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, December 31, 2016

Humble Handmaid

Sunday January 1st, 2017

A Reflection on the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

By: Larry T

In his book Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, Fr. Roch A. Kereszty O. Cist. writes:

Besides stressing that Mary and Joseph were truly husband and wife and that the son of Mary truly became the son of Joseph, the Gospels also give some hints about their relationship to one another and to Jesus. It seems likely that the reason Matthew (or at least the Aramaic tradition behind the present Greek text) gives why Joseph wanted to dismiss Mary was not a suspicion of Mary’s unfaithfulness but rather the fear of getting involved with a divine mystery, the presence of which Joseph sensed in his fiancée. He needed God’s assurance and command to overcome his awe. In Krämer’s reconstruction, the Aramaic text underlying Matthew 1:20 should be translated in this way: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife just because the child was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, “Do not let the fact that Mary is bearing a child conceived by the Holy Spirit frighten you from taking her as your wife.”

This Aramaic interpretation is startling, but makes sense: Joseph sensed a divine energy radiating from Mary which both awed and frightened him. Did the baby in Elizabeth’s womb also sense divine energy radiating from Mary? Is that what caused the baby to leap in Elizabeth’s womb? When Elizabeth was overcome by the Holy Spirit, cried out “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!” was that, too, a spontaneous response to the divine aura surrounding Mary? It’s a possibility worth considering.

Most modern Catholics accept that Jesus was both divine and human, and that Mary gave birth to Him; therefore logically, she is the “Mother of God”, and that’s the way it always was. But, the increasingly nonspiritual culture which we live in intentionally labels our traditional values as being unfounded and insists that clinging to them is senseless and useless; therein, is the stumbling block of accepting that’s the way it always was. Unless we are thoroughly versed in the history and tradition of our Catholic faith we face the same danger as a shallowly rooted tree which can be easily blown over by a strong gust of wind. This is what makes reviewing some of the landmark events in our Holy Mother’s life worthwhile.

At the most opportune time for mankind’s salvation, God instructed the angel Gabriel to take on human form so that he would be visible to Mary. When he appeared to Mary he saluted her with: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.”

Ignoring her bewildered silence, he continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” (Lk 1:28-33, Holy Angels Edition)

What did the angel Gabriel mean when he said “Hail, full of Grace”? Through the centuries our Church has become increasingly aware that this divine announcement meant that God preserved Mary from original sin at the very moment of her conception (C.C.C. 491). God then continued to shower graces upon her, preparing her to be the earthly mother of the Son of God, (God Bearer, in Greek: Theotokos).

Beginning with Jesus’ death and resurrection, how many years passed before his mother was officially proclaimed Theotokos? Nearly four-hundred years. Before Mary could receive the title of “Mother of God”, her Son had to be recognized as “Son of God” - for the early Church just getting to that threshold of understanding and acceptance was extraordinarily difficult. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. declared that Jesus was “begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father”. Then, in 381 A.D., the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople was forced to reaffirm that Jesus was “the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.”, and proclaimed that the text of the Nicene Creed was complete and forbade any change (addition or deletion) to it.

However, Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, didn't agree. Nestorius and his following of sixteen other bishops denied Christ’s full humanity, arguing that Jesus had two separate persons, the divine Logos and the human Jesus. He opposed the title of Theotokos (God Bearer or Mother of God) for Mary, insisting that she should instead be called Christotokos (Bearer of Christ). He taught that Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to the human Christ, not the divine Logos who existed before Mary and indeed before time itself. Nestorius’ opponents found his teaching too close to the heresy of adoptionism – the idea that Christ had been born a man who had later been “adoptedas God’s son. His teaching was ruled heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. This led to the so-called Nestorian Schism where churches supportive of Nestorius separated from the rest of the Christian Church. The Council of Ephesus declared that the text of the Nicene Creed, previously decreed at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., and the revisions of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. were accurate and complete; Jesus was truly the Son of God and Mary was indeed the Mother of God.

In what way can these events bolster our faith? Mary had free will; she could have simply said, No thank you, but her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy word.” signaled her willingness to participate in God’s plan. God created the earth and we live on it, in this we have no choice. God’s Kingdom on earth arrived with the birth of Jesus. We have two options: choose to be a subject in God's Kingdom on earth or live out a simplistic existence on God's earth. We, the willing subjects of God's Kingdom on earth, that is, those of us who accept His gift of faith, are tasked with collaborating with Him in the expansion of His Kingdom; this is how we signal our willingness to participate in His plan. How do we go about that?

Just as Joseph and Elizabeth sensed a divine presence radiating from Mary as she carried our Lord, so should those who we come in contact with sense the divine spirit of Jesus dwelling in us, and that can be as simple as a smile in His name, our demeanor and more importantly, our actions. “We ought to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:6 R.S.V.)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Sword of Hatred

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

A Reflection on Romans 15:4-9, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

The second reading for this Sunday is from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. Since Paul wrote this letter to a Christian community that he neither founded nor as yet had visited, it is unique among his writings. Even so, Paul’s Letter to the Romans is widely acknowledged as the single most influential document in Christian history because of its profound theology.

4 For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus,
6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.
8 For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,
9 but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles
and sing praises to your name.”
- Romans 15:4-9 N.A.B.

The substance of all Holy Scripture might well be summed up in verses 5 and 6:

5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus,
6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When a scribe asked Jesus “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 N.A.B.). Does being in keeping with Christ Jesus include loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Has there ever been a time when we have been in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus so that with one voice we could glorify God the Father and the Lord Jesus? Biblical scholars and Church historians will answer: probably not even from the beginning. Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and 1 John both express utter dismay at the disharmony that arose in the early Church.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, in the Seven Storey Mountain writes:

“It was St. Augustine’s argument, that envy and hatred try to pierce our neighbor with a sword, when the blade cannot reach him unless it first passes through our own body.”

Merton went on to write:

“In so far as men are prepared to prefer their own will to God’s will, they can be said to hate God: for of course they cannot hate Him in Himself. But they hate Him in the Commandments which they violate. But God is our life: God’s will is our food, our meat, our life’s bread.”

One of the elements of wisdom is recognizing that which is unchangeable in the face of a culture which insists that it is changeable. This will never change: true followers of Jesus cannot be hate driven; it is God’s will that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. This, too, will never change: the sword of hatred aimed at our neighbor will damage our personal relationship with our God. Saint Paul’s prayer/plea (v. 7) is that we welcome one another as Christ welcomed us, for the glory of God.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists, however imperfect in their faith or belief, who follow the Second Greatest Commandment can accomplish what no president, congress, army, or police force can: they can heal the rifts which are tearing our nation and world apart. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Jesus, Remember Me When

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

A Reflection on Luke 20:27-40, N.A.B.

By: Larry T

Riddle me is a figure of speech that means: Go ahead and try to explain that to me. It’s easy for us to shake our heads and smile at the Sadducees’ foolishness at approaching Jesus, the Author of Life, with a riddle, a brainteaser which they had used to stump the Pharisees for years.

In Judaism of Jesus’ time, a childless widow would marry the brother of her late husband, according to the custom known as levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5). The law was designed to perpetuate the name of a man who died childless. The hapless woman in the Sadducees’ made-up story suffered through seven childless marriages and finally died. At the resurrection, whose wife would she be? The haughty Sadducees had cooked up this riddle to show that resurrection would lead to ridiculous results; it suited their purpose perfectly because they didn’t believe in a resurrection whereas the Pharisees did. The riddle had never been satisfactorily explained, that is, until the high and mighty Sadducees decided to challenge Jesus with it.

27 Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to him,
28 saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’
29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless.
30 Then the second
31 and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless.
32 Finally the woman also died.
33 Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”
34 Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry;
35 but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
36 They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
39 Some of the scribes said in reply, “Teacher, you have answered well.”
40 And they no longer dared to ask him anything. 
– Luke 20:27-40 N.A.B.

The eavesdropping scribes might have been clapping and high-fiving when Jesus solved the riddle by contrasting life in the current age with life in the age to come where marriage will not be a part of the age to come because one of them approached him and said, “Teacher, you have answered well.” Not only had the arrogant Sadducees, along with their gloomy doctrine of no life after death, been put in their place, but the scribes and Pharisees could look joyfully forward to life after death.

At this confrontation Jesus not only upheld the doctrine of resurrection, but he also spoke of the age to come noting that “only those who are deemed worthy” would have life in the coming age. Since worthiness to enter the age to come cannot be grasped or assumed because it comes from God’s judgement, and is therefore a grace, Jesus’ words bring endless joy to those souls God calls to himself, to those who hear and obey. Are these words of dread or discomfort to those souls who hear and fail to respond or understand? If they aren’t, they should be. Do those graceless souls hate God? Probably not, it’s His commandments that they dislike and choose to ignore.

What can we learn from this Gospel story that has meaning in our modern world? Our earthly transformation, the path to worthiness, begins when we start to model ourselves after Jesus by following his example and his teachings. This is how He is spiritually resurrected millions of times a day, even by the slightest act of kindness performed in His name; it is how He continues to live through us. In following Jesus’ teaching we announce His resurrection to the rest of the world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Do You Trust in Something Greater?

A Reflection on Luke 11: 29-32
By Heidi Knofczynski

In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus’ words fall with such portentous weight that something inside me trembles a bit. Truly, the Christ-haunted areas in our souls quake in fear as His reality penetrates through all the vanities and reveals what you hold back from Him. Something greater is coming to bring true life, but only through death.  Can you let go of weak hopes for something greater?
In Ecclesiastes Solomon pondered how we “chase the wind “in search of something greater.  Riches, pleasure and even wisdom only give the illusion that our life “under the sun” will go on.  But even wise Solomon cannot see beyond death.  Solomon tells us to “cast our bread upon the waters”, since there is no reason to hoard up our treasures.  Enjoy what you have until you are gone.  Death will absorb you into its darkness eventually. Vanity of Vanities! Yet Jesus tells us:

But there is something greater than Solomon here.

Jonah goes into the belly of a fish -- which should have been a tomb -- in order for God to bring an urgent warning to the notorious city of Nineveh.  They listened and cast off their evil identity.  They placed their hope in a power that overcame a tomb.

And there is something greater than Jonah here.

Do you feel the same stirring in your spirit that I do when I read those words?  There is awesomeness to the reality of Jesus that is a quite unsettling.  The closer we allow Him to draw to us the more it illuminates what Solomon saw, but had no answer to:  The futility of our mortal lives. The sign of Jonah, however frightening it must have been to the Ninevites, reveals a hope beyond this world and a mercy that seeks out those who are in need, and they could not refuse it.  They cast off their futile and evil identity, they cast off their fear of letting go of vain hopes and they took hold of an eternal identity, and an eternal hope. 

What are you afraid to cast upon the waters? 

Savior, you have delivered us and You continue to create us in your image.  I enter into your mighty presence asking for the courage to continue yield my whole self you to you, whom death cannot overcome.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Priceless Gift of Faith

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

A Reflection on Luke 17:3-10, N.A.B.

By: Larry T
Jesus’ instruction to forgive the contrite transgressor as many as “seven times in one day” was raising forgiveness to a new height. So, the apostles’ natural reaction was to ask for an increase in faith so that they could forgive as Jesus had just instructed them.

3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
4 And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.”
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
6 The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to (this) mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
8 Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
9 Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
10 So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” – Luke 17:3-10 N.A.B.

However, their demand for an increase in faith tells us that they didn’t understand that faith is a gift from God – a free will gift – a grace. Then, what is faith, and how can we obtain it? And once we have it, how can it grow? From the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read:

Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow, and persevere in the faith, it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. – C.C.C. 162, and:

Faith is a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words. - C.C.C. 176

So then, is it true faith when a life-long Catholic rationalizes, my grandparents were Catholic, my parents were Catholic, I was raised Catholic; they were all good people. So I’m going to believe in God and follow in their footsteps? Is the intellectual decision, alone, to believe in God, albeit for a good reason enough? Probably not. Faith is more than an intellectual belief in God. Still yet, it could be a good beginning, but knowing that we should do something doesn’t mean that we will do it. Intellectually, I accept that for health reasons I should walk at least thirty minutes a day, but knowing it doesn’t mean that I will do it. Why not? Because my will dominates my intellect; unless my intellect and will are in agreement I probably won’t regularly walk thirty minutes a day. So, the intellectual decision to believe in God can be a good beginning, but unless the will is in full agreement, faith remains shaky at best. Then, in this matter of faith, at what point does our intellect and will (the whole person) come to believe in God?

We will have true, saving faith when we accept the gift of faith when it is offered to us by God. When that happens will there be angels playing harps, will there be thunder and lightning or will the earth tremble? No, it could be a subtle as the urge to learn more about God. More often than not, we won’t even remember the day - suddenly faith was just there. In our rear view mirrors we might look back and recall a certain period in our lives when we received it.

Then, is faith alone enough to get to heaven? Not if that means simply clinging to an intellectual belief in God, routinely attending Sunday services, and nothing more. If it doesn’t lead us to a holy life of righteousness and mercy, it is not a saving faith. The Letter of James tell us that faith without works is no better than words without deeds, that faith can be neither seen nor verified unless it shows itself in works, and even the demons have an intellectual belief in God, but it does not lead to their salvation.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
19 You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.
 – James 2:14-19 N.A.B.

 What The Letter of James doesn’t tell us is that works which stem from true faith nurture and increase faith; without works faith is destined to wither and die like an olive tree which is never watered; it will never bear fruit.

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.