Friday, March 14, 2014

Have you said RAQA to another recently?
Today's (Fri. of 2nd week in Lent) Gospel (Matt. 5:20-26) reminds those who believe in the New Law that not only is it wrong to commit murder but it is not permitted to even be angry with another.  In so teaching, Jesus says: "But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother , RAQA, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoevere says, 'you fool' will be liable to firey Gehenna."
Please note the following:
Jesus started his discourse by saying that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  He then lauches into the Beatitudes as a fulfillment of the ten commandments, and shortly thereafter is the passage cited above.
A pattern appears which occurs time and again:  you have heard it said of old, or something similar, followed by: But I say to you! (i.e. the New Law)
As a whole it would appear that Jesus is trying to get his listeners to see that what God is looking for is far more than exterior or legalistic conformity to the Law.  Rather as is often said, He is radicalizing the Old Testament Law.  He is trying to get at interior dispositions   (note the reaction of the crowd when he finishes:"Jesus finished this discourse and left the crowds spellbound at his teaching.  The reason was  that he taught with authority....")(i.e. beyond mere human opinion)
In this particular passage Jesus uses a word/phrase which is not translated into the original Greek text but is simply transliterated as orignally spoken:  RAQA.  Many scholars have looked to Biblical Hebrew for the meaning of this word.  But, in everyday speech and especially in all likelyhood since he was addressing Gallileans, Jesus would have been speaking colloquial Aramaic rather than Hebrew, and in Aramaic it appears that this word means: I SPIT ON YOU, which obviously is a phrase of derision, and in fact even in Jesus' time , if one actually spit, could get one taken before the Sanhedrin for judgement.
So, once again when we pierce its radical meaning, loving one's neighbor rules out derisive language to or about him.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Although the Sunday readings at Mass are generally on a three year cycle since the reforms of 1970 went into effect, nevertheless, on the 1st Sun. of Lent the Gospel is always St. Matthew’s account of the temptations of Jesus (Mt 4:1-11)
Biblical Scholars tell us that St. Matthew’s Gospel in general presents Jesus to us as the new Moses/Israel, giving us a new law and where the old Israel failed historically in its relations with God, Jesus, as the new Israel (people of God) reverses those failures.
So, e.g. as the Old Law begins with the Genesis accounts of creation, etc. St. Matthew begins his Gospel with the birth of Christ (not dealt with in St. Mark or St. John’s Gospels) and before He begins His public ministry he goes out into the desert as did the original Israelites, and not surprisingly the number 40 is used to describe the period of preparatory testing.
The crux is that three temptations are described and in the history of salvation these were the principal failures of God’s people in the Old Testament, i.e. they came into the Holy Land from the desert unacquainted with farming and had to learn from the people of the land (Canaanites) how to provide themselves with food to satisfy their hunger.  Unfortunately the Canaanites at that time thought that in addition to preparing the ground and planting the seed, it was then necessary to worship the fertility gods (principally Baal) in order to obtain a successful harvest.  We find repeatedly in the Old Testament that Israelites were found to be worshiping fertility gods in order to have success in filling their stomachs.  I think it important to note that it wasn’t so much that they denied the LORD as they thought they could worship both.  Note the commandment: there is only ONE God.  The error was in thinking they could have it both ways.  After 40 days, Jesus too was hungry, but He passed this test which they had so often failed. Of course we don’t have this problem, do we?  We never place material security before God in our everyday priorities.  We never try to have it both ways when it comes to priorities between God and material things – we who have to maneuver our lives through perhaps the most materialistically preoccupied culture ever.  Are we sure we also don’t have a problem here?
The early settlements of God’s people in the promised land saw them waiting for God’s Spirit to lead them in times of crises (e.g. Bk. of Judges).  Eventually, however, the people came to the prophet Samuel and demanded that he anoint for them a king – SO THAT THEY COULD BE LIKE THE OTHER NATIONS!  The prophet Samuel tried to warn them that they were heading in the wrong direction in demanding a human king rather than looking to God as their King. The history that followed is full of episodes of the kings being too much like those of the other nations and leading the people astray.  As the old adage goes: power corrupts.  Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth; Jesus passed this test as well.  Of course, this doesn’t apply to us either, does it?  Jesus our king comes to us as an exemplar of humility, so I guess we don’t have to worry about pride, reputation, a lust for power in its many forms – do we?  In our everyday lives do we swim with the current of the values around us? – just like the others?  Or do we let the Gospel be our guide?

