Saturday, December 31, 2011

What is the “Name” of God?: The Readings for the Octave of Christmas

Years ago, while I was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, some very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses paid a visit to my home and tried to persuade me that I was missing out on God’s best in my life, because I was not praying to God by the correct name: Jehovah.

I disagreed with them, and still do, because of the truths that emerge from the Scriptures read at Mass for this weekend.

This Sunday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, as well as the Octave Day of Christmas. We notice that the Readings chosen for Mass are not explicitly Marian, but tend to follow the theme of the Octave, with the Gospel Reading giving the account of the circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth.

Thus, a dominant motif throughout the Readings is the name of God.

Friday, December 30, 2011

TSP 13: Mary, the Mother of God--Theotokos and Queen Mother

Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos). What is the history of this feast? How does our understanding of Mary relate to our understanding of Christ?

In the first half of the show we cover the Nestorian heresy and the Council of Ephesus. We then move on to talk about something that often gets overlooked: the role of the Queen Mother in the ancient Near East and then in the Old Testament (giberah). In particular, we look at royal maternity in the Davidic kingdom. We then turn to see how this forms a possible backdrop for understanding Mary's role in the New Testament--i.e., the Mother of the Son of David.

Below you'll find an outline of some of the items discussed plus more:

Podcast: The Feast of Mary the Mother of God: Theotokos and Queen Mother

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sacred Page Podcast is Now Fully Functioning on iTunes

We announced last week that The Sacred Page podcast was coming to iTunes. It is now fully available there. Just do a search for "Sacred Page" or "Michael Barber" and you'll easily find it! You can also just go to this link.

Again, we'd really appreciate positive reviews. Please help us maintain a positive rating by going over to the site and posting there. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom and you'll see where you can register a comment and give the podcast the rating.

On that score, I'd like to take a moment to offer heartfelt personal  thanks to "David" and "frjmt" for lending us a hand by posting in the review section on iTunes. We really appreciated the kind comments about the show. God bless you!

One last thing: please don't forget to tell your friends about our show. Some ideas:
  • Email your friends a link to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes
  • Post about The Sacred Page Podcast on Facebook
  • Rent an airplane with a banner that reads, "Listen to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes"
  • Go to a filming of a TV show like Good Morning America and stand behind the reporter on camera wearing a "Listen to The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes!" t-shirt. 
  • Hire the Goodyear blimp and run an ad for The Sacred Page Podcast on iTunes on it
In short, we are grateful for any help we can get publicizing the show. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why are there no Parables in the Fourth Gospel?

A reader of this blog from Papillion, Nebraska, asked the following via email:
Dear. Dr. Barber,
I was going over a list of parables when I notice that there are none in John. (I'm not a scholar!). I then read your article on the authorship of John. Do you think that the lack of parables says anything about the authorship? Do you know why there are no parables in John? I tried to do a search on it and couldn't find anything.
This is a good question.

Ultimately, I have to say: I'm not sure. However, I do have some assorted thoughts on the matter that might combine together to equal some sort of answer. This is sort of "half-baked", but let me just offer a couple of ideas.

John 21: Later Addition or Epilogue?

Is John 21--the chapter where, arguably, we learn the most about the "beloved disciple"--a later addition to the book or was it originally part of the Gospel?

It is widely acknowledged that John 20 stands as an appropriate ending to the book. It presents us with, what Beasely-Murray calls, a "total picture of the Easter story": the empty tomb, the witness of Mary Magdalene, the confirmation of the empty tomb by two disciples, an appearance of Jesus to Mary and other disciples, the reception of the Spirit and Jesus' commissioning of the apostles.

Moreover, the chapter ends with an epilogue, which seems to bring the book to a close: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).

Beasely-Murray thus concludes: "Had he planned to record the appearance(s) to Peter and his colleagues narrated in chap. 21 he would have composed chap. 20 differently" [George R. Beasely-Murray, John (2nd ed.; WBC 36; Columbia: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 395].

Looking at chapter 21, many scholars argue that it was written by another hand. One of the reasons for this is that it seems as though chapter 21 does not follow neatly from chapter 20. In addition to the fact that John 20:30-31 seems to tie up the Gospel narrative in such a way as to conclude the Gospel, some have argued that John 21 also seems detached from what has come before it.

Is this so? Let us examine this more closely.

Did John Write the Fourth Gospel?

Since today is the feast of St. John the Apostle, I thought I'd look at a question many will be talking about: Is the Fourth Gospel written by John?

I've written on this before, but I thought I'd revisit this again in two posts today. Indeed, I've been revisiting this material lately. I am currently preparing for a graduate level course on the Gospel of John at JP Catholic, which I will be co-teaching with Dr. Scott Hahn at JP Catholic.

Patristic Sources

Once again, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the weight of the earliest testimony regarding the question of authorship.

Clearly the unanimous testimony of the early Church was that John the Apostle wrote the book. Two of the clearest references are found in Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment.

“Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”--Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3. 3. 4 (~180 A.D.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen's Christ-like Holiness

Happy Feast of St. Stephen! Since Stephen is one of my favorite saints I couldn't let the day go by without posting something in his honor. In fact, we named our second son after him: Matthew Stephen. This is from my earlier series of posts (Part 1Part 2, Part 3) on the book of Acts. (The picture to the right was taken at the traditional site of Stephen's tomb).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Now on iTunes: The Sacred Page Podcast!

Today we get to make a huge announcement. 

After reviewing our podcast, "The Sacred Page with Michael Barber," the largest music store in the world, Apple's iTunes store, has agreed to carry our show. Apple is still configuring all the settings and it is not yet available through the search engine--give it a couple of days. 

Until then, you can download the show from iTunes here. 

Please, please consider writing a positive review so that we can get a positive rating--we would greatly appreciate it. And please also share this podcast with others! 

What We’ve All Been Waiting For: Reflections on the Readings for Christmas

Over the next twenty-four hours there are four Masses celebrated by the Church: the Vigil of Christmas, Midnight Mass, Mass at Dawn, and Christmas Day Mass. The Readings for all four are so beautiful, it is like one continual spiritual feast, a veritable gorging on Scripture.

The texts for this Feast Day include some of the most pivotal in all of Scripture, and there is no end to the comments that could be made on each. Books have been written on John 1:1-18 (the Gospel for Christmas Day) alone, so here I am just going to be very brief and selective.

We start off with appetizers at the Vigil Mass, the Readings for which are here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

TSP 12: Leroy Huizenga on Jesus as the New Isaac in Matthew' Gospel

This podcast I was joined by a very special guest: New Testament scholar Leroy Huizenga. Huizenga is Professor of Scripture at the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he also serves as the Director of the Christian Leadership Center (more on that below).

I was so excited about having Huizenga on the show because I believe his work is very important. I think his doctoral dissertation, The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew (Leiden: Brill, 2009), is a ground breaking study. Here then he talks a bit about Jesus' role  as the New Isaac in Matthew.

Of course, given that we are about to celebrate Christmas, we pay special attention to the infancy narrative. Leroy has some fascinating ideas about Sarah-typology in Matthew's portrait of Mary.
In addition, we talk a bit about the historical value of infancy narratives, Jesus' baptism, his arrest and passion, and. . . well, you'll just have to listen.

Visit the Christian Leadership Center's website here (they have a number of good articles up in time for Christimas). He is also an editor (with Richard Hays and Stefan Alkier) of Reading the Bible Intertextually (Baylor Press, 2009). 

As always, I hope you enjoy our podcast! Please leave us your comments in the box below!

Podcast: Leroy Huizenga on Jesus the New Isaac in Matthew's Gospel 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Job Opening at JP Catholic

Want to live in San Diego? Want to be a part of a dynamic Catholic community? See the job opening below:
Vice President - Accreditation, Assessment, Planning, and Research 
JP Catholic University invites applications for the position of Vice President for Accreditation, Assessment, Planning, and Research. Reporting to the Provost, the Vice President (VP) leads and manages the University's: (1) Accreditation efforts and serves as the Accreditation Liaison Officer to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC); (2) Institutional Research, which supports the University's mission and strategic initiatives, including the systematic collection and evaluation of longitudinal data to support planning and institutional accreditation; and (3) strategic academic planning and budgeting processes. 
The VP responsibilities will include. . . 
For more on the qualifications needed and the full job description go here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Podcast: Steve Ray on Archaeology, Bethlehem and Nazareth

In this episode we continue our series of podcasts on the Gospel reports of Jesus' birth. This time I was honored to be joined by my good friend, Catholic author and apologist Steve Ray. Among other things Ray has produced numerous television shows on the Holy Land (now available on DVD). He also takes large groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land each year.

Today we talk a little bit about Nazareth and Bethlehem. What are these places like? Does it snow in Bethlehem? What can we see about the traditional sites honored as Jesus' birthplace, Mary's house, etc.? Why have them become honored as pilgrimage sites?

I hope you enjoy our podcast! (As always, please leave us your comments in the box below!)

To learn more about Steve's work, please be sure to visit his site,

Podcast: Steve Ray on Archaeology, Bethlehem and Nazareth

For more on the theory that Christian "prophets" were the origin of some of the material in the Gospel tradition and other elements of this podcast--with specific references to academic works on the topics--go to earlier posts on here and here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beautiful NEW Catholic Scripture Study International Bible

For all you fans out there of the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition--the translation employed in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church--there's a new edition of the RSVCE that's been recently published that is worthy of your attention (and your purchase!).

I'm speaking of the new Catholic Scripture Study International Bible, published by St. Benedict Press, out of Charlotte, North Carolina.  This new edition of the RSVCE (1966 translation) is a fantastic addition to the world of Catholic Bibles. Some of the following features of the CSS Bible make it stand out from among other modern English versions:

1. Beautiful Layout, Binding, and Artwork
The first striking feature of the new CSS RSV is that it is beautiful outside and in. Black leather binding on the outside, the interior is filled with beautiful religious art and iconography. For whatever reasons, this kind of beauty is something that has been lost in many editions of the Bible published in the last few decades. Anyone familiar with the beautiful cover art that often accompanies books from St Benedict press won't be surprised by the quality of this new Bible. Particularly nice are the icons of various biblical figures and scenes that occur throughout the main text.

2. Wonderful Type, Section Headings, and Paper
In my book (no pun intended), what matters above all for ease of reading is font, font, font! The CSS RSV contains a nice medium-large sized font (I don't know the exact numbering) that is not too big and not too small, but just right. Being a vociferous opponent of glossy paper, the classic white is easy to read and great on the eyes, and get's two thumbs up in my opinion. (However, it is worth noting that that the paper is also a little thin, which makes the Bible smaller and lighter than it would otherwise be, but you can see through it somewhat, which may be a down-side for some readers.)

For those of you who like section headings in the main text of Scripture, the main text of the CSS Bible is filled with bold-faced section headings that give you a clue to the contexts of what you're reading.

3. Both a Reader's Bible and a Study Bible (of Sorts)
One of the unique features of this Bible is the way it spans the gap between a study Bible with footnotes (like the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, of worthy renown), and a simple reader's Bible, without any helps. The CSS RSV is a little bit of both:

On the one hand, the CSS Bible is technically not a study Bible, insofar as the main text is unencumbered by footnotes (though the standard explanatory endnotes that accompany the RSV can be found at the end of both testament).On the other hand, the CSS Bible is filled with dozens and dozens of "Faith Fact" Inserts, which provide short reference essays for many of the most common topics Catholic readers of Scripture will want to know about, such as:

From Sabbath to Sunday
Biblical Origins of the Mass
Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist
Biblical Basis of Purgatory
The Church and Evolution
The Millennium and the Rapture
Sola Scriptura
Four Senses of Scripture
Canon of Scripture
Biblical Basis of Confession, etc. etc.

There's also a long list of "Catholic Apologetics Bible Verses" at the beginning that does a good job of covering all the major target topics and texts, as well as a "Topical Index" at the back that does a great job of answering the common question: "What does the Bible say about X?" from Abortion to Zeal...

In my experience, these kinds of topics, explained from the perspective of Sacred Scripture and tradition, are often where many Catholic readers of Scripture like to begin. These inserts and helps make this a particularly good Bible for beginners.  They can also be really helpful references to have right there in your Bible both for Bible study groups and for those occasions where you might want to have key passages in Scripture ready-at-hand for discussions about the biblical basis of certain Catholic teachings are controverted issues.

