Weeks 181-190

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 181: Prophetic Lessons: A Reflection on Jeremiah 1: 1-10

 

The words of Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, of a priestly family in Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin. The word of the LORD came to me thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, "I know not how to speak; I am too young.” But the LORD answered me, Say not, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD. Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying, See, I place my words in your mouth! This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, To root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant. (Jer 1:1, 4-10)

 

In this reading we hear the calling of Jeremiah to be a prophet of the Lord. Jeremiah protests because he thinks he’s too young for the job, but the Lord immediately reassures him and tells him not to be afraid, but this will be Jeremiah’s curse throughout his life, because he’s barely a teenager when the Lord calls him to be a prophet.

 

For many years, people don’t take him seriously. Then when he gets older and people do take him seriously, they hate him, and even make several attempts on his life, because he’s always prophesizing bad news. When everything Jeremiah predicts comes to pass, the people hate him all the more, as if Jeremiah were somehow the cause of the calamities and not the sinfulness of the people.

 

So many great lessons come out of this reading. The first is what a great pro-life message we get in these words the Lord speaks to Jeremiah when he first calls him. “Before you were in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.”

 

God has known each and every human being from the beginning of time. And God has had a plan for each and every human being from the beginning of time. What gives us the right to play God and decide who lives and who dies? What arrogance gives us the right to decide which life is valuable and which isn’t? These aren’t our decisions to make, either individually or as a society.

 

The second lesson we learn is never discount someone because of his or her age. No one is too young or too old to be used as an instrument of God. Abraham was an old man when God first called him. David was a young shepherd boy. Noah was an old man. The prophet Samuel was a boy. Moses was an old man. Mary, the Blessed Mother, was a young girl. There is wisdom in age, and there is zeal in youth. God can use any of us at any time.

           

We for our part always have to be diligent to be listening for his call. We do that by how we live our lives. We strive to live virtuously. We take time to pray and go to Mass and receive the sacraments. We also need to be careful not to disregard what others tell us because they are old or young. We can all learn something from each other.

           

Sometimes when I’m talking to the school kids about some moral or social issue even though they don’t SAY it, I can tell by the expression on their faces exactly what they’re thinking: “He’s an old man, what does HE know? He’s a priest. It’s his job to say this stuff.” Likewise when I was a young priest I thought the old pastors were clueless as to what was going on, but as I get older I see how much they really had on the ball. When I see some of our young people really on fire for God, full of zeal, it inspires and energizes me. That’s also the role of a prophet.

 

And finally the last lesson we learn from this reading is to not be afraid of speaking up for what’s right. Just as God gave Jeremiah what he needed to testify to the truth, so God will do the same for each of us. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Jeremiah suffered for his defense of the truth, but God saw him through. And I think THAT’S what REALLY holds Catholics back from speaking out on so many of these moral issues. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of ridicule. We’re afraid of being called names, of being scorned. Measure that against eternity, and it’s a small price to pay. If you ever get discouraged, think of the reward that awaits us in heaven.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: “The creator of the heavens obeys a carpenter; the God of eternal glory listens to a poor virgin. Has anyone ever witnessed anything comparable to this? Let the philosopher no longer disdain from listening to the common laborer; the wise, to the simple; the educated, to the illiterate; a child of a prince, to a peasant.”  - Saint Anthony of Padua

 

“The nation doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are.”

- Saint Teresia Benedicta (Edith Stein)

 

Prayer by a Saint: “My most sweet Jesus, infinitely merciful God, most tender Father of souls, and in a particular way of the most weak, most miserable, most infirm which You carry with special tenderness between Your divine arms, I come to You to ask You, through the love and merits of Your Sacred Heart, the grace to comprehend and to do always Your holy will, the grace to confide in You, the grace to rest securely through time and eternity in Your loving divine arms. Amen.”

– Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

 

Questions for Reflection:

1. What is your involvement in the Pro-Life Movement?

 

2. What do you think is the most important message for young expectant couples to hear?

 

3. Describe a time when the messenger of God was a surprise to you. 

 

4. To what is God calling you?

 

5. To whom have you been sent? 

 

6. From whom do you find it most difficult to hear the message of God? 

 

7. Describe the positive outcome of a time when you were successfully able to stand up for what is right.

 

8. Describe a time when God has given you what you needed in a situation where there were negative consequences to speaking His truth. 

 

9. What does our nation need of what you are? 

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 182: Getting Intimate: A Reflection on Jeremiah 31: 31-34

 

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers: the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. (Jer 31:31-34)

 

“I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts: I will be their God, and they shall be my people; No longer will they need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to the greatest shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”

 

How well do we know God? You know, whoever says that the God of the Old Testament is a fire and brimstone, vengeful, vindictive god, really doesn’t know the scriptures at all. The entire Old Testament is God laying the foundation, tilling the soil, preparing people’s hearts for what they would be receiving in the New Testament.

               

Then other people hear passages like this from Jeremiah and have the opposite

reaction, “Oh sure! Typical Catholicism.” “Everything will be OK, sometime in the distant future.” “Just hang in there a little while longer. But things never get better now.” Again, these are also people who don’t know scripture, because this passage I just quoted from Jeremiah has already been fulfilled in US!

 

                WE have the law of God written on our hearts. WE are his people.

                WE know the Lord. WE have been forgiven by God for our past sins.

 

We first have to understand what is meant by “to know.” To know something or someone in the biblical sense is not just to know their name or be acquainted with them. To know something biblically means to be intimate with. So when the Archangel Gabriel approaches the Virgin Mary with the prospect of being the mother of the Messiah, Mary responds, “But how can this be, since I have not KNOWN man.” How can this be, since I’m a virgin, since I’ve had no intimate relations with a man?

