L4B – 10 Mar 2024

A new story of love

Message by: Fr Richard M Healey


MP3 media (Neo-Cat Vigil)

MP3 media (5pm Mass)

Fr Richard Healey recounts his time with the Carmelites, organising a library where books were sorted by size and colour to deter borrowing by the friars. He discusses the arrangement of the New Testament and contrasts the Greek and Hebrew structures of the Old Testament. The speaker reflects on the final passage of the Hebrew Bible, relating it to the Christian anticipation for the New Testament and Jesus’ role in fulfilling humanity’s longing for completion. During Lent, he emphasises God’s unconditional love and grace, likening individuals to works of art in progress. The episode concludes with an invitation to embrace God’s transformative love through the Eucharist.

(00:00:00) – I was able when I was with the Carmelites to work as a librarian. They gave me the task of organising and cataloguing the library of perhaps 15,000 volumes. The previous friar who was looking after the library, who happened to be Irish – but I’m sure that’s irrelevant – he decided that the only appropriate way to organise the library was by the size and the colour of the books. So the whole library had been organised, but it kind of made sense. If you have all the big books together, they are very efficiently organised on the shelves. Part of it was also that he insisted that books weren’t meant to be borrowed. So if you made books as difficult as possible to find, and the friars weren’t likely to steal the books and take them and hide them in their cells as they want to do now. I mean, it’s a good kind of question, because if you’ve got a particular kind of book, well, where do you put it on the shelf? I mean, this book was written by Pope Benedict, but he has another name, because you might have a whole bunch of books that he wrote when he was Cardinal Ratzinger or Joseph Ratzinger.

(00:01:12) – So do you store them all under R for Ratzinger, or do you put them under the B for Benedict, or by subject? Where do you put the different books that you have? And that logic that the unnamed friar had of organising books by their size is actually not so crazy, because when we get to the New Testament, how are the letters of Saint Paul organised? By their length! So the biggest letter is presented first. So Romans is the first, the longest letter. So it’s given to us first, they are not organised alphabetically or by the chronology of when they were written, but the biggest first and then first and second Corinthians and then “Gentiles Eat Pork Chops” – Galatians, Ephesians. Philippians, Colossians. So you have different ways of organising the library. Now for the Old Testament. We have a way of organising it that comes from the Greek translation of the scriptures that was done about a hundred years before the time of Jesus. So when they set out to translate the scriptures into Greek, they also organised the library into a certain order.

(00:02:25) – And as Christians, we were using the Greek translation. So we adopted that organisation system which breaks the Old Testament into four basic sections: the Pentateuch or the Books of Moses, then the historical books; the wisdom books; and then the prophets came at the end. But in the Hebrew it’s not organised into those four sections, but into three. The first section is the same. The Torah is equivalent to the Five books of Moses, but then you have the eight books of the prophets, the Nevi’im. The books of Joshua, Judges; the single Book of Samuel and Kings, rather than the two books of Samuel, the Two Books of Kings, and then the three major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and then the “Book of the 12,” which we call the Minor Prophets. And then the third and final section of the Hebrew Scriptures contains 11 books of the writings – the Ketuvim – beginning with the Book of Psalms, then Proverbs, then Job, the Song of Songs. The book of Ruth.

(00:03:37) – Then you have the Book of Lamentations. Ecclesiastes. Esther, then the Book of Daniel, and then the combined Book of Ezra-Nehemiah. And then the book that we read from – the Book of Chronicles is the final book in the Hebrew canon. And we actually heard from the very last passage of Second Chronicles. And so the last word that we heard as King Cyrus invites this community to return after all of the devastation. It’s interesting that Chronicles doesn’t sugarcoat this. There’s no blaming of the Babylonians, who were the Empire, who sacked and harassed and and killed, destroyed both the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Did you notice that it’s God himself who’s doing this? It’s God Himself who is punishing the people by destroying the temple. He’s having this really active role, just as his God himself, who organises for the Persians to conquer the Babylonians, and then for King Cyrus to be the great rescuer, the great Messiah figure who will come in and bring hope and liberation to the people. Final word that we have in the Hebrew Bible.

(00:05:02) – It’s translated into English as let him go up. But it’s just one word in the Hebrew. And just as the final word in the Book of Revelation is significant for us as Christians. The word is weyaʿal. Just one word which, unfortunately, the Zionists have kind of adopted as their kind of catchphrase of “let us return; let us come back to Jerusalem, let us take over.” And, you know, and that has all kinds of political ramifications. But that sense of this story, even though the book of Ezra, Nehemiah is completely situated after the events of Chronicles, for some reason the the rabbis, in their wisdom, were now compiling how to organise these books wanted Chronicles to be the final word, and it makes sense that it is this kind of summation of the history, not of them rebuilding. But there is this hope, this destiny, this possibility. The story is certainly not complete, which is why, as Christians, we say we need the New Testament.

Speaker 1 (00:06:10) – We need the completion of the story. We need this longing that is there when Cyrus is inviting people to return, to rebuild, to restore. But nothing has been achieved or accomplished until the time of Jesus. And then this reading from John tonight is so powerful because, echoing the words of Ephesians tonight, this whole gospel of grace, that we hadn’t done anything to make ourselves worthy of this, we hadn’t achieved anything. We hadn’t proved how amazingly we’d got our lives together. There was nothing on the scoreboard, nothing that we could point to. And yet God does not act out of a sense of judgement or condemnation, simply out of that impulse of love. And how extraordinary is that, this grace that we hear about, the mercy that we receive, that’s the God that we encounter in this centerpoint of the season of lent. This God who is inviting us into love, inviting us into freedom, inviting us into that experience of encountering and finding life with God. So during these final days, these three weeks of this season of lent, let’s indeed renew our desire to be captivated by that love, recognizing that we’ve done nothing.

(00:07:38) – And yet we are God’s work of art. Are we are – that beautiful – Poema is the Greek word that Paul uses. And we are this, this poem that is still being written. The story, like the end of Chronicles, has not yet been complete. And yet God, in his love and in his grace and in his mercy, is longing for us to have the opportunity to complete it, to be fulfilled with that longing that we have for the life of the age to come. That’s where the better translation of that hope for eternal life. Because the Hebrews had this strong sense of what we were doing when we encountered all of that was kind of reaching into the future and calling it back. And when we have that the same sense in the Eucharist, when we gather around the altar, that sense of that we’re opening ourselves into the very presence of God, where we’re inviting all of heaven and earth to bear witness to this reality of these ordinary elements of bread and wine being changed and transformed into his very presence, into his power to change us and to transform us.

And so today, let’s indeed open ourselves in love to the God who’s calling us and inviting us into that place where we can experience truth and freedom in him.

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