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Who is Amalek?

In a sculpture at the Holocaust Memorial in The Hague, a Star of David sculpted by the Dutch artist Dirk Stins in 1967, one reads a quote from Deuteronomy (Dt 25:17-19): “Remember what Amalek has done to you … do not forget.” Who is this Amalek Deuteronomy is telling the Israelites not to forget about?…

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Who is Amalek?

In a sculpture at the Holocaust Memorial in The Hague, a Star of David sculpted by the Dutch artist
Dirk Stins in 1967, one reads a quote from Deuteronomy (Dt 25:17-19): “Remember what Amalek has done to you … do not forget.”
Who is this Amalek Deuteronomy is telling the Israelites not to forget about?

The Amalekites are often referred to in the Hebrew Bible as “the sons of Amalek,” or also just as “Amalek,” referring to the nation’s founder, Amalek, the grandson of Esau. How could the grandson of Esau become the ancestor of the quintessential enemy of the Israelites? To better understand who Amalek is and what he stands for, we need to go back two generations in the Bible and understand the dynamics at play in the relationship of Jacob and Esau.

Esau and Jacob are twins, although they could not be any more different. Their rivalry is suggested, from the very beginning, in the book of Genesis: chapter 25 clearly states that Esau was born before Jacob, who came out holding on to Esau’s heel, as if trying to pull him back into the womb so that he could be firstborn. In fact, the name “Jacob” comes from a Hebrew root that can be either translated as “to follow,” “to be behind,” “to supplant,” or as “heel.” But, in fact, their rivalry precedes even their birth. Genesis 25 reads:

Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

In the biblical narrative, Esau is presented as a rough, red-haired (the text only says he was “red all over,” though) hairy hunter who seems to be more interested in being out in the fields than in learning the skills he would need to develop to deal with the responsibilities that come with being the firstborn. Jacob, on the other hand, is described as either a simpleton, or as an “almost perfect man:” there are discrepancies here, on whether the Hebrew word tam should be translated in one way or the other.

Brbbl – CC BY-SA 4.0

We are all more or less familiar with the story: Esau goes to his twin brother Jacob as he comes back from the fields, hungry like the wolf. He begs Jacob to give him some “red pottage” (the word for “red” in Hebrew is “Edom”), probably a pun on his red hair. Jacob agrees and offers Esau a bowl of red lentil stew in exchange for his birthright (that is, the right to be recognized as firstborn son, thus having power and authority over the family). Esau, who cannot think of anything else but satiating his hunger, agrees. All “for a mess of pottage.”

According to the Talmud, the sale of Esau’s birthright took place immediately after Abraham died, the twin brothers being both 15 at the time. The Talmudic text also explains the lentils Jacob was cooking were meant for Isaac, their father. Lentils are traditionally associated with mourning (unlike most beans, lentils have no eye, a symbolic reference of the deceased no longer being seen). But they’re also a hearty meal, intended to give consolation to those who mourn.

Of course, there are plenty of apocryphal ancient writings on what really happened that day. Among them, the Sefer HaYashar (literally, “Book of the Just Man”) seems to be the most important, as the Bible itself mentions the book three times: once in the book of Joshua, once in Samuel, and once in Kings. Chapter 27 of the Sefer HaYashar explains that, after Abraham’s death, Esau would go frequently to the field to hunt, most likely as a distraction to deal with the loss of his grandfather. There, in the field, Nimrod, King of Babel, would see Esau from afar. The text explains Nimrod was envious of him. Eventually, Esau killed Nimrod and two of his guards, who were also hunting with him. Being persecuted by Nimrod’s men, Esau flees and tries to hide in Isaac’s house, where he finds his brother cooking. The Sefer HaYashar claims Esau willingly sold his birthright to Jacob:

And he said unto his brother Jacob, “Behold I shall die this day, and wherefore then do I want the birthright?” And Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this matter, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for it was so brought about by the Lord.

In any case, willingly or not, by renouncing his birthright, Esau can no longer occupy the seat of the patriarch, which is now held by Jacob. That is why Jacob is considered the progenitor of the Israelites and Esau that of the Edomites (again, “Edom” meaning “red,” a reference to either Esau’s hair color, to the “red pottage” he trades his birthright for, or to both), the territory of Edom (referred to in Roman and Greek sources as “Idumea”) being located south of the Dead Sea, in territories nowadays corresponding to Jordan and Israel mostly.

