Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.
He prayed for death saying:
“This is enough, O LORD!
Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree,
but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.
Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake
and a jug of water.
After he ate and drank, he lay down again,
but the angel of the LORD came back a second time,
touched him, and ordered,
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food,
he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
To set the stage, in the preceding first three verses of 1 Kings 19, we are told that Ahab has reported to Jezebel all that Elijah did, and specifically that Elijah killed all the pagan prophets with the sword. Jezebel’s response is to send a messenger to Elijah with a death threat that she vows will be fulfilled in one day. Elijah is afraid, flees for his life, and goes to Beersheba. 1 Kings 19:3 reminds us that Beersheba is under Judah’s control, which means that legally, it is beyond Jezebel’s reach.
Verse 4 begins by telling us that Elijah goes beyond Beersheba, another day, into the wilderness. In terms of geography, he is safe–he is in the land where Jezebel does not rule. In terms of time, he is safe–Jezebel’s death threat was supposed to be fulfilled by this time. But Elijah’s words and actions belie any sense of relief or safety. He sits under a large desert bush and asks to die, telling God, “It is too much; now, Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
Elijah’s words have been understood in at least two ways: first, that he is referring to his dead ancestors and wishes to join them in death, and second, that he is referring to his “ancestors” in the prophetic vocation, and specifically Moses, who also complained in the wilderness and asked the Lord if he could die. That is, Elijah is no better than his prophetic predecessors, who also had heavy burdens they had to bear on their own. Even if Elijah’s reason is not entirely clear, that latter clause is conditioned by the first. Elijah is overwhelmed, and death is preferable to what he faces, to what he must do, to his tasks.
After making his request, Elijah lies down and sleeps under the bush, but his sleep is interrupted by the touch of an angel who commands him to rise and eat. The Hebrew word for angel, mal’ak, is the same word for messenger used in verse 2, when a mal’ak was sent with Jezebel’s death threat. Thus, there is some narrative tension with this first appearance of the angel. It is not until the mal’ak comes to Elijah “a second time” that the text specifies this is an angel of the Lord, and the tension is relieved.
After Elijah eats and drinks the first time, he lies down again, and once again, an angel touches him and commands him to rise and eat. During this second encounter, the angel explains the reason why Elijah must eat, “because the way is too much for you.” The Hebrew points us back to Elijah’s complaint in verse 4 that it was “too much” (rab), when the angel uses the same language in his frank assessment of what lies ahead. Elijah has had rab (verse 4), but he is sent on a way that is also rab for him (verse 7).
Many interpreters of this text see Elijah as discouraged, suffering burnout from his ministerial (or prophetic) duties, or even exhibiting signs of depression.
What Elijah receives are practical, tangible provisions that enable him to go “in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights”. What is given, then, is sufficient and strengthening. Certainly, the bread of Jesus gives us strength for the journeys in our lives, however difficult or overwhelming they may be.
“A man who governs his passions is master of his world. We must either command them or be enslaved by them. It is better to be a hammer than an anvil.” – Saint Dominic
Founder of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominican Order; born at Calaroga, in Old Castile, c. 1170; died 6 August, 1221. His parents, Felix Guzman and Joanna of Aza, undoubtedly belonged to the nobility of Spain, though probably neither was connected with the reigning house of Castile, as some of the saint’s biographers assert. Of Felix Guzman, personally, little is known, except that he was in every sense the worthy head of a family of saints. To nobility of blood Joanna of Aza added a nobility of soul which so enshrined her in the popular veneration that in 1828 she was solemnly beatified by Leo XII. The example of such parents was not without its effect upon their children. Not only Saint Dominic but also his brothers, Antonio and Manes, were distinguished for their extraordinary sanctity. Antonio, the eldest, became a secular priest and, having distributed his patrimony to the poor, entered a hospital where he spent his life minis ministering to the sick. Manes, following in the footsteps of Dominic, became a Friar Preacher, and was beatified by Gregory XVI.
The birth and infancy of the saint were attended by many marvels forecasting his heroic sanctity and great achievements in the cause of religion. From his seventh to his fourteenth year he pursued his elementary studies tinder the tutelage of his maternal uncle, the archpriest of Gumiel d’lzan, not far distant from Calaroga. In 1184 Saint Dominic entered the University of Palencia. Here he remained for ten years prosecuting his studies with such ardour and success that throughout the ephemeral existence of that institution he was held up to the admiration of its scholars as all that a student should be. Amid the frivolities and dissipations of a university city, the life of the future saint was characterized by seriousness of purpose and an austerity of manner which singled him out as one from whom great thin might be expected in the future. But more than one he proved that under this austere exterior he carried a heart as tender as a woman’s. On one occasion he sold his books, annotated with his own hand, to relieve the starving poor of Palencia. His biographer and contemporary, Bartholomew of Trent, states that twice he tried to sell himself into slavery to obtain money for the liberation of those who were held in captivity by the Moors. These facts are worthy of mention in view of the cynical and saturnine character which some non-Catholic writers have endeavoured to foist upon one of the most charitable of men. Concerning the date of his ordination his biographers are silent; nor is there anything from which that date can be inferred with any degree of certainty. According to the deposition of Brother Stephen, Prior Provincial of Lombardy, given in the process of canonization, Dominic was still a student at Palencia when Don Martin de Bazan, the Bishop of Osma, called him to membership in the cathedral chapter for the purpose If assisting in its reform. The bishop realized the importance to his plan of reform of having constantly before his canons the example of one of Dominic’s eminent holiness. Nor was he disappointed in the result. In recognition of the part he had taken in converting its members into canons regular, Dominic was appointed sub-prior of the reformed chapter. On the accession of Don Diego d’Azevedo to the Bishopric of Osma in 1201, Dominic became superior of the chapter with the title of prior. As a canon of Osma, he spent nine years of his life hidden in God and rapt in contemplation, scarcely passing beyond the confines of the chapter house.
