Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Holy Eucharist: An On-going Romance

I have many friends, Catholic and Protestant alike, who wonder why I am so enamored by my belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I am constantly promoting it without reservation (if you'll pardon my pun). But why? In our day and age increasing numbers of Catholics, Orthodox, and other sacramental Christians are questioning this doctrine – a doctrine that was never questioned until the beginnings of the Radical Reformation. I went the other direction. From a mocking unbelief to utter belief.

It all started in the late 1990's. I had been raised as a Mormon (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The Mormon church denies anything like the sacramental understanding of the Holy Eucharist of historic Christianity. Like many Protestants, most Mormons mock the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I was no different. I looked down over my nose at those ignorant and superstitious Catholics.

In the early 1990's I converted to Christianity in its Pentecostal variety. Pentecostals generally have no use for sacramental theology, either. Not much changed for me there. Then I began to attend a Seventh-day Adventist church. Adventists are generally nice people and sincere in their faith, but for them anything whatsoever that they associate with Catholicism is utterly anathema, from the anti-christ. The “wafer god” of Catholicism is not just mocked, but derided as a satanic counterfeit. In short, everything in my Christian experience set me up for just this sort of future.

Back to the late 1990's. It was November, 1998. I was working grave yard shift in an auto parts supplier factory in northeastern Michigan. We were working 7 day weeks with only an occasional and rare day off. One of those nights I sat up listening to the radio as my wife slept in the next room. I decided that I would find one of those good Christian stations on the AM dial that came in after dark. I stumbled on this pious sounding preacher man and stopped to listen. It was not long before he had started preaching on the rosary and the Blesséd Virgin Mary. That angered me. I believed that not only was veneration of the Saints a violation of the First Commandment, but that the Virgin Mary had absolutely no contact with this sinful world and would roll over in her grave if she could see the “worship” all those awful Catholics were rendering her!

I determined right then and there that I was going to start doing my homework, deeply researching Roman Catholicism's unique claims and I was going to write the tell-all, end-all refutation of Roman Catholicism. But God had other ideas.

I was at that same time very interested in the “Celtic Church” (which I mistakenly believed to be a proto-Protestant body). I decided that they were, if I interpreted Thomas Cahill correctly, the precise model that I would offer the reader as a counter-Catholic model from the ancient Church. I had started my interest in the Celtic Church after reading Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. That had happened about the same time as I had noticed that Protestant churches that had competing claims were always saying that they did things “just like the Apostles did it.”

It was all a big, potent, and very Providentially timed mix. As I said, I had my ideas, but God had His. And they weren't the same.

As I began to study Roman Catholicism, I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and kept saying to myself, “They're right! Oh my gosh, I did not know that!” and lots of similar things. About the same time I began to understand the Roman view of the Eucharist, I also noticed that the pre-Roman Celtic view, as well as that of the Orthodox, the Copts, and other branches of the Christian Faith were all saying the same thing about the Eucharist: Christ is Really Present in the Blesséd Sacrament. I was cornered by the evidence to agree with what I had set out to refute.

It lead me to seek out a Celtic church that would have me as a priest. I approached several bodies. Then, a short time later, I discovered the Independent Catholic Movement. I found a body, Friends Catholic Communion, one of whose bishops would take me on as a candidate for Holy Orders. The more I studied, the more I came to love St. John's Gospel, chapter 6, where Jesus gives His “Great Eucharistic Discourse.” In time I would discover a book on the Real Presence given at the English College in Rome in the Nineteenth Century by an archbishop who was a Protestant convert himself.

In time I would experience three Eucharistic miracles. At the request of Father General Myke Beckett, I am sharing them with you. Please share them with others who you believe will benefit from them or who will at least be respectful of our belief in the Real Presence. If you are so lead by the Holy Spirit, share it with the disdainful. It may be a seed of faith for them, or else water a seed already planted.

First: I was in my apartment in Beaverton, Oregon, just outside Portland. I was saying mass for a small house church we had started. One of our regulars had brought a guest. I counted out just enough hosts for everyone present to receive. The guest declined to receive and when I went to put away the one left over Host, there were two! The extra one was carefully placed in my mass kit as a precious relic of the Faith.

The second time: We had been homeless in Bryan, Texas. I had gotten work and with some help we got into a trailer house of our own. I celebrated a mass of thanksgiving the first Sunday in our new home. Again, I counted out just enough hosts for those present (just my family this time). When I went to put the paten away after communing my last child, there was one Host left again! This extra Host was added to the last one. (Eventually, I built two monstrances by hand for them and one was gifted to the Augustinian order I would briefly join as a oblate member.)

The third time was a much more precious story. After getting to Texas, God began to start teaching me about the real meaning of Divine Providence, that is, the care He has for His creation in all things. It was an hard lesson to learn. Part of that lesson was that God does everything He does for multiple reasons. After four and an half years of being either on time or early with our rent, we were cornered into seeking legal help against a property manager who was abusing the lease. In the end it cost us because a vengeful land lord told us we would be able to renew the lease only to be told just days before it came to an end that we would not be allowed to do so.

I fled from Bryan to Austin, Texas to look for new work and housing. Work was easy, but I knew I faced homelessness again. I lived with my best friend in my van for about a month as we prepared to bring my family to Austin. One night as I sat in the van in a grocery store parking lot eating canned chow mein I realized that we were low on gas. My friend, John, knew where I could get a voucher, but to be there in time (they only took the first fifty people needing help) we'd have to be there at 4:30 in the morning. We decided to sleep in the church parking lot that night. I went to start the van and the starter gave the most horrible grinding noise I have ever heard from a car. I was terrified that my van had just died and I was about to be out of a job.

About an hour later, I got the guts up to try again and the engine turned over just fine. I pulled out with a huge sigh of relief. There was micro-SUV coming at us that I wanted to beat to that left-turn lane (because it was a short green with a very long red after it at the light). I looked back in my rear-view mirror. Mom, Dad, and two car-seated small children. I commented how little tiny plastic SUV's should be illegal because they are so dangerous in accidents. When I looked up, the light turned green. I pulled out. As I look to my left, there are two headlights coming at me at a tremendous speed – well above the speed limit. I rammed the gas and turned to deflect as much of the impact as possible and told John to “hold on! We're about to get hit!”

I found myself in a chapel with no doors and no windows. The place was candle lit, but did not need the light. There were flowers in the vases at the front, but they were fully alive. In the center of the altar at the front was a monstrance. The host glowed with a light far above the noon-day sun, but not blindingly. There was no awareness of anything beyond this room. I was barely aware of the room as I contemplated the Eucharistic Lord in the monstrance. I began to sing Tantum Ergo in Latin with deep devotion. Then, as my custom usually is, I began to sing it in English. Then the Voice said to me, “Stop. You can't sing that now.” I began to form the question, “But why?” but before it even formed in my mind the Voice answered me like Isaiah promised (i.e. “Before you call, I will answer”), “You have to go back.”

I suddenly was aware once more of my family, my earthly life, all those things I had “left behind” in coming to this place. I began to cry. I did not want to go back. This place was so beautiful, so peaceful, so desirable. I so did not want to go back! Then the Voice spoke again, “Your family still needs you. They're not done with you yet. You need to go back.” I knew that this was not an option, and yet there was no violation of my free will. I really don't understand that, but I just know that it was. “You need to go back,” the Voice said one more time. I acquiesced that my family needed me and that I had to go back.

When I woke up a cop was looking at me and asking, “Are you okay?” Blood was all over my face and chest, but I walked from the accident. I had been hit by a drunk who had hit me at 55+ miles per hour. My 3,300 pound all metal full-sized van had absorbed the impact. When I looked back at the micro-SUV that I was in such a hurry to get in front of, I realized that had I gotten behind them, I would be witnessing the death of the child and probably Dad who was driving. They would at the very least be cut out with the 'jaws of life.' God never does anything for a single reason – of that I am sure. God knew that confronted with Him asking me to take the place of that micro-SUV, I would have done it, so He simply put me up front. God compensated me with a personal audience – a visit to Him I could never have dreamed of.

