Up to fifty years ago the first readings at our Masses were almost all from the New Testament, with only a few, familiar, Old Testament passages printed for us once or twice a month. Then, in 1970 the Church decided on spreading the forty-six Old Testament books out over a three-year schedule. That has us reading a selection from the Book of Habakkuk today, and we won’t have another one from him until three years from now. (If we are still here.)
When we were first given all these Old Testament readings most Catholics didn’t like them. Forty years ago I was driving down to Florida to take over teaching the Bible to high school freshmen. I had been in Chicago that summer, and the night before I left, I had dinner with an archbishop with whom I had been friends from when he was a priest coming out of the chaplain core. When I told him I was going to teach Bible he told me to stay away from the Old Testament. When I asked why, he said, “It’s nothing but a bucket of worms.”
The Old Testament is hard to get on to, but after our hearing it for forty years we have gained some respect and familiarity with it. Habakkuk, whose words we sample today, wrote in 599 B.C. He pleaded with God to have regard for just men who are tormented from every side. He said his kind were like fish the rich easily pull in with long seining nets that they pray to, honoring them as the gods who make them wealthy. And they were Habakkuk’s lesser worry, for the forces of Babylon coming down from the north were about to enslave his kind.
Habakkuk represents our kind when all seems hopeless, when illness and poverty are about to do us in. From his meeting with God Habakkuk comes away with just this assurance, “The just man, because of his faith, shall live.