Archive | August, 2018

Jesus: The Keystone — Bartholomew: A Foundation Stone

August 24, 2018

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Jesus the keystone

A Grand Edifice. St. Paul describes the church as a magnificent structure or a sacred temple (Eph 2:21). It is a grand and glorious building, breathtaking, a sight to behold. Jesus is the keystone, the apostles are the foundation stones, and the members are living stones. Over the centuries it has become a towering skyscraper, one generation of believers after another, one floor of living stones built upon another.

The Keystone. Jesus is the keystone or capstone of the church (Eph 2:20). Ancient buildings were made of stone blocks. Construction began with the erection of walls built with large blocks that were laid one upon another. Mortar and cement were not used. The great weight of the stones and the force of gravity made the wall rock solid. At the top of the wall, particularly over doorways and windows, there was an arch, and a scaffold was needed to build it. The scaffold supported two rows of angled stones, one row on each side. Then, at the place where the two rows came together in the middle at the top, one triangular-shaped stone was wedged between the two sides and hammered into place. This stone, the keystone or capstone, pushed so forcefully in each direction that it held the entire arch in place. Then the scaffold was removed. With the keystone in position, the building stood firm. If the keystone ever were to be removed, the building would come crashing down. Jesus is the keystone of the structure, the Church, and “through him the whole structure is held together” (Eph 2:21).

House built on a solid foundationThe Foundation Stones. The foundation is the lowest level of the building, either the basement or the ground floor. It is laid first, everything else is built upon it, and it supports the weight of the entire structure. The larger the building, the more important it is to have a sturdy foundation. The Church is massive. It spans the globe. It has a great multitude of members “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rv 7:9). A building of epic size requires foundation stones that will not shift or crack, but remain firmly in place. When it comes to the Church, it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (Eph 2:20a).

Apostolic Foundations. The bottom floor of the Church is twelve courses of stone laid by the twelve apostles (Rv 21:14). The apostles support the building with heavenly teaching. Peter, James, John, and Paul wrote enlightening letters. The apostles were missionaries and took the gospel to all nations (see Mt 28:19), and wherever they went to preach, they laid the foundation for a new Christian community, a new addition to the magnificent building that is the Church.

A Massive Building Project. The apostles traveled far and wide and laid foundations in multiple locations: Peter throughout Israel and in Antioch, Corinth, and Rome; Andrew in Asia Minor and Greece; James the Greater in Spain and Jerusalem; John in Ephesus, Patmos, and possibly Rome; Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis; Thomas in Syria, Persia, and India; Bartholomew in India, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Armenia; Matthew in Judea and Ethiopia; James the Lesser in and around Jerusalem; Simon the Zealot in Egypt and Persia; and Jude or Thaddeus in Mesopotamia and Persia. The apostles gave heroic witness with their unyielding commitment to Jesus, the fervor of their prophetic preaching, as well as their courage and determination. All but John died a martyr’s death, and through the blood of the apostolic martyrs seeds were sown and the Church experienced tremendous growth.

St. BartholomewSt. Bartholomew, A Foundation Stone. Bartholomew is an ashlar, a huge multi-ton stone in the foundation of the Church. He was a “true Israelite” (Jn 1:47a), a person who knew God’s law and obeyed it. Jesus said, “There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47b); Bartholomew was not two-faced, he was good inside and out. Jesus also said of Bartholomew, “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48), a Jewish saying which means, “I saw you reading Scripture and meditating on it.” Bartholomew told Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (Jn 1:49); he made the earliest major profession of faith by an apostle. After Pentecost, he was a missionary and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, first in India, then in the Middle East and Turkey, and finally in Armenia where he was martyred, skinned alive. Bartholomew was on Jesus’ first construction crew, and with the other apostles, he buttressed the foundation of the Church.

Living Stones. Jesus is the keystone at the top of the building, the apostles are the foundation stones at the bottom of the building, and the disciples of Jesus are the living stones that make up the rest of the building. Peter wrote that believers are “like living stones” and he taught Christians to “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). With Jesus as the head and the apostles as the foundation, the construction program can move forward.

Stones. Peter says “stones,” not “stone.” One stone does not make a wall, and it takes many believers to build the Church. It is a community project, not a personal endeavor. Christianity is not a private affair. Jesus gathered a diverse group of apostles and prayed that they would be unified as one. Doubting Thomas showed the error of going off alone. Whenever a sheep wanders away, the Good Shepherd wants to rescue it and bring it back to the flock. There are no individual stones in the Church; they are attached to each other.

Living. While a stone or brick is inanimate, a Christian is vibrant and energetic. A living stone is a loving stone. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). A living stone also practices self-denial and is able to endure suffering. Jesus explained, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). A living stone follows the example of Jesus, as he instructed his apostles at the Last Supper, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). A living stone is dynamic, and Matthew Kelly, in his book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, explained the four distinguishing characteristics of a living stone: one who prays each day, studies the faith, is generous, and evangelizes by sharing their belief in Jesus and the Good News of his gospel with others.

A Towering Skyscraper. Jesus and his apostles did the groundbreaking for his magnificent structure two thousand years ago, and the project continues today. The apostles were the foundation, and every subsequent generation has added a floor. If one generation is roughly twenty-five years, four floors are added every century. The building has been going up for twenty centuries and is now an eighty story skyscraper. Our parents built the eightieth floor. Our grandparents built the seventy-ninth. We are building the eighty-first. Since one floor is set upon another, every floor must be well built and the stones must not be cracked or flawed, otherwise the strength of the building will be compromised. More floors will be added after our time on earth is done. It behooves us to be strong living stones so our floor will be able to carry the weight of the floors that will be added in the centuries to come.

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The pelican and her chicks a symbol for the Eucharist

August 17, 2018

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There is an image of a mother pelican with her chicks carved into the capital at the top of a pillar that supports a stone canopy over a stairway at the Cenacle or the Coenaculum, the upper room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the place that commemorates where Jesus shared the Last Supper with his apostles and instituted the Eucharist. It is the only artwork in the entire room, and it is singularly appropriate because it is a symbol for Jesus and the Eucharist.

A mother pelican lays its eggs in a nest, and after they hatch, the mother pelican leaves the nest to go hunting for food, and then returns and feeds the chicks. Many species of birds feed their young with worms. Pelicans usually live near the water, have webbed feet, and long beaks with pouches, and their usual prey is small fish or other aquatic animals such as frog tadpoles, crayfish, or even salamanders.

In times of drought the marshes and streams may dry up, or something may cause the fish in the lake to die, and the mother pelican is unable to find food. Her chicks are delicate, need to be fed daily, and without food are quickly in danger of starvation and death. Faced with this crisis, the mother pelican uses its beak to poke holes in its breast which causes blood to come out, and the chicks are nourished with their mother’s blood. The mother dies and the chicks survive.
Mother pelican
Christians see parallels between the mother pelican and her chicks and Jesus and his followers. The mother pelican represents Jesus, the chicks represent us. The chicks dwell in the safety of the nest, believers dwell in the safety of the Church. The mother is the head of the nest, and Jesus is the head of the Church (Eph 1:22). The mother has an intense concern for her chicks and it goes against her nature to allow any of them to perish, and Jesus has a great love for us and wants none of us to perish.

When food is in short supply, the pelican pierces its breast with its sharp, pointed beak, and the side of Jesus was pierced by a sharp, pointed lance (Jn 19:34a). Blood flowed from the pelican’s breast, and blood flowed from Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34b). The mother’s blood was drink for her chicks, and the blood of Jesus is “true drink” (Jn 6:55b). The mother gave her life that her chicks might live, and Jesus laid down his life that we might live (Jn 15:13). The mother’s blood saved the lives of the chicks, and the blood of Jesus is salvation and eternal life (Jn 6:54) to those who receive it. Because of these striking similarities, the mother pelican and her chicks have come to represent the Eucharist, as well as redemption and salvation.

A depiction of the mother pelican and her chicks is frequently on display in places associated with the Eucharist: the doors of the tabernacle, the front of the altar, a hanging in front of the lectern or ambo, a stained glass window in the sanctuary area, the decorative design on a chalice, chasuble or cope, or on the ends of pews.

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The sacrament of marriage: A solemn covenant

August 10, 2018

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sacrament of marriage

The sacrament of marriage is a covenant between a husband and wife patterned on the covenant between God and the human race. God entered a pact with every living being through Noah after the flood (see Gn 9:8-17). God promised to be faithful to the people of the earth, to love them and provide for them, and that it would be an “everlasting covenant” (Gn 9:16), perpetual, permanent, and binding forever.

God is reliable and true, and always upholds his side of the agreement, while the people, on the other hand, through their stubbornness, sins and failings, broke the covenant over and over again. God is offended and disappointed, but instead of annulling the covenant, extends mercy and forgiveness out of his deep compassion, provides a new beginning, and reestablishes the covenant. God cannot go against his divine nature. God is love and is ever faithful.

The Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures provide a list of covenant renewals that confirm God’s faithfulness. The people would sin and break the covenant, and God would try again. After the people built the Tower of Babel (Gn 11), God renewed the covenant through Abram (Gn 15:17-19 and 17). Subsequently God renewed the covenant with Moses at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:3-8), and after the people worshipped the golden calf, again with the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law (Ex 34:10-26); with Joshua (Jos 24:16-28); David (2 Sm 7:8-17; 23:5); Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34), and Ezekiel (Ez 36:24-28; 37:26). God’s constant and unshakeable promise is this: “You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ez 36:28b; see also Jer 7:23; 31:33; Ez 37:27). Throughout history God demonstrates continuous, never-ending, enduring love.

