Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Parental Love: IV Maccabees 16 with poem by Joaquin Miller, The Greatest Battle That Ever Was Fought

Daily Readings
Isaiah 55, I Maccabees 2, IV Maccabees 16, Luke 13

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 16

Parental Love
Our author continues to heighten the intensity of his argument in IV Maccabees 16; he has progressed from an old man, to seven very young men, and now he comes to an elderly woman, each of the above having despised the fiercest tortures, and each with the same powers of divine reason. But he makes the case that this old mother has suffered the greatest tortures of all, greater even than the fires of the famed fiery furnace withstood by the three Hebrew children. The fires of parental love complicate her tortures as she watches and urges her sons to die willingly. Her argument to her sons was that as they were given the gift of life by God, so they were to suffer willingly for God. In fact, our author argues, it is unreasonable for people who have religious knowledge not to withstand pain. This mother is favorably compared to Abraham, to Isaac, to Daniel and to the three Hebrew children. More powerful than a man, she conquers the tyrant himself. What a tribute to this woman, the point being, however, that this is a climax of tribute to pious reason and its triumph over the emotions. Is any more proof necessary?

The Greatest Battle That Ever Was Fought
Joaquin Miller, 1841-1913

The greatest battle that ever was fought—
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not:
It was fought by the Mothers of Men.

Not with cannon or battle shot,
With sword or nobler pen;
Not with eloquent word or thought
From the wonderful minds of men;

But deep in a walled-up woman’s heart;
A woman that would not yield;
But bravely and patiently bore her part;
Lo! there is the battlefield.

No marshalling troops, no bivouac song,
No banner to gleam and wave;
But, Oh, these battles they last so long—
From babyhood to the grave!

But faithful still as a bridge of stars
She fights in her walled-up town;
Fights on, and on, in the endless wars;
Then silent, unseen goes down!

Ho! ye with banners and battle shot,
With soldiers to shout and praise,
I tell you the kingliest victories fought
Are fought in these silent ways.
407:1066

Collect for the Day
We give them back to thee, dear Lord, who gavest them to us. Yet as thou didst not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return. What thou gavest thou takest not away, O Lover of souls;; for what is thine is ours also if we are thine. And life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; and draw us closer to thyself that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with thee. And while thou dost prepare for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where they are and thou art, we too may be for evermore.

[489:154:August 22 William Penn,1644-1718]

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Ark of Reason: IV Maccabees 15 with poem by John Donne, Holy Sonnet V

Daily Readings
Isaiah 53, I Maccabees 1, IV Maccabees 15, Luke 12

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 15

The Ark of Reason
Hadas [462:219] claims that IV Maccabees 15 is the acme of his treatise on reason. It is an encomium on the behavior, faith, reason, endurance, nobility and love of the mother of the seven. No praise is too great for this one who chooses between life for a time and life for all eternity. She overcomes all advocates, nature, parental love, family and torture, to choose death by torture in order to obtain eternal life. Again, reference is made to Abraham for this woman has his fortitude as she makes her decision by right and devout reason. Like Noah and the ark, bringing hope to the world through the survival of Noah’s family (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 14:6), hope to the world is sustained by the ark of reason in this woman that faith in God might persist.

Holy Sonnet V
John Donne

I am a little world made cunningly
Of elements, and an angelic sprite,
But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
My world’s both parts, and (oh) both parts must die.
You which beyond that heaven which was most high
Have found new spheres, and of new lands can write,
Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
Or wash it if it must be drowned no more:
But oh it must be burnt! alas the fire
Of lust and envy have burnt it heretofore,
And made it fouler; Let their flames retire
And burn me ô Lord, with a fiery zeal
Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heal.
395:63

Collect for the Day
Lord Jesus, you alone are the resurrection and the life; those who believe in you will never die. Come to us, and speak new life upon all our dyings. Look upon us as we stand at the thresholds of our entombing experiences, unable to see or move because of the grave clothes which bind us. Set us free. In your name we pray. Amen.

[479:325]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Mind of Abraham: IV Maccabees 14 with poem by Bink Noll, Abraham's Madness Poem

Daily Readings
Isaiah 52, III Macabees 7, IV Maccabees 14, Luke 11

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 14

The Mind of Abraham
The number seven figures largely in this passage: seven youths, seven tortures, seven-fold fear and seven days of creation. The number seven, the sacred hebdomad, is invoked to bring to perfection the sacrifice of our story. “Several passages in Philo celebrate the virtues of the number seven, e.g., De opif. Mundi 90: ‘I doubt whether anyone could adequately celebrate the properties of the hebdomad, for they are beyond all words.’ Philo then mentions some of these, properties and concludes (ibid. 128): ‘These and yet more than these are the statements and reflections of men on the number seven, showing the reasons or the very high honor which that number has attained in Nature, the honor in which it is held by the most approved investigators of the science of Mathematics and Astronomy among Greeks and other peoples, and the special honor accorded to by that lover of virtue, Moses’” [462:216].

All of the above is simply a transition to the more amazing feat of reason accorded the mother of the seven. Her torture was more diverse than theirs and therefore more excruciating, leaving reason even more honored than in her sons. For she endured the birth pangs seven times, she had the sympathy that every parental creature has for its young. Here our author cites examples from natural history, birds and bees defending their own, and this instinctual behavior was also part of the torture overcome by the mother bringing her to the mind of Abraham, that is, sacrificing willingly that which is most dear to her in the entire world, her own flesh and blood, sons of her womb.

Abraham’s Madness Poem
Bink Noll


When Isaac watched his father strain back
the ram’s head, its throat separate and bleed,
evisceration, and fat turn to smoke,

not he had heard any angel speak
but felt sharply where the rope still cut,
how his own neck cracked, his own flesh burned.

I likewise learned to distrust my sire
whose god in our house was powerful
as revenge shuddering through a plot.

Mornings, his story would begin,
“My dear boy, God will provide the lamb,”
when I knew I went the only lamb,

knew the god had repeated his demand
and violence on this man who adored
both of us past any hope of reason.

I was proving tall, bright, soft of voice.
Then he—his love wild to get me grown—
would change and cheat the law, then reach out

to slay some cheap and easy innocent,
then stop the silence raging in his ear
by reports of angels I never heard.

How we sons lay awake to ponder
the misery of such divided men
to whom the patriarchal lies come true.

My son shall not watch me in a fury
of faith take fire to the altar where
I sacrifice nothing I cherish.

He may feel my hands grab like priest hands,
his eyes may die in the brightness
that I have meant obedience entire.

So much I walked with my mad Abraham.
395:81

Collect for the Day
Lord Jhesu Crist, that madest me,
That boughtest me on rode-tree
And fore-ordainedst that I be,
Thou knowst what Thou wouldst do with me;
Do with me now as pleseth Thee.
Amen, Jhesu, for Thy pyte.

[286:89:271 King Henry VI, 1421-1471]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Willing Martyr: IV Maccabees 13 with poem by Xenophon, from Cyropedia

Daily Readings
Isaiah 51, III Maccabees 6, IV Maccabees 13, Luke 10

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 13

Willing Martyr
IV Maccabees 13 begins the application of the emotional examples of the brothers’ martyrdom, which illustrated the supremacy of reason. Fascinating that the examples of reason over emotions are in themselves so emotional!

The reference to the three Hebrew children in vs. 9 is appropriate because it is generally thought that Daniel was written out of the same political impetus that spawned IV Maccabees [462:211]. The reference to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in vs. 17 is even more fascinating. Hadas writes: “If Daniel and his companions offer the closest parallel to our martyrs, especially in the use of fire, Isaac as a patriarch remains the primal pattern of the willing martyr.” [462:211]. Seldom has the Church considered Isaac as a martyr; rather it has wrestled with Abraham’s felicidal act. The martyrdom of the seven brothers brings all of this into fresh focus, while at the same time suggesting the ‘armor’ of God as their divine protection (cf. Ephesians 6:11, 13-18)..

from Cyropedia
Xenophon

Those who are sprung from the same seed,
nursed by the same mother,
reared in the same home,
loved by the same parents…
how are they not the closest of all?”
462:213

Collect for the Day
Blessed are all thy Saints, O God and King, who have travelled over the tempestuous sea of this mortal life, and have made the harbour of peace and felicity. Watch over us who are still in our dangerous voyage; and remember such as lie exposed to the rough storms of trouble and temptations. Frail is our vessel, and the ocean is wide; but as in thy mercy thou hast set our course, so steer the vessel of our life toward the everlasting shore of peace, and bring us at length to the quiet haven of our heart’s desire, where thou, O our God, are blessed, an livest and reignest for ever and ever.

[286:123:413 St. Augustine, 354-430]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Feelings Like His Own: IV Maccabees 12 with reading by William Shakespeare, Hath Not a Jew Eyes?

Daily Readings
Isaiah 50, III Maccabees 5, IV Maccabees 12, Luke 9

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 12

Feelings Like His Own
Our author heightens the dramatic tension of the death of the 7th brother in IV Maccabees 12 by eliciting the sympathy of the king, the youth of the brother, and the apparent advice of the mother that he succumb to the kings blandishments (cf. 462:206). The mother speaks in Hebrew to her son, obviously a language unknown by the king, and immediately after speaking to him, the boy requests that he be freed of his fetters in order that he may speak to the king and his friends. Once free, however, he runs to the fires and from there makes his speech condemning the king’s actions with words of human sympathy. That is, he confronts the king with the obvious, that the men whose tongues he has cut out has feelings like his own, hopes, fear, dreams like his own. He curses the king to punishment ‘both in the present life and when (he is) dead.’ And then he takes his own life in the braziers and cheats the king and his henchmen of further torture.

Hath Not A Jew Eyes?
from The Merchant of Venice, III.i. 63
William Shakespeare


Hath not a Jew eyes?
hath not a Jew hands,
organs, dimensions, senses,
affections, passions?
fed with the same food,
hurt with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases,
healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled
by the same winter and summer,
as a Christian is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh?
if you poison us, do we not die?
and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
413:464:8

Collect for the Day
In these dark days when negation has so deeply entered into thought,
and the futility of life oppresses man souls,
when belief and unbelief appear indifferent
and what is left
is natural passion to express the pride of life,
or the empty void of nothingness
when the nerve to live and to create is weakened and suicides increase—
O Lord, forgive the failures of your Church to witness to the world
that justice should run down as water
and righteousness a mighty stream,
O Lord, forgive the failure of the Christian life
that lives so worldly
that few can see the life of Spirit
that must proclaim the kingdom of God’s love
to glorify his Name.

