on the tradition to the Maccabean Martyrs?  Landers noted that as Jewish and Christian identity became increasingly defined holy places became sites of contestation.  As Christians laid increasing claim to martyrs, martyrdom, and martyrologies, not to mention the frequency with which early Christian exegetes portrayed the Maccabean martyrs in particular as Jewish prefigurations of Jesus, Jews were less motivated to preserve these accounts as their own. Lander believes this is one of the reasons for the exclusion of the books of Maccabees from the Hebrew Bible.
The Maccabean Martyr stories express instances of martyrdom where citizens flaunting the restrictive religious measures imposed by King Antiochus Epiphanes.  These are witnesses who die for their religious belief and love of God.  Somewhat less well-know are the families massacred in witness to the law and to the Sabbath. First, those pursued and confronted by the officers and soldiers of the king into the desert “They said, ‘Let us all die without reproach; heaven and earth are our witnesses that you destroy us unjustly.’" [1 Mc 2:37].  Second there are the two mothers and their circumcised infants who are hurled from the city walls in public view. And third a group of secret Sabbath-observers are burned to death. [2 Mc 6:10-11].
More familiar are the martyrdoms of the elder scribe Eleazar and those of the pious mother and her seven sons. These witness stories are about observance of the law and the power of love for God.  The officials ask Eleazar to eat pork or to pretend to eat pork by eating his own legitimately [allowed by the Torah] meat. [2 Mc 6:21].  Eleazar defies the order and declares, “I will show myself worthy of my old age and set a noble example for the young of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” [2 Mc 6.27-8]
A second, more famous, story is the martyrdom of the mother and her seven sons. King Antiochus is the oppressor.  He brutally tortures each son in front of their mother and a large crowd. This story also connects to the promise of a life after death and therefore use by Catholic to demonstrate Jesus’s message of losing one’s life to gain life.  It is the testimony of the second son which first connects the death of martyrs to the promise of their resurrection, a claim repeated in the third and fourth son: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.” [2 Mc 7:9].
The fourth brother declares" It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life." firmly believing in God's promise of life. [2Mc 7:14]   (Hoagland)
Finally as Landers writes the mother is revered as a model of courage and faith, as she implores her children to resist the imperial demands for apostasy. The seventh son heeds her advice, proclaiming at his death, “I will not obey the king's command. I obey the command of the law given to our forefathers through Moses. [2 Mc 7:30].”

Copyright 2011, Mary Dwyer


Catholic Encyclopedia. 1917. Print.
Curley, Jim. "The Catholic Ideal of Martyrdom." Catholic Men’s Quarterly Spring 2005. Web.
Hoagland C.P., Victor. "On Martyrdom: Ignatius of Antioch and Bishop Bossilkov." Bread on the Waters Web Pages. Web. <http://www.cptryon.org/cpexams/bossilkov/vhcp.html>.
Lander, Shira. "Martyrdom in Jewish Traditions." Catholic-Jewish Consultation Committee Meeting. St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, MD. 11 Dec. 2003. Web. <http://www.bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/cjrelations/resources/articles/Lander_martyrdom/index.html>.
"Martyr." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyr>.
The New American Bible. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002. Web. <http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/index.shtml>
Trites, Alison. "MartyrThe New Testament Concept of Witness." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyr>.
Vlach, Michael J. "How Did the Old Testament Become the Old Testament?" TheologicalStudies.org. Web. <http://www.theologicalstudies.org/page/page/1572454.htm>.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Vineyard of the Lord

I have been pondering this Sunday's readings, and as always I respond, in varying degrees, at first to each reading individually. Isaiah 5: 1-7 is the song of the vineyard, and in it, the house of Israel is likened to a vineyard that, despite the best of care, produces only wild grapes.  The vineyard is left for destruction and ruin:
Yes, I will make it a ruin:  It shall not be pruned or hoed, but will be overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to rain upon it.  The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, the people of Judah his cherished plant;  he waited for judgement, but see bloodshed!  For justice but hark, the outcry! (6-7)
The justice of the Lord is a terrifying thing, revealing what we would rather not know about ourselves, and to endure it is to be refined and renewed.  To refuse it is to allow the wild grapes to crowd out the life of God in you, to evict your soul from your body and be reduced to a mere wild creature. In the Song of the Vineyard, the Lord mercifully withholds his care of the vineyard, to reveal that there is no true life here. The language is dire, a response to the Lord is urgent, our very soul depends on it.

But do not despair, for there is more to you than your failures! The responsorial Psalm ( taken from Psalm 80) is a cry to the Lord to restore His people, and they will no more turn away from Him!  And it is spoken with a confidence in the Lord, that though they are enduring great trials, they know that they are still His chosen people. "Give us new life, and we will call upon your name."

The Gospel from Matthew is yet another parable about the vineyard:

Matthew 21:33-43
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: 
"Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
puts a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous that the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them thinking ,
'They will respect my son.'
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
'This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.'
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
What will the owner do to those tenants when he comes?"
"He will put those wretched men to a wretched death,
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times."
Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
and by the Lord has this been done
and it is wonderful to our eyes.
Therefore I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken from you
 and given to a people that will produce fruit."
And of course it picks up on Isaiah's theme of the vineyard.  A theme that will allow those who he is telling it to to pronounce what the owner of the vineyard should rightfully do to those wretched tenants, and, if they have the heart to hear this parable they will recognize themselves as individuals and, collectively as a people, the children of God. God has given them many chances to produce fruit, but he will give them up to their own wretchedness if they do not hear his voice with their heart, and repent like the Psalmist!  His kingdom will prevail, without you if you so choose.

These vineyard parables that Jesus has been telling the past few Sundays have sunk deeply into my soul, they have gently stirred up the envy, resentment and fear that have become tenants in my heart.  And these tenants hold me back, or provoke me to respond to situations in ways that can never produce good fruit (but they do produce some fruit, it is I who lack the will to determine if it is fruit that is of the Lord or not).

And unless the Lord, in his merciful justice, allows them to be stirred up, I might never recognize them as evil and needing to be purged from my soul. I now must choose to act, to allow the Lord to reclaim what is his.  Even when I am made aware of these tenants, I am weakened and powerless to demand that they leave on my own. I cannot bear to face their devastation in my soul. I cannot endure in my struggle against them.  Here is where these vices, now stirred up to my consciousness begin to bring down despair and discouragement.  I am the  wretched one who gave entry to the vices. Vices that have taken the choice plants that the Lord has sown and degraded them to wild grapes. They cause me to doubt that I would ever be capable of producing the type of fruit that God demands  They murmur that I will  be utterly destroyed if I allow the wild grapes in my soul to be rooted out.  If I allow the owner to rightfully access his vineyard!

And, I have learned, that I will be. I will have to die to the false identities, that are protected through envy and fear. The vices I have nurtured have diminished me, killing my soul, and are so integrated in my heart that upon the coming of the Lord I quake with fear because I know what will be found, ruins,desolation and rotted fruit.  And I know that the only remedy is the painful uprooting of the wild grapes.  The hedges that were meant to protect the choice vines are now protecting the wicked tenants, and they will need to be torn down. I will have to live in the briers and thorns that have overtaken my vineyard, exposed, to fully know that I am not a mere tenant in my soul haunted body.  I can now cry out to the Lord as the Psalmist does:

 "Give us new life, and we will call upon your name."

Hope is kindled, because in the merciful justice of God, he has allowed the enemies of my soul to be stirred up, and revealed.  But reviving me is a grueling battle, and I am tossed between self-justification and self-condemnation.

Paul's words to the Philippians now rain down just enough refreshment for my soul, they encourage me to open my eyes and see, see with the mind and heart of Christ!  To open wide my heart, and let go of my fear!  The temporal defeats are only that, temporary.  The ultimate victory is assured, and we can see the fruits of them already if we reach out to the Lord in earnest and honest prayer!

Phil.4: 6-9

Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

God's merciful justice can be extraordinarily hard to endure, and there sometimes seems to be no point,only defeat.  Ask the Lord for what you need today to endure in the struggle, know that there is more to gain in enduring in God's mercy than a halo and wings.  The messiness of the moment are parts of the masterpiece.  But today is the day, do not let the unlawful tenants in your soul have one more day, for the Lord is coming.

Peace, Heidi