The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Thu, 07 Dec 2017 18:27:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What the Immaculate Conception Has to Do with Advent Thu, 07 Dec 2017 17:10:46 +0000 My “nesting instinct” has kicked in full force, and the house and my calendar are bristling with preparations for Christmas.  In the middle of it all, the Immaculate Conception reminds me that all the cleaning and baking and buying should reflect something even bigger going on inside me: preparations for Christ’s coming to my heart.


When we meet Mary on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, she is already immaculate, already crowned in glory. We take her purity for granted:  she’s the Mother of God, after all!  But think for a minute about what it took for the holy God to make his home in, and take the flesh of, a human being:

Our first parents walked with God in the Garden of Eden, but the Fall ended that easy communion. Fiery swords blocked their way to the Tree of Life and from then on, no person could approach God without preparing.

“Take off your shoes,” God told Moses from inside the burning bush.

“Do not let the … people … come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them,”(Exodus 19:24) the Lord commanded from Mt. Sinai.  His glory there “was like a devouring fire in the sight of the people.” (Exodus 24:2,17)

Anything tainted by sin burns away in the presence of the all-holy God.  Perhaps that is one reason the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence rested, was overlaid in gold and the mercy seat and cherubim overshadowing it were beaten from pure gold. Gold passes through fire and is purified, not burned.

Not surprisingly, then, when it came time for God to take on flesh, he prepared a holy vessel. Like the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses, Mary held God within her and was not consumed. (For this reason, artists for centuries have depicted Mary, holding Jesus, cradled by holy flames). It was not Mary’s innate holiness that allowed her to do this.  It was holiness imputed to her by prevenient grace. Applying the merits of Christ’s death to her ahead of time, God saw to it that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin.  She was indeed “full of grace” —from the start, she had what it took to stand in God’s presence.

If Mary had to be prepared to receive the Christ-child in her womb, how much more should we prepare to receive him in our hearts?

We heard from Isaiah and John the Baptist:  “Prepare the way of the Lord!” and  “Repent!”  Mary shows us that in spite of our frailty, we too can receive God. Let us make fitting preparation for his coming to us.

This article was first published on The Great Adventure Blog December 2015.

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Morning the Victor Thu, 07 Dec 2017 16:50:24 +0000
Lately I’ve been befriending the morning,
For more than a sunrise and a few quiet moments;
First light tells me an unfinished story
Of man and nature’s atonement.
The muses wait in the morning mist
Extracting the best flavors from our earthy past,
Giving to all the light of truth:
A day in its youth.

But now each day is darker than the last,
So darker is the brew in my frosting glass,
And frost isn’t welcome on my humble shoes,
As was the florescent autumn dew.
What isn’t shrouded by the early dark
Is covered by the leafy shards
Of the mirroring summer morning trees
That revealed who we are.

Am I intoxicated or is it really this way?
It seems I’m losing daylight every day.
Now, sweet dawn, to taste your elixir
I wait for you and cherish you more,
Contemplating how light is the victor
In the beginning and has the last word.
As the winds of autumn change everything,
There’s a promise shining through every beam.

It’s only for a while, this seasonal blight.
And I laugh all the more since the darker the night
The more vulnerable it is to the break of Light.

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Second Sunday of Advent Wed, 06 Dec 2017 16:54:50 +0000
In this week’s Encountering the Word video for the Second Sunday of Advent, Jeff Cavins encourages us to prepare for the coming of Christ by remembering our baptism and going to confession.

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14
Alleluia: Luke 3:4, 6
Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

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Spiritual Envy—the Worst Kind Wed, 06 Dec 2017 16:02:47 +0000 Advent is a time to reconnect with our Lord, a time to prepare for his coming on Christmas morning, as well as a time to return to an awareness of his perpetual presence among us. 

It is also a time of gratitude: we give gifts this time of year as a sign of our gratitude for the greatest gift ever given—the gift of God himself, of God becoming man in Jesus Christ.

