Reading the Bible from The Heart of The Church

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The Apostles’ Church: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul


Readings:
Acts 12:1–11  
Psalm 34:2–9

2 Timothy 4:6–8, 17–18  
Matthew 16:13–19

Today’s celebration of the great apostles Peter and Paul is a celebration of the Church. Peter’s deliverance from jail is compared to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Like Israel he is rescued at Passover from “the hand” of his enemy by an “angel of the Lord” after girding himself with belt, sandals, and cloak (see Ex 3:8; 12:8, 11–12; 14:19).

The Church is, as Peter says, “all that the Jewish people had been expecting.” As he affirms in his great confession of faith in today’s Gospel, Jesus is “the Christ,” the Messiah that the prophets had taught Israel to hope for.

But Christ is more than what the Jewish people had been hoping for.

He is the Christ. But He is also, as Peter confesses, “the Son of the living God.” Born of the flesh of the Jewish people, he is a son of Abraham and David (see Mt 1:1; Rm 1:3). Through Him and the Church founded on the rock of Peter’s faith, God fulfills the promise he made to Abraham—to bless all nations in his seed (see Gen 22:18).

What Christ calls “my Church,” is the new Israel, the kingdom of God, the family made up of all peoples—Jews and Gentiles—who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (see Gal 3:26–29; 6:16). And we must make this confession our own. Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is addressed to each of us personally.

We must confess our faith in Christ not only with our tongues, but with our lives. As Paul describes his discipleship in this today's Epistle, we must make our lives a oblation, an offering of love for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom (see Rm 12:1).

We know, as we sing in this week’s Psalm, that the Lord has rescued us in Christ Jesus. We know that he will stand by us, giving us strength to face every evil—and that He will bring us to the heavenly kingdom we anticipate in this Eucharist.


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John the Baptist: In the Spirit and Power of Elijah by Dr. Michael Barber


This week we celebrate the Solemnity of John the Baptist this article provides an overview of the biblical texts describing his importance. 

The First Annunciation

In Luke 1 we actually have two annunciations. Most Catholics are familiar with the second, the announcement of the birth of Jesus. Before that however the angel makes an appearance to the priest Zechariah. The similarities are striking—as well as the one major difference!

  • The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah / Mary
  • Addresses Zechariah / “Full of grace”
  • He is “troubled” (1:12) / She is “troubled” (1:29)
  • “Do not be afraid” (1:13) / “Do not be afraid” (1:30)
  • “you shall call his name John” (1:13) / “you shall call his name Jesus” (1:31)
  • “How shall I know this?” / “How will this be?”
  • Fails to believe / “Let it be done unto me. . .”

Sanctified in the Womb

In the announcement of his birth we hear that, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). This is a striking statement—even as an unborn child John the Baptist would receive the Holy Spirit. This of course plays out in the narrative in the story of the visitation:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! (Luke 1:41–42)

Notice, being filled with the Holy Spirit here is associated with a confession of faith, Elizabeth’s. However, given that John is said to be filled with the Spirit even from his mother’s womb and given that he leaps inside of her at the arrival of the Mother of the Messiah, it seems clear that his action is best understood as a kind of evidence of faith as well.

Indeed, this was recognized as early as Origen (here the podcast on Origen here):

“Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit at that moment, received the Spirit on account of her son. The mother did not inherit the Holy Spirit first. First John, still enclosed in her womb, received the Holy Spirit. Then she too, after her son was sanctified, was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 7.3)

Because of this the fathers of the church such as Ambrose recognized that the John the Baptist was given the gift of grace even while still in utero. In short, John was understood to have been sanctified in the womb.

A New Jeremiah: Consecrated in the Womb

Does this seem far-fetched? Not from a biblical perspective. The same thing is said about another Old Testament prophet: Jeremiah. The Lord explains, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5) Of course, St. Paul talks about how Abraham was “justified” by his faith in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah we have another Old Testament figure that was “sanctified”. Although, here we have something truly special—he was consecrated in his mother’s womb.

This of course highlights in a particular way the gratuity of salvation. As Paul explains,
 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

Even before he had done anything, God consecrated Jeremiah (cf. Rom 9:11-12). For more on this, see Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae III, q. 27 (here).

Jeremiah’s Prophetic Signs

Jeremiah in fact is an especially important Old Testament prophet. In some ways, his entire life was a sign of faith. Scholars recognize the many prophetic signs he performed.* He didn’t simply speak the Word of the Lord, he lived it. Consider just a few of his prophetic actions in the account of his life in Scripture:

  1. He wears a waistcloth, buries it and digs it back up, symbolizing Israel’s corruption, sin and humiliation (cf. Jer 13:1–11) 
  2. He is celibate: symbolizing God’s judgment on Israel and his separation from wicked Israel (cf. Jer 16:1–4) 
  3. He refashions a spoiled vessel, pointing to God’s willingness to forgive and remake Israel (cf. Jer 18:1–12) 
  4. He breaks a pot to symbolize the irrevocable divine decree of judgment (cf. Jer 19:1–13) 
  5. He takes a cup from the Lord and gives it to the nations to drink, symbolizing coming judgment (cf. Jer 25:15–29) 
  6. He makes and wears yokes, announcing that the Babylonians are coming to conquer Jerusalem and take the people away as slaves (cf. Jer 27:1–28:17) 
  7. He purchases a field to indicate God’s promise of a future restoration (cf. Jer 32:1–15) 
  8. He rewrites a scroll after the king destroys it to show that God’s words endure (cf. Jer 36:1–32). 
  9. He hides stones in the mortar used for Pharaoh’s palace as a sign that the Babylonian king will conquer Egypt (cf. Jer 43:8–13).
  10. He writes about the coming judgment upon Babylon in a book and tells Seraiah to read from it in Babylon and throw it into the Euphrates (cf. Jer 51:59–64) to demonstrate that the exile had been foretold!

 

Jeremiah as a New Moses

 

Indeed, Jeremiah is described as a New Moses, as Dale Allison shows. His calling in Jeremiah 1 in many ways mirrors the calling of Moses in Exodus 3.

  1. Both complain that they are not good speakers (Jer 1:6; Exod 4:10). 
  2. Both are told “you shall speak all that I command you” (Jer 1:7; Exod 7:2). 
  3. Both are comforted by being told that God will be with them (Jer 1:8; Exod 3:12). 
  4. Both are told that the Lord’s words will be in their mouth (Jer 1:9; Deut 18:18).

The list goes on and on.

Jeremiah then is a kind of New Moses. It is no wonder then that he predicts the coming of a New Covenant, using language of a New Exodus:

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:31–33)


When God’s people looked for deliverance, Jeremiah was not far from their mind. This is evident in 2 Maccabees. There we read about a mysterious appearance of Jeremiah who is credited with giving the sword to Judas Maccabeus that he used to defeat Israel’s enemies. As Onias the high priest is praying over the people, he spots none other than Jeremiah in the crowd:

Onias, who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. 13 Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. 14 And Onias spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God.” 15 Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: 16 “Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries.” (2 Macc 15:12–16)

John the Baptist and the New Exodus

 

Not surprisingly, John the Baptist evokes New Exodus imagery himself. Look at the language describing his ministry in Matthew 3:

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way (Gk. hodos) of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Matt 3:1–3)

Here John is seen quoting from Isaiah’s famous New Exodus prophecy. As in the Exodus, God is preparing a way, in Greek, a hodos (note: ex-hodos means the “way out”) in the wilderness.

John the Baptist and Elijah

In addition, John the Baptist is linked to another figure who, like Jeremiah, was linked both to Moses and to Israel’s future deliverance: Elijah. This connection is evident in Luke 1, in which his birth is announced.

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16–17)

In fact, in Matthew 3, John the Baptist is described as essentially wearing the costume of the Old Testament prophet:

“Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matt 1:4)

In 1 Kings we discover, “[Elijah] wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins” (2 Kgs 1:8).

Elijah as a New Moses

Elijah, like Jeremiah, was described as a New Moses figure.*** It makes sense that a figure announcing the New Exodus—John the Baptist—would be linked to Elijah. Consider some of the following ways Elijah mirrors Moses’ life and ministry. I could compile quite a list. Let me just name a few points of contact here.

  1. He upheld Mosaic religion and cult against Baal worship
  2. He went into exile after angering the King (Ahab) (1 Kgs 17:1–7; cf. Exod 2:11–15 where Moses goes into exile) 
  3. He miraculously provided “bread” and “meat” in the morning and in the evening in the wilderness (cf. 1 Kgs 17:6; cf. Exod 16 where Moses provides the manna). 
  4. He gathered Israel at a mountain (Carmel) where God’s power is revealed in fire (1 Kgs 18:19; cf. Exod 19:17 where Moses leads Israel to Sinai) 
  5. He combats false prophets of Baal (cf. 1 Kgs 18:20–40; cf. Moses vs. Magicians, Exod 7:8–13, 20–22, 8:1–7) 
  6. He intercedes for idolatrous Israel, appealing to God of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (1 Kgs 18:36–38; cf. Moses’ intercession for Israel after the sin of the golden calf Exod 32:11–14)  li>He repairs the altar of the Lord at Mt. Carmel taking 12 stones symbolizing Israel (1 Kgs 18:30–32; cf. Exod 24:4: Moses erects altar with twelve pillars at Mt. Sinai) 
  7. He calls down fire to consume the sacrifices. Notice the parallels here!
    1. “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God” (1 Kings 18:38–39).
    2. “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting; and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. 24 And fire came forth from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat upon the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces” (Lev 9:22–24). 
  8. Elijah commands idolaters to be slain (1 Kgs 18:40; cf. Exod 32:25–29: Moses commands Levites to kill those who worshipped the golden calf)

  9. After slaying idolaters Elijah goes up to Sinai/Horeb and fasts for forty days and forty nights in the (1 Kgs 19:8; Exod 32:28: Moses also fasts at Sinai/Horeb).

  10. Elijah is (re-)commissioned at Horeb (1 Kgs 19; cf. Exod 3: Moses is commissioned at the burning bush) 

  11. Elijah was in a cave when the Lord “passed by” (1 Kgs 19:9–11; cf. Moses in Exod 33:21–23) 

  12. On Horeb/Sinai there is a theophany with storm, wind and an earthquake (1 Kgs 19:11–12; cf. Exod 19:16–20 and Deut 4:11; 5:22–27: at Sinai “wind, earthquake, fire”)

  13. Elijah becomes depressed and “asked that he might die” (1 Kgs 19:1–14; cf. Num 11:1-15: Moses also prayed for death to come) 

  14. Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his enemies (2 Kgs 1:9–12; cf. Num 16 and Lev 10:1–3: fire consumes Moses’ enemies) 

  15. Elijah parts the Jordan: “the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground” (2 Kgs 2:8). Compare with Exodus 14:21-22: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Exod 14:21–22) 

  16. Elijah appointed a successor who resembled him and split the Jordan (2 Kgs 2; cf. Moses appoints Joshua)

  17. People thought Moses might still be alive, cast “upon some mountain or into some valley” (2 Kgs 2:9–18; cf. Deut 34:6: Moses died mysteriously and no one knew the place he was buried).

 
In short, Elijah is a New Moses. As I will explain, this is significant as it relates to understanding John the Baptist’s role in the Synoptic Gospels.

Elijah and the Restoration of Israel

As I mentioned, like Jeremiah, Elijah was linked to Israel’s future hopes for deliverance. Malachi describes the way “Elijah” will come before the eschatological age—i.e., the messianic age.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:5)

Sirach also speaks of Elijah in similar terms:

“you [Elijah] who are ready at the appointed time, it is written, to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.” (Sir 48:10).

Notice the similarities here with the angel’s description of John to his father Zechariah in Luke: “he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children”.

Not surprisingly then John is identified by Jesus as Elijah. This is made explicit in Matthew after the Transfiguration. The disciples wonder at Jesus’ eschatological language, asking, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (Matt 17:10). Jesus replies,

“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matt 17:9-13).

John’s Baptism and the Essenes

 

In fact, it appears that John had his finger on the pulse of first century Judaism. As the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal, there were many Jews who were thinking eschatologically, preparing for the coming of the messianic age.

Interestingly enough, the Jews at Qumran, apparently used language and performed rites similar to John the Baptist. For instance, in a striking parallel to the speech of John the Baptist recorded in the New Testament, we read in one Dead Sea Scroll text:

“When such men as these come to be in Israel, conforming to these doctrines, they shall separate from the session of perverse men to go to the wilderness, there to prepare the way of truth, as it is written, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’ [Is. 40:3]” (1QS 6:12-16).

Likewise, we know that the Essene community, which is most likely to be identified in some way with the community who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, practices ritual washing, symbolizing cleansing from impurity and entrance into the New Covenant community. Whether John had direct contact with the Essene community is impossible to know. But we do see John announcing something that many were apparently looking for: the dawning of the messianic age.

Of course, the New Testament points to John’s baptism as only a foreshadowing of Christian baptism. In Acts of the Apostles, Jesus explains after his resurrection to the apostles, “for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Likewise, Paul explains to those who had only received John’s baptism the need to receive Christian baptism, through which they receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 19:1–7).

Elijah and Elisha, John and Jesus

Given that Jesus comes after John, it is also worth noting something else about Elijah: he was followed by Elisha. After Elijah is taken up by a heavenly chariot at the River Jordan, Elisha receives a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kgs 2:9–15). He in fact becomes a figure much like Elijah, performing several miracles reminiscent of his mentor.**** For example,

  1. Like Elijah, Elisha works a miracle making oil last indefinitely (cf. 1 Kgs 17:8–16; 2 Kgs 4:1–7). 
  2. Like Elijah, Elisha parts the waters of the Jordan (cf. 2 Kgs 2:8, 13). 
  3. Like Elijah, Elisha raises a child from the dead (1 Kgs 17:17–24; 2 Kgs 4:32–37)

Yet it is worth noting that, Elisha’s miracles are more numerous and impressive!***** He is the only figure other than Moses to cure leprosy (cf. Num 12; 2 Kgs 5). Likewise, whereas Elijah feeds the widow and her son, Elisha feeds a hundred men with ten loaves (cf. 2 Kgs 4:22–24).

If that last miracle sounds reminiscent of a miracle of Jesus, it should. Scholars recognize that Jesus feeding of the five thousand mirrors Elisha’s miracle of feeding a hundred men with only ten loaves. Consider the parallels between 2 Kgs 4:22-24 and Matt 14:15-21:

  1. Bread plus another item is brought to Elisha / Jesus
  2. Jesus / Elisha instruct their servant / disciples to give the bread to the crowds. 
  3. The servant of Elisha / the apostles of Jesus protest that there is not enough food for everyone. 
  4. The people eat and food is left over.

Notably, that miracle follows on the heels of the account of John’s death in Matthew 14 and Mark 6. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Like Elisha receives a double spirit of Elijah’s spirit at the Jordan, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, where the Holy Spirit descends upon him.

John is therefore the final prophetic figure, the final messenger, announcing the coming of the Messiah. He, in a sense, is the last of the “Old Testament” prophets—though clearly he is described in the New Testament. Thus Jesus describes him as marking the end of an era in Matthew’s Gospel:

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matt 11:11–14).

John is the greatest of the messengers sent by the Lord. Yet the New Covenant surpasses the Old. Those who are least in the Kingdom are greater than John. What does that mean about the dignity and importance of the vocation to the Christian life?! Quite a lot I suspect. But I suppose that is something best taken to prayer.


NOTES
*On prophetic signs, see W. D. Stacey, Prophetic Drama in the Old Testament (London: Epworth, 1990); Kelvin G. Friebel, Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s Sign Acts: Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication (JSOTSup 283; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999). Here I am especially dependent on the work of Scot McKnight. See his, “Jesus and Prophetic Actions,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 10/2 (2000): 201–22. (Back to Article)

** Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 53–60.

*** The most comprehensive overview of the parallels is found in Allison, The New Moses, 39-50. See also R. A. Carlson, “Élie à l’Horeb,” VT 19 (1969): 432; P. Josef Kastner, Moses im Neuen Testament (Munich: Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, 1967), 30; Frank M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epoch (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard, 1973), 192; G. Coats, “Healing and the Moses Traditions,” in Canon, Theology, and Old Testament Interpretation (Tuck, G. M., et al eds.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988, 136; R. P. Carroll, “The Elijah-Elisha Sagas: Some Remarks on Prophetic Succession in Ancient Israel,” VT 19 (1969): 411; G. Fohrer, Elia (ATANT 53; Zürich: Zwingli, 1957), 57); R. D. Nelson, First and Second Kings (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), 128; Laurence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 301. Many of the similarities between the two figures were spelled out in detail by R. Tanhuma (Pesiq. Rab. 4:2). (Back to Article)

**** For a fuller discussion of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha as well as the literary unity of the narrative in 1-2 Kings see the great discussion and the plethora of references in Thomas Brodie, The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah-Elisha Narrative as an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis Kings and a Model for the Gospels (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 1-27 (Back to Article)

*****See Colin Brown, “Miracles,” in vol. 3 of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (4 vols; G. W. Bromiley, ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 373, who explains that after Elisha receives a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, we read about “miracles greater and more numerous than those performed by Elijah.” Here he sees more than the Elijah-Elisha succession, but also Moses-Joshua (see below). See also Paul J. Kissling, Reliable Characters in the Primary History: Profiles of Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha (JSOTSSup 224; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 192: “The miracles which Elisha performed are far greater in number than those which Elijah performed.” (Back to Article)


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Into the Deep! by Scott Hahn


Every year we reach many thousands of people through our events, our books and publications, and our online and video Bible studies. This is a grace of refreshment, and we give thanks for it. Many Christians labor for years but do not live to see the fruits of their prayer and witness. Simon Peter speaks for multitudes when he says: "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets”(Luke 5:5).

We at the Saint Paul Center, however, have lived to see the joy on people’s faces as they are transformed by their encounter with the Sacred Page — no, with Jesus Christ. The mail carrier and our internet service provider bring us reminders every day of the power and reach of the apostolate we share with you.

We’re grateful for all those joys and consolations. We’re thankful for those short-term satisfactions. Yet Our Lord calls us also to venture into more challenging waters, to "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4).

Our work with teachers — faculty at seminaries and universities — is by far our most demanding task. But it is the also the work that promises the greatest yield. Each teacher we teach will, in turn, teach future teachers — future preachers, pastors, bishops, and professors. Each of their students and parishioners, then, will take the Gospel home to a family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Thus, by focusing our attention on a few select leaders, we can affect the lives of tens of thousands and maybe even millions.

When I face those classrooms, I know what Jesus meant when he said he saw fields white and ready for harvest.

And we are about to begin that “harvest” season once more. This summer we will host our eighth annual Summer Institute and welcome academic participants, both clergy and lay, from the most prestigious schools. We have hosted young scholars from the Ivy League, from Rome’s pontifical universities, and from the venerable corridors of American monasteries.

In these weeklong seminars we strive to communicate a Catholic biblical worldview. In conversation, in prayer, in study, we try to take students to a perch where they can see the sweep of salvation history, the glory of tradition, the solidity and prescience of the Church’s magisterium.

It is often a moment of conversion for those who attend. It’s not that they become Catholic after a lifetime as something else. But they begin to believe in the rich possibilities of their lives. They begin to believe in the reach and tender care of their providential father — not only for history in the grand sense, but for them personally and their work with souls.

I beg your prayers for our Institute this year — and also for our other outreach to scholars: our journal Letter and Spirit, our seminars during the school year, our ongoing presence at major academic conferences and colloquia.

Our Lord has called us to be fishers (Matthew 4:19). We want to be faithful to his call, and we know that fish must be caught by the head. In these endeavors, you and I can expect success on a grand scale, though we may not live to see it. Think of what happened when the Apostles believed in Jesus’ promise — when they put out into the deep. “And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking” (Luke 5:6).

So pray for us. Keep working with us. I am grateful for all you do for us.


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O Sacrum Convivium by Fr. Brian Mullady O.P.


“O Sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and the pledge of future glory is given to us.”

This famous Eucharistic antiphon from the feast of Corpus Christi is attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, and well summarizes both the faith of the Church and the theology of St. Thomas concerning the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

The doctrine of transubstantiation is central to this teaching. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 was the first to formally define the manner in which Christ is present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist:

“There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside which, no one at all is in a state of salvation. In this Church, Jesus Christ Himself is both priest and sacrifice; and His body and blood are really contained in the sacrament of the altar under the species of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood, by the power of God, so that, to effect the mystery of unity, we ourselves receive of that which is His, what He Himself received of that which is ours.”

The Fourth Lateran Council used the word “transubstantiation” to summarize a long tradition originating in the Gospels and St. Paul concerning the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Transubstantiation occurs after the priest says the words of institution over the bread. This technical term refers to the being of bread changing into the being of the body of Christ while all the properties of bread remain. In the late 1960s I attended a lecture by a famous Catholic theologian given to a large group of Protestant and Catholic seminarians in Berkeley. He declared that if one put the host under a microscope, he would see—according to the doctrine of transubstantiation—the molecules of Christ’s body. Modern scientific investigation had demonstrated that there was no change in molecular structure and so there was no change in substance. As a result, the change must not be a change in being, but only in being perceived by the subject through his faith. The bread now means Christ to him, and he uses it for the purpose of union with Christ. These last ideas are termed generally by modern theology “transignification” (change in meaning) and “transfinalization” (change in purpose).

The difficulties in this position are, first, that it mistakes the philosophical understanding of substance for the modern idea of chemical-molecular substance. Substance in the philosophical sense does not refer to element, but to a being which exists in its own right. Bread is a substance; a rock is a substance. An accident is a being which cannot exist in its own right. White is an accident. White cannot exist apart from a white thing like white bread or a white rock. Transubstantiation, then, does not mean that molecular structure changes, as this is merely an accidental or non-essential aspect of the substance.

Secondly, it is true to say that the change in the Eucharist includes change in meaning and change in purpose, but these changes involve change in nature. In other words, the objective change must support the subjective change. Pope Paul VI expresses it very well:

“As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new meaning and a new finality, for they no longer remain ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but become the sign of something sacred, the sign of a spiritual food. However, the reason why they take on this new significance and this new finality is simply because they contain a new ‘reality’ which we may justly term ontological. Not that there lies under those species what was already there before, but something quite different; and that not only because of the faith of the Church, but in objective reality” (Mysterium Fidei, 1965).

By this change in substance, Christ associates us with His Passion, suffered and accepted, and with His Body, resurrected and ascended.

This can only happen if He becomes truly present to us here on earth so that we may participate in the body and blood and make His perfectly obedient soul our own. This sacrament is the bond of love and stimulus for hope, because in this food we become the food. In all other food, the food becomes us. In this we are more and more transformed into Christ. Still, because we only know Him here through faith, this sacrament is also a food for our faith by which all the interior obedience and love of Christ’s human heart becomes the constant nourishment for our spirits. It is the food of pilgrims. Though the Eucharist is a meal/banquet, it is a sacred banquet. When we as pilgrims feed on Christ, we are participating in the heavenly banquet.

By the same token, Christ desires to be intimately present to everyone in His true body and blood. He could not do this if He were only present in the manner His body is present in heaven. The Blessed Sacrament is truly that body, but present in a substantial, sacramental way. His body does not move through space to leave heaven and become present in one altar on earth, then in another. The change of transubstantiation is not just a change in form nor a change in place. It is a true change in substance. The dimensions and quantity of Christ’s risen body remain at the right hand of the Father, but become completely present on all the altars of the world completely and simultaneously. Otherwise we would not all participate equally in the fullness of His obedience and love. “Christ,” the Mystical Lamb of the Apocalypse, “is received.”

Christ instituted this sacrament precisely so that we, the wayfarers and pilgrims, could share fully in the mystery of His atonement. This is a true memorial or anamnesis. He said, “Do this in memory of me.” Yet this is not just a play reenacted. It is a true participation in the whole interior drama of His perfect obedience on the Cross. “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the Cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit” (Catechism, no. 1366). This begins by His association of the apostles with His atonement at the Last Supper. For this reason, all Catholic accounts of the Passion begin not with the agony, but with the Last Supper. The Supper and the Cross are intimately united. The sign and associated effects exist to plunge our own moral lives into the mystery of Christ’s perfect obedience on the Cross.

According to the Catholic faith, after the priest recites the words of institution, every facet and part of Christ is present in the Host (the victim). Not every part is present in the same way, though. Some are present as entailed in the sign, while others are present by natural accompaniment. For example, in the consecration of the Host, only the body becomes present by sacramental sign. The words which induce the change are “This is my body.” The blood is present by natural accompaniment. The property of quantity remains with Christ fully present body and blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread.

The miraculous character of this change is expressed because the priest repeats the words of Christ- He speaks in the Person of Christ, not in his own person as minister. In all the other sacraments, the priest speaks in the person of the minister. “I baptize,” “I confirm,” “I anoint.” In this sacrament alone, he speaks directly in the Person of Christ because this sacrament is not only the power of Christ, but is also Christ Himself. “This is My body; This is My blood.” For this reason, it is more than just a tasteless act for the priest to dress, act, or speak as though he were Father X speaking. He is Christ speaking and makes Christ present. This is the Real Presence with capital letters.

“This presence is called ‘real’—by which it is not intended to exclude all other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, the God- Man, is wholly and entirely present” (Mysterium Fidei).

Since the entire purpose and effect of this sacrament is our union with the whole mystery of Christ, including his Mystical Body the Church, one must be morally prepared to receive it worthily. Moral preparation is freedom from mortal sin.

Such is the great miracle of transubstantiation. Christ Himself becomes present to feed us with the moral value of His atonement and to prepare us morally and physically to live with Him in Resurrection forever. Our bodies are prepared for resurrection. “A pledge of future glory is given to us.”

Fr. Mullady writes from Holy Apostles College & Seminary, Cromwell, CT.


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The Mysteries of May


I love the month of May — and not only because it comes with nicer and more predictable weather where I live. I love it for reasons even better than that. I love it because, in a distinctive way, it traces the mysteries of our redemption. And it does this in a way that’s different from Lent or Advent or any other season.

It’s a Marian pilgrimage, of course, since Christians have for centuries marked May as Mary’s month, and midway is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. (This year that day will mark the one-year anniversary of my pilgrimage to Fatima — an event that continues to affect my family and me in powerful, spiritual ways.)

But Our Lady’s month always begins with a feast of Saint Joseph. May 1 is the great feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

We set out, then, with not just our greatest saint — or even our two greatest saints — but with our awareness that they formed a family. Mary and Joseph formed their Holy Family with Jesus, who is our Savior and theirs.

They were a sojourning family — and a witnessing family. When Jesus was just a baby, Herod’s persecution sent them into hiding. They fled to faraway Egypt, where they remained till the despot’s timely demise.

Mary and Joseph lived in a strange land — among the traditional enemies of their people — and they brought life and love with them. The Egyptians ever after could boast that they were the first to receive Jesus.

Mary and Joseph were, in a root sense, apostles. The Greek word apostolos means “one who is sent,” and they — every bit as much as Peter and Paul — were aware that they went abroad on a divine mission. They were the icon of righteousness wherever they went. And the places where they went remain as pilgrim sites today.

Tradition honors the Holy Family as “the earthly trinity” — a communion of love, with the eternal Son of God as its center. There’s a profound message in this. Salvation came to us by way of the family, because the family is the earthly image of God’s life in heaven. And that is the life Jesus saved us to share. We are not merely saved from our sins; we’re saved for sonship. We’re saved so that we can share the divine nature through our life in Jesus Christ. We’re saved in order to become fully alive in the Divine Family, the Heavenly Trinity.

And that’s where the month of May leads us. This year it ends with two major feasts of the Church, on two consecutive Sundays: Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday. So we celebrate the deepest mysteries of all: the giving of the Spirit, the birth of the Church, and the inner and eternal life of the Godhead.

The family of Mary, the family of Joseph, the family of Jesus points us to the Family of God. With them this month, we sojourn not to Egypt and back, but to heaven — to stay.

May is also a month of intense preparation for our Applied Biblical Studies Conference, July 22-24 at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I hope I’ll see you there. In the meantime, please pray for the success of the conference.

I thank you in advance for that. And I thank you for all you do for the Saint Paul Center.


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The Spread of the Kingdom in Acts


An excerpt of our FREE online Bible Study

Course Description
The drama in the Gospels turns on a single question: Is Jesus the long awaited Messiah, the son of David come to restore the everlasting monarchy promised to David? Underlying this drama are centuries of rival interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures and competing expectations of who the Messiah was to be, the signs that would accompany his coming, and the shape of the kingdom he would establish.

We explore all these issues in this thematic survey course, which goes to the heart of what the New Testament has to say about the identity of Christ and the Church.


D. The Prime Minister

The Twelve thus took their positions as the King’s ministers. Just as David and his successors had had ministers to sit on thrones and judge the people (see, for example, 1 Kings 4:1-19, and compare Psalm 122:4-5), so Jesus, the ideal Davidic King, would have His ministers.

And just as in the original Davidic kingdom, one of those ministers would be the leader of the rest.

David had Joab (see 1 Chronicles 11:6), and every one of his successors had what we today would call a prime minister.

Following that pattern, we see that Jesus, too, had a prime minister.

As soon as He told His disciples that they would sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (see Luke 22:28-30), Jesus turned to Simon Peter and told him that he must strengthen the others (see Luke 22:31-32).

Peter was the “Rock” (which is what the name Peter means) on which Jesus had promised to build His Church (see Matthew 16:18).

All the Apostles were Jesus’ ministers, but Simon Peter was the prime minister.

Now we see Peter exercising that authority. It is Peter who announces to the Twelve and the rest of the church in Jerusalem that Judas must be replaced (see Acts 1:15-22), and his decision is accepted without debate (see Acts 1:23-28).

We see him acting as the unquestioned leader at Pentecost, too, when he speaks for all the Apostles in front of the astonished crowds (see Acts 2:14).

Peter speaks for them again before the leaders of the people and the priests (see Acts 4:8). He exercises a healing power like Christ’s (see Acts 3:1-12), pronounces God’s judgment on Anananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11), and gains such a reputation that people line up just to be touched by his shadow (see Acts 5:15).

Finally, it is Peter whose word determines the whole future course of the Kingdom on earth. When some converted Pharisees have argued that Christians are bound by the whole law (see Acts 15:5), Peter is the one who interprets the will of God for the rest of the Apostles (see Acts 15:7-11).

James, summarizing the decision of the Apostles, refers to Amos’s prophecy about the fallen hut, in which the restoration of the Davidic kingdom comes about so that the rest of the world may also come to God (see Acts 15:14-18).

A kingdom that includes “the rest of humanity” is what God had promised through the Prophets, and the mission of the Church is to be the fulfillment of that promise.

Luke leaves us in no doubt whatsoever: Peter has taken over as leader of the Twelve, just as Jesus had ordained. He interprets the will of God, and he decides the course of the whole Church.

But Peter is only the first among the ministers of the Kingdom. Jesus, as Peter himself will tell us, is still the King.


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The Love that Covers a Multitude of Sins: A Reflection on Divine Mercy


By +Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.

Pope John Paul the Great gave us Divine Mercy Sunday.

Over a period of thirty-five years, from the time when he was archbishop of Krakow, John Paul actively forwarded the process of canonizing Sister Faustina.

On April 30, 2000, the first Sunday after Easter, John Paul canonized Sister Faustina—now SaintFaustina. In his homily of canonization, John Paul joyfully announced that the first Sunday after Easter “from now on throughout the Church will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’”

Throughout Scripture and our liturgy we hear about divine mercy; so often, in fact, that we may be tempted to take it for granted. That would be a grievous error. Think with me for a few moments about divine mercy.

Hundreds of times and in many ways throughout Sacred Scripture, the text exults in the mercy of God. We read, for example, that the mercy of God is “great” (1 Kings 3:6); “plenteous” (Ps 86:5); “tender” (Lk 1:78) “abundant” (1 Pet 1:3); it is “from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him” (Ps 103:17).

In the legal form, mercy is the opposite of justice. Justice is what a person deserves. Mercy is what a guilty person needs.

In His mercy, God reveals that love always trumps justice. Indeed, in his encyclical Rich in Mercy, Pope John Paul II declared that mercy is “love’s second name.”

So far as our individual relationships with God are concerned, mercy is God’s greatest attribute and perfection. Because human history is a history of sin and death, God’s love has to be revealed and made real in human lives primarily as mercy.

Rich in Mercy

In his book The Devil’s Dictionary, a humorist of last century defined mercy as “an attribute beloved of detected offenders.” Though the man was speaking cynically, he was also speaking the truth. All of us are offenders against God, and all of us have been detected.

So the “true and proper meaning of mercy,” Pope John Paul told us, is God’s love drawing “good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man.”  We have to say, therefore, that mercy is (in John Paul’s words), “the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ. . . .” It is, in fact, the basic power of His mission on earth (Rich in Mercy, no. 6).

To bring the meaning of mercy into ultimate focus, we must say that Jesus Christ incarnates mercy; indeed, Jesus Christ is mercy (Rich in Mercy, no. 2).

Our salvation hinges on trusting in God’s mercy. But remember: Mercy means pardon forguilt. Pardon for our guilt can come, by God’s mercy, only if (a) we face and acknowledge our guilt under God, and (b) we are truly sorry for having offended God.

God will not, God cannot, fill with His mercy the life of one who is not truly penitent. Jesus made this clear with His parable of the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Recall that the Pharisee congratulated God and himself on his own good character. In sharp contrast, the tax collector simply groaned, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus said that only the tax collector was reconciled to God.

A Lost Sense of Sin

When we think about God’s mercy, therefore, we have to ask ourselves about our own sense of sin. And that’s our second point.

Start with the fact that our culture has lost any real sense of sin. In all of human history, there apparently has never been a society that so widely ignored—or even widely denied—the reality of sin as our culture.

We read in the Old Testament that even pagan rulers like Nebuchadnezzar or the king of Nineveh acknowledged their sins and repented of them. In every primitive society of which we have any information, one always finds a sense of sin, even though pagan beliefs about their gods may be highly superstitious.

Back in the 1940s, in a radio address to an American catechetical conference, Pope Pius XII stated that “the sin of the century is the loss of sin.” In the later 1950s, he declared that the most serious spiritual problem of Catholics is the loss of a sense of sin. Pope John Paul also strongly emphasized the same fact.

That we Catholics have largely lost a proper sense of sin is quite clear, for two reasons: Only a very small percentage of otherwise practicing Catholics regularly choose to receive the Sacrament of Penance. Furthermore, many—should I say most?—Catholics who do go to Confession seem to find it hard to be specific in their confessions.

The fact is, our consciences have become calloused. Our consciences have been calloused by the moral and doctrinal confusion created by dissenters, unfaithful Catholics who reject the Church’s authority. Our consciences are continually being calloused by the moral filth that flows from the media: from our TVs, from our movies, from the books and magazines we read, from the newspapers. In 1982 Pope John Paul warned us that “modern man is threatened by an eclipse of conscience . . . a deformation of conscience . . . a numbness or ‘deadening’ of conscience” (Reconciliation and Penance, no. 18).

Not Just for Mortal Sins

The common Catholic rationalization for not going to Confession—if people bother to rationalize—is usually, “well, I don’t have any mortal sins to confess.”

Let me remind you that the Sacrament of Penance was given by our Lord Jesus Christ not only for mortal sins, but also for venial sins. Let me remind you further of our Catechism’s listing of the very harmful effects of venial sin.

Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. (no. 1863)

How dare we take venial sins lightly?

Ponder carefully what Pope John Paul the Great taught us in apostolic exhortation entitledReconciliation and Penance.

As a rupture with God, sin is an act of disobedience by a creature who rejects, at least implicitly, the very one from whom he came and who sustains him in life. It is therefore a suicidal act” (emphasis added). And why is that? Because by refusing “to submit to God, . . . [the sinner’s] internal balance is also destroyed” and “contradictions and conflicts arise” within himself.

In the next section of the exhortation, the Holy Father becomes more specific in his teaching. “By virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others.” That is, “one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the church and, in some way, the whole world.”

This, said the Holy Father, is the bedrock fact: “. . . there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family” (no. 16; emphasis added).

Loving Jesus

So if we want the mercy of God to flood our hearts—and who of us does not?—we have to work at deepening our sense of our own sin.

Consider the lives of the saints, who made such frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance. We regard their lives as exemplary. We wonder, what did they have to confess? Yet the fact is, they were all keenly conscious of a heavy weight of sin.

Why did the saints have such deep consciousness of sin? It was a reflection of their deep love for Jesus. The more intimately they knew and loved Him, the more painfully conscious they were of the ways in which they offended Him.

The point for us is, the deeper our love for Jesus, the more we will be aware of our sins and the greater will be our sorrow for the suffering our sins have inflicted on Jesus. And turn the proposition around. If we have slight sense of our own sinfulness, what does this tell us about the quality of our relationship with Jesus?

If we truly yearn to grow in sanctity—and that’s our whole reason for living—we need to go to Confession frequently. When we go to Confession frequently, we can make a more thorough confession, and thereby more deeply receive the mercy of God.

And I mean specific confession: none of this confession by title: “I was uncharitable” or “I was critical” or “I was unforgiving.” Be specific: call a spade a spade, or even call it a dirty old shovel. When you confess specific sins, you get them out in front of you and see them in all their ugliness: and you say to yourself, “And Jesus suffered agony for this!”

You and I need to make frequent aspirations in the course of a day. We need to call on the holy name of Jesus, or on the Blessed Trinity. We need to recall ourselves into the presence of the Blessed Trinity. We need to try consciously to carry out our responsibilities in such a way as to give honor and glory to God. We need to be nourished by regularly reading the Scriptures—especially the Gospels—and by doing spiritual reading.

Until we draw our last breath, we have to work at growing in our love for our Lord Jesus, growing in our basic desire to please Him in word and thought and deed.

When a sudden heart attack occurs, how thankful we are if someone present has been trained to practice CPR. That means someone who can keep blood carrying oxygen to the heart and brain of a person until that person’s heart begins to beat again.

Divine Mercy Sunday tells us about spiritual CPR which Our Lord entrusted to His Church. He gave to His bishops and priests the Sacrament of Penance, the authority to act in His name and forgive sins. This sacrament is spiritually life-giving.

Jesus gave us this sacrament not as a simple option, but as something He wants us to use.

When we ignore this sacrament, we ignore Jesus’ command given for our spiritual welfare. And when we ignore His command, we ignore Him.
God forbid that any of us should ever do that!

Ray Ryland was a priest of the Diocese of Steubenville and a spiritual director to many Catholic apostolates. His memoir, Drawn From Shadows into Truth, is available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

            


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Explore the Many Riches of the Catholic Faith


Now that we’ve made the journey from Lent to Calvary to the empty tomb, the Easter season is a time to revel in the glorious treasures of our faith, purchased for us through Christ’s sacrifice and Resurrection.

What better time than now to explore the many riches of Catholic life? 
Whether we are just beginning our spiritual journey or have been walking with the Lord for years there is so much to discover and so many ways to deepen our faith. We are all unfinished Christians in the process of continuously rediscovering the profound mystery: that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and opened the gates of heaven so that all men would have eternal life with Him. This Easter season, let this reality take root in your heart and allow it to make your Catholic faith come alive!

We’ve put together a short list of excellent books to utilize during this Resurrection season to help you uncover the riches of the faith and grow more deeply in love of Christ and His Church.

Drawing upon the teachings of seven Doctors of the Church, Ralph Martin renders an account of the spiritual path to perfection. The Fulfillment of All Desire provides encouragement and direction for the pilgrim who desires to know, love, and serve our Lord. Whether the reader is beginning their spiritual journey or has been traveling the road for many years, he will find a treasure of wisdom in The Fulfillment of All Desire.

Ralph Martin is the president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. He is a popular speaker, radio and television host, and the author of a number of books, most recently The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call and Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization.


Living the Mysteries by Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina

Until we get to heaven, we’re all unfinished Christians. There are no self-made success stories in the spiritual life.

The early Church had a process in which a teacher guided seekers through stages of inquiry and purification, culminating in a final phase called “mystagogy”—“the revelation of the mysteries.” The instruction of the early Christians is what we all need, whether we are a newly baptized Christian or a lifelong Catholic.

Designed as a devotional and instructive guide for the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, Living the Mysteries is a rich spiritual resource that offers a daily reading from one of the Church’s great teachers and a plan for implementing its lessons in your daily prayer and works.


The End of the Fiery Sword by Maura McKeegan

St. Augustine wrote, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old is unveiled in the New.” Applying this truth to her storytelling for children, Maura McKeegan presents the story of salvation in The End of the Fiery Sword. Made spiritually enriching with remarkable illustrations by Theodore Schlunderfritz, children will see in The End of the Fiery Sword the story of Adam and Eve side-by-side with the Mary and Jesus to help them “Find the buried treasures that the Sacred Scriptures hold.” Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Maura McKeegan earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and spent five years teaching elementary and middle school children. While studying theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, she was especially drawn to biblical typology, which inspired The Old and the New biblical typology series for children. She resides in Steubenville, Ohio with her husband Shaun and their four children. 


Mere Catholicism by Fr. Ian Ker

Mere Catholicism explains in easily accessible, non-technical language the fundamental doctrines of Catholicism. It shows how these doctrines follow naturally from the fundamental doctrines common to orthodox Christians (“mere Christianity”). Catholicism can mystify or even repel other Christians, while its complexities can confuse Catholics themselves. Ian Ker’s stimulating book makes Catholicism come alive as the fullness of Christianity.

Fr. Ian Ker teaches theology at Oxford University and is also a parish priest. He is the leading authority on the thought and writings of John Henry Newman, on whom he has published many books, including the definitive biography (1988, republished in 2009), as well as The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961.


Louder Than Words: The Art of Living as a Catholic by Matthew Leonard

We have living examples of holy men and women who overcame the same types of temptations we face and shortcomings we all have, to become huge, blinking neon signs that pointed to Jesus. And if they can do it, so can we . . . with a little practice.

In Louder Than Words: The Art of Living as a Catholic, author, lecturer, and Catholic covert Matthew Leonard combines the stories of the saints triumphs and struggles along with his own personal anecdotes and wry humor to show us all a fresh take on the art of being truly Catholic in a contemporary world.


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The Springtime of Evangelization


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As we mark the ten year anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s death, the St. Paul Center is reflecting on the many gifts our Holy Father left to the Church. Among them, his call for a “new springtime of evangelization” resounds even more profoundly today.

The new evangelization is in full swing, and every Christian is called to partake in this mission of renewal through the spreading of the Gospel.

But what’s at the core of the new evangelization? It’s not about street corners and sandwich boards. The new evangelization, as John Paul II envisioned, requires a dynamic relationship with the living God and a willingness to share the graces that stem from this life-altering friendship.

Want to know more about Saint John Paul II’s vision for the new evangelization? Click on the play button above to listen to Scott Hahn talk all about this exciting labor of love every Catholic can undertake.


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Saint John Paul II, Pray for us!


Today the St. Paul Center honors the memory of Saint John Paul II on the ten year anniversary of his death. Difficult as it is to wrap our minds around the numerous dimensions of his tremendous legacy, arguably one of the most important is his “theology of the body.

”Many scholars have applied this teaching to marriage and human sexuality, but a true theology of the body encompasses much more. John Paul II’s lessons apply not only to marriage and sexuality, but also to our professional lives, our recreation, what we eat, and how we dress.

 If you’d like to come to a deeper understanding of Saint John Paul II’s legacy, Emily Stimpson’s These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body is an excellent starting point. In this accessible collection of essays, Stimpson unpacks the teachings of John Paul II with clarity, wisdom, and humor.                 

          

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The theology of the body, properly understood, allows us to ever more perfectly image the likeness of God and live exemplary lives of holiness. John Paul II proclaimed this truth not only through his teachings, but by his life. Let’s celebrate the legacy of our beloved Holy Father by allowing his profound wisdom to transform our hearts and minds.

Saint John Paul II, Pray for us!


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Historical Questions about the Resurrection of Jesus: Special Easter Post and Podcast


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St. Paul makes it clear that Resurrection is an essential aspect of Christian faith. He states,

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:16–19).
The importance of this feast is also reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrectionfills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy. It really is a “year of the Lord’s favor.” ... Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the “Feast of feasts,” the “Solemnity of solemnities,” just as the Eucharist is the “Sacrament of sacraments” (the Great Sacrament).St. Athanasius calls Easter “the Great Sunday” and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week “the Great Week.” The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1168-1169) 
Yet many dispute the historicity of the Resurrection. For example,

“The tiny fraction of New Testament Easter traditions that comprises our bona fide historical evidence—the core empty tomb tradition (Mark 1:1–6, 8) and the appearance list given by Paul (1 Cor 15:3–8)—is woefully inadequate to establish a proposition as bold as the resurrection hypothesis.”—Robert Cavin1

Here I want to look at some of the reasons for such skepticism.

Skepticism towards miracles

One of the most common reasons scholars often raise questions about the historical veracity of the resurrection accounts is the simple fact that they portray a miraculous event, something that is said to be too incredible to believe historical. Is this fair?

Here I am not going to launch into a detailed explanation.1 Let me just say this: while historical work necessarily demands a critical judgment, the outright a priori denial of the possibility of such occurrences represents no less of a metaphysical commitment than one which accepts them. To rule out a priori the possibility of inexplicable events can hardly represent a truly critical methodology.2

Discrepancies, history and harmonization

Here’s what everyone knows about the Gospel narratives: they all agree that on Easter Sunday morning Mary Magdalene came to the tomb where Jesus had been laid. Scholars, however, note that a close reading of the evangelists’ reports reveal a number of apparent discrepancies. I’ll get to these momentarily.

Before we go any further though a few words need to be said about historiography and harmonization. “Harmonization” refers to the attempt to reconcile different aspects of the various reports, which seem divergent or contradictory. When it comes to harmonization, one has to be cautious.

On the one hand, harmonization has led to some unbelievably unlikely readings. We need to be on guard against such approaches. For example, some people, in an attempt to prove the historical truth of Scripture, have tried to find ways to harmonize all of the sayings of Jesus. The reality however is that ancient writers were not expected to always convey the exact wording of speeches.

So, for example, whether Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:24), or ““This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20), is really missing the point. They all agree that Jesus spoke words over the Eucharistic cup, that these words linked the cup to his blood and the concept of covenant. Ancient writers were expected to convey the substance of what was said, but not necessarily the ipsissima verba, the exact words.

In short, it is bad historiography to attempt to harmonize everything.

On the other hand, this does not mean that all harmonization is a bad idea. Historiography will inevitably involve some amount of harmonization. Eddy and Boyd cite the work of historians Barbara Allen and William Montell.

“In their book on methodology for conducting local historical research, Allen and Montell investigated two different accounts of the 1881 lynching of two young men–Frank and Jack McDonald (‘the McDonald boys’)–in Menominee, Michigan. One account claimed that the boys were hung from a railroad crossing, while the other claimed they were strung up on a pine tree. The accounts seemed hopelessly contradictory until Allen and Montell discovered old photographs that showed the bodies hanging at different times from both places. As macabre as it is, the McDonald boys apparently had first been hung up from a railroad crossing, then taken down, dragged to a pine tree, and hoisted up again. Sometimes reality is stranger–and more gruesome–than fiction.”3
In sum, historical work will inevitably involve the recognition that sometimes harmonization is possible. The question here then is whether or not the Gospel accounts of Easter Sunday are so hopelessly and dramatically inconsistent they must be looked at as fabricated.

Let’s turn now to some of the apparent problems.

Who came to the tomb on Easter Sunday?

First, who exactly went to the tomb? We can break down the various accounts as follows:

Matthew has two women, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (Matt 28:1).

Mark has three women: Mary Magdalene, “Mary the mother of James,” and Salome (Mark 16:1).

Luke has Mary Magdalene, “Mary the mother of James,” no mention of Salome, but “Joanna” and “other” women (Luke 24:10).

John only mentions Mary Magdalene going to the tomb.

Yet here’s the interesting thing about John. Immediately after telling us about Mary Magdalene going to the tomb, John tells us that Mary Magdalene ran back to tell Peter and “the other disciple”, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2). The use of the plural here seems to suggest an awareness that Mary Magdalene was not alone.

A lot more could be said but let’s point out that none of the Gospel accounts necessarily exclude the others. Matthew does not say that only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were among those going to the tomb. John never says, “Salome stayed home that morning because she had some bad unleavened bread.”

Let me put it another way. I might run into a colleague on a Monday morning and tell him I was at church on Sunday and mention I spent sometime afterwards talking to a mutual friend. I might leave out other people I also talked with because he may not be that familiar with them.

But if I mentioned that I saw some of those other people to someone else later in the day, have I really “contradicted” my earlier account? Of course, not. In short, perhaps Luke’s community knew “Joanna” but not “Salome”.

What is even more surprising are the details the accounts agree upon. Most surprising is this: all the Gospels explain that the first witnesses were women. This is notable. Women were not believed to be reliable witnesses in the ancient world. Josephus, a first century Jew, writes, “From women let no evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex” (A.J. 4.219).

If the early Christians were to make up a story about the resurrection, it wouldn’t have looked like this!

When did the women come to the tomb?

Again, let’s look carefully at the Gospel reports:

Matthew: the women come “at dawn” (Matt 28:1)

Mark: they arrive “just after sunrise” (Mark 16:1).

Luke: they come “very early in the morning” (Luke 24:1)

John: Mary Magdalene came “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).

It should be pointed out that only John’s account seems to pose a problem. But is John’s report here really evidence that the story was made up?

First, note what all three stories have in common—frankly, quite a bit! Not only was Mary Magdalene at the tomb, it was also Sunday and it was in the morning.

Now, back to John. Certainly it is possible that the women came to the tomb very early and that it was dark when they set out but that it the sky was lighting up by the end of the episode.

We should also observe that it seems important that John uses “darkness” as a symbol throughout his narrative (John 1:5; John 1:3). Could John here be speaking symbolically: i.e., the “light” of the Risen Lord was not yet known to the disciples when they came to the tomb.

Either way, doesn’t it seem like a stretch to insist that this slight divergence is evidence the story is entirely implausible?

Other similar discrepancies could also be mentioned. For more on this, listen to the podcast.

An unbelievable story?

Some have made the case that it is unlikely Jesus would have been laid in a tomb. Scholars like Funk and Crossan insist it is more likely an executed man like Jesus would have simply been dumped in a mass grave. Such scholars insist the entire empty tomb narrative is therefore likely a Markan invention.

These claims are just specious and betray such writers’ ignorance.

Philo, a first century Jewish writer, makes it clear that such a story is not at all unbelievable:

“I have known cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind, people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them ordinary rites” (Flaccus 83).
Likewise, Josephus explains, “the Jews are careful about funeral rites that even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset” (B.J. 4.377).

Why make up a resurrection?

In his book, What Really Happened, Lüdemann asserts another explanation for the resurrection story: Peter, in his guilt and in mourning conjured up an apparition of Jesus to help him in his mourning process (What Really Happened, 93–94).

But even if Peter did this, why would the Church go on to proclaim a bodily resurrection of Jesus? Some might say the resurrection story was invented to prove that indeed Jesus was the Messiah. After all, the Messiah’s resurrection was predicted in the Scriptures, right?

Well, not explicitly.

As Dale Allison observes, the resurrection was an event that was supposed to take place at the end of time (which, Christian eschatology still affirms!).

In fact, one looks in vain for a prophecy in Israel’s scriptures that suggests that the Messiah would rise by himself before that.

So if Peter did have some sort of psychological event, it still doesn’t explain why the early Christians believed the Messiah had to rise from the dead. No specific text in the Scriptures actually says, “The Messiah will rise after three days.”

So where did they get this idea? Why assert it?

Peter could have come to the belief that Jesus had been vindicated and that his spirit somehow ascended to God even while his body remained in the grave.

This would have fit perfectly well into Jewish views. Take for example Jubilees 23:31, which describes the righteous as follows:

“And their bones will rest in the earth, and their spirits will increase joy, and they will know that the LORD is an executor of judgment; but he will show mercy to hundreds and thousands, to all who love him.” 
But no, the early Christians took one further step: they asserted Jesus had been risen from the grave. Why invent such a belief—particularly one that seemed so unlikely!

To Die For

Finally, St. Paul describes a list of eye-witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.

he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
That Paul doesn’t mention Mary Magdalene here is really fascinating—was a woman eyewitness just not worth mentioning given the suspicion over the testimony of female witnesses?

More interesting is this: what did these people have to gain from making up such a story? Fame? Money? Power?

What many of them apparently received was death (cf. e.g., 1 Clement 5:5–7). Even if you believe their account that Jesus rose from the dead, the fact that people like St. Paul never recanted—even under such a threat—is remarkable. What gave them such courage?

All of this suggests that it is unlikely the story was simply made from whole cloth. I think just from a historian’s view then you’ve got to come to one unsettling conclusion: something happened Easter morning—and it can’t be easily explained.

Such a conclusion opens the door for something more—the supernatural gift of faith, which cannot be simply established by empirical evidence.

NOTES
1 Robert Cavin, “Is There Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus?,” The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (ed. Robert M. Price and Jeffrey J. Lowder; New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), 36.

2 Along these lines I must recommend the recent discussion by Boyd and Eddy Here we agree with much of what is said by Eddy and Boyd concerning the importance of an “open-historical critical method” in their recent work The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007) [pages 39–90]. They explain that, “The claim that the natural world and its history constitute a ‘closed continuum’ of natural causes and effects is a metaphysical claim” (49). As such they go on and state why an open historical-critical approach that makes no a priori decisions about the possibility of miracles is superior to the alternative:

“In our estimation, this methodology is not less critical than the naturalistic historical-critical method; rather, it is more critical. For . . . this method requires that Western scholars be critical of their commitments to their own culturally conditioned naturalistic presuppositions. . . It requires that scholars not be uncritically committed to any metaphysical stance, but rather, in the name of critical scholarship, always bring a certain inquisitiveness to their presuppositional commitments” (53).

3. Eddy and Boyd, Jesus Legend, 424.

4. “Because of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the way to the prize for patient endurance. (6) After he had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, (7) having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West. Finally, when he had given his testimony before the rulers, he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example of patient endurance.”—Clement, Corinthians, 5:5–7.


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The New Creation: Scott Hahn Reflects on the First Sunday of Lent


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Readings:
Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15


Lent bids us to return to the innocence of baptism. As Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the deluge, we were saved through the waters of baptism, Peter reminds us in today’s Epistle.

And God’s covenant with Noah in today’s First Reading marked the start of a new world. But it also prefigured a new and greater covenant between God and His creation (seeHosea 2:20; Isaiah 11:1-9).

We see that new covenant and that new creation begin in today’s Gospel.

Jesus is portrayed as the new Adam - the beloved son of God (see Mark 1:11; Luke 3:38), living in harmony with the wild beasts (see Genesis 2:19-20), being served by angels (seeEzekiel 28:12-14).

Like Adam, He too is tempted by the devil. But while Adam fell, giving reign to sin and death (see Romans 5:12-14, 17-20), Jesus is victorious.

This is the good news, the “gospel of God” that He proclaims. Through His death, resurrection, and enthronement at the right hand of the Father, the world is once again made God’s kingdom.

In the waters of baptism, each of us entered the kingdom of His beloved Son (seeColossians 1:13-14). We were made children of God, new creations (see 2 Corinthians 5:7;Galatians 4:3-7).

But like Jesus, and Israel before Him, we have passed through the baptismal waters only to be driven into the wilderness - a world filled with afflictions and tests of our faithfulness (see1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 9,13; Deuteronomy 8:2,16).

We are led on this journey by Jesus. He is the Savior - the way and the truth we sing of in today’s Psalm (see John 14:6). He feeds us with the bread of angels (see Psalm 78:25;Wisdom 16:20), and cleanses our consciences in the sacrament of reconciliation.

As we begin this holy season, let us renew our baptismal vows - to repent and believe the gospel.


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Our Lenten Reading List


Every Lent, the Church calls all Catholics to grow closer to Christ through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. She also urges us to deepen our love for Christ and the Church through spiritual reading. By setting aside just a few minutes every day to sharpen our understanding and increase our knowledge of God, we flex not only our intellectual muscles, but our spiritual muscles as well. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving become easier as our love grows, and Lent becomes not an arduous journey, but rather a daily walk with the Beloved. To help you embark upon that walk this Lent, the staff of the St. Paul Center has compiled a list of some of our favorite Lenten reading, both old and new. Our prayer is that before Easter arrives, at least some of these books will be among your favorites as well.

Knowing the Love of God: Lessons from a Spiritual Master, by the Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. In this collection of retreat talks, the beloved Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., gives us a blueprint for progress in the spiritual life. He particularly focuses on:

  • The goal of life as supernatural life and love
  • The obstacles in life brought about by evil and sin
  • The Lord's redemptive work as the source of the spiritual life
  • The power of mortification and acceptance of our crosses
  • Conformity to Christ by prayer and devotion to Mary

Permeated with rich doctrine and ideal for devotional use, this book will help those known and loved by God to know and love the same God more than ever. Click Here to Read Dr. Hahn's reflection on Knowing the Love of God in "Lenten Back to Basics"


The Light is On for You: The Life-Changing Power of Confession. Cardinal Donald Wuerl examines the healing power of Confession and reviews how to get the most out of the sacrament, including how best to examine your conscience, how to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your sins to you, and why a regular prayer time is crucial.


Lord Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession. Dr. Scott Hahn unpacks the scriptural foundation of Confession, demonstrating how contemporary practices are rooted in God’s dealings with Israel, as well as the ongoing importance of penance.


What Jesus Saw from the Cross. Father A.G. Sertillanges’ classic exposition on the Passion narratives will transport you to first-century Jerusalem, forever changing how you experience Holy Week and the Easter Triduum.


The Soul of the Apostolate. Dom John-Baptiste Chautard’s masterpiece illuminates the nature of the interior life, revealing how prayer, contemplation, and love for Christ provide the only sure foundation for the active life of spiritual and corporal charity.


This Tremendous Lover. In this modern spiritual classic, Dom Eugene Boylan shows Christians how to draw closer to Christ through spiritual devotions and how to grow in holiness in the midst of the world.


Prayer Works: Getting a Grip on Catholic Spirituality. New in 2014 from St. Paul Center Executive Director Matthew Leonard, Prayer Works offers readers a thorough introduction to the Catholic understanding of prayer and the spiritual life, as well as a step-by-step lesson in practicing different forms of prayer.


To Know Christ Jesus. One of the great apologist Frank Sheed’s most beloved works, This book is an intimate and detailed reflection upon the life of Jesus Christ as told in all four Gospels.


A Year with the Church Fathers. Organized into a series of daily readings by Patristics expert (and St. Paul Center Vice President) Mike Aquilina, this devotional offers you wise and practical advice for Christian living from the “greats” of the early Church, including St. Clement of Rome, St. Gregory the Great, and St. John Chrysostom.


The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time. In this book from author Fr. Lawrence Lovasik, you’ll discover how to tame your temper and demonstrate your love for God through concrete acts of patience and compassion towards others.


The Fulfillment of All Desire. In what is perhaps the best and most comprehensive introduction to the spiritual “masters,” Dr. Ralph Martin helps readers apply the wisdom of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and more to their own life in Christ.


These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body. In her groundbreaking book, author Emily Stimpson explores what it means to see the world with Catholic eyes and live a thoroughly Catholic life in the most ordinary moments and ways.


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Fasting on Fridays and the Passion of Jesus the Bridegroom


Have you ever wondered? Why do Catholics fast on Good Friday? Moreover, why is it traditional to fast on the Fridays of Lent?

There are, of course, various historical and liturgical reasons for the custom of fasting. But there’s also a biblical foundation for fasting on Fridays that’s directly tied to the topic of my new book, Jesus the Bridegroom: the Greatest Love Story Ever Told. The connection really hit me when I went to Mass last Friday with my wife and children.

Jesus the Bridegroom and the First Friday in Lent

Sitting there on the front pew (because that’s the best seat if you have young children!), we were, like many other young families at the beginning of Lent, somewhat tired and distracted at the end of a long week. I for one was starting to get anxious about the flurry of speaking engagements and interviews that were coming up to promote the book, and also thinking hard about how to help people see why the topic was not just fascinating but spiritually relevant to their lives. And then, much to my surprise, when it came time to stand for the Friday Gospel, I heard these words:

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the Bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14-15)

As I heard these words,  a big smile spread across my face. Any worries I may have had about the importance of the topic of the new book melted away.  My twelve-year old daughter reached over and tugged my arm, smiling and pointing up to the Gospel! (She knew my book was on Jesus the Bridegroom.) At that moment, I realized for the first time: Every year, on the very first Friday of Lent, the Church proclaims Jesus’ riddle about the Bridegroom and the Wedding Guests. Why?

For one thing, it’s because this is one of Jesus’ first allusions to his coming passion and death. You can see this by realizing that Jesus’ mysterious response is really a parable, in which he makes three key comparisons.

Jesus’ Riddle about the Sons of the Bridechamber

First, Jesus implicitly identifies himself as “the bridegroom” in order to suggest that the present, while he and his disciples are together, are like an ancient Jewish wedding feast: it’s a time for celebration, not for fasting.

Second, he compares his disciples to the wedding guests—or, more literally, the “sons of the bridechamber” (Greek huioi tou nymphonos). These were basically the ancient Jewish equivalent of ‘groomsmen’, who—in ancient as well as modern times!—weren’t exactly known for fasting. Indeed, in rabbinic tradition, both the bridegroom and the sons of the bridechamber were not obligated to perform ordinary religious duties during the seven-day Jewish wedding, including fasting.

Third and finally—and most importantly for us—Jesus is also implicitly identifying the day of his passion and death as his wedding day. He does this by speaking about the coming time “when the bridegroom is taken away from them” and how they will fast on that day (cf. Mark 2:20).

The Jewish Bridechamber and Jesus’ ‘Wedding Day’

On one level this is a reference to the ancient Jewish night of consummation, when the bridegroom would leave his family and friends and enter into the “bridechamber” (Hebrew huppah) in order to be united to his bride, not to come out again until morning (see Psalm 19:4-5; Tobit 6:15-17). On a deeper level, the day that Jesus the Bridegroom is “taken away” is of course the day of his passion an death. As New Testament scholar Craig Keener puts it: “Jesus is the groom of God’s people in the coming messianic banquet… The ‘taking’ of the bridegroom, of course, is a veiled reference to the impending crucifixion.’ (Keener, Matthew, p. 300). In other words, Jesus’ ‘wedding day’ is the day of his death. (And this isn’t just a pretty metaphor. As I show in the chapter on the Crucifixion in the book, there are several striking parallels between Jesus’ crucifixion and an ancient Jewish wedding day.)

Remembering the Day our Bridegroom was “Taken Away”

What does any of this have to do with fasting on Fridays in Lent, and on Good Friday above all? From a biblical perspective: the reason we fast is because Friday is the day our Bridegroom was ‘taken away’ from us, and we don’t ever want to forget it. In fulfillment of Jesus’ words—“then they will fast”—we deny ourselves and remember the passion of the Bridegroom God of Israel, who loved us so much that he not only became man, but mounted the wood of the cross in order to save humanity from sin and be united to us in love. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

“In [Jesus] in an unexpected way, God and man become one, become a ‘marriage’, though this marriage—as Jesus subsequently points out—passes through the Cross, through the ‘taking away’ of the bridegroom. (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, 1, p. 252)

From this perspective, our Friday fasting and penances should not just be acts of self-denial, but sacrifices given out of love, just as the Bridegroom Messiah sacrificed himself out of love for us. We fast in memory of the one who ‘loved us and gave himself for us’ (cf.Galatians 2:20).

The Divine Love Story

Although many a man throughout history has compared his wedding day to his funeral; Jesus of Nazareth is the only man who ever compared his funeral to his wedding day. That is because he was no ordinary man; he was the Bridegroom God of Israel come in the flesh in to save his Bride. And his life and death on the Cross were nothing less than the center of the divine love story that is the real meaning of human history. Why else does the Bible begin with the wedding of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) and end with the Wedding of Christ in the Church in the Book of Revelation (Rev 19-22)?!

On every Friday during Lent—especially Good Friday—may his disciples remember his words about the passion—“they will fast on that day.” In this way, we will truly prepare ourselves for the great Feast of Easter, when we will celebrate the Resurrection of the Bridegroom who gives himself to his Bride in every Eucharist as a foretaste of heaven—of the eternal “Wedding Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7).

Have a blessed Lent!


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Made Clean: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45


In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands (see Numbers 12:12-15; 2 Kings 5:27; 15:5).

Considered “unclean” - unfit to worship or live with the Israelites, lepers are considered “stillborn,” the living dead (see Numbers 12:12). Indeed, the requirements imposed on lepers in today’s First Reading - rent garments, shaven head, covered beard - are signs of death, penance, and mourning (see Leviticus 10:6; Ezekiel 24:17).

So there’s more to the story in today’s Gospel than a miraculous healing.

When Elisha, invoking God’s name, healed the leper, Naaman, it proved there was a prophet in Israel (see 2 Kings 5:8). Today’s healing reveals Jesus as far more than a great prophet - He is God visiting His people (see Luke 7:16).

Only God can cure leprosy and cleanse from sin (see 2 Kings 5:7); and only God has the power to bring about what He wills (see Isaiah 55:11; Wisdom 12:18).

The Gospel scene has an almost sacramental quality about it.

Jesus stretches out His hand - as God, by His outstretched arm, performed mighty deeds to save the Israelites (see Exodus 14:6; Acts 4:30). His ritual sign is accompanied by a divine word (“Be made clean”). And, like God’s word in creation (“Let there be”), Jesus’ word “does” what He commands (see Psalm 33:9).

The same thing happens when we show ourselves to the priest in the sacrament of penance. On our knees like the leper, we confess our sins to the Lord, as we sing in today’s Psalm. And through the outstretched arm and divine word spoken by His priest, the Lord takes away the guilt of our sin.

Like the leper we should rejoice in the Lord and spread the good news of His mercy. We should testify to our healing by living changed lives. As Paul says in today’s Epistle, we should do even the littlest things for the glory of God and that others may be saved.


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Lenten Back to Basics


I love Lent.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I take pleasure in fasting. And I don’t enjoy “giving stuff up” any more than the next guy. In my devotional life I can be a typical spoiled American.

But Lent, for me, is always a hopeful time. It’s my annual reminder that change is possible. More than that, I’m reminded that God wants me to change and wills me to change. So he’ll give me the grace I need to put away vice and put on virtue. All the readings at Mass reinforce those lessons. God calls Israel to repent — to cease its sinning — and to grow by means of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

I usually begin the season with a silent retreat, so that I can get back to the basics of the spiritual life. I’ll usually take a book with me; and this year I know which book I want to take. It’s Knowing the Love of God: Lessons from a Spiritual Master, by the Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange.

This author defined “the basics of the spiritual life” for me, way back when I was a new Catholic. Father Garrigou-Lagrange was perhaps the most celebrated Catholic theologian of his lifetime (1877-1964). He taught for many years at Rome’s Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum), and among his illustrious students was a young Polish priest named Karol Wojtyla. Father Wojtyla (whom we now know as Saint John Paul II) completed his doctoral dissertation under the direction of Friar Reginald.

He is best known, however, for his foundational work of spiritual theology, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, which he wrote when he was young. That title, too, bears careful reading and re-reading. I cannot name — and can’t even imagine — a book more justly influential on the practice of spiritual direction.

But this year I will read Knowing the Love of God. It is Father Garrigou-Lagrange’s most mature work. In fact, its chapters are the meditations that he preached at retreats for his fellow friars.

Father Garrigou-Lagrange anticipated what Pope Saint John XXIII called the greatest teaching of the Second Vatican Council: the universal call to holiness. Father Reginald believed that ordinary Christians, by virtue of their baptism, were called to the mystical life and empowered for it. This doesn’t mean we’ll all be visionaries or prophets; in fact, it seems that God calls very few to experience such dramatic phenomena.

But we’re all called to enjoy a life of profound, prayerful, and intimate union with God. This is the ordinary vocation of Christians.

It is my vocation and yours, and we can certainly live it better. If you can’t join me on retreat this year, please join me at least in the pages of this book, which is now once more available after many years out of print. I consider it a privilege that I was invited to write the foreword for this new edition of the English translation.

I consider it a privilege, too, to count you as a benefactor. I am deeply grateful for your prayers, your encouragement, and your contributions to the Saint Paul Center. I ask you to remember our work as you pray more fervently in the coming forty days of Lent.

Click here to order your copy today.


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Saint Agatha, Virgin, Martyr


February 5th is the memorial of St. Agatha, patroness of Sicily, the land of my grandparents, and one of the patrons of my parish.

Because of the tortures she endured in martyrdom, St. Agatha is also patroness of women who live with diseases of the breast. Fr. Paul Zalonski has a deep devotion to the third-century martyr. He sent me a prayer card with the saint’s image on front and the following novena on back. Pass it around. Think of it as a deeply traditional version of the pink ribbon.

O glorious Saint Agatha, through whose intercession in Christ I hope for the restored health of body and soul, hasten to lead me to the true Good, God alone. By your intercession, O blessed Agatha, may I ever enjoy your protection by faithfully witnessing to Christ. You invite all who come to you to enjoy the treasure of of communion with the Holy Trinity. Moreover, if it be for God’s greater glory and the good of my person, please intercede for me with the request of [mention request here].

Saint Agatha, you found favor with God by your chastity and by your courage in suffering death for the gospel. Teach me how to suffer with cheerfulness, uniting myself to Christ crucified with a simplicity and purity of heart. Amen.

Saint Agatha, eloquent confessor of Jesus Christ as Savior, pray for me.

Saint Agatha, the martyr who says to Jesus, “possess all that I am,” pray for me.

Saint Agatha, concerned with the welfare of all God’s children, pray for me.

Saint Agatha, pray for me.

(I’ve found other prayers for breast ailments, to Christ and to Our Lady, in the book Celtic Spiritual Verse: Poems of the Western Highlanders from the Gaelic.)

Agatha’s story is in Butler, of course, and critically dissected and patristically pedigreed in the old Catholic Encyclopedia. Her images abound at Artcyclopedia.


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The King’s Authority: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

Last week, Jesus announced the kingdom of God is at hand. This week, in mighty words and deeds, He exercises His dominion - asserting royal authority over the ruler of this world, Satan (see John 12:31).

Notice that today’s events take place on the sabbath. The sabbath was to be an everlasting sign -both of God’s covenant love for His creation (see Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17), and His deliverance of his covenant people, Israel, from slavery (see Deuteronomy 6:12-15).

On this sabbath, Jesus signals a new creation - that the Holy One has come to purify His people and deliver the world from evil.

“With an unclean spirit” is biblical language for a man possessed by a demon, Satan being the prince of demons (see Mark 3:22).

The demons’ question: “What have you to do with us?” is often used in Old Testament scenes of combat and judgment (see Judges 11:12; 1 Kings 17:18).

And as God by His word “rebuked” the forces of chaos in creating the world (see Psalms 104:7; Job 26:10-12), and again rebuked the Red Sea so the Israelites could make their exodus (see Psalm 106:9), Mark uses the same word to describe Jesus rebuking the demons (see Mark 4:39; Zechariah 3:2).

Jesus is the prophet foretold by Moses in today’s First Reading (see Acts 3:22). Though He has authority over heaven and earth (see Daniel 7:14,27; Revelation 12:10), He becomes one of our own kinsmen.

He comes to rebuke the forces of evil and chaos - not only in the world, but in our lives. He wants to make us holy in body and spirit, as Paul says in today’s Epistle (see Exodus 31:12).

In this liturgy, we hear His voice and “see” His works, as we sing in today’s Psalm. And as Moses tells us today, we should listen to Him.


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Aquinas: The Biblical Approach of the Model Catholic Theologian


Today is the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas! In honor of that, I thought I’d cover some ground I’ve been over before, namely, Thomas’ role as a model of Catholic theology and his primary focus on Scripture. Perhaps most striking—at least to some—is Thomas’ insistence on the priority of the literal-historical sense of Scripture.

In short, for Thomas Theology is a Scriptural enterprise. Since he’s consistently held out as the model, Catholic theologians should be sure to, likewise, make “the study of the sacred page. . . the very soul of theology” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 24).

St. Thomas’ Significance

Throughout the ages, Thomas’ work has consistently been held out as a model for Catholic theology by the Catholic Church. Consider some of the following quotes from various popes. I’ve added some italics.

Pope John Innocent VI, Serm. De. St. Thomas (c. 1352): “[Thomas’] teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error.”

Pope Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris (On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy), 17, 19(1879): “Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because ‘he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to inherited the intellect of all’ [cited in Pius XI, Stud. Ducem. #5]… he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a love of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching. 
. . . Moreover, the Angelic Doctor… single-handed… victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in aftertimes spring up.”

Pope Leo XIII, Depuis le jour (On the Education of Clergy), VI, 100: “The book par excellence whence students can study Scholastic Theology with much profit is the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas… It is our wish, therefore, that professors be sure to explain to all their pupils its method, as well as the principle articles relating to Catholic faith.”

Pope St. Pius X, In praecipius to the Roman Academy, I, 124: “Indeed, those principles of wisdom useful for all time, which the holy Fathers and Doctors passed on to us, have been organized by no one more aptly than by Thomas, and no one has explained them more clearly.” 
Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem, 11 (1923): “. . . Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church…”

Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (1998), 78: “It should be clear… why the magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of St. Thomas’ thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies… The magisterium’s intention has always been to show how St. Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought.”

St. Thomas as a Biblical Theologian and His View of the Literal Sense

While Thomas’ importance is seldom disputed, what is often overlooked is the fact that for Thomas, the study of Theology was to be first and foremost a biblical exercise. An excellent overview can be found in Christopher Baglow, “Rediscovering St. Thomas Aquinas as Biblical Theologian,” Letter & Spirit 1 (2005): 137-146. You can purchase the volume here(it is full of a number of other excellent articles, including one by my friend and co-blogger, Brant Pitre).

Baglow begins by pointing out that, as many scholars explain, for Thomas there is a “unity between sacred Scripture and sacred doctrine” (137). He goes on to cite Thomas Aquinas, who wrote, “Only the canonical scriptures are the standard of faith (sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei)” (141).

Baglow highlights Thomas’ treatment of Scripture in article ten of the first question of the Prima Pars of his famous Summa Theologica:

The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one — the literal — from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.

Expounding on this passage, Baglow writes:

“Thomas holds that only the literal sense of Scripture is available to theological argumentation. That is because he maintains that all the truths necessary for salvation—the only proper ‘content’ of doctrine and theology—are to be found in the literal sense of Scripture. It is not that he denies the possibility or utility of the spiritual senses. Rather, he insists on an essential, foundational status for the literal sense. To be legitimate, all spiritual interpretation must be based on the literal sense. This rules out any allegorizing that does not first deal with the literal meaning of the text” (142).

Suffice it to say, this is probably not what most people expect from St. Thomas. In fact, Thomas’s strong biblical emphasis is positively shocking to many Christians who have never read him. To those who think Catholicism ignores Scripture, think again: this is the man the Church holds up as the model of Catholic theology!

In particular, I’d recommend his commentaries on biblical books to those interested in Scripture study. They are an absolute gold mine.

On this, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, why not check them out?


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St. Agnes, a lamb for Christ


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“Wednesday is the feast of St. Agnes of Rome, virgin and martyr. I have a special devotion to little Agnes. Both my mom and my eldest daughter are named for her. I visit her relics whenever I’m in Rome. ”

~ Mike Aquilina

Listen to Mike Aquilina as he talks with Bruce & Kris McGregor on Spirit Catholic Radio KVSS about one of his favorite saints.
For more, click here to read another post on St. Agnes.


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Get the Newest Letter and Spirit


Just as there is a Catholic way of praying, eating, and living in community, there is a Catholic way of understanding history. Catholics don’t look at the world and see man trapped in a fatalistic, never-ending cycle of birth and death as the ancient pagans did. Nor do we see history progressing as a triumphant march, with the future always besting the past, as most modern secularists do.

Rather, Catholics see God’s hand in all of human history—teaching us, correcting us, and calling all men to himself. We see the unity between what has past and what is to come. And we see failures as well as progress, as men grapple with God’s call and God’s law.

In the newest volume of Letter and Spirit, the St. Paul Center’s journal of biblical theology, leading Catholic scholars explore the unity of Scripture, both old and new, reflecting upon how this Catholic understanding of history deepens our understanding of God’s Word.

Letter and Spirit, Volume 9: “Christ and the Unity of Scripture”, features essays by St. Paul Center President Dr. Scott Hahn; Center Fellows Dr. Michael Barber, Dr. Brant Pitre, Dr. William Bales, Dr. Vincent DeMeo, and Dr. Leroy Huizenga; plus Duquesne University Professor, Dr. William Wright.

Topics include: Christ as the center of Salvation History, Mosaic law and Jesus’ teachings on divorce, the Book of Wisdom and the Gospel of John, the Abrahamic Covenant and Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and more.

Written for priests, scholars, and seminarians, but accessible to serious, motivated lay Catholics, Letter and Spirit is available for order now. Click Here to learn more about the journal or to order your copy.


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Joy without Borders


The apologist C.S. Lewis imagined an unredeemed world as a place where it was always winter, but never Christmas.

This winter I find myself in a different place from Lewis’s imagining. It’s always Christmas, it seems — and that is as it should be.

My book about Christmas, Joy to the World, appeared shortly before Advent last year; and the reviews and press coverage were the stuff of an author’s wildest dreams. I spent much of December responding to newspaper reporters, talking to radio interviewers, and traveling to television networks. My chitchat and sound bytes were consistent with the subtitle of my book: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does).

Thus, my Advent was more focused than ever. So was my Christmas. That was a gift, and it keeps on giving — because here we are in January, and I’m still transfixed by the thought of Christ’s coming. I’m still amazed by the fact that God became man.

In the Old Testament he had made brief cameo appearances in the drama; but with the New Testament he came to stay. He made his home here, in a family like yours and mine — and, in fact, he wants to make his home precisely where you and I make ours.

We should be as astonished by the Incarnation as the shepherds were on that Bethlehem hillside. God has come to earth to share his divine life with us. How can we contain our joy?

And why should we contain it within December? The Christmas season continues for its allotted days, ending almost at mid-January, with the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. We should not let the terms of our celebration be dictated by advertisers. Our tradition sustains the joy at least a little longer.

Even so, I wonder now — and I truly hope — if I should feel this joy always. In my book I trace Christmas back to its origins, and I note that the feast has not always had the prominence we give it today. In fact, it’s possible that the earliest Church marked no particular day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

Yet there’s no doubt that the first Christians knew the joy of Christmas. They knew that their salvation had come — that he came by way of the family — that he was God, and yet he was a baby — that he came to save his people from their sins.

They did not keep their joy bottled up in a day, an octave, or a season. They let it flow into the world — a world they converted to Christ in fairly short order. As they grew in their awareness of the significance of the Incarnation, so the world grew in the intensity of its celebration.

Now, even secularists find Christmas impossible to escape. It’s ubiquitous and ineradicable, enforced even by Fortune 500 marketing departments. With the incarnation came heaven’s inescapable joy.

Pray for me that I will carry that joy through a demanding January. The Saint Paul Center co-sponsors its annual West Coast Biblical Conference in San Diego, California, on January 9-10. I’ll be speaking there with my colleagues Brant Pitre of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and Michael Barber and John Kincaid of John Paul the Great University in San Diego.

As the month goes on, I begin my second semester at Mundelein Seminary, training men for the priesthood. I continue teaching at Franciscan University, of course, where we are now entering the second semester of the Saint Paul Center’s Letter and Sprit Continuing Seminar for graduate students.

It’s a challenge — a lot of travel, a lot of preparation, a lot of lecturing — and it’s winter, so there will surely be a lot of weather and no shortage of contagion wherever we go.

Even so, I know that it can always be Christmas. It can always be well with my soul. And if I keep that thought before me, my joy will be more contagious than anything else I carry.

I ask your prayers that I can be faithful to the gift I’ve been given. I pray that you will be faithful to all you’ve received this Christmas. And I thank you for all you do for the mission of the Saint Paul Center.


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Children of God: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God


Readings:
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

Today we give thanks to Mary, the Mother of God. Her response to the angel, born of a humble heart, brought us life and salvation in the Child conceived in her womb.

From before all ages, God had destined her for this decisive role in salvation history. She was to be the woman who in the fullness of time would bear God’s only Son, as Paul tells us in today’s Epistle.

In times past, God spoke to His chosen people, the Israelites, through prophets (see Hebrews 1:1-2), and imparted His blessings upon them through His priests, as we hear in today’s First Reading.

But now, He has sent His Son—to reveal His glory and His kingdom, to make His way of salvation known to all nations, as we sing in today’s Psalm. In the Infant lying in the manger, God has shone His face upon us (see John 14:8-9).

Jesus is made a child of Israel, an heir of God’s covenant with Abraham, by His circumcision in today’s Gospel (see Genesis 17:1-14). And we have been made adopted sons and daughters by Baptism, which is the circumcision of Christ, the true circumcision (see Colossians 2:11; Philippians 3:3).

As children of God, Paul says today, we are heirs of the Father’s blessings, which He promised to bestow on all peoples through the descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 12:3; 22:18; Galatians 3:14). This is the blessing which Aaron imparted to Israel, the people descended from Abraham. And this blessing comes to us through Mary and the Child.

This is the good news of great joy that the shepherds make known in Bethlehem today (see Luke 2:10).

Like the shepherds, we too should make haste today to find Jesus with Mary and Joseph, and to glorify God for His blessings. And like Mary, we should keep His word and reflect upon it, letting it dwell richly in our hearts (see Colossians 3:16).


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Our True Home: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Feast of the Holy Family


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Readings:
Sirach 3:2-6,12-14
Psalm 128:1-5
Colossians 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52

Why did Jesus choose to become a baby born of a mother and father and to spend all but His last years living in an ordinary human family? In part, to reveal God’s plan to make all people live as one “holy family” in His Church (see 2 Corinthians 6:16-18).

In the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, God reveals our true home. We’re to live as His children, “chosen ones, holy and beloved,” as the First Reading puts it.

The family advice we hear in today’s readings - for mothers, fathers and children - is all solid and practical. Happy homes are the fruit of our faithfulness to the Lord, we sing in today’s Psalm. But the Liturgy is inviting us to see more, to see how, through our family obligations and relationships, our families become heralds of the family of God that He wants to create on earth.

Jesus shows us this in today’s Gospel. His obedience to His earthly parents flows directly from His obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Joseph and Mary aren’t identified by name, but three times are called “his parents” and are referred to separately as his “mother” and “father.” The emphasis is all on their “familial” ties to Jesus. But these ties are emphasized only so that Jesus, in the first words He speaks in Luke’s Gospel, can point us beyond that earthly relationship to the Fatherhood of God.

In what Jesus calls “My Father’s house,” every family finds its true meaning and purpose (see Ephesians 3:15). The Temple we read about in the Gospel today is God’s house, His dwelling (see Luke 19:46). But it’s also an image of the family of God, the Church (see Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 3:3-6; 10:21).

In our families we’re to build up this household, this family, this living temple of God. Until He reveals His new dwelling among us, and says of every person: “I shall be his God and he will be My son” (see Revelation 21:3,7).


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New Song: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Readings for Christmas Day


Readings:
Isaiah 52:7–10  
Psalms 98:1–6
Hebrews 1:1–6  
John 1:1–18

The Church’s liturgy rings in Christmas with a joyful noise. We hear today of uplifted voices, trumpets and horns, and melodies of praise. 

In the First Reading, Isaiah foretells Israel’s liberation from captivity and exile in Babylon. He envisions a triumphant homecoming to Zion marked by joyful singing.

The new song in today’s Psalm is a victory hymn to the marvelous deeds done by our God and King.

Both the prophet and psalmist sing of God’s power and salvation. God has shown the might of His holy arm, they say. This language recalls the Exodus, where the people first sang of God’s powerful arm that shattered Israel’s enemy Egypt (see Exod. 15:1, 6, 16).

The coming of the Christ child into the world fulfills all that the Exodus and the return from exile prefigured. In Jesus, all nations to the ends of the earth will see the victory of God over the forces of sin and death.

Jesus is the new King. He is the royal firstborn son and Son of God promised to David, as we hear in today’s Epistle (see Ps. 2:7; 2 Sam. 7:14).  And as our Gospel reveals, He is the Word of God, the one through whom the universe was created, the one through whom the universe is sustained.

In speaking to us through His Son, God has unveiled a new age, the last days.

The new age is a new creation. In the beginning, God spoke His Word and light shone in the darkness. Now, in this new age, He sends us the true light to scatter the darkness of a world that has exiled itself from God.

He is the one Isaiah foretold – who brings good tidings of peace and salvation, who announces to the world that God has come to dwell and to reign (see Rev. 21:3–4).

So we sing a new song on Christmas. It is the song of those who have believed in the Christ child and been born again – by grace given the power to become children of God.


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The Mystery Kept Secret: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fourth Sunday in Advent


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Readings
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11,16
Psalm 89:2-5,27,29
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

What is announced to Mary in today’s Gospel is the revelation of all that the prophets had spoken. It is, as Paul declares in today’s Epistle, the mystery kept secret since before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:9; 3:3-9).

Mary is the virgin prophesied to bear a son of the house of David (see Isaiah 7:13-14). And nearly every word the angel speaks to her today evokes and echoes the long history of salvation recorded in the Bible.

Mary is hailed as the daughter Jerusalem, called to rejoice that her king, the Lord God, has come into her midst as a mighty savior (see Zephaniah 3:14-17).

The One whom Mary is to bear will be Son of “the Most High” - an ancient divine title first used to describe the God of the priest-king Melchizedek, who brought out bread and wine to bless Abraham at the dawn of salvation history (see Genesis 14:18-19).

He will fulfill the covenant God makes with His chosen one, David, in today’s First Reading. As we sing in today’s Psalm, He will reign forever as highest of the kings of the earth, and He will call God, “my Father.” As Daniel saw the Most High grant everlasting dominion to the Son of Man (see Daniel 4:14; 7:14), His kingdom will have no end.

He is to rule over the house of Jacob - the title God used in making His covenant with Israel at Sinai (see Exodus 19:3), and again used in promising that all nations would worship the God of Jacob (see Isaiah 2:1-5).

Jesus has been made known, Paul says today, to bring all nations to the obedience of faith. We are called with Mary today, to marvel at all that the Lord has done throughout the ages for our salvation. And we too, must respond to this annunciation with humble obedience - that His will be done, that our lives be lived according to His word.


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There’s an App for That


Are you tired of misplacing your copy of Breaking the Bread and not being able to find Dr. Hahn’s reflections on the Sunday readings, right when you want them most? Or do you wish there were a better way to share what you’re learning about the day’s Gospel with your whole family?

Now, there is. Thanks to the St. Paul Center’s new mobile app, you’ll never need to worry about misplacing Breaking the Bread and can access the Sunday Mass reflections anytime from anywhere. The audio component of the device also allows you to listen to the reflections on your phone, so the whole family can hear what Dr. Hahn has to say about the Gospel in the car on the way to church.

As an added bonus, those who enable push notifications will receive email updates whenever Dr. Hahn speaks in their area.

This free app is currently available to both Apple and Android mobile device users. Simply click on one of the links below or go to you App Store and type in “St. Paul Center”.


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God in the Details


Joy is what we sing about at Christmas, but it’s not often what we have in our hearts. We get so distracted by work and worries that we hardly notice the season; and then, when we do notice, the logistics of the celebration can lead to more worry still.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the details of Christmas preparation. As we prepare, we need to remember that God is in the details.

I turned to the task of remembrance last year as I wrote my most recent book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does). I put the finishing touches on the manuscript as I was keeping the days of Advent.

Joy to the World is a book about Christmas, but it really belongs to every season — because it’s true: the incarnation has changed everything. It’s changed our world down to the smallest detail, and it should change the way we look at the details and live in our world.

In Joy to the World I examine the predictions of the prophets and the names in the genealogies. I call upon the witness of Jewish, secular, and pagan historians, as well as the early Church Fathers. I show the clear connections between the Old Testament’s foreshadowing and the New Testament’s fulfillment. Everything confirms the marvel of that particular moment in history. The testimony to the miraculous quality of Christmas is overwhelming.

Today we need the joy of Christmas. We live in a world that’s a lot like the world Jesus came to change — a world that’s losing hope, a world of cultural decline and political division, a world where the family’s breaking down. And into that darkness came a great light, brighter than the sun. Into that darkness came joy.

The good news is that it didn’t stop coming. The light shone in the darkness, which could not overcome it. The light is still coming to us, every day. This seems too good to be true, but it’s as true as truth can be, and it truly overcomes the world’s confusion, division, and rivalry.

The eternal Word “was made flesh and dwelt among us.” For every Christian that’s the turning point of history. God became incarnate in a family. God became incarnate in the kind of chubby baby flesh we grownups love to love. God became incarnate in a place you can find on a map, at a moment you can place on a timeline. Christmas is something intensely, profoundly real.

If we allow our lives to get caught up in the true drama of the season, we’ll be able to celebrate with sincerity when we get to the 25th.

I promise you my prayers in this season of grace. I ask your prayers for me and for the Saint Paul Center.

As 2014 draws to a close, I thank you for all you did for us this year. If you find it in your heart to remember us with an end-of-year, you’ll make our work of evangelization that much more effective in 2015. And we’ll be well on our way to yet another joyful Christmas!


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Watch For Him: Scott Hahn Reflects on the First Sunday of Advent


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Readings:
Isaiah 63:16-17, 19
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

The new Church year begins with a plea for God’s visitation. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,” the prophet Isaiah cries in today’s First Reading.

In today’s Psalm, too, we hear the anguished voice of Israel, imploring God to look down from His heavenly throne - to save and shepherd His people.

Today’s readings are relatively brief. Their language and “message” are deceptively simple. But we should take note of the serious mood and penitential aspect of the Liturgy today - as the people of Israel recognize their sinfulness, their failures to keep God’s covenant, their inability to save themselves.

And in this Advent season, we should see our own lives in the experience of Israel. As we examine our consciences, can’t we, too, find that we often harden our hearts, refuse His rule, wander from His ways, withhold our love from Him?

God is faithful, Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle. He is our Father. He has hearkened to the cry of His children, coming down from heaven for Israel’s sake and for ours - to redeem us from our exile from God, to restore us to His love.

In Jesus, we have seen the Father (see John 14:8-9). The Father has let His face shine upon us. He is the good shepherd (see John 10:11-15) come to guide us to the heavenly kingdom. No matter how far we have strayed, He will give us new life if we turn to Him, if we call upon His holy name, if we pledge anew never again to withdraw from Him.

As Paul says today, He has given us every spiritual gift - especially the Eucharist and penance - to strengthen us as we await Christ’s final coming. He will keep us firm to the end - if we let Him.

So, in this season of repentance, we should heed the warning - repeated three times by our Lord in today’s Gospel - to be watchful, for we know not the hour when the Lord of the house will return.


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When the End Comes: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Feast of Christ the King


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Readings:
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

The Church year ends this week with a vision of the end of time. The scene in the Gospel is stark and resounds with Old Testament echoes.
 
The Son of Man is enthroned over all nations and peoples of every language (see Daniel 7:13-14). The nations have been gathered to see His glory and receive His judgment (see Isaiah 66:18; Zephaniah 3:8). The King is the divine shepherd Ezekiel foresees in Sunday’s First Reading, judging as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
 
Each of us will be judged upon our performance of the simple works of mercy we hear in the Gospel.
 
These works, as Jesus explains today, are reflections or measures of our love for Him, our faithfulness to His commandment that we love God with all our might and our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36-40).
 
Our faith is dead, lifeless, unless it be expressed in works of love (see James 2:20; Galatians 5:6). And we cannot say we truly love God, whom we cannot see, if we don’t love our neighbor, whom we can (see 1 John 4:20).
 
The Lord is our shepherd, as we sing in Sunday’s Psalm. And we are to follow His lead, to imitate His example (see 1 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 5:1).
 
He healed our sickness (see Luke 6:19), freed us from the prison of sin and death (see Romans 8:2,21), welcomed us who were once strangers to His covenant (see Ephesians 2:12,19). He clothed us in baptism (see Revelation 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:3-4), and feeds us with the food and drink of His own body and blood.
 
At “the end,” He will come again to hand over His kingdom to His Father, as Paul says in the Epistle this week.
 
Let us strive to be following Him in right paths, that this kingdom might be our inheritance, that we might enter into the eternal rest promised for the people of God (see Hebrews 4:1,9-11).


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No Problem, Houston!


All I can say is, “Wow!” This past weekend in Houston, Texas, was unbelievable. Along with St Paul Center staff and Fellows, Rob Corzine, Raquel Lopez, and Ximena DeBroek, I was as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church to present Genesis to Jesus, the foundational program of our parish Bible study program Journey Through Scripture. We expected some warm weather and a little more than 100 people for the event. We were wrong…on both counts.

Surprisingly, the weather was pure Midwest - cold. Even more surprising was that by the time we started, almost 200 people had taken their places for day of study all about the story of the Bible. So many extra pairs of boots showed up, that I was actually a bit worried whether or not there would be enough food. (The local Knights of Columbus outdid themselves in preparing our meals.) Alas, no need to worry. God blesses Texas. The number of chicken and ham sandwiches seemed to multiply before our very eyes as everyone was more than well fed. (They had leftover homemade chocolate chip cookies even though I ate five myself!)

But it wasn’t just the number of people that made this event special. It was multi-lingual. More than half of the people present were receiving instruction in Spanish at the same time the rest were studying in English. It was amazing!
Here are some comments from participants:

“As a Protestant, great explanation of a Catholic perspective on reading the Scriptures”.

“The amazing pulling of salvation history, chronology of covenants, types, parallels, amazing”.

“It seems that every possible resource has been made available…unspeakable value”.

“Threading the OT/NT so skillfully, inspiring and pointing me forward in my spiritual journey. May what I learned benefit others.  Thank you so much!”

“Demonstrated Messianic prophesies in a short overview enabling further study for appreciating Old Testament as history of salvation and we are part of salvation history!!”

“Bringing together the pieces from many Bible study topics over the past 18 years!”

We’re all looking forward to returning to the great state of Texas in the future. But in the meantime, if you’re interested in hosting a Journey Through Scripture Bible study training in your diocese or parish, give us a shout at 740-264-9535. God bless you!

Matthew Leonard
Executive Director

P.S. Keep your eyes peeled in early 2015 for the release of our first video version of the Journey Through Scripture studies - The Bible and the Virgin Mary. Go to www.JourneyThroughScripture.com for a taste of what’s coming.


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Settling Accounts: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

The day of the Lord is coming, Paul warns in today’s Epistle. What matters isn’t the time or the season, but what the Lord finds us doing with the new life, the graces He has given to us.

This is at the heart of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel. Jesus is the Master. Having died, risen, and ascended into heaven, He appears to have gone away for a long time.

By our baptism, He has entrusted to each of us a portion of His “possessions,” a share in His divine life (see 2 Peter 1:4). He has given us talents and responsibilities, according to the measure of our faith (see Romans 12:3,8).

We are to be like the worthy wife in today’s First Reading, and the faithful man we sing of in today’s Psalm. Like them, we should walk in the “fear of the Lord” - in reverence, awe, and thanksgiving for His marvelous gifts. This is the beginning of wisdom (see Acts 9:31; Proverbs 1:7).

This is not the “fear” of the useless servant in today’s parable. His is the fear of a slave cowering before a cruel master, the fear of one who refuses the relationship that God calls us to.

He has called us to be trusted servants, fellow workers (see 1 Corinthians 3:9), using our talents to serve one another and His kingdom as good stewards of His grace (see 1 Peter 4:10).

In this, we each have a different part to play.

Though the good servants in today’s parable were given different numbers of talents, each “doubled” what he was given. And each earned the same reward for his faithfulness - greater responsibilities and a share of the Master’s joy.

So let us resolve again in this Eucharist to make much of what we’ve been given, to do all for the glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). That we, too, may approach our Master with confidence and love when He comes to settle accounts.


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writer. fighter. mitre - St. Leo the Great


All Christians believe the key doctrine that Jesus is all God and all man. Why? Because of the Catholic Church and men like St. Leo the Great.


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Body Building: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica


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Readings:
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9,12 

Psalm 46:2-3,5-6,8-9

1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17 

John 2:13-22 



Why commemorate a church dedication that happened in fourth-century Rome? First, because St. John Lateran is no ordinary church—it’s the cathedral church of the Pope and still known as “the mother of all the world’s churches.”

But more than that, because God has from all time intended the church building to be a symbol of His Church and our bodies. This is what the readings for today’s feast invite us to consider. God’s prototype for the church is the Jerusalem Temple, described in this week’s First Reading and Psalm. It’s God’s “holy dwelling,” site of His presence in our midst, source of “living waters”—of all life and blessing. But God intended the Temple to give way to the Body of Christ.

That’s what our Lord’s words and actions in Sunday’s Gospel are intended to dramatize. Christ’s Body is now the dwelling of God’s “glory” among us (see John 1:14). It’s the new source of living waters (John 4:10,14; 7:37-39; 19:34), the living bread (John 6:51), the new sanctuary where people will worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:21,23). By Baptism, we are joined to His Body in the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:13).

Sunday’s Epistle says the Spirit of God comes to dwell in us and makes us “God’s building…the temple of God” (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9). Jesus drove out the sellers of oxen, sheep and doves, signaling an end to the animal sacrifices that formed the worship of the old Temple. In the spiritual worship of the new Temple, we offer our bodies—our whole beings—as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1). Like living stones (see 1 Peter 2:5) built on the cornerstone of Christ (see Mark 12:10; Acts 4:11), together we are called to build up the new Temple of God, the Church.

As the Jerusalem Temple was, so the Church will always be under construction—until at last it is perfected in the new Jerusalem, our mother Church, come down from heaven (see Revelation 21:3,10,22; 22:1; Galatians 4:26).


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The King, the Drama, and the Joy


November is, for me, a month of great drama. It begins with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls — days when the Church celebrates God’s outpouring of holiness upon his people. The month concludes with the Solemnity of Christ the King, the conclusion of the liturgical year.

The readings at Mass are often apocalyptic. They’re revelatory. They pull back the veil between heaven and earth, so that we “see” ourselves standing among “all the angels and saints” when we go to Mass.

This is the kingdom. Christ is our king. As our year reaches its climax, we acknowledge these facts and we prepare to celebrate the advent of the king at Christmas.

I feel especially ready this year, as I’ve just received copies of my new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does). It’s a book to read as one year ends and another begins. It tells the story of how one era ended and a more glorious era began.

I don’t want to be like those retailers who start hawking Christmas on the day after Halloween. But the truth is that, as Christians, we’re always celebrating Christmas. The pivot of our faith is the fact of Jesus’ coming. In the fourth century, Saint Ambrose observed that the power by which the Word took flesh is the same power by which he comes among us today in the Holy Mass. What we celebrate at Christmas, we Catholics celebrate every day.

In my book I consider Christmas as the story of a family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And I examine their interactions with other characters in the story: shepherds and angels, magi and priests, elderly devout souls and the wicked King Herod. All these forces for good and evil converged as a perfect storm in the little town of Bethlehem.

It was history’s turning point. It was the sudden intrusion of the kingdom, the critical moment long prepared by our Father God; and any king who wished to be God’s rival feared that the end was at hand. God’s reign of peace began with a tide of bloodshed. Herod’s slaughter of the innocents was his most famous massacre, but hardly his only one. He knew, and the priests in Jerusalem knew, that something momentous was at hand.

There is epic drama to the story of Christmas. The story is complex — dark, but with sudden bursts of glory. It is a story of hope — but it takes place in violent, transitional times. It demands much more attention than it gets from us.

There is indeed drama to our days, as one Church year turns over to another, as one season turns over to another, as one era turns over to another.

We can celebrate our seasons, this month and next, the end and the beginning — always with Joy. Our times may not be easy, but with Christ they can be joyful. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Even though it’s only November, it’s not too early to raise the blessing: “Joy to the World!”

I hope you find my new book helpful for living these seasons and these times. I’m grateful for all you do for me — and for the sake of evangelization — as you support the Saint Paul Center.


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Love Commanded: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Exodus 22:20-26
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus came not to abolish the Old Testament law but to fulfill it (see Matthew 5:17)

And in today’s Gospel, He reveals that love - of God and of neighbor - is the fulfillment of the whole of the law (see Romans 13:8-10).

Devout Israelites were to keep all 613 commands found in the Bible’s first five books. Jesus says today that all these, and all the teachings of the prophets, can be summarized by two verses of this law (see Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).

He seems to summarize the two stone tablets on which God was said to have engraved the ten commandments (see Exodus 32:15-16). The first tablet set out three laws concerning the love of God - such as the command not to take His name in vain; the second contained seven commands regarding love of neighbor, such as those against stealing and adultery.

Love is the hinge that binds the two tablets of the law. For we can’t love God, whom we can’t see, if we don’t love our neighbor, whom we can (see 1 John 4:20-22).

But this love we are called to is far more than simple affection or warm sentiment. We must give ourselves totally to God - loving with our whole beings, with all our heart, soul and mind. Our love for our neighbor must express itself in concrete actions, such as those set out in today’s First Reading.

We love because He first loved us (see 1 John 4:19). As we sing in today’s Psalm, He has been our deliverer, our strength when we could not possibly defend ourselves against the enemies of sin and death.

We love in thanksgiving for our salvation. And in this become imitators of Jesus, as Paul tells us in today’s Epistle - laying down our lives daily in ways large and small, seen and unseen; our lives offered as a continual sacrifice of praise (see John 15:12-13; Hebrews 13:15).


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Dressing for the Feast: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Twenty-eighth Sunday Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Isaiah 25:6-10
Psalm 23:1-6
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14

Our Lord’s parable in today’s Gospel is again a fairly straightforward outline of salvation history.

God is the king (see Matthew 5:35), Jesus the bridegroom (see Matthew 9:15), the feast is the salvation and eternal life that Isaiah prophesies in today’s First Reading. The Israelites are those first invited to the feast by God’s servants, the prophets (see Isaiah 7:25). For refusing repeated invitations and even killing His prophets, Israel has been punished, its city conquered by foreign armies.

Now, Jesus makes clear, God is sending new servants, His apostles, to call not only Israelites, but all people - good and bad alike - to the feast of His kingdom. This an image of the Church, which Jesus elsewhere compares to a field sown with both wheat and weeds, and a fishing net that catches good fish and bad (see Matthew 13:24-43, 47-50).

We have all been called to this great feast of love in the Church, where, as Isaiah foretold, the veil that once separated the nations from the covenants of Israel has been destroyed, where the dividing wall of enmity has been torn down by the blood of Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-14).

