What Kind of God is YHWH?

The Meaning of Mount Moriah 

When the God YHWH told Abraham to go to Moriah and sacrifice his son, no ancient hearer could have failed to recognize this cultural and historical context of child sacrifice. The fiery Valley of Gehinnom was a place where countless children had been murdered over the centuries. Various gods of the region demanded such sacrifices, including still in their own time (long after Abraham).

The text of Genesis does not tell us of the silent questions burning in Abraham’s mind through that three-day-long trek! But we are supposed to recognize them. Early hearers of the story would have sensed this tension as the patriarch of their nation made his way on a “pilgrimage” to that very spot where his descendants would present themselves to YHWH three times every year.

Abraham is winding his way northward to sacrifice his promised heir on a bluff overlooking that bloody valley where Canaanite tribes are accustomed to do the same for their gods. Does he think that YHWH is just the same – just as bloodthirsty and cruel, just as demanding of child sacrifice? Is that why he goes along with this horror and does not “withhold his son”? Or is he participating in this act for some other reason?

Who Is the Supreme God?

As so often in the Hebrew Bible, the stage is now set for some kind of “competition” or showdown between the God YHWH and some other “gods.” Earlier stories in Genesis have already taken this approach, with the Creation, Flood, and Babel accounts in order to prove the superiority of YHWH over other gods.

Similarly, the Exodus story is fashioned to reveal how YHWH brought judgment on “all the gods of Egypt” . 1 Kings 18 tells the dramatic tale of the prophet Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal. So too, the text of the Akedah sets up a contrast between the God YHWH and the other gods of the region. Who will be seen as better, stronger, mightier? Who will emerge as the supreme God?

God of Love and Compassion

And now comes the shocking part of the story. The greatness and superiority of Israel’s God is shown in the voice from heaven commanding Abraham not to slay his son after all. The gods in the valley down below clamor for the blood of children; the God of heaven, it seems, is not like them after all. This is the most surprising part of the Akedah in its original historical and cultural context – not that a god demanded the sacrifice of a child, which may have seemed all too “normal” in that setting, but rather that the God turned out not to desire the sacrifice of a child when it was offered! The gods of the valley delighted in suffering and cruelty and death; the God of Abraham desired instead love and compassion and life.

We don’t know how well Abraham understood YHWH at this point in his life, but he had some experience with this God. The merciful one who had spoken to him and made promises to him was also using his life to show a different way to all humanity – what we call “morality,” i.e., what is just and right. 

Unreasonable Jesus

It might seem sometimes as though Jesus is being unreasonable. But we’ll misunderstand his words if we fail to recognize what he’s really saying.

Christopher Kaczor 9/9/2022

It would seem as if some of Jesus’ teachings are unreasonable. Consider, for example, that Jesus says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire” (Matt. 18:8). If we took this teaching seriously, almost all of us would mutilate ourselves.

Although this teaching of Jesus seems unreasonable if understood in a simplistic, flat-footed way, it is this interpretation that is unreasonable, not what Jesus meant. In this passage, Jesus is using hyperbolic language: a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. We still do this today. A man might say to his buddy, “My wife is going to kill me when I get home so late.” The husband does not actually mean that his wife is a killer and that he will be in the morgue the next day. Rather, he’s using colorful and memorable language to make the point that his wife will be extremely angry with him.

So what does Jesus mean when he says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire” (Matt. 18:8)? Christ is emphasizing the vital importance of turning away from sin and embracing a life of love for God and neighbor. Sin is like cancer. It damages us, impeding our functioning, and if not treated, it can kill us. If we get cancer, it is utterly foolish not to try to eliminate the disease. We may have to get radiation treatments. We may have to get chemotherapy. We may have to get surgery to remove the tumors. But all these treatments, even painful and difficult ones, are worthwhile if they get rid of what is causing our suffering and what threatens to kill us.

So too with sin. If not treated, it can kill our relationship with God, our relationships with others, and even our relationships with ourselves. Sin can lead us to hate God, hate other people, and hate ourselves. When this hatred is complete and lasts forever, that is the condition known as hell. Because Jesus loves us, he wants us to be cured; he wants us to have love in our lives. Just as the good physician hates the cancer, so Jesus the physician hates the cancer of sin and warns us in vivid and memorable language to get rid of sin.

Another teaching of Jesus that some people think is unreasonable is when Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Here also Jesus is using deliberate exaggeration in order to make his point more memorable. Jesus calls us to love everyone, male and female, young and old, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor. If we are called to love everyone, we are called to love our own family. In this passage, Jesus is pointing to the proper order of love. We should love God more than we love even our family.

If we loved someone else more than God, then we would have a disordered love. If I treated my wife as if she were God, I would fail to properly love her and also fail to properly love God. I would fail to properly love her because I would not appreciate the flesh and blood person that she is. Likewise, if I treated her as if she were the queen of England, I would fail in my love because my love for her would be based not in reality, but in an illusion and a lie. My relationship with her would be grossly distorted. If I treat my wife as if she were God, I would also fail to properly love God, for I would be setting up an idol to replace God.

So the words of Jesus are misunderstood if we fail to recognize the deliberate exaggeration that Jesus is using. He wants us to love all people, including our family. But he does not want us to love anyone, even our family, as if that person were God.

In order that we may profit from Scripture more fully, God gave us not only the Bible, but also a reliable interpreter of the Bible. Without such a reliable and authoritative interpreter of revelation, revelation would be made void because conflicting and misleading interpretations would multiply. In the words of the Catechism, “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (111), the Spirit that animates and protects “the living Tradition of the whole Church” (113). Otherwise, it is a “dead letter”—and one that may lead us into false and unreasonable interpretations of Christ’s teachings. But the Church’s guidance will show us their true meaning.

How to create “holy moments” during a busy day


Shutterstock / fizkes

Zoe Romanowsky – 09/10/22

Daily life is busy but offers us many little opportunities to deepen our relationship with God.

In the busyness of daily life it can be difficult to find time to lift our hearts and minds to God. But there are ordinary moments during a typical day that offer us opportunities to connect to the One who loves us most.

The biggest challenge is remembering to do it at all, of course. Often we’re focused on the task at hand and what we must do next. So the key is creating the habit of taking such moments and one way to do that is to set reminders — whether that’s placing little notes in a place you will see them, setting alarms on your phone, or anchoring the practice to something you do everyday — such as when you sit down to eat a meal, or when you get into the car to drive somewhere.

Here are some of the times of day when you might want to take a moment to pause and say a short prayer, speak your own word of praise or petition to the Lord, or just be quiet and contemplate God’s goodness, beauty, and provision. Truth be told, any moment can be a “holy moment,” so choose what makes sense for you to sanctity your busy day…

The first moment you wake up

Before you even open your eyes or rise out of bed, thank God for the chance to rest and ask Him to be with you throughout the coming day. You can also make a morning offering before you get on with your day.

As you get dressed, shower, or brush your teeth

The little rituals we do to prepare for the day offer us the chance to thank God for clean water in our home, clothes to wear, and all the ways He takes care of us. These moments can also be times to ask Him to bless your day.

When you eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, or have tea or coffee

Anytime before you eat or drink is a perfect time to take a moment to bless what you’re about to receive and draw your awareness to how your Father in heaven provides sustenance so you can survive and thrive.

After your kids get on the bus for school (or you drop them off)

You may want to bless your children before they go off for the day, but after they’ve gone is also a good moment to collect yourself, take a deep breath, and connect with God before you move on to your next task.

When you get into the car to leave for work

The moment before you drive off for the day is a perfect time to acknowledge your guardian angel and ask for God’s protection on you and your loved ones. You may also want to use your commute for a longer prayer time, listen to beautiful music, or just spend time in silence.

If you notice yourself feeling tired, anxious, frustrated, or bored

What better moment to stop and lift your heart and mind to God than when you are troubled or unhappy about something? We have many moments like this in life and it’s a great time to stop and pray — it helps shift our focus and often pulls us into a more hope-filled, peaceful state.

When you start or finish a workout

Before you exercise, or even during it, you can take a moment to lift up a prayer of thanks for your body, for the ability to love, and for your health. Or if you take a walk to do a gentler kind of work out, you can pray along the way.

As you go to bed

At the end of a long and busy day, it is great to take a moment and give your day and all that happened in it to God. You might consider a nightly examen, but regardless, taking a moment to end your day by taking time for the Lord helps deepen your spiritual life and prepares you for a restful sleep.

Why this saint is the patron of souls in purgatory

St. Nicholas of TolentinoThe baroque fresco of St. Nicholas of Tolentino by Morazzone, 16th century, in the side nave of Chiesa di San Agostino (Basilica of St. Augustine) in Rome. | Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock

By Jonah McKeown St. Louis, Mo., Sep 10, 2022

The Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory — the “cleansing fire” that prepares the elect for heaven — can be difficult to understand. But for one saint, the Catholic imperative to pray for the dead was made very real to him — according to the story, one of his deceased friends appeared to him asking for prayers.

Though such an explicit apparition likely will not happen for most, Catholics can still draw inspiration from the holy example of this saint, Nicholas of Tolentino, whose feast day the Church celebrates on Sept. 10.

Born in 1245 in the town of Sant’Angelo in central Italy, Nicholas was drawn to the Augustinan religious order at a young age after hearing a sermon from the local superior on the vanity of the world. The order was in the nearby town of Tolentino, and after studying for seven years, Nicholas was ordained to the priesthood.

Nicholas was a charitable and holy man who often fasted, practiced self-mortification, and spent long hours in prayer. He fed the poor he encountered in a special way — he gave them blessed bread dipped in water. The reason he did this was that he once had a vision of the Virgin Mary telling him to dip bread in water and eat it to regain his health.

Thanks in part to these “panini benedetti” (blessed sandwiches), Nicholas was known for obtaining healings for many of the sick who lived in Tolentino — and even raising some people from the dead.

The Catholic Church formally defined the doctrine of purgatory during Nicholas’ lifetime, at the Second Council of Lyon in 1274. The doctrine teaches that when a person dies in God’s grace, he or she either goes straight to heaven or undergoes a state of purification before entering heaven called purgatory.

So how did Nicholas become associated with this doctrine?

As the Midwest Augustinians tell it, Nicholas was asleep in bed one night when he heard the voice of a deceased friar he had known. The friar told Nicholas that he was in purgatory and urged him to celebrate the Eucharist for him and other souls there, so that they would be set free by the power of Christ. After Nicholas did so for seven days, the friar again spoke to him, thanking him and assuring him that a large number of souls were now with God.

Nicholas is also the subject of numerous legends — some of which are rather bizarre. A 16th-century painting depicts Nicholas, bedridden and sick, refusing to eat but blessing two cooked partridges (he was a vegetarian). The dead partridges subsequently flew away.

Nicholas died of illness in 1305 or 1306, and Pope Eugenius IV — also an Augustinian — canonized him in 1446 after recognizing some 300 miracles attributed to him. In addition to being the patron saint of souls in purgatory, Nicholas is also considered the patron saint against epidemic disease and against fires.

Be Amazed by How Much God Loves Us

The Point of the Parable of the Prodigal

User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 11

How do and should we respond to the Father?
How do and should we respond to the Father? (photo: Illustration / Annalisa Jones/Shutterstock)

Msgr. Charles Pope Sunday GuideSeptember 9, 2022

Sunday, Sept. 11, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32 or Luke 15:1-10.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son has the Lord Jesus presenting God’s love for us as mysterious and, to some degree, unexplainable in human terms. Who really understands unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy? His grace is “amazing,” in that it goes completely beyond our ability to comprehend. Let’s consider the parable’s teachings.

Crazy! A young man, entitled by law to a third of his father’s estate essentially tells his father to “drop dead.” He wants his inheritance now, and the old man isn’t dying fast enough. Incredibly, the father gives it to him! The father is a nobleman (landowner) and could hand his son over for serious punishment for such dishonor; but he doesn’t! Inheritance in hand, the son leaves his father and goes off to “a distant land,” where he sinks so low that he ends up looking up to pigs. He comes to his senses and returns to his father, daring only to hope to become one of his father’s hired workers.

Crazier! The father sees his son from a long way off (i.e., he was looking for him) and runs to him. Running was beneath the dignity of a nobleman because it implied that he was either a slave on an errand or a fugitive. Further, for a man to run in the ancient world he first had to “gird up” his long, flowing robe. Otherwise, his legs would get tangled up in the garment, and he could trip and fall. For a nobleman to show his legs was also an indignity.

Do you get the picture?This nobleman — this father — is humbling himself. He is running, and his legs are showing. This is crazy! Consider what this son has done: Does he deserve this humble love? No! The father is crazy! The Heavenly Father is “crazy,” too.He actually loves us and humbles himself for us. He even sent his own Son for us. Do you and I understand what we have done? Do we deserve this? No! It’s crazy!

Crazier still! The second son is also a handful. When he hears of the party being given for his wayward brother, he refuses to come. And what does the father do? He comes out and pleads with him to enter! No father in the ancient world would have permitted his son to speak to him in this way. The son basically calls him a slave-driver who issues orders; he refuses to enter the party that his father is hosting, saying that he would rather have a kid goat and celebrate with his friends than with his father. But the goal in life is not to celebrate with your friends — it is to celebrate with the Father in heaven.

Yes, the father, i.e., the Heavenly Father, is crazy. Do you know what it means to refuse to do what God says? And yet we do it every time we sin! Our Heavenly Father should not have to tolerate this. He is God, and we are his creatures.

There are other Scriptures that speak of God’s punishments. But in the end, none of us get what we really deserve. Jesus’ point in the parable is that God is merciful, and his love is crazy; his love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out.

Just be astonished — be amazed — that God loves us in such a crazy, unexplainable way. God is love!