Saturday, June 30, 2012

God, Death, and Life: The Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings for this Sunday focus on the theme of death, and God’s power over it.  The first reading poses some issues that have to be discussed:

Reading 1 Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24
God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.

The modern person, of course, will immediately object that natural history seems to indicate that death was always a part of nature.  Plus, there are poisonous plants and animals, and isn’t nature “red in tooth and claw,” etc. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Deliver Us from Evil: The Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Today is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, a very great feast day in the Church, and it doesn’t seem right to allow the occasion to pass without some comment.

Saints Peter and Paul represent, respectively, the leaders of the Church’s mission to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7).  The Church celebrates their feasts on the same day, because the Church’s proclamation of the gospel is founded on their dual mission: “the gospel … is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (i.e. the Gentile)” (Rom 1:16).

Since the earliest times, and continuing today, there have been efforts to split Peter from Paul, and claim that they had different gospels.  Peter is claimed to have preached a “Jewish Christianity,” which insisted on the continued observance of the law of Moses, whereas Paul is blamed for the idea of preaching faith in Jesus to Gentiles, without requiring circumcision or any other Jewish ritual.  Such views continue to be promoted in TV shows or popular books about the beginnings of Christianity.

A split between Peter and Paul on the nature of the gospel can’t be reconciled with the actual text of the New Testament.  It’s true that at one time,

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Atheist Blogger Turns Catholic

One of the past week's most interesting religious stories was the announcement by atheist blogger Leah Libresco that she was planning to enter the Catholic Church.  One of the many reports can be read here.  The story is an interesting read.  It seems that Libresco first became convinced of the reality of the moral order (or the natural law).  If the moral order is really real, and not just part of our imagination, or a fluke of our evolutionary development, it does finally imply the existence of a God, because law (as in moral law) implies a lawgiver. 

As an assignment for a seminary apologetics class, I moved an atheist friend of mine from his conviction of the reality of morality to acknowledgment of God through a series of logical steps.  But I convinced his head, not his heart, and he ended up rejected the conclusion even while admitting the validity of the steps that led to it. 

It's interesting to trace Libresco's movement along the same path, a path that tends toward Catholicism, which has the best articulated moral theology within the Christian tradition.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Early Church. . . Mothers? Mike Aquilina's Fascinating New Book (w/ Podcast!)

Most people have heard of the Early Church Fathers, but the Mothers of the Church. . . there's a category of saints we hear less often.

In part, that is due to the fact that not many of the early Christian women wrote. Yet that should not obscure the important contribution women made to the early Church.

In fact, as a number of sociologists and Church historians have demonstrated, Christianity involved a revolutionary recognition of the unique dignity of women.

No one highlights this better than best-selling author and patristics expert, Mike Aquilina. Mike is the guest in the most recent episode of The Sacred Page Podcast. He discusses a new book he recently co-wrote with Christopher Bailey, The Mothers of the Church: The Witness of Early Christian Women (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

This is a tremendously good book and it fills an important lacuna--here we have a book that focuses on the influence of important Christian women. He talks about a number of fascinating areas.

First, he highlights the fact that Christianity brought about a revolutionary recognition of the dignity of women. Put simply, daughters were frequently described as a burden. A careful analysis of Greco-Roman society reveals that many infant girls were simply discarded at birth, left to die in sewers. One ancient piece of correspondence involves a letter sent by a man away on a business trip to his wife at home. It reads:
“Know that I am still in Alexandria. And do not worry if they all come back and I remain in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it.”— Hilarion’s letter to his pregnant wife (A.D. 1)*
Of more than 600 2nd century families recorded at Delphi only 1% had raised two girls!**

Why the aversion to women? Mike Aquilina writes
"But what good was a girl? If the parents were lucky, their daughter might marry into a powerful family and make a useful alliance for them. More likely, though, they would have to feed and care for her for fifteen years or so, and then they would have to pay some useless wastrel a ruinous dowry for taking her off their hands. No wonder one of the favorite adjectives for “daughters” was “odious.” (Mothers of the Church, 15). 
He goes on to explain how girls rescued from the infanticide were often brought up to become child-sex slaves and to work in brothels.

