Merry Christmas!

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.– Isaiah 9:6 NRSV

To the ancient Israelites celebrating the Passover also included joyfully watching and awaiting the coming of the Messiah. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation, the first coming of the Messiah. We also joyfully await his second coming. May we take the words of Christ to heart when he told the disciples “you could not keep watch with me for one hour” (Matthew 26:40). May we joyfully, and prayerfully await his second coming, not only at Christmas but everyday

On another note I want to wish you and your families a very blessed and Merry Christmas.  I appreciate the encouraging messages over the past few days.  Though I don’t write or podcast for acclaim, it is always great to hear that the work is helping others.  Thank you!  Next week I will post a schedule of sorts.  It will have days when new articles will be posted, YouTube video publishing dates, and podcast episode release dates.  I’m trying to keep a set schedule going forward not only for you, but myself as well.

God bless you and remember the reason for the season.

In Christ,

William

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The Letter to the Ephesians, Faith, and Marriage

Scripture tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  However, there are some books that have been absolutely instrumental in forming Christian doctrine and thought.  One of those books is Ephesians, and the other is Romans.  Raymond Brown writes “Among the Pauline writings only Romans can match Ephesians as a candidate for exercising the most influence on Christian thought and spirituality (Brown, page 620).”

Ephesians is also a source of controversy among various groups in Christendom.  One of the issues being addressed in the letter is that the love for God is not only singular, but requires love of neighbor and thus community.  A way of living faith is intertwined with the love of neighbor.  In is in this regard that one of the most popular passages of scripture is sometimes taken out of context.  Ephesians 2:8-9 states “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God-not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”  This is taken by the Sola Fide crowd as meaning that all we need is faith.  Believe Christ has forgiven you and you have nothing else to do.  This contradicts the context in which this passage should be read as the next verse puts it into perspective.  Ephesians 2:10 states “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

We are indeed saved by faith, but there is more to it.  We are a community of believers and we must take care of each other.  We are to take care of the poor, the sick, and intercede in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters.  Our faith is to produce good fruit for the Christian community, because a faith kept to ourselves will ultimately die.

A second issue illustrated in the Epistle to the Ephesians is that marriage is compared to the relationship between Christ and the Church, which is a large development from the earlier letters. Marriage is given a spiritual position.  This is another portion of the Epistle that is taken out of context by some.  Ephesians 5:22 states “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.”  Some take this to mean that wives are to “obey” the husband and be subservient.  However this is not the case as the other verses puts that theory to rest.  Ephesians 5:25 states “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” In a sort of ironic way I like to point out that obeying one’s husband is one thing; dying for one’s wife is another.

Brown states “The obligation for the husband to love is treated more extensively than the obligation of the wife to be subject, and both are rooted in God’s initial plan for union in marriage (Brown, page 624).”  Christ came and died for us because he loved us.  This is the responsibly of the husband, and that is to emulate Christ’s love to his wife.  In this regard we are to care, love, and serve just as Christ did for us.

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Works Cited

Brown, Raymond, An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Grace and the Faculty of Mind

At the beginning of sacred scripture, we read how God created man.  Man was created in a state of grace, and through sin this grace was lost.  This led to mankind having the stain of original sin, and a desire to sin called concupiscence.  This nature requires grace to assist us in our post-lapsarian nature.  This is done because grace effects the faculty of our mind and the capacity of our will.

A result of sin is that we focus on carnal things.  No matter how hard we try to avoid sin we will fall back into it without the help of grace.  Our minds can be restored through grace, and through this grace we have a greater propensity to avoid mortal sin (ST II, Q 109, A 8).  According to Aquinas, grace transforms the mind and makes one alert to situations that will make us fall from grace.  It helps us know what is good, and what we should and should not do.  We know what we should do, are in a state of grace, and can ask God to assist us in doing the right thing.  Grace can effect the faculty of the mind by helping us avoid mortal sin, though we may still commit venial sin (ST II, Q 109, A 8).

Grace also has a strong effect on the capacity of our will.  Regarding the will in post-lapsarian man Fr. John Hardon writes, “because of the fall the moral will is a passive faculty which always leans on the side where the weight of attraction is stronger” (Hardon Ch. 3).  Our wills strive to make contact with things, and our sinful nature will always go toward the greatest attraction.  Grace comes in and alters what attracts us.  Through grace our will strives to love God and others.  The light of grace turns a selfish will towards hope and charity, and through hope and charity we can see the love of God (Journet 1.6).  We can love God and in turn reflect that love toward others.

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Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed August 10, 2018.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

The Jewishness of Christ

Within theology there are many different topics.  One such topic is known as Christology, and it deals with who Jesus is.  It deals with his nature, divinity, and how it is portrayed within the New Testament.  There are many views of Christology that have been debunked over the years, and some are still taught today.  Who was Jesus, and how does his Jewish heritage affect our understanding of the New Testament? 

When we read the New Testament, we tend to read it through modern eyes.  We read the Gospel accounts and see the divinity of Christ, but we often overlook key aspects that assist us in understanding him in a deeper way.  We may have a good understanding of the doctrines that Christ preached, but pay little attention to his relationships and social interactions (Carter 150).  In fact, understanding the Jewishness of Christ will have a big impact on our exegesis of the New Testament.  By viewing the Jewishness of Christ, we are removing the presuppositions of western culture, and placing the New Testament back into its cultural and societal context.

One thing that many see Jesus as doing is abolishing the law, but is this really accurate?  Certainly, there are some things a that are no longer applicable under the New Covenant, but Jesus tells us himself that he came to fulfill the law in Matthew 5:17.  This seems to indicate that He recognized his Jewishness and embraced it.  Regarding this Gerald Collins writes, “We throw away any right to comment on the way Jesus perceived reality, if we ignore the earthly particularity of his language (Collins 47).

Jesus spoke in a manner in which his Jewish audience would understand.  Like other Rabbis of the time, he taught lessons by telling a story.  One example is His example of putting new wine into old wineskins in Luke 5:36. A surface reading of the text suggests a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees in regard to Jewish dietary laws.  These parables give us peeks into Jewish culture, and a proper understanding of them assists us in understanding the New Testament in a fuller way.

As previously stated, we tend to read these parables within the context of our western culture, but to do so is to miss the point.  By reading scripture in this manner we run the risk of coming to a conclusion that in totally foreign to the intention of the text.  That has ramifications for how we engage the rest of the New Testament. 

Jesus was Jewish, and the first Christians were Jewish.  The worshipped in the synagogue, kept kosher dietary laws, and strove to keep other aspects of the law.  Most Christians are gentiles, and as a result it becomes hard to imagine Jesus as a Jewish man.  We say it, but it is something that comes from our mouth with little understanding of the ramifications.  This means that the Gospels should be seen as a conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders of his day, particularly in regard to the interpretation of the law.  It also means that we measure what Jesus said with the understanding that he was a Jewish Rabbi in 1st century Palestine.  These two things may be difficult for us to grasp, but when we do so we see the New Testament in its proper context, and the message of scripture become more fully alive.

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Works Cited

Carter, Warren. “Proclaiming (in/against) Empire Then and Now,” Word & World 25/2 (2005) 149-158.

O’ Collins, Gerald. Jesus: A Portrait. New York: Maryknoll, 2013

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Go and Bear Fruit

I chose you from the world,
to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.-John 15:16

Today’s gospel reflection is taken from the antiphon before today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus makes a very direct point and simply says “Go and bear fruit that will last”.  It seems so easy, and yet so complicated at the same time.  To bear fruit you have to start with a seed.  In its journey to become fruit the seed go through various stages.  As a seedling it pushes through the dirt towards the sun, it relies on the rain and the sun to nourish it to maturing, and when the time is right it brings forth fruit to bring nourishment to the recipient.

In the Christian life we look to the Son, Jesus, and he provides nourishment through his scripture and the church.  Scripture says that all of us have a gift that can help with the mission of the church.  Some are given the gift of teaching, administration, leadership, mercy, etc.  Each gift is vital and needed to fulfill the mission of the church.  Are we being faithful in this mission?  Using this gift is fruit that will last.  It lasts because it spreads the Gospel and helps teach the next generation that will pass it on.

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He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows. –St. Gregory of Nissa

 

Bible Reflection: Jesus is the Christ

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.

A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria,
an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus.
He was an authority on the Scriptures.
He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and,
with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus,
although he knew only the baptism of John.
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue;
but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him,
they took him aside
and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.
And when he wanted to cross to Achaia,
the brothers encouraged him
and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.
After his arrival he gave great assistance
to those who had come to believe through grace.
He vigorously refuted the Jews in public,
establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.-Acts 18:23-28

In the first reading of today’s mass we read about a man by the name of Apollos.  St. Luke tells us in the book of Acts that he was well versed in the scriptures, was a great orator, and spoke boldly for Christ.  Those in the synagogue opposed him at every turn, and Priscilla and Aquila took him under their wing and helped him to explain the scriptures even more accurately. In short, he was open to correction and wanted to teach right doctrine.  Having learned from this correction he refuted the Jews that denied Christ, and established through scripture that Jesus is the Christ.

We can lean something very helpful from Apollos.  No matter how much training, or how much others praise us we must remain humble.  We must be open to correction especially to those appointed over us.  This will help us better proclaim that Jesus is the Christ as the scriptures teach.  Let’s make it a daily goal to study the scriptures, pray, and perhaps even look for a spiritual director that can help us learn the faith in a deeper way.  In addition, lets be open to the Holy Spirit and proclaim Christ just as Apollos did.

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The creator of the heavens obeys a carpenter; the God of eternal glory listens to a poor virgin. Has anyone ever witnessed anything comparable to this? Let the philosopher no longer disdain from listening to the common laborer; the wise, to the simple; the educated, to the illiterate; a child of a prince, to a peasant.”
-St. Anthony of Padua

Gospel Reflection: Go Into All The World

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.-Mark 16:15-20

Today we celebrate the ascension of the Lord.  With his earthly mission now complete Jesus has some last words for his disciples.  He tells them to go and preach the Gospel to every creature.  Mark phrases slightly different that Matthew and Luke.  In Matthew’s Gospel Christ tells the disciples to go to all nations and teach them all that he commanded and to baptize in the name of the blessed Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20).  Luke’s version takes place in the first chapter of Acts, and he writes that Christ commanded the disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and the rest of the world (Acts 1:1-11).

These were the last words of Christ on earth and they were significant.  When we lose a loved one we remember the last words that were spoken.  We remember them and we cherish them, and we try to fulfill their last wishes.  We should do the same with these last earthly words of Christ.  After 2,000 years the church is still spreading that Gospel message as Christ commanded, but what are you and I doing individually?

We have a tendency to think that this is the work of our priests and deacons, but spreading the Gospel is the duty of all of us as disciples of Christ.  Are we taking these words of Christ seriously?  This doesn’t mean that we have to go overseas.  We can be that witness at work, with our families at home, and in our neighborhoods.  May we go forth today and spread the Gospel as Christ commanded.

 

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The minute you walk outside of your church on Sunday you’re in mission territory.
Bishop Robert Barron

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