The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study http://biblestudyforcatholics.com 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:44:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Meet the Messengers: Malachi http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-malachi/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-messengers-malachi http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-malachi/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:15:45 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=4813 Meet The Messengers MalachiWhen people tell me they think the Old Testament prophets are irrelevant or simply artifacts of the past, I often point to the prophet Malachi.

Consider the challenges he faced: a poorly catechized people, priest scandals, low offertories, widespread divorce, and general spiritual malaise among God’s people.

Sound at all familiar? Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

It’s hard to believe that things could look so grim during this period. After all, the people have returned to the Promised Land under the Persian decrees. The temple has been rebuilt and the city of Jerusalem fortified. Strong leaders were given to them by God, including Ezra, Nehemiah and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Their daily rhythms have returned to “normal.”

These seem like ideal conditions, and yet Malachi’s time reminds us that the spiritual life requires constant care and vigilance. St. John Paul II warned us that we can easily fall into what he called “hollow ritualism,” or simply going through the motions.

It was a danger for the Jews offering continual sacrifices in the Temple, and it can be one for us who attend Mass daily or weekly.

Then as now, we hear the heart cry of God, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7, RSV). That turning is the ongoing process of conversion.

It requires more than just outward participation. There must be an interior transformation, a conforming of our lives to Christ, a renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). Every day we must intentionally cooperate with God’s grace.

One of the helpful ways I have found to do that is to pray the simple prayer of renewal that Pope Francis gave us in Evangelii Gaudium. It is so simple, yet profound. It gathers together the great themes of Scripture, especially the message and mission of the Prophets. I’ve been praying it every day and have shared it with thousands of Catholics on a prayer card. This prayer has become part of my consciousness now and it speaks to me throughout the day to more clearly see Christ and be Christ in the world.

Let’s close this series by praying it together:

Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace (Evangelii Gaudium, No. 3).

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Meet the Messengers: Ezekiel http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-ezekiel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-messengers-ezekiel http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-ezekiel/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 04:15:50 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=4756 Meet The Messengers EzekielA Watchman for God’s People

Any student of the prophets knows that they had a tough row to hoe.

(Sorry, my Idaho farm boy language sometimes slips in.)

Their audiences often rejected them, even tried to kill them. When we reach the prophet Ezekiel, Judah has been exiled to Babylon. Our prophet was among the shamed and shaken survivors in the first wave of 597 BC. You would think that the consequences of their own covenant infidelity would have humbled the people, making them pliable to God’s call to repentance and return, but that wasn’t broadly the case (Ezekiel 2:1-7).

Listen to Ezekiel’s job description, “But the house of Israel will not listen to you; for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. 9 Like adamant harder than flint have I made your forehead; fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 3:7-9).

This is probably where the phrase “hard head” comes from.

Would you take the job? Thankfully, Ezekiel, himself a priest, had the heart of a shepherd and takes on the great task. Another “title” given to Ezekiel was to be a watchman, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (Ezekiel 3:17). This role of Ezekiel is repeated again in Ezekiel 33. What was the role and responsibilities of an ancient watchman?

Most biblical cities had great watch towers from which you could see enemies on the distant horizon or thieves in your valuable harvest fields. Once he assessed the threat or problem, the watchman would then quickly warn his city, often by blowing a ram’s horn.

As an exile with his people in Babylon, Ezekiel never ascended an actual watchtower; instead God would give him a targeted warning or message to share with his people. To not share God’s word would bring judgement upon the watchman himself (Ezekiel 3:18-19). Vigilance and a listening heart were essential for Ezekiel. The watchman wasn’t always the bearer of bad news, he also encouraged the people to covenant faithfulness and shared the possibility of restoration and a future of hope and healing.

Consider Isaiah’s language, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion” (Isa. 52:7-8).

When I consider our world today, I am so grateful we have not been left without watchers on the wall. Like Ezekiel of old, many have answered the call. Our holy father Pope Francis, courageous bishops, priests and consecrated women and men, and faithful laity make up our modern day watchers for the Church. They warn us of potential dangers, call us to repentance, cultivate hope, and invite us to nourish an ever-deepening covenant relationship with the Lord.

Will you take a few moments to day to thank the Lord for our faithful and vigilant watchers, and to intercede for their protection, vigilance and courage. Let us also look for those ways, like Ezekiel, that we can warn others in our circle of influence of the many spiritual dangers around us. And finally, as watchers, let us be joyfully proclaim the Good News of God to those around us.

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Meet the Messengers: Jonah http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-jonah/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-messengers-jonah http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-jonah/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 04:15:49 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=4712 Meet The Messengers JonahPride and Prejudice

To call Jonah a reluctant prophet would be a gross understatement. He literally runs in the opposite direction of his calling to preach repentance to the Ninevites. At one level, it’s hard to blame him. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, one of the hated enemies of God’s people.

At first glance, the message to his enemies doesn’t seem that hopeful? “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). Why does Jonah resist? The message doesn’t promise forgiveness or redemption, it simply declares their wickedness. Jonah understood that this warning was an invitation, the possibility of mercy, if the people would respond to the warning and turn from their wickedness.

Rather than rejoice at this potential penitence of his enemy, Jonah refuses to participate. We all know the whale of a tale that will unfold to get our prophet turned in the right direction. He gives the warning, the people repent, all is good, right? Wrong.

For Jonah, this was the worst possible outcome. In effect he said to God afterwards, “I knew you’d do something like this!! That’s why I ran in the opposite direction.” Quoting the language of Exodus, he says through gritted teeth he cries, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 3:2-3).

It’s easy to judge Jonah for being so close-minded, insular, and stingy with God’s mercy. But Jonah’s unwillingness is designed to act as a literary mirror we can use to gaze upon ourselves.

In what ways do we resist the plans of God? Are there particular persons or groups of people we wish God would just destroy rather than ask us to go to them as messengers of his mercy? Do we ever hesitate to share Christ with people that are very different from us or we perceive to be our enemies? Do we automatically assume people will reject our offer, so we never bother to share the Good News?

These are hard questions to be sure, but if we possess even a shred of self-knowledge, we would acknowledge we may be more like Jonah than we would care to admit.

In a 2007 interview, Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) said, “Nineveh was the symbol of all the separated, the lost, of all the peripheries of humanity. Of all those who are outside, forlorn. Jonah saw that the task set on him was only to tell all those people that the arms of God were still open, that the patience of God was there and waiting, to heal them with His forgiveness and nourish them with His tenderness.”

The book of Jonah ends without any real resolution. Our proud prophet’s prejudice seems impenetrable. As the Body of Christ, we are called to resist that kind of attitude, and instead turn our attention to the Ninevites of our world. May we do that with great passion and compassion.

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Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall (Or, What it means to be a doer of God’s word) http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/mirror-mirror-wall-means-doer-gods-word/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mirror-mirror-wall-means-doer-gods-word http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/mirror-mirror-wall-means-doer-gods-word/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 04:15:32 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=4805 mirror_mirrorThe alarm goes off at 5AM and I stumble to the bathroom, turn on the light.

ARGH!

My face jumps out at me from the mirror: blotched and bleary, gray circles, hair every which way. I look as bad as I feel!

I shut my eyes, grab a washcloth, and start scrubbing: only when I’ve dried my face and brushed my hair do I look back in the mirror, hoping that other face is gone.

I always look back in the mirror. What would happen if I just walked out like that, grabbed my purse, and went out to teach or do my shopping? I can imagine the reaction. “Doesn’t she know what she looks like?” they would whisper behind my back. “Doesn’t she have a mirror??”

This is what St. James is talking about when he says “If any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (Jas 1:23-24).

In other words, when I read something in the Bible that points out a need in my life and then do nothing about it, it’s like looking in the mirror, seeing a huge blemish on my face…and leaving it there.

James goes on in verse 25:

But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty [the Bible], and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.

“Persevering” is what I do in the mirror after I get over the shock of that first sight: I do something about the state of my face.

Perseverance Makes Perfect

Unfortunately, a mirror can’t tell me how to fix what I see in it. But the mirror of God’s word holds up to my face, the image of Christ. It gives me a standard so I can see where I need to make changes.

James says to “persevere” in the Word, we must be “a doer that acts.” In other words, don’t just read your Bible, smile, and move on. You might as well not read it at all.

Instead,

  • Look into it deeply.
  • Hold it up against your life, and ask the Lord how it applies to you.
  • When you see where you fail to measure up, do something about it.

And bit by bit, you’ll be conformed to the image of Christ.

May you be blessed in your doing!

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Meet the Messengers: Jeremiah http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-jeremiah/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-messengers-jeremiah http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/meet-messengers-jeremiah/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 04:15:40 +0000 http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=4710 Meet The Messengers JeremiahA Prophet of Hope

If there was ever a man that would have every reason to be without hope it would be the prophet Jeremiah. He’s called “the weeping prophet” for a reason.

Called by God when just a teenager (Jeremiah 1:5-7), our prophet was roundly rejected and maligned by his own people, forsaken by his family, and even forbidden from marrying (Jer. 16:1-2). He would remain in Jerusalem to the bitter end, witnessing the fiery destruction of the Temple and the public slaughter of the Davidic line. He earned the right to write Lamentations.

And yet, in spite of all of this, he remains for me a prophet of hopefulness. Jeremiah understood that hope has little to do with external circumstances and everything to do with God, the true hope of Israel (Jeremiah 14:8).

At his darkest hour, as Babylon surrounded his starving city, and while imprisoned by his fellow Jews, Jeremiah did something amazing. He bought a tract of land from his cousin in Anathoth, a parcel already conquered and leveled by the Babylonian armies.

In modern parlance, he put his money where his mouth was. He had already promised the people that after a 70 year exile for their sins, they would return to the land again, settling their ancestral cities. Now his actions made his prophecies sure.

To the gathered witnesses, he placed the signed deed before the people and sealed it in an earthenware jar as