Friends, I hope to get the file transferred to this site, but there are some difficulties. in the meantime, please see the same draft essay at Academia:
Friends, I hope to get the file transferred to this site, but there are some difficulties. in the meantime, please see the same draft essay at Academia:
The Theological Virtues are the topics of the reflections today. This talk is on Love.
And because the New Testament says twice that “God is Love,” this talk could dive into a discussion of God, who is Love.
There have been books written trying to figure out the inner life of God.
However, since this topic is in the context of the Theological virtues, let’s consider Love from the point of our human growth in Love.
But then, beginning to do this, I realized that this is not an easy task! Precisely when we try to look at Love in either its Divine or its Human context, it starts moving towards the Other, and in the other direction! Both the Human to Divine, and Divine to Human moments are caught up with each other.
The Divine-to-Human Direction:
The God who is Love creates Creation, and had us in mind long ago. Then, when Humanity fell from the Garden, God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world as Love Incarnate to help us back into relationship with God.
Jesus is taken away at the Crucifixion, and given back to us at the Resurrection.
Then in the Ascension, Jesus left us, but 10 days later, at the Pentecost, sent his Holy Spirit to help us, and the Holy Spirit has been in our Church, guiding us for the last 2000 years. God’s love is always moving towards us in the Holy Spirit. God’s love moves towards us in many ways.
The Human-to-Divine Direction:
And we, for our part, as we Christians grow in Love, we are indeed emulating and pursuing God. And we praise and bless God.
One of the culminations of Matthew’s Gospel is when Jesus tells us to integrate love through the entirety of our being, to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Mt 22:37).
But even here, the growth of love does not finish. Asked only for one commandment, love proves uncontainable, and suddenly Jesus gives a second commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.
The New Testament is full of teachings on love and is ever urging us to love our neighbor. The great Evangelist St. John, who wrote a Gospel, and 3 letters, and the Book of Revelation, when he was an ancient old man, used to be carried to Church gatherings because he could no longer walk. Being carried into the gathering place, he would say, “Little children, love one another.” That’s the whole Gospel in brief. If we grow in Love, we are proceeding in the Way, in the Way of the Church, and the graceful flowing dance of the Holy Spirit.
Now, the Church has always been about love. For example, this is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, from the Prologue:
“The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.” (Catechism, Prologue, 25)
And the Church has always had Wisdom and Tradition and the Holy Spirit and the Saints guiding us into greater expressions of what it means to be Church. Of course love has grown tremendously in the two millennia leading up to Vatican II.
The Catholic Church began the now-global practice of building hospitals. Who would have thought? Make a place to treat sick people and heal them? Today, of course, hospitals are an expected part of all societies. And it’s the Catholic Church who started this Godly practice.
More examples: Orphanages and schools for poor children. In the ancient world, there were no such things. Why would anyone waste time or money on helping children, let alone educating them? This too is something that the Catholic Church began, and now it seems like it’s always been part of the DNA of our humanity.
In a way, this talk could be finished here. Eastern Bishop Kallistos Ware humorously refers to the preacher who consistently preached this one succinct sermon: “Alright good people, you know what to do, now let’s all go do it,” and thereby concluded his homily, quicker than a quarterback’s “Ready, break” sends those in the huddle to the line of scrimmage.
However, there is something happening today, something special, that I would like to reflect upon.
Let’s go back to the Pentecost, which we celebrated two weeks ago. Jesus, God Incarnate, Love Incarnate, had in the last 50 days died, Resurrected, and then just 10 days ago had left earth and gone to heaven at the Ascension. The poor disciples!—they had a lot to process! They had quite a bit of new information to integrate into their understanding of Reality! They knew that Jesus was alive, but what to do about that!? What should they do? They didn’t know. So they hid out in the upper room, behind locked doors. Jesus had told them to wait for something, and so they weren’t feeling completely abandoned.
Pentecost came. The Fire from Heaven came. Tongues of fire are over each of them. The Holy Spirit started a new relationship with each of them. The scared fellows in the Upper Room suddenly were transformed, and became a group of supercharged atomic pinballs, bouncing all over the Eastern Mediterranean, founding Churches, healing people, teaching souls, and spreading the Faith. They now knew what to do.
The event of the Pentecost is the birth of our Church. In those early days of the Church, the presence of the Holy Spirit was so palpable that one could almost feel it in the air.
Let’s fast forward through the centuries of growth of our Church. Let’s leap over the almost 20 centuries of Church development, to 1959. In 1959, there was a press conference called.
The event was called by Pope Saint John XXIII, on the outskirts of a city.
As is often the case with these sorts of official gatherings, there was a group of bishops and cardinals in attendance, probably having taken a bus together from the Vatican. The meeting started, and there, at the Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura, at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Pope John, the Good Pope, called for a major Church Council, which became Vatican II.
The assembled bishops and cardinals, as a collective body, were stunned. A Church Council? Why?
Now, Pope John XXIII had been elected to be a caretaker Pope. There were no young candidates for the Papacy on the horizon who were deemed ready yet, so he was chosen to keep the Church on a safe and steady course for, presumably, a short time, until he was polite enough to move on up to heaven. A Church Council was definitely not on the mind of the Conclave Fathers who elected him as Pope.
Later, when asked about why he had convened a Church Council, Pope John said that this time, the time of Vatican II, would be a New Pentecost, a Second Pentecost. This is an even more shocking thing for a Pope to say. A New Pentecost means: 1) A new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit, and 2) A new birth of the Church.
50 years ago, in the grand sweep of time, is like yesterday, or, 2 seconds ago. It just happened. The time of Vatican II, the time of the New Pentecost, is now.
Let’s also, in the light of this, today’s amazing moment of Vatican II, consider the Holy Spirit, whom Pope Saint John XXIII says is closer to us than ever before. Who is the Holy Spirit?
The first Two Persons of the Trinity, we think of as God the Father and God the Son: The love between them is so strong and real that it becomes a Third Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the love between the first and second persons of the Trinity. This is standard Catholic theology.
God is Love, God the Father.
The Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, is Love Incarnate.
The Holy Spirit is also Love, the living Love of the relationship between the 1st and 2nd Persons of the Trinity.
Different modes of God, of Love.
We arrive at a deeper understanding of that verse, “God is Love.” We get a sense of the levels of meaning in the verses of our precious New Testament. God is Love, and the Holy Spirit is a special moment, and special Being, of that love. The Holy Spirit is one way in which God Is.
Let’s return to the theme of Vatican II, our new Pentecost, which is happening today.
Pope John XXIII implied a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean????
The Holy Spirit wants a relationship with each one of us.
Some of you may know what this means.
If this is true, then there are many questions for us. What will this relationship be like? How do we directly communicate with the Holy Spirit?
I believe that our recent Popes can help us to understand what this might mean.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his superb Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), says,
“….to want the same thing, and to reject the same thing—was regarded by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to a community of will and thought. The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy.” (Para 17)
One of our RCIA teachers is always saying to our Catechumens, “Love is not a feeling, love is an act of the will.” And that’s standard Catholic theology too. Love, and our will, are very deeply connected.
This is also in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) This is what Pope Benedict is speaking of, when our will and God’s “increasingly coincide.”
Jesus says, “Whoever does the Will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) This is also pointing to our Church family.
In our life, we try to synchronize, to bring together, our will with God’s Will. Generally, we know God’s will: Love one another, try to be good people, obey the Commandments, etc. But can we know God’s will more specifically? Here’s the Vatican II surprise: The Holy Spirit is here today to teach us how to better use our will. The Holy Spirit wants to coach and guide us. A religious nun said, The Holy Spirit wants to become part of our DNA.
An example of how our direct relationship with the Holy Spirit can work: Let’s say after work we plan to go home and make some coffee and read the Bible for 30 minutes in prayer. Awesome! You and the entire Body of Christ are growing because of your virtuous action and virtuous use of intelligence.
But if the Holy Spirit told you on the way home, Hey! turn right here, smoothly and gracefully. Now turn left. Now park and go to the alleyway over there. You follow the quiet suggestions of the Holy Spirit, which the Holy Spirit has delivered personally to you, directly to you.
You park, you walk to the alley. There is a fellow who was just mugged there. You help him, and call 911, and later meet him at the hospital. It turns out that he had been emotionally down for some weeks before this, and the mugging is the coup de grace. You bring him to Church. He joins the Parish and becomes a joyful dynamo of the Church.
Now, your own personal after-work plans would have been superb. But by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the direct guidance that is the fruit of a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit, you have just been a 10,000 x more effective apostle.
This little story is made up, but anyone who has been to a parish retreat has seen things like this, and far more amazing things, happen so many times. And these miracle stories happen every day in our Church. It’s not exactly the kind of stuff that the media is reporting on. However, we know that it’s happening.
A fruit of Vatican II, our New Pentecost, is this immediate connection with the Holy Spirit.
This development of our capacity to love is hiddenly outlined in Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ teaching grows, as we and the disciples grow and are able to perceive and receive more of the Divine Will. That’s why it’s in the last part of Jesus’ ministry that he presents his teaching on the Great Command: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” which was briefly discussed above. See the human development here, and the strength and integration? This happens at the end of Chapter 22. This full spectrum of human development could not have happened earlier in Matthew’s story, or in our life—the loving will of the human person has grown and expanded through every part of the human person; this is shown in the words Jesus chooses: heart, soul, and mind. These multiple parts of our person represent the entirety of the human person. The integrated person has arrived at the point where their entire being is focused on love. Jesus’ teaching continues, “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.” Notice that love is always developing, and cannot be contained in 1 statement: A growing mature love of God is also reaching out to the love of each and every neighbor.
We come to a great Pastor, who knows a lot about love and about God, Pope Francis.
Pope Francis’ Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World) is an amazing document!
When it was published, some critics thought that it was simple. No, this small book is highly mature and deep.
For the next part of this reflection, let’s consider some gems from this work, in the light of our new deeper working relationship with the Holy Spirit.
-Why bother developing the ability to discern God’s will, i.e., the subtle directives of the Holy Spirit? And will doing God’s will take me away from my own plans and projects?
In Paragraph 19, Pope Francis mentions our “path of holiness,” and quotes 1 Thess 4:3; “this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
Pope Francis is here telling us that doing God’s will is the best plan also for our own individual life. Doing God’s will is the best route for our own beatitude and sanctification. We couldn’t possibly have any plans or projects that are better for us than God’s will.
-Pope Francis says, “This should excite and encourage us to give our all and to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity (Para 13).”
To paraphrase Pope Benedict’s statement above, we embrace God’s will to enter our truest calling. And throughout Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis is telling us that doing the will of God, far from denying our own individuality, actually brings us into the fullest possible realization of our own self.
-When we begin the more mature phase of our Spiritual life, when we can begin to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit directly, the Holy Spirit (not us) may give special rules, individually, for us: “Indeed, when the great mystic, St. John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them ‘in his or her own way’. For God’s life is communicated ‘to some in one way and to others in another’ (Para 11).”
The Holy Spirit operates in different ways with different people. Nor are we identical puppets under the command of the Holy Spirit. The Good Spirit uses different approaches and methods with each of us, and different humor and music and art. (In his Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis is beginning to teach us this Truth.)
-Then Pope Francis dives into deeper description of our personal relationship with the Holy Spirit: “Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world (Para 23).”
This language is strong. ‘To forge’ is to use great heat, and to strongly refashion our habits and outlooks under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
-This transformation will lead to our renewal: “Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit…. (Para 24)”
-Building upon Paragraph 23, quoted above, he mentions how the Holy Spirit’s leadership in our life is for both our own deeper participation in Jesus Christ, and also for the betterment of the world/cosmos: “Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice, and universal peace (Para 25).”
-Pope Francis, speaking of the Spirit’s subtle-yet-concrete signs that guide us in our life, writes clearly to us: “Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit (Para 34).”
-However, we do not determine when the more mature phase of our relationship with the Holy Spirit begins. For those who want to enter this state, and for those who teach and help others, Pope Francis reminds, “God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us (Para 41).”
The time of the beginning of the deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit is not determined by us. We can ask. By living a life of faith and hope and love, we certainly dispose ourselves to be invited by the Spirit to a deeper relationship.
-More powerful than any therapy or guided retreats, the Spirit shows us the clearest path and heals us of our own layers of prejudice and blindness: “If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions…. (Para 42)”
Paragraph 51 is so wonderful that I want to quote it in full:
“When God speaks to Abraham, he tells him, ‘I am God almighty, walk before me, and be blameless’ (Gen 17:1). In order to be blameless, as he would have us, we need to live humbly in his presence, cloaked in his glory; we need to walk in union with him, recognizing his constant love in our lives. We need to lose our fear before that presence which can only be for our good. God is the Father who gave us life and loves us greatly. Once we accept him, and stop trying to live our lives without him, the anguish of loneliness will disappear (cf. Ps 139:23-24). In this way we will know the pleasing and perfect will of the Lord (cf. Rom 12:1-2) and allow him to mold us like a potter (cf. Is 29:16). So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love. He is our temple; we ask to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life (cf. Ps 27:4). ‘For one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere’ (Ps 84:10). In him is our holiness.” -Para 51, emphases added
-Our working relationship with the Holy Spirit deepens. We can “cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation (Para 56).”
-Our speed may quicken and our gifts may grow, as we are “led by the Spirit in the way of love…. (Para 57)” The Holy Spirit teaches us how to love more precisely and perfectly.
-Our communication with the Holy Spirit sometimes completely disappears from the visible plane, and becomes more quiet and more internal, as we become more skillful and adroit at discerning the “promptings of the Spirit (Para 58).” We are more capable of seeing the Spirit’s signs, hints, and suggestions in our external environment, or within us.
-Of course, we should never be prideful as we learn to fly with the Holy Spirit. He notes that the Second Synod of Orange taught with “firm authority” that all is a “gift of divine grace, and . . . all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace: ‘Even the desire to be cleansed comes about in us through the outpouring and working of the Holy Spirit’ (Para 53).” Pope Francis continues, “Subsequently, the Council of Trent, while emphasizing the importance of our cooperation for spiritual growth, reaffirmed that dogmatic teaching: ‘We are said to be justified gratuitously because nothing that precedes justification, neither faith nor works, merits the grace of justification; for “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace” (Rom 11:6)’.” (Para 53)
-Pope Francis reminds us that our own personal journey is never just about us as individuals: “. . . it is true that the word ‘justice’ can be a synonym for faithfulness to God’s will in every aspect of our life. . . (Para 79)” Later in this paragraph, he urges us to remember the most vulnerable, as the Old Testament prophets insist.
-In a magnificent move, after a detailed discussion of the Beatitudes, Pope Francis calls Matthew 25:31-46 an expansion “on the Beatitude that calls blessed the merciful.” Here is Paragraph 95 in its entirety:
“In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 31-46), Jesus expands on the Beatitude that calls blessed the merciful. If we seek the holiness pleasing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged. ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’ (vv. 35-36).”
Following God’s will, we connect more profoundly with the most vulnerable. This is one of the New Testament’s great pinnacles of synthesis and summation.
-While “Holiness, then, is not about swooning in mystic rapture (Para 96),” he goes on to discuss our “personal relationship with the Lord,” and, “the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and many others. For these great saints, mental prayer, the love of God, and the reading of the Gospel in no way detracted from their passionate and effective commitment to their neighbors; quite the opposite (Para 100).”
-Pope Francis insists that “We need the Spirit’s prompting” to be able to overcome fear and to perform God’s will as we are called to do. This overcomes our tendency to keep within “safe bounds.” He recalls the Pentecost, “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31).” (Para 133)
-In Paragraph 134 he mentions “the God of tenderness, who invites us to set out ever anew on our journey.” The sentence “God is eternal newness” begins Paragraph 135. Later in this paragraph, Pope Francis writes of God, “He is always greater than our plans and schemes.” This too is a good reason to follow God’s will, rather than only our own projects.
-Pope Francis wants the Church to be able to better receive the surprises of God. “In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises (Para 139).”
-Celebrating the development of the Church, he writes, “Each community is called to create a ‘God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord’ [St. John Paul II, Vita Consecrata]. Sharing the word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary community. It also gives rise to authentic and shared mystical experiences (Para 142).”
-This growth in our life and lives should result “in a habitual openness to the transcendent (Para 147).” He discusses how the saints long for God. He then quotes Saint John of the Cross: “’Endeavor to remain always in the presence of God…. Always go to God and attach your heart to him’ (Para 148).” Then he quotes Saint John’s dear friend Saint Teresa, who notes that prayer is “friendly. . . and frequent solitary converse, with him who we know loves us’ (Para 149).”
-Nearing the end of the document, the word “discernment” appears frequently. Many saints have told us of the necessity to find reliable guides with whom we can discuss our ongoing Spiritual discernment; the Saints know that left to ourselves, we can go astray. Paragraphs 166-175 have the word “discernment” 15 times. This is a significant emphasis on discernment. My thought is that Pope Francis does this to encourage us not to become lost in our own self-referential systems that favor only our own interpretations of what might be the Spirit’s suggestions to us, but to get us in the habit of sharing our ideas with others who have experience in journeying in the Way of the Holy Spirit.
-Paragraph 167 discusses the powerful need for discernment in today’s technological world. Indeed, I think that the Holy Spirit could help us especially in this arena, to help us choose what paths on the internet and in our communication will have fruitful outcomes, and what choices would lead us astray. When Pope Francis mentions how people today often navigate on multiple screens at once, I interpret this also to mean that the Holy Spirit may lead us to a participation in greater complexity. We will be prepared and instructed for this, before it happens to individuals.
Additionally, in the future, for scientists who are also Spiritual and holy, their choices may be made more efficient when they are guided by the Holy Spirit, as, in the future, the open spectrum of possibilities for scientific exploration may be dizzyingly vast.
-Paragraphs 169 and 174 both mention God’s “timetable.” Indeed, the Holy Spirit, when we have been under the Spirit’s tutelage for a time, is a teacher of the art of the best timing. Note that timing is a part of music, poetry, dramatic scenes, all things artistic—and the Holy Spirit is often a great lover of artistic style in our actions.
Pope Francis also recommends that all Christians do a daily “examination of conscience.” This venerable practice goes back in Christian Spiritual practice at least 1700 years, to the first Christian monks, who began Christian monasticism in the desert of Egypt.
A very effective Examen of Conscience can be done in about 2 minutes at the end of the day, once we have learned how to do it. And if we do this practice for just a week or two, we will see our understanding of the internal geography of our soul vastly improve.
Here is an essay that can help one begin a practice of the Examen of Conscience:
-Paragraph 171 is another wonderful reflection, discussing how the silence of prolonged prayer helps us better “perceive God’s language.” Indeed, is it possible that the Holy Spirit can teach us new languages by which the Spirit may better and more efficiently communicate with us, and issue to us the Spirit’s subtle directives?
Now, this discussion of a new relationship with the Holy Spirit may be surprising, or disconcerting, to some. However, it’s happening today. Really.
Recall the great discourse on love, given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. That beautiful reflection on Charity is lovingly surrounded by two parallel statements on our desire, or on our will. Paul is encouraging us to desire, to will, to want the Spiritual gifts. This is a good desire, a healthy desire. He says at 12:31, immediately before the discourse, “Zealously strive after the higher gifts. And I’ll show you a better way.”
Then, immediately after the discourse, he repeats the verb for “zealously strive,” and places a bookend on the other side of the great speech on love: “Pursue love, and zealously strive after the Spiritual things….” (1 Cor 14:1)
Our Church today, in this time of Vatican II, is being given precisely this opportunity.
For further reflection on Pope Francis’ remarkable Gaudete et Exsultate, please see:
What if Pope Francis Knows Something?
How Gaudete et Exsultate Utilizes Mystical Biblical Structures
Quietly stationed below the surface layers of the Exhortation, there is another immense realm waiting to be discovered and understood in Gaudete et Exsultate.
This new terrain, this uncharted continent that we have just begun discovering, concerns mystical realities in the Bible. These mystical realities are largely connected with our human evolution. And among these mysteries, a large set of these realities are actual, discernable mystical structures hidden in the Book of Psalms. These Mystical Psalm Structures have been secretly discussed by at least 20 or 30 saints of Christianity, and possibly many more have known of them. Additionally, almost every page of the New Testament is brimming over with their authors’ conscious, though hidden, references to these mystical structures. This essay linked here gives a brief overview of the forthcoming book on the Mystical Psalm Structures:
It is clear that Pope Francis knows the Mystical Psalm Structures and has woven allusions to them throughout his writings. His references to the Mystical Psalm Structures will be a major part of this third essay.
[A double caveat regarding this third essay: This reflection will be more dense than the previous two essays on Gaudete et Exsultate. If you have not read those two essays, it would make sense to read them before proceeding here.]
Besides referencing the Mystical Psalm Structures, there are other ways in which superlative Christian writers have systematically alluded to the Psalms:
A technique of the great ancient authors of the Church is to write treatises in short numbered paragraphs. The individual paragraphs of their works will correspond with the Biblical Psalm of the same number. (These collections are sometimes called “Centuries,” because they were frequently composed of 100 short nugget paragraphs/sentences. Authors such as St. Maximus Confessor would occasionally string several Centuries together.) The works of (St.) Evagrius Ponticus, the Apophthegmata of the ancient Egyptian desert monks, St. Benedict, St. Maximus Confessor, the Philokalia, (St.) Gregory Palamas, and the newly discovered Gospel of Thomas all have this ordering feature of their works: the numbers of their paragraphs correspond to the Psalm of the same number. (The Gospel of Philip, discovered at Egypt’s Nag Hammadi with the Gospel of Thomas, may also have this feature.) Although the Gospel of Thomas is not part of the Bible, it is a beautiful work. While he was the Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the Gospel of Thomas, and encourages us Bible-lovers to read this treasure from the desert.
So, there are two qualities of the Book of Psalms that we are considering here:
1) First, there are Mystical Structures hidden in the Psalms.
Regarding these Mystical Structures, most New Testament authors are consciously aware of them, as are at least 20 or 30 Christians of the last 2000 years.
In their writings, they often give subtle hints about the Mystical Psalm Structures, but never speak of them openly.
2) Second, there is the fact that later writers who write theological treatises or groups of poems in numbered sequences often are in a direct 1-to-1 relationship with the Psalms of the Bible. Their own numbered paragraphs or poems will be in parallel dialogue with the Psalm of the same number.
Pope Francis is aware of both sets of these literary-mystical Christian writing methods, both of which are connected to the Psalms.
Pope Francis constructs his Exhortation with plentiful allusions to both of these ancient patterns of Christian literary architecture. Some of his paragraphs have very strong resonances with the Psalms of the same number. We shall consider this in Part I of the essay. In Part II, we shall consider how Pope Francis makes many allusions to the Mystical Psalm Structures themselves. Part III of the essay discusses how Pope Francis is speaking of our growth in the Holy Spirit, in stunning new ways among humanity today. This has a beginning in Paul’s discussion of our earlier evolution in Romans 7 & 8.
Simple Parallel Connections between Paragraphs of Gaudete et Exsultate
And the Psalms of the Same Number
This part of the essay will show simple parallel connections between the numbered paragraphs of the Exhortation and the Psalms of the same number.
Paragraph 1 and Psalm 1
Paragraph 1 of the Exhortation mentions “happiness,” as do the Beatitudes; and the Beatitudes are the overt Scriptural architectural backbone of the Exhortation. The Beatitudes, which are the first words of the Sermon on the Mount, are also the very first “quoted” words of Jesus’ public preaching in the Bible. And the very first word that Jesus speaks to all of us is “Happy.” It is the first word of the Sermon on the Mount, and the first word of all 8 (9) Beatitudes that begin that great communication.
By beginning in this way, the Beatitudes amplify the Psalms—Psalm 1 also begins with the word “happy.” Thus, like the entirety of Jesus’ public teaching, the entire Book of Psalms begins with the word “happy.” This deep initial connection between the Psalms and the Beatitudes is known to Pope Francis, who puts the word “happiness” into his Paragraph #1. He underscores the “firstness” of things in Biblical orders later in the same paragraph: “The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. (Emphasis added, as in all quotations below.)”
Paragraph 8 and Psalm 8
In Paragraph 8 Pope Francis presents a quotation from Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Here is Paragraph 8 in its entirety; Additionally, the highlighted sections of this paragraph carry strong resonances with Psalm 8:
“Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which ‘shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, speaking abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity’. We should consider the fact that, as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross suggests, real history is made by so many of them. As she writes:
‘The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed’.”
And here is Psalm 8, which features a young father (or mother) of a new family in ancient Palestine venturing outside in the middle of the night to look up at the wonders of the nighttime sky. Some of the verses that echo with Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s statement are similarly highlighted:
“O Lord our God, how great is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants, you have founded a bulwark against your foes, to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established (this is the young parent going outside and gazing at the night sky);
What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
Or, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than angels (such is the power of the hidden saints’ intercession that Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross speaks of),
And crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under their feet,
All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the (hidden) pathways of the seas.
O Lord our God, how great is your name in all the earth!”
Notice how between both Paragraphs/Psalms 1 and 8, the connections that they share are not overpowering or burdensome. Rather, they are deft and subtle—just like our communication with the Holy Spirit, when we have entered into that more mature phase of our life. The Spirit much prefers understatement, lightness of touch, art, good taste, and exquisite simplicity—not blunt stuff. Additionally, by training us in artistry of communication, it is easier for the Holy Spirit to remain completely hidden while giving us messages in the middle of the busy world.
Paragraphs 120-134 and the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134)
Whereas ancient and medieval authors such as Evagrius, the Gospel of Thomas, and Gregory Palamas often make many textual connections between all of their individual paragraphs and the Psalm of the same number, Pope Francis does not activate this style of writing quite so much as these earlier writers. When he does use this style of parallel commentary on the Psalms, perhaps it is because he is communicating a truth to us, and emphasizing something of greater importance.
For the sake of brevity, let’s jump to the second half of the Apostolic Exhortation, so that we can see a remarkable maneuver by Pope Francis.
The Psalms of Ascents, Psalms 120-134, a group of 15 Psalms, celebrate pilgrimage, as attested to by many Psalm scholars. What kind of pilgrimage? For the ancient Hebrews, it was the pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. For Christians, they can represent the many kinds of pilgrimages that Christians engage in; additionally, it may also speak of the Spiritual growth, the ongoing journey in the Holy Spirit, that Christians engage in, and which Vatican II and Pope Francis exhort us to take up.
As Gaudete et Exsultate has shown us, the way to climb the Spiritual Ladder, the way to become closer co-operators with the Holy Spirit, the way to grow, is to practice holiness. I believe that the reason why Pope Francis places special emphasis upon the paragraphs of the Exhortation that align with the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) is this: Pope Francis is showing us how the pursuit of holiness will take us into deeper relationship with God, and reveal new things to us:
Paragraphs 120-121 and Psalms 120-121
Psalm 120 is a fiery, angry Psalm; all people encounter these emotions. At such times, perhaps we resolve to undertake a pilgrimage, realizing that we need fresh air, renewal, and further development, spiritually. At the beginning of this Psalm, the Psalmist asks God for deliverance. This deliverance is “from lying lips,/ from a deceitful tongue.” (120:2) The next two verses speak of the revenge and retribution that the Psalmist would like to see visited upon his/her antagonists. There is some rather vicious war technology added at the end of the second verse:
What shall be given to you?
And what more shall be done to you,
You deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows,
With glowing coals of the broom tree!
The Psalmist is imagining arrows being shot into his/her enemies. Some of these arrows are quite hot, inflicting extra pain. To call these wishes of the Psalmist “cruel” might be accurate; it is certainly going in that direction, but perhaps the envisioned action does not actually arrive at that violent end: Many of the angry Psalms (or their technical name: “cursing Psalms”) are intended to transform our hot anger into prayer. By doing this, they take our difficult emotions and transform them into greater Spiritual capacity, and holiness, for us. By speaking our anger into prayer, we also avoid physical violence by the metamorphosis of our anger into prayer, aided by the Psalms.
Pope Francis’ use of Psalm 120 is a stroke of Christian genius. In this part of the Exhortation, Pope Francis has been speaking of humility, and how humility is important for the growth that we need to register on the Spiritual journey. To grow in humility requires humiliations, and, as we know, there are many humiliations provided to us in the course of life. Additionally, the Psalmist of Psalm 120 undergoes humiliations. Speaking to this, here is Paragraph 120:
“I am not saying that such humiliation is pleasant, for that would be masochism, but that it is a way of imitating Jesus and growing in union with him. This is incomprehensible on a purely natural level, and the world mocks any such notion. Instead, it is a grace to be sought in prayer: ‘Lord, when humiliations come, help me to know that I am following in your footsteps’.”
Pope Francis is showing us how we grow in the way of humility. On “a purely natural level,” humility does not make much sense. It actually might go against our natural drives and inclinations. However, it is both highly human and Spiritual, as everyone with experience of the Spiritual walk will attest. The Pope is showing how, in the light of Jesus and the New Testament, we rise above earlier, aggressive attitudes of more primitive humanity, such as the hopes for violent revenge demonstrated by the ferociously angry Israelite. No, we humans are meant to become creatures of love. God will take care of any corrective actions that need to be made in the offenders’ souls, so we don’t have to worry about retribution. God is also about Justice, and God will see Justice done. Our job is to grow in humility; with this growth comes the ability to handle more Spiritual energy, more of the Spirit’s gift to us, which requires patience, observation, and lots of learning. Humility helps us to bear more of the Spirit’s power.
Psalm 120 ends with the Psalmist realizing he/she must move their physical location to a place that is more conducive to their truer potential being; hence, the theme of pilgrimage/migration is struck:
…Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,
That I must live among the tents of Kedar.
Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.
I am (for) peace;
But when I speak, they are for war.
Perhaps it is this implicit desire for a change of scenery, and a chance to grow, that impels the Psalmist on the pilgrimage that the next 14 shir hammalot (Songs of Ascents) will celebrate as the voyaging pilgrims sing them on their way.
Paragraph 120 of the Exhortation ends with a similar call to pilgrimage, albeit a more Spiritual journey: “Lord, when humiliations come, help me to know that I am following in your footsteps.” We all walk along and follow the Psalmist’s path.
So important is this lesson that Pope Francis continues speaking of our growth beyond the violent attitudes of Psalm 120 well into the next paragraph, 121:
“To act in this way presumes a heart set at peace by Christ, freed from the aggressiveness born of overweening egotism. That same peacefulness, the fruit of grace, makes it possible to preserve our inner trust and persevere in goodness . . .”
Pope Francis continues this Paragraph with three quotations from the Psalms!:
“ . . . ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ (Ps 23:4) or ‘a host encamp against me’ (Ps 27:3). Standing firm in the Lord, the Rock, we can sing: ‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety’(Ps 4:8).”
All three of these Psalm quotations chime nicely with Psalm 120.
Pope Francis then shifts gears to the more developed humanity of the New Testament, with three quotations reflecting humanity’s advances in Christ:
“Christ, in a word, ‘is our peace’ (Eph 2:14); he came ‘to guide our feet into the way of peace ’ (Lk 1:79) [note the subtle theme of pilgrimage here, in the stunning turning from the Old Testament to the New Testament motif at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel]. As he told Saint Faustina Kowalska, ‘[Humanity] will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.’ So let us not fall into the temptation of looking for security in success, vain pleasures, possessions, power over others or social status. Jesus says, ‘My peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace’ (Jn 14:27).”
In addition to continuing the discussion of the development of humanity beyond primitive attitudes shown in Psalm 120, Paragraph 121 also has literary connections to its numerical parallel, Psalm 121, which the reader can easily find. At this time, let us move to the next pair.
Paragraph 122 and Psalm 122
Psalm 122 celebrates the physical setting forth on pilgrimage, and even has an earlier memory of the joy of physically arriving at the end of a pilgrimage.
Then, in present time, the middle of the Psalm looks forward to arriving at Jerusalem in this current pilgrimage.
The end of Psalm 122 begins to have notions of love shared with others—that is, it has hints of going beyond mere ‘physical’ pilgrimage—however, this love is very much limited to the physically local tribe:
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
And security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.”
There is gladness at the beginning of the Psalm, and at the end of the Psalm there is an awareness of other people (still within the tribe) and hopes for their happiness. This is an early, positive step in our human evolution. It shows slight expansions in human care for other people.
Of course, with Christianity, we progress much further.
In Paragraph 122, Pope Francis begins by reminding us that Saints have evolved well beyond mere primitive attitudes: “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic, or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humor. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit.”
Pope Francis then cites three verses from the New Testament again; additionally, he has a quotation from Saint Thomas Aquinas that completely reconfigures the goal of ‘pilgrimage’, according to our human evolution: we do not merely arrive at a destination, a physical place, or even at a “beloved” person; rather, we arrive at a truly developmental destination, that is, we arrive at greater human and spiritual evolution, by becoming human beings of love, and as such, we simply cannot refrain from exuding joy:
“This Christian life is ‘joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 14:17), for ‘the necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved…the effect of charity is joy’.” Aquinas is saying that our true pilgrimage—our growth in love—results in irrepressible joy.
The ancient Psalmist of Psalm 122 rejoiced to physically arrive in Jerusalem annually.
By way of contrast, the Christian described in Paragraph 122 rejoices to evolve in love and in relationship with God. We see how meaningful is the dialogue between Pope Francis and the Psalms.
Indeed, the Christian, despite the challenges the Word calls us to engage, finds more meaning and purpose in the Word than in the armed walls of Jerusalem: “Having received the beautiful gift of God’s word, we embrace it ‘in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Thess 1:6). If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as Saint Paul tells us: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; I say again, rejoice!’ (Phil 4:4).”
Indeed, Paragraph 122 is the first paragraph of the section of Chapter Four entitled ‘Joy and a Sense of Humor’.
What Pope Francis is about to do with Psalm 123 is indeed joyful and humorous:
Paragraph 123 and Psalm 123
Psalm 123 begs the Lord for mercy.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the urgency of this ancient plea is that the Psalmist finds oneself beset by haughty and scornful people; an occasional motif of the Psalms is that decent people are often targeted by the scorn of the proud.
Pope Francis, however, implies that none of that is to be worried about any longer, because of an event of far greater consequence: For the arrival of Jesus Christ is itself the culmination of all of these Songs of Ascents, the shir hammalot, Psalms 120-134! Indeed, this paragraph has a dense collection of poetic images that echo the physical landscapes of the Psalms of Ascents; however, the images in this paragraph are taken from other books of the Old Testament. The themes of ‘song’, ‘mountain’, ‘Zion’, ‘Jerusalem’, and more, are present both in Paragraph 123 and the Psalms of Ascents; so why does Pope Francis take this paragraph’s images from other parts of the Old Testament? Because the entire Old Testament points to the joyful Advent of Jesus Christ! [This tiny new essay shows how the Psalms of Ascents also show Jesus in the womb of Mary: https://scripturefinds.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/a-new-biblical-discovery-the-moment-of-conception-hidden-in-the-book-of-psalms/ ] To show this, Pope Francis rallies the support of the Prophets Zechariah, multiple authors in the Book of Isaiah, and Nehemiah to show how the entire Old Testament is focused on the arrival of Jesus Christ. The very notion of the Ascent to Jerusalem, the very idea of human evolution and pilgrimage, is shown to culminate in Jesus Christ.
In fact, Pope Francis chooses a text from Zechariah to celebrate the ancient Israelites waiting for Christ, who is “your king!” Here is Paragraph 123:
“The prophets proclaimed the times of Jesus, in which we now live, as a revelation of joy. ‘Shout and sing for joy!’ (Is 12:6). ‘Get you up to a high mountain, O herald of good tidings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, O herald of good tidings to Jerusalem!’ (Is 40:9). ‘Break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and he will have compassion on his afflicted’ (Is 49:13). ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he’ (Zech 9:9). Nor should we forget Nehemiah’s exhortation: ‘Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’ (8:10).”
Again, this powerfully shows how the paragraphs of the Exhortation are alluding to the Psalms of the same numbers, while, at the same time, showing how all things are recapitulated in Jesus Christ.
Paragraph 124 and Psalm 124
Psalm 124 rehearses the deliverance of the ancient Israelites from many perilous situations. Near the end of this short Psalm is a memorable stanza:
“Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken,
And we have escaped.”
The people are rejoicing in the light of their escape, their journey out of the trap. Additionally, this may remind us of the escape from the dragon by the woman clothed with the sun, from the Book of Revelation, as the woman gives birth.
In fact, Pope Francis begins Paragraph 124 by speaking of Mary; and he quotes from the brilliant infancy narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel.
The Holy Spirit is the seal of our life of Resurrection in Christ. It is the seal of the Church. Pope Francis notes, “and Jesus himself ‘rejoiced in the Holy Spirit’ (Lk 10:21). As he passed by, ‘all the people rejoiced’ (Lk 13:17).”
Paragraph 125 and Psalm 125
Psalm 125 begins with a stolid image of physical security, representing a deeper security that comes from abiding in the Lord:
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides for ever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time on and for evermore…”
Pope Francis speaks of this security in Paragraph 125, yet tailors it to a more profound security, that of the Spirit, not mere physical security:
“Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’ That joy brings deep security, serene hope and a spiritual fulfillment that the world cannot understand or appreciate.”
The end of Psalm 125 speaks of the Psalmist’s hope that God will do good things to good people, and severely punish the wicked. But the Christian attitude has evolved far beyond such earlier, undeveloped wishes. Pope Francis, fittingly, speaks of “ . . . spiritual fulfillment that the world cannot understand or appreciate.”
In the mystical architecture of the Book of Psalms, which is a marvelous system that is far beyond the capacities of the human redactors/editors to have woven into the Book of Psalms, the phrase from Psalm 125 describing the “mountains surrounding Jerusalem” has deep importance. Right after Psalm 125 we come to the truest heart of the Psalter: Psalms 126, 127, and 128.
These three Psalms are the deepest heart of the Psalter for several reasons. There are dense networks of key terms in these three Psalms, and developments and themes that make these poem-prayer-songs the theological nexus of the Book of Psalms.
Additionally, when we shall (later) bring in the Mystical Psalm Structures, we see that these three Psalms are central to those structures. Psalm 126 is a Pillar Psalm and a Ladder Psalm. Psalm 128 is the most important Psalm of the Interwoven Menorahs. As such, Psalm 128 pulls Psalm 127 into its gravitational density, and shares much meaning with its neighbor, Psalm 127, within the powerful setting of the Interwoven Menorahs.
Let us now reflect upon how Pope Francis discusses these three Psalms in his Paragraphs 126, 127, and 128:
126, 127, and 128
Psalm 126 is a celebratory Psalm that recalls the return of the Hebrews from the Babylonian Captivity. The Psalm has dreaming, laughter, and shouts of joy:
“When YHWH restored the captivity of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with shouts of joy.”
Full stop. This is almost incredible. Here in this ancient writing, we actually find a lighthearted use of the word “dream,” along with actual “laughter”?!?! But this is almost preposterous! Ancient writing never talks like this! Modern pop songs do, but ancient writing simply does not! Yet here it is in the center of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is as if this is making a brief, yet prophetic, prelude to something great that our developing history is unfurling at this very moment . . .
Pope Francis catches this in the first sentence of Paragraph 126:
“Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor.” Of course, this reflects well the “laughter” of Psalm 126, one of very few times that genuine laughter appears in the entire Old Testament.
Turning to Paragraphs 127 and 128, we see that both contain the word ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’. This is perfectly in parallel with Psalms 127 and 128, both of which contain the immensely important word for ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’, ashre. In the 18 Psalms that make up the Interwoven Menorahs, the word ashre occurs with a 300% greater frequency than in the other 132 Psalms of the Psalter. (Psalm 128 is also the most important of the Menorah Psalms, and has this word twice.)
Additionally, at the center of the Menorahs, and surrounded by the metaphorical mountains of security, there is the beautiful human family. Pope Francis makes hints of this in his Paragraphs 127 and 128. Let us consider both groups:
Paragraph 127 and Psalm 127
Like Psalm 125, Psalm 127 also speaks of security. Yet here in Psalm 127, there is a deeper sense of the dependency of humanity upon God:
“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The guard keeps watch in vain.”
The Psalm then proceeds to realize that all is a gift from God. A rather free translation/interpretation of the final strophe of verse 2 says “God blesses God’s beloved children while they sleep,” which is something good for children and adults to think about. Here is a more literal translation of verse 2 in its entirety:
“It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.”
Setting a model for all Christians, Saint Francis of Assisi learned and lived this divine simplicity of direct relationship with God. Gracefully transforming the impoverished appearance of ‘bread’ from the Psalm, Pope Francis writes:
“With the love of a father, God tells us: ‘My son, treat yourself well…. Do not deprive yourself of a happy day’ (Sir 14:11, 14). He wants us to be positive, grateful and uncomplicated: ‘In the day of prosperity, be joyful … God created human beings straightforward, but they have devised many schemes’ (Eccl 7:14.29). Whatever the case, we should remain resilient and imitate Saint Paul: ‘I have learned to be content with what I have’ (Phil 4:11). Saint Francis of Assisi lived by this; he could be overwhelmed with gratitude before a piece of hard bread or joyfully praise God simply for the breeze that caressed his face.”
Similarly, the Exhortation’s language of ‘father’ and ‘son’ forms echoes with the images at the end of the Psalm:
“Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
Are the sons of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has
His quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
When he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
Paragraph 128 and Psalm 128
We arrive at the humble, majestic, and glorious Psalm 128.
As mentioned above, Psalm 128 is the central Psalm of the Interwoven Menorahs of the Mystical Psalm Structures. Indeed, Psalm 128 is the central Psalm of the entire Psalter.
Pope Francis has referred previously to this amazing Psalm:
In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, or, The Joy of Love, Pope Francis begins the Exhortation with a full discussion of Psalm 128. He quotes the Psalm in its entirety at the beginning of Amoris Laetitia. Let’s do the same:
“Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
You shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
Within the chambers of your house,
Your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
All the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children.
Peace upon Israel!”
Reminding us that neither money nor consumerism is the key to life, Pope Francis writes in Paragraph 128:
“This is not the joy held out by today individualistic and consumerist culture. Consumerism only bloats the heart. It can offer occasional and passing pleasures, but not joy. Here I am speaking of a joy lived in communion which shares and is shared, since ‘there is more happiness in giving than in receiving’ (Acts 20:35) and ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9:7).”
Then, like Psalm 128, he underscores family:
“Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy, since it makes us capable of rejoicing in the good of others . . .”
Here is the blessed table of Psalm 128. Another wonder of Psalm 128 is that it overturns the curse from the Garden of Eden, when humanity was cursed to draw its bread by hard and long work (see again Psalm 127) from the unyielding earth.
Christianity teaches that we really undo the primordial curse when we learn to live in love, when we realize that all people are our sisters and brothers. This is the great pivot, this is the fulcrum over which humanity converts from defensive fearful animals into beings of love who treasure all people in the local and global community.
Here, in the second half of Paragraph 128, observe with what skill Pope Francis has woven in how the full fruition of our human joy is directly related to our capacity to love our neighbor:
“Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy, since it makes us capable of rejoicing in the good of others: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice’ (Rom 12:15). ‘We rejoice when we are weak and you are strong’ (2 Cor 13:9). On the other hand, when we ‘focus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence’.”
Rejoicing for others, we realize unity with them.
This is amazing. This is loving our neighbor as ourself, because our neighbor is ourself. Rejoicing for others teaches and incarnates this unity!
Pope Francis brilliantly transforms the center of the Interwoven Menorahs into the evolutionary development of “fraternal love,” a love that is shared not only between members of the same family, no, not even among mere members of the same tribe or larger ethnic group, or nation—no, Pope Francis is describing the development of love, fraternal love, among all of humanity, wherein we realize that everyone is our sister, our brother.
At this point, although there are Paragraphs 129-134 and Psalms 129-134 to consider as the remaining “Psalms of Ascents” pairs, let us finish this section here. We have arrived at the center of this group of Psalms, and seen how, with the lens of Christ, these Psalms speak of human global unity.
The Interwoven Menorahs, the Beatitudes, and the Exhortation
The first part of this essay has considered the one-to-one correspondence between the paragraphs of Gaudete et Exsultate, and the Psalms of the same number.
We shall now consider how Gaudete et Exsultate is also in conversation with the Mystical Psalm Structures.
The Beatitudes are the centerpiece of Gaudete et Exsultate. The Beatitudes are the subject of the central chapter of the treatise, and Beatific themes run throughout the entire document. The title of the Exhortation is “Rejoice and Be Glad,” which is from Matthew 5:12, from the “9th Beatitude” that turns from the 3rd person address of first 8 Beatitudes to the direct 2nd person address of the 9th Beatitude: “Blessed are YOU, when . . . rejoice and be glad (gaudete et exsultate) . . .”
Of the 5 chapters of the Exhortation, the central 3rd chapter is a brilliant exegesis of the Beatitudes, in which Pope Francis reveals his vast pastoral skill and experience. And abundant references to the Beatitudes echo throughout the Exhortation.
Let’s reflect for a moment upon the placement of the Beatitudes in the Bible.
The New Testament begins with Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ first real public words are the Sermon on the Mount, the great discourse on the mild mountain, the conferring of the New Torah, the Torah of Love and Human Evolution, upon Humanity.
The Sermon on the Mount takes up three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Chapters 5-7.
Although Jesus’ first Biblical spoken words occur in Chapter 3 of Matthew, the Beatitudes are his first truly public, projected speech, meant for multiple immediate hearers, and us, to reflect upon. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. So the first truly public words of Jesus in the Bible are the Beatitudes. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough.
To prove that this is the case, let’s review his words prior to the Beatitudes:
-As mentioned above, Jesus’ first spoken words in the Bible are a brief exchange with John the Baptist at Matthew 3:15. One of the things going on here is a transition from the Law of the Old Testament to the Love that is taught in the New Testament. (Zechariah fulfills a similar role of transition in Luke’s Gospel, as do Anna and Simeon—all three people are in the old temple.)
-In Chapter 4 of Matthew, Jesus argues with, and refutes, the devil (see Mt 4:1-11).
-When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went to Capernaum. “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.” (Mt 4:17) This shows that Jesus continues the work of John the Baptist, who had the same spoken words attributed to him (Mt 3:2). However, it is difficult to imagine that this is a transcript of Jesus’ actual words. He certainly did not go about repeating this phrase to everyone he saw at Capernaum.
So what are we to make of these words? Perhaps Jesus is working out his call, his vocation, and the way in which he is being guided to speak in public. Perhaps Jesus, like many holy people, has to work out the way in which he is being called to speak the Word. His words may have been wonderful at first, as we might expect, but perhaps he was working out the more full messages that God was leading him to speak. By the time he speaks the Sermon on the Mount, the message is far more powerful and integrated than it could have been at earlier stages. (Also, the repetition of the words spoken by his older cousin John may reflect teaching that both of them learned at Qumran or at another community.)
-Next, Jesus calls the first disciples (see Mt 4:18-22).
-Then, Matthew tells us that, “He (Jesus) went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all of Syria…” (Mt 4:23-24a). We are not told precisely what he said.
Then we arrive at the Sermon on the Mount. These are the first literal words that Matthew tells to us that are spoken by Jesus and intended to be heard by many people. So they are the truly first publicly-intended words of Jesus Christ in the Bible.
The Beatitudes all begin with the Greek word ‘makarioi’, which means ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’. So, the first word Jesus speaks in public is ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’. This reminds us directly of Psalm 1, the first word of which is ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’, translating the Hebrew word ‘ashre’. The Book of Psalms begins, “Ashre ha-ish asher . . .” or, “Blessed the person who . . .” (Psalm 1:1)
The fact that this first word, makarioi, ‘happy’, is constantly repeated for a total of 9 (nine) appearances in the first 9 (nine) verses of the Sermon on the Mount is stunning. It speaks of the importance of beginnings, and of the caring return to our beginnings, and to the power of beginnings to steer future development.
The connections between the Psalms and the Beatitudes are beginning to sound and echo, as a new music begins to weave and reverberate through and between the centuries. The great religious feat of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, his transformation of the entire Torah from Mount Sinai into the Christian Gospel of Love, begins with the transformation of a great hidden mystical treasure of the Book of Psalms.
First, some comparisons between the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and Jesus’ teaching of deep fraternal love in the Sermon on the Mount:
-Only Moses can go up the mountain. If anyone touches the mountain, even an animal, they will be struck dead. On the other hand, Jesus sits with all the people, and teaches them. As the dignity of the human person begins rising far beyond animals (the Gospel is largely about the liberation and growth of the Human Person), Jesus is teaching all of us the evolutionary path of love, which, of course, includes deep concern for the animals.
-There is lightning, thunder, and storm clouds on the mountain as Moses is in conversation with God. On the other hand, Jesus speaks calmly with the people, caringly teaching them. People are calmly gathered, and listen calmly.
-The torah that was handed down at Mount Sinai taught hatred of enemies, as well as the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” teaching, which, of course, the torah is borrowing from the ancient Code of Hammurabi. Jesus overturns this violence with the teaching on love.
-God, at the literary level, is the author of the torah, given at Mount Sinai. Moses copied it directly from God. On the contrary, a well-formed human-divine being, named Jesus, is the giver of the Sermon on Mount; he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and was a co-author of that discourse.
-The torah has lots of punishments. The Sermon on the Mount is about God’s mercy and love becoming human mercy and love.
-The torah is God’s commands being given down, down to Moses, who came down the mountain, and gave them down to the people; they’ve been given down every generation since. The Sermon on the Mount is about humanity being invited to ascend to a more Jesus-like posture through love.
A Mystical Structure: The Interwoven Menorahs, in the Psalms and Beatitudes
One of the hidden mystical wonders of the Book of Psalms is a pair of 9-branched menorahs interwoven with each other. Some themes of this series of 18 Psalms, all of which are multiples of 8 (Psalms 8, 16, 24, 32, . . . , 136, 144), are Light, Family-Community, and Blessedness-Happiness. The Interwoven Menorahs are very human, and intentionally celebrate human community, as does the Sermon on the Mount.
Again, here is the draft of the introduction to the forthcoming book about the Mystical Psalm Structures, which discusses the Intertwined Menorahs:
The nine branches of each New Menorah is a positive growth, a development, from the old 7-branch menorah, especially the one that was housed in the temple. The Book of Maccabees discusses the cleansing of the temple after a desecration, and the miracle of the lasting lamp oil for the rededication ceremony—there was only enough sacred oil to last for one day, but it miraculously burned for all 8 days of the festival. This event became celebrated much later as Hanukkah, when the temple was re-dedicated (the word “hanukkat” appears in the superscription of Psalm 30). Much later, this feast was celebrated with the 9-branch menorahs of Hanukkah that we see today. The primary place of celebration of Hanukkah is the human home, the family house. That is why we often see 9-branch menorahs in house windows, gardens, and front lawns at Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
A new candle is lit for each of the 8 days of Hanukkah; the 9th candle, which is movable, is called the shamash, and it is used to light the other candles, then placed at the center (usually) of the menorah when the other candles have been lit. A new candle is lit each new day, so that on the 8th and final day of Hanukkah, all 9 candles are lit. The incremental growth of the light, and of the menorah, is important.
The growth from 7 to 9 represents human development and growth, either healthy natural growth, or a more artfully crafted human grafting onto the original tree or vine. People around the world have joined Christianity. Every person’s story is a unique victory and a new prism, a new facet, of the Gospel of Jesus. Every person is a unique member of the Body of Christ, a new branch on the growing olive tree of Salvation History.
As mentioned above, Light, Family-Community, and Blessedness-Happiness are themes of the 18 Psalms that make up the pair of 9-branched menorahs hidden in the Psalms.
In these 18 Psalms, the word “light” appears with 350% more frequency than in the other 132 Psalms. Obviously, the theme of light goes well with candles or menorahs.
The Beatitude word ashre, “happy” or “blessed,” appears also with 300% greater frequency than in the other 132 Psalms. There are 9 (nine) appearances of ashre in the 18 Psalms of the menorahs, one for each branch of a 9-branched menorah. These 9 Hebrew ashre match the 9 Greek makarioi of the Beatitudes.
Additionally, discussions of family and community appear much more frequently in the 18 Psalms of the menorahs (while this fact is obvious upon reading the Psalms, it is difficult to put a specific percentage to it).
The Interwoven Menorahs represent how human individuals, human families, human communities, and the entire human race, is evolving to become the city on the hill, the light of the world/cosmos, that Jesus mentions right after the Beatitudes.
The New Testament re-presents the Interwoven Menorahs of the Mystical Psalm Structures in many ways. The most remarkable of these is in the first public words of Jesus in the Bible, the Beatitudes.
There are 9 Beatitudes that begin the Sermon on the Mount. Each Beatitude begins with the word makarioi, which is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew ashre. So there are 9 ashre in the Menorah Psalms, and 9 makarioi in the Beatitudes.
Beatitudes 1 and 8 have the same promise, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (5:3; 5:10)” This intentionally forms the outermost pair of candles matching each other in the menorah. And this also establishes a pattern for the interior pairs of the menorah, in that they also match and balance each other.
The first 8 Beatitudes are 3rd Person: Blessed are they. The 9th Beatitude turns to us in direct 2nd Person address: Blessed are You. We are meant to be the shamash, the 9th candle that lights all the others. Each of us is meant to bring the Christian message of love to earth, igniting the great and glorious menorah that is the entire human family, present wherever there are people on the earth.
Right after the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks of light, and of human community: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden (5:14).” Then Jesus actually gets more specific, and mentions the menorah! “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand (luxnian), and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (5:15-16).” The Hebrew word menorah means “lampstand”; in the Greek, it is the word luxnian! Jesus says the word “menorah” right after speaking the Beatitudes!
The “bushel basket” is Jesus’ humorous commentary on the old stone temple, with the never-ending flow of blood from the constant sacrifices, and requisite blood sewers.
Jesus would replace that fixation on sacrificed victims and streaming blood with human growth in mercy. This is what humanity looks like when we are evolving: light and love.
A future humanity can only be about love.
When we look again at Pope Francis’ earlier books, we see all these themes therein as well.
For example, in the introductory paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), he says that “. . . the Spirit guides us toward the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13) . . .” The Spirit guides us as we become to temple of God, and as we become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (these are frequent themes of Paul’s Scriptures). This is taken up in the second essay of this current series on the more recent Gaudete et Exsultate.
There is also a lengthy discussion, just below the surface level of the text, in Amoris Laetitia on the material we have just discussed: It is about how the Intertwined Menorahs of the Mystical Psalm Structures take on a stunning new beauty in the Beatitudes, a pinnacle of Scripture, the statements of Beatitude that are Jesus Christ’s first words addressed to the us as a community.
In the Interwoven Menorahs, Psalm 128 is the most important of the 18 Menorah Psalms; and Psalm 128 is the central Psalm of the Bible. Many great spiritual themes come together in a great dense microcosm of Reality in this tiny Psalm. Some of the themes: Happy-Blessed (ashre); woman-and-man; marriage; the home; children; the family table; growth, fruit, garden, life; the operation of true and meaningful poetry; the first Creation and the ongoing New Creation; a happy society; many generations of learning and loving humanity; and Jerusalem as a symbol of a united mutually-loving humanity.
Psalm 128 may be even more important than Psalm 84, which is a centerpiece of both the Ladder and the Pillar of the Mystical Psalm Structures. Additionally, as mentioned above, Psalm 128 forms a densely-woven symphony with Psalms 126 & 127 at the center of the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120 – 134). A quick reading of these three Psalms, 126-128, shows how many themes they share; the connections are even thicker and more multi-faceted between Psalms 127 & 128.
The entire Chapter One of Amoris Laetitia is an inspired 12-page (23 paragraphs) exegesis on Psalm 128, crafted beautifully to speak with the good work and discoveries of the Synod. The beginning of Chapter One quotes Psalm 128 in its entirety. Even before we get to Psalm 128, however, Pope Francis presents a verse from the great Argentinean poet, Jorge Luis Borges: “every home is a lampstand” (que toda casa es un candelabro/ donde las vidas de los hombres arden). (from Calle Desconocida, or, The Undiscovered Way)
Borges also knows about the Mystical Psalm Structures, one of several empowered poets whom the Holy Spirit illuminated about these Mystical literary Realities. The “lampstand” of Borges’ poem, obviously, is the lampstand/menorah that Jesus mentions directly after the Beatitudes, powerfully relating the Beatitudes to the Mystical Menorahs of the Psalms.
