Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hypocrites in the Church: The 16th Sunday of OT

Our Readings for this upcoming Lord’s Day involve a meditation on both God’s mercy and his justice, and the complex way both virtues of God are expressed in his government of human affairs in general and his people in particular.  We see that God’s apparent tolerance of evil in the short-term is an expression of his mercy and desire that all should repent; yet ultimately God can and will establish justice. 

1.  Reading 1 Wis 12:13, 16-19:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"The Seed, the Good Soil, and Understanding the Word": Readings for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday the readings focus on the imagery of seed-planting. Read in light of the fathers and doctors in particular, the readings teach us powerful lessons about what it takes to be fruitful: (1) God's grace; (2) perseverance in hope; (3) careful and prayerful attention to the Word.

Here's a brief overview. . .

FIRST READING: Isaiah 55:10-11
Thus says the LORD:Just as from the heavensthe rain and snow come downand do not return theretill they have watered the earth,making it fertile and fruitful,giving seed to the one who sowsand bread to the one who eats,so shall my word bethat goes forth from my mouth;my word shall not return to me void,but shall do my will,achieving the end for which I sent it.
The point of the first reading is very simple: God's word accomplishes its purpose. Here we can make three observations:

1. The redemption of Israel and the conversion of the Gentiles. In context, the reading is specifically referring to God's promise to redeem Israel and, in so doing, bring all humanity to recognize him as the Lord. Immediately before the lines read in the first reading, Isaiah 55 declares:
"Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you" (Isa 55:5).
Indeed, hope for the inclusion of the Gentiles is found throughout the book of Isaiah. In the next chapter, the Lord makes it clear that the nations will one day join Israel in worshipping him:
”And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isa. 56:6-7)
Isaiah thus describes Israel in terms of a Servant whose vocation is to bring all humanity into covenant relationship with the Lord: "I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations" (Isa. 42:6).

In accomplishing this goal Israel, the descendants of Abraham, are to fulfill God's promise to the great patriarch: "by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22:18).

The first reading, then, involves Isaiah announcing that God's word will accomplish its purpose, namely, he will redeem Israel and in so doing convert the hearts of people from all nations.

Unicorns exist after all: Evidence from Aquinas

In his commentary on the psalms, Aquinas quotes Psalm 22:21 as reading: "And my lowliness from the unicorn's horns."

Wait. . . did Thomas just say that unicorns existed in the psalmist's day? Did unicorns survive the flood after all?

Well, probably, but don't get too excited unicorns aren't what you think they are. Thomas cites Job 39, explaining, "'The rhinoceros', that is the unicorn, 'will never desire to serve you', but will die. . '"

So there you have it from Thomas Aquinas: rhinos are unicorns.

Fat unicorns. 

Tri Star has led me astray.
But I guess a rhino running across the screen wouldn't sell as well.

For those who might not understand that this post was intended with humor, let me be clear. . .  I am not suggesting that Thomas believed rhinos could fly. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Gentle King of the Universe: 14th Sunday of OT

Well, folks, it has been a long, long time since we’ve had a reading on
Sunday from Ordinary Time (since March 2, to be exact), but here we are: we’re mostly “stuck” in Ordinary Time until the end of November.  Not that that’s a bad thing!  Ordinary Time has extraordinary insights.

We are in Cycle A of the Lectionary, reading through the Gospel of Matthew.  Sundays 9–13 of Ordinary Time were either skipped or pre-empted this year by the Solemnities Pentecost through Sts. Peter and Paul.  So we pick up Matthew again in media res, “in the middle of things.”

This Sunday we find Jesus more or less in the middle of his earthly ministry (Matt 11), and the Readings are marked by a strong theme of the restoration of the world-wide Kingdom of David.

1. Our First Reading is Zechariah 9:9-10

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Peter "Cephas"?: A follow up

Image of Peter wondering who this "Cephas"
fellow is. (Just kidding)
So the person who sent in the email asking about whether or not Peter and Cephas are one in the same person wasn't apparently entirely satisfied with my answer.

In a charitable response, the following arguments were brought up. First, I was criticized for not considering the possibility that Mark, Paul's companion, is the "pillar" named "John" in Galatians  2.

The reader then writes:
And more significant, the article glossed over the evidence from Acts, specifically on three points: (1) Acts never says Peter went to Antioch; (2) Acts makes it clear that Peter stood up boldly to the Jews, never caving into Judaizing; and (3) Act 15 shows Peter as the star witness at the Council of Jerusalem, which makes no sense if he was a hypocrite, nor does it fit with 15:1-2 where it says "certain persons" were opposed by Paul, and 15:24 says again "certain persons without our permission," which can hardly be referring to Peter.

If you believe Acts 15:1-2 is speaking of the Galatians 2 incident, then everything changes because identifying Peter as the "certain persons" becomes very untenable.
Let's take these one at a time.

Normally, I wouldn't offer such a detailed response but, since it's the feast of Peter and Paul, I think it's appropriate to spend some more time thinking about Petros. 

1. The John who is a "Pillar" could be "John Mark".
The emailer writes: "the article didn't even take note of the possibility that 'John' mentioned in Gal 2 as a 'pillar' was likely to be 'John-Mark,' which Acts frequently puts as Paul's companion."

I'm still not quite sure how this proves that "Cephas" is not Peter. Either way, let's be clear: it is
incredibly unlikely that the "John" in Galatians 2 is Mark.

First, nowhere outside of Acts is Mark ever called "John" in the New Testament. That the references to him in the Pauline corpus (Philm 24; 2 Tim 4:11) never identify him as "John" should also be pointed out.

This highlights an irony. We are supposed to think that Paul's use of two different names, "Peter" and "Cephas", points to there being two different people involved. However, when the Pauline corpus refers to the same figure in every case by one name--"Mark" (Philm 24; 2 Tim 4:11)--we are supposed to believe that a figure named "John" in Galatians is suddenly a reference to someone else.


Although Acts identifies Mark with the name John, it does clarify for us that this figure went by two names. It obviously does this because John the apostle was clearly the more important John (see below) and Luke was apparently concerned that calling Mark "John" might lead to confusion. He makes it clear therefore that there are two Johns--John Mark and John the apostle. The latter is clearly the more prominent figure.

That the pillar identified as "John" is not John the apostle but “John Mark” is just too hard to believe. Yes, Paul knew John Mark. But it is just too much of a stretch to think that he was more important than John the apostle. John the apostle and Peter are clearly the spokespersons for the apostolic college (cf., e.g., 4:13, 19; 8:14). John is also mentioned with Peter as among the most prominent oft he apostles in Acts 12:2; he is the brother of the first apostle to be killed.

To think that the reference to the pillars somehow includes John Mark and not Peter or John the apostle is far fetched in the extreme. First, the only other author who identifies Mark as "John" makes it clear that he is doing so because John the apostle was the more famous figure with that name. Again, that “Cephas” is a different figure—i.e., that it is more likely that a figure other than Peter is in view here—is especially difficult to believe given the fact that Paul is explicitly proving his authority in Galatians 2 by comparing himself to Peter, not a different figure named "Cephas" (cf. Gal. 2:8)!

Peter is the important figure here--why wouldn't he rank among the "pillars"? One might come up with an unlikely scenario to explain this but that's just what any such explanation would be: unlikely.

2. Acts never says Peter was in Antioch. 

Peter doesn’t go to Antioch in Acts--so what? Acts shifts from focusing on Peter to focusing on Paul’s trips. In fact, we know that Peter left Jerusalem. Acts 12 tells us that after Peter was delivered from prison he went to "another place" (Acts 12:17). There is no reason to believe he couldn’t have gone to Antioch.

In fact, we’d almost expect him to go there since that’s where the largest Christian community was after Jerusalem. In fact, in Acts 11 we know that after Stephen’s death many left for Antioch (cf. Acts 11:19). If others left Jerusalem for Antioch when persecution arose, why wouldn’t we suppose that when Peter left Jerusalem he first went there?

Moreover, Acts doesn’t give us every detail of what the apostles did. It doesn’t for example, tell us about Paul staying in Jerusalem for "fifteen days" and chatting with "Cephas" (cf. Gal 2:18).

So the fact that Peter doesn’t go to Antioch in Acts is not a serious argument. There are too many reasons to think that we can’t read anything into that!

3. Peter probably wasn't perfect. 
Just because Peter defended the Gentile mission in Acts 15 doesn’t mean he never acted like a hypocrite. So what that Peter defended Paul at the Council? Why is it unlikely that Peter failed at times to practice what he preached? I just don’t see any problem here. 

In fact, the very reason Paul was upset with Peter is because he says that before “men came from James” he had “ate with the Gentiles”. Cephas (=Peter) did not insist at first on keeping kosher. He was not a Judaizer. That’s consistent with what happens with Peter in Acts. Paul condemns Peter not for being wrong about that but for being a hypocrite—he backed away from what he knew was otherwise right.

