- Ephesians 1,1-14
- “almost” a presentation
- my shortly history
- Hymn to Love -
- The Year of St. Paul - Pope Benedict: the 20th Catechesis on Saint Paul
- Salve Regina
- The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
- Psalm 8
- The Shofar
- Primo Levi : If this a man
- Sacred Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith - Declaration of procured abortion (Pope Paul VI, June 28, 1974)
24 luglio 2014
LIFE OF SAINT CHARBEL, ALSO READ THREE LIGHTS FROM THE EAST -
THE CALL OF THE DESERT
BY BISHOP FRANCIS M. ZAYEK, S.T.D., J.C.D., DIOCESE OF ST. MARON, U.S.A, JUNE 1977
Charbel Makhloof, the Lebanese hermit monk, will be canonized on October 9, 1977. As a beacon of light shining through a storm, this humble man's life openly proclaims to our world that Christ is true King and that His Kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36).
The many miracles performed through Charbel manifest to us how pleased God is with the witness-of silence and prayer in the life of His servant. Among miracles is the incorrupt state of his body, which bled and perspired for sixty-five years after his death. These marvels manifest how the words of St. Paul are still true for our time, "It was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen--those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. " (I Cor. 1:27-28).
God performed these marvels of signs of life and healing to show us where true wisdom lies, the wisdom of the One who is the beginning and the end of the world, the Ancient of Days, the Provider who said, "Let your hearts be on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well." (Mt. 6:33) He is the One who was yesterday, is today and will be tomorrow.
I have tried in the following pages to give the reader an idea about the hermitic way of life throughout the centuries and how these men and women have a special place in Christ's Mystical Body, the Church, and in the human society upon which they call the graces of God. These "athletes of the spiritual life" witness to the thirst for God found in every human soul.
I hope this booklet will in some way prepare all of us for the forthcoming canonization of St. Charbel. A deeper understanding of the hermitic life will enable us to see it as a traditional, yet living witness to Christ in the Church.
My goals are modest. I do not expect a great number of people to migrate to the wilderness in search of God. I do hope that these pages will inspire some to spend some quiet moments alone with God, reflecting upon their relationship with Him. "Come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for awhile."(Mk. 6:31).
1. The Alienation of Modern Man
When God created man, he gave him dominion over all of creation. Man was to work in the world and to civilize it. More than simply putting the world under the control of man, God intended for man to co-operate in the process of creation. Man was to use his mind and his technology in order to bring about a more perfect world.
As we look around the world today, do we see a world that is under the dominion of man or do we see that man has now become engulfed in his own progress? No longer does man control the world. Rather, it is the world with all of its pressures of commercialism and technology that are in control of man.
This inverted relationship of man and the world manifests itself in many ways. Because our lives are so involved with technology and "things", we begin to treat other people as "things", something that can be used and disposed of. No longer are we able to form deep and lasting relationships. Consequently, we see the breakdown of marriages and family life. Old people and even the unborn are discarded because they are not wanted or no longer "useful". Our daily work no longer seems fulfilling to us. We have almost forgotten what it means to adore God and to concern ourselves with spiritual realities.
Thomas Merton, the noted Trappist monk, asserts that there is nothing wrong with technology in itself, but he also feels that it is a myth to think that technology, by itself, will solve man's problems. He declares that "technology was made for man and not man for technology". It is his opinion that "the ultimate end of all techniques, when they are used in a Christian context, is charity and union with God". (1)
It is necessary for man to again renew his relationship with himself, with nature and with God. Weary of this world, its activity and its noise, we must live lives that contain and are enriched by moments of silence and solitude. We must remember that Martha's sister, Mary, chose the better part when she sat quietly at the Lord's feet and listened to Him. (Lk. 10:42)
2. The Call to Silence and Solitude
The "call of the desert" is a call to silence and solitude. The "desert" for most of us is not the wilderness of the Sahara, but the call to be quiet and to reflect upon our own salvation: a time to be alone with God. "We all have the desert in our everyday lives. The sand and the sun and heat and lack of water and loneliness may take different forms, but we all experience them: problems, deprivations, physical inconveniences, discomforts and loneliness." (F. Le Clerc)
This call is made particularly to those who live in the midst of incessant chatter and noise. If God is to speak, man must be silent. An ancient Egyptian prayer says, "O Thoth, thou sweet well for a man thirsting in the desert. It is sealed up to him who has discovered his mouth, but it is open to the silent. When the silent comes, he finds the well." (2) In the Old Testament, Israel first met Yahweh in the desert, and the story of the desert wandering remained the type of the encounter of man with God. The Church in her wisdom has always encouraged the faithful to take time for silence and solitude, to have a "desert experience". Father Clifford Stevens writes, "There is much talk these days about a 'desert experience', a kind of religious retreat where we truly go into the 'desert', into a silence and aloneness broken only by the most necessary of outside activities... Each one of us needs our personal 'desert experience' and the Church has provided it". (3) Take, for example, retreat houses, days of recollection and various periods of meditation that are all a part of the Church's life.
Although this call to a "desert experience" is meant for every Christian, there are today those who want to seclude themselves for their entire life, dedicating themselves to work and prayer in almost absolute silence. These men and women stand in absolute opposition to the materialistic world in which we live. "Again, as in other turbulent ages, hermits are seeking God in the radical simplicity of the wilderness. They are not doing this in large numbers. The desert charism, a call to contemplative witness in solitude, was never for many. But they are doing it, whether in actual forests or in the spiritual desert of a 'poustinia'* where privacy and silence are assured." (4) In "A Desert Song of Renewal", Mariel McGlashan points out that in the western states three hermitages have taken root in recent years. (5)
In "Hermits Among Us--Segregated from All, United to All", Ph. Boitle writes, "The hermits, contrary to what some may think, do not belong to a 'species' on the way to extinction, but quite to the contrary. For thirty years now, we have been witnessing a kind of rebirth in this type of religious life in the countries of the West: the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and France. Thirty years ago, we were able to claim about fifteen hermits as 'serious'. Today, even though we lack exact statistics, we estimate their number to be over two hundred. This figure has a tendency to stabilize." (6)
There is no doubt that the Canonization of Charbel, the "Wonder Worker of Our Century" will awaken a new interest in the kind of life he lived: a life of solitude, internal prayer, contemplation and meditation. The life of this great hermit is a voice crying in the desert for a return to the true fountain of life. "My people have committed a double crime, they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, only to dig cisterns for themselves, leaky cisterns that hold no water." (Jer. 2:13).
3. What Is a Hermit?
The word "Hermit" or "Anchorite" is a general term indicating a person who lives by himself for religious purposes, far from human habitation. Included in this general category are the "Recluse" (one living in a cell adjacent to the community), the "Stylite" (one living on top of a pillar), and the "Shepherd" (one who does not have a permanent place to stay, but travels as a nomad in the desert or mountains).
When the word "Hermit" or "Anchorite" is heard, many think of a strange person, a kind of extinct spiritual being in the history of the Church. Actually, at the beginning of the fourth century, the hermitic life was one of the standard ways, especially in the East. With the Peace brought by Constantine, the period of the great persecutions were over and the martyrdom of blood was, therefore, impossible. Those willing to give their lives to God began to look to the wilderness and for various ways to mortify their senses. With them, the first school of spirituality began. (7)
The Peace of Constantine also meant that the Church was to face a mortal danger that was to continue to confront her for eighteen centuries: namely, to compromise with the world. While the Christians of Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome were returning to the everyday lives of Roman citizens, certain ascetics, frightened of such a compromise or accord with the world, Red to the wilderness of the deserts. They sought to live a life of "a man who does not exist", buried in their caverns and grottoes.
These men and women tried to imitate the lives of St. John the Baptist and Elijah, the Prophet of Fire. They followed Jesus into the desert. They wept for their sins and their egos disappeared like salt dissolving in fresh water. Upon these hermits and their successors the Mystical Church of the East has built its spirituality. (8)
The lives of these hermits and their teachings had an important influence on the development of the Church's ascetical and mystical doctrine. They also played an important role in the foundation of the monastic life and the defense of the Christian dogma and truths. There is no doubt that this kind of life was and still is a very special vocation, but on the part of the hermit it represents an admirable response and correspondence to the grace of God.
The precept of the Lord, "Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me" (Mk. 10: 21), has always haunted souls as it did St. Anthony of Egypt. It is on account of that precept that an ascetical life style was established. (9)
However, money in itself is not an obstacle to perfection! Leaving the world with all of its attractions and vanities and secluding one's self in the wilderness does not protect one from temptations. The memory of the past haunts the hermit "because our enemy, the devil, Is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat" (I Pt. 5:8). The struggle of the hermit in his conflict with the devil is succinctly described by Saint Anthony, "The devils are not visible bodies, but we become their bodies when we accept from them the suggestions of darkness. Having harbored such suggestions or thoughts, we receive in us the demons themselves and make them bodily apparent and manifest". (10) It is in this light that we can appreciate the Fathers' description of the demons going around the desert among the tombs and disappearing. (11)
All of this shows that the essential aspect in the life of the hermit is not the exterior solitude, but the interior one which segregates him from attachments to the world; the exterior solitude or wilderness is a means to arrive at the interior one. The true goal, however, in crossing any desert is to reach the "Promised Land".
Speaking of solitude, Merton states that, "The habitual argument of those who protest against exterior solitude is that it is dangerous besides being totally unnecessary. Unnecessary because all that really matters is interior solitude; or so they say. And this can be obtained without physical isolation. There is, in this statement, a truth more terrible than can be imagined by those who so glibly make it, as a justification for their lives without solitude, silence and prayer". (12)
Through the centuries, the hermits have continued to enrich the Church by their lives of prayer, work in the fields, meditation, silence and penance. "They are the witnesses of another kingdom. They withdraw into the healing silence of the wilderness or of poverty, or of obscurity, to heal in themselves the wounds of the entire world. (13) Carlo Carretto writes, "Man on the way to the roots of his being towards his end, his Creator, after having been purified by the suffering dryness of human pleasure and selfishness, finds himself at the doorway of eternity. His own strength can do nothing, meditation itself becomes impossible and words, once so effortless, can only repeat some mono syllables of love and lament". (14)
The hermit attests to the primacy of the spiritual life in the message of Christ and in the Church, and continues to recall to us the presence and greatness of the Invisible One with whom they continually try to live and conform.
"The genuine hermit is driven by a passion which seeks its outlet in a steep, straight way to God. The calling is sublime but the path is not simple... He who enters the hermitage must live a different life from men of his time. The hermit is valuable to the world precisely insofar as he is not part of it. His life should be a prophetic witness and the effectiveness of that witness depends not on what he might say, but on what he is". (15)
The hermits serve and enrich the Mystical Body of Christ as well as the world, which they left, by their prayers, penance, and silence in order that the message of Christ be better heard. They renounce the world, sin and themselves m sinplicity and humility, to meditate on the Mysteries of God immanent to their being and whose transcendency they try to attain by this means. In the dark night of the spirit they live in the hope and light of that vision which will never end.
The spiritual life of the hermit has always involved to a great extent 1) a profound liturgical life; 2) meditation upon Holy Scriptures (the Word of God - The Tablets); 3) adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (The Manna); 4) devotion to the Mother of God (Ark of Covenant).
Their life of physical solitude is a life of love without consolation, a life, however, that is fruitful because it is pressed down and running over with the will of God, all that has this will in it is full of significance, even when it appears to make no sense at all. (16) However, the hermit remains in the world as a prophet to whom no one listens, as a voice crying in the desert, as a sign of contradiction. The world does not want him because he has nothing in himself that belongs to the world. But this is his mission to be rejected by the world, which in that act rejects the dreaded solitude of God Himself. Yet this solitary God has called men to another fellowship with Himself, through the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, through the solitude of Gethsemane and Calvary and the Mystery of Easter, and the solitude of the Ascension, all of which precede the great communion of Pentecost. (17)
We know very little about the Anchorites because they went to the desert to stay and in the desert the true ones buried themselves while the ones who stumbled were rejected by it. These men walked the burning land and followed the column of cloud, which hid them from sight and led them to the land of milk and honey. However, of that land there is not even a word. All that mattered for them was the crossing itself, the exile, traveling as strangers to the earth. The cavern of the hermit is a true "martyring". It is there they went "to struggle with all the deaths": the death of the body, the death of man, the: death even of their own mind, just to live with God in silence. The angel at the door of the tomb does not tire of repeating to those who pass by, "The one for whom you are looking, Anthony, Peter, Macarius, Arsenius-is not here." (18)
Only strong, experienced and deeply contemplative souls. are able to face this kind of life and persist in it. In fact they will have to face many temptations and fight many fights in order to discipline their bodies and souls, to liberate themselves and to direct all of their activity to the Invisible God.
If their mission towards man is penance and prayer, however, out of love for God, many of them have consecrated themselves for a certain period of time to diverse apostolates. They have founded religious orders, became apostles of the word, taken care of spiritual and physical sickness, participated actively in synods and councils, became counselors of kings and emperors, defended the Catholic faith by their preaching and writings, founded schools of spirituality or asceticism, became bishops or patriarchs. In trying to convince Euseblus, the hermit, to become superior of his community, Ammon wrote, "If you love God intensely, accept this, that others may love him with you." (19)
4. The Growth and Development of the Hermitic Life
The hermitic way of life finds its origins in the desert of Egypt with the famous "Fathers of the Desert". Among them are Paul, Anthony, Macarius, John, Niammon, Paphnutius (whose influence moved the Council of Nicea, 325, to leave the question of continence to the discretion of those clergy who married before ordination), Pambo, Pachomius (the founder of the Cenobites), and Onophrius.
Palladius of Helenopolis, a friend of St. John Chrysostom, wrote in his Historia Lausiaca (420), "The disciples of St. Anthony (who died in 356) were numeroust" The author mentions that there were two thousand hermits near Alexandria, five thousand in the desert of Nitria, six hundred in the Desert of the Cells and five hundred in the Desert of Scete. "These holy men, lost in the desert, without name or history, may be however, the most beautiful ones." Yet even here certain person
alities stand out: Amon, father of the hermits of Nitria; Macarius, one of the hermits near Alexandria; Evagrus at the Cells and Macarius, the Egyptian at Scete. These great figures brilliantly manifest the richness and fecundity of the life of St. Anthony of the Desert.
From Egypt, the hermitic life spread to Sinai in 307 (St Hilarion), to Palestine (St. Nilus), to Mesopotamia and Persia (Aphrahat the Wise, St. Abon, St. James of Nisibis and Julian Salva). From Mesopotamia, the hermit way of life spread to Syria and Lebanon. Among the members of this last school, we find St. Maron the Great and his disciples: namely, Abraham of Cyrus (apostle of Lebanon), Haushab and James (both from Cyrus), L'mnaeus, John, Moses, Antiochus, Antonius, Damianus, Zabena (who stood erect for extended periods of time without rest as a form of penance), Polychronius, Moses, the great St. Simeon the Stylite who inaugurated a new lifestyle by living on the top of a column, Baradat, Taleelaus, and the holy women, Marana, Kyra and Domnina.
St. Theodoret, the bishop of Cyrus and the local ordinary of these hermits, wrote that these holy men and women were the roses in the garden of his diocese; that they were like stars radiating to the ends of the world; that they are wounded, inflamed and inebriated with the desire for the Divine Beauty; that they were true "athletes of the spirit"; heroes of prayer and penance whose eyes, already accustomed to the miracles of grace and virtue, were wide open to the marvels of the Christian faith. A description of the lives of the above-mentioned disciples of St. Maron is to be found in a book by Father Peter Daou, History of the Maronites (Volume I, pp. 84-132).
In describing the hermits called "Stationaries" or "Stylites", J. Besse says, "The Eastern monks employed all their wits to find new ways of penance. It was not sufficient for them to live in the open air, summer and winter without shelter, but some obliged themselves to always remain standing. This is why they were called 'Stationaries'. This kind of penance was to be found more in
Syria than Egypt; and among the well-known are James and Abraham, both of Cyrus and the disciples of St. Maron. This penance seemed insufficient for some of them who spent their lives on the top of a column... this mode of life was inaugurated in Syria by a monk named Simeon... many followed his example." (20)
We find among these Anchorites from the East, known as the "Fathers of the Desert", men of great holiness. Their spiritual teachings (transmitted orally or by writing to their disciples) or the example of their lives are one of the purest sources of ascetism. The Moslem invasion made their kind of life much more difficult and since then their number has diminished. However, the Eastern Churches still enumerate some of them, especially in Syria and Lebanon. (21)
Despite the fact that the Maronites were forced to leave Syria because of the Moslem invasion, the hermitic life continued to grow and flourish. At the end of the last century, this development culminated with the life of the great hermit and Anchorite, Charbel Makhloof, the great mystic and wonder worker of our time.
It is from the East that the eremitic life was introduced and spread through Europe by St. Athanase (who visited France and Rome) and through the example of St. Jerome and others who went from Europe to the East. The greatest exponent of this life in the West and who eventually became a founder of a religious order was Saint Benedict. Among the later famous hermits of Europe are St. Nicholas of Flue from Switzerland who died in 1487 and Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), the hermit of the Sahara who was killed by the Tuaregs at Tamanrasset, Algeria. Foucauld's writings inspired the foundation of the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1933.
Because of the abuse (22) and in order for the Church to be able to control their lives, only the recluses, those with cells adjacent to the monastery, were able to survive. At different times, the hermits reappeared again and were reunited under the Rule of the Carthusians and the Camaldolese. The Carmelites began as hermits and were later formed as an order. However, since 1948, there has been a revival in the Carmelite hermitic life in some countries. At least one branch of the Augustinians were hermits and they still keep the name today. Among the Franciscans, the Celestines were hermits.
The Council of Chalcedon (451), the Novellae of Justinian, and the Council in Trullo (692) tried to bring some control to this kind of life and avoid certain abuses. (23) They designated that a hermit had to first be a monk. After many years of Cenobitic life and with the permission of his superiors, he was able to retire to a cell, but always dependent upon his superiors and his order. Rabboula, in his rules and prescriptions also asked for this. (24)
In the West, the Cenobitic life always tended to obscure the eremitic life to a much greater extent than in the East. However, during the times of spiritual revival within the Church, a comparatively large number of souls smitten with the desire for perfection have gone to the wilderness seeking solitude. (25) They cry out with St. Bonaventure ("O Beata Solitudo! O Sola Beatitudo! O Blessed Solitude! O Only Blessing!")
5. A Great Esteem for Hermits (on site)
6. The Hermitic Life in the Maronite Church (on site)
NOTE ON SITE
ISAIAH 40-66: RETURN AND RESTORATION
In Isaiah 40-66, the prophet(s) built on the theological paradigms of Isaiah ben Amoz (Isaiah 1-39).
By Michael Fishbane
DeuteroIsaiah, or II Isaiah, focuses on the exile to Babylonia, which presented the people of Israel with both theological and physical challenges. The second half of Isaiah speaks to a people despairing at the "loss" of their God, since their relationship with the deity had always presumed an intimate relationship with the land. These chapters, a lifeline to the exiles, are crucial in the development of Jewish theology, and most of the haftarot (synagogue prophetic readings) from Isaiah are drawn from them.
Some modern scholars subscribe to an essential division of the book of Isaiah into two parts:
· I Isaiah, or the prophecies of Isaiah ben Amoz (chapters 1-39), and
· II Isaiah or DeuteroIsaiah, beginning at chapter 40, composed some two centuries later.
Some scholars go further and set apart the last portion of the book (Chapters 56-66), calling it III Isaiah or TritoIsaiah.
For fuller detail on medieval and modern observations on the composition and authorship of Isaiah, consult the full text of Dr. Fishbane's article. This article is excerpted from The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot, and is reprinted with permission from the Jewish Publication Society.
