In connection with an academic project of mine, I’ve recently been poring over the book of Exodus and numerous commentaries on it. The second most famous book of the Old Testament is concerned primarily with the manner in which God shapes His people, so that they might become a radiant beacon, a city set on a hill. On the biblical reading, Israel is indeed chosen, but it is never chosen for its own sake, but rather for all the nations of the world.
I would say that this formation takes place in three principal stages: first, God teaches Israel to trust in His power; secondly, He gives Israel a moral law; and thirdly, He instructs his people in holiness through right praise. The lesson in trust happens, of course, through God’s great act of liberation. Utterly powerless slaves find freedom, not by relying on their own resources, but rather upon the gracious intervention of God. The moral instruction takes place through the Ten Commandments and their attendant legislation. Finally, the formation in holiness happens through a submission to an elaborate set of liturgical and ceremonial laws. It is this last move that perhaps strikes us today as most peculiar, but that has, I will argue, particular resonance in our strange COVID period.
That education in religion involves moral instruction probably seems self-evident to most of us. And this is because we are, willy-nilly, Kantians. In the eighteenth century, the philosopher Immanuel Kant contended that all of religion is reducible to ethics. What the religious thing is finally all about, Kant argued, is making us more just, loving, kind, and compassionate. In contemporary language, Kantianism in religion sounds like this: “As long as you’re a good person, it doesn’t really matter what you believe or how you worship.”
Now, there is no question that the book of Exodus and the Bible in general agree that morality is essential to the proper formation of the people of God. Those who would seek to follow the Lord, who is justice and love, must be conformed to justice and love. And this is precisely why we find, in the great Sinai covenant, injunctions not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to covet, not to kill, etc. So far, so Kantian.
But what probably surprises most contemporary readers of the book of Exodus is that, immediately following the laying out of the moral commandments, the author spends practically the rest of the text, chapters 25 through 40, delineating the liturgical prescriptions that the people are to follow. So for example, we find a lengthy section on the construction of the ark of the covenant: “They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it.” And as an ornament on the top of the ark, “You shall make two cherubim of gold. . . . Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other. . . . The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat.” Next, we find instructions regarding the elaborate furnishings inside of the tabernacle, including a lampstand, a table for the so-called “bread of the presence,” pillars and various hangings. Finally, an enormous amount of space is given over to the description of the vestments to be worn by the priests of Israel. Here is just a sampling: “These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, and a sash. When they make these sacred vestments. . . . They shall use gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen.”
No indication whatsoever is given that the moral prescriptions are somehow more important than the liturgical prescriptions. If anything, the contrary seems to be the case, since Exodus is followed immediately by the book of Leviticus, which consists of twenty-eight chapters of dietary and liturgical law. So what are we post-Kantians to make of this? First, we should observe that the biblical authors do not think for a moment that God somehow requires liturgical rectitude, as though the correctness of our worship adds anything to his perfection or satisfies some psychological need of His. If you harbor any doubt on this score, I would recommend a careful reading of the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah and of the fiftieth psalm. God doesn’t need the Ark and the Tabernacle and priestly vestments and regular worship, but we do. Through the gestures and symbols of its liturgical praise, Israel is brought on line with God, ordered to him. The moral law directs our wills to the divine goodness, but the liturgical law directs our minds, our hearts, our emotions, and yes even our bodies to the divine splendor. Notice how thoroughly the ceremonial instructions of Exodus involve color, sound, and smell (there is an awful lot about incense), and how they conduce toward the production of beauty.
I said above that Exodus’ stress on the liturgical and ceremonial has a profound relevance to our time, and here’s why. For very good reasons, we abstained completely from public worship, and even now our ability to worship together is very limited. In most dioceses in our country, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is, again for valid reasons, suspended. My fear is that when the propitious moment arrives, when we are again able to return to Mass, many Catholics will stay away, since they’ve grown accustomed to absenting themselves from worship. And my concern takes a more specifically Kantian form: Will many Catholics say to themselves, “You know, as long as I’m basically a good person, what’s the point of all of this formal worship of God?”
Could I recommend that you take out your Bible, open to the book of Exodus, especially chapters 25 through 40, and consider just how crucially important to God is the correct worship offered by his holy people? Liturgy has always mattered. The Mass— involving vestments, ritual gesture, smells and bells, song and silence—still matters, big time. Isn’t it enough that you’re a good person? Not to put too fine a point on it: no.
©Bishop Robert Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Bishop Barron is a #1 Amazon bestselling author and has published numerous books, essays, and articles on theology and the spiritual life. ARTICLE originally published at wordonfire.org. Reprinted with permission.
Feeling lonely can be detrimental. Here’s 5 ways to overcome loneliness. The Covid19 Pandemic that surged throughout 2020 took everyone out of their comfort zone—rich or poor, young or old, healthy or non-healthy, well-educated or less-educated from every race, culture and religion. The pandemic made people feel isolated—from the outside world, from their loved ones, from their kids, from their spouses, from their houses of worship, from their priests, pastors and rabbis, from their counselors and therapists, from their friends and co-workers, from their parents and grandparents and from building human connections. The pandemic has increased the feeling of loneliness in many people, leading some to desperate measures. Feeling lonely creates a void in our hearts; we long to find someone to help us, to hug us, to care for us and pay attention to us. No one wants to feel lonely! But people can feel lonely even when in a relationship or among friends. Loneliness can come at any moment in our lives and at any age. Loneliness can be triggered by a major event like a break-up or divorce and by lesser events like feeling overwhelmed or feeling out of place. Thinking of a particular event or tragedy can also trigger feelings of loneliness. But with every struggle, God can provide hope, comfort, and strength to anyone who seeks him. Overcoming loneliness is not easy. It is a process that requires constant practice. The best way I have found to overcome loneliness is to place my trust in God. But we know that grace builds on nature and so we must also seek out the many practical strategies that also can help. Here are five positive steps I believe can help you cope with and overcome loneliness. 1.Ask for help when feeling lonely and feeling overwhelmed! Reach out to people who are reliable and trustworthy. 2.Identify and engage in activities that bring you joy, that make you smile and keep you positive mentally, emotionally, and physically. 3.Fill your soul with spirituality—read the Bible, enroll in a Bible study or social weekly fellowship, pray privately or in groups and with family, pray online or on the phone. 4.Practice almsgiving by giving to a cause dear to your heart. Make a positive difference in other people’s lives by volunteering your time and talents. Giving yourself to others will lessen your feelings of loneliness. 5.Distance yourself from negative social media platforms and negative followers. Create a positive public forum to promote healthy spiritual conversations. See a Pastor or Counselor if your loneliness persists despite your efforts to deal with it. Try these steps to deal with your loneliness. Taking action will almost always result in a better mood. But remember that in challenging and uncertain times, trust in God is our best strategy.
Have you experienced the real joy of Christmas? I’ll bet you, it makes your life worth living! It began at Mass that morning. I walked toward the front of the Church where most Catholic Masses still have room. But that Christmas day everyone was packed in. As I squeezed directly in front of a former eighth-grade religious education class student his mouth flew open in wordless surprise. On our way out, he started with, “Mr. Manicone, seeing you made my day!” I said sincerely, “Rob, you made mine!” As I prayed silently after receiving the Eucharist, a man squeezed my shoulder as he passed by with his child. I recognized him, an old friend whose dad died the week before. After mass, I found him outside. “I’m really sorry to hear about your dad—such a great guy. But he must be happy celebrating Christmas with Jesus face to face.” He smiled. Walking down the steps, I saw another former student. He spoke with a glow, “Ya know, Mr. Manicone, I chose visiting nursing homes as part of my Confirmation service project. That’s ‘cause of joining you for Christmas caroling last year.” I felt so proud of him: “That’s super, Gary. Just hearing that makes my Christmas happier.” I headed out to the Care Center to meet this year’s carolers. The residents called out my name and ran to embrace me. Some didn’t want to let me go and hugged me without letting up. They said “Thanks” so wholeheartedly. They kept saying, “I love you,” and I did too. These poor and sick under-loved discarded people have nothing to give except their love. And they so much appreciate us allowing them to love us. As prep in the entryway, I tell my companions, “I encourage you to listen to love a little more—unconditional pure giving love. Value your time spent with a person who has no one but you. That time is priceless, and its treasure is in heaven.” My friend Zeke and I received an instant lesson in love when we happened on two men in their room. One in a wheelchair spoke for the other who could not speak. He gazed at the bedridden man, and asserted, “That one is the most important person in the whole building.” That’s love. Afflictions only seem to heighten love. Down the hallway, we sang. One woman, Millie, could only grunt. She seemed to know and sing every line, glowing as though singing from the mouth of her heart. Singers came and left through the day, and the last part in the evening became more intense. A resident named Terry said his long-time roommate had a stroke and didn’t speak or move. As he lay immobile, we sang four songs around his bed. On the way out, I felt compelled to take the man’s hand and bless him, “Andy, I pray that Jesus will let you know how much He loves you—you’re His special friend. Merry Christmas!” His whole body came to life as he lifted himself up, grasped my hand, and exclaimed loudly, “God bless you! I love you.” Wow—the Christmas spirit brings forth life! Louise at 95 was in excruciating pain when we entered her room. She smiled peacefully as we sang and prayed over her. Mary has lain in her bed staring at the ceiling for years, with no TV or radio--she’s so content. When I asked her what she did with her time, she smiled, “I think.” It made me wonder: If she can be so peaceful, appreciate our singing, and take in our love, could I? What a day filled with the awe and wonder of Christmas—Jesus came to me, and I was privileged to bring Him to others.
Where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid world? Find it today! Covid Chronicles The word “lockdown” still takes my breath away. Fear is enemy number one. To prepare the battlefield, I placed Divine Mercy images on all my doors. I prayed that the Angel of Death of our times—Covid—would pass over this house. Inside my house, my statues of Jesus and His Mother faced out to protect the whole neighborhood and world. Then I began a notebook journal, my own “Covid Chronicles”. Anxiety, isolation, boredom and depression are relentless stalkers on this battlefield as well. Rereading my journal now, I see how the Lord is continuously helping his little ones to fight them. The Kingdom moments are in plain sight now. Do you recognize them? Your Daily Kingdom Moments Start your day with Power. Raise your heart and mind to the God who waits to hear our prayer. We have a God who, on His redeeming cross, said, “I thirst.” Do you know anyone else who died for you and still wants to help you more? Put all your fears right there at the foot of the cross. Because He is God, He knows them anyway and delights in banishing them. In return for your trust in Him, He gives you peace. Fair warning though: this is not a once and done deal. Every time fear sneaks back, have a battle cry ready. It could be simply, “Jesus, I trust in you.” That is the Divine Mercy prayer. When fear becomes too great for you to stand, kneel. I found that the moments on my knees were profound teaching moments. Humility is so necessary to authentic prayer. The rosary to our Blessed Mother, our great intercessor, is the greatest weapon for our time, according to Padre Pio. Pray it every day for soothing peace. Take in Wisdom. Read from daily devotionals, and religious magazines. The short meditations and scripture readings will say exactly what you need to hear at that time on that day. They will verify God’s presence with you and that is a Kingdom moment. Make Mass the mainstay of your day. I felt so grateful to our priests and to our technology which live streamed the Mass every day. The Word of God and spiritual communion were Kingdom moments delivered right to me. I knew I wasn’t alone. Mass was still a communal meal. Plug into Prayer Groups. I learned to Zoom and connected with an out of state prayer group. I attended many virtual conferences on healing and gifts of the Holy Spirit. My own local Charismatic prayer group conducted weekly meetings through both email and group telephone meetings. Scripture, personal witnessing, petitions for healings, and music were shared. Faith communities nourish the soul and we see that we are a united force connected to a mighty Power who blesses us because we worship and praise Him. Get outside. Life is for the birds, literally. There they were living their uninterrupted lives. They sang their songs, built their nests, fed their young etc. Nature is a Kingdom gift of beauty itself. Talk to positive people. I have smart and grace-filled friends. Connecting with them brings me laughter, and prayer reaffirming visits of the heart. We sympathize, support, and, most importantly, just listen to each other. They are life support during Covid days. If you don’t get a call, make a call. Someone is waiting for a Kingdom moment which you can supply. Set goals each day. At the beginning of Covid-19, I attacked boxes that I had promised myself I would go through years ago. Every day I still set a goal and accomplishing it makes me feel content. A pat on the backwards off depression. Indulge in “me” moments. It sounds contradictory, or even selfish, but doing what you love makes you a happier person. If you live with someone else, they will appreciate that a lot, I suspect. So sing, paint, write, exercise or create by crafting and kingdom moments will be given to others as well as yourself. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11) Always put yourself in the presence of God. Continually look and listen for Him. You will forget, but He will remind you. He is there; your Forever Friend, Savior, and Supplier of all you need. Yes, Covid-19 is a formidable foe, but if we put on the Armor of God we have the best defense. And if God is for us, and He is, the battle is already won. So where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid World? Where it always is—in our innermost being, our spirit.
Last Christmas SEAN BOOTH received an unexpected gift that’s etched in his memory forever! I have received many blessings in my life, but the most memorable Christmas gift I received in my life involved paying a prostitute. Tentative Meeting Around three years ago, I was helping at a homeless centre in Manchester, England, where we shared the Gospel with people who came each Sunday for a meal. One of the men that came was a Muslim man. He was not homeless, but joined us for fellowship. Over the course of a few months, we struck up a close bond, sharing about our respective faiths. Often our conversations would last for hours. As Christmas drew nearer, I explained how special Christmas time was for us as Christians and asked if he would like to join me at Midnight Mass. He gladly accepted the invitation, since he had never been in a Catholic Church, let alone attended a service. At the same time, I was also volunteering with a city centre, Catholic Church, who worked with a charity providing meals and a bed for homeless asylum seekers. Many of these men were also Muslim. By the grace of God, I was on the rota to sleep over on Christmas Eve. It was all hands to the pump since the priests were busy preparing for the celebration of Mass. As we shared a meal that night, I invited the men to come to Holy Mass and five of them accepted the invitation. I explained I had to pick up a friend but would be back before Mass started. After picking up my Muslim friend, we drove into the city centre. Along the way, we noticed a distressed lady waving her hands at us. Although I thought she was a prostitute, I turned the car around to make sure she was okay. When I wound the window down, she begged me for a lift to the pharmacy because there were no buses running and it closed at midnight. I agreed and as we drove, she leaned forward from the back seat and asked if I would ‘like some business’. I declined her offer, explaining that we believed in God and were on the way to attend a church service. Then, I invited her to join us. Need for Money She apologised if she had offended us and said she could not come because she had to ‘earn some money’ on the streets. We reached the pharmacy in time and she went inside. I felt inspired to follow her inside to ask if I could pray with her. While her prescription was being prepared, she closed her eyes and held out both of her hands. We prayed, standing at the counter, holding hands. It was beautiful. She was so open. After we came out, I asked her once more to join us, but again she explained that her need for money prevented her from coming. In that moment, I had a thought. I’d brought money for the collection during Mass, but if I spent it bringing her to God’s house, that was still giving