Would you like to study the Bible with me?

St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology has great online Bible study courses for free.  While I can go through them alone, I think it would be more profitable if I can go through the lessons with you.  The first series will be “The Lamb’s Supper: The Bible and the Mass.”  This is the course description from the page:

In this course we explore the intimate and inseparable relationship between the Bible and the Mass. Following an overview of the Eucharist in the New Testament, we look at the deep roots of the Mass in the biblical history of sacrifice – a history that culminates with the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist.

Besides the Old and New Testament readings we hear each Sunday, what does the Bible have to do with the Mass? Everything. In fact, one could argue that without the Bible there would be no Mass, and without the Mass there would be no Bible.

The Bible was made for the Liturgy and the Liturgy is where the Bible was meant to be proclaimed, expounded, interpreted and “heard.” That’s why, from the Sign of the Cross and the priest’s greeting: “The Lord be with you,” the Mass is one long biblical prayer – a tapestry woven from a fabric of biblical passages, phrases and allusions. This is no accident. In the Mass, the story of salvation told in the Bible continues – is made real and present – in our lives.

We’ll study how the great events of salvation history are re-read and re-lived in the “today” of the Church’s Liturgy of the Word. Using the Book of Revelation, we’ll see how, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are lifted up to a real participation with the angels and saints in the heavenly liturgy.

Finally, we ‘ll look at how in the Mass we renew our covenant with God – the new covenant made in the blood of Jesus which makes us children of God and heirs of the divine promises found in the Bible.

My idea is to break down each of the lessons into daily doses that will be posted both here on this blog as well as on our Facebook Page.  Share your thoughts either on Facebook or on the blog’s comment section.  Let the Holy Spirit guide us to more knowledge of His Holy Church!

The first lesson will start tomorrow with the following image:

 

 

Fr. Rolheiser on Our Lord’s Epiphany

The Epiphany of Our Lord
The Epiphany of Our Lord

I love this last paragraph from Father Ron Rolheiser’s reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel (The Epiphany of Our Lord):

To bless another person is to give away some of one’s own life so that the other might be more resourced for his or her journey. Good parents do that for their children. Good teachers do that for their students, good mentors do that for their protégés, good pastors do that for their parishioners, good politicians do that for their countries, and good elders do that for the young. They give away some of their own lives to resource the other. The wise men did that for Jesus.

How do we react when a young star’s rising begins to eclipse our own light?

If you have the time, I highly recommend reading the whole article.

Have you ever wondered what ever happened to the Three Wise Men?  According to Fr. Rolheiser, while there are myths, the fact that there is no real historical proof is part of their gift.  Jesus was the Star.  So the three kings, who were probably stars in their own right, were able to exit the stage:

The wise men follow the star, find the new king, and, upon seeing him, place their gifts at his feet. What happens to them afterwards? We have all kinds of apocryphal stories about their journey back home, but these, while interesting, are not helpful. We do not know what happened to them afterwards and that is exactly the point. Their slipping away into anonymity is a crucial part of their gift. The idea is that they now disappear because they can now disappear. They have placed their gifts at the feet of the young king and can now leave everything safely in his hands. His star has eclipsed theirs. Far from fighting for their former place, they now happily cede it to him. Like old Simeon, they can happily exit the stage singing: Now, Lord, you can dismiss your servants! We can die! We’re in safe hands!

You should read his bio here, and while I was there myself, I picked up this wonderful passage from one of his old columns:

All of us live our lives in exile. We live in our separate riddles, partially separated from God, each other, and even from ourselves. We experience some love, some community, some peace, but never these in their fullness. Our senses, egocentricity, and human nature place a veil between us and full love, full community, and full peace. We live, truly, as in a riddle: The God who is omnipresent cannot be sensed; others, who are as real as ourselves, are always partially distanced and unreal; and we are, in the end, fundamentally a mystery even to ourselves.

Isn’t that beautiful?  He articulated what I felt while going home on the subway this past Tuesday.

God bless Father Rolheiser.  May his wisdom set other souls on fire.

You Hem Me In (Psalms 139:5)

You Hem Me In (Psalms 139:5)
You Hem Me In (Psalms 139:5)

Psalms 139:1-6 (NRSV:Catholic Edition)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Excommunication, Family-Style

“Listen to Daddy, Hana,” Maya says to her 1.5-year old baby sister.  “Or he’ll close the door.”

Close the door.  That sounds like a non-sequitur.  In our family, it signals the worst form of punishment: separation from mommy or daddy.  And it’s reserved for when our children throw a tantrum, stubbornly refuse to obey, or are being violent.  When Maya warned her sister, it is because she herself has a lot of experience with it.

I guess it’s a form of timeout, but I think it’s more than that.  I think it’s a taste of excommunication.  It’s a taste of Hell.  I mean, what’s worse than spending an eternity without God, the source of all that’s good?  What is excommunication, but separation from the family (i.e. Mother Church, Heavenly Father, our brothers & sisters in the parish, our Ideal Older Brother Christ)?  So, when I put Maya in her room and close the door, she is experiencing excommunication, family-style.

And, boy… does she feel it!

Maya would scream and scream and scream.  Then she would scream even louder.  So loud, that I wonder if our neighbors think there’s a massacre going on in our house.  When I open the door and tell her to calm down, she would shout with her mouth closed but still be jumping up and down.  She still would not obey; so, I would close the door.  New heights of screaming.  Maya would work herself up into a sweat.  It is, I’m sure, a horrible experience for her.  This is not any sort of timeout I’ve ever heard of.

After four of five times of opening and closing the door, Maya would repent.  She would say “I’m sorry” and acknowledge the lesson I’m trying to teach her.  Throughout this whole time I never have to raise my voice.  I calmly but firmly request what she needs to do in order to repent, and repeatedly close the door until she chooses to repent.  When she does repent, I would hug her and kiss her, which is what I wanted to do anyway.  But, discipline is the path to health and happiness.  So, the punishment — the family excommunication — was necessary.

Family excommunication would not work if Maya did not love being around me.  If she hated me, or merely had no desire to be around me, separation from her father would be a relief.  But, I deliberately die to my own selfishness so that I can be Maya’s source of joy, laughter, fun, giggles, silliness, and imagination.  I die to my self so that I can be her ultimate playfellow.  This is the source of power in “closing the door.”  Maya doesn’t want to lose this source of love.

Ecclesial excommunication works the same way.  If I don’t love Christ and His Church, then being separated from the Family of God would be a relief.

As my daughters grow in maturity within our domestic church, my hope is to draw their awareness to the true source of all their happiness, all their blessings.  Their father is so awesome not because he’s naturally so.  He’s naturally a sinner — a selfish, prideful, lustful, gluttonous man.  But by the grace of Our Good Lord, their daddy is awesome.  My hope is to draw their awareness to their talents, their beauty, their intellect as being gifts of God.  They didn’t have to be this way.  They didn’t have to be born into this family.  But they are incredible creatures, born into this wonderful family.  And they can thank no one but God.

I want to conclude, oddly enough, with a reflection on the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament.  The Book of Numbers is one of the five Books of Moses (called the Pentateuch) that is the basis for all of Judaism.  It is the story of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, in the desert land of Sinai, between Egypt and the promised land.  And it is painful to read — not because it’s boring — but because God literally kills tens of thousands of his own Chosen People.  Catholic teaching says that one person is of infinite value.  If that’s true, then why did God open up the ground and swallowed up men, women, children and babies (Num 16:26-32)?

That was the question I had during my lectio divina prayer on this chapter in Numbers.  Today, I thanked God for the consolation of an answer.  My thoughts ran together, but let me try to put them into logical order:

  • Bodily death loses its sting (1 Cor 15:55) with the hope of the Resurrection.
  • Christ descended into Hell for three days (Apostles’ Creed).  He preached the Gospel to the souls imprisoned there and freed the just who had gone before him (CCC 632-634).
  • A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8)
  • The innocent family members who died in the history recounted in Numbers 16 would have been freed by Christ when he descended into Hell.  In the timeframe of God, it would have been just ten minutes.
  • When I punish Maya with family excommunication (a.k.a. “closing the door”), it takes about ten minutes or so.
  • Just as I am a loving father and want my child to reconcile with me, so did God want to reconcile with His Chosen People who died in Numbers 16.  His 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to me, just like my 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to Maya.

Praise God, for He is the source of all wisdom, goodness and love.

Interior Leprosy

A little over two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the leprosy of my soul.  A person suffering from leprosy cannot hide his physical disfigurement from the world, but I can hide the leprosy of my soul.  My interior disfigurement is not easy for others to see and I can cloak myself with good works even though I have no faith, no love.  I find myself thinking about this interior leprosy and the importance of Baptism after today’s readings:

2 Kings 5:1-15
Psalms 42:2-3; 43:3-4
Luke 4:24-30

An early Christian teacher, Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD) had this to say about the passage in 2 Kings:

Therefore Naaman was sent to the Jordan as a remedy capable to heal a human being.  Indeed, sin is the leprosy of the soul, which is not perceived by the senses, but intelligence has the proof of it, and human nature must be delivered from this disease by Christ’s power which is hidden in baptism.  It was necessary that Naaman, in order to be purified from two diseases, that of the soul and that of the body, might represent in his own person the purification of all the nations through the bath of regeneration, whose beginning was in the river Jordan, the mother and originator of baptism.

I take the Sacrament of Baptism for granted, not realizing that there are still many Christians of good will who actually don’t believe what Christ and the first Apostles said about it (John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5).  God doesn’t need us to believe in Baptism to give us common grace, but we are so much poorer for not understanding and receiving it.  If one believes in Christ, then Baptism is needed for salvation (cf. Jn 3:5; Mk 16:16).  Confessing the “Sinner’s Prayer” is not enough; as Christ told Nicodemus, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

I find it notable that Naaman, a pagan army commander, was blessed with common grace even before confessing the True God of Israel.  Why would a captured Jewish slave girl want to help the pagan commander if he wasn’t, to her, a good master (cf. 2 Kgs 5:2-4)?  Even after his prideful rejection of the Prophet Elisha’s command, Naaman’s servants — who loved him so much that they called him “father” — managed to change his mind (cf. 2 Kgs 5:13).  Servants don’t call their master “father” and would not have the courage let alone bother to convince an evil master from his error.  So, Naaman was a good man.  God wanted to lead this good man to the source of his blessings: the God of Israel.  The physical healing of Naaman’s leprous hand was a minor miracle compared to the miracle of a pagan army commander professing belief in the god of his enemy, Israel.

The mercy that God has for non-believers is an important lesson for all Christians.  Pope Francis is emphasizing this generous mercy when talking about prisoners, homosexuals, divorced Catholics, and souls suffering from abortion.  Critics who don’t like this message of mercy (i.e. “Who am I to judge?”) are in danger of committing the same sin as Jesus’ own village people of Nazareth in Luke 4:28.  Nazareth… Christ’s own neighbors, folks that grew up with him, suffered from a hardness of heart and nearly tossed Our Savior off a cliff.  When we reject mercy for sinners whose spiritual disfigurement is open for the world to see, that rejection is the same rejection of those villagers.  Blessed are those who are aware of their poverty of spirit; may we continue to receive His sanctifying grace and grow in charity for our neighbors.

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