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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Cross in Christmas, Not the Nightmare Before!

by Susan Fox
Larry, James and I celebrated the week before Christmas at Disneyland. Excessive rain and crowds made the trip a little tough and drippy. The Haunted Mansion ride has been redecorated as the Nightmare Before Christmas with Sandy Claws. What a parody of the truth! The ride is designed to instill fear within children about Christmas, while the true message of Christmas gives us hope and courage. So the highlight of the week for me was the sermon on courage at Sunday Mass at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2010.

The sermon's setting was significant. I attended first grade at this school in 1959-60. It was two years after my father died, my mother had to work and I went to daily Mass so she could get to work early.

St. Boniface recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. It was 100 years old when I attended grade school there. I remember they said three Masses simultaneously on all three front altars in Latin. I always attended the left altar Mass. That sounds very funny now because Vatican II ended that practice. We have only one Mass said at one time. The left altar at St. Boniface has been replaced with the tabernacle and the right altar with the Nativity crèche.

The church had been redecorated since 1960. So in order for me to recognize it, I had to exit through the door behind the left altar and look at the steps as I remembered rushing down those, running for the bathroom when Mass was over. I suffered during those Masses as I always had to go to the bathroom, but I was too young and shy to realize it was okay to leave during Mass. Somehow the Catholic understanding of suffering had been explained to me at the age of six, so I offered my pain in union with the sufferings of Christ, and I embraced the cross. What a gift. In subsequent years, I sometimes fled the cross. It's never easy to face our fear and suffering.

When I attended St. Boniface, I'm sure that most of the people were white. Now they are mostly brown and of various nationalities. The priest who gave the sermon was Vietnamese. My husband greeted him in that language as he has made a point of learning some phrases from our Vietnamese friends.

Actually, the young priest was once a child who escaped Vietnam as a refugee in a boat. Literally, the man saying Mass at St. Boniface was one of those suffering boat people! The reading for the day was about St. Joseph. You remember he discovered that Mary, his betrothed was pregnant and he decided to divorce her quietly. Why? Because he knew he wasn't the father. But an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife as the child within her womb was conceived by God not by man. Hence the sign promised to King Ahaz was fulfilled: A Virgin shall be with Child.

Joseph overcame his fear and took Mary into his home, and hence he became the foster father and provider for the Son of God. And so there was suffering in that first Christmas, but Joseph overcame his fear and trusted in God.

The Vietnamese priest said when he was a little boy he was very afraid of the dark. And his family had a very dark cellar. One day his mother asked him to get a can of tomatoes from the cellar, and he told his mother he was afraid of the darkness in the cellar. She told him not to be afraid because Jesus was in the cellar. So the little boy descended the stairs and stood at the doorway of the cellar and yelled, "Jesus! If you are in there, please hand me a can of tomatoes."

He was trying to explain how we can be very afraid in certain situations, but we have to learn to trust God. Later, this priest as a young boy was in a boat escaping Viet Nam and there was a terrible storm. The waves were rocking the boat, almost overturning it. One little boy was almost dying with fear, and another was so relaxed he was almost asleep. The terrified boy asked the relaxed boy why he wasn't afraid. And he said, "Because my father is the pilot of this boat!"

If we could all realize that Our Father in heaven is the pilot of our boat perhaps we would relax more and enjoy this life. It is short.

But I was amazed that God arranged for a sermon on suffering in the church in which I had suffered! I felt like I died and came back to earth to see the changes. All the suffering seems to have paid off as the liturgy at the St. Boniface was absolutely lovely. The music and chant drew me into prayer instead of distracting me as it does in other local churches. That's why I enjoyed St. Boniface. In prayer, Jesus and I can return to the St. Boniface of 1959 and converse about old times. I always wondered what Moses and Elijah had to say to Jesus at the Transfiguration. I guess they were discussing the cross. The Bible says they were discussing Jesus' exodus from Jerusalem. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in their Exodus. Jesus led us from the slavery of sin by His suffering on the cross - His exodus from Jerusalem.

I faced the dark cellar in 1959 when I attended Mass in suffering refusing myself access to a bathroom. The young priest faced his fears in a boat when he came to America to grow up and preach the gospel. St. Joseph faced his fears when he took a pregnant Mary for his bride. This year, I feel like I faced a similar fear when I nearly died and had heart surgery. This issue of fear and suffering plagues us our whole lives long. The solution is to trust in God and to realize He doesn't look at suffering the way we do. To Him, it's a means to fulfill our purpose in life - to know, love and be imitators of God, Who Himself suffered and died on the cross.

There is a famous Italian saint, called Padre Pio. He suffered the wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and head for 50 long years. He also fought with the devil - literally. One night as the devil was pummeling him yet again, he noticed his guardian angels were happily flying around the ceiling and singing. When the devil left he asked his good angel why he didn't help him fight the devil. The angel said he did fight -- by praising God. That's the difference between this life and the next. We glorify God with our suffering in this life and with our happiness and singing in the Presence of God in the next life. To believe otherwise would make us bitter, angry and resentful.

We adore thee O Christ and bless thee because by the Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world!

God bless you.
Susan Fox

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mary's Role in Salvation: The New Eve

