God Works Wonders With Wood – A Meditation on the Cross and How God Prefigured It In the Old Testament

As we draw near to Holy Week, and on this Friday when many of us pray the Stations of the Cross, we do well to meditate on the wood of the cross. For it is a fascinating fact that, when saving His people, God often had recourse to wood. Indeed, one of the great themes of the Old Testament and into the New Testament is that “God Works Wonders With Wood.”

Consider with me a number of places in the Scriptures where God uses wood to save:

1.    Ark of Safety– One of the most terrifying stories of the ancient world is the flood. The world had grown so wicked, and sin so multiplied that God concluded he must literally wash it clean. (And you think its bad now!) God went to a man named Noah and told him that He was going to trouble the waters and that Noah had to be ready. He was instructed to build an ark of Gopher wood. Now this was not a small project. The Ark was the length of one and a half football fields (150 yards), it was 75 feet wide and 45 feet tall. God then, troubled the waters and the flood made an end of wickedness and a new beginning of goodness. Through the wood of the ark God saved Noah and his family from the flood waters.  (cf Gen 6-9) An old Latin Hymn says, Arbor una nobilis (One and only noble tree)! By this wood, God saved his people.

2. Victory at the Red Sea– Pharaoh had finally relented and the Jewish People were leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. But fickle Pharaoh has once again changed his mind and pursues them. With the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh behind them the people were struck with fear. Yet, God would win through for them. How?! God told Moses to take up the wooden staff and to trouble the waters with these words: And you lift up your staff and with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two… So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. (Ex 14:16, 21). And God brought them through those troubled waters, and they went out of slavery and into freedom. Are you noticing a pattern? Wood works wonders. The wooden staff and troubled waters bring forth freedom: Arbor una nobilis (One and only Noble Tree)!

3. Water in the Desert – It is a fine thing to be free but thirst has a way of making itself known. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. But notice again how God uses wood to bring forth saving water: And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet! (Ex 15:23) So once again, God saves through wood and brings forth water. The wood of the tree made sweet the water: Arbor una nobilis (One and only Noble Tree)!

4. Saving Stream –  But yet again, as they journeyed further, more thirst. And once again God used wood to save them: God said to Moses: Go over in front of the people holding in your hand as you go the staff with which you struck the sea, …Strike the rock and the water will flow from it for the people to drink. (Ex 17:5-6). With God’s power the wood works wonders. The wood of the staff troubled those waters and they came forth with the blessing that preserved life in the desert. Arbor una nobilis (One and only Noble Tree)!

5. Down by the Riverside – After forty years of wandering in the desert the Israelites are finally ready to enter the promised land. But the Jordan is in flood stage, impossible to cross! But once again God had a plan and it involved wood. He instructed Joshua to have the priests place the Ark of  the Covenant on their shoulders and wade in the water. Now the Ark was a box made of Acacia wood and covered in gold. In it were the tables of the Law, the staff of Aaron and a ciborium of the manna. The also knew and believed that the very presence of God was carried in that ancient wooden box, even as in our tabernacles today. And when those who bore that wooden Ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests touched the water the waters, those waters rose up in a heap far off, and the  people passed over opposite Jericho (cf Joshua 3:15) So again, with God,  wood works wonders! The wooden box of the ark troubled the waters and they parted bringing the blessing of the promised land. Arbor una nobilis (One and only Noble Tree)!

Now all of these prefigure the noblest tree of all: the Cross of our Lord. For as we have amply seen, God works wonders with wood.

It is said that Jesus was a carpenter. Actually the Greek calls him a teckton (builder). But surely carpentry was among his skills. But more truly he was the greatest carpenter of all, not merely for any table or chair he built, but for the salvation he won us through the wood of his cross: Arbor una nobilis (One and only Noble Tree)!

Jesus, master carpenter among all master carpenters!  Wood alone cannot save, but God works wonders with wood, and by his power, and his grace he wills to use wood to save us: Wood Works Wonders!

Please consider these beautiful lines from the 6th Century Hymn Crux Fidelis:

above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!

Lofty tree, bend down thy branches,
to embrace thy sacred load;
oh, relax the native tension
of that all too rigid wood;
gently, gently bear the members
of thy dying King and God.

Tree, which solely wast found worthy
the world’s Victim to sustain.
harbor from the raging tempest!
ark, that saved the world again!
Tree, with sacred blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain

The full hymn by Venantius Fortunatus is here: PANGE LINGUA – CRUX FIDELIS

Never forget what your Master Carpenter, Jesus has done for you.

Here is a sung version of the hymn Crux Fidelis:

Sign Me "Off" For the Christian Jubilee: On the Disturbing trend of "De-Baptisms" in Europe

There’s an old song that says, Sign me up for the Christian Jubilee! Write my name on the roll!….I want to be ready when Jesus comes!  But, tragically there are some in Europe who are formally renouncing their faith through a process they call “de-baptism.” In effect they write to the parish where they were baptized and asked that their name be blotted out from the book of life, also known as the Baptismal Register. Of course the Catholic Church does not remove the names, but does make a notation that they have formally renounced the Christian faith, that they have renounced their baptism.

The video below depicts such “de-baptisms.” A young Belgian, named Damien,  is interviewed, and shown holding a document he has signed entitled Acte D’Apostasie A qui de droit. (Act of Renunciation (Apostasy) from the faith). You don’t have to know a lot of French to see the word “Apostasy” in the title. I had an opening and so offered Mass today for this man, for his return to the faith. I hope you’ll pray too for him and the over 1000 Belgians who have renounced their faith this past year.

Apostasy Association? There is actually an organization that exists to encourage and facilitate such renunciations. The head of this organization says many have renounced their faith due to anger over the sex-abuse scandal, though he admits there are other reasons too.

Red Herring – I do not know the particulars in Damien’s case so I cannot assess his personal motives. However, generally speaking, the abuse excuse, serious though the scandal was, is largely a red herring. People don’t usually leave the Church due to the Church’s sin, but rather, due to their own sins. People who leave (as distinct from those who drift away) are usually at odds with one or more of the moral teachings of the Church. And they are usually at odds with such teachings because they are breaking one or more of those moral precepts. They want to live as they please, and so they leave. In pointing to sin in the Church (real though it is) they get to tell themselves they are doing a noble, even conscientious thing. But in the end it is more usually a baser motive rooted in their own sin.

I’ve been re-reading Archbishops Sheen’s book Three to Get Married. In it he writes:

Every rationalization is farfetchedand never discloses the real reason. He who breaks the Divine Law and finds himself outside of Christ’s Mystical Body in a second marriage will often justify himself by saying: “I could not accept the doctrine of transubstantiation.” What he means is that he can no longer accept the Sixth Commandment…..What is important is not what people say, but why they say it. Too many assume that the reason people do not come to God is because they are ignorant; it is more generally true that the reason people do not come to God is because of their behavior. Our Lord said: “Rejection lies in this, that when the light came into the world men preferred darkness to light; preferred it, because their doings were evil. Anyone who acts shamefully hates the light” (John 8:19, 20). It is not always doubt that has to be overcome, but evil habits. (Three to Get Married, Kindle Edition Loc. 149-58).

In Damien’s case the specific reason is said by the interviewer to be anger over sex abuse. But Damien himself is less clear. He states, in effect, he doesn’t agree with what the Church is doing. It is not so clear that the abuse scandal is what he means, since this is not something the Church is “doing” but rather something she did not do. He more likely means he disagrees with some of her moral teachings. He also claims he never chose to join the Church anyway, since it was his parents who had him baptized.

Self-congratulatory apostasy?  – In the end he calls himself a “conscientious citizen” for getting de-baptized. Sadly, there is another word that more aptly describes what he has done and it is right at the top of his own letter: “Apostasie.” One can only hope his ignorance is so great that he does not really comprehend what he has done and will not face the full effects of his ill-informed choice.

Bad Idea! – But for the record, asking to have your name taken “off the roll” is a VERY BAD idea. Scripture could not be clearer;

  1. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books…..If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15).
  2. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!  (Rev 3:4-6)

Someone may object  that a baptismal register is not the book mentioned, and that the image of “the book of life”  cannot be mechanistically reduced to inkblots on the page of some earthly book, etc. True enough. But the problem is not the earthly book, but what the earthly book indicates. It indicates baptism, not just membership. And to renounce baptism is to renounce faith in Christ Jesus. Thus, rejecting saving faith in Jesus Christ DOES affect the true and heavenly book. The earthly book is but a copy but it does point to the heavenly one and it is a very bad idea to go on record renouncing your faith, and asking that your name be “blotted out.” In Scripture Jesus says that the greatest gift is to have our names written in heaven: However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

And perhaps the scariest thing about all this is that Scripture also indicates very clearly that Jesus will ultimately abide by the decision of those who reject him and ratify it:

  1. If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (Mk 8:38)
  2. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven (Matt 10:33)
  3. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us, if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Tim 2:12-13)

So please pray for this young man, Damien, and others like him. Do not simply presume invincible ignorance on his part. We often rashly presume that adults “don’t know any better.” Well, don’t presume,  pray for him. I offered mass for him today and others like him. Perhaps you might offer the fruits of holy Mass as well?

