Stations of the Cross – Paul Claudel

Paul Claudel is one of my favorite French poets. He wrote highly meditative poems about the Catholic faith. My favorites are “Processionnal pour saluer le siècle nouveau” and “Stations de la croix“. As it is Friday, I want to share with you an English translation I found of the Stations of the Cross. The translator is Rev. John J. Burke, C.S.P.:

First Station
Jesus Is Condemned To Death.

The end. And God by us is judged and sent to death.
We wish no more of Jesus Christ. He vexes us.
Our only king is Caesar; gold and blood our law.
Kill Him, if such your will, but free our sight of Him.
Kill Him! So much the worse for Him. If one must die,
Barabbas set thou free, but crucify the Christ.
On the high judgment-place Pilate the ruler sits.

“Speakest Thou not?” he cries. But Jesus answers naught.
Then to the crowd: “In Him I find no wrong: yet, bah!
He dies since you persist. I yield. Behold the man!”
Behold Him, clothed in purple, crowned with piercing thorns.

His blood-stained, tearful eyes meet ours in one last plea.
What can we do? We cannot keep Him with us now,
A scandal to His own; a folly unto us.
Sentence is passed; ’tis writ in Hebrew, Latin, Greek —
The crowd still shouts; the judge still washes clean his hands.

Second Station
Jesus Is Made To Bear His Cross.

They clothe Him once again. To Him the cross is brought.
“All hail”, cries Jesus Christ, “Long have I longed for thee.”
O see, my soul, and fear! Pregnant the solemn hour
When the eternal wood first pressed the Son of God.
Then Eden’s tree full-grown bore fruit in Paradise.
Behold, O sinful soul, the end thy sin has served.
God triumphs over crime; on every cross hangs Christ.
The sin of man is great; but we are silent, mute.
Heaven’s conquering God debates not, but fulfills.

Jesus accepts the cross as we receive Himself.
As Jeremiah said we give Him wood for food.
How huge that awful cross; how cumbersome and large;
Unyielding, painful, hard, a senseless sinner’s weight.
To bear it step by step till one shall die thereon!
Dost Thou go forth to bear it, Saviour Christ, alone?

With patience may I bear what share Thou givest me.
Each one must bear the cross ere cross his comfort be.

Third Station
Jesus Falls The First Time.

He lingers not but presses on to Calvary’s height,
At once the victim and the executioner.
Then God, stricken in swift collapse, falters and falls.

What sayest Thou, O Lord, at this Thy primal fall?
And as Thou knowest it, what thoughts arise within,
When thus sin hurls its evil weight on helpless Thee?
What answer gives the ground which Thou Thyself hast made?
Other than virtue’s path uneven is and hard.
Roughened is evil’s way with windings treacherous.
Each turning must be made; each special roughness met.
The foot will often fail, though heart may persevere.
By Thy most holy knees whose weakness caused Thy fall,
By Thy heart straightened at the fearful way,
O Lord, by snare that trapped Thee and by earth that stung,
Save me from that first sin that takes one by surprise.

Fourth Station
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother.

Mothers, who saw in death your first and only born,
Recall that night, the infant’s last — his helpless groans,
The water he refused, the ice, the rising pulse,
And death advancing now with final surety.
Put on again his tiny shoes, his little clothes,
From thee he will be taken back to earth again.
Farewell, my infant sweet, and life of my own self.

This station fourth is Mary who accepts in full.
She waits for Him, the richness of all poverty.
The tears dim not her eyes; parched is her mouth.
In silence absolute she looks at Him Who comes.
Her heart accepts; accepts again. The cry is crushed
Nor slightest utterance finds in her strong heart.
She utters not one word. Her eyes are fixed on Christ.
The mother sees her Son; the Church her Saviour true.
To Him her spirit speeds — a dying soldier’s cry.
Before the eyes of God she opens her whole soul.
No part of it refusal knows nor drawing back.
And every fibre pierced, transfixed, accepts; consents.
As God is here in Will divine, so is her will.
Her heart accepts. She sees the Child her womb brought forth.
In holy silence now she sees the Saint of Saints.

Fifth Station
Simon, The Cyrenean, Helps Jesus To Carry His Cross.

The moment comes at length when one cannot go on.
And then we find our touch with Thee, for Thou
Dost use us, even unto force, to share Thy cross.
So Simon there was drawn to bear his share of it.
With strength he seized the wood and followed Thee
Lest portion of Thy cross should drag or suffer loss.

Sixth Station
Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus

Disciples all have fled. Peter denied Him thrice.
Hurling herself ‘gainst insults and the threat of death,
Veronica receives His Face between her hands.

Teach us, O woman brave, to conquer human fear.
To whom Christ is not an image but the truth,
Will come the questioning glance of other men.
He dwells on higher plane; he thinks apart.
Some strange love holds him distant; he is not the same.
An adult man, he says his beads; he tells his sins;
Friday he fasts; and with the women goes to Mass.
Of course he rouses laughter, yet he irritates.
Let him beware, for on him rests the eye of all.
Let him beware each step. He, sign and symbol is.
Each Christian, though unfit, is likeness true of Christ.
The face his soul doth show is reflex small
Of that true Face of God, debased yet glorious.

Let us behold again, Veronica, that veil
Which keeps in trust the Face of our Viaticum.
That sacred cloth imprints this Gatherer of grapes,
Lifted to ecstasy by His own harvest’s fruit,
So that this likeness ever more may witness be
Of how is mixed our spittle with His blood and tears.

Seventh Station
Jesus Falls The Second Time.

No stone has caused it, nor a halter drawn
The soul itself grows weak and suddenly we fall.
O years of middle life! O sin of one’s own will!
The days their purpose lack; our faith sees no beyond.
For very long the way, and far, far off the end.
Alone, alone we drift and comfort draws not near.
O heavy-weighted time! Disgust that sickens self
The more because the shadow of the cross endures.
And then we stretch our arms, for one must swim or die.
Ah, no! not to our knees we fall but on our face.
Our body fails, ’tis true; the fall is of the soul.

Save us, O Lord, from hell of our own weariness.

Eighth Station
Jesus Consoles The Women Of Jerusalem.

Ere on the hill’s steep side He climbs one further step,
He lifts His hand o’er those who followed Him
In tears — some women poor, each carrying her own child.
Let us look on and listen, too, for Jesus speaks.
The lifted Hand shows Him Who, Man, is more than man.
This scene reveals the God Who suffered for our sake.
And, since He is our God, His act is for all time.
This day in very truth God suffers for our sins.
From what, then, and at what a price has He saved us?
Our tongue is beggared when we say “for this the Son
Was forced to tear Himself from His own Father’s side.”
If this the price at which we’re saved, what then is hell?
If our sick souls ask this, what of the Christless dead?

Ninth Station
Jesus Falls The Third Time.

Again I fall; prostrate I lie. This marks the end.
I could not if I wished it once more raise myself.
I lie as fruit that’s crushed. I bear a weight too great.
I have done wrong. My dead self weighs on me.
Come, death! Easier ’tis to grovel than to stand.
I welcome death beneath, not on, this wretched cross.

Save us, O Lord, from this last fall, this last despair.

And now one only thing remains — to drink the cup of death.
The cross is lifted but the iron still must pierce.
A third time Jesus falls; but Calvary’s height is reached.

Tenth Station
Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments.

Behold the threshing floor where grain divine is bruised.
The Father is revealed; the tabernacle rent.
A hand is laid on God and all flesh suffers shock.
Fear paralyzes all creation’s deepest depths.
And now let us take heart to lift our eyes to Him,
Disrobed, of seamless garment stripped, Jesus all pure.

Nothing is left to Thee, for they have taken all.
They plucked the robe from Thee, as yesterday
They snatched from monk his cowl, from virgin nun her veil.
Nothing is left wherewith he might beclothe Himself.
In naked helplessness, as naked as a worm,
Without defence He stands, exposed to sight of men.
What, this your Christ? This mocked, derided one?
This wretched man begrimed, a mass of wounds and sores,
A subject He for alienists and for the courts?
“Fierce bulls besiege me. Lord, deliver me from savage dogs.”
He is not Christ, nor Son of Man; He is not God.
His gospel is a lie; His Father’s not in heaven.
A fool! A fake! Why speaks He? What holds His tongue?

The High Priest’s servant strikes: a French Renan betrays.
They left Thee stripped, but there remains Thy robe of blood;
They left Thee naught, but still that gaping wound is Thine.
Though God be hid away, here stands the Man of grief.
Though God be hid, I see my Brother here Who weeps.

