Thursday, October 18, 2018

His Life as a Ransom for Many: 29th Sunday of OT


The First Reading for this Lord’s Day is personally very significant to me, because it caused me to be disturbed as a young man, and even contributed to a bout of depression I had. 

When I was in college, a group of Messianic (Christian) Jewish singers called “The Liberated Wailing Wall” came to my home church to put on a concert.  One of their numbers was a setting of Isaiah 53 adapted for choir.  They got to verse 10 and belted out in a very catchy way, “It was the will of the Father to crush him!”  Musically, it made a great impact, but the line stuck with me and nagged me for years.  

A few years later I began to face several severe family and career setbacks and began to slip into depression.  “If it was the will of the Father to crush Jesus,” I thought, “How much more is it the Father’s will to crush me?”  I felt that God had it in for me and was trying to destroy me.  I didn’t get over the resulting depression until my old spiritual director assured me that God didn’t want to destroy me, but rather loved me.  That let loose on emotional dam and I had a spiritual experience that enabled me to break through the darkness.

Nonentheless, that line from Isaiah 53:10 begins our First Reading for this Lord’s Day.  Is God cruel?  Why would he crush anyone, much less his own son?  This raises the question of the mystery of redemptive suffering, which we will get into as we explore these readings.

Reading 1 Is 53:10-11

Monday, October 15, 2018

Did Jesus Die for "Many," or For All? (The Mass Readings Explained)

My latest video for The Mass Readings Explained is now out.  You can check it out over at Catholics Productions.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:

"I think this is an important teaching to highlight from the Catechism for a couple of reasons.  First, the idea that Jesus is just a good teacher or a great prophet or a world leader of a religion has become much more widespread where we have this tendency to just look at religions as created equal.  And, that can mislead us about the unique character of Christianity and in particular about the radical nature of the claim that we’re making in Christianity.  

When we say that the death of Jesus of Nazareth atoned for all the sins of all humanity — from the beginning of time to the end of time — that’s a big claim.  …You can’t make that claim about a regular human being, about just an ordinary human being.  There were lots of…prophets who were tortured and killed over the course of Israel’s history.  No one ever claimed that any of their deaths made up for the sins of all humanity."


Thursday, October 11, 2018

How Do I Live Forever? The 28th Sunday of OT








Very few of us want to die.  In fact, there’s an obsession in this country with staying young and looking young.  Entire industries have developed around cosmetics, nutritional supplements, plastic surgery, and fitness gyms, all for the sake of staying young and staving off the natural effects of aging.  I think it’s partly a refusal to embrace the inevitability of death.   

Along one of the roads between Steubenville (where I live) and Pittsburgh, there is a cyrogenics warehouse that stores the frozen corpses and heads of persons who paid a lot of money to be preserved until medical technology is able to thaw them out and cure their ailments.  I suppose that’s the ultimate attempt to gain eternal life for those who believe we are composed of nothing but a physical body.

The desire to live forever is not new.  We see it in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, when a wealthy young man comes to Jesus to ask for the path to eternal life.  Jesus’ answer does not involve cyrogenics or nutritional supplements.  His answer is as relevant now as it was then.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Camel and the "Eye of the Needle" (The Mass Readings Explained)

My latest video for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time is now out.

Check out the intro below and you can subscribe and get a 14 day free trial if you haven't already.

Catholic Productions' notable quote from this' week's video:

"I just pause on that for just a second because sometimes Catholics are accused of being unbiblical because of our focus on keeping the Commandments.
Sometimes Catholics are accused of teaching a “works righteousness” religion that earns our way into heaven because we insist on keeping the Commandments. And, the reality of the fact is that the authentic Catholic faith its emphasis on obedience to the Commandments is something that flows straight out of the teaching of Christ himself. When asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told the young man, “Keep the commandments.”
This is an essential part of what it means to be a disciple; and, it’s an essential part of entering the kingdom of heaven. Now, it doesn’t encompass everything — we’re going to see that in just a minute — but it is an essential component."





Friday, October 05, 2018

“What God Has Joined Together”: 27th Sunday of OT B





You don’t need to read a lot of news to realize marriage and family in the United States and Western culture generally are really in a bad state and getting worse.  Marriage and birth rates in the US are at historic lows and continue to decline.  The average age a person gets married in the U.S. has sky rocketed in recent years, reflecting the fact that fewer are getting married, and they wait longer before they do.  Divorce rates both inside and outside the Church remain high. Only one-third of all children in the United States will spend their whole growing up with both biological parents in the home.  The vast majority grow up with just their mother, mother and step-father, or some other mixed situation.  Does this have psychological and social effects on children?  You bet it does, but no one is too concerned about the kids these days, unless faux concern for children can be used as a proxy battle to advance some identity-politics ideology. 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Jesus, Divorce, and Remarriage (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video for the Mass Readings explained is now up. Check it out below and you can subscribe over at Catholic Productions to watch the full version.  Thank you.

