Catholics and Bible Study

WeeklyMessageJanuary 27, 2013
Marcellino D’Ambrosio, PH.D.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time


There is a myth that we must lay to rest, once and for all–Protestants are all about the Bible, while Catholics are all about the Sacraments. While I can’t speak for my Protestant brethren, I can say this with certainty–the Catholic Church has never tolerated any such either/or. Both Scripture and Sacraments are precious gifts from the Lord, gifts we desperately need and are bound to use.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” insisted St. Jerome, an Early Church Father and Doctor of the Catholic Church from the 5th century AD. Because of this, every liturgical service of the Catholic Church is full of Scripture. Take Sunday Mass for instance. First there are significant chunks of Scripture read aloud, just as we see in Nehemiah 8 or in Luke 4 when Jesus serves as lector at the synagogue of Nazareth. But don’t forget the prayers and acclamations that are full of Scripture like the Holy Holy (a combo of Is 6 and Ps 118:26), the Our Father (Mat 6:9), and the Gloria (Lk 2:14). Ironically, many “Bible churches” that accuse Catholics of being non-scriptural don’t actually read any Scripture aloud in their Sunday service at all!
So is hearing Scripture on Sunday enough? Not by a long-shot. Scripture, says the Second Vatican Council (Dei Verbum 21), is “food for the soul.” Who eats just once a week? To survive and thrive, you need daily nourishment. You can have a steady diet of Scripture by attending Mass daily, participating in the liturgy of the hours with its daily readings and psalms, or reading Scripture in daily personal prayer. Actually, all three make an unbeatable combination.
Frequently, though, when Catholics start reading the bible, they quickly run into trouble–usually in the first chapters of Leviticus! Yes, sometimes it is hard to know where to begin, to fit it all together, and to interpret correctly some rather obscure passages, words, and names. My father, who first attached the Bible at age 63, discovered the book of Malachi. Thinking the name was pronounced “ma-LA-chee”, he rejoiced that there was an Italian among the prophets.
There are great Catholic bible studies on books, tapes, videos, and the web. Some are book-by-book commentaries. Others are big-picture overviews of salvation history so that you can fit each book, character, and theme into the overall story of God’s dealings with his people. Most are conveniently designed so that busy people with no background in the Bible can learn a lot without a huge time commitment.
Many of us spend 16 or more years of our life preparing for our secular career, then take continuing ed courses on nights and weekends. In contrast, how much have we invested in our education in the Word of God, essential for our heavenly career?
The study of the Bible, is for one purpose, however. So that, praying with Scripture, we may be better able to hear what God is saying to us here and now. The writers of Sacred Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit. But it is equally true that the Scriptures themselves are inspired. The Holy Spirit has been “breathed into them” and resides within their words as in a temple. When we approach the Scriptures prayerfully, aided by the same Spirit who dwells in them, reading Scripture becomes an experience of being filled and empowered by God’s Spirit, and we are changed.
Sometimes the Words of Scripture are encouraging. Like when 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that no matter how insignificant we may feel, we each have an essential role to play as members of the Body of Christ. But other times Scripture holds a mirror up to our face and we don’t like what we see. In Nehemiah 8, the people wept at the reading of the word, because it made them realize their sin. The Word is truth, and sometime the truth is painful. But so is antiseptic on a wound. Scripture challenges us only to heal us and call us to growth. No pain, no gain.

Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
January 27, 2013

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
With this passage Luke introduces his two-volume work–Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. Luke’s work continues the narrative of God’s liberation of humanity from the mess it had gotten itself into, alienated from its creator and alienated within itself. It is a narrative of the creative, divine action of the Spirit beginning with Israel, continued through Jesus, and now through the Church.
After linking the birth of Jesus to the fulfillment of God’s promise of blessing for all nations given to Abraham and to Israel, Luke tells us that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. He teaches in the synagogues to the acclaim of all. Then Jesus goes to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and as was his custom goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He stands to read the scroll from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…” (a combination of Is 58:6d and 61:1d). Rolling up the scroll, Jesus hands it back to the attendant and sits down. The eyes of all in the synagogue look intently at him. He says to them: “Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Liberating Law
TThe readings for this Sunday lead us to a discussion about laws and codes of behavior. I thought I’d like to begin today by telling you about a very strict monastery and a new recruit, Br. Alpheus. When Brother Alpheus joined the monastery he was told that the monastery was so strict that the monks were only allowed to say two words every five years. They were to spend their five years considering what they would say. Well, after five years in the monastery, the Reverend Abbot called Brother Alpheus in and asked him what his two words were.

