August 4, 2010
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
August 8: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: The Wisdom of Solomon (our first reading) was written in the latter part of the first century B.C., probably in Alexandria, Egypt. It was composed by a Greek-speaking Jew to preserve the memory of how God had guided his people in their long, difficult journey through history, and how he continues to guide them by his wisdom. The author recalls “our fathers,” the patriarchs. Chief among them was Abraham who was promised by God that his descendents would become a great nation (Gn 12:2). The remembrance of God’s promises each Passover reaffirmed the “oath” sworn by God and Abraham, which established the covenant. By renewing their pledge of fidelity, the Jews of Alexandria were encouraged to live out their faith in a non-Jewish society. Hebrews 11 is sometimes called the “roll call of the heroes of faith.” But that’s not quite right, for heroes are known for their achievements while the individuals listed in this chapter are known for their faith. In this week’s second reading Abraham is celebrated as a prime example of faith. At pivotal moments in salvation history, ordinary individuals like Abraham were called to extraordinary tasks that tested their faith. The “oath” that Abraham swore gave him the fortitude to persevere when his faith was challenged. In this week’s Gospel Jesus calls his disciples to perseverance and vigilance. “Gird your loins and light your lamps” is an allusion to the Exodus and the yearly celebration of the Passover, which carried over into the weekly celebration of the Eucharist. While this reading is usually understood in terms of the Second Coming, it is relevant to the Eucharist, which also requires vigilance and preparation “as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” In the Mass, we renew our own baptismal covenant and confirm the oath that Abraham swore.
Key verse: “The night of the Passover was known beforehand to our fathers, that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage” (Wis 18:6).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: The second commandment forbids false oaths. Taking an oath or swearing is to take God as witness to what one affirms. It is to invoke the divine truthfulness as a pledge of one's own truthfulness” (No. 2150).
Pope Benedict XVI: “We are not allowed neutrality when faced with the question of God. We can only say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and this with all the consequences extending right down to the smallest details of life” (“The Yes of Jesus Christ”).
Life application: The simple act of going to church on Sunday is a courageous deed, believe it or not. By keeping the Sabbath day holy and celebrating the Eucharist we renew our baptismal covenant and pledge our fidelity to Christ the Lord. By doing so, we acquire fortitude to profess our faith amidst an unbelieving and sometimes hostile world.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.