Catholic Productions' notable quote from this week's video:

This week's video for the Mass Readings explained is now up. Check it out below. Notable quote from this week's video: But Mark’s Gospel doesn’t just mention the husband. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus mentions both a husband initiating divorce and a wife initiating divorce. So, both parties — whether it’s the man or woman, the husband or the wife — should they divorce their spouse and marry another person, they’re guilty of adultery. Why? Because marriage cannot be dissolved by a human being. Because it is something God has joined together and made permanent, or, as we say today, indissoluble. And therefore whoever divorces and then remarries breaks the sixth commandment, the commandment against adultery.


Jesus, Divorce, and Remarriage (27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ralph Martin's Critique of Karl Rahner

I absolutely despise thinking about damnation. The concept, it seems to me, is often used in a less than charitable and prudent way. Nonetheless, because I am writing a book on salvation, I'm forced to now think through issues relating to it.
Image result for martin "will many be saved"
I've been carefully re-reading Hans Urs van Balthasar and Karl Rahner. I'm naturally inclined to their more optimistic view of salvation--wouldn't it be nice if in the end most if not all were saved?

Yet I'm now reading through Ralph Martin's Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012). 

I was particularly struck by this section of Martin's critique of Rahner. 
"Apart from the scriptural and magisterial witness to the contrary, even from an empirical point of view it is difficult to understand Rahner's optimistic view of human beings' response to what he postulates as the supernatural existential. He acknowledges that's optimistic theory of the 'positive response rate' of human beings needs to be tested against empirical observation of actual human beings and what we can observe of their response. The puzzling empirical fact is that he spent virtually his whole priesthood (1932-1984) first under Nazi rule and then, after World War II, with half of Germany under Soviet communism. He published his first major works in 1939 and 1941. He spent the whole of World War II in Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied Austria, free to lecture although not at a university. From 1939 to 1944 he lectured in Leipzig, Dresden, Strasbourg, and Cologne, laying the theological groundwork for his theories. Consider the slaughter of so many tens of millions--including the firebombing of Dresden; the horrifying realities of the campaign to exterminate the Jews and the millions of concentration camp deaths--including those of many Polish Catholics; the fiendish medical experimentation. Did this not give pause to his theory that almost everybody says 'yes' to the offer of salvation contained in the 'supernatural existential' apart from any hearing of the gospel? Is it at all credible to posit that the grace of God has 'overtaken' the 'false choices' of men in these and many other empirically observable situations?" (p. 103)
Indeed, the more I think about it, it does seem that many Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century failed to come to terms with the truly horrifying reality of the holocaust. It is surprising to see how little it actually is accounted for in much modern theology. It is affirmed, yes. I'm certainly not implying people like Rahner are holocaust deniers. The issue is deeper. What real impact did it make on his thought? In the case of Rahner's rather optimistic view of humanity, that does seem to be a valid question.


Releasing Your Inner Prophet: The 26th Sunday of OT


The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that we are baptized into Christ’s prophethood, but if you cornered any typical Catholic coming out of mass on a Sunday morning, they would vehemently deny having any prophetic gifts, because “I’m not Charismatic.” 
Well, the prophetic role of the Christian is not limited to people involved in the Charismatic Renewal.  The Readings for this mass are, in a sense, united by a theme of prophethood, discussing what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ and his prophetic charism.

Our First Reading is Numbers 11:25-29:

Monday, September 24, 2018

Jesus and Gehenna (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out!  Check out the intro below and you can subscribe over at Catholic Productions to watch the full version.  Thank you.

Catholic Productions' notable quote from this week's video:

"Before I jump into the Gospel, just as a preface: I think it’s really important to notice that although in our own day and time the topic of hell — the idea of eternal separation from God — has become very unpopular, it’s important to remember that in the Gospels — if you look at the New Testament and the Gospels as a whole — Jesus actually speaks about the fires of hell, the punishments of hell, and the reality of Gehenna more times in the Gospels than the rest of the New Testament combined.  So, this really an important issue in the teaching and preaching ministry of Jesus Christ.  And, so it needs to be important for us as well, however unpopular it might be."



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Why Being Good Doesn't Pay: 25th Sunday of OT


When I was younger, especially from high school through my early days as a Protestant pastor, I had this strong sense that if a person always did what was right, “things would work out.”  That is to say, righteousness was the path to the good life.  God would pave the way in front of the person that does his will. 