Finally the third temptation of Jesus was Satan having Him on the parapet of the Temple and challenging Him to jump off, because as Psalm 90 would have it, the angels would protect Him.  Here lies the sin of presumption.  The Old Testament history of Israel was a series of presumptions.  They were so sure that they had the most powerful God looking after them, that time and again they turned a deaf ear to the prophets and failed to repent!  They knew that God loved them.  They presumed they would be forgiven their unrepented faults.  (E.g. they were shocked when Jerusalem was conquered).  Jesus did not take the bait.  Of course, we don’t have a problem here, do we?   We don’t have any unrepented faults.   We’re going to heaven because God loves us no matter what kind of persons  we are.  That seems to be the general understanding in our contemporary culture. Are we sure it isn’t presumption?
            50 yrs. After SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM
Fifty years ago (12/4/1963)  the fathers of Vatican Council II issued the first of its official pronouncements intended to bring the Church face to face with the contemporary world.  Blessed Pope John XXIII who called the Council called it aggiornamento, often translated into English as bringing up to date.  That first document called from its opening Latin words Sacrosanctum Concilium  is perhaps better known as the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  It has since been identified by many commentators of the Council as the first issue addressed by the fathers because it was considered the least controversial on the one hand, while on the other there had been more than fifty years of theological groundwork previously prepared as the foundation for the basic teachings of that Constitution, starting with Dom Lambert Beauduin ‘s address to the National Congress of Catholic Action at Malines, Belgium in 1909 and embraced by such as Odo Casel, Pius Parsch, Romano Guardini and many more too numerous to mention all of whom contributed to what become known as the Liturgical Movement and which led to the 1947 Encyclical of Pope Pius XII Mediator Dei which was the first Papal Encyclical dedicated to the issue of Liturgy.  Bear in mind that before Vatican II  Pius XII had already started some ritual reforms with the 1955 changes he made for Holy Week.
Up until Vatican II, the Church had been using a liturgy largely formulated by the Council of Trent of the Sixteenth Century, and finally fixed in the Western Rites church in the Seventeenth Century, i.e. an era when the Latin language was more widely familiar than in the Twentieth Century as well as before the outbreak of modern science and the philosophic enlightenment and the changed mentalities they generated.  The liturgy, which lives and breathes by means of meaningful symbols, by Vatican II was generally recognized to be in need of reform.  As stated at the time by Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez of Santiago, Chile during the Council’s discussions: “The Sacramental signs are not to conceal the mysteries of faith but to reveal them” Note: the objective was not to depart from Tradition, but to recognize that liturgy is an organic reality, able to be modified and grow without losing contact with the underlying mysteries it provides. 
The key ideas of Sacrosanctum Concilium which the faithful were asked to absorb and make their own  were that the Liturgy, in particular the Eucharist is the summit and source (fons et culmen) of the very life of the Church, i.e.of all truly Christian activity; that all priests (baptized ) offer worship together (i.e. each contributes) under the authority of the ordained priest (who acts in persona Christi);  and that the key to this  is “active participation” (actuoso participatio –urged as far back as Pope Pius X in his 1903 Motu Proprio).
The Constitution gave rise to many wonderful ritual reforms which were finally available to us in 1970,  e.g. we now pray together in a language we can readily understand (in all seven sacraments).  God’s inspired Word in the Biblical readings have now been increased threefold, presumably  giving us a much greater familiarity  and benefit from Sacred Scripture.  Greater opportunities are now available for participation in the fullness of the sacramental sign of the Eucharist in the sharing of not only the loaf that is broken but the cup that Jesus directed we drink of.  We have access to a meaningful variety of prefaces and canons.  Where there might be a plurality of ordained priests, e.g. religious communities or synods of the ordained,  the ancient rite of concelebration  has been restored. There is now opportunity for a prayer of the faithful, which presumably embraces the current  needs and desires of the particular assembly gathered.  These are but some of the organic changes the Constitution gave rise to.
For those who lived through the period of the ritual changes, there was the very real challenge of letting go of old habits and opening up to the Spirit of the times.  What is terribly important to grasp is that the ritual changes were not an end in themselves.  To borrow the words of Winston Churchill, the ritual changes were  not the end but the end of the beginning.  The fruits of Sacrosanctum Concilium have not yet been attained!  So, e.g. in the nineteen seventies when we first encountered the changes, we heard a lot from the pulpit about active participation, and while it may well continue to be debated exactly what that means, it remains critical if the liturgy is to be the summit and source of our lives as Christians.  Yet this reminder seems to have fallen into a prolonged period of silence, and many attendees continue to do so as passive mute witnesses to the Sacred Mysteries before them.  Article 48 of the Constitution, e.g. teaches that the faithful should take part “ per ritus et preces id (=eucharisticum mysterium) bene intelligentes”  which is generally understood to mean that participation in one’s mind only is inadequate.  Rather, all are called to conscious, prayerful and active participation in the liturgical action.  Joining together in the action is primary. The quest for liturgical meaning and spiritual growth among the faithful to a point where it is the font and source of the very life of the Church/people of God remains ongoing.   Sacrosanctum Concilium provides us with principles and reminds us of this goal and expectation – always still to be obtained.