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Are We A Christian Nation?


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Today’s Gospel challenges us to consider how we view–and use–our blessings:

Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out
those who were selling things, saying to them,
“It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,
but you have made it a den of thieves
.”

And every day he was teaching in the temple area.
The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile,
were seeking to put him to death,
but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose
because all the people were hanging on his words.

The question arises: are we treating God’s house as a house of prayer, or are we acting as a den of thieves?

Lately I’ve been confused by what I’ve read on Facebook.  A lot of my fellow Christians have posted fearful messages about closing our borders, rejecting refugees, and denying entry to people from abroad.  Many fear terrorists finding their way into our country.  And many of these same people fear that we, as a nation, are losing our Christian identity.

We are blessed as a nation.  Our natural resources, cultures and subcultures, blending of human diversity, all make us who we are.  And to the extent we are a Christian Nation, our land has been given to us so that we may give it back to God in worship; our land is a temple, a place of worship.

Have we, then, turned our land into a den of thieves?

As I dig deeper into the Gospel, I find even more evidence of its contemporary relevance.  When Christ entered the Temple and encountered the merchants, He was in an area specifically set aside for Gentiles.

In the court of the Gentiles there would be those who sold animals for sacrifice, and those who changed Greek or Roman money to Jewish money, for that was needed in order to offer it. Yet Jesus drove them out, citing the prophet Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 That court was the farthest out from the sanctuary, yet all the noise and traffic there was unsuitable.  Aquinas Study Bible.

This court then was Solomon’s porch—probably the eastern part of Solomon’s porch, in the court of the Gentiles—in which were sold doves, sheep, and lambs for sacrificing in the Temple, whom Christ drove out of it. For the court of the Gentiles was, as it were, the temple of the Gentiles, in which, therefore, it was not seemly to buy and sell.  Aquinas Study Bible.

According to one source, “the Court of the Gentiles was the vast open space on the Temple mount in Jerusalem where all those who did not share Israel’s faith could discuss religious matters.” It was a place for non-Jews to understand the faith of Abraham and be introduced to the Covenant. The Gentiles were the outsiders of the Jewish people, but there was a place in the Jewish Temple set aside for their inquiry.

Shouldn’t we offer the same sort of welcome to those suffering persecution abroad?

Two questions are relevant:

  1. Are we really a Christian Nation?
  2. Are we really the Home of the Brave?

If we really are a Christian Nation, shouldn’t we show Christian mercy to those who suffer?  If we really are the Home of the Brave, shouldn’t we demonstrate the courage of compassion for those who don’t have our blessings?

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A Covenant Renewed


On this Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

 It has been over 20 years since I served on a U.S. Navy destroyer (USS DAHLGREN), but I can vaguely remember crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the vast immensity!  It took some time crossing it, and even though we knew Europe was somewhere over that horizon, and that eventually we would make landfall, I could still find myself growing antsy as I waited for the glow of lights to appear on the horizon.

I can only imagine how Noah and his family might have felt for those months at sea, with no known horizon, waiting for somewhere to set foot on dry land.  Stir crazy?  Yet Noah found peace in his trust in the Lord.

On the DAHLGREN, before we got underway, we had to load enough supplies to feed the 400+ crew for at least the duration of the crossing.  We needed to fill the fuel tanks and ensure we had enough spare parts for anything that might break on the 30-year-old rust bucket.  In the days before embarking, the crew worked constantly preparing for the voyage—chipping, painting, fixing, training, etc.

How did Noah prepare for the floods?  He obeyed God’s directions to a T.

Make yourself an ark of gopherwood, equip the ark with various compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch.

This is how you shall build it: the length of the ark will be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.

Make an opening for daylight and finish the ark a cubit above it. Put the ark’s entrance on its side; you will make it with bottom, second and third decks.

Moreover, you are to provide yourself with all the food that is to be eaten, and store it away, that it may serve as provisions for you and for them.

Gen. 6:14-21

What did Noah know about shipbuilding, of seamanship, of navigation?  He was no mariner.  He was a “man of the soil.”  He was completely outside of his comfort zone.  So what did Noah do?  He relied completely on God’s instructions.

Personally, I could learn much from Noah’s example.  Obedience doesn’t always come easy for me.  And while Noah had a direct line with God, my obedience must be to those God has appointed to lead His Church, those He has anointed with the mantle of leadership.  Just as the servants at Cana listened to Mary as she told them, “do whatever he tells you,” and were blessed with the finest wine, I too will be blessed by obedience to Christ through His Church.Day 14-1

 God renewed His covenant with Noah and Noah was blessed many-fold for his obedience.Day 14-2

Crown of Thorns


20130212-072904-220130212-072826.jpgI usually find it very easy to feel slighted by my fellow sufferer.  Take this morning.  My typical morning route takes me on a road that expands and constricts along the route. At one intersection there are two lanes each way plus a turn lane, but a short distance beyond the traffic signal it quickly narrows to one lane in each direction. Most motorists seem to recognize this fact and patiently line up in the left of the two west-bound lanes. But occasionally—and it happened this morning—a car will pull up in the right lane when the light is red, obviously intending to continue forward and, at least from my perspective, cut in front of the patient motorists waiting in the left lane. This always irks me.

Or take last night.  I ran to the local drugstore for Tylenol for my ailing son.  It was ugly out.  I had just finished my evening treadmill run and was feeling dirty in my sweats.  I’m standing in the pain reliever aisle looking for something I later find out they don’t have when this woman cuts in front of me without so much as an “excuse me.”  Admittedly, I was already in a foul mood so it didn’t take much to get under my skin, but in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t vocalize my irritation.  But I was irked!

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When I catch myself thinking bad things about the other motorist or the [marginally] rude shopper, I try to remind myself of the Lord’s Prayer admonition, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.not that I would call either “affront” a trespass. But this exercise isn’t always easy for me and the hard feelings don’t always disappear quickly.

But later this morning, while praying the Rosary, I snagged on the third Mystery, the crowning with thorns, and it forced my selfishness into a glaring spotlight. The reflection talked about Jesus’ suffering:

Think of the indignity, outrage, pain, and humiliation that Jesus suffered. They stripped Him of every dignity, He was treated as the guilt of our worst sins.

Imagine Jesus through the Sorrowful Mysteries:  He Suffered His Agony in the Garden, was Scourged at the Pillar and then Crowned with Thorns, all the while anticipating the long and arduous journey to His execution under the burden of the Cross and then, ultimately, Crucifixion.  And all for me.  It really puts things into their proper perspective.  So this guy gets to move ahead an extra four or five cars. So what!  And what if that woman—she had been sniffling—was in a hurry to take care of a child sicker than mine or had her own health issues?

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In the light of Christ’s suffering, these minor inconveniences—tiny slights—should be easy to bear if I take on the mantle of humility and accept small bits of suffering.

Let us ask the gift of patience to accept all humiliations, thinking of how Jesus suffered for us.

Link

Measuring Up: Mene


To the previous post.
To an explanation of the story line.

Mene.  My friends call me that.  But it wasn’t always a term of affection or endearment.  It was an insult, a pejorative.

My name is Zacchaeus and I’m now chief tax collector and a wealthy man.  I suppose I’m an influential member of my community, perhaps powerful.  Of course, it’s not Jerusalem, but Jericho is a solid town in its own right.  Joshua thought it was worthy of his efforts.  Alexander the Great enjoyed the views and our thirst-quenching springs.

I worked hard and, through my sweat and intelligence I attained this position.  But growing up it wasn’t my hard work or brains that my schoolmates focused on.  It was my size — or lack of it.  I was, and remain in a physical sense, of small stature.

I guess I was so slight that I didn’t “count” in their eyes.  Maybe I didn’t “measure” up.  But the joke is on them!  Now who’s counting?  I have more coins to count than all of my schoolmates together.  Who is measuring?  I measure them, assess them for tax purposes.  Now who lacks stature?  I have the power of the Roman Empire backing me up.

Growing up I was picked on, bullied, because of my size.  I was in many ways an outcast.  Oh, I participated in all the ceremonies and festivities of our faith.  But I was never really accepted by my peers.  Not until I attained my present position.  Now people no longer walk over me.  They are more careful around me.  They still ridicule me, but not to my face.  Except for the Pharisees.  Those arrogant, self-righteous zealots!  They still spit in my face.

I thought that I would find satisfaction in my power.  And for a while, I did.  I have great wealth, great power.  But that power seemed empty.  And I began to realize what I sacrificed by taking this position.  While giving my children an inheritance of creature comforts, I was rejecting the inheritance promised to my People.  I didn’t have any more friends in my position.  Sure I was surrounded by sycophants seeking to gain my good graces.  All that I gained was empty.

And then I heard of the Teacher.  The stories that came from Galilee about this man!  He gave sight to the blind, and healed the lame!  The Pharisees hated that, which made him all the more endearing.  Sure I had influence and could buy just about anything I wanted, but the stories I heard told of real power!

For weeks I wanted to meet him.  No, just to see him.  From a distance.  I knew he was way over my paygrade, way too good for me.  I was not worthy to meet him, but I only hoped to witness his miracles, or just hear him teaching.  I heard wonderful things about him and hoped for, well, I don’t know what I hoped for.  I can’t exactly put it into words.  All this power, wealth and respect is great, but it didn’t quite do it for me.  I still felt a nagging emptiness that I cannot describe, an itch that could not be scratched.

I wanted to see him, but he was all over the area, preaching here, teaching there.

And then I overheard my servants talking about him.  There was an excitement in their voices that was more intense than usual.  I edged closer to the servant’s quarters to listen in.  In hindsight, I find it ironic that I felt the need to eavesdrop on my own servants in my own home.  But I wasn’t ready to admit my interest in the Teacher — not even to myself.

I heard words, then sentences.

“He gave sight to the blind!”

“He’s on his way!”

“He’ll be here tomorrow!”

I almost fell through the door on that last one!  I felt my heart pounding hard in my chest.  I felt my resolve harden:  I had to see him!

The next day I woke up extra early, dressing in my fine robes admittedly to impress the Teacher.  I had a lighter-than-usual breakfast, hoping to get to the main road before he arrived.  That’s when I heard the growing hullabaloo.  Excited voices shouting outside my walls, then my servants start agitating, cleaning up quickly, speaking in hushed but frantic tones.  I finally cornered one to find out the fuss.

“He’s already here!” he said.  “The Master is entering the town!”

I rushed out the door, hoping to catch a glance.  I had planned on getting out early to find a good spot on the side of the road.  But by the time I got out, the streets were filled with the crush of crowds pressing to touch his cloak.  You would think all my power and money could get me a decent seat for the impromptu parade, but no one gave me a second thought as they shoved me aside in my attempts just to peek at his advance.

I had imagined standing some distance from the crowds, watching from a hilltop and striking a dignified pose.  This plan quickly dissolved as I scrambled for any promontory.  I finally spied a sycamore fig down the street where the parade route was sure to lead.  The crowd was thin here, and in desperation I scrambled up its trunk, clinging to the limbs.

Some pointed up at me, laughing.  “Mene! Mene!  In the tree!” began the chant, but soon their attention returned to the approaching entourage.

The crowd surged ahead of the main event, and for a moment I clung hard to the limb for fear of falling.  The tree swayed slightly but the breeze fell still as the crowd’s noise rose from a murmur to a dull roar.   And then I spotted him!  He had a shy, serene smile.  He clearly enjoyed the kids running by him and pulling on his robes and fingers.  Just witnessing this sense of peace amid the turmoil around him was enough to bring calm to my soul.

I was getting ready to climb down so I could follow the crowd as it passed.  But then something strange happened.  Jesus looked up and said to me, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  Me?  A Tax collector?

To the previous post.
To an explanation of the story line.

Measuring Up: Sotah


Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery by Cranach the Younger

To an explanation of the story line.

“Go, and sin no more.”

That’s what he told me.  Amazing words.

They call me Moriah (God teaches).  When I finally met our Teacher face-to-face, I can’t say it was the best meeting.  But before I get into that, let me tell you a little about myself.

I am a simple woman, the wife of a metal-smith.  It wasn’t my plan to marry Shem-Tov.  I was betrothed to his brother, Rei. Rei was everything his brother was not.  Kind, gentle, a true friend.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful to Shem.  He was very dutiful and I am grateful that he took me in when Rei was killed.  I know he married me out of obligation, and I am grateful for that.  He wasn’t unkind.  He was a good provider.

(more…)

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