P AUL CONTINUES HIS Meditation on the Fatherhood of God. It’s important to note that Paul is speaking to Pagans (and some Jews) who are now followers of Jesus. It’s important because of the difference in theology. In the Greco-Roman world there were a few “crossbreeds” of divine (or semi-divine)+humans. Some of these even resulted in traced bloodlines: for example, Caesar was divine, but his children were not (unless someone should become Caesar). But the bloodline of Egypt was considered divine (even as it was petering out). Alexander was called a god, but those who came after him, not really. Although they played it up a bit.
Now, here’s a father who loves you. Who wants what is best for you and – at the same time – what is best for everyone.
Why say no? Well, to be honest… we all know the answer. Yes, sin but it’s not enough just to say, “I’ve sinned.” It’s the realization that this Father requires everything:
Certainly Submission to his will; but also
full reliance on him even when you don’t understand
even for the little things which he enjoys doing for you
trust (faith) even when the lights have all gone out and it’s time to move forward
accepting that what he knows is best might actually hurt
an active, ongoing participation in the relationship
ideally, asking him for help means letting him do it
not letting anyone else get in line ahead of him; and finally
he’s got a list of do’s and don’t’s to talk about and he’s serious. They are not the one’s you think. Yes, sure, don’t kill anyone, for example, but don’t get angry with them either.
This Father is more than Dad.
And we need to let him be God, or this isn’t going to work out.
But if we let him do things his way, “over all, through all, and in all” will make perfect sense to you as will St Paul’s other interesting line about God, “In whom we live and move and have our being”.
ONCE AGAIN THE NABRE Renders the Greek as “Stay awake” instead of keep watch or even be watchful. Stay awake is particularly annoying here because even the wise virgins also fell asleep so it can seem petty. But keeping watch means being prepared. The wise virgins could fall asleep in peace and rise again in safety for the Lord was with them (Psalm 3:5) and they had done the necessary prep work.
Doing the prep work is the important part!
What can we read in the symbols of this verse? The wise and foolish are both symbols of believer. They have maintained their fidelity to the doctrines. I get that from the use of the word “Parthenos” in the Greek for “virgin” instead of “nymphos” for young girl or maiden. In terms of the culture of the time, parthenos does not always mean a woman who has not had sex. It means a person (man or woman) who has set apart their sexuality for divine purposes (see more here). The Gospel of course is not talking about “consecrated virgins” as such, but it is implying that these folks (both the wise and the foolish) have set themselves apart for divine purposes.
But the foolish have run out of oil and so they’re worried about their lamps. What is this, then?
In parallel with the man caught at the wedding banquet without the proper clothes, the Church Fathers read the oil and the lighted lamps in this parable to indicate righteous deeds. Mercy in Greek (eleos) comes from the same Greek word as oil. In Hebrew it’s Khesed, Grace. To have oil in the lamp is to be actively engaged in mercy and grace not just for one’s self, but for those around affected by this light.
This is important to me, personally, because I’ve struggled so long with sins of the flesh, with setting my sexuality apart for God. Yet do I have any oil in my lamp? Members of Courage International read the Five Goals at each meeting. I’m thankful that, after the chastity mentioned in the first goal, the second goal of Courage begins with “To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others…” That’s the challenge. Yes, sure, stay pure. But don’t sit there in your purity: do something. My spiritual director had the sense to see that sitting at home was dangerous for me – even though it kept me out of one sort of trouble. The Gospel is not the Gospel unless it’s shared with someone else.
You can set your life apart, certainly, but unless you’re doing the works of mercy, unless you’re shedding your light around you, that is unless you’re reforming your sphere of influence into conformity with the Gospel, then you’re not actually doing anything. Your faith, without works, is dead. You can be Parthenos.
And still be dead.
St Paul makes it clear that preaching the Gospel will make us seem like utter fools to the world: to Jews and Greeks alike. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To be one of those who are being saved in the active present tense (salvation is not something that happens once) is to be engaged in mercy.
