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“I am the mother of fair love”
by Pierre-Marie Dumont
Saint Jerome in His Study (1480)
by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494)
The editorial of the month
by Father Sebastian White, o.p.
At the Christian academy I attended throughout elementary school, we had to memorize a lot of Bible verses. Our success was tracked by those classic, shiny stars stuck next to our name on a poster board in the classroom. So in addition to the intrinsic worthiness of the assignment we were motivated by an age-old incentive: peer pressure. Even so, it was a positive experience. And it goes without saying that we all knew John 3:16 and John 11:35—the shortest verse in the Bible—so every kid had at least two stars.
Indeed a lovely effect of simply praying with the Scriptures regularly (such as, if I may say, with the small glossy booklet you now hold in your hands) is that inspired turns of phrase and images gradually become lodged in our memory. These saving words then surface from time to time, giving nourishment, inviting our meditation, and providing inspiration or comfort in times of difficulty. Certain passages and verses may also come to mind when we hear or read other parts of the Bible, and we gain a deeper sense of the unity of divine revelation.
Let my right hand wither
In my book, Psalm 137:1-6 is one of the most memorable passages of all. Here it is in a familiar translation: By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion; on the poplars that grew there we hung up our harps. For it was there that they asked us, our captors, for songs, our oppressors, for joy. “Sing to us,” they said, “one of Zion’s songs.” O how could we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! O let my tongue cleave to my mouth if I remember you not, if I prize not Jerusalem above all my joys!
Think about the pathos contained in those last two sentences. It’s like saying: I’d sooner lose a limb than give up my faith. I’d rather not say anything, and even lose the capacity of speech altogether, than leave the Church. Its literal meaning, Pope Benedict XVI explained, “evokes the tragedy lived by the Jewish people during the destruction of Jerusalem…and their subsequent and consequent exile in Babylon. We have before us a national hymn of sorrow, marked by a curt nostalgia for what has been lost.” These verses, he said, are “pervaded by the loving memory of Zion, the city lost but still alive in the exiles’ hearts.” The Psalmist refuses to forget his true identity and longs to return to that place where he can be in the presence of God, worshiping him. Until then, however, it is unthinkable to give in to the request of the Babylonians: Zion’s songs are not cheap ballads to be performed on demand, they are intimate songs of worship and love.
Stretch out your hand
The Gospel we’ll hear at Mass on the 7th of this month (Lk 6:6-11) is a striking complement to that Psalm. Jesus entered the synagogue to teach, we are told, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The ailment can hardly be without significance. The way I see it, the man embodies what our life is apart from Christ. As if held captive by a tyrannical ruler, we labor under the oppression of sin and in a state of exile from our heavenly Father. Sin even threatens to make us forget our true identity: citizens of heaven and heirs to the Kingdom of God.
The Pharisees were watching, ready to accuse Jesus of breaking the law. But the Lord reads hearts; he knew what they were thinking before they’d said a word. In fact, we can be sure that our divine Lord, in the plenitude of his knowledge, had foreseen and planned the whole encounter from the beginning.
Come up and stand before us, the Lord said to the man with the withered hand. And he rose and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored. Thus, the Lord cured the man, rebuked the self-righteous legalism of the Pharisees, and provided a compelling picture of what he achieves in our lives. Jesus enables us to stand in the presence of God, offering true and pleasing worship.
He practices what he preaches
By way of conclusion, consider a couple of other passages. First, when the leper comes to Jesus and begs to be healed (related in Mt 8, Mk 1, and Lk 5), Jesus himself stretches out his hand, touches him, and says, I do will it. Be made clean. Later, when the disciples are on the storm-tossed sea, they are terrified and do not recognize Jesus walking on the water. Peter demands to be able to walk on water himself as proof, but in his fright loses confidence and begins to sink. But immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him (Mt 14:31). In other words, Jesus does the very thing he told the man in the synagogue to do.
We need not fear stretching out our hands to Jesus. When we do, he will stretch out his healing hands to save us. We stretch out our hand to the Lord when we seek his mercy in confession, when we kneel before him in prayer, when we offer our lives in union with the sacrifice of the Mass and receive Holy Communion.
Pope Francis once offered a simple prayer we could make our own this month: “Stretch out your hand to us, Lord, and take hold of us. Help us to love as you love.”(Read More)