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Friday, March 31, 2006

Readings for 30 March, 2006

First Reading: "But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, "Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? ... So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people." (Exodus 32:7-14)

Psalm: They forgot the God who saved them, who did great deeds in Egypt. (Psalm 106:19-23)

Gospel: "'If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony cannot be verified. But there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true. You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.'" (John 5:31-47)

Commentary, from DailyGospel.org: St. Jerome tells us to "understand that you cannot get involved in Holy Scripture without a guide who will show you the way."

Today's Saint: St. John Climacus, (~ AD 525-606) who chose to eschew a life of comfort to live as a hermit near and on Mt. Sinai. St. John Climacus is an example of how a hermit's life is far from fruitful. While he worked towards a sanctified life, he touched the lives of those who sought his wisdom and his intercessory prayers. He was abbott for a time, of Mt. Sinai's community of monks and hermits, and wrote two great works: "Scala [Klimax] Paradisi" (via Amazon) and "Liber ad Pastorem" (possible copies available for sale). [Further reading: EWTN article and an excerpt from Scala Paradisi via Fr. Alexander (Orthodox)]

St. Jerome in his commentary tells us that there are witnesses to be had. The writers of the Scriptures are sure witnesses, but there is more. In the time of Christ, he contended with men who looked to Scriptures as their guide, and even enjoyed the light of St. John the Baptist for a time, but something kept them from accepting the Lord: they lacked "the love of God" in them. The love of God is Christ himself, and communion with him is necessary, but they had too much pride to even consider it. What is at odds with the person of Christ is not Scripture but a closed mind that admits nothing outside of what is already known. For many among the Pharisees, they had Scriptures and their own understanding of it. Nothing else was to be admitted. This is dangerous for a believer because there is something greater than the written Word: "the Word made flesh" (John 1). There is something greater than our own understanding: the witness of the communion of saints, that "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1), most of whom did not write Scriptures. The Bible witnesses to Christ but it is not the only witness to Christ. At the time of Christ, St. John the Baptist was a witness, beyond Moses who represents the witness of what was Scriptures at that time, prior to the New Testament.

The love of God is rejected by pride. St. John Climacus tells us: "The proud man wants to be in charge of things. He would feel lost otherwise." Christ was not palatable to the men who liked being in charge. Today, many things of Christ, held from the very beginning but tossed out more recently, are rejected by many who may not realize that they close their minds in pride. I do not mean to doubt Scriptures like a ship tossed by every wave, but to have the open mind to look at other witnesses and see that they also speak of Christ, perhaps beyond what is told in Scriptures but not in opposition to them. There is no fear that the Bible will be found wanting because Truth can be verified and withstands all questions.

St. Jerome tells us: "How many people today who claim to be educated hold a sealed Book in their hands! And they are incapable of opening it unless it is opened by 'him who has the key of David; if he opens, no one will close, and if he closes, no one will open.'" He does not mention the obvious reference to St. Peter and the keys here (Matthew 16:13-19), but he nails it nonetheless that "you cannot get involved in Holy Scripture without a guide who will show you the way." It is necessary to admit that one needs an authoritative (the keys) guide outside of himself. I have had some people tell me "I have the gospels, I am inerrant." Such thoughts are perilous. I hold Scriptures in the highest esteem, inspired and inerrant, but to deal with Scriptures alone, without a guide, is to court disaster. The disaster of pride that befell those among the Pharisees who kept like-minded people alone as their guide (other Pharisees who rejected Christ) who closed their minds to external witnesses like St. John the Baptist and the signs of Christ.

The Lord tells us that he is more than Scriptures: "You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life." What life? Christ tells us in John 6, vv 33, 35, 40, 47, 48, 51, 53, 54, 57, etc. "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (v53). The Eucharist truly is the source and summit of Christian life. In it is the entire mystery of salvation and sanctification. It holds in it the mysteries of the Incarnation and the grace of God. In the Eucharist is an intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth and the life."(John 14:6) [Further reading here. Non-Catholic resources here.] It is not so much that the Eucharist alone is the source of life in Christ, for we also encounter the Lord in Scriptures. However, the summit of life is Christ himself, who is witnessed to but is not contained exclusively within Scriptures. But if Christ is more than Scriptures, if we want to be so united with him beyond what we can read in Scriptures, then where else do we seek Him? In the flesh. We are to encounter Him mystically in His body and blood, in the Eucharist. We must encounter him in our neighbors, especially the least of us, "widows and orphans" and the poor. The communion of the Eucharist is both communion with Christ and, through Christ, communion with our neighbors, admittedly more complete with our brethren in the "household of God, which is the church of the living God" (Timothy 3:15). Which encounter matters the most? Let us not aim for the minimum required degree of communion. We must encounter Him in what opportunities are open to us. He is in Moses, the evangelists and the Scriptures. He is the Eucharist, the "bread of life" (John 6). He is in St. John the Baptist and in the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) in the communion of saints who are in the household of God.

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