The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:56:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Inspiring Moments from My Poland Pilgrimage Thu, 22 Jun 2017 04:21:32 +0000 Editor’s Note: Blog contributor Dr. Andrew Swafford recently took a pilgrimage to Poland, where he visited several historic and religious sites revered by Catholics around the world. Here is an account of his experience:

Poland was amazing—it truly surpassed expectations! We had a wonderful group of twenty-three, a combination of young adults, as well as some with a little more life experience. We saw the usual must-see sights in Poland, such as Czestohowa, the famous salt mines which go 1,000 feet below the surface of the earth and which boast beautiful chapels—all carved out of salt, as well as the mountains in Zakopane where Wojtyla frequently took college students hiking.

But in some ways, the heart of the trip was re-living the stories of Sts. John Paul II, Maximillian Kolbe, and Faustina Kowalska. Below are some pictures with explanations of what these sights meant to us, as pilgrims, not just tourists—especially as they pertain to our entering into the great work God wrought in and through these great saints.

Poland, picture 1

In the picture above, on the left is John Paul II’s home parish in Wadowice (pronounced “vadovitseh”); on the right is a building which is now a museum dedicated to John Paul II’s life, but which is built from the apartment in which the young Wojtyla grew up. You’ll notice how close it is to the Church—literally across the street! And from the kitchen window, the young Wojtyla could see this sun dial (pictured below) which reads in Polish: “Time flies [or is running out], eternity awaits.” This gives some sense of the ambience of faith that surrounded the young Wojtyla from childhood on.

Poland, picture 2

The next picture below is of John Paul II relics housed in his home parish in Wadowice. When I first prayed here, I lost it—I just had a rush of emotion, as I said to myself: “I owe virtually everything to this man.” So many of us who had conversions in college and encountered the Lord in a real and personal way have been powerfully impacted by John Paul II—both by his person and his teaching, whether at World Youth Days or his teaching on human sexuality.

Poland, picture 3
The young Wojtyla lost his mother about a month before he turned nine years old. Shortly thereafter his devout father took him to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (pictured below) which is about ten miles from his home; it includes a stretch of some three or four miles of chapels marking the Way of the Cross and also the path of Mary. The message of the elder Wojtyla to his son was clear: our suffering has meaning as we enter into the Passion of Our Lord and you will always have a mother in Mary. This was a powerful moment in the life of the young Wojtyla.

Poland, picture 4

The next picture below depicts the cell in which St. Faustina died in 1938. I find the geographical and temporal proximity of these saints astounding: this convent is literally a few hundred yards from the chemical factory where the young Wojtyla worked in Krakow during the Nazi occupation; in fact, he used to stop by and pray at this very convent after his work shift—little did he know of course what had been going on behind these walls only a few years prior. Wojtyla would spearhead her canonization cause as Archbishop of Krakow—and when he canonized her in the year 2000, he referred to it as one of the happiest days of his life.

Poland, picture 5

There is a John Paul II museum right near St. Faustina’s convent; and therein is the cassock he was wearing as pope when he was shot on May 13, 1981 (pictured below)—the same day on which the Fatima apparitions began in 1917. As John Paul II famously stated, “One hand fired, another guided the bullet”—since the professional assassin was at point blank range.

Poland, picture 6

The picture below is of St. Stanislaus Kostka, the home parish of Wojtyla and his father when they moved to Krakow in 1938, as Wojtyla began attending the Jagiellonian University. Depicted is Jan Tyranowski, the mystic-tailor who was so instrumental in mentoring the young Wojtyla, introducing him to John of the Cross (the subject of Wojtyla’s first dissertation) and the one who led the Living Rosary groups—groups of young men, of which there were sixty by 1943, ten of whom eventually became priests (including Wojtyla). I’m fascinated by the people behind the scenes that were key to the shaping of St. John Paul II. Tyranowski is now a Servant of God and his remains are encased below his picture.

Poland, picture 7
At this same parish (St. Stanislaus Kostka) are also depicted the Salesians who ran this parish, until many of them were arrested by the Nazis in May of 1941, later to be martyred in concentration camps (in fact, it was this raid that led to the parish relying on lay leadership, especially for youth outreach—into which stepped Jan Tyranowski). Depicted below is Blessed Jozef Kowalski who was arrested during this raid and later died in a concentration camp in 1942: the Nazis demanded that he grind rosary beads with his foot; when he refused, they drowned him in a barrel of feces. He was thirty-one years old when he died. These were the men forming the college-aged Wojtyla in Krakow and who also formed Jan Tyranowski, who became so instrumental in Wojtyla’s life. Wojtyla was one of the greatest saints and human beings ever to grace the planet, but his sword was sharpened by lesser known heroic role models that paved the way.

Poland, picture 8
The next picture below is taken from Auschwitz; it is the back of the cell in which St. Maximillian Kolbe died in 1941. A prisoner had escaped and as punishment ten other prisoners were chosen at random to starve to death. Francis Gajowniczek was one of these chosen ten; but when he pleaded with the officers, saying, “My family—my wife, my children,” Kolbe stepped forward and asked to die in his place. Other prisoners who survived noted how astonishing this was: a prisoner stepped out of line for no reason—let alone to address a German officer unprovoked. The second picture below is a plaque marking approximately at the spot where Kolbe stepped out of line and asked to take Gajowniczek’s place. Gajowniczek spent the rest of his life telling the story of Kolbe’s great sacrifice and lived to attend Kolbe’s canonization. One thing many witnesses note is that Kolbe’s greatness lay not just in his martyrdom, but also in his serene, calm, and brave ministering to the prisoners around him up until his death—singing hymns and leading the Rosary to the very end.

Poland, picture 9
Poland, picture 10
The next picture below is a plaque in St. Anne’s, a collegiate Church right near the university—where Wojtyla as a young priest ministered to college students. The plaque contains the remains of Jerzy Cielieski—one of Wojtyla’s closest friends among these early college students he ministered to beginning in the early 1950s. In fact, Cielieski is the one who taught Wojtyla how to kayak. Cielieski was an engineer who died tragically in a boating accident in the Nile in 1970; Wojtyla was heartbroken. Cielieski was known as an outgoing leader and very committed to the Lord. He, too, is now a Servant of God. Once again the ripple effect of holiness is astounding—so many who formed him (e.g., Jan Tyranowski or Jozef Kowalski), or those whom he formed (e.g., Cielieski) are either Servant of God or beatified!
Poland, picture 11

The next picture below is inside the glorious St. Mary’s, right in the Krakow square. Inside is a confessional where Wojtyla heard confessions daily from 1951 to 1958.
Poland, picture 12
Below is one of my favorite pictures: it depicts Wojtyla as a young priest. It is inside St. Florian’s, another Church near the university. Wojtyla was stationed here in 1949—and in a real sense, here began the makings of a priesthood and pontificate that would transform the second half of the twentieth century. Here, began srodwisko (pronounced “shrodovisko”)—which translates as “environment” or “milieu.” It was the milieu created by the young Wojtyla with these college students—giving them an outlet of truth and authentic fellowship, amidst the dreary propaganda of atheistic communism. This outreach—which took Wojtyla trekking through mountains and rivers with college students (which led to innumerable Catholic marriages along the way!)—was the beginning of St. John Paul II’s signature outreach to young people and even World Youth Day.
Poland, picture 14
Wojtyla learned early that the youth really don’t want a watered-down gospel; and in fact when we water it down, we actually rob them of their chance to be morally heroic. May the spirit and prayers of Wojtyla be with us!

And may the victory of truth and love, which pierced through Nazism and eventually overcame Communism, be an inspiration and a lesson for us today—as we, like the Poles, seek to preserve and pass on an authentic Catholic culture, full of vitality and joy.

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]]> 1 Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Tue, 20 Jun 2017 17:12:52 +0000

In this week’s Encountering the Word video, Jeff Cavins discusses lessons we can learn from the readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, including why we should not fear spreading the gospel in even the darkest of places. The readings are:

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:10-13
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
Second Reading: Romans 5:12-15
Alleluia: John 15:26B, 27A
Gospel: Matthew 10:26-33

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A Catholic Response to the Extraterrestrial Question Wed, 14 Jun 2017 20:55:46 +0000 What do we do with the possibility of extraterrestrial life—if E.T. really does come? How would this square with our doctrines of original sin and redemption? Here are a few thoughts about how one might consider this issue as a Catholic.


First, I would say there’s a bit of “necessity” in thinking on this topic out there. In other words, the assumption is often something like: “Well, the cosmos is so vast that all possibilities must eventually be realized; and life arising by chance is a possibility; therefore, there must be life out there somewhere.”

While the Church does not have a problem with evolution per se (I would recommend here Cardinal Christoph Schonborn’s Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith), this does seem to be a bit of an a priori leap. In other words, I can certainly think of a reason why the cosmos is so vast, apart from the question of extraterrestrial life—it teaches us something about the infinite vastness of its Creator.

But that aside, we too should not be dogmatic on this issue.

So what if—in God’s providence—there really is extraterrestrial life out there? How might we consider this in light of our faith? Would it be a body blow for Christianity? I think not for the following reasons.

In Whom and For Whom?

Perhaps the place to start is the cosmic significance of Jesus Christ as taught, for example, in Colossians 1:16-17: “For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Notice, Jesus is the one in whom and for whom all things are created, and in whom they continue to exist—and this pertains to the entire cosmos.

Further, the Incarnation has effected a change in human nature as such. That is, the Incarnation brings about a relation between the eternal Son and every single human being. As John Paul II once put it, “God has embraced all men by the Cross and Resurrection of His Son” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 74). And Gaudium et Spes is even stronger: “For by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man” (for more on this my book Nature and Grace, pages 186-94). While this does not mean redemption is automatic—as if de facto salvation is universally guaranteed—it does entail that the Incarnation touches every single human being.

What Is a Rational Animal?

What are “aliens,” philosophically speaking? And what is the essence of a human being—and how might the two relate?

Aristotle long ago captured the essence of man: human beings are rational animals. “Animal” here in the language of logic is the “genus”—that is, the larger category; and “rational” is the “specific difference”—that which specifies or distinguishes man from other creatures within the same larger category (i.e., within the same genus).

Notice that the definition does not pertain to appearances. This is relevant for both extraterrestrial life and the question of “cavemen” (and even the egregious error of racism). We often adopt a materialistic view of man’s origins—as if we’re simply apes with a few more neurons firing. But the fact is reason—as Aristotle understood it—is an all-or-nothing phenomenon. On the one hand, there is a great deal of similarity between us and the higher mammals; nonetheless, we’re interested in studying their genetic code, not the other way around. Despite all the material overlap, there is formally a great difference—a difference in kind, not just degree.

What this means is regardless of appearance—whether they have one eye or three, whether they are green or purple—if they have bodies and are rational, “aliens” would likewise be rational animals and would have the same essential nature as us.

How would we know if they are rational in this philosophical sense? Well, a place to start would be whether or not we see a sign that says “Do not kill.” Do they have a moral awareness? Do they make laws? Do they bury the dead? Do they have religious traditions? Do they have language—not just communication? Animals certainly communicate, but they don’t use similes and metaphors—they don’t communicate with grammar and syntax. Think about all the different ways we can use a preposition—e.g., the dog is in the yard (spatial); the idea is in my mind (non-spatial); all the colors are in white light; the meaning of a word is in the configuration of the letters; the meaning of love lies in self-gift; or human nature exists in individual humans.

For by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. (Pope John Paul II, Gaudium et Spes, 22)

Higher animals might identify objects with verbal sounds, but they don’t use language the way we do—and the reason is the great difference of our rational soul. Consider, lastly, the fact that we use language to refer to objects that are not immediately perceptible, or may not even be perceptible in principle: can we see the concept “the day after tomorrow”? Or a “black hole,” a “quark” or other sub-atomic particles? Or “angels,” or “God”—all of which we can discuss but are not perceptible in principle? We won’t find higher animals discoursing about such things and this shows again the clear difference of man—the difference of a rational soul.

So, if aliens performed any of these activities (and had bodies), we would have grounds to say they are rational animals; that is, they are embodied persons as we are.

And if the Incarnation effects a relationship between the eternal Son and all human beings, then perhaps we can say the Incarnation would effect a relation with aliens as well. It’s fair to say when the eternal Son became man, there came about a new relation between the eternal Son and all embodied persons—all rational animals.

Aliens, then, would stand in the same relation to Jesus Christ as human beings on Earth who have never heard of Jesus (those who have not been baptized). As the Church has always taught, such persons can be saved, but they would be saved in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ, whether or not they’re aware of this. If they are saved, they are saved through their reception of the baptismal grace, but in a non-ordinary way and not through the ordinary waters of baptism (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 1257-1260).

And maybe, one day we would send great missionaries to these outer reaches of the cosmos, just as so many Jesuits for example spanned the globe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

What about the Fall?

First, in Catholic tradition, the pre-fallen state is a state of grace, not one of mere nature. Man’s original rectitude—his original justice and holiness—is due to grace, not mere nature. That is, his immortality and alignment of intellect, will, and passions are all the fruit of grace. Following from this, the state of original sin is the privation (the lack) of this primordial grace.

In the Church’s language, there really was a Fall (see CCC 390), but clearly the narrative is told in a figurative (even mythic) manner. Adam is both an individual and a representative (see Genesis 5:2 where the Hebrew word “adam” refers to “mankind”). The status of this first Adam is not something that can be scientifically proven or disproven; it is a question beyond the veil of any present inquiry we could perform from our side of things.

The key question, especially as it pertains to our issue, is how the state of original sin is transmitted. Traditionally, we’ve generally thought of this as occurring through the physical propagation of the human race, from parents to offspring.

However, I would say it is essential to the Faith that original sin is passed on to us from our first parents—that we need redemption; but exactly how this transmission takes place is not something I would take to be dogmatically defined.

For our reflections, what if the transmission of original sin is formal, as opposed to material?

In other words, what if we take the Incarnation as our model—which effects a change in the relation between God and our formal human nature as such? Might the same be said with regard to the Fall?

This would be to say, then, that Adam’s fall—since he was representative of mankind—effected a change in man’s nature as such, formally, regardless of direct physical lineage.

And if we recognize, philosophically, that aliens would be rational animals, then we can say both that (1) Adam’s fall implicated them (and thus they would inherit its consequences); and (2) the Incarnation would likewise bring them into a new relation with God, over against the one established merely by creation.

God is the Source of All Truth

At the end of the day, God is the author of the orders of nature and grace, of creation and redemption. Whatever scientific truth is uncovered is simply an analysis of the “book of nature,” of which God is the author. There can be no authentic contradiction between the orders of faith and reason—because, again, God is the source of both. But of course there can be an apparent contradiction, and these inevitably stem from either a misinterpretation of the actual scientific facts, or a misunderstanding of what is essential to the Faith. But we need not be afraid—and we should unabashedly study and revere the two “books” God has given us—the “book of nature” and the Bible and let the truth of each illumine the other.

No matter how this question comes down, this truth proclaimed by John Paul II will remain the same: “Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and of history” (Redeemer of Man, no. 1). The climactic struggle between good and evil—the climactic revelation of the love of God in and through Jesus Christ—took place on this Earth, making it the center of all things. This would remain no matter how vast the cosmos is and no matter how many other civilizations of “aliens” there might be.

How can we better come to grips with the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his cosmic significance?

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Corpus Christi Wed, 14 Jun 2017 20:44:44 +0000

In this week’s Encountering the Word video, Jeff Cavins reflects on the readings for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi):

First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14B-16A
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Alleluia: John 6:51
Gospel: John 6:51-58

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The Jeff Cavins Show



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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Wed, 07 Jun 2017 18:49:40 +0000

In this week’s Encountering the Word video, Jeff Cavins reflects on the readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity:

First Reading: Exodus 34:4B-6, 8-9
Responsorial Psalm: Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Alleluia: Revelation 1:8
Gospel: John 3:16-18

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The Jeff Cavins Show


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