Were Your Ashes Real Ashes or Just Ritual Ones?

So, Ash Wednesday has come and gone. But what impact did the message and sacramental of ashes have on you? Was it just a ritual, a kind of act of Catholic belonging, or did you fruitfully receive the Ashes and the messages contained in the Mass of Ash Wednesday?

I’m amazed by how many people pack into the church to get ashes. Sadly, some don’t seem to want Holy Communion nearly as much. In fact, in some of the parishes where I served in the past, a significant number walked out the door immediately after receiving ashes, not even staying long enough for Communion. Of course most people who come to Mass on Ash Wednesday are faithful and have their priorities straight, but it still interests me how large the numbers are for something that seems at one level to be so unappealing  (having dirty ashes smudged on your face), and a message that seems harsh to modern ears: “You are going to die and you need to repent and believe to be ready.” 

Indeed, the sign of ashes is quite challenging if we understand what it really means. I wonder if everyone really embraces all the implications of Ash Wednesday: 

Ashes signify humility Job said, “You [Oh Lord] asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3-6).

Notice that Job does not merely repent in a general sense. Rather, having encountered God, he realizes that God is God, and that he, Job, is a creature, mere dust and ashes in the presence of God, who is being itself, who is all in all. Yes, Job is a son in the presence of a father; he is not God’s equal that he might question Him or put Him on trial.

Hence in this case the ashes represent not only repentance, but humility as well. The Church’s liturgy echoes this theme of humility in quoting Gen 3:19 as the ashes are placed on the individual: “Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

Ashes are a reminder of death and a call to wisdom – After Adam sinned, God told him, By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Gen 3:19).

As he imposes the ashes, the priest usually recites some form of this passage. Memorable though it is, consider an even blunter form: “You are going to die.”

This is a salient and sobering reminder that we often get worked up and anxious about passing things, while at the same time being unmindful of the certain and most important thing, for which we must be ready. We tend to maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. Sadly, like the man in one of the Lord’s parables, we can amass worldly things and forget the final things. To him the Lord said, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:21-22).

Thus, to consider our final end is wise; to fail to do so is foolishness defined.

Ashes are a sacramental that points to the Sacrament – The Old Testament declared, You shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin … For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there (Numbers 19:9, 17).

This text shows ashes obtained from a burned sin offering and mixed with sprinkled water as a cleansing ritual. In the Old Testament, this ritual could not actually take away sin (cf Heb 9:9-13) but it did provide for ritual purity. It also symbolized repentance and a desire to be free from sin.

In the same way, ashes on Ash Wednesday (mixed with holy water) cannot take away sin. They are a sacramental, not a sacrament.

To receive ashes on Ash Wednesday and then not go to confession during Lent is really to miss the point. If one really desires to repent and be cleansed from and free of sin, then from the sacramental of ashes one goes to the Sacrament of Confession. Otherwise the ritual of Ash Wednesday is pointless.

Ashes are a sign of a true changeWhen the news [of Nineveh’s possible destruction in forty days] reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust (Jonah 3:6).

Repentance is symbolized in this passage as well, but the symbol alone is not enough; actual repentance is required. The king does not just “get ashes”; he issues a decree calling for fasting, prayer, and true reform: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish (Jonah 3:7-9).

Hence another option for the priest to say as he places the ashes is, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

It is not enough to get a sooty forehead. True repentance is called for, an actual intent to change. Otherwise the ashes are a false sign.

Ashes are a summons to faith and a new mind – Jesus said, Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matt 11:21).

Jesus rebukes ancient towns for their lack of faith in what He said. It is good to recall that the Greek word translated here as “repented” is μετενόησαν (metenoesan), which more literally means “to come to a new mind” or “to come to a new way of thinking.”

The fact is, there are many ways that we think about things that are more of the world than of God. Our ongoing challenge is to come to a new mind and to think more as God thinks. This is only possible by His grace, working through Scripture and Church teaching.

It is significant that the ashes are smeared on the forehead or sprinkled on the head. We are called to a faith that transforms our mind. We are called to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2).

Hence another option for the priest is to say, “Repent and believe the Good News” as he imposes the ashes.

So, how real are your ashes? Do you intend the things described above as you go forth? Or is it just a ritual, something you do because it’s “sorta neat”? Pray and reflect on the deeper meaning of the ashes.

Compare and Contrast: The Super Bowl and the Mass, Football and Faith

I write to you in the midst of a semi-“religious” event: the Super Bowl. People have donned their sacred attire and are shouting praises. I enjoy football, but see it a lot less than most since I’m a priest and tend to be busy on Sundays! Yet I remain quite fascinated at how passionate and dedicated many Americans are to their team and to the game.

Would that more Catholics had the same dedication to the Mass and the Church that true football fans have to the game. (Fan is short for fanatic.) Would, too, that all priests and religious had the same sacrificial dedication that football players have.

Consider for a moment the players. They spend years coming up through a system of high school, college, and professional levels. Priest and religious do as well. Football players give their all to the game; their whole life is centered on it. Exhausting, year-round practice, weightlifting, and punishing games. They risk injury and suffer many pains, all for the game. Do priests and religious show the same dedication? Are they willing to make the same kind of sacrifices for Jesus? Will they risk injury and attack? I pray we will and do, but I wonder. True, we are not paid millions, but we don’t do it for the money. Are we as dedicated and sacrificial?

And what of the faithful? So many Catholics are dedicated to the game of football. They even come to Church wearing the jersey of their team, often sporting someone else’s name on their back! Let’s compare and contrast some of the aspects of football and see if the same thrill and dedication are exhibited for our Lord, the Mass, and the Church.

Disclaimer – I write a lot of this “tongue in cheek.” I am not brooding over this, just observing. I am also using a technique known as hyperbole. Hyperbole uses exaggeration to make a point. For example the phrase, “There must have been a million people there” is an exaggeration that is not literally true but does convey the idea that a lot of people were present. Please take these comparisons in the light-hearted manner in which they are intended.

That said, the point remains a serious one: we often exhibit unusual priorities when it comes to worldly vs. spiritual matters. We do well to look at ourselves with humor in order to ask God for greater passion for what matters most. Football is about a bag full of air going up and down a field. Faith is about our eternal destiny.

Consider the following Super Bowl behaviors and contrast them to Mass and the faith:

  • Super Bowl – Many fans prepare for the game for weeks. They follow the playoffs, review stats, and listen to commentaries and predictions. They make sure they are “up on” the game.” At a bare minimum, they know who is playing, and usually a great deal more. They often plan parties and invite others to join them. They discuss with fellow fans their wishes and the likely outcome of the game. They often boast of their team and loudly proclaim their intent to watch the game and see their team emerge victorious! They anticipate the game and look forward to it joyfully.
  • Mass – Little preparation is evident on the part of most who go to Mass. Generally, they do not review the readings or spiritually prepare by frequent confession. Fasting has disappeared from the Catholic landscape. In fact, ¾ of Catholics don’t go to Mass at all. And even of those who do, many don’t anticipate it joyfully. Many even dread going; they try to “fit it in” at the most convenient time and hope for the shortest possible Mass. This is true even on the great feasts like Christmas, Easter, and Holy Week. Most Catholics do not talk to others about going to Mass or invite them to join them.
  • Super Bowl – Many fans wear special clothes for the occasion, even at regular-season football games. They wear jerseys, hats with insignias, and other “sacred” apparel. Some even paint their faces and bodies.
  • Mass – Sacred apparel for Mass is all but gone. There isn’t much special attire and little care is given to display one’s faith through clothing or other marks of faith. Sunday clothes were once special. Women wore hats and veils; men wore suits and ties and would never dream of wearing a hat into Church. But all that is gone. “Come as you are” seems to be the only rule.
  • Super Bowl – People who go to football games often spend hundreds of dollars for tickets. Those who are fortunate enough to go to the Super Bowl spend thousands, gladly. Those who stay home often spend a lot of time and money on parties.
  • Mass – Most Catholics give on average 5-7 dollars per week in the collection plate. Many are resentful when the priest speaks of money.
  • Super Bowl – Most fans arrive early for the game, and do so eagerly. At regular-season games, many have tailgate parties. Fans at home joyfully anticipate the kick off and spend time in preparatory rites such as parties and beer. Even ordinary games find the fans watching pre-game shows and gathering well before the kickoff.
  • Mass – Many Catholics time their arrival for just before the Mass begins. Many—as high as 50%—arrive late. Arriving early to pray or to greet fellow worshippers is generally not something that is planned for.
  • Super Bowl – People LOVE the game. They are enthusiastic; they shout, cheer, and are focused and interested in each play. They are passionate, alive, and celebratory. They also care a great deal, exhibiting joy at good plays, and sorrow at bad ones. They are alive, exhilarated, and expressive.  They care passionately about what is happening on the field.
  • Mass – Many look bored at Mass. In many ways, the expressions on people’s faces remind one more of a funeral than of a resurrected Lord. Rather than a sea of joyful faces, it looks like everyone just sucked a lemon: bored believers, distracted disciples, frozen chosen. One finds exceptions in many Black parishes, at charismatic Masses, and in some Latino parishes. But overall, little joy or even interest is evident. It is true that many would not think of loud cheers as appropriate in Church, but even a little joy and interest would be a vast improvement.
  • Super Bowl – Many fans sing team songs. Here in Washington we sing, “Hail to the Redskins, Hail victory! Braves on the warpath! Fight for ol’ D.C.!”
  • Mass – Most Catholics don’t sing.
  • Super Bowl – Even a normal football game lasts four hours including the pre- and post-game shows. Toward the end of each half, the game is often intentionally slowed down; incomplete passes stop the clock, etc. Fans gladly accept this slowdown and are even happy and excited if the game goes into overtime.
  • Mass – Frustration and even anger are evident in many of the faithful  if Mass begins to extend beyond 45 minutes. Some people even begin to walk out. Many leave right after Communion even if the Mass is “on time.”
  • Super Bowl – Fans understand and accept the place of rules and expect them to be followed. Often they are angry when they are broken or when penalties are not called. They respect the role of the referee and the line judges and, even if they are unhappy, accept the finality of their judgments. They seem to understand that a recognized and final authority is necessary for the existence of the game.
  • Mass – Some Catholics resent rules and routinely break them or support those who do. They also resent Church authorities who might “throw a flag” or assess a penalty of any sort. Often they do not respect bishops or the authority of the Church. Many refuse to accept that recognized and final authority is necessary for the existence of the Church. Many Catholics resent pointed sermons at Mass in which the priest speaks clearly on moral topics. Praise God, many Catholics are faithful and respect Church authority. Sadly, though, others do not.
  • Super Bowl – Many who go to a football game endure rather uncomfortable conditions for the privilege: hard seats, freezing cold, pouring rain. Often the game is hard to see and the sound system is full of echoes. Still the stadium is full and few fans complain.
  • Mass – Many complain readily at any inconvenience or discomfort. It’s too hot; it’s too cold; the Mass times aren’t perfectly to my liking. Why aren’t the pews cushioned? (They’re harder to keep clean, that’s why.) Why wasn’t the walk to my usual door shoveled clear of snow? When will the sound system be better? Why do they ask me to move to the front in an empty Church?

