Friday, August 20, 2010

"Love God With All Your Heart, And Soul And Mind, And Your Neighbor As Yourself. This Is The Greatest Commandment.

Memorial of Saint Bernard,
abbot and doctor of the Church
Reading I
Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the LORD came upon me,
and led me out in the Spirit of the LORD
and set me in the center of the plain,
which was now filled with bones.
He made me walk among the bones
in every direction
so that I saw how many they were
on the surface of the plain.
How dry they were!
He asked me:
Son of man, can these bones come to life?
I answered, “Lord GOD, you alone know that.”
Then he said to me:
Prophesy over these bones, and say to them:
Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones:
See! I will bring spirit into you,
that you may come to life.
I will put sinews upon you,
make flesh grow over you,
cover you with skin, and put spirit in you
so that you may come to life
and know that I am the LORD.
I prophesied as I had been told,
and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise;
it was a rattling as the bones came together,
bone joining bone.
I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them,
and the skin cover them,
 but there was no spirit in them.
Then the LORD said to me:
Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man,
and say to the spirit:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
From the four winds come, O spirit,
and breathe into these slain
that they may come to life.
I prophesied as he told me,
and the spirit came into them;
they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.
Then he said to me: Son of man,
these bones are the whole house of Israel.
They have been saying,
“Our bones are dried up,
our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”
Therefore, prophesy and say to them:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves
and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
A kind of parable of the renewal of Israel whose theme is not unlike that of yesterday’s reading. The prophet gives no indication as to when it was written but it must be dated after 586 BC, the year following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. God’s people are in exile in distant Babylon. They see no brightness in their future.

In his vision, the prophet is set down by God in a valley full of bones. Such scenes must not have been unknown as the result of battles when the casualties were left behind by fleeing armies to die and rot. As we will see, these bones symbolise Israel’s apparently hopeless condition in exile. They are “quite dried up” to indicate they are long dead and beyond hope of resuscitation. But Ezekiel is now going to receive a message of hope for the future.

There are bones in every direction, as far as the eye can see. They symbolise the whole community of exiles. They are so dry, indicating they are long dead and far beyond any possibility of resuscitation.

Perhaps testing his faith, God asks Ezekiel if they can live again. “Only you know that,” the prophet replies. He is then told to prophesy to them - “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” Apart from addressing people, Ezekiel had also addressed inanimate things like mountains and forests and now it is lifeless bones. Through him, Yahweh tells the bones he will bring spirit into them so that they may become living again. The Hebrew word ruah here can mean spirit, breath or wind.

They will once more have tendons, flesh, skin and breath. A listing of four items indicates wholeness and completeness.

As Ezekiel spoke the prophecy, there was a great rattling sound as the bones reformed into whole skeletons and grew sinews and flesh covered by skin. The sound could refer either to the bones coming together or to the active presence of God over them.

But there was as yet no breath, no life. This recalls the two steps by which the man was created in Genesis. He was first formed from the dust of the earth and then received the breath of life. Ezekiel then, on the Lord’s instructions, calls the breath from the four winds to breathe on the dead with the command, “Let them live!” Then all rose to their feet and formed a mighty army.

The Jerusalem Bible comments:

God announces the messianic restoration of Israel after the sufferings of the Exile. But also, by the imagery chosen, he is already preparing minds for the idea of individual resurrection of the body, vaguely perceived in Job and explicitly stated in Daniel. (edited).

Clearly, the risen bones are the restored House of Israel. In exile in Babylon, they had lost all hope and were in the depths of despair. “Our bones are dried up, our hope has gone; we are as good as dead.” That was how they felt separated from their homeland.

Ezekiel is now to tell them that their graves will be opened and they will return to their homeland. The final part of the reading has switched from the image of a battlefield of dead bones to a cemetery of many graves.

As in yesterday’s reading, Yahweh promises to give them his spirit, a spirit of life. “You will live and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this.”

It is clear from the context that Yahweh is not speaking here of a resurrection from the dead but of the restoration of Israel as a nation.

As we read this dramatic passage, we can transpose its images to our Christian situation. God, through Jesus, is for us too a source of new life. But, through our infidelities, that life can become effectively dead in us. Spiritually, we become dry as dead bones.

