Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Do People Hate a "Good Person"? The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Readings for this Sunday show both Jesus and Jeremiah facing opposition for speaking God’s truth to their contemporaries.  They raise interesting questions about why it is that the “good person” so often suffers at the hands of others, and offer encouragement to those who experience this suffering.

1.  Our First Reading is  Jer 1:4-5, 17-19:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
against Judah’s kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

One of Jeremiah’s major contributions to salvation history and Christian theology is his own person as a type of Christ, more so than any other prophet.  Biography plays little role in the Book of Isaiah, but a large role in Jeremiah.  In many ways, Jeremiah becomes absorbed into his prophetic ministry,

Monday, January 28, 2013

St. Thomas Aquinas' Biblical Approach to Theology

Today is the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas! In honor of that, I thought I'd cover some ground I've been over before, namely, Thomas' role as a model of Catholic theology and his primary focus on Scripture. Perhaps most striking--at least to some--is Thomas' insistence on the priority of the literal-historical sense of Scripture.

In short, for Thomas, Theology is a biblical endeavor. This, I suppose, will come as a surprise to some of my non-Catholic friends. Nevertheless, as I'll explain, since he's consistently held out by the Church as the exemplar theologian (the "Common Doctor"), Catholic theologians should be sure to, likewise, make "the study of the sacred page. . . the very soul of theology" (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 24).

St. Thomas' Significance

Throughout the ages, Thomas' work has consistently been held out as a model for Catholic theology by the Catholic Church. Consider some of the following quotes from various popes. I've added some italics.
Pope John Innocent VI, Serm. De. St. Thomas (c. 1352): “[Thomas’] teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Word of God Fulfilled in Your Hearing: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The past three Sundays have focused on the three early “manifestations” or “epiphanies” of Jesus’ divine nature recorded in the Gospels: the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana.  Now the Lectionary “settles in” to Ordinary Time, which this year involves reading through the Gospel of Luke.  This Sunday, we pick up the introduction to Luke’s Gospel (Lk 1:1-4), but then skip to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:14-21) because we’ve already heard all the accounts of Jesus’ childhood and early life (Luke 1–3) during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

The Readings this Sunday focus on the importance of the public proclamation of God’s Word.  In the First Reading, we see Ezra, the great priest and scholar of the Law, reading the Law of Moses out loud to the people of Israel after their return from Babylonian exile.  In the Gospel, we see Jesus, our great high priest and interpreter of God’s Law, reading the promises of salvation from Isaiah to the Jews in the Synagogue of Nazareth.  In both situations, the proclamation of God’s Word is a call both to repentance and to hope for salvation.  However, in Ezra’s day, the salvation was far off; in Jesus day, He announces that the salvation is present now.

1.  Our First Reading is Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Bridegroom Revealed: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday we remain in the afterglow of Epiphany, the celebration of the “manifestation” of Jesus’ divine glory. [Greek epi – phaino = “shine upon” = “reveal, manifest.”]  Epiphany, which once was its own season (like Advent or Christmas), has often been associated with three events from the Gospels: the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana.  These are the first events that reveal or “manifest” Jesus’ glory in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, respectively.  Certain well-known Epiphany hymns (e.g. “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”) make reference to all three events.

In Year C, the Church quite consciously offers us the Wedding at Cana for our meditation on the Sunday immediately following the Baptism.  By happy Providence, this year we are able to ponder the Magi, the Baptism, and Cana on successive Sundays.

The Readings for this Lord’s Day highlight Jesus as our spiritual bridegroom.

1. The First Reading is the same used at the Christmas Vigil, Isaiah 62:1-5:

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Jesus, the Beginning of the New Creation: The Readings for the Baptism of the Lord

The end of the Season of Christmas arrives this Sunday, as we celebrate the event that marked the end of Jesus’ early life and the beginning of his public ministry: the Baptism.

The Christmas decorations coming down in our churches and homes inevitably leaves a feeling of sadness and nostalgia.  We don’t want to move on from meditation on all the joyful aspects of Our Lord’s early life, the incidents of wonder and mystery, like the angels singing to the shepherds, or the visit of the Magi.  Nonetheless, as we leave the Christmas Season behind, today’s readings remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit that we share with Jesus!  The very Spirit of God has been given us in our own baptisms—this Spirit has ushered us into a new world, a New Creation in which we can daily walk with God, just like Adam and Eve once walked with God in the cool of the garden.

So we will look for “New Creation” themes as we work through this Sunday’s Readings.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land this Summer

At Qumran in May 2011
This summer I'll be returning to Israel to help lead a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus, and also spend some time viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls in person at the Shrine of the Book (Jerusalem) and at Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea.  Fr. Denny Gang, TOR, of Franciscan University will be joining me to provide the sacraments and celebrate Mass on site at the holy places like Bethlehem, Cana, Mount of the Beatitudes, and Gethsemane.  Our guide will be an Israeli citizen who is a parishioner at the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Catholic parish of Nazareth.  A special feature of this pilgrimage will be our chance to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and where they are now kept.  I have a special interest in the Scrolls, and recorded CD about them distributed by Lighthouse Media.

Although there are many pilgrimages to the Holy Land, not many have a native Catholic guide and the opportunity to celebrate mass at so many holy sites.  Since I first lead a pilgrimage like this in 2011, my experience of the New Testament and the mysteries of the Rosary have moved from "black and white" to "color."  I'd love to share this experience again with Sacred Page readers.
The Garden of Gethsemane is still there

Lecturing near the source of the Jordan, May 2011

The dates are June 26–July 5, 2013, and the cost is around $3,500 inclusive.  Select International Tours (1-800-842-4842) is arranging the logistics, and the brochure is available here (but you will need to scroll down and click on the image labeled "Dr. Bergsma and Fr. Denny Gang"). Or email for more info/brochure at sales@select-intl.com.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Come to the Light: The Readings for Epiphany

The Christmas season can sometimes seem to be just one joyful feast after another.  We are scarcely past the glow from the Holy Family and Mary, Mother of God, when Epiphany is already upon us.

The word “Epiphany” comes from two Greek words: epi, “on, upon”; and phaino, “to appear, to shine.” Therefore, the “Epiphany” refers to the divinity of Jesus “shining upon” the earth, in other words, the manifestation of his divine nature.

The use of the word “epiphany” for the revelation of divinity predates Christianity.  The Syrian (Seleucid) emperor Antiochus IV (175-164 BC), the villainous tyrant of 1-2 Maccabees, named himself “Epiphanes,” because he considered himself the manifestation of divinity on earth.  His people called him “Epimanes,” which means roughly “something is pressing on the brain,” in other words, “insane.”  Antiochus tried to stamp out the practice of Judaism, but he eventually died in defeat; apparently mankind would need to wait for a different king to be the “Epiphany” of divinity.

1.  Our First Reading is taken from Isaiah 60:1-6: