Thursday of the First Week in Lent February 22, 2018

giografiche / Pixabay

 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Genesis 1:5

We continue where we left off Tuesday, meditating upon the above verse as it applies to reason, faith and the Israelites exodus from Egypt. What is happening in Exodus helps us to understand spiritually these Genesis verses on light, darkness, day and night.

Upon the Israelite’s departure from Egypt, when Pharaoh let the people go, God bestowed upon them the light of faith. This was a release from spiritual bondage as well as physical slavery, because Pharaoh wouldn’t let them make animal sacrifices to God in the desert as God wanted. 1 Enslavement to sin and sensual comforts never fosters, like Pharaoh, worship of God. Like all who are newly aware of a spiritual part of their being, the Israelites release from Egyptian captivity would require guidance without complete reliance upon the senses. For how can one journey using the very same thing one is attempting to leave behind? This is where the light of faith takes over and operates in silence and darkness as a guide, more so with a soul who is co-operative with God’s grace. The soul who is eager to advance in the spiritual life practices mortifying their earthly desires while developing a deep prayer life, which is their relationship with God. The soul’s reliance on the false props of sensual comforts and satisfied appetites diminishes as the soul’s spiritual life matures, at the same time love of God and neighbor grows with hope and charity. One by one the chains of desires fall away, and spiritual freedom blossoms. And he is set free from the hands of his enemies – “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” 2

Scripture shows God guiding Israel by the light of faith, while revealing how faith operates:

The Lord preceded them, in the day-time by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light. Thus they could travel both by day and by night. Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13: 21-22

It is rather contrary that a cloud could show them the way. Typically, clouds and fog disable navigation abilities. Preceding them as they marched forward, they certainly could not see ahead to use their own reasoning abilities, which is the point. But as the verse states, this was God’s means, his way, of leading Israel. The first line is the Lord himself showing them the way, which is to say spiritually, their reason (day) was darkened by the cloud, and in this darkness of their understanding, which is night, there was fire to give them guiding light. It is also amazing that “clouding the reason” could show the way; a paradox that unbelievers cannot grasp.  This verse shows why faith is called “a dark night,”  by illustrating no simultaneous coming of natural knowledge through reason, leaving the understanding in darkness. 3 This is God’s guidance – this is faith.

The next line tells us Israel’s journey does in fact include both reason and faith:

Thus they could travel both by day and by night:
day = reason, night = faith.

Interpreted naturally: Thus they could travel both in the daytime and nighttime. Interpreted spiritually: Thus they could travel both by reason and by faith.

Forms of guidance God provides the soul’s intellect include:  Holy Scripture, a mentor, instruction, community. These assist the role of reason in the life of faith. Moses’ and Aaron’s instruction was directed at the Israelites’ sense of reason: Moses performed the signs in the sight of the people and Aaron spoke to the people, both under God’s instructions. 4 In the New Testament Jesus administers all three functions, as God himself teaching about the kingdom and performing miracles. But Jesus lays it down plainly that blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. 5  Belief rests on the power of God through faith, not human understanding, which is vulnerable to attacks of the devil, as we shall see.

In Moses we see the limitations of human help as he expressed to God multiple times his reluctance to lead the people; asking him, a bit prophetically, to send someone else. 6 Contrarily, we read of God’s unwavering response to his people’s walk of faith:

Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people.

Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle. The Popes have faithfully shepherded the People of God, guiding them for over 2000 years since St. Peter, whose profession of faith to Jesus is the rock he built his Church upon. You can read Peter’s entire response to Jesus on the USCCB website:

USCCB Daily Readings February 22, 2018

We will reflect more upon the faculty of the understanding and its operations of reason, its corresponding theological virtue and God’s beacon the light of faith, faith’s role as gatherer of God’s people, and why it is a dark guide and guard toward eternal life.

