“For this command… is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky… Nor is it across the sea, No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” (Dt 30:11-14)
Last week our scriptural reflection emphasized the need for our parishes and our Church to follow in the footsteps of St. Benedict by gathering to ourselves all sacred knowledge for our own sake and the sake of a bewildered world. This knowledge is not of themes unfamiliar to us, nor is it a collection of esoteric sayings and enigmatic secrets. It is the knowledge of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and our advocate, the Holy Spirit.
Ours is not merely a natural religion. We do not believe in God based solely on our observation and reasoning about the world. Instead, we are children of revealed religion and without the precious revelation of Jesus Christ we too would be bewildered. Therefore, while many of the commands of God approach us from on high and are mysterious (Col 1:26), Deuteronomy tells us that these are “not too mysterious” so as to be incomprehensible to our rational minds made in the image of God. Hence, Catholics do not need to seek truth “up in the sky”, “across the sea” or in any other secret or far off place since they have the word of God and the teachings of the Church which are “very near” to them. As Sacred Scripture indicates, “you have only to carry it out”.
Yet what may appear clear to the human mind through the Spirit of God (for it is only through grace that we grasp and believe these holy mysteries), the knowledge of God and his ways become impenetrable to stubborn hearts which refuse to admit the pious obligations which bind them in this knowledge. Such obligations (God’s expectations) are not meant to overburden us (Mt 11:28-30), but to free us from the bondage of sin and sorrow, while the stubbornness of pride remains one of the greatest obstacles to this freedom.
Thus we place on our bulletin cover for this 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time a work by the Dutch Baroque master, Ferdinand Bol, entitled Moses Descends from the Mountain with the Ten Commandments (1662). These commandments of God were not only the first down payment of revealed religion, but the key to unlocking the mystery of the mind and will of God.
In our painting we see in the upper middle of the image, two angels, one holding the fasces (axe and wood bundle) symbolizing the authority of God, and the other holding a lily representing God’s purity and holiness. (The lily is also symbolic in Christian art of the Annunciation and Resurrection). Thus Bol shows us, respectively, the initiation and fulfillment of divine revelation. Moses is seen taking the commands “from the sky”, but his own feet are shown on solid ground as he brings God’s teaching to earth. We should be as those in this painting who wait upon Moses: reverent and prayerful and joyful and praiseful in carrying out all these wonderful and not-too-mysterious commands.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services