29August

Fire in the Bones

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Fire in the Bones

August 31, 2014

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Jer 20:7-9

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/083114.cfm

Have you ever prayed to God in a moment of desperation, the kind of desperation that makes everything you think and say seem markedly confused? This Sunday’s first reading from Jeremiah (20:7-9) finds the prophet in a similar state. An exasperated prophet speaks befuddling words to God and we get to overhear.

Context

God entrusted the prophet Jeremiah with the burdensome task of announcing the final destruction of the kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians (2 Kgs 25). At this point in his story, he has just prophesied the bad news to the priests at the Temple. Instead of responding with repentance and conversion, they beat him up and put him in the stocks. Jeremiah has to spend all night locked in the stocks and when they finally release him, he offers another sorrowful prophetic word. The first reading includes just the first three verses of Jeremiah’s 12-verse poetic prayer. He is in a moment of crisis, depression, discouragement, and yet underlying mission. The prayer itself seems bipolar—Jeremiah complains of the Lord deceiving him (20:7), mentions his supporting presence (v. 11), says “sing to the Lord” (v. 13) and curses the day he was born (v. 14). Jeremiah is racked by powerful and confusing emotions that shake him to the core and prompt his heartfelt, if puzzling, prayer.

Does the Lord Deceive?

In the first line of the reading, Jeremiah accuses the Lord of “duping,” “deceiving,” or “seducing” him. While one could interpret this idea along a hundred paths, Jeremiah is alluding to something we see in 1 Kings 22. In that text, the Lord sends a “lying spirit” to inhabit the prophets and lead King Ahab into a battle that he will surely lose (1 Kgs 22:6, 20-23). The only faithful prophet in that story, Micaiah, accurately forecasts disaster, but is imprisoned because of his harsh prediction (22:27). Jeremiah frames his own troubles along the lines of Micaiah. On the one hand, he preserves his iron-clad fidelity to the Lord, but on the other hand, he views himself as betrayed by the Lord. He has been led into a cul-de-sac of disaster and sees no way out. Though Jeremiah’s message is true, it is sorrowful. He would almost prefer to be one of the prophets possessed by a “lying spirit” so that his dire predictions would not come to pass. He was “duped” by the Lord into proclaiming the truth despite the consequences, even against his own personal interests.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
28August

In Christ and the Holy Eucharist—God’s Memory and Our Memories Become One

Taken from The Catholic Servant, August 2014
By Professor Douglas Bushman

In Christ and the Holy Eucharist—God’s Memory and Our Memories Become One

[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final installment of the series on “Faith That Remembers” by Douglas Bushman.]

One of the characteristic attributes of the God of the covenant is that He remembers. His memory bears upon two fundamental realities: man, especially when man is suffering and when he has sinned, and His covenant with man.

Most fundamentally, God remembers man because man is the object of His creative love. Man is the only creature God made in His own image, “for his own sake” as the Second Vatican Council put it. To man God entrusted dominion over the rest of creation. Yet, it remains a source of amazement to the man of the Old Testament that God should take interest in him. “What is man that You remember him, and the son of man that You desire to visit him?” (Ps. 8:4)

Christians catechized from childhood about God’s love for man might think it obvious that God cares about man’s fate. This simply shows the power of Christian culture to shape how we think. In reality, the truth about God’s love is not a given. To gain perspective, we need to recall that the sin of Adam and Eve bore precisely in this point. At the devil’s bidding, our first parents doubted God’s love and disobeyed the commandment that He gave out of love. To inherit original sin means to be conceived in solidarity with this perverse suspicion about God’s love.

In ancient Greek religion, the gods were capricious, contentious, and self-centered. They were jealous to retain their divine prerogatives; they were far from caring about men for their—for men’s own—sake. Centuries later, a pagan philosopher named Celsus took it as self-evident that God is so far above men in the perfection of divine life that it is unthinkable that He could take any interest in men. Concern for man is so far beneath His dignity, so Celsus argued, that the claim that He actually loves men is an absurdity so great that this sufficed to undermine the credibility of the Christian claim that “God so loved the world.” (Jn. 3:16)

Returning to our theme, God cannot forget man because He loves him. It is more likely that a mother would forget the child that she nurses. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isa. 49:15) God remembers man when those He loves are suffering. God remembered Noah and his family and made the flood waters recede (Gen. 8:1). He specializes in remembering women in anguish over not being able to conceive a son: Rachel (Gen. 30:22); Hannah (I Sam. 1:19) It is equivalent to say that God remembers His covenant, as when the Hebrew slaves cried out in misery in Egypt. (Ex. 2:24; 6:5) God always remembers the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and this is the reason for His special Providence over their descendants. (Deut. 26:42, 54) For God to remember His covenant is for Him to be faithful in His love for man.

God remembers man because He loves him. We might say that His memory is especially activated when those He loves are suffering, at which time He remembers His covenant and intervenes to set them free. The theme of God’s memory reaches its Old Testament high point in what it says about God remembering man’s sins. This revelation has two dimensions. First, in several texts, God promises that He will remember His people’s sin. (Hos. 8:13; 9:9; Jer. 14:10) The context is important. God remembers their sins precisely when His people do not, and this is why He sends His prophets: “Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; tell My people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isa. 58:1) This means that God will not look the other way. His holiness makes this impossible. God takes sin seriously because He takes man seriously—his dignity, his freedom, his responsibility, his conscience, his capacity to repent. Sin cannot simply be forgotten. And the proof of all of this is that God became man and died on the Cross. Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. If simply forgetting could erase sin, then the Paschal Mystery is voided of its meaning.

God remembers man’s sin only for so long as he remains unrepentant. This divine remembering is reflected in the human conscience. Made in God’s image, man too remembers his sins—even if for this he needs the intervention of God’s word, proclaimed by the prophets—and this remembering is accompanied by a sense of unreconciled guilt. As he attempts to deal with it himself—immersing himself in activity, avoiding moments of truth, clinging to illusory justifications, pursuing the maximum pleasure that life can offer—man only makes things worse. Is there a solution? Is there any way that man can arrive at a genuine, interior peace of conscience? Or is he doomed to spend his life fleeing from the memories of his own conscience, from himself? The second dimension of Old Testament teaching on God’s memory of sin points to the definitive answer to these questions. Through His prophets, God makes known that in the future, which lies entirely in His hands, there will be no more memory of sin. In the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Old Testament opens to the New Testament, to Jesus Christ, by Whose sacrifice God’s memory of sin ceases because sin itself is vanquished by mercy and forgiveness: “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant…. I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34) “It is I, I, Who wipe out, for My own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.” (Isa. 43:25)

The New Testament opens on this theme of God’s definitive act of remembrance. Zechariah blesses God because He is now showing mercy to our fathers and remembering His holy covenant. (Lk. 1:72) This, of course, refers to Christ and the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah regarding the New Covenant through His sacrifice on the Cross: “This is the chalice of My Blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of Me.”

The offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice in memory of the Last Supper transforms the memory of sin to become the memory of the triumph of God’s merciful love. His blood purifies our consciences. (Heb. 9:14; 10:22) We no longer remember our sins in a way that brings condemnation. (I Jn. 3:21) God will never reveal our sins to us without at the same time revealing His surpassing mercy. Mercy, fidelity, the remembering of His covenant—these have the final word, not sin. This truth sets our memories free from the futility of fleeing our own consciences. Knowing Jesus as mercy incarnate and as God’s triumph over sin and death turns the memory of sins into thanksgiving and praise of God for His mercy.

We are an Easter people, and the song of our Easter faith professes: “O happy fault … which gained us so great a Redeemer!” (Prayer of the Easter Vigil Mass) With Mary, who treasured the memory of the marvels of God accomplished in her Son (Lk. 2:19, 51), our souls proclaim the praises of God, Who, in Christ, “has come to the help of His servant, for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” (Lk. 1:54)

Douglas G. Bushman, S.T.L., is Professor of Theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado, where he holds the St. Pope John Paul II the Great Chair of Theology for the New Evangelization.