The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text

Second Sunday of Lent February 25, 2018

Then God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other.” And so it happened: God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome “the sky.” Evening came, and morning followed – the second day.  Genesis 1:6-8

pixel2013 / Pixabay

According to St. John of the Cross, there are two interrelated parts of the soul: the spiritual part and the sensual part. 1 Both parts form the whole unified human person. In our Genesis reflection, the waters of the soul below the dome of the sky which is on the earth, signify the soul’s sensual part. They include the soul’s body and its exterior senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell which it uses to remain in contact with its environment, and to receive impressions. These are the gateway to the soul’s interior senses – the imaginative powers – which uses the impressions from the five bodily senses to immediately form internal images of objects from the outside world, still belonging to the sensual part. 2 These lead to the interior faculties of the understanding, memory, and will; the spiritual part of the soul. They are the closest to God and are therefore given the higher place in Genesis in the waters above the dome of the sky.

Here is a quote neatly summing up all the faculties of spirit and sense from Toward a Model of Spiritual Direction Based on the Writings of St. John of the Cross:

“The intellect [understanding] is the knowing faculty and the basis for the psychological operations of thought, reason, judgement, and understanding. Figuratively, the intellect provides spiritual light for the soul. The memory is the repository for the sense faculties and ideas from the intellect, as well as the imaginative and discursive powers of the soul. The will is the affective faculty of the soul, the power to love and desire. It is the basis for the soul’s strength and energy. Figuratively, the will governs the soul by directing its other psychological functions toward their appropriate objects. Although each of these faculties is distinct from the other, they act interdependently.

The sense faculties, too, are distinct from the spiritual faculties but operate interdependently with them. The soul with its faculties give life to the body as a tabula rasa (clean slate), depending upon the activity of the sense faculties before the operations of intellect, memory and will can begin. John describes this relationship in the following manner:

‘The soul (el alma) as soon as God infuses it into the body, is like a smooth, blank board (tabula rasa) upon which nothing is painted; and, save for that which it experiences through the senses, nothing is communicated to it, in the course of nature, from any other source. And thus, for as long as it is in the body, it is like one who is in a dark prison and who knows nothing, save what he is able to see through the windows of the said prison; and, if he saw nothing through them, he would see nothing in any other way. And thus the soul, save for that which is communicated to it through the senses which are the windows of its prison, could acquire nothing, in the course of nature, in any other way.’ 3

With this view of the soul’s relation to the body, we can easily understand that John considered the body with its sense faculties as the lower, exterior, inferior, animal part of man, while the soul with its spiritual faculties as the higher, interior, superior, uniquely human part of man. The sensory part of the human person, in direct contact with the external world, communicates the information it receives from the outside through the senses to the spirit or interior part of the person where it is acted upon by the intellect, memory, and will in their operations of knowledge, reflection, and love.” 4

St. John quotes St. Paul in his use of “animal man”: The animal man perceiveth not the things of God; they are to him as  foolishness and he cannot understand them. St. John continues: “By the animal man is here understood the man that still lives according to natural desires and pleasures.”  5  Our Saint refers to those attached only to their natural operations, sensory or spiritual, but without a relationship to the supernatural influence of God.

St. John’s view of the soul reflects in Genesis the division of the waters of the soul’s two parts, the sensual below the dome of the sky on the earth, and the spiritual above the dome of the sky.

The separation of the waters of the soul in Genesis foreshadows the other great Scriptural parting of the waters of the Red Sea in Exodus, which initiated the beginning of Israel’s life of faith on a practical level. Scripture tells us:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into its midst of the sea on dry land, with the water lake a wall to their right and to their left. Exodus 14:21-22

When the Lord “swept the sea with a strong east wind” thus dividing it in Exodus, it is the same “mighty wind [that] swept over the waters” in Genesis 1:2 God separates with the dome of the sky.

What does this separating and parting of waters in Genesis and Exodus mean spiritually?  These glorious and remarkable events proclaim God’s will for humans to be composed of both spirit and sense (including the body) and operate using both spirit and sense – and because, like the two great partings of the vast waters, a spirit and sense existence is glorious and remarkable.  The separating and parting of waters in Genesis and Exodus defines for the soul its spiritual and sensual parts upon receiving the light of faith. It is the soul realizing its spiritual principle.

