Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Joy and Challenge of Family Life: Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family

The Sunday within the Octave of Christmas is always dedicated to contemplation of the Holy Family, giving us the opportunity to meditate on the way in which the family structure, established by God and perfectly mirrored in the Holy Family, reflects His own familial nature (as Father, Son, and Spirit) and shows us the truth about ourselves and our deepest longings for love, acceptance, and communion with other persons.

The Readings for this beautiful feast provide the celebrant with a dizzying array of options—too many for me to adequately handle during this busy week of family activities and end of the year deadlines.  I will have to limit myself to some remarks on the First Reading and Gospel proposed for Year C.  (For an overview of the options, see Fr. Felix Just’s excellent website dedicated to the Lectionary.  Click here.)

1.  The First Reading option for Year C is 1 Sam 1:20-22, 24-28, the preferred choice to complement this year’s gospel:

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Tour of the Christmas Readings

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 text 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:

The First Reading (Isaiah 62:1-5) includes this beautiful promise of the restoration of the nuptial (or spousal) relationship between God and his People:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mary, Queen Mother of the Crown Prince: Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent


The Fourth Sunday of Advent marks a switch in focus from John the Baptist (on the previous two Sundays) to the events immediately leading up to the birth of Christ.

The Readings for this Sunday focus on Jesus’ royalty: his descent from the line of Davidic kings.  As we will see, this royal status also accrued to his mother Mary, and this is the basis for the practice of Marian veneration in the Catholic Church.  In fact, the first instance of Marian veneration by another human being takes place in this Sunday’s Gospel.

1. Our First Reading is from the prophet Micah, 5:1-4a:

Thus says the LORD:
You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah
too small to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel;
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient times.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rejoice! The Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

This Sunday is “Gaudete” Sunday, from the Latin gaudete, “Rejoice!” which traditionally begins the introit for this Mass, taken from Phil. 4:4.  Many parishes will mark this Sunday with rose-colored vestments (not “pink”—“pink” is not a liturgical color!), and the theme of joy runs through the readings and the liturgy. 

Gaudete Sunday marks the half-way point of Advent, and the Church rejoices because Jesus’ coming is near.  Actually, in most years, as in this, it marks much more than half-way.  In our case, Christmas is only nine days from this Sunday!

1.  Our First Reading is Zephaniah 3:14-18a:

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Make Straight the Paths: The Second Sunday of Advent

As we start the second week of Advent, the Church turns her attention from the second coming of Christ to his first coming, and in particular to the figure of John the Baptist, the forerunner or herald of Jesus Christ.

Usually the Church reads heavily from the prophet Isaiah during the Advent season, and indeed, Isaiah 40 would have made a good First Reading for this Sunday because it is quoted in the Gospel.  However, in Year C, the Church takes a little break from exclusive attention to Isaiah and reads some other Old Testament texts that are also important for understanding the significance of Christ’s coming. 

The readings for this Mass are heavily marked by what we may call a “New Exodus” theme.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy New Year! The First Sunday of Advent

Happy New Year, everyone!  This Sunday, December 2, is the first day of Liturgical Year 2013, which is Lectionary Cycle C for readings on Lord’s Days and Holy Days.  Obviously, it is also the First Sunday of Advent.  Now, the tradition of the Church is to read the Book of Isaiah during Advent, because this prophetic book, more than any other, is regarded as a prophecy of the Coming of Christ (adventus Christi), both his first coming and his second coming.  Thus, if you examine the Sunday Lectionary for Years A and B, and the weekday Lectionary for Advent, you will see that the First Readings are dominated by selections from Isaiah.

However, in Year C of the Lectionary, the Church opts to do something slightly different for a change.  The First Readings for this year are taken from other important prophetic passages concerning the coming of the Christ outside the Book of Isaiah—passages that otherwise would be neglected if only Isaiah were read.

1.  Our First Reading is Jeremiah 33:14-16:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NCCYM in Orlando this Saturday

I'll be giving my overview of salvation history, "How to Get through the Bible in an Hour!" at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry in Orlando, Florida, this Saturday, December 1.  For those attending, it is session D-11, in room Northern A-3, 2:30pm-4:00pm.

