April 5 – April 12, 2024

Friday, April 5

1 Corinthians 15.20-34: in these verses Paul moves from apologetics to theology, and he marks the transition with a formal “now”: “But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

To speak theologically means to address truth through the categories, the images, the questions, and the declarations of Holy Scripture. The Resurrection of Christ was not just a bare fact. It was a theological revelation. It happened “according to the Scriptures.” Because this was so, Paul consulted Holy Scripture, in order to grasp what the Resurrection meant.

It is most significant that the first Scripture he consulted on this matter was Genesis. Whereas St. Peter consulted the Book of Psalms for this purpose (Acts 2:24-36), Paul went back to one of the earliest episodes of biblical history, the account of the Fall: “For since death came through a man, through a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

The Song of Solomon 6: It is important that the erotic imagery of The Song of Solomon is not separated from its covenant context. The bride in this book is not just any pretty girl. She is the unique beloved, his one and only, and she is constantly referred to in those terms. She is his sealed fountain (4:12; cf. Proverbs 5:15-19). This is a book about covenant fidelity, even beyond the grave (cf. 8:6-7).

At the same time, and like all love poetry, it stresses the theme of losing and finding one another, because in so many instances husbands and wives do this their whole life long. Great attention is given to presence and absence (4:8; 6:1), and therefore searching (3:1-5; 5:2-8).

Very important to this book is the imagery of the garden, for which the Song of Solomon uses the Persian word paradeisos, the very place where Jesus said He would meet the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43). This garden evokes, of course, the original garden, the garden of man’s innocence, where he lived in intimacy with God. It was in that garden, too, that man and woman enjoyed the intimacy of their married love, in the days before clothing was deemed necessary. The joys of sexual intimacy between husband and wife, as they are described in this book, attempt to approximate man’s original state in that original garden. This joy that husband and wife find in one another is one of the basic human blessings that was not entirely lost by man’s fall.

Saturday, April 6

John 21.15-25: The Greek word anthrakia (cf. the English derivative “anthracite,” a type of coal), meaning a charcoal fire, is found only twice in the New Testament, both times in the Gospel according to St. John.

The first instance is in 18:18 and designates the courtyard fire where the officers and servants of the high priest stood warming themselves through the
chilly night of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Simon Peter likewise came to that place and stood near a cousin of Malchus, a servant of the high priest. It was there by the charcoal fire that Simon thrice denied even knowing our Lord, going so far as to confirm the denials with an oath.

It is most significant, surely, that that event, so embarrassing to the chief of the Twelve Apostles, is narrated in detail in each of the four canonical Gospels, for it is thus made to stand fixed forever in the memory of Holy Church.

The second charcoal fire in John’s Gospel is the one in today’s final scene, the fire kindled by the Lord Himself, over which He prepared breakfast for His dispirited Apostles (21:9). After breakfast it was at this fire that Jesus would put to that same Simon Peter his threefold question: “Do you love Me?” The Apostle understood, of course, why the question was asked of him three times, for it was the very number of his own denials. At this point the chastened Peter, no longer trusting himself, relies completely on the Lord’s knowledge of his heart (21:17).

But there is more to the story. Simon Peter’s threefold profession is followed by a reference to his eventual martyrdom, which had already happened by the time this text was written down later in the first century.

Indeed, the author of John 21 clearly presupposes his readers’ familiarity with Peter’s martyrdom. The story of the Apostle’s crucifixion on Vatican Hill in Rome in the mid-60s was so widely reported among the churches that John could simply refer to the stretching out of Peter’s hands as “signifying by what death he would glorify God” (21:18–19).

The point required no further explanation. The early Christians were so familiar with the circumstances of Peter’s martyrdom in Rome that around the turn of the century Clement of Rome (Ad Corinthios 5.4), writing from Rome, and Ignatius of Antioch (Romans 4),writing to Rome, felt no need to elaborate on the details and circumstances. That this Johannine passage (“you will stretch out your hands . . . signifying by what death he would glorify God”) did in fact refer to Peter’s crucifixion in Rome was perfectly obvious to Tertullian, writing in Africa slightly after the year 200. Citing that Johannine verse, he wrote: “Then was Peter ‘bound by another,’ when he was fastened to the cross” (Scorpiace 15.3).

St Thomas Sunday, April 7

John 20.19-21: The philosophy embraced by Thomas the Apostle was not of an
academic brand. It was, rather, the peasant variety, a common type, the truly useful school of thought that aids an ordinary man to brace up in adversity, face disaster bravely, and cope with valor on the bitter day. (In this respect Thomas the Apostle bears a strong resemblance, not only to Schopenhauer, but also to Puddleglum the Marshwiggle.)

A philosopher of this sort is less interested in exploring the essence of things, and more concerned about how to get through life without falling to pieces. Thus, he emphasizes sobriety of soul and is deeply suspicious of anything even faintly resembling fun. His aspirations are modest, the better to soften the inevitable disappointments that life will bring. Ever resigned to the next unforeseen but inexorable tragedy, fairly certain that all will come to a bad end, this philosopher tightens the reins on enthusiasm and dissuades his heart from inordinate hope. The last thing he would trust is a bit of good news.

It came as no great surprise to Thomas, then, when he learned that disaster lay just down the road. Indeed, Thomas was the first among the Apostles to embrace the imperative of the Cross. Unlike Peter (“Get behind Me, Satan!”), he put up no resistance to the news. When Jesus declared His intention of going to Jerusalem to “wake up” Lazarus, the other Apostles expressed their fear at the prospect. “Rabbi,” they answered, “lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” It was Thomas who found within himself the generous strength to say, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:8, 16). In this scene, Thomas is no skeptic. He is, rather, very much the realist, the man who discerns the stark realities awaiting His Lord at Jerusalem, and he is resolute with respect to his own course in the matter. When it
comes to the prospects for tragedy, Thomas is not deceived by any inappropriate optimism. Nor, let it be said, by cowardice. If there is one thing he knows how to take with a stiff upper lip, it is bad news. It is, so to speak, his specialty.

Thomas may also have been something of a loner, which would explain why, when the risen Lord paid His first visit to the assembled Apostles, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). He apparently had gone off to get a better grip on himself. It had been a very tough week. Just as Thomas had foreseen, Jesus’ life had ended in tragedy. This, the Apostle was sure, was the biggest tragedy he had ever seen. Yet he was coping with it somehow. Years of an inner docility to inevitable fate had schooled him in the discipline of endurance. Yes, he would get through this too. He was a man who could deal with misfortune and sorrow.

Thomas returned to the other Apostles in the “upper room” that evening, having wrestled his soul into a quiet acquiescence. It was the first day of a new week. He had faced down the disaster, and his control over life was starting to return. What he had not anticipated, however, was that the other Apostles, in his absence, would completely lose their minds. “Well, Thomas,” one of them announced, “fine time to be gone. We have seen the Lord, and you just missed Him!”

Thomas knew how to deal with sorrow. His real problem had always been how to deal with happiness. And that problem was about to get a lot worse. A whole week the risen Lord would make him wait, sharing that room with the ten other men to whom he had hurled his challenge: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (20:25). As each day passed, the case for skepticism was strengthened.

But then it happened. The room was suddenly filled with a great light. New evidence had arrived and stood now undeniable on the scene. Thomas the sceptic sensed that his long-established thinking was about to be rather deeply shaken. However embarrassed, he rose and turned toward the entering light, bracing himself to learn a bit of good news.

Monday, April 8

John 6.1-14: The Evangelist begins by telling us, “Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do” (John 6:5–6).

What, we are justified in asking, was accomplished by this question to Philip, since Jesus already “knew what He would do”? His question here served the purpose of evoking the assistance of the apostles in what was about to take place.

Jesus did not ask that question for Philip’s sake, I believe, but for Andrew’s. They were a pair. He knew that wherever you saw Philip, Andrew must be nearby. The question was apparently meant to be overheard by Andrew, who promptly replied, “There is a lad here who has five barley buns and a couple of dried fish” (John 6:9). Now they could get started!

Thus, by putting to Philip a question to which he already knew the answer, Jesus transformed these apostles—Andrew and Philip, in particular—from mere spectators to active participants in the experience of the multiplication of the loaves. It is they who will seat the people for the meal (John 6:10).

Ezekiel 1: Historians of the subject seem agreed that Judaism as a “world religion”—a religion sufficiently portable to be carried anywhere in the world—was largely the product of the Babylonian Captivity.

It was during those four decades (587–538 BC) in exile from the Holy Land that Israel perfected, and learned mainly to rely on, the moveable institutions that were to give it defining shape and vitality for the next two and a half millennia: canonical Scriptures, synagogue, rabbinical authority and scholarship, the rituals of domestic piety and personal discipline.

Now among the individual figures who contributed to that important development during the Babylonian Captivity, surely none was more significant than the priest and prophet Ezekiel, who had already gone to Babylon eleven years earlier, in 507, as a political hostage. His was a period of extraordinary religious thinkers. Ezekiel was an early contemporary of Pythagoras in Greece, the Buddha in India, and Confucius in China.

This “fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiakin” is calculated to be the period between April 30 of the year 593 and April 18, of the year 592. The “fifth day of the fourth month” of this year was August 4, 593.

Like the inaugural callings of Moses (Exodus 3:1-4) and Isaiah (6:1-6), the calling of Ezekiel is glorious and visionary. Above the “four living creatures,” who support the vault of heaven, he sees “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” God’s glory, because it fills all of heaven and earth, can be revealed anywhere, whether in a burning bush in the Sinai Peninsula, or in the temple at Jerusalem, or, as now, by the banks of a waterway in Babylonia.

Tuesday, April 9

John 6.15-21: The story of the Lord’s walking on the water (in Matthew, Mark, and John) is closely tied to the account of the multiplication on the loaves, not only sequentially, but also thematically. In the first story Jesus demonstrates his authority over bread; in the second, he demonstrates his command over his own body. The major point of John 6, the argument of the whole sequence, is that Jesus is quite capable of turning bread itself into his own body.

In today’s scene, Jesus manifests himself to the Church in walking on the water. This account is preparatory to his manifesting himself to the Church in the breaking of the bread. In both cases he is recognized by faith. By the end of this chapter, in the context of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, that faith will be put strenuously to the test, and not all of his followers, as we shall, will be able to pass that test.

Ezekiel 2: After his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, Ezekiel now formally receives his call in Chapter 2. The Spirit (in Hebrew Ruach), of which Ezekiel spoke in 1:4 (where the same Hebrew word is usually translated as “Wind”), now enters into him, causing him to stand up. This is the same Ruach that will enliven the dry bones in Chapter 37.

It will be another six years before Jerusalem will be destroyed, and the exiles, to whom he is sent to preach, are rebellious. Ezekiel is exhorted not to be impressed by them, nor necessarily to expect positive fruits from his preaching. In terms very reminiscent of the calls of Moses and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is instructed to continue preaching to his contemporaries, no matter how they receive his word. It is God’s word, after all, that he will speak.

Toward the end of this chapter he will be handed a scroll of God’s word, which he is instructed to eat. This is one of several places in Holy Scripture where God’s Word is likened to food.

This image also indicates the prophet is to assimilate God’s Word and to preach it from within the digestive processes of his own mind and heart. It is always the word of man as well as the Word of God. According to Christian theology God speaks to man through the inner creative workings of his mind and heart. In that inspiration by which God caused the Holy Scriptures to be written, man himself was a co-worker with God, a synergos. God’s word is likewise, then, the word of some human being who is properly called an “author.”

Wednesday, April 10

Ezekiel 3: The point of eating the scroll was that the prophet should internalize God’s message, assimilating it into his own being, so that he could speak God’s word as his own (cf. Revelation 10:8-11). It remains one of the great images of prophetic inspiration: “All my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart.”

Thus, we believe that the teaching of the Pentateuch is not simply the word of God, but also the word of Moses. We contend that God spoke to Moses through divine inspiration, a Spirit-breathed process that included the thinking and imaginative powers of . . . Moses. Biblical Inspiration means that God’s word was filtered through—digested by—fermented in—the mind and heart of a human author.

Revelation comes to us, accordingly, through the inner anguish of Jeremiah, the soaring minds of John and Isaiah, the probing questions of Job and Habakkuk, the near despair of Qoheleth, the structured poetry of David, the disappointments of Jonah, the struggles of Nehemiah, the mystic raptures of Ezekiel, the slow, patient scholarship of Ezra, the careful narrative style of Mark, the historical investigations of Luke, and that pounding mill, the ponderous thinking of Paul.

God’s Word finds expression in inspired literature, because it first assumed flesh in human thought and imagination. This truth is indicated in that vision where Ezekiel sees God’s word on a scroll that he must eat. That is to say, God’s word always comes to us in a fermented, pre-digested form.

This great vision is then followed by seven days of reflection (verses 15-16), at the end of which Ezekiel is made aware of his new vocation as a watchman for God’s people. Whether they heed him or not, the watchman has a divinely commissioned responsibility to give proper warning. This theme will return in Chapter 33.

Psalms 96 (Greek & Latin 95): This psalm was among the psalms chosen to be sung when the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the new tabernacle that David had constructed for it in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Chr. 16:23–33). This piece of information is valuable because it sets Psalm 95 in at least one of its interpretive contexts in biblical history: God’s enthronement as King in the worship of His holy people. Inasmuch as the Lord’s symbolic enthronement “between the cherubim” in the Holy of Holies was one of the more important Old Testament institutions preparatory for His definitive presence in the human race by reason of the Incarnation, the deeper meaning of this psalm is likewise to be sought in its relationship to God’s Word that “became flesh and dwelt [or tabernacled] among us” (John 1:14).

This psalm, then, and all other Old Testament references to God as King are prophecies fulfilled in the Kingship of Jesus the Lord, who declared to the local representative of the Roman Empire, “You say rightly that I am a king” (John 18:37).

Thus, our psalm commands, “Announce among the nations that the Lord is King.” Truly, this is the sum and essence of everything the Church was given to proclaim, not only to the Roman Empire, but to all the nations of the earth at all times: “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The word “Christ” here, of course, is a translation of the Hebrew expression “anointed one,” which referred to Israel’s anointed king. In the context of Peter’s sermon, Jesus is made Lord and King by His Resurrection from the dead (cf. 2:22–32).

It is in the mystery of His Resurrection, then, that Jesus the Lord fulfills the prophetic dimension of that symbolic enthronement of God in Israel’s ancient Holy of Holies. Psalm 96, which was sung to celebrate that figurative enthronement, finds its intended completion in Jesus’ victory over death. This is the truth of that invitation of its first line: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” It is a “new song” exactly as this term is used of the anthem sung to the victorious Lamb in Revelation 5:9; it is a “new song,” because henceforth humanity is dealing with a wholly new reality. And it is “all the earth” that is summoned to sing this new song, for the Resurrection of Christ establishes His kingship, not only over human hearts, but also over the nations. It is precisely the nations that are called to sing the new song.

1 Corinthians 11.17-26: Theological reflection is always based on “the Word of Faith,” but God’s Word is also proclaimed through the enactment of the Sacraments. Recall, for instance, what the Apostle Paul declares with respect to the Holy Eucharist: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim (katangellete) the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

To grasp the full import of this declaration, it is necessary, I believe, to give equal accent to each noun in the expression, “the Lord’s death.” If the accent is placed on “death,” the Eucharist is a proclamation of the event on Mount Calvary. If the accent is placed on “Lord,” the Eucharist is a proclamation of the Resurrection. It is, of course, both, because in the proclamation of the Gospel, the Cross and the Resurrection are two aspects of the same mystery. Both are proclaimed in the Holy Eucharist.

Ezekiel 4: Here begins a sequence of symbolic actions that Ezekiel is commanded to perform, as though in pantomime, to serve as efficacious signs to his brethren in the Captivity. These actions function as prophecies too, prophecies conveyed in sign language as it were. These prophetic actions have their counterparts elsewhere in Holy Scripture, such as the symbolic names that Hosea and Isaiah gave their children, and Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree.

The first of Ezekiel’s signs, a sort of symbolic enactment of the siege of Jerusalem, involves the prophet playing like a child with building blocks, placing the various pieces into an elaborate scene, accompanied by a narrative. Children do this kind of game all the time. A solitary child, indeed, may spend hours at it, telling himself the story as he moves the little pieces around.

The second action, more abstract, symbolizes the punishment of Israel and Judah, the former destroyed in 722 and the latter to be destroyed in the near future.

The prophet’s third action portrays the suffering of the siege about to come upon Jerusalem. Most significant to this prophetic priest is the ritual uncleanness that must accompany the preparation of the food and the circumstances of the people’s defeat. In the few words that Ezekiel himself speaks in this chapter, we observe the intense emotional pain felt by the prophet in the enactment of these symbolic gestures.

Friday, April 12

Ezekiel 5: This chapter begins with the fourth symbolic action imposed on Ezekiel, which signifies the various fates awaiting the citizens of Jerusalem as the siege nears its end. It is clear that only a tiny remnant of them will survive. The rest of the chapter is a stirring oracle explaining why so severe a judgment is falling on Jerusalem. It will be so grievous, the Lord says, because He expected so much more of the city that He had chosen as His dwelling place on earth.

Ezekiel, as a priest charged to minister in the temple, was deeply acquainted with the sacred worship that made Jerusalem so special. This elect place of God’s presence and His proper worship have been particularly defiled by the idolatry of the populace (5:11). Whereas Jeremiah (7:1-15) had already warned the people of Jerusalem that they would not be saved by their mere possession of the temple, Ezekiel now instructs them that this possession will render their punishment all the more severe. God expects more from the one to whom He has given more, but the chosen Jerusalem has offended Him even worse than the nations that He did not choose.

Psalms 103 (Greek & Latin 102): In this psalm we detect a great effort to take into one’s own heart God’s manifold acts of mercy all through the history of the Bible. This is the God “who made His ways known to Moses, His deeds to the children of Israel.” This is the historical God of the covenant and the commandments: “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” It is to this interiorization of the commandments, this “remembrance” of the everlasting covenant, that this psalm summons the soul: “Forget not all His benefits; He forgives all your iniquities.”

This inner knowledge of the forgiving mercy of God is the substance of the covenant that we have with God in Christ: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts. . . For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:33, 34; Heb. 8:10, 12). This knowledge of the true God is inseparable from the forgiveness of our sins: “ . . . To give knowledge of salvation to His people / By the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:77).

In Psalm 103, then, the soul is called to the contemplation of God’s infinite, forgiving mercy: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. . . He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Indeed not, for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The four dimensions of the Cross, its length and breadth, its height and depth, are the dimensions of God’s mercy: “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” This hesed or mercy of God is not a hazy benevolence. It has a definite history that climaxes in specific acts of salvation: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). And again, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).

This is a psalm, then, to be kneaded carefully into the leaven of the soul, for it is concerned with the blood-forgiveness we receive in Christ our Lord. It may especially be recommended as part of one’s regular thanksgiving after the sacrament of Confession.