Thursday, December 21, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 4th Sunday of Advent (December 24, 2006)

Readings for today: Micah 5:1-4a, Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45.

Fulfill your will in me, Lord. Give me ears open to your word and a heart of obedience.

First Reading: Here, through Micah the prophet, we hear about the coming of the ruler of Israel. He comes from the lowly clan of Bethlehem, standing firm, shepherding his flock. His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth, and he shall be peace.

Second Reading: The author of the letter to the Hebrews draws on the Septuagint translation of Psalm 40, placing it in the context of Jesus Christ. The Word of God had a body prepared for him (10:5, Psalm 40:6 (LXX)). The psalm continues, saying "As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God" (Psalm 40:7-8 (LXX)). Luke writes that Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2) at the beginning of his ministry and said "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:14-21). Jesus was to offer a life of obedience to the will of God to take the place of the constant sacrifices and holocausts of the priests in the temple (10:8-9). The bodily sacrifice of Jesus was the last offering, and the only sacrifice that could last eternally (10:10).

Gospel: Luke records Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Upon hearing Mary's voice, Elizabeth's child stirs in her womb and Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, proclaims Mary's blessedness (1:41-42). Elizabeth calls Mary "the mother of my Lord" (1:43) -- the Mother of God. Elizabeth says that Mary is not only blessed because of who she is and who she carries in her womb, but also because Mary that what God told her would be fulfilled (1:45), which is aligned with Luke 11:27-28 where Jesus says that "blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it". He is not saying Mary is not blessed, or that her role as his mother is of no significance, but that it is because she listened to God and followed His commands for her that she is blessed, and in doing so she accepted her role as the mother of the Lord.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Religion: Genesis 9:6 and the Death Penalty

I don't have any study bibles at my disposal, only, so I'll quote the three commentary sources there on Genesis 9:6 which reads (RSV-CE): Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. Here are the three commentaries (emphasis mine):

9:6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, {f} by man shall his blood be shed: for in the {g} image of God made he man.

(f) Not only by the magistrate, but often God raises up one murderer to kill another.

(g) Therefore to kill man is to deface God's image, and so injury is not only done to man, but also to God.

9:6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood - Whether upon a sudden provocation, or premeditated, (for rash anger is heart - murder as well as malice prepense, Mt 5:21,22), by man shall his blood be shed - That is, by the magistrate, or whoever is appointed to be the avenger of blood. Before the flood, as it should seem by the story of Cain, God took the punishment of murder into his own hands; but now he committed this judgment to men, to masters of families at first, and afterwards to the heads of countries. For in the image of God made he man - Man is a creature dear to his Creator, and therefore ought to be so to us; God put honour upon him, let us not then put contempt upon him. Such remains of God's image are still even upon fallen man, that he who unjustly kills a man, defaceth the image of God, and doth dishonour to him.

9:4-7 The main reason of forbidding the eating of blood, doubtless was because the shedding of blood in sacrifices was to keep the worshippers in mind of the great atonement; yet it seems intended also to check cruelty, lest men, being used to shed and feed upon the blood of animals, should grow unfeeling to them, and be less shocked at the idea of shedding human blood. Man must not take away his own life. Our lives are God's, and we must only give them up when he pleases. If we in any way hasten our own death, we are accountable to God for it. When God requires the life of a man from him that took it away unjustly, the murderer cannot render that, and therefore must render his own instead. One time or other, in this world or in the next, God will discover murders, and punish those murders which are beyond man's power to punish. But there are those who are ministers of God to protect the innocent, by being a terror to evil-doers, and they must not bear the sword in vain, Ro 13:4. Wilful murder ought always to be punished with death. To this law there is a reason added. Such remains of God's image are still upon fallen man, that he who unjustly kills a man, defaces the image of God, and does dishonour to him.
And now my question. Do you see Genesis 9:6 as a decree from God -- that is, does it give us permission to avenge murder? Or is it rather God (or the author) recognizing man's desire to hold that sort of power over one another? What I mean is, how should one paraphrase it? "You shall repay a slain man's blood with the blood of his killer, for I have made you in My own image" or "For, since man is made in God's image, man will take it upon himself to repay slaughter with slaughter."

Is it a permission being granted us? Although vengeance is the Lord's (Romans 12:19), surely societies are required to impose punishments on criminals. But does that include the taking of life?

Or is it a sad commentary on man's usurping of God's authority for himself? This concept is found throughout the first chapters of Genesis. The serpent tells Eve that, upon eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, she shall become like God (Genesis 3:5). Lamech (of Cain's lineage) decrees that whoever kills him will be met upon with great vengeance, assuming upon himself the power God owns (Genesis 4:24, cf. Genesis 3:15). The builders of the Tower of Babel seeked to unite themselves through a great city and a tower, lest they be spread across the earth (Genesis 11:3-4); although it was God's desire for them to fill the earth, not to cling together for fear of dispersion (Genesis 9:1). In light of this, Genesis 9:6 appears to be a statement of inevitability: man is made in God's image, but instead of aspiring to be like God in mercy and love and creativity (which God certainly wishes us to display), man will lust for that which God reserves for Himself: judgment, power over all life, and worship.

I open the floor. I'm curious to hear your thoughts and be pointed to any Bible Commentaries you might have access to.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 3rd Sunday of Advent (December 17, 2006)

Readings for today: Zephaniah 3:14-18a, Psalm 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:10-18.

The Lord is in our midst: let us be filled with thanksgiving, joy, and humility. Let our service to God be evident in our service to others.

First Reading: Zephaniah speaks words of comfort to Israel: Jerusalem should exult because God is returning to them, removing His judgment and turning away their enemies (3:14-15). This refers to the birth of the Messiah, paralleled in the gospel according to Luke: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior (3:16b-17a, Luke 2:10-11).

Second Reading: Paul tells the Phillipians that their kindness should be known to all (4:5). Certainly, we can do this without being the attention-seeking hypocrites Jesus warns about (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18). Paul also implores that they not be anxious and that their requests to God be made by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving (4:6). Here Paul echoes Jesus's instruction on prayer (Matthew 6:7-15). Above all, though, this brief passage from Paul's letter reminds us to rejoice always in the Lord, for he is near -- he is in our midst, as Zephaniah proclaimed. Through rejoicing, proper conduct, and humble prayer, comes an incomprehensible peace from God alone that will protect you. In this Advent season, when everything seems to be focused on rushing and "only 13 shopping days left" and the like, it's comforting to hear that the Lord is near and that he offers a peace of mind that cannot be found outside of him.

Gospel: Luke continues writing about the ministry of John the Baptist. Just prior to this excerpt, John says to the crowd, "Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance", and he warns them not to fall into complacency, saying to themselves "'We have Abraham as our father'" (3:8). Do we as Christians forget that a living faith is fruitful and not sedentary? Are we comfortable just believing in Jesus as our Savior and God and not actually following his commandments to us?

John the Baptist gives the crowd examples of proper conduct:
  • "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." (3:11)
  • To tax collectors he said, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." (3:13)
  • To soliders he said, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages." (3:14)
It is interesting to note that he does not speak out against tax collection or the military, but that those who fill those positions should do so with justice and fairness.

Because of his wisdom and justice, people thought John was the Messiah (3:15). John recognized his place as the messenger of the Lord (Malachi 3:1a) and corrected the people, telling them of the one to come after him who would baptize them "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (3:16). Luke writes that John exhorted the people (3:18); an exhortation is an urgent appeal or admonition. Do we still feel that same sense of urgency as Christians? Or do we think of ourselves as above reproach, not in need of admonishment?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Scripture Reflection: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8, 2006)

Readings for today: Genesis 3:9-15,20, Psalm 98:1-4, Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12, Luke 1:26-38.

Mary, blessed from conception so as to be a pure vessel for Christ; Mary, the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, Theokotos, the Bearer of our Savior, and the Mother of God: pray for us as we ask God for the strength to say "May it be done to me according to Your word".

First Reading: Adam and Eve have fallen prey to the serpent (Satan, Revelation 12:9) and committed sin. With the freedom of will and the freedom of choice comes the potential to choose wrongly, to disobey God, to choose our own wills over His. But God did not strike Adam and Eve dead -- though die they did. Instead, God permitted them to live, and Eve became the mother of all the living (3:20). Found in this reading also is perhaps the first of all prophecies of the coming of a Savior through humanity (3:15): though the serpent shall strike at the heel of Eve's offspring, her offspring shall strike at the serpent's head. This is not some petty fable explaining while snakes crawl and bite ankles, this is the foreshadowing of a man who shall decapitate sin, conquer death, and restore humanity to God.

Second Reading: Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians by proclaiming our selection by God before the foundation of the world. In stark contrast to his grim assertion that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 RSV), Paul writes to the Ephesians of God's desire for us to be holy and without blemish before Him (1:4). We, as Christians, have accepted this call to Christ, which has been "on the table" since before the world began. Mary is a model of this response: she said "yes" to God and accepted the task for which God had prepared her in her mother's womb.

Gospel: While this account from Luke speaks of the Annunciation -- that is, the proclamation to Mary of the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit -- that is not what this solemnity is about, but let us first examine the role of Mary so that we may better understand this holy truth of her immaculate conception. Gabriel, the angelic herald of God, announces to Mary that she is to bear the Son of God, Jesus, a holy child who shall rule the house of Jacob forever, and have an everlasting kingdom. Mary, curious at first, accepts this holy charge. So why does the Catholic Church hold as truth that Mary was conceived without sin?

As the bearer of Jesus (through whom came the new covenant), Mary was the new Ark of the Covenant. The Ark held the stone tablets upon which the Law of the Covenant were inscribed (Exodus 25:16), and with the Ark was stored a jar of manna (Exodus 16:32-34) and the staff of Aaron (Numbers 17:23-25). These three things were prefigurings of Jesus Christ. The Law was from the finger of God (Exodus 31:18) but Jesus is from the mouth of God, for he is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1,14). The manna was sustinence for Israel during the exodus, but those who ate it would perish anyway, while Jesus is the true bread from heaven, the bread of life (John 6:26-60). The rod of Aaron showed upon whom the favor of God rested to be the tribe priests for the Israelites, and Jesus is the eternal priest of the new covenant (Hebrews 5:4-6). The Ark of the Covenant was designed to exacting specifications, and was built from acacia wood and plated entirely with pure gold inside and out. So too, then, the new Ark that bore Jesus was human, but pure inside and out, fit to carry the infant Christ.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 2nd Sunday of Advent (December 10, 2006)

Readings for today: Baruch 5:1-9, Psalm 126:1-6, Philippians 1:4-6,8-11, Luke 3:1-6.

As we grow in the love and wisdom of God, mountains will be lowered and valleys will be raised through us, to His glory. We will prepare the way of the Lord for all flesh to see His saving power.

First Reading: Baruch, a disciple of Jeremiah, writes of a time of change coming to Jerusalem. No longer shall Jerusalem be robed in mourning and misery, but with the glory of God (5:1). Just as last week we heard from Jeremiah that Jerusalem shall be called "The LORD our justice" (Jeremiah 33:16), this week we hear from Baruch that Jerusalem shall be called "The peace of justice" and "the glory of God's worship" (5:4). The scattered children of Jerusalem shall be drawn back, using imagery found in Isaiah 40: mountains being made low, valleys being filled, and the glory of God returning with mercy and justice (5:6-9).

Second Reading: Here Paul writes words of encouragement to brethren in Philippi. Paul prays joyfully for them, confident that what was started in them when they first heard the gospel will continue to grow to completion until the return of Christ (1:4-6). His prayer for them is that they grow in love and wisdom so as to be able to continue discerning what is good, that they may be blameless before Christ and filled with the fruits of righteousness for the glory of God (1:9-11). Paul is aware that Christians can become stagnant in their faith and lose sight of the righteousness found in Christ, and that is why he prays for them. They have heard the gospel and believe it, but they must continue to grow in love and continue to discern what has value. What has been started in them by the Holy Spirit must continue to develop to completion.

Gospel: After the infancy narrative, Luke writes about the ministry of John the Baptist, son of Zechariah. This brief gospel passage relates John's work in the desert (3:3-6) to what was foretold by Isaiah: the voice in the wilderness crying out, "ready the way of the Lord!" Advent, like Lent, is a time of repentence. We are preparing the way of the Lord in our own lives, with the help of God. The baptism of water by John was a precursor to the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Christ; so too is Advent a precursor to the life of Christ. There are to be no obstacles between the glory of God and those to whom it is coming: mountains are razed, valleys are raised. We, then, should work to remove the obstacles in our own lives, and the lives of others, so that the gospel of the Lord can be brought to the world in living faith and action:
  • Joseph and Mary could not find a room in Bethlehem, so the Christ was born in a lowly estate, a manger. Projects like Habitat for Humanity work to provide homes for those without.
  • The magi came bearing gifts to the Holy Family and received nothing in return, save the privilege to stand in the presence of God. Christmas gift-giving between friends and family is one thing, but church activities like "Giving Trees" and programs like Toys for Tots are examples of Christ's wisdom that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Give without expectation of reward (Matthew 10:8).
  • When the crowds asked John what they should do as evidence of their repentence, he told them that "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." (Luke 3:11) Donate your time to a soup kitchen. Donate to food drives and clothing drives.
In performing these acts of love, outward signs of our penitence before God, we are preparing the way of the Lord, we are a voice crying in the wilderness of our modern busy world, we are flattening mountains and filling valleys, all by the grace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Personal: Favorite Christmas Songs

I got "tagged" by Danny at Nothing Important to Us, so here's my list of my favorite Christmas songs. Mine includes more hymns than carols because, honestly, the carols I hear on the radio irritate me.
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful / Adeste fideles
  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel
  • O Holy Night
  • Do You Hear What I Hear?
  • Little Drummer Boy
  • Ready the Way
  • People, Look East
  • What Child is This?
Sure, songs like "Silent Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" are all well and good, but I think the list above represents songs I wouldn't get tired of listening to when I become inundated with Christmas music.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Religion & Entertainment: My Review of The Nativity Story

Ok, when it's all said and done, I give it a C+. I don't know which, really. I'll give my reasons.

The script was, indeed, Scripturally based, but the passages lifted from Scripture did not mesh well with the rest of the script. I suppose I'm a bit of a purist about this -- I think Peter Jackson's screenwriters did a superb job on the Lord of the Rings movies. There were also lines omitted for no good reason. One example is Zechariah's canticle upon the naming of his son: it was completely omitted. I seem to recall some of the words or phrases used elsewhere by Elizabeth, while John was still in the womb, but the impact is different. The Magnificat is spoken at the end of the film, but not in its entirety.

[Update: The exact use of Scriptural speech is, in my opinion, an all-or-nothing endeavor. The movie failed because it injected Scriptural passages (like the "Blessed are you among women" of Elizabeth, the Benedicta) without trying to conform the rest of the script of the movie to that kind of language. Simply put, it seemed like Elizabeth was "talking crazy talk" instead of being inspired by the Spirit. I would not have minded if they conformed the Scriptural words to the script of the rest of the movie.]

Other omissions I had hoped to see included are centered around the presentation in the temple (Luke 2:22-38). The Nunc Dimittis (the canticle of Simeon), Simeon's grim blessing to Mary, Anna the prophetess... all missing. This leads me to another issue: the timeline.

In reconciling the Luke narrative and the Matthew narrative, if Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and presented in the temple after the forty days necessary for Mary's purification, I would have expected that the visit of the magi and the subsequent flight to Egypt took place after that. Matthew 2:11 mentions a house, not a manger. Then again, I'm not a Bible historian, so I don't know what an "official" reconciled timeline of the nativity narratives would be.

This movie also suffers from "translationism". The name of the infant is called "Jesus" instead of Yeshua (or Yehoshua) which is grating amid names like Zechariah. Mary should be called "Miriam" (or something like that). They speak in Aramaic occasionally (when saying particular prayers or greetings) and then go right back into English. Now I recognize the worth of authentic language found in The Passion.

The soundtrack was a little off at times -- meaning, the music didn't really fit the scene. There were several pieces of music based on Christmas songs that just didn't click.

Finally, and I will admit this is a very tricky matter to handle properly, the representation of the angel Gabriel is weird. He seems to appear and disappear with the presence of a dove (or some other bird, but I'm assuming it's a dove), but this has the unwanted effect of making angels transforming animals or something along those lines. I'm not sure exactly how I would do it, but the movie's handling of it seemed too weird.

Despite these complaints, I did enjoy the movie, it just didn't grab hold of me the way I'd have liked it to.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Religion & Entertainment: The Nativity Story

I'm planning on seeing The Nativity Story sometime very soon (although my weekend schedule is very full). The trailer looked great. The story is familiar and the minor tweaks present to make a handful of chapters last 100 minutes are sure to supplement the Scriptural material. But I haven't read any good reviews of it yet. Here's an excerpt from the CNN review (emphasis mine):
"The Nativity Story" is a major release (from New Line, like CNN a unit of Time Warner), and boasts the kind of production values only money can buy. Discreetly ecumenical in thrust, it's a reverent, orthodox movie aimed at churchgoers across the spectrum.

A little too reverent, perhaps. It takes the first chapter in the Greatest Story Ever Told and turns it into a mild yarn.

Drawing on the gospels of Matthew and Luke, screenwriter Mike Rich takes no liberties with Scripture, though there are occasional concessions to contemporary sensibilities.
Is there a problem there? Do we need an "updated" version of the Nativity, a modern-day retelling? Do we need to change things to make the story more "believable"? Should we reduce the account of Christ's birth to anecdote or fairy tale?

I think this movie fills its niche in the same way Passion of the Christ filled its own. That movie was gut-wrenching and painful to watch, because the events it recounted were gut-wrenching and painful to endure. So Nativity will be slow at times, or tense at times, but it won't feel the same as Passion because it's not the same thing. Get over it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 1st Sunday of Advent (December 3, 2006)

Readings for today: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:4-5,8-10,14, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2, Luke 21:25-28,34-36.

We must remain vigilant in our daily lives, praying to God for the strength to endure all trials, awaiting the day when Jesus Christ returns in glory.

First Reading: The Lord speaks through Jeremiah here, speaking of the fulfillment of a promise made to Israel and Judah: a righteous shoot being raised from the lineage of David, one who shall do what is right and just. God says that Judah will be safe and Jerusalem will be secure. This promise is to be fulfilled in Jesus, born of the house of David, who shall obey the will of the Father in all things.

Second Reading: This excerpt from Paul's letter is a reminder to the church in Thessaly to remain strong in heart and to exercise proper conduct, so as to be seen blameless in holiness before God at the return of Jesus. This is apropos for the Advent season as we wait for the birth of our Savior. The hymn People, Look East comes to mind here: Make your house fair as you are able / Trim the hearth and set the table / ... / Love, the Guest, is on the way. As Advent is a season of anticipation, we should follow the advice of Paul to remain strong in heart and to conduct ourselves in a manner pleasing to God.

Gospel: The Gospel reading has two parts. In the first, Jesus is warning his disciples of signs that will accompany the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:27). This discourse is familiar because we heard it from Mark's perspective (Mark 13:24-32) only two weeks ago. But the reading today continues with the second half, which is a warning from Christ to the disciples not to be caught off-guard. Jesus warns them against laziness and drunkenness, and hearkens them to be vigilant and to pray to God for the strength to persevere. Paul has echoed the sentiments of Jesus here: be alert, do not be weighed down by your daily lives, pray for strength.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Scripture Reflection: Feast of Christ the King (November 26, 2006)

This isn't so much a reflection on the Scripture passages (Daniel 7:13-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:5-8, John 18:33-37) for the Feast of Christ the King this year as it is a reflection on the concept of Christ the King. I'm not going to delve into the history of the solemnity, although Wikipedia can help you out there. Rather, I'm going to focus on one of the temptations Christ underwent in the desert after his baptism and the fulfillment (by the Father) of the empty promise made to him by Satan.

Before I go on, I'd like to refer to On the Way to Jesus Christ (ISBN #1586171240), a collection of essays by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became Pope Benedict XVI). One of the essays mentioned the temptations and their fulfillments, and that essay was one source of inspiration for this post.

The Scripture I'd like to focus on is Matthew 4:8-11 (Jesus is tempted with worldly power) and Matthew 28:16-20 (the Great Commission). Look them over and you will immediately see the connection. When Satan promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in return for Jesus's worship of Satan, Jesus rebukes him with the Scripture of Deuteronomy 6:13. Then, just prior to the Great Commission (to make disciples of the nations), Jesus announces that he has received authority in heaven and on earth (using the same language found in Daniel 7:13-14).

The juxtaposition of these two excerpts shows that Jesus indeed has authority over all of heaven and earth (including earthly kingdoms and nations) without the "help" of Satan -- in fact, specifically by rejecting Satan. Now, I don't believe that 2 Timothy 2:12 (we shall also reign with him) is speaking of us holding the authority which God alone holds, so I'm not saying that we can somehow attain power over heaven and earth through Christ, simply that Jesus as perfected man (and perfect God) has power over all creation because of his obedience to the Father in all things. So with this authority, Jesus is King of the universe (as the collect reads).

So what does this all mean? I've come up with three things to "take away" from this feast day:

Renounce your own kingship. What does this mean? You're not God. You don't control everything... you can't. A "king of the hill" mentality, where you must remain on the top at all costs, where there's nowhere to go but down, where the smallest failure means depression and disappointment on a massive scale, is clearly unhealthy but it seems to be what's thrust in our faces all day. Accept that there are things outside your control. Accept that there is always room for improvement. Accept appropriate criticism graciously. Admit you can be wrong... admit you are wrong, even. Accept forgiveness and forgive others.

Recognize Christ's kingship. We might be "helpless", but God is not. Our failings do not diminish Christ (Galatians 2:17). His perfection provides salvation for us, despite our shortcomings. Recognize that it is God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- who is in control. God knows you more intimately than anyone else knows you.

Be a subject of Christ and a citizen of his kingdom. This is the aim of Christian life. I suppose the Protestant terminology here is "accept Jesus as the Lord of your life", but I don't think that in doing so you "hand everything over" to Jesus in the sense that you rescind control and responsibility and ownership of everything. Rather, to be a new creation in Christ is to finally accept your humanity -- your being formed in the image of God -- and the responsibility of your abilities, talents, resources, and decisions. In truth, the faithful steward returns to God that which God has given him with interest, but God has placed that seed in the hands of the steward. As stewards charged by God, we are to take what we have been given and invest it in the world so as to make a return to God. Yes, the praise and glory is God's, but the endeavor is ours! God so loved the world that He works through humanity all the time. Not only did He humble Himself to share in our humanity in Jesus, but He is in constant partnership with us. God works through us when we choose to make His will our own. So be a subject of Christ: recognize him as the leader of your life. Be a citizen of his kingdom (Philippians 3:20): show God's love, forgiveness, and mercy.

Personal: Post-Thanksgiving Recap

I hope everyone had a happy and healthy (yeah, right) Thanksgiving*. I've been very busy the past few weeks, what with work, some quality time with my fiancée, a trip up to my almost mater RPI to visit my fraternity and touch base with my Little Brother and impart some wisdom on the pledges and the incumbent Senior Dean (the pledge educator, a position I held thrice), Bible Study (I attend up to three different studies a week), a men's fellowship retreat (17th-19th), two devastating NY Giants losses (last night was atrocious), Thanksgiving vacation (with plenty of ping-pong, Carcassonne, and Settlers of Catan), and a few delicious drinks (not to mention the food).

I've also registered my blog with Christian Bloggers (as you can tell by the icon on the sidebar), and I've joined another blog, Timeless Prayer. I've yet to actually write anything there (see paragraph #1) but I hope to in the coming days.

I'm running dangerously close to my parenthesis quota for the month, so I'd best stop there.

My upcoming posts will probably be:
  • Bible Study on Isaiah 40
  • Reflections on the Feast of Christ the King, celebrated this past Sunday
  • Preflections on the readings for the upcoming first Sunday of Advent
  • A psalm over in Timeless Prayer
* Void where prohibited or not celebrated.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Religion: Advent Prayers

My family had a missalette with prayers for the weeks of Advent to be said at the table before meals. Thanks to the power of Google, here they are. I offer my own version here:

Prayer over the Advent Wreath
Our help is in the name of the Lord. Who made heaven and earth. Let us pray. O God, by Your word all things are made holy. Pour forth Your blessing on this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus and that we may receive abundant graces. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 21:34-36)
May this light remind us of Jesus, who is the true light of the world. Let us call upon him whose coming we await, for he is: God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Amen.

Second Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 3:1-6)
Father, help us to prepare the way of Jesus, the light of the world. May we who believe he will come again serve You today and every day. Let us proclaim this mystery of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.

Third Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 3:10-18)
Lord, we ask you to penetrate the darkness of our minds so that, filled with your brightness, we may rejoice in your coming as we say: Blessed be God forever. Amen.

Fourth Week of Advent (Reading: Luke 1:39-45)
Lord, hurry and come to us. May your light shine in our lives, so that we may be freed from sin. Protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for your coming as our Savior: For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 4


Scripture Questions
  1. How does Cain's response to God (Genesis 4:9) compare to his father's response (Genesis 3:10,12)? How is Cain like his father? How is he different?
  2. When God asks Adam where he is, Adam doesn't really answer the question, but explains the circumstances. Then when God asks Adam how he knew he was naked, Adam replies by shifting the blame to Eve. When God asks Cain where Abel is, Cain lies (saying he doesn't know) and avoids the question by asking his own question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain's response is like Adam's in that he tries to avoid taking blame. His response is different from Adam's because Cain lies.
  3. Reread Genesis 3:21 and Genesis 4:15. What do they suggest about God's relationship with sinners?
  4. Despite Adam and Eve's transgression, God provides them with clothing from animal skins -- if they were leather skins, the animals were killed for man's sake. When Cain fears that he shall be slain for his transgression, God gives him a mark meant to protect Cain from retribution. Thus we see God caring for Adam, Eve, and Cain, even in their sinfulness.
  5. Cain does not express repentence. Neither do Adam and Eve. Why?
  6. Perhaps they felt their actions were justified. They fail to see how what they did was "wrong".
  7. Compare Genesis 3:2-6 and Genesis 4:6-8. How does the narrator show that Adam and Eve and Cain were responsible for their actions?
  8. The serpent did not tell Eve to eat the fruit or even force her to; it merely placed the idea in her mind. She was tempted to eat the fruit and succombed to the temptation. Adam likewise ate freely. God told Cain that even though "sin is crouching at the door [and] its desire is for [him]", he "must master it". Cain, whose sacrifice was rejected, did not heed these words and succombed to the misplaced anger he felt towards Abel, whose sacrifice was accepted. What these two incidents show is that sin is not the only outcome of a temptation: the other outcome is mastery over the temptation by obedience to God's will.
  9. What do Jesus's words in Matthew 18:21-22 suggest about his view of Lamech's words in Genesis 4:23-24?
  10. Lamech boasts of his murder of a young man: "If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold." Jesus says that we must forgive not just seven times, but "seventy-seven times" (RSV-CE). The allusion to Lamech is clear. The number seventy-seven implies innumerability. As Lamech threatens abounding vengeance, Jesus demands abounding mercy and forgiveness.
Personal Reflection Questions
  1. Considering the differences in abilities and resources and circumstances between people, is God fair? Is He just?
  2. God does not ask of us more than we can do, and with God there is nothing we cannot do. Considering the sinful nature of humanity, the fact that we are offered redemption through Jesus is more than fair.
  3. Whom do you envy? What is wrong with envy? From your own experience, what are the results of envy?
  4. I envy people with more money (or rather, less debt!), less frantic and hectic schedules, and people in better shape than me (my fiancée included). Envy produces an unhealthy desire to please yourself rather than your neighbor, to meet your own private standards rather than God's. Envy can lead to worse sins, as the example of David shows (2 Samuel 11-12).
  5. Are there both healthy and unhealthy kinds of anger among family members? How can you tell the difference?
  6. Yes, there is healthy anger and unhealthy anger. Unhealthy anger is brought about through jealously, impatience, selfishness, injustice, etc. Healthy anger is often brought about by recognition of those traits. Unhealthy anger in general seeks to appease itself through vengeance, through "setting the other person straight". Healthy anger seeks to appease itself through righting wrongs and discipline.
  7. What are the effects of vengefulness or other kinds of bitterness? How might you express forgiveness and love when you are tempted to feel vengeful?
  8. When I would prefer to exact some sort of revenge for a hurt against me, I try to consider the environment that led to the action I was hurt by. It takes a lot of willpower to avoid the temptation to get back at someone (especially if an identical scenario appears in your favor).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Theology: The "Word of God", is it Jesus or the Bible?

Perhaps this will garner much attention, or perhaps no one will notice it. Nevertheless, I ask the tough question: What is the Word of God? Is the Bible (or Holy Scripture in general) the Word of God? Is Jesus the Word of God? What does "the word(s) of God" and "the word(s) of the LORD" mean? Is Scripture really referring to itself? Did Scripture come to Jeremiah? To Amos? To Obadiah? To Jonah? Or is "the word" something else?

I posit that the phrase, when found in Scripture, means "revelation from God" generally, and specifically refers to an encounter with the Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity. Jesus equates himself with the Word, and John the Evangelist recognized this (John 1:1-14). Other New Testament writings support this stance. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, is the totality of revelation from God made present to us. When he spoke, it really was the words of God coming from the Word of God. It couldn't be otherwise. Jesus = the Word of God = revelation from God.

So what does that make the Bible? Scripture is a witness or testimony to the Word. It contains the Word, it describes the Word, but it is not itself the Word. Frankly I find it hard to believe one would accept "Jesus is the Bible" and not "Jesus is the Eucharist". If one is going to argue that "Jesus is in heaven, and therefore he's not on earth as a piece of bread" (an argument I have received on the subject) then the idea that "Jesus is on earth in/as the Bible" is equally ludicrous.
  • Genesis 1:3, where it is the voice of God, the Word of God, through which light (and all things) came into being. God didn’t create the universe with Scripture.

  • Luke 8:11, where Jesus explains the parable of the sower and the seed. In equating the seed with the “word of God”, Jesus equates the “word of God” with himself, for he describes himself as the seed which must fall to earth and die to bear great fruit.

  • John 1:1-14, where John proclaims that the Word is God, and that the Word manifest itself in the flesh in the human Jesus.

  • Hebrews 11:3 and 2 Peter 3:5, where we read that “the world was created by the word of God” (RSV), which cannot mean the Bible or Scripture.

  • 1 John 2:14, where John writes that “the word of God abides in you” (RSV). He means not Scripture, but the commandments of God, revealed to us and written on our hearts (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34), a new covenant through Jesus Christ.

  • Revelation 6:9, which describes “those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (RSV). These are not people who died for the sake of a book, but for the sake of Jesus Christ. (Cf. Revelation 1:2 and Revelation 20:4, where “the word of God” and “Jesus” are both used—again, this refers not to particular Scriptures (especially since the Bible was not formulated at the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation), but to the revelation received from God.)

  • Revelation 19:13, which clearly states “He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” The name of Jesus, before ever he was Yeshua Baryosef (or similar), was The Word of God.
I open the floor to your interpretations, opinions, beliefs, etc. Whether you agree or disagree, please provide references to Scripture (and explanations) that support your position. Writings from the Church Fathers (a source which I have not looked into yet) are acceptable and appreciated.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Theology: Called out of blindness (Mark 10:46-52)

This past Sunday's Gospel reading was from Mark 10:46-52, wherein Jesus restores the sight of Bartimaeus, a blind man, on the outskirts of Jericho. I'd like to focus on just two of the many treasures in this short passage: the man's desire to be cured of his blindness, and what the man did afterwards.

The blind man was begging when the crowd came by (Mark 10:46), probably for money or food, which he was far more likely to receive than a cure. As such, the blind man, a beggar, was dependent on the pity of the passersby for his survival. But when he learns that Jesus is in the crowd, he asks Jesus for his pity, not in the form of money or food, but vision. "So what?" you ask. "Of course he wanted to see, he was blind." But consider that, once freed from his blindness, begging would no longer "work" for him; he would have to work for his wages and his food and his survival. We have a tendency to turn our disabilities, our failings, and our misfortunes into crutches. This man must have realized that in asking for his sight, he would no longer have such a crutch. And yet he had the faith to ask for his vision, not money or food.

