lunedì, dicembre 08, 2014
The Ark of the Covenant
Whoops! We interrupt this Advent for a Solemnity! Intone the Gloria! Ring the bells! Get out the white vestments!
Today, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, is exactly nine months before September 8, the birthday of Mary. It is a dogma of the Church that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, in view of the sacrifice that her Son made on Calvary.
And so today's Jesse Tree image is of the Ark of the Covenant. (That is, the ark of Moses, which is really the second ark - the first was that of Noah.)
"As the visions during the night continued, I, John, saw God's temple in heaven open, and in it could be seen the Ark of the Covenant."
Moses brought the Law (scribed on two stone tablets) down from Mount Sinai. He also brought the detailed specs on how to build a certain wooden box, to be lined inside and out with gold, and ornamented with cherubim, and how it was to be handled, and so forth.
But what did John see? The wooden box lined with gold, containing the two stone tablets and a sample of the manna, and the rod of Aaron? Or was it something else?
One of the titles of Mary in the amazing list called the "Litany of Loretto" is "Ark of the Covenant". She, too, was planned by God in advance. She, too, was made of what we might call "the material of failure" - made in the same form as the failed human family from which she came (just as the ark of Moses was wood, symbolizing failure) BUT with an important difference: she was all-pure, and "full of grace" as the angel told her (just as the ark of Moses was lined with gold inside and out).
Like the ark of Noah, the ark of Moses was built according to a plan. Despite its much smaller size, the ark of Moses had a rather more detailed plan. And the new, one-celled Ark, hidden in the womb of Anna, was far smaller, and far more complex - and far more holy. For the ark of Moses contained only the Law of God, and a sample of the bread of God. But Mary the New Ark was readied to contain the God Who gave that law, and He Who would one day give His very own flesh as bread for the life of the world. (Note that last word is kosmosin Greek!)
It's funny how even some Catholics get the details of this date confused, forgetting that nine months before Christmas is the Great Solemnity of the Annunciation, which was once New Year's (Even, as Tolkien told us, in the Kingdom of Gondor, the day that the Ring went into the fire!) Interestingly, that feast often interrupts Lent, just as this feast interrupts Advent. (Every so often, however, due to a special case which is the height of good system design, the celebration of the Annunciation is displaced until after Divine Mercy Sunday; my mother used to say those years Jesus was a preemie, hee hee.) But it is funny when I hear someone confusing "Immaculate Conception" as if it applied to Jesus - I wonder, for it's almost as if they don't know about the human gestation period (nominally 278 days)...
This feast of the Immaculate Conception, held up as a sign against those who deny the personhood of prenatal humanity; its splendor is still being explored and revealed. In doing so, not only will be drawn more to the praise of these wonders of God, and to love for Him, but we will have a greater love and respect for our neighbors who share in the same humanity... For as often as we do it to one of our least brothers, it is as if we did it to Him.
venerdì, dicembre 05, 2014
Advent: Week 1 Day 6
"Oh, that You would tear the heavens open and come down... to make known Your Name, to work such miracles as no one has ever heard of before."
Isaiah is one of the longest books of the Bible - so long that it has been explained as having been written by two (or three) different Isaiahs. Every time I hear this witless little gem from some dusty doctorate, I think of that show with Bob Newhart: "Hello. I'm Larry and this is my brother Darryl and my my other brother Darryl." But the wonder of this book is the large collection of amazing and wonderful details about Jesus - so many, and so linked to the Gospels that this book is sometimes called the Gospel of the Old Testament.
It is the book of Advent: "a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel (the name means God with us)."
It is the book of Christmas: "the people who walked in darkness have see a great light; a child is born for us, a son is given us, on him dominion rests." It opens with the ox and the ass, it talks of those who will come from the East bearing gold and frankincense. "For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.
It is the book of the Passion: "like a lamb he was led to the slaughter, and he opened not his mouth." It has that horrifying painting of Jesus on Calvary which is read on Good Friday: "Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted."
It is the book of Holy Saturday and Easter: "Go, my people, enter into thy chambers, shut thy doors upon thee, hide thyself a little for a moment, until the indignation pass away. For behold the Lord will come out of his place, to visit the iniquity of the inhabitant of the earth against him: and the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall cover her slain no more. ... In that day there shall be singing to the vineyard of pure wine."
It is the book of the Holy Spirit: "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord..."
Indeed! sometimes sounds so much like Jesus: "All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money make haste, buy, and eat: come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price."
If there is one book of the Bible that really should be read during Advent, it is Isaiah. Try it. You will be impressed - you don't need to know how to conjugate semitic verbs or anything - you can see for yourself this treasure-house of expectation and longing...
Yes: Isaiah - just like a kid, waiting for Christmas.
giovedì, dicembre 04, 2014
Advent: Week 1 Day 5Two dreams: Jacob's and Joseph's...
Upper left: Jacob's Ladder (or staircase?)
Jacob (grandson of Abraham) has a dream - somehow I recall it as happening at a point where he was to make (or had just made) a critical decision in his life... And now he sees the Great Passageway, where even angels fear to tread! Why do I say this? Hey, any angel in Heaven has GOT to have a bit of trepidation thinking about going DOWN, whew! (Yeah, I know, angels don't get scared, though GKC had a very interesting speculation about angels and fear; I will post it below.) As a computer scientist, I find this vision particularly significant, for here we see that the communications channel is bi-directional: messages may travel in both directions. (The word angelis just the English version of the Greek word for "messenger"!) Jacob doesn't realize it at the time, but he himself will form part of an even greater staircase, by which not angels, but GOD HIMSELF will one day come down to earth.
Lower right: Joseph's Dream
Jacob had a big family. Joseph was number 11 among 12 boys (yeah they had sisters too; I forget the names - hey, talk about trivia, try to list the brothers!) Jacob liked Joseph and got him a coat of many colours (which gets translated differently in some versions), and the favoritism bothered the other brothers, especially when Joseph had a dream about how the sun and moon and eleven stars knelt before him - and then went and told his brothers about it! It was really a prophecy, and you remember what happened afterwards... Joseph became Number Two reporting to the Pharaoh, and by his Divinely inspired foresight, was able to save a whole nation from starvation. Not only that, Joseph saved his family, too, and they DID come and bow before him! The Lord made him ruler of his house ("Pharaoh" is ancient Egyptian for "great house", an honorific title of their ruler) and gave him charge over all His possessions... And thus Joseph foreshadowed another Joseph, a distant nephew, who would have charge over the Everlasting Bread: the Bread given into his charge in Bethlehem, the House-of-Bread. (We'll see more on this later on.)
Please note: all my other blogging is suspended, in order that I may focus on each image, and you may also. Do you not love the word "focus"? You should. It is the Latin word meaning "hearth"... and this season ought to remind us of the Family. GKC explains: "The truth is that only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticise the state. They alone can appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city; the gods of the hearth." [GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:275] This quote is a strong indication of the influence on GKC of Pope Leo XIII's document Rerum Novarum, which I mentioned elsewhere in this blogg (in the post on Subsidiarity).
And that reminds me, I said I would tell you about GKC and the angels who were fearful. Oddly enough, it was the GOOD angels, back when they were getting ready for the heavenly battle (or are they still?) Here's the quote:
"...what, for instance, can be the basis of objecting to peacocks' feathers?"
Crundle was replying with a joyful roar that it was some infernal rubbish or other, when Gale, who had quickly slipped into a seat beside the man called Noel, interposed in a conversational manner.
"I fancy I can throw a little light on that. I believe I found a trace of it in looking at some old illuminated manuscripts of the ninth or tenth century. There is a very curious design, in a stiff Byzantine style, representing the two armies preparing for the war in heaven. But St. Michael is handing out spears to the good angels; while Satan is elaborately arming the rebel angels with peacocks' feathers."
Noel turned his hollow eyes sharply in the direction of the speaker. "That is really interesting," he said; "you mean it was all that old theological notion of the wickedness of pride?"
"Well, there's a whole peacock in the garden for you to pluck," cried Crundle in his boisterous manner, "if any of you want to go out fighting angels."
"They are not very effective weapons," said Gale gravely, "and I fancy that is what the artist in the Dark Ages must have meant. There seems to me to be something that rather hits the wrong imperialism in the right place, about the contrast in the weapon; the fact that the right side was arming for a real and therefore doubtful battle, while the wrong side was already, so to speak, handing out the palms of victory. You cannot fight anybody with the palms of victory."
[GKC, The Poet and the Lunatics, "The House of the Peacock"; emphasis added]
mercoledì, dicembre 03, 2014
Advent: Week 1 Day 4
Here we have Abraham in two different scenes:
Abraham and the Covenant (upper left)
Here is depicted the mystical vision in which God instructs Abraham to take certain animals and sacrifice them, dividing them in two, then God sends His light (a firey lantern) between the divided parts. That ritual enacted the covenant as an ancient contract sealed in blood; it hints at a future covenant to be sealed in God's own blood: blood of Abraham's perfect descendant. "More numerous than the sands of the seashore, or than the stars of the sky, so shall your descendants be: I swear by Myself; they will be My people, and I will be their God."
