DAILY CATHOLIC    THURSDAY     December 23, 1999     vol. 10, no. 244

APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH

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SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO
    INTRODUCTION
      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. For points covered thus far, click on APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH

THE BIBLE: THE BOOKS OF EZECHIEL THROUGH SOPHONIA (ZEPHANIAH)

EZECHIEL

       Ezechiel's complex character makes him one of the most interesting figures in Israelites prophecy. In many ways he resembles the more primitive type of prophet represented by Elias and Eliseus; yet he clearly depends on all his predecessors in prophecy, and his teachng is a development of theirs. His unique contribution to the history of prophetism lies in his manifest interest in the temple and the liturgy, an interest paralleled in no other prophet-even Jeremiah who, like Ezechiel, was also a priest. Particularly because of this interest, Ezechiel's influence on post-exilic religion was enormous, and not without reason has he been called "the father of Judaism." This has resulted in his prophecies reaching us with the evident marks of editing and addition by the post-exilic circles throughout what is in substance the prophet's own work.

        Ezechiel became a prohet in Babylon-the first prophet to receive the call to prophesy outside the Holy Land. As one of the exiles deported by Nabuchodonosor in 597, his first task was to prepare his fellow countrymen in Babylon for the final destruction of Jerusalem, which they believed to be inviolable. Accordingly, the first part of his book consists of reproaches for Israel's past and present sins and the confident prediction of yet a further devastationof the land of promise and a more general exile. In 587, when Nabuchodonosor destroyed Jerusalem, Ezechiel was vindicated before his unbelieving compatriots.

        At this time, Ezechiel's message changes. From now on his prophecy is characterized by the promise of salvation ina new covenant, and he is anxious to lay down the conditions necessary to obtain it. Even as Jeremiah had believed, Ezechiel thought that the exiles were the hopeof Israel's restoration, once God's allotted time for the Exile had been accomplished. His final eight chapters are an utopian vision of the israel of the future, rid of its past evils and re-established firmly under the rule of the Lord. The famous vision of the dry bones in Chapter 37 expresses his firm belief in a forthcoming restoration, Israel rising to new life from the graveyard of Babylon. But Ezechiel's new covenant, like Jeremiah's , was to see its fulfillment only in the New Testament.

        Perhaps no other prophet has stressed the absolute majesty of God as Ezechiel does. This appears not only in the tremendous vision by the river Chobar with which his prophecy opens, but throughout the book. Ultimately, says Ezechiel, whatever God does to or for man is motivaated by zeal for His own holy name. The new heart and the new spirit which must exist under the new covenant cannot be the work of man; they too must be the work of God. By such teachings he helped prepare for the New Testament doctrine of salvation through grace.

        The Book of Ezechiel is divided as follows:

  • I. Call of the Prophet (1, 1-3, 27)
  • II. Before the Siege of Jerusalem (4, 1-24, 27)
  • III. Prophecies against Foreign Nations (25, 1-32, 32)
  • IV. Salvation for Israel 33, 1-39, 29)
  • V. The New Israel (40, 1-48, 35).

DANIEL

        This Book takes its name, not from the author, who is actually unknown, but from its hero, a young Jew taken early to Babylon, where he lived at least until 538 B.C. Strictly speaking, the book does not belong to the prophetic writings but rather to a distinctive type of literature known as "apocalyptic", of which it is an early specimen. Apocalyptic writing enjoyed its greatest popularity from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D., a time of distress and persecution for Jews, and later, for Christians. Though subsequent in time to the prophetic, apocalyptic literature has its roots in the teaching of the prophets, who often pointed ahead to the Day of the Lord, the consummation of history. For both prophet and apocalyptist Yahweh was the Lord of history, and He would ultimately vindicate His people.

        This work was composed during the bitter persecution carried on by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167-164) and was written to strengthen and comfort the Jewish people in their ordeal.

        The Book contains stories originating in and transmitted by popular traditions which tell of the trials and triumphs of the wise Daniel and his three companions. The moral is that men of faith can resist temptation and conquer adversity. The characters are not purely legendary but rest on sound historical tradition. What is more important than the question of historicity, and closer to the intentionof the author, is the fact that a persecuted Jew of the second century B.C. would quickly see the application of these stories to his own plight.

