Session 1 of “Presence” – Reflection

Exodus chapter 3:2-8, 10-15

This passage in Exodus continues the story of Moses, who is now a shepherd who serves his father-in-law Jethro. Moses had left Egypt forty years earlier. Moses has not had an ordinary life for a Hebrew. As an infant Moses was set adrift in a reed basket in the Nile River by his mother in an attempt to save his life – all male Hebrew infants were to be drowned at birth by an order of the Pharaoh. Moses was rescued by the daughter of the Pharaoh and raised as her own child. Moses then lived a privileged life with the royal family until his murder of an Egyptian, who had been beating a Hebrew slave.

Moses set adrift

The only mention in the Bible of Moses’ relationship with his birth family or other Hebrews during these early years is that Moses was nursed by his birth mother at the request of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Once Moses was weaned, he was returned to his adoptive mother. There is no mention in the Bible of Moses further interaction with the Hebrews until he returned to Egypt to fulfill God’s mission.

Moses fled Egypt when his murder of the Egyptian is seen by Jewish witnesses and likely reported. Moses then settles in Midian where he marries one of the the daughters of Jethro, a Midianite priest. His wife is named Zipporah and she bears Moses a son. Even though the Pharaoh whom Moses knew had died, the Hebrews remained slaves to the new Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. 

(A Bible dictionary tells us: “ to be holy is  “to be set apart.” This applies to places where God is present, like the Temple and the Tabernacle, and to things and persons related to those holy places or to God Himself.”)

Moses and the burning bush

In Exodus chapter 3 we read, “and the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush...”. Moses has been tending the sheep of his father in law near Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God, and his attention was caught by an unusual sight – a burning bush which is not consumed by the flames. Intrigued and curious why this might be so, Moses approaches the burning bush. A voice calls to him from the bush – “Moses, Moses” and then Moses responds: “here I am”.  Moses is told by the angel’s voice that the place on which Moses is standing is holy ground, that he should take off his shoes.

Taking off one’s shoes in the presence of God or in a holy place suggests that one must be submissive and respectful to the One who is above all things, who has power over all things and all people, who deserves to be venerated and loved. In Church we genuflect or bow when we enter as we recognize the holiness of the worship place and of the Person who is present in the Tabernacle behind the altar.

God addresses Moses and tells the shepherd that the Person speaking to him is the same God who once spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, ancestors of Moses’ people. In fear and reverence for God, Moses hides his face for we read that  “he was afraid to look on God.” It was believed at that time that gazing upon God would bring instant death.

God has spoken to Moses for He has an important task for Moses to accomplish – Moses must go back to Egypt and bring God’s people out of Egypt to the promised land. God tells Moses that “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry…I know their sufferings.” Moses is understandably confused and perplexed as he later wonders aloud how he is to accomplish this task. God comforts Moses by telling him that He, God Himself, will be with him as Moses goes about this work. The sign that God has sent Moses on this mission will be shown when Moses has accomplished the task – the Israelites will worship God on this very mountain of Horeb.

What God is asking of Moses is an unbelievably difficult task. For centuries the Hebrews have been enslaved by a powerful foreign nation. Moses must return to Egypt, where he is a wanted criminal and even rejected by the Israelites some years ago and free the enslaved people. At first Moses is given no directions as to how he is to accomplish what is asked of him, although God assures Moses that “I will be with you“.  As the conversation continues, God provides more details about the help that He will provide to Moses.

Moses’ first response to God’s request is somewhat strange – Moses wants to know God’s name in case the Israelites ask him. God responds to Moses’ question and says that His name is – “I AM WHO I AM… this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”  God continues in this way: “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: “The Lord, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever.” God is reminding Moses and the Israelites that He is making good on His covenant with the patriarchs, that the chosen people have not been forgotten. God then tells Moses how to begin this mission so that the Israelites are assured the God will lead them to the land once promised to Abraham and to freedom.

Knowing a person’s name was important in Biblical times as it denoted some control over that individual if his name was known. God’s response to Moses question does not give any power over Him as the name itself denotes God’s power. God cannot be controlled or owned by anyone as He just is. God is existence itself.

This story is similar to many which we read in the Bible – God calls someone for His purposes and doesn’t tell the person how exactly to accomplish the task which has been assigned to him. A person appears to be on his own, to come up with the means and methods to accomplish the task until the story unfolds further and the reader recognizes that God has been directing the action and assisting the person in his mission.

God places His trust in the person He has chosen. God’s choice of the person and the mission is not random. God sees the past, the present and the future. God created the person he has chosen, so God is aware of what the person has the ability to do.

Moses’ conversation continues with God. Moses tries to back out of the assignment citing his speech impediment, but God gives Moses help by choosing Moses’ brother Aaron to help him, to do the speaking for Moses.

Moses from “The Ten Commandments”

The sign God presents to Moses is what I found most troubling at first. “You will know that you have done what I have asked you to do and that I have asked you to do it when you have accomplished it.” In other words you won’t know for sure that God has sent you on this difficult mission until you accomplish it.

As we continue reading we see all the signs of God’s presence along the journey which Moses undertook. There were plagues directed against the Egyptian gods, the Passover of the angel of death, the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, the manna in the desert, the water from the rock, the cloud and fire which accompanied the people and many other miracles.

How does this story relate to the mission which God has assigned to each of us? Our lifelong assignment from the time of our Baptism into our faith is to follow Christ, to carry the crosses in our life, to relate to the people and situations which God places in our lives, to share His message of love. We will not truly know that we have accomplished our mission until the mission is completed. We walk in the dark, using our reason and the gifts God has given to us. We trust that we have understood what our task is until we finally reach the end of our lives. We then hope to hear our Savior say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant“.

Like Moses we must trust that God is with us as we travel the path set before us. As we proceed in our assigned tasks, we are blessed with many “signs” of God’s presence as Moses was. Christ has left us the Eucharist, His Body and Blood, to serve as food for our journey. Christ left us His Holy Spirit to encourage and guide us along the way. By reading and studying the stories in the Bible we are encouraged and strengthened, for we see God’s work throughout salvation history which assures us that He is with us.

An inspiration about Mary as a mother

During one of the morning Liturgy of the Hours, one of the first psalms to be read and prayed was psalm 95. The psalm begins this way:

“Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord;

Let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation,

Let us greet him with thanksgiving;

Let us joyfully sing psalms to him….

As I read the psalm I imagined that the Blessed Mother often sang this psalm to her Son in the quiet hours of the morning, perhaps when she nursed Him. The psalm continues praising God for His work of creation and reminds us that everything belongs to Him for He made everything.

The psalm then continues:

“Come, let us bow down in worship;

Let us kneel before the Lord who made us.

For he is our God,

And we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”

As we read and pray the psalms we see many of the topics which Jesus used in his preaching. I wonder if many of these motifs became ingrained in His heart and mind during those early years of His life when He spent so much time in His mother’s presence.

Finding peace and my place in the world

Poppies in acrylic and watercolor – F. McDonald

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I have always been puzzled by this passage from Scripture. Of all the men who have ever lived or will live, our Lord Jesus had a heavy burden. He had to carry the sins of all of us. How could His burden be light when He carried the cross with our sins to His death?

Recently I read a reflection written by “Servant of God Walter J. Ciszek, S. J.” and I began to understand more of what Jesus was saying. Father Ciszek was convicted of being a “Vatican spy” during World War II and spent 23 years in a Soviet prison.

Father Ciszek wrote “ It was the grace quite simply to look at our situation from “God’s viewpoint” rather than ours….Not the will of God as we might wish it, or as we might have envisioned it, or as we thought in our poor human wisdom it ought to be. But rather the will of God as God envisioned it and revealed it to us each day in the created situations with which He presented us. His will for us was the 24 hours of each day: the people, the places, the circumstances he set before us in that time….”

Jesus didn’t worry about the Passion which was to come, about the tremendous burden which He would carry to the cross. Jesus lived each day in His Father’s will, dealing with the people, places and events which God the Father has placed before Him. 

So what do Jesus’ words mean for me? How do I use what Jesus said in the above passage to reflect on my life and be at peace with the way my life has unfolded?

Growing up in a warm and loving family, I saw my future as being full of promise, and it was, because I was born and grew up in an amazing country and was given all that was necessary to make that future for myself. However, the success which I dreamed about was not the success which I achieved. 

I grew up thinking that I was the “bright star” in my family, the one, who like my dad, was the smartest of all of my siblings. While I hoped as a young person to have a prestigious job, to be hailed by others as a great success, my life turned out differently. I became a wife and a mother and later a grandmother, a volunteer in many and sometimes unusual ways in the communities in which I have lived. I worked in my home, caring for my family and the environment in which I lived.

I struggled from time to time with the career which I chose when I married my husband. It was not a career that I dreamed about during my youth, not a career that I ever wanted. I often hoped over the years I have lived to escape from this  homemaking “career”, because I thought myself more suited to some other work which seemed more important to me and to the society in which I live. I often thought of seeking outside employment, of finding that perfect job, a job that would provide me with the success and public adulation which I wanted. There was always something standing in the way of my “escape” whether it was the immediate needs of my family, or as the years passed, the lack of advanced education which might be needed for that “perfect” job, and then finally diminished physical ability to do something different than what I had chosen so many years ago.

I have come to see that God had a Hand in my choice of a life’s career. I have come to see that the life that God helped me to choose for myself was perfect for me. I am not famous and will never be so – very few people know my name or ever will. I will never have the public adulation I thought that I wanted as a young person. But I have had the opportunity to develop innate skills and abilities I would not have developed had I worked outside my home. I have not been successful in the world as the world counts success, and yet, looking back over these many years of my life, I have found happiness.

Christ’s burden was light, because He did everything He did out of love. Jesus did only as much as His Father set before Him each day. When each day was over, Jesus thanked and praised the Father for all of the moments of His day. Jesus knew that He was successful in the eyes of the Father, because He had obeyed the Father’s will for that single day – and each day of His life. May I always do the same.

A Letter from Mary Magdalene

Dear friends,

I know that I haven’t written to you in some time, but life has been so busy and so full. Please forgive me for not writing, but you must know what has transpired lately. I will explain as much as I can, but I must warn you that what I write may sound strange and unbelievable to you.

This should have been a wonderful and joyous festival weekend – the annual festival of Passover. While it can be a busy time of year with lots of preparation for the national religious festival, I have looked forward to this time of year for the last three years – since I first met Jesus of Nazareth. He had released me from the demons which once controlled me, giving me my life back and assuring me of God’s endless love. For this gift from God I will be forever grateful.

The re-telling and the re-experiencing of our people’s miraculous release and escape from bondage in Egypt and the gift of our land from God has always been a holy time for us, a time of great joy, a time of praise and thanksgiving to our loving and ever present God. I wish that you had been here to experience it with us.

This year – this difficult Passover – has been troubling and so very painful. Our Rabbi, our Master – Jesus of Nazareth – the one we believed to be the Messiah, was arrested, tortured and put to death by the cowardly Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of our religious and civil authorities. I witnessed the horrific execution with His mother, Mary, one of His disciples, John, and some other women who followed Jesus as I did, as our Master was crucified and died a slow and agonizing death. We all tearfully accompanied Jesus’ body to a borrowed grave, given in love by Joseph of Arimathea, where our Master was hastily buried before the Passover feast began. 

There was no time before the feast to give the proper honor to Jesus’ body, to wash away the blood and dirt, to anoint His body with herbs and spices and wrap it in fine linen. Instead a sheet of fresh linen was placed under His body, large quantities of myrrh placed onto His body and the remainder of the sheet of linen used as a cover. A cloth was placed over Jesus’ bruised and battered face. Then a stone was rolled in front of the borrowed tomb just as the Sabbath and the Passover feast was beginning.

I have been in awe of Jesus’ mother Mary for some time, as I have walked next to her as we accompanied Jesus during His ministry to God’s people. I have spoken with Mary often, enjoying her company, laughing at her jokes and being amazed at the life which Mary has led. Mary’s peace and strength with all that has transpired during the three years of Jesus’ ministry gave all of Jesus’ followers the courage and determination to “walk faithfully” with our Lord. The days were long, the journeys and roads we traveled often dusty and rough. Mary became our role model as she was undaunted in her desire to follow and to serve her Son no matter the physical cost to her. As you must have guessed, Mary is no longer young, but she is still physically strong.

But this week – these few days before Passover – once we understood that Jesus would be put to death, our beloved Mary summoned all of her courage to follow her beloved Son through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha while He carried the cross on which He was to die. Mary then witnessed His humiliation and pain as her son Jesus was stripped of His garments and nailed to the cross. I could tell by Mary’s facial expression, her tears and her silent, fervent prayers that Mary suffered greatly along with her Son. I will never understand how Mary could stand there beneath the cross so resolute and determined, never flinching from the commands of the Roman soldiers to move away, for she knew that her presence would give her son Jesus some small comfort in His final hours. After a time even the Romans realized that Mary would not be moved, and they relented in their commands.

When it appeared that Jesus was dead, a Roman soldier thrust his lance through the Heart of Jesus. Mary then collapsed into the arms of John, who took Mary to his own home after Jesus was placed in the tomb. I believe Mary is still staying with John and the other disciples since her son’s death.

Once the required time of rest for the Sabbath was completed, my friends and I began the lengthy preparation of materials to give to our beloved Jesus the respect that was due to Him at His death. We purchased the spices to anoint His body, prepared water containers and clean cloths to properly wash His body – all of which we carried with us – and linen strips to wrap His body for burial as is our society’s custom. It was all we could do to finish these preparations given our grief and pain at His loss.

