Four Qualities Manifest By The Apostles Just After Pentecost

It is worthwhile to look back at a text that was read on Saturday (Saturday of the Octave of Easter). It is from Acts and sets forth a picture of courage and holy boldness that is too little evident in many Catholics. Let’s look at the passage, which takes place just after the healing of the paralyzed man at the gate called beautiful. And then let’s reflect on four qualities that the Apostles Peter and John manifest.

Now when [the Sanhedrin] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened (Acts 4:13-21).

Their Authority The text opens with a reference to the “boldness” of Peter and John to the fact that the religious authorities are “astonished.” How could such uneducated and common men speak and act this way?

The Greek word translated here as “boldness” is Παρρησία (parresía or parrhēsía) from pás, “all” + rhēsis, meaning “a proverb or statement quoted with resolve.” In other words, parresía means to speak with confidence and exhibit strong resolve; it means to speak plainly, publicly, or effectively. It is from the root rhēsis that the term rhetoric comes. Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive speaking and in its more technical sense usually requires training in logic and poise.

Thus, the boldness described in this passage shows the transformation that that the resurrection and Pentecost have effected. Prior to Pentecost, the Apostles, though often zealous and willing to make sacrifices to follow Jesus, were also slow to understand and often confused. Beginning with Easter Sunday (e.g., Luke 24:32,45) and most likely throughout the forty days before ascending, the Lord instructed and formed the Apostles in the Gospel. It would take Pentecost, however, to fully quicken their minds and confirm their hearts. Jesus had said, I still have much to tell you, but you cannot yet bear to hear it. However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth (Jn 16:12-13). Elsewhere, He added, All this I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you (John 14:25-26).

Prior to Pentecost, the Apostles and disciples gathered in fear, behind locked doors. Afterwards, though, they go about with the boldness described here. The religious leaders are “astonished” and marvel that such common and unlearned men can have such a sweeping command of their topic, and such serene courage. Peter and John have healed a man who had been lame for forty years, a man they knew was lame and had seen in the temple. The religious leaders cannot explain it; further, the usual threats do not seem to have the desired effect on them.

Yes, Peter and John are bold, confident, and unafraid. They are manifesting the gift that the Lord promised when he said, On account of My name, they will deliver you to the synagogues and prisons, and they will bring you before kings and governors. This will be your opportunity to serve as witnesses. So make up your mind not to worry beforehand how to defend yourselves. For I will give you speech and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict (Luke 21:12-15).

Such a change in these men, especially Peter! It is clear that the Lord has gifted them just as He promised. Their boldness is God’s grace. May that grace reach Church leaders today, both clergy and lay. Holy boldness such as this is needed more than ever.

Their Association The text says that the Sanhedrin recognized that they had been with Jesus. What a magnificent line. While this may have meant they recalled that these men had accompanied Jesus, for the reader the expression has far more depth. Peter and John, by their transformed lives, are manifesting that they have been with Jesus. They are showing forth the fruit of a life-changing, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, these men have been with Jesus; it is obvious!

How about you and me? Would someone be able to look at us and conclude that we have been with Jesus? Is this not a description of what should be the normal Christian life? Is your association with Jesus Christ obvious to others? It ought to be.

It is, of course, a sad reality that most Christians are content to hide out or to blend in with the culture. They are undercover Christians, secret-agent saints, and frozen chosen. There’s no real fire to attract attention, no bold proclamations or visible signs of spiritual life. Few would ever conclude that they had been with Jesus.

Where are we on the light spectrum? Is the Light of Christ in us visible (Mat 5:14)? Do we bear the brand marks of Jesus (Gal 6:17)? Do we love our enemies (Mat 5:44)? Do we shine like the stars in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation (Phil 2:15)?

Their Arresting Ability Although Saints Peter and John have been arrested, they have, in effect, turned the tables and arrested the Sanhedrin. As remarked above, Peter and John do not seem cowed by the usual threats and their arguments are not easily set aside, for they speak with sincerity and authority. Further, the crowds are amazed and the leaders themselves cannot explain how a man, known by them to have been lame for forty years, now walks and even dances!

They don’t really know what to do. They are arrested by the winsome and courageous witness before them.

True holiness can have this effect, at least in certain conditions. St. Teresa of Calcutta was like this. Though many did not share her faith, even enemies of the faith admired her. This was not because she was a people pleaser; in fact, just the opposite. She had a boldness to scold even the most powerful, but a love that could not be denied. Her reflection of the glory of Christ arrested one and all.

This is perhaps one of the rarest gifts of all, yet still one to seek, so that at least some in every age have a holiness and a goodness that is arresting in its purity.

Their Assertiveness – To be appropriately assertive is to get one’s needs met without trampling others. And what is the greatest need of any saint? To proclaim Christ and Him crucified and risen. Thus, when Peter and John are warned to stop proclaiming the name of Jesus, they assert their need and right to continue doing so. However, they do so without disrespecting the leaders before them. They do not shout, “We won’t listen to you!” They do not personally disrespect them at all. Rather, they commend themselves to the conscience of these leaders as a way of respectfully declining a command they cannot follow:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.

In other words, they say, “Brothers, Elders, would you not agree that a man must obey God before obeying any man? Do what you must do. Make your judgments. But we must obey the Lord and speak of Jesus until our last breath.”

They are respectful but clear. They assert themselves and their mission but do not attack and trample the reputations or lawful authority of those in the community or state. They cannot cooperate in an evil directive, but they do not attack or stage an attempted overthrow of power. They stand before their opponents and look them in the eye. They will not flee or yield to fear, but neither will they become like them in arrogance and unrighteous demands.

This is a good model for us who are entering into increasingly difficult days, in which the pressures made upon us by the culture and the government may require that we refuse to cooperate with evil demands. Our goal is not to humiliate and overcome our opponents, but to convert them; and if not them then the culture around us. As St. Paul says, We do not use deception, neither do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2).

So here is a model for us and a set of challenges. We are to manifest a bold and sincere confidence in the Gospel we proclaim, because we have met Jesus and are being transformed into His likeness. Indeed, we should ask and strive for that rare holiness that is arresting in its purity but also assertively announces Christ Jesus without compromise or hypocrisy.

Help us, Lord!

An Easter Exhortation for Tough Times

As we all know, this was perhaps the strangest Easter that any of us have experienced  at least collectively. The liturgical calendar shouts new life and victory over the grave, and yet throughout the world, many are hunkered down in the fear of death. Despite the Easter glow these are dark days for many who suffer illness or economic stress. But, to be sure, the first Easter was experienced in great uncertainty and danger. 

