Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Prodigal Son Sunday: 24th Sunday in OT


This upcoming Sunday marks one of only two times in the main Lectionary cycle that we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son proclaimed (the other being the 4th Sunday of Lent [C]).  The Readings are marked by the theme of repentance and forgiveness. 

1. Our First Reading is Ex 32:7-11, 13-14:

Monday, September 09, 2019

Parables of Lost and Found (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check out the clip below and subscribe today with a 14-day free trial.  Thanks!

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
Let’s look at the lost sheep. So he says, “what man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one doesn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he’s found it?” So pause there. Immediately, we already run into the first twist, the first surprising element, and it’s this: No shepherd in his right mind is going to leave ninety-nine sheep behind to go look for one sheep. Notice, he doesn’t say he puts them in a fold, right, that would make sense. He says he leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness. He leaves in the desert.

Well that’s precisely where sheep tend to get lost or are exposed to wolves or exposed to thieves, they don’t have any natural form of protection. That’s why the shepherd is with them in the wild. He goes into the wilderness with them to protect them. Like Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He leads me…” He leads me through the wilderness. He leads me to still waters so that the sheep will drink the water. The shepherd is the protector. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” because they protect me from threats. They guide me, but they also protect me. So the shepherd is the sole source of protection for his flock.

Well if he’s in the desert, no shepherd in his right mind is going to leave ninety-nine sheep behind to go look for one sheep. What he would do is put them in a fold and then go look for the one sheep. But this shepherd is kind of crazy. He’s not very responsible. So immediately Jesus would have the attention of his 1st Century Jewish audience when he says “What man of you if he’s lost one sheep, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine and go look for that one?” And the answer to the question is, well none of us would do that because we are not stupid. So this shepherd seems to be a little off his rocker. He doesn’t seem to be quite all there. So Jesus says he goes, he finds that one sheep, he puts on his shoulders and he brings it home rejoicing. And when he gets home, he calls his friends and neighbors together and he says, “Rejoice with me, for I found my sheep that was lost.”


Tuesday, September 03, 2019

The Cost of Discipleship: Readings for the 23rd Sunday in OT


One of the most famous German opponents of Adolf Hitler and Nazism was the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis executed by hanging in April 1945 for his involvement in a plot against Hitler himself.  Bonhoeffer’s most famous work was a meditation on the Sermon on the Mount entitled (in English) The Cost of Discipleship.  In it, Bonhoeffer parted ways with a Protestantism that understood “salvation by faith alone” as some kind of easy road to heaven.  Bonhoeffer criticized “easy-believism” as “cheap grace” 

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VIII: Humility


I’d like to wrap up this series of reflections about the nature of heaven with a meditation on the necessity of humility for entrance into eternal peace and reconciliation with God.

In my last full post (Part VI) on repentance, I noted that, in order to enter heaven, we will have to repent of all our sins.  Every sin is a choice of not-love and not-God, and the will cannot continue to be attached to that which is not-love and not-God when we are in the fullness of God’s presence. That means we will have to let go of each and every sin against God, ourselves, and others if we want to live with God for eternity.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VII: An Interlude and Reflection

(the commentary for Sunday 22 in OT Year C Sept 1 is in a post further below)

I am shortly going to wrap up these reflections on the possibility of everyone ending up in heaven with a meditation on humility as a requirement for eternal life with God, but before I do, I'd like to reflect on the hymn Breathe On Me Breath of God, which we happened to sing at the mass I attended this past Sunday in Steubenville.  I was struck by these lyrics:
  1. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
    Fill me with life anew,
    That I may love what Thou dost love,
    And do what Thou wouldst do.

Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner? The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time




In 2005, a quasi-remake of the famous 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner” was released.  Entitled “Guess Who?” it starred Bernie Mac as an African-American father who struggled to deal with his daughter’s Caucasian fiancé (played by Ashton Kutcher).  Much of the comedy of the film revolved around the clash of cultures at the dinner table.  Usually we only share meals with people like us: family members or friends from our own “circle.”  When someone from “outside” comes in, it upsets the balance. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Banquet of the Kingdom of God (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check it out below!

Catholic Productions Notable Quote:
So for example, in Matthew 22 Jesus actually says, “The kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast that a king put on for his son.” So the imagery there is of the joy of salvation, the joy of the world to come. The joy of the kingdom of Heaven is really only comparable to the joy of a wedding feast. So if you’ve ever been to a really great celebration at a wedding, a beautiful holy couple that are united in Holy Matrimony (in the sacrament of marriage) and then you’re celebrating that sacramental union; it’s awesome. It’s amazing. You just feel overcome with joy, filled with joy — at least that is how it should be. Jesus says, well that’s what the kingdom is like, elsewhere. 

So given those parables elsewhere, what he’s really talking about here is how people should act in the kingdom of God. So if you want to be exalted in the kingdom of God, what do you need to do? You need to act humbly now. You need to cultivate the virtue of humility now so that you seek the lowest place in this world, so that when the banquet of the kingdom comes you’ll be exalted.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VI: Repentance

(comment on Sunday Readings are several posts down)

Let's do another little counter-factual thought experiment to illustrate the need for repentance to enter into heaven.

Imagine you are in heaven, and everything is wonderful—as it ought to be in heaven—when suddenly you spot Cecil, the bully from fifth grade who used to give you "swirlies" for giving too many correct answers in Mrs. Othmar's math class.  You are glad to see that Cecil has made it to the perfect communion of love, so you approach him and say, "Cecil, so glad to see you!  I want you to know I forgive you for all the swirlies you gave me when we were in fifth grade."
"What you mean, 'forgive me'? Cecil responds with a smirk. "I just gave you what you deserve!"
"Are you kidding?" you say, flabbergasted.  "I deserved to have my face stuffed in the toilet for giving correct math answers?"
"Yeah, that's what know-it-all nerds deserve," Cecil shoots back, "I just needed to take you down a couple notches."

Of course such a scenario could never happen in the actual heaven.  (continued below)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part V: Forgiveness

(For commentary on the Readings for this Sunday, scroll down to a lower post)

Let's engage in another counter-factual thought experiment about heaven.

You are in heaven, and everything is going wonderfully—as it should in heaven—but on the third day there, you run into your Aunt Alice, whom you thoughtlessly insulted when you were a teenager, and who never forgave you for that insult.  When Aunt Alice sees you in heaven, she turns her face and won't look at you.  You approach her and say, "Aunt Alice, as I've told you many times, I'm so sorry I insulted you when I was sixteen.  I didn't understand what I was saying."  "Well, I'm sorry that I just can't forgive you," Aunt Alice replies, "What you said was so hurtful, and all your apologies just can't make up for it."

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part IV: The Moral Order

(For commentary on the Readings for this Sunday, scroll down to a lower post)
In our last post, we engaged in a thought experiment of Hitler appearing at heaven and being appalled by what he finds.  In order to enter heaven, Hitler would have to come to grips with the fact that virtually every thought and deed of his from early adulthood on was at best misguided and at worst consciously wicked.  He would have to renounce and repent the vast majority of the fabric of his life; he would have to reject the person that he was in this life, and virtually become a different person.  There would be very little continuity between what Hitler was in this life and what he would have to be like in order to enter heaven.  It would be like a death and rebirth.  And the question is, even if a radical conversion like that were possible after earthly death—and the Scriptures and Tradition give us no reason to expect that there is some massive "second chance" at the particular judgment—could or would Hitler have even desired it?  I suspect not.  (continued below the break)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part III

(For commentary on the Readings for this Sunday, scroll down to a lower post)
It is appropriate to blog on the topic of universal salvation on the Feast Day of St. Bernard (Aug. 20), who made a comment that is very relevant to the discussion: "What we love, we shall grow to resemble."  I affirm this principle articulated by St. Bernard, and would further propose that the live of Christian discipleship is a training in love, such that we learn to love what is true, good, and beautiful, and in this way become suited for the experience of heaven.  On the contrary, a lifestyle that turns its back on Jesus Christ and his teaching tends invariably toward love of self, and becomes a mis-formation in
love such that we end up loving that which is false, evil, and ugly, and thus become unsuitable not only for heaven but even to desire heaven.

To explicate these ideas, I propose to engage in some thought-experiments.  I warn the reader in advance that the thought experiments are not pleasant, but then, what we are dealing with is extremely serious.

We are trying to grasp how anyone could not desire heaven. (continued below break)

Will Many Be Saved? Readings for the 21st Sunday of OT


A Narrow Gate
If Jesus was walking through your town and you had ten seconds as he passed to ask any question you wished, what would it be?  “Why is there evil in the world?” “How can I be saved?” “What is heaven like?”

In this Sunday’s Gospel, an anonymous bystander gets his chance to ask Jesus one of the “big questions”: “Will only a few people be saved?”  This is the very question I've been trying to deal with in a series of posts on this blog. Jesus’ answer is complex, indirect, and very well worth examining!  The Readings leading up to the Gospel help prepare us to understand Jesus’ response.

1.  The First Reading is Is 66:18-21:

Monday, August 19, 2019

Will Only a Few Be Saved? (The Mass Readings Explained)

In Luke 13, Jesus is posed with the question, "Will those who are saved be few?"  What did he say?  Check out this week's video below for The Mass Readings Explained where the focal point is this famous question presented to Jesus.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
So notice the two elements there. When a person doesn’t follow the will of the Lord and doesn’t obey the teachings of Jesus, it breaks communion with him. And so what he says is, “I never knew you.” 

That’s the real criterion for getting into the banquet of the kingdom of God, to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, for him to know you. That’s why he uses the image of a householder. You’re not just going to welcome anybody into your banquet in the middle of the night, but if you know that person you’re going to say “come on inside.” 

And so what Jesus is saying here is you thought you knew me because you heard me preach, and we might have even shared a table together, but because you were a worker of iniquity, I don’t know where you come from. I don’t really know you and therefore you can’t enter into the glory of the kingdom.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part II

Studio 54 c. 1978
I think part of our contemporary struggle with the doctrines of heaven and hell is that we have an inadequate idea of what each place is like.

Most Americans probably think of heaven as like a Disney World in the sky, guarded by gates and either St. Peter, or Jesus, or some angels as gate-keepers. You can get into the eternal amusement park if you've done more "good" than "bad" in your life.

Hell, on the other hand, is like a Nazi concentration camp run by demons as camp guards, and you go there if you've been "really bad."

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Jesus and "Family Values": 20th Sunday in OT


In recent decades, the term “family values” has almost become a code word for “Christian culture” in American society.  Influential Christian organizations have adopted names like “Focus on the Family,” “American Family Association,” the “Family Research Council”; and on the Catholic side of things we have “Catholic Family Land,” “Tradition, Family and Property,” or “The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute,” better known as “C-FAM.”  The natural family unit—based on a husband and wife who have made an exclusive, permanent, public commitment to share a common life and raise children together—has been under such political and social pressure that at times we almost identify Christianity as a social movement to promote family life.

In this context, this Sunday’s Mass Readings can be unsettling.  Jesus says he has “not come to bring peace but division.”  Come again?  Lord, with due respect, isn’t one of your messianic titles “Prince of Peace?”  Then again, the Lord speaks of causing division and struggle within families—strife in the family unit caused by Jesus!  How can this be?  Doesn’t Jesus believe in “family values”?

Will Everyone Go to Heaven?


The idea that maybe everyone will end up in heaven has always floated around in Christianity, since the earliest times.  It seems as though St. Paul and the other apostles had to write to combat this view in the churches they had founded.  In Corinth, for example, the idea seemed to be circulating either that everyone would inherit the kingdom of God, or at least all Christians would, regardless of their behavior.  So St. Paul writes to warn:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Jesus Came to Cast Fire on the Earth (The Mass Readings Explained)

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

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
I’ve talked about this before in other videos, but remember the hope for the ingathering of the exiles and the lost ten tribes of Israel?

How the Jews were waiting for the ten lost tribes that had been scattered among the nations to come back together, to be reunited and to come back to the Promised Land in a new exodus that would be inaugurated by the Messiah? Remember that? We’ve talked about it elsewhere. You can see it in Isaiah 11, or Jeremiah 23, or Ezekiel 36 and 37. It’s all over the prophets.

What Micah’s describing here is that he’s saying that before the new exodus takes place, before the ingathering of the twelve tribes of Israel and the coming of the kingdom, before that happens, there’s going to be a time of division. There’s going to be a time of tribulation. There’s going to be a time of strife and a time of judgment. And a prophet is called to endure through that time of tribulation and make it to the day of salvation.


Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Semper Paratus: Readings for the 17th Sunday in OT

My father once served as the chaplain for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.  (U.S. Navy chaplains also serve the Marines and the Coast Guard).  I have fond memories of that beautiful seaside city.  In any event, perhaps the only bit of Coast Guard culture that I absorbed during my dad’s tour of duty was the motto: Semper Paratus, “Always Prepared,” which seems an appropriate summation of the theme of this Sunday’s Readings, which stress vigilance in the Christian life.  In fact, these Readings feel like something we might get in November, closer to the Solemnity of Christ the King, but here they are coming to us in the middle of Ordinary Time.  Yet perhaps that’s appropriate, because it is not just at the end of our lives (or the liturgical year) that we need to be vigilant, but at all times—even and especially when its literally or metaphorically “summertime, and the livin’ is easy …”

1.  Our First Reading is Wisdom 18:6-9:

Monday, August 05, 2019

Almsgiving and the Return of the Master (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check it out below -- If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do so today and get a 14 day free trial to watch the entire video.


Catholic Productions Notable Quote:
Now if you press pause right there, one more time, these are clearly images of entering into the kingdom of God or being cast out of the kingdom into the punishment of Gehenna, right? We’ll see this elsewhere in the gospels, right? “Enter into the glory of the kingdom,” that’s what Jesus is describing here. If you are being set over all his possessions, he’s entering into the master’s household, the master’s kingdom.

But if this is a parable, and it’s an allegory for the kingdom of God, then the good servant is rewarded by being elevated in the kingdom. “He who humbles himself in will be exalted” and then the wicked servant goes to Gehenna, or goes to Hell, experiences punishment and put with the unfaithful. Think here about other places where Jesus says “they’ll be cast into the outer darkness where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here the servant is cast among the unfaithful.

Now if this parable were written by a later Christian in the Protestant tradition, who only believed those were the two fates possible, it should’ve stopped there, but there are two other outcomes that Jesus gives us in this parable and it’s really fascinating. There’s a third servant, it’s the servant who knew his master’s will but didn’t prepare or act according to his will. Ok, so in other words, this servant isn’t ready for his master to come, but unlike the wicked servant he doesn’t start abusing other people. He’s not getting drunk, he’s not beating his fellow manservants and maidservants. He’s just not as ready as he should be. He’s not ready for the master’s return. So what’s his punishment? It doesn’t say that he’s cut in two or put with the unfaithful. It says that he receives a severe beating.

And then the fourth servant is a different one. This is the one who didn’t know his master’s will, but did what deserved the beating. That person shall receive a light beating. So this servant is what later moral theologians would call “invincibly ignorant.” In other words, they didn’t know what the master’s commands were for whatever reason, and they did not prepare, they did what deserved the beating like the third servant, but they were less culpable because they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. They received a light beating.




Saturday, August 03, 2019

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land June 2020

Hello readers of The Sacred Page!

We may even ride camels on the Mount of Olives
I'm leading another pilgrimage to the Holy Land in June 2020 (June 15-25, 2020).  Many pilgrimages are lead to the Holy Land, but very few are lead by a Catholic Bible scholar with an earned doctorate, and a guide who is part of the ancient Arab Latin-rite Catholic community of Nazareth (you read that right: there is an ancient, native, ethnically Arab, Latin-rite Catholic community in that city).  This pilgrimage will fantastically inspiring but also based on sound scholarship, more than the equivalent of a college course in Scripture and Theology!

Fr. Mark Bentz, a Steubenville alumnus and pastor in the Diocese of Portland, will be providing sacraments and pastoral care for the pilgrimage.  The main departure city will be San Francisco.  

To register, you will need a passport.  The registration website is as follows:

www.JohnBergsma.com/pilgrimage

--Dr. John Bergsma