Sunday, May 12, 2013
PAUL, APOLLOS AND THE UNITY OF FAITH
"He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus" (Acts 18:28).
In Christianity, collaboration among ministers of the gospel is key. In Apostolic days, it was life or death. New Testament scriptures display that Saint Paul was highly collaborative with other ministers and that he had a definite method as to how he lived and preached. The perception that Paul was a picaresque character and that he moved haphazzardly without a plan is untrue. Rather, Paul's missionary efforts as depicted by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles were deliberate and schematic, the aim of which always was to proclaim the gospel. Paul's ways ensured a wide net was cast into the sea to haul in a miraculous catch of fish. His efforts yielded bountiful produce and the Apostle continued to build the kingdom of God with the help of many men and woman whom he trusted to help him to carry out the mission which he himself had been entrusted on the day he met Jesus Christ outside Damascus and received his great commission.
After staying in Antioch some time, Paul left and traveled in orderly sequence through the Galatian country and Phrygia, bringing strength to all the disciples. (Acts 18:23)
Apollos was one of Paul's coworkers. He was an "eloquent speaker," and "an authority on the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24). Apollos knew the Word of the Lord but was not entirely familiar with the Way of The Lord. So he got by with a little help from his friends, Priscilla and Aquila, Paul's tentmaking partners from Rome. This intervention happened at Ephesus. Apollos used the same approach to evangelization as did Paul, whose modus operandi was to first proclaim the Word of God in the synogogues and when those efforts did not pan out to suit Paul's expecations, he turned to the gentiles, Greek-speaking pagans and God-fearers with whom he related on many levels and who received Paul and his all-important message: salvation is possible only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Apollos was a native of Alexandria, a city in North Africa known for its intellectual atmosphere. It was in Alexandria that 70 biblical scholars translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek--the Septugint. Apollos had the message down alright and he believed he possessed the eloquence to follow Paul's example. So he strode into the synagogue at Ephesus and ascended the pulpit to prove with persuasive arguments, that is, logic, that Jesus was the Christ. "He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus" (Acts 18:28).
Accordingly, Apollos attracted attention and many men and women paid attention to his preaching and he got results: Priscilla and Aquila were there and they listened carefully to what the new preacher was saying and decided that an intervention was necessary. For Apollos had been instructed in the Way of The Lord and with ardent spirit he spoke and taught accurately about Jesus Christ. Only he knew nothing of the baptism of Jesus; he only knew of the baptism preached by John. John baptized with a baptism of repentence, telling people to believe in the one who was to come after him--the Christ (Acts 19:4-5).
When Apollos heard this, he was baptized in the name of the Trinity and received a greater portion of the Holy Spirit. Thus he was more fully equipped to preach and to teach and to share the Word of God. He was ready for greater endeavors, and, with the help of the community, he moved on to Achaia to share the truth by using the gifts and skills he possessed with the help of his collarators in the faith, earning for himself the love of his friends and the esteem of the Apostle himself.
QUOD SCRIPSI SCRIPSI
Monday, April 8, 2013
SECOND WEDNESDAY OF EASTER
"Go and take your place in the temple area and tell the people everything about this life"
I will never forget my first cup of coffee. March 1990. Danbury Police Department, about 2 a.m. Sweet and light. I took it not because I liked coffee but because the cell was freezing and I wanted to be warm. Jail is a good place to do some thinking. Nothing but time on my hands. Too many hours in the cold steel cell and I longed to see the sunrise, the jailer with the key, an angel talking to me and giving me the direction I needed in my life at age 19.
Review any passage in the Acts of the Apostles, and you will see that a lot happens in the lines of the story. Luke has a lot going on, in terms of characters, settings, time transitions, characters, and conflict/revolution. These elements of story--plot, character, story, setting, conflict/resolution, and point of view make the Acts of the Apostles highly literary and easier to follow and to love and enjoy apart from the heady theology. Acts is just a great story, an epic among epics.
These are the times, characters, settings, conflicts and resolutions in which we live and proclaim the gospel. Even in the public jail the gospel according to God will not be silence and the people support the missionary efforts of the Apostles. That freedom exists in everybody, to proclaim the truth that we feel in our hearts, the love of God we wish to share, the desperation we feel when sitting in jail.
Freedom comes from the Word of God, whether in a jail cell, or even buried beneath the earth. This Word unchained has the power to free captives and set the world away in the glorious light of the Word.
The Spiritual Freedom of the Baptized means that I am grafted into the Word that was spoken by God "in the beginning." And unionized with Christ the divine to Christ's humanity which also is mine. Whether locked behind bars in jail or in a hospital or shackeled between two guards or many other forms of bondage, spiritual arrest, imposed either by my own dark forces within (no shortage of those) or by an external force that seeks to keep me bound and gagged.
The gospel says that you don't have to be Harry Houdini to get out of a tight spot. Freedom from within is the grace and courage to walk a fine line, a tight rope, with balance and tranquility. It's key. In what way is the Word made fresh? To see the ancient in the present, the earthly alongside the divine, that the Word may speak clearly and we hear and understand and obey.
See how readily the apostles take their place in the temple area. The Spirit who frees them instructs them: "Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life." This life happens in the jail and in the public square, on Peter's boat, in my suite, or in the classroom, the sanctuary where the Word made Flesh is revealed a little more clearly every day. To know Him is the live Him and live in imitation of the Way the Truth and the Life.
The forces that exist to keep the ministers of the Word fenced in--those that denied the resurrection--fear that by losing hold over those to whom the proclamation of the Word has been entrusted, the gospel, will lose hold over all the sheeple, and therefore they choose not to apprehend the apostles who know the truth not by force but because they are only doing what the Spirit told them to do: live by example. The authorities apprehend them and follow suit, leading them into the courtroom without force. "They were afraid of being stoned by the people."
Yes, they got flogged. But the apostles took it manfully and rejoiced at the chance to suffer for the sake of the Name. Benefits developed in fuller measure: the Eucharist sustained them and this gave them spiritual freedom, which is what they wanted all alone, a reason to go on. "And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus" (Acts 5:42).
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
FIRST RESPONDERS: THE MISSIONS OF SAINTS PETER, PAUL, AND MARY
Mention the names Peter, Paul, and Mar and for some the sixties folk trio comes to mind. On the night of the Last Supper, the Peter, Paul, and Mary of the New Testament weren't singing "Puff the Magic Dragon," or "Leaving on a Jet Plane." They were singing, mor eor less in line, Psalm 118, the Great Hillel. "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad" (24). This was the psalm that Jesus and Peter and the other disciples sang as they moved across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives. Young Saul of Tarsus, the pre-Paul Pharisee, and Mary, possesed by a devil or not, also sang this victory song. In those days, with the ancient biblical Jews, it was a pretty big hit too.
Twenty-four hours later, the disciples would be singing a funeral dirge following the Crucifixion. What a difference a day makes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. From a mortal perspective the movement was over. Psalm 118 was the key; to overcome their grief and the surety of Jesus's way, they had to rewind. The Resurrection is not the end of the story or the beginning but it is the continuation of the tale begun long ago when God spoke into the darkness and created the light. The Book of Genesis tells us that God created the world in six days and then on the seventh day he rested. He did this one day at a time and each day when he finished he looked at what he made and saw that it was good. Life has many difficult moments, many which we cannot foresee, but in Christ we can rise again.
The Apostle to the Apostles
After the Crucifixion the disciples locked themselves in the upper room, fearful of the authorities that killed Jesus. Will we be next? When will the temple guards crash through the door? Instead Mary of Magdala arrives and delivers some disturbing information: They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him. John and Peter run out the door and through the city to the sepulcher to confirm Mary's story. They did not yet understand the Scriptures, that he had to rise from the dead. But they are certain, that everything is different. With the vision of the empty tomb, their world has changed again. How credible is Mary's story? She is believed by some to be the woman who was rescued by Jesus after she got caught in adultery. Mary was a woman who struggled with seven devils until one day Jesus cast them out. In gratitude she followed her Lord and from that day she took him into her heart. By helping Mary to overcome those devils Jesus was preparing her for something else, that which she could not foresee. Jesus needed her help.
Peter, Paul, and the Spirit at Pentecost
For the next fifty days we will read in the lectionary selections from the Acts of the Apostles until the celebration of Pentecost. In Acts, Saint Peter and Saint Paul are the major characters, the co-protagonists, who live in the moment to preach the gospel and who come to believe the role of God in their lives and for the salvation of the entire world. Peter's understanding of Jesus as Lord came to him over the three years he followed him until the day of the Resurrection when he believed all that he had seen and heard about Jesus. Peter's faith needed that much affirmation. After Easter his change of heart was sudden, dramatic, and convincing, and he moved swiftly throughout the world to proclaim the gospel as he recalled the days he spent with the Lord. And it all began with that one day when Jesus climbed aboard his boat and said, Put out into the deep. So many days passed in the company of the Messiah so that Peter felt as if he were living in a dream. In time of distress and trial, filled with fear of the unexpected, Peter had only to look back on those days.
The Apostle Paul's encounter with the Lord was similar with that of Mary and Peter. A few years after the Resurrection, Paul's acceptance of the truth happened dramatically at Damascus when he saw the risen Jesus who spoke to him and gave him the same commission he gave to them and the other apostles: Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Paul never forgot the sight of the risen Messiah and every day he worked to carry out his divine mandate. In his search he continued running toward that beatific vision again and he was also commissioned. "For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast" (1 Cor 5:7). That day outside Damascus changed everything. Paul heard the voice of Christ and saw the light and he was never the same, never looked back. He spent the rest of his days searching to relive the sacred light and to hear the voice of that light--the same light of which God spoke in the beginning--to light his way and carry him through trials and challenges he surely met each day as he journeyed along the world's highway. Nothing compared with the brilliance of the sun outside Damascus but the memory of that day was enough to sustain him until he completed the race.
The Beat Goes On
The Story of God as depicted in the lives of these first evangelizers--Peter, Paul, and Mary--unfurled brilliant and verbose as any other portion of the truth first spoken by God that day when he said, Let there be light. The light of the Lord that we see glowing from the Pascal candle during Easter bears the same light of creation that scattered the darkness and led the people of God through their journey during salvation history. At the Resurrection they saw and they believed and the belief in the Scriptures that spoke of Jesus powered them to proclaim the truth to the world dying to receive the light of Christ. At commencements how often is the phrase "this is the first day of the rest of your life"? Today and everyday is the eighth day, the Easter that empowered the baptized faithful to rise above fear of the power of darkness and to follow the light of Christ and preach the faith with love from the heart in accordance with the truth: Christ is Risen. This is the day The Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Amen and Alleluia.
QUOD SCRIPSI SCRIPSI
Isaiah the greatest of the prophets told the story of the Lord's passion seven-hundred years before the birth of the Christ. The prophecies of Isaiah are so clear that he even provided the world with the name of the Lord: Emmanuel--God is with us. As it is written: the suffering Messiah was born into the world not to be an earthly ruler but to be a suffering servant who dies on the cross. "He shall take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses (Isa 53:12c)." These superior oracles give a crystal clear depiction of Jesus and his Passion and are as important today as they were in biblical days.
Good Friday is the most solemn day on the Christian calendar; it is a day of contrasts. Life through death. God's truth in place of lies told by the world that does not believe in God. Fear replaced by faith. On Good Friday we pray with gratitude for the death of The Lord and to prepare to share in his Resurrection. From the hill of the cross the mountain of Easter can be difficult to see. There is no other way to arrive at the glory of the Resurrection but to suffer first the horror and shame of the cross. The Good Friday commemoration is how we keep alive and present the passion of The Lord and prepare to receive the truth of eternal life that springs from the empty supulcher.
The Story of God in the world is ancient; it could not have been written by any man. The prophet Isaiah was so powerful that Saint Jerome, the Church's patron of Bible studies, called him "the Fifth Evangelist." Like the New Testament writers, Isaiah describes that God is in the world and offers salvation--through the cross, not through powerful triumph. We follow a crucified Savior. There can be no faith in Christ without taking up our crosses and following him toward the ultimate destination: Calvary, crucifixion, death to self. Christ was born to suffer, die, and to rise again. He tells Pontius Pilate: "For this I was born and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the trust listens to my voice." Today on Good Friday this truth breaks out all over the world. The Passion remains living and active because we celebrate it annually and its presence and power plans out during the remainder of the Church calendar. This solemn truth goes on living in daily reality that proclaims the gospel of who we are: a suffering people that follows a suffering Messiah who offers us the glory he received through baptistm, our spiritual birthright.
God chose to save the world through the cross. Isaiah wrote the truth to to those who wanted to know that God is near, those who did not know that the crosses of others were meant for them also. When Jesus came into the world, he did not appear as the earthly ruler that many expected. "Are you a king?" Pilate asked. Not exactly, Jesus replied. I am a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one at whom men and woman would rather not look but turn their faces from me. The sight of Jesus on the cross was too painful to bear. If we are to rise with him on Easter then we must be crucified with him. The view from the cross is very different than the view of the cross.
Good Friday is a sober day, to reflect on the Passion and to be grateful for God's sacrifice of his only Son. We celebrate the Passion to preserve the memory of Jesus Christ. Good Friday is the fulfillment of the promise God made thousands of years ago, proclaimed by the prophet-evangelist Isaiah. The Son of God shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses. We celebrate because we are the many.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Friday, December 14, 2012
On Wednesday, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, in the year 2012, my parish and I celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I write, there appears to be no significance to that factoid of the series of the twelves, but it was interesting enough to deserve a mention from the pulpit. But I told everybody, “So far as I know, this does not have anything to do with the Mayan calendar that has people around the world freaked out. Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid. According to the Vatican’s top astronomer, the world isn’t going to end on December 21, despite fears and claims to the contrary inside and outside the Church. We don’t follow the Mayan Calendar; we follow the Gregorian calendar. We are Roman Catholics and life in the Church centers on the Vatican. We follow the direction of the Supreme Pontiff whom we believe is the definitive leader, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Right now that leader is Benedict XVI. Nearly eight years into his pontificate, he continues to prove to the world—and to disprove detractors—that he is the leader we need in the Church and in the world of in the year 2012.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Americas because she helped to evangelize the New World. She appeared to Juan Diego in sixteenth-century Mexico and her words to Juan broke through to his people who accepted Christ in large measure, though they originally resisted the efforts of the missionaries. This was a difficult moment in Christendom. The bishop-elect in Mexico nearly gave up, for the natives remained obstinate. Now, four centuries later, the message of Guadalupe has shaped Catholicism in America by the Word of the Lord spoken by Mary through Juan.
The message that Mary gave Juan did not end with him in Mexico long ago. Today ours is a continual role of the missionary mystery of God’s only Church in world as hostile and filled with detractors as was Juan’s world before Mary showed herself as the most faithful and persuasive advocate of her Son. Through the preaching of the priests in Mexico, many were converted to the faith, but not enough so that the bishop of Mexico believed that the cause was hopeless, that the Mexican peoples would not receive Christ as their Savior. They were ready to give up and go back to Europe.
Then Mary appeared to Juan and the fortunes of the missionaries changed.
How much greater is the resistance of the pagans in this new, new world. Everywhere we go there is opposition to the faith, from those who do not know Christ, from those who do know him but are ashamed for their faith. Mary gave Juan the message of salvation because she knew that he could help the priests to convert his people. Because of this, many thousands of converts were baptized day after day and the nation of Mexico became a stronghold for the Catholic Church.
When Mary appeared to Juan in 1531 she brought the message of conversion to a new wilderness generation. The Word of God as shared with Juan and his people drew many souls to find salvation through Baptism and the forgiveness of sins and a new life in Christ Jesus the Savior of humanity and the promise offered to a new race of people, Juan’s people, the Aztecs, proud pagans who knew nothing of the one, one, true, and eternal God.
Faith in God is not something to be kept secret. Juan Diego shared the message of Mary with his people because he was a unique vessel of God’s grace. Mary knew she needed Juan and she humbled herself by asking for his help. She enlisted the saint to aid her in evangelizing a peoples who resisted vigorously the efforts of the Catholic missionaries to Christianize them after the Conquistadores brought European language and culture to Mexico.
There were many new shores to be discovered and many with the vision to see a future made new through the risk of spending time over the ocean to proclaim the truth and to claim those lands for their own.
Today the Word of God continues to be proclaimed with power and precision through a new form of communication: cyberspace. The technology that we have crafted to aid ourselves in our triumphs and our struggles has cost humanity part of its soul. For the love of technology and its veneration—some even worship science—has the potential for great good. History has demonstrated that technology also has the capacity to help man commit great evil. Wars, genocide, and tyranny in all forms exist today by the push of a button and allow the great evil of this world to suppress man’s soul and leave him in a continual state of darkness and unrest.
There is great light in the inventions and wisdom of God as expressed in mankind. The Lord permitted us to use our reason to understand him greatly through faith. Someone who demonstrates this very well is Benedict XVI our pope. The pope made history again today when, about twelve hours ago, in Italy, he tweeted his first tweet on Twitter. This social media outlet allows one to post their thoughts and feelings and emotions, commentaries, pearls of wisdom, and advice to the anyone around the world.
Benedict has long been a proponent of using technology for the purpose of evangelization. As somebody whose life has spanned the twentieth century he sees its potential to proclaim the Word of God like nothing before. When Benedict was a young priest, a computer filled an entire room. Today, toward the end of his time with us, a computer that fits in the palm of your hand—and is ten times more powerful than its electronic ancestor—can change the world.
In the Year of Faith which commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th Anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, bishops, priests, deacons, all the lay faithful, and now even the pope can make use of technology to evangelize. Social media is a useful starting point for encouraging the reading of the Bible and the Second Vatican Council documents.
The Word of God can be proclaimed with a blog post, a tweet, or on Facebook, empowering the hearer to become a preacher to cyberspace, a new frontier. Mary used a unique way to reach new converts in a hostile environment. She knew what to say and who to say it to and Juan Diego carried the message to his people and the Word of God was proclaimed and the people of God grew strong and increased in numbers.
This is Catholicism: billions and billions saved.
Monday, December 10, 2012
In 1979 I received my First Communion and, as a communion gift, my first Bible, the Illustrated Children’s Bible. I cherished this present and the stories never left my memory, even after I lost the Bible, many years ago.
The Word of God is eternal and omnipresent; it remains imprinted on our souls from our Baptism. When Saint John the Baptist preaches a “baptism of repentance,” he is the bearer of the message of conversion for a new wilderness generation. The Word of God draws us into the Church and prepares us to receive the baptism of John. Once we have received this sacrament, the Word of God remains forever imprinted on our heart. It cannot be removed or defiled and even the soul retains its memory of God’s story.
Today the message of renewal proclaimed by John has itself been renewal. In Great Britain they celebrate Bible Sunday with the help of the social media like Twitter and Facebook. The Word of God can be proclaimed with a tweet or a post, empowering the hearer to become the preacher to cyberspace, a new frontier.
In the Year of Faith which commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th Anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, bishops, priests, deacons, all the lay faithful, and soon even the pope can make use of technology to evangelize. Social media is a useful starting point for encouraging the reading of the Bible and the Second Vatican Council documents.
In the United States the Church celebrates Bible Sunday on November 19, venerating in a special way the Word of God even as she worships the Lord. “The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God, and because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God” (CCC No. 135; cf DV No. 24). God and Christ and the Spirit are the Word. God speaks. Christ lives. The Spirit unifies. We receive. Then we must proclaim.
Divine Revelation then is rightly called the Word. We are a people of the book, but one that must never become a dead letter; it must remain “living and effective” (Hebrews 4:12). Twelfth-century mystic and abbot Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: “It is not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living.”
It should go without saying - but I will anyway - that Bible reading is for Catholics. We must increase our interest in the Word of God, so ancient and valuable to civilization. Our faith encourages, demands even, the study of the Bible. The study of the Sacred Page provides grace from God who speaks to us from eternity. Whatever we think we know, God, who has been around a lot longer, knows better and the Bible is how he teaches us to live on earth before heaven (see John 14:6).
We are closer to the Word than we might think. The USCCB in a article on its website put it like this:
· We listen to the readings from the lectionary at Mass.
· There are good Samaritan laws (Luke 10).
· We welcome home the prodigal son (Luke 15),
· And look for the Promised Land (Exodus 3, Hebrews 11).
· “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Love your neighbor,” are popular maxims, automatic responses to life’s challenges.
The Word of the Lord is always near to us and all his ways are holy and true (cf Psalm 119).
But reading isn’t enough. We must take the words our Savior gave us into the streets and into cyberspace. Faith without works is dead (Jas 2:16). Only then can the words be renewed.
The Bible is not one book but an anthology of 73 books, composed by numerous (mostly anonymous) authors over thousands of years. This collection is held together by a theme: the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through a Son, whom he made heir of all things, and through whom he created the universe,” the anonymous author of Hebrews wrote (1:1-2). Today that collection can be downloaded onto an IPhone or a flash drive.
Imagine, the Gospel at the touch of a button, right in the palm of your hand.
To show that God is the center of our lives, many families enthrone the Bible in a visible place in their homes. By placing Scripture in a prominent place, we show that the Lord remains living and active through the Word.
The Bible I enthroned in my office belonged to my grandparents. I found it in a box in the basement of my sister’s house, the binding cracked, the pages stained with mold. So I had it restored. Apparently her house became a depository for old Bibles because in the closet in a spare bedroom I found my Illustrated Children’s Bible. The stories haven’t changed.
In this Year of Faith, may we give thanks to God for his Word. Over the millennia the Holy Spirit has enabled communities and individuals to encounter God through reading and praying with the Bible texts. One of the aims of Bible Sunday in the U.S. and internationally is to encourage believers to deepen their knowledge of the Bible for service in the Church. Then will all see the salvation of our God (Isaiah 40:5).
In Verbum Domini the Holy Father writes: “I express my heartfelt hope for the following of a ‘new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the people of God, so that their prayerful and faithful reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus.”
We don’t have to be religious scholars to enjoy the stories in the Old and New Testaments. God reveals himself to us if we approach him with prayer. He is the author, Christ is the Word, and the Holy Spirit is the interpreter. Prayer must always be the beginning and the end of our relationship with God through the saving Scriptures. He teaches us the truth we need for salvation. He has the final Word.
The Bible: B.I.B.L.E. - Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
QUOD SCRIPSI SCRIPSI
QUOD SCRIPSI SCRIPSI