Man born blind

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If a blind man gaining sight Jn 9:1-41 isn’t an eye opener, listen to that conflict building between Jesus and the Pharisees. In the healing of the “Man born blind” there are two story lines taking place. One is of Jesus heling that man, and the other is the Pharisees accusing Jesus of going against the laws of the Sabbath for preforming that miracle. The man healed says little, he occasionally answers some questions presented before him. The story tells little about the wonderful experience of vision, it mentions little about seeing the world for the first time. The majority of the story is prosecutor and defense. There is a question that is asked at the beginning of the narrative and it would be a shame to let that question to become lost in the argument. The question the disciples asked Jesus is: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” That question contains some important details. The first is that the man’s blindness us the result of sin, the question wants to determine where the burden of sin lies. Is it from the parent, or the son? The question was not unusual for the time period, infirmaries were commonly considered to be a curse from God. It was a retribution for a sinful act. If this writer recalls correctly, according to the Torah a parent’s sin was not passed on to the children. According to the law if someone bore the curse from sin, it was through their own fault. That is not the answer Jesus gives. His answer is an emphatic neither, the blindness is not the result of a sin committed. To Jesus it is not even a curse. That might not seem to be a bold statement in the light of today’s medical advancements, but in the first century it went against a fundamental structure of society. People would have stood back in puzzlement. Religious leaders would have a furrow in their brow, they would have been challenged by the response. Jesus response would have been met with disapproval. The problem is that Jesus healed the man born blind, the gauntlet was thrown to the ground. Now there is a duel.

In the narrative a lot of detail is presented describing the scene. The first bit of evidence is the mechanism by which this man regains sight, but first notice the man does not ask to be healed. Why? I assume since he never knew sight, he accepted his handicap. But Jesus does open his eyes, and here is the quote on how: When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,” I know in the bible there are a few references to ointments for the eyes but in that quote one thing stands out. Jesus spit on the ground and made clay. Jesus made something out of dirt or clay, and he infused it with something of his own. He formed it with the dirt of the earth and his spittle. The description sounds awfully crude, but how were we formed? God formed us from clay, and infused us with his breath. Man and the ointment are both ordinary dirt and something divine. Call it a divine breath or sacred spittle, they are the same.

Is it difficult to miss that connection between God and man? Suddenly the God of the Old Testament gets much closer, or was the LORD ever that far away? There is a change in perception that happens here. Eyes were opened in more way than one. Jesus certainly does challenge the Old Testaments view of the relationship between God and Man. Jesus opens the eyes of many, but he also places anger in the eyes of quite a few. He is challenging the teachers, and they question his authority.

Jesus challenges the teachings of the authorities, and this places the anger in their eyes. Don’t forget the initial question about whose sin was responsible for the man’s blindness, and don’t forget Jesus response. Jesus said the blindness was not caused by sin. Jesus did tell the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, and those pools frequently were used for ritual cleaning. The Pharisees did not marvel at how the pool of Siloam cured the man, they were angered that the LORD healed that blind man on the Sabbath. They knew the source of the cure, and that angered them. Most of the rest if the argument is an attempt to discredit Jesus. They try to discredit him for healing in the Sabbath. They suggest that the blind man was in collusion with Jesus, and finally they suggest that the man was never blind. All of their attempts are discredited.

The blind man healed does see Christ differently than the authorities, at first he sees Jesus as a prophet. Jesus engages that man about who Jesus is. Jesus tells him, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Throughout the narrative Jesus gives hint of His nature, and of His mission. Here Jesus say’s I am the light of the world. In other parts if the discussion Jesus states “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” As that blind man gains his vision, a vision of Jesus Christ also begins to appear. This causes rejoicing among some, and they become disciples. While some rejoice, anger builds up in the eyes of others. They preach and plot and malign themselves against the Lord Jesus Christ.

It can be called anger in their eyes, or delusion, or a lie. It is not the truth. I see the same thing today, it is a conflict that continues. Some see that light of Christ clearly and follow His way. Ohers, they cannot accept His Good-News for whatever reason, and journey towards a darkness. Some follow fads that sometimes glitter on the horizon. Today it is a commonplace New-Age philosophy. Others, weakened by their own frailties, fail to accept His forgiveness. Stubbornly they continue on their own way. They fail to heed his advice and bathe in that pool of water, the pool of forgiveness. That man born blind? He welcomed the LORDS intercession and gladly accepted His action. That blind man realized who the Christ was, and what he had done. That blind man was thankful for that light he had received, and then let that same light guide him on his way. The contrast between the man born blind and the Pharisees is as clear as night and day. The man born blind clearly enjoyed basking in that light of day, Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 31

1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

Eph 5:8-14

Jn 9:1-41

An Angel speaks (and someone listens)

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Ever wonder what an angel’s appearance might be like? Ever been curious how they come down to earth? What, I wonder is the sound of their voice? Angels are strange to describe, and all sorts of interpretations have been crafted in word and paint and wood and stone and clay. None is accurate, nor inaccurate, prove or disprove an angels existence, yet they do exist and make themselves known from time to time. They are present more than people ever admit. They are the most highs messenger and message. Heavenly.

Mary likely described the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to the Apostles (the apperance at the Annunciation) as they would have not yet been on the scene. I wonder what their reaction might have been. (?) I also wonder at which point in their journey with Mary the story was told to them. Was it during Christ’s ministry ,or was it after the Resurrection ,or after the Ascension, or after Pentecost? I wonder what questions they might have asked.

The Apostles world was much more in tune with angels than mine. They knew them and understood them intuitively, they didn’t try to rationalize or dissect them. They were part of life. The age of science had yet to descend upon them. Their dialogue was different.

The Angel Gabriel tells young Mary that the news she is to receive is a blessing. Hail Mary, a salute. The LORD is with you, a blessing. When Mary told the story, she must have told the Apostles the angel’s name, and those Apostles knew the meaning. Gabriel means “the LORD is with you.” Joseph was told the same. They knew what they have received was from God, and that it was good. They would have heard that message before. It is the message of creation. God creates, and saw that it was good. Certainly they must have heard the story of Genesis, did they recognize that the story was being repeated again?

I wonder how many times that angel has reappeared over the centuries. I wonder if anyone would recognize the message. I have no doubt that Mary was receptive to the voices of a variety of angels. Through prayer she learned to be receptive to them, and she kept an open ear to listen for their voices. She must have called out and listened for a response. Her eyes must have been open to discover their path. She was open to angels and their messages, she didn’t shut them out. She heard of them appearing to others both in scripture and as she journeyed throughout life. They were part of her world. She didn’t try to rationalize them or create or disprove them. She understood angels and accepted them, I wonder what would happen if we did the same?

(today mention an angel and people smirk, say you’re a witch and they will play your game)… . .

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

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A couple of days ago I rambled on about an Irish Saint and an Irish-American celebration. Today is the feast of Saint Joseph, and a day that is particularly celebrated in Italy and by Italians worldwide. If I rambled about the national celebrations of Patrick in food and drink, Josephs day should be treated in the same regard. In Italy this is the Feast of San Guiseppe and the word that I think deserves some attention is FEAST. Feasts are celebrated. An interesting twist is that Josephs day always occurs in Lent but it has developed its celebration per that season. One of the highlights of this feast day is the Saint Joseph altars that are constructed, and they are filled with a combination of religious items such as statues and an abundance of food. The altars are tiered to represent the trinity with Joseph at the top. The rest of the altar consists of breads and pastries baked in shapes that highlight Christianity.

It is an altar of abundance, but it is an abundance of thanks to Saint Joseph for answering the prayers of the Sicilians during a great famine. The food gives thanks, it is also used to help feed those in need. It is a feast truly in the spirit of Christ. The altar also is a true altar, it is not simply a banquet. Tradition dictates that the altar be adorned with images of loved ones, and that it contains prayers of petition. The altar feeds both body and soul.

“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

The Feast of Saint Joseph always occurs in Lent, and it is a food fest, but it is one that is respectful of the seasons fasts and abstinence. It also is an old celebration that dates to the middle ages, that is important because the Lenten season was considerably stricter centuries ago. While there is a copious amount of food on that altar, there is no meat. It is true to the season. Like Saint Patrick’s Day in America with its corned beef and cabbage, Saint Joseph’s feast day has a couple of food specialties of its own. The first acknowledges both the season of Lent and Josephs trade. That dish is Pasta con le Sarde, pasta with sardines. It features the fish to meet Lents requirements and is prepared with breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs represent the sawdust of the carpenter, and they are highlighted on this feast day. The second part of the meal is the dessert, and Sicily is famous for their deserts. For his feast day Saint Joseph gets a special desert made in his honor, Zeppole di San Giuseppe!

Finally, this special day has one more food item associated with it, the fava bean. That was the bean that sustained the Sicilians, through the intercession of Saint Joseph, during that drought so many years ago. The beans are often packaged in little bags with holy card or medal to be given to the hosts guests. The reminder is that a house with fava beans in their cupboard will never go hungry.

Why did I outline this food celebration of Saint Joseph without discussing that blessed Saint so much? I think it is because it highlights the honored tradition of celebrating Saints in festive ways, and festive ways that involve food and drink. Saint Joseph’s feast day goes back centuries and is steeped in tradition. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of families and that should be remembered. Saint Patrick’s feast in America, even though it is only a memorial, only goes back a hundred years or so. Granted it tradition gets a little rowdy, but it still does fit in with tradition if the SAINT is honored. Feasts like the Feast of San Guiseppe should be celebrated as a feast. That’s important, it’s a just dessert.

I included the little quote from the Angel that spoke to Joseph as he slept, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home and for him to accept the Child she was carrying. It gives reason for the celebration, Joseph was obedient to that Angel. He was obedient to the LORD, and accepted what the LORD had planned for him. In embracing Gods plan Joseph accepted bot the joy’s and the sorrow’s and even things he could not yet understand. He listen to, and placed his trust in the LORD. He was grateful for all the LORD had given him as the people of Sicily are grateful for Joseph’s intercession during a time of need. He helped turn a famine into a feast. Is their any greater reason to celebrate than that?

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16   Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29  Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22   Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a  Lk 2:41-51a

A glass of water, for a thirsty woman

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Click, click, click of the typewriter keys on the third Sunday of Lent. Today’s reading has to be one of the longest narratives in the New Testament Jn 4:5-42 . When Jesus gets into a discussion with that Samaritan woman at the well, it is a lengthy and long drawn out dialogue. That is particularly notable because the ill feelings between the Jews of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria. They would have avoided each other at all costs. Even more peculiar was that the conversation was between a Jewish male and a Samaritan woman. To converse presented some cultural peculiarities for sure. This cast of characters is but one portion of this dialogue.

As the first reading Ex 17:3-7 suggests the story has as much to do about water as it does the conversation. In the OT reading the people are complaining during the exodus. To quench the building doubt and anger the LORD has Moses bang his staff against a rock to so that water might flow from it. In the NT reading the woman is drawing water from a cistern, it is Jacobs well. The third mention of water is when Jesus tells the woman that he can bring her “living water” so that she might never thirst again. Living water has a specific meaning in Judaism, it is the water that can make one ritually clean. Its requirements are that it be unconstrained and free flowing. The water from the rock could be considered living water, it flowed freely when the rock was struck. The water from a cistern is not living water, it is stagnant and contained. An example of living water is a stream with fish, and fish are prominent in Lent. Those are just a few notes on water. Think of all the other accounts of water in the Gospel, baptism, holy water, the flood, the red sea. It has the dual purpose of destruction and cleansing. Water both takes and restores life. In baptism one dies in the water and rises in Christ. John the Baptist baptized in a water of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus does much the same at this well. He draws much out of the woman as is evident by the lengthy conversation, and He offers the living water that is Jesus Christ. Confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

The theme of water, living versus stagnant comes into play in another way. Living water is free flowing. It is not contained. Notice how Jesus is not constrained by social conventions. He freely crosses into Samaria ignoring and destroying a boundary. He speaks to the woman and accepts her, and that destroys yet another boundary. Finally in offering her that living water he offers her an unconditional forgiveness and welcomes her back. At that well Jesus broke every barrier that stood between that woman and salvation. At the end of the dialogue she is truly free.

The conversation speaks on a number of different levels. For the personal, baptism and confession (Jesus does draw a confession from this woman by asking about her husband) certainly enter the discussion. It also speaks on an international level, Jesus and the woman at the start of the conversation are from different countries. The conversation has an ecumenical dimension also. In society isn’t there also an effort to destigmatize also, Didn’t Jesus ask her for a glass of water? Didn’t He ignore the stigma of associating with a woman who was at the fringes of society? Jesus shows that Gods live and mercy have no bounds, it cannot be contained by any invention of man.

I have not even begun to talk about when the Apostles return, that is another discussion

The Lorica of Patrick

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celtic-shamrock-800pxPatrick is said to have composed this hymn- prayer in the year 433. It was during the reign of the Druid Loegaire mac Neill, King of Tara  High King of Ireland. King Loegaire is described as “a great king, fierce and pagan, emperor of the barbarians”. Remember, Saint Patrick was a missionary and later the first Bishop of Ireland known as the “Apostle of Ireland.” He is the one that brought the faith to Ireland. The Druid King Loegaire is one who Patrick did spiritual and theological battle with, along with some mortal altercations too.

The Lorica of Patrick is a prayer or incantation for protection, and these type prayers were common among the (pagan) Celts of the day. The prayer protects the sayer against a multitude of evils. The term lorica refers to a knight’s body armor. That Latin word, lorica, translates breastplate. Another name for the prayer is “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A quote from a source unknown to me eloquently says “when any person shall recite it daily with pious meditation on God, demons shall not dare to face him, it shall be a protection to him against all poison and envy, it shall be a guard to him against sudden death, it shall be a lorica for his soul after his decease.”

Patrick and his monks sang this prayer in anticipation of an ambush Loegaire set for them. Loegaire battled Patrick from spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the short form of the story. The druids were antagonistic to Patrick’s preaching of Christ, and that story is long. Anyway: as his druids hid in ambush, they saw Patrick and his men pass by simply as a gentile deer followed by twenty fawns. Patrick’s Lorica did not fail. St. Patrick and his men were saved from that ambush. The third name for the prayer is “The Deer’s Cry.” Here it is:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.