by Susan Fox
What an amusing time I had reading the web page run by the Evangelical Outreach on the titles of Mary.
They very correctly identified the fact that many Catholic titles of Mary like Morning Star and Help of Christians are identified with the actions of God in the Bible. “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6)
Furthermore, they concluded many Catholic titles of Mary like Gate of Heaven and Refuge of Sinners show that Mary has a role to play in our salvation. However, they erroneously decided that “Mary is never included with Jesus in the Scriptures as having even the slightest role in salvation.” I wonder if we are reading the same Bible!
By the very fact that the Bible says that God sent the angel Gabriel to a Virgin in Nazareth to ask her to be the Mother of His Son, God involved Mary in our salvation. What could be more obvious than that? No Mary, no Jesus.
Not that God needed Mary, but He wanted her cooperation and that is what she offered: “Behold the handmaid (servant) of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Just because we recognize her role in salvation and have given her many titles that reflect what God does, Catholics still do not worship Mary. The Catholic Church teaches that all true devotion to Mary is Christ centered. If Mary were the end of our devotion and not the means, we would be idolaters. Christ as God has the power. It was His sacrifice on the cross that brought our salvation. We agree on that! Mary as human being and mother simply cooperated in our salvation. As such, she is the perfect model of a disciple of Christ. She is the Untarnished Image of the Church. “Do whatever He tells you,” she told the servants at the wedding feast of Cana. (John 2:5)
The Bible identifies Mary cooperating in our salvation in many other places. Her role was foretold in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”
Some translations say, “he” shall crush your head and some say “she” or “it.” But the serpent crushing action comes from the Woman and her Seed. The Seed is Jesus Christ. He is God. He has the power. But the Woman is allowed to share in this crushing role -- this defeat of evil leading to our salvation. Her role is cooperative. And as our early Church Fathers remarked there is a justice in having Jesus and Mary joining together to bring about our salvation. For it was through a man (Adam) and a woman (Eve) that sin came into the world. Hence, a man and a woman were needed to repair the damage of sin. It was Eve’s “No” that brought sin into the world. It was Mary’s “Yes” that brought Christ and his redeeming sacrifice on the cross. Hence, Mary is called the “New Eve.” And Christ is called the “New Adam.”
You, who are reading this, are human beings. Yet you may be involved in raising children or some chore helping to bring God’s salvation to the world. God doesn’t need you to do this work. But He wants to share the joy of His work with you. "My Father goes on working and so do I," Jesus said. (John 5:17) And when the apostles brought food to Jesus after his conversation with the woman at the well, He said “I have food to eat that you don't know about." (John 4:32) She had just repented of living with a man after having five husbands, and she went to tell the village about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" (John 4:29) Jesus’ food, His joy was bringing salvation to the people! Why does He let you help Him bring the Gospel to all peoples? He doesn't need you. He can do it without you. But God delights to work with nothing. He lets us cooperate with Him in bringing His salvation to the world. And if us, then why not Mary, His mother?
Mary is simply the best model, the first example of the Christian disciple. She responded perfectly. And yes, she was without sin because if she had any sin she would have exploded the minute the Seed was conceived in her womb. Think about David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. What was the Ark? Containing manna, the rod of Aaron and the 10 commandments, it was the tabernacle holding the Real Presence of God among the Jewish people.
The ark started to slip from its pallet and fall and one of David's men tried to catch it with the motive of protecting it. But he died instantly. Why? He had sin. Nothing with sin can touch God and live. "Nothing defiled shall enter heaven." (Rev. 21:27)
But Mary is identified in the first chapter of Luke as "FULL OF GRACE." The angel Gabriel says, Hail (Hello) and addresses her with the title "Full of Grace." Why? She has no sin. She is all full of God alone. To be the mother of Jesus Christ -- true God and true man -- she must be sinless. So the Church calls her the New Ark of the Covenant.
How was Mary conceived without sin? Medieval Theologian John Duns Scotus explained it best. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was applied to Mary at her conception. How? God is outside time. He is in eternity. While she was redeemed like the rest of us by Jesus Christ on the cross, yet the sacrifice was applied to her before His death on the cross by God, who was preparing the Woman and Her Seed from the first moments in mankind's history to bring salvation to the world.
Revelation Chapter 12 gives you a replay of the same thing. At the end of Chapter 11, the Ark of the Covenant is seen in heaven. My goodness, the Ark hasn't been seen for hundreds of years. The Jews lost it. Then it appears in heaven at the end of Revelation Chap. 11. Then the next line is: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Ah, here again is the Woman of Genesis 3:15, a cooperative human woman doing feats that only God could accomplish by God's power not her own.
She is wailing in pain while she is about to give birth to a Son while a red dragon waits to swallow both of them. This woman is Mary, who cooperates in our salvation as a human being. But it is also the Catholic Church herself, and the pain is the struggle involved in our salvation – the salvation of the members of the Body of Christ. Mary -- being without sin -- probably did not suffer the pangs of childbirth in Christ's delivery. But in trying to bring the Body of Christ into eternity, there is a lot of suffering.
At the end of Chapter 12, the devil is very grumpy standing angrily on the beach. He goes off to make war against the Woman's other children; the one's who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
If this describes you, then God is Our Father and Mary is Our Mother. She is a human being, but as such she was given the opportunity to represent us, to be the one creature who said YES to God when Adam and Eve said NO, allowing sin and death to enter the world.
Another such figure as Mary is Abraham – a human being who said YES to God. He was willing to offer his son Isaac as an offering to God when asked. He was obedient to God. That is why he is called our father in faith. But Isaac hauling the wood up the mountain, asks his father Abraham, “Father where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answers, "God Himself will supply the lamb for the sacrifice." (Gen. 22:8)
Without realizing how prophetic his words are, Abraham believes he is about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But God intervenes and provides Abraham with another sacrifice, a ram. But those words -- “God Himself will supply the lamb for the sacrifice” -- those words resonate down through the centuries and we realize that God Himself so loved the world He gave His Only Son. There was no ram caught on a bush to replace Jesus' Sacrifice on the Cross. In the death of Jesus Christ, God the Father actually made the sacrifice that He symbolically demanded of Abraham.
Now if Catholics gazed adoringly at Mary just for the purpose of worshiping her, that would be idolatry. But no, we fully expect her to be a sinless means to a Great End. She will take us to God. And that is what we want. We want God with our whole mind, heart, strength and being! And Mary is a means to that end. Do you not ask your friends to pray for you? My goodness, who are they but sinful weak people like ourselves? Why not ask the Woman who gave birth to the God who taught us to "HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER?” Would not such a God honor His mother and listen to your request more readily than if you asked Him directly while in all your sins?
All the great titles of Mary, and there are many of them, express the idea that she is cooperating in God's action. So yes, they seem to be strongly related to God Himself, but the power is God's. He has simply allowed Mary to participate in His action, and because she did so perfectly without falling into sin, she is honored, not worshiped. For if she had failed, so would Christ not come into the world and we would not now have the opportunity to accept our salvation from God.
Abraham's faith was rewarded for his children are a numerous as the stars. Mary's faith is rewarded also because at the foot of the Cross, she is made the New Eve, Mother of Mankind, when her Son says to John, "Behold, Your Mother!"
New Eve, Virgin crushing the head of the serpent, pray for us.
And that, my friends, is a title for Mary.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Three Amigos: An Eclectic View on Angels

by Lawrence Fox

Angel of God my guardian dear, to whom God’s Love commits me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard and to rule and guide.

Three Visible Amigos to the Rescue

My wife informed me that I was to meet her at the car dealer at 5:30 p.m. So after school, I adroitly got in my car and traveled off to meet her. While in transit, suddenly I picked up in my peripheral vision an impending scuffle on the opposite side of the roadway.

I slowed up the car, glanced left, and noticed about six or seven youths ready to pounce on two lanky looking youths. I pulled my car into the middle turn section of the roadway, sounded the car horn, turned on the emergency flasher, got out of the car and yelled, “Get into my car!”

And so they started to run towards my car along with their pursuers. I noticed that two of the ring leaders stayed behind. I wanted to help these youths and at the same time, I recognized the risk of getting into real trouble if someone started to throw fists. In other words, I was not really prepared to deal with the impeding situation. So while surrounded by several miscreants telling me to mind my own business, I prayed in my spirit: “I need a little help here!”

Immediately, three amigos ran up and started to wail on the two ring leaders who had stayed behind. I remember the enthusiasm with which the three amigos executed their task. It was like something out of a Marvel comic: “You want to fight? SMACK @#$% “You want to hit on someone?” POW $@#!

As a result, the miscreants scattered away from my car and headed towards bedlam. I gained my composure and instructed the two lanky kids to get into my car and off we drove. They were so relieved and I was so grateful that nothing else happened.
I cannot state with certainty whether the three amigos were angels or men but the timing was obviously supernatural.

One Invisible Amigo to the Rescue

Many years earlier while walking home from grade school, I was about to turn from the curb and head into the street. I must have been day dreaming or something. I was grabbed from behind and stopped one step from the curb. In a flash a metro bus zoomed past me. If I would have stepped into the street I would have been “food for worms.” Who grabbed me? I could see no corporeal person around. Again the timing was supernatural.

Should I be surprised?

Sacred Scripture time and again speaks of God’s intervention in the lives of men and women; sending his messengers both Angels and Archangels to protect, guide, instruct, and to encourage. The Catholic Catechism Article 336 states that from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. With each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.

Sometimes these messengers appear and announce good tidings like the gift of a child as was the case with Abraham & Sara, Zacharias & Elizabeth, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Sometimes these messengers appear to execute God’s judgment like at Sodom, in Egypt during the Passover, and with the tribulations described in the Book of Revelation. Sometimes these messengers assist men in battle like the Prince of the Host of the Lord assisting Joshua after Israel crossed the River Jordan.

Sometimes these messengers provide sustenance and comfort to weary souls: like the angel bringing water to Hagar & Ishmael and the angels that came to minister to Jesus after his 40 days of fasting in the desert.

We easily remember these supernatural moments knowing that God has intervened and sent his messenger. Yet, God is always acting in our lives with every breath we take.

I have been told that the sure ticket to heaven is to demonstrate gratitude to God for his constant Love and Protection and to thank God for all the ways He guides and protects us through the various creatures and persons He brings into our lives.

Blessed be God in his Angels and His Saints.

One way that the Catholic Church helps us to live a life of gratitude is through our participation in her various liturgical celebrations: Solemnities, Feast Days, and Memorials.

Two such Feast Days are the Feast of St. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels on September 29th and the Feast of Guardian Angels on October 2nd.

Three Amigos in Heaven

We learn from the Deposit of Faith that St. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are Archangels (rulers or princes).

The Church identifies these archangels as saints. The term “saint” means holy and set apart. The Catholic Church sets these three angels apart in the liturgical calendar because they are set apart in Sacred Scripture for they are specifically named among the myriad and myriad of good angels which make up the nine choirs of angels (not in any order): angels, archangels, virtues, thrones, powers, principalities, dominions, cherubim, and seraphim.

Sacred Scripture specifically identifies these three archangels by name: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, incorporating the Hebrew expression of God “El”. There are three Hebrew names for God: El, Elohim, and Eloah. The proper name for God is Yahweh (IAM).

Note: Sacred Scripture also identifies by name certain bad angels but not for our curiosity but as a warning and that is for another topic.

“Who is like God?”

Michael's name is an interrogative expression, "Who is like God?" And his name seems to be based upon the fact that he fights against those who oppose God with his own brand of humility. His battle cry against Satan and his minions who rebelled against God must have been: “Who is like God that you dare to challenge Him?”

We find St. Michael spoken of by name in the Book of Daniel, the Letter of Jude, and the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Daniel it is the Archangel Gabriel who identifies St. Michael as the one of the chief princes in heaven and the great prince of the people of Israel (Daniel 10:7-21, 11:2, 12:3).

In the Book of Revelation (12:7) we learn of war in heaven between St. Michael and his angels and the dragon and his followers. The battle is fought and St. Michael and the good angels cast the dragon (the ancient serpent called the devil or Satan) and his demons out of heaven and to the earth. Pope Leo the XIII was given a vision of this battle and as a result composed the St. Michael the Archangel prayer.

St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. And may God rebuke him, we humble pray. And do thou oh prince of the heavenly host by the divine power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirit that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen!

Our Pastor leads the congregation in the recitation of this prayer after Mass here at St. George’s Roman Catholic Parish in Apache Junction, AZ. I get the sense that God is pleased with this practice.

I remember reciting this prayer to my Baptist friend named Michael and he said: “Baptists do not pray to angels.” I asked him: “Does not the Bible state that St. Michael battles against the devil and wins? Do you not understand that God deliberately reveals to us this task of St. Michael’s in Sacred Scripture? And is not the devil still around harassing us? Then it seems that since God has assigned him this task, and we are God’s children by adoption, we would be fools not to encourage St. Michael to kick butt in our defense.

St. Jude writes that we are to be humble in our language even when dealing with evil. It is from the Letter of St. Jude (1:9) we read that when Moses died, the Archangel Michael disputed with the devil over the body of Moses. We learn from Sacred Scripture that Moses the servant of the Lord died in the land of Moab. And the people of Israel buried him in Gai near the house of Phogor; and no one has seen his sepulcher to this day (Deuteronomy 34:5).

It seems that God collected and transported the body of Moses but where we do not know. There are apocryphal books which attempted to provide some of the missing data: the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch which may have been referenced in this Letter of St. Jude.

It is speculated that it is St. Michael who stands with his sword drawn and proclaims to Joshua that he is the Prince of the Host of the Lord (Joshua 5:14). The presence of this Prince of the Host overcomes Joshua who places his face to the ground.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 101

The Watchtower Society teaches that Michael was the word of god (a god) with the god (Jehovah) in the beginning. This is why Watchtower Society manipulates into their New World Translation John 1:1 (and the word was a god). That god (Jehovah) then changed this divine Michael into the human Jesus - from god’s (Jehovah) memory of Michael. This human Jesus did not have a soul since no human person has a soul [sic] according to Watchtower Society teaching. And after Jesus died on the cross and was buried, the god (Jehovah) took the lifeless body of Jesus away so his followers would not commit idolatry, worshiping the body of Jesus (similar to the reason given for the missing body of Moses). And then the god (Jehovah) created a new spirit being from god’s (Jehovah) memory of Jesus and this new spirit being is sometimes identified as Jesus and sometimes as Michael.

Like the followers of Mohamed, the Watchtower Society denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Fourth Century, the Gnostic presbyter and heretic Arius taught (like the Jewish Gnostic Ebionites centuries earlier) that Michael was the first creature that God created. And through this creature Michael, God then created all other creatures.

Speaking of creation, when did God create the angels?

After reciting the Canticle of Daniel 3:57-88, 56 (All you works of the Lord, O Bless the Lord..) over and over, I finally understood that the Jews identifying in Sacred Scripture that God created the angels before He created the material world.
The Canticle of Daniel describes the sequence of God’s creation starting with the angels, then the heavens, the clouds, the armies of the Lord, sun and moon, stars, showers, the earth, the land, the seas, sea creatures, birds, land beasts, men, priests, servants of the Lord, spirits and souls of the just, and finally leading up to his martyrs Ananias, Azarias, and Mizael.

Gabriel means “Strength of God.”

We find St. Gabriel spoken of by name in the Book of Daniel and the Gospel of Luke. St. Gabriel brings to the prophet Daniel many revelations about the people of Israel and the coming of the Messiah. Daniel is a Jew in exile and living in Nineveh. He was praying and confessing his sins and the sins of his people before God when St. Gabriel comes to him to reveal the events which were about to happen soon and much later. The presence of St. Gabriel overcomes Daniel who places his face to the ground while his heart is deeply moved to reverence.
St. Gabriel tells Daniel that he would have come sooner but was delayed twenty one days by the Prince of the Persians (another good angel). And this prince would not let St. Gabriel go until St. Michael came to remedy the situation. Then St. Gabriel tells Daniel that he is going back to fight with the Prince of the Persians and the Prince of the Greeks. This event shows that even good angels can make mistakes.

It is from the Book of Daniel that we come to understand that angels (good and bad so it seems) are associated with peoples and nations. I assume the good angels are assigned their roles from God and the bad ones simply attach themselves like a plague to a place (maybe due to a prevalent type of sin) or they are brow beaten into the task by Satan. It is a good reason to praise the name of God constantly so that the bad angels flee and lose influence over our homes, our land and leave.
We know from the lips of Jesus that each little child has an angel who beholds the face of the Heavenly Father. We also know from the lips of Jesus that when an evil spirit is swept from a soul and the soul remains empty (not filled with Grace and Truth) the evil spirit eventually comes back with many more leaving the person in a worse state.

From the Gospel of St. Luke we read that St. Gabriel brings to Zacharias the good news that his prayers have been heard and that his wife Elizabeth would bear him a son and they were name him John. We know this son to be John the Baptist. St. Gabriel reveals that the son would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. When poor Zacharias doubts the message, St. Gabriel lets him know that he is Gabriel who stands in the presence of God and was sent to speak to him.

I always thought that Gabriel words were other worldly and then I realized that Zacharias was in the Holy of Holies offering incense (God’s dwelling place on earth) when the angel came to him. Here is Zacharias standing with Gabriel literally in the presence of God in the Temple and Zacharias suggests that Gabriel is telling a fib. The irony of the exchange is so Jewish.

There is a Jewish tradition that when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice (one time a year), a rope would be tied to his ankle in the event he perished as a result of some impropriety in the presence of God.

I can imagine St. Gabriel reminding Zacharias “Are you comprehending what you are saying? Who has the rope tied around his foot -- me or you? ” Anyway Zacharias got off with a warning ticket; he could not speak until his son John was born.

Note: Daniel while in exile was offering prayers to God on behalf of himself and his people before the Archangel Gabriel arrives. Zacharias was in the temple offering incense and prayers on behalf of himself and his people, before the Archangel Gabriel arrives.

From the Gospel of St. Luke we read that St. Gabriel brings good news to Mary, a Virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, and that she is “Full of Grace” and that she would conceive in her womb a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. And her child would be known as the Son of God and she was to give the child the name of Jesus (Joshua), which means "God Saves." Perhaps we can conclude that Mary was also praying before the angel appeared to her.

