Tuesday, June 25, 2013

True and False Religion

Model of the Second Temple, Israel Museum,
I was struck reading Morning Prayer today by the words of Azariah in the Canticle from the Book of Daniel. 

For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation,
brought low everywhere in the world this day
because of our sins.

We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no holocaust, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.

But with contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks,
or thousands of fat lambs,
so let our sacrifice be in your presence today
as we follow you unreservedly;
for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.

And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we fear you and we pray to you.
The context is, of course, the time of the Babylonian Exile.  In the all-but- abandoned City of Jerusalem, the Temple of the Lord sat in ruins.  There was no sacrifice, no evening offering of incense.  Indeed the Cult had come to a halt—how was God to be served when no sacrifices could be offered?  And the lament of Azariah over this tragedy led to the great breakthrough in our Jewish/Christian tradition.  “Let us be received with contrite heart and humbled spirit”—this is the true sacrifice.  What use does God have for bulls and goats—and should he want them, the hills are covered with them and they are his for the taking (cf psalm 50: 8-13). The time of the Exile was a “Dark Night of the Soul” for Israel where they were taught by God what he truly wants: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke.  (Isaiah 58:6) 
I bring this up because of an article I read yesterday about aggressive plans being made by certain factions tied to the Netanyahu Government to seize the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in order to build a “Third Temple. (The first was the Temple of Solomon; the Second Temple was the Temple that stood in Jesus’ day.)  There is a strong desire in certain factions of moderate Orthodox Judaism to rebuild the Temple and restore the Cult.  The Ultra-Orthodox say that the Temple cannot be rebuilt and the sacrifices reinstituted until the Messiah comes and sorts things out. The Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism do not seem to have much interest in restoring the sacrificial rituals.   But that is not what I am writing about—nor, for that matter, is the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoring of the Cult.  Though I do want to bring up the issue, before I move on to my main point, of how can people be anxious to restore Cultic Worship when, at the same time, they see themselves as having a right to seize farms and groves and houses from the Palestinian people who have lived on this land since the time before Joshua brought the Children of Israel into the Land of Canaan approximately thirteen centuries before Christ? Though, again this being a history blog, it would be more accurate to speak of a series of migrations from the fifteenth through the twelfth centuries Before the Common Era (1499-1100 BC) than a single “Exodus.”  What is the point of building a Temple or sacrificing bulls and goats if one does not honor the commandments of God?  That was the message of the prophets as distinguished from the priests who supported the Cult qua Cult.  Jesus, of course—at least from the Christian understanding—reinforced this prophetic tradition that what God wants is mercy, not sacrifice (cf Matthew 9:13). 
Now let’s bring this over to issues that face us as Catholics today.  We too have people for whom everything is the Cult and for whom the greater commands mean little or even nothing.  They worry about issues such as using glass chalices or home-made breads for the Eucharist but want illegal immigrants rounded up and “shipped home.”  They want to deny those whom they deem unworthy Holy Communion but they support economic policies that leave the poor without access to health care or a chance for higher education.  They want to bend the knee to receive Christ in Eucharist while kneeling but they don’t bend their hearts to Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters. The women veil their heads but their hearts remain hardened and stiff.  The men put pro-life bumper stickers defending the unborn alongside NRA stickers and don’t see the contradiction.  The children are shielded not only from sex-education but from meeting their peers who are Black or Hispanic or Asian.  They want Mass in a language few if any understand because, “God-forbid we understand the Word of the Lord: we may have to change our attitudes.”   It is all magical mystical mumbo-jumbo that gives them a sense of otherworldliness when what Christ calls us to is change—deep, personal, change-of-heart change—in this world and in this life.  One might belong to the True Church but still have false religion. 

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