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.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
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.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
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?

Continue reading at Catholic Bible Student
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.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
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!

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
06July

Peace Conquers War

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Peace Conquers War

July 6, 2014

Zech 9:9-10

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070614.cfm

We hate war. War takes away the good things of life: family, abundance, peace, and security. We only have to read the front page of the newspaper to hear about more “wars and rumors of wars.” In this Sunday’s first reading from Zechariah we see the Messiah coming to banish war and establish peace forever.

Context

This reading is just two verses from Zechariah 9. It comes in between a prophecy of judgment on the enemies of God’s people and a promise of salvation for them. At this point in their history, God’s people, the Jews, have suffered under various foreign powers for several generations. They long for the restoration of their independence under the leadership of a legitimate heir to the throne, a king descended from David. Zechariah’s portrait of the Messiah entering the city and his invitation to rejoice point to the fulfillment of these hopes.

A King

The coronation of a new king is a moment of rejoicing. One need only look back on the Prince William and Kate Middleton wedding for an example of what this kind of rejoicing might look like. A new king means a new era, new hope, vindication for the oppressed. This Messiah king—the anointed son of David—is called tzadiq (righteous) and noshua (having salvation). He is righteous or just in that he is the legitimate heir, and he is righteous before God: the perfect combination. His quality of noshua indicates that he comes to bring salvation, just like Joshua, whose name means “the Lord is salvation.” The new, messianic king brings God’s vindication to his people who are oppressed. The new king will re-establish the right reign of justice. Here we see how appropriate it is for this passage to come in between the announcement of judgment and the prophecy of salvation: justice and salvation go hand in hand. A good king with God’s authority will judge oppressors and save those who are oppressed.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
27June

The remembering of faith for conversion—is there hope for our contemporary world?

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

The remembering of faith for conversion—is there hope for our contemporary world?

A child getting lost in a store—this is a familiar scene in movies. Mom tells her rambunctious boy to stay very close to her. With all the honesty of intention he can muster he promises to do so; no one wants to get lost. But he is a little boy, with a very short attention span. Soon he finds himself fascinated by the sight and sound of things around him. First one step toward an especially enticing display, then a second, a third and a fourth … until unexpectedly, unintentionally he realizes that he is separated from his mother. He had forgotten her, but suddenly he remembers her. This memory makes him aware of his own dependence on her, and, without her, his fundamental vulnerability. Not knowing how to find her, he begins to cry.

Straying from God by sinning bears several resemblances to this episode. The significant difference is that the Old Testament accounts of sin concern adults, not children. Time and again the chosen people become spiritually lost, even after stern warnings. Moses was an expert in religious psychology. He keenly grasped people’s propensity to get distracted, to forget God, and to neglect their duties to God. This is why he exhorted the chosen people not to forget the marvelous works that God performed to liberate them from slavery in Egypt. “Take heed, lest you forget …” is a refrain in Deuteronomy (vv. 4:9, 23; 6:12). To obey the Law of the Lord, Israel must maintain a lively memory of the great works of liberation. “Take heed lest you forget the LORD your God, by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes.” (Deut. 8:11) Failure to keep God’s commandments is the certain sign that the people have forgotten God.

For Israel, the crisis of faith is precisely this disjuncture between a God-centered yesterday and a God-absent today. Faith in God’s marvelous works is supposed to shape His people’s future, to give direction to their freedom, the very freedom that is God’s gift. But they forget it is a gift. They take hold of their freedom as if it were not fragile and easily lost, as if God had nothing to do with it. They are like the prodigal son, who took hold of his inheritance and used it without any concern for, or reference to, his father. He cut himself off from his father, his father’s faith, and the entire tradition of faith that the father wanted to pass along to him. Leaving them behind in forgetfulness, he lives as if he could create his life ex nihilo, with no thought to his past. The intensity of his focus on the pleasures of the present cut him off from any memory of his father and his past. Until, that is, he began to suffer. He found out that freedom without memory self-destructs. Reduced to a terrible loss of freedom, he suddenly remembers his father’s house. Suffering is the catalyst for the kind of remembering that leads to conversion.

This connection between suffering and a salutary re-activation of memory is the key to understanding the mission of the Old Testament prophets. They always repeat the warning of Moses. When the people forget God—and the certain indication of this is that they do not care for the poor and they worship other gods—the prophets function as the conscience of the people. The goal of their preaching is to rekindle the people’s memory. And if the exhortation to remember is not heeded, they predict a purifying calamity that will elicit a salvific remembering and a return to God, like that of the prodigal son. For the prophets, the first step in conversion is an act of faith that remembers.

Pope St. John Paul II, for whom conversion was a central theme of his pontificate, was attentive to this great biblical theme.

In order to make concrete the gravity of the accusation and thus elicit a conversion that flows from the sincerity of the heart, Moses appeals to the memory: “Think back on the days of old, reflect on the years of age upon age.” (Deut. 32:7) In fact, biblical faith is a “memorial,” namely, a rediscovering of God’s eternal action spread over time; it is to make present and effective that salvation that the Lord has given and continues to offer man. Hence, the great sin of infidelity coincides with “forgetfulness,” which cancels the memory of the divine presence in us and in history. (General Audience, June 19, 2002)

The crisis in faith today is staggering: millions of baptized Catholics going weeks, months, even years without attending Mass, the unparalleled act of commemoration of the marvelous works of love that God has done for them. He created them and became a man to reveal what authentic human fulfillment is, namely, to be loved by God and to love Him and love others as Christ has loved us. He died on the Cross in order to prove His love and to make this fullness of life possible. He established His Church on the foundation of the Apostles so that the truth of His revelation and the power of His Resurrection should become His gift to them in Baptism.

For these millions, there is no room for God in their consciousness because it is filled to overflowing with preoccupations with things of a “world that is passing away.” (I Cor. 7:31) God has been crowded out by an obsession with things that cannot satisfy their deepest aspirations. The words of Jeremiah apply: “They have forsaken Me, the source of living waters; they have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13) They do not turn to the source of the water that gives life, namely, the pierced side of Jesus. (cf. Jn. 7:39; 19:34) They live as if God did not even exist, as if He had never done anything important enough to call to mind. They give their minds over to degrading trivializations, and then perhaps they remember Him when they need someone to blame for such a pitifully shallow existence—as if the prodigal son’s father were responsible for the plight of his son who had misused his freedom!

Today we speak of the influence of culture. Cultures carry values and quite effectively transmit them. To live in a culture is to breathe the air of its moral values. It is an ironic sign of the times that in our culture so much attention is given to concern over the quality of the air we breathe while the toxicity of the moral air—a culture of exhilaration (think of the rush of extreme sports, drugs, and gambling), hedonism, consumerism, relativism, a culture of death—is not only accepted but defended as congruent with human dignity and rights.

Just as the prodigal son could remain forgetful of his father so long as his money lasted, a God-less secular culture can only captivate and seduce people so long as the economy makes possible the prospect of unlimited pleasures. When that hope betrays them, the memory of God suddenly appears to fill the void of this betrayed hope. We witnessed this when there was a significant uptick in churchgoing after 9/11. Does this mean that we can only wait until there is a calamity that will force people to remember God? It may come to that, and for this reason it is vital that mature disciples of Christ make Him present wherever there is severe suffering: hospitals, war zones, famine areas, etc. But this is by no means inevitable. The strategy of the popes of the New Evangelization—Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis—is much more than an updated version of the strategy of Moses and the prophets. The goal is always the same, namely, to prompt an act of memory of faith. But the New Evangelization focuses on what Moses and the prophets could only point to as a future promise, namely, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the “perfect man” Who reveals to us the fullness of life to which we are called. In Christ, we are all called to bear witness to this fullness of life. This is why Pope John Paul kept repeating that we are all called to holiness. Holy men and women who are fully alive in Christ are living evidence of the power of God’s love. Their witness to a fully human life is the most powerful inducement for otherwise sleeping memories of God to wake up. This is why Pope Benedict XVI, in particular, and after him Pope Francis with his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, have challenged those with living faith, that is, those who remember God daily, to live in the joy of the gift of Holy Spirit so that people who do not know this joy may encounter it and compare their pitiful pleasures to the deep and abiding joy of living in the certainty of being loved. The witness of Christian holiness, love, and virtue is the catalyst by which dormant memories come out of hibernation to remember God and His promises, to pass judgment on their foolishness, to hope anew in His promises, and to return to their Father’s house.

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

27June

God's Perfect Timing

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

God's Perfect Timing




















June 29, 2014

Acts 12:1-11

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062914-day-mass.cfm

When you find yourself on death row, awaiting a show trial, chained up in a prison with sixteen guards, it is probably time to let go and prepare to meet your Maker. But “God’s perfect timing” might just interrupt your preparations. People often refer to “God’s perfect timing” to help us deal with the delays, failures and disappointments of life. However, in certain cases, his timing can work the opposite way, undoing what seems to be an inevitable disappointment. In this Sunday’s reading from Acts 12 for the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, we find St. Peter apparently about to die, until God interferes with apparent inevitability.

Context

Peter is arrested by Herod Agrippa’s agents right before Passover. Herod has put one of the “pillar apostles,” James, to death by sword. Peter would expect to follow his fellow apostle to martyrdom quickly. Herod is on a persecution rampage to please the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem, and nip the nascent Christian movement in the bud. Herod’s violence reminds us that the Church was born in the midst of opposition and persecution. He arrests Peter at the time of Passover, a feast at which Jewish pilgrims would gather in Jerusalem. Herod’s purpose is probably two-fold: he wants to prevent a key Christian leader from preaching to the crowds at Passover and he wants to put Peter on a show trial to ingratiate himself with the opponents of Christianity and as a warning not to join the new movement.

Power of Prayer

When Peter, the Rock, is arrested, the Christian community does not launch a protest or a war, but they get down on their knees and pray. Acts describes the Church’s prayer for Peter as ektenes, “intense, zealous, instant.” They are praying hard and fast that Peter will be protected from a seemingly imminent fate. Praying in the face of such a situation would be a tough proposition. It would be easy to give up and start praying for a swift end rather than for deliverance. But the early Christians kept believing and interceding for Peter’s rescue. Their faithful determination (and their results!) can teach something about how to pray.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
20June

Forgetting to Remember

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Forgetting to Remember



















June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/062214.cfm

Too often, we forget. People used to tie strings around their fingers to remember, but now we have all sorts of buzzers, beeps, ringtones, iCals, and even text message reminders to help us remember our appointments, pay our bills on time, and get where we need to go. Remembering, and remembering at the right time, is a perpetual problem. On this Sunday’s feast of Corpus Christi, in the first reading we are reminded to remember—to remember all the great things God has done for us, his people.

Context

The whole book of Deuteronomy portrays Moses’ final pep talk to the people of Israel before they cross the River Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land. He retells the story of the journey through the desert and their deliverance from Egypt. He reminds them of how God has demonstrated his love and power by setting them free and leading them in safety to a new land. He also warns themagainst forgetting in the future.

Trial by “What’s it?”

Before he encourages the people to look forward, Moses asks them to look back on God’s faithfulness. The Lord tested his people “by affliction,” specifically by the affliction of hunger. They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach—I guess God knows this to be true! When we’re physically hungry our will can hit a serious testing point. God tests his people in order to “find out” their intention to keep or to break his commands. After a time of afflicting hunger, he sends heavenly manna to his people.

Now manna in Hebrew simply means “What is it?” because it was a food no one had ever eaten it before. Ironically, even Jesus talks about manna as “bread from heaven” (John 6:32) but here Moses tells us that God sent the manna specifically to show his people that “not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” The trial of the Israelites by hunger, then by the mysterious “What’s it?” food from the sky was meant to help them recognize their dependence on God for their whole life.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
16June

St. Anthony’s Fish and the Mission to Creation

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

St. Anthony’s Fish and the Mission to Creation


















Just before His Ascension, Jesus commanded the Apostles to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).

Today is the feast of St. Anthony, in whose life we see one of the most poignant responses to Jesus’s command. After his rejection by a group of heretics in Rimini, St. Anthony preached to the fish: “Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so” (The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, ch. 40). St. Anthony preached to the fish about the great many blessings God had given them and how they needed to honor him in response. The account continues: “At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads, endeavoring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and show forth their praise.” Pleased with the reverence shown by the fish, St. Anthony responded: “Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honor him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics.” The people of Rimini were converted by this great sign.

St. Anthony’s actions are not an isolated instance, but directly follow the example of St. Francis’s preaching to the birds and many other examples of how the saints exercised dominion over all of creation. This mission toward creation is a direct response to God’s command in Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (v. 28). God clearly intends for humanity to exercise not only a cultural, but also a spiritual dominion over all of creation.

Jesus gave some other examples of this dominion in the Gospels: the calming of the sea, walking on the water, the withering of the fig tree, etc. The most drastic could be found in the passage: “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of amustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20). This could be considered a hyperbole to exhort us to strengthen our faith in the midst of difficult or impossible situations. For the saints, however, it is more. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (the wonderworker), for example, moved a mountain through his prayers to make way for the construction of a church. A Coptic saint, Simon the Tanner, also successfully came to the assistance of the Christians of Egypt who were threatened with death by the Sultan if they could not follow this passage of the Gospel literally.

Other examples of dominion can be found in the Old Testament and the lives of the saints: Joshua’s halting of the Jordan River and even the sun; the Prophet Elijah’s stopping of the rain; the assistance of a raven to St. Benedict; the friendship of the lion with St. Jerome and the wolf with St. Francis; St. Rose of Lima’s truce with the mosquitos and St. Martin de Porres’s with mice. The list could continue indefinitely.

What does this show us? The Gospel has power not only for salvation, but also for God’s glory in creation. God wants us to exercise dominion in healing and perfecting the world. He wants the Gospel to shine forth in all the world.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
15June

God of the Second Chance

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

God of the Second Chance




















June 15, 2014

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061514.cfm

Sometimes we mess up. Hopefully, most of the time our errors are small, easily fixed, or even overlooked. But sometimes we mess up big, really big. The people of Israel found themselves in that kind of spot. They had seen God’s power deliver them Pharaoh and the Egyptians; they miraculously crossed the Red Sea; he appeared to them in thunder at Mt. Sinai, and yet they fail. They set up a false idol, the Golden Calf, and worship it at the base of the mountain while Moses is receiving the law from God. Oops.

Context

This Sunday’s Old Testament reading presents a scene right after God’s people have sinned against him by worshiping the Golden Calf. After that happens, Moses stalks down the mountain and smashes the two stone tablets of the law in anger. Then he intercedes before God on behalf of the people, and the Lord offers to renew the covenant and write on a new set of stone tablets. Here Moses brings two fresh tablets (clean slates!) before the Lord on Mt. Sinai and awaits a revelation.

The setting for the scene looks a lot like the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 19—20, but here Moses encounters God alone. The people as a whole are not hearing his voice. Moses acts as covenant mediator. The Lord shows up in power, with the full force of his presence before Moses. The Lord repeatedly declares his holy name: YHWH.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange
08June

Baptism by Fire

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Baptism by Fire













June 8, 2014

Pentecost

First Reading: Acts 2:1-11

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060814-day-mass.cfm

When we hear Jesus encourage his disciples to go evangelize, often we get discouraged. We reflect on our weakness, our failures, our many unsuccessful attempts to proclaim the word. We fear being rejected, ignored, or persecuted. Sometimes our words fall on deaf ears. When we experience the power of God’s love and want to share it with others, our efforts are frequently frustrated. In today’s celebration of Pentecost, however, God offers us a reality far greater than our own attempts. He offers us the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim his message of good news and invite others to share in the victory of Jesus.

Context

Pentecost was a Jewish feast before it became a Christian one. It was celebrated fifty days or seven weeks after the feast of Passover and was called the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot (Hebrew for “weeks”). Similarly, Christians celebrate Pentecost fifty days after Easter. The word “Pentecost” simply means “fiftieth.” The Jewish feast entailed special grain offerings and animal sacrifices tied to the grain harvest (Lev 23:15-22). The feast also came to commemorate the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai and Jewish men would come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast together. That is why Acts tells us that Jews from every nation had come to Jerusalem for the feast.

A Fiery Prayer Meeting

While Acts 2:1 only tells us that “all” were together in “one place,” we can extrapolate from 1:12-14 that the one place is the upper room and the people present are the apostles, the women disciples of Jesus, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Traditional icons of Pentecost show Mary in the middle of the apostles when the fire from heaven descends. The disciples encountered the Father in all their prayer and Scripture reading. They had come to know the Son as he walked the earth, but now they are visited by the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Previously, the Holy Spirit was manifested as a dove (Mark 1:10), but now he comes as a “rushing violent wind” (my translation) and as fire. The sign of wind matches the words for spirit in Hebrew (ruah) and Greek (pneuma), which can be translated as “breath, wind, or spirit.” Jesus even teaches that “the wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Wind is a deliciously approprite symbol for the Holy Spirit who empowers, impels, inspires, and yet cannot be restricted or captured.

The tongues of fire, which came to rest on the disciples, are the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy about Jesus, that he would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11 RSV). Frequently, fire serves as a powerful metaphor for God’s working in the soul. Fire is strong, destructive, beautiful, terrifying, and mysterious. These connotations explain the description of God as a “devouring fire” (Deut 4:24) and his appearance to Moses in the burning bush story. Now, at Pentecost, God reveals himself in the sign of heavenly fire to pour out his power on his disciples so that they might become true witnesses to the ends of the earth.

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30May

Clinging to the Past & Stomaching Change

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Clinging to the Past & Stomaching Change


















June 1

The Ascension of the Lord

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/060114-ascension.cfm

When things change, we often look back and wish that they wouldn’t have. Change, even good change, can be hard to stomach. Repetition, familiarity, and predictability make us feel comfortable. But Jesus does not want us limited to our “comfort zone.” Instead, he challenges us with an exciting, dynamic, yet change-prone mission: to proclaim his message to the ends of the earth.

Context

The first reading for this Sunday, the Feast of the Ascension, comes from the very beginning of the Book of Acts (1:1-11). The book is addressed to “Theophilus” (lover of God), as is the Gospel of Luke. Theophilus may be a historical person, perhaps a patron, the high priest named Theophilus, or a general title for any Christian. At this point in Luke’s narrative, Jesus has risen from the dead, appeared many times to his disciples, and now is returning to the Father. The scene unfolds at the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. Jesus offers his last words to the apostles before leaving them.

Clinging to the Past

This reading gives us a taste of the apostles’ desperation to hang onto the past. Jesus’ number one instruction to them is, “Wait!” Clearly, this is not what they have in mind. Once Jesus departs, they will be tempted to go back to Galilee, forget about the whole Messiah thing, and settle back in to a life of fishing. It would be very easy for them not to wait, but to return to the past, to what is familiar and comfortable.

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