It is St. Gabriel who reveals to the Virgin Mary the mystery of God as Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 102

It should be noted that the followers of Mohammed believe that Gabriel revealed the Koran (Recital) to Mohammed. “Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from clots of blood. Recite your Lord is the Most Bountiful One, who by the pen taught man what he did not know” (Sura 96:1-5). Mohammed taught that the Koran corrects the errors which crept into the GOSPELS and the BOOKS of MOSES and rules over them (Sura 4:48). It is worth noting that when Mohammed told the angel Gabriel he could not read in order to receive the Koran, the angel squeezed him three times until he could read. Mohammed then read and his followers committed the recitals to memory and wrote them down.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 103

It should be noted that the followers of Joseph Smith believe that an angel named Maroni revealed to Joseph Smith the location of the golden tablets onto which were inscribed the contents of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith unearths the golden tablets and uses a peep stone in order to translate the golden tablets into the King’s English. This King’s English translation is the text which the Church of Latter Day Saints identifies as ANOTHER GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST which corrects errors which crept into the GOSPELS and BOOK of MOSES and as such rules over them [sic].

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 104

In the Third Century, Jewish Gnostics known as Elkesaites taught that Gabriel was the personification of the word and in some cases the personification of the Holy Spirit.

How does one discern the good angel?

There are many encounters described in Sacred Scripture between angels and men. It is certain that when angels appeared in their glory, their presence was overwhelming. When they appeared as men, they were approachable. Whenever they identify themselves as the Angel of the Lord, the recipient of the visit would fall to the ground and worship God. In almost all cases, the angel would respond: “Fear not...” For example: Daniel demonstrates a deep sense of reverence in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel and bows to the ground. Zacharias is troubled and overcome with fear by the Archangel Gabriel’s presence. Mary on the other hand is troubled by the angel’s words of salutation and considers what they mean. In all cases the Archangel Gabriel eases their minds and tells them not to be afraid.

This led the Church Fathers to understand that in the presence of the Angel there is awe and reverence and a natural fear but that the good angel is able to comfort and encourage the soul by his words “Fear Not.” That is because their words are from God who encouraged his disciples with the same words “Do not be Afraid," and "Fear Not it is I.”

Sacred Scripture at times shows men testing the message of the angels as in the case of Gideon.

St. Paul says to the Church in Galatia that if anyone -- including an angel -- brings to them a gospel which contradicts the Gospel which he delivered to them, let him be anathema (Galatians 1:8). What was the Gospel that St. Paul delivered to them? Man is justified by God’s Grace through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and not be the works of the Mosaic Law. That Jesus gave himself up to death so that man may be delivered from wickedness.

St. John recommended that we test the spirits: Every spirit that denies the Incarnation (that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and dwelt among us) is of the Antichrist (1 John 4: 3). And who is a liar, but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2: 22). John then says that whoever believes that Jesus is the Son of God lives in God and God lives in him (1 John 4:15).

The other option to test a spirit would be to ask the Angel to pray the Divine Praises: "Blessed be God, Blessed be His Holy Name, Blessed Jesus Christ True God and True Man." I was approached in the airport by a member of a cult. Before the man even could speak, I said firmly, "I believe in Jesus Christ, True God and True Man." And without saying anything he immediately turned and ran away.

Angels and Non-Catholic Theology 105

A tradition recounts that when Mohamed encountered the angel Gabriel in the beginning he suffered much pain and his face turned dark red (like taking too much Niacin). During these first encounters, Mohamed said he did not know if the revelations were from an angel or a demon. These encounters almost drove him to suicide, not a good sign. Visitations from good angels do not tempt one to suicide. A mechanism for determining if the visitor was an angel or a demon was proposed by his first wife. She instructed Mohamed to sit on her lap when he had a vision of the angel. If during the course of his vision, she removed her veil and the vision left, then it was the good angel. If the vision remained, it was a demon. This act of discernment stemmed from a Muslim tradition that angels would not remain or take the prayers of men before God if in their presence there were unveiled women. I suppose this tradition stemmed from an interpretation of Genesis 6:2 in which the sons of God (misinterpreted to be fallen angels) viewed the daughters of men as beautiful and lusted after them. It would be interesting to determine if within this Islamic tradition, the messengers of God are still prone to temptation. The tradition of women wearing a veil in respect for the angels is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:7-10. I would think this idea of respect should not be construed to mean that the angels are prone to temptation. In the Jewish tradition, there is the practice of men covering one’s head before praying from the Sacred Scriptures.

Raphael means “Healing of God”

We find St. Raphael spoken of by name in the Book of Tobit. Tobit is a saintly Jew who is in exile in Nineveh. He is engaged in an act of charity that endangers his life. He is burying his fellow Jews and in doing so making himself ritually unclean. Tobit is married to Anna and they have a son named Tobias. Tobit is blinded by bird dung. In the meantime, there is young virgin and future daughter in-law named Sara who was being persecuted by a demon with the name Asmodeus. – who killed seven of her newly-wedded husbands.

Tobit and Sara pray to God (each in their own far away locations) to be set free of blindness and the curse of the demon Asmodeus. God hears their prayers and sends St. Raphael to heal Tobit and then sends St. Raphael to bind the demon. The story then continues with the angel leading Tobias to Sara. The two find out they are related and become betrothed. Because of the death of the previous seven husbands, the wedding night comes with much anxiety. On their wedding night, Tobias recites the beautiful prayer that he is marrying Sara out of love and fidelity and not out of lust. They did not know at the time that the demon Asmodeus was already bound by Raphael. Things work out for the two of them, so it seems.

It is from the Book of Tobit and the lips of St. Raphael we learn that the angels receive food and drink which cannot be seen my man (Tobit 12:17-19). Seemingly like Jesus at the well – who said I have a food you do not know – and that food is to do the will of My Father.

In the book of Tobit, St. Raphael reveals that he is one of seven holy angels who take the prayers of the saints to God, and goes in and out before the glory of the Holy One (Tobit 12:15). The reference to seven holy angels finds its way into the Book of Revelation where we read about the seven churches and their seven angels and the seven lamp stands and the seven spirits of God and so forth. In particular there is the reference in the Book of Revelation Chapter 8 verse 2 in which John sees the seven angels who stand before God and God gives to each of them a trumpet. At that point each angel sequentially blows a trumpet and seven woes come upon the earth. Some traditions and texts such as the Book of Enoch and the Pseudo-Dionysius have attempted to identify these seven angels as seven arch-angels with the names of Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Jegudiel, Sealtiel, and Barachiel. There are other variations but again the Catholic Church recognizes as part of the Deposit of Faith the three Archangels: Michael, Raphael, & Gabriel.

Prayer: St. Raphael, loving patron of those seeking a marriage partner, help them (me) in this supreme decision of their (my)life. Find for them (me) a helpmate in life, the person whose character may reflect some of the traits of Jesus and Mary. May (he) she be upright, loyal, pure, sincere and noble, so that with united efforts and with chaste and unselfish love they (we) both may strive to perfect themselves (ourselves) in soul and body, as well as the children it may please God to entrust to their (our) care. Amen

This prayer can be directed for self (if single) and for others, who are single.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pentecost: Why were there 120 Jews in the Upper Room?

by Lawrence Fox
In those days, Peter stood up among the brothers - a group numbering a hundred and twenty... (Acts of the Apostles 1:15).

Ascension to Pentecost

Prior to Jesus’ ascension to the Father, he instructed his apostles to return to Jerusalem, to pray, and to wait for the promise of the Father. As Jesus ascended to the Father, his apostles looked intently into the sky and waited. Suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them, “Men of Galilee,” they said, “Why do you stand there looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back to you in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

And so these “Men of Galilee,” return to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, which was a Sabbath day’s walk from the city of Jerusalem. When they arrive in Jerusalem, they then go up stairs to a room where they were staying – a room large enough to hold 120 brethren. This room is the large upper room in which Jesus and the apostles gathered on Holy Thursday to celebrate together the Passover (Last Supper) and the room in which the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ.

“As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters and say to the owner of the house. ‘The teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, all furnished, Make preparation there” (Luke 22: 7-12).

It is from this large upper room that the apostles and Jesus walked to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday. There was a very young lad who followed them to the garden wearing nothing but a linen garment. And when he was grabbed by a guard, the lad ran off naked leaving only the linen cloth (Mark 14:51). Some speculate that this young lad was Mark the human author of the Gospel - who is the only one who records the embarrassing event.

Of these “Men of Galilee” there were the remaining 11 apostles:
• Simon, son of John, who was given the name of Cephas (Aramaic) by Jesus. Cephas which means rock is translated as Petros in Koine Greek. The English rendering of Petros is Peter. In the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, St. Paul addresses Simon as Cephas and not Petros, which I believe maintains the true significance and meaning (ROCK not stone or pebble) as derived from the Aramaic expression and as intended by Jesus Christ. You wouldn’t know that from the English translations.
• James and John the sons of Zebedee both identified by Jesus as the “sons of thunder.”
• Andrew the brother of Peter.
• Philip who was from the town of Bethsaida as were Andrew and Peter.
• Thomas also known as Didymus (the twin).
• Bartholomew also known as Nathaniel and who was identified by Jesus to be a true Israelite without guile.
• Matthew also known as Levi and the son of Alphaeus.
• Simon the Zealot.
• James the son of Alphaeus.
• Judas (Jude) son of James and also known as Thaddaeus (from which we get St. Jude Thaddaeus).

There was also present a man identified as Joseph also known as Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and there was Matthias. The person missing was of course Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus and subsequently hung himself and did not write a gospel as certain Gnostics profess.

Jesus by choosing the twelve apostles to his inner circle of disciples demonstrated that his mission was to shepherd all of Israel. The twelve apostles represented the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact, the symbolism is so much so, that when the twelve tribes of Israel are identified in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 7: 5-8), the original tribe of Dan – one of the 12 sons of Jacob – is missing and is replaced by Manasseh, a son of Joseph. The tribe of Dan persecuted the tribe of Judah. Here in the large upper room, Judas - one of the original twelve - is replaced by Matthias.

Of all the many women that were present, St. Luke specifically identifies Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I believe in doing so Luke is not minimizing the other women but emphasizing Mary for the following reasons:

1. Mary is an integral character within the diptych that he is painting which shows on the one side the dedication of the New Testament Temple (the Church) and on the other side the dedication of Old Testament King Solomon Temple.

2. Mary is a source for the Pentecost story (birth and infancy narrative of the Church) as she is a source for Jesus’ birth and infancy narrative.
In the realm of speculation, the other women could have been Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus, Joanna, and Mary, the Mother of James the younger and Salome, and Mary the wife of Clopas, and maybe Rhoda the servant girl.
Since I am sticking my neck out, the other brethren may have been Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Zaccheus, Bartimaeus the Son of Timaeus, James the younger and Joseph and brothers to Salome and possible John (Mark).

For nine days leading up to Pentecost, the apostles constantly prayed together in accord (as with one voice) with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and his brothers which St. Luke says was about 120.

I asked myself a number of times, what is St. Luke attempting to signify by this number 120?

120 Priests and Solomon’s Temple
King David wanted to build a Temple so God would no longer dwell in a tent but in a great and magnificent building of stone. I suppose there was an element of self-importance in King David’s words since God gently reminded him that everything even his very life was given and preserved by God and that He (God) had no need of a house. Still, in absolute humility, God tells King David that he was not to build a temple for his hands were covered in blood but that his son would build the Temple. I suppose this should be a quick reminder that while God permitted King David to execute wars to defend his people Israel, eternal piece is not gained by the shedding of another man’s blood. In that sense the blood of all men is like Abel’s blood calling out to God for justice from the earth. Jesus’ blood speaks with more eloquence than Abel's. And Jesus' blood brings justice and mercy together to embrace and to kiss.

King Solomon at this point represents a “type” of Christ in that King Solomon (a son of David) builds an earthly temple made by human hands, and Jesus (a son of David) builds a heavenly temple not made by human hands (Hebrews 8:1). This brings me to my first understanding of the number 120.

In the second Book of Chronicles (Paralipimonen), the temple in Jerusalem is constructed and the young King Solomon is overseeing the dedication of the temple and there is assigned 120 Priests to perform the required rituals of purification. Into the temple and the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies comes the Arc of the Covenant. The only thing which remains in the Arc of the Covenant are the two tables of Moses, seemingly representing the Laws of Moses. (It once contained manna and the rod of Aaron)

As the assembled are singing God’s praises with cymbals, lutes and harps, the 120 leave the Holy of Holies and the cloud of the Glory of the Lord (the presence of God) fills it,
and the priests can no longer minister in the inner sanctuary lest they die touching God's presence in the cloud of glory (2 Chronicles 6: 1-18).

After a long prayer, King Solomon then asked the following question to the people assembled: “Will God indeed dwell with men upon the earth? If the heaven and heavens above the heavens will not suffice thee, what then is this house that I have built?” (II Chronicles 6:18).

The answer is YES and much more!

Couple of things to correlate: Solomon’s Temple and the Large Upper Room

In the Temple there were 120 priests leading the people and praising God while waiting for God to dwell in the Holy of Holies. In the Upper Room there are 120 brethren praising God and waiting for the Promise of the Father, The Holy Spirit to come down upon them.

In the Temple 120 priests are trumpeting, singing, praising God with one voice. In the Upper Room the 120 brethren are praying with one voice (one accord).

In the Holy of Holies is the Ark of the Covenant which is a “type” in the Old Testament. In the Upper Room there is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the “anti-type” of the Ark of the Covenant. An "anti-type" is a theological expression meaning not the "type" but the real thing.

In the Temple, the Glory of the Lord fills the Holy of Holies.
In the upper room, the Glory of the Lord (the Holy Spirit) rests upon each of the 120 brethren in the form of tongues of flame.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1).

Note to the perplexed: Jesus promised to send the Paracletos, the Comforter, and the Gift of the Father upon his disciples. This promise was fulfilled by the descent of God’s Holy Spirit upon the 120 Jews in the upper room on Pentecost in Jerusalem. This remains the Church’s infallible experience and God’s historical fulfillment. The Islamic argument that this promise was later fulfilled by the person of Mohamed is another lamentable demonstration of complete ignorance of the Gospels and church history.

In the Old Testament, the priests could not minister while the Glory of the Lord was in the room. Only one priest, once a year could enter the Holy of Holies. With the death of Jesus on the Cross, the curtain in the Holy of Holies is torn asunder making way for God’s Cloud of Glory to rest upon the 120 brethren in the upper room. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those present in the upper room, they become the temple of the Holy Spirit, members of the Mystical Body of Christ and through them Christ’s Universal (Catholic) Church is manifested to all of humanity.

As you come to him (Jesus) the living stone rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him, you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4).

With this said, it is possible that St. Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit identifies these 120 Jews with the dedication of a New Temple (the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ) not made by human hands but by the Person of Jesus Christ? A wider Diaspora (Dispersion and Exile of the Jews from their homeland) is coming to an end. Now both Jew and Gentile are being gathered by Jesus Christ into one place to fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel:

I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed. I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a new heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Ark of the Covenant
St. Luke - who is painting a picture of these events on Pentecost - is picking up from where he left off when he wrote the orderly accounts in the Gospel. Going all the way back to chapter one, there are several events which have their pattern in the Old Testament (which I believe he assumes the reader knows) and which completes the painting of the Pentecost story.

In the Old Testament, after the people of Israel entered the desert, God commands Moses to build a sanctuary so that He could appear among the people (Exodus 25:8). And in this sanctuary, there would be set aside an inner tabernacle separated by a curtain, and within this tabernacle would be the Ark of the Covenant, an altar, candlesticks, and various other furniture all patterned upon the instructions which Moses received up on the mountain. The Ark of Covenant and the carrying poles were to be made of incorruptible wood and gilded with gold inside and out. After the sanctuary was assembled and the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the tabernacle, the cloud covered the tabernacle and was filled with the glory of the Lord. And by day there was a cloud and by night a fire to show God’s presence amongst his people (Exodus 40: 31).

St. Luke in the Gospel recounts the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary that God’s Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the most high God would overshadow her and she would conceive in her womb the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

Jesus, who is the Living Law of God, the Bread of Life which came down from Heaven, and the new High Priest, would be conceived and be carried in Mary’s womb for nine months. And even after giving birth, the Spirit of Jesus would remain in her mind, heart, and soul as a pattern for her whole life. When Mary pondered the words of Jesus and treasured them in her heart, Jesus was carried in her womb.

In the Old Testament, when King David recovered the Ark of God from the house of Aminadab, he thought to bring it to his own house. But since one of the bearers of the ark dies after touching the ark (He tried to prevent it from falling off the cart), David is afraid to bring it home. King David -- taken back by the event -- asked: “How does the ark of the Lord come to me?” He decides instead to take the Ark into the House of Abeddara (variation on Obededom) the Gethite. And the Ark remains in the House of Abeddara the Gethite for three months (2 Kings 6: 1-12). David identifies the Ark as “the Ark of the Lord” and not “the Ark of the Covenant.”

Mary -- carrying the Incarnated Word in her womb -- approaches the house of Zacharias. Elizabeth hears her voice. The babe leaps in Elizabeth’s womb and she is filled with the Holy Spirit and says to Mary: “How is it that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” “For the moment your voice reached my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed the words spoken to her by the Lord would be accomplished in her” (Luke 1:41-45). Elizabeth addresses Mary as “the Mother of my Lord” and not “my relative.” Mary enters the House of Zachariah and stays for three months (Luke 1:56).

The New Ark of the Covenant: Mary, Mother of Jesus
In the Old Testament, God overshadows the Sanctuary and the Ark of the Covenant which contains the two tablets, God’s Word written on stone. In the New Testament, God the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary and she conceives in her womb the living and eternal Word of God.

King David filled with a natural fear of the Lord that day speaks to the Ark of God with the words: “How does the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth filled with Holy Spirit rejoices and speaks to Mary who is carrying the Word of God, “How does the Mother of my Lord come to me?”

King David dances (leaps) before the Lord who dwells in the Ark of God. John the Baptist leaps (dances) in Elizabeth's womb as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice.
The Ark of the Lord stayed in the House of House of Abeddara the Gethite for three months. Mary stayed in the House of Zachariah for three months.

Mary as Source
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.(Luke 2:19).

St. Luke when addressing the Most Excellent Theophilus records in Luke Chapter 1:1:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things which have been fulfilled amongst us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the WORD. Therefore since, I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly
account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

St. Luke states that he carefully investigated everything. St. Luke twice mentions that Mary treasured and pondered events surrounding the life of Jesus (2:19, 2:51). I believe this is meant to say something about the veracity of the infancy stories and that Mary is his source. For how else would St. Luke know that Mary pondered and treasured these things unless Mary told him? Besides, who else was an eyewitness from the beginning except Mary?

St. Luke was not present during the events of Pentecost but records in some detail the events surrounding the infancy of the Church. When he is an actual witness to an event such as when he accompanied St. Paul he uses the first person plural, "we," unlike the infancy narrative of Jesus and Pentecost.

Looking at Luke's language, we can conclude that Mary was a source for the Pentecost story (the birth and infancy narrative for the Church) as she was a source for Jesus’ birth and infancy narrative. This explains why the apostles and Mary are named. Mary identifies the apostles and St. Luke identifies Mary to the reader.

I recognized one other event in Sacred Scripture in which someone is identified as pondering mysteries and that is Jacob, who is pondering the words of Joseph, his son. Joseph revealed his dream of the moon and the stars bowing down before him to Jacob and his brothers, and Jacob was a little perturbed that his son would have a dream in which even his father bowed down to him. But his father pondered the saying (Genesis 37:11). I conclude there that Jacob is the oral source of Joseph’s dreams as captured in the Old Testament.

• New Testament Quotes: Revised and New International Version (NIV).
• Old Testament Quotes: Septuagint as translated by Sir Lancelot C. L.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


By Susan Fox

“No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon”
(Luke 16:13)

Lake Quinault Lodge in Washington State used to have the best Tempura Salmon I’ve ever tasted.

I often sat at their picture window overlooking the tranquil Lake Quinault, and enjoyed conversation with my husband and mother while eating this incredible dish.

But one year – when the lodge was acquired by a large corporation – the salmon changed. It clearly did not taste as good as it used to. When I asked why, I was told that they used to buy their salmon from the local Quinault Indians. They thought the Quinault Tribe was charging too much money and they could get inferior salmon somewhere else, so they completely sabotaged the quality of the food in order to cut costs – not to mention selfishly ignoring the local businessmen, the Indians.

Little did I realize that I was experiencing the fruits of “serving” mammon.

This is the crux of today’s Gospel: The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. (Luke 16:10)

The large corporation that took over Lake Quinault Lodge was serving profit at the expense of their customers, a form of idolatry and a lack of charity. Also it was short-sighted as once you ignore the customer, the profit very often disappears.

I put “serving” into italics because I used to think the Scripture referred to choosing mammon (idolatry) and not God. Hence, when an individual “desired” something that was not God --- brownies, clothes, ice cream, shopping, a beautiful person of the opposite sex, they were choosing mammon. They were idolaters.

And so any list of innocent desires became a form of idolatry. This is what is known as “scruples” – seeing evil where there is none.

I had forgotten the full context of today’s Gospel reading. The rich man had a steward – a servant – who was squandering his property. He was stealing from him. So he fired the steward and demanded an accounting from him. The steward very craftily called in the master’s debtors and cut their debts in half so that he might be welcome in their homes after he was fired.

The master thought this was acting prudently in a worldly sense.

But he gives us this discernment principle: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon”
(Luke 16:13)

Wait. This was a revelation to me. We are not talking about choosing innocent pleasures in moderation. We are talking about working for and pleasing two separate and very demanding masters. That would be like having two husbands!

Is my life lived to serve the glory of God and the salvation of souls? Or is my life lived to serve profit, pleasure and idolatry? This is the choice we are given. And in the context of serving God there can be many innocent pleasures enjoyed.

But worrying about our "desires" when we are "serving" God, can lead to discouragement and exaggerated anxiety -- the two chief obstacles to holiness according to Jesus' words to St. Faustina (Diary of St. Faustina).

Think about St. Francis of Assisi – the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who lived in the Middle Ages. Francis dreamed of becoming a noble knight who would accomplish fantastic deeds and bring honor to his family. He entered the war between the Italian cities of Assisi and Perugia with high hopes for glory, but the reality of war and imprisonment made him long for a better purpose in life.

Going back for a second assignment in warfare, he was given a new suit of armor, sword and shield by his father, but meeting a knight with very poor armor, he impulsively gave him his new suit, believing he had more right to it as he had earned it in battle.

Then that night Francis had a vivid dream. He was in a hall full of armor with colored banners hanging from the walls. He heard a voice ask him, "Francis, who is it better to serve, the Master or the Servant?" He answered, "The Master". The voice then said, "Go back to Assisi and all this will be yours." It was such a powerful dream that Francis acted on it and went back home.

In time, the same voice asked him to “Rebuild my Church.” And so Francis found that he was serving the Master (God) and not the servant (earthly authority). He had made a finer choice of masters. He really couldn’t serve both. And thus he gave up wealth and privilege to become the beloved figure of poverty and love for Christ that we all admire today. That whole hall of armor and colored banners became his. It is the glorious company of men and women who have followed him into poverty and service of Christ in the succeeding years – the Franciscans.

And that is the real meaning of today’s gospel. If a life is at the service of profit and selfish pleasure, then indeed it is serving the cold dish of mammon. But a life lived for God and others is not an idolatrous life.

So enjoy the brownies in moderation and just be faithful in little things.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Stumbling Block For Some and Folly For Others: The Holy Cross

by Lawrence Fox
We proclaim Christ – yes, Christ nailed to the cross: and though it is a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks, yet to those who have heard his call, Jews and Greek alike, he is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 23-24).

St. Paul tells the Church in Corinth that the cross of Jesus Christ is received in various ways by people depending upon theological and cultural foundations which may at times create openness or ignorance, and limit or enhance a person’s receptiveness to God’s Grace; “..If today you hear God’s voice harden not your heart..."Psalm 95.

St. Paul is identifying two such extremes of resistance to the message of the Cross: “God would not ask the just man to die” and “Justice is built from strength; Might makes right.” We still have variants of these philosophical views with us today which prevent many of us from seeing God’s Wisdom, Mercy, and Justice in the Cross of Jesus Christ. But as St. Paul writes: “God’s folly is greater than man’s wisdom.”

There is an even deeper mystery here, for the cross of Jesus Christ can be a stumbling block for all people under trial and persecution; in other words, we are all tempted by the desire for justice as was the Sanhedrin under Roman occupation. Trial and persecution can drive a wedge in a person’s heart preventing the soul from grasping the virtue of forgiveness, or hearing the message “love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

Caiaphas the High Priest of the Sanhedrin said it best: You know nothing at all. Do you not realize that it is better for one man to die, then for a whole nation to perish (John 11:49).

But a soul receptive to God’s grace is able through trial and persecution to live the virtue of forgiveness, and hear the message “love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

As St. James writes:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…Blessed is the man who perseveres under trail because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who live Him (James 1: 2, 12).

As for the issue of folly, what St. Paul seems to be saying is that the cross of Jesus Christ is incomprehensible for all people who live and think like the world and are under the influence of the devil; in other words, we are all tempted by status, success, efficiency, and the basis of indifference “to seek the common ground.”

“The fool has said in his heart there is no God,” so says the psalmist. Therefore humility, virtue, goodness, sacrifice, suffering, and laying down one’s life for his friends are ideas that seem foolish; and Christians whose manner of life gives Exaltation to the Cross of Jesus Christ are seen by the world as very foolish indeed.

Jesus before He died prophesied that when (He) the son of man is lifted up, He would draw all men to himself (John 12:32). Jesus Christ who said “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away,” must be drawing all men to himself and all men in some fashion are hearing his call. And yet as then and today, a remnant are standing beneath the cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Beloved Disciple, and the Women, while some of us are still dragging our feet, some of us are running away from the cross, and some tragically live in a culture which prevents them from knowing that Jesus actually died on the cross for their sins and on the third day rose from the dead.

Events in the Old Testament as “Types”

I want to consider three (3) events in the Old Testament which I will identity as “types” since they prefigure the Cross of Jesus Christ: 1) the sleep of Adam, 2) Moses and the Bronze Serpent, and 3) God commanding Moses to speak to the Rock. There are of course many more “types” in the Old Testament which prefigure the Cross of the Jesus Christ: 4) Isaac carrying the wood of sacrifice on his back while being led by his father Abraham up Mount Moriah, 5) the Passover in Egypt when God commanded the people of Israel to place the blood of the unblemished lamb on their door posts and the angel of death would pass-over, and 6) Elijah the Prophet stirring the bitter waters with his wooden staff and making the waters drinkable.

In the first event from Genesis we find the story of God casting a deep sleep upon Adam and drawing from his side a rib and forming Eve from the rib. In doing so, Eve became the companion (helpmate) and bride of Adam. Church Fathers identified this event as a “type” that prefigured Jesus’ very deep sleep (death) on the Cross and from his side came fourth water and blood (Baptism and Eucharist) which gives birth and life to His bride the Church. “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:33).

The expression of death and sleep were used synonymously in the Old Testament and by Jesus.

For example: And David slept with his fathers and was buried in the City of David (III Kings 1:52).

When the word came to Jesus that his friend Lazarus was dead, Jesus told his disciples that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” The disciples took Jesus literally and said that if he was asleep let him sleep. Jesus explained to them plainly: “He is dead.”

In the Office of the Reading for September 14th, there is the writing by St. Andrew of Crete which states: If he had not been nailed, the streams of everlasting life would not have welled from his side, that is both blood and water, for the cleansing of the world; and the record of our sins would not have been canceled.

From the Book of Revelation, St. John sees the Lamb of God slain on the altar and under the altar the souls of those beheaded for the Word of God and the testimony which they maintained (Revelation 5: 9). As part of the temple sacrifice, the blood of the lambs and goats would pour forth and collect beneath the altar. The imagery here in the Book of Revelation is that the Blood of Christ (The Lamb of God) which poured forth from his side became the strength and life of the martyrs. In turn, the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the Church which is the Bride of Christ.

St. John captures this event in the Gospel with something of an exuberance (it is true it is true!!) so it reads to me. The soldiers therefore came and broke the leg of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus and those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

St. John is quoting twice from the Old Testament: Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10.
Church Fathers see in John’s advocacy 1) that Jesus truly died on the cross 2) that blood and water truly poured from his side 3) and that Jesus’ manner of death fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. (When the Gospel of John was written there was a false movement that attempted to latch on to Judaism and Christianity and that movement was Gnosticism. Various strains within Gnosticism denied the death of Jesus Christ.)

Run to Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament and let Him be the spouse of your Soul!

In the second event from Exodus we read the story of how the children of Israel grumbled against Moses about their wandering in the desert and their disgust with the food they received (manna in the morning and quail in the evening). God sends upon the children of Israel serpents which bite them and many of them become ill and die (Numbers 21:4-10). The children of Israel cry out to Moses and ask Moses to intercede for them. Moses intercedes and God commands Moses to fashion a brass serpent on a staff. God tells Moses that those who are bitten by a serpent and look up at the fashioned brass serpent will be healed; “and it came to pass then whenever a serpent bit a man, and he looked on the brazen serpent, he lived.”

It seems that this was not a onetime deal. Just as God fed the people of Israel with manna for 40 years in the desert, the brazen serpent staff served as a medical station for the people of Israel.

What an obscure event to say the least and apart from the Cross of Jesus Christ it would remain obscure. God seemingly commands Moses to violate the Second Commandment to fashion an image of a creature so that the people may look upon it and in doing so be healed. With a little bit of imagination, we can consider a person about to die from such an illness and being told to gaze at the fashioned serpent. That person would not simply look at the brass serpent but probably make a good act of contrition and a good act of faith and hope. In other words, God maintained his people throughout the journey with bread from heaven (manna) a “type” of the Eucharist, and the fashion serpent on the staff a “type” of the Exaltation of the Cross. But what else does the fashioned serpent represent: 1) the scandal of sin 2) God is able to bring life from death.

For the apostle states: “He who knew no sin was made to be sin for the life of the world.”

Look at Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament and be healed!

The third event is a little more tedious and rooted in both Jewish written and oral tradition. The people wandered in the desert and were in need of water. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take thy rod and call the assembly, you and your brother Aaron and speak to the rock before them and it shall bring forth it waters and you shall bring forth for them the water to drink out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and the cattle. And Moses took his rod that was before the Lord, as the Lord commanded. And Moses said to them “Hear me you disobedient ones: must we bring you water out of the rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice and much water came forth, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed me to sanctify me before the children of Israel, you shall not bring this congregation in the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:6-13).

St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians writes that this spiritual rock accompanied the people of Israel in the desert and that this rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10: 1-5). St. Paul in essence identifies this rock which was struck by Moses (two times) with the Person of Jesus Christ. Note: Throughout the Old Testament God is identified as Rock.

God remember, asked Moses to speak to the Rock so that water would come forth for the people. Moses in anger strikes the Rock (two times). St. Paul by identifying Jesus as the rock captures a new “type” in as much as the Rock is struck by Moses (who represents the Law); then again by the Sanhedrin representing the Law of Moses when Jesus -- the Rock -- was condemned to death. Remember it was the Sanhedrin that stated to Pilate: “We have a law, and according to that law he (Jesus) must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God” (John 19:7).

In the Book of Numbers, when the Rock is struck out of disbelief and strife, water flows forth to give life to the people of Israel. And again in the case of the cross, Jesus is struck out of disbelief and strife. And blood and water come forth redeeming the world; which we read from the Gospel of St. John.

Mark captures in his Gospel that when the Roman soldiers (out of disbelief and strife) were mocking Jesus, “again and again and struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him” Mark 15: 19. While “again and again” normatively means many, the (two times) use of the expression reflects Moses striking the Rock (two times) with his rod. Again we find God demonstrating his power to bring good from something evil. God asked Moses and Aaron to speak to the Rock. Mark shows the Romans mocking him and at the cross the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him amongst themselves (Mark 15:31).

