Introduction to Ecclesiastes
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a weird fit. If the books of the Bible were puzzle pieces, you would have a hard time figuring out where to put Ecclesiastes—it's the kind of piece that needs to be jammed into place, or one that you might be tempted to adjust with a pair of scissors. So Ecclesiastes is definitely odd—Plenty of scholars and theologians agree that Ecclesiastes just feels like it's coming from another planet, one different from almost all the other books of the Bible (except maybe for Job). In fact, many of the rabbis who were putting the Hebrew Bible together didn't want to put Ecclesiastes in—but they were out-voted. Ecclesiastes was a definite original. Some people suggest that Ecclesiastes is so different from everybody else because he was influenced by Greek philosophers—like Epicurus, who was also into talking about heavy subjects like death in a big way. But there isn't any Greek influence on Ecclesiastes's language, which remains Hebrew, so this all seems sort of unlikely. Ecclesiastes is just the Greek version of Koheleth, which means "Gatherer" or "Assembler"—either because he gathered all the sayings and observations that make up this book, or he used to gather together people and teach them these sayings and observations, which led to his English nickname of "Teacher" or "Preacher. For a long time, Ecclesiastes was said to be the same as King Solomon, the wisest of Israel's kings. But in reality, he lived about half-a-millennium after Solomon. And speaking of wisdom, Koheleth challenges some of the basic points and assumptions made by nearly all the other books in the Bible. Those other books don't ever question the idea that life has a purpose, and that God is guiding that purpose towards something that's ultimately good (again, with the possible exception of Job). Yeah, human beings keep messing up, provoking God's wrath and giving him the occasional panic attack—but the long arc of the Bible seems to bend towards a final time of peace, when the Israelites and the rest of humanity will be living righteously and without endless war. Not so for Koheleth. Yet, despite how radically different the Book of Ecclesiastes is, it's had a huge impact on world literature. The American writer Thomas Wolfe said that it was "the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound." And the rock band The Byrds used an entire passage from Ecclesiastes as the lyrics to their hippie-anthem, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" But to understand the hype, you really need to dig into this often-disturbing masterpiece.
Why Should I Care?
The word "wise" is often thrown around like so many foam peanuts. For instance, "wise guy" isn't usually a term for someone who's wise, at all—we apply it to a cocky kid or a Goodfellas-style mobster much more regularly. People even say "wise man" more sarcastically than seriously. But wisdom literature was a popular style of writing in the ancient Middle East. You needed wisdom because life was hard. Assyria could invade you. Babylon could invade you. They could murder you, murder your family, pillage, and plunder. But even now, in the present day, when you're a lot less likely to get stampeded to death by a horde of Babylonian charioteers, you still stand the risk of dying at some point. In fact, recent studies show that 100% of all human beings will, eventually… die. It's science.
So, death is inevitable—sorry. So, we're all going to die. (Prepare your frown-face emoticons.) But this is also why Ecclesiastes still has a lot to say. The author has done some hard livin'—he implies he's been through it all. And after these experiences—from living an intense life—Ecclesiastes has something to say. He has wisdom to impart; he wants to give you the news. But is it good news? A fair amount of Ecclesiastes focuses on death and the meaninglessness of life. It begins with the famous refrain, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!" and repeats it throughout the book. Now, "vanity" here doesn't mean staring at your reflection and hoping everyone thinks you're winsome and attractive. He's not saying the whole world is just one giant Barbie Vanity Dream Playset by Mattel. Here, the word translated as "vanity" is closely related to the Hebrew word for "fog" or "mist"—the great Hebrew Bible scholar, Robert Alter, translates it as "mere breath." It means the world is a place where everything is always disappearing, dissolving, changing from one day to the next. Things vanish just like the cold breath you breathe out on a winter day. There's a sense of futility, absurdity, confusion, and meaninglessness all mixed up in it too. Basically, he's saying that life is pretty insubstantial. So is Ecclesiastes just a Debbie Downer? Is that all he has to say? Thankfully, the answer is "Not really." Some people think Ecclesiastes is totally pessimistic, but a good number also think he's got a lot more going on. He's not just looking at life and saying, "This is total lame-sauce." He's admitting that life seems meaningless—or, at least, that the plot of life isn't immediately clear. Books like the Bible or the Teachings of the Buddha or Plato's Dialogues try to show people what the plot is or might be—and if you're looking at life without a guidebook, it might easily seem like "vanity." Ecclesiastes is trying to give you the antidote to all this vanity.