Jesus said that he had come precisely to give us new life, life in greater abundance. He made this promise many times in the Gospel and proved it by the new life he gave to so many people by raising them from death, by healing them of incurable diseases or disabilities, by liberating them from the power of evil influences.

We have been given new life in baptism but we need to be constantly renewed in heart and spirit. May the Lord never cease to pour his Spirit into our hearts.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 107
Give thanks to the Lord; his love is everlasting.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say,
those whom he has redeemed from the hand of the foe
And gathered from the lands,
from the east and the west, from the north and the south.
Give thanks to the Lord; his love is everlasting.
They went astray in the desert wilderness;
the way to an inhabited city they did not find.
Hungry and thirsty,
their life was wasting away within them.
Give thanks to the Lord; his love is everlasting.
They cried to the LORD in their distress;
from their straits he rescued them.
And he led them by a direct way
to reach an inhabited city.
Give thanks to the Lord; his love is everlasting.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy
and his wondrous deeds to the children of men,
Because he satisfied the longing soul
and filled the hungry soul with good things.
Give thanks to the Lord; his love is everlasting.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard
that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law, tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets
depend on these two commandments.”
Matthew’s gospel is building up to its climax. The continued confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders is leading to the final showdown. It had been described symbolically in the parable we heard yesterday.

This parable is followed in Matthew by three encounters where Jesus’ opponents try to wrongfoot him by showing him to be in opposition to the Law. There is the famous scene where he is asked whether it is right to pay tribute to Caesar or not. The question is put in such a way that, no matter what answer he gives, he will say the wrong thing. This is followed by the Saduccees, who did not believe in the after life, bringing up what they thought was an insoluble problem for those who did believe in the resurrection of the dead.

In both cases, Jesus dealt expeditiously with his questioners and left them with no comeback.

Today we read of a third encounter. The Pharisees, who were very pleased that the Sadducees had been silenced by Jesus, now had their own challenge for him. “Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” they asked him. This was a much-discussed question among the experts. There were more than 600 laws and it was common to ask which ones were of greater importance than others.

Jesus responds very quickly, not by using his own words but quoting from the Books of the Law themselves. And his answer contains not one but two laws:
a. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul.
This is from Deuteronomy 6:5;
b. You must love your neighbour as yourself.
This is from Leviticus 19:18.

They both have the word ‘love’ in common. It is important to be aware that the word translated ‘love’ here is the verb agapeo from which we get agape (’agaph) and not the verb phileo. Agape can be described as an intense desire for the good or the well-being of the other. Philia, on the other hand, implies friendship and affection. We are not asked to have affection for each other, only to work for the good of the other, no matter what that person is like.

And, from the Gospel (e.g. Matthew 25) we know that not only are these two commandments similar, they are complementary and inseparable. In other words, it is not possible to love God and not love the neighbour and vice versa.

So Jesus is, strictly speaking, answering their question about the “greatest commandment” (singular). The greatest commandment is simultaneously to love God and neighbour. And, in Luke’s gospel, the identity of the “neighbour” will be clearly shown, although it is also in fact clearly indicated later in Matthew 25 (”I was hungry, thirsty… As often as you did it to the least…you did it to me”).

On these two commandments, says Jesus, “hang the whole Law and the Prophets also”, in other words, the whole of the Old Testament teaching. The Law was contained in the Pentateuch, the first five books of our Bible; the Prophets included both the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) but also the twelve minor prophets as well as the so-called ‘former’ prophets - Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Also included were the Writings, the Wisdom books.

And Jesus is saying that as long as one is truly loving God and the neighbour, the rest of the Law will take care of itself. And there may even be times when such love will transcend and override the requirements of some laws. No truly loving act can ever be sinful.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor

Bernard was born about 1090 at Fontaines, near Dijon, in France, the third son of Tescelin Sorrel, a Burgundian nobleman and was educated at Chatillon-sur-Seine. As a young man he became known for his charm, wit, learning, and eloquence. At the age of 22, with 31 companions including some of his brothers and others of noble birth, he became a monk at the reformed monastery of Citeaux, which was then in decline and materially very poor. The large influx of new recruits saved it from near-extinction but in time, under Bernard’s influence, the Cistercian Order was radically changed.

After being evaluated for a few years, Bernard was made abbot of a new foundation at Clairvaux (Valley of Light) in Burgundy, France. In conditions of extreme poverty, he was in the early years too severe on his community. When he realised this, he gave up preaching to his monks and improved the diet, which up to then had been just barley bread and boiled beech leaves.

