Saturday, June 29, 2013

God is wonderful

God is wonderful. It is easy to become stuck focusing on errors in one place or details on another thing, and then to lose focus on the glory of God. The mysteries of the faith are not simply to be learned, but to be leaned so that one may return to them every day, every hour, every minute! (If at all possible!) If one considered anything that takes one's attention or is a source of contentment, one would do well to think of God who possesses its goodness more perfectly and wants to share it! Everyone enjoys hearing love stories, being in love. The greatest love story is that of God for his creatures. So great is the passion in involved that it is called The Passion! And it is not just another story. It is our story! My story. Your story. Everyone is somewhere in the plot. Either at the beginning where he loves you, but you take no notice of him; or already you have received all his gifts and retuned with all of your love; or perhaps there has been a break and you avoid any reminder of the divine love; and so on. How wonderful to know that God is the greatest lover and to respond! St. Teresa of Jesus (her religious name itself indicates that she is His possession) talks about how the holy soul "checkmates" God:

You have asked me to tell you about the first steps in prayer; although God did not lead me by them, my daughters I know no others, and even now I can hardly have acquired these elementary virtues. But you may be sure that anyone who cannot set out the pieces in a game of chess will never be able to play well, and, if he does not know how to give check, he will not be able to bring about a checkmate. Now you will reprove me for talking about games, as we do not play them in this house and are forbidden to do so. That will show you what kind of a mother God has given you -- she even knows about vanities like this! However, they say that the game is sometimes legitimate. How legitimate it will be for us to play it in this way, and, if we play it frequently, how quickly we shall give checkmate to this Divine King! He will not be able to move out of our check nor will He desire to do so.
It is the queen which gives the king most trouble in this game and all the other pieces support her. There is no queen who can beat this King as well as humility can; for humility brought Him down from Heaven into the Virgin's womb and with humility we can draw Him into our souls by a single hair.
(The Way of Perfection, ch. 16)

So then reading Psalms becomes reading odes of love, and the Gospels and the Eucharist become our only comforts while Christ is in the heavenly places before the Father, preparing a room for each of us. Teresa when advising on how to pray the Our Father says at the very least to remember who taught it. Think of Him and your prayers are that much more pleasing to God. How sweet then will be the company of saints and angels who are his friends. Yet we love the sinners too, perhaps even more than saints, for we know that Christ rejoices over that one lost sheep more than all 99! Friends are unite by what the love, so our love and the love of Christ must be the same, in object and (with divine help) in strength.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Loose thoughts about marriage

All the recent headlines have been mildly distressing. I'm thinking about the lady who stopped an late-term abortion ban and the Supreme Court's decision in favor of same-sex "marriage". I just saw World War Z today and the way the zombies multiply and spread brought to mind how rapidly false opinion about marriage and sexuality are spreading in the world today.

Where does one begin? One could just look at oneself. Where did I come from? Ultimately this question leads back to God, but even before that it leads to one's parents: a man and a woman. Yes, every single person alive in the world today came to be from the union of a man and a woman. Unfortunately, with the efforts throughout the world today to isolate personal union and the sexual union required for offspring, there are probably a number of individuals throughout the world who have parents that have never met. (That's kind of crazy.) More commonly, one finds children who have never known their parents. This is not bizarre, but it is tragic.

Every child is the result of a sexual union of a man and a woman. Two men cannot unite in such a way that a child will come about--there cannot be a sexual union. If marriage is somehow related to sexual union, then same-sex marriage is really a puzzle. Sex has nothing to do with it. What should it have to do with anything? Two persons of the same sex can certainly be friends, even the greatest of friends, but marriage has no place here. That doesn't make any sense.

Does sex need to enter the conversation? The phrase "same-sex" is thrown around all the time, but no one ever says what is so special about such friendships that they should be given the name marriage. It is sex, isn't it? If not, then why wouldn't a whole monastery declare that they are all married to each other? Perhaps they would say something like that in metaphor, but it would not be literal. Marriage is somehow related to the sexual. So is it through having (or wanting to have) a "sexual partner" that one is now eligible for marriage? Something doesn't make any sense.

