The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Sat, 04 Jul 2015 04:59:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Two Nations Under God Sat, 04 Jul 2015 04:59:10 +0000 The Psalmist writes, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!” (Ps. 137:5 [RSV]). In these times, we as Americans can gain perspective from the lessons of the history of the Children of Israel.


For seventy years, the house of Judah languished in exile before returning to the ruins of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. The holy men of that time looked back over salvation history to discern what went wrong. After the exile, sacred writers compiled the history so the people would never again forget where they had come from. They organized the history ever mindful of the sins of the nation and God’s judgment over them. 2nd Kings 23:32 seems to instantiate a pattern of the history of the rulers of Judah and of Israel: “He did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, just as his ancestors had done.”

The fortunes of nations, and even of God’s chosen people, rise and fall, but God is always enthroned above. Thus the compiler of Book IV of the Psalms, which is replete with psalms about exile, placed the only psalm attributed to Moses at its fore: “Lord, you have been our refuge through all generations. Before the mountains were born, the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God” (Ps. 90:1-2 [NABRE]).

God had formed the Hebrew people into a nation through Moses. The purpose for their freedom as a nation was to worship the Lord and serve Him. We read in Exodus that this is what Moses was to declare to Pharaoh: “Let my people go to serve me” (Ex. 9:1 [NABRE]). But what did the people do with their freedom in the desert? They grumbled against the Lord and worshiped the Golden Calf. They wanted a god like the gods of all the other nations – visible and controllable.

From the time of their entry into the Promised Land, God gave His people judges who had a close relationship with Him to rule over them. But eventually the people insisted on a new form of government – one like all the other nations. According to the Navarre Bible commentary, “the real danger is that the people, by choosing a king and swearing allegiance to him, will be excluding God from the picture… the main danger posed by having a monarchy will be a tendency to solve military, political and social problems without reference to God or even in contravention of his Law” (Joshua-Kings, 236-237).

The American Connection

George Washington praying

George Washington saw the American fight for independence in light of what God had done for the Children of Israel. He writes in a prayer, “May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in a promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of the people whose God is Jehovah” (emphasis mine, quoted in The Spiritual Journey of George Washington by Janice T. Connell, p. 101-102). For Washington, Americans were a people of God and were guided by providence. Thus the freedoms of conscience and of the practice of religion – not merely of worship – were among the highest responsibilities of government (Tweet this).

The separation of church and state ensured by the Constitution for the protection of religion has been used increasingly in recent years to mean that there is “a wall between one’s faith and one’s political decisions,” as Cardinal Timothy Dolan puts it. He quipped on Face the Nation that the notion “that faith has no place in the public square… is a misinterpretation… [with] what the American genius is all about” (4/8/12). He further remarked that America is at its best when citizens’ actions are inspired by their faith and its moral teachings.

If we forget who were are as a nation and abandon our roots, we lose this American genius. As Christians with the realization of this loss of national consciousness, we feel like exiles in our own land. But what we can never lose is the sovereignty of God.

In what ways can we remind people of the religious roots of the U.S. and America’s ties with the God of Israel? Please share your thoughts below.

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The Love and Doubt of Thomas Fri, 03 Jul 2015 04:01:37 +0000 Jesus was not just a teacher to the Apostles. He was not just a really cool guy. He was more. Jesus is God and God is love. Imagine spending three years in the presence of Love incarnate. There was an intimacy in the relationship that the Apostles had with Jesus. There must have been many conversations about ordinary life. Love lived with the Apostles. That is why, in John 11, when Jesus declares His intent to return to Judah to visit Martha, Mary and restore Lazarus, the Apostles all oppose Him. They know that there are people in Judah who would like to stone Jesus to death. To go to Judah would mean to go to a likely death. After all arguments fail, Thomas, who was called the twin, speaks up, “Let us go die with Him.”


Do you see how much Thomas loved Jesus? If Jesus was going to die, then Thomas wanted to die with Him! That was Thomas’ heart and it was his resolve. It is perhaps Thomas’ finest moment in the Gospels.

We know that Jesus is later brutally murdered. I do not think we can fully grasp the impact that would have had on Thomas and the other Apostles. We know the whole story. We know that He rose from the dead, but they did not know that was coming. The Apostles lived through the horror of Jesus’ passion and death with no knowledge of what God had in store. For a moment consider the brutality and finality of Jesus’ cross. Thomas, as we saw in Chapter 11, put all his hope in Jesus. He knew Jesus was the Messiah. He, like the rest of the Apostles, gave up everything to follow, and then Jesus died in such a terrible and unimaginable way. In that moment, I do wonder if perhaps Thomas wished that he could have lived up to his words in Chapter 11, and died with Jesus.

In John 20:24-29, we find Thomas completely crushed with a heart totally broken. When he returns to his brother Apostles and they are so full of joy, claiming that Jesus is alive, I imagine that Thomas was taken back. He knew that Jesus had died. Hope literally died. How can you believe when hope is dead? To accept the words of his brothers meant to risk losing the Lord all over again. Thomas could not do that, and so in John 20:25 he utters the words we most closely associate with him, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thomas was hurt, and he was not willing to risk being hurt again. His heart had become hardened against the possibility of further injury.

Am I a Doubting Thomas?

The truth is that too often many of us act exactly like Thomas. We say we are willing to die with Christ. We want to believe. We want to live in the abundance of the resurrection, but due to our past wounds, we are unable to be vulnerable. We are unable to put our faith totally in the Lord. Instead of diving headfirst into God’s waiting embrace, we walk tentatively, looking for the other shoe to drop, waiting for it all to fall apart. Hurt by people or past circumstances, our hearts have become hardened and we are unwilling to risk the possibility of being hurt by God. The cruel reality is that the fear of being hurt leaves us hurting. The fear that the cure won’t work, stops us from being healed.

Thomas’ story tells us that God is not willing to leave us in our fear and pain (Tweet this). Eight days later the risen Lord steps into his reality. It was not instant. It must have seemed an eternity to Thomas, but perhaps it was the time he needed for his heart to soften. The same is true for our story. God does not want us to remain in our fear forever. He wants to come into our life and offer Himself to us, but He will come when we are ready. Through the sacraments, we too are invited to physically come into the presence of the Lord. We pray that God will soften our defenses so that He can reveal Himself to us and come more fully into our lives.

Thomas spent three years growing in love for Jesus, who is Love. How much more can we grow close to Jesus through our whole lives and the grace of the Sacraments?

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Comfortably Uncomfortable: The Challenge of Evangelization Mon, 29 Jun 2015 04:46:36 +0000 I’ve often wondered if St. Paul would have been happier just opening a Bed-n-Breakfast outside of Jerusalem. Picture it, Paul could have just received visitors into the warmth and safety of his own home, encouraging wayward souls and sharing his experiences of Christ and His unyielding love… but he didn’t.

Why not?

I mean, it would have yielded fruit, to be sure, for every pilgrim who visited Paul’s Damascus Dream Resort & Spa. It would have grown the Church… far slower, but still. It would have been a safe, tidy, noble and, possibly even, profitable venture for an out-of-work rabbi looking to make ends meet.

So, why not?

Why didn’t Paul opt for the safer and easier way? Probably because safe and easy just aren’t the gospel. Had he done so, one wonders if we’d refer to him as “St.” Paul at all! Would we still celebrate him on two separate feast days? Would his legacy still be commemorated at St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome’s basilica that bears far more than his name, but also his passion-filled legacy?

And what of St. Peter? Do you ever wonder if our first Pontiff ever just thought, “I’d rather (still) be fishing” during one of his stints in prison or while presiding over any early councils or summits? What propelled him forward to make political waves in Rome when he may have wanted, quite simply, just to return to the waves of Galilee? Why would he put up with the headaches and the stress and the danger day in day out? Why didn’t St. Peter just hand back “the keys” a few years after Pentecost?

Sts Peter and Paul

Simply put, what was Sts. Peter’s and Paul’s secret, anyway?

Did they have more access to God’s grace than we do? Assuredly not. St. Peter may have been at the Last Supper, but we enjoy the same Eucharistic “access.” As we see in 1 Corinthians 11:20-29, too, St. Paul partook in the same Eucharistic sacrifice that we enjoy at every Mass.

Did he just have greater humility? Possibly. Many of us can only aspire to the type of humility shown by these great evangelists (see 1 Peter 5:6, 1 Corinthians 15:9). That being said, these two theological giants didn’t necessarily “start out” all that humble. Both Simon and Saul (Peter and Paul) were, like us, works in progress.

Were Sts. Peter and Paul just fearless? While they did find a way to survive multiple incarcerations (see Acts 5, 12 and 16) and brushes with death preceding their own martyrdoms (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-29), their “luck” was actually God’s grace and it’s not that they were fearless. They just refused to let fear direct their mission.

Peter and Paul weren’t lacking in Eucharistic grace, nor humility, nor courage… and neither are we. But, this still doesn’t fully answer what kept them moving forward when others quit. What kept them proclaiming the truth of Christ and the greatness of God even in the face of personal suffering and persecution?

I think their “secret” was relationship. It was St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s relationship with Jesus Christ – living and active – that left them unable to sit still, unable to keep quiet (Tweet this). It was their daily prayer and intimacy with Jesus that fueled the passion to evangelize the world.

Is that the case with you and I?

We have the God of the universe available upon our altars, residing in our chapels and dwelling in our hearts. Do our neighbors know it? No, not just the Catholic ones… I’m talking about the fallen-away Catholics, the agnostics, the self-proclaimed atheists, and every denomination, religion, and belief system that falls in between. Do those you share your life with know the source of your life, despite persecution?

Yes, St. Francis “preached the gospel and used words when necessary” but few of us – if any – are currently as holy as St. Francis. My point is not that we need to beat people over the head with the gospel, far from it. Many souls need time for their hearts to be opened. That being said, at times, I’ve also used that quote from St. Francis to let myself off the hook because I was fearful to really share the gospel or was afraid of how an interaction or conversation might go. The point is, we need to use words most of the time! Yes, the gospel is shared in silent witness but the Church was built on the vocal witness of His followers.

We can never forget that fear is not the gospel… it’s the anti-gospel. What does our Lord constantly remind us? “Do not fear!” (Mt 28:10; Mk 4:40, Lk 5:10, Jn 6:20)

We are not sharing a “system of beliefs,” a doctrine or a philosophy, we are sharing truth and beauty and mercy. We are not introducing bodies to a Creator, but souls to their Savior. We are a Church made not of bricks, but of sinners seeking salvation.

As Pope Francis reminded us, we are part “of a love story.”

Those souls who “take issue with religion” are often shocked to find out that the very etymology of the word “religion” stems from the word “relationship;” it was by way of our religion that our relationship with God – and one another – found its proper and glorious context.

So I ask you the same question I ask myself: How far am I willing to go for others’ salvation and true joy?

If you want something you’ve never had, are you willing to do something you’ve never done? If not, are you truly open to the Holy Spirit or are you telling the Lord when and how and where His Holy Spirit is allowed to move?

Our Savior, Jesus, the God of the Universe, bid us to be “fishers of men” not keepers of the aquarium!

If you and I want to live as Christians we better soon embrace this universal, gospel truth: get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Sharing Christ is the only true gift we can give another. Everything else fades, breaks, dies, or distracts. God alone remains. Point others to Him with every breath He grants you, and your life will echo on long after you’re home in heaven.

You may also like…

Four Sides of the Same Coin: When the Gospels Disagree
Acts 2: Rush of a Might Wind
Paul’s Hymn of Glory


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Laudato Si, Creation & Humanism Fri, 26 Jun 2015 04:19:25 +0000 The heart of Pope Francis’ new encyclical derives from the Christian perspective of creation—that the world stems from the hand of an all-powerful Creator and is endowed with His wisdom, and is wrought forth by His infinite love. In this blog post, we will unpack the implications of this vision for how we understand the nature and purpose of knowledge, how we relate to the objective order of things, and Pope Francis’ steadfast call to conversion.

Laudato Si

While the so-called new atheists love to tout the achievements of science as banishing the need for God, the Christian tradition — especially most recently, Emeritus Pope Benedict (see the Regensburg address) — have strongly suggested otherwise. The reason is simple: science, for example, physics and chemistry, is always an unpacking of an order already latent within creation (Tweet this); that is, the scientist does not invent, but discovers the order he or she is studying (see physicist Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, 76-92).

Indeed, the scientific revolution got off the ground by operating on this very premise: given the belief in an all-wise Creator, searching for rational laws of nature makes a great deal of sense (see especially here physicist and theologian Stanley Jaki, Savior of Science and James Hannam, God’s Philosophers). In fact, it was this very perspective that converted Anthony Flew, who was arguably the most renowned atheist of the second half of the twentieth century. Flew writes:

If you accept the fact that there are laws, then something must impose that regularity on the universe …. Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision I personally find compelling and irrefutable (Flew, There is a God, 110, 112).

