Why Blood of the Lamb?
Originally posted 4/4/2012, but as with Holy Week's Missing Days, this has been a top search. Posting here for easier access!
During class last night, one of my students asked for a deeper explanation of why we use the term "Blood of the Lamb" when referring to the Eucharist.
Over the last few weeks, we've taken the story of Moses' Passover and applied it to the Passover / Last Supper of Christ. This is a very involved topic for adults let alone my sixth graders, but since they're a determined and bright bunch, I gave it a whirl.
I reminded them of the original Passover (that's still celebrated by Jews today). The Israelites had spent many years as slaves in Egypt, longing for God to rescue them from their suffering. God, in His Mercy, sent a final message to the Pharaoh in the form of the Angel of Death. In order to shelter His people from the Angel of Death, God commanded Moses to tell the Israelites to "take some of [the lamb's] blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb." (Exodus 12:7)
Moses had them use hyssop branches which they'd dip into the lamb blood and mark their doors. It looked something like this:
God promised the Israelites: "The blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you." (Exodus 12:13)
Thus, the blood of the lamb was a sign of God's Mercy towards the Israelites. Instead of striking out at them in judgement, God only struck out at the Egyptians who were not protected by this symbol of His Mercy.
Fast forward to the Last Supper, the feast of Passover in which the sacrificial lamb is offered up and its blood placed around the door frames of the Jews. Jesus not only fulfilled the request of God the Father by remembering the Passover through this act of sacrificing a lamb... Jesus established the "new and everlasting covenant" which was - for the very first time - all encompassing. No longer was this a mere covenant between God and the Israelites. This was a covenant between God and the whole of humanity, and Jesus offered HIMSELF as the Lamb.
When Jesus said "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28), He was accepting the role of the lamb. He, the Unblemished Innocent, was freely giving His Life so that those who partook of It would be cleansed of their sin, thus GAINING life. As such, His Blood - the seal of the New Covenant - became proof of God's Mercy.
God the Father's foreshadowing through Moses is completed through the Sacrifice of Christ at the Last Supper. Jesus truly shed His Blood in order to cover us, shielding us from the just punishments of God, just as the blood of the lamb over the doorposts shielded the Jews from the Angel of Death.
I then called to mind the words during the Mass, "Happy are those who are called to His Supper." We're specifically talking about the Eucharist... Christ's final, everlasting Passover meal in which He is the Paschal Lamb!
We are happy because we understand we accept Christ's Blood, fully present along with His Body, Soul and Divinity at Eucharist. We renew our covenant with God, re-pledging ourselves to follow His Will as He blesses us with the mark of Mercy - His Son. Our spiritual wounds healed, and our soul cleansed through His Presence, we are once more reunited to God through this most sacred, merciful mystery.
I sincerely hope they partake of the Eucharist with this in mind going forward!
Oh, and as an added bonus, the hyssop branches that were used by the Israelites during that first (and subsequent) Passovers were the same "reeds" used to offer Christ vinegar as He hung upon the Cross. God is certainly a stickler for the details. :)
The Sky Isn't Falling, Folks
Does anyone else feel a bit like characters in a Chicken Little book? Instead of the sky falling, I am constantly hearing "The Church is falling! The Church is falling!" from a swelling underbelly of paranoid Catholics and a growing army of gleeful anarchists.
If you take a look at the media, you'd think the Church was at death's door!
Relax, folks. I assure you, the Church isn't going anywhere. Remember that whole business with Peter getting renamed in front of the giant cave that devoured infants?
Let me refresh your memory, then. Since all four of the Gospels were pretty clear about this, it's obviously important enough for folks to understand.
Once upon a time, Simon (meaning "reed") was following a cool guy named Jesus. Simon wasn't super smart, he certainly wasn't very rich, and he didn't hold major sway in the community. That was okay. He wasn't interested in being the smartest guy in the room. Money didn't hold any power over him, and he didn't aim to have folks do his bidding. He was just a guy who loved Jesus and was willing to follow Him wherever He went - up to and including the Gates of Hell.
That's right, folks! Simon followed Jesus to the Gates of Hell! Believe it or not, this place actually existed in his time. It was located in Caesarea Philippi, and today, it looks like this:
What you're looking at is a giant cave that was carved into a massive chunk of stone. In fact, this giant stone mass housed several caves which, at the time of Jesus, would have been temples dedicated to various deities.
This particular one, however, was dedicated to Pan, god of desolate places (being a lonely little farmer / herder dude isn't the best diety-gig to have). Because his temple had a bit of water running through it, folks would come and sacrifice their infants over the cliff to him where they would either drown or die of blunt force trauma. Thus, because of the grisly sacrificing of such innocence, it was likened to the gates of Hades (even by the Romans).
So Simon followed Jesus all the way to Caesarea Philippi to stand before this giant stone structure that signified death and complete desolation. It was here that Jesus asked a series of silly questions. I'll let the Bible talk from here:
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Good old Simon. His birth name meant reed, something easily bent or even broken by the passing breeze.
Now, however, Jesus blessed him with the name that translates to "large rock." Jesus didn't change Simon's name because He was impressed with Simon's knowledge of Scripture. He didn't change his name because He liked how sinless Simon was. He didn't even change his name because of how faithfully Simon followed Jesus all around the known world.
Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter because name changes signify divine inspiration - a deep, spiritual change that dictates a person's destiny. It's part of the reason we are given new names at Confirmation, too!
Jesus specifically changed Simon's name to Peter because He asked a question with an answer that only could've been arrived at through divine inspiration. Simon was open to the movement of the Spirit, and this is why he was chosen as the cornerstone of the Church.
On Peter's shoulders the Church would be built. When Jesus goes on and explains that He will give him (after the Ascension) the "keys to the kingdom," He was referencing Isaiah 22:22-23.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder;
For those unfamiliar, the "key" wasn't just a symbol of power the king bestowed onto his most trusted servant. The key was an actual key that could open or lock all the doors in the kingdom (grain storehouses, vaults for gold, even the very temple doors). Whoever wielded the key was given the king's authority (with his approval, of course) while the king is absent. The servant then went about doing the king's bidding by opening grain storehouses for the hungry, the vaults to pay for kingdom necessities, making pronouncements, etc.
Jesus was telling Peter that his openness to divine inspiration announced him as this highly trusted servant. And thus, on Peter's shoulders, the glory of his ancestors (the Jews) and his descendants / offspring (the Catholic Church / various sects of Christianity) will hang on his leadership. PETER is the cornerstone on which Christ's Church is built.
If you continue reading Isaiah (and I love this), the original servant spoken of is named Eliakim. Verses 24-25 speak of Eliakim's eventual downfall and the institution of another servant. This servant is Peter, and when the Lord speaks, it is Jesus who does the speaking. How awesome is that?
Anywho, Peter is set as the everlasting servant. The gates of the hell (Death) shall not prevail against the Church set forth under his guidance. Jesus entrusts this destiny to Peter because he has proven his openness to divine inspiration. Peter proves himself as the faithful, humble servant who does not put his own "wisdom" above that of God the Father.
THAT is the sign of a great servant.
So why do I bring this up at all?
Because for all the bellyaching folks are making about Pope Francis, they need to keep in mind that he is a servant. He is a servant hand-selected by divine inspiration to "keep the keys" until Christ comes back for the 2nd Coming.
You trust Jesus, right? You trust that what he said 2 millenia ago still rings true today, yes? Then quit your bellyaching and trust that when He said He wouldn't let His Church crumble, He's not gonna let His Church crumble.
The Church is His eternal bride. He's not going to forsake us. We'll be persecuted and crucified, this is true. We must, after all, follow faithfully in His Footsteps. But we must remember that with a death fashioned after Christ's comes a resurrection as well.
We have been told that the time is coming for this great persecution and crucifixion, but we're not there yet. Even if we were, your job isn't to head for the hills or apostatize. Your job is to keep your oil lamps filled and burning brightly. Your job is to be a beacon of Christ to others. Your job is to continue praying for and supporting the Church.