And then, as he cured the man, Jesus told him, "Go your way, your faith has saved you." What was the man's response? To go Jesus's way (Mark 10:52). The way of Jesus became the way of Bartimaeus: he followed Jesus on the way. Where was Jesus headed? To Jerusalem Mark 11:1-11 and the end of his earthly ministry.

What can we learn from Bartimaeus? Once our faith has saved us and our blindness has been cured, we are no longer beggars: we must take an active part in our new life. Once our faith has saved us and we go our way, we must make Jesus's way our way.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Religion & News: How an American Muslim reacts to al-Qaida's command to "kill Americans"

[Source: Jerusalem Post]

If you're one of the people that asks "where's the Muslim outrage?", you can find some of it by following the link to the article in the Jerusalem Post. The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has recently issued a decree to its members to kill at least one American in the next two weeks. Aslam Abdullah, a Muslim living in Las Vegas, says in reply, "Count me as the one of those you have asked your supporters to kill."

A few choice excerpts from the article:
  • ...the plurality of opinions does not mean that we deprive ourselves of the civility that God demands from us.
  • We feel totally disgusted with your action and we condemn you without any reservation.
  • We accept the divine scheme of diversity in the world and you want to impose conformity.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Theology: The new Sabbath

"Behold, I make all things new", says the LORD God Almighty on His throne (Revelation 21:5). In the person of Jesus Christ, the law was not abolished but fulfilled, perfected. Who but God alone has the right to clarify and re-educate His people as to the nature of the commandments handed down to Moses? Later this week, I'll post my RCIA outline on the Ten/Twelve Commandments, in which I discuss that clarification and re-education, but for now, let's focus on just one thing: the Sabbath.

In the first story of Creation, in Genesis 1:1-2:3, God rests on the seventh day and makes it holy: on it He rested from all the work during His creation. Thus, the Sabbath. This is the third commandment delivered to Moses, that the seventh day of the week is holy and that we should refrain from work on that day (Exodus 20:8-11). How fitting is it, then, that the Sabbath, the day of rest for both man and God, was the only full day our Lord lay in the tomb, dead for our sins. A silent Sabbath, a most Holy Saturday. And then, after the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2) the women who loved Jesus went to the tomb, but he was not there: he had risen!

How fitting the Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week. The first day of the week is connected to the first day of Creation, when God said "Let there be light"! That first day, the first of all days, when God's work was truly begun. And Easter Sunday, nearly 2000 years ago, was the day on which Jesus's work truly began in us. We put our own work aside and glorify God -- for the Sabbath is the Lord's day -- but we do not abstain from work altogether on the Sabbath, we become reinvigorated with the charge of God's work that we must carry out, the mission given us by Christ, to make disciples of the nations and share the gospel.

It was on Sunday that the Apostles and disciples gathered to break bread (Acts 2:46;20:7): a new beginning in Christ and a new understanding of the Sabbath. Truly the Lord's day. Man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath was made for man, and Jesus is Lord even of the sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). He has made it his own.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Religion: My response to "When will we get Christianity right?"

If you have a helmet, now's a good time to put it on. Seatbelts should be fastened. Tray tables and seat backs: upright and locked. Security blanket. Government savings bond. Flame retardant clothing. Fat-free ice cream.

On, while searching threads updated recently, I came across one named "catholic is the one true church". I didn't notice how many replies there were in that thread... over 200. Well, I'd read more than half when one caught my eye, and I decided to reply to it. I read the remainder of the replies just to see if anyone else was saying the same thing I was about to say. For the faint of heart, here's a brief synopsis of the thread:
  • Did Jesus start the Catholic church? That doesn't mean they can just make stuff up (like papal infallability).
  • Yes, he did. [Examples from Scripture].
  • No, he didn't. [Examples from Scripture].
  • When did they use the word "Catholic"?
  • When did they use the word "Protestant"?
  • OMG you call the Pope the "Holy Father"?
  • Orthodox and Catholics pretend they are the one true church and then posts like this arise and their differences are made clear.
  • Why can't we all just get along? Christianity is about Christ.
  • Jesus didn't start a physical church, he started a catholic (= universal) church, meaning it transcended nation and race.
  • Prove [such and such] from Scripture!
  • Neither Catholicism nor the Bible teaches Sola Scriptura, so why don't you look at these early Christian writings from Ignatius?
  • If there's no record of Peter in Rome in the Bible, I don't want to hear about it.

Yeah, so as you can see, things were going swimmingly. So I responded to a comment.

wmc1982: I personally believe anyone who believes in the diety of Jesus Christ and follows His teachings are all part of the "One True Church"

And away I went. Please let me know what you think. This can also be found at, in the thread linked above, page 23, post #226.

If we're all right, who'll admit to being wrong first?

I apologize if this appears to be a rant, or if my tone is less ecumenical than that of my brothers and sisters here, but I feel there are topics being avoided and words being swallowed. I ask St. James to pray for me and to help seek guidance for the "tongue" with which I speak now, for I do not wish to deceive my heart or anyone else's, and prove my religion to be in vain (James 1:26, 3:1-10). wmc1982, this is not directed at you personally, but it was your comment (since it was a recent one) that I decided to reply to.

But where do you draw the line as to what his teachings are? Did he (or did he not) institute the Eucharist, whereby the bread and wine he shared with the Apostles was his body and blood? Did he (or did he not) declare to the Apostles that they have the power to forgive sins (a power formerly attributed to God alone)? Did he (or did he not) command his Apostles to make disciples of the nations and baptize them? Did he (or did he not) instruct that faith yields fruits, and that these works of faith are necessary for your salvation to be true, just as John the Baptist had preached to the Pharisees?

You could ignore the majority of the Bible and just cling to Romans 10:9-10. But there's more in Paul's writing than those two verses, more epistles than those of Paul (like that of James, the only place "faith alone" is found, as in See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone, James 2:24), more to the New Testament than the epistles, more to the Bible than the New Testament, and more to the Church than the Bible! In fact, the Bible admits there's more to the teachings of Jesus than what's recorded in it, and yet Jesus told us to follow all his commands!

I won't deny Christians around the world share some core beliefs. But if there is a truth, it cannot be a different truth in one church than it is in another church. You can know some of the truth, which is different from knowing something contrary to the truth and calling it the truth. Look at it this way: you are calling for us to admit that we're all right so long as we accept Christ. Then who will be the first to admit that their church is wrong in the "extra details" it teaches, like how to baptize a person, and at what age it's permissible, and that tithing is necessary for the physical upkeep of the church as well as the financial support of its charitable missions? In fact, who needs "charitable missions" when we've got Christ?!

Catholicism didn't appear out of a vacuum. It didn't pop into existence the day Luther nailed his complaints to a door. It has been in existence since the day Jesus founded a Church, his Church, The Church. Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition and the teaching of those qualified to teach with authority are all ingredients to its growth over the centuries.

When John Q. Christian starts up his own church, "God's Way Bible Study Salvation Church", where does he find his authority? Did it take almost 2000 years for Christianity to have finally been "gotten right" by him? How does he interpret Scripture: is it really just how he reads it, or was he influenced by someone before him, who had another influence, and so on...? What about the historical interpretation by the Church Fathers and their successors? Is he interpreting the translated English text in his Bible, or examining the source documents in their historical context and language? Why does he ignore the history of the Church as presented by the Church Fathers? "It's not Scripture!" Well, if you're not going to believe something that's not in the Bible, then you'd better not place your trust in a "sinner's prayer" and an "altar call" for your salvation, since those are traditions of men. Nevermind what Paul actually wrote about accepting the traditions being passed onto the churches by the apostles. The Bible is not part of the Trinity, last time I checked. John 1 makes it clear that the Logos, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, was made incarnate in Jesus Christ, not "papyrate" in the Bible. The Bible is a testimony to God: Father, Son, and Spirit. The words written by its myriad authors were inspired in them by the Holy Spirit of God, making each of them prophets for us. Read Genesis 1:1-3 again, and there's the Trinity staring you in the face: the Father (who is creative in nature, for there is no Father without a child), the Spirit moving across the waters, and the Son and Divine Word (which was, from the beginning, "light"). What Divine Providence that the first three verses of the first chapter of the first book that comprises what we call "the Bible" point to His true essence!