The Commentators' Puzzle
The Book of Isaiah as a whole (chapters 1-66) constitutes the first of the three large collections of prophetic books in the received Hebrew Scriptures: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The opening superscription to the book dates the Prophetic mission of Isaiah ben Amoz from the reigns of Kings Uzziah and Ahaz, in the mid-eighth century B.C.E. (Isaiah 1:1). Since Isaiah 40-66 does not begin with any new chronological reference, the prophecies in the last half of the book were presumably understood by the ancients as part of the predictions of Isaiah ben Amoz.
The abrupt shift in the Isaianic corpus from oracles of doom to themes of consolation (beginning with Isaiah 40) has long drawn the attention of commentators --particularly since the prophecies of exile announced to King Hezekiah (in the first part) refer to the eighth century B.C.E., while the prophecies of return from exile (in the second part) refer to a historical reality two centuries later.
Splitting the Collection
Isaiah 40-66 is an ensemble of several units that have been variously subdivided over the centuries.A broad consensus of scholarly opinion distinguishes three parts:
Part I, chapters 40-48, is a collection of prophecies of comfort emphasizing an imminent redemption; these oracles arc addressed to the Babylonian exiles (called Jacob or Israel) and highlight the power of God as the creator of the universe and the fulfiller of prophecies.
Part 2, chapters 40-55, is a group of prophecies directed toward Zion (called a bride or woman); these materials emphasize her reconciliation with God and physical restoration.
Part 3, chapters 56-66, is a diverse group of prophecies of social and religious rebuke and of hope; these are apparently directed to the Judean community restored to its homeland.
A Theological Motherlode
Isaiah 40-66 constitutes one of the richest theological collections in the Hebrew Bible. These chapters compose a virtual handbook of theological arguments and doctrines. As a collection of revelations on such themes as God's uniqueness, Israel's unique status, and the suffering of exile, chapters 40-55 are beyond compare in postexilic literature. And as a series of universalist teachings on the participation of foreigners in the new Zion, the prophetic teachings in this collection stand in stark contrast to more exclusivist outlooks. It was presumably the exilic condition of the nation that elicited the polemical tone of the discourses--a tone that variously proclaims the good tidings of God's advent and exhorts the people from their exilic ennui and despair.
Comforting the Exiles
The dominant concern of the collection is clear from the start. Isaiah 40 begins with a proclamation of hope and reconciliation. "Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated" (Isaiah 40:1-2). In this call of comfort (nahamu), the despair of destruction and emptiness of exile is reversed.
Earlier, the ancient lament over Zion had proclaimed, "Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people! ... Zion spreads out her hands, she has no one to comfort [menahem] her" (Lamentations 1:1, 17); while now the prophet proclaims, "Truly the LORD has comforted [niham] Zion, comforted all her ruins" (Isaiah 51:3) and "Raise a shout together, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD will comfort [niham] His people" (52:9).
The news of God's advent is announced, then, as a time when sorrows will be assuaged and divine forgiveness freely given. The very God who punished Israel in the past (42:24-25) now proclaims His redemptive deeds on behalf of the exiles and Zion.
The Creator's Power Survives the Exile
But the call falls on deaf and despairing ears. "Why do you say, O Jacob, ...'My way is hid from the LORD, my cause is ignored by my God'?" (40:27). The exile had clearly induced a sense of divine distance and spiritual weariness (40:31). In order to counter this mood, the power of God (as creator and redeemer) is repeatedly stressed. "The LORD is God from of old, Creator of the earth from end to end, He never grows faint or weary, His wisdom cannot be fathomed" (40:28). The many references to God as the transcendent creator and as wise beyond measure are thus teachings designed to support the prophet's claim that the prophecies of divine restoration will be fulfilled.
In this regard, we may observe that the most repeated epithets of God are those that proclaim His majesty as the one and only creator, the one and only God. He says, "I am the LORD and there is none else; beside Me, there is no god.... I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe--I the LORD do all these things (Isaiah 45:5-7). As "the LORD, who made everything," He "annul[s] the omens of diviners and fulfill[s] the prediction of [His] messengers" (44:24-26).
This emphasis recurs in the contentions addressed to the nations and their prophetic predictions (41:22-23; 47:10-15), and it is repeatedly found in polemics addressed to the people of Israel. Significantly, the power of God as Lord of all is juxtaposed to polemics against the people's idolatry. He alone is the redeemer, and not the idols (42:15-17; 45:15-25); and He is the one who "foretold things that happened" (the present redemption) long beforehand (before the exile), so "that you might not say, 'My idol caused them, my carved and molten images ordained them'" (48:3, 5). "For thus said the LORD, the Creator of heaven who alone is God ...Who announced this aforetime? ... Was it not I the LORD? ... By Myself have I sworn ... a word that shall not turn back: To Me every knee shall bend, every tongue swear loyalty" (45:18, 21, 23).
The proclamation of redemption may be trusted because the exile has come to pass. The only and unique Creator guides Israel's national destiny--this is the prophet's challenge to all disbelievers.
Monotheism Open to the World
In Isaiah 40-66, then, monotheism is portrayed as a total and absolute phenomenon. But this does not lead to exclusiveness or intolerance. The foreigners are repeatedly promised access to the Temple and the divine service performed there--both as pilgrims and as practitioners (56:1-8; 66:18-21). The strident nature of these passages, with their bold assertion of priestly service by non-Israelites, strikes one as a polemical stance in the postexilic community. 'As for the foreigners ... who hold fast to My covenant--I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcome on My altar; for My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (56:6-7).
23 luglio 2014
27-OCTOBER-2010 -- VATICAN INFORMATION SERVICE
BRIDGET OF SWEDEN, CO-PATRONESS OF EUROPE - JULY 23 (feast)
VATICAN CITY, 27 OCT 2010 (VIS) - St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373), whom John Paul II proclaimed as co-patroness of Europe, was the subject of Benedict XVI's catechesis during his general audience held this morning in St. Peter's Square.
The life of the saint, born in at Finister in Sweden, may be divided into two periods. During the first period she lived as a happily married woman and mother of eight children. She also began to study Sacred Scripture and, together with her husband, adopted the lifestyle of the Third Order of St. Francis. She also gave generously to the poor and founded a hospital.
This first period of Bridget's life, said the Pope, "helps us to appreciate what we could define today as authentic 'conjugal spirituality'. Christian couples can follow the path of sanctity together, upheld by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage. ... May the Holy Spirit arouse the sanctity of Christian couples, so as to show the world the beauty of marriage lived according to the Gospel values of love, tenderness, mutual support, fruitfulness in the generation and education of children, openness and solidarity towards the world, and participation in the life of the Church".
With Bridget's widowhood began the second period of her life. She rejected a second marriage in order to concentrate on "union with the Lord through prayer, penitence and works of charity. ... Having distributed all her goods to the poor, and although she never underwent religious consecration, she moved to the Cistercian convent of Alvastra". There she began to receive the divine revelations which, differing greatly in content and style, would accompany her for the rest of her life.