I am deeply saddened for and shamed by those Catholics who are renouncing the faith simply because this pope doesn't do things the way they expect. Our faith goes beyond a man in a white cassock. Our faith is the Resurrected God-Man who consents to give Himself to us as food in the Eucharist... as mercy in the Confessional... as divine royalty in Heaven.
I'm also saddened for and shamed by those who are gleefully dancing over the tears of those Catholics who mourn the loss of faith in their communities and families. Things may look bleak from where you're standing. You might delight in the passing of laws that deride the Church and force Her members to face fierce punishment and humiliation, but we know better.
We've witnessed Our Lord upon the Cross. We've seen His Divine Face, even as blood and spittle made Him almost unrecognizable. We've recognized that through this torturous sacrifice, evil was conquered and hope for our eternal inheritance was restored. Laugh now, but we are no strangers to persecution.
Know this. We are the Church that Christ founded. We are His Body, we are His Bride. He will not allow us to be destroyed.
So to you Catholic Chicken Littles running around freaking out about the state of the Church, relax. Do your part by praying, sacrificing and being the person God meant for you to be. Do not worry about the pope shirking his mantum or the local priest singing One Bread, One Body. Unless you witness an actual sacrilege or liturgical abuse happening, try not to freak out and just turn to Christ in prayer. Don't spread paranoia and upset by lamenting the terrible state the Church is in because Father So-and-So allows women to distribute Communion.
You folks know I hate that. It's one of my biggest pet peeves. But ya know what? I don't deny myself participation in the one, true and Catholic liturgy because of bone-headed mistakes. Also, even if the priest in question did it PURPOSEFULLY KNOWING he was in the wrong, I'm not going to let his sin cut off my avenue to Christ, because even if he was stained with a thousand mortal sins, Father Pro-Women Eucharistic Ministers is still Christ's representative on Earth and is able to consecrate whereas I am not.
To you Christian Chicken Littles hoping beyond hope that the evil Catholic Church is finally crumbling, sorry. You guys are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We still pray for you at every.single.Mass. You are our offspring. Do not neglect your Mother.
To those of you who are foaming at the mouth waiting to ravage the remnants of a Church on fire, don't hold your breath. Seriously.
Fr. Sweet and I after his ordination
A friend of mine from HS was talking to me about a mutual friend of ours who was blessed to be given the vocation of priesthood a few years back.
Every now and again he'll come up in conversation, and without fail, I refer to him as "Father Sweet" (replacing "Sweet" with his actual name, mind you).
Our mutual friend, however, consistently refers to this priest by his high school nickname.
I understand that due to our high school relationships, it's assumed that we continue to utilize the same familiarity we've espoused in the past. Fr. Sweet, I think, expects that, too, since on two separate occasions (when he and I spoke in prep for my wedding), he laughed off my attempts to call him "Deacon" (he was transitory at that point).
For this reason, I've never questioned our mutual high school friends when they've called Father Sweet by his first name / nickname. I, however, cannot bring myself to do that. I don't expect others to follow suit, but I was pretty surprised when our mutual friend came down kinda hard on me for "insisting on calling him 'Father' when he is the same as the rest of us except he has a collar around his neck."
Color me stupified. My view is this:
Jesus called Simon to become a disciple. He spent a couple years forming him, teaching him, and revealing to him the Truths of God's plan for salvation. Upon testing Simon with the question of "Who do YOU say that I am?" Simon was found to be inspired with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. This inspiration was a sign from God the Father that Simon was ready to be christened with the name of Peter... "Cephas" (which means "rock") in Greek. Interestingly, this same word translates to "firstborn" in Aramaic.
Thus, Peter became the first-born Christian... the first to declare Jesus' Divinity through His Sonship of the One, True God. Already christened with the Holy Spirit (signified by his Divine knowledge), Christ took it a step further and christened Simon (meaning "reed") with the dignified name of "Peter," the rock upon which Christianity would be built.
Name changes throughout the Bible are significant. Name changes signify not a physical alteration, but a spiritual one. God changes a person by marking their souls with His Promise. For Abram (who became Abraham) it was the promise of a family (not just physical, but spiritual). For Jacob (who became Israel) it was the promise of a nation. For Saul (who became Paul) it was the promise of salvation and a share in the kingship of Christ.
With the importance that God places on names, I sorta feel as though I, too, should pay attention when God, Himself, deems a person worthy of a name change. Priests, in my eyes, fall into this category.
Priests are called, just like St. Peter, to be marked by the Holy Spirit. They are marked as representatives of Christ. They are called to shepherd God's people back to Heaven. As such, upon ordination, they receive the title of "Father."
That title is GOD-GIVEN. He was blessed to be called by God to be a "Father" to His people. Far be it from me to call Father Sweet by any other name. It isn't just my respect for him that solicits my "formality." It's actually my familiarity with and respect for God that solicits the "Father."
It's not just my high school priest friend that seems to get this treatment anymore. I know of several people who think nothing of calling priests by their first name (sans title). I admit that it's always unsettling to me, but I've never said anything one way or another about it to those who do it because I do not know their relationship with the priest in question. Who knows? Maybe the particular priest WISHES to be called by his first name. I don't know, thus, I don't cast judgement.
However, I was very surprised to have judgement cast upon me. Even after explaining my stance, this person thought I was just being "stupid."
Eh, I'll take "stupid" over "disrespectful" any day of the week.
A priest isn't just "us with a collar." A priest is marked soul-deep in a way that none of us can imagine. They are set apart from us. They are fundamentally different. They are endowed with the power of God, Himself. Thus, I willingly - JOYFULLY - acknowledge that grace with the humble term "Father."
No amount of name-calling, scorn or ridicule will change my mind.
***WARNING: Some images will offend folks. I apologize in advance. Also, my views are STRICTLY my opinions and might not perfectly reflect those of Judaism / Catholicism - I'm still working on that. I admit that this particular topic is a little hazy for me, and I welcome anyone who wishes to comment or redirect my read on it. Just trying to get a conversation going - not supporting or condemning one way or the other. Thanks!!!***
So an interesting comment popped up on my Newsfeed this morning. A young woman expressed exasperation at a Jehovah's Witness who basically condemned her to hell for her tattoos.
I jumped the gun a bit (having been "condemned" myself, this morning - I was on an indignant roll) and responded that tattooing was, in fact, in the Bible, and tattooing happens to be part of MANY religious practices all over the world.
Just because Mr. Door-Preacher interprets the Bible as a condemnation of everyone's soul does not, in fact, mean that the rest of the world does. It also most certainly doesn't mean that God does.
Anywho, I figured this would be a good topic to bring up since so many people seem to be confused about the "sin-potential" of tattooing and what the Bible actually says about it. I am, a bit, too, so open dialogue is always a plus.
Disclaimer: I've always wanted a tattoo. I've never gotten one, but I've always been intrigued by some of the more beautiful body art I've seen. Some artwork truly is beautiful, and I admit wanting a piece of the action for myself.
That being said, I've always refrained because of the stigma attached to them. I never - EVER - wanted my kids to utilize my tattoos as a means for their own questionable activities. I also never wanted to give them reason to think poorly of me (as I'm sure I can handle that on my own without the aid of taboos).
Anyway, my desire for tattooing is what led me to research the Biblical history of tattoos. I figured if I ever did get one, I'd want to make sure it was permissible so I'd have evidence to back myself up when folks would inevitably start raining hellfire on me.
So if you're wondering why I'd ever know any of this, my own selfishness is why. Ha!
So - onwards with the discussion!
First things first. What does the Bible actually have to say about tattoos?
Leviticus 19:28: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord."
This is typically the number one quote used by those who want to condemn tattooed folks to hell. However, this is like using a microscope to view a sunset.
When you only see a tiny part of the picture, you neglect to realize that there's a whole lot more to see. Until you remove the microscope and view the image in its fullness, you can't claim to pass judgement on the various colors, silhouettes, and cloud layers that work in tandem to create that sunset.
So, let's zoom out a bit and put some context to that particular quote.
