December 4, 2019 – Why Advent?

Austrian Advent Celebration

Our 2007 Austrian vacation during Advent included a visit to Hellbrunn Palace, summer residence of the Prince-Archbishop (I don’t like political-religious titles.) and a center of Christmas celebration with a Christmas Market and very large Advent Calendar posted in the palace windows. It appears we were there on their fifth day of Advent.

There are about 9 million people in Austria, 75% identifying as Catholic, so general acceptance of Advent as a public celebration is normal. I doubt we could get away with posting these numbers on The State House in Columbia, even with the Christmas Tree in front.

A Little History

That high concentration of Catholics is at least partly because between 1684 and 1731, Austria expelled their Lutherans, some of whom ended up in South Carolina and founded Wachovia Bank. Freedom of religion was not a popular concept at the time. Even though Lutheran at the time of our vacation, I still felt welcome as a spending tourist, and the information about past intolerance and persecution by Catholics did not discourage me from being received into the Catholic Church forty-two months later. Misbehavior was as common in the 16th century as now.

Why Advent?

Pardon my digression, and back to the point, the reason for and value of observing Advent.

For me, that question has to be answered in the context of Advent as a part of the Liturgical Year, a continuous reminder of the whole story, the big picture, salvation history, from the creation through the patriarchs, the law, the prophets, the promise of and waiting for a messiah, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, the establishment of The Church, the Body of Christ, and the charges and instructions given to, and the early experiences of, that Church of which we are a part 2000 years later. Keeping that total picture in focus helps us avoid simplifying Christianity to a simple “me and Jesus” formula. Observance of the Liturgical Calendar forces us to pay some attention to all of Sacred Scripture, the whole story, the big picture, and our roles in it.

Threefold Coming of The Lord

Father Linsky mentioned the St. Bernard sermon about the threefold coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, His coming to us now, and the final coming in glory and majesty. Here it is, 12th century wisdom, copied from the Universalis App.

 We Are In It (The Church) Together

So, it is not just a simple “me and Jesus” formula, but our personal relationships with Jesus are essential and life changing. I don’t think of any simpler representation of what the results of that relationship, Mystical Union with the Triune God, can be than the Virtue chart posted here earlier, the virtues and gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit keeping us away from those dangerous sins beckoning us. If we are all in, corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, joyful living, and deep love of God and neighbor may come as naturally as breathing. And, if we all, or at least most of us, have that, we may need to add Masses at The Basilica of St. Peter to accommodate the masses drawn to see what in the world is going on.

Advent in the Catechism – Two Key Paragraphs

524 – When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

1095 – For this reason the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history in the “today” of her liturgy. But this also demands that catechesis help the faithful to open themselves to this spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church’s liturgy reveals it and enables us to live it.

Bonus – Austrian Bad News – The Krampus

Here is one Christmas custom we don’t want to borrow from the Austrians. Krampus is to St. Nicholas as stick is to carrot. He was roaming freely around the Christmas Market looking for trouble and scaring the kids until finally confronted and defeated by “St. Nicholas” at the Cathedral.

November 13 – Healing of Ten Lepers – Luke 17:11-19

Listening to Father Linsky this morning I had the thought of seeing if there is a preserved homily on this story of the ten lepers by any of the Church Fathers. I came home and Googled “church fathers on healing of the ten lepers.” That didn’t bring up any Church Fathers but did bring up some interesting and inspiring published homilies. One used this painting by James Tissot as the graphic and was titled “A Hidden Mass in the Gospel of the Ten Lepers.”

The post references Leviticus 14:1-32 which shows what was supposed to happen to the nine Jewish guys when the presented themselves to the priest. It was not a simple process. Eight days of ritual except for those who could “afford the regular offerings for their cleansing.” I tried unsuccessfully to find out what those “regular offerings” were, but I guess they were less time-consuming and more expensive. Some things never change.

I think you will enjoy reading how Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a vibrant parish community in Washington, DC, sees The Mass hidden in this story of the ten lepers.

The search also showed up this post from Orthodox Christianity which proposes the interesting idea that the healed Samaritan was a thoughtful person who realized that he had just been healed by the Great High Priest and he should go back and present himself to that priest rather than the ones in Jerusalem who were certainly going to reject him. Or maybe he was first heading for Mt Gerizim where the Samaritan’s worshipped. This post refers to an explanation by St. Cyril of Jerusalem of the process described in Leviticus 14. I found the following which might be what was referenced at this LINK. For convenience, I copied and pasted it below even though I don’t find it too helpful. Of course some Jews became believers and were grateful and I guess many Samaritans did not and were not.

Another homily on the story compares the ten to those baptized who then wander away from The Church and have no further need of Jesus. Once saved, always saved, I suppose. This one is worth reading also.

 

Nov 6, 2019 – Love & Joy, Fear & Trembling

Fear and Trembling

A Greek word translated as the noun “fear” shows up 10 times in the New Testament, and the one translated as the noun “trembling” shows up 3 times. The combination phrase, “fear and trembling,” using those Greek nouns, shows up only three times, always in the writings of St. Paul, once each in 2 Corinthians 7:15, Ephesians 6:5, and Philippians 2:12. More on the Greek at the end of this post.

It is worth noting that a search in English for the phrase “fear and trembling” shows one additional instance, the case of the woman healed of bleeding by secretly touching Jesus’s garment and then being called forward by Jesus. But that passage uses the Greek verbs for fearing and trembling rather than the nouns. The three passages using the nouns which, by the way, happen to rhyme, phobos and tromos, are these.

In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul writes to the Corinthians that Titus, who went to them as an uncircumcised Gentile convert Christian missionary, bringing the Gospel, remembers their obedience to his teaching when they received him with “fear and trembling.” It seems unclear whether the “fear and trembling” were in awe of the teaching or in fear of the convert, but I vote for the former.

In Ephesians 5, Paul advises slaves to be obedient to their masters in “fear and trembling” in sincerity of heart, as to Christ. Remembering that slavery in the 1st century Roman Empire was sometimes voluntary, not racial, and bore no resemblance to the plantation slavery of the US, it can easily be understood that Paul was advising respect, “as to Christ,” rather than fear.

The Philippians 2 usage is a bit more challenging since it is there that Paul advises the Philippians to “work out their salvation in “fear and trembling.” That is enough to cause any of us to be scared and shaky! Here is that phrase in context, preceded by explanation of exactly who Christ was and followed by some explanation of what it meant to Paul to work out salvation:

Who Jesus Christ Was/Is

  • “in the form of God” but didn’t exploit that equality
  • “emptied himself”
  • “taking the form of a slave”
  • “in human likeness”
  • “humbled himself”
  • “obedient to death, even death on a cross”
  • “greatly exalted” by God and given “name above every name”
  • that before him, “every knee should bend”
  • and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”
  • “to the glory of God the father

What the Philippians Should Do

And then, based on that description of who Jesus Christ was and what He did, we get a “So” or a “therefore,” and instruction about how to live in Philippians 2:12.

So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

And How They Should Do It

And that instruction seems to be followed by some explanation of why and how to work out salvation with fear and trembling. It begins with “For” which, therefore, links what follows with what has preceded: For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.

  • Do everything without grumbling or complaining
  • That you may be blameless and innocent children of God
  • Without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation
  • Among whom you shine like lights in the world
  • As you hold on to the word of life so I will not have labored in vain

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Him

And then St. Paul ends the passage on a positive and joyful note in verses 17-18:

But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.  In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

It is good to remember that St. Paul wrote this letter from prison, probably in Rome awaiting his execution and that its fundamental purpose was to instruct the Philippians and to plead for Christian Unity. Consistent with that purpose is the introduction to the section which includes the “fear and trembling” phrase, beginning with love and then with some explanation of Christian love, the theme of our discussion on Nov 6.

Philippians 2:1-5  If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

You can enjoy the whole section uninterrupted, Philippians 2:1-18, HERE. Note especially the footnote on Philippians 2:12, the fear and trembling verse.

Perhaps an abridged and less literary version of this beautifully worded message from St. Paul to the Philippians might be, “Love each other, putting the interests of each other first, and practice humility, remembering, with respect and awe, who Jesus is and what he did, always working joyfully to follow his example and be good witnesses to the world.”

It’s Greek to Me

And, if some further punishment is desired, here are the Greek word explanations.

And, if you want to read what somebody else has to say about fear and trembling, check out this link:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 30 – Who Can Be Saved?

The BIG Question

Discussion was around the Gospel for the day, Luke 13:23-30 which begins with someone, presumably a Jew, asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Here is the passage with the preceding and following verses included just for some context.

