The Magnificat is a Bold Prayer!

I pray you might indulge me a little speculation that cuts against the usual “visuals” surrounding the Magnificat. And , if what I say does not please your sensibilities I ask pardon now, and once again your indulgence.

In our western culture we tend to think of Mary in very soft focus, humbly praying, head bowed, quiet and almost shy in her demeanor. And this may all be true. But as I read Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat day after day, and as I read it today’s Gospel, I cannot help but be struck at how bold and charismatic it is. Many of its phrases are taken from ancient Israel and stitched together by Mary in a wondrous and creative way. But as a prayer, it is no gentle meditation. It is one that makes you want to jump to your feet.

My soul Magnifies the Lord! My Spirit REJOICES in God my Savior!

 As I have prayed this prayer every day for the last 25 years I have come to experience that I cannot see Mary saying  this prayer with hands folded and head bowed. I see, rather, a joyful, young woman, filled with exuberance, head raised in serene confidence and hands upraised in joyful, yes, even charismatic,  gestures.  African American Catholics often refer to this joyful disposition as “havin’ church,” and would say something like: “Mother Mary and Sister Elizabeth were havin’ some church up in there!”

The scene sets up with Mary travelling “in haste” to see Elizabeth. Mary arrives and greets Elizabeth and John the Baptist starts leaping for joy in her womb. You might say he gets things started. The text from Luke then says Elizabeth “cried out with a loud voice: Most blessed are you among women…!” Mary goes on to respond how her soul rejoices in God her savior. No sour-faced saints here, these women are radiant with joy and exuberantly expressing it. Their havin’ church alright, joy beyond all measure is theirs.

This sort of exchange is not uncommon among some of the African American women in my parish. A not un-typical dialogue might go something like this:

A:    Girl,  you are looking radiant!
B:    Yes Lord! Your sister girl is blessed and highly favored! God’s been GOOD to me!
A:    Go on!…. God IS good!
B:    All the time!

Yes, it seems, from any straightforward reading of the Lucan text, that the Magnificat was not recited, it was boldly and joyfully proclaimed in a moment celebrated by two women. One who had come in haste bearing our savior,  and another, filled with the Holy Spirit and her infant dancing for joy in her womb. Two women filled with the joy of God, two women celebrating what God was doing in their lives. Mary proclaims, and she rejoices and says:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;  My spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 

And it is also a prayer that is also bold, even edgy in its critique of the social order:

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones. He has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.

Mary announces a great reversal that is come. Her Son Jesus echoed it: Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matt 19:30). Some may which to spiritualize these words, and they surely do have a spiritual meaning. But their critique of the vainglory of this world cannot simply be seen as an abstraction or a generality. They have real meaning for the social order here and now. They surely mean we must learn to esteem the poor, the disabled, the weak. In this world they may need us, but as for the world that is to come, we will need them and their prayers to gain entry. And they, if they had faith, will have first places of honor. The reversal is coming, be careful what you call a blessing and what you call unfortunate. Be careful who and what you esteem and who and what you do not esteem. Yes, this is a bold and edgy prayer. It cuts right to the heart of the world’s vainglory.

So again, I beg your indulgence. I am aware that many have rather specific notions of what Mary is, or should be like. The portrait I have here presented is not the usual one in Western culture. But in the end, at least here, I see a portrait of a joyful, exuberant woman who is bold, even edgy in expressing what God is doing for her and for all Israel.

How do you see it?

The Pope’s View of the Historical-Critical Method of Biblical Interpretation

I must that I was never all that enamored by the historical critical method of interpreting Scripture. I’ll say more of why in a moment. But some of you may be wondering what the historical critical method is. (If you want to skip my little lesson and some personal reflections of mine and go right to the Pope (instead of mere Msgr. Pope), the quote is at the bottom of the Page in bold italics).

The historical-critical method investigates the origins of a text and compares them to other texts written at the same time, before, or recently after the text in question. Did other ancient texts, whether biblical or non-biblical, adopt similar forms, use similar ingredients, story-lines, allegories, metaphors and the like. The Historical Critical method focuses on the sources of a document to determine who wrote it, when it was written, and where. What do we know of the author and his times? How was he influenced by them? What was his personal story? What other texts did he write and how do they compare what is before us? How does the writing we are studying compare to similar documents of the time? For example, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all very similar in terms of their basic content of what Jesus said and did. However they also have significant differences. How do we understand and explain the differences? Is one of the three “synoptic” (called this because of their similarity to each other) Gospels more historically reliable than the others as to detail? Why is the Gospel of John so different in tone and content that the other three and what are we to make of this? And so forth.

As such though, the historical critical method focuses primarily, almost exclusively, on the human origins of a text. Of itself this is not wrong, but it is incomplete. The Scriptures are a document of faith, more specifically of the believing community of the Church. They are inspired texts, with God the Holy Spirit as their ultimate author. Further, the role faith in the communities from which the biblical texts emerged is also a significant factor. Hence the biblical text is not merely understood as an historical utterance, but one that was understood and interpreted by those who believed and who also influenced the process of collecting the sacred writings and discerning what was of God. But this process was guided by the Holy Spirit.

The human dimension in all these things is important and essential and the historical critical method is right to explore this dimension, for God the Holy Spirit did not choose to act independently of the human personalities involved or of the believing community of the early Church. But neither was God wholly bound by these things or limited by them. Thus the historical critical method can only be one dimension of proper biblical understanding.

