Let me ask you something. Actually several somethings.
What do you think salvation means?
What is the point of salvation?
Are we “saved” simply to go to heaven when we die?
What does the “kingdom of heaven” refer to?
These are all questions that are brought to my mind when I look at this week’s readings. I must admit that I had not really thought a lot about all this until just a few years ago. I began to read Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers together and some things immediately became clear to me.
It became clear to me that I had no idea what Jesus meant by a lot of what He said. It also became clear than my hermeneutic (the way I interpret Holy Scripture) was very different than the way the Fathers did. I had been trained to use historical critical methodology whereas the Fathers seemed to be much more “spiritual” and typological in their interpretation of Holy Scripture.
So I began to look at Holy Scripture a little differently. Specifically, I began to read Holy Scripture in a Christological way. Right about now you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about so let me get into these texts a bit.
I was told as a boy growing up in the home of a pastor that the point of being “saved” was to go to heaven. While that sounds really good, I have to say that does not square at all with what Holy Scriptures seem to give us. Rather than messages of “we’re going to heaven when we die,” the Bible seems to indicate that something even more radical will happen.
God will come here.
Look at our OT text for today: Isaiah 25:6-10. I’m going to be working from the KJV and Douay-Rheims today. Read that text slowly and look for the images it conjures in your mind. First, there is an image of a great feast; “a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lee, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”
This is a great feast of great abundance. This is the good stuff, as the saying goes. We see this image somewhere else, don’t we? We see it in the Gospel reading today but we see it again in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) chapters 19-21. But we’ll come back to that.
Keep reading the Isaiah text. The prophet tells us that the Lord of hosts will destroy the “veil” that covers all people, indicating that there is something that is covering us, blinding us to reality. He will swallow up death, He will wipe away tears, He will take away the “rebuke” of the people. Verse 9 tells us that He will “save us” and that, on this “mountain” we will “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” In verse 10 he tells us that “the hand of the Lord shall rest in this mountain (Douay-Rheims).”
Look at these images. These are images of wholeness, abundance and peace that are all linked with salvation.
Looks a little different than “we’re gonna get outta here and go to heaven.” Looks and sounds way better to me!
Now let’s consider our Gospel reading: Matthew 22:1-14. Here we have Jesus doing what He does and giving us a parable to explain things. Look at this text and the imagery we see. What jumps out? The word marriage or wedding is used eight times in both the KJV and Douay-Rheims. What imagery does this convey to us? It’s kind of echoing our Isaiah text in imagery. When we attend a wedding, the food is usually abundant and good, right? The wine (or other drinks) are typically flowing, people are dancing, laughing. It is a place and time of great joy! Jesus is telling us that this is what the Kingdom is like. This is what salvation is like!
The King Himself has set the banquet…and for what reason? The Son is getting married! Once again, this hearkens us to Revelation 19-21 and the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this wedding feast, these nuptials are open to all.
Look at the text. Some were invited but they chose not to go. Some who chose not to go also chose to murder the servants that invited them (the prophets). So what does the King say? “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid them to the marriage.” (KJV) All are invited to the marriage feast of the Son!
But just because you are invited doesn’t mean you can just “come as you are.” We see the stern warning in verses 11-14. Dress appropriately. What does that mean?
St. Augustine, and other Fathers, took this wedding garment to be charity. What does that mean? It means that our wedding garment is how we have lived our lives according to the virtues given to us by grace as we have obeyed the commands of God. Yes, you are welcome to the feast out of a free gift of grace, but you must be clothed in the garments given to us by living a virtuous life. When the King comes, you better be dressed appropriately.
St. John Chrysostom puts it this way,
“To enter with unclean garments, is to depart out of this life in the guilt of sin. For those are no less guilty of manifesting a contempt for the Deity, who presume to sit down in the filth of an unclean conscience, than those who neglected to answer the invitations of the Almighty. He is said to be silent, because having nothing to advance in his own defence, he remains self-condemned, and is hurried away to torments; the horrors of which words can never express.”
Let’s go back to our questions we started with. What do we think salvation means? What is the point of salvation?
King David tells us what salvation means. He tells us what the point of salvation is in our Psalm reading/chant today. Psalm 23 tells us,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Brothers and sisters, what a gift we’ve been given! Look at our readings today and see what God has given us.
He has given us all we need in the Son; we have no other wants.
He gives us the peace of green pastures and still waters in His love.
He restores our soul and leads us in the paths of righteousness.
He calms our fears by granting us the presence of His Spirit.
He prepares for us a feast of good things that we will partake of both now and finally at His great marriage supper when our cup will overflow and His love will dwell with us forever.
He will dwell with us, in His world, His house, forever and we shall have the goodness and mercy of God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit forever and ever, world without end!
Thanks be to God!
What’s with all this stuff about Mary?
I remember thinking that a lot as my journey into the historic Church deepened. This was several years into the journey and I was beginning to hit some walls. Ecclesiastical structure (the episcopate) had fallen pretty quickly. I mean, any serious reading of the 1 Timothy text in the Greek and the subsequent structure of the early Church just destroys any objection to the episcopal structure of the Church.
