Archive for the ‘Inspired Scripture’ Category

Presidential Oath Bible Verses

January 19, 2017

The U.S. Constitution establishes that the president, “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

jfks-missal-used-for-lbjs-inauguration-in-1963

The Kennedy Catholic missal used for Johnson’s inauguration on November 22, 1963.

Typically, presidents-elect take their oaths upon open or closed Bibles — sometimes two or three stacked one atop another under the oath-taker’s hand — but  there have been exceptions to this custom. John Quincy Adams (1825) and Franklin Pierce (1853) used law books, while John F. Kennedy’s Catholic missal was found on a side table in Air Force One’s presidential bedroom for the mid-flight swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson in 1963.

History has often recorded the verses to which the presidents’ Bibles were opened. In 1789, George Washington’s Bible was opened “at random, due to haste” to Genesis 49:13. (“Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.”) However, most presidents have intentionally selected their passages.

William McKinley (1897) and William Taft (1909) chose separate accounts of one Old Testament quote. Young King Solomon, invited by the Lord to request a wish, asks for wisdom to lead God’s vast people and it is abundantly granted him. (2nd Chronicles 1:10, 1st Kings 3:9-11)

Hebert Hoover’s (1929) verse, Proverbs 29:18, notes the importance of right purpose: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt selected 1st Corinthians 13’s teaching on love for all four of his inaugurals (1933, ’37, ’41, ‘45): “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

Dwight Eisenhower’s (1957)  verse, Psalm 33:12, acknowledges our shared dependence on God for our blessedness,  “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.”

Jimmy Carter (1977) and Warren Harding (1921) chose  Micah 6:8: “…What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Ronald Reagan (1981 & 1985) twice-chose 2nd Chronicles 7:14, where the Lord invites conversion to gain His blessings: “If my people… shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

We, like all people, must beware of idolizing our presidents and other earthly leaders. (Even among popes only around 30%  have been canonized and none of them have been sinless.) But we do well always to ask God’s grace for our leaders and for his blessings on the times in which we live.

For other presidential inaugural oaths’ Scripture passages, check out this list.

 

second-teddy-roosevelt-inauguration-1905

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Quiz: Scripture or Shakespeare?

April 29, 2016

William Shakespeare Portrait     This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Arguably, behind the King James Bible, no English literature has been as celebrated as Shakespeare’s works. But can you tell the two apart? Which of these passages are verses from the Bible and which are quotes drawn from Shakespeare’s plays? (Highlight to reveal the answers.)

  1. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
    ● Archangel Raphael in Tobit 5:23
    ● Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream ◄◄◄
  2. “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition…”
    ● Judas Maccabeus in 1st Maccabees 4:19
    ● King Henry in King Henry V ◄◄◄
  3. “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
    ● Psalm 119:103 ◄◄◄
    ● Juliet in Romeo and Juliet
  4. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
    ● King Solomon in Proverbs 16:18 ◄◄◄
    ● Brutus in Julius Caesar
  5. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
    ● King Solomon in Proverbs 22:6 ◄◄◄
    ● Lady Macbeth in Macbeth
  6. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend…”
    ● King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 6:13
    ● Lord Polonius in Hamlet ◄◄◄
  7. “…Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things…”
    ● Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:23 ◄◄◄
    ● King Lear in King Lear
  8. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
    ● Jesus Christ in Mark 8:36 ◄◄◄
    ● Antonio in The Merchant of Venice
  9. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    ● St. Stephen in Acts of the Apostles 6:16
    ● Prince Hamlet in Hamlet ◄◄◄
  10. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…”
    ● St. Paul in 1st Corinthians 13:4 ◄◄◄
    ● Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing
  11. “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, and for thy maintenance commits his body…”
    ● St. Paul in Ephesians 5:34
    ● Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew ◄◄◄

So how did you do? Leave a comment and, as it is written somewhere“Do the part of an honest man in it.”

Taking Jesus Too Literally

September 30, 2015

Jesus Facepalm

We do well to closely heed all that our Lord Jesus says, but we must also carefully understand what the Word of God Incarnate is really telling us. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, let us consider two examples where some modern-day Christians misinterpret Jesus’ teaching by taking him too literally.

 

“Do not swear at all”

Jesus declares, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

Swearing an oath or vow invokes God as one’s witness to a claim or a promise and invites God’s just punishments if his name is taken in vain. It seems that people in Jesus’ day were trying to steal credibility without fearing divine retribution by swearing by lesser holy things. But Jesus warns that all good things belong to God, and condemns clever manipulations of the truth as coming from the devil. Instead, Jesus says, “do not swear at all,” but “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes.’”

So do any appropriate times and places remain for swearing oaths or vows in the New Covenant? God reveals that such exist through St. Paul. In Galatians 1:20 and 2nd Corinthians 1:23, God himself inspires St. Paul to swear oaths (for example, “I call upon God as witness, on my life, that it is to spare you that I have not yet gone to Corinth.“) And in Acts 18:18, we read that St. Paul “had taken a vow.” Thus, in rare, righteous, and serious situations a Christian may solemnly swear to things before God.


“Call no one on earth your father”

Jesus tells us, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) Does this mean that we should not call priests (or our even own dads) “Father?” This is not how the first Christians understood Jesus’ words.

St. Stephen calls the Jewish leaders “fathers” in Acts 7:2, and St. Paul does similarly in Acts 22:1. God prompted St. John to address Christian community elders as “fathers.” (1st John 2:13-14) God also willed St. Paul to write of “our father Isaac” and to call Abraham “the father of us all.” (Romans 9:10, 4:16-17) God inspired St. Paul to regard and describe himself as a father to his spiritual children. (1st Corinthians 4:14-15, 1st Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 10) Therefore, the true concern of our Lord is not with the label of “father,” but that our greatest devotion and love always be directed toward “our Father who art in Heaven.”

Scripture Suggestions for Prayer

May 2, 2015

May 4              Acts 10:9-33

May 5              Acts 10:34-49

May 6              Psalm 98:1-4

May 7              1st John 4:7-10

May 8              John 15:9-12

May 9              John 15:13-17

May 10            (6th Sunday of Easter)

May 11             John 20:11-18

May 12             Acts 1:1-11

May 13             Psalm 27:2-9

May 14             Ephesians 1:27-33

May 15             Ephesians 4:1-13

May 16             Mark 16:15-20

May 17             (Ascension, 7th Sunday of Easter)

May 18             John 15:18-27

May 19             John 16:12-15

May 20             John 20:19-23

May 21             Acts 2:1-11

May 22             1st Corinthians 12:3-13

May 23             Galatians 5:16-25

May 24             (Pentecost Sunday)

Passages for Prayer

April 18, 2015

Praying with the Bible can make both Scripture reading and times of prayer more fruitful. Inspired by our upcoming Sunday Mass readings, below is a schedule of suggested passages you can use in your daily prayer.

April 20          Acts 3:1-10

April 21          Acts 4:8-12

April 22          Psalm 118

April 23          1st John 3:1-2

April 24          John 10:1-11

April 25          John 10:11-18

April 26          (4th Sunday of Easter)

April 27          Acts 9:1-9

April 28          Acts 9:10-19

April 29          Acts 9:26-31

April 30          1st John 3:18-24

May 1             John 15:1-8

May 2             Repeat a Previous Passage

May 3             (5th Sunday of Easter)

(Note that “1st John” refers to the first letter of John, while simply “John” denotes the Gospel of John.)

Praying with a “Marked Deck”

October 19, 2014

The Queen of HeartsMeditating on the Gospels helps us to grow closer to Jesus, but which passage should we bring to our time of prayer?

With the 1st Sunday of Advent (coming liturgically the evening of November 29th, 2014) we’ll begin exploring the Gospel of Mark in our Cycle B Sunday readings. One option for prayer is to meditate on next Sunday’s Gospel in order to enter more deeply into the Mass.

Or, to contemplate Mark’s entire Gospel, you can pray with it bit by bit, day by day, from start to finish.

On the other hand, you can let yourself be completely surprised by whatever divine providence deals you. In my Holy Hours, I’m planning to randomly draw my Marcan passage for lectio divina from this list, and you can do the same:

2♠   Mark 1: 1-15
3♠   1: 16-31
4♠   1: 32-45
5♠   2: 1-12
6♠   2: 13-22
7♠   2: 23 – 3: 6
8♠   3: 7-19
9♠   3: 20-35
10♠ 4: 1-9, 14-20
J♠   4: 10-13, 21-25
Q♠  4: 26-34
K♠  4: 35-41
A♠  5: 1-20

2♥   5: 21-24, 35-43
3♥   5: 25-34
4♥   6: 1-16
5♥   6:17-29
6♥   6:30-44
7♥   6:45-56
8♥   7: 1-13
9♥   7: 14-30
10♥ 7: 31-37 & 8: 22-26
J♥    8: 1-10
Q♥   8: 11-21
K   8: 27 – 9: 1
A♥   9: 2-13

2♦   9: 14-29
3♦   9: 30-37
4♦   9: 38-50
5♦   10: 1-16
6♦   10: 17-31
7♦   10: 32-45
8♦   10: 46 – 11: 11
9♦   11: 12-25
10♦ 11: 27 – 12: 12
J♦   12: 13-27
Q♦  12: 28-37
K♦  12: 38-13:2
A♦  13: 3-23

2♣   13: 24-37
3♣   14: 1-11
4♣   14: 12-26
5♣   14: 27-42
6♣   14: 43-52
7♣   14: 53-65
8♣   14: 66-72
9♣   15: 1-15
10♣ 15: 16-24
J♣   15: 25-38
Q♣  15: 39-47
K♣  16: 1-13
A♣  16: 14-20

Parallelism & Padre Pio — Monday, 25th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

September 23, 2014

Readings: Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13; Psalm 119:1, 27, 30, 34-35, 44

We see within today’s readings a literary structure often found in the Bible: parallelism. A verse states an idea and is immediately followed by a line reexpressing that same truth (or contrasting it.) For example, in our psalm we read:

The way of truth I have chosen;
I have set your ordinances before me.

And in Proverbs:

The soul of the wicked man desires evil;
his neighbor finds no pity in his eyes.

When the arrogant man is punished, the simple are the wiser; when the wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.

Parallelism is a providential gift to translators and readers of the Bible because it helps them to understand Scripture’s meaning better than they would through a singular statement alone.

St. Padre Pio PortraitSt. Padre Pio (or Pius of Pietrelcina) is among the most famous saints of the past century. Like Jesus, large crowds were drawn to him and religious authorities were cautiously wary of him, but he always remained obedient. Like Jesus, Padre Pio possessed the mystical ability to read peoples’ souls — to know strangers’ stories, sins, and struggles. He spent long hours in the confessional, being firm with the hardened and gentle with the weak, just like Jesus was with the Pharisees and the woman at the well. Also, by God’s gift, Padre Pio bore the stigma, the wounds of Christ, in his hands, feet, and side.

God uses parallelism to help us to fathom His Word better. In both Sacred Scripture and in the saints of Jesus Christ, parallelism helps us to understand the Lord better.

Everyone Has Time to Read the Gospels

September 9, 2014

Have you ever read the four Gospels:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John?

A Papyrus Manuscript (P66) of the Beginning of John's Gospel.

A Papyrus Manuscript (P66) of the Beginning of John

People say that they don’t have time to read the four most important books in human history, but the truth is that everyone does. It is simply a question of our priorities.

Given the average person’s reading speed and the number of words in each book, about how long does it take to read the Gospels?

Matthew:  1 hour, 14 minutes
Mark:  46 minutes
Luke:  1 hour, 18 minutes
John:  1 hour, 3 minutes

The Four Gospels:  4 hours, 21 minutes

For comparison, you can read:

If we have had the time for any of the things above, what excuse will we have for someday appearing before the Lord Jesus without having read his Gospels? Put first things first, and take time today to begin reading his four Gospels.

Comparing Catholic Bibles

September 6, 2014

The Douay-Rheims

  • This was the earliest Catholic Bible in English (New Testament published in 1582; Old Testament in 1610.)
  • It pre-dates the most famous Protestant Bible, the 1611 King James Version.
  • It is a very literal translation from St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate from 382 AD.
  • It uses archaic English words, like “thou.”

The New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE)

  • The RSV was a translation for American readers from the original languages by thirty Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox scholars in the 1940’s & 50’s and was adapted for Catholic use in 1966.
  • It is considered a very literal & readable translation by many orthodox Catholic scholars.
  • It is often used in university or seminary courses and by important Catholic & Protestant biblical scholars.
  • The New RSV (or NRSV) was published in 1989 and has gender-neutral (or inclusive) language.

The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)

  • The 1966 Jerusalem Bible was an English translation of a French Edition published by Dominican scholars in Jerusalem in 1956.
  • The 1985 New Jerusalem Bible revises the Jerusalem Bible directly from the original languages and contains inclusive language.
  • The NJB has a very literary style but is comparable in quality to the NRSV in scholarship.
  • This is the most widely used Catholic Bible in English outside of the United States.

The New American Bible (NAB)

  • The NAB was translated from the original languages according to the principles of the Second Vatican Council in 1970.
  • The 1980’s revised edition (the NAB-RE) restored some traditional phrasing and added inclusive language in the New Testament and Psalms.
  • The Holy See approved some use of inclusive language where the speaker or author intended a mixed audience (e.g. “brothers and sisters”, instead of the older “brethren,”) but rejected this in references to God or Christ, and to man, where the word has anthropological and theological significance.
  • Since Pentecost 2002, the revised NAB’s lectionary is the only one approved for use in U.S. English Masses, so faithful Catholics are already familiar with its readable style.

Translation Comparison of Matthew 18:15

Douay-Rheims:  “But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother.”

NRSV-CE:  “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”

NJB:  “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.”

NAB-RE:  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”


Primarily Used Sources:

One Bible, Many Interpretations

April 29, 2014

Mormons teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Gods, and that we too can become Gods in our own right someday.

You may reply to them, for instance, with James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble,” but Mormons will have some explanation for that New Testament passage which fits their theology.

Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three persons but three manifestations of one divine person, God.

You may ask them who Jesus is praying to in Matthew 26:39 when he says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will,” yet Oneness Pentecostals will offer some answer for why Jesus is not praying to another person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is not God, not divine, but God’s first and greatest creature and that the Holy Spirit is not a person but the active force of God the Father in the world.

You may answer with the beginning and end of the Gospel of John: with John’s prologue where we see “the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh,” and the gospel’s climax, John 20:28, “Thomas answered and said to [Jesus,] ‘My Lord and my God!'” However, Jehovah’s Witnesses will surely have some reply for these verses.

A diagram of the ancient, orthodox, Christian conception of the Holy Trinity

A diagram of the ancient, orthodox, Christian conception of the Most Holy Trinity: One God, Three Divine Persons

In my personal experience, advocates of Mormon polytheism, Oneness Pentecostal modalism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses Arianism-esque theology have all been sincere, friendly, rational, and not unintelligent people. They were all well-versed in the Bible, regarded it as God’s infallible Word, and used it to support their beliefs. They all proudly claimed the name of “Christian.” However, the undeniable fact that their theologies contradict each other proves that these admirable personal traits are not enough to guarantee a true understanding of the Christian Faith. The problem is that there seems to be more than one possible internally-coherent interpretation of the Bible. Just as texts out of context can suggest several defensible, though incorrect, meanings; interpreting biblical texts outside the context of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church leads to many errors.

Last week, two very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses visited me at my rectory and we spoke for a couple of hours. I believe we were debating whether one of Jesus’ “I Am” statements in John’s Gospel was a profession of his divinity when one of my guests remarked, “We can’t really be certain what he meant.” I replied to the effect, “You’re right!–If your opinion and my opinion are all we have to go on, if there’s no visible authority on earth with power from Jesus Christ to infallibly answer biblical questions, then we can never be certain our interpretations are true–since many sincere, reasonable, and even scholarly Christians firmly disagree. Without a clear, external teaching authority within the Church, we would be left as sheep without a shepherd and inevitably scatter.” Most Christians revere the Holy Scriptures as God’s infallible Word, and this is right and good, but for some reason many of them reject the Catholic Church through which the Scriptures come.

Recall that Jesus wrote nothing in the Gospels (except perhaps something in the dust near the woman caught in adultery) but Jesus did establish a Church. Through this Church the New Testament was written, collected, canonized, and revered. However, this process was certainly not completed in the first century AD. In the early Church there was much debate over which New Testament writings were inspired and should be included in the canon. The Shepherd of Hermas? The Book of Revelation? The Didache? The Letter to the Hebrews? The Epistle of Clement? Some early Church Fathers included works such as these in their lists of Bible books, while others left them out. It was the Catholic Church that ultimately canonized the New Testament books which all Christians acknowledge today.

