Monday, September 16, 2019

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward (The Mass Readings Explained)

Why does Jesus praise the dishonest steward, his theft, and encourage us to be like someone who steals from his master for his own benefit?
Check this week's video for The Mass Readings Explained to explore the readings we'll hear for Mass this upcoming Sunday.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
...I’d say the primary question most people have about this parable is: “What does Jesus mean when he says ‘make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous mammon [or unrighteous money or stolen money], so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations’?”

What? What is that talking about? And why does the master commend the steward for, you know, his unjust activities? What's going on here? Well, the first clue to understanding this parable is one that I’ve made a point of emphasizing over and over again in these videos. Namely, that when you're listening to a parable of Jesus, if you just think of it as a nice kind of illustration from daily life that helps give you an insight into the kingdom—it's real simple and straightforward—then this parable doesn't make any sense. 

But if you remember that I told you before, many of Jesus’ parables—most of them—have a twist. In other words, there’s some unexpected element that isn’t in fact commensurate with or analogous to daily ordinary life, and that the twist is usually the key to unlocking the meaning...then you can apply that principle to this parable, and it actually will go a long way toward explaining it. So let’s walk through it together.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Prodigal Son Sunday: 24th Sunday in OT


This upcoming Sunday marks one of only two times in the main Lectionary cycle that we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son proclaimed (the other being the 4th Sunday of Lent [C]).  The Readings are marked by the theme of repentance and forgiveness. 

1. Our First Reading is Ex 32:7-11, 13-14:

Monday, September 09, 2019

Parables of Lost and Found (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check out the clip below and subscribe today with a 14-day free trial.  Thanks!

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
Let’s look at the lost sheep. So he says, “what man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one doesn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he’s found it?” So pause there. Immediately, we already run into the first twist, the first surprising element, and it’s this: No shepherd in his right mind is going to leave ninety-nine sheep behind to go look for one sheep. Notice, he doesn’t say he puts them in a fold, right, that would make sense. He says he leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness. He leaves in the desert.

Well that’s precisely where sheep tend to get lost or are exposed to wolves or exposed to thieves, they don’t have any natural form of protection. That’s why the shepherd is with them in the wild. He goes into the wilderness with them to protect them. Like Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He leads me…” He leads me through the wilderness. He leads me to still waters so that the sheep will drink the water. The shepherd is the protector. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” because they protect me from threats. They guide me, but they also protect me. So the shepherd is the sole source of protection for his flock.

Well if he’s in the desert, no shepherd in his right mind is going to leave ninety-nine sheep behind to go look for one sheep. What he would do is put them in a fold and then go look for the one sheep. But this shepherd is kind of crazy. He’s not very responsible. So immediately Jesus would have the attention of his 1st Century Jewish audience when he says “What man of you if he’s lost one sheep, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine and go look for that one?” And the answer to the question is, well none of us would do that because we are not stupid. So this shepherd seems to be a little off his rocker. He doesn’t seem to be quite all there. So Jesus says he goes, he finds that one sheep, he puts on his shoulders and he brings it home rejoicing. And when he gets home, he calls his friends and neighbors together and he says, “Rejoice with me, for I found my sheep that was lost.”


Tuesday, September 03, 2019

The Cost of Discipleship: Readings for the 23rd Sunday in OT


One of the most famous German opponents of Adolf Hitler and Nazism was the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis executed by hanging in April 1945 for his involvement in a plot against Hitler himself.  Bonhoeffer’s most famous work was a meditation on the Sermon on the Mount entitled (in English) The Cost of Discipleship.  In it, Bonhoeffer parted ways with a Protestantism that understood “salvation by faith alone” as some kind of easy road to heaven.  Bonhoeffer criticized “easy-believism” as “cheap grace” 

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VIII: Humility


I’d like to wrap up this series of reflections about the nature of heaven with a meditation on the necessity of humility for entrance into eternal peace and reconciliation with God.

In my last full post (Part VI) on repentance, I noted that, in order to enter heaven, we will have to repent of all our sins.  Every sin is a choice of not-love and not-God, and the will cannot continue to be attached to that which is not-love and not-God when we are in the fullness of God’s presence. That means we will have to let go of each and every sin against God, ourselves, and others if we want to live with God for eternity.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VII: An Interlude and Reflection

(the commentary for Sunday 22 in OT Year C Sept 1 is in a post further below)

I am shortly going to wrap up these reflections on the possibility of everyone ending up in heaven with a meditation on humility as a requirement for eternal life with God, but before I do, I'd like to reflect on the hymn Breathe On Me Breath of God, which we happened to sing at the mass I attended this past Sunday in Steubenville.  I was struck by these lyrics:
  1. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
    Fill me with life anew,
    That I may love what Thou dost love,
    And do what Thou wouldst do.

Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner? The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time




In 2005, a quasi-remake of the famous 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner” was released.  Entitled “Guess Who?” it starred Bernie Mac as an African-American father who struggled to deal with his daughter’s Caucasian fiancé (played by Ashton Kutcher).  Much of the comedy of the film revolved around the clash of cultures at the dinner table.  Usually we only share meals with people like us: family members or friends from our own “circle.”  When someone from “outside” comes in, it upsets the balance. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Banquet of the Kingdom of God (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check it out below!

Catholic Productions Notable Quote:
So for example, in Matthew 22 Jesus actually says, “The kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast that a king put on for his son.” So the imagery there is of the joy of salvation, the joy of the world to come. The joy of the kingdom of Heaven is really only comparable to the joy of a wedding feast. So if you’ve ever been to a really great celebration at a wedding, a beautiful holy couple that are united in Holy Matrimony (in the sacrament of marriage) and then you’re celebrating that sacramental union; it’s awesome. It’s amazing. You just feel overcome with joy, filled with joy — at least that is how it should be. Jesus says, well that’s what the kingdom is like, elsewhere. 

So given those parables elsewhere, what he’s really talking about here is how people should act in the kingdom of God. So if you want to be exalted in the kingdom of God, what do you need to do? You need to act humbly now. You need to cultivate the virtue of humility now so that you seek the lowest place in this world, so that when the banquet of the kingdom comes you’ll be exalted.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part VI: Repentance

(comment on Sunday Readings are several posts down)

Let's do another little counter-factual thought experiment to illustrate the need for repentance to enter into heaven.

Imagine you are in heaven, and everything is wonderful—as it ought to be in heaven—when suddenly you spot Cecil, the bully from fifth grade who used to give you "swirlies" for giving too many correct answers in Mrs. Othmar's math class.  You are glad to see that Cecil has made it to the perfect communion of love, so you approach him and say, "Cecil, so glad to see you!  I want you to know I forgive you for all the swirlies you gave me when we were in fifth grade."
"What you mean, 'forgive me'? Cecil responds with a smirk. "I just gave you what you deserve!"
"Are you kidding?" you say, flabbergasted.  "I deserved to have my face stuffed in the toilet for giving correct math answers?"
"Yeah, that's what know-it-all nerds deserve," Cecil shoots back, "I just needed to take you down a couple notches."

Of course such a scenario could never happen in the actual heaven.  (continued below)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part V: Forgiveness

(For commentary on the Readings for this Sunday, scroll down to a lower post)

Let's engage in another counter-factual thought experiment about heaven.

You are in heaven, and everything is going wonderfully—as it should in heaven—but on the third day there, you run into your Aunt Alice, whom you thoughtlessly insulted when you were a teenager, and who never forgave you for that insult.  When Aunt Alice sees you in heaven, she turns her face and won't look at you.  You approach her and say, "Aunt Alice, as I've told you many times, I'm so sorry I insulted you when I was sixteen.  I didn't understand what I was saying."  "Well, I'm sorry that I just can't forgive you," Aunt Alice replies, "What you said was so hurtful, and all your apologies just can't make up for it."

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part IV: The Moral Order

(For commentary on the Readings for this Sunday, scroll down to a lower post)
In our last post, we engaged in a thought experiment of Hitler appearing at heaven and being appalled by what he finds.  In order to enter heaven, Hitler would have to come to grips with the fact that virtually every thought and deed of his from early adulthood on was at best misguided and at worst consciously wicked.  He would have to renounce and repent the vast majority of the fabric of his life; he would have to reject the person that he was in this life, and virtually become a different person.  There would be very little continuity between what Hitler was in this life and what he would have to be like in order to enter heaven.  It would be like a death and rebirth.  And the question is, even if a radical conversion like that were possible after earthly death—and the Scriptures and Tradition give us no reason to expect that there is some massive "second chance" at the particular judgment—could or would Hitler have even desired it?  I suspect not.  (continued below the break)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part III

(For commentary on the Readings for this Sunday, scroll down to a lower post)
It is appropriate to blog on the topic of universal salvation on the Feast Day of St. Bernard (Aug. 20), who made a comment that is very relevant to the discussion: "What we love, we shall grow to resemble."  I affirm this principle articulated by St. Bernard, and would further propose that the live of Christian discipleship is a training in love, such that we learn to love what is true, good, and beautiful, and in this way become suited for the experience of heaven.  On the contrary, a lifestyle that turns its back on Jesus Christ and his teaching tends invariably toward love of self, and becomes a mis-formation in
love such that we end up loving that which is false, evil, and ugly, and thus become unsuitable not only for heaven but even to desire heaven.

To explicate these ideas, I propose to engage in some thought-experiments.  I warn the reader in advance that the thought experiments are not pleasant, but then, what we are dealing with is extremely serious.

We are trying to grasp how anyone could not desire heaven. (continued below break)

Will Many Be Saved? Readings for the 21st Sunday of OT


A Narrow Gate
If Jesus was walking through your town and you had ten seconds as he passed to ask any question you wished, what would it be?  “Why is there evil in the world?” “How can I be saved?” “What is heaven like?”

In this Sunday’s Gospel, an anonymous bystander gets his chance to ask Jesus one of the “big questions”: “Will only a few people be saved?”  This is the very question I've been trying to deal with in a series of posts on this blog. Jesus’ answer is complex, indirect, and very well worth examining!  The Readings leading up to the Gospel help prepare us to understand Jesus’ response.

1.  The First Reading is Is 66:18-21:

Monday, August 19, 2019

Will Only a Few Be Saved? (The Mass Readings Explained)

In Luke 13, Jesus is posed with the question, "Will those who are saved be few?"  What did he say?  Check out this week's video below for The Mass Readings Explained where the focal point is this famous question presented to Jesus.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
So notice the two elements there. When a person doesn’t follow the will of the Lord and doesn’t obey the teachings of Jesus, it breaks communion with him. And so what he says is, “I never knew you.” 

That’s the real criterion for getting into the banquet of the kingdom of God, to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, for him to know you. That’s why he uses the image of a householder. You’re not just going to welcome anybody into your banquet in the middle of the night, but if you know that person you’re going to say “come on inside.” 

And so what Jesus is saying here is you thought you knew me because you heard me preach, and we might have even shared a table together, but because you were a worker of iniquity, I don’t know where you come from. I don’t really know you and therefore you can’t enter into the glory of the kingdom.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part II

Studio 54 c. 1978
I think part of our contemporary struggle with the doctrines of heaven and hell is that we have an inadequate idea of what each place is like.

Most Americans probably think of heaven as like a Disney World in the sky, guarded by gates and either St. Peter, or Jesus, or some angels as gate-keepers. You can get into the eternal amusement park if you've done more "good" than "bad" in your life.

Hell, on the other hand, is like a Nazi concentration camp run by demons as camp guards, and you go there if you've been "really bad."

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Jesus and "Family Values": 20th Sunday in OT


In recent decades, the term “family values” has almost become a code word for “Christian culture” in American society.  Influential Christian organizations have adopted names like “Focus on the Family,” “American Family Association,” the “Family Research Council”; and on the Catholic side of things we have “Catholic Family Land,” “Tradition, Family and Property,” or “The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute,” better known as “C-FAM.”  The natural family unit—based on a husband and wife who have made an exclusive, permanent, public commitment to share a common life and raise children together—has been under such political and social pressure that at times we almost identify Christianity as a social movement to promote family life.

In this context, this Sunday’s Mass Readings can be unsettling.  Jesus says he has “not come to bring peace but division.”  Come again?  Lord, with due respect, isn’t one of your messianic titles “Prince of Peace?”  Then again, the Lord speaks of causing division and struggle within families—strife in the family unit caused by Jesus!  How can this be?  Doesn’t Jesus believe in “family values”?

Will Everyone Go to Heaven?


The idea that maybe everyone will end up in heaven has always floated around in Christianity, since the earliest times.  It seems as though St. Paul and the other apostles had to write to combat this view in the churches they had founded.  In Corinth, for example, the idea seemed to be circulating either that everyone would inherit the kingdom of God, or at least all Christians would, regardless of their behavior.  So St. Paul writes to warn:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Jesus Came to Cast Fire on the Earth (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check it out below.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
I’ve talked about this before in other videos, but remember the hope for the ingathering of the exiles and the lost ten tribes of Israel?

How the Jews were waiting for the ten lost tribes that had been scattered among the nations to come back together, to be reunited and to come back to the Promised Land in a new exodus that would be inaugurated by the Messiah? Remember that? We’ve talked about it elsewhere. You can see it in Isaiah 11, or Jeremiah 23, or Ezekiel 36 and 37. It’s all over the prophets.

What Micah’s describing here is that he’s saying that before the new exodus takes place, before the ingathering of the twelve tribes of Israel and the coming of the kingdom, before that happens, there’s going to be a time of division. There’s going to be a time of tribulation. There’s going to be a time of strife and a time of judgment. And a prophet is called to endure through that time of tribulation and make it to the day of salvation.


Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Semper Paratus: Readings for the 17th Sunday in OT

My father once served as the chaplain for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.  (U.S. Navy chaplains also serve the Marines and the Coast Guard).  I have fond memories of that beautiful seaside city.  In any event, perhaps the only bit of Coast Guard culture that I absorbed during my dad’s tour of duty was the motto: Semper Paratus, “Always Prepared,” which seems an appropriate summation of the theme of this Sunday’s Readings, which stress vigilance in the Christian life.  In fact, these Readings feel like something we might get in November, closer to the Solemnity of Christ the King, but here they are coming to us in the middle of Ordinary Time.  Yet perhaps that’s appropriate, because it is not just at the end of our lives (or the liturgical year) that we need to be vigilant, but at all times—even and especially when its literally or metaphorically “summertime, and the livin’ is easy …”

1.  Our First Reading is Wisdom 18:6-9:

Monday, August 05, 2019

Almsgiving and the Return of the Master (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check it out below -- If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do so today and get a 14 day free trial to watch the entire video.


Catholic Productions Notable Quote:
Now if you press pause right there, one more time, these are clearly images of entering into the kingdom of God or being cast out of the kingdom into the punishment of Gehenna, right? We’ll see this elsewhere in the gospels, right? “Enter into the glory of the kingdom,” that’s what Jesus is describing here. If you are being set over all his possessions, he’s entering into the master’s household, the master’s kingdom.

But if this is a parable, and it’s an allegory for the kingdom of God, then the good servant is rewarded by being elevated in the kingdom. “He who humbles himself in will be exalted” and then the wicked servant goes to Gehenna, or goes to Hell, experiences punishment and put with the unfaithful. Think here about other places where Jesus says “they’ll be cast into the outer darkness where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here the servant is cast among the unfaithful.

Now if this parable were written by a later Christian in the Protestant tradition, who only believed those were the two fates possible, it should’ve stopped there, but there are two other outcomes that Jesus gives us in this parable and it’s really fascinating. There’s a third servant, it’s the servant who knew his master’s will but didn’t prepare or act according to his will. Ok, so in other words, this servant isn’t ready for his master to come, but unlike the wicked servant he doesn’t start abusing other people. He’s not getting drunk, he’s not beating his fellow manservants and maidservants. He’s just not as ready as he should be. He’s not ready for the master’s return. So what’s his punishment? It doesn’t say that he’s cut in two or put with the unfaithful. It says that he receives a severe beating.

And then the fourth servant is a different one. This is the one who didn’t know his master’s will, but did what deserved the beating. That person shall receive a light beating. So this servant is what later moral theologians would call “invincibly ignorant.” In other words, they didn’t know what the master’s commands were for whatever reason, and they did not prepare, they did what deserved the beating like the third servant, but they were less culpable because they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. They received a light beating.




Saturday, August 03, 2019

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land June 2020

Hello readers of The Sacred Page!

We may even ride camels on the Mount of Olives
I'm leading another pilgrimage to the Holy Land in June 2020 (June 15-25, 2020).  Many pilgrimages are lead to the Holy Land, but very few are lead by a Catholic Bible scholar with an earned doctorate, and a guide who is part of the ancient Arab Latin-rite Catholic community of Nazareth (you read that right: there is an ancient, native, ethnically Arab, Latin-rite Catholic community in that city).  This pilgrimage will fantastically inspiring but also based on sound scholarship, more than the equivalent of a college course in Scripture and Theology!

Fr. Mark Bentz, a Steubenville alumnus and pastor in the Diocese of Portland, will be providing sacraments and pastoral care for the pilgrimage.  The main departure city will be San Francisco.  

To register, you will need a passport.  The registration website is as follows:

www.JohnBergsma.com/pilgrimage

--Dr. John Bergsma

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Church of the Poor: Readings for the 18th Sunday in OT


Texts from the Old and New Testaments remind us that human happiness is not to be found in the accumulation of material goods.  Riches are fleeting and empty.  We are called instead to “store up treasure in heaven, where neither rust nor moth destroy, where thieves cannot break in and steal.”

1.  Our First Reading is Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23:

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Rich Fool (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  You can still register today for a 14 free trial to see if it makes sense for you.

Thanks!

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
So with that background in mind, you can look at the verses again. It basically describes the fact that when a person has worked to acquire wisdom and knowledge and skill, he’s going to leave everything that he acquires on the basis of that skill to someone who didn’t work for it. It says “this also is hebel and a great evil.” 

So he’s talking about the fact that a person can spend their whole life, in our times as in antiquity, accruing wealth and then the second they die, it’s going to go to someone else who didn’t do a thing to earn it. Whether it is that person’s children, or the state, or the government (through taxation or whatever it might be), all of it is left behind. “You can’t take it with you” is the famous proverb there. Now what it’s getting at then is, what’s the point? 


That’s what Ecclesiastes is doing. What’s the point then. If everything that I’ve worked for and all that I possess is going to be left to someone who didn’t do a thing to earn it; then isn’t it just in vain? “What has a man for all the toil and strain that would put you towards beneath the sun? All his days are for the pain and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his mind does not rest.” So if you read the fuller context of Ecclesiastes 2, you’ll see that, in particular, what the book is highlighting is the anxiety that comes with wealth.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Deal on Bible Basics for Catholics

If you use Bible Basics for ministry, now is the time to by copies in bulk.  Ave Maria has a sweet deal on orders of 100 or more.



Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Haggling With God: The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time




Who has the guts to bargain with the Divinity?  Abraham, the father of the Israelites, does.  In the Readings for this Sunday, we find united several themes: persistence in prayer, the justice and mercy of God, the generosity of God.

1.  Our First Reading is Gn 18:20-32 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Jesus' Teaching on Prayer (The Mass Readings Explained)

The video for The Mass Readings Explained is now out for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Check out an introductory video below and you can subscribe here for access to the entire series.

Thanks!

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
The Greek word peirasmos is the same word for trial and temptation. In other words, there is just one Greek word for both those things. And what the Catechism is highlighting here is that the prayer does not mean that God is enticing us to sin, because as the Bible says in James 1: “God tempts no one”. In other words, God doesn’t entice us to sin. 

However, God does permit us to go through trials, not so that we can fall into sin, but that so we can grow in strength. It’s just like professors. A professor gives a student a test — you can translate the word peirasmos as testing — not for them to fail but for them to succeed. However, it is frequently the case that in the midst of a test, temptations can arise. If you’ve ever cheated on tests you know what I’m talking about. 

So the Greek word is ambiguous, but that ambiguity actually reveals a certain truth. It is precisely in the midst of trials that we are often tempted to fall away or to commit a sin. So what the prayer is effectively saying (as the Catechism says here) is we are asking, Lord, do not let us yield to temptation, don’t let us fall into temptation; don’t let us succumb to the temptation that often accompanies time of trial.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Entertaining God: The 16th Sunday of OT



This Sunday, as we continue to accompany Jesus on his fateful journey to Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke, we are confronted with a pair of Readings in which human beings host a meal for God: Abraham for the LORD in the First Reading; Martha and Mary for Jesus in the Gospel.  But is it really possible for us to “do God a favor” by giving him a nice meal?  We are going to discover that, while God graciously accepts our services, it’s really about what God does for us, not what we can do for him.

1.  The First Reading is Gn 18:1-10a:

Monday, July 15, 2019

Jesus, Martha, and Mary (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  You can see the intro clip below and  sign up here to watch the full length video/see the transcript and study guide.

Catholic Productions Notable Quote:
Now what is going on exactly in this story? Most people, I think, and most homilies I’ve heard on this, will focus on Martha and Mary as kind of symbols for two aspects of the spiritual life. 

Activity, who would be represented by Martha, who’s serving, who’s doing something; and then contemplation, which is symbolized by Mary, who’s simply sitting and receiving and listening to the Lord. And as we will see in a minute when we get to the living tradition, that’s a very, very ancient interpretation. It goes all the way back to the 3rd Century A.D. with the writings of Origen of Alexandria, who is the most prolific Bible commentator among the early Church Fathers in the 3rd Century A.D., before the time of Saint Jerome. So it’s a very ancient interpretation and I don’t want to deny that interpretation. 

However, it’s important that we be precise here about exactly what’s going on because sometimes people will say, “Well Jesus rebukes Martha for being too active and he approves Mary for being contemplative”, but there’s a little bit more going on there if you look exactly what he says here.


Monday, July 08, 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor? The 15th Week of OT


Fred Rogers used to sing at the opening of his classic children’s show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood:

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood 
A beautiful day for a neighbor 
Would you be mine? Could you be mine? …
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please, won't you please?
 Please won't you be my neighbor?

Fred Rogers was a highly theological educated man, an ordained Presbyterian minister who also gave generous grants to St. Vincent’s College and Seminary (Roman Catholic) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  I think he was well aware of the theological significance of the concept of “neighbor,” which we will explore through the Readings for this Sunday.

This Sunday Jesus issues us a strong challenge to break down the barriers and prejudices that prevent us from showing love to other human beings.  Jesus’ teaching is in continuity with the best synthesis of the moral instruction of the Old Testament and Judaism, which views every human being as a “neighbor.”

1.  The First Reading is Dt 30:10-14:

The Good Samaritan (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Check it out below.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
Now watch, this is important. In context, the question is “Well, what does it mean when it says love your neighbor? Who does the category of ‘neighbor’ include?”

If you go back to Leviticus 19:18, the verse that is quoted by the 
doctor of the law here is 
the 2nd half of the verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you back up and read the whole verse, listen to what it says: “You shall not take vengeance or bare any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

That’s Leviticus 19:18. So notice there, in context, does neighbor simply mean “the sons of your own people”? In other words, fellow Israelites. It could be interpreted in an inclusive way, meaning anyone who is a neighbor to you, or it could also be interpreted exclusively as saying, “The only neighbor who I have to love as myself are the sons of my own people.”

So there is an ambiguity there and if you read the whole text in its even broader context, it mentions your servants, it mentions the deaf, it mentions the blind, it mentions the poor and the great, and so there’s this whole question that arises: “Exactly who is my neighbor in context? Is it just the sons of my own people or is it broader than that?” And so in that context, back up to the gospel and you can understand, the lawyer here, the doctor of law, appears to be asking Jesus in a sense, “What’s your take on the exact meaning of who my neighbor is?”



Monday, July 01, 2019

Jesus, the Seventy Disciples, and the New Priesthood (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary time is now out for The Mass Readings Explained.  Enjoy.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
So if you’re Jesus and it’s the 1st Century A.D. and people are saying you’re the Messiah, and you’ve gathered not just a group of twelve around you, but also you appoint seventy other disciples around you, what are you doing? What are you saying? What’s the implication of that act? Well, it’s not just that you’re the new Moses and there’s a new Exodus, but something much more. You are setting up a priestly hierarchy of appointed leaders underneath you, not just to bring the good news to the twelve tribes of Israel, but to bring the good news to all the nations. 

So it’s an implicit act of claim of authority on Jesus’ part, it’s an implicit establishment of a priestly hierarchy on Jesus’ part, and it’s also an anticipation of the fact that the gospel’s going to go not just to the twelve tribes of Israel, but to all the nations of the world. And if you might have missed that connotation of the seventy, I bet the seventy members of the Sanhedrin (when Jesus was alive) didn’t miss the point. They would have gotten the point, because at the head of the seventy members of the Sanhedrin was the one high priest, so seventy plus one, the high priest. And Jesus isn’t a member of the seventy or the twelve, he’s above them. So he’s making himself like a new high priest.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Gathering the New Israel: Readings for 14th Sunday of OT


(Sorry I missed last week!)
 
In the Readings for this Sunday, Jesus continues his final journey, his fateful “death march” toward Jerusalem (Luke 9–19, the “Travel Narrative”) that began formally in Luke 9:51.  The past several Sundays have foreshadowed Jesus’ coming suffering and death, but this Sunday we get a reprieve as themes of suffering recede into the background.  We are temporarily caught up in the joy of Jesus' ministry, as he assembles around himself a congregation of disciples who constitute a spiritual “Jerusalem.”  In the healing ministry of Jesus and his disciples, we see a fulfillment of certain prophecies of peace and restoration to the “holy city” of the LORD.

1. The First Reading is Is 66:10-14c:

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Cost of Discipleship (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video for The Mass Readings Explained is now out for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time on the cost of discipleship.  Enjoy!

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
"Now again, in a 1st Century Jewish context, it’s fascinating because both of those images, putting your hand to the plow and looking back, would echo two Old Testament passages. The first one is the call of Eli’sha, the prophet, the successor to Eli’jah, whom Eli’jah calls while he’s plowing the fields.

So here’s another Eli’jah- Eli’sha echo in this gospel reading for today. Jesus is like a new Eli’jah, calling his disciples to be like new Eli’sha’s (new prophetic successors), and just like Eli’sha was plowing the field and left if behind to follow Eli’jah, so now Jesus is saying to his disciples, even more, “Don’t even put your hand to the plow. If you do, you’re not fit to be my disciple.” And the other image is of course Lot’s wife in Genesis 19, who looks back not to Egypt, but looks back to the sinful city of Sodom in longing for what’s being lost when the city’s destroyed.

And there’s your other parallel, it’s fascinating. They’re calling down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, that’s an echo of Sodom, the image of looking back here makes you think of Lot’s wife, also an image of Sodom and Gomorrah. So Jesus here is calling for a radical detachment from past life, from past sins, but also from good things, like parents and family and land."


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Eucharist and Priesthood: The Feast of Corpus Christi


I love the early summer liturgical “trifecta” of Pentecost, Trinity, and Corpus Christi, forming a kind of “encore” to the joyful Easter Season focusing in succession on three fundamental realities of the Christian life: the Church, the Triune Godhead, and the Eucharist.  This “trifecta” comes to an end this week with the celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Readings for this Solemnity obviously focus on types and descriptions of the Eucharist, but there is a notably priestly theme that also runs through them.  

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Body and the Blood of Christ (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video for The Mass Readings Explained for Corpus Christi is now out.  Check it out below.

Catholic Productions' Notable Quote:
So what we have here in the feeding of the five thousand, just the very setting itself, in a lonely place (or in a desert), is an echo of the miracle of the manna. Which is, by the way, another reason for showing that this isn’t a miracle of sharing, because the miracle of the manna in the Old Testament didn’t have anything to do with sharing, it had to do with God miraculously and supernaturally supplying his people with food while they were in the wilderness so that they could journey to the Promised Land. So if the feeding of the five thousand is a recapitulation of the manna, if Jesus is like a new Moses in a new wilderness feeding the new Israel, then it wouldn’t make any sense for the first one to be miraculous, but this new and greater feeding to be a simple, natural act of sharing.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity




Pentecost is not supposed to mark a spiritual highpoint, from which we then regress and go back to being our slovenly selves. 
Rather, Pentecost should be a dramatic infusion of spiritual energy climaxing a period of formation that has been ongoing since the first week of Advent.  Pentecost propels us, like a shot out of a cannon, into the “world” of Ordinary Time, in order to do effective combat with sin, death, and the Devil.
This Sunday marks approximately the half-way point in the liturgical year, and at this temporal center, we pause to reflect on the central mystery of our Faith, the Most Holy Trinity.  This seems appropriate on the heels of Pentecost, because it is through the Holy Spirit that the whole Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—dwells within our soul.
Predictably, the Readings view the mystery of the Trinity from different angles.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Mystery of the Trinity (The Mass Readings Explained)

This week's video for The Mass Readings Explained is now out.  Check out this intro video below taken from this week's video.

Catholic Productions Notable Quote:
Who is this other divine agent? Well, ancient Church Fathers would say, it’s the Son. It’s Christ, the wisdom of God. However, if you look at that first verse, Arius, the arch heretic, the heretic from the 4th Century that I mentioned at the beginning of the video, interpreted it differently. 

Although the New American Bible says “The Lord possessed me” at the beginning of his work, the Revised Standard Version says “The Lord created me”. Now those are very different verbs, right? Did the Lord possess wisdom at the beginning of creation? Or did he create wisdom at the beginning of creation? Well, in order to clarify this I’m going to have to do some Hebrew and Greek, so just bear with me for two seconds. I’ll try to make this as clear as possible.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Readings for Pentecost


This post picks up from themes discussed in the post below on the Readings for the Vigil of Pentecost.  For that post, scroll down.

For Pentecost Sunday, Mass during the Day, the First Reading is, finally, the account of Pentecost itself, from Acts 2:1-11:


Gathering the Human Family: Pentecost Vigil Readings




Welcome to Pentecost!  This is such an important Feast Day in the life of the Church, we should celebrate it with just as much joy and enthusiasm as Christmas and Easter.  This the day of the Spirit, and if we have understood Jesus' teachings clearly, we understand that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not an epilogue or denouement to the story of salvation, but its climactic finale that ushers in a new age!  This is the high point of our liturgical journey that began in Advent with anticipation of the coming of the Messiah!  

The Church recognizes the importance of Pentecost in her liturgy, and graces this Solemnity with its own vigil, complete with four different options for the First Reading.  All of them are important for understanding the meaning of this feast:

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The 7th Sunday of Easter


Here is a commentary on the Readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and let me begin by saying, if you have a Seventh Sunday of Easter, you are indeed blessed!  

This is an important Sunday: it is climactic, the last Sunday before Pentecost in the Easter Season.  The architects of the Vatican II lectionary saved very important readings for this date, notably the High Priestly Prayer of John 17.  This magnificient prayer is the longest of Jesus’ prayers recorded in Scripture, and it is the climax of the Last Supper Discourse (John 13-17), the longest discourse of Jesus recorded in Scripture.  In this prayer, Our Lord reveals his deepest desires for himself, his Apostles, and the whole Church.   

Ascension Day


Ascension Day, unfortunately, is not observed in a uniform manner across the United States.  Catholics in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, New York, and New England will observe it on Thursday, May 30; the rest of the country observes it this Sunday, June 2. 

The First Reading and Psalm for this Solemnity are always Acts 1:1-11 and Psalm 47.   In Year C has the option to employ Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23 instead of Eph 4:17-23 as the Second Reading (both are discussed below), and proclaims Luke 24:46-53 as the Gospel.

This is an unusual Lord’s Day, in which the “action” of the Feast Day actually takes place in the First Reading.  We typically think of all the narratives of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels, overlooking that Acts records at least two important narratives about the activity of the Resurrected Lord (Acts 1:1-11; also 9:1-8):

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Kingdom of Love: 6th Sunday of Easter


We have arrived at the Sixth Week of Easter, and continue to bask in the glow of the story of the growth of the early Church in Acts, the vision of heaven from the Book of Revelation, and the consolation of Jesus’ words to the Apostles in the Upper Room from John.  It’s a trifecta of glory in these Readings.

If last Sunday we noted a “kingdom of love” theme, this week we notice an emphasis on the idea of the “kingdom of peace.”  In Acts (1st Reading) we see the measures that were necessary to keep peace in the early Church.  In Revelation (2nd Reading) we see the peace of Eden restored in the heavenly New Jerusalem.  In the Gospel we see Jesus bestowing his supernatural peace on the disciples.

1. The First Reading is Acts 15:1-2, 22-29.  Because this reading skips Acts 15:3-21, which I think is very important for understanding the significance of the passage, I have spliced in the missing text below, to aid our understanding: