Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

 

The Resurrection According to St. Paul

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Jesus Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!

As we continue to bask in the joy of the Easter season, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on St. Paul’s teachings on the Resurrection of Christ.  St. Paul himself powerfully encountered the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, and this encounter changed his identity and mission forever.  St. Paul has left us a treasury of teachings on the Resurrection itself and the profound consequences for the human family and for each of us in our own lives.

The first of Paul’s powerful passages comes in his letter to the Romans where he speaks of Christ as the New Adam who reverses the sin and death of Adam.  Through the mystery of his death and Resurrection, Christ brings life and grace to all:

Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned–

for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law.

But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.

But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

And the gift is not like the result of the one person’s sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.

For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ. (Rm 5:15-17)

For Paul, just as the disobedience of Adam brought death to all, the obedience of Christ through his death brings life to all in the Resurrection.   In the same way that Original sin affected all of humanity, the Resurrection changes and elevates the entire human family to a dignity beyond measure.  Thus, Easter morning is truly the dawn of a new humanity, a new creation transformed and alive in Christ.  What then, are the true consequences of the Resurrection of Christ?  Paul concludes with this powerful passage:

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.

Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,

nor height, nor depth,nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35; 38-39)

Therefore, if Christ is truly raised from the dead and has truly defeated sin and death, then what do we have to be afraid of?   This message is particularly important for us to remember this Easter as we presently face many moral, economic, and foreign threats in our world today. We need to remember that ultimately Jesus Christ is victorious, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.   We must also be convicted that we must work diligently to live and preach the gospel in our own lives in order to bring about Christ’s victory and not allow worry, stress, greed, or indifference to rob us of our share in the salvation of Christ.

We also see St. Paul’s most explicit and developed teaching on the Resurrection of Christ in his First Letter to the Corinthians.  Paul was writing his letter to the Church in Corinth to correct both liturgical abuse and doctrinal error.   One of the dangerous heresies circulating around Corinth was a denial of the resurrection of the dead.  Paul forcefully corrects this error explaining the consequences of such a teaching:

But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised.

And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.

Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.

For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,

and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.

Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

Paul then teaches us the reality of the Resurrection:  that Christ is truly alive and has destroyed sin and death forever and that the mystery of the Resurrection transforms us from being dead to sin to being alive in Christ and complete sharers in his victory over death:

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed,

in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.

And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 51-57)

Thus, the Resurrection is at the very heart of the Christian faith.   If Christ is not truly risen, then all is in vain.   However, our hope as Christians lies precisely in that Christ is alive and is present and working in and through the Church.   Our task is to live as if Christ is truly risen!   Do we really believe that Christ is risen and has truly conquered sin and death?   Do our lives truly reflect this?  St. Paul challenges us to vibrantly live our lives alive in Christ:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.

And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-5;12-17)

May we, through the intercession of St. Paul, encounter anew the life and grace of the Risen Christ and become more effective witnesses of the truth of the Resurrection.  It is only through the grace, power, and conviction of the Resurrection that we can be the instruments that transform our culture into a culture of life and civilization of love so that all may come to know fullness of life in Christ.   Happy Easter!

 

Hail, Full of Grace!

Monday, December 5th, 2011

On December 8th, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. However, if you ask people, including many Catholics, what the Immaculate Conception is, there is a good chance that they will tell you that it is the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary.  In fact, the Immaculate Conception is actually the conception of Mary.  The Immaculate Conception reveals to us that Mary was freed from the stain of original sin at the moment of her conception, and remained free from sin for her entire life.

It was intrinsic to God’s plan of salvation that Mary was created without original sin.  In the Book of Genesis chapter 3, we see how sin first entered the world through our first parents Adam and Eve.  Since Adam and Eve represented all of the human family, when they fell away from God, all of humanity fell away from him.  Original sin was then passed on to their children, and to their children’s children, all throughout human history.  Thus, when we are conceived and come into existence, we are born into a natural separation from God and an inclination toward sin that is called original sin.

However, God’s plan was to have his only Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, assume a human nature so that as both God and man Jesus could accomplish the redemption of the human race.  One problem: God is in complete and total opposition to sin.  Anything sinful cannot even come into God’s presence without being purified.  How then would God the Son be able to intimately join himself with a fallen human nature?  This is where God’s plan for Mary comes in.  God chose her to be conceived without original sin so that she would be able to give Jesus a pure and sinless human nature.

Where do we as Catholics get this teaching on the Immaculate Conception of Mary?  First, it is in fact revealed implicitly in Scripture as an important part of God’s unfolding plan of salvation.

 

Genesis 3:15:  Let us first go to the book of Genesis where God is announcing for the first time his plan of salvation that will be accomplished through Christ:

 

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”  (Gen 3:15)

 

It is important that we determine exactly who God is addressing and talking about.  God is speaking to the serpent and he says that the offspring of the woman will strike at his head.  Who is the only one who will strike at the head of the serpent who is Satan?  Jesus is the one who will come and strike at Satan’s head and destroy his power.  So if the offspring of the woman is Jesus, then the woman must be Mary.

Now God speaks of there being enmity between the serpent and the woman, and the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring.  The offspring of Satan is sin, for it is sin that Satan desires to multiply and fill the earth.  So therefore, there is enmity between Mary/Jesus and Satan/sin.  What exactly does enmity mean?  Enmity means total and complete opposition.  If two things are in enmity with each other, they have nothing at all to do with one another; there is no cooperation or communion between the two whatsoever.  Consequently, both Jesus and Mary are completely opposed to Satan and sin.  They would have no cooperation or communion with Satan and sin whatsoever.  Mary is given the same absolute and perpetual opposition to Satan and sin as Jesus.

Therefore, it is necessary that Mary would not have a fallen nature, since any participation is original sin or actual sin would destroy the enmity with Satan and sin.   Thus, we see in the very first announcement of God’s plan of salvation his plan of Mary being totally free from sin so that Jesus would be able to assume a pure human nature.

 

Luke 1:28:  We see an even more explicit reference to the Immaculate Conception of Mary in Luke’s Gospel at the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce God’s plan of having her be the Mother of Jesus.  The Angel Gabriel’s greeting of Mary reveals her immaculate state.  His greeting properly translated is, “Hail, you who have been filled with grace.”  The Greek word kekaritomene is a perfect participle “have been filled.”   Mary has already been filled with God’s grace, for grace has already been infused into her at the moment of her conception.

Also notice that Mary is filled with grace.  Anytime we sin, even the smallest sin, we lose at least some of God’s grace.  That is the nature of sin.  Sin is a choice we make that rejects the grace he offers to us, which is his very life and love.  If Mary is filled with grace, then she would have been completely free from sin, as any sin, even the tiniest, would have caused her to be deprived of at least some grace.

Not only do we see the Immaculate Conception in Sacred Scripture, but it has also been constantly and clearly taught throughout Sacred Tradition from the earliest times of the Church:

 

St. Ambrose (d. 379): Mary is “free from all stain of sin.”

 

St. Severus, Bishop of Antioch (d. 538):  “She (Mary) formed part of the human race, and was of the same essence as we, although she was pure from all taint and immaculate…”

 

St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 638):  “You (Mary) have found the grace which no one has received…No one has been pre-purified besides you.”

 

These are only a small sample of teachings that clearly show that the Immaculate Conception was a part of the Church’s belief from the very beginning.

Finally in 1854, Pope Pius IX infallibly proclaims the Immaculate Conception as a part of Divine Revelation and a dogma of the Church to be definitively held by all the faithful:

 

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine that holds that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, at the instant of her conception, was preserved immune from all stain of sin, by a singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was revealed by God and must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”

 

How exactly, then, did God preserve Mary from original sin?  Mary needed Christ to redeem her just as much as we all do.  She was redeemed by her Son’s death on the cross, just like all of us.  But how could Mary have been redeemed by Jesus’ death on the cross before Jesus was even born?

