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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.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Their Faces Radiated Joy!

Thursday, October 10, 2019
A Reflection on Luke 17:5-10, N.A.B.

By: Larry T. Smith

Saying of Faith. 5And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6The 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.
Attitude of a Servant. 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’? 8Would 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’? 9Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 10So 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 17:5-10

If we pair this Scripture passage up with the story of the Rich Man in Mark 10:17-22 we might draw out some of its the meaning.

The Rich Man. 17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” 20He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
—Mark 10:17-22

In the story of the Rich Man (verse 21), Jesus looked at the rich man and loved him because he had lived his entire life according to Mosaic Law as taught by the Pharisees and Scribes. And when he said, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the [poor] and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me” Jesus was, with great love, offering the rich man a gift of incalculable worth, the gift of faith, a life of contentment filled with love of the Father rather than mindless compliance with the legalism of Pharisaic Mosaic Law. And, for an instant the rich man probably considered Jesus’ offer. Should he remain a man of the Law, the Law given to his ancestors by Moses, or should he become a man of faith, give everything away, and follow this popular, charismatic teacher? It was too much to ask! People would think him insane! Why, he would not only lose his standing in the community but his identity as well! Crestfallen, he declined Jesus’ gift of faith and returned to living according to the Law of Moses. Even so, Jesus still loved him.  

Unlike the rich man, the apostles had left all of their possessions and families to follow Jesus; their old identities were left behind; they were on the path of faith. So, when they asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5), he first explained the power of faith to them, then reminded them that settling into the monotony of compliance with Mosaic Law, as taught by the Pharisees and Scribes, does not please the Father, whereas love of the Father and faith in Him does. 

God’s displeasure at hollow ritual and sacrifice was strongly expressed in the prophetic writings of Isaiah (1:11-1), Jeremiah  (6:20, 7:21-23), Amos (5:21-25), and Hosea (6:6, 8:4). And St. Paul expressed it well in the Letter to the Hebrews:

8First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. 9Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. 10By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.—Hebrews 10:8-10

How does all of this apply to us in our modern world? Is there a meaningful lesson here that I might put to use in my daily life? If we have open minds, we might learn a powerful lesson from Sufi mystics.

Sufism, is the mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. The following Sufi tradition about Jesus might surprise many Christians:

IMAM EL-GHAZALI relates a tradition from the life of Jesus, son of Mary. Jesus one day saw some people sitting miserably on a wall, by the roadside. He asked: “What is your affliction?’” They said: “We have become like this through our fear of hell.”

He went on his way, and saw a number of people grouped disconsolately in various postures by the wayside. He said: “What is your affliction?” They said: “Desire for Paradise has made us like this.”

He went on his way, until he came to a third group of people. They looked like people who had endured much, but their faces shone with joy. Jesus asked them: “What has made you like this?”
They answered: “The Spirit of Truth. We have seen Reality, and this has made us oblivious of lesser goals.”

Jesus said: “These are the people who attain. On the Day of Accounting these are they who will be in the Presence of God.”

Muslim Sufi mystics used this tale about Jesus to make a powerful point. And while there isn’t a Scriptural basis for the story, it does contain a compelling message, especially with a Christian outlook.

Do we attend Sunday services just because our Church requires it and we don’t want to go to hell? Or is it because we want to go to heaven? If these are the only reasons we have for attending Sunday services, we have a lot in common with the rich man because we are merely habitually complying with the legalism of Church rules. And the Lord still loves us, as he did the rich man. On the other hand, if we attend Sunday services because we love the Lord, our faces, as described in the Sufi tale, will shine with joy. Some of our Saints loved the Lord so deeply that their faces radiated joy. 

There is a stage in spiritual development where we no longer care about hell or heaven but only long to be with our beloved Lord while we are on earth, and eventually in the afterlife. All Holy Scripture points us in this direction; this is what we should aspire to.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Souls for Sale!

Sunday, September 1, 2019
A Reflection on Sirach, Chapter 3, Verses 17 and 18, N.A.B.

By: Larry T. Smith

17My son, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
18Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find mercy in the sight of God.

Ben Sira, the son of Eleazar, authored the book of Sirach in Jerusalem approximately 190-180 BC; his book is not found in Hebrew or Protestant bibles; in Catholic bibles it is considered one of the wisdom books. The wisdom of Ben Sira is timeless, and today it is just as applicable as it was in his time; in our modern world it may even be more relevant. What more can we add to the wisdom of Ben Sira? 

Unquestionably the greatest act of humility known to mankind is recounted for us by Saint Paul in Philippians 2:5-8:

5Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, 6Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 7Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 8he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Saint Paul says that Jesus, the Godly One, humbled himself and willingly became fully human. And in the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .” (Jn 1:14). That Jesus retained his divinity while being fully human is a mystery that theologians label as the hypostatic union. As Christians, we see the Incarnation (God made man) as a free-will gift from the loving Father to his undeserving children and the supreme act of humility of His only begotten Son. What more is there to say about humility?

In Matthew 18:1-5 we read:

1At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child over, placed it in their midst, 3and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

But what is the Christian definition of humility? Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines humility as:

The moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one's total dependence on God; moral humility recognizes one's creaturely equality with others. Yet humility is not only opposed to pride; it is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which would fail to recognize God's gifts and use them according to his will.

Jesus also said:

29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.—Matthew 11:29-30

In his book New Seeds of Contemplation Thomas Merton writes: "Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love." Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” and Thomas Merton writes, “pride is the heaviest of all burdens.” What is it that makes Jesus’ yoke such a light burden for his followers? Accepting the priceless gift of faith that Jesus offers to us includes leaving pride behind and become humble like him. Is pride really the heaviest of all burdens? How often have our heads hurt, shoulders slumped and backs ached from the stress of pride? How many lies are told because we cannot admit to committing common mistakes?

Most Christians will agree that God created the world, but does pride prevent us from conceding that the country that we live in belongs to Him? Most Christians will similarly agree that the food on our tables is a gift from Him, but do we agree that we have a responsibility to share any overabundance that our country might have with those who are less fortunate? Does our pride push us so far as to prevent us from admitting that every breath we take is a gift from Him? Admittedly, true humility runs counter to our present culture and many will smirk and howl that it is a sign of weakness. How easily and cheaply it is for the evil one to purchase souls using the currency of pride!

And we must ask ourselves two questions: how much peace has humility brought to our world, and how much destruction has pride caused? 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Jesus, The Great Unifier

Sunday, July 7, 2019
A Reflection on Galatians 6:15-16

By: Larry T. Smith

In Galatians 6:15-16, the second reading for this Sunday, St. Paul writes:

15For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation. 16Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God.

With respect to the “new creation” of 6:15, in Galatians of the Jesuit Sacra Pagina series, Professor Frank J. Matera writes:

Here, in Galatians, the new creation refers to what God has done in Christ by tearing down the barriers of race, class and sexuality that formerly separated people. The new creation results from being in Christ.

The age-old barriers that separated Jews from Gentiles, that divided the Pharisees and the Sadducees, that made Jews superior to Samaritans collapsed into nothingness. 

Our faith, Christianity, is founded on the principles of love of God and love of neighbor. From 1 John 4:20 we read: 

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. 

All four Gospel writers were similarly inspired by the Holy Spirit to quote Jesus’ words on this subject:

In the Gospel of Mark:

29Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! 30You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” - Mk. 12:29-31

In the Gospel of Matthew:

37He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. - Mt. 22:37-39

In the Gospel of Luke:

27He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” - Lk. 10:27-28

And finally, in the Gospel of John: 

34I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. 35This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” - Jn 13:34-35

There is no room for separatism in the Kingdom of God on earth inaugurated by Jesus Christ.

Whereas inanimate physical barriers, such as a walls, are in and of themselves incapable of inflicting physical damage, barriers conjured up in the minds of men can be more destructive than weapons of mass destruction, sometimes they become weapons of mass destruction. The mental wall that Adolph Hitler conjured up in the minds of good German people resulted in the extermination of approximately six-million Jewish people. Is it the physical wall separating Palestine from Israel or the ideology that gave rise to the construction of the wall that is the most damaging to Christian, Jewish and Muslim relations? What gave root to the barrier that caused, avowed white supremacist, 21-year old Dylann Roof to enter Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on 17 June 2015 and subsequently murder nine African American worshipers during a prayer service?

The fruit of love of neighbor is unity, and unity leads to something that we all hunger for: peace.

History teaches us that the fruit of separatism or segregation is discontent, hatred, racism, discord, violence and sometimes wars. Inevitably violence rains down on hapless innocent bystanders caught between opposing parties. And if we tolerate or ignore those in our world who are being vicious to God’s innocent men, women and children, aren’t we, also, are being vicious to the innocent?