Mountains and Mediators: New Scholarship

People familiar with Bible Basics for Catholics or some of my classroom teaching know that I like to draw stick figures on mountains as a way of summarizing salvation history.  It looks whimsical, but what I am doing is actually based on scholarship about the concept of the cosmic mountain in the ancient Near East and the biblical tradition.  Here's a book that's just been published on the subject:

The Tabernacle Prefigured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus (Biblical Tools and Studies 15; Peeters, 2013)

L. Michael Morales (
Old Testament/Pentateuch, Trinity College/University of Bristol


This thesis examines the creation, deluge, and exodus (sea crossing/Sinai) accounts of Genesis and Exodus in relation to cosmic mountain ideology, demonstrating in each narrative the cosmogonic

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

“Viva Cristo Rey!” The Solemnity of Christ the King

This Sunday is the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time, and as everyone knows, that means it is the Solemnity of Christ the King!  This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  The last day of the liturgical year will be Saturday, December 1, and Liturgical Year 2013 will begin with the First Sunday of Advent, December 2.

I give thanks to God for many things at this time of year, including the joy of living the liturgical calendar, which is such a consolation and guide for one’s spirituality through the seasons of life and the seasons of the year.  Each liturgical year is like a whole catechesis of the Christian faith, as well as a kind of microcosm of the entire life of the believer, from birth and baptism to final anointing and death.

Earlier this year a movie about the struggle for religious freedom of the Catholics of Mexico was released called "For Greater Glory."  The rallying cry of the persecuted Mexican believers was “Viva Cristo Rey!”, “Long Live Christ the King!”  For many of them, these were the last words out of their mouths before their violent deaths.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tempus Fugit: The Readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Tempus fugit,” the Romans used to say.  “Time flies.”  It’s hard to believe that we are already at the second-to-last Sunday of the liturgical year.

[My brother Tim used to say, “Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.”  But that has nothing to do with anything.]

Where has the year gone?  How can it be so close to the end already?  Yet these feelings are very appropriate for Mass we will celebrate this Sunday, whose readings encourage us to count time carefully, to be aware of its passage, to meditate on our mortality and the passing of all things, and to think soberly of the end and the final judgment. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Lesson on Faith for the Year of Faith: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we are still in the beginning of the Year of Faith, our Readings for this Sunday give us a lesson in the practice of faith.

Our First Reading is from 1 Kings 17:10-16, the story of Elijah’s visit to the widow of Zarephath:

In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath.
As he arrived at the entrance of the city,
a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her,
"Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink."
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
"Please bring along a bit of bread."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Some Quick Thoughts on All Saints

A happy Feast of All Saints to one and all!  This is one of my favorite feasts.  The month of November is not formally a liturgical season, but since it begins with All Saints and ends with Christ the King, these four weeks really do have the feel of a liturgical season focused on meditation on the Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Death, and Judgment.

The Readings for All Saints are, of course, beautiful.  The full text of the readings are here.  Here are some quick thoughts:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Love and Priesthood: The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Readings for this upcoming Sunday revolve around the themes of love of God and perfect priesthood.

1.  The First Reading is Deuteronomy 6:2-6:

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
"Fear the LORD, your God,
and keep, throughout the days of your lives,

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The New Exodus: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Notice Bartimaeus and Baptism in this icon
The readings for this Sunday revolve around the theme of return from exile for God's people.  In the Old Testament, we read about God's people Israel being exiled from their land because of their violations of their covenant with God.  The great Isrealite prophets, however, predicted that God would bring his people back from the places they were exiled, just as he brought them out of Egypt by the hand of Moses long ago.  This is often called the "New Exodus" theme in the prophets.

1. Our First Reading is one such prophetic oracle, Jeremiah 31:7-9:
Thus says the LORD:
Shout with joy for Jacob,
exult at the head of the nations;
proclaim your praise and say:
The LORD has delivered his people,
the remnant of Israel.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Feast Day of St. Luke

The Feast of St. Luke is just past.  On the Eve of the Feast, Matt Leonard and I sat down at the St. Paul Center to discuss this great biblical author.  After Matt mocks me for about 30 seconds, we get down to talking about St. Luke's contributions to Scripture and the Faith.  Enjoy!

Frank Moore Cross, Rest in Peace

The Biblical Archeology Review is reporting that Frank Moore Cross, arguably the senior Old Testament scholar in North America, has passed away.  The full obituary is here.

Cross was a student of the "dean" of American Old Testament scholars, William Foxwell Albright, and for most of his career taught at Harvard.  Cross was the Doktorvater (dissertation director) of my own Doktorvater, James C. VanderKam.  So I guess that makes him my Doktorgrossvater.   

In any event, he was a scholar almost without peer.  An accomplished paleographer, he was one of the first scholars to see and work on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  But for me, his most valuable contributions concerned the understanding of the Old Testament concept of "covenant," especially in the first chapter of his classic From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel. In my own little book Bible Basics for Catholics, I make a big deal about the covenants in salvation history, and how covenant is related to kinship. In this, I am drawing in part from Cross (see BBFC, p. 159), who famously said: "Often it has been asserted that the language of ‘brotherhood’ and ‘fatherhood,’ ‘love,’ and ‘loyalty’ is ‘covenant terminology.'" But this is “to turn things upside down. The language of covenant, kinship-in-law, is taken from the language of kinship, kinship-in-flesh" (Epic to Canon, p. 12).  This insight, that covenant forms kinship, is key to understanding Scripture.

The past few years have seen the passing of so many "greats": Moshe Greenberg, Moshe Weinfeld, Jacob Milgrom, David Noel Freedman, and now Cross. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" (2 Sam 1:19).

Frank Moore Cross, rest in peace. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Suffering and Leadership: The 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Readings for this upcoming Lord's Day focus on the themes of suffering and leadership: in particular, how Christ, our definitive leader, embraced suffering on our behalf, and so modeled true leadership for all who would follow him.

1.  Our First Reading is Isaiah 53:10-11:
The LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.

If he gives his life as an offering for sin,

he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.

Because of his affliction

he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
This is an excerpt from the larger "Suffering Servant Song" that extends from Isaiah 52:13–53:12.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Leroy Huizenga on Dei Verbum

My friend, New Testament scholar, Leroy Huizenga, has a wonderful lecture up on the Second Vatican Council's document, Dei Verbum. Have a look!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Embracing Lady Poverty: 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

St. Francis Wedding Lady Poverty
October 4th, this past Thursday, was the Feast of St. Francis of Assissi, and as you might imagine it was a big deal here at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  The all-campus Mass was reverent and moving, and the festivities over the weekend, including the annual Medieval Festival, were full of good-natured merry-making.

One of the themes that always comes up in this yearly recollection of St. Francis is his radical embrace of poverty.  Together with St. Dominic, St. Francis helped establish the tradition of mendicant (begging) religious orders, that is, groups of religious men who owned no property and were dependent on the good will of others for their necessities.

St. Francis used to refer lovingly to "Lady Poverty," and said he learned a great deal from her.  The Readings for this Sunday's Mass also treat of the theme of poverty for the sake of the Good News and the Kingdom of God.

1. Our First Reading is from Wisdom 7:7-11:

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Catholic Church

Next weekend I'll be in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, at the Church of the Incarnation giving a set of five talks on the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relevance to the Catholic Faith.  We'll learn about the Scrolls and use them as a lens to examine the Jewish and Biblical roots of Catholic teaching and practice.  Here's the schedule:
Friday, October 12, 7pm-9pm:
1. An Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls
2. John the Baptist and Baptism
Saturday October 13, 9am-12pm
3. The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist
4. Marriage, Celibacy, and Holy Orders
5. The Reformation and "Salvation by Faith Alone"
Hope you can make it if you're in the greater Albuquerque area!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

God Loves Marriage and Children: The 27th Week of Ordinary Time

The Readings for this Sunday provide the homilist with an ideal opportunity to teach Christian doctrine concerning marriage and children.  The opportunity is timely, too, as one of our political parties has taken an official stand supporting "same-sex marriage," an arrangement that is not intrinsically related to the birth and rearing of children, does not provide the same benefit to society as true marriage, and can never be as optimal for the well-being of children as to be raised by their own biological father and mother.  In the midst of the confusion about the very nature of marriage and its purpose, these Readings shed the light of God's revelation on how we should live this most intimate aspect of our lives.

