Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Sacraments in Ezra - some thoughts.

The other night I came across Jeff Cavins on EWTN. I had originally planned to listen on XM/Sirius Sunday at 8pm but after turning it on realized it was the last episode. But I had one DVR'd from a previous day (Episode 16). I keep trying to get into this study on TV but for some reason he loses my interest in a matter of minutes. Anyway, he was talking about Ezra-Nehemiah.

So I turned him off and read the whole thing. What struck me is how sacramental the book is. I'll give you a rough summary of the book from a sacramental viewpoint.

Israel returns from the exile in Babylon. They immediately build an altar. But they are stopped from finishing off the temple by the local pagans who petition the king. Then the new king relents and allows them to freely build the temple. Enter Ezra. Ezra comes to the knowledge that the people have all intermarried with the local pagans and then he tears his garments and confesses Israel's sin to God and pleads for mercy. The solution is to divorce all the spouses of the non-Israelites. He brings them all together and explains what they've done wrong and they obey the commandments and put away their wives.

Ok so what do we have here? Well I look at it like this:

When Christ raised from the dead it could be taken as being a return from the exile. His command to do this in rememberance of me is the building of an altar, the place for the Eucharist. As the Christian world evolved there were persecutions which prevented the growth and building of proper temples and churches. This was done by order of the Jewish and Roman authorities. Later Constantine relented, or rather converted, and allowed the Christians to worship freely. They were allowed to finish "building" what they had already started.

As for the marriages, I think we can look to this to understand the immense importance God places on the Sacrament. Intermarriage with pagans today can be compared not to racial intermarriage but with those of other religions. Does anyone think laxity on the prohibition of marrying non-Catholics has been a good thing for the Church? Does it help bring up good Catholic children on average or not? Does it help the unity of the Church? No it hasn't been generally a good thing. However the Israelites made exceptions to the rule and so can we. It isn't always bad. But it shouldn't be the norm.

When Christ allows for divorce except for "infidelity" or "immorality" or whatever your translation says is he actually talking about cheaters? No, he couldn't be since the Church opposes divorce in all cases...but you can get an annulment if the marriage is unlawful. For instance, you may not marry someone who is still married or someone with whom it is unlawful to marry. That is the point. Such was the case with the pagans. It was wrong for them to intermarry with the Israelites.

So a confession was made. And they had to fix it. That was the proper thing to do, just as it is today with the Sacrament of Confession. They didn't have to fix it right away as a matter of prudence. The Israelites were allowed to figure out how to properly put away their spouses. But they did it.

In the Book of Ezra then we have the Eucharist, Confession, and Marriage. And it is, without too much meditation on the subjects, very easy to see their interconnection and obvious prefigurement of the Sacraments of the New Convenant.

3 comments:

Moonshadow said...

laxity on the prohibition of marrying non-Catholics has been a good thing for the Church?

Lax in terms of more readily granting dispensations?

"This impediment, inasmuch as it is diriment, is not enjoined by the natural, Divine, or written ecclesiastical law, but has been introduced by a universal custom and practice in the Eastern and Western Churches since the twelfth century. " - Disparity of Worship (Cult) - Catholic Encyc.

The idealistic bubble I would burst is any misplaced confidence that marrying one of like faith is thereafter smooth sailing. I hear more often than I wish from women and couples who may have started out compatible in terms of belief and practice, only to grow over the years at different rates and in different directions.

Marriage is the number one reason people leave and join the Church. We can't force people to convert to Catholicism (religious freedom and freedom of conscience) but do we want to drive out the Catholic party by prohibiting their marriage to a non-Catholic?

Ours is a religiously pluralistic society. The "good ol' days" were lose-lose.

Matt said...

The idealistic bubble I would burst is any misplaced confidence that marrying one of like faith is thereafter smooth sailing. I hear more often than I wish from women and couples who may have started out compatible in terms of belief and practice, only to grow over the years at different rates and in different directions.

I didn't mean to say that marrying someone of the same faith is a guarantee of perfection and marital bliss. :-)

As for marriage being the number reason people leave...

I thought about the perspective you brought up and I see your point. And I did mention in my posts that exceptions are made and were made even in scripture by the Israelites. Nevertheless, the Church would not require marriage to a Catholic under normal circumstances if it was not a good thing.

If people are willing to leave the Church for marriage, or because of marriage, then I would have to argue that the marriage is not the problem, but the catechesis they received. But there are a ton of other factors.

From what you said, and with some thought, I think that the pastors of the Church may have been using pastoral judgement in the laxity. And if you think about it, if they are more lenient now and work to fix the Catholic culture chances are that the children being brought up will be more ardent Catholics later in life, rather than some other faith due to a parent's leaving.

Thanks for the perspective.

Moonshadow said...

Sorry if I came across as, like, having some experience.

This was a great post, I really enjoyed it. And I love the zeal (but tempered) in those post-exilic books. "Wannabe zeal" or something.

But I get a sense in hearing these people who are now, to their surprise, in mixed-marriages of sorts, saying they wish someone had told them it could end up like this.

So, there you go.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton