Friday, December 28, 2012

TSP 30: Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents: The Rest of the Story (Podcast)

Today the Church remembers the slaughter of the innocents, Herod's savage massacre of all the children two years and younger in the region of Bethlehem after Jesus' birth. The story is recounted in Matthew 2.

Who was Herod? How did he become king? How were the Romans involved in Palestinian political affairs? Understanding the historical backdrop of first-century Judea helps us put the story in perspective. It also reveals its historical plausibility. This podcast will give you the complete run down.

I hope you enjoy it!

As always, you can listen on iTunes or click the link below and, as always, your comments are welcome in the comment box below.

Video: Behind the Scenes of the Pope's New Book, "Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 3"

Fascinating! h/t

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:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

St. Stephen: Deacon, Martyr, Theological Genius (Special Podcast)

Today our focus--as it should be--is on Christmas. Tomorrow we continue to celebrate the Christmas season, but, as we do that, we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.

Why is he so important that he is the follow-up to Christmas Day?

I've always had a fascination with St. Stephen. Over on the right you can see a picture of me standing at the traditional site of his burial site in Rome. So I couldn't let December 26th go by without posting some thoughts on this great figure from the Acts of the Apostles.

Learn more in this special podcast.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below.

As always, we welcome your comments below.

Merry Christmas!

St. Stephen TSP Podcast

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:

Sunday, December 23, 2012

TSP 29: "The First Christmas: The History and Theology of Jesus' Birth in Matthew and Luke"

With Christmas upon us, The Sacred Page Podcast turns to look at the birth narrative of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.

Are the infancy narratives hopelessly contradictory? Were they simply invented out of whole cloth? Why are there so many hymns in Luke 1-2? Why did Luke not tell us about Magi? Why did Joseph seek to divorce Mary? Was he really suspicious of her?

Find out the answers to these and many other questions in this podcast.

For more on Joseph, see this post.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below.

Your comments are welcome as always in the comment box. 

Was Joseph Really Suspicious of Mary? A Look at the Gospel for Christmas Eve

I have added an update below to respond to the objection that the angel's words to Joseph make it clear that he was unaware of the miraculous conception of Christ. See below. 

On Christmas Eve, the Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 1. Here we read about the annunciation to Joseph. 
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:18–21).
Here's the question I want to deal with here: why does Matthew tell us that Joseph wanted to "send [Mary] away quietly"? 

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.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

CNN: Discovery of the Oldest Manuscript of Romans

Very cool. Of course, as Jim observes, CNN's video of it is upside down. Of course, "it's all Greek to them". . . but it's sort of funny for those who have actually taken Greek.

Catholic Bible Conference with Scott Hahn in Riverside, CA in January

January 19-20, 2013 | Riverside, CA
The Bible and Spiritual Warfare: God's Word and the Transformation of Culture

Register here.

Yes, the election season is over but those of us at the St. Paul Center are focused on battles much bigger than political ones. We are focused on spiritual battles, both the spiritual battles we face as individuals and the spiritual battles we face as a culture.

As St. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12, “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

With that in mind, this year’s West Coast Biblical Studies Conference will be on “The Bible and Spiritual Warfare: God’s Word and the Transformation of Culture.” Hosted by St. Paul Center President Dr. Scott Hahn and featuring additional talks by St. Paul Center Fellows Dr. Brant Pitre and Dr. Michael Barber, the conference will take place from January 19-20, 2012, in Riverside, California.

For those who are not able to attend in person, there will be a live web stream that will allow you to register to watch from home on your computer. Through a series of dynamic talks, which draw upon Sacred Scripture, conciliardocuments, and papal writings, Hahn, Pitre, and Barber will explore how we can best fight the spiritual battles we face, as well as what is really at stake in those battles for each of us, for our Church, and for the world in which we live.

As 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 reminds us, “though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Accordingly, over the course of the weekend, special attention will be given to the liturgy as our primary aid in contending against “this present darkness.”

We will also look at how liturgy, rather than politics or economics, is the real driving force behind the movement of history, and how the “Our Father,” with its closing petition to “deliver us from evil” can help us in the months and years ahead. Finally we will address the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith and how both can be the occasion for the graces we need to engage in the great struggles of our life and times.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Fr. James Swetnam, S.J.

We at John Paul the Great Catholic University have been blessed to host Fr. James Swetnam (center in photo right [apologies to all the students who didn't get into the picture here]) as Distinguished Visiting Faculty. He is lecturing on the Epistle to the Hebrews in a graduate level course and has been saying Mass on campus. This has been a rare treat.

You can read more about his work and find his articles on his website here.

I first met Fr. Swetnam in Rome over 10 years ago on a visit there with Scott Hahn (who dedicated his magnum opus, Kinship by Covenant, to Fr. Swetnam), but our past encounters have been brief and it has been a great privilege to spend quality time with him during his stay in San Diego.

Fr. Swetnam is truly a treasure. He lived in Rome for 50 years, teaching at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he served as Vice Rector and managing editor of the famous biblical studies journal, Biblia. He is full of fascinating stories of conversations with legendary figures such as Joseph Ratzinger, D. J. McCarthy, Roderick McKenzie (of Liddell and Scott fame), Joseph Fitzmyer, Joachim Jeremias, William F. AlbrightRoland De Vaux (who--among other things--did pioneering work in the Dead Sea Scrolls), Henri de Lubac, and many, many others.

What a life story! He cheered the famous "Gashouse Gang" (legendary 1930s St. Louis Cardinal Baseball Team), witnessed the start and end of WWII, did a doctorate in Scripture at Oxford University (under Morna Hooker and Geza Vermes), met popes, and witnessed Vatican II (while living in Rome!). And I think that was just two lunch conversations!

Fr. Swetnam also has a long history of publications that is also impressive. His two-volume Greek grammar is widely respected (which I am grateful I can now read on my Logos Bible Software). He has also published a work looking at the use of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac ("Aqedah") in the Epistle to the Hebrews as well as numerous articles and reviews in major academic journals--well over 200 of them!

I highly recommend that TSP readers take a look at his website, which includes a working draft of a commentary on Hebrews that is the product of decades of research. It emphasizes Eucharistic readings of various passages whose liturgical connections are often overlooked by scholars. He has made the case for this approach in numerous articles, published in leading journals such as Biblica (e.g., see this one).

I want to take the opportunity here to thank Fr. Swetnam for lecturing to our graduate students in Biblical Theology. What a great experience it has been for all of us!

Of course, for more information on our Graduate Program in Biblical Theology at JP Catholic, go here (where you can also learn about an incredible scholarship opportunity).