1.  The First Reading is Genesis 2:18-24:
The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him."
So the LORD God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sin is No Match for the Spirit of God: The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our Readings for this Sunday may seem dour at first, dominated by discussion of going to hell and the merits of self-amputation, but the First Reading actually points us in the right direction to overcome sin and hell and live in joy.  We will see how as the Readings unfold:

1.  Our First Reading is from Numbers 11:25-29:
The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.

Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.

Friday, September 28, 2012

To Everything There Is a Season ...

OK, so how many people went to Mass today and were hearing the Byrds in their heads during the First Reading?

Move over Dan Schutte—try the Byrds as liturgical musicians.

I wonder how many people in America think those lyrics were actually written by the Byrds.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Now Ecclesiastes Gets Its Turn

"Vanity of Vanities! All is Vanity! saith the Preacher."

Yes, indeed.  So the classic catch-line of Ecclesiastes rings out through churches across the land.

If you are a daily communicant, you know that Ecclesiastes is now getting its 15 minutes (or less) of fame in the daily readings.

To honor the occasion, let's talk about Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes is one of the most atypical books of the Old Testament, a composition virtually unique in its genre that voices opinions seemingly contrary to the mainstream of biblical

Wrapping Up on Proverbs

That's it!  If you blinked, you missed it.  Proverbs has just three days of seriatim reading during ferial days, and now they're done.  In this post, we wrap up Proverbs, giving a liturgical perspective on the book:
Liturgical Perspective
Proverbs emphasizes the practice of virtue in daily life in an international context, so there is less focus on the liturgy than in some other books.  Nonetheless, a Christian reading of the Book does perceive some important liturgical themes, even beyond a few individual proverbs that encourage diligent participation in the cult (Prov. 3:9).
            Proverbs identifies “Fear of the LORD” as the beginning of wisdom, and the term “fear” conveys an attitude of reverence, which is broader than, but would include, formal acts of worship. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More on Proverbs

Today is the last day Proverbs is read in the First Reading for daily mass (Prov. 30:5-9), so I'm posting more on this gem of a book:

Authorship and Date
The text of Proverbs attributes most of the book to Solomon himself (1:1; 10:1; 25:1), but some parts to anonymous sages (“the wise,” 22:17; 24:23) or the two otherwise-unknown Gentiles Agur (30:1-14) and King Lemuel (31:1-9).  Certain scribes working for Hezekiah gain credit for compiling chs. 25-29 (25:1).
            In modern critical scholarship, Solomonic authorship of Proverbs is usually dismissed, for a variety of stated reasons, at the heart of which is a general skepticism about the historicity of

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Proverbs Makes Its Cameo Appearance

If you are a daily communicant, you might notice that the Book of Proverbs is making its "cameo appearance" right now in the First Reading of daily Mass. In Weeks 25-26 of Year II of Ordinary Time, we get readings from the Wisdom Literature in the First Reading of ferial days.  Proverbs gets just three days allotted: Monday through Wednesday of Week 25.  That's right now.

So, to mark this special occasion, one of the few occassions that Proverbs gets "air time" in the Liturgy, I thought I'd post some discussion of this wisdom book for the entertainment of our blog readers:

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of short, pithy statements expressing the basic principles for leading a prudent and therefore prosperous life.  It is the foundational book of the wisdom literature collection.  Proverbs lays out the fundamental principles of “wisdom” (Heb. hokhmah), or prudence for living, and all other wisdom books may be viewed as building on it, either by dealing with exceptions to the principles it lays out (e.g. Job, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon) or by further development of the principles themselves (e.g. Wisdom, Sirach).
            In the Jewish tradition, Proverbs (Heb. sepher mishlēy, “The Book of the Proverbs of [Solomon]”, or simply mishlēy, “Proverbs of”) is found in the third canonical division, the

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Great Catholic Commentary Set

For those looking for good Catholic commentaries on the New Testament, I'd like to remind everyone about the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture Series, which includes volumes by Peter Williamson, Mary Healy, Curtis Mitch, Edward "Ted" Sri, and several others.  This is a great resource for those looking for a critically informed yet theological and liturgically sensitive commentary series.  Click here for more information.

Gentleness in the Midst of Suffering: The Readings for the 24th Week of Ordinary Time

Looking over the readings for this week, I was reminded of a classic scene from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker find themselves, after a long separation, suddenly reunited—but as prisoners of their common enemy, Jabba the Hutt:

Han Solo: Together again, huh?
Luke: Wouldn't miss it.
Han Solo: How we doin'?
Luke: Same as always.
Han Solo: That bad, huh?

In this Sunday's readings, we have texts from a wide range of periods in salvation history: a psalm of David (c. 1000 BC), a reading from Wisdom (c. 100 BC), a gospel narrative (c. AD 30), and a letter of St. James to the early Church (c. AD 50).  Every text reflects the godly person or persons being persecuted in some way.  Furthermore, as we read these texts we can't help but think of the various forms of hostility or persecution the Church is experiencing in our own country and throughout the world.  So: "How we doin'? --"Same as always."  Persecution is nothing new: it is the "normal" of those who would follow Jesus.  Nonetheless, we find in these readings that the hope of resurrection empowers us to be both joyful and gentle in the midst of the sufferings we experience.

1. Our First Reading is Wis 2:12, 17-20:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Extra-Marital Sexuality and the Undermining of the Family Unit

John W. Miller's book Biblical Faith and Fathering, published in 1989, was prophetic: the social consequences he foresaw of the rejection of God-as-Father and the biblical ideals of fathering have all come to pass, and grown much worse. For that reason, I'm going to continue to post some of his most poignant observations, like the following:

Biblical tradition upholds the integrity of the marital bond between a man and his wife by its very explicit and detailed teaching against adultery in all its forms--whether as incest (see Lev 18; 20:8-21), or philandering (see Prv 5; 7:6-27), or as the outright seduction of another man's wife (Ex 20:14).  Needless to say, where adultery is not proscribed in this outright manner, the foundations of the father-involved family are undermined.   Israel was therefore not unjustified in regarding its teachings and laws on this issue specifically as among its most important distinguishing characteristics.  Failure to hold firm on this point, it was believed, would result in her being "vomited out" of the land (Lev 18:24, 28). Marital fidelity, on the other hand, guaranteed the stability of the two-parent family and helped to secure the respect due to both parents, father and mother. (p. 70, emphasis mine).
How are we doing in America, where virtually no forms of adultery are sanctioned either legally or socially; and, in fact, movies and television portray adulterous relationships positively?  Who was the genius that thought that would be a good idea for society?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

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

We have been getting a number of rousing challenges from Jesus in the past several weeks, as our Readings have followed the progress of his ministry, and Jesus repeatedly makes clear that following him is not going to be easy in any way.  

 This Sunday we get another challenge from Jesus to “fish or cut bait” in our relationship with him.  Paradoxically, however, if we think we are going to preserve our lives and comfort by turning away from him, Jesus warns us: long term, that’s a bad strategy.

1.  Our First Reading is one of the Servant Songs of the Book of Isaiah 50:4-9:

Friday, September 07, 2012

Jesus the "Reverse Psychologist"?: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

"Reverse Psychology" describes the attempt to motivate individuals to action by telling them to do the opposite of what is actually desired.  The method is based on the assumption of the perversity of human nature.  Since we tend to do disobey whatever commands we receive, why not command what is wrong, and then our natural "disobedience" will result in good?

It sounds fine in theory, but I've tried it with my kids: "Don't do your chores.  Don't finish your schoolwork.  Eat up all the remaining ice cream."  Reverse psychology doesn't seem to work in practice. 

In this Sunday's Gospel, though, Jesus seems to try "reverse psychology" on the blind man he heals.  But is that what is really going on?

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

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

More from John W. Miller on God-as-Father

"The proposal that God is sometimes thought of as feminine or genderless in biblical tradition is not supported by the evidence.  On the other hand, Yahweh is not simply regarded as male either, but as a father whose caring is often experienced as mother-like in its tenderness and compassion." (p. 55)

Miller shows (pp. 55-65) that feminine imagery for God in both testaments is rare and invariably indirect.  God is not a mother, though He has mothering qualities.

"Through the rituals of redemption of the first-born, circumcision, and passover, faith in God as redemptive, caring father was linked to human fathering and Israelite fathers came to be involved in the care and teaching of their own children to a degree that was unique in the world of their time." (p. 69)

Miller analyzes the religious rites of the Mosaic Covenant from the perspective of their influence on the practice of fathering in Israelite society, especially (but not limited to) the bonding of fathers with their sons.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Faithfulness to the Word of God: Readings for the 22nd Week

The Plains of Moab (Deuteronomy)
The Readings for Mass this week call us to purify our walk with God, and make an examination of conscience: are my "religious" practices helpful, or are they distracting me from what is central in my relationship with God?

1.  The First Reading is from Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8:
Moses said to the people:
"Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin upon you,
you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And the Answer Is ...

A few days ago I posted this quote, asking for guesses as to the author:

"How great, therefore, the wickedness of [fallen] human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God! Indeed, some spouses who marry and live together…have various ends in mind, but rarely children."

The speaker is Martin Luther.  I found the quote in an article about the history of birth control and contraception within Protestantism.  It's a fascinating read, available here.

More on Fathering and the Bible

Here are some other striking quotes from John W. Miller, Biblical Faith and Fathering (Paulist, 1989):

"The God of Judaism is undoubtedly a father-symbol and father-image, possibly the greatest such symbol and image conceived by man.  Nor can there be any doubt as to the psychological need answered by this image.  This, together with the great moral imperatives, was the unique contribution of prophetic Judaism to mankind."  --Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess (New York: Avon Books, 1967), 9; quoted in Miller, p. 41.
"The assumption that biblical father religion is simply continuous with wider ancient near eastern patriarchalism is unsupported by a comparison of the portrait of God as father in the Bible with divine father figures in several contemporary ancient near eastern mythologies.  Only in biblical tradition is it believed that a father-god truly worthy of being hallowed is fully in charge of the cosmic home." (Miller, 43)
Miller proceeds to substantiate this statement with illustrations from the Enuma Elish, the Ba'al Cycle from Ugarit, and the myths of Oris and Isis from Egypt.  He argues that son and daughter deities were typically in charge of the cosmos, with fathers having a background role.  This is contrary to the usual charge that the Hebrews just picked up their paternal image of the LORD from surrounding cultures.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Are You In, or Are You Out? A Call for Decision

The Readings for the 21st Week of Ordinary Time

It's an election year, and the news networks are already covering "Decision 2012."  The campaign rhetoric is getting cranked up, as each paints the upcoming vote as an ultimate choice between Good and Evil.  Last night I saw an online add for one campaign asking its supporters, "Are you in?"
The readings for this upcoming Sunday are some of the most difficult and challenging in the Lectionary.  The Church is calling us to make a decision.  There can be no more sitting on the fence.  Are we going to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Son of God, and therefore submit to his Word—even if it seems difficult to understand or accept?  Or are we going to move on and seek some other guru in life, some other bodhisattva, novelist, psychologist, sociologist, theologian, philosopher, talk show host, or politician who will tell us right from wrong and show us the way to salvation?  

In the Readings this week Jesus asks us, "Are you in, or are you out?"

1.  The First Reading is Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Who Said It?

Who said this?

"How great, therefore, the wickedness of [fallen] human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God! Indeed, some spouses who marry and live together…have various ends in mind, but rarely children."

No fair googling it!  Or at least, guess in the comments before you google.  I'll post the answer tomorrow evening.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Biblical Faith and Fathering

Quotes from John W. Miller, Biblical Faith and Fathering: Why we call God “Father,” (Paulist, 1989):

“Too little attention has been paid in recent critiques of biblical patriarchy to the fact that the father-involved family is a fragile cultural achievement that cannot be taken for granted. When this and other still neglected matters are taken in to consideration, the precise nature of the contribution of biblical faith to a high culture of fathering can better be appreciated.” (page 5)

Miller argues that the model of God as loving father in the Old and New Testaments helped create a cultural ideal of fatherhood in Christianity and Judaism that was profoundly beneficial to mothers and children when lived out. 

“Due to the marginality of males in the reproductive process, fathering is a cultural acquisition to an extent that mothering is not. Hence, when a culture ceases to support a father’s involvement with his own children (through its laws, mores, symbols, models, rituals) powerful natural forces take over in favor of the mother-alone family.” (page 13)

This is the general trend in America, where out-of-wedlock births and female-headed households steadily increase year after year. If trends continue, the intact, father-lead nuclear family will be an anomaly within twenty-five years.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Feast of Wisdom: Readings for the 20th Week of Ordinary Time

A couple of months ago I finally had the chance to watch "Babette's Feast," a beautiful movie about a french cook in Denmark who wins the lottery and spends her entire earnings to throw a lavish feast for the two old spinsters she works for and all their friends.

Babette's Feast was an obvious and intentional Eucharistic allegory, and I couldn't help thinking of it while reflecting on the the readings for this Sunday (20th of Ordinary Time), which are all closely united by the themes of eating, wisdom, and thankfulness.

1.  Our first reading is taken from Proverbs 9:1-6:

Monday, August 13, 2012

What We're Reading: Biblical Faith and Fathering by J.W. Miller

I just finished one of the most arresting books in biblical studies I've come across in some time.  John W. Miller's Biblical Faith and Fathering: Why we call God "Father" (Paulist, 1989) is an exploration of patriarchy in the Bible from the perspective of biblical studies as well as sociology and psychology. 

Feminist critics have charged that the Bible uses exclusively masculine language for God, and therefore is oppressive to women.  One typical response by Christians has been to deny that biblical God-language is exclusively masculine, by placing great emphasis on a small number of passages that use feminine imagery for the LORD.  Miller's response is different.  He concedes that biblical God-language is masculine, but argues that the masculine language--in particular, the language that characterizes God as father--has important cultural-social effects that are beneficial for both men and women.  In short, Miller argues that women need a loving Father as much as men do. 

This short summary doesn't do Miller justice, so I hope to post a few of the more striking quotes from his book over the next several days. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord: Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

[I am going to start posting these reflections on the Sunday readings on Tuesday morning rather than Friday, because some have asked to have them available for use at biblestudies or parish groups that meet earlier in the week.]
I've been involved in some form of church ministry--either training for it, practicing it, or training others for it--for over twenty years now, and I know one of the major challenges we face in ministry is burnout.  At Franciscan University we train a large number of prospective youth ministers.  The attrition rate in this field is very high.  I don't have exact statistics, but would not be surprised if half of new youth ministers leave the field for some other line of work within three to five years.

Burnout is a problem for spiritual leaders, but its also a problem for Christians in general.  Following Christ can be difficult, and he warned us clearly and up front: "In this world you will have trouble,"  he said, "But take heart, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Again, he told us of the seed that fell on rocky soil that sprouts quickly yet withers, representing those who fall away when trouble or persecution arises.  Likewise, St. Paul had to encourage even the first generation of Christians, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing" (Gal 6:9).

The readings for this Sunday's mass encourage us to find strength and sustenance in Jesus' gift of himself to us in the Eucharist as a remedy for the spiritual weariness that can grow in the Christian life.

Our first reading comes from 1 Kgs 19:4-8:

Monday, August 06, 2012

Conference in Louisiana this Weekend

This weekend, please join Brant Pitre and me in Covington, LA (greater New Orleans) for a conference on Peter, the papacy, and the keys!  This one-day conference on Saturday will provide a well-rounded look at Peter and the papacy from Scriptural, theological, historical, and pastoral perspectives.  Click here for more info.

Join Us in San Antonio for Fullness of Truth

At the end of the month, the whole Sacred Page team (Brant, Michael, and I) together with Dr. Scott Hahn, will be in San Antonio, Texas, at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort presenting a conference entitled "Why the Cross?  Salvation and Suffering in Scripture."  This promises to be one of our most powerful conferences ever, as we get at the heart of the meaning of life and the message of Christ's cross that gives us the strength to carry on.  This will be a weekend of spiritual healing and transformation.  Some space is still available: click here for the Fullness of Truth website.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Recognizing True Food: Readings for the 18th Week of Ordinary Time

What does it mean to be a human being?  What are we really?

The answer our children are taught in school is that we are just animals, the result of a long process of accidents in which an amoeba became a fish, became a lizard, became a monkey, became us.  So all we are is a material body, a fluke of the universe, a "selfish gene," and when we die, that's it.

Of course, virtually no one can or does live consistently with this "materialist" view of human beings.  Even radical atheists like Richard Dawkins get "mad" at Christians for the supposed "wrong" things they do.  But getting "mad" and moral concepts like "right" and "wrong" make no sense if we are simply material beings, biological robots.

Jesus Christ, and before him all the prophets of Israel, emphatically renounced the view that all we are is animals.  The readings for this Sunday point relentlessly to the fact that we are something more: spiritual beings, personal beings, made for communion with God and eternal life.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Prophet Who Feeds the New Israel: The 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Barley Ripens Near Passover
God could have made us with solar cells in our skin, so all we would have to do is lie in the sun to get the energy we need for life.

But he didn't.  In his divine plan, God created us as creature that need to eat.  The first command he ever gave us concerned food: what to eat and what not to eat.  We turned away from him by an act of eating.  And now, since the coming of Christ, we can turn back to him by an act of eating.

Our need to eat reminds us that we are dependent on something or someone outside ourselves—ultimately God—to stay alive.

At this time in the Church year, we begin a five-week meditation on John 6 and the account of Jesus' miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000.  Each week we will read another section of the account of the miracle and Jesus' subsequent discourse.  Each week a different Old Testament passage will appear in the First Reading, showing a different type or anticipation of the Eucharist from Israel's history.

1. Our First Reading comes from the narratives about the prophet Elisha in 2 Kgs 4:42-44:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Faith and Reason Site Goes Live at Franciscan

 Dion Dimucci, best know for "[Why Must I Be] A Teenager in Love," "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer," talks about his faith journey back to the Catholic Church in this clip from

Franciscan University of Steubenville has just launched an exciting new website,   Over the years, Franciscan University has accumulated thousands of hours of video, audio, and print content from some of the world's finest Catholic thinkers, authors, churchmen, politicians, artists, entertainers, and public personalities.  Now the University is making this storehouse of insight and information available through the web.  TSP readers will note that will be pulling from our blog occasionally, as well.  Check it out now, and I'm sure you'll agree the University has posted more good stuff than there are hours in the week to watch!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Good Shepherd Teaches the Flock: The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Inscription from the "dividing wall of enmity" in the Temple (see 2nd Reading)
The appointment of Bishop Samuel J. Aquila as the new Archbishop of Denver was much in the news this week.  In my own lowly home of Steubenville, we likewise have been excited about the appointment of Msgr. Monforten, rector of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, as our new bishop—even if the doings in Steubenville don’t make the national news.  The appointment of these new church leaders naturally turns our minds to the need for “shepherds” for the “flock” of God, which is the theme for the readings of the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.

At this time in the Church year, we are working our way through the Gospel of Mark, approaching the record of the Feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6).  In the next five weeks, we are going to take a break from Mark in order to meditate on John’s account of the same event (John 6), which will provide a lengthy opportunity to reflect on the theology and biblical basis for the Eucharist.  This Sunday, however, we will only read the introduction of the account of the 5,000,