As we sing in today’s Psalm, the Lord has led us to this feast, refreshing our souls in the waters of baptism, spreading the table before us in the Eucharist. As Paul tells us in today’s Epistle, in the glorious riches of Christ, we will find supplied whatever we need.

And in the rich food of His body, and the choice wine of His blood, we have a foretaste of the eternal banquet in the heavenly Jerusalem, when God will destroy death forever (see Hebrews 12:22-24).

But are we dressed for the feast, clothed in the garment of righteousness (see Revelation 19:8)? Not all who have been called will be chosen for eternal life, Jesus warns. Let us be sure that we’re living in a manner worthy of the invitation we’ve received (see Ephesians 4:1).


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Living on the Vine: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43

In today’s Gospel Jesus returns to the Old Testament symbol of the vineyard to teach about Israel, the Church, and the kingdom of God.

And the symbolism of today’s First Reading and Psalm is readily understood.

God is the owner and the house of Israel is the vineyard. A cherished vine, Israel was plucked from Egypt and transplanted in a fertile land specially spaded and prepared by God, hedged about by the city walls of Jerusalem, watched over by the towering Temple. But the vineyard produced no good grapes for the wine, a symbol for the holy lives God wanted for His people. So God allowed His vineyard to be overrun by foreign invaders, as Isaiah foresees in the First Reading.

Jesus picks up the story where Isaiah leaves off, even using Isaiah’s words to describe the vineyard’s wine press, hedge, and watchtower. Israel’s religious leaders, the tenants in His parable, have learned nothing from Isaiah or Israel’s past. Instead of producing good fruits, they’ve killed the owner’s servants, the prophets sent to gather the harvest of faithful souls.

In a dark foreshadowing of His own crucifixion outside Jerusalem, Jesus says the tenants’ final outrage will be to seize the owner’s son, and to kill him outside the vineyard walls.

For this, the vineyard, which Jesus calls the kingdom of God, will be taken away and given to new tenants - the leaders of the Church, who will produce its fruit.

We are each a vine in the Lord’s vineyard, grafted onto the true vine of Christ (see John 15:1-8), called to bear fruits of the righteousness in Him (see Philippians 1:11), and to be the “first fruits” of a new creation (see James 1:18).

We need to take care that we don’t let ourselves be overgrown with the thorns and briers of worldly anxiety. As today’s Epistle advises, we need to fill our hearts and minds with noble intentions and virtuous deeds, rejoicing always that the Lord is near.


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Feast Forward by Scott Hahn


Pope John Paul II was arguably the most iconic priest of the last century. Millions attended his Masses — at extraordinary World Youth Day rallies, from Denver to Manila. And over the course of his twenty-seven-year pontificate, tens of thousands more attended the “private” weekday Masses in his apartment, whose little chapel was always crammed with as many people as possible.

He inspired a generation of men to answer God’s call and follow his footsteps to the altars of our Catholic churches. They sometimes call themselves the “John Paul II Generation” of priests. And now they are inspiring another generation to give themselves in service to Jesus Christ and his Church.

From his first days enrolled in the underground seminary in Nazi-occupied Poland, Karol Wojtyla gave everything and held nothing back. He showed himself willing to risk his life for the faith. Once he almost gave his life, when he was felled by an assassin’s bullet. But God restored him for two more decades of service.

In his last years he remained the iconic priest, even as he was hobbled and required assistance at the altar — even when he could no longer ascend the altar and could only offer his personal suffering from his sickbed.

For such a life he was canonized in short order, less than a decade after his death. This year — for the first time — we will celebrate his feast day as a saint. We at the Saint Paul Center will mark it in a special way, with a festive dinner, attended by two bishops, and an address by Yours Truly.

He was pope when I converted. He was pope when we founded the Center. It was in his words that we found our mission: “The most urgent task is that of the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful.” From the moment I read that sentence, I knew what I had to do. God confirmed the mission by placing me in the midst of so many talented people who were eager to serve the Church in the way the Church wanted to be served.

I am so looking forward to the celebration, the Gala Dinner at LeMont, a premier restaurant in Pittsburgh. But, I have to admit, I’m already celebrating the feast. Because this semester I am myself absorbed in seminary studies. I am teaching with Father Robert Barron at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago; and I continue to teach theology at Franciscan University, where many of my students are preparing for priesthood. This fall, my wife Kimberly and I also said goodbye to our son Jeremiah as he left for Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, as he began his studies to be a priest of the Diocese of Steubenville.

I said just a moment ago that the priestly life of Saint John Paul is “iconic.” That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to admire it from afar. As Catholics, we venerate icons. We contemplate their message. We imitate the lives they portray.

In life Saint John Paul called the Church to a New Evangelization, and his successors, Benedict and Francis, have renewed that call. Such a movement of the Spirit cannot proceed without the sacraments, which are the ordinary means established by Jesus for the salvation and transformation of the world. For that we need good priests, holy priests, well-formed priests.

We at the Saint Paul Center are doing what we can do to accomplish this “most urgent task” — the biblical formation of the faithful and priests of the Church. I am invested in this in a passionate and personal way.

I’m glad you are, too, and I thank you for all you’ve done to advance our cause, through your prayers, your encouraging words, and your donations.

Please join us in prayer in a special way on the first Feast of Saint John Paul.


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The Humble Path: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Ezekiel 18:25-28
Psalm 25:4-9
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32

Echoing the complaint heard in last week’s readings, today’s First Reading again presents protests that God isn’t fair. Why does He punish with death one who begins in virtue but falls into iniquity, while granting life to the wicked one who turns from sin?

This is the question that Jesus takes up in the parable in today’s Gospel.

The first son represents the most heinous sinners of Jesus’ day - tax collectors and prostitutes - who by their sin at first refuse to serve in the Lord’s vineyard, the kingdom. At the preaching of John the Baptist, they repented and did what is right and just. The second son represents Israel’s leaders - who said they would serve God in the vineyard, but refused to believe John when he told them they must produce good fruits as evidence of their repentance (see Matthew 3:8).

Once again, this week’s readings invite us to ponder the unfathomable ways of God’s justice and mercy. He teaches His ways only to the humble, as we sing in today’#8217;s Psalm. And in the Epistle today, Paul presents Jesus as the model of that humility by which we come to know life’s true path.

Paul sings a beautiful hymn to the Incarnation. Unlike Adam, the first man, who in his pride grasped at being God, the New Adam, Jesus, humbled himself to become a slave, obedient even unto death on the cross (see Romans 5:14). In this He has shown sinners - each one of us - the way back to the Father.

We can only come to God, to serve in His vineyard, the Church, by having that same attitude as Christ.

This is what Israel’s leaders lacked. In their vainglory, they presumed their superiority - that they had no further need to hear God’s Word or God’s servants.

But this is the way to death, as God tells Ezekiel today. We are always to be emptying ourselves, seeking forgiveness for our sins and frailties, confessing on bended knee that He is Lord, to the glory of the Father.


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First and Last: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20-24, 27
Matthew 20:1-16

The house of Israel is the vine of God - who planted and watered it, preparing the Israelites to bear fruits of righteousness (see Isaiah 5:7; 27:2-5).

Israel failed to yield good fruits and the Lord allowed His vineyard, Israel’s kingdom, to be overrun by conquerors (see Psalm 80:9-20). But God promised that one day He would replant His vineyard and its shoots would blossom to the ends of the earth (see Amos 9:15; Hosea 14:5-10).

This is the biblical backdrop to Jesus’ parable of salvation history in today’s Gospel. The landowner is God. The vineyard is the kingdom. The workers hired at dawn are the Israelites, to whom He first offered His covenant. Those hired later in the day are the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, who, until the coming of Christ, were strangers to the covenants of promise (see Ephesians 2:11-13). In the Lord’s great generosity, the same wages, the same blessings promised to the first-called, the Israelites, will be paid to those called last, the rest of the nations.

This provokes grumbling in today’s parable. Doesn’t the complaint of those first laborers sound like that of the older brother in Jesus’ prodigal son parable (see Luke 15:29-30)? God’s ways, however, are far from our ways, as we hear in today’s First Reading. And today’s readings should caution us against the temptation to resent God’s lavish mercy.

Like the Gentiles, many will be allowed to enter the kingdom late - after having spent most of their days idling in sin.

But even these can call upon Him and find Him near, as we sing in today’s Pslam. We should rejoice that God has compassion on all whom He has created. This should console us, too, especially if we have loved ones who remain far from the vineyard.

Our task is to continue laboring in His vineyard. As Paul says in today’s Epistle, let us conduct ourselves worthily, struggling to bring all men and women to the praise of His name.


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To Win Them Back
: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:

Ezekiel 33:7-9

Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 18:15-20



As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today’s first Reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes His disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church (see Galatians 6:16). 



He also puts in place procedures for dealing with sin and breaches of the faith, building on laws of discipline prescribed by Moses for Israel (see Leviticus 19:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:13). The heads of the new Israel, however, receive extraordinary powers - similar to those given to Peter (see Matthew 16:19). They have the power to bind and loose, to forgive sins and to reconcile sinners in His name (see John 20:21-23).



But the powers He gives the apostles and their successors depends on their communion with Him. As Ezekiel is only to teach what he hears God saying, the disciples are to gather in His name and to pray and seek the will of our heavenly Father. 



But today’s readings are more than a lesson in Church order. They also suggest how we’re to deal with those who trespass against us, a theme that we’ll hear in next week’s readings as well.



Notice that both the Gospel and the First Reading presume that believers have a duty to correct sinners in our midst. Ezekiel is even told that he will be held accountable for their souls if he fails to speak out and try to correct them. 



This is the love that Paul in today’s Epistle says we owe to our neighbors. To love our neighbors as ourselves is to be vitally concerned for their salvation.

We must make every effort, as Jesus says, to win our brothers and sisters back, to turn them from the false paths. 

We should never correct out of anger, or a desire to punish. Instead our message must be that of today’s Psalm - urging sinner to hear God’s voice, not to harden their hearts, and to remember that He is the one who made us, and the rock of our salvation.


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To Stir with Love by Scott Hahn


“And they came, every one whose heart stirred him, and every one whose spirit moved him” (Exodus 35:11).

They came to Franciscan University; and like those long-ago Israelites, they found their way to the tent.

The occasion was our annual Applied Biblical Studies Conference, which is always heart-stirring. This year’s was special, though, because we were able to welcome so many people to the new home of the Saint Paul Center.

Our theme this year was “The Word of God and the Life of Prayer.” We took as our Scripture Colossians 3:16 and 4:2:“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … persevere in prayer being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” And the word dwelt richly among us, in the teaching of some amazing speakers: Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Jeff Cavins, Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, John Bergsma, David Currie, my bride Kimberly, and so many others. From the Saint Paul Center were my colleagues Matt Leonard, Rob Corzine, and Mike Aquilina. A newcomer to the conference rostrum was Father Charles Samson, a priest ordained just last year, who’s now pursuing a doctorate at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

About five hundred people attended — and almost two hundred showed up for extra days of Bible-study training in our Journey Through Scripture (JTS) program. This year we gave three options: our standard introductory study, “Genesis to Jesus”; our very popular Marian study, “The Bible and the Virgin Mary”; and our beautiful new study, “The Bible and Prayer.”

 

I call it beautiful because it is. I love the way this track has come together, though I was nervous about it at first. When we launched the project, it was clear that this study would be different from all the others — more practical, more systematic. I worried that our loyal supporters might find it too different. But we all felt that this was where the Spirit was leading, so we went ahead.


Our confirmation came with the evaluations of those who attended. Their judgment was overwhelming:

“The best of all of the JTS studies!”

“This was a great seminar. It pulled so many concepts together – the Church, the liturgy, the goal of prayer – using both Old and New Testament sources!”

“As perfect as humanly possible!”
 
“Well done, good and faithful servants!”

Another JTS veteran said that “The Bible and Prayer” was “the most valuable” series of all and could hardly “to bring this back and share with others – the ripple effect – to encourage others to begin praying prayers no just saying prayers!”

Imagine the hearts that will be changed. Imagine the ripple effect — in parishes, in homes, in workplaces, and in neighborhoods.

That’s what I was imagining as I trekked from the heart of the University’s campus to the Saint Paul Center, where we had set up an enormous tent for our Open House celebration. So many came, their hearts stirred by the good Word — people from every State of the union, from Canada, from Australia — converts and reverts and cradle Catholics — and we all had good reason to celebrate there at the tent.

Saint Paul urged us to persevere in prayer and to be watchful in thanksgiving. I have so much to be thankful for, and I thank you for all of it. You’ve made it possible, for me and for all those who’ve been trained in the Saint Paul Center Bible studies — and all those who will be trained by the people we’ve trained!

Please continue your support, especially your prayers, but also your contributions and your notes of encouragement. It all makes a difference. It all stirs hearts.


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For Your Life: Scott Hahn Reflects on the 

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:

Jeremiah 20:7-9

Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9

Romans 12:1-2

Matthew 16:21-27

Today’s First Reading catches the prophet Jeremiah in a moment of weakness. His intimate lamentation contains some of the strongest language of doubt found in the Bible. Following God’s call, he feels abandoned. Preaching His Word has brought him only derision and reproach.



But God does not deceive - and Jeremiah knows this. He tests the just (see Jeremiah 20:11-12), and disciplines His children through their sufferings and trials (see Hebrews 12:5-7).



What Jeremiah learns, Jesus states explicitly in today’s Gospel. To follow Him is to take up a cross, to deny yourself - your priorities, preferences, and comforts. It is to be willing to give it all up, even life itself, for the sake of His gospel. As Paul says in today’s Epistle, we have to join ourselves to the passion of Christ, to offer our bodies - our whole beings - as living sacrifices to God.



By His cross, Jesus has shown us what Israel’s sacrifices of animals were meant to teach - that we owe to God all that we have.



God’s kindness is a greater good than life itself, as we sing in today’s Psalm. The only thanks we can offer is our spiritual worship - to give our lives to the service of His will (see Hebrews 10:3-11; Psalm 50:14,23). 



Peter doesn’t yet get this in today’s Gospel. As it was for Jeremiah, the cross is a stumbling block for Peter (see 1 Corinthians 1:23). This too is our natural temptation - to refuse to believe that our sufferings play a necessary part in God’s plan. 



That’s how people think, Jesus tells us today. But we are called to the renewal of our minds - to think as God thinks, to will what He wills.



In the Mass, we once again offer ourselves as perfect and pleasing sacrifices of praise (see Hebrews 13:15). We bless Him as we live, confident that we will find our lives in losing them, that with the riches of His banquet, our souls will be satisfied.


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BookNotes - St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer


Do you have loved ones who have left the faith? Looking for inspiration to pray? Check out the newest edition of BookNotes from the St. Paul Center.


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Pray Thee Well!


About three weeks ago my summer peaked. And it had nothing to do with hiking a mountain with my kids. In fact, it happened right here in lil’ old Steubenville, Ohio. It was the St. Paul Center’s annual Applied Biblical Studies Conference which we co-sponsor with Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was a special conference not only because of the world-class lineup of speakers (e.g. Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, Jeff Cavins, etc…), but also because the conference actually got underway with almost two hundred people arriving a day early to go through Journey Through Scripture (JTS).

Many of you know that JTS is our dynamic parish Bible study program that’s been rocking Catholics for a couple years shy of a decade. The program is exploding as regular lay people experience the life-changing truth of the Sacred Page. But we’re just getting started. This year we added the sixth study to the series called “The Bible and Prayer,” based around my new book Prayer Works! Getting a Grip on Catholic Spirituality (which you can purchase through the Center’s online bookstore). It was a perfect way to get the main conference started…and I’m not the only one who thought so.
 

Here are some of the comments from “The Bible and Prayer” participants:

“The best of all of the JTS studies!”

“This was a great seminar. It pulled so many concepts together – the Church, the liturgy, the goal of prayer – using both Old and New Testament sources!”

“As perfect as humanly possible!”

Another Journey Through Scripture veteran said he could hardly wait “to bring this back and share with others.” That’s probably my favorite comment because that’s what it’s all about. We want the good news of the gospel message to spread far and wide - even to “the ends of the earth!”

If you are interested in learning how to bring Journey Through Scripture to your diocese, parish, or group, just call the St. Paul Center at 740-264-9535. God bless!


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A Foreigner’s Faith: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

Matthew 15:21-28

Most of us are the foreigners, the non-Israelites, about whom today’s First Reading prophesies. 



Coming to worship the God of Israel, we stand in the line of faith epitomized by the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. Calling to Jesus as Lord and Son of David, this foreigner shows her great faith in God’s covenant with Israel.



Jesus tests her faith three times. He refuses to answer her cry. Then, He tells her His mission is only to Israelites. Finally, he uses “dog,” an epithet used to disparage non-Israelites (see Matthew 7:6). Yet she persists, believing that He alone offers salvation.



In this family drama, we see fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and the promise we sing of in today’s Psalm. In Jesus, God makes known among all the nations His way and His salvation (see John 14:6). 



At the start of salvation history, God called Abraham (see Genesis 12:2). He chose his offspring, Israel, from all the nations on the face of the earth, to build His covenant kingdom (see Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Isaiah 41:8).



In God’s plan, Abraham was to be the father of many nations (see Romans 4:16-17). Israel was to be the firstborn of a worldwide family of God, made up of all who believe what the Canaanite professes - that Jesus is Lord (see Exodus 4:22-23; Romans 5:13-24).



Jesus came first to restore the kingdom to Israel (see Acts 1:6; 13:46). But His ultimate mission was the reconciliation of the world, as Paul declares in today’s Epistle.



In the Mass we join all peoples in doing Him homage. As Isaiah foretold, we come to His holy mountain, the heavenly Jerusalem, to offer sacrifice at His altar (see Hebrews 12:22-24,28). With the Canaanite, we take our place at the Master’s table, to be fed as His children.


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Introducing our Latest Scripture Study! “The Bible and Prayer”


It’s no exaggeration to say that prayer and its relationship to the Bible are among the most important topics we can examine. That’s because we come to know God through the Bible, and commune with him through prayer. They’re meant to go together.

The Bible and Prayer part of our Journey Through Scripture program explores the human quest for God, unveiling the true nature of prayer: what it is, how it works, and the bountiful blessings available to those who walk the path of intimacy with God. It looks at the prayer lives of the towering figures of salvation history in both the Old and New Testaments showing the different forms our communication with God can take. Decidedly practical, “The Bible and Prayer” also examines the ins and outs of the three types or modes of prayer every Catholic is called to engage in: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, and many essential characteristics of prayer are also covered. The study culminates in a study of the prayer life of Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of how to commune with our Father.

This summer at the Applied Biblical Studies conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville we debuted our newest Journey Through Scripture study “The Bible and Prayer”. Here are some of the judgements from the evaluations of those who attended.

“This was a great seminar. It pulled so many concepts together – the Church, the liturgy, the goal of prayer – using both Old and New Testament sources!”

“As perfect as humanly possible!”
  
“Well done, good and faithful servants!”

Another JTS veteran said that “The Bible and Prayer” was “the most valuable” series of all and could hardly wait “to bring this back and share with others – the ripple effect – to encourage others to begin praying prayers no just saying prayers!”

Imagine the hearts that will be changed. Imagine the ripple effect — in parishes, in homes, in workplaces, and in neighborhoods when you present this study.


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Sinking Fear: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings: 

1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 

Psalm 85:9-14 

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:22-33


How do we find God in the storms and struggles of our lives, in the trials we encounter in trying to do His will?

God commands Elijah in today’s First Reading to stand on the mountain and await His passing by. And in the Gospel, Jesus makes the disciples set out across the waters to meet Him.



In each case, the Lord makes himself present amid frightening tumult - heavy winds and high waves, fire and earthquakes. 



Elijah hides his face. Perhaps he remembers Moses, who met God on the same mountain, also amid fire, thunder, and smoke (see Deuteronomy 4:10-15; Exodus 19:17-19). God told Moses no one could see His face and live, and He sheltered Moses in the hollow of a rock, as He shelters Elijah in a cave (see Exodus 33:18-23).



The disciples, likewise, are too terrified to look on the face of God. Today’s Gospel is a revelation of Jesus’ divine identity. Only God treads across the crest of the sea (see Job 9:8) and rules the raging waters (see Psalm 89:9-10). And the words of assurance that Jesus speaks - “It is I” - are those God used to identify himself to Moses (see Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10).



Even Peter is too overcome by fear to imitate his Lord. His fears, Jesus tells him, are a sign of his lack of faith. And so it often is with us. Our fears make us doubt, make it hard to see His glory dwelling in our midst.



Yet, we should know, as we sing in today’s Psalm, that His salvation is near to those who hope in Him. By faith we should know, as Paul asserts in today’s Epistle, that we are heirs to the promises made to His children, Israel. 



We must trust that He whispers to us in the trials of our lives - that He who has called us to walk along the way of His steps, will save us whenever we begin to sink.


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Angels and Saints


As Catholics, we believe we are never alone; as we go about the business of our lives, we are covered in prayer by the angels and the saints. They are our constant companions in our journey to God. We also know that if we want to complete that journey, it’s not enough to just travel with the angels and saints; we must become like them. We must become saints. That’s the end to which God calls every man, woman, and child.

Yet, while we know that’s what God desires, actually attaining that end can seem, at times, impossible. How can we become anything like the great heroes of salvation history? How can we even come close to the holiness of her most beloved saints: Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, or Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

In his newest book, Angels and Saints, St. Paul Center President Dr. Scott Hahn answers those questions and more. In a series of engaging reflections and stories about the nature of angels and the lives of notable saints, Dr. Hahn demonstrates just how much we already have in common with our older brothers and sisters in the Faith, and how, with their help, we can follow more closely in their footsteps.

Here’s what others are saying about Angels and Saints.

“Dr. Hahn has a spiritual gift that lets us experience angels and saints in a way that they no longer appear to be far beyond us. His book is a passport into the spiritual realm of these special friends of God.”

—His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

“As an author, Scott Hahn is the master of two very different skills: expert scholarship and an easy, engaging style. This book is the proof. These pages are a wonderful explanation of what Catholics believe about angels and saints, and why—made even more absorbing by Hahn’s vivid portraits of individual women and men whom the Church now calls saints.”

—Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia

“…Dr. Scott Hahn has created not only a brilliant introduction but a masterful treatise on how the Church understands the angels and the saints as our friends and as God-given routes of access to life in Christ.”

—Very Reverend Robert Barron, Rector, Mundelein Seminary, and Founder, Word on Fire Catholic Ministries


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Food in Due Season: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-18
Romans 8:35,37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

In Jesus and the Church, Isaiah’s promises in today’s First Reading are fulfilled. All who are thirsty come to the living waters of baptism (see John 4:14). The hungry delight in rich fare - given bread to eat and wine to drink at the Eucharistic table.

This is the point, too, of today’s Gospel. The story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 brims with allusions to the Old Testament. Jesus is portrayed as a David-like shepherd who leads His flock to lie down on green grass as He spreads the table of the Messiah’s banquet before them (see Psalm 23).

Jesus is shown as a new Moses, who likewise feeds vast crowds in a deserted place. Finally, Jesus is shown doing what the prophet Elisha did - satisfying the hunger of the crowd with a few loaves and having some left over (see 2 Kings 4:42-44).

Matthew also wants us to see the feeding of the 5,000 as a sign of the Eucharist. Notice that Jesus performs the same actions in the same sequence as at the Last Supper - He takes bread, says a blessing, breaks it, and gives it (see Matthew 26:26).

Jesus instructed His apostles to celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Him. And the ministry of the Twelve is subtly stressed in today’s account. Before He performs the miracle, Jesus instructs the Twelve to give the crowd “some food yourselves.” Indeed, the apostles themselves distribute the bread blessed by Jesus (see Matthew 15:36).

And the leftovers are enough to fill precisely 12 baskets - corresponding to each of the apostles, the pillars of the Church (see Galatians 2:9; Revelation 21:14).

In the Church, as we sing in today’s Psalm, God gives us food in due season, opens His hands and satisfies the desires of every living thing. Now, as Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.


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“Come, Receive Grain and Eat”


The Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Eucharist, and the Hope of Israel
(18th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

POSTED BY DR. MICHAEL BARBER ON 07.31.14 |

This Sunday the readings highlight the way the Kingdom of God is present sacramentally. Specifically, hopes for the restoration of Israel are linked to a miracle of Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand, which is clearly understood eucharistically

I’ll be speaking on this topic this weekend at the Catholic Family Conference in Wichita, Kansas. Hope to see some of you there!

FIRST READING: Isa 55:1-3

Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.


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The Seventh Summer by Scott Hahn


In the Bible the seventh instance of anything is significant. Seven is the number signifying God’s covenant, and so it suggests a certain completion and perfection.

As we approached our seventh annual Letter and Spirit Summer Institute, it would have been natural to wonder whether our Institute has now become an institution.

Every year we approach it with high expectations, based on past successes, and yet every year it exceeds our expectations. This year, I thought, I could no longer be surprised by the special joy of this weeklong seminar for scholars.

But I was! Because, once again, the camaraderie, the discussions, and the spiritual striving rose to new heights.

The Letter and Spirit Summer Institute is an intensive weeklong seminar for doctoral candidates and future university and seminary faculty members — young scholars who intend to spend their lives in higher education: forming tomorrow’s Catholic leaders, training future clergy and teachers. If we want a better world tomorrow, this is where we need to begin, influencing those who will be influential. This, I believe, is an important, but hidden dimension of the New Evangelization.

Participants represent a wide variety of disciplines. This year we were pleased to host a large number of biblical scholars — almost half of the twenty who enrolled. They converged from all points of the compass and from many prestigious institutions: the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Saint

Andrew’s in Scotland, Yale University, Notre Dame University, Catholic University of America, Marquette University, Ave Maria University, the University of Dallas, and the University of Dayton. More universities were represented than ever before.

Daily we spent six hours in the classroom — and additional time in open discussion. We prayed together at intervals throughout the day, under the direction of the Conventual Friars of the Renewal, Father Benedict Groeschel’s order. The Friars have been with us from the beginning, and they add a dimension of spiritual retreat to the academic experience.

This year we tackled what scholars agree is one of the hardest passages in the Bible: Romans 9-11. These chapters are more densely packed with Old Testament quotations and allusions than any other in all of St. Paul’s writings, so we really ranged all over the Bible and all of salvation history.  (I am currently at work on a commentary on Romans for the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series, so it is very much on my mind).

The study and learning that we do in this intense week is important. But even more important for the future of the Church is the fellowship, the friendships, and the future partnerships that are formed. Attendees live together, sharing every meal. They pray together. They spend their free time together in truly dynamic interaction.

Our goal is to help build a movement of faithful Catholic scholars who read and teach the Bible from the heart of the Church — with academic rigor and apostolic zeal.

Once again, the experience exceeded my dreams, as well as the expectations of the participants. They thanked us for “the faithful ecclesial atmosphere,” the opportunity for networking and friendship, and “the huge support and encouragement.”

They thanked us, but I must thank you, because you helped to make the experience possible. I am deeply grateful for your prayers and contributions. I promise you my prayers and hard work in return.

I wonder if next year the Institute can surprise me.


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Treasures of the Kingdom: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
1 Kings 3:5,7-12  
Psalm 119:57,72,76-77,127-130
Romans 8:28-30  
Matthew 13:44-52

What is your new life in Christ worth to you?

Do you love His words more than gold and silver, as we sing in today’s Psalm? Would you, like the characters in the Gospel today, sell all that you have in order to possess the kingdom He promises to us? If God were to grant any wish, would you follow Solomon’s example in today’s First Reading—asking not for a long life or riches, but for wisdom to know God’s ways and to desire His will?

The background for today’s Gospel, as it has been for the past several weeks, is the rejection of Jesus’ preaching by Israel. The kingdom of heaven has come into their midst, yet many cannot see that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises, a gift of divine compassion given that they—and we, too—might live.

We too must ever discover the kingdom anew, to find it as a treasure - a pearl of great price. By comparison with the kingdom, we must count all else as rubbish (see Philippians 3:8). And we must be willing to give up all that we have—all our priorities and plans—in order to gain it.

Jesus’ Gospel discloses what Paul, in today’s Epistle, calls the purpose of God’s plan (see Ephesians 1:4). That purpose is that Jesus be the firstborn of many brothers.

His words give understanding to the simple, the childlike. As Solomon does today, we must humble ourselves before God, giving ourselves to His service. Let our prayer be for an understanding heart, one that desires only to do His will.

We are called to love God, to delight in His law, and to forsake every false way. And we are to conform ourselves daily ever more closely to the image of His Son.

If we do this, we can approach His altar as a pleasing sacrifice, confident that all things work for the good—that we whom He has justified, will also one day be glorified.


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Of Wheat and Weeds: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Wisdom 12:13,16-19  
Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16

Romans 8:26-27  
Matthew 13:24-43

God is always teaching His people, we hear in today’s First Reading.

And what does He want us to know? That He has care for all of us, that though He is a God of justice, even those who defy and disbelieve Him may hope for His mercy if they turn to Him in repentance.

This divine teaching continues in the three parables that Jesus tells in the Gospel today. Each describes the emergence of the kingdom of God from the seeds sown by His works and preaching. The kingdom’s growth is hidden - like the working of yeast in bread; it’s improbable, unexpected—as in the way the tall mustard tree grows from the smallest of seeds.

Again this week’s readings sound a note of questioning: Why does God permit the evil to grow alongside the good? Why does He permit some to reject the Word of His kingdom?

Because, as we sing in today’s Psalm, God is slow to anger and abounding in kindness. He is just, Jesus assures us - evildoers and those who cause others to sin will be thrown into the fiery furnace at the end of the age. But by His patience, God is teaching us—that above all He desires repentance, and the gathering of all nations to worship Him and to glorify His name.

Even though we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit will intercede for us, Paul promises in today’s Epistle. But first we must turn and call upon Him, we must commit ourselves to letting the good seed of His Word bear fruit in our lives.

So we should not be deceived or lose heart when we see weeds among the wheat, truth and holiness mixed with error, injustice and sin.

For now, He makes His sun rise on the good and the bad (see Matthew 5:45). But the harvest draws near. Let’s work that we might be numbered among the righteous children—who will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.


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The Word’s Return: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Isaiah 55:10-11  
Psalm 65:10-14

Romans 8:18-23  
Matthew 13:1-23

Today’s readings, like last week’s, ask us to meditate on Israel’s response to God’s Word—and our own. Why do some hear the word of the kingdom, yet fail to accept it as a call to conversion and faith in Jesus? That question underlies today’s Gospel, especially.

Again we see, as we did last week, that the kingdom’s mysteries are unfolded to those who open their hearts, making of them a rich soil in the which the Word can grow and bear fruit.

As we sing in today’s Psalm, in Jesus, God’s Word has visited our land, to water the stony earth of our hearts with the living waters of the Spirit (see John 7:38; Revelation 22:1).

The firstfruit of the Word is the Spirit of love and adoption poured into our hearts in baptism, making us children of God, as Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle (see Romans 5:5; 8:15-16). In this, we are made a “new creation” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), the firstfruits of a new heaven and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3:13).

Since the first humans rejected God’s Word, creation has been enslaved to futility (see Genesis 3:17-19; 5:29). But God’s Word does not go forth only to return to Him void, as we hear in today’s First Reading.

His Word awaits our response. We must show ourselves to be children of that Word. We must allow that Word to accomplish God’s will in our lives. As Jesus warns today, we must take care lest the devil steal it away or lest it be choked by worldly concerns.

In the Eucharist, the Word gives himself to us as bread to eat. He does so that we might be made fertile, yielding fruits of holiness.

And we await the crowning of the year, the great harvest of the Lord’s Day (see Mark 4:29; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 1:10)—when His Word will have achieved the end for which it was sent.


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The Bible and the Fathers


It was the Bible that made me read the Fathers.
When I was studying for the Presbyterian ministry, I wanted to understand the world where Jesus lived and where the apostles preached. I wanted to defend the New Testament canon against its latest round of challenges, for example — against those who would place the newfound “Gnostic Gospels” on the same footing as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
My research into that world was my introduction to the Christians who lived in that world: the Fathers of the Church. I first turned to the writings of the men who appeared most often in the Bible commentaries I read, the men who knew the apostles — the so-called Apostolic Fathers. Clement of Rome knew Peter and Paul. Polycarp knew John. Ignatius lived in Antioch, the city where the disciples were first called Christians, and where the Church received the testimony of several of the apostles. Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius knew the apostles, and they quoted the New Testament books, and they rejected the works of heretics. They were eminently useful to me.
So I eagerly turned to the writers who were the spiritual heirs to these men — the authors of the next generation: Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Melito. And again I found Christians who witnessed to the Bible, preached the Bible, interpreted the Bible. Indeed, they talked about little more than the Bible.
Yet I began to notice that they read the Bible differently from the way I did as an evangelical Protestant. They read the Old Testament in light of the New, the New in light of the Old, and always with the liturgy in mind. They saw the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist, as the ordinary yet mysterious way that Christians entered the drama of the Bible. In the liturgy, they not only heard the story, they lived it. They received salvation in the way Jesus had provided for them, when he commanded his Apostles to “Do this in memory of me” and “Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Fathers spoke constantly about the Scriptures. They had none of the study aids we have today in libraries, software, and seminaries. Nor could most of them have owned complete editions of the Bible. To have all the books of the Bible copied out would have been terrifically expensive, and would have required months of labor by a skilled scribe.
The Fathers possessed none of the advantages I possessed. Yet they knew the Bible as well as any professor or pastor I had ever met, and they exceeded everyone in their insights. From them — especially the earliest Fathers — I learned a covenant theology that was biblical and Catholic.
Having studied these early Christian texts, I never understood how some of my friends could place the Scriptures in opposition to the Fathers, as if the Fathers were actually opposed to anything in the Bible, as if we should have to choose one or another.
The Fathers preached biblical religion and they lived it, and they led me to find it in its fullness, in the Roman Catholic Church. I’m not the only…    ...one who’s followed the Fathers down that road to glory. I’ve encountered countless cradle Catholics who have “rediscovered their roots,” and I’ve been accompanied by countless converts as well.
It was the Fathers who received the Scriptures on our behalf — on behalf of the Church. It was the Fathers who faithfully preserved the Scriptures — copying them out by hand over and over again, since there were no printing presses or electronic media. It was the Fathers who put their lives at risk by using their homes as a refuge for the Scriptures, when to do so was a capital offense.
In the coming months, we at the St. Paul Center will have many opportunities to celebrate these works of the Fathers. The last weekend in October, I’ll be speaking with my colleague Mike Aquilina (author of The Fathers of the Church) at a conference on “The Fathers and the Bible” at St. Lambert Parish in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. And the upcoming issue of our journal, Letter and Spirit, will examine the same theme of the Bible and the Fathers, with contributions by many renowned scholars.
You make this work possible — and so much more. You ensure that the “Faith of Our Fathers” is “living still,” in spite of all the obstacles our culture places in the way. I know these times are challenging for you, as they are for everyone (especially nonprofits!), so I am even more grateful for the support you give us: your prayers, your encouragement, your contributions.
If I don’t see you in Skokie this month, I’ll meet you — and the Fathers of the Church — in the pages of Letter and Spirit.


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A Yoke for the Childlike: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Zechariah 9:9-10 
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14

Romans 8:9, 11-13  
Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus is portrayed in today’s Gospel as a new and greater Moses.

Moses, the meekest man on earth (see Numbers 12:3), was God’s friend (see Exodus 34:12,17). Only he knew God “face to face” (see Deuteronomy 34:10). And Moses gave Israel the yoke of the Law, through which God first revealed himself and how we are to live (see Jeremiah 2:20; 5:5).

Jesus too is meek and humble. But He is more than God’s friend. He is the Son who alone knows the Father. He is more also than a law-giver, presenting himself today as the yoke of a new Law, and as the revealed Wisdom of God.

As Wisdom, Jesus was present before creation as the firstborn of God, the Father and Lord of heaven and earth (see Proverbs 8:22; Wisdom 9:9). And He gives knowledge of the holy things of the kingdom of God (see Wisdom 10:10).

In the gracious will of the Father, Jesus reveals these things only to the “childlike”—those who humble themselves before Him as little children (see Sirach 2:17). These alone can recognize and receive Jesus as the just savior and meek king promised to daughter Zion, Israel, in today’s First Reading.

We too are called to childlike faith in the Father’s goodness, as sons and daughters of the new kingdom, the Church.

We are to live by the Spirit we received in baptism (see Galatians 5:16), putting to death our old ways of thinking and acting, as Paul exhorts in today’s Epistle. Our “yoke” is to be His new law of love (see John 13:34), by which we enter into the “rest” of His kingdom.

As we sing in today’s Psalm, we joyously await the day when we will praise His name forever in the kingdom that lasts for all ages. This is the sabbath rest promised by Jesus—first anticipated by Moses (see Exodus 20:8-11), but which still awaits the people of God (see Hebrews 4:9).


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Blessed Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, the Apostle of India.


Most people know him from the single episode in the upper room after Our Lord’s resurrection (John 20) when he at first refused to believe without seeing.  And if you refer to “Doubting Thomas” everyone will know whom you mean.  But when you take a look at his whole life and his martyr’s death, it would be more accurate if we called him “Trusting Thomas.”  Sent out with all of the Apostles to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth, Thomas evangelized in Syria and Persia before making his way down the ancient trade route to India, where he was eventually martyred.

Thomas is a saint for our times.  As Pope Benedict XVI put it, his case “is important to us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any insecurity; and, lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adhesion to him.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with doubt, get to know Thomas.  The easiest way I can think of is with Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey’s great little book The Doubter’s Novena: Nine Steps to Trust with the Apostle Thomas.

The church that St. Thomas planted in India survives to this day.  When the missionaries followed in the wake of explorers from Europe 1500 years later, they found Christians already there.  They also preached to many who were the descendants of those Thomas Christians and led them back to the faith of their fathers.  But work remains to be done there as everywhere.  Earlier this week, I received the following note at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology from a friend of in Tamil Nadu at the southern tip of India.  We are sending them materials and prayers;  Please join us.

I am an Indian and live in the city where St. Thomas the Apostle was
martyerd and I also come from the community who were recoverted to
Christianity by St. Francis Xavier. But the worst part of it is that the
community which as sheparded by St, Francis Xavier are moving away from
Catholisim and to the Protestantism. Even my own brother in law (his father
was the founder of Mary’s Prayer Group in UAE !!) and his family has moved
from Catholicisim !!!! Even I could not do much. The reason, the lack of
scripture knowledge amongst Catholics. I know my limitation hence I
heartily appreciate this initiative of yours.


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Word of the ‘Living Father’: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi


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Readings:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

The Eucharist is given to us as a challenge and a promise. That’s how Jesus presents it in today’s Gospel.

He doesn’t make it easy for those who hear Him. They are repulsed and offended at His words. Even when they begin to quarrel, He insists on describing the eating and drinking of His flesh and blood in starkly literal terms.

Four times in today’s reading, Jesus uses a Greek word - trogein - that refers to a crude kind of eating, almost a gnawing or chewing (see John 6:54,56,57,58).

He is testing their faith in His Word, as today’s First Reading describes God testing Israel in the desert.

The heavenly manna was not given to satisfy the Israelites’ hunger, as Moses explains. It was given to show them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

In today’s Psalm, too, we see a connection between God’s Word and the bread of life. We sing of God filling us with “finest wheat” and proclaiming his Word to the world.

In Jesus, “the living Father” has given us His Word come down from heaven, made flesh for the life of the world.

Yet as the Israelites grumbled in the desert, many in today’s Gospel cannot accept that Word. Even many of Jesus’ own followers abandon Him after this discourse (see John 6:66). But His words are Spirit and life, the words of eternal life (see John 6:63,67).

In the Eucharist we are made one flesh with Christ. We have His life in us and have our life because of Him. This is what Paul means in today’s Epistle when He calls the Eucharist a “participation” in Christ’s body and blood. We become in this sacrament partakers of the divine nature (see 1 Peter 2:4).

This is the mystery of the faith that Jesus asks us believe. And He gives us His promise: that sharing in His flesh and blood that was raised from the dead, we too will be raised up on the last day.


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How God Loves: Scott Hahn Reflects on The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity


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Readings:
Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9
Daniel 3:52-56
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

We often begin Mass with the prayer from today’s Epistle: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” We praise the God who has revealed himself as a Trinity, a communion of persons.

Communion with the Trinity is the goal of our worship - and the purpose of the salvation history that begins in the Bible and continues in the Eucharist and sacraments of the Church.

We see the beginnings of God’s self-revelation in today’s First Reading, as He passes before Moses and cries out His holy name.

Israel had sinned in worshipping the golden calf (see Exodus 32). But God does not condemn them to perish. Instead He proclaims His mercy and faithfulness to His covenant.

God loved Israel as His firstborn son among the nations (see Exodus 4:22). Through Israel - heirs of His covenant with Abraham - God planned to reveal himself as the Father of all nations (see Genesis 22:18).

The memory of God’s covenant testing of Abraham - and Abraham’s faithful obedience - lies behind today’s Gospel.

In commanding Abraham to offer his only beloved son (see Genesis 22:2,12,16), God was preparing us for the fullest possible revelation of His love for the world.

As Abraham was willing to offer Isaac, God did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all (see Romans 8:32).

In this, He revealed what was only disclosed partially to Moses - that His kindness continues for a thousand generations, that He forgives our sin, and takes us back as His very own people (see Deuteronomy 4:20; 9:29).

Jesus humbled himself to die in obedience to God’s will. And for this, the Spirit of God raised Him from the dead (see Romans 8:11), and gave Him a name above every name (see Philippians 2:8-10).

This is the name we glorify in today’s Responsorial - the name of our Lord, the God who is Love (see 1 John 4;8,16).


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A Mighty Wind: Scott Hahn Reflects on Pentecost Sunday


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Readings:
Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1,24,29-31,34
1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13
John 20:19-23

The giving of the Spirit to the new people of God crowns the mighty acts of the Father in salvation history.

The Jewish feast of Pentecost called all devout Jews to Jerusalem to celebrate their birth as God’s chosen people, in the covenant Law given to Moses at Sinai (see Leviticus 23:15-21; Deuteronomy 16:9-11).

In today’s First Reading the mysteries prefigured in that feast are fulfilled in the pouring out of the Spirit on Mary and the Apostles (see Acts 1:14).

The Spirit seals the new law and new covenant brought by Jesus, written not on stone tablets but on the hearts of believers, as the prophets promised (see 2 Corinthians 3:2-8; Romans 8:2).

The Spirit is revealed as the life-giving breath of the Father, the Wisdom by which He made all things, as we sing in today’s Psalm. In the beginning, the Spirit came as a “mighty wind” sweeping over the face of the earth (see Genesis 1:2). And in the new creation of Pentecost, the Spirit again comes as “a strong, driving wind” to renew the face of the earth.

As God fashioned the first man out of dust and filled him with His Spirit (see Genesis 2:7), in today’s Gospel we see the New Adam become a life-giving Spirit, breathing new life into the Apostles (see 1 Corinthians 15:45,47).

Like a river of living water, for all ages He will pour out His Spirit on His body, the Church, as we hear in today’s Epistle (see also John 7:37-39).

We receive that Spirit in the sacraments, being made a “new creation” in Baptism (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). Drinking of the one Spirit in the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 10:4), we are the first fruits of a new humanity - fashioned from out of every nation under heaven, with no distinctions of wealth or language or race, a people born of the Spirit.


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The Ascension: The Underrated Mystery


“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:8-9)

Watch this short video as Dr. Hahn reflects on the completion of the Paschal Mystery the Ascension of Our Lord.


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Exodus and Easter


Israel’s exodus from Egypt forms the background for many of the readings we hear in Easter.

On the Third Sunday, both the Gospel and Epistle describe Jesus “redeeming” or “ransoming” Israel (see Luke 24:21; 1 Peter 1:18). The Greek word in both is only used elsewhere to refer to Israel’s redemption from Egypt (see Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 7:8). In the First Reading, Jesus is said to work “mighty deeds, wonders and signs” (see Acts 2:22) - the same words used to describe Moses’ work (see Exodus 7:3; Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

Moses told the Israelites not to fear but to trust that God would go before and find them a place in the promised land (see Deuteronomy 1:29-32). Jesus uses the same words in the Fifth Sunday’s Gospel. He also quotes Moses to claim that His words are God’s words and His works are God’s works (see Deuteronomy 18:18; 34:10-12).

There is much more exodus imagery in this month’s readings. The point is to show us that Jesus’ death and resurrection marked a new exodus (see Luke 9:31). The Christian life is like the sojourning of the Israelites in the wilderness. We have passed through the waters of Baptism and are now fed with bread from heaven as we make our way to the promised land of eternal life (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Peter 1:4).


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An Invitation to Evangelization


2014 Fullness of Truth Conference
“Evangelizing Catholics:
Sharing the Joy of the Gospel.”
Houston, Texas | June 6-7, 2014

They were Jesus’ final words during his time on earth, his parting salvo to his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Mt 28:19).

History remembers those words as “The Great Commission”—a commission entrusted by Christ not just to Peter, John, and the other apostles present on Mount Olivet, but to the entire Church, including each one of us. The work of evangelization, of calling people to Christ, isn’t just the work of priests and bishops. It is the work of all who call Jesus “Lord.” We’re all called to proclaim who he is and how he loves us. That’s not a burden. It’s a gift. It’s a joy. At least, it’s supposed to be. Click Here to Register

From June 6-7, 2014, join the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Houston, Texas, as we explore the basics and beyond of evangelization at the 2014 Fullness of Truth Conference, “Evangelizing Catholics: Sharing the Joy of the Gospel.”

Co-sponsored by Fullness of Truth, this year’s conference will help you grow in your understanding of Christ’s call to evangelize, as well as learn more about the message we share when we evangelize and how we can more fruitfully engage in evangelization.

This year’s conference will feature two talks by St. Paul Center President, Dr. Scott Hahn—the first on what it means to evangelize Catholics and be an evangelizing Catholic titled Evangelizing Catholics: The Joy of the Gospel, the second on how the angels and saints assist us in the mission of evangelization titled Angels and Saints: Helpers From on High for the New Evangelization.

Other speakers include St Paul Center Fellows Dr. Michael Barber (speaking on “Legend, Lunatic, Liar, or Lord?: Do the Gospels Tell Us the Honest Truth about Jesus?” and “Redemption, Almsgiving, and the Eucharist: Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is”) and Dr. John Bergsma (addressing “Evangelism is a Call for Everyone! The Why’s and How’s of Evangelizing” and “How to be a Joy-Full Christian: Lessons from Philippians”).

This year’s Fullness of Truth Conference will take place Friday evening, June 6, and all day Saturday, June 7, at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Houston.

Click Here to Register



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Building His House: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fifth Sunday of Easter


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Readings:
Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

By His death, Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house.

His Father’s house is no longer a temple made by human hands. It is the spiritual house of the Church, built on the living stone of Christ’s body.

As Peter interprets the Scriptures in today’s Epistle, Jesus is the “stone” destined to be rejected by men but made the precious cornerstone of God’s dwelling on earth (see Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14; 28:16).

Each of us is called to be a living stone in God’s building (see 1 Corinthians 3:9,16). In this edifice of the Spirit, we are to be “holy priests” offering up “spiritual sacrifices” - all our prayer, work and intentions - to God.

This is our lofty calling as Christians. This is why Christ led us out of the darkness of sin and death as Moses led the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

God’s covenant with Israel made them a royal and priestly people who were to announce His praises (see Exodus 19:6). By our faith in Christ’s new covenant, we have been made heirs of this chosen race, called to glorify the Father in the temple of our bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 12:1).

In today’s First Reading, we see the spiritual house of the Church being built up, as the Apostles consecrate seven deacons so they can devote themselves more fully to the “ministry of the Word.”

The Lord’s Word is upright and all His works trustworthy, we sing in today’s Psalm. So we can trust Jesus when He tells us never to be troubled, but to believe that His Word and works come from the Father.

His Word continues its work in the world through the Church. We see its beginnings today in Jerusalem. It is destined to spread with influence and power (see Acts 19:20), and to become the imperishable seed by which every heart is born anew (see 1 Peter 1:23).


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Building the Temple of God: Fifth Sunday of Easter


Since the beginning of time, human beings have sought to construct buildings that would bridge the gap between the temporal and eternal, earthly and heavenly planes of existence.  These temples have taken widely differing forms in many cultures.  One of the greatest was the Jerusalem temple begun by Herod the Great (73–4 BC), an architectural marvel of the ancient world while it stood.

http://www.thesacredpage.com/2014/05/building-temple-of-god-fifth-sunday-of.html


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What Are We to Do? Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fourth Sunday of Easter


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Readings:
Acts 2:14, 36-41
Psalm 23:1-6
1 Peter 2:20-25
John 10:1-10

Easter’s empty tomb is a call to conversion.

By this tomb, we should know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah, as Peter preaches in today’s First Reading.

He is the “Lord,” the divine Son that David foresaw at God’s right hand (see Psalms 110:1,3; 132:10-11;Acts 2:34). And He is the Messiah that God had promised to shepherd the scattered flock of the house of Israel (see Ezekiel 34:11-14, 23; 37:24).

As we hear in today’s Gospel, Jesus is that Good Shepherd, sent to a people who were like sheep without a shepherd (see Mark 6:34; Numbers 27:16-17). He calls not only to the children of Israel, but to all those far off from Him - to whomever the Lord wishes to hear His voice.

The call of the Good Shepherd leads to the restful waters of Baptism, to the anointing oil of Confirmation, and to the table and overflowing cup of the Eucharist, as we sing in today’s Psalm.

Again on this Sunday in Easter, we hear His voice calling us His own. He should awaken in us the response of those who heard Peter’s preaching. “What are we to do?” they cried.

We have been baptized. But each of us goes astray like sheep, as we hear in today’s Epistle. We still need daily to repent, to seek forgiveness of our sins, to separate ourselves further from this corrupt generation.

We are called to follow in the footsteps of the Shepherd of our souls. By His suffering He bore our sins in His body to free us from sin. But His suffering is also an example for us. From Him we should learn patience in our afflictions, to hand ourselves over to the will of God.

Jesus has gone ahead, driven us through the dark valley of evil and death. His Cross has become the narrow gate through which we must pass to reach His empty tomb - the verdant pastures of life abundant.


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“The Good Shepherd”: The Readings for the Fourth Sunday after Easter


This Sunday the lectionary turns our attention to John 10, where Christ describes himself as both the “door” of the sheepfold and (perhaps more famously) as the good shepherd.

These two images are key to understanding the selection of the first and second readings, which focus on (1) Peter’s speech, highlighting the way salvation is found in Christ and (2) a reading from 1 Peter which climaxes in a description of Christ’s role as the Good Shepherd.
Let us look at these readings more carefully. . .


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Emmaus and Us: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Third Sunday of Easter


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Readings:
Acts 2:14,22-28
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

We should put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples in today’s Gospel. Downcast and confused they’re making their way down the road, unable to understand all the things that have occurred.

They know what they’ve seen - a prophet mighty in word and deed. They know what they were hoping for - that He would be the redeemer of Israel. But they don’t know what to make of His violent death at the hands of their rulers.

They can’t even recognize Jesus as He draws near to walk with them. He seems like just another foreigner visiting Jerusalem for the Passover.

Note that Jesus doesn’t disclose His identity until they they describe how they found His tomb empty but “Him they did not see.” That’s how it is with us, too. Unless He revealed himself we would see only an empty tomb and a meaningless death.

How does Jesus make himself known at Emmaus? First, He interprets “all the Scriptures” as referring to Him. In today’s First Reading and Epistle, Peter also opens the Scriptures to proclaim the meaning of Christ’s death according to the Father’s “set plan” - foreknown before the foundation of the world.

Jesus is described as a new Moses and a new Passover lamb. He is the One of whom David sang in today’s Psalm - whose soul was not abandoned to corruption but was shown the path of life.

After opening the Scriptures, Jesus at table took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples - exactly what He did at the Last Supper (see Luke 22:14-20).

In every Eucharist, we reenact that Easter Sunday at Emmaus. Jesus reveals himself to us in our journey. He speaks to our hearts in the Scriptures. Then at the table of the altar, in the person of the priest, He breaks the bread.

The disciples begged him, “Stay with us.” So He does. Though He has vanished from our sight, in the Eucharist - as at Emmaus - we know Him in the breaking of the bread.


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Feast of St. Athanasius


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Today’s the feast of St. Athanasius, the Father of Orthodoxy, the man who stared the world down when it awoke to find itself Arian. A great way to celebrate is by listening to Mike Aquilina’s interview on KVSS about this great and heroic saint.





 


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Star Light, Star Bright by Scott Hahn


Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have called her the “Star of the New Evangelization.” And the Blessed Virgin Mary is a star — not in the Hollywood sense. But, like a bright light in the night sky, she shows us the way.

Mary is, without rival, the most influential woman in human history. She has no rival. Who has influenced culture, painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, music as much as she has? We’re transfixed when we see Michelangelo’s Pieta — when we hear the famous “Ave Maria” by Schubert or Bach — or when we step into the vast interior of the medieval cathedrals dedicated to Notre Dame.

The Blessed Virgin makes the world more beautiful. She affects everything for the better.

Look at the root of the word “Evangelize.” It means to bear the Good News. No one has done that better than the Mother we share with Jesus.

That’s one reason why she’s our “Star” in the New Evangelization, but it’s not the greatest reason.

In my opinion, she’s star-like because she goes before us as a model of evangelization. This, I believe, is a fact that many people miss about the Virgin Mary. We think of her as radiant, but static — iconic, a still point to be contemplated.

We miss the fact that she spent much of her earthly life on the move, evangelizing! Remember, it was she who bore the pre-born Jesus into the Hill Country, when she went on her mission to serve her kinswoman Elizabeth. It was Mary who first presented the Redeemer to the Gentiles, in the persons of the Magi. It was Mary who took the infant Jesus to dwell among the Egyptians. And it was Mary who brought him back home.

It was Mary who precipitated Jesus’ first miracle. It was she who advised the stewards at the wedding feast: “Do whatever he tells you.” It was she who remained “close to Jesus to the last,” beneath the cross at Calvary.

And when the Church gathered after Jesus’ ascension, to await the Holy Spirit, the disciples gathered around Mary.

Mary doesn’t talk a lot. She doesn’t waste words. But she’s hardly static. She’s always with Jesus. She’s always serving the needs of others and directing their attention to her divine Son. She is the Star of the New Evangelization because she succeeded so well, and because she lights the way for all her children to follow.

It’s long been my dream to make a pilgrimage to see her miraculous image at Guadalupe, and this year I fulfilled it. There, too, in Mexico, Mary worked quietly to bring Christ to the people. The missionaries had tried to bring the Gospel to the people. The military and the government tried to outlaw the old Aztec religion, which involved terror and human sacrifice. But all failed, in spite of the best intentions.

Then, the Blessed Virgin appeared to an old convert named Juan Diego — a poor man, with no credentials — and soon nine million people entered the Church.

Miraculously, she left her image on his rough garment, his tilma, made of cactus fabric. The relic shouldn’t have lasted fifty years. After five, it should have been falling apart. But now it’s lasted half a millennium, and her image still looks with eyes of mercy upon hundreds of thousands of pilgrims like me.

As I stood at the basilica, it occurred to me: Juan Diego was, like me, a convert to the Catholic faith; and he was my age when he got the revelation. He was considered an “old man” in those days, as he’d already outrun his life expectancy. Yet his evangelistic life was just beginning.

And look what he was able to accomplish — or rather look what God was able to accomplish through him — look what his mother inspired him to do.

What does God have in store for you and me? Where will he have us go with the joy of the Gospel? We’ve been able to accomplish so much, you and I, working through the St. Paul Center. But we must never grow complacent. Our real work of evangelization, perhaps, is just beginning.

May is Mary’s month, and we look more intently to our Star. I remember you to her, and I hope you remember me and the work we share. I thank you for all you’ve done for this beautiful task.


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A Throne Established Forever


An excerpt of our FREE online Bible Study

‘He Must Reign’: The Kingdom of God in Scripture

Course Description
The drama in the Gospels turns on a single question: Is Jesus the long awaited Messiah, the son of David come to restore the everlasting monarchy promised to David? Underlying this drama are centuries of rival interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures and competing expectations of who the Messiah was to be, the signs that would accompany his coming, and the shape of the kingdom he would establish.

We explore all these issues in this thematic survey course, which goes to the heart of what the New Testament has to say about the identity of Christ and the Church.


I. David’s Covenant in Context

A. David and Moses

The drama in the Gospels turns on a single question: Is Jesus the long awaited Messiah, the son of David come to restore the everlasting monarchy promised by God to David?

Underlying this drama - which continues through the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles and even into the final chapters of Revelation - are centuries of rival interpretations of the Scriptures.

In the Bible and in religious writing outside the Bible, we can see that there were sharply competing expectations about who the Messiah was to be, the “signs” that would accompany his coming, and the shape of the kingdom he would establish.

Through a close reading of the New Testament and key Old Testament passages, we will look at this clash of expectations. We will explore the biblical testimony in context, comparing it with the extra-biblical literature of the period, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and various intratestamental writings. We will see how the proclamation and work of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, reflects and reacts to the messianic hopes of his contemporaries.

This study has implications for questions that modern scholars have long debated - How did Jesus understand His mission and work? What were the historical reasons for his condemnation and death on the Cross?

This study also addresses an imbalance in the scholarly and pastoral study of the New Testament. Researchers have tended to focus on the importance and influence of Moses and the covenant at Sinai on the shape of the New Testament. By contrast there has been a relative scholarly neglect of the Davidic covenant.

However, it could be argued that the figure of David and his kingdom is more central - not only to the New Testament - but to the direction and meaning of the Old Testament.

David is generally acknowledged as a defining figure in the Psalms, with more than 70 psalms attributed to him. What is not widely recognized is his prominence throughout the Old Testament.

Indeed, while the name Moses occurs a little over 720 times, David is mentioned almost 1,020 times. David’s career is the subject of 42 chapters, or nearly 30 percent of what scholars call the “Deuteronomistic History” (Joshua-2 Kings).

In the Chronicles, a review of Israel’s history from a “Priestly” perspective, the percentage is the same.

David is mentioned 37 times in the prophets, Moses only seven times. And as we will focus on in our next lesson, the eschatological hopes of the prophets are frequently concerned with the return of a Davidic king and the restoration of his capital, Zion. The prophets say nothing about the return of Moses and a restoration of Sinai.

David’s imprint will be especially felt when we consider key Old Testament concepts and institutions that become central in the New Testament - the Temple, Zion, the “Son of God,” and the “Anointed One” (Messiah).
Click Here to continue the Bible Study


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Rich in Mercy by Scott Hahn


Divine Mercy in 3 Minutes!!


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More Than A Feeling: The Aura of St. John Paul II


Shortly after becoming Catholic in 1998, I had the opportunity to stand only a few feet away from St. John Paul II at a Wednesday audience in Rome. It was for only a few brief moments, but I’ll never forget the aura of his presence. Despite his obvious frailty, there was something incredibly powerful about this man. He radiated holiness and love. You couldn’t help but be affected. He so moved me that I remained in the open when large storm clouds came rolling in over St. Peter’s Square right before his final blessing. Most fled for the protection of the colonnades as cold raindrops fell like small grenades out of the darkened sky, but I couldn’t leave. I wanted to stand with him. I wanted his blessing. This man loved God, and I knew he loved me, too. And I’m not the only one.

The whole world paid attention to the pope because he was real—you couldn’t ignore his authenticity. He practiced what he preached, and preached what he practiced. The twinkle in his eye and fire in his heart drew us to him. We all hung on his words. In his later years he bore his many infirmities with grace and humility, and his ability to inspire us only grew stronger.

In fact, if we had been paying more attention, the Holy Father was showing us the true path of the New Evangelization. He was living it for the world to see. It wasn’t just a catch-phrase. No matter the difficulties encountered, he was a witness to hope. He was a witness to love. He was a witness to holiness.

Follow Matthew Leonard on Twitter @MattSLeonard

(The above is an excerpt from my book “Louder Than Words: The Art of Living as a Catholic”)

   


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They Saw and Believed: Scott Hahn reflects on Easter Sunday


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Readings:
Acts 10:34, 37-43 
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4 
John 20:1-9

Jesus is nowhere visible. Yet today’s Gospel tells us that Peter and John “saw and believed.”

What did they see? Burial shrouds lying on the floor of an empty tomb. Maybe that convinced them that He hadn’t been carted off by grave robbers, who usually stole the expensive burial linens and left the corpses behind.

But notice the repetition of the word “tomb” - seven times in nine verses. They saw the empty tomb and they believed what He had promised: that God would raise Him on the third day.

Chosen to be His “witnesses,” today’s First Reading tells us, the Apostles were “commissioned…to preach…and testify” to all that they had seen - from His anointing with the Holy Spirit at the Jordan to the empty tomb.

More than their own experience, they were instructed in the mysteries of the divine economy, God’s saving plan - to know how “all the prophets bear witness” to Him (seeLuke 24:27,44).

Now they could “understand the Scripture,” could teach us what He had told them - that He was “the Stone which the builders rejected,” which today’s Psalm prophesies His Resurrection and exaltation (see Luke 20:17; Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11).

We are the children of the apostolic witnesses. That is why we still gather early in the morning on the first day of every week to celebrate this feast of the empty tomb, give thanks for “Christ our life,” as today’s Epistle calls Him.

Baptized into His death and Resurrection, we live the heavenly life of the risen Christ, our lives “hidden with Christ in God.”

We are now His witnesses, too. But we testify to things we cannot see but only believe; we seek in earthly things what is above. 

We live in memory of the Apostles’ witness, like them eating and drinking with the risen Lord at the altar. And we wait in hope for what the Apostles told us would come - the day when we too “will appear with Him in glory.”


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The “Billy Graham of Scandinavia” Announces His Conversion to Catholicism


As hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone prepare to join the Catholic Church this Easter, a high-profile conversion has been rocking the largely-secular Swedish culture.  Rev. Ulf Ekman, Sweden’s most prominent evangelical pastor, leader of the nation’s largest mega-church, announced a few weeks ago that he has decided to become Catholic.  A full interview with a Swedish newspaper is available here.


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Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper


So we are soon to begin the Triduum, this profound reflection on three earth-shaking events which form the pillars of our salvation: Eucharist, Crucifixion, Resurrection.  The Readings for the Holy Thursday Mass focus on the continuity between the ancient Jewish Passover and the institution of the Eucharist. As the Passover was the meal that marked the transition from slavery to Egypt to the freedom of the Exodus, so the Eucharist is the meal that marks the transition from slavery to sin to the glorious freedom of the children of God.


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Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, the Descent into Hell, and the Coming of the Messiah (Palm Sunday, Yea


On this coming Sunday, the Church will bring us to what may be one of my favorite Masses and my favorite sets of Scripture readings in the entire liturgical year: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, popularly known simply as ‘Palm Sunday’.

With the Palm Sunday readings, the Church ushers us into the climax of the liturgical year in the celebration of Holy Week. This is the last Sunday feast before the beginning of the Triduum, which will climax in the celebration of Easter (Latin Pascha), what the Catechism calls the “feast of feasts” (CCC 1169).


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Mercy’s Month by Scott Hahn


I can think of no better month to serve as a summary of Christian life. Lent runs late this year, so it feels like God’s taking a little bit longer to work with me. The Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah saw God as a patient potter, purposeful as he molds his creations.

 

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

Lent is the time God works and re-works us, and we try our best to be docile and pliable. We go into Ash Wednesday with good intentions, and then we fall, and then we get up again; and we repeat the cycle many times. “And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:4).

It is a mercy to live as you and I do. It is a mercy to have the traditions we have received from the Apostles through the saints. It is a mercy that we can go often to the sacrament of Confession. It is a mercy that we can live Lent together every year.

This is our first full Lent with the “Pope of Mercy.” The Holy Father’s emphasis on mercy seems to be the one thing that secular journalists usually get right when they talk about him. He repeats his message so often that it’s hard to miss. He tells us that God never tires of forgiving us; it’s we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.

So let’s not tire as we head into the home stretch of our Lent, and as we enter Holy Week and the Triduum. God will give us the grace to finish well, even if we’ve stumbled often.

Why? Because that’s his purpose throughout the story we’re remembering this month. He came to save us — save us from our sins! But that’s just a prelude. He forgives our sins and heals us so that we can live a life that’s divine, sharing his own nature with us even as he shares ours (see 2 Peter 1:4).

Lent is the time when the potter takes his clay and works it into another vessel — a vessel of honor and of divinity — a vessel of holiness and grace. God created us to be saints; and when we fell he called us again to be saints. Only saints will live in heaven; and you and I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.

The mercies of the Catholic life are many, and not least of them is the canonization of saints. God gives us, through the infallible judgment of the Church, the ability to know that certain people are living with him now in heaven. They are interceding for us. Their lives of faith can serve as reliable roadmaps for our own in the years we have remaining.

This Mercy Sunday is especially auspicious because Pope Francis will then canonize two of his beloved predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. It was my great joy to meet with Pope John Paul II on several occasions; and I can’t help but feel personally invested in that day.

But he touched so many lives. He set records by drawing some of the largest crowds in history — millions of people — and he reached many more through television. His funeral was “attended” by hundreds of millions who tuned in via television and the Web.

He never sought fame, but he sought glory — God’s glory — and he was willing to let it shine through him to the world.

That’s what we’re all called to do — not to assume the papacy, but to be that vessel, that lamp in which the light of Christ can shine.

Lent has been forming us for the task — molding clay into lamps — molding sinners into saints. As the month ends, we’ll have so many reasons to celebrate God’s mercy.


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At Lazarus’ Tomb: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fifth Sunday of Lent


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Readings:
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

As we draw near to the end of Lent, today’s Gospel clearly has Jesus’ passion and death in view.

That’s why John gives us the detail about Lazarus’ sister, Mary - that she is the one who anointed the Lord for burial (see John 12:3,7). His disciples warn against returning to Judea; Thomas even predicts they will “die with Him” if they go back.

When Lazarus is raised, John notices the tombstone being taken away, as well as Lazarus’ burial cloths and head covering - all details he later notices with Jesus’ empty tomb (see John 20:1,6,7).

Like the blind man in last week’s readings, Lazarus represents all humanity. He stands for “dead man” - for all those Jesus loves and wants to liberate from the bands of sin and death.

John even recalls the blind man in his account today (see John 11:37). Like the man’s birth in blindness, Lazarus’ death is used by Jesus to reveal “the glory of God” (see John 9:3). And again like last week, Jesus’ words and deeds give sight to those who believe (see John 11:40).

If we believe, we will see - that Jesus loves each of us as He loved Lazarus, that He calls us out of death and into new life.

By His Resurrection Jesus has fulfilled Ezekiel’s promise in today’s First Reading. He has opened the graves that we may rise, put His Spirit in us that we may live. This is the Spirit that Paul writes of in today’s Epistle. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will give life to we who were once dead in sin.

Faith is the key. If we believe as Martha does in today’s Gospel - that Jesus is the resurrection and the life - even if we die, we will live.

“I have promised and I will do it,” the Father assures us in the First Reading. We must trust in His word, as we sing in today’s Psalm - that with Him is forgiveness and salvation.


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“I’m Back!”: The Raising of Lazarus, 5th Sunday of Lent


Unlike the other Gospels, John recounts only a limited number of miracles of Jesus, which he designates as “signs,” a rare term in the other Gospels.  Although John tells us of only a few miracles, he describes them in much greater depth than the other gospel writers do.  This is quite evident in this weekend’s Gospel reading, in which we get a very lengthy description of all the events surrounding the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.

The Raising of Lazarus is the sixth of the seven “signs” of the Gospel of John: [1] The Water to Wine (John 2), [2] the Healing of the Official’s Son (John 4), [3] the Healing of the Paralytic at Bethesda (John 5), [4] the Feeding of the 5,000 (John 6), [5] The Healing of the Man Born Blind (John 9), [6] the Raising of Lazarus (John 11), and [7] the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (John 19-20).  The signs seem to escalate as the Gospel progresses.  The Healing of the Man Born Blind (last Sunday’s reading) was pretty impressive, but raising Lazarus is going to top it.  The Gospel is building toward the seventh and final sign, the Resurrection of Christ.

The First Reading is an excellent choice: Ezekiel 37.  This is the famous vision of the Dry Bones, after which an entire dead army of skeletons is resurrected before Ezekiel’s eyes.  Afterward, God explains the meaning of the vision:

Reading 1 Ezekiel 37:12-14
Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

I only wish the Lectionary included the entire story.  However, it does preserve the most important verse:

“You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!”  Ezek 37:12

Thus, when Jesus opens Lazarus’ grave and causes him to rise, we know that Jesus is “the LORD,” that is, YHWH, the God of Israel.  The sign of Lazarus’ resurrection points to the divinity of Christ.

Now, most study bibles will have notes in the margin or the bottom of the page informing the reader that this passage from Ezekiel 37 has nothing to do with resurrection from the dead, but only pertains to the restoration of the national hopes of Israel.

It is true that it pertains to the national hopes of Israel.  However, the ancient manuscripts of Ezekiel were circulated without the notes in the RSVCE2 or NAB, etc., and the ancient readers tended to assume that, since the text explicitly describes resurrection from the dead, it was about the resurrection of the dead.  How silly the ancients were!

The issue has to do with God’s promises to Israel.  In Ezekiel’s lifetime (c. 637-572 BC), many Israelites were nearing death in exile and realizing that they would never see the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises personally.  So was their faith in God meaningless?

The point of Ezekiel’s vision is this:  “If he has to, O Israelites, God will drag you out of your graves in order to fulfill his covenant promises to you.  So your faith is not in vain!”  God is able to do the unthinkable in able to be faithful to his word.

The same is true for us.  The basis of Christian hope is in the resurrection from the dead, because in this life none of us receives the fullness of all the good that God has promised us in Christ.

2.  The Psalm, the famous Psalm 130 (De Profundis), dovetails with the theme of resurrection:

Responsorial Psalm Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8:
R/ (7) With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
R/ With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
R/ With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the LORD.
R/ With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.
R/ With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!”  What depth is deeper than that of death?  God’s salvation reaches even the realm of the dead, the biblical Sheol, the lowest level of the cosmos in biblical cosmology.  The Psalm is thus understood as the cry of the penitent soul from Sheol.  Though the soul knows of his iniquities, nonetheless he hopes in God’s abundant mercy and awaits the resurrection: “more than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the LORD.”

3.  The Second Reading, from Romans 8:8-11, continues the theme of resurrection from the dead.

Reading 2 Rom 8:8-11:
Brothers and sisters:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit dwelling in you.

St. Paul speaks first of all of spiritual life and death: to be in sin is spiritual death; to be in Christ is to be alive.  But the spiritual reality has implications for physical reality.  Christ “will give life to our mortal bodies also.”  The Church continues, obstinately, to believe not just in the resurrection of the “dead,” but the resurrection of the “body.”  Our disembodied spirits wearing halos and playing harps on clouds is a non-Christian vision.  While the next life retains many mysteries, we will certainly have a new body.

4.  The Gospel is the account of the Raising of Lazarus:

Gospel John 11:1-45
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany,
the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil
and dried his feet with her hair;
it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.
So the sisters sent word to him saying,
“Master, the one you love is ill.”
When Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.

When Jesus hears of the illness of Lazarus, he actually delays his travel to Bethany, because he loves the whole family!  So we see that the death and resurrection of Lazarus is a “premeditated” act of Jesus’ love.

By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days.  As many have pointed out, the Jewish understanding was that the first three days of death were an intermediate state, in which the soul stayed close to the body.  But after three days, death was final.  It’s a bit like Billy Crystal’s routine as Miracle Max when examining the dead body of Wesley in The Princess Bride.  “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead!”  In this case, Lazarus is all dead.

Then after this he said to his disciples,
“Let us go back to Judea.”
The disciples said to him,
“Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you,
and you want to go back there?”
Jesus answered,
“Are there not twelve hours in a day?
If one walks during the day, he does not stumble,
because he sees the light of this world.
But if one walks at night, he stumbles,
because the light is not in him.”
He said this, and then told them,
“Our friend Lazarus is asleep,
but I am going to awaken him.”
So the disciples said to him,
“Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.”
But Jesus was talking about his death,
while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.
So then Jesus said to them clearly,
“Lazarus has died.
And I am glad for you that I was not there,
that you may believe.
Let us go to him.”
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples,
“Let us also go to die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”

Martha is consistently the more extroverted and proactive of the two sisters.  While Mary sits and weeps, Martha goes to meet Jesus, and more or less rebukes him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  But she is not subtle about what she wants Jesus to do: “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Martha gets a bad rap in the gospels, always being compared unfavorably with her sister Mary, who “chose what is better.”  But look at her profession of faith in the rest of this dialogue with Jesus, which always profoundly moves me: ‘Yes, Lord.  I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world!”  Homerun, Martha!  I want to be like her.  This is a confession that ranks with that of Peter and Thomas in other parts of the Gospels.  Which raises an interesting question: Does the text of John 11 suggest that the resurrection of Lazarus is in part a response to Martha’s faith-filled request?

When she had said this,
she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying,
“The teacher is here and is asking for you.”
As soon as she heard this,
she rose quickly and went to him.
For Jesus had not yet come into the village,
but was still where Martha had met him.
So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her
saw Mary get up quickly and go out,
they followed her,
presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him,
she fell at his feet and said to him,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping,
he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”

So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.

Mary comes to Jesus and repeats Martha’s implicit protest as she falls at the Lord’s feet: “Lord, if you had been here ...”

In response to Mary’s weeping and that of the other mourners, Jesus becomes “perturbed”—in verse 33 and also 38.  The Greek word used here (embrimaomai) is very strong—“he became angry within himself.”  What is the cause of Jesus’ anger?  The brute fact of death in a fallen, sinful world?  A lack of faith among the mourners?  Commentators have not come to a satisfactory consensus.  Surely, though, one of the purposes of St. John in reported the emotion of Jesus is to stress his sharing in our human nature, including the depth of human emotion.  It is often said that the Gospel of John portrays Jesus as most clearly divine among all the Gospels; at the same time, John portrays Jesus in some of the most deeply human moments of his ministry: “Jesus wept.”

It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”

The Lord commands the stone to be taken from Lazarus’ tomb, but Martha intervenes with a very down-to-earth and prosaic objection: “Lord, there will be a stench ...”  So practical: the response of someone accustomed to good housekeeping and high standards of hygiene.

Our Lord points out that her worries are in contradiction to her expression of faith only a few minutes earlier.

So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
but because of the crowd here I have said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.


The calling forth of Lazarus, as dramatic as it is, remains only a miracle in the physical order.

The greater miracles are in the realm of the spirit.  Though it may not seem so to us, the redemption of the world is a greater act than its creation.

The raising of Lazarus, like the previous Lenten gospels from John (chs. 4, 9) points to Baptism.

Paul says “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4).  In fact, Romans 6:1-14 is the appropriate follow-up and application of the message of John 11:

Rom. 6:1  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Rom. 6:5  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  7 For he who has died is freed from sin.  8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. 9 For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  10 The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Rom. 6:12  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  13 Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

The link we observe between sin and death in this passage from St. Paul has a striking connection to the narrative of Lazarus: when Jesus commands Lazarus to be “loosed” and “let go,” he employs the Greek verbs luô—elsewhere used of being loosed from Satan’s power (Luke 13:16; 1 John 3:8), from sin (Rev 1:5), and death (Acts 2:24)—and aphiêmi, which usually meaning “forgiven of sin” in the Gospels.  This resurrection, then, is also a “release” and “remission” of sin, death, and Satan, a further typification of Baptism.

“But even the raising of the dead to life, the miracle by which a corpse is reanimated with its natural life, is almost nothing in comparison with the resurrection of a soul, which has been lying spiritually dead in sin and has now been raised to the essentially supernatural life of grace.”  Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life (Rockford, Ill.: TAN, 2002), 15

“The justification of the ungodly is something greater than the creation of heaven and earth, greater even than the creation of the angels.” St. Augustine, The City of God, Book IV, chapter 9.


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Beer, Chocolate and Embracing Lent


Need something sweet to get you through Lent? Of course you do! So check out this quick video by our Executive Director Matthew Leonard.


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Eyesight to the Blind: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Fourth Sunday of Lent


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Readings:
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Psalm 23:1-6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

God’s ways of seeing are not our ways, we hear in today’s First Reading. Jesus illustrates this in the Gospel - as the blind man comes to see and the Pharisees are made blind.

The blind man stands for all humanity. “Born totally in sin” he is made a new creation by the saving power of Christ.

As God fashioned the first man from the clay of the earth (see Genesis 2:7), Jesus gives the blind man new life by anointing his eyes with clay (see John 9:11). As God breathed the spirit of life into the first man, the blind man is not healed until he washes in the waters of Siloam, a name that means “Sent.”

Jesus is the One “sent” by the Father to do the Father’s will (see John 9:4; 12:44). He is the new source of life-giving water - the Holy Spirit who rushes upon us in Baptism (see John 4:10; 7:38-39).

This is the Spirit that rushes upon God’s chosen king David in today’s First Reading. A shepherd like Moses before him (see Exodus 3:1; Psalm 78:70-71), David is also a sign pointing to the good shepherd and king to come - Jesus (see John 10:11).

The Lord is our shepherd, as we sing in today’s Psalm. By his death and Resurrection He has made a path for us through the dark valley of sin and death, leading us to the verdant pastures of the kingdom of life, the Church.

In the restful waters of Baptism He has refreshed our souls. He has anointed our heads with the oil of Confirmation and spread the Eucharistic table before us, filling our cups to overflowing.

With the once-blind man we enter His house to give God the praise, to renew our vow: “I do believe, Lord.”

“The Lord looks into the heart,” we hear today. Let Him find us, as Paul advises in today’s Epistle, living as “children of light” - trying always to learn what is pleasing to our Father.


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Striking the Rock: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Third Sunday of Lent


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Readings:
Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-15,19-26,39-42


The Israelites’ hearts were hardened by their hardships in the desert.

Though they saw His mighty deeds, in their thirst they grumble and put God to the test in today’s First Reading - a crisis point recalled also in today’s Psalm.

Jesus is thirsty too in today’s Gospel. He thirsts for souls (see John 19:28). He longs to give the Samaritan woman the living waters that well up to eternal life.

These waters couldn’t be drawn from the well of Jacob, father of the Israelites and the Samaritans. But Jesus was something greater than Jacob (see Luke 11:31-32).

The Samaritans were Israelites who escaped exile when Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom eight centuries before Christ (see 2 Kings 17:6,24-41). They were despised for intermarrying with non-Israelites and worshipping at Mount Gerazim, not Jerusalem.

But Jesus tells the woman that the “hour” of true worship is coming, when all will worship God in Spirit and truth.

Jesus’ “hour” is the “appointed time” that Paul speaks of in today’s Epistle. It is the hour when the Rock of our salvation was struck on the Cross. Struck by the soldier’s lance, living waters flowed out from our Rock (see John 19:34-37).

These waters are the Holy Spirit (see John 7:38-39), the gift of God (see Hebrews 6:4).

By the living waters the ancient enmities of Samaritans and Jews have been washed away, the dividing wall between Israel and the nations is broken down (see Ephesians 2:12-14,18). Since His hour, all may drink of the Spirit in Baptism (see 1 Corinthians 12:13).

In this Eucharist, the Lord now is in our midst - as He was at the Rock of Horeb and at the well of Jacob.

In the “today” of our Liturgy, He calls us to believe: “I am He,” come to pour out the love of God into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. How can we continue to worship as if we don’t understand? How can our hearts remain hardened?


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Give me a Drink! The Third Sunday of Lent


You know we are “picking up steam” in the season of Lent when the Lectionary starts turning to the long readings from the Gospel of John (John 4, 9, 11).  The Church turns to these texts from John at this point in the liturgical calendar, because John is, in so many ways, a mystagogical document, a gospel intended to takes us deeper into the mysteries, that is, the sacraments.

If one is not initiated into the sacraments, John remains—in many respects—a closed book.  I can attest to this from personal experience.  Although I have always loved my name-sake Gospel more than any other part of Scripture, I virtually never preached from it in while I was a Protestant pastor.  I was enthralled with the words and fascinated with the realities behind them, but wasn’t sure what the application was for texts like John 4 or John 6.  The problem lay in the fact that, as a Christian outside the visible Church, I was only partially initiated into the sacraments.  Not having experienced the sacraments, I could not recognize when Jesus was speaking of them.


Again, the Church turns to John in these days of Lent, because the Church is preparing catechumens for initiation into the sacraments, and the texts chosen are a kind of sacramental catechesis, especially concerning Baptism, the solemn celebration of which forms such a central part of the Easter Liturgy.

The Baptismal catechesis starts this weekend with the readings culminating in John 4.

The First Reading, Exod 17:3-7, recounts the famous incident in which the people of Israel almost stone Moses in their demand for water in the desert.  God commands Moses to strike a certain rock near Horeb (a.k.a. Sinai) to supply water for their thirst:

Reading 1 Exod 17:3-7

In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

Of course, “Man does not live by bread alone,” in other words, our physical needs are not the definition of our truest nature.  Extending the metaphor to thirst, we may also say, “Man does not live by water alone.”  The satisfaction of thirst is not the ultimate answer for the human condition.  The physical thirst of the Israelites in the desert is a sign point to a greater thirst, our thirst for God himself.  David puts it this way: “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:1-2).  The real thirst of the Israelites, whether they knew it or not, was for God himself.

Interestingly, God would satisfy Israel’s thirst for himself shortly after this incident at Massah and Meribah.  In Exodus 24, God would solemnize a covenant with the people of Israel, a covenant we usually identify as the Old or Mosaic covenant.  After the covenant was formed, God invited representatives of the Israelites up to dine with him on Mt. Sinai.  “They beheld God, and ate and drank” (Exod 24:11).  As Brant Pitre points out, the rabbinic tradition understood this text in the following sense: Their vision of God was food and drink to them, i.e. they dined on the very sight of God.

Be that as it may, Israel’s honeymoon with God did not last long.  Shortly after the making of the covenant in Exodus 24, the same rebelliousness of Israel manifested in today’s First Reading reasserted itself at the Golden Calf.  Although God forgave the people, the thirst-satisfying access to the presence of God was never again offered in the way it was in Exodus 24.

2.  The Responsorial Psalm is Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9:

R/ (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

This psalm recalls Israel’s rebelliousness in the desert and urges us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”  In other words, the same God who led Israel through the Wilderness is still speaking to us now, today.  Do not repeat Israel’s mistakes.  Don’t fight against the God who is the only one able to supply your true desire.

Of course, the water poured out for the Israelites in the desert is a sign of the Holy Spirit, which is poured out for us primarily in the sacrament of Baptism.

One may object: the water given for the Israelites was to drink, whereas the waters of baptism are for washing, not drinking.  But let us note that already from the Apostles, Baptism was thought of as an act of drinking the Spirit: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1Cor. 12:13, cf. Mark 10:38-39)

3.  St. Paul also alludes to this sacrament in the Second Reading:

Reading 2 Rom 5:1-2, 5-8:

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

St. Paul here speaks of being “justified by faith.”  We know that justification is a fruit of Baptism (1 Peter 3:21).  But for Baptism to be effective it must be received in faith.  Lack of faith can impede the subjective effects of the sacrament.  Justification is by faith, though not by faith alone.  St. Paul goes on to allude to baptism again: “hope does not dissappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  The primary act by which we receive the Holy Spirit is baptism (Acts 2:38).  The poured waters represent and actualize the Holy Spirit being poured into our hearts, giving us the gift of divine love, that we may love as God does, which means: even to the point of death: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  Strikingly, this is exactly how the Second Reading continues:

For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Baptism is a participation in the love that goes to death: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3).

4.  This leads us to the Gospel, John 4, the story of the Woman at the Well:

Gospel Jn 4:5-42

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned,
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,
but still no one said, “What are you looking for?”
or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him.
Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
But he said to them,
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another,
“Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment
and gathering crops for eternal life,
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for;
others have done the work,
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified,
“He told me everything I have done.”
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
“We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

This story is so full of nuptial images (in keeping with the nuptial themes of Lent that Brant Pitre has been discussing in his posts), it is difficult to explore them all.

First, there is the very fact that Jesus meets this woman at a well.  This happens three times in the Old Testament: it is how the Patriarchs met their wives.  Think of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24—although this betrothal was by a proxy); Jacob and Rachel (Gen 29); and Moses and Zipporah (Exodus 2).  Conditioned by the Old Testament narratives, we actually expect a woman to show up as soon as Jesus sits down by the well, and so she does!

Next, Jesus asks this woman of Samaria for a drink.  Take note: the request for a drink was the sign that Abraham’s servant used to determine if Rebekah was the divinely-intended bride for Isaac (Gen 24:14).  Interestingly, the only other place in the Gospel of John where Jesus will request a drink is at the cross.  Spiritual writers say, “He thirsts for our love.”  I believe that’s more than a pious axiom.  In both cases in the Gospel of John where Jesus asks for a drink, it is really an invitation to communion with himself.  It is a request for us to show him an act of charity, an act of love, and in that way enter into the relationship of love he intends for us.  In John 4, Jesus appears as a stranger, an unknown traveler parched from the rigors of the journey.  In John 19, he appears as a condemned criminal about to die.  Can we recognize Christ in the strangers, the thirsty, the poor, the condemned, those on the “margins” of our lives?  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matt 25:35-36).

Jesus and the woman continue their conversation and begin to discuss wells of water. At one point Jesus says, “The water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  This is a subtle allusion to Song of Songs 4:15, where the Bridegroom calls his Bride a spring of living water.  When we receive the Water of Jesus (the Holy Spirit through Baptism), we enter into a nuptial relationship with him.

Finally, the subject of nuptiality and marriage is explicitly broached as Jesus asks the woman to call her husband and return.  “I have no husband,” she replies, and Jesus responds: “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

This is a woman with a checkered personal history, which is no doubt why she is coming to the well at noon, to avoid the other women in the town who came at the usual times of dawn and dusk.

But the woman’s personal history is an icon of the history of her people.  She is a woman of Samaria, after all.  The Samaritans were mixed descendants of the poor people of Northern Israel (left behind by the Assyrians in 722BC) and five foreign nations brought in by their conquerors, with whom the Israelites intermarried and also worshipped their gods! (see 2 Kings 17, esp. vv. 24-34.  Keep in mind that the author of 2 Kings downplays the role of the Israelites left in the land, whose presence we know about from other sources).

Then, after Judeans returned to Jerusalem in the late 500s BC, the northern Samaritans bit by bit gave up the worship of other deities and returned to worshiping YHWH God of Israel, but they did not do it according to the covenant with David, whereby Jerusalem was the place of worship (Ps 132:13)..  They built their own temple in Gerizim (mentioned in John 4), and tried to be in relationship with God without following the proper form of the covenant.  What do we call it today when a couple lives together, but are not in a covenant relationship?  See the connection with John 4:18?

The woman’s experience mirrors that of her people.  The people of northern Israel, her ancestors, left their husband-God all the way back in 1 Kings 12 (see also Hosea 1-3, all oracles directed to Northern Israel!).  Now YHWH, the Bridegroom of Israel has returned to woo the people of Samaria, as he said he would long ago:

Hos. 2:14   “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.  15 And there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.  16 “And in that day, says the LORD, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ (lit. “my man”) and no longer will you call me, ‘My Ba’al’ (i.e. “my master,” sometimes used for “husband” in a formal sense).  17 For I will remove the names of the Ba’als (here, the pagan deities) from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more.  18 And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.  19 And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.  20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD.

He is successful.  Not only the woman, but the townspeople themselves come to believe that he is the Messiah: “We know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

Throughout this whole process runs the theme of the living water of God:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life

This is the water of Baptism, the water of the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus will say later, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, when water was being poured out on the altar at the Temple:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me; and whoever believes in me, let him drink.  As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

If the readings this week creates in us a nostalgia for our own Baptism, it is a good thing.  We do not need rebaptism, however, to awaken the Spirit and graces that were given to many of us so long ago.  The sin has dried up the living waters, it is a good week to schedule an appointment for Confession, that other Sacrament that Fathers and Doctors regarded as a kind of renewal of Baptism.

Through the readings for this Sunday, we see an interplay of the themes of water, Baptism, communion, and love.  Jesus asks us for a drink, a tangible sign of love from us.  If we give it, we enter into communion with him, a relationship of love that is solemnized by receiving the “drink” of Baptism, which in turn fills our hearts with his love, the love of the Holy Spirit.  Filled with this love, we are motivated to give a “cup of cold water” to the poor, the thirsty, the outcast, in whom we see Jesus.  Interior spiritual communion, the Sacraments, and concrete acts of charity and mercy are all intertwined.


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Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem


Listen to Mike Aquilina discuss this Great Saint, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

On Confession:

“Now Lent] is the season of confession. Confess what you have done in word or deed, by night or day. Confess in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation receive the heavenly treasure…”

~ St. Cyril of Jerusalem

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Listen to Him: Scott Hahn Reflects on the Second Sunday of Lent


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Readings:
Genesis 12:1-4
Psalm 33:4-5,18-20, 22
2 Timothy 1:8-10
Matthew 17:1-9

Today’s Gospel portrays Jesus as a new and greater Moses.

Moses also took three companions up a mountain and on the seventh day was overshadowed by the shining cloud of God’s presence. He too spoke with God and his face and clothing were made radiant in the encounter (see Exodus 24,34).

But in today’s Lenten Liturgy, the Church wants us to look back past Moses. Indeed, we are asked to contemplate what today’s Epistle calls God’s “design…from before time began.”

With his promises to Abram in today’s First Reading, God formed the people through whom He would reveal himself and bestow His blessings on all humanity.

He later elevated these promises to eternal covenants and changed Abram’s name to Abraham, promising that he would be father of a host nations (see Genesis 17:5). In remembrance of His covenant with Abraham he raised up Moses (see Exodus 2:24; 3:8), and later swore an everlasting kingdom to David ‘s sons (see Jeremiah 33:26).

In Jesus’ transfiguration today, He is revealed as the One through whom God fulfills his divine plan from of old.

Not only a new Moses, Jesus is also the “beloved son” promised to Abraham and again to David (see Genesis 22:15-18; Psalm 2:7; Matthew 1:1).

Moses foretold a prophet like him to whom Israel would listen (see Deuteronomy 18:15,18) and Isaiah foretold an anointed servant in whom God would be well-pleased (see Isaiah 42:1). Jesus is this prophet and this servant, as the Voice on the mountain tells us today.

By faith we have been made children of the covenant with Abraham (see Galatians 3:7-9; Acts 3:25). He calls us, too, to a holy life, to follow His Son to the heavenly homeland He has promised. We know, as we sing in today’s Psalm, that we who hope in Him will be delivered from death.

So like our father in faith, we go forth as the Lord directs us: “Listen to Him!”


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Fasting on Fridays and the Passion of Jesus the Bridegroom


Have you ever wondered? Why do Catholics fast on Good Friday? Moreover, why is it traditional to fast on the Fridays of Lent?

There are, of course, various historical and liturgical reasons for the custom of fasting. But there’s also a biblical foundation for fasting on Fridays that’s directly tied to the topic of my new book, Jesus the Bridegroom: the Greatest Love Story Ever Told. The connection really hit me when I went to Mass last Friday with my wife and children.

Jesus the Bridegroom and the First Friday in Lent

Sitting there on the front pew (because that’s the best seat if you have young children!), we were, like many other young families at the beginning of Lent, somewhat tired and distracted at the end of a long week. I for one was starting to get anxious about the flurry of speaking engagements and interviews that were coming up to promote the book, and also thinking hard about how to help people see why the topic was not just fascinating but spiritually relevant to their lives. And then, much to my surprise, when it came time to stand for the Friday Gospel, I heard these words:

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the Bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14-15)

As I heard these words,  a big smile spread across my face. Any worries I may have had about the importance of the topic of the new book melted away.  My twelve-year old daughter reached over and tugged my arm, smiling and pointing up to the Gospel! (She knew my book was on Jesus the Bridegroom.) At that moment, I realized for the first time: Every year, on the very first Friday of Lent, the Church proclaims Jesus’ riddle about the Bridegroom and the Wedding Guests. Why?

For one thing, it’s because this is one of Jesus’ first allusions to his coming passion and death. You can see this by realizing that Jesus’ mysterious response is really a parable, in which he makes three key comparisons.

Jesus’ Riddle about the Sons of the Bridechamber

First, Jesus implicitly identifies himself as “the bridegroom” in order to suggest that the present, while he and his disciples are together, are like an ancient Jewish wedding feast: it’s a time for celebration, not for fasting.

Second, he compares his disciples to the wedding guests—or, more literally, the “sons of the bridechamber” (Greek huioi tou nymphonos). These were basically the ancient Jewish equivalent of ‘groomsmen’, who—in ancient as well as modern times!—weren’t exactly known for fasting. Indeed, in rabbinic tradition, both the bridegroom and the sons of the bridechamber were not obligated to perform ordinary religious duties during the seven-day Jewish wedding, including fasting.

Third and finally—and most importantly for us—Jesus is also implicitly identifying the day of his passion and death as his wedding day. He does this by speaking about the coming time “when the bridegroom is taken away from them” and how they will fast on that day (cf. Mark 2:20).

The Jewish Bridechamber and Jesus’ ‘Wedding Day’

On one level this is a reference to the ancient Jewish night of consummation, when the bridegroom would leave his family and friends and enter into the “bridechamber” (Hebrew huppah) in order to be united to his bride, not to come out again until morning (see Psalm 19:4-5; Tobit 6:15-17). On a deeper level, the day that Jesus the Bridegroom is “taken away” is of course the day of his passion an death. As New Testament scholar Craig Keener puts it: “Jesus is the groom of God’s people in the coming messianic banquet… The ‘taking’ of the bridegroom, of course, is a veiled reference to the impending crucifixion.’ (Keener, Matthew, p. 300). In other words, Jesus’ ‘wedding day’ is the day of his death. (And this isn’t just a pretty metaphor. As I show in the chapter on the Crucifixion in the book, there are several striking parallels between Jesus’ crucifixion and an ancient Jewish wedding day.)

Remembering the Day our Bridegroom was “Taken Away”

What does any of this have to do with fasting on Fridays in Lent, and on Good Friday above all? From a biblical perspective: the reason we fast is because Friday is the day our Bridegroom was ‘taken away’ from us, and we don’t ever want to forget it. In fulfillment of Jesus’ words—“then they will fast”—we deny ourselves and remember the passion of the Bridegroom God of Israel, who loved us so much that he not only became man, but mounted the wood of the cross in order to save humanity from sin and be united to us in love. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

“In [Jesus] in an unexpected way, God and man become one, become a ‘marriage’, though this marriage—as Jesus subsequently points out—passes through the Cross, through the ‘taking away’ of the bridegroom. (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, 1, p. 252)

From this perspective, our Friday fasting and penances should not just be acts of self-denial, but sacrifices given out of love, just as the Bridegroom Messiah sacrificed himself out of love for us. We fast in memory of the one who ‘loved us and gave himself for us’ (cf. Galatians 2:20).

The Divine Love Story

Although many a man throughout history has compared his wedding day to his funeral; Jesus of Nazareth is the only man who ever compared his funeral to his wedding day. That is because he was no ordinary man; he was the Bridegroom God of Israel come in the flesh in to save his Bride. And his life and death on the Cross were nothing less than the center of the divine love story that is the real meaning of human history. Why else does the Bible begin with the wedding of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) and end with the Wedding of Christ in the Church in the Book of Revelation (Rev 19-22)?!

On every Friday during Lent—especially Good Friday—may his disciples remember his words about the passion—“they will fast on that day.” In this way, we will truly prepare ourselves for the great Feast of Easter, when we will celebrate the Resurrection of the Bridegroom who gives himself to his Bride in every Eucharist as a foretaste of heaven—of the eternal “Wedding Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7).

Have a blessed Lent!


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The Great Witness of St. Perpetua


. . . with Mike Aquilina & Matthew Leonard


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Sts. Perpetua and Felicity


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Listen to Mike Aquilina discuss these two very important Early Church Martyrs.
 


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Forty Days


This Lent, let us prepare our hearts for the revelation of Mercy that comes to us in the Paschal Mystery.


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Overcoming Temptation: 1st Sunday of Lent


The readings for today’s Mass are exceptionally rich and could be the subject of several week’s worth of lectures, so we will have to limit ourselves today to a few central themes.


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The Greatness of Lent by Scott Hahn


We enter the season of Mercy — the season that Eastern Christians call “Great Lent.” We in the West are fond of brevity, and so we call it simply “Lent.”

But we should not forget its greatness. For believing Catholics, it is a defining moment in the year. It gives a distinctive and necessary contour to their personal lives. The Church marks the time with laws and rites that make a deep impression on our memory and our identity. She marks us with ashes and reminds us we are dust. She imposes strict fasting on two days and bids us to abstain from meat on others.

These, however, are just the outward signs. They’re meant to indicate a deep, interior conversion. In Lent we make a more probing examination of conscience. We pray the Miserere of King David (Psalm 51), and we make it our own. We ask a little more of ourselves — in term of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — even as we beg much more of God in terms of mercy.

How great it is to celebrate Lent in the pontificate of Francis. Journalists have called him “The Pope of Mercy,” and on this score (and maybe only on this score) I think the media got him right. Mercy has been his watchword. “I believe this is the time of mercy,” he told reporters during his famous airplane press conference. This change of epoch … has left many wounds, many wounds. The Church is a mother: It must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don’t have any other path than this one.”

Francis was elected one year ago this month, March 13, 2013. It was in the season of mercy that he came to the world preaching mercy; and perhaps it will always be his hallmark. May it be so. St. Thomas Aquinas said that mercy is the greatest attribute of God himself. It is right and just that it should be the quality we associate with his vicar.

Mercy was much on my mind in the year I founded the St. Paul Center. I was busy that year with the writing of my book Lord Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession. The message of that book became an integral part of the message of the Center — the message of mercy you have helped us to spread by way of our many programs and publications.

We’ve been gratified to witness the influence of that book on so many conversions, reversions, and returns to the confessional after years away. For a solid decade, my talk onLord, Have Mercy remains among my most requested.

For you and me, the greatness of this season depends on the greatness of our repentance. What are the habits that God wants us to root out through our prayer and fasting? What is the sin that needs to be confessed and renounced?

We can do the work of Lent if we recognize it as a work of God — if we allow him to work in us through the healing power of the sacraments — and if we strive, then, to live up to the gift we’ve been given. God is unstinting in the grace he gives. We’re the problem. We’re the ones reluctant to receive what’s good for us.

Pope Francis says it often and says it well: “God never tires of forgiving. We’re the ones who tire of confessing.”

Let’s be thankful, then, for the greatness of this season and gifts it brings to us — in the ministry of the pope, in the application of mercy, in the memorable signs of ashes and absolution.

I am thankful, too, for you — for your prayers, your contributions, and your companionship along the Lenten way of mercy.


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Do Not Be Anxious: Scott Hahn Reflects on the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time


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Readings:
Isaiah 49:14–15
Psalm 62:2–3, 6–9
1 Corinthians 4:1–5
Matthew 6:24–24

We are by nature prone to be anxious and troubled about many things.

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus confronts us with our most common fears. We are anxious mostly about how we will meet our material needs—for food and drink; for clothing; for security for tomorrow.

Yet in seeking security and comfort, we may unwittingly be handing ourselves over to servitude to “mammon,” Jesus warns. “Mammon” is an Aramaic word that refers to money or possessions.

Jesus is not condemning wealth. Nor is he saying that we shouldn’t work to earn our daily bread or to make provisions for our future.

It is a question of priorities and goals. What are we living for? Where is God in our lives?

Jesus insists that we need only to have faith in God and to trust in his Providence.

The readings this Sunday pose a challenge to us. Do we really believe that God cares for us, that he alone can provide for all our needs?

Do we believe that he loves us more than a mother loves the infant at her breast, as God himself promises in this week’s beautiful First Reading? Do we really trust that he is our rock and salvation, as we sing in the Psalm?

Jesus calls us to an intense realism about our lives. For all our worrying, none of us change the span of our days. None of us has anything that we have not received as a gift from God (see 1 Cor. 4:7).

St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle that when the Lord comes he will disclose the purposes of every heart.

We cannot serve both God and mammon. We must choose one or the other. Our faith cannot be partial. We must put our confidence in him and not be shaken by anxiety.

Let us resolve today to seek his Kingdom and his holiness before all else—confident that we are beloved sons and daughters, and that our Father in heaven will never forsake us.


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Franciscan University Presents: “Consuming the Word” on EWTN


When we use the term “New Testament,” we usually just mean the last twenty-seven books of the Holy Bible, the ones written by the Apostles and their companions in the first century.  But that’s not what the term meant from the beginning.  Long before those books were even written, Jesus used that phrase to refer to the Eucharist.  It was the “New Covenant,” the “New Testament,” in his blood. Christians later extended the phrase to cover the books; but they did so precisely because these were the books that could be read at Mass.

This simple and demonstrable historical fact has enormous implications for the way we read the Bible.  In his book Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church, Dr. Scott Hahn undertakes an examination of some of Christianity’s most basic terms to discover what they meant to the sacred authors, the apostolic preachers, and their first hearers.

Now, he’s taken up the same discussion along with hosts Michael Hernon, and theology panelists Dr. Regis Martin and Dr. Don Asci on Franciscan University Presents.  The show will premiere on EWTN at 10pm ET this Sunday, March 2.  There will be an encore presentation on Thursday, March 6 at 5:00 am

Preview the episode:

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In conjunction with this, the St. Paul Center is offering a free lecture by Dr. Scott Hahn on the same subject entitled Sacrament & Document: What is the New Testament?. This talk was delivered in the little town of Bethlehem on a St. Paul Center pilgrimage to the Holy Land.


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Thomas Aquinas on John 6:53 (“the flesh is of no avail”)


The Bread of Life discourse in John 6 has Jesus emphasize over and over again that it is necessary for believers to “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood”.

Is this passage about the Eucharist?

There are good reasons for thinking so. First, the imagery of “eating” Jesus’ “flesh” and “drinking” his “blood” seems closely linked with the Last Supper, the only other place where such language is clearly...  [Continue Reading]


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The Tolerance of Paganism


David Bentley Hart, in Atheist Delusions, writes about the kind of religious culture early Christians left behind when they accepted baptism:

 

“Quite apart from their more revolting ritual observances, however, the religions of the empire were— to a very great degree— contemptible principally for what they did not do, and what in fact they never considered worth doing. Occasional attempts have been made by scholars in recent years to suggest that the paganism of the late empire was marked by a kind of ‘philanthropy’ comparable in kind, or even in scope, to the charity practiced by the Christians, but nothing could be further from the truth (as I discuss below). Pagan cult was never more tolerant than in its tolerance


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