Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Saintes Perpétue et Félicité - Wednesday in Lent Week II - Sunday of the Ten Commandments

Perpétue est une jeune patricienne, Félicité une jeune esclave. Elles avaient toutes deux demandé le baptême à l'évêque de Carthage.
L'empereur Septime Sévère ayant interdit le christianisme, le groupe des catéchumènes, dont elles faisaient partie, est arrêté, avec Sature, Saturnin, Révocat et Secondule.

Pendant plusieurs mois, ils connurent la prison dans des conditions très dures, d'autant qu'ils étaient dans l'incertitude du sort exact qui les attendait. Félicité était enceinte et Perpétue, jeune mariée, allaitait son enfant.

Le père de la jeune femme tenta en vain de la faire sacrifier aux dieux au nom de l'amour maternel. Quant à Félicité, elle mit au monde une petite fille dans sa prison. Trois jours après la naissance, elle était martyrisée et l'enfant fut adoptée par une chrétienne de la ville.

Comme leurs compagnons, Perpétue et Félicité furent livrées aux bêtes du cirque, enveloppées dans un filet, et livrées à une vache furieuse. Elles attirèrent la pitié des spectateurs devant ces jeunes mères torturées.

On les acheva en les égorgeant. Selon les "acta" de leur martyre, des témoins disaient :"Leur visage était rayonnant et d'une grande beauté. Il était marqué non de peur mais de joie."

Le culte des deux jeunes femmes connut très vite une grande popularité : leur jeunesse, leur situation de mère de famille, leur courage, le fait qu'elles soient des catéchumènes les font figurer en tête des martyres mentionnés dans la première prière eucharistique de la liturgie latine.

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Bestow upon your servants, Lord, abundance of grace and protection, grant health of mind and body, grant fullness of fraternal charity, and make them always devoted to you. Through Christ our Lord.

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Third Sunday in Lent (Year “B”) - March 11, 2012


[Texts: Exodus 20.1-17 or 1-3, 7-8,12-17 [Psalm 19]; 1 Corinthians 1.18, 22-25; John 2.13-25]

Reactions to the breakdown in social behaviour led in recent decades to a movement in the southern United States to display the Ten Commandments in schools, legislatures and public places.  A counter movement seeks to ban them as improper manifestations of religion in a secular world.

For Jews and Christians, the Ten Commandments hold a unique place.  Their special character derives from the fact they are divine words, written by God's finger onto stone tablets (cf. Exodus 24.12).  Throughout history they have been treated as God's extraordinary revelation to help believers grow to maturity.

The Ten Commandments reflect “apodictic law”, that is they impose a command directly on a person.  They oblige one to perform an action or to refrain from performing a deed judged harmful.

Using second person singular formulations, they contain a measure of intimacy.  In them God speaks directly to the individual believer (“You shall not steal”).

The opening commandment recounts God's deeds on Israel's behalf (“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of slavery”) and the obligation believers have to worship the Lord alone (“you shall have no other gods before me; you shall not make for yourself an idol...”). 

Then each person is called to sanctify God's name.  In Exodus the command to observe weekly rest is motivated by God's repose after the creation of the world; in Deuteronomy 5.15 the Sabbath rest commemorates God's rescue of the Israelites from slavery.

In biblical religion, respect for God is inseparable from respect for one's fellows.  So, after instruction concerning one's relationship with God (commandments 1-3), the Decalogue deals with one's attitude towards others (commandments 4-10).  The command to “honour” one's parents has a promise attached, “so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you”. 

Next, three commandments tersely forbid murder, adultery and theft.  Then, the final three commandments—all of which mention the “neighbour”—spell out implications from the earlier ones: a person may not connive to deprive another of his or her reputation, spouse or any possession rightfully theirs.

The Ten Commandments do not embody all that God asks, but they ground right relations with God and one's fellows.  The inner spiritual truths they point to are important keys to understanding both the proclamation of the Ten Commandments in today's first reading and Jesus' prophetic purification of the Jerusalem Temple in the gospel.

People coming to the Temple for Passover benefited from the services of the sellers of sacrificial animals and those who changed currencies into the Tyrian coinage (from the city-state of Tyre) used for Temple offerings on account of its purity.  At one time, these merchants set up their stalls in the Kidron Valley near the Mount of Olives.  Then they moved operations into the Temple precincts, probably in the Court of the Gentiles.  Jesus forcefully drove them out with a “whip of cords”.

In His radical reinterpretation of God's will Jesus' summarized the law and the prophets as demanding that one first love God and “your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22.39).  His righteous anger to fulfil God's purpose led Jesus to “cleanse” the Temple, an act that led irrevocably to his death and resurrection (“destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”).

In trying to understand what Jesus was about, the disciples—probably after the resurrection—found a text, Psalm 69.9, that they read in the future tense as a prophecy applying to Jesus, “Zeal for your house will consume me”. 

The early church came to see that zeal for God's house had consumed or destroyed Jesus at the hands of the Temple authorities.  As St. Paul says so powerfully in commenting on the paschal mystery, “God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength”.

At Mount Sinai, during his pilgrimage in the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul said, “The Ten Commandments are the law of life and freedom.  They are written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place.  They save man from the destructive forces of selfishness, hatred and falsehood.  To keep the Commandments is to be faithful to God, but it is also to be faithful to ourselves, to our true nature, and our deepest aspirations.”

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