Whenever I visit our Catholic schools, occasionally one of the students will ask me what my favorite Bible verse is. The answer varies, depending on which verse comes to mind first, for in fact I have more than one favorite. Some of them are as follows.
(Part I – Old Testament)
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live. (Dt 30:19) This passage appears in the liturgy at the very beginning of the Lent, and appropriately so, since the Lenten/Easter Season deals so vividly with the dynamic tension between life and death. And even though the passage comes from the Old Testament, it aptly describes the fundamental moral struggle of our own time, the battle between the culture of death, so prevalent in society, and the Gospel of Life, offered by the faithful following of Christ.
Then the Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said: Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! (Job 38:1 and ff) This angry retort from God begins one of the most dramatic speeches in the Bible. Recall that Job has lost everything he had – his family, his health and his fortune – and for thirty-seven chapters, he and his friends philosophize, theologize and complain about Job’s sorry lot in life. Finally, God can’t take it any more and with soaring language confronts Job with a series of pointed questions and challenges that shake him out of his shoes. God says in effect, “Okay wise guy, who the heck do you think you are to question my plans? I know what I’m doing. ” God’s powerful retort to Job and Job’s humble acknowledgment of his own limitations are important lessons for us whenever we reflect upon the meaning of life, especially in confronting the suffering that comes our way.
Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain wisdom of heart. (Ps 90:12) This prayerful request follows the passage that says, “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong. And most of them are fruitless toil, for they pass quickly and we drift away.” The reminder of the brevity of life and our inevitable mortality shouldn’t lead to morbid, fatalistic conclusions, but rather, the opposite. It should teach us to value each day we have on earth, to treasure our family and friends, to appreciate the gifts we have and to lead good and moral lives, knowing that someday, perhaps soon, we’ll have to give a report to the Lord about our conduct during our time on earth.
How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. (Ps 116: 12-13) Our recognition of the many wonderful gifts the Lord gives us needs to extend beyond Thanksgiving Day and be for us a constant attitude. We should be aware of our gifts, take care of our gifts and share them generously with others. Authentic gratitude is an expression of our faith in God. For Catholics, of course, the ultimate act of Thanksgiving is Eucharist, in which we do indeed “take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”
The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish to be dead and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are in peace. (Wis 3:1-3) How many Catholics, grieving the death of a loved one, have found comfort and hope in these words. The cold reality of death, often characterized by “affliction” and “destruction” is tempered by our faith that assures us that our beloved is now in the hand of God and in absolute peace. What better gift could we hope or pray for, for our beloved parents, spouses, children or friends?
My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to Him, forsake Him not. (Sir 2:1-3) I used this rather obscure reading at my First Mass in 1973, because it offered a sober reminder of the reality that awaited me as a “servant of the Lord.” In the exhilaration and excitement of Ordination Day and First Mass it seemed good to recall that the service of the Lord and the Church wouldn’t always be easy, that many sacrifices, perhaps even suffering, would be required. All the more reason to “cling to Him” as the foundation of my priestly life and ministry.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. (Is 2:4) We hear this prophecy of Isaiah in the liturgy of Advent. It describes the peace and justice characteristic of God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom fulfilled in the coming of Christ. While the theme is especially appropriate during Advent, it expresses the constant yearning of the human heart, a longing for peace – in the world, our nation, our community and our own lives. How much better and brighter the world would be if the war, violence and enmity among nations could be replaced by the peace, justice and harmony of Isaiah’s vision!
(This column originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)