Recent readings from Scripture have this theme. The readings in daily Mass this past week (from the Acts of the Apostles) show the joy of a poor, lame man healed by Peter and John at the Gate called Beautiful. By week’s end Peter and John were arrested for the “dangerous” act of glorifying Jesus and forced to appear before the Jewish court. More suffering and arrests would follow.

In the Office of Readings, we are reading from the First Letter of Peter, which is a kind of survival guide for those who suffer on account of Jesus. Consider these excerpts from this past week:

Do not be surprised, beloved, that a trial by fire is occurring in your midst. It is a test for you, but it should not catch you off guard. Rejoice instead, in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings. When his glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you ….

The season of judgment has begun, and begun with God’s own household. If it begins this way with us, what must be the end for those who refuse obedience to the gospel of God? And if the just man is saved only with difficulty, what is to become of the godless and the sinner? Accordingly, let those who suffer as God’s will requires continue in good deeds, and entrust their lives to a faithful Creator….

Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world. The God of all grace, who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish those who have suffered a little while. Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen (1 Peter 4:12-5:14).

The ancient Church had little time for the sentimentality of Easter Bunnies and Easter egg hunts. Jesus was born to do battle and rose to show forth the victory. But a victory presupposes a battle and a struggle.

The Sequence that should be sung during the Easter Octave is as follows:

Mors et vita duello,            (Death and life have contended)
conflixere mirando:           (in a stupendous conflict)
dux vitae mortuus,             (The Prince of life having died)
regnat vivus!                         (Now reigns living).

Easter is serious business with a message that summons us to the battle with confidence. In effect the message is this:

The Pentecost experience seemed to convict and encourage them and us: Enough of all this cowardice. No more hiding out in upper rooms. Get out there like soldiers who know you are on the winning team. Manfully engage the battle and win some souls for Christ. As in any war, there is going to be suffering. Jesus says, In this world you shall have tribulation; but have confidence I have overcome the world (John 16:33). The Easter message is not that there is no battle, but rather that the battle is a glorious one whose outcome has already been decided. Choose sides!

Scripture says,

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. All the peoples of the earth will lament Him. Yes, Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:5-8).

Make sure you are on the winning team. Some people foolishly choose the wrong side, thinking that winning means having power, popularity, money, and possessions—that is not victory. A team can be ahead until the final play of the game yet still lose. You already know who is going to win; present appearances mean nothing. Choose the winning team even if, for now, it means being subjected to suffering, ridicule, disapproval, and desertion. Be ready and willing to suffer for the Kingdom. The Easter message is not that there is no suffering, but that our suffering, united to Jesus’, will lead to glory and victory.

Stop acting like a loser, hiding out and being afraid to announce the truth of the gospel. Stop being so anxious about what others are saying. You may be called hateful, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, backward, and uptight—anything but a child of God. Do not hate them, but keep on summoning them to join us; know that some will do so if you persevere. Be willing to suffer for the truth and still remain joyful.

Peter and John were arrested in the first week after Pentecost; can’t we at least tolerate a raised eyebrow or some laughter at our expense? The martyrs stared down deadly threats; they endured the swords and lions of a hateful, scornful world. Must they bear the cross alone?

The Easter message is not one of cheap joy. It is about a courageous transformation that equips us to be willing to face down death in order to proclaim the truth of the gospel. Even after this plague ends, we are going to need courage and perseverance in the months and years ahead. This fallen world has been getting darker, and a people who are used to the darkness despise the light. To those who hate the truth, the truth seems hateful; they will call themselves righteous as they expel us from the public square. They already label themselves victims at the mere utterance of moral truth. “Safe zones” have no room for us. Despite all their calls for tolerance, there will be no tolerance shown to us. Our speech and our actions will be increasingly criminalized. Thus, beyond the plague, these challenges still face us. 

So here is an Easter exhortation in tough times. But remember, Jesus is risen from the dead and He is not going away. He has won the victory and we will either gather souls with Him, or we will scatter and squander. I will work for Him and win, or I will contend with Him and lose. I think I’ll choose Jesus!

The song in the clip below has these lyrics:

I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
And He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
And He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
Yes He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
But I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
So I told Him it would be alright and the world would hate me
That I would go hungry if He changed my name

 

A Chronology of the Resurrection Appearances

Each Easter, I post this “chronological account” of the resurrection appearances, tough I tweak it as others offer insights I might have missed. It is helpful to try and weave the many strands together for the reasons I state below. 

When we encounter the resurrection accounts in the New Testament, we face a challenge in putting all the pieces together in such a way that the sequence of events flows in logical order. This is due to the fact that no one Gospel presents all or even most of the information. Some of the accounts seem to conflict. I have opined before (HERE) that these apparent conflicts are usually not in fact true conflicts. Another difficulty with putting all the facts together in a coherent manner is that the timeline of the events is unclear in some of the accounts. Luke and John are the clearest as to the timing of the events they describe; Matthew and Luke give us very few parameters. Both Acts and Paul also supply accounts in which the timeline is not always clear.

Nevertheless, I want to propose to you a possible, dare I claim even likely, sequence of the resurrection events. The work is my own and I make no claim that this scenario is certain or backed up by recognized ancient authority. St Augustine has done quite a lot of work in this matter and you can read that by clicking HERE.

Jimmy Akin has also done a wonderful study here: How the Resurrection Narratives Fit Together. He goes into greater detail than my brief summary here and if there are any differences with my conclusions, trust Jimmy and St. Augustine first!  🙂

My proposition here is simply the fruit of 31+ years of praying over and pondering the events of those forty days between the Lord’s resurrection and His ascension. My reflections are based as solidly as possible on the Bible, with a sprinkling of speculation.

I realize that my attempt to do this will irritate some modern biblical scholars who seem to insist that it is wrong to attempt any synthesis of the texts since the authors intended no such synthesis.

Nevertheless, I press on boldly, hoping that the average believer will benefit from it and find such a synthesis interesting. Take it for what it is: the work of an obscure pastor who has prayed and carefully sought to follow the sequence of the forty days. You may wish to offer correction or an alternative interpretation; I encourage you to do so in the comments. I have posted a PDF of this document here: The Resurrection Appearances Chronologically Arranged.

In this year’s version I have included hyperlinks to the biblical texts so that you can simply click on them to read the text and then press back to return here.

  • I. The morning of day one
    • A. Very early in the morning a group of several women, including Mary Magdalene, approach the tomb to complete burial customs on behalf of Jesus (Matt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Jn 20:1).
    • B. They behold the tomb opened and are alarmed.
    • C. Mary Magdalene runs off to Peter and John with the distressing news of likely grave robbers (Jn 20:2).
    • D. The women who remain at the tomb encounter an angel, who declares to them that Jesus has risen and that they should tell this to the brethren (Mk 16:5 Lk 24:4; Mt 28:5).
    • E. At first the women are filled with fear and depart from the tomb afraid to speak (Mk 16:8).
    • F. Recovering their courage they decide to go to the Apostles (Lk 24:9; Mt 28:8).
    • G. Meanwhile Peter and John go to the tomb to investigate Mary Magdalene’s claim. Mary follows behind them, arriving back at the tomb while Peter and John are still there. Peter and John discover the empty tomb; they encounter no angel. John believes in the resurrection; Peter’s conclusion is not recorded.
    • H. The other women report to the remaining Apostles what the angel at the tomb said to them. Peter and John have not yet returned from the tomb and these remaining apostles are at first dismissive of the women’s story (Lk 24:9-11).
    • I. Mary Magdalene, lingering at the tomb, weeps and is fearful. Peering into the tomb, she sees this time two angels who wonder why she weeps. Jesus then approaches her from behind. Not looking directly at Jesus, she supposes Him to be the gardener. When He calls her by name, Mary recognizes His voice, turns, and sees Him. Filled with joy she clings to Him (APPEARANCE 1) (Jn 20:16).
    • J. Jesus sends Mary back to the Apostles with the news to prepare them for His appearance later that day (Jn 20:17).
    • K. The other women have now departed from the Apostles and are on their way, possibly back home. Jesus appears to them (Mt 28:9) (after having dispatched Mary). He also sends them back to the Apostles with the news that He has risen and that He will see them (APPEARANCE 2).
  • II. The afternoon and evening of day one
    • A. Later that day, two disciples on their way to Emmaus are pondering what they have heard about rumors of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus comes up behind them but they are prevented from recognizing Him. First Jesus breaks open the word for them; then He sits at table with them and celebrates the Eucharist, whereupon their eyes are opened and they recognize Him in the breaking of the bread (APPEARANCE 3) (Lk 24:13-30).
    • B. The two disciples return that evening to Jerusalem and go to the Eleven. At first the Eleven disbelieve them just as they had the women (Mk 16:13). Nevertheless they continue to relate what they have experienced. At some point, Peter draws apart from the others (perhaps for a walk?). The Lord appears to Peter (APPEARANCE 4)(Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5). Peter informs the other ten, who then believe. Thus the disciples from Emmaus (still lingering with the Apostles) are now told (perhaps by way of apology) that it is in indeed true that Jesus has risen (Lk 24:34).
    • C. Almost at the same moment, Jesus appears to the small gathering of Apostles and the two disciples from Emmaus (APPEARANCE 5). Thomas is absent (although the Lucan text describes the appearance as being to “the eleven,” this is probably just shorthand for the Apostles as a group). They are startled but Jesus reassures them and opens the scriptures to them (Lk 24:36ff).
    • D. There is some debate as to whether He appeared to them a second time that night. The Johannine and Lucan accounts have significantly different descriptions of the appearance on that first Sunday evening. Is it merely a different recounting of the same appearance or is it a wholly separate appearance? It is not possible to say for sure. Nevertheless, since the descriptions are so different we can call it APPEARANCE 6 (Jn 20:19ff), though it is likely one and the same as “Appearance 5.”
  • III. Interlude
    • A. There is no biblical account of Jesus appearing to anyone during the week that followed. The next account of the resurrection says, “Eight days later,” namely the following Sunday.
    • B. We do know that the apostles exclaimed to Thomas that they had seen the Lord, but that he refused to believe it (Jn 20:24).
    • C. Were the apostles nervous that Jesus had not appeared again each day? We do not know; there are no accounts of what happened during this interlude.
  • IV. One week later, Sunday two
    • A. Jesus appears once again (APPEARANCE 7) to the gathered Apostles. This time Thomas is with them. He calls Thomas to faith, and Thomas now confesses Jesus to be Lord and God (Jn 20:24-29).
  • V. Interlude two
    • A. The apostles had received instructions to return to Galilee (Mt 28:10; Mk 16:7) where they would see Jesus. Thus they spent some of this interlude journeying 60 miles to the north, a trip that would have taken a considerable amount of time. We can imagine them making the trek north during the intervening days.
  • VI. Sometime later
    • A. The time frame of the next appearance is somewhat vague. John merely says “after this.” It is likely a matter of days or a week at best. The scene is at the Sea of Galilee; not all of the Twelve are present. They have gone fishing and Jesus summons them from the lakeside. They come to shore and see him (APPEARANCE 8). Peter has a poignant discussion with Jesus and is commissioned to tend the flock of Christ (Jn 21).
    • B. The Appearance to the 500 – Of all the appearances, you might think that this one would have been recorded in some detail since it was the most widely experienced. It would seem that many accounts would have existed and that at least one would have made its way into the Scriptures. Yet there is no account of it other than that it did in fact happen. Paul records the fact of this appearance in 1 Cor 15:6: Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep (APPEARANCE 9). Where did this take place? What was it like? What was the reaction? We simply do not know. Proof once again that the Bible is not a history book in the conventional sense. Rather, it is a highly selective telling of what took place, not a complete account. The Bible makes no claim to be something it is not. It is quite clear that it is a selective book (Jn 20:30).
    • C. The Appearance to James. Here again we do not have a description of this appearance, only a remark by Paul that it did in fact happen 1 Cor 15:7: Then he appeared to James (APPEARANCE 10). The time frame of this appearance is not clear, only that it happened after the appearance to the five hundred and before the final appearance to the apostles.
  • VII. The rest of the forty days
    • A. Jesus certainly had other appearances to/with the disciples. Luke attests to this in Acts when he writes, To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
    • B. During this time there is perhaps the one appearance we can attribute specifically to this time period as recorded by both Matthew (Mt 28:16ff) and Mark (Mk 16:14ff). It takes place on “a mountaintop in Galilee.” Mark adds that they were reclining at table. I refer to this appearance (time frame uncertain) as APPEARANCE 11. It is here that Jesus gives the great commission. Although Mark’s text may seem to imply that Jesus was taken up from this mountain, such a conclusion is rash since Mark only indicates that Jesus ascended only “after he had spoken to them” (Mk 16:19).
    • C. Evidently Jesus had also summoned them back to Jerusalem at least toward the end of the period of the forty days. There they would be present for the feast of Pentecost. We can imagine frequent appearances with ongoing instruction, for Luke records that Jesus “stayed with them.” Most of these appearances and discourses are not recorded. Luke writes in Acts, And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4).
  • VIII. The final appearance and ascension
    • A. After forty days of appearances and instructions we have a final account of the last appearance (APPEARANCE 12) wherein He leads them out to a place near Bethany and gives them final instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit is sent. And then He is taken up to Heaven in their very sight (Lk 24:50-53; Acts 1:1-11).

So here is a possible, and if I do say so myself likely, chronology of the resurrection appearances. It is a synthesis that attempts to collect all the information and present it in a logical sequence. There are limits to what we can expect of the Scriptural accounts; fitting perfectly into a logical sequence is not what the texts primarily propose to do. Yet such a chronological sequence can prove helpful and it is in that spirit which I present it.

Here is a video I put together based on a song performed here at my parish on Good Friday. It is sung by one of our Sopranos, Marjorie Boursiquot. It is arranged by our director, Kenneth Louis, and composed by Long and Pote. The song is entitled “You Love Me.” Prepare yourself for a real treat!

What was the Lord Doing on Thursday of Holy Week?

According to the Synoptic Gospels, sundown of Holy Thursday ushered in the Passover. Later on this evening, the Lord will celebrate the Passover meal with His disciples. We ought to be mindful that the unleavened bread Jesus will take in His hands is called “the bread of affliction.” Scripture says, You shall eat [the Passover] with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt (Dt 16:3).

Indeed, this is an evening of affliction for Jesus. Much transpires at the Last Supper that is emblematic of our human foibles and sinful tendencies, but thanks be to God, He takes this “bread of affliction” we dish out to Him and lifts it to the glory of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Before being too critical of the Twelve, remember that we can be like them in many ways. Keep that in mind as you read through the commentary below; A large part of what I’ve written about the apostles applies to us as well. Indeed, they are we and we are they; and the Lord loved all of us to the end.

So on Holy Thursday let’s examine the sequence of events. It illustrates pretty well why the Lord had to die for us. We will see how earnest the Lord is about this Last Supper, how He enters it with an intense love for His disciples and a desire that they heed what He is trying to teach them. We shall also see, however, that they show forth a disastrous inattentiveness and a terrible lack of concern for the Lord.

COMING CLOUDS Jesus knows that His hour has come; this will be His last meal. Judas has already conspired and been paid to hand Him over. Scripture says, Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come. He always loved those who were his own, and now he would show them the depths of his love. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over (John 13:1). Thus, in the gathering storm Jesus plans His last meal, which will also be the first Holy Mass. He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us” (Mark 14:13-15).

CARING CONCERN This last supper is obviously important to Jesus. Luke records these heartfelt words: And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). Yes, this will be a very special moment for Jesus.

COSTLY COMMUNION – Jesus, reclining at table, will now celebrate the Holy Eucharist for the first time—but it is to be a costly communion. He has already lost many disciples because of what He taught on the Eucharist (cf John 6:50ff). After the consecration at this Last Supper/first Mass, Jesus looks into the cup at His own blood, soon to be shed, and distributes His own body, soon to be handed over. This is no mere ritual for Him. Every priest before Jesus has offered a sacrifice distinct from himself (usually an animal, sometimes a libation), but Jesus the great High Priest will offer Himself.

COLLABORATIVE CONDESCENSION – During the meal Jesus rises and then stoops to wash the disciples’ feet. He instructs them to see in this action a model for those who would collaborate with Him in any future ministry. John records it this way: He rose from the supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded (John 13:5).

Jesus then teaches the disciples: Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15). Just moments from now, we will see them demonstrate a complete disregard for what Jesus has just tried to teach them.

CALLOUS CRIME Back at table after having taught them that they must wash one another’s feet, Jesus suddenly becomes troubled in spirit and says, I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me (John 13:21). This causes a commotion among the apostles, who begin to ask, “Who can it be?” As the anxiety builds, Simon Peter motions to John and says, “Ask Him which one He means.” Leaning back against Jesus, John asks Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus responds, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly” Jesus told him (John 13:24-30).

CONFOUNDING COMPETITION As Judas takes the morsel of bread and heads out into the night, no one even tries to stop him! Despite the fact that Jesus has clearly identified His betrayer, no one rises to block the door or even utters a word of protest. Why not? Luke supplies the answer: A dispute arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24). They should be concerned about Jesus’ welfare but instead they argue about which of them is the greatest.

How confounding! How awful! Yet is that not our history? Too often we are more concerned with our own welfare or status than with any suffering in the Body of Christ. So much that is critical remains unattended to because of this. Jesus has just finished teaching the apostles to wash one another’s feet, and the next thing you know, they’re arguing as to who among them is the greatest. Jesus patiently reminds them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:25-27). Meanwhile, due to their egotistical response, Judas has escaped into the night.

CAUSTIC CONTENTIOUSNESS Jesus continues to teach at the Last Supper. He surely wants to impress upon them His final instruction. How He must long for them to listen carefully and to internalize what He is teaching! Instead, all He gets are arguments. Both Thomas and Phillip rebuke Him. John records this outrage:

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him (Jn 14:1-8).

Thomas rebukes the Lord by saying, in effect, “We have no idea where you’re going; when will you show us the way?” Jesus answers, but Philip will have none of this promise to see the Father and boldly says, “Lord, show us the Father, and then we shall be satisfied.” Jesus, likely saddened by this, says to him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9) Jesus’ own apostles are being argumentative and contentious. They are caustic and seem to rebuke Him.

COMICAL CREDIBILITY GAP Undeterred, Jesus embarks on a lengthy discourse (recorded by John) that has come to be called the priestly prayer of Jesus. At the end of it, the apostles—perhaps ironically, perhaps with sincerity—remark, Now at last you are speaking plainly, not in any figure. Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God (John 16:29-30). However, Jesus knows that their praise is hollow and will not withstand the test.

There is a quite a lack of credibility in what the apostles say; it is almost comical. Jesus replies to them, Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone (John 16:31-32). Peter protests, saying, Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away (Matthew 26:33). Here is another almost comic lack of credibility: [Jesus says to Peter,] Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times. [Still insistent, Peter replies,] “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples (Matthew 26:34-35). Well, you know the story, and you know that only John made it to the cross.

CLUELESS CATNAP They finally reach the garden and the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus says to Peter, James, and John: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me (Mat 26:38). They seem oblivious to His suffering, though, and doze off. Attempts to arouse them are unsuccessful; they sleep on.

Here we are at the pivotal moment of all human history and the first clergy of the Church are sound asleep. (Things have not changed, my friends.) Indeed, many are in a state of moral, spiritual, and emotional sleep as Christ still suffers throughout the world and is conspired against. Jesus says,

Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mat 26:45-46).

COMPASSIONATE CONSTANCY Jesus went on and died for the likes of them and all of us. I wonder if He had this Last Supper in mind when He said to the Father, Forgive them, they know not what they do. It is almost as if He is saying, “They have absolutely no idea what they are doing or thinking, so have mercy on them, Father.”

What a grim picture the Last Supper paints of us! It’s a disaster, really, but the glory of the story and the saving grace is this: The Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross regardless. Seeing this terrible portrait, can we really doubt the Lord’s love for us?

May your Holy Thursday be blessed. Never forget what Jesus endured!

 

What Was the Lord Doing on Wednesday of Holy Week?

Two momentous days have passed: On Monday there was the cleansing of the Temple and the laments over Jerusalem’s lack of faith; Tuesday featured exhaustive teachings by Jesus and interrogations by His opponents.

Today, Wednesday, it would seem that Jesus stays in Bethany. According to Matthew’s Gospel, the day begins with an ominous warning:

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 26:1-2).

The scene then shifts across the Kidron valley, where we “overhear” this conversation:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5).

It is interesting that they say, “not during the festival,” because according to the Synoptic Gospels that is exactly when it ended up happening. This serves as a reminder that things unfold according to the Lord’s authority. Nothing is out of His control. No one takes the Jesus’ life; He lays it down freely. Even if one considers the Johannine tradition, which uses a different Jewish calendar to date the Passover (one day later), this all takes place right in the thick of the Passover. Why? Because the Lord is fulfilling Passover. The priests and elders can plan all they want, but God is in control.

The Lord Jesus and the Twelve likely spent a quiet sort of day and it is now later in the afternoon. Matthew’s Gospel places Jesus in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6-7). According to Luke (7:36), Simon was a Pharisee. His leprosy was in remission and he had been readmitted to the community. Could he have been one of the lepers Jesus cured? We do not know. The story here is complex; there are significant differences among the various Gospel accounts. Matthew records it as follows:

A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26:7-13).

The act of anointing Jesus may have happened more than once; in the four accounts of it there are differences in both the details and the timeframes.

Luke presents this story (or a similar one) much earlier in his Gospel (Chapter 7). In his account it is Jesus’ feet not His head that are anointed. Further, Luke portrays Simon in a bad light.

Mark and Matthew place the incident on Wednesday of Holy Week, but report that it is those at the dinner (likely the apostles) who take offense at the anointing.

John’s Gospel places this event six days before Passover, but at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. In John’s account it is Mary who anoints the Lord (His feet, not His head) and Judas alone who takes offense.

For our purposes on this Wednesday of Holy Week, it is enough to note that Jesus sets the meaning of this woman’s action as anointing His body for burial. Jesus is clearly moved by her act of devotion and insight.

Jesus does not slight the poor in His response, but He teaches that the worship of God and obedience to His truth are higher goods than even the care of the poor. Serving the poor is not to be set in opposition to serving God. They are related, but God always comes first. For example, one cannot skip sacred worship on Sunday simply to serve the poor (except in a grave and urgent situation); serving the poor is not a substitute for worship. The worship of God comes first and is meant to fuel our charitable and just works. Further, set in the light of the looming passion, the dying One takes precedence over the poor ones.

One of the Twelve, Judas, has become increasingly disaffected. He has not been featured prominently among the Twelve; mention of him in the Gospels is minimal. Now he emerges, as if from the shadows, to betray Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all seem to place Judas’ plans to betray Jesus as set into motion at some point on this day. The Gospel of Matthew recounts,

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matt 26:14-16).

Why did he do it? There were storm clouds gathering for Judas, by which he may have opened the door to Satan. Scripture reveals that he was a thief, stealing from the common money bag (Jn 12:6). Jesus also hints that Judas was grieved by the Bread of Life discourse, which led many to abandon Jesus when He insisted that they must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Jesus said, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot … (Jn 6:70-71).

We can only guess at Judas’ motivations. The most likely explanation is that he was disillusion when Jesus did not measure up to the common Jewish conception of the Messiah as a revolutionary warrior who would overthrow Roman power and reestablish the Kingdom of David. Judas may have been a member of the Zealot Party or at least influenced by them in this regard. Zealots are seldom interested in hearing of their own need for personal healing and repentance, let alone the call to love their enemies. This is obviously only speculative; Judas’ motivations remain to a large degree shrouded in the mystery of iniquity.

Yes, Judas betrayed Jesus for money—a significant amount—but compared to his salvation and his soul, it was but “a mess of pottage for his birthright” (see Gen 25:34). What will it profit a man that he should gain the whole world and lose his soul? (Mk 8:36)

The widespread belief that Judas might be in Heaven may be just a tad optimistic. The Church does not declare that any particular person is in Hell, however Jesus said the following about Judas: The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. (Matt 26:24). It is hard to imagine Jesus saying this of any human person who ultimately makes it to Heaven.

The more likely biblical judgment on Judas is that he died in sin, despairing of God’s mercy on His terms. One is free to hope for a different outcome for Judas, but while the story of Judas and his possible repentance does generate some sympathy in many people today, the judgment belongs to God.

It is the saddest story never told: The repentance of Judas and his restoration by Jesus. Think of all the churches that were never built: “The Church of St. Judas, Penitent.” Think of the feast day never celebrated: “The Repentance of Judas.”

Judas goes his way, freely. God did not force him to play this role. He only knew what Judas would do beforehand and based His plans on Judas’ free choice.

Thus ends this Wednesday of Holy Week. It was a calmer day, a day spent among friends, yet a day on which Satan entered one man, who set a betrayal in motion. The storm clouds gather.

We Do More than Observe The Ancient Jewish Feasts, We Fulfill Them

As Holy Week and the Easter season approach it is helpful to ponder what we actually do. A question I received from a reader of my column at the Our Sunday Visitor will help frame the discussion and answer a few questions.

My family and I are making a bible study with others online. As the books of Exodus and Leviticus were being read, there were multiple references to Jewish feast days such ass Passover, Pentecost, and Yom Kippur, where the Lord himself was explaining in very exact detail as to how these feasts should be celebrated. In several cases, the Lord said these words or something similar: “You must observe this day throughout your generations as a statute forever” (Ex 12:17). I know that Jesus ushered in the New Covenant that superseded the Old Covenant, but the words of God here seem unambiguous. Did God not mean what he said here? — Name, location withheld.

It would be wrong to say that we, as Christians, do not observe the solemn Jewish feasts at all. We do more than observe them, we fulfill them. These Old Testament feasts pointed to Christ and are fulfilled by Him.

The clearest example of this is Passover. Christ Jesus is our Passover (or paschal) Lamb and every Easter we solemnly celebrate that Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, once and for all. We are delivered from death and make our Exodus from the slavery of sin to the glorious freedom of the children of God.

So, we do more than celebrate Passover, in Christ we fulfill it. That is, we partake fully of all that the Passover pointed to. In a certain sense we celebrate it every Sunday, which is a mini-Pasch (or Easter).

As for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost (also called the Feast of Weeks, Harvest or Shavuot), we continue to celebrate that as well. While it was essentially a harvest festival celebrating the end of the wheat harvest, it also commemorated the giving of the Law. As Christians we fulfill this feast in that it celebrates the Law being written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (not just on stone tablets), and the commissioning of the Church to go forth and bring in a mighty harvest.

Another major Jewish feast is Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. But here too, what they looked to and longed for, has been fulfilled (not set aside) in Christ who atones for our sins, not just once a year, but once and for all, and this mercy is available every day.

Irenaeus of Lyon speaks of these foreshadowings and their fulfillment in Christ.

God kept calling them to what was primary by means of what was secondary, that is, through foreshadowings to the reality, through things of time to the things of eternity, through things of the flesh to the things of the spirit, through earthly things to the heavenly things. As he said to Moses: You will fashion all things according to the pattern that you saw on the mountain.

For forty days Moses was engaged in remembering the words of God, the heavenly patterns, the spiritual images, the foreshadowings of what was to come. Saint Paul says: They drank from the rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. After speaking of the things that are in the law he continues: All these things happened to them as symbols: they were written to instruct us, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Through foreshadowings of the future they were learning reverence for God and perseverance in his service. The law was therefore a school of instruction for them, and a prophecy of what was to come. – (Irenaeus of Lyons Adversus Haereses, Lib. 4, 14, 2-3; 15, 1) 

And we must also remember the teaching of St. PaulTherefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a feast, a New Moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body that casts it belongs to Christ. (Col 2:16-17).  He says something similar in Romans 14.

You also present a quote that speaks to the perpetuity of these ancient rites: “You must observe this day throughout your generations as a statute forever” (Ex 12:17).  However, the Hebrew word here as “forever” is “olam” which admits of many shades of meaning. It could mean “perpetually,” but it can also mean “a long time or duration.” So, the meaning isn’t as unambiguous as you may think.

Finally, we must not forget that the Apostles was given authority by Christ to bind and loose. Hence, at the First Council of Jerusalem (cf Acts 15) the apostles and priests gathered determined that the whole of the Jewish ceremonial Law and traditional observances did not apply to Gentile converts. Jesus had already set some precedents in this regard when he rendered all foods clean (Mark 7:19) and disregarded some of the stricter Sabbath rules about work.

So, we have a threefold teaching. First, we are doing more than observing the ancient feasts, we are fulfilling them in Christ. Secondly the word “olam” does not necessarily mean “forever.” And third, that the Church, which now includes Gentiles, has the authority to regulate such observances and discern with Christ what binds from the Old Testament and what no longer applies, or what is fulfilled in a richer way.

Soon the Passover of the Lord will be here. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Soon, the battle he took up for us will be made present once again.  

 

Must Read – A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Ralph Martin

I am very pleased that Dr. Ralph Martin has published  A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward. It is a revised and updated version of a critically important book he first published in the early 1980s. I call it a critically important book for personal and important reasons. Permit a brief story before we examine the book.

When I entered the seminary in 1984, it was a very dark time in the Church; darker even than now. At that time there was no official and agreed upon Catechism of the Catholic Church (that would come in 1994), there was no internet, and very few periodicals that presented a voice differing from the prevailing progressive views that dominated among parish priests, chanceries, Catholic colleges and seminaries. In a way it was like the wild West. Anyone could claim almost anything was Catholic and “in the spirit of Vatican II.”

Upon entering the Seminary, I was often shocked by what I was taught. Many of the priest-professors (not all) denied that Jesus really worked miracles, claimed to be God, or even knew he was God. They taught” that most of what he is recorded as saying, he never really said, most of what he was recorded as doing he never really did, he did not rise bodily from the dead, and there is little we really knew about the “Jesus of history;” he barely existed at all! Many of us were also treated to a steady diet from certain faculty of things such as why women should be ordained and that the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration were vestiges of the “pre-Vatican II Church.”

I was poorly catechized, having come through the terrible sentries of beige Catholicism, but I knew something was deeply wrong here. To say that I was dismayed, alarmed, and angered would be an understatement. I surely did not come to seminary to have my faith snatched away or have my vocation questioned by faculty who didn’t even seem to believe in the Nicene Creed or the veracity of Scripture. The few of us who questioned such things were labeled as “rigid” and considered poor candidates for the priesthood. Many were run out of the seminary by poor evaluations from the faculty. Others learned to stay silent and take counsel with the faithful and orthodox faculty we could find, or to look for other sources of truth often published by what many faculty considered then, as “renegade” publishers such as Tan Books or the Wanderer newspaper.

A Book that Saved my Vocation and faith: It was at this time that someone alerted me to a book published by Ralph Martin in 1982 called A Crisis of Truth: The attack on Faith Morality and Mission in the Catholic Church (Servant Books, Ann Arbor Michigan). This was a book that I credit with saving my vocation and, frankly, my faith! Over the years I have repeatedly thanked Dr. Ralph Martin for his voice in those days of confusion, ambiguity and outright dissent. He concisely and clearly laid out the roots and branches of dissent and error:

  • The denial that there was one truth to which all were summoned.
  • The undermining of the authority and infallibility of the Word of God
  • The silencing of the Gospel.
  • The remaking of the biblical Jesus.
  • The denial that Jesus is the only way.
  • Secular influence and the emergence of a merely social gospel.
  • The dismissal and undermining of sexual morality
  • The minimizing of the Day of Judgment and the need for repentance
  • Pastoral passivity
  • And many other topics as well.