"The value of St. Bridget's 'Revelations', which have been the subject of some doubt, was defined by the Venerable John Paul II in his Letter 'Spes aedificandi' where he wrote that the Church 'recognised Bridget's holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, [and] has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience'".
Pope Benedict went on: "Reading these Revelations we are challenged by many important questions. For example, she frequently describes ... the Passion of Christ, ... seeing therein the infinite love of God for mankind. ... Mary's painful maternity, which made her Mediator and Mother of Mercy, is another oft recurring theme of the Revelations".
St. Bridget was firmly convinced that "all charisms are destined to build the Church. It was for this reason that many of her revelations were addressed, in the form of sometimes severe admonitions, to the believers of her time including the political and religious authorities, to live their Christian lives coherently. But she always did this with an attitude of respect and complete faithfulness towards Church Magisterium, and especially towards the Successor of the Apostle Peter".
In 1349 Bridget left Sweden never to return, travelling to Rome to participate in the Jubilee Year 1350 and to ask the Pope to approve the rule of her religious order, which she intended should be made up of monks and nuns under the authority of an abbess, and dedicated to the Blessed Saviour.
"This must not surprise us", said the Holy Father. "During the Middle Ages there were religious orders in which a female branch and a male branch practiced the same monastic rule under the direction of an abbess. In the great Christian tradition the woman is recognised as having her own dignity and - following the example of Mary, Queen of the Apostles - her own place in the Church which, though not coinciding with the ordained priesthood, is equally important for the spiritual growth of the community".
Bridget also made pilgrimages to Assisi and the Holy Land. She died in 1373 and was canonised by Boniface IX in 1391. Her sanctity, characterised by the multiplicity of her gifts and experiences, "makes her an outstanding figure in the history of Europe", because she "bore witness to how deeply Christianity has permeated the life of all the peoples of this continent.
"By proclaiming her as co-patroness of Europe", Pope Benedict added in conclusion, "Pope John Paul II expressed the hope that St. Bridget - who lived in the fourteenth century when Western Christianity had still not been wounded by division - may intercede effectively with God to obtain the longed-for grace of full unity among all Christians, ... and to ensure that Europe may always nourish itself from its Christian roots".
At the end of today's audience the Holy Father received a delegation from the European Court of Auditors.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 5 December 2012
YEAR OF FAITH. GOD REVEALS HIS "BENEVOLENT PURPOSE"
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of his Letter to the Christians of Ephesus (cf. 1:3-14), the Apostle Paul raised a prayer of blessing to God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which leads us to experience the Season of Advent, in the context of the Year of Faith. The theme of this hymn of praise is God’s plan for man, described in terms full of joy, wonder and thanksgiving, according to his “benevolent purpose” (cf. v. 9), of mercy and love.
Why does the Apostle raise this blessing to God from the depths of his heart? It is because he sees God’s action in the perspective of salvation which culminated in the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of Jesus, and contemplates how the heavenly Father chose us even before the world’s creation, to be his adoptive sons, in his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 8:14f. Gal 4:4f). We had always existed in God’s mind in a great plan that God cherished within him and decided to implement and to reveal in “the fullness of time” (cf. Eph 1:10). St Paul makes us understand, therefore, how the whole of creation and, in particular, men and women, are not the result of chance but are part of a benevolent purpose of the eternal reason of God who brings the world into being with the creative and redemptive power of his word. This first affirmation reminds us that our vocation is not merely to exist in the world, to be inserted into a history, nor is it solely to be creatures of God. It is something more: it is being chosen by God, even before the world’s creation, in the Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore in him we have existed, so to speak, for ever. God contemplates us in Christ, as his adoptive sons. God’s “purpose” which the Apostle also describes as a plan “of love” (Eph 1:5) is described as “the mystery” of his divine will (v. 9), hidden and now revealed in the Person of Christ and in his work. The divine initiative comes before every human response: it is a freely given gift of his love that envelops and transforms us.
But what is the ultimate purpose of this mysterious design? What is the essence of God’s will? It is, St Paul tells us, “to unite all things in him [Christ], the Head” (v. 10). In these words we find one of the central formulas of the New Testament that makes us understand the plan of God, his design of love for the whole of humanity, a formula which, in the second century, St Irenaeus of Lyons established as the core of his Christology: to “recapitulate” the whole of reality in Christ. Perhaps some of you may remember the formula used by Pope St Pius X for the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Instaurare omnia in Christo”, a formula that refers to the Pauline expression and was also the motto of this holy Pope. However the Apostle speaks more precisely of the recapitulation of the universe in Christ. This means that in the great plan of creation and of history, Christ stands as the focus of the entire journey of the world, as the structural support of all things, and attracts to himself the entire reality in order to overcome dispersion and limitation and lead all things to the fullness desired by God (cf. Eph 1:23).
This “benevolent purpose” was not, so to speak, left in the silence of God, in his heavenly heights. Rather, God made it known by entering into a relationship with human beings to whom he did not reveal just something, but indeed himself. He did not merely communicate an array of truths, but communicated himself to us, even to the point of becoming one of us, of taking flesh. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council says in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself [not only something of himself but himself] and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature” (n. 2). God does not only say something, but communicates himself, draws us into his divine nature so that we may be integrated into it or divinized. God reveals his great plan of love by entering into a relationship with man, by coming so close to him that he makes himself man. The Council continues: “the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends (cf. Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15), and moves among them (cf. Bar 3:38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company” (ibid.). With their own intelligence and abilities alone human beings would not have been able to achieve this most enlightening revelation of God’s love; it is God who has opened his heaven and lowered himself in order to guide men and women in his ineffable love.
St Paul writes further to the Christians of Corinth: “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’, God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:9-10). And St John Chrysostom, in a famous passage commenting on the beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians, with these words asks that the faithful enjoy the full beauty of this “loving plan” of God revealed in Christ: “What do you lack yet? You are made immortal, you are made free, you are made a son, you are made righteous, you are made a brother, you are made a fellow-heir, you reign with Christ, you are glorified with Christ; all things are freely given you”, and, as it is written, “will he not also give us all things with him?’ (Rom 8:32). Your First-fruits (cf. 1 Cor 15:20, 23) is adored by Angels.... What do you lack yet?” (pg 62,11).
This communion in Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit, offered by God to all men and women with the light of Revelation, is not something that is superimposed on our humanity; it is the fulfilment of our deepest aspirations, of that longing for the infinite and for fullness, which dwells in the depths of the human being and opens him or her to a happiness that is not fleeting or limited but eternal. Referring to God who reveals himself and speaks to us through the Scriptures to lead us to him, St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio says: “Holy Scripture... its words are words of eternal life, and it is written not just so that we should believe, but specially so that we should possess eternal life in which we may see, and love, and have all our desires fulfilled” (Breviloquium, Prologue; Opera Omnia V, 201f.). Lastly, Blessed Pope John Paul II recalled that “Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith” (Encyclical Fides et Ratio, n. 14).
Therefore, in this perspective, what is the act of faith? It is man’s answer to God’s Revelation that is made known and expresses his plan of love; to use an Augustinian expression it is letting oneself be grasped by the Truth that is God, a Truth that is Love. St Paul stresses that since God has revealed his mystery we owe him “the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:26; cf. 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6), by which attitude “man freely commits his entire self to God, making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals’, and willingly assenting to the Revelation given by him” (Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum, n. 5). All this leads to a fundamental change in the way of relating to reality as a whole; everything appears in a new light so it is a true “conversion”, faith is a “change of mentality”. This is because God revealed himself in Christ and made his plan of love known, he takes hold of us, he draws us to him, he becomes the meaning that sustains life, the rock on which to find stability. In the Old Testament we find a concentrated saying on faith which God entrusted to the Prophet Isaiah so that he might communicate it to Ahaz, King of Judah. God says, “If you will not believe” — that is, if you are not faithful to God — “surely you shall not be established” (Is 7:9b). Thus there is a connection between being and understanding which clearly expresses that faith is welcoming in life God’s view of reality, it is letting God guide us with his words and sacraments in understanding what we should do, what journey we should make, how we should live. Yet at the same time it is, precisely, understanding according to God and seeing with his eyes that makes life sure, that enables us to “stand” rather than fall.
Dear friends, Advent, the liturgical Season that we have just begun and that prepares us for Holy Christmas, sets us before the luminous mystery of the coming of the Son of God, the great “benevolent purpose” with which he wishes to draw us to him, to enable us to live in full communion of joy and peace with him. Advent invites us once again, in the midst of so many difficulties, to renew the certainty that God is present: he entered the world, making himself man, a man like us, to fulfil his plan of love. And God asks that we too become a sign of his action in the world. Through our faith, our hope and our charity, he wants to enter the world ever anew and wants ever anew to make his light shine out in our dark night.
22 luglio 2014
READ THE SCRIPTURE: 2 CORINTHIANS 11:3-15
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3 KJV).
The main thing about being a Christian is to see that the main thing remains the main thing. That is what Paul is saying. The main thing is that at the heart and center of your life is the simplicity that is in Christ, a simple thing. I have noticed over many years of observation that when religion becomes complicated, it is always a sign that it is drifting away from the realities and centralities of faith. The world around us is getting increasingly complex, and it is because it is drifting farther and farther from God. Look around at the world of nature, and you can see the simplicity of God's design everywhere. He builds the year around four seasons that repeat themselves and never fail. Yet that simple pattern of four seasons contains within it all the possible variations of weather. Look at a flower and see how simple the pattern of its makeup is and yet what an infinite variety God produces in a field of flowers. You can see this everywhere. God basically is simple. When religion becomes complex, it is a sign that it is departing from Christ.
That is what Paul is concerned about here. When you ask yourself just what that simplicity is that he is talking about, the answer from everywhere in the Word of God is the daily companionship of the Lord Jesus. Do you sense that Christ is yours all day long? Do you reckon upon that, think about that, and live out of that relationship and out of that sense of the expectation of His presence? We often say, and rightly so, that Christianity is not a creed, it is a relationship; it is living with a Person. That is the simplicity that is in Christ. The danger that we constantly face is that we get involved in the things about Christ and fail to live in a relationship with Christ.
You can lose it in the midst of Christian activity. You can lose it when you get so involved in some of the fascinating aspects of Scripture that you lose the simplicity that is in Christ. You can lose it in the pressures of daily living. You can get so busy and so worried and so anxious about yourself and the things that are happening to you that you lose the sense that Christ is with you, and He is adequate. This is the beautiful simplicity that is in Jesus. The Corinthian believers were assaulted with teachers who were exposing them to things that caught their attention, but they were drifting from that central point. They were involved with fascinating philosophies based on the Word of God but that went off on sidetracks and rabbit trails of thought. They were being challenged with certain ego-appealing experiences and believed that if they could only grasp them, they would feel great, wonderful, and so God-possessed. Likewise people today are invited to explore strange and wonderful mysteries all involved with Christian faith, but these tend to move them away from the simplicity that is in Christ.
Father, grant that I may walk close to Jesus and not let anything take me away from that day-by-day, moment-by-moment companionship of His presence.
Life Application: Are we getting side-tracked by the superficial and secondary? Do we need to return to the main menu: the exquisite simplicity of the Gospel?
We hope you were blessed by this daily devotional.
From your friends at www.RayStedman.org
Creation: The Jewish Oral Tradition
from The Restoration
Tammuz/Av 5755 (July/August 1995)
THE UNIVERSAL DESIRE FOR CLOSENESS TO G-D
... AND THE SECRET of THE SABBATH
From the Riches of the Oral Tradition
1. The World Intuitively Pines for G-d
Man - The Centerpiece of Creation
The created world can be divided into four basic categories: the inanimate, plant, animal, and 'speaking' life - man. Man, the highest level of creation, is the only creature endowed with the capability of speech, and this is what singles him out as a completely separate category - he has the greatest potential to develop a relationship with his Creator. He is the center of creation and its purpose and crowning achievement. For this reason, he was created last, and introduced into the Garden... to enable him to enter into a complete world, ready for him, furnished and equipped in advance to house its illustrious occupant.
Every Level of Creation Possesses a Soul
Man is followed by the members of the animal kingdom. Next in line comes the plant kingdom, and finally, inanimate creation - the lowest level of creation, as exemplified by stone. Even stone, the Torah teaches, possesses some degree of life-force, however weak. For it is impossible for something which the Holy One has created to be incapable of recognizing Him. Therefore, commensurate to that degree of life-force,-awareness of the Divine could be said to exist within it...
Desire for Closeness to G-d.. The Prime Mover
And so the soul, the essence, of every creature, each according to its level of understanding, has some inkling of the greatness of the Creator, and actually carries on a relationship with Him. This soul is constantly driven with endless passion to come closer to the source of all life, the Great and Perfect Light of the L-rd... how much more so should this be true among the higher, more spiritual elements of creation who understand to some extent what it means to 'cling' to the light of the living G-d.
All of Creation is United in the Desire for Closeness to G-d Herein lies one of the greatest secrets of creation... All life on earth... and even the actual physical elements that comprise the planet itself - the entire world as one, including every level of creation, from the lowest level of the inanimate - stones and earth, to the highest and most intelligent life-form, man himself; an endless pageant which spans every creature, plant and animal - all are constantly and inexorably united by an all-consuming, burning desire for G-d. This is the vital force which drives the world; this desire is the power which fuels the universe... it reverberates within the entire life-force, and the whole globe, like a man beating with one heart, knows on the deepest level with absolute clarity that there is nothing as sweet, desirable, and sustaining as 'Dveykut' - the ability to 'cling' close to the light of the Creator. This is the purpose of life itself, and on the deepest collective intuitive level, all are aware that nothing else is worth living for. This longing is itself the vital life-force of everything, and the entire world draws from it at once. In other words, this longing for G-d is what fuels the world to go on.
Because G-d is the Creator of all existence, He maintains an intimate link with each and every creature, regardless of its spiritual capacity. Obviously not all of creation is equal in spiritual sensitivity. Regardless of this, that link of intimate knowledge still exists, according to its degree of consciousness and development.
Reconnecting with the Divine
The entire earth whirls and spins through time and space, constantly seeking to re-align as much as possible with the one true reality, the light of the living G-d. But the 'earth's desire' on the whole is not an even thing at all, because the distribution of this longing - and its intensity - is based on knowledge and recognition of G-d, which in turn is a product of ascending levels of spiritual awareness. All of creation seeks to immerse itself in this G-dly light, thereby reconnecting with the Divine.
The Holy One, in His great wisdom, sees to it that His influence reaches this world in a way which enables all of creation at once to have constant, equal access to the life-giving radiance of Divine light - but at the same time allowing for each facet of creation to receive the specific amount it can appreciate, according to its own unique level of spiritual progression.
To be Conscious and Aware
Perhaps our sages were alluding to this concept when they commented (BT Chagigah 12:B) "what a pity it is that people do not realize what holds the world up..." - for if we could only be conscious and aware of the sublime and lofty drive for holiness which is manifest in every minute level of creation; and if we could only see how even the lowest inanimate level the very bedrock of planet earth itself - is filled with hope and aspiration to draw ever closer to the source of the brilliant Divine light - then perhaps, if we understood all of this, we would conclude: "How much more so should we ourselves be caught up and consumed by this desire, with attainment of this light as our only goal - for we are not inanimate, but men, possessing understanding, who know what it means to draw close to the living G-d!"
G-d Created the World to Make His Honor Known
The glory of G-d's presence is itself the purpose of creation... for G-d sought to make His honor known to man. And despite the fact that on a conscious level, not all are aware of their true motivations as they live their lives... even if they themselves are not aware, the desire for holiness craved by every living thing on earth is nonetheless the very core of their lives.
II The Sabbath - Soul of All Creation
In Genesis 2:1 we read "And the heavens and the earth and all their hosts were completed" - what is the significance of this verse?
Examining the Hebrew
In the last issue we mentioned the important concept of the preeminence of Hebrew in Bible study - for it is nothing less than the language of G-d Himself. The Bible was written in Hebrew, the world was created through Hebrew, and every letter of this holy alphabet is laden with meaning and significance.
A Double Meaning
In our verse, the root of the word 'Va'yechulu' Hebrew for "and they were completed," has another meaning as well, one which is totally different from this usual translation... and it is in the context of this double meaning that a form of this word is employed in Psalms, Ch. 84: "My soul yearns - and even Pines - for the courts of the L-rd... my heart and my flesh will sing out to the living G-d."
The Global Yearning
And so too in our verse: 'Va'yechulu hashamaim' rather than read this as 'and the heavens were completed,' we can read these words as 'and the heavens pined'... for G-d... and through this, through this desire, they - the heavens, their hosts and all of creation - were completed; 'va'yechulu' in both senses of the word. The inauguration of this collective global yearning is the act which accomplished the completion of creation.
This universal passion for G-d is so all-encompassing and overwhelming that those who are caught up in it want nothing else but to nullify themselves completely, to blend in and become one with the whole... King David knew this, and it was this great secret which he was alluding to in this Psalm... that the very thirst for G-d itself is the power which sustains the world. Thus we find that in some literature G-d is called "chay ha-olamin" - the life of all the worlds: every life depends upon the insatiable yearning of coming closer to Him.
The Sabbath Brought Stability to the World
Now we all know that G-d created the world during the original six days, and rested on the Seventh. Everyone thinks that G-d refrained from His creative activities on Shabbat, and did not introduce anything new into the world... but did G-d perhaps "create" something on the Sabbath? The Talmud indicates (BT Chagigah 12) that yes, something new certainly was introduced into the fabric of the world with the advent of the Sabbath...
It was the element of permanence. "The world was unstable and shaky," say the rabbis, "until the arrival of the Sabbath... then the earth was firmly anchored into place." Why? What is it about the Sabbath that brought "stability" to the world? Before the Sabbath, the whole of creation was a shaky and insecure thing. It is as if the permanence of creation was debatable, uncertain; an open question hanging in the balance until the arrival of the seventh day; it almost seemed as if there was some doubt as to whether or not this will be a sure thing... the earth hung suspended in the universe, lacking a sense of cohesion... quivering and heaving with the possibility that perhaps all is only temporary.
Indeed, something about the Sabbath had the capacity to bring the world its sense of permanence, and lock it into place... but just what is it?
The powerful answer is at once both beautiful in its simplicity and staggering in its depth: The holy Sabbath is the soul of the world; it is the soul of creation itself.
This is the mystery of the words "And on the seventh day, He refrained (from work) and 'Vayinafash' - He rested..."
...since the Creator stopped His work, on account of this - ' Vayinafash' - "And He rested" according to its simple meaning, but actually a form of the word 'nefesh' meaning soul: for the secret contained within these words is that when the Holy One stopped the process of creation, in so doing, "vayinafash" - the nefesh, the life-force was brought down into each level of creation and became fixed there within in permanent fashion. Before the Sabbath came, the world literally stood by like a body without a soul, and every aspect of creation was devoid of the inner essence of life. The holy Sabbath day became the soul of all creation, and through it, existence became whole.
Circumcision: A Parallel
We can find a similar idea which explains the secret of why the commandment of circumcision is required to be carried out on the eighth day of a child's life. What is so special and unique about the eighth day in particular, that the Torah specifies this as the singular and proper time to fulfill the commandment of circumcision?
The Sabbath Brings the Soul
Again, it is the secret of the first Sabbath. Just as we have now seen that it was necessary for the first Sabbath to arrive upon the world scene to imbue G-d's creation with the soul, the inner essence for life; so too, by establishing the eighth day of life as the day in which to perform the circumcision, then naturally if a minimum of eight days pass over the child, this will include one Sabbath - and thus, the child will be prepared to enter into the holy "brit," the covenant of circumcision, for he will have that same inner strength, that soul-power which only the Sabbath can bring - in the words of the rabbis, he will be a "baal nefesh" - literally, one with a soul. Just as the Sabbath brought the world its soul, so too every child is imbued with that same life-force and quality of permanence by the arrival of the first Shabbat in his life.
And so we return to the words with which this verse begins - "And G-d completed."
Previously we had asked, did G-d create something new on the seventh day as well, as the verse would seem to imply, that He completed His activity on the seventh day?
The Permanence of Creation
We have explained that the very day of the Sabbath itself brought the aspect of conclusion to creation. This was the completion which the verse refers to. When G-d "concluded His activity on the Sabbath," it was not that something was missing from creation which had yet to be provided, but rather, all had been created and was not lacking in completion - but was lacking in firmness, in stability - and it was this which came about through the Sabbath.
That Shabbat confirmed the permanence of existence. But during those first days of creation, prior to the arrival of the Shabbat, are we to understand that everything in the universe simply hung on in standby status... if so, then what power drove the universe?
G-d Himself revealed the answer to this question in the language of the Ten Commandments, in the words of the commandment which relate to Shabbat (Exodus 20), if we but examine the words carefully: not as many people erroneously read, "For G-d created the world in six days..." - but rather, the verse clearly reads "For six days. G-d created the heavens and the earth..."
This is one of the powerful secrets of Shabbat. When the Holy One originally created the world, He only endowed creation with sufficient power to last for six days, for reasons known only to Him (but also somewhat revealed to those who have merited to study these mysteries). Then He created Shabbat, and on this day G-d restores and revives the world's soul, enabling it to carry on with the burden of existence for another six days. Thus, the process continues throughout the ages, and through Shabbat, the world is constantly renewed, and given a new lease on life.
The World Exists from Sabbath to Sabbath
Its unique quality and power is that it recharges and renews the spiritual energy of the world. The other weekdays literally derive their nourishment from it. This applies to the entire structure of creation... without this system of replenishment, the world would not survive, but after six days would immediately implode, returning to the chaotic state of "emptiness and void" - as the Torah states: "For six days G-d created the world"; meaning, for six days ~ After this, without the life-giving energy of the holy Shabbat, G-d would have to create the world anew...
This i~, so even today. Every new week which passes over us is actually sustained and receives its very life-force - courtesy of the holy Shabbat, and all of creation is given the ability to function for yet another week by the influx of Divine influence which it receives on this day.
And do not think that this is in any way a contradiction or limitation to that which we have learned earlier - that the power which drives the world is its collective desire to come closer to the light of G-d... for without the Sabbath, the world would lack the perception of G-d's presence in creation which is necessary to fan those flames of desire and longing... the two concepts are actually part of the same process.
A Talmudic Dilemma
This insight can help us to better understand a difficult Talmudic teaching: "Whoever sanctifies the Shabbat, and recites the 'kiddush' blessing over the wine together with the verse of 'Va'yechulu' on Shabbat, is considered like the Holy One's partner in the creation of the world" (BT Shabbat 1 l9:B).
At first glance, this would seem to be a most extreme statement for the Rabbis to make, and certainly not meant to be taken literally. If the Sages are attempting to impart some sort of ethical teaching or example, its plain meaning is lost on us by what would appear to be the sheer exaggeration of such a statement - for how could a person become a partner in something which has already been completed previously, before his time? Has anyone ever heard of such a thing - that someone can come along and be considered a partner in something he had nothing to do with?
And even if such a concept could somehow be understood, why should it be said in reference to 'kiddush' - what is so special about this particular action that it could bring a person to such a level of identification with the Divine that he should be called a partner to G-d? If the act of 'kiddush' itself is so significant, then it would be understandable if the Rabbis want to emphasize the greatness of the reward which one merits for its observance... but to speak of a 'partnership with G-d' - is that not a bit much?
Partnership with G-d
But according to what we have learned, it makes perfect sense: Since the Sabbath is literally what keeps the world alive; and every six days, a new Shabbat arrives, and resuscitates the world, breathing new life into it again for yet another six days; and one should understand:
Shabbat would not exist in this world if not for those who observe it; for if no one kept the Sabbath, for whom could it be said to exist, and with this, all the implications this would carry for the world;
...in this light we can clearly understand the intentions behind this teaching; for whoever sanctifies the Shabbat, observing it and safeguarding its holiness, insures that there is Sabbath for the whole world Shabbat exists through him, and through Shabbat, the world continues to exist... therefore in reality he is most certainly supporting the world, and is truly a partner in creation - the creation which is renewed each week through the holy radiance of the Sabbath. There could be no greater partnership than this...
And so not only does Shabbat keep the world alive, but he who observes the Sabbath, keeps the Shabbat alive... such is the level of the 'shomer shabbat' that he could rightfully be called 'the righteous, the "tzaddik", is the foundation of the world' - for it is he who literally upholds the world.
The Shabbat was Always Observed
And know that since the very inception of the world, from the dawn of man's history, there has never been even one Shabbat which was not kept to some extent - the world has never been without these 'righteous pillars,' the Sabbath observers, and every generation has, to at least some degree, seen each Sabbath observed. This should actually come as no surprise to us. After all that we have now learned, how else could it have survived?
The Original Righteous Men
This was so from the beginning of time... since the very first Shabbat. The first man, Adam HaRishon, was himself a 'tzaddik', a righteous man who kept the Shabbat (see Bereshit Rabbah 22 - He is also credited with the authorship of Psalm 92, "A Song for the Sabbath Day"). After him, it was observed by his son Shet, whom G-d considered to be a perfect 'tzaddik;' he was followed by other 'tzaddikim', righteous men who kept the Shabbat: Metushelach, Noah, Shem, and finally Abraham, the father of the Jewish people... and from Abraham's time, Israel has never been left without at least some element of 'Shmirat Shabbat', Sabbath observance, even during the spiritual chaos and upheaval of the Egyptian exile (Shemot Rabbah 81).
This requires some clarification. What sort of 'Shabbat' did these early tzaddikim observe? After all, the commandment of Shabbat was given many generations later, at the revelation of Sinai... and it was given specifically to the Jews, to the children of Abraham. How did these men who lived before Abraham's time relate to the concept of Shabbat?
While it is true that the Shabbat was given specifically to the Jewish people, and they are commanded in its observance as a sign of the intimate relationship that they have with G-d; the Midrash which we quoted above must be understood in the proper context... for it pertains to the world as it was in ancient times, during the eras which pre-dated the patriarchs of the Jewish nation - and many generations before the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai.
We are speaking here of a different world, and it must be understood in a different light. That preTorah world - before there was Jew and Gentile, the world of ancient days - saw men such as these. They were all true spiritual giants, men of holiness, and they maintained full relationships with their Creator despite the fact that the Torah had not yet been bequeathed to Israel. The Shabbat belongs to Israel, but at this time Israel did not exist... Shabbat, however, did exist - it always existed, and these early righteous men were the ones who recognized it. Through this recognition, they kept the world alive.