Second, Aquilina highlights how Christians responded to the situation: they saved the young girls from death--and from a life of sexual slavery. By the time of Constantine this meant that a sizable portion of the Roman population were Christians!

Third, Aquilina highlights the incredible contribution of early Christian women such as Macrina--the man one of the Capadocian fathers described as "the Teacher".

He also tells the story of saints such as Felicity and Perpetua. The two saints are mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer #1 and are therefore probably familiar to most Catholics--but most do not know much about them!

Mike is a great guest. . . I'm sure you'll agree! Check out the book and the podcast.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

Here's a bit more about our guest from the St. Paul Center website:
Mike Aquilina, Executive Vice President and Trustee of The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, is a widely recognized Catholic author and lecturer. Aquilina’s books include the best-selling, The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers (2nd ed 2006); Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians (2003) co-written with Dr. Scott Hahn; The Mass of the Early Christians (2001); What Catholics Believe: A Pocket Catechism (2000); The How-To Book of Catholic Devotions (2000); and A Pocket Catechism for Kids (2001). He is also the author of Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with St. Thomas Aquinas (2002), The Way of the Fathers: Praying with the Early Christians (2000), Love in the Little Things: Tales of Family Life (2007), Signs and Mysteries (2008) and is co-author of Weapons of the Spirit: Selected Writings of Father John Hugo, along with St. Paul Center colleague, David Scott. His most recent book is Take 5: On the Job Meditations With St. Ignatius (2008). All of Aquilina’s books are published by Our Sunday Visitor Books. 
His ongoing research is concerned with early Christian community and worship. He is past Associate Editor of Scripture Matters, the bulletin of The Institute of Applied Biblical Studies and past Editor of New Covenant, a Catholic spirituality magazine, and The Pittsburgh Catholic, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. His reviews, essays and journalism have appeared in First Things, Touchstone, Crisis, National Catholic Register, Child and Family and elsewhere. 
Aquilina has also co-hosted, along with Dr. Hahn, several popular series on scripture and theology airing on the Eternal Word Television Network. He and his wife Terri live in the Pittsburgh area with their six children.
* Cited in Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt under Roman Rule [Oxford: Clarendon, 1985], 54.
** Susan Scrimshaw, “Infanticide in Human Populations: Societal and Individual Concerns,” in Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives (eds. G. Hausfater and S. Hardy; Piscataway, N.J.: Aldine Transaction, 2008), 439.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Salvation - Past, Present, and Future

A few weeks back I did a podcast on the biblical understanding of salvation: "TSP 21: What does it mean to be saved? What is the role of works in salvation?". There I highlighted the fact the New Testament describes salvation as something more than just a past event--it has present and future dimensions as well.

One of my former students, Nate Sjogren, a graphic design wiz who posts on the website, All You Can Eat Catholics, came up with a helpful graphic to illustrate this.

Thanks, Nate!

Friday, June 22, 2012

“Preacher Jailed for Speaking Out on Marriage”: The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

This Sunday we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, a great saint and biblical character who led a very difficult life and ministry.  

In hindsight, the conflict that led to his demise and death has a strangely modern ring to it: he was jailed by Herod Antipas for speaking out on marriage (Mark 6:17-18).  Specifically, John the Baptist held to the principle of one man, one woman, for life—a theology of marriage founded in Scripture (Mal. 2:13-16) and reflected in the Essene movement at Qumran and in the teachings of Our Lord (Matt 19:3-12).  This got him into trouble with the nation’s chief executive, Herod Antipas, whose own views on marriage had evolved: he had wed Herodias, his divorced ex-sister-in-law, who was also his niece.  John the Baptist said the marriage was unlawful.  Herod invoked executive privilege to have John arrested and detained for expressing his intolerant and partisan views on marriage in public.  Eventually, Herod had him beheaded at the request of his wife Herodias’ daughter Salome, who gave a “hot” hip-hop performance for the king and his cabinet that earned her a political favor (Mark 6:14-29).

There is really nothing new under the sun.  John the Baptist was a political failure but a great spiritual success, a champion of faith and fortitude who still lives and is praying for us from heaven.  The readings for his feast day also provide us hope and encouragement:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

John the Baptist: In the Spirit and Power of Elijah

***UPDATE: The podcast on John the Baptist is now posted below.

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of John the Baptist. I recorded a podcast that provides an overview of the biblical texts describing his importance. It will be posted here soon.

Of course, you can also hear it on iTunes.

In this post I recap much of what I covered there.

John Bergsma will also be posting on the Sunday readings here as well. I might also link to more sites dealing with John the Baptist on Twitter (@MichaelPBarber) over the weekend.

As always, I appreciate comments--just post in the comment box!

TSP 23: John the Baptist: In the Spirit and Power of Elijah

The First Annunciation

In Luke 1 we actually have two annunciations. Most Catholics are familiar with the second, the announcement of the birth of Jesus. Before that however the angel makes an appearance to the priest Zechariah. The similarities are striking—as well as the one major difference!
The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah / Mary
Addresses Zechariah / “Full of grace”
He is “troubled” (1:12) / She is “troubled” (1:29)
“Do not be afraid” (1:13) / “Do not be afraid” (1:30)
“you shall call his name John” (1:13) / “you shall call his name Jesus” (1:31)
“How shall I know this?” / “How will this be?”
Fails to believe / “Let it be done unto me. . .”
Sanctified in the Womb

In the announcement of his birth we hear that, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). This is a striking statement—even as an unborn child John the Baptist would receive the Holy Spirit. This of course plays out in the narrative in the story of the visitation:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! (Luke 1:41–42)
Notice, being filled with the Holy Spirit here is associated with a confession of faith, Elizabeth’s. However, given that John is said to be filled with the Spirit even from his mother’s womb and given that he leaps inside of her at the arrival of the Mother of the Messiah, it seems clear that his action is best understood as a kind of evidence of faith as well.

Indeed, this was recognized as early as Origen (here the podcast on Origen here):
“Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit at that moment, received the Spirit on account of her son. The mother did not inherit the Holy Spirit first. First John, still enclosed in her womb, received the Holy Spirit. Then she too, after her son was sanctified, was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 7.3)
Because of this the fathers of the church such as Ambrose recognized that the John the Baptist was given the gift of grace even while still in utero. In short, John was understood to have been sanctified in the womb.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bishops Announce New Translation of the New Testament

In America the most widely used English version of the Bible by Catholics is the New American Bible.

Its popularity is largely due to the fact that it is this version of Scripture that is read at Mass on Sunday.

Last year a revised edition was released that re-worked the Old Testament. It has not however been approved for liturgical use.

Now the process of retranslating the New Testament has been undertaken.

When complete it is expected to be approved for use in the lectionary. The translation process will take "a long time".

*Ahem. I suspect that is going to turn out to be quite an understatement.

Here's the report from the Catholic News Agency:
Atlanta, Ga., Jun 19, 2012 / 01:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have announced a plan to revise the New Testament of the New American Bible so a single version can be used for individual prayer, catechesis and liturgy. 

“The goal is to produce a single translation,” said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C. on June 14. 

As he addressed his brother bishops at the spring meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Wuerl pointed to the central role of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church. 

He explained that the bishops’ committees on Divine Worship and Doctrine have both expressed a desire for a single translation, suitable for all pastoral applications, including individual prayer, study and devotional use, along with liturgical proclamation. 

The new translation would “provide us one source of language when we speak the Word of God,” he said. 

The process of creating the new translation will take “a long time” and will consist of numerous lengthy steps, Cardinal Wuerl acknowledged. 

The New Testament translation was last revised in 1986. By way of comparison, the translation portion of revising the New American Bible’s Old Testament began in 1994 and was finished in 2001. 

The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine will work with the Subcommittee on the Translation of Scripture Texts, to undertake the revision, he said. The group will “look at those texts to see that they are going to be able to be used for proclamation as well as for ordinary use.” 

This work will utilize the same principles that guided the recent revision of the Old Testament in the New American Bible, as well as translation norms for Sacred Scripture, he added. 

“The Biblical scholars responsible for the revision will be sensitive then to the pastoral, the doctrinal, the liturgical considerations” as they work to produce a draft, which will then be presented “for review and preliminary approval” by the the Scripture translation subcommittee, the cardinal said. 

The committees on worship and doctrine will then have an opportunity to review the texts.
Ultimately, the body of bishops “will be asked to approve the completed Biblical text for liturgical use,” so that it can then be submitted to Rome for the Vatican’s “recognitio,” after which the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference can grant it the “imprimatur.” 

At that point, Cardinal Wuerl said, the revised translation of the New American Bible “will be able to be used in the lectionary at Mass.” 

“So the end product will be one translation that we will all be using,” he explained, and all of the faithful will be “hearing the same words when we refer to specific texts.” 

“That translation will be used in the liturgy, it will be used in study, it will be used in personal devotion, it will be used when we’re simply reading the text,” the cardinal said. 

He emphasized that although the process will take a long time, it is currently an ideal time to begin, now that “we have all the pieces in place.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

TSP 22: Origen and His Influence on Christian Theology

With the big discovery of some of his lost homilies on the Psalms in the news, I decided to focus on Origen in this week's episode of The Sacred Page Podcast.

Below is a .pdf containing an outline and notes of this presentation, with references to primary sources cited.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at

As always, I appreciate your comments!

TSP 22: Origen and His Influence on Christian Theology

The Sacred Page Podcast on Origen

Friday, June 15, 2012

“Now Seeds, START GROWING!!” Trusting God for Growth: Readings for the 11th Week of Ordinary Time

In this week’s Mass readings, Jesus teaches us about himself and the Church using agricultural images.

It is the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time.  The last time we had a Sunday of Ordinary Time was on February 19th, and that was the Seventh.  The logical question is, what happened to the 8th, 9th, and 10th?  They were pre-empted this year by Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi.

Since we haven’t been here since February, we have to get re-oriented to what is going on in Ordinary Time of Year B.  The Gospel is moving ad seriatim (sequentially) through Mark.  We are going to read virtually all of Mark this year by the end of November, with the exception of the Passion and Resurrection accounts (Mark 14-16), which were already read during the Triduum.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lost Homilies of Origen Found!

***Updated: link fixed and now including an image of the codex below***

I've written a bit on Origen in the past (e.g., here). He's one of my favorite early Christian writers. He's also one of Pope Benedict's favorites. In his catechetical series on the fathers, Benedict XVI spent two lectures on Origen (many only got one).

Well, now we have more of Origen than ever before. In a spectacular new discovery, lost works of his have apparently been found!

Over at the blog, Oxford Patristics, Prof. Markus Vinzent, has the big announcement from Lorenzo Perrone, who has authenticated the find. Specifically, the discovery involves lost homilies on the Psalms. What a story!
Dear Colleagues and Friends,  
On the 21st of May, a day after the first severe earthquake since centuries began to shake my region, I was asked an expertise on a Greek manuscript of Munich.
Prof. Anna Meschini Pontani, from Padua University, informed me that Dr. Marina Molin Pradel, who is preparing the new catalogue of the Greek manuscripts of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, wished to submit to my attention a discovery she had made on Holy Thursday. While examining the content of Codex Monacensis Graecus 314 (11th-12th century), an anonymous collection of 29 homilies on the Psalms, she discovered that the manuscript included the Greek text of four of the five homilies of Origen on Psalm 36 (H36Ps I-IV) translated by Rufinus. Moreover, she noticed that the list of the other homilies corresponded to a large extent to that presented by Jerome in his Letter 33 to Paula, the most important group being the series of nine homilies on Psalm 77. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

TSP 21: What does it mean to be "saved"? What is the role of works in salvation?

"Are you saved?"

Many popular Christian descriptions of "salvation" amount to little more than "fire insurance"--i.e., getting out of the fires of hell. A closer look however reveals that New Testament soteriology however is far more involved than that. Here I look at the way the New Testament describes "salvation". I also look at the role of "works" in "salvation".