God is the cause of the very existence and most fundamental order of the universe; the conclusions of science, therefore, do not compete with belief in a Creator but rather manifest His very wisdom embodied in creation.

This perspective further indicates that creation reveals an objective order of things—manifesting the wisdom of God—an order which is not put there by us; an order of truth, therefore, to which we must conform, not pretend to reshape and refashion in accordance with our passing desires. And the current ecological crisis, according to Pope Francis, stems from the loss of this very perspective: “Both [the damage done to the natural and social environment] are due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives … [that] human freedom is limitless” (no., 6).

The view that man is absolutely autonomous—that his freedom is “limitless”—gains traction only on the assumption that all truth is relative, that there is no objective order of things. But as St. John Paul II often pointed out: freedom must be subordinated to truth. True freedom is the ability to pursue the good, and it stems from and flows out of the truth of human nature and the objective fulfillment and perfection therein (for more on this and the above points, see my book, John Paul II to Aristotle and Back Again).

Power Knowledge and Contemplative Knowledge

Cardinal Schönborn and others have pointed to a shifting conception regarding the purpose of knowledge with Rene Descartes (1596-1650); for Descartes, the goal was quite simply “mastery over nature” (cf. Discourse on Method, Part Six)—the value of knowledge lay in its utility, making expediency  the only norm (see Cardinal Schönborn, Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith, 155).

Of course, we are all thankful for modern medicine, transportation, and the like; but there is something lost if the only goal of knowledge is not first just to know, but technology. The classical tradition of liberal arts going back to Aristotle and Plato saw the goal of knowledge as contemplation, as beholding the true and the real and the beauty therein; this knowledge answered to the human vocation as such and was therefore of intrinsic worth. Paradoxically, on the other hand, knowledge that is only ordered to utility is in a sense of a lesser value, since it is sought not as an end itself but only as a means to some other end.

Contemplative knowledge, it is true, won’t necessarily build sturdier bridges; but it will prevent the current neglect and indifference toward the deeper meaning of life and the true calling of the human person; it will orient man to the transcendent and not just the earthly; and it will value those disciplines that have a distinctly human flavor (e.g., philosophy, theology, literature, poetry, history, music, art, theoretical physics)—in other words, has anyone ever read the history of canine philosophy or seen rabbits discuss the difference between simile and metaphor?

Thus, the liberal arts tradition makes us “bigger” on the inside, as Peter Kreeft once said. We certainly need both, technological know-how and contemplation; but if we forego the latter, we run the risk of losing the fullness of our humanity by subordinating knowledge to the satisfaction of our desires—often, desires of comfort and entertainment, to the neglect of those most important matters and relationships right in front of us.

Recognizing an Objective Order of Things

If the world is the gift of a Loving Creator, how can we not be concerned with its care? If we believe in a Creator, we are not owners but stewards of all that is in our possession. Indeed, the theist has more—not less—reason to be concerned with the environment, endangered species, and the like.

The danger with the above-mentioned shift toward “power knowledge” is that the natural world can easily be conceived as a blank slate for man to modify at will; again, if utility and expedience are the only norm, then anything goes, so long as it satisfies the desires of those in power. But if we adopt the creation-based perspective of Pope Francis—whereby creation embodies the wisdom and glory of the Creator — then we will seek to use creation in accordance with its intrinsic purpose. In this light, Francis writes: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves” (no., 6; see nos., 68-9, 75-6, 85, 132).

The Holy Father is quite balanced in making clear the unique and infinite dignity of the human being, on the one hand, and man’s call to care for the gift of creation, on the other (see nos., 90, 131). Indeed, it doesn’t make any sense to discuss man’s responsibility toward creation unless we first comprehend man’s utter uniqueness (cf. nos., 118, 220); after all, we don’t blame squirrels for not taking better care of the environment. All of creation is ordered to man as the pinnacle of creation, as the one made in God’s own image and willed for His own sake (cf. no., 65, 90); yet man is called in a special way to cooperate in God’s providence. After all, we are the only creature that can act either in accordance with the good of our nature, or contrary to it; all other creatures manifest God’s providence simply by their natures and God-given instincts; the uniqueness of man’s nature is that we are aware of the divinely-established order of things and can choose whether or not to participate in God’s providence over creation, both for ourselves and for others (cf. ST I-IIae q. 91, a. 2).

Indeed, Francis speaks frequently in this document of an “integral ecology” (see no. 15), by which he means the contextualization of environmental concerns in light of the infinite and inherent dignity of all human life at every stage. And so he states: “[C]oncern for the protection of nature is … incompatible with the justification of abortion” (no., 120). Francis similarly writes: “There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development” (no., 136).

In other words, the dignity of the human person follows on simply being human, not on the degree of development (e.g., embryo, fetus, three-month-old, ninety-three-year-old), or skin color, or economic productivity; the inherent dignity of every human life is the only real basis for human rights—otherwise, it always comes down to an arbitrary decision given by those in power, as to who is and is not “human.” Martin Luther King, Jr. made this point well in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, quoting in support the likes of Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Amos, and St. Paul. In this same vein, the pope rejects “population control” as a way of protecting the environment, as if man’s very presence were somehow the enemy (see nos., 50, 60).

Our discussion is predicated upon the fact that there is an objective order of things, put there by God Almighty; if we look at a building, we see the embodiment of what first existed in the mind of the architect. So, too, when we look at creation, we see the embodiment of divine wisdom, establishing the authentic order of things. When we come to know things, we recognize this order which was first known by God (see no., 80). While we have been speaking about creation at large, this too is the basis for the natural moral law—namely, that there is a reality to human nature, which makes certain actions consonant with the objective good of human nature and others contrary to its objective perfection.

Accordingly, Francis references the God-given meaning of our bodies and sexuality. Indeed, much like John Paul II’s use of the phrase the “language of the body,” Francis points to an objective meaning and purpose written into our bodies—a purpose that is not simply a blank slate for us to manipulate at will and use freely in accordance with our desires.  Rather, as we pointed out earlier, freedom must be subordinated to the truth of things. Francis ties all of these issues together—concern for the environment and the ultimate basis for understanding our sexuality—as follows:

The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking we enjoy absolute power over our bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it’ (no., 155; I treat these issues further in my aforementioned work, John Paul II to Aristotle and Back Again).

“Throwaway Culture” and the Call to Conversion

While Francis sees the value and dignity in work and even of wealth creation which helps to lift people out of poverty (cf. nos., 124-6), he is callings us to rethink some of the assumptions of our present structure. He states in his characteristic diction, “We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature” (no., 44). He expresses concern for the apotheosis of the market, which caters to human wants—not necessarily needs. The Church has never thought of the market as inherently evil of itself, but faithful Catholics have always steered the course between communism (which elevates the state as the supreme entity) and unbridled capitalism (which makes the individual absolutely supreme). For Catholics, the family is the fundamental unit of society. And the market has no inherent orientation always and everywhere to the good of the family. Francis’ concern is simply this: moral principle—not solely profit—must be the ultimate norm and guide, even when it comes to the economy (cf. nos., 56, 190, 195).

For Francis, the economy is ultimately ordered to the human good, which will in turn include the ecological good (cf. no., 195). Man is not just a body and a ball of emotional desires; but very often touching man at this superficial level is the goal of mass marketing, which in turn often leads to overconsumption—and thence, to more and more waste.  The Holy Father points out that those most adversely affected are often the poor, especially in terms of the erosion of their culture, natural resources, and quality of life (see nos., 25, 27-30, 93, 144-6).

Part of the Catholic tradition of fasting is precisely this: that by going with less, we can give to those who have not. For Francis, the “throw away culture” is self-centered and individualistic—it is a culture which destroys both the social and natural environment; that is, it is corrosive not just to a particular forest or climate, but the fabric and ecosystem of the family as well, as the Holy Father states so forcefully here:

The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labor on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativisitic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same ‘use and throw away’ logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary (no., 123; see no., 162).

Detaching (from things) and Attaching (to people)

While it’s not hard to see the positive effects of the digital age (e.g., staying in touch with family and the like), we also see the deterioration of interpersonal relationships with those closest to us; many of us have lots of “friends,” but suffer from a loneliness stemming from a lack of sincere connection with those nearest to us (see no., 47). Francis points out how the Christian tradition has always seen that “less is more,” how a life of simplicity is liberating; conversely (and paradoxically), the more attached we are to material goods, the more we “succumb to the sadness for what we lack” (no., 222).

Francis calls us to a “healthy humility” and a “happy sobriety” (no., 224), by which he means a moderating of our consumer attitude for material goods; and humility—rather than being marked by thinking less of ourselves—is really thinking less about ourselves. That is, humility enables us to turn outward in love of the other, whereas a consumer-type attitude is preoccupied with one’s own self-interest. But if we orient ourselves outward to God and neighbor, we will find our lives enriched and more fulfilling; and this outward focus will likewise foster greater concern and care for all of God’s creation, including the environment.

Appealing to God’s own inner Trinitarian life—as an Eternal Communion of Persons—and since man is made in this Trinitarian image, Francis points to human fulfillment through the sincere gift of self,  in love to the other: “The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures” (no., 240).

As St. John Paul II so ardently taught, only love can conquer a culture of death marked by a utilitarian logic. Francis proposes a “culture of care” (no., 231), predicated upon a self-forgetfulness and inter-personal communion. Pope Francis’ vision is a true Christian humanism—a humanism which embraces Christ as the center of all things (cf. nos., 77, 100, 235) and which seeks to foster man’s cooperative embrace of his God-given calling, a calling which includes being a good steward over God’s wondrous gift of creation.  And this calling flows from man’s absolute uniqueness and inherent dignity.

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John the Baptist’s Nativity and God’s Will Wed, 24 Jun 2015 04:34:11 +0000 Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a righteous and holy man. The Gospel of Matthew makes that clear. As an observant Jew of his day, he would have had large swaths of the Scripture committed to memory. As a priest he would have known the law intimately. All of that is true, and yet, he was still not prepared when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

Nativity of St. John the Baptist 2

The angel announced to Zechariah that his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son, and that this son would be the herald of the coming messiah, a prophet who would go out in “the spirit and power of Elijah.” These are weighty words. Incredible words actually. It is a gigantic moment. Zechariah, rather than rejoicing at the scope of what God has planned, gets caught up in the details. “How can it be? I am old. My wife is old.”

Zechariah had probably prayed for the coming messiah for years. He had studied the law, and the prophets. He knew the story of Abraham and Sarah. He should have known that God can do anything, even give children to the barren. All of that knowledge was in Zechariah’s head. Unfortunately, when confronted with God’s plan, in that moment, he looked at his own part and in that brief moment he must have thought the plan was dependent on him.

Too often we fall into the same trap. We feel the tug of God’s will in our lives. Instead of rejoicing that God would call us into his plans, we begin to rationalize. Even something so simple as sharing the truth of our Catholic faith with a family member can seem impossible. Zechariah’s story reminds us that God’s plans are not dependent on us (Tweet this).

Gabriel, upon hearing Zechariah’s objection, replies “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you.” We know from the book of Daniel that Gabriel is a messenger of God’s will. When he announces himself this way the implication is clear. This is not the word of some guy that Zechariah is questioning. It is God’s word, sent through an angel, by God’s commission. Zechariah should have know better.

Do We Doubt Like Zechariah?

That should convict our hearts. How often have we argued in our hearts, minds, and sometimes with our mouths, the Church’s teachings on contraception, or on stewardship, or about going to Mass, or whatever your personal thing is. Just as Zechariah should have known better, we should too. It was foolish for him to argue with God’s chosen messenger. Likewise, it is foolish for those of us who are united in Christ to argue with the Church on matters of faith and morals.

Zechariah’s encounter with Gabriel ends interestingly. The angel declares that Zechariah will be unable to speak until the child, John the Baptist, is born. It is fitting. Rather than blurt out why God could not accomplish His will, Zechariah probably should have taken a moment to contemplate what God was saying through the angel. Had he done that he would have given himself time to remember God’s faithfulness. He would have benefitted from the formation he had been given in the Law and the Prophets. Instead of telling God why He could not accomplish His will, Zechariah might have remembered that God can always accomplish His will.

There is another lesson for us here. When we react to God’s will or Church teaching, from the “realistic” position of our culture we are acting in just the same way Zechariah did. Rather than having an angel impose silence on us, perhaps we should imitate the blessed Mother, who when confronted with a mystery of Her son’s incarnation, “pondered it in her heart.” God is constantly speaking into our lives through His Holy Spirit. He does this through what we call public revelation, the teaching of the Church, and private revelation, our personal prayer life.

When we are confronted with a teaching we do not like, or when in prayer we feel God challenging us to deeper conversion on something, we need to learn from Zechariah’s encounter and remember, God can accomplish His will through any means he chooses. We need to quiet our hearts, and ask God to help us more fully enter into His reality (Tweet this).

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