Our tears came so easily – we sobbed and cried all through the Sabbath day of rest. Nothing could assuage our grief and sorrow or help us to understand why our religious authorities were so hateful of Jesus. We all wondered how we would have the courage and strength to complete these final tasks for our beloved Lord, and even more, how we would live out the rest of our lives without Him.

We began our sorrowful journey to our beloved’s gravesite just as the city gates were opened, moments before dawn. It was still dark as we set out, but small rays of light were just beginning to appear over the horizon. The road to the grave is not long, but each step which we took was in great emotional pain, as we remembered and re-lived what had transpired and the difficult task which lay before us. We were in silence as we walked, keeping our deepest thoughts to ourselves. So much pain and desolation and yes, even anger at what had happened, those feelings which came from the depths of our hearts. 

What had Jesus done to deserve this evil treatment – that question replayed over and over in our minds. Our Master was kind and helpful to everyone; He healed all who asked for healing of their infirmities – Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus tried to teach us God’s way, a way subtly different from that taught by our religious authorities, who had made Moses’ Law so difficult that the common man could never follow it.

As we grew close to the tomb, we finally broke our silence and wondered if we would be able to move the stone which was placed in front of the opening. We realized that we should have brought some of the men, some of His disciples, with us. Perhaps the Roman soldiers will assist us in moving the stone, or we thought, we may find someone else who is visiting the gravesites this morning to assist us. 

As we arrived at our Master’s grave, we noticed that the Roman soldiers – mysteriously – were gone – this should not be! Roman soldiers never desert their posts, as it means a sentence of death to them. There was no one around whom we could see, but the huge stone which once covered the entrance to the tomb had been moved away.

Where was everyone, we wondered? The sun had now risen, though it still was not far above the horizon. The air was so still. There was an eerie silence around us – nothing appeared as it should. I was frightened, as were all the women who accompanied me. Should we run to find help? To whom should we go? Finally, shaking with fear, I was able to summon my courage to approach Jesus’ tomb and look in. What I saw I will never forget, not if I live forever.

Easter morning

When there is time, I will write more. For now, dear friends, may God’s peace be with you.

Mary of Magdala

Gospel of Luke Chapter 24

Luke Chapter 24 Verses 1 – 12

St Peter

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

I have read these words so many times through the years. I have tried to imagine the scene, felt the pain and sorrow and surprise of the women as they approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. I have wondered what these “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning” looked like. Would I have been afraid as well and wondered who they might be? I have read and thought about why the Apostles – the Eleven – and all the others – disciples of Jesus would not have believed the women. 

Today as I read this passage I noticed that “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb” in verse 12. No other Apostle accompanied Peter  in this version of the Resurrection account. In the Gospel of John both Peter and John run to the tomb to ascertain the women’s story. In the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark, the scene is completely different. In Matthew the women meet Jesus on their way back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven remaining Apostles to meet Jesus in Galilee. None of the Apostles return to the tomb in Matthew. In Mark – the longer ending – the disciples refuse to believe Mary Magdalen, who has given them the message that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Again no one goes to the tomb to check out her story, and as we continue to read we learn that some disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

It would be so much easier if all the accounts told the exact same story, but then it would seem as though everyone coordinated their “narrative” as the media does today. Each of the Gospel accounts is addressed to a different audience, so that might be part of the difference in the accounts. Each witness, as they do today, notices things that another person does not notice and relates the event in a different manner based on his/her own personal history and way of speaking. The basic story is the same – Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. That is what we believe.

I also found it interesting that Peter “saw strips of linen lying by themselves”. Remembering the raising of Lazarus, witnesses saw Lazarus come out of the tomb bound in strips of linen. This was the usual way Jews of that day prepared the body of the deceased for burial. So was Jesus’ body wrapped in the same way or was his body just covered front and back by a long sheet of linen – one length of the linen placed on the stone, the body of Jesus lovingly placed on top of it and the remaining part of the linen placed on top of the body? If the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus, the second method was used.

Ripping the linen into strips and winding them around the body would have taken considerable time and effort. Given that the Sabbath was fast approaching after Jesus died, it would seem more likely that the linen was not torn into strips, but Jesus’ body was placed on the long length of linen. Using this method would also make possible the anointing of the body later, as the women were prepared to do. If strips of linen were used, the body of Jesus would have had to be unwrapped before anointing and then wrapped up again. Moving a dead body, even if the person was slight of build, requires a lot of physical strength.

My original question as to why Peter went alone to the tomb has no answer that I could find or imagine. Was everyone else too afraid to accompany him or were they all still asleep as it was early in the morning? Peter may have lost his courage on the night Jesus was arrested, but if this retelling of the story is accurate, Peter has certainly found his courage again. He isn’t afraid to go to the tomb where perhaps Roman soldiers are still stationed.

We are told that of all the Apostles, Peter loved Jesus the most. His desolation at what might have happened to Jesus’ body would have been unbearable. With all the tears Peter shed on the day the Jesus died, he might not have had any left to shed.

When I reflect on this story of the empty tomb, I almost always picture the burial places of my parents. If I were told that my parents’ graves had been opened and that their bodies were missing, it wouldn’t take me long to be on my way, to check it out for myself. The time spent traveling to the location of their graves would be spent in tears and desolation, the question “why?” repeating itself over and over again. How could someone hate these two loving people so much as to disturb their final resting place? No doubt Peter thought the same about the Lord he loved so much.

Revelations Chapter 17 and 18

Heavenly father, we come to you in praise and thanksgiving. You have gathered us from the four corners of our community to share your Word and to learn from it. We thank you for the words of your prophets who pointed the way to your blessed Son Jesus. As we continue to study your Word, we pray that You will fill us with your peace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Many of you know that my sister Jean passed away unexpectedly last October. Though I went to her funeral and saw her one last time before the casket was closed, there are still moments when I cannot believe that she is gone from us. I know in my heart that my sister is with God. but sometimes I look at her photo and wonder – where is heaven? Is she truly happy? Is she with mom and dad? Has she met St. Peter? I wish then that my sister would phone me and fill me in on everything that she is experiencing, but then I remember Jean doesn’t have her address book, so she may not remember my phone number.

Our contemporary culture gives us a poor view of heaven. It shows us cartoon like pictures of people sitting on fluffy clouds plucking harp strings, and little baby angels darting to and fro, shooting tiny arrows at people in love. Not all that interesting, is it?

John’s vision of heaven, on the other hand, gives us a sense of the wonder and beauty and majesty of God’s eternal home, a home God wants to share with us. It is a place beyond our wildest dreams, where even our imaginations cannot take us. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians: …“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard….what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

In John’s vision heaven also appears to be a very busy place. Joyful Christian witnesses praise God both in song and prayer. Legions of angels hurry about fulfilling God’s commands. The prayers of the faithful on earth ascend in an unbroken stream to heaven, and God’s answers to those prayers, His blessings, descend like a gentle rain back to earth. In all this joy and beauty and activity, there is also evidence of a deadly war being waged for the souls of mankind.

The book of Revelation has shown us the army of the Lord and God’s battle plan. We have looked in awe at the magnificence and power of the leader of God’s forces – the Lord Jesus Himself. And we have been assured that the outcome of the battle is already known, for by His Cross and Resurrection, Jesus defeated the forces of evil, who are now on the run. What remains to be done, a sour own military generals would say is, “mopping up” – collecting up and removing the remaining enemies and restoring the universe to its original beauty and order. We don’t know how long this will take, as there are still battles to be fought and souls to be save. We are an important part of this war. We are the “church militant”, the church still on earth.

We have been surprised at the battle strategy of God. It can be described in just one word: “Truth”. No ak-47’s, cruise missiles or nuclear weapons needed – just Truth! “The Truth of the Word of God is so powerful that it can conquer the physical kingdoms of this world, and it breaks the dragon’s power over peoples minds.” Those who will accept the truth will be on the winning team and spend a joyous eternity in the presence of God. Those who will not accept God’s truth will spend eternity – somewhere else.

In chapter 17 of the book of Revelation, John continues the story of this war which is being fought between good and evil. He begins this chapter by describing one of God’s enemies – Babylon. This is not the true name of the enemy – for the name is code for the Roman empire.

Why did John use the name of Babylon to hide his message? Remember in our studies this year, we learned that Babylon was the first empire to desecrate and destroy the Jerusalem Temple – the place where God dwelt on earth. Those in John’s congregation would recognize the overwhelming danger which faced them. The enemy – Babylon – would attempt to destroy the new Temple of God which dwelt within every baptized Christian.

At the time of John’s writing, Rome was the most powerful nation on earth. Rome had civilized much of the known world and had conquered other great empires until it was the only one left. Among its many accomplishments, Rome had built roads to connect all of its territories and had kept the roads secure, making travel and commerce possible. It had instituted methods of governance and provided a common language for all of the conquered territories. Many of the Roman empire’s actions over the preceding centuries before Jesus’ birth, provided the means through which the Gospel had spread so quickly.

Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans that “everyone should be subject to authority. For there is no authority except from God…” (Romans 13:1-6) After the persecutions by the Romans began, John insists that Christians must oppose and resist the demands of the empire with every fiber of their being.

The Roman empire, which once had been a help to the growth of the church, was now promoting a belief that its emperor was a god. Rome demanded that its subjects, citizens and non-citizens alike, must worship the emperor publicly.

John calls Rome “the great harlot who lives near the many waters”. With the Mediterranean sea surrounding the empire’s headquarters in Rome, it could control all the profitable trade routes in the known world. Through this convenient avenue of travel, Rome could quickly send its forces wherever they were needed to quell uprisings or conquer new territories. Like a spider in its web, Rome’s tentacles reached out in every direction.

John tell us that the “inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry”. Wealth and luxurious living are powerful temptations, as we all know. It was desirable and profitable to turn from true worship of God to worship of the emperor, if that brought good living and freedom from oppression. Many Christians abandoned their faith in Jesus when the persecutions began.

John tells us that he saw a “woman seated on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names… wearing purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls…she was drunk on the blood of the holy ones and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.”

Here John has described in vivid language the state of Rome’s soul and her ultimate fate. Though Rome is rich and powerful, she has persecuted and killed Christians, and eventually she will be alone and defeated, punished for her sins. She cannot escape God’s judgment.

John saw that Rome would go the way of other empires – the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian to name only a few. These empires had ceased to exist, each one overtaken by one more powerful. The only empire which will survive is the one that John himself had preached: the kingdom of God.

In Chapter 18 John describes the fall of Rome. He sees “an angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth became illumined by his splendor.” That angel had come to deliver God’s judgment.

John tells us that many nations were in thrall to Rome. Rome’s allies, whose kings had been placed on the thrones of the conquered nations by the Roman emperor, had “drunk the wine of her licentious passion.” He is tell fellow Christians that the entire Roman Empire is not safe for them. The vassal kings will do as Rome demands to keep their power and position.

A voice from heaven warns Christians to “depart from her … so as not to take part in her sins or take part in her plagues…” But there was nowhere to go outside the Roman influence. With these words John cautioned his congregations that they must stay close to their faith, or they would suffer the same fate that awaited Rome and her allies.

The entire populace of the Roman Empire deserted their Roman connections over time. Corruption of the governing class, disregard for the well being of the people, greed and immorality rotted the nation’s core, and in so doing, Rome became vulnerable to attach from her enemies. The once glorious and powerful empire faded from history.

John’s story of vice, corruption and evil transcends time. His words have a lesson for us too. There are questions we must ask ourselves, such as “Where do we fit into this timeless story”?

We can be certain that we have been called to Christ in Baptism – Jesus knows each one of us and wants us to belong to Him. As Psalm 139 tell us: “for you formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…” And we have certainly been chosen by Christ as members of His mystical Body – His Church one earth.

Are we truly following Jesus as God requires of us? Have we allowed worldly idols to rule our lives, or do we live faithful to the Lord? We know that materialism is a powerful force which can rip us, body and soul, away from Jesus and the eternal life He offers to us.

Have we responded to the Lord’s call? Have we used the gifts given to us to spread Christ’s message? Have we been an example for Christ in the way we live our daily lives? Do we refuse to go along with the Christ? Are we willing to accept rejection by our friends or even our families, if that is what it takes to live the Word? to be true followers of Christ we must answer “yes” to these 5 questions.

The citizens of Rome must have been aware of the evil around them, yet they did nothing to stop it. Will we be like them? Can we see the evil which is almost epidemic in our culture? Will we be like the early martyrs, Agnes and Cecilia and other ancient Christians, and stand against evil when we see it, whatever form it takes?

In China and many Muslim countries, faithful Christians are standing for the truth of Christ. And many are dying for their faith. Though we live in a country which now allows us the freedom to worship as we choose, we have seen our faith being attacked from many sides even here. The time has come when we must stand up for our faith in the public sphere.

Our actions will influence the path of our lives, as it did for the early Christians. At the end of our lives, the choices we have made – whether to follow the Lamb of God or turn our back on Him, will be used to judge us.

The invasion of Rome by the Germanic tribes in the third century fulfilled John’s prophecy of destruction. The ancient Roman monuments and buildings which remain have become a symbol for the fall of a great empire. the faith of the martyrs has outlived the powerful Roman emperors and their wealth. For the faith in Jesus has spread to the four corners of the earth and will be triumphant until the Day of Judgment.