Speak kindly to Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament and comfort Him!

The fourth event comes from the crucifixion itself. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother there and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby he said to his mother: “Woman here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time forward on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19:25).

Note: The four women standing beneath the cross represent an admissible and valid testimony in a juridical proceeding at that time. In other words, we do not only have St. John’s testimony to the events, we have the testimony of the four women.
St. John – the brother of St. James and son of Zebedee - already had a mother. Jesus as such is not conferring a task of care but confirming a relationship within the body of Christ between his mother and the beloved disciple, one that the disciple can have confidence in.

Origen writes: “A disciple cannot comprehend the mysteries of the Gospels unless they like St. John first lay their head at the breast of Jesus (reference to last supper) and take Mary into their home” (reference to the events at the cross) – (Quasten Volume II page 81).

St. John Chrysostom writes: “Have you seen the wonderful victory? Have you seen the splendid deeds of the cross? Shall I tell you something still more marvelous? Learn in what way the victory was gained and you will be even more astonished. For by the very means by which the devil had conquered by these Christ conquered him, he defeated him. Listen how it was done. A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve she had not yet known man, the tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the death was Adams’ penalty. But behold again here was have a virgin and a tree and a death those symbols of defeat which become symbols of victory. For in the place of Eve there is Mary, in the place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there is the tree of the cross (the tree of life); in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ (Liturgy Volume III page 529).

In a number of references in the New Testament, you find Jesus speaking of His Mother in a way which seems abrupt or harsh to the modern listener. For example: “Who is my mother and my brother?” “Why were you searching for me everywhere?” "What is this matter to you and to me, my hour has not yet come?”, “Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Some mistakenly latch on these sayings in order to argue, that Jesus purposely intended to mitigate any solidarity between his disciples and Mary his Mother. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

God the Father revealed to Mary through the devout Simeon that her Child was destined to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel and would be a sign spoken against and that a sword would pierce her heart (soul) so that the hidden thoughts of many would be exposed (Luke 2:34). When God asked Mary to be the Mother of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (through the power of the Holy Spirit), God was asking Mary to share in Jesus’ whole Life, Death, and Resurrection. Jesus spent 30 years hidden in the house of Mary and Joseph and then 40 days in the desert as a means of preparing for the hour of His death.

Jesus was also preparing Mary for the hour of His death. This preparation we identify in the spiritual life as the Precautions.

God the Father revealed to Mary that a sword would pierce her heart so that the hidden thoughts of many would be exposed. I often wondered what the dynamics of that statement were: "hidden thoughts exposed." It was not until I came across the following three writings that I think I now understand.

The first is from the Book of Leviticus which describes in detail the various forms of sacrifice which are meant to atone for the various forms of sins: public, private, ignorance, deliberate, serious, and not so serious. In Leviticus 4:27-5:1 we read that an unblemished female lamb or goat be sacrificed for sins which were performed unwillingly and seemingly privately (not known). If the sacrifice of the male unblemished lamb or goat was a “type” of Christ, what was the “type” of the female unblemished lamb or goat?

The second is from the writings of Bishop Melito of Sardis (second century) about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is he who was flesh in a virgin, whose (bones) were not broken upon the tree, who in burial was not resolved into the earth, who rose from the dead and raised man from the grave below to the heights of the heavens. This is the lamb that was slain, this is the lamb that was silent, and this is he that was born of Mary the fair ewe (Quasten Volume 1 page 244). So the Bishop of Sardis sees Mary that fair ewe as a type in the Old Testament.

The third is from the writings of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth. Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all out troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort flows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort (2 Corinthians 1: 3-7).

While meditating on these three writings I came to understand that Mary was predestined and called by God the Father, preserved and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit, and prepared by God the Son to be the mother and source of comfort for the Mystical Members of His Body. When Mary stood beneath the cross of Jesus and the sword pierced into the heart of Jesus, her heart was pierced as well. And the great gift of Redemption which flowed from the Heart of Jesus entered her heart so that she too could share this gift with others who are not afraid to take Mary into their homes (hearts). Mary’s suffering and prayers, opens the hidden hearts of men so they see and Exalt in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Listen kindly to Jesus on the Cross and in the Blessed Sacrament as He calls you the Beloved Disciple to Take Mary as your Mother!

The Cross and Unbelief

When the disciples were with Jesus on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus said to them: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:32-34).

I mentioned before that there was a false movement that attempted to latch on to Judaism and Christianity and that movement was Gnosticism. Various strains within Gnosticism denied the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is because Gnosticism rejected faith and the idea the eternal creator could have anything to do with the material creation. The material creation was the result of demiurges and one of the demiurges came to redeem mankind but not by flesh and blood and sacrifice, but by conveying a secret knowledge (gnosis). Gnostics generally believe that the “god” of the Old Testament was a demiurge and not a benevolent one. As such Gnosticism is anti-Jewish as well as anti-Christian. From the very beginning, the Christian Scriptures was the Old Testament; the difference being that the Old Testament was now interpreted based upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. With the writing of the epistles and then gospels, the Canon of Catholic Christian Scripture included both the Old and the New but never the Gnostic revelations.

Ignatius of Antioch third Bishop of Antioch (died 107 AD) wrote in his letter that the docetic (Gnostic) sect denied the death of the Lord Jesus. Their denial was based upon the belief that Jesus did not really have a mortal substance. Ignatius while being taken to Rome to suffer martyrdom for his faith in Jesus Christ writes the following to the Church at Philadelphia:

And suffer He did, verily and indeed; just as He did verily and indeed raise Himself again. His passion was no unreal illusion, as some skeptics aver who are all unreality themselves. For my own part, I know and believe that he was in the actual human flesh, even after his resurrection. When he appeared to Peter and his companions, he said to them, Take Hold and me, touch me, and see that I am no bodiless phantom. And they touched him then and there and believed for they had contact with the flesh and blood of reality with him
(Staniforth page 101).

Basilides (120 – 145 AD), a prominent Gnostic, writes that Jesus was not crucified but made Simon of Cyrene take His place: "Wherefore he himself did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man from Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him (Jesus) that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified through ignorance and error while Jesus himself received the form of Simon and standing by laughed at them" (Quasten page 258).

Such a tale promotes the concept that sorcery and deception are compatible with the nature and will of God.

St. Mark in his Gospel identifies this Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. The reference to a father in relation to sons, strongly suggests that the readers are aware of Alexander and Rufus (they are Christians). This is a possible case since we find St. Paul, when writing to Rome, mentions Rufus.

Gnostic influence is still with us in a very prominent manner through the faith of Islam.This Gnostic teaching that Jesus did not die on the cross made its way into the Qur’an: Qur’an 4:155-159: They denied the truth and uttered a monstrous falsehood against Mary. They declared: “we have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah. They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought that did. Those that disagreed about him were in doubt concerning his death, for they knew about it was sheer conjecture; they were not sure they had slain him. Allah lifted him up to his presence; He is mighty and wise. There is none among the people of the Book but will believe in him before his death; and on the day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them.

This is understandable since within Mohammad"s extended family there were Gnostics. His uncle was a Nestorian (Gnostic Christian). A number of Gnostic followers were force out of the Byzantine Empire as a result of secular leaders becoming enforcers over religious disputation. As such, a number of Gnostic followers headed further east into Arabia. As a result of this Gnostic teaching the cross of Jesus Christ is a scandal in Islam and an impediment to understanding the Gospels.

Look at Jesus on the Cross and His Mother beneath the Cross and ask them to convert the hearts of all men and especially the people of Islam so that one day all men may Exalt the Cross of Jesus Christ.

• New Testament: Zondervan Parallel New Testament & New International Version (NIV)
• Old Testament: Septuagint Sir Lancelot Brenton
• Maxwell Staniforth, Andrew Louth Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers
• Joahnnes Quasten: PATROLOGY Volume: 1 and Volume 2
• N. J. Dawood: Koran
• Hugh J. Schonfield