Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

‘In Faciem Moysi:’ a Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Blessed are the eyes that see the things you see (Luke 10, 23).

Moses stands in our liturgical midst today. We are not to be surprised at this, however, because he did so earlier this month: on August 6th, the feast of the Transfiguration. At that time, he stood in an array of glory, with Christ and Elijah on Mt Tabor. Today, however, he appears with veiled face and in the posture of a priest. We must take note of this.

We must take note of this because, as good Catholics, we know that we cannot afford to treat lightly any reference to the Old Testament. Therefore, a fortiori, we can hardly afford to know nothing about the Moses, through whom mankind first received the gift of the Law.[1]—For Christ is the new and perfect Moses.

See just how. The infant Moses escaped from the infanticidal policies of Pharaoh, just as Christ escapes Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Moses is driven into solitude and receives the divine command from the burning bush in the desert; Christ, too, in order to suffer temptation, is driven to the desert. Moses delivers Israel from the captivity of Pharoah; Christ delivers souls and bodies from the captivity of Satan. Moses goes up Mt Sinai to receive and deliver the Law; Christ goes up the mountain and delivers the Beatitudes. Moses retires to the tent of meeting to have converse with God; Christ retires to deserted places to pray to the Father. Moses raises up his hands in prayer as Joshua cuts down the Amalekites; Christ raises his arms on the Cross and vanquishes sin. In death, Moses’ body is hidden in a desert canyon; Christ ascends to the hidden, heavenly places.

The fact is, one can draw a straight line from Moses to Christ—and it is a line of the continuity of Divine Providence. The face of Moses, glorious but veiled, receives its light from the face of Christ.

But what has this to do with us? A great deal. We take our cue from St Paul.—Are we to think that, when God continually sustained the people of Israel before Christ, that he will somehow treat his Church with less care? As we will sing during Communion, Moses interceded priest-like on behalf of the sins and weakness of the people; has Christ ever ceased to be our High Priest? The Church may travel through the dark byways of history; the Father never takes his eyes off her for a moment. The clergy may fail to satisfy the demands of their office; but Christ the Priest never leaves off his perfect ministration.

In order to know ourselves, we need to know Moses. To know what the Church is—and our place within her—we need to know Moses. And even to know Christ, we must know Moses. For I wonder, too, if the Catholic people have forgotten that this life in an Exodus—an εξ-οδος, a going out along the way. The world may be shaking the foundations of our comfort. If so, blessed are we; blessed these eyes of ours. The exodus of old reveals our exodus. Not without reason when we pray to the Virgin we refer to this valle lacrymarum. But now, as then, at the head of our company is the New Moses.

In the end, when our blessed Lord says to his disciples, Beati oculi qui vident quæ vos videtis, he was not only speaking to them: he was also speaking to us. And, please God, when we are gathered wheat-like and safely into that great barn of heaven, we will look back—in God we will look back and consider ourselves blessed for having seen what we have seen. Because at Moses’ prayers manna fell in the desert; the manna of Christ’s Body was immolated on the Cross; and even though we too travel through the desert of this life, we gaze now, with unveiled faces, to see the manna of the blessed Eucharist rain down upon our altars.



[1] Here, ‘the Law’ (capitalized) means the law revealed to Israel on Sinai. After all, natural law was also given to mankind from the beginning, and which constitutes itself a kind of revelation, although it is, in a certain sense, more obscure—or, as the case may be, more obscurable. The point is simply to make the qualification that creation itself does constitute a type or degree of self-revelation on the part of God, both now and in the past. Which is to say, further, that Divine Providence did not leave the nations entirely in the dark. St Paul discusses the matter in ch 2 of Romans.

{Art Credit: Moses with the Tablets of the Law (1803), Peter Gaal (1769-1819), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam}

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