Regarding Sacred Scripture’s human dimension the Catechism has this to say:

In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression. (CCC # 110)

My own struggle – As I have already admitted, I have struggled to be enthusiastic about the historical-critical method. This begins for personal reasons. When I was in Seminary the method was insisted on by some, (not all), of my professors as the only real and valid method of Scripture study. They were zealots of a sort and any suggestion of a world outside this method was dismissed by them. They also isolated themselves historically, since this method is rather a new one. Hence, just about anything written on scripture prior to 1900 was not considered very tenable by them. I remember once turning in a paper wherein I quoted a scriptural commentary from the 1870s. The Teacher simply circled the date in red and had nothing further to say of the point.

I was also troubled by the strong tendency of the historical-critical method to doubt the existence of the miracles recorded in scripture. Not all scholars do this, but the more usual explanation of the miracles were that they were either literary devices, or just epic legends that were common of ancient near eastern and middle eastern texts. Further, claims that Jesus made of his divinity were somehow to be understood as later additions, not something Jesus actually said. Many adherents of the historical critical method were also dismissive of John’s Gospel and tended to sniff at most details there. They considered what they called “the fourth Gospel” to be more theological reflection than actual history, hence it had little offer that they were not quite skeptical of. It did little good to quote John’s Gospel to some of my professors.

De-mystified – Generally speaking then, my experience of the historical-critical method was that it de-mystified the scriptures and saw them only in human terms. The over-arching role of the Holy Spirit as the true and primary author was set aside and, thus, Mark’s gospel was favored over say, John’s and so forth. Since some of my professors were zealots for the method. Asking questions, even in good faith, was considered a veiled rejection of the method and was not usually received well.

And yet I also knew the human dimensions and historical context of the Scripture were important. But getting past the odious qualities of zealots, and the over-emphasis they placed on the human, made it harder for me to learn from them or the method they proposed.

I write all this to introduce the Pope’s reflections on the historical critical method. At heart he is a professor and is thus very careful to distinguish and to realize that the truth is often found in dialogue with various disciplines. He is able therefore to take what is good in the method and describe what is lacking or in need of balance and correction. He does this gently yet clearly. I find his distinctions helpful, especially due to my personal history. I trust the Pope and need someone I trust to say to me, “There is something good here and worthy of acceptance, and there are also some tendencies to avoid.”

This excerpt is from the Pope’s recent book Light of the World. It begins with a question by Peter Seewald which articulates many of the concerns I just expressed and then there is the Pope’s answer.

SEEWALD: The historical-critical method had its merits, but it also led fatefully to an erroneous development. Its attempt to “demythologize” the Bible produced a terrible superficiality and a blindness toward the deeper layers and profound message of Scripture. What is more, looking back, we realize that the alleged facts cited for the last two hundred years by the skeptics intent on relativizing pretty much every statement of the Bible were in many cases nothing more than mere hypotheses. Shouldn’t we be much clearer than we have been that the exegetes have to some extent been practicing a pseudo-science whose operative principle is not Christian, but an antiChristian animus, and that it has led millions of people astray?

POPE BENEDICT: I wouldn’t subscribe to so harsh a judgment. The application of the historical method to the Bible as a historical text was a path that had to be taken. If we believe that Christ is real history, and not myth, then the testimony concerning him has to be historically accessible as well. In this sense, the historical method has also given us many gifts. It has brought us back closer to the text and its originality, it has shown us more precisely how it grew, and much more besides. The historical-critical method will always remain one dimension of interpretation. Vatican II made this clear. On the one hand, it presents the essential elements of the historical method as a necessary part of access to the Bible. At the same time, though, it adds that the Bible has to be read in the same Spirit in which it was written. It has to be read in its wholeness, in its unity. And that can be done only when we approach it as a book of the People of God progressively advancing toward Christ. What is needed is not simply a break with the historical method, but a self-critique of the historical method; a self-critique of historical reason that takes cognizance of its limits and recognizes the compatibility of a type of knowledge that derives from faith; in short, we need a synthesis between an exegesis that operates with historical reason and an exegesis that is guided by faith. We have to bring the two things into a proper relationship to each other. That is also a requirement of the basic relationship between faith and reason.

Just a final word of thanks to the Holy Father for the encouragement he gives me here. His charism is to strengthen and unify us (cf  Lk 22:31). His capacity to do this with clarity and gentleness is evident here. There are values to the historical critical method. And yet excesses must be avoided, distinctions made. I find this succinct answer, which he has elaborated in greater detail elsewhere,  of immense help.

On the Synergy of Sacred Scripture – A Reflection on the Pope’s Teaching in the Post Synodal Exhortation Verbum Domini

In the past few days we have reviewed how a humanist group has misused Scripture in an Ad campaign designed to ridicule faith in God. In their human kindness they have chosen the Christmas season to do this. Their misuse of Scripture centers on pulling individual verses from the Bible and posting them out of context and apart from the wider Biblical tradition that often clarifies, balances or distinguishes them.

Pope Benedict recently spoke to this very problem in his Post Synodal Exhortation Verbum Domini. His main point is that individual verses of Scripture must be understood in relation to the whole of scripture, not isolated from it. I’d like to quote a couple sections of the exhortation so we can learn from the Pope an important lesson about Scriptural interpretation.

