Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Praise, You Servants Of The LORD, Praise The Name Of The LORD.

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22
The LORD cried loud for me to hear:
Come, you scourges of the city!
With that I saw six men coming from the direction
of the upper gate which faces the north,
each with a destroying weapon in his hand.
In their midst was a man dressed in linen,
with a writer’s case at his waist.
They entered and stood beside the bronze altar.
Then he called to the man dressed in linen
with the writer’s case at his waist, saying to him:
Pass through the city, through Jerusalem,
and mark a “Thau” on the foreheads
of those who moan and groan
over all the abominations that are practiced within it.
To the others I heard the LORD say:
Pass through the city after him and strike!
Do not look on them with pity nor show any mercy!
Old men, youths and maidens,
women and children–wipe them out!
But do not touch any marked with the “Thau”;
begin at my sanctuary.
So they began with the men, the elders,
who were in front of the temple.
Defile the temple, he said to them,
and fill the courts with the slain;
then go out and strike in the city.

Then the glory of the LORD
left the threshold of the temple
and rested upon the cherubim.
These lifted their wings,
and I saw them rise from the earth,
the wheels rising along with them.
They stood at the entrance
of the eastern gate of the LORD’s house,
and the glory of the God of Israel was up above them.
Then the cherubim lifted their wings,
and the wheels went along with them,
while up above them was the glory of the God of Israel.
The reading is in two parts:

1, Slaughter of idolaters (9:1ff); and 2, God’s glory leaves the Temple (10:1ff). It is another apocalyptic-style account using very symbolic language in which God’s punishment comes on all those who have sinned.

As Ezekiel listens there comes the thundering voice of God. He is calling on the “scourges of the city”, that is, those who are to inflict punishment on wrongdoers.

Immediately six men are seen coming from the gate on the north side of Jerusalem, each one armed with a deadly weapon, a war club or a battle-axe. In their midst is another man, dressed in white and with a scribe’s ink horn in his belt. Clearly the latter is the one who keeps a record of people’s doings. These are the six guardian angels of the city with the seventh dressed in linen. They correspond to the seven angels of the judgement in the Book of Revelation (8:2,6).

They stop in front of the bronze altar in the Temple. Now the glory of the Lord, traditionally understood as seated on the cherubim (in the Holy of Holies), moves towards the Temple threshold. God is leaving the Temple.

He gives instructions to the man in white. He is to put a mark on the foreheads of all those who deplore the idolatrous practices that are going on. These are the faithful remnant of God’s people. The mark was a taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which looks like an “x” (and so translated here as “cross”). The rest were to be mercilessly struck down. (The text does not indicate that anyone was, in fact, found worthy to be marked with a taw but it would indicate the remnant that was spared to return from exile.)

Ezekiel is pre-eminently the prophet of personal and individual retribution. The innocent inhabitants of Jerusalem are to be spared while those guilty of idolatry are punished. With other prophets, the whole community, the innocent along with the guilty, may be punished.

The punishment begins right at the entrance to the Temple where God’s people are and begins with the eldest and excludes none - old men, youths and maidens, women and children. The Temple is to become defiled with the corpses of people who are unclean. It does not matter because Yahweh is no longer there.

In the second part of the reading, Yahweh leaves his sanctuary. Riding as usual on the cherubim, he leaves the Temple by the east gate. The east gate was the main ceremonial entrance into the temple and was also known as “the gate of the Lord”. It overlooked the Kedron valley towards the Mount of Olives.

Now Yahweh has left Jerusalem and the Temple. In the final verse (not part of our reading) we are told that “the glory of the Lord rose from the city and took a stand on the mountain which is to the east of the city”.

For us Christians, God is never confined to one place. He is everywhere and we are urged to seek and find him in all things. We do not seek him in a temple. On the contrary, we are called to be his temple, the place where he is present. However, we can expel him from our hearts and bring ruin on ourselves just as the people of Jerusalem did.

The choice is ours.*
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Psalm 113
The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
Praise, you servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD
both now and forever.
The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
From the rising to the setting of the sun
is the name of the LORD to be praised. 
High above all nations is the LORD;
above the heavens is his glory.
The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
Who is like the LORD, our God,
who is enthroned on high,
and looks upon the heavens and the earth below?
The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies.
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Matthew 18-15-20
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault
between you and him alone.
If he listens to you,
you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
The discourse on the church is continued:

Today’s part of the discourse shifts from the harm that we can do to others to the harm that others can do to the community and how the community and its members should respond. Clearly we are speaking here of some serious wrong which hurts the mission of the Church community.

The wrongdoer is to be tackled on three levels and this reflects what has just gone before about bringing back the sheep which is lost. Reconciliation, not punishment, is the objective.

If the wrong directly affects one person, then that person or another should go along to the wrongdoer privately and try to help him/her change his/her ways. If this works, then that is the end of the matter. However, if the wrongdoer will not listen, then one or two others who are also aware of the wrongdoing should be brought along as corroboration. This is based on a passage from Deuteronomy: “A single witness cannot suffice to convict a man of a crime or offence of any kind; whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two witnesses or three is required to sustain the charge.” (Deuteronomy 19:15).

If the wrongdoer remains obstinate in the face of this evidence, then the whole community is to be brought in. And, if in the face of the whole community, there is still no sign of repentance, then the person is to be expelled and treated like “a pagan or a tax collector”, in other words, as a total outsider. The tax collectors were among the most despised people in the community. They were local people employed by Roman tax contractors to collect taxes for them. Because they worked for Rome and often demanded unreasonable payments (they had to make a profit!), they gained a bad reputation and were generally hated and considered traitors to their own people and their religion.

The word Matthew uses for ‘community’ here is ekklesia or, in Hebrew, qahal, which refers to the gathering of a Christian community (i.e., 'church'). As mentioned earlier, this is only one of two places (the other is Matthew 16:18) where this term is used in the gospels.

Jesus now goes further in saying that all such decisions by the community have God’s full endorsement: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven (i.e. by God)” and “if two of you on earth agree about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father” and “where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them”. This mandate seems to be given to the community as a whole and not just to specific individuals.

It would be worth our while going carefully through this text and see how it applies to our church situation today. To what extent do we feel responsible for the wrongdoings of our fellow-Christians? To what extent do we realise that our behaviour both as individuals and groups reflects on the overall witness that the Church is called to give as the Body of Christ? Do people clearly see the message of the Gospel from the way we live both individually and corporately?

While, on the one hand, we are told to be compassionate and non-judgmental, are we over-tolerant of what people in the community who believe that anything they do is just their own business? Every Christian community has a solemn responsibility to give witness to the vision of life that Jesus gave to us. There have then to be standards of behaviour which bind all. Moments of weakness can be and should be treated with compassion but deliberate and continued flouting of our central commitment to truth, love, justice and so on cannot be overlooked or allowed to undermine the central mission of the Christian community to be a sacrament of the Kingdom. It is not a question of image but of our integrity.

What has all this to do with the way we use the Sacrament of Reconciliation and what is the relationship of the sacrament to this passage? The passage is closely linked with what Jesus says about the problem of giving scandal, of being a stumbling block in people coming to Christ. At the same time, as tomorrow’s passage indicates the long-term aim above all is not punishment but reconciliation and healing of divisions.*

The Irish Jesuits
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St. Clare of Assisi

One of the more sugary movies made about Francis of Assisi pictures Clare as a golden-haired beauty floating through sun-drenched fields, a sort of one-woman counterpart to the new Franciscan Order.

The beginning of her religious life was indeed movie material. Having refused to marry at 15, she was moved by the dynamic preaching of Francis. He became her lifelong friend and spiritual guide.

At 18, she escaped one night from her father’s home, was met on the road by friars carrying torches, and in the poor little chapel called the Portiuncula received a rough woolen habit, exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it, and sacrificed the long tresses to Francis’ scissors. He placed her in a Benedictine convent which her father and uncles immediately stormed in rage. She clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair and remained adamant.

End of movie material. Sixteen days later her sister Agnes joined her. Others came. They lived a simple life of great poverty, austerity and complete seclusion from the world, according to a Rule which Francis gave them as a Second Order (Poor Clares). Francis obliged her under obedience at age 21 to accept the office of abbess, one she exercised until her death.

The nuns went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. (Later Clare, like Francis, persuaded her sisters to moderate this rigor: “Our bodies are not made of brass.”) The greatest emphasis, of course, was on gospel poverty. They possessed no property, even in common, subsisting on daily contributions. When even the pope tried to persuade her to mitigate this practice, she showed her characteristic firmness: “I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.”

Contemporary accounts glow with admiration of her life in the convent of San Damiano in Assisi. She served the sick, waited on table, washed the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. She suffered serious illness for the last 27 years of her life. Her influence was such that popes, cardinals and bishops often came to consult her—she never left the walls of San Damiano.

Francis always remained her great friend and inspiration. She was always obedient to his will and to the great ideal of gospel life which he was making real.

A well-known story concerns her prayer and trust. She had the Blessed Sacrament placed on the walls of the convent when it faced attack by invading Saracens. “Does it please you, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children I have nourished with your love? I beseech you, dear Lord, protect these whom I am now unable to protect.” To her sisters she said, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in Jesus.” The Saracens fled.


The 41 years of Clare’s religious life are poor movie material, but they are a scenario of sanctity: an indomitable resolve to lead the simple, literal gospel life as Francis taught her; courageous resistance to the ever-present pressure to dilute the ideal; a passion for poverty and humility; an ardent life of prayer; and a generous concern for her sisters.


1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

The scourge is often the image of divine retribution. Attila the Hun and Tamerlane were called 'scourges of God'. It is interesting that Our Lord submitted Himself to be scourged.

St Clare
When I was young, I could not relate to all these girls who took vows of chastity. I couldn't really understand why, from the earliest days of Christianity, girls were taking vows of chastity and throwing their lives away - sometimes to feed the lions! Despite this, I took one of these girls - Lucy - as my patron sake, but mainly because I liked the sound of the name, and perhaps also because she was a heroine in the Narnia stories (I must admit I had also called our cat Lucy!).

As time has passed and society has changed I have reached a better understanding of those girls. Sex is very obviously a commodity these days (it was not so obvious in my youth) and how much freedom do girls truly have in such an environment? I have also seen more of other cultures, where arranged marriages become forced marriages involving large sums of money and webs of obligation that trap young girls.

From the point of view of society, Sts Clare and Lucy were just willful girls, hysterical and unstable. No-one would even remember their stories, or those of so many like them, if it were not for the Church. They saw in Christ a way to freedom and that is one of the reasons the Church holds them up as an example. Only the Church treated, and still treats, these willful girls with respect. This is partly why I see the Church as a force for feminism, although I accept that not all women agree with me!