The first passage in today’s short post comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; 9 but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! 11 I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.
This passage has generated some lively theological debate over the years. Some have argued that it demonstrates that Christians shouldn’t celebrate holidays or the like at all. Needless to say, that doesn’t comport at all with how Christians acted, well, ever. A more sensible argument is that St. Paul was explaining to the Galatians that they needed to set aside their pagan holidays. The reference to “elemental spirits” provides the support for this contextual interpretation. A different view, and a stronger one as I see it, is that it was arguing against the celebration of Jewish holidays. Given how much of St. Paul’s letter is devoted to arguing against a return to the Mosaic Law, it makes far more sense for “days, and months, and seasons, and years” to refer to Jewish holidays. For those who wanted to argue about this topic before, feel free to do so in this post.
Today’s second passage comes from the Letter of James:
13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.[c] 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. 17 Eli′jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.
19 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
I’ve been asked some questions about the sacraments by non-Catholics over the months that I’ve run this blog. Two of them feature prominently in this passage: Confession and the Anointing of the Sick. Both sacraments are like the others: special graces given to us by God for our own benefit. Both Confession and the Anointing of the Sick provide healing, in a physical and a spiritual sense. Confession has changed over the centuries- originally it was often public, but over time it was replaced by private confessions with a presbyter/elder (priest). The Celtic Church was influential in the development of anonymous confessions, thanks in large part to the efforts of a few of the saints I’ve featured on my Saturday posts.