The sign of the Cross is a very “Catholic” gesture. It “reminds us in a physical way of the Paschal Mystery we celebrate: the death and Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.”1
Dali’s “Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)” is very “Catholic,” too; although not it’s not like the mass-produced 19th-century stuff many associate with our faith.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a half-millennium from now, some tight-collar Catholics will be upset by new art that doesn’t present the Cross as an unfolded tesseract, and that’s yet another topic. Topics.
This morning’s readings, Genesis 12:1–4A; 2 Timothy 1:8B-10; and Matthew 17:1–9; cover something like a dozen centuries, from the time Abram went west — literally, not figuratively — to about two millennia before today.
There’s been scholarly debate of late, leading some to assume that Abraham lived a whole lot more recently than we thought; or is basically a fictional character.
I’m not surprised that we’ve got precious little documentation on him. The Late Bronze Age collapse, a few really bad decades between 1200 and 1150 BC, happened a few centuries after he left Haran. I’m surprised we remember as much as we do.
We haven’t had anything quite like the Late Bronze Age collapse since, happily.
Let’s say that today God tells a Mr. Smythe to move from Baltimore, Maryland, to Fremont, Nebraska.
This is all hypothetical. I’m just making a point about how record-keeping isn’t always up to 20th century standards.
Mr. Smythe moves, and changes his name from Smythe to Smith. Then, around the 24th century, something catastrophic happens. It might be a global war, overconfidence in a system that looked good on paper, whatever. Think the 2012 India blackouts on a global scale, micromanaged by an incompetently paranoid bureaucracy.3
Details would be different from the Late Bronze Age collapse, but the effects would be similar.
We still don’t know exactly what happened some 3,200 years ago.
I’ll be optimistic, and assume that survivors start rebuilding civilization; as we did before. A few would even have enough free time to teach their kids how to read and write.
Different folks would tell different stories about what happened. Some would pass along lore from earlier ages. Many records would be lost.
Around the year 5500, some scholars might decide that our Mr. Smith didn’t exist. They’d have a point, sort of, since his Social Security Number isn’t in any surviving records.
Interestingly, many scholars think there’s something real behind Homer’s “Illiad.”
Scholiemann finding what’s left of Troy probably helped. I’ve heard that he dug through, and obliterated, what might have been evidence that would have supported some of his claims, and that’s yet again another topic.
Plato might have gotten the idea for his fictional city from real events.
A civilization flourished on Crete from around the time construction started at Ġgantija to when Thutmose III was making Egypt a superpower. We started uncovering their ruins about a century back. Somewhere along the line, we started calling them Minoans.
Scientists and archeologists aren’t sure how, or if, the explosive eruption at Santorini affected Minoan civilization. They survived the eruption, but someone or something burned at least some of their cities not all that long after.
As a Wikipedia page put it, “there are no clear ancient records of the eruption.” Again, I’m not surprised.
But even after a 40-year reality check on their way out of Egypt, some decided that they’d rather put someone or something besides God at the top of their priorities. Repeatedly. That’s a bad idea. (Deuteronomy 8:2–3; Catechism, 2112–2114)
Assyria was a major power a bit over 27 centuries back, around Duke Zhuang of Zheng’s day.
Assyria’s leaders were trying to unite the (western) world into a single empire. They were succeeding: for the moment.
We call their outfit the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
The Old Assyrian Empire predates the Late Bronze Age collapse. The Middle Assyrian Empire — our name for it, not theirs — survived the cataclysm, but shrank considerably. That was a resilient civilization.
Ahaz had trouble with Assyria, too, of a different sort. He’d seen an altar in Damascus, and been so impressed that he “…sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar and a detailed design of its construction.” (2 Kings 16:7–18)
Hezekiah — son of Elah and Abi, daughter of Zarchariah — sorted the mess out, to an extent. 2 Kings 18-1 and following tells about that.
“However, they offended the God of their fathers by lusting after the gods of the natives of the land, whom God had cleared out of their way.
“2 Therefore the God of Israel incited against them the anger of Pul, king of Assyria, and of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, who deported the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh and brought them to Halah, Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, where they have remained to this day.”
(1 Chronicles 5:25–26)
I’m not sure why the chronicler wrote “Pul … and Tiglath-pilesser.” Tiglath-Pileser III’s name was Pulu when he had the Assyrian royal family killed, and took over. Two more-legitimate rulers had been named Tiglath-Pileser before that, which could explain it.
That was after one of the battles at Meggido. This one was between Nebuchadnezzar II’s Babylonian forces and Necho II’s Egyptian army. We call that iteration of the Babylonian Empire the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t last. Neither did the Neo-Assyrian or Neo-Babylonian empires. (October 2, 2016)
Many folks, myself included, think highly of Cyrus the Great. For good reason:
“‘Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: “All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”‘”
(2 Chronicles 26:23)
“And they lived happily ever after?” No. We’re not there yet.
That could be John’s description of the Transfiguration, or not. I don’t know.
“…the whole Trinity appears—the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud…”
(“Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, III, 45, 4)
As I said, I can’t claim Abraham as an ancestor. Not physically. I do, however, take the “Shema” very seriously:
“שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
“Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
“Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”
(From Shema, Judaism 101)
God’s God, I’m not, so I can’t.
The best way I’ve found of quickly describing the Trinity is a “Shield of the Trinity,” or “Scutum Fidei.” It’s that diagram with “The Father,” “The Son,” and “The Holy Spirit” in the corners.
Christians are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We’re following orders our Lord gave us, right before leaving:
“11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
“Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'”
It’s the name, not the names. That’s because God is One: “the almighty Father, his only Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity.” (Catechism, 233; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, I, 31, 1)
We still aren’t at the “happily ever after” part.
What we read about in Matthew 28:18–20 and Acts 1:10–11 happened about two millennia back. Our Lord is doing whatever’s mentioned in John 14:3, and our standing orders haven’t changed. He told us to “be prepared” for his return, which I think is a good idea.
More, mostly about taking Jesus seriously:
- “Oatmeal for Lent”
(February 26, 2017)
- “Fan or Follower of Jesus?”
(January 22, 2017)
- “Epiphany Sunday”
(January 8, 2017)
- “‘Good News of Great Joy’”
(December 25, 2016)
- “Gabriel, Joseph, and Mary”
(December 18, 2016)
- “Praying with Body, Mind, and Voice”
Copyright © 2010, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C
(From usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/upload/praying-with-body-mind-and-voice.pdf (March 10, 2017))
(For nonprofit educational use only. Copyright © 2010 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. Used with permission. All rights reserved.)
- “Lumen Fidei,” 8
Pope Francis (June 29, 2013)
(From vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei.pdf (July 16, 2013))
- “Commemoration of Abraham”
Pope Saint John Paul II (February 23, 2000)
3 I don’t intend that as a description of India’s handing of the 2012 situation. Preparations and responses could have been better, but they could have been a lot worse. I think letting folks build their own backup systems helped:
- “The 10 worst blackouts of the last 50 years”
power-technology.com (January 14, 2015)
- “Power restored after huge Indian power cut”
BBC News (August 1, 2012)
4 I have some sympathy for folks who like “New Age” stuff. However, I also am quite convinced that it is a bad idea, along with letting anything — money, politics, pleasure, family, fame, whatever — except God take first place in my priorities. (Catechism, 1723, 2112–2114, 2289, 2424)
At nearly 25,000 none-too-easy-reading words, it’s more than a one-sitting read; but I recommend this as a serious analysis:
- “Jesus Christ The Bearer Of The Water Of Life – A Christian reflection on the New Age”
Pontifical Council for Culture, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (2003)