Finally, a free episode of Bergsma and Hahn discussing The Word of the Lord as given to us by today’s lectionary readings.
What better way to be inspired to begin, continue, or restart reading Scripture. I read some of the Bible each day. I encourage everyone to do the same. Remember, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Just like I don’t want to hear Jesus tell me “I do not know you,” I don’t want to tell Him that either.
ZEBULUN AND NAPHTALI
The following articles give some detail about these regions prominent in today’s readings:
Aside from the episode that aired this evening, I am caught up on the streaming series, The Chosen. I am reminded of it today because the Gospel gives us the calling of the first four chosen by Christ.
But, may I recommend the episode that aired two weeks ago (found on YouTube here). No episode moved me as much as this one. Even if you have not seen an episode yet, or you have not found the series of interest, or you are skeptical of the approach, I urge you to watch this one. Maybe, then, you will watch the first two and a half seasons, or at least be blessed.
PREPARATION FOR DEATH
My devotional reading to begin 2023 is this book by St. Alphonsus Liguori (full text). It will scare the hell out of you, so to speak. A worthwhile read and meditation that will shake you to the core. And just imagine the conversations you will have if caught reading this work!
Tying this last thought with another prominent theme in today’s readings:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,o for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
The nations will walk by its light,* and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure.
During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there.
The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there,
but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
I want to be in that number, by the grace of God.
Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation is a must-read before starting any Bible study. It is short and accessible. Find it here as well as in the front of many Catholic Bibles.
And if you want a much deeper dive, check out our dear late Pope Benedict the Great’s fine Apostolic Exhortation on his great love.
The world’s loss is heaven’s gain. Maybe there won’t be a groundswell calling for this suffix, but I will from this point forward refer to our dear late pontiff as Pope Benedict the Great. The height of his brilliance was only surpassed by the depth of his humility and holiness.
Check out the following for fine reflections on Benedict upon his death:
Speaking of books, if you have not yet read his three volume Jesus of Nazareth book series he wrote as pope, you really must do so. My recommendation is to grab the third volume immediately while we are still in the Christmas season. Then pick up Volume 2 for Lent in preparation for Holy Week, Finally, the first installment is excellent reading for summer in (extra)Ordinary Time. You will be the richer for reading and meditating on these works and you will honor the late pope’s memory in doing so.
Today I completed my year-long journey through the book Divine Intimacy. For December 31, an appropriate message for the end of year and the end of a life:
Time passes and does not return. God has assigned to each of us a definite time in which to fulfill His divine plan for our soul; we have only this time and shall have no more. Time ill spent is lost forever. Our life is made up of this uninterrupted, continual flow of time, which never returns. In eternity, on the contrary, time will be no more; we shall be established forever in the degree of love which we have reached now, in time.
Benedict, I suspect, ill spent little time. And he was blessed to have much time to prepare for entering eternity as his strength and health gradually declined. For those of us who remain in this mortal coil, let us use our remaining time wisely, emulating the late pontiff. A good New Year’s resolution, I think.
While I fully suspect that Benedict heard the following upon meeting the Lord:
Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.
I have been and will continue to pray for him. If he needs the prayers, I am pleased to give some small return for how he has enriched my life. And if he doesn’t need the prayers, I’m confident they will be distributed wisely. Dear Pope Benedict, pray for us as we pray for you.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
The Holy Spirit dominates the day’s readings. This quote from the great prophet Isaiah is where we get the classic seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah prophesies here, as he often does, about the coming messiah. Wow! What a lineup of characteristics we would like to call our own! And we can! Anyone in God’s good graces can call upon the same generous Spirit to strengthen us in all these ways (and those separated from God…get to confession!). But, how often do we do so? The Holy Spirit has been called the forgotten person of the Trinity. Probably because we much easier relate to the Father and the Son and can picture them more clearly in our mind’s eye and in art. The Spirit is depicted as fire or a dove, or even wind (try to draw that!), but rarely anthropomorphized. Yet, we should not be putting Him in third place or neglecting Him altogether. Jesus sends the Spirit to enlighten us. We should call on Him often to do just that. Who couldn’t use more wisdom or understanding or knowledge or counsel or courage or piety or fear of the Lord?
Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
This is the people’s response, although it does not appear verbatim in the psalm itself. But it does express the sentiment of the entire chapter quite well. Peace comes when all the earth acknowledges the Truth: God Himself. Certainly, we can recall Isaiah prophesying about the Prince of Peace. But when we think of peace associated with God, we naturally associate this concept with the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that this is one of the many fruits of the Spirit. But there are many other connections made in Scripture between peace and the Spirit (see here). Even in the pseudo-religious realm, certainly you have seen Christmas cards with a dove carrying an olive branch above “Peace on Earth” (inspired by the story of the Flood — see Gen 8:11). So, when frustration, distress, anxiety, or discord enter in, call first on the Spirit for relief. Ever ready to shower His gifts upon us, find comfort and strength in Him. If it is an injustice that is troubling you, note that justice and peace are linked in today’s response. Let Him possess you and pray fervently that He will do the same for the persecuted — and the persecutors.
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
It should go without saying that the Bible must have a preeminent place in our lives. Reading of or listening to the Word of God is an indispensable part of day to day living. How else do we get to know Jesus (just ask St Jerome)? In doing so, though, we must invoke the same Spirit who inspired the sacred authors to give us the gift of understanding (see how this all ties together?). Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from Vatican II, required reading before any serious Bible study, says this about the Spirit and the Bible:
Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).
Dei Verbum, 11
Paul tells us that from Scripture we receive endurance, encouragement, and hope. Just a few more fruits of the Holy Spirit we are all desperately in need of in these turbulent (an understatement) times.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Here, John the Baptist is speaking of his cousin Jesus. John’s baptism is one of repentance. Necessary, but incomplete. Christian baptism is so much more. But do we think of what baptism really entails? Certainly, we know that baptism makes us children of God by filling up with saving grace the empty space left by the sin of our first parents. For those with personal sin, it wipes that away, as well. But are we possessed by the Spirit that dwells within us? Are we on fire for our faith? Would that we be like Jeremiah:
I say I will not mention him,
I will no longer speak in his name.
But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding back,
or the apostles:
And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
May our hearts and tongues be on fire for the Lord, and may we heed Peter’s words:
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope
1 pt 3:15
and remember Jesus’ promise:
do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say.
For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say
let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace, for its trust in you. … the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust.
Is 26:2-3, 5
Is it any wonder there is no peace in the United States and in much of the world? With so much injustice and so little faith and trust in God, how can we be surprised that peace eludes us? In this time in which we honor Jesus under the title of Prince of Peace and sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” let us pray all the more fervently for our prince to bring peace, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:6).
“One nation, under God” has become a divided nation that believes and acts as if it does not need God, replacing Him with itself. This hubris, thinking we know better than God, in fact, dismissing Him entirely, will not end well for us. Our “lofty city” will tumble and be leveled — it is only a matter of time. Considering the blood-lust and perversion pervading the culture, do not be surprised if destruction comes sooner than you imagine.
One of the most chilling lines in Scripture quotes our Lord:
[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, “that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.” For lay people, “this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.” (LG 35 § 1, § 2) “This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful.” (AA 6 § 3; cf. AG 15.)
So each of us is called by the Lord to be an apostle (from Greek apostolos, “person sent”). And not simply by the witness of our lives, although it is vitally important that we behave according to what we believe to avoid personal sin and scandal by example, but also by explicitly “announcing Christ by word.” The journey to belief comes in hearing the Gospel shared convincingly by the convinced. Are you convinced you can do this? If not, what is holding you back? Do you not know the faith well enough? Then learn. Are you too timid? Then ask the Holy Spirit for fortitude.
Jesus calls everyone to be holy and to share the Good News. Would that we all have “beautiful feet” that would just sparkle on our Judgment Day due to our tireless evangelization efforts. And is there a better and more obvious time to ease the Messiah into a conversation than during the run-up to Christmas? Don’t miss the opportunity to make a believer out of someone so he can call on the Lord in faith.
Peter preaching (c. 1370) by Lorenzo Venziano. c. 1370
Today’s Gospel (Mt 8:5-11), featuring Jesus and a centurion, is one of my favorite episodes in all of Scripture. This sentiment in me was heightened by its excellent portrayal in Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. Follow the link (and all embedded links and video) below for my past insights:
Jesus Healing the Servant of a Centurion by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
We have been awaiting the Second Coming ever since the culmination of the First Coming (see Acts 1:11). This is why we speak of Advent recalling the first Christmas, deepening our appreciation of Jesus in our midst (in the Eucharist — “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” as our Responsorial Psalm  exclaims), and anticipating the Lord’s return at the end of time.
