This blog is an attempt to provide interesting and worthwhile Catholic Adult Education materials, either texts or podcasts I have produced myself, or links to other good resources.
I am doing this for several reasons. One is to act as a means of distributing to interested people recordings I have already made. Another is to advocate for Adult Catechesis within the Catholic Community, which I believe is sorely neglected in most parishes, despite the priority it is given in official Catholic documents on Catechesis.
After the skepticism of Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) Wisdom is rehabilitated by Sirach (confusingly, Ecclesiasticus). ‘Ecclesiates’ is a very approximate translation of the Hebrew term ‘Qoheleth’ which could be translated ‘The Preacher’ (hence, in Latin, ‘The Churchman’). ’Ecclesiaticus’ gets it’s name because it is more-or-less ‘The Church Book’, as it was used by early Christians for instructing catechumens (candidates for Baptism). Thus the book was seen by those early Christians as a fine instruction in wisdom, piety, honesty and justice.
The origin of the book, as recounted in the prologue, is that the author Jesus ben Elizar ben Sirach has translated the work of his grandfather, who had gathered together many wisdom sayings in Hebrew, into Greek for the benefit of the Jewish community in exile in Egypt. The book is said to be “for the benefit of those living abroad, who wish to acquire wisdom and are disposed to live their lives according to the standards of the law.
The Catholic Biblical School editors give the subtitle “The Failure of Wisdom” to this book, whose best known line is “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!” The word ‘vanity’ is not quite accurate: a better translation is ‘transitory or impermanent’, and one often hears the complaint that all human endeavors and accomplishments eventually fade away and are forgotten. What then is worth doing? Seeking wisdom, following God’s law and enjoying the pleasures and satisfactions of life.
People may remember the famous song by The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which is based upon 3:1-8; “a time for every affair under the sun.”
Our discussion of Job continues. Job’s laments and his desire to confront God about his situation are answered, but not the way he expects. God gives Job a grand tour of the wonders of creation, and asks Job if he can do the same. Job is silenced, but in the end God rebukes Job’s friends for their foolishness, and says of Job that he has spoken truly, and Job’s fortunes are restored.
The first session explores some of the general principles of liturgy and worship, especially the concept of ‘mystery’ and it’s meaning in the context of Liturgy. The author defines it as “a concrete something which when you bump into it puts you in touch with the divine.” He also explores the meaning of the liturgical assembly and of gathering for Mass.
Proverbs is indeed full of little two-line aphorisms, but it also has an underlying theology about how God has created and governs the world. In many instances God’s actions are explicitly stated, and contrasted with human motivations and actions, e.g. “man may make plans in his heart, but what the tongue utters is from the Lord.” (16:1) In other cases, God is not named, but it is implied that “this is how God created the world and designed things to happen”, such as “he who sows iniquity reaps calamity, and the rod destroys his labors.” (22:8)
There is a strong sense throughout that God rewards virtue and punishes sin: “The reward of humility and fear of the Lord is riches, honor and life. Thorns and snares are on the path of the crooked; he who would safeguard his life will shun them.” (22:4, 5) In Proverbs there is no question that God’s justice will prevail. Only later in other works, as we will see, is the question raised, “Why do bad things happen to good people?
Chapter 30 features some numerical proverbs, a particular literary form, drawing together phenomena from nature as both demonstrations of God’s wisdom, and limitations of human understanding, e.g. 30:18-20, pondering the mysteries of how birds fly, how snakes move, how ships sails and “the way of a man with a maiden” – all unsolvable mysteries!
Note that after several times earlier warning the young man to whom the book is aimed about the dangers of a seductive woman, at the end of the book the virtues of the Ideal Wife are extolled (31:10-31), “Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all.”