A pilgrimage of physical endurance walking or biking  long distance to a shrine or holy place with spiritual devotion is an intense condensed experience of a person’s lifetime faith journey. The parting of the waters of the soul is God introducing it to pilgrimage – the way of both sense and spirit- just like he did with Israel and their physical guide Moses, the fiery cloud (of faith), the parting of the Red Sea, and on through the desert:

Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters. Isaiah 43:16

The Catechism tells us what is brought about in the soul who accepts God’s invitation to traverse the path opened before them:

CCC 1221 states: “the Crossing of the Red Sea, literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces the liberation wrought by Baptism.” CCC 1253 states: “Baptism is the sacrament of faith.” 6 Since Baptism and faith are so closely related, in the coming days we will be exploring what the Crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus can tell us about its faith aspect, the fiery cloud, that will further help us understand what is happening to the separating waters of the soul newly gifted and enlightened by faith in Genesis. The illustration in Genesis and then again in Exodus makes one point obvious – that a soul receiving the gift of faith is as monumental as all the waters of creation making way for its path.

Israel’s march through the Red Sea with the Egyptians on their heels, no doubt a terrifying ordeal as is the relinquishing of addictions, sin and sensual comforts, was for them a stretch and strengthening of the spiritual legs of faith they received upon their departure from Egypt. While they had passively witnessed and reasoned the signs and wonders 7 in Egypt sent by God through Moses their physical guide, at shores of the Red Sea it was time for them to step up spiritually with a test of their faith.The Red Sea biblical passage is God’s affirmation to move forward in faith – that one is never permanently stuck between the deep of our human weakness and the pursuing powers of darkness.

In today’s first Reading on the USCCB website, you can reflect upon Abraham our father in faith, and the test of what turned out to be his enormous faith in God.

USCCB Daily Readings February 25, 2018

The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.

We will take a short break, then continue with reflections on March 1 when we will read an eyewitness account of the parting of the Red Sea from former slave and Levite, Abner. 8

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent – March 1, 2018

While there was no human eye witness to the separation of the waters in Genesis, there is a (fictitious) eye witness account by the Israelite and former slave Abner of the House of Levi, of the parting of the Red Sea:

Both wonder of wonders! Parting vast amount of waters was terrible and awesome to behold; for it was to witness the magnitude of God’s persuasion over creation.  It need not be said they’ll be no human telling of the first and more formidable accomplishment of all the waters of creation making way for the sky; though heaven rejoices when the Almighty repeats it in a soul, for it is no less glorious! It was after the children of Israel stepped out into the wilderness upon leaving our bondage to the Egyptians to follow the LORD and Moses that I, Abner, of the House of Levi, beheld God’s strong hand in the second wonder command the waters of the Red Sea with a mighty wind.  We were well enough paralyzed with fright when Pharaoh and his 600 chariots reached Pi-hahiroth where we camped against the sea awaiting Moses’ next direction.  When Pharaoh gathers the chariots it means death, on this day it was to be Israel’s death in desert!  Most of us favored returning to Egypt where Pharaoh made sure we were as comfortable as slaves can ever hope to be by seeing to it we had plenty of meat in our flesh-pots.  All this Pharaoh provided if we accomplished his brick quota and didn’t cause him grief with requests, like allowing us worship of the LORD our God. So, far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians than suffer and die far from our homes in the barren desert!  It was then Moses assured us to fear not!  We shall see the victory the LORD will win for us this very day, the day Pharaoh had marked for Israel’s death!  The LORD will fight for us, we had only to stand our ground.  Then Moses stretched out his hand with his wooden staff over the sea, and the LORD swept the waters with a powerful east wind through the night.  The mighty wind seemed to pull the very ground out from beneath the depths of the sea, making the world topsy-turvy.  The waters divided by the dry path formed walls to the right and to the left of it, about 700 feet tall.   Under Moses’ direction to go forward, Israel anxiously stepped out onto the dry path that was a natural sea shelf.  On either side of the shelf the waters were 4000 feet deep; here the Egyptians, upon following Israel’s path into the sea, were hurled into when the LORD united the parted waters. 1 Until then, Israel marched dry- shod through the midst of the sea in the dark night; while the wind howled, and the towering sea  hissed protests and sprayed threats, and men and babies cried so not a word of comfort could be heard as the LORD Our God, footsteps unseen, led his people through to safety with his out-stretched arm. 2

God’s strong hand and out-stretched arm will save his people a second time, when both arms are stretched wide to have both hands nailed to the wood of the Cross.

