Friday, December 27, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 40 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 34

Isaiah 40 – Now begins the Second Isaiah chapters – the Book of Consolation - Isaiah here begs Yahweh to console his people:

                  A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness
                  A way for Yahweh.
                  Make a straight highway for our God
                  Across the desert.
                  Let every valley be filled in,
                  Every mountain and hill laid low, . . .
                  Then the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed
                  And all mankind shall see it (40:3-4).

The Lord will “come with power” (40:10) “like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms” (40:11). The majesty of God is proclaimed. Even all the mighty nations are “as nothing in his presence” (40:16).

The creation reveals the majesty of God. “He has stretched out the heavens like a cloth, spread them like a tent for men to live in. He reduces princes to nothing, he annihilates the rulers of the world. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, than he blows on them. Then they wither” (40:22-24). The stars answer to him like soldiers to their commander.

                  Young men may grow tired and weary,
                  Youths may stumble,
                  But those who hope in Yahweh renew their strength,
                  They put out wings like eagles.
                  They run and do not grow weary,
                  Walk and never tire (40:30-31).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 34
I would be remiss, however, if I did not also say that I was very pleasantly surprised at many of the wonderful things I experienced coming back. The first thing was the other side of the “little fish, big pond” problem I mentioned, for it wasn’t all negative. The pond I was now in was huge. The number of people who went to Mass at my parish church each week exceeded the number of people I mingled with at yearly meeting gatherings among Friends. The priests we had came from Ireland, India, and other countries as well. When I visited Israel in 1994 and attended Mass in Jerusalem, I worshiped with people from every continent and language group. We prayed in Latin, English, and French. The homily was given in Arabic and German (half and half). This was a church that was universal. And while among Catholics a far greater proportion of people participated in worship on what appeared to be a superficial level, there were also many holy and devoted men and women, men and women who had given up everything to devote themselves to the Church (in religious orders) and men and women who were deeply imbued with their faith as lay people. I came to love the diversity and universality of it.

There were also forms of devotion and practice in the Church that were different from those I had come to know—particularly the kinds of simple devotion to and emulation of Jesus that mark some of the religious orders like Mother Teresa’s Sisters, who live to serve the poor and seek Jesus’ face in the faces of those who are dying or in need. This was one of the great blessings I encountered coming back, and it made me realize that faithfulness does include this serving dimension, a dimension I had resisted among Friends because it had been so politicized.
There have also been many blessings that I had not anticipated at all: a sense of deep appreciation for the sacraments and liturgy, for example, or the benefits I have found in simply reading the little prayer book I use, Magnificat.  Not all you pray has to be “yours” in the sense of being original. Christian believers are joined together in one body and we feed each other by the ministries we perform well. When I was going through the process of getting ready to return to communion, for example, I was not supposed to receive the Eucharist. It is a matter of some controversy among some that the Catholic Church restricts the taking of communion when you are not in full union or not in good standing with the Church, but I found it acceptable to be prevented. It seemed right to me that I submit myself to the rules and discipline of the Catholic Church I wanted to be part of, and I had learned as a Friend that rules and discipline are not extraneous to the health of the community. I found to my surprise that my Quaker orientation actually enriched the time of outward “deprivation” I went through. I found it meaningful that just before the reception of communion, everyone says, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”. These words, of course, are spoken in Scripture by a person who was not able to receive Jesus physically into his home. He was a centurion and a foreigner, and no Jew in good standing was supposed to enter into the house of a Gentile. But the whole point of the exchange between him and Jesus is to show that Jesus’ physical presence is not the critical thing. The centurion’s faith is. It is his faith that results in the healing of his servant, not Jesus’ entry into his house (Matt. 8: 5-13). That was my situation too. I couldn’t receive Jesus into my “house” yet either, but I could and did receive him in faith.

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