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Thursday, February 25, 2016

The meaning of "the fear of the Lord"

From a treatise on the psalms by Saint Hilary of Poitiers

Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways. Notice that when Scripture speaks of the fear of the Lord it does not leave the phrase in isolation, as if it were a complete summary of faith. No, many things are added to it, or are presupposed by it. From these we may learn its meaning and excellence. In the book of Proverbs Solomon tells us: If you cry out for wisdom and raise your voice for understanding, if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord. We see here the difficult journey we must undertake before we can arrive at the fear of the Lord. We must begin by crying out for wisdom. We must hand over to our intellect the duty of making every decision. We must look for wisdom and search for it. Then we must understand the fear of the Lord. “Fear” is not to be taken in the sense that common usage gives it. Fear in this ordinary sense is the trepidation our weak humanity feels when it is afraid of suffering something it does not want to happen. We are afraid, or made afraid, because of a guilty conscience, the rights of someone more powerful, an attack from one who is stronger, sickness, encountering a wild beast, suffering evil in any form. This kind of fear is not taught: it happens because we are weak. We do not have to learn what we should fear: objects of fear bring their own terror with them. But of the fear of the Lord this is what is written: Come, my children, listen to me, I shall teach you the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord has then to be learned because it can be taught. It does not lie in terror, but in something that can be taught. It does not arise from the fearfulness of our nature; it has to be acquired by obedience to the commandments, by holiness of life and by knowledge of the truth. For us the fear of God consists wholly in love, and perfect love of God brings our fear of him to its perfection. Our love for God is entrusted with its own responsibility: to observe his counsels, to obey his laws, to trust his promises. Let us hear what Scripture says: And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God and walk in his ways and love him and keep his commandments with your whole heart and your whole soul, so that it may be well for you? The ways of the Lord are many, though he is himself the way. When he speaks of himself he calls himself the way and shows us the reason why he called himself the way: No one can come to the Father except through me. We must ask for these many ways, we must travel along these many ways, to find the one that is good. That is, we shall find the one way of eternal life through the guidance of many teachers. These ways are found in the law, in the prophets, in the gospels, in the writings of the apostles, in the different good works by which we fulfil the commandments. Blessed are those who walk these ways in the fear of the Lord.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

They sought to destroy whom they feared

Then there came to power in Egypt a new king who knew nothing of Joseph. ‘Look,’ he said to his subjects ‘these people, the sons of Israel, have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further,’ ... Accordingly they put slave-drivers over the Israelites to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way they built the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread, and men came to dread the sons of Israel. (Exodus 1:1-22)

This reminds me of the eugenics that drove the Nazis to try and destroy the Jews, or drove any group to genocide. Could there be a parallel as well with attempts to destroy Christianity in countries which were once Christian kingdoms, where now they proclaim proudly, at least many of those in political power, that they are secular nations? 'We have no king but Caesar', they might as well be saying.

But for Christians and Jews, we know this: "No sword of their own won the land; no arm of their own brought them victory." For to God we declare: "It was your right hand, your arm and the light of your face; for you loved them." -- Psalm 43 (44)

This does not mean timid acquiescence to secular masters, of course, but it does mean recognizing the real power behind our victory: Christ, crucified and risen. And so our struggles for justice and the spread of the gospel has meaning beyond this passing world. In these days of Lent, let us remember: we are at war with the Enemy, and our King has already won, not with blades and bullets, but, as by missionaries of centuries past, with the Cross.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Happy Lent has come: taking stock in the silence

Bishop Robert Barron, in his video series, Catholicism, noted that Christ on the cross was, one might say, a happy man. The context was the Beatitudes, and those words all applied to him like no other. That turns the meaning of happiness on it's head because we in the 21st century have equated happiness with emotional or physical pleasure, perhaps more than anybody else in the past.

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. We hopefully remember that the Christian cross, and the doctrines on holy suffering and denying oneself or mortification, is essential to our salvation. Firstly. That is how Christ redeemed us, but that is how we, in our turn, abide in him. A lot of people don't realize that, while we have breath in or bodies, we continue to be at war with our concupiscence, our tendency to sin. It's like gravity that pulls us down. Like a bird in flight, if we stop flapping our wings, we gradually allow down and lose altitude. If that goes on further, at some point we land altogether. We have to keep going, perhaps pacing ourselves, but never stopping, avoiding slowing down. That way, we make better use of our momentum and avoid the bother of taking off again. Of course, there will be times when we do crash and fall. Not a problem, as long as we keep our resolve of faith. Lent helps is there, too.

Lent reminds us why we bother, keeping our eyes on the target rather than getting distracted by the sights along the way. It trains us for battle, too, because there will be moments when great sacrifices alone will win the day, for ourselves or for others.

Happy Lent! Onward!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Is there an End to God's Mercy?

'And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.’ (Mark 6:7-13)

Is it only a romantic notion that Jesus' mercy and patience is boundless?

For some time now, I have this growing awareness that misunderstanding Time, or omitting it from all considerations, is a key element in much that goes wrong in one's life. I think this is no different. Two things come to mind in this context of closed hearts. First, there is likely to be tomorrow, which means, as a general rule at least, it ain't over 'til it's over. What's the point in leaving a sign as directed above? It wouldn't be a petty, pointless gesture. Sometimes we need to be jolted by a warning, such as the threat of time running out someday, and the offer being forfeited. Second, yes, there is time, and as we know, time waits for no one, it proceeds despite out darnedest wishes to the contrary. With it comes change, for ill or nil, and the true danger is not that God's mercy will end, but that any desire for mercy will be stifled by vice. It sticks like tar and builds up until it becomes incredibly difficult to scrub off.

C. S. Lewis thinks of Hell as being locked from inside, and that's how mercy comes to an end - not from God's end but from Man's.