There are real challenges that you and I must face daily in our consumption-oriented world. We have been called by our Baptism to live the Gospel values which were secured by the blood of Jesus and those who walked in His footsteps.

In Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

As disciples of our Risen Lord, our future is known, and it is glorious and wonderful. Let us wait then in calm anticipation for Jesus to come and take us home.

Book of Revelation

Who can stand up for the Church and who can stand up against evil?

Revelation Chapter 6-7

This lecture was given my first year as a facilitator for our WCSS program. We were using a study series by “Catholic Scripture Study” during that time. The facilitators were given extensive notes from which to prepare the lecture. The facilitators chose what parts of the material we thought was most important and added our own material and thoughts to the lecture. After the small groups had met to discuss their study and answers to the questions posed for the chapter, the facilitators gave the lecture to the large assembled group.

“I, John, you brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom and the endurance we have in Jesus … was caught up in the spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:2-3)

St. John is at prayer when he is taken up in the Spirit. So let us begin with a prayer: “Eternal Father, anoint us with your Holy Spirit, so that as we read your Eternal Word, your Word may penetrate our whole being and transform us. Grant us the blessings to be faithful to your Word that we may be a light shining upon all who are in darkness.”

“Then I watched while the Lamb broke open the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures cry out in a voice like thunder, Come Forward.”

We have been invited, along with John, through the open door to Heaven, and are kneeling with him before the throne of God. We are overwhelmed with joy at the sight of our Creator. The light around the Father glows and shimmers and sparkles with colors and warmth and brilliance unknown on earth. The very air dances with the music and the voices of all His creation.

And then, with John, we watch expectantly, as Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, comes forward to accept the scroll from the right hand of the Father and open the seals. How awesome is His kingly bearing, His priestly garments, His fiery eyes and the light of love which illuminates His face like the sun! We are greatly blest to witness this moment!

As people attentive to the Word of God, what did the first hearers of John’s visions think of the letters and the tribulations that had been revealed by John? Did they imagine, as we did, John’s visit to Heaven? The early Christians knew that God consistently refused to reveal the future and had warned the ancient Israelites not to consult mediums and wizards. In Leviticus 19:31 the Lord had said: “If any turn to mediums or fortunetellers, prostituting themselves to them, I will set my face against them.”

John’s words are not those of a wizard or a fortuneteller. He was a man who had walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judah with the Lord, who had stood at the foot of the cross with Mary and had been present when Jesus died. John had witnessed the Lord’s empty tomb and had seen and touched the Risen Savior. He had spent many years after Jesus had returned to the Father, traveling the world. He was persecuted as he shared what he had experienced and learned at the feet of His Master – the message Christ had come to earth to teach us. God loves us.

The aim of John’s Apocalypse is very practical. It contains a series of warnings addressed to people of all times, for it views from an eternal perspective the dangers, both internal and external, which will affect the Church throughout history. The Book of Revelation uses as its starting point the persecutions which the early Christians suffered starting from the time of Nero. These persecutions continued for several centuries. Heresies and defections were the internal perils which had begun to undermine the Church.

The first thing that God gave John to “see” is that the Redeemer is triumphant, and that the faithfull are victors with Him. But God also warns John that the Church will be persecuted throughout its pilgrimage on earth, and the faithful will also suffer, if they stay united with the Lamb. The power of darkness will make war unceasingly against the Church and will do all in its power to undermine the faith of the believers.

A short history of the Church may help us to understand John’s visions. The Roman Empire had tolerated indigenous religions of their conquered subjects and had considered Christianity, since its beginnings, as a part of Judaism. But in 64 AD the emperor Nero, prompted by complaints from the Sanhedrin, ruled that Christians were not Jews, but were merely troublemakers. Unspeakable horrors awaited any Christian who would not deny his faith in Jesus Christ and worship the emperor. Many Christians died during the Roman persecutions which followed, and even more denied their Lord. Both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred during the rein of Nero.

Then in 67 AD Jerusalem revolted against Rome by refusing to offer daily sacrifices for the emperor. An enraged Nero turned his attention from the Christians to Jerusalem. He mobilized a massive Roman army to defeat the Jews and destroy Jerusalem.

Those early Christians who listened to John’s revelations did so with wide eyes and pounding hearts, for they understood the symbolic language John used and knew the dangers they faced. Some scholars believe that the revelations of John were written around 90 AD while others suggest an earlier time. Regardless of when the revelations were received, several of the seals may serve to illustrate the events surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

The first four seals have much in common. As each seal is opened, horsemen appear, each one a different color. “There was a white horse and rider and its rider had a bow. He was given a crown, and rode forth victorious to further his victories.” The horse and rider symbolize Christ’s victory in His Passion and Resurrection and personifies the final victory of the Word of God.

The second seal introduces a red horse and ride who is given a sword – a symbol for war. John states: “Its rider was given power to take peace away from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.”

The Roman historian, Josephus, describes the three political groups competing for power inside Jerusalem during the Roman siege of the city. The first of these was the Sanhedrin, and there were two different groups of zealots. The Zealots were defeated when the Temple fell, then took up their defenses in the royal palace, slaughtering 8400 of their countrymen who had taken refuge there.

When the third seal is opened, a black horse is introduced: “There was a black horse and its rider carried a scale in his hand.” This symbolism refers to the cost of food and of measuring rations and is describing famine. There was sufficient food stored in Jerusalem to withstand a 21 year siege before the Romans attacked, yet during the fighting in Jerusalem between the rival political groups, the Zealot armies destroyed one another’s food supplies. Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 3 and 1/2 years; many Jews succumbed to starvation before the walls were breached.

“There was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him.” The final image represents disease and death. With inadequate food and tainted water supplies, disease stalked the Israelites in the fortified city. Any Jew who tried to escape the walls was caught by the Romans and crucified on the surrounding hills.

The opening of the fifth seal reveals an altar and the souls of those who had given their lives for Christ beneath the altar. They cry out: “how long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood?” The heavenly altar with the victims sacrificed in the name of Christ is a direct link to the Old Testament. In the Jerusalem Temple, the blood of the victims collected beneath the altar. This image shows us that the martyrs are close to God.

The sixth seal is actually the final one, since the seventh seal repeats the previous events. “There was a great earthquake, the sun turned black as dark sackcloth and the whole moon became like blood. The stars in the sky fell to earth.” These words describe the end of political dynasties. The priesthood of the Sanhedrin was demolished and sacrificial Judaism ended forever with the destruction of the Temple. Nero was the last of the royal line of Augustus Caesar.

In chapter 7 we are witness to the infinite love of God and the knowledge that most of us will prevail in the end. We see an angel come up from the East, holding the seal of the living God.” The seal will be put on the foreheads of the servants of God. First the Israelites will be marked – 144,000 – that is, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. These are the remnant of Israel, those who by faith and good works will be given salvation.