4. Calendar of Scripture Readings until the Year 2040
In my opinion, every Catholic Bible should have a calendar of Scripture readings so that you can read along with the Lectionary of Sunday and daily Masses. The CSS Bible has just such a calendar, going up to the year 2040. If you're my age, that should hold you till you die; if you're a bit younger, you might need to buy a new edition 30 yrs down the road. But in any case, if, for example, you enjoy doing lectio divina in your own Bible but along with the Lectionary, the CSS Bible is perfect.

5. Words of Christ in Red
Last, but not least, call me sentimental and old-fashioned, but the first real Bible I ever owned was an NAB with the words of Christ in red, and then, as now, I love it. (I realize that having a Ph.D. should have dispelled me of such affections, but I can't seem to shake 'em).  I don't know of any other RSV editions that have this quasi-liturgical feature (think of the red and black ink in Missals), but the new CSS Bible does, so if this something you like, it's another attractive feature that adds to the beauty of this edition.

A Great Christmas or Lenten Gift

In short, if you're looking for a great Christmas gift for family members and want to get a Bible that is so inviting someone might actually read it and learn from it, then the CSS RSV is a great idea. In particular, I'd recommend it for beginning readers of Scripture, older Catholics who might need a typeface that's big enough to be read easily, new Catholics going through RCIA or RCIC and who want to learn more about the biblical basics of their faith, or anyone who may be tired of the bad font and bad layouts that plague some editions of the Bible from the 1970s and 1980s. Readers enjoy!

Podcast: Are the Gospel Stories About Jesus' Birth Historical?

I've been swamped over the last few weeks finishing up the quarter and so I've been behind in posting the latest podcasts of The Sacred Page program. Now I'm going to get you all caught up.

Over the last couple weeks we've been focusing on the readings for Christmas, i.e., the "infancy narratives" of Christ. We've been looking at their historical value and meaning.

This show--the first in a series--explores some of the broad issues, although a lot more will be discussed in upcoming podcasts. Here, among other things, we look at the reason many scholars have been skeptical about the Gospels' historical worth. In particular, we look at the impact of Bultmann and other earlier "form-critical" scholars who viewed the Gospels in terms of "folklore". We then look at more recent discoveries that call their approach to the Gospels into question. We also explore the claim that the Gospel stories about Jesus' birth were invented to parallel myths about pagan gods.

I'd love to get your comments! Sound off in the box below!

Podcast: Are the Gospel Stories About Jesus' Birth Historical? 

For more on the theory that Christian "prophets" were the origin of some of the material in the Gospel tradition and other elements of this podcast--with specific references to academic works on the topics--go to earlier posts on here and here.

The Once and Future King: The Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

T.H. White wrote a fantasy novel about King Arthur in the 1950s called “The Once and Future King,” which my English class was assigned to read in 8th grade. The title comes from the legendary Latin inscription on Arthur’s tomb, Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus: “Here lies Arthur, king at one time, and king to be.”

For the ancient Israelites, David was their “Arthur”: a king of fame and renown, to whom God had made great promises, and whose return they expected.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My New Book Now on Amazon

My popular book on Scripture is now posted on Amazon.  Actual publication is a few weeks or months off.  The book is a condensation of the approach I take to the Bible in my undergraduate survey courses on Old and New Testament.

Ave Maria Press, on the campus of Notre Dame, is publishing the book.

Click on the image to see the Amazon listing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Webinar Tonight on the Blessed Mother

Michael and I will be talking live tonight, starting at 7:00PM EST, as part of a Fullness of Truth Advent Special on the Blessed Mother.  Here's the link to sign up for the event.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Courtship Continues: Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent

It may seem counterintuitive, but Advent has a courtship aspect to it.

Waiting for Christmas is like waiting for one’s wedding. A wedding unites two persons “as one flesh.” At Christmas, the LORD, bridegroom of Israel (Isaiah 54:4-8), unites his divine nature with our human nature, and the two become “one flesh,” as it were, in the incarnation.

Advent is like a courtship that anticipates the Christmas nuptials.

Subtle nuptial themes run in the background of this Sunday’s readings.

The First Reading, taken from Isaiah 61, divides into two parts (61:1-2 and 61:10-11). In the first part (Isa 61:1-2), Isaiah’s mysterious “servant of the Lord” is speaking in the first person. The identity of this “servant” was obscure in antiquity, as we can see from Acts 8:34, but Jesus clearly identifies himself as the “servant” in Luke 4:18-21, quoting the very verses from our First Reading.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Sodom and Gomorrah Excavated

By far the most interesting session at the recent Society of Biblical Literature Congress in San Francisco was one I wandered into by chance.  I am always curious about what is going on in biblical archeology, so one afternoon I decided to skip the dozen or so sessions dedicated to Bakhtinian Decontextualization of Identity Construction in Persian Yehud (I had to tear myself away) and go hear about the excavations at a certain site called "Tall-el-Hammam."  I had no idea what I was in for.  After about five minutes into the session, I realized that the archeological team assigned to this dig was convinced that they had found the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.  After another half-hour, it seemed they had most of the participants convinced as well.  The sites fit the geographical and temporal context into which Sodom and Gomorrah are placed in the biblical texts.  The cities at the site were suddenly and completely wiped out in the Late Bronze Age, which makes a reasonably good fit with the biblical accounts of Abraham and Lot.  The entire presentation was very convincing, but never once did they deal with the "elephant in the room": what caused the sites to be suddenly abandoned?  As soon as the session was over, I was the first to raise my hand.  "Did you find any arrow heads?  Signs of invasion?  What happened to them?"  The lead archeologist paused for a moment.  "I didn't want to go there," he said.  Another pause. "I'm preparing material for publication."  Pause.  "All I want to say 'on camera' is, they appear to have been wiped out in a 'heat event'."

A "heat event"!?  What?!

"If you want to know more, I'll talk after the session off the record."

I wish I could divulge what he said to a small group of us clustered around the podium after the session was over, but it would break confidence.  We'll have to wait for the official peer-reviewed publications.

Here's a link the dig's main website.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

"Comfort Ye" Sunday: Musical Exegesis

This weekend I was too busy with the Science and Faith Conference at Franciscan University (more on that later) to blog on the readings, but here's a clip of George Frideric Handel's superb "musical exegesis" of today's First Reading.  It's a Dutch recording, in honor of Al Plantinga visiting Franciscan University (just joking):

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Developments in Dead Sea Scrolls Research

Here's a link to a popular article about research on textiles recovered from Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It seems the Qumranites dressed exclusively in white linen, just like Josephus' descriptions of the Essenes.

The article exaggerates, in my opinion, the amount of debate about the identity of the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The majority of scholars have been convinced that they were Essenes almost since their initial discovery, although there have always been a few dissenting voices that have gotten more press coverage than their theories necessarily merit.

The idea of the Qumran site having been a fortress is not new: however, it was not built with defensive fortifications, and there is little in the area that the vicinity that the Romans would have been interested in defending (for example, see this article).

There are many lines of evidence that converge to identify the Qumran community as an Essene settlement.  This latest contribution of data from textile studies is a welcome confirmation of what most Qumran scholars have already believed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Semper Paratus!": The Readings for the First Sunday of Advent

The last month of the liturgical year was spent reflecting on the Last Things, culminating in the Feast of Christ the King last week, when we pondered the Final Judgment, the separation of the “sheep” and the “goats.”

There is actually a fairly smooth transition from the end of the liturgical year to its beginning, because the first week of Advent is spent meditating not on the First Coming of Christ, but on his Second. By next week, the perspective will shift, and the liturgy will anticipate the coming celebration of the incarnation.

In any event, although it is a new liturgical year this week, the end-times focus of previous weeks continues:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Faithfulness in the Small Matters: The Readings for the 33d Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. Josemaría Escrivà, the founder of the personal prelature Opus Dei, has often been called the “saint of the ordinary” for the emphasis he placed on achieving holiness in every-day living.

In fact, one of his most famous sermons was entitled “The Richness of Ordinary Life.”

St. Josemaría once said he could tell a great deal about a man’s interior life by looking at his closet. Good order in one’s soul is often reflected by good order in one’s lifestyle. A man who is sloppy or inattentive in the care of his personal effects will often likewise be careless in his life of prayer.

The Readings for this Lord’s Day focus on the theme of fidelity to the seemingly small matters that God places in our care.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Successor of Peter and Biblical Interpretation

The Chair of Peter in the Basilica of St. John Lateran
Some months ago on this blog, we had a discussion about the role of the Papacy in the Church and specifically with respect to the interpretation of Scripture. 

I keep coming back to the Pope's homily upon assuming the Chair of Peter in St. John Lateran (7 May 2005).

(St. John Lateran is, of course, the Cathedral of Rome--not St. Peter's in the Vatican.  St. John Lateran is the official church of the Bishop of Rome, and thus considered the mother church of Christianity.  This church has it's own feast day, which we celebrated yesterday.  When a new pope assumes the Chair of Peter in St. John Lateran, it marks the beginning of his tenure as Bishop of the Diocese of Rome.)

In this homily, the Pope pointedly addresses the issue of Scriptural interpretation, and his own role in it.

I quote here the most relevant paragraphs for reflection:

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Great Time at the Shrine

Shrine Director Leif Arvidson with Drs. Hahn & Bergsma
Dr. Hahn and I had the pleasure of visiting and speaking at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this weekend.  A crowd of 400 came out to make the Marian pilgrimage, and hear talks on Confession and Eucharist, and receive those very sacraments.  The Shrine, built by the people of the Diocese of La Crosse under the leadership of now-Cardinal Raymond Burke, is a hidden treasure of Catholicism in the Midwest.  Extraordinarily beautiful, the shrine church and its grounds were designed with the help of Duncan Stroik, the expert in ecclesiastical architecture from the Architecture School of the University of Notre Dame. (He's also godfather of several Bergsma children, but that's another story!) If you ever find yourself in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the Shrine is well worth a day's visit!

Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with Monastery of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, overlooking La Crosse, Wisconsin

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Virtuous Leadership: The Readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

A few weeks ago at Franciscan, we had Alexandre Havard on campus to speak about virtuous leadership.  His fine talk is on You Tube here. 

Havard will be followed in about a week by Andreas Widmer, who will again speak about virtuous leadership, based on his experiences as a Swiss Guard during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II.  

These speakers on leadership came to my mind this week as I pondered the Sunday Readings, because virtuous leadership for the people of God is the unifying theme of these Scriptures.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth

The videos of the presentations at the Franciscan liturgical conference, "The Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth," are now posted here.  Bishop Seratelli, Dr. Hahn, Denis McNamara, Adam Bartlett, and John Bergsma presented.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Conference on Science and Faith

Al Plantinga, Emeritus Prof. of Phil., Notre Dame
It's a little tangential to Biblical Studies (although not as much as one might think), but I think it's worth mentioning that there's a fabulous Conference on Science and Faith coming up in just over a month (Dec. 2-3), right here at Franciscan University. All the specifics are here.

We have some of the brightest coming to address this subject from a Christian perspective, including Alvin Plantinga, Michael Behe, William Carroll OP, Stephen Barr, Ed Feser, Jay Richards, Ben Wiker, with members of our own faculty responding. It's well, well worth the registration fee to see these men all in the same room dialoguing about some of the most important questions of the human condition!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth

This weekend I had the joy of participating in the "Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth" conference sponsored by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Franciscan University's Office of Chapel Ministry.  The link to the conference webpage is here.  We were privileged to have Bishop Serratelli of the Diocese of Patterson, New Jersey, giving the initial keynote on Saturday morning.  Bishop Serratelli is one of only eleven bishops on the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the commission that oversees the translations of the Mass and other liturgical rites for all English-speaking Catholics worldwide.  Bishop Serratelli spoke about the process that lead to the New Translation of the Mass, which goes into effect this Advent.  The New Translation is more literal, dignified, poetic, and biblical than the texts that English-speaking Catholics have been using for the last forty years.  For those curious about the inner workings of the translation process, the podcast of Bishop Serratelli's talk should prove intriguing.

I spoke after Bishop Serratelli on the theme of the confluence of nuptiality and liturgy in Scripture and the Mass.  My talk outline is below the break.

We also had the pleasure of an address by Dennis McNamara, one of the nation's foremost authorities on Catholic church architecture; Mr. Adam Bartlett, and expert on liturgical music; and batting clean-up, Dr. Scott Hahn addressing the mystical relationship between the earthly and the heavenly liturgy ("A Heavenly Banquet for Earthly Beggars").

Podcasts of the talks will be available shortly, and I'll post links when they are up.

I'm afraid I'm not able to do my usual commentary on the readings this weekend since I was occupied with the conference.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project

If you haven't check it out yet, the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls project from the Israeli Shrine of the Book museum is worth checking out.  It features high-quality, easily-accessed digital images of the actual scrolls.  So far they have only a handful of the most prominent scrolls available in this format.  One hopes that this will be an ongoing effort that will eventually include all scrolls with any significant textual content.

My initial impressions of the descriptive and introductory materials they posted with the scroll images are very good.  The project seems to have been pursued in a moderate, generous manner, offering the scrolls to everyone as part of world culture.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

How Do We Dress for this Wedding Banquet? The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The standard of dress at Mass has declined in recent years.  People show up looking like their ready for the beach or a football game.  Some pastors are calling attention to this problem.  I agree--I’m all for encouraging modesty and taste in the way we physically dress for worship

But our external dress is not the main point of this Sunday’s Readings.

What is the real "dress" of the Christian who approaches the Eucharistic Banquet?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Are We a Fruitful Vineyard? Readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The past several Sundays we have been reading from the vineyard parables of Jesus in Matthew, and this Sunday we reach a climactic point in the hostility between the leaders of the people (chief priests and elders) and Jesus.

The Readings for this Lord’s Day are skillfully chosen to complement the Gospel reading.  Most commentators agree that the vine parables of the Old Testament found in Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80 are the textual background for Jesus’ own vineyard parable in Matt 21:33-43.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is God Fair? Round Two: The 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Apparently Holy Mother Church wants us to learn something about God’s justice and mercy, because the themes of this Sunday’s Readings repeat, with variation, those of last week’s.

Last week we had to deal with the difficult Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which raised the issue of whether God is “unfair” in his merciful generosity.  (On a side note, a good friend and fellow scholar passes on a suggestion from a saintly priest that the “denarius” in last week’s parable may be identified with the Eucharist, the “daily wage” or “daily bread” that sustains us for Today so that we may live to see Tomorrow.  Beautiful!)

This week the topic of God’s “fairness” rises again at the beginning of the First Reading:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is God Fair? The Readings for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Gospel Reading for this Lord’s Day raises the issue of the fairness of God.  Jesus, being a good teacher, wants his students to think.  He teaches in parables that—on the one hand—do indeed communicate truth and answer questions, but—on the other—also raise new, puzzling questions that require the student (discipulus means student, after all) to expend some mental energy. 

Our First Reading emphasizes the distance between God’s perspective and ours:

Friday, September 09, 2011

Forgiveness: The Readings for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Readings for this Lord’s Day are unified around the theme of forgiveness.  We begin and end with the words of “Jesus” on this topic: the First Reading records the words of Jesus, son of Sira, and the Gospel records the words of Jesus, Son of God.

One of the last books of the Christian Old Testament to be written, Sirach (also known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) often seems to anticipate the teachings of Christ himself:

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Warning and Rebuke in the Christian Life: Readings for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

I don’t like personal conflict.  I try to avoid it as much as possible.  Probably most Americans do.  I’m not sure what it’s like in other cultures, although I’ve heard of others where open social confrontation is more common.

This Sunday’s readings deal with situations in which Christians have a duty to confront one another.  They don’t make for comfortable reading in a culture that puts a high value on keeping the peace and minding one’s own business.

The First Reading is the great “Watchman” passage from the prophet Ezekiel:

Why the Pope Has to Be Infallible, Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts about Papal infallibility and its relationship to the interpretation of Scripture. See part 1, part 2, and part 2a.

In the first and second parts of this series of posts, we discussed the infallibility of the Church as a whole, and then the infallibility of an ecumenical council.

We concluded the last post with the question, Is the infallibility of an ecumenical council enough? In other words, in order to preserve the unity of the Church, and to transmit the faith with certitude to the common believer, is it enough that ecumenical councils alone be infallible?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why the Pope has to be Infallible, Part 2a

The semester is in full swing for many of us, and the time to blog is scarce.  In preparation for my next post on papal infallibility, I'd like to call attention to this well-known essay by Protestant theologian Stephen Long from Garret Evangelical Seminary, who made some excellent and succinct remarks on the necessity of the papacy during the time of John Paul II's funeral and the election of Benedict XVI: click here for the pdf.  While Long does not specifically address infallibility, the points he makes about the necessity of the papacy are relevant to the issue.

Some of my favorite quotes from the essay:

* "The final logic of this version of Protestantism can only be that each individual makes up his or her own religion, which will then be defined over and against every other individual's religion. In other words, what
holds this tradition together is that it is against something. This kind of Protestantism needs an object against which it dissents for its own identity."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why the Pope has to be Infallible, Part 2

In my last post,  I tried to show that there were two basic positions about who is the final arbiter of the interpretation of Scripture, either (A) the Church or (B) the individual Christian, and if (A) is true, then the Church has to be infallible; otherwise one returns to the default position (B).

I think many are willing to grant that the Church is infallible.  I would have accepted that proposition in theory even as a Protestant.  However, I would have held it in a form something like this:

(C) The Church is infallible, but the voice of the Church is not to be identified with any of her ministers, bodies or representatives.

It follows from a position like this that no Pope, Bishop, theologian, council, synod, etc. can be identified as speaking for the Church.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship: Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

If last Sunday’s Readings were a soft-ball pitch, a nice high arc to knock out of the park, this Sunday’s Readings are a wicked curve ball for the Catholic preacher.  Nonetheless, while these readings aren’t the “feel good” homiletical experience of last week’s, the truths are just as important and just as “Catholic.”

We begin with a troublesome passage from the prophet Jeremiah

Reading 1: Jeremiah 20:7-9
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped (Heb. patah);
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why the Pope has to be Infallible, Part 1

In response to my post from last Sunday’s readings, Emil Anton has made some interesting interventions in the comments raising issues about papal infallibility.  So I though it might be pertinent to walk through the steps that lead to papal infallibility—at least, the ones I find convincing.

Let’s start with the question: who is the final arbiter of the interpretation of Scripture?  I start with this point, because (surprisingly) Catholic and non-Catholic expressions of Christianity are largely agreed that the interpretation of Scripture is the essence of Christian doctrine.  For example, Benedict XVI has stated that the dogmas of the Church are, in essence, nothing other than the authoritative interpretation of Scripture.  I paraphrase, but this is close to how he phrased the point.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Biblical Basis for the Papacy: The Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

In terms of Catholic “preachability,” today’s Readings are a soft-ball pitch, a long high arc that every homilist ought to be able to knock out of the park.  The lectionary readings have been set up for a clear explanation of the nature of the Papacy and its basis in Scripture.

Servants of God's Love

I'm late posting my usual reflections on the Sunday readings because I spent the last few days with the Servants of God's Love, a charismatic women's religious order in Ann Arbor, MI.  We had a wonderful time together, talking about one of my favorite biblical topics: nuptiality in the Gospel of John.  Some readers of this blog will know one of the members of this order, Sr. Ann Shields, the much-beloved author, speaker, radio and TV personality who teaches on spirituality and Scripture (second row, second from right).  The Servants are involved in teaching, counseling, foster care and hospice ministry in the Ann Arbor area, where they give a beautiful witness to the radical call of the Gospel!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Who Let All the Riffraff Into the Covenant? The Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

According to Wikipedia (that source than which none more authoritative can be thought), “Riffraff is a term for the common people or hoi polloi, but with negative connotations. The term is derived from Old French ‘rif et raf’ meaning ‘one and all, every bit.’”

My ancestors are Dutch, and—like many other ethnic groups—the Dutch think they're pretty special.  The saying is, “If yah ain’t Dutch, yah ain’t much.”