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

Feel free to leave your comments below.

TSP 21: What does it mean to be "saved"? What is the role of works in salvation?

Friday, June 08, 2012

Body of Christ or Condemnable Idolatry? The Readings for Corpus Christi

This is what I used to hold and teach about the Catholic Eucharist:

“The mass teaches … that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshipped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and a condemnable idolatry.” (from the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 80)

That little statement comes from a famous Calvinist statement of faith, to which I adhered during my brief tenure in pastoral ministry (1995-1999).

Yet here I find myself writing about the Eucharist on the eve of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still popularly called “Corpus Christi.”  How things change.

The readings for this Sunday are wonderfully set up in such a way as to teach about covenant, sacrifice, salvation history, and divine filiation.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

COGIC Weighs in on Same-Sex Marriage

The Church of God in Christ recently released a very carefully crafted statement on the issue of same-sex marriage, available here. 

I respect their forthright defense of Judeo-Christian morality and traditional Scriptural exegesis.

The Church of God in Christ is one of the largest African-American denominations in America.  It is Pentecostal in spirituality, but ecclesiologically it is very hierarchical (unlike the Assemblies of God) and has essentially reconstructed an episcopal structure similar to the Catholic Church.  COGIC prelates have occasionally recognized the similarity, and there have been, at times, amicable discussions between the COGIC and representatives of the Catholic hierarchy.

Since the local congregation I used to pastor was predominantly African-American in membership, I had frequent contact with COGIC congregations in west Michigan.  I have a great deal of respect for their theological tradition, which I find inherently interesting and thought-provoking.

Monday, June 04, 2012

TSP 20: Matthew Salisbury and Co. on Catholic Social Teaching

Now for something a little different. . .

The recent Facebook IPO and other business headlines are the topic of this recent podcast. Here I discuss Catholic Social Teaching and Scripture with the guys from Solidarity With Salisbury. The blog belongs to Matthew Salisbury, a graduate of JP Catholic's MBA program. Justin Wilga and Stephen Flemings, also JP Catholic alumni, also contribute posts as guest bloggers.

These guys are engaged in some very thoughtful analysis. Check out, e.g., Matt's new post on On the Cynicism and Hollywood Night Clubs. I really enjoyed having these guys on the show.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

Feel free to leave your comments below.

TSP 20: Matthew Salisbury and Co. on Catholic Social Teaching

Friday, June 01, 2012

Scripture and the Trinity: The Biblical Roots of the Dogma (Podcast for Trinity Sunday 2012)

This Sunday is one of my favorite feasts of the year: Trinity Sunday. Here I go through Thomas Aquinas' exegetical arguments for the Trinity in his Summa Contra Gentiles. I'd appreciate your comments and feedback!

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

Feel free to leave your comments below.

Scripture and the Trinity: The Biblical Roots of the Dogma (Podcast for Trinity Sunday 2012)(Right click to download)

As always, I'd like to express my gratitude to Saint Joseph's Communications, who generously support this podcast. They are also offering our listeners a free copy of the first CD from Scott Hahn's audio set "Justification: Becoming a Child of God". Call 1-800-526-2151. (And don't forget to thank them for supporting the show!) 

Love, Suffering, and the Trinity: Reflections on the Readings

This coming Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  While the Trinity might evoke a “Ho-hum, don’t we know that already …” response from many Catholics, the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to—and distinctive of—the Christian faith and is vital to our daily prayer and walk with God.  The doctrine of the Trinity touches on who God is; if one has this doctrine wrong, one has the wrong idea of God and may in fact be worshiping a god who does not exist.
The Trinity is by no means a dead theological issue, either.  Most obviously, Jews and Muslims protest this doctrine, which they believe destroys the unity of God.  For them, God is monopersonal.

Among groups that share a tradition with Christianity, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and “Jesus-only” Pentecostals all dispute the doctrine of the Trinity.  Mormons are not, strictly speaking, monotheists: in their view the Father and Son are different gods.  Jehovah’s witnesses are modern day Arians—they believe in one God (the Father) but deny the