See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jacob and the Angel.



The struggle.
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I once wrote a post about the struggle - the wrestling of Jacob with God in that dark night wherein Jacob's hip is injured and he was given a new name, that of Israel.  It is an important event in salvation history, yet is also an important image of the life of prayer as well.  Especially the role prayer plays in overcoming personal sin. 
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Every sin after baptism is a choice. The temptations - as well as the tribulations and seductions of life - test our fidelity. In every life one is faced with a fundamental choice - to choose between good or evil, Christ or the Antichrist. Some people may live in such severe testing, the choice is every day. Sometimes we lose, sometimes we win - yet so long as we live in the body we have access to hope, and mercy is available to us - thus we can lose a battle, recoup, and begin anew. But we have to keep trying, we have to persevere in the struggle - just as Jacob, the deceiver, struggled in the darkness with the angel, and was finally freed - though left with a dislocated hip as a sort of thorn in his flesh to keep him humble.
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"Even though we are unable to remain in control of the temptation, we are nevertheless being asked not to run from it or avoid it. We need to undergo the temptation and pass through it in order to come to Jesus, and we need to follow in his footsteps, our eyes focused upon his, he in us and we in him... In every temptation, in the depths of the infatuation of our senses or in the densest darkness of our mind, there is but one way out, for us as well, the way of Jesus." - Dom Andre Louf, o.c.s.o.

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The Holy Father's allocution from Wednesday, May 25 touches upon these mysteries of the interior life.
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Once the fight is over Jacob says to his opponent that he will only let him go if he blesses him. Jacob "who had defrauded his brother out of the first-born's blessing through deceit, now demands [a blessing] from the unknown man, in whom he perhaps begins to see divine traits, but still without being able to truly recognize him. His rival, who seems restrained and therefore defeated by Jacob, instead of bowing to the Patriarch's request, asks his name. ... In the Biblical mentality, knowing someone's name entails a type of power because it contains the person's deepest reality, revealing their secret and their destiny. ... This is why, when Jacob reveals his name, he is putting himself in his opponent's hands. It is a form of surrender, a complete giving over of himself to the other".
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Paradoxically, however, "in this gesture of surrender, Jacob also becomes the victor because he receives a new name, together with the recognition of his victory on the part of his adversary". The name "Jacob", Benedict XVI continued, "recalls the verb 'to deceive' or 'to supplant'. After the struggle, in a gesture of deliverance and surrender, the Patriarch reveals his reality as a deceiver, a usurper, to his opponent. The other, who is God, however, transforms this negative reality into a positive one. Jacob the deceiver becomes Israel. He is given a new name as a sign of his new identity ... the mostly likely meaning of which is 'God is strong, God wins'. When, in turn, Jacob asks his rival's name, he refuses to say it but reveals himself in an unmistakable gesture, giving his blessing. ... This is not a blessing obtained through deceit but one given freely by God, which Jacob can now receive because, without cunning or deception, he gives himself over unarmed, accepts surrender and admits the truth about himself". - Benedict XVI

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"You need perseverance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised." - Hebrews 10
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As I see it, and evidently the Pope does to some extent as well, our identity can never be limited to our sin or our disordered natural self.  In fact it is in and through prayer and mortification and surrender to the grace and mercy of God that we find our true identity in Christ.  Or as the Holy Father put it:
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"Our entire lives", concluded the Holy Father, "are like this long night of struggle and prayer, passed in the desire of and request for God's blessing, which cannot be ripped away or won over through our strength, but must be received with humility from Him as a gratuitous gift that allows us, finally, to recognize the face of the Lord. And when this happens, our entire reality changes: we receive a new name and God's blessing".
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"This is why, as also affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 'from this account, the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance'". - Benedict XVI
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Morning Update:  I just discovered Idle Speculations has a better post on the subject here.

4 comments:

  1. I fully understand those times of "battle" where one has to be in constant prayer. I think I have a full month like that ahead of me! Thanks for the citations from the Pope; they are educative.

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  2. Off Topic--

    But here in the US this weekend is Memorial Day Weekend, where we remember the soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. We also recognize those who continue to serve our country in military service. We decorate cemeteries, and larger cities will oftenhave parades and other ceremonies.

    I would also like to take the opportunity to recognize the military members of other countries who seve alongside the US military in various roles. God Bless them and their families and thank you for your service and sacrific, especially in the ongoing War on Terror.

    God Bless our Troops!!

    Sara,USAF veteran (SSGT)

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  3. But it is also Ordination weekend, so first we pray for those who have chosen to give their lives in service to God.

    On Monday, in addition to the secular Memorial Day activities, our local Catholic Cemeteries have Masses said. Some of them have an alternate location in case of rain, others don't.

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  4. Many thanks for your kind comnments and the link.

    However I have to disagree with you. I do not think my treatment of the subject is better than yours.

    God bless

    Terry

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