Friday, November 30, 2012

Notes on the Gospel Matthew – Matthew 1:21-22

When the angel spoke to St. Joseph in a dream and told him that he would have the responsibility of naming Mary's Son, he actually provided two different names for this miraculous Child: Jesus and Emmanuel. 

In a previous post, we discussed the implications of the name “Jesus,” which means “God saves.” This name indicates what Jesus came to do, namely, to “save His people from their sins.” 

The name “Emmanuel,” on the other hand, means “God is with us.” This name points to Who Jesus is. He is literally God with us...God and Man...divine and human. With us as He walked on earth. With us as He shared in our human condition. With us as He worked, ate, drank, slept, and visited with His friends. With us as He taught and healed and forgave. With us as He suffered and died. With us as He rose again. With us even as He ascended into Heaven. With us still in a most profound way in the Eucharist. That's Who Jesus is...God with us. 

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the Blessed Trinity, it distinguishes between oikonomia or economy and theologia or theology (#236). The former refers to “all the works by which God reveals Himself and communicates His life,” while the latter indicates “the mystery of God's inmost life in the Blessed Trinity.” Oikonomia is what God does; theologia is Who He is. 

We might say, then, that the two names given to Jesus in Matthew 1:21-22 describe His oikonomia (Jesus – God saves) and His theologia (Emmanuel – God is with us). 

Even though we call Jesus by His oikonomia name, continually remembering that He has saved us and continues to save us through His great love, we must also keep in mind the depth of His theologia name, Emmanuel, God with us, now and forever.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Solemnity of Christ the King

Jesus the King 

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church invites us to reflect on Jesus' kingship. Here in America, it is often difficult for us to understand what a king really is and what he does. For us Americans, kingship often holds negative connotations. After all, we've heard for years in history classes about old King George of England who treated the American colonists so badly that they rebelled and won their freedom in the Revolutionary War. Perhaps we even look at today's royal families and think, “Well, they're just a bunch of millionaires or even billionaires who really have no power at all. They're just figureheads!” 

Jesus' kingship, however, is something very different. Let's look closely at today's readings and discover what it means for Jesus to be our King. 

First Reading – Daniel 7:13-14 

In this reading, we hear that God has given One like a Son of Man all dominion, glory, and kingship. Although Daniel wrote many years before Jesus was born, his prophecy clearly refers to Someone Who is both human (like a Son of Man) and divine (He comes before the Ancient One, God the Father, on a cloud), and of course, that Someone could only be Jesus. The One Daniel sees receives power over all people. The whole world will serve Him. His glorious reign will last forever; it will never be removed or destroyed. 

Psalm 93:1, 2, 5 

The Psalm tells us more about the characteristics of Jesus our King. Our Lord and King is “robed in splendor” and “girt about with strength.” He is magnificent in appearance, noble and radiant. Further, He is strong, so strong that He wears His strength like a belt. It is noticeable to everyone. This King is also the Creator King. He made the world, and He holds it in existence at every moment. He Himself is everlasting. He has no beginning and no end. He has been King forever and will remain King forever. Finally, this King is trustworthy. When He makes a decree or a proclamation, we can believe that He speaks the truth for our best interests, and we must obey. 

Second Reading – Revelation 1:5-8 

The Book of Revelation presents the mysterious visions St. John experienced while he was in exile on the island of Patmos. Our reading from this book today gives us another glimpse of Jesus' kingship. Jesus our King is a “faithful witness.” He tells the truth about God and about His plan for us. Further, He is the first One to ever rise from the dead, and He is the ruler of all kings on earth (and everyone else, too!). What's more, this almighty King loves us! He loves us so much that He died for us to save us and free us from our sins. Jesus proclaims that He is the “Alpha and the Omega.” Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so Jesus is saying that He is the first and the last and everything in between. He always was, He is now, and He always will be King. 

Gospel – John 18:33-37 

In this passage, we hear part of the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate during Jesus' trial. Pilate asks Jesus whether He is a king and what He has done to make the Jewish leaders hand Him over to the Romans. Jesus says in reply, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If My kingdom did belong to this world, My attendants would be fighting to keep Me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, My kingdom is not here.” Even though Jesus is the King of all people of all times and places, His kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. It is a heavenly kingdom. It does not abide by the rules of the world but by God's rules. Further, Jesus clarifies what He has come to do as the King of the heavenly kingdom, namely, to testify to the truth. He has come to tell us Who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do for us. He expects us to listen intently to His voice. 

Yes, Jesus is a King, and He is a King like no other. Today we crown the liturgical year by celebrating His kingship. 