Pray, this is very serious. It is bad enough to drift away from the faith, but to formally renounce ones baptism is to really ramp things up to a mega-serious level. Pray, pray, pray.

On Being Sober and Serious in Seeking Salvation

Today’s Gospel is a sobering summons to be serious about our spiritual life.  Now it is a sad fact today that many, if not most people are not serious about their spiritual life. They do not pray, they do not read scripture, do not attend Mass or go to confession. They are playing around and goofing off like life were some big joke. They are often locked in serious and unrepented sin and will not be ready when judgment day comes. It is just a fact.

Perhaps you think I am overly pessimistic but I would argue that I am on strong biblical grounds. In today’s Gospel the Lord dispatches one of the most common errors of today. The error held is that most people are going to heaven. The Lord rather directly refutes this and summons us to be sober and serious in seeking salvation. Let’s look at the readings for today in three stages.

1. The Danger Described. – Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough (Luke 13:22-23). Elsewhere Jesus elaborated on this more:   Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mat 7:13-15).  So, when asked if those to be saved are many or few the Lord answers, “Few” and goes on to describe that “many” will be unable to enter the Kingdom of Heaven but are on the wide and easy road that leads to destruction – see photo above right!

This of course flies in the face of what most people think today.  We have to be sober about this and realize that many live lives that show little interest in God or the Kingdom of God. At some point this decision becomes final and God accepts their disinterest as their final choice. Beware! To persist in worldliness and to be self absorbed increasingly becomes our final disposition.

Now it is true that every says they want to go to heaven. But it is usually a heaven that they have invented. But the real heaven is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God has values that many people today do not want. It is a place where justice, mercy, generosity and chastity are celebrated. Now it is clear today that many today are not interested in forgiving those who have hurt them. They do not want to love their enemy. They surely do not want to live chastely. The concept of justice annoys them and usually makes them suspicious that someone is after their money. Generosity too annoys them for they would rather not part with a dime. But this is what the Kingdom of God is all about and what is celebrated in heaven.

Further, heaven is described in the Book of Revelation (4,5,8) as  like a liturgy where God is at the center and is praised.  Hymns are sung, a scroll containing the meaning of all things (Scripture) is read  and the Lamb is on a throne-like altar. There are candles incense, prostrations, standing and all the things of the Mass. Now many people today say by their absence from Mass that none of this interests them. OK fine, God will not force it on any of them. Neither will he force them to accept the values of the Kingdom of God. But THIS is what heaven is about, the fullness of the Kingdom.

Now as time goes on, a person grows hardened in their aversion to the Kingdom of God, to heaven. Eventually their aversion becomes forever fixed. So on Judgment Day they are not able to enter heaven and frankly would not be happy there anyway. So here is the danger: walking the wide and worldly road that hardens the heart to God and the things of God so that heaven is “not able” to be tolerated. Hell is not God’s fault, it is the preference of damned who have hardened their hearts to God and the realities of the true (not the fanciful) heaven.

2. The Divine Desire. Now God does not want hell for anyone. He does not rejoice in the decision of the damned but he does respect it. God is clear he wants to save everyone: As surely as I live, says the LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11-12)  Thus in today’s First Reading there is described how God widens the call of salvation to the whole world: I come to gather nations of every language;  they shall come and see my glory. …that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. …Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD. (Is 66:18-21) Yes indeed, the Lord wants to bring people from every nation and race to his kingdom. The Lord wants to save us all. So the problem of Hell is not about God and what He wants, it is about us and what we want. God will  ultimately respect our final choice. I have written more on this here: http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/hell-has-to-be/

3. The Delivering Discipline  This then leads to a manner in which we can be sober and serious in seeking salvation. It is described in the 2nd reading today: My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord  or lose heart when reproved by him;  for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;  he scourges every son he acknowledges.”  Endure your trials as “discipline”;  God treats you as sons.  For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,  yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it (Heb 12:5-7). We have a clear call from the Lord to submit our lives to his discipline and training. Notice how closely related the discipline is to discipleship. The Lord has a discipline for us that makes us true disciples.

Our discipline includes daily prayer, daily scripture, daily repentance, frequent confession, Mass every Sunday. We are to grow in the training of the Lord which comes from the study of our faith and the reception of the Sacraments. As we do this we grow in desire for the things of God and heaven. We come to share the kingdom values and are less worldly. More and more we start to love who and what God loves, we start to have His priorities, are transformed by the renewal of our minds. This is what God’s discipline, what his teaching, grace and mercy do for us.

So, in the end, God is not our enemy, he is our Savior and the only one who can get us ready for judgment day. But we have to be sober and serious in seeking salvation. All the playing around and goofing off, the presumption and worldliness has to end. The Letter to the Hebrews from today’s second reading has three last things to tell us:

  1. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees – In other words lift up your hands in prayer and have strong knees that are accustomed  to kneeling in prayer.
  2. Make straight paths for your feet – get off that wide road that leads to destruction and get on the narrow path that leads to God. The Next time some one calls you narrow minded thank them and invite them to join you!
  3. that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed – Sin makes us lame, weak and tired of doing good. But get used to walking the straight and narrow path that is uphill to heaven and watch your strength grow, and your weak knees be healed.

 Here’s an excerpt from a Funeral Sermon I posted some time ago that seems apt for today’s theme:

What is the Wrath of God?

Not long ago I saw a bottle of hot sauce with the creative name “Wrath of God!” Now that’s gotta be some hot sauce! But what is God’s wrath? It is spoken of often in the scriptures and it is a concept with which we have to be careful. On the one hand we cannot simply dismiss the concept as contradictory to the fact that God is love. But neither can we fail to see God’s wrath apart from his love.

As a followup from yesterday’s blog it seems worthwhile to consider some aspects of the very complicated and reality of the wrath of God. There is not enough space to cover the whole topic in the post but the comments stay open as always for your additions and subtractions. What are some ways that we can explain and understand the wrath of God? Let me propose a few.

The wrath of God is not merely an Old Testament Concept. In fact we find it mentioned quite frequently in the New Testament as well. For example consider the following:

  1. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)
  2. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom 1:18)
  3. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Rom 12:19)
  4. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things [i.e. sexual immorality] God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Eph 5:6)
  5. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:9)
  6. The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. (Rev 14:19)

And there are at least a dozen other texts from the New Testament that could be referenced but allow these to suffice. So it is clear that the “wrath of God” is not some ancient or primitive concept that the New Testament has dispensed with. And notice too that the wrath of God is not something simply for the end of the world. It is also spoken of in some of the texts above and others not listed as something already operative in certain people.

So what is God’s wrath? And how can we reconcile it with his love?  Consider some of the images, explanations of God’s wrath. None of them all alone explain it but together a picture and understanding may emerge.

  1. Image: God’s wrath is his passion to set things right. We see this image of God’s wrath right at the beginning in Genesis when God cursed Satan and uttered the protoevangelium (the first good news): I will make you and the woman enemies….one of her seed will crush your head while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:15). God is clearly angered at what sin has done to Adam and Eve and he continues to have anger whenever he beholds sin and injustice. He has a passion for our holiness. He wants what is best for us. He is angered by what hinders us in this regard. Surely all sins provoke his wrath but there are five sins that especially cry out to heaven: Wilful murder – [Gen. 4:10]; The sin of the Sodomites, [Gen. 18:20; 19:13]; The cry of the people oppressed, [Ex. 3:7-10]; The cry of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, [Ex. 20:20-22]; Injustice to the wage earner. [Deut. 24:14-5; Jas. 5:4] (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1867). In terms of all sin and injustice and anything that afflicts or hinders the possibility of salvation,  God has a wrathful indignation and a passion to set things right. This is part of his love for us. His wrath may be manifest through punishments, disturbances of our conscience, or simply by allowing us to experience some or all the consequences of our sin and injustice.
  2. Clarification: God’s wrath is not like our anger. In saying that God is angry we ought to be careful to understand that however God experiences anger or any passion, it is not tainted by sin. God is not angry like we are angry. When we get angry we often experience an out of control quality, our temper flares and we often say and do things that are either sinful or at least excessive. It cannot pertain to God to have temper tantrums and to fly off the handle, to admix anger with an unreasonable lashing out. The way God does experience anger is not something we can fully understand but is it surely a sovereign and serene act of his will, not an out of control emotion.
  3. Clarification: God is not moody. It does not pertain to God to have good days and bad days, good moods and bad ones. Scripture seems clear enough when it indicates that God does not Change. Consider this from the Book of James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights, in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning. Hence to speak of God’s wrath does not mean that he has suddenly had enough or that his temper has flared, or that his mood has soured. God IS. He does not change. As the text says, he is not variable. And this leads us to the next point.
  4. Image: Given what we have said,  the primary location of God’s wrath is not in God,  it is in us. Perhaps the best definition I have heard of God’s wrath is this: God’s wrath is our experience of the total incompatibility of our sinful state before the Holiness of God. Sin and God’s holiness just don’t mix. They can’t keep company. Think of fire and water. They do not mix. They cannot coexist in the same spot. Bring them together and you you can hear the conflict. Think of water spilled on a hot stove and hear the sizzle and popping and the steam as the water flees away. If, on the other hand there is a lot of water the fire is overwhelmed and extinguished . But the point is that they cannot coexist. They will conflict and one will win. This is wrath, the complete incompatibility of two things. It is this way between sin and God’s utter holiness. We must be purified before we can enter the presence of God otherwise we could never tolerate his glory. We would wail and grind our teeth and turn away in horror. The wrath is the conflict between our sin and God’s holiness. God cannot and will not change so we must be changed. Otherwise we experience wrath. But notice the experience is in us primarily and not God. God does not change, he is holy, serene, he is love. If we experience his wrath it is on account of us, not him. Consider the next example.
  5. Image: It is we who change, not God and this causes wrath to be experienced or not –Consider an example. On the ceiling of my bedroom is a light with a 100 watt light bulb. At night before bed I delight in the light. I am accustomed to it. But then at bed time I put out the light and sleep. When I awake it is still dark (at least in the winter). Hence I put the light on. But Ugh! Grrr! Now the light is bright and I curse it! Now mind you, the light has not changed one bit. It is still the same 100 watt bulb it was hours earlier. The light is just the same, it is I who have changed. But do you know what I do? I blame the light and say, “The light is harsh!” But the light is not harsh, it is just the same as when I was happy with it. Now that I have changed I experience its wrath but the wrath is really in me. So also consider the experience of the ancient family of man with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the evening when the dew collected on the grass (cf Gen 3:8).  They had warm friendship with him and did not fear his presence. After sin, they hide. Had God changed? He had not, they had and they now experience him very differently. Fast forward to another Theophany. God has come to Mt Sinai and as he descends the people are terrified for there are peals of thunder, lightning, clouds and the loud blast of a trumpet. The people told Moses “You speak to us, but let not God speak, else we will die!” (Ex 20:19) God too warned Moses that the people could not get close  lest his wrath be vented upon them (Ex 19:20-25). Now again, had God changed? He had not. He was the same God who walked with them in the cool of the evening in a most intimate way. It was we who had changed. We had lost the holiness without which no one can see the Lord (Heb 12:14). The same God, unchanged though he was, now seemed to us frightening and wrathful.
  6. What then shall we do? If we can allow the image of fire to remain before us we may well find a hopeful sign in God’s providence. Since God is a holy fire, a consuming fire (cf Heb 12:26; Is 33:14) how can we possibly come into his presence? How can we avoid the wrath that would destroy us? Well, what is the only thing that survives in the presence of fire? Fire is the only thing that survives! So it looks like we’d better become fire if we want to see God. And thus it was that God sent tongues of fire upon the Apostles and us at our confirmation. God wants to set you and me on fire with the Holy Spirit and in holiness. God wants to bring us up to the temperature of glory so that we can stand in his presence: See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.  But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Mal 3:1-4). And indeed Jesus has now come:   For you have  turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 1 Thess 1:10-11)

So there is a wrath of God. As I have tried to show it is more in us than in God. But I will not say to you that there is NO wrath IN  God. Scripture seems clear to indicate that wrath does pertain to God’s inner life. What exactly it is and how God experiences it  is mysterious to us. We can say to some extent what it is not (as we did above) but we cannot really say what it is exactly. But far more rich is the meditation that the wrath of God is essentially in us. It is OUR experience of the incompatibility of sin before God. We must be washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb and purified. Most of us will need purification in purgatory too. But if we let the Lord work his saving work we are saved from the wrath for we are made holy and set on fire with God’s love. And fire never fears the presence of fire. God is Love but he will not change. So it is that Love must change us.