Since there is no room for separatism in Jesus’ Kingdom on earth, might we add Great Unifier to Jesus’ many other titles? And if we call Jesus the Great Unifier, what name shall we give to those among us who, for one reason or another, thrive on separatism, who routinely spread division and hatred?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Where is Heaven?

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Reflection on Acts of the Apostles 1:6-11

By: Larry T. Smith

In most dioceses in the United States, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is observed this Sunday. The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles:

The Ascension of Jesus. 
6  When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7  He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

The entire Ascension event is summarized in verse 9: “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” Then comes the promise of verse 11: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” So, Jesus ascended into heaven on a cloud, and someday he will return to us on a cloud. Is that the sum of our Catholic belief concerning the Ascension expressed in a nutshell? Or is there more to it? No, there is much more to it than that!

As faithful followers of Jesus we have a deep-rooted need to know him better; we instinctively hunger for more spirituality. And we have an opportunity to feed that hunger by carefully studying the rich spiritual meaning of the Ascension event.

For example, the disciples watched the physical body of the resurrected Jesus being lifted up on a cloud until he disappeared from their view. How do we know that the risen Jesus had a physical body?

In Matthew 28:9-10 the author writes: 9 And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” 

And in John 20:16-17 we read: 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

These Gospel passages affirm that Jesus’ risen and glorified body indeed had a type of physical presence. John 20:19 and Luke 24:13-16 also speak of the risen Jesus appearing through locked doors, disappearing again, sometimes being recognized, and sometimes not. The transformed and glorified body of Jesus appears to be equally at home on earth and in heaven and can move quickly and quietly back and forth through the thin curtain that separates the two dimensions,

Distinguished theologian and philosopher N.T. Wright says in Surprised by Hope:
“The mystery of the ascension is of course just that, a mystery. It demands that we think what is, to many today, almost unthinkable: that when the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two locations related to each other within the same spacetime continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.

What we are encouraged to grasp precisely through the ascension itself is that God's space and ours—heaven and earth, in other words—are, though very different, not far away from one another. Nor is talk about heaven simply a metaphorical way of talking about our own spiritual lives. God's space and ours interlock and intersect in a whole variety of ways even while they retain, for the moment at least, their separate and distinct identities and roles, One day, they will be joined in a quite new way, open and visible to one another, married forever.”

The mystery of the Ascension invites us to consider that the Lord Jesus, in his human and divine presence is in heaven, in a dimension which we are at present unable to see in its entirety. We can use an ordinary radio as an analogy. If we want to listen to our favorite station we have to turn the dial until we find it. In our present state we are unable to tune the radio to the dimension of Heaven. But, at the time of our death God gently turns the dial so that his faithful can tune in to the full dimension of heaven.

We might also mull over the possibility that Jesus is not far from us because Heaven and Earth are separated only by a thin curtain. Are there times when the curtain separating the dimension of Earth from the dimension of Heaven grows almost semitransparent? According to some traditions the answer is yes. One such tradition is thin places.

Thin places, according to Celtic spirituality, are places in Ireland and Scotland where the human and the divine seem closer together, where matter merges, where God’s presence is unmistakable, where the veil between Heaven and Earth is lifted. Another tradition is the Sursum Corda (Lift up your hearts) that we hear at every mass.

Monsignor Charles Pope writes: “Let us turn our attention to a short, often-overlooked summons to Heaven that takes place in every Mass. It takes place in a short dialogue just after the prayer over the gifts and before the singing of the Sanctus. It is called the ‘preface dialogue’ and it is really quite remarkable in its sweeping vision and heavenly call.

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right and just.

A fairly familiar dialogue to be sure. But to some extent, it fails to take wing because of the rather earthbound notion most moderns have of the Mass. Very few attending Mass today think much of the heavenly liturgy. Rather, most are focused on their parish Church, the priest in front of them, and the people around them. But this is NOT an adequate vision for the Mass. In the end, there is only one liturgy: the one in Heaven. There is only one altar: the one in Heaven. There is only one High Priest: Jesus in Heaven. In the Mass, we are swept up into the heavenly liturgy. There, with myriads of angels and saints beyond number, we worship the Father through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus. In the Mass, we are swept up into Heaven!”

When we gather at mass and accept the invitation to “Lift up our hearts” we are mystically joined with the heavenly chorus. We might even sense that we are being mystically ushered out of the dimension of earth into the dimension of heaven, into the very audience hall of God most high. And there we are joined by the other faithful, throughout the world, who are at that very moment, Lifting up their hearts at mass, being divinized.

Since Jesus was born into our humanity, our humanity is allowed to share in His divinity.

We could recall the Ascension of the Lord and say, “Jesus went up to heaven and someday he will return,” and that is all there is to it. We could also accept Jesus’ invitation to explore the rich spiritual meaning of his Ascension and if we do that, we might find ourselves growing in divinity.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Do You Love Me?

Sunday, May 5, 2019
A Reflection on John 21:15-17

By: Larry T. Smith

This Sunday we are presented with a familiar scene from John 21:15-17:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”* He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Three times in rapid succession Jesus asked Peter: “Do you love me?” Why did He ask Peter the same question three times? Most Christians will smile and answer that it was because Peter denied Jesus three times. And it is true that Peter vehemently denied Jesus three times, once even with a curse. But, if we let this bible passage go at that, we are in danger of missing out on an important insight into how God interacts with us individually, with all of his children, and that is the very essence of theology. But first, we need to explore the nuances of the ancient Greek language.

Modern Christianity defines agape as the love originating from God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one's fellow man. The word agape comes to us from the ancient Greek language.

The New Testament was originally written in ancient Greek (Koine Greek), which was translated into Latin, and then finally translated into English. In ancient Greek, as well as all other languages, different words can mean roughly the same thing. For example, the ancient Greek word φιλῶ or philos means love. Philadelphia is known to be the city of brotherly love; its name was derived from the ancient Greek word philos (beloved, dear). So, philos means love. The ancient Greek word ἀγαπᾷς or agapas also means love; philos is a very nice word, but agapas is a better word—a higher, more refined level of love. In this bible passage our modern bibles use the English word love in place of both philos and agapas, and sadly, we can easily miss out on one of the deeper meanings embedded in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter. 

As it was originally written in Koine Greek: “ Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, “Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με. Which is translated: “Jesus said, Simon Peter  Son of Jonah do you love me (ἀγαπᾷς με)?” In other words, “Do you love me at the agapas level?”

Peter said, “Ναί, Κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε.” Which is translated: “Yes, Lord you know that I love you (φιλῶ σε).” In other words, “You know that I love you as a brother” (at the philos level).

Jesus asked three times, “Simon Peter Son of Jonah do you love me (ἀγαπᾷς με)?” And three times Peter would respond, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you” (φιλῶ σε, as a brother)”

Peter had been with Jesus from the very beginning, he watched Jesus heal Jairus’s daughter, he was with Jesus at the Transfiguration, accompanied Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, he had seen Jesus’ resurrected body, shared a meal with Him in His resurrected state; he knew that Jesus was not just a ghost or spirit, yet, all Peter could muster was, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you like a brother.” Jesus might have thought, “All right Peter, if that’s the best that you can do for now, I can work with that.” 

Did Peter ever reach the agapas degree of love for the Lord? His willing martyrdom at the hands of the Romans is undeniable proof that he did! Peter probably rose to that level of love for Jesus at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the assembled disciples in the Upper Room.

At the end of the day, ἀγαπᾷς με, agapas, agape, φιλῶ σε, or philos, what does it all have to do with us? Does it really matter? We could read this bible passage and be content with the idea that Jesus asked Peter “do you love me” three times because Peter denied Jesus three times. Still yet, we are left to wonder why the author of John’s Gospel wrote ἀγαπᾷς με for Jesus’ question to Peter and φιλῶ σε for Peter’s answer. Why not just write ἀγαπᾷς με (do you love me) for Jesus’ question, and ἀγαπᾷς σε (I love you) for Peter’s answer? Or, we can dive into the rich theology of John’s Gospel and discern a deeper meaning. And, if we do that we might come to the conclusion that regardless of where we are in our individual spiritual journey, Jesus will happily meet us there. Our state of sinfulness, disbelief, half-belief, complacency, sinfulness, or wretchedness doesn’t matter to Jesus; just for the asking He will meet us there, and He will say to us, “If that’s the best that you can do for now, I can work with that.”  And just as He guided Peter to agape, He will do the same with us. This how God works with his children individually—with all humanity.