September 1 – September 8, 2023

Friday, September 1

The Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 46.1-12 —

1 Joshua, son of Nun, was a valiant warrior
and the successor of Moses in the prophetic office,
destined to become, as his name implies,[b]
the great savior of God’s chosen people,
to wreak vengeance on the enemies who attacked them
and thus bring Israel into its inheritance.
2 How glorious he was when with uplifted hands
he brandished his sword against cities!
3 Who could withstand him
when he fought the battles of the Lord?
4 Was it not through him that the sun stood still
so that one day was lengthened into two?
5 He called upon the Most High God
when his enemies pressed him on every side,
and the great Lord answered him
with hailstones of mighty power.
6 He overwhelmed that hostile nation in battle
and destroyed his assailants as they fled down the slope,
so that all the nations might know his power
and that he was fighting before the Lord.
For he was a devoted follower of God,
7 in the lifetime of Moses proving his loyalty.
Joshua and Caleb, son of Jephunneh,
stood their ground against the rebellious assembly,
restrained the people from sin,[c]
and silenced their wicked grumbling.
8 As a result, out of the six hundred thousand infantry,
these two alone were spared
to lead the people into their inheritance,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
9 And the strength that the Lord gave to Caleb
remained with him even in his old age;
thus, he was able to invade the hill country
and win possession of it for an inheritance,
10 so that every Israelite might see
how good it is to follow t e Lord.
11 The Judges too, every one of them by name,
whose hearts did not succumb to idolatry
and who did not turn their backs on the Lord—
may their memory be blessed.
12 May their bones send forth new life from the grave,
and may the names of those illustrious men
live again in their children.

(from The New Catholic Bible)

Saturday, September 2

2 Corinthians 4.16—5.11: This is the only place in the New Testament where the expression “day by day” occurs. All that Paul has been writing, particularly his comments about going from glory to glory, is a matter of daily Chris-tian experience.

The Christian’s “outer man” means the vessel of clay, man in his daily encoun-ter with his mortality. The “inner man” means his communion with Christ.

With respect to the contrasting images of lightness and gravity in verse 17, it is instructive to remember that the Hebrew noun for “glory,” kavod, is de-rived from the Hebrew verbal root kavad, meaning “to be heavy.” The great weight of gold perhaps explains this derivation. “Glory” in Holy Scripture is a very substantial and enduring thing, compared with which our afflictions seem light and are certainly transitory.

At the beginning of chapter 5 Paul outlines a theme he will treat in more detail in Romans 8—the longing that the Holy Spirit prompts in the hearts of Christians with respect to the final glorification of their bodies (verse 5). Indeed, he speaks of this longing as a “groaning” (verses 2,4; Romans 8:23). It is death, not the body itself, that will be swallowed up in life. This longing is appropriate, because we are, even as we are weighed down by our mortality, the temples of the Holy Spirit, the guarantee and down payment of our final salvation.

Even our present union with Christ, moreover, does not eliminate the fact that in our mortal condition we are still separated from the Lord (verse 6). This is simply the difference between faith and sight (verse 7; 1 Corinthians 13:12).

This is a bold way to live. Twice Paul uses the verb “dare” (tharreo–verses 6,8), which takes up the “boldness” of the previous chapter. It is a cour-age given by the Holy Spirit, because few men would willingly part with their bodies to attain a better goal (Philippians 1:21-24). What is more important than either state, however, is to be pleasing to the Lord (verse 9), whether liv-ing or dying. This is what will count at the tribunal at which the value of our lives will be assessed (verse 10; Romans 2:16-26).

Meanwhile believers live by the first-fruits of immortality that abide in their mortal flesh—namely, the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling power their bodies will in the end be covered over in glory.

Standing even under the divine judgment, Paul endeavors to convince others of this truth (verse 11).

Sunday, September 3

2 Corinthians 5:15-21: As in 3:1, Paul again fears lest his comments be under-stood as self-promotion, which would be most unseemly (verse 12). He wants the Corinthians to know his heart, nonetheless, and not emulate those who judge by appearances. The Apostle is implicitly admitting here that he has not always “looked good.” Some of his experiences have been ecstatic (verse 13; 12:1-7), a point on which, it would appear, certain opponents have been critical of him. No matter, says Paul, such experiences have been God-ward. When, however, he speaks rationally, it is man-ward. Paul made the same distinction the previous year (1 Corinthians 14:2,28). It is not clear in the present text whether Paul has been criticized for his ecstatic experiences or for his apparent lack of them. Either sense will fit the context.