In 1203 Alfonso IX, King of Castile, deputed the Bishop of Osma to demand from the Lord of the Marches, presumably a Danish prince, the hand of his daughter on behalf of the king’s son, Prince Ferdinand. For his companion on this embassy Don Diego chose Saint Dominic. Passing through Toulouse in the pursuit of their mission, they beheld with amazement and sorrow the work of spiritual ruin wrought by the Albigensian heresy. It was in the contemplation of this scene that Dominic first conceived the idea of founding an order for the purpose of combating heresy and spreading the light of the Gospel by preaching to the ends of the then known world. Their mission having ended successfully, Diego and Dominic were dispatched on a second embassy, accompanied by a splendid retinue, to escort the betrothed princess to Castile. This mission, however, was brought to a sudden close by the death of the young woman in question. The two ecclesiastics were now free to go where they would, and they set out for Rome, arriving there towards the end of 1204. The purpose of this was to enable Diego to resign his bishopric that he might devote himself to the conversion of unbelievers in distant lands. Innocent III, however, refused to approve this project, and instead sent the bishop and his companion to Languedoc to join forces with the Cistercians, to whom he had entrusted the crusade against the Albigenses. The scene that confronted them on their arrival in Languedoc was by no means an encouraging one. The Cistercians, on account of their worldly manner of living, had made little or no headway against the Albigenses. They had entered upon their work with considerable pomp, attended by a brilliant retinue, and well provided with the comforts of life. To this display of worldliness the leaders of the heretics opposed a rigid asceticism which commanded the respect and admiration of their followers. Diego and Dominic quickly saw that the failure of the Cistercian apostolate was due to the monks’ indulgent habits, and finally prevailed upon them to adopt a more austere manner of life. The result was at once apparent in a greatly increased number of converts. Theological disputations played a prominent part in the propaganda of the heretics. Dominic and his companion, therefore, lost no time in engaging their opponents in this kind of theological exposition. Whenever the opportunity offered, they accepted the gage of battle. The thorough training that the saint had received at Palencia now proved of inestimable value to him in his encounters with the heretics. Unable to refute his arguments or counteract the influence of his preaching, they visited their hatred upon him by means of repeated insults and threats of physical violence. With Prouille for his head-quarters, he laboured by turns in Fanjeaux, Montpellier, Servian, Béziers, and Carcassonne. Early in his apostolate around Prouille the saint realized the necessity of an institution that would protect the women of that country from the influence of the heretics. Many of them had already embraced Albigensianism and were its most active propagandists. These women erected convents, to which the children of the Catholic nobility were often sent-for want of something better-to receive an education, and, in effect, if not on purpose, to be tainted with the spirit of heresy. It was needful, too, that women converted from heresy should be safeguarded against the evil influence of their own homes. To supply these deficiencies, Saint Dominic, with the permission of Foulques, Bishop of Toulouse, established a convent at Prouille in 1206. To this community, and afterwards to that of Saint Sixtus, at Rome, he gave the rule and constitutions which have ever since guided the nuns of the Second Order of Saint Dominic.
The year 1208 opens a new epoch in the eventful life of the founder. On 15 January of that year Pierre de Castelnau, one of the Cistercian legates, was assassinated. This abominable crime precipitated the crusade under Simon de Montfort, which led to the temporary subjugation of the heretics. Saint Dominic participated in the stirring scenes that followed, but always on the side of mercy, wielding the arms of the spirit while others wrought death and desolation with the sword. Some historians assert that during the sack of Béziers, Dominic appeared in the streets of that city, cross in hand, interceding for the lives of the women and children, the aged and the infirm. This testimony, however, is based upon documents which Touron regards as certainly apocryphal. The testimony of the most reliable historians tends to prove that the saint was neither in the city nor in its vicinity when Béziers was sacked by the crusaders. We find him generally during this period following the Catholic army, reviving religion and reconciling heretics in the cities that had capitulated to, or had been taken by, the victorious de Montfort. it was probably I September, 1209, that Saint Dominic first came in contact with Simon de Montfort and formed with him that intimate friendship which was to last till the death of the brave crusader under the walls of Toulouse (25 June, 1218). We find him by the side of de Montfort at the siege of Lavaur in 121 1, and again in 1212, at the capture of La Penne d’Ajen. In the latter part of 1212 he was at Pamiers labouring, at the invitation of de Montfort, for the restoration of religion and morality. Lastly, just before the battle of Muret. 12 September, 1213, the saint is again found in the council that preceded the battle. During the progress of the conflict, he knelt before the altar in the church of Saint-Jacques, praying for the triumph of the Catholic arms. So remarkable was the victory of the crusaders at Muret that Simon de Montfort regarded it as altogether miraculous, and piously attributed it to the prayers of Saint Dominic. In gratitude to God for this decisive victory, the crusader erected a chapel in the church of Saint-Jacques, which he dedicated, it is said, to Our Lady of the Rosary. It would appear, therefore, that the devotion of the Rosary, which tradition says was revealed to Saint Dominic, had come into general use about this time. To this period, too, has been ascribed the foundation of the Inquisition by Saint Dominic, and his appointment as the first lnquisitor. As both these much controverted questions will receive special treatment elsewhere in this work, it will suffice for our )resent purpose to note that the Inquisition was in operation in 1198, or seven years before the saint took part in the apostolate in Languedoc, and while ie was still an obscure canon regular at Osma. If he was for a certain time identified-with the operations of the Inquisition, it was only in the capacity of a theologian passing upon the orthodoxy of the accused. Whatever influence he may have had with the judges of that much maligned institution was always employed on the side of mercy and forbearance, as witness the classic case of Ponce Roger.