[286:108:353 Fr. Gilbert Shaw, 1886-1967]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Jury of Righteous Plaintiffs: IV Maccabees 11 with poem by Theodore Watts-Dunton, John the Pilgrim

Daily Readings
Isaiah 49, III Maccabees 4, IV Maccabees 11, Luke 8

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 11

Jury of Righteous Plaintiffs
This family is like a jury of righteous plaintiffs. The more apparent their virtues, the more judgment they heap upon the head of Antiochus Epiphanes, the tyrant king. On the other hand, by means of pious reason they have clear in their minds the image of a waiting paradise.

The brothers, five and six, bring a new note to this recital in that the fifth brother jumps up voluntarily and the sixth articulates their triumph, i.e., he tells the king that he and his brothers have “paralysed your tyranny!” Indeed they have, far from cursing the tyrant and his actions they have embraced them, to his undoing, they clearly say, but without regret, without a storm of invective. They willingly go to their deaths for the sake of their family, their nation and their God.

John the Pilgrim
Theodore Watts-Dunton
1832-1914

Beneath the sand-storm John the Pilgrim prays;
But when he rises, lo! an Eden smiles,
Green leafy slopes, meadows of chamomiles,
Claspt in a silvery river’s winding maze:
“Water, water! Blessed be God!” he says,
and totters gasping toward those happy isles.
Then all is fled! Over the sandy piles
The bald-eyed vultures come and stand at gaze.

“God heard me not,” says he, “blessed be God!”
And dies. But as he nears the pearly strand,
Heav’n’s outer coast where waiting angels stand,
He looks below: “Farewell, thou hooded clod,
Brown corpse the vultures tear on bloody sand:
God heard my prayer for life—blessed be God!”
407:1346

Collect for the Day
O God, who broughtest me from the rest of last night
Unto the joyous light of this day,
Be thou bringing me from the new light of this day
Unto the guiding light of eternity.
Oh! from the new light of this day
Unto the guiding light of eternity.

[286:165:548 from Carmina Gadelica, tr. Alexander Carmichael (1961)]

Eternal Torments: IV Maccabees 10 with poem by John Milton, Satan's Pride

Daily Readings
Isaiah 48, III Maccabees 3, IV Maccabees 10, Luke 7

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 10

Eternal Torments
One of the elements in each of the speeches of the seven brothers is their condemnation of the tyrant to eternal torments. They are dying for their righteous adherence to the family and the Law of God, but the tyrant is building for himself a record of heinous deeds and eternal suffering. In contrast their willingness to suffer for the good will yield them the beneficence of God. The second and third brother in II Maccabees declare that they will get their lives back again, presumably in the resurrection. IV Maccabees has no such affirmation, however, it is perhaps implied as the opposite of the torments reserved for the tyrant.

The 4th verse of IV Maccabees 10 is missing in the text of the New Revised Standard Version, but other texts include it as follows: “So if you have any instrument of torture, apply it to my body; for you cannot touch my soul, even if you wish.” Eleazar in II Maccabees 6:30 suggests the same as does Matthew 10:28.

Satan’s Pride
from “Parasdise Lost,” Book IV
John Milton
1608-1674

Is there no place
Left for repentance, none for pardon left?
None left but by submission; and that word
Disdain forbids me, ad my dread of shame
Among the Spirits beneath, whom I seduced
With other promises and other vaunts
Than to submit, boasting I could subdue
The Omnipotent. Ay me! they little know
How dearly I abide that boast so vain,
Under what torments inwardly I groan.
While they adore me on the throne of Hell,
With diadem and sceptre high advanced,
The lower still I fall, only supreme
In misery: such joy ambition finds!
But say I could repent, and could obtain,
By act of grace, my former state; how soon
‘Would highth recal high thoughts, how soon unsay
What feigned submission swore! Ease would recant
Vows made in pain, as violent and void
(For never can true reconcilement grow
Where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep);
Which would but lead me to a worse relapse
And heavier fall: so should I purchase dear
Short intermission, bought with double smart.
This knows my Punisher; therefore as far
From granting he, as I from begging, peace.
All hope excluded thus, behold, instead
Of us, outcast, exiled, his new delight,
Mankind, created, and for him this World!
So farewell hope, and, with hope, farewell fear,
Farewell remorse! All good to me is lost;
Evil, be thou my Good.
407:1297

Collect for the Day
O Lord, my maker and protector, who has graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which thou hast required. When I behold the works of thy hands and consider the course of thy providence, give me grace always to remember that thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor thy ways my ways. And while it shall please thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which thou has imported, let me serve thee with active zeal and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which thou receivest shall be satisfied with knowledge. Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ’s sake, amen.

[286:116:378 Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784]