The Covenant, Part 5: One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

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God created a covenant with Noah and his family. Then he drew Abraham and his tribe into the covenant, Moses and the nation of Israel, and David and the Kingdom of Israel. You can see that this is building towards something really big; it is building towards Jesus Christ. This is why the Bible is divided into two halves. The first half is known as the Old Testament. Testament means witness, but it is also an older term for Covenant. The second half is known as the New Testament. The key moment that begins the New Testament is the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise through all the covenants. He is the source of universal blessing promised to Abraham. He is the beloved son who will be sacrificed on a mountain. He is the lamb of Passover that saves His people from death. He is the Son of David who sits on a royal throne forever, whose kingdom will never be destroyed. He sets up the 12 Apostles as the new 12 tribes of Israel. These Apostles receive the gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They are the original Bishops. They lay hands on other men to succeed them, who lay hands on other men, who lay hands on other men, all the way down to our day. It is not the case that the salvation won by Christ is available only to Catholics. Rather the church is called to be a witness to God’s enduring love. We are called from every nation and language and invited to be a holy people, God’s faithful people, so that all the world can have a visible sign of God’s faithfulness to us.

The covenant shows us that God is worth more: more than descendants, more than power, more than riches, more than honor. The great covenant fathers put their faith in God and through their obedience learned that God keeps his promise. All of this was pointing to Jesus our Lord, savior, and sacrifice. The covenant shows us God’s faithfulness; now we must show God’s faithfulness to the world.

Yours in Christ,
-Fr. Joel

Give Your Heart and Everything Else Will Follow (#817, Lent 4)

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Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B) • Obedience to God flows from faith in God. Noah, Abraham, and all the rest are asked to trust God and to do what God asks. The Israelites often broke the covenant by refusing to do what God asked. But there is another way of breaking the covenant. Sometimes the people would go through the motions of loving God, without really loving God. Like a married couple who does all the right things, but hasn’t given their hearts to each other. Like a priest who seems to do a really good job but doesn’t actually love God. So Christians who do all the right things but haven’t given their hearts to God. Such works cannot save us. Where is your heart?

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The Covenant, Part 4: One Holy Kingdom

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We have spoken already of the covenant with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. We shouldn’t think of these as new covenants replacing a previous covenant. Rather, in each generation God continues to renew his commitment to His people. And he continues to ask the people to renew their commitment to him. This commitment includes an ever growing number of people. The fourth phase of this gradual expansion is the Kingdom of David.

David’s story is told in the two books of Samuel. He is the 8th son of Jesse from the little town of Bethlehem. He is a shepherd who is anointed king while still a young boy. The Israelites at the time are at war with a neighboring nation called the Philistines. God is with David to help him defeat Goliath, a gigantic Philistine warrior. David goes on to win many battles and eventually become king of the Jews, with his capital in Jerusalem. The people experience a period of peace and prosperity.

Many years later the Kingdom of Israel collapses because of bad leadership and sinfulness. The Jews are deported to the city of Babylon, the global superpower of it’s day. When Babylon falls to king Cyrus of Persia, the Jews are able to return from exile and rebuild their country. The little nation of Israel never rises to global importance. It becomes a crossroads between warring nations including Greece and Rome. Yet the Jewish people hold out hope that if they are faithful to God, they will be a great nation again. They await a new Anointed One (Messiah or Christ) who will sit on the throne of David. They know that God always keeps His promises, and He promised King David:

When your days have been completed and you rest with  your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. (II Samuel 7:12-14a)

I Am the Sign of the Covenant (#816, Lent 3)

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Third Sunday of Lent (Year B) • On the mountain God gives Moses instructions for right living and right worship. The Israelites offer right worship to the true God first in the tabernacle and then in the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus now enters this temple and proclaims that the time for the temple is over. The temple is being replaced with the Body of Christ. You and I are members of the Body of Christ. When you follow the commandments and live your purpose, you are a sign of the covenant.

(4 Mar 2018)

Point to Ponder: Meditate for a moment on being a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Point to Discuss: How can you offer right worship to the true God? Talk to a friend about what it means to worship God and how you offer sacrifice.

Point for Action: In prayer today, speak to Jesus and give him permission to cleanse the temple of your body.

The Covenant, Part 3: One Holy Nation

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God’s covenants with Noah and Abraham cover a large portion of the book of Genesis. When Genesis ends, Joseph (with the coat of many colors) has just welcomed his family into Egypt. God used Joseph to save the people of Israel from death by famine. The next book, Exodus, begins by explaining that the Israelite people have become slaves to the Egyptians. They pray to God for deliverance and the persecution gets worse. It would seem that God has abandoned them.

Yet God is still faithful to his covenant promises. He raises up Moses from the tribe of Levi. With nothing other than a simple staff in hand, and the power of God behind him, Moses inflicts 10 plagues on the people of Egypt. The last plague is the worst: all the first-born sons in the land are killed by the angel of death. The Israelites are saved from death only because they sacrifice unblemished male lambs and put the blood on their doorposts. Every year the Jewish people commemorate this event with the feast of Passover. The Israelites walk through the Red Sea to freedom and the Egyptian army is drowned.

The people come to Mt. Sinai, God’s “holy mountain.” God speaks to Moses, and Moses delivers God’s words to the people. The people respond, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” (Exodus 24:3). The covenant has now been expanded to include the whole nation of Israel. Moses then returns to the mountain top for forty days to receive instructions from the Lord about the temple and the sacrifices. While he is away, the people make a golden calf and worship it as their new god (Exodus 32). God punishes them, but through Moses’ prayers, they are forgiven. This continues to be a theme through the rest of the Bible: God is faithful to His people even though time and time again they are unfaithful to God. God punishes his people but forgives them again and again. The covenant is a story of merciful love.

Your Sexuality, Transfigured (#815, Lent 2)

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Second Sunday of Lent (Year B) • God can only bless Abraham through his sexuality when he finally puts it in God’s hands. Natural family planning is a way that we can learn to trust God with our fertility. We also need to trust God with our infertility. Trusting God transfigures our sexuality. More than just as source of pleasure, and pain, it will become something glorious that blesses us and the world. Abraham has finally learned that God is worth more and that God will keep His promises no matter what, even if it costs God His Only Son.Read More

The Covenant, Part 2: One Holy Tribe

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Slowly through history God reveals himself to human beings. God made a covenant with Noah when he and his family came out of the ark. God waits for ten generations until a man named Abram is born. God calls Abram to leave his land and journey to the promised land. In Genesis 15 God makes his promises into a covenant. A covenant is a kind of solemn promise, like the promises a bride and groom make to each other on their wedding day. This covenant means that God and Abram are one people, one family together.

God tells Abram that he will have so many descendants they will be like the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky. He even changes his name to Abraham which means “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). Yet Abraham has no children. He has to trust God, and as a sign of his trust, he and all the males in his household must be circumcised. The Bible says that Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was finally born. The Bible is making two important points. The first is that God will keep his promises no matter what, even when it looks impossible to us. The second point is that God guides human fertility. He has given to men and women to ability to work together to create human life. This ability is so awesome, it’s a little scary. But God is the true author of every human life. This is why we call the generation of human beings, “procreation”. God invites us to use this power in accord with His will, in a way that glorifies God. Abraham struggled to see fertility as a gift from God that still belongs to God. When he trusts God with his sexuality, God uses it to bless him and to bless the world.

Isaac has Jacob (God changes his name to Israel). Jacob has 12 sons who become the 12 tribes of Israel. Just as God had foretold in Genesis 15, this growing tribe goes down to Egypt and becomes enslaved by the Egyptians. And that sets us up for the next covenant story in the Bible.

What Do Rainbows and Wedding Rings Have In Common? (#814, Lent 1)

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First Sunday of Lent • God said to Noah and to the whole earth: I take you to be my people, I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health… At Baptism God says these same words to us. Will you be faithful to God, as He has been faithful to you?Read More

God Is Worth More Than Time, Food, and Money (#813, Ash Wednesday)

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Ash Wednesday • Valentine’s Day is about all kinds of love: be my friend, give me candy, and I LUV U. Lent is about one kind of love: God’s love. God’s love makes a covenant with us: “I will be your God, and you will be my people. Forever.”

The Israelite people slowly learned that God was worth more. Do we realize that God’s love for us is worth more than being rich, powerful, popular, or successful? Lent is about trading a few nice things for something so much better: a deeper relationship with God. This Lent put God first and learn for yourself that God is worth more.Read More

The Covenant, Part 1: One Holy Family

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Our Catholic faith includes plenty of philosophical and theological reflection, cultural traditions and strange legends. But fundamentally our Catholic faith is founded on history. The history of the world is a history of God’s relationship with the creatures He created. Our faith is founded on the encounters human beings have had with God. These encounters have been carefully recorded by eyewitnesses. It’s a romance, but the best kind, because it’s a true story. And it’s the greatest story ever told.

We need to remember and understand that when we read the Bible, fundamentally we are reading a book of history. It is a story of things that really happened. And what happened was that God gradually revealed himself. He spoke to one particular couple, then a family, and then eventually the whole world. God wanted a permanent and enduring relationship. In the Bible, this is called a covenant. A covenant is created by an oath in which two parties agree to be faithful to each other. Marriage is a covenant.

God wants this kind of relationship with his people. His first covenant is with the first couple, Adam and Eve. Then in Genesis 9, God makes a covenant with Noah, which includes his wife and three sons and their three wives. God blesses them and says, “be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.” Read Genesis Chapter 9 and you can hear echoes of the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2. After the 40 days of the flood when the sins of the world were washed away, God wants a new creation and a new people that will once again be His people and be holy, like their God. The call to be a holy family is a call the reflect God’s love to others — to be not only made in God’s image, but also to reflect His likeness. Your encounters with God are also part of this great history. May Lent be an opportunity for a new encounter with the God who loves you.