Archive | May, 2010

The Visitation and Messianic Joy- Reflection for Mass of Monday, May 31, 2010- Feast of the Visitation of Mary

31 May

Monday, May 31, 2010
Feast of the Visitation of Mary
Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18a or Romans 12:9-16; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 (Responsorial Canticle); Luke 1:39-56

The Passionist Carroll Stuhlmueller characterizes the Gospel of Luke, based on its vocabulary and literary style, as “the ‘Gospel of Messianic Joy’” in his chapter on Luke in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.[1] Stuhlmueller’s description of Luke’s Gospel is fitting, and we might understand why particularly in today’s reading, the story of the Visitation.

Luke uses several Greek synonyms for joy, exultation, or gladness, especially in his infancy narrative, that are rare in the other Gospels. One of these words, αγαλλιάσει (agallia’sei), appears only twice in Luke,[2] in today’s Gospel reading to describe John the Baptist, who leaps for joy at Mary’s greeting,[3] and in the angel’s announcement to Zechariah of his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy: “You will have joy and gladness.”[4] This word and its cognates are used only once in the Synoptic Gospels outside of Luke, in Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”[5]

Thus, the theme of joy surrounding the coming of the Messiah is repeated in Luke more than in any other Gospel. However, as Stuhlmueller emphasizes, Luke’s account is not one of joy without emotional or theological depth. Stuhlmueller writes of Luke’s tendency to precede or to follow a joyful passage with one that allows the hearer “to ponder the wonder of what has taken place.”[6] The people featured in Luke’s infancy narrative themselves take time to ponder and to be awed by the Incarnation. Luke, for example, uses that very verb twice to describe Mary’s contemplation of the mystery of God made man: “And Mary pondered all these things… in her heart.”[7]

Mary’s example of discipleship to us is to ponder the joy of our journey with Christ. Sometimes, even amid that joy, Mary ponders that which troubles her. So must we ponder and discern the will of God that brings us tremendous joy but can also be troubling to us.

Elizabeth, too, is one who ponders the mystery of the Incarnation, coupled with the miracle of her own pregnancy. Her question in today’s Gospel reading of the Visitation never ceases to give me pause: “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”[8]

Why, we ask, should God have come to us at all? Jesus was not obligated to take our human form, but He did so out of love for us. He came to dwell in the womb of a human mother, to be born, to live and to minister among us, and to die and to rise to complete the long-anticipated act of salvation. We are now given the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that God’s mystery becomes our vocation.

We carry the Spirit of the Lord within us as Mary once carried Jesus within her. When that Spirit is disseminated among us, when we act in the name of the Lord whom we receive in the Eucharist, we make the Visitation a perpetual and actual reality. Let us then live the Visitation by recognizing Christ in those around us, and in our prayer and acts of charity may we ponder the reality of Christ among us and within us, and may we be to this world a people of great joy.


[1] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:117.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Luke 1:44

[4] Luke 1:14

[5] Matthew 5:12. The Gospel of John uses cognates of αγαλλιάσει twice, in 5:35 and 8:56. This word and its derivatives appear eleven times in the New Testament. Outside the Gospels, it appears twice in the Acts of the Apostles (2:26 and 16:34), three times in the first letter of Peter (1:6, 1:8, and 4:13), and once in Revelation (19:7). See Heartlight’s Search God’s Word, “The New Testament Greek Lexicon.” lex/grk/view.cgi?number=21. Accessed 29 May, 2010.

[6] Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:117.

[7] Luke 2:19. See also Luke 1:29.

[8] Luke 1:43

Peace in New France: A Comparative History of Exploration, Settlement, and Missions of France and of other European Nations in the Americas

26 May

Historian David Hackett Fischer writes that few accounts of the earliest “encounters between American Indians and Europeans… are about harmony and peace.”[1] Nonetheless, as Fischer points out, “scholars of many nations”[2] maintain that the French explorers and later settlers of New France related more peacefully with the Indians of that territory than the first European arrivals of the late fifteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries did with native inhabitants elsewhere in the Americas.[3] Greater accord existed between the French and North American Indians compared to that between Europeans and Indians elsewhere in the New World, with significant exceptions.

For example, upon “hearing a Dominican sermon” that decried the cruel treatment of Indian slaves in the pearl fishery of Guadeloupe,[4] the Spanish “colonial official and plantation owner” Bartolomé de las Casas sought to become a priest and was ordained in 1514. He became a Dominican friar eight years later and devoted the rest of his life to the defence of the equal human dignity of the Indians and of the Spaniards.[5] More than a century thereafter, New England colonists Roger Williams and John Eliot, like the Catholic las Casas but “of the reformed Church of England,”[6] respected the Indian people as they worked to evangelize them. Eliot translated the Bible to an Algonquin tongue, “the first Bible… to be printed in America,” and also produced a catechism.[7] Opposite these examples of non-French esteem toward the Indians, on his voyages under the French Crown in 1534 and 1535, Jacques Cartier responded to Indian greetings in the St. Lawrence Valley by “seizing their children and carrying them to France against their will.”[8]

Thus, the French were not invariably kind and explorers and colonists of other powers cruel toward the Indians and toward other persons of their own ethnicity.  However, French-Indian mutuality in North America was stronger than that between Europeans and Indians elsewhere in the New World for three interrelated reasons that I will consider in this paper. The first basis for this reality was economic: Indian-European and inter-European co-operation were more essential to the success of New France- large, sparsely settled, poorly defended, and heavily dependent on the fur trade with the Indians- than to the survival of American settlements of other realms that balanced mercantilism with colonialism more than the French did. The second motive was religious and political conflict in Europe: Reformation-era France was divided between Catholics and Protestant Huguenots. Such religious strife permeated the French monarchy and peasantry alike. In contrast, other colonial nations were more homogeneously Catholic or Protestant. French explorers, Huguenot and Catholic, strove to build inter-confessional peace from their earliest American settlement attempts. The third reason was the greater priority given by the French than by other European countries to religious evangelism in their colonial holdings. Recollets then Jesuits distinguished themselves in missionary work among the indigenous inhabitants of New France. While Portugal and Spain both attended to evangelization in the Americas, it was of secondary significance to the mercantile endeavours of these nations. On the other hand, for the French, commerce and mission with the Indians went hand in hand. Indian missions were an afterthought in New England until the late seventeenth century contributions of Williams then of Eliot.[9] Likewise, the Protestant settlers of New Netherlands were more interested in trade and in shipping than the export of the Christian faith to the New World.

Economic more than religious interests impelled France, like Spain, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands, to explore and then to colonize the Americas in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. King Francis I of France financed a 1524 voyage by Giovanni da Verrazzano to find “a western passage to China and the Indies”[10] thirty-two years after the Genoese Christopher Columbus located not India but America while on a similar journey under the Spanish Crown.[11] In 1493, a year after Columbus’ expedition, Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull Inter Caetera.[12] That document, followed by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal, set the boundary between Spanish and Portuguese possessions three hundred seventy leagues west of Cape Verde, with Portugal to receive all land to the east and Spain all land to the west of the demarcation.[13] That treaty, though, was merely a delay in other European countries’ colonial aspirations. France’s Protestant King Henri IV negotiated the formal Treaty of Vervins in 1598 with the Catholic Philip II of Spain.[14] Amid the brief peace and fuller royal treasuries[15] in Europe after Vervins, France, England, Spain, and Portugal drew informal “amity lines”[16] in the Atlantic that opened America to settlement and commerce by non-Iberian countries. Henri IV instigated the practice of amity lines when “in 1598, [he] put Spanish leaders on notice that he would not be bound by old agreements that carved up the world between Spain and Portugal.”[17]

Even in the century between Tordesillas and Vervins, though, Spanish and Portuguese “hegemony in the New World” was deliberately ignored by other colonizing nations.[18] In 1497, England’s Henry VII permitted the Venetian John Cabot to search for a maritime trade route to China and India.[19] Cabot found the North American Atlantic coastline instead and explored it from Newfoundland to what later became New England.[20] The English, interested in a Northwest Passage to oriental riches and in Newfoundland’s fishery, left inland exploration of North America to the French. Francis I accepted this opportunity to commission Jacques Cartier to sail to the New World.[21] Cartier made his first voyage in 1534.[22]

On the shore of the Bay of Chaleur, Cartier was welcomed by male Mi’kmaq who held animal pelts aloft on sticks. Female Mi’kmaq, in contrast to the men, retreated into the forest. “The Indians,” J.R. Miller asserts, “initiated both the contact and the commerce” with the French.[23] Cartier knew from the eagerness of the Mi’kmaq men to trade with his crew and the reserve of the Mi’kmaq women that those Indians had previously encountered Europeans and had sought their “iron wares.”[24] The Mi’kmaq performed extensive and merry ceremonies as the French exchanged their metallic goods for Mi’kmaq furs. According to Cartier, the Mi’kmaq “bartered all they had to such an extent that they went back naked without anything on them, and they made signs to us that they would return on the morrow with more furs.”[25]

Subsequent voyages in 1535 and 1541-1542 brought Cartier to the Saguenay River and to Stadacona and Hochelaga- present-day Québec City and Montréal, respectively. Cartier’s party overwintered at Hochelaga during their second expedition, when many became ill with scurvy. One quarter of Cartier’s shipmates died of that disease.[26] The Indians could have allowed the remainder to perish also, but they compassionately taught the French “sojourners… to make a tonic containing ascorbic acid from bark, cedar needles, and water.”[27] That action showed the Indians’ willingness to assist these European visitors for more than mere material gain. Meanwhile, the French view of the Indians, whom Cartier had considered “the sorriest folk… in the world” for their lack of valuable belongings save “their canoes and fishing nets,” began to moderate with further contact.[28] Indian-French relations had begun inauspiciously in North America. In 1535 at Penouille Point, Cartier, with clear intent to claim the land for France, which overshadowed the act’s religious significance, erected a thirty-foot high cross inscribed with the name of King Francis I.[29] At the same location, Cartier captured two sons of the Iroquois chief Donnacona “to take them back to France”;[30] Dom Agaya and Taignoagny were returned to North America the following year.[31]

French aims of association with the North American Indians were manifold and interconnected. J.R. Miller writes:

By the end of Cartier’s third voyage… the Europeans had settled on four motives that would drive their contacts until the eighteenth century: fish, furs, exploration, and evangelization. The indigenous people had tolerated the first, eagerly embraced the second, co-operated in the third when doing so did not threaten their interests, and still remained blissfully ignorant of the last motive.[32]

 Peace in France was abruptly shattered by the 1540s as the religious divisions of the Reformation emerged. Sixty years of intermittent civil war left France nearly bankrupt.[33] Thus, French exploration of North America and contact with its Indian population were halted until the Edict of Nantes of 1598 ended the Wars of Religion in France.[34] That edict was followed by the renewal of French activity west of the Newfoundland fishing grounds.[35] Samuel de Champlain was a key figure of this resumed French presence in North America.

Champlain’s genuine yearning for peace helped to form New France into the haven of Indian-European and inter-European concord relative to other colonial territories of the Americas that it would remain during its century-and-a-half long existence. A native of Brouage on the Bay of Biscay coast,[36] Champlain honed his appreciation of the human dignity of those of differing beliefs as a youth in one of the most violent theatres of the French Wars of Religion. David Fischer speculates that Champlain, born in about 1570,[37] “was… baptized a Protestant,” and notes that he grew up in a milieu of “famine, plague, and suffering… intense religious hatred and incessant war.”[38] Brouage “changed hands [five] times” between Catholics and Protestants during Champlain’s infancy.[39] La Rochelle, the nearest city to Brouage, was then the greatest Huguenot stronghold, which made the entire Gulf of Saintonge shore on which both communities stood a strategic battleground for Protestant and for Catholic forces. In 1568, Brouage belonged to the Protestants. Catholics seized the village with Italian help the following year, and then relinquished it in 1570. Acquired anew by Catholics via a “peace treaty,” Brouage was used shortly thereafter as “a base for operations against… La Rochelle.”[40] By 1571, Protestants had regained Brouage and then lost it once more.[41]

The arranged marriage the next year between the “Catholic Princess Marguerite de Valois and the… Protestant Prince Henri de Béarn and Navarre”[42] escalated what had been localized confessional skirmishes as on the Gulf of Saintonge into kingdom-wide carnage. Neither the Catholic Church nor the House of Guise- exceedingly anti-Protestant even for the time- approved of the union. Huguenots were warned by English emissaries of the danger to their lives should they have stayed in Paris for the wedding celebrations. They remained indeed, and the English prediction of bloodshed came true when Huguenot Admiral Gaspard de Coligny was shot on 22 August, 1572. King Charles IX, fearful of being assassinated in a Protestant reprisal for the wounding of de Coligny, was persuaded by Catholic militants to renege on his short-lived offer of protection to panicked Huguenots.[43] The following night, a “Catholic militia” arrested the newlywed prince and the duc de Condé, both Protestants, and “murdered” Admiral de Coligny “in his bed.”[44] The Catholic mob killing spree subsequently spread beyond Paris “to the provinces of France.”[45] Estimates of the number of dead in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre vary widely: two thousand to one hundred thousand Protestants were slain in France between August 24 and October 2, 1572.[46]

Threatened with death should he have remained a Protestant, Prince Henri de Béarn and Navarre became Catholic on September 26, 1572. Over the next twenty-three years, Henri oscillated between denominational stances three times, drawing the suspicion of French Catholics and Protestants alike. His final turn toward Catholicism was sealed on July 25, 1593.[47] According to Fischer, Henri’s repeated confessional changes had not been the result of indecision but a shrewd plan to build stability in his realm. Moreover, the prince thought the continuous fighting “by both sides in the name of Christ” to be “un-Christian.”[48] Henri had therefore exhorted Catholics and Protestants to reconcile with one another: “We believe in one God, we recognize Jesus Christ, and we draw on the same gospel.”[49] Although the Bourbon Henri came to abhor war whether from a Catholic or Protestant perspective, as a Protestant in 1587 he defeated two Catholics, Henri of Guise and Henri of Valois, “in open battle”[50] during the last of nine French Wars of Religion,[51] known as “the War of the Three Henris.”[52] Two years later, the Catholic Prince Henri was enthroned as King Henri IV,[53] and peace ruled France for the next four decades.

Shortly after Henri IV’s reign began, the new king’s ally Samuel de Champlain followed his sovereign into the Catholic Church. Champlain quickly earned the trust of Henri IV. A highly-skilled navigator, Champlain was appointed by the king as a geographer in the Louvre in 1602. There, he studied why six previous French attempts to settle North America had failed, and how a permanent New World colony might yet be established.[54]

Champlain’s seafaring abilities had been tried between 1599 and 1601 on a royal expedition to New Spain sanctioned by Spanish General Pedro de Zubiaur, with a mixed Spanish-French crew.[55] Spain had enlisted French help to spy on English interlopers in New Spain’s waterways; England had attacked Spanish Puerto Rico in 1598.[56] The espionage fleet was overseen by a Spaniard, Don Francisco Coloma, while its lead ship, San Julian, which had just been sold by France to Spain, was captained by Champlain’s uncle, Guillaume Allène Provençal.[57] In New Spain, Champlain saw the same “free dives” for pearls that had raised the ire of Bartolomé de las Casas almost a century earlier, although by Champlain’s time African descendants were working in place of the Indian slaves encountered by las Casas.[58] Champlain reacted with similar disgust to that of the Spanish Dominican against the inhumanity of the slave trade in the Spanish Empire. Slavery, whether of Indians or of Africans, was not to be replicated in the New France that Champlain was to build. Alas, the French used slaves with the same impunity as the Spanish in Hispaniola’s sugar cane plantations before and after Spain surrendered the island’s western third to France via the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick.[59] African slaves were also imported to French North America in the late seventeenth century.[60]

Samuel de Champlain first sailed to North America aboard the Bonne Renommée, commanded by the Catholic François Gravé, Sieur du Pont. The weathered ship landed at Tadoussac on May 26, 1603. There, as in New Spain, Champlain conversed with the Indians. The observant Champlain distinguished between the many Montagnais and Algonquin nations in the vicinity, negotiated trade with them, and sketched maps of the St. Lawrence and Saguenay valleys based on his explorations and on his conversations with the Indians.[61] The French called their friendly reception by the Indians that featured tobacco, local game, dialogue, and welcome speeches and dances interspersed with long periods of silence a tabagie– “a tobacco feast.”[62]

Success at Tadoussac spurred Champlain to petition Henri IV to finance another expedition that would culminate in a permanent French New World settlement. The king agreed to that proposal enthusiastically, under the condition that the colony be centered on the fur trade.[63] Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, “a Protestant with a Catholic wife,”[64] was made responsible for the realization of Henri IV’s designs. De Mons was influenced by an “American circle at Court”[65]– royal officials who had read about America from details of a century of voyages but had never sailed to the Americas- to lay anchor in Acadia, the North American Atlantic region known to da Verrazzano and thought to have had a similar climate to that of France’s western coast.[66] In May of 1604, the Don de Dieu arrived at Sainte-Croix Island after a rapid ocean crossing during which the lead ship nearly ran aground on Sable Island.[67] The mission that began as a triumph in Catholic-Protestant relations exemplified by Champlain and de Mons and by the harmony between Catholics and Huguenots ended in failure: the Sainte-Croix River iced over during a harsh winter. The colonists’ food, water, and firewood were exhausted. Scurvy followed, which was more deadly at Sainte-Croix than it had been at Hochelaga for the party of Cartier’s second voyage. Thirty-five of seventy-nine settlers died at Sainte-Croix.[68] The site, named “Bone Island” for its shallow graves of French settlers, was abandoned within a year of its inception.[69]

Three more years passed before Champlain founded the first successful French colony at Québec.  In the interim, in two voyages he explored and mapped North America’s eastern coast from Port Royal- now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia- on the Bay of Fundy to Norumbega, present-day northern Maine. Champlain was the first lieutenant of the French Crown in New France. He was officially so from 1617 until his death on Christmas Day, 1635, in the arms of his friend, the first Jesuit Superior of Canada, Father Charles Lalemant. Father Paul le Jeune, then-editor of the Jesuit Relations, which documented that Order’s missionary activities in Canada and were started by Charles Lalemant, acknowledged Champlain’s significance for New France and especially for its Indians in his announcement of the lieutenant’s passing:

      On the twenty-fifth of December, the day of the birth of our Savior upon earth, Monsieur de Champlain, our Governor, was reborn in Heaven… I am sure that God has shown him this [favour] in consideration of the benefits he has procured for New France, where we hope [that one day] God will be loved and served by our French, and known and adored by our [Indians.][70]

Beginning with the tabagies at Tadoussac and then at Norumbega,[71] within thirty years Champlain had made contact with Indians as far inland as the Huron Nations of the Great Lakes, for the fur trade and for the Christian faith. Those priorities were invariably intertwined for Champlain.[72] As he worked to evangelize the Indians, Champlain respected them as equal to the Europeans although they were, he said, “‘without faith, law, or authority,’ ni foi, ni loi, ni roi.”[73]

Champlain, whose religious faith deepened as he aged,[74] was a peacemaker and a nation-builder. However great his role was in the foundation of New France, though, other reasons for the prevalent co-operation among the French and between its first European settlers and Indians existed, chiefly the size of New France and its meager population. The French and Indians of New France thus relied upon one another for survival. Other European powers held smaller colonies that had larger populations than New France. For example, France claimed an area that extended from the Atlantic coast of Acadia to the Great Lakes and from James Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.[75] Upon the death of Cardinal de Richelieu in 1642,[76] three thousand French settlers lived in New France.

In comparison to New France, thirty thousand English had colonized New England by 1642, and the population was rapidly expanding and displacing Indians westward.[77] Thirty thousand Portuguese, mostly clustered around the sugar-producing centres Pernambuco and Bahia, had settled in Brazil by 1585.[78] Portuguese administration in Brazil, in contrast to that of the Spaniards in New Spain, was chronically unorganized. Portugal’s focus in the western hemisphere was more mercantile than colonial. Thus, Brazil remained mired in poverty until after the monarchies of Portugal and Spain were united under Spain’s Philip II in 1580.[79] Portugal focused on trade at the expense of colonial development beyond Africa, India, and islands near Europe such as Madeira and Cape Verde.[80] Spain possessed a land area much larger than New France in the Americas, but New Spain was highly ordered into “chartered” towns: one hundred twenty-one of these towns had been built by 1574, and a further two hundred ten were constructed by 1628.[81] Those settlements, as elsewhere in the Americas, were structured around the exploitation of natural resources: mining, principally in South America, fishing, and, particularly in Mexico and in the Caribbean, plantation crops and livestock.[82] The Netherlands, although a prosperous nation by seventeenth-century European standards, especially since the Dutch declared independence only in 1579,[83] were not as involved in colonization as France, England, Spain, or Portugal. The main Dutch concerns were shipping[84] and, in North America, the fur trade.[85] Consequently, New Netherlands included only 1 300 Dutch settlers as of 1663.[86]

Demography, politics, and economics in Europe and in the North American colonies of European countries affected relations between Indians and colonists of the Americas as well as between the settlers themselves. However, religious motives of colonial nations interconnected with those factors in these Euro-Indian and inter-European relationships. The Netherlands, owing to their scant attention to settlement in the Americas, were not a relevant contributor to evangelization of the Indians there. Nor was England, whose American colonial history- about as long as that of France[87]– was short relative to that of Spain or Portugal. Additionally, New England was a confederation of several colonies, each with their own religious confessions, and priorities. Unlike France, which founded its colonies of North America both on the fur trade and on the Indian missions, English evangelism of the Indians was neither as sustained nor as systematic.

Spain and Portugal rivalled France in their missionary focus in the Americas, but the Spanish and Portuguese were more coercive than cooperative, in contrast to the French, toward the American Indians to whom they carried Christianity. Diarmaid MacCulloch argues that the Iberians viewed their American missions as another Crusade. That mentality of religious conquest had been developed in Spain and Portugal, where monarchies were stable enough to impose a nearly homogeneous Catholic faith on those lands. Non-Catholics and recent converts to Catholicism were persecuted by the Inquisition in Spain, or simply expelled from the country. Jews met the latter fate in Spain in 1492, after Spanish Muslims surrendered Granada,[88] and in Portugal in 1496.[89] The brutal excesses of the Spanish Inquisition were also directed against Protestants in Spain and Indians in the Americas. The 1512 Laws of Burgos included a “Requirement” that was to be proclaimed to the Indians in Spanish: If the Indians submitted to Spain’s claims to their territory and accepted Christianity, “then no force would be used against them.”[90]

Members of religious orders that organized missions in the Americas- the Dominicans, Franciscans, and then the Jesuits- criticized the practices in New Spain of slavery, torture, and the non-acceptance of mestizos– mixed European-Indian descendants- for Holy Orders. By 1570, Spain had come to disapprove of religious clergy in its missions; secular clergy increasingly took their place.[91] That imbalance of secular to religious clergy did not occur in New France, where the Jesuits, who had followed the Recollet Franciscans as the foremost order in Canada’s missions, distinguished themselves in particular. The Jesuits, founded at the outset of the Reformation,[92] were well-suited to missionary work. A leading Jesuit figure in Canada, Jean de Brébeuf, arrived in New France in 1625. He garnered the trust of the Indians of the Huron nations of the Great Lakes region. He was successful in doing so over twenty-four years, despite epidemics of disease- especially smallpox and influenza- that ravaged the Indians and turned their suspicion against the missionaries and their rituals. Brébeuf was martyred in 1649 along with Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Lalemant’s nephew,[93] by Iroquois who sacked the Jesuits’ Huron missions. Brébeuf taught the Hurons as he suffered a gruesome death that his suffering would be rewarded in heaven: “[Our torments] will end with our lives; the glory which follows them will never have an end.” “Echon,” one responded, “Pray to God for us… We will invoke [God], even unto death.”[94]

The Indians of New France long remembered the gallant Jesuit missionaries, eight of whom had been martyred among them. Eighteen years after the final collapse of the Huron missions, Jesuit Father Claude Allouez encountered Petuns, ethnically related to the Hurons, wandering in the brush near Lake Superior. Allouez was informed by the forlorn Petuns that they were still mourning the death of Charles Garnier, one of the Canadian Martyrs.[95] The Jesuits preached and lived peace among the Indian people of New France. They built on a humanist legacy of co-operation between French and Indian, Catholic and Protestant. Harmony came from those who had experienced religious and political strife in Europe and were determined not to export it. That co-operation among diverse peoples of New France existed for economic and demographic reasons- the territory was large, and French and Indians depended upon the fur trade- but also for religious reasons; evangelism in New France was founded on mutual recognition of the human dignity of the Indians and of the French settlers.


This historical research paper was originally submitted for my course entitled History of Christianity II (843-1649) at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON, Canada, MDiv Year I, Semester 2, on 15 March, 2010.


[1] David Hackett Fischer, Champlain’s Dream: The Visionary Adventurer Who Made a New World in Canada (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 527.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 608. Fischer states that, shortly before publishing Champlain’s Dream, he had been invited to meet representatives of several Indian nations based “throughout the United States” at the Newberry Library in Chicago. He asked leaders of these nations what they would wish to be called; they expressed a preference to be denoted by their individual nations’ names. The term “Indian” was acceptable- better than other designations, or even a mark of pride for some with whom Fischer spoke- in collective reference to the first inhabitants of the Americas. Those conventions of nomenclature will thus be followed in this essay. 

[4] Ibid., 86-88.

[5] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700 (London/New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 69.

[6] Online Etymology Dictionary, “Anglican.” Accessed 9 March, 2010. To refer to Williams and Eliot as Anglicans- a noun not used until 1797- is anachronistic.

[7] MacCulloch, Reformation, 540-541.

[8] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 527-528.

[9] MacCulloch, Reformation, 540-541.

[10] Robert Choquette, “French Catholicism Comes to the Americas,” in Charles H. Lippy, Robert Choquette, and Stafford Poole, Christianity Comes to the Americas (New York: Paragon House, 1992), 142.

[11] David Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, Introductions to History (London/New York: Routledge, 2000), 49.

[12] Pablo Alberto Deiros, Historia del Cristianismo en América Latina (Buenos Aires: Fraternidad Teologica Latinoamericana), 301.

[13] Ibid., 303.

[14] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 67-68.

[15] K.G. Davies, The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century, vol. 4 of Europe and the World in the Age of Expansion, edited by Boyd C. Shafer (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974), 17.

[16] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 68.

[17] Ibid., 69.

[18] Ibid.

[19] J.H. Parry, Europe and a Wider World: 1415-1715, edited by Maurice Powicke (London/New York/Melbourne/Sydney/Cape Town: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1949), 52.

[20] Ibid.

[21] J.R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada, 3rd ed. (Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 27-28. Francis I only grudgingly took advantage of England’s disinterest in inland North America; France, too, was principally searching for a Northwest Passage. Inland exploration was a secondary option to find a route to the Far East.

[22] Ibid., 28.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 30-31.

[27] Ibid., 31.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Marcel Trudel, “Cartier, Jacques,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. http://www. Accessed 11 March, 2010.

[30] Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, 30.

[31] Trudel, “Cartier, Jacques,” accessed 11 March, 2010.

[32] Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, 31.

[33] History Learning Site, “Fourth French War of Religion.” FWR4.htm. Accessed 12 March, 2010.

[34] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 67.

[35] Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, 32.

[36] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 15-29.

[37] Ibid., 573.

[38] Ibid., 52.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid., 54.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Georges Goyau, “Saint Bartholomew’s Day,” in Catholic Encyclopedia. cathen/13333b.htm. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[47] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 54-55.

[48] Ibid., 55.

[49] Ibid., 54-55.

[50] Ibid., 55.

[51] Ibid., 529.

[52] Ibid., 55.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid., 105-123.

[55] Ibid., 78-83.

[56] Ibid., 80.

[57] Ibid., 77.

[58] Ibid., 86-88.

[59] Tim Lambert, “A Brief History of Haiti.” Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[60] Choquette, “French Catholicism Comes to the Americas,” 187.

[61] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 137-138.

[62] Ibid., 132.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid., 149.

[65] Ibid., 150.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid., 160-161.

[68] Ibid., 171.

[69] Ibid.

[70] “The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents Volume 9,” edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[71] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 174-175.

[72] Ibid., 6-7.

[73] Ibid., 154.

[74] Ibid., 7.

[75] Choquette, “French Catholicism Comes to the Americas,” 134.

[76] Georges Goyau, “Armand du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu,” in Catholic Encyclopedia. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[77] Parry, Europe and a Wider World, 124.

[78] Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, 79.

[79] MacCulloch, Reformation, 417.

[80] Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, 5.

[81] “New Spain Conquest.” 20Spain%20Conquest.html. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[82] Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, 54-58.

[83] Henry C. Morris, The History of Colonization: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York/London: MacMillan, 1900) 1:305.

[84] Ibid., 302.

[85] Davies, The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century, 18.

[86] Parry, Europe and a Wider World, 132.

[87] Ibid., 121.

[88] MacCulloch, Reformation, 58.

[89] John W. O’Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 1993), 188.

[90] MacCulloch, Reformation, 68.

[91] Karen Melvin, “Priests and Nuns in Colonial Ibero-America,” in Religion and Society in Latin America: Interpretive Essays from Conquest to Present, edited by Lee M. Penyak and Walter J. Petry (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009), 100-114.

[92] O’Malley, The First Jesuits, 23.

[93] Angus MacDougall, “Gabriel Lalemant, 1610-1649.” Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[94] “The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents Volume 34,” edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Accessed 13 March, 2010. “Echon,” the Hurons’ name for Brébeuf for his knowledge of basic cures for diseases, meant “Healing tree.”

[95] James McGivern, “Charles Garnier, 1606-1649.” Accessed 13 March, 2010.

Discipline, Hope, Discipleship, and Good News- Reflection for Mass of May 25, 2010

24 May

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Ferial- Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Peter 1:10-16; Psalm 98:1-4; Mark 10:28-31

Two themes are especially prominent in the Gospel of Mark, kingdom and discipleship, and these take on an even greater focus as the Gospel progresses. Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry begins with the concise instruction, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”[1] That message, which puts into focus the kingdom of God and discipleship, remains true near the end of Christ’s ministry according to Mark.

Today we hear the corollary to yesterday’s story of the rich man, who had begun by asking Jesus what he had to do “to inherit eternal life,”[2] and had finished by going away saddened, “for he had many possessions.”[3] The story becomes all the more poignant, because Peter, the leader of the Twelve Apostles, is the one to exclaim in bewilderment to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.”[4] However, Peter, like the rich man before him, misses Jesus’ point- and the major point of the Gospel of Mark- about what it means to repent, and what it means to be a disciple of the Good News.

Peter, like the rich man and like us, must be liberated from our many possessions, those preoccupations that might be better understood as that which can possess us and that is not of God: excessive ambition for power, for affluence, and for ease in discerning and proclaiming the word by our speech and by our example. To repent is literally to turn around or to turn back from that which is non-conducive to living the Gospel. Repentance, though, must not simply be to turn away or to give away something, but to turn toward God, source of all that is good and holy.

The first letter of Peter also speaks to us of turning toward God, that we might be holy as God is holy.[5] While all our works are for naught in the absence of God, that does not mean that these are unimportant. Today’s reading from 1 Peter gives us two prescriptions for discipleship and for the perpetual discernment of God: “Discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when He is revealed.”[6] The first, discipline, requires prayer. God directs us through prayer and will not allow the one who discerns prayerfully to perish. God will also bring to eternal life those who hope. Christian hope is a central theme in 1 Peter, which goes on to instruct us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”[7]

Discipleship, then, must be about discipline and hope. These bring us to the charity and holiness that is God. While we wait for the full revelation of God the Son in His return, we have already been given in Sacrament the gifts of Christ and of the “Good News of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.”[8] The very angels, says the First Letter of Peter, “long to look”[9] upon the gifts that we have received and yet for whose fulfillment we await.[10]

Let us pray, then, that we might be messengers of those divine gifts. We pray that our discipleship, strengthened by discipline and hope, might draw us ever closer to our God.


[1] Mark 1:15

[2] Mark 10:17

[3] Mark 10:22

[4] Mark 10:28

[5] 1 Peter 1:16. See also Leviticus 11:44, 19:2; Matthew 5:48; Luke 6:36.

[6] 1 Peter 1:13

[7] 1 Peter 3:15

[8] 1 Peter 1:12

[9] Ibid.

[10] 1 Peter 1:12-13

Eager to Be in Jerusalem- Reflection for Mass of May 18, 2010

18 May

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Ferial- Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Readings: Acts 20:16-27; Psalm 68:10-11, 20-21; John 17:1-11

The opening verse of today’s first reading from Acts describes Paul as “eager to be in Jerusalem… for the day of Pentecost.”[1] For the author of Luke-Acts, Jerusalem is the city of destiny. Later in the same reading, we hear that Paul is nearing the end of his course of apostolic service. He is, as Acts states, “a captive to the Spirit”[2] destined for the heavenly Jerusalem.

Paul’s experience that he conveys in his farewell speech at Miletus is much like our experience. We, too, await the Holy Spirit and the Resurrection from the dead, as we profess whenever we recite our Creed. As in the New American Bible translation we, like Paul, find ourselves “hurrying to be in Jerusalem”[3] for the day of Pentecost. We hurry with joy to encounter the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised at the outset of the Church’s mission.[4]

Paul’s experience of eagerness to meet the Holy Spirit has increasingly been my experience over these last few weeks as I near the end of my Sacramental preparation classes that I have been teaching the children about to receive the Sacraments of the Eucharist, of Reconciliation and Penance, and of Confirmation this upcoming Sunday, Pentecost Sunday. I am sure the children are also eager to receive these Sacraments after preparing with me since October. They will receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist, God’s tremendous forgiveness in Reconciliation, and the seal of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. All year, these children have been eager learners and exemplars and teachers to me of Christ’s example of gentle humility. Together, we hurry toward Pentecost.

For St. Paul, Pentecost meant that his martyrdom was approaching. He had given himself in testimony “to the good news of God’s grace”[5] and was about to set off toward certain persecution and eventually death in Rome.[6]

However, Paul, facing such an end, remained joyful and confident that he had preached “the whole purpose of God.”[7] We might ask what this “whole purpose of God” is. I believe that the Gospel reading for today from John gives us the answer: Jesus does everything to glorify the Father; He does nothing for self-exultation. Jesus’ way is the way of unity, of peace, and of prayer. His last act before His Passion is to pray for us: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine… Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”[8]

May we remember this prayer for unity and for charity among each other. Let us pray it for one another and for our Church in Christ’s name to the glory of God the Father as we eagerly await the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us this Pentecost.    


[1] Acts 20:16

[2] Acts 20:22

[3] Acts 20:16, NAB

[4] cf. Acts 1:8, Luke 24:48-49

[5] Acts 20:24

[6] Acts 20:23-25

[7] Acts 20:27

[8] John 17:11

The Evolving Definition of Sin in the Bible

10 May

Sin may be defined as the wilful transgression of a divine moral precept; Thomas Aquinas identifies sin as “nothing else than a bad human act,” a voluntary contravention of “eternal law.”[1] However, the notion of sin in the Bible is deeper than simply a violation of law or a moral evil. In Scripture, sin entails a rupture of relationship, either between human beings or between the sinner and God. The Bible, Bruce Vawter and S.J. DeVries agree, has a highly developed theological vocabulary for sin,[2] which stems from “its keen sense of moral and spiritual values.”[3] Vawter points out that in Biblical text sin does not have an “exclusively moral association.”[4] The Hebrew word hattah, which “literally means ‘to miss the mark,’” is the most frequent word in the Hebrew Old Testament translated into English as “sin.”[5] The New Testament Greek equivalent to hattah is άμαρτία (hamartia).[6] After hattah, another common Biblical Hebrew word that connotes sin is pesha, whose literal meaning is to ‘overstep’ or to ‘rebel.’ Like hattah, pesha is used in Scripture beyond the context of moral wrongdoing. Vawter gives the example of 2 Kings 8:20, where pesha describes the rebellion of Edom against Judah, a “political fact”[7] that is not judged as immoral.

The moral and spiritual awareness conveyed in Scripture, though, must be viewed within the framework of the covenant relationship between Israel and God. The scriptural idea of covenant, and likewise of sin, arises from a personalistic worldview within which human beings and God are in personal relationship with one another.[8] Personalism, as opposed to moralism, which defines sin as “deviation from an external norm,”[9] and monism, “in which sin is… equated with [humankind’s] creatureliness or physical nature,”[10] is dominant and continuous throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

In this essay, I will trace the development of the concept of sin in Scripture, and consider points of continuity and of discontinuity between the Old and New Testament notions of sin. The Old and New Testaments both highlight the significance of sin, although the New Testament presents Jesus Christ as the one who alone is able to gain “certain victory”[11] over sin. Thus, God intervenes radically to establish a new and “everlasting covenant in which sin should have no part.”[12] I will therefore also discuss the growth in the understanding of covenant that is linked in Scripture to that of sin. Along with the development in the meaning of covenant in Scripture, the concept of sin evolved from that of an infringement against a binding pact with God or against law in the earlier traditions through to the post-exilic additions of the Old Testament to the breach of the bond of love between God and humanity. Moreover, where sin is equated with an offence against divine law in Scripture, it is primarily construed as a misdeed against God and not only against law.[13]

Ancient Israel’s appreciation of covenant progressed greatly over the approximately one thousand years during which the Old Testament as it is currently known was written.[14] The earliest traditions of the Old Testament illustrate covenant as a binding agreement between an all-powerful God who blessed those who were faithful to that covenant and cursed those who were unfaithful to it. Law and covenant became increasingly intertwined between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E., as Israel’s monarchy and, concurrently, the peak of the prophetic age gave way to the Babylonian Exile.[15] From post-Exilic Old Testament traditions into the New Testament era, covenant, while still viewed as the expression of God’s will as law for humankind and the human response to that divine will, came to be understood as a divine-human relationship of love.[16]

Thomas Ogletree argues that the idea of covenant law originated in pre-Scriptural oral traditions. “Creative individuals,” Ogletree writes, served as spokespersons of the Israelite culture: “collectors, redactors and editors of… memories of a people regarding their own past” that “were passed from generation to generation.”[17] Those memories became cultic legends whose purpose was to establish and to “articulate the authority of the moral notions the people shared in common.”[18] Myths founded in collective experience were then grouped into narratives and into lists of “laws and ordinances” that “made up the content of Israel’s covenant obligations.”[19] Ogletree gives several examples of the legal and cultic codes included in the Pentateuch,[20] but his connection of these codes or commandments to the framework of covenant is most pertinent; in ancient Israel divine commandments were understood within the context of covenant. To emphasize this, Ogletree quotes Jeremiah 7:21, 23: “Thus says the Lord of hosts… ‘Obey my voice, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the ways that I command you, that it may be well with you.’”

Just as covenant and commandment are essentially linked in Scripture, so too are “cultic and social regulations.”[21] Human beings are fundamentally social. Ogletree contends therefore that, in the Old Testament, the sense of covenant as a communion of the Israelite people with God and the ethics that resulted from that covenant grew out of the experience of “everyday human interactions.”[22] Cultic norms developed, for example, around the rhythms of nature, the protection of the vulnerable, and an exclusive “Israelite allegiance to Yahweh.”[23] It became a moral obligation[24] among the Israelites to connect the religious reality of covenant with the reality and “normal processes”[25] of human society. Ogletree thus summarizes this point: “A religious ethic [that] is wholly extracted from the cult is a religious ethic without historical and social substance.”[26] That was clearly true in Old Testament Israel, where a perception of covenant originated and developed from a common sense of historical, social, religious, and moral order.

As Ogletree demonstrates, the origins and development of covenant, both pre-Scriptural and in Scripture itself, are easily identified. The Priestly tradition of the Pentateuch in particular divides Israel’s covenant history into three sections: firstly, from the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:25-26 to God’s blessing of Noah and promise not to destroy the world by a flood again (Gn 9:1-17); secondly, from Noah to God’s covenant with Abraham to multiply his descendants (Gn 17), and thirdly, from Abraham to the gift of the Decalogue to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 6:2-13).[27] Nevertheless, the Scriptural origin of the concept of sin is more difficult to ascertain. The account of the fall of humankind in Genesis 3, a contribution of the Yahwist tradition, likely the earliest written tradition of the Pentateuch,[28] “unmistakeably intends to explain how sin began,”  even though there “the terminology of sin is lacking,”[29] says S.J. DeVries. This narrative also depicts the consequences of human disobedience toward God.

The story of the fall begins with the portrayal of Adam and Eve as naked, yet without shame (Gn 2:25). The Hebrew word translated as ‘naked’ is ‘arom. In the next verse, the serpent is described as “cunning.” In Hebrew, this adjective is ‘arum, which forms a play on words with the representation of Adam and of Eve as naked in the previous verse.[30] Thus the serpent is the ideal tempter; Eve and then Adam succumb to the snake’s shrewdness only because of their vanity in desiring the wisdom and immortality of God.[31] The ultimate effect of the defiance of God’s command not to eat the fruit of “the tree of knowledge of good and bad” (Gn 2:17) is death (Gn 2:17, 3:3), although as the serpent deviously indicates, this death is not immediate nor is it primarily corporeal. The principal consequence of sin is spiritual death; through the cunning of the serpent, nakedness and shame are united. Sin is exposed for what it is: estrangement from God. That result of sin is emphasized after the fall, when God searches for Adam and Eve in the garden. The Lord does not judge the action of Adam and Eve as wrongful, but asks them, “Where are you?” (Gn 3:9) Adam and Eve are separated from God; therefore Genesis describes them as hidden and afraid (Gn 3:10). The loss of communion with God through sin is further highlighted by God’s expulsion of Adam and of Eve from the garden (Gn 3:24), after which they must toil in the wilderness (Gn 3:17).

After the murder of his brother Abel in the continuation of the Yahwist narrative, Cain receives essentially the same punishment as did Adam: “You will become a restless wanderer on the earth.” (Gn 4:12) This rift in the God-human relationship is a greater consequence of sin than the disordered inequality between man and woman, pain in childbirth (Gn 3:16), agricultural failure (Gn 3:17-18), or even physical death (Gn 3:19). Thus, Cain pleads with God, “My punishment is too great to bear. Since you have banished me from the soil, and I must avoid your presence… anyone may kill me at sight.” (Gn 4:13-14) Although DeVries argues that Cain “understood all too little the consequences of his sin” while he protested instead against the severity of his banishment,[32] Cain’s appeal to the Lord suggests that the idea of the separation from God and resultant confusion and fear caused by sin was ingrained in the consciousness of the writers of the Yahwist tradition.

The recognition of sin as a reality that “sunders” humankind from God and therefore leads to a sense of being “lost in the presence of the Holy”[33] is most intense in the writings of the prophets of the late Monarchical and Exilic periods and in the penitential Psalms. This theme continues into the New Testament. Simon Peter, for example, “[astonished] at the catch of fish” on the Lake of Gennesaret, exclaims to Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Lk 5:8-9) Peter’s response to Jesus’ call to service in Luke’s Gospel is similar to those of the Old Testament prophets, who also often express consciousness of their own sin as well as that of the people. Isaiah’s answer to God’s call to prophesy clearly illustrates awareness of both personal sin and the collective sin of the Israelites: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” (Is 6:5)

Neither personal nor social sin, though, is beyond the remedial capacity of a loving and merciful God. The message of prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah was that, while God would hold Israel accountable for its sin, God’s restoration of the covenant relationship with Israel was certain. Following God’s call to Isaiah to prophesy and the latter’s objection that he is a sinner among a sinful people and unfit to be a prophet, seraphim are sent to touch Isaiah’s lips with a burning ember. Thus Isaiah’s “wickedness is removed, [his] sin purged.” (Is 6:7) Amid the Babylonian Exile, Jeremiah proclaims the return of the Israelites to their homeland under divine power. The purity of Israel will be restored as if they had never violated the covenant:

As Israel comes forward to be given his rest, the LORD appears to him from afar: With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin Israel. (Jer 31:3-4)

 Deutero-Isaiah echoes the consoling message of Jeremiah: Israel has more than paid the penalty for its iniquity, and a merciful God promises the remission of sin and re-establishment of the covenant:

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. (Is 40:1-2)

 While Jeremiah 31:3-4 includes the Hebrew word hesed, “translated variously as ‘mercy’, ‘loyalty’, ‘devotion’, ‘loving kindness’, or simply ‘love,’”[34] the notion  of a kind and loving God is implied also in Isaiah 40:1-2. Both passages associate God’s forgiveness of sin with hesed. Deutero-Isaiah and Jeremiah reflect a theology that begins as early as the height of Israel’s monarchy wherein God is understood as able to mend human breaches of the covenant. Humankind, although fallen from moral perfection, is still held to have been created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27). Therefore, as Bruce Vawter states, “it is in the moral order rather than in the order of being that [humanity] is seen to be most separated from God.”[35]

That human estrangement from the divine can only be remitted by a “wonderful, unique act of God”[36]– an act of divine hesed. Vawter cites Psalm 51 as an example of an appeal of a sinner to God’s hesed. Meanwhile, the Psalmist recognizes that “God alone can and must [remedy] his sinful state.”[37] God is petitioned thus: “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense… Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt…From my sin cleanse me… A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.” (Ps 51:3-4, 11-12) The Hebrew verbs rendered as “blot out” and “cleanse,” according to Vawter, are references to the ritual washing of clothing described in Numbers 5:23 and Leviticus 13:6.[38] The Psalmist then employs the verb bara– “to create”- that appears in Genesis 1:1. The heart was, “to the Semite,” equivalent to “the Self” and was not only the seat of the intellect or will.[39] Vawter argues, then, that along with an appeal to hesed, the Psalmist appeals to God to produce a radical transformation of the sinner:

Create, [the Psalmist] says, a new me. Such an idea is boundless in its commentary on what he believed the effect of sin to be in the sinner, an effect which obviously far transcends any notion of purely formal or legal rectitude. Sin was, in [the Psalmist’s] eyes, an involvement from which [one] could not emerge without an alteration in [one’s] inmost being.

 A significant difference between the Old Testament and New Testament conceptions of sin is the shift from the definition of sin as the contravention of an external law to the idea that sin is a corruption of one’s interior disposition. As in Psalm 51, this sense of sin, of its effects, and of God’s response to it is already foreshadowed in the Old Testament, but it is actualized in the New Testament, whose theology about the internal nature of sin is shown most clearly in the Gospel of Mark: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile [a] person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.” (Mk 7:15) One is interiorly inclined toward or away from the good. At the same time, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to those oriented toward goodness. The Spirit of God comes to dwell in those who love Christ and follow His commandments: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” (Jn 14:20)

This simultaneous indwelling of the capability to do good and to do evil, of “the things…that defile” and of the Holy Spirit, is not to be understood as a dualism[40]; the forces of good and of evil are not in competition with each other in New Testament theology. Instead, God has intervened in human history the person of Jesus Christ, the definitive “assurance” that sin will be conquered.[41] Also, the “interior law”[42] of the Spirit is complementary to the external law. In practice, the legalists whom Jesus criticizes viewed the old covenant and the new spiritual law as opposed to one another. Jesus does not intend this to be so: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Mt 5:17)

St. Paul is more ambiguous in his assessment of the relationship between the old external law and the law of the Spirit, as Nicholas Crotty observes. Paul writes that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12) and counts “the Law as one of Israel’s privileges”[43] in Romans 9:4. On the contrary, he characterizes the Mosaic covenant as “the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2) and says, in seeming contradiction of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17, that “Christ is the end of the Law.” (Rom 10:4) Crotty comments incisively about such Pauline ambiguity regarding the law:

It was to the Law that the Jews looked for life, and this was something it could not give them. [Since] it imparted knowledge of the good but not the power to achieve it, [and] it enabled them to recognize sin without enabling them to avoid it, such a law could only make [people] conscious of their own sinfulness.

 One minor addition ought to be made to Crotty’s remark in order to better understand the New Testament relationship between sin and the law: the old law alone cannot give life. Observance of the old covenant commandments to the Christian is good yet insufficient.[44] Mosaic law is supplemented and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Word who, having taken on our human form, has “made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14) and indeed within us. “Charity,” Bruce Vawter notes, “is the hesed of the new covenant.”[45] This hesed is no longer an external reality of divine love, but is an internal divine gift of charity.

Hesed, covenant, commandment, law, and sin are related in Scripture, and the understanding of each grows and changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The notion of covenant originates in pre- Scriptural oral tradition as a personal relationship with God, a feature of covenant that is constant throughout Scripture. Obedience of divine commandments is equated with maintenance of the covenant. Contravention of God’s commandments is not only seen as sin against divine law in the Old Testament, but as disobedience toward God and a rupture of the covenant bond. Hesed, the loving kindness or mercy of God, results in God’s foundation of a new covenant that is no longer external to the human person, but comes to humankind in the person of Jesus Christ. While the proclivity of humankind toward sin still exists in the new covenant era, so does the indwelling Spirit of God who has overcome that sin. 



This essay was originally submitted for my Topics in Christian Ethics class, Theology I, Semester 1, on 7 December, 2009, at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON, Canada.

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-I, q. 71, a. 6.

[2] Bruce Vawter, “Missing the Mark,” The Way 2 (1962): 19-20.

[3] S.J. DeVries, “Sin, Sinners,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 4:361.

[4] Vawter, “Missing the Mark,” 19.

[5] Richard M. Gula, Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 91.

[6] Vawter, “Missing the Mark,” 19.

[7] Ibid.

[8] DeVries, “Sin, Sinners,” 362.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 371.

[12] Vawter, “Missing the Mark,” 26.

[13] DeVries, “Sin, Sinners,” 363.

[14] R. H. Pfeiffer, “Canon of the Old Testament,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 1:500.

[15] John L. McKenzie, “Aspects of Old Testament Thought,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 750-751.

[16] Ibid., 751.

[17] Thomas W. Ogletree, The Use of the Bible in Christian Ethics: A Constructive Essay (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 52-53.

[18] Ibid., 53.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 54.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 57.

[24] Ibid., 55.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), 173-174.

[28] Ibid., 96.

[29] DeVries, “Sin, Sinners,” 363.

[30] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 119.

[31] Ibid.

[32] DeVries, “Sin, Sinners,” 366.

[33] Vawter, “Missing the Mark,” 24.

[34] Ibid., 21.

[35] Ibid., 24.

[36] Ibid., 25.

[37] Ibid., 24.

[38] Ibid., 25.

[39] Ibid.

[40] DeVries, “Sin, Sinners,” 371.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Nicholas Crotty, “Biblical Perspectives in Moral Theology,” Theological Studies 26 (1965): 579.

[43] Ibid., 580.

[44] DeVries, “Sin, Sinners,” 372.

[45] Vawter, “Missing the Mark,” 23.

To Tell of the Glory of God- Reflection for Mass of May 3, 2010- Feast of Sts. Philip and James

3 May

Monday, May 3, 2010
Feast of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles
Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Psalm 19:2-5; John 14:6-14

While I was in the novitiate in Windsor, it became a running joke that one Basilian confrere, when I would enter the house, would ask in jest, “What good can come out of Alberta?” In remembrance of Philip’s words to Nathaniel in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel, I would reply, “Come and see!”[1] Of course, Philip had just been chosen as an Apostle by Jesus of Nazareth; he had not been speaking with a mere novice.

Very early in his Gospel, John thus gives us a glimpse of the joy and exuberant zeal of Philip the Apostle. His exhortation to Nathaniel, though, was only the beginning of Philip’s arduous journey of discipleship. Philip, like most of us, met God in the ordinary events of life, and, like us, he struggled to understand that he was indeed encountering God in these instances.

Philip had gone to Nathaniel to tell him about Jesus before Jesus had performed any miracle, at least according to the Gospel of John.[2] For Philip, this was a great act of faith. Philip, though, would later fail to recognize Jesus’ power to feed the multitudes from five loaves and two fish.[3] Then again, Philip was the Apostle, John writes, who led the Greeks, who wanted “to see Jesus,”[4] to the Lord. Philip would have made an excellent vocation director!

In today’s Gospel reading, we again see Philip’s incomprehension, and this came after Jesus had performed many signs. Philip’s request: “Show us the Father,”[5] draws a sharp rebuke from Jesus, who tells Philip that He and the Father are co-existent.[6] He and the Father work together in everyday nondescript events to sustain us and indeed all creation. Jesus, through, with, and in the Father and the Spirit, is “the way, the truth, and the life.”[7]

However, Jesus does not simply leave Philip’s request to see the Father unfulfilled. I find the last statement by Jesus in this Gospel, a response to Philip’s prayer, and ours, to see God, to be especially comforting: “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”[8]

Jesus will answer our prayer, even if at times we must be patient and even be content with a lack of understanding of God’s ways. That is the example of James, of whom Paul writes to the Corinthians. In Paul’s time, James was the great pastor of the fledgling Church of Jerusalem. I envisage James, who would die as a martyr,[9] as the patient leader who built community- a Church- of Jews and Gentiles alike. James, “brother of the Lord,”[10] was the first of the Twelve, says Paul, to have seen the Risen Christ.[11] It was thus James’ special responsibility to proclaim that risen Christ to Jerusalem and to the world.

James’ mission of proclamation of the Gospel and as a “brother of the Lord” must continue. James’ mission is ours also, so that as the Psalmist says, God’s “handiwork”[12] will be made known. Let us, with the Apostles Philip and James, let our voice ring out “through all the earth” and “to the end of the world,”[13] and may our works of charity tell of “the glory of God.”[14] Sts. Philip and James, pray for us.


[1] John 1:46

[2] The Wedding at Cana, the first of Jesus’ seven ‘signs’ recorded in John, occurs from John 2:1-12.

[3] John 6:5-7

[4] John 12:21

[5] John 14:8

[6] John 14:9-11

[7] John 14:6

[8] John 14:14

[9] Acts 12:2

[10] Galatians 1:19

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:7

[12] Psalm 19:2

[13] Psalm 19:5

[14] Psalm 19:2