Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part III

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Church of the Poor: Readings for the 18th Sunday in OT


Texts from the Old and New Testaments remind us that human happiness is not to be found in the accumulation of material goods.  Riches are fleeting and empty.  We are called instead to “store up treasure in heaven, where neither rust nor moth destroy, where thieves cannot break in and steal.”

1.  Our First Reading is Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23:

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Rich Fool (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  You can still register today for a 14 free trial to see if it makes sense for you.

Thanks!

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
So with that background in mind, you can look at the verses again. It basically describes the fact that when a person has worked to acquire wisdom and knowledge and skill, he’s going to leave everything that he acquires on the basis of that skill to someone who didn’t work for it. It says “this also is hebel and a great evil.” 

So he’s talking about the fact that a person can spend their whole life, in our times as in antiquity, accruing wealth and then the second they die, it’s going to go to someone else who didn’t do a thing to earn it. Whether it is that person’s children, or the state, or the government (through taxation or whatever it might be), all of it is left behind. “You can’t take it with you” is the famous proverb there. Now what it’s getting at then is, what’s the point? 


That’s what Ecclesiastes is doing. What’s the point then. If everything that I’ve worked for and all that I possess is going to be left to someone who didn’t do a thing to earn it; then isn’t it just in vain? “What has a man for all the toil and strain that would put you towards beneath the sun? All his days are for the pain and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his mind does not rest.” So if you read the fuller context of Ecclesiastes 2, you’ll see that, in particular, what the book is highlighting is the anxiety that comes with wealth.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Deal on Bible Basics for Catholics

If you use Bible Basics for ministry, now is the time to by copies in bulk.  Ave Maria has a sweet deal on orders of 100 or more.



Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Haggling With God: The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time




Who has the guts to bargain with the Divinity?  Abraham, the father of the Israelites, does.  In the Readings for this Sunday, we find united several themes: persistence in prayer, the justice and mercy of God, the generosity of God.

1.  Our First Reading is Gn 18:20-32 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Jesus' Teaching on Prayer (The Mass Readings Explained)

The video for The Mass Readings Explained is now out for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Check out an introductory video below and you can subscribe here for access to the entire series.

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Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
The Greek word peirasmos is the same word for trial and temptation. In other words, there is just one Greek word for both those things. And what the Catechism is highlighting here is that the prayer does not mean that God is enticing us to sin, because as the Bible says in James 1: “God tempts no one”. In other words, God doesn’t entice us to sin. 

However, God does permit us to go through trials, not so that we can fall into sin, but that so we can grow in strength. It’s just like professors. A professor gives a student a test — you can translate the word peirasmos as testing — not for them to fail but for them to succeed. However, it is frequently the case that in the midst of a test, temptations can arise. If you’ve ever cheated on tests you know what I’m talking about. 

So the Greek word is ambiguous, but that ambiguity actually reveals a certain truth. It is precisely in the midst of trials that we are often tempted to fall away or to commit a sin. So what the prayer is effectively saying (as the Catechism says here) is we are asking, Lord, do not let us yield to temptation, don’t let us fall into temptation; don’t let us succumb to the temptation that often accompanies time of trial.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Entertaining God: The 16th Sunday of OT



This Sunday, as we continue to accompany Jesus on his fateful journey to Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke, we are confronted with a pair of Readings in which human beings host a meal for God: Abraham for the LORD in the First Reading; Martha and Mary for Jesus in the Gospel.  But is it really possible for us to “do God a favor” by giving him a nice meal?  We are going to discover that, while God graciously accepts our services, it’s really about what God does for us, not what we can do for him.

1.  The First Reading is Gn 18:1-10a:

Monday, July 15, 2019

Jesus, Martha, and Mary (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  You can see the intro clip below and  sign up here to watch the full length video/see the transcript and study guide.

Catholic Productions Notable Quote:
Now what is going on exactly in this story? Most people, I think, and most homilies I’ve heard on this, will focus on Martha and Mary as kind of symbols for two aspects of the spiritual life. 

Activity, who would be represented by Martha, who’s serving, who’s doing something; and then contemplation, which is symbolized by Mary, who’s simply sitting and receiving and listening to the Lord. And as we will see in a minute when we get to the living tradition, that’s a very, very ancient interpretation. It goes all the way back to the 3rd Century A.D. with the writings of Origen of Alexandria, who is the most prolific Bible commentator among the early Church Fathers in the 3rd Century A.D., before the time of Saint Jerome. So it’s a very ancient interpretation and I don’t want to deny that interpretation. 

However, it’s important that we be precise here about exactly what’s going on because sometimes people will say, “Well Jesus rebukes Martha for being too active and he approves Mary for being contemplative”, but there’s a little bit more going on there if you look exactly what he says here.


Monday, July 08, 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor? The 15th Week of OT


Fred Rogers used to sing at the opening of his classic children’s show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood:

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood 
A beautiful day for a neighbor 
Would you be mine? Could you be mine? …
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please, won't you please?
 Please won't you be my neighbor?

Fred Rogers was a highly theological educated man, an ordained Presbyterian minister who also gave generous grants to St. Vincent’s College and Seminary (Roman Catholic) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  I think he was well aware of the theological significance of the concept of “neighbor,” which we will explore through the Readings for this Sunday.

This Sunday Jesus issues us a strong challenge to break down the barriers and prejudices that prevent us from showing love to other human beings.  Jesus’ teaching is in continuity with the best synthesis of the moral instruction of the Old Testament and Judaism, which views every human being as a “neighbor.”

1.  The First Reading is Dt 30:10-14:

The Good Samaritan (The Mass Readings Explained)

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

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
Now watch, this is important. In context, the question is “Well, what does it mean when it says love your neighbor? Who does the category of ‘neighbor’ include?”

If you go back to Leviticus 19:18, the verse that is quoted by the 
doctor of the law here is 
the 2nd half of the verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you back up and read the whole verse, listen to what it says: “You shall not take vengeance or bare any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

That’s Leviticus 19:18. So notice there, in context, does neighbor simply mean “the sons of your own people”? In other words, fellow Israelites. It could be interpreted in an inclusive way, meaning anyone who is a neighbor to you, or it could also be interpreted exclusively as saying, “The only neighbor who I have to love as myself are the sons of my own people.”

So there is an ambiguity there and if you read the whole text in its even broader context, it mentions your servants, it mentions the deaf, it mentions the blind, it mentions the poor and the great, and so there’s this whole question that arises: “Exactly who is my neighbor in context? Is it just the sons of my own people or is it broader than that?” And so in that context, back up to the gospel and you can understand, the lawyer here, the doctor of law, appears to be asking Jesus in a sense, “What’s your take on the exact meaning of who my neighbor is?”



Monday, July 01, 2019

Jesus, the Seventy Disciples, and the New Priesthood (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary time is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Enjoy.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
So if you’re Jesus and it’s the 1st Century A.D. and people are saying you’re the Messiah, and you’ve gathered not just a group of twelve around you, but also you appoint seventy other disciples around you, what are you doing? What are you saying? What’s the implication of that act? Well, it’s not just that you’re the new Moses and there’s a new Exodus, but something much more. You are setting up a priestly hierarchy of appointed leaders underneath you, not just to bring the good news to the twelve tribes of Israel, but to bring the good news to all the nations. 

So it’s an implicit act of claim of authority on Jesus’ part, it’s an implicit establishment of a priestly hierarchy on Jesus’ part, and it’s also an anticipation of the fact that the gospel’s going to go not just to the twelve tribes of Israel, but to all the nations of the world. And if you might have missed that connotation of the seventy, I bet the seventy members of the Sanhedrin (when Jesus was alive) didn’t miss the point. They would have gotten the point, because at the head of the seventy members of the Sanhedrin was the one high priest, so seventy plus one, the high priest. And Jesus isn’t a member of the seventy or the twelve, he’s above them. So he’s making himself like a new high priest.