So where am I going with all this? What is my point? If we haven't "gotten Christianity right" by today, then God has failed His promise to be with [us] always, until the end of the age (since we have clearly not been with Him), and God has failed His promise to build a new covenant with us written on our hearts that will not be broken (since we have failed to recognize that covenant since its inception), and God has failed His promise that His church would not be overcome by the gates of the netherworld (for all those "Christians" who have thus died in vain for nearly 20 centuries).

Christianity does not need to be scrapped and started from scratch. It needs to be re-united, it must be made one again, as the Son and the Father are one. This unity will not arrive at the snapping of fingers, but at the breaking of bread.

Peace be with you all.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Religion: When will we "get Christianity right"?

I don't mean for this to be an abrasive, offensive, inflammatory, degrading, derisive, disrespectful, or arrogant post. But it's going to come off that way. It's said that "the devil is in the details" (although I can't really find a source or date of origin for the phrase). I have a feeling, though, it's true in this case.

That Jesus Christ is God is the crux (no pun intended) of Christianity. Why, then, so many divisions, schisms, separations, heresies, etc.? One would hope it was not Jesus's desire to divide Christian from Christian (though he did come to divide us based on whether we believe in him, Matthew 10:34). Then can we not say the Devil has continued his toil against our salvation by pitting Christian brother against Christian brother? Is not the Devil in the details which separate one denomination from another?

I would like to see a chart that shows the geographical and chronological origins of the various denominations of Christianity; if someone could find this (online or not) I would be most grateful. As a Roman Catholic, I can't help but wonder why after the Eastern Orthodox split off, Anglicans split off, or the Lutherans split off, anyone else had to dissent to such a degree as to rally a group around themselves (excuse me, I mean: around Jesus). Why Baptist over Presbyterian? Why Methodist over Pentecostal?

What's even more astonishing is that there are new "denominations" every day, it seems, as though everyone over the past 2000 years, reformers included, have just "not gotten it". I think that by ignoring the history of Christianity, they assume it formed out of a vacuum and that the Bible showed up on their doorsteps one day with no one to explain it. The Church has always existed since Jesus told Simon Bar-Jonah, "you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18)... yet those few words alone have sparked fiery debate. Nevertheless, there has always been the Church, and to think that it went so off track so early in its existence speaks very poorly of the will of God and His promise to us: "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). This was an echo of what the Spirit said through the prophets:
  • Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you. (Isaiah 54:10)
  • This is the covenant with them which I myself have made, says the LORD: My spirit which is upon you and my words that I have put into your mouth Shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children Nor the mouths of your children's children from now on and forever, says the LORD. (Isaiah 59:21)
  • One heart and one way I will give them, that they may fear me always, to their own good and that of their children after them. I will make with them an eternal covenant, never to cease doing good to them; into their hearts I will put the fear of me, that they may never depart from me. (Jeremiah 32:39-40)
For the sake of ecumenicalism, I won't continue my questions for non-Catholics, but I will end with this final question for all Christians: what would it take to unite Christians into a single church, the Ancient Church that was founded by Jesus during his ministry, a truly catholic (universal) church?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Theology: Forgiveness of sins... righting of wrongs

At, I've become involved in a thread on this question: "How exactly do I repent for my sins?" One member of the site, Treasurer, quoted Luke 19:1-10, where the sinful tax collector Zacchaeus shows his repentance by donating half his possessions to the poor and by promising to repay any amount he has cheated the taxpayers out of. Notice that Zacchaeus is demonstrating his faith by works: donation (almsgiving) as well as correcting the problems caused by his sins.

This is one place where Catholic theology differs from most Protestant theologies. We all agree that through Christ's sacrifice we have forgiveness of sins, but Catholics recognize that Christ has covered the eternal payment due for our sinful nature, specifically, our spiritual death, our eternal separation from God. Jesus never promised us that his sacrifice would fix the temporal problems we have created for others when we sinned. In fact, Jesus tells us that it is up to us to deal with the temporal situation:

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Here we see Jesus telling us (through the apostles) to make amends with the person whom we have wronged (or who has wronged us). Clearly it is unreasonable to expect that we will be able to undo every evil that our sins have caused, especially as we consider sins of months and years past -- who can even remember all the sins they have committed? We pray that God recognizes our efforts to correct those we do remember and can correct. But this does not mean we can just "write off" all the evil as unfixable just because some of it is beyond our power to correct! The person I insulted yesterday might still be hurting, even though I have asked God to forgive me for my unkindness (and therefore I am not "hurting"). What reason could I possibly have for not going back to that person and righting the wrong I have committed by apologizing (at the very least)?!

If we hold ourselves unaccountable for the ramifications of our sins, what is stopping us from living in a manner truly detrimental to our neighbors, and excusing our actions as being "covered" by the grace of God through belief in Jesus Christ? Imagine how terrible this life would be if we submitted to injustice in the flesh at the same time as we benefited from justice in the spirit! I will not accept such hypocrisy from myself. Jesus demands that we "go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37), and I will accept that command with all it entails.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 3

Who is Eve's seed? Commentary on Genesis 3:14-15 (two posts, here and here).

Was the fruit an apple? I have a brief analysis of "apple" in the Bible (with a couple omissions from the Song of Songs, sorry). I'm curious when the adoption of the apple in the artwork of the Garden of Eden occurred -- as Wikipedia informs me, the Latin words for "apple" and "evil" are similar: malus and malum.

Scripture Questions

  1. Compare what God says in Genesis 2:16-17 with the snake's quotation in Genesis 3:1. How does the snake misquote God? What is the effect of the snake's misquotation?
    The snake speaks as if God forbade the eating of any fruit from any tree. This puts Eve "on the defensive", and she replies by saying that they are allowed to eat of the fruit of all trees but one, the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In describing the tree, Eve explains the penalty for eating the fruit of that tree, and in doing so, she gets it wrong...
  2. The woman does not quote God exactly either (Genesis 3:3). What does she add? What effect does her addition have on the picture of God that she conveys?
  3. God said From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die. (Genesis 2:17b) Eve says that they cannot even touch it.
  4. Why would the woman believe what the snake says in Genesis 3:4-5?
  5. She is probably seeking some rationale for why they were told not to eat the fruit, apart from "God said so".
  6. Genesis 3:6 describes how the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil appears to Eve. How is this fruit different from the fruit of the other trees (see Genesis 2:9)? If the fruit of the other trees is also pleasant and nutritious, why is Eve now especially attracted to this one?
  7. Like the fruit of other trees, it was delightful to look at and good for food, but it was also desirable for gaining wisdom. That's a pretty peculiar statement to make about a fruit.
Personal Reflection Questions
  1. Has something ever become more attractive or interesting to you because it was forbidden? What did you do? What did you learn?
  2. Well, that's the nature of temptation. As a child, once you're told something is off-limits, you often end up wanting the object all the more. When I succombed to the temptation, it might have seemed "worth it" at the time, but I've learned that it's not.
  3. Describe a situation in which a temptation seemed attractive and reasonable at the time but later was shown not to have made as much sense as you had thought.
  4. ...
  5. Who do you tend to blame for your sins?
  6. Sometimes other people (such a person who provokes me), sometimes myself.
  7. When have you faced a moral choice in which it was crucial to trust that God had your best interests at heart?
  8. ...
  9. When do you find it most difficult to trust in God's care for you? What can you do to express your trust in him?
  10. ...

Internet: Weebls has an ADVENT CALENDAR?!

This is priceless. Day 24 is quite amusing.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 2


(4-7) There really are two creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. One is not a summary of the other, they explain the relationship of humans to God in two very different contexts.

(16-17) Man is told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil... but is not forbidden from the fruit of the tree of life! The death incurred by eating from the tree of knowledge is a spiritual death due to sin (otherwise the tree of life would be extraneous).