        Three follows a series of visions promising deliverance and glory to the Jews in the days to come. The great nations of the ancient world have risen in vain against Yahweh; His kingdom shall overthrow existing power and last forever. Under this apocalyptic imagery are contained some of the best elements of prophetic teaching: the insistence on right conduct, the divine control over events, the certainty that the kingdom of God will ultimately triumph. The arrival of the kingdom is a central theme of the Synoptic Gospels, and Jesus, in calling Himself the "Son of Man," reminds us that He fulfills the destiny of this mysterious figure in the seventh chapter of Daniel.

        The added episodes of Susanna, Bel, and the D ragon, found only in the Greek version, are edifying short stories with a didactic purpose. These three sections constitute the divisions of the Book of Daniel:

  • I. Daniel and the Kings of Babylon (1, 1--, 29)
  • II. Daniel's Visions (7, 1-12, 13)
  • III. Appendix 13, 1-14, 42).

HOSEA or OSEE

       Osee or Hosea belonged to the Northern Kingdom and b egan his prophetic caareer in the last years of Jeroboam II (786-746) B.C.). Some believe that he was a priest, others that he was a cult prophet; the prophecy, our only source of information concerning his life gives us no certain answer in the matter. The collected oracles reveal a very sensitive emotional man who could pass quickly vrom violent anger to the deepest tenderness. The prophecy pivots around his own unfortunate marriage to Gomer, a personal tragedy which profoundly influenced his teaching. In fact, his own prophetic voction and message were immeasurably deepened by the painful experience he underwent in his married life.

        Gome, the adulteress, symbolized faithless Israel. And just as Osee could not give up his wife forever even when she played the harlot, so Yahweh could not renounce Israel who had been betrothed to Him. God would chastise, but it would be the chastisement of the jealous lover, longing to bring back the beloved to the fresh and pure joy of their first love.

        Israel's infidelity took the form of idolatry and ruthless oppression of the poor. No amount of mechanically offered sacrifices could atone for her seriiious sins. Chastisement alone remained; God would have to strip her of the rich ornaments bestowed by her false lovers and thus bring her back to the true lover. A humiliated Israel would again seek Yahweh. The eleventh chapter of Osee is one of the summits of Old Testament theology. God's love for His people has never been expressed more tenderly. Osee began the tradition of describing the relation between Yahweh and Israel in terms of marriage. This symbolism appears later on in the Old Testament; and, in the New, both Saint John and Saint Paul express in the same imagery the union between Christ and His Church.

        The Book of Osee is divided as follows:

  • I. The Prophet's Marriage and Its Lesson (1, 1-3, 5)
  • II. Israel's Guilt and Punishment (4, 1-14, 10).

JOEL

        This prophecy is rich in apocalyptic imagery and strongly eschatological in tone. It was composed about 400 B.C. Its prevailing theme is the Day of the Lord.

        A terrible invasion of locusts ravaged Juda. So frightful was the scourge that the prophet visualized it as a symbol of the coming Day of the Lord. In the face of this threatening catastrophe, the prophet summoned the people to repent, to turn to the Lord with fasting and weeping. They were ordered to convoke a solemn assembly in which the priests would pray for deliverance. The Lord answered their prayer and promised to drive away the locusts and bless the land with peace and prosperity. To these material blessings would be added an outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh. Saint Peter, in his first discourse before the people at Pentecost (Acts 2: 16-21), sees in the coming of the Holy Spirit the fulfillment of this promise (1: 1-3, 5).

        The concluding poem pictures the nations gathered in the Valley of Josaphat, where the Lord is about to pass judgment. Israel's enemies are summoned to hear the solemn indictment; their evil deeds are at last requited. The tumultuous throng assembled in the valley of decision is made up of the enemies of God and they face inevitable destruction. The oracle changes abruptly from the terrifying image of judgment to a vision of Israel restored and forever secure from her enemies. God is both the vindicator of His people and the source of their blessings (4: 1-21).

AMOS

        Amos was a shepherd of Thecua in Juda, who exercised his ministry during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.). He prophesied in Israel at the great cult center of Bethel, from which he was finally expelled by the priest in charge of this royal sanctuary. The poetry of Amos, who denounces the hollow prosperity of the Northern Kingdom, is filled imagery and language taken from his own pastoral background. The book is an anthology of his oracles and was compiled either by the prophet or by some of his disciples.

        The prophecy begins with a sweeping indictment of Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, and Edom; but the forthright herdsman saves his climactic denunciation for Israel, whose injustice and idolatry are sins agains the light granted to her. Israel could indeed expect the Day of Yahweh, but it would be a day of darkness and not of light. When Amos prophesied the overthrow of the sanctuary, the fall of the royal house, and the captivity of the people, it was more than Israelite officialdom could bear. The priest of Bethel drove Amos from the shrine - but not before hearing a terrible sentence pronounced on himself.

        Amos is a prophet of Divine judgment, and the sovereignty of Yahweh in nature and history dominates his thought. But he was no innovator; his conservatism was in keeping with the whole prophetic tradition calling the people back to the high moral and religious demands of Yahweh's revelation. In common with the other prophets, Amos knew that Divine punishment is never completely destructive; it is part of the hidden plan of God to bring salvation to men. The perversity of the human will may retard, but it cannot totally frustrate, this design of a loving God. The last oracle opens up a perspective of restoration under a Davidic king.

        The Book of Amos may be divided as follows:

  • I. Judgement of the Nations (1: 1-2: 16)
  • II. Words and Woes for Israel (3: 1- 6: 14)
  • III. Symbolic Visions: Threats and Promises (7: 1-9, 8:)
  • IV. Epilogue: Messianic Perspective (9: 8-15).

OBADIAH or ABDIA

        The twenty-one verses of this book contain the shortest and sternest prophecy in the Old Testament. Nothing is known of the author, although his oracle against Edom, a long-standing enemy of Israel, indicates a date of composition sometime in the fifth century B.C. During this period the Edomites had been forced to abandon their ancient home near the Gulf of Agaba and had setttled in southern Juda, where they appear among the adversaries of the Jews returning from exile.

        The prophecy is a bitter cry for vengeance against Edom for its heinous crimes. The mountain of Esau will be occupied and ravaged by the enemy but Sio shall remain inviolate. Juda and Israel shall again form one natin; and that triumphant refrain of Israelite eschatology will be heard once more: "The Kingdom is the Lord's!" many of the verses in this prophecy can be paralleled in Jer. 49, 7-22, but it is difficult to determine the precise relationship between these similar passages.

JONAH

       Written in the post-Exilic era, probably in the fifth century B.C., this book is a didactic story with an important theological message. It concerns a disobedient prophet who attempted to run away from his divine commission, was cast overboard and swallowed by a great fish, rescued in a marvelous manner, and sent on his way to Niniveh, the traditional enemy of Israel. To the surprise of Jonah, the wicked city listened to his message of doom and repented immediately. All, from king to lowliest subject, humbled themselves in sackcloth and ashes. Seeing their repentance, God did not carry out the punishment He had planned for them. Whereupon Jonah complained to God about the unexpected success of his mission; he was bitter because Yahweh, instead of destroying had led the people to repentance and then spared them.

        From this partly humorous story, a very sublime lesson may be drawn. Jonah stands for a nowwor and vindictive mentality, all too common among the Jews of that period. Because they were the chosen people, a good many of them cultivated an intolerant way of thinking that nations as wicked as Assyria should escape His wrath.

        The prophecy, which is both instructive and entertaining, strikes directly at this viewpoint. It is a parable of mercy, showing that God's threatened punishments are but the expression of a merciful will which moves all men to repent and seek forgiveness. The universality of the story contrasts sharply with the particularistic spirit of many in the post-Exilic community. The book has also prepared the way for the Gospel with the message of redemption for all, both Jew and Gentile.

