The Sacrifice of Issac

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio

Second Week of Lent
March 4, 2012

Everyone knows that Lent is about sacrifice. So it’s fitting that the first reading in the second Sunday of Lent recounts one of the most famous sacrifices of all time.

Here’s the background. Abraham really only desires one thing–a son who will lead to descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. The only problem is that his wife is barren and advanced in years. So he tries to solve the problem in his own way, and produces a son by a slave girl. This does not prove to work out very well. Next God intervenes, works a miracle, and causes the elderly Sarah to conceive and bear a son. Isaac, then, is not only the firstborn son of Abraham, but really his last hope. There is absolutely nothing more precious to Abraham than his son. Indeed, to give up his son would be to give up himself.

This, by the way, is the true meaning of sacrifice in the ancient world. God deserves everything because he has given us everything. So ancient peoples instinctively knew that authentic sacrifice could never be just a nod to God. The sacrifice owe the Creator must be big and precious enough to represent our entire lives. That’s why human sacrifice was so prevalent in ancient times–the offering of the firstborn was seen as the only adequate worship of the gods responsible for our very existence. In Genesis 22, God stops Abraham before he slays his son. The command to sacrifice Isaac was a test to see if Abraham was truly devoted to God in faith, obedience, and gratitude. God does not want Isaac’s blood, only Abraham’s heart. So he provides a substitute, a ram, which shows the true meaning of all authentic sacrifice–we give to God something precious that represents our very selves.

But the image of Isaac carrying the wood of the sacrifice up the slope of Mt. Moriah should tip us off that this story points beyond itself to a future sacrifice beyond all comprehension. The ram caught in the thicket is not the true substitute, and the true sacrifice does not take place upon Moriah. It is the Lamb, not the ram, God’s Son, not Abraham’s, that is offered. Like Isaac, he carried the wood of the sacrifice up the slope of Mt. Calvary. But unlike Isaac, he did so freely, knowing what that sacrifice would cost him. And his sacrifice accomplishes what no animal sacrifice could possibly accomplish–the eternal salvation of all willing to accept this free gift of love.

For this is what the whole story is about. From Genesis to Revelation, the theme is the astonishing love of God. The love of the Father for his Incarnate Word: “This is my Son, my Beloved” (Mark 9:7). The love of the Father who sacrifices that beloved Son for us (John 3:16). The love of the Son who leaves behind the glory of heaven and the brilliant cloud of Mt. Tabor for the agony of Calvary.

Though it is we who owe everything to God, it is He who sacrifices everything for us. Our love for Him can only be a faint echo of His generous and unstoppable love for us. “Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will not grant us all things besides?” (Romans 8:32).

So this is the true meaning of Lenten sacrifice. We renew and deepen our dedication to Him and express that by sacrificing something meaningful to us. But as we go about our fasting and almsgiving, let’s not forget to give him some extra time in prayer. After all, in this Sunday’s gospel of the Transfiguration, God did not ask us to give up chocolate. But, after identifying Jesus as his beloved Son, he did give us a very clear command. He said “listen to Him!”

A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
March 4, 2012

If God knows all things, why did he put Abraham to the test?
God put Abraham to the test. […] [And the angel said to Abraham] “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

In the first reading of this Sunday’s Mass, the Church hears the account of the testing of Abraham. It is very clear from the sacred text: God puts Abraham to a true and real test. Yet, we firmly believe that God knows all things, past and present and future. If then the Creator knew Abraham’s faith and knew that he would not spare his own son but would be willing to offer him up in sacrifice, why did God need to test him?

Two Steps to Glory
Bottom line: Each of us has within us a glory – not absolute but potential. We realize that potential by taking two steps.