But, in particular, I wish to draw attention to the last line of the reading:
[P]ut on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
I have spent the year reading Divine Intimacy. Drawing heavily on Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, the frequent theme of the daily reflections is detachment. Draw near Jesus; put Him first. Let the dross of attachment to worldly things, even objectively good things, fall away (or be torn away — painful, but necessary) in order to make oneself fully available to the will of God. The Imitation of Christ draws often on the same sentiment, as do so many classic spiritual works. How much these writers must have contemplated the words of Paul we read today. How much we should contemplate these words, as well. When the hustle and bustle of the season causes us consternation, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And when we begin to lose inner peace, know that God can provide it, just as He promised, through His prophet Isaiah (2:1-5), to bring peace on our troubled earth — a peace we can easily despair of ever occurring with any knowledge of history or current affairs:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.
How is this peace to be achieved?
[L]et us walk in the light of the Lord!
Yes, enlightened by the Lord, the God of truth, we may not change the world, but we will find “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 2:7), thus giving an example that will attract all those we encounter who wish to know how we achieved it.
Last, but not least, Jesus concludes today’s Gospel passage (Mt 24:37-44) with these wise words:
[Y]ou…must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
I will never forget a talk in which the priest dismissed being overly concerned about the coming end of time but strongly reminded his listeners that the end of our time in this life is certain. I pray that that inevitability will not catch me unawares, but it doesn’t become an issue if we wake up each day as if it were our last being mindful that “human beings die once, and after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). Easy to say until the troubles of the day and our own concupiscence and bad habits butt in — vigilance is required with the necessary assistance of grace.
Let us prepare well for the Eternal Word’s coming in the past, present, and future.
I’m excited about a couple of books I’ve added to my daily/weekly reading as we begin the new liturgical year.
I make it a point to read Scripture daily. Because we started Year A today in the lectionary, I will be reading verses and commentary from Matthew each day of the year. A deep dive into the tax collector turned evangelist.
I am kicking it off with The Gospel of Matthew by Mitch and Sri from the splendid Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series. I have two other commentaries I’m looking forward to getting into when I work through this one.
In addition, I have begun the final volume of John Bergsma’s The Word of the Lord series for Year A. This will also carry me through most Sunday’s of the year (I just purchased the Solemnities and Feasts volume to make sure I cover all those as well). I love his teaching style and his books. It promises to be a spiritually fruitful Church year.
The Light of the World (1851-1854) by William Holman Hunt
I’ll keep this one short, but I wanted to share a podcast that, frankly, I thought had gone away. “Letters from Home” is a daily offering from the St. Paul Center with a reflection on the day’s Mass readings. Always about 10-15 minutes long, they are frequently gems. Listen daily, before Mass, after Mass, or even (maybe especially) if you can’t get to Mass.
Today’s installment by Dr. Scott Hahn was particularly edifying. He brought out to me several aspects of the familiar story of the mother of James and John asking a favor for her sons. It’s this sort of exposition that I wish many priests would adopt in their homilies. Bringing out aspects of the familiar that are unfamiliar to the pew-sitter, along with practical applications for daily living, makes Scripture come alive and brings to new light the relevance of the Word.
Check out today’s reflection here. From this page you can link to places to subscribe on your smart phone.
Allow me to add a note of my own on the readings. I wonder how close a follower of Jesus these two brothers’ mom was. “She did him homage,” so she knew who He was first hand, through her sons’ witness, or, most likely, both. Since they came up to Jesus as a threesome, did they discuss this beforehand? Did the boys ask their mom to do this? Did she come up with it? If so, did they encourage her or attempt to dissuade her? Did she really understand Jesus’ response? Did James and John know what they were agreeing to?
We know Jesus is speaking of a chalice of suffering. But, I wonder, when James and John were “breaking the bread” after Jesus Ascension and offering the cup, now transformed into Christ’s blood, did they think back to this episode and how Jesus’ Passion and death gave us this chalice of salvation? They really held a “treasure in earthen vessels,” as Paul exclaims at the beginning of today’s first reading.
What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
A backhanded compliment from the Lord in today’s Gospel (Lk 11:1-13). More to the point, particularly in today’s culture, is the last verse in which He calls man “wicked.”
What do I mean? Well, I hope that no parent would give his child a venomous creature instead of a meal. But are we not feeding children poison just be giving them a “smart” phone or computer? Without close supervision and restrictions, the filth that can be allowed in on these devices is staggering.
What about the awful agenda that would expose even the earliest school children to sexual perversion? Are we, wittingly or unwittingly, giving over our most vulnerable minds to these snakes? Parents must be tuned in to what goes on in their schools and even their local libraries and bookstores so that their children might be protected at such a vulnerable age. Not to mention the horror show that is the transgender movement that targets younger and younger children.
Isn’t it interesting that Christ uses serpents and scorpions in His example. Of course, we know the serpent from the book of Genesis and how his tempting led to the downfall of our first parents and, as a result, the rest of humanity for all time. As for scorpions, we read in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, about the fifth trumpet blast opening a bottomless pit from which
Locusts came out of the smoke onto the land, and they were given the same power as scorpions of the earth.
They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or any tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
They were not allowed to kill them but only to torment them for five months; the torment they inflicted was like that of a scorpion when it stings a person.
How can someone say he is sealed by God when allowing all manner of evil to infect his mind and the minds of those he is charged to protect and to lead to eternal life? It is vital to be aware that these are the end times, because Christ has come and we are in the period of awaiting His final return. Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Mt 25:13)
Thus, parents and all those who have substantial interaction with our young people would be wise to carefully consider and steadfastly heed Jesus’ stern warning a little further along in Luke:
He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
The activists, and even the simply neglectful, will suffer the most in eternity unless they convert and repent.
Jesus follows this admonition to those who are aware of the problem:
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him…
So, we also have a responsibility to call out evil when we see it and actively do something to stop it. It is not easy. The repercussions in a world gone mad can be harsh. But it can be done, Jesus assures us:
Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.
We have a responsibility to the truth. And, ultimately, the truth will set you free (Jn 8:32b).
HELPFUL BOOKS IN THE CULTURE WAR
All of these I recently obtained and am eager to get to. Each will be helpful in fulfilling the responsibility I just mentioned. Click through to read more about them and to purchase.
Daniel Lord, S.J. was much better known to a different generation. A recent article reminded me of him and caused me to seek out his last book, one that he wrote after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. It is not a sad book at all, and contains no mention of his condition.
Anyway, I came across this wonderful thought of his. I have spent some time thinking of eternity. It was heartening to me, and will be heartening to anyone who has concerns about what Heaven will be like, particularly the idea that it will be boring.
Heaven is the place where human curiosity will be eternally stimulated, always satisfied, and never satiated … [I]t gives me a thrill to know that what curiosity I have is hardly more than an appetizer for the eternity that lies ahead.
Daniel A. Lord, S.J. Letters to my lord (New York: herder and herder, 1969), 98, 102
It will be like roaming the most awesome library conceivable and having direct access to Truth when questions arise. As a book lover, and one with an unabated hunger for knowledge, that is certainly heavenly.
Today is the Memorial of St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (and cardinal). I recall reading some of his work in my Master’s program and being very impressed. I have a renewed interest now that I belong to St. Bonaventure parish. I recently picked up The Works of Bonaventure and am awaiting a biography (there don’t seem to be a lot of these, as I could only find the one). We do know he was a biographer of Francis of Assisi whose order Bonaventure joined. He also was a dear friend of Thomas Aquinas, whose order, the Dominicans, I hope to one day be fully professed in. Coincidentally, Bonaventure was born the year Dominic died: 1221.
St. Bonaventure, ora pro nobis!
I have been reading some comments on a conservative news/opinion website that I like. I have grown increasingly disturbed by so many folks speaking favorably about abortion there, some favoring restrictions and some opposed to any restrictions, but defenders of life from conception are hard to find. Particularly disturbing are those weighing in who speak of extremists on both sides. There is, essentially, no extreme pro-life position, save the possibility of those who believe that the pregnant mother’s life may not be saved for any reason (see this article for a proper Catholic perspective and go to NCBC regularly or subscribe to its newsletter for reliable information on Catholic moral teaching on all the challenging issues).
I know that any comparison with Naziism is fraught, but, considering the widespread acceptance of abortion today, is it so difficult to understand how so many Germans could go along with such a murderous regime knowing, or at least strongly suspecting, the killing of Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, and the physically and mentally handicapped?
Science, as well as Christianity, tells us that a unique human life is present at the moment of conception. Many Americans believe life in the womb, at least for some period of time, is Lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”) — a Nazi designation for the segments of the populace which according to the Nazi regime had no right to live.