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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.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Where, O Death is Your Sting?

By: Larry T. Smith

Somewhere, lurking behind the curtain of the unknowable future, an empty casket or cremation urn patiently waits to be filled with our earthly remains. What is yet to be revealed is the time and manner of our passing.  Will it be a good death or will it be a bad death?

What is a good death we might wonder. Let it be painless, instantaneous, let it come in our sleep, may we never know what hit us, just a blinding flash and then let it be over, then comes eternal quiet. A friend said, “I want to be napping in my rocking chair with my cat in my lap when the time comes.” That sounds good!

In contrast, what is a bad death. Let us pray that it won’t be the seemingly endless agony of terminal cancer, the horror of burning to death in a car crash, or gasping for each life-giving breath as COVID-19 ravages our body. Can we even begin to image the white-hot mind-numbing pain that our Lord experienced as his tortured and broken body was nailed to the cross, an iron spike hammered first through one foot, then the other?

So might our thoughts go as we mull over the physical side of our inevitable departure from this world, but what of the spiritual side? What of our consciousness after we take our last breath? Is there some sort of awareness? The atheist or agnostic will probably say there is no such thing as life after death, just oblivion, a solid wall with nothing beyond. Understandably, they cling tenaciously to their earthly existence, greedily gulping every last drop of whatever pleasure and comfort it has to offer. With this mind-set one might face imminent death with resignation, even horror, or just fear of losing all that is familiar and comforting.

But wait, is pondering the manner of our departure from this world even worthwhile? Couldn’t we change the subject? Isn’t it the task of the world (Satan) to convince us that we shouldn’t be concerned about it? Of course, but reality screams at us from The Letter of James: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit”-you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears (James 4:13-14). In the popular language of today: It is what it is.

Our Christian hope is that death doesn’t place us squarely in front of a solid wall through which there is no passage. On the contrary, it places us in front of a gate that we can’t wait to get through, because on the other side we can see Jesus standing there with open arms. As we sprint towards the Lord that we have loved for so long, we realize that this is all we had hoped and prayed for! 

Is it possible to gain the kind of faith that allows us to regard death as a mere gate through which we must pass through to get to our Lord? Aren’t the saints from A to Z proof that it is indeed possible to have that much love for our Lord? They regarded the time of their earthly existence as a kind of exile, something to be endured as they waited to be with their God.

Still yet, the question hangs in the air: How is it possible to be so much in love with the Lord that death holds no fear for us? In the beginning, we must accept the gift of faith that Jesus, with mercy and love, offers to us. Then we have to get to know Him. Whereas the Apostles and early Church Fathers were privileged to know and speak with the Lord, our only recourse is to know Him is through the Scriptures and prayer; it is there that He speaks to us; it is there that we can establish a relationship with Him.

In 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, St. Paul writes,“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Clearly, this is the pinnacle of faith that we so desperately seek. And the mission of every Christian Church is to assist us in attaining it. Sadly, the leaders of some churches have seemingly lost sight of this—the very reason for their existence.

From Mark 9:24, we read: Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Moving from "l believe, help my unbelief" to "l believe” is a life long process, however long or short it might be. It follows that our life's spiritual journey revolves around making that transition and it is only possible with the Lord’s loving help.     

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Judgement Day(s)

Sunday, June 7, 2020
A Reflection on the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, Verses 16-18, N.A.B.

By: Larry T. Smith

Scene from an adult Bible study class:

A student seated in the front row raised her hand and said, “I’m going to buy a new Bible, which one do you recommend?”

The instructor said, “Make sure that it is a Catholic Bible with footnotes and cross-references.”

She replied, “How many different Catholic Bibles are there?”

“Present day Catholic liturgy uses the New American Bible. But any Catholic Bible such as the Douai-Rheims, the Confraternity Edition, the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, the New American Bible Revised Edition, the New Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition, the Jerusalem Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible are all acceptable for study.”

A student sitting in the middle row, put down his pen and asked, “Why are there so many different editions?”

“The purpose of a new edition or version is to improve readability, to make Scripture language easier for us to understand, but sometimes a newer version can blur the meaning of the original written work. The Douai-Rheims and the Jerusalem Bible are closest to the original Greek text.”

“Can you give us an example of how the meaning might be blurred,” he asked.

“Sure, the following reading is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, Verses 16-18, New American Bible.”

16For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

“And the following reading is from the Douai-Rheims Bible.”

16For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting. 17For God did not send his Son into the world in order to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18He who believes in him is not judged; but he who does not believe is already judged, because he does not believe in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.

“The New American Bible was published in 1970; the Douai-Rheims was published in 1955. What is one of the main differences in the two versions?”

An eager student in the middle of the back row blurted out, “The New American Bible says that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world and the Douai-Rheims says that Jesus didn’t come to judge the world.”

“Correct! In fairness, the Greek word κρίνείν can mean either condemnation or judgement. So, both Bible versions are correct, but we probably don’t think of condemnation and judgement as having the same meaning.”

Wide-eyed, the same student said, “Well, if Jesus isn’t going to judge us, who will?”

“Neither the Son nor the Father will act as our judge; we are our own judges. If we refuse to believe in the Son, we condemn ourselves.” 

“When will the judgement take place?”

“The judgement time is now as we are faced with the revelation of the Father in the Son.” The instructor continued, “In his book, The Gospel of John, Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B. writes: ‘The association of realized eschatology with a theology of self-judgement is one of the Fourth Gospels contributions to Christian thought. One does not wait till the end of time (traditional eschatology) for the return of the Son of Man who will exercise a final judgment (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). One judges oneself by the acceptance or refusal or the revelation of God in and through Jesus Christ and by the good and bad deeds that flow from this decision.’”

The instructor went on, “Whereas the Gospel of Matthew puts judgment at the end of time, the Gospel of John emphasizes that we are judged on a daily basis by our response to Jesus Christ; the world will be judged at the end of time (traditional eschatology). That being so, the Gospel of John stresses the importance of the response of the believer, not the sovereign action of God.”

“How can we know that we are responding to Jesus’ revelation of God in ways that will be pleasing to God?”

“Think of it this way: When God looks at us, he wants to see a reflection of himself.”

Another students exclaimed, “How can we learn to be like God?”

The instructor smiled, “He has given us two primary sets of guidelines for our spiritual journeys. First He gave us the Ten Commandments, then He gave us The Beatitudes:”

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

“Jesus changes lives. The ultimate test is to ask ourselves how belief in Jesus and his revelations of the Father has changed our daily lives. The more we allow Him to change our lives, the more we will begin to resemble Him.”