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Today’s his feast. I always remember Justin Martyr because he was the first of the Fathers of the Church that I really read, back at the University of Tennessee in a class on the history of Christianity. It was in reading Justin I first grasped the continuity of the St. Justin Martyrapostolic Church with Christ and then forward to the present.

You can access his writings here.

Pope Emeritus B16, from 2007:

In these Catecheses, we are reflecting on the great figures of the early Church. Today, we will talk about St Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, the most important of the second-century apologist Fathers.

The word “apologist” designates those ancient Christian writers who set out to defend the new religion from the weighty accusations of both pagans and Jews, and to spread the Christian doctrine in terms suited to the culture of their time.

Thus, the apologists had a twofold concern: that most properly called “apologetic”, to defend the newborn Christianity (apologhíain Greek means, precisely, “defence”), and the pro-positive, “missionary” concern, to explain the content of the faith in a language and on a wavelength comprehensible to their contemporaries.

Justin was born in about the year 100 near ancient Shechem, Samaria, in the Holy Land; he spent a long time seeking the truth, moving through the various schools of the Greek philosophical tradition.

Finally, as he himself recounts in the first chapters of his Dialogue with Tryphon, a mysterious figure, an old man he met on the seashore, initially leads him into a crisis by showing him that it is impossible for the human being to satisfy his aspiration to the divine solely with his own forces. He then pointed out to him the ancient prophets as the people to turn to in order to find the way to God and “true philosophy”.

In taking his leave, the old man urged him to pray that the gates of light would be opened to him.
The story foretells the crucial episode in Justin’s life: at the end of a long philosophical journey, a quest for the truth, he arrived at the Christian faith. He founded a school in Rome where, free of charge, he initiated students into the new religion, considered as the true philosophy. Indeed, in it he had found the truth, hence, the art of living virtuously.

For this reason he was reported and beheaded in about 165 during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor to whom Justin had actually addressed one of his Apologia.

These – the two Apologies and the Dialogue with the Hebrew, Tryphon – are his only surviving works. In them, Justin intends above all to illustrate the divine project of creation and salvation, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Logos, that is, the eternal Word, eternal Reason, creative Reason.

Every person as a rational being shares in the Logos, carrying within himself a “seed”, and can perceive glimmers of the truth. Thus, the same Logos who revealed himself as a prophetic figure to the Hebrews of the ancient Law also manifested himself partially, in “seeds of truth”, in Greek philosophy.

Now, Justin concludes, since Christianity is the historical and personal manifestation of the Logos in his totality, it follows that “whatever things were rightly said among all men are the property of us Christians” (Second Apology of St Justin Martyr, 13: 4).

In this way, although Justin disputed Greek philosophy and its contradictions, he decisively oriented any philosophical truth to theLogos, giving reasons for the unusual “claim” to truth and universality of the Christian religion. If the Old Testament leaned towards Christ, just as the symbol is a guide to the reality represented, then Greek philosophy also aspired to Christ and the Gospel, just as the part strives to be united with the whole.

And he said that these two realities, the Old Testament and Greek philosophy, are like two paths that lead to Christ, to the Logos.This is why Greek philosophy cannot be opposed to Gospel truth, and Christians can draw from it confidently as from a good of their own.

Therefore, my venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, described St Justin as a “pioneer of positive engagement with philosophical thinking – albeit with cautious discernment…. Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity ‘the only sure and profitable philosophy’ (Dial. 8: 1)” (Fides et Ratio, n. 38).

Overall, the figure and work of Justin mark the ancient Church’s forceful option for philosophy, for reason, rather than for the religion of the pagans. With the pagan religion, in fact, the early Christians strenuously rejected every compromise. They held it to be idolatry, at the cost of being accused for this reason of “impiety” and “atheism”.

Justin in particular, especially in his first Apology, mercilessly criticized the pagan religion and its myths, which he considered to be diabolically misleading on the path of truth.

Philosophy, on the other hand, represented the privileged area of the encounter between paganism, Judaism and Christianity, precisely at the level of the criticism of pagan religion and its false myths. “Our philosophy…”: this is how another apologist, Bishop Melito of Sardis, a contemporary of Justin, came to define the new religion in a more explicit way (Ap. Hist. Eccl. 4, 26, 7).

In fact, the pagan religion did not follow the ways of the Logos, but clung to myth, even if Greek philosophy recognized that mythology was devoid of consistency with the truth.

Therefore, the decline of the pagan religion was inevitable: it was a logical consequence of the detachment of religion – reduced to an artificial collection of ceremonies, conventions and customs – from the truth of being.

Justin, and with him other apologists, adopted the clear stance taken by the Christian faith for the God of the philosophers against the false gods of the pagan religion.

It was the choice of the truth of being against the myth of custom. Several decades after Justin, Tertullian defined the same option of Christians with a lapidary sentence that still applies: “Dominus noster Christus veritatem se, non consuetudinem, cognominavit – Christ has said that he is truth not fashion” (De Virgin. Vel. 1, 1).

It should be noted in this regard that the term consuetudo, used here by Tertullian in reference to the pagan religion, can be translated into modern languages with the expressions: “cultural fashion”, “current fads”.

In a time like ours, marked by relativism in the discussion on values and on religion – as well as in interreligious dialogue – this is a lesson that should not be forgotten.

To this end, I suggest to you once again – and thus I conclude – the last words of the mysterious old man whom Justin the Philosopher met on the seashore: “Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and his Christ have imparted wisdom” (Dial. 7: 3).

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Yes, this coming Thursday is and remains Ascension Thursday, American Latin Rite bishops notwithstanding.

(If you still want to get your Ascension Thursday on…try the Ordinariate or Eastern Catholic Churches – the latter’s cycle is tracking with the Latin Rite this year, so they will be celebrating Ascension on Thursday)

One of my favorite places on the internet is the blog (and Twitter feed) of Eleanor Parker, “A Clerk at Oxford.”  She’s an English medievalist who is constantly sharing fascinating nuggets related to her field. Here’s a post on Rogationtide – three days before Ascension Thursday:

In medieval England, Rogationtide – the three days preceding Ascension Day – was a period of fasting, prayer and processions around the countryside, invoking God’s blessing on the land and the crops of the future harvest.

She has a substantial citation from a 10th century Rogationtide homily, and explains:

The image of the sun comes from St Augustine (Ælfric says he will explain the Trinity swa swa se wisa Augustinus be ðære Halgan Þrynnysse trahtnode), but there’s an implicit relevance to the Rogationtide context: Ælfric talks about how the fruitfulness of the earth, the course of the year and the seasons illustrate the gap between divine knowledge and human perception, and of course that’s precisely the gap Rogationtide seeks to bridge by asking for God’s blessing on the earth. The nature of the sun is a good topic for a summer sermon, since if you are engaged in praying for a good harvest, the sun’s light and heat which make the crops grow are like God’s favour made visible. (Perhaps it was a sunny May day when Ælfric wrote this homily, and he imagined the congregation looking up at “the sun which shines above us”.) And if Rogation processions actively take God’s presence out into the world, consecrating the area beyond the church walls as sacred space, Ælfric’s emphasis on the omnipresence of God – permeating further even than the light of the sun – is a reminder to his congregation that by processing they are in a way participating in this spreading of God’s presence. Rogationtide processions follow the boundaries of the parish, reinforcing territorial markers, and encircling fields, woods, orchards, as blessed and sanctified space; but Ælfric tells us that God’s presence has no boundaries, for him ne wiðstent nan ðing, naðer ne stænen weall ne bryden wah; ‘nothing withstands him, neither stone walls nor broad barriers’.

It is quite a different approach from so much of what we see and hear today, isn’t it?

Old and Busted: Theological concepts and their Spirit-guided formation as Church doctrines are expressions of truth,  gateways to deeper understanding, and, as we look around us with an open mind, we recognize how the Stuff of Life, both external and internal, reflects this Truth.  Basically: Doctrine, in its limited way, reflects what is Real.

New Hotness:  Theological concepts and doctrines are the product of human effort that obscure truth and are obstacles to what is Real.  #Rigid

But guess what? When we listen to the stories of conversion, both classic and modern, the common thread we so often see is this:

A person has lived his or her life and, here and there, bumped up against the Gospel. He has been mildly interested, repelled, attracted – or a combination of all these and more.

But at some point, he realizes something: these teachings that may have seemed like curious or irritating words and phrases actually express a truth that he has experienced in his life. 

The doctrines and the reality of life match. 

The doctrines explain life. Finally, it all makes sense. 

Maybe not so old and busted.

There is still deep mystery – and as the homily Parker quotes indicates, this is not news. Humility demands that we understand the limits of human language and thinking in the light of the Divine.

This is not “rigidity.” It is an exciting, humble journey based on trust that when Jesus said he was the Way, the Truth and the Life…he meant it.

 

 

 

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There is much talk today about how the observant Christian should live in a world that is hostile to Christian values. A great deal of the current conversation centers around Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option.  Rod is a long-time acquaintance of mine – although we’ve only met in person once – but that said,  and with all due respect, The Benedict Option conversation is not one that I’m interested in entering – there are a zillion potential conversations about countless issues to be had at any given moment, so we all have to pick and choose what we have time for. Being able to do that is the key to sanity these days, I think.

But ...today’s reading from the Office of Readings pertains to that conversation, so I’m just going to toss it out here for you.

It pertains not only to the Benedict Option conversation, but obviously, to the bigger, enduring conversation about a believer’s life in the world – enduring because the document cited dates (we think) to the second century.

It’s well worth reading in its entirety, not just today, but every day.

The passage is from the Letter to Diognetus. Patristics Popularizer Extraordinaire Mike Aquilina provides a helpful introduction here. 

But amid the babble and bigotry came a group of early Church Fathers known as “the apologists.” Following St. Peter’s counsel, they sought always to “be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15). Some, like Justin Martyr (c. 100-c.165), spoke the highly technical language of the Platonist philosophers, who were somewhat confused about the Christianity they sought to refute. Others spoke to Jews, and still others to the devotees of the mystery cults.

But one apologist offered a different method. He produced a documentary of sorts — a vivid, impressionistic account of how the earliest Christians REALLY behaved. In the face of hatred, he showed a community that lived in true love.

We don’t know his name, the author who wrote the stunning “Letter to Diognetus.” But he was addressing a high Roman official, and deferentially, assuming that the great Diognetus was intelligent and open-minded (and, certainly, that God’s grace was all-powerful).

The text, and some of what’s in the Church’s prayer today:

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
  And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.
  Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
  To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.
  Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

And what happens when we say yes?

And when you have attained this knowledge, with what joy do you think you will be filled? Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God.

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Coming in a few months….

amy Welborn

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Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

I’m in Living Faith today, reflecting on an experience we had last summer:

 

In the heat of summer, we headed to a large swimming hole. One of the ways you could reach the water was by jumping off a steep, cliff like bank.

For a time, we watched as one young woman stood on the edge, contemplating a jump. Her friends floated in the water below, encouraging her to follow. She vacillated, moving to the edge, then backing away. Again and again, they called her name.

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For deeper understand of this Sunday’s readings, you can find all sorts of links at the excellent Divine Lamp blog. 

Michael Barber’s commentary on the Scriptures are especially helpful. 

There is great depth and richness in the imagery of sheep and shepherd, not reducible to simplistic allusions to gentleness and lambs, as appealing as that may be. It has profound historical resonance in relation to Israel and its kings. It is about intimacy and recognition and protection, for, if you think about it, the rod and staff of Psalm 23 are not decorative. They are for support, they are for warding off enemies. The critique of contemporary shepherds implicit in all of the Scripture readings is directed at their weakness and failure to protect the sheep.

As I’ve mentioned, in the pre-Vatican II liturgy, the Good Shepherd Gospel was proclaimed the Second Sunday after Easter. Here’s the appropriate chapter from the 7th grade catechism With Mother Church. 

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This Sunday – the Third Sunday of Easter – gives us an excellent opportunity to consider the richness of ancient Christian tradition as it has flowed and coursed down to us over two thousand years in the East and West.

First, it should be said that in the most ancient Western rite, this Sunday was “Good Shepherd” Sunday – which was moved to the following week in the modern era.

In the present Ordinary Form lectionary, this Sunday doesn’t get a consistent Gospel every year, but rather varied accounts of post-Resurrection appearances. This year, as you should know, because you’ve been to Mass or are on your way – the Gospel is the narrative of the Road to Emmaus.

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From B16 in 2008:

The locality of Emmaus has not been identified with certainty. There are various hypotheses and this one is not without an evocativeness of its own for it allows us to think that Emmaus actually represents every place: the road that leads there is the road every Christian, every person, takes. The Risen Jesus makes himself our travelling companion as we go on our way, to rekindle the warmth of faith and hope in our hearts and to break the bread of eternal life. In the disciples’ conversation with the unknown wayfarer the words the evangelist Luke puts in the mouth of one of them are striking: “We had hoped…” (Lk 24: 21). This verb in the past tense tells all: we believed, we followed, we hoped…, but now everything is over. Even Jesus of Nazareth, who had shown himself in his words and actions to be a powerful prophet, has failed, and we are left disappointed. This drama of the disciples of Emmaus appears like a reflection of the situation of many Christians of our time: it seems that the hope of faith has failed. Faith itself enters a crisis because of negative experiences that make us feel abandoned and betrayed even by the Lord. But this road to Emmaus on which we walk can become the way of a purification and maturation of our belief in God. Also today we can enter into dialogue with Jesus, listening to his Word. Today too he breaks bread for us and gives himself as our Bread. And so the meeting with the Risen Christ that is possible even today gives us a deeper and more authentic faith tempered, so to speak, by the fire of the Paschal Event; a faith that is robust because it is nourished not by human ideas but by the Word of God and by his Real Presence in the Eucharist.

In the East, this Sunday is, and has from ancient times, celebrated as the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women.

Both East and West, then, emphasize encounter. Encounters with the Risen Lord. Encounters which are surprising and mysterious.  We are still on the road. What keeps us from recognizing him as he draws near? We still draw near to the tomb. What do we bring along? What do we bear?

An excerpt from my book, De-Coding Mary Magdalene. You can download a pdf of the book here. 

 

‘Myrrh-bearer’

To put it most simply, the Eastern view of Mary Magdalene, although marked by some unique legendary material, in general cleaves much more closely to what the Gospels tell us about her. The East never adopted St. Gregory the Great’s conflation of the Marys, and their commemoration of Mary Magdalene on her feast day has always been centered on her role as witness to the empty tomb and her declaration, “He is risen!”

The title with which Mary is honored in Eastern Christianity, while unwieldy to English speakers, makes this association clear. She is called “Myrrh-bearer” (she is also known as “Equal-to-the- Apostles,” or Isapostole, and by the term mentioned earlier, “Apostle to the Apostles”). As a myrrh-bearer, she is also honored in Orthodoxy on the second Sunday after Easter (Pascha), the “Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women,” along with seven other women who are mentioned by the Gospel writers as having an important role at the cross or at the tomb:

“You did command the myrrh-bearers to rejoice, O Christ! By your resurrection, you did stop the lamentation of Eve,

O God!

You did command your apostles to preach:The Savior is risen!”

(Kontakion, Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women)

Two weeks before, on Pascha itself, it is traditional to sing a hymn in honor of Mary Magdalene, one written, intriguingly, by a woman.

Kassia, the composer of this hymn, was born in Constantino- ple in the ninth century. She married and had children, but even tually established and led a monastery in that city. She is believed to have composed more than fifty hymns, thirty of which are still in use in the Orthodox liturgy today. She also wrote secular poetry, and she was the author of a number of pithy epigrams (“Love everyone, but don’t trust all” is one of many).

Her troparion, or short praise-hymn, puts us in the heart of Mary Magdalene as she approaches the tomb:

“Sensing your divinity, Lord, a woman of many sins

takes it upon herself

to become a myrrh-bearer and in deep mourning

brings before you fragrant oil

in anticipation of your burial; crying: “Woe to me! What night falls on me, what dark and moonless madness

of wild desire, this lust for sin.

Take my spring of tears

you who draw water from the clouds, bend to me, to the sighing of my heart, you who bend the heavens

in your secret incarnation,

I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair; those very feet whose sound Eve heard

at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.

Who shall count the multitude of my sins or the depth of your judgment,

Savior of my soul?

Do not ignore your handmaiden, you whose mercy is endless.”

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I had forgotten to post the appropriate pages from our favorite vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook, part of the Christ-Life Series in Religion …so here they are. The first about the season in general, the second about this past Sunday (before it became Divine Mercy Sunday, of course).

What I like about these – and why I share them with you – is that they challenge the assumption that before Vatican II, Catholicism offered nothing but legalistic rules-based externals to its adherents, particularly the young. Obviously not so

I also appreciate the assumption of maturity and spiritual responsibility. Remember, this is a 7th grade textbook, which means it was for twelve and thirteen-year olds at most. A child reading this was encouraged to think of him or herself, not as a customer to be placated or attracted, but as a member of the Body of Christ – a full member who can experience deep joy, peace and has a mission.

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

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