It was a masterful treatment and very credible as well. Ralph Martin was a leader in the Charismatic “wing” of the Church and could hardly be labeled as part of some reactionary and reflexively conservative movement. Like a wise steward he drew from his storehouse the best of the new and the best of the old. (cf Matt 13:52). The book was a guide to all that was wrong, stated the clear and defined teaching of the Church  and announced the way back through courage and action.

I joyfully heard the news last year that Ralph was going to publish an updated version of the book. Many of us have observed to our great dismay the resurgence of the confusion and open dissent that marked the 1970s through the 1990s. Dr. Martin notes this himself in the opening chapter of his revised, expanded and new book: A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward:

…The doctrinal, moral and pastoral problems that have emerged during Francis’ pontificate are not unique to him or this time. In many ways they are a recurrence of very similar confusions that my original book back in 1982 identified. And going back even further the issues connected with the “modernist heresies” are once again with us. They are now back, sometimes in very similar appearance as they had many years ago, and sometimes in new forms but bearing with them the same underlying infidelities and rebellions.

In A Church in Crisis, Martin does not, like some, merely criticize the Pope. He praises what is good, true and beautiful in Pope Francis’ writings, statements and actions. But it is a sober reality that Pope Francis has been ambiguous on many occasions and seemingly signaled that old doctrinal and moral dissent can safely be reasserted. As Catholics, both clergy and laity, we have the right and duty to enter into a vigorous analysis of resurgent errors and to both clarify and denounce where necessary such errors. A Church in Crisis both describes the resurgent errors, sets the record straight about the true and proper Church teaching and thereby corrects erroneous notions confirms the true faith for believers of every rank. Dr. Martin does this with a great confidence in the inerrant truth of God’s word and the definitive teachings of the Church through the centuries. The book is well footnoted, scholarly but also very readable.

While the fundamental topics are similar to his 1982 book as listed above, they are freshly treated with their current manifestations described and critiqued. We are indeed a Church in crisis and too many of us are either complacent or complicit in the spread of error and confusion. Clergy are too silent but so are the laity in their homes and in their witness to the world.

Dr. Martin expands his treatment on universalism which has grown worse since the 1980s. Universalism is the error that states all or the vast majority of souls, will go to heaven; that Hell is a remote possibility. This conflicts with hundreds of verses of Scripture, and Jesus’ clear and consistent teaching that many are on the road to damnation, and “few” are on the road to salvation. This sober teaching by Jesus himself is rejected by many out of hand. Obviously, it damages our understanding of the need for on-going repentance and living a moral life, the need for sacraments, prayer and the Word of God. It turns religion into a hobby and simply promotes all to heaven whatever their beliefs, lifestyle, actions or character. Universalism makes evangelization largely unnecessary, summoning people to repentance is also unnecessary, even a form a hate. Universalism stabs urgency in the heart and makes preaching the gospel and calling others to repentance pointless and even cruel. It is clear that unless we get the doctrines of judgement and Hell right, we aren’t going to make much progress.

You need to read A Church in Crisis and get fifty of your closest friends to do the same. I am going to use the book for my Young Adult study group after Easter. Frankly most of them “get it” more than my generation and others even older. They have grown up in the wasteland created by the iconoclastic generation of my “baby-boomer” confreres.

Thanks be to God that Ralph Martin has republished and updated his book from the 1980s. I pray that many others, like I did on the awful 80s will now benefit in very dark times from these rays of truth and clarity. I do not exaggerate when I say Dr. Ralph Martin saved my vocation and faith back in the 1980s and I pray he will reach many others in this important reissue and update. It is an essential work to be read by all.

 

The Conquering Power of Praise – A Meditation on a Text From Second Chronicles

072113There is a story of King Jehoshaphat and the victory of Israel against the Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites (2 Chronicles 20). It is a story that speaks of the power of praise to defeat a numberless army. Simply singing a hymn of praise can cast out demons, avert war, and send evil threats limping away.

Yes, praise! It is not always weapons of iron and steal and fiery bombs that wins the day. Often it is simple praise, hands lifted in prayer, voices raised in praise.

Never underestimate the power of the liturgy to change world history, to turn back threats and see the devil’s power crushed. Indeed, scripture says, Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger (Psalm 8:2).

I would like to take a more detailed look at this passage from Second Chronicles to see what praise and communal prayer can do. As a Church musician myself, and now a priest, I have often used this text to speak to Church Choirs of the power of praise. For, in this text we see that it is the choir, not the army that wins the day! Lets look at the text.

I. THE ANXIETY PORTRAYED – We begin with a description of a looming Crisis. The text says, After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle.  Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazontamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. (2 Chron 20:1-3)

Now all this may seem a bit remote to us moderns. Indeed it my sound more like recitation for an ancient atlas or recitations from a “Jewish telephone book.” Don’t let all the names and places distract you. You and I also face a triple threat from the world, the flesh and the devil; from sins, sorrows and sufferings or just that situation you’re going through!

Indeed, as a pastor I am keenly aware that many come into our parishes on Sunday fighting demons and enemies. Many are overwhelmed, discouraged  and afraid. They seek wisdom from God through his word and Sacraments.

And we who would pastor and lead parishes must seek above all to make our parishes, and the celebration of our liturgies, healing moments for God’s people, moments that give them hope and victory over afflictions and demons and difficulties. It is much like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who, encountering the Lord, had  their hearts set on fire and their path redirected toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

People come with burdens, and we must be a place of blessing, or instruction in the Lord and a place that reminds of victory to those who persevere. And thus it makes sense that we head to the next step where in the faithful are assembled to seek healing, blessing and victory.

II. THE ASSEMBLING OF THE PEOPLE –  The text says,  And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said, “O LORD, God of our fathers, art thou not God in heaven? Dost thou not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In thy hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee. Didst thou not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and give it for ever to the descendants of Abraham thy friend? And they have dwelt in it, and have built thee in it a sanctuary for thy name, saying, ‘If evil comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before thee, for thy name is in this house, and cry to thee in our affliction, and thou wilt hear and save.’ And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom thou would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy– behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. O our God, wilt thou not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee.”  Meanwhile all the men of Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. (2 Chron 20:4-11)

Notice that the people all assemble: Men and women, young and old, children too. Here is sacred assembly and the power of communal prayer. Private prayer is both necessary and good. But there comes a time each week when all the faithful must assemble and join their collective prayers and praises. Here is a time of collective praise and, as we shall see of the sharing of wisdom and mutual support.

Isn’t this what we do each Sunday? We face demons and enemies and struggle with fear, just as did these people of old. But we, like them assemble and find strength. We tell the biblical and personal stories of how we’ve overcome and we draw strength from our story. Yes, there we are, clergy and people together with our God who instructs us in the battle reminds us of the victory, feeds us to strengthen us, and gives us a pledge of future glory in the Eucharist.

The Book of Hebrews says, And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25)

Note that in this ancient gathering Jehoshaphat and the people do four things. There is:

1. The PRAISE of POWER (OF GOD)-  For they say: O LORD, God of our fathers, art thou not God in heaven? Dost thou not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In thy hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee. (vv. 4-6). And this is very much what we do in the Gloria, our collects, and in the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. In praising the power of God we acknowledge his capacity to save us and are stirred to hope that He, who can make a way out of no way, will save us.

2. The PROCLAMATION of PAST DEEDS – For they recall that God settled them in this land as blessed them day by day. And they recall God’s promise to answer their prayer. And we too, as we read God’s word every Sunday of affliction, but then of deliverance. We learn that weaping ay endure for a night, but Joy does come with the morning light! This proclamation and reminder of God’s steadfast help in the past, steels our confidence that, as Scripture says, But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The LORD’s mercy is not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness! The LORD is my portion, I tell myself therefore I will hope in him. The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance. -(Lamentations 3:21-26). Yes, we tell the story of how we’ve overcome and we’ll understand it better, by an by! In remembering the Lord’s mercy and deeds of the past we are encouraged that he did not bring us this far to leave us.

3. The PRESENTATION of the PROBLEM – For they say,  And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir…are coming to drive us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. (vv. 10 – 11) Yes, Lord we are afflicted on every side, be it these ancient enemies or the even more ancient enemies of the World the flesh and the devil. Yes, Lord we are in need, we are afflicted.

4. The PETITION of the POWERLESS – And thus they say standing before the Lord with hands raised: O our God, wilt thou not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us.  (v. 11-12) And we too cry out: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us O Lord by thy grace. We afflicted and powerless! Save us O Lord, spare us! And in acknowledging our powerlessness, comes our true power for then we start to rely on God.

III. THE ANSWER PROCLAIMED – And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Hearken, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go down against them; behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”  Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.  And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. 2 Chron 20:14-14)

And thus in this sacred assembly comes an answer from God. And thus we note:

1. RESPONSE – For God speaks an answer through the Prophet Jahaziel, just as the prophetic voice of His Church continues to speak for him today. And notice too its in the context of the assembled community that the answer comes.

2. REASSURANCE – And Jahaziel says, Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s….‘ Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”  Yes, we do well to remember that the battle is ultimately the Lord’s. It is he who will win, it does not all depend on us alone. And we do well to remember this today when we are beset by many difficulties and discouraging cultural trends. The Lord has already won.  Nations may rise and fall, empires come and go, wicked philosophies have their time, and this has all happened in the age of the Church, but the Church and the Lord and the Gospel are still here and we have buried every one and everything that announced our death. Where is Caesar? Where is Napoleon, where is the USSR? God has already won, only the news has not yet dawned on some who choose the losing side.

3. REQUIREMENT – Tomorrow go down against them; behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. But the Lord who made us without us, with not save us without us. He DOES have something for each of us to do. Our task is to discover our role and take our position on the field!  Perhaps it is being a priest, catechist, teacher or parent. Perhaps it is the witness to and renewal of the temporal order. Perhaps it is raising children in Godly fear or summoning others to holiness. But find your place on the battlefield and be still and stable there, doing what the Lord says, knowing that he is with us and that the battle is His and that he does the real fighting.

In effect we have here a quick synopsis of what a good homily should be. A homily should give, using God’s Word and the teachings of the Church, a response and reassurance regarding the issues and afflictions faced by God’s people. And, it should remind us of our role in finding our place on the battlefield, remaining stably there and doing what the Lord asks, but to do so in supreme confidence.

IV. THE AWESOME POWER OF PRAISE –  And finally comes the remarkable victory, a victory not won by military power, but by mighty praise. It is the praise of God that defeats his enemies round about. The text says: And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy array, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures for ever.” And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, destroying them utterly, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another. When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and behold, they were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take the spoil from them, they found cattle in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the LORD; therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Beracah to this day. (2 Chronicles 20:20-26)

Note carefully that the Choir, dressed in holy array went in front of the Army! It is praise that will prevail this day! And as they go in front they sing: Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures for ever! And this praise throws the enemy into confusion! The threefold opposing armies turn on each other. No one escaped, they were all killed by one another.

Pay attention, there is power in praise. Nothing discourages the evil one more than the praise. Nothing confutes and confuses the world, the flesh and devil more than the joyful shout of a Christian. There is a glory and a power to joy and confident praise that cannot be denied.

I myself am a witness to the transformative power of God’s praise and its capacity to put the world, the flesh and devil to flight. I have spent most of my priesthood in African American Parishes where jubilant praise is a constant practice. Songs of hope, and joy and blessings abound and even our many songs that summon us to repentance are quite often humorous and hopeful, warning of judgment, but promising mercy to the steadfast. And this praise has changed my life. It has put demons to flight, subdued fleshly anxiety, sins, and thinking, and put the world on trial. I am more confident, more courageous, and more equipped to speak the truth in love.

Praise works, my life has had to many victories to say anything else. When the praises go up, the blessings come down and the victory is won. Yes, I am a witness. How about you?

Lord,  save us from sour-faced saints! God grant us joyful, confident and praise-filled Catholics all throughout this world. For in our praise, and joyful confidence in the truth of God’s Word and teaching comes a witness that is hard to refute. Yes Lord, even from the mouth of babes you have found praise to foil your enemies! (Ps 8:2). Yes Lord, teach us to praise you! Teach us the power of our song and of our joyful testimony.

Happy the people that know the joyful shout; that walk, O LORD, in the light of Thy face. (Psalm 89:16)