Tag Archives: scripture

The Path to Spiritual Greatness

February 10, 2017

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SermonMount

Sermon on the Mount

Jesus is our Master Teacher, and his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) contains one kernel of truth after another.  He began with his spiritual ideals, his eight Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), and then explained how his disciples are salt and light (Mt 5:13-16).  The third topic of his sermon was “the law and the prophets,” the commandments, and Jesus declared, “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19b).

The Commandments.  The commandments are laws, statutes, decrees, or ordinances given by God to guide people in their relationship with God and neighbor.  The most famous commandments are the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1-17 and Dt 5:6-21).  The entire Mosaic Law is not only the Ten Commandments, but all 613 precepts contained in the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus consolidated or simplified this long and detailed list into the Great Commandment, love God and neighbor (Mt 22:34-40).  Jesus commands us to obey his entire gospel which is summed up by his New Commandment, “love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).

Obeys and Teaches.  Jesus has a two-part directive when it comes to the commandments:  obey and teach, which is equivalent to good deeds and good words.  Jesus does not follow the usual order, “words and deeds,” but rather, “deeds and words” because actions speak louder than words.  Moreover, good example is easier to see and understand, and without obedient good deeds, any words of teaching ring empty.

Others.  Others are children, the impressionable, and new converts, as well as non-believers.  It includes everyone.  Jesus is concerned about our influence on others.  Our faith is supposed to be lived in a public manner.  Those who give bad example and lead others in the wrong direction are considered the least, while those who give good example, lead others in the right direction, and teach the commandments are the greatest.

Jesus and Moses.  Jesus was in step with Moses who had given a similar instruction to the Israelites.  When it came to teaching, Moses directed the adults to “keep repeating them (i.e., the commandments) to your children.  Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt 5:7), and when it came to obedience, Moses ordered them to “bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead” (Dt 5:8).  With the commandments constantly in heart and mind, they would surely obey.

Teachers of the Faith.  It is the duty of all Christians to obey and teach the commandments, but for many Christians, to teach the commandments and impart the faith is a major aspect of their vocation:  parents with their children, catechists with their formation students, the RCIA team with the candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation, teachers or professors with their pupils, coaches with their athletes, mentors with their understudies, and priests with their parishioners.  The path to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to guide others in the right direction, to both give good example and teach the commandments.

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The Acts of the Apostles – Scripture for the Easter Season

April 6, 2016

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StLukeEaster Prominence.  The Acts of the Apostles is used at Mass during the Easter Season more than any other book of the Bible.  Excerpts from Acts serve as the first reading for every Sunday Mass from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, as well as for the first reading for every daily Mass for all seven weeks of the Easter Season.

One of a Kind.  The Acts of the Apostles is unique.  There is no other book like it in the rest of Sacred Scripture.  It is not a gospel or a letter, the two other main genres of the New Testament.  Acts is in a class by itself, and it records the history of the beginnings of the early Church.

The Ascension Dilemma.  The first generation of Christians was faced with a serious question:  now that Jesus has ascended to heaven and is no longer present on earth in physical or bodily form, where is the risen Christ to be found?  According to St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, one of the primary and favored ways that the risen Christ continues to be alive, well, and present is in the community that Jesus formed, the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Risen Christ’s Fourfold Presence.  The first Christians “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  The apostles taught about all that Jesus said and did, and the risen Christ is present when he is remembered and his story is told.  The communal life is the fellowship shared among believers, personal relationships based upon shared beliefs and values, work done jointly, and the companionship of fellow travelers on the spiritual pilgrimage through life; and the risen Jesus is present when his followers are together.  Christians assembled for the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist; and the risen Christ is present in his Body and Blood.  Christians also devoted themselves to common prayer.  It may have been two or three individuals, or a family, or a group of families, and whenever Christians pray together, the risen Jesus is present in each other and in their prayer.

Witness and Miracles.  “Many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43; see Acts 5:12).  The apostles gave heroic witness, and the risen Christ was present in their excellent example.  The apostles also worked great miracles, such as when Peter cured a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10), healed a paralytic (Acts 9:32-34), and raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-42); and the risen Christ was present in every mighty deed that they performed.

Mutual Concern, Generosity, and Unity.  Furthermore, “All who believed … had all things in common” (Acts 2:44; see also Acts 4:32).  Christians were attentive to each other and shared with each other so that no one among them would be needy; and the risen Christ was present in their mutual concern and in their generosity.  Finally, “the community of believers was of one heart and one mind” (Acts 4:32).  Unity is a distinguishing characteristic of Christians.  Oneness of mind is a common way of thinking and shared set of core beliefs, and oneness of heart is a common love and passion for Jesus and his gospel, God and neighbor.  When the Christian community exemplifies this sort of unity, the risen Christ is present.

