Showing posts with label Catholic Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catholic Church. Show all posts

May 24, 2020

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020, Year A

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

In speaking with you about Pentecost I must speak of what cannot be fully explained. All we can do is reverently gaze into the mystery of God’s final movement toward us, the alienated and distant men and women who, with Adam and Eve, have broken off relations with God. Words cannot capture the enormity God’s merciful love for us; they buckle under the weight of it. So Scripture and the Church employ symbols to try to carry Pentecost’s meaning to us. Sometimes symbols are more effective than words in conveying the truth of stupendous events.

Essentially Pentecost is the final movement of God’s journey toward us. The initial movement begins in Genesis with God in the Garden of Eden. Note that it is God who makes the move. It is God who initiates; God who offers; God who loves us first. He chooses us. We do not choose him. He chooses us first because He is the superior. If it were otherwise, and indeed when people think they first choose God, then men and women in their pride would fancy that they are in control.

The story of the Tower of Babel is the story of the prideful people who thought they could build a tower to God. But in doing that they were usurping God’s role. They were the initiators, they were trying to be in control, they were setting the specifications, they were going to discover God and then they would determine His existence. What they forgot is that it is God who discovers man; it is God who determines our existence; God who speaks first. It is only when God speaks that things come into existence.

And so the story of the Tower of Babel is a recapitulation of the story of Adam and Eve. Once again man is filled with pride. Once again man tries to be God. And once again reality is fractured, nations are shattered, and destruction, disunion, misunderstanding, along with a total breakdown in communications occurs. Mankind now speaks in different languages and even people who so speak the same language are no longer able understand each other.

But in spite of human arrogance God continues to move toward us. God pursues us in His everlasting search for those who have strayed from the sheepfold of fundamental truth and reality. He sends us prophets, kings, and priests. The message of His love and truth flashes across the pages of human history and human religions. Finally, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is born in the womb of humanity; a child is born to us, a Son is given us. He is named Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace, the Anointed One who can heal those who are alienated, shattered, and miserable. God utters and sends His Word in a language that everyone can understand.

In the Incarnation God’s Word becomes flesh and God lives and moves even closer to us. On the Cross God’s Word hands over His Spirit and thus inaugurates God’s final movement toward us. Actually, in the context of the cosmic vision that we are seeing here, the death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost are events forming one unitary whole. In that context Pentecost becomes the completion of the Annunciation. The Word of God becomes human flesh and blood. Thus God enters not only our history, not only into our temples and holy places, but into human hearts and souls and all that it means to be human.

It is all so marvelous, all so universal and huge, all so beyond our comprehension, that mere words buckle and only symbols can hope to carry the precious freight. So we speak of the Dove, of the Wind-Breath of God, of the Paraclete, and of the tongues of fire. We are into the deepest part of the Mystery, namely that God created us not just to follow rules and regulations but in order that He might be intimate with us deep within us, in the deepest meanings of the word love, so that we can now live our ordinary lives in extra-ordinary ways. We are empowered now fill all that is ordinary with the extra-ordinary love of God.

The work of Christ in giving us His Holy Spirit is the work of bringing us into a language that we can all understand. It is the work religion, of re-ligamenting, of bringing our bare bones, dried up because of lack of love, back into one Body filled with the Blood of Christ and the life of God. The work of Christ in sending us His Holy Spirit is that of making us His blood brothers and sisters. The work of Christ and the Spirit is that of reconciling and forgiving, the work of loosening that which holds us in our own isolation and our sterile self-centeredness. The work of Christ, now raised in power by the Holy Spirit, is the work of bringing a holistic communion to a people that are alienated, fractured, shattered, and divided in the desert of not loving when they could have loved. The work of Christ and the Holy Spirit is overcoming sin. Sin is the name of all that has caused us to ignore our chances to be better persons. Sin is the name we put on all that hurts, divides, and separates us from each other and from God. But Christ has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive and overcome sin.

The Church speaks in the tongues of all men and women of every race, culture, and nationality. She speaks with a common language because she utters God’s only and unitary Word. Of all the diversities in humanity the Church makes one inter-dependent unity. She is the opposite of the Tower of Babel because she is built by God, not by men and women. We call Pentecost “the birthday of the Church” because she is animated and ensouled on this day to speak and utter the Word of God and bring common understanding and common union in every language in a way everyone can understand.

Our task, therefore, is to be that source of healing for others. Ours is the mission of speaking God’s language where we work, among our colleagues, associates, friends and neighbors. Ours is the ministry of healing that which is divided, of inspiring those who have become jaded and cynical, of animating those who have lost hope, and of telling all who have missed their chances of being better persons that there is a second chance, because there is a Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in the mysteries of life — in death, love, suffering, and beauty. Because of Pentecost God is to be found in the mystery of insight, those insights that turn truth into wisdom. He is present in the mystery of our self and in the mysteries of those round us. Anytime we struggle with these mysteries the Spirit of Pentecost is moving in us crying out: “Abba, Papa, Father” and our struggle becomes the question or questing of God’s meaning and purpose in our lives.

May the Holy Spirit become the Person whom you quest and the Spirit of your lives. And may you find moments in His presence… moments snatched away from the ordinary busy-ness of our daily lives, moments when you receive Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Strength, and Reverence for God’s mysterious presence and purpose in your life and in our shared lives.

December 22, 2019

Homily for the Nativity of The Lord, (Christmas) December 25, 2019, Year A

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

My dear brothers and sisters, all of our ideals, all of our dreams of what we want to be, and of what our world can be… all of our visions and understandings of God, and of God’s ways with us, are focused now on a child… God’s Anointed One, God’s Christ. For a child us born unto us, a son is given us, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying powerless in a manger, there being no room for him elsewhere in our world for his birth.

It is a sacred moment into which we now enter, a precious moment, a holy hour observed all over the world in Midnight Masses. Midnight Mass gathers so many different people in a lovely moment of peace and happiness – Blacks and Whites, Asians, Africans, Latinos and Anglos…. Catholics, both active and devout as well as marginal and estranged, Protestants, members of others great faiths, and even doubtful believers with hesitant faith. It is a transcendent moment when we suspend business as usual, when we suspend suspicion and animosities, when we lay aside resentments and jealousies, push back our hurts and anger.

The Christmas story we have just heard once again presents us with tremendous vistas. They offer the possibility of transforming yet again our beaten up world and our humanity as we’re now living it; they offer us the invitation to take hold of God’s power and allow Him to re-shape our lives, our present condition, and our souls.

It is the prerogative of God to do such things. Isaiah’s cry once again reaches deep into our souls proclaiming:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness –
on them light has shined.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor
you have broken….
For a child has been born for us,
a son given us;
authority rests on his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah’s cry is a fitting introduction to the Gospel account just read, the Christmas story, the infancy narrative of Jesus Christ. It’s account is poised between the timeless fairy-tale quality of the Isaian passages and the all-too-real disregard of governmental officials, both back then and in our day, for the human dilemmas and human pain caused by official governmental policies.

The brutal taxing of the sweat of those whose work seems to be only for the government, along with the casting of the marginalized and the poor on to the charity of private citizens…. there’s no fairy tale in THAT, either back then or right now in our lives. The dislocation of the marginalized, along with their forced and undocumented migration, a fate in which Joseph and Mary and their Child have shared, is all too real and common among us even today. And the problem of lack of housing, lack of shelter for pregnant women (with it’s implicit message that they should abort their babies) along with Herod’s raging infanticide, remains the stuff of the print and electronic news stories we see each day.

And yet all of God’s promises, beginning with Abraham and renewed down through thousands of years of Israel’s history in all of her prophets, priests and kings, come to be focused still on the moment of Christ’s birth. A shaft of divine light with the quality of a laser beam shines down through the night’s darkness on to a manger, into a human body, in a baby miraculously and mysteriously conceived in a little virgin girl, a virginal life beyond human mental or physical conception, a life that comes only from God, unstained by human corruption.

