Category Archives: Biblical Commentary

Christ’s Decent Into Hell

I wanted to share one of my favorite readings from Holy Week in the Divine Office today. What is truly special about this homily is it’s antiquity, as it comes from the very early days of the Church. I am reposting it in full, I’m sure the author won’t mind the copyright infringement, as he’s been dead for 1800 years or so. I almost wanted to cry after reading this Saturday morning.

A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

The Washing of Feet

“He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist” John 13:4-5

This post is not being written so that you can run up to your clergy and tell them they are screwing everything up. I promise you, that is simply the last thing they need this week. In truth, I should have posted this a month ago so that you would have time to let your liturgy planning commission or whatever you have know about this teaching in as charitable a way as possible.

So many people are confused about the Mandatum, or as it is more commonly known, the Washing of Feet. We have seen it done in so many ways that we are rightly confused. A major part of our confusion is a misunderstanding of what is going on here.

Peter was a bit confused at first as well, and we can see that in his response in John’s Gospel.

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”” John 13:6-8

Yes, there is an image of service here. It is very apparant ond obvious. To be first in the Kingdom of God, you must become a slave to all. Yup, we seem to get that just fine, and I am oh so glad, because it is the primary message here, but there is another thing happening here that people often miss, and I’m not surprised. The Jewish people were a “People of the Book”, and knew their scripture far better than we know our own. So when Peter is confused as to what is going on, he too only has the view of the servant, but Jesus sets him straight right away.

“Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”” John 13:8

Woah! What?! Oh, I’m sorry Jesus, I get what you are talking about now! Sure, I’m all in!

“Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”” John 13:9

What is it that he just figured out? Something just totally changed his attitude, what was it?
Well, here we need to talk about washing feet. When does this happen in scripture? Are there any other references to this washing? Guess what! There is!

 

First, let’s hearken back to Genesis 18:4, do you remember the story of the angels coming to visit Abraham? He washed their feet! Lot does the same thing a bit later at 19:2 to the angels that visit him. This is the only other reference to washing of feet in the entire Hebrew Scriptures. But wait, there is more.
Check out Exodus 40:12-13 and Leviticus 8:5-7 and guess what you find? The washing of priests as part of their ordination. Yup, this is a Rite not only of service, but of priestly institution. This is why Peter wanted his hands and head washed as well! He was recognizing the priestly ordination rite!
Now I’m obviously not saying that when we wash feet on Holy Thursday that we are ordaining men, but we are celebrating the institution of the priesthood, and therefore it is simply appropriate that only men have their feet washed. And if your parish washes more than just feet, this should also make you raise an eyebrow, after all,

“Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.”” John13:10

Yes the Mandatum is primarily about charity. It is the idea of service that is front and foremost. So please, be charitable when you are bringing this up to your friends and clergy!

Butit is also about linking the Old Covenant priesthood to the priesthood of the New Covenant. It is about tying that priesthood to the angels, about making it divine. It’s not about service alone.

So yes, the Church is actually serious when it says in it’s rubrics,

“Depending on pastoral circumstance, the washing of feet follows the homily. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to chairs prepared at a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers he pours water over each one’s feet and dries them.”

Just so you know, the United States Bishops spoke about this in 1987, and I wanted you to read it so that you knew that while the practice is suspect in my opinion, the adopted practice of washing both men and women’s feet is not necessarily illicit.

“….Because the gospel of the mandatum read on Holy Thursday also depicts Jesus as the “Teacher and Lord” who humbly serves his disciples by performing this extraordinary gesture which goes beyond the laws of hospitality, the element of humble service has accentuated the celebration of the foot washing rite in the United States over the last decade or more. In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.
While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men (“viri selecti”), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, “who came to serve and not to be served,” that all members of the Church must serve one another in love….” — Regarding the phrase “viri selecti”, the Chairman of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy

Genesis is Only the Beginning

So in our deacon formation classes, we have a bit of an argument, and I thought it would be fun to air our dirty laundry all over the internet.

Okay, so it’s not all that, but we do get rather excited over this topic.

Is the creation account in Genesis historically accurate, or is it a mythological story designed to tell us more about our spiritual creation without attempting to explain actual events?

Now at first glance, you can see that this can ruffle some feathers. The implications to this question however reach even further, because how you answer this question puts a very different slant on the rest of scripture. Suddenly Job was never born, and Jonah never gets swallowed by a fish. This can even reach into the New Testament and make one question Jesus’ miracles.

This question is not a small one, and folks get really tied up about it.

I’m not going to tell you what I believe, nor am I going to expound the benefits and detriments to either position. I do however have a very serious point to make, and I don’t want you to miss it.

Neither view is the official teaching of the Church.

Yes, I’m serious, and both sides want to claim it is. But the truth is the Church has never defined the scriptures in this way.

Never. Ever.