Then John tells us: “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, form every nation, race, people and tongue.” All of those who had been marked by the angel would be protected in much the same way that the ancient Hebrews were protected in Egypt by the physical blood of the lamb placed on the doorposts and lintels. In the Christian Church the mark or seal of God may refer to the spiritual mark of Baptism, as well as that received during reception of the Eucharist, which is the blood of the Lamb placed on our souls.

While we are in the midst of earth’s history and tribulation, we should remember that worship of God is taking place in Heaven. When we participate with the priest and the faithful at Mass, we are participating also with those in heaven, repeating once again the mystery Jesus commanded us to offer in His Name.

Even at the time the St. John saw this vision of Heaven, our faith was known by God. If we finish our lives faithful to the Lord, then we were there, in St. John’s vision, just as we imagine earlier, in that great multitude praising God:

They will not hunger or thirst anymore, Nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and led them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear form their eyes.”

I pray that these words give you peace.!

Book of Micah

Imagine that on your way home today, you stop at the grocery store for a few things. Just outside the store, pacing back and forth, is a man in dusty clothes and worn out sandals. He is unshaven; his hair is long and unkempt. He looks you straight in the eye and he says: “As for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, with authority and with might;” (Micah 3:8)

What would you do? Run back to your car and drive to another store? Try to avoid the man by going in another entrance? But suppose the man is persistent and follows you to your car or into the store. Would you call the police?

That ragged, unkempt man, in another time and place, might have been the prophet Micah, approaching the rich men and women of Samaria in the market places, at the gates of the city and in the Temple of Jerusalem, all places he was called to prophesize. Who was he, they might have thought. Who made him a prophet? Weren’t there plenty of people who called themselves prophets roaming the countryside? Don’t we have our own prophets who speak more pleasantly?

Since we began our study of the Prophets of the Old Testament, I have been wondering about how the prophets were called, how they heard the Word of God and what their lives might have been like. After these few short weeks, I have gained a respect and admiration for the prophets calling and the work which they did. For those men and women, the calling by God was life changing and lifelong.

While I cannot say for certain, I have imagined that each prophet was deeply committed to the Lord even before his call to God’s service. Each prophet had surely meditated on God’s laws, and must have seen God in the work which he did and in the natural world around him. Each prophet was likely aware of what was happening in his community and the larger world and reflected deeply on those events. Each prophet looked ot God for protection and courage to carry out His will.

The imaginary prophet who confront us in front of the grocery store would likely have been taken to jail and examined by a psychiatrist. What would he tell the police and the judge? What would Micah say?

Micah defended himself when approached by other prophets and local authorities. He said of the false prophets who worked for money: “when their teeth have something to bite, announce peace, but when someone fails to put something in their mouth, proclaim war against them.” (Micah 3:5)

A true prophet spoke God’s words as a gift to his people, even if those words were unpleasant to hear, I imagine, though I cannot be sure, that those who listened to the prophet’s words provided him with food and shelter. False prophets, on the other hand, accepted money for their prophesies, fine tuning their words to the needs of the payer.

St. Thomas Aquinas has written that “The prophet’s mind is instructed by God in two ways: in one way by an express revelation, and in another way by a most mysterious instinct to “which the human mind is subjected without knowing it.”…

Express revelation is not difficult for us to imagine. We are told in the Bible that God spoke to Moses near a burning bush and then later face to face. God called Samuel while he was sleeping when he was serving Eli the prophet – we remember that story, don’t we?

The second way prophesies are given, according to St. Thomas, is more puzzling to me, for it involves God working within a person’s imagination to provide a message for His people.

Prophets had visions and dreams as we saw in Amos and Hosea and Micah. With God working through their imaginations, the prophets were able to examine the signs of the times and predict what the future would bring.

The Pope has been a prophet for our Church and for the world, warning us that by allowing contraception, we would open the door to many other evils such as abortion, stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia.

Our prophet Micah is a mysterious man. We know that his name means “who is from God”, a most appropriate name for a prophet. We know that Micah came from a small town 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem called Moresheth which was nestled in the foothills overlooking the Mediterranean. The town was controlled by the Philistines at the time of Micah and many Jews lived there.

From his writing style scholars deduce that Micah was an educated man, possibly from a family of land owners. Micah may have been one of the elders of the people or even one of the judges at the city gate, responsible for defending the rights of his small town against the royal officials from Jerusalem.

Micah did not mince any words in his prophesies, and yet, there is something poetic about the way his words are put together. His work as a prophet lasted more than 50 years through the reign of three kings. Just like Amos and Hosea, Micah preached against the social sins and moral corruption of the wealthy and powerful, the surface religion of the leaders and the prophets who prophesied for pay.

The Book of Micah is divided into three parts: 1) the impending judgment of the Lord against His people because of their sins, 2) the glory of the restored Israel, and 3) the case against Israel in which God is the plaintiff and Israel the defendant.

There is a definite structure to how the chapters are presented. Each of these three parts begins with a reproach for Israel’s sins but each part ends with a note of hope and salvation. Each part begins with the admonition to “hear” what God is revealing. If you red carefully, you will notice how often the voices change – at times Micah speaks for himself, sometimes he speaks for God and sometimes Israel answers for itself.

It is believed by scholars that the book of Micah contains the work of several authors, perhaps some later writers who were disciples of Micah. The Later authors added material after the Israelites had returned from captivity in Babylon. Even though there are several authors, the Word is the inspired Word of God, who lovingly wrote the Bible through willing human authors.

As Micah begins his ministry, he has a vision of what will happen to the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. With great power and majesty God will come down from the heavens to proclaim judgment on the sins of Israel and Judah. Micah’s words present a visual image of God’s overwhelming power to us. “the Lord comes forth from his place, he descends and treads upon the heights of the earth. The mountains melt under him and the valley split open,” (Micah 1:4)

As Micah preached, he spoke forcefully of the sins of the rulers, priests and prophets. Money lenders exacted exorbitant fees for loans, sometimes taking a person’s land, which was given by Joshua, for payment of loans; merchants stole from the people by falsifying weights and measures; the leaders and judges took bribes to make their decisions; the priests and prophets failed in their duty to instruct the people in God’s laws.

Reading about the sins of the elite of Israel sounded familiar to me – like a page out of yesterday’s newspaper. Nothing much has changed over the centuries.

These unjust leaders of the people used their positions for power and wealthy and yet would say to themselves and to the people: “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil can come upon us.” (Micah 3:11b)

Micah tells Samaria that she will be left a stone heap in the fields, statues broken, and idols destroyed. He warns both Israel and Judah that neglect of God’s laws and His true worship will bring punishment. He says that God’s punishment will be delivered by the Assyrians, showing the Israelites that all nations do God’s will, even if they do not know Him. All of the people, even the innocent, will suffer because of the leader’s sins.

In Chapters 4 and 5, Micah gives the people hope, foretelling that there will be a remnant remaining, that the Israelites will again occupy the land promised to Abraham. He tells of many nations and peoples joining the restored Jerusalem and making their way to the mount where God dwells, to be instructed in His ways.

The theme of the remnant of Israel is found often in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. After the Israelites return to their ancestral lands, we read of the faithful remnant, a portion of the people who will be heir and depository of the ancient promises of Yahweh.

To Micah had been given the honor of announcing the birthplace of the Messiah, the true ruler of Israel. Bethlehem may have been small and humble, yet the town had been the birthplace of David, Israel’s greatest king and would be the birthplace of an even greater king than David.

“But to you Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from old from ancient times.”(Micah 5:1)

From this little town a unique, exceptional person will emerge – the Servant of Yahweh, bho by His redemptive death will accomplish the mission entrusted to the faithful remnant. Micah had foretold Israel’s Messiah 700 years before His birth. As Micah prophesized: “he will be peace“!

In Chapter 6 and 7, Micah presents us with an imaginary courtroom drama, in which God is the prosecutor and Israel the defendant. Like a mother scolding her children, god asks the defendant: “O my people. what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you?

Then God reminds Israel of all that she has received from Him – freedom from slavery in Egypt, a prosperous and fertile land, prophets and priests to guide her, kings to defend her and a loving God be to always at her side. Yet Israel still walked away from her God and savior, worshiping false gods which were created by human hands.

Like a spoiled child, Israel replied to the charges: “shall I give my first born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:7) God then responds to Israel’s defensiveness with words which have echoed across time: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you; Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 7:18)

Throughout the history of mankind from Adam and Even through the prohets and then to Jesus, God has given us the same message. God will be our friend and constant companion, if only we will love Him and keep His commandments.

In the final courtroom scene Israel is declared guilty of her sins. She realizes her lack of commitment to the Covenant and accepts the punishments due her. Israel sees that her sins have separated her from God. Het praising her Creator, she knows that God will always keep His part of the Covenant relationship. “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of His inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever,…” (Micah 7:18)

Remember our imaginary grocery store prophet, the man we met on our way home from Bible study? Even though the authorities took him away, did he make any impression on us? Or did we just dismiss him as a crazy person?

Do we recognize that God is still speaking to us, still giving prophesies through our Pope or through other holy people? Do we listen to their words or just dismiss them as not being pertinent to our modern world? And what of Micah’s words – do they ring as true today as they did so many centuries ago? Is God still speaking to us through Micah? Or is this book of prophesy just and interesting history lesson for us? Those are all important questions for us to answer. How will you answer?

Ruth – WCSS study

We will be studying the Book of Ruth in our Scripture Study class this week. I have read the Bible passages several times and answered the questions after the commentary. Today I decided to slowly read it in the Adoration Chapel. There were some passages which became more clear to me as I read. Perhaps as the author above says, it was “the still, small voice of God speaking to me” through His words.

In Chapter 1 we are told of the experiences of the family of Elimelech. He and his family seek refuge in Moab because of the famine in their home town of Bethlehem. The family includes a father, mother and two sons – perhaps fairly young. Some time after their arrival in Moab, the father Elimelech dies and the sons Malon and Chilion marry Moabite women. After about ten years both of the sons died. Neither of the sons’ wives had given birth to children or the Bible would have spoken of them.

Naomi, the mother, decides to return to Bethlehem. Her two daughters-in-law travel with her.  Naomi is now truly alone, for there is no one close to her who knows who she truly is – a daughter of Abraham. Who shares her culture, her thoughts, her knowledge of the God of Abraham, to whom can she truly speak the feelings of her heart? Much like my grandmother was after all her friends and family had died – no one knew the world as she did. No one. Such a life is a truly lonely life.

As the women proceed on their way, Naomi instructs the younger women to go back to their birth families, so that they can seek new husbands. Naomi decides she must travel the way alone. She is desolate and without hope, for she knows that she is too old to marry or have children. She can offer nothing to the two women who accompany her – she is probably penniless as women did not inherit their husband’s property. Perhaps in Naomi’s mind, she thinks she might die on the journey to Judah. A woman traveling alone, then as now, was a target for unscrupulous and violent men. Perhaps that is acceptable to Naomi, for she sees no future for herself here or in Bethlehem; she is consumed by grief. In a gesture of love she attempts to send the two younger women, Orpah and Ruth, away. She blesses the women and prays that God will grant them a husband and a home. The two younger women don’t want to leave Naomi, for over time they have come to love her. Naomi is convinced that God has done this to her, that “He has extended His hand against her” in taking Naomi’s family away from her.

The distance between Moab and Bethlehem is between 30 and 60 miles, depending on where the starting point was. This would have taken between 7 and 10 days to make the journey if one was walking.

Orpah finally is persuaded to leave, but Ruth cannot be persuaded. Naomi says to Ruth, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god.” When Orpah and Ruth married Naomi’s sons, they accepted and worshiped their husbands God (probably the custom of the time). By returning to their own people Orpah and Ruth would return to their own people’s ways and worship the god of the Moabites. Ruth refuses to go and makes the most astounding statement: “wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people and your God my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there be buried.” Ruth is willing to give up everything – family, friends, a future and to be buried among her people – for love of Naomi. One could ponder what kind of life Ruth had before marrying Naomi’s son? What had Ruth seen and experienced in Naomi’s home? How was it different from the life she had known before? Those questions cloud the real reason for Ruth’s drastic and courageous choice – love of Naomi.

In the time that Ruth lived with Naomi’s family, she had come to know their God. And God, we are told, gave to Ruth the gift of faith in Him. By traveling with Naomi, Ruth gives the older woman Naomi a gift as well – a reason to live, if not for herself, then for Ruth. No more can Naomi wait for or hope for death in the wilderness. She must live for Ruth, for she loves Ruth as a daughter and would not leave her to face the hostile wilderness alone.

Book of Jeremiah

“Do me justice, O Lord!

For I have walked in integrity,

And in the Lord I trust without wavering.

Search me, O Lord, and try me;

test my soul and my heart.

Gather not my soul with sinners,

Nor with men of blood my life.

On their hands are crimes,

And their right hands are full of bribes.

But I walk in integrity:

Redeem me, and have pity on me.

My foot stands on level ground;

In the assemblies I will bless the Lord. – Psalm 26

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Franciene McDonald. When I introduce myself or hear my name spoken, I often wonder who is that woman? For almost 40 years my husband has called me “sweetie” and for almost that long my daughter has called me “mom”, so the woman “Franciene” seems like a stranger to me.