Loretto (Mary’s House) human rights day
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 5, Verse 6
Despite many dreams, futilities, and a multitude of words, FEAR God!
Remember fear of God means reverence and love. Our dreams if not connected to our Godly purpose are unrewarding. Our vainness is a result of excluding God from our plans; and many words do not make a song of praise. It is not the multitude of words but one’s sincerity that counts in the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty, especially through obedience and reverence. God does not fear to make men great; but for those who are made great they must be responsible, humble and fair for those in command are thoroughly judged by God. We must be of the mindset as spoken by Charles Mayes: “Make sure the thing your living for is worth dying for.” And as leaders we must make sure that when we send others into harm’s way that it would be only if we ourselves would be willing to die to get it done. As confirmed members of the body of Christ it is our duty; no, our sacred honor to give meaning to the words of the psalmist:
“Defend the lowly and fatherless, render justice to the afflicted and needy. Rescue the lowly and poor; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Ps. 82:3-4)
Our Lady of Loretto
The shrine of Our Lady of Loreto is located on the Adriatic coast of Italy, three hours from Rome. It is the third-largest shrine to Mary in Europe, next to Lourdes and Fatima. The ministry of the shrine is the hospitality shown to pilgrims especially through the sacrament of penance.
· The title "Our Lady of Loreto" is associated with the Holy House of Loreto in Italy, the house of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, miraculously transported by the angels from Palestine to Europe.
· The house of the Holy Family in Nazareth has always been the object of Christian veneration. Shortly after 313, St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, built a basilica over this holy abode. The Saracens invaded the Holy Land in 1090, plundering and destroying Christian shrines, including Constantine’s basilica. Under the ruble, the Holy House was found intact.
· During the twelfth century, another basilica was built to protect the holy dwelling. In 1219 or 1220 St. Francis of Assisi visited the Holy House in Nazareth. So did King St. Louis IX of France, when he was leading a crusade to liberate the Holy Land.
· In 1263, when the Muslims overpowered the crusaders, the basilica was again destroyed but, once more, the Holy House was found intact.
· When the crusaders were completely driven out of the Holy Land in 1291, the Holy House disappeared.
· On May 10, 1291, a parish priest, Fr. Alexander Georgevich in the town of Tersatto, Dalmatia, (present-day Croatia) noticed the sudden appearance of a small building resting on a plot of land. Puzzled, he prayed about it, and in a dream saw the Blessed Virgin Mary, who explained that the structure was the house of the Holy Family, brought there by the power of God.
· In 1294, with the Moslem invasion of Albania, the house disappeared again. According to the testimony of shepherds, it was seen on December 10 of that year born aloft by angels over the Adriatic Sea. This time the Holy House came to rest in a wooded area four miles from Recanati, Italy. As the news spread fast, thousands flocked there, and many miracles took place at the site.
· Due to contrary circumstances, twice again the house was moved, finally coming to rest in the town of Loreto, Italy, its present location.
· As miracles continued to occur in connection with pilgrimages to the house, deputations were sent to Nazareth to determine its origins in 1292, in 1296, and in 1524. All three declared that the measurements of the house corresponded to the visible foundations of the house of Nazareth.
· In 1871 at the suggestion of Cardinal Bartolini, Professor Ratti of the University of Rome was given mortar and stones from the house at Loreto, and similar materials from houses in Nazareth. Ignorant of which was which, Prof. Ratti ascertained that the composition of the material from the house of Loreto while not original to Italy was identical to that of the material from Nazareth.
· Other striking facts about the house in Loreto are that it has no foundations. The walls rest on a plot that was part field and part road, a sure indication that it was not built there but placed there. The style of the house of Loreto is not Italian but Eastern. And the original door was on the long side of the house, indicating that it was a dwelling and not a church.
· Today a great basilica houses the dwelling of the holiest of families. From 1330, practically all the Popes have considered Loreto the greatest shrine of Christendom. Bulls in favor of the shrine were issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1491 and by Julius II in 1507. While the miracle of the translation of the house is not a matter of faith, Innocent XII, in the seventeenth century, appointed a special Mass for the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House. Numerous saints have visited the house-relic.
· As pilgrims enter the small precinct, they read on the threshold, “Hic Verbum caro factum est” – “Here the Word became flesh”. Above the altar inside the holy house is an ancient statue of Our Lady holding the Infant Jesus, known as Our Lady of Loreto.
Things to Do
- Why is Our Lady of Loreto connected with aviation? Read these two articles, Did angels really carry the Holy House of Mary to Loreto, Italy? at Catholic News Agency and Our Lady of Loreto and Aviation from "All About Mary" at the University of Dayton.
- Find out the connection the University of Notre Dame has with Our Lady of Loreto.
- Visit the website of Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto.
- Here is further reading about the Basilica of the Holy House (Basilica della Santa Casa)
- The Litany of Loreto originated from this Shrine. Read about the Litany of Loreto in Context.
- See The Illustrated Litany of Loreto for visual meditation on the Litany of Loreto.
Human Rights Day
Human Rights Day commemorates the day on which the United Nations issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document drafted by representatives from all regions of the world, which outlined fundamental human rights to be universally protected. The Declaration contains 30 articles that touch on rights to freedom, justice, peace, dignity, education and health care, amongst other rights. On December 10, 1948, the United Nations proclaimed the UDHR in an effort to help define equal rights that all humans on the planet deserve and can help the world achieve lasting freedom, justice and peace. Human Rights Day was officially declared by the United Nations in 1950. It is celebrated on December 10th each year and is marked by speeches and activities designed to bring attention to the issues surrounding the most pressing Human Rights issues worldwide.
Human Rights Day
Facts & Quotes
· The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was one of their first declarations and came about after the atrocities perpetrated upon humans during World War II were brought to light.
· Over the past decade, armed conflict has killed 2 million children, disabled another 4-5 million, left 12 million homeless and orphaned another million.
· Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. - Abraham Lincoln
· America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense... human rights invented America. - Jimmy Carter
· I have cherished the ideal a democratic and free society... it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. - Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, who was imprisoned from 1964-1990.
Human Rights Day Top
Events and Things to Do
· Educate yourself on current human rights fights such as genocide by terrorist groups, slavery and trafficking and child labor around the world.
· Get involved with a local human rights organization.
· Watch a documentary about human rights issues and violations. Some recommendations: Invisible Children (2006), Girl Rising (2013) and Nefarious (2011).
· The U.S. is not the only country to recognize the importance of religious liberty. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights--a foundational document for international law, created by representatives from all over the world--recognizes this basic human right in Article 18: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. Clearly, the framers of this document relied on human reason and saw the need for governments to recognize this civil right.
Jesse Tree Scriptures (The Symbols Are Only Suggestions)
December 1 Creation: Gen. 1:1-31; 2:1-4 Symbols: sun, moon, stars, animals, earth
December 2 Adam and Eve: Gen. 2:7-9, 18-24 Symbols: tree, man, woman
December 3 Fall of Man: Gen. 3:1-7 and 23-24 Symbols: tree, serpent, apple with bite
December 4 Noah: Gen. 6:5-8, 13-22; 7:17, 23, 24; 8:1, 6-22 Symbols: ark, animals, dove, rainbow
December 5 Abraham: Gen. 12:1-3 Symbols: torch, sword, mountain
December 6 Isaac: Gen. 22:1-14 Symbols: bundle of wood, altar, ram in bush
December 7 Jacob: Gen. 25:1-34; 28:10-15 Symbols: kettle, ladder
December 8 Joseph: Gen. 37:23-28; 45:3-15 Symbols: bucket, well, silver coins, tunic
December 9 Moses: Ex. 2:1-10 Symbols: baby in basket, river and rushes
December 10 Samuel: 1 Sam. 3:1-18 Symbols: lamp, temple
· Unite in the work of the Porters of St. Joseph by joining them in fasting: Today's Fast: Restoring the Constitution.