MICAH or MICHEA

       Micah or Michea was a contemporary of Isaia. Of his personal life and call we know nothing except that he came from the obscure village of Moreseth in the foothills. His were the broad vistas of the Judean lowland and the distant sea on the western horizon. With burning eloquence he attacked the rich exploiters of the poor, fraudulent merchants, venal judges, corrupt priests and prophets. To the man of the countryside the vicars of the nation seemed centered in its capitals, for both Samaria and Jerusalem are singled out for judgment. An interesting notice in Jer. 26, 17f informs us that the reform of Ezechia was influenced by the preaching of Michea. The prophecy may be divided into three parts:
  • I. The impending judgment of the Lord, followed by an exposition of its causes, Israel's sins. Censure of Juda's leaders for betrayal of their responsibility (1, 1-3, 12)
  • II. The glory of the restored Sion. A price of David's house will rule over a reunited Israel. (St. Matthew's Nativity narrative points to Christ's birth in Bethlehem as the fulfillment of this prophecy.) A remnant shall survive the chastisement of Juda and the adversaries shall be destroyed (4, 1-5, 14)
  • III. The case against Israel, in which the Lord is portrayed as the plaintiff who has maintained fidelity to the covenant. The somber picture closes with a prayer for national restoration and a beautiful expression of trust in God's pardoning mercy (6, 1-7, 20).

        It should be noted that each of these three divisions begins with reproach and the threat of punishment, and ends on a note of hope and promise.

NAHUM

       Shortly before the fall of Niniveh in 612B.C., Nahum uttered his prophecy against the hated city. To understand the prophet's exultant outburst of joy over the impending destruction it is necessary to recall the savage cruelty of Assyria, which had made it the scourge of the ancient Near East for almost three centuries. The royal inscriptions of Assyria affod the best commentary on the burning denunciation of "the bloody city." In the wake of their conquests, mounds of heads, impaled bodies, enslaved citizens, and avaricious looters testified to the ruthlessness of the Assyrians. Little wonder that Juda joined in the general outburst of joy over the destruction of Niniveh!

        But Nahum is not a prophet of unrestrained revenge. God's moral government of the world is asserted. Yahweh is the avenger but He is also merciful, a citadel in the day of distress. Ninive's doom was a judgment on the wicked city. Before many years passed Jerusalem too was to learn the meaning of such a judgment.

        The Book is divided as follows:

  • I. The Lord's Coming in Judgment (1, 2-2, 1, 3)
  • II. The Imminent Fall of Niniveh (2, 2-3, 19).

HABACUC

        This prophecy dates from the years 605-597 B.C., or between the great Babylonian victory at Carchemish and Nabuchodonosor's invasion of Juda which culminated in the capture of Jerusalem. The situation of Juda was desperate at this time, with political intrigue and idolatry widespread in the small kingdom. The first two chapters consist of a dialogue between the prophet and the Lord. For what may be the first time in Israelite literature, a man questions the ways of God, as Habacuc calls Him to account for His government of the world. To this question God replies that He has prepared a chastising rod, Babylon, which will be the avenging instrument in His hand. There is added the Divine assurance that the just Israelite will not perish in the calamities about to be visited on the nation.

        The third chapter is a magnificent religious lyric, filled with reminiscences of Israel's past and rich in literacy borrowings from the poetry of ancient Chanaan, though still expressing authentic Israelite faith. God appears in all His majestic splendor and executes vengeance on Juda's enemies. The prophecy ends with a joyous profession of confidence in the Lord, the Savior.

SOPHONIA or ZEPHANIAH

        The title of the prophecy informs us that the ministry of Sophonia took place during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). The protest against hte worship of false gods and the condemnation of the pro-Assyrian court ministers who served as regents during Josiah's minority allow us to place the work in the first decade of the reign. Accordingly, the prophecy of Sophonia comes rightly before that of Jeremiah, who was probably influenced by it in both language and ideas.

        The age of Sophonia was a time of religious degradation, when the old idolatries reappeared and men worshipped sun, moon, and stars. Rites completely alien to the pure monotheism taught by Moses flourished in Jerusalem. To the corrupt city Sophonia announced the impending judgment, the Day of the Lord. The prophecy may be divided into three sections, corresponding to the three chapters of the book:

  • I. The Day of the Lord: A day of doom. The last few verses of this oracle give the classic description of the Day of the Lord as an overwhelming disaster. The Christian hymn Dies Irae is based on this passage (1: 2-18).
  • II. The Day of the Lord: A day of judgment of the nations, traditional enemies of God's people (2: 1-15).

      Tomorrow: The Bible: Aggai through Macchabees

December 23, 1999       volume 10, no. 244
GREAT DEPOSIT OF FAITH

DAILY CATHOLIC

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