Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lectio Divina - A Meditation on Psalm 2

On a literal and historical level, this "Royal Psalm" sings of the earthly  power of ancient Jewish Kings and was probably composed to be sung during a coronation ceremony.  On a spiritual level,  the Church has always interpreted this Psalm as referring to Jesus the Messiah.

"Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter empty threats?" Psalm 2:1 (1979 BCP). In this fallen world there is always going to be saber rattling.  Nations are perpetually threatening war on each other.  Today it is North Korea and Iran, tomorrow it will be others.  There will never truly be peace until Our Lord returns.  Jesus said that we must expect there to be "wars and rumors of wars," until the end of time.  But God considers the threats of earthly rulers to be empty and from the viewpoint of eternity human conflicts mean little.

The King James Version translates this verse as "Why do the heathen rage , and the people imagine a vain thing?".  The "raging heathen" brings to my mind images of people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Madeline Murray O'Hare who deny existence of God and are angry that anybody else does.

"Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt, and the princes plot together, against the LORD and against his Anointed?  Let us break their yoke ," they say; " let us cast off their bonds from us.".    (Psalm 2:2-3).  From a literal and historical standpoint, these verses refer to the revolt of vassals of the ancient Kings of Judah.  In Hebrew the word Messiah means "the anointed one" and this was the title given to the ancient Israelite kings.  In Greek "Messiah" is translated as the word Christ.

The Kingdoms of the earth have risen and continue to rise against Christ and his Church. The increasingly militantly secular government of the United States continues to enact laws and regulations in disregard of divine command.  We murder our unborn children and we order everyone to pay for it.  We mandate same sex marriages and command that everyone must agree with it.  Although we do not have officially mandated atheism yet, that experiment has been tried many times.  It seems that men must constantly try to live  without God and to try to make themselves God.  Some of the past "kings of the Earth" who sought to destroy the LORD's  anointed include the Radicals of the French Revolution, the Nazis, and the Communists.  Joseph Stalin asked with derision how many divisions the Pope had.  Apparently, in the end the Pope had more divisions than the Soviet Union.  Stalin's USSR is no more but Christ's Church is with us still and shall stand forever until the end of time.

"He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; the Lord has them in derision.  Then  he speaks to them in his wrath, and his rage fills them with terror.". (Psalm 2:4-5).  God is not impressed with human beings and their pretensions.  Earthly rulers may believe that they are really in charge of something.  Humans in authority may really believe that they can control events.  However, as Jesus told Pilate "You would have no power over me at all if it were not given to you from above." (John  19:11, New Living Translation).  The power of earthly rulers is granted from above.  Those who exercise civil power with no regard for divine law will, sooner or later, answer to higher authority.

"I myself have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.". (Psalm 2:6).  The hill of Zion refers in a literal sense to the City of Jerusalem and more specifically the Temple Mount.  On a spiritual level Zion is a metaphor for the place where God is and where we shall be together with him.  I am reminded of the old Protestant hymn which goes "Children of God we are marching to Zion," and the Southern Gospel Spiritual called  "The Old Ship of Zion".  The King is Christ and the Holy Hill of Zion is the Church.  Eventually all of the Church, the new Israel, will be gathered with the Lord in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Let me announce the decree of the LORD; he said to me 'You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.".  (Psalm 2:7).  The New Testament quotes this verse as referring to Christ. (Hebrews 1:5).  The Father eternally begets the Son.  God has come in the flesh and become a man and he has died and risen to conquer Hell and death.  Alleluia.

"Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession.". (Psalm 2:8).  Regardless that men believe that they are in charge of something, Christ is the true ruler.  Like C.S.Lewis said, earth may now be occupied by the Devil but the true King is going to return.

"You shall crush them with an iron rod and shatter them like a piece of pottery. ' And now, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.  Submit to the LORD with fear, and with trembling bow before him; Lest he be angry and you perish; for his wrath is quickly kindled." (Psalm 2: 9 - 12).  This imagery is used again in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12:5; 19:15). All the works of humans will come to an end and the works of the wicked will be destroyed along with them.  Those who do not turn to God for mercy will ultimately perish. We are warned that God's wrath will come upon us quickly and without warning.