But nothing snuffs out the spirit of gratitude like the diabolical spirit of envy.

We see this in the biblical narrative found in Numbers 11, where the spirit of God resting upon Moses is given to seventy elders (Numbers 11:16-30). Upon receiving the spirit, these seventy elders prophesy. And it turns out that two others who were not with the group, Eldad and Medad, also began to prophesy (11:26). Initially, this unnerves Joshua who is worried about these two prophesying on their own; in fact, he turns to Moses and says: “My lord Moses, forbid them” (11:28).

Moses responds: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (11:29)

The word translated here as “jealous” comes from the Hebrew root qana and can mean something like “zealous.” In fact, this is the root behind the description of the Apostle “Simon the Cananaean” (Mark 3:18), a description which suggests that he was a former zealot or revolutionary.

Distinguishing Envy and Jealousy

While we often use the two interchangeably, there is a traditional difference between envy and jealousy. Jealousy occurs when we desire the good of another. At this point, it can be neutral—it all depends upon what we do with it. For example, if I am jealous of a friend who is receiving significantly more playing time than I am on a basketball team, I could just sulk; or I could ask myself if I am giving the same effort as he or she is, during the season or even in the off-season. My jealousy here could lead me to better imitate the good habits and hard work of my friend, in hopes of attaining the same good for myself. Here, jealousy (as the desiring of the good of another) may lead to self-improvement in imitation of my friend.

Envy, on the other hand, is always evil and has a diabolical strain to it. As St. Thomas Aquinas defines it, envy is sorrow at the good of another (or rejoicing at the misfortune of another). Here, the emphasis is not just on desiring the good of another, but the resentment that another has it. To use the basketball analogy above, envy would lead me to rejoice if my friend got injured. In other words, envy is captured in the attitude that says, “If I can’t have it, I don’t want anyone else to have it either.”

In the biblical account above, Joshua doesn’t just express a desire for himself to prophesy; rather, he displays resentment that others have received such spiritual gifts.

Envy is toxic to our joy, for it is inherently tied to sadness—sadness at the good of another. And it undermines our friendships, since envy prevents me from rejoicing over the good of another. Two friends infected by envy cannot become one heart and one mind, because the good of one necessarily results in the sadness of the other.

How Do We Overcome Envy?

Gratitude. If we recognize the gifts we have been given and develop a disposition of gratitude, we’ll be less prone to resenting the gifts of others. This plays out perhaps the strongest and most viciously not with material goods such as cars, clothes, and the like, but in the spiritual realm. Spiritual envy tends to be the worst kind—where we resent the spiritual gifts and charisms of another. We are in effect saddened by the way God has blessed someone else, perhaps as a youth minister, speaker, Bible study leader, or evangelist. We sense that their growth, development, and success somehow takes away from us. And as we’ve seen, envy always plays a zero-sum game; if one is up, the other is down. Such a state of affairs is poison to the communal health of any apostolate, organization, or parish.

As with other vices, the best way to overcome envy is to practice the opposite virtue. If we seek to admire and praise the good in other people, especially the people of whom we’re most prone to be envious, we’ll slowly feel the grip of envy loosen from our hearts; even better, if we can find a way to make our admiration known in some kind of a public setting. In other words, praising the very person we perceive as threatening in front of others dramatically undermines the gravitational pull of envy.

Humility is also instrumental in overcoming envy, especially the way C.S. Lewis captures it, saying, “A really humble man … will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”  Humility helps us forget ourselves and throw ourselves into the good. Whereas envy, on the other hand, tends to make us self-preoccupied, as we perceive the success of another as somehow damaging to us.

Why Is It Satanic?

Traditionally, the fall of Satan and the angels who followed him has been understood in connection with the Incarnation. By nature, the angels are far superior to us; but by virtue of the Incarnation, we have been raised to the very Trinitarian heart of God, and angels now find their role in serving this awe-inspiring divine plan. Satan resented this plan, repulsed by the fact that such lowly creatures as ourselves would be elevated to such a sublime height. Not just jealous of the good God had destined for us, Satan in his envy set out to keep us from this good in any possible way.

