Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Passover Greetings

I'm not sure if I have any Jewish readers, but just in case I do, a blessed Passover to you all!

Scripture Readings: Palm Sunday

Procession: LK 19: 28-40

Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’”So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?”They answered, “The Master has need of it.”So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”

First Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-7

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Second Reading: Philippians 2: 6-11

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: The Passion According to St. Luke (Luke 22: 14-23: 56)

When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you that from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.“And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table; for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.”And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed. Then an argument broke out among them about which of them should be regarded as the greatest. He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves. It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”He said to him, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.”But he replied, “I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.”He said to them, “When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?”“No, nothing, “ they replied. He said to them, “But now one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, He was counted among the wicked; and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfillment.”Then they said, “Lord, look, there are two swords here.”But he replied, “It is enough!”
Then going out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.”After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked, “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!”Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him. And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards and elders who had come for him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? Day after day I was with you in the temple area, and you did not seize me; but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness.”
After arresting him they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. When a maid saw him seated in the light, she looked intently at him and said, “This man too was with him.”But he denied it saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”A short while later someone else saw him and said, “You too are one of them”; but Peter answered, “My friend, I am not.”About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.”But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.”Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed ,and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”He went out and began to weep bitterly.
The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating him. They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”And they reviled him in saying many other things against him. When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin. They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us, “but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”He replied to them, “You say that I am.”Then they said, “What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth.”Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought him before Pilate. They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.”Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”He said to him in reply, “You say so.”Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.”But they were adamant and said, “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here.”On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time.
Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly. Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.”— Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. —Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?”Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.”When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.
Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.


                No reflections this week. Just read the Scriptures and meditate on our Lord’s Passion.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lenten Lessons: Gordon Freeman on Perseverance

                  Our final Lenten Lesson comes courtesy of our own unofficial mascot, Dr. Gordon Freeman, and it deals with the most important human factor in any enterprise: perseverance.

                  When we first meet him, Gordon is a young theoretical physicist working in a top secret lab in New Mexico, where he functions basically as a lab assistant, doing the dangerous and uncomplicated work in advanced particle experiments.  By the time we leave him, he’s triumphed over an alien invasion, a Marine death squad, Special Forces, automated machine-gun turrets, helicopters, zombies, tripods, several giant monsters, a telepathic Lovecraftian-overlord, and his former boss, led a thus-far successful rebellion against an all-powerful inter-dimensional alien empire, explored a dimensional border-world, liberated an enslaved alien species, befriended a giant robot, launched two satellites, disproved String Theory*, and won the affections of a very attractive girlfriend.
                 *okay, I may have made that one up, but all the others are completely legitimate.
                  How did a nerdy, bespectacled lab-rat who never fired a gun in his life accomplish all that? Simple; he just kept going.
                  Gordon didn’t start out with any big plans or ambitions; all he wanted to do was to get out of the monster-infested Black Mesa Complex and get help for his friends still trapped below. He had no idea how he was going to do this, or even which way he needed to go to reach the surface. At every turn he encountered locked doors, collapsed ceilings, spilled chemicals, and other obstacles that threatened to trap him forever in the bowels of the complex. But Gordon simply met and responded to each of these problems as they came; he crossed each bridge as he came to it (literally in some cases).
                  For instance, Gordon never stopped to wonder how on Earth he would escape with the U.S. Marine Corp gunning for him. All he did was try to survive each individual encounter he had with them. The problem changed from “Oh, my God! The Marines want to kill me!” to “Oh, my God! These four guys want to kill me!” Which is a much more manageable problem.
                  Likewise, Gordon didn’t try to plan out a path to the surface; he had no means whatsoever of doing so! All he did – and all he could do – is keep moving forward down whatever open paths were available to him and hope that they eventually led somewhere. If he hit a dead end, he’d either try to get around it or go back and take another path. In this way, he successfully wormed and wound his way across almost the entire facility despite having literally no idea where he was going. The important thing was to just keep moving forward. If he stopped or went back, he would never have survived. Indeed, along the way he meets a number of fellow scientists or security guards, almost all of whom are determined to wait out the disaster in their own little hiding spots. None of them have thought their position through, though. For one thing, their trusting that neither the military nor the aliens will find them, which is a dubious hope at best. For another, the aliens are teleporting in more or less at random, meaning that there is no guarantee whatsoever that one of them won’t just teleport right into their “safe-zone.” Finally, most of these guys are so isolated, so well hidden, that they would have no way of knowing when or if the situation improves; they’d would simply be stuck there until they either died or ventured out (not to mention the fact that the facility itself is destroyed after the incident, so anyone who tried to wait it out died anyway).
                  Years later, after returning from the suspended animation he was placed in at the conclusion of the first story, Gordon finds himself in even more dire straits: the Earth has been conquered by the all-powerful Combine, and he has suddenly become one of the leaders of the resistance. Again, he proceeds deliberately, step-by-step, to unravel the Combine’s power. He doesn’t stop to consider how likely it is that he or any of his friends will survive, let alone succeed. All he does is continually and doggedly work to overcome each obstacle as it arises. When the rebel base is attacked and he himself is trapped underground, he makes his way through the zombie-infested town of Ravenholm. When Alyx, his partner and love-interest, is captured by the Combine, he simply breaks into the massive Citadel where she’s being kept.
                  Gordon, you see, embodies a very simple problem solving mentality; face and identify each problem, begin to work on improving or correcting the problem, and don’t stop until it is solved. Never give up; never surrender. No matter how hopeless, how horrible, how desperate the circumstances, Gordon just. Keeps. Going.
                  The secret to Gordon’s success is the same secret of all success; constant, relentless effort. In almost every endeavor, the person who does not give up cannot fail.
                  In our lives, we will fail. We will encounter obstacles. We will make mistakes. The only way we will triumph in the end is by simply pressing on passed them, picking ourselves up, and trying again. That’s the only way we can succeed.
And, more importantly, this is the dynamic of the Christian life. As St. Francis de Sales said, “In this battle we are assured of victory if only we will fight.” Every Christian is either Peter or Judas: when we sin (and we will), we either seek Christ’s mercy, or we despair.
Gordon Freeman provides us an example of the dogged, unfailing perseverance that can move mountains. He teaches us three main things on the subject:

1.     Focus on What Matters

Gordon doesn’t set out to be a hero. His path to becoming what he becomes started with him simply doing what he could to get out alive and help his friends. It’s in trying repeatedly to do this that he accomplishes everything else.

2.     Do What You Need to Do, Even if You Can’t See How

Time and time again, Gordon is faced with an impossible task; get to the surface. Get to the other side of the base. Kill the Nihilanth. Rescue Alyx from the Citadel. Each time he attempts it without hesitation and accomplishes it simply by responding to each situation as it came. He doesn’t try to plan out any brilliant schemes; he simply sees his objective and starts moving towards it.

3.     If You Don’t Give Up, You Can’t Lose

Every time his opponents think they have him trapped or beaten, Gordon fights or thinks his way out of his predicament and just keeps coming. He becomes what he becomes for the simple reason that he never gives up. He triumphs because he focuses on his goal and works toward it unwavering, unable to be moved by anything save death. Therefore, he wins.

Vive Christus Rex!  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lenten Lessons: George Bailey on Sacrifice

                  After a few weeks of temptation, sin, suffering, and redemption, we’re now ready to begin on how to avoid these things in the first place. Namely, by looking beyond ourselves and sacrificing for the good of others. And our lesson in sacrifice comes courtesy of someone who knows the subject very well; George Bailey of Bedford Falls.

                  Young George is a man ready to conquer the world. He plans to first tour Europe, then go to college to become an engineer and travel the world building new kinds of structures. He wants to, in his words, “do something big! Something important!” Something that doesn’t involve staying in the “crummy little town” of Bedford Falls.
                  At every stage, however, his dreams of success are frustrated. The sudden death of his father makes him cancel his trip to Europe. The need to save his father and uncle’s “Building and Loan” business causes him to abandon his college plans and send his younger brother, Harry, instead. When Harry returns from college with a wife and a job offer, George decides he can’t ask him to take over the Building and Loan as planned, forcing him to remain indefinitely. Even his Bermuda honeymoon is cancelled when he and his wife, Mary, spontaneously decide to use the money to help the Building and Loan customers during the Great Depression.
                  At first glance, it might seem like George is simply plagued with bad luck. But it’s not bad luck. At every stage, George chooses his losses. A sacrifice is, by definition, a choice. He doesn’t lose his dreams; he gives them up for a greater good. He didn’t have to give up anything. No one made him give up his trip to Europe. No one made him skip college, or give away his honeymoon money. At every point he could easily have gone the other way, especially when, during the bank-run episode, all he had to do was to keep driving.
                  What makes George the hero of the picture is that, whenever he is faced with a choice between what he wants and what will help someone else, he always chooses the latter.
                  Take, for instance, the moment where George’s brother, Harry, returns from college with a wife and a job offer. The understanding between the two brothers was that Harry would go to college while George ran the Building and Loan, then Harry would take over and George could pursue his own dreams. After Harry’s wife, Ruth, let’s slip about the job, Harry quickly assures George that he has no intention of backing out of their arrangement and that he intends to turn the offer down to run the Building and Loan as agreed. George, though, quietly talks with Ruth and discovers that the opportunity really is a good one, one that would bring Harry a good future. So, he has Harry take it and assumes control of the Building and Loan permanently.
                  There are a couple things to note here. One is that, while George repeatedly sacrifices his most cherished desires for others, he never compromises himself. That is, he never loses his enthusiastic, romantic temperament. After the incident with his honeymoon money, George leads the other Building and Loan employees in celebrating their survival with a mock parade and jokes about “mamma dollar and papa dollar.” Later on, while opening his new housing development, George welcomes the new tenants with a ritualistic gift ceremony.
                  The other thing to note is that every time George gives up something, either he or someone dear to him gains something in return. When he gives up his college dreams, his brother Harry gets the chance to become a great football star (not to mention the aforementioned wife and career). When he steps aside and allows Harry to take his job, he, George, ends up having a life-changing encounter with his future wife, Mary. After he gave up their honeymoon, Mary and his friends set up an abandoned house as a honeymoon suite. As their friends serenade them from outside, Mary reminds him of a night, years earlier, when they made wishes by throwing rocks at that same house. “This is what I wished for,” she whispers.
                  So we see, sacrifice does not mean a complete loss, either of oneself or of one’s dreams. Rather, it means a shifting: a redirection. Our energies are channeled towards other purposes. Our dreams and the dreams of others meld, so that when we lose our own dreams we take up another’s and find that they are even better.
                  Then, of course, comes the great crisis in George’s life: his Uncle Billy loses $5000 of their company’s money, greedy old Mr. Potter is ready to have the law on him, and George, in despair, considers suicide so that his family can have his insurance money.
                  This crisis, for George at least, is yet another one of his sacrifices. Despite angrily telling Uncle Billy that he wouldn’t take the fall for the old man’s stupid mistake, when the chips are down George does indeed claim responsibility for the accident, knowing full well what that will mean for him.
                  Then the other shoe drops: Heaven sends Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class, and George is given the “great gift” of seeing what the world would be like had he never been born; had he never made those sacrifices.
                  There is no need to go over the nightmare of “Pottersville” here. Some have complained that the story stacks the deck to far in George’s favor by making him uniquely responsible for the well-being of his community. They miss the point. The point is that what hold the forces of evil at bay is ordinary men, like George, making sacrifices: choosing to give up their own dreams for the sake of others. In so doing, moreover, George doesn’t just save his town from ruin and moral decay, but he personally gains much more than he ever imagined. In the end, finds himself surrounded by family and friends, every single one of them ready and eager to shower him with love and thanks for all he has done for them. All he has given up has rendered him, in the words of his football-star, researcher, war-hero brother, “The richest man in town.”
                  George’s wonderful life teaches us three main things about sacrifice:

1.     Sacrifice is Always a Choice

Every sacrifice George he chose himself. At no point did anyone force him, or did circumstances compel him to do what he does.

2.     Sacrifice Never Involves Giving Up One’s Unique Personality

George may give up his dreams of travel and adventure, but he never loses his romantic worldview.

3.     Sacrificing what We Think We Want Often Leads to Something Better

In the end, George is a richer, happier, and better man than he ever would have been had he succeeded in his own dreams. He has his family and the love of the whole town, almost all of whose lives he has enriched and made better. Trips to Europe, wealth, education, and fame seem trivial compared to that.  

Vive Christus Rex!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

I can't help thinking that St. Patrick would much prefer us to celebrate his feast day by reciting his hauntingly powerful prayer rather than by pretending to be Irish-Catholic as an excuse to drink ourselves stupid: 

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

St. Patrick, pray for us.

Vive Christus Rex!

Scripture Readings: The Fifth Sunday of Lent

First Reading

Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters,
who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out and quenched like a wick. Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.

Second Reading

Brothers and sisters: I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead. I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.


Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”


I’m sure someone more knowledgeable of ancient Middle Eastern cultures would be able to explain why Isaiah cites two such seemingly random creatures as jackals and ostriches, but I confess, I couldn’t help mentally adding other random creatures (koala bears, flamingoes…).
            Anyway, the story here is, of course, the woman caught in adultery. This, together with last week’s prodigal son, is one of the key examples of Jesus’ mercy in the Gospel.
            The interesting thing, though, is that Jesus Himself takes very little direct action here. He doesn’t denounce the elders for their mercilessness, or ask pointedly how exactly they managed to catch her in the very act of adultery, and what that might say about them.
            In fact, at first He doesn’t really do anything. His initial answer is to not answer at all (at least, not directly; we’re never told what exactly He’s writing in the dust).
Which, in itself, means He’s doing something rather remarkable. There is sometimes great power in doing nothing. By doing nothing here, Jesus accomplishes a number of things: He’s allowing the high emotions and excitement of the elders to burn out a little (since it’s impossible to keep a high emotional state for very long), which will make them more accessible to the answer He’s going to give them. He’s assuming control of the conversation and not letting the elders dictate the terms of their encounter, or force Him to play their little games.
            In short, by not answering right away, Jesus takes charge of the situation and sends the message that it will be settled on His terms, not those of the elders.
            Which brings us to His famous answer, which is something of a Socratic-non-answer. Rather than out-and-out telling them that they too are sinners and should not be presuming to exercise judgment over this woman, He invites them to discover this for themselves. To their credit, the elders immediately realize that they could not meet the criteria He sets and depart, leaving Him alone with the woman.
            The woman, who no doubt has been scared out of her mind this whole time, waits with Him. Presumably, she already realizes that here is one who genuinely does have the authority to condemn her, or perhaps she simply is too stunned to believe what just happened.
            Jesus’ brief dialogue with her brings back something which some might (and, let’s be honest, frequently do) prefer to forget: the reality of God’s justice as well as His mercy. Jesus first asks her whether anyone has been willing to condemn her. When she says no, Jesus sends her on her way with not only forgiveness, but also a warning: “from now on, do not sin anymore.”
            See, Jesus wasn’t saying that the woman had no sin when He saved her. He was saying that the elders did not have the right to condemn her, as they too were sinners, and that she should be given a chance to repent. Now He tells her directly that her way of life is unacceptable and, now that she has seen the mercy of God, He expects her to change.
             That’s the trouble with us most of the time; we expect to be able to do what we like and that God, since He is so merciful, will simply forgive us. But, as this story shows, that isn’t how it works. God forgives us, but He also expects us to acknowledge the wrongness of what we’ve done and to avoid sinning in the future. He saves us so that we can be united with Him, not so that we can continue to ignore or reject Him in peace. If we won’t have His mercy, and with it the willingness to abandon our sins and follow Him, then we will have His justice. Those are our only two options. He will always offer His mercy, but it’s up to us to accept it.

Vive Christus Rex!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

You're My Kind of Nerd If...

This blows your mind (hattip The Digital Hairshirt for pointing this out):

“The ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is…FORTY-TWO!”
-The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylon deportation to Christ.”
-Matt. 1: 7


Vive Christus Rex!

In Layman's Terms: On Creation and the Fall of Man

*Quick housekeeping note: as you are well aware, this series has long since ceased being weekly, or even biweekly. For the foreseeable future, therefore, consider it a "when it's done" series. Sorry for the inconvenience. 

           When last we left our story (way back when), God had created the Heavens and the Earth and the high angel, Lucifer, had fallen out of Pride, taking many of the other angels with him and introducing death and decay into the world. Today, we’re going to talk some more about that creation and about the coming of that particularly strange creature, Man. 

            “And God created Man to his own image; to the image of a God He created him; male and female He created them.”
-Genesis 1: 27

            Now, there are four major ‘steps’ in Creation. These are the points where a strictly materialist interpretation of the world breaks down, as ‘natural’ laws as we understand them are wholly inadequate to account for them. Today we’ll be talking about the first three.
            Step One: Nothing to Something

            The first, and most obvious step is the change from non-existence to existence.

Before: No Things

After: Things!
             We talked a little about this in our first post; it is entirely absurd to posit the idea of nothing becoming something through natural laws (even if we allow that natural laws don’t count as ‘something’). As The Sound of Music taught us, nothing can come from nothing. It’s like the old computer joke of wondering how long someone will sit and look at a ‘loading’ screen: no matter how long you sit there, the computer will not just spontaneously start working again. 

No, you didn't, Ted.
            And so the first act of Creation is the change from nothing into something. Or, what might be more accurate to say, the appearance of ‘things not God.’ Since God alone is eternal and absolutely real, the first step beyond that is the creation of things that are not absolutely real; things that are separate from and contingent upon God.
            Here let me point out that Christianity is not Pantheism; we don’t believe that everything is God (somehow). We believe that everything expresses God in some way (as noted earlier), but God alone is God; every creature is distinct from Him, in the same way that a book is distinct from its author or a child is distinct from its father.
            So from ‘nothing’ was brought forth, by some unimaginable means (Fr. Lemaitre called it ‘The Big Bang,’ which is good enough for our purposes), what we call ‘the Universe.’ That is, the matter and energy that we live in and use on a day-to-day basis and which so fascinates us.
Now, what are matter and energy? Well, basically, they are the tools by which we participate in creation. Matter and energy are not the sum total of creation; we perceive within ourselves things that are neither matter nor energy (generally we give them names like ‘spirit’ or ‘personality’). But they are the normal means by which we act. When we wish to communicate with others, we manipulate sound waves to convey meaning. When we wish to harm, we apply energy to other people using bits of matter, such as fists or bullets, as conduits. When we wish to think, we manipulate our brains to form images and concepts in our minds.
Now, that’s an odd point there. A materialist would say that all thought is nothing but synapses firing within the brain in response to stimuli. We would agree that this is indeed thought, but thought cannot be nothing but that, since the question is ‘whence come those stimuli’? That is, we think by making parts of our brain send signals to each other, but what makes it do so? Materialists like to point out that we can stimulate sections of the brain in the laboratory, making people feel happy or sad or think of cheese, but they never seem to ask the question “so what stimulates the brain outside the laboratory?” What force allows us to make our brain shift, at will, from considering the problem of God to the problem of how we’re going to ask out the cute girl behind the Starbucks counter and vice-versa?
We’ll return to this point, but for right now let us acknowledge two things; the first great step of creation is the transition from ‘no universe’ to ‘universe,’ and that while this universe appears to be made up of matter and energy, in our own experience something more is involved, since something allows us to manipulate that matter and energy at will.

Step Two: Non-life to Life

So, the universe is made, with all its beautiful stars and planets and moons and asteroids and quarks and whatever else. But, so far, it’s dead; lifeless. Until, somehow or other, another unimaginable change takes place and life appears on at least one of those planets. 
What is life? Life is when a created thing can somehow contribute to creation; it can alter its position in space, it can manipulate the matter around itself, and it can reproduce itself. Dead matter cannot participate in creation; it can only ‘follow orders,’ so to speak; move when it’s been moved. The Earth was formed not because it was a living thing, but because it basically ‘fell’ into place. Gravity pulled bits of gas and matter together, which in turn had been knocked into place by other bits of matter, and the end result (much like those big balls of clay we all made during art class) was a planet. Living things, on the other hand, are necessarily creative. They can change their environment. They can move without being moved. Most importantly, they can make more living things.
It is this latter capacity that makes life such an overwhelmingly drastic shift in creation. Dead things cannot generate more dead things; a rock cannot make another rock, nor can a cloud of gas produce another cloud of gas. A rock can be split, or melted down and combined with another rock, but it cannot generate a similar rock while remaining more or less as it is. But living things can. And they do this via the mind-bendingly complex substance known as DNA.

Take it away, Mr.Coulton!

Picture a tiny computer composed of four different proteins present in every single unit of life, containing within itself all the information needed to copy the particular composition of matter that comprises this particular creature. Now, the idea that DNA, the Platonic ideal of information storage and transfer that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates combined could never hoped to match, developed solely by accidental chemical reactions is so laughably inadequate that you would make Friar William of Okham (he of the razor) cry just by suggesting it.

            So, life began as nothing more than little single cells, barely large enough to contain their DNA. From there, they slowly grew, over the course of millions of years through some unknown process (call it evolution if you like), first into multi-celluar organisms, then into large, complex structures, and finally into what we call ‘animals:’ those unfathomably complex, active, fertile, and endlessly fascinating bits of life.
            Another major shift (that is on the borderline of needing its own category) was the emergence of sexuality; Male and Female. Life could reproduce itself from the very beginning (that’s part of the definition of life), but sexuality brought something quite new to the table. Here, rather than just copying the DNA of the parent, two sets of DNA are brought together, mixed up, and used to create something unlike either parent. Life, you might say, was branching out; getting creative.
            But there was more, much more. With sexuality came the idea of complementality and cooperation. With sex, creatures were forced to look beyond themselves, to acknowledge (after their own fashion) that they were not and could not be the center of the universe. With sex came the great mystery of the fact that a given species could no longer be represented by only one individual, but instead would always require two. No individual fish could be a complete fish, nor could any individual spider be a complete spider. The totality of any sexual species is only found in the relationship between the sexes. It’s an image of the Trinity; as God is three persons in one, so each sexual species is two distinct beings in one. Thus the interplay of distinction and unity, which is found in the core of existence, where the distinction does not separate and the unity does not subsume, found its expression in life.
            We also see that, in sexual creatures, creation depends on cooperation; neither the male nor the female can create on their own (okay, okay; Parthenogenesis, but even that’s typically just an emergency procedure to re-introduce males into the population). Thus, life could no longer be simply competitive; there had to be some form of giving, of sacrifice, of common-purpose.
In short, with sexuality came the first shadow of love into the world.
Now, don’t think I’m getting anthropomorphic here: this earliest drive to reproduce that sent the little proto-Juliet in proto-Romeo’s arms (er, flagellum) in all likelihood had nothing of commitment or affection to it (indeed, it’s quite possible that proto-Juliet ate proto-Romeo when they were done). My point, though, is that here we had the first instance of something like the self-forgetful openness and gratuity that is found in God. The smallest seed of love had entered the world at last.

And so life continued to grow at a new and faster pace. Fish emerged, and with them came vertebrae. The fish took to land, acquiring the four-limbed, one-headed, two-eyed template that would be copied again and again on practically all land-based vertebrates. The arthropods (bugs) also took to land, and even to the air. The cycle of life and death was in full swing; each individual, each species, and even each class and order would emerge, create offspring through the mystery of sex, and then die, bequeathing the world to their issue, who in turn would repeat the cycle.
In this way emerged the different dynasties: the mighty Gorgonopsids rose and fell. The Dinosaurs took their place, crafted the mightiest and longest empire the world had ever or would ever see, and then in a flash they were gone as well. The Birds, the Dinosaurs’ heirs, briefly strove to take their fathers’ place, but the Mammals, descendents of the Gorgonopsids, who had lain hidden for all the long millennia that the Dinosaurs ruled, rose up and reasserted their dominant place in the world.
And it was from the Mammals that a most curious creature emerged. At first it was nothing more than a modified version of the already-venerable primate family, adapted for life on the plains rather than the trees. Indeed, it seemed like a somewhat ungainly offshoot, doomed to a short life. It was slow compared to most of its predators. It had pathetically small teeth and no claws to speak of, and it was an awkward, gangly thing, running about erect on its hind legs, scavenging from the kills of other predators or hunting for berries and roots in the forest. In short, here was one of those creatures that nature had dealt a poor hand; a being that had managed to slip through the cracks of survival via luck or circumstance, but which would have no staying power, and would soon slip back beneath the waters of extinction, having left nothing but a few bones in the grass.
Then the third shift happened.

Step Three: Animal to Man

This poor creature’s only real weapon was that it had an unusually well-developed brain. It could use rudimentary tools, form simple plans, and, in short, survive by its wits. But then, one day (or it might have been over the course of many days), a change took place. One of these creatures became aware of itself. His eyes were opened. He suddenly showed new powers of understanding and control. Predators would not touch him. Prey animals were unafraid of him. He could see meaning in the world about him, and so began to assign names to things. Things that before had only sent simple signals to his brain (“danger” “food” “drink” “companion” “unknown”) now were seen as things in themselves; things with names (“lion,” “fruit,” “water,” “wife,” “forest”). Most importantly, he could understand himself as an “I;” as a unique individual, as more than just the body.

This scene shows something like what must have taken place.

And for the first time, he truly saw the world around him. Water was not just a source of refreshment, but something beautiful to look at and fun to play in. The forest wasn’t just a place of danger, but a place of adventure and mystery. Perhaps this can best be conveyed by the fact that, for the first time, he looked up. Animals don’t look up unless they think they might see food, or a predator. There’s no other reason for them to. But this creature looked up and he beheld the stars and the moon above him. Who can imagine, what pen or tongue could tell of his amazement, of his wonder at what he saw? How can we begin to dream of what that first day was like when he first experienced beauty, and so became Man?
Now, we don’t know whether this shift happened in only one individual or in a community (though virtually every account of the event has it happen to only one at first), but the important thing is that it took place. An animal had crossed the immeasurable gulf and become Man.
Assuming that it was only one individual at first, he (let’s call him ‘Adam’) was quickly joined by another, this one a female (‘Eve’). When this happened, the seed of love that had been planted when the very first protozoa had become sexual beings finally blossomed into full flower. Sex had come a long way since then; in its highest forms it had grown to include monogamy, affection, and sacrificial impulses. But only now, with the coming of Man, could it truly take on its full meaning. Now that Adam had become conscious of himself as an “I,” he could be fully conscious of Eve as also a “you.” Now he could see her as she was; a mystery as infinite as himself, which he could spend eternity attempting to comprehend.
For there was one more aspect of Man’s awakening; he became aware of God. Adam and Eve were intimately and uniquely connected with God; they could discern His presence wherever they were, they could ‘hear’ Him speaking to them, and most important of all they were keenly aware of His will and perfectly inclined to follow it.
A couple more points about Adam and Eve. Their initial state was much different from anything we have ever experienced. What we experience is a perpetual struggle between our animal instincts and our higher, more spiritual nature. Now, I want to be clear: the point is not that our animal instincts are evil, and our spiritual nature is good. Either can be turned to good, and either can draw us into evil. The point is that they are in conflict; our animal instincts draw us to pleasure, food, sex, and so forth, while our spiritual nature encourages us to reason, contemplation, understanding etc. In Adam and Eve, the higher nature was in complete control and the animal instincts were directed by the reason. So, while their instincts remained, they were always directed toward rational ends and they were never overwhelmed by passion or cravings into overindulgence. This is why, in Genesis, it describes them as being “Naked without shame.” (Genesis 2: 25). They were in such control of their passions that they were never even tempted to see each other as anything less than what they were, and, as such, had no temptation to lust.
Another element in their original state was that they had much more power over nature than we do. Obviously, we don’t know exactly what the extent of these powers were, but from evidence found among the Saints I think we can gather a rough idea. For instance, we can suppose that, among other things, Adam and Eve never got sick, they could communicate to some extent with the animals, and they probably could fly.
I spoke earlier about the great mystery of will, of the ability of the soul to act on the body, of spirit to move matter, as seen in the human brain. Well, in Adam and Eve this capacity of the soul to move matter extended beyond their brains to the rest of their bodies, allowing them much greater freedom of movement and action than we enjoy, along with greater awareness and presence within their bodies. To put it bluntly, they experienced things in a much more intense manner than we do (and yes, that means exactly what you think it means).
Finally, Adam and Eve’s bodies were free from the death and decay that had plagued the world since its creation. They never got sick, they never got injured, and they would never know mortal death. As for what would have happened at the end of their time on Earth, we can only guess, but I believe that they would have met the same fate as Mary or Elijah; when their Earthly time was ended, they would have been assumed, body and soul, into Heaven.
But, as you probably guessed, they never got that far. We don’t know how long it was that they enjoyed this state, nor what precisely led to their fall from it. Genesis, of course, tells the famous story of the tree of the forbidden fruit, and the tempting Serpent, but I think we can call that more allegorical than literal. In any case, Satan was still at work in the world, as he had been from the beginning, and he set to work on Man. However it happened, he managed to tempt Adam and Eve into going against God’s will, which, again, they knew and were inclined to follow. They were tested, and thanks to the Devil’s influence, they failed the test.
It was the Second Great Fall. Just as the Devil’s fall threw the whole of creation out of synch, so Adam and Eve’s had equally drastic consequences. Their two natures were ‘jarred loose’ you might say, the animal from the spiritual, so that they were no longer in accord and it would take massive effort to achieve even a semblance of the unity they enjoyed before. With this their animal natures could run rampant, unrestrained by reason, and their spiritual natures could likewise conceive of pride and envy, despising both the lower instincts and worshiping the “I” without perceiving the “you.” In other words, they now knew good and evil, having before only known good.
 Their souls lost all power over their bodies, save for their brains, and so death and decay in the form of illness and injury were able to enter their bodies. The microbes, kept at bay by their perfectly controlled wills, broke in and began to infect them. Their understanding with the animals was severed.
In short, Adam and Eve became as we are now. Their natures were broken and corrupted. For the first time, sin; the corruptive force that drove the angels out of heaven, had entered the world. Death had been a part of the world from the beginning, but without rational beings – without Man – sin could not exist. Now, with Man’s fall, the world knew sin.
As for what, exactly, caused this fall, we honestly don’t know. It might very well have been a tree they were forbidden to eat from. The Devil’s lie “Thou shalt be like God” almost certainly is more or less verbatim, as that same lie has troubled us ever since. The thing to take away is that Adam and Eve were told that they could make themselves like God by disobeying Him, and, unfortunately for us, they believed it.
And so Adam and Eve were ‘thrown out of the Garden,’ so to speak. By choosing to reject God, they lost the unique experience of Him they had enjoyed. Now, bereft of the unique control over their bodies and their passions, they had to make their own way in the world and survive more or less in the same way their animal ancestors had, only with the added bitterness of remembering what they had lost and the added comfort of what remained.
For Adam and Eve were not wholly corrupted. They retained their knowledge of God, their awareness of beauty, and their ability to love: all broken and imperfect, of course, but still real and still able to inspire them. Moreover, God had inscribed a promise on their hearts; that He had not abandoned them, and that He would one day redeem them from the state they had fallen into.

Up next: Man Ascendant. 

Vive Christus Rex!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Scripture Readings: The Fourth Sunday of Lent

First Reading: Joshua 5: 9, 10-12

The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21

Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Gospel: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable:
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

                Extra late this week; sorry everyone.
                Generally considered the most moving and exemplary description of God’s mercy, there seems to be little to add to the story of the Prodigal Son. Therefore, I’d like to focus on the other readings, particularly the first.
                In particular, I find it interesting that at the same time God removes the “reproach of Egypt” from the Israelites, He also removes the mana with which He fed them. Specifically, it says He removed the mana because the Israelites “ate the fruit of the land.”
                This is a simple, yet boldly meaningful passage with a number of meanings.
                The first is that, contrary to what we might think, miraculous intervention is not necessarily a sign of Divine Favor. Rather, it might just as well be a kind of heavenly crutch which God allows us to use for a while until we’re ready to walk on our own. The mana was a sign of God’s great mercy and care for the Israelites, but it also was a sign of their stubbornness and lack of faith. If they had just gone into the Promised Land when they were supposed to instead of dithering and wandering about for forty years, they would have had no need of the mana during those years. Hence the linking of the removal of the mana with the removal of “the reproach of Egypt.”
                To link this with the story of the prodigal son, oftentimes our clearest and most direct experiences of God occur when we’re “coming to our senses” after sinning. This particular divine intervention serves as a catalyst for our repentance, but we can’t and shouldn’t rely on maintaining the same level of ‘awareness’ to keep ourselves from sinning in the future.
                Which brings me to the second aspect of the removal of mana; the fact that the Israelites now ate the fruit of the land, and so the mana was no longer needed.
                I would imagine that many of the Israelites would much have preferred that the mana continued, thank you very much. It would have meant they didn’t have to fear famine or crop failures. It would have meant they didn’t have to work and slave away trying to keep themselves fed. And, I think, that’s precisely why it was removed; because the Israelites were supposed to slave away to keep themselves fed.
                God, as we see time and again, much prefers to delegate tasks. This isn’t because He is lazy or because He can’t do things for Himself (obviously), but because He wants His creatures to participate in Creation. He gives temporary miraculous aid in order to get them to a point where they don’t need it anymore: to where they can eat the fruit of their own labor, rather than relying on their daily allotment of mana. By taking responsibility for their own lives, the people play an active role in their own creation.
                This is not, of course, to say that God just sits back and lets the people stand or fall on their own merits. He’s still with them, helping them and sustaining them by His grace and power. But He provides a different kind of help now. He helps the people to help themselves, a little like how a father will hold his child up in order to help her learn to walk on her own, and then even when she does he follows her, watching to catch her when she falls. It’s the difference between supporting and carrying. God wants to support us, but is always willing to carry us when necessary. He does this because it’s what’s best for us, and because He loves us.

Vive Christus Rex!