In conclusion, you can always find a way to make a “possible” objection to the Peter=Cephas identification. On the whole, however, the arguments separating the two are too problematic. Given all the considerations, it is far more probable that Peter=Cephas. 

“Possible” is not “probable”—and you can’t choose the latter over the former. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Is Peter "Cephas"?

I received an email from a reader who asks question whether or not Peter is the figure also identified elsewhere in the New Testament as "Cephas".
You said that Paul saw Peter as a "pillar" of the community. But in AD 200, St Clement taught that Paul rebuked not Peter but one of the Seventy, another guy named Cephas. As support of this, Paul uses the name "Peter" in Galatians 2:7-8, but shifts to "Cephas" in 2:9 and following. Why use two names in the same breath if the same person is meant? 
In short, the answer is, "No, these are not two individuals."

Bart Ehrman advocated the view that Cephas and Peter were different figures in an article in Journal of Biblical Literature in 1990. Dale Allison persuasively rebutted his arguments in a follow up piece in 1992 (available here).

Here, as a kind of supplement to the reading reflection I have already offered for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, I'd briefly like to look at this question and highlight some of the arguments Allison employs.

The text of Galatians. First, however, let's take a look at Galatians 2:
And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; 7 but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), 9 and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. . . (Gal. 2:6-9)
So, does Paul's shift in the use of names point away from the idea that Peter and Cephas are the same figure? Was Clement conveying historical information here?

I don't think so. Consider the following. . .

1. Clement isn't the only source that relates this idea. In fact, in some ancient sources "Cephas" is said to be one of the Twelve. There seems to have been a great deal of confusion on the matter.

2. We know Clement's view only through the later writings of Eusebius. Actually, Clement's original source has been lost to us. We know this was Clement's view only because it comes to us through Eusebius: "Clement, in the fifth book of his Hypotyposes, in which he mentions Cephas, of whom Paul writes: 'When he came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face,' says that one who happened to have the same name as Peter the apostle was one of the seventy" (Hist. eccl. 1.12.2).

3. It is easy to explain how the alternate tradition emerged. As Allison shows, the tradition probably sprung up in response to embarrassment over the passage in Galatians 2 where Paul condemns "Cephas" for hypocrisy. Indeed, this is precisely the context in which Clement/Eusebius introduce the Cephas/Peter distinction.

4. The shift in names is not at all unsurprising. Important Jewish figures often went by more than one name (e.g., Jacob/Israel). In fact, in the work Joseph and Aseneth, the shift occurs in the space of a single verse: "And Jacob heard about Joseph his son, and Israel went to Egypt" (Jos. Asen. 22:2). Likewise, in the Testament of Jacob the Patriarch is identified as both "Jacob" and "Israel" alternatively, as Allison notes, "even in the same paragraph".

In fact, Cephas appears to be an Aramaic form of "Peter".

Moreover, Paul himself shifts in using other names. See, for example, Romans 8:9-11 where Paul refers to "Jesus", "Christ," and "Jesus Christ", apparently intentionally offering a variety of names for the one he recognizes as "Lord". Moreover, Peter himself went by yet another name: "Simon". In some places other New Testament writers offer alternate names for him, describing him as both "Simon" and "Peter". See Mark 14:37: "He [Jesus] came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep?'" The shift from Simon to Peter also occurs prominently in the Last Supper narrative in Luke where Jesus goes from calling him "Simon, Simon" (Luke 22:31) to warning him, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow. . ." (Luke 22:34). If writers could do this with the name "Simon", why couldn't Paul do the same?

Other examples of figures going by two names could also be mentioned. In Acts, we have one person who is sometimes identified as "Mark" (cf. Acts 15:39) but he is also known as "John" (cf. Acts 13:13).

In short, given these examples, is it really likely that the shift in names in Galatians 2 really points to the identity of another disciple?

5. Jesus calls Simon Peter "Cephas" in John. The author of the Fourth Gospel apparently thought Simon Peter was "Cephas": "Jesus looked at him, and said, 'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter)" (John 1:42).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Working document for Pope Francis' Synod on Family: The Bible is the heart of transforming family life

The Instrumentum Laboris (i.e., the working document) for the upcoming Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis has finally been released (html, pdf). The document highlights challenges facing the family today and offers thoughts toward advancing pastoral solutions. I encourage people to read it themselves.

