DAILY CATHOLIC    WEDNESDAY     December 22, 1999     vol. 10, no. 243


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      Every day we present a short point that helps bring into focus the treasures of the Roman Catholic Church that comprise the great Deposit of Faith.

      It is no secret that over the past thirty years fewer and fewer know their Faith and it shows with the declining number of vocations, parish participation and attendance at Holy Mass. We have the new Catechism of the Catholic Church but for the common man, the one brought up on sound bites and instant gratification, it is more of a text book and that in itself prompts them to shy away from such a tome. So what's a loyal Catholic to do in evangelizing to fellow Catholics and understand their Faith? Our answer: go back to basics - to the great Deposit of Faith. We have the Baltimore Catechism which, for unknown and ridiculous reasons, was shelved after Vatican II. We have the Holy Bible but there are so many newer versions that the Douay-Rheims and Confraternity Latin Vulgate in English versions, the ones used for so long as the official Scriptural text authorized by the Church, seem lost in a maze of new interpretations that water down the Word. This is further complicated by the fact there are so few Douay-Rheims editions in circulation though it is available on the net at DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE. We have so many Vatican documents available at the Vatican web site and other excellent Catholic resource sites that detail Doctrine, Dogma and Canon Law. We have the traditions, and the means of grace but how do we consolidate all these sources into one where it is succinct and easy to understand? We have the perfect vehicle. It is called "My Catholic Faith", now out of print, that was compiled by Bishop Louis Laravoire Morrow and published by My Mission House. This work ties in Scriptural references, the Sacraments, Dogmas, Doctrines, Traditions, Church documents, Encyclical and Papal decrees to clearly illustrate the Faith in simple, solid and concise terms that all can understand and put into practice. We will quote from this work while adding in more recent events and persons when applicable since the book was written in the late forties during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. We also quote from the Catholic Almanac published by Our Sunday Visitor for the Roman Curial offices and from Old Testament Confraternity Edition and New Testament Confraternity Edition of the Saint Joseph New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible.

    Nothing in Holy Mother Church's teaching has changed and therefore we feel confident that these daily "points of enlightenment" will help more Catholics better understand their faith, especially those who were not blessed with early formation of the faith in the home and their parish school. Regardless of where any Catholic is in his or her journey toward salvation, he or she has to recognize that the Faith they were initiated into at the Sacrament of Baptism is the most precious gift they have been given in life.



       The Book of Sirach derives its name from the author, Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach (50: 27). It's earliest title seems to have been "Wisdom of the Son of Sirach." The designation "Liber Ecclesiasticus" meaning "Church Book" appended to some Greek and Latin manuscripts, was due to the extensive use which the Church made of this book in presenting moral teaching to catechumens and to the faithful.

        The author, a sage who lived in Jerusalem was thoroughly imbued with love for the Law, the priesthood, the temple, and Divine worship. As a wise and experienced observer of life he addressed himself to his contemporaries with the motive of helping them to maintain religious faith and integrity through study of the holy books, and through tradition.

        The book contains numerous maxims formulated with care, grouped by affinity, and dealing with a variety of subjects such as the individual, the family, and the community in their relations with one another and with God. It treats of friendship, education, poverty and wealth, the Law, religious worship, and many other matters which reflect the religious and social customs of the time.

        Written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 B.C., the text was translated into Greek sometime after 132 B.C. by the author's grandson, who also wrote a Foreword which contains information about the book, the author, and the translator himself. Until the close of the nineteenth century Sirach was known only in translations, of which this Greek rendering was the most important. From it the Latin version was made. Between 1896 and 1900, and again in 1931, documents were discovered containing in all about two thirds of the Hebrew text, which agrees substantially with the Greek.

        Though not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first century A.D., nor accepted by Protestants, the Book of Sirach has always been recognized by the Catholic Church as divinely inspired and canonical. The Foreword, though not inspired, is placed in the Bible because of its antiquity and importance.

        The contents of Sirach are of a discursive nature and are not easily divided into separate parts. Chapters 1 through 43 deal with moral instruction; chapters 44 through 50: 24 contain a eulogy of the fathers and of some of the patriarchs. There are also two appendices in which the author expresses his thanksgiving to God, and appeals to the unlearned to acquire true wisdom. The Church uses the Book of Sirach extensively in her liturgy.


        The greatest of the prophets - Isaiah - appeared at a critical moment of Israel's history. The second half of the eighth century B.C. witnessed the collapse of the Northern Kingdom under the hammerlike blows of Assyria (722), while Jerusalem itself saw the army of Sennacherib drawn up before its walls (701). In the year that Ozia, king of Juda, died (742), Isaiah received his call to the prophetic office in the Temple of Jerusalem. Close attention should be given to chapter 6, where this divine summons to be the ambassador of the Most High is circumstantially described.

        The vision of the Lord enthroned in glory stamps an indelible character on Isaia's ministry and provides the keys to the understanding of his message. The majesty, holiness and glory of the Lord took possession of his spirit and, conversely, he gained a new awareness of human pettiness and sinfulness. The enormous abyss between God's sovereign holiness and man's sin overhwlemed the prophet. Only the purifying coal of the seraphim could cleanse his lips and prepare him for the acceptance of the call: "Here I am, send me!".

        The ministry of Isaiah may be divided into three periods, covering the reigns of Joatham (742-735), Achaz (735-715), and Ezechia (715-687). To the first period belong, for the most part, the early oracles (1-5) which exposed the moral breakdown of Juda and its capital, Jerusalem. With the accession of Achaz, the prophet became adviser to the king whose throne was threatened by the Syro-Ephramite coalition. Rejecting the plea of Isiah for faith and courage, the weak Achaz turned to Assyria for help. From this period came the majority of Messianic oracles found in the section of Emmanuel prophecies (6-12).

        Ezechia succeeded his father and undertook a religious reform which Isaia undoubtedly suppoted. But the old intrigues began again, and the king was soon won over to the pro-Egyptian parth. Isaiah denounced this "covenant with death" and again summoned Juda to faith in Yahweh as her only hope. But it was too late; the revolt had already begun. Assyria acted quickly and her army, after ravaging Juda, laid seige to Jerusalem (701). "I shut up Exechia like a bird in his cage," boasts the famous inscription of Sennacherib. But Yahweh delivered the city, as Isaiah had promised: God is the Lord of history, and Assyria but an instrument in His hands.

        Little is known about the last days of this great religious leader, whose oracles of singular poetic beauty and power constantly reminded his wayward people of their destiny and the fidelity of Yahweh to His promises.

        The complete Book of Isaiah is an anthology of poems composed chiefly by the great prophet, but also by disciples, some of whom came many years after Isaiah. In 1-39 most of the oracles come from Isaiah and faithfully relfect the situation in eighty-century Juda. To disciples deeply influenced by the prophet belong sections such as the Apocalypse of Isaiah (24-27), the oracles against Babylon (13-14), and probably the poems of 34-35.

        Chapters 40-55, sometimes called the Deutero-Isaiah, are generally attributed to an anonymous poet who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian Exile. From this section come the great Messianic oracles known as the songs of the Servant, whose mysterious destiny of suffereing and glorification is fulfilled in the passion and glorification of Christ. Chapters 56-66 contain oracles from a later period and were composed by disciples who inherited the spirit and continued the work of the great prophet.

        The principal divisions of the Book of Isaiah are the following:

  • A. The Book of Judgment: I. Indictment of Israel and Juda (1, 1-5, 30). II. Emmanuel Prophecies (6, 1-12, 6). III. Oracles against the Pagan Nations (13, 1-23, 18). IV. Apocalypse of Isaia (24, 1-27, 13). V. The Lord Alone, Israel's and Juda's Salvation (28, 1-33, 24). VI. The Lord, Sion's Avenger (34, 1-25, 10). VII. Historical Appendix (36, 1-39, 8).
  • B. The Book of Consolation: I. The Lord's Glory in Israel's Liberation (40, 1-48, 21). II. Expiation of Sin, Spiritual Liberation of Israel (49, 1-55, 13). III. Return of the First Captives (56, 1-66, 24).


        The book of Jeremiah combines history, biography and prophecy. It portrays a nation in crisis and introduces the reader to an extraordinary leader upon whom the Lord placed the heavy burden of the prophetic office. Jeremiah was born about 650 B.C. of a priestly family from the little village of Anathoth, near Jerusalem. While still very young he was called to this task in the thirteenth year of King Josiah (628), whose reform, begun with enthusiasm and hope, ended with his death on the battlefield of Mageddo (609) as he attempted to stop the northward march of the Egyptian Pharao Necho.

        The prophet heartily supported the reform of the pious King Josiah, which began in 629 B.C. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell in 612, preparing the way for the new colossus, Babylon, which was soon to put an end to Judean independence.

        After the death of Josiah, the old idolatry returned. Jeremiah opposed it with all his strength. Arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace were his lot. Jeremiah saw in the nation's impenitence the sealing of its doom. Nabuchodonosor captured Jerusalem and carried King Joachin into exile (22, 24)

        During the years 598-597, Jeremiah attempted to counsel Sedeciah in the face of bitter opposition. The false prophet Hananiah proclaimed that the yoke of Babylon was broken and a strong pro-Egyptian party in Jerusalem induced Sedeciah to revolt. Nabachodonosor took swift and terrible vengeance; Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 and its leading citicens sent into exile. About this time Jeremiah uttered the great oracle of the "New Covenant" (31: 31-34) sometimes called "The Gospel before the Gospel." This passage contains his most sublime teaching and is a landmark in Old Testament theology.

