Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Make Up Your Mind Not To Worry How To Defend Yourselves, For I Will Give You Words.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of the Prophet Daniel (5:1-5, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28)

Nebuchadnezzar has died. Belshazzar is the king. The writer says that Nebuchadnezzar was the father of Belshazzar. On the other hand, some historians suggest that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. For historians, that is an important distinction; but for the revelation of God’s truth in Scripture, it is less so. God’s truth can be revealed to us both in history and in legend.

Belshazzar gave a great banquet to which he invited a thousand of his nobles and many other guests. This was a strange thing to so, since the armies of the Medes and Persians had surrounded the city (cf. Daniel 5:30) and were planning to attack. The city had thick walls, and there was a river around it; so perhaps the king believed he was safe.

Belshazzar and his guests imbibed large quantities of wine, with the usual consequences. Then the king did something foolish: He gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem (cf. Daniel 1:2). The old king had kept them safe, but the new king wanted to use them for his party: he, his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. And as they drank, they praised their idols of gold and silver, of bronze and iron, of wood and stone.

Suddenly, the fingers of a human hand appeared, and began to write on the plaster of the wall, opposite the lamp stand in the royal banquet hall. The king watched the hand as it wrote; his face turned pale, and he became so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs buckled under him.

So Daniel was brought before the king. The king message to him was this: “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father brought from Judah? I have heard that the spirit of the gods is within you, and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. I have also heard that you are capable of giving interpretations and solving difficult problems. If you can read this writing, and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in royal purple and wear a gold chain around your neck. I will make you the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

Then, Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts, and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless (he said to the messengers), I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means:

You have rebelled against the Lord of Heaven. You had the goblets from His temple brought to you, so that you, your nobles, your wives and your concubines might drink wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze and iron, of wood and stone. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. That is why he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, TEKEL, PERES.

MENE means number. God has numbered the days of your kingdom and will put it to an end.

TEKEL means weigh. You have been weighed on the scales of God and been found wanting.

PERES means divide. Your rule will soon come to an end, and the kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.


Responsorial Psalm
Daniel 3

R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.

“Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.”

“Stars of heaven, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.”

“Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.”

“All you winds, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.”

“Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.”

“Cold and chill, bless the Lord;
Praise and exalt him above all forever.”

R. Give glory and eternal praise to him.


Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (21:12-19):

In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples that the days were coming when the Temple of Jerusalem would be razed to the ground, and not a stone would be left standing on a stone. They wondered when this was going to happen, and what would be the signs. Jesus warned them that men would come and say, “I am the Messiah! The end time has come!” He concluded his teaching to the disciples with these words: “Remain loyal to me and you will gain eternal life.”

In today’s segment of Jesus’ lesson, he describes the troubles that the followers of Jesus will have in every age, and reassures them that God will assist and protect them:

“They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons.” The synagogues were not only places of worship; they were also courts of law. “This will lead you to give testimony to them.” Jesus advises them not to be concerned about what they will say, and how they are to defend themselves. “Make up your mind not to worry about how to defend yourselves. I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”

Then Jesus speaks of the reaction of the families of his disciples: “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.” In sum, Jesus says, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but not even one hair of your head will be destroyed.” He concludes today’s segment of his discourse to the disciples: “By perseverance, you will secure your lives.”

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These are end-times, liturgically. It is important to learn not just how to endure the endings of various things in our life, but to celebrate the ending! If we don't celebrate the end, the next beginning has no freshness. If the Gospel does not seem constantly new to us, perhaps it is because we have not died enough. Thomas Merton wrote, “Those for whom the Gospel is old, and old only, have killed it for everyone else. The life of the Gospel is its newness. Those who preach the Gospel as if it were not and could not be news, as if it never could be news again, are saying in their own way, and much more terribly than Nietzsche, that ‘God is dead’. They are declaring it officially; they are proclaiming it not just as a paradox of an eccentric, but as the doctrine of their church.”

Even if we have spent our whole life trying to make everything seem old, our own death, when it comes, will be a new experience! We only die once, and no one can do it for us. “Don’t worry in advance about what to answer,” Jesus said. When a world is ending or when your own world is ending, how could you know in advance what to say? Death is unthinkable. What is thought-over is second-hand. Death will be new.

Let’s see what the wise Francis Bacon (1561-1626) had to say about death. “Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.” Then he quotes a Latin author to the effect that the trappings of death are more frightening than death itself. “Groans, and convulsions, and a discolored face, and friends with weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible.” But death itself is natural. The sweetest canticle, he said, is the Nunc dimittis: the prayer of ancient Simeon when he held the infant Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:29-32) This is the Canticle which is recited (or preferably sung) at liturgical Night Prayer. It is full of peace and confidence; there’s not a black thought in it.

Lord, now yet your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled;

My own eyes have seen the salvation
Which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

A light to reveal you to the nations,
And the glory of your people, Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

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