Much can and will be said about this document. Here I just want to register my gratitude for one aspect of it in particular: the pride of place given throughout this document to Scripture.

Indeed, it begins with a discussion of the biblical teaching on the family (no. 1-3). After also calling for a greater familiarity with the teaching of the Church (nos. 4-7), it then launches into a discussion of what is needed to address the pastoral challenges facing the Church. First and foremost, the document calls for careful instruction about the teaching of Scripture (no. 9).

Interestingly, the document points out that knowledge about the teaching of the Bible is better known today than it has been in the recent past. Perceptions of this, I think, vary depending upon location and context. Regardless, it notes that many responses from the bishops who gave input into the document spoke of "the faithful's great desire to know Sacred Scripture better" (no. 9).

It then goes on to speak of the importance of the homily in this regard:
. . . the formation of the clergy stands out as particularly decisive, especially in the quality of homilies, on which the Holy Father, Pope Francis has insisted recently (cf. EG, 135-144). Indeed, the homily is a privileged means of presenting Sacred Scripture to the faithful and explaining its relevance in the Church and everyday life. As a result of preaching in a befitting manner, the People of God are able to appreciate the beauty of God’s Word which is a source of appeal and comfort for the family. (no. 9)
I know I also speak for my co-bloggers here at when I say I was pleased to see this pointed out.

Week after week we offer in-depth analysis of the Sunday readings to assist in spiritual preparation for participation in the liturgy. We are especially grateful to the priests and deacons who have written us to tell us that they have found these reflections helpful for their homily prep. We are especially grateful to those who have shared them with their brother priests and deacons.

To be clear, we don't write homilies. Priests and deacons, using the special charism they have received, need to prayerfully consider what they will do from the pulpit given their own congregation's circumstances and needs. Our purpose is to simply offer some exegetical thoughts that might be helpful towards that end.

Of course, the Sunday readings commentary is not just for homilists. In fact, John and I often talk about how spiritually beneficial working them up--a process that usually takes about 3 hours per reflection--has been for us personally. Truth be told, we write these as much for our own preparation as we do for anyone else's!

Our hope is that anyone interested in getting more out of the lectionary--not just those preparing homilies--will benefit from these reflections. We are very thankful for all of the email and comments we receive from lay Catholics who enjoy reading them as well as part of their own Sunday preparation.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that according to the Instrumentum Laboris, the homily is not the only means of promoting knowledge of Scripture. We read:
In addition to the homily, another important means is the promotion, within dioceses and parishes, of programmes which help the faithful take up the Bible in a proper way. What is recommended is not so much multiplying pastoral initiatives as inserting the Bible in every aspect of existing ministerial efforts on behalf of the family. Every instance where the Church is called to offer pastoral care to the faithful in a family setting can provide an opportunity for the Gospel of the Family to be announced, experienced and appreciated."
We hope this blog will help people engaged in any pastoral work as they seek to bring the Gospel to our hurting world.

"Upon this rock": The readings for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

It is solely by accident that I have the privilege of writing the reflection on the readings of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. However, I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity.

The lectionary readings this Sunday climax with a selection from Matthew 16:13-19, a passage I have spent much time studying and writing about. Aside from treating it in a substantial way in my doctoral dissertation, I have also recently published an article on this passage in the Journal of Biblical Literature (see here).

Obviously, I cannot offer as in-depth a treatment of the passage here as I do there. In these reflections I want to highlight some key (pardon the pun) aspects of the lectionary readings, highlighting certain ways I think they compliment one another, focusing in a detailed way on Matthew 16:13-19.

So, without any further ado, let's begin. . .

In those days, King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them.
He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword,
and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews
he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
–It was the feast of Unleavened Bread.–
He had him taken into custody and put in prison
under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.
He intended to bring him before the people after Passover.
Peter thus was being kept in prison,
but prayer by the Church was fervently being made
to God on his behalf. 
On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter, secured by double chains,
was sleeping between two soldiers,
while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison.
Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him
and a light shone in the cell.
He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying,
“Get up quickly.”
The chains fell from his wrists.
The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.”
He did so.
Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”
So he followed him out,
not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first guard, then the second,
and came to the iron gate leading out to the city,
which opened for them by itself.
They emerged and made their way down an alley,
and suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter recovered his senses and said,
“Now I know for certain
that the Lord sent his angel
and rescued me from the hand of Herod
and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”
At first glance, the story of Peter's deliverance in the book of Acts seems a bit comical. Peter, with the help of an angel, practically sleepwalks out of prison. It is only when Peter ends up down an alley alone that he finally believes what has happened to him is real and not a dream: "Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me. . ."

Beneath the surface, however, there is more going on in this account than meets the eye. For one thing, the story highlights Peter's importance.

Petrine primacy in the New Testament. Indeed, New Testament underscores Peter's role as first among the apostles--i.e., his "primacy"--in various ways.

For one thing, in the Gospels Peter is always listed first among the apostles. This applies not only to lists of the twelve (cf. Matt 10:1–4//Mark 3:13–19//Luke 6:13–16; cf. Acts 1:13) but also to occasions where groups of disciples are mentioned
  •  the account of the Transfiguration (cf. Matt 17:1//Mark 9:2//Luke 9:28)
  •  the healing of the ruler’s daughter (cf. Mark 5:37//Luke 8:51)
  •  in the preparations for the Passover (cf. Luke 22:8)
  •  at the beginning of the Olivet discourse (cf. Mark 13:3)
  • in Gethsemane (cf.  Matt 26:37//Mark 14:33).
John P. Meier writes, “[Peter] is the most frequently mentioned, the most actively engaged, and hence the most prominent of the Twelve.”[1] Who could disagree with this assessment?

Likewise, Paul in Galatians explains that  the task of preaching Gospel to the uncircumcised had been entrusted to him just as Peter had been entrusted with the responsibility of preaching the Gospel to the circumcised (cf. Gal 2:7). He even describes Peter as one of the “pillars” of the community, naming James and John also (cf. Gal 2:9). All of this points to Peter's important role. In fact, it is Peter who he compares himself to--not James and John.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Body of Christ, Manna for the Journey: The Readings for Corpus Christi

This weekend is another great liturgical feast, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, otherwise known as Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi is one of a handful of feasts that celebrates the very gift of the Eucharist itself.  It is one of my favorite feasts, because the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was instrumental in my becoming Catholic.

Back in the Fall of 1999 I was reading through the Apostolic Fathers and came to this passage in Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrneans (c. AD 106):

But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.

I was shocked by the italicized line, because I realized that no one who held to standard Protestant views of the Eucharist would have written something like that.  “Transubstantiation” as a term may have come years later, but Ignatius’ view of the Eucharist was clearly that it had become transformed into the flesh of Christ.  Since Ignatius was writing ten years after the death of the Apostle John, there was not enough time for him to have gotten “confused” on this issue.  It dawned on me that Ignatius was simply reflecting the views of the early Christians on the Eucharist—views that they must have gotten from the Apostles themselves.

In any event, the Readings for this Feast have obvious and strong relevance to Eucharistic doctrine.

The First Reading, taken from Deuteronomy, reflects on the gift of the manna to the Israelites during the forty years in the wilderness, an obvious type of the Eucharist:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why do we celebrate Trinity Sunday after Pentecost?

Today is seriously one of my favorite feasts of the entire liturgical year. And so, even though John Bergsma has written a beautiful reflection on the lectionary readings here on TSP, I wanted to contribute a few thoughts of my own.

Specifically, I think it is illuminating to ask: why do we celebrate this mystery on the first Sunday after Pentecost?  This post will help explain the answer.

The Centrality of the Trinity

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Trinity as the "central" mystery of faith. Here let me quote the Catechism in full.
"The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith" [GCD 43.]. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin" [GCD 47]" (CCC 234).
Why is the Trinity so important? Well, theologically the Trinity is unique. While all the other mysteries of faith describe what God does for us, the doctrine of the Trinity alone is understood as teaching us who God is in his deepest mystery. As the Catechism stresses: "It is the mystery of God in himself."

In fact, the centrality of the Trinity in Catholic theology and spirituality is evident from its prominence in the most recognizable of all Catholic prayers: the Sign of the Cross. While signing themselves with the cross, Catholics pray: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Given its significance, then, it is no surprise that the Trinity has its own feast day. But, returning to the question above, why do Catholics celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity this Sunday?

Theologia and Oikonomia

How is it that we come to the doctrine of the Trinity? Indeed, there is no single verse in Scripture which states it succinctly--i.e., "there are three divine persons who share on divine nature". How is it, then, that Christian tradition has affirmed that God has revealed the truth about his Triune life to us?

Once again, let me turn to the Catechism.
"The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). 'Theology' refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and 'economy' to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions."
In other words, God reveals who he is in his deepest mystery, i.e., his Trinitarian life, through what he does in salvation history (e.g., the oikonomia).

In particular, God is understood to reveal who he is in his deepest mystery in fullness in the sending of Christ and the Spirit.

First, God the Father sends the Son in the Incarnation:
  • "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me" (Matt 10:40). 
  • "he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me" (John 13:20). 
  • "[Jesus in prayer to the Father]: I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me" (John 17:8).
Next, the Son returns to the Father, i.e., the Ascension:
  • ". . . now I am going to him who sent me" (John 16:5). 
  • "I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (John 16:28).
Finally, the Father and the Son send the Spirit, i.e., Pentecost.
  • "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). 
  • ". . . the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26).
For the early Christian fathers, what happens in salvation history is understood as reflecting the inner Triune life of God--i.e., what God does (oikonomia) reflects who God is (theologia).

Thus, the sending of the Son and His return to the Father reflects the Triune life of God: the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and (through) the Son.

Hence, after celebrating Pentecost we focus on the Trinity. The sending of the Spirit in a sense completes the revelation of Triune life of God.

In short--and obviously much, much more could be said--that's why we celebrate Trinity Sunday after Pentecost.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

 Three Angels of Gen 18 as Symbol of Trinity
At the end of, and following, the Easter Season, we have a sort of “trifecta” of major feasts: Pentecost, Trinity, and Corpus Christi, as the Church celebrates the central mysteries of the faith before the Lectionary returns to the readings of the Ordinary Time cycle on Sundays once again.  This June we get a sort of “quadrafecta,” with the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul landing on the Sunday after Corpus Christi. 

In any event, this weekend is Trinity Sunday, a meditation and celebration of the central mystery of the Christian faith, the dogma that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions.  Christians alone believe in one God, who nonetheless exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Strangely, our Readings for this Sunday tend not to be classic “proof texts” for the idea that there is more than one person in the Godhead.  Instead, the readings tend to focus on the character or essence of God.  This is appropriate, because as we will see, the character of God is very different, and the meaning of salvation history as well, when one knows God to be a Trinity of persons. 

Reading 1: Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9:

Thursday, June 05, 2014

"Receive the Holy Spirit": Readings for the Feast of Pentecost

This Sunday we celebrate the glorious feast of Pentecost. Here below is a brief treatment of the major themes and issues in the readings.

FIRST READING: Acts 2:1-11
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. 
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”
The Feast of Pentecost. Seven weeks after Passover--"fifty days"--came the Feast of Weeks, known in Greek as "Pentecost" (πεντηκόστη), "fiftieth [day]"; cf. Tob. 2:1; 2 Mac. 12:32; Josephus, A.J., 3.252). Its observance is described in Leviticus 23:15-22 and Deuteronomy 16:9-12.
The feast was closely linked to the wheat harvest. Appropriately, then, Israel was required to bring leavened bread to the temple, which was to be waved before the Lord during the feast (Lev 23:17). This bread was to be consumed by the priests (Lev 23:20). 

Given that the feast fell several weeks after Passover, a festival which celebrated Israel's deliverance from Egypt, it is not surprising that Jewish sources also associated this feast with an important episode from the Exodus story, namely, the giving of the law at Sinai (cf. Exod 19-24; e.g., b. Šabb. 88a; b. Pes. 68b). 

New Exodus hopes, the Giving of the New Law, the Pouring out of the Spirit. Of course, Exodus imagery was associated with eschatological hopes for Israel. The prophets described the future restoration of Israel in terms of a New Exodus (e.g. Isa 40:3, Jer 23:7-8).[1] In fact, Jeremiah links this age with the giving of the Law at Sinai, the event associated with Pentecost. Specifically, he announces that Lord will give to his people his Law once again, only this time he would not write it on tablets but upon their hearts: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:33).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Glory of Love: The 7th Sunday of Easter

In the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha, Ascension Day is observed on it's proper day, and this Sunday is observed as the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  It's a shame that so much of the country will not have a chance to meditate on these Scriptures, but perhaps even those of us living in areas where the Seventh Sunday is not celebrated can benefit by bringing these Readings to our prayer.

(If you're looking for the Ascension commentary, it's below.)

Holy Mother Church offers as an intriguing theme in these Readings: the paradoxical relationship between glory and suffering.  We find these two motifs expressed particularly in the Second Reading and Gospel.

1. Our First Reading is Acts 1:12-1:

After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles

returned to Jerusalem

from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem,

a sabbath day’s journey away.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day

In most of the USA, Ascension Day is observed this Sunday, whereas in the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia, it is observed on its proper day, Thursday May 29, forty days after Easter.

1. Ascension Day is an unusual Feast, in which the “action” of the Feast Day actually takes place in the First Reading rather than the Gospel. We typically think of all the narratives of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels, overlooking that Acts records at least two important narratives about the activity of the Resurrected Lord (Acts 1:1-11; also 9:1-8).

In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Sending of the Spirit, "Another Advocate": Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

We are about the celebrate the last Sunday before the Feast of Pentecost. The lectionary readings for this Sunday, therefore, are meant to lead us to reflect on different aspects of the Spirit's work.

This Sunday's readings are also important for understanding Catholic sacramental theology, in particular, the sacrament of confirmation. Indeed, confirmation (or chrismation) is closely linked to Pentecost. Quoting Pope Paul VI, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that, confirmation "in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church" (no. 1288; citing Paul VI, Divinae consortium naturae, 659).

I would suggest, then, that the readings this Sunday help us prepare for Pentecost Sunday by, in part, drawing upon passages that in Catholic tradition are closely related to the sacrament of confirmation. In this, as we approach the feast celebrating the outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples, we are reminded that we share in that Pentecost experience in the sacramental life of the Church.

With that as background, let us briefly explore these readings.

FIRST READING: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city. 
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem
heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God,
they sent them Peter and John,
who went down and prayed for them,
that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
for it had not yet fallen upon any of them;
they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid hands on them
and they received the Holy Spirit.
The Relationship of the Samaritans to the Jews. At the beginning of the reading we read that Philip, one of the seven deacons appointed in Acts 6:5 (not the apostle), "proclaimed the Christ" to the people of Samaria. Much could be said about this from a salvation history perspective. Specifically, it is important to know that backstory of the Samaritans to appreciate the significance of this story. Let us consider that briefly.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Romans 7 and Grading

Marc Cortez cites the VLT (Very Loose Translation) of Romans 7:9-14. It really speaks to me:
I was once alive apart from teaching, but when the end of the semester came, grading came alive and I died. 
The very job that promised life proved to be death to me. 
For grading, seizing an opportunity through the teaching, deceived me and through it killed me. 
So the teaching is holy, and the classroom is holy and righteous and good. 
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was grading, producing death in me through what is good, in order that grading might be shown to be sin, and through the classroom might become sinful beyond measure. 
For we know that the teaching is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under grading.
h/t Jason at Dunelm Road

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Building the Temple of God: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Since the beginning of time, human beings have sought to construct buildings that would bridge the gap between the temporal and eternal, earthly and heavenly planes of existence.  These temples have taken widely differing forms in many cultures.  One of the greatest was the Jerusalem temple begun by Herod the Great (73–4 BC), an architectural marvel of the ancient world while it stood. 

The authors of the New Testament texts in this Sunday’s Readings were well familiar with Herod’s great temple, yet they were convinced that God had begun the construction new and greater dwelling place for himself in their own time, consisting not of gathered stones, but of a gathering (ekklesia) of human beings, first of whom was Jesus the Christ.  Thus, our Readings are filled with images of the building of the Church, the new sanctuary that would replace the old and continue to serve as God’s habitation on earth till the end of time.

1.  Our First Reading is Acts 6:1-7:

Monday, May 05, 2014

"The Good Shepherd": The Readings for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Image of Christ the Good Shepherd
from Catacombs of St. Pricilla in Rome
ca. 3rd cent.
This Sunday the lectionary turns our attention to John 10, where Christ describes himself as both the "door" of the sheepfold and (perhaps more famously) as the good shepherd. 

These two images are key to understanding the selection of the first and second readings, which focus on (1) Peter's speech, highlighting the way salvation is found in Christ and (2) a reading from 1 Peter which climaxes in a description of Christ's role as the Good Shepherd. 

Let us look at these readings more carefully. . .

FIRST READING: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call.”
He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them,
“Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized,
and about three thousand persons were added that day.
The context of the first reading in the book of Acts is Pentecost. Peter is here giving the inaugural sermon of the ministry of the post-Easter apostolic mission. Here are a few things worth noting about this reading.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Vatican II on the Bible in Seminary Formation

The canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II last weekend underscored the significance of the Second Vatican Council in the history of the Catholic Church.