it to the Church. Potentially, that could open her heart to encounter Jesus in the Mass, where Heaven meets earth, whilst also keeping her from potential evil. I offered her the money, explaining that it would only be an hour long and, at the very least, would be warmer than standing on the street. She deliberated and eventually agreed. My heart skipped a beat as I thanked God. When we arrived at the church at two minutes to midnight, the asylum seekers were waiting for us on the steps. I was in absolute awe of God. Before we all went inside, I asked everyone if we could pray together. I asked for The Lord’s blessing on each one of these beautiful people, that they would each feel welcome and for the Christ’s peace to rest upon them all. The lady asked if I was a priest and looked surprised when I laughed and said “No.” Sobbing Like a Baby As we walked in, if felt so surreal, I thought that I should pinch myself, I felt so blessed. Only God could have arranged this. I stood with tears in my eyes, thanking God, in absolute awe of His goodness, thanking Him for allowing me to be in His presence with my new group of friends. The gratitude and love in my heart exploded. There was nowhere else in the world, I would rather have been. During reception of Holy Communion, I explained how they could receive a personal blessing from Christ through the priest. The lady said, ‘Look at me. Look at what I am wearing. People will look at me. I can’t go up there’. I told her that if they were truly Christians, they would not judge her, because Jesus exhorted us not to judge, lest we be judged for the sins we are ashamed of. I explained how Jesus came for the sinners, those on the edge of society, the outcasts. He even came to the defence of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He often ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes, assuring her that she was both worthy and welcome. The Muslim man heard our every word and agreed. I told her that the Lord’s eyes were the only eyes that she needed to be conscious of. She went up, sobbing like a baby. If only every person went for a blessing or Holy Communion aware of their own unworthiness and brokenness like this beautiful child of God, we would have a very different church. A priest once told me in Confession; ‘The Church is not an exclusive club for saints, but a hospital for sinners’. Saint Paul also reminds us that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). ALL of us! As we came back to our seats, she cried again. The asylum seekers and Muslim man also went up to receive Christ’s blessing, through the priest. As I contemplated the reality of Jesus being truly present within me through Holy Communion, I was able to pray with even more love for my companions. The Greatest Gift As The Mass concluded, the priest wished everybody a happy Christmas before the final blessing. In typical, reserved Catholic style, there was not much of a response, apart from one person—my lady friend, who replied, “And a very merry Christmas to you too Father.” Instantly, I beamed with a massive smile and my insides lit up. The priest, almost shocked, smiled and thanked her. As people turned to see who had spoken, she said ‘Well, he said it to us!’. Nobody could deny saying Amen to that. I mentioned in the beginning that this was the most memorable Christmas gift I had received and what an absolute honor, privilege and blessing it was to be with these beautiful human beings that night. Nothing can compare, though, to the very first and greatest gift the whole world received over 2000 years ago, at that very first Christmas—when God Himself took on human flesh to become a helpless baby; when the Light was born into our darkness and the world was changed forever. This is the true message of Christmas; welcoming Jesus into our lives—for the first time or once again. This is the real giving and receiving. Allowing Him to be born inside us, welcoming Him with joy, love, awe, and wonder. He gives Himself to us every moment of every single day. We must hear and respond like the shepherds, who were invited to come and see. After they encountered Jesus, they went away ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard’ (Luke 2:20). We must also be like the angels, God’s messengers, inviting and leading people to discover Jesus for themselves. ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). This Christmas, will you witness to this Light, to those in the darkest of places? The lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the rejected, the dejected, the forgotten, the lost, the abandoned, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners, the elderly, the orphans and the widows? You may not have to look far. These could be members of your own household or family. It could be as simple as remembering them in your prayers. Or will you put yourself out this Christmas to personally share the greatest gift that anybody could ever wish to receive—the gift of Jesus Christ? Make this your most memorable Christmas for other people, as well as yourself. “We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35 Let us remind the world that Christmas is about Christ.
Want to be in the loop?
Get the latest updates from Tidings!