One teaching shared by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is the belief that a Great Apostasy occurred in the early Church. The New Testament contains verses which warn about false teachers arising who will mislead many. A great deception, those religions say, happened soon after the death of the apostles and explains why the majority of self-professed Christians in history have held core doctrines widely different from their own. I would agree that false teachers and heresies arise in every age, but was there a Great Apostasy soon after the apostles that devastated Christ’s Church and caused his central teachings (like the true nature of God) to be discarded and forgotten?

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (detail)

Jesus entrusting the keys of his Kingdom to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19)

All Christians will agree that Jesus was a wise man. Jesus was a wise man indeed, who built his house on rock. Jesus declared to Simon, “‘I say to you, you are Peter [that is, you are “Rock” in Greek] and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.'” (Matthew 16:18) If Jesus was a wise man who built his house on rock we can be assured that even though “the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house–it did not collapse; [his Church] had been set solidly on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

After building his Church on Peter for some forty years, did Jesus let it go into shambles and fail to repair it for about eighteen centuries, until Joseph Smith or The Watchtower came along? If so, Jesus really dropped the ball. If the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are right, then God managed to get all of the New Testament books infallibly written, correctly canonized, and faithfully preserved throughout millennia, but could not maintain the truth about himself in his Church on earth in the hearts and minds of believers much beyond the death of the apostles. More likely, our Lord Jesus Christ succeeded in preserving his teachings and the visible hierarchical authority he gave to his Church, from St. Peter (the first pope) and the apostles to Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him today. A clear and necessary line of teaching authority runs though the centuries, through the laying of hands and apostolic succession.

You may encounter people who will present you with internally-consistent but very different interpretations of Scripture. Do not let your hearts be troubled. There are good reasons for everything we believe as Catholics. They may “know” the Bible, but we are blessed to know God’s Church from which the Bible comes. If you love Jesus Christ, love his Catholic Church. As even St. Joan of Arc, who personally experienced the complexities of the Church as a divine and human institution, said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” If you love Jesus’ Church you will love him well. Jesus Christ is risen and his Catholic Church, though ancient, has never died. Christ’s Church, the Bride he protects and for whom he laid down his life, is very much alive.

Tips for Praying With the Psalms

March 28, 2014

The Book of Psalms contains 150 psalms (or sung prayers) which have been used in communal worship and private devotion by God’s people for thousands of years; first among the Jews and now by Christians as well.   The psalms are prayers inspired by the Holy Spirit  corresponding to the wide spectrum of human experience:  joy and sorrow; triumph and defeat; contrition, thanksgiving, and praise.

Is it OK to question God and complain to him in prayer? Is it acceptable to tell the Lord how unhappy or angry you feel? The psalms show that God welcomes such prayers. He knows our only alternative to coming to him for help and healing is to stuff or deny these feelings, letting them to embitter or depress us.

Sometimes a particular psalm may not resonate with my spirit at the moment. For example, how can I benefit from a psalm lamenting a betrayal when all is well in my own life? I can pray such psalms as an intercessor for those experiencing such trials and unite my heart to theirs. Another way to pray each psalm with a new richness comes from the realization that these prayers were well-known and often offered by Jesus and Mary. This Lent, try praying the psalms through their eyes.

A Cursory Commentary of St. Matthew’s Gospel

July 23, 2012

By Father Victor Feltes

Matthew 1

Jesus is not a “once upon a time” myth, he becomes man as a part of real history

Jesus’ genealogy shows that God writes straight with crocked lines. He succeeds despite sins.

Forty forefathers’ generations precede Jesus because forty symbolizes times of preparation.

Like God the Father, Joseph chose mercy over what “the law” permitted (Deuteronomy 22:20.)

Joseph, like his namesake in Genesis, has dreams which lead to the salvation of the world.

(more…)

The Way, Truth, & Life — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year A

May 22, 2011

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Mass is an encounter with Jesus Christ, leading us to God the Father. Like Jesus Himself, the Mass contains the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus. First, we journey on the Way to Jesus, then we come to the Truth of Jesus, finally we join in the Life of Jesus.

The Mass begins with the sign of the cross, for God is the beginning and end of everything. Next, we confess our unworthiness to approach the Lord, asking mercy for our sins, so that we may dare to take this journey to God. The, from the Holy Scriptures, we hear of God’s words and deeds among the Old Testament peoples and within the New Testament Church. In this, we learn of the providential way that God has prepared throughout time for us to encounter Jesus Christ today. Just as the journey on this Way through history leads to Jesus Christ, so the liturgy of the Word leads to the Gospel. Certainly, Jesus Christ the Word of God is present throughout the entire Word of God which is Sacred Scripture, but for the reading of the Gospel, we all stand up for Him and sing “Alleluia,” “Praise the Lord,” because we have come to Jesus Christ and He is more fully present among us in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Gospel reading proclaims Jesus, who is the Truth. The homily that follows proclaims that the Truth matters for us here and now and demands our personal response. To this call, we answer with the Creed, proclaiming our faith in who God is and what He has done for us. In the Creed, we proclaim our acceptance of Jesus, the Truth. In the prayers of the faithful, we petition the Lord for our needs and concerns, saying in so many words, “Lord, let your kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven! Let us share you life! Give us your life!” At Mass, the Way leads to the Truth, and from the Truth we long for God’s Life. At Mass, the Liturgy of the Word leads to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The presentation of the gifts is not merely about moving around cash and bread and water and wine. The presentation of the gifts is about the presentation of everything that we have, and everything that we are, to God. We lift up our hearts to be one with our sacrifice. Amidst praises to the Father, the one life-giving sacrifice of the Last Supper, of the cross, and of Heaven becomes present here to us. We join in offering this sacrifice through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, to God the Father in Heaven.

Through this offered sacrifice, we join in God’s Life. We pray “Our Father,” because uniting with the paschal mystery, the great Easter deeds of Jesus, gives us life as the Father’s sons and daughters. Then we share with one another the sign of peace, the loving peace that is possessed by God’s holy ones. Finally, at the climax, we partake of Jesus Christ, Life Himself, most truly present in the Holy Eucharist.

Sometimes people say, “I just don’t get anything out of going to Mass. Father, I know that you say all this important and wonderful stuff is going on, but I don’t see it and I don’t feel it. The Mass is boring for me.” I understand. When I was a boy, I made a point of going to the bathroom (sometimes twice) during every Mass, just to break up the monotony. When I would see the priest cleaning the dishes at the altar—that was a good sign, because it meant that the Mass was almost done. I didn’t really know what was happening at Mass, so I really didn’t believe in what was happening at Mass. But as I grew older I began to learn what was happening, and as I grew in faith I began to believe in what was happening, and my experience of the Mass was transformed.

People who say that the Mass is boring resemble St. Phillip in something he said to Jesus at the first Eucharist, the Last Supper: “Master, (we don’t see or feel the presence of God the Father,) show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Whoever has been to Mass has encountered my mysteries.) How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (How can you say, ‘The Mass is boring?’)” The awesome mystical realities of the Mass are true, and real, and present and active at every Mass we attend, whether we see them, or feel them, or believe in them, or not.

Jesus Christ and the Holy Mass contain the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we shall receive from them according to our faith. Let us pray, that at this Mass and every Mass, we may be as fully present to Jesus Christ and His mysteries as they are to us at every Mass.

Peter Our Rock — February 22 — Chair of St. Peter

February 22, 2011

If you claim Jesus Christ as your Lord, then listen to His words. To those He sent to preach for Him, Jesus said this, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me.” (Luke 10:16) Today there are many people preaching many different things about what they think Jesus would have us believe and do. These varying opinions are well-intentioned and shared in good faith, by ministers from pulpits and in conversations between friends, but they cannot all be right. Unless it doesn’t matter what we believe or what we do, then this is a big problem. To whom should we listen? Is there anyone today for whom Jesus’ words are still true, “Whoever listens to you listens to me”?     Does anyone teach with authority, such that ‘whoever rejects their teaching rejects Christ?’ If not, we are lost; but if there is, where do we find this person?

On another occasion, Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” (Matthew 23:1-3) Today teachers usually stand in front of their classes to teach them, but teachers in the ancient world would teach sitting down. Their chairs symbolized their authority, like the “chairman of the board” or the “chair of the English department.”Jesus spoke of the Chair of Moses, the position of the authoritative teaching for old Israel. For His new Church, Jesus establishes a new chair, the chair that we celebrate today, the chair of St. Peter and of his successors the Popes.