OK, that’s enough. Remember, I use hyperbole here and intend this in a lighthearted manner. We humans are funny, and what we get excited about is often humorous. The truth is, people love their football. But this one point is serious: would that we who believe were as passionate as football fans. We need to work at this on two levels.

Clergy and Church leaders need to work very hard to ensure that the liturgy of the Church is all that it should be. High-quality, sacred music, good preaching, and devout and pious celebration are essential. Perfunctory, hurried liturgy with little attention to detail does not inspire.

The faithful, too, must realize more essentially what the Mass really is and then ask God to anoint them with a powerful and pious awareness of the presence and ministry of Jesus Christ. They must ask for a joy and zeal that will be manifest on their faces, in their deeds, and in their dedication.

Here’s one of the better Superbowl commercials from this year:

Dubious about Dialogue – A Reflection on a much used term that has lost its Biblical meaning.

Dubious about Dialogue – A Reflection on a much used term that has lost its Biblical meaning.

There is much emphasis today on the concept of “dialogue.” Most English speakers simply equate the word with “discussion” and English-speaking Catholics hear a lot about how the Church should be in “dialogue” with the world.

Of itself “dialogue,” understood merely as having a discussion or conversation, is surely a good thing. Discussions and conversations set the framework for understanding, for evangelization and the conveying of the truth. In this sense dialogue is good and understandable as something which keeps the door open, so to speak.

But there are some of us (your current author included) who are troubled by the use of this word in the rather unqualified sense. Even in English, “dialogue” has a rather vague and indeterminate quality regarding content and time. Does dialogue really capture the central mission the Lord gave the Church which is to go to all the nations, teach them everything Jesus commanded and make disciples of them? I don’t think it does.

Dialogue implies a rather back and forth quality, whereas teaching implies that one party has truth to convey that the other party needs to hear. Teaching also has a goal of getting the other to come to understanding and compliance with the truth, science, technology, or discipline that is announced. Hence it makes sense that Jesus did not say to the Church to go forth and dialogue, but to go forth and teach, to summon all to repentance, to a new mind, and to come to believe the good news set forth by Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. This is a summons more than a dialogue, a teaching more than a discussion, a call more than a conversation.

The problem with the term “dialogue” gets more complex when we go to the Greek New Testament. There the use of the term dialogue is in some senses good, and in others, anything but flattering. Let’s take a look and see how the word dialogue can at times indicate both the best and the worst of what we as a church really hope to accomplish.

The Greek root words that underlie our English word “dialogue” are dia ‘through’ + legein ‘speak.’ In the scriptures there are several different forms of the word that occur. Two of the forms indicate an unflattering notion of the word, and a third form while used positively is far more vigorous that we mean by dialogue today. Let’s look at Each form that occurs int eh Greek New Testament.

διαλαλέω (dialaleo) –  Which Stongs dictionary defines as “I converse together, talk of.” It is used only twice. Once in Luke 1:65 where the people in the vicinity were all talking and puzzling over the fact that Zechariah had received his speech back at the birth of John the Baptist. And in Luke 6:11 where the religious officials were talking and scheming together about how to kill Jesus after he healed the man with the withered hand.

Already we are clued in that the word as used in these texts does not bespeak a conversation that is clear on the facts or even holy.

II διαλογίζομαι (dialogizomai) – which Strong’s Dictionary defines as “to go back-and-forth when evaluating, but in a way that typically leads to a confused conclusion”. The term implies one confused mind interacting with other confused minds, each further reinforcing the original confusion.

Yikes, even worse. It would take too much time to discuss all 16 occurrences of the word but among the uses of it are when the disciples were discussing and trying to understand Jesus’ rebuke of their lack of faith during a storm at sea and how it related to the multiplication of the loaves. They debated among themselves as to what he meant (Mat 16:7). On another occasion the word is used of the debate and discussion among the Pharisees when Jesus asked them if the Baptism of John from heaven or from men. They disputed, connived and could not agree (Mat 21:25). The word is used in Mark 2:7 when the scribes “dispute” in their hearts about whether Jesus could forgive sins, etc.

So this form of the word indicates a “dialogue” that is inauthentic, scheming, and confused. More subtly it indicates a kind of reasoning that seeks to avoid a conclusion by steering a conversation or line of reasoning toward uncertainty; a conversation that is not really interested in truly disclosing or sharing the truth.

I am sadly convinced that many people who use the term dialogue today are actually engaged more is this sort of discussion. It permits a certain credibility to the participants, since they are nobly involved in a “dialogue” but it does not “call the question” or have as a goal making the Gospel reasonable and therefore demanding of respect.

III  διαλέγομαι (dialégomai) from diá, (through, from one side across to the other +  légō, “speaking to a conclusion”). Dia intensifies lego so it is properly, “getting a conclusion across” by exchanging thoughts, words or reasons. And this form of the word is used positively, but as we shall see far more vigorously that it would seem most people mean by the word dialogue today.

It occurs 13 times in the NT, usually of believers exercising “dialectical reasoning.” This is the process of giving and receiving information with someone in order to convey a deeper understanding of the Lord and His word, and will. As such it is more than a mere on-going conversation, but one that is goal-directed, even boldly so. Consider some examples from among the 13 times it is used:

1 – It is said of St. Paul in Acts 17:2, 17 and 18:4) when he entered synagogues on the Sabbath and reasoned (dialexato, dielegeto) with them from the Scriptures. To give the sense of the “tone” of these dialogues consider the following line from Acts 19 – Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly (eparresiazeto) there for three months, arguing persuasively (dialegomenos kai peithon) about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)

And thus we see that the “dialogue” referenced here is no mere conversation, but a bold setting forth of the Christian vision with the goal to change minds and convert hearts.

I am just not that convinced that this is what most people mean today when they call us to dialogue.

2 – The term is used in Acts 20:7-12 (humorously) of Paul’s preaching at Troas in which preaches a long one and a young man named Eutychus sitting in an open window ledge goes asleep and falls out the windows three stories to his death. Paul runs to raise him from the dead and goes back to finish the Mass! (all in a day’s work!) Dialogue here too does not seem to mean mere conversation but the exhortation we call preaching.

3 – It is used in Acts 24:25 to describe Paul’s testimony before Felix: As Paul talked (dialegomenou) about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid And here too we see “dialogue” referring not a simple conversation but to an exhortation so clear that it incites fear in a Roman official. Again, I must say I don’t think this is what most people who call for the Church to engage in “dialogue” have in mind.

Indeed, in none of the 13 occurances of dialegomai can I find any sense of mere conversation, or a “getting to know you – sharing information” sense. Dialogue in the New Testament Scriptures is a word that indicates an often bold exhortation and/or defense of the faith. It is goal-oriented, not merely relational, and has in mind to draw one to repentance and to Christ.

So what are we to make of the frequent calls to dialogue today? If, by it we mean a bold and confident proclamation of the faith, so as to present it as reasonable and worthy of obedience, then dialogue is a good thing!

But as stated above in several places, I do not think this is what most who call for dialogue today have in mind. Rather they have in mind more of a mere exchange of ideas, a reaching of mutual understanding and respect.

These are not bad things in themselves, especially as a prelude to teaching. But they often seem today to be presented as ends in themselves; as a final goal.

The Church was not sent by Christ to all the nations to “dialogue” (Matt 28:20) in the modern sense of that word. Rather she was commissioned to teach (in the more ancient and bold sense that the Greek New Testament means by dialegomai). There is a place for respectful listening, but to present it alone, and apart from the fuller mission teaching is misleading and conveys a less than evangelical stance.

I do not call for a banishment of the word dialogue, only a more proper understanding of it in the biblical sense as a clear articulation of the reasonableness of our faith whereby we are contending for souls and even boldly refuting errors. If that is dialogue, bring it on!

Dumb or Designed?

When I look at creation with all of it’s intricate interactions and symbiotic coordination, I think it would take more “faith” for me to reject God’s existence than to conclude he obviously does exist.

It is not as though a few things just happen to work together, it is tens of thousands of things all working in just the right combination so that things are, just as they are. The whole universe shouts, “I was designed and I am magnificently governed! Even just to consider our own bodies and the thousands of things and processes in perfect combination that cause us to exist, be sustained and enable us to  engage is magnificent and manifold activities.  The statistical possibility that all this intricate unity just happened by accident, or by blind chance is simply not tenable to me. God exists and his fingerprints are everywhere.

In today’s Office of Readings (Thursday of the First Week of the Year), we read from St. Athanasius in his Discourse Against the Pagans. In it he observes the following:

For if the movement of the universe were irrational, and the world rolled on in random fashion, one would be justified in disbelieving what we say. But if the world is founded on reason, wisdom and science, and is filled with orderly beauty, then it must owe its origin and order to none other than the Word of God(Contra P Nn. 40-42: PG 25, 79-83)

Indeed the Father created all things through his Word (Jesus). The Greek for “word” is Logos. For God spoke, “Let there be light, and there was light.” Gen 1:3). And the Word he spoke was Jesus, the Logos, the Word. Of Jesus in this regard Scripture says, Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made (Jn 1:3). And again, All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17). In speaking through his Logos, the Father imprinted on all creation a “Logike” or logic. It is this logic that is at the heart of the scientific method which must presume that things are not randomly or dumbly here. Rather things have a nature, a coherent logic and order that can be discovered and counted on to be stably so.

Thus, Athanasius adds,

By his eternal Word the Father created all things and implanted a nature in his creatures. He did not want to see them tossed about at the mercy of their own natures, and so be reduced to nothingness.  But in his goodness he governs and sustains the whole of nature by his Word (who is himself also God), so that under the guidance, providence and ordering of that Word, the whole of nature might remain stable and coherent in his light….The almighty and most holy Word of the Father pervades the whole of reality, everywhere unfolding his power and shining on all things visible and invisible. (Ibid)

As such, the Creator is known by his works. St. Paul says

For what may be known about God is plain to them [the unbelieving Gentiles], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20).

We are still beset today by such unbelief and it too is without excuse, and is even more blameworthy, since we know so much more about the awesome intricacy of creation and how astonishing are the layers of its order at both the macro-level and the micro-level. The glory of one cell and all its parts so intricately working together looks up to a universe of billions of galaxies in an intricate dance of balance. Even its chaos brings forth new glories and forges elements and minerals.

Yes, the whole universe proclaims God’s existence:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. Without speech or language, without a sound to be heard, their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun. Like a bridegroom emerging from his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course, it rises at one end of the skies and runs its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Psalm 19:1-6)

I don’t know how it is logically or reasonably possible to deny God’s existence when considering all this. Granted, one may not be able to conclude exactly to the God who reveals himself in Scripture with some attributes beyond reason. But any honest look at creation reveals a maker who is awesome in power, is intelligent,  provident, possessed of order and a manifest purpose to bring for beauty and life of immense variety.  Even from the cauldron of chaos (such as volcanos and storms) he brings forth needed minerals, gases for the atmosphere, and even a magnetic field to deflect cosmic radiation. From storms come the rains, ozone, and a distribution of heat from the equator to help warm the planet.

Order, order everywhere. And even some of what seems chaotic, is still part of a larger order. Creation shouts God’s existence and proclaims “I was designed!”

How David Killed Goliath: An Amazing Demonstration of the Sling Shot

When we read the story of David and Goliath, many of us have rather vague notions of how he used a slingshot to kill Goliath. When I was a kid I had a crude slingshot, a toy really, that didn’t do justice to the actual weapon, which can be very lethal!

The video below show an expert use of a sling shot and goes a long to showing how David might have so easily taken down Goliath by expert use of a slingshot.

Behold:

Rosary of Healing and Deliverance

The following verses are reminders that the Lord is a healer and deliverer. While it is true that there are sufferings in this world, it also remains true that God delivers his people from destruction and only permits sufferings and evils that something greater may come from them. The verses below are presented in the form of a Scriptural Rosary. They are not keyed to any of the mysteries per se but can be used on any day when one might wish to pray the rosary and meditate on the deliverance of our God and the love of our lady and Lord for us; one verse per bead. Pray with our Lady and allow her to remind you of God’s love even in difficult moments.

Mystery 1:

1. For I am the LORD who heals you. (Exodus 15:26)

2. And I will take away sickness from among you. (Ex 23:25)

3. When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. (Ps 34:17)

4. He who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction and crowns you with loving devotion and compassion, (Psalm 103:3-4)

5. He sent forth His word and healed them; He rescued them from destruction. (Ps 107:20)

6. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. (PS 118:17)

7. May Your loving devotion come to me, O LORD, Your salvation, according to Your promise. (Psalm 119:41)

8. And I will walk in freedom, for I have sought Your precepts. (Psalm 119:45)

9. This is my comfort in affliction, that Your promise has given me life. (Ps 119:50)

10. I remember Your judgments of old, O LORD, and in them I find comfort. (Ps 119:52)

Mystery 2:

1. You are good to Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word. (Psalm 119:65)

2. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. (Psalm 34:18)

3. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me. (Psalm 119:93)

4. On the day I called, you answered, you increased the strength of my soul. (Ps 138:3)

5. Abundant peace belongs to those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble I wait for Your salvation, O LORD (Ps 119:165-166)

6. Though I walk in the midst of affliction you give me life and frustrate my foes. (Ps.138:7)

7. You stretch out your hand and save me, your hand will do all things for me. (138:8)

8. I thank you, Lord, with all my heart, you have heard the words of my mouth. (Ps. 138:1)

9. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Is 53:5)

10. Your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will come quickly. (Is 58:8)

Mystery 3:

1. Your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. (Is 58:8)

2. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry out, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ (Is 58:9)

3. your light will go forth in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. The LORD will always guide you; (Is 58:10-11)

4. He will satisfy you in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. (Is 58:11)

5. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Is 58:11)

6. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will restore the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of the Breach, Restorer of the Streets of Dwelling. (Is 58:12)

7. if you call the Sabbath a delight, and the LORD’s holy day honorable, if you honor it by not going your own way or seeking your own pleasure or speaking idle words, then you will delight yourself in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Is 58:13-14)

8. For I will restore your health and heal your wounds, declares the LORD (Jer 30:17)

9. I will bring to you health and healing, and I will heal your people and reveal to you the abundance of peace and truth. (Jer 33:6)

10. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings (Mal 4:2)

Mystery 4:

1. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me. (Ps 50:15)

2. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. They cried out to You and were set free; they trusted in You and were not disappointed. (Psalm 22:4-5)

3. For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted. He has not hidden His face from him but has attended to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:24)

4. But those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint. (Is 40:31)

5. When he calls, I shall answer: “I am with you,” I will save him in distress and give him glory. With length of life I will content him; I shall let him see my saving power. (Ps 91:16-17)

6. My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it. (Is 55:11)

7. You will pray to Him, and He will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows. Your decisions will be carried out, and light will shine on your ways. When men are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’ then He will save the lowly (Job 22:27-29)

8. For I the Lord have declared to the oceans: ‘You may come this far, but no farther; here your proud waves must stop’ (Job 38:11)

9. The Lord has calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. (Ps 107:29)

10. He rebuked the storm … the waves of the sea were hushed. (Ps 107:29)

Mystery 5:

1. In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, (Is 30:15)

2. And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment. (Mat 8:7-8, 13)

3. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to Jesus, and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took on our infirmities and carried our diseases (Mat 8:16-17)

4. Daughter,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be free of your affliction. (Mk 5:34)

5. I was hard-pressed and was falling, but the Lord came to help me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he is my savior. (Ps 120:8)

6. To the Lord in the hour of my distress I call, and he answers me. (Ps 120:1)

7. It is he who will free you from the snare of the fowler who seeks to destroy you; he will conceal you with his pinions and under his wings you will find refuge. (Ps 91:3-4)

8. For you has he commanded his angels, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you upon their hands lest you strike your foot against a stone. (Ps 91:12-13)

9. The Lord is at my side as my helper: I shall look down on my foes. (Ps 120:3)

10. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Eph 6:10-11)

A Scriptural Litany and Rosary for Our Lady Seat of Wisdom

What follows is a kind of Scriptural Rosary that draws on Wisdom texts from the Old Testament. There, wisdom is often personified as “Lady Wisdom.” While some have thought to attribute these verses to the Holy Spirit there are difficulties in that approach. The Holy Spirit is not a lady or a creature. He is the uncreated Third Person of the Holy Trinity. While in essence God is neither Male nor Female, Jesus consistently refers to the Holy Spirit as “He” and “Him.” Secondly, since some of the texts below speak of Wisdom as being created by God, this cannot be said of the Holy Spirit, who is God, not a creature. Similar problems emerge when one tries to apply these verses to Jesus.

Hence, an alternative seems opportune in attributing these verses and the image to our Blessed Mother who is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Seat of Wisdom. Our Blessed Mother is the personification and exemplification of Lady Wisdom in the Old Testament. She is the seat of Wisdom in two ways. First, upon her lap sat He who is God’s Wisdom. Secondly, as Mary formed and brought forth He who is Wisdom itself (I speak of Jesus’ human origins) so too does she form Christ in us, by God’s grace. Allow then these verses that speak of God’s Wisdom speak also of Mary who is “Seat of Wisdom” and, by God’s grace, a source of Wisdom for us who all called to formed into Christ.

These verses can be used in conjunction with any of the current Mysteries of the Rosary. Hence, I leave the mysteries untitled below. These verses can also serve as the basis of a mediation apart from the rosary. But pray them meditatively and rejoice in the great gift Jesus gave us of his most holy, most pure, most Blessed and glorious Lady, Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Spouse of the Holy Spirit: pray for us!

Mystery 1:

  1. Therefore, I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. (Wisdom 7:7)
  2. I preferred her to scepter and throne and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her. (Wis 7:8)
  3. I loved her, And I chose to have her rather than earthly light, because her radiance never ceases. (Wis 7:10)
  4. All good things together came to me with her, and countless riches at her hands…though I had not known that she is their mother. (Wis 7:11-12)
  5. For she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, being commended by the gifts that come from her discipline. (Wis 7:14)
  6. For in her is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, [yet] manifold. (Wis 7:22)
  7. Subtle, agile, clear, unstained, and certain, (Wis 7:22)
  8. Never harmful, loving the good, (Wis 7:22)
  9. Keen and unhampered, beneficent, kindly and powerful, (Wis 7:23)
  10. Firm and secure, [yet] tranquil, all-seeing, and pervading all spirits. (Wis 7:23)

Mystery 2:

  1. For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. (Wis 7:24)
  2. For she is a breath of the might of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty. (Wis 7:25)
  3. Therefore, nothing defiled can enter into her. (Wis 7:25)
  4. For she is the reflection of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness. (Wis 7:26)
  5. Although she is one, she can do all things, and she renews everything while herself perduring. (Wis 7:27)
  6. Passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets. (Wis 7:27)
  7. For God loves nothing so much as the one who dwells with Wisdom. (Wis 7:28)
  8. For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. (Wis 7:29)
  9. Compared to light, she is found more radiant. (Wis 7:29)
  10. For, though night supplants light, wickedness does not prevail over Wisdom. (Wis 7:30)

Mystery 3:

  1. The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed? Her subtleties—who knows them? There is but one, wise and truly awesome, seated upon his throne—the Lord. (Sir 1:7-8)
  2. It is he who created her, saw her and measured her, poured her forth upon all his works, upon every living thing according to his bounty, lavished her upon those who love him. (Sir 1:8-10a)
  3. With the godly she was created from of old, and with their descendants she will keep faith. (Sir 1:10b)
  4. She inebriates them with her fruits. Knowledge and full understanding she rains down; (Sir 1:16, 19)
  5. Wisdom teaches her children and admonishes all who can understand her. (Sir 4:11)
  6. Those who love her love life; those who seek her out win the LORD’s favor. (Sir 4:12)
  7. Those who hold her fast will attain glory, and they shall abide in the blessing of the LORD. (Sir 4:13)
  8. Those who serve her serve the Holy One; those who love her the Lord loves. (Sir 4:14)
  9. With all your soul draw close to her; and with all your strength keep her ways. (Sir 4:26)
  10. Inquire and search, seek and find; when you get hold of her, do not let her go. (Sir 4:27)

Mystery 4:

  1. Thus, at last you will find rest in her, and she will become your joy. (Sirach 4:28)
  2. Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame, and those who serve me will never go astray. (Sir 24:24)
  3. Her fetters will be a place of strength, her snare, a robe of spun gold. (Sir 4:29)
  4. Take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. (Sir 51:26)
  5. She will meet him like a mother; …She will feed him with the bread of learning and give him the water of understanding to drink. (Sirach 15:2-3)
  6. He will lean upon her and not fall; he will trust in her and not be put to shame. (Sir 15:4)
  7. She will exalt him above his neighbors, and in the assembly, she will make him eloquent. (Sir 15:5)
  8. She says, “I will water my plants, I will drench my flower beds.” (Sir 24:31)
  9. When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom. She came to me in her beauty, and until the end I will grow with her. (Sir 51:13-14)
  10. From my earliest youth I was familiar with her. In the short time I paid heed, I met with great instruction. (Sir 51:15-16)

Mystery 5:

  1. I resolved to tread her paths; I have been jealous for the good and will not turn back. (Sir 51:18)
  2. I burned with desire for her, never relenting. I became preoccupied with her, never weary of extolling her. (Sir 51:19)
  3. I spread out my hands to the heavens and I came to know her secrets. (Sir 51:19)
  4. For her I purified my hands; in cleanness I attained to her. At first acquaintance with her, I gained understanding such that I will never forsake her. (Sir 51:20)
  5. My whole being was stirred to seek her; therefore, I have made her my prize possession. (Sir 51:21)
  6. Come aside to me, you untutored, and take up lodging in the house of instruction. (Sri 51:23)
  7. How long will you deprive yourself of wisdom’s food, how long endure such bitter thirst? (Sir 51:24)
  8. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her. (Sir 51:26)
  9. Acquire but a little instruction, and you will win silver and gold through her. (Sir 51:28)
  10. Since in this way I have profited, I will give my teacher grateful praise. (Sir 51:17)

A War Plan with a Word of Consolation for Weary Soldiers in the Lord’s Army

This past week in the Breviary, I have found certain readings in the Office of Readings to be helpful and encouraging in times like these. With Western culture collapsing and many in the Church seeking to adapt the Lord’s teaching to the modern (and collapsing) age, we need to stand firm, not loose heart and actively resist notions that seek to set aside what the Lord has clearly taught. Consider this reading from last week’s office from the Book of Daniel:

Many shall be refined, purified, and tested, but the wicked shall prove wicked; none of them shall have understanding, but the wise shall have it. From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is the man who has patience and perseveres until the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. Go, take your rest, you shall rise for your reward at the end of days.” (Daniel 12:1-3)

Now this reading teaches us numerous things:

1  This is a time in the Church of testing.  That is to say we are all being tested to see what we are made of. Do we have the true faith? Or, are we the sort who merely hold the faith when it is convenient or expedient? In this collapsing Western Culture once known as Christendom, holding to the true faith is getting costly and, at times discouraging. We are rediscovering that the faith is costly and, like the early Church, we are becoming a small and persecuted group. Large numbers of us have fallen away from the practice of the faith and become enamored of the world. We are like Gideon’s army of 30,000. God told Gideon to send the cowards home. 20,000 left. But God wasn’t finished and further insisted that only true believers were fit for the battle. Only 300 remained after the testing. But they won since the battle was the Lord’s. Are you and I among the 300 zealous enough for the faith that we are fit for battle. Or are we among the compromisers who seek to adapt the faith to the views of this world and the prince of this world? Are you fit for battle? Can you pass muster in the Lord’s army? Are you ready to defend the faith and suffer for it? Or are you and I among the slothful, the lukewarm and the cowards whom the Lord considers unfit? Yes, we are being tested. Will we pass the test?

2  We are being refined and purified. To refine gold or silver means to subject it to the fire and burn away its impurities. In this time rebellion and where the gospel is “out of season”, many scoff and raise questions for us; they confront us with false notions of compassion, fake versions of Jesus, and a tyranny of relativism that demand tolerance for everything except the Gospel. And yet, in this cauldron of dissent we are forced in a sense to sharpen our skills and understanding of the faith. There is a saying, “Things through opposition grow stronger.” And hence, the enemies of the faith do us a kind of favor by forcing us to lay hold of the deeper realities and meanings of our faith. In defending and teaching the faith we come to realize just how truth and good these teachings are if we stay in the battle and listen to the Lord who uses opposition to deepen our knowledge of the faith and purify us of sloth, vagueness, and compromise.

3  True Repentance is hard to come by.  The text from Daniel says, but the wicked shall prove wicked; none of them shall have understanding. Sin hardens the heart and the longer it is active the harder it is to repent. We might like to think that deathbed conversion are numerous but, as I have learned by experience, they are not. It is a very strange thing to have someone nearing death refuse the sacraments. But it happens often. The more frequent occurrence is that they don’t ask for the Catholic chaplain in the first placed. God and the sacraments simply aren’t on their radar. We see too how, in our culture that sinners are very hardened in their views and quite passionate about them. This is particularly obvious in the LBGTQIA+ movements that openly celebrate what the scriptures condemn, even considering themselves morally superior to “rigid” and “hateful” believers who have a principled opposition to the lifestyle they celebrate.  We see obstinance in other matters too such as abortion. Though the left often says to “follow the science,”  it seems that no amount of science will ever shake them from their view that its alright to kill children in the womb for all nine months. Obstinacy can also be observed in matters of racism, greed, and so forth. Does this mean that we should give up trying to call people to repentance. No. Some do repent. And besides, God did not say to evangelize only if people are not stubborn. God’s wants to give everyone ample opportunity to hear the truth and repent. And even if many stubbornly refuse, he does not withhold his merciful summons to all to repent and believe the gospel.

4  Idolatry and false religion are always near at hand. – We may have thought that the worship of idols was ended centuries ago and that our age is too rational for such. Don’t kid yourself, in New Age and other practices people are worshipping stones and crystals. Occult practices are widespread and Tarot Card readers are doing big business.  Further note that the text from Daniel says, From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up…. Many of us sadly note that that masses were abolished during COVID and that an ancient idol, Pachamama, was welcomed in Roman Basilicas. Supplied explanations by the Vatican regarding Pachamama were not helpful and tended only to confirm that this was, in fact the pagan Mother Earth goddess being welcomed into our Churches and being venerated by many. The text from Daniel calls this a “horrible abomination.” These are very dark and difficult times in the Church when many of our leaders involve themselves in such practices with little or no compunction and sensing no need to explain themselves or repent.

5  Tribulation produces future glory. The prophecy of Daniel says that those will e blessed who persevere and keep the faith for the three and a half years (or days) of tribulation. (Literally, “A time, two times and half a time.”) One need not get out a calendar and count exact days. Three and an half years or days is a usual prophetic device that indicates a period of tribulation.  It is half the perfect number of seven, hence an imperfect and troubled time.  The exact time of the tribulation is indeterminate, the point is that it is a period of time a persecution or tribulation lasts. And while it is true that tribulation is painful, the blessings that will come to the one who perseveres is more than worth it. The texts says to those who endure: Blessed is the man who has patience and perseveres until the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. You shall rise for your reward at the end of days.” So, those of us who endure this painful time in the culture and in the Church need to remember that our reward will be great if we stay faithful. Scripture says elsewhere of an exulted group of glorified saints in heaven: Then one of the elders addressed me: “These in white robes….These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:13) Yes, this is our future and our dignity if we are faithful. Tribulation serves only to increase our glory. Do not fear it! Stare it down and declare to it: “You are my ticket to glory, through Jesus’ power.” Everything Satan does backfires eventually if we are faithful.

Finally, in the same Office of Readings last week comes this commentary by a Second Century Author:

Those who keep God’s commandments will have reason to rejoice. For a short time in this world they may have to suffer, but they will rise again and their reward will endure for ever. No one who holds God in reverence should grieve over the hardships of this present time, for a time of blessedness awaits him. He will live again in heaven in the company of all those who have gone before him; for all eternity he will rejoice, never to know sorrow again.

So do not be disturbed at the sight of wicked men…we are receiving the training in this present life that will make us worthy to be crowned in the life to come. …To the one invisible God, the Father of truth, who sent forth the Savior, the author of immortality, and through him revealed to us the truth and the heavenly life—to him be glory throughout all ages, for ever and ever. Amen.

– From a homily written in the second century
(Cap 18:1-20, 5: Funk 1, 167-171)