"Happy are they all who take refuge in him" (Psalm 2:13).  Maranatha.  Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Liberal B*## S!%$

Bill Maher gets it right!  Very interesting exchange between Maher and the PC Professor.

An American Monk's Call to Africa

I have had the honor of meeting Father Anthony Delisi, O.C.S.O. on several occasions and have had the privilege of being in a retreat led by Father Anthony.  Father Anthony has been a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia since 1948.

Father Anthony Delisi, O.C.S.O.

In Black Like Licorice: A Contemporary Monk’s Call to Africa (Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2011), Father Anthony tells of his call to the priesthood and monastic life.  At age 9, in the back of his family’s delivery truck for their produce business, he heard a voice telling him that he would be a priest and that he would one day go to Africa.

The title Black Like Licorice comes from an anecdote about the first time Father Anthony saw a person of African descent.  He asked a neighbor why their skin was black.  She replied “From eating too much licorice.”  Father Anthony’s memoir is like a “Who’s Who” of great Catholics from the mid-twentieth century.  He has visited the poor with Dorothy Day, went to school with scripture scholar Raymond Brown, prayed with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and discussed the Charismatic movement with Thomas Merton.

Father Anthony is an accomplished farmer.

Father Anthony tells about his racist novice master from Texas who did not want the novices to wave at black children while they worked in the fields on the monastery farm.  Father Anthony loves to grow things, especially tomatoes, and the story of how he became the primary tomato grower at the monastery is very entertaining.

Father Anthony makes fudge at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit

In the late 1970's, true to his childhood revelation, Father Anthony went on a mission to Nigeria to help found a Trappist monastery there.  This was to be the first of three mission trips to Africa.  Altogether, Father Anthony lived in Africa for approximately eight years.  After helping to found the men’s monastery, Father Anthony returned to Nigeria and Cameroon to serve as chaplain to a foundation of Trappistine nuns.

Father Anthony’s memoirs of these years are truly fascinating.  Father Anthony’s holiness and love for God and his fellow human beings shines through on every page of this wonderful book.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dinner With (the Evangelical Protestant) Jesus

Despite the fact that I have a good many quibbles with the theology presented in these films, I couldn't help but like The Perfect Stranger (2005) and its sequel Another Perfect Stranger (2007).    These two independent Christian films are based upon novels by Evangelical Christian writer David Gregory.  I understand that there is a third sequel called The Perfect Gift which I have not yet viewed.

The Perfect Stranger is the story of attorney Niki Cominsky (Pamela Brumley) who is struggling with problems in both her private and professional life.  As an attorney Niki works long hours in a large firm whose partners are cheating clients by over billing.  At home, Niki is faced with a stagnant relationship with her husband and not enough time to spend at home with her 10 year old daughter, Sarah.

Pamela Brumley as Niki Cominsky

Niki is disappointed when her husband would rather go to a baseball game with his friends than spend a romantic evening with her at a posh Chicago restaurant.  When Niki goes to her office she is surprised to find a dinner invitation to the restaurant she wanted to go to.  The invitation is signed "Jesus Christ."  Thinking that she is the victim of a practical joke, Niki goes to the restaurant where she is met by a man in a business suit claiming to be Jesus (Jefferson Moore).  The majority of the film is takes place in the restaurant where Jesus talks with Niki and answers her questions about life and faith.

Jefferson Moore as Jesus Christ

Although as a practicing Catholic I have to quibble with some of the theology presented, over all, the movie was very good.  Even though it primarily involved a dinner table conversation,  the film holds the viewer's attention well.  Niki, who is almost persuaded that Jesus is who he says, is finally convinced when she sees the nail scars in his wrists.  At the end of the film Niki, who up until now was an agnostic, throws herself into the arms of Christ and resolves to become a Christian.  In good Evangelical fashion Jesus leaves Niki with a Bible verse to look up.

The sequel, Another Perfect Stranger, was much more theologically objectionable than the first movie.  It's now ten years later and Niki's daughter, Sarah, who is already an accomplished artist, is seeking admission to a prestigious art institute in Portland, Oregon.   Just before leaving on an airplane flight to Portland,  Sarah (Ruby Marie Lewis) has had a huge fight with her mother and father over religion.  Niki has told Sarah about her dinner with Jesus ten years earlier.  Sarah thinks that her mother is nuts.

