Friday, March 16, 2018

The Fifteenth Station

As we walk the Way of the Cross with Jesus, we meditate through fourteen stations, focusing on His condemnation, His falls, His meetings, and His death. Some versions of the prayer add a fifteenth station that directs our attention to the Resurrection, and indeed, Jesus' story does not end when He is placed in the tomb. He does rise again on Easter, alive and glorious. 

After several years of praying the Way of the Cross, though, I've discovered a fifteenth station that's a bit different. This fifteenth station isn't hung on a wall or written in a prayer book; it's the station that is in our hearts, the station that reminds us that Jesus' Passion and Death is not some story from the past but rather an integral part of our own lives. The fifteenth station should remind us that we are part of salvation history, that this story is our story, too. 

Perhaps, then, the fifteenth station of our Way of the Cross should first be a station of humility. Jesus died for us. Our sins nailed Him to that cross. We are all guilty. But He died for us anyway. And if only one person in the whole world of space and time had needed to be redeemed, Jesus would have died for that one person even though that one person would have been the one nailing Him to the cross. 

The fifteenth station, the station in our hearts, should also be a station of gratitude. How often do we sincerely thank Jesus for what He has done for us? 

The fifteenth station should be a station that helps us embrace our own crosses. We all have our crosses, and Jesus has told us to take them up and follow Him. We should say a little prayer asking Jesus to give us the grace to do that, the grace to unite our sufferings with His and to walk the Way of the Cross with Him. 

The fifteenth station should also be a station of resolution. We can all do better. We can always improve. Jesus has done so much for us; can we think of something we can do for Him that will both please Him and help us grow in virtue? 

Finally, the fifteenth station should be a station of love. Jesus died for love of us. We need to tell Him that we love Him, and we need to ask Him to fill us with His love that we may love Him and others more and more. 

So every time we pray the Way of the Cross, we should take a few moments and enter into the fifteenth station in our hearts, to embrace Jesus' Passion and Death, for we, too, are part of that truly awesome story of God's great love.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Colossians 1:2 – Brothers

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae... (NRSV-CE) 

Covenants make families. Christ came to institute a new covenant in His blood. Through His death and resurrection, He reconciled us to God, creating a new covenant and making us God's family, the Father's children, the siblings of Christ. 

That's why Paul addresses his hearers as brothers and sisters in Christ, at least in translation. In the original Greek, the word translated as “brothers and sisters” is adelphois. It is literally “brothers,” but modern people, of course, like to be inclusive and include sisters as well. 

I would argue that this addition isn't necessary or perhaps even desirable. Adelphos, brother, literally means someone from the same womb, so the plural of this word could, perhaps, include female siblings as well, as plurals of mixed groups often conjugate in the masculine. But there is a Greek word for sister: adelphē. If Paul had meant to say “brothers and sisters,” he might have written adelphois kai adelphais. But he doesn't. 

Why doesn't he? In Biblical days, the heirs to a family's wealth were sons, brothers from the same father. Daughters/sisters were usually married off into another family and expected to become part of their new family's heritage (which their husbands inherited). 

Paul knows that we are all heirs to God in Christ. We inherit the good things of God, our patrimony, because we are joined to Christ and reconciled through Him to God our Father. But sisters don't inherit. Brothers do. That's why Paul addresses his hearers as brothers in Christ. He's certainly writing to a mixed audience of men and women (in fact, many of the most faithful people in early Christian communities were women, and Paul realized that – think Priscilla, who with her husband, Aquila, taught the Christian faith). But he's also emphasizing that all the people he's addressing are brothers in Christ and therefore heirs in Christ. We are all sons in the Son. We are all family members who receive an inheritance because we are incorporated into the Heir. 

When Paul doesn't write adelphois kai adelphais, then, he's not being misogynistic or trying to leave women out of the picture. Instead, he's recognizing that all Christians, both male and female, are inheritors of God's amazing grace. 

(Greek definitions comes from, especially HELPS Word Studies, and the Perseus Tufts Greek Word Study Tool.)

Monday, March 5, 2018

Colossians 1:2 – Holy and Faithful

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae... (NRSV-CE) 

Many Bible translations have something like the above for the first half of chapter 1, verse 2 of St. Paul's letter to the Colossians. The translation does the job for the most part, but it misses a couple points in the Greek that can guide us to a deeper understanding of the people Paul is addressing (and those people are not only the Colossians but us, too!). 

Here's the original Greek: tois en kolossais agiois kai pistois adelphois... 

The first word, tois, is an article, basically “the.” This article (and the adjectives and noun to follow) is in dative case, which here indicates recipients. Then we have the prepositional phrase en kolossais that shows place, “in Colossae.” Next we have two adjectives, hagiois and pistois (more about those in a minute), linked by the conjunction kai, “and.” Finally, we see the noun adelphois, “brothers.” 

Let's take a closer look at the two adjectives. Hagiois, translated above as “saints,” literally means holy or set apart or sacred. The person who is hagios is different from other people, different from the world, because he or she strives to be like God, Who is the ultimate Holy One. Pistois means faithful and believing. It derives from the verb peithō, which signifies to urge, persuade, trust, assent, yield, and/or have confidence. So faithful people are those who are persuaded to assent to, trust, and have confidence in God. They yield to God, letting go of their own notions to accept His truth. This faith can and should lead to hagios, holiness, because those who sincerely abandon themselves to God become quite different from the rest of the world. They are set apart in and for God. The two adjectives, then, complement each other well. 