One of the greatest cinematic depictions of the Wrath of God occurred in the move the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Nazi’s sinfully think they can open the Ark and endure the presence of God. What they get is wrath for sin cannot endure the reality of God’s presence. “Enjoy” this clip:

Jewish and Catholic Discussions

The latest edition of the Gloria.tv news contains a report about a rather startling but growing phenomnenon, that of Jewish leaders insisting that the Pope should acknowledge that Jews do not need to accept Christ in order to be saved.  The Jerusalem Post reports  that Deborah Weissman, co-chairwoman of the Interreligious Coordination Council in Jerusalem (a commission that, among other things is preparing for the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land), said she hoped an alleged “ambivalence” of the Pope on theological issues affecting Jews would be clarified. She said the Pope still had not made it absolutely clear that Jews did not need to embrace the belief that Jesus was the Messiah to be redeemed.

Why is this notion being insisted upon by her and an increasing number of Jewish leaders?  That Jesus alone can save us is a clear and essential dogma of Christian Faith. There is no exemption of any group, nation, or people in the mandate Jesus gave us to make disciples of all nations and baptize them (Matt 28:19 inter al.) For someone to insist that we set aside one of our most fundamentalal teachings and abandon the mandate of Christ to go unto all the world is astonishing in its boldness and displays remarkable insensitivity. I want to stipulate that not all or even many Jewish leaders are insisting on this but those that are simply ask too much.

It is also necessary to state that the Catholic position on salvation is not mechanistic. We do not teach that only  “card-carrying”  Christians go to heaven.  But neither do we teach that accepting or not accepting Christ is just some incidental formality. We are under a mandate of Jesus Christ to go unto all the nations, to summon everyone to explicit faith in Jesus Christ. We do this respectfully, but we must do it. We do it because we love and seek union with all in Christ Jesus. We do not presume that non-Christians have nothing to offer or are in a hopeless situation. Rather respecting the dignity and gift of every human person we seek union with them in Christ and acknowledge that everyone, every nation, every people bring great richness to the Church. But the truth is that everyone needs Jesus Christ. To ask us to deny this is to ask us to deny our faith and our Lord. 

Again let me emphasize that the Catholic position on the salvation of anyone who is unbaptized is nuanced.  We hold that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that outside the Church there is no salvation. But these truths are not understood in a simplistic or merely mechanistic way. There are some who have not fully come to understand their need to accept Christ and enter the Church. Perhaps it is because they were not effectively evangelized. Perhaps it is due to cultural factors that prevent them from accepting the claims of Christ and the Church. Perhaps they were exposed to poor examples of Christianity or Christians. But if they have sincerely sought the truth, God will surely acknowledge their sincerity. However. this acknowledgement of the patience and mercy of God cannot allow us to become weakened in our resolve to obey Jesus’ mandate that we bring every nation and individualal to explicit discipleship.

It is probably best to let the Catechism of the Catholic Church speak for itself:

Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. (CCC # 848)

And now to the video that sparked these reflections! Gloria TV news provides a wonderful service in bringing worldwide Catholic news to our attention in a short and accessible way. Almost everyday they provide these wonderful updates on the Church throughout the world

Diversity on Display – Maronite Passion Hymn

Among the Eastern Catholic Churches is the Maronite Catholic Church. It is rooted in Lebanon but its members are now all over the world. This Church is in union with Rome and the Holy Father but has its own Maronite Liturgy conducted in both the vernacular and Aramaic, the Language of Jesus himself. You can read more about the Maronite Church HERE and  HERE and of its liturgy HERE.

The Following Video features the hauntingly beauty Passion hymn from the Maronite Liturgy Wa Habibi. Here is the text and translation:

Arabic Lyrics:
وا حبيبي وا حبيبي أي حال أنت فيه
من رآك فشجاك أنت أنت المفتدي
يا حبيبي أي ذنب حمل العدل بنيه
فأزادوك جراحاً ليس فيها من شفاء
حين في البستان ليلاً سجد الفادي الإلة
كانت الدنيا تصلي للذي أغنى الصلاة
شجر الزيتون يبكي و تناديه الشفاء
يا حبيبي كيف تمضي أترى ضاع الوفاء

English Translation:
My Love, My Love
What has befallen you?
Who saw you and grieved for you,
You who are righteous?
My Love, what is the sin of our times and our children?
These wounds have no cure.

Of the last line “These wounds have no cure” it is well to reflect that even in his resurrected and glorified body the wounds of Jesus still appear. This is because they are wounds of love and his love for us will never pass away or ever be “healed.”

Pray along with this video, it captures well the somber and prayerful mood of Holy Week.

Here in the Archdiocese of Washington the Maronite Rite is celebrated at Our Lady of Lebanon 7142 Alaska Rd. NW 202-829-5554