There is some truth to that, of course.  A great deal of interior and exterior suffering is cause by our wicked and selfish choices.  When I used to work as an urban missionary, occasionally I would have the chance to witness a fairly significant conversion in the life of a person who had been living a life basically consisting of criminal activity.  Sometimes there would often be a “honeymoon” period after the person’s conversion, as so much stress and sadness in their life faded away as they stopped making evil choices.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Second Passion Prediction (The Mass Readings Explained)

This Sunday's video is now available over at Catholic Productions.  Check it out and subscribe today if you haven't already.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote from this week's video:

"The description of this suffering righteous man in the Book of Wisdom is strikingly similar to what we see of Christ in the New Testament.  The most important part being here is that the righteous man calls himself “God’s Son.”  The reason that’s so critical is that in the Old Testament “Son of God” is a term that gets applied to the angels as a group.  It gets applied to Israel as a group — they are the “sons of God.”  But, whenever it’s applied to an individual, it’s exclusively applied to the King of Israel…  So, when the Wisdom of Solomon uses the language of a suffering, righteous, Son of God, it’s also a Messianic context.  So, this is about a coming Messiah who’s going to suffer, who’s going to be persecuted, and who’s going to die."



Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Paradox of Discipleship: The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 
We have been getting a number of rousing challenges from Jesus in the past several weeks, as our readings have followed the progress of his ministry, and Jesus repeatedly makes clear that following him is not going to be easy in any way.  This Sunday we get another challenge from Jesus to “fish or cut bait” in our relationship with him.  Paradoxically, however, if we think we are going to preserve our lives and comfort by turning away from him, Jesus warns us: long term, that’s a bad strategy.

1.  Our First Reading is one of the Servant Songs of the Book of Isaiah:

Monday, September 10, 2018

Discipleship and Self-Denial (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote from this week's video:

"Notice what Jesus is saying.  Not only will he be a suffering and crucified Messiah, but he calls his disciples to imitate that life.  He calls his disciples to also, in a sense, be crucified — die to this world and live for the kingdom.  The whole Church is supposed to be cruciform in its shape.  It’s not that Jesus dies on the cross so that I don’t have to.  It’s that Jesus takes up his cross so that I have the grace and the power to do the same in my own life … and in my own walk of discipleship.  …You can believe in Jesus without ever getting into the question of suffering.  But you cannot be a disciple of Jesus apart from self denial and the cross.  That’s what he’s saying here."




Friday, September 07, 2018

To See and To Hear: 23rd Sunday of OT


The reality of sight and hearing are a great mystery that natural science has difficulty explaining. 

Robots, of course, can be equipped with sensors to detect sound and light, and react in various ways to audio and visual stimuli.  But a robot cannot “see” or “hear” in the way that a human person does.  A robot cannot create the visual field that each of us “sees” when we open our eyes.  A robot can sense the frequencies of sound but cannot feel the harmonies of Mozart or experience the sensations of good music.  A robot is not conscious.  True sight and hearing are experiences of consciousness, of the mind.  Without the gift of the mystery of consciousness, everything is blackness and silence.  When God breathed into Adam the “breath of life” and gave him the gift of consciousness, then light and sound came into being for the first man.

To hear and to see are mysterious gifts of the creator God.  In this Sunday’s readings, we are invited to ponder more deeply the different senses of what it means to be blind and deaf, and how Jesus can heal us of these maladies.

1.  Our First Reading is from Isaiah 35:4-7:

Friday, August 31, 2018

Jesus Makes the Law More Demanding: 22nd Sunday of OT


It’s commonly thought that Jesus came to make things easier on everyone, and relax the moral laws that the Pharisees kept so rigidly.  So the Pharisees become the image of hated religious conservatives, people who think that there actually is right and wrong which doesn’t evolve with changing times.  

The truth is a little more complicated.  In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus teaches on the nature of God’s Law.  It is not that God’s Law is not demanding or that it changes with time.  God’s Law, however, does not consist primarily in do’s and don’ts of external behavior, as important as that can be.  It is primarily a rule of the soul, a guide for our interior person, which then reflects itself in our actions. 

1.  Our First Reading is from the introductory chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Does This Shock You? The 21st Sunday in OT


There are many times in life when circumstances force you into making a decision that has lasting consequences.  There are times when you have to decide whether to accept an offer on your house or turn it down, whether to take a job or decline it, whether to propose marriage—or accept a proposal—or enter religious life.  Often we don’t want to decide, yet circumstances force us, and even not deciding will constitute a kind of decision.  These are stressful times, times of crisis.  The readings for this Sunday likewise put us in the position of having to decide whether we are going to trust God and his Word, or cast off on our own, trying to find salvation somewhere else.  

Our First Reading recounts Joshua putting the people of Israel into a "crisis" in which they must decide to follow the LORD: