Tag Archives: Interfaith Relations

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: We Believe as We Pray– Reflection for Mass of April 1, 2011

1 Apr

Friday, April 1, 2011
Ferial– Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: Hosea 14:1-9; Psalm 81: 5c-10ab, 13+16 (R: 10+8a); Mark 12:28b-34

Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheynu Adonai echad– Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD.”[1] This greatest of ancient Jewish prayers is a case of the principle Christians would later call lex orandi, lex credendi: the law that is prayed comes to be the law that is believed.[2] Indeed, Jews still pray the Shema twice daily as the LORD commanded them in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”[3]

These words of the LORD clearly were assigned a place of prominence; they were to be fixed as the primary focus on the hearts, on the homes, on the heads, and on the bodies, specifically the wrists, of the faithful. Similarly, Jesus affirms for us in today`s Gospel that this prayer leads us to a deepened faith, again illustrating for us the notion of lex orandi, lex credendi. That faith gives rise to a love of God that becomes affixed in our hearts, in our innermost homes that are our souls, in our minds, and in our bodies wherein lay our strength.[4]

Out of six hundred thirteen Mitzvot, or religious statutes, in the Torah,[5] Jesus cites only two as the Commandments than which there are none greater. The first is the Shema of Deuteronomy, while the second is from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”[6]

In its original context in Leviticus, the scope of this second of the greatest Commandments is restricted to the Israelites’ “fellow countrymen,”[7] those bound to the covenant between the LORD and Israel. However, Jesus challenges us to broaden our horizon of who our neighbour is. Of course, we need not to walk too far through downtown Toronto to have our concept of neighbour challenged: near to here we find the poor, the mentally ill, the addicts, the newcomers and refugees. Jesus reminds us that these, too, are our neighbours. One cannot be said to love God without loving these people, often the least valued and most forgotten of our preoccupied, capital-oriented society.

I have increasingly been taking note in my reading of the Gospels of late how many pericopes end in silence. Today’s Gospel reading is another example of this; the scribe who had asked Jesus which is the greatest Commandment, and indeed all the other religious leaders with him, did not dare “to ask [Jesus] any question.”[8] I doubt that these religious leaders fell silent because they were wholly satisfied with Jesus’ answer. They knew how correct and how wise Jesus had been in expanding their sense of neighbour and, with it, their sense of God. They knew all too well, as we know all too well, the rectitude of Jesus’ teaching and how difficult this teaching is to live out. If our love of neighbour does not extend to those who evoke the most disgust in us, then even our worship, our “burnt offerings and sacrifices,”[9] become not an act of love of God but an act of proud idolatry, of saying “‘Our god’ to the work of our hands.”[10]

Even amid our pride and our failure at times to see the least among us as our neighbour, though, Jesus still tells us comfortingly, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”[11] How, then, do we make up this distance from God’s kingdom? On our own, entrance into God’s kingdom is impossible. Only in relationship with God, through consistent prayer, will our weakness, our divided hearts, and our distance from God be overcome, and will we come to see our neighbour, and God, for who they truly are.

That regularity in prayer is the point of the Shema. By praying the Law enjoined on us, we will gradually come to believe in that which we pray: lex orandi, lex credendi. Then, that in which, or better yet in whom, we come to believe, God through an expanded notion of neighbour, we will come more fully to love.


[1] The Shema– Hear, O Israel! http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema. html. Accessed 30 March 2011. See also Deuteronomy 6:4.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c1a2.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011. This section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.”

[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

[4] See Mark 12:30.

[5] Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011.

[6] Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31.

[7] Leviticus 19:18.

[8] Mark 12:34.

[9] Mark 12:33.

[10] Hosea 14:4.

[11] Mark 12:34.

A Dedication to the Jewish People

27 Dec

To all our Jewish brothers and sisters: Happy Hanukkah!

The Jewish people were the first to receive the Word of God. Abraham, the father in faith of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, was rewarded for his faith with God’s promise to make his people “number as the stars”. (Genesis 22:17) Then, God made his Law clear to the Jews, who were first to receive the Ten Commandments through Moses (cf. Deuteronomy 5:6-21).

We Christians say often during the Christmas season, “Emmanuel”, meaning “God is with us”, in the person of Jesus Christ. God has always been with the Jews, too. When God’s chosen people have been content, God has been with them. When they doubted God, he was there. When they met persecution, God was there. Christians, as descendants in faith from the Jews, know of the same special human interaction with God.

The beginning of Hanukkah came out of a period of persecution for the Jews at the hands of their Hellenistic (Greek) rulers. Antiochus IV attempted to force Greek paganism on the Hebrews. In c.168 B.C., the temple was desecrated. The wall separating Jews and Gentiles was torn down, and the remaining structure was used to worship Zeus. In the meantime, many Jews were killed for practicing their faith openly. Many submitted to the Greek tyranny. But a brave group led by Mattathias and then by Judas Maccabee (“hammer” in Hebrew) began an uprising that lasted about 3 years. This entire group of armed Israelites became known as the Maccabees, after their leader. Their story is told in 1 and 2 Maccabees, in the Apocryphal part of the Bible (the section between the Old and New Testaments). I feel blessed in this way (and in many other ways) to be a Catholic, since only Catholic and Orthodox Bibles contain these books. They are a valuable teaching tool and a thorough look into Israel’s history. The Councils of Trent and of Florence affirmed the place of the first two books of the Maccabees in the Canon.

At the end of the rebellion, the Jews reconstructed the Temple and rededicated it to Yahweh. A menorah, as well as jewels, precious metals, and other sacrifices were placed on the altar. It was apparent, though, that there was only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for a day. It was lit anyway, and it miraculously burned for 8 days. Therefore, on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, a candle is lit on the menorah to commemorate this event. And on each successive day for eight days, a new candle is lit. All the candles are lit from the central Shamash candle(Shamash means “servant”- as we are servants to the Servant God…my thought thrown in). Thus began the festival of Hanukkah. (1 Maccabees 4:36-61)

The uprising between 168 and 165 B.C. didn’t end the Greek occupation of Israel, but it allowed for the rebuilding of the Temple. The Greeks were only succeeded by an arguably greater menace nearly 100 years afterward: the Romans. The Jews continued to face persecution through the centuries, right up to the present day. To clarify, I’m not saying this to deny that some Jews have been persecutors, only to recognize the times the Jews have been on the receiving end. Some people who profess to be Christians have denigrated the Jewish people as well.

As the word “Hanukkah” means dedication (the dedication of the Temple to God, properly defined) I dedicate this article to the Jews. We pray that they may practice their faith without struggle, and in turn be an increasingly peaceful people themselves. And to our Jewish friends: Happy Hanukkah!


See http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/hanukkah/traditions.html
and http://biblia.com/jesusbible/maccabees1.htm#3-%20Judas%20Maccabee