25th Sunday Ordinary Time – Why do good?

September 23

Adult Sacrament Classes: The meetings for Adults who wish to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist will begin on Sunday, Oct 7th after the 11:15 Mass in the Rectory. They will be held about once per month for 2hrs. Because we recognize that many of our parishioners must travel for work there will be another opportunity during the week to participate.

A special invitation to any adult in the Parish to participate. This is a wonderful opportunity to not only update your knowledge of the Church’s teaching but also to experience true spiritual formation.

Please contact Blanca Anchundia at the rectory (718.625.1177) to get the book we will be using and read the first 2 chapters before the first meeting.

Church renovation: The abatement work at the church is now substantially complete with only a few small areas still in progress.  The closeout paperwork has been filed and once approved it will allow the restoration work to get fully underway.  The paperwork for the restoration work, the surveying of the existing conditions by the contractor, and the planning of the logistics to complete everything have been underway for the past several months.  This advanced planning will allow work to flow smoothly and minimize delays.  In the next few weeks mockup areas of exterior restoration work will begin to pop up for both architect and Landmarks review and approve.  Masonry and exterior wood restoration work will begin as well.  There will remain a lot of work behind the scenes finalizing details for the window coverings and materials to match the existing.  This work will all begin to catch up to the masonry restoration over the next weeks and months.

Meet and Greet: We would like to thank all those who participated in the Meet and Greet last Sunday. Special thanks for the generosity of the Fitzpatrick/Lorelli foundation, Luzzo’s Pizza and Beth Lieu. Hope to see you all again next month.

Special Preaching Series: In preparation for the second “World Day of the Poor” on Sunday, Nov. 18th, all the homilies at all the Masses will be on the Social Doctrine of the Church. You will find further information on this every week on the Parish Website and our weekly email updates.

 

First Reading – September 23

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom of Solomon 2:12; 12-17

 

The readings for the last 2 weeks have been from Isaiah and their events have unfolded in the Jerusalem of 520 BC. We have seen the great miracle of the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon but have seen as well that at least some had a fundamental misunderstanding of what had occurred.  They thought that they would be rewarded with riches, position and power. Instead they were essentially frontiersman. Indeed, last week Isaiah told them that the way to understanding would be through suffering and sacrifice. Why then do good rather than bad, and what indeed is good? Today’s reading gives at least part of the answer.

We return today to the book of Wisdom. We read from it several months ago; let us take a moment to remember its background. Although it sounds ancient, it is perhaps the last book in the Old Testament and could have been written as late as 30 BC. Also, although it takes the name of King Solomon of Jerusalem from about 1000 BC, it was most likely written in Alexandra Egypt for the children of the Jewish elite who were immersed in the Roman world and tempted to give up their faith.

Alexandria was an important commercial but also intellectual center, and the author of Wisdom is well versed in all the alternatives to Judaism, from Greek philosophy to the cult of Isis. He is however first and foremost a person of his tradition. He answers the questions that his young people might have from Scriptures and shows the superiority of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

We saw before that the bedrock of wisdom is justice, “For justice is undying”. But there are those who do not place justice at the center of their lives:

1 they who said among themselves, thinking not aright:

“Brief and troublous is our lifetime;

neither is there any remedy for man’s dying,

nor is anyone known to have come back from the nether world. Wisdom of Solomon 2:1 (NAB)

 

They look at their world and do not experience anything permanent.  So they conclude:

6 “Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are real, and use the freshness of creation avidly”. (2:6)

If acquisition and consumption are all that is then we take whatever we can from whoever has it. In words that are almost chillingly contemporary:

10 Let us oppress the needy just man;

let us neither spare the widow

nor revere the old man for his hair grown white with time.

11 But let our strength be our norm of justice;

for weakness proves itself useless. Wisdom of Solomon 2:10–11

 

The section that we read today begins here:

12 Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;

he sets himself against our doings,

Reproaches us for transgressions of the law

and charges us with violations of our training. Wisdom of Solomon 2:12 (NAB)

 

We are reminded here that those being addressed received a good Jewish education. They know what is good and right and are unnerved by those who live the good life. They therefore seek to test him and more to the point God himself.  “Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” Wisdom of Solomon 2:20

Our passage ends here but let us read further.

21 These were their thoughts, but they erred;

for their wickedness blinded them,

22 And they knew not the hidden counsels of God;

neither did they count on a recompense of holiness

nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

23 For God formed man to be imperishable;

the image of his own nature he made him.

24 But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,

and they who are in his possession experience it. Wisdom of Solomon 2:21–3:1 (NAB)

Here we see the importance of creation. We assume that there was a beginning, but this was unique in the ancient world. Non-Jews believed that we were made in all sorts of ways for all sorts of  reasons, They were  rarely good and never loving. Humanity was formed by accident, contempt and spite. For the Jews there was a real creation and one that was conscious and loving. As we were created by a God who was both just and loving the author of wisdom could not conceive that those who responded to that love would not live forever. Being good is acting in conformity to the way we were made. It is in our terms being authentic. It is only the Good who live a life which is truly human and will continue in the world to come. (What happens to those who are bad is left somewhat underdeveloped in Wisdom.)

Now this requires some clarification. Like Daniel and the author of Maccabees Wisdom holds that there is a life after death, but his approach reflects Greek thinking and speaks of immortality or at least its possibility built in to us at creation. The others –  and indeed the one accepted by Christians –  is the resurrection of the Body. This is an even greater gift because it is not a mere extension or continuation of human life – although perfected and without pain or want – but a transformation into a new life. We are not here to be the best we can be but to become Jesus. It is good for us to reflect however on Wisdom. It is only because creation is good and that goodness calls to us that we can be open to the transforming grace of Jesus.

Yet there are this-worldly consequences to how one lives. Because the evil do not know the “councils of God” they do not realize what is truly real and sustaining here and now. Although their lives may often seem better – particularly in material possessions – lack of authenticity ultimately makes one blind, dumb and unhappy. We are, as has been said, not punished for our sins we are punished by our sins.

As we said previously the author of the book of Wisdom was a very learned elder who responded to the many options facing a young person in his very cosmopolitan city. Today he responds directly only to a most superficial, if nonetheless pervasive world view. He reveals however many points of contact with the great western classical authors. Aristotle would have concurred with him that happiness is the ultimate end and purpose of human existence. He would have affirmed Aristotle’s observation that this is obtained by doing good in Aristotle’s terms by exercising virtue. But here is a major difference which would be revealed by suffering and sacrifice. For Aristotle, a virtuous person may have to suffer even being martyred to avoid vice. Suffering, however, would not offer any understanding in this world nor connection to a higher power. His God is principally found by reason; the God of the Jews, however, is found in revelation. There is a different relationship. This will be seen more clearly with Jesus, but it is found in Wisdom as well.

Last week we concluded with a quote from GK Chesterton, perhaps the most famous convert to Catholicism in the last century. Let us end this week with one from Oscar Wilde, on the surface, the most surprising: “Clergymen and people who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revelation.”

 

24th Sunday Ordinary Time – Morning after Morning

Reminders:

Meet and Greet after each Mass this Sunday, September 16.  Join us for coffee and get to know your fellow parishioners.

Media Outreach meeting September 18 at 7 PM at the Rectory. RSVP at [email protected]

Faith Sharing groups forming – sign up sheets at Mass or contact the Rectory at [email protected]

Family Faith Formation – classes for RCIA, completing sacraments, and religious education for children starting. See Fr. Smith after Mass.

 

First Reading September 16

Twenty Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 50:4c-9

 

We return today to the same world that we saw last week: Jerusalem after the return of the exiles around 520 BC. A miracle had occurred. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and the leaders brought into exile in Babylon. This should have been the end of the Jewish People. Yet God through the unlikely intermediary of Cyrus Prince of Persia has given them a chance to start again. Enough decided return to the ruins of Jerusalem that they could contemplate reconstruction. Yet they needed a second miracle to know why they were there.

Many seemed to believe that they would be rewarded by God for their faith in the common way of the world: comfort, wealth and power. They were living however Spartan lives in rubble as the employees of a foreign emperor. They asked Isaiah why God has abandoned them. Like their forefathers who left Egypt they began to believe they were better off in captivity.

In the passage immediately before today’s reading God answers them:

Where is the bill of divorce

with which I dismissed your mother?

Or to which of my creditors

have I sold you?

It was for your sins that you were sold,

for your crimes that your mother was dismissed. (Isaiah 50:1)

They were exiled because of their refusal to follow God but there was no bill of divorce or sale to anyone else. They were not abandoned permanently. God did not want to sever His ties with them but to chastise them. Note, however, this is not the past but the present. He is referring to them, not their forbears:

2 Why was no one there when I came?

Why did no one answer when I called?

Is my hand too short to ransom?

Have I not the strength to deliver? (50:2)

He called them to make a new Exodus following him to a new land and they did not follow with their hearts, only their bodies. Note the references to the Exodus in the next line:

Lo, with my rebuke I dry up the sea,

I turn rivers into a desert;

Their fish rot for lack of water,

and die of thirst. 50:3

 

The next line however marks a change and it is Isaiah who speaks:

 

4 The Lord GOD has given me

a well-trained tongue,

That I might know how to speak to the weary

a word that will rouse them.

