Category Archives: New Testament

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ (Mt 5:5)


-by Br John Bernard Church, O.P., English Province

“Christ’s statement is startling, almost paradoxical. Blessed are those who mourn. Surely blessedness, happiness, is the very opposite of mourning, or sadness. This beatitude does not say that those who mourn now will be blessed later; that the promise of happiness is what awaits those who are sad. The contrast is much stronger, and much more baffling: happiness can be found in our mourning and our sadness now.

Our journey of Christian discipleship is directed towards our final beatitude, the beatific vision: when, freed from all transient desires, we finally see God. As St John says, “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). Our complete happiness lies in God alone.

But this context only serves to render Christ’s statement even more baffling: that in our mourning, our loss, our sadness, we are somehow participating in the final and complete blessedness and happiness of eternal life. Eternal life suddenly sounds quite miserable if it’s in the experience of our saddest moments here on earth that we get closest to it.

That’s clearly not the whole story. But it does contain some element of truth, and something deeply challenging. Letting go of what we hold dear, emptying ourselves of every attachment, so that slowly God takes His proper and rightful place as the center point of our every desire – this is difficult, and it is at times a process of loss and grief and sadness.

Christ prepares us in the Gospels for such a reality: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). St Paul rejoices in his own sufferings. In his second letter to the Corinthians, St Paul sees the good brought out of their sadness: “for the sadness used by God brings a change of heart that leads to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10).

This is in no way a rejoicing at suffering for its own sake: suffering in itself is not good. But it is claiming that suffering remains a central component of the Christian life, and is used by God for our own good. Why?  Surely God desires that we are happy and fulfilled, bursting with the joy of the Gospel and brought to life amidst the goodness of creation. How do we make sense of a beatitude that tells us our happiness here and now is found in sadness and loss?

Happiness is never reducible to a single experience. But sadness and loss do play a central role, because they played a central role in the life of Jesus. Christ tells us that to be followers of Him we must take up our cross because that is what He did. Sorrow over what is lost, mourning at the entry of sin into the world, is what brought God Himself to undergo death on the cross. And so part of the reason sadness is a source of blessedness is because it can be our involvement in God’s great act of redemption. It can unite us to the cross.

And this beatitude becomes clear when we don’t neglect the second half. Blessedness is not found in mourning per se, there is nothing to be gained from suffering for its own sake. Rather blessedness is found in those who mourn and are comforted.

The reality of sadness and grief and suffering is that it awakens a need for consolation. When we are able to unite our sufferings to the cross, we open our heart to receive the comfort that God alone can give. The body and soul may still hurt while the character of the suffering remains. But when united to the cross and open to solace in God, its perspective is entirely altered. And here is found the true happiness, that which is enduring and a genuine foretaste of the eternal beatitude that awaits: the conviction that however empty, however pained we may feel, the love of God alone is our true consolation.”

Love of God and God’s love of us, Jn 14:27,…shall “now” be…, Our Lady of Sorrow, pray for us,
Matthew

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5:3)


-by Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá, O.P., English Province

“‘If the Sermon on the Mount is a summary of all Christian doctrine, the eight Beatitudes are a summary of the whole Sermon on the Mount’ (Bossuet, Méditations sur l’Évangile, I.1). But what are the Beatitudes? Are they promises, blessings, conditions to be a disciple? Jesus, in the manner of a prophet, seems to peer into the future to foretell the destiny that awaits His disciples: they shall obtain mercy, they shall be comforted, they shall inherit the earth. But the Beatitudes strike us also as a summons to follow Him, addressed to all the broken-hearted, to those who weep, who are oppressed and toil for justice and peace. Jesus’ words have even the ring of some severe conditions to be his disciple: ‘if you are pure in heart, you shall see God’.

Yet the Beatitudes do not only reach out into the future. The first and the last, significantly, end with the same words, and refer to the now of those who hear: ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. This seems to echo the words of Jesus in another place, when asked about the time of the coming of the kingdom: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk 17:20-21). Many have taken these last words, ‘the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’, to mean ‘the kingdom is within you’, as if it were found by turning inward, through some sort of introspection. But God always comes to meet us from the outside, through the word we hear proclaimed, or through the sacraments of His presence. The Gospels vibrate with the sense that the kingdom has arrived and one need not wait any longer. The time of salvation certainly stretches into the future but, more importantly, it begins today, in this present moment. And it begins, above all, in the encounter with Jesus, who always ushers in a fresh start in every human story.

‘The kingdom of God is in our midst’ – and if this does not refer to some remote event, nor to some elevated inner state of mind, then it must refer to Jesus Himself, the King Who has entered human history and inaugurated a new time, and who demands a specific answer from each of us. How are we to respond? Jesus says, the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit. To those who realize, simply, that they are far from perfect, that they do not have everything sorted out, that there is something that they lack and they cannot give themselves, but can only receive from another. St Augustine is often quoted as saying, ‘God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them’. Here lies the key to the Beatitudes, to the Sermon of the Mount and indeed the Gospels. I do not have what I need most, and I cannot give it to myself. My own poverty becomes evident to me, but only then can I receive the kingdom, which is Jesus’ gift of Himself to me. And this happens not in some remote future but now, whenever we open our hearts and invite Him in.”

Love,
Matthew

Faith works.

Notwithstanding Gov. Cuomo…Catholics prioritize/emphasize the definition of faith in 1 Cor 13:13.


-by Luke Lancaster

“To prove that man is saved by faith alone (sola fide), apart from good works, many of our Protestant brothers and sisters direct us to Galatians 2:16, in which Paul says, “a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Paul does indeed separate “faith” from “works of the law” in regard to salvation, but we should notice from the get-go that those who equate “works of the law” with “good works,” such as loving others or receiving the sacraments, have already made a bit of a leap.

They think Paul is arguing that, in considering whether one will enter Heaven, God will look at whether he had faith that Jesus was both the Messiah and the atonement for our sins. On this view, God is not concerned with whether the person obeyed God by living a holy life or whether he was baptized. This is not what Paul said, however, for “works of the law” are not “good works” but rather those works required by Jewish law.

This is a distinction that is difficult for some Protestants to appreciate. Jews lived under the yoke of the Mosaic Law. A yoke is a heavy wooden bar which attaches to animals’ necks, allowing them to pull some heavy object. The “yoke” of the Mosaic Law was heavy, with hundreds of dictates that Jews dress a certain way, avoid certain foods, and the like. Christ, however, united Jews and Gentiles, and his yoke is “easy” and his burden “light” (Matt. 11:30). Christ gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to love as He loved (John 13:34). So, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul is talking about something completely different than the points of contention between Catholics and Protestants.

In verses 11-16, Paul recounts a confrontation he had with Peter in Antioch, where Paul had been preaching. Upon his arrival, Peter would only eat with the Jewish Christians and not with the Gentile Christians in a nod to the Mosaic Law, which held that Jews could not eat with Gentiles, as the latter were “unclean” (Acts 10:28). In Antioch, however, the Jews and Gentiles had been eating together as united Christians, free from the demands of the Law.

When Peter stopped eating with Gentiles, the Jewish Christians in Antioch followed suit, and suddenly there was a division within the community! Peter acted this way even though he and Paul, both former Law-observing Jews, had found freedom from the Mosaic Law. This action from the first pope implied to the Gentile Christians in Antioch that, for someone to be a true Christian, they had to be circumcised and live like a Jew, obeying all of the laws of that Covenant to reach heaven. Only then could everyone eat together.

Paul emphatically rebuked Peter. Man reaches heaven by the universal action of faith, which is always “working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith, as one family of God, which automatically dismantles any separation between them.

Next, Paul draws out the —the Mosaic Law has been fulfilled by the New Law (Matt. 5:17). Jews and Gentiles have been united by Christ—He has torn down the wall separating them, and Paul cannot “build up again those things which I tore down” (Gal. 2:18). His identity is no longer found in the Mosaic Covenant, he has a new one: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

When Paul was baptized, he “died with Christ” (Rom. 6:8), and had therefore “died to the Law” (Gal. 2:19), leaving Mosaic Law for its fulfillment in the Messiah’s New Covenant kingdom of God. In this kingdom there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

From these texts we see that membership in the family of God (justification) is no longer based on the Mosaic Law-system, for Jesus established a new boundary for membership through His death. The Crucifixion of Christ, says Scripture scholar NT Wright, “reconstitutes the people of God, in a way which means that they come out from under the rule of Torah and into the new world which God Himself is making.”

The point of Galatians 2:16, then, is that Gentile Christians do not have to live like Jews. This is because going under the yoke of the Mosaic Law does not lead to salvation. Christians must follow Christ and His way of life (Gal. 6:2). They do what Christ commands, not what Moses commands (John 1:17). Christians need to live by faith, lovingly obeying Christ by loving others, which fulfills the whole Mosaic Law (Rom. 13:8). The Spirit empowers us to love others – and His presence particularly distinguishes the old yoke from the new (Rom. 8:1-4), which has the “circumcision of Christ,” baptism (Col. 2:11-12), and the new Passover, the Eucharist (1 Cor. 5:7, John 6:53).

Galatians 2:16 has nothing to do with the Catholic belief that good works and receiving the sacraments are necessary, but not sufficient, for salvation. Deciding who spends eternity in heaven remains entirely the prerogative of our loving Creator, Who has given ample guidance to the faithful. Our Protestant brothers and sisters have been misled about the meaning of the text, so let us gently show them their error (2 Tim. 2:25).”


-by Peter Kreeft, PhD

“A common Christian misunderstanding…sees…virtues as a sheer gift of God and not also as hard human work, that sees righteousness as automatically coming with the territory, or part of the package deal of accepting Christ as Lord.

But isn’t it true that righteousness, a righteousness far surpassing the four cardinal virtues, prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, becomes available to us when we are joined to Christ? It certainly is. And isn’t this a supernatural righteousness, a fruit of the Holy Spirit Himself? Absolutely. But supernatural virtue is not subnatural virtue (Ed. super”natural”). It does not dispense with natural human foundations and with our responsibility to be active, not passive, in cultivation of virtuous habits.

A man with a violin case under his arm stood in Times Square looking lost. He asked a policeman, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” The policeman answered, “Practice, man, practice.” There is no other short cut to sanctity either.

God’s word says that “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:26). The works of virtue are the fruit of faith, that is, of a live faith. Being saintly is our response to being saved. We cannot do either without God, but He will not do either without us. He respects our freedom. He makes His power and His grace available to us once we are joined to Christ. But if we simply sit back and let that spiritual capital accumulate in our heavenly bank account without making withdrawals and using it, we are exactly like the wicked and slothful servant who hid his master’s money rather than investing it, in Jesus’ parable of the talents (see Mt 25:14-30).

The answer to the faith-and-works issue is essentially a simple one, in fact, startlingly simple. It is that faith works. The whole complex question of reconciling Paul’s words on faith and James’ words on works, and of resolving the dispute that sparked the Reformation, the dispute about justification by faith, is answered at its core at a single stroke: the very same “living water” of God’s own Spirit, God’s own life in our soul, is received by faith and lived out by virtuous works.

The water of the Sea of Galilee comes from the same source as the water of the Dead Sea: the Jordan River. But the Sea of Galilee stays fresh because it has an outlet for the water it receives. The Dead Sea lives up to its name because it does not.

The same thing happens to the “living waters” from God as to the fresh waters of the Jordan. When we bottle them up inside ourselves, they become stagnant. Stagnant faith stinks, like stagnant water. And the world has sensitive nostrils.”

-Kreeft, Peter. Back To Virtue (pp. 66-70). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

“Justification by faith alone”, Jimmy Akin
What St Paul said in Romans – Ascension Press

Counterfeit Christ: Resurrection, only “spiritual”?

“Sit and smile.

That was all I could do, even though I wanted to rebut my debate opponent Dan Barker during his closing speech. Dan was once a Protestant pastor, but ever since his “de-conversion” in the 1980’s he has become a kind of preacher for atheism. In 2015 we debated whether or not God existed, and three years later we were on stage at Minnesota State University to debate a more specific question: “Does the Christian God exist?”

I thought the debate went well. I was able to neutralize Dan’s tactic of scattering dozens of difficult Bible verses in an effort to make the God of the Bible look like a moral monster. By the time we got to cross-examination, I was prepared to dive into one argument Dan had not addressed yet: my evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

But instead of addressing the evidence I raised, Dan just went right back to the alleged atrocities of the Old Testament. It was only during his closing statement, which was the last speech of the night, that Dan addressed my arguments.

He claimed that what really happened after Good Friday was that the apostles believed Jesus’ spirit rose from the dead while his body still lay in the tomb. For them, that was enough to turn defeat into victory; yet modern Christians have misunderstood their theology ever since.

But how can that be true if . . . ?
…St. Paul Believed in a Bodily Resurrection

It’s bad form to bring up new arguments or objections in your closing statement because your opponent has no opportunity to respond to them. I was frustrated, but I held my tongue. I didn’t get the chance that night to rebut Dan’s “spiritual resurrection” hypothesis.

But now I do have the chance—so here’s what’s wrong with it.

First, the earliest testimony we have about the Resurrection comes from St. Paul’s letters, which describe Jesus undergoing a bodily resurrection from the dead. Dan tries to get around this fact by claiming that Paul used a Greek word for Jesus’ resurrection that only refers to spiritual resurrection. Specifically, egeiro, ἐγείρω, which just means “rise” or “wake up.” He does not use the word that means “resurrection” (anastasis (ἀνάστασις), anistemi, (ἀνίστημι) Barker also claims:

“It is perfectly consistent with Christian theology to think that the spirit of Jesus, not His body, was awakened from the grave, as Christians today believe that the spirit of Grandpa has gone to heaven while his body rots in the ground. In fact, just a few verses later Paul confirms this: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The physical body is not important to Christian theology.”

Yet in Romans 1:4 Paul, says that Jesus was “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection [anastaseos, ἀναστάσεως] from the dead.” Contra Barker, Paul does describe Jesus rising from the dead with a form of the Greek word anastasis, (ἀνάστασις). Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses egeiro (ἐγείρω),  and anastasis, (ἀνάστασις) interchangeably when speaking about the relationship between our future resurrection from the dead and Christ’s resurrection. Paul writes:

“Now if Christ is preached as raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται] from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead? But if there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead, then Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται]. If Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:12-14).

Paul’s argument is simple: if we don’t rise from the dead, then Christ didn’t rise from the dead. But since Christ did rise from the dead we can be confident that we too will rise from the dead.

What about to Barker’s citation of 1 Corinthians 15:50 (“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”) and Paul’s general use of the term “spiritual body”? Well, we have to remember what Paul was up against in Corinth.

Pauline scholar John Ziesler believes that Paul was trying to convince people that the resurrection of the dead is not a mere reanimation of one’s corpse. For Paul, the “spiritual body” in the Resurrection “seems to mean something like ‘outward form,’ or ‘embodiment’ or perhaps better ‘the way in which the person is conveyed and expressed’ . . . a resurrection of the whole person, involving embodiment but not physical embodiment.”

When Paul writes, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he is using a Semitism—a Jewish way of speaking—about the natural state of humanity apart from the grace of God. We can’t inherit the kingdom of God without being moved by God’s spirit.

However, that doesn’t mean that in this kingdom we will only be spirits. Spiritual, in this context, refers to a thing’s orientation as opposed to its substance. It’s like when we say the Bible is a “spiritual book” or when Paul writes, “The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (1 Cor. 2:15).

The subjects in these statements are not non-physical, ghostly apparitions but books and people ordered toward the will of God. As St. Augustine said, “As the Spirit, when it serves the flesh, is not improperly said to be carnal, so the flesh, when it serves the spirit, will rightly be called spiritual—not because it is changed into spirit, as some suppose who misinterpret the text.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Bible’s Easter stories are different


-by Cale Clark, Cale’s two most amazing discoveries in life have been that Jesus Christ would forgive him, and that Patricia would marry him. In 2004, Cale returned to the Catholic Church, which was founded by Jesus Christ, after spending ten years in Evangelical Protestantism, with much of that time spent in pastoral ministry.

“Anyone who has read the Gospels in a more than cursory manner has come across what appear to be contradictions between them as they report the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. This is no less true when we consider how they describe the most important event of all: the resurrection of Christ. If this event is not historical, says St. Paul, “our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Speaking of St. Paul: before we consider apparent contradictions in the Gospels’ Easter accounts, we must remember that the Gospels are not our earliest written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection: those would be the letters of Paul. Even if the Gospels had never been composed, there would still be plausible literary testimony of the event, evidence with which a skeptic must deal. 1 Corinthians 15, which discusses the Resurrection, was written as early as A.D. 53, most likely prior to the publishing of at least some of the Gospels. What’s more, this chapter contains an even earlier ancient “creed” of sorts, crystallizing Easter faith in just a few lines (1 Cor. 15:3–7).

Even though the Gospels are not our earliest or only written sources on Easter, discrepancies in how they report resurrection phenomena have caused many to call into question their historical authenticity.

The empty tomb accounts

In Mark (which the majority of biblical scholars contend was the first Gospel composed), when the women disciples of Jesus arrive at the tomb early on Easter Sunday, the stone has already been rolled away. A “young man” in dazzling raiment (in all likelihood an angel) is inside the tomb. In Luke’s account, two men are inside. Matthew’s account has Mary Magdalene and another Mary arriving at a still-sealed tomb, but an earthquake suddenly occurs, whereupon an angel descends and rolls back the heavy stone. Three Gospels, and seemingly three different accounts.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke also give us slightly different lists of exactly which women were present. Mark has these women respond in fear, and states that they said nothing about this to anyone. In Matthew’s account, the two women meet Jesus on their way to inform the disciples of the Easter news. Luke does not say they ran into Jesus but rather that they immediately told the disciples, who didn’t buy their story. Same Gospels, and again, the accounts seem to differ.

So, why the differences?

Ancient biographies

As much as we might want the Gospels to conform to our modern conventions of history writing, they don’t read like contemporary police reports. But that doesn’t mean they don’t contain reliable accounts. In fact, they are perfectly consonant with how the ancients recorded history. The key is to understand the literary conventions of the time, which was  the mid-first century A.D. ,  and how the Gospels fit that mold.

Scholars like Michael Licona have noted that the genre of ancient literature that the Gospels most closely resemble is that of Greco-Roman biography. In reporting the speeches and activities of famous figures, writers utilized techniques in recording history that were perfectly acceptable at the time, such as compression (truncating longer speeches for the sake of brevity). The Gospel writers did this as well: they report that Jesus held crowds spellbound for hours with his preaching, yet his recorded sermons can be read in minutes.

Also, events were moved around in a narrative for thematic reasons. For example, did Jesus “cleanse” the temple at the beginning of his public ministry (John 2:13-22), or toward the end, as in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)? Or did he do it twice? In all likelihood, Jesus’ action at the temple occurred toward the end of his life, enraging the authorities and precipitating his arrest, but John places it at the beginning of his Gospel for symbolic reasons.

A culture of storytelling by memory

We also need to consider the way students (disciples) were taught in the Jewish tradition. Theirs was a culture of memorization. Scholar Craig Keener reports that students in Jesus’ day were capable of memorizing prodigious amounts of speeches and sacred texts. Even so, Jesus’ disciples were not expected to “parrot” his teachings, repeating them verbatim. In fact, if they had, they would have been considered poor students. Jesus himself probably gave different versions of the same basic “talk” as he preached in various settings. One example could be the similarities between the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 and the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:17-49.

Having a proper understanding of Jesus’ message was the key, which was proven by an ability to accurately re-present the essence—or the “gist”—of Jesus’ teachings in a way that would be relevant to one’s audience and its particular needs. The one thing disciples were most assuredly not allowed to do was to invent sayings or deeds of Jesus.

Evaluating the differences

Now let’s apply all of this to the synoptic Gospel accounts of the first Easter. Even though there is variance in secondary details (how many angels were at the tomb, for example), the basic message is the same: Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty of him early on Sunday morning, and the resurrected Christ later appeared to various disciples over a period of time.

What might be some reasons for these varying secondary details?

Ironically, the fact that these accounts are not in verbatim agreement actually enhances the probability that they are historical. Each Evangelist is making use of different sources of eyewitness testimony when composing his Gospel. The Evangelists didn’t “cut and paste” a prefabricated Easter account into their respective Gospels.

There are also literary or thematic reasons for the differences. In Mark’s Gospel, as noted above, the women react fearfully. Fear —even terror—in the presence of the divine is a constant Markan motif. When it comes to describing the most stupendous of all miracles—Jesus’ resurrection—Mark’s not about to change his style.

What of the variances in the lists of women who may or may not have been present? It’s reasonable that they all were present but that each evangelist is highlighting the names of those who may have been personally known or particularly important to his readers. The fact that some women were the first to encounter the empty tomb and the risen Jesus is what’s important here —and this is not something that the Gospel writers would have been eager to admit were it not the case.

The testimony of women in the first-century Jewish world was not considered reliable in a court of law. If one’s goal at this time was to convince readers that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and one made up a story about his being raised from the dead, one certainly wouldn’t present women as the first to discover the empty tomb and meet the resurrected Jesus —unless that’s what actually happened, as embarrassing as this might be in that particular cultural context.

All in all, when the Gospels are held up to the standards of first-century Greco-Roman historical writing, and to the standards of Jewish transmission of rabbinical teaching common to the period, they hold up quite well indeed. This is no less true when one considers their accounts of the (literally) earth-shaking events of the first Easter.”

Love, He is Risen!!
Matthew

“At Home with the Lord”: 2 Corinthians 5:8 & Purgatory

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that there is an intermediate state after death, like purgatory, when the Bible says that the only place for a Christian to be (besides this life) is heaven?

Referring to a soul’s “entrance into the blessedness of heaven,” the Catechism teaches that it will enter either “through a purification or immediately” (1022). This presupposes that it’s possible for a soul to die in God’s friendship but yet not be present with the Lord in heaven.  Some Protestants view Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 as contradicting this belief. Paul writes:

“So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Since the Bible says that for a Christian to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” there can’t be any intermediate state in the afterlife.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Paul doesn’t say what the challenge assumes he says.

Protestants who appeal to this passage often fail to realize that Paul doesn’t say that “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” Paul simply says, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Protestants may reply that although Paul doesn’t exactly say what the challenge claims, that’s what he means. Are they right? Does the logic follow? Does the statement, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” mean the same as, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord”?

Suppose I’m at work, and I’m wishing that I could instead be away from work, and at home. Can we conclude from this that if I’m away from work, I must automatically be at home? Doesn’t seem like it. I could be away from work, eating lunch at McDonald’s. I could be away from work, on my way home, but sitting in traffic. So, it’s fallacious to conclude from this verse that, once away from the body, a Christian must immediately be present with the Lord.

2. Even if we concede the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that the challenge asserts, it still doesn’t rule out purgatory.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the interpretation this challenge offers of 2 Corinthians 5:8 is true, and that to be away from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord. That still wouldn’t pose a threat to purgatory.

First, because the challenge assumes that purgatory involves a period of time (during which we are “away from the body” but not “with the Lord”). But as we’ve seen, the Catholic Church has never defined the precise nature of the duration of purgatory. We simply don’t know what the experience of time is beyond this life. If purgatory did not involve a duration of time as we know it, it would be perfectly compatible with the challenge’s interpretation of this verse.

A second reason is that the challenge assumes purgatory is a state of existence away from the Lord. But, as we have also seen, purgatory could very well be that encounter with the Lord that we experience in our particular judgment, as we “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This makes sense because Paul describes the soul’s judgment as being one of a purifying fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). It makes sense for God’s presence, not his absence, to be part of our soul’s purification.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Shouldn’t you make sure that the Bible passage you use to challenge a Catholic belief actually says what you think it says?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The early Christian writer Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) affirms the existence of a state after death before entering heaven when he writes, “Inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades [Matt. 5:25], and as we also interpret the uttermost farthing to mean the very smallest offense which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew

The Bible is a Catholic Book: Protestant & Catholic Bibles

Oral Torah


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

“Q. Our Protestant friends often speak of “the word of God” as if it was limited to just the Bible. Is that true?

Jimmy: No. The Bible speaks of the “word of God” as being several different things. It certainly includes the Bible, but it also includes the word of God communicated to people orally—in the form of Tradition, as when the apostles preached the word to people before the New Testament was written, or when the prophets preached God’s word before any book of Scripture was written. The ultimate Word of God is Jesus himself, so we can’t limit the word of God to just the Bible.

Q. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for “making void the word of God” by their tradition. Does that mean all Tradition is bad?

Jimmy: Just because one group misuses tradition doesn’t mean that all tradition is bad. Elsewhere, the New Testament speaks highly of the traditions that come from the apostles, and it commands Christians to honor them whether they are written in the Bible or not. The tradition of the Pharisees isn’t binding on us, but the Tradition of the apostles is!

Q. Our Protestant friends say we should base our doctrine on “Scripture alone.” What’s wrong with this idea?

Jimmy: A big problem is that, if we have to prove every doctrine “by Scripture alone” or sola scriptura then we’d have to prove this doctrine in the same way. But we can’t. There are no verses that say or imply that we should prove every doctrine by Scripture alone. That makes sola scriptura a self-refuting doctrine.

Q. Some anti-Catholics say that the Catholic Church “hates” the Bible and tried to keep it from the people. How can we reply to that?

Jimmy: If the Catholic Church “hated” the Bible, then it wouldn’t have laboriously hand-copied Bibles in the long centuries before the invention of the printing press. Further, the monks wouldn’t have made the beautiful, illuminated Bibles, whose pages they literally covered in gold by applying gold leaf to the illustrations to honor God’s word.

Q. When were the Gospels written? Are they late documents written long after the life of Jesus?

Jimmy: As biblical scholarship has progressed, the dates for the Gospels have been steadily rolled back. You no longer have scholars saying they were written a hundred or more years after Jesus. Today, virtually all scholars acknowledge that they were all written in the first century, and the best evidence indicates that they were written between about A.D. 55 and 65—only around twenty to thirty years after Jesus’ ministry.

Q. Did all Jews in Jesus’ day honor the same books as Scripture?

Jimmy: No. Different groups of Jews had different opinions about which books were sacred, and most did not have a single, closed list or “canon” of biblical books. The precise boundaries of the Old Testament continued to be debated in Jewish circles for centuries.

Q. Why does the Bible contain the books that it does? How did we get the exact list of books it has today?

Jimmy: God guided the Church, over the course of centuries, to recognize certain books and not others as being written expressions of his word. On the human level, this was done through the teachings of the Magisterium—the popes and the bishops. The Catholic Church thus played a crucial role in identifying the books of the Old and New Testaments.

Q. Why do our Protestant friends have smaller Bibles?

Jimmy: Martin Luther and other early Protestant leaders rejected certain Catholic teachings, such as purgatory, which is strongly supported in the Old Testament book 2 Maccabees. They therefore appealed to the European Jews of their day, who didn’t honor 2 Maccabees and certain other books as Scripture. They thus removed certain books from the Protestant Bible that Christians had historically regarded as Scripture.

Q. Bottom line: Why is the Bible a Catholic book?

Jimmy: The Bible is a Catholic book because the New Testament was written by Catholics, because the Catholic Church determined which books belong in the Bible, and because the Catholic Church preserved and published the books of the Bible by hand-copying them down through the centuries. The Bible is a gift that God gave to the world through the Catholic Church.”

Love,
Matthew

The Bible is a Catholic Book – Scripture

“Jesus and the apostles did appeal to Scripture, and we should mention how the term was used in Jesus’ day. The Greek word graphê originally just meant writing, especially a brief piece of writing, but in Jewish and Christian contexts it came to mean a holy writing, which is why it is often translated scripture.

Today we use this term to refer to the entire collection of holy books, saying things like, “Scripture contains the Old and the New Testaments.” But in the first century, when the term was used in the singular, it normally referred to a specific book or passage. Thus, in Mark 12:10, Jesus says:

Have you not read this scripture: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”?

The passage Jesus is quoting (“this scripture”) is Psalm 118:22-23. By contrast, when people wanted to refer to all the holy writings as a group, they used the plural: “the scriptures.” Thus, Jesus tells his Sadducee critics they are wrong, “because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29).

Christians initially used this term for writings composed in the Old Testament period, for these were the only holy books at the time. Even when they began writing the books of the New Testament, they used “the scriptures” as a technical term for the earlier holy books.

There are a few exceptions, such as when Paul refers to Luke’s Gospel as “scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18; see Luke 10:7) or when Peter lists Paul’s letters alongside “the other scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16), but referring to the books of the New Testament as “Scripture” really didn’t catch on until the second century.

Jesus overturned many common religious ideas of in his day, but he didn’t challenge the authority of Scripture. As the incarnate Word of God, he acknowledged the authority of the written word. Thus, he declared, “Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17); and, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

Jesus saw his ministry as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. At the Triumphal Entry, Jesus rode a young donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 (see John 12:14-15); and when he was arrested, he declared, “All this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matt. 26:56). Following the Resurrection, he spoke with two disciples, and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

The Scriptures Jesus Accepted

If Jesus saw his ministry as the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, which ones did he have in mind?

In the Gospels, he commonly refers to “the Law” and “the prophets” (e.g., Matt. 5:17; 7:12; 11:13). This was a common way of referring to the whole of the Old Testament, though it doesn’t tell us which specific books he saw it including.

From the evidence of the Gospels, we can tell Jesus placed more emphasis on certain books than others. The ones he quoted from most were Psalms, Deuteronomy, Exodus, and Isaiah. Depending on how you reckon what counts as a passage, he quotes fifteen passages from the Psalms, eleven from Deuteronomy, eight from Exodus, and seven from Isaiah.

The large number of quotations from Deuteronomy and Exodus are to be expected, given the prominence of the Pentateuch in Jewish thought, and it’s no surprise he also quotes from Genesis, Leviticus, and Numbers. When it comes to the prophets, Jesus quotes not only from Isaiah but also from Jeremiah and Daniel, as well as several minor prophets (Hosea, Jonah, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi).

Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow us to say precisely which books he regarded as Scripture. The Gospels are only partial records of his words and actions, and the fact that they don’t record him quoting a book doesn’t mean that he never quoted it or didn’t regard it as Scripture.

When scholars commonly believed there was a “Palestinian canon” that all Palestinian Jews accepted, it was easy to claim—based on where He lived—that Jesus simply accepted that one. But as scholarship has advanced, it’s become clear there were multiple, fuzzy canonical traditions even in Palestine.

It’s likely Jesus accepted more books than the Sadducees. When they challenged Him on the resurrection of the dead (Matt. 22:23-32), he conspicuously used Exodus 3:6 (“I am the God . . . of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”) to prove that the dead will one day rise, though there are much clearer passages, such as Daniel 12:2 (“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”). Jesus elsewhere cites Daniel as a prophet (Matt. 24:15) and quotes from his book (Matt. 24:30; 26:64). This indicates that Jesus treated Daniel as Scripture, and He probably avoided using it with the Sadducees because they didn’t accept it.

Some have tried to shed light on which books Jesus accepted by appealing to the languages he spoke. From various Aramaic words and phrases in the Gospels (see Mark 3:17; 5:41; 15:34), it’s clear Jesus’ daily language was Aramaic. When he quoted Scripture, he likely did so in Aramaic, based on the targums read in the synagogues. But it’s also likely he used Hebrew, and some have argued he would have accepted a book as Scripture only if it was in Hebrew or Aramaic—excluding the deuterocanonical books.

There are several problems with this argument. One is that modern scholarship has shown most of the deuterocanonicals were actually written in Hebrew or Aramaic. These include Sirach, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, and 1 Maccabees, so language would not prevent Jesus from accepting them.

Also, Greek was an international language at the time, and it was spoken in Palestine. Modern scholars have taken seriously the idea that Jesus and his disciples may also have used Greek. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks to Gentiles on various occasions (e.g., Matt. 8:38-34; Mark 7:26), including the Roman governor (Matt. 27:11), who would not have known Aramaic; and a group of Greeks asked Philip to arrange an audience with Jesus for them (John 12:20-22).

We also have evidence that Jesus read and valued some of the deuterocanonicals. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus made a single petition contingent on our own actions rather than simply being a request made to God. He taught us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12), following it up by saying, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).

Scholars have noted that this expresses the same teaching found in Sirach 28:1-5, but not present elsewhere in the Old Testament. Thus, Sirach states, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray” (Sir. 28:2).”

Love,
Matthew

Revelation 22:18-19

“Catholic Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. The Catechism teaches that the canon of Scripture includes “forty-six books for the Old Testament (forty-five if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and twenty-seven for the New” (120). Although Protestants agree with Catholics on the books that make up the New Testament, there are seven books in the Catholic Old Testament canon that they reject: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. They also reject portions of the books of Daniel and Esther. Catholics refer to these seven books as the deuterocanonical (second-canon) books and Protestants call them the Apocrypha.

You may run across a Protestant who rejects the deuterocanonical books because he thinks the Catholic Church added these books, in violation of John’s prohibition to add to the Bible:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19).

John says not to add to Scripture, yet the Catholic Church literally added seven whole books and more!

Reply:

1. If we granted for argument’s sake that John here is referring to the entire canon of Scripture, then Protestants would be guilty for removing the deuterocanonicals.

If we suppose that John is talking about the biblical canon (the list of all the books that make up the Bible) in Revelation 22:18-19, then the challenge becomes a two-edged sword. A Protestant may argue that the Catholic Church added books to the Bible, but a Catholic can just as easily argue that the Protestant community took some books away.

The seven books found in the Catholic Old Testament that are not found in the Protestant Old Testament were widely held as Scripture all throughout Christian history, and it was not until the Protestant Reformation that their canonicity was called into question and rejected on a major scale.

Prior to the Reformation, some individuals did question the canonicity of these books, but for the most part Christians as a whole accepted them. Numerous fourth and fifth-century Church councils authoritatively declared them to be inspired: the Synod of Rome (A.D. 382), Council of Hippo (393), Third Council of Carthage (397), and Sixth Council of Carthage (419). Protestant scholar J.N.D. Kelly affirms the major consensus on these books in the early Church: “For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.”

Such historical evidence makes this challenge difficult for a Protestant. If Revelation 22:18-19 refers to the canon, then the prohibition of “taking away” from it is just as strong as the prohibition of adding to it. So how can Protestants reject seven books from the Bible when Revelation 22:18-19 forbids it?
2. This passage is not even discussing the canon of Scripture but merely the book of Revelation.

These verses, however, don’t even refer to the entire Bible. The Greek word use here for book, biblion, can mean “small book” or “scroll.” In the ancient world, it was impossible to fit the entire Bible on a single scroll. The books of the Bible were originally individual compositions, such as an individual scroll, and the biblical canon as we know it was a collection of individual scrolls, a library of books. That’s why they’re called the “books” (plural) of the Bible. These books would not be put into a single volume until centuries later.

Therefore, it makes most sense to read the phrase “book of this prophecy” as referring to the scroll in which John is recording his prophecy, namely, the book of Revelation. As such, John’s instruction not to add or remove anything refers to the book he was writing—Revelation—and not the future canon of Scripture (which wouldn’t be authoritatively settled for centuries after).

A similar instruction is given is Deuteronomy 4:2, where Moses says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Moses wasn’t referring to the whole Old Testament canon; otherwise we would have to side with the Sadducees and reject every Old Testament book outside the Pentateuch. He was merely prohibiting adding or taking away from the “statutes and the ordinances” that constitute the Mosaic Law.

Since we now know that John was not giving instructions concerning the biblical canon, but instructions governing the book of Revelation (don’t add to the prophetic text of Revelation and don’t take away from it), it becomes clear that Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t undermine the Catholic canon, regardless of whether the Catholic Church added books to the biblical canon or Protestants subtracted from it. Of course, we must not add to or subtract from the canon of Scripture. But that is not what John is talking about in this passage.

Reply: How could John be referring to the entire biblical canon in Revelation 22:18-19 when the canon wouldn’t be settled for another several hundred years?

Consider: Your Protestant friend might argue that because the New Testament doesn’t quote any of the deuterocanonical books we have good reason to exclude them from the canon of Scripture. This is common among some Protestants. But this logic would demand that we also exclude from the canon Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, Nahum, Joshua, Obadiah, and Zephaniah, since the New Testament doesn’t quote any of these. I don’t think your Protestant friend wants to make his biblical canon any smaller!”

Love,
Matthew

God & earthquakes


-by Br Michael Solomon, OP

“The call to follow Jesus throughout the Gospels always involves Jesus calling an individual out of his or her old life and into a new life. This new life involves being a disciple of Christ, which means being with him and following the master wherever he goes. After Jesus ascends into heaven, the question is, how does someone follow if Jesus is not physically present?

This question is answered throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the other epistles. The Holy Spirit, the fruit of the love of the Father and the Son, is the one who makes Christ present to all people. In Acts 16:25-40, the Philippian jailer has been tasked with keeping Paul and Silas imprisoned, because they are dangerous men and should not be allowed to talk to the people; however, an earthquake hits, and it is so violent that it breaks the chains of Paul and Silas and flings the doors of the prison wide open. The jailer thinks that he has failed in his task and that he must now do the honorable thing and kill himself rather than face humiliation. To the shock of the jailer, Paul calls out saying that they have not left the prison.

This is the moment of theophany, that is, the moment that God makes known His presence. We know this because the jailer, prior to the earthquake, is unmoved or at best indifferent to St. Paul and his God. Post earthquake, we find the jailer trembling with fear, not at the earthquake, but at Paul and Silas who still remain in the jail cell. The jailer’s next move is even more striking because he asks an unexpected question. “What must I do to be saved?” He asks this not from fear of his superiors, but from a special grace.

How do we explain such a striking change? Simply put, it is the Holy Spirit who moves the jailer’s heart and later allows him to respond with faith in Jesus, which is what Paul says he must to do be saved. The earthquake itself, in one sense, is a symbol portraying the power of the Holy Spirit that breaks into the jailer’s life and shatters his unbelief. In another sense, the earthquake indicates God’s divine providence working through natural events in order to keep the mission of Paul and Silas going, and to transform the heart of the jailer and all of his household.

In the end, we can say that the power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in the earthquake; God’s power is at once terrifying and glorious. While we may not always have an earthquake-like experience of God in our own lives, the Holy Spirit still works great things in the deep recesses of our souls. Our response, like that of the jailer, ought to be not only fear and trembling, but also docility and obedience to God’s divine providence in our lives. To follow Jesus then, means to respond to the movements of the Holy Spirit and to have faith in the knowledge that Jesus is imminently near and present at every moment. The grace of this knowledge shatters our unbelief and calls us out of our old life.”

Love,
Matthew