Verse 14 means, “the love of God grabs us” (or “grips” us–synechei). This is the love manifest in his dying for us (Galatians 2:20). “All have died” in the sense that those who are gripped by the love of Christ no longer live for themselves but for Him who purchased them with His blood (verse 15; Romans 5:10).

What we have in Christ is a new existence, no longer “according to the flesh.” Before his conversion Paul had known Christ “according to the flesh”—that is, not according to faith. All that, however, is now gone. Paul will not know anyone except in the faith of Christ (verse 16). The love of Christ gives the believer a new way of knowing people. Being “in Christ” is a new mode of existence (verse 17; Galatians 6:16). Paul’s vocabulary here seems borrowed from the second part of the Book of Isaiah (for example, 43:18-19; 48:5; 65:17; 66:22), which he will cite presently in 6:2 (Isaiah 49:8).

The Christian ministry is essentially a ministry of reconciliation, in which the reconciliation effected on the Cross is applied and brought to bear on the lives and hearts of human beings (verses 18-19; Galatians 1:12-16). Paul makes such an application now (verse 20).

The expression that Christ was made “sin [hamartia] for us” is open to more than one meaning (verse 21). It may mean that Christ, though not a sin-ner, assumed the condition of a sinner in order to represent all sinners. It may also mean that Christ became a “sin offering” (which is the meaning of hamartia as it appears in the Greek text of Leviticus 4). In either case the meaning is soteriological. By Christ’s becoming “sin,” we become “the righteousness of God.”

Monday, September 4

Luke 6.27-36: It may be the case that we have heard the plainest words of Ho-ly Scripture so often that we no longer really hear them. A long but shallow ac-quaintance with the Bible’s most obvious teachings may serve sometimes to deflect, if not actually to dull, even the keen double-edged sword of God’s Word. We assume that the point of the divine will has already pierced its way into our hearts, whereas in truth we may have spent much of our lives dodging and deftly parrying the thrust of the blade.

Take, for example, the simple mandate to love our enemies. The thing could hardly be plainer: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . . But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? . . . And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?”

Some of us assume we have heard this injunction, whereas it is likely that we have merely stepped aside to let it pass by. It is certainly the case that a mod-ern prejudice makes the command to love our enemies a thing hard to under-stand.

Because in contemporary speech the word “love” rather frequently refers to feelings, there is a prior social disposition that prompts us to interpret this do-minical command in a mainly emotional sense. We imagine ourselves directed to entertain kind and benevolent sentiments towards our enemies, so as long as we are blessed with the inner dexterity to throw these emotions prominently on our mental screen, we fancy that we really do love our enemies.

Regarded more closely, however, the Sacred Text says something quite differ-ent. It does not tell us how we are to feel toward our enemies. Indeed, it shows not the slightest interest in how we feel about our enemies. The love the Bible commands has about it, rather, a completely positive, active and practical sense.

The meaning of the verb “love” is illustrated by its context. Three times in the passage cited above the injunctions to “love” and to “do good” are set in paral-lel construction, creating what grammarians call a hendiadys, a rhetorical de-vice in which a single idea is conveyed in two forms. Thus, the commands to “love” and to “do good” mean exactly the same thing, the second being simply the explanation of the first. That is to say, a lover is by biblical definition a do-gooder.

In the original Greek text, in fact, this hendiadys is strengthened by a play of parallel sounds: ei agapate . . . ean agathopoiete—“if you love . . . if you do good.”

Now it may happen, surely, that by doing good to our enemies, our emotions may change. We may in due course come to feel differently about those ene-mies. Well and fine, but this is not the intent of the Lord’s command, which is directed to our activity, not our sensitivity.

Now in respect to this matter, we are burdened with a deep modern bias that takes “feelings” as the valid test of what is real. Thus, we judge those things to be most genuine that we feel most deeply, as though spontaneity creates au-thenticity. Our poor nervous systems are pressed into service as barometers of reality.

Consequently, when duty-even divinely imposed duty-obliges us to do things we do not necessarily feel, the current culture disposes us to regard ourselves as phony and insincere. This is surely nonsense. I submit that this completely bo-gus presupposition of contemporary culture is a great impediment to hearing and doing the Word of God (cf. James 1:22-23).

Doing good to our enemies is of a piece, of course, with forgiving them, a thing the Lord repeatedly commands. Once again, it is important to observe exactly the nature of the mandate. We are not enjoined to “feel forgiveness.” God seems not the least bit concerned how we feel on the subject of our enemies.

In this case too, it may happen that the cultivated habit of forgiving our ene-mies may actually lead, down the road, to subjective sentiments of forgiveness. Well and fine, but it is the act, not the feeling, which is commanded.

The martyred Stephen may have felt rather bitterly about those enemies, “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,” who were violently taking his life. If so, it is a matter of no moment. The important thing is that Stephen really forgave them (Acts 8:51,60).

Tuesday, September 5

Judges 6: It is a point of historical irony that the military success of Deborah and Barak, narrated in Judges 4—5, is what produced the crisis faced by
Gideon in the chapters that follow. By his overthrow of the powerful
Canaanite kings, Barak had removed a formidable military presence which pre-vented various tribes of Bedouin nomads, notably the Midianites and their con-federates, from ravaging the cultivated fields, orchards, vineyards, and grana-ries of the Promised Land. Now, with the elimination of that impediment, those marauders could ride in on their camels and pillage the countryside at will.

Fearsome and unscrupulous predators, the Midianites were also cunning, for they habitually scheduled their invasions at harvest times, causing economic disaster, even famine, among the Israelites (cf. Ruth 1:1). Judges 6 describes how the Lord raised up Gideon as a champion to meet this crisis.

Gideon’s task, however, would be more than merely political and military, be-cause the crisis itself was more than political and military. In the Bible’s analy-sis, the theological root of the problem was Israel’s infidelity to the Covenant of Mount Sinai. Beyond the political aspects of their plight, it was clear to Gideon that God was punishing the Israelites for their involvement in the worship of Ca-naanite gods, whose chief was Baal. Indeed, Gideon’s own father was a worship-per of Baal. The success of Gideon’s mission would depend, therefore, on his first addressing that theological root of the difficulty.

He did so at once, taking ten men to assist him in the overthrow of the Baal shrine maintained by his father. From that point on, events began to unroll pretty rapidly, for a large invasion force of Midianites and others suddenly ar-rived from the east, crossed the Jordan River, and camped in the fertile valley of Jezreel. Probably impressed by the sheer boldness of Gideon, manifest in his attack on the worship of Baal, his countrymen spontaneously accepted his leadership to meet the impending attack.

It was clear to everyone, anyway, that Gideon was in charge of the situation, for the Spirit of the Lord took decisive hold of him (Judges 6:34). The Hebrew verb used to describe this transformation is especially striking, for it literally says that the Spirit “clothed itself ” (labshah) with Gideon. This expres-sion, sometimes used for the putting on of armor, indicates that Gideon would serve as the instrument of God’s Spirit in the events to come.

The transformation of Gideon was evident to all. Whereas fear had prompted him to use the cover of night in destroying Baal’s shrine (6:27), Gideon now be-gan to act with open, executive boldness, sending out messengers to the other Israelites for their assistance in the impending battle.

Wednesday, September 6

Luke 7.1-10: This story is unique in Holy Scripture, and the uniqueness consists in this. The account of the devout Centurion is the only story in the Bible that appears in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. Obviously it is Luke’s version that we consider today.

The Centurion serves as a model for how Christ our Lord is to be approached. First, he is a man of order. He understands the proper structure of society and knows his place within it. Thus, he tells our Lord, “I also am a man under au-thority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

This is a first to observe about our Centurion—he knows himself subject to au-thority. He entertains no rebellious notions about social equality. He does not chafe under discipline. He does not complain about his duties in obedience. He is a man that respects proper structure in society, and he depends on that structure in order to regulate his own life.

This is an essential requirement of anyone who wants to come to Christ. Indeed, this is why Christ founded a Church and remains the Head of the Church. Let us be fully convinced of this: No one goes to God as an individual. We come to God by joining the society that our Lord Himself established, the Church, with whom He identifies Himself.

Indeed, this was the very first lesson that St. Paul was taught at the time of His conversion. The voice from heaven said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you perse-cute Me?” Notice the Me. Our Lord did not ask him, “Why do you persecute Christians?” but “why do you persecute Me?” Do you see how completely our Lord identifies Himself with the society that He founded?

Then, when our Lord had gotten Saul’s attention on the road to Damascus, Saul asked Him, “Lord, what must I do?” And what was the Lord’s reply? “Go into the city, and it will be told you what to do.” Paul learned this lesson from the earli-est moments of his conversion. He must enter into Damascus and put himself under the discipline of the Church. That is to say, if a man wants to come to God, he must be subject to authority.

This is extremely important, because it has to do with our nature as human be-ings. The modern world tells us that each of us in an autonomous being, but this is a lie, a most serious deception. Human beings were not created to be auton-omous (“one’s own law”). Human beings were created to become social, be-cause “it is not good for man to be alone.” The first condition for coming to God, then, is to be subject to authority.

Second, this centurion is a man of devout humility. This trait is manifest when He says to our Lord, ““Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.” Devout humility is not the fruit of an inferiority complex, and it is com-patible with a great deal of excellence and personal achievement. Devout humil-ity is, rather, a humility born out of a sense of standing in the presence of God. It consists in the constant remembrance of living in the presence of God.

Indeed, the only proper theological basis for humility is devotion to God. A hum-ble man is someone humble before God. Indeed, it is his relation to God that renders him humble.

Devout humility, however, is more than an attitude. It is expressed in signs of humility. For example, devout humility is the reason that Holy Scripture pre-scribes that men should pray with head uncovered, and women with head cov-ered, for example. In both cases Christian men and women manifest that they are subject to authority. Devout humility, you see, is not just an internal senti-ment. It is parsed in the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we carry ourselves, and the way we treat one another.

This is the humility we see in devout kings and prophets of the Bible. This is the devout humility of Abraham. This is the humility of Moses, described in Holy Scripture as the humblest of all men. This is the humility of Hezekiah and Josi-ah. This is the devout humility of John the Baptist, who said of Christ, “he must increase, I must decrease.” Such in the devout humility in today’s centurion.

Third, this centurion comes to God through the prayer of faith. He comes, not to seek anything for himself, but to intercede on behalf of a servant who is dear to him. He prays in trust. This too is required for someone who would come to God. “Speak only a word,” he says, “and my servant will be healed.”

That is to say, this centurion does not simply trust God in general. He trusts the word of Christ, and this is why our Lord accords him the uncommon praise we find in the Gospel story: ““Amen, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

This is a man without pretense. He has nothing to prove. The simplicity of his faith and the directness of his prayer are of a piece with his devout humility and his sense of being under authority.

The truly fortunate man in this story is the sick servant, who attends to such a master, and who is loved by such a master, and is prayed for by such a master.

The prayer of faith, after all, is not something separable from the other mat-ters we have considered, devout humility and being under authority. None of these things will really be possible without the others.

What should be, then, the hope that we take from this story? Surely it is the hope of being included in that multitude of which Jesus our Lord says, “many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

This centurion was no Jew. He was a servant of the Roman Empire, the com-mander of a hundred men. Yet Christ our Lord admits him to the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our forefathers in the prayer of faith and devout humility. May the Lord in His mercy enable us too so to sit in the kingdom of heaven.

Fourth, in Luke’s version of the event the centurion does not approach Jesus alone. He brings along friends who intercede on his behalf. This is an important aspect of traditional Christian prayer: we seek the intercession of others. In the second chapter of John, for example, the mother of Jesus intercedes on behalf of the wedding party which has depleted its wine. When, at the end of her life on earth, the mother of Jesus went to be with her Son, she did not give up her ministry of intercession for the saints on earth.

Thursday, September 7

Judges 8: This chapter records the incident in which Gideon, leading his three hundred exhausted and hungry warriors in pursuit of fifteen thousand escaping Midianites, requested loaves of bread from the cities of Succoth and Penuel. This request was entirely reasonable. Gideon’s small force, by routing the Midi-anite army by the hill of Moreh (7:19-22), had effectively delivered all Israel, including Succoth and Penuel, from seven years of oppression (6:1). Now there remained only a modest mopping-up operation to subdue the last vestiges of the fleeing Midianite force, led by Zeba and Zalmunna. Providing Gideon’s little army with a bit of bread was the very least to be expected from those cities which benefited from that army’s victory.

Yet, the leaders of Succoth and Penuel refused Gideon’s petition. The Sacred Text tells us why: “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” (8:6) That is to say, the men of those two cities, Succoth and Penuel, were afraid to take the chance. If they were to give bread to Gideon’s forces and then Gideon should lose the battle to Zebah and Zalmunna, the Midianites would retaliate against the cities that had provided the requested assistance. (One recalls the vengeance of Saul against the priests of Nob, who honored an identical request from David; see 1 Samuel 21:1-7; 22:6-19.) In short, until the battle was actually over, the men Succoth and Penuel decided to play it safe. No bread, then, for Gideon’s men.

This story illustrates the difference between those who play it safe and those who play for keeps. By boldly marching his three hundred men into the massive Midianite camp (“as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without num-ber, as the sand by the seashore in multitude”), Gideon had played for keeps. This story emphasizes the fortitude of his army by its contrast to the coward-ice of Succoth and Penuel. Gideon won that battle, because the Lord took his side. In some of the battles that men fight on this earth, you see, God does take sides. Never, however, does He take the side of the coward.

This story also illustrates why the virtue of fortitude is necessary for all the other virtues, as a condition and catalyst. The history of moral philosophy in-sists that no other virtue is possible without the virtue of fortitude, certainly not justice nor charity. The man deficient in fortitude will not measure up in an-ything else. In the words of Ambrose of Milan, “In the mediocre soul there is no fortitude, which alone defends the adornment of all the virtues” (De Offici-is 1.39). ). For this reason, the man least deserving of our trust, on any matter whatever, is the coward. Fortitude, wrote Thomas Aquinas, is “the gen-eral virtue, or rather, the condition of any virtue” (generalis virtus, vel poti-us, conditio cuiuslibet virtutisSumma Theologica Ia IIae, Q. 123, Art. 2). Thus, the leaders of Succoth and Penuel, falling short in fortitude, failed in an elementary duty of justice and charity.

Friday, September 8

Luke 7.18-23: The occasion of this story, found also in Matthew 11.2-19, is the apparent despondency of John in prison. There are two things particularly to observe here. First, Luke clearly relies on his readers’ familiarity with the entire career of John the Baptist. Second, the signs of the Messiah, listed here by Je-sus, are not at all similar to those earlier enunciated by John the Baptist him-self. This dissimilarity may have been the cause of John’s evident misgivings, as he languished in his prison cell. Even John was unable to take the full meas-ure of the Messiah.

2 Corinthians 7:13—8:7: Now that the delicate and critical situation in Corinth has been settled by the mission of Titus (verses 13-16), Paul brings to the at-tention of the Corinthians the charitable collection of resources currently in process for the impoverished Christians in the Holy Land. The role of Titus in this collection will be crucial, as we see in chapters 8 and 9.

Paul proceeds to tell the Corinthians of the generosity of the churches of Mace-donia, partly with the intent, no doubt, of encouraging a like generosity among his readers. Chief in generosity among the Macedonians, it seems, are the Phi-lippians, who have already established the custom of sacrificial giving with re-spect to Paul (11:8-9; Philippians 4:15-16).

The collection had already begun at Corinth, in fact, during the previous year (8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), and it will continue into the following year (Romans 15:25-27).

Everything about this enterprise is grace, charis (verses 1,6,7,19). It begins with the generosity of God. The Macedonian Christians are poor, after all, and Paul strains his images to express how this poverty abounded in gener-osity (verse 2). This generosity was spontaneous (verse 2); the Macedonians asked for the opportunity to give (verse 4). Indeed, this giving was the expres-sion of the gift of themselves (verse 5).

Paul is sending Titus back to Corinth as the bearer of the present letter. Hence he mentions now that Titus, on his return to Corinth, will be organizing the col-lection in that city too (verse 6). This will be the perfecting of the good minis-try that Titus had already commenced among the Corinthians.