Another footnote

[Note: the first time I tried to post this this morning, it crashed.  I’ve never had that happen with Word Press.  Makes me wonder how important this post may be for one of you . . .]

I recently posted about a footnote that had grabbed me.  The other night–the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday–some of us were talking about another footnote–no. 52 to be exact, in Blessed (!) John Paul II’s encyclical, Rich in Mercy–and its impact on each of us.  I remember exactly where I was when I first read it and how profound I found it.  May his insights into the Old Testament use of the words for mercy shape your minds and hearts:

“In describing mercy, the books of the Old Testament use two expressions in particular, each having a different semantic nuance. First there is the term hesed, which indicates a profound attitude of “goodness.” When this is established between two individuals, they do not just wish each other well; they are also faithful to each other by virtue of an interior commitment, and therefore also by virtue of a faithfulness to themselves. Since hesed also means “grace” or “love,” this occurs precisely on the basis of this fidelity. The fact that the commitment in question has not only a moral character but almost a juridical one makes no difference. When in the Old Testament the word hesed is used of the Lord, this always occurs in connection with the covenant that God established with Israel. This covenant was, on God’s part, a gift and a grace for Israel. Nevertheless, since, in harmony with the covenant entered into, God had made a commitment to respect it, hesed also acquired in a certain sense a legal content. The juridical commitment on God’s part ceased to oblige whenever Israel broke the covenant and did not respect its conditions. But precisely at this point, hesed, in ceasing to be a juridical obligation, revealed its deeper aspect: it showed itself as what it was at the beginning, that is, as love that gives, love more powerful than betrayal, grace stronger than sin.

This fidelity vis-a-vis the unfaithful “daughter of my people”(cf. Lam. 4:3, 6) is, in brief, on God’s part, fidelity to Himself. This becomes obvious in the frequent recurrence together of the two terms hesed we’e met (= grace and fidelity), which could be considered a case of hendiadys (cf. e.g. Ex. 34:6; 2 Sm. 2:6; 15:20; Ps. 25[24]:10; 40[39]:11-12; 85[84]:11; 138[137]:2; Mi. 7:20). “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name” (Ez. 36:22). Therefore Israel, although burdened with guilt for having broken the covenant, cannot lay claim to God’s hesed on the basis of (legal) justice; yet it can and must go on hoping and trusting to obtain it, since the God of the covenant is really “responsible for his love.” The fruits of this love are forgiveness and restoration to grace, the reestablishment of the interior covenant.

“The second word which in the terminology of the Old Testament serves to define mercy is rahamim. This has a different nuance from that of hesed. While hesed highlights the marks of fidelity to self and of “responsibility for one’s own love” (which are in a certain sense masculine characteristics), rahamim, in its very root, denotes the love of a mother (rehem = mother’s womb). From the deep and original bond-indeed the unity-that links a mother to her child there springs a particular relationship to the child, a particular love. Of this love one can say that it is completely gratuitous, not merited, and that in this aspect it constitutes an interior necessity: an exigency of the heart. It is, as it were, a “feminine” variation of the masculine fidelity to self expressed by hesed. Against this psychological background, rahamim generates a whole range of feelings, including goodness and tenderness, patience and understanding, that is, readiness to forgive.

The Old Testament attributes to the Lord precisely these characteristics when it uses the term rahamim in speaking of Him. We read in Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is. 49:15). This love, faithful and invincible thanks to the mysterious power of motherhood, is expressed in the Old Testament texts in various ways: as salvation from dangers, especially from enemies; also as forgiveness of sins-of individuals and also of the whole of Israel; and finally in readiness to fulfill the (eschatological) promise and hope, in spite of human infidelity, as we read in Hosea: “I will heal their faithlessness, I will love them freely” (Hos. 14:5).

“In the terminology of the Old Testament we also find other expressions, referring in different ways to the same basic content. But the two terms mentioned above deserve special attention. They clearly show their original anthropomorphic aspect: in describing God’s mercy, the biblical authors use terms that correspond to the consciousness and experience of their contemporaries. The Greek terminology in the Septuagint translation does not show as great a wealth as the Hebrew: therefore it does not offer all the semantic nuances proper to the original text. At any rate, the New Testament builds upon the wealth and depth that already marked the Old.

In this way, we have inherited from the Old Testament-as it were in a special synthesis-not only the wealth of expressions used by those books in order to define God’s mercy, but also a specific and obviously anthropomorphic “psychology” of God: the image of His anxious love, which in contact with evil, and in particular with the sin of the individual and of the people, is manifested as mercy. This image is made up not only of the rather general content of the verb hanan but also of the content of hesed and rahamim. The term hanan expresses a wider concept: it means in fact the manifestation of grace, which involves, so to speak, a constant predisposition to be generous, benevolent and merciful.

“In addition to these basic semantic elements, the Old Testament concept of mercy is also made up of what is included in the verb hamal, which literally means “to spare” (a defeated enemy) but also “to show mercy and compassion,” and in consequence forgiveness and remission of guilt. There is also the term hus, which expresses pity and compassion, but especially in the affective sense. These terms appear more rarely in the biblical texts to denote mercy. In addition, one must note the word ‘emet already mentioned: it means primarily “solidity, security” (in the Greek of the Septuagint: “truth”) and then “fidelity,” land in this way it seems to link up with the semantic content proper to the term hesed.”

“To make visible the marvels wrought by God”

Yesterday, November 21, is usually observed as the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.  (This year it was superseded by the Feast of Christ the King.)  The Presentation of Mary is always a special day for consecrated religious.  Fr. Peter John Cameron, in his book Mysteries of the Virgin Mary,  explains it this way:

The Presentation of Mary in the temple is an act of consecration.  This feast hold special significance for those persons called to consecrated life in the Church; at the same time it moves all people to reflect on the meaning of consecrated life for the Church.

He goes on to cite a quote from John Paul II that I have also found very encouraging for myself, as one called to consecrated life:

What Pope John Paul II says about consecrated life in his apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata is revealed first and foremost in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially as Our Lady is presented in the temple:

The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called.  They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world.  To people’s astonishment they respond by proclaiming the wonders of grace accomplished by the Lord in those whom he loves . . . . It is the duty of consecrated life to show that the Incarnate Son of God is . . . the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart.

Please pray for us that we may fulfill this duty wholeheartedly, that God’s marvels may be manifest “in the frail humanity of those [of us] who are called”.

In moments of weariness

I find it comforting to know that Mary is always there as a mother for us to turn to:

della Robbia VisitationAnd in moments of weariness, raise your eyes to Mary, the Virgin who, forgetting herself, set out ‘with haste’ for the hills to reach her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was in need of help and assistance.  Let her be the inspiration of your daily dedication to duty; let her suggest to you the right words and opportune gestures at the bedside of the sick; let her comfort you in misunderstandings and failures, helping you always keep a smile on your face and a hope in your heart.  (John Paul II, Rome 1979)

Which reminds me of another wonderful quote, this time from Bernard:

O you, whoever you are, who feel that in the tidal wave of this world you are nearer to being tossed about among the squalls and gales than treading on dry land, if you do not want to founder in the tempest, do not avert your eyes from the brightness of this star. When the wind of temptation blows up within you, when you strike upon the rock of temptation, gaze up at this star, call out to Mary. Whether you are being tossed about by the waves of pride or ambition or slander or jealousy, gaze up at this star, call out to Mary. When rage or greed or fleshly desires are battering the skiff of your soul, gaze up at Mary. When the immensity of your sins weighs you down and you are bewildered by the loathsomeness of your conscience, when the terrifying thought of judgment appalls you and you begin to founder in the gulf of sadness and despair, think of Mary. In dangers, in hardships, in every doubt, think of Mary, call out to Mary. Keep her in your mouth, keep her in your heart. Follow the example of her life and you will obtain the favor of her prayer. Following her, you will never go astray. Asking her help, you will never despair. Keeping her in your thoughts, you will never wander away. With your hand in hers, you will never stumble. With her protecting you, you will not be afraid. With her leading you, you will never tire. Her kindness will see you through to the end.

Why not be afraid?

Why shouldn’t we be afraid in fear-provoking situations?

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Today on my way home from dropping one of our sisters at the Ypsi Emmanuel House, I tuned in to Fr. John Riccardo on WDEO.  He mentioned that the most used phrase in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is “Be not afraid!”  He also pointed out that it was said when the recipients were in pretty scary situations.  Yet, that is the most common thing the Lord says to us.  And, need I say, the most common thing our beloved John Paul II said to us. So, let’s pursue this a bit–why should we not be afraid in a situation that is obviously fear-provoking?

Here’s a little bit of an exercise for you:

  1. Look up one or two of these passages: Luke 1:8-13; Luke 1:26-30; Luke 2:8-11; Isaiah 43:1-5; Matthew 14: 22-27; Matthew 17:1-7; Revelation 1:12-18
  2. Think about the situations which cause you fear.
  3. Based on what God reveals in the passage(s) you read, ponder and write down why you should not be afraid.  Let me point out that it’s natural for us to be afraid in many situations, but why does God tell us to not be afraid?
  4. Feel free to let me (us) know what you find out. (Leave a comment.)
  5. If you’ve got a concordance, look up more passages.