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7 Ways the New Mass Translation is Closer to Scripture

November 17, 2011

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consecration-westminster

Photo/Catholic Westminster. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Because the Mass prayers are so familiar, I’m sad to say that once in a while I go on autopilot during the Liturgy. That will end in just over a week when English-speaking Catholics first bring the new translation of the Roman Missal to life at Mass. Many of the responses will be new and we’ll have to pay closer attention.

With the help of theologian Dr. Edward Sri’s book “A Biblical Walk Through the Mass,” and Father John Paul Erickson, director of the Archdiocese’s Office of Worship, I’ve tried to show how the new translation brings the Mass text closer to the scripture it’s founded upon. Whether or not you’re ready for the transition, this post provides something to reflect on during Mass and after. The new responses are in italic, followed by the old text in parentheses.

1. The Lord be with you
...And with your spirit. (And also with you). Instead of the polite response we’re used to, this one sounds almost New Age until we discover that St. Paul said it in Gal. 6:18, Phil. 4:23 and 2 Tim. 4:22. The new response acknowledges that through ordination and the Holy Spirit the priest represents Christ in sacred duties. We address the priest’s spirit, the deepest part of his being, where he has been ordained to lead us in the liturgy.

 2. The Confiteor
…through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. This prayer, which starts with “I confess,” doesn’t change much in the new translation except for this line and one other word. The new words, taken from 1 Chron. 21:8, sounds repetitious but in praying them we more accurately convey our true sorrow for our sins.

3. The Gloria
The previous prayer won’t work because more than half the words are different in the new translation. One difference is that Jesus is identified as the “Only Begotten Son,” which reflects his unique relationship with the Father as described in St. John’s gospel. (Jn. 1:12, 1 Jn. 3:1)

4. The Nicene Creed
There aren’t a lot of changes to the Creed but here are a few of the most significant ones.
…all things visible and invisible (seen and unseen). This phrase is a more precise translation of St. Paul’s reference to all created things. (Col. 1:16)
… consubstantial with the Father (one in being with the Father). Here’s a big new word that will take a while to get used to. It’s the right word because It’s closer to the theological language of the Council of Nicea held in 325 AD where the Creed was developed in response to a heresy denying Jesus’ divinity. The new word means that the Father and Son are of the same substance.
…was incarnate of the Virgin Mary (born of the Virgin Mary). Another big word, consistent with the Latin text of the Mass, emphasizing that Jesus took on human flesh (Jn. 1:14), not just that he was born of Mary.

5. The Sanctus
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. The last three words of this line are the only changes to this prayer that comes right before the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer. The new words are taken from Is. 6:3 where the prophet Isaiah received a vision of the angels praising God. “Hosts” refers to the angels in heaven.

6. Consecration Prayers
…Chalice of my Blood (Cup of my Blood) What’s the difference between a cup and a chalice? A chalice is associated with the liturgy–it’s a special Eucharistic cup that the Lord uses at the Last Supper. (Lk. 22:20, I Cor. 11:25)
…for you and for many (for you and for all) The word “many”  is closer to Jesus’ actual words at the Last Supper (Mt. 26:28) and more accurately reflects the Latin text. The addition of this word shows that Jesus died for all but not everyone chooses to accept the gift of salvation. The prophet Isaiah also speaks of how Christ’s suffering justifies many in Is. 53.

7. Prayer before Communion
Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof (Lord I am not worthy to receive you). The new words better represent the centurion’s request of Jesus in Mt. 8:8 and Lk. 7:6-7.

 

 

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Why the saints are in a good position to pray for us

October 25, 2011

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The Trinity Adored by All Saints (detail), Spain, early 15th cen. Photo/clairity Licensed through Creative Commons

Every day people post prayer intentions on a board outside my church’s perpetual adoration chapel in hopes that adorers will take those needs to prayer.  And every Sunday Catholics pray for the Church, their communities and the world.

Christians pray for others–and it makes sense that they’d continue to pray in heaven.

As we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, it’s worth considering who the saints are and why we ask them to intercede for us.

The Catechism defines a saint as, “the ‘holy one’ who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life.” That’s what we’re all aiming at.

Heroic Virtue

A holy person who has died becomes a saint with a capital ‘S’ when the Church canonizes or beatifies them after common repute and conclusive arguments prove they’ve exercised heroic virtue during their lives.

One of the biggest objections to asking for a saint’s intercession (We don’t pray to them but rather we ask them to pray with us.)  is the scripture passage stating that Christ is the one mediator between God and humanity. (I Tim. 2:5)

However, those who are with the Lord are in a good position to offer Him our petitions:

“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. … [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquire on earth through the one mediator between  God and men, Christ Jesus. … So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (CCC 956)

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, we can pray two ways. First, to God alone “because all our prayers ought to be direct to obtaining grace and glory which God alone gives.”  But secondly, “we pray to the holy angels and to men not that God may learn our petition through them, but that by their prayers and merits our prayers may be efficacious.”