In today’s first Daily Reading, the Lord tells us that a man is cursed who trusts in humans and who’s strength is in flesh. But he who hopes and trusts in the Lord is blessed. It is very relevant to Abner’s Red Sea experience; the fearful and painful letting go of comfortable slavery to the senses, addictions, and sin, to walk by faith into the arms of our loving God. You can read the complete beautiful verses at the USCCB website by clicking here:

USCCB Daily Readings March 1, 2018

The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.

Friday of the Third Week of Lent March 9, 2018

Let us now look at faith’s third purpose as a shield and protection from the enemy, the devil, who’s objective is to destroy the soul by eternal death. We again turn to Exodus and Israel’s faith beginnings in Exodus chapter 14:

Bondage and slavery to the senses won’t let its captives go easily for when the Egyptians caught up to Israel at the Red Sea, Israel called out in fright to the Lord. They complained to Moses for taking them out of Egypt. Moses told them all they had to do was stand their ground, the Lord would fight for them; they would see the victory the Lord would win for them this day. 1

Arcaion /

The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s camp, now moved and went around behind them. The column of cloud also, leaving the front, took up its place behind them, so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians and that of Israel. But the cloud now became dark, and thus the night passed without the rival camps coming any closer together all night long. Exodus 14: 19-20

The column of cloud, previously in front of Israel as a lighted guide, now moves behind them as a darkened barrier between the Egyptians and themselves. The devil (the Egyptians) is blinded and halted by the soul’s light of faith, as shown by the darkened cloud. St. John tells us one who journeys by faith is “concealed and hidden from the deceits of the devil, to whom the light of faith is more than darkness.” 2 It is dark to the enemy since its light is meant for Israel. What is a spiritual guide to Israel is a shield against evil. Those who journey by faith are secure from the devil’s wiles and errors of their own reason; a wondrous and ingenious safeguard put into place by God, for the five senses are not reliable sources of spiritual information. The Apostolic teachings handed down by Jesus to his Church are both reliable and a journey of faith as are the sanctioned revelations of apparitions such as Lourdes and Fatima that were thoroughly discerned by the Church. Someone following the instructions in a private revelation given by an entity that appears to be an angel is not walking by faith. They are relying on their senses and reasoning regarding spiritual things they have never seen or understood; therefore, the person is subject to their own deception or deception by the devil.

As for the Israelites objective to escape from Pharaoh’s captivity which represents a state of slavery to sin and sensual pleasures, let us read further what happens to evil when it seeks to subdue the soul as the Egyptians attempt to catch Israel, who marched into the midst of the Red Sea through the parted waters of sense and spirit of the soul in the night of faith:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.

The Egyptians followed in pursuit; all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them right into the midst of the sea. In the night watch just before the dawn the Lord cast through the column of the fiery cloud upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic; and he so clogged their chariot wheels that they could hardly drive. With that the Egyptians sounded the retreat before Israel, because the LORD was fighting for them against the Egyptians. Exodus 14: 21-25

The devil sends his best and strongest forces right into the deep of the soul’s spirit and sense when he sees it making a break for freedom, in an attempt to cripple one or both to drag it back into slavery. He attempts to overthrow its spirit by silently whispering debilitating lies or tempt its senses with memories of intoxication, or any number of cunning maneuvers depending on the circumstance. The definition of a “night watch” is “a guard kept at night.” For Israel, this is the night of faith acting as an imperceptible guard and protection.  “Glance,” as used here, is defined as a flash of light. The fiery cloud (of faith) disorients and paralyzes the Egyptian force with a flash of light. Egypt attempts to retreat against their more powerful adversary, the Lord. The Lord is the active force during this “dark night.” At dawn Moses, Israel’s guide of reason, takes over.

Then the LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their charioteers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth. The Egyptians were fleeing head on toward the sea, when the LORD hurled them into its midst. As the water flowed back, it covered the chariots and the charioteers of Pharaoh’s whole army which had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not a single one of them escaped. Exodus 14: 26-28

All Israel did was do as Moses directed: stand their ground. 3 This is the essence of faith and the hallmark of all the saints in adversity – from the victorious martyrs in the Roman arenas nearly two millennia ago whose blood became the seed of the Church, 4 to the contemporary football coach going down on bended knee to pray publicly on the field just before the game despite hostility, and in personal daily struggles with sin and bondage to the senses. The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still. 5 Stand your ground.

 With the daylight, Moses visually takes over and the Israelites saw with their eyes the promise Moses made earlier. As the dawn broke, Israel witnessed the defeat of their captors as the parted waters representing Israel’s sense and spirit, of reason and faith, co-operate to annihilate the enemy. This passage also interprets as the new believer coming to the cleansing waters of Baptism. The CCC tells us in 1226: Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith.

Let us reflect upon how a matured faith in God can enable a soul to stand their ground in the most horrific of circumstances the natural light can behold.

andreethota0

One gains a mature faith by adherence to God’s laws and a deeply prayerful life.  The three disciples the gospels reveal had deeply prayerful lives were all found at the foot of the Cross of Jesus; 6  standing their ground in the face of the Roman soldiers, the jeering crowd, the unspeakable sight.  Theirs was a profound faith that, despite the apparent colossal failure of Jesus’ ministry, kept them united and not scattered like the rest of his followers whose focus was on what was happening in the natural light- whereby the devil silently whispered to Peter to deny Jesus. The cock that crowed thrice at the pre-dawn light announced Peter’s understanding was not placed in the midnight sky of faith.

The three disciples’ belief was centered on God and fueled by love that refused to believe what their eyes told them, that is the natural light; instead remaining unshakable in the safe and sure darkness of faith while attentive to what reason told them the years they spent with Jesus. These three spiritually advanced disciples of Jesus, following behind the Master carrying his Cross after he met his mother at the 4th Station, 7 walked the same walk of faith as did the People of God at the beginning of the Old Covenant through the midst of the Red Sea, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left. 8 Instead of beneath the cover of  a cloud, this time God led the way under the veil of a cross, bloody scourges, a crown of thorns, shame, physical weakness, abandonment, a cursing crowd. The Way of the Cross wound through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. The noisy crowd who turned out to see the famous condemned Jesus were like a wall to their right and to their left of those disciples who, representing the People of God of the New Covenant, were following their God.

These known contemplative disciples are: John, the disciple Jesus loved who leaned against Jesus’ heart at the Last Supper asking which would betray him, and who arrived at the tomb before Peter; Mary Magdalene, the extravagant, first adorer of the Eucharist, at the feet of Jesus wiping them with her tears and hair, later anointing his feet again with costly perfume, and here she is again at the feet of Jesus nailed to the Cross; and the Blessed Virgin Mary who reflected on her Son’s doings in her heart and had perpetual union with God himself. 9

We see faith gather, guide and guard in both the Way of the Cross and the Parting of the Red Sea. Though Peter told Jesus his faith would never be shaken, 10 we see how the devil was able to scatter the disciples and devour Peter through fear of what their senses beheld in the natural light. The devil, who is as patient as he is watchful, was waiting for this very opportunity ever since Peter’s walk on water 11 when he took his eyes of Jesus and began to sink. St. Peter, from his three times denial of Jesus, 12 would later say this about faith and the devil: Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith. 13 Contrarily, we see the mature, unflinching faith at work in the three disciples; keeping them united to Jesus spiritually, and at the foot of his Cross.

In today’s Daily Gospel Reading, Jesus teaches his listeners to love God with all of their spiritual possessions: heart, soul, mind and strength. All of this is governed by the soul’s will. On Monday, March 12th, we will begin to reflect upon the soul’s faculty of the will and its corresponding theological virtue of love as the spiritual narrative in Genesis continues with the faculties. We will finish up with faith and the understanding with very short reflections March 10 & 11.

USCCB Daily Readings March 9, 2018

The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.