By Thy humiliation, Lord, by Thy deep shame,
Pity the vanquished ones who to the stronger yield.
And by Thy ghastly clothing at the final hour,
Great pity have on all by bitter anguish pierced —
The little child who thrice must bear the surgeon’s knife;
The wounded man whose wounds must be with pain re-dressed;
The husband shamed; the son who mourns a mother dead —
Have pity on that love which our hearts must uproot.

Eleventh Station
Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross.

Our Lord no longer stands with us, but prone He lies,
Thrown like a wounded stag amid the hunting pack.
Thou hast come down to us; to our own level reached.
One man sits on Thine arm; a knee is on Thy chest.
The hand that twists Thy Hand contorts the Hand of God.
The weakling Lamb tied by the feet is God in bonds.
Thy length of arm, Thy height are chalked upon the cross.
When He will taste the nails, His Face will be revealed.

The Son eternal, without measure, infinite,
Has emptied Self into this human mould He craved.
Behold in him Elias on the boy outstretched.
Behold this, David’s throne; this, pride of Solomon.
Behold His nuptial couch with us so strong, so hard.
How God is straightened when He takes our human form.
The cross is placed. His Body, dislocated, cracks.
As by a heavy wine press He is crushed and torn.
With truth the prophet David said in ancient days
“My hands and feet are pierced. Revealed My every bone.”

O Saviour, Thou wert bound; escape was not for Thee.
Upon the Cross the nails held Thee by hands and feet.
I seek no further now with heretic and fool.
This God, by these four nails constrained, suffices me.

Twelfth Station
Jesus Dies On The Cross.

He suffered, it is true; but now He suffers death.
The huge cross trembles darkly as our Saviour breathes.
Earth’s power is done. To Him must now be left the work
That He alone can do. That Body and that Soul
In this One Person, God, have power without end.
Exhaust they must and will each unknown way of pain.
Alone He is, as Adam was in Eden’s land.
Three hours alone, His Soul alone has drunk the Wine.
O ignorance unknown of God’s own hidden life!
Our Host is wearied and His Head falls lower still.
He sees not Mary; and His Father, too, has gone.
He drains the cup. He drinks the slow-advancing death.
And yet He has not had enough of bitter drink,
For His own voice all suddenly exclaims: “I thirst!”
And in Thy thirst, O Lord, am I the one addressed?
Hast Thou, O Christ, still need of me and of my sins?
For me dost Thou await ere all be perfected?

Thirteenth Station
Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross.

The Passion ends. Mercy, its fruit, forever reigns.
Down from the cross, He lies within His mother’s arms —
Calvary perfected her will of Nazareth.
The Christ Who, lifted up, bore openly the shame,
His mother takes once more alone unto herself.
And in those arms the Church guards well her well-beloved.
What God sent forth, what Mary gave, what man has done —
All, all is now within her heart forevermore.
She holds Him, sees and weeps, and in her tears adores.
She cerement and ointment is, and tomb and myrrh;
Altar and priest alike; chalice and cenacle.
The tabernacle door is gateway to the cross.

Fourteenth Station
Jesus Is Placed In The Sepulchre.

That tomb wherein the suffering Christ, now dead, was laid,
That sepulchre unsealed in haste that He might sleep
Before He rose again and with His Father reigned,
Is not a mere new burial-place — ’tis our own flesh,
‘Tis man, your creature, Lord, more one with Thee than earth.
Thy heart is open and Thy hands are deeply pierced;
Thou hast received, endured our bodies’ every pain.
No sin but is o’erreached by Thy almighty wounds.
From altar here where Thou dost hide Thyself, come, Lord!
Our hearts are open thrown. Come, Lord, and fill their depths.

Correcting Myself Gently

For its time, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life (1602) is a surprisingly moderate spiritual guide.  Most Catholic devotionals have historically been written for monastics, but Introduction to the Devout Life was dedicated to a married noblewoman. Francis’ advice is therefore quite practical. True, some of it is dated, but it is surprising how much of it applies to my life. I have consulted this work off and on for the past few years.

While flipping through the book last weekend I came across a chapter called “On Gentleness Toward Ourselves”. It was what I needed to read at the time.

I suffer from extreme anxiety and experience bouts of self-loathing over past decisions. I have difficulty forgiving myself or feeling worthy of forgiveness. My sins frustrate me. Confession helps sometimes but not always because I never feel like I can talk about what’s on my mind (that’s for a future post). It’s too complicated. Medicine and therapy help, but I have an unhealthy habit of thinking that self-hatred is a virtue. St. Francis de Sales insists that it is not. It is actually a form of pride. It is also quite destructive.

“On Gentless Toward Ourselves” is a reminder that we are all frail. When we sin we should not react in rage. We should not beat ourselves up. Self-hatred does not prevent us from sinning again. It is actually a sign of pride. We have convinced ourselves that we are generally good, virtuous people who should be “better than those sinners over there”. There is not a whole lot of difference between the Pharisee who thanks God for being better than the Tax Collector and the Pharisee who experiences rage over a sin he has committed. St. Francis explains why:

[A]ll this anger and irritation against one’s self fosters pride, and springs entirely from self-love, which is disturbed and fretted by its own imperfection.

Instead of getting angry over our sins, we should confess them and then calmly promise to be more alert in the future. Like a good parent correcting a wayward child, we should focus more on what went wrong and what we can do to avoid near occasions of sin in the future than on punishment:

Believe me, my daughter, as a parent’s tender affectionate remonstrance has far more weight with his child than anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own heart guilty, if we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger, encouraging it to amendment, its repentance will be much deeper and more lasting than if stirred up in vehemence and wrath.

If I fly off the handle when someone does something I don’t like, the other person focuses more on defending herself than on what I am trying to tell her. She may suffer emotionally from my abusive remarks, but am I not sinning when I do that? Does my anger really help my friend change her ways? The most useful criticism is always constructive.

St. Francis de Sales taught me last weekend to give myself gentle but constructive criticism.

So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marvelling that you fell;—there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.

God is the potter and I am the clay. Without the potter, the clay is nothing but an unformed lump. I will try to be more gently with myself this Lent.

Reading the Bhagavad-Gita as a Catholic

The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita. Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, Vedanta Society, 1972. Print.

 Image result for bhagavad gita christopher isherwood

When I was a high school freshman I took a world history class in which I was required to research a religion other than my own. I chose Hinduism. I spent a month reading everything I could about the religion. I visited the Hindu temple in my town and interviewed the priest.

I am not even going to pretend to be an expert on Hinduism, but thanks to that world history class I do know the basics. This religion project was one of the most formative experiences of my childhood. I was surprised to learn that Hinduism isn’t really polytheistic. The deities are different manifestations of a single God who creates and sustains all things. But I was the most intrigued by the life of Krishna, one of the most recent incarnations of Vishnu.

Krishna’s dialogue with the warrior Arjuna is described in The Bhaghavad-Gita. Although I briefly studied Hinduism in 9th grade, I never read any of the religion’s sacred texts. Yesterday, while browsing Half-Priced Books, I found a translation of the The Bhagavad-Gita. The Bhagavad-Gita is a part of the Mahabharata, an epic poem about a battle between two families. The warrior Arjuna is preparing to go to war with his own family. He knows that killing his family is sinful, but it is his dharma (duty) to be a warrior. Krishna advises Arjuna to fight without concern for the fruit of his actions. Arjuna cannot kill his family anyway because their true selves are distinct from their bodies.

I’d always wanted to read this poem because Krishna’s ethical teachings seemed to be the antithesis of Jesus’ even though the roles Jesus and Krishna play in Christianity and Hinduism respectively are similar in other ways.

Having finished The Bhagavad-Gita only a few hours ago, I don’t feel prepared to discuss Krishna’s teachings at any great length. Perhaps, I don’t have the right to since I am not Hindu. Unpleasant teachings don’t necessarily discredit a religious text either. There are unpleasant scenes in the Old Testament, but I still accept the Hebrew Scriptures as inspired. Krishna insists that mixing castes causes chaos, but he insists that all people can attain union with God regardless of the caste they belong to, if only they have faith in Krishna. There is something very human about the poem. Soldiers fight in wars they may not even support, but it is their duty to follow orders. Krishna is not discussing ethics in the abstract. This is not a philosophy class in which students entertain hypothetical situations so as to determine the most ethical path to take. Arjuna must either act or refrain. Krishna argues that refusal to act is itself an act. Since Arjuna is a warrior, he should fulfill his duty. But he must not act for his own self-glory. He must act with faith and love for God.

I was very moved by the poem. Passages reminded me of the Psalms. Here is my favorite passage:

Arjuna:

Well it is the world delights to do you honour!
At the sight of you, O master of the senses,
Demons scatter every way in terror,
And the hosts of Siddhas bow adoring.

Mightiest, how should they indeed withhold their homage?
O Prime Cause of all, even Brahma the Beginner –
Deathless, world’s abode, the Lord of devas,
You are what is not, what is, and what transcends them.

You are first and highest in heaven, O ancient Spirit.
It is within you the cosmos rests in safety.
You are known and knower, goal of all our striving.
Endless in your change, you body forth creation.

Lord of fire and death, of wind and moon and waters,
Father of the born, and this world’s father’s Father.
Hail, all hail to you – a thousand salutations.

Take our salutations, Lord, from every quarter,
Infinite of might and boundless in your glory,
You are all that is, since everywhere we find you.

Carelessly I called you ‘Krishna’ and my ‘comrade,’
Took undying God for friend and fellow-mortal,
Overbold with love, unconscious of your greatness.

Often I would jest, familiar, as we feasted
Midst the throng, or walked, or lay at rest together:
Did my words offend? Forgive me, Lord Eternal.

There are definitely differences (even significant differences) between Hinduism and Catholicism, but reading The Bhagavad-Gita and learning about Hinduism allowed me to encounter the beauty of God in another religion. That is an experience that I recommend to everyone.

Why We Can’t Wait

King, Martin Luther, Jr. Why We Can’t Wait. Signet Classics, 2000. Print.

Image result for why we can't wait king

This past week, I read for the very first time a book by Martin Luther King, Jr. I learned about MLK in school, but I was never assigned anything by him. The recent Black Lives Matter protests have inspired me to educate myself about racial injustice in my country. Since reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander I have begun to look at the prison system in a new way. America has never wanted black emancipation. The Civil Rights Act has largely been ignored because states find new ways to keep black people down. The War on Drugs is really a War Against Blacks. Since reading The New Jim Crow I realized that I didn’t know a thing about racial injustice in this country. I only thought of racism in terms of segregation (whites only schools, bathrooms, etc) and racial slurs. I am not white, but I am not African American either. I grew up in an upper middle class, suburban family. I have faced racism, but not the structural racism blacks face in America. After reading The New Jim Crow I decided to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. I realized that I needed to finally read something by Martin Luther King, Jr.

King’s Why We Can’t Wait describes a system that unfortunately hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years. Schools and bathrooms have been desegregated, but blacks still face crippling poverty, unemployment, and disenfrachisment due to unjust laws. I was shocked by the contemporaneity of King’s writing. White people argue that great strides had been taken in the ten years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement, but King writes that black people should not be forced to accept compromises. They will not compromise.

King also explains why and how nonviolent protest can be successful. Sit-ins and boycotts create a crisis that the white majority cannot ignore. They are forced to listen to the demands of the oppressed minority. King constantly cites the Bible to support his beliefs. He makes it clear that the Gospel demands social justice. White Americans tend to have an individualistic, otherworldly spirituality. African Americans have never had this privilege. They had to stick together to survive. They were constantly reminded of their earthly servitude. The black God is a liberating God.

The Letter from Birmingham Jail surprised me the most because it was not written to KKK members but to white moderates. These moderates claimed to support King, but they thought he was acting too quickly. King believes that the white moderate is more dangerous than the supremacist because the moderate pretends to care while supporting laws that perpectuate injustice. The Bible distinguishes between just and unjust laws. To support unjust laws in the name of “order” is to promote injustice. Black emancipation must condemn unjust laws. White moderates say “wait”, but the black person does not need the white person’s permission to be human.

Some passages from Why We Can’t Wait (particularly from the Letter from Birmingham Jail) seem particularly relevant in light of the debates surrounding Black Lives Matter, the state of American Christianity, and the recent election:

Yet another tactic was offered the Negro.  He was encouraged to seek unity with the millions of disadvantaged whites of the South, whose basic need for social change paralleled his own.  Theoretically, this proposal held a measure of logic, for it is undeniable that great masses of Southern whites exist in conditions scarcely better than those which afflict the Negro.  But the rationale of this theory wilted under the heat of fact.  The need for change was more urgently felt and more bitterly realized by the Negro than by the exploited white.  As individuals, the whites could better their situation without the barrier that society places in front of the man whose racial identification by color is inescapable.  Moreover, the underprivileged southern whites saw the color that separated them from Negroes more clearly than they saw the circumstances that bound them in mutual interest (29).