In today’s Gospel we hear about the Transfiguration – that moment when Peter, James and John glimpsed Jesus’ glory. Something similar applies to us. We have within ourselves a certain glory – not absolute, of course, but potential. C.S. Lewis expresses it this way:

Deeper into Lent: Living in the Kingdom of God
If I asked you what it is that you most want right now, I would probably receive a variety of answers. Some would say a new job or better job security, maybe better pay or just the respect of their employers. Others might speak of health issues, concern for their children or the need to get their finances in order. Still others might mention the need for a new car or the desire for the latest computer or television… maybe just a good vacation this summer.

How’s Lent Going So Far? Here are 3 Biblical Reasons for Fasting and Self-Denial
Every year at the beginning of Lent, I’m encouraged and excited about it. However after a few weeks or even after a few days, we start growing weary of the fasting and penance. So in order to remind myself of why we’re keeping Lent, here are more reflections on what Bible teaches about fasting and self-denial:

Journey to the Foot of the Cross: Bishop Ricken Offers 10 Things to Remember For Lent
1. Remember the formula. The Church does a good job capturing certain truths with easy-to-remember lists and formulas: 10 Commandments, 7 sacraments, 3 persons in the Trinity. For Lent, the Church gives us almost a slogan—Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving—as the three things we need to work on during the season.

2. It’s a time of prayer. Lent is essentially an act of prayer spread out over 40 days. As we pray, we go on a journey, one that hopefully brings us closer to Christ and leaves us changed by the encounter with him.

Everyday Holiness for Ordinary Lives
Most of the years the saints walked the earth were much like our own: hidden, spent in quiet, ordinary duties of serving others and working. Jesus himself spent most of his earthly life — the first 30 years — working alongside St. Joseph as a carpenter before his three greatest years of ministry and mission of salvation.

The majority of our lives are spent in humble service through our daily duties. Why are these years so important in our spiritual formation? How have some used these mundane experiences to become saints? They looked beyond the everyday toil toward eternity.

Cardinal Dolan joins letter against mandate ‘accommodation’
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan joined more than 500 university presidents, academics and religious leaders in a letter denouncing President Obama’s contraception mandate “accommodation.”

The letter, released Feb. 14 with the title “Unacceptable,” characterizes the administration’s proposed accommodation as a “cheap accounting trick” that insults the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and other believers.

Did Christ Erase the Need for Purgatory?
A reader emailed me a question about the distinction between the temporal and eternal consequences due to sin In a nutshell, the Catholic view is that sin incurs eternal damnation, and that Jesus Christ takes this consequence away for believers through His Death on the Cross, but that Christ didn’t (and didn’t intend to) remove every consequence of sin. In fact, as you’ll see below, it’s precisely because of Christ’s Death on the Cross that Purgatory exists.

There Is No Moral Confusion When One Is A Faithful Catholic
Probably one of the best things I have in my possession as a faithful Catholic is the knowledge of being assured that what I believe and what is taught by the Catholic Church through the Pope and the Magisterium is the Truth. I take to heart the words our Lord spoke to the apostles when he said “He who listens to you listens to me: he who rejects you rejects me: but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:16. There are very few verses that tell us as directly as this, that the Church Christ founded on Peter, and that is protected from the gates of hell by the Holy Spirit, is to speak and teach the faithful as the words coming from Christ himself for the Church IS Christ. Christ does not, nor can he change, for God cannot change and it is for this reason that the Church has spoken the same Truth, consistently for the last two thousand years.

Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws
Listers, if we are to be Catholic we must think like Catholics. Too often Catholics – both sides of the American political aisle – try to be Catholic according to the precepts and philosophies of modernity and its intellectual trends. We push our Catholicism into the contraints of something alien to it and then wonder why our faith seems tenuous and conflated. The Catholic tradition has long rested on Aquinas’ treatment of the divinely ordered cosmos to answer questions of providence, Scripture, nature and politics. Catholics cannot thrive within philosophies and theologies marked by isolated stomping grounds and modern blinders. Catholics believe in one divinely ordered Creation. Catholics should not judge nor live their Catholic lives according to modernity, but should judge and live within modernity according to Catholicism. To accomplish this feat, one must understand the how existence is ordered and how harmony of these laws promotes the common good.

The Necessity of Miracles
Kenneth Woodward in The Book of Miracles makes a distinction among various types of miracles and their significance. In the multiple branchings-out of Hinduism, miracles are taken as signs of spiritual power as well as compassion for others. Miracles of Hindu gods like Krishna and holy men like Shankara and the “poet saints” consist of curing sicknesses and raising the dead. In yoga, as the ascetical/mystical offshoot of Hinduism, high states of perfection became associated with miraculous powers such as superhuman strength and the ability to

God’s Law is Deeply Personal and Loving
There is a danger when we speak of God’s Law, to think of it as we might think of any secular law. We usually think of secular law merely to be some sort of impersonal code written by some nameless legislators or bureaucrats. We have not met them, we do not know them, or necessarily love or trust them. In effect, they are an abstraction in our mind called “the government” or “the man” or just “they,” as in, “They don’t want you to park here” or “They’ll arrest you for that.”

Filling the God-Shaped Hole
St. Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in Thee.” Our hearts have a God-shaped hole, so to speak. When God fills that void, we can be contented. But as Fr. Barron notes in his Catholicism series, we constantly seek to fill that hole with something (anything) other than God. This fails, for three obvious reasons:

Why does the Priest veil his hands during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament?
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the most beautiful devotions of the Catholic Church. I wish that this devotion would become popular again on Sunday evenings. What a beautiful way to complete the Lord’s Day.

Some readers here are not Catholic, so let us briefly explain what is meant by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Chesterton: Apostle of the Home
Few words are as evocative as that of “home.” The multiplicity of usages and shades of meaning are really rather impressive. Take, for instance, the simple example of saying “he finally went home.” This could mean at least two, very different things; one, a long overstayed and saucy guest finally left your party, or, two, a saintly soul passed onto his eternal reward. When saying “home,” I might mean the place I live, my home state, tradition, or, even, the Eternal Paradise.

4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture
Listers, St. Thomas Aquinas asks the question Whether there was any need for a Divine Law? in his Summa Theologica I-II.91.4. The article is part of the Angelic Doctor’s treatment of law and more specifically the four laws that govern existence: Eternal, Divine, Natural and Human. In essence, the reason there was a need for the Divine Law – a law revealed by God – is because Divine Law responds to a certain lack in and transcends the limits of man’s knowledge and naturally given end and capacity.

Knowledge without Wisdom
there is nothing wrong with vocational training; a fulfilling career is an important part of a good life. Much of my academic work over the years has been devoted to career preparation. I was once a Dean of Medicine and there are few more vocational courses than medicine. Our students were all bright but they were narrowly focussed on their career goals.

They resented any time spent on subjects that weren’t directly related to diagnosing or treating patients. It’s easy to see why.

Food and Hydration: A Natural Law Perspective
Bringing clarity to the provision of nutrition and hydration to the terminally ill, dying, or those in persistent vegetative state (PVS).

Hearing about “health care proxies,” “living wills,” “durable power of attorney” can be somewhat baffling to the ordinary person, especially to the person of faith.1 For he or she knows that these legal instruments are meant to address end-of-life care which, owing to the advances in technology, raises not only medical but ethical issues, as well. One such issue concerns the administration of food and hydration to the terminally ill, or to the dying.

When Do Demons First Show Up in Scripture?
A reader writes:

My husband and I were discussing the Gospel reading and he asked why demons aren’t mentioned in the OT when they’re all over the New. Me: huh? They aren’t mentioned? While frantically trying to remember my studies of Genesis and Exodus and not finding any demon references in them. He said he’d tried to dig out references and there were hardly any from the OT. Me: maybe it grew it up in the inter-testamental period. Him (dubious). So… assuming he’s right, where does the concept of ‘demon’ come from that by NT times, everyone knows what they are? Do you know as a former Bible only Christian, or can you or your readers points to some reference material on this?

Lenten Reflections from CATHOLICISM, Week 2

Idolatry – A commentary by Fr. Robert Barron

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