Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 37 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 32)

Isaiah 37 – On hearing the message, Hezekiah tears his garments and goes to the Temple and sends for Isaiah, wanting Isaiah to plead with Yahweh to punish the Assyrians. Isaiah sends word back that he is not to be afraid of the Assyrians’ words – Sennacherib will return to his country when he hears a rumor of something back at home and Yahweh will “bring him down with the sword” (37:7). Hezekiah approaches the Temple sanctuary and prays to Yahweh. He acknowledges the strength of the Assyrians but prays that the “gods” they have destroyed are not like Yahweh.

Isaiah tells Hezekiah the answer Yahweh has given him; it is a lengthy oracle.

“The surviving remnant of the House of Judah shall bring forth new roots below and fruits above. For a remnant shall go out from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion. The jealous love of Yahweh Sabaoth will accomplish this” (37:31-32). And, as for the King of Assyria, “He will not enter this city, he will let fly no arrow against it, confront it with no shield, throw up no earthwork against it” (37:33).

That very night “the angel of Yahweh went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp” (37:36). They strike camp and leave. His own sons strike him down with a sword and escape, leaving another son Esarhaddon to succeed him.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 32
Yet another area of coincidence or common emphasis is one that is not often thought of by Friends, but it is nevertheless important. It is the belief that God’s promises are foundational and trustworthy. When George Fox was a young man, seeking God and the power of God’s redeeming work, which had been so richly testified to in the New Testament Scriptures, he knew that if New Testament believers had experienced Christ’s life and power, then he and his contemporaries should also be able to experience them. The promise of redemption offered through Christ was not a delusion or mere words. Friends continually used language that demonstrated how completely they believed they could rely upon Christ’s promises to them. Likewise, the Catholic Church believes in the promises of Christ—in the promise made to Peter that he was the rock on which Christ’s church would be founded (Matt. 16: 19) and in the promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power (John 14:26) to teach them and lead them into the fullness of truth. These are real promises, and like the promises to Abraham and to Moses, they are utterly trustworthy. Anyone who is brought into that inward experience of God of which Friends speak knows that the promises of God are palpably real and trustworthy, and this too strengthens my faith in the Church.

The argument of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Reformers seemed to be that the Roman Catholic Church had departed so fundamentally from the holiness and faithfulness Christ had expected of them that they had forfeited their claim to the special status these promises seemed to carve out for them. I do think that in charging this and in shaking up the Church, they had a prophetic Word from God that the Church was meant to hear. And ultimately, I believe it was heard. If people believe that there are still things that need reform, they have a prophetic responsibility to speak what God gives them to say, but I think God is calling us to struggle over these things together, not to see imperfections as occasion to go off and be separate.

The prophets of old did not leave and start their own communities. We should not either. It seems to me that the whole vision of and thirst for an eventual unity is missing in the Protestant denominations I am familiar with. People’s identities are comfortably tied up in being Quakers or Presbyterians or Episcopalians. To me, the Catholic Church is not perfect, but it still is the institution on which the promises rest.
The early months and even years of my return to the Catholic Church were not the easiest. The whole culture of the Church is different from the Protestant culture I had mostly known in my life—a different way of praying, of writing about Christ and his disciples, of talking about the faith, and especially a different way of conceiving of one’s place in the community of faith. I don’t think they are very substantive differences, but they can get in the way of feeling at home. Asked to pray, a Catholic will almost always pray a set prayer like the “Our Father” or a “Hail Mary”, while a Protestant will pray words that appear more personal and come to him or her in a more spontaneous way.

The Catholic devotion to Mary caused me problems. I knew Catholics did not “worship” Mary or think of her as divine. I had little trouble with the reverence shown toward her as a person who opened herself to God utterly and completely, who permitted Christ to grow in her. These were virtues any Quaker believer could agree were modeled in her story. But the repetitions nature of the rosary went against certain Quaker ideas I had about how important it was for worship to be Spirit-led and spontaneous. And the frequent talk of visions of Mary, which are often encountered in Catholic circles, was something I could not relate to. But these were cultural differences, not theological issues for me.

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