Thursday, November 7, 2013

God's Promises and Our Expectations

The last few days and the next few days the Office of Readings follows the books of Maccabees. They're some of those books I haven't spent much time reading and they're pretty fascinating.

At this point in the story, Judas Maccabeus has finished what his father started; driving out foreign invaders who defiled the temple in Jerusalem. Today's reading described in detail how Judas and his men were cut to the heart at the sight of the temple in ruins and the effort it took to restore the temple to its former glory.

This really helps explain why so few Jews of Jesus' day thought Jesus could be the messiah. The messiah was supposed to be their new king and ruler. He was supposed to drive out the Romans-the foreign invaders of the day-with the sword and with fire. The messiah was expected to be an even greater military genius than Judas Maccabeus. What they got was a humble carpenter who was executed by the foreign powers he was supposed to defeat.

This is a lesson for all of us to be careful how we judge God's gifts; to be careful to see things as God sees them and not let our expectations get in the way. Judas Maccabeus was certainly a model of the messiah to come. Reading about him cleansing the temple immediately brought images of Jesus driving out the money changers (Mt 21:12-17). In addition, looking at how faith in Jesus has lasted while nearly every other government and religion present in Jesus' day has fallen there's no doubt that Jesus Christ is the greatest conqueror of all time.

Thankfully, he chose to conquer with love and truth instead of sword and fire.

That leads to the second lesson. God's incredible power is most manifest in you and me not when we fight but when we love. The victories won but Judas Maccabeus through the sword were lost again. The temple he restored was destroyed again. Yet the victory of Jesus the messiah has not and will not ever pass away. The temple of your body and mine will be raised up on the last day and there's nothing any enemy of ours can do about it!

Isn't that just like God? To deliver on his promises in a way we never expected but that ends up infinitely better than we could have dreamed?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Audio Talk: Living the Virtues

VirtueHow do we respond to Jesus' call to be his disciples?

Simply trying to "be good" doesn't cut it.  There are too many choices to make, too many voices calling us to follow them, and not enough familiarity with discipleship to try to just wing it.  Is it possible to be a faithful disciple of Christ and still live in society?  What does taking up our cross and following Jesus look like today?

This talk gives a concrete foundation of how to live as an authentic Christian in the real world.

To listen, click the image or here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Audio Talk: Why do Catholics Have Priests?

Why do Catholics Have Priests?  (RCIA Fast Track 2013)

There are many questions about the priesthood today such as why can't women be priests, why can't priests marry, and why do we need a hierarchical priesthood at all?  In this talk we'll look where the one priesthood of Christ, how all baptized participate in it, and why some are called to participate in it more fully.

To play, click image or here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Audio Talk: What is the Eucharist?

What is the Eucharist? (RCIA Fast Track 2013)

As the "Cadillac of the Sacraments" the Eucharist holds a particularly dear place in the hearts of Catholics; but what is it exactly?  This talk discusses the Eucharist as the new and everlasting covenant, the once-for-all sacrifice for sin but yet a continual sacrifice of praise, and the substantial Real Presence of Jesus Christ.

You'll never look at the humble host the same again!

Download mp3:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What’s the anagogical sense of the Bible?

Quick Answer:
The anagogical sense of the Bible is very similar to the moral sense except instead of applying the text to here and now we apply it to the end of time.  The focus is on the goal of our relationship with Jesus; spending eternity in relationship with him.  If the literal sense of the temple is a physical building where sacrifice was offered, the allegorical sense of the temple is that the building is an allegory to show us how the new temple of Jesus’ body is also a device of sacrifice, and the moral sense of the temple is that we’re all called to offer our bodies as sacrificial offerings here and now then the anagogical sense of the temple tells us that heaven is the true temple (Rev 21:22) where we will live eternally to offer sacrifices of praise (Heb 13:15).

Long Answer:
Recently, my wife and I went to a conference in St. Louis, MO.  We didn’t know the city at all and after getting to the hotel were trying to find a place to eat.  Armed with a little map from the front desk, we set out in the direction we thought was most promising and found a couple of fast food restaurants that didn’t look very appealing.  When we wandered by the Angry Beaver bar we decided it was time to look at that map again.  We realized that more dinning options were available on the other side of the hotel; had we gone the other way we would’ve found plenty of good places to eat.  After backtracking, we finally got where we wanted to be.

The anagogical sense of Scripture is useful to avoid the same issue we had in St. Louis.  It’s easy to see the point of Christianity as going to church, being a good person, avoiding sin, and so on.  Many folks spend a lot of effort trying to be “good” because that’s what they believe the goal of Christianity is.  My experience trying to do this shows a lot of wandering, backtracking, and dead ends in the spiritual life when the destination is goodness for goodness’ sake.

The Bible tells us through the anagogical sense that the point of Christianity is to live forever in the presence of, to contemplate, and to adore the Blessed Trinity.  This requires complete conformance of our will to God’s will and utter abandonment of all the other stuff we think makes us happy.  This is the destination Christianity is meant to lead us toward.  Knowing this gives direction to all the choices we make day-by-day.  Are my prayers empty and rote or do they really help me build intimacy with Jesus?  Does this choice deny my will in favor of God’s will for me or am I clinging to the earthly things I think will make me happy?  Knowing where we want to end up is extremely important in getting there successfully.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What is the moral sense of the Bible?

Quick Answer:
The moral sense of the Bible considers how the words on the page apply to the life of a Christian today. If we're ever tempted to think the Bible is about now-dead people doing irrelevant things then the moral sense shows us how to apply the words on the page to our lives today. We've seen that the Bible literally speaks of the temple and that the temple is an allegory for Jesus' body but St. Paul reminds us “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19) and “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1). We're called to be temples of sacrifice in our daily lives even now.

Long Answer:
I remember sitting in geometry in the 8th grade and wondering why I had to learn things I'd never use later in life. It's easy to approach the Bible this way, too. Much of it can look like nothing more than dry history of people with strange names doing strange things that are disconnected from our reality today. For example, we don't sacrifice animals anymore, we don't really relate to Abraham's nomadic lifestyle,

However, the amazing thing about the Bible is how relevant it is today.  This is what changes the words on the page from mere information into something life-changing.  Respecting the moral sense of the Bible will help us understand more clearly who God is and who we are in relation to him. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

What is the allegorical sense of the Bible?

 Quick Answer:
Allegory is a story with a hidden story; a deeper meaning.  If the literal sense of the Bible is words representing things then the allegorical sense is things representing things.  When Scripture speaks of “the temple” the literal sense sees a building in Jerusalem but the allegorical sense sees the building as an allegory for the “true” temple; Jesus Christ’s body (Jn 2:21).  The literal sense tells us the temple is the dwelling place of God with the purpose of offering sacrifice.  Knowing this, we can see how Jesus’ body is also the dwelling place of God with the purpose of being sacrificed.  Noah’s flood isn’t just a flood, it’s an allegory of baptism (1 Pt 3:20-21).  The “things” (temple/flood) represent other things (Jesus’ body/baptism).

Long Answer:
Many stories have a moral to them.  Aesop’s Fables are perfect examples of this.  A story is told and a moral or lesson is derived from them.  God has authored the Bible in a very similar way by using allegory to help us understand the truth of the narrative.

To flesh this out, let’s look at Jesus command that we must be “born again of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5).  Some Christians think we must be baptized with water while others say a prayer is sufficient for this event.

This is very difficult to determine from this passage alone and also from just the New Testament books alone; but let’s see we can learn from Old Testament narratives that may have a meaning held within them.

In Genesis 1 we see the creation of the world.  What’s present?  The Spirit hovering over the water (Gen 1:2).  The world was “born” as the waters fell away and the dry land appeared.

In Genesis 7-8 we see the re-creation of the world with the flood.   Again we see the waters fall away and dry land appearing.  What tells Noah this?  A dove (Gen 8:8-12).

In Exodus 14 the Spirit of God separated the Red Sea and the Israelite people were reborn from slavery into new life.  How were they reborn?  Through physical water and the Spirit.

In Luke 3 Jesus is baptized physically in water and the Spirit descends on him “like a dove” (Lk 3:22).

Catholics roll this all together and say when God creates or re-creates something He uses real, physical water and the Spirit operates as well.  St. Peter agrees when he points out “In it [Noah’s ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also” (1 Pt 3:20-21).  The allegorical sense of the Bible helps us see things that aren’t obvious in the text of a specific passage.  Sometimes a flood is just a flood, but God can use a flood to tell us even more.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What is the literal sense of the Bible?

Quick Answer:
The literal sense of the Bible is the actual words on th  This is the foundation of biblical interpretation.  The literal sense uses words to refer to things (we’ll see this change as we look at the other senses).  For example, when the Bible speaks of “the temple” in the literal sense it’s referring to the massive structure in Jerusalem where sacrifices are offered.

Longer Answer:
The catechism defines the literal sense of Scripture as “the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal” (CCC 116). 

The question to ask here is what do the words signify?  What is the human author, and more importantly the Divine Author, communicating with the words?  Getting at this requires a few steps.

First, have a reliable Bible translation.  Better yet, get several and compare them.  Some Bibles are overtly or accidently slanted in a particular way.  Some translate a particular Greek word as “teaching” when used in a positive light and as “tradition” when used in a negative light.  There’s a new Bible edition out translated to promote acceptance of homosexual relationships.  When selecting a Bible I suggest trying to minimize the amount of meddling and agendas the human translators bring.

 Second, use “sound interpretation”.  This doesn’t mean you need a Ph.D. in Biblical Theology but it does mean you need to think about what you’re reading.  I use a study Bible that has handy footnotes that expound on easy-to-misunderstand passages.  When you read something in Scripture that raises your eyebrows then start investigating.  Pray about why God choose those words, check what do other translations say, and consult faithful (to the Magisterium) commentators on the passage.

Finally, read the Bible instead of reading “about” the Bible!  Commentaries, blogs, and other sources of information are always a filtered view of Scripture.  If you want to know what the Bible says; read it.  There are plenty of Bible reading plans available, following the daily readings will get you through the Bible in three years, or just start with the Gospels and go from there.  The point is; the literal sense of Scripture is meaningless if you haven’t actually read the words.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What are the “sense” of Scripture?

Quicker Answer:
Scripture has four “senses” or “ways of being understood”. Each passage has a literal meaning, can be an analogy to unlock deeper truths, can be understood as relevant to morality today, and can comment on the final glory of God. Understanding thes senses of the Bible allow for entering much more deeply into God's Word than just a quick reading would allow.

Longer Answer:
It's easy to sit down with the Bible and read it like a story or like a history book. The various books of the Bible can seem disconnected and even contradictory to one another. It's easy to see God's mighty deeds as fantastical events that happened long ago to people long passed away. Reading the Bible this way can lead to thinking “that's nice; but it doesn't apply to me”.

While the narrative of the Bible tells a story—and it's an incredible story of God's love that we should be overjoyed at reading—there's much more to be had. Every book, chapter, and verse is packed with meaning that may not be immediately obvious. When we understand how the earliest Christians, including many of the authors of New Testament books, understood Scripture we can open a whole new world for hearing the story God has recorded for us.

As our familiarity with the Bible grows, keeping these “senses” in mind will shock you at how cohesive, intertwined, and utterly relevant the Bible is. Over the next few posts we'll look at the literal, analogical, moral, and anagogical individually. This isn't just fancy theology talk; understanding these can turn your time with the Bible from reading as a spectator to participating in the very Word of God.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Yet another reason Catholics believe the Church can teach infallibly... the example left in the Bible.

Quick Reason:
The first major division recorded in the Christian Church was over gentile converts having to become Jews before becoming Christians. The process for becoming a Jew wasn't an easy one; especially for those needing circumcision as adults. Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles records some of this debate and shows that the Church leaders of the day claimed the authority to make binding decisions upon the Church at large.

Long Reason:
So, you want me to join your new little religion and all I have to do is stop eating pork and non-kosher foods, learn 400+ laws from Leviticus, and take a knife and... what's circumcision again?

Evangelization is hard enough when your religion is illegal and routinely persecuted but having to become a Jew before becoming a Christian wouldn't have made it any easier. In chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles we see St. Paul having great success evangelizing the gentiles (non-Jews) and some of the converts to Christianity from Judaism felt that the gentiles needed to become Jews before becoming Christian (Acts 15:5).

How did the early Christians resolve this issue? They held a council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:6). Both sides of the issue were discussed (argued from what I can gather) and once a consensus of leaders was reached, a letter was written, and it was distributed to the whole Church outlining only four hold-overs from the Jewish law (Acts 15:23-29). You'll notice circumcision isn't among them.

Scripture itself gives us the model for settling disputes on faith and morality; gather representative leaders within the Church, debate the merits of all possible positions, make a decision, and communicate that decision to the rest of the Church. All of this, of course, is done under the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Some say that these were apostles so they had the authority to do this but we don't anymore. That may make sense if the apostles had settled every, single doctrinal disputed that would ever come up; but they didn't. As we've seen before, does the Spirit proceed from the Father only or the Father and the Son? The apostles' records aren't conclusive. When questions of faith and morals come up today we must follow the apostles' example of following the Spirit's guidance and trust in the Spirit's providence in leading us into reliable truth.

That the first Christians claimed the authority to infallibly determine matters of faith and morality is yet another reason the Catholic Church claims the same authority today.