Overall, he strengthened the status of the monastery with the help of the local bishop. Although he suffered from constant physical debility, Bernard governed a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new foundations. He personally was responsible for 65 of the 300 Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot. From Clairvaux would come new
foundations in France and elsewhere, including England (Rievaulx, North Yorkshire in 1132; Whitland, Dyfed in 1140; Boxley, Kent in 1146; Margam, West Glamorgan in 1147) and Ireland (Mellifont, Co. Louth in 1142). In spite of these new foundations, Clairvaux itself continued to grow in numbers until there were about 700 monks at the time of Bernard’s death.

From early on, Bernard, although a member of a strictly enclosed Order, became much involved in Church affairs and would soon emerge as one of the most charismatic and influential personalities in bringing about Church reform. At the Synod of Troyes he obtained recognition for the new Order of Templars, whose rule he had himself written. Its purpose was to establish a respectable and dedicated body of knights to fight in the Crusades. In addition, they were to devote themselves to the care of the sick and pilgrims to the Holy Land.

In 1130, after a disputed papal election, Bernard supported Innocent II against the anti-pope Anacletus. With support from St Norbert, founder of the Premonstratensian Order of monks, Bernard was able to get the whole Church to support Innocent. In return, the Cistercian Order, now with strong papal support, increased even more rapidly. Cistercian influence reached its peak when a former pupil of Bernard, Eugenius III, was elected pope in 1145. Both died within a few months of each other, eight years later, in 1153.

In spite of all this activity and responsibilities, Bernard still found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that are still read today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love.

Bernard thrived on conflict but it was provoked mainly by doctrinal ambivalence and laxity in monastic life. He criticised what he saw as the dangerous teachings of Peter Abelard, Gilbert de la Porree and Arnold of Brescia, among the best known scholars of the day. He also severely criticized, perhaps unfairly, the great monastery of Cluny and hence, indirectly, the Benedictines’ way of life. The Cistercians were a radical reform of the Benedictines who were seen to have become too rich and lax. He also intervened in the election of several bishops in Europe.

Inevitably, he made enemies as well as friends. Perhaps the greatest failure of his life was the Second Crusade, which he had vigorously supported. Many were won over by his identifying the cause of the Crusade with God’s will and large numbers rallied to his call. However, the Crusade ended in disaster and much of the blame was – perhaps not altogether fairly – laid at Bernard’s door.

Bernard’s character is best revealed in his writings. These include his Letters, his sermons on the Song of Songs, which were polished and re-polished, as well as various treatises on theological subjects.

His masterpiece, his Sermons on the Song of Songs, was begun in 1136 and was still in composition at the time of his death. Perhaps the most attractive, as well as one of the most simply written, is his treatise on the Love of God, which has become a spiritual classic. He was also prominent in fostering devotion to the human nature of Christ and to the Virgin Mary. His affective approach had a deep influence on the development of medieval spirituality and of later spiritual writing. For Pope Eugene he wrote Five Books on Consideration, which was the bedside reading of Pope John XXIII as well as many other popes down the centuries.

His influence on monasticism has also been deep and lasting. He encouraged monks to a life of mystical prayer in and through the observance of the monastic day. He developed the Cistercian Order into a movement of unprecedented expansion and reputation.

At his death the Cistercians numbered about 500 houses almost all over Europe. Despite his failings, his influence on many aspects of 12th-century Church life was enormous and his cult began unofficially already during his lifetime.

Bernard died at Clairvaux on 20 August 1153. He was canonised by Pope Alexander III on 18 January 1174. Pope Pius VII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

Bernard is remembered as one of the most commanding Church leaders in the first half of the 12th century, one of the greatest spiritual masters of all times and the most powerful influence of the Cistercian reform.*
+++    +++    +++    +++ 
The Irish Jesuits  

1 comment:

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Comment from Sarah in the Tent, edited:

'He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord,..'

The 'You' here sounds almost like a personal rebuke to the Pharisee asking the question. Is Our Lord warning him - individually and as a Pharisee - against loving the Law more than God or his neighbour? It's right to love the Law, but that love must flow from love of God and neighbour, otherwise the Law can become a kind of idol.