In fact this question has been talked about by saints and sinners alike since the first century, without conclusion. Great men and women throughout history have held both views, so don’t go throwing quotes at me either.

I will add this too. The Church will not ever define this. Why?

Because scripture grows. It gets larger with every passing generation. It gets deeper, more full, and brighter. To close the Word down and try to shrink it to fit out times and thoughts is to try to stuff God Himself into a bottle. The Church will never do it.

So believe either with a free and open heart. Whatever you do, don’t criticize the other point of view as heretical or naive, as they are not. You can can be full of faith and love our Lord while at the same time believing in a seven day creation, or the majesty of God working through the mythology of man. It honestly makes little difference.

If it did matter, you can bet the Church would have defined it very clearly indeed.

I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew…. Again

I do this every year.

I have these great plans for Lent. I’m not just going to give up chocolate, heck no. I’m going to totally remake my life. I’m gonna be a new man. I’m going to put my entire life back in order in one fell swoop.

Heck yea! I’m gonna man it up! I can do it! I’m going to start that exercise regime! I’m going to read the entire bible by the end of Lent! I’m going to pray like a monk in a cloister! I’m going to get all my business in perfect order! I’m one tough guy!

Then I pull it all off for one day, namely, Ash Wednesday, and by the end of the day I’m so exhausted I can hardly stand it.

Today is my own personal reconciliation day. It is always the first Thursday of Lent, and it always sucks.

It is today that I always wish I were a better man than I am.

I am not. I am just me, and while I think I can perform my way into sanctity, today is always the day the Lord reminds me how weak I truly am. I really cannot do anything without Him at all. It’s altogether humbling. I suppose that is the point.

Today, I really understand St. Paul in a way that most of the year, I must admit I frankly miss.

“Yet it was only through the law that I came to know sin. I should never have known what evil desire was unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”” Romans 7:7

“I cannot even understand my own actions. I do not what I want to do but what I hate.” Romans 7:15

“So with my mind, I serve the law of God but with my flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:25

It’s maddening. I simply am unable to do what I know should be done.

There is hope in this of course. I look at how I have changed over the years, and the wonders that God has worked in my soul and in my life, and I know that change is happening. God is moving even though I cannot. Every task I try to perform for Him seems to fall flat on it’s face, and yet, I am not the same man as I was ten years ago.

I may not like that God has not just remade me, given me strength instead of weakness, but I have to admit that His process is most definitely working, and mine is not.

He is quite seriously, divinely effective.

I suppose this Thursday is a good reminder that I cannot lean upon myself, but instead must be carried by Him.

Lord, remake me into yourself. (the sooner the better!)

Tassels

So I was looking for a good reflection for our communion service today and I must admit I had a bit of trouble. I am allowed to give reflections of my own at communion services since they are not Masses, but until I get comfortable with that idea, I choose a reflection to read from the Saints or the Church Fathers. This is more comfortable to me for the time being, though I know I will need to start coming up with my own soon as practice for actual homilies. For now, I can play it safe, and read from the masters.

Lake Gennesaret, aka Gallilee

Today was tough though. I just couldn’t find anyone that said what I wanted to say. To help you see why I had so much trouble, here is the Gospel for today:

“After making the crossing to the other side of the sea, Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there. As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him. They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” Mk 6:53-56

Now, Jesus was basically walking around in a pastoral environment. These were farmers and merchants, your regular sort of people. I don’t know about you, but I imagine if someone walked into small town Nebraska, that your regular country folks would not generally have this kind of reaction. Regular working people are not easily fooled in my experience, and are generally leery of folks running around doing amazing things, they seem to to be the “proof is in the pudding” types. And yet it was very much these people who flocked to Jesus.

Jesus was clearly different to these people than anyone that had come before. Yes they were confused as to who he really was, but they were very clearly able to recognize that something different was going on.

Think about this. Jesus was walking around like a rock star. Everywhere he went, people were going nuts. They were like a bunch of teens at a Justin Bieber concert. Rich men were climbing trees to see him, the sick were breaking all the rules and coming into town to see him. They were packed in so tight that people were fighting through mobs just at the chance to touch his clothes.

I’m amazed they didn’t shred him to pieces.

Now, I in no way mean to say that Jesus was like a rock star, I am only trying to draw a picture of the scene that I see present in this Gospel. This was really intense. You just don’t see this happening in Farmtown America for just about any reason.

So what happened?

When I go to Mass, that’s the same Jesus up there on the alter, and He more famous then ever. Everyone knows His name now, and yet we just walk in and walk out of Church like nothing is going on at all. Can we really be so blind?

I love the group that comes for our communion services, they are so very faithful and so extremely reverent. When I come to Mass on Sunday though, my picture is as different as can be imagined. In some countries the congregation goes up the aisle on their knees to receive Jesus, we in America act like He is nothing but a stale cracker.

Oh, but if we could only touch the tassel on His cloak, we would be healed.