In the meantime, the saint’s increasing reputation for heroic sanctity, apostolic zeal, and profound learning caused him to be much sought after as a candidate for various bishoprics. Three distinct efforts were made to miss him to the episcopate. In July, 1212, the chapter of Béziers chose him for their bishop. Again, the canons of Saint-Lizier wished him to succeed Garcias de l’Orte as Bishop of Comminges. Lastly, in 1215 an effort was made by Garcias de l’Orte himself, who had been transferred from – Comminges to Auch, to make him Bishop of Navarre. But Saint Dominic absolutely refused all episcopal honours, saying that he would rather take flight in the night, with nothing but his staff, than accept the episcopate. From Muret Dominic returned to Carcassonne, where he resumed his preaching with unqualified success. It was not until 1214 that he returned to Toulouse. In the meantime the influence of his preaching and the eminent holiness of his life had drawn around him a little band of devoted disciples eager to follow wherever he might lead. Saint Dominic had never for a moment forgotten his purpose, formed eleven years before, of founding a religious order to combat heresy and propagate religious truth. The time now seemed opportune for the realization of his plan. With the approval of Bishop Foulques of Toulouse, he began the organization of his little band of followers. That Dominic and his companions might possess a fixed source of revenue Foulques made him chaplain of Fanjeaux and in July, 1215, canonically established the community as a religious congregation of his diocese, whose mission was the propagation of true doctrine and good morals, and the extirpation of heresy. During this same year Pierre Seilan, a wealthy citizen of Toulouse, who had placed himself under the direction of Saint Dominic, put at their disposal his own commodious dwelling. In this way the first convent of the Order of Preachers was founded on 25 April, 1215. But they dwelt here only a year when Foulques established them in the church of Saint Romanus. Though the little community had proved amply the need of its mission and the efficiency of its service to the Church, it was far from satisfying the full purpose of its founder. It was at best but a diocesan congregation, and Saint Dominic had dreamed Of a world-order that would carry its apostolate to the ends of the earth. But, unknown to the saint, events were shaping themselves for the realization of his hopes. In November, 1215, an ecumenical council was to meet at Rome “to deliberate on the improvement of morals, the extinction of heresy, and the strengthening of the faith”. This was identically the mission Saint Dominic had determined on for his order. With the Bishop of Toulouse, he was present at the deliberations of this council. From the very first session it seemed that events conspired to bring his plans to a successful issue. The council bitterly arraigned the bishops for their neglect of preaching. In canon X they were directed to delegate capable men to preach the word of God to the people. Under these circumstances, it would reasonably appear that Dominic’s request for confirmation of an order designed to carry out the mandates of the council would be joyfully granted. But while the council was anxious that these reforms should be put into effect as speedily as possible, it was at the same time opposed to the institution of any new religious orders, and had legislated to that effect in no uncertain terms. Moreover, preaching had always been looked upon as primarily a function of the episcopate. To bestow this office on an unknown and untried body of simple priests s seemed too original and too bold in its conception to appeal to the conservative prelates who influenced the deliberations of the council. When, therefore, his petition for the approbation of his infant institute was refused, it could not have been wholly unexpected by Saint Dominic.
Returning to Languedoc at the close of the council in December, 1215, the founder gathered about him his little band of followers and informed them of the wish of the council that there should be no new rules for religious orders. Thereupon they adopted the ancient rule of Saint Augustine, which, on account of its generality, would easily lend itself to any form they might wish to give it. This done, Saint Dominic again appeared before the pope in the month of August, 1216, and again solicited the confirmation of his order. This time he was received more favourably, and on 22 December, 1216, the Bull of confirmation was issued.
Saint Dominic spent the following Lent preaching in various churches in Rome, and before the pope and the papal court. It was at this time that he received the office and title of Master of the Sacred Palace, or Pope’s Theologian, as it is more commonly called. This office has been held uninterruptedly by members of the order from the founder’s time to the present day. On 15 August, 1217, he gathered the brethren about him at Prouille to deliberate on the affairs of the order. He had determined upon the heroic plan of dispersing his little band of seventeen unformed followers over all europe. The result proved the wisdom of an act which, to the eye of human prudence at least, seemed little short of suicidal. To facilitate the spread of the order, Honorius III, on 11 Feb., 1218, addressed a Bull to all archbishops, bishops, abbots, and priors, requesting their favour on behalf of the Order of Preachers. By another Bull, dated 3 Dec., 1218, Honorius III bestowed upon the order the church of Saint Sixtus in Rome. Here, amid the tombs of the Appian Way, was founded the first monastery of the order in Rome. Shortly after taking possession of Saint Sixtus, at the invitation of Honorius, Saint Dominic begin the somewhat difficult task of restoring the pristine observance of religious discipline among the various Roman communities of women. In a comparatively short time the work was accomplished, to the great satisfaction of the pope. His own career at the University of Palencia, and the practical use to which he had put it in his encounters with the Albigenses, as well as his keen appreciation of the needs of the time, convinced the saint that to ensure the highest efficiency of the work of the apostolate, his followers should be afforded the best educational advantages obtainable. It was for this reason that on the dispersal of the brethren at Prouille he dispatched Matthew of France and two companions to Paris. A foundation was made in the vicinity of the university, and the friars took possession in October, 1217. Matthew of France was appointed superior, and Michael de Fabra was placed in charge of the studies with the title of Lecturer. On 6 August of the following year, Jean de Barastre, dean of Saint-Quentin and professor of theology, bestowed on the community the hospice of Saint-Jaques, which he had built for his own use. Having effected a foundation at the University of Paris, Saint Dominic next determined upon a settlement at the University of Bologna. Bertrand of Garrigua, who had been summoned from Paris, and John of Navarre, set out from Rome, with letters from Pope Honorius, to make the desired foundation. On their arrival at Bologna, the church of Santa Maria della Mascarella was placed at their disposal. So rapidly did the Roman community of Saint Sixtus grow that the need of more commodious quarters soon became urgent. Honorius, who seemed to delight in supplying every need of the order and furthering its interests to the utmost of his power, met the emergency by bestowing on Saint Dominic the basilica of Santa Sabina.
Towards the end of 1218, having appointed Reginald of Orléans his vicar in Italy, the saint, accompanied by several of his brethren, set out for Spain. Bologna, Prouille, Toulouse, and Fanjeaux were visited on the way. From Prouille two of the brethren were sent to establish a convent at Lyons. Segovia was reached just before Christmas. In February of the following year he founded the first monastery of the order in Spain. Turning southward, he established a convent for women at Madrid, similar to the one at Prouille. It is quite probable that on this journey he personally presided over the erection of a convent in connexion with his alma mater, the University of Palencia. At the invitation of the Bishop of Barcelona, a house of the order was established in that city. Again bending his steps towards Rome he recrossed the Pyrenees and visited the foundations at Toulouse and Paris. During his stay in the latter place he caused houses to be erected at Limoges, Metz, Reims, Poitiers, and Orléans, which in a short time became centres of Dominican activity. From Paris he directed his course towards Italy, arriving in Bologna in July, 1219. Here he devoted several months to the religious formation of the brethren he found awaiting him, and then, as at Prouille, dispersed them over Italy. Among the foundations made at this time were those at Bergamo, Asti, Verona, Florence, Brescia, and Faenza. From Bologna he went to Viterbo. His arrival at the papal court was the signal for the showering of new favours on the order. Notable among these marks of esteem were many complimentary letters addressed by Honorius to all those who had assisted the Fathers in their vinous foundations. In March of this same year Honorius, through his representatives, bestowed upon the order the church of San Eustorgio in Milan. At the same time a foundation at Viterbo was authorized. On his return to Rome, towards the end of 1219, Dominic sent out letters to all the convents announcing the first general chapter of the order, to be held at Bologna on the feast of the following Pentecost. Shortly before, Honorius III, by a special Brief, had conferred upon the founder the title of Master General, which till then he had held only by tacit consent. At the very first session of the chapter in the following spring the saint startled his brethren by offering his resignation as master general. It is needless to say the resignation was not accepted and the founder remained at the head of the institute till the end of his life.
Soon after the close of the chapter of Bologna, Honorius III addressed letters to the abbeys and priories of San Vittorio, Sillia, Mansu, Floria, Vallombrosa, and Aquila, ordering that several of their religious be deputed to begin, under the leadership of Saint Dominic, a preaching crusade in Lombardy, where heresy had developed alarming proportions. For some reason or other the plans of the pope were never realized. The promised support failing, Dominic, with a little band of his own brethren, threw himself into the field, and, as the event proved, spent himself in an effort to bring back the heretics to their allegiance to the Church. It is said that 100,000 unbelievers were converted by the preaching and the miracles of the saint. According to Lacordaire and others, it was during his preaching in Lombardy that the saint instituted the Militia of Jesus Christ, or the third order, as it is commonly called, consisting of men and women living in the world, to protect the rights and property of the Church. Towards the end of 1221 Saint Dominic returned to Rome for the sixth and last time. Here he received many new and valuable concessions for the order. In January, February, and March of 1221 three consecutive Bulls were issued commending the order to all the prelates of the Church-. The thirtieth of May, 1221, found him again at Bologna presiding over the second general chapter of the order. At the close of the chapter he set out for Venice to visit Cardinal Ugolino, to whom he was especially indebted for many substantial acts of kindness. He had scarcely returned to Bologna when a fatal illness attacked him. He died after three weeks of sickness, the many trials of which he bore with heroic patience. In a Bull dated at Spoleto, 13 July, 1234, Gregory IX made his cult obligatory throughout the Church.
The life of St. Dominic was one of tireless effort in the, service of god. While he journeyed from place to place he prayed and preached almost uninterruptedly. – His penances were of such a nature as to cause the brethren, who accidentally discovered them. to fear the effect upon his life. While his charity was boundless he never permitted it to interfere with the stern sense of duty that guided every action of his life. If he abominated heresy and laboured untiringly for its extirpation it was because he loved truth and loved the souls of those among whom he laboured. He never failed to distinguish between sin and the sinner. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if this athlete of Christ, who had conquered himself before attempting the reformation of others, was more than once chosen to show forth the power of God. The failure of the fire at Fanjeaux to consume the dissertation he had employed against the heretics, and which was thrice thrown into the flames; the raising to life of Napoleone Orsini; the appearance of the annals in the refectory of Saint Sixtus in response to his prayers, are but a few of the supernatural happenings by which God was pleased to attest the eminent holiness of His servant. We are not surprised, therefore, that, after signing the Bull of canonization on 13 July, 1234, Gregory IX declared that he no more doubted the saintliness of Saint Dominic than he did that of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
Born: 1170 at Calaruega, Burgos, Old Castile
Died: August 6, 1221 at Bologna
Beatified: July 13, 1234 by Pope Gregory IX at Rieti, Italy
Patronage: astronomers; astronomy; prelature of Batanes-Babuyanes, Philippines; diocese of Bayombong, Philippines; Dominican Republic; falsely accused people; scientists
Representation: chaplet, Dominican carrying a rosary and a tall cross; Dominican holding a lily; Dominican with dog and globe; Dominican with fire; Dominican with star shining above his head; rosary; star
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus is celebrated by Christians on August 6, 2018. and is considered a major feast. The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event reported in the New Testament in which Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant. He and three of his apostles go up on Mount Tabor, on which Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light. The prophets Moses and Elijah appear next to Him and He speaks with them. Jesus is then called “Son” by a voice in the sky, God the Father.
“Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.””
We should note that the Transfiguration was experienced by Peter, James and John—not by the other Apostles or disciples or followers of Jesus—not even by Mary His Mother. Jesus does not always share with us his reasoning about why He does things and so we are invited to wonder—as surely did the other followers of Jesus. And even though Jesus tells these three not to share the vision with anyone until He, Jesus, has been raised from the dead, surely the others were aware that something had happened. We can try to imagine what answer these three would have given when the others asked: what happened up there?
This Feast of the Transfiguration invites us to look at the mystery of Jesus Christ, living among us. This Jesus is truly God and yet truly human. At the time of His baptism and then at the time of the Transfiguration, the Divine breaks through and a voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son.” The Baptism of Jesus is the beginning of His public ministry, but it is also a baptism into death, a baptism into our human condition, a baptism into the will of the Father. The Transfiguration echoes that baptism: it is a preparation for the death of the Lord, a preparation to see Him die in our human condition, a preparation for his complete accepting of the will of His father.
In the Book of Daniel. we are given a vision of heaven that is full of imagination and images and symbols. Daniel is one of those who could see the Son of Man and know that a Savior was coming. The Prophets in general were able to see that God’s love for His people would require a Savior to come. What that would mean was not yet clear. What was clear was the sinfulness of humanity and the love of the Father. Just as in the Transfiguration, we have the divinity of Jesus breaking through into our human situation, so also the Prophets could see that God must once again break into our human condition to draw us to Himself.
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
“As I watched: Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool; his throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat; thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended him. The court was convened and the books were opened. As the visions during the night continued, I saw: One like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
The second reading comes from the Second Letter of Peter and teaches us that the Transfiguration is given to us so that we can know the power and the majesty of the Lord Jesus. The declaration from the Father, “This is my son,” is unique and helps all believe that truly, Jesus is God and has come to save us.
2 Peter 1:16-19
“Beloved: we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
For us, the Transfiguration draws us deeper into the mystery of Jesus. We want to believe that God sent another Prophet or another Anointed one. In some ways, yes, but this Prophet, this Anointed One, is God Himself, present in our human condition, One like us in all things but sin. Which is a clear sign that God does love us!
How much eating and drinking goes on in the Bible? At this point in my studies, I have no earthly idea. I know there’s a lot of it and I’m thinking that’s because of its symbolic nature. Because isn’t God always trying to feed us some kind of wisdom?
Yes, it is God who is shown to be feeding his children, whether that’s earthly food or spiritual food. The food is usually given by someone, representing God or not, and it’s usually to expand on a point being made.
Take today’s First Reading. The Israelites are given a surfeit of bread and meat, but only after complaining that they had nothing and were angry at Moses for taking them away from their plentiful larders in Egypt. Moses told them how to gather the manna which they would find on the surface of the desert. In the rest of the chapter of Exodus they are given the specifics of how much and when to gather it. And they were also given quail to eat in the evening.
But the Israelites took this as their due, hearing that God provided for them, but not thinking about its source and adopting it as simply part of what they would find on their daily journey.
Now remember today’s Psalm. It speaks of what God did for his people, but there is no mention of thanks, celebration, or appreciation. They just eat it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus again must instruct his disciples that first, the bread they eat comes from God’s bounty and his love. And second, they are told that the bread being talked about is not really flour and water, but is actually the only true nourishment we need, the love of God and the following of his precepts. So all through the Bible, and all through my life, and I’ll bet yours, too, the people of God and I must constantly be reminded that we can’t go this alone and that what we receive in life is not necessarily from our own efforts.
So, while we read or hear the stories about those faithless, fickle Israelites and disciples, we are just fooling ourselves if we feel superior. Well, I did when I was younger. It’s taken some years under my belt to recognize that I can’t one-up anybody in the Bible. Not by a long shot.
The lessons: the Israelites complained and God, through Moses, heard their call and responded with assistance in the form of bread and meat, and later, water. Second, all we have to do is come to Jesus, and believe, and we’ll be saved.
This really is good news!
However (isn’t there always a “but” when we study scripture?) let’s go back to the Second Reading. Those Ephesians, always needed correction and reminders! Here is my point: there’s one step that needs to be considered in all this accepting, believing, turning oneself over. Action, through the deliberate changing of our minds.
Let me digress for a moment by way of example. Years ago, our local Air Force Base was scheduled to be closed under new laws reducing the size of the military. I was on the City Council back then and was selected to fly with a group of community leaders to five closed bases around the country to see what could, and should, and should not be done with the surplus land and assets. One of that group was a guy from a very large, international company. He was their public face, PR director, representative to the region of the corporation. He was boisterous, supremely self-confident, blustery at times, and the epitome of all that I disliked about Corporate America…or so I thought. I was mortified that I would have to spend a week with him in close quarters, daily contact, and as a recipient of what I considered his wrongheaded persona. I dreaded it. A whole week! I was really in a tizzy about the trip and not looking forward to it at all, even though we’d be traveling from Maine to New Mexico and several places in between…dreading it, I tell you.
And after a few days of this unpleasant prospect, I thought wait, maybe I should re-think this. I remembered my mother telling me at one point in my life, “You can put up with anything for a week.” She actually said this in relation to another looming dread-filled week.
You can put up with anything for a week.
God provides for us.
OK, there is one step that I keep forgetting: making the change. I have to DO something, not just wish a change would happen.
Back to the Ephesians. Paul says, “…that you should put away the old self of your former way of life…” Put away. Positive action. Deliberate movement. Picking up the burden and taking the first few steps.
The other day on Fresh Air, Terry Gross’s interview program on National Public Radio, Michael Scott Moore was interviewed. He is the American journalist who was captured by Somali pirates and held for two and a half years. It was a miserable time, through which he suffered every day. Until one day he heard Pope Francis on the radio urging us to forgive our enemies. At that point, he says, he “made a conscious decision to forgive my guards, to forgive the most immediate people who were causing me pain. That was an incredible mental transformation. Once I reordered my brain like that, I no longer had that impulse to kill myself. It was a daily discipline, but it worked. And it was also a good thing that I had pen and paper at that time so I could write and I could distract myself, but that mental orientation was absolutely crucial.”
There it is: you can change your life. You can choose the way you accept your surroundings, your circumstances. But first, you must actually do it. And just like Michael Scott Moore, it must be a “daily discipline.” We must work at it.
And that’s why there are so many reminders in scripture. Not that we don’t hear it the first time, but that we are reminded time and again to get up, get moving, and create the change in our outlook. Get going. The bread is there, we just have to go out and gather it every day. We can do it.
Let us pray. Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you, and I, together, can’t handle.
“After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”
It’s a miracle!!!
I can see the excited headlines plastered across the newspaper. Or, in today’s world, I can picture the trending topic on Twitter, and the stories filling my Facebook news feed.
Jesus Feeds 5,000 People, and You’ll Never Guess What He Does Next. Hashtag #BreadMiracle. Something noteworthy is happening here. Jesus’ behavior is not normal. In today’s reading, Jesus is attracting attention. Crowds are following him. But why? The text says the crowd “saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.” Right before this, Jesus has healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. God is up to something special, and the people know it. Something is drawing these crowds to hear Jesus.
So everything’s going well, and a huge crowd of people is gathered together, ready to hear what Jesus is teaching today, ready to see what He’s going to do. And……problem. It’s time to eat, but no one brought any food. Either these people are all terrible at planning ahead and didn’t realize they’d need to eat, or Jesus’ teaching is so engaging that they can’t help listening and they lose track of time. I’m going with that one. The crowds were immersed in Jesus’ teaching.
Now, it’s interesting that this feeding miracle is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that appears in all four Gospels. It’s so typical for John – Jesus is completely in control, already knowing what He’s going to do; He’s just asking as a test. Apparently, Philip fails the test, since his response, his perfectly logical response, is essentially, “I have no idea.” Feeding all these people would take a miracle. Fortunately, Andrew comes to the rescue. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” He’s right. Five loaves and two fish are not going to do much good. It would take a miracle.
Jesus has the people sit down, divides them into groups, takes the bread, gives thanks, and distributes it to the people. And everybody gets free food, and everybody’s happy. Actually, everyone’s really happy. People like the free food so much that they want to make him king. And why not? Think of the economic prosperity from having a king who can miraculously, (magically?) multiply stuff! But apparently that’s not what Jesus wants. He’s got something different in mind than being a vending machine.
At the beginning of the story, the crowds were following Jesus because of the signs He did. Jesus begins his teaching by telling the crowd, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Then He goes on to talk about himself as the bread of life, manna from heaven, the true bread for the world. Not the kind of bread the people are expecting. Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations. Jesus doesn’t fit into their box.
Later on in the scripture, we get this quick story about the disciples getting into the boat ahead of Jesus and going on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As they’re going, it gets stormy. John doesn’t mention them asking if they’re going to perish, but I think it’s safe to assume they’re a little on edge. Then, a few miles into their trip, they see someone walking on the water towards them. And, as John records, “They were terrified.” An entirely reasonable reaction! People don’t walk on water. Jesus reassures them, but then, instead of calming the storm, they suddenly, immediately reach the land they were going towards. That’s actually weirder to me than the whole walking on water thing. The Jesus tele-porter! It’s a miracle.
So what do we do with these miracle stories? The people who saw them didn’t seem to have any problem with them. They followed Jesus because of the signs, because they were fed. But why do we follow? Sometimes we actually seem repulsed by the miracles. We don’t want Jesus breaking our nice little boxes of what’s possible. It’s like we’re afraid of what might happen if we dare to believe in a God who doesn’t follow our rules. I know how the world works, and this isn’t it. People don’t walk on water. Bread doesn’t come for free. This story doesn’t fit. It’s a miracle. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not explainable.
These are hard stories to believe when all the evidence says they’re impossible. In a world where there are starving people, where there is so much going wrong in the world, in our lives, how can we possibly dare believe that God provides for us? People don’t walk on water and bread doesn’t multiply. But then, in my experience, people don’t rise from the dead either. Personally, I tend to believe these stories actually happened. If Jesus can rise from the dead, I’m ok with believing He can walk on water. Maybe God isn’t bound by our understandings of physics, by what we think is possible, by our rules. Maybe God is capable of more than we can understand. Maybe, because of the cross, because of the rest of the story, we can dare to believe that God is present and active in a broken world, even where we can’t see it.
In a world of rules, a world that says “How dare you claim to be loved? How dare you claim to be made worthy? How dare you claim to be forgiven?” We believe in a God of miracles. We believe in a God who gives freely, not according to worldly rules. Because God does love you. God does make you worthy. God does forgive. God does provide. And even though we might be afraid to believe it, even though we don’t understand how it works, God is present!
Liturgical Colour: Red.
Reading 1: 2 COR 4:7-15
R Psalm: PS 126: 1BC-2AB, 2CD-3, 4-5, 6.
Gospel: MT 20: 20-28.
Today, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we come together to celebrate the feast of St James the Apostle. James is also known as James the ‘Greater’, to distinguish him from the other St James, who is known as James the ‘Lesser’. St James is one of the twelve Apostles of our Lord, and as all the apostles did, James travelled around spreading the Good news of the Gospel of Christ. James was also amongst the first to be martyred for the Lord’s sake.
Let us look at today’s Gospel Reading of MT 20:20-28, Here we are told how the Mother of St James, and also of St John, begged the Lord for special favour and for power for her sons. The other apostles were not pleased and grumbled at this, as they saw it as an attempt to get favour over them, they bickered and argued over it, but our Lord Jesus rebuked them and had to remind them that true greatness and power lies not in human or earthly favour, or fame, nor was it in prestige or in worldly power, but that greatness is in humility, in leading by example, by having a committed and devoted love and service to each other. The greater a person is, the more humility and dedication to service, that person must have in their lives.
James spread the Good news of the Lord to the far away lands, including to where we now know as Spain and Portugal. He encountered martyrdom at the hands of King Herod Agrippa, the King of Judea, because the king wanted to please the Jewish authorities and so to increase his own prestige. Through his martyrdom, James shared in the suffering of Christ, having faithfully served Him by spreading the Gospel around the earth. And as James had shed earthly glories and worldly fame, so he has gained the true treasure which can only be found in the Lord, that is the glory of Heaven and the joy that is to come, an eternity of true happiness and peace.
Each and everyone of us should be inspired by what we have witnessed in the life of St James, and also of course, of the other apostles, martyrs and saints. We need to follow in their footsteps and be more like them in our own lives. This is so we avoid falling into the traps of our own earthly pride and arrogance, which is often our undoing.
We see it all around us in the world today, where people are more interested in having earthly power, fame, prestige and material things. Indeed, the church itself is not exempt from this. In my time in ministry, I have seen so many times where a member of clergy applies to be incardinated into a church, but only if it is on their own terms- that they insist on having a title or more often still, to be made Bishop, and if the church refuses what they want, they go elsewhere to a church which will give them the power and prestige which they are demanding. They have fallen into the darkness of human power, pride and greed.
It was pride, greed and hunger for what we often covet, such as power, greatness, human fame and praise, that has led many to sin and to fall into darkness. We need to be more like Christ, and can take fantastic guidance from the lives and service of St James, the other apostles and saints. Humility! Humility! Devotion! Devotion!
Let us learn to overcome our own earthly desires to seek the temporary pleasures of the flesh. Let us aim far higher to seek the only true treasure which is Our Lord and His Love and salvation, just as St James himself did.
May Almighty God bless each of us,strengthen us in faith, and awaken within all of us the ever stronger desire to love Him, and to devote ourselves to Him in complete faith and dedication, forgoing the trap of the darkness of earthly power, prestige or earthly treasures, replacing them with the only true treasure which is gained through Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are talking about shepherds a lot today. Our music reflects shepherds. Our scripture readings talk about sheep and shepherds, and today is one of the “Good Shepherd Sundays” in the liturgical calendar. The word ‘sheep’ is used over 500 times in the Bible and the word ‘shepherd’ is used 247 times. That’s a lot of sheep.
In our lives today, we don’t really understand how common and important shepherds and sheep were in ancient times. At that period in history, shepherds and sheep were as common as Wal-Mart, telephones, and convenience stores. So, what IS a shepherd?
Simply put, a shepherd is the man or woman who takes care of the sheep and goats. Easy enough. But what does this mean? What did it mean in Biblical times for a shepherd to care for his sheep? The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. In early morning he led the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time did stray from his watch and wandered away from the rest, he would have to seek diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose had to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness or furnish them with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labors always end with sunset. Often, he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief.
Shepherds in ancient Israel likely worked with, among others, the broadtail Syrian variety of sheep, which have large fatty tails and a thick fleece. The rams of this breed are horned, and the ewes are not. These docile animals are easily led and completely at the mercy of their environment and predators.
Shepherds also cared for goats. The goats were uniformly black or brown. Their long, flapping ears easily got torn on thorns and briar bushes as they clambered on rocky hillsides and grazed on shrubbery.
The shepherd faced the ongoing challenge of teaching the sheep and goats to obey his commands. Even so, good shepherds took tender care of the animals in their charge, even giving them names to which they would respond. —(John 10:14, 16.)
It was a tough job.
Great men such as Abraham, Moses, and King David were shepherds. The image of the shepherd as one who cares for flocks and people is one that is pretty easy to understand and runs deep in the imagery of ancient times. In Mesopotamia, the region along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the model for kings was the shepherd. The king-as-shepherd was to “rule kindly, counsel and protect the people,” and “guide them through every difficulty.” Babylon’s Hammurabi, credited with the world’s first written law code, was described as a shepherd of his people. In ancient Egypt, the shepherd’s crook was used “as an insignia of kings, princes, and chieftains.” In the Iliad and the Odyssey from ancient Greece, ship captains are called “shepherds of ships.” Plato uses the shepherd analogy to define justice in the Republic, and in the “Statesman” uses the shepherd to symbolize the work of a good ruler.
And of course, today, the shepherd’s crook is a symbol of our bishops, representing them as the shepherds of Christ’s flocks….
Which brings us to today’s Scripture Readings. The reading from Jeremiah is, to me, probably the most terrifying scripture in the whole of Holy Writ. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.”
Wow. This is scary stuff. As a bishop, as YOUR bishop, it’s my responsibility to take care of each of you. Your soul, your spirituality, your eternity, becomes my responsibility. It’s my job to see that you have everything you need to live as Christ wants you to live. Heavy stuff, that!
But, this not only applies to Bishops, but to any church leader, pastor, priest, deacon, or Christian. And I’m here to tell you that those Christian leaders who have turned people away from Christ will suffer for all of eternity. My heart breaks almost daily when I read or hear of so many of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who have turned their backs on God because of the teachings of “the church.” And it’s not just LGBTQ folks. There are SO many who have been either led astray or sent away by church leaders who have twisted and cherry-picked scripture to meet their own agenda. Woe to them. Woe to those who have so muddled the message of Christ that people have decided that the church equals hate!
So, what about you? Now that we’ve had Sheep 101 and Bishop 101, what does this mean for each of you? I would bet that you never thought of yourself as a shepherd. But you are. You ARE! Think for a minute. Who is your flock? Who are those folks who look to you for advice, for guidance? Who is that that you influence? Your children? Your families? Co-workers? Neighbors? The kids you eat lunch with and have classes with? The folks on your sports team? Your golf buddies? What about those people who see you but don’t know you? Those folks in the line with you at the grocery store?
I have said it time and time and time again: YOU are the only Bible some folks will ever read. YOU are the only Jesus some folks will ever see. While it is true that it is the job of the clergy to lead the church, what about you? Saint Peter teaches us that “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5-9).
Is this who you are? Who is your flock? Who are you sheep? What kind of shepherd are you? Do you, by your words and actions, reflect the Gospel? Where are you leading your sheep?
Let us pray: Gracious God, we welcome the presence of Jesus, our Good Shepherd and pray that you help us to accept the mission of Jesus, that we be good shepherds and bring the good news to the world. By our baptismal vows we have committed to living the Gospel. Inspire us to live our lives leading our own flocks to you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.