From letter to the deeper spirit and meaning of the text – In this first quote the Pope makes reference to the literal sense or meaning of a text. Literal here signifies what a text is saying in the literary sense, not necessarily that it should be understood without any symbolic or figurative meaning, not that it cannot have an analogical, allegorical,  or spiritual meaning. The “literal” sense emphasizes what the text is saying, its sentence structure, its grammar, its basic message. However, understanding what the text is merely saying is not enough. We must move on to understand what the text means at a deeper and wider level than its mere literary meaning. The letter must give way to the deeper spiritual meaning. And here is where the Pope picks up:

In rediscovering the interplay between the  different senses of Scripture  it thus becomes essential  to grasp the passage from letter to spirit…..This progression  cannot take place with regard to an individual  literary fragment unless it is seen in relation to  the whole of Scripture. Indeed, the goal to which  we are necessarily progressing is the one Word.  There is an inner drama in this process…. Saint  Paul lived this passage to the full in his own life.  In his words: “ the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life ”  (2 Cor 3:6), he expressed in radical terms the significance of this process of transcending the letter  and coming to understand it only in terms  of the whole…… We know that for Saint  Augustine too this passage was at once dramatic  and liberating; he came to believe the Scriptures  – which at first sight struck him as so disjointed  in themselves and in places so coarse – through  the very process of transcending the letter which  he learned from Saint Ambrose in typological interpretation,  wherein the entire Old Testament is  a path to Jesus Christ. For Saint Augustine, transcending  the literal sense made the letter itself credible, and enabled him to find at last the answer  to his deep inner restlessness and his thirst  for truth. (Verbum Domini, 38)

Hence, to grasp the letter of a text (i.e., what is this text saying) is important because it lays out the data before us. But the next necessary step is to move from letter to spirit so that, by God’s grace and the instruction of the Church we are able to increasingly grasp what the text really means, not merely what it is saying. The Pope is clear to point out that movement from letter to spirit cannot happen if a text is isolated from the whole of Scripture.

But Scripture is not considered only in terms of the whole, but also in terms of its direction or goal. And this goal is Christ. Hence as St. Ambrose taught Augustine and we are reminded by Pope Benedict: the entire Old Testament is  a path to Jesus Christ. Thus we look back to and interpret the Old Testament in the light of Christ. God dealt with ancient Israel in stages where he increasingly led them away from barbarity and incivility by the Law and prophets. In these Last Days he speaks to us through his Son and seeks to perfect us even further through his grace. So, each passage or verse of Scripture must be understood in relation to not only the whole of scripture but also its place in the “trajectory” of Scripture.

Thus, what our humanist friends did in the Ads we have discussed was an inauthentic use of scripture. It is not possible to simply yank a verse out of thin air then say, “See here! Look at what they believe.” Or “Look at what their holy book says!” For example, in quoting from 1 Samuel as they did wherein God seems to command genocide, or to quote Leviticus, that those guilty of homosexual acts are to be stoned to death, in doing this our humanist critics fail to see where these texts are on the trajectory of Scripture or how they relate to the whole of it. We have come a long way as God’s people from the time of such cruelties. God has led us in this manner. The committing of genocide is unthinkable today given where God has led us. And, although homosexual acts are still spoken of as sinful at every stage of revelation, the death penalty for sexual sins has been set aside by Jesus own example (e.g. John 8).

In this next passage the Pope emphasizes the ultimate unity of all Scripture in the Person of Jesus Christ. All the Scriptures find their ultimate unity and meaning in him. This is done is at least three ways. Continuity, wherein Jesus affirms and brings forward Old Testament teachings and understandings, deepening them and fulfilling their meaning in a fairly straight-forward way. Discontinuity, wherein Jesus fulfills Old Testament texts in a paradoxical way (especially by suffering and dying) and sets aside certain or replaces certain Old Testament practices or understandings (e.g. the antitheses of Matt 5, the canceling of dietary laws in Mk 7:19). And Fulfillment wherein he transposes ancient texts and practices to a higher thing (e.g. the passover meal now becomes the Eucharistic Banquet). The Pope writes:

In the passage from letter to spirit, we also  learn, within the Church’s great tradition, to see  the unity of all Scripture, grounded in the unity  of God’s word, which challenges our life and constantly  calls us to conversion. Here the words  of Hugh of Saint Victor remain a sure guide: “ All  divine Scripture is one book, and this one book is  Christ, speaks of Christ and finds its fulfillment in  Christ ”. Viewed in purely historical or literary  terms, of course, the Bible is not a single book,  but a collection of literary texts composed over  the course of a thousand years or more, and its  individual books are not easily seen to possess  an interior unity; instead, we see clear inconsistencies  between them…..which nonetheless  are seen in their entirety as the one word of God  addressed to us. This makes it clear that the person  of Christ gives unity to all the “ Scriptures ”  in relation to the one “ Word”….(Verbum Domini,  39).

Moreover, the New Testament itself claims  to be consistent with the Old and proclaims that  in the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Christ the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish  people have found their perfect fulfillment. It  must be observed, however, that the concept of  the fulfillment of the Scriptures is a complex one,  since it has three dimensions: a basic aspect of  continuity with the Old Testament revelation, an  aspect of discontinuity and an aspect of fulfillment  and transcendence. The mystery of Christ stands in  continuity of intent with the sacrificial cult of the  Old Testament, but it came to pass in a very different  way, corresponding to a number of prophetic  statements and thus reaching a perfection  never previously obtained. …The paschal mystery  of Christ is in complete conformity – albeit  in a way that could not have been anticipated –  with the prophecies and the foreshadowings of  the Scriptures; yet it presents clear aspects of discontinuity  with regard to the institutions of the  Old Testament.Verbum Domini, 40).

  Three essential keys to interpretation – Thus Scriptural interpretation for a Catholic must admit of a careful sophistication wherein an individual passage is seen in its relationship to three things:

  1. The whole of Scripture
  2. Its place on the overall trajectory of Scripture
  3. Its relationship to the Person and Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ.

Surely too an appreciation of the genre and basic literary devices like hyperbole, metaphor, simile, analogy and so forth is also essential. Since the Scriptures are a Church Book, one would also never presume to read them apart from the beliving community or in opposition to the magisterium.

If we fail to do this we risk not only misinterpreting Scripture but also of getting stuck in some of the difficult or problematic texts of the Old Testament especially. We have seen in the first quote above how St. Augustine overcame his own difficulties in the regard by focusing on Christ and seeing everything in relation to him.

Help for the Dark Passages of Scripture – In the last two days one of the conversation threads has focused on the problematic texts of the Old Testament wherein God called for a “Ban” wherein every living human being, and every animal in a given town was to be killed. Texts like these shock us, and they should. But we must also remember they are very early in the trajectory of Sacred Scripture and such practices were discontinued by God as he led his people away from brutality and instructed them through the prophets to act with justice and learn of mercy. Here too the Pope comments on this “Dark Passages:”

In discussing the relationship between the  Old and the New Testaments, the Synod also  considered those passages in the Bible which,  due to the violence and immorality they occasionally  contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it  must be remembered first and foremost that biblical  revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan  is manifested progressively and it is accomplished  slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance.  God chose a people and patiently worked  to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to  the cultural and moral level of distant times and  thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating  and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre,  without explicitly denouncing the immorality of  such things. This can be explained by the historical  context, yet it can cause the modern reader to  be taken aback….In  the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets  vigorously challenged every kind of injustice  and violence, whether collective or individual,  and thus became God’s way of training his people  in preparation for the Gospel. So it would a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture  that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should  be aware that the correct interpretation of these  passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired  through a training that interprets the texts in their  historical-literary context and within the Christian  perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical  key “ the Gospel and the new commandment  of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery  ”. (Verbum Domini 42)

Conclusion – And thus the Pope instructs us on the careful, nuanced and sophisticated care that Catholics must bring to Scriptural reading and understanding. Simple proof texting can have a place in setting forth teachings. But generally we ought to be careful of pulling out “one-liners” to illustrate complex theological teachings. The use of Scripture as a foundation of doctrinal teaching is proper and essential  but we must be careful to be sure the passages are used authentically, in proper relation to the whole of scripture, its trajectory and ultimate relationship to Christ. Scripture has a sacred synergy which is not usually well served by a simplistic singling out of the Sacred text.

On a Strange and Horrible Biblical Story and the “Bad” Memory of God.

One of the most strange and horrifying stories of the Bible is the story of Jephthah  (Pronounced “Jeff-tha” and alternately spelled Jepthe) and his ritual murder of his daughter. It is a tale of faith and piety gone terribly wrong and a teaching of what happens when error and false religion are substituted for the true faith.  It is also a tale of how God can work even with the worst of us to accomplish his ends. Let’s look at this “fractured fable” of a story.

The story of Jephthah  is told in Judges 11. He is described as a mighty warrior and would one day be numbered among the Judges of Israel. As the chapter opens we are told:

Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute.  Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him. (Jdg 11:1-3).

Jephthah the Ganger – Tob is a land to the extreme east of Jordan. Having been dispossessed of any personal resources Jephthah became ranked among the roving bands of dispossessed youth who had little to lose. While the text above says describes Jephthah as gathering “adventurers”  around him, many translators render the Hebrew as “worthless men” or “ruffians.” In effect Jephthah is a gang member, the head of a group of marauders who allied themselves with local inhabitants who felt over-taxed or had other grievances against local rulers. They sustained themselves by raiding caravans or towns and enemies of thier friends.

It is quite a remarkable thing that the likes of Jephthah would rise to Judge Israel for six years. Judges were those who, in the years prior to kingship in Israel, served as charismatic leaders. They usually rose to power in response to some crisis or need.

And, sure a enough, a crisis did arrive that would catapult Jephthah to power. The text says,

Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.  “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”  Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”  The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.” Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?”  The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them (Jdg 11:4-10).