Take a few minutes to ask yourself a very important question: “Is Jesus the King of my life?”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Prayer

Which one best characterizes your prayer life: “God, I thank You and I praise You” or “God, I want and please help”? 

Most of us, most of the time, would probably have to sheepishly admit to the latter. 

On this Thanksgiving Day, amidst the busyness of cooking and eating or traveling or visiting or watching football, take some time to sit down and write a thank-you note to God. List everything you can think of that you're thankful for in your life, and then tell God how you grateful you are for everything He has done for you. 

You may then wish to pray the following prayer from The Catholic Prayer Book: 

In Gratitude 
Thank you, Father, for having created us and given us to each other in the human family. Thank you for being with us in all our joys and sorrows, for your comfort in our sadness, your companionship in our loneliness. Thank you for yesterday, today, tomorrow and for the whole of our lives. Thank you for friends, for health and for grace. May we live this and every day conscious of all that has been given to us. Amen. 

Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The End Times 

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the Church focuses our attention on the end times. In our Gospel reading today, Mark 13:24-32, Jesus presents some scary realities about those last days of tribulation. 

The sky will go dark. The sun and the moon will cease to shine. The stars will fall. The very heavens will be shaken. These are universal events, and they will be terrifying. 

But Jesus is not telling us all this to scare us, but to make us aware that we might be prepared to meet these events of the end times. 

For He is coming back. When the sky darkens and the heavens shake, those still living on earth will see Jesus coming in the clouds with great power and glory. He will gather His faithful people to Himself. The old Heaven and earth will pass away, but the new Heaven and earth will arise. Those who have died in the Lord will experience a reunification of soul and resurrected body. Those still alive will be transformed. There will be no more death, no more pain and suffering, for those who are in Christ. What our lives will be like then remains a mystery, but we know that, if we are in a state of grace, we will be with God. 

The question, then, is when? When will this happen? When will the end come? When will Christ come back? When will we receive our share in the resurrection? 

The answer...we don't know. Jesus tells us that no one knows the day or the hour, only God. Those who speculate about the end, trying so hard to fix a firm date, are as clueless as the rest of us. 

Careful readers may ask, “So if we don't know when the last days will arrive, how come Jesus says that 'this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place'”? 

To understand Jesus' words here, we have to know something about the nature of prophecy, for Jesus is speaking prophetically. As Warren H. Carroll says in The Founding of Christendom, prophecy “telescopes time,” and often, prophecies refer to more than one event. In this case, scholars point out, Jesus is speaking not only about the end times but also about the destruction of Jerusalem, which for the Jews, was akin to the end of the world. Jerusalem was indeed destroyed within the generation of Jesus' hearers, for it was burned by the Romans in 70 A.D. 

We know that the end will come. We know that Jesus will come back again in glory. We don't know when, but we must be prepared for this great event to arrive at any moment. How do we prepare? We must do the following: 

1. Remain in a state of grace, in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, in which God dwells within our souls. 

2. Receive the sacraments regularly, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, for these are prime sources of grace.

3. Pray, for this is the how we build intimacy in our relationship with Jesus. 

4. Read the Scriptures; they are God's love letter to us. 

5. Obey God's commandments, especially those that tell us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

6. Avoid sin so as not to risk our relationship with Jesus. 

If we do these things with the help of God's grace, we will be prepared to meet Jesus if He comes in glory during our lives on earth or when He meets us face to face when we die. Then He will take us into His arms and carry us off to live with Him forever and ever.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reading Recommendations

From one bookworm to another... 

The Founding of Christendom by Warren H. Carroll – The first volume in a series of six, this detailed text covers the span from the creation of the world to the year 324 A.D. This is the first history book I've ever read that starts with God! The prologue, entitled “In the Beginning,” quotes Genesis 1:1-4 and then proceeds, “God is; and God is love. Only God, of all beings, must necessarily be. It is only God Whose Name can be, and must be, I AM.” Carroll continues to focus on God's authorship of human history throughout the book, carefully and clearly explaining the background and events of salvation history. His scholarly apparatus, including copious notes and an annotated bibliography, offers further details about archeological discoveries, language issues, and scholarly controversies as well as hundreds of suggestions for further reading. Granted, this book is a long read, but it is accessible to readers willing to put in some effort to truly understand the history behind the Bible. 

United States Catholic Catechism for Adults – Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this regional catechism offers a good review the basics of the Catholic faith. I find it a bit too simplistic in style and lacking in doctrinal depth, but it does offer some interesting stories about American saints and applies Catholic doctrine to U.S. cultural issues. Reflection questions, prayers, and meditations help readers make the material their own. 

Mansfield Park – Another wonderful classic by Jane Austen! I have to admit this is not a novel for action lovers, but if you like a story that focuses on characterization and relationships, Mansfield Park is for you. Fanny Price, the poor cousin of the Bertram family, is taken by her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram. The family, except for cousin Edmund, treats her as an inferior for years until she receives a proposal no one expects. Fanny's romantic attentions, however, are focused elsewhere. 

Scripture Matters by Scott Hahn – This book is subtitled “Essays on Reading the Scriptures from the Heart of the Church.” As always, Dr. Hahn offers a solid presentation of salvation history, covenantal theology, Biblical typology, the senses of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures as the Word of God. Dr. Hahn also provides interesting essays on St. Thomas Aquinas' and St. Josemaria's interpretations of Scripture, a new reading of the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery, a theological reflection on the Eucharist as parousia, and much more. 

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King – This twelfth volume in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes saga is a fine addition to the series. Set during the Rif Revolt in Morocco in the closing months of 1924, the story offers King's usual excellent characterization, detailed descriptions, historical accuracy, psychological tension, and twists and turns in the plotline. As always Russell and Holmes take center stage, but fans of the series will be pleased to meet once more two supporting characters whom they have grown to love and perhaps fear just a little bit. 

Millville by Nancy Van Doren James – This book is a fine contribution to the Images of America series published by Arcadia Publishing. With high-quality writing, fascinating historical photographs, and enjoyable storytelling, this is a book readers can enjoy over and over again. 

Baptizing Harry Potter: A Christian Reading of J.K. Rowling by Luke Bell – Luke Bell is a Benedictine monk and Harry Potter fan who presents an excellent discussion of the Christian elements in the Harry Potter series. Ten chapters explore the series' structure, wonder, good versus evil, life and death, power and weakness, love and sacrifice, freedom and determination, the hidden life, the struggle for truth, and purity of heart. With strong, convincing arguments and solid evidence from the Harry Potter books, this well-written volume is a must-read for all Christian Harry Potter fans. 

Liturgy and Empire: Faith in Exile and Political Theology – As the fifth volume in the Letter & Spirit series of journals, this book features scholarly articles from the likes of Scott Hahn, John Bergsma, Jeremy Driscoll, Brant Pitre, and Matthew Levering as well as shorter pieces from Robert Barron and David Fagerberg and classic writings from St. Thomas Aquinas, Louis Bouyer, and Pope Benedict XVI. Each selection focuses on some aspect of the relationship between faith and political theology. This book is not easy reading but definitely worth the effort. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Study in Contrasts 

In today's Gospel, Mark 12:38-44, we see Jesus observing the world around Him and commenting on the actions and the hearts of the people so that His disciples might understand the kinds of behaviors and attitudes God values. What we end up with is a study in contrasts. 

Jesus first told His listeners to beware of the scribes. The scribes were teachers, interpreters of the Law, community leaders, and advisers to Jewish priests, but Jesus warned that these men placed too much emphasis on the outward show and status symbols attached to their office. They liked to wear the long robes that indicated their high rank among the people. They accepted greetings in the marketplace, probably looking down their noses at those “lesser” beings who addressed them so humbly. They took places of honor in both religious and secular settings, insisting on the prōtokathedria, or chief seat, in the synagogue and the prōtoklisia, or center place at the head table, at banquets. They prayed long prayers but at the same time cheated widows out of their homes and livelihoods, often by helping them “manage” their property. 

Jesus announced that these hypocritical scribes would receive a very severe condemnation. 

As the reading continues, we watch Jesus sit down beside the Temple treasury to observe the behavior of the crowd. Many rich people put large amounts into the treasury, money they didn't really need to maintain their lifestyles. Did some of these people have mixed motives? Did they hope to gain prestige or power through their large donations? The Bible doesn't say, but we know by our own experience how often that happens. 

Jesus made no comment until a poor widow approached the treasury. She put in two small coins, two lepta, which were the smallest of the Jewish coins, worth about perhaps 1/5 of a cent each. It was all the money she had. 

Think for a moment about the widow's sacrifice, which Jesus pointed out to His disciples. What trust that women must have had in God! She had given Him everything, and now she relied on Him to give her what she needed to live. What's more, no one would have noticed this widow's loving action and confidence in God if Jesus had not called attention to her. She was not acting to be seen or to gain status or power. She simply wanted to express her love for God in the only way she knew how. 

So we have a study in contrasts: the pretentious scribes and wealthy contributors versus one small, poor, trusting widow. 

We know which one Jesus preferred. Which one are you? 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

How are we to love God? 

Today's First Reading and Gospel both answer this extremely important question. 

The First Reading, Deuteronomy 6:2-6, is part of Moses' last will and testament, the final instructions he gives to the Israelites. Above all, he emphasizes the love of God: 

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5) 

Let's look at some key words from the Hebrew text to understand more of what this verse means.

The word for “heart” in Hebrew is lêbâb. It refers to a person's innermost part, the seat of one's knowledge, reflection, appetites, passions, emotions, and courage. 

The word for “soul” in Hebrew is nephesh. It, too, describes a person's deepest self, especially one's living spiritual element and innermost being. 

The word for “strength” in Hebrew is me'ôd. It means diligence, vehemence, wholeness, might, force, and abundance. 

A person's love for God, then, must be a powerful love, a focused love that encompasses one's whole self, right down to one's very depths. 

In today's Gospel, Mark 12:28-34, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks Him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” 

Jesus easily replies: 

Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
(Mark 12:29-31) 

Looks familiar, doesn't it? Jesus is very nearly quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, nearly but not quite. He adds one more way to love God...“with all your mind.” Let's take a look at some key Greek words to help us understand Jesus' meaning. 

The Greek word for “heart” is kardia. It refers to “the seat and centre of man's personal life in which the distinctive character of the human manifests itself” (Great Treasures). 

The Greek word for “soul” is psuchē, which describes “the breath or life which exists in every living thing, hence, a living individual, life in distinct individual existence, and the whole man himself” (Great Treasures). 

The Greek word for “mind” is dianoia. It refers to the conscious, thinking, meditating, reflecting, reasoning, and imagining parts of the human being, with special emphasis on morality. 

The Greek word for “strength” is ischus. It means might, power, force, and vigor. 

Again, Jesus is describing a powerful love, a love that encompasses a person's entire being, right down to the very center of life and extending up to one's intellect, emotions, imagination, and moral choices. 

Set aside some time this week to reflect on your love for God. How do you love God? Do you give your entire self to Him? Do you place your whole being at His service, all you are, all you have, all you think, all you feel, all you choose, all you imagine? Is your love for God a powerful, vigorous, overflowing love? How might you increase your love for the One Who loves you with a love stronger and deeper than you could ever imagine? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Notes on the Gospel of Matthew – Matthew 1:20, 24

In Matthew 1:20, when the angel speaks to Joseph in a dream, he tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. In the Greek, the phrase is mē phobēthēs paralabein Marian tēn gunaika sou, literally “may you not take fright to take Mary your wife.” 

The word paralabein, “to take,” offers us some important insights into the kind of marriage God, speaking through the angel, willed for Joseph and Mary...and by extension for all married couples. 

First, let's look at the definition of paralabein. According to Great Treasures, this word means “to take near, with, or to one's self” and “to join to one's self.” Thayer adds that such a taking or joining creates an association or companionship. Strong's notes that paralabein means “to receive near, that is, associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy to assume an office” (emphasis original). Finally, Biblios emphasizes that the verb refers to a “strong personal initiative” in taking or receiving (emphasis original). 

What, then, does this word tell us about God's plan for marriage? Marriage is the joining of a man and a woman, who form an intimate association, a companionship, a communion, a covenant. These two people take each other with on their journey through life. Each one receives the other to himself or herself, accepting the other person totally, and each one does so freely by a choice of the will and by a firm personal consent. 

The definition of paralabein also points to the official nature of marriage. Marriage is a vocation, a true state of life, a position of responsibility and trust to be faithfully fulfilled. 

Finally, marriage is permanent. The verb paralabein here is in the aorist infinitive form. The aorist refers a completed action, something that is finished, something that is whole. When two people marry, they perform a completed action. It is finished. It is whole. They are joined for life.

In Matthew 1:24, Joseph does what the angel tells him. He takes Mary as his wife...parelaben tēn gunaika autou. He takes her to himself, joining with her on their journey through life in a faithful bond of love. 

God has a plan for marriage. If we can understand so much about that beautiful plan from one little Greek word, just think how much we will learn if we turn our eyes and our minds to Scripture passages that go into more depth about marriage and its God-given attributes: Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-25; Malachi 2:13-16; Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; and Ephesians 5:21-33.

Take some time today to reflect on God's plan for marriage, and if you live in Minnesota, please let the clear teaching of the Scriptures (i.e., marriage is designed by God as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman) guide your vote on election day.