Luke 13:22-31

He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 

At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”

Response of Jesus

In the Luke 13 passage, it is not clear whether the questioner was asking about being saved to eternal life or just about surviving possible military conflict with or persecution by the Romans or other enemies or persecutors of the Jews, but Jesus ignored that issue, and shifted immediately from how many to whether or not and from event (being saved) and from process (ate and drank in your presence, taught in the streets) to relationship (I don’t know you or where you come from.)

(NABRE is in a minority here in omitting the “I don’t know you” from the translations though “I don’t know where you are from” was apparently considered an equivalent repudiation in the culture of the time. If you want to investigate, all the English translations of the verse are HERE.)

Searching the Catechism

I searched the Catechism for a simple formula for being “saved.” I didn’t find one. I guess it must be all about the relationship we have with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through our public Profession of Faith (Creeds), regular Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Sacraments), Life in Christ (Beatitudes, Virtues, Gifts, Commandments), and Christian Prayer (in the pattern of The Our Father). Hmm. Those bold print items are the four major divisions of the Catechism. The whole Catechism must be all about “being saved.”

The Hard Part – For Me

Assuming that is true, we can recite the creeds, show up faithfully for Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, and pray the Our Father out of habit, but, for me at least, It’s that Life in Christ, living the Beatitudes, practicing the Virtues and Gifts, obeying the Commandments, that seems impossible, at least outside the walls of The Church. Even if I stay busy doing those things, there is still the issue of motive, the secret motives of my heart. Are they selfish or unselfish, based on love or on self interest? Even St. Paul had that concern:

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (From Monday Oct 28 Office of Readings)

In Case of Despair

But, when we despair, we can remember the promise of Jesus when his disciples asked him the same question he was asked in Luke 13: “...for God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:24-26 – Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

It seems fair to say that only the love of God, both His love for us and our love for God, make possible and fruitful that “striving” mentioned in Luke 13. Striving for our own benefit, without that relationship with God, must be useless. There is evidence of that even in the Old Testament, when the big question was addressed.

Isaiah 64:5-7 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

So, we don’t have to deny that salvation is a free gift of God and that our “works” have nothing to do with our salvation except that they are fruits of it if we, by the Grace of God, are able to say someday with St. Paul that:

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

St. Paul seems to have had more confidence here than in his letter to the Corinthians. I suspect he had grown spiritually in the dozen years or so of faithful and selfless service between writing a letter to a new church around 56 AD and being in prison in Rome awaiting his death maybe in 68 AD.

Well, at least we may be able to say that we have striven! And that is what Jesus recommended in Luke 13.

_______________________________________

Bonus question: At this link is a non-Catholic explanation of how to be saved.  Can it work? I believe so, but what is missing from it that is important to Catholic Christians?

Suggestion 1

Suggestion 2

Suggestion 3

Suggestion 4 (Relationship through and with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Body of Christ)

I’m sure that any who have read this far will think of other answers. Share them with me and I will post them below this statement. I clearly got bogged down a bit in this issue, but it is one that is of prime importance to me and just thinking and writing about it is helpful. As always, please feel free to point out any place you think I have erred.

Oct 23 – Chaos to the Church – Bible Story from 50,000 ft

Discussion today about Jeff Cavens’s Bible Timeline made me think of this chart I developed over some period of time. It is designed to illustrate salvation history, Bible time-line, and God’s revelation of Himself. Well, maybe it is the 500,000 foot level because there is not much detail. Earlier this year, I did a blog post with more explanation HERE. Read the verses. Let me know of anything I need to revise to improve the theology. Thanks to Fred Belinga for the leadership today.

St. Augustine on The Our Father

This short essay is included in the Office of Readings this morning, October 22, 2019, and it just struck me as particularly meaningful, especially the first sentence on why we use words. Given our consistent praying of the Our Father at Mass and in the Morning Prayer I decided to share it with the MPG. This is a screen shot from the Universalis APP which I recommend highly.