Scriptural Basis

Scripture contains many references to the effectiveness of intercession on earth and in heaven. Rev. 5:8 and 8:3-4 describe the prayers of the saints as like incense before God.  Job 42:8 speaks of the intercession of Job and Gen. 20:7 and 17 to that of Abraham.  Also, Phil. 1:3-4 and Rom. 15:30 emphasize the importance of intercession.

During their lives the saints like St. Cyprian encouraged us to give our petitions to Christians in heaven:

“Let us be mutually mindful of each other, let us ever pray for each other, and if one of us shall, by the speediness of the Divine vouchsafement, depart hence first, let our love continue in the presence of the Lord, let not prayer for our brethren and sisters cease in the presence of the mercy of the Father.”

Maybe when we post our petitions at church we should also ask as some powerful Christians in a better location to pray, as St. John Chrysostom  encourages:

“When thou perceivest that God is chastening thee, fly not to His enemies … but to His friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power.”

 

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Is the Hail Mary scriptural?

June 2, 2011

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Rosary on Bible

For some people, ‘Hail Mary’ is the name of a rap song. Others know it as a long, against-all-odds football pass. Catholics, even if they don’t pray the Hail Mary, are familiar with it as the title and opening of a prayer also called the Angelic Salutation, one of the most familiar prayers of the Church.

Since this week we commemorate the Visitation, when St. Elizabeth spoke a greeting to the expectant Holy Mother which forms part of the Hail Mary, I thought it would be a good time to consider what exactly people are saying when they pray this prayer.

Many may be surprised to learn that words of the Hail Mary, including those of Elizabeth come mostly from scripture.

The prayer begins, “Hail (Mary) full of grace, the Lord is with you,” which are the words of the Angel Gabriel when he appeared to Mary to tell her she had been chosen to be Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:28). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that she is full of grace because God has just made his dwelling in her; she is the Ark of the Covenant from which Christ will be born.

In reality, this is God’s greeting, spoken to Mary through Gabriel, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, so when we greet her this way, we acknowledge the regard that God has for her and “exult in the joy he finds in her.” (CCC 2676).

The second part of the Hail Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb, Jesus” is also taken directly from the account of St. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary who comes to visit her older, also-pregnant cousin. (Luke 1:42) The Bible records that Elizabeth was “filled wit the Holy Spirit” when she gave Mary this greeting and is the first of many generations to call her “blessed.” Mary is given this greeting because she believed in the fulfillment of God’s word. (CCC2676)

The next line of the prayer, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” reflects Elizabeth’s wonder that “the mother of my Lord should come to me.” (Luke 1:43) “Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother.” (CCC2677)

The Hail Mary closes with the words, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” With this final petition we should “piously and suppliantly have recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners and obtain for us the blessing we need both for this present life and for the life which has no end.”

Since Mary is not God, why do Catholics pray this prayer more often than any other prayer? The highpoint and focus of the entire Hail Mary prayer is Jesus. (CCC435) The Church teaches that all prayers to Mary go directly to God. And as St. Louis de Montfort said, Christ came to us through Mary so it makes sense that we should go to him through his Mother. But that’s another topic …

Some may wonder, if this is such an important prayer, why do people say it so often? A story about St. Francis of Assisi shows why each Hail Mary honors the Blessed Mother.

When the Lord asked Francis to give him something, the saint replied: “Dear Lord, I can give you nothing for I have already given you all, all my love.” Jesus replied, “Francis, give me it all again and again, it will give me the same pleasure.”

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Monk’s poetry invites us to view biblical stories and characters from non-traditional perspectives

January 16, 2009

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“God Drops and Loses Things,”

by Kilian McDonnell

Bible stories we’ve read before, biblical characters we’ve met before, but never this way. That’s what fills the pages of Benedictine Father Kilian McDonnell’s third book of poetry (St. John’s University Press).

Perhaps you — like myself — feel you are out of your area of expertise in reading, no less reviewing, poetry. But take a chance, challenge yourself and try to see with the eyes of this monk from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

I stuck a Post-It note on at least a dozen of the nearly 50 works because they said something to me.

For one thing, Killian gives a voice to the women of Holy Scripture — Miriam, for example, and Mary Magdalene — whose thoughts the Bible authors mainly ignored.

My favorite might be “Widow Rachel: Matchmaker,” as much a short essay as a poem, but cleverly imagined thoughts from the mind of a woman trying to find a wife for the carpenter, who doesn’t seem to be interested:

“Mary needs grandchildren. The man is thirty and still at home with his mother, so of course the women whisper as they gather at the market stalls.”

It’s a treasure.

See how quickly you find the “prodigal daughter” entry.

Moving from the Hebrew Testament to the New Testament, Father Kilian re-writes parables with a new, imagined tone that somehow makes the stories of Jesus mean more to today’s hearer.

I loved “The Catholic Thing,” an accusation in poetic form that correctly charges us Christians with being so unchristian at times.

Toward the end Kilian favors us with a few pieces that come from his person — family and Benedictine family — that are filled with rich images, take us to the places he chooses to share with all of us. We’re so blessed that he does. — bz
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