This, therefore, is a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of the council and its message.

Of course, this blog takes its cue from the council's efforts to renew Catholic biblical studies and its direction that "the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology" (Dei Verbum, 24).

Along those lines, I thought I'd offer here a selection from a different document, namely, the Decree on Priestly Formation, entitled, Optatum Totius. Here once again the council calls for a better integration of biblical and theological studies.

At John Paul the Great Catholic University, we have a number of seminarians studying for the priesthood who--as part of their formation--are enrolled in our M.A. in Biblical Theology program.

We also have a number of priests and deacons who have enrolled in our program to supplement the formation they have received. Still also, we have catechists who have enrolled in our "catechetical track", looking to deepen their knowledge of Scripture and their abilities to teach it to others.

The document is quite precise in what should constitute priestly formation. I hope we are doing a good job fulfilling this description of the proper pedagogy for seminarians, but, as the above paragraph indicates, I think the basic pedagogy mapped out here is a model for those not only studying for priesthood but those studying Catholic theology in general.

I'd love to get your comments on this passage.

The students are to be formed with particular care in the study of the Bible, which ought to be, as it were, the soul of all theology. After a suitable introduction they are to be initiated carefully into the method of exegesis; and they are to see the great themes of divine revelation and to receive from their daily reading of and meditating on the sacred books inspiration and nourishment.

Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that these biblical themes are proposed first of all. Next there should be opened up to the students what the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church have contributed to the faithful transmission and development of the individual truths of revelation. The further history of dogma should also be presented, account being taken of its relation to the general history of the Church. Next, in order that they may illumine the mysteries of salvation as completely as possible, the students should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculation, under the guidance of St. Thomas, and to perceive their interconnections. They should be taught to recognize these same mysteries as present and working in liturgical actions and in the entire life of the Church. They should learn to seek the solutions to human problems under the light of revelation, to apply the eternal truths of revelation to the changeable conditions of human affairs and to communicate them in a way suited to men of our day.

Likewise let the other theological disciplines be renewed through a more living contact with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation. Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible, should shed light on the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation that is theirs of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world. (Optatum Totius, no. 16)

The silly spin of the MSM on John XXIII and John Paul II

Br. Henry Stephan, O.P., has a fantastic piece on the Domincan House of Studies blog, Dominicana. 
Has there ever been a cause for more unreflective editorializing than the recent papal canonizations? If you clicked on nearly any commentary about the new saints in the past few days, you’ve likely been subjected to these kinds of insights:  
"The joint canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II was a blatantly political balancing act by Pope Francis as he tried to appease warring conservative and liberal factions in the Church. Each faction holds its own sainted pontiff in unanimous and wholehearted esteem, while harboring deep suspicions about whether that other pope ever did anything worthwhile."  
The New York Times has said it; therefore, it must be so.  
Versions of this analysis have gushed from the commentariat like some sort of bilious fountain. With certain honorable exceptions, these pieces all make some of the same assumptions:
  • The Church is divided between conservatives and liberals, who roughly align with their American political equivalents. 
  • Popes like John XXIII and John Paul II can best be understood as factional leaders of these warring ideological camps within the Church. 
  • Canonizing saints is essentially a political endorsement of one party over another—a corollary to the foundational assumption that every action by the Church is basically about power. 
This understanding leaves little room for inconvenient facts, such as John XXIII’s traditional Italian piety or his endorsement of Latin as the universal language of the Roman Catholic Church. Neither does it take into account John Paul II’s innovative contributions to the Second Vatican Council, or his enthusiasm for inculturation and diversity. 
I loved this line:
Now, mocking the secular media for authoring uninformed pieces about the Catholic Church is like plucking the low-hanging fruit—an easy pleasure that yields immediate rewards. What should give Catholics pause is that many of us have—consciously or unconsciously—adopted this politicized, polemical vision of the Church.
Read the whole thing here.

Lutheran pastor on why Protestants need the papacy

This is interesting. Here's a snippet:

We do. We really, really do. We Protestants need the papacy. We need it for our theology. We need it for our politics. We need it more than we want to admit.
And this is a good thing. (Yeah, I said it Rev. Hess, the papacy is a good thing!) For those Lutherans and other Protestants who think Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, and Saints John Paul II and John XXIII are the antichrist, you should probably stop reading this post right now, because I am a Lutheran pastor who is utterly captivated by the papacy.