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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent: Covenant Theology On Steroids

Covenant theology is the study of how God has chosen to relate to humanity, both before our fall, and after. God makes covenants--sacred binding agreements detailing what God promises to do, and what promises He expects his people to keep. Through all the history of salvation in the Old Testament, it has not been a story of success on our part at all. But God has chosen to renew those covenants throughout the story, forgiving and blessing His people continually, and repeating the promise of a Savior and King who would finally deliver them from sin, once for all.

There are two major bookends to the story of Israel in the Old Testament: the Exodus from Egypt, and the Babylonian Exile. The first showed God's power of deliverance, and the second showed the wages of Israel's breaking of the covenant. In short, death.

The context of the New Testament when you start is God's people in exile, waiting for deliverance. That's why in one place it says a holy person was "waiting for the consolation of Israel." You don't need consolation unless you are sad. You don't need a solution without a problem.

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin, says St. Paul. Being a sinner is like being in bondage in Egypt, or exile in a faraway land.

But Jesus is the consolation of Israel. He is the consolation of you and me. He's waiting for you there in the confessional, and in the Tabernacle.

We enter into the stories of ages past because Israel understood that to remember God's past mercies is to actually be present as it were, when they first occurred. That's why the words of the Passover memorial are in the present tense. Our rejoicing at seeing Christ, and even receiving Him in the Blessed Sacrament become part of the whole story of God's people. That's a thought worth holding on to: that Abraham, Moses, and David rejoice with me as I celebrate, mourn as I mourn, and do all the other things this life requires.

That old dusty Bible starting to seem relevant yet? I hope so, and I wish us all the very best in preparing to receive Him this Advent.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Different World

I was watching Rachael Ray this morning. She's a celebrity chef. She still cooks on her show, but you can tell she is trying to branch out. Anyway, she had a financial planner on to give advice. The planner asked an audience member she was helping about expenses. The young woman offered that she was engaged. As the planner began describing one of her savings plans, she said, "You can keep this in your room, you and your fiancé." An innocuous comment about a money jar got me thinking.

I live in a subculture where unmarried people don't live together. They don't have sex, unless they mess up. Think about this for a second: it's not even about mercy and compassion; people like you and me mess up all the time. But the whole point of naming sin is to say that sin is part of a culture, a way of being, that we don't want.

If you are one of those people who fears being "judgmental," ask yourself if you are witness to a behavior that you would accept in your own life. If you answer "no,"--or you at least know you shouldn't accept whatever it is--then it's at least very possible that the most merciful thing you can do is to tell someone that what they are doing isn't right.

You'll take some heat, most likely. What else is new? But if you spoke the truth without rancor or malice, then you actually loved your neighbor as yourself.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Another Cross-Examination

I learned long ago that you had better bring the goods, if you are going to argue with Bryan Cross. Actually, I hope he has a good spiritual director, because I just assume I'm wrong, at this point, and it may not help in his cultivation of the virtue of humility!

In general though, have you noticed how little actual argument is in the public square? Once you realize it, that data point may be distressing. I believe that our lack of reason is the presenting problem in public discourse.

One could argue that the common good is the beating heart of the social doctrine. Any philosophy which denies that the common good even exists is incompatible with the Catholic social doctrine.

It doesn't help some people to tell them the Church is our mother, because they don't listen to their mothers, anyway. They react as though the Church said, "I don't want you hanging around with Tommy Pandolfo from down the street! He's always in trouble!"

"OK, Ma! I'll talk to ya later, aright?"

I try to remember the story of some former Pentecostal converts, who weren't much for complicated theological discussions, but if you said, "Jesus says..." whatever comes after that, they'd do or believe. You'll save yourself a lot of grief realizing that essentially, "The Church says..." and "Jesus says..." mean the same thing.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Late Mass

Father was late. After we pray the Angelus, we have five minutes before Mass actually starts. The silence grew. I thought back to last year, when we had a priest who didn't come at all. We ended up having a Communion service that day. If you believe that they're the same, you are mistaken.

When we heard that it was an emergency call at the hospital, well, that's the life of a Catholic priest. Could have been Last Rites; could've been anything. No one seemed to mind.

When he said, "Francis, our Pope" during the prayers, I was overcome with a great affection for the Holy Father. It's not the first time. I doubt it'll be the last. It is an affection deeper than the news cycle; I have never felt such an affection for the President of the United States, for example. Unless and until you live within the household of the Catholic Church, you can't understand.

It's the feast day of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne. She must pray for me a lot, because I feel inspired by her life every time I hear the story. Well, I am from St. Louis, and along with the King of France, she is our patroness. (And I'm also a bit French.)

St. Rose and St. Louis, pray for us!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Early Genesis, Continued

Why does the story of the creation of humanity happen twice? Well, I mentioned that one of the purposes in these early chapters is to distinguish God from His creation. The language of chapter 1 has been called, "elevated prose." It's not poetry, but it isn't historical narrative, either. Moses uses "elohim" as the word for God early on, a singular object with a plural ending. To add to the intrigue, 1:26 says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..." You can bet the Church fathers didn't miss that one! They said it was our first hints of the Blessed Trinity. After we read about the creation of Adam and Eve in chapter 2, the word for God changes, from "elohim" to "YHWH". We'll just call this "the Name." When Moses asks God what His name is, God says the Name. Why the change? I think one excellent reason is that "elohim" emphasizes God as the Lord of all creation, while "YHWH" emphasizes Him as the God who keeps His promises. The Lord of all creation is also He who protects one family that will become a people.

Some scholars believe that different schools of scribes copied and collected the Scriptures, leading to some interesting debates when particular words or phrases are unclear. For our purposes, though, we concentrate on the Scriptures as we have them, trusting that the teaching office of the Church is able to handle any real problems. (CCC, 100)

To this day, Jewish people do not say the Name; they substitute "adoni" (lord) for it. It was believed that to speak the name of a god is to call forth its power.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I Like Stephen Colbert

I've got a good friend who watches The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You may recall that he took over for David Letterman as the host. Colbert (pronounced like 'cole-BEAR') got his way to fame as a "correspondent" on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. All these people are liberals. Fair enough.

I still think Jimmy Fallon (The Tonight Show) is the best late-night host. Jimmy doesn't need famous people to make his show work. He's funny, he's got musical talent, and he has this gift for nurturing nostalgia without sacrificing "cool" that people my age and slightly older (he's 40) seem to want. Actually, I think he makes famous people feel normal, and normal people feel famous. I digress.

But I've watched a lot of Colbert lately, and I must admit that his monologue the night after the election was great. I understand how liberals feel this time. I don't share this disdain conservatives have right now for ordinary liberals who are just bummed. I don't necessarily sympathize with people burning things down in protest. But actually, I don't want to "get over it," because to consent to that is to tacitly say that I'm OK with how things were done. I'm not bothered by the insults, the lies, the vulgarity, the general coarsening of the entire process, is what I'd be saying. And I can't say that with a clear conscience.

We've entered a new place, and it will not do to pretend that the liberals/Democrats/progressives are just going on emotionally like always. Perhaps there is some intellectually and morally stifling political correctness that has been defeated, but at what cost? To me, the cost has been too high.

If we can't see the world through the eyes of your neighbors even a little bit--it was hard not to be inspired by a Bernie tribute video at the Democratic National Convention, as "America" by Simon and Garfunkel played--maybe it really is over, this grand experiment.

I still think that the slavish devotion of the firmest Trump supporters, followed by a claim that the rest of us should remember, "Put not your trust in princes" is richer than a fudge cake. Frankly, I'm going to laugh hysterically the next time "cult of personality" and "Obama" are mentioned together.

Anyway, I needed to laugh with my liberal friends. If we can laugh, we don't need to always cry. Mourn with those who mourn.

Happy Birthday, Mom

61 years ago today, Darla Dee Thompson was born. Because of this, you are reading this post, and this blog in general. I won't belabor things with details I don't remember, but I don't know a tougher, more sacrificial person, besides Our Lord. (And Our Lady)

That's pretty good company.

You become aware that nothing lasts forever on this side of Heaven, and tragedy will teach you even faster to say what needs saying, so here it is: I love you, Mom. Anything good in me is a gift that is partly yours. Thanks for teaching me that serving others and sharing life with them is how to truly live. Here's hoping we get a little break from tough times, so we can appreciate everything.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thoughts On The Early Chapters Of Genesis

As I read Genesis 1-3, there are 3 main things that stick out: Firstly, God alone is Creator, and He is distinct from that which he has created. It was a point of emphasis for Moses, (and the Lord God) because he knew that the surrounding cultures worshiped "gods" in such a way that creation and deity weren't so distinct. Secondly, that mankind and creation were both created good, and in some sense, both remain good. Thirdly, it is proper to worship God, and now, living with the reality of sin, both original and personal, we know that forgiveness must be part of the story, our journey back to life with God.

Let me talk about these in reverse order. Adam and Eve both worshiped God before the Fall. It will always be right to do so, and we know this because our pictures of Heaven from later in the Scriptures tell us this. After our first parents sinned, the Scriptures here say they heard the Lord walking in the garden and hid themselves! We have to be careful here, because God doesn't actually have feelings, but I feel a deep sadness when I hear the Lord's question in 3:9: "Where are you?"

They were friends. They walked and talked with Almighty God a lot. That's how they knew what it sounded like.

We give God what he's due, but we're being offered more, and that's friendship. In this context, grace is God's own presence and power indwelling us as a special gift. A finite being couldn't be friends with the infinite God Himself, even if we were innocent, unless God elevated mankind. So He did.

We have a qualified goodness now, because we know that we are sinners, but also that we naturally gravitate toward sin, and away from God. God didn't make us this way, though, and we're not intended to stay here. We call the tendency toward sin "concupiscence," and we call the gift that was lost "integrity," which means that our passions are subject to reason. They had an original righteousness or justice on account of grace, also. As well as infused knowledge and immortality. Thanks, Dr. Marshall!

We know that later, plagues befell the enemies of God's people in the book of Exodus. Many commentators suggest that the specific plagues corresponded to false gods worshiped by the Egyptians. It is also probable that Moses (and others) wrote Genesis and the other books of the Law while he led the Israelites out of Egypt, and into the wilderness.

You'll notice that God created everything in chapter 1, including the sun and moon, stars and planets. You can bet that other people worshipped those things, and that's why the people are told not to.

Did you notice that the account of the days always starts with evening? The descendants of Abraham and Moses still count days this way! We do it, too, in the Church. This is why you can fulfill your Mass obligation on a holy day, or on the evening of the previous day. And yes, eight human days of the Easter and Christmas octaves count as one day to the Church! God is reminding us always that He is Lord of time, and everything else.

Books and books could be written, but I need to go, and dear reader falls asleep when I go on and on!