Scripture Questions
  1. In Genesis 1, God gives names to the basic components of the world. In Genesis 2, the man names the living creatures. What does this tell us about humans?
    God, in making us in His image, endowed us with a sense of creativity and a desire to know things. When we come across something we've never seen before, we often ask "what is it called?" When we create something new, we give it a name. Genesis 2 is like the best of both worlds: Adam didn't create the animals, but he was seeing them for the first time, and gave them names.
  2. What do Genesis 2:8-9,19-20 suggest about God's purpose for the plants and animals on the earth?
  3. The "original" purpose was for plants to be the food for all animals, and for animals to be "helpers" for humans: for tilling the land, making clothing from sheep wool, etc. It doesn't even eliminate the possibility for getting milk from cows.
  4. Verses 23 and 24 are linked by the word "therefore" (NRSV, Catholic Edition). What is the narrator trying to explain? How would you clarify the explanation to someone who asked your help in understanding it?
  5. The union between man and woman is explained as the natural answer to the separation created by the origin of woman ("out of man"). They are natural counterparts to one another.
  6. How is the creation account in Genesis 2 different from the account in Genesis 1? What different points do the two accounts emphasize? Do the two accounts give a somewhat different picture of God?
  7. In the first account, God spends several days building up the earth, reaching the pinnacle of creation: humans. In the second account, God creates Adam first and then creates the plant-life that fills Eden and the animals for Adam to name. In both accounts, humanity is special: in the first, because humans are the pinnacle of creation, the last thing God creates before the earth is very good; and in the second, because Adam is the very first thing God creates, and everything else is made for him. God is the Creator in the first account, whereas in the second account His creative role is more as a father figure and a benefactor.
Personal Reflection Questions
  1. When have you been lonely? Is loneliness an inescapable part of life? How can you tell when someone is lonely? Is there someone whose loneliness you could relieve?
  2. When I first went to college I was lonely. Being put into a new situation, especially one in which you don't know anybody, can often lead to a sense of un-belonging and loneliness. I don't know if the symptoms of loneliness are universal, but people who look like they think they're out of place or are sequestering themselves are probably lonely people.
  3. How has work been a blessing for you? In what ways has it been a mixed blessing?
  4. I love my job: I'm at the computer, writing code, building programs, pretty much all day. I solve interesting problems and my company fills a very specific niche. However, there are times I forget it's my job and I have a boss to report to and other people I have to work with. Sometimes I get impatient or irritated by inadequate specifications or quick one-off programs. So although I enjoy it, there are times when my interest in it is outweighed by the gravity of the reality that it is work and not play.
  5. When has God unexpectedly provided something good for you? What effect has this had on your relationship with him?
  6. I'd say getting a copy of The Divine Office has been a help for me. It's bolstered my often-flailing prayer life and given me something to concentrate on for several minutes a day. I feel closer to God because of it.
  7. Who have been the most important helpers on your journey through life? To whom is God giving you as a helper at this stage in life? What could you do to better show love in these relationships?
  8. My fiancée Kristin, my sister Jenn, and my brother Charlie (a priest) have probably been the most "present" helpers over the last several years of my life. Now, as a member of my church's RCIA team, I feel I am being given as a "helper" to the four people seeking full communion with the Church. It's my responsibility to help in their education and shepherding, and to help them develop a healthy relationship with God.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 1


(1-5) We see in the first three verses the three distinct Persons of God: the Father and Creator, the Word, and the Spirit. The Father creates the heavens and the earth through his Word (his Son, known as Jesus in the flesh), and creation is moved and permeated by a mighty wind (3) translated literally as the "Spirit of God". The first words God speaks bring into being light, so from the beginning, the Word of God has been "light". In Psalm 90:2, we read that God has been God and God has existed from eternity to eternity. In 2 Maccabees 7:28, a mother tells her son to gaze at the heavens and know that God is their source of existence, just as He is the source of our existence. In the letter to the Hebrews, the author writes that it was through the Son of God (who is the Word made flesh) that the Father brought the universe into being.

(11-12) I forgot to mention this before... in a thread on about spiritual messages in Genesis 1, I mentioned the third day of creation:
I find that the third day in Genesis is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it." And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was. (Genesis 1:11-12)
In the context of John 12:24 ("Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.") I think it prophesies the abundance of life that comes from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
(26-31) God has created morning, evening, water, earth, sky, plants, and animals, and finally He creates man in our image, after our likeness (26). This "image" of God is not merely our most generic form. We have the characteristics of God: creativity, mastery, a desire to be loved freely, and a will of our own. God made us, male and female, for us to inhabit the earth and control it -- but not to abuse it. The charge that we are to multiply and subdue the earth is echoed in Genesis 9:1, after Noah and his family leave the ark. In Wisdom 2:23, the author writes that God made man in the image of His own nature. We read in Psalm 8:6-9 that the state of man is close to that of a god, crowned with glory and honor, ruling over the things God has made on the earth. Psalm 115:16 echoes that: heaven is God's, but He has given the earth to us.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 1, 2006)

Readings for today: Numbers 11:25-29, James 5:1-6, Mark 9:38-48.

First Reading: Moses brings 68 elders (2 remained behind) to the meeting tent, where God gives to them a portion of the Spirit He bestowed on Moses. Back at the camp, Eldad and Medad, the two elders who were left behind, receive the Spirit as well, and begin to prophesy. Joshua hears of this and says to Moses, "My lord, stop them." Moses is curious if Joshua is jealous for Moses, and replies "Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"

Second Reading: James writes harsh words to the worldly rich, admonishing them for storing up material treasures rather than spiritual ones. He pits their mercilessness against the helplessness of the righteous.

Gospel: John warns Jesus about a man driving out demons in Jesus's name, though he does not follow us. Jesus says not to stop those who perform mighty deeds in his name, for whoever is not against us is for us. He even promises a reward to he who serves one who belongs to Christ. Jesus then goes on to preach that one should remove the body part which causes one to sin, and that one who causes a child to sin is committing an even graver sin.

As is often the case, the first reading and the gospel reading are clearly related: in one, Joshua's zeal for Moses causes him to be jealous for the gift given to Moses, and in the other, John's zeal for Jesus causes him to be wary of the gift given to a non-apostle. Joshua feels that Eldad and Medad are doing wrongly by prophesying. Perhaps he feels that Moses is threatened by their new-found gift, or he fears it is not from God. Perhaps he is hurt that they received this gift and he did not, for up to this point in Scripture, Joshua is only mentioned as Moses's aide; even though Joshua accompanies Moses up Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:13) and would be present in the meeting tent with him when all others would leave (Exodus 33:11), he was at best only a witness to Moses's communion with God. We see a similar reaction from John when he tells Jesus about a man exorcising demons in the name of Jesus, even though the man was not "one of them", by which he mostly likely meant an apostle or even a "regular" disciple. Perhaps John is jealous that an "outsider" has the faith in Jesus necessary to perform such deeds.

The response from Moses and the response from Jesus are similar to one another. Moses asks, "Are you jealous for my sake?" He says that he would be pleased if all were prophets, if received the outpouring of the Spirit. Jesus says not to prevent the exorcist from performing his duties, for "whoever is not against us is for us". He even goes so far as to say that anyone who gives even a drink of water to a follower of Christ "will surely not lose his reward". That sounds dangerous, even heretical -- a person who helps a Christian out will not lose his reward? But it is not heresy for at least two reasons: first, it's Jesus Christ, the Word of God, saying it, and second, because the reward is not explicitly named. The reward could simply be the change that comes into that person's life because of the kindness they showed to a Christian... and that change could include the opening of the heart to the message of Christ, leading them to become Christian themselves!

The historical context of the remark is also relevant. In the early church, there was sometimes bitter enmity between Jewish Christians ("natural") and Gentile Christians ("adopted"). This message by Jesus was important in denouncing the rivalry between those who were Christian because they were Jews who believed Jesus was Christ, and those who were Christian because they were converted. This message is presented multiple times in Scripture. In the book of Jonah, God rebukes Jonah for his fierce nationalism in wishing God had not saved Ninevah but rather destroyed it, as God had told Jonah to prophesy. The parable of the workers in the vineyard who receive the same wages, even though some worked all day and others only started work in the afternoon (Matthew 20:1-16, specifically v12). The parable of the prodigal son, in which the elder son is angry at the father for celebrating the return of the younger son (Luke 15:11-32, specifically vv28-30). There is no room for jealousy in the kingdom of God. The "natural" Christians are not any "better" than the "adopted" Christians.

Even the second reading, from the letter of James, fits into the gospel message. James warns the rich of building up (material) treasure for the last days. He uses language similar to Jesus's warning in Matthew 6:19-21, mentioning moth and decay. Jesus tells us to store up spiritual treasures in heaven, not material treasures on earth. The acts Jesus describes in the gospel reading, deeds done in the name of Christ, build up our spiritual treasure. Even the little act of serving water to a thirsty person is worthy of reward from God!

