Tuesday, April 12, 2011

LORD, Hear My Prayer, And Let My Cry Come To You.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Numbers 21:4-9
From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out
on the Red Sea road, to bypass the land of Edom.
But with their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt
to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

In punishment the LORD sent among the people
saraph serpents, which bit the people
so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining
against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people,
and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.”
Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent
and mounted it on a pole,
and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 102
R. O Lord, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come to you.
O LORD, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
in the day when I call, answer me speedily.
R. O Lord, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come to you.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
R. O Lord, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come to you.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
R. O Lord, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come to you.
+++    +++    +++    +++
John 8:21-30
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.”
So the Jews said,
“He is not going to kill himself, is he,
because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
He said to them, “You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins.”
So they said to him, “Who are you?”
Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning.
I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true,
and what I heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.
So Jesus said to them,
“When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
St. Teresa of Los Andes

One needn’t live a long life to leave a deep imprint. Teresa of Los Andes is proof of that.

As a young girl growing up in Santiago, Chile, in the early 1900s, she read an autobiography of a French-born saint — Therese, popularly known as the Little Flower. The experience deepened her desire to serve God and clarified the path she would follow. At age 19 she became a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa.

The convent offered the simple lifestyle Teresa desired and the joy of living in a community of women completely devoted to God. She focused her days on prayer and sacrifice. “I am God’s, ” she wrote in her diary. “He created me and is my beginning and my end. ”

Toward the end of her short life, Teresa began an apostolate of letter-writing, sharing her thoughts on the spiritual life with many people. At age 20 she contracted typhus and quickly took her final vows. She died a short time later, during Holy Week.

Teresa remains popular with the estimated 100,000 pilgrims who visit her shrine in Los Andes each year. She is Chile’s first saint.

Saint of the Day
American Catholic.org


Anonymous said...

Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining
against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people,
and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.”

And still, the practice of intercessory prayer remains a difficulty to so many people.

"oldest sister" said...

I was just going to say "Can you give some background or explanation of this first reading?" Then I see that anonymous has answered my question. But I still don't
like a vindictive God.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

"Oldest Sister", let me begin with your opening question.

When the children of Jacob (Israel) crossed the desert of Sinai, they found venemous serpents there. There are also venemous serpents in the Sahara, and in the Mojave. Snakes are natural denizens of the desert, on every continent of the Earth -- except Antarctica.

When the serpents started attacking the Israelites, the people realized that they had sinned in complaining against the LORD and against Moses, and asked him to pray that the LORD would take the serpents away. Moses prayed, and the LORD answered by granting what he -- and the people -- had prayed for.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not vindictive. The God who sent his only begotten Son into the world to offer himself as a holocaust for the sins of his human sisters and brothers is not vindictive. All we need to is pray with confidence that God will grant our prayers -- unless what we ask for would not be good for us, which any loving and caring parent would do.

The difficulty, as Anonymous said, is that it is difficult for us to practice "intercessory prayer": to ask for what we need, especially, to ask for the grace to keep the great commandment: Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and mind and might; and thy neighbor as thyself.

Sarah in the tent said...

'Oldest sister's' comment about God looking vindictive struck a chord with me. I have been puzzling about the levite massacre that ended the golden calf episode!

The Israelites had not totally lapsed into idolatry - they saw their golden calf consecration as compatible with honouring Yahweh. They were still following Aaron, but he was trying to please them rather than provide real leadership. The people were missing Moses and wanted to be led by a God who was with them - Emmanuel. Yet their idolatry is a sin for which the people (not their weak leaders) will be punished, while the levites receive a blessing for killing their brothers, friends and neighbours.

A few days ago I saw a t.v. programme about Nigerian women travelling to Europe to become prostitutes. They were village heroes, because everyone liked the money they earned: old folk, children, boyfriends/procurers and the women themselves, of course. Before going on their 'Exodus' to Europe, the women (who seemed to be Christian) always took a juju oath. They 'left a part of their soul' with the juju priest, who would ensure protection for them wherever they went. If, however, they failed to pay back their debt to the people who brought them to the 'promised land' of Europe, the spirits would exact terrible retribution: sickness, madness and death for the woman or her family. The juju priest felt no responsibility for the suffering of the women - if you make an oath, you must keep it.

Perhaps in their hearts many of the Israelites were travelling in the hope of getting rich and returning to Egypt as heroes, like the Nigerian prostitutes! Perhaps they too felt the need of an extra boost from the spirit world ...

The horrible consequences of breaking a juju oath are very similar to the ending of the golden calf episode. So, perhaps the sacrifices to the golden calf sealed an idolatrous covenant which the levite massacre dissolved, because even an idolatrous oath must be kept. After all, how could Moses insist his covenant was binding, while letting the people freely walk away from a pre-existing one? If we have no concept of a binding covenant, we cannot understand the Cross or God's love for humanity. We cannot know God.

By their slaughter, the levites released the people from an idolatrous covenant and 'consecrated (themselves) to Yahweh, one at the cost of his son, another of his brother'. This shocking idea of consecration in such hideous slaughter actually redeems it from pointlessness. It is no longer just a price paid to a stupid idol, (pointless murder) but God has elevated it to seal the Mosaic Covenant and even prefigure Christ's own 'New Covenant in my blood'. Like the Cross, it gives meaning to suffering.

The figure of Moses dealing ruthlessly with idolatry has inspired terrible persecutions by people who think they are his heirs. But it is by reminding God of the covenant with Abraham that Moses obtains forgiveness for the people. God is merciful, but idols are as incapable of mercy as they are of anything else.

Father, is this idea that the Israelites might have sworn a superstitious oath interesting, or stupid, or both?! What's the best way to understand the massacre?

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, your post in response to Older Sister’s comment about God seeming vindictive arrived early yesterday morning. Since then, I’ve been pondering how to respond to the questions you raise. In my response to Older sister, I reminded her – and all the readers – that venomous serpents are part of the environment in deserts, in forests and in meadows on every continent of the Earth except Antarctica. They were not sent there to punish the children of Israel, but the story of that event became a part of the Hebrew scripture because serves as a reminder to God’s people, in every era from then until now, that “the wages of sin are death” – not the death of the body, but the eternal death of the soul of those who choose to ignore God’s great commandment: “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have other gods before me. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and might, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Sarah, you are right in saying that the Israelites did not think they were disobeying God’s law while they were dancing around the golden calf. After all, Moses had not yet returned from the summit of Sinai with the Decalogue engraved on stone tablets by the Lord’s own hand. And they had not yet heard the message the Lord next gave to Moses: “You shall not make gods of silver or gods of gold.” “Yet their idolatry is a sin for which the people (not their weak leaders) are punished”, you wrote.
The lesson here is a clear one: If the leaders of God’s people are sinful, the consequences of their sin are bound to be felt by the people they were called to serve. Consider, if you will, the priests and prelates who have been involved in behavior contrary to the Sixth Commandment, the scandal they have caused by their own behavior, and the consequences when others think “If he can do that, why not me?” But there is another lesson as well, and you have referred to it in your closing comments. Moses dealt severely with idolatry, a mission he was given by the Lord. Those who persecute those who do not believe as they do, in imitation of what Moses did, might “think they are his heirs”. But they are truly the heirs of Moses only if it is the Lord who gave them the commission, not if they are motivated by their own imagination – or by the prince of darkness who delights when the “People of the Book” engage in battle against each other, and even more so when there is dissention between sects of Christians, or of Jews, or of Muslims. The God of Abraham is the God of Isaac and Ishmael, and the God of Peter and Paul, and the God of the multitude who have never heard these names. There is only one God. Worship God in truth by loving one another as you want God to love you – and forgive one another as you want God to forgive you.