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Archive for March 4th, 2011

March 4: Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (Mark 11:11-26)

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 4, 2011

Ver 11. And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when He had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, He went out unto Bethany with the twelve.12. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, He was hungry:13. And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.14. And Jesus answered and said unto it, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever.” And His disciples heard it.

Bede: As the time of His Passion approached, the Lord wished to approach to the place of His Passion, in order to intimate that He underwent death of His own accord: wherefore it is said, “And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple.” And by His going to the temple on first entering the city, He shews us beforehand a form of religion, which we are to follow, that if by chance we enter a place, where there is a house of prayer, we should first turn aside to it.

We should also understand from this, that such was the poverty of the Lord, and so far was He from flattering man, that in so large a city, He found no one to be His host, no abiding place, but lived in a small country place with Lazarus and his sisters; for Bethany is a hamlet of the Jews.

Wherefore there follows: “And when He had looked round about upon all things, (that is, to see whether any one would take Him in,) and now the eventide was come, He went out into Bethany with the twelve.”

Nor did He do this once only, but during all the five days, from the time that He came to Jerusalem, to the day of His Passion, He used always to do the same thing; during the day He taught in the temple, but at night, He went out and dwelt in the mount of Olives.

It goes on, “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, He was hungry.”

Chrys., in Matt. Hom., 87: How is it that He was hungry in the morning, as Matthew says, if it were not that by an economy He permitted it to His flesh?

There follows,  “And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing theron.”

Now it is evident that this expresses a conjecture of the disciples, who thought that it was for this reason that Christ came to the fig tree, and that it was cursed, because He found no fruit upon it.

For it goes on: “And when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever.”

He therefore curses the fig tree for His disciples’ sake, that they might have faith in Him. For He everywhere distributed blessings, and punished no one, yet at the same time, it was right to give them a proof of His chastising power, that they might learn that He could even cause the persecuting Jews to wither away; He was however unwilling to give this proof on men, wherefore He shewed them on a plant a sign of His power of punishing. This proves that He came to the fig tree principally for this reason, and not on account of His hunger, for who is so silly as to suppose that in the morning He felt so greatly the pains of hunger, or what prevented the Lord from eating before He left Bethany? Nor can it be said that the sight of the figs excited His appetite to hunger, for it was not the season of figs; and if He were hungry, why did He not seek food elsewhere, rather than from a fig-tree which could not yield fruit before its time? What punishment also did a fig tree deserve for not having fruit before its time? From all this then we may infer, that He wished to shew His power, that their minds might not be broken by His Passion.

Theophylact: Wishing to shew His disciples that if He chose He could in a moment exterminate those who were about to crucify Him. In a mystical sense, however, the Lord entered into the temple, but came out of it again, to shew that He left it desolate, and open to the spoiler.

Bede: Farther, He looks round about upon the hearts of all, and when in those who opposed the truth, He found no place to lay His head, He retires to the faithful, and takes up His abode with those who obey Him. For Bethany means, the house of obedience.

Pseudo-Jerome: He went in the morning to the Jews, and visits us in the eventide of the world.

Bede: Just in the same way as He speaks parables, so also His deeds are parables; therefore He comes hungry to seek fruit off the fig tree, and though He knew the time of figs was not yet, He condemns it to perpetual barrenness, that He might shew that the Jewish people could not be saved through the leaves, that is, the words of righteousness which it had, without fruit, that is, good works, but should be cut down and cast into the fire.

Hungering therefore, that is, desiring the salvation of mankind, He saw the fig tree, which is, the Jewish people, having leaves, or, the words of the Law and the Prophets, and He sought upon it the fruit of good works, by teaching them, by rebuking them, by working miracles, and He found it not, and therefore condemned it. Do thou too, unless thou wouldest be condemned by Christ in the judgment, beware of being a barren tree, but rather offer to Christ the fruit of piety which He requires.

Chrys.: We may also say, in another sense, that the Lord sought for fruit on the fig tree before its time, and not finding it, cursed it, because all who fulfil the commandments of the Law, are said to bear fruit in their own time, as, for instance, that commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery;” but he who not only abstains from adultery but remains a virgin, which is a greater thing, excels them in virtue. But the Lord exacts from the perfect not only the observance of virtue, but also that they bear fruit over and above the commandments.

Ver 15. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;16. And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.17. And He taught, saying unto them, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.”18. And the Scribes and Chief Priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy Him: for they feared Him, because all the people was astonished at His doctrine.

Bede: What the Lord had done in figure, when He cursed the barren fig tree, He now shews more openly, by casting out the wicked from the temple. For the fig tree was not in fault, in not having fruit before its time, but the priests were blameable; wherefore it is said, “And they come to Jerusalem; and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple.” Nevertheless, it is probable that He found them buying and selling in the temple things which were necessary for its ministry. If then the Lord forbids men to carry on in the temple worldly matters, which they might freely do any where else, how much more do they deserve a greater portion of the anger of Heaven, who carry on in the temple consecrated to Him those things, which are unlawful wherever they may be done.  It goes on: “and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.”

Theophylact: He calls moneychangers, changers of a particular sort of money, for the word means a small brass coin.

Bede: Because the Holy Spirit appeared over the Lord in the shape of a dove, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are fitly pointed out under the name of doves. The Dove therefore is sold, when the laying on of hands by which the Holy Spirit is received is sold for a price. Again, He overturns the seats of them who sell doves, because they who sell spiritual grace, are deprived of their priesthood, either before men, or in the eyes of God.

Theophylact: But if a man by sinning gives up to the devil the grace and purity of baptism, he has sold his Dove, and for this reason is cast out of the temple.There follows: “And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.”

Bede: He speaks of those vessels which were carried there for the purpose of merchandise. But God forbid that it should be taken to mean, that the Lord cast out of the temple, or forbade men to bring into it, the vessels consecrated to God; for here He shews a type of the judgment to come, for He thrusts away the wicked from the Church, and restrains them by His everlasting word from ever again coming in to trouble the Church. Furthermore, sorrow, sent into the heart from above, takes away from the souls of the faithful those sins which were in them, and Divine grace assists them so that they should never again commit them. It goes on: “And He taught, saying unto them, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer.”

Pseudo-Jerome: [This] according to Isaiah [Isa_56:7]. “But ye have made it a den of thieves,” according to Jeremiah. [Jer_7:11]

Bede: He says, “to all nations,” not to the Jewish nation alone, nor in the city of Jerusalem alone, but over the whole world; and he does not say a house of bulls, goats, and rams, but of prayer.

Theophylact: Further, He calls the temple, “a den of thieves,” on account of the money gained there; for thieves always troop together for gain. Since then they sold those animals which were offered in sacrifice for the sake of gain, He called them thieves.

Bede: For they were in the temple for this purpose, either that they might persecute with corporal pains those who did not bring gifts, or spiritually kill those who did. The mind and conscience of the faithful is also the temple and the house of God, but if it puts forth perverse thoughts, to the hurt of any one, it may be said that thieves haunt it as a den; therefore the mind of the faithful becomes the den of a thief, when leaving the simplicity of holiness, it plans that which may hurt others.

Augustine, de Con. Evan, ii, 67: John, however, relates this in a very different order, wherefore it is manifest that not once only, but twice, this was done by the Lord, and that the first time was related by John, the last, by all the other three.

Theophylact: Which also turns to the greater condemnation of the Jews, because though the Lord did this so many times, nevertheless they did not correct their conduct.

Augustine, de Con. Evan, ii, 68: In this again, Mark does not keep the same order as Matthew; because however Matthew connects the facts together by this sentence, “And He left them, and went out of the city into Bethany,” [Mat_21:17] returning from whence in the morning, according to his relation, Christ cursed the tree, therefore it is supposed with greater probability that he rather has kept to the order of time, as to the ejection from the temple of the buyers and sellers. Mark therefore passed over what was done the first day when He entered into the temple, and on remembering it inserted it, when he had said that He found nothing on the fig tree but leaves, which was done on the second day, as both testify.

Gloss: But the Evangelist shews what effect the correction of the Lord had on the ministers of the temple, when he adds: “and the Scribes and Chief Priests heard it, and sought how [p. 230] they might destroy him;” according to that saying of Amos: “They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.” [Amo_5:10] From this wicked design, however, they were kept back for a time solely by fear.

Wherefore it is added, “For they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His doctrine. For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes” and Pharisees, as is said elsewhere.

Ver 19. And when even was come, He went out of the city.20. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.21. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto Him, “Master, behold, the fig tree which Thou cursedst is withered away.”22. And Jesus answering saith unto them, “Have faith in God.23. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith.24. Therefore, I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.25. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.26. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

Pseudo-Jerome: The Lord, leaving darkness behind Him in the hearts of the Jews, went out, as the sun, from that city to another which is well-disposed and obedient. And this is what is meant, when it is said, “And when even was [p. 231] come, He went out of the city.”

But the sun sets in one place, rises in another, for the light, taken from the Scribes, shines in the Apostles; wherefore He returns into the city; on which account there is added, “And in the morning, as they passed by, (that is, going into the city,) they saw the fig tree dried up from the root.”

Theophylact: The greatness of the miracle appears in the drying up so juicy and green a tree. But though Matthew says that the fig tree was at once dried up, and that the disciples on seeing it wondered, there is no reason for perplexity, though Mark now says, that the disciples saw the fig tree dried up on the morrow; for what Matthew says must be understood to mean that they did not see it at once, but on the next day.

Augustine, de Con. Evan, ii, 68: The meaning is not that it dried up at the time, when they saw it, but immediately after the word of the Lord; for they saw it, not beginning to dry up, but completely dried up; and they thus understood that it had withered immediately after our Lord spoke.

Pseudo-Jerome: Now the fig tree withered from the roots is the synagogue withered from Cain, and the rest, from whom all the blood from Abel up to Zechariah is required.

Bede: Further, the fig tree was dried up from the roots to shew that the nation was impious not only for a time and in part, and was to be smitten forever, not merely to be afflicted by the attacks of nations from without and then to be freed, as had often been done; or else it was dried up from the roots, to shew that is was stripped not only of the external favour of man, but altogether of the favour of heaven within it; for it lost both its life in heaven, and its country on earth.

Pseudo-Jerome: Peter perceives the dry root, which is cut off, and has been replaced by the beautiful and fruitful olive, called by the Lord.  Wherefore it goes on: “And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto Him, Master, behold, the fig tree which Thou cursedst is withered away.”

Chrys.: The wonder of the disciples was the consequence of imperfect faith, for this was no great thing for God to do; since then they did not clearly know His power, their ignorance made them break out into wonder.

And therefore it is added, “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain,” &c. That is; Thou shalt not only be able to dry up a tree, but also to change a mountain by they command and order.

Theophylact: Consider the Divine mercy, how it confers on us, if we approach Him in faith, the power of miracles, which He Himself possesses by nature, so that we should be able even to change mountains.

Bede: The Gentiles, who have attacked the Church, are in the habit of objecting to us, that we have never had full faith in God, for we have never been able to change mountains. It could, however, be done, if necessity called for it, as once we read that it was done by the prayers of the blessed Father Gregory of Neocaesarea, Bishop of Pontus, by which a mountain left as much space of ground for the inhabitants of a city as they wanted.

Chrys.: Or else, as He did not dry up the fig tree for its own sake, but for a sign that Jerusalem should come to destruction, in order to shew His power, in the same way we must also understand the promise concerning the mountain, though a removal of this sort is not impossible with God.

Pseudo-Jerome: Christ then who is the mountain, which grew from the stone, cut out without hands, is taken up and cast into the sea, when the Apostles with justice say, Let us turn ourselves to other nations, [Act_13:46] since ye judged yourselves unworthy of hearing the word of God.

Bede: Or else, because the devil is often on account of his pride called by the name of a mountain, this mountain, at the command of those who are strong in the faith, is taken up from the earth and cast into the sea, whenever, at the preaching of the word of God by the holy doctors, the unclean spirit is expelled from the hearts of those who are fore-ordained to life, and is allowed to exert the tyranny of his power over the troubled and embittered souls of the faithless. At which time, he rages the more fiercely, the more he grieves at being turned away from hurting the faithful.

It goes on: “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”

Theophylact: For whosoever sincerely believes evidently lifts up his heart to God, and is joined to Him, and his burning heart feels sure that he has received what he asked for, which he who has experienced will understand; and those persons appear to me to experience this, who attend to the measure and the  manner of their prayers. For this reason the Lord says, “Ye shall receive whatsoever ye ask in faith;” for he who believes that he is altogether in the hands of God, and interceding with tears, feels that he as it were has hold of the feet of the Lord in prayer, he shall receive what he has rightly asked for. Again, would you in another way receive what you ask for? Forgive your brother, if he has in any way sinned against you; this is also what is added: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Pseudo-Jerome: Mark has, as he is wont, expressed seven verses of the Lord’s prayer in one prayer. But what can he, whose sins are all forgiven, require more, save that he may persevere in what has been granted unto him.

Bede: But we must observe that there is a difference in those who pray; he who has perfect faith, which worketh by love, can by his prayer or even his command remove spiritual mountains, as Paul did with Elymas the sorcerer. But let those who are unable to mount up to such a height of perfection pray that their sins should be forgiven them, and they shall obtain what they pray for, provided that they themselves first forgive those who have sinned against them.

If however they disdain to do this, not only shall they be unable to perform miracles by their prayers, but they shall not even be able to obtain pardon for their sins, which is implied in what follows; “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

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Pope John Paul II’ Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 149

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 4, 2011


Wednesday 23 May 2001


Song of praise, joy sung by festive chorus and instruments

1. “Let the faithful exult in glory, let them rise joyfully from their couches”. The order which you have just heard in Psalm 149, points to a dawn which is breaking and finds the faithful ready to chant their morning praise. With a suggestive phrase, their song of praise is defined as “a new song” (v. 1), a solemn and perfect hymn, perfect for the final days, in which the Lord will gather together the just in a renewed world. A festive atmosphere pervades the entire Psalm; it begins with the initial Alleluia and then continues with chant, praise, joy, dance, the sound of drums and of harps. The Psalm inspires a prayer of thanksgiving from a heart filled with religious exultation.

2. The protagonists of the Psalm in the original Hebrew text are given two terms that are taken from the spirituality of the Old Testament. Three times they are defined as the hasidim (vv. 1, 5, 9), “the pious, the faithful ones”, who respond with fidelity and love (hesed) to the fatherly love of the Lord.

The second part of the Psalm provokes surprise because it is full of warlike sentiments. It is strange that in the same verse, the Psalm brings together “the praises of God on the lips” and “the two-edged sword in their hands” (v. 6). Upon reflection, we can understand why the Psalm was composed for the use of the “faithful” who were involved in a struggle for liberation; they were fighting to free an oppressed people and to give them the possibility of serving God. During the Maccabean era, in the 2nd century B.C., those fighting for freedom and faith, who underwent a severe repression from the Hellenistic power, were defined as the hasidim, the ones faithful to the Word of God and the tradition of the fathers.

3. In the present perspective of our prayer, the warlike symbolism becomes an image of the dedication of the believer who sings the praises of God in the morning and then goes into the ways of the world, in the midst of evil and injustice. Unfortunately powerful forces are arrayed against the Kingdom of God:  the Psalmist speaks of “peoples, nations, leaders and nobles”. Yet he is confident because he knows that he has at his side the Lord, who is the master of history (v. 2). His victory over evil is certain and so will be the triumph of love. All the hasidim participate in the battle, they are the faithful and just who with the power of the Spirit bring to fulfilment the wonderful work that is called the Kingdom of God.

4. St Augustine, starting with the reference of the Psalm to the “choir” and to the “drums and harps”, commented:  “What does the choir represent?… The choir is a group of singers who sing together. If we sing in a choir, we must sing in harmony. When one sings in a choir, one off-key voice strikes the listener and creates confusion in the choir” (Enarr. in Ps. 149; CCL 40, 7, 1-4).

Referring to the instruments mentioned in the Psalm he asks:  “Why does the Psalmist take in hand the drum and the harp?”. He answers, “Because we praise the Lord not just with the voice, but also with our works. When we take up the drum and the harp, the hands have to be in accord with the voice. The same goes for you. When you sing the Alleluia, you must give bread to the poor, give clothes to the naked, give shelter to the traveler. If you do it, not only does your voice sing, but your hands are in accord with your voice because the works agree with the words” (ibid., 8, 1-4).

5. There is a second term which we use to define those who pray in the Psalm:  they are the anawim, “the poor and lowly ones” (v. 4). The expression turns up often in the Psalter. It indicates not just the oppressed, the miserable, the persecuted for justice, but also those who, with fidelity to the moral teaching of the Alliance with God, are marginalized by those who prefer to use violence, riches and power. In this light one understands that the category of the “poor” is not just a social category but a spiritual choice. It is what the famous first Beatitude means:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5,3). The prophet Zephaniah spoke to the anawim as special persons:  “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of wrath of the Lord” (Zep 2,3).

6. The “day of the Lord’s wrath” is really the day described in the second part of the Psalm when the “poor” are lined up on the side of God to fight against evil. By themselves they do not have sufficient strength or the arms or the necessary strategies to oppose the onslaught of evil. Yet the Psalmist does not admit hesitation:  “The Lord loves his people, he adorns the lowly (anawim) with victory” (v. 4). What St Paul says to the Corinthians completes the picture:  “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (I Cor 1,28).

With such confidence the “sons of Zion” (v. 2), the hasidim and anawim, the faithful and the poor, go on to live their witness in the world and in history. Mary’s canticle in the Gospel of Luke, the Magnificat, is the echo of the best sentiments of the “sons of Zion”:  glorious praise of God her Saviour, thanksgiving for the great things done by the Mighty One, the battle against the forces of evil, solidarity with the poor and fidelity to the God of the Covenant (cf Lk 1,46-55).

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