Here is Psalm 128:
Happy everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
You shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
Within your house;
Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the person be blessed
Who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
All the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children.
Peace upon Israel.
Note the organic and communal growth sweetly developing throughout the Psalm. The first strophe speaks of a single (good) person who fears the Lord. (“Fear of the Lord” could be described as “awe and amazement at life’s progressions, and at our ongoing development of our personal relationship with God.”)
The second strophe speaks of a loving marriage that attains great fruitfulness. Children are seated around the table, imaged as a grove of wonderful young olive trees. The Garden of Eden has been recreated in the home, in the family. This is one of the most beautiful images of the Bible.
The third strophe speaks of the extension of the family through time and space, and the merging with larger society, even global society. “Jerusalem” may well represent the major religions of the world, such as Christianity and Islam and Buddhism, getting along in peace with each other. And “Israel” for Christians has long represented the growing Kingdom of God on earth, and human society growing in joy, peace, knowledge, and goodness.
Additionally, later in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis speaks of how pastors and the faithful must exercise judicious discernment, now more than ever before.
This also goes with the previous essays on Gaudete et Exsultate, which discuss how the discerning development of our conscience is vital to our ability to directly know the Will of God in a personal way. The direct discerning of God’s Will, by some or eventually all of the Faithful, is crucial to our ongoing evolution and existence. It is part of Vatican II’s chief theologian’s, Karl Rahner’s, call for future Christians to be mystics. This is indeed happening in the world today, as the second essay discussed.
Final Comments on the Menorahs
In the second essay of this series, we discussed four pairs of couples in 1 & 2 Peter, couples that are on the Ark of Noah. And we discussed how Pope Francis mirrors this in the naming of four couples of saintly people in Gaudete et Exsultate.
Both of these literary maneuvers, by Saint Peter and Pope Francis, are references to the Mystical Psalms Menorahs. And Jesus is the shamash, the central lighting rod, of the menorahs in both cases.
The Book of Revelation opens with the Son of Man standing among 7 menorahs. The text does not state how many branches are on the menorahs. It could be 9 branches per menorah. It could be billions, or more.
(At Revelation 11:4, two more menorahs appear, making the total 9.)
How Does the Human Person Acquire Interiority,
And, How Does Our Conscience Develop?
Our Evolution and Our Spirituality
2 Samuel 11 is a mesmerizing chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It presents how David, who had recently consolidated the kingdom, sent his army off to fight the wars of springtime, “when kings go out to fight,” while he stayed back at the palace in Jerusalem and had drinking parties and afternoon naps on the rooftop. (The forthcoming Red Line of Hope will consider David at greater depth.)
One fateful afternoon that spring, David spotted Bathsheba taking a bath. He twice abused his power by first finding out her identity, then, by having her brought to him on his roof. He either seduced or raped her. She became pregnant. He abused his power again, and had her husband, the indigenous and faithful warrior Uriah, killed intentionally on the battlefront. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Sam 11:27)
God then sends Nathan to verbally skewer David, who is shocked, and instantly admits his guilt to God and to Nathan. Nathan says that God has already forgiven David; however, he also says that there will be some fallout from David’s sin, including the destruction of the nation of Israel. (Recall that God never liked the idea of a monarchy; see 1 Sam 8:3-22.)
Whatever God’s long-term plans might be, David is stunned by Nathan’s verbal assault, on behalf of God. David then utters the majestic and beautiful Psalm 51, the great penitential Psalm. Psalm 51 is also very evolutionary. It explores how humanity grows and advances, even through our mistakes. For people who pray the Liturgy of the Hours (the Daily Office) of the Catholic Church, we know that this great Psalm 51 is recited every Friday morning during liturgical prayer. The Daily Office of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches pray Psalm 51 many Fridays of the year as well.
Most Biblical Psalms have superscriptions, which are part of the text of Scripture. The superscription to Psalm 51 references David’s sin: “To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
The basic theme of the Psalm is that of imploring God for mercy and healing. Greater human awareness and strong commitments to engage in more Godly actions are present too.
However, there is a slightly more hidden theme going on here: There is the explosion of interior language that enters into human consciousness as a result of this sin.
Psalm 51 has more language describing the interior of the human person than any other Psalm in the Bible.
We normally think of Psalm 51 as a penitential Psalm (Church Tradition recognizes 7 special “Penitential Psalms” in the Psalter, including Psalm 51), which is a good way of considering this Psalm. However, Psalm 51 is also hugely about human growth; indeed, it is entirely correct to consider Psalm 51 as a Psalm of Evolution.
There is an explosion of language that discusses the interior of the human person. This also reveals a dawning awareness of newfound processes interior to the human person.
Having set the stage for the appearance of Psalm 51, let’s review the David Story with a more comprehensive lens:
Hot air balloons have interiority, because the warm air they hold is needed to give lift to the balloon. The interiority of the balloon is requisite for its functioning.
Imagine this: David is on the roof of his palace, which is a way to say, in Biblicalese, that David was positively bloated with pride. He had enough hot air in him to send a dirigible on a random mission. There is also a great deal of profound psychological insight in what is occurring with David here. David may have suffered many things in his difficult youth. He was the youngest of 7 or 8 brothers, according to either the Samuel or Chronicles account (1 Sam 17:12-14 says that David is the youngest of 8 sons; 1 Chron 2:15 says that David is the youngest of 7 sons). Being the youngest, he would have been the worst treated among them, especially with the spark of bright liveliness and the “beautiful eyes” that David had (1 Sam 16:12). That he was excluded and probably badly mistreated by his older brothers is shown from the fact that when the Prophet Samuel goes to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king, David isn’t even there. He’s far away. Specifically, he’s out tending the flocks. He liked being out in nature, in the wilderness. He didn’t want to be around his older brothers; when he brings supplies from his father to the army, his oldest brother criticizes him (see 1 Sam 17:26-30). These judgmental words from his brother may summarize David’s fraternal/familial relations. In this, he’s a bit like Joseph of the Old Testament (see the last 14 chapters of the Book of Genesis, chapters 37-50).
After these difficult early years, David joined Saul’s army. David quickly distinguished himself in various ways, including the famous battle with Goliath. Upon entering the leadership of the army, and the inner circle of King Saul’s court, David was first loved, then jealously feared, then hated, by crazy old King Saul. Near the end of their keeping company together, Saul twice tried to pin David to the wall with a spear. And at two different times David married two of Saul’s daughters, and Saul stole both of his brides back and gave them to other men. Additionally, there was a very strong bond between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. So David has a lot of conflict in the area of sexuality. David is a conflicted person who, despite his closeness to God, had suffered much and was not perfect.
After finally fleeing from deranged Saul, he was on the run as a guerilla leader, and began wielding greater power, but without being settled. He had women, but was very much unsettled and on the move. Did he know true love?
Skipping over a great deal of the David Story, we arrive to 2 Samuel 11, when David is waking up after an afternoon nap on the palace roof and strolling about as sunset approaches—while the army is fighting and dying for him. We are approaching some of the greatest literature of the Old Testament. But David is in a time of personal turmoil and conflict here. He is sick of fighting. He knows some things about God, and wants to lead humanity into deeper relationship with God. But he is also looking for love. Or contentment. Or something.
He is restless. David is also the golden boy, and he knows it. He is close to God, and he’s consolidated the kingdom for the first and only time in history. For a nanosecond there is peace and prosperity for all, with these little annual springtime skirmishes, which help to keep the borders defined against enemies who constantly probe for weaknesses.
So why not take a vacation from the hard work of being the king in battle? Why not take some time and enjoy the benefits of all his long efforts and toil? Why not have some parties and women on the roof? Why not? David’s life has been hard. He has known suffering, probably a great deal of suffering. God loves him. David also brought the ark to Jerusalem. He can do no wrong.
And after all the hurt David suffered, especially in the area of sexuality, why not have some fun? Or why not search for a more authentic, more satisfying love?
Then he spots her! A gorgeous woman, bathing! After inquiring about who she is, he has her brought to him, and seduces (or rapes) Bathsheba on his palace roof. If it was consensual, perhaps it was the most fulfilling sex of his life. Perhaps he could know a deeper love with Bathsheba than he ever imagined. Eventually, he simply had Uriah, her husband, assassinated during a battle.
During all of this Yahweh has said nothing.
And then we come to the end of Chapter 11:
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Sam 11:27b)
Nathan visits David, and delivers the dagger of a verbal ambush to David’s gut. God has just burst David’s hot air balloon.
Metaphorically, David, on the roof of the palace, collapses and falls through the roof. He plummets down. He passes through the lower floors, and lands hard in the subterranean basements. He looks up, and sees the utter beauty and structure of the human soul. He utters the majestic and glorious Psalm 51.
After his sin, David learns a lot more than he previously knew; this is noteworthy, because David already had a great depth and width of experience before his famous springtime. His yet greater understanding of the human soul, and of the human person, is evident in Psalm 51.
Turning to the language of Psalm 51, we see an immense amount of description of human interiority and depth, such as never happens in the first 50 Psalms.
Here are some of the pertinent statements in Psalm 51, verses that especially discuss the developing interior of the human person.
Have mercy on me God . . . (David knows much about God, including the depths of God’s great mercy)
For I know my transgressions . . . (he has self-knowledge, a real advance)
You desire truth in the inward being;
Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me . . .
Wash me . . .
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And sustain in me a willing spirit.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
The sheer amount of interiority here is stunning and new; at the time that this Psalm arrived to the ancient Hebrews, the people of that part of the world were not yet fully aware of the depth and the interior dimensions that people were capable of. This is a powerful early step forward in learning new dimensions of the inner person. (In the New Testament, amazing new vocabulary words, such as “conscience,” will enter the human conversation, expanding the horizons of our self-understanding in yet more vast ways.)
Has the discussion of the character of David and Psalm 51 revealed surprising depths within humanity? Well, the New Testament’s first writer, Paul, is going to chart far more deeply the ongoing human interior development, especially in Romans 7 & 8. Paul and Romans 7 & 8 could be considered as an icon of human evolution, in a far more mature way than David and Psalm 51. What happens here?
Paul begins Chapter 7 by dealing with the conditions under which it is right for a once-married woman to marry another man. And the condition, stipulated by the Law, is for the first husband to die. David had met this condition, but had done so wrongly, by ordering the murder of Uriah. As Psalm 51 says, in David’s acknowledgment of God’s desires, “You (God) desire truth in the inward self . . .” (51:6) Indeed, God desires consistency, transparency, and unity within the human person. But this long march towards integration, both in an individual life, and in the human race, is not an easy march.
Paul concludes the initial section of Chapter 7 by speaking of “new life in the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6) This is reminiscent of Psalm 51, even as it goes beyond Psalm 51.
[What has not been known before now is that Chapters 7 and 8 of Romans are in deep conversation with David’s big sin, and the fallout of that sin, in 2 Samuel. Especially Chapter 7 is taking this up; Chapter 8 is more about the arrival of the son of David, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and Love. Solomon built the first temple. Through Jesus Christ, who is a far better son of David than Solomon, the human person becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, of Love.]
For the rest of Chapter 7, Paul, and humanity, are going to be involved in a deep wrestling match within ourself. When Paul speaks for the rest of the chapter in the first-person-singular, when he says “I,” he could be speaking of:
1) himself, or,
2) Adam, or,
3) the struggles of the Hebrews to live according to the 613 laws of the Torah, or,
4) all individual human beings who struggle to live moral lives and make good decisions as they grow into maturity, or,
5) collective humanity evolving.
Most likely he’s alluding to all these situations.
There is a battle. Paul/humanity knows the Law. But he cannot do it. He fails. This battle is generating a lot of interior struggle within Paul/humanity, and so, because of all this internal activity and toil, there is a real increase of internal language that describes the interior life and developments of human persons.
However, all is loss. The human inscape is a battlefield of continual losing. Nothing goes well, at first glance. Paul/humanity cannot do anything right. The slowly emerging “human will” seems initially aligned with sin, not with Godly realities.
Paul/humanity just continues losing miserably (see Romans 7:7-25).
But in the middle of these near-endless defeats and humiliations, something absolutely breathtaking happens . . .
While he’s describing this seemingly endless battle and frustration, Paul slips in the statement, “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self….” (Romans 7:22)
What!? But this is amazing! This verse announces something entirely new: that human persons had an “inmost self,” or, literally, an “inner person!” This is a revelation! This revelation reveals a development that has hiddenly happened! Paul has slipped this major anthropological revelation into the chaotic constant losing of the earlier human situation. We develop interiority precisely because of this constant losing battle! This is similar to David’s struggles, which achieved an earlier, simpler, culmination in Psalm 51. (Remember, Paul begins Chapter 7 discussing when a woman can take a new husband, reminiscent of David’s sin that led to his uttering of Psalm 51 . . . The deftness, lightness, and sleight of hand that Paul utilizes in referring to David is admirable.)
It almost seems that some failure in the battles of our life are a prerequisite for growth in human development and self-understanding. And Gaudete et Exsultate mentions that humiliations are the way in which we attain humility (see Paragraphs 118-120).
This is true both on a personal level, and on an evolutionary-anthropological level.
God is bold.
Then, in Chapter 8, Paul is going to reveal God’s plan for what will happen after humanity has arrived at the point of developing this “inner person.” When humanity arrives at this point, God will do something good: God will place the Holy Spirit within our developed interior person, or, in the original Greek, within the eso anthropon! (Romans 7:22) God will make the interior of the human person the new, living “temple of the Holy Spirit,” and a being of Love, and an important electrical power plant/ transformer station of the Holy Spirit on earth!
All of our losing battles lead to this development! The losses have been slowly expanding the inner person, until, in the fullness of time, God decides that the moment is right to incarnate and enter humanity and the human person!
And after Jesus’ time on earth, we are sent the Holy Spirit to better develop and guide the inner person.
Chapter 8 is chock full of discussion of the Holy Spirit. It’s some of the best and most descriptive language of the Holy Spirit in the entire New Testament and Bible. At the end of the chapter, another addition arrives: 4 times we hear the word “Love.” As a result of this evolutionary progress that Paul is charting for us, “Love” can actually take up permanent residence in the human person. And in the human community, and in the human family.
There are more astonishing developments: Immediately after this, the first verse of Chapter 9 has the word “conscience.” This is a development far beyond anything in the Old Testament. The human person is becoming more wonderfully complex, and therefore able to attain new Spiritual heights and developments.
The anthropological development that Paul has quickly sketched before us is breathtaking.
Let us summarize what Paul does in Chapters 7 & 8, culminating in 9:1 and the appearance of the human conscience:
A Review of Romans 7:1-9:1 and the Development of Human Interiority and Conscience:
7:1-6 Discussion of how new life (in the Spirit) delivers us from literal slavery to the Law. Speaking of deceased husbands and remarriage, Paul quietly alludes to Uriah, Bathsheba, and David, i.e., to David’s big sin.
7:7-21 Paul/Adam/Judaism/Humanity/individuals getting constantly beaten by sin. This chronicles the challenges of ‘earlier’ life, when one is trying to live according to the Law, and constantly failing. One notices a distinction between interior hopes and aspirations, and exterior actions, habits, and strong desires that are not easy for us to overcome.
7:22 & 25 At some point, as an unexpected fruit of this losing struggle, the inner person becomes sighted! When the inner person becomes realized, we also realize that we have a total need for Jesus Christ and for his Spirit.
Paul pleads/gives thanks for Jesus’ saving action in his life/our human evolution.
-Chapter 8 begins taking up this new life in the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit, additionally, is moving within the human person. We might call this “mutual indwelling.”
8:1-11 The human person who is in Christ is no longer under the Law, but is in the Holy Spirit.
The newly-developed interior life of the person, the inner person (eso anthropon), becomes more vibrant in the Spirit, and not only are we in the Spirit, but the Spirit is now within us. There is mutual indwelling between God and us, between Jesus and us, and between us and the Holy Spirit.
8:12-17 Paul invites us to live according to the Spirit, as children of God.
8:18-25 How God, Creation, we children of God, and the Holy Spirit work together in our Spiritual evolution.
8:26-30 How God’s will, and the Holy Spirit, and we can work together.
8:28 First appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
8:31-33 God’s Love for us, in Jesus Christ, revealed to us.
8:35 Second appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”
8:37 Third appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8, at which Humanity finally achieves victory: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
8:39 Fourth appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8: “ . . . [Nothing] can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the final verse of Chapter 8.
9:1 Humanity realizes the development of our conscience. This shows the continuing development of the human soul, mind, and heart.
Now, to recall the second essay in this series of three essays: The entire discussion of how our conscience and the will of God/guidance of the Holy Spirit can cooperate and work together could be seamlessly placed into this discussion here. This is, indeed, one of the major evolutionary advances that the New Testament gives to us. Of course, this message is not merely in the Scriptures alone—it’s also the message of the developing 2000 years of our Tradition, which has been guiding us in preparation for the New Pentecost that we are entering now.
The New Testament has other places that discuss the amazing emergence of the new inner person:
2 Corinthians 4:16
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer person [exo…anthropos] is wasting away, our inner (person) [esothen (anthropos)] is being renewed day by day.” The next verse continues: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”
This immense “weight of glory” is a nice counterbalance (sic) to the constant losing of Romans 7. However, it not accurate to call it a “counterbalance.” It is a flood of grace that completely overwhelms and overcomes all earlier losses and suffering. Remember, “we are more than conquerors,” because of Jesus’ victory.
Note the themes of love, and glory, echoing Romans 7 & 8, and 2 Cor 4:16:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner person (eso anthropon) with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
The term “inner person” here is spelled precisely as it is in Romans 7:22, eso anthropon.
Additionally, we normally think of space in three dimensions. Paul does not. He gives us four dimensions: “breadth and length and height and depth.” Perhaps Paul is pointing to great dimensions that open within the human person, and the inner person, or that become opened when we live lives of love in the Spirit. It speaks of our greater participation in mystical knowledge, shared with us by God.
The gifted author(s) of Ephesians, who clearly loved Paul and deeply understood his message, have made a beautiful synthesis of his earlier writings here.
1 Peter 3:4
Additionally, St. Peter will clearly connect this inner person with the human heart: “the hidden person of the heart . . .”
This chapter of Peter is very dense and mystical. One of the things happening here is that the woman/wife may assist her husband/man in achieving interior depth. There is a dialogue and movement towards integration. When this integration of the human person happens, Spiritual gifts will abound, because the human soul will be capable of receiving them and working with them.
Returning to Gaudete et Exsultate:
We shall now see that Pope Francis has fully comprehended, and is deeply commenting upon, the depth and profundity of this powerful anthropological development within humanity.
Let us turn now to Paragraph 51 of Gaudete et Exsultate.
This paragraph, by virtue of being number “51,” has in the background Psalm 51 and the story of David’s big sin/ human evolution/Romans 7, 8, and 9:1.
At the very beginning of the paragraph is a direct reference back to Paragraph 1, and the beginning of the Exhortation. Paragraph 51 begins, “When God speaks to Abraham, he tells him, ‘Walk before me, and be blameless’ (Gen 17:1).”
And at the beginning of the document, in Paragraph 1, we read, “The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. We see it expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: ‘Walk before me, and be blameless’ (Gen 17:1).”
Why does Pope Francis make a reference back to the beginning of the document? Perhaps because, as with Psalm 51, there is a radical and glorious new beginning for humanity here. Pope Francis is here celebrating the stunning anthropological and theological leap forward that occurs in the light of the Christ Event.
Additionally, like St. Paul in Romans 7 & 8, Pope Francis is describing what is placed in the human person, once we have become capable of this anthropological depth:
The Holy Spirit now resides in us.
One of the remarkable features of Psalms 60 and 108 is the fact that they are deeply connected to each other: The second halves of each Psalm are practically identical with each other. And in both Psalms, God enters the human situation, quite strongly and rudely. God enters humanity, to make corrections and suggest new things.
Additionally, both Psalms 60 and 108 are stationed precisely 24 units from Psalm 84. (Psalm 24 is an important temple Psalm.) Psalms 60 and 108 are both in equidistant orbit around Psalm 84. Psalm 84 is the most important of the Ladder Psalms, and, except for Psalm 128, could be the most important of all the Psalms.
In Psalm 84, the human person is at home within God. This is the opposite of God rudely moving into the human realm in Psalms 60 & 108. Here, centered perfectly between Psalms 60 and 108, God invites humanity to live within God in Psalm 84. In fact, Psalms 60 & 108 form a nest around this vital center, Psalm 84. The nest and baby birds are meant to be both literal and figurative. In Psalm 84, a mother bird (God) builds a nest inside the temple for baby birds (us).
Actually, like amazing post-modern art, the Mystical Psalm Structures do radical new things. One example: the 25 Psalms that make the Ladder are capable of reconfiguring themselves to form a new Mystical Structure: the Growing Pregnant Womb, according to the 10-month (lunar calendar) period of gestation. And Psalm 84 is at the center of this Mystical Structure, the Growing Womb. Here is a link to an article that discusses this:
(By the way, the numbered sonnet collections of Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare recreate this bird nest/temple in stunning ways. God mystically awakened both poets. The living human link that helped lead these two English poets to make this realization probably came from Sidney’s connections to Italy, as he recounts in his Defense of Poetry. Philip Sidney ends his collection with his Sonnet 108, which is paired with Psalm 108. Sidney’s Sonnet 108 has the word “nest,” as does Psalm 84. And his Sonnets 60 and 108 form a nest around Sonnet 84, just as Psalms 60 and 108 form a ring around Psalm 84.
Turning to Shakespeare: the “Rival Poet” of Shakespeare’s Sonnets can be considered to be David/the Psalmist, so incredibly deeply are the Sonnets in dialogue with the Psalms.)
Now, we are clearly dealing with mystical realities at this point.
This is precisely what Pope Francis discusses in Paragraph 51. He quotes Psalm 84! The human failures of David (Psalm 51) and of Paul/the Hebrews/the Human Race (Romans 7) lead to great things, when we have learned from them and worked through them.
Here is Pope Francis’ Paragraph 51 from Gaudete et Exsultate:
When God speaks to Abraham, he tells him, “I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). In order to be blameless, as he would have us, we need to live humbly in his presence, cloaked in his glory; we need to walk in union with him, recognizing his constant love in our lives. We need to lose our fear before that presence which can only be for our good. God is the Father who gave us life and loves us greatly. Once we accept him, and stop trying to live our lives without him, the anguish of loneliness will disappear (cf. Ps 139:23-24). In this way we will know the pleasing and perfect will of the Lord (cf. Rom 12:1-2) and allow him to mold us like a potter (cf. Is 29:16). So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love. He is our temple; we ask to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life (cf. Ps 27:4). “For one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps 84:10). In him is our holiness.
The highlighted areas especially show connections to the preceding discussion. However, one totally unfamiliar with the David story, or with the Mystical Psalm Structures, or with Peter’s discussion of how our conscience can work far more precisely with the Holy Spirit and therefore do God’s will—indeed, one could read this paragraph and simply be unaware of these marvelous mystical connections that Pope Francis has placed here for us.
With the three references to the Psalms, we see David in the background of the paragraph. However, rather than focusing on the sinfulness that is being overcome in Psalm 51, Pope Francis focuses on the Spiritual dynamism and the new interiority of the human person that is discovered in Psalm 51. Indeed, the paragraph looks forward, and has a verse from Psalm 84 at its close.
Now let us turn to Paragraph 84. As we have seen, Pope Francis has already made powerful and subtle references to both Psalms 51 & 84.
In Paragraph 84, he discusses how we must guard the new temple, the human heart!
Here is Paragraph 84:
“Guard your heart with all vigilance” (Prov 4:23). Nothing stained by falsehood has any real worth in the Lord’s eyes. He “flees from deceit, and rises and departs from foolish thoughts” (Wis 1:5). The Father, “who sees in secret” (Mt 6:6), recognizes what is impure and insincere, mere display or appearance, as does the Son, who knows “what is in man” (cf. Jn 2:25).
As the old stone temple of Psalm 84 was protected by the city walls, so too does God tell us to guard the new temple, the human heart. The human person is now the temple of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). Paul also calls us the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Both of these verses are in the form of challenging questions, as if Paul is surprised that we do not know about this development that has already occurred within us. See also 2 Timothy 1:14, Ephesians 2:22, Galatians 4:6, and more.
But the enemies of our new temple are more insidious than previously. They come from within. They are vain thoughts, and pride, for example. They cannot be easily seen, unlike an enemy army that approaches to attack.
To protect our heart, Pope Francis has a great suggestion. Again, as mentioned in the second of these essays, Pope Francis recommends the Examen of Conscience to all people. This is a very powerful way to get to know the terrain of our souls, quickly.
Right now, we humans are still in the early stages of aligning our interior person, of becoming an integrated humanity, and of making our selves the living temple of the Holy Spirit. The last two millennia have shown great progress in these efforts, along with difficult errors and unhelpful developments, which we can correct.
Now, more than ever, in this vast and dizzying array of choices before us, humanity needs the Spiritual gift of discernment. And we stand in total need of the Holy Spirit to guide us, and to help us in our many large and small tasks of discernment. We are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit, who wants to teach us to become inter-dependent.
Each of us needs to become a friend and co-worker of the Holy Spirit.
For us to engage God’s plan for us, and to continue the existence of humanity on our beautiful planet Earth, we must cultivate this relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis shows us how to grow in relationship with the Holy Spirit, and to enter the true Humanity that we are called to be now.
In Wallace Stevens’ Transport to Summer:
Overt References to the Growing Pregnant Womb,
And to the Moment of Conception,
Of the Mystical Psalm Structures
(with references to Shakespeare’s references to these same things in Sonnets)
Explanation: It seems likely that before writing Transport to Summer, Stevens discovered two of the ancient Psalm Structures: The Growing Pregnant Womb, and the Moment of Conception. It seems likely because this volume of his poetry is positively burgeoning with references to spheres, growing midriffs, pregnancy, embryos, and the advance of humanity. Biblical themes, especially from Lucan and Johannine writing, abound too.
The purpose of this chart is to give a sample of the more obvious references to these themes in his 1947 volume, Transport to Summer.
Notes: “sun” appears many times in this collection. Whenever it appears, Psalm 84, a central Psalm to the Psalm Structures (especially to the Growing Pregnant Womb) , is the only place in the Bible that compares the sun to God. Various “birds” and “nest” appear in Psalm 84 also, and so when these appear in the collection, another hint of Psalm 84 may be at hand.
The first number of each poem is the order of the poem in the collection. The second number is the total of the verses in that poem.
1 18vv God Is Good. It is a Beautiful Night title: conception
round. (Ladder). Bird (84). Door. Wings. Fiery.
2 40 Certain Phenomena of Sound title: about life in womb
3 20 The Motive for Metaphor bird. (Absalom). Spring. Moon. 3rd poem, ABC of being (Pound), see #7 below. Ruddy. Red. Dominant X (see #14 below).
4 21 Gigantomachia giant’s heart. Eye. Increased, enlarged, made simple. New moon, 20 feet (10 people, 240 inches, 100)
5 84 Dutch Graves in Bucks County powerful heart. Middle. Angry men, furious machines. Wheels. Sooty residence. Drums. Foot in air. Circles. Forming. Doubly. Cry loudlier (immaturity in evolution). Gaffer-green. Stars. Men, sun, early children. Your children (x2). Mobs of birth. Arches, arches, arcs. Generation’s centre. Subtle temple, too steep to follow down (fertilized egg of Psalms 119-134 moving to womb, to Psalm 84, beginning The Growing Womb).
6 24 No Possum, No Sop, No Taters OLD SUN. single emptiness, savagest hollow (Kubla Khan too). Crow. Eye. Tree.
7 27 So-And-So Reclining on Her Couch floats in air. Born at 21 (Birth of Venus, Lady Wisdom, more). Crown. Curving hip. Eyes blue. Head suspended in air. Half who made her.
A, B, C; see #3 above.
Desire of artist, concealed creator (this points to God’s hidden Psalm Structures, which are divinely conceived, and which God has decided to keep largely hidden for 2 millennia). Mrs. Pappadopoulos…. (see previous comment about hiddenness of God’s plan for the Psalm Structures).
8 130 Chocorua to Its Neighbor
large in space. Form. Forms in number (points to Psalm Structures, and to Shakespeare). Number over number. Body’s form. Shell. Light embodied. Eye. Pole of blue. Brooding mind. Tree, middle. Shapely fire, underworld. Degree. Upon my top. Silver-shaping size. Cry, soldier. Moments of enlargement. Central mind. Motions of the spirit. Coil. Centre. Gigantic bulk. Touched heart, desire. Change the whole. Radiance. In what new spirit had his body birth? Spokesman of night. Form. Starry head. Under roof. Pillow (see #2 above). Great Cardinal, prayers earliest day. Mother. Scholar, green mind bulges. Transfigurers fetched out of human mountain. True genii for the diminished, spheres. GIGANTIC EMBRYOS OF POPULATION. lofty kin. Depth. Constellation, day’s. lived and not conceived. Integration for integration. Make big (table).
9 12 Poesie Abrutie sun. greenhouse, green.
10 20 The Lack of Repose young man, table. They reveal themselves. 1 of the gang. Andrew Jackson something. Parent, French sense. Grandfather. Is good, is a good.
11 18 Somnambulisma -note: this poem is #11. And “11” is a symbol of the Ladder, and a shape of it too. It also stands for the temple (and the womb).
bird. Ocean rolls. NEST (PSALM 84)(see #48 below. Both numbers, 11 & 48/84, are temple images or related temple Pss.) . Wings spreading, wings. Generations of the bird are all, bird never settles. Separately dwelling.
12 20 Crude Foyer eye. Paradise. Metaphor. Vital.
13 102 Repetitions of a Young Captain tempest. Theatre. Roof, wind. Pair born old, depths of heart. Gigantic life. Roseate parent. Bride, spirit (Revelation). Soldier seeking point between the 2. Organic. Consolation, complete society of spirit. Half-arc mid-air, mid-earth. 1 and many, I am. Moon. Gold, reddened.
14 27 The Creations of Sound “X”. poetry may = music (psalms).
“X”. artificial. “X”
(There are 10 lunar months of gestation, of pregnancy, according to the ancients.) “The Growing Pregnant Womb” of the Mystical Psalm Structures reflects this with its 10 concentric circles.
15 26 Holiday in Reality Palabra (Spanish). Woman, touch. Himself, earth. grows from the belly. Breast, green leaf. Umbilical. Branches. Grow out of the Spirit. Fantastic dust. Bud, apple, desire. Catbird’s gobble. Arrows, quiver (Psalm 127), intelligible, stick in the skin (Psalm 120, first of EGG, Conception Psalms, Shir Hammalot, 120-134; Psalm 127 is right at the center, next to 128, w 126 on other side).
16 346 Esthétique du Mal poem’s architecture: There are 15 sections of the Psalm, labeled from I to XV. These 15 parts echo the 15 Psalms of the Shir Hammalot, the Psalms of Ascents, a.k.a. the Songs of Degrees. These 15 Psalms form the Moment of Conception, that is, the Fertilized Egg.
David springtime hints. For a month. Sultriest fulgurations, flickering. Volcano, Vesuvius. Body trembles at the end of life. Moon. In space. Hives. Oldest parent. Populace of the heart. Constant fellow of destiny. Too human god, self-pity’s kin, uncourageous genesis. Health of the world. honey, golden combs. Could be borne. All sorts, only one. eye. a muffing the mistress for her several maids. Barefoot philandering. Falls out on everything. Body, which is our world. false engagements of the mind. Father’s eye. Brother. Mother’s throat. Being’s deepest darling. Central sense. The golden forms. Suns, sun, lunar month, a further consummation, tenderest research, transmutation, bird. Yellow fruit. revolves. Mind is still immense. CONCENTRIC CIRCLES. Ring him round. MYSTICAL CONVULUTIONS. Woman smoothes her forehead. Tenement. Eccentric. Filial. Bar; son. Silver in the sheathing. Yes. Face of the moon. Round effendi. Phosphored fruit. Goodness of his heart. Proverbs. Pure poverty. Paradise. Later genesis. Shapes. Bubbles up.
Revolution. Logical lunatics. Intellectual structure. Worlds of logic. World, one’s desire. Paradise. Green corn. Conceived of a race completely physical in a physical world. rotund emotions. Paradise unknown.
REVERBERATING PSALM. Right chorale.
Sensuous worlds. mid-day air. Swarming (Exodus 1). In living a, where we live.
17 15 The Bed of Old John Zeller This structure of ideas, ghostly sequences. Another structure of ideas. Other ghostly sequences, luminous sequences (sounds also like DNA, which is Psalm 119, the sperm cell, and the title 128 of Psalm 128, which is the egg’s DNA, the mother’s DNA). “The Bed….” is in the title.
Thought of among spheres. Habit of wishing. As if one’s grandfather lay in one’s heart and wished as he had always wished (this too is DNA). Ghostly sequences. Accept the structure of thins as the structure of ideas. Structure of things, thought of in old peak of night.
See below, #35, Old John Zeller.
18 18 Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit title: hints that we are also becoming closer to the Divine. A nun once, speaking about John’s Gospel, said that God wants to get into our DNA.
A god in the house, on the stair (God was in Mary’s womb, which is also represented by the Psalms Ladder). Stars. Shapes. Human, cousin, moon, beasts, incommunicable mass. Stick of the mass.
(The “god in the house” also refers to the baby born in Sonnets 153 & 154 of Shakespeare; also, Sonnet 110 speaks of “a god in love,” and the following Sonnet, 111, speaks of a “guilty goddess.” This echoes the penultimate pair of poems in this collection of Stevens, entitled A Pastoral Nun and its partner, Pastor Caballero.)
19 20 Wild Ducks, People and Distances life of the world. he, she. Live in other lives. The wild ducks were enveloped. Migrations to solitude (the Psalms of Ascents are pilgrimages to community). Central, fire.
20 84 The Pure Good of Theory Preludes to Felicity. Time that beats in the breast. Time is a horse that runs in the heart (Shakespeare’s sonnets here too). “The reader by the window has finished his book/ And tells the hour by the lateness of the sounds.” This is describing the movement of time and development in the Psalm Structures. mid-earth. A large-sculptured, platonic person (Michelangelo’s statue of David. Shakespeare secretly discusses this same statue in his Sonnet 53).
And here is human evolution, which depends also on societal evolution: “A form, then, protected from the battering, may/ Mature: A capable being may replace/ Dark horse and walker walking rapidly./ Felicity, ah! ….”
Nourish the emaciated. Green glade. Serpents like z rivers simmering. Green glade and holiday hotel and world of the future. Flying the flag of the nude above the holiday hotel. This platonic person discovered a soul in the world.
Man, that is not born of woman but of air. Solar chariot. Eye. One parent must have been divine. Adam. A metamorphosis of paradise. The fragrance of the woman not her self.
Flies like a bat expanding as it flies. Wings. Beast of light. Wiggy book. Universal flare. The eloquences of light’s faculties.
21 24 A Word with José Rodríguez-Feo secretaries of the moon. Queen of ignorance. She presides over imbeciles. Night is the nature of man’s interior world. Is lunar Habana the Cuba of the self? We must enter boldly that interior world (Romans 7 & 8). Old man, selling oranges. Basket. Bloated breath bursts back.
What not quite realized transit/ Of ideas moves wrinkled in a motion like/ The cry of an embryo?
Nature, boulevards of the generals. Unconscious shapes of night. Shapes of another consciousness. The sun comes up like news from Africa.
22 26 Paisant Chronicle major men, great captain. Chronicle. Men, nations, the race. The race is brave. The fictive man created out of men.
“And a pineapple on the table. It must be so.”
23 15 Sketch of the Ultimate Politician final builder of total building. Building and dream are one. Words. Beat around the shapes. Crying of the wind (Romans 8). Words that have come out of us like words within/ That have rankled for many lives and made no sound.
24 6 Flyer’s Fall darkness, space, profundum
25 15 Jouga two conjugal beasts. Male beast. Guitar (Psalm 144, The Growing Womb). It is she that responds. Foot-falls are slight (Ladder).
26 14 Debris of Life and Mind children. Young. Bright red woman. Golds, brush her hair. Speak thoughtfully, line. Things sing themselves.
27 152 Description without Place sun. sun. sun. moon. Queen. Her green mind made the world around her green. The queen is an example. This green queen. Summer of her sun. golden vacancy. The crown and week-day coronal of her fame.
II: queen. Eye. Major mind. Barricade against the singular man. Incalculably plural.
III: young poet’s page. Dark musician. Chords. Utmost will. In a world that shrinks to an immediate whole. Secret arrangements. Curling-out of spring/ A purple leaping. Froth the whole heaven. The spirit of one dwelling in a seed (Psalm 119),/ Itself that seed’s ripe, unpredictable fruit.
Pablo Neruda in Ceylon.
IV: moving of their forms. Deepness of the pool. Colored forms. Human shapes. Wrapped in their seemings, crowd on curious crowd. Innate grandiose, innate light, sun. gildering the pool.
“Yes: gildering the swarm-like manias/ In perpetual revolution, round and round…”
The swans fled outward to remoter reaches,/ As if they knew of distant beaches.
The distances of space and time/ Were one and swans far off were swans to come.
Eye. Far-off shapes. Mind raised up, down drowned (WSh, down-razed).
V: The spirit’s universe. The column in the desert,/ On which the dove alights.
A palm that rises beyond the sea. Bright particulars. The arc. Wizened starlight growing young. Old stars are planets of morning, fresh/ In the brilliantest descriptions of new day.
VI: Description is revelation. Double. A text we should be born that we might read. Sun. moon. Book of reconciliation. Book of a concept only possible/ In description, canon central in itself,/ The thesis of the plentifullest John.
VII: theory of the word. For whom the word is the making of the world. lisping firmament, buzzing world. mountainous. Hollowed out of hollow-bright.
Like rubies reddened by rubies reddening.
28 36 Two Tales of Liadoff Do you remember how the rocket went on/ And on, at night, exploding finally/ In an ovation of resplendent forms—
Of large blue men. Of woman hatched. The children there like wicks, sparkled their small gold. The town had crowded into the rocket and touched the fuse.
Incredible colors ex, ex and ex = X, X and X and out. Whole return.
29 30,32 Analysis of a Theme how happy. Young Blandina. Conscious world, great clouds. Potter in the summer sky. Subconscious time. Eye. Tree. (eye and tree appear together above too) No subconscious place. Indyterranean resemblances. Birds, plume. Bright-ethered things. Perfective wings.
30 18 Late Hymn from the Myrrh-Mountain the green bird of summer has flown. Night-flies, planets. Shape. Wings spreading out. Early constellations. Take the diamonds from your hair and lay them down. Timothy.
31 14 Man Carrying Thing obvious whole. Particles. Solid.
32 18 Pieces there are things in a man besides his reason. Come home, wind. In the air, snow.
Come home, wind, he said as he climbed the stairs. Exhaling creations of itself. Breathed on the ground.
The wind is like a dog that runs away./ But it is like a horse. It is like motion/ That lives in space. It is a person at night,/ A member of the family, a tie,/ An ethereal cousin, another milleman.
33 14 A Completely New Set of Objects mid-earth. emerging flotillas. Bearing in them shadows of friends (WSh 31) figures verdant. Buried verdure. Carrying such shapes. Knew well the shapes were the exactest shaping/ Of a vast people old in meditation. The fathers of the makers.
34 4 Adult Epigram elision. Diva-dame.
35 38 Two Versions of the Same Poem title: this title hints at Psalms 35 and 70, which share identical verses; also, Psalms 60 and 108 are largely identical, and form the 4th concentric circle around the central TGL Psalm, Psalm 84. Stevens was aware of this.
Body. In wavering water lies, swollen. Puissant heart. Beating in the centre.
Like space dividing its blue and by division (cell division in embryo)/ Being changed from space to the sailor’s métier,/ Or say from that which was conceived to that/ Which was realized, like reason’s constant ruin./ Sleep deep, good eel, in your perverse marine.
II: human ocean. Old John Zeller (see #17 above). If they were creatures of the sea alone. But singular. Borne up. Caverns. Undivided whole. Shapes of fire. Wind that bears them down.
36 10 Men Made Out of Words sexual myth. The whole race is a poet.
37 16 Thinking of a Relation between the Images of Metaphors
title: this title points to the accruing of meaning as one rightly travels through the Psalm Structure; and this accruing of meaning is related to interior literary connections within the Psalm Structures.
Wood-doves. Bass lie deep. One ear, single song. One eye. The fisherman might be the single man/ In whose breast, the dove, alighting, would grow still.
38 18 Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion lashing wind, spirit. 10, 11. X, IV, et cetera. The air is full of children. Massive sopranos, singing songs of scales. Everything at once.
39 16 The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm house, world. conscious being of the book.
40 18 Continual Conversation with a Silent Man old brown hen, old blue sky. Between the 2. Broken cartwheel on the hill. Storm of will. One will and many wills, wind. Many meanings in the leaves. Tempest. Wheel that broke as the cart went by. Moving round.
41 21 A Woman Sings a Song for a Soldier Come Home nurse, kin, care. Man dies that does not fall. Under. So much a part of the place. At its edge.
42 18 The Pediment of Appearance title: just the word “pediment,” by itself, is a symbol, a picture, of the Ladder.
Young men. In the woods. Hunting great ornament. They hunt for a form which by its form alone. They go crying/ The world is myself, life is myself,/ breathing as if they breathed themselves,/ Full of. In the woods. Full blown.
See #45 below, RB 7.
43 15 Burghers of Petty Death the grass is green. Total death. Covering all surfaces, filling the mind. A man and a woman. Clinging to a tree. wasted figure. Blank final music. With an instrument.
44 16 Human Arrangement place-bound. within, without. The rain is all one thing. The clear-point of an edifice. Forced up from nothing. The centre of transformations. Transform the transformation’s self. In a glitter that is a life, a gold/ That is a being, a will, a fate.
45 14 The Good Man Has No Shape God was his only elegance. Generation by generation. Bright fruit. Lazarus betrayed him to the rest. Empty book. Jagged sign. The Good Man Has No Shape, as if they knew.
See #42 above. Ladder.
46 16 The Red Fern grows rapidly. Opens, familiar spot. Doubles. Paternal flame. Drenched with its identity. Reflections and off-shoots. Dangling seconds. Grown beyond relation. Parent trunk. Brightest core. Father fire. Infant. Eye.
47 18 From the Packet of Anacharsis found the lines. Farm was fat. Land in which it lay. Centre of all circles. Circles nearest. Recede. Separates. Circles quicken. Vast accumulation. Primitive lines.
48 16 The Dove in the Belly title: Incarnation, pregnancy, Spirit, 84, (temple of the womb).
Builds his nest (see #11 above).
Selah. Bird. Panniers of green. Great esplanade of corn, miles wide. Something wished for made effectual and something more. Deep dove, placate you in your hiddenness.
See # 42, 45 above.
49 18 Mountains Covered with Cats sea full of fishes in shoals. One seed alone grow wild. Ancient tree at the centre of its cones. Flights. Related trees. Houses in villages. The catalogue is too commodious. Will to power. Propagate. Begetting. Eye.
50 18 The Prejudice against the Past children’s friend. Relics of the heart. Relics of the mind. Shapes, images. Part of the heart.
51 15 Extraordinary References title: literary connections.
Mother. Child. Great-grandfather. Sun. father. Breath.
52 21 Attempt to Discover Life volcano. Round, spilled roses. Deadliest heat (temple sacrifices). Person. A woman brilliant. Table. Smiling and wetting her lips. Table. Fomentations of effulgence,/ Among fomentations. Table. Two coins.
This is the Presentation. See #55 & 56.
53 24 A Lot of People Bathing in a Stream passing a boundary to dive/ Into the sun-filled water. Limbed. Bank to bank. Bathed. Particular characters. Gulping for shape. The water flowing in the flow of space. In a world of nakedness. In the company of the sun. at home again. Bed. Frame of the house. Move/ Round the rooms. No change.
This is final image of Bible, Rev 22.
54 150 Credences of Summer midsummer. First inhalations. Young broods. Comfort the heart’s core. Father, mothers. Lovers waiting. Anatomy of summer. Physical pine. Gold sun about. Center that I seek. Fill the foliage. Fertile thing. Green. Happiest. Ruddy summer. Land too ripe. Eye. Last choirs. Honey hived in the trees. Festival. Day, year. One woman, the rest. One man becomes a race. Queen humble. Her whole kin. Sunshine is a filial form. Land’s children, easily born, flesh. Contains the year and hymns. Vital son, youth, heroic power. Rises from land. hermit. 12 princes sat before a king. Deep in the woods. Common fields. Concentered, concentered. Share the day. Breast, warmth. Eye. Complex of emotions. Soft, civil bird. Personae of summer. Summer’s whole. Roseate characters. Completed in a completed scene. Youthful happiness.
55 15 A Pastoral Nun last year of her age (84….). blessedness. She said poetry and apotheosis are one. Illustration. I live in an immense activity. Enraptured woman. Man that suffered, lying there at ease. Favorable transformations of the wind. General being or human universe. Conceives.
This is the Prophetess Anna of the Presentation.
56 21 Pastor Caballero hat to a form. Brim. Most Merciful Capitan. Observer. Rhapsody. Its line moves quickly with the genius. Vial, linear. It creates an affectionate name. Deepest mine. An inward mate. Figure meant to bear. Helmet. These 2 go well together.
This is Simeon of the Presentation. See #52 above (also, #48)
Also, Sonnets 110 & 111; god in love, and, guilty goddess.
57 659 (651 + 8) Notes toward a Supreme Fiction
do I feel love? Hidden. Central of our being.
I: inconceivable idea of the sun. sun, eye. Expelled us. umber harvest. II: Hermit. Man’s place in music. Beginning of desire. Ancient cycle. Calendar hymn. immaculate beginning. Winged. Unconscious will. Move between these points. Heart. An Arabian in my room. Primitive astronomy. Wood dove. Iridescence. Owl. Adam, father of Descartes, Eve. Sons and daughters. Earth, green. Shape the clouds. Muddy center. Springs. Place. V: lion roars. Breaches the darkness. Glitter, surfaces of tanks. Bear. Center breeds. Lion, elephants, bears. First fruits, birds. House, sun. eye. Giant, man by thought. VII: walk around a lake. Balances. Swiss perfection. As a man and woman meet and love. Structures in a mist. VIII: castle-fortress-home. Major man. Violet space. Pensive giant. Logos and logic. Double, word, form. Wave. Laboriously. IX: intoning, romantic. Clairvoyance. Apotheosis. Nature, the idiom thereof. Enflashings. Foils. Swaddled in revery. Thoughts evaded in the mind. Cock-birds. My dame. Purest in the heart. X: Exponent (Psalm 128). Heroic part. Separate figures.
I: seraph, gilded, among. Chronologies. Mothers. Bees. Doves, girls. Universe. Pigeons. Body. II: heavy wing. Apples on table. Round him. Warmth is for lovers. Booming and booming. III: statue horse. Bathed. Frame. Suspension. General. Place. IV: natures. Man, woman. Embrace, and forth the particulars of rapture come. Morning and afternoon are clasped together. Intrinsic couple. Two lovers. Greenest body. As one. Partaker partakes. Sister, brother. V: wild orange trees. House. Pineapple. Bananas. Borne his labor. Banjo’s twang. Sparrow. Wren, jay, robin. Glade. In rain. The sparrow is a bird. VII: Moon. Paradise. Hymn. Bloom, abundant. Possess in his heart. Lovers sigh. Conceal. Nothing known. Earthy bird. Chants by book. Degrees of perception. VIII: on her trip around the world. necklace. Belt. Spouse. Bright gold. Spirit’s diamond coronal. Woman. Burning body. Clothe me entire. Final filament. I tremble with such love. Spouse, bride. Heart, mind. IX: and back again. To and fro. Peculiar potency. Compound. X: in the park. Upper air. Swans, seraphs, saints. Changing essences. West wind. Will. Transformation. Freshness of world.
I: feel the heart. Borne. Jerome. Fire-wind strings. Golden fingers. Sea clears deeply. Moon. Heaven-haven. II: blue woman. Window. Grape leaves. Chords. IV: mystical marriage in Catawba. Place. mid-day of year. Marriage wine. Love’s characters, face to face. V: sister. House. Pearls. Widow’s gayety. Praise, conjugation, choirs. Children, sister. Man conceived, gold. Mountain. Ascending wings. Orbits’ outer stars. Utmost crown, he flew. The whole, the amassing harmony. VII: imposes orders. Capitols, corridors. Statues, owl. Elephants. Milk, angel. VIII: angel in his cloud. Violet abyss. Plucks on his strings. Spredden wings. Gold center. Warm. Happy. Cinderella beneath the roof. IX: wren. Cock. Robin. Going round. Round and round. Wine, table, wood. Men, table spins. X: fat girl, terrestrial. Tree. Natural figure. mundo, revolving.
Soldier, sun, moon. 6 & 12. Parallel lines. Poet’s lines. Bread of faithful speech.
The Moments Before, During, and After,
As Shown in the Book of Psalms
The Psalms show the growing pregnant womb, in a hidden, mystical way. The poets William Shakespeare and Philip Sidney are aware of this too. An initial essay that explores this fascinating Mystical Reality in the Book of Psalms is here:
It also happens that, related to the above Mystical Structure, the Psalms also show the moment of conception, and the earliest embryonic moments.
This brief essay is an initial overview, and will quickly sketch out the outlines of the stunning reality hidden in the Psalms.
Psalms 120-134 form a miniature collection within the Psalter. This group is known as the Shir Hammalot, the Songs of Ascents. They represent pilgrims going up to the mountains that surround Jerusalem, as they journey to Jerusalem and to the temple.
These 15 Psalms form a circle, or even a sphere. The mountains around Jerusalem protect the holy city, and the temple within her. Within these 15 Songs of Ascents are Psalms 126, 127, and 128, which are the true center of the Psalter, even more so than Psalm 84. Family and society are deeply celebrated here. Children are powerfully present in Psalms 127 and 128, and children are hinted at in Psalm 126.
When we are regarding this group with the lens of Conception, this group represents the egg, and then the fertilized egg, and then the growing embryo in the womb.
Psalm 119, the longest Psalm of the Psalter, immediately preceding the group of 15 Songs of Ascents, represents the sperm cell. It also represents the DNA strand, the double-helix of the DNA.
Psalm 119 is the sperm cell. It impregnates the egg.
Psalms 120-134 are the egg. Then they are the fertilized egg, and the early growing embryo.
The fertilized egg moves down and attaches to the wall of the womb.
Mirrored in the Psalms, we move down to Psalm 84, the temple that begins the growing womb, and begin that development there. We can see the fetus growing in the Psalm design that we have already studied, the Growing Pregnant Womb.
Psalm 119 is by far the longest Psalm of the Psalter. It is an acrostic Psalm, meaning that the first letter of each verse all join together to form the string of the full alphabet. In most acrostic Psalms, there are about 22 lines, because there are 22 letters in the ancient Hebrew alphabet. The first line begins with the letter aleph, the second with the letter bet, the third with gimel, and so on.
However, Psalm 119 is an acrostic Psalm much larger and longer than the other acrostic Psalms. There are 22 stanzas in Psalm 119, one for each letter of the ancient Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza has 8 verses. And each of the verses within the stanza begins with the same letter. There are 176 verses in this Psalm, 8 for each of the 22 letters of the ancient Hebrew alphabet (22 x 8 = 176).
The tone of Psalm 119 seems to be almost naïve in its striving attitude. Like a sperm cell seeking the egg. The mood of Psalm 119 is that of a young person wanting to adhere as fully as possible to God, and to invest all of their energy, time, and thought into a greater knowledge of the Word of God. The Psalmist has total dedication to God and God’s Word, God’s communication to us. It is a beautiful Psalm for a young person learning to cleave to God (and for people of all ages).
DNA has a great deal of information encoded in a small space. The entire human person is represented in a strand of DNA.
Back to Psalm 119: In addition to the youthful exuberance of the energetic seeker in this longest Psalm, there is something far more complex going on. Psalm 119, again, has 176 verses. There are 150 Psalms.
Verse 1 of Psalm 119 has many literary connections to Psalm 1.
Verse 2 of Psalm 119 has many literary connections to Psalm 2.
And so on.
For example, Psalms 1 and 2 both have beatitudes (Happy, or Blessed) in them. So do verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 119.
Here are some other verses that are most obvious in their connections to the Psalms of the same number:
119:7 and Psalm 7
119:89 and Psalm 89
119:90 and Psalm 90
119:91 and Psalm 91
119:111 and Psalm 111
119:112 and Psalm 112
119:126 and Psalm 126
119:127 and Psalm 127
119:128 and Psalm 128
This is a brand new discovery about Psalm 119. The longer version of this essay will delve into this more deeply.
Suffice it to say: Psalm 119 is a blueprint of the entire Book of Psalms.
As the DNA double helix is to the grown human person,
so is Psalm 119 to the entire Psalter.
Psalms 120-134. The Songs of Ascents.
A Franciscan professor, Fr. Michael Guinan, once said something like, “The Songs of Ascents celebrate how the mountains surround Jerusalem.” As someone who has familiarity with the Psalms, this statement was intriguing to me, and made me think about this group of Psalms in new ways.
His words speak of how there are circles, and protected areas, around a center.
At the center of this group of Psalms is the very center of the Psalter, from the point of view of Spiritual meaning: Psalm 126, 127, and 128.
Of these, Psalm 128 is the most important Psalm of the Psalter. It celebrates the human family gathered at the table, in the heart of the home. It also celebrates the New Garden of Eden, which Jesus Christ is helping humanity to build and enter. (Or, he wants to help us in this endeavor, as we human beings learn how to live together in harmony.)
These “Songs of Ascents” are also translated as the “Songs of Degrees.” We will now quickly see how this group of 15 Psalms represents the egg, then the fertilized egg, then the growing embryo.
The Psalmist wants to move towards Jerusalem. The pilgrimage is imminent. There are hints of fiery foreplay. And the back-and-forth of the conjugal act.
From another angle, the sperm cell is seeking the egg.
The first verse has the Psalmist seeing, from afar, the mountains that surround Jerusalem.
The sperm cell is approaching the egg.
This Psalm begins, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the temple of God’. And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”
This is the moment of conception. The sperm cell enters the egg.
The Psalm continues, “Jerusalem, built as a city, walled round about.” This is more accurately translated, “Jerusalem, built as a city, firmly compact.” The notes of the New American Bible discuss how this is referring to the density of the people in Jerusalem. Indeed, the soon-to-be rapidly multiplying cells of the embryo are firmly compact. And they are walled round about.
The rest of the Psalm speaks of happiness, protection, and the growth of generations of families.
Speaks of a beloved woman. This is Mary. And it is all women, especially all mothers.
This Psalm speaks of a bird escaping from the trap of the fowler. This recalls Mary escaping from Satan (and Herod) in Revelation 12, upon giving birth to Jesus.
Again, the mountains surround Jerusalem.
The womb strongly protects the growing life within. The mother glows with life.
There is going out and returning. Seed is sown.
The final verse of the Psalm is a hidden image of a baby being carried.
The temple and the family house are built, and the city is guarded and protected. God supervises this.
The second half of the Psalm clearly discusses children and the womb.
The heart of the Psalter. The family is gathered around the table in the heart of the home. The Garden of Eden is reestablished. We are meant to live therein.
There is something else about this Psalm.
The number 128 is the highest exponential number of the 150 numbers that the Psalms are named with. The number 128 is 2 raised to the 7th power, that is, 128 is 27. This speaks of systems of knowledge (such as in computer chips). We think of the vast amounts of information stored in the DNA double helix. If Psalm 119 is the father’s DNA, then Psalm 128, with its title number, and the woman “like a vine” running through all the chambers of the house, make Psalm 128 represent the mother’s DNA.
The title number, with its large number of multiplications within itself, also speaks of the rapid subdivision of the cells of the embryo, and how the young life in the womb grows so quickly. From one cell to many, many cells. Uncountable, really.
Early in this process, the fertilized egg moves down to the womb.
We move down to Psalm 84, to the center of the Mystical Psalm Structure known as The Growing Womb. In Psalm 84, mother birds, in the temple building, build nests in which they lay their eggs.
The fertilized egg of the Songs of Ascents (and Psalm 119) attaches to the wall of the womb. The embryo is getting ready to grow.
Let the life begin.
The Connection between the Conscience,
Seeing the Will of God,
and Our Becoming Mystics
To students of the mystics, it is entirely expected that Pope Francis speaks of holiness, meekness, and humility at the same time that he speaks of mysticism and mystical knowledge of things Divine, of Godly realities.
Pope Francis knows that holiness and humility are the base, the foundation, of so many good things; and they are the necessary cornerstones of higher mystical understanding, and of a more mature relationship with the Holy Spirit, to which we are all invited and called especially today, in this time of Vatican II.
This is the second of three essays on the new Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. The first essay noted how Vatican II and Pope Saint John XXIII call all people to be more empowered and mature participants in the Second Pentecost, the New Pentecost, that is happening now, in this time of Vatican II:
The first essay also sketched the vast arc of the new Exhortation, by taking up Pope Francis’ frequent citations (nine times) from the First and Second Letters of Peter. It noted how Pope Francis is following Saint Peter in outlining the human path to a more holy (and therefore more Spiritual) humanity. Early in his first letter, Peter makes, as we saw, a fascinating development of a verse from Leviticus: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) Then, early in his second letter, Peter tells us that we are to be participants in God’s own nature. (2 Peter 1:4) Obviously, a tremendous amount of progress is intended to occur in the course of our growth, according to St. Peter, for us to grow from the pursuit of holiness all the way to sharing in God’s own nature. In addition to being the leader of the Apostles, and the first Pope, Peter also has left us two precious letters that are Scripture.
A question may arise: How do we get from acting in virtuous and humble and holy ways, all the way to being participants in God’s own nature? How is it that we become mystics, as Karl Rahner, a primary theologian of Vatican II, urges us to become? Why does Pope Francis speak about mystical mysteries and mystical saints at the same time that he discusses holiness, humility, and meekness?
This second essay will take up these questions. It will begin by returning to the letters of Peter, and presenting an amazing discovery of a literary technique that Peter weaves into his writing, showing how humanity progresses from the pursuit of “holiness” to becoming “partakers in the Divine nature.” Then, the essay will show developments similar to Peter’s are also occurring in the Letter to the Hebrews and in the Acts of the Apostles.
Then we shall turn directly to Gaudete et Exultate, to observe Pope Francis’ superb development of these themes from the New Testament.
How the Letters of Saint Peter Show Us the Path
To a More Profound Union with God
As a prelude to the discussion of Peter’s letters, let’s review a trajectory of holiness that was discussed in the previous essay:
-This time, today, now, is the time of Vatican II. Pope Saint John XXIII said that the time of Vatican II is a New Pentecost, a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit (we will discuss this below).
–Holiness strengthens and illuminates and cleanses our conscience.
-Our conscience is the primary organ with which we communicate directly with the Holy Spirit.
-Communicating directly with the Holy Spirit, we shall transform the world in the best and most beautiful ways. Karl Rahner, an influential theologian at Vatican II, said that the future Christian will be a mystic. This is happening today, thank God.
From these four points, let’s take the middle two points, which are the arc of trajectory of personal development in the faith:
–Holiness strengthens and illuminates and cleanses our conscience.
-Our conscience is the primary organ with which we communicate directly with the Holy Spirit.
This practicing of holiness, which leads first to the refinement of our conscience, and then to a more direct participation in God’s life and being, are a hidden thematic development of Peter’s letters. This is also an important, though quiet, trajectory of development in Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation.
Gaudete et Exsultate mentions the conscience twice, in the final paragraphs of the document. The First Letter of Peter mentions conscience three times. Yet throughout Peter’s first letter, our conscience has a hidden companion. Let’s begin our survey of Peter’s first letter:
Pairs of Terms in Peter’s First Letter
The second verse of the First Letter of Peter speaks of our sanctification (our being made holy) and of our obedience. There is not yet any discussion of mystical realities or special participation in the being of God, or of working directly with the Holy Spirit. This emphasis on holiness and the living of the rudiments of our faith appears also in Gaudete et Exsultate, where cognates of “holy” appear at least 133 times in the English translation. In translations of the document in other languages, where, for example, the word “saint” is cognate with “holy,” there are over 200 appearances of words related to “holiness” in the Exhortation.
So from the outset, there is a great emphasis on practicing personal holiness, and on making strong, morally good choices. The same emphasis and reality is in the Bible’s letters of Peter. Saint Peter is going to show us the potential spectrum of development of holiness in our life, if we catch what he is doing.
He promises that by living a holy life, we shall begin to see “things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:12) Peter then tells us to get ready for a contest, or a battle (1:13) that will be fought largely in our minds/souls. He urges us to “be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” (1:15) Then comes his amazing improvement of the verse from Leviticus, “Be holy, for I am holy,” which was discussed in the first essay. (1:16)
Peter next speaks of a preliminary arrival, an early stage of advance, as if to a way station, or a base camp at the foot of a mountain that is to be climbed:
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1:22-23) This purity of love is not milquetoast. Rather, purity speaks of strengthened love, and of the growing strength of the person’s will to love well. This also shows that the person’s ascent to join more deeply into the “nature of God” is a journey with various parts. Peter’s letters take us through some of these stages.
First, he urges us to become purified, to become holy. Obedience is a large part of this. And Peter and Pope Francis are in agreement that this obedience is not merely to God and God’s rules, but also to a sincere love of the people in our community. The root of the word “obedience” is obedire, “listen.”
Also, obedience is a way of connecting our individual wills with a larger body. This is very important to the discussion of Peter’s letters that we are now beginning.
Obedience has further revelations: By listening and obeying the rules of our communities, and listening and performing the more nuanced requests of the community, we prepare ourselves for a deeper listening to the Holy Spirit. This shall be instrumental in developing our direct communication with the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s Literary-Mystical Way
Peter is going to show us precisely how this mystical ability to listen more deeply to the Holy Spirit develops in us. For the rest of his first letter, beginning in Chapter Two, he is going to present us with hidden pairs. We will discuss four hidden pairs of words in his first letter.
The first three of these hidden pairs place “God’s will” and our human “conscience” into a relationship with each other. It turns out that each person’s individual conscience has the capacity to become more thoroughly engaged with the Will of God, and this is the optimum development in every way. The fourth pair also has “God’s will,” but the term “conscience” will be replaced by something else.
These pairs have remained largely hidden for the last 1900 years. Let’s bring them into the light of this time of Vatican II and discuss them.
The First Hidden Pair
The first pair happens in Chapter Two. The will of God appears first. Peter writes, “For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of the foolish men.” (2:15) Peter calls us not to mystical intervention, but to simple good behavior, as a way of overcoming evil and strengthening community. This is God’s will for us, which we are free to obey, thereby having actual positive effects on our community and world.
Additionally, by having these first, slight thoughts about “God’s will,” the growing morally-awakened person is beginning to think of the larger picture, and of the greater community, and the good of the community. This is foundational for further growth in the Faith.
Right after this verse, Peter gives us specific instructions, such as “Live as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the community. Fear God [=have awe of God-given processes in life].” (2:16b-17a)
Continuing along this trajectory of development, Peter then presents the letter’s first appearance of conscience: “For one is approved if, conscience towards God, she/he endures pain while suffering unjustly.” (2:19) This shows that our conscience has vital early growth when it treats God’s goals as our own personal goals. We choose to have external good goals that are like God’s goals for us. Although our nature has not yet merged with God, nonetheless, our goals can certainly try to emulate the goals of God, and what God encourages us towards.
Pope Francis has echoes of this at many points throughout Gaudete et Exsultate, including in the title itself, which is taken from the end of the Beatitudes, at Matthew 5:12, where Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad” when we are reviled and persecuted on Jesus’ account. (Mt 5:11) So at this point of the letter there is no mystical insight in the faithful traveler’s experience, but there is much communal work to do, some of which may be difficult and painful. Experience tells us that authentic love develops in us when we engage this work; however, Peter will wait longer before showing us further fruit of this labor.
The Second Hidden Pair
The second appearance of this pair, “God’s will” and “conscience,” appears in Chapter Three. Peter says, “Keep your conscience clear [literally, “keep your conscience good”], so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (3:16) This sounds somewhat like verse 2:15 above, except that “conscience” has replaced “God’s will.” This replacement of “God’s will” with “conscience” is a miniature picture of the transformation that Peter is secretly presenting in the ongoing human development through his two letters.
Although “conscience” has just taken the place of “God’s will,” in the next verse we see that “God’s will” comes right back, mirroring how closely “God’s will” and our human “conscience” can operate together: “For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.” (3:17)
By his suffering Christ was made “alive in the Spirit.” (3:18) Christ wants to “bring us to God.” (3:18) There are hints here of Baptism, which will be much more emphasized in the amazing appearance of Noah’s Ark in Peter’s letters.
The Center of the Four Pairs: Noah’s Ark
On the Ark were Noah and his three sons, and their wives. There were four pairs of people, four couples, eight people, on the Ark. Peter intentionally says the number “eight souls” during his discussion of the Ark at the end of Chapter 3 of his first letter. In his second letter, Peter says the word “eighth,” while again speaking of the Ark. (2 Peter 2:5) Pope Francis mentions the word “eighth” in the Exhortation. (Paragraph 115) We will discuss this below and in the third essay of this series.
The four pairs of “souls” echo the four word-pairs that we are tracing through Peter’s letter.
Baptism is a great new beginning for us humans. We appeal to God for a clean conscience (among many other realities of the Sacrament). So too in the Exhortation, Pope Francis is exhorting us to think about the function of our conscience (see Paragraphs 169 and 174, to be discussed below). We can reflect on our conscience. We can realize how vitally important our own conscience is to our ongoing journey. We can learn to listen to our own conscience. We may learn that our conscience has far more functions than we previously knew.
The four pairs will return many times in the rest of our discussion in this essay, and in the next essay, which discusses mystical Realities in the New Testament, and in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, and in the Book of Psalms.
The Third Hidden Pair
The discussion of Baptism flows directly to the third appearance of “conscience.” (3:21)
In the second pair, we saw that the human “conscience” took the place of the “will of God.” As a further development, in the third pair, the “will of God” enters into the conscious life of the emerging human person, in the area of the human conscience and spirit. The conscience is meant to reign here, and through our conscience, the Holy Spirit. Our relationship with God deepening, and our conscience becoming healthier and stronger, the Holy Spirit tells us the will of God in more specific and direct and helpful ways. Our conscience conveys to us the direct messages of the Holy Spirit when we have entered into this phase of our Spiritual life!
And again, this is an invitation, ever fresh, ever waiting for those who have not entered into this phase of life quite yet. We might say that the will of God merges with our individual conscience/spirit’s awareness more and more frequently, seamlessly, and painlessly.
Concluding the discussion of Noah’ Ark and baptism, Peter restates Paul’s sayings about how our baptism allows us to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
“And baptism, which this (Noah’s Ark) prefigures, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (3:21-22)
After our deeper Spiritual “Baptism” in the Holy Spirit, we see that our human conscience is very much more clearly involved in dialogue with heavenly realities. Our conscience, with its heightened powers of awareness, places us in greater dialogue with the Realities of Heaven and of God. This is what Saint Peter is saying. So many references in Gaudete et Exsultate point to this as well. This is what Pope Francis wants to get us aware of.
Observing the great developments that the suffering of Christ did for Christ himself and for humanity, Peter then asks us to emulate the suffering of Christ: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by mortal lusts but by the will of God.” (4:1-2)
Humanity has progressed so very far: we can both know and do the will of God, and we can live by the will of God. (See John 4:32-34) This is a momentous development. Our awareness of our connection to greater Realities is growing. Our conscience is connected to the Risen Christ, and therefore to his Holy Spirit, which he sent to earth, directly to us, after his Ascension. With this empowered conscience, now guided far more directly by the Holy Spirit of Christ, we can better know and perform God’s will.
Yet note how this progression is not empowered by magical formulae or secret incantations. Rather, the progress is connected to our suffering, suffering that happens when we are truly participating in the Body of Christ, the koinonia, the community. To drive this point home, cognates of “suffer” appear 16 times in 1 Peter. The mystical path involves immersion into the Body of Christ, and into our Baptism, and this will necessarily involve suffering. Additionally, there are a number of other terms that are connected to suffering as well, but they are from other word groups, not directly cognate with “suffering.” In fact, “suffering” has been a word that is found in the first three pairs of ‘conscience’ and ‘will of God’; and “suffering” will also appear at the fourth pair. More than a glue, suffering is a unifying cross that unites us to God. (Paul sees our human suffering as connected to the cross of Christ, and he sees the Cross of Christ as unifying and connecting all good things in Reality: “May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14))
In this third pair, Peter speaks more deeply of the inner workings of the human person. He speaks of powerful deep drives of eros and sexuality, the misfiring of which is connected with lust. This shows how the process of purifying our conscience includes the wrestling with our will that happens as we overcome lust. The cross is again central here. Jesus, on the cross, says in John’s Gospel, “I thirst.” One meaning of this is that Jesus has achieved a fiercely true eros for humanity. Purifying our love is strengthening our love. And our suffering is a purifying fire that strengthens our love.
[Let’s not be overfocused on suffering, however. Suffering is not meant to be permanent, although some people seem to have more of it than others. Saint Mother Teresa suffered much, but also had radiant joy.]
By living holy lives, and by becoming ever-more-empowered members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we begin to live in the Spirit, according to God.
The Word of God, the Gospel, is preached to the world, and even to the dead. By allowing it to work in us, we better enact our Baptism: “For this is the reason the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the Spirit as God does.” (4:6; and see again 3:18)
Peter is emphatic that our life in the Spirit is rooted not in pie-in-the-sky pseudo-mystical weirdness, but in concrete participation in the community, the Church, the Body of Christ, which includes loving all people and caring for the poor: “Discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (4:7b-8) While focusing on the new presence of the Holy Spirit, and teaching us about this wonderment, Peter is always exhorting us to good behavior and caring communal awareness. (This is quite the opposite of how gnostics and Pelagians act, against which Pope Francis warns us in Chapter Two of the Exhortation.)
This “constant love for one another” is also the message of the letters of both John and Paul, and of all the New Testament, especially the Gospels and Acts. When we arm ourselves with this “same mind” as Christ (4:1), we always love and consider the community: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (4:10) We are to be empowered with Spiritual gifts and greater dynamic power in community; this power comes from God, and our mind is to be always more focused and aligned with God: “whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (4:11)
The rest of Chapter 4 speaks more of suffering that we will experience as we enter more deeply into the Body of Christ, and participate more deeply: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (4:12) No, this suffering is to be fully expected. It’s simply an organic part of what it means for a person to be progressively worked deeper into the Body of Christ, and to become an empowered and functioning member of the Body of Christ. When you join the Church, expect that there will be trials in addition to the grace and light. We cannot have one without the other. On the positive side, know that the grace and light will always come, at many points along the journey.
Then, Peter, echoing the “9th Beatitude” of Matthew 5:12, tells us: “But rejoice in so far as you are sharing (koinoneite, cognate with koinonia, ‘community’) Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13) Rejoice and Be Glad is the title of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation. Peter’s letter echoes the words from Matthew that are the title of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation. Peter’s next verse is an actual Beatitude: “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed/happy, because the Spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (4:14) Today, the Spirit of God is resting upon the entire Church, desiring to lead us more deeply in the light of Vatican II.
The Fourth Hidden Pair
Peter urges us to obey the Gospel, which includes listening to its fullness. (4:17) We will enter yet more deeply into relationship with God: “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a loving Creator.” (4:19) Here we are, near the end of the Bible, talking about our ability as Christian persons to participate ever more deeply in the actual Will of God! This is the only path forward for our evolution. So why does Peter suddenly fly back to the first page of the Bible, and speak of God as a “loving Creator?!”
The answer is shocking. We are being invited to begin to imitate the life of the Trinity, and to enter into God’s own creative power! When “God’s will” appears here for the fourth and final time in Peter’s letter, at 4:19, there is no corresponding “conscience” as we have become accustomed to expect by now. Of course Peter did not forget to add it. Rather, “conscience” has been replaced by a tripartite development of the human person who is living the Christian life! Here is a tremendous metamorphosis in the Christian person who has learned to participate more deeply in the Body of Christ, in the community, in the Church:
“Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly (ekousios), as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly (prothumos). Not as lording it over the allotments, but becoming examples to the flock (tupoi ginomenoi tou poimniou). And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.” (5:1-4)
For the experienced Christian who truly lives in the Spirit, our conscience transforms into a direct conduit between our will and God’s will. Our will merges with God’s will, in a glorious process of patient steady growth. This is demonstrated by the three terms that show how the mature Christian has blossomed into an adult agent of the Church, becoming a fully functional and participating member of the Body of Christ, looking out for entire community, reflecting goodness to each individual whom they encounter.
This is what Saint Peter is teaching us.
This is what Pope Francis is teaching us.
And this is the way to live the Church of Vatican II.
The Second Letter of Peter will begin to sketch what a Spiritual, humble, and loving humanity will look like. Peter shows us this by, for the first time in his writing, describing actual mystical developments in people’s lives.
Mystical Developments for Humanity in Peter’s Second Letter
What happens when, by living lives of holiness and authenticity, we begin to hear the calls and directions of the Holy Spirit through our conscience? What happens when we begin to more deeply know the Will of God, and so become co-creators with God in the ongoing Creation?
We begin to be more authentically Spiritual. Spiritual gifts are given to us.
First, let’s finish our discussion of the First Letter of Peter by noting how Peter, after showing us the tremendous metamorphosis of humanity that can happen when we have empowered consciences, places yet further stress on humility and diligence.
He mentions humility three times, another triple emphasis. (5:5-6) He warns us to “Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (5:8)
Even in his first letter there are many hints about mystical realities, while Peter maintains a veil of regular normality about these things. For example, he says, at the end of some verses telling us to resist the devil, to “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brother-and-sisterhood throughout the world.” (5:9) All the way back in 60 A.D., Peter mentions global Christianity! And he mentions knowledge of similar experiences shared among this global Christianity, this Body of Christ. In this case, the shared experience is suffering. [It may happen that a somewhat advanced form of mystical participation in the Body of Christ is being able to understand how the suffering of the world is allocated among humanity, especially among the more connected members of the Body of Christ. (Another form of shared experience, not directly mentioned by Peter here, is being able to share thoughts, knowledge, and sense experience via something like telepathy. And there are other forms of mystical sharing in the Body of Christ too.)]
Yet the work always remains God’s, who shares with us: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (5:10-11)
In his second letter, as we shall see, Peter begins to discuss mystical experience more explicitly and openly.
A hint of this development is in the discussion of the forms of knowledge that appear at the beginnings of both letters. The first letter mentions the “foreknowledge (pro-gnosin, 1 Peter 1:2) of God the Father” in the second verse of the letter. The entire thrust of the early part of the letter is on what God has done for us.
In his second letter, it seems that God is sharing God’s own divine knowledge with us. Three times in the first 8 verses of the letter, Peter prays for our knowledge and tells us how we grow in the “full knowledge,” epi-gnosin, of God. Knowledge of God is how we grow. This already is showing a process of us being given admittance to God’s own Knowledge, including mystical knowledge. This triple development of pro-gnosin into epi-gnosin mirrors the triple development of “conscience” (suneidesin) into “willingly” (ekousios), “readily” (prothumos), and the transformation into “examples for the flock” (tupoi ginomenoi). (1 Peter 5:2-3)
Centered within these three appearances of this “full knowledge” that God is giving to us, there is one of the most remarkable verses of the New Testament. As was discussed in the first essay, Peter tells us that we are being invited to become participants in, “partakers of God’s own nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) But this is astounding. God, as a reward for our growth, is granting us the possibility of participating not merely in God’s own knowledge, but also in God’s own nature.
Do you see how this gradual metamorphosis is described, beginning in Peter’s First Letter, by the slow merging of our human conscience (and will) with the will of God? The growth proceeds to the point where the leaders of the Community, the various shepherds (which can certainly include laity today) develop a concern and consciousness for the entire flock; leaders become cognizant for a much larger part of the Body of Christ, as they “lose” themselves, or merge themselves, into a larger body. The result of this glorious process of growth is not merely that our volition is in harmony with God’s volition, as wondrous as that is, no—God wants to give us far more. We are then called farther forward, to participate in God’s own nature!
Immediately after this amazing pronouncement, Peter gives us another image of the process of our joining into the nature of God. He paints the picture of a Staircase, or a Ladder:
For this very reason, you must bring all diligence [or “every effort”] to support your
Faith with virtue,
And your virtue with knowledge,
And your knowledge with self-control,
And your self-control with patience,
And your patience with godliness,
And your godliness with brother-and-sisterly love (philadelphian),
And your brother-and-sisterly love with [Divine] Love, (Agape).
–2 Peter 1:5-7
As St. John says twice, “God is Love (Agape).” (1 John 4:8, 16) So here in his second letter, Peter is again telling us to participate in the Love that is God, or, in God’s own nature. (The First Letter of John follows the Second Letter of Peter in the canonical order of the Bible, and these two great Christian writers share many themes. In fact, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, the Letter to the Hebrews, share these themes.)
Notice that in this developmental Ladder, there are 8 terms from “Faith,” at the beginning, to “Love (Agape),” at the end. When we include “diligence,” there are 9 terms. We shall return to this in the third essay.
Peter continues by stressing the importance of our own action now, not merely the Divine initiation of Creation: “For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:11) We give thanks to God for everything, but it is up to us to get with the program and enter into heaven. We must strengthen and direct our will, connected with our ability to properly love, guided by our developing conscience (through which we communicate with the Holy Spirit), if we are to enter the “eternal kingdom,” which is heaven, the kingdom of God.
Verse 1:4, discussing our participating in “the nature of God,” shows us the goal of this journey in capsule form. The progressions elaborated in 1 Peter, which we discussed above, and the 9-part Ladder of 2 Peter 1:5-7, show us longer and more articulated images of our journey.
The Second Letter of Peter continues its discussion of things that are more overtly mystical. In verse 1:14, Peter shares with us some of his own mystical experience, namely, how “Our Lord Jesus Christ” showed Peter that he would die soon. In this, Peter is like a new Moses. The Torah, evidently, includes Moses writing into it his own death. (Dt 32:50; 34:5) In the next verse, 1:15, the connection with Moses continues, as Peter speaks of his “departure,” exodon, which is cognate with the word “exodus.” Jesus himself spoke of his imminent exodus with Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor. (Luke 9:31)
Jesus is the new and best Moses. Jesus is a new Moses combined with the Burning Bush, where God said his verb-name, “I AM.” Moses was also a shepherd at the time he saw the Burning Bush. However, as 1 Peter 5:4 speaks of Jesus as the Chief Shepherd, we who are leaders in the Body of Christ are also shepherds, and we are also truly meant to be Moses-like leaders for the community, no matter what our official roles are. As we grow in the Faith, we are all leaders. We should not be surprised by what Peter is saying here, speaking of Christians being of a higher stature than Moses. Jesus himself says that those IN the kingdom of God shall be greater than John the Baptist, whom Jesus said was the greatest prophet. (Luke 7:28) Is Saint Peter saying too much? Well, as Peter will say a few verses later, Peter himself was told to write this (1:21), as we will discuss below.
Peter next speaks of how, on the “holy mountain” where Jesus’ Transfiguration occurred, he and the two other disciples heard the voice of the “Majestic Glory of God the Father” speaking a word to Jesus, saying, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (1:17) As we become deeper participants in the Body of Christ, and in the nature of God, God the Father will say to all of us that we are his beloved children.
The privileged disciples heard this voice directly from heaven. (1:18)
This is one of the places outside of the Gospels where we are told of Divine events in the life of Jesus.
The next verse of 2 Peter shows us this personal fulfillment of the prophetic messages of the Scriptures being fulfilled in our own individual lives. And Peter says this in a beautiful way: “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (1:19)
The mystically-laden discourse continues. Peter speaks of his own personal experience as an author of Sacred Scripture, and of the experience of all authors of Scripture; and in doing so he humbly returns to the previous letter’s discussion of will and the Holy Spirit: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came into being by human will, but holy people of God, borne along by the Holy Spirit, spoke (it).” (1:20-21)
This process of becoming “borne along by the Holy Spirit” is the subject of the above reflection of 1 Peter.
The first chapter of this Second Letter of Peter has already had far more overt discussion of mystical matters than did the entire First Letter of Peter. And this is how Peter planned it, to show the fruit of our life’s ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit. All people’s lives are meant to become gospels.
And just as Saint Peter does, so too does Pope Francis write a beautiful organic text that combines humility, meekness, and human holiness, with sets of stunning new hints of authentic mystical Reality.
We have treated Peter’s letters at some length because of the Apostolic Exhortation’s powerful resonance with these Petrine letters. Let us now, after two more words, turn to Gaudete et Exsultate.
The same judicious development of themes discussed by Peter continues throughout the Apostolic Exhortation. The discussion of meekness, humility, and personal moral goodness and holiness are always in close proximity to these discussions of more hidden, mystical Realities.
How the Letter to the Hebrews Shares
The “Conscience” and “Will of God” Theme with 1 Peter
In another stunning New Testament development, the Letter to the Hebrews shares in the fascinating pairing of the human conscience and the will of God. In Chapter 9 and 10, this letter has three appearances of conscience, followed by three appearances of the will of God. After this triple alignment, there will be two pairs of individual appearances of conscience and the will of God.
Chapter 9 of Hebrews begins with a caring discussion of the how the old tent of meeting, and the temple after it, were very limited. The old tent of meeting, which started during the exodus (mythically, anyway), is already long in the distant past for the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. However, the tent serves as a “parable” for the old stone temple, the second of which was standing in the time of the first Christians, a temple that was to be destroyed by the Roman legions in 70 C.E. The old stone temple and its systems of sacrifices are long outdated and wrong for the time of the New Testament, the Age of Christ. The stone temples of Jerusalem had blood sewer systems to remove the blood from the hundreds (thousands during festivals) of daily sacrifices there. This is strongly expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews author’s discussing the old systems of sacrifices, which “cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right.” (Heb 9:9b-10)
The human person replaces the temple as the dwelling place of God after the first Feast of Pentecost. As Paul says, “You are the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Cor 6:19) The impermanence of the old stone temple was actually inscribed in the Scriptures at its founding. Both in 1 Kings 8 and the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 6, the prayers of Solomon and the building of the temple are replete with language about the human heart. The heart is at once the center and the totality of the human person. (Gaudete et Exultate mentions the “heart” about 48 times.) A chrysalis adjacent to the heart is the conscience, which blossoms in the Christ Event. (Importantly, the word conscience appears twice in Gaudete et Exsultate, near the very finale of the document, as we shall discuss below.) And as discussed above, with the Pentecost and the formidable new presence of the Holy Spirit, the conscience is the place where the human person hears the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, and learns to be a more empowered human agent of the Holy Spirit. The Letter to the Hebrews is showing how the human conscience is a great advance in humanity’s spiritual evolution, and is far more important than the old stone temple. A few verses later we hear: “ . . . how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the Living God!” (Heb 9:14)
The letter mentions the Holy of Holies; however, the author is boldly saying that the Holy of Holies is now the human soul, among whose central chambers is the conscience! This is why the conscience is such an important word in the New Testament, but doesn’t exist in the Old Testament.
To drive the point home, the author states, “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshippers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have a conscience (confounded by) sin?” (Heb 10:1-2)
In these verses we have seen the first three appearances of conscience in the letter. Next, we shall have three appearances of the will of God. The first of these is brilliantly taken from Psalm 40, which says,
Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
But a body you have prepared for me;
In burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come
To do your will, oh God’
(In the scroll of the book
it is written for me.)” -Heb 10:5b-7
Then, to Biblically underscore its great importance, the author repeats the Psalm’s phrase, “See, I have come to do your will.” (Heb 10:9a)
The author continues, “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by that (God’s) will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:9b-10)
The three initial appearances of conscience are spread out over much of Chapter 9 and the first verses of Chapter 10. However, once Jesus Christ comes and purifies our conscience through Baptism (see 10:5), the parallel initial three appearances of the will of God come to us very quickly, in just 4 verses (10:7-10).
This parallels historical fact. Humanity needed many millennia of development to arrive at a more empowered conscience. Today, however, our conscience provides us tremendous amounts of guidance, regarding the will of God.
In the next appearance of this same pair of words, the conscience again comes first. This time, it is preceded by the human heart, a human heart that has finally become true: “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:22) Like Peter, the unknown author of Hebrews stresses the vital realities of community and charity that permanently reside on the Christian Way: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:24) Baptism is also central for both Biblical authors.
Some verses later we again hear the matching appearance of the will of God, and how God’s will strengthens us in preparation for the reception of further gifts from God, and even for the encounter with God: “For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (Heb 10:36) This concludes the fourth appearance of both “conscience” and “will of God” in the letter, and the first individual pairing of these words.
The final pair of these words occur in the final verses of the letter. After a discussion of the communal leadership that is reminiscent of 1 Peter 5, there is an emphasis on community and conscience: “Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear [good] conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you very soon.” (Heb 13:18-19)
Directly following this, in the benediction, is the final discussion of the Divine will: “Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Heb 13:20-21)
Notice the shepherd language that echoes the final chapter of 1 Peter. Additionally, as Hebrews closes with the blood of the Paschal lamb, so too does 1 Peter begin with that sprinkled blood.
This shows how the 5 appearances of conscience are carefully paired with the 5 appearances of the will of God in the Letter to the Hebrews.
Just as Pope Francis has many quotations from 1 Peter in the Exhortation, so too does he have a number of quotations from the Letter to the Hebrews. In fact, the very first words of Chapter 1 of the Exhortation are: “The Letter to the Hebrews presents a number of testimonies that encourage us . . . “ (Paragraph 3)
Paul, in Acts of the Apostles
This pairing of conscience and the will of God appears again in Acts of the Apostles, in a more understated way. The will of God is mentioned in Acts 21:14, and again at 22:14. Both instances involve Saint Paul. In the second telling of Paul’s conversion story, Luke has Ananias say to Paul, “the God of our fathers appointed you to know his will.” (Acts 22:14).
The phrase “will of God” disappears from Acts after this, to be replaced twice by Paul’s own “conscience.” In 23:1 he speaks from his “good conscience.” In 24:16, Paul says “And in this I exercise myself to have always a blameless conscience toward God and people.”
Space prohibits us from exploring this further here, but one may instantly see connections to the letters of Peter and the Letter to the Hebrews.
How is the Conscience Connected to the Will of God?
This consideration of 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Acts begs the question: So, how are the conscience and the will of God connected? Although we have already considered this question above, let us look at it anew from a different perspective. Let us consider practical applications of our new-found discovery of the “will of God,” or the voice of the Holy Spirit, being given directly to us.
In times past, the conscience was often merely considered to be a very simple indicator, an internal traffic light that told us to go or to stop. Here is an example of how it worked: Let’s say a young person has a decision to make that is bigger than usual decisions, and which is not totally clear. The decision the person faces causes some unease, some moral discomfort. Should the person do it or not? The “conscience,” according to the usual understanding, would then step in, giving the person permission to do the act, or, slamming on the brakes, and telling the person “No, don’t do it.” The conscience might have had an additional role: After the decision, if the wrong decision was made by the person, then the conscience sent guilt to the moral offender.
This description of the conscience is perhaps accurate, but it is very, very partial and misses realms of roles that the conscience can learn to participate in fully.
What if the conscience is the intelligent window within the soul through which we communicate with the Holy Spirit? And when a person is in a good moral state, and when that person has met the Holy Spirit and learned how to work with the Holy Spirit—what if the conscience can then develop further, and become the organ by which the will of God is constantly being transmitted to us? And, over time, what if the conscience, its strength being constantly increased by a person’s good decisions, becomes a constant reliable indicator of the will of God—provided that we are also receiving constant guidance and input from the community.
Let’s see how much this can empower and enable a person to become an active agent of the Holy Spirit now, in this life.
Let’s do this by considering the difference between “law” and the “will of God.” The “laws” that we have to deal with are usually proscriptive: “Don’t do that!” “Stop!” “Doing that action is forbidden!” “You must turn right here, you cannot turn left!” As we know, these laws are very helpful for society.
However, laws that modify our behavior are not the crowning achievement of individuals or of society. And this is precisely where the growth and evolution of our consciences has so often become bogged down. Our conscience is not merely a law-applier, an internal judge that says “Go” or “Stop.”
The will of God, however, is tailored to individuals. It is positive. It is most concerned with our growth as individuals and as a community. It is concerned with our ability to help other people, for the will of God can lead us to help other people in far more effective ways than we can help them if left to our own lights, even if we have vast experience already in helping other people. There is an amazingly wide spectrum of ways in which the will of God can help us in powerful ways. In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis quotes 1 Thess 4:3, saying, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (Paragraph 19). It is good to know that God’s will is our sanctification. This also makes us more enthusiastic to do God’s will.
So God’s will is for us. God’s will is helping us. God’s will leads us all the way to that summit of Divine-human sharing, as 2 Peter 1:4 says, in which we become “partakers in God’s nature.” So following God’s will is in our best interest, since our best interest is precisely what God wills. God loves us. God desires our authentic growth. God’s will actually does lead us in the best and most efficient avenues of our growth.
Laws are helpful, but they are not nearly as fulsome as the will of God is. If a person merely obeys laws but doesn’t practice much love and share much life in their earthly time, then their growth, in the eyes of God, might be much less than it could have been. The person may have avoided serious trouble by obeying the various laws one finds in life, but the person didn’t do much, especially by way of neighborly love, and contributing to the wider community.
However, what if a person can actually be led by the will of God, given to us by Holy Spirit? What if the Holy Spirit could say to you, “Hi, turn left at the next street. Now turn right. Keep going for a bit. Now turn left again down that side street. There, see that person by the dumpster?” You see a person slumped over and bloodied. The Spirit says, “I’m out. You’ve got it from here, friend.” And you quickly discover that the person by the dumpster has just been mugged and you later learn that this person has been going through a rough time in recent months. You help the person, and you then invite the person to your Church. Their life blossoms and they rediscover themselves and joyfully set off down the road of faith.
This might seem contrived, but exactly these sorts of events, in the Spirit, happen frequently in the lives of many people in the Church today.
In the above incident, if you had merely obeyed the laws, you might have gone home that afternoon and made yourself a cup of tea. Instead, by being able to discern the still small voice of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Kings 19:11-13), you saved a soul and greatly empowered the Body of Christ by bringing that person into the Body of Christ. And by bringing salvation to that person, you powerfully helped create and extend the Kingdom of God, on earth, now and in the future.
Do you see the difference between the person who merely obeys laws, and the person who has become an agent of the Holy Spirit? Both are good. But the one who becomes an agent of the Holy Spirit can bring home a tremendous bounty of fruit, the good earth of Mark 4 that produces 100-fold.
Most stories are not this simple, as our lives tend to be more complex these days, but some stories are that simple. And there are myriad other examples.
After my Spiritual awakening, when I was a teacher in the inner city of New York, an abuela (grandmother) who was a wisdom figure in the neighborhood was walking towards me when I left the school one evening. She engaged me in conversation, and said, “The Spirit sent me here right now.” She then told me that a particular person was going through a rough time and that I should seek him out and counsel him. Having asked around, with some ‘hints’ from above, I found him an hour later. He was indeed going through a rough time, and we talked. He emerged from the conversation happier and focused. Now, this fellow was, physically, a very strong young man. Weeks later, he told me that at that moment when I found him, he was mere seconds away from having gone to a local drug dealer and becoming part of his gang. (The dealer had offered him a lucrative job, both as a junior dealer and as muscle. If he had gone to meet the dealer, he would have walked away with a wad of franklins, becoming an instant Mr. Bling. He would then likely have been out of touch, from my perspective, for months or years, or until disaster struck him.) The conversation that I had with him had stopped him from introducing that great harm into his life. But it was not me who did it. It was the Body of Christ, through which great amounts of grace flow from the Holy Spirit, and the abuelita, and, at the tail end, a bit of action from me. It was a truly communal effort. It was the greater Body of Christ at work, saving that young man.
People who operate in the Holy Spirit have many, many stories like this.
We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are all invited to deeper participation in the Body of Christ, and we are invited to receive Spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit wants to give us to help and enable our deeper participation in the Body of Christ. This is especially the case now, in this time of Vatican II, a time that, as discussed above, Pope St. John XXIII has declared is a New Pentecost, a reality of a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Here is another way to say this, regarding laws, in contrast with our greater ability today to do the will of God:
The Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy will be done.” We ask that God’s will be done. The Lord’s Prayer does not say, “Thy rules be followed inerrantly.” Of course, rules are good. They help society to function, they guide the proper upbringing of children so that they learn to act in wider society, and sometimes they prepare us for greater accomplishments in certain skills: the rules of musical instruments, sports, art, conversation, and writing, all help to make better practitioners of these skills; and, when the times are right, they prepare the practitioners of these skills to momentarily discard the rules like training wheels, and to dance more freely with the Holy Spirit.
The vast majority of ethical and moral rules should never be broken in our lives. There is no need to break rules, in the overwhelming majority of situations. However, the mere observance of these laws is nothing like the heights that our faith wants to lead us to. The rules train us, and they guide our development. In society, they keep society healthy and operational. Laws are wonderful. But they are not the final goal of things.
No, the Lord’s Prayer says “Thy will be done,” not, “Thy rules be administered to all.” The Holy Spirit wants us to do God’s will, and will only show us how to do God’s will if we want to! To do God’s will is exciting. To do God’s will is to engage life more fully. If we tell the Holy Spirit that we are open to being an agent of God’s will on earth, and so build up the Body of Christ in this manner, the Holy Spirit will respond. Jesus came to teach us relationship with the Holy Spirit. This is the fullness of life that he promised us (see John 10:10). The strong help of the Holy Spirit is mentioned all through his Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (Chapters 13-17), and throughout the New Testament. The letters of Paul, Peter, John, and Hebrews all speak of it too. The Holy Spirit communicates God’s will to us once we have learned the languages of the Holy Spirit and learned how to listen to the still, small voice of the Spirit that slowly arrives to us via our conscience.
What is Gaudete et Exsultate About?
The first paragraph of this Apostolic Exhortation does not have a thesis statement, however, it does set the stage for the document, which has 177 numbered paragraphs:
There is no thesis statement yet. In the next paragraph, Pope Francis presents the thesis statement as a “modest goal”:
While these two paragraphs are adjacent to each other in the text of the document, they hiddenly contain, from the first to the second, the entire arc of human history and Salvation History. The Genesis quotation from God’s message to Abraham is God speaking to a humanity that has not yet been in a deep personal and volitional relationship with God. In a way, this represents God waking humanity up, and the very beginning of humanity’s learning to pursue things that are good. This quotation closes the first paragraph of the work.
Pope Francis says in the second paragraph that his “modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness.” He could not have said this in the first paragraph, because he was pointing far back to Abraham’s very basic and simple, and new, relationship with God. But in the second paragraph, Pope Francis replaces the paragraph-closing quotation of Genesis with one from Paul’s (or a close student of Paul’s) Letter to the Ephesians. In the Genesis quotation, God tells Abraham to be “blameless,” to not sin. In the quotation from Ephesians, Paul tells the people “to be holy and blameless before him in love.” Do you see the huge amount of human spiritual evolution that is traversed between these two quotations? Paul has taken the original line from Genesis 17:1 and added at least two vital elements to it: Paul tells us to imitate God in holiness, and also to be a humanity that is founded in Love. (Below, in Paragraph 10, Pope Francis will quote from Leviticus and 1 Peter about the Lord’s command to holiness.)
Here is the more full context of the quotation from Ephesians 1:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us with every Spiritual blessing in the ‘heavenlies’ in Christ; according as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, for us to be holy and unblemished before him in love, predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of (God’s) will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
The progression from Abraham all the way forward to Saint Paul, the co-worker with the Holy Spirit, is simply immense. And within these initial paragraphs, there are other vital historical arcs:
The first word of the Exhortation is “Rejoice,” or, GAUDETE. This word is cognate with GAUDIUM, which is the first word of Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, one of the two central constitutions of Vatican II. Therefore, Pope Francis is intentionally underlining the span of time between the 1960’s actual meetings of the Council, and the time now, in 2018, 50+ years later.
What happened in the 1960’s with the Second Vatican Council? Well, Pope St. John XXIII said that this time would be a New Pentecost, as we have discussed above.
We are now 50+ years after Vatican II. Pope Francis is telling us to live deeply the truths and the developments that Vatican II revealed to us. Having been working the earth of our hearts for some decades, the promise of Vatican II is unfolding and blossoming today. The Holy Spirit is indeed among us like never before.
There are many mystics in the world today. Recall that Karl Rahner, the main theologian of Vatican II, said that the future Christian would be a mystic, or Christianity would no longer exist.
So where are we?
We are on the threshold of a great advance for humanity—an advance that has been predestined by God.
Let us proceed to the Exhortation’s third paragraph, which begins Chapter One:
Gideon knew what it was like to work with God. And Gideon is an example for us in forming a direct relationship with God. Often God tests us before giving us Spiritual gifts. One night, the Spirit of God really pushes Gideon to the limits of his faith. He was a judge of the ancient Israelites. Before a battle, God told Gideon to send most of his army home. Obviously, this is not a normal thing for a leader to do before a battle. Gideon, very nervously, did this. Then, with diminished troops, Gideon was able to surprise the enemy and win a resounding victory. His trust in God was the right call, it turns out.
Gideon’s faith in God must have been far more solid after this episode. If, later, the Spirit of God asked him to do things that seem risky, Gideon would have been far more willing and much less hesitant in leaping to obey God’s subtle commands, that is, in doing God’s will.
In fact, this episode with Gideon has powerful resonance with everyone who has been through a dark night of the soul. This is very much how the Holy Spirit works today, especially in our initial “boot camp” training times under the Spirit.
After Gideon he also mentions our mothers and grandmothers. There may be a very clear tactical reason for this. Women, especially loving women with experience in the Church, are often in a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit, although these women might never discuss it. Perhaps Pope Francis is mentioning that it is now time for these women to be more forthcoming in their discussing the ways of the Holy Spirit. Also, he may be asking these women to consider ways in which they could more directly teach people about the relationship with the Holy Spirit.
The fourth paragraph of the Exhortation has an emphasis on our communion with those in heaven and on earth:
Let us now return to the opening words of the Exhortation, the “Gaudete et Exsultate” of Matthew 5:12, from the end of the Beatitudes that begin the first truly public words of Jesus Christ in history, and his first public words in the Bible.
Paragraphs 3 & 4 also speak Christians who are in heaven right now, reflecting, again, history; the Body of Christ is the beneficiary of the fact that 2 millennia of departed Christians are now interceding for us in heaven. Also, as people become more Spiritual, it is more possible to imagine this community that, right now, spans both heaven and earth. 1 Peter 5:1 has a hint of this too, when Peter speaks of the glory he participates in: This is speaking of the interpenetration of heaven and earth, of heaven and Church; and this is a project which is already 2000 years underway. When we sing the Litany of Saints, they are standing right beside us in the church. Additionally, these saints are with God right now.
The next paragraph considers again historical processes, as well as events in history:
Pope Francis deliberately makes us consider the processes, in history, where agents of the Church examine the lives of people who may become officially recognized as saints. This makes us consider, as well, the actual processes by which we may become more saintly, more holy, and possibly achieve sainthood ourselves now, in this life. How we become emissaries of Divine Love on this Earth. How are lives become holy, enriching the community around us.
And Pope Francis chooses a recent holy woman, a “Blessed,” who is herself on the way to Canonization. In the same way, all of us are on the way to holier lives, to new processes of growth in holiness. Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu is one who leads the way for us.
Pope Francis is always grounding his high Spiritual message in the basics: Humility, holiness, service, and genuine actions of mercy for other people.
At the same time, he wants to bring the Church into the positive growth that Vatican II envisions for us. He wants us to have living relationships with the Holy Spirit, not merely to try to “do good” by our own lights and safely inside the rubrics of faith, and the legislative laws that are in place. Rather, he wants us, as individuals and as the unified Body of Christ, to guide more fully by the Holy Spirit. We can walk directly with the Holy Spirit. We can be directly led by the Holy Spirit.
In the next section of the essay we shall consider how Pope Francis commends all people in the Church to a path that is at once meek and mystical.
Specific Themes in Gaudete et Exsultate
God Talks To Us. We Are Invited to Listen
Pope Francis, and all humble true mystics, tells us that God initiates the contact. Speaking of errors of the gnostics, he writes, “It was forgotten that everything ‘depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy’ (Rom 9:16) and that ‘he first loved us’ (cf. 1 John 4:19).” (Paragraph 48)
God’s early words to us, as individuals, often encourage us to holiness. And Pope Francis’ entire Exhortation is about holiness.
If we prove able, with God’s grace, to make good decisions, this is a positive first step for us in our life. And if we start to see, and to make sense of, the ways of the operation of the Holy Spirit in our life, this too is positive growth. Our prayer life may grow deeper. The Scriptures may start to open up their marvelous depths and their personal revelations, to us.
And something else may happen:
In the English translation of the document, the word “sign” appears about 13 times. The Holy Spirit very often communicates to us through signs.
However, in this essay we shall not explore the specific features of these signs and languages, and of what they might be. Let us save that for a future essay.
Growth in Mystical Aptitude and Perception
Life is about growth. We are creatures of Growth, and creatures of Healing. God wills our Growth, our Healing, our Sanctification, our strengthening and preparation for the weight of glory that is eternal life.
The word “grow,” and cognate terms, appear about 19 times in the English version of the Exhortation. 8 of these 19 appearances occur in the repeated phrase, “grow/growth in holiness.” Other terms and phrases of growth, such as “develop,” “transform,” and “process,” occur at least 45 times.
And as mentioned above, the word “holy” appears about 133 times. In various other languages, it is about 200 times.
So what is all this growth in holiness leading towards?
It’s leading to the transformation of us and of our Church and our world that Vatican II is about. Again, Karl Rahner, the main theologian of Vatican II, says that the future Christian will be a mystic, an operative of the Holy Spirit, an agent of the Holy Spirit. If not, says Rahner, then there won’t be Christianity.
Thus, we see that “history” is a major theme of the Church. And the word “history” appears 11 times in Gaudete et Exsultate, although language referring to historical processes appears far more frequently than that. Thus, we have strong emphasis on both personal development and global historical development. The human person and the larger communities to which we belong, especially the Body of Christ, are growing together.
Let’s return to the “signs” that were mentioned just above. The Holy Spirit communicates with us in many ways. And when the Holy Spirit begins to really talk more fully and individually to us, the means of communication that the Spirit employs can be surprising.
The Holy Spirit likes style, but can also be austere. The Holy Spirit likes expression, but can also be an efficient minimalist. The Holy Spirit relishes all languages, but also likes new simple languages of only a few characters (and with such simple unexpected languages the Holy Spirit can teach us something like astrophysics). As a commanding general in the field, the Holy Spirit likes issuing simple orders to us; we are the Spirit’s soldiers. We receive the simple orders, and act on them. This helps the Body of Christ, the Church, to grow on Earth.
The New Testament, especially the Gospels, Acts, the letters of Peter, Hebrews, John, and Paul all show myriad hints of the Holy Spirit communicating with us in these mystical ways.
This is the hidden generated groundswell movement of Gaudete et Exsultate, Rejoice and Be Glad.
When we have done some perseverance and growth in the Faith, we may well be invited into a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit. Modern people and events like Vatican II, Pope Francis, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Karl Rahner, St. Mother Teresa, Pope Blessed Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope St. John XXIII are pointing the way: we are to become a more mystical humanity.
Which is to say: We are to become more authentic Christians, with ever-growing love for neighbor and God, and with a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit.
That Pope Francis is clearly inviting us to deepen our relationship with the Holy Spirit is abundantly obvious in Gaudete et Exsultate. Here are some statements that point in precisely this direction, urging us to a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit:
Mystical Language in the Exhortation
-In Paragraph 8, Pope Francis quotes a powerful statement from Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross:
“The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.” (Paragraph 8)
One of the joys of being a member of the Body of Christ is knowing when your own sacrifices are helping another member of humanity. Or helping the growth of the entire human family.
She says that the holiness, prayer, and effort of hidden saints are deeply involved in both global and individual history. This makes good sense, because we are all members of the Body of Christ. Many hidden athletes of prayer are fully operational power plants for the Body of Christ—but unknown to the majority of people.
-The hiddenness of the great contributions of the saints and good souls who have gone before us is reflected also in the apparently “informal” ways that the Holy Spirit communes with us as individuals. Soon after the above quotation, Pope Francis references another great Carmelite mystic, St. John of the Cross:
“Indeed, when the great mystic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them ‘in his or her own way’. For God’s life is communicated ‘to some in one way and to others in another’.” (Paragraph 11)
It is worth noting that Saint John of the Cross is perhaps the favorite author of Pope Saint John Paul II. The young Karol Wojtyla wrote his first doctoral dissertation on the question of “Faith” in Saint John of the Cross.
-Following this, Paragraph 12 speaks of women and their special abilities, mentioning also the “genius of woman.” A forthcoming book discusses how, in their New Testament letters, Peter and Paul are telling men to listen to women, because women may be closer to the Holy Spirit than men typically are.
This would be a positive contribution to the ways in which we consider the letters of the New Testament.
-Pope Francis mentions how we are meant to deal directly in the things of God:
“In this way, led by God’s grace, we shape by many small gestures the holiness God has willed for us, not as men and women sufficient unto ourselves but rather ‘as good stewards of the manifold grace of God’ (1 Peter 4:10).” (Paragraph 18)
Immediately after this, he mentions how “The New Zealand bishops rightly teach us that we are capable of loving with the Lord’s unconditional love, because the risen Lord shared his powerful life with our fragile lives . . . ‘Christ shares his own risen life with us. In this way, our lives demonstrate his power at work . . . ’” (Paragraph 18)
-Immediately after this, we again hear of God’s will, and how that will of God desires and helps our growth in Godliness: “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for ‘this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thess 4:3).” (Paragraph 19)
God wills our growing closer to God, and our sharing in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)
-Similarly, we identify with Christ and his will: “Your identification with Christ and his will . . . ” (Paragraph 25)
This tells us that the will of God is deeply involved in our own identity.
-Learning how to follow the divine will has wonderful outcomes for us: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.” (Paragraph 32)
-Soon afterwards we hear more echoes of this: “Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit.” (Paragraph 34)
-Again, “If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit . . . ”
All of the above quotations from Gaudete et Exsultate are inviting us to a real growth in Spirituality, including mysticism. This next quotation sharpens that focus further. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we can actually develop the ability “to see the real and possible steps that the Lord demands of us at every moment, once we are attracted and empowered by his gift. Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively. If we reject this historical and progressive reality, we can actually refuse and block grace . . . ” (Paragraph 50, emphases added)
-Pope Francis knows what the Letter to the Hebrews, and 1 & 2 Peter, are saying about the merging of our conscience with the will of God. The next paragraph says that we can actually “walk in union with him.” The Pope urges us not to be afraid of God’s “presence.” In this deeper union with God, “we will know the pleasing and perfect will of the Lord (cf. Rom 12:1-2) and allow him to mold us like a potter (cf. Isaiah 29:16). So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love.” (Paragraph 51)
-Once we connect with the Holy Spirit in this more overt and mystical way, the journey continues and gets more exciting. Yet we still remain humble before God’s gift: “Only on the basis of God’s gift, freely accepted and humbly received, can we cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation….. (In this way) his free gift may grow and develop within us.” (Paragraph 56)
-The emphasis on the Spiritual connection continues, as we should let ourselves be “led by the Spirit in the way of love.” (Paragraph 57)
-And the next paragraph urges us not to ignore the “promptings of the Spirit.”
All this might sound as if the Church is taking off in a wild new direction. But this is not the case. The Body of Christ, and the living connections of the Church, has grown tremendously in the last 2000 years. The Church is growing, like a young tender tree that has finally reached the right year in which to bring forth its first fruit. In fact, Pope Francis gives us many reassurances that we must never lose the core Gospel message, and that some things should never change, even as the Church grows and develops: “At the center is charity. Saint Paul says that what truly counts is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6) . . . ‘love is the fulfillment of the law’ (Rom 13:8-10). ‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.’(Gal 5:14)” (Paragraph 60)
-Again, Pope Francis speaks of the obvious mysticism of the Church that is seen in so many places and persons of our glorious history. We should celebrate the “luminous mysticism so evident in the lives” of the Church’s saints. (Paragraph 100)
Now, Friedrich Nietzsche was an occasionally clever writer who had his own personal pet project to destroy Western civilization. He was a fairly sick fellow, and went insane and incommunicative in the final years of his life. One of his humorous comments was, “Methinks these redeemed ones ought to act a bit more saved.” He was saying that Christians don’t always live in full relationship to what our glorious faith is actually saying about the miracles that we are participating in on a daily basis. In response to him, we can happily hold up the tremendous fruit of the 2000 year history of the Church, including astonishing new developments such as what we are entering now:
-Why shouldn’t the Spirit be leading us to new epochs of our history, of Salvation History? Pope Francis writes a bit later in the document: “The prophets proclaimed the times of Jesus, in which we now live, as a revelation of joy. ‘Shout and sing for joy!’ (Isaiah 12:6).” Pope Francis immediately continues with four more Old Testament quotes encouraging us to praise, exclamation, and joy. (Paragraph 123)
And in exactly this way, just as we are now living in the times of Jesus, so too are we now living in the times of Vatican II, which is a great step forward for the Church into deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit.
-And as we grow into deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit, the glad living bonds of our koinonia, of our community, will deepen also and become resplendent with joy and brotherly/sisterly love. Pope Francis says, “Here I am speaking of a joy lived in communion, which shares and is shared, since ‘there is more happiness in giving than in receiving’ (Acts 20:35) and ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9:7). Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy, since it makes us capable of rejoicing in the good of others: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice’ (Rom 12:15).” This last expression is quite mystical, as it speaks of losing ourselves into a larger body, which is a powerful part of the reality of mystical participation in the Living Body of Christ. (Paragraph 128)
-Again, even as we are called to enter into a more full, a more mystical relationship with God and the Church, for the foreseeable future we are still utterly dependent on the initiatives of God: “We need the Holy Spirit’s prompting.” (Paragraph 133)
Indeed, the initiative of God, who loved us first, was present at the first Pentecost, when those in the Upper Room “’were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31).” (Paragraph 133)
-Pope Francis reminds us of how unfathomably strong and free God is: “God is eternal newness.” And God wants us to learn how to participate in this radical newness, which is vital for our future. (Paragraph 135)
-And yet, in living this Divine newness, we are always in dialogue and relationship with our beautiful Church’s past: “In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.” (Paragraph 139)
Indeed, this is precisely what Vatican II calls us to as well. The Council urges us to go back to the beginnings and sources of our Faith, even as we are counseled to read “the signs of the times.”
-Pope Francis presents to us the remarkable Paragraph 142: “Each community is called to create a ‘God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord.’ Sharing the word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary community. It also gives rise to authentic and shared mystical experiences. (Paragraph 142, emphasis added)
In the same paragraph, Pope Francis begins a hidden string of 4 pairs of saints; the pairs are always saintly woman-man friends or relatives. These saints are:
Saint Benedict, and Saint Scholastica
Saint Augustine, and Saint Monica
Mary, and Joseph
Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Teresa of Avila
Right in the middle of them is Jesus. The first two pairs are on Paragraph 142. Mary and Joseph, with Jesus, are in Paragraph 143. Saint John of the Cross is in Paragraph 148. His dear friend Saint Teresa of Avila is in the next paragraph, 149.
This is also a nod to Saint Peter’s letters, both of which allude to the four male-female pairs of people on the ark. (And let’s not forget that the four pairs of people mirror the four pairs of conscience/”will of God” terms.)
The third essay of this series with take up these four pairs of holy male-female friendships in greater detail.
-As we near the end of the document, the emphasis on Unity grows. The Body of Christ is One, even though we remain many free individuals, each person unique. Our journey “can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you’ (Jn 17:21).” Jesus’ words here, of mutual indwelling, are obviously mystical and mysterious and hard to fathom. Yet he clearly wants us to participate in this Unity. (Paragraph 146)
-The next paragraph informs us that we can actually develop a “habitual openness to the transcendent.” Obviously, this also speaks quite clearly of a deeper Spiritual awareness of “what” our God is choosing to do with us. (Paragraph 147)
-In the next paragraph he quotes Saint John of the Cross, who advises us: “Always go to God and attach your heart to him.” Earlier in the same paragraph he again quotes Saint John of the Cross: “Endeavor to remain always in the presence of God, either real, imaginative, or unitive, insofar as is permitted by your works.” (Paragraph 148)
-Then Pope Francis quotes the good friend of Saint John of the Cross, that is, Saint Teresa of Avila, another great mystic of the Church. She too speaks of the presence of God: “We all have need of this silence [in prayer], filled with the presence of him who is adored.” Pope Francis builds upon Teresa’s thought: “Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face.” Again, the deeper encounter of prayer that is given to the mystics is suggested to and offered to all members of the Body of Christ. (Paragraph 149)
Continuing the Thread of Commentary:
What Pope Francis Is Doing in Chapter 5,
As He Concludes Gaudete et Exsultate
The fifth, final chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate brings to the discussion a more detailed treatment of human activity that we can practice in our spiritual growth. One of the concluding events of the document is a recommendation for us to practice the daily Examen of Conscience, which is a beautiful way for us to better know the internal geography of our soul and psyche; we shall discuss this below.
Combined with this, there is a good emphasis placed on the skill of discernment. Discernment is both a human skill and it is one of the 9 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly the “discernment of spirits” (see 1 Cor 12:10).
There are many reasons why discernment is an important skill and Spiritual aptitude for us to develop in today’s world. We are potentially overwhelmed by communication, media, technology, information, opinions, and projected politically-motivated tugs at our emotions.
And if humanity continues on this rapid pace of technological development, then the technological innovations occurring in life and in society will hit us even faster.
It is at precisely this point that this “deeper immediate relationship with the Holy Spirit” that is the overt topic of this paper, and which is a slightly more subtle topic of Pope Francis’ Gaudete et Exsultate, can especially help humanity.
Let’s say a person is navigating the internet to gather local and global news. The slightest nudge from the Holt Spirit could lead that person to alight upon an important story at a site, a story that is good for that person to see. The person might be in a position from which to help resolve the issue at hand: by sharing it on social media, or by starting a petition to raise awareness and bring about an effective response, etc. This is one of the many benefits of a more global humanity, which we are/becoming in today’s world.
Another example: a scientist is wondering what direction in which she/he should take their research. A few suggestions from the Spirit, all subtle and known privately by the scientist, could help her to choose the best path forward to a wondrous breakthrough discovery, and avoid developments that would harm humanity, as science and technology become more powerful in this era. (Some people think that science proceeds automatically in the direction in which it is “meant” to grow, to forge new discoveries of the operation of the natural world. But this is emphatically not the case. To study the ways in which a few people decide how the powerful eye of science will be focused in one direction, and not in others, is a fascinating topic to learn. Therefore, it would be good to introduce the subtle guidance of the Holy Spirit to the ways in which the directions of scientific research are chosen.)
Legislators could make better laws and systems and models for the workings and laws of government.
Diplomats could be given hints about the best way to resolve situations, and to create peace in all lands.
Therapists and counselors can know far more potently how to help their patients. Teachers can know more precisely how to help their students. Parents can be guided in various kinds of decisions on how to raise their children. In workplaces, all the employees can work together to build a more healthy and happy community in their workplace. Imagine a world where all of our workplaces are sources of joy and community and human growth, without unnecessary contention, difficulty, envy, and selfishness.
And as these realities spread and deepen and coalesce with each other, our knowledge and understanding of the Body of Christ will bloom.
The Holy Spirit can guide humanity in every situation in which we find ourselves.
Now imagine the globe, or large tracts of humanity, all being led by the Spirit in a billion different social situations. If such a condition obtains, then we will be a far more advanced form of a “united humanity.” Then we will truly be brothers and sisters all. Then we will be on the same page, playing to the same score. Such a humanity will be far more empowered as we proceed in the best possible directions forward, for our present health and for our future evolution. Consensus will be reached quickly on pressing questions, such as how we might best respond to the global warming and environmental degradation that is happening now. The best paths forward, the best resolutions to these concerns, will be forged in a humanity that is united by the subtle suggestions of the Holy Spirit, who always prefers to operate behind the scenes.
How do we, as individuals, get to a place where we can help humanity reach such a stunning plateau, such a marvelous vista?
Pope Francis’ answer is disarmingly simple: the Examen of Conscience. This is a way for us to activate our new, living relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Let us now turn to Chapter Five:
The fifth, final chapter of the work is the shortest chapter, with only 18 numbered paragraphs, not counting the final two paragraphs that are the conclusion of the Exhortation. Let us now continue our commentary on various key points of the Exhortation:
-Chapter Five begins with a discussion of the reality of evil, and the devil, in the world. The chapter is entitled Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment. This appearance of the word “Discernment” is the first of 17 appearances of this word in the chapter. The first sentence is: “The Christian life is a constant battle.” (Paragraph 158) Yet a moment later there is also sweetness in this struggle: “The battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.” (158)
Jesus triumphs, and the triumph is in us.
-Then the Pope speaks of the first missionary mission of the disciples, in Luke’s Gospel. Completing this mission, the disciples joyously reported back to the Lord and told him of their successes. “Jesus himself celebrates our victories. He rejoiced when his disciples made progress in preaching the Gospel and overcoming the opposition of the evil one: ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ (Lk 10:18).” (Paragraph 159)
-Then he gives us a strong, healthy suggestion for our life’s journey: “Along this journey, the cultivation of all that is good, progress in the spiritual life and growth in love are the best counterbalance to evil.” (Paragraph 163)
-The Spiritual life has its simple phases, where things are set before us in great clarity. However, there can also be subtle complexities in the Spiritual growth we undergo. Sometimes logic itself seems to wobble in front of the logic of the Kingdom of God: “Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner, borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil.” (Paragraph 163, which is quoting from Evangelii Gaudium)
-Jesus says, in his Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (Chapters 13-17), “My peace I give you. Not as the world gives peace do I give peace.” (John 14:27) So despite the opening sentence of this chapter from Pope Francis, that describes Christian life as a “constant battle,” there are also, paradoxically, many joys to be found along the way: “The path of holiness is a source of peace and joy, given to us by the Spirit. At the same time, it demands that we keep ‘our lamps lit’ (Lk 12:35) and be attentive.” (Paragraph 164, emphasis added) The intriguing phrase “At the same time” shows us how the Spiritual life will also teach us how to handle multiple states of affairs at one and the same time. This too is mystical. Adroit multi-tasking is a Spiritual gift.
-The section of the chapter entitled “Discernment” begins with Paragraph 166. He says that discernment is “an urgent need,” and speaks of the necessity of discernment for this current time: “The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good.” (Paragraph 167) He continues, “We can navigate simultaneously on two or more screens and interact at the same time with two or three virtual scenarios. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.” (Paragraph 167) This speaks of the crucial ability, discussed above, to be able to choose the best course out of ever-widening spectrums of choices before us.
Along with this, is shows how the human person may, with mystical guidance from the Holy Spirit, develop new capacities to deal with multiple issues at once. Again, formal laws of logic may be suspended a bit in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul says things like this frequently. In fact, saying something that is actually subtly different from a similar expression in Genesis, Paul says in Ephesians 5, “The two become one.” He is not talking merely of a wedding ceremony, but of something mystically deep and profound, where the regular way of things may be newly expanded in mystical ways. God moves both within, and far beyond, conventional logic.
-Speaking of the potential of discernment in these times, let us quote Paragraph 168 in its entirety:
“This is all the more important when some novelty presents itself in our lives. Then we have to decide whether it is new wine brought by God or an illusion created by the spirit of this world or the spirit of the devil. At other times, the opposite can happen, when the forces of evil induce us not to change, to leave things as they are, to opt for a rigid resistance to change. Yet that would be to block the working of the Spirit. We are free, with the freedom of Christ. Still, he asks us to examine what is within us—our desires, anxieties, fears and questions—and what takes place all around us—‘the signs of the times’—and thus to recognize the paths that lead to complete freedom. ‘Test everything; hold fast to what is good’.(1 Thess 5:21)”
-Discernment works hand-in-hand with the mystical gifts that God wants to give us. In fact, discernment will help us to gauge and measure and understand mystical communications more deeply and precisely: “Discernment is necessary not only at extraordinary times, when we need to resolve grave problems and make crucial decisions. It is a means of spiritual combat for helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully. We need it at all times, to help us recognize God’s timetable, lest we fail to heed the promptings of his grace and disregard his invitation to grow.” Yet again, Pope Francis is speaking to us directly about mystical awareness and aptitude.
How, then, do we achieve the ability to enter into a more mystical relationship with the Holy Spirit, if this stage of life has not begun for a person yet? In this same paragraph, Pope Francis urges all people to practice the Examen of Conscience: “For this reason, I ask all Christians not to omit, in dialogue with the Lord, a sincere daily ‘examination of conscience’. Discernment also enables us to recognize the concrete means that the Lord provides in his mysterious and loving plan, to make us move beyond mere good intentions.” This last sentence of the paragraph begins with the third mention therein of ‘discernment’, and speaks again of our becoming more aware of the mystical communications that the Holy Spirit may saturate us with. (Paragraph 169)
A very brief outline of how to practice the Examen of Conscience is available here:
-In discussing Pope Francis’ next paragraph, I want to proceed with great care: “Certainly, spiritual discernment does not exclude existential, psychological, sociological or moral insights drawn from the human sciences. At the same time, it transcends them. Nor are the Church’s sound norms sufficient. We should always remember that discernment is a grace. Even though it includes reason and prudence, it goes beyond them, for it seeks a glimpse of that unique and mysterious plan that God has for each of us, which takes shape amid so many varied situations and limitations.” Never should we ignore the teachings of the Church, or think that a person is capable of moving beyond them. Much rather, with humility, we realize that when the Holy Spirit starts speaking to us directly, there is simply no human authority that is greater than the Spirit. This is a source of confidence for the trying times of following the Spirit’s lead, those “Gideon moments.” In these times, our growing abilities of discernment and our faithful experience of life in the Church both help us in this new and exciting work with the Holy Spirit. This paragraph, like the previous one, has three appearances of the word “discernment.”
And despite the fact that we are capable of dancing and flying with the Holy Spirit in a radically new relationship, the concrete bedrock reality of our Faith is eternally the same: “It has to do with the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, with the real purpose of my life, that nobody knows better than he. Ultimately, discernment leads to the wellspring of undying life: to know the Father, the only true God, and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:3). It requires no special abilities, nor is it only for the more intelligent or better educated. The Father readily reveals himself to the lowly (cf. Mt 11:25).” (Paragraph 170)
-The discourse on real mystical experience continues: “The Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment.” Pope Francis then emphasizes the importance of prayer in our life, “which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, to calm our anxieties and to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light. In this way, we allow the birth of a new synthesis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.” (Paragraph 171)
-Pope Francis does not want us to misinterpret, or pridefully overinterpret, the messages of the Holy Spirit. Nor does he want us to miss the signs of the Spirit, or remain inactive after we have correctly read them: “Nonetheless, it is possible that, even in prayer itself, we could refuse to let ourselves be confronted by the freedom of the Spirit, who acts as he wills. We must remember that prayerful discernment must be born of a readiness to listen: to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways.” Prayerful listening and discernment also lifts us above the shortcomings of our habitual mindsets: “God may be offering us something more, but in our comfortable inadvertence, we do not recognize it.” (Paragraph 172)
-The role of the Church does not change in this era of Vatican II, this era of the Second Pentecost: “Naturally, this attitude of listening entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it, as we seek to find in the treasury of the Church whatever is most fruitful for the ‘today’ of salvation. It is not a matter of applying rules or repeating what was done in the past, since the same solutions are not valid in all circumstances and what was useful in one context may not prove so in another. The discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial ‘today’ of the risen Lord. The Spirit alone can penetrate what is obscure and hidden in every situation, and grasp its every nuance, so that the newness of the Gospel can emerge in another light.” (Paragraph 173)
-In this journey with a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit, we must never think that we know it all, or become smug: “An essential condition for progress in discernment [of the Holy Spirit’s direct participation in our life] is a growing understanding of God’s patience and his timetable, which are never our own.” Then Pope Francis encourages us to never forget generosity and kindness. He concludes the paragraph with a consideration of the often difficult “mysterious logic” of the Divine: “For happiness is a paradox. We experience it most when we accept the mysterious logic that is not of this world: ‘This is our logic’, says Saint Bonaventure, pointing to the cross. Once we enter into this dynamic, we will not let our consciences be numbed and we will open ourselves generously to discernment.” This is the Exhortation’s second and final mention of the conscience. (Paragraph 174)
-The opening of our life to the light of God’s gaze is not a cause for fear, but is something that should give us comfort: “When, in God’s presence, we examine our life’s journey, no areas can be off limits. In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult. We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of lives.” (Paragraph 175)
We see that this is a fulfillment of the call of Vatican II. But this is not a strange thing, a new contraption imposed on the Church. No, much rather, as we have seen by the Exhortation’s magnificent and deft allusions to Scripture, the 2 millennia of Salvation History that has been riding upon the arc of the Church are reaching the next development promised to the Church precisely in the developments of Vatican II.
The Spiritual leaders of the Anglican Church know this too. For example, there is a superb new film-and-discussion series that a group of enlightened Anglicans has made, called Alpha. One of the remarkable things in the series is that it actually begins to broach mystical operations that happen in the life of the Church and the lives of individual people. For example, coincidence (which we might also call by its technical Spiritual name, synchronicity) appears in very many of the films of the series. Additionally, there is hands-on teaching in the series about how to discern the direct, yet subtle, signs and communiqués of the Holy Spirit. This is the strong beginning of global Christianity talking, more openly and in new ways, about mystical realities becoming more familiar with the individual lives of all people, as well as the larger Church. And the series has good ecumenical sharing, as Catholic cardinals, nuns, monks, and the preacher to the Papal household appear, some of these people giving multiple talks in the films. People of other denominations share their own wisdom, knowledge, and experience too.
Another wonderful Anglican, Professor N.T. Wright, has a new book, The Case for the Psalms. The book is a truly excellent discussion of the Psalms. However, in the Afterword, he does something radically new: He discusses 12 specific cases of how the Psalms have had powerful mystical and Spiritual effects in his own life. We shall discuss his book more in the third essay.
And people of other denominations are aware of the deep moves of the Holy Spirit in the world today.
The first essay presented the endpoints of a journey that Saint Peter presents in his two letters in the New Testament. That essay notes how the beginning of the First Letter of Peter calls us to be holy, a verse which is echoed early in Gaudete et Exsultate. From this call to humility and holiness in his first letter, Peter then promises humanity’s arrival to a grand new reality for us: That we are to become “partakers in God’s nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)
This wide-ranging essay attempts to add details to the journey between these endpoints of the map laid out in the first essay. It has traced in greater detail how, hiddenly, Peter has charted this journey for us in 1 Peter. The journey involves become more aware of our conscience, listening better to the voice of the conscience, and learning the many capacities of the conscience, which, in the past, many of us have not developed. Our conscience is shown to be connected with the Will of God. Peter shows this connection by hiddenly pairing the terms “conscience” and “will of God” in 1 Peter, as the essay has presented above.
The unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews does the same thing. “Conscience” and “will of God” are paired in the letter. This too is discussed in the essay above.
And Luke, in Acts of the Apostles, may be saying something similar, in a more subtle way.
This essay then turns to Gaudete et Exsultate, and traces how the document is full of allusions to mystical awareness and the organic development of our Spiritual life.
This essay concludes by considering Pope Francis’ emphasis upon discernment in these amazing times, and by encouraging us to take up a personal practice of the Examen of Conscience, to better know our own conscience and, because of this greater familiarity with our conscience, to be better co-operators with the Holy Spirit. (Perhaps the Holy Spirit will make an overture to more individuals in these days.) And with the counseling of all persons to take up the daily Examen of Conscience, Pope Francis, in a very quiet way, makes a strong connection to the radical new discoveries, in 1 Peter, the Letter to the Hebrews, and Acts of the Apostles, to the possibility of our knowing the will of God. With empowered consciences, and therefore knowing far more precisely the will of God, we will begin to be the Spiritual humanity that Vatican II is calling us to be now.
The Examen of Conscience is a wonderful practice for developing our Spiritual life and for seeing far more deeply into the universe of our interior self. It takes just 2 or 3 minutes daily, and grants us much valuable self-knowledge.
We can consider the Examen as having developed in three stages. In the desert of Egypt, the first Christian monks, those great Ammas and Abbas, developed an initial form of the Examen that is fairly close to the way we have it today.
A couple centuries later, Pope Saint Gregory the Great, a second-generation Benedictine monk, Pope, author, inventor of Gregorian Chant, and Spiritual master, made some adjustments to the Examen, and listed the 7 deadly sins, or capital vices, which are used in the Examen.
Almost a millennium after St. Gregory the Great, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, made another slight overhaul of the Examen, and this is the form that most people use today.
The Examen is a way of taking inventory of our inner self. It is done gently, always gently. For us modern people, who have more to integrate and incorporate in our mental lives, it is very good for us to learn how to “Be Gentle With Yourself.”
It is good to remember this, because we do not conduct the Examen by regarding our successes or our positive virtuous actions of the day, although these good things may appear to pass in review as, during the Examen, we consider the day that we have just lived. If we were to intentionally focus on the good things we did, our pride would instantly swell and balloon. All spiritual teachers know that it is far more effective to focus on the 7 capital sins, which are the 7 basic categories under which our sins can be regarded.
We might call them the 7 Unhelpful Tendencies, the 7 main vices, or, as Pope Saint Gregory the Great called them, the 7 deadly sins.
We can make a list, using an acronym, making it easy to memorize and cycle through each evening as we do the Examen:
A Avarice (Greed)
The acronym is PALEGAS.
At the end of the day, we can take 5 minutes, or less, to conduct the Examen. Here is how:
How To Do the Examen
-Sit comfortably. Exhale, if you wish.
-Thank God for the day.
-Ask God to be with you as you do the Examen, and ask for God’s help in making honest observations and discernments.
-Go through the 7 sinful tendencies. Simply observe where you may have done them during the day. If you feel like it, as you are observing and recalling them, you can ask for God’s help in specific areas.
-Conclude with a short prayer of gratitude to God for the day, and ask for God’s help in becoming a person of greater faith.
Once we do this just a few times, we will notice amazing things. Our awareness of our internal life suddenly expands magnificently. One of the fruits of the Examen is that we very quickly get a far deeper and more comprehensive view of our interior landscape.
We become more self-aware during the day. Our self-knowledge grows. We become better at understanding other people. We become far more in-tune, knowledgeable people regarding the working of the mind and soul.
Best of all: Our conscience becomes stronger. And then, in our individual lives, the Conscience may develop into the organ through which we have direct communication with the Holy Spirit. The Conscience then blossoms into the faculty by which we become co-operators, agents, of the Holy Spirit.
Our souls are beautiful gardens. As loving gentle gardeners, we want to aid in the growth of the God-given plants, fruit trees, and realities therein.
If we notice weeds, we need not get frenetic in uprooting them. Rather, we let the light of awareness shine on them. God does the rest. They will go away. The vices wither, and the good things keep growing.
This practice has another positive effect: After we have done this for a short time, we notice that we are much more deeply in touch with our self. We are better observers of our own life, and interior networks of thoughts, impulses, moods, and actions.
The Examen almost conducts itself when we have become accustomed to it. And our learning increases. We can do it while we are driving or washing the dishes once we have incorporated it into our routine.
The Examen empowers us as it develops our communication with the Holy Spirit.
(The image is of Pope Saint Gregory the Great)
What if Pope Francis knows something? What if he knows how the Holy Spirit is working in the Church and in the world today? What if Pope Francis is a mystic who knows the modes of communication of the Holy Spirit?
And why does this new Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, emphasize holiness so much? Holiness is always a good thing for Christians to strive for. Is there a need for a new document to urge us to Holiness? Why now?
One answer to these questions is disarmingly simple:
-This time, today, now, is the time of Vatican II. Pope Saint John XXIII said that the time of Vatican II is a New Pentecost, a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit (we will discuss this below).
–Holiness strengthens and illuminates and cleanses our conscience.
-Our conscience is the primary organ with which we communicate directly with the Holy Spirit.
-Communicating directly with the Holy Spirit, we shall transform the world in the best and most beautiful ways. Karl Rahner, an influential theologian at Vatican II, said that the future Christian will be a mystic. This is happening today, thank God.
In the late 1950’s, Pope St. John XXIII was made the Vicar of Christ. However, when the elderly Cardinal was elected to the Papacy, it was expected that he would be a short-term leader of the Church, and simply keep the Church moving ahead until it was his time to kindly pass away and go to heaven, allowing for a new conclave of the Cardinals to elect a “more permanent” leader of the Church. He was expected to be a “caretaker Pope” and not rock the boat.
Well, Pope St. John XXIII surprised the world.
One day he called a press conference at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. This Basilica is in Rome, but some miles away from the center of the city.
Besides the cameras and press, and many faithful, there was also a group of Bishops and Cardinals there at the press conference. Pope John announced a Church Council.
And the assembled Bishops and Cardinals almost fell over in shock, en masse.
A major Church Council is a rare event in the life of the Church. And the resultant Vatican II proved to be an important event in the ongoing journey of the Church.
Later, when talking about the Council that he had called, Pope St. John, the Good Pope, said something outrageous. He said that the time of Vatican II—that is, TODAY—would be a New Pentecost. A Second Pentecost.
This is an outrageous thing for a Pope to say.
A “New Pentecost” means:
1) We have a new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit, and,
2) A new birth of the Church.
Let’s focus on the first of these: We have new immediacy of relationship with the Holy Spirit.
After the Pentecost, the Apostles certainly had a new, direct relationship with the Holy Spirit. Just read the Acts of the Apostles. A bunch of scared and confused men, huddling together behind locked doors in the Upper Room, suddenly exploded out and became super-charged pinballs, bouncing all over the eastern Mediterranean, founding churches, healing people, teaching many, and performing miracles. Some Apostles may have travelled even further, visiting India, Spain, and elsewhere.
Something happened to these earliest saints. Their lives were transformed by a new relationship, a direct relationship, with the Holy Spirit. To say it more clearly: They were in direct communication with the Holy Spirit.
Many times in Acts, the Apostles and other disciples received direct communication from the Holy Spirit. These communiqués were perfectly tailored to help the disciples in their various missions, and often averted wrong turns for the new leaders of the young Church.
How does it work? How might one commune directly with God? With the Spirit of the Risen Lord?
Mystics know how. People who have entered into a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit know that there are various ways and multiple modes in which the Holy Spirit can communicate directly with us.
Gaudete et Exsultate beckons us to be holy. This is the first step in becoming mystics. And Pope Francis speaks about mystics and mystical experiences in this Apostolic Exhortation. Pope Francis is urging us to be holy, so that we might be given the chance for a direct relationship and direct communication with the Holy Spirit.
Now, is this interpretation of Gaudete et Exsultate over the top? Is it wrong to think that the Holy Spirit, after 2000 years of beautiful growth and holy developments in the Church and the world, wants to bless us with the next stage of our Spiritual evolution?
To check this theory, let’s turn to the back of the Bible, to a less-known, relatively small book of the Bible, called the First Letter of Peter.
Two Beacons in the Letters of Peter
Lighthouses have saved the lives of countless sailors. Navigating at night, sailors near lighthouses steer by the light that these lighthouses freely give. A lighthouse is like a navigational star that has been planted on earth. The light that lighthouses share helps us to avoid rocks, dangerous shallows, and gnarly reefs and surf.
They help us to continue, and then to finish, our journeys to new home ports.
The two letters of Peter contain two great beacons that help us to chart the continuing voyage of our Church and world. Pope Francis’ new Gaudete et Exsultate has eight cited quotations from 1 Peter, and one cited quotation from 2 Peter. That is a great deal of emphasis for two relatively small and seemingly less-important epistles of the New Testament.
The first lighthouse of Peter is early in his first letter: He writes, “Because it has been written, ‘Be holy as I am holy’.” (1 Peter 1:16) Peter is directly referring to Leviticus 11:44, where God is telling the Israelites not to eat the “creeping crawlers” that move about the surface of the earth, including insects and such. God is trying to get the ancient Hebrews to look up, and to think of the bigger picture. God tells the Israelites, “For! I (am) YHWH the-God-of-you, and you-sanctify-yourselves and you become holy-ones, For! I (am) holy.” (Lev 11:44)
By being taught not to eat insects and creeping crawlers, the Israelites begin to become more human. They emulate the image of God better.
Saint Peter is going to take this verse and radically transform it into an evolutionary blueprint for us.
The original Greek of the First Letter of Peter says, “Through/because it has been written, ‘Be-you-becoming holy, for I AM holy’.” (1 Peter 1:16) Peter has taken the verse from Leviticus and reshaped the verb. He has made our evolutionary journey to holiness an ongoing activity, a developmental process! “Be-you-becoming…”
Pope St. John XXIII, in calling together Vatican II, knows that we are now at a special phase of this amazing journey with God. And Pope Francis quotes 1 Peter 1:16 in paragraph 10 of Gaudete et Exsultate.
Peter does several other recastings of the verse from Leviticus. While he gives humans the wonderful verb of developmental becoming, genesthe (cognate with genesis), Peter attributes the potent verb of being to God, “…for I AM holy.” This reminds us of the name of God that was told to Moses at the Burning Bush. God is the fullness of being. God is pure being, pure verb, pure fire, pure action.
God invites us to join God there. We, for our part, are slowly entering these waters.
Jesus takes the divine name, I AM, and applies it to himself all throughout John’s Gospel. What is even more remarkable is that he wants us to learn how to live this name ourselves. The wonderful fellow born blind, in John 9, learns this from Jesus, and applies the divine name, I AM, to himself. The blind person stands for all of us, of course. (See John 9:9)
This verb of being is not present in the Leviticus quotation from the Old Testament. Peter is intentionally telling us to be hungry for greater participation in the dynamic being of God.
How do we participate in this verb of being that represents God Godself?
Well, Peter’s modification of the verse from Leviticus helps us here too. In John (and in Mark), when Jesus says “I AM,” the Greek is ego eimi. The ego means “I”, and the eimi means “I am.” Jesus is participating in the Being of God, and wants to share that participation with us.
Yet Peter splits the name of God, and places the word “holy” between them. He writes, ego agios eimi, “I holy AM.” Peter thus teaches us:
How do we participate directly in God?
How do we live the call of Vatican II?
How do we become empowered co-operators with the Holy Spirit?
By being holy.
In being holy, we become more close to God, and God will reciprocate by helping us along the journey towards God.
In being holy, we participate in the very life and activity of God.
The Second Beacon of Peter’s Letters
The second lighthouse in Peter’s letters occurs very early in the Second Letter of Peter. Peter writes that we are becoming “participants of God’s nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) That drives the point home. Wow. God wants to give us God’s own nature, an even deeper participation in God’s own Being.
And again, the Greek is very telling here. The phrase “God’s nature,” or “Divine nature,” is Theias fuseos, in the original Greek text. Theias is related to Theos, God. And Peter again splits this phrase and places a new word in its center: Theias koinonoi fuseos, “partakers of God’s nature.” These “partakers” or “participants” are us! And the word koinonoi is cognate with koinonia, which means community, and is a synonym for Church.
We participate in God’s own Divine nature not as individuals, but as community.
Holiness among all the individual members of the community, and of the Church, helps the Body of Christ to be more holy, more strong, and therefore helps the One Community, the One Church to participate more powerfully in God.
As a community we become embraced by God, within God, even as we become more empowered as individual workers in that community.
The next essay will discuss Gaudete et Exsultate in more detail. This quick reflection has merely charted some key points of the journey.
In closing, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation has many calls to humility. In the light of such high hopes and promises that God reveals to us in the Scriptures, humility is an appropriate response.
The lowest angel is far more brilliant than the 100 smartest people in history, combined. And the highest angel is nowhere near the holiness of God. This awareness should help us to be humble. Our journey will take a while. But we’ll be prepared for each step we take.
God invites us on this journey. Towards greater friendship, and family, with God Godself. Humility helps us to be more holy, and to move closer to God.
As we make this voyage into greater relationship with God, into living our call from the beginning, the call to be the image and likeness of God, it is good to know that we have brilliant lights, like Saint Peter and Pope Francis, to guide us as we journey.
(The next essay will explore more complex and intricate systems of reference that Pope Francis has woven into Gaudete et Exsultate.)
A Brief Thought on the Q Gospel
This brief note has one main purpose: To observe that there are very few numbers in the reconstructed text of the Q Gospel.
The two-source hypothesis states that the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke have two main sources: Both rely upon the earlier Gospel of Mark, and also upon a lost text, an early collection of Jesus’ sayings; this lost collection is known as Q, a name which comes from the German word for “source,” Quelle. This surmised lost text has been reconstructed in various ways in recent decades, after scripture scholars first came up with the theory of Q in the early 19th century.
All four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) have many numbers in their texts. These numbers often have complex interconnections within each Gospel, and connections to other realities, often external. Additionally, the four canonical Gospels, and the Gospel of Thomas, all are overflowing with knowledge of the Mystical Psalm Structures; usually, this knowledge is represented with numbers in the text.
Upon reading various versions of the Q text, it is clear that there is a dearth of numbers in these sayings, which is a very different situation from what we find in the Canonical Gospels.
That is the only point of this brief reflection, to note that there are very few numbers mentioned in the Q text, in comparison to the four canonical Gospels.
A Possible Interpretation of this Fact
When he was actively leading the Church, Pope Benedict XVI gave classes on the Gospel of Thomas, and encourages believers to read this miracle gift from the desert of Egypt. Additionally, the Gospel of Thomas has parallels to the first 114 Psalms: Saying 1 speaks to Psalm 1, Saying 2 to Psalm 2, and so on, all the way to Saying 114 and Psalm 114.
However, as beautiful, good, truthful, and spiritual as the Gospel of Thomas is, it simply does not carry the sheer amazing weight of spiritual knowledge and depth that the four canonical Gospels have. There is no comparison. The four Gospels are simply in a class by themselves.
And the four Gospels are full of numbers in their texts. These numbers are often in conversation with the Mystical Psalm Structures.
An example: When the Holy Family is inside the temple in Luke 2, after their encounter with Simeon, who sings the Nunc Dimittis, the Family is approached by the Prophetess Anna. In describing Anna, Luke seems to waste words, something that the ancients never did. He’s redundant. He says that Anna is very old. Then he says her age: 84. And he notes that she was previously married for 7 years. And that she was a member of the tribe of Asher—and an ancient Israelite could not have thought of the word “tribe” without seeing the number 12. If we moderns miss this number 12, Luke gives it to us again a mere three verses later, when he relays that Jesus again went to the temple when he was 12 years old (Luke 2:42).
With these numbers, 12, 7, and 84, Luke gives us the formula that is hidden in the Psalms, a formula which generates the flying of the angels, in precise choreography, upon the Mystical Psalms Ladder.
There are many things like this happening in the New Testament. In his Gospel, John reconstructs the steps of the Ladder before our very eyes.
Almost all the New Testament authors are aware of these realities.
How did they learn these things?
Did the Apostles know?
Did Jesus teach them to the Apostles, or to others?
Did Jesus’ Spirit teach Paul, as Jesus promised in John 13-17? Did Paul teach the community and the majority of the New Testament authors? Or, was there a hidden thread of oral tradition from the time of Jesus to the time of the New Testament authors, that with them reached a (hidden) literary explosion in the New Testament? (The thunder happened then, but we don’t hear it for a while.)
Not all scholars agree that the Q source is real. Austin Farrer says that if there are two texts that have much agreement (i.e., Matthew and Luke), then rather than postulate a source text (Q), it is more scientifically elegant to consider that one text (Luke) is working from the earlier text (Matthew). I do not currently have an opinion about Q, as I would like to study theories about Q in more detail.
The few numbers that are in the reconstructed Q may be significant. For example, the 5 yoke of oxen could be speaking of the Psalms and the Torah. The 100/99 sheep, and the 10 coins, could be important too. However, Q has far fewer numbers, relatively, than the four Gospels do.
[An initial discussion of the Mystical Psalm Structures is here:
A forthcoming book discusses this further.]
Ruth: An Analytical Commentary
Appendix E to the Red Line of Hope
Because the Book of Ruth is so central and pivotal to the entire development of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), here is the entire text with commentary, commentary that is specifically in dialogue with the Red Line of Hope:
1 And it came to pass (va-yehi), in the days that the judges judged, that there was (va-yehi) a famine in the land; and a man from Beth Lehem Judah went to live in the fields of Moab, he and his wife, and his two sons.
-The temporal setting of the Book of Ruth is established in the first va-yehi “and-it-was” clause; the book begins in the days when the judges judged. We have seen above how much of a painful time this was for human evolution, the time of the judges. It was a necessary but difficult stage, and very awkward, like a child growing through errors.
However, the second “and-it-was” clause speaks of a family, and a journey to a better existence. This family will help usher in a new period of human history, leading to the advances in humanity represented by David and Solomon, the fruition of the Red Line of Hope.
-The word “Judah” helps us to recall Tamar from Genesis 38, whom we discussed above. She will reappear at the end of the story.
-The word “two,” u-shene, is cognate with shani, the word that is the Red Line of Hope.
-Bethlehem is the birthplace of David and Jesus, two fruits of the Red Line of Hope.
2 And the name of the man Eli-melech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites from Beth Lehem Judah; and they came into the fields of Moab and stayed there.
-The name Elimelech reminds us of Eli, whom we will meet in just four chapters, at the beginning of the First Book of Samuel. This, along with the first verse, helps us to see the Book of Ruth as representing a central pivot point between a past and a different future for ancient Israel, and for humanity.
-Looking forward, four (4) chapters after this, in 1 Samuel 1, the same formula will be used to present and name the two wives of Elkanah, “Hannah” and “Peninnah.”
-Moab is often considered a terrible enemy of Israel. Here, the poor family goes there and is given warm hospitality, and they are even welcomed to join the society, becoming part of the fabric of this new land.
3 And Naomi’s husband, Eli-melech, died; and she was left, and her two sons.
4 And they took wives to themselves, women of Moab; the name of the one, Orpah, and the name of the second, Ruth; and they lived there about ten years.
5 And they also died, both of them, Mahlon and Chilion; and the woman was bereaved of her two children and of her husband.
-Job is an early book of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of Ruth was inserted much later. Here, Naomi is like a female version of Job.
-This also reminds us of the Book of Tobit, where seven (7) marriage relationships are destroyed by deaths of men, caused by the evil demon Asmodeus.
6 And she rose up, she and her daughters-in-law, and turned back from the fields of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that YHWH had looked favorably upon His people, to give bread (lehem) to them.
-We are given verbal echoes to Sodom and Gomorrah here. Women and men have both suffered in these two stories. Naomi has become pure sorrow.
-“She heard.” The previous woman of the Red Line of Hope, Rahab, also heard some news from afar, when she told the two spies: “For we have heard how YHWH dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites….”
-We shall discuss “bread” below. Bread is leading the movement of the story, a bit like the manna in the desert led the Israelites for 40 years in the desert.
7 And she departed from the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law with her, and they went in the way to return to the land of Judah.
-Again, there are echoes of Sodom and Gomorrah. She travels from desolation with her two daughters-in-law, like Lot and his two daughters. Her daughters-in-law had for a time been paired with her two sons, a bit like the strange complementarity between the visiting angels and Lot’s own daughters. This puts an angelic focus on Ruth, which becomes more concentrated as she is the only daughter-in-law who travels with Naomi to her homeland.
8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, Go each return to the house of her mother; may YHWH deal kindly with you, as you have done with the dead, and with me.
-After Judah’s two sons died, Judah told Tamar to return to the house of her father (Gen 38:11). Naomi reverses the Feminine-Masculine roles again, telling them to return to the house of their mother. The woman of the Song of Songs also speaks of her mother’s house.
-Naomi attributes divine love, hesed, to these two foreign women. This is a tremendous compliment. Centuries later in Bethlehem, divine love would become incarnate in Jesus.
9 May YHWH grant to you that you find rest for yourselves, each in the house of her husband; and she kissed them, and they lifted up their voice and wept.
10 And they said to her, Surely we will go back with you to your people.
11 And Naomi said, Turn back, my daughters; why should you go with me? Are there yet sons to me in my belly that they should be husbands for you (lachem)?
-In the word lachem we hear another strong echo of the war/bread word, lehem.
-As Tamar was promised the youngest son of Judah, so too here Naomi speaks of (the impossibility of) future marriages for these women in Naomi’s house; two verses earlier, in verse 9, she speaks hopefully of their future marriages.
12 Turn back, my daughters, go; for I am too old to belong to a husband. Though I should say, There is hope for me, and I should be tonight with a husband, and also I should bear sons;
13 will you wait for them, that they might grow up?
-This is an allusion to Tamar’s being promised to marry Judah’s youngest son, Shelah, after Judah’s first two sons have died after having been married to Tamar. Recall that God struck both of them dead, just like Naomi’s two sons have died.
In fact, Judah told Tamar to wait for his third son, Shelah, to grow up (Gen 38:11). The entire work of the Red Line of Hope has been involved with the growing-up, the maturing, of humanity.
Would you endure not to be with a husband?
No, my daughters, for I am much more bitter than you, for the hand of YHWH has gone out against me.
-This “going out” of the “hand” reminds us of the birth of Tamar’s twins, and the origin of the Red Line of Hope.
14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, See, your sister-in-law has turned back to her people, and to her gods; you turn back after your sister-in-law.
-This is like Judah instructing his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar after his first son, Er, had died (Gen 38:8). Ruth, however, chooses a different route.
16 And Ruth said, Do not beg me to leave you, to turn back from following you; for where you go I go, and where you stay I stay; your people (shall be) my people, and your God my God.
17 Where you die I shall die, and there I shall be buried; may YHWH do to me, and more so, if (anything but) death part you and me.
18 And she saw that she had strengthened herself to go with her, and she ceased to speak to her.
-This is a huge hint about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s hidden, mystical languages.
19 And they went, two of them, until they came to Beth Lehem;
-This verse is speaking about the Red Line of Hope leading humanity to events in Bethlehem: one of them being the birth of David, the other being the birth of Jesus Christ.
And it came to pass, as they came into Beth Lehem, that all the city was moved at them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
-The city is unified in their strong feeling for Naomi.
20 And she said to them, Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty (Shaddai) has dealt very bitterly with me;
-Four (4) chapters after this, in 1 Samuel 1, Hannah will call herself “bitter,” marat, because she has not yet borne a child (1 Sam 1:10).
21 I went out full, and YHWH has brought me back empty; why do you call me Naomi (pleasant), since YHWH has eyed me, and the Almighty has done evil (ra) to me?
(There is one “and” here, at the beginning of the verse. This speaks of how community can rejuvenate us and keep us going. It is a foreshadowing of what will happen later in the story.)
-There are reverse echoes here of Psalm 126, which is an important Psalm for the Mystical Psalm Structures.
22 And Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned from the fields of Moab; and they came to Beth Lehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
-Beth Lehem and the barley harvest: Notice that bread has been a crucial theme from the beginning to the end of this chapter. As mentioned in the book above, the Hebrew word for “bread,” lehem, is also cognate with the Hebrew word for “war.” With David, Beth Lehem will be the house of war. With the promise of Jesus, Beth Lehem will again be the House of Bread.
1 And Naomi (had) a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of the family of Eli-melech; and his name (was) Boaz.
-In the first temple, one of the two pillars is named Boaz. Three chapters after this verse, in 1 Samuel 1, Eli is seated by a post near the temple door at Shiloh (1 Sam 1:8).
2 And Ruth of Moab said to Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor. And she said to her, Go, my daughter.
-Hannah will hope that God will “look upon” her affliction (1 Sam 1:11).
3 And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and her chance happened, the portion of the field (belonging to) Boaz, who (was) of the family of Eli-melech.
-In the original Hebrew, there is much happening in this verse. First, the Holy Spirit leads her to Boaz’ field. Then, it is as if she is making the field more fertile and pregnant.
4 And, behold, Boaz came from Beth Lehem, and said to the reapers, YHWH be with you. And they answered him, YHWH bless you.
5 And Boaz said to his young man who had been set over the reapers, Whose (is) this young woman?
-This verse shows us how Boaz has developed a very tender and caring heart within the framework of the patriarchal system of that time.
6 And the young man who had been set over the reapers answered and said, She is a young woman of Moab, who came with Naomi from the fields of Moab.
7 And she said, Please let me glean, and I shall gather among the sheaves after the reapers; and she came and has remained since the morning, even until now; she sat in the house a little while.
-This is another reversal of Feminine-Masculine—a man is speaking the speech of a woman.
-The interesting final phrase of the verse, about being in the house for a bit, is an allusion to Hannah spending time in the house of God at Shiloh, a mere three chapters after this (1 Sam 1). It also foreshadows Ruth’s being in the house of Boaz.
8 And Boaz said to Ruth, Do you not hear, my daughter? Do not go to glean another field, and also do not leave this; and you shall stay close to my young women.
-When Eli first sees Hannah praying, he did not hear her voice, because she was praying silently: “her voice was not heard.” (1 Sam 1:13)
9 Your eyes (shall be) on the field which they shall reap, and you shall go after them; have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? When you are thirsty, then you shall go to the vessels and shall drink from that which the young men draw.
-This is in direct contrast to the bad behavior of Eli’s sons regarding their abuse of women, and their misuse of the sacred vessels and sacrifices in the house of the Lord. (see 1 Samuel 2)
10 And she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the earth, and said to him, Why have I found grace in your eyes, that you should notice me, a stranger?
11 And Boaz answered and said to her, It has been fully revealed to me all that you have done with your mother-in-law, after the death of your husband; and you left your father, and your mother, and the land of your birth, and came to a people which you had not known yesterday three (3). [meaning that Ruth didn’t know this land]
-This language of Ruth leaving her father and mother echoes the language of Genesis, the 6th Day, when a man leaves his parents to marry a woman. Note the continued reversals of masculine and feminine roles, as women strive to develop their “animus” and men strive to develop their “anima,” as with the unexpected kindness and thoughtfulness of Boaz, which elicits a surprised response from Ruth.
-The appearance of the number 3 here can signify newness. Additionally, Ruth is the third (3rd) woman of the Red Line of Hope.
12 YHWH shall repay your work, and your reward shall be complete from YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
-More echoes of Psalm 63, with “under whose wings.”
-“Complete” is the Hebrew “shlemah,” which sounds like “Shlomo,” or, Solomon. In fact, a midrash states that Ruth was present when Solomon ascended to the throne, so she quite literally saw her work “complete” in the crowning achievement that is Solomon, or that Solomon represents for our human evolution.
13 And she said, Let me find grace in your eyes, my lord, because you have comforted me, and because you have spoken to the heart of your handmaid; and I surely am not as one of your handmaids.
-comfort: David and Bathsheba: David does the strangest thing: He comforts a woman in her mourning. (Today, of course, we have evolved in some ways, and such behavior would be expected.)
14 And Boaz said to her, At meal time come here, and you shall eat of the bread and dip your morsel in the vinegar. And she sat at the side of the reapers, and he reached out roasted grain to her, and she ate and was satisfied, and had left over.
-Her eating to satisfaction, and the extra grain, echoes all 6 bread-multiplication miracles in the 4 Gospels.
-The dipping motion is reminiscent of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper, at the Institution of the Eucharist. Around this action of Jesus, Peter and the Beloved Disciple (who could certainly be the Evangelist John) share in a secret language of signs. This shows that men can also participate in the language that earlier was known to women only.
-The vinegar (John 19:29) is also reminiscent of the Cross scene in John’s Gospel, where the masculine Beloved Disciple “takes into himself” the feminine Mother of Jesus (John 19:27). At Ruth 4:16, Naomi will take into her chest the child Obed, from whose offspring will arrive Jesse, David, Solomon, and, much later, the foster-father of Jesus. We will discuss this more at verse 4:16 below. This also echoes the action of Adam giving birth to Eve through his chest, and Thomas returning into the chest of Jesus in John 20.
15 And she rose up to glean, and Boaz commanded his young men, saying, She shall glean even between the sheaves, and you shall not cause her to be ashamed;
-We hear language hear reminiscent of Joseph. Recall that the Joseph story was a capsule in which appeared the story of Tamar.
16 and also you shall surely pull out for her of the bundles, and shall leave; and she shall glean, and you shall not restrain her.
17 And she gleaned in the field until the evening, and beat out that which she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
18 And she took it up and went to the city, and her mother-in-law saw that which she had gleaned; and she brought out and gave to her that which she had reserved after she was satisfied.
19 And her mother-in-law said to her, Where have you gleaned today? And where have you worked? May he who noticed you be blessed. And she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, The name of the man with whom I have worked today (is) Boaz.
20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, Blessed (is) he of YHWH who has not forsaken his kindness with the living and with the dead; and Naomi said to her, The man (is) near (of kin) to us; he (is) of our redeemers.
21 And Ruth of Moab said, And he surely said to me, You shall stay close near the young people whom I have until they have completed the whole of the harvest which I have.
-Again, there is a reversal. A woman is speaking the speech of a man.
22 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, Good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that (men) may not attack you in another field.
-Looking backwards, a crime, like that done to the Levite’s concubine, has just been averted by the good man Boaz, who, according to Matthew, is the son of Rahab. Looking forward, the potential violence of men on women is again reminding us of the unsavory actions of the priestly sons of Eli.
23 And she stayed close to the young women of Boaz to glean, until the completion of the barley harvest, and of the wheat harvest; and she lived with her mother-in-law.
-Again, this reminds us of the Beloved Disciple taking into himself the mother of Jesus, at John 19:29.
1 And her mother-in-law Naomi said to her, My daughter, do I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?
2 And now, is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose young women you have been? Behold, he (is) winnowing the threshing floor of barley tonight.
3 And you shall bathe, and anoint yourself, and put your garments upon you, and go down to the threshing-floor; do not let yourself be known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.
-“bathe”: the next and final woman of the Red Line of Hope, Bathsheba, will also have an important bath in her story.
-The “anoint yourself” may indicate that in the relationship of woman and man, it is often the intuition of the woman that is the first developing knowledge of a new action in the life of the couple.
-At the end of her beautiful hymn in 1 Samuel 2, Hannah speaks of the “anointed one.” (1 Sam 2:35)
4 And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall note the place where he lies down, and shall go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. And he will tell you that which you are to do.
-This is like the instructions of Eli to young Samuel, which we will encounter in merely 4 chapters after this episode, in 1 Samuel 3.
5 And she said to her, All that you say, I will do.
6 And she went down to the threshing-floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law commanded her.
7 And Boaz ate and drank, and his heart (felt) good; and he went to lie down at the end of the heap. And she came in secretly and uncovered his feet and lay down.
-Later, in the David Story, two men will be killed when their “hearts are good.” These are Nabal, whose wife Abigail will become David’s wife, and Amnon, David’s son, who is killed by his half-brother Absalom.
-Psalm 104:15 also mentions wine gladdening the heart. Later in the same verse, oil and bread are mentioned. Boaz will be taken from sleeping on the earth, from the “mere” nature of Psalm 104, and, led by Ruth, will enter into the fullness of Salvation History.
8 And it came to pass, at the middle of the night, that the man trembled and turned himself, and behold, a woman lying at his feet!
-This is a powerful scene. On the one hand, it is humorous: Of course one would wake up when a beautiful woman joins one in sleep. On the other hand, there is something of the awe of creation, such as in the first chapters of Genesis, here.
9 And he said, Who are you?
And she said, I (am) your handmaid Ruth, and you shall spread your skirt over your handmaid, for you (are) a kinsman-redeemer.
10 And he said, Blessed (be) you of YHWH, my daughter; you have dealt more kindly at the latter end than at the beginning, not to go after the young men, either poor or rich.
-In Boaz’ words is an arc of time, such as is the Red Line of Hope.
11 And now, my daughter, do not fear; all that you say I will do to you, for all the gate of my people know that you (are) an able woman.
12 And now, surely (it is) true that I (am) a kinsman-redeemer, but also there is a redeemer nearer than I.
13 Stay tonight, and it shall be in the morning, if he will redeem you, well; he will redeem; and if he does not delight to redeem you, then I will redeem you, (as) YHWH lives. Lie down until the morning.
-This entire dialogue is powerfully reminiscent of the nocturnal dialogue between elderly Eli and the young boy Samuel, which will occur a few chapters after this in 1 Samuel 3.
14 And she lay at his feet until the morning, and rose up before one could discern another.
-Again, there is a sense of time and historical evolution in this verse.
-An ancient midrash speaking of universal love may be alluding to this. The midrash goes something like this:
And he said, Let it not be known that a woman has come to the floor.
15 And he said, Give me the covering which is on you, and hold on to it. And she kept hold on it, and he measured six (measures) of barley, and lay (it) on her; and she went in to the city.
16 And she came in to her mother-in-law, and she said, Who (are) you, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her.
17 And she said, He gave me these six (measures) of barley, for he said, You shall not go empty to your mother-in-law.
-The double-mention of “six” represents the Mystical Psalms Ladder, which we will not discuss at this time. This Ladder also represents the Female, the mature human person, and the pregnant (seeded) womb.
18 And she said, Sit, my daughter, until you shall know how the matter falls, for the man shall not rest until he has completed the matter today.
1 And Boaz went up to the gate and sat there; and, behold, the near kinsman of whom Boaz has spoken was passing by.
-Is Boaz mystically connected, just like Ruth, and especially Naomi? Has Boaz been taught by Rahab, whom the inspired Evangelist Matthew says is the mother of Boaz? Does Boaz know the Spirit?
And he said, Such a one, turn aside, sit down here! And he turned aside and sat down.
2 And he took ten (10) men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit down here. And they sat down.
-Again, the 12 men, including the potential redeemer and Boaz, who are now all sitting according to the instructions of Boaz, also represent the Mystical Psalms Ladder.
-This may also be an early foreshadowing of the 10 concubines of David who are raped by Absalom on the roof, and the 10 brutes of Joab who torture Absalom while David is at the city gate. This story of the death of Absalom is involved in the circumcision of David’s heart, which is at the center of the entire evolutionary development of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures).
3 And he said to the near kinsman, Naomi, who has returned from the fields of Moab, will sell a portion of the field which (belonged) to our brother, to Eli-melech.
4 And I said, I would uncover your ear, saying, Buy (it) before those sitting and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem, (then) redeem; but if you will not redeem, tell me so that I may know; for there is no one besides you to redeem, and I after you. And he said, I will redeem (it).
5 And Boaz said, In the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, then you have bought (it) from Ruth of Moab, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead over his inheritance.
-Throughout this dialogue are allusions to Jacob’s purchasing of the tomb where he was to be later buried (see Genesis 23).
6 And the near kinsman said, I am not able to redeem for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance; you redeem for yourself my right of redemption, for I am not able to redeem.
7 And this formerly (was done) in Israel for redemption, and for changing, to confirm every thing, a man would drew off his sandal and give to his neighbor; and this (was) the attestation in Israel.
-Moses was instructed by God to take his sandal off at the burning bush. This was a most powerful manifestation of the power and being of God.
Yet in the Book of Ruth, God stays out of the (direct) action. God wants human beings to be nice to each other. And they do this. In this story, everyone acts in the most charitable way possible. Everyone tries to help everyone. As a result, God stays quiet, and blesses everyone.
Recall that Naomi tells Ruth that she, Ruth, acts with divine loving-kindness, hesed. Slowly, the love of God is becoming something that humans can participate in with more agency and authority. This is a major theme of the Book of Ruth. So, the sandals are exchanged with each other. Every human being on the planet is holy ground, the holy land.
8 And the near kinsman said to Boaz, Buy for yourself, and drew off his sandal.
9 And Boaz said to the elders, and all the people, You (are) witnesses today that I have bought all that (belonged) to Eli-melech, and all that (belonged) to Chilion and Mahlon, from the hand of Naomi;
-This almost sounds like a wedding.
10 and also Ruth of Moab, the wife of Mahlon, I have bought for myself for a wife, to raise up the name of dead over his inheritance; and the name of the dead shall not be cut off from among his brothers, and from the gate of his place; you (are) witnesses today.
-There is something also deeply redemptive about this verse, as if the errors of human history are being here addressed and healed, including those sins of Er and Onan, and of Judah. Psalm 103 discusses Salvation History.
11 And all the people who (were) in the gate, and the elders, said, (We are) witnesses! May YHWH make the woman who is coming in to your house as Rachel and as Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you do worthily in Ephratah, and proclaim the name in Beth Lehem;
-A pair of sisters are mentioned here. Although these two are not part of the Red Line of Hope, there is the theme of Feminine connectedness here.
12 and let your house be as the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which Jehovah shall give to you of this young woman.
-To a person reading this book for the first time, it might seem just plain bizarre that Tamar and Perez would be mentioned here. Perez’ brother Zerah, who was mentioned adjacent to the story of Rahab, is not mentioned here.
13 And Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her; And YHWH gave her conception, and she bore a son.
14 And the women said to Naomi, Blessed (be) you this day without a redeemer; and let his name be called in Israel.
15 And may he be to you a restorer of soul/life, and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has born him, who is better to you than seven (7) sons.
-This gives hints about the next chapter of the Bible, 1 Samuel 1. A mere fifteen verses after this, we hear the echo in: “Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat: Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you then ten sons?’” (1 Sam 1:8)
-There is a hint about Bathsheba again, whose name means “Daughter of 7”. Bathsheba is the fourth woman of the Red Line of Hope, the wife of David and the mother of Solomon. Ruth was a wisdom teacher of Bathsheba: a midrash states that Ruth was present when Solomon ascended to the throne. Bathsheba was given the throne on Solomon’s right. Ruth was the power behind the thrones.
-With the assembly at the gate, we now have “gate,” “7,” and “12.” This is the climbing formula of the Ladder, the Ladder that appears in the Psalms, in the Psalms whose mythical author is David, who is about to make his very first Biblical appearance in two (2) verses as a modifier, and in seven (7) verses as a more developed person.
-A Moabite woman loves her Hebrew mother-in-law. This proves that YHWH wants people of the world to overcome racism and superiority. All people are equal, and all are meant to love each other. All four women of the Red Line of Hope are foreigners, goyim. However, everyone has a role to play, and everyone is worthy of love. John’s Gospel says that salvation comes from the Jews. We all have different roles at different times. Women are often on the front lines of forging friendships between peoples. Additionally, this verse is again echoed in 1 Samuel 1:5, where of Elkanah and Hannah, the text reports “he loved her.” The deep and rich music of love between peoples on a national and global scale, and of the developing blossoming of greater love between woman and man, is here beginning to play.
16 And Naomi took the child, and laid him in her bosom, and became nurse to him.
17 And the neighboring women gave him a name, saying, This is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed; he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
18 And these (are) the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron,
19 and Hezron fathered Ram, and Ram fathered Amminadab,
20 and Amminadab fatherered Nahshon, and Nahshon fathered Salmon,
21 and Salmon fathered Boaz, and Boaz fathered Obed,
22 and Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
-These last five (5) verses are identical to the parallel generations in Matthew 1:3-6, at the very beginning of the New Testament.
-The final word of the book, in the original Hebrew, and in most translations, is “David.” The Book of Ruth has been placed into the middle of the historical books of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) as a sort of hinge, a pivot-point. The fact that the final word of the book is “David” shows how important David is to the ongoing development and divinely-led evolution of Humanity.
-With the theme of ‘continuity’, there are far more connections between the Book of Ruth and the first chapters of 1 Samuel than we have here discussed.
In this final chapter, the name “Perez,” the breachmaker, appears three times, and “David” appears twice. As mentioned above, the name of Solomon is hinted at in the text.
Additionally, there is strong textual agreement between this concluding genealogy and the genealogy of Matthew that opens the New Testament.
The tiny Book of Ruth is abundantly full of references to earlier and later books of the Bible. Ruth suffered and rose again in love. Her love changed the course of Salvation History, leading humanity away from a defensive and fearful posture, pivoting us, turning us, to a more loving posture, towards a loving shared existence and interdependence with all other people, and with the cosmos.