Morning after morning

he opens my ear that I may hear; (50:4)

 

A better translation for “a well-trained tongue” would be the tongue of a disciple. His responsibly is not to convey information, however true, but to exhort the people to fulfill their tasks. This requires continued effort (Morning after Morning) and is not the message we might first have considered.

A key part of “Second Isaiah” are the four “suffering servant songs” in which he speaks as one who has taken on the burden of his people. This is the third. We will examine them in greater detail in Lent but let us only look at this one by itself.

5 And I have not rebelled,

have not turned back.

6 I gave my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;

My face I did not shield

from buffets and spitting.  (50:5–6)

Voluntary suffering was not common in the Old Testament, but it was not unknown. Jerimiah refers to himself as like a trusting lamb led to the slaughter. (Jer 12:19). This was however before the exile. Isaiah wishes to show them what is expected of them in this new world.

7 The Lord GOD is my help,

therefore I am not disgraced;

I have set my face like flint,

knowing that I shall not be put to shame.  (50:7–9)

 

However unpleasant life may become, he knows that God will never abandon him and dares those who thought him only oppressed to take him to court:

 

8 He is near who upholds my right;

if anyone wishes to oppose me,

let us appear together.

Who disputes my right?

Let him confront me.

9 See, the Lord GOD is my help;

who will prove me wrong?

Lo, they will all wear out like cloth,

the moth will eat them up. (50:8-9)

 

In the verse immediately following, he then addresses the people directly:

10 Who among you fears the LORD,

heeds his servant’s voice,

And walks in darkness

without any light,

Trusting in the name of the LORD

and relying on his God? (50:10)

 

He knows that they do not understand him, that they would be expected to follow God for seemingly no earthly reward does not make sense to them. But it is their role to trust God.

 

11 All of you kindle flames

and carry about you fiery darts;

Walk by the light of your own fire

and by the flares you have burnt!

This is your fate from my hand:

you shall lie down in a place of pain. (50:10–11)

If they think they are walking by light it is their own and not God’s. Their fate will be pain forever.

There are many statements to the effect that we learn by our successes when young and failures when old. God is teaching the people what he wants them to be mature disciples.

It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the survivors of Israel;

I will make you a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)

The Jews were called to lead others to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They would need to learn that the required humility comes by sacrifice and suffering. It is not a lesson we want to live, but as a now deceased professor told me at 20, “wisdom makes a bloody entrance”, which I began to understand at 50 and hope to live at 70.

This is a necessary lesson for us as individuals and I think for the church as well. The prestige and power of the church have been declining for years and the recent cover up scandals will accelerate this trend. This diminishment comes at a bad time for the nation. Msgr. LoPinto and I will preach about the social teachings of the Church during the weeks preceding world day of the poor on Nov 18th. They are a valuable indeed unique way to analyze the world and create productive polices. The actual implementation of these policies through organizations such as Catholic charities allow our teachings to be made tangible. We may have great difficulties being both heard and funded. Nevertheless, the humiliation if embraced in the spirit of Isaiah can be a real purification from the root to the branch,

Next week we will read from the Book of Wisdom (2:12, 17-20) and its author will have some excellent suggestions for us, until then let us remember the words of G. K. Chesterton from his long poem, the “Ballad of the White Horse”. They may be the best commentary ever written on today’s reading:

But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark. . .

 

 

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time – Chosen Missionaries of His Love

Reading Matters: We have recently seen statements from American Bishops that are so different that they may seem that they are dueling. We need then to go to the most authoritative interpreters of Scripture and Tradition: the documents of Ecumenical Councils, officially issued Catechisms and encyclical letters and apostolic exhortations of Popes.

I would like to suggest the following: (Web sites appended)

Gaudium et spes ( Joy and Hope), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.” (opening of English Translation) http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

 

Lumen gentium (Light of the World), the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ” (chapter 40) http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/

Evangelii gaudium (English: The Joy of the Gospel) by Pope Francis http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

 

First reading:

Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35: 4-7b

 

We evolve; God does not. This simple truth can seem so obvious that we do not realize how significant it is. There is no “God of the Old Testament” as compared with the God of the new. There is the one “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” who with a Father’s love and care has sought to bring us to a greater maturity. Jesus expresses this beautifully when explaining why he would not permit divorce: “He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mat 19:8)

Notice that Jesus is saying that he assumes both that their hearts are no longer as hard and that this is in accordance with the way he created humans. He is restoring us to our highest possibilities. Matthew reminds us again in chapter 5 of the great antithesis: “You have heard it said but I tell you” on topics from anger to divorce. Jesus is not only showing his power to make the law stricter, but our ability to live it more faithfully.

This can be accomplished only by the grace of Jesus and that this is the key moment; but, we should not believe that it came all at once. We see the guiding hand of God and the positive response of the people throughout the Old Testament. There are times in which the same book of the Bible or books written at approximately the same time can show several levels of development. Today’s passage is one such instance.

It is taken from the 35th chapter of the Book of Isaiah. As we have seen several times this summer there were at least 3 prophets who used the name Isaiah. We normally assume that the first 39 chapters were written by the first person to employ it in the 8th century BC.  Today is one of the exceptions and was written about 520 BC by one of the later uses after the Jewish leaders had returned from exile in Babylon to restore the temple in Jerusalem,

Time did not stand still. Although the Jews were removed from Judea, there were others who wanted it and moved to take over practical control. We are most familiar with the Samaritans, but another was the people of Edom which bordered Judea on the south. Land disputes were solved in those days by soldiers not lawyers and there was bound to be a conflict. This is reflected in chapter 34 of Isaiah.

God is pictured as summoning the nations to a court but there is no trial, just a verdict. Speaking of Edom:

their slain shall be cast out,

their corpses shall send up a stench;

The mountains shall run with their blood,

4 and all the hills shall rot;

The heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll,

and all their host shall wither away,

As the leaf wilts on the vine,

or as the fig withers on the tree. (Isaiah 34: 3-4)

 

This continues for the entire chapter and reflects the justice of God. He chastised his own people with the exile for their disobedience, now in fairness He is seen doing the same to those who took part of His holy land.

 

We read in today’s passage the corresponding blessings which obedience brings.

 

First encouragement:

 

4 Say to those whose hearts are frightened:

Be strong, fear not!

Here is your God,

he comes with vindication;

With divine recompense

he comes to save you. (35:4)

 

Vindication here means that he will show his justice to the whole world and the obedience of the Jews will be seen to have been worth the sacrifice. Being saved by divine recompense would mean being redeemed. In the Middle East, if someone was kidnapped or captured in a war, a redeemer – usually a family member – was appointed to ransom the person. God is so close to his people that he is the Redeemer and does it himself.

 

This will be experienced by everyone particularly those marginalized in their daily life.

 

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,

the ears of the deaf be cleared;

6 Then will the lame leap like a stag,

then the tongue of the dumb will sing.  (35:5-6a)

 

But the Jews always remembered and put before all else the good of the community:

 

Streams will burst forth in the desert,

and rivers in the steppe. 

7 The burning sands will become pools,

and the thirsty ground, springs of water;

The abode where jackals lurk

will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus. (35:6b-7)

 

They will be treated justly for their obedience.

 

But one of those who felt comfortable using the name of Isaiah at the same time wrote:

 

6 It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the survivors of Israel;

I will make you a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)

The Jews were to be not only recipients of divine justice, but also missionaries of His love. God’s love is beyond borders or race, class, nationality or any other wall we can construct.

This was not an ideocracy of Isaiah; we see an even more decisive statement at about the same time from the book of Zechariah:

20 Thus says the LORD of hosts: There shall yet come peoples, the inhabitants of many cities;

21 and the inhabitants of one city shall approach those of another, and say, “Come! let us go to implore the favor of the LORD”; and, “I too will go to seek the LORD.”

22 Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to implore the favor of the LORD. 23 Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men of every nationality, speaking different tongues, shall take hold, yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”  Zechariah 8:20–23

To be chosen by the God of Israel is to be a missionary for the God of Israel; the sign that a person or congregation has experienced true divine love is to feel the need to share it. This is a difficult thing to learn. When Jesus indicated that to his neighbors in Nazareth, Luke tells us:

28 When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.

29 They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (4:28–29)

It will be no less difficult for us. Yet it is to this that we are called. Where there is no justice there can be no peace, but the peace brought by justice is not enough. It is not the Kingdom of God, only a cease fire; to show the Kingdom, it must be crowned with charity. If it is not, we have not known the Lord who brings both.

22nd Sunday Ordinary Time – Second Teaching

An invitation to Formation: When was the last time you did something serious to grow in the knowledge of your faith and more to the point allow that knowledge to form you? Confirmation, High School, a mandatory class in College? This year, we will again have a scripture sharing program which will meet throughout the week. It will be structured, but there will be little mandatory reading other than the scriptures. We have other ideas for the future. However, there is a possibility hiding in plain sight for now. St. Charles offers a program for Catholics who have missed Sacraments or Non-Catholics who wish to become Catholic. As we recognize the hectic lives of our parishioners and neighbors it meets one time per month for 2 hours and covers the basics of the faith. (The classes are also offered twice week, Sunday Afternoon and a weekday evening.) There is significant reading involved and needs to be taken seriously. Even if you have received all the appropriate Sacraments and are a regular church-goer, would this fit your spiritual needs here and now? More to come next week.

Funeral Mass: There will be a funeral Mass this Thursday, September 6th for Joseph Francis Monk. For exact time call the rectory or see the website after Tuesday.

 

First reading

Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 2, 2018
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8

Today we read from the Book of Deuteronomy. It is literally translated as “second Law” but might be better called the second reading of the law. It is the 5th book of the Bible and concludes the Pentateuch/Torah and is composed as a series of addresses by Moses to the Hebrews as they prepare to invade Canaan. Moses reviews the law with the people and tells them that without it they will perish. We read from it last week to see how Joshua became the successor to Moses. At that time we saw the importance of the Torah and noted that it could better be translated as teachings than laws. This week we will look at why.

As we have many times seen in examining these readings the concerns of the time that the texts were written down are as important as when they occurred. Rabbinic Judaism held that Moses lived from 1391 to 1271 BC. Therefore, his original exhortation would have been in the late 1200s BC. This is obviosity a guess and we are not quite certain to what kind of group he was speaking nor exactly of what the law consisted.

We are on firmer ground during the reign of King Josiah who reigned between 640 and 609 BC. Two developments marked his times. In 627 the Assyrian king, who effectively controlled Judean kingdom, died and there was a succession battle. Josiah saw this as a moment to seek independence. Around the same time, he started to renovate the temple and discovered a copy of the law. This we may assume is the central part of the book of Deuteronomy.12:4-7. This discovery provoked a religious revival and part of this revival was editing this primitive version of Deuteronomy and adapting it for his day.

Therefore, as they sought to free themselves not only from military connection with Assyria but also its mental and spiritual dominion, Josiah’s editors included new material on refusing to follow foreign gods. This meant destroying temples and places of worship to other Gods in the countryside, worshipping only in Jerusalem (12:4-7) and not listening to any other god or supposed source of wisdom (6:14) They did not however fail to learn from the great prophets of the 8th century the importance of social justice. There are many instances of this but let us stop and ponder the following:

7 For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him.19 So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:17–19

These were certainly noble aspirations but as we have seen Josiah was killed in 609 BC and a series of events led to the destruction of the temple and the exile of the leadership of Judea to Babylon by 587. Although it seemed the end of the people one of the great miracles of history occurred and Persian leader Cyrus offered the people an opportunity to return to Jerusalem as his colonial administrators. The final editor of Deuteronomy was one of those who accepted this invitation and we see that many passages of it reflect these concerns. The section we read today is one of the most affecting.

As we noted the book is composed as a series of sermons of Moses. Those written by the final editor wish to show both why a loving God would allow his people to be exiled and also how they were able to maintain themselves as a people without temple or homeland. Both of these elements may be found in the 4th chapter of Deuteronomy but today’s reading looks at the second point with greater detail.

It is important for us to remember that the final editor is looking at the full history of his people. He knows that the more prosperous upper kingdom – Israel – was snuffed out 200 years before, he feels the captivity in Egypt in his bones and has himself experienced the exile in Babylon. What has allowed them to remain a people? It cannot be armies or financial prosperity, nor even worship in the temple. His answer is their way of life.

1 “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Deuteronomy 4:1–2

The statutes, decrees and commandments of Israel are more than the sum of their parts. They form a way of life, a teaching which linked everything from what one ate to how one treated aliens in ones midst to the intervention of God in their history. This then as now has sustained the Jewish people.

It is no wonder that his attitude to God for this is gratitude.

6 Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? 8 Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:6–9

They understood that their community was the result of a covenant with God and that they ratified it by the way they lived. If they lived this life, they could not be separated from God and would last until the end of the ages.

We need to remember as well that this was the continuation of the Exodus, being led from captivity in Egypt to the promised land. It is the key experience of the Jewish people from which everything else must be understood. Moses and his future editors are telling the people as one that they participate in this journey by the life they lead even more than the animal sacrifices they offer. St Paul understood this and wrote in Romans:

1 I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

The early church built upon this and saw that loving each other was the first and truest sacrifice that opened the sacrifice of the Eucharist for us.

As we as a country and a Church undergo great trials and may like the ancient Israelites be pulled away from God let us remember other words of Paul in Romans:

35 What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? 37 No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35–39