        The prophet remained amidst the ruins of Jerusalem, but was later forced into Egyptian exile by a band of conspirators. There, according to an old tradition, he was murdered by his own countrymen. The influence of Jeremiah was greater after his death than before. The exiled community read and meditated on the lessons of the prophet, and his influence can be seen in Ezechiel, certain of the Psalms, and the second part of Isaiah. Shortly after the Exile, the Book of Jeremiah as we have it today was published in a final edition. It is divided as follows:

  • I. Oracles in the Days of Josiah (1: 1-6, 30)
  • II. Oracles Mostly in the Days of Joachim (7: 1-20; 18:)
  • III. Oracles in the Last Years of Jerusalem (21: 1-33; 26:)
  • IV. Fall of Jerusalem (5:, 34: 1-45)
  • V. Oracles against the Nations (45: 1-51, 64) and
  • VI. Historical Appendix (52: 1-34).


       The sixth century B.C. was an age of crisis, a turning point in the history of Israel. With the destruction of the temple and the interruption of its ritual, the exile of the leaders and loss of national sovereignty, an era came to an end. Not long after the fall of Jerusalem (587) an eyewitness of the national humiliation composed these five laments. They combine confession of sin, grief, over the suffering and humiliation of Zion, submission to merited chastisement, and strong faith in the constancy of Yahweh's love and power to restore. This union of poignant grief and unquenchable hope reflects the constant prophetic vision of the weakness of the weakness of man and the strength of God's love; it also shows how Israel's faith in Yahweh could survive the shattering experience of national ruin.

        As a literary work, the Book of Lamentations is carefully constructed according to a familiar poetic device. The first four poems are acrostics in which the separate stanzas begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet from the first to the last. Far from destroying the spontaneous pathos of songs, this literary feature permits a symbolic and disciplined expression of the profound grief, the sinful responsibility, and the enduring hope of the suffering community. The figure of Israel as the bride of Yahweh, familiar from the prophets, appears here again; but now Zion is a desolate widow, the Judaea Capta of Titus' memorial coins, sustained only by the faith that God's chastisement will eventually give place to His infinite compassion.


       The opening verses of this book ascribe it, or at least its first part, to Baruch, the well-known secretary of the prophet Jeremiah. It contains five very differnet compositions of the first and the last in prose , the others in poetic form. The prose sections were certainly composed in Hebrew, though the earliest known form of the book is in Greek.

        An observance of the feast of Tabernacles with a public prayer of penitence and petition (1: 15 - 3: 8), such as is supposed by the introduction (1: 1-14), would not have been possible during the lifetime of Baruch after the fall of Jerusalem; this indeed is suggested in the prayer itself (2: 26). The prayer is therefore to be understood as the pious reflection of a later Jewish writer upon the circumstances of the exiles in Babylonas he knew them from the Book of Jeremiah. He expresses in their name sentiments called for by the prophet, and ascribes the wording of these sentiments to the person most intimately acquainted with Jeremiah's teaching, namely, Baruch. The purpose of this literary device is to portray for his own and later generations the spirit of repentance which prompted God to bring the Exile to an end.

        The lesson thus gained is followed by a hymn in praise of Wisdom (3: 9 - 4: 4), exalting the Law of Moses as the unique gift of God to Israel, the observance of which is the way to life and peace. The ideal city of Jerusalem is then represented (4: 5-29) as the solicitous mother of all exiles, who is assured in the name of God that all her children will be restored to her (4: 30 - 5: 9).

        The final chapter is really a separate work, with a title of its own (6: 1). It is patterned after the earlier letter of Jeremiah (Jer. 29), in the spirit of the warnings against idolatry contained in Jer. 10 and Isaiah 44. Its earnestness is impressive, but in restating previous inspired teachings at a later day, it does so with no special literary grace.

        Thus the principal divisions of the book are seen to be:

  • I. Prayer of the Exiles (1: 1-3, 8)
  • II. Praise of Wisdom in the Law of Moses (3: 9 - 4: 4)
  • III. Jerusalem Bewails an dconsoles Her Captive Children (4: 5-29)
  • IV. The Captivity about to End
  • V. The Letter of Jeremiah against Idolatry (6: 1-72).

      Tomorrow: The Bible: Ezechiel to Sophiania (Zephaniah)

December 22, 1999       volume 10, no. 243


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