Again, this is keeping watch. Jesus tells us to be about his Father’s will until he comes back. We learn in the parable of the Sheep and Goats what these works are – feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, etc – these are the things we are to be about. These are the oil.
Yes, you need the faith. You need to be set apart, to be parthenos. Do these works, though, and you can rest at night without worry.
WHAT WAS OUR LORD DOING, amending the Sh’ema? You might not notice it if you quickly read through the text in English. Yet, compare:
Deuteronomy 6:5 (RSVCE) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Matthew 22:37 (RSVCE) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Might and Mind sound close to each other (in English)… but not quite. The Greek in the LXX uses dynamis (might or power) following the Hebrew which uses m’odecha, but in Matthew Jesus saysdianoia, mind or insight. All mainstream English bibles follow the text here, although a couple of fringeBibles adventure a correction (not all, however). Luke retains the use of Mind but adds (back) strength as well. Likewise, Mark. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Since Matthew was writing to a largely Jewish audience, they would not have missed this change. Even if Luke and Mark have both “mind” and “might” Matthew – with his audience – stuck with only “mind”. What can we see here?
I’m going to stick with the Greek διανοίᾳ dianoia being the important thing.
Thayer’s Lexicon notes that sometimes this word was used in the LXX for “heart” (Hebrew, Lev or L’vav). But we already have a “heart” in this verse so, is there a reason to have “heart” and “heart again”? (Or in the case of Luke/Mark, “heart, soul, strength, and also heart”.)
There is a clue in the LXX, in the Prophet Jeremiah. In Hebrew it’s Jeremiah 31:33. God promises to write the New Covenant on the “hearts and minds”. In The Greek (because of the way the text is laid out) has it in 38:33. It uses the same words, dianoia and cardia. And there, I think, is echo that Matthew’s Jewish audience would hear in this text. Yes, it’s the traditional Sh’ema, the Covenant, but augmented with the promise of a New Covenant being expounded by the Lord and written directly on our hearts and minds instead of on tablets of stone.
The use of dianoia also directs one toward contemplative prayer. To love the Lord (using the Greek agape) is to welcome and to conform oneself to him: to apprehend in the mind and in the heart and then to make all of one’s life to be one with him. We can only achieve this through the Grace of God and the Sacraments.
St John Eudes, whom we also celebrate today, wrote:
Finally, you are one with Jesus as the body is one with the head. You must, then, have one breath with him, one soul, one life, one will, one mind, one heart. And he must be your breath, heart, love, life, your all. These great gifts in the follower of Christ originate from baptism. They are increased and strengthened through confirmation and by making good use of other graces that are given by God. Through the holy Eucharist they are brought to perfection.
From a “Treatise on the Admirable Heart of Jesus” by Saint John Eudes, priest (2nd Reading at Matins for his feast).
Love him with all your being and unite yourself wholly to him. He will draw you deeper into that union until you become one with him.
Then, and only then, will the dry bones rise up as Ezekiel has prophesied. Hope is not lost, but he will restore all things in himself.
For I will re-establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never again open your mouth because of your disgrace, when I pardon you for all you have done.
ABSOLUTION IS A CURIOUS THING. Outside of the Catholic Church the stereotype is that someone can commit any sin at all – even be Hitler – and, if he goes to confession, he would be absolved of that sin. In fact, the stereotype is true. It needn’t be terribly nuanced. Even Hitler, should he repent of his sins, would be forgiven and absolved of them by the authority of the Church.
Thing is, we don’t want it to be that way. Sure, we don’t want it to be that way for mass murders and mega-haters, but we don’t want it to be that way for those annoying people on the bus nor for that annoying driver on the freeway this morning. Many don’t want it to be that way for parents of noisy children in Mass. And, if we’re really honest, most of us don’t want it to be that way for ourselves either. The Holy Prophet Ezekiel understands why, too: the more we’re aware of the sins we’ve committed, the more ashamed we are by God’s love for us.
This requires full awareness, humility, and comprehension: it takes an arrogant fool can think he actually deserves absolution. But being made aware of the infinite atonement, of infinite love, of infinite grace, as well as the need for it means one is weak. God is in control: we are called to let him be so. But it can hurt: there is danger here. Not only our pride can be hurt. This is one time where “asking for help” is a sign that one is not only weak but completely in the wrong and unable to get out of it.
God is Love (1 John 4:16, etc) and this love is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Balance those. The pain that comes from being loved that much is purgative, atoning. The infinite love, in itself, make it possible to bear the love until we, too, are love.
THERE IS A PHRASE in the Catechism that gets bandied about, that drives me bonkers. In the English there is a mistranslation. That seems important. Here’s the paragraph in Latin:
Gloria Dei est ut haec manifestatio et haec communicatio Suae bonitatis, propter quas mundus creatus est, in rem ducantur. « Praedestinavit nos in adoptionem filiorum per Iesum Christum in Ipsum, secundum beneplacitum voluntatis Suae in laudem gloriae gratiae Suae » (Eph 1,5-6). « Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei. Si enim quae est per condicionem ostensio Dei vitam praestat omnibus in terra viventibus, multo magis ea quae est per Verbum manifestatio Patris vitam praestat his qui vident Deum ». Finis ultimus creationis est ut Deus, « qui conditor est omnium, tandem fiat “omnia in omnibus” (1 Cor 15,28), gloriam Suam simul et beatitudinem nostram procurando ».
Right here: Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei. It’s a quote from St Irenaeus of Lyon. Even though I quote it in Latin, the Latin is only the Catechism: St Irenaeus wrote in Greek. I’m searching for – but cannot find – a copy of the Greek. I realize at the top of this post that all that follows may be overturned by one Greek quote with a reference link.
Anyway, in the official English translation, it gets rendered as the oft-quoted “the glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God.” Please note there is no superlative in the Latin. Nor is there in any of the other European Languages:
French: Car la gloire de Dieu, c’est l’homme vivant, et la vie de l’homme, c’est la vision de Dieu. German: Denn Gottes Ruhm ist der lebendige Mensch; das Leben des Menschen aber ist die Anschauung Gottes. Italian: Infatti la gloria di Dio è l’uomo vivente e la vita dell’uomo è la visione di Dio. Spanish: Porque la gloria de Dios es que el hombre viva, y la vida del hombre es la visión de Dios. Portoguese: Porque a glória de Deus é o homem vivo, e a vida do homem é a visão de Deus.
Each of these translations says that the Glory of God is “the life of man” or “a living man”. But there is no superlative. No “fully alive” in any of these things.
The reason it makes me bonkers is that “fully alive” sounds so much like “follow your bliss” and in the hands of the nefarious it turns into permission to out, loud, and proud, and in the hands of the misled it becomes pablum.
Glory though… let’s look at glory. In Greek, the word “glory” usually means radiance and shining light. The word itself, “Doxa” comes from a root meaning to “appear” and it has more to do with the visual experience of something. The Glory of God, therefore, is a “bright shining light” and it’s something that can blind us or reflect on our faces (as with Moses).
In Hebrew, the word is “Kavod” and it has little to do with a shining light. It means “weight”. It’s something felt rather than seen. God’s presence is, as it were, pressing down on us from above. The head covering traditional for Jewish males can be seen as the hand of the Holy One pressing down.
This weight – this reality – is felt in the presence of the pillar of fire pressing down from heaven. Here is something more real than the reality we have or see. This reality is our life. Turn in contemplation: this glory is the life of man. To rest in this light, to rest under the intense weight of this Presence is to become real. To dodge it is to miss the mark, to fall into oblivion.
In Yeshua this reality becomes both present to us and one of us. The Glory of God, the weight, the more-real-than-any-of-us, the Existing One, the One-Who-is, the Alpha and Omega, the Aleph and the Tav, enters our world as one of us.
Jesus the God-man.
Although I don’t think the line from St Ignatius bears this weight fully, I have heard one Orthodox priest say that the proper translation is “The Glory of God is the life of a man” with the man in question being Jesus. I’m ok with that reading as long as it is not the only meaning. It leads us to where I want to go:
Jesus’ act of self-emptying led from the Trinity, to the silence of the Womb of the All-Holy Virgin. God unable to speak, the word of God with only a baby’s cries. God with dirty diapers. God with daily chores. God with acne. Deny yourself. God with favorite foods and, most likely, not favorite ones. (“Young man, eat your auntie’s sweet potato surprise, and don’t forget to say ‘todah’“). God with stage fright on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. God taking up his daily life daily.
Just as we are all called to do. God making a sacrament out of every action man can make. Taking out the garbage? God has done this. Dozing off. God’s been there. God is so in love with you that he has done this. The life of man. It is God’s glory.
But that is not all: for on the Cross he was lifted up – it called it his glorification. It is his throne. And so daily we must walk in the way Yeshua walked: because he, in his person, is God walking among us. As the Cross was the Glory of Messiah it must be our Glory as well. As the cross bore the weight of Messiah it must bear our weight as well.
THIS VERSE SOUNDS like romance – and it is, certainly. I have seen it on a wedding ring. But that’s not what the Song of Songs is about. Or, rather, that’s not why it’s included in the Bible. I have also seen this verse embroidered on a tallit, that is, on a Jewish prayer shawl. It is how one feels about God, is it not? I have found him? Although, you know… it was not you who were seekinghim. We have to dance with God, but God dances the lead. As the title of this post says, “You seduced me, Lord.” The text from Jeremiah 20:7 continues, “But I let myself be seduced”. It’s both-and. This line runs from the very beginning of scripture: God calls the world into being. God calls Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. God calls to Cain. God calls to Noah, to Abram, to Moses, God is always calling. It is we who reply. Yet somehow even that reply is him calling us. The love of Christ, as St Paul says, impels us. It is always God’s love that comes back to him.
This hymn by Jean Inglow is often sung by the friars at my parish:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me. It was not I that found, O Savior true, no, I was found of thee.
Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold, I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea. ‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold as thou, dear Lord, on me.
I find, I walk, I love, but, oh, the whole of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee! For thou wert long beforehand with my soul, always thou lovedst me.
Mary Magdalen is conflated by Church tradition with several women in the Gospels including the woman who washed and anointed Jesus in the house of Simon. There she is said to be forgiven much because she loved much (Luke 7:47). In later legends she is also conflated in the West with St Mary of Egypt, another person who can be said to have loved too much. When we love in that way, too much, we burn out. Things that are not ours to love in proper order become idols when we loved them. Disordered love is always idolatry. But God can put it back again into the right orientation. God can give things their proper perspective and function: that is to say, when God becomes the center, all the things move into the right places. Yet it is him moving them.
God’s love is properly envisioned as the love of a husband for his bride: we’re ever in the passive role when it comes to God. Yet his passion is for us: his consuming fire is the love of us. As marriage is a mystery “of Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32), so God used the image of an unfaithful wife in Hosea to convey his love for Israel.
“It was then that Hosea understood what had never been understood before him, the secret motives of God’s jealousy. This jealousy was in fact the very reverse; it was the touchstone of a sentiment that one would never have imagined the Creator could have for his creation: God is in love with his creature, in love with something that draws its very life from him, was made by him, but has nothing to give him. However, it is not merely a matter of pity, compassion, or an inclination to save, but rather of loving. Now there is no love without admiration. I think that what distinguished pity from love most strikingly is that with pity there is an awareness that one is better placed than the other; in the case of pity one bends down to another because the heart has been touched by the other’s misery, whereas with real love there is always wonder, always admiration. And when God says that he loves, it is a very serious matter and means that he has wonder and admiration for the beloved. It seems almost blasphemous to say that God can love his creature. How could such a crazy idea ever come forth from a human brain – that God loves his creature? We can imagine that his mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…?”
Israel and the Church serve as this sign for all humanity. God loves us all in this way. And what he does for us, he has done for all. All are loved that way if only everyone would open our eyes.
Mary’s eyes were opened first. She is called the Apostle to the Apostles – she who was sent to those who are sent. She is also the Especial Protectress of the Dominicans and so your host as well. She clung to the Lord, he called her name, and gave her a mission. Mary went to the garden – but Jesus was waiting for her. Jesus was planing their dinner long before Zacchaeus ever put foot to branch to climb. Before – and mark well that before – God formed you in the womb, he knew you. He has known you and loved you from all eternity. You.
The Magdalen – and all of us – only love what we imagine to be good, as St Thomas noted. No one loves evil because it is evil. We love only what we imagine to be good. While we are sometimes wrong in that imagining – the Byzantines pray for us to be delivered from our “evil imaginations” and from the “slavery to my own reasonings” – we seek the truth and love for any (even disordered) truth can lead us to the Real Thing if we love much and honestly. It is a matter of tearing off the masks to see the real evil beneath our bad love choices, and then seeing the Real Good where our love leads us – for it is his love at all.
So it is a romance: God is romancing us.
The same verse from the Song of Songs is pressed on my breviary cover. As strange as it sounds, it is his love I pour back to him as I pray the words of David and the Prophets in the Daily Office. I have nothing to offer here. I have nothing to share. I have nothing worthy of him (even playing on my drum). I have no love like his. And he knows. We can imagine that is mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…? If it were possible, this makes him love us the more. Yet his love is infinite. There is no room in infinity for more: all I have is his already, and I pour it out on him and on those whom he sends to me: this is not my love. It is his. As the woman at the well said, “He told me everything I ever did.” Yet he loved me all the more, not in spite, but through it all until finally I found him whom my soul loves.
NASTY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE in today’s Gospel are trying to make the Disciples follow their mean nasty rules. Americans – and the west in general – don’t like rules. So we read this passage in our favor and along comes the Liberal Jesus to tear up all their rules and say, “Begone! You have no power here!” And we’re thankful for that, right? It’s a good fund raiser and you may hear it from a few pulpits today.
In his Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI takes issue with those who would imagine the Good Jesus of the West as fighting against the Old Religious Baddies. In the context provided by the whole chapter, instead of tiny little snippets, the Pope Emeritus shows that Jesus is not being liberal here, at all. He’s being God. (I had posted a paper about this passage a while ago, along with a follow-up on the image of a yoke.)
Today, what can we learn about the Apostles in this passage? What can we draw into our own life?
The Apostles are doing what any poor person is allowed to do: walk through a field and pull the grains off the stalks, rubbing them together in hand to get the chaff off before chewing the grains. To do this on the Sabbath, though, is not allowed. Jesus then has some back and forth with the religious leaders. Yet it was his comment on the Temple that spun my brain out into lectio land.
What is the Temple? Well, yes, the house of God. But it is the meeting-place of heaven and earth. It is a new Eden in typology: surrounding the fiery presence of God (that is, the Tree of Life) there are sculptures and woven curtains depicting cherubim, plants, and animals. All of the Temple liturgy represented bringing all of Creation before God for a continual act of renewal, even the individual offering were intended to sanctify daily life, bringing all things in Israel within the Divine Sphere.
But wait, there’s more.
As the Holy of Holies was the center of the Temple, and as the Temple was the center of Israel, so also was Israel the center of the world. Israel was not only “being holy”, if you will, but also modeling holiness to the world. Israel’s mission was to be a holy people set apart for the Lord of Hosts for the purpose, as God promises Abraham, of being a blessing to all nations.
When Jesus says he is more important than the Temple, this is his claim. He is mindful of all of this. As the God-Man he is the place where heaven and earth meet. In his person all of creation is continually presented to God the Father in a continual act of renewal and thanksgiving. In his person blessings are showered down on Israel and the world.
But wait: there’s more.
In John 2:21, we hear of the “temple of his (Jesus’) body”. Paul says that we are “members of his body” (Ephesians 5:30). Then, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, we are reminded that our bodies are the temple as well. What is true of Jesus in his person is intended to be true of us in his grace.
This is, certainly, something Greater Than the Temple. And it’s not at all related to Jesus throwing dishwater on the nasty religious laws.
Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
AS OUR CLASS WAS wrapping up the Book of Acts, our professor, Dr Wendy Biale, noted that the Holy Spirit seems like a very real presence to the Apostles. He tells them things, he sends dreams, he gives instructions. In his book, You Can Understand the Bible, which we used in class, Peter Kreeft gives a list of things (in sum):
The spirit is her personally, directly, and concretely as a person.
Miracles are done so powerfully through Paul that even his handkerchiefs are an agency for healing.
Demonic activity appears and exorcism is needed.
Confession, repentance, and turning away from sin or clear and strong.
The faith is so strong that the unbelievers are offended.
Worship is such a joy that long church services are common.
Christians are ready to die as martyrs.
The good news is preached as a historical fact not just as values.
The faith is not politicized: all powers are subject to Christ.
The church is bold, brave, and even brazon.
Angels interact with humans, not as myths or symbols but as real persons.
Though very tiny the church is Infamous. They have turned the world upside down
Compare this to where we are today.
In the movie Xanadu a muse comes to earth to inspire an artist to live his dream. She gives ideas, moves things around, makes connections… for him. It’s like magic. But she falls in love with her artist and so must become mortal. And thus give up her power to inspire. Yet in her love she becomes so much more for the artist.
It’s a very shallow parallel, but I think it’s a better parallel for the Holy Spirit than “the Force” from Star Wars. God really does love us like that. God really does inspire us like that. God really does move into our lives like that. Jesus seems to assume we will have an ongoing part in this conversation: all of us. Not just clergy, not just monastics, but all of us, in all walks of our life.
The Church assumes this as well.
¶2558 “Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy, so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.
This mystery then…
Requires that the faithful believe in it, this means that we must assent to it and that we must act in our lives according to the reality it describes. If we only assent to it, with no action in our lives, faith with out works is dead.
...that they celebrate it that is liturgically, and even in the calendar on the feasts of the Church. We’re called to ritually partake in the actions of God.
that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. an ongoing relationship… not something that we pull out on Sundays or when we need it for help here and there, but continually. You don’t wake up one day and pretend you’re not married. Your spouse is always with you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh. Forever. God is closer and even closer still. Why are you not talking to him now?
This relationship is prayer. Please note that while some devotions can be prayers, prayer is not devotions. While some liturgy can be done in prayer, prayer is not the liturgy.
Prayer is the relationship itself.
So, possibly, the reason that we don’t move in the world of the Apostles is not because things have changed, but because we have changed. The reason we do not feel the presence all the time is that we have no relationship to speak of.
THE JESUS PSALTER has become my favorite devotion. There are many editions of it online and off although the first one I found was this one. I have an as-yet incomplete series of posts on this prayer which begins with this introduction. Arising from Mediaeval devotions to the Holy Name of Jesus, it flourished in England during the anti-Church persecutions under Henry and his family and became one of the main pillars of English Catholic Piety. It’s not very popular now, although it should be: a devotion that supported a generation of Martyrs is perfect for us now. It centers around multiple repetitions of Our Lord Name, together with a series of 15 petitions. Most of them begin with “give me the grace”: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, give me the grace to call for help to Thee. …give me the grace to fix my mind on Thee, …to fly evil company… persevere in virtue… to love Thee.”
We ask our Lord constantly for the grace we need to follow him. We should do this more and more in these latter days. Without that grace, how else do you go from being a Tax Collector to being a disciple?
In The Miracle Worker (1962) you can watch Anne Sullivan teach Hellen Keller. Hellen is deaf, dumb, blind… she has no words, no language. We know now enough about brain science to realize that having no words at all means there are no synapses in her brain to connect concepts with things. The world without words literally does not exist. Anne Sullivan has to physically form the words in Hellen’s hands whilst somehow also planting them in her brain. The internal dialogue is not there. But through patience (and a lot of pain) Anne and Hellen together bring it to be. And then, in the most moving scene, suddenly Hellen knows. “She KNOWS!” cries Anne Sullivan. “She Knows!”