               

In the biblical sense, in the sense Jeremiah is speaking about in this passage, we have KNOWN God, because we’ve shared his flesh and blood in the

Eucharist. Through baptism he has forgiven our evildoing of the past. In confession he forgives our sins in the presence. Through the anointing he heals us. Through marriage and holy orders he continues to serve us and teach us.

 

So my brothers and sisters through the Church and the Sacraments this prophesy of Jeremiah is fulfilled. The question remains though, this being true, why is there so much dysfunction in the world?

               

God continues to pour out his Grace through the sacraments, but do people use that Grace to truly know the Lord, or are the sacraments no more than stylized rituals to fulfill some kind of obligation so I can go to heaven when I die? God continues to pour out his Grace through the sacraments but how many people truly believe that?

 

God longs for us to know him. That’s clear from the gospel. Jesus questions his closest friends, “Who do the people say that I am?” Do the people know me? “And you, who do you say that I am?” Do you really know me?

 

So how do we know God? We know God by using the Grace of the Sacraments to grow in virtue and so imitate God. As we imitate God more and more by becoming more virtuous, we’ll come to know him. We know God by reading scripture and striving to understand scripture.

               

So how well do we know God? That something we all have to answer for ourselves. But I pray today that we’re all striving for that intimate knowledge of him as best we can, so others will come to know him through us.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: "God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen. And then we speak to God from the fullness of our heart, and God listens. And this listening and this speaking is what prayer is meant to be: oneness with God, oneness with Jesus." – Blessed Mother Teresa

 

Prayer by a Saint: "I know but one thing now - to love Thee, O Jesus!" - Saint Therese

 

Questions for Reflection:

1. How well do you know God?

 

2. How have you come to know Him? 

 

3. How do you stay in touch with Him?

 

4. How intimate is your contact? 

 

5. Describe the grace you have received from Eucharist.

 

6. Describe the grace you have received from Reconciliation.

 

7. How might you make Eucharist more intimate?

 

8. How might you make Reconciliation more intimate?

 

9. How is your chosen vocation increasing your intimacy with God? 

 

10. Would you describe your prayer life as intimate?  If not, how could you make it so?

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 183: Mother Church: A Reflection on 2 Samuel 7: 1-7

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ (2 Samuel 7:1-7)

In Scripture, we read that King David wants to build the Lord a house. (2 Sam: 7:1-7)  I don’t know what David’s motivations were in wanting the temple built. Maybe he wanted to build a monument to his own kingship. Then he can always say “I built the temple.” Maybe he felt ashamed because he was living in luxury while the ark of the covenant was in tent. I’d like to give David the benefit of the doubt today. I believe David wanted to build the temple to form a family.

What is the common ground that every family shares? A house! Families live together. What is an orphan? A child without a home.

For a thousand years Israel had been an orphan nation. They were a nomadic tribe under Abraham, wandering here and there. They were slaves for four hundred years in Egypt. Then for two hundred years, they were in semi-possession of this country that they shared with various pagan tribes.

And I believe that was David’s motivation, more than anything else, for wanting to build the temple. David wanted to bring the nation together under the Fatherhood of God. David wanted to be able to say, this is our home, this is our land, this is our kingdom, this is our God, and this is our family.

When is a family established? At a marriage. At a wedding. When a man and a woman commit themselves wholly to one another for the rest of their lives, they become a family.

What completes a family? Children. When life is communicated and becomes an individual, marriage is fulfilled. David thinks, “We have our Father God. We are his children. What are we missing? MOTHER CHURCH!”

David wants to establish Mother Church, but God has to stop him. Whoa, David. You’re not ready for this yet. The people aren’t ready for this yet. You’ve got a good idea, but you’ve got to wait.
Why has David got to wait? Because he spilled blood. Not the blood of the sacrifice. Not the blood of the covenant. David spilled the blood of many soldiers in battle. And God is saying to him, I realize you had to it, but I still don’t like it. But because of your devotion and obedience, I’ll allow one of your sons to build me a temple, one whose hands are clean.

David is an image of the nation of Israel. David was called a king after God’s own heart. Israel was a nation after God’s own heart, but Israel kept displeasing the Lord. Israel kept spilling blood through its sinfulness. And God is telling David, “I want to truly be your father, I want you to truly be my children, I WANT TO GIVE YOU A MOTHER! But I can’t right now. You have to be patient. You have to wait.   But I promise one is coming after you whose hands will be clean, and he will give you your true mother. He will make us a true family.”

And that is what we have my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, a true family. And here is a saint who can help us pray for that. Saint Angela Merici, born in 1540, was orphaned at 10 years old. She lost her biological family, but not her spiritual one. She founded the Ursuline sisters, the first teaching order especially for poor young girls. And she sought the re-evangelization of the family, through the education of future wives and mothers. If there was a saint whose prayers we could use today, it’s hers. In this age where we’re seeing the biological and spiritual family take a beating, let us raise our voices in prayer to her:

“Saint Angela Merici, make our families strong in love and committed to the vocation of parenthood. Give our parents wisdom to raise their children with the teachings of the true Church, and may we their children be ever respectful of them, and care for them when they are old. And we ask this and all things through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

Quote from a Saint: Be consoled; do not doubt; we want to see you in our midst in heaven, for the Lover of us all wants this, too.  And who is there who could resist Him, whose light and joyful splendour of truth will surround you at the moment of death, and will deliver you from the hands of the enemy. So, persevere faithfully and joyfully in the work you have begun.  And take care, take care, I say, not to lose your fervour, for every promise that I make to you will be fulfilled for you beyond measure. Now, I am going, and you, in the meantime, do what has to be done.  But first I embrace you, and to you all I give the kiss of peace, begging God to bless you. In nomine Patris, et Filii, and Spiritus Sancti. Amen. – Saint Angela Merici, Last Legacy, 17-28

Prayer: Deign, O most loving Lord, to forgive me my so numerous offences, and every fault that I have ever committed from the day of my holy Baptism to this hour.  Deign also to forgive the sins, alas, of my father and mother, and of my relatives and friends, and of the whole world. – Saint Angela Merici, Rule, Ch. V, 23-24

Questions for Reflection:

1.    Why do you think the Church is called Holy MOTHER Church? Do you see the Church as a Mother? Why or why not?

2.    How has the Church mothered you?

3.    Why wasn’t David allowed to build God’s house? Do you think that was a legitmate reason?

4.    Note that David thought about building God a house once he was all settled in his personal life. Do you ever put God last in your own life? What place does God have in your life?

5.    Discuss the quote from Angela Merici. Do you think you have lost your first spiritual fervor?

6.    Recall David’s early life. Do you think he may have lost his fervor as he grew older?

7.    What can we do to reclaim our fervor for God?

8.    Discuss Angela Merici’s prayer. Do you ever think to pray for God’s forgiveness for sins of other family members? Of the world? How can you become more charitable in your prayer?

9.    What are you doing to strengthen your family?

10.    What are you doing to strengthen your parish family?

11.    What might still be done to strengthen Mother Church?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 184: Imitating Forgiveness: One Way to Become Like God: A Reflection on Genesis 50:15-19

 

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘this is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

 

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

 

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50: 15-19)

 

Forgiveness. Anyone who has a grudge against a family member should read the story of Joseph in the Bible, because if anyone had a good reason for holding a grudge it was Joseph.

 

Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, also called Israel. Joseph’s ten older brothers were jealous of him, because Jacob loved Joseph more than the others. Part of the reason for that was Joseph’s mother was the wife Jacob loved, but Jacob married the mother of Joseph’s older brothers out of obligation. The other reason was that Joseph, and later Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin, were the children of Jacob’s old age, and so he was fond of them. And the more Jacob’s partiality toward Joseph grows, the more his older brothers resent him, until finally, one day when they see Joseph approaching them in the field as they tended the flocks, they plot to kill him. They attack Joseph, and throw him down a dry well, but when they see a merchant caravan the next day heading for Egypt, they decide instead of killing him, to sell him as a slave. They get thirty pieces of silver for selling their brother; ironically, the exact same amount of money Judas Iscariot gets for betraying Jesus.

 

And so Joseph is a slave now, but despite this, his faith in God never wavers. Joseph was more righteous than his brothers. And because Joseph stays faithful to God throughout his trials, God continues to bless everything Joseph undertakes, until he not only rises out of slavery, he eventually becomes governor of Egypt under Pharaoh.

 

All these years have gone by. Joseph has endured slavery, imprisonment, and abuse. And through his faith he rose above it all to a position of prominence and wealth. And what do you think happens next? A famine breaks out in the land of Canaan, and who comes to Egypt looking to buy food? Joseph’s brothers do. And what does he do? Does he say to himself, “Payback time?” They don’t recognize him because he’s an adult now, and dressed like an Egyptian, but Joseph recognizes them. But instead of seeking revenge, Joseph tests them to see if their faith has grown any over the years. And when he sees evidence that they are repentant, he reveals his identity. And Joseph not only forgives them, for first plotting to kill him, and then selling him into slavery, this is how Joseph interprets the events that happened. Joseph, the man of faith, sees all these events as God’s way of saving the clan. Joseph sees his brothers as instruments of God to send him to Egypt ahead of them, so he could prepare a place for them to live and prosper when the time came. And that’s exactly what happens. Joseph is reunited with his father Jacob, and all the twelve tribes of Israel come to dwell in the land of Goshen in Egypt.

 

But if that were any of us, would we be able to forgive the siblings that wronged us? How often do I hear people tell me things like, “I can’t forgive?” Or, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”  That’s nonsense. Forgiving is forgetting. And these are family members who have not plotted to kill us, or sold us into slavery. Usually the offenses against us are far more minor. If we cannot forgive our own blood, whom can we forgive? There is this trend these days to blame our parents for all our problems. It may well be that your parents messed up. No one is born being a good parent. But if we can’t forgive the people who gave us life, whom can we forgive? Joseph is a pre-image of Christ, the beloved son of the father, who became a slave, suffered, and even died, and yet through it forgave, and enabled all of us to be forgiven. I don’t care what the offense is. If God could forgive us all that, then we can forgive one another.

 

We cannot create universes. We can’t walk on water, stop time, or multiply bread and fish, but we can all forgive. And in this one way, we can all become like God.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make his spirit, his devotion, his affections, his desire, and his disposition live and reign there. - Saint John Eudes

 

Prayer by a Saint: “May we never risk the life of our souls by being resentful or by bearing grudges.” - Saint Gregory of Nyssa

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. List some of the reasons for which a person might choose to hold a grudge.

 

2. Call to mind a time when someone held a grudge against you. How many of the reasons above might have justified that grudge?

 

3. What does it mean to you to forgive?

 

4. How do mercy, justice and reconciliation connect with forgiveness?

 

5. In the context of this homily, what does it mean to forget?

 

6. Is there any offense you would consider unforgivable?

 

7. Call to mind the person who has most grievously offended you. What is it about that person or offense that raises the gravity to the top of the list?

 

8. How would you advise a person struggling to forgive?

 

9. If God can find it in His heart to forgive, is there any reason why a person should not.

 

10. For meditation: Is there any soul at all awaiting your forgiveness?

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 185: Strive to Be Perfect: A Reflection on Colossians 3: 12-17

 

 

Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs. Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

 

Saint Paul really has a good handle on what it means to be Christian. “Because you are God’s holy ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.”

 

Wow. What a list of virtues that is. We should all keep these virtues in our wallets or tacked on our refrigerators where we can check them every day. ‘OK, did I exercise mercy today? Was I kind today? Was I patient today?’ Bear with one another; that’s a good one for married couples especially to remember.

 

This list is a great little examination of conscience we could use before confession. You know, all too often in confession, I hear everybody’s sins, but the penitent’s. ‘Well my husband does--, my wife does--, my kids do--, my parents do--.’ We go to confession to confess our sins, not everybody else’s sins!

 

And also in confession I think we have the tendency to be legalistic in our approach to the sacrament. ‘Well, I gotta go to confession so I can receive communion.’ And that is correct. ‘Well I gotta go to confession because we have to go at least once a year.’ That’s also correct. But what is our attitude toward the sacrament?

 

The sacraments are tools to help us strive toward perfection. That’s what Saint Paul is talking about in this passage, striving toward perfection. “Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect.”

 

That’s our goal as Christians, to seek perfection, and it’s an odd quest because it’s something we can never achieve in this life. But our sanctity lies in the striving. The key to salvation is in the constant struggling to attain the unattainable goal.

 

Why should we do this? For what practical reasons? First and foremost for peace. Peace in our own hearts and peace with others. Saint Paul goes on to say; “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace.” We’ve been called to be peaceful. God wants us to be peaceful. He doesn’t want us to be filled with anxiety. When we begin the communion rite, after we pray the ‘Our Father,’ I conclude the prayer by saying, “Deliver us Lord from every evil and grant us peace in our day. Free us from sin and protect us from all anxiety...”

 

Sin and anxiety go hand in hand. Evil is in direct contrast to peace. When we have sin in our souls it fills us with fear and anxiety. When we don’t have sin in our souls we have peace in our hearts. Now we’re back to confession.

 

The sacraments give us the power we need to be free from sin and anxiety. If we truly believe in the power of the sacraments, we should be peaceful people. We should be prayerful people.

 

Saint Paul says next, “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness.... Sing gratefully to God from your hearts...” Perfection expresses itself in thankfulness, and gratitude. We should always be expressing our gratitude to God for the gifts he has given us in the sacraments. We should always be praising God for his gift of salvation.

 

It is my prayer for all of us today that we truly strive to be perfect.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: “As long as you are busy with yourself, you will not make much progress on the way to perfection. One of the principal obstacles one encounters on the way to perfection is the precipitous and impatient desire to progress and to possess those virtues that we feel we don’t have. Be patient and calm and pacify these anxieties.  Don’t get ahead of your guide.  Your guide is the Holy Spirit.” – Venerable Francois-Marie-Paul (Jacob) Libermann

 

“Let us go forward in peace, our eyes upon heaven, the only one goal of our labors.” – Saint Therese of Lisieux

 

Prayer by a Saint: “Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace.” – Saint Francis of Assisi

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. When you strive for perfection, for what are you striving?

 

2. How does receiving Eucharist help you strive for perfection?

 

3. How does receiving Reconciliation help you strive for perfection?

 

4. How many days in a row can you normally go without ever losing your sense of peace?

 

5. What tends to disturb your peace day to day; what causes irritation or fear?

 

6. Over what types of things do you tend to worry or have anxiety?

 

7. How does peace in your heart lead you to increased love of God?

 

8. How does peace in your heart lead you to increased love of those around you?

 

9. When you’ve lost your sense of peace, what do you do to restore it?

 

10. Since there cannot be love without peace, what can you do differently to keep you from losing your sense of peace, to maintain it daily and throughout the day?

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 186: Test of Faith: A Reflection on Genesis 22

 

God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, "Abraham!"   "Here I am," he replied. Then God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering on a height that I will point out to you." Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him his son Isaac, and two of his servants as well, and with the wood that he had cut for the burnt offering, set out for the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar. Then he said to his servants: "Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you." Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham: "Father!" he said. "Yes, son," he replied. Isaac continued, "Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?" "Son," Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering." Then the two continued going forward. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the LORD's messenger called to him from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham!" "Here I am," he answered. "Do not lay your hand on the boy," said the messenger. "Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son." As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh; hence people now say, "On the mountain the LORD will see." Again the LORD's messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said: "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing all this because you obeyed my command." Abraham then returned to his servants, and they set out together for Beer-sheba, where Abraham made his home. (Genesis 22: 1b-19)

 

Faith is the ability to do what we normally wouldn’t do, because we trust in the Providence of God. We talk about having faith. Keeping the faith. Spreading the faith. What do we mean by all of this? We mean that faith dictates our actions or our inactions. Sometimes faith puts the brakes on something we want to do. For example, someone hurts me or hurts someone I love and my first reaction is to seek vengeance, but my faith restrains me.

 

Abraham is called our Father in faith, because of what we see in the book of Genesis. God calls Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son. Now our first gut reaction to this is anger. Why would a loving God demand such a thing of Abraham? Even knowing that God is going to stop Abraham from completing this act, we still get angry, because it seems like such a cruel thing to do to Abraham.

