Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Speaking at the Archdiocese of Newark's Catholic Men's Conference this weekend!

This weekend I'll be speaking at the Catholic Men's Conference put on by the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. The event is being held at Seton Hall University. Looking forward to being there!

Dominican theologian, Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., has passed away

Sad news. The great Dominican theologian, Benedict Ashley, has passed away at the age of 97. Ashley was an atheist and a communist who converted to Catholicism after reading Thomas Aquinas' works. He was truly a brilliant theologian and he will be sorely missed by those of us who benefited from his work.

From the Order of Preachers' website:
Fr Benedict M. Ashley, a foremost theologian and philosopher of the Central Province of St Albert the Great, USA has passed on. He had a major influence on the 20th century Catholic Moral Theology, Moral Philosophy and Ethics in America through his writings, teachings, and consultations. He passed on peacefully on Saturday, 23rd of February, 2013. 
He was born in Kansas in 1915 and raised in Blackwell, Oklahoma. He started off as a committed atheist and communist but after studying the works of St Thomas Aquinas, he was baptized in the Catholic Church. He entered the Dominican Order, made his religious profession in 1942 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1948. 
He has a Doctorates from the University of Notre Dame (Political Science) and Aquinas Institute, River Forest, Illinois (Philosophy). He also has a post-doctoral Master of Sacred Theology from University of St Thomas Aquinas, Rome and a Honorary Doctor of Theology from Aquinas Institute. 
He has taught various subjects in various capacities in the following institutes; Aquinas Institute (1952-69), Pontifical Institute of Philosophy, River Forest (1957-69), Institute of Religion and Human Development, Texan Medical Centre, Houston (1969-72), Aquinas Institute of Theology, Dubuque (1969-81), Aquinas Institute of Theology, St Louis (1981-88), Pontifical Pope John II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family, Washington DC (1988-92), Kenrick Seminary, St Louis (1996-2004), Center for Health Care Ethics, St Louis University (1997-2003), Institute for Psychological Sciences, Washington DC (2001), John Paul II Cultural Center, Washington DC (2001), Institute for Advanced Physics (2003) and the University of Chicago. 
He has been a consultant to a number of groups, notable among this is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. He received the medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from John Paul II and he is also a Senior Fellow of the National Catholics Center for Bioethics, USA. 
He has author some 22 books and even more articles. He was a major exponent of the "River Forest School" of Thomism. Health Care Ethics, which he co-authored in 1975 and now in its fifth edition, continues to be a fundamental text in the field of Catholic Medical Ethics. 
May his soul rest in peace.

"Choose Your Pope!" (VIDEO)

This is too funny. I want to thank the Lutheran group who put this together. I feel like I've been watching this game show in the media's coverage for weeks! Obviously, I disagree with the "But seriously..." claim at the end and the men depicted as the Cardinals look and act nothing like them. Still,  it was much appreciated.

The Revelation of the Divine Name: The 3rd Sunday of Lent

In this third week of our spiritual journey through Lent, the Scripture readings remind us of what we might call the  “Moses stage” of salvation history, and also drive home the theme of repentance during this holy season.

1. Our First Reading is Ex 3:1-8a, 13-1
Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro,
the priest of Midian.
Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb,
the mountain of God.
There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Purgatory: Important Texts and Sources

I'll be on Catholic Answers Live Radio at 7pm EST / 4pm PST. Here are some texts that might come up.

On the Difference Between Mortal and Venial Sin

All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.—1 John 5:17

The Catechism on Sin’s Double Consequence and the Grace of Purgatory

[I]t is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man." (Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1472-73)

Suffering as Purification by Fire

And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zech 13:9)

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord. (Mal 3:2–3).

“For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.” (Sir 2:5)

Ratzinger's Joke About Cardinal Tagle

Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines
John Allen, who is profiling different papabili each day on his blog has a very funny story about a joke Ratzinger told about the young Archbishop Tagle from the Philippines. This is jocular side of Ratzinger most people wouldn't expect.
Under ordinary circumstances, Tagle's youth would be seen as an almost insuperable bar to election. At 55, he's three years younger than John Paul II was when he was elected in 1978, so a vote for Tagle would be tantamount to a vote for another long papacy, perhaps as much as 30 years. 
Tagle actually looks even younger. The story goes that in the mid-1990s, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger introduced Tagle to Pope John Paul II as a new member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission, Ratzinger jokingly assured the pope that the youthful-seeming Filipino had, in fact, received his first Communion.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Targum on 1 Chronicles 21:15

I am currently teaching a graduate level course on the Historical Books. Last night we worked through 1 Chronicles.

While preparing for the course, I came across the Targum on 1 Chronicles 21:15.
“When he [God] was destroying it [Jerusalem], he observed the ashes of the binding of Isaac which were at the base of the altar, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham which he had set up with him on the mountain of worship; [he observed] the sanctuary-house which was above, where the souls of the righteous are, and the image of Jacob which was engraved on the throne of glory, and he repented in himself of the evil which he had planned.” (Tg. on 1 Chr 21:15).
This is a fascinating passage and I just wanted to briefly post something on it. Four items stand out:

1. God is said to have withheld his judgment on Jerusalem because of Abraham's act of offering Isaac, which prompted God's sworn covenant in Abraham in Genesis 22. 

Indeed, as Hahn shows in his fine commentary, Chronicles seems to make connection between the account of David's census in 1 Chronicles 21 and the Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. Among other things, we can note the following:
  1. In 1 Chronicles, the site at which the angel appears to bring judgment because of David's census is later identified as Moriah (2 Chr 3:1), the very place where Abraham offered Isaac. The Jerusalem temple, located on Moriah, is therefore linked with Abraham's sacrificial worship upon the mountain. The Jerusalem cult then is a presented as a kind of "reminder" of Abraham's covenant-triggering obedience, conducted in the very place where Abraham announced, "The Lord will provide himself the lamb [for sacrifice]" (cf. Gen 22:8; cf. Gen 22:13-14).
  2. Both David and Abraham are said to have "lifted up" their "eyes" (Gen 22:4; 1 Chr 21:16)
  3. The language of testing is used both in reference to Abraham in Genesis and David's census in 1 Chronciles (cf. Gen 22:1; 1 Chr 29:17)
2. The "Mountain of Worship" here is linked with a mention of God in his heavenly temple. 

Specifically, God is located in the "sanctuary-house which was above. Here we see the tradition that the "mountain of worship", most naturally taken as a reference to the temple mount, is somehow linked to the heavenly worship of the true temple. 

3. The heavenly temple is the location of the souls of the just. 

Notably, the passage speaks of "the sanctuary-house which was above" as the place "where the souls of the righteous are." Here we see something similar to that found in Revelation 6 where the "souls" are "under the altar". 

4. The "image of Jacob" is said to be "engraved" on God's heavenly throne. 

The righteous have their names inscribed in heaven, specifically on God's throne. I can't help but think here of the ark of the covenant, also identified as throne / "mercy seat". There, of course, we find images of heavenly creatures--angels. The Targum has the image of Jacob engraved on God's heavenly throne. Is the idea that he is in heaven as well? 

What do you think?

The Second Sunday of Lent: The Beginning of the New Exodus

Slavery is not a good thing.

God's liberation of the people of Israel from the condition of slavery—an event we call "the Exodus," literally, "the road out"—is one of the most important events and motifs in the the whole Bible.

Although loosely related, the Readings for this Sunday are linked by the theme of the Exodus.  In the First Reading, the Exodus is prophesied; in the Gospel, Jesus begins a New Exodus that culminates in the Last Supper and Calvary.

1.  Our First Reading is Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18:
The Lord God took Abram outside and said,
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cardinal Ravasi on Revelation and History

Cardinal Ravasi, the man many are identifying as a leading papabile at the upcoming conclave, is leading the Lenten reflections for the Cardinals of the Curia this week.

Of course, this raises his profile at a key moment. As the Cardinals are reflecting on the question of who should succeed Pope Benedict, they are listening to Ravasi preach for a week.

Here is the report of his most recent reflection. It deals with the theme of history and divine revelation.
Moving on from his reflections on the face of God revealed to man in the cosmos, on Tuesday time became the golden thread in meditations on Psalms 136 and 117. God’s theophany, in fact, takes place throughout history. The Cardinal noted that we particularly see this in the Old Testament, in what he defined as the historical creed of Israel, or the passages where we see a faith tied to facts, for example, the great gestures of God’s love: creation; exodus from Egypt, sign of liberation and hope for a people. 
Cardinal Ravasi says history reveals how we encounter God in the tangle of events, often those marked by suffering, but also joy. A fact made even more visible by the Incarnation: 
"History is and should always be our favored place to meet our Lord, our God. Although it is a land of scandal, even if it is a land in which we often see maybe even the silence of God or apostasy of men".

Hope, he continued, is the central virtue to understanding that history is not a series of meaningless events, but as we see in the book of Job, it is controlled by God’s overriding project”. 
“We consider the Lord as an ally, a strong and loving companion on our journey through the desert … a Pastor who protects from every natural and historical danger, and the journey towards freedom”.
Hope, said the Cardinal, is the “younger sister” of faith and charity. "Through hope, we are certain that we are not at the mercy of fate, an imponderable fate. Our God is defined in Exodus 3 with the first person pronoun 'I' and the fundamental verb 'I am'. So, He is a Person who acts, who enters into events and that's why our relationship with God is a relationship of trust, dialogue, contact. Yes, our hope springs from the belief that history is not a succession of events without meaning." 
In his meditation Monday afternoon, Cardinal Ravasi spoke of the liturgy as the place of God's revelation. There are two basic dimensions: the vertical gaze towards God, and the horizontal gaze towards our brethren. He noted that it is necessary to strike a balance between these two dimensions, otherwise there is a risk of a sacramentalism, when the liturgy is seen as an ends in and of itself or of reducing the liturgy to that of a general assembly.

But above all, Cardinal Ravasi spoke of the need for a deeper analysis of the heart, so that worship does not become a merely external rite, as the prophet Isaiah notes when he says that God hates offerings and sacrifices. Loving our brothers and sisters and well as the confession of sins are, he concluded, crucial moments to cross the threshold that leads to communion with the Lord:

"To go to Communion with God - one bread, one Chalice - you have to be one body, we must have communion among us."
Read the whole report here.

Bishop Paprocki: Benedict will still be "Pope" but not "Roman Pontiff"

Joan Frawley Desmond of the National Catholic Register has an interesting report of Bishop Paprocki's analysis of Canon Law regarding what Pope Benedict should be called after February 28th.

Paprocki is truly a scholarly bishop. Among other degrees, he holds a J.D. (DePaul University), a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (St Mary of the Lake), and Licentiate and Doctoral Degrees in Canon Law (Pontifical Gregorian University).

He argues that "Pope" is still appropriate because the term is an honorific one. Technically, he says, the office he holds is "bishop of Rome" or "Roman pontiff".
“What seems to have been overlooked so far in these discussions is that the word 'pope' does not appear in the Code of Canon Law,” wrote the bishop. 
Instead, Canon 331, which defines the office held by the pope, provides “several titles for the office held by a pope: 'Bishop of Rome,' 'Successor of St. Peter,' 'Head of the College of Bishops,' 'Vicar of Christ' and 'Pastor of the Universal Church.' Other canons give us the title most commonly used for the Petrine office throughout the Code: ‘Roman Pontiff.’”
Bishop Paprocki then suggested that Catholics should view the word “pope” as “an honorific, even a term of endearment (‘papa’ in Italian). It is not the title of an ecclesiastical office.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy Feast Day of Fra Angelico, Renaissance Master

Today is the Feast Day of Blessed Fra Angelico, the famous Renaissance painter (1395-1455). I have always been a great fan of this master Dominican painter. Whenever I visit Rome I make it a point to visit his tomb in the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the only Gothic-style church in the city.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has a comprehensive article on him and his role in the history of Western art. See also the article from the Catholic Encyclopedia NewAdvent.org.

Very few artists are remembered for both artistic genius and exceptional moral virtue. What a remarkable man he was!

No, the Holy Spirit doesn't "choose" the pope

Jim points out that the guys at Bibledex have begun to put out a series of videos on the papacy. I must say, the first one, which features Simon Oliver, was better than I was expecting. To be fair: one doesn't expect Anglican scholars to be especially positive about the papacy or to understand the subtle theological nuances regarding the Catholic understanding of the office. Still, Oliver has a lot of good things to say:

Nonetheless, while I appreciate Oliver's sympathetic treatment, the video isn't entirely accurate. Again, that's not surprising given the source.

I don't have time for a long post detailing my quibbles. Let me just mention one big one.

Conclaves are not "Inspired"

Oliver speaks of conclaves as "inspired". This is incorrect.

Although this might take some non-Catholics by surprise, "inspiration", properly speaking, is a term reserved for Scripture in Catholic theology. In past centuries the term had a wider meaning than it has today in Catholic theology. In previous times, it might have been used to simply refer to the guidance of the Spirit. So one will find older texts which speak of Councils as "inspired".

However, since the time of Leo XIII, who specifically defined "inspiration" in relationship to Scripture (Providentissimus Deus, 1893), specifically, to the mystery of Scripture's divine and human authorship, one is hard-pressed to find Church documents using the term to describe Tradition or Church councils.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Second Vatican Council, defines the Catholic understanding of inspiration in paragraphs 105-107. A key line appears in CCC 107. For Catholics, inspiration means that "all that the inspired authors affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit".

That is not what Catholics affirm about everything a papal document has to say. A pope is not infallible in all that he says in Catholic theology. Moreover, Catholic teaching does not hold that a papal conclave that elects a pope is somehow inspired.

Ratzinger on Conclaves

Here I point the reader to a piece Catholic journalist John Allen recently published in which he cites Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the topic:
. . . Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:  
"I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. ... I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined." 
Then the clincher: "There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!"

Friday, February 15, 2013

Decision 2013 - My Endorsement

H/T Fr. Z

What John Paul II said he owed to Joseph Ratzinger

In a recent interview Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, reports that John Paul II once made the following remark to him about Joseph Ratzinger:
"The theological profile of my Pontificate I owe Joseph Ratzinger."

Scott Hahn reflects on how Benedict XVI impacted his life

Scott Hahn may be one of the best known converts to the Catholic Church in North America. Did you know that Joseph Ratzinger played an important role in his conversion?

In an article published today, Dr. Hahn reflects on Benedict's influence in his life. . . and how he will remain present to us in his retirement.
Like most Catholics, I woke on the morning of Feb. 11, 2013, to a different sort of alarm. 
Nothing in my past — indeed, very little in history — had prepared me for what I found in the news that day. 
To many people, the Pope resigning seemed an impossibility, like a square circle. 
But that wasn’t my particular problem. As a theologian, I knew it could be done. In fact, the conditions had been publicly rehearsed by no less an authority than Benedict XVI in interviews with the media. 
A pope’s resignation was not my problem. My problem was with this Pope resigning. 
He has been part of my life since early in my adulthood. I discovered Joseph Ratzinger’s work while I was still a Presbyterian minister. His books were a secret pleasure, and they showed me (and later my wife, Kimberly) the way home to Rome. 
As a Catholic, I was profoundly influenced by his biblical theology and his use of “covenant” as an interpretive key to unlock the mysteries of faith and the secrets of Scripture. I’ve written many books, but few authorial moments have pleased me so much as the day I presented the Holy Father with a copy of my book Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.
Read the rest here:

FREE Catholic Bible Conference in Beautiful Santa Maria, CA, February 16, 2013

I will be speaking at a Catholic Bible Conference at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church in beautiful Santa Maria, California, this Saturday, February 16. We begin at 9am. The event is free. A free-will offering supports the event.

This is the third year in a row I've been blessed to receive an invitation to speak at this dynamic Catholic parish in edenic Santa Maria, CA. I'm very much looking forward to this event. Hope to see you there!

By the way, the drive up / down the coast is breath-taking on the way there, so even if you are a bit further north or south it's well worth making the trip. Of course, people out of state are welcome too! This is CA like you've probably never seen it before.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Yes, that St. Valentine

H/T Jim West

Benedict offers unscripted thoughts on Vatican II

Here's the story with much of the text of the pope's address. 

I'm glad that the spontaneous nature and setting of this talk allowed Benedict some room for humor, a side of him that is rarely manifest in his prepared homilies and speeches for more formal occasions.

Reading this, I couldn't help thinking something else as well: The Holy Father insists that he no longer has the strengths to carry out the Petrine ministry. I would never suggest I know better; I trust his prudence.

But certainly there is no indication that he has lost his most widely recognized gift--the gift of being a good teacher. 

Lent as Spiritual Warfare: Readings for 1st Sunday in Lent

At the beginning of Lent, the Church reads to us the account of Jesus doing spiritual combat with the devil in the wilderness, reminding us that Lent is a time of warfare. Through our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we do battle with the power of the devil in our lives, and with God’s grace, defeat him decisively.

1. The First Reading is Deuteronomy 26:4-10:
Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”
The First Readings during the first five Sundays of Lent are designed to provide an overview of salvation history, with a special emphasis on the Passover and Exodus from Egypt, because from Holy Thursday to Easter we will re-live these events in our own liturgy. Therefore, we prepare for Holy Week over the five preceding weeks by pondering the meaning of the pivotal events in the story of God’s people.

This First Reading, at the beginning of Lent, is particularly suitable because it provides a summary or overview of Israel’s story from the time of Jacob/Israel (the “wandering Aramean,” that is, Syrian), through the Exodus, to the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land.

In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses commands the Israelites to come regularly to the central sanctuary in order to worship. When they come, they are to recite the history of salvation in order to commemorate it before the Lord.

This passage reminds us of the importance of memory in worship. To this day, when we celebrate mass, we do it “in remembrance of me,” that is, the Lord Jesus.

One of the enemies of the spiritual life is forgetfulness. We forget what God has done for us. We forget who we are, what we have experienced as God’s people, where we come from and where we are going. As they say, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Applied to the spiritual life, that means: those who forget the bondage God has saved them from, will slide back into that bondage. 

Much of American Christianity has religious “amnesia.” Churches are as bare as malls. There is no remembrance of the saints, the councils, or the history of God’s people. Even the Old Testament often gets ignored. As a result, there is little sense of being part of one people of God through the ages. Memory creates identity. The Church in her wisdom constantly encourages us to remember, so that we know who we are.

The Church wisely requires us to come to mass weekly in order to remember God’s salvation. In the Bible, remembrance is not just mental recall. Remembrance often involves a new saving act of God. God remembers Noah in the ark. God remembers the people of Israel in Egypt. In both cases, God’s “remembrance” involves salvation. This is the reason the Psalms frequently ask God to “remember” his people (Psalm 20:3; 74:2,18; 89:50, etc.). When we come into mass to “do this in remembrance of me,” we are asking God to pour out his saving power on us once again, for the coming week.

2. The Responsorial Psalm is 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15:
R. (cf. 15b) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
No evil shall befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.
R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
This Psalm is the quintessential spiritual warfare psalm, and was employed for the purpose of exorcism and protection against evil spirits already in ancient times. To this day, it is one of the psalms used for optional recitation during the rite of exorcism. The “asp, viper, lion, and dragon” mentioned in the psalm were understood as references to evil spirits, which were worshiped under the form of animals in pagan cults. The singing of this Psalm in today’s mass is particularly appropriate, because it ties into the theme of combat with Satan in the Gospel Reading. This Psalm assures us of victory over the forces of evil, if we make the Lord our God our "fortress and refuge."

3. The Second Reading is Romans 10:8-13:
Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart
—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
For the Scripture says,
“No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The Second Readings during the first five Sundays of Lent consist of classic passages from St. Paul in which he summarizes the Gospel message. This reading is a good example. At its heart, the Gospel is simple: believe in Jesus Christ and his resurrection, admit it openly to the world, and you will be saved.
As a Protestant pastor, I often used this passage in evangelism. I would encourage people to place their faith in Jesus, pray to receive his Spirit into their lives, and thus be assured a place in heaven.

That was well and good. The only danger comes in reducing the whole Christian faith to just believing and confessing in order to be saved.

We need to remember other Scriptures as well, like the following:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:53-54 
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16:16 
He who says, “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 1 John 2:4
It is true that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved,” but to “call on the name of the LORD” presumes an attitude of repentance and humility, an acknowledgement that we cannot save ourselves, that we need God’s help, and we are ready to do what God tells us to do in order to be saved. To “call on the name of the LORD,” but then disobey God’s instructions for salvation—which include baptism, Eucharist (“eating his flesh and blood”), and a transformed life—doesn’t really make sense. Romans 10:8-13 needs to be understood in light of all that the Bible says about being saved.

4. The Gospel is Luke 4:1-13:
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
It may sound strange that the Lord was not hungry until after the forty days. Yet during long fasts, the body adapts to burning stored fat, and after a few days one does not feel hungry until one’s fat stores are burned up. At that point, the body begins to break down muscle to stay alive. The body is beginning to die, and the hunger returns. Jesus was at that stage after forty days.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.
The three temptations of Christ correspond to the “threefold concupiscence,” that is, the common three ways in which we experience the temptation to sin. In 1 John 2:16, St. John summarizes them as follows: “Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” “Lust of the Flesh” is physical lust for food, sex, drugs, comfort, etc. “Lust of the Eyes” is greed or avarice, the desire to own and possess things of beauty and value. “Pride of Life” is simply pride.

Sin entered the world when Eve gave in to the threefold concupiscence. Genesis 3:6 says that she looked at the apple and saw that it “was good for food” (Lust of the Flesh), “pleasing to the eye” (Lust of the Eyes), and was “desirable to make one wise” like God (Pride, to be equal with God).

In the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus undoes Eve’s threefold disobedience.

First Satan tempts him in the area of Lust of the Flesh: “Turn these stones to bread. Wouldn’t some nice, hot bread taste so good after all your fasting?”

Then, Lust of the Eyes: he shows him all the “power and glory” of the kingdoms of the world in an instant and offers it to him.

Finally, Pride: Satan takes Jesus to the most public place in all of Israel, the Temple, and encourages him to perform a miraculous “stunt” that will make him a celebrity, receiving fame and adulation from the whole populace. It would only serve to aggrandize Jesus' ego.

In every case, Jesus responds to Satan’s temptations by remembering God’s Word. Of course, this is what Eve failed to do: she refused to remember—that is, to call to mind and obey—the command of God.

As we begin Lent, we should remember that the three practices of piety—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—are meant to help us resist the threefold concupiscence.
Prayer combats Pride, because prayer is the humble acknowledgement that we need God’s help, that we cannot do it on our own.

Fasting combats the Lust of the Flesh, teaching us to have control over our physical appetites.
Almsgiving combats Lust of the Eyes, teaching us to be detached from our wealth, to give up on greed, to share our wealth rather than hoard it for ourselves.

During Lent, we re-live Jesus’ forty days in the Wilderness in our own experience. Through an intense life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we do spiritual warfare with the Devil and drive him from our lives with the help of God’s grace.

We don’t struggle by ourselves, because we have received the Spirit of Jesus the Victor through baptism and the other sacraments.

We call to him for strength, and can be assured of victory because “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved,” and 
“He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.”
This summer, join me and Fr. Denny Gang, TOR, for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including the area where our Lord wandered in the wilderness. Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land lasts from June 26-July 5. If you are interested in coming with us, click here or here or here for more information.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How Scott Hahn Introduced Me to Pope Benedict in a Restaurant in Rome

My copy of Ratzinger's book
 Many Religions, One Covenant
signed by Joseph Ratzinger and
Scott Hahn.
Catholic News Agency has a published some of Scott Hahn's reflections on the Holy Father's retirement, which I've reprinted below.

Of course, Hahn is recognized as one of the world experts on the Holy Father's theology. He has written what I think is the definitive book on Benedict's approach to theology, Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (published by Baker Academic/Brazos). Check out the interview below and, if you haven't already, be sure to pick up Scott's book, Covenant and Communion. 

I am honored to say that it was Scott Hahn who introduced me to Joseph Ratzinger... and I mean "in person". In March of 2000 I had the pleasure of traveling to Rome with Scott (I actually went with him 3x that year). This was back when John Paul II was still pope and Pope Benedict was known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Ratzinger was my favorite living theologian. I had read just about everything of his that had been translated into English.

To make a long story short, we met the future pope in a restaurant in Rome. To my dismay, Dr. Hahn spent a shocking amount of the conversation telling him about my work on the Biblical Theology of the Psalms.

I happened to have on me Ratzinger's latest book at the time, Many Religions, One Covenant (Ignatius Press, 1999). Scott Hahn had written the Foreword.

Ratzinger was very gracious and personable. He seemed genuinely interested in talking with us. Not for a second did he make it seem like he had bigger things he needed to run off to get to... though I'm sure that was the case.

He gave me a personal blessing, putting his hand on my head as he prayed. I'll never forget just how tightly he gripped me as he invoked the Lord's blessings. It seemed the sign of the earnestness of his prayer. It was also surprising how much strength this old man had! 

Afterwards, Scott signed and dated the book for me (after all, he did write the Foreword).

What a night! I'll never forget it as long as I live. It's one of my most treasured memories: the moment I spent with two men who have both been spiritual fathers to me. It was before cell phones with cameras were the norm, so I don't have a picture of the encounter. However, I do have the book (see above). 


Steubenville, Ohio, Feb 12, 2013 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict's decision to resign as Bishop of Rome shows how the papacy is an office not of power but of service, reflected author and professor Dr. Scott Hahn.

“It seems to me this might be for him, the most humble and obedient act of service that he can render in his own conscience,” Hahn, a professor of Biblical theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA Feb. 11.

“It's a profound reminder that the papacy is not an office of power, but one of service, and so, if anybody has had a sense of servant-hood, it is Pope Benedict.”

Hahn said that while the decision is a surprise, in retrospect, “we can see the clues.”

He recounted that a friend of his who taught in Rome for some fifty years “in December told a friend of mine and me that he knew, that he had heard, that within three months the Pope would resign.”

“In some ways I'm surprised at how surprised I am,” Hahn said. He pointed out that Pope Benedict had said in a 2010 interview with Peter Seewald that a Pope has “a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”

Of the 256 Bishops of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI is the third to clearly resign, and the second to do so freely. The previous two were Gregory XII in 1415, who resigned to resolve the Western Schism, and Saint Celestine V in 1294.

Perhaps foreshadowing his decision to step down, Pope Benedict twice visited the relics of St. Celestine while he was Pope. In 2009, he prayed at the tomb and left his own pallium – an episcopal vestment worn over the shoulders – on top of it. And again in 2010, he visited the cathedral of Sulmona to visit the relics of St. Celestine and pray before him.

Hahn noted that he and his family prayed together as soon as they heard of the Pope's decision, but as he considered it, these visits to St. Celestine came to mind.

“I began thinking about it, and when I hearkened back to those two seemingly irrelevant, or unimportant stops...Celestine V has always been an interesting figure in my study of the papacy, and I went and looked at this, and began to realize that this has been on his mind for a long time.”

As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger two or three times submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II, Hahn noted.

“I'm sure the Holy Spirit will be steering the barque of Peter in a wonderful direction, but it is unsettling, because he is a father, and as we think of the Church as a family, there comes a time when a father becomes so old and infirm, that one of the most profound gestures of love might be to hand things over to the next one in line,” he observed.

“You can see this in Scripture too, David stepping down as king and appointing Solomon before he dies.”

Hahn reflected on the deep effect this decision is having on Catholics the world over.

“It's a hard thing to explain to outsiders, the mystery of a family bond that we all share, and how deeply we feel it. But here is a man who is a father figure to us all, and not just in a kind of symbolic way, but inasmuch as we are really united in a new birth, and the flesh and blood of the Eucharist, and this man, we know him to be our father, even more than our natural dads at one level.”

He contrasted the witnesses of Pope Benedict and his predecessor, saying both have something to offer the Church. “On the one hand, it was a profound thing for Blessed John Paul II to show us how to suffer and die.”

“On the other hand, here's a man who began when he was 78... so I think there's something magnanimous about this alternate direction that he's taking. It's not something that strikes a chord with me, there isn't a sliver of me saying, 'oh I'm glad he did it,' but I can see why, and I can see how, our Lord will use it.”

Hahn also discussed the profound thought of Pope Benedict.

“I was devouring this guy's stuff before I was even sure I was gonna become a Catholic. I like Balthasar, de Lubac, Congar, Danielou, and all the rest, but they couldn't hold a candle to this guy.”

Hahn recalled how he submitted the manuscript of his work “Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI” to an evangelical Protestant publishing house, expecting it to be turned down.

“But they didn't, and they picked it up enthusiastically. The editor in chief said, 'I had no idea that your Pope could make the Scriptures come alive, and the Scriptures saturate all of his theology.'”

Pope Benedict, Hahn said, is a man whose thinking, preaching and prayer are all “profoundly biblical.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Did Benedict XVI take a page from Gregory the Great?

So why did Pope Benedict "renounce" his office? (I prefer "retire", but "renounce" is the most literal translation of the Latin text of his declaration).

Let me make a suggestion. Could it be that Benedict, who is well known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Church Fathers, is taking a page not simply from Gregory XII, the last pope to resign (1415), but also from Gregory the Great (540-604)? I have yet to see anyone point this out, but consider the following.

Gregory the Great wrote what is considered the classic treatment on the spiritual formation of pastors, The Book of Pastoral Rule. Benedict clearly recognizes the importance of this work.

During the series of Wednesday audiences Benedict devoted to the early Church Fathers, he had the following to say about  Gregory's Pastoral Rule, 
Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate. In it Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock... Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the "preacher" par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all... Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor's duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished. For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: "When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one's own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected". All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the "ars artium", the art of arts. The Rule had such great, and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon. (General Audience, Wednesday, 4 June 2008). [source]
Now check out what Gregory says about the need for the "ideal bishop" to be free from the frailties of the body:
"That man, therefore, ought by all means to be drawn with cords to be an example of good living who already lives spiritually, dying to all passions of the flesh; who disregards worldly prosperity; who is afraid of no adversity; who desires only inward wealth; whose intention the body, in good accord with it, thwarts not at all by its frailness, nor the spirit greatly by its disdain: one who is not led to covet the things of others, but gives freely of his own. . ." Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, 1.10 (cited from NPNF2 vol. 12, p. 7).
Hmmmm... Am I crazy or is it hard to read Benedict's statement and not think of Gregory the Great's advice:
"... in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me".

Benedict XVI resigns and lightning comes down from heaven

Video from the BBC here. Thanks to the person who posted the link in the comment box!

Apparently, this is no joke, though it seems a bit fantastic.

Tonight--the night after Benedict announced he is retiring from the papacy--a heavy thunderstorm descended on Rome and lightning struck St. Peter's Basilica. An Italian photographer caught it on film.

Here's the source.

Here's another.

Draw your own conclusion.

Scott Hahn on the Pope's Resignation

Benedict XVI at the tomb of Pope Celestine V
Scott Hahn has posted the following on the pope's resignation. This is fascinating. . .
Back on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but which went largely unnoticed. 
He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine's tomb! 
Benedict places his pallium on the tomb of Pope Celestine V
Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Celestine V. 
Few people, however, noticed at the time. 
Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. These actions were probably more than pious acts. More likely, they were profound and symbolic gestures of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a Pope can hardly deliver any other way. 
Benedict XVI leaves his pallium
In the year 1294, this man (Fr. Pietro Angelerio), known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected Pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Benedict XVI: "God who shows us what it truly means to be a 'father'"

The Holy Father's January 30th address is stunningly good. I've posted it in its entirety below with some of my favorite parts in bold.

I think I'll be meditating on this for the rest of my life.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In last Wednesday’s catechesis we reflected on the words of the Creed: "I believe in God." But the profession of faith specifies this affirmation: God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Thus I would like to reflect with you now on the first, fundamental definition of God that the Creed presents us with: He is our Father. 

It is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood. Especially in our Western world, the broken families, increasingly absorbing work commitments, concerns, and often the fatigue of trying to balance the family budget, the distracting invasion of the mass media in daily life are some of the many factors that can prevent a peaceful and constructive relationship between fathers and children.

At times communication becomes difficult, trust can be lost and relationships with the father figure can become problematic. Even imagining God as a father becomes problematic, not having had adequate models of reference. For those who have had the experience of an overly authoritarian and inflexible father, or an indifferent father lacking in affection, or even an absent father, it is not easy to think of God as Father and trustingly surrender oneself to Him.

But the biblical revelation helps us to overcome these difficulties telling us about a God who shows us what it truly means to be a "father", and it is especially the Gospel which reveals the face of God as a Father who loves even to the giving of his own Son for the salvation humanity. The reference to the father figure therefore helps us to understand something of the love of God which remains infinitely greater, more faithful, more total than that of any man.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

“Duc in Altum!” “Put Out into the Deep!”: Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time


The Readings for this Sunday seem particularly appropriate for the Year of Faith.  In the First Reading and Gospel, we see both Isaiah and Peter, heroes of faith, humbled by their unworthiness, and yet eager to fulfill the mission for which God has chosen them.  As we share their sense of unworthiness, we should also embrace their zeal to share God’s Word.

1.  Our First Reading is Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8:

In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above.