Now, Amalek is referred to in Genesis 36 as being the son of Eliphaz, one of Esau’s sons. Eliphaz had a concubine by the name of Timna, who gave birth to Amalek. In the same chapter, Amalek is referred to as “one of the chiefs among Esau’s descendants,” meaning he either ruled a clan or some territory.

However, some other genealogies point out at a slightly different origin for Amalek and the Amalekites. In the book of Numbers, we find Balaam, a non-Israelite diviner, referring to Amalek as “the first of nations:”

“Then Balaam saw Amalek and spoke his message: ‘Amalek was first among the nations, but their end will be utter destruction.’”

Different sources (both classic and contemporary) claim the Amalekites existed even way before Abraham, and that they were the first nation ever formed after the Flood. But that aside, what the text seems to point at is that the Amalekites were the “first” in their hostility against the Israelites, as is suggested by Esau’s struggle against Jacob even in their mother’s womb. In fact, Amalek attacks Moses and his people (Ex 17:8) in Rephidim, as they are still wandering in the desert. Deuteronomy explicitly commands not to forget “what Amalek did to you:”

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget.

In that sense, the Amalekites are considered as the archetypal enemy of the Jews, an eternally hostile enemy beyond the possibilities of reconciliation of forgiveness, that is seen to come back once and again in history: Romans, Nazis, and Stalinists have been identified with Amalek throughout history — hence, Stins’ inclusion of this passage from Deuteronomy in his Holocaust Memorial.

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Worried about the future? Find peace in this short prayer

It’s relatively easy to be worried about the future. We simply don’t know what is going to happen today, tomorrow, or next year. This state of uncertainty can cripple us at times, keeping us from doing anything out of fear of the unknown. St. Josemaria Escriva consoled someone in a similar frame of mind, who…

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Worried about the future? Find peace in this short prayer

It’s relatively easy to be worried about the future. We simply don’t know what is going to happen today, tomorrow, or next year. This state of uncertainty can cripple us at times, keeping us from doing anything out of fear of the unknown.
St. Josemaria Escriva consoled someone in a similar frame of mind, who said to him (as quoted in The Way of the Cross), “Father, I am having a very rough time.”
In response, the saint composed a short but peaceful prayer of abandonment, entrusting to God everything past, present and future.
My Lord and my God: into your hands I abandon the past and the present and the future, what is small and what is great, what amounts to a little and what amounts to a lot, things temporal and things eternal.
Asking his friend to pray this prayer, St. Josemaria wrote, “Then, don’t worry any more.”
The only way we can move forward in calm is to entrust our “rough times” to God and then let the worry go. He is in control, and will be with us every step of the way.

 

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Pope Francis reminisces about 6th grade

Perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to say that our Jesuit pope also has Salesian roots. Pope Francis hinted at this on Sunday, May 24, the feast of Mary Help of Christians, which is an important Salesian feast. “Today, on the day of Mary Help of Christians, I address an affectionate and cordial greeting to the…

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Pope Francis reminisces about 6th grade

Perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to say that our Jesuit pope also has Salesian roots. Pope Francis hinted at this on Sunday, May 24, the feast of Mary Help of Christians, which is an important Salesian feast.
“Today, on the day of Mary Help of Christians, I address an affectionate and cordial greeting to the Salesians,” he said, following the midday Regina Coeli prayer at the Vatican’s Apostolic Library. “I recall with gratitude the spiritual formation I received from the sons and daughters of Don Bosco.”
The Pope did not mention it directly, but he was referring to 1949 when he and his younger brother, Oscar, were enrolled as boarders at Colegio Wilfrid Barón de los Santos Ángeles run by the Salesians at Ramos Mejía.
Pope in Salesian school
The Virgin Mary, under the title Mary Help of Christians, is the principal patroness of the Salesians of Don Bosco, the religious congregation that Don Bosco founded in 1859 in the northern Italian city of Turin, to serve the young people.
The city’s Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, which was commissioned by Don Bosco himself, remains the heart of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
The Argentine Pope’s remarks on Sunday is not the first time that he has spoken about the influence of the Salesians of Don Bosco in his childhood.
Turin, June 22, 2015
Pope Francis visited Turin, June 21-22, 2015, during which he joined the Salesians in celebrating the 200th birth centenary of Don Bosco, who was born on August 16, 1815, and died on January 31, 1888. ‎
During his visit, the Pope met the Salesians, including the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, known as the Salesian sisters, which Don Bosco co-founded with Saint Mary Mazzarello.
While commending Don Bosco’s ministry for young people, the Pope recounted fond childhood memories of his family’s closeness to the Salesians and how, when his mother was ill, he was taken out of public school to spend one year studying with the Salesians.
The Holy Father spoke of how he grew very attached to the Salesian community in the year he spent with them and that one priest, in particular, followed him from Baptism to the realization of his vocation, accompanying him ultimately on his journey to the Jesuit Order.
Salesian priests Fathers Enrico Pozzoli and Cayetano Bruno are particularly remembered by the Pope.
“Evangelii gaudium with St John Bosco”
Again, in January 2019, Pope Francis wrote a preface to the book, “Evangelii gaudium con don Bosco” (Evangelii gaudium with St John Bosco), a collection of reflections by 25 members of the Salesian family.
Commending the spirit of joy of Don Bosco, despite the thousands of “difficulties that besieged him every day”, the Pope recalled his association with the Salesians as a boy in Argentina.
While studying in a Salesian school, he wrote in the preface, he found that same “climate of joy and family.” The Salesians, he said, trained him to appreciate beauty, work, and cheerfulness – and this, he told the Salesians, “is your vocation.”

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Houston church closes again after priests test positive for COVID-19

Catholic churches in Texas had begun offering Mass for the public again in early May. But at one parish, public Masses were abruptly suspended again after three priests tested positive for COVID-19. “Today we learned that three members of the Redemptorists community living and working at Holy Ghost Parish have tested positive for COVID-19, Fr.…

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Houston church closes again after priests test positive for COVID-19

Catholic churches in Texas had begun offering Mass for the public again in early May. But at one parish, public Masses were abruptly suspended again after three priests tested positive for COVID-19.
“Today we learned that three members of the Redemptorists community living and working at Holy Ghost Parish have tested positive for COVID-19, Fr. William Bueche, C.Ss.R., pastor of Holy Ghost, said in a statement May 16. “While the individuals themselves are asymptomatic, they, and the other members of the community, are in quarantine in the residence isolated from the others. All members of the household have been tested and are awaiting results.”
Fr. Bueche said that one of the individuals who tested positive had been active in celebrating public Masses at Holy Ghost since the church reopened on May 2. He urged anyone who has attended Masses in person at Holy Ghost since the reopening to “monitor your health for any symptoms and be tested for COVID-19, as a precautionary measure.”
The priest said he informed the City of Houston Health Department about the situation.
In a statement issued Monday, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston noted that, Fr. Donnell Kirchner, a 79-year-old priest at Holy Ghost died. “The specific cause of death is unknown, but he had been recently treated at an urgent care clinic who referred him to a hospital emergency room,” the statement read. “He was diagnosed with pneumonia but he was not admitted to the hospital and ws sent home with medication. It is not clear if he was tested for covid-19 at either faciity. He returned to the residence he shared with seven other members of his religious order.”
The statement said that following Fr. Kirchner’s death, the other Redemptorists “sought medical advice, and all were tested for the coronavirus. Although the parish had followed cleaning, sanitation and social distancing guidelines described by State health officials since reopening on May 2, they determined at that time it was best to close the church immediately to public Masses until the results of their tests were known.”
The archdiocese also noted that in-person attendance at Holy Ghost had been “closely controlled” and that attendance at Mass on Sunday never exceeded 179, far short of the 900-person capacity. Weekday Mass attendance as a “small fraction of that amount.”
An earlier statement on the parish website said that Masses would be canceled as of May 14 because the Redemptorist community was self-quarantining while awaiting results of the COVID-19 tests. Suspension of Masses included the funeral for Fr. Kirchner originally scheduled on Saturday, May 16.
 

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