28August

You Must Have Salt in Yourselves

Augustine Institute Convocation 2014
Christopher O. Blum

You Must Have Salt in Yourselves

As we gather to inaugurate a year of common study the purpose of which is the better to enable us to communicate God’s saving truth to the world, we have cause for joy and also for a certain solemnity.

We have a source of deep and abiding joy in the assurance that our labor is pleasing to God, who made us to know and to love him, and to make him better known and loved. To rejoice in the truth of God’s love is the good that all men seek, whether consciously or not, as our patron St. Augustine taught (Confessions X.xxiii.33). And in our own lives as students and teachers we have been able to verify the beautiful saying of St. Jerome that “true friendship cemented by Christ is where men are drawn together by the fear of God and the study of Divine Scripture.” Indeed, the chance to dedicate ourselves for a season to the study holy things is cause for rejoicing and for singular gratitude.

Our joy, however, ought perhaps to be somewhat solemn or sober. The very author of our joy, after all, warned his apostles: “They will persecute you just as they have persecuted me; they will pay the same attention to your words as to mine.” And when telling them of this, their fate, he seems to have been somewhat insistent in manner: “Do not forget what I have told you,” he said, implying that he had often said it, “no servant can be greater than his master” (John 15:20; Mgr. Knox’s translation). In an earlier stage of their instruction, in which he foretold his Passion and attempted to instill in his disciples a sense of the seriousness of their calling, the Master brought his admonition to a close with a particularly memorable metaphor. “Salt,” he said, “is a good thing, but if the salt becomes tasteless, what will you use to season it with? You must have salt in yourselves, and keep peace among you” (Mark 9:49). The wine of joy is a blessing that has a very important place in God’s kingdom, but the salt of truth and of truthfulness would seem to be the Christian’s more ordinary, daily fare.

It is perhaps not too great a leap of the imagination to see the course of theological instruction that you are now beginning as a response to the Master’s command “you must have salt in yourselves.” Truth, after all, is the great preservative of the soul. Whether we like it or not, we humans rule ourselves by the judgments we make about the various things that come before our senses. Should our judgments be faulty, we are ruled despotically by our disordered passions and, at length, are enslaved by sin, and, whether we know it or not, we do the bidding of the prince of this world. Should, however, our judgments be made in the light of truth, then the actions that flow from them will, by God’s grace, make us freer and better servants of Christ, the good Master and the King of Heaven.

To read attentively and faithfully the book of God’s Word, to learn from the example and teaching of Christ’s particular friends over the long course of years since Pentecost, to measure our own minds by the holy standard that is the life-giving doctrine of the Church, and to order all of these studies to the end of sharing the message of God’s love with the world: this is our common endeavor. Should we carry it out faithfully, we shall have the preservative of truth within us.

Even as he has bidden us to rejoice in the Gospel, our Holy Father Francis has also reminded us of the seriousness of our Christian commitment. Evangelization, he explains, “is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him.” These men and women, our very brothers and sisters, do not always wish to hear of God’s love, for they fear the consequences of accepting it. Nevertheless, the Holy Father tells us, they all “have a right to receive the Gospel,” from which it follows that we “have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone” (Evangelii Gaudium, #15).

What does this mean, a right to the Gospel? It means that no man can be denied the truth, as though it were the property of some special group or—though it be absurd even to say it—of one, very lonely, individual. For our minds reach out to the natures of things and to the origin and last end of all that is. Our intellect is a faculty that seeks light, that it may be cleansed, and that it may live in safe, healthy, holy communion with that light, however dimly we perceive it in this mortal world. Captivating fancy, advantageous technique, momentary enjoyment of sensible pleasure: these are private things, and they may differ from age to age and person to person without any great damage being done. But knowledge of the causes of things, of our nature and destiny as rational beings, and of the God who made us: this must belong to all, or it cannot heal, or save, or direct any of us as individuals, much less bring peace to ourselves and to our world.

The greatest truth, the one of which we and the whole world most stand in need, is the truth of God’s love, revealed to us in the sending of his Son (1 John 3:9). This truth is the salt that keeps us fresh and makes our lives savory and profitable. Of all truths, this is the one most to be rejoiced in and most widely and freely to be shared.

And so, we undertake this year of sacred study as a time to store up the salt of truth and of godliness and of peace. Let us rejoice in the opportunity we have been given, but let us rejoice soberly, as befits men and women called to serve Christ the Lord.

The proper temper of our joy was expressed in a stirring prayer written some five centuries ago by St. John Fisher. Like you, he dedicated himself to a season of study prior to answering God’s call to follow the apostles. Later, he was the only English bishop to stand with St. Thomas More against Henry VIII, and he sealed his fidelity by making a gift of his life to Christ. In 1508, long decades before the troubles began in England, Fisher made this his supplication:

Lord, according to your promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the whole world, raise up men fit for such work. The Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost. So, good Lord, do now in like manner with thy Church militant; change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stones; set in thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labours, watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold and heat; which also shall not fear the threatenings of princes, persecution, neither death but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments, for the glory and laud of thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of thy Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world. Therefore, merciful Lord, exercise thy mercy, show it indeed upon thy Church.

This austere prayer was made by a young priest who had already tasted the joy of apostolic labor and desired to be made more fit for his vocation. As we commence our academic year, may we offer similar prayers to Christ, and may we all make use of this precious and joyous time of study that we may have salt in ourselves.

24August

Firing, Hiring, and Giant Keys

Firing, Hiring, and Giant Keys

August 24, 2014

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Isaiah 22:19-23

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082414.cfm

No one likes to get fired. And nobody with a heart likes to fire people. But when a person abuses his authority and uses his position of influence merely to promote his own interests instead of those of his employer, the axe might need to fall. In this Sunday’s first reading, we have an example of the Lord firing someone. He speaks through the prophet Isaiah to fire an irresponsible, self-serving official in King Hezekiah’s administration of ancient Judah.

Lectionary Context

The Lectionary often tries to make a connection between the first reading and the gospel. Usually, the tie between the two is a little weak or tenuous, perhaps just thematic, but this Sunday, the first reading is essential for understanding what is going on in the gospel. Jesus gives Peter the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 16. This sounds like mere religious talk, a nice metaphor for a spiritual idea. However, if we look back to Isaiah 22 a much richer, deeper background emerges.

Literary Context

I mentioned that this passage was about firing and hiring. The man getting fired is Shebna and the man getting hired is Eliakim. Most of the firing section is omitted from the reading, such as the part about God whirling Shebna round and round and throwing him away like a baseball (22:18). Shebna has apparently built himself a royal tomb and publicly brought disgrace to his royal master. The signs of his official role, his ceremonial clothing, his keys, will be taken away and given to another. Notably, his firing is really a demotion, since we see him show up later as a scribe, under the authority of Eliakim (2 Kgs 18:18, 26, 37). Eliakim is promoted to Shebna’s role and receives the signs of his office.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
21August

The Korean Martyrs, the Victory of Christ

Taken from Catholic News Agency,
by Courtney Grogan

On Aug. 17 Pope Francis stood at an altar in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace, the palace of a dynasty that ruled over the Korean peninsula for more than 500 years and was responsible for the torture and execution of an estimated 10,000 Catholics. In the face of such persecution, a public Mass would have been unimaginable in Korea just 150 years ago.

Yet today, God’s victory was made manifest as Jesus Christ, the true king of all nations, was exalted and worshipped in His Eucharistic presence by the hundreds of thousands gathered. “Christ is victorious and his victory is ours,” Pope Francis proclaimed in his homily. In the midst of the current devastating suffering of Christians in the Middle East and lasting heartbreak of a divided Korea, the Beatification of 124 Korean martyrs is a timely reminder of our hope that through Christ’s death and resurrection nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Korean Catholics’ enthusiasm and awareness of their own church history and identity as fruits of the sacrifice of martyrs has been firmly rooted long before the recent excitement surrounding the Holy Father’s visit. Throughout the year there is often standing room only at daily Mass in shrines built upon former execution sites, such as Jeoldusan Martyrs Shrine on “beheading mountain.” The grand, gothic Myeongdong Cathedral’s 6 p.m. daily Mass is filled with young professionals and old alike, many wearing mantillas and singing Korean translations of traditional Latin hymns. At Seosomun Martyrs shrine, where Pope Francis prayed before joining the crowds in Gwanghwamun Square, faithful Korean Catholics gather every Friday to celebrate Mass outside, regardless of rain, snow, or scorching heat, with special hymns and dedications to a different martyr each week. Last winter, two Korean women holding rosaries asked me to join them after Mass for “a pilgrimage to a holy place.” I was surprised to find that the “holy place” was a shrine across the street. Our Korean brothers and sisters remind us that one can be on a holy pilgrimage without leaving the neighborhood.

The Asian Youth Day (AYD) conference in Daejeon, Korea this week revealed that this is a sentiment shared throughout the faithful across Asia. “Come here, I want to tell you about the Catholic church in East Timor,” an East Timorese university student eagerly called out to me as I walked past the colorful booths of the country fair at the AYD conference. Students in traditional costumes shared the histories of the first saints and martyrs from their home countries. The conference’s theme, “Asian Youth! Wake Up! The glory of the martyrs shines on you” could be seen in the energy of students dancing together during the closing hymn of Mass and the gratitude expressed by many of the Asian students I spoke with. Young Catholic delegates from countries such as Myanmar, Pakistan, and China witnessed that in their homes the victory of Christ is still being won where “the world has hated them because they are not of the world.”

Continue reading at Catholic News Agency
17August

Bringing in the Outsiders

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Bringing in the Outsiders

August 17, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081714.cfm

No one likes to be an outsider. When a group of people seem to be enjoying themselves, conversing, building friendships, even sharing pain, it can be hard to watch without being part of the in-group. Everyone wants a sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than ourselves, of having people who care about us, need us. God likes to turn things on their heads, and here in this Sunday’s reading from Isaiah, he sets about turning outsiders to insiders. Fortunately, each of us gets an invitation to the party.

Context

This passage falls toward the end of the Book of Isaiah, where it speaks of God having mercy on his people, restoring them to the Promised Land and fulfilling the oaths he swore to their ancestors. This particular passage points to the restoration of God’s relationship with his people and the expansion of his people to include those who were previously excluded. God is about gathering his people and expanding his people. God’s kingdom is a growth industry. In Isaiah 56, the emphasis is on covenant fidelity. Anyone, even “foreigners,” will be welcomed to join God’s people, provided they faithfully live out their covenantal responsibilities. Even eunuchs, who were previously excluded from Temple worship because of their physical imperfection (Deut 23:1), will be welcomed to worship and even given a place of honor (56:4-5). Those who were outsiders—the non-Israelites and the physically deformed—will now be gathered inside the fold and “join themselves to the Lord” (56:6 RSV).

Relating to God

Joining oneself to God is a tough concept. How exactly do you do that? It sounds like something in between joining his team and becoming one with him. In fact, that might not be a bad way to think about it, but Isaiah gives us a few tips on how the previously excluded foreigners will come and worship God. He says they will minister, love and serve him, while keeping the Sabbath and the covenant. In addition, he mentions the burnt offerings and sacrifices they will offer. Let’s unpack these ideas.

First, “ministering” to God sounds upside down. Usually the more powerful person in the relationship “ministers” to the less powerful, but think of a servant ministering to the needs of his master or even a nurse helping a patient by her “ministrations.” We minister to God by serving him, doing his will, and worshipping him in prayer. Isaiah also focuses on the love (ahav) and service (avad) which are at the heart of covenant fidelity. God doesn’t want mere externalities, but he wants our hearts. True service and true faithfulness come from true love. Keeping the Sabbath and holding fast to the covenant—the Hebrew word behind “holding fast” is chazaq, to grip or seize—are expressions of an inner attitude of the heart. God wants worshippers who hold on tightly to his covenant promises and live their lives authentically, from the heart, in fidelity to him.