In the darkness of our clutter and pollution, in our wasted energy and wasted lives, in the ruins of Jerusalem in which Isaiah cries out, in our deceptions both personal and in high public office, and in our aggressions – individual, racial and national, we hear it proclaimed once again that the grace of God has appeared, offering salvation for us all, calling us to righteousness, giving us reasonable expectation and hope that, YES, human life can be changed, redeemed and transformed. The amazing account we have just heard is the good news of amazing grace made human flesh.

In our darkness, how do we and interpret life? How do we interpret our own lives and the lives of our families? What light do we offer our sons and daughters in which to see and judge? Tonight we can turn to offer them a gift that can never be bought in any shopping mall… tonight in Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, we can offer them a gift that can only come from God, the reality and the truth that the life of God has become and still becomes human life. For Christ’s life is a life of undreamed-of intensity and healing, hope and transcending power…. along with a passionate love for each one of us here. All of God’s revelation becomes very clear, very real, and all too human… but in a way that offers extra-ordinary goodness, hope and meaning to any human life however buried and smothered underneath the ash and debris of human sin and degradation.

Some (perhaps) would demand that I present proofs of these assertions. The truth is that no proof would be sufficient. Why? Because where there is proof there can be no faith. Faith and proof cannot exist in the same soul and the same time. For faith is an act of love, just as love is an act of faith.

But I can offer you what Holy Mother Church has offered for 2,000 years now. I can offer you signs. And they are all around you, right now.

You are celebrating this Mass with very real people who have discovered that there is more goodness in our world than evil… that there is more good in their selves than they once thought before. You are among people who attend Mass each and every weekend, not out of obligation and fear of hell, but out of love. You are among people who are recovering their lives from addictions, who have undergone major conversions, and who have come to know Jesus in very personal, intimate and loving ways. You are in a parish composed of very significant numbers of people who have resumed coming to Mass after years of absence and alienation from our Church. You are surrounded by signs of Good News, a cloud of witnesses, who are focused here in this church on one stupendous and incredibly beautiful moment in human time and history… that moment when God joined Himself forever and for all eternity into ordinary people, took on ordinary human flesh and blood, and joins himself here into you and me.

Tremendous power, infinite faith, hope, love, goodness, wisdom and vision are all here…. for each one of you, and for me along with you. This is the moment when ordinary humanity is given the power to become extra-ordinary…the moment when ordinary bread and common wine become infinitely extra-ordinary… and when all that seems fairy-tale like in the telling becomes very real and very human in the living.

The eternal Word, that Word that is God, became quite human so that we might more easily see and understand… and more divinely live. It is Christ’s Mass, Christmas Midnight Mass, a precious moment that can become a forever of moments for you and for me, all because of a God who does not reject and despise your humanity and mine…. because He has fallen in love with us.

May that gift and that Good News be forever yours and your children’s, forever yours and mine and our friends’, forever a part of the blessed and wonderful life we share here in our St. Francis family of faith. And may all of God’s blessings be with you and yours in this forthcoming year, the forth prior to the 2,000th year in which we celebrate the origin of this precious hour, and in which we now together share in God’s extraordinary love.

May 19, 2019

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

God our Father has sent His Son to us not to condemn us but to show us that He loves us. He wants to save us, to save us by being joined into His Son and with His Son to return to Him, our Father in heaven. With that in mind, what is God telling us in His word for us today?

All of us have had to face moments of departure and loss. Was it when we were desperately in love and then the one we loved left us? Was it when we graduated from school and then suffered separation from our dear friends? Was it when a spouse or a child went off to war somewhere? Was it when we had to take a job in a city far away? For those leaving it is a wrenching experience. For those left behind it is equally wrenching, perhaps even more so. The moments and days approaching departure are filled with terrible anxiety. Our hearts are filled with fear and sorrow.

Such a time, experienced by Jesus’ closest friends, is presented to us in today’s gospel account. The scene is set during the Last Supper. Jesus’ words are a part of His last discourse, the thoughts and words He was sharing with them immediately before His passion and impending agony and death. The tragedy was just about to occur and He was giving them His last words of love.

What was going through Jesus’ mind? I imagine He was feeling much like a parent feels when his or her child or children will be left on their own. They will have to fend for themselves. They will have to find protection and security using whatever devices they had learned while they were at home. So, too, while they were with Him, Jesus had protected them. Who would protect them now? Who would guard them, care for them, and provide for them?

The Church gives us this setting as she prepares us for another departure, namely the Ascension of Jesus – His going back to His Father in heaven, the event we will remember in next weekend’s liturgies. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He tells them. He promises them God’s presence will be given them in a new way. The Holy Spirit will be with them to comfort them, empower them, and inspire them. They will, however, have to see God and experience God in a new way, in a spiritual way, in an inner way. God’s presence will no longer be tangible and visible to them, immediately available to them as a close friend embodied in a human body. The Jesus they had known was about to become Someone new and different for them.

There is no experience in life that is more frightening, sadder and more tragic than the experience of not belonging to anyone. To not belong to anyone is a terrible and terrifying thing for any one of us. We are, after all, made to belong. We are made in the image and likeness of God, the God whose very nature is three Divine Persons totally belonging to each other. To not belong, therefore, strikes at the very ground of our existence… our very reason for being. To be left alone is a fearsome thing. It directly contradicts the way God made us to live.

We are, however, not left alone. God has not left us, nor will He ever leave us. We have His powerful, loving, caring and life-giving presence for us in His Holy Spirit, the One who dwells in His Church. Today’s first reading taken from the Book of Acts gives us a glimpse into where we will find God after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. We find God in belonging, belonging in His Mystical Body the Church.

The urge to belong, the drive for community, grounds all of creation. I say “grounds” because everything is built upon God. We, precisely as persons, mirror God’s very own existence, namely the being of God that is found in the total and infinite union of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are, divine revelation tells us, made in the image and likeness of God. We are created to live in God’s very own way of living. Our existence and our lives are made for living in community, in communion and love with others.

The Church exists for that purpose. The Church exists not only to bring us into union with God through, with and in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, but the Church likewise exists to bring us into communion with each other. Holy Communion not only unites us with the risen Christ, it also unites us with each other in Christ’s very own life, the life He gave to share with us, the life in which we are, in Christ, taken back to our Father in heaven.

The Book of Acts, from which today’s first reading was taken, is a book that’s all about that. It is in that communion, in that community or family of faith that we call the Church. It is in our Holy Communion that God comes to us in Christ and we return to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His risen Christ.

The very life of the Church as it is expressed in its actions. The RCIA program is all about community. The Church’s concern for family is all about that. Parish life is all about community. Catholic Charities is all about community. Catholic schools are all about community. The urge to belong, the drive for community, is deep within the very nature of the Church, the expression of the Mystical Body of the risen Christ.

The terrible thing about sin is that it isolates us. It tears apart the bonds of communion. It attacks belonging. It sets the individual self and the individual will over and against all others, including God. I cannot imagine a hell worse than having only my self to live with and love without anyone else to live for and to love. Hell, it seems to me, is to live forever in an infinite isolation, cut off from any sort of belonging. Sin is the diabolical opposite of living in communion with others and with God.

Perhaps this helps us realize why the main pastoral effort of the Church is that of forgiveness, to bring God’s healing and loving reconciliation and forgiveness to everyone, no matter how depraved, no matter how steeped in sin they may be. This, after all is said and done, was the chief ministry of Christ Jesus, the ministry of reconciliation. It was His first gift to us immediately after He rose from the dead.

His ascension into heaven must be seen in that light. In His resurrected and Spirit-filled humanity He has ascended into heaven in order that we, in Him, might return to our Father, the One who made us in the first place to belong to Him forever in love.

