Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Scripture

Encourage & Teach: The Christmas Countdown – Catholic Style!

This time of year every kid, and dare I say a good number of adults, are eagerly counting down the days to Christmas. As a child, my family had one of those great window Advent calendars where you opened a window daily to reveal a thought or picture inside. It helped us to track where we were in the Advent season. The Church does the same thing through the liturgy and it starts tomorrow on December 17.

The church’s countdown system is called the “O Antiphons.” (Read more…)

Encourage & Teach: What is an Attitude of Gratitude Anyway?

Benefits_of_GratitudeIn my youth group growing up, it was common to hear youth leaders encouraging us to have an “attitude of gratitude.” They always desired for us to see what the Lord was providing and the manner in which we received it. It did not make much sense then, but this simple practice has made a huge difference in my life.

It is one thing to be thankful. It is quite another to foster and live this “attitude of gratitude.” What does that mean? It means that we choose to be thankful first before we complain or are critical. If we are honest, we must admit that a grateful mindset is really hard!  (Read more…)

The Sometimes Bewildering Basis of Biblical Books

BibleThe question of “How many books should the Bible contain?” is a common question asked by religious education and RCIA students. The Catholic and, for the most part, the Orthodox canon of Scripture contains 73 books while the Protestant canon contains 66 books. Some believe that the seven books were added to the Bible at the Council of Trent but that is an urban myth. The books and sections in question are:

Books: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees

Sections: Letter of Jeremiah, additions to Esther, Prayer of Azariah, Susanna (Daniel 13), and Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14).

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Considering the Penalty Box…

skull chalicePersonally, I love All Souls Day (November 2). It is a constant reminder that I am mortal and that my end is approaching (possibly quicker than I imagine if I continue to eat these blasted candy corns). Some may consider this morbid but consider the Christian point of view.

For the Christian,

Death is a consequence of sin. The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. “Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned” is thus “the last enemy” of man left to be conquered. (CCC1008) [Emphasis mine]

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Encourage & Teach: The Voice of God is Upon Many Waters

There is something profound about the sound of the breaking waves of an ocean upon the seashore. I really cannot explain why it is except to say that I sense that if I had “ears to hear,” I would be able to perceive the voice of our Lord.

J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Silmarillion seemed to infer the same when he wrote:

“It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”

Sacred Scripture provides a number of references relating to either the voice of the Lord or His coming…(Read more…)

Viewing the Heavenly Liturgy

Today’s second reading allows us to particiheavenly jerusalempate in a prophetic tradition that links us through our own baptism[1] to the prophets of old. Through Sacred Scripture, we participate in the visions of all the prophets that were privileged to pierce the veil and look into the glory of heaven.

Each time a prophet viewed into heaven, did you ever considered what they viewed? They viewed the Divine Liturgy. When we consider Isaiah or Ezekiel in Sacred Scripture, who gazed upon this liturgy, we know it is the «Continue Reading»

Homily: Reckless Love for the Lord

The life of a Christian disciple is a life of faith. Not a life of just believing in those important dogmas and doctrine that under-pin our understanding of who God is and who we are not. No, we are called to have a lively faith; an expectant faith; a faith-life imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what St. Paul in his letter to the Romans refers to as living a life in obedience of faith. This faith is based on what we see and hear the Father doing – we are always responding to His actions in our life. It is a faith that draws us into and reveals to the world the life-giving love of Jesus. And, the two widows in today’s readings illustrate for us what kind of faith we who call ourselves Christian should have or need. Why? Because faith is the foundation and substance of our Christian life.

The widow in the First Reading isn’t even a Jew. Did you hear what she said, “As the Lord your God lives.” Not, “As the Lord my God lives, but your God.” And yet, she trusts in the word of Elijah and the promise he makes in the Lord’s name. Let’s be honest, there were no prospects for food and the prophet asking to be served. She was making a fire to cook the last bit of food and then sit with her son to die. And yet, she serves Elijah and doesn’t give out of her excess but out of her need. She put the man of God before herself and her family.

The widow in the Gospel also gives everything she had. Notice how she gave: without complaint, without grimacing, without calculating how many lattes she could forego this week. She too gave out of her need and not her excess. In fact, the Word of God says that she gave out of her poverty to support the work of God’s priests in the Temple.

Their self-giving and self-sacrifice, opened a pathway for God the Father to work in their life. They reveal the Father’s love in giving His only Son, and Christ’s love in sacrificing himself on the cross.

