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Monday, May 29, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017 Feast of Joan of Arc
SHAVUOT—FEAST OF ST. JOAN OF ARC
Nehemiah, Chapter 2, Verse 1-3
1 In the month Nisan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when the wine was in my charge, I took some and offered it to the king. Because I had never before been sad in his presence, 2 the king asked me, “Why do you look sad? If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart.” Though I was seized with great fear, 3 I answered the king: “May the king live forever! How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates consumed by fire?”
Here the God of God’s moves the heart of a great and powerful King toward Nehemiah like He did with Joseph the many years before when he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Our God is a God of love and life and desires only to nurture our souls.
Shavuot – The Holiday that Nurtures Our Souls
Shavuot is one of the three major Jewish festivals and comes exactly fifty days after Passover. After being redeemed from Egyptian slavery, the Jews arrived on Mount Sinai and received the Torah from God. This wonderful event took place 3,317 years ago. The word Shavuot means “weeks.” It marks the completion of the seven weeks, 49 days, between Passover and Shavuot during which the Jewish people prepared themselves for the giving of the Torah. During this time period they prepared themselves spiritually and entered into an eternal covenant with God with the giving of the Torah. Shavuot also means “oaths.” With the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people and God exchanged oaths, forming an everlasting covenant, not to forsake one another. Every year on this day we celebrate and renew our acceptance of God’s gift and our eternal bond with Him. There are several interesting customs associated with this holiday. We stay up all night learning Torah, read the Ten Commandments and the book of Ruth, and eat milk products, especially cheesecake. The custom of learning is especially fitting for the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah. The custom of dairy products seems surprising. Among the different explanations given for this custom, one points out that the Hebrew word for milk is chalav. When the numerical value of the letters in this word are added together – 8; 30; 2 – the total is forty. Forty hints to the number of days Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah. I would like to present another, perhaps more personal and spiritual reason for this custom. Unlike meat that nourishes the flesh, milk is full of calcium which nourishes the bones. The Hebrew for bones is “Atzmot תמוצע ” which is also the word that means “essence.” This custom hints to the fact that on this holiday we absorb the Torah which nourishes our essence. Additionally, milk is the most basic of foods that a nursing mother shares with her infant. The mother literally gives of her essence and nurtures the essence of the baby. This relationship parallels the personal bond and love that a mother shares with her child. On Shavuot we celebrate the personal relationship that we have with God, when He gives over His essence, the Torah, and we absorb it into the essence of our soul.
· On Shavuot, it is customary to adorn the Synagogue and home with flowers and green plants. This is in memory of the foliage around Mount Sinai
· On Shavuot, it is customary to eat milk products. Many Jewish houses, replace the normal meat/chicken dinners with a festivity of milk products, including cheese cake, blintzes, cheeses and ice cream. This custom commemorates the acts of the children of Israel at Sinai. Having received the Law, they understood that their dishes were no longer Kosher, having been used for milk and meat together. They also were in need of teaching on the intricate details of ritual slaughter (Shechitah). Lacking these, they opted to eat only milk products.
· It is customary in Orthodox and some traditional communities to partake in Bible/Jewish Law lessons throughout the eve and night of Shavuot. This is in order to accept the Torah for their generation. In Jerusalem, many people learn the whole night through until dawn and then walk to the Western Wall at sunrise and pray the morning and festival prayer from around 5-8 am. Thereafter, they go home for a hearty festive breakfast and then sleep the rest of the morning.
· The Book of Ruth is read in the Synagogue in the Morning of Shavuot. Ruth converted to Judaism and it is her descendant, David, who became King in Israel. The book of Ruth demonstrates that achieving a high level in Judaism, is neither ethnic nor genetic.
· It is customary to wear new clothes on Shavuot. In the seven weeks (the Omer) preceding Shavuot, people refrain from purchasing major clothing items.