St. Peter, like every Pope after him, was only a man. He wasn’t perfect and he was weak in many ways. But Jesus has built His Church upon this rock. When the Pope, as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals, he teaches it infallibly. For the good of the Church, the Pope is empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach the faith of Christ without error. Can popes sin? Yes, infallible does not mean impeccable, as various popes in history have shown, yet even these bad popes prove the faithfulness of God in preserving them from teaching errors. Of them Jesus would have said, “Do as they teach, but do not follow their example.”

Jesus knew that living the fullness of Christianity on earth required that He provide us with an infallible guide. Some Christians have held that the Bible alone is this guide, but the Scriptures do not interpret themselves, nor did the Bible books put themselves in the canon. Even the infallible Scriptures require an infallible Church, and an infallible Church requires an infallible voice.

Mark Twain is believed to have remarked, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Of course, it was not the father but the child who had changed, when he finally recognizing the wisdom of his father. Some people reject or ignore Catholic teachings as stupid, like those on the sacred dignity of all human life, or the teachings on human sexuality. Some people neglect the sacraments of the Church for years of their lives. Then, after gaining painful experience, they return with a new love and respect for our Holy Father’s wisdom, and the ways of our Mother, the Church. As wonderful as it is whenever people to come back to the Catholic faith, I would much prefer that you would know the greater joy and peace of remaining ever united to the rock of truth found only in our Church.

The Lamb of God — 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

January 16, 2011

When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him he declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Why does John say that? How is Jesus like a lamb? Under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sins.  The symbolism was that the animal, typically an unblemished lamb, was dying in place of the sinner who offered it. Jesus, like an obedient sheep that follows its master’s voice, does His Father’s will and takes our place in the sacrifice that truly forgives our sins. This is why Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist goes on to say, “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” Indeed, Jesus existed before the universe itself. Through Him, all things were made, and all things that were made to point to Christ. For this reason, it is not so much that Jesus resembles the lambs of Old Covenant sacrifices. Instead, God established the ritual of sacrificing lambs for the forgiveness of sins in order to point to Christ.

Jesus is born in the age of the New Testament, but throughout the entire Old Testament the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets about Him. For example, our first reading from the book of Isaiah, written several centuries before Christ, is just one of hundreds and hundreds of passages pointing to Him. But, before we look at it again, a little background: Jacob was Abraham’s grandson. Jacob was renamed “Israel” by God and fathered twelve sons. From these twelve sons descended the twelve tribes of Israel. This is why the names “Jacob” and “Israel” can be interchangeable, and can refer to one person or many.

In Isaiah, the prophet writes, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” To whom is God speaking here? Who is the servant whom God formed in the womb; the prophet himself, God’s faithful people, or Jesus Christ? There is truth to each of these interpretations, but Jesus shines especially through. Isaiah continues:

“It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus is the one who brings salvation and the resurrection not only to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but for all the nations on earth, bringing His light to Gentiles like you and I.  For another example, consider today’s psalm, written by King David 1,000 years before Christ. Hear these words again as coming from Jesus’ own lips:

Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”

“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”

I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know.

I have waited, waited for the Lord,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.

I suspect that these words had a personal meaning to David when he composed them, and the fortieth psalm has been prayed in a personal way by God’s faithful people ever since, but these words apply especially to the person and life of Christ. After preaching God’s word before crowds of thousands in the time of His ministry and obediently coming to the cross at its end, after crying out for His Father to save Him and waiting three days in the tomb, the resurrection has put a new song in Jesus’ mouth, a new hymn of praise to our Father.

The point is this: the Old Testament is not a dead letter, or a merely historical book. The passages of the Old Testament meant something historically to the people who wrote them, but those men were not the only authors—the Holy Spirit was writing, too. The Spirit was writing for all generations of God’s faithful people, including you and I today. The Spirit was also revealing and prophetically pointing to the person and life of Jesus Christ.

St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” So when you hear the Old Testament proclaimed at Mass, and read the Bible on your own, look for the meaning it had in its historical context, look for the spiritual meaning it has for us today, and look for Jesus, because you can find Him there, and get to know Him better.