Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sunday Knox: Acts 1:12-14

"Then, from the mountain which is called Olivet, they went back to Jerusalem; the distance from Jerusalem is not great, a sabbath day’s journey. Coming in, they went up into the upper room where they dwelt, Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the brother of James. All these, with one mind, gave themselves up to prayer, together with Mary the mother of Jesus, and the rest of the women and his brethren."

"After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.  When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review of Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God's Holy Ones + Contest

The Review:
In his newest popular book, Dr. Scott Hahn, in his typically humorous and personal tone, looks at the importance and everyday relevance of the angels and saints for the ordinary Catholic.  The book has a pretty basic structure, with the first part focusing on the Church's theological understanding of the role and canonization of the saints, with special emphasis on the scriptural foundations.  In the second half of the book Hahn, in the form of a meditation, looks at the lives of particular saints.  One element of this section that I appreciated the most is that at the end of each chapter, Hahn lets the saint (or another saint speaking about that particular saint) speak for him or her self.

My favorite chapter is the fourth one, which Hahn calls What Do the Saints Do? He reminds us that the saints are an active element of our lives.  They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, who truly desire that we attain eternal life with them.  So, how do they help us?  Dr. Hahn points to the Book of Revelation which "shows us the saints in heaven, they're engaged constantly in worship.....note that they are pleading with God for those who remain on earth (59-60)."  And guess what?  Not surprisingly, God answers the prayers of His saints in pretty dramatic fashion: "In response to the prayers of the saints, God calls upon the heavenly priests to blow their seven trumpets, evoking the Old Testament Battle of Jericho (61)."  That right there reminds us that God mightily responds to those prayers.  The whole chapter should give us great encouragement when we say I (or we) "believe in the Communion of the Saints."

St. Paul:
As part of this blog tour, I have been asked to comment on chapter nine, which focuses on St. Paul.  I was very delighted to get to write a bit on St. Paul.  When I ask people what their favorite part of scripture, I often hear one of three things: 1) The Psalms; 2) The Gospel of John; 3) Paul.  Notice I didn't say which letter of Paul, but simply Paul.  I have found that Paul has touched so many people who are daily Bible readers, Catholic or Protestant, that often they are unable to pick which of his letters they like best.  It would be like selecting your favorite child.  I have often felt the same way.  Those thirteen letters of St. Paul provide us a rich insight into understanding the Church, how to live as Christians, the role of Grace and Faith, and, put simply, Jesus Christ himself.  As Hahn says: "When we read them, we sometimes feel as if we're being propelled forward by a hurricane, a tidal wave, or some other force of nature.  But it's even stronger than that, because it's a force of Grace (104)."  And as Hahn points out, when we read those letters, or hear them in the liturgy, we are exposing ourselves to that same powerful force (105).

As I was reading this chapter, I couldn't help but think of the Pauline year that our Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI called for all the Church to observe in 2008.  Of all the special jubilee or thematic years that recent Popes have called, I must say that the Year of St. Paul was the one I most participated in.  I spent the year reading, and re-reading, Paul, led a few Bible studies on his letters, and made sure to meditate on many of the rich passages that have come down to us from him.   I really felt like I had been wrapped up in that "hurricane of Grace" that Hahn describes in this chapter.  The word that was continually impressed upon me was passion.  Paul, perhaps more than anyone else, knew that his whole life had been forever transformed by his encounter with Jesus Christ.  He, then, dedicated the rest of his life to proclaiming, with passion, that "Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father (Phil 2:11)."  He did this, however, over a period of thirty long years.  We are so blessed to have St. Paul's words at our fingertips, as well as having documents that give biographical information about his life.  Yet, sometimes it is easy to forget that while he had many moments of not only trial and triumph as he went on mission, but also plenty of ordinary moments that made up his daily life.  I often want to be zealous like St. Paul, but Angels and Saints, and the Year of Paul in 2008, has helped remind me that the Christian journey is long.  The Lord often gives us this "ordinary" time to remember that we are totally dependent on him.  We need this time to grow in patience and trust in the Lord.  Often, I need to have a better understanding of this in my life far more than I typically do.  St. Paul, in all that he did, allowed God, in those extraordinary but more often in the ordinary moments, to build him up and remind him on whom he was totally dependent.

Our friends at Image Books are happy to offer you, my faithful readers, an opportunity to win a free copy of this new book by Dr. Scott Hahn.  I will follow the standard contest procedures, as with typical contest on this blog which are:

1) If you have a website or blog or are active on Facebook, please announce this contest.   If you don't, that is OK.  You can still enter the contest. 

2) Please enter your name in the comment section of this blog post along with your favorite verse from one of St. Paul's letters.  I will randomly draw one winner at the conclusion of the contest, which will be on Sunday June 1 at 11:59PM.   

3) I will announce the winners on June 2nd.  The winners must contact me, via email, within a week with their full name and address.  I will then forward their name to Image who will send out the book soon after.

4) One entry per person.

5) Contest is only available to those who live in the United States.

Angels and Saints Blog Tour
May 27: St. Michael and the Angels - Catholic Katie 
May 28: Moses - Abigail’s Alcove
May 29: St. Paul - Catholic Bibles
May 30: St. Ignatius of Antioch - The Orant
May 31: St. Irenaeus of Lyons - Seasons of Grace
June 1: St. Jerome - Stuart’s Study
June 2: St. Monica and St. Augustine - Happy Catholic 
June 3: St. Thomas Aquinas - Blog of the Courtier
June 4: St. Therese of Lisieux - Single Catholic Girl
June 5: St. Maximilian Kolbe - Random Acts of Momness
June 6: St. Josemaria Escriva - Catholic Mom 
June 7: Queen of All Saints, Mother of the Church - This Cross I Embrace 

Thank you to Katie at Image Books for providing me a review copy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Benedict on Wednesday: Preface to Jesus of Nazareth I

In the time of my youth—during the 1930’s and ‘40’s—there was published a series of exhilarating books about Jesus. I recall the names of just a few authors: Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Franz Michel Willam, Giovanni Papini, Jean-Daniel Rops. In all these books, the image of Jesus Christ was outlined beginning with the Gospels: how He lived upon the earth and how, although He was truly man, He at the same time brought God to men, being one with God as Son of God. Thus, through the man Jesus, God became visible, and beginning with God one could see the image of the just man. 

Beginning in the 1950’s, the situation changed. The rift between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” became wider and wider; the one pulled away from the other before one’s very eyes. But what meaning can there be in faith in Jesus Christ, in Jesus the Son the of living God, if the man Jesus is so different from how the evangelists present Him, and from how the Church proclaims Him on the basis of the Gospels? 

Progress in historical-critical research led to increasingly subtle distinctions among the different levels of tradition. Behind these layers, the figure of Jesus, upon whom faith rests, became increasingly more uncertain, and took on increasingly less definite outlines. 

At the same time, the reconstructions of this Jesus, who had to be sought behind the traditions of the Evangelists and their sources, became increasingly contradictory: from the revolutionary enemy of the Romans who opposed the established power and naturally failed, to the meek moralist who permitted everything and inexplicably ended up causing his own ruin. 

Those who read a certain number of these reconstructions one after another will immediately notice that these are much more the snapshots of the authors and their ideals than they are the unveiling of an icon that has become confused. In the meantime, distrust has grown toward these images of Jesus, and in any case the figure of Jesus has withdrawn from us even more. 

All of these attempts have, in any case, left behind themselves as their common denominator the impression that we know very little for sure about Jesus, and that it was only later that faith in His divinity shaped His image. This impression, in the meantime, has deeply penetrated the general consciousness of Christianity. 

Such a situation is dramatic for the faith because it renders uncertain its authentic point of reference: intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, threatens to become a groping around in the void. 

I felt the need to provide the readers with these indications of method because these determine the route of my interpretation of the figure of Jesus in the New Testament. 

For my presentation of Jesus, this means above all that I trust the Gospels. Naturally, I take for granted what the Council and modern exegesis say about the literary genres, about the intention of various expressions, about the communitarian context of the Gospels and the fact that they speak within this living context. While accepting all this as much as possible, I wanted to make an effort to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the real Jesus, as the “historical Jesus” in the real sense of the expression. 

I am convinced—and I hope that I can also make the reader aware of this—that this figure is much more logical, and from the historical point of view also more understandable, than the reconstructions we have had to confront in recent decades. 

I maintain that this very Jesus—the Jesus of the Gospels—is an historically sensible and convincing figure. His crucifixion and the impact that he had can only be explained if something extraordinary happened, if the figure and the words of Jesus radically exceeded the hopes and expectations of his time. 

Around twenty years after the death of Jesus, we find already in the great hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-8) the full expression of a Christology, in which it is said of Jesus that He was equal to God but stripped Himself, became man, and humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross, and that to Him is due the homage of creation, the adoration that in the prophet Isaiah (45:23) God proclaimed as due to Himself alone. 

Critical research quite rightly poses this question: what happened in those twenty years after the crucifixion of Jesus? How did this Christology develop? 

The action of anonymous communitarian formations, whose representatives are being sought out, in reality doesn’t explain anything. How could unknown groups be so creative, how could they be convincing and impose themselves? Isn’t it more logical, even from the historical point of view, to suppose that the great impulse came at the beginning, and that the figure of Jesus burst beyond all of the available categories, and could thus be understood only by beginning from the mystery of God? 

Naturally, to believe that even as a man He was God, and made this known by concealing it within parables while nevertheless making it increasingly clear, goes beyond the possibilities of the historical method. On the contrary, if one begins from this conviction of faith and reads the texts with the historical method and with its openness to what is greater, the texts open up to reveal a way and a figure that are worthy of faith. 

What then becomes clear is the multilevel struggle present in the writings of the New Testament over the figure of Jesus, and despite all the differences, the profound agreement of these writings. 

It is clear that with this view of the figure of Jesus I go beyond what Schnackenburg, for example, says in representation of a good portion of contemporary exegesis. 

I hope, however, that the reader understands that this book was not written against modern exegesis, but with great recognition of all this has given and continues to give to us. It has made us familiar with a great quantity of sources and conceptions through which the figure of Jesus can become present to us with a liveliness and depth that we couldn’t even imagine just a few decades ago. 

I have sought only to go beyond mere historical-critical interpretation, applying the new methodological criteria that allow us to make a properly theological interpretation of the Bible that naturally requires faith, without thereby wanting or being able in any way to renounce historical seriousness. 

Of course, it goes without saying that this book is absolutely not a magisterial act, but is only the expression of my personal search for the “face of the Lord” (Psalm 27:8). So everyone is free to disagree with me. I ask only that my readers begin with that attitude of good will without which there is no understanding. 

As I said at the beginning of the preface, my interior journey toward this book was a long one. 

I was able to begin working on it during summer vacation in 2003. In August of 2004, I gave definitive form to chapters 1 through 4. After my election to the episcopal see of Rome, I used all of my free moments to carry the project forward. 

Because I do not know how much more time and strength will be granted to me, I have now decided to publish the first ten chapters as the first part of the book, going from the baptism in the Jordan to the confession of Peter and the Transfiguration. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sunday Knox: 1 Peter 3:15-18

"Enthrone Christ as Lord in your hearts. If anyone asks you to give an account of the hope which you cherish, be ready at all times to answer for it, but courteously and with due reverence. What matters is that you should have a clear conscience; so the defamers of your holy life in Christ will be disappointed in their calumny. It may be God’s will that we should suffer for doing right; better that, than for doing wrong. It was thus that Christ died as a ransom, paid once for all, on behalf of our sins, he the innocent for us the guilty, so as to present us in God’s sight. In his mortal nature he was done to death, but endowed with fresh life in his spirit."

"Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.  For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Benedict on Wednesday: Pope Benedict on Dei Verbum (40th Anniversary)


Castel Gandolfo
Friday, 16 September 2005

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer my most cordial greeting to all of you who are taking part in the Congress on Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church, an event organized by the Catholic Biblical Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Dei Verbumthe Dogmatic Constitution on Divine RevelationI congratulate you on this initiative, connected with one of the most important Documents of the Second Vatican Council.
I greet the Cardinals and Bishops, who are the first witnesses of the Word of God, the theologians who investigate, explain and translate it into today's language, the Pastors who seek in it appropriate solutions for the problems of our time.

I warmly thank all who work in the service of the translation and circulation of the Bible, providing the means for explaining, teaching and interpreting its message. In this regard, my special thanks go to the Catholic Biblical Federation for its activity, the biblical ministry it promotes and its faithful support of the directives of the Magisterium as well as to its spirit of openness to ecumenical collaboration in the biblical context.
I express my deepest joy at the presence at this Congress of "Fraternal Delegates" of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of East and West, and I greet with cordial respect the representatives who have spoken on behalf of the great world Religions.

The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, whose drafting I personally witnessed as a young theologian, taking part in the lively discussions that went with it, begins with a deeply meaningful sentence: "Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidenter proclamans, Sacrosancta Synodus..."["Hearing the Word of God with reverence, and proclaiming it with faith, the Sacred Synod..."] (n. 1).  With these words the Council points out a descriptive aspect of the Church:  she is a community that listens to and proclaims the Word of God.

The Church does not live on herself but on the Gospel, and in the Gospel always and ever anew finds the directions for her journey. This is a point that every Christian must understand and apply to himself or herself:  only those who first listen to the Word can become preachers of it.
Indeed, they must not teach their own wisdom but the wisdom of God, which often appears to be foolishness in the eyes of the world (cf. I Cor 1: 23).

The Church knows well that Christ lives in the Sacred Scriptures. For this very reason - as the Constitution stresses - she has always venerated the divine Scriptures in the same way as she venerates the Body of the Lord (cf. Dei Verbumn. 21).  In view of this, St Jerome, cited by the conciliar Document, said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ (cf. Dei Verbumn. 25).

The Church and the Word of God are inseparably linked. The Church lives on the Word of God and the Word of God echoes through the Church, in her teaching and throughout her life (cf. Dei Verbumn. 8). The Apostle Peter, therefore, reminds us that no prophecy contained in Scripture can be subjected to a personal interpretation. "Prophecy has never been put forward by man's willing it. It is rather that men impelled by the Holy Spirit have spoken under God's influence" (II Pt 1: 20).

We are grateful to God that in recent times, and thanks to the impact made by the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbumthe fundamental importance of the Word of God has been deeply re-evaluated. From this has derived a renewal of the Church's life, especially in her preaching, catechesis, theology and spirituality, and even in the ecumenical process. The Church must be constantly renewed and rejuvenated and the Word of God, which never ages and is never depleted, is a privileged means to achieve this goal. Indeed, it is the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, which always guides us to the whole truth (cf. Jn 16: 13).
In this context, I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina:  the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. Dei Verbumn. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church - I am convinced of it - a new spiritual springtime.

As a strong point of biblical ministry, Lectio divina should therefore be increasingly encouraged, also through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times. It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (cf. Ps 119[118]: 105).
In invoking God's Blessing upon your work, your projects and the Congress in which you are taking part, I join in the hope that enlivens you: May the Word of the Lord make progress (cf. II Thes 3: 1) to the very ends of the earth, so that through the proclamation of salvation the whole world through hearing it may believe, through belief it may hope, and through hope it may come to love (cf. Dei Verbumn. 1). I thank you with all my heart!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Vatican II: The Essential Texts

We are in the midst of commemorating the fifty years since the work of the Second Vatican Council.  There are a number of books that have been, and will be, published during this time which look back at the Council.  It goes withouth saying that Vatican II has had an impact on all Catholics.  For this blog, certainly the importance of Dei Verbum looms large.  I hope to spend some time blogging about it as we get closer to the its 50th anniversary in 2015.  

One can, of course, find a whole assortment of books which analyze Vatican II.  Just do a search on Amazon and you will find dozens of books in English, representing vastly different perspectives.  Those of us of the post-Vatican II Church are fully aware of the interpretations and conflicts that are out there concerning the Council.  One of my great hopes with Pope Francis is that he can begin to bring some healing as the Church moves forward.  I think the dual canonizations of JXXIII and JPII was a very good idea in this regard.

One of the key terms for Vatican II was ressourcement, which meant a going back to the earlier sources.  In that spirit, I feel it is critical that those of us who are serious about the Church and her mission need to go back to the sources of the Second Vatican Council.  And how do we do that?  Well, we need to actually take the time to read the documents themselves, not only alone but also in study groups.  That is why I am excited to get a copy of Little Rock's Dei Verbum study, which comes out in June.  However, if you want to get a collection, in English, of the Council documents there are honestly not a lot of really good options.  The standard text that most of us are familiar with is the two volume work by Austin Flannery.  The problem is that it is massive and the production quality of the books are not very good.  The paper is cheap and the cover will not stand up to much use.  There is also the out of print edition by Abbotts and Gallagher, which is wonderfully compact, but again suffers from some of the same quality issues as the previous edition.  There was also a large volume published by Pauline which contains the sixteen documents, but it too is out of print.  So what do you do if you want a fairly nice looking, and feeling, collection of the documents of Vatican II which you can actually take around with you to read and pray over?  (And yes, I understand that you can print them off for free from the Vatican website.)

I would recommend Image's Vatican II: The Essential Texts edited by Norman Tanner, SJ.  This "essential" collection of Vatican II is a pleasure to read from and portable enough to tuck into your bag without taking up too much space.  This volume contains the Four Constitutions (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium, and Gaudium et Spes) along with the Declarations on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae) and on the Church's Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate).  Each of the documents come with a brief historical introduction by Edward Hahnenberg, which help to place their formation in their historical context.  (If anyone can recommend a fuller treatment of the history of the council, which doesn't follow the extreme positions taken by some on both sides, I'd appreciate it.)  The translation of the documents comes from a 1990 Sheed & Ward/Georgetown University Press publication, with minor edits by Norman Tanner.  The book's appendix contains all the notes that were included with the official documents, which are certainly a must for understanding the true intent of the Council Fathers.   

The very first thing you will encounter in this volume are the "introductions" from Pope Benedict XVI and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll.  Without getting into specifics, these two share differing opinions on the Council.  Pope Benedict is of the school of seeing the Council through the hermeneutic of continuity with the past, while Carroll falls more in the hermeneutic of rupture/change.  I stand with Pope Benedict on this issue, so I don't find Carroll's comments all that convincing.  (It should be noted that both "introductions" consist in previous articles/speeches done by the authors.)  I am not, in general, a fan of Carroll's writings, however, I think having his essay included, along with Benedict's, shows the spectrum of interpretation that has existed during these past fifty years.  

As with any volume that claims to be "essential," there are bound to be elements I would have liked to see included.  In particular, since this volume is directly primarily towards the lay faithful, I think they should have included the the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity.  It would have really rounded out the other six, and plus when we think about the laity's role in the New Evangelization, it would be really helpful to have this document among the others.  Also, since Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate were included, I would have really liked to have seen Unitatis Redintegratio, the decree on Ecumenism, a part of this collection.

Overall, however, if you want an attractive and portable edition of the main Vatican II documents, this is the one to go with.  I highly recommend it.    

Thank you to Katie at Image Books for providing me a review copy

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sunday Knox: Acts 6:1-7

At this time, as the number of the disciples increased, complaints were brought against those who spoke Hebrew by those who spoke Greek; their widows, they said, were neglected in the daily administration of relief. So the twelve called together the general body of the disciples, and said, It is too much that we should have to forgo preaching God’s word, and bestow our care upon tables. Come then, brethren, you must find among you seven men who are well spoken of, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, for us to put in charge of this business, while we devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of preaching.  This advice found favour with all the assembly; and they chose Stephen, a man who was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, who was a proselyte from Antioch. These they presented to the apostles, who laid their hands on them with prayer.  By now the word of God was gaining influence, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increasing; many of the priests had given their allegiance to the faith.

As the number of disciples continued to grow,
the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews
because their widows
were being neglected in the daily distribution.
So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said,
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men,
filled with the Spirit and wisdom,
whom we shall appoint to this task,
whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer
and to the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community,
so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit,
also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas,
and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
They presented these men to the apostles
who prayed and laid hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread,
and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly;
even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Benedict on Wednesday: Origen of Alexandria: The Thought (2)

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Wednesday's Catechesis was dedicated to the important figure of Origen, the second-to-third-century doctor of Alexandria. In that Catechesis, we examined the life and literary opus of the great Alexandrian teacher, identifying his threefold interpretation of the Bible as the life-giving nucleus of all his work. I set aside - to take them up today - two aspects of Origenian doctrine which I consider among the most important and timely: I intend to speak of his teachings on prayer and the Church. In fact, Origen - author of an important and ever timely treatise On Prayer - constantly interweaves his exegetical and theological writings with experiences and suggestions connected with prayer. Notwithstanding all the theological richness of his thought, his is never a purely academic approach; it is always founded on the experience of prayer, of contact with God. Indeed, to his mind, knowledge of the Scriptures requires prayer and intimacy with Christ even more than study. He was convinced that the best way to become acquainted with God is through love, and that there is no authentic scientia Christi without falling in love with him.

In his Letter to Gregory, Origen recommends: "Study first of all the lectio of the divine Scriptures. Study them, I say. For we need to study the divine writings deeply... and while you study these divine works with a believing and God-pleasing intention, knock at that which is closed in them and it shall be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, "To him the gatekeeper opens'.

"While you attend to this lectio divina, seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures. And do not be content with knocking and seeking, for what is absolutely necessary for understanding divine things is oratio, and in urging us to this the Saviour says not only "knock and it will be opened to you', and "seek and you will find', but also "ask and it will be given you'" (Ep. Gr. 4).

The "primordial role" played by Origen in the history of lectio divina instantly flashes before one's eyes. Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who learned from Origen's works to interpret the Scriptures, later introduced them into the West to hand them on to Augustine and to the monastic tradition that followed.
As we have already said, according to Origen the highest degree of knowledge of God stems from love. Therefore, this also applies for human beings: only if there is love, if hearts are opened, can one person truly know the other.  Origen based his demonstration of this on a meaning that is sometimes attributed to the Hebrew verb to know, that is, when it is used to express the human act of love: "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived" (Gn 4: 1).

This suggests that union in love procures the most authentic knowledge. Just as the man and the woman are "two in one flesh", so God and the believer become "two in one spirit".  The prayer of the Alexandrian thus attained the loftiest levels of mysticism, as is attested to by hisHomilies on the Song of Songs. A passage is presented in which Origen confessed: "I have often felt - God is my witness - that the Bridegroom came to me in the most exalted way. Then he suddenly left, and I was unable to find what I was seeking. Once again, I am taken by the desire for his coming and sometimes he returns, and when he has appeared to me, when I hold him with my hands, once again he flees from me, and when he has vanished I start again to seek him..." (Hom. in Cant. 1, 7).

I remember what my Venerable Predecessor wrote as an authentic witness in Novo Millennio Ineuntewhere he showed the faithful "how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit's touch, resting filially within the Father's heart".  "It is", John Paul II continues, "a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications.... But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by mystics as "nuptial union'" (n. 33).

Finally, we come to one of Origen's teachings on the Church, and precisely - within it - on the common priesthood of the faithful. In fact, as the Alexandrian affirms in his ninth Homily on Leviticus, "This discourse concerns us all" (Hom. in Lev. 9, 1). In the same Homily, Origen, referring to Aaron's prohibition, after the death of his two sons, from entering the Sancta sanctorum "at all times" (Lev 16: 2), thus warned the faithful: "This shows that if anyone were to enter the sanctuary at any time without being properly prepared and wearing priestly attire, without bringing the prescribed offerings and making himself favourable to God, he would die...."This discourse concerns us all. It requires us, in fact, to know how to accede to God's altar. Oh, do you not know that the priesthood has been conferred upon you too, that is, upon the entire Church of God and believing people? Listen to how Peter speaks to the faithful: "chosen race', he says, "royal, priestly, holy nation, people whom God has ransomed'.

"You therefore possess the priesthood because you are "a priestly race' and must thus offer the sacrifice to God.... But to offer it with dignity, you need garments that are pure and different from the common clothes of other men, and you need the divine fire" (ibid.).  Thus, on the one hand, "girded" and in "priestly attire" mean purity and honesty of life, and on the other, with the "lamp ever alight", that is, faith and knowledge of the Scriptures, we have the indispensable conditions for the exercise of the universal priesthood, which demands purity and an honest life, faith and knowledge of the Scriptures.  For the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, there is of course all the more reason why such conditions should be indispensable.

These conditions - a pure and virtuous life, but above all the acceptance and study of the Word - establish a true and proper "hierarchy of holiness" in the common priesthood of Christians. At the peak of this ascent of perfection, Origen places martyrdom.  Again, in his ninth Homily on Leviticus, he alludes to the "fire for the holocaust", that is, to faith and knowledge of the Scriptures which must never be extinguished on the altar of the person who exercises the priesthood.

He then adds: "But each one of us has within him" not only the fire; he "also has the holocaust and from his holocaust lights the altar so that it may burn for ever. If I renounce all my possessions, take up my cross and follow Christ, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God; and if I give up my body to be burned with love and achieve the glory of martyrdom, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God" (Hom. in Lev. 9, 9).  This tireless journey to perfection "concerns us all", in order that "the gaze of our hearts" may turn to contemplate Wisdom and Truth, which are Jesus Christ. Preaching on Jesus' discourse in Nazareth - when "the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him" (cf. Lk 4: 16-30) - Origen seems to be addressing us: "Today, too, if you so wished, in this assembly your eyes can be fixed on the Saviour.  "In fact, it is when you turn the deepest gaze of your heart to the contemplation of Wisdom, Truth and the only Son of God that your eyes will see God. Happy the assembly of which Scripture attests that the eyes of all were fixed upon him!

"How I would like this assembly here to receive a similar testimony, and the eyes of all - the non-baptized and the faithful, women, men and children - to look at Jesus, not the eyes of the body but those of the soul!...
"Impress upon us the light of your face, O Lord, to whom be the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen!" (Hom. in Lk 32: 6).

Monday, May 12, 2014

The New English Bible, Water Buffalo Calfskin Edition

By Leighton, Guest Reviewer

When I found a hardcover edition of the New English Bible with the "Apocrypha" at a used bookstore some years ago, I picked it up because it was inexpensive (I paid less than ten dollars for it) and of high quality: it boasted a pristine dust jacket (like new, though it was a 1970 edition) and sewn signature pages (for me a necessity for a Bible, no getting around it; sorry, Benedictine Press, but for all the otherwise high quality of your Bibles, you really have to get it together in that department: I want a Bible that will last longer than I will, and glued pages don't cut it).

I spent a little time in the text and really liked most of the translation, in spite of some very unusual renderings--- some bordering on weird, and a couple even jarringly laughable (take Joshua 15:18, and Judges 1:14, for example). Most of the text flows with a certain cadence that I find exquisite. Take for example this rendering of Paul: "For if we have become incorporate with him in a death like his, we shall also be one with him in a resurrection like his. We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin" (Ro. 6:5-7). It gets even better, but you can read it for yourself. 

Even some of the more unusual renderings I find wonderfully fresh and lively. For instance, Matthew 5:3: "How blest are those who know their need of God," substitutes for the more literal and traditional, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." And Matthew 5:48: "There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father's goodness knows know bounds." (Love it, but better still is the first printing of the New Jerusalem Bible, which rendered this as "you must therefore set no bounds to your love, just as your heavenly Father sets none to his.") 

What I do with really "out there" renderings in the NEB, such as the above mentioned Joshua 5:18, that seem to obscure the meaning or even make one blush, is pencil in corrections or alternate translations from the RSV or NABRE to the side of the text (for example: in Psalm 22 I penciled in the NABRE's "pierced" for the NEB's "hacked" the persecuted's hands and feet).

I am usually more of a formal equivalence kind of guy, especially because I am not versed well in the original languages. I am a catechist by trade, not a Bible scholar. I rely on accuracy. The RSV gives me a certain confidence that I find reassuring, especially since I suffer from a certain scrupulosity that probably adds to the reason I buy a used Bible almost as often as I fill the tank of the car (as my wife points out quite frequently). On a side note, for all of you who do indeed have a spouse that likes to point out your frequent Bible purchases, take heart: once when my dear wife was teasing me in front of friends about the number of volumes in my collection, our lady friend said with a shrug, "Well, a lot of women I know would say they are grateful that their husband's addiction is the collecting of Bibles!" Zing! Kapow! 
Back to the NEB, though. 

I do Bible study with the NABRE, the RSV, the NJB (for the great notes), and the NRSV (a beautiful translation, only marred, in my layman's opinion, by the overarching use of inclusive language... but admittedly, I am a guy, so maybe I fail to understand the benefit of it... I just think it obscures too much in the text). For more devotional reading and lectio divina I usually enjoy the New Jerusalem Bible (for the text, which is much more measured than the NRSV as far as inclusive language goes), the Knox, and the British CTS version of the original Jerusalem Bible. 

But the reason, to be frank, why this beautiful hardcover copy of the NEB has been sitting on the shelf in spite of my appreciation of the text is because I am a Bible snob. I just can't seem to make a Bible that doesn't have a genuine leather cover my daily go-to Bible. I want a Bible that is well worn but beautiful (I know, it is what is between the covers that matters; alas, I am a work in progress). I take good care of my Bible. I tend to pencil notes to the side rather than mark up the actual text, because I want my eyes to be free to grab onto a certain passage or word without the distraction of highlighting during lectio divina. I don't want to miss something the Lord wants to say to me. I want a high quality, genuine leather Bible that, when it gets passed down to one of my children (I don't have to worry about not having enough personal Bibles for that, in spite of our large family size!), shows my children that Dad appreciated the Bible, that he used his Bible, that it is something to be cherished all one's life. I want them to be able to see which passages I treasured most by the little stars penciled to the side, or get a glimpse into my faith life by reading the small notes and prayers in the margins and back pages, like I can gratefully do with my late grandfather's Bible. 

So, in spite of its appeal as a translation I have consulted my NEB only occasionally, and never marked in it, because it is only a hardcover. As I said, I am a Bible snob. Thus, the NEB translation has been a neglected treasure. 

Until now! 

A few days ago I was at a popular used bookstore, one of my favorite haunts on a day off, and after finding little of interest, I "just happened" to check out the rare books selection on a whim. I do this from time to time but rarely find anything of interest that isn't extremely expensive, so tend to avoid that section. As I was about to leave, I thought, "What the heck, I will take a glance." There, at the bottom of the shelf, was a golden box with the words: "The New English Bible with the Apocrypha, Bound in Water Buffalo Calfskin, semi overlapping covers, 23 carat gold edges." I grabbed it, opened the box to find a beautifully preserved leather Bible inside, anxiously opened the soft cover to find the penciled in price, and was very excited to see it was quite inexpensive. I got it for less than the cost of a couple of pizzas for my family!

I have had it less than a week but I am very pleased with it. It was printed in 1971, and other than some yellowing of the first pages, it is in great condition. I expect this edition to become my companion Bible for morning prayer, bedtime reading, and chapel time. For catechesis I will continue to lean on the RSV, NRSV, and the NABRE, but this one is a personal treasure I hope to make good use of over the years. It has its faults (what translation doesn't?), but on the dust jacket of my hardcover edition I am reminded that no less a literary figure than Walker Percy said, "It is is a beautiful job--- first rate scholarship which does not sacrifice the language." Thomas Howard, quoted there as well, spoke highly of the NEB: "The great thing to be praised, from the layman's point of view, about this translation, is the clarity and simplicity of the prose. It is an epochal achievement." And Sheldon Vanauken wrote, "What I want in a translation of the Bible is, first of all clarity of meaning and, next, easy, graceful English. The New English Bible is the best I've found in both respects." Of course, it has also been said that the Venerable Fulton Sheen enjoyed the NEB quite a lot. If it's good enough for the likes of these greats, it's good enough for me. 

Finally, borrowing the Methodist theologian Albert Outler's review on the dust jacket, I can say, "And so, it is the one I [will] keep in easy reach."

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sunday Knox: 1 Peter 2:20-25

If you do wrong and are punished for it, your patience is nothing to boast of; it is the patience of the innocent sufferer that wins credit in God’s sight. Indeed, you are engaged to this by the call of Christ; he suffered for our sakes, and left you his own example; you were to follow in his footsteps. He did no wrong, no treachery was found on his lips;[7] he was ill spoken of, and spoke no evil in return, suffered, and did not threaten vengeance, gave himself up into the hands of injustice.[8] So, on the cross, his own body took the weight of our sins; we were to become dead to our sins, and live for holiness; it was his wounds that healed you.[9] Till then, you had been like sheep going astray; now, you have been brought back to him, your shepherd, who keeps watch over your souls.[10]

Knox Notes:
[7] Is. 53.9.
[8] ‘Of injustice’; the Greek here has, ‘of a just judge’, that is, his heavenly Father.
[9] Is. 53.4, 5.
[10] ‘Your shepherd, who keeps watch’; literally, ‘the shepherd and overseer (or bishop) of your souls’.

If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good,  this is a grace before God.  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.  For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Verbum Easter Giveaway

The fine folks at Verbum are having an Easter giveaway.  The winner will receive a brand new MacBook Air with Verbum Capstone software.  To enter, you can follow the link here.  

Verbum was created in order to empower Catholics to study Scripture and understand Church Tradition. With over 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, Verbum meets a need for Catholic digital resources that equip and connect the faithful, regardless of vocation or location. We’re passionate about fulfilling the call to a “New Evangelization” by providing the best digital resources to help Catholics better understand and communicate the Faith.
Verbum began in 2011 as the Catholic division of Logos Bible Software. Founded in 1992, Logos has grown from a couple of programmers in a basement into the largest developer of Bible study software and a worldwide leader in multilingual electronic publishing. Logos now partners with over 150 publishers to make tens of thousands of digital Bible study resources available to customers around the world. Our technology is used in more than 210 countries in a dozen languages.
Like Logos’ other brands and products, Verbum connects Christians from all walks of life. From Vyrso (a Christian ebook store and ereader app) to (a social network that connects Christians from all over the world), the Logos family seeks to grow and enhance all aspects of the Christian life.
As Verbum continues to grow, our goal is not only to create the best Catholic study tools available, but to serve the Church by making Scripture and Tradition more accessible all over the globe.
Verbum is headquartered in the friendly city of Bellingham, Washington, USA.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

American Bible Society holds Vatican conference on roots of the Bible

Benedict on Wednesday: Origen (I)

From Wednesday, 25 April 2007:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our meditations on the great figures of the early Church, today we become acquainted with one of the most remarkable. Origen of Alexandria truly was a figure crucial to the whole development of Christian thought. He gathered up the legacy of Clement of Alexandria, on whom we meditated last Wednesday, and launched it for the future in a way so innovative that he impressed an irreversible turning point on the development of Christian thought.

He was a true "maestro", and so it was that his pupils remembered him with nostalgia and emotion: he was not only a brilliant theologian but also an exemplary witness of the doctrine he passed on. Eusebius of Caesarea, his enthusiastic biographer, said "his manner of life was as his doctrine, and his doctrine as his life. Therefore, by the divine power working with him he aroused a great many to his own zeal" (cf. Church History, 6, 3, 7).

His whole life was pervaded by a ceaseless longing for martyrdom. He was 17 years old when, in the 10th year of the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, the persecution against Christians was unleashed in Alexandria. Clement, his teacher, fled the city, and Origen's father, Leonides, was thrown into prison. His son longed ardently for martyrdom but was unable to realize his desire. So he wrote to his father, urging him not to shrink from the supreme witness of faith. And when Leonides was beheaded, the young Origen felt bound to welcome the example of his father's life.

Forty years later, while preaching in Caesarea, he confessed: "It is of no use to me to have a martyr father if I do not behave well and honour the nobility of my ancestors, that is, the martyrdom of my father and the witness that made him illustrious in Christ" (Hom. Ez 4, 8). In a later homilywhen, thanks to the extreme tolerance of the Emperor, Philip the Arab, the possibility of bearing witness by shedding one's blood seemed no longer to exist—Origen exclaims: "If God were to grant me to be washed in my blood so as to receive the second Baptism after accepting death for Christ, I would depart this world with assurance.... But those who deserve such things are blessed" (Hom. Iud. 7, 12). These words reveal the full force of Origen's longing for Baptism with blood.

And finally, this irresistible yearning was granted to him, at least in part. In the year 250, during Decius' persecution, Origen was arrested and cruelly tortured. Weakened by the suffering to which he had been subjected, he died a few years later. He was not yet 70.

We have mentioned the "irreversible turning point" that Origen impressed upon the history of theology and Christian thought. But of what did this turning point, this innovation so pregnant with consequences, consist? It corresponds in substance to theology's foundation in the explanation of the Scriptures. Theology to him was essentially explaining, understanding Scripture; or we might also say that his theology was a perfect symbiosis between theology and exegesis. In fact, the proper hallmark of Origen's doctrine seems to lie precisely in the constant invitation to move from the letter to the spirit of the Scriptures, to progress in knowledge of God. Furthermore, this so-called "allegorism", as von Balthasar wrote, coincides exactly "with the development of Christian dogma, effected by the teaching of the Church Doctors", who in one way or another accepted Origen's "lessons".

Thus, Tradition and the Magisterium, the foundation and guarantee of theological research, come to take the form of "scripture in action" (cf. Origene: Il mondo, Cristo e la Chiesa, Milan, 1972, p. 43). We can therefore say that the central nucleus of Origen's immense literary opus consists in his "threefold interpretation" of the Bible.  But before describing this "interpretation" it would be right to take an overall look at the Alexandrian's literary production.

St Jerome, in his Epistle 33, lists the titles of 320 books and 310 homilies by Origen. Unfortunately, most of these works have been lost, but even the few that remain make him the most prolific author of Christianity's first three centuries. His field of interest extended from exegesis to dogma, to philosophy, apologetics, ascetical theology and mystical theology. It was a fundamental and global vision of Christian life.
The inspiring nucleus of this work, as we have said, was the "threefold interpretation" of the Scriptures that Origen developed in his lifetime. By this phrase, we wish to allude to the three most important ways in which Origen devoted himself to studying the Scriptures: they are not in sequence; on the contrary, more often than not they overlap.

First of all, he read the Bible, determined to do his utmost to ascertain the biblical text and offer the most reliable version of it. This, for example, was the first step: to know truly what is written and what a specific scriptural passage intentionally and principally meant.

He studied extensively for this purpose and drafted an edition of the Bible with six parallel columns, from left to right, with the Hebrew text in Hebrew characters - he was even in touch with rabbis to make sure he properly understood the Bible's original Hebrew text -, then the Hebrew text transliterated into Greek characters, and then four different translations in Greek that enabled him to compare the different possibilities for its translation. Hence comes the title of "Hexapla" ("six columns"), attributed to this enormous synopsis. This is the first point: to know exactly what was written, the text as such.

Secondly, Origen read the Bible systematically with his famous Commentaries. They reproduced faithfully the explanations that the teacher offered during his lessons at Alexandria and Caesarea.
Origen proceeded verse by verse with a detailed, broad and analytical approach, with philological and doctrinal notes. He worked with great precision in order to know completely what the sacred authors meant.

Lastly, even before his ordination to the priesthood, Origen was deeply dedicated to preaching the Bible and adapted himself to a varied public. In any case, the teacher can also be perceived in hisHomilies, wholly dedicated as he was to the systematic interpretation of the passage under examination, which he analyzed step by step in the sequence of the verses.

Also in his Homilies, Origen took every opportunity to recall the different dimensions of the sense of Sacred Scripture that encourage or express a process of growth in the faith: there is the "literal" sense, but this conceals depths that are not immediately apparent.

The second dimension is the "moral" sense: what we must do in living the word; and finally, the "spiritual" sense, the unity of Scripture which throughout its development speaks of Christ.

It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand the Christological content, hence, the unity in diversity of Scripture. It would be interesting to demonstrate this. I have made a humble attempt in my book, Jesus of Nazareth, to show in today's context these multiple dimensions of the Word, of Sacred Scripture, whose historical meaning must in the first place be respected.

But this sense transcends us, moving us towards God in the light of the Holy Spirit, and shows us the way, shows us how to live. Mention of it is found, for example, in the ninth Homily on Numbers, where Origen likens Scripture to [fresh] walnuts: "The doctrine of the Law and the Prophets at the school of Christ is like this", the homilist says; "the letter is bitter, like the [green-covered] skin; secondly, you will come to the shell, which is the moral doctrine; thirdly, you will discover the meaning of the mysteries, with which the souls of the saints are nourished in the present life and the future" (Hom. Num. 9, 7).

It was especially on this route that Origen succeeded in effectively promoting the "Christian interpretation" of the Old Testament, brilliantly countering the challenge of the heretics, especially the Gnostics and Marcionites, who made the two Testaments disagree to the extent that they rejected the Old Testament.  In this regard, in the same Homily on Numbers, the Alexandrian says, "I do not call the Law an "Old Testament' if I understand it in the Spirit. The Law becomes an "Old Testament' only for those who wish to understand it carnally", that is, for those who stop at the literal meaning of the text.

But "for us, who understand it and apply it in the Spirit and in the Gospel sense, the Law is ever new and the two Testaments are a new Testament for us, not because of their date in time but because of the newness of the meaning.... Instead, for the sinner and those who do not respect the covenant of love, even the Gospels age" (cf. ibid., 9, 4).

I invite you - and so I conclude - to welcome into your hearts the teaching of this great master of faith. He reminds us with deep delight that in the prayerful reading of Scripture and in consistent commitment to life, the Church is ever renewed and rejuvenated. The Word of God, which never ages and is never exhausted, is a privileged means to this end. Indeed, it is the Word of God, through the action of the Holy Spirit, which always guides us to the whole truth (cf. Benedict XVI,Address at the International Congress for the 50th Anniversary of Dei Verbum, L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 September 2005, p. 7).

And let us pray to the Lord that he will give us thinkers, theologians and exegetes who discover this multifaceted dimension, this ongoing timeliness of Sacred Scripture, its newness for today. Let us pray that the Lord will help us to read Sacred Scripture in a prayerful way, to be truly nourished with the true Bread of Life, with his Word.