It is because God is eternal and transcendent, and therefore, he is not bound by either space or time.  Because he is outside of space and time, God sees all of time past, present, and future, right now.  It is like looking at a very long train from a helicopter.  The engines are creation, the caboose is the end of the world, and we are somewhere in between the two.  God is able to operate outside of time.  Therefore, he took the graces and merits of Jesus’ death on the cross and applied them backwards in time to the moment of Mary’s conception.  Thus, Mary was redeemed by Christ as we all are, but through a “singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God” she was not only redeemed but also completely preserved from original sin.

Even though Mary was preserved from original sin at the moment of her conception, she could have still chosen to sin because as a human being she had free will.  She could have said “no” to the Father at the Annunciation.  She could have also said “no” to the Father at the foot of the cross, where she surrendered her Son, and fallen into despair and cursed God.  However, Mary perfectly cooperated and surrendered herself to the great gift of grace that God had given her and lived the most extraordinary Christian life.  That is why Mary is the Model of Faith and the Model of the Church.  We are all called to cooperate with whatever graces God chooses to give us so that we humbly and lovingly walk whatever path he chooses to give to us.

May the Immaculate Heart of Mary continue to inspire us on our journey of faith, especially during this season of Advent, that we may surrender ourselves fully to God through the “obedience of faith” and become Christ’s instruments of hope and love.

Peter the Rock

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

     On June 29th, we celebrated the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in which we honor and recognize these two great apostles as the pillars of the Church and great defenders of the truth of Christ.   This feast gives us an opportune time to now reflect upon the role and mission of St. Peter as the head of Christ’s Church, and the profound authority that was given to him by Christ himself that is also handed on to his successors, the Pope, until the end of time.  In a world and culture marred by the great errors of moral relativism and the denial of objective truth, the Papacy, in the role of the successor of St. Peter, stands as the one and true defender of all truth as revealed by Jesus Christ. 

    While all the apostles were given the authority and the mission by Christ to teach, govern, and minister in his name, Peter was set apart and given a unique role by Christ that emphasized his teaching and governing authority over all the apostles and other disciples.  This is seen most profoundly in Matthew 16:

 

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:13-19)

 

      In this very powerful scene, Jesus is asking the apostles who others think he is, but in reality, he is asking them who they think he is.  While the other apostles give many different answers, Peter is the one who sees the real identity of Christ as the Messiah and responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus responds, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”  Jesus is revealing a profound truth.  Peter has been given a unique gift, or charism, by the Father to know and teach the truth, and his knowledge of Jesus’ identity is a result of this special gift.  Jesus recognizes this gift and special role of Peter and bestows on him a unique teaching and governing authority over all the apostles and the entire Church.

      Therefore, Jesus changes Peter’s name from Simon to Peter, which means “Rock” (Greek petros).  This is packed with meaning as the changing of one’s name in the Scriptures means a new identity, mission, and calling.  For example, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham when he responded to God’s invitation of faith, and he became the father of all of God’s people.  In the same way here, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter to show his new identity and mission as the “rock” and head of the Church.

      Jesus calls Peter “rock,” and it is upon “this rock” that Jesus will build his Church.  Why does Jesus build his Church upon Peter?  It is fundamentally in response to Peter already exercising his teaching authority given to him by the Father.  He has received a gift of wisdom to know the truth about Christ, and also a teaching charism to proclaim it with clarity and without error. 

      No mere human revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah.  He had not yet told Peter that he was the Messiah, and many were still seriously grappling with exactly who Jesus was.  But Peter was given the gift to know the truth, and he faithfully proclaimed it to the apostles.  He will be the one who will lead, teach, and strengthen the apostles and the other followers after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. 

      Recognizing Peter’s gift of teaching the truth, Jesus then grants him a unique and profound authority:  “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Jesus entrusts to Peter the keys to the Church!  What does this mean?  In Jesus’ time, when the master was going to leave his estate for a time, he would entrust to his head servant the keys to the estate.  This servant, who possessed the keys, was entrusted with the full authority of his master while he was away.  Thus, the servant does not replace the master, but possesses his authority in his absence.  Peter becomes the “Vicar” of Christ, that is, he has been given the full authority of the Master over his Church until he comes again.  However, with this authority comes great responsibility.  The servant who is given the keys of the master is expected to take care of and run the estate in the way the master desires.  In the same way, Peter’s authority is one of service and obedience to the will and teachings of Christ.  It is the sole responsibility of Peter and his successors to authoritatively and faithfully teach and hand on what Christ has taught and willed.

     This same teaching charism given by the Father and profound authority bestowed upon Peter by Christ himself is also handed on to each and every successor of Peter in the person of the Pope.  By virtue of his office, the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit to teach and proclaim the truth as it pertains to faith and morals without error.  Thus, it is through the Pope as the visible head of the Church that the sacred Deposit of Faith entrusted by Christ to the Church has remained preserved, intact, and handed on without error for over 2,000 years. 

     The gift of the Papacy has been especially evident in recent history through the great Popes of the 20th century, especially as exemplified in our late Holy Father Blessed Pope John Paul II and continued today through the great leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.  In these times of great moral confusion, and when the basic foundations of the truths of Christianity are being challenged by an increasingly secular culture, it is the Pope as the successor of St. Peter that continues to steer and guide the Church towards the truth of Christ so that the promise of Christ will be fulfilled:  “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld will never prevail against it.”  

Come Holy Spirit!

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the fullness of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they burst out of the upper room and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This feast is one of the most important events in salvation history for two reasons.  First, Pentecost fully reveals the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  The strong driving wind and the tongues of fire that fell upon the apostles are the visible signs of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son poured forth transforming the apostles and empowering them to be the witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth thus fulfilling the words of Christ:  “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

     The coming of the Holy Spirit also institutes the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and all four of these marks of the Church are present at Pentecost.  When you carefully read the Pentecost account in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke makes it very clear that this is not just an individual experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit by the apostles and other disciples, but is in fact above all an ecclesial event.

     First, St. Luke makes it clear that all the nations of the ancient world are present in Jerusalem, and, in fact, if you had a map of the ancient world at the time, Luke mentions almost all of the major regions and cities that encompassed the entire world at this time.  And yet, each person by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is able to hear the Gospel of Christ preached in his own language.   What is happening here?  St. Luke is making strikingly clear that the same humanity that was scattered in the Book of Genesis at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) is now being intimately united in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  A humanity that was once scattered and divided in sin is now, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, newly created as the Body of Christ, the Church.  Thus, we see that this gathering of the human family at Pentecost is the Church that is both one and Catholic, or universal.  In other words, the Holy Spirit brings about the Church that is intimately united in the Spirit and also knows no boundaries, for the Church is open to every person of every race, language and culture. 

    Secondly, we also see that this Church is holy, first and foremost because it is filled with the Holy Spirit.  We also see that those who are joined to the Church are joined to her by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism through which they die to their old sinful selves and become a new creation in Christ.  The Holy Spirit sent by Christ not only inaugurates the presence and mission of the Church, but that same Spirit makes the Church holy.

     Thirdly, we also see in the Pentecost event that the Church is Apostolic in that it is Peter and the other eleven apostles that are charged with handing on the Deposit of Faith that has been entrusted to them by Christ.  This is the profound beauty of the Church, that Christ instituted the Church upon the Rock of Peter and the other apostles, and then filled them with a unique charism of the Holy Spirit to hand on, protect, and interpret the Deposit of Faith to each generation.  This handing on of the faith beginning at Pentecost and continuing to this present day in the successors of the apostles, the Pope and the Bishops, is guided, protected, and guaranteed by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Two years ago, I had the awesome privilege of visiting Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica where we celebrated Mass at the Altar of St. Peter.  Above the altar at the very front of St. Peter’s is the famous stained glass window of the Holy Spirit pouring down from heaven over the Chair of St. Peter.  This was one of the most moving experiences as I truly sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as he guides and protects the Church throughout the centuries.  It is this presence of the Holy Spirit first given at Pentecost that inaugurated the mission of the Church that has also protected and kept the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church alive and well as the instrument of salvation in the world for over 2,000 years. 

     As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, let us not only give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, but for the great gift of the Catholic Church that is truly the “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

We Believe in Love

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

The first reading at Mass today (and any day) is not taken from the Gospel, but it sure is good news! Below is the text, with verses that I find especially inspiring highlighted: 

Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.

This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.
In this is love brought to perfection among us,
that we have confidence on the day of judgment
because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:11-18)

Today is also the feast of St. John Neumann, not to be confused with the recently beatified John Henry Newman. This 19th-century immigrant priest became known as the Apostle of the Alleghenies, and he later became the Bishop of Philadelphia. While most saints lived long ago in far away places, St. John Neumann is very much part of our own cultural history. This was brought home to me when I lived in Ohio. I belonged to the St. John Neumann Knights of Columbus Council, and in our St. John Neumann adoration chapel, we actually had baptismal and marriage records signed by none other than this holy cleric!

St. John Neumann eventually became a U.S. citizen, and he was the first U.S. bishop to become a saint. Let”s take this opportunity to pray, through the intercession of St. John Neumann, for our own bishops and priests.

On a personal note, I will be away from my computer for a few days. I will resume my daily posts next week. 

The Quotable St. John

Monday, December 27th, 2010

In honor of the feast of St. John the Evangelist, I thought I would devote a “top ten” list today to my favorite quotes from St. John”s Gospel.

I was going to open it up to all five books of the Bible written by St. John, so that I could include favorite quotes from his epistles (e.g., 1 John 3:1) and the Book of Revelation (e.g., Revelation 21:1, 4). However, the magnificent Gospel according to John provides more than enough material to work with! Here”s my list:

(1) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14) What a profound teaching on the Incarnation!  And I”m pleased that in both of my children”s schools they pray the Angelus daily, which includes this beautiful verse.

(2) For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) This verse gives us the motive for the Incarnation, that in the words of the early Fathers of the Church, God became man so that man could participate in the very life of God. Wow!

(3) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) The entire Bread of Life discourse in John 6 is fantastic. I chose this verse as it vividly teaches that the Eucharist sustains us in our journey to God. I could easily have chosen the response of St. Peter to Our Lord”s words: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life . . .” (John 6:68)

(4) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) This is part of Our Lord”s “Good Shepherd” discourse. What’2012-04-24 18:32:31′s not to love about a God who is our good shepherd, who came to give us abundant life? Baaa!

(5) Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24) This may be my favorite verse in the entire Bible. Dostoevski said that his classic, 1,000-page novel Brothers Karamazov is but an artistic reflection on this profound verse. And the next verse continues the paradox: He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)

(6) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34) Not only is this a powerful verse in its own right, but I think this teaching of Our Lord is one that really resonated with John and sustained him for decades. Later in life, he is reputed to have told his disciples over and over again: ”Children, love one another.”

(7) I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) I love this verse because it reminds me that apostolic fruitfulness is entirely dependent upon our connectedness to Christ through prayer and the sacraments.

(8) “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21)  The ecumenical imperative that we encounter today is rooted in these words of the Lord that are recorded only in St. John”s Gospel. God is one. The Church is one. Christians still have a little work to do!

(9) When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27) This one is especially dear to me, since today is the feast day of my son Samuel John. I gave him that name because I wanted him to be a “beloved disciple” who welcomes Mary into his heart and, one day, into his home (or rectory).

(10) When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (John 19:33-34) This one may leave some readers scratching their head. I marvel at the way in which all the prophecy comes together in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And here in particular the Church has always interpreted the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ as symbolizing the life-giving sacraments, as indeed the Church in a sense was “born” when His side was pierced (see Catechism, no. 766).

And btw, honorable mention goes to:

John 3:31–He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 16:33–I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

John 20:22-23–And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Merry Christmas, everyone!  All is well here in KC, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC West champions!

Preparing for Mary”s Visit

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Today”s Gospel, the first part of the event commonly known as the “Visitation” (Luke 1:39-45), is very familiar to most Catholics. It”s read a few times during the year at Mass, and of course it”s one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Sometimes we hear a passage over and over again, and it can be a challenge to open our minds and hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to give us new insights.

In hearing this Gospel anew today, I was struck by how much we should be devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially on Christmas.

When Elizabeth greets Mary, John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother”s womb at the sound of Mary”s voice (vv. 41, 44). After all, Mary has brought Jesus to him! (The best baby shower gift of all time!) But there”s more.

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even more, Scripture says that Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she cried out: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .” (vv. 41-42). When we turn to Our Lady, when we pray the “Hail Mary,” we are simply making our own the doubly inspired words of Elizabeth.

Okay, but enough already, right? Perhaps we’2012-04-24 18:32:40′re a little hesitant or unsure about turning to Mary. But what were the next words out of Elizabeth”s mouth? She said, And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Instead of obsessing over whether she should make such a fuss about Mary, she does pretty much the opposite: She marvels at the great honor bestowed upon her that Mary would actually come to her.

Mary wants to come to each one of us this Christmas, as the definitive bearer of our long-awaited Savior. Let us run to greet her, and leap for joy in the presence of the Gift she has brought to the world, the Gift that, as the saying goes, is the “reason for the season.”

The Roots of the Messiah

Friday, December 17th, 2010

December 17th marks the beginning of the “O Antiphons” in Evening Prayer, which focus on various biblical titles of our Lord and Messiah. Today’s “O Antiphon” theme is Wisdom: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with Your strong yet tender care. Come and show you people the way to salvation.”

December 17th represents a turning point in the Advent season. We are now unmistakably in the home stretch. As we heard at Mass last Sunday, “the Lord is near”–Christmas is just around the corner.

Also on December 17th, the Gospel readings at Mass undergo a significant shift. Instead of hearing about John the Baptist, we are now unpacking the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Today we start at the beginning, with the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham, found in the opening verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel. [more]

There is much more to this genealogy than meets the eye. For further study, I recommend Ted Sri’s Mystery of the Kingdom and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible for the Gospel of Matthew.

One common question involves apparent discrepancies between Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus and the genealogy found in Luke. Here is what the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible says about this in its comments on Matthew 1:2-17:

“The Abrahamic and Davidic ancestry of Jesus establishes His credentials to be the royal Messiah of Israel (1:1, 16). God long ago promised that ‘kings’ would stem from Abraham’s line (Gen. 17:6) and later swore a covenant oath that David would always have a dynastic heir (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4). Note that Matthew’s genealogy reaches back to Abraham, the forefather of Israel, whereas Luke’s genealogy of Jesus stretches back to Adam, the father of all nations (Lk. 3:23-38). The difference is heightened by numerous discrepancies between the two genealogies, especially in the generations spanning from David to Jesus. More than a dozen solutions have been proposed to harmonize them. At the very least, it should be recognized that gaps are a common feature in genealogical registries from antiquity. There are also many examples in Scripture of one person having more than one name–a fact that must be considered when attempting to identify the ancestors of Jesus (e.g., Solomon/Jedidiah, 2 Sam. 12:24-25). As one early Christian writer (Julius Africanus) reminds us, neither Matthew nor Luke is in error, for both record Jesus’ genealogy intricately and yet accurately.”

For more information on the reliability in general of the Infancy Narratives (i.e., Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2), I highly recommend the tract entitled “The Historicity of the Gospel Accounts of the Nativity.” To view and/or download this tract, click here.

I think that given these two themes for the day–wisdom and genealogy–we might benefit from taking some time today to look back on our own lives, praising God for His wise timing and providence, and thanking Him for the many people who have helped us in our own journeys of faith.

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Other Gospels?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Today, the day after the Pope released his new apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church (which will surely be discussed here in future posts), I thought I would tackle a question on the Bible:

A couple Catholic school teachers recently asked me how much weight we should give, if any, to the “other gospels” out there, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

Usually when I’m asked about “apocryphal” works, it’s in connection with defending the authenticity of the so-called “deuterocanonical” books of the Old Testament, which truly are part of the Bible.

Now, however, instead of explaining why certain Old Testament books are in, I’m being asked why certain alleged New Testament books are out. [more]

First, let’s be clear that the four Gospels that the Church does accept as “canonical” (i.e., part of the Bible) the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As such, we accept that they are inspired by God and thus free from error. Here’s what Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation had to say about them: 

“It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our Savior.

“The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John [citing St. Irenaeus].

“Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1)” (nos. 18-19).

All that is well and good, but what about the dozens of “other gospels” that the Church considers apocryphal? For that matter, what does “apocryphal” mean in this context?

Generally, “apocrypha” refers to writings that, under the guise of divine inspiration, approximate the style and content of biblical books. One common feature is that they purport to have the authority of a patriarch or prophet (Old Testament) or apostle (New Testament) as a means of demonstrating their credibility.

The Church, which defined the New Testament canon in the early centuries of Christian history, rejected these pseudo-gospels as lacking authenticity and reliability, thus determining that these books should not be considered part of the Bible.

Some apocryphal gospels seem to represent sincere attempts to supplement what we know about the hidden life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, which receives but sparse attention in the canonical Gospels. However, these works contain pious fabrications and legends that are not the “Gospel truth.”

Most of the better-known non-canonical gospels, though, were produced by the various branches or schools of Gnosticism, a heresy that flourished in the second and third centuries. These spurious gospels are unreliable historically and theologically, despite their popularity these days in religious fiction (e.g., The Da Vinci Code) and among some heterodox pop theologians. These pseudo-gospels were written long after the “real” Gospels and were never considered canonical, in part because of their decidedly anti-Christian character.

Indeed, the Gnostic “gospels” are not really gospels at all in the sense that Christians understand them. Christ preached a Gospel of “good news,” while Gnostics view their knowledge as something to be kept hidden. As evidenced by the lives of the early Christians, the followers of Jesus were called to be a city on a hill and a lamp on a stand (cf. Mt. 5:14-16), not a hidden cult for the intellectual elite.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the various versions of the Gospel of Thomas, among others, contain bizarre statements that at times contradict basic Christian beliefs. 

In never taking seriously these spurious writings, the Church was certainly not trying to suppress some secret text as part of a conspiracy or power struggle. It has been said that these are “the gospels the Church left behind,” but it would be more accurate to call them “the gospels that left the Church behind.” Gnostics used Jesus as a “teacher” that conformed to their beliefs. They did not recognize Him for who He was or who He claimed to be.

I’ve declined to go into specific texts of the apocryphal gospels, such as the accounts of Jesus’ animating clay pigeons for sport as a child, or His alleged denial of the reality of sin. Rather than focus on these texts, I think it’s far more important for us to meditatively study the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, through the sacred liturgy and personal prayer, rather than waste our time on counterfeits.

And now with the Pope”s new apostolic exhortation to deepen our understanding, may we come to more deeply appreciate the Christian Gospels as an endless source of spiritual insight. St. Therese of Lisieux sums up it beautifully:

“But above all it’s the Gospels that occupy my mind when I’m at prayer; my poor soul has so many needs, and yet this is the one thing needful. I’m always finding fresh lights there; hidden meanings which had meant nothing to me hitherto.”