That’s how Our Lord called Matthew. The tax collector had no words or concepts, and no synapses ready to connect them. Then, in one moment – Follow Me – he knows.
This is called grace.
And this is the actual meaning of what Our Lord says. Learn the meaning of I desire mercy, not sacrifice. The line in Hosea 6:6 actually uses the word for lovingkindness or grace, Hesed. “I desire Hesed.” The whole verse is a parallel construction:
I desire hesed not sacrifice knowledge of God, not Olah.
Sacrifice and Olah are things that go up: smoke rising, incense, etc, sent by us upwards to God. Hesed and Knowledge (Da’at) of God are things that come down from heaven to us. Hesed is grace.
We need the grace mentioned in the Jesus Psalter at every turn. Some of the prayers, “help me”, “strengthen me”, “make me constant” are all variations on the prayer for Mercy (that is, Hesed, grace). We need the thing that pours down on us like water, freely and without measure.
I desire grace (a gift from God) not sacrifice: in other words there’s nothing you can do to win God’s love. God’s love is given freely (while we were yet sinners).
You are already infinitely loved.
Do you continue to struggle like Hellen Keller because you have no synapses, no words, no concepts to connect, or will you let God spell the words out on your fingers.
HEART IS ONE Of the most important words in the Bible. Especially in the Hebrew Scriptures – and therefore in the teachings of Jesus – it is the equivalent with the self or soul. The heart in Christian thinking is the seat of the being.
The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
The heart is – as the Place of Covenant – the Holy of Holies within the temple of our person. Ideally it is the throne of God, the seat of Christ reigning in us. As the place where “I am” it is also the place where we engage with the core of our being – which springs from God’s beingness. The Holy Trinity is always there – always the fire at the core of our beingness. Only the Spirit of God can know it fully for He dwells there and – if we are graced to know Him – we can begin to know our real selves.
God is always there. But sometimes, I’m not.
Earlier this week I wrote about the constant quest for validation and how that leads to seeking the praises of other people. God is our source and our validation. God is the core of everything that provides meaning in our lives and in the world. If we value the praises of others above the praise of God, we will not be entering our Holy of Holies, our inner core, to seek communion. Instead, we will create a false heart, a false identity somewhere else in our “psychic drives”. That’s where we imagine our heart. But it’s not a real heart. It’s the “heart of stone” that God says we have in Ezekiel 36:26. It’s a stony idol we have created. We can’t enter it, but we can worship it. And we do.
Remember the Golden Calf? Israel danced around the idol and Aaron said this metal calf was the one that brought Israel out of Egypt. He even said the idol was YHVH by name! (Exodus 32:5) We worship at the altar of our false heart, but it’s not God there. We even name it God. Whatever passion or psychic drive we pick we say, “God made me this way.” Just like a real heart we revolve our entire life around this fake heart. We pretend it is in ourselves that we “live and move and have our being”. All the while we are only a shell of a person, ignoring our self. But, Gosh darn it, people like us.
On Thursday I read this quote from Pope Benedict:
Since the heart is the place of decision and the place of communion, if we create a false heart, a false identity – insisting that really is me – then our communion is off, our worship is off, and our decision-making (our conscience) is off. This false heart becomes the place where we rest in indecision, waiting for others to think highly of us, and unable to make any choices without others: for there is no real heart here. It’s just a rock, an idol. So evil finds a voice.
Where your treasure is, there is your heart: even if it’s a false heart. We worship there, just like Israel dancing around the Golden Calf. And evil takes us into its dance and we fall from grace.
Turn back to your real heart: let the false one(s) fall away. When you enter the Holy of Holies, you will find the Glory of God waiting for you, to give you peace, even in the midst of trial. The choices you make will be real choices, and the light that you see will be the light of the Transfiguration of your life.