For a commentary on the second half of the gospel reading (on body parts that cause one to sin), see This is a Hard Saying, #1.

Peace be with you, amen.

Monday, September 25, 2006

RCIA: Prophets & Prophecy (Session #4, October 8th)


A. To understand the role of prophets in God’s revelation of Himself to humanity, and to understand the language of prophecy


A. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)

1. Prophet (Glossary)

B. Catholic Encyclopedia (CE)

1. Prophecy

2. Prophecy, Prophet, and Prophetess

C. Bible

1. Most (if not all) books of the Bible have prophetic material in them


A. What is prophecy?

1. Divine inspirations concerning what is secret, whether future or not. A Divine light by which God reveals things concerning the unknown and by which these things are in some way represented to the mind of the prophet, whose duty it is to manifest them to others. (CE)

i. In place of charms and oracles and other devices, God bestows instead the gift of prophecy

2. Content

i. Knowledge of forgotten pasts

ii. Knowledge of the hidden present

iii. Foreknowledge of future events

3. Transmission

i. Supernatural, from God

ii. Beyond the natural power of our intelligence

iii. Manifested by words and/or signs

iv. Conveyed to the intellect, the senses, or the imagination

v. The prophet was almost always awake

4. Types of prophecy

i. Perfect vs. Imperfect

a. Perfect: the prophet is sure of the thing being revealed and that it is God who is revealing it

b. Imperfect prophecy lacks one of those two characteristics (2 Samuel 7:2-5a, 13a)

ii. Denunciation, Foreknowledge, Predestination

a. Denunciation: future events that hinge upon cause-and-effect (Jonah)

b. Foreknowledge: future events that hinge upon free will, but which God sees in the present from eternity

c. Predestination: future events that are God’s infallible, unpreventable will, and which He shall cause to come about (the coming of the Messiah)

B. What is a (true) prophet?

1. One sent by God to form the people of the Old Covenant in the hope of salvation. (CCC)

i. Interpreter and herald of Yahweh whose duty is to communicate God’s will and designs to Israel

a. Preaching, foretelling, leading the people when they went astray

b. Preparing the way for the new kingdom of God ushered in by the Messiah

c. In a time of polytheism, prophets of God spoke for “Yahweh” (the name revealed to Moses), the one true God

ii. The Hebrew word is nevi, originally meaning “proclaimer” and developing into the Biblical usage of “interpreter and mouthpiece of God” (Exodus 7:1-2)

iii. Greek word prophetes comes from pro-phanai (to speak for, to speak in the name of someone)

2. No “tribe of prophets” (contrast with the Mosaic priesthood of Levi)

i. The gift of prophecy is an extraordinary grace bestowed by God on whomever He pleases

a. No preparation required, no training needed

b. Men, women, children, angels, demons, gentiles, etc.

c. Moral goodness preferred, but not necessary

ii. Prophetic message initiated by God (Jeremiah 1:2) or by prayer on the part of the prophet (Jeremiah 42:4)

iii. Prophets other than adult Hebrew males

a. Miriam, the sister of Moses

b. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist

c. Samuel and Daniel as children

d. Balaam, a Moabite (Gentile) (Numbers 24:15-17)

e. Demons (Matthew 8:28-29)

C. What is a false prophet?

1. Either one who claims prophecy falsely, or one who reveals God in a manner contrary to the understanding revealed in Scripture. (Jeremiah 23:30-32)

2. True prophets should be virtuous, well-tempered, and in good mental health

3. True prophets should speak in conformity with Christian truth if they are inspired by the Spirit

4. True prophets should speak of things of grave and important nature, for the good of the Church or for souls in general

i. This excludes fortune-telling, crystal-gazers, etc.

5. Prophecies that make known the sins of others, or delve into predestination (of a soul’s salvation or condemnation) are suspect

i. In particular, the Day of Judgment is a secret that has never been revealed

6. Look for fulfillment of prophecy, except where the prophecy was hinged upon conditions which have changed (Jonah)

i. Consider prophecy from God which may have been misinterpreted by humans

D. Who were some of the prophets?

1. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

i. God spoke directly to Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob)

ii. God formed the covenant of circumcision with Abraham, the first physical historical covenant

2. Moses and Aaron

i. God spoke directly to Moses, manifesting Himself in such forms as a bush burning but not consumed and a pillar of smoke

ii. God reveals himself by name to Moses: Yahweh (“I am who am”)

iii. God reveals himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob

3. Samuel and Nathan

i. Samuel was called by God as a young boy (1 Samuel 3:4-10), and his calling began the “institution” of prophets

a. Prophets did not have “schools”, nor did they “pass on” their “skill”, but prophets became main-stays and advisors to the king

ii. Nathan served King David and prophesied as well as instructed David using parables (2 Samuel 12:1-7a)

4. Elijah

i. Helped lead Israel back to God

ii. Raised a boy from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24)

iii. Fled to Mount Horeb when Jezebel threatened his life; there he received encouragement (1 Kings 19:8b-13a) and a mission from God (1 Kings 19:13b-18)

iv. Commanded by God to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16, 19-21)

5. Elisha

i. Succeeded Elijah and received a “double portion of [his] spirit” before Elijah was taken up into heaven amidst a whirlwind and a flaming chariot (2 Kings 2:9-12)

ii. Also raised a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-35)

6. Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel

7. Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi

8. Called by God in different ways and responded differently (Amos 7:14-15; Jeremiah 1:4-5; Jonah 1:1-3a)

9. The fate of prophets…

i. All were threatened, most were killed

ii. Jesus referred to Jerusalem – and the Pharisees in particular – as the murderer of the prophets (Matthew 23:29-37)

E. What was the role of prophecy?

1. Literal and figurative meanings behind the images and words

i. Literal: 1 Kings 22:17

ii. Figurative: Jeremiah 1:11-12

iii. Literal and figurative: 2 Samuel 7:12-13

2. Usually oral instruction accompanied by symbolic gestures

i. In Jeremiah 27:2, he was prophesying God’s bondage of the Israelites under Nebuchadnezzar.

ii. Some prophecies appear to have been made exclusively to be written down

3. Preaching religion and morals, deploring idol worship and empty sacrifices; foretelling the Day of Yahweh, the Messiah, salvation, and the end of the world

F. What did they prophesy?

1. They did not just receive a mission of preaching and predicting God’s will, they were given a specific message, and all they spoke came to them by revelation and inspiration (2 Peter 1:21)

2. God’s abandonment of Israel for their wickedness and His return (Hosea)

3. God’s destruction of wicked nations if they did not repent (Jonah)

4. The new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-28)

5. Obedience and love, instead of sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6)

6. The Messiah, details of his ministry, even John the Baptist (Isaiah 9:5-6, 53:1-12; Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 9:9; Malachi 3)

i. Jesus Christ is understood to be the consummation of prophecy, meaning that all the prophecies were ultimately pointing to his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, as well as his purpose in the salvation of God’s people (Matthew 13:17)

7. The Resurrection (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2)

G. What about prophecy during the time of Christ?

1. The angel Gabriel, appearing to Mary, regarding Jesus (Luke 1:26-37)

2. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, upon seeing Mary (Luke 1:41-45)

3. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, upon John’s birth (Luke 1:68-79)

4. Simeon, in the temple at the presentation of Jesus (Luke 2:25-35)

5. Anna, recognizing the fulfillment of God’s promise (Luke 2:36-38)

6. John the Baptist, possessing the spirit of Elijah (Luke 3:15-16)

7. Jesus as prophet

i. As a boy in Jerusalem (Luke 2:46-49)

ii. At the start of his ministry (Luke 4:14-21; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2)

iii. About John the Baptist (Luke 7:27, cf. Malachi 3:1)

iv. He taught with an authority never known before, for the source of his teaching was not outside of him, but in him

H. Where is prophecy now?

1. The book of Revelation is the last formally acknowledged prophetic work of Divine inspiration, but the prophetic spirit has not disappeared

2. We have freedom in accepting or rejecting private or particular prophecy, but we should be slow to judge either way

i. The real litmus test is fulfillment!


A. The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)

1. Examining the parallels between the prophecy and the ministry of Jesus