In the translation above, hagios appears as “saints.” This is legitimate because adjectives can be translated substatively and used as nouns, but I think that isn't necessary or desirable here. First off, the article tois, even though a preposition phrase comes right after it, can easily govern two adjectives (connected by a conjunction) and a noun. There is no parallel tois before pistois to indicate a firm separation. Second, the substantive use of hagios weakens the complementary connection between hagiois and pistois identified above. 

A better translation, then, might read “to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae.” If both adjectives modify adelphois, readers get a much clearer picture of the nature of God's family. They are both holy and faithful, set apart and believing, perhaps even different because they have been persuaded and have yielded to God's truth. This is one people, both holy and faithful, all children of God (more about that in a future post). 

(Greek definitions come from, especially HELPS Word Studies.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Notes from the Hours: An Intercession

One of the intercessions from this morning's Liturgy of the Hours encourages us to pray as follows: 

Teach us to be loving not only in great and exceptional moments, but above all in the ordinary events of daily life. 

Most of us tend to feel pretty good about ourselves when we show love in some big way. Perhaps we do a major favor for someone or give a substantial amount of money or time to a charity. These are wonderful acts of love, but this intercession reminds us that there is more to love than the big things. 

How about the genuine smile we give to the grumpy check-out clerk at the grocery store?

How about the harsh words or complaints we bite back and don't say?

How about the door we hold open for someone who has his or her hands full?

How about the attention we give to someone even when we're busy with something else?

How about the effort we make to do a little extra around the house so other family members can relax?

How about the kind words we speak even when we wouldn't have to?

How about the pleasant expression we put on our faces even when we feel anything but pleasant?

How about the times we bow to another's wishes rather than insisting on our own way?

How about the prayers we say for the people who need them? 

When we do these kinds of things (and the possibilities are endless), we are indeed loving in the ordinary events of daily life. They may not seem like much, but they can make a huge difference, perhaps even an eternal difference. 

Lord, give us Your Holy Spirit that we may love in the ordinary events of daily life. Amen.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lost Prayers #1

This series of posts will feature traditional Catholic prayers that are now rarely used. It's time to revive these beautiful words of love to God.

A Prayer for the Love of God 

O my Jesus, Thou well knowest that I love Thee; but I do not love Thee enough: Oh! make me to love Thee more. O Love which burnest always and is never extinguished, my God, Thou Who art Charity itself, kindle in my heart that divine fire which consumes the Saints and transforms them into Thee. Amen. 

Prayer for Grace to Do the Will of God 

Grant me, most kind Jesus, Thy grace, that it may abide with me, labour with me, and persevere with me to the end. 

Grant me ever to desire and to will that which is the more acceptable to Thee, and pleases Thee more dearly. 

May Thy will be mine, and my will ever follow Thine, and be in closest accord with it. 

May it be my one care to will and to be unwilling with Thee, and may I be unable to will or not will anything but what Thou willest or willest not. Amen. 

(Both prayers come from the 1910 edition of the Raccolta.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Colossians 1:1 – Apostle

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother... (NRSV-CE)

Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by calling himself an apostle, in Greek apostolos. According to Vatican II, all Christians, even the laity, are called to an “urgent and many-sided apostolate,” a mission to live and spread the Gospel wherever we go and in whatever we do (1). We are all apostles.

But what is an apostle? We can get a better idea of the meaning of this word (and our mission) by studying the Greek word apostolos. The noun is derived from the verb apostellō, which means “to commission, send forth” (2). The verb, in turn, is comprised of two parts: the preposition apo, meaning “from, away from” and the verb stellō, meaning “send” or “dispatch.” Stellō, however, has another meaning: to make ready, arrange, equip, and set in order. 

Based on the simple, primary meaning of the verb apostellō, then, we usually define an apostle as someone who is commissioned or sent forth, and this is true. God does send us out into the world to serve our fellow human beings in His name and to live and spread the Gospel, just as Vatican II says.

But if we stop there, we miss an important piece of the puzzle. God doesn't just send us out; He makes us ready first. He sets things in order for the success of our mission. He arranges what we are to do. And He equips us for doing it. That's what the stellō part of the verb tells us. God doesn't just leave us to go off on our own, using our own meager resources and powers. He first provides us with everything we need, and He continues to supply us during the whole of our apostolate. 

So when Paul calls himself an apostle, he certainly means that he was sent by God, but he also indicates that he is sourced by God, Who makes him ready for his mission, equips him with everything he needs, and paves the way for his success. His job is to cooperate and rely on God's support every step of the way. The same is true for us, apostles that we are, as we, too, live the Christian life.

(1) Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, paragraph 1 (Flannery edition). 
(2) Information on Greek words and meanings comes from Bible Hub and Perseus Digital Library.

Friday, February 16, 2018


My new Literary Excavations blog!

Are you interested in medieval literature? Does Beowulf intrigue you? Or Chaucer? Or the treasures of Old English and Middle English literature? How about modern fantasy? Do you have a fondness for Middle-earth, Narnia, or Harry Potter's Wizarding World? Are you up for close readings, literary tidbits, word studies, or poetry analysis?

If so, the Literary Excavations blog might be just right for you. Check it out here!