Friday, November 21, 2014

Word for the Day: Scroll

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, the brilliant, childlike, and undeniably hilarious devotional classic that I can’t get out of my head, the pilgrim, Christian, is guided by Scripture.

Like everything else in PP, Scripture is personified by a character, in this case “Evangelist.” Just when Christian needs him most, Evangelist can be counted on to appear to show Christian the way.

Bunyan was embroiled in all sorts of religious currents, counter-currents, and brouhahas in 17th-century England; he was jailed for his religious beliefs and wrote PP mostly in jail; and I don’t know but what he wasn’t probably one of those Protestants who say sola scripture, baby. No need for church tradition to guide me! 

Evangelist is the only guide you need! 

Today’s Catholic mass readings are all about, if not scripture exactly, then the word. In Revelation 10, John is told by an angel to eat a scroll. How, I wonder, does he do that, with the long dowels on either side getting stuck in his throat? John’s nothing but tough, though, so he eats the scroll—“sweet” in his mouth, “sour” in his stomach—like me and Mexican food. It’s a mixed experience.

In the responsorial psalm (119), we hear the words, “I gasp with open mouth in my yearning for your command,” and we reply, “How sweet to my taste is your promise.” In the Gospel (from Luke 19), the chief priests, etc., can’t kill Jesus because “all the people were hanging on his words.”

The word is powerful. The word pleases, heals, and saves. I hunger for the word. But is the word enough?

Today, the Catholic Church also celebrates the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of those “events” that seems calculated to make the sola scriptura gang chortle into their well-thumbed Bibles. As Catholic a source as Living with Christ (my daily reader) admits that this “feast” is based on an “apocryphal source,” then goes on about the three-year-old Mary left in the temple to be educated after a priest has a vision.

Of course, that event can’t be found in scripture, whether we’re talking the Protestant or Catholic canon.

LWC adds: “The feast entered the Western calendar in 1585. Today, the feast celebrates Mary as a temple, where God dwelt in a special way through her role as Mother of Jesus.”

As a convert from Protestant persuasion, I love feasts like this. I love the Presentation of Mary just the way I love Thanksgiving, although it feeds a different part of me, soul not stomach.

I love Thanksgiving because it brings me together with family, and we do stuff that we haven’t had to research in any book. My grandparents and great-grands were doing this stuff before I was born. I am participating with them, my own beloved dead, in a rite of togetherness.

I observe Thanksgiving with my family without inquiring about its Scriptural source. You never heard me say, “Hey Dad, before you cut the turkey, before I eat a bit of stuffing, I need to know the book, chapter, and verse we’re following here. Did the first ‘Pilgrims’ eat turkey? Who were the first “Pilgrims’? Seriously, Dad. Drop the carving knife and tell me.”

As a Catholic, I am a member of a much larger, less temporal family. Together we praise and honor God in a way that has served Christians for two thousand years. I am sailing down the biggest river there is.

As a Catholic, I revel in traditional observances like the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And . . . as a Catholic, I attend mass as daily as possible and ingest the sweet and sour word of God. Whether or not the dowels get stuck in my throat.

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