Thursday, 20 August 2015

Poor Jephtha



It appears that today’s OT reading in the Novus Ordo is the sorry tale of Jephtha the Gileadite. It is a strange choice as Fr Bede Rowe implies on his blog.  However, as all scripture can be used to instruct and is inspired by God [2Tim 3:16], here is my attempt to extract some wisdom from the narrative.  I am very against the idea that since this is unpleasant and in the OT, it can be glossed over with a “phew, thank goodness we don’t live like that anymore”.  In many ways, the more society forgets the sovereignty of Christ, the more we are living in the time of the Judges and the refrain throughout that book is “in those days the was no king in Israel”, and it always precludes something dreadful happening because people take matters into their own hands. 

My theory is that often the naturally good men of this world are Jephthas; they are despised (he was the son of a harlot and denied father’s inheritance), they are noble (he was a mighty warrior), they trust God and know their faith and are reasonable when treating the enemy (see Judges 11:12-28 where he send messages to the king of the Ammonites explaining the legitimate right of Israel to the land), and their hearts are broken.

The Spirit of the Lord inspires him to decide to fight the Ammonites and then he makes his terrible vow, that if God grants him victory, then he will sacrifice to the Lord, the first from his house who comes to meet him when he returns victorious.  And as we know this is his only child, his daughter.  She calmly accepts her fate but asks to go into the hills to bewail her virginity for a while before he kills her. Then poor old Jephtha acts as Judge over Israel for six years and has to deal with infighting amongst the children of Israel, he really must have wondered if it was all worth it.  I see him as a good man but a broken man (as Millais’ depiction shows with astonishing clarity- see below). Jephtha is no fool.

What about that vow?  Did God inspire him to make it?  I’d argue that vows are freely offered to God, they come from within the creature to glorify God, but they have to rise up in a soul who is broken, the vow is meant to strengthen the bond between the Creator and the creature to make the creature more at one with God.  I’d argue that vows may or may not be flawed (this one is certainly flawed) but that they must be executed*. This vow was not a direct inspiration from God, its price is too high, after all God spared Isaac from Abraham’s knife, God does not want holocaust.  And here sorry old Jephtha knows that he has to do that which fate and his ego have conspired together to give the Lord. The story must have been a great inspiration to David as the psalms over and over again say how the Lord does not want sacrifice and holocaust, but that He wants our humility and our love. Poor Jephtha, I really do think he was just a victim of his own pride and a pride that wasn’t in itself seriously sinful. 

And then then there is the shocking irony; those Ammonites that he fought and was victorious over were known to offer child sacrifices to their god, Moloch.  And here is Jephtha sacrificing his own daughter to the Lord, the God if Israel. It is enough to make you weep.  But there is a lesson in this, that sin causes the destruction of the innocent.  Does Jephtha’s daughter prefigure Christ?  Do we not see here that ultimately victory is extracted at a terrible price.

And what of Jephtha’s daughter herself?  She bewails her virginity as all good daughters of Israel would do.  They would see their ultimate fulfilment as giving birth to the Messiah, so dying a virgin is not a good thing for them.  But the Messiah was truly born of a virgin.  The virgin state is something that is exalted in the New Testament.  The virgin state was precious under the old dispensation but only as a precursor to marriage.  In these last times virginity itself is prized.  But that doesn’t mean that the mourning has stopped.  We should weep for the state of the world that we actually need consecrated virgins.  There would be no need for consecrated virgins if there was no sin, and sin should make us weep.  So now unlike Jephtha’s daughter who had no choice, we can freely give ourselves to God as virgins and there is no further need for the annual remembrance of her fate that the daughters of Israel used to enact.  And isn’t she righteous?  If she had wanted to experience to pleasure of sexual intercourse, there was nothing stopping her from doing so, her sin could have gone unnoticed by the world.  What was stopping her was chastity and continence and those are fruits of the Spirit of the Lord.

Jephtha and his daughter are two heroic and tragic figures in the Old Testament, but how many these days come close to them in their ardent righteousness and love of the Lord?

* Any vow we make is in imitation of the covenant God makes with His people.  God never breaks His covenant, so we ought not to break our vows.  That is why making a vow is such a serious matter and ought not to be attempted lightly.  I suppose we only learn what frustratingly hard work we must be for God through sticking to a vow, and that ought to make us love Him so much more and ought to humble us in the knowledge that we can do nothing good without Him.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Liturgy liturgy liturgy...

Father said something in his homily for the Assumption that got me sifting through the various scripture readings from Mass for this feast.  I have put together the readings from the 1924 Missale Romanum, the 1962 and the Novus Ordo.  I have used Dr Challoner's English throughout to make comparisons fairer and I am not going to give much comment as I think there is a thesis in this and my Mariology is not up to scratch.  I'll just say what strikes me most about each version and leave you, dear reader, to your own thoughts.

Firstly from my grandfather's 1924 Missal.  The first reading is beautiful.  I like the emphasis on Our Lady's power.  It links to the protoevangelium where God promises that through one of His creatures, a daughter of Eve, the serpent will be vanquished: I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head Gen 3:15. The Gospel reading came as a bit of a shock.  I wasn't expecting to read about Our Lord in the house of Mary and Martha.  It is not a reading that has (at first glance) anything to do with Our Lady.  However it is nice to have a Gospel reading that contains the spoken words of Our Lord (this has subsequently been lost). And the words are full of promise.  If the Word indwells in us, then then this cannot be taken from us.  What is promised to the Mary Magdalene (and therefore to us) is fulfilled TOTALLY in the Immaculate Conception and reaches its earthly climax in her Assumption.

The readings are gentle and intimate.

Pre Pius XII 
Eccli 24, 11-13, 15-20
And by my power I have trodden under my feet the hearts of all the high and low: and in all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord. Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle, And he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect. And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.
And I took root in an honourable people, and in the portion of my God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints. I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on mount Sion. I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades, and as a rose plant in Jericho: As a fair olive tree in the plains, and as a plane tree by the water in the streets, was I exalted. I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon. and aromatical balm: I yielded a sweet odour like the best myrrh: 

Luc 10:38-42
Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord' s feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me.
And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her. 

Secondly, here is the pre VII text dating from after the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption.
I do like hearing Judith's story.  She is a type of Our Lady and again this links beautifully to the protoevangelium. The feast of the Assumption should be a day of great rejoicing and perhaps the full triumphant  nature of the feast could not have been brought out till after the proclamation of the dogma. The Gospel reading comes as no surprise, though there is no real link to the Assumption.  The link that was so subtly there in the Martha and Mary narrative. There is much in both readings about the humble submission of the creature to the direction and desire of the Creator.  And there is much in that to make us all leap for joy.

1962 Missal
Jud 13:22-25, 15:10 
And they all adored the Lord, and said to her: The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought. And Ozias the prince of the people of Israel, said to her: Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. Blessed be the Lord who made heaven and earth, who hath directed thee to the cutting off the head of the prince of our enemies. Because he hath so magnified thy name this day, that thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever, for that thou hast not spared thy life, by reason of the distress and tribulation of thy people, but hast prevented our ruin in the presence of our God. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people: 

Luke 1: 41-50
 And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
  And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. 

And lastly here is the Novus Ordo.  There is so much text! And I'm afraid, I'll start with a criticism: why does the reading from the Apocalypse not finish at the end of verse 10 of chapter 6?  I have included it in square brackets.  It would have been nice if these words had been included as they would have linked nicely to the protoevangelium.  The participation of His creature in the desires of God is more passive here. Though she is at her most glorious (clothed with the sun), things are happening to the Woman and she reacts: she is crying, she is in pain, she flees into the wilderness. The Apocalypse reading is not essentially about the "fiat" or Our Lady's victory, it is about the effects of sin on the sinless, it is either the most appropriate reading for the Assumption or the least, I can't quite decide. The second reading from 1 Corinthians continues with this new theme.  It is about Christ's victory over death and God's covenant to all who remain faithful. This is a fine reading, but it does not cover the creature's participation in the work of salvation that is so significantly Our Lady's work. Her work in crushing the serpent that lead to His victory.  It is  probably there to down play the protoevangelium and be in tune with modern biblical scholarship which says "it shall crush" the serpent's head rather than "she".  There is nothing explicitly female in the role of vanquishing the serpent in the modern translations.

The Gospel reading is as the 1962 (only longer......).

Novus Ordo
Rev 11:19, 12:1-6.10
 And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple.
 And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God.And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: [because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night.] 

1 Cor 15:20-26
 But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep:
For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But every one in his own order: the firstfruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming. Afterwards the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall have brought to nought all principality, and power, and virtue. For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet.
And the enemy death shall be destroyed last: For he hath put all things under his feet.

Luke 1:39-56
 And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth.
And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.  And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.  Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.  He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house.