Archive for October 2010

Up a Tree

October 31, 2010

Zaccheus climbed a tree.

As one who spends her life in long skirts, I can tell you that’s no mean feat in a long, flowing garment such as men commonly wore in those days. Something unusual was going on here.

First of all, climbing trees isn’t all that common in Scripture. I was only able to find one other reference, in the Song of Songs (7:7-8), and that was metaphorical (more on that at the end). This was quite literal.

Zaccheus was up a tree…and not just any tree. He climbed a sycamore tree. According to Strong’s Concordance, in Hebrew, the word for “sycamore” (yacar) is the word for “to chastise.”  Zaccheus climbed the tree of chastisement.  That fits hand-in-glove with the Fathers of the Church who, whenever they see “tree” in Scripture immediately think “cross.” The cross was the tree of chastisement.

“…he is accursed by God that hangs on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23).

So…Zaccheus was up a tree. He’d been up a tree spiritually for quite some time. In calling him the “chief tax collector”, Luke might as well have called him the “chief traitor” (milking his own people to pay off the occupying Romans), the “chief sinner” (making his wealth by cheating his own countrymen), in short, the “chief scumbag.”

Now he’s up a tree physically as well…and God’s about to call him down.

“though they climb up to Heaven,
from there I will bring them down”
-Amos 9:2

This is his day of reckoning…and he’s ready for it,
just as God wants him to be.

The other readings from today’s Mass point to this same idea. In Wisdom 11:22-12:1 (and surrounding verses) we read that God gave the cannibalistic, child-sacrificing Canaanites (see Wisdom 5:3-6, Deuteronomy 18:9-12) plenty of time for repentance.

“For You love all things that are
and loathe nothing that You have made;
for what You hated, You would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless You willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by You?

Therefore You rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in You, O Lord!”
-Wisdom 11:24-12:2

God wants us to be prepared for our day of reckoning. He wants that day to go well for us, to be a day of joy and salvation, not a day of penalties and regrets. He goes to great lengths to get our attention, to warn us and to give us time to make things right before it’s too late.

The wicked Canaanites had 40 years of reports about the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7-12), the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), the miraculous victories on the journey (Exodus 17:8-15, Numbers 21:1-3, etc.); 40 years to ponder the error of their ways and to repent before the Israelites arrived.

Even when Israelites arrived, there were the incredible tales of their defeat of Sihon, king of the Amorites and Og, the king of Bashan…

“Og, king of Bashan, was the last remaining survivor of the Rephaim [giants]. He had a bed of iron, nine regular cubits long and four wide [13.5′ x 6′]” -Deuteronomy 3:11

…the miraculous crossing of the Jordan at flood stage (Joshua 3-4), and the flattening of the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6). Rahab (who did repent, with her family) reports on just how effective these reports were:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land,
that a dread of you has come upon us,
and that all the inhabitants of the land
are overcome with fear of you.
For we have heard how the Lord
dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you
when you came out of Egypt,
and how you dealt with Sihon and Og,
the two kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan,
whom you doomed to destruction.
At these reports, we are disheartened;
everyone is discouraged because of you,
since the Lord, your God,
is God in Heaven above and on earth below”
(Joshua 2:9-11, emphasis mine).

They knew what they had coming!
The difference was in how they responded to that knowledge.

The thing is, nobody knows just when his or her day of reckoning is coming. We all start out “up a tree” as far as sin is concerned, and God is always calling us down. St. Paul tells us not to be upset by rumors and reports of “the day of the Lord,” but rather to live so that the Name of our Lord Jesus is glorified in us, and we in Him. Then we’ll always be ready for our day of reckoning (see II Thessalonians 1:11-2:2).
The timing won’t matter.

When the day of reckoning came for the Canaanites, one family (Rahab’s) was ready. They’d been “up a tree” in sin, but when God called, they responded–and were saved. They united themselves to God’s chosen people (a foreshadowing of the Church), and God Himself took them under His wing. Rahab, in fact, became an ancestress of the Messiah!
(see Matthew 1:1-5)

Getting back to Zaccheus, this Messiah, Who would mount His own tree (the cross), is standing under his tree, calling him by name and inviting Himself to Zaccheus’ house as a guest.

Here the story turns Eucharistic.

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”

Although these aren’t his words, if anyone knew his own unworthiness,
it was Zaccheus!

The quote gives the words we will use in the new translation of the Mass (as of Advent of 2011), words taken almost directly from Matthew 8:8, in which the Roman centurion expresses his faith in Jesus’ ability to cure from a distance. In the Mass, these words express our awareness of our unworthiness to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, and our confidence that He Himself can make us worthy.

Despite our unworthiness, Jesus comes “under our roof”, into our very bodies, just as He proposed to go to Zaccheus house as a guest. Like us, Zaccheus was unworthy…and like us, he didn’t have to stay that way. He “went to Confession” (the equivalent) in front of everybody and promised to make amends (and I imagine that such a public declaration carried with it plenty of accountability!).

That day, Zacheus’ day of reckoning, salvation came to his house.
Jesus, Who had come to seek out and to save what was lost, found him.

When Zaccheus climbed the tree of chastisement, the tree of the cross, to see Jesus, God made of it a tree of life (see Genesis 3:22, Revelation 22:14–another name for the Eucharist), calling him down to a whole new life (the Fathers of the Church suggest that he gave everything away)
–to resurrection.

Here we come back the the Songs of Songs, with the lover “climbing the tree”, “taking hold of its branches” in rapturous union with the beloved (Song of Songs 7:7-8). God is our Lover. We are His beloved. By turning the tree of chastisement (the cross) into the tree of life (the Eucharist) through reconciliation, He made this union with Him possible.

This is God’s way with us. He knows we’re “up a tree.” He loves us too much to leave us there. He gets our attention, calls us by name, warns us and gives us plenty of time to get the message. When we come to Him in repentance (Confession) and turn our lives around, He comes to “stay at our house,” to enter our very being, in holy Communion…a dim foreshadowing of the incomprehensible, eternal union of Heaven. If we refuse Him, then the day of reckoning will catch us off guard, still “up a tree,” self-condemned.

God’s already made clear which outcome He desires.
He is indeed,

“gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness…
good to all and compassionate toward all His works”
-Psalm 145:8-9,

…but He will not force our free will.

Our day of reckoning is coming.
We can be ready for it at any time, if we’ll only choose to be.

It’s up to us.

Will we stay “up a tree,” self-condemned forever?

Or will we change our lives and welcome Jesus into our house
as our soul’s most welcome Guest?

Why Religion?

October 25, 2010

This isn’t my writing–and I’ve lost track of where I found it–but it’s worth sharing! A post here references the same story as being from Talks on the Creed by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1946)

A priest in a parlor car was joined by three well-dressed gentlemen. One of them asked the padre: “Do you think a man could get to Heaven without joining the Church?”

“I think he could,” the priest replied.

They laughed, patted him on the back and called him broadminded.

“Now let me ask you a question,” said the priest, “and I want you to answer me just as quickly as I answered you. Why do you want to go to Heaven that way?”

They stared at one another, speechless.

“Why don’t you ask me another question,” suggested the man in the Roman collar. “Why don’t you ask me if a man could get to England without going on a boat?”

This time they found words, and blurted out: “Well, what is the answer to that one?”

“I see no reason a man could not get to England without going on a ship,” the priest admitted, “provided he was a good swimmer, tied some food between his shoulders to eat on the way, had strength to buffet all the waves, and, provided a shark did not get him or a floating log knock him out. And supposed you did get to England without a ship, do you think you would get there faster or in much better condition than the man who did take a boat?”

The Power of a Praying Grandmother

October 17, 2010

As I was listening to the readings at Mass this weekend (especially Exodus 17:8-13 & Luke 18:1-8), it struck me that the main characters in the stories were probably both elderly. We know Moses was–he was 80 when he led the Israelites out of Egypt! And although it’s possible for widows to be young, we tend to associate widowhood with old age. Counter to our culture’s devaluing of the elderly as not being very useful anymore, God holds them up as models of prayer–the most powerful force on earth.

I was reminded of Mike Warnke’s conversion story. He said that God had revealed to him that the reason he was even still alive was that an elderly nun had been praying for him for years. He quipped, “If you don’t know Jesus and you’ve got someone praying for you, give up. Especially if it’s your grandmother–give up! ‘Cause those little gray-haired old ladies, they don’t know how to shut up so you might as well give up!” (It was obvious that he thought the prayers were a good thing 🙂 !)

My husband and I both credit our faith in large measure to our “praying grandmothers.” We each had (still have, in my case) one and are eternally grateful. Although we don’t have children (much less grandchildren!) we’re trying to “pay forward” the favor with our Godchildren by praying for them (and a host of other people!).

Never underestimate the power of a praying Grandmother!
(or any praying man or woman…)

What Would You Like to Hear From the Pulpit?

October 9, 2010

As I was talking with our chaplain after Adoration the other day,
he said that he was preparing for a funeral.
I asked if he planned to mention Purgatory,
noting that we’d recently talked to someone
who thought the Catholic Church didn’t believe in Purgatory anymore
because “you never hear about it”.
He replied that yes, he is planning to reference Purgatory,
then asked, “What else do people need to hear from the pulpit?”
I mentioned sexual ethics & reproductive technology,
but said I’d have to think about it to come up with other topics.

What about you?
What do you wish priests would talk about at Mass?
Please leave your feedback in the “comments” box!

Pope Benedict XVI’s Prayer Intentions for October

October 1, 2010

Blessed October!

(month dedicated to the rosary)

Here are Pope Bendict XVI’s prayer intentions for this month
Catholic Universities
That Catholic Universities may more and more be places where,
in the light of the Gospel,
it is possible to experience the harmonious unity
existing between faith and reason.

World Mission Day
That the World Mission Day may afford an occasion for understanding
that the task of proclaiming Christ is an absolutely necessary service
to which the Church is called for the benefit of humanity.

May God bless your prayer!

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