Again in today’s Epistle, we hear about Christ sacrificing his life in order that we might be reconciled to the Father: Jesus wants to turn our hearts and faces back to the Father – that is why He came (see Malachi 4:6); to renew and restore our humanity: we were made for grace – it makes us human; and to conform us to the likeness of Christ in order to potentially enter into the glory of heaven.

We are invited to imitate Jesus’ sacrifice of love in our own lives. We will be judged, not by the amount we give but rather whether we are Christ’s disciples and if the gifts he has entrusted to us reflect our livelihood, our whole beings, all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

So, how do we respond then to the Word of God proclaimed before us? The first question is, “Have we chosen to become a disciple of Christ?” Baptism, attending Mass every week and even serving the needy, while necessary and important does not make us a disciple. Choosing an intentional, personal, yes, even an intimate relationship with Jesus is our salvation.

Brothers and sisters, if you think I am sounding evangelical, you’re right! Introducing people to Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior is a Catholic expectation. We said it first! In fact, it was the Council of Trent (see Chapter 8) that first coined that term: it’s just being out on loan to our Christian brethren for a while. There is more than the acceptance but it is the starting-line.

Once we are in relationship with Him then and only then, should we ask, “Are we giving all that we can to the Lord—not out of a sense of forced duty, but in a spirit of generosity and love (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7)?” To participate in those corporal and spiritual works of mercy is meant to be Christ to those whom we serve.

Our faith is not only in the relationship with the Lord but in His provision to do what He places before us. The prophet, this man of God today tells us, “Do not be afraid.” And, Blessed John Paul II echoes Jesus’ words to Peter after a long night of fishing that yielded nothing. He said, “Put out into the deep.” We know the story. Don’t you think that Simon Peter had some choice words running through his head when this carpenter, this Galilean said put out into the deep. Not only that, Jesus says toss your nets over on this side – as if the other side was any different. Simon Peter believed our Lord and had to call others to help him haul in the catch.

I know this kind of trust seems difficult but listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 6, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (see Matthew 6: 32-33). What is He saying, only the pagans worry – he will provide.

Jesus is calling us to be reckless with our love and generosity. All of you gentlemen were reckless with your time, talents and treasures when you were courting your wife. Yeah, I can see it in your faces. And ladies, you were very glad to accept that recklessness. How is it that we are so cheap with the Lord who will never fail us?

Sounds crazy doesn’t it! Maybe this will help. During a transition period between one job to another, my wife and I were praying for the Lord to provide food for us since it was beyond tight. Now, you should understand that we are severe carnivores. We came to a day when the frig and freezer were empty and we looked at each other and panicked trying to figure out where the meat would be coming from – I mean, we had two kids but it would be awkward and just wrong to consider them food! However, less than 30 minutes after having a heated discussion over the Lord’s provision, the UPS man knocked at our door. In his hands was a Styrofoam cooler with what we soon discovered contained 20 pounds of Omaha steaks in it. The note read, “Felt inspired to send this to you.” Okay, I’m dense but I can take a hint.

One more example of how the Lord desires to provide for us. Right after 9/11 I was the Executive Director for a non-profit and unfortunately had to assist in closing it down due to money drying up. This happened the second to last week of November. I had made a promise to my kids that we would get a Christmas tree on this same weekend months ago without knowing the reality of my job situation. When it came time to fulfill my promise, I had a total of $45 dollars to my name with no expectation of pay coming in any time soon. With a full gas tank and $45 we bought that tree. While setting it up that evening, I slipped on an envelope that had been left on my doorstep anonymously. I opened it and to my surprise, it contained 1,500. Utterly astonished, we thanked the Lord for providing for our needs. Now, the next morning I woke up to find an additional $1,500 in an envelope on my car seat with no one taking credit. Not only does the story not end here but that is not even the incredible part! I came home later that day to be handled an envelope by my wife who had a shocked expression on her face. I opened it only to see a note from an individual who had been praying for my family and felt that we needed the enclosed check. He also said that I should not let my arrogance be a stumbling block to his ability to share the Father’s blessings. The check was for $10,000. The combined provision from the Lord held us over to my first paycheck six months later. In fact, it was to the dollar. My family never was in need.

The Lord in his generosity can never be out-done. If you are thinking that you do not have this kind of faith or relationship with Jesus and you want it, approach one of the clergy and let us talk and pray with you. This is the way He intended us to live – to walk by faith, not by sight (see 2 Corinthians 5:7). Therefore, my prayer, our prayer for you today is that as we follow the widows’ example, doing what the Father asks, that we will be reckless for the Lord and confident that the Father will always keep our jars of flour and our jugs full of oil as we serve and place our trust in Him.