Abraham and the Sacrifice of Isaac (lower right)
God orders Abraham to go to the Mount of Moriah and sacrifice Isaac, his only son. At the very last moment, God stops Abraham from the actual sacrifice... The young Isaac, carrying the wood up the hill suggests another Man carrying wood up the hill called Skull-Place (Calvary, or Golgotha). As they go up the hill Isaac asks, "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" and Abhraham answers "God will provide it." And surely, in God's good time, He does. Only that time, the sacrifice is not interrupted, despite the best efforts of the jeering Pharisees: "if you are the son of God, come down from that cross, and we will believe." But God was not fooled: He did sacrifice His only Son.
It is said that Mount Moriah is an ancient name for the hill of Jerusalem.
martedì, dicembre 02, 2014
Advent: Week 1 Day 3
Today we have Noah's Ark, after the flood, with the rainbow. The Ark is a very important emblem, and we shall see it twice more on our Tree...
"And the dove vanished, and Noah and his family and all the animals of the ark went out. And Noah built an altar, and offered sacrifice.... And God said, 'See, I set my bow in the sky, to remind you of my promise...'"
The rainbow. I know the arc of the rainbow is terrible, and I forgot to check whether the colours progress correctly. It's a curious question: had there never been a rainbow before, or had no man ever noticed, or what? Why was THAT rainbow remembered differently? Or was it simply because it appeared THEN, and from that point on, this particular meteor was to serve as a sign of God's promise?
The Ark. The great box-like ship, about which God provided rather specific details - its size, what to make it from, its three decks, a door and a window. We'll see the second ark, for which God again gave detailed specs, in a few days. We do not get to hear the details of the third ark, but they are summarized in a brief sentence, and we shall see that one later on - only in the last century and a half or so have some of those amazing details been learned! Does the ark still exist? There are stories and reports of something strange on Mount Ararat, and it is something still to be investigated.
The Flood. Another something to be investigated; I will not attempt to explore the data now. It is another (third?) appearance of the "water theme" which recurs throughout the Bible, and about which I have written at length earlier in this blogg. The water, even as symbol, has so many uses (just as St. Francis tells us in his "Canticle of the Creatures"!) Here it cleanses, and so in that sense also rescues - though that is paradoxical - for Noah would have perished as well, if he had not obeyed God and built the Ark - perished, not from the Flood, but from the evils of Man, which is far, far worse. Hmm. Do you hear a itinerant carpenter saying something: "Better for him to have a great millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the sea, then to be led astray..." But this good man - who was also a CARPENTER - cut down some trees, and built a big box and all but buried himself in a watery grave - and so rescued the whole world.
(Please remember I am paraphrasing, and not quoting; we are not doing a rigorous study but a kind of sketchy contemplation. Another way of looking at this schematic "Jesse Tree" is that these are the "mysteries" of an Old-Testament "rosary"...)
Sorry to digress just slightly, but this talk of the Flood suggests a hilarious Chesterton quote, which is not his own, but his good friend Mr. Belloc's, and I have to add it to give you something else to ponder, which the evolvers clearly haven't (or won't!): "...nobody needs to be told that in a flood fish live and cattle die. The question is, How soon do cattle turn into fish?" [quoted in GKC's The ThingCW3:310]
lunedì, dicembre 01, 2014
Advent: Week 1 Day 2
And the serpent tricked the woman... she ate of the forbidden fruit... and she gave it to her husband and he ate it. To the serpent, God said: "Therefore, you will crawl on your belly... I will put enmity between you and the Woman - 'she' will crush your head, and you will await 'her' heel..." To the woman, God said: "You will have pain in childbirth..." To the man, God said: "Cursed be the ground because of you! By the sweat of your brow will you eat... for you are dust and unto dust you shall return!" Then God stationed an angel with a firey sword at the gate to Eden... * * * (A warning: yes, the quotes are paraphrased out of memory! Yes I am also aware that there is some debate about the gender of the pronouns in the Protoevangelion.) Note that the serpent has wings and big eyes to stand for its cunning. It also has a little "arm" handing the "apple" to Eve - on the left. (If it had been a bigger picture, there would have been legs as well.) Two bites because both ate from it. Why is it an "apple"? My own guess is this is a Latin pun, for malum = "apple" but also "evil"! But I drew the traditional picture, for every Jesse Tree ought to have a (partially eaten) "apple" on it! Note also that the Christmas red and green appear in Eden - for there was the first revelation of Christmas. Hmmm.. It's funny to think that Christmas was revealed in the condemnation of the serpent... Oh happy fault! Oh necessary sin of Adam! that won for us so great a Redeemer! - how can we not think about Easter at this time of year???