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative (87).

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular (105).

Why We Can’t Wait is the perfect book for Lent. It is a sobering reminder that all is not well in America and that as Christians we are called to fight racial injustice. But there is hope. Nonviolent protest does make a difference. I pray that our religious leaders will take this issue more seriously than they have.

Reading Deuteronomy as a Catholic

Deuteronomy is not usually included in a list of the best books in the Bible. It is a second retelling of the Mosaic Law. Most of the teachings no longer seem relevant to Christians. So why as a Catholic did I decide to read Deuteronomy?

Last week, I suddenly got the urge to revisit the Torah (a.k.a. the first five books of the Old Testament). I have always been interested in Jewish history. But even I find the Law hard to read. God commands fathers to stone wayward children, forbids Israel from sparing anyone in the lands it conquers, and seems to have a complicated relationship with pork (unclean in the OT but permitted in the NT). So why did I suddenly decide to read Deuteronomy? Why should any of us revisit the Law and the Prophets?

As you may know, I am interested in late medieval religious literature. Late medieval Catholicism doesn’t have a great reputation. Heretics were executed, popes went to war, and bishops lived in palaces. But the Catholic Church always exists in an ever-changing world. Negotiating with this world is both challenging and necessary. If Pope Innocent III found a way to justify the eradication of the Albigensians without undermining “just war” Thomas Aquinas engaged with contemporary scholarship and found a way to communicate an ancient faith to a 13th century world. In both cases, negotiations and compromises were made. Some were good, and some were well…

The Catholic Church, on pilgrimage to the City of God, exists in the City of Man. Catholics, like Jews, have had to wrestle with the laws of their surrounding cultures.

A tribal nation like Israel cannot survive without waging war with surrounding nations. Some of the laws are no longer applicable even for Jews (at least, not literally). They also tend to be quite specific. The laws were given, after all, to Jews living in a particular socio-historical context. When God commands “eye for an eye” He condemns “head for an eye”. When God commands the Israelites to attempt peace with surrounding nations before going to war with them, God condemns war for the sake of war. Once I considered the historical context of Deuteronomy I felt more comfortable reading the Law. I was impressed by God’s justice toward widows, orphans, and strangers. Throughout history the Jewish people have had to adapt their interpretations of the Law to address contemporary concerns. Catholics have had to do the same.

Finally, reading Deuteronomy has me a greater appreciation for Christ’s teachings. I noticed how Jesus adapted certain laws to address the Jews of his day. Here is an example from Deuteronomy 20.

When you go out to war against your enemies and you see horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD, your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, will be with you. When you are drawing near to battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the army, and say to them, “Hear, O Israel! Today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies. Do not be weakhearted or afraid, alarmed or frightened by them. For it is the LORD, your God, who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies and give you victory.”Then the officials shall speak to the army: “Is there anyone who has built a new house and not yet dedicated it? Let him return home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it. Is there anyone who has planted a vineyard and not yet plucked its fruit? Let him return home, lest he die in battle and another pluck its fruit. Is there anyone who has betrothed a woman and not yet married her? Let him return home, lest he die in battle and another marry her.” The officials shall continue to speak to the army: “Is there anyone who is afraid and weakhearted? Let him return home, or else he might make the hearts of his fellows melt as his does.” When the officials have finished speaking to the army, military commanders shall be appointed over them.
When you draw near a city to attack it, offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to your terms of peace and lets you in, all the people to be found in it shall serve you in forced labor. But if it refuses to make peace with you and instead joins battle with you, lay siege to it, and when the LORD, your God, delivers it into your power, put every male in it to the sword; but the women and children and livestock and anything else in the city—all its spoil—you may take as plunder for yourselves, and you may enjoy this spoil of your enemies, which the LORD, your God, has given you.

Sound familiar?

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “[Lord,] let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.* But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” [To him] Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62).

and

Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matthew 10:11-15).

It was so exciting to notice that connection, but I am still thinking about what these passages in Deuteronomy can teach us about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Reading Deuteronomy as a Catholic has reminded me of the Jewishness of my faith. It has encouraged me to revisit those “hard books” in the Bible and discover the dynamic nature of God’s revelation to the world. It has reminded me that we are always engaging with the wider world, trying to discern God’s word to us today. I plan to read more of the Old Testament.