Jesus is the final reestablishment of the covenant broken by previous generations. When he offered a cup of wine at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20), and it was sealed with the blood that he shed on the Cross. Jesus is the embodiment of the covenant, and he is constantly faithful to his bride, the Body of Christ, the Church (see Eph 5:25b-27,32; Rv 19:7; 21:9). He is the definitive expression of God’s everlasting bond of love with every person.

When a man and woman enter into the Sacrament of Marriage, they establish of covenant of love that is sealed by God (Mk 10:9), and they pledge to be faithful to each other in the same way that God is always faithful. If one should ever violate the vows of marriage and sin, the other promises to show the mercy and compassion of God, extend forgiveness, and renew the covenant. It is God’s desire that the covenant of marriage be indissoluble.

The Sacrament of Marriage is a spiritual bond, a covenant, not a contract. A contract is written on paper, a covenant is written on the heart; a contract has fine print with terms and conditions, a covenant is unconditional; a contract is closed with signatures, a covenant is sealed with the spoken word; a contract is for a specific amount of time, a covenant is everlasting; a contract may have penalties if specific terms are not met, a covenant when violated extends forgiveness; a contract may have an escape clause, a covenant is binding forever; a contract is designed to protect one’s own rights, a covenant seeks what is best for the other person; a contract makes no mention of God, a covenant is based on faith in God; a contract relies on human energy, a covenant relies on grace; and a contract is executed before a civil official, a covenant is established before a minister who represents God.

Sometimes people wonder whether God is faithful because God is unseen. A married couple that remains true to their wedding promises is a living witness of covenantal love. A wedding anniversary is an excellent time for the Church to reflect upon their fidelity, to celebrate the high ideals of marriage, and to declare, “This couple is proof and a beautiful example of the eternal love of the God of the covenant.”

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Superabundant Grace for the Married Couple

August 3, 2018

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Wedding at Cana

Jesus attended a wedding feast at Cana at the beginning of his public ministry (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus wanted that couple, as well as every married couple, to have a wonderful life together and to be faithful in their love for each other. The bride and groom had looked forward to their wedding day with eager anticipation, and after exchanging their vows they were jubilant. Their family and friends were together. The festivities were in high gear. There was food and drink, singing and dancing, and smiles on every face. A wedding banquet is the greatest of all feasts.

Jesus knew that their marriage would be tested down the road. Every marriage is tested. The vows say, “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.” Marriages are tested when one, the other, or both are sick; when faced with economic struggles; or when something else goes wrong. Furthermore, their union will be tested because of their inclination to sin, which leads to “discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1606). Jesus wants to provide divine assistance to every couple to help them deal with their tests successfully.

There was a signal of the tests looming in the future when the wine ran short. Everything had gone perfectly so far. Then a crisis! Would this misfortune wreck the celebration? Will the misfortunes that are sure to spring up over the coming years wreck the marriage? Can Jesus help? Mary was sure of it. She immediately turned to her son and said, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3), expecting that he would come up with a solution.

There were six stone water jars near the entrance. They were quite large. Each one held twenty to thirty gallons (Jn 2:6), twenty-five on average. Jesus asked the servers to fill them with water, which they did. It was a lot of hauling. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, twenty-five gallons weighs 208 pounds. The six stone jars contained one hundred and fifty gallons total.

With the water in place, Jesus asked a server to “Draw some out and take it to the headwaiter” (Jn 2:8). The water had become wine, all one hundred and fifty gallons. That is a huge amount of wine. It would amount to cases and cases of wine by today’s standards.

There are two details that are often overlooked. The average number of guests at a village wedding celebration ranged from one hundred to one hundred fifty, and the guests had been drinking freely all day (see Jn 2:10b). Some of the guests may have been a little tipsy, even though drunkenness was considered a disgrace in Jewish culture. Then Jesus provided an additional one to one and a half gallons of pure choice wine for every single person at the feast. Was Jesus encouraging excessive alcohol use? Did he not care if the party turned raucous? What was the Son of God who embodies virtue doing?

Jesus provided the guests with more wine than they could ever use. It was a superabundant supply that would never run out. The wine represents his grace. On the day the couple was married, Jesus showered them with his divine grace, spiritual blessings and assistance, and it would flow from him to them every day for the rest of their married lives. His grace is superabundant. It never runs out. It is available at all times, particularly when a couple is tested, so they can be faithful in their love for each other for the rest of their married lives.

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