May you and I, all together, live in God’s love with each other. We do, after all, belong. That is why Jesus is here for you and for me in His Holy Communion.

May 12, 2019

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019, Year C

Jesus' farwell discourse

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

There are times when we tell ourselves that nothing’s new, that human nature doesn’t change, and that history simply repeats itself. The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes tells us:
What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. [Ecclesiastes 1:9]
Yet we also find ourselves seeking what is new. We greet each other with the question “What’s new?” We watch TV news, read newspapers, pay attention advertisements, and look for new models of things we already have. Advertisements are loaded with words telling us of new products, or “new and improved” products that we can’t live without. The world of computers is filled with new gadgets, new programs, new downloads, and so forth. We seem to be obsessed with what’s new.

Jesus used the word “new” many, many times in His discourses and teachings, all the time trying to get us to see the new creation, the new man, and the new covenant His Father is bringing about. The gospel account we just heard was the beginning of Jesus’ final discourse at the Last Supper, a discourse filled with promise, hope and a vision of the future. The second reading is taken from the Book of Revelation. It’s interesting to note that Mel Gibson, in his movie The Passion of the Christ, put the words “Behold, I make all things new” into the mouth of Christ as He suffered during His passion under the weight of His cross.

What is this new thing God invites us to see?

The glitz, glamour, and spectacles this world offers us hold our attention. Being thus captured we tend to sell ourselves short. It takes artists, poets, and great writers to give us deeper vision and enable us to see deeper things, as well as to see ourselves on a deeper level.

What we need to see now is that God is ushering in a new creation. He is sculpting us and fashioning us as His new sons and daughters. We need to stand back and look at the big picture. We need to see the way things were between God and us before Christ and the way things are now after Christ. Because of Christ Jesus we are in a new status in our relationship with God.

There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Byzantine Catholic Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead and going all the way back to Adam and Eve to pull them out of their graves. The truth being presented to us is that God in Christ reaches all the way back to our human beginnings and allows all of those who have gone before to experience His risen Christ’s saving presence. The picture is profound – the message is beautiful. God in Christ presents Himself to everyone, even to those who died before Christ’s appearance to us on earth.

As for us… well, we need to see that we live in the time that is “already but not yet.” In His Anointed One, in His Christ, God has ushered in His kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that has been established and is now in the process of unfolding among us. Our status with God has been fundamentally and radically changed. Christ has given us His salvation. What we do with it remains to be seen. We live in God’s time, the time that is already but not yet. What is yet to be, and what can be for us individually, is revealed in the Book of Revelation… a book of hope, of promise, and of glory. Whether that hope, promise, and glory will be ours individually and personally depends upon our response to what God has done and is doing now for us.

The Sacrament of Baptism initiates us into that cosmic reality, as do the other Sacraments of Initiation, namely Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. As a matter of fact, all of the Seven Sacraments are but differing aspect of the One Sacrament, namely Christ among us.

I want to emphasize that I have been speaking of what God “is doing.” The phrase is in the present tense active. It is not in the past tense. We’re not talking just about what God “has done”. We’re talking about what God “is doing” and will “yet do”. The last discourse of Jesus during the Last Supper is likewise in that setting – He gives us words of hope, promise, and glory… realities that are present and at the same time realities that are, depending upon our responses, in our futures.

The former hopelessness of our condition, our state of alienation from God, has been eradicated by Christ. At a radically fundamental level Christ has saved us. But we must ever hold in our hearts and minds that He is yet saving us, depending upon how we respond to what He is offering.

All of this points to the essential spiritual condition into which we much place ourselves. We must develop “eyes to see and hears to hear.” We cannot be passive about that, thinking that God will give it all to us anyway, even if we don’t respond to Him. There’s nothing passive about being a follower of Christ. No! We must actively listen; we must actively respond; we must put into action in our daily lives the gifts that God has given us and is giving us in His Christ.

I was struck by the fact that Mel Gibson also put the words of the “One sitting on the throne” in heaven, the one known as “the Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end, into the mouth of Jesus as He suffering during His passion. What a tremendous insight it was for Mr. Gibson to do that. What artistry! I hope you noticed it too and were just as moved as I was by what was presented to us.

Life, however, is not a movie. We are considering here something that is spiritually and theologically at the profoundest levels of our self-understanding, in our understanding of our new status with God because of Christ. Truly, Christ has died for our sins. Truly He has justified us. Truly He is sanctifying us. Whether or not we will be ultimately saved and spend eternity in the New Jerusalem depends on us. God has done everything for us; He has given everything to us. The frightful question remains: “How will we respond?” Will we, with Peter, seek and accept the hope, the promise, and the glory that Jesus Christ offers us all? Or will we sink into this world’s despair? Do you think there’s nothing new in our world? Will we settle for only the glitz and glitter of this world, its thirty pieces of silver, and thereby sell our souls for nothing more?

The answer to these questions, along with our salvation, depends on us. God offers… we respond.

May 5, 2019

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

There are any number of words and phrases that we use so often that we no longer pay attention to their content. Take the Lord’s Prayer for instance. What do we really mean when we address God as our Father? Who do we include in our; who do we exclude from our?

Today we just heard a phrase that we heard so many times: “Christ is the Good Shepherd who cares for his flock.” But what kind of a flock is it? Evidently it is made up of different kinds of sheep. There is a unity in God’s flock but there is diversity also, otherwise why would the Good Shepherd be going out looking for other sheep that Jesus indicates to be “not of this flock”?

We value unity while at the same we value diversity. It’s a nice ideal but it is a difficult reality to attain. We have only to look at the problem of unity and diversity as we find it both in our own country and in our Church. “Who’s in and who’s out?” is the big issue in America as well as in the Catholic Church. Who is an American, and who isn’t? Who’s a real Catholic and who isn’t?

We all uphold and value our unity as Americans. As we drive along our highways we see any number of billboards proclaiming “United We Stand.” Nevertheless we’re having problems with fighting the war in Afghanistan, dealing with undocumented aliens, prosecuting terrorists amongst us, taxes, government spending, as well as dealing with fellow citizens whom we regard to be “un-American.” By whose standards do we judge someone to be “un-American?” Who are the traitors among us; by what standards do we judge them to be traitors, and who decides that they are? What must be proven in order to strip people of American citizenship and then deport them?

Diversity is a hot-button item being argued and debated in our body politic. What we mean by the term “diversity” and what it entails in terms of our institutional policies and activities is far from clear. And what about the institution of marriage? Is it a concept that is univocal or does marriage encompass any type of loving partnership involving some degree of commitment?

The underlying problem in all these questions of “who’s in and who’s out” is this: too much diversity can destroy unity and integrity, while at the same time too much unity and impose a stifling and paralyzing uniformity. Balancing the two can be difficult. Unless a delicate balance is maintained the body will be torn asunder.

Similar difficult questions abound in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Who’s in and who’s out? Who is a Catholic and who is not? By whose standards do we judge someone to be a genuine Catholic and who decides that someone is not?

Yes, there is one flock and one shepherd, but down through the centuries that “one flock” has certainly been composed of a whole lot of diverse Christians with diverse understandings of who Jesus Christ really is and what He requires of us in terms of our behaviors and our activities.

We all know that the Catholic Church is not a democracy. But a sheepfold is not a democracy either. The sheep don’t take votes and conduct opinion polls in order to determine in what direction they should move. The flock is guided and cared for by a shepherd. Evidently that was the will and purpose of Jesus when He appointed Peter and the Apostles to guide and care for His flock, the Church.

Anyone who has studied Church history with any depth knows full well that there is nothing at all simplistic about this descriptive model of the Church. First of all, some of the shepherds have not been at all good. Secondly, the sheep are not blind and stupid — they are possessed of intelligence and the Holy Spirit has been (and is!) at work in them.

This sets up a dialectic between the members of the Church – those who are ordained into Holy Orders and those who are not. The dialogue throughout history has been anything but serene. Violence has erupted. Tearings apart have resulted. The ideal given us by Jesus has been, at times, set aside.

In our recent history, back in the early 1960’s the Church convened all of its bishops from around the world in the Second Vatican Council. A major portion of that Council’s work was devoted to the nature of the Church and the roles of the laity and clergy. An updated understanding was badly needed and the bishops of the world responded to the task that confronted them. Their response was well done, so much so that even today we’re still struggling to keep the vision of Vatican Council II before our eyes while making it become real and operative in our Church. We would all do well if we read again the Documents of Vatican II, especially those dealing with the nature of the Church, the Church in the modern world, and the role of the laity.

It’s not news that we have liberals and conservatives. We have them in both the Church and in our American body politic. The fact what we have both liberals and conservatives ought not be threatening to us. One has only to study history and the origins of the Church to realize that the dialectic, with the resulting tension, has brought us good in many instances.

Unity is not uniformity. Diversity, per se, is not destructive divisiveness. Indeed, our Church in its infancy struggled with the issue of whether or not Gentiles could be members of Christ’s flock as well as observant Jews. Down through the centuries our Church has struggled with inclusiveness, all the while attempting to be in the world while remaining not of the world. The task has been remarkable. The result points to the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

Centuries ago someone gave us a maxim that still applies today. We are not sure who first spoke it but it tells us: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” It’s a lovely principle but it becomes demanding when we together attempt to agree on what things are necessary.

In that struggle and in all of our efforts, let us always remember the last of the three points: “… in all things, charity.” As always, love is the bond of unity.

March 20, 2019

A Lenten Bible Study: Genesis to Jesus Lesson Two: The Old and the New Testaments

Here is the second lesson in the Saint Paul Center for Catholic Biblical Theology's Lenten Scripture study, Genesis to Jesus. Follow along, and by the end of Lent, you'll understand the importance of Easter in light of God's plan for our salvation. Sign up to receive new video lessons [here] and buy related study materials.

In our first lesson, we talked about how the Bible has both a literary meaning and an historical meaning. But that’s not all. Since God is the principle author of Sacred Scripture, it also has a divine meaning. And together, the literary sense and historical truth of Scripture reveal that divine meaning. They reveal the way God is directing the course of human history. As we’re going to see, God writes the world like we write words.

As human beings, we use words as signs that stand for particular realities. For example, the word “chair” signifies something tangible and real that you may be sitting on right now. Similarly, God uses historical realities to represent other realities. Another way to put it is that he writes the world like men write words; he uses historical realities as signs of other realities. What does that mean? Let’s use an example to make this clear: The Exodus. The actual, historical event of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, foreshadows Christ leading us out of sin and into salvation. We see this same kind of foreshadowing throughout the Old Testament in the promises of God.

God promised his children a Savior who would deliver them from their sins. We see the prefigurement of that Savior in other small “s” saviors in the Old Testament, such as Noah, Moses, and David. Then, in the New Testament, comes the fulfillment of God’s promises in the person of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. The Apostles recognized that and proclaimed Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel, as well as the gentiles. And today, the Church follows the example set by the Apostles. We read the Old Testament in light of the New, and the New Testament in light of the Old. The Catechism explains this further, saying that, [CCC 117] “Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.”

In other words, in the Old Testament, people and events prefigure the New Testament Redeemer and his saving mysteries. And this is nothing new. More than fifteen centuries before the Catechism we use today was written, St. Augustine said essentially the same thing when he wrote, “The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.”

This concealing and revealing is what theologians and Scripture scholars call “typology”. Typology is the study of how God’s works in the Old Covenant prefigure what he accomplishes through Christ in the New Covenant. In other words, as we read the Old Testament we see “patterns” or “types” that foreshadow greater things to come in the New Testament. We already mentioned how the Exodus was one of these “types”, foreshadowing our delivery from the slavery of sin. Another example is the Passover, when an unblemished lamb was offered as a sacrifice for the Israelites.

In the New Testament. Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, and our “Pascal Lamb”. Yet another example is manna, the miraculous bread that came down from heaven. It fed the Israelites during their time of wandering in the desert after their flight from Egypt. Well in the New Testament, Jesus reveals that he is the “New Manna”, the Bread of Life come down from heaven. John 6: 31-35 states:

31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always. 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

The fact is, we could spend hours doing nothing but pointing out examples of Old Testament people, events, and institutions that point to Jesus Christ and his saving mysteries. That’s because Old Testament events that point toward the New Testament have a meaning that the Catechism says is “inexhaustible.” The Catechism also says that typology points to what it calls the “dynamic movement” toward the fulfillment of God’s plan. It’s important to remember that you and I aren’t just observing this dynamic movement when we sit down and read the Bible. We are actually part of that movement every day.

Every one of us is standing in the stream of salvation history right now. We’re in that stream because throughout time God has been working to bring us salvation. He wants what unfolds in Scripture to unfold in our lives. And that brings us back to the first question we talked about in lesson one: Why should Catholics study Scripture?

Well for starters, Scripture is a treasure. Don’t ever forget that the Bible is a gift from God. Every one of us who has a Bible in our lap or on a shelf at home is incredibly blessed. Realize that for centuries, owning a personal copy of the Bible was something almost no Christian could afford. These Christians lived centuries before the invention of the printing press, so all books, but especially a book as big as the Bible, were rare. But thanks to the tireless work of the Church and her monks and priests, every parish had a copy of the Bible. And there, the people could have access to the Scriptures through the readings at Mass.

There are some critics of the Church who try to paint a different picture. They like to point out that during the Middle Ages, Catholic parishes keep their copy of the Bible chained to the pulpit. They it was because the Church was some kind of meanie trying to keep the Bible out of the hands of Catholic believers. But in fact, it was exactly the opposite.

Yes, the Bible was secured. But not because it was being kept from people. It was to make sure that Scripture was available to people. Let me give you a modern example of how this works. Long before cell phones were invented, there used to be telephone booths. In addition to a phone, phone booths contained a phone book. And was it just floating freely on a little metal counter? Nope. It was chained to the phone. Why? Because the phone company was mean? No. It was so that no one could steal it. It was so everyone could have access to it.

Likewise, Catholic churches chained their copy of the sacred text to the pulpit so that it would stay put. If the parish carefully preserved their copy, everyone would have access to it when they came to Mass. These priceless texts were preserved and passed down to us for a very specific and very important reason. Think again about 2 Timothy 3 and St. Paul’s instruction to St. Timothy to value Scripture. In verses 16 and 17, he said it was valuable because it was inspired by God. But right before that, in verses 14 and 15, he said why it was inspired. It was inspired by God for the sake of our salvation.

In inspiring Scripture for the sake of our salvation, God was doing what he always does. He comes down to our human level to raise us up to his divine level. Dei Verbum says, “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them.” And what does he tell us when he speaks with us? How to live well and how to live rightly. Essentially, the Bible takes the guess work out of how to please God. Think about it… if we want to know how to care for a car, we read the owner’s manual. Likewise, if we want to know how to live as a child of God, we need to read “Our Father’s Manual” – the Bible.

One of the things that manual tells us is that if we want to protect ourselves from sin, we should memorize the Word and meditate on it. Psalm 119:9-11 states: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Scripture also tells families to keep God’s word always in their heart, with parents teaching it to their children in the midst of life’s daily activities. See Deuteronomy 6:4-7:

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."

The Bible also gives us instructions on how to worship and on what it means to obey the moral law. Examples of that can be found in Nehemiah 8 and Exodus 20-24.