The Israelites needed a warrior and Jephthah had gained the reputation of being a skilled and fearsome warrior. He would be their man and he came to Judge (rule) over Israel. He first, as a formality,  sent messengers to negotiate a settlement with the Ammonites. In a lengthy message he sets forth both an  historical and theological basis for Israel’s claim on the Transjordan area to which the Ammonites were now laying claim. Among other things the Israelites had lived in the land over 300 years. But the Ammonites rejected all negotiations. So Jephthah prepared for war. (cf Jdg 11:12-28)

Here is where things get strange. Prior to going to war Jephthah vows a vow. It is an immoral vow, on the face of it. It is a vow that would require something wicked of him. The text says:

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, Whosoever shall first come forth out of the doors of my house, and shall meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, the same will I offer a holocaust to the Lord. (Jdg 11:29-31)

This is a wicked vow. It is wrong to vow to kill some as a sacrifice to God. It is forbidden explicitly by to offer any human being in sacrifice to any god let alone Him: You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deut 12:31; cf also Lev 18:21) It is murder that Jephthah vows. It is false religion that he embraces.

Some have tried to soften the vow by translating the vow as “whatever” comes out of the house, Jephthah would offer in sacrifice. Thus he could have meant an animal. But it is difficult for the Hebrew (צֵא הַ) to support this notion. The gender of the word would have to be in the feminine form to support this theory. But the form is masculine which everywhere else means “whoever” and it is coupled with the verbs  “to come out” and “to meet.” It does not usually pertain to things and animals to do this. Hence, it seems the plain meaning of this text is that Jephthah vowed to kill the first human who came forth to meet him upon his return. One may suppose he figured that a slave or servant would be the first to greet him?

What makes the vow even more troubling is that it was generally presumed that one who was called to be a judge had an anointing from God. Verse 30 does speak of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon Jephthah How could one anointed by God be guilty of such a gross violation of God’s law.We can only recall  that God’s approval of one area in a person’s life is not an approval of every area of their life. Most of Israel’s greatest leaders had serious flaws: Moses and David had murdered, Jacob was a usurper, Abraham “pimped” his wife and so forth. God can write straight with crooked lines. St. Paul reminds us that we carry the great treasure of God within “earthen vessels.” An old gospel hymn says, “If you can use anything Lord, you can use me.” God does not call the perfect, that much is clear.

The story of Jepthe then has it’s horrible twist and dreadful end:

Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”  “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”  “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite (Jdg 11:33-40).

In the end, Jephthah is met by his only daughter and is “forced” to fulfill his vow to kill her as a sacrifice. But in fact he is not forced for no one is compelled to fulfill a wicked vow. Yet the plain meaning of the text indicates that did just that. There are attempts by some scholars to try and show that Jephthah really didn’t do it. But, their attempts are very contrived and, in the end, set aside the plain meaning of the text which quite clearly indicates Jephthah went through with his vow.

What happened to Jephthah? We can only speculate. But it would seem that he had come under the influence of the false religions of the pagans. In particular, he seems to have come under the influence of the Canaanite practices of human sacrifice. The Jewish people had often fallen prey to just such a syncretism. Their faith in the God of Israel was often selective and weak. Superstition often drew them to the Baals and other gods of the surrounding nations. Their straying often led them to great wickedness, sexual promiscuity, deviance and even human sacrifice. Jephthah seems to have been among their number. His rejection by his brothers in Israel and his wandering at the fringes of the land were surely factors in his religious confusion and the evil that flowed from it.

And what of us? We too do well to consider the rapid descent into evil of our culture as we have increasingly and collectively rejected the true faith. Things once thought shameful are now practiced proudly by many. Things once thought immodest are flaunted. A terrible toll of abortion also mounts as our children are sacrificed to the gods of promiscuity, contraception, illicit sexual union, career, and convenience. As God has been shown the door in our culture, and kicked to the curb, we have descended mightily in to confusion and corruption, to debauchery and decay. It begins with forsaking faith in the One, True God. This nation, though always pluralistic and non sectarian, did once have a clear place for God. Now He has been escorted to the margins. And we, like Jephthah, are increasingly able and willing to do the unthinkable.

On the Bad Memory of God – One final thought on the story of Jephthah. It occurs to me that God has a “bad memory.” I say this because God the Holy Spirit holds Jephthah up later in scripture for our admiration. It’s right there in Hebrews 11 where Jephthah is said to be among the cloud of witnesses:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies….. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 11:32-34; 12:1-2)

It is a remarkable thing to see Jephthah listed among the great Old Testament saints. Perhaps we can say that Jephthah repented? We can surely hope. But it is also possible to celebrate the “bad memory” of God. I hope you will understand, I mean no irreverence here. Scripture says, For I [the Lord] will forgive [my people] their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jer 31:34). And also, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more,” says the Lord (Heb 10:17) I don’t know about you, but I am depending and the “poor memory” of God. I am hoping for a poor recollection on the part of God of certain incidents and passages in my life  🙂  And if Jephthah can make the cut, perhaps there’s hope for me too!

There have been a number of musical oratorios based on the Story of Jephthah. One of my favorites is “Jepthe” by Carissimi. In this first video I have assembled some images to the story and set it to a Chorus from Jepthe by Carissimi. The song is led by the daughter and is one of the happy moments in the Oratorio. The text says, Cantemus Omnes Domino! Laudemus belli principem, qui dedit nobis gloriam et Israel victoriam (Let us all sing to the Lord! Let us praise the prince of war, who gave glory to us and Israel Victory).

The final chorus of Jepthe by Carissimi is a minor masterpiece and a deep lament for the only daugther of Jepthe. The text says: Plorate filii Israel, plorate omnes virgines, et filiam Jephte unigenitam in carmine doloris lamentamini (Weep O children of Israel, weep, all you virgins, and in sorrowful songs lament the only daughter of Jepthe). The final lamentamini repeats over and over as we are drawn into the deep sorrow of loss.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic as Bible Hymn of the Republic

I was reminded today of one of my favorite hymns as I read the first reading from today’s Mass. In particular these lines stood out:

[An] angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting on the cloud [Jesus], “Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.” So the one who was sitting on the cloud  swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven who also had a sharp sickle……“Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth’s vines, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage. He threw it into the great wine press of God’s wrath. (Rev 14:14-19)

Ah, yes, the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on
– –

We live in a time that does not usually appreciate these fearsome images of God. These are dainty times where many have tried to tame God. And yet the image from the hymn above is thoroughly biblical as you can already see. This first verse of the Battle Hymn also recalls Jeremiah

God will thunder from his holy dwelling and  roar mightily against his land. He will shout like those who tread the grapes, shout against all who live on the earth. The tumult will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD will bring charges against the nations; he will bring judgment on all mankind and put the wicked to the sword,'” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 25:30-31)

Yet again Scripture is alluded to by the hymn in reference to the terrible swift sword which is from Isaiah:  In that day the LORD will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea (Isaiah 27:1).

The author of these words, Julia Ward Howe, lived in times that were anything but dainty or delicate. She lived in time of war, the Civil War. And she , like many of that time, possibly including President Lincoln, had come to see that horrible war as God’s judgment on a land that had enslaved, and cruellyand unjustly treated a whole race of people. Many decades before Thomas Jefferson had written, Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free (Notes on the State of Virginia). Yes, many abolitionists and others saw the Civil War in terms of God coming to render justice for the oppressed and to punish and purify by fire a land that strayed far from justice.

Julia Ward Howe had been stirred to write the hymn when, just outside of Washington DC, she heard the troops marching to the tune “John Brown’s Body.” The rythmn of that hymn stayed with her and that night she lodged at the Willard Hotel in Washington and recounts how she was was inspired to write:

I awoke in the grey of the morn­ing, and as I lay wait­ing for dawn, the long lines of the de­sired po­em be­gan to en­twine them­selves in my mind, and I said to my­self, “I must get up and write these vers­es, lest I fall asleep and for­get them!” So I sprang out of bed and in the dim­ness found an old stump of a pen, which I remembered us­ing the day be­fore. I scrawled the vers­es al­most with­out look­ing at the p­aper (Julia Ward Howe, 1861).

She describes it as a moment of inspiration. The words seem to flow from her effortlessly as is the case with inspiration. We have been blessed by these words ever since. It is true,  these words do not remain without controversy. Some object to such warlike imagery associated with God. Even more objectionable to some is the human tendency to have God take sides in a war or to attribute any war  to his inspiration. And yet, for one who has read Scripture, it is hard to wholly dismiss the notions advanced in this hymn even if they are offensive to modern ears. The Battle Hymn remains a masterpiece of English Literature and the music is surely masterful as well.

Other verses contain Biblical quotes and allusions as well. Perhaps a brief look at them.

Verse two says,

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:His day is marching on.

A powerful word painting here. The campfires of the bivouacked troops burning like candles before an altar to God’s glory and justice. The righteous sentence perceived by the flickering light recalls Daniel 5 where the hand of God wrote a sentence on the wall near the lamp stand at King Bleshazzar’s feast: MENE, TEKEL, PERES. The King trembled and all with him as the words appeared in the flickering candlelight. The righteous sentence of God announced that the King had been “placed in the scales and found wanting.”  His kingdom was about to end. God’s “Day” of judgment marches on. The Scriptures often refer to the Day of the Lord as the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord” (eg. Mal 4:5-6).

Verse Three says,

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”

“Contemners” are those who despise God and his justice, who hold his law in contempt. Against these is the fiery Gospel. The Scripture says the Lord Jesus will judge the world by fire (eg. 2 Peter 3:7) and that his word comes forth from his mouth like a sharp sword: Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty(Rev 19:5). The author allows the bayonets of the soldiers to allude to Word of the Lord whose fiery gospel judges the world. And in the second line the Lord promises grace to those who fight for justice. The last two lines are the reference to Genesis: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, while you strike at his heel (Gen 3:15). It also refers to the reiteration of this in Rev 12. The Lord is destroying Satan’s power and ending the injustice of slavery, and ultimately all injustice.

Verse Four says:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

A clear reference is made here to St. Paul who writes of the trumpet blast, For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised  (1 Cor 15:52) and of the judgment we must face: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). The third line is a reference to Malachi which promises a joyful judgment day to the Righteous: Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out leaping  like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the Lord Almighty  (Mal 4:1-4).

Verse Five says,

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

The lily is a symbol of purity in the Scriptures. A sea a clear and calm as glass is described as surrounding the throne in heaven (Rev 4:6; 15:2). We are transfigured by Christ’s glory for we are made members of his body (Eph 5:30). Hence, when the Father sees Christ he also sees us, transfigured as it were in Christ’s glory.  We too are called to walk in Christ’s footsteps. We are to carry our cross as he did (eg. Lk 9:23). As his cross made us holy, our cross can help to make others free. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church (Col 1:24). Clearly Howe is appealing here to Northern Soldiers to be willing  to die in order to free the slaves.

The Final verse says is a kind of doxology:

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

Christ is Lord of History (Rev 1:8;  21:6; 22:13) and the earth is his footstool (Is 66:1; Mat 5:35; Acts 7:49). He will come in Glory accompanied by his angels: They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Mat 24:30-31). The world has doubted and scorned him and his teachings, Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children (Luke 7:35).

Ah, what a hymn. It is remarkably Christological and Biblical. Some consider it controversial. But that’s OK, the Bible is too, and this hymn is rather remarkable stitching of Bible verses and allusions. For this reason, it is not only the Battle Hymn of the Republic, it is also the Bible Hymn of the Republic.

Did God Command Genocide?

In the readings for Daily Mass this week we are reading from 1 Samuel 15 where Saul comes into disfavor with Samuel and God for refusing to fully obey the “Ban” imposed on the Amalekites by God through Samuel. What was the “Ban?” Most fundamentally it was an command that in taking a city or a nation that the Israelites were to destroy every man, woman and child and animal. No one was to be spared. Further, any wealth was to be given to the sacred treasury.

The Ban is one of  the most disturbing  aspects of the Old Testament, made even more disturbing by the fact that it is freqently God himself who seems to command it.

The practice is first seen in the Book of Deuteronomy where the Ban is commanded in certain places. As Moses and the Israelites journeyed through the Desert and came near the Promised Land they mercilessly destroyed many kingdoms. Sihon King the Amorites and all his cities and subjects were utterly destroyed and no one left alive. Next as Israel went out against Og the King of Bashan God said to Moses: “Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon” (Deut. 3:2) Systematically the troops of Israel destroyed every city in Bashan and killed every man woman and child.

And Moses left this command for Israel as they entered the Promised Land:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy (Deut 7:1-3).

Hence as Joshua led the people into the Promised Land they implemented the Ban beginning with Jericho:

Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.”  When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.  They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Joshua 6: 16-20)

In the passage above it is not clear that God commanded the Ban, but later in Joshua 8 the Lord affirms what happened to Jericho and commands the same be inflicted on the city of Ai : Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. (Jos 8:1-2). Joshua 10 then goes on to describe a whole series of Canaanite Cities that are also put under the Ban. No one is left alive. Though here there is no explicit command of God to do so that is recorded, they are clearly following the plan that Moses had set forth.

Finally, in the readings for daily Mass we see the command given by God through Samuel that the Amalekites should be put under the Ban:  This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “ (1 Sam 15:1-3) But Saul does not fully comply, keeping some of the cattle for himself and his men. God therefore rejects him as King for his failure to keep the Ban wholly. (1 Sam 15:23).

The “Ban” is troubling and many explanations have been advanced to try and place its horrible dimensions in some sort of acceptable framework. Here are a few explanations:

  1. God said no such thing – Some commentators hold that God did not really say any such thing to Israel. Rather they simply misrepresented God or put their evil practices into God’s mouth. The Catholic Study Bible says of God’s “command” to Saul: The slaughter of the innocent has never been in conformity with God’s will. The footnote goes on to suggest that Samuel misrepresents God (Footnote on 1 Sam 15:3). The problem with such an approach is that it opens up a door that many want to walk through. Namely, whenever there is something we are troubled by or don’t like we just say, “God never said that.” The list of things God never said could grow quite long if this door is opened. Further, if God never said this to Saul how do we explain God later rejecting Saul for disobeying God. How can we disobey something God never said? Too many problems seem to issue from this approach IMHO.
  2. They weren’t innocent – Some commentators agree that God would never say to kill the innocent and then argue that among these ancient peoples put under the ban there were no “innocent” people in these sinful city-states. Everyone participated in abominable sexual practices and  strange idolatry to include even sacrificing their children to their gods. Well, OK even if we could argue that these ancient civilizations were thoroughly disreputable, it is hard to argue that little children and infants are not innocent. The position still does not answer why God ordered even infants killed.
  3. God has authority – Some prefer simply to insist that God is the Lord of life and can never be accused of injustice in taking life. He decides who lives, who dies and when. He has every right to command the end of civilizations. It is no different than you or I pulling out hedges to plant roses. God ends eras, brings nations and empires to an end as he wills and we are not free to question why. Pure and simple God has authority to do this and owes us no explanations as to why he chooses one nation or people over another. Like surgeon he amputates when all hope of healing is gone. OK, it’s pretty hard to argue against God’s authority. It’s a kind of a Job-like answer. God answers Job’s questions with a rather long soliloquy on Job’s incapacity to admonish God or understand his ways. In the end, it still seems unsatisfying for it does not address why God seems to act so contrary to other commands he gives Israel to respect the resident alien, and not to murder (eg Ex 23:7; Ex 20:13).
  4. Emphasize the reason – God gave the reason for the Ban in Deuteronomy 7:4: for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. Hence God commands this to keep the people pure. OK, but can the end of purity justify the means of genocide?

In the end, it would all we can say about these passages is that they exist and put a kind of a tall fence around them. I personally think God did in fact order the Ban for the reason stated in the objection to Number 1 above. Of all the approaches above I suppose the argument from authority carries most weight with me. But the command was only for a brief time in a very particular circumstance for a very particular reason. Sometimes the best we can do with Scripture is to accept the history it records. Scripture is a collection of books that ultimately build upon each other and progress toward a better goal. In an early and brutal time God commanded tough solutions. Once his Law established deeper roots in a brutal world God could insist that indiscriminate killing was no longer to be permitted. Later books and surely the New Testament would never support such a “solution” as the Ban.

We must be careful here. because to say that Scripture builds and progresses toward a more enlightened moral understanding does not mean we can indiscriminately reject every moral insight of the Old Testament. Much of the early legislation such as the Ten Commandments carries  forward and is affirmed by later texts. Some OT moral requirements however are explicitly abrogated (such as when Jesus rendered all foods clean). Others simply disappear from sight and are never reaffirmed by later texts or the New Testament. Such is the case with the horrifying Ban and it is well that we leave it in the distant past. Beyond this we cannot say much more. The Ban is a fact recorded in early Scripture and we have to be sophisticated enough in our understanding of Scripture to simply accept that fact. But the same sophistication demands we properly understand the development of Doctrine which God himself directs in the pages of the same Scripture.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and additions to this article

If No one is Pope, Everyone is Pope

Some years ago I was privileged to bring a man into the Church who gave me some insight into the question of authority. He approached entering the Catholic Church with some misgivings. He had come from a Protestant tradition of a simpler but dignified liturgy that featured good preaching and hymn singing. As he looked at the state of Catholic liturgy he found mostly poor preaching and what he considered to be awful music. Also, some Catholic traditions, regarding the saints and devotion to Mary were not doctrinally problematic to him but just felt a little unusual.

But in the end he entered the Catholic Church and I remember that one of the chief reasons he was drawn was over the question of authority. He remembered thinking some years back as he sat in a Protestant service, “How do I know that this man in the pulpit has authority to preach in Jesus’ name?” In the end, authority to preach and teach had to come back to Jesus’ commission: “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). But just because a person mounts a pulpit or gets a divinity degree does not mean they share in the commission of Jesus. Who actually does speak for Jesus and how can their authority be demonstrated?

In the end the Catholic Church (and also the Orthodox Churches) are the only ones who can demonstrate a direct connection to the Apostles. The laying on of hands is a direct connection to the promises of Christ that the apostles and their successors would speak in his name. All the Protestant denominations broke away from that line and explicitly rejected the need to have a connection to the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands. Who speaks for Christ? Only those who share in the charism of Christ promise to the first apostles “He who hears you, hears me.”

This promise of Christ serves as the basis for authority in the Church. It is the Bishops, in union with the Pope who call the Church to order and unity. It is the authority of Christ, but exercised through his designated representatives. A bishop unites his diocese and the Pope unites the college of bishops. Peter was told that he would “strengthen his brethren” (Luke 22:32), the other apostles. What happens when this system is discarded? It is not necessary to look far. Martin Luther, the first Protestant breakaway, substituted the authority of Scripture for that of the Church. The result? Some estimates now list over 30,000 different Protestant denominations. Why, because when no one is Pope every one is Pope. Without an authoritative interpreter the Bible can divide more than it unites. Put four Christians in a room with a quote from scripture and there my be six opinions as to what it means! Without an authoritative interpreter the text will divide the group. Pastor Jones says it is necessary to be baptized, Pastor Smith says not exactly. Pastor Jones says no to infant baptism but Smith says it is OK. Who is right, who is to say? Who speaks for Christ? Protestantism offers no answers to these questions since they have rejected any authority outside the Book.   The Bible is wonderful but what if there are disagreements over how to understand the Book? No answer.

Christ did not write a book. He founded a Church, with apostolic leaders united around Peter to preach and teach in his name. They ordained successors and this system which Christ established comes to our day as the bishops of the world in union with the Pope. The Bible is precious but it emerged from the Church. It is the Church’s book and it must be authoritatively interpreted somehow. Otherwise, huge division.

This video by Fr. Robert Barron says more on this topic. It is a well crafted video and Father uses a sports analogy to explain Church authority. He also does a very good job of explaining the boundaries of that authority which exists not so much to micromanage the discussion of faith, but, rather to referee the discussion.

Insights From Psalm 23 – Are you Smarter than a Sheep??

Sometimes a text gets so familiar we lose sight of its meaning. Consider a two thoughts from Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd – Sheep only recognize one shepherd. If another shepherd calls to them they flee in fear because they do not recognize his voice. (see John 10:5) Are you as smart as a sheep? Too often when false shepherds call to us we do not run. We listen to their voices, even though they do not sound like the Lord. These false shepherds tell us to indulge our greed and passions, to give way to lust and vent our anger. Hardly the voice of Jesus. But we listen and often follow them! Sheep have brains enough to run but what about us?

He [the Lord] has prepared a table for me in the sight of my foes, my cup is over flowing. Have you ever thought that the Mass, the holy Eucharist, the altar and table of the Lord are a great sign to you of the victory the Lord has in store for you? Did he not say in John 6: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I will raise him on the last day.”  An old Latin hymn (O Sacrum Convivium) says that in the Eucharist, “a pledge of future glory is given to us.”  Our ancient enemy the devil must cringe with disappointment as he sees us approach the table, the altar of the Lord to be fed with the Body of the Lord.  The Lord has indeed prepared a table for us in the sight of our foe the devil and the devil isn’t happy! Our cup overflows because the Lord’s grace in this sacrament is super abundant for us. It is never lacking and the more we grow the more we can receive. With this promise attached to the altar, why would you or I ever stay away?