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.***
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!).
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.
The Original "Hulk"
So a friend of mine brought up a good question while we were discussing theology yesterday. Mind you, this friend is an atheist (I wonder, sometimes, if I have any other variety), so the typical atheist "But What Abouts" came up.
But What Abouts (BWA) is my shorthand for any of the typical "But what about God telling you it's OK to kill a slave" or "But what about God allowing for rape so long as you pay the virgin's father a few shekels" arguments that arise when folks try to change a faithful person's belief in the truth of the Bible.
Anyway, the BWA that came up yesterday revolved around good old Samson. Many non-Christians are familiar with his story because he's typically portrayed as a Conan-like warrior with long, flowing locks that magically give him power to topple entire buildings with the flex of his biceps. The implication was that Christians believe in magic hair.
Unfortunately, what's typically left out of these childhood stories of Samson is anything of substance.
Samson wasn't just some Hulk-figure who had "magic hair." He was one of the Judges of the Old Testament.
Judges were God's answer to the constant failings of the Israelites during their 40 year punishment outside of the Promised Land. In the 40 year time span between Israel coming upon the Promised Land and finally inhabiting it, the Israelites went through a well documented cycle of:
"Hey, everyone, let's sin - it's fun!"
"Uh oh - now that we've sinned, we're being punished with the effects of our sin!"
"Aw, man! God, we're really sorry for disobeying Your Law again, can you please help us out by sending someone who will lead us to justice?"
God sends someone termed a "judge" to restore balance to the Israelites.
Everyone says, "Yay, God! Thanks for being awesome and saving us! We'll abide by Your Convenant forever."
A few years pass and then sin starts looking super fun again.
Repeat. A lot.
Samson was one of these judges that God raised up from amongst the Israelites to restore balance and justice to His people.
Not many people realize this, but Samson had an annunciation similar to John the Baptist. An angel appeared to his parents, too, and affirmed that, though they were barren, they'd bear a son who would save Israel from the Philistines. As such, the angel instructed his parents to raise him as a nazirite.
Now, what the heck is a nazirite?
Well, since the tribes forked over their right to perform priestly duties at both the Golden Calf incident and then again at the 1st attempt to enter Canaan, the Levites became the new priests of Israel. However, there were some "layfolk" who were permitted to help with priestly duties if they took special vows that set them apart from the general population. These were the nazirites.
One of the vows a nazirite took was the refusal to cut one's hair. Sound familiar?
Samson never cut his hair because he made a special vow to the Lord never to do so. It was this unwavering faith in God that gave Samson his strength. His hair was simply the symbol of his personal covenant with God. Samson handed over his life in service of the Lord, and in return, the Lord protected him and granted him the grace to deliver justice to the Israelites.
So to answer my friend's question regarding the "magic" of Samson's hair, I responded that no, Samson's hair wasn't magic. It was the symbol of his adherence to God's Will. It was only after Samson turned away from God's Will that his hair ended up being cut (the symbolic severance of their covenant) .
You see, Samson went and married a Philistine - TWICE - after God had specifically told the Israelites not to intermarry with them. Samson, unfortunately, allowed his personal desires to trump his duty as servant of the Lord. So he took two Philistine wives (Delilah came after his first wife was killed by her Philistine kin). In both instances, he chose to trust his wife before trusting the Will of God. Because of this disordered hierarchy of trust, Samson lost his first wife. For failing to learn this lesson the first time, Samson lost his eyes as well as his life the second time.
Hippie Justice League!
So no - Samson's hair did not hold any magical powers. His hair was a sign, however, of his adherence to God's Will. As soon as he turned away from God's Will by placing his desires above God's, he suffered the consequences.
Having his hair shorn was simply the physical desecration of the spiritual desecration that had already taken place the moment Samson committed mortal sin.
Good thing, too. Can you imagine the Hulk-smashing that would've occurred in the 60's had magic hair been the source of Samson's strength?! Yipes!
In the end, as Samson spent many sleepless, pain-filled nights begging the forgiveness of God, he made reparation for his sins. Each day of reparation drew him closer to the eventual destruction of the temple that would garner justice for himself and Israel. He spent many, many nights in atonement for his sin, so when he was finally brought to the temple as "entertainment" for the Philistines, his hair had grown back in. Again, this isn't pointing to Samson having magic hair... it's highlighting that Samson had spent time reflecting on and atoning for his sins against God. God then gifted Mercy to Samson through blessing him with the strength to dole out justice to the Philistines.
His hair was simply a symbolic manifestation of the blessing God bestowed in return for Samson's faithful service.
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 few months ago, as my class and I were discussing the 10 plagues God sent to force the pharaoh to give the Israelites their freedom, the topic of the Angel of Death came up. This same discussion ended up finding its way into my inbox this morning from a friend of mine who is trying to decide if Catholicism is right for him.
The tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborns, was a punishment doled out specifically by the Angel of Death. My class had a really hard time wrapping their heads around the image of the angel pictured in the book. He was wielding a sickle (much like the one pictured), and left a trail of death and lamentation in his wake. Not one of the kids could believe that God would intentionally "murder" children like that.
I had to reel them back in for a bit. I explained that God never "murders" anyone. The picture they saw wasn't a recreation of that night... it was an artist's choice of symbols and images to tell a story. In the book, we saw a mighty angel holding a sickle. Around him were crying mothers and lifeless children. The artist chose these things for a reason.
First, the Angel of Death didn't bring God's punishment to the firstborns... punishment was meant for those left behind who would feel the pain on an emotional level (considering that months of physical punishment did nothing to deter them).
This angel carried a sickle to symbolize the "harvesting" of souls. The sickle is an agricultural tool that is specifically used to remove the most desirable parts of grain. In ancient Egypt, that's exactly what the firstborns would have been considered. The souls that this angel harvested (firstborns) were the most desirable and respected family members in Egyptian times. The fact that God demanded that the souls makes the punishment that much more severe.
Finally, the crumpled, broken parents who clutched the lifeless bodies of their children were meant to evoke strong emotions - the artist wanted to REALLY hit home how devastating this plague was in its emotional severity, so he used young children to symbolize all firstborns.
Firstborn didn't just mean babies. It didn't just mean toddlers. Firstborn meant everyone from child straight on through adult. It meant everything from calf to chicken to donkey. God harvested the most revered of Egyptian lives for Himself as proof that He was God over all - even the best protected. He controlled Life and Death (not just over base nature and animals, but over humanity as well - something Pharaoh never accepted as true until this final plague).
However, my class was still having a really tough time reconciling God taking these innocent lives with their image of a pure, holy, and loving Being. This is very understandable considering we, as humans, many times see death as a horrible, evil thing (especially when it is the death of an innocent... someone who did nothing to cause or solicit an untimely end).
One student asked me, "Do you think they [the firstborns] were scared?"
I paused for a second, because I realized then that my poor class had in their minds this image of a massive weapon-wielding warrior with wings blazing a trail through Egypt slaughtering unsuspecting children. Their collective looks of horror and disbelief challenged me to break down the Angel of Death for them a bit... into one who looked a little more like this:
The Angel of Death wasn't running around slashing throats. In fact, I doubt the people who were chosen to die that night even felt pain. Though I never thought about it before, when she asked me that, I immediately pictured one of those children, soundly sleeping, engulfed in a brilliant light. The Angel of Death was present, and he showed this tiny soul something of Heaven. He gently said, "Come, little one. God is calling you home." He reached out his angelic hand and without thought or hesitation, the soul - immeasurably joyous and willing - leapt from its body and consented to be carried along to meet the Source of such radiating, all-encompassing Love.
Instead of punishment or pain, these souls were met with joy and love... comfort and beauty. The Angel of Death is not this menacing monstrosity that humans should fear. Instead, he is the herald of our Heavenly welcome - the one tasked with the joy of bringing us home after our earthly sojourn.
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!
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