Satan hates us because he first hates Christ, and he always sees us in connection with him in light of the Incarnation.

As we’ve seen, envy is a deadly sin that kills the life of the soul, eroding our joy and destroying our communion with one another. This is the devil’s tact to destroy us eternally and bring us to despair in the meantime.

How can we rediscover a spirit of gratitude and true humility this Advent, in hopes of overcoming the deadly and diabolical pull of envy?

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash.

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The Scandalous Beauty of God Becoming Man Tue, 05 Dec 2017 15:23:50 +0000

Most people would answer the question of “Why did Jesus come into the world?” with an answer like “To save us from our sin” or “To die on the Cross for us.” While these statements are clearly true (we needed saving from our selfish selves and he did die for our sins on the Cross), let’s ponder if they actually cover the whole truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s plan for man and woman that culminated in Jesus Christ. Because at first listen, it sounds like the whole God becoming man event was primarily a big clean up operation. As if Jesus was Mr. Fix It and came just to tidy up after we made scribbled over God’s beautiful Edenic blueprints for the world. Let’s first look at Sacred Scripture: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race … And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us … (John 1:1-4, 14)
OK, so no mention of sin there. Pretty amazing stuff. Sounds like the identity and mission of Jesus go way back. Eons back in fact! Well before Genesis 3 and the original sin of Adam and Eve. Hmmm. Now let’s go to St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible … all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15-18)
Clearly St. Paul starts off in a similar vein, affirming the feeling that this whole Jesus coming into the world moment was not a kind of Plan B, or an afterthought, but a primordial thought; a plan devised in the Heart of God before the first drop of rain and the first ray of sunlight pierced the clouds over Eden. St. Paul does eventually get to the issue of our sin however:
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross [through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven. And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him. (Colossians 1:19-22)

“To reconcile all things … ” Now let’s unpack that word. To “reconcile” means to restore or reunite relations, meaning that there was apparently already a relationship of intimacy planned in the first place! And clearly Jesus was present there, “before all things,” including our sin, “and in him all things hold together.”

In Ephesians, St. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6).

Are we seeing a theme here? “In love he destined us for adoption … ” Where’s the sin, the “woe is me,” the darkness? Apparently this God of Love was already and eternally madly in love with us enough to want to plan ahead, pierce the veil, come and love us regardless of our future rejections, denials, and disobedient hearts! Some speculate that this might have been one of the reasons for Lucifer’s rejection of God; he foresaw that God would become flesh, lowering himself for the love he bore his creatures, and Satan thought himself above all of that.

I don’t know about you but this is giving me chills. I always thought it was because of our sins that he came. That feels a bit audacious now, as if we are the ones who are writing this great symphony of human history and God has to “adapt” his instruments to our sour notes! But is it really our screwing things up that brought him down? I don’t think so. It appears first and foremost that it was his mad love that moved him to dwell among us.
Eros is part of God’s very Heart: the Almighty awaits the ‘yes’ of his creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride.… On the Cross, God’s eros for us is made manifest. Eros is indeed … that force which ‘does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved.’ Is there more ‘mad eros’ … than that which led the Son of God to make himself one with us even to the point of suffering as his own the consequences of our offenses? (Benedict XVI, Lenten Message 2007).

The Passion of the Christ was, it would seem, not merely a plan to “save us from our sins” as it was a way, because of our sin, to show us to what incredible depths this crazy love would go. “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

What a change this could bring about in us personally, this coming to realize that God may have come to us in Jesus even had we never sinned, simply because he loves us and desires union with us! We might finally come to realize how his love takes our eyes off of our own shame and into his Beauty; away from our ceaseless navel-gazing at our sins and into the gaze of his everlasting love! For in the end, in his deepest identity, God is Love, and so we in our deepest core, are loved. That’s a scandalous beauty. The scandalous beauty that led our God to become man!

Flickr image by Waiting for the Word

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