Jesse Tree 3: The Tree of Knowledge

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (3:1-8):

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

When God made our first parents, he put them in the Garden of Eden, where they had everything they could want. The Garden provided food, warmth, and safety, and they could eat from the Tree of Life and never die. But the best thing about the Garden was that God lived their with our first parents. They could talk with him and walk with him there, the way you meet your best friend.

TreeofKnowledgeTo stay in the Garden, our first parents had really to be best friends with God. They had to trust that he knew what was right and wrong, good and bad, safe and harmful. But Satan told them a lie, the biggest lie there is: he told them that God did not really love them, and told them that God wanted to keep the best things away from them so he could have the best things all for himself. First Eve and then Adam believed the lie, stopped trusting God, and claimed the power to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.  They preferred the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil over being friends with God.

When God came to visit them after that, Adam and Eve didn’t walk and talk with him. In fact, they hid from him. They were afraid of him! Right away, God saw that they could not live in the Garden anymore. He banished them, sent them away. The world became a sad place for Adam and Eve, a place where they would have to work hard to get their food, a place where they knew they would have to die someday, and a place where God seemed far away—not because he was far from them but because they were far from him.

Ever since that day, all boys and girls have been born into a world where people are hungry and where people have to die. Everyone has been born into Adam’s sin, and for thousands of years little boys and girls were born away from God’s friendship—away from the Garden of Eden.  But the story of Advent is about how God came to find his lost people.

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Jesse Tree 2: Adam and Eve

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (1:26-28):

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

During Advent, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Every night there is more darkness. If we look around we just see darkness, but if we look up we see frosty pin-pricks of light. When we see the gigantic sky, the moon and stars that God arranged, we may wonder: If God is so powerful and great, why does he pay any attention to little things like us?

Adam and Eve

The Bible says that God made us more important than the moon and all the stars and everything in the night sky put together. He made us in his own image, which means that we can know God and love him, which no star or animal or plant can do. Just as God is the king of the whole world, he made us kings over all the animals and all the fish and everything else that lives on the earth or in the sea.

Why did God make us kings? He made us kings over the world so that we could lead the whole world back to him. Everything that came from God needs to go to God, and we are supposed to bring the world to him.

How can we bring the world to God? It is very simple to say, but very hard to do. What would happen if a king gave himself to God? Wouldn’t that king’s whole kingdom be a gift too? We bring the world to God by giving him ourselves. If we trust God for everything we need, praise God for all his wonderful works, and love God above all things, then the whole world becomes a gift to him.

Prayer

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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Jesse Tree 1: Alpha and Omega

[From the online Jesse Tree.]

A reading from the book of Genesis (1:1-5):

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Advent is the time every year when we tell a story. It is a long story, about many different people and many different times. It is a beautiful story, sometimes sad and sometimes happy. It is also a story with the happiest ending you can imagine, because it is the story of how Jesus came to save us.

Our story begins at the very beginning of the whole world. The very first book of the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) God made the light and the darkness; God made the sky and the sea; God made the dry land and all the plants; God made the sun and the moon and the stars; God made all the birds and all the animals. Everything we see around us came from God, because God is the beginning of all things.

Then the Bible says: “On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3) This doesn’t mean that God was tired and needed to rest. No, it means that God wants the whole world and everything in it to rest in him at the end of time. Just as everything begins in God, so too everything ends in God.

Alpha_and_OmegaThis is what our Advent story is about: how everything that came from God will go back to God in the end.

Our ornament today is the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the very last book of the Bible, God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:6) This ornament reminds us that God made everything and that everything was made for God.

[If Advent begins on or after November 28, proceed directly to the next ornament now.]

Prayer

O Lord, we beg you, come before us with your inspiration and accompany us with your help, that our every prayer and work may always begin with you and through you be completed. Amen.

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Introducing the Jesse Tree

Nothing says “Advent” for me like the Jesse Tree.  For years now, I have talked through the story of salvation every December with my children using ornaments on an old cloth tree.  But what is the Jesse Tree, exactly?  Here’s how I have explained it to my kids (with a few bigger words because you’re not a kid):

JesseTreeQ. Does anybody know what this is?
A. It’s a Jesse Tree.

Q. What do you do with a Jesse Tree?
A. Hang ornaments on it telling the story of salvation history.

Q. Why do we hang ornaments to tell the story instead of just telling the story?
A. The Jesse Tree is a mnemonic device; we easily remember a set of pictures arranged on a tree where we might have difficulty remembering a set of words on a page.

Q. Why is it called a Jesse Tree?
A. Because of the messianic prophecy in Is 11:1 about the “stump” of Jesse. Continue reading “Introducing the Jesse Tree”

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St. Martin of Tours and advent of Advent

If you pray the breviary regularly, you get a glimpse into liturgical history. Even today, if almost all the readings and prayers for a saints’ day are particular to the day rather than drawn from the “commons” in the back then it’s a safe bet this saint was a big deal in the Middle Ages.

Pretty much everything in the breviary is special for St. Martin. He was much loved across Christian Europe, and in the decades leading up to the year 600 dioceses all over the west adopted the practice of fasting from St. Martin’s day until Christmas on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in imitation of the forty days before Easter. It was known as “St. Martin’s Lent,” and was later abbreviated to four weeks to become what we know as the Advent Season.

In keeping with the day before a fast, Martinmas was a day of feasting. Farmers slaughtered their meat animals and, incidentally, paid their taxes and tithes; children wandered from door to door begging for alms like trick-or-treaters today; bon fires blazed, goose was consumed, and a good time was had by all.

Even though Martinmas is no longer the liturgical beginning of Advent, it still works for me like a signpost: “Start thinking about Advent and Christmas!” Time to make those Christmas lists, think about Advent resolutions, and make sure you fixed that Advent decoration that broke last year. Here in the Holmes house, it is a doubly special day because our fourth child, Regina, was born on this day ten years ago. Wednesdays are too full for partying, but come Saturday we’ll have a delayed Martinmas celebration with a bon fire, hot dogs, music, entertainment, birthday cake and ice cream, and presents for the queen of the feast.

So read about St. Martin and find out why the people of the Middle Ages loved him so much. If nothing else, walk around today with a festive spring in your step! And remember that he was considered the patron saint of taverns.

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How Noah brought home the bacon: the riddle of Genesis 5:29

I love senior thesis time at Wyoming Catholic College. Students jump in over their heads, take on bold ideas, thrash around, and eventually ask their teachers the most wonderful, fundamental, and challenging questions. This year one of the women is writing about how the Eucharist relates to the importance of food in general—how cool is that?—and found herself dealing with the passage in Genesis 9 where Noah receives permission to eat meat. Her thesis director sent her to me for help, and….

Well, it’s time to expose myself. For years now I have read that passage in a way I have never seen in any commentary and yet in a way which seems more obvious to me with time. Never having an occasion to talk about it, I have never bothered to submit my interpretation to scrutiny and possible refutation. Maybe I have been deluded all this time? Maybe I’m off the map? Or maybe, just maybe, I’m on to something? Judge for yourself. This write-up is for Alexis. Continue reading “How Noah brought home the bacon: the riddle of Genesis 5:29”

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5 Steps from All Souls’ to All Saints’

November seems like the perfect place for All Souls’ Day. Although a time a harvest, it is also a time of dwindling life and light, a time that signifies the approach of death. Coming immediately after All Saints’ Day, when the Church Militant venerates the Church Triumphant and those in glory pray for us, All Souls’ Day has us attend to the remaining part of the Mystical Body.

The placement of All Souls’ Day right after All Saints’ Day also makes sense from a historical perspective. According to Dom Gregory Dix, our liturgical veneration of the saints is ultimately rooted in an early belief in purgatory. He traces the history this way:

  1. The earliest Christians believed that the deceased faced the possibility of purgative fires. So when a Christian died, it was customary to offer prayers for that person on the anniversary of his or her death.
  2. When a Christian was martyred, the community felt strange about praying for his soul, because it was confident the deceased had bypassed purgatory entirely. On the other hand, it was customary to do something on the anniversary of a Christian’s death. So instead of praying for the martyr’s soul, they would offer prayers in celebration of what the martyr had done. (This is captured in the Martyrdom of Polycarp.)
  3. In a kind of Christianized civic spirit, Christian communities celebrated their local martyrs in a regular cycle.
  4. In the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem began celebrating all the great biblical saints, because for someone living in Jerusalem all the biblical saints were local.
  5. When the many pilgrims to Jerusalem brought this practice back to their various homes, suddenly a lot of communities were celebrating saints that were not local to them. Thus was born the universal calendar of saints.

So in a kind of order of discovery, All Souls’ Day is prior to All Saints’ Day: we discovered Masses in honor of the triumphant by realizing we weren’t comfortable counting them as suffering. But in another order, All Saints’ Day is first: we look to the goal first and then pray that our suffering brothers and sisters will reach it; all of us who can pray, which includes us on earth and our forerunners in heaven, first unite together and then, together, pray for the suffering deceased.

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Saints of the Bible: A Complete List of Their Feasts in the Old and New Calendars

Before the amazing 4th century, Christians were parochial and even patriotic in their veneration of saints. Rome celebrated the martyrs who had died at Rome, Constantinople celebrated the martyrs who had died at Constantinople, Antioch celebrated the martyrs who had died at Antioch, and so on. It never occurred to the folks in Rome to celebrate the saints of Antioch, or vice versa: celebrating a saint involved walking out to see his tomb. But in the 4th century a unique group of saints broke this pattern and set us on the path to the celebration of all saints. Who were they?

Abraham IconThe saints of the Bible.

The saints of the Bible were familiar names throughout the Church. Texts like Hebrews 11 and Sirach 44-50, read everywhere, held up the great men and women of Salvation History as examples to follow and heroes to venerate. For the church in Jerusalem, however, the saints of Scripture were also the local martyrs: just as Rome had a list of days for celebrating the martyrs of Rome, Jerusalem had a cycle of liturgical commemorations of the biblical saints. When 4th-century pilgrims brought Jerusalem’s liturgies back to their home dioceses, they brought with them the practice of liturgically commemorating the biblical saints—and implicitly, they created the practice of commemorating saints that were not local. Unwittingly, they had planted the seed of the universal sanctoral cycle. Continue reading “Saints of the Bible: A Complete List of Their Feasts in the Old and New Calendars”

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