But I hit this snag with the Marian dogmas. I look back on it now and can’t really pinpoint why I was so uncomfortable with this, why I fought it so much. I honestly believe it had to do with several things. I had, as I’ve mentioned, been raised in a Protestant home. But it wasn’t just that I was raised Protestant. I was raised in a Protestant home that taught that the Catholic Church was literally evil and idolatrous. I mean, I remember at one point being told that the Pope was probably the Anti-Christ. It’s kind of sad to me now that I look back on it.
So I think that had a lot to do with it. But it was also, in my mind, illogical. I know that makes me sound really arrogant and, to be honest, I really was. I guess I thought that if it didn’t make sense to me, then it must not be right. Can I be brutally honest with you right now?
I suspect you have the same problem. I suspect we all have the same problem. We won’t say it out loud but, in practice, we act as though, if it doesn’t “make sense” to us, then it must not be true…or at very least is suspect. We moderns are pretty narcissistic and really lack humility. But that’s another post for another time.
So I think for me it was all the background noise of the Catholic Church being evil and my own hubris.
But, back to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Let’s define the Marian dogmas really briefly. I want to emphasize that this is very brief. I can’t really do justice to these in a limited space like a single blog post. So, very quickly, the Marian dogmas are:
A second thing to note on this objection is the Hebraic understanding of “brothers and sisters.” The Hebrew understanding of family was quite different than our own western understanding. We hear family and most of us think “nuclear family.” In other words, we only think of family and use the terminology of brother and sister for our immediate family. The Hebrew understanding was a bit different and included other relatives. In fact, from what I understand, the same word for “brother” in Hebrew was also used to mean cousin etc. So you can see how that language is imprecise.
A final answer to this objection is another Hebrew understanding. It was the duty of Jewish children to care for their aging parents. In the case of the Blessed Virgin, it would have been the responsibility of the eldest son to care for his mother after the death of the father. So, in this case, Joseph had presumably died (almost all scholars agree on this) and now Jesus, at His crucifixion, was also dying. He had to pass on care of His mother to someone in the family, a brother or sister. But there was no one there to pass that care on to and so Jesus passed that on to the Apostle John. You may say, “Yes but the Bible says that Jesus’ brothers and sisters didn’t believe in Him being the Messiah.” While that is true, it would not have removed their covenantal duties under Jewish law to care for their mother, had she been their mother.
I would also note that there is biblical precedence for this type of occurrence. In the Old Testament we have both Enoch and the prophet Elijah who are assumed into heaven. On a logical note, I ask you this. If we know the locations of the tombs of certain saints and even of the Saviour and we venerate those sites, don’t you think that we would know where the Blessed Virgin was buried? Don’t you think we would have some type of church building or statue built there?
It took me a long time to wrap my head around this. In fact, I’ll be honest. It was literally only yesterday that God opened my heart to see some things in Holy Scripture that sealed this for me. I had accepted this as a historic teaching of the Church and was willing to submit to it. But yesterday something happened that I can only describe to you and let you decide.
I was driving home from work last night, listening to a podcast on my drive. It was a conversation between Dr. Scott Hahn and another guy (Lawrence Feingold I think) about what they called the “integration” of the Old Testament and New Testament. In other words, you cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old, nor the Old Testament without the New. In other words, what St. Augustine said. If you don’t know what that is, read my last post. As I was listening to this conversation, it was like a light switch flipped in my heart and I said out loud, “And Adam named the woman Eve because she was the mother of all the living, just as Mary is the mother of all those who have new life in Christ.”
So when we read the OT, we must understand that many things that we see there are prefigurements, foreshadowing, whispers of what is to come in the NT when the Messiah is revealed. In light of reading Holy Scripture this way, we see some things (and the Church has seen some things) about the Blessed Virgin.
The new Garden where the faithful find perfect peace with their Creator.
The new Eve, the mother of all those who live by faith as the Church.
The new Ark of salvation who carries those who have faith in God through the floods of this world to the new world of God’s new creation.
The new Tabernacle where God dwells.
The new Sarah who carries in her womb the true and better Israel.
The new Rachel who weeps for her children in their pain.
The new Ark of the Covenant who bears the Word of God.
The new Hannah who rejoices in her miraculous conception.
The image of the Church who says to God, “Be it done unto me…”
The mother of all the faithful at the foot of the Cross when our Lord says, “Behold your Mother.”
The Queen Mother of heaven crowned with the stars of heaven who gives birth to the Messiah.
The one who gives birth to the seed of Eve who will and has crushed the serpent’s head!
(Credit to Ben Harris for this litany)
Can you see it? Can you see the scope and beauty of what God has done in becoming flesh and choosing His vessel? Can you see her as God has given?
Behold thy Mother, Church!
Behold the one who, in her flesh, has born the incarnate Word of God, who now calls you brother and sister!
Behold thy Mother, through the Son, who is given from the Father in the unity of the Spirit before all time!
Behold and worship Christ the Lord!