 

There are many reasons for this. First, Abraham has shown his continual lack of faith throughout this story. Initially, when God tells Abraham to leave his Father’s home, and set out on his own because God was going to build a nation out of his descendants, yes, Abraham responds in faith, but he also has his moments of failure. When Abraham takes matters into his own hands and has a child with Sarah’s teenage slave girl; God has to fix the mess. When they go to Egypt, and Abraham tells Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister, not his wife, so Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife; God has to fix the mess. So Abraham, like most of us, has his victories and defeats. So this episode is first to test Abraham’s faith. Does he have the faith now, to do what he normally would not do, because of his trust in Divine Providence?

 

Secondly, what is God asking Abraham to sacrifice? He asks of him his only son. God is asking Abraham to sacrifice the one thing that is dearest to him above every other thing. Would we trust God with that? Are we willing to surrender that which is most dear to us, and trust the Lord?

 

Third, the Lord is giving Abraham a preview of how much he loves his people, because God is going to give up His only beloved son to death, and this time, the Father won’t stop the sacrifice.

 

Sacrificing children was common in the ancient world. So when God makes this request of Abraham, it wouldn’t have seemed that unusual, and Abraham probably thought to himself, “Yup, this is payback for all the times I messed up.” But God initiates this sacrifice precisely so he can stop it, so he can show Abraham, “Hey, I’m not like the other gods you’ve experienced so far. I’m totally different.”

 

So it’s necessary for Abraham to undergo this situation, not just to test his faith, but to strengthen it, so he can see what kind of a God he’s committing himself to through the covenant.

 

And that’s where faith should lead us as well. Yes, faith is the ability to do what we would not normally do because of our trust in Divine Providence. But through those actions and inactions, faith should also be revealing to us what kind of God we’re in this covenant relationship with. Our living faith, our faith professed in deed and thought as well as in word, should be leading us to grow in our knowledge of God. Because every time we practice our faith, the Lord shows us just a little more of who he is and what he does.

 

Blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: “Faith is the beginning of human salvation. Without faith no one can pertain to the number of the sons of God, because without it neither will anyone obtain the grace of justification in this life nor possess eternal life in the future. If anyone does not walk now in faith, he will not arrive at the actuality.” – Saint Fulgentius

 

Prayer by a Saint: “Lord, I believe: I wish to believe in Thee. Lord, let my faith be full and unreserved, and let it penetrate my thought, my way of judging Divine things and human things.

Lord, let my faith be joyful and give peace and gladness to my spirit, and dispose it for prayer with God and conversation with men, so that the inner bliss of its fortunate possession may shine forth in sacred and secular conversation. Lord, let my faith be humble and not presume to be based on the experience of my thought and of my feeling; but let it surrender to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and not have any better guarantee than in docility to Tradition and to the authority of the magisterium of the Holy Church. Amen.” – Pope Paul VI, Servant of God (To be beatified October 19, 2014)

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

1. When God called to Adam and Eve, they hid.  When God called to Abraham, he said, “Here I am.”  How do you respond when God calls you? 

 

2. When you are tempted to sin, for example the vengeance to which Fr. Sisco refers, is it faith or fear that restrains you?  Trust in Divine Providence or something else? 

 

3. What is the most difficult thing God has asked of you that tested or tests your faith? 

 

4. What about that particular test made it so difficult?

 

5. What made you certain the test was from God?

 

6. What allowed you to trust in God?

 

7. How was your faith affected by your response? 

 

8. What more did you learn about God through this test?

 

9. Is there anything God is asking of you at this time and how are you inclined to respond? 

 

10. What reservations do you have about the “full faith” described by Pope Paul VI?

 

By Susan Boudreau

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 187: Unless You Become Like a Little Child: A Reflection on Matthew 18: 1-5

 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18: 1-5)

 

 “Who is of greatest importance in the kingdom of God?” The disciples asked Jesus this question. Jesus responded by placing a child in their midst, and saying, “I assure you, unless you change and become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Is it strange that Jesus should hold up a child as an image for us to aspire to? Is Jesus saying, that for us to go forward, we need to go back? Maybe.

 

 In modern America, with all of the horrible things that have been happening to our children, and some of the atrocities that are being committed by our children, our image of children has been skewed. But this was not the case until relatively recently in history. Children had always had an image of innocence. Children had an image of trust. To be a child was to have faith, just because. No other reason was necessary.

 

This passage of Scripture is read, appropriately I think, on the feast of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, because Saint Theresa of Lisieux, as she is sometimes called, embodied all of the saintly characteristics of a child.

 

Theresa Martin, born in 1873, became Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus when she entered the religious life at fifteen years old. Her autobiography is a spiritual masterpiece that has been a source of spiritual peace for so many who have come to understand her “little way.” Her spiritual simplicity is described by the word “love” as she wrote; “O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my proper calling. My call is love.”

 

In her autobiography we read: “Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet, or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace. I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: ‘Set your desire on the great gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all others.’ For the apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love, and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length, I had found peace of mind.”

 

Saint Theresa’s life, in the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux, was marked by humility, simplicity, and trust in God. Her job was to answer the door and do the laundry. Saint Theresa wanted to be missionary, but found sainthood by offering these simple daily tasks for others who spread the word of God. She was a marvelous, saintly example to all her sisters in the convent, and she offered her entire life to “save souls, and pray for priests.” That is what makes Saint Theresa a special saint for me. For if the priesthood ever needed prayers, it’s now.

 

During my first year in seminary, my apostolate was at the National Shrine of the Bascilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.  I was a tour guide and altar server.  And all my classmates seemed to get more significant apostolates, teaching CCD, hospital ministry, campus ministry.  So I had to take a lot of ribbing from my classmates like, "How much did you have to bribe the Dean of Men for THAT job?"  And what made it worse is that I had to car pool to DC with my older seminary brothers who worked at Mother Thesea's house for the dying in DC taking care of dying AIDS patients.  And I so wanted to be doing what they were doing.  I shared this once on the ride back to seminary with one of the upper classmen, Larry.  And he said to me, "Mike, your job right now is to offer up every Mass you serve at the Shrine for your seminary brothers who are doing good works for the Lord.”  After that my apostolate took on a contemplative dimension.  And so I felt a certain kinship to Saint Theresa who wanted to be a missionary but had to humbly accept her task of doing the laundry and opening the door.

