LOVE AND HIS PEOPLE

(a very short catechism)

 Love is constructive; hate is destructive.

Absolute love is absolutely constructive.

Love is the Creator of all things.

Love is One. Love is Omnipotent.

Love is God.

God is Love.

God/Love made humans.

God/Love loves humans.

God/Love lovingly made humans.

God/Love made humans to share in His life of love.

Love cannot be constrained; cannot be commanded.

God made humans free to love or not to love Him.

The first humans transgressed the law of Love.

God was slighted.

Evil came into the world.

Love was affronted.

Love wants to forgive.

The affront is of the measure of the affronted.

Only God can redeem an affront to God.

God sent His only Son, Jesus, as God, to repair the affront.

Jesus is Love

As a human, Jesus repaired the affront in the name of humans.

Now humans can be redeemed, provided they become people of Love.

People of Love worship Love as Jesus/Love taught them.

People of Love have to live for a time with Evil.

How they deal with evil, people of Love show Love.

People of Love want to show Love they are His People.

People of Love want to protect those they Love from Evil.

Sacrificing for Love is the happy choice of people of Love,

As the God of Love sacrificed Himself for His people.

The Cross– the absolute Sacrifice – is the Sign of the true life of the people of Love.

People of Love accept their Crosses for the sake of Love.

The God of Love makes all crosses bearable to people of Love.

God/Love wants people of Love to trust Him through their sacrifice.

God/Love will provide.

God/Love will console.

God/Love will protect.

People of Love trust the providence of Love, the consolation of Love, the protection of Love.

People of Love trust Love even as they struggle with their evil within.

They do not stop asking Love to hone their sensibilities in finding the ways of Love in all they do.

Love can never be forced; Free will, the only gift to use as People of Love see fit.

People of Love thirst to enter the world of absolute Love.

 

                                                                        Dr. Jean-Francois Orsini, OP

Lenten Reflection on Genesis

Genesis 2:7-9


7 then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 3:1-7


1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
3 but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.
5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

On this past first Sunday of yet another Lent in our lives, the reading
from Genesis evoked the aching beauty, innocence and simplicity of God’s paradise in Eden. Then abruptly, we came upon the great temptation together with man’s fall from grace. The Gospel reading took us to a world putrid with original sin, as Satan insolently thrice tempted Christ.

In this first week of Lent, we find Jesus arriving at another garden, His
Gethsemane. Here, we bridge the abyss from sin to Christ as we encounter the enormity and mystery of God’s love for us – a love as terrifying as it is soaring. In many ways, it is a love that profoundly disturbs the conscience precisely because it is incomprehensible to fallen man to be loved without so passionately and without reservation. When grace is cast off, man remains jaundiced with worldly cynicism, rejecting the very concept of such an encompassing love. Precisely because he merits nothing and achieves nothing on his own, man distrusts love eternal as some sort of unreachable dream. What could possibly qualify him for his Divinity’s love, so pure and so ardent?  Would anyone indeed be willing to bridge the chasm caused by so much sin and evil?  For so long, man has possessed nothing, nothing but the struggle of life; how can he ever possess the love of God?

Man can do nothing on his own since surrendering his own innocence,
trading it for a scornful distrust of the good and the beautiful. In this trade,
man renounced everything childlike, particularly all childlike expectations
of authentic love. Now, he may well be able to fathom the tortures of the
damned, but he cannot grasp pure love without grave doubts and
paranoia.  Guilt-ridden and culpable, he finds everything complicated. He has made himself worldly-wise, checking the cost of everything, believing he must manipulate in order to receive.

Yet Lent calls us not to a reckoning but instead to our own redemption!
Christ is the bridge! In his very body,  Christ takes our blows and
lovingly invites jaded man back home. Jesus pays the cost for us.   He
kneels in this second garden, face tortured, eyes terrified, soul in
complete agony.  All have left Him. This shocking part of Christ’s Passion suspends even man’s skepticism. He watches breathless, seeing with childlike eyes, and shudders at his own brutality. Although he is still a mere spectator, not yet choosing to participate in Jesus’ passion, man at last tastes revulsion. In his horror, the man-child watches the God-man in this darkened Eden. At last he is able to see His God haunted by the ghastly sins committed by man, whom He loves so dearly.

Our Lord makes himself our ransom.  Despite our rejection, He loves us. It is incomprehensible, but undeniable. The sins man once thought small and justifiable now ricochet through the Body of Christ. Union and harmony are visibly shattered as Jesus shakes and convulses in Gethsemane. He accepts the impact of every sin in our stead. The man-child witnesses the force of unjustified evil, and he recoils at his own incalculable sins. Man at last sees how he has willfully, severely and ruthlessly battered the heart of Jesus. Now, as Christ shivers in the dark, the most Precious Blood pulsates through every pore of his body, seeping onto flowers, grass, and rocks in Gethsemane. Those with any wisdom, any humility, bathe in Christ’s blood.   They are made whole.

Ah, how the child now sees Christ’s Heart as the primordial source of
Jesus’ most awful pain. All else will be nothing compared to Our Lord’s
emotional and spiritual pain. Jesus endures His remaining Passion with a heart so broken, that it bleeds through his very skin. Jesus, the new
Adam, goes forth from this garden of redemption disconsolate but yearning to embrace the wood of the Cross. In that unfathomable agony of heart, Jesus endures the beatings, the mockery, the stabbings, the scourging, and the surrender of His life blood.  As if that were not enough, He must endure all of it under the tormented gaze of His beloved Mother, the new Eve. The greatest pain for Jesus always pierces Him when He sees us unwilling to return His simple love. Mary knows. Our Mother knows that each excruciating blow, so freely endured by her Son for us, cannot ever measure up to this original agony of His broken Heart. Lent focuses us on the woe of this beautiful loving Heart, smashed and pommeled by us.  Still, Jesus never ceases to love.

In the example of her Son, Mary offers love not retribution. This *Stabat
Mater* offers her hand to us, and guides us from Gethsemane to Paradise. Mary leads us forward, the guiding Star of every stormy Sea. In her, with her, through her very body, we will come to Easter if we but open to that magnificent Heart of her Son. Lent breaks us too, if we are willing.  Then we begin to understand that the constancy of unconditional love is found in the broken Heart of Jesus Christ — He who is unchanging love, limitless mercy, and unreserved fidelity. His is a love and a relationship rooted in paradox and mystery, but formed in everlasting love.  Lent takes us home.

A Lenten Reflection: Be a Prophet for Our Times

Psalm 36
The malice of sinners and God?s goodness

No follower of mine wanders in the dark; he shall have the light of life (John 8:12).

Sin speaks to the sinner *
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God *
before his eyes.

He so flatters himself in his mind *
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit. *
All wisdom is gone.

He plots the defeat of goodness *
as he lies on his bed.
He has set his foot on evil ways, *
he clings to what is evil.

[I can’t help but think of how relevant this is to our times. As Scott Hahn once said, the problem today when sharing with others the saving grace of our Lord, is that many no longer believe they have any need to be saved. More frightening is that our people have freely elected leaders that Psalm 36 describes – some more than once.]

Your love, Lord, reaches to heaven; *
your truth to the skies.
Your justice is like God?s mountain, *
your judgments like the deep.

To both man and beast you give protection. *
O Lord, how precious is your love.
My God, the sons of men *
find refuge in the shelter of your wings.

They feast on the riches of your house; *
they drink from the stream of your delight.
In you is the source of life *
and in your light we see light.

Keep on loving those who know you, *
doing justice for upright hearts.
Let the foot of the proud not crush me *
nor the hand of the wicked cast me out.
See how the evil-doers fall! *
Flung down, they shall never arise.

[But I am leery of identifying too easily with the Psalm writer. I, too, can rationalize or minimize the sins of which I’m most fond. If we Dominicans are to effectively preach to others, we must always examine ourselves and continually repent, lest we become hippocrits. Psalm 51 tells us that we must be restored to salvation and THEN teach transgressors God’s ways.]

Psalms 51: 3 – 4, 12 – 13
3        For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4        Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.
12       Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13         Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.

[It is my personal belief that in our times, most leaders of democratic nations,  in order to gain and retain power, follow the masses, rather than lead the people. Their opinions are formed by polls rather than principle.

It follows then, that if we are to change national policy on life issues; if we are to build a just society that respects the dignity of all; if we wish to foster an economy that serves the poor, rather than incites greed; then we must become prophets of our time, just as Jonah did for Nin’even. Note that Jonah preached to the people first. Only then did the King repent of his ways.]

Jonah 3:

4         Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he cried, “Yet forty days, and Nin’eveh shall be overthrown!”
5         And the people of Nin’eveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
6         Then tidings reached the king of Nin’eveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

From St Ephrem: “When the Lord commanded us to be vigilant, he meant vigilance in both parts of man: in the body, against the tendency to sleep; in the soul, against lethargy and timidity. As Scripture says: Wake up, you just, and I have risen, and am still with you; and again, Do not lose heart.”

What are your prayerful thoughts?

Pax

Steve Graves, O.P.
Director of Formation

A Lenten Reflection on Hell

Eleven years ago, while in discernment for my vocation, a Dominican tertiary told me that the best reason for becoming Dominican was for the salvation of my own soul.

I was reminded in today’s reading how infrequently we hear homilies about the consequences of NOT accepting Christ and his love for us. In fact, I don’t recall hearing a sermon on hell even when hell is the subject of the Gospel reading. And hell is often the subject of the Gospel.

Hell is mentioned by name 13 times in scripture. Twelve of those citations are translated from the word Gehenna, meaning “the abode of the damned”. Jesus himself uses the word in eleven of the twelve instances.

Yes, Jesus died for many and he loves all who ever lived and will live – saints and sinners alike. But Christ died not for humanity but for individuals.

Jesus loves you so much that he would have freely gone to the cross for you even if you were the only sinner that ever lived from the beginning of time.

But true love is not imposed. It must be freely offered and freely accepted. There is no in-between. You either accept love or reject it. To ignore proffered love is the same as spurning it. This truth is so universal that unrequited love is the subject of most of the pop songs ever written and almost all country and western music.

Since God is love, to reject God’s love is to rebuff God – and to be separated from him. If we die in this freely chosen state of separation, we condemn ourselves to hell. Even during corporal life, to live without God is to create hell on earth. If you don’t believe it, read a newspaper.

Don’t take my word for it. Read what Jesus and the Bible has to say about hell – and about salvation.

____________________________

Today’s Gospel Reading

Mathew 25:
When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”. . . Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”. . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:31-46)

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, “You fool!” shall be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:21-22)

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. (Matt. 7:13-14; see also Luke 13:23-24)

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Suffering: I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matt. 8:11-12)

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28; see also Luke 12:5)

The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matt. 13:42)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:15)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matt. 23:29-33)

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:43-48; see also Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9)

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him. (John 3:36)

The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6).

. . . God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell . . .” (2 Pet. 2:4).

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. (Phil. 3:18-19)

For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (Rom. 2:6-8)

Those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus] shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess. 1:8-9)

And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. (Rev. 14:11-12; see also 19:1-3)

_________________________________________

The catechism confirms that the ancient teaching of the Church on the afterlife has not been abandoned.

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion . . . Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where men will weep and gnash their teeth. (CCC 1036)

_____________________________

To avoid hell, we must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. The scriptures tell us what we must do to be saved:

We must persevere:

Mathew 10:22 You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

Romans 11:16-23 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the [a]rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, ?Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.? 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God?s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

We must hope for salvation:

Romans 8:24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?

We must Love:

Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We must repent:

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective [a]prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

We must believe:

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We must be baptized:

Mark 16: 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

And we must trust in God. We must trust and acknowledge that it is grace given that saves us, that empowers our faith and gives us the strength to persevere. Salvation is given, not earned.

It is not theology that saves us but a person – our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each of us has our own love story. Let us go forth and share it.

Lenten Reflection on Forgiveness

 Mathew 6, 7-15

7 “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8               Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  10     Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11                Give us this day our daily bread; 12  And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; 13 And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. 14                For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

In our reflection yesterday, we noted several actions specified in scripture that are requirements for salvation.  It would be easy to deduce others. But that could lead to pharisaic parsing. In Luke 10, Jesus summarized the requirement for salvation in the Great Commandment:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

Jesus then went on to present the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus’ public life was a continuous practical demonstration and explanation of what it means to love.  One theme he repeated man times in different ways is the requirement to forgive those who sin against us, if we wish to be forgiven. ( See Mt: 6:14, today’s Gospel)

In Luke 6:37, Jesus tells again that we will be given what we give, also cautioning us not to judge others.

37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;38 give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

In Marc 11, Jesus repeats the admonition:

25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

In Mt7 Jesus warns us not that we should not even judge the morality of the actions of others.

1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns us against imputing sinful motivations to our brothers and sisters:

“To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.” (C.C.C. # 2478)

But wait! In Mathew 5,  Jesus not only wants us to forgive those who have offended us but he also wants us to be proactive and reconcile with those we may have  offended or are angry with us. Jesus goes so far as to tell us not to bother going to Church (temple) until we are reconciled:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother[b] shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults[c] his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell[d] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

But what if our brother or sister continually offends us? In Mt 18, Jesus provides additional instructions for reconciling and correcting our brothers and sisters. Immediately after,  “Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

In the Hebrew Bible, the law stipulated we were to forgive only three times. Peter’s question shows that he is learning about love and mercy from our Lord. The number 7 being the perfect number, Peter assumes that would be the perfect number of times to forgive. But our Lord goes even further: 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

What are your thoughts on forgiveness?

Advent Reflection on the Names of God

TELL ME YOUR NAME: Finding God In Our Lives

 2013 Advent Reflections on the Names of God

 Preface:

Jacob then asked him, “Please tell me your name.” [God] answered, “Why do you ask for my name?” With that, [God] blessed him. (Genesis 32:28-31)

Catholic theological tradition refers to God not as ‘a being’ but rather as ‘being itself.’ St. Thomas Aquinas writes that God is not in any genus, and so it follows that he cannot be defined. God is a mystery, existing outside of human descriptions, transcending the constrictions of human language; and beyond the comprehension of human thought.

Even so, since the time of Creation, humanity has struggled to name God—to identify that which is responsible for our world and our lives. The bible presents a plurality of names for God, none of which define God fully. Instead they offer a series of lenses through which we can better understand God’s interaction in our lives.

The ‘names’ in this resource offer us images of God which we can turn to in times of joy and need. Just as a parent can offer compassion, discipline, and delight in their child’s lives so can God in ours. They are ways in which God interacts with humanity, offering each of us companionship on our life journeys wherever they may take us.

 

Introduction:

The name we are given at birth is unique to us regardless of how many other children share it. As we grow, we may receive additional names which further describe and identify us. Some, like Jr., are assigned at birth; others are based on our physicality, behavior, intelligence, vocations, and interests. Some are fleeting, while others remain with us through adulthood. Positive or negative, the (nick)names we acquire help us and others understand who we are.

Humanity has been assigning God names since the time of creation. These names reflect varying experiences of God in our lives: Creator, All-seeing, Eternal, Master, etc. They provided reassurance and comfort to the Hebrew people as they tried to articulate their understanding of the world and a God who promised to be with them. These names are not all-inclusive, nor do they fully define God. They are humanity’s attempt to describe their relationship with God, and more importantly, God’s relationship with them.

This book contains reflections on seventeen “names” of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures with an additional seven Messianic prophecies from the book of Isaiah. Each name/prophecy offers a glimpse at God’s face “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). While the reflections are assigned a number for purposes of continuity, they can be read in any order depending on how you are most longing for God in your life.

We encourage you to take time each day to reflect on how these ‘names’ of God resonate with your image of God in your life: when you awaken, thankful to God that you are alive to greet the morning; during the day when you want a moment of solitude; or at night when you give thanks for God’s grace which was bestowed on you during the day. As you read through the ‘names’, perhaps you will find one or two which cause you to pause and reflect more deeply on how and where you experience God in your life.

May your family have a sacred and peaceful Advent and a joy-filled Christmas.

 

TELL ME YOUR NAME!

1 – Creator God (Elohim)

In a society which focuses on success and wealth, it can be hard to fathom creation as freely given. Yet in creating man and woman, God didn’t file for trademarks or patents, seek licensing fees, nor attach rights and regulations. God created humanity out of infinite love and asked for nothing but love in return.

We, and everyone we encounter, are the product of that love, born of parents but created in God’s image. When you look into a mirror, you are seeing God’s image. You are also seeing God’s image in the homeless man on the exit ramp, the welfare mother using food stamps, or the teenage gang member on the corner. These individuals were created in God’s image—a God who continues to love and care for creation. Shouldn’t we try to do so as well?

 2 – God Most High (El Elyon)

With creation completed, God stuck around. Even after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, God didn’t desert humanity. To this day, God continues to be engaged in the world which he created, even if at times this may not appear to be true.

Like a parent, El Eyon is watching over us, allowing us the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. God is standing by us to celebrate and comfort, continually offering us unconditional love and unending grace in our successes and failures. God has never given up on or abandoned us; can we say the same about us not abandoning God?

 3 – God Who Sees (El Roi)

God sees the entirety of who we are and still loves us. Take a moment to reread that first line. God knows our darkest secrets, our deepest fears, our innermost thoughts and desires and yet continues shower us with unconditional love and grace. God see us in our hurt, our pain, and our failures and loves us all the more. While this can be intimidating, it is also incredibly freeing to know that we won’t and can’t be rejected by El Roi who knows us best. Yet if God sees us as we are and loves us then why can’t we do the same?

 4 – Eternal God (El Olam)

God was present before creation and will be here after it passes away. Humanity as it exists today is simply a link in the chain of events stretching back through history and forward through eternity. Through it all, God has been, and will be, present in the world.

There is a comfort to knowing God is eternal, a constant presence throughout past, present, and future generations. El Olam, who has witnessed and overcome all adversity in the past, is in our lives to comfort us and assure us that we too will overcome our current struggles, fears, and stresses. The question is not if God is present but rather will we allow ourselves to recognize and take comfort in El Olam in our lives?

5 – Covenantal God (El Berith)

Covenants are different than contracts because while contracts can be voided by either party, covenants cannot be voided without joint consent.

God made a covenant with Abraham, promising to love and care for his family and his descendants. So while past generations have ignored or defiled the covenant, God has remained El Berith, bound by his promise to Abraham.

As the rightful heirs of Abraham’s covenant, we have the choice to affirm or ignore God’s promise to be with us. Regardless of our choice, God remains El Berith, committed to loving us unconditionally throughout all time. It is our choice: what will you choose?

6 – Sustaining One (El Shaddai)

What gives you sustenance? Physically, you are sustained by food and drink; mentally, you are hopefully sustained by meaningful purpose and goals; but what about spiritually?

El Shaddai is the image of God whom you can turn to when you need nurturing and nourishment—the God who will always be there, offering comfort when you are sad, courage when you are scared, and strength when you are exhausted. Just as food and water are required for our physical existence, El Shaddai is a necessary part of our spiritual well-being. And while we all know that denying ourselves food and water would be foolish and self-destructive, how many people no longer worry about sustaining their faith?

7 – Lord, Master (Adonai)

Who or what is your master? In a culture which praises self-sufficiency, the idea of us having a master seems ludicrous and uncomfortable. Yet each of us probably has several masters in our lives—-people (employers, teachers, parents) and things (money, pleasure, power) that direct our lives, inform our decisions, and limit our choices.

Abraham first understood God as Adonai. When asked to move his family to a new “promised” land, Abraham could have refused. Instead he accepted and trusted God as Master and moved his family to an unknown distant land. Moses recognized God as master and returned to a country where he was an outcast; and Jesus trusted God enough to suffer death on a cross.

If we truly view God as Adonai, we must submit our life to God’s will. How many Christians call God ‘Lord’ yet are unwilling to be inconvenienced by having an actual relationship with Adonai?

8 – Self-existent One (YHWH)

YHWH delineates the Hebrew Scriptures into before and after. When God told Moses Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh—I Am That I Am, it forever changed how God was understood by humanity. YHWH is a Tetragrammaton (4 letters) which is unpronounceable though Christians added letters and pronounced it Yahweh or Jehovah.

The challenge of YHWH is the challenge of this resource — how to understand something that defies understanding, something that can’t be easily identified, or called out to. It is not easy for us to accept “mystery”—to recognize that there are things beyond our grasp, beyond our explanations, beyond our ability to describe or articulate within the limits of our language. But that is exactly what YHWH calls us to do.

9 – Lord Who Provides (YHWH-yireh)

The solution to a problem which comes to us in the middle of the night; the eureka moment when clarity sets in; the moment when everything seems clear and obtainable. Our culture defines these ‘aha’ moments as flukes, coincidences, good timing, or karma. Yet God has a history of appearing in people’s dreams, explaining the unexplainable. Why is it so hard to believe that God may offer us the same grace. The Hebrews referred to this as YHWH-yireh—the God who provides.

It is hard to believe in things that cannot easily be explained. Yet God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would always be there for us. Perhaps, all we need to do is let go and open ourselves to YHWH-yireh.

10 – Lord Who Heals (YHWH-rapha)

At the time of the Council of Jerusalem, people viewed illness and deformity as signs of God’s displeasure; at the Council of Trent, leeches were state of the art medicine; and at the time of Vatican II, transplantation of organs was an emerging procedure. As science progressed, so did our understanding of God in our lives.

Many people feel that science and faith are opposing forces when in fact they share a lot of common ground. God’s presence is found as much in the healing hands of the physician as it is found in the compassionate hands of the priest. In understanding YHWH-rapha, we recognize one of the many ways that God interacts with humanity as it continues discovering new answers and, in doing so, revealing new, deeper questions.

11 – Lord, My Banner (YHWH-nessi)

The role of the standard bearer is to rally the troops, to raise the banner high on the battle field as a sign of encouragement to continue fighting towards victory. The soldiers knew that as long as they could see their banner, all was not lost.

In the battle between good and evil, YHWH-nessi is the standard bearer for good. He leads us into battle, protects us from the enemy, and assures us that our fight is not yet lost even when it looks like it is. God is with us, helping us, supporting us, and encouraging us to keep fighting. Who is the standard bearer in your life?

12 – Lord Who Sanctifies (YHWH-mekoddishkem)

Through sanctification we are made a holy people—we are transformed and we are sent forth to transform others. Through sanctification, we begin a domino effect in which God’s grace moves through our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our countries, and our world.

YHWH-mekoddishkem is a powerful facet of God’s existence. It is the name that looks beyond our trespasses, that showers us with God’s grace. Yet, while God’s grace is freely given, it requires that we accept it. Sanctification is not a magic show which happens with to us through smoke and mirrors; it is a relationship which we choose to have with YHWH. It is our choice.

13 – Lord Is Peace (YHWH-shalom)

Experts suggest that in times of stress, people take a 10 minute ‘vacation’ during which they move away from the tasks of the day and go for a brief walk, visualize themselves in an exotic locale, or play a game on their tablet.

YHWH-shalom is the peaceful presence of God in our lives, the one who is there for us to turn to in times of stress and anxiety, the one who offers us a brief respite, a warm embrace, an encouraging word. As you travel through the chaos of the holiday season, be sure to schedule a moment or two to spend in the presence of YHWH-shalom.

14 – Lord of Hosts (YHWH-sabaoth)

It is widely accepted that before addicts can begin their journey back to wholeness, they need to hit rock bottom, and when they do YHWH-sabaoth is there to greet them.

YHWH-sabaoth is there when we are at our lowest, when we have exhausted our options, when we are too tired to continuing running. YHWH-sabaoth is found in the complete release of ourselves to God’s mercy and compassion. It is where we find help to overcome our trials. It is surrendering our lives to God’s protection.

With YHWH-sabaoth’s help, even the smallest person can achieve mighty things.

15 – Lord My Shepherd (YHWH-raah)

Most people in the 21st century do not fully understand what a shepherd was. A shepherd is more than someone who babysits sheep. The sheep place their lives in the hands of their shepherd who protects, nourishes, and cares for them. He sleeps with them, guards them from predators, and makes sure they have grass to feed upon.

Jesus spoke of God as YHWH-raah in order to help people better understand God’s infinite love and grace. Jesus used the example of the shepherd to invite us to place our lives in the hands of YHWH-raah. Though unlike the sheep, it is our choice to trust in God’s care.

16 – Lord Our Righteousness (YHWH-tsidkenu)

YHWH-tsidkenu was first used by the Hebrews as they were exiled into Babylon. As they were being sent out of Israel, sent away from the Temple—the center of their faith and identity, separated from all that they were familiar with, the Hebrew people were confident that God remained with them. And it was YHWH-tsidkenu which eventually returned them to the Promised Land and rebuilt their temple.

God remains with us in our darkest hours offering hope and assurance that we will find God’s kingdom no matter how lost we may think we have become. God remains at our side, fighting our demons, soothing our wounds and leveling the path ahead. Yet, while God remains next to us, it is up to us to acknowledge his presence.

 The O Antiphons

While the exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known, there are 5th century references which suggest their presence at that time. The seven “O Antiphons” are ancient prayers based upon Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming Messiah. Each antiphon highlights both a Messianic title and a prophecy of the Lord’s arrival on ear

17 – O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2-3

The greatest commandment, “Love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself”, tells us that wise decisions are those which deepen our relationships with God, the world, or ourselves while unwise decisions demean them.