My Spy Wednesday

Most of us know that the price of Jesus’ betrayal was thirty pieces of silver. But did you ever consider what precipitated this unspeakable tragedy? Perfume, albeit expensive perfume. You remember don’t you:

Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said,  “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  (John 12: 3-5)
At first glance, Judas seems to have a heart for the poor. But Sacred Scripture makes it very clear in verse 6 stating,
This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.
This certainly is a warning for us to beware of the world’s trappings but I would like to suggest another thought for our consideration and meditation.

It is often suggested that our Lord’s preferential option for the poor means that He deserves the least because there is someone who could better use the resources. And, this is true – at least materially. Except, whatever happened with building churches that assisted in revealing the majesty and splendor of His Kingship and love? It seems to me that Our Lord told us that we will always have the poor (John 12:8) and in a world that has lost it’s sense of wonder, well, you know. It has also been my experience that this gutting of the sublime is not reserved to our material possessions but also with our spiritual efforts.

For myself, just a cursory reflection makes it painfully clear that I am no better than anyone else. For example, I leave my prayer for the end of the day when I have expended the days energy. I offer God my leftovers and not the first fruits of the day. Everyone else gets my best and my Lord gets the dregs.

Monday’s and today’s gospels are a painful reminder that I am just as willing to sell out my Savior for a day’s wage or even worse, the hope that people are impressed with my work product. Thirty pieces of silver is the price of a slave and for some reason I always want to put my shackles back on.

Tomorrow He gives me the strength for the Triduum journey – enough to sustain me to receive His forgiveness on Friday. Tomorrow I join my Bishop, his priests and my brother deacons at the cathedral. We will renew our commitment to the Church and liturgically enter into battle with our Lord for His bride. The Chrism Mass will stir into flame the graces of our ordination, feed us the bread of sorrow and the drink of compunction and then send us to our respective parishes in order to lead the people of God to the resurrection through Calvary.
Will you join me to redouble our efforts to make the best of this Triddum?
Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)

The Historical Date of Christmas

So, it is a private joy of mine to observe some of the arguements among the teens within our youth group. A few weeks ago, the subject was the date of the Solemnity of the Incarnation (Thanks for the correction Fr. Schierer!) Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas for those who are unaware of the correct name) and how it was chosen. It seems that the theological urban legend of Saturnalia is right now at the forefront. Unfortunately, that would not be correct albeit a very popular theory.

Dr. Taylor Marshall at the Cantebury Tales blog wrote on the subject so beautifully and thoroughly that I thought he should say it. Please, oh please, will all the catechists out there teach your students correctly? December 25 is the historical date for the birth of our Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI: December 25 as the Historical Date of the Christ’s Birth

Posted by Dr. Taylor Marshall
In two previous posts, we examined how the Bible indicates that Christ was born in late December and how Mary and the Apostolic tradition  prior to Constantine confirm December 25 as the historical date of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem. Today we turn to our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
Please read:
In 2000, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy that a Jewish tradition holds that Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac on Mount Moriah on March 25. Mount Moriah is Jerusalem (see 2 Chron 34:1), and March 25 is the date on which Christ was crucified on the solar calendar (Easter like the Mosaic Passover is calculated by a lunar phenomenon). I think that you can see that there is a geographical and temporal parallel here. We see that the Father willingly offers His only-begotten Son.
Cardinal Ratzinger also noted that March 25 was thought to be the first day of creation. Hence, March 25 has a cosmic significance. His Eminence also describes how the zodiac and Aries relates to this cosmic significance in the Spring, but that is a bit too much for our purposes. The important thing is that March 25 was the traditional date for the creation of the world, for the sacrifice of Abraham, and for the sacrifice of God the Son.
On pages 107-108, Cardinal Ratzinger makes the observation that the day of Christ’s death was also reckoned as the day he was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. March 25, then was the annunciation of Gabriel. Add nine months to that and you arrive at December 25 as His birthday.
Ratzinger then dismisses what he calls “these old theories” that teach that December 25 was chosen to cover over pagan holidays. Rather, the Holy Father recognizes December 25 as the true birthday of Christ the Lord. He expands that this alignment of meanings has liturgical significance.
While we’re on the topic, Pope Saint Leo the Great spoke of the cosmic meaning of Christ’s birth in the depth of winter:

But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery. (St Leo Magnus, Sermo 26)

Also, Pope Benedict XIV argued in 1761 that the church fathers would have known the correct date of birth from Roman census records.
Merry Christmas!

Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ

Encountering Christ in Sacred Scripture

Since my conversion in 1987, the staple of my prayer life has been Sacred Scripture. It was only in 1995 that I discovered the particular prayer style was called Lectio Divina. My life has been overwhelmingly blessed by gazing upon the face of Christ in the Holy Writ.

Pope Benedict XVI promulgated one year ago today on the Memorial of St. Jerome Verbum Domini: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Within the document is a beautiful explanation of Lectio Divina and how we can develop this skill in our own spiritual life.

With so many people desiring to hear our Lord speak to them and see His face, we need to encourage the holy reading of Scripture. The first step, develop the skill in ourself. The following is an excerpt from the exhortation:

The prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and “lectio divina” The Synod frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer, in the various ministries and states in life, with particular reference to lectio divina.[290] The word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality. The Synod Fathers thus took up the words of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “Let the faithful go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day. Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture”.[291] The Council thus sought to reappropriate the great patristic tradition which had always recommended approaching the Scripture in dialogue with God. As Saint Augustine puts it: “Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God”.[292] Origen, one of the great masters of this way of reading the Bible, maintains that understanding Scripture demands, even more than study, closeness to Christ and prayer. Origen was convinced, in fact, that the best way to know God is through love, and that there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love. In his Letter to Gregory, the great Alexandrian theologian gave this advice: “Devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God. If during the lectio you encounter a closed door, knock and it will be opened to you by that guardian of whom Jesus said, ‘The gatekeeper will open it for him’. By applying yourself in this way to lectio divina, search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within. You ought not, however, to be satisfied merely with knocking and seeking: to understand the things of God, what is absolutely necessary is oratio. For this reason, the Saviour told us not only: ‘Seek and you will find’, and ‘Knock and it shall be opened to you’, but also added, ‘Ask and you shall receive’”.[293]

In this regard, however, one must avoid the risk of an individualistic approach, and remember that God’s word is given to us precisely to build communion, to unite us in the Truth along our path to God. While it is a word addressed to each of us personally, it is also a word which builds community, which builds the Church. Consequently, the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church. In effect, “a communal reading of Scripture is extremely important, because the living subject in the sacred Scriptures is the People of God, it is the Church… Scripture does not belong to the past, because its subject, the People of God inspired by God himself, is always the same, and therefore the word is always alive in the living subject. As such, it is important to read and experience sacred Scripture in communion with the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses to this word, beginning with the earliest Fathers up to the saints of our own day, up to the present-day magisterium”.[294]

For this reason, the privileged place for the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist, in which, as we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament, the word itself is present and at work in our midst. In some sense the prayerful reading of the Bible, personal and communal, must always be related to the Eucharistic celebration. Just as the adoration of the Eucharist prepares for, accompanies and follows the liturgy of the Eucharist,[295] so too prayerful reading, personal and communal, prepares for, accompanies and deepens what the Church celebrates when she proclaims the word in a liturgical setting. By so closely relating lectio and liturgy, we can better grasp the criteria which should guide this practice in the area of pastoral care and in the spiritual life of the People of God.

The documents produced before and during the Synod mentioned a number of methods for a faith-filled and fruitful approach to sacred Scripture. Yet the greatest attention was paid to lectio divina, which is truly “capable of opening up to the faithful the treasures of God’s word, but also of bringing about an encounter with Christ, the living word of God”.[296] I would like here to review the basic steps of this procedure. It opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas. Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged. Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us. Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.

We find the supreme synthesis and fulfilment of this process in the Mother of God. For every member of the faithful Mary is the model of docile acceptance of God’s word, for she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51); she discovered the profound bond which unites, in God’s great plan, apparently disparate events, actions and things.[297] I would also like to echo what the Synod proposed about the importance of the personal reading of Scripture, also as a practice allowing for the possibility, in accordance with the Church’s usual conditions, of gaining an indulgence either for oneself or for the faithful departed.[298] The practice of indulgences[299] implies the doctrine of the infinite merits of Christ – which the Church, as the minister of the redemption, dispenses and applies, but it also implies that of the communion of saints, and it teaches us that “to whatever degree we are united in Christ, we are united to one another, and the supernatural life of each one can be useful for the others”.[300] From this standpoint, the reading of the word of God sustains us on our journey of penance and conversion, enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the Church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God. As Saint Ambrose puts it, “When we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden”.[301]