Oct 16 – St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

From now through Nov 5th Mass readings include selections from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the longest and most theologically comprehensive of his works. Much of his writing was targeted at specific current issues in the churches he served, but Romans has a great deal to say about the theology of Salvation, the Big Idea, the Main Point. For a good introduction and improved understanding, read the section on Romans in the front of The Catholic Study Bible (sample snip below). If that is not readily available, the Wikipedia article on Romans is good and includes the outline below:

Romans

outline

St Paul was brilliant, sometimes inspired, inspirational, and positive, and sometimes crabby and defensive, a Jewish Pharisee well versed in and observant of The Law and The Prophets, a man singled out and confronted by the post-resurrection Jesus for persecuting Him (The Church), a missionary to the Gentiles and founder and Father of several Churches, a persistent servant of God who planned to visit Rome, perhaps on the way to establishing more churches in Spain. Well, he made it to Rome, but as a prisoner rather than as a traveling missionary. Wikipedia also has a very scholarly article about St. Paul.

On October 16th Father Linsky focused on Romans Chapter 2 from which the Mass readings for the day were taken. As can be seen in the outline above, it is in a section about the universal corruption of Gentiles and Jews, God’s judgment, and hypocrisy. Father mentioned the first word in Romans 2, therefore, which reminded me of a pastor of a few decades ago who liked to advise his flock, “Whenever you see “therefore” in the Bible, be sure to look to see what it is there for.

Well, in this case, it is there for the purpose of humbling those who think they are superior and can’t think of anything to confess, those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Paul has just completed a blistering critique, in Chapter 1, of those who had rejected God and now tells the people in the Church in Rome, Jews and Gentiles, that they are no better, that those who pass judgment on each other for perceived failures are without excuse, that they condemn themselves by doing the very same things.

The major current issue seems to have been mutual cross condemnation of the Jewish converts and the Gentile converts over whether circumcision was required of Christian Gentiles. It is informative and sobering to read these words from Paul in Romans 2:25-26: “Circumcision, to be sure, has value if you observe the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Again, if an uncircumcised man keeps the precepts of the law, will he not be considered circumcised?” It wasn’t just circumcision that divided the Church. There were also dietary and personal effort and behavior regulations.

The writings of St. Paul are challenging because apparent contradictions can be identified. For example, they contain one of the primary passages used to defend a Protestant position that we are saved by grace through faith (alone) and not by good works. (Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. (Please note that the passage does not say saved by faith but by grace, through faith. And, there might be interesting discussion over whether the phrase, “and this is not from you; it is the gift of God,” refers just to “faith” or to having been saved by grace through faith.)

But, in Romans 2:16, St. Paul seemed to support a more Catholic emphasis on good works. He wrote that, “God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.” St. James chimes in later with some clarification: James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (It is also worth considering how the Jewish “works of the law” are different from what we identify today as “corporal and spiritual works of mercy” aligned with the Two Greatest Commandments and other direct instructions of Jesus.)

And, by the way, the Wikipedia article on Romans has a section labeled Catholic Interpretation. Check it out and see if you agree.

Questions and issues such as these can be used to illustrate the difference between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. Here is an article with helpful discussion of the difference. I  love it because I always say that I enjoy looking at the Bible from 50,000 feet more than digging into short passages or verses. So, 15,000 feet is about the same. I recommend the entire article.

“…another way to imagine systematic theology is that it is a 15,000 ft view of the Bible. Imagine you are on top of a mountain, and below you is scripture laid out from beginning to end. You can make a lot of connections this way!”

“But biblical theology takes a different approach. This time, you are seeing the Bible from the ground. You traverse hills, wander in the desert, and cross rivers. Instead of plucking ideas from Genesis, Matthew, and Revelation to make one statement about God, you only make statements based on what is right in front of you at a given moment.”

I have clear memory of the instructions of the Greek/NT professor at the seminary explaining that when writing a paper on Romans Chapter 2, for example, don’t include references to anything but Romans 2 except perhaps parallel writings of the same author. Focus on what that text says, it’s literary form and structure, any translation or grammar issues, important words, the context within which it was written, and what the words meant to those who wrote and read them. So, looking at James while writing about Romans would be a violation of that principle and more Systematic rather than Biblical theology.

Both approaches have great value, but some of us are just big picture folks and some love digging into the details. I would point to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a good example of Systematic Theology based on Sacred Scripture and other early traditions and teachings of the Church (which, by the way, do not violate Sacred Scripture).

It will be helpful when reading from Romans over the next few weeks to remember who Paul was and consider whatever we are reading in the context of the full Epistle and in the context of all of Sacred Scripture, the full revelation of God, the whole story from chaos through creation, the fall, the call of Abraham, the progress from polytheism through henotheism to monotheism, the Law and the Prophets, the Incarnation, the Passion and Resurrection, to The Church.