Now that we’ve look more closely at the “why” of Scripture study, we need to turn back to the “how.” As wonderful as “Our Father’s Manual” is, most of us still need a little help understanding what’s in the manual. Here is St. Paul’s direction in 2 Thessalonians 2:15:

“15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

In this passage, “word of mouth” refers to what St. Paul taught the people in person through his actual preaching and teaching, and even his personal example. Similarly, “by letter” refers to what he wrote to the people in his absence. Note that he instructs them to hold to both written and oral instruction. They need both to protect them from misinterpreting the gospel taught by the apostles, which is always a real danger. Ephesians 4:11-14 counsels us to this end:

“11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

In order to achieve the unity of faith, God has not only given us His Word, but also a faithful interpretation of that Word preserved by the Holy Spirit. That faithful interpretation is there to prevent us from fracturing the Body of Christ into thousands of different denominations, at odds with one another over core beliefs. Those entrusted with the sacred task of interpretation form the Church’s Magisterium – the bishop of Rome and all the other bishops united to him. The Holy Spirit empowers the Magisterium to faithfully preserve and proclaim the full revelation of God – Scripture and Tradition – to God’s people. The unity of those two things – Scripture and Tradition – is very important. Dei Verbum (10) tells us, “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God… “

Sacred Tradition is the faithful handing down of revelation from Christ through the apostles and their successors to the present day. And Sacred Tradition, like Scripture, is living and active, especially in the Liturgy. When we read Scripture in light of Sacred Tradition – trusting the interpretative authority of the Church’s Magisterium – we are reading the Bible from the heart of the Church. We are reading Sacred Scripture with the same Spirit who inspired it and empowers the Church to preserve it and understand its message.

We recognize that Scripture was written by different authors over the course of many centuries and in many different styles of writing. But we also recognize that the Bible isn’t an anthology of related but separate stories. There may be many human authors who wrote the Bible, but there is only one Primary Author, God, and He is the source of Scripture’s unity. Because of that, we read the books of the Bible in light of each other. That not only helps us understand each book better, but it also helps us appreciate the unity of the story – God’s story. That story is God’s plan to redeem the world and unite all things in Jesus Christ.

In the Bible, we see that plan unfold through God’s covenants with man. The great early Church father, St. Irenaeus, studied under St. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John. St. Irenaeus wrote that in order to understand salvation history, we need to understand the various covenants in the Old and New Testaments. “Understanding,” he says, “consists of showing why there are a number of covenants with mankind and in teaching what is the character of those covenants.” (Against Heresies)

Testament = Covenant

The Old and New Testaments each, respectively, point to the Old and New Covenants. In fact, the word “testament” actually means “covenant.” What we call “testaments,” the ancient Israelites called “covenants.” Scripture records the story of salvation as a sequence of covenants that God makes with his people. It’s the story of God’s covenant plan for his children.

Since covenants are so important, it’s important that we understand what covenants are. Most people today think covenants are the same as contracts. But they’re not. Covenants are much more than contracts. Covenants and contracts both establish relationships, but the type of relationship they establish is very different. Covenants create the strongest type of bonds between persons – family or kinship bonds.

Let’s examine the differences between the two a little more closely. Contracts are made with a promise; Covenants are sworn with an oath. Contracts are signed in your name; Covenants are sealed in God’s name. Contracts facilitate an exchange of goods and services. They say, “Let’s trade,” and “This yours and that’s mine.” Covenants, however, mediate an exchange of persons. They say, “I am yours and you are mine.” Another difference is that contracts are temporary. No ongoing relationship is required once the terms of the contract are fulfilled. Covenants on the hand are permanent, even affecting future generations. For ancient Israelites, the difference between covenants and contracts was about as great as the difference between marriage and prostitution.

A covenant forges a sacred family bond in which persons give themselves to one another in loving communion. This is hardly a foreign idea in modern times. Marriages and adoptions both fit the category. Both are ways in which we can expand the size of our families through covenant bonds. Likewise, God makes us part of his family through covenants. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us that:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

God is our Father because of his covenant with us. Salvation history is really the story God becoming our Father, using covenants to expand his divine family in time and space.

In our next lesson, we will consider the first covenant God makes with humanity with Adam and Eve as husband and wife. The second covenant we’ll discuss is made with Noah, who is the head of a household that includes his wife, their three sons, and their sons’ wives. The third covenant is made with Abraham, who is the chieftain of an entire tribe. The fourth covenant is made with Moses, who exercises leadership over the twelve tribes of Israel. The fifth covenant is made with King David, who rules the kingdom of Israel. The sixth covenant, the New Covenant is established by Jesus Christ, whose kingdom expands through the Catholic Church to include believers from every nation under heaven.

In this last covenant salvation history reaches its goal. All things are united in Christ, and we are restored as children of God. All the nations are brought into God’s divine covenantal family through Jesus Christ. Notice the progression of God’s covenants; moving from a couple, to a household, to a tribe, to a nation, to a kingdom, to the kingdom of God encompassing the entire world. These covenants tell us the story of how God restored all of humanity back to himself after the fall of Adam and Eve. His plan expands until it is completed in the Church where everyone can be reconciled back into his family.

A Lenten Bible Study: Genesis to Jesus Lesson One: Reading Scripture with the Church

From the Saint Paul Center for Catholic Biblical Theology, the following is a transcript of their Lenten Scripture study, Genesis to Jesus. Genesis to Jesus presents the whole sweep of salvation history, to help you make sense of the Bible. By the end of Lent, you'll understand the importance of Easter as the eighth day of creation in light of God's unified plan for our salvation. You may sign up to receive new video lessons [here] and buy related study materials.

Welcome to Genesis to Jesus part of the St. Paul Center’s Journey Through Scripture Bible Study. To many people, the Bible is simply a giant book that doesn’t make a lot of sense. And that’s a shame. Because actually it’s a beautiful story. In fact, it’s our story. It’s the story of where we come from, what went wrong, and God’s incredible, merciful plan to save us and make everything right again.

Certainly, you could say that plan – that story – culminated with the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. That’s what much of the New Testament of Sacred Scripture is all about. But as with every great story, there’s a fascinating backstory. Thousands of years of God’s working and moving in history – what we call the Old Testament – set the stage for our salvation in Jesus Christ.

It’s a true story full of tragedy and triumph, heroes and villains, as well as spiritual and physical combat. But most of all, it’s the story of love… God’s undying, undeserved, unbelievable love for us, his children. That’s what this study is really all about.

And we’re not going to just learn the facts of the biblical story. We’re going to come to fully understand how we’re fully part of it. We’re going to see how we’re standing in the stream of salvation history right now. Because the Bible isn’t just some ancient book that tells us about God. It tells us how to get to God.

It’s a story whose perfect ending is waiting to be written upon our hearts. Let’s take a look at the Bible itself. After all, it’s the most unique book in the world. if we’re going to understand the story Scripture tells, we need to first know how to read it the right way.

As some of you may have discovered when you sat down to read the Bible on your own, reading Sacred Scripture isn’t like reading a Tom Clancy novel or an Agatha Christie mystery. Among other things, it’s filled with lots of foreign names, faraway places and unfamiliar customs that can seem disconnected. Its stories often have multiple levels of meaning. And the timeline of events isn’t always linear. Tracking the main characters, let alone the plot, can, feel all but impossible. That’s why, often, when a person opens the Bible, determined to read it cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation, they get about as far as Leviticus before they give up.

We will not be doing a page by page, book by book in depth analysis of the Bible. Instead, we will examine how God made his plan for the world known in history, and how that plan affects you and me, here and now. Essentially, this Bible study is going to help you understand the “plot” of the Bible. By the time we’re done, you’ll be able to track the central characters and know what the overarching story is all about.

What is the overarching story? What is the plot of Sacred Scripture? The plot is salvation history – the story of how God’s plan for human salvation unfolds in the course of human events. That’s the story that runs throughout the Bible. And that’s a story we can come to know intimately through the lives of the Bible’s main characters. People like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus Christ and his mother Mary. These people, in a certain sense, play the starring roles in salvation history. And in the lessons to come, we’re going to look at who they are, what happens to them, and how they lived their relationship with God. Doing so will help us grasp the big picture, the real meaning of the Bible.

Before we can begin unpacking the Bible’s plot, we need to have a common foundation for how to do that unpacking. In other words, we all need to be on the same page about how to read Sacred Scripture. We will start by asking two questions: 1.) Why should Catholics study the Bible? and 2.) How should Catholics study the Bible? To some, the answers to these questions is obvious. But they’re not obvious to everyone.

If we want to understand the Bible, we must consider it from the Catholic perspective, not a secular or academic one. Moreover, we can only understand salvation history and our place in it if we know how to read the Bible from the heart of the Church. Nothing in the following lessons will make much sense if we don’t have that perspective.

The first place we’ll turn to answer the “why” and the “how” we posed earlier is Luke 24, which recounts a meeting between Jesus and two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, which took place on the first Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead:

"13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

Even though the disciples are with Jesus, they didn’t recognize him. But then he starts talking with them about the scriptures. In the next few verses [Luke 24:25-27] he tells them two things: First, that the Scriptures show that Christ must suffer before he enters into his glory. And second, that all of the Scriptures point to Christ: He is what they’re all about. In telling them these two things realize that he’s not just telling the disciples what’s in the Scriptures. He’s telling them how to read Scripture.

Luke 24:28-30 goes on to tells us that as Jesus and his companions drew near to Emmaus, his disciples urged him to stay and eat with them. And Jesus agrees … sort of. In Luke 24, he does sit down at the table with them. He takes the bread blesses it, breaks it and gives it to his disciples. Does that seem familiar to you? It certainly did to the disciples. It reminded them of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. Luke 22:14-20 tells us that in the upper room, Jesus sat at the table with his disciples, took the bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. What happed at the Last Supper was the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist. What happened on the road to Emmaus was its first celebration after the Resurrection. What is remarkable is the effect it had on those two disciples. Luke 24:31- 34:

"31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread."

“And their eyes were opened,” And they discovered Christ in his Real Presence in the breaking of the bread. But as soon they recognize him, Christ vanishes. And the disciples are left to wonder at the experience, and asking, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” This passage helps us to see that the Mass is the key to understanding the Bible.

Remember how the reading of the Scriptures caused their hearts to burn? And how the breaking of the bread opened their eyes? Well so to should the reading of Scripture in the Liturgy of the Word and the breaking of bread in the Liturgy of the Eucharist cause our hearts to be enflamed and our spiritual eyes to be opened and recognize the presence of the Risen Jesus in our midst. The Emmaus Road encounter helps us to understand that what’s written in the Bible is proclaimed and made real in the Mass. The two are integrally related.

That relationship exists because Christianity is a religion of the Word, not simply a religion of the book. And that Word is a person, Jesus Christ, who comes to us in both the Scriptures and the Eucharist at every Mass.

Our personal encounter with him in these two ways impacts how we are called to think of the Scriptures. The Catechism tells us that [CCC 108], “the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living". If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."

One of the primary places the Holy Spirit “opens our minds” frequently and powerfully is in the Mass. The Church has always understood this. That’s why in verses like Revelations 1:3, Colossians 4:1-6, and 1 Thessalonians 5:27, the Apostles say that their letters should be read out loud in the assemblies of believers, in the Church. The canon of Scripture was put together primarily for the celebration of the liturgy. And that is why at every Mass there are readings from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

By giving us himself in the Scriptures and by giving us himself in the Mass, Christ does for us what he did for those disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Like those disciples, he wants us to recognize and receive him. But we can’t do either of these things on our own power. We need some help. John 16:12-15 states:

"12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

So how exactly does the Holy Spirit help us recognize and receive Jesus? As the Catechism describes, it happens in three ways:
  1. The Spirit inspired Sacred Scripture.
  2. The Spirit safeguards the Church’s interpretation of Sacred Scripture.
  3. The Spirit continuously guides Jesus’ disciples in all truth through the Church.
A more traditional way to say this is that the Holy Spirit is the Inspirator of Sacred Scripture, the Guarantor of the Magisterium, and the Animator of Sacred Tradition.

Since the Church teaches that the Holy Spirit inspires Sacred Scripture, let’s investigate what the word “inspired” really means. Its important because 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all Scripture is inspired:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

What exactly do we mean by “inspired”? The Greek word Paul uses for inspired in that passage is Theópneustos – God breathed. When we talk about the Bible being inspired, we mean the words of Scripture are the very words of God. God is, as the catechism tells us, [CCC 304] …the principal author of Sacred Scripture. That doesn’t mean the words of Scripture aren’t also the words of men. Even though God’s role as author was primary, realize that the human authors of the various books in the Bible weren’t robots mechanically writing down dictation from God.

2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us that the human authors of Scripture were moved to write by the Holy Spirit. They wrote down exactly what God wanted and nothing more. That said, the sacred books still bear the human author’s own personality, their own perspective and individual style. The technical term for this is Divine Concurrence, and let’s be honest – it’s a mystery. We don’t wholly understand how God acted on them to write exactly what he wanted while they continued to exercise their free will.

We recognize that God moved the human authors. That means the word of God is both divine and human. Which makes sense because Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is also divine and human. He is both God and man, possessing a divine nature and a human nature. And just as the Word Incarnate took on all the weakness of human flesh except sin, so too does the Word Inspired come to us with all the limitations of human language, except error.

Dei Verbum, the Vatican II document on Sacred Scripture, repeats this ancient teaching of the Church when it says: “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.”

Dei Verbum also tells us however that when we are interpreting Sacred Scripture, we need to take the human authors into account: “The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture.”

The phrase contemporary literary form is an important one. That’s because the Bible is not just one book; it’s a library of books – books of poetry, prose, prophesy, narrative, proverbs, and parables. And like other forms of literature, the Bible is full of literary clues that convey the meaning of the text. When we discover the “literary sense” of verses, chapters, and books, we’re able to see all the parts of the Bible coming together in a unified plot – the story of God’s plan for our salvation.

The Bible isn’t just a literary work. It’s also a historical work. Those literary signs we just spoke about point to historical realities. Modern history, the kind that most of us are familiar with from school, is secular. It is told from a purely human perspective; it focuses only on the human aspect and motives behind political, economic, and military events. The Bible isn’t like that. Biblical history is sacred history. It is told from God’s perspective, and that means that it focuses on God’s purposes and saving actions. It is literally His Story. That means that a lot of things that other people might think important don’t make their way into Sacred Scripture.

For example, what historians would consider pretty earth-shattering events might have been occurring in Rome or China or South America on the day Jesus was born. But none of those events made it into the Bible. From God’s perspective what mattered was the birth of the Messiah, not political intrigues in Caesar’s palace.

Biblical history is divided into two parts; the Old Testament and the New Testament. It begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth, and ends with the passing away of this world and the coming of a “new heaven” and a “new earth”. And at the center of the drama is the cross. Galatians 4:4-5 says:

"4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."

The place of the cross shows us that the division of biblical history into the Old Testament and New Testaments is more than just a structural division. Salvation history itself is a two-part story. It is the story of the world before Jesus, the story of God’s promises. And it’s the story of Jesus entering the world and changing it forever – the fulfillment of God’s promises. That’s the beautiful story we’re studying in Genesis to Jesus.

In our next lesson, we’ll dive into several important ideas and concepts that we need in order to correctly read and understand what the Bible has to say. We’ll also answer the question of why God gave us Sacred Scripture to begin with, and how it fits with Sacred Tradition to make up a single deposit of the Word of God. Finally, we’ll discuss how everything in Scripture revolves around the covenant family of God, the family we were made for.