Two days later, as John and I surveyed the damage in the tow yard, we realized that we had totally forgotten about the container of pre-Sanctified Gifts that we had with us. John said, so poignantly, “Jesus was with us in the accident. I have been in a car wreck with Jesus!” And so it was.

That day, I went from believing ardently in the Real Presence, to knowing the reality of it. For me, this is no longer a matter of faith. It is not “the evidence of things not seen,” as the writer of Hebrews says. It is clear and present knowledge for me. When Jesus said, “I will neither leave you nor forsake you,” He meant so much more than we know. “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age,” is no simple platitude. He really meant it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Feast of Christ the King

Grace and peace to you, from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are in the sight of his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the leader over the kings of the earth, who has loved us and has washed us from our sins with his blood, and who has made us into a kingdom and into priests for God and for his Father. To him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he arrives with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth shall lament for themselves over him. Even so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
– Apocalypse 1:4b-8, Catholic Public Domain Version

On 4 July, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That was the day the monarchy of Great Britain died in the 13 former colonies. Since then, the ideals of republicanism and democracy have competed for supremacy in America. We have lived the conflict of our “noble experiment” ever since. In our day as government and culture have grown increasingly secular and hostile to religion in general, I am, as an historian, reminded of one of the rally cries of the War of Independence: “No King but King Jesus!” How different our times are from theirs!

We must remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is not a democracy and it is not a republic. It is a monarchy and an absolute monarchy at that. From the very beginning of our Faith, we have been mocked for our allegiance to our Monarch. Pilate asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The Christians of the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic ages gave their lives rather than let Caesar share in Christ’s glory. One of the great saints of the Apostolic age, Ignatius of Antioch, actually looked forward to his martyrdom! He was so confirmed in his fealty to his King that he begged his brothers and sisters in Christ on his way to Rome not to try and save him or beg for mercy for him. A culture of willing martyrdom was one of the marks of the Church in that age.

But what about later? Martyrdom was, and still is, very much a possibility for any Christian. I once watched a Mennonite street preacher get violently attacked by a thug who had grown weary of hearing him. He calmly accepted whatever God was willing to send his way. Then he went back to preaching as soon as the thug grew weary of harassing him. The Twentieth Century produced more martyrs for the Christian Faith than all the 19 before it combined. The new onslaught of radical Islam, the Communist revolutions, the Cristero War, and other events took the lives of many dedicated Christians. The 21st Century is shaping up to match or surpass it. The million plus population of the Catholic Church in Iraq has dwindled to mere tens of thousands. The Coptic Christians of Egypt are now being actively persecuted and the president of Egypt says, "Amen," to a prayer calling for the destruction of Jews and Christians. Communist China actively and aggressively persecutes any Christian who dares not register a church, passes out Bibles, or who protests human rights abuses.

But for all this, these are not the poorest Christians. No, not them. It is us, here in the west. We are the poorest Christians of all. In our safety we have grown complacent. We have invented the worst heresies to tickle the ears of the weak-in-faith. The so-called prosperity gospel, stage productions, popular music-style bands in mass, and so many other things that belittle and demean our liturgies. We wonder that there is no stability of parishioners in churches today and that so many fall away from their faith altogether and have started pantomiming the latest non sequiturs about faith. How often do we hear today, “I am spiritual, but not religious?” How does one have a spirituality that is not practiced? Spirituality is what we believe, and religion is nothing more than what we do about that spirituality. There simply is no way to be spiritual without also being religious.

This brings me to my next point. Many of us are so ready to die for Christ, we tell ourselves. Are we really? None of us knows for sure until we are in that position. But what about the other side of the coin? I mean to say, Christ already did the dying. He died for you and me and everyone else. Are we willing to live for Him? Are we willing to lay down our lives as a “living sacrifice,” to use St. Paul’s words? Are we willing to do the little things for our neighbors? Can we give up our comforts in order for others to have food and utilities turned on?