Wisdom seems simple—who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I will make bad decisions today.” Yet that is exactly what we do. We choose unwisely because the unknown seems more exciting than the known. In Advent it is easy to get trapped by holiday materialism and make unwise decisions which lead to post-holiday dread. The solution is right in front of us; we just have to open our eyes and hearts to God’s wisdom.

18 – O Lord (O Adonai)

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

The ability to make judgments based on particular situations can be a life-saving skill. In emergencies, it allows us to address and resolve issues quickly. It can protect us, remove us from danger, or help us to save others.

It is when we become judgmental that we risk demeaning and degrading others. Judgmental people tend to see themselves as God-like with the ability to decide who is and isn’t worthy. When we view another person as less worthy of God’s love than ourselves, we have started sliding on the slippery slope of judgmental-ism. Christ makes it clear that we should not judge others lest we miss the good that may be hidden inside them.

19 – O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse)

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” Isaiah 11:10

The Jesse tree is a listing of the generations before and after King David, from Adam to Jesus. It is the history of God’s salvific connectedness to humanity and the world. It is the story of our faith ancestors, those who came before us and passed on the faith through word and deed.

Though Jesse lived thousands of years ago, his actions, his belief, and his trust in God, continues to resonate within us as we continue to journey towards God’s kingdom. Our faith is not dead, it is not resting, it is alive and active through the actions and presence of Jesse’s descendants.

20 – O Key of David (O Clavis David)

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Isaiah 22:22

“If you want peace, work for justice.” In 1992, Los Angeles witnessed riots costing the community millions of dollars. The riots were fed by the resentment and anger the African American community felt as they were continually denied justice and equality by the courts and civil authority.

Institutional injustice causes frustration and anger, and often leads people to view violence as the only viable resolution. It exists because it is profitable and because treating a person as an object is cheaper and easier than recognizing their dignity. Jesus challenges us to fight against our materialism and stand up to institutional injustice wherever we find it so that everyone living on our planet can come to know true justice and peace.

21 – O Morning Star (O Oriens)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Isaiah 9:2

Evangelization is simply reflecting God’s light—the morning star—to those we meet. It can be active or passive, verbal or silent. It is living life so that others can witness Christ within us, the Christ we receive at baptism and nourish through Eucharist.

During the last two thousand years, there have been many great people who evangelized others through their peaceful nature and calming influence: Dominic, Francis, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius, Benedict, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and Mother Theresa to name just a handful. Granted, these were ordinary people with extraordinary callings, but they started out just like us — simple people trying to do God’s work in the communities where they lived; or as Mother Theresa believed, ministering to Jesus in disguise.

22 – O King Of Nations (O Rex Gentium)

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4

It is easy to feel helpless when you begin to address world peace. It is kind of like trying to stop global warming or nuclear proliferation. It just feels too big and too complicated for one person to make a difference.

If we want a peaceful world, we must first create peaceful communities in our home, our neighborhood, and our city. As we expand from one community to the next larger one, we will meet others who will encourage us and whom we can encourage. The peace movement grows exponentially and world peace is achieved.

Our first attempts at building a peaceful society must start at home—mending a broken relationship, re-connecting with estranged friends, or changing our attitudes about the annoying person who moved in down the street. These small acts of peace-making, lead to stronger relationships which in turn build peaceful communities. All we have to do is start.

23 O With Us Is God (O Emmanuel)

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

God is with us in our homes, our offices, and our communities. If we truly believe Emmanuel—God is with us!, then we must begin to treat others as though they are the embodiment of that presence.

24 – Lord Is Here (YHWH-shammah)

And we saved the best for last. Tonight we celebrate YHWH-shammah, a simple yet powerful God is here! God is with us in good times and bad, in our joys and our sorrows, in our defeats and our hopes. Throughout all of our lives, God is here!

 

Charity and Government

Congress is considering significant cuts in the food stamp
program.  Our bishops and many Catholic social service organizations,
including Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul are urging
Congress to leave the program intact.  Although I understand the
reasoning for the need for food stamps, my conservative political view
balks at the basic tenants of the program and my Christian world view
balks at designating the government as the primary provider for the
poor.

It is my impression that the food stamp program is
bureaucratic, expensive, devoid of human dignity and riddled with
fraud.  Having spent most of my professional life in the non-profit
world, I find it difficult to support this enormous program when those
federal dollars could be much more effectively by local hunger groups
who would deliver food in a caring, human environment.  Many of these
groups are secular, but many are faith based.

The monthly food card provides temporary nourishment
for the body.  Food received from a food bank also provides
nourishment and the human touch.  As an example, Meals on Wheels
provides that temporary nourishment along with human contact.  For
many seniors, the highlight of their day is the person who brings the
food.

And then there are the faith based organizations that
provide food, clothing and shelter, accompanied by the loving and
saving words of Jesus.  Catholic Charities in DC now has a program
called “A Cup of Joe” that provides breakfast in DC and it is served
by volunteers who can look the recipients in the eye and greet them as
a son or daughter of God.

What is lacking in these options is the individual who
reaches out and does the corporeal works of mercy in his or her
neighborhood or community. As a society, even Christians have become
so used to giving money to organizations, or depending on government
to provide for the poor that we are no longer directly involved in the
corporal works of mercy.

In the Psalms, there are numerous references to
“stretching out our hands” to God. Recently the daily Gospel reading
was from Luke 6:6-11.  In it Jesus cures a man by asking him to
“stretch out your hand”.  Saint Ambrose in his Commentary on Luke
writes: “Stretch out your hand often by doing favours for your
neighbor, by protecting from harm one who suffers under the weight of
calumny; stretch out your hand to the poor man who begs from you;
stretch out your hand to the Lord, asking for pardon for your sins.
This is how you stretch out your hand, and this is how you will be
cured.”

How often do I stretch out my hands?  If more people
stretched out there hands to the local poor, how much better would our
communities thrive? How will God look upon my activity, or lack of it,
with the poor on judgment day?

ms. Mary Ellen Barringer,O.P.
Novice
Immaculate Conception Chapter

 

The Spiritual Journey of the Nuclear Family

JUDEO-CHRISTIAN faith has always been thought of as a journey. The earliest biblical creeds sum up Israelite faith not in terms of a list of doctrines, not in ten commandments, but in the form of a journey. “I brought your father Abraham from the region beyond the River and led him through the entire land of Canaan . . . . Afterward I led you out of Egypt . . . . I brought you into the land of the Amorites” (Josh. 24:3, 6, 8). Exodus, exile, return form the leitmotif of Old Testament salvation history. And Yahweh is the Lord of all history. “Did I not bring the Israelites from the land of Egypt as I brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Aramenians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7). In and through the history of Israel, and not apart from it, the Lord was disclosed to the chosen people. By a faith-informed meditation on its national story, Israel came to understand who God is and what the destiny of Israel was meant to be.

Many classics of the spiritual life, from St. Augustine’s Confessions to Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, were conceived in the form of a journey. St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God, St. Teresa of Avila’s Way of Perfection, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and many other spiritual masterpieces are worked out along the lines of a journey. In fact, for medieval theology life here on earth was essentially in via — “on the way.” Vatican II, echoing the words of St. Augustine, says “the church, ‘like a pilgrim in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,’ announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes.”  The Christian family too, the “domestic church,” shares in its own ways in the great journey of faith, God’s people marching toward the kingdom of God. All Christian life is a participation in the great passover of the Son who came out from God, proclaimed the kingdom of God, suffered and died, and then was raised up by the Father.

happy-familyIn the following pages I would like to meditate on four themes from biblical tradition that illuminate the special spiritual journey of Christian marriage and family life. I will begin with the ideal suggested in the very first pages of Genesis, then move to the more prosaic Israelite reality of marriage as evidenced in Proverbs. Next, I will take the ecstatic dimensions of married love alluded to in the prophets and celebrated in the Song of Songs. Finally, I will point out how Christian marriage participates in the eschatological vision of Christian faith.

The first of these themes relates to the creation of the first couple recounted in Genesis, chapter 2. After the author has set out the delightful story of the formation of Eve from Adam’s side, and after Adam has recognized in her “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” the text concludes: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body’ (Gen. 2:23-24).

Several things about this passage are striking. First of all, there is the fact that the man is said to leave his father and mother, whereas in actual fact, just the reverse is what usually happened. That is, normally, the woman left her father’s household and joined that of her husband. The Old Testament world was very patriarchal, not to say male chauvinist. The woman passed from being part of the property, admittedly of a very special sort, of her father or guardian and became part of the possessions (almost) of her husband and his clan. But the text here says that the man leaves his parents, as presumably the woman does as well, and together they form a new “body.” In terms of the economic and social facts of ancient Israel, there is no question here of the new couple’s literally moving out of the patriarchal household and settling into an apartment in the Jerusalem suburbs. The leaving involved is metaphorical. Husband and wife do leave the dominant sphere of their parents and create their own new center of life.

MEANING OF THE IMAGE

This image speaks to the first stage in the spiritual journey of every new family, every marriage. Spouses must leave behind large aspects of their past lives. To some degree they have to get out from under mothers’ skirts; they must stand up on their own apart from fathers’ security. Young couples imagine this is easy. They think nothing more attractive than to get out from under the burden of parental authority. But it is not very long before they begin to realize that they have brought a great deal of their parents along with them. It is the classic story of “but my mother used to make Sunday breakfast this way” and “my father used to do jobs like this as a matter of course.” Naturally not all of this is bad. If every couple had to invent the wheel all over again, marriage would be a hopeless proposition. We learn from our parents and our family’s traditions and experience. We grow out of the nurture we have all received. Good families lead to good families, and shaky families do not readily produce strong new ones.

Still, it remains true that spouses have to make a serious journey when they get married. They have to go out of something comfortable in a thousand ways that they never really noticed and start building another world. This surrender demands a level of self-abnegation that challenges all couples in the first few years of marriage. When novices enter religious life, it is made very clear to them that they are leaving “the world” behind. They give up their possessions to a degree, they put on new clothes, they assume a wholly different discipline. Marriage too has its novitiate, its period of testing and surrender of worlds now past. As a Christian couple enters a new life together, as they take on a new Christian vocation, they are called to go out of other houses and into a new one. They are addressed as Abraham was: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your fathers house to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).

Another aspect of the Genesis account that evokes the spiritual journey of marriage is the writer’s saying that the man and woman “become one body.” The one body, the unity of marriage and of family love, is not something achieved in an instant. As the Genesis story is set up, Eve is indeed created for Adam, but the Bible does not just leave it at that. Adam and Eve are suited to each other in a large sense, but they do not constitute some sort of automatic, mechanical “fit.” A popular theory assumes that marital happiness depends on finding the right mate. It is as if one were going to a hardware store, looking for the right size fixture to go with what one already has. “We are right for each other.” Across the crowded ballroom of the world one catches sight of the perfect match for oneself, a person who just fits one’s personality. Or there is the tabloid write-up on the movie star’s marrying for the umpteenth time and remarking, “I think it’s the right one this time.” Surely there has to be a certain basic commonality for a realistic marriage; but in the final analysis, marriage and family unity is something the couple creates, not something it discovers. Spouses have to become one body. Of course, this growing together is something that should have started during courtship. There should be a great deal of oneness before the wedding. But unity does not just sit there. When it comes to interpersonal relations generally, and certainly when it comes to families with children, change is the rule, not the exception. Unity is something that has to be constantly nurtured. Becoming one is a lifelong task.

Finally, Adam and Eve become one body. This phrase touches on the fundamental antinomy of married life. Adam is still Adam, Eve is still Eve — they are even more fully themselves through this relationship — but at the same time they are also one. Many young people are afraid of marriage because they fear losing part of their autonomy, part even of their authentic selves. In many ways spouses do surrender things. Each takes a vow of obedience not altogether different from that of religious. There is a sense in which both consent to “obey” the other. Love, honor, and obey are reciprocal. Each agrees to be led by his or her spouse, to be open to the other’s needs and aspirations and to make them part of their common life project. Of course, no one can or should cease t be a unique self. No one should enter marriage abandoning that personal spiritual journey each person begins at birth and Christian baptism. Each spouse has a unique voice to contribute to the chorus of creation. Marriage simply means that each spouse undertakes to carry out that personal project, develop that unique melody, in concert with this special other. One’s own tastes, one’s own preferences, must be modulated to harmonize with those of one’s spouse. This adjusting at times means surrendering private preference to integrate family values into a greater whole. A husband tailors his career, his use of free-time, the way he spends the family purse in cooperation with, after discussion with, and sometimes in a difficult process of give-and-take with his wife. She too structures her own evolution, her own projects, her fulfillment of her own needs in relationship to, and in dialogue with, those of her husband. And both husband and wife constantly adjust their lives to cultivate the growing needs of their whole family. So being “one body” is not an easy task. It demands a level of generosity, of sympathetic insight, of sacrificial love that challenges the best of Christian spouses.

CHALLENGE FROM THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

Another part of Old Testament tradition that helps us work out some of the dynamics of Christian family spirituality is the Book of Proverbs. This book is a part of a biblical wisdom that grew out of people’s practical experience. A good deal of it touches on aspects of marriage and family life. There are many passages, for example, that talk about the importance of marriage fidelity, though not always in terms we would today find wholly adequate. Adultery is bad, not because it goes against God’s law or is a violation of the marriage covenant, but rather because it leads to trouble and more trouble. Besides, adultery is an offense against the other husband’s property. Still, according to Proverbs, a happy marriage is one of the greatest goods of life. “A worthy wife is the crown of her husband,” and we would add, “A worthy husband is the crown of his wife.” There are also many passages in Proverbs about the proper formation of children, and this too is a great part of the journey of the Christian family. The famous advice, “He who spares his rod hates his son,” comes from Proverbs (13:24).

But I would particularly like to reflect on the concluding chapter of Proverbs with its picture of the ideal wife (31:10-31). We generally get a rather one-sided picture of the role of women from a quick reading of the Old Testament. It seems that men do all the legislating, all the ruling, most of the prophesying. Of course, there are important figures like Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was actually far more significant historically than the present state of the Bible lets on. There is Deborah, the heroine of the Book of judges; there are powerful queen-mothers, fleeting glimpses of soothsayers and the like, brave Esther in the court of Ahasuerus, and the marvelous if rather bloody story about Judith who chopped off the head of evil Holofernes. So, given a suppressed tradition of female heroism in biblical history, pretty generally the Old Testament is a male dominated book. The fact that it was written exclusively by men (the Holy Spirit had to work with what the culture provided) is probably not incidental to this fact.

Proverbs_ideal_wifeBut when we look at this picture of the ideal wife in Proverbs, we see something else. Here is a woman who is no abject wallflower, no mere appendage of her husband. She feeds and clothes her household with great skill and industry; she negotiates real estate deals, plants vineyards, engages in trade and generally runs a fairly complicated outfit. Furthermore, she is no fool: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel” (31:26). So she is obviously a very competent person and charged with substantial family responsibilities. She is no harem slave nor does she merely derive her identity from her husband. Of course, in our view, she seems to work like a demon, while her husband is pictured “prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land” (31:23). Finally, she is presented, not as some sexy Ms. Israel, but as a religious person with dignity deriving from inner values and not from standard sexist conventions. “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (31:30).

The point is that, when we look at the Book of Proverbs as a whole, there is a certain tension in the way the wife-husband relationship is presented. On the one hand, the woman is said to be either a worthy crown of her husband or as “rot in his bones” (12:4). Frequently woman is presented as temptress: “The lips of an adulteress drip with honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil” (5:3). In any case, in these passages woman is presented as deriving meaning from her relationship with men. The ideal wife of Proverbs’ thirty-first chapter, however, though doubtless a blessing to her husband, is riot — simply his profitable servant and compliant flatterer. She has dignity because she is a creative person in her own right. And her ultimate meaning comes from her relationship with God, not from her service to a husband.

Now an important part of the spiritual journey of Christian families today is connected with the women’s movement. To the consternation of some men, women are more and more insisting on growing up. They are not content with being a “total woman” when that means being a sycophant and toady to an egocentric husband. Though it is not a wholly new phenomenon, women more often today are striving to discover their own collective and individual personhoods, aside from their relationships with men, whether husbands or fathers. Becoming one body, as Genesis recommends, today demands something different from a woman’s becoming submerged in the personality and career of her husband. This evolution in contemporary culture demands growth in women, requires them to assume responsibility for their lives, but it also calls for at least as great growth on the part of men. Of course, there are those passages in Paul and the Pastoral Letters where wives are urged to “be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). But it is also Paul who insists that “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Whatever may have been true in the patriarchal world of ancient Judaism, Paul insists: “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation. The old order has passed away; now all is new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). That change ought to include the end of wives considered as family chattel.

But if in Christ all has been made new in principle, the fact is we have not worked that all out in the realities of our daily lives yet. There is a work of redemption within the structure of the family unit that still needs to be accomplished. Christian wives must be able to affirm all that is positive in the women’s movement today, without having to fight an antiquated world view dolled up in Christian slogans about “God’s chain of command” and the like. Here in another form we have the theme already touched on earlier — the need for spouses to develop as individual persons and their need to do that growing in union with each other. This process of growing together, when women are more and more assuming their rightful places in the worlds of work, politics, church, and family life, is a call to mutual growth that earlier generations of Christian spouses did not have to face quite as starkly. How to give women and men their Christian liberty without jeopardizing the “one body” of family unity is a journey of faith too.

THE BIBLICAL NOTION OF MARRIED LOVE

The Song of Songs is surely one of the most astonishing parts of the Bible. Here is a whole book without a single mention of God, Moses, covenant, law, or any other typically biblical theme. In fact, to all intents and purposes, the whole thing is florid love poetry. Many scholars think the Song of Songs is a gathering of traditional marriage feast songs. When the rabbis of the early Christian era determined the canon of Jewish sacred scripture, the Song of Songs is said to have posed serious problems. Then, the story goes, Rabbi Akiba, after many days and nights of pious meditation, concluded that this love story was in fact a celebration of the love relationship between Yahweh and Israel. There can be little doubt that some such understanding is at the bottom of the Israelite will to include this text in the Bible. In fact, long before the composition of the Song of Songs in late biblical times, beginning with the prophet Hosea, it was considered especially apt to compare God’s love for Israel with that of a faithful spouse. Yahweh says to Israel: “I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos. 2:21-22).

The point is, if we want to know something about what God is, we should reflect on the nature and meaning of a good marriage. The more we come to really know, to experience in our bones, as it were, what human love really is, to that degree we can come to understand what God’s inner meaning is as the great lover of humanity. As the First Letter of John puts it: “Everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God . . . for God is love” (4:7-8). When Christian spouses, in fact when all members of a Christian family, grow in love, make love a tangible reality in their lives, they are growing in their knowledge of, their experience of, what God really is deep down within. The journey of love in family life is at the same time a journey of faith.

But it works both way Just as our knowledge of human love tells us something special about what God is, so our reflection on God’s love gives us some notion of what human married love ought to be. Spouses should have the same faithful, forgiving, constant, creative, intimate, selfless, patient, everlasting love for each other as the history of God’s dealings with Israel displays. God’s love in biblical tradition, culminating in the sending of his Son, is the supreme model and goal of all Christian family love.

There is another dimension to the biblical notion of married love and its religious implications here. The Song of Songs is a very sensual book. It begins, “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth” (1:1), and goes on from there. One of my favorite passages is: “Your navel is a round bowl that should never lack for mixed wine” (7:3). A contemporary novelist might have some difficulty beating that. What I mean is that the love which constitutes married love and which mirrors God for us is not just some sort of ethereal, spiritual love. It includes a very earthy, sensual, even erotic, sexual love. Human married love becomes fully human, flowers as an earthly reality, when it vibrates in every fiber of the spouses’ selves. One of the tasks of the journey of married love is to make Christian married love reverberate in the very fleshly life of marriage too. Ever since St. Augustine at least, there has been a tendency to look on sexual love with suspicion in Christian circles. St. Augustine connected original sin with concupiscence, which included the all-absorbing tendencies of human sexuality. He thought that if it had not been for original sin, sexual intercourse would have transpired with the same calm indifference with which a farmer sows seed in a field.

Still, there is no gainsaying the chaotic tendencies of human sexuality. Perhaps these tendencies as well as Canaanite fertility rites lie behind the sexual overtones of the story of the fall in the third chapter of Genesis — the business about nakedness and the serpent symbol. Paul, too, inveighs against pagan sexual excess and warns Christians against slipping into that world. Certainly there is no need for proof that sexuality in our contemporary world is often deliriously out of kilter. Integrating sexuality into a truly Christian life is not an automatic or easy task. Orchestrating sexuality into married love, making erotic love an authentic extension of the spiritual communion of the spouses, is a considerable achievement. It is not just suppressing animal instincts; it is a matter of humanizing them, training them to dance to the music of human love.

He that finds a wifeToday there is a whole, mostly wrong-headed technology of sexual love which labors under the illusion that good sex depends on good technique. Reality is otherwise. The quality of sexual love in marriage depends directly on the quality of the love relationship overall. Though I do not know how reliable they are, some statistics seem to show that religious couples tend to have markedly more satisfactory sexual relations than nonreligious ones. I would not claim this universal, but it does stand to reason. Mature, religious spouses see their marriage relationship as an aspect of, or an implementation of, their total vocation to married love. The better that love is, the more highly motivated, the more satisfactory sexual expression of that love is likely to be. Several years ago journalists had a field day when Pope John Paul II suggested that Jesus’ saying from the Sermon on the Mount, “Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts” (Matt. 6:28), applied to married couples as well. Big joke — the celibate pope is against erotic love even in marriage. The fact is that the pope was defending a good feminist position. Women (and men for that matter) should not be treated as sexual objects in any circumstances. Even in marriage, sexual love ought to be a celebration of the unity of the married couple. Sexual love ought to echo the inner meaning of God’s own self. Egotistical, self-centered, exploitative love will not do.

But here too there is a marriage journey. No one has it all together in an instant. Lower life, insects and the like, have their whole sexual identity at the moment of maturity, but human beings have to grow into sexual integration over a long period of time. In fact, this too is a journey never totally complete. Sexual experience sometimes radiates divine love in the texture of Christian marriage; at other times it seems much less. Here too marriages are always on the way to becoming all they should be.

SIGN OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD

Finally, Christian marriage has an eschatological dimension. It points toward the final reconciliation of all creation in the kingdom of God. In the Book Revelation, heaven is pictured as one grand wedding feast: “Let us rejoice and be glad, and give him glory! For this is the wedding day of the Lamb” (12:7). Jesus too defends his frequenting banquets by picturing himself as a bridegroom at whose feast all should celebrate: “How can wedding guests go in mourning so long as the groom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). Jesus in his parables speaks of the kingdom of God in terms of a wedding feast to which all are invited, at which all should be wearing their wedding garments, and the like. Marriage, a good marriage I hasten to add, is a fitting image of the kingdom of God. The joy, intimacy, and ecstasy of human hearts in marriage will be universal characteristics of the end-time. Authentic married love is for Christians a foretaste, a proleptic sign, of the eschaton.

It is, of course, frequently said that consecrated virginity is an eschatological sign too. Jesus himself says that in heaven people “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt 22:30). Those who have chosen celibacy as a life-style “for the sake of God’s reign” (Matt. 12:12) show forth in the world the absolute universality of God’s love. Celibates try to share their love with all as equally as possible. In this way they anticipate the community of paradise where each will be tied to all others without excluding any. But both celibacy and Christian marriage mirror differing aspects of the end-time. Celibacy shows the selflessness, universality, and fidelity of God’s love. Married love, on the other hand, celebrates the intimacy and intensity of the love that will bind the universe together when “Christ is everything in all” (Col. 3:11).

Here on earth we can only gradually realize all that we will be. But Christian families, each in its own unique way, are traveling along that journey to the kingdom of God, becoming ever more and more one, radiating the inner reality of God in human flesh, and anticipating here below the final state of all creation, “beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband” (Rev. 21:2).


The article above was written by Dr. Francis, W. Nichols, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Louis University.  It was published in the Spring 1984 issue of SPIRITUALITY TODAY, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 4-14.

The two blueprints of us

God, too, has within Himself blueprints of everything in the universe. As the architect has in his mind a plan of the house before the house is built, so God has in His Mind an archetypal idea of every flower, bird, tree, springtime, and melody. There never was a brush touched to canvas nor a chisel to marble without some great pre-existing idea. So, too, every atom and every rose is a realization and concretion of an idea existing in the Mind of God from all eternity.

All creatures below man correspond to the pattern God has in His Mind. A tree is truly a tree because it corresponds to God’s idea of a tree. A rose is a rose, because it is God’s idea of a rose wrapped up in chemicals and tints and life.

But it is not so with persons. God has to have two pictures of us: one is what we are, and the other is what we ought to be. He has the model, and He has the reality: the blueprint and the edifice, the score of the music and the way we play it. God has to have these two pictures because in each and every one of us there is some disproportion and want of conformity between the original plan and the way we have worked it out. The image is blurred; the print is faded. For one thing, our personality is not complete in time; we need a renewed body. Then, too, our sins diminish our personality; our evil acts daub the canvas the Master Hand designed. Like unhatched eggs, some of us refuse to be warmed by the Divine Love which is so necessary for incubation to a higher level.

We are in constant need of repairs; our free acts do not coincide with the law of our being; we fall short of all God wants us to be. St. Paul tells us that we were predestined, before the foundations of the world were laid, to become the sons of God. But some of us will not fulfill that hope.


Quotation from Fulton Sheen’s book, The World’s First Love