 

So much depends on how you treat others. When St. Theresa was at Liseaux, there was a rather ornery sister who lived at the convent, too. She was very miserable and always sat alone.  Theresa decided to make this sister her friend, and sat with her every evening, even though the sister would verbally abuse her and call her a silly little girl.  After Theresa died and the Church began the process of her beatification, they interviewed the surviving sisters who lived in the convent with Theresa.  When they asked this particular sister if she knew Theresa, she said, "Know her? I was her best friend!"

 

Amazingly, Saint Theresa’s life as a Carmelite nun lasted only nine years. She died of tuberculosis on September 30, 1897. Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, died at 24 years old, barely a child herself. She was canonized a saint by Pope Piux XI in 1925. Shortly before her death she wrote; “I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth,” a statement of simplicity, faith, and love, from one who had the heart of a child.

 

One of the high points of a pilgrimage I made to France nine years ago this month of October, was to visit Saint Theresa’s home, and say Mass at her tomb.

 

Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus; pray for us.

 

And blessed be God forever!

--Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” (St. Therese of Liseaux)

 

Prayer of a Saint: O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.

 

O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity.  Amen. –St.Therese of Liseaux

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

 

  1. How childlike are you? Do you feel that being childlike is a virtue? Is it something you seek?

  2. What was childlike about St. Therese?

  3. St. Therese has been declared a doctor of the Church. This means that her theology is profound and right on track with the mind of the Church. How can this be in light of her childlike nature?

  4. Review how St. Therese handled the ornery nun. How do you handle ornery people? What can you learn from St. Therese?

  5. Why do you think Jesus held up children as an example?

  6. Saint Therese’s little way is explained in the Quote from a Saint above. What is the central theme of this little way?

  7. What importance does love have in the theology of St. Therese? Relate this to St. John the Evangelist’s statement that “God is Love.”

  8. How did St. Therese come to find her mission in life? Have you discovered your mission in life? If so, how are you living it out? If not, how are you seeking it?

  9. Discuss the fact that we all have a mission to love.

  10. Read St. Therese’s morning offering. Do you make a morning offering? Why is it good to do so?

  11. Have you ever felt that your talents were under utilized? How did you cope with that? How can St. Therese be a good model of obedience to the duties to which we are assigned?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 188: Jesus Is About Love: A Reflection on Luke 7:47

 

“I tell you this woman’s sins, and her sins are many, are forgiven, because she loves much.” (Luke 7:47)

 

This statement of Jesus boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

 

In the Gospels, we see Jesus lash out in such fury against the Pharisees, the money changers in the temple, and even his own apostles, and yet in this story we see the Jesus we feel most comfortable with; the Jesus we place our trust in. Who is the man, Jesus of Nazareth? He seems a contradiction. It’s hard to believe sometimes that we’re hearing about the same man. And yet this man we call ‘savior’.

 

What Jesus is all about hinges on that one word, “Love.” Jesus’ life on earth was the physical appearance of the Father’s love. His death on the cross was the perfect expression of that love because it gave birth to the Church. Perfect love is always life giving. And his presence in the sacraments is the continuation of that love.

 

But love is not only what God gives and we passively receive. Love is the criterion by which we are judged. It’s is the crux of Jesus’ message. How often do we see the word “love” used in the New Testament?

 

  • “Love your enemies.”

  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

  • “Any one who claims to love God while hating his brother is a liar.”

  • “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

  • “Love one another as I have loved you.”

 

The list is endless.

 

Love is not an option. Love is not how we feel. Love is a commandment from God. If we want salvation we must love.

 

In passage in the Gospels, Jesus says that the only unforgivable sin is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. What is that? The Holy Spirit is the pure love of the Father and the Son, so pure it becomes a Third Person. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, because that means we become so hard hearted that we become incapable of love.    

 

That’s why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees. They obeyed rules, but they didn’t love.

 

In Saint Paul’s first letter to Timothy read Paul’s advice, “Let no one look down on you because of your youth.” If we look at Timothy, John the beloved disciple, Jeremiah the prophet, David the shepherd boy who becomes king, God seems to be partially disposed to the youth. Why? I have a theory. Young people haven’t learned to hate.   Young people love easily. They give their hearts easily. They forgive easily. That’s why God could work with the youth throughout salvation history.

 

God loves his creation. His sacrifice on the cross proved that. So we must love his creation, which includes humanity. How do we know if we love? By our reaction to the world. Do we care, or are we indifferent? Do we get involved or do we look away? I think apathy and indifference are probably the chief sins of the modern day Catholic.

 

Does abortion infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the innocent and helpless.

 

Does euthanasia infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the sick, and elderly.

 

Does pornography infuriate us? It should! Because we should love men and women, and not see them as objects of lust.

 

Does teen violence infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the youth.

 

Does poverty infuriate us? It should! Because we should love the poor.

 

Does indifference infuriate us? It should! Because we should love God. And our God is not indifferent, because indifference sins against love.

 

If we can say that these things anger or upset us, even in some small way, good. We have a foundation of love. Now we must pray that our love motivates us to act, even if it’s something as small as fasting for these evils to end. Not everyone is cut out to be a speaker, or walk around with a picket sign. OK. But ask God to show you how he wants YOU to work to build his Kingdom.

 

“I tell you this woman’s sins, and her sins are many, are forgiven her because she has loved much.” May God be able to say the same of each of us. Amen.

 

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: "Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."
--Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

 

Prayer: O my God, I love you above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because you are all good and worthy of all my love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you. I forgive all who have injured me and I ask pardon of all whom I have injured.  (Act of Love)

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Father Sisco mentions several Scripture passages which admonish us to love. Can you find some others? What are they?

  2. Why are some people so hard to like? Can we still love them? How?

  3. What does love mean to you? What should it mean?

  4. Jesus said that many sins are forgiven to those who love much. How can that be?

  5. Discuss the Holy Spirit as love personified.

  6. How do you show your love of God? Of neighbor?

  7. What unique ways have you seen others show love?

  8. How can you tell if love is genuine? Is your love genuine?

  9. How is it possible to love our enemies?

  10. How is love different from following rules?

  11. How is Jesus’ ministry summed up in the word “love’?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 189: The Sacred Role of Mother: Saint Monica and Saint Augustine: A Reflection on Proverbs 31: 10-30

 

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.  She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.  She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.  She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.  She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.  She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.  She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.  In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.  She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.  When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.  She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.  Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.  She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.  She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31: 10-30)

 

I love the feast of Saint Monica. Saint Monica’s story is a lovely one. Monica became a saint by praying for her son. And through her prayers, she not only became a saint, but her son became a saint.

 

Monica, the mother of the great Saint Augustine, is probably the most thought provoking theologian of the early church. In fact, her feast day precedes that of her son, the great doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine. The Church very appropriately put the feasts of mother and son, back to back, with mother’s feast day of course coming first.

 

The Church has always had a special place for mothers. That’s one thing I love about the Catholic faith. People can bash us for a lot of political mistakes; the inquisition, the great western schism, recent priest scandals, what have you. But one thing that the Church has always held sacred is the role of Mother. That’s why we, more than any other Church, have such a high esteem for Mary. That is why we honor Mary, extol Mary, above every one else, save that of Jesus himself. Because before we attribute anything else to Mary; Queen of Heaven and earth, Queen of Angels, refuge of sinners, we call her Mother of God.

 

When I was growing up “mother” was a sacred concept. When you wanted to start a fight with someone, you didn’t insult him. You insulted his mother. The honor of Mother demanded a swift and bloody response. If you couldn’t get a kid to fight after insulting his mother, there was no way you were getting him to fight.

 

While I was in graduate school I worked at a public school as a substitute teacher. And I heard kids not insulting each others mothers, but their own mothers! Mother is sacred no more.

 

And I think that’s one of the crises of our modern era--we have lost a sense of the sacredness of Mother. I think this is why so many marriages are in crisis. I think this is why so many kids today are growing up in cynicism. I think this is why the abortion rate is so high. Thirty years ago, Pope Paul in his encyclical Humane Vitae, on human life, predicted that one of the results of the sexual revolution would be a loss of respect and understanding of motherhood. And I think he nailed that one right on the head.

 

This is what makes Monica such an appropriate saint for us to honor now in America. This is why we should start fostering a special devotion to Monica, and consecrating mothers and their children to her care because she is the patron saint of mothers! And not just the patron saint of mothers, but mothers who have problems with their children. Boy! Do we need her help!

 

Monica’s son, Augustine was a pagan, who lived a life of drunkenness and debauchery. And Monica prayed for his conversion to Christianity. And then Augustine grew tired of his lifestyle, but he didn’t become Christian. Rather he joined a number of heretic Churches, and Monica prayed for his conversion. She prayed thirty years for her son, before she saw him converted to Christianity. And Augustine not only converted to Christianity, but became a great theologian and thinker, a priest, a bishop, and a saint. And all of that came about through a mother’s prayers.

 

Today we should pray for all mothers, we should pray for all problem children, we should pray for all priests and bishops, and we should pray that our nation once again holds in esteem the sacred vocation of Mother.

 

Saint Monica, pray for us.

 

And blessed be God forever. 

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

Quote from a Saint: "When we were little, we kept close to our mother in a dark alley or if dogs barked at us. Now, when we feel temptations of the flesh, we should run to the side of our Mother in Heaven, by realizing how she is to us, and by means of aspirations. She will defend us and lead us to the light." --St. Josemaria Escriva

 

Prayer: Dear Lord, today I turn to you to give you thanks for my mother. With your own gift of life, she bore me in her womb and gave me life. She tenderly, patiently cared for me and taught me to walk and talk. She read to me and made me laugh. No one delighted in my successes more; no one could comfort me better in my failures. I am so grateful for how she mothered me and mentored me, and even disciplined me.

Please bless her, Lord, and comfort her. Help her loving heart to continue to love and give of herself to others. Strengthen her when she is down and give her hope when she is discouraged.

Most of all, Lord, give my mother the graces she most needs and desires today. I ask you this, in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior forever and ever.

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. What was the relationship with your mother like? How do you think that affected your relationship with God?

  2. Fr. Sisco calls Saint Monica a theologian. Why did he use that word, do you suppose?

  3. How was Saint Augustine a problem child? Have you ever parented or do you know any problem children? How might Saint Monica advise us to care for and love our problem children?

  4. Think of our problem children in the faith. How does our Blessed Mother treat and care for them?

  5. How can we help mothers in our society? How can we foster a positive image of motherhood?

  6. Father Sisco reflects on the denigration of motherhood in our society. Why do you think this happened?

  7. What is your relationsip to the Blessed Mother? Do you call her Mother? What is your devotion to Mary?

  8. Do you know of any problem children who ended up faithful to God because of the prayers and example of their mother?

  9. What can you say to a mother whose child is away from the faith?

  10. Who else, in addition to Saint Monica, might be a good role model for mothers? Why did you select this person?

 

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

 

Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 190: Human Sacrifice; God's Sacrifice: A Reflection on Judges 11: 30-39

 

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.’ So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lordgave them into his hand. He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

 

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.’ She said to him, ‘My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.’ And she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.’‘Go,’ he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. (Judges 11: 30-39)

 

When we read this part of Scripture, we inevitably ask, “How? How could God allow this? How could God expect Jephthah to sacrifice his only daughter, his only child!”

 

And God lets him do it! He doesn’t stop him like he stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. What is going on here? Human sacrifice was something that pagan gods demanded. I thought our God was different!

 

He is. Jephthah makes this mess himself by swearing a hasty oath. And it’s true that pagans swore oaths like this, oaths that involved human sacrifice. Why? Why does King Agamemnon sacrifice his own daughter Iphigeneia so the gods will send a fair wind to the Greek ships that are ready to disembark to wage war on Troy? Why did the ancient Aztecs sacrifice men, women, and children, on the pyramids of South America by cutting out the hearts of their victims and rolling their bodies down the steps until the pyramid was bathed with blood? Because the ancients believed that the gods couldn’t ignore a prayer that was accompanied by human sacrifice. They thought, “If we ask a favor accompanied by human sacrifice, the gods must grant it.”

 

So this oath Jephthah swears doesn’t reflect his strong faith; rather it reflects his lack of faith. He’s scared to go out into battle against the Ammonites. He doesn’t wholly believe that God will be with him to grant him victory. So he makes this foolish oath, promising that, if he is victorious, he will sacrifice the first person he sees on his arrival home, not knowing that person will be his only beloved child.

 

So how does this relate to God? God made a promise to US. He WILLINGLY sent his only beloved child to be a human sacrifice to help us in our lack of faith; so through His blood I, God, will hear their prayers. So through His blood I, God, will redeem them from their sins. So through His blood I, God, will prove to them how completely devoted I am to THEM, so they will in turn listen to ME, and be completely devoted to ME! The ancients believed that the gods could not possibly ignore a prayer accompanied by a human sacrifice. But we so easily ignore God’s invitation to us to enter into union with Him, held out to us through the Divine Sacrifice of His Son made flesh. Jephthah, out of fear of God, keeps his foolish oath. Do we, out of lack of fear, spurn the covenant which God wants to make with us?

 

The story of Jephthah’s oath should make us investigate what the Catholic Church teaches about oaths. Here are the applicable sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

 

2150 The second commandment forbids false oaths. Taking an oath or swearing is to take God as witness to what one affirms. It is to invoke the divine truthfulness as a pledge of one's own truthfulness. An oath engages the Lord's name. "You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name."

 

2151. Rejection of false oaths is a duty toward God. As Creator and Lord, God is the norm of all truth. Human speech is either in accord with or in opposition to God who is Truth itself. When it is truthful and legitimate, an oath highlights the relationship of human speech with God's truth. A false oath calls on God to be witness to a lie.

 

2152. A person commits perjury when he makes a promise under oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he does not keep it. Perjury is a grave lack of respect for the Lord of all speech. Pledging oneself by oath to commit an evil deed is contrary to the holiness of the divine name.

 

2153. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained the second commandment: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all. . . . Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one." Jesus teaches that every oath involves a reference to God and that God's presence and his truth must be honored in all speech. Discretion in calling upon God is allied with a respectful awareness of his presence, which all our assertions either witness to or mock.

 

2154 Following St. Paul, the tradition of the Church has understood Jesus' words as not excluding oaths made for grave and right reasons (for example, in court). "An oath, that is the invocation of the divine name as a witness to truth, cannot be taken unless in truth, in judgment, and in justice."

 

2155. The holiness of the divine name demands that we neither use it for trivial matters, nor take an oath which on the basis of the circumstances could be interpreted as approval of an authority unjustly requiring it. When an oath is required by illegitimate civil authorities, it may be refused. It must be refused when it is required for purposes contrary to the dignity of persons or to ecclesial communion.

 

And blessed be God forever.

Father Michael Anthony Sisco

 

 

Quote from a Saint: This name [Jesus], “which is called upon by us,” is therefore holy and glorious and “neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved. May we be saved by God through the name of Jesus Christ our Lord who is blessed above all things throughout all the ages. Amen. (St. Anthony of Padua)

 

Prayer: Father, I pray that I let no corrupt word proceed out of my mouth, but only such a word as is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (based on Ephesians 4:29)

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Have you ever made a rash promise or taken a rash oath? What was the outcome?

  2. Has anyone ever made a promise to you that was kept? Was not kept? Discuss your reactions to these two scenarios.

  3. Discuss the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaching on perjury. Does perjury apply if a person intends to keep an oath but then cannot? What if the person will not keep it?

  4. Why are oaths important? What does Jesus teach us about oaths?

  5. How did Jephthah’s oath contradict the teaching in the Catechism?

  6. Discuss Jephthah’s daughter as the unjust victim of her father’s oath. Do you know anyone who has been unjustly victimized? What can you do to help that person?

  7. When is it permissible to take an oath?

  8. Why do we not use God’s name in vain?

  9. How do you respond if you hear God’s name used irreverently?

  10. How can you promote respect for God’s name?

 

Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

 

Oratory of Divine Love Weekly Bible Study, c/o Confraternity of Penitents, 1702 Lumbard Street, Fort Wayne IN 46803 USA  OratoryDivineLove@gmail.com   260-739-6882