If you honestly answered no to this, then good, you’re off to a good start with that honesty. Now pray for God’s grace to change your heart to match His! No doubt some of you have answered yes to this. For you I go one step further: Did you just throw money in the offering plate or write a check to your favorite charity? Why? Why did you not instead go down to a shelter to help feed the homeless? Why did you not seek a relationship with the poor or shut-in person you helped? Why do you hide behind your donation? Lives don’t change because of your money, they change because you were there.

To everyone I ask when was the last time you said, “I’ll pray for you,” and actually did it? Have you gone before the Blessed Sacrament and forgotten yourself in order to pray for others? Take those requests for prayer as a chance to storm the gates of heaven for others. Make it personal. And those of you who have been on the receiving end of others’ help, pray for your benefactors as if they were your children! St. James tells us, “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (Jas. 2:5, KJV) If He has given you this special grace of faith, use it! Make sure you pray for the salvation and sanctification of you benefactors.

What does all this have to do with the Kingship of Christ? It is nothing more than faithful obedience to the commands of our Sovereign Lord. The Great Commandment and the Golden Rule are about our love of and for God. For God in Himself and for God’s image in our fellow man. In the Sheep and Goat Judgment, we will not be challenged on what we believed, how much we knew, or what church we attended. We will be challenged on who we fed, clothed, housed, visited in prison, and so forth. It is what we did to bless others and build up the Image and Likeness of God in them that will be our final exam in this life. Why? Because the life lived out here and now is how we show our King, and those around us, that we really do love our King, that we really do believe Him, and that He really does reward those who seek Him diligently. Jesus’ own words were, “By their fruits you will know them.”

Many are willing to die for Christ, if called upon to do it. Very few are willing to live out their Faith in Him even though all are called upon to do so now. Are you? Is Christ your Monarch?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He is Risen!

A reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 15;
12 Now if Christ be preached, that he arose again from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again.
14 And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain: and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God: because we have given testimony against God, that he hath raised up Christ, whom he hath not raised up, if the dead rise not again.
16 For if the dead rise not again, neither is Christ risen again.
17 And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain: for you are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep:
21 For by a man came death: and by a man the resurrection of the dead.
22 And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
23 But every one in his own order: the firstfruits, Christ: then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming.
24 Afterwards the end: when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father: when he shall have brought to nought all principality and power and virtue.
25 For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet.
26 And the enemy, death, shall be destroyed last: For he hath put all things under his feet.
(Douay-Rheims Bible)

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, chapter 28:
1 And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.
2 And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and coming rolled back the stone and sat upon it.
3 And his countenance was as lightning and his raiment as snow.
4 And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror and became as dead men.
5 And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you: for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here. For he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid.
7 And going quickly, tell ye his disciples that he is risen. And behold he will go before you into Galilee. There you shall see him. Lo, I have foretold it to you.
8 And they went out quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy, running to tell his disciples.
9 And behold, Jesus met them, saying: All hail. But they came up and took hold of his feet and adored him.
(Douay-Rheims Bible)

How often have we heard about “The sweet by and by?” How often have we heard the expression, “When I get to heaven, I want to...”? We, in America, so often find ourselves saying things like these. We participate in Pew Research polls about our religious life and they tell us that we have fallen into a trap that a Sunday School teacher I admired around 21 years ago warned me about. He said, “Never get so heavenly minded that you're no earthly good.”

That's a powerful statement. We are so sure, as Christians, that we have all the answers, that we have a sure thing and … And what? For some of us it is a ticket to escapism. We separate from the world and retreat into the promises of the world to come. For others, we have to rescue this present world from the evil forces of [insert: Satan, Hell, Liberals, Conservatives, Communists, Fascists and racists, or your favorite present-day evil]. This political season has seen the most vicious politicking in a long time. Many think this is the least humane election season since Andrew Jackson was elected in the early Nineteenth Century. There are Christians from all over the political map who are sparring with one another over issues of public morality, social justice, and a pantheon of other sacred cows.

So what does any of this have to do with Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? I would say this: Jesus Christ is the very God we claim, come in the flesh of humanity. He is the Lord “through Whom all things were made,” according to the Nicene Creed. The Resurrection is not about rescuing us from this world, it is about restoring this world and our place in it. Look at who Jesus had following Him: sailors, insurgents, tax-farmers, prostitutes, widows, lepers, and, on occasion wealthy folks. The so-called 1% and the so-called 99%. Rulers, workers, and the dregs of society. Young and old. He came and told us what we should do: “As I have loved you, love one another.” He lived out the ultimate example of what that means. Then he said, “No greater love hath any man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Then He did just that. But it was not just to save us from our sins, though it was most assuredly that. It was the sign, the seal, that proved He was Who He said He was and that His word was true.

If Jesus is not risen, St. Paul tells us, then we really are the most wretched of all folks. If, on the other hand, He really is Risen, we are the most blessed of all people. And if He really is risen, then we have an obligation one to another to serve our fellow man as He served us. And we have an obligation to share this Good News with our fellow man. We have to make the blessings we have thus gained available to every human. And we have an obligation to show that there really is truth to the old song, “And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. And they'll know we are Christians by our love.”

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Good Friday Challenge

And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.” (St. Luke 23:36, KJV)

Whose cross have you carried lately? Whose burden have you taken up as your own?

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (St. Matthew 25:32-40, KJV)

If Jesus, God from all eternity can condescend to the kenosis, the self-emptying of His Divinity to take on our humanity and carry the cross of our sins, how much more should we carry one another’s crosses in imitation of Him Who died and rose for us and His carrying of our burdens debts to Him for no other reason than we needed Him to. I challenge each of you: As Jesus died for us on Good Friday so long ago, let each of us die to self this day. As Jesus rose to newness of life on Easter Sunday so long ago, let us rise to a new life of self-less caring for others even at our own expense simply because they need us to do it. I believe that is what Jesus would do — because it is what He did!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bring Him Gifts

Today is the Feast of Epiphany. We celebrate the wise men, traditionally three of them, finding Christ as a young child and giving Him gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Christ was born and a star lead them to Him Who is the light of the world. We can be like the wise men and seek Him, but that is not enough by itself. We all have gifts to bring to Him. When we find Him do we come begging for this and that? Do we want that new stereo or flat screen TV? Are you looking for health and wealth? Or do you bring Him gifts and offer what you have to him? Do you place what you have in His hands for his glory? Let us dedicate this day to giving Him, our Lord, God, and Savior the gifts we have to offer Him for His glory.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Love the Sinner

The following is a status update I put up on Facebook today:

My Friends,

I sent out a friend request to an Independent Catholic bishop the other day. He replied and asked me to tell him about my ministry. I did. I also told him that I was married with children. This person wrote back: “Sorry, you have no vocation. You are living in sin and fornicating outside of marriage... May God have mercy on your soul.” What? Did I not say I was heterosexually, legally married with children? “How is this living in sin?” I asked him. And who is this fellow to judge my vocation? He certainly is not my bishop! Okay, yes, I am terribly offended at this pompous attitude and summary and uninformed judgment. A totally wrong judgment, I might add. Nevertheless, I need to forgive this man from the heart according to Jesus' command.

I have learned a great lesson from this: We must not ever put ourselves into God's judgment seat. Is there a sinner in our presence (at least someone we perceive as a sinner)? I know this is trite by now, but, “What Would Jesus Do?” Jesus offers repentance and healing to a sinner. He offers a new life after gently pointing out the sin. Take, for instance, the woman taken in adultery (since we're on that topic). Jesus did not condone her sin, He did not condemn her as a person and he offered her the freedom to reform.

