Meditation for the Feast of the Visitation

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I’d like to flesh out something tonight which is not talked about much in the Church, when perhaps it should be, and that is the idea of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

What I hope to do is draw some parallels that will allow us to see the similarities, as well as the differences, between Mary and the Ark.

The Ark of the Covenant is the box of acacia wood, covered with gold, that the Lord commanded through Moses that the Israelites should make to house the Tablets of the Covenant, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod.  Through the history of Israel, as outlined in not only the Exodus, but also in the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, the Ark is seen to be the very presence of the Lord among the people.  Eventually, when the Temple was built, the Ark came to rest in the Temple in the Holy of Holies.

When the Temple was first destroyed by the Babylonians, the ark was taken as part of the spoils, never to be recovered again.

Mary, of course, to us is the tabernacle and Ark of the New Covenant.  For nine months, she carries the presence of the Lord – the living Word – in her womb.  That she is the Ark of the New Covenant is not something that theologians have drawn out over the years, it is something stated right in the pages of Scripture.

My hope is that this “mini Bible-study” of sorts will bear this out.

First, we turn to Exodus, Chapter 40.  The Ark of the Covenant has just been completed and placed within the tabernacle.  Exodus recounts to us the following:

“the cloud covered the meeting tent and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling. Moses could not enter the meeting tent, because the cloud settled down upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling”

What is happening here is that the the Glory of the Lord, the shekhinah glory as it is called in the Old Testament, covers the tent of meeting – in other words it “overshadows it.”

When we turn to the Gospel of Luke we hear the Angel Gabriel tell Mary when she asks “how can this be since I am a virgin?” He tells her – “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  Here we see that the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and overshadows her just as the glory of the Lord overshadowed the Ark of the Old Covenant.

The difference, of course, is that Mark – the Ark of the New Covenant – contains in her body true God and true Man.  The Ark of the Old Covenant did not contain a bodily presence, but the true spiritual presence of God who is a spirit.

Next, we turn to Second Samuel, Chapter 6, where we hear that the Israelites lose hold of the Ark to the Philistines.  King David gathers thirty thousand men to go and take hold of the Ark again.  As they’re dragging the ark across a threshing floor, an ox stumbles, and a man named Uzzah grabs hold of the Ark to keep it from falling.  Well, this is not a good thing to do, and so he is struck dead by the power of the Lord.

After this, David says this, and this is the important part – “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?”

Compare this with the words of Elizabeth in todays Gospel reading: “why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

This is a very explicit reference, one which any Jew would have picked up on.  Mary is the New Ark, and within her is the presence of the Lord.

Later on in the Sixth Chapter of Second Samuel, King David leaps for joy before the Ark when it is brought into Jerusalem.

Compare this with what happens in the Gospel of Luke, especially important on this Feast of the Visitation – who leaps before the Lord – John the Baptist!  He leaps in his mother Elizabeth’s womb – not because of the ark – but because of whom the ark contains – namely the Word of God, just as David had leaped before the ark – not because of the ark, but because of what the ark contained – the Word of God.

There is another parallel as well.  Before bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, David places the Ark in a house belonging to Obed-edom the Gittite for three months – the exact amount of time which Mary spent with Elizabeth.  In addition, both the home of Obed-edom and the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah are in the hill country of Judea, maybe a short walk from each other.

Why is all of this important?

It is important, not only because of the parallels, but because of the high place this gives not only to Jesus the Word of God, but also to Mary His Mother.

We allude to this in the Collect for the Feast of the Visitation: “Father in heaven, by whose grace the virgin mother of thyincarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping thy word:”

She is blessed in bearing Him.  In fact, both Elizabeth and Mary say this.

Elizabeth says “Blessed are you among women.”

Mary says “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”  Mary, this humble girl, says this about herself.

The source of the blessing, of course, is the very presence of the Incarnate Word of God within her womb.

But, it is more than that.  She is still more blessed in keeping the Word of God.

She keeps the word of God in two ways – first, in keeping Him in her womb, and second, in keeping the Commandments and remaining obedient to the Lord.  This is of ultimate importance because it was only in the Protestant Reformation that anyone claimed Mary had sinned, a claim not made in Scripture.  The undivided Church has always taught that Mary is without sin – that she is spotless.  This is not to say that she is not in need of redemption through Her son.  What it is to say is that God took the initiative in creating Mary to be a habitation well-suited to be his dwelling place.

This is why the Angel Gabriel refers to Mary as “full of grace.”  Luke uses a very precise greek term which denotes that she is not only now full of grace, but always has been.

You might say a few things to this: but doesn’t this make her God? or aren’t all human beings sinners?

The reply I would give is that Adam and Eve prior to the Fall were without sin, and they were not even demi-gods.  They still remained creatures.  In fact, one might say that sin makes us less human.  Sin, I would remind you as well is not a part of human nature.

To say “after all, we’re only human…” is not a very good excuse.

But, back to what concerns us this evening – Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

What we have to recognize is that Mary is most honored when she points us to her Son.  The best icons of Mary and Her Son bear this out.  Mary is hardly ever depicted without Her Son.  Further, it is true to say that all Marian devotion is Devotion to Our Lord and Her Lord.  In other words, Jesus cannot get lost in the shuffle.

But, we are still to honor Mary, just as the Israelites, under the Old Covenant, honored the Ark.  We are to honor Her as our Mother and as the perfect tabernacle of the Lord Most High.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.


Fountain Pens and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Two confessions:

First, I like to keep a fountain pen around, not because they write better, but because I take comfort in knowing that old stalwart technology that simply works is always within reach.  They’re inherently simple, and not at all disposable.  You have to be careful not to lose them, since they are an investment.  But, to be honest, I favor the Pilot G-2 Gel Pen.  They’re modern, and I don’t have a clue what “gel ink” is, but they write well, they’re cheap, and can be found in every corner of my life – my desk, my wardrobe, and my bag.

Second, I have too many tools.  When, this past Thursday, the rear tire on my scooter went flat, I pushed it from the S-Mart on Alpine to my garage.  My first thought was – “woohoo – I get to buy new tools!”  Which, of course, I did.  By the time I was done, I had a new inflation kit for my compressor, a new ratchet, and an impact wrench.  Browsing around at Kragen for the thing I really needed – a tire patch kit, I found a motorcycle jack at an enourmous discount, so that was added to the list.  At the end of the day, all I needed was the repair kit.  It was a complicated excuse to buy more tools, which I will someday use, but did not need.

The reason these things come to mind is that lately I’ve been thinking about how complicated we often make life.  How I wouldn’t need the gel pens if I merely remembered and maintained my trusty Sheaffer Fountain Pen.  How I wouldn’t need more tools if I simply thought through was is actually required for the patching of a tire.  Which is a rather complicated (mea culpa) way of saying that life is much more simple than we make it.

To be sure, life presents a complicated range of problems.  To quote C.S. Lewis “Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.”  While it may be true that reality is complex, and therefore Christianity is not the stuff of child’s prayers and simple explanations, the Christian life is actually quite simple.  We make it complicated.  I remember the would-be disciples.  One wants to bury his parents, another wants to say good-bye to his family.  They are complicating the simplicity of discipleship, summed up in one phrase – “Take up your cross and follow me.”

The prophet Micah, in that wonderful phrase says: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:8)  The way of discipleship is simple – to die and live new life, life directed by God, following Christ, and given power by the Holy Spirit.  Saint Augustine put it this way: “Love God, and do as you please.”  The long and the short of it is that too many people yearn for a complex prescription and the answer is really quite simple.  Like Naaman, we would like it to be complex, but it isn’t.  With that, I’d like to answer the question: what are the basics of the Christian Life?

First: To be faithful in observance of your Sunday obligation.  We have gotten the idea that regular attendance is only for the mature.  In fact, it is for the beginner as well as for the mature.  Unless you are sick or caring for someone who is – Sunday mass is an obligation.

Second: To live a life of repentance marked by turning from sin and the regular confession of it.  If you are not in the habit of examining each day at the end of it, it is extremely helpful.  If you are not in the habit of regular confession, it is the means to spiritual growth most often overlooked, or worse – neglected.

Third: Give!  God is the giver of all good things, and if we want to be like Him, we will do the same.  Give to the church, give to those who are in need, establish a scholarship, if you’re not currently tithing (meaning %10 of your income) – prayerfully do so.

Fourth: Study.  Every disciple of Jesus Christ is by definition one who is a learner.  If you’re not currently invovled in a bible study – join one.  If you find that you do not have a sufficient understanding of the basics of the Christian Faith and life, consider joining the Catechesis Course, beginning in August and going through May.  It is a committment, but one that is absolutely worthwhile.

To be clear – anything else is just icing on the cake.  It is only after the above are in order that you should consider doing anything else.  Like writing a note, or fixing a flat tire – the essentials are first, the extras are extra.  The way of discipleship is simple.

On the Fifth Commandment

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 10:31 pm

“You shall not kill.”  Exodus 20:13

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”  Matthew 5:21-22

I can remember a time in my life when I came under attack from people who were very angry with me.  As I look back on it, I remember that the whole thing could have been avoided had I been direct and called sub-surface tension and frustration up to the surface so that it could be dealt with.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  What did happen was more frustration, more confusion, and to be honest a lot of worry and heartbreak.  It all started when anger wasn’t kept in check.

Very few of us would claim to be muderers, even though I will make the case later in this article that you’d be surprised how many actually are!  What is at issue is our impulsive anger, anger that leads to retribution, anger that leads us to seek the destruction of another person’s life.  What is at issue is that every human life is valuable, every human life is sacred.  You and I may not like the people we are often forced to share this planet with, but they are beloved of God nonetheless, and therefore it is our duty to love them.

Saint Thomas Aquinas noted that some anger is not necessarily sinful.  In fact, it can be good.  A certain amount of anger leads us to seek justice, to right wrongs.  But, deep-seated, unresolved anger destroys the soul.  It causes us to have contempt for the person God has made.  What God wants is, yes – for us to be people of justice, but to be people who place mercy above payback and patience above correction.  Yet, it is the destruction of the image of God in which a person is created that is a transgression against the fifth commandment.  Ask anyone – assasination of character is often just as bad, every bit as damaging, as a punch in the face.  Physical wounds heal, but marks on our character have a way of never going away.

Of course, assasination of character isn’t the only sin in this category.  Physical murder – the taking of another’s life – is what the commandment directly confronts.  Except in the cases of killing in the normal course of war, self-defense or the defense of others, and a limited few other cases, the taking of another’s life is a terrible, soul-condemning sin.  The number of murders in our own community is staggering.  I would like to think that we haven’t taught people to resolve their conflicts peacably.  But, there is a far more troublesome characteristic of our culture.  It is that we no longer believe that human life is sacred.

The lives of the unborn bear witness to this.  Every year in this country alone – 1.34 million infants are aborted, murdered at the hands of “doctors.”  The current surges in medical ethics toward euthanasia further show us that our culture is becoming increasingly murderous.  The over-arching reason, I believe, is that we no longer have an underlying theology of the dignity and sacredness of human life.  As our society becomes increasingly impious, it becomes increasingly murderous.  As the family breaks down, it begins to turn even on its own.  As our communities break down, violence is the necessary side-effect.

What is the prescription?

First, for the Church and her members to consistently and persistently proclaim that God is the creator and Lord of human life.  Human life bears the image of God, and therefore it is sacred and wonderful.  We need to take the lead in adoptions, in calling our doctors to account for their care for us, in loving our neighbors, and in calling upon our government to protect life.

Second, for us to take the lead in praying for our neighbors rather than seeking their destruction, or even more subtle, shame.  To be direct in our dealings and capable of graceful relationships.

Third, and perhaps most important – to become a people of prayer.  Something happens when we pray for our enemies. We begin to see them through the eyes of Jesus, especially as he hangs on the Cross.  His eyes are eyes of compassion and mercy, desiring repentance, not retribution.  May we see with His eyes, and love with His heart.