Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Ezekiel for Today
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Saturday, July 29, 2006Ezekiel for Today
"And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God."
Ezekiel 28:24 (RSV).
Friday, July 28, 2006The Moral Reality of the Middle East War: Hezbollah Seeks to Maximize Dead Civilians in Both Israel & Lebanon
Charles Krauthammer makes the highly persuasive case that Israel is trying to minimize civilian casualties, while Hezbollah wants to kill as many Israeli civilians (both Jewish and Arab) as possible plus maximize Lebanese civilian casualties by using Lebanese civilians as human shields. Here is the link.
We have heard this verse thousands of times as practicing Christians: "Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (Mt 4:20; RSV). When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they immediately dropped their nets and followed him. That's we have to do, but find so difficult. Our "nets" are our own ways of getting the good things of life, of getting happiness. Our "nets" include money, power, prestige, romance, intoxication with substances (whether alcohol or other chemicals), sexual release outside of marriage, and control. There are many other varieties of nets that we compulsively turn to for acquiring happiness. We are called to drop all of those and follow Christ. Are we willing to drop our nets for Christ's nets? That's the question that decides our happiness and fulfillment in this life and forever.
Thursday, July 27, 2006God Speaks: Re-reading Psalm 83 for Today
Updated & Revised:
Our Catholic Analysis reporter from Rhode Island delivers again another great link to a news story from the AP. The AP headline "Ancient Book of Psalms Unearthed in Irish Bog" tells the initial story of what the director of the National Museum of Ireland calls a "miracle find." Why is the discovery of this medieval book of Psalms written in Latin a "miracle find"? First, the museum director says that it is unlikely that such a book would survive buried in a bog; the book appears to date from 800 to 1000 A.D. Second, it is a miracle that the book was spotted before it was destroyed by a bulldozer working in the bog. Third, the owner of the bog is sensitive to archaeological finds and so knew that he had to cover the book with damp soil so it would not dry up and disintegrate. (Webster's defines a "bog" as wet, spongy ground.)
Now the real miracle: the message from God's word for today. According to subsequent news reports, the book was apparently opened to Psalm 84. But immediately preceding Psalm 84 is, of course, Psalm 83. Psalm 83 reads as follows:
O God, do not keep silence; do not hold thy peace or be still, O God!
For lo, thy enemies are in tumult; those who hate thee have raised their heads.
They lay crafty plans against thy people; they consult together against thy protected ones.
They say, "Come let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!"
Yea, they conspire with one accord, against thee they make a covenant--the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
Assyria also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. . . .
O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.
As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so do thou pursue them with they tempest and terrify them with thy hurricane!
Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name, O Lord.
Let them be put to shame and dismayed for ever; let them perish in disgrace.
Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the Lord, art the Most High over all the earth.
Psalm 83 : 1-8, 13-18, Revised Standard Version (emphasis added).
(Notice that Psalm 83 is also numbered in brackets as Psalm 82. That slight difference in numbering arises because the Vulgate translation of the Bible so central to Catholics uses a different numbering from the Jewish Bible. Most Bible translations today, including the Revised Standard Version, use the Jewish numbering which would call the quotation above Psalm 83.)
This Psalm 83 is the best commentary on what I call Israel's finest hour. Just as Britain faced Hitler alone in the Battle of Britain, so Israel alone, as I write, is facing with her citizen soldiers the assembled masses of evil intent on wiping her out. Like the small democratic Athenian city state that defeated the Persian masses at the famous battle of Marathon in 490 B.C., so today small democratic Israel's soldiers are arrayed against the Iranian inspired masses attacking them in coordination. (Remember that Iran is Persia.) Notice the striking similarities, nay, identity, between the situation described in Psalm 83 and what is happening today:
1.) Just as in the Psalm, the declared intent of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas is to "wipe out" Israel. They are not interested in a "two-state" solution in which Israel co-exists with an independent Palestinian state. That is not good enough for their fanatical hatred of Israel. Today, the media is reporting that Al Qaeda has declared a "holy war" against Israel so that Islam will reign from "Spain to Iraq." (I hope my Spanish cousins take notice that Spain is the explicit target of conquest. You can't vote yourself out of a war that your enemies are intent on fighting against you. It is time for the Spanish to wake up and elect a government that will face reality and resist the fanaticism of the enemy.)
2.) Notice that just as in the Psalm, all these efforts to wipe out Israel are in accord, coordinated, and the product of a grand conspiracy. Hamas kidnaps Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Hezbollah does the same in the north of Israel. Syria and Iran are in full accord with Hezbollah's initiation of the war.
3.) Notice the geographical and ethnic parallels. The Ishmaelites are considered to be the Arabs and Moslems of today. Philistia includes Gaza where Hamas operates (we get the term "Palestine" from the Hebrew for "Philistines"). Tyre is the city in Lebanon from which Hezbollah is still launching missiles against northern Israel. Assyria once controlled the territory of Syria, the ally and supplier of Hezbollah. (For the geographical background, see Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible).
I do not know exactly the Moslem view of the Book of Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament. I recommend that the Moslem enemies of Israel (and Spain and America and Britain, etc.) read Psalm 83. If God is against you, you will never succeed.
Moreover, the ancient book discovered in Ireland was apparently open to a page containing Psalm 83 in the Vulgate numbering (which is Psalm 84 in most Bibles). Psalm 84 contains this line which, not unexpectedly, also favors Israel: "Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the highways to Zion" (Psalm 84:5; conventional numbering). In whose hearts are the highways to Zion? Those who believe Israel belongs in Zion by divine decree. Blessed are those who so believe.
What does this discovery tell us that is of relevance today? The following facts are noteworthy: 1.) a medieval book of Psalms is miraculously discovered in an unlikely place just in the nick of time before being bulldozed; 2.) that unlikely discovery reminds us how important for Christians throughout the centuries the prayerbook of Israel has been and how closely tied Christians are to Israel; 3.) the medievals, who produced the newly discovered book, read the Psalms "as the voice of Christ speaking prophetically in the Old Testament" (Frederick Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, Brazos Press, 2005, p. 242 note 6). So, from the viewpoint of medieval theology, we have in the Psalm 83 that speaks about the enemies of Israel trying to wipe out Israel, a prayer and prophecy of Christ himself that eerily matches current events in the Middle East. In that prophecy (or message from God), the voice of Christ prays for the scattering of Israel's enemies. I join in that prayer. The crucial point is this: God is ultimately on Israel's side and against the enemies now trying to wipe out Israel.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006The Faustian Baby Boomers
Newsweek is running this superficial article that nevertheless contains a kernel of truth: "The Faustian Generation: Craving Excitement and Bliss, Baby Boomers Broke All the Rules. It's Been a Troubling Revolution to Live With." The article tells us what we all know, namely, how the baby boomer generation arbitrarily threw off the constraints of middle class respectability. The leading edge of the baby boomers, born on or about the vicinity of 1946, actually jettisoned the bourgeois respectability they grew up with in the nineteen fifties. The baby boomers that followed grew up in the chaos created by that pioneering cohort born in the forties. Many of the boomers born after that initial cohort never knew the middle class respectability of the nineteen fifties: the distinction between bad girls and good girls, the taboo against divorce and homosexuality, the prestige of large families, the squeaky clean shows on television, and the movies in which romance of the marrying kind, not hooking up, was the central motif of relations between male and female.
How did a culture of respectability and constraint disappear overnight? Let's focus on Catholics. Catholic culture of the thirties, forties, and fifties was the most respectable in America. Chastity, marriage, large families, wholesome entertainment were emphasized everywhere in Catholic America of that era. But when America morally capsized, millions of Catholics capsized also. Many others have said it and thought it: the collapse of Catholicism in tandem with the collapse of American culture as a whole demonstrated the superficiality of the Catholicism that was prevalent in the fifties. Something that could so easily disappear was not deeply rooted. Just think of the parable of the sower and the seeds. The death of so many seeds tells you something about the soil in which they were sown. The seeds did not take root. Some will blame Vatican II. But when you read the documents of Vatican II, you find a robust, orthodox, and energetic Catholicism calling all the faithful to holiness and evangelization. But millions of American Catholics did not listen to Vatican II. Instead, they followed the path laid out by a collapsing American culture of narcissism naturally accompanied by selfish hedonism. Many called Catholic were more deeply American while only lightly Catholic.
Now, let's take a look at a life that contradicts the predominant boomer mentality. Let's consider a great scholar of scholars who recently died on May 13, 2006. Jaroslav Pelikan, born in 1923, was an eminent church historian, who was, for most of his life, a traditional Lutheran but became Eastern Orthodox in 1998. I recall hearing him lecture in the eighties while I was in college. His work in church history is legendary and astonishingly erudite. You can read details about his ethnic upbringing as a child prodigy in this old article from Christianity Today. What you see is that Pelikan was the exact opposite of the narcissistic baby boomer. Pelikan dedicated his life to the mission of writing his history of Christianity. He always lived and breathed within the bounds of broad Christian orthodoxy. He was deep, not shallow. By directing his life to something greater than himself, something really worthy of his humanity, his talent, his genius, and his reason, Pelikan lived life to the full. As the Jews say, he was a mensch. What Pelikan's life story shows is that the Christian tradition is liberating because it gives scope to the best in us which was made for the transcendent, not for the banal. And, in the end, the baby boomer generation, in general and as a whole, is all about banality (it goes without question that many members of the baby boomer generation are exceptions to this generalization). The bulk of the baby boomer generation took the best and degraded it to the mundane and the trivial at great emotional and social cost. Now, they live in the ruins, and some really seem astonished at their predicament. They seem astonished that they broke all the rules but did not get the rewards that accrue precisely to those who keep the rules. Hence, the superficial Newsweek writer.
Jaroslav Pelikan, shortly before his death, published a commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. In writing about the Pentecost event in Acts 2, Pelikan wrote something I have quoted before but which is quite relevant to diagnosing the baby boomer catastrophe. Pelikan comments thus on the apostles being "filled" with the Holy Spirit as if drunk on Pentecost:
It is right to want to be "filled" with something, and the drunkard quite properly recognizes that human nature stands in need of some power that will take it out of itself (as alcohol and drugs do). But this need also includes the requirement that such fullness will in the process not corrupt and destroy it (as alcohol does), but fulfill it by loosening the tongue and making it sing--but "to the Lord." As Cyril of Jerusalem paraphrased Peter's words here [Peter explained to the crowd that the apostles were not drunk], "They are drunken, with a sober drunkenness, deadly to sin and life-giving to the heart, a drunkenness contrary to that of the body; for this last causes forgetfulness even of what was known, but that bestows the knowledge even of what was not known."
Pelikan, Acts (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), p. 50 (emphasis added).
Why did so many practicing Catholics and their families morally collapse in the sixties and seventies? They were never drunk with the Holy Spirit. They simply followed the crowd; and, when the crowd rushed to get drunk on drugs, alcohol, and indiscriminate copulation, they again followed. Priests and members of religious orders also followed the crowd of anything goes. Thus, the call to holiness of Vatican II lost its intended American audience as American culture collapsed overnight. Instead of being drunk with the Spirit, many Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic, were drunk with other things, unworthy things, things that like alcohol cause, as St. Cyril wrote, "forgetfulness even of what was known." That forgetfulness explains the astonishing collapse of boundaries, taboos, and restraint in American culture in the sixties and seventies. But the hangover still lingers and will linger for a long time.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006The Upper Room
Henri de Lubac wrote this back in the nineteen forties: "Our churches are the 'upper room' where not only is the Last Supper renewed but Pentecost also" (de Lubac, Catholicism, Ignatius Press, p. 111). Interestingly, one reference work hints that the historical upper room of Pentecost was the same upper room of the Last Supper: "The use of the definite article ("the" upper room) [in the Acts of the Apostles] has led to the suggestion that it is identical with the well-known location of the Last Supper" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible s.v. "Upper Room"). An even more impressive authority also tips in favor of both events, the Last Supper and Pentecost, taking place in the same upper room:
The report in Acts 20:7 of how Paul celebrated the Eucharist with the Christians of Troas "in the upper room" was, in the early Church, as a matter of course, connected with the story according to which, after the Lord's Ascension into heaven, the disciples together with Mary waited in prayer for the Holy Spirit in the upper room and received him there (Acts 1:3) [the Pentecost event]. This upper room, in turn, was identified--historically, this is probably correct--with the room in which the Last Supper was held, where Jesus had celebrated the first Eucharist with the Twelve.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (Ignatius Press, 2005 ), p. 91 (emphasis added).
So de Lubac's theological point that our churches are the upper room where both the Last Supper and Pentecost are renewed has, as a bonus, a likely concrete, historical exclamation point behind it: the same upper room was the site of both the first Eucharist and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
I raise these points not just to amaze you with the wonderful elegance and congruence of our faith--although it is certainly amazing and wonderful to behold and relate (the old Latin phrase is: mirabile dictu "wonderful to say"). I raise these points to emphasize again and repeatedly that the charismatic dimension of the Church is at the heart of the Church, the Eucharist, and at the first universal manifestation of the Church, Pentecost. The charismatic dimension of the Church is the work and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that is joy. There is of course and certainly such a thing as quiet, still ecstatic joy. But human persons also must manifest joy concretely with their whole being; or else we may gradually shrivel up and become living skeletons, mere shadows and ghosts roaming the earth. Is that not the sad condition of too many in the pews of our parishes? The prayerbook of Jesus, the Psalms of his father David, are full of concrete expressions of joy: upraised hands, varieties of musical instruments, shouts of joy, loud shouts of praise, even dancing (see, e.g. Psalms 28; 33:3; 66; 71:23; 150; compare Ezra 3:11b) . That joy is the Holy Spirit, the charismatic dimension of the Church, the New Israel.
Cardinal Ratzinger again:
Psalm 119 as a whole is an ever-repeated outbreak of joy and thankfulness at knowing God's will. . . . The reawakening of joy in God, joy in God's revelation and in friendship with God, seems to me an urgent task for the Church in our century. For us, too, in particular, the saying is true that Ezra the priest cried out to the people of Israel when their courage had ebbed after the exile: The joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh 8:10). . . . This joy must more and more shine forth from the Church into the world.
Ratzinger, ibid., pp. 297-98 (original emphasis).
That joy is the Holy Spirit (see Ratzinger, p. 130), that biblical wine of the Old Testament (cf. Psalm 104:15), which is, as St. Ambrose noted, a sober intoxication and inebriation. In our churches, we should every Sunday and at every Mass reenact both the Last Supper and Pentecost to know fully and display fully for the world the joy of the Lord that is our strength.
Monday, July 24, 2006A New Response to the Same Old Crisis
Michael Barone, in my opinion, is the best commentator on politics and world affairs. He is calm, logical, and incisive. Here is his take on the latest Middle East crisis at RealClearPolitics.com. What Barone points out is that the Bush administration is right to do things differently this time: no pressuring of Israel to stop military action prematurely, no rushing to engage in shuttle diplomacy that is an unmistakable signal of weakness to the Middle Eastern mentality, and no more pleas for Israel to give up land. Appeasement did not work with Hitler because Hitler would never give up his ambition of conquering all of Europe. Appeasement does not work with those now attacking Israel because they will never give up their ambition to destroy Israel. That means that the table has to be overturned. The game as played for years now favors the irrational who seek the destruction of Israel. So it's time to turn the chess board over: to create a new playing board with new facts, not to stick to the same dysfunctional constraints and parameters of the past. That's a revolutionary approach. Let's call it a "paradigm shift" so as not to alarm unduly the academic types who pontificate over foreign affairs. Whatever you call it, it's what you have to do, sooner or later, with irrational people and nations: throw out the old game that didn't work and start all over with a clean slate. If that happens here, then this crisis will indeed have been an opportunity that was not missed.