Archive for May 2010

Good Thief/Bad Thief

May 29, 2010

Well I’ll be dipped–the chief butler and baker were types (foreshadowings) of the two thieves crucified next to Jesus!

I need to unpack that…

I’ve run across enough eye-opening references to the Douay-Rheims that I finally decided that I need to read that translation from cover to cover. I’m working through the Haydock Bible (with commentary by the Fathers of the Early Church), and I’ve just gotten to the story of Joseph.

He was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by his master’s wife & thrown into prison. While there, he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief butler & baker (Genesis 40). The butler dreamed that a vine with three branches budded, flowered and produced grapes, which he squeezed and served to Pharaoh. The baker dreamed that birds were eating baked goods out of three baskets on his head. Joseph explained that within three days, the butler would be returned to his post, while the baker would be beheaded and hung on a tree. Joseph further asked the butler to remember him, and to ask Pharaoh for his release.

It was the commentary that tipped me off to the parallels with Jesus’ crucifixion. Joseph’s life parallels Jesus’–I knew that already. Both were favored sons, hated by their own, sold for silver (20 vs. 30 pieces), falsely accused, “savior of the world” (the literal meaning of the name Pharaoh gave Joseph in Genesis 41:45), and so on. But I hadn’t picked up on the other characters in the story…

Two convicts join Joseph, even as two thieves shared Golgotha with Jesus. To one, Joseph predicts restoration, even as Jesus said to the “good thief”, “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). To the other Joseph predicts death, that he will be hung on a tree. The second thief next to Jesus blasphemed Him (Luke 23:39) and his legs were broken so that he would die and could be removed from the cross before the Sabbath.

Bad and good the feast [Eucharist] are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.

Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.
-Laud, O Zion, sequence for Corpus Christi,
by St. Thomas Aquinas

Two prisoners dreamed and asked Joseph for an interpretation. One was rescued, the other executed. Two thieves hung beside Jesus on the Calvary. One went straight to Heaven. The other did not. What mattered was what was going on in their hearts (the same is true of me).

The three days point to the Paschal mystery, to Jesus’ three days in the tomb. Even the grapes and baked goods fit, foreshadowing the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, through which He perpetuates His one Sacrifice throughout time and space. One could even make a case for the birds being symbolic, as birds were used in the art of the Early Church (especially in the catacombs) to symbolize Christians. Birds eating bread symbolize Christians consuming the Host.

The plea for remembrance is there too. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The good thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon Your reign” (Luke 23:42), and Joseph said to the chief butler, “remember me, when it shall be well with thee, and do me this kindness: put Pharaoh in mind to take me out of the prison” (Genesis 40:14). Although the butler forgot for two years, Pharaoh’s dream finally jogged his memory and he got Joseph out of prison. Jesus didn’t forget. It was His sacrifice that opened the gates of Heaven to the man who hung beside Him.

That same sacrifice is presented to me every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  I can be the chief butler, the good thief…or I can be the chief baker, the blaspheming thief.

Jesus, remember me…

Good and Faithful Servant

May 21, 2010

History is full of unfaithful servants, full of power-hungry tyrants who clawed their way to the top (or died trying).  They’re a brutal bunch, a sad lot, always at odds with like-minded servants who are trying to accomplish the same hostile takeover.  The sheep suffer.  There is no peace.

But what nobility we see in holy submission!  What dignity!  What peace…

I got a good look at that today in Genesis 24.  Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, had been in line for a sizable inheritance while Abraham was childless (Genesis 15: 2-3).  Yet here he is, humble, obedient, devout (circumcised!, see Genesis 17:23 ), undertaking an arduous journey to establish the heir in an honorable marriage.  There’s no sign of jealousy or of a desire to “get back at” the one who now has the right to what Eliezer might have dreamed of possessing.  He serves his master faithfully and well, seeking the best for him, putting himself out to procure it, counting on God. No wonder Abraham made him the head of his household!

It struck me…Jesus had an “Eliezer” too.  “Then Peter said, ‘Lord, is this parable [of faithful servants awaiting their master’s return from a wedding!] meant for us or for everyone?  And the Lord replied, ‘Who, then is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.  Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.'” (Luke 12:41-44).

This is the same Peter to whom Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven.  And whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven” (Matthew 16:18) and “Feed My lambs…Tend My sheep…Feed My sheep” (John 21:15, 16, 17).  Saint Peter is that faithful servant, set in charge of God’s household to give us our food at the proper time, procuring a bride (the Church) for Christ!

Only in God’s hands are the reins of power properly held.  The ruler (like St. Peter) then follows Him, and the sheep can profitably follow the ruler.  This, too, is the Holy Spirit’s order.

Lord, may I be as humble, devout, poised and faithful as these holy servants!

On Fire

May 21, 2010

The other day a friend was lamenting students who chatter through Mass, carelessly take God’s Name in vain, show no awareness of Jesus in Adoration, etc. They just don’t care. I spend most Fridays in a school chapel. I know the phenomenon. Despite a solid religion program and a series of amazing chaplains, spiritual things just seem to bounce off of most of them. I keep praying…

We were talking about the Holy Spirit too, in the midst of the Pentecost novena. She’d been reading about Him and was trying to make sense of it all. I’d just given the RCIA presentation on the Holy Spirit and was trying to pass on highlights, describing (among other things) the Holy Spirit as the vitality of the Christian life, and explaining that her spiritual hunger and excitement were evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity in her life.

Then it dawned on me–that’s precisely what these students (and Catholics beyond numbering) are missing. Without the Holy Spirit, religion becomes an empty, meaningless structure, like an abandoned house that gradually decays. With the Holy Spirit, it becomes the dynamo that changed the world! That’s what we need…

Suddenly the novena took on a whole new urgency.

Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts and minds of Your faithful (and not so faithful!) servants and inflame them with the fire of Your divine Love. O God, You instructed the hearts of Your faithful servants through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. By this same Spirit, enable us to discern what is right and to rejoice in His consolation forever, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

Divine Happiness

May 18, 2010

Some years ago I was captivated by an aspiration
(“one-liner” prayer) from St. Alphonsus de Liguori:
“Lord I rejoice that You are infinitely happy”

I’ve been praying that routinely that ever since, and it’s given me much fodder for meditation. How can God be infinitely happy when there’s so much pain and suffering? Sacred Scripture makes it abundantly clear that it’s not because He doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. He thunders against injustice (Isaiah 5:18-25, etc.), lifts up the lowly (Luke 1:52), fathers the fatherless (Psalm 68:5–etc.). But that’s just the point. He has everything under control. He’s working everything–even the worst of it–together toward a glorious end (Romans 8:28)…and since He’s eternal, that end is always before Him. He can rejoice in it always (just as St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!” -Philippians 4:4, despite his laundry list of beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, etc.: II Corinthians 11:23-33).

Then there’s the inner delight of the Trinity, God the Father delighting in His Son, Who is eternally with Him (“This is My beloved Son, in Whom I take My delight” -Matthew 3:17, 17:5, I Peter 1:17, etc.) and Jesus rejoicing in the Holy Spirit as He offers praise to God the Father (Luke 10:21). This fits St. Thomas Aquinas’ classical definition of happiness as the enjoyment of the possession of a good–in this case, the supreme Good! God is overflowing with the joys of Heaven, redeeming the troubles of earth.

This awareness of divine happiness has made God seem more approachable. It’s much nicer (and safer!) to be around a genuinely happy Person than one who’s preoccupied with trouble. And I had the sense that since I’m united with Jesus through my Baptism (Romans 6:3-5, Galatians 3:27), this unalterable happiness has a place in my life too (not to be mistaken for putting on a plastic smile no matter what, nor for always feeling good). St. Paul commands it, for one thing (Philippians 4:4, quoted above), and since God has given Himself to me (especially through Baptism and Holy Communion), as long as I’m in a state of grace I always have an infinite Good to enjoy (God Himself!). Then I came across this:

[when we are friends with God,]
unselfish love has identified our will
with the will of our Friend [God],
His happiness is ours–even as it is between human friends. From the first moment of this divine friendship,
our Friend is always and intimately with us:
as Lord and Creator to His creatures
as the object of our knowledge and love,
and by that extremely intimate presence by grace
which enables us to live His very life.
Then there is that triumphant joy
in our Friend’s possession of the great good we wish Him;
though He does not so much possess it, as He is it.
Nothing can threaten His happiness,
nothing can dim the joy of our friendship.
-Walter Farrell, A Companion to the Summa, vol 3

Through our friendship with God, His happiness is ours–forever!

‘Course, this begs a question. Am I that kind of friend to God? Do I love Him unselfishly, desiring His happiness over my own? Or am I just in this relationship for my own pleasure? (or do I relate to Him at all?) Worse yet, have I driven Him (and His happiness) out of my life through sin?!

And it requires a few qualifiers. Sharing divine happiness doesn’t mean that I cease to have other emotions. If one friend gave birth and another had a miscarriage, I would rightly rejoice with the one and grieve with the other (“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”, Romans 12:15). Jesus’ infinite happiness did not prevent Him from being moved by the deepest emotions, weeping at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:33-35), and weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). There is a place within God’s sacred order for the whole gamut of emotions. Divine happiness helps me to keep them in that place so that they can fulfill the purpose for which God made them instead of running away with me. It provides an underlying stability, and a “home-base” of happiness, a ray of Sonshine, to which I can return.

Lord, I rejoice that You are infinitely happy,
and that You have loved me into being
that I may share in Your infinite happiness! Amen.

Irritating Blessings

May 15, 2010

At Mass tonight something was getting on my nerves and I was doing my best to detach from the irritation when I had a sudden memory.

It’s all too often proved true that when something my husband did was irritating me, and we later talked things through, it turned out that he was actually trying to please me. I’ve taken that to heart, so that when something he does bothers me, I remind myself that he’s probably trying to please me (I know he’s not trying to irritate me–he just doesn’t do that).

I now have a new application for that! God only gives good gifts. Everything He does is for our benefit (Romans 8:28 is just one indicator of that). So if I’m irritated, it’s because I don’t recognize the blessing God’s trying to give me.

Thank You, Lord, for irritating blessings. Help me to receive them as answers to prayer and to use them for Your purposes–to help me grow in virtue, conquer vice, glorify You (and whatever else You had in mind!)

Puzzle Pieces

May 15, 2010

We’re at church early on Saturdays. Confessions are held before each of the Saturday Masses & we’ve been coming when confessions start and praying for more people to come, and to ask God to help them make good confessions.

While I was praying and waiting for Mass, I had a mental image of puzzle pieces. Going off of what just came the other day about God having a use for everything and a place for everything, it came to me that life is something like a jigsaw puzzle. The point is to get all the pieces in their proper place (whether that means putting them there ourselves or giving them to God so He can)…but all too often we think the object is to get as many pieces for ourselves as we can!–at least, the ones we like. We try to destroy the dark, ugly ones. But God works all things together for the good of those who are called to be saints (Romans 8:28).

Maybe some of my pieces belong in a different place…
Lord, please help me get them there…


May 13, 2010

Today, our great High Priest enters the sanctuary not made by hands, bearing with Him the only sacrifice worthy to be offered to the Most High (Hebrews 8:1-2). He pleads for me.

Today my Head is lifted up in glory.
Jesus, my Head (see Ephesians 5:26, Colossians 1:18), rises gloriously into Heaven to take His place at the right hand of God. He Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) has opened a path for me, that where He is, I also may be (John 14:3).

“In Jesus Christ, our Lord and King,
we are already seated at Your right hand.”
-Psalm prayer for Psalm 110 from Sunday, Week I, Evening Prayer II of the Liturgy of the Hours

In Him (I Corinthians 12:27), I, too, am lifted into the heavens, seated at the right hand of the Most High, with my enemies placed beneath my feet (Acts 2:34-35).

“He has lifted up my head above my enemies.
I have gone around,
and have offered in His tabernacle
a sacrifice of jubilation:
I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord” -Psalm 27:6

It’s “the now and the not yet”, foretaste and fulfillment, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass when I unite myself with the eternal sacrifice which Jesus offers in Heaven.

Blessed be Jesus in His most glorious Ascension!

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