Welcome !

Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

God, Family, Work, Then Play

Sunday September 4, 2016

A Reflection on Luke 14:25-33, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

A bathrobe-clad sleep-eyed husband balefully watches his wife prepare to leave for Sunday morning church services; finally he mutters, “Isn’t all of this praying at church just a waste of time?” A defiant teen age boy whispers to his younger sister, “Boy, have things changed around here since Dad got religion!” A bright young woman, a college student majoring in microbiology, returns home for the summer and announces, “I’m sorry Mom and Dad but science just doesn’t support religion, so I’m not going to go to church with you this morning, and in the future I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t talk about God in front of me!” And, so it goes!

Jesus was, and still is, the supreme master of capturing an audience’s attention with thought-provoking concepts. In this Gospel reading Jesus’ rhetorical statement about hating family would have astonished many of those in his audience; no doubt some of his listeners immediately turned their backs on him and stomped away.

25 Great crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and addressed them,
26 “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
28 Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?
29 Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him
30 and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
31 Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
32 But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
33 In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:25-33 N.A.B.

In our present day, as in Jesus’ day, when we answer the call to go to him we should be prepared for some negative consequences: estrangement from family and friends, and yes, sometimes even persecution. Tragically, those who suffer the disapproval or ridicule of family or friends are sometimes persuaded to ignore God’s call to discipleship; some even lose their faith.

In our modern chaotic world God has to come first, then family, then work, and lastly play. True disciples put God before everything else in their lives, including family. A wife reading this might respond with, “Wait a minute! Family has to come first!” Really? What is the probability of a man who puts God first in his life abandoning his family or becoming a spouse abuser? A husband reading this might think, “The kids and I had better come first!” Really? What is the likelihood of a wife who puts God first in her life being unfaithful to her husband? What the odds of a marriage ending in divorce when both the husband and wife put Jesus first in their lives? Can a true disciple neglect her children?

Putting God first in our lives doesn’t mean spending all of our waking hours in prayer; it can mean choosing to attend Sunday church services instead of going on a Sunday morning fishing trip with friends; it can mean shopping at the mall on Saturday instead of Sunday, it can mean being habitually polite instead of being customarily rude, it can mean driving safely instead of cutting another car off in traffic; it can mean spending fifteen minutes reading Scripture instead of watching television, it can mean refusing to use profanity when everyone else in the group does; the list is endless.

The urge to worship God (discipleship) is a deep-rooted and powerful and supernatural force which is ingrained in our souls. True disciples are at peace with God, themselves, their family, and their neighbors. Those who refuse to accept God’s call are predictably angry, hostile, and resentful because of the Godless existence they live. But there is always hope because God never abandons his people – even when they reject him!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Scales from My Eyes

Sunday August 7, 2016

A Reflection on Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

Imagine waking up tomorrow morning in a foreign country, China for example. Most of us would be forced to use lively gestures and animated facial expressions as a means of communicating with the Chinese people. How useful would wide eyes and flailing arms be in getting directions to the American Embassy? Also, spoken Chinese is a tonal language with lots of upward and downward sounds often described as very bouncy or lively, and to us it would sound like nonsensical gibberish. On the whole, this would be an unpleasant experience!

Then, imagine stumbling onto a group of English speaking Italians. What a break! Admittedly their heavily accented English would be hard for us to understand, but at least we could communicate with them.

In this Scripture reading Abraham and Sarah traveled to the Promised Land in faith and became aliens in a foreign country, an uneasy situation to be in, and one that we can relate to:

1 Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.
2 Because of it the ancients were well attested.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
9 By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;
10 for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.
11 By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age—and Sarah herself was sterile—for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.
12 So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.
13 All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth,
14 for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
15 If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son,
18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”
19 He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

What do Catholics have in common with Abraham and Sarah? Like them, we are aliens in an unfamiliar land. Christians, especially Catholics, should always have a disquieting sense of discomfort, the uneasiness of being strangers in a foreign land because, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah, this world is not our homeland; we are strangers here.

Our Catholic faith and community identity sets us apart from the Christian non-Catholic and non-Christian society which surrounds us. Some of the words and ideas uttered by that society should sound like Chinese to us, like nonsensical gibberish. On the other side of the coin, our Christian non-Catholic brothers and sisters do not understand some of our customs and beliefs, and when they speak out against us our sense of alienation is usually amplified.

What are we to think when some of our fellow Catholics and Christian non-Catholics endorse abortion, euthanasia, religious discrimination, or immoral behavior? In this regard they are like that group of English speaking Italians that we bumped into on our imaginary visit to China: because of their accent we can make out some of their words, but we clearly don’t speak the same language.

The author of 1 Peter wrote:

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul. – 1 Peter 2:11 N.A.B.

This author’s message is clear: this earth is not our native soil. We are aliens; we don’t belong here; we are journeying to our eternal home. It’s worth repeating over and over: we are aliens on this earth; we don’t belong here; we are journeying to our eternal home.

There was a common belief among some of the Old Testament Hebrews that they should figuratively chew on and absorb the Law of Moses daily, like food, so that it would become part of their nature. Similarly, if we can chew on and absorb the concept that we are aliens on this earth, such things as pride, materialism, greed, wrath, and even fear of death will fall away from our eyes like scales, like the scales which fell from St. Paul’s eyes, and we will be blessed with true vision.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Dust on His Feet

Sunday July 3, 2016

A Reflection on Luke 10:1-12, 17-20, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

Jesus instructed his disciples to deliver this message to the people: “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” Did Jesus send seventy or seventy-two disciples to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom? Since the only four complete ancient manuscripts in existence are evenly divided between seventy and seventy-two disciples, most bible editions put the [-two] in brackets, as does the New American Bible. However a good argument can be made for seventy disciples because that was the number of nations in the world at the time. Following this line of thinking, the reign of the Kingdom of God on earth commenced with the arrival of Jesus; this is the news that his disciples were to announce to the entire world.

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy [-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.
2 He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.
3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.
5 Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’
6 If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.
7 Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another.
8 Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you,
9 cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say,
11 ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.
12 I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.
17 The seventy [-two] returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”
18 Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
19 Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.
20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus also told them, “Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’”

In biblical times, the Jews regarded Gentiles as idolaters or pagans, and when leaving Gentile lands and cities, pious Jews often ceremoniously shook the dust from their feet to show their separation from Gentile practices. In this Gospel reading Jesus ordered his disciples to shake off the dust of any Jewish town whose occupants rejected his message from their feet. Symbolically this act was meant to show the people that they were making a wrong choice.

Was Jesus telling his disciples to treat those Jews who rejected the news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God through him as pagans? It would seem so. In other words: take it or leave it. Was Jesus turning his back on disbelieving Jews? No. We know that God never abandons his people. Still yet, this seems uncharacteristically harsh, not something that Jesus would order his disciples to do, or at least not something some of us think Jesus would order his disciples to do. Furthermore, how would disbelieving Jews react to being treated as pagans by the disciples, fellow Jews? Wouldn’t they be offended?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines being politically correct as: agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people. When was Jesus ever concerned with being politically correct? Wasn’t announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God inherently politically incorrect? One of the greatest stumbling blocks of our time is our culture’s ongoing effort to make Jesus politically correct – to put words in His mouth - to make God more palatable.

In our role as disciples of Jesus when should we ever be concerned about being politically correct? As we discuss Holy Scripture and religion with our spouses, children, grand-children, friends, or associates do we strive to make a politically incorrect Jesus politically correct, and in doing so water down our faith? If a friend says, “I really don’t like what Jesus said in verse 12 about Sodom and Gomorrah.” Is my immediate reaction, let me try to explain that verse to you in a way that what Jesus said won’t offend you? I hope that I don’t actually do it, because if I do the Lord might well look at me and shake the dust from his feet. As we gather at a restaurant table for a meal and pray over our food before eating are we worried that our expression of faith might offend other restaurant patrons? Do our spines tingle in anticipation that someone might rush over to our table and bellow, “You people shouldn’t pray in public places.”? How many Christians, in our modern world, avoid reading the Old Testament because they are offended by some of God’s actions and laws?

Finally, nearly two-thousand years later what difference has the reign of God’s Kingdom on earth inaugurated by Jesus made? In what way has it influenced the way I live my life? Is it obvious to those around me that I am a disciple of the Lord? I hope so. And I hope this makes me politically incorrect because the very nature of being a follower of Jesus is to be politically incorrect – someone or some group is sure to be offended. Maybe this reflection is politically incorrect; I hope so.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Evil's Defeat

Sunday June 5, 2016

A Reflection on Luke 7:11-17, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

Airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger III was immediately hailed as a national hero when he successfully performed the emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River off Manhattan in New York City, after the aircraft was disabled by striking a flock of Canadian geese during its initial climb out of LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009. All one-hundred fifty-five passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived. Many people were quick to declare it a miracle. Was it?

We wouldn’t for a moment say that God was not involved in that whole process. But the reason the plane landed safely was that Chesley Sullenberger III had been flying planes and gliders, and teaching others to do so, for thirty years. His instincts were so well honed that all the lightning quick complex thoughts and actions necessary for a safe landing were second nature to him. The danger in using the word miracle to describe events such as this is in insisting that it was either/or. Either God did it or the pilot did it. What then, is a miracle?

In the Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J. writes:
“Modern theology defines miracle as a phenomenon in nature which transcends the capacity of natural causes to such a degree that it must be attributed to the direct intervention of God.”

How many miracles (acts of power) did Jesus perform? There are thirty-seven recorded miracles in the Gospels; twenty-eight involved healing of the sick, casting out demons, and resuscitation of the dead; nine miracles had to do with the natural world.

Why did Jesus perform these works of power? The people of Jesus’ time believed that all physical and mental disorders were caused by sin (evil). In their view, contrary to our modern perspective, whenever Jesus healed the sick, performed exorcisms, and restored life to the dead he was showing his supremacy over evil. At times the Lord insisted that their faith was essential for Him to exercise His healing powers.

Nonetheless Jesus was skeptical about the effects of his acts of power on the people, as is evidenced in Luke 16:31: Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’ And whenever the devil, Herod, the Pharisees, or the people asked Jesus to perform a miracle he refused. Even though His acts of power caused the people to pause, admire, and wonder, they weren’t the primary means by which Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God through Him – they were just one of the means. In this Gospel story we see Jesus once again exhibiting his supremacy over satanic power which, in the minds of the people of his time, showed itself through illness and death.

11 Soon afterward he journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
12 As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her.
13 When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
14 He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.”
17 This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.

What are we to make of the miracle at Nain? What are we to make of the emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549? How many witnesses to Jesus’ resuscitation of the dead man in the city of Nain were instantly converted? How many of those who believed that Jesus somehow took over the controls of US Airways Flight 1549 and guided it to a safe landing dropped to their knees in thanksgiving and praise of the Lord? Undoubtedly some of the crew and passengers did, but what about those of us who watched replay after replay of the event on the six o’clock news? Did we simply pause, wonder and go about our normal business?

What if we make the effort to view Jesus’ works of power through first century A.D. eyes and try to understand that he was using miracles to display his power over evil? We might ask ourselves where His supremacy over evil was when He was tortured and crucified. In those events the raging forces of evil were given complete freedom to run amok, to create total pandemonium. Rome, represented by Pontius Pilate, and Herod were in the mix, as was Caiaphas and his corrupt Jerusalem regime, so were the close-minded Pharisees and Sadducees, as were those Israelites who declared that they had no king but Caesar. Shrieking demons danced in the streets and mocking crowds roared their approval of the proceedings. Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denials were but final blows in the reign of evil and terror. It was as if all of these forces were poured into a cauldron, brought to a boil and poured on Jesus’ innocent head as he was being nailed to the cross. And Jesus took it all; unchecked evil took its best shot at him, and he was victoriously resurrected in three days. On that day evil was sent packing like a cur dog with its tail between its legs.

Then why is there so much evil in our world today? We are all infected with the virus of evil. We cannot be so naïve as to believe that we are not infected, because in certain circumstances; we are all capable of committing evil acts.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10) Jesus preached:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
6 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These principles tamp down the virus of evil that resides within all of us. And Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists, whether they acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God or not, who in some form or another adhere to these principles, would find it difficult if not impossible to commit the kind of notorious evil acts that dominate today’s news. Those acts of pure evil, which the news media loves to assail our senses with, are committed by a relatively small percentage of the world’s population. The people who do commit those acts, like the shrieking demons that danced in the streets at Jesus’ crucifixion, dance with joy at the fame bestowed on them by the obliging news media. Thankfully, the majority of the world’s population prefers to live in peace. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Man-Made Laws-Not God's Laws?

Sunday May 1, 2016
A Reflection on John 14:23-29, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

At a recent Scripture study class an older woman, a convert to Catholicism, frowned throughout the discussion of infant baptism, and finally snorted, “Man-made laws – not God’s laws!”

At yet another meeting my cradle-Catholic friends said they had never been accused of following man-made laws. But another friend in the discussion group, also a convert, said, “I went to a Lutheran college for four years and I know all about that!”

This highlights the very different way in which Catholics and Protestants view the Bible. Most Protestants believe the Bible contains all you need to know; it doesn’t need to be supplemented with doctrines. Our Catholic perspective is the Bible plus Tradition (as is expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Father Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., Ph.D., writes in Biblical Fundamentalism, What Every Catholic Should Know:

“From a Catholic perspective, as important as the Bible is, it cannot serve alone as the sole source of revelation. We should note, however, that the word ‘Tradition’, (note the capital T) does not mean ‘traditions’ we remember as we grew up. Rather it refers to the Church’s magisterial teaching through the ages as it has interpreted the Scriptures, interacted with them, and formulated doctrines that expound God’s revelation as humans can know it.”

Catholic Tradition is what some Protestants disdainfully call man-made laws.

That is all well and good, but how do we respond to a Protestant friend who asks, “Why do you follow man-made laws instead of God’s laws?” Is it enough to shrug our shoulders and reply, “Because I have faith in the Church.”? Along that same line of thinking how much confidence can Catholics have in the Church’s formulated doctrines and teaching? A good starting point is in verse 26 of this Sunday’s Gospel reading:

23 Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.
25 “I have told you this while I am with you.
26 The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name-he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
28 You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.
29 And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.
- John 14:23-29, N.A.B.

In this Last Supper Discourse Jesus introduced the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to his disciples to assure them of God’s continued presence on earth after his return to the Father. At that time the meaning of “he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” was probably beyond the disciple’s comprehension.

Father Roch A. Kereszty O.Cist., writes in Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology:

“God would have been a poor communicator or rather no communicator at all, had he left the interpretation of the inspired biblical witness to his Son to the ever-changing and mutually contradictory whims of human interpreters. Working in different way through the liturgy, the Magesterium, the theologians, and the Christian faithful, Christ himself has guided the Church through his spirit on the often-torturous path of understanding his own mystery.”

What evidence is there that the Holy Spirit has piloted the Catholic Church from its very beginning? Protestants and Catholics will agree that the four Gospel authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what was necessary for the salvation of the souls of their individual church communities and ultimately the Universal Church. By 375 A.D. eighty heresies, many of which dealt with the divinity of Jesus, had arisen; it took the sure hand of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church through them. Our Protestant friends would have to agree that the Holy Spirit was present at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. when the council of bishops listed and approved the books to be included in the Bible. Nor can we forget that many of the Church’s so called man-made laws were in direct response to a dispute or crisis of some sort. For example, it was the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. that settled the question of the nature of Jesus in his relationship to the Father and gave us the Nicene Creed. The most significant event in the modern era of our Church was the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965); who will deny the influence of the Holy Spirit over it? The more we study our Church’s history the more convinced we will be that the Holy Spirit has been at the helm all along. And we can take comfort in the knowledge that He will continue to lead our Church through the challenges that are yet to come.

So then, is the Protestant way of viewing the Bible wrong? Not necessarily! After all, Protestants are Christians too, and we’re all in the same boat. There is the Protestant way and there is the Catholic way. When we’re asked why we believe in man-made laws the proper response is:

Just as we accept the Holy Spirit’s role in the inspiration of the Bible, so we believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church in its teaching and prevents it from falling into errors on matters of doctrine and morality.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

"My Lord and My God!"

Sunday April 3, 2016

A Reflection on John 20:19-31, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

As far as I am concerned the only reason to eat cake is for the frosting. I always maneuver for the corner piece of a rectangular or square cake; I don’t have to explain the reason for this to my fellow icing lovers. On the other hand, my wife doesn’t share my love for frosting and will carefully scrape it off when it’s too thick for her taste. Including the icing most 3-layer round cakes are about 8-inches in diameter and 6 to 7-inches tall. A generous layer of icing is usually covering the top of cupcakes, so we don’t want to overlook them. They are usually 3-inches in diameter and 2-inches tall.

Does Thomas’s faith resemble a 3-layer cake or is it more like a cupcake in this Gospel reading?

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
21 [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.
23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
28 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book.
31 But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
- John 20:19-31, N.A.B.

Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and death Thomas’s faith was no doubt the size of a 3-layer cake, but after Jesus’ death Thomas’s faith must have been crushed. We can easily imagine Thomas shaking his head in wide-eyed disbelief as he listened to reliable eyewitness descriptions of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Why couldn’t Jesus have saved himself? After all, it was because of His many healings, miracles, and teachings that Thomas had come to believe in Him. But, witnesses saw a Roman centurion thrust his spear directly into Jesus’ heart, so there was no denying His death. In the end was Jesus just another in a long line of Jewish prophets to be put to death by his own people?

Upon discovering Jesus’ empty tomb Mary of Magdala tearfully reported, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don‘t know where they put him.” Had grave robbers stolen His body, or had the Jewish authorities taken it away? What was Thomas to make of the empty tomb?

Thomas had probably been wandering the streets aimlessly, carefully avoiding Roman and Jewish authorities, while trying to sort out the roller coaster chain of events. And now his friends were telling him that Jesus had been raised from the dead? Well, that was too much to accept! That is, until he spoke with the raised Jesus and touched His physical body; his “My Lord and my God!” was a public profession of faith in the Divinity of Jesus.

What are we to make of it all? We’ve seen that on its own Jesus’ crucifixion and death would have been just another ghastly execution at the hands of the Romans. Likewise the empty tomb on its own would have meant nothing. Take away Jesus’ crucifixion and death and the empty tomb, and there would have been nothing unusual about his sharing a meal with his disciples. But when we combine Jesus’ crucifixion and death with the empty tomb and with His bodily resurrection, we have the three pillars that support Christianity. Take away any one of these three Easter events and we might as well take away all twenty-seven books of the New Testament!

As Christians these three events are the main ingredients of our faith cake. How long does it take a faith cake to rise to its full potential? It takes a lifetime to reach 3-layer cake dimensions. But, what goes into the icing? Having a good priest as a spiritual guide, studying Holy Scripture, enjoying Christian music, and associating with the right kind of friends are some of the elements that go into the icing, but in the end they only make up the icing. If we try to heap enough frosting on a cupcake to make it pass for a 3-layer cake we wind up with a shapeless blob. Sadly, too many of us try to cover our lifeless, stagnant faith with layer upon layer of frosting. God charges each of us with the responsibility to grow in our faith. Happy cooking!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bring the Finest Robe!

Sunday March 6, 2016

A Reflection on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

The Parable of the Lost Son is arguably the most beautiful of Jesus’ parables. In a non-biblical publication such as Aesop’s Fables the story might begin with, “Once upon a time there was a man who had two sons . . .” Upon reading the story we might shake our heads in wonderment at the young son’s foolhardiness; we may well marvel at the father’s love and understanding, and puzzle over the older son’s bitterness. Aesop’s fables always had a point; the wisdom of this story might be a lesson for young people and their inheritances.

1 The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him,
2 but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So to them he addressed this parable.
11 Then he said, “A man had two sons,
12 and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.
13 After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.
15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.
17 Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.
18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
20 So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
22 But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast,
24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
25 Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.
26 He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
27 The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
30 But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
31 He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
32 But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

The faces of any Jews in this group of tax collectors and sinners would have contorted with revulsion at this story because for Jews pigs were the most unclean of all animals. Moreover, in Jesus’ time, Jews simply did not associate with Gentiles. They were permitted to have business dealings with them, but upon leaving a Gentile town they ceremoniously shook the dust from their sandals to show their complete separation from Gentile practices. For any Jew the image of feeding pigs and depending on a Gentile for starvation wages would have been revolting.

The Pharisees and scribes listening to this story would have probably recognized themselves in the older son. For them the very spirit of God was expressed in the six hundred and thirteen commandments set out in the Torah (Mosaic Law). As administrators and interpreters of the law, they saw themselves as being in a right relationship with God. When they saw Jesus welcoming tax collectors and sinners they might well have shuffled their feet and muttered angrily, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders”. Jesus was telling the Pharisees and scribes to convert from their Law-God to the God of love and mercy. We should note that the father in the parable doesn’t dispute the older son’s fidelity, but asserts his love for him: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

Early Church Fathers saw the lost son as an image of humanity. To them the younger son’s journey “to a distant country” was willful and intentional alienation from the father – the world of God. The freedom-seeking younger son wanted to taste everything life had to offer, especially forbidden fruit. He didn’t want to be subject to any commandment, rule, or authority and felt that he had the right to govern himself. The eventual consequence of being forced to work for a gentile as a swineherd and craving pig food was an expression of man’s extreme misery and poverty in living a life without God. In the end the totally free man became a miserable slave. At this point a conversion takes place: the lost son decided to return home, to the father. In the parable the father orders the servants to bring quickly “the finest robe.” For the Church Fathers, this “finest robe” meant the lost robe of grace which man had been originally clothed with, but which he forfeited by sin. But now this “finest robe” is given back to him and the joyous celebration begins.

At one time or another most teenagers can identify with the younger son. And if they are honest, most parents will admit to harboring some of those same feelings when they were teenagers themselves. Some teenagers become so desperate for a life without rules that they run away from home; sometimes they end up living on dangerous city streets. All the while their parents can only wait for them to grow up, to come to their senses, for a conversion. Imagine the joy of the parents when their wayward son or daughter does repent and returns home! In this story Jesus shares an aspect of the Father’s character by presenting us with a vivid image of the Father’s love for his children, for us. Only Jesus who knows the Father could reveal the depth of the Father’s love and mercy in such a beautiful way.

Jesus’ story about the lost son is about conversion and love: the tax collectors and sinners had repented and converted or were in the process of repenting and converting; the lost son did repent and convert; the older son needed to repent and convert. But what does conversion look like to us?

Admit it or not, a number of us have some things in common with the older brother: we faithfully fulfill our Sunday obligation, pray, tithe, and try to good people. Still yet, some of us haven’t truly converted from the Law-God to the God of mercy and love where we will find joy in our faith. We can begin by recognizing the love that the Father has for us as described by Jesus in this parable. The next step is to love the Father – as he abides in us so should we abide in him. Finally, we must love our brothers and sisters because this is when our love for God is brought to perfection:

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
21 This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
-1 John 4:20-21 N.A.B.

 We cannot claim to have a right relationship with God if we hate our brothers and sisters because there is no room in God’s Kingdom for bigotry of any kind.