Perhaps there are some homosexuals who hold that fornication is a sin and therefore want to be wed so as not to break this precept of natural law. That would be an interesting case, perhaps one that is not so far gone as others. But most of the homosexuals I know do not see fornication as a sin, and, consequently, even the idea of calling it "marriage" is really just a formality or a way to get government benefits.

Is sex required for civil marriages anyway? Consummation certain plays a role in the Church's law concerning marriage, but if it is no way involved, then what exactly is a civil marriage? [Goes and researches definition of marriage in law...] Well, as far as I can tell, there is just a list of a rights and responsibilities that go with it. In the one list I found, no mention was made of sex. Looking at adultery laws, it looks like only 23 states treat it as a crime, with penalties varying from a life sentence (Michigan) to a $10 fine (Maryland). Regardless, the trends seem to be in favor of a sexual license that extends beyond anything by the name of marriage.

It's children. It is often said in favor of same-sex marriages, "What about children two moms or two dads?" That is probably the best question to be asking. I want to defend natural marriage on the basis that it is ordered to the bringing forth and upbringing of children, so they must enter the conversation. My objection to same-sex marriage on this point: Homosexual acts are sinful. Those who publicly admit to engaging in such acts are likely to teach that they are morally acceptable. They are likely to teach this to their children. This is bad. There are plenty of other sins that parents teach their children, but this is one more. I'll have to think about this more. And pray.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pronunciation can be difficult

And the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the E'phraimites. And when any of the fugitives of E'phraim said, "Let me go over," the men of Gilead said to him, "Are you an E'phraimite?" When he said, "No," they said to him, "Then say Shibboleth," and he said, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it right; then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. And there fell at that time forty-two thousand of the E'phraimites. (Judges 12:5-6)

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Further division of the first 10 Psalms

After seeing St. Thomas' neat division of the Psalms, I wondered just how well his division really works in characterizing the Psalms in each section. So naturally I looked to his commentary on the first Psalm to see if he further divides the first chunk of 10, but alas there did not appear to be a further division. Somewhat disappointed, I moved on. Today I happened to open his commentary on the second Psalm and behold, I found the division. I should have paid more attention to the first line of the commentary on 1: "This Psalm is distinguished against the whole work, for it does not have a title but is (as it were) the title of the whole work." So Psalm 2 is where the division becomes effective.

  • State and process of the human kind in general (1)
  • Tribulations of man (2-10)
    • Invokes divine help against tribulations (2-7)
    • Gives thanks for being heard (8-9)
      • Thanks for all given to whole human race (8)
      • Thanks for what is given to him be destruction of his enemies
    • He shows the confidence received (10)

  • In tribulations, a man prays for 2 reasons
    • That he might be freed (2-6)
    • That his enemies might decrease (7)
  •  In praying that he might be freed
    • Implores help against those troubling him openly (2-4)
      • Recalls their machinations (2)
      • Implores help against those rising up now (3)
      • Trusting he is heard, he invites others to trust God (4)
    • Implores help against those trying to deceive him (5-6)
      • He prays against them (5)
      • He prays his fall might be fixed (6)
Rereading the Psalms with these things in mind, in looks as though this outline does indeed capture the shape of the Psalms. The difficulty is that so many other things are mentioned in the Psalms that it is hard to say what about it is distinctive enough to characterize its place within the larger division. For example, 7 is supposed to be about the punishment of the enemies. The first part asks to be saved from them, the next is about how he should be punished if he has done wrong, and then the rest is about that. Hm, I suppose that's plenty. Even the part where he says "if I have done wrong," this is showing that he does not want his enemies to suffer because he is malicious, but because he loves justice, willing to suffer the same if he deserves it. The division also makes some sense out of Psalm 8's place. Within the first 80 or so Psalms, only a few manage to go the whole way through without mentioning enemies of some sort. Psalm 8 just barely mentions them, "thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes, to still the enemy and the avenger."

One more interesting note. St. Thomas says in his commentary on 6 that each of the Penitential Psalms corresponds to one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Surely you have seven and seven, but it would take more reading to see how they relate (St. Thomas is not more specific).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Recap of Genesis through Numbers

The whole motion of the Pentateuch is toward the fitting worship of God. First God establishes the heavens and the earth and then man, who of all his creatures is most able to share in God's glory. Yet he falls, becomes "unclean" by eating from the tree which the Lord forbade. So the entire human family must leave the Paradise in which he walked with God. Nonetheless, immediately there is an attempt to return to God. Abel offers due sacrifice. In the time of Seth's son, God is praised by name. With Noah comes the first "cleansing", or even "baptism" as one of the apostles calls it. The whole human race is brought into a covenant with God. Noah even brought with him seven each of the clean birds for the sake of giving God due worship.

Then God takes Abraham, his chosen servant, and promises that all nations will be blessed through him. Melchizedek the priest of God Most High and king of Salem offers bread and wine to God in worship, looking forward to the elements which Christ will turn into himself, the most perfect sacrifice. And there is the sacrifice of Isaac, which is done in obedience to God's will. This looks to the future gift of God who gives his Son for our sins. It is also on Mount Moriah, the place where the Lord's temple will be established in the time of Solomon. Isaac begets Jacob, who is Israel. Israel becomes the father of 12 sons, the 12 tribes of Israel who will be God's chosen people, chosen to give him due worship.

In Exodus, God calls Moses and teaches him His Name and charges to free the people. He wants to free this people so that they might worship him and not the idols in Egypt. So in the first half of that book, the Lord and Pharaoh contend, but Pharaoh fails to allow the people to do all that is required to worship God. For God demands all the people, that they go a three day journey, and that they take all that they might need to worship. After the plagues, each one of which teaches the Egyptians more and more that the Lord is God, Israel is free to leave Egypt. But before the leave, God teaches them about Passover according to which they are to worship him. So they leave and then Moses gives a song of praise to God.

At Mount Sinai, Moses receives the law from God. At the head of this law are the 3 commandments about God: You are to worship no gods before him, You shall not use his name in vain, You shall keep holy the sabbath. Only after these does he give laws that pertain to the community, for the whole existence of this community is ordered to the worship of God. As Moses stays with God alone, he receives instructions for building the tabernacle, the place where God will dwell and be adored. When Moses comes down Sinai, he sees the people engaged in idolatry, the act most contrary to the purpose for which they were set apart. The idol is destroyed, Moses speak to God once more, and then work begins to construct the tabernacle of the Lord.

Then begins the Book of Leviticus, named after the Levites who are to be the priests among the Israelites.
  • Laws about Sacrifices (1-7)
  • Narrative (8-10)
    • Aaron and his sons are ordained (8)
    • They offer their first sacrifices (9)
    • Nadab and Abihu offer unholy fire and are consumed (10)
  • Laws about what is clean (11-15)
  • Reparation for sins (16)
  • Further laws, many pertaining to worship (17-27)
    • Sacrifices to be made at the tabernacle, no idolatry (17)
    • Laws against unnatural relations, and against sacrifice to Moloch (18)
    • "You shall be holy." Mostly a reiteration of the commandments. (19)
    • Punishments for laws in chapter 18 (20)
    • Purity of priests and sacrifices (21-22)
    • Feasts (23)
    • Providing for the tabernacle (24a)
  • Narrative: A blasphemer born of a Jew and an Egyptian is put to death (24b)
    • Laws pertaining to Jubilee (25)
    • Promises of the Lord to Israel (26)
    • Values of persons and things (27)
So the few times that this book goes from precepts to narrative, there is some kind of act against the Lord. Either they bring something foreign into the worship of the Lord, as Aaron's sons use the unholy fire, or they  take holy things (such as the Lord's Name) and use them for purpose other than worship, as in the case of the blasphemer.

Then begins the Book of Numbers, which details the 40 years spent in the desert. It begins with a census of the Israelites who left Egypt but ends with another census of those who will enter the promised land, and no one who was counted in the first census is counted in the second one (except Joshua and Caleb). All those who were afraid to inherit the promised land did not receive it. Something worth noting is that whenever the Lord becomes angry with Israel, he considers destroying all of Israel and making a nation out of Moses, but each time Moses prays that the Lord be merciful to this people. Moses does this even though later, in his anger with this people, he will end up acting in such a way that he will not be permitted to enter the promised land.

I haven't yet outlined the Book of Numbers, but will do so soon. I will also write about the trial at Meribah where Moses lost his earthly reward, where he failed to speak to the Rock as the Lord commanded.

"I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness." (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Eventually I will write about Christ and the Psalms.