Jefferson Moore reprises his role as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords

Of course, guess who's seated next to Sarah on the airplane, has coffee with her during her layover and is seated next to her again on her connecting flight.  Once again, after a painless theology lesson, Sarah slowly realizes the identity of her new friend and by the end of the film has been "saved.".

Sarah Cominsky (Ruby Marie Lewis) has coffee with Jesus

When Sarah says that she's turned off by religion, Jesus (once again played by Jefferson Moore) says that he doesn't like religion either.  Jesus defines religion as "trying to use ritual to work your way to God" as opposed to having "a personal relationship." These are Evangelical Protestant buzzwords against Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, High Church Anglicanism and other sacramental forms of Christianity.

Nevertheless, both movies are fun to watch and have a nice feel good message about faith in Jesus Christ.  The Bad Catholic gives both films three and a half Bibles.

The New Archbishop of Canterbury

An interesting post about the background of the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Boston Bombing: Call It What It Is - Evil

The Bad Catholic thinks that this article about yesterday's terrorist attack in Boston is right on.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Lectio Divina - Psalm 1

Prayer Before Reading Scripture:  Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth."

"Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful" Psalm 1:1 (1979 BCP).  We can take instruction on how to live our lives from one of two places, from God or from "the world."   Those who take instructions from "the wicked" that is, those who do not respect and obey God cannot expect true happiness.  The Psalmist tells us that the righteous man does not "linger in the way of sinners."   How often Oh, my God have I done this through the course of my life.  How often have I gone to places I should not have been, watched movies I perhaps should not have watched, or viewed images which excited sinful feelings and emotions.  I have "lingered in the way of sinners" in order to get a temporary thrill or a momentary pleasure with no thought for eternity.  I have "sat in the seats of the scornful."  I have laughed with those who scorn God and the Church.  I have intentionally on occasion scoffed at the notion that God is real and is everywhere with us.   With the help of Your Holy Word and Sacraments I hope to do better in the future to achieve the happiness promised by the Psalmist to those who do not do these things.

"Their delight is in the law of the LORD, and they meditate on his law day and night."  Psalm 1:2.    Does this mean that I should become like some ultra-orthodox Jews who send their wives out to work so that they can go the Yeshiva and study Torah all day?  That is certainly the literal sense in which this verse has been interpreted.  Or is it something much more spiritual?

To delight in the law of the LORD means that one will strive to obey God's law and to enjoy all the good things of faith.  To meditate on his law day and night may mean more than study, although it surely means this as well.  A verse well beloved of Evangelical Christians is 2 Timothy 2:15: "Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (Douay-Rheims Bible).  But more than this, like Mary, we are to "ponder these things in our hearts".  Then the living Torah, Jesus Christ, will truly dwell with us.

"They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper." (Psalm 1:3).    The prosperity referenced here is obviously not wordly prosperity.  Jesus said "Blessed are the poor".  Some of the most righteous people who are the closest to God are destitute in the eyes of the world.  It also does not mean that the righteous soul can expect good health or the absence of pain and suffering.   The greatest saints endured the greatest of suffering.  There is no Prosperity Gospel in real Christianity.  The prosperity spoken of here is the prosperity of Saint Therese of Lisieux or Saint Bernadette who suffered much but in the eyes of the world accomplished absolutely nothing in their short painful lives.  But millions of faithful people have drank from the well spring of Living Water that has gushed forth as the fruit of their lives and many souls have been converted and many prayers have been answered. This is the prosperity which the Psalmist speaks of.

"It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgement comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.  For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed."  (Psalm 1:4-6).  The Psalmist now compares the prosperity of the righteous with the doom of the wicked.  In this life, the wicked may indeed triumph and prosper.  But without spiritual roots, a worldly person is blown about by the changing fortunes of life.  Poverty and sickness will destroy such a person.  The day of judgment is coming for all of us.  The righteous who know and love God will go to be with Him and go deeper into His love forever.  The wicked, the unrepentant sinner who refuses God's grace, will be forever condemned to an eternity without God.  This is the spiritual condition called Hell.

Prayer after reading scripture:  O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations.  Through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.