Feast of St. Joan of Arc
John McCain notes in his study of leadership that Saint Joan of Arc was an example of leadership that was characterized by authenticity. At the command of voices that only she could hear, she rode to battle and saved her country. SHE COULD NOT READ OR WRITE, BUT SAINTS AND ANGELS SPOKE TO HER. Michael the Archangel, and Catherine and Margaret, the patron saints of France, commanded the thirteen-year-old peasant girl to pray vigilantly and attend Mass regularly. She is remembered as very beautiful, a slight seventeen-year-old girl with black hair who could ride for long hours in heavy armor without any sign of discomfort. She kept silent for long periods, but could be roused to great anger at men swearing or behaving in some other sinful manner. She prayed and fasted often, and seemed most comfortable in the company of poor priests. Before they embarked, she had dictated to a priest a letter for the English commanders in Orléans, warning them to “go away back to England . . . or I will drive you out of France.” This is the first the English had ever heard of Joan of Arc. To the French, and their dauphin, who now placed their trust in her, she was becoming a saint. As they marched to Orléans, she saw to the spiritual needs of her soldiers, ordering them to abandon their vices, to refrain from looting and harming civilians, to confess their sins and attend Mass regularly, which they did. Men who had refused to serve Charles in what they believed was a losing cause now rushed to her standard, and prepared for battle. A few days later, the rest of her army began to arrive with much needed supplies, just as word was received that another English army was marching to the aid of her enemies. She went to sleep that night happy in the knowledge that the moment was at hand when she would accomplish what her saints had commanded her to do. She awoke in the middle of the night, and stirred her generals with the news that they must attack immediately. In fact, a battle had already begun at the nearest English fortification. Joan commanded her page to bring her horse, as she dressed in her armor, and then raced to join the fight carrying her banner. When she reached her soldiers, she saw that they were losing the battle, but her presence inspired them, and they rallied to take the fort. After the battle Joan wept for the fallen, French and English alike. On the next day they took another English fort, and the day after one more. But the fighting during the third battle had been ferocious. Joan was wounded by an arrow through her shoulder as she attempted to scale one of the fort’s walls, and was carried to safety. Seeing her hurt and carried from the field, her troops lost courage, and the assault was suspended. Some witnesses say she removed the arrow herself. Others remembered her soldiers treating the wound. Whatever the case, legend has it that she responded to her soldiers’ fears by telling them to rally to her when they saw her banner strike the fort’s wall. And when they did see it, they recovered their courage and took the fort. The next day the English abandoned the siege. Orléans was saved. Both English and French generals gave the credit to Joan. She gave it to God. Then she rode to meet Charles. When they met, she bowed to him, and urged him to hasten to Reims, where his crown awaited him. But Charles hesitated. His will was weak, for he was not a man of great courage, and his advisors at court, some of whom resented Joan’s interference, cautioned him to proceed slowly, for there were still many powerful English armies in France that had to be destroyed. Joan, as always, rode in the front, carrying her banner, urging her soldiers to victory. Inspired by her courage, and by the obvious favor of God that protected her, they carried the day, routing the English and opening the road to Reims. The English and all the French, those loyal to the dauphin and those who fought for Henry, recognized that this strange young girl, now known as the Maid of Orléans, must be in the service of a sovereign more powerful than any earthly king. Joan in the end like the eternal King she served was abandoned by her earthly King and was captured by the Burundians. John of Luxembourg took her to his castle, where, she twice tried to escape, once by jumping from a castle tower into the moat below. Attempts to ransom her were refused, as were French attempts to liberate her by force. After several months, Luxembourg handed Joan over to the English, and she was taken to the city of Rouen, where a corrupt bishop, Pierre Cauchon, was instructed to put her on trial for heresy. The rules of war did not permit the English to condemn Joan for opposing them in battle. So they sought her death by falsely accusing her of witchcraft. Cauchon tried for weeks to compel her to confess, but despite threats of torture and execution, she steadfastly refused to divulge her conversations with Charles or to concede that the saints who spoke to her were demons or merely inventions of her own blasphemy. She was denied permission to attend Mass and receive the sacraments. She was often kept in chains and became very ill. Yet she stayed true to herself, and to her saints. She wore a dress when they brought her to a church cemetery to hear her sentence read, condemning her to be burned at the stake. She asked that her conviction be appealed to the pope. Her persecutors refused her. And then, Joan of Arc, for the first and only time in her brief life, tried to be someone she was not. Fearing the flames, she confessed to being a heretic and recanted her claim to have heard and obeyed her saints, and begged her enemies for mercy. Mercy they had little of, but having taken from her what their armies could not, they no longer thought her life such a great thing that it could not be spared. She was now nothing more than a confessed imposter. They had wanted to destroy her truth, that she was God’s messenger. Having done so, it mattered little whether she died or suffered long imprisonment. Their work done, they left her in her cell, to the taunts and abuses of the guards, and commanded her to dress only in women’s clothes. When they next saw her, a few days later, she was attired in the clothes of a boy. She had recovered her courage and her truth. Her saints had reproached her for denying them, and she had begged their forgiveness. She had become her true self again. She was the Maid of Orléans, a pretty, pious nineteen-year-old girl who had left her father’s house and taken up arms for more than a year, as heaven had commanded her. And with heaven’s encouragement she had defeated France’s enemies in battle after battle, frightened and awed the bravest English heart, rallied a nation to her banner, and made a weak, defeated man a king. God’s messenger went bravely to her death, forgiving her accusers and asking only that a priest hold high a crucifix for her to see it above the flames. She raised her voice to heaven, calling out to her saints and her Savior. Even her enemies wept at the sight. Her executioner was shaken with remorse, and an anguished English soldier who witnessed the crime feared for his soul. “God forgive us,” he cried, “We have burned a saint.”
The Gift of Understanding
Understanding is a gift “to give a deeper insight and penetration of divine truths held by faith, not as a transitory enlightenment but as a permanent intuition.” Illuminating the mind to truth, the Holy Spirit aids a person to grasp the truths of faith easily and to penetrate the depths of those truths. Such illumination, grasping, and penetration allows one to enter a divine intimacy with the Lord. This gift also assists in understanding natural truths and the use of created things but through a lens of faith. While enjoying created things, a person understands that they not only attest to His majesty as the Creator but also are gifts from God to be used wisely. As such, a person understands that all of creation is passing and has a sense of detachment. Therefore, creation does not become an end in itself, or created things idols, but one understands they are gifts from Almighty God. Understanding, then, moves a person always to be mindful to place God first in life, to be generous in helping others in need, and to reject what is useless.
 McCain, John and Salter, Mark. (2005) Character is destiny. Random House, New York.
at May 29, 2017
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