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11August

Be a Radical!

Taken from Those Catholic Men
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

Be a Radical!



















We all know the phrase, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” If there ever was a desperate time, it is now. So where are the desperate measures?

As Catholic men, we do not need to turn to desperation in the face of cultural decline, but rather we can turn to what is most time tested and sure: our faith. The issue is not coming up with anything new for our time, but figuring out how to live the faith right here and right now.

Christians used to be able to hide within a generally sound culture, drifting along according the general norms, which were always fairly grounded. The problem now is that if you want to live the faith, you will stand out—having to wade against the current. Following Christ completely will always stand out from the culture, but now it will really stand out.

As the culture turns more and more against the faith, we are going to have to decide if we are willing to be a radical. Are we willing to put our faith before everything else and live in conformity to our faith when everything is working against us?

Continue reading at Those Catholic Men
08August

A Still Small Voice

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

A Still Small Voice

August 10, 2014

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a

What is in a whisper? When someone whispers, we quiet down, sharpen our ears and pay attention. A whisper conveys often the most important information–whether intimate words of love or secret words that tell of hidden matters. Whispers are usually more significant than shouts, but they also require more of us. If we fail to pay attention, we could miss the last words of a dying man or a key insight that could change the direction of our lives.

Whispers Good and Bad

Think of all the whispers in Scripture—Jesus’ words on the cross (“I thirst!”), the hushed speech of the lovers in the Song of Songs, the whispered exchanged between Jesus and the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper. Of course, whispering has its dark side. Gossipers speak in a whisper. Conspirators plot in secret. Whispers, which seem designed for lovers, can be perverted into the tools of betrayal.

An Inviting Tone

The power of the whisper lies not in its overpowering thump as with a loud shout, but in its enticing draw, its invitation to draw near and lean closer. One who whispers invites us to share his secrets, to become one with him in a private, shrouded space. In the same way that lovers seek the seclusion of a long walk in the woods or a conversation behind closed doors, away from the bustle of the world, so too do those who seek God seek a kind of seclusion, a secret space away from others where He can be communed with, whispered to. Jesus invites his followers to such a private communion when he tells them to go into their rooms, close their doors and pray to the Father who sees in secret (Matt 6:6). Intimacy with God does not thrive in bluster, bombast and bravado, but in beautiful simplicity, when the soul finally takes to heart the words of Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” The moments of deepest prayer are usually moments of quiet awe before the throne of God.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
07August

A Defense of the Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s Art

Taken from Crisis Magazine
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

A Defense of the Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s Art



















Art is the pulse of the soul. It expresses much of what is kept hidden and even what could not be expressed in any other form. Many people talk of a crisis in modern art—its abstractness, banality, and, could we even say, ugliness. If there is such a crisis, to me, it is nothing other than a reflection of the fact that art is the pulse of the soul. The art we produce in our culture reflects who we are, how we feel, and what we believe.

How does the Christian artist respond to this situation? There are a few options. One, the artist can conform to contemporary standards and be limited by these conventions. Two, and this seems to be the choice preferred by many, we could look back to a purer age and attempt to copy its art and extend its influence into our own age. It is true that this art can help form the next generation as it looks for ways to express its soul, but, on the other hand, this looking to the past is clearly limited in its impact on the broader culture. Third, the Christian artist can bring the power of the Christian spirit into contact with all of the problems and limits of the contemporary culture and its art. The Christian artist can forge a powerful dialogue between the two spirits in an attempt to communicate and ultimately to transform the spirit of the age at its very root.

This last response is probably the most difficult of the three, and without a clear path to follow. It is not altogether clear what Christian art would look like that would both be profound in its own right and could speak to the needs of the contemporary world. If this art makes clear the spiritual dilemma of contemporary culture, however, the results may not be pretty. In fact, they would probably be grotesque.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine
07August

The Meaning of the Transfiguration: The Glory of Humility

Taken from To Keep and to Ponder
by Dr. Edward Sri

The Meaning of the Transfiguration: The Glory of Humility

At the transfiguration of Jesus, a heavenly voice said, “Listen to him.” In those three words, we can find a profound application point for our lives.

Throughout Christ’s public ministry, the fullness of Jesus’ glory remains unveiled. But on the mount of the transfiguration (see photo of Mt. Tabor on the left), Jesus allows his inner circle of apostles—Peter, James and John—to witness his face shining like the sun, his garments becoming a dazzling white, a bright cloud suddenly overshadowing them and heavenly voice saying, “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5).

The three apostles fell on their faces in awe.

What is the meaning of this spectacular display of Christ’s glory?

Consider the context of this scene. Just before the Transfiguration, Jesus finally told the apostles what they had been hoping for all along. He confirmed that he was the messiah, Israel’s anointed King (Matt. 16:16-20). He immediately, however, made it clear that his kingship was not about worldly glory and power. His royal mission would take him to die on Calvary: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21).

You can imagine how shocking this must have been for the apostles to hear. That’s not the way most people expected a kingdom to be built! How could Jesus really be Israel’s messiah-king if he were to suffer such a horrible death at the hands of their enemies? What kind of a king is that? Peter expresses this point, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:22).

Now, six days after this discussion, Jesus goes up a high mountain to be transfigured. By revealing a glimpse of his glory right after foretelling his suffering in Jerusalem, Jesus underscores how His glorious kingdom will be established through sacrifice. Humility and divine glory go together. The suffering messiah really will be the exalted king.

The apostles, however, had doubted Jesus’ words about his own humiliation. How could the cross be the way to the kingdom? That’s, in part, why the heavenly voice tells the skeptical apostles, “Listen to him.”

Continue reading at To Keep and To Ponder
04August

Free Food That Satisfies

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Free Food That Satisfies

August 3, 2014

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-3

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080314.cfm

In an age of obesity, free food sounds like a bad idea. We tend to take food for granted—and free food in our culture tends to be unhealthy. Besides, we can’t even get a little enthusiastic about free drinking water. Certain metaphors lose their flavor over time and Isaiah’s proclamation of a free feast with free water in this Sunday’s first reading is no different. However, that doesn’t mean that it is not worth the effort to track down its original power.

Context

This three-verse reading comes at the beginning of Isaiah 55, a chapter that caps off a much longer section often referred to as “Second Isaiah,” chapters 40–55. This long sixteen-chapter section moves the Book of Isaiah from an era of judgment and vindication to an era of hope, redemption and mercy. Chapter 55 ends this redemptive section with a poetic climax.

“Hey!”

In Hebrew, the reading begins with an interjection, hoy! Unfortunately, this word is hard to translate in a dignifiedly biblical-sounding way so many translations just leave it out. The prophet is trying to get our attention in the same way that a baseball stadium hawker will yell “Hot pretzels!” In English, we don’t use interjections much, but we could translate this word as “Ahoy!,” “Yo!” or Hey!” It launches this concluding chapter with an exhortation to listen up. To me, it sounds like a coach calling his team together to get the final pep talk before the big game starts. When God’s prophet says “Hey!” our ears should perk up.

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23July

Sharing in God’s Eternity

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

Sharing in God’s Eternity

When I was young, even three and four years old, I used to cry at night thinking about death and eternity. It was a feeling as if the wind has gotten knocked out of me and a huge weight was being pressed upon me. Even now, a feeling of terror can come over me when I think of eternity in relation to time. How can our lives which are so limited and passing endure forever? Forever itself seems to be an insolvable puzzle that twists the minds in knots. If I think of eternity, just sheer eternity, it makes me want to crawl under a rock and hide!

St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates the nature of this puzzle quite well. Eternity is not simply living forever, but in the fullest sense is a perfect and everlasting now, without any form of change. Aquinas calls this a simultaneous whole: “Clearly, therefore, no succession occurs in God. His entire existence is simultaneous” (Compendium of Theology, ch. 8). Yet, this perspective is so far removed from us: “We reach to the knowledge of eternity by means of time, which is nothing but the numbering of movement by ‘before’ and ‘after’” (Summa theologia, I, q. 10, a. 1). We try to approach the changelessness of eternity from our own position of change, which, in a sense, makes it completely beyond our comprehension. Furthermore, “eternity “truly and properly so called is in God alone, because eternity follows on immutability. . . . But God alone is altogether immutable” (ibid., a. 4).

All of this is a philosophically technical way of saying that God never changes and we are so unlike him in our changeability. This is what I felt deep down inside of me as a child, unable to comprehend how a finite being can abide forever.Unlike those moments when I was a young child, when I have this oppressive feeling now, I turn to Christ and it quickly passes. I always think that if God became man and has taken on our humanity as his own, eternally, than we certainly have confidence in a place with God forever. The Church Fathers summarized this thought: “God became man so that we can become God.” It is true that limited finite things do not in themselves abide forever, but God has given us his divine life so that we can live with and in him.

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21July

What is “character” in Romans 5:4?

Taken from Catholic Bible Student
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

In Romans 5, St. Paul strings together several virtues wherein each leads to the next. Here’s the passage:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…(Romans 5:3-5a)

This is one of those passages that could simply sound like a nice saying, rather than having theological meat on the bones. I was especially interested in what Paul means by “character.” What is that?

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18July

True Philanthropy

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

True Philanthropy

July 20, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072014.cfm

If God were cruel, we would be in a tough spot. Sometimes people lose faith in God because they think he is and that’s not a pleasant notion. This Sunday’s reading from the Book of Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 reflects on God’s actions in history and shows us that even when he is most fiercely just, he is still the ­God of mercy.

Context

Wisdom 12 briefly retells the story of God’s judgment on the Canaanites. It reflects on their idolatrous and “detestable practices” (12:4), which included child sacrifice. God decided to judge Canaan and eliminate its religion from the Promised Land, but instead of inflicting punishment right away, God waits. He gives even the most disastrously corrupt culture “a chance to repent” (12:10).

Does Might Make Right?

One line in Wisdom 12:16 could give us the wrong impression, that might makes right. The line reads: “For your might is the source of justice” (Wis 12:16 NAB). It would be easy to think that simply because God has all the power then whatever he wants is “just,” that he’s basically a big bully. But that’s not what Wisdom is trying to convey. Rather, his power, his strength is the origin, the beginning, the source of all justice, all righteousness, all goodness. God’s power and his goodness accord so well with one another, that they are held together in who he is. We can even say that “God is justice,” and “God is strength.” His will is always in accord with justice.

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11July

The Lord’s Wordy Fertilizer

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

The Lord’s Wordy Fertilizer

July 13, 2014

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:10-11

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071314.cfm

Have you ever written a letter to famous person only to receive no response? Or perhaps you have shouted at your team’s baseball player to hit a home run only to watch him strike out. Frequently our words fail. We might wish and shout and sing and stamp our feet, but we don’t always get what we want with our words. They don’t always accomplish the purpose for which they were sent out in the first place. This Sunday’s first reading shows us that while our words might fail, God’s words do not.

Context

The reading, Isaiah 55:10-11, is only two verses extracted from the text of a famous chapter. Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation to “Come every one who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isa 55:1 RSV). The chapter also invites us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found,” (55:6) and reminds us that “my thoughts are not your thoughts” (55:8). Our reading comes in the context of forgiveness. The Lord is responding to his people’s sinfulness, pleading with “the wicked to forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts” in order that the Lord might have mercy on them (55:7). The intentions of human beings might falter and fail, but the Lord’s intention to have mercy will succeed.

Rain and Snow

This reading is one long sentence that gives us an extended metaphorical comparison. Essentially, God’s word is like rain. The first half of the metaphor dwells on the beauty and power of rain and snow. They fall mysteriously from heaven and have a powerful effect on the earth, bringing quenching, vivifying sustenance to all the plants. Our passage points us to the farmer, who is grateful for life-giving rain that causes his seeds to sprout and to the “eater” who gets his food thanks to the rain. We might not all be farmers, but we’re certainly all eaters, so we all have reason to be thankful for rain!

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