A Sharp-Edged Sword

This morning I was reading the Mass readings from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant.  Four passages in Isaiah are designated as “Servant Songs.” These are poems which the early Christians saw was a foreshadowing of Jesus.  They are Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-7, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12.  In this case, I was reading Isaiah 49: 1-7.

1 2 Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
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3 He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.
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4 You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.
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Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.
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For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, That Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; And I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!
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5 It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
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Thus says the LORD, the redeemer and the Holy One of Israel, To the one despised, whom the nations abhor, the slave of rulers: When kings see you, they shall stand up, and princes shall prostrate themselves Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.

I was particularly struck by verse 3:   “He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.”

A sharp-edged sword.  It’s not what we usually think of Jesus.  Loving, gentle, guiding Jesus.  Our light.  This Jesus is a polished arrow, a sharp-edged sword….a King.

Usually, when I picture Jesus I see the Sacred Heart or the Divine Mercy, which are “soft,” gentle pictures – but really he is a strong figure.  He is more like the “Pantocrator” above, which is a 6th Century icon from Mt. Sinai in Egypt.  I have this picture, on wood, in my home and it is my favorite picture of Jesus.

If I think of Jesus as a strong, confident King – along the lines of King David – I find that I have a greater reverence to Him.  It seems to be easier to follow this Jesus.  He has everything in order.  His battle plan is ready.  He is my leader and I am in his service.  He has a mission for me that only I can do.  One that He has created from before I was born.  I need to be faithful and strong in the face of the enemy.  I also need to show honor, reverence and adoration to my King.

It is hard to follow a wimpy Christ, but when I think of my Savior and my King as he is – the Creator of the world, who holds the world and it’s creatures in the palm of His hand – I know that I have a strong leader.  A leader who I can follow, and to whom I am also accountable to.  It is harder to try to escape my duties or make excuses to a King who is a Sharp-Edged Sword.

It Is Still Lent

It seems sometimes that Lent lasts forever, or maybe it is just the trials everyone seems to be going through this Lent, that it appears that way.  Since Lent feels like it is lasting a long time, I thought I would give you a few more Lenten resources that could be helpful to you:

Eric Sammons at The Divine Life blog posted this wonderful speech given by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Houston/Galveston at the Convocation of Houston Baptist University
What is great about this is the excellent unpacking of John 14:6 (”I am the way, the truth, and the life.”)  I found his scholarship and faith riveting and enjoyed watching it very much.

Edward Pentin at the National Catholic Register has a link to a beautiful panoramic virtual tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the church that marks the place of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The detail and clarity of the tour is marvelous and you might find it helpful in meditation.

I wish I could remember where I found this in my travels online, but here is a link to the National Gallery of Art in Washington where they have a beautiful exhibition until the end of May called “The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700”  Click on Exhibition Highlights to see a beautiful slideshow of this sacred art.  These stunning works would also be wonderful for meditation and each has a brief explanation that is very helpful.

Lectio Divina – Learning to Pray with the Scriptures

Lectio Divina means “Divine Reading” and is an ancient form of prayer that uses scripture passages as a basis of meditation and prayer. It has been a recommended form of Christian prayer for centuries.

Pope Benedict XVI said in 2005:

“I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church – I am convinced of it – a new spiritual springtime.”

The FishEaters website has the best explanation of how to do Lectio Divina that I have come across. It is excellent and gives you a good history of this method of prayer as well. Most of the sites that I have seen that write about Lectio Divina try to incorporate it with Eastern forms of prayer, which are not Christian, so I was happy to find this one.

While the author of this prayer guide is a big proponent of the Douay-Rheims translation of the bible, which is the Catholic bible used until 1970, you should feel comfortable to use any Catholic bible you have. In fact, it is a good idea to own several translations to compare passages. Beside the Douay-Rheims translation, there are two other excellent translations you might want to explore: the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (RSV-CE, commonly known as the Ignatius Bible) and also the Jerusalem Bible.

The RSV-CE is the Bible used by some of the best and most faithful Catholic bible scholars, and is one of the most accurate translations in English. There is a new Second Edition that has a bit more modern English, as well.

A good Catholic bible commentary was recommended to help understand passages for prayer. An excellent commentary you should check out is the Navarre Bible. It is the best commentary for laymen that I know of. It comes in individual volumes of the books of the bible or in clusters of books.

Like all new things, Lectio Divina, takes a little bit of practice, but in a short time each stage will flow easily from one to another without much thought. Praying in this format will bring great peace and blessings to you and help you in your quest for closeness with God.

Here are a couple of other links that may be useful as well:
Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer
What is Lectio Divina?

UPDATE:  Here is a great article from the National Catholic Register about using modern technology to aid us in Lectio Divina  – Wired For the Word of God:  Lectio Divina in the Digital Age

and a beautiful article from a Carmelite Prior General about the Fundamental Elements of Carmelite Spirituality in which Contemplation and Lectio Divina play a major part.

The Thrill of Discovery

Gospel of Mark, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)
Do you ever get a thrill when you discover a really cool new thing? What does it for you? New car? An iPod? For me it’s books or a website with stuff I have not seen before. Yeah, I know it’s pretty pathetic, but I’m a bookworm by heart and always have been. Yep, I was the teenager that hung out at the library. I was the one who checked out dozens of romance novels paperbacks at a time, and returned in two weeks for more.

At one point, I decided that I would read 1000 books in ten years. I did it in three. I kept a log with the book’s name, author, and a rating from one to four stars. It was handy since I would forget if I read a book and would have to go back and look in my records before I checked it out. See, I told you I was pathetic.

I’m at the point in my life that I have to be a little choosy because I don’t have a lot of time. I rarely read fiction. I really have not read much fiction for years. I just don’t like it anymore. I want to learn things, and truth is much stranger than fiction anyway. Last week, I finally got a hold of the latest Malcolm Gladwell book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. It is always a thrill to read the latest Malcolm Gladwell book and I might just go back and read them again. A few days ago I finished Beating Back the Devilabout the disease detectives at the CDC.

Today’s thrill was brought on by a post at Patrick Madrid’s site: Some Advice for Catholics Who Want to Study Scripture More Deeply. Mr. Madrid posted an audio clip from his radio show and gave the caller some great advice for resources he could use to learn more about scripture. Most of these resources I have known about but the last one… yay, something new! It is the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series. And I’m looking forward to seeing it. I immediately ordered one of the volumes from interlibrary loan and I will let you know what I find. In the meantime it looks great, here is a sample page for your viewing pleasure.