Leviticus 19:26-31 deals with temple laws. You see, now that the Jews had to rely on Levitical priests to sacrifice and commune with God (instead of all the male heads of households before the Golden Calf incident), they were forced to create a gathering space in which these Levites could carry out the work of God. In developing their religious culture to match the punishment doled out by Divine Justice, a temple needed to be constructed which would serve as a central place for worship / sacrifice. This was the first time in Jewish history that they'd need a temple just like all the other pagan religions that were being practiced.
Because of this, God foresaw the very real possibility of the Israelites slipping back into their "Let's do what everyone else is doing!" habits. As such, He made provisions in the Law to ensure that His people would not be led astray by pagan customs.
The prohibitions in Lev 19: 26-31 ALL deal with prohibitions against pagan practices. God didn't want His people to slip into the idolatry of the surrounding nations because they were supposed to be set apart. Israel was MEANT to stand-out as different because their example of holiness (if practiced accordingly) would attract the pagan nations away from their sinfulness and towards God.
So, now that we know that, we need to figure out exactly what that aforementioned verse 28 really stated.
Leviticus 19:28: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord."
Alrighty - so understanding that these are based on the pagan religious practices of their respective temples, God is specifically saying, "Don't make yourselves LOOK like pagans."
It was typical of pagans to mutilate themselves as part of the grieving process. Also, the tattoos of some pagan cultures wasn't the colorful ink we think of when we hear the word tattoo. That sort of tattoo was reserved for the wealthy because they could afford ink and such. Others, however, had their skin seared in a pattern that became raised as the skin healed into a scar. It would've looked something like this:
So that's where the prohibition against tattoos originally came from. HOWEVER, there's an interesting line in Ezekiel that clouds the issue a bit.Credit: Catholic Caveman
"And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof." (Ez. 9:4)
Hey now wait a minute! I thought God doesn't want us tattooing ourselves!
Well, before you bust out your needles, again, let's pull away from the microscope and view the panoramic shot in full.
God was commanding the prophet to go through the Holy Land and mark those who are innocent of sin against the Lord. Those without this special marking upon their forehead were punished by Divine Justice. Those marked with the sign of "taw" (a letter of the Hebrew alphabet meaning "truth") escaped the wrath of God.
***Interestingly, this letter is translated to "T" using our alphabet... a symbol of the Cross of Christ. Another interesting thing that makes me giddy is that the Arabic version of the Hebrew taw is what looks to be a smilie face. Ha ha!***
Anyway, God's not talking about marking folks with tattoos. He just wanted to make sure His harbinger of justice could easily discern who needed to be slain and who didn't. So it's not like this was a permanent mark. Not to make light of a truly horrible situation, but my guess is the man with the linen cloth had something akin to a Sharpie. The mark definitely stood out, but it could be scrubbed away after a period of time (that period lasting through the close of slaughter).
Whew! Now that we covered all of that, we can get into the nitty gritty.
Are tattoos allowed, or aren't they?
According to most Jewish scholars, the answer is "No." Thus, if the Jews held that tattoos are a no-no, Christians would hold the same principle to be true (expounded upon in many of the epistles with the theme of our bodies being Temples of the Spirit).
However, does that mean to get one would be a sure-ticket to hell?
No. To my knowledge there's only one sin that is a sure-ticket to hell, and that's the sin against the Holy Spirit (refusing to trust that His Mercy is greater than your guilt). Granted, I don't claim to know the Mind of the Lord, but there's a difference between getting a tattoo of Zeus on your arm in the hopes that it brings you power and getting a tattoo of a butterfly after surviving breast cancer, ya know?
Plus, with these particular "little laws" of Leviticus, they really do have a substantial amount of social influence. As such, we need to understand that times have changed and these principles (not dogmatic in nature) are free to be interpreted differently at different times (which is why Jewish women pierce their ears even though that's technically forbidden in the same verse that forbids tattooing).
So is tattooing going to send you straight to hell? No. Could it possibly open the door to idolatrous actions that have you sliding down the slippery slope? Definitely - but so could that bag of Funions I'm currently eying. If I pop that baby open, I'm likely to go all sorts of gluttonous.
We are tasked with moderation and keeping our consciences clear before the Lord. He gave us a body with which to love and praise Him with. If you'd like to show Him honor by keeping a tattoo of His Mother over your heart, I certainly won't be condemning you for it. If you wish to praise Him by tattooing His Word on your hand so you keep it ever in-mind, far be it from me to prepare a seat in hell for you.
However, I can't see myself getting one simply because I don't feel doing those things would be beneficial to my spiritual life. I also tend to play it safe when it comes to Scripture. Ha ha ha.
Moral of the story: You cannot condemn a person for getting a tattoo. Unless your name is Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God, keep your mouth shut in judgement of another's soul. When in doubt, just offer a prayer to the Lord for their purity of heart.
So, anyone else have thoughts on this?
***Large uptick in visitors after dinner. Please let me know who is directing traffic my way. Thanks! Also, please keep the language clean and the discourse civil. I don't want to be deleting / editing commentary all night.***
Judaism and Catholicism
Why do you know so much about the Jews? Did you convert from Judaism?
The answer to this is simple - yet extremely important.
I did not convert from Judaism. Rather, I was blessed to be born into the faith that FULFILLS Judaism.
You see, Judaism and Catholicism are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one side without the other.
In the Old Testament, God unfolds His plans for humanity. We were created by Him to be part of His family. Much like parents long for children to love and be loved by, God desired a family to love and be loved by. Humanity was the crowning answer to His Love.
The Old Testament gives us our history - our FAMILY history. We come to understand God as Father through its books. Once we understand God as Father, we cannot help but understand the whole of humanity as our brothers and sisters.
Most people view the God of the Old Testament as an angry Zeus-like figure (hurling fireballs at cities or smiting folks for laughs). However, when you really sit down and read through the pages of the OT, you come to learn that far from being an irate and venomous bully, God is a loving, patient Father who repeatedly sets his wayward children back on the path towards their inheritance with Him in Heaven.
Israel, being His "firstborn" (in that the Jews are who He revealed Himself as Father to before any other nation), tended to get the brunt of the "tough love" in an effort to prepare them to act as "big brother" to the other nations who would come to know the Father through them.
However, no one was going to learn about God the Father if the Israelites weren't acting in accordance with God's Will. This is why God punished the Israelites each time they broke their end of the Covenant. God was trying to uphold them as the model of what humanity was supposed to be, but they kept rejecting His Way in lieu of the debauchery that served as the way for their brother nations.
Thus the need for God to constantly step in to remind them, "Hey, Israel... you're supposed to be My Firstborn - My High Priest. You're supposed to be leading people to me through your holy example, not hopping aboard the Sin-Train with them on the way to perdition!"
And if you note His method of punishment, each completely fits the crime. Nothing more, nothing less. Divine Justice is merciful like that. :)
So fast-forward through the centuries. God is always making promises to Israel, reminding them that they've been called to be the gate of graces for the whole of humanity. Through their nation, salvation would be granted to the world in the form of the Messiah. One day, a Christ would come who would fulfill ALL the promises God made to His people in the Old Testament.
The New Testament tells the story of the promised Messiah - a Man called Jesus.
The New Testament is not the foundation for Catholicism... it is the FLOWERING of Judasim (which, in fact, is the foundation of Catholicism).
Look upon the whole of our theology as a tree. The seed was planted by God, Himself, through His covenant with Adam. He nurtured this tree, allowing the roots to take shape through Abraham. The trunk of Israel grew strong, eventually supporting the flowering branches of Christianity. Catholicism, however, is the FRUIT of the tree.
We have been blessed to understand that Christ fulfilled the promises made in the Old Testament. We have been blessed to see that Christ has offered salvation through the new and everlasting Church He set upon the rock of St. Peter. And yes, this salvation (as promised) came through Israel. Jesus was a Jew, and the first Christians were Jews. The evangelists were Jewish. The crux of our heritage was found in Jerusalem (where Christ preached and eventually offered Himself as Sacrifice, obtaining our salvation).
So while I'm not exactly Jewish, I am a sister to the Jews. If not for their millenia of working the theological fields, if not for their many centuries of trying to follow the Will of God, I would not have my Catholicism. I am indebted to the firstborn of God!
Thus, upon my "coming back" to the faith, I made a real attempt to delve into Judaic theology. Only in understanding the Jewish religion can I ever hope to understand my own.
So I hope that answers the question. And as a personal note (because I know you're not Catholic, but some version of Protestant - my apologies for forgetting which), this is true of your faith as well. Christianity stems from Judaism. It's why all Christians keep the Old Testament as well as the New. So understanding Judaism would be beneficial to you just as much (if not more so!).
QB - Animal Sacrifices
In light of the last "But What About," a friend asked:
Why DID God constantly demand animal sacrifices in the OT? He's always asking for burnt offerings around the clock. That never sat well with me. It doesn't make sense. I don't see God wanting me to go out back and kill a bunch of His creatures. Why did He demand it back then?
What a great question!!! It has a logical answer, as well, I promise.
For one, let me start by saying that God loves His Creation. He loves the creepy crawly spider, the gross and slimy eel, and yes, He even loves the sheep, goats and bulls that He demanded Israel hand over day after day, night after night.
Why, then, would He wish them to be slaughtered in such droves in a seemingly barbaric fashion? You don't thoughtlessly slaughter cute, cuddly creatures simply to make yummy-smelling smoke that somehow glorifies God, right?
Right. Sort of.
You see, God never demanded animal slaughter from the Israelites as a people until they got sucked into the social constructs of Egypt. While they were slaving away under Pharoah for 400 years, they picked up some nasty habits from their overlords - chief among them the worship of cattle as gods.
God, having made a covenant with the Israelites that He would be their God and they would be His people, didn't take too kindly to His family suddenly forgetting about Him in lieu of thoughtless beasts. Thus, in order to remind them that these animals were not, in fact, worthy of adoration, God demanded that the Jews prove their loyalty (not to Him, but to themselves) by burning the objects of their idolatry.
Did God WANT to hurt the cattle? Of course not. Did He want to see them slaughtered and burned? No. However, God understood that in order for His wayward family to make a clean break with the unholy practices of the Egyptians, they'd need to rebel against the ingrained customs that had caused them to turn from His Love.
Basically, God was asking a drug addict to flush his stash down the toilet to prove he was really through with meth.
And at first, the Israelites said, "Sure, God, we'll totally do this! No problem!"
They offered the requested sacrifices (which were, unsurprisingly, the same animals most revered by the Egyptians) amidst joy and celebration. Why? Because God had just rescued them from Pharoah. In their joy and feelings of euphoria, they probably thought they could do anything God requested of them at that point.
Unfortunately, their break from Egyptian tradition was short-lived.
While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments from God, the restless Israelites decided they wanted to throw a party. With 400 years of Egyptian partying under their belts, they knew they couldn't have a proper party without erecting a ginormous golden statue of Apis (yes, that's an Egyptian god). So what did these Israelites do? They collected as much gold as they could and crafted it into a big old idol.
And to make matters worse, the Israelites attempted to cover up their sin of idolatry by proclaiming that the Calf of Apis was really just a representation of the God of Israel. Any and all resemblance of this idol to the idol they just swore never to worship again was PURELY coincidental.
And just like you don't buy that, God didn't, either.
So in order to ensure they broke up with idolatry for good, He commanded them to burn (day AND night) the objects of their folly. This sacrifice was not to promote animal cruelty, but to remind the Israelites that animal worship was a rupture to their covenant with God.
And none of the animal was wasted through sacrifice. After the Levites offered the sacrifice in accordance with the Law (which is the slaughter of these animals in as painless a way as possible), the carcass was distributed back for the purpose of utilizing it practically (meat for food, hide for clothing / tents, etc).
So yes, animal sacrifice was demanded by God in the Old Testament. However, it wasn't demanded because God enjoys inflicting pain upon animals. It was demanded because God needed to correct the erroneous idolatry of His children.
On Free Will and Evil
This entire entry stems from a thread regarding the "creation of evil" and free will. I wanted to post it here as well because I think it's a great conversation!
God grants us Free Will
God is the Supreme Author of creation... all things visible and invisible. Our creed states as much. However, does this mean He created evil as well?
My answer is no. Evil is not a thing to be created. It is a choice. One cannot "create" love, one can only choose it, right?
The same holds true for evil. One cannot "create" evil. One can only choose it. God, being Supremely wise, holy and loving, has the capacity for evil.
However (and this is a big however), being that He is Supremely wise, holy and loving, He eternally CHOOSES goodness. He eternally chooses love. THIS is the gift of Free Will that He imparted to us. If God doesn't have the capacity for evil, then God is not all-powerful. God wouldn't 'need' free will because He'd be incapable of evil. However, God IS all-powerful. The difference between Him and the rest of us, however, is that He's always chosen goodness and love over evil and hatred. Thus, God must have free will if He was able to grant it to us as a gift.
So, keeping His Perfect Example of free will in mind, let's move on.
God created the angels before humanity. Angels are purely spiritual beings that were also granted the grace of free will. We are taught through tradition that one third of these angels utilized their free will in opposition to the Divine Will of God (His Divine Will being Supreme Goodness). As a result, these angels were cast away from His Divine Presence (since to be united to God is to be united with His Will - which is Love above all else).
God did not cast them aside in judgement. They chose to dislodge themselves from His Goodness through pride. As a result, God, in His Goodness, created a place for them separate from the other angels who chose Goodness. Basically, He put the "bad kids" in the corner so they didn't disrupt the rest of the class. Those who wanted to continue to grow in love and understanding of God could remain with Him in Heaven.
Then God deemed it time for the physical realm to spring forth. After setting things into motion, He chose to bestow upon humanity the same gift given to the angels - free will. However, humans are intrinsically different from angels. Angels are purely spiritual beings. Humans are the union of body and soul (which is why Catholics believe in the "resurrection of the dead"). As such, our free will is going to be utilized differently from that of the angels (though with the same premise... freely choosing good over evil).
Eden was a physical realm that was in perfect union with the Will of God - Adam and Eve included. Genesis states as much when it writes of Adam "walking blameless before God." Adam's will was united to that of God's Divine Will, and there was peace. Eve, too, lived in union with God's Will. Until, that is, she meets up with a pesky little snake.
As we all remember from our elementary days, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were located in the center of Eden. The Tree of Knowledge, when we trace it back to it's Jewish roots, was known as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is an important distinction because Jewish tradition understands this Tree to be the mixture of good and evil. Until humanity (through Adam and Eve) ingested this fruit (thus introducing the conflict of evil), good was humanity's nature. Evil was something altogether separate that had no place in the nature of humanity. We simply understood and trusted that God knew best, and we willingly went along with the plans He set forth because we naturally understood Him to have our best interests at heart.
That changed due to the 1st sin (which was Pride, not disobedience). When the serpent suggested to Eve that she could gain the knowledge that God had and begin making her OWN plans that would be even better than those of God, she was feeling the temptation of pride. When she acted out in eating the fruit, it was not disobedience that goaded her... it was her own pride. Her mistaken belief that she could somehow gain wisdom above God's. That given the chance, her will could rival that of God's. Sound familiar? It was the very same sin that Lucifer introduced to the other angels. It was the very sin that caused their downfall as well.
This was the first time humanity said "No" to the Divine Will. The second time was when Adam came along and accepted Eve's sin into the family line. In allowing himself (as head of creation) to sully humanity by not only accepting this sin, but taking part in it, Adam solidified our downfall. Now that both of our parents (Adam and Eve) have sullied themselves with the stain of sin, all subsequent generations would feel the smudge on our natures. This is original sin. It's not an actual "sin" that newborns are held accountable for. It's the tendency towards sin that we have inherited from our ancestors. Much like the child of an alcoholic is more likely to become an alcoholic himself, the children of sinners are more likely to sin. We are children of Adam and Eve. The tendency has been passed from generation to generation, and with the exception of Our Lady, all of humanity has been marred by the stain of this original "No" to Divine Will... this original misuse of free will.
Out of love, God sentenced us to a physical death so that we might once more reunite ourselves to His Will. Since humanity had marred its nature through sin, God rightly passed judgement on us, deeming us unfit to reside in Eden as that was a place of peace and unity with God's Will. Humanity, having now turned from God's Will, would be forced to work their way back to their original Divine Inheritance. Free will, having been gifted at our time of creation, was not taken away. Instead, as punishment for misusing this gift to alter our purely good nature, we would need to learn to properly use this gift for love.
That is what our lives on Earth are all about. We are learning to love. We are learning to consistently choose good over evil. We are learning to trust the Will of God and allow ourselves to take part in His plans for Divine Providence. THAT is the meaning of our earthly lives.
Upon death, we are judged on how well we learned this lesson. Did we consistently strive to love others? Did we consistently choose good over evil? Did we trust in the Will of God to move our lives in the direction necessary to once more gain eternal happiness?
If the answer is a resounding "Yes," we gain entrance to Heaven. If the answer is "Eh, it was a hell of a struggle, and I've got a ways to go, but I at least learned that Your Will is right" we gain entrance to Purgatory with the promise of Heaven. Finally, if the answer is, "No, this is all bull, God, you're just a big bully" we cast ourselves into Hell.
And yes, I said we cast ourselves. Much as those original fallen angels had.
At judgement, we see our own lives in the Light of Divine Truth. We see our souls as God sees them, and in the face of this Truth, we cannot help but understand our successes and failings. We, ourselves, pass sentence before the Throne of God (before which no sin or dishonesty can stand). We accept whatever "reward" we are given because at that moment, we cannot help but understand God to be Supreme Justice. Thus, our soul either joyfully enters Heaven (where our free will exists, but has been perfected so that it is united always to the Will of God), willingly enters Purgatory (with the understanding that our free will can be cleansed through the fires of God's Love in order for us to prepare for Heaven), or willingly seeks Hell as the only respite from ourselves away from the burning Justice of God's Truth.
Christ as Judge
God is mercifully patient, this is true. However, He is Divine Justice as well, and this Justice is not simply meant to punish - it is meant to protect and nurture those who wish to remain true to His Divine Will.
In His Mercy, God grants us enough trials and experiences through our lives in order for us to properly learn Love. This was revealed by Saint Michael to someone whose name escapes me.
St. Michael the Archangel revealed that every person on earth is given exactly what he or she needs to learn how to live by God's Will. It is up to us to heed these lessons. They don't continue in Heaven because at that point, all free will ceases to formulate through one's own accord. It is either solidified with access to Heaven, becoming engulfed in the Divine Will, forged through Divine Love in the embers of Purgatory, or left to fester with no hope of respite in the bowels of Hell. Our actions on earth determine which area our free will goes for a make-over (if one is necessary) after earthly death.
A recent comment from a friend of mine has led me to this entry. He chooses to use a feminine pronoun for God. That's well and good. Considering his reasoning, it makes sense. God is tender, compassionate and merciful, and he feels as though these attributes have a feminine ring to them. Plus, considering that pronouns do little justice to the all-encompassing Spirit that is God, why not give some air-time to an under-utilized pronoun such as "she."
That's fair. I'm not writing this to alter his opinion on the matter. I thought it an interesting topic to delve into, so here I go!
Why do I choose to use "He" when referencing God?
For one, Christ is male. He (and all His Jewish ancestors before Him) referred to God using masculine words, and all parables which describe God use male persons as corresponding symbols: father, bridegroom, rabbi, king, judge.
Why might that be? After all, in Genesis, it does say God made humans "male and female" after His own image, right? Does that mean God is a hermaphrodite?
Not so much.
We humans tend to think of everything on a physical realm because we're physical beings. However, we're also spiritual beings, having been gifted souls that are intrinsically united to our bodies. Our souls contain the neshama of God. THAT is the the part of God that makes us "like unto Him." That's the part that separates us from the rest of creation.
Since God's neshama is neither male nor female (it is simply a gift of His Being - specifically His Wisdom and Power to understand and choose good over evil), that phrase in Genesis isn't referring to a physical likeness of God. It's referring to a spiritual likeness in which humans are granted a very specific dignity.
The best way of explaining this that I've seen comes from the Catholic Patriot. He wrote:
I might not agree with all that Catholic Patriot has to say on this subject, but I think the above succinctly captures my thoughts in a better way than I could. :)
Try as we might to label God, we can't do Him justice because our minds are simply not equipped with handling it. However, we've been given little glimpses here and there of what our God deems Himself to be, so far be it from me to go against the examples He laid forth through that of His Son - and His Son's reciprocal teachings of His "Father."
In a nutshell, that is why I choose masculine pronouns.
I mean, there's also things like the Blessed Mother being daughter, spouse and mother of God as well, but that's another conversation for another time. :)
Why "Good" Friday?
So this question came up both in my CCD class and in an open forum for adults last week.
I wasn't surprised to see it in my CCD class. They're sixth grades. However, I was surprised that it cropped up in the forum from a well-versed Catholic adult!
So I figured I'd share my answer here since it's a more prevalent question than I'd realized.
We technically have the Romans to thank for the title of "Good Friday."
See, back when the St. Paul started preaching the "good news" of Jesus Christ, there was another word you might be familiar with in constant use... "gospel."
Before us Christians usurped it as our own, the word "gospel" had a very specific connotation. Since Rome enjoyed conquering every community known to man, they were frequently in far-off places fighting a variety of different people. As a result, they needed fast couriers to let the various generals (and Caesar) know if they were winning or needed backup.
When these couriers skitted back to the capital with news of a victory, they called it the "euangelion" (which is actually the Greek word for evangelization or "bringing good news"). The good news was victory for the people. Oddly enough, it also referenced the official laws and privileges that these new Roman citizens could be assured of if they played nice and followed Roman authority. That, in turn, was the actual "gospel."
So apply this knowledge to what our Christian gospel actually is. St. Paul describes it best as the death and resurrection of Jesus. From the Throne of the Cross, Christ defeated the enemy and assured salvation for those who would accept His Authority. It makes perfect sense, then, why we would consider that first Good Friday to be "Good." It was the true trumpet of humanity's "gospel." That act secured for us victory in addition to the privileges that come with being a child of God.
As the years went on, this word was picked up and converted into "Godspel." It was a Germanic combination of "God / good" and "story / message." That's why most of us today understand the word to mean "Good News." Originally, however, it meant an entire group of people were welcomed into the fold with privileges and rewards so long as they agreed to abide by the authority of the one who conquered their territory.
In other words, Jesus came to earth, conquered it through His Passion, Death and Resurrection, and gained for us the inheritance of eternal life so long as we submit to His Will (which is nothing more than loving one another as He, Himself, has loved).
ANOTHER LBM! Jesus as Temple
Okay, once again, God placed some breadcrumbs for me to follow these last couple weeks, and I absent-mindedly popped them into my mouth one-by-one, never even realizing I was being set up for a cool perspective that I could meditate on for a while.
A blogger I follow, Devin Rose, recently posted this entry regarding the Jewish lore regarding the Eastern Gate that I found particularly interesting. I'd never heard of this particular prophesy, so I dutifully followed his links and read the article written by Dr. Reagan.
I immediately went back to Devin's page with a flurry of thoughts:
Jesus, Himself, was (and is) the new Temple. When His Heart was pierced by the lance, couldn’t that be seen as the “opening of the Eastern Gate”?
After all, through this final wound, His Precious Blood and water flowed forth (which we now recognize as His Divine Mercy through Saint Faustina).
This would explain the other quotes from the article (which, BTW, mostly consist of OT prophecy). Jesus did, in fact, walk on the Mount of Olives. He now dwells with us forever through His Eucharist. And for as much as folks don’t like to picture His Passion as glorious, He gained for us salvation upon that gruesome Cross. His Death and subsequent Resurrection are about as glorious as it gets.
However, as I was thinking more on this over the next few days, I randomly came across this blog entry from Shameless Popery while I was looking for images of Jesus as the New Temple. Don't you know my line of thinking followed his, and he took it about 100 light years further than I!
He also brings up the possibility of the Blessed Mother being the Eastern Gate, which would make more sense than my idea that it might be Christ's Sacred Heart. After all, the Blessed Mother's womb certainly fits the bill! :)
So yeah - how wonderful that all these little things lined up to create a much fuller picture of Salvation History and God's promises fulfilled!
Moses accepting the Word of God
So I was prepping for next week's lesson on the Exodus. I came across the following excerpt from Exodus 24:9-11:
"Moses then went up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders of Israel, and they beheld the God of Israel... yet He did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites. They saw God, and they ate and drank."
Basically, this portion of the story occurs after Moses delivers the Word of God to the Israelites. In "one voice" they consent to the Mosaic covenant linking them as a people to God. They follow the prescribed sacrificial offerings which solidifies them as a family through the physical symbol of blood. Then, Moses and the elders take part in the spiritual sign of family as they partake in a Heavenly feast in which they "saw God" and yet remained unharmed (important point because Jews believed that to see God was automatic death). God did not "lay a hand on these chosen Israelites" because they were now His family. They feasted together in the Presence of God which fully solidified their covenant with him.
Now, it took me a bit for this quote to register, so bear with me.
Since my class has been going over covenant history (we've gone through Edenic, Adamic, Noahic and mostly Mosaic), I was really trying to take them a bit more in-depth with the Mosaic covenant because of the 1st Reading for this coming weekend (Ten Commandments).
However, as I was putting together my lesson plan, I copied and pasted the "review" from last week (which consisted of Adoration since I had reminded them about why we'd be taking part in it during Lent). Here's where things get entertaining.
As I got midway through my lesson plan, having just highlighted Adoration for myself through the review, I started putting pieces together.
"Hey wait a minute! The Eucharist is the ratification of the New and Everlasting Covenant which fulfills the promises made throughout Salvation History! Not only do we feast WITH God, we feast on HIS FULL PRESENCE - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. So just as the Jews were able to "see God," we, too, are given this privilege and grace through our own spiritual feast (made visible through the physical sharing of the Eucharist).
Gotta love when things come full circle.
And then when I was looking up images to use for this entry, I came across the one you see at the top with Moses kneeling down to accept the Ten Commandments from God the Father. I had another little light bulb go off over my head. Moses was kinda receiving a precursor to the Eucharist. After all, what is the Word of God other than Jesus Christ, Himself?
Okay, I now have the cheesiest grin on my face. It's like all these little pieces are coming together and I can't help but shake my head in wonder. God is such an incredible Author. His foreshadowing simply cannot be outdone!
Anti-Semitism and my CCD Class
Consider my heart both horrified and shattered.
We were talking about Good Friday during CCD class and one of my students raised her hand and asked if it was true that "all Jews went to hell because of what 'they' did to Jesus."
That question seriously made me feel like I was just mugged in the middle of Madison Square Garden on a Sunday afternoon.
After shaking what must've been the most stupified look ever from my face, I replied, "That's not true at all. No one can be sure of which souls are worthy of Heaven and which are punished in hell but God. Where did you hear that?"
She replied her father had told her. Another kid called out that he'd heard the same thing from his dad.
I was so beyond floored I simply don't have the words to express how distraught I was that there were parents teaching their impressionable children this horrifying prejudice!!!
So I attempted to redirect them and make it painstakingly clear that NO ONE can claim they know anyone (let alone an entire group of people) will end up in hell. NO ONE.
I gave them the example of Osama bin Laden. Of course every kid balked at first and basically said, "Surely you're out of your mind, Mrs. G. Obviously that SOB is using molten lava as mouthwash right now." However, I asked them to remember that even bin Laden was a child of God. God created him, too, with a soul and a heart just like the rest of us. I pressed them to answer if God loved bin Laden any less than the rest of us. Though they fought against admitting it, they finally relented and agreed that, yes, God "probably" loved bin Laden as much as He loved the rest of us. So with that in mind, would it be possible that God granted bin Laden a tiny moment of grace before his death in which bin Laden understood the pain he caused and sought forgiveness?
Again, this is all to prove a point to them. In their young minds, bin Laden is the most evil man ever - even worse than Hussein. So to be able to admit that even bin Laden might've somehow found his way into Purgatory forced them to admit that there's no way anyone could throw an entire group of people into the fire.
But wow. I was totally not prepared to have that one tossed my way last night. I'm seriously not even sure what I should do with the parents of these kids. Do I give them a call and say, "So hey... Dick and Jane brought up something interesting in class this week that I'd like to discuss with you" in the hopes that they realize what they say DOES have an effect?
Ugh - I don't know. I'm still truthfully a bit loopy from that. Thinking about it makes my heart hurt. It really does.
Dear Lord, these folks need to remember that Jesus, Himself, was a Jew! Those calling for His Death weren't just Jews - there were gentiles present as well! Christ died not just to save the Jews - He died to save ALL of us!
Le sigh - may God forgive us our foolishness.
NatGeo's Version of Jesus - Ay
In between running after Vincent and pulling one of my cats off the wall (no, you didn't misread that, and yes, I had to pull her off my wall) I found National Geographic's Jesus of Nazareth on TV. Interested to see where they were going with this, I kept it on as background noise only to be drawn in repeatedly by the extremely poor historical context given by supposed experts.
Just a few of the ridiculous statements given that prove these folks had no idea what they were talking about:
1. Jesus "had probably never been to the temple" which is why He "reacted so violently" towards the moneychangers.
Never been to the Temple? Are you KIDDING me?! The NT places Him there at least 3 separate times (not including the time He was "found" as a youngster). And as for His "violent reaction" might I point my dear readers to this historically accurate and Biblically sound explanation.
2. There was no Cenacle - Jesus held His Last Supper on the roof of a random building because room was probably too sparse for a group of people so large (meaning Jesus, His 12, and the various female disciples that followed Him).
Something that a lot of folks tend to miss about Jews back then is that they were just as fragmented as Christians are today. You had the upper-class Jews, the religious zealots, the Essenes, and the Jews by blood only. You had folks following John the Baptist, Jesus and probably a smattering of other folks, too. When you realize this, you then realize why that phrase from Holy Thursday becomes key to figuring out exactly where Jesus held His Last Supper.
When the Apostles are freaking out over where to hold the Passover meal, Jesus simply says "Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters" we'll have our meal.
This doesn't seem like a big deal to most people. Maybe some might think "Hey Jesus... Jerusalem is packed - how in the world do you want us to spot a particular dude carrying around a pitcher of water? Are you seriously attempting to have us try to find a needle in the haystack?
Think for a quick second, though.
"A MAN will meet you carrying a PITCHER OF WATER."
Back in those times, men didn't do that sorta stuff. Drawing water from the well was a strictly female thing to do. So this wasn't a needle in the haystack goose chase. Instead, Jesus was specifically telling them EXACTLY where to go in order to find a man carrying around a pitcher of water. Only ONE place in Jerusalem would fit the bill, and that'd be (drumroll please...) the Essene quarter. Since Essenes lived a very basic (and typically celibate) lifestyle, the men were forced to take on traditionally feminine duties as the two sexes lived separate from one another. Thus, the only place in Jerusalem you'd be able to find a guy carrying water would be the Essene district.
The Essenes weren't exactly the most loved bunch of Jews. They were highly pious and did not much appreciate what they saw as a degradation of the Temple by secularism and government pressures. However, they waited with great longing for the Messiah, and were huge followers of John the Baptist. As such, they welcomed Jesus kindly and would have given Him anything requested. Thus, the Cenacle is still highly plausible and again takes care of women being present at the Last Supper.
I have no doubt that women helped with the preparation of the meal. After all, Our Lady was close by when Jesus began His Passion, so it's likely she was staying with relatives (who were very likely Essene themselves). That doesn't mean she was present for the Last Supper. It also doesn't mean that Mary Magdalene was, either (which is the point they were trying to make).
Speaking of Mary Magdalene...
3. Jesus and Mary Magdalene were an item.
Bah and humbug. This tired rubbish is so beyond played out that I'd rather listen to the Macarena a thousand times than waste my breath on this anymore. It was at that point I abruptly changed the channel.
Ah well. I noted they didn't seem to interview many Catholics. Lots of Christians, but I didn't note any Catholics. Come to think of it, I didn't note any Jews, either. For a special on a 1st century Jewish man, you'd think they'd do a better job of scouring for experts.
Question Box Stumper - Adam and Eve
So last Tuesday, I chose the Big Bang Theory question out of the question box. While I was elated to delve into that with my students, I got smacked with a stumper at the tail end of that discussion.
One of my kids shot her hand up and asked "Why did God create man before woman?"
I knew it would happen eventually. My first stumper! I took a moment and said, "That is a great question! I honestly am not sure of the answer. Looks like this is one we get to save for next week!"
She was triumphant. She deserved to be. All the questions that got sent my way this year have been cake. To finally stump me... all the kids got excited. Ha ha ha. It was fun to see them so giddy. The best part, though, is I know all of them will be looking forward to how I tackle it this week. It's one of the reasons I love the question box so much. I've always got something to get them psyched about coming back!
Anyway, this one really did stump me. I talked it over with my Spiritual Director to gain some insight, but she had the same original reaction I did. We both had a good laugh over it, but neither of us offered any "concrete" answer that would satiate (and not befuddle) 6th graders.
My original thought process was "Man was created in the image of God. God, though "genderless" personifies the creative capacity of men moreso than the creative capacity of women. Though women take part in creation, it's a more passive role - accepting into herself the life that man offers. Mind you, I don't claim women are more passive in bearing forth life ('cause let me tell you, honey... we're about 1,000 times more active than men are in that regard). However, in the simple act of creation, women are the passive recipients of the life force men actively give.
Also, Adam may very well have come before Eve to solidify that God wishes men to be the heads of families.
That's when it hit me... God didn't create man first. God created man and woman at the same time. After all, when God brought forth Eve, He brought her forth from the rib of Adam. Eve, though not "alive" in the way we picture her - wandering around the garden getting hustled by a wily snake - existed within the bosom of Adam. God wished of Adam to recognize the need for a true mate so that Adam would appreciate the gift when God deemed him ready to accept her.
I then went and looked up the Hebrew versions of Adam and Eve. Here's what I found:
Adam comes from the Hebrew word "adamah" which means "earth" (a hilarious note for Battlestar Galactica fans out there). It also traces roots back to an Akkadian word, "adamu" meaning "to make." Akkadian, by the way, is a defunct Semitic language, so it's no wonder it shares the sound of the Hebrew.
Eve (or Eva) comes from the Hebrew word "havah" or "chavah" meaning "to breathe" or "to live."
Keeping this in mind, it makes sense, then, that Adam (earth) already possessed the breath of life (Eve) within himself. Until he was mature in both mind and spirit to appreciate understanding this gift, God with-held this knowledge from him. Adam thus had to ask God for a mate (prayer, anyone?). Only when Adam understood his need and God as the answer to that need did God cause Adam to sleep, thus enabling Him to "awaken" Adam, opening his eyes to the gift of woman that He chose to bless humanity with.
Okay, for real, how awesome is that?! The Holy Spirit let me dangle for a whole week this time, but ya know what? He knew the kids would be hounding me tonight, so He cut me a break. :) Three cheers for the Holy Spirit! :)
Render Unto Caesar...
This Sunday's gospel is of great interest to me. Only recently did I come to understand the meaning of "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."
I admit that as a child, I was always highly confused by this. First, it's on the heels of Jesus' seemingly psychotic reaction to moneychangers in the Temple. That, in and of itself, was at odds with my idea of the peaceful, loving Jesus of the NT. The Jesus who overturns tables, scatters the merchants, and physically assaults the wares of the temple-goers seemed so fundamentally wrong that I'd brush it off, unable to reconcile the differences.
Next, Jesus seems to be saying that just because a coin has the Emperor's face on it, it belongs to him. That seems like a cheap way to say "Well, his name is on it, so give it back." That always reminded me of the bully in school who would say "That desk is mine!" and when you'd look at him thinking "What?" he'd point out his name, angrily etched into the grain, as proof the territory belonged solely to him.
However, I came across a book not too long ago that taught me how to delve deeper into the context of these passages. In attempting to better understand the Bible, this is one of those passages I took out for a test drive.
As I try to teach my current crop of students, we cannot fully appreciate the lessons of the New Testament without first understanding the Old. We also cannot understand the lessons of Christ without looking at His messages as a whole.
In other words, I'd been going about processing this particular story all wrong. Instead of "ignoring" the images of Jesus I was uncomfortable with, I needed to embrace them. Instead of reading this story out of context (just a snippet of a larger message), I needed to place this on the timeline of Christ's message and hear what He was trying to say and listen to the message as one of those present would have.
So let's lay out the framework for those less familiar with this particular story.
Jesus is preaching, publicly, to a group of the faithful.
The Pharisees send a representative to entrap Jesus with a question. The answer to that question, they believe, will indict Him against Rome and ensure His execution as traitor.
Jesus discerns the motive for the question and reprimands the representative, not before, however, indicting the representative against the Jewish people He was preaching to.
Now that we have the framework, we need to place this in a timeline. This exchange happens on Holy Tuesday... two days after Palm Sunday and three days before Good Friday. Unless you really know your gospels, that fact can be lost when you're hearing this reading on a Sunday in October.
The reason this is particularly important is the holiday in which it occurred. Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover. Passover brought INCREDIBLE numbers of Jews from all over the empire to the temple to celebrate their most important feast. Keep in mind... since Jerusalem was a huge mecca the week leading up to Passover, extra Roman authorities were brought in to keep Roman rules in check.
In other words, there were a lot Jews in Jerusalem and because of that, there were a lot of Roman soldiers eyeballing everyone as a potential threat. That's also why Pontius Pilate was in Jerusalem. He didn't typically reside there. He, too, was brought in as an extra presence... a heavy reminder that though the Jews were allowed to practice their religion, they were still to recognize Rome and Caesar as the supreme "Son of God."
As a result, it makes perfect sense that the Pharisees would be extra inclined to get Jesus out of their hair. After all, Jesus represented a very real threat to them. They weren't just concerned that He challenged their religious authority... they were extremely concerned that He threatened their very existence in the face of THEIR bosses (the Romans) who had tasked them with keeping their people under the authority of Caesar.
So the fact that Jesus is running around preaching, in public, about the Kingdom of God and inviting the lower classes to unite (peacefully) against the materialistic, imperialistic and oftentimes violent Rome... it's no wonder their panties were in a bunch! If Pontius Pilate caught wind that the puppet leaders of the Jews weren't doing their job in assuring the authority of Rome, not only could they have been deposed - they could have been put to death as traitors themselves!
Again, this is VERY important to understanding why the Pharisees were so gung-ho about trapping Jesus in a public setting. Considering that Jesus had already gone berserk with the moneychangers just a day earlier, their nails were bitten to the cuticle and they needed to prove themselves as capable of squashing this rebellious leader.
The question they posed to Jesus was this: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
Truth be told, that is an absolutely BRILLIANT question to ask. To answer "No!" would label Jesus a rebellious traitor who could be jailed or worse for His denial of Roman rule. To answer "Yes!" would label Jesus as a traitor to His own people. Remember, the Jews at this time were under the rule of Rome. The yearly siphoning off of their hard-earned money was a painful reminder that they were not free and were, instead, working to prop-up the arrogance and wealth of their overlords. This is why tax collectors were hated. This is why money-changers weren't trusted.
So the Pharisees figured this question was win-win for them. A "no" would ensure Jesus was sent to jail and a "yes" would ensure every Jew listening to Him would spite Him henceforth. I have to give credit where credit is due, and they deserve credit here. That is a BRILLIANT question to pose.
No worries, though. For as brilliant as that question is, Jesus' answer trumps it by a mile. Jesus says "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax."
This first piece of information, though typically glossed over, is hilarious. Why did Jesus call them hypocrites? Why did He ask them to show Him a coin?
Because Jesus didn't have a Roman coin! None of the people He was preaching to would have had a Roman coin. Only the Pharisees or their corrupt representatives would be carrying around Roman coins! Jews would have to go to the Temple to change their local currencies into Roman currency in order to pay the tax. Once the tax was paid, they'd go right back to using local currency, doing their best to avoid any and all ties with Roman lordship (including use of Roman money).
Jesus, in asking for a coin, proves two things at once. First, He is unified with His Jewish followers against using Roman money. Secondly, He proves that the Pharisees were NOT unified with the Jews because they DID, in fact, keep and use Roman money.
This is why Jesus revealed them to be hypocrites. They put Jesus to the test without realizing that they, themselves were guilty of that which they were attempting to paint Christ into a corner with. Ah... hilarious.
Anyway, after they acknowledge the image of Caesar on the coin Jesus' response continues "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
This response is in no way evasive. It seems like that at first glance, though. However, in order to understand how precise this response is, the listeners must first understand the reference Jesus makes. Since the Roman soldiers wouldn't have been avid followers of Jewish Scripture, they wouldn't have picked up on the fact that Jesus was calling His listeners to mobilize for the coming revolution. The Jews Jesus was preaching to, however, would have heard the message loud and clear. The representatives of the Pharisees, too, would have understood the message, but would have been powerless to explain it to Roman soldiers. Thus, Jesus spoke the Truth free from reprisal.
You may be wondering how this could have been a call to mobilize. Again, let's go back to the Old Testament.
1 Maccabees, Chapter 2 deals with the defilement of the Temple and the enslavement of the Jews by Gentile forces. A small group of Jews decided to accept the violent force the Gentiles were using in coercing them to ignore God and His Commands. As a result, they were murdered viciously. Another small group of Jews, seeing this attack on their way of life, banded together and began a rebellion against the Gentile forces, demanding respect for the laws of God in the face persecution from Gentiles (those with no regard for God's Commands). The leader of this rebellion, Mattathias, was put to death for his part. However, before he accepted his fate, he pressed his followers to continue the fight for the right to follow God's Will above all else. His final words before execution were "Pay back the Gentiles what they deserve and observe the precepts of the law."
Mattathias wasn't telling his followers to pay the Gentiles taxes. He was requesting that his followers avenge the violence committed by the Gentiles and to always give God the obedience His Law deserves.
This entire nuance was lost on the Roman soldiers who no doubt stood watch over the crowd. Jesus' followers, however, must have inwardly rejoiced, amazed - no doubt - by His courage and desire to overthrow the Romans who so viciously ruled them.
Jesus took their very dangerous trap and turned it into such a triumphant victory that the Pharisees were probably besides themselves with fear. It's no wonder they stepped up their efforts (through Judas) to dismantle Jesus' "Kingdom of God" rebellion before they, themselves, ended up killed.
So now, having a better grasp of the timeline, framework, and audience of this exchange, we come to understand that Jesus isn't just saying "Everything belongs to God." Jesus is concretely saying: "Followers, I have come as I have promised you. I have begun the rebellion as your Messiah. I have come to bring you salvation... to bring you the Kingdom of God. For that, I am happy to die. I now ask the same of you. After My Death, you must continue to carry out God's Commands. You must continue to strive to follow God's Will, and God's Will alone. Despite imperialism, despite materialism, despite the persecution that is sure to come, you MUST be willing to abandon yourselves to the Word of God. YOU carry the stamp of God within your soul, and as such, YOU belong to God. Give yourselves to Him wholly in all you do."
A very interesting and spine-tingling note about Mattathias' final words that only more firmly cements Jesus' prophetic call to action:
"Here is your brother Simeon who I know is a wise man; listen to him always, and he will be a father to you. And Judas Maccabeus, a warrior from his youth, shall be the leader of your army and direct the war against the nations."
Just as Mattathias left his followers Simeon (also known as Simon or "Thassi") as a wise and trusted father for his people, Jesus left for us Peter (ALSO known as Simon) as our first Holy Father. It's interesting to me that Mattathias' Judas is a champion of the Jewish armies while Jesus' Judas turns out to be unwitting champion of the enemy's army.
"Behold, I make all things new!"
Do Animals Have Souls?
On the heels of this post, I thought it best to reaffirm something that might have become a little confused due to my handling of Midnight's euthanasia.
I must point out that I (as a Catholic) do not, under any circumstances, believe in the practice of human euthanasia. As a testament to my reverence for human life in all its forms (conception through natural death), I trust in Divine Providence that all stages of life (including bodily decay through age, illness, etc) are meant for a higher purpose.
Animal euthanasia, however, is an entirely different ballgame.
Mary, concerned that Midnight might be trapped inside some sort of "kitty-Purgatory" asked me why it was OK to euthanize animals but not humans, especially when it's considered "humane" to end the suffering of a terminally ill pet.
This is an extremely valid question, and one that shows logic and compassion. I've been posed this question in the past, but never really took the time to explain as I did to Mary yesterday. I'm posting an edited version of my response here in the hopes that it answers that question for others who are grappling with the same fear, worry or confusion.
The short answer to the question, "Do all dogs (or animals in general) REALLY go to Heaven?" is YES. No collecting of $200 as you pass Go, and no jail-time through Purgatory. Animals do have souls, and they do go straight to Heaven.
Now for the more involved answer...
In Judiac tradition (keeping in mind that Catholicism is the fulfillment - the full expression - of the promises made by God to the Jewish people), there are a few words to describe the life and soul of both people and animals. The same words are used in an effort to paint an increasingly detailed description of how the physical world becomes animated through the invisible (or Divine) world.
For example, in Genesis, the word "neshama" means "breath" or "wind." It translations roughly into "breath like my own" In other words, when God animated Adam and Eve, He very concretely breathed Life into them, in His own Image. This breath of life... this "neshama" is the soul... the immortal animation of our mortal bodies.
In Leviticus 17:11, the word "nefesh" is utilized in stating that "the life [nefesh] of the flesh is in the blood." As a result of the close connection between blood as life-sustaining and God's breath as a fluid, living function, Judaic tradition revered blood and soul to be inseparable. In other words, blood was the physical manifestation of the soul, which is why it wasn't considered impure until it left the body (thus no longer serving a life-sustaining purpose). It is also why blood was used in worship. Blood, being so closely united to the spirit- to the breath of God- was revered and precious.
Finally, we have "ruah" in Ecclesiastes. Much like "neshama" from Genesis, "ruah," too, means "breath of God." The beautiful sentiment found in Ecclesiastes 12:7 states that a person dies when "the dust returns to the ground where it had been and the [ruah]returns to the God who had given it."
In other words, death happens when our bodies exhale that final life-sustaining breath which returns upwards to the God who originally deigned to forge that breath in a mother's womb at conception. The physical body, now separated from the soul, decays rapidly into the dust it was created from.
To break it down:
Ruah is the invisible breath of God that animates physical bodies
Nefesh is the result of this ruah (the physical motion of the invisible animation)
Neshama, to cycle back to the story of Genesis, is specifically granted to man through Adam because this breath of God was "like unto Ours." In other words, Neshama is the unique part of God's Ruah that enlightens humanity and gives us the capability for free will.
So yes, God gave the gift of Life to all His creation, but He reserved a special, more enlightened life for Man. That is "neshama" and it is because of this "neshama" that Purgatory exists for humanity, but not for our beloved pets.
Since animals have no free will (or neshama) to utilize, they can never really "sin." Sure, they can pee on the carpet, chew your favorite boots or claw apart your newly upholstered sofa, but sin? Not so much. As a result, once their mortal life ends, their life force is returned to God, free of the stain of sin, and thus not in need of the cleansing of Purgatory.
Humans, on the other hand, who have been given the grace of Free Will, also have the responsibility of using that gift wisely. Since humanity is pretty much incapable of always utilizing Free Will to do good, Purgatory was created as a mercy to help us one day unite ourselves back to the God who first gave us life.
It is important to note, at this point, that while we are still alive, God offers us, through Divine Providence, countless opportunities to rectify the wrongs we created by misusing the gift of Free Will. This counts as a "Purgatory on Earth."
I'll be dedicating tomorrow's blog to this. Stay tuned!
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