I want to share this with my FB friends because this is just too important a lesson for us to miss. (And no, I am not perfect about this, either. I have been called out by one of my FB friends recently for comments that came across as judgmental.) It seems, by and large, that Christians of all stripes have fallen into one of two camps: those who dismiss sin as real and harmful, and those who place themselves on Jesus' judgment throne and point condemning fingers at those in the first category. I say that we, starting with me, must repent of this! We must see the face of Christ in every other human being and treat them accordingly. We are created Imago Dei, after all. Who am I to abuse and judge the state of the soul of the servant of another? I have enough to repent of in my life without judging the state of another's eternal destiny. If we see sin, we must confront it, but we must do it like a physician offering healing to the sick with great compassion, not as the judge preparing to hand the guilty over to the bailiff. Judge sin if you see it, but leave the state of the soul to the only One Who can see it for what it is: His Image. For our part, we must do our part to lift others up to God.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thoughts on Scripture

All the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spoke to Ezra the scribe to bring the scroll of the Torah of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women, and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read therein before the broad place that was before the water gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the scroll of the Torah. Ezra the scribe stood on a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Uriah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchijah, and Hashum, and Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. All the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with the lifting up of their hands. They bowed their heads, and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Yeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stayed in their place. They read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading. Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites who taught the people, said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Don’t mourn, nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, 'Go your way. Eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be grieved; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.' So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, 'Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be grieved.' All the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” (Nehemiah 8:1-12, Hebrew Names Version (of the World English Bible).)

Protestant Christians have definitely gotten one thing right: their primacy of Scripture as a source of knowledge about God. Sacred Tradition tells us a lot about our Faith, but it is constantly shifting and adjusting to place, time and culture of God's people. Is all that we call “Tradition” necessarily sacred? Unfortunately not. Sacred Tradition is in reality nothing more than natural religion applied to the Church context. In a religion purporting to be a revealed, as opposed to natural, religion, many have gone out of their way to reject the idea of Sacred Tradition altogether, but I digress.

If you want to know me, what is the best method of doing so? You speak to me and we begin to reveal ourselves to one another. This is what Scripture does for us. It reveals the mind of God to us. These Jews in the passage above had just spent decades in Babylon. In fact, most of them were probably born there. It was there that the synagogue was born so that these Jews who had fallen from God's favor for a time would not simply be absorbed into the Babylonian melting pot. God had given them seventy years of captivity and now He was returning His favor to the people whom He loved. He desired restore them and this they knew because of the numerous prophecies of men like Isaiah and Jeremiah. After the awful experience of losing their national sovereignty and becoming captives and slaves to their heathen conquerer, they wanted to be sure of retaining God's favor on their lives and their nation.

How do we guarantee God's favor on us?” was surely a question that went through many minds in those history-making times. Ezra. the priest of God, brought out the book of the Law and read it in the hearing of all the people. Here they would have the requirements of the Law read to them. After all, as St. Paul tells his protogé, St. Timothy, “Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, HNV.) What did the people do? They began to mourn over their sins and those of their people.

“Oh, woe is me!” How quick we are to cry out to God when the burden of our sins becomes known to us. Indeed, this is one of the uses of Scripture. But what did Ezra and the priests do? They told the people to rejoice. They commanded them to make mirth and give gifts to the poor and eat well. Since the time of the Exodus, the Feast of Tabernacles had not been kept and the passage that opened this posting goes on to say that they kept the feast for the first time since coming into the land as a nation. God, Who reveals Himself in the pages of Scripture, told the people to rejoice, party and camp out in their yards!

Oh that our Holier Than Thou politicians who cite the Bible for every piece of legislation they would pass would read this. God is not some dour doom-sayer on high. He is a loving God Who desires to rejoice in His people, Who desires to rejoice with His people. Why? “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” (Proverbs 8:31, KJV) With delight and rejoicing come wisdom. If we study the Bible but take no delight in it, we have knowledge, but not wisdom. Wisdom is so important to the writers of Scripture that Solomon said, “Wisdom is supreme. Get wisdom. Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7, HNV)

Wisdom is so priceless because it is through wisdom that we can come to know God and have a real and living relationship with Him. Knowledge about Him will not do. Knowing “the rules” does not give us a relationship with God any more than knowing the household rules gives my children a relationship with me. But wisdom opens the doors for that relationship to begin. And Scripture opens the door to the possibility of gaining the kind of wisdom that we need to know God.