Does the meaning of a person’s name designate anything about that person? My own name means “free one” and is French in origin. My dad’s baptismal name was Francesco, and he was of Sicilian descent. He used the American name “Frank” throughout his life. I am not quite sure where Franciene fits in here. Maybe mom and dad just liked the sound of it.

In the Hebrew language all names had a significance. Individuals were given a name which was expressive of some characteristic or hope for the newborn child. These personal names were solemnly and carefully chosen. For example, Jacob, second son of Isaac means “supplanter”. the Bible tells us that Jacob was holding onto his twin brother Esau’s heel as they were being born, and later Jacob stole his brother Esau’s inheritance by pretending to be him. The name Jeremiah means “Yahweh has uplifted”. With such a glorious name, could God have chosen any other destiny for Jeremiah?

When the city of Jerusalem was first conquered by the Babylonians in 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar deposed the reigning king Jehoiachin and placed on David’s throne the king’s uncle, Mattaniah. The Babylonian tyrant then renamed Mattaniah. By giving the new king a new name, Nebuchadnezzar was making clear to whom the king owed allegiance. Mattaniah was renamed Zedikiah, a name which means “justice of Yahweh”.

The Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, exiled its lawful king along with most of the educated people and artisans to Babylon. They had taken great treasure from the city and imposed a tribute tax on the city’s inhabitants. Is renaming the new king “Zedekiah” an attempt by Nebuchadnezzar to remind the Jews that their own God had ordained their downfall and conquest by the Babylonians? (The justice of Yahweh)

In the 52 chapters of the Book of Jeremiah, oracles alternate with passages of history which confirm and illustrate the prophecies. The book of Jeremiah, as we have it, does not follow a chronological order. St Jerome, who translated the Bible for us , tells us that Jeremiah is more a collection of writings than it is a book. The oracles were dictated by Jeremiah to his scribe Baruch in 605 BC, although the prophecies actually go back to the year Jeremiah began his ministry in 626 BC.

God’s call came to Jeremiah while he was still an adolescent. At that time the kingdom of Judah was about to collapse. King Josiah instituted sweeping religious reforms which had restored the nation. For more than 40 years, until Jeremiah’s death in Egypt, the prophet remained faithful to his calling. Jeremiah’s writings overflow with spontaneity and simplicity, and he shows a most touching love for his people.

Jeremiah finds it difficult to understand why he has to suffer, why God is so slow to come to his assistance. The greater Jeremiah’s obedience to the task God has given him, the more he suffers. In chapter 38 we read:

“and so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah which was in the quarters of the guard, letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.”

The source of Jeremiah’s faithfulness to God is his elevated concept of Him. Jeremiah asserts vigorously that there is only one God; he rejects idolatry and religious syncretism which were practices he saw within his own people. (To my mind syncretism is an acceptance of all religions as equally true.) Even Jeremiah’s oracles against foreign nations proclaim God’s omnipotence.

God’s call to Jeremiah changes him. this shy, sensitive man stands before the king of Israel and repeats the words God has given him to say:

“your eyes and your heart are set upon covetousness, and upon shedding innocent blood, and upon oppression, and running after evil works…Therefore, thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakin — He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, rotten and cast forth without the gates of Jerusalem.”

I am like Jeremiah in some ways’ I am shy and introspective, and the spoken word is often difficult for me. The study of John last year was wonderful and life changing, for here I am today, standing in front of you and speaking to you. God can change each of our lives, if we learn to listen to His voice and follow His call.

In exodus chapter 19:4-6, Moses repeats God’s words to Israel – “You have seen how I treated the Egyptians, how I bore you up on eagle’s wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other peoples, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priest, a holy nation.”

In Jeremiah’s time the Jews failed to honor their history or faithfully practice their religion. They gave only lip service to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jewish people ignored the promises their ancestors had made to God, finding solace in gods they made themselves.

God sent the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and others to bring the Jewish nation back to Him.

We have seen how the Jews did not listen to the prophets, and as a consequence, the people lost their freedom and their temple, just as God had warned. But God had another plan for this ancient people, a plan He had from the very ginning of history, a plan even more wonderful than anyone had ever dreamed about.

IN one of the most hopeful and glorious passages from all the prophetic books, Jeremiah states that God promises a new covenant with his people.

“It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt, for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself the master…But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days …I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

There would be a restoration of Israel, not because the people deserved it, but because the Lord loved them. The new covenant Jeremiah promised will come with the Messiah. It will be a return to the fidelity and the intimacy of the early times in the desert. However, the new Israel will grow only out of a remnant of the people, who have stayed true to the covenant. Some 600 years after Jeremiah’s prophesy, this remnant would produce Jesus, a Man unlike any other man before or since.

Jeremiah became an example of a life of prayer lived from the heart. He prays when he sees the danger that threatens his nation; he begs men to join him in extolling Divine Justice which punishes the evil doer. He asks God to come to his aid, because he realizes that he can do nothing without God’s favor. (18:19) He teaches others that humble, trusting prayer is always effective. (37.3)

In chapter 12 Jeremiah asks God: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Those are questions we all ask. and like Jeremiah, we all complain; we all want to avoid suffering; we all expect God to answer our prayers of petition right away.

We are urged by our Church to pray from the heart and to pray frequently. Our Christian prayer is the new covenant relationship between God and man in Christ.

Remember from our study of John last year – the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus revealed the wonder of prayer in that story, for we, like the Samaritan woman, come seeking water. There at the well, Christ comes to meet us. It is Christ who asks us for a drink, as he did the Samaritan woman.

Our prayer of petition to “give me of this living water”, is a response to the plea of God who first asked us. Our prayer for the living water becomes a response of faith to the free promise of salvation, a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God.

How awesome and wonderful is our God! He, who created all things, who is complete in Himself, seeks us first and offers us a relationship to Him!

According to Holy Scripture, it is the heart that prays. In our own times we think of the mind as the center of our being. But according to the Bible, our heart is the place “to which we withdraw” to pray. Our heart is our place of decision, our place of truth, our place of encounter with God, and our place of covenant with Him. Our heart is our dwelling place where we are and where we live. If our heart is far from God, our words of prayer are in vain.

Prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father, with His Son Jesus and with the Holy Spirit. Our life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy god and in communion with Him. It is possible, because through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ.

Jeremiah’s life will remain forever as a symbol of the route we must take to attain true happiness. In Jesus light is at last shed on this mystery for He says to us: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24-25)

Jeremiah prophecies were spread among the Jews still in exile in Babylon. The example of his life, more than his teaching, became a fire that permeated the bones of Israel after the exile and prepared the way for Jesus, who came to cast a similar fire on earth.

Finally, in chapter 29, God speaks to all of us through Jeremiah:

“For I knew well the plans I have in mind for you… Plans for your welfare, not for your woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope! When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, You will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, You will find me with you…”