Personal Reflections: Hagiography of Privilege

I teach 4th grade CCD. During snack time, the leaders take turns presenting a saint we think the children might find interesting and inspiring. This year, we have a black student in the class. I’ve made a conscious effort to talk about saints from around the world – not just Europe.

For All Saints’ Day last year I asked my students to present a saint of their choice. I had printed out short biographies of at least 20 saints with accompanying coloring pages. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a black saint who was not a victim of discrimination, abuse, and/or slavery. White children can find saints who lived heroic lives and were perhaps persecuted for their faiths, but not many European saints were persecuted by their fellow Christians for being human.

St. Martin de Porres was persecuted by members of his own order (the Dominicans) for being biracial. In Peru, descendants of Africans and Indians were not allowed to be members of religious orders. Martin performed menial tasks for the brothers, but he was never allowed to be a Dominican. Worse still, Martin had internalized the racism. When the monastery was in debt, he offered to be sold into slavery. Priests mocked him for his race. The Catholic Church venerates Martin de Porres as a saint, but the Church has never owned up to its complicity in his persecution. I encounter white privilege when I choose saints for my students. White students are taught that Christians face persecution when they stand up for their faith. But what does St. Martin’s life teach black children? His life teaches, instead, that black Christians become saints when they overcome the racism they face in their own Church. They are saints when they find ways to survive (barely) in a Church that doesn’t accept them.

Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influence

Augustijn, Cornelis. Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influence. Translated by J.C. Grayson, U of Toronto P, 1991. Print.

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Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466(?) – 1536) was an important figure of the Northern Renaissance. A biblical humanist, educator, satirist, and social theorist, Erasmus was implicated in many of the social and religious movements of his day. Roman Catholics identified him as a “Lutheran”, Luther dismissed him as an Epicurian without convictions, and Zwingli praised him as a forerunner of the Reformation. Cornelis Augustijn’s biography is a short but impressive introduction to one of the most misunderstood Christian thinkers in history.

Erasmus was a restless soul. Although he was trained as an Augustinian canon regular in the monastery of Steyn, he obtained permission from Pope Julius II to leave the monastery. For the rest of his life, Erasmus would have nothing positive to say about the monastery. The harsh discipline, bad food, and poor education did not suit his inquisitive temperament. In the late 15th century, the printing press made available volumes of the writings of Greek and Roman writers. Erasmus applied the philological tools of the Italian Humanists to the study of the Bible. He published his own Greek New Testament (the Novum Instrumentum omne) with an accompanying Latin translation. Many of his contemporaries were not pleased. The theology faculty at Louvain condemned any tampering with Jerome’s Vulgate. Erasmus’ Paraphrases were seen as an attempt to rewrite the Word of God. It didn’t help that the Renaissance scholar ridiculed Catholic piety in his satires. Noel Beda called Erasmus a “Lutheran”.

At first, Luther was impressed by Erasmus’ learning. Luther, too, was trained in humanism, but it soon became clear that the two men interpreted Paul’s epistles differently. Whereas Erasmus thought the “works of the law” in Galatians referred only to the ceremonial laws prescribed by Moses, Luther was convinced that the “law” referred to any Christian duty, including the Ten Commandments. Both contrasted inward and outward piety, but Luther emphasized human impotence while Erasmus emphasized man’s dignity as a being made in the image of God. Consequently, they had different soteriologies. Augustijn describes the debate on free will between Luther and Erasmus in two chapters.Although he gets the facts right, the author fails to mention Augustine of Hippo or William of Ockham anywhere in the book. The relationship between Grace, Predestination, and human freedom was widely debated in the Middle Ages.

Erasmus never started a religious movement. He was considered too unorthodox for Roman Catholics, but he refused to join the Protestant reformers. Despite his relative unimportance, Erasmus continues to interest scholars because of the progressive views he promoted. He opposed warfare, condemned the use of force in evangelizing the “New World”, and had relatively less misogynistic views about women than most of his contemporaries. He also believed that humanistic education could transform a society. The current political climate was my motivation for reading Augustijn’s biography. It didn’t disappoint. A larger biography might have given us more information about the theological controversies of his day, but Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influence is nonetheless a very fine introduction to this “man for all seasons”.