I Do Not Belong
Bottom line: We feel a certain sadness because we are so far from fulfilling that law. But we don’t say, “I do not belong.”

In today’s Psalm we hear that “the law of the Lord is perfect,” that it refreshes the soul and rejoices the heart.

God’s law, however, does not always cause such joy. As we heard in the Old Testament reading, when Ezra publicly read God’s law, the people at first listened attentively and responded, “Amen, amen!” But then they fell prostrate and became sad as the full weight of the law struck them. Ezra tried to cheer them up, but it seems like many felt (to use the words of the second reading) “I do not belong.”

The Cross, the Church, and the Mystery of Suffering
One of the most beautiful things about Catholicism is that it gives meaning to suffering in a way that no other system does. No system explains suffering as well as religion does, no world religion explains it as well as Christianity, and no Christian denomination explains it as well as the Catholic Church does.
Within an atheistic worldview, suffering is meaningless and regrettable. Of course, without a Creator, everything in the universe is, in a certain sense, meaningless sound and fury, signifying nothing. Non-Christian religions get a step closer, but still view suffering as something to avoid, escape or deny. To fully understand suffering requires the Christian revelation, and specifically, the Cross and the Church.

A Beautiful Summary of Eucharistic theology in an antiphon by Aquinas
There is a great hymn, an antiphon actually, written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Office of Corpus Christi. It is O Sacrum Convivium and it serves as a wonderful summary of Eucharistic theology that is worth our attention. With that in mind I’d like to make a brief reflection on some of its compact teachings. First the text, then some commentary:

Jesus, His Church and “the uns”
“The uns . . .”
George Higgins — the legendary “labor priest” from Chicago was, if I recall correctly, the first person I ever heard use that expression, yet he attributed it to the future — God willing — saint, Dorothy Day.
I borrowed it in my brief concluding remarks and prayer at last October’s Al Smith Dinner, as I praised God for the Church’s lookout for the uns — the un-documented, un-employed, un-housed, un-fed, un-healthy, un-born, un-wanted, misunderstood, un-justly treated — and prayed that our beloved country might work for a culture where that dreaded prefix — un — might be no longer.

8 Things You Need to Know About St. Paul and His Conversion
1. Where was St. Paul from?

In Acts 21:39, St. Paul states:
“I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.”

Tarsus was the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia. This is on the southeast coast of modern Turkey, so St. Paul was not from the holy land. He was actually a Jew born in what is now Turkey.

The New York Times finally realizes Pope Paul VI was right about contraceptives
In his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman.” By “disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium,” the Pope wrote, man would eventually view woman as a being who doesn’t deserve care and affection.

Shockingly, a similar line of thinking was expressed by Alex Williams, a reporter for the New York Times, in a column published on January 13th titled “The End of Courtship.”

Will we have free will in heaven?
Will we have free will in heaven?
If so, does that mean we might sin and fall again?
If not, what kind of free will would we have there?
And if God can harmonize our free will and sinlessness in heaven, why doesn’t he do so in this life?
Here are some thoughts . . .

Abraham Exemplifies Christian Journey, Pope Says
In his weekly general audience, Pope Benedict pointed to the legacy of Abraham as an example of the Christian’s longing for the “true homeland” of heaven and as the “first great role model” of having faith in God.
“Abraham, the believer, teaches us faith and, like a stranger on earth, points out our true homeland. Faith makes us pilgrims on earth, situated in the world and in history, but on the path toward our heavenly homeland,” the Pope said Jan. 23 at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

Choosing Life: The Crisis That Wasn’t
As the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade dawns, my friends that have adopted children have been posting pictures on Facebook of their beautiful families and thanking the birth mothers for their courage and sacrifice. These adoptive mothers asked everyone to choose adoption over abortion. As I contemplated praising my friends for telling their story, I remembered I had a story to tell as well. I had forgotten.

Our Path to Salvation
On the road to heaven, there are three steps to our sanctification. We cannot become perfect in an instant, rather it will be a slow advance in the spiritual life. These steps to sanctification can be summed up in three parts: Sweetness, trial, and perfection.
The first step is sweetness, where the Lord fills us with a pure joy and shows us His love. In this stage of our soul, we begin to understand the Faith more, we start making more of an effort, and the Faith becomes more imbedded in our soul. Not only this, but we get many graces during this stage, because we can see the endless love of Christ, and finally ask of Him what we need. This step is essential, because without it, we wouldn’t begin our road to sanctification.

The Pope’s Graphic Condemnation of Abortionists…Way Back in 1588!
Believe it or not, abortion was a growing problem way back in the 1500s. Some have speculated that this this was a response to an increased rate of prostitution. Whatever the case may be, Pope Sixtus V formally condemned abortionists in his papal bull Effraenatam, meaning in Latin ‘without restraint.’ The Holy Father uses the strongest words against those who kill the child while still in his mother’s womb.

There are evident signs of the spring time for the Church. The most obvious is the growing number of laity being trained for the front lines of the new evangelism. The second obvious sign is the number of laity who take seriously their call to holiness. When there exists a program that combines these two realities, God is readying His troops for an offensive.

Reprogramming Cells – and Souls
Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, is one of the two recipients of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery that adult somatic cells can be reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells. By introducing four genes into skin cells, he was able to reprogram them to become as immature and undifferentiated as embryonic stem cells, with the potential to re-grow into any type of tissue from the same individual.

Conspiracy Theories
A reader writes:

I just had a discussion with a friend of mine who is a very good Catholic and a very spiritual person. I know she loves to read and she loves to surf the internet too. She started talking to me about some conspiracy-type theories that sound so far-fetched to me, and I didn’t know how to respond. One is that breast cancer is cured, but that the pharmaceutical companies don’t let us know that so that they can keep making money: lots and lots of money. Also, that the CIA gives guns to some of our notorious killers (like those who walk into a theater, business, etc… and shoot innocent people). There’s something else about an “evil eye” perpetuated by Lady Gaga…. Anyway, I walked away feeling that this was crazy and feeling upset about it. I believe people are basically good, though I don’t think I’m a polyanna. Could you please point me to any resources I could find to dispute these claims? I don’t know know where to look or how to respond. Thank you for any help you could give.

Bad Religion
Ross Douthat is a brave man. As the most prominent socially conservative columnist writing for The New York Times, Douthat is surrounded by liberal pens forever looking to skewer the people (Republicans, Christians, pro-lifers ) and ideas (traditional marriage) he defends: I can only imagine that he writes a lot from home and emails op-eds to his editor, to avoid awkward water-cooler moments with soi disant co-religionist Maureen Dowd.
Espousing conservative views is a tricky business in the West at the best of times, doubly so when surrounded by opinionated liberals — and triply so when you hold to account fellow Christians and their dodgy theologies.

Five Characteristics of a Matrimonial Vocation
Do you view your marriage as a vocation? Do you see it as a means of bringing your life into greater holiness? What about the people around you? Are they inspired to live lives of greater holiness from what they see in your marriage?
Before we can really answer these questions we need to understand what we mean by a “vocation.” Let’s all get on the same page, shall we?

Catholic Dads — Hitting the Bar
I learned many years ago from some very good friends that an essential element of good parenting was taking time out of your busy schedule to enjoy a special day with your children. So I have instituted Daddy / Daughter dates and Father / Son day as a regular part of our family rhythm.
I remember when I was a kid my Father, at the encouragement of my Mother, took me on a road trip every summer break. I still remember the lessons I learned like, “You don’t cry over spilt milk.” The meaning in the message – that you don’t get worked up over an incident that has already taken place and over which you have no control. A great life lesson I learned in childhood.

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