February 26, 2018

God’s Promises Justify Hope in a World Wearied by Sin

Noah's Ark

By Father Thomas Mattison

When God (or anyone at all) makes a promise it is for one purpose only, to provide certainty about a future that is either hopeless or so uncertain as to make life just too scary for living. Whatever might happen between the moment of the promise and the delivery on the promise, the one to whom the promise is made is invited to want and to trust the promise more than anything else. Thus the promise creates a series of demands without which the promise fades into irrelevance. Since the reliability of the one making the promise is the only assurance offered, the making of a promise invites the creation of a relationship of trust and demands trustworthiness in the maker of the promise. When we talk about God and his promises, we use the word covenant.

The first reading for each weekend of Lent holds up for consideration a covenant, a promise made by God in former times. We used to talk of the Old Testament as if there were but one covenant; lately, the tendency is to see four or five covenants in the OT. This year, the first covenant mentioned is that made with Noah.

The Creator had grown weary of the sinfulness of his creatures. So, he decided to undo his creation by allowing the waters above the heavens and the waters below the heavens to come together once more. In effect, he un-created the very possibility of life that was the work of the creation’s second day. Only light would remain! Noah, the only just man in the world, and his wife and sons and daughters-in-law (chain salvation!) were spared, along with a sampling of creatures that would be needed for life to return after the flood.

God does not undo creation without hope; his love of life is not killed by human sin; His commitment to his own creative work is a kind of ‘fundamental covenant’ that underlies all of our obligations to respect for life. Thus, the flood, like the waters of Baptism becomes an end to sin and the start of new life!

The deluge happens, the waters recede and Noah and his family and the animals emerge from the ark to begin creation anew. And God promises, with the sign of the rainbow that he will never again destroy the world by water.

The Fathers of the Church used to see the ark as a pre-figurement of the Church, the safe place for those who had been saved from the sinful world outside. The reference to forty days of rain gave them another ‘magic number’ to use in talking about Lent as a death to sin and a promise of new life. The promise that life would never be destroyed again was a ‘natural’ foreshadowing of the promise of a ‘supernatural’ resurrection.

Ironically, in more recent years, as the issues of drought and pollution and global warming come to the fore, there is a tendency to turn the covenant of life-preservation, into a call for more responsible use of the water we have and the water others need.

Fr. Thomas Mattison is pastor of Christ our Savior Parish in Manchester Center and Arlington VT.

February 25, 2018

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2018, Year B

The Transfiguration

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

If you read letters to the editor in newspapers you will realize that many people have lost confidence in a loving God. Nowhere is this more forcefully indicated than in the debate over abortion and assisted suicide. Some have gone so far as to assert the Catholic Church wants people to suffer, that it’s a death dealing rather than a life-giving institution, and that it extols human pain and suffering.

In the world of art this attitude is reflected in works of self-proclaimed “art” that, in just one instance, portray the crucifix, Christ nailed to the cross, immersed in a jar of human urine.

Certainly all those who support partial birth abortion and “mercy killing”, along with others who advocate the position that we can terminate the lives of they declare to have a “miserable quality life”, vociferously oppose traditional Judeo-Christian teachings which hold that God and God alone gives life… that God and God alone takes human life. This teaching is found in the Old Testament’s Book of Job as well as in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Job, you will remember, having endured suffering to excruciating levels, cries out “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

How we, both individually and as are society, are to deal with suffering is a major problem we need to deal with. Today’s first reading from Sacred Scripture along with today’s Gospel account put our faces into it.

Abraham’s first wife, Sarai, childless and in her 70’s, was in a jealous rage because her husband Abraham had a child by her maidservant Hagar. Hagar had given birth to Ishmael; the boy-child was a source of great joy to Abraham, who at age 86 had been able to sire a child.

Thirteen years later God offers His famous covenant to Abraham, now in his 90’s, and causes his wife, now called Sarah, to become fruitful. She, too, bears a boy-child and names him Isaac.

At the time of Isaac’s weaning Sarah demands that Abraham cast away Hagar and her child Ishmael by sending them out into the desert with a little bread and water, and to leave them there to die. Abraham relying on God’s loving care and providence sends his beloved son Ishmael out into the death-dealing desert. Most likely he thought Ishmael would die. It’s hard to imagine the levels of human suffering that were swirling around these people.

Years later, when Isaac grows to about the same age as Ishmael, Abraham is asked again, this time by God Himself, to dispatch his beloved son by plunging a knife into his heart. There are no promises given by God, no indications whatsoever, that there will be any divine protection given to Isaac. All Abraham has left, the only thing upon which he can rely, is God’s goodness and love. Abraham acts on pure faith alone.

And that’s the whole point, as well as that of the Gospel account. The spectacular scene just read takes place up on top of Mt. Tabor immediately prior to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, there to be sacrificed on the altar of the Cross. The very same Peter, James and John present for this moment of ecstasy on Mt. Tabor are likewise present on the Mount of Olives for Christ’s agony. The divinity within Christ revealed here will be just as present as the humanity within Jesus as he suffers on the other mount. Both reveal the whole truth about Jesus Christ, namely that he is truly both man and God, divinity and humanity, true God and true man. Peter, James and John are very much animated, very much alive to the moment of privilege on the Mount of Transfiguration. They will, however, sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane up on Mt. Olivet.

The Christian response to suffering is far too complicated to explain in a letter to the editor to the newspaper. And even though a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine is promoted in certain quarters as “art” deserving to be supported by public tax dollars, we nevertheless elevate the crucifix, the cross with Christ’s human body on it, high above our altars because of what it reveals about our human nature.

It is worthwhile in the current public debate over human suffering and the question of who controls the birth of human life as well as who controls its death to remember that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., built his entire civil rights movement on the theological notion of the effectiveness and power of human suffering. He knew full well its power to reveal the divine within our human nature; its power to change our consciousness of what it means to be a child of God, a human being created in the image and likeness of God. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew full well that it could stir the soul of an entire nation and change the direction of our entire American culture by changing our consciousness and therefore our consciences through passive, non-violent suffering.

Here in the middle of Lent, Holy Mother Church puts these two powerful readings from the bible in front of our eyes. She doesn’t glorify human suffering, nor does she rejoice that humans must suffer. Contrary to the propaganda of secularists, the Roman Catholic Church has devoted hundreds of billions of dollars to the alleviation of human suffering, the care of the sick and suffering, as well as the elderly. Likewise, she has devoted enormous resources to educating countless millions of people in order that they may be delivered from ignorance and given light for their minds with which to see reality and discern wisdom. Our Church needs no defense against her enemies; she stands with Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ in the certain faith that God will not let the gates of hell prevail against her.

What then shall we say this day of our own personal faith at this stage in our journey through Lent? Can we really “let go and let God”? Shall we let go of those things that we cling to, let them go in the sure and certain faith that God will bring good out of evil, life out of death, meaning out of absurdity, and joy out of suffering? Abraham is, as we pray in the Roman Canon, “our father in faith”. If Abraham could let his beloved son go, whom God spared from death, and if God our Father in heaven could let His own beloved Son go, whom He did not spare from death, what levels of faith do we have with which to do the same? Just how much do we allow God to be truly God in our own lives by placing our lives in His hands?

January 12, 2018

St. Hilary of Poitiers, "Hammer of the Arians"

Saint Hilary of Poitiers

Optional Memorial - January 13th 

It seems odd to us today that anyone claiming to be a Christian would deny the divinity of Christ. In the 4th century, however, Arianism, a particularly pernicious heresy which proclaimed precisely that, threatened the very existence of the Church. While emperors and even some bishops sanctioned this teaching, many saints defended Jesus’ divinity; among that number was Saint Hilary of France.

Hilary was born into a pagan family around the year 315, but converted to the Christian religion after discovering God through his study of the Scriptures. So great was his reputation for holiness and his defense of Christ’s divinity that he was appointed Bishop of Poitiers, France, in 353, to great acclaim. At about the same time, Constantius II, an adherent to Arianism, became emperor in Rome.

This new ruler, at the behest of pro-Arian prelate, promptly exiled Hilary to far-off Phrygia in the hopes that sheer distance would silence him. It did not. Instead, Hilary began writing prolifically and convincingly against the Arian heresy. He was eventually allowed to return to France, where he established monasticism along with Saint Martin of Tours. Thus, Hilary is called the "Athanasius of the West".

Saint Hilary died at Poitiers in 367. His personal example and prolific writings on behalf of the true religion influenced numerous souls, including his student, Saint Martin of Tours. A favorite motto of St. Hilary's was Ministros veritatis decet vera proferre, "Servants of the truth ought speak the truth." Long venerated as a saint within Catholicism, in 1851, Pope Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church. He is symbolized by three books and a pen and named the "Hammer of the Arians".

Grant, we pray, almighty ever-living God, that we may rightly understand and truthfully profess the divinity of your Son, which the Bishop Saint Hilary taught with such constancy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who reigns with you and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Saint Hilary of Poitiers, courageous defender of Christ and the faith, help us to be holy.

January 9, 2018

G.K. Chesterton on Catholicism’s Critics

It seems at times that anything negative said about the Church will be simply accepted without question. This creates a dizzying array of charges. The Church is both “inconsistent” and “legalistic;” “contaminated by worldly values” and “too removed from the world;” she has too much “sackcloth and ashes” and too much “pomp and ritualism.” No accusation is off-limits. As Chesterton wrote in 1908:
Any stick [is] good enough to beat Christianity with.
When Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” he added: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (From Fr. Butler's Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.)

Prayer for the Church's Adversaries

Almighty Jesus, Prince of Peace, you commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Let us pray for our adversaries and all who oppose the Church. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we strive to fulfill God’s will, in imitation of you, and labor unceasingly to bring about your love on earth as it is heaven. To you be all the glory and honor forever. Amen.

December 29, 2017

The Incarnation is a Celestial Blessing for Mankind

Father Pius Parsch

God became Man. Utterly incomprehensible is this truth to our puny human minds! That the eternal God whom heaven and earth cannot contain, who bears the world in His hand as a nutshell, before whom a thousand years are as one day, that this eternal, omnipotent God should become Man! Would it not have been a tremendous condescension if for the redemption of mankind He had simply sent an angel? Would it not have proven His loving mercy had He appeared for a mere moment in the splendor of His majesty, amid thunder and lightning, as once on Sinai? No, such would have shown far too little of His love and kindness. He wanted to be like us, to become a child of man, a poor child of poorest people; He wished to be born, in a hostile surroundings. Cold wind, hard straw, dumb animals — these were there to greet Him. The scene fills us with amazement; what other can we do than fall down in silence and adore!

In heaven only will we comprehend the profound implications of Christ's redemptive acts, surely one of the exquisite joys of celestial blessedness. But some points Mother Church allows us to anticipate here below. She, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is ever the recollected woman "who meditates on all the words of God and keeps them in her heart." She tells us: God became Man that we might share His divine nature. Isn't that mankind's long-cherished dream? "You shall be as God, knowing good and evil," Satan whispered into man's ear in paradise; and his whisper was believed. What a miserable betrayal! Indeed, man experienced good and evil, but he had not turned divine. Thousands...of years of dreadful distance from divinity, with nought but failure in scanning the skies! Not by pride can man become God, but by submission, humility.

Bethlehem gave the great revelation. God put on the beggar's garb, became a tiny, crying Babe in order to show man how to become divine. In paradise a fallen angel had promised: Eat of this fruit and you will be like God. He ate and became a prisoner of hell. On Christmas night another angel... stands before man, offers him a Good and says: Eat of this and you will be like God. For the divine Food, the Flesh of the incarnate Son of God, makes us "partakers of the divine nature."

Adapted excerpt from The Church's Year of Grace, Father Pius Parsch.

December 21, 2017

No Dispensation for This Year's Christmas Mass. (You Must Attend Mass Sunday and Monday)

This year (2017) Advent is unusually short, Sunday being the only day in the fourth week. In the General Roman Calendar, December 24th, Christmas Eve, is the last day of Advent as well as (beginning with the vigil Mass) the first day of Christmas time. This raises the question as to whether the fulfillment of one's Sabbath obligation may also fulfill the Christmas obligation to attend holy Mass.

The answer is no. A February newsletter issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship observed that a "two-for-one" Mass cannot occur in the very rare circumstances when two of the six holy days of obligation, such as when the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary or the Christmas solemnity of Our Lord's Nativity fall the day before or after Sunday.

The committee stated, "When consecutive obligations occur on Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday, the faithful must attend Mass twice to fulfill two separate obligations." The possibility of such a "simultaneous fulfillment of obligations was duly answered in the negative by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1970." Although it is not wholly conclusive, this clarification has weight since it was backed by the Vatican and the Pope.

The USCCB's divine worship committee expressed the hope that Catholics would want to go to Mass two days consecutively stating, "It would be hoped, of course, that Catholics foster a love for the sacred liturgy and hold a desire to celebrate the holy days as fully as is reasonably possible." Indeed, dear readers, the Mass is the Church's greatest prayer, the source and summit of our Faith. It offers us unfathomable grace and is a miracle beyond compare, joining us intimately with Christ. Let us pray as one Church united on heaven and on earth this Christmas.

December 18, 2017

Advent Reflection Week Four: "Our Savior Has Come"

O King of the Gentiles and Savior of the World

"Come and save man, whom Thou hast made out of dust." What is man? He is but a particle of dust, an insignificant creature who has further separated himself from God through sin. He has been cut off from the fountain of truth and banished from God to darkness and misery. Still in the ruins there dwells a spirit that possesses a capacity for truth. In these ashes there is yet a spark that may be fanned to life to burn with the brilliance of divine life. But only God can revive this flame. For this reason, the Church cries out, "Come and save man, whom Thou hast made out of dust." Save him who is so weak, so miserable and helpless. Remember his nothingness. Consider the many enemies who lay snares to rob him of divine life and to entice him into sin. Think of his [finite] knowledge and his proneness to evil, of his tendency to error, and his weakness in the face of temptation. Guard him from the enticements of the world; shelter him from the poison of erroneous teaching; deliver him from the devil and his angels.

During these days before Christmas, the Church contemplates the overwhelming misery of unregenerated mankind. She cries out, "Come and save man, whom Thou hast made out of dust."

Jesus is King of all nations. "The kings of the earth stood up and the princes met together against the Lord and against His Christ. Let us break their bonds asunder, and let us cast away their yoke from us. He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall deride them. Then shall He speak to them in His anger and trouble them in His rage. But I am appointed king by Him over Sion, His holy mountain. ... The Lord hath said to Me; Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Ps. 2:2-8). Well may Herod seek the life of the newborn king. Indeed, many kings and tribes and nations in the course of time shall deprecate the divine King, Christ. But to Him has been given all power in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28: i8). Before Him every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall confess that He is the Lord (Phil. 2:10f.).

The more the mighty condemn the kingship of Christ, the more shall He be exalted by the Father.

Now He comes to us in the form of a lovely child. One day in the presence of the Roman governor He will assert His right to kingship. But after this one public confession of His royal origin He withdraws again into the obscurity which He had freely chosen. For the present He is satisfied with this manifestation of His royal dignity. The day will come, however, when He will manifest it with power and majesty as He comes again on the clouds of heaven. Before all nations God will declare: "I have anointed Him King of Sion. My holy mountain." All men shall pay Him homage as king; all nations shall acclaim Him the King of Glory.

Adapted excerpt from The Light of the World, Father Benedict Baur, O.S.B.