Category Archives: Scripture

Oct 18 – St Luke & The Yoke of Love, “If you would be my disciples…”

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-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP

“Doctors are prominent in my family’s lineage: my great-grandfather was a doctor, my grandfather was a doctor, my uncle is a doctor, and my brother is carrying on the tradition in the youngest generation. So naturally St. Luke, the “beloved physician,” has always attracted me. Except for his symbol, that is. An ox? Really? As compared with Mark’s lion, Matthew’s angel, or John’s eagle, Luke’s ox seems a consolation prize, as if he showed up late when the Holy Spirit was doling out emblems. Who would want to be associated with an ox?

These symbols of the evangelists are rooted in the Scriptures. Just to take two examples, in Ezekiel 1:1–14 they show up as the different faces of four living creatures sent to the prophet. And in Revelation 4:5–11 they are the four living creatures singing the Trisagion (“Holy, Holy, Holy”). The first ascription to the four evangelists seems to come from St. Ireneaus (ca. 120–202) in Against Heresies. There he gives the reason for St. Luke’s ox:

[The Gospel] according to Luke, taking up [Christ’s] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. (3.11.8)

St. Augustine follows this identification saying that “Luke is intended under the figure of the calf, in reference to the pre-eminent sacrifice made by the priest.” The ox (or calf) signifies the priestly and sacrificial character of Christ in St. Luke’s account. This has never quite satisfied me. Surely St. John’s account emphasizes the sacrificial aspect of Christ with his title of “Lamb of God.” And St. Mark’s account is one long Passion narrative. Not to mention the temple scenes in St. Matthew. Is there any other reason that the ox might be fitting for St. Luke?

Well, what do you think of when you hear “ox”? After “big, dirty animal,” I think of a yoke. Oxen don’t just sit in the field; they are yoked together and put to work. An ox without a yoke is like an angel without wings—it just doesn’t seem right. And a yoke isn’t for one; like the disciples sent two by two, oxen work together. An eagle, lion, or angel can be by himself, but oxen are meant to be together.

And what is this yoke? St. Thomas, another saint associated with the ox, comments on Matthew 11:29: “Take, therefore, my yoke, namely, the gospel lessons. And he says yoke because just as a yoke fastens and joins the necks of oxen, so the doctrine of the Gospel fastens the people to its yoke.” The yoke of sin has been replaced, through the sacrifice of Christ, with the yoke of forgiveness and new life. And while this yoke of Christ will bring suffering in this life, it is still light and easy because, according to St. Thomas, it is a yoke of love:

“All who desire to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12). But [these persecutions] are not burdensome, because they are seasoned with the condiment of love; for when a person loves someone, it is not a burden to suffer anything for him. Hence love makes easy all difficult and impossible things. Therefore, if one loves Christ properly, nothing is difficult for him; consequently, the New Law does not impose a burden. (Commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel 11.3)

There is something utterly fitting about this ox-yoke symbolism for St. Luke, who was St. Paul’s traveling companion and “beloved physician.” Being yoked to St. Paul must not have been easy, with all the ship-wrecks and persecutions and whatnot, but St. Luke’s love of his dear friend is found in the careful account we have of St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. The ox might not be as noble as an eagle, as regal as a lion, or as splendid as an angel; but an ox is a symbol of love and a shared mission, St. Paul and St. Luke sowing and plowing the field of the Lord’s harvest.”

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-“The Evangelists St Luke & St Mark”, by Matthias Strom, 1635, oil on canvas

Love,
Matthew

Sep 30 – St Jerome, (347-420 AD) – Priest, Author, Translator of the Bible, Doctor of the Church

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-“Saint Jerome in his Study”, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480, Church of Ognissanti, Florence

Most of the saints are remembered for some outstanding virtue or devotion which they practiced, but Jerome is frequently remembered for his bad temper! It is true that he had a very bad temper and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God and his Son Jesus Christ was extraordinarily intense; anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and St. Jerome went after him or her with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.

He was above all a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He also wrote commentaries which are a great source of scriptural inspiration for us today. He was an avid student, a thorough scholar, a prodigious letter-writer and a consultant to monk, bishop and pope. St. Augustine (August 28) said of him, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.”

St. Jerome is particularly important for having made a translation of the Bible which came to be called the Vulgate. It is not the most critical edition of the Bible, but its acceptance by the Church was fortunate. As a modern scholar says, “No man before Jerome or among his contemporaries and very few men for many centuries afterwards were so well qualified to do the work.” The Council of Trent called for a new and corrected edition of the Vulgate, and declared it the authentic text to be used in the Church.

In order to be able to do such work, Jerome prepared himself well. He was a master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic. He began his studies at his birthplace, Stridon in Dalmatia (in the former Yugoslavia). After his preliminary education he went to Rome, the center of learning at that time, and thence to Trier, Germany, where the scholar was very much in evidence. He spent several years in each place, always trying to find the very best teachers. He once served as private secretary of Pope Damasus (December 11).

As a student in Rome, he engaged in the superficial escapades and wanton behaviour of students there, which he indulged in quite casually but for which he suffered terrible bouts of repentance afterwards. To appease his conscience, he would visit on Sundays the sepulchers of the martyrs and the Apostles in the catacombs. This experience would remind him of the terrors of hell:

“Often I would find myself entering those crypts, deep dug in the earth, with their walls on either side lined with the bodies of the dead, where everything was so dark that almost it seemed as though the Psalmist’s words were fulfilled, “Let them go down quick into Hell.”(Ps 55:15)  Here and there the light, not entering in through windows, but filtering down from above through shafts, relieved the horror of the darkness. But again, as soon as you found yourself cautiously moving forward, the black night closed around and there came to my mind the line of Vergil, “Horror unique animus, simul ipsa silentia terrent'”.   Jerome used a quote from Vergil — “On all sides round horror spread wide; the very silence breathed a terror on my soul.” — to describe the horror of hell. Jerome initially used classical authors to describe Christian concepts such as hell that indicated both his classical education and his deep shame of their associated practices, such as pederasty which was found in ancient Rome. Although initially skeptical of Christianity, he was eventually converted.

After these preparatory studies he traveled extensively in Palestine, marking each spot of Christ’s life with an outpouring of devotion. Mystic that he was, he spent five years in the desert of Chalcis so that he might give himself up to prayer, penance and study. Finally he settled in Bethlehem, where he lived in the cave believed to have been the birthplace of Christ. On September 30 in the year 420, Jerome died in Bethlehem. The remains of his body now lie buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

Jerome was a strong, outspoken man. He had the virtues and the unpleasant fruits of being a fearless critic and all the usual moral problems of a man. He was, as someone has said, no admirer of moderation whether in virtue or against evil. He was swift to anger, but also swift to feel remorse, even more severe on his own shortcomings than on those of others. A pope is said to have remarked, on seeing a picture of Jerome striking his breast with a stone, “You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

“In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In this exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: In my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was” (“Letter to St. Eustochium”).

“You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard…. But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?” – Saint Jerome from Against Vigilantius, 406

“I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: “Search the Scriptures,” and “Seek and you shall find.” For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. No one should think that I mean to explain the entire subject matter of this great book of the prophet Isaiah in one brief sermon, since it contains all the mysteries of the lord. It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men. Whatever is proper to holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the book of Isaiah.” -Jerome: from a commentary on Isaiah

“The person who is dedicated to Christ is equally earnest in small things as in great.” -St. Jerome

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-“St Jerome Reading in the Countryside”, by Giovanni Bellini, 1505

Prayer for Christ’s Mercy

“O Lord, show Your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded and left for dead. O Good Samaritan, come to my aid, I am like the sheep that went astray. O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in Your house all the days of my life and praise You for ever and ever with those who are there.  Amen.”  -St Jerome

Love,
Matthew

“Prayer – the last refuge of scoundrels!” -Lisa Simpson

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-by Br. Clement Dickie, OP

“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” -Bart Simpson

“Prayer, the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
-Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, episode 14, describing Bart’s turn to God.  Bart would have to repeat the third grade if he failed another history exam, but he hadn’t studied for his make-up test. The night before the exam, he took refuge in the Almighty, begging for a snow storm.

It’s an old cliche that when your chips are down, you know who your real friends are. There are some friends whom you can turn to when you’re in trouble and there are others who fall away when the good times stop rolling.

In the Book of Judges, which covers the time between Israel’s settlement in the promised land (covered in the Book of Joshua) and the beginnings of the Davidic Kingdom (Samuel), we see the Israelites falling out with the God of their ancestors and partying with the Baals repeatedly. (Of course this is a perennial theme in Old Testament literature.) Worshiping Baals was just more fun than serving God.

In Judges 10, Israel again “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and “served the Baals of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the Lord and did not serve him” (Judges 10:6). God grew frustrated with His people and He allowed the Philistines and Ammonites to crush and oppress Israel.

Finally, Israel pleaded with God. “Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, ‘We have sinned against You, for we have abandoned our God and served the Baals’” (Judges 10:10).

But this time God’s response is a little different: “The LORD answered the Israelites: Did not the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Midianites oppress you? Yet when you cried out to Me, and I saved you from their power, you still abandoned Me and served other gods. Therefore I will save you no more” (Judges 10:11-14).

Ultimately, God is faithful even where we fail. (As Paul puts it in his Second Letter to Timothy: “If we are unfaithful He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”) He will eventually have King David subdue the land, and ultimately He will send His only Son to be Our Savior.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us an invitation to friendship (15:14–17). While we do turn to our friends in times of trouble, friendship is much more than that. We need to give our attention to God even when we don’t have a big exam the next day or Amorites banging at the gates.

In good times worshiping idols like Baal, Bacchus, mammon, Mars, Aphrodite, or any other created thing may seem like fun. The rituals are exciting, and a material god is easier to comprehend than the utterly transcendent God. But in the end, the only way to happiness is through the One, True God.

But being friends with God means that we have to pray constantly. If our friends are real friends, they are with us in good times and bad times. And if we are real friends to them, we must invite them to be a part of our joys as well as our struggles. If He has deigned to make us worthy of being called His friends, we cannot fail to act on that friendship.”

Love,
Matthew

The Saints, Scripture, Jazz Music, & Calvinism…

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– by Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P.(Br. Bonaventure Chapman entered the Order of Preachers, Eastern Province, The Province of St Joseph, in 2010. He received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“The saints are the hermeneuts of the Scriptures. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of this in Verbum Domini: ”The interpretation of Sacred Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening to those who have truly lived the word of God: namely, the saints” (VD 48).

Yet this seems difficult to swallow after reading some of the saints’ interpretations of Scripture, with their allegorical and mystical numerology. For instance, take St. Augustine’s reflections on John 6, the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes:

“By the five loaves are understood the five books of Moses; and rightly are they not wheaten but barley loaves, because they belong to the Old Testament. And you know that barley is so formed that we get at its pith with difficulty; for the pith is covered in a coating of husk, and the husk itself tenacious and closely adhering, so as to be stripped off with labor. Such is the letter of the Old Testament, invested in a covering of carnal sacraments.”

Even St. Thomas, who asserted that all allegorical interpretation must be grounded in the literal sense of Scripture, seems to partake of this perturbing pattern: “This boy had five loaves, that is, the teaching of the law: either because this teaching was contained in the five books of Moses . . . or because it was given to men absorbed in sensible things, which are made known through the five senses.” John Calvin always struck me as more reliable in reading Scripture with his plain and clear style. No numerology, no speculation, just solid exposition and practical exhortation: “Let us now sum up the meaning of the whole miracle. It has this in common with the other miracles, that Christ displayed in it his Divine power in union with beneficence, it is also a confirmation to us of that statement by which he exhorts us to seek the kingdom of God, promising that all other things shall be added to us.”

When I was a Calvinist, I thought like a Calvinst, spoke like a Calvinist, and interpreted like a Calvinist. But now as a Catholic I have put Calvinist ways aside, especially with the help of different kind of exegete: John Coltrane.

A number of us student brothers are part of a jazz band which is preparing to play for the Annual Spring Gala this weekend here at the Dominican House of Studies (shameless promotion!). Although trained in classical clarinet I prefer to play jazz, especially the dixieland variety. One reason for this is improvisation: jazz usually involves a main melody or head followed by various musicians’ “readings” of this melody in improvised solos. The soloist gets to offer his own interpretation of the piece and add his own coloring to the music before the band comes together to complete the song. To me this is where the fun, excitement, and skill resides: not just playing but creating.

Now, as any jazz aficionado knows, one cannot simply play anything in these solos; there are chord progressions as well as the theme of the song in general to guide the solo, and any good solo must respect these. But there is plenty of creative space to bring out new treasures from a time-worn piece. And the greater the musician the more creative one can be. Listen as one of the greats, John Coltrane, describes his method: “Here’s how I play: I take off from a point and I go as far as possible. But hopefully, I’ll never lose my way. I say hopefully, because what especially interests me is to discover the ways that I never suspected were possible. My phrasing isn’t a simple prolongation of my musical ideas, and I’m happy that my technique permits me to go very far in this domain, but I must add that it’s always in a very conscious manner.”

Perhaps the saints are like this, inspired troubadours of the Gospel who can stretch the meaning of the text to find new and powerful interpretations. Like the jazz soloist their freedom for interpretation is not infinite. Yet there is a creativity to their readings, grounded in a life spent soaking in God’s word, that breaks open familiar passages in unexpected ways.

And it is unfortunately true that not everyone likes jazz; some people prefer the more classical or mundane forms of music. So too some people, like myself in my Protestant days, do not like the hermeneutics of the saints. But this antipathy need not be final or irreversible; perhaps one of these nay-sayers just needs someone to listen with them and explain the beauty, power, and truth of the saints’ solos. Or as Pope Benedict XVI says: “We can point to a fundamental criterion of biblical hermeneutics: the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church“ (VD 29). A world of music without jazz strikes me as a pretty impoverished place. How much more disconcerting is the impoverishment of a world of scriptural interpretation without those great masters, the saints?”

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-Mark Dukes, John Coltrane Icons

n.b. John Coltrane is considered a saint only in the 5,000-member African Orthodox Church for which this icon was painted. He is not a canonized Roman Catholic saint.

Love,
Matthew

The Returning Master

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. 
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.   And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. 
Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” 
Then Peter said, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” 
And Jesus replied, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute (the) food allowance 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. 
But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful. 
That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will, but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. 
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” 
-Luke 12:35-48

Proverbs, Chapter 9

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;

She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.

She has sent out her maidservants; she calls
from the heights out over the city:

“Let whoever is naive turn in here;
to any who lack sense I say,

Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!

Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.”

Whoever corrects the arrogant earns insults;
and whoever reproves the wicked incurs opprobrium.

Do not reprove the arrogant, lest they hate you;
reprove the wise, and they will love you.

Instruct the wise, and they become still wiser;
teach the just, and they advance in learning.

THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM IS HOLY FEAR OF THE LORD,
and knowledge of the Holy One and counsel of the saints is understanding.

For by me your days will be multiplied
and the years of your life increased.

If you are wise, wisdom is to your advantage;
if you are arrogant, you alone shall bear it.

Woman Folly is raucous,
utterly foolish; she knows nothing.

She sits at the door of her house
upon a seat on the city heights,

Calling to passersby
as they go on their way straight ahead:

“Let those who are naive turn in here,
to those who lack sense I say,

Stolen water is sweet,
and bread taken secretly is pleasing!”

Little do they know that the shades are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol!

De Profundis

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Dominicans, after vespers each evening, line the hallways of their priories facing each other and sing the De Profundis (Psalm 130), remembering all the members of their order who have received their eternal reward.  Dominicans traditionally would bury their dead underneath the hallways of their priories.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication:
If you, O Lord, mark our iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord;
For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

V.         Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord,
R.         And let the perpetual light shine upon him/her,
V.         From the gates of Hell,
R.         Deliver his/her soul, O Lord,
V.         May he/she rest in peace,
R.         Amen.
V.         O Lord, hear my prayer,
R.         And let my cry come unto You.

Oremus:
O God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind,
Grant unto the souls of the departed
The remission of all their sins:
That through our prayers
They may obtain the pardon
They have always desired.

V.         Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created,
R.         And You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my dissolution is at hand.
I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the Faith.
From now on a crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, just judge that He is, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.”
-2 Timothy 4:6-8

Bonum certamen certavi,
Cursum consumavi,
Fidem servavi!

I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the Faith!

“The world is tired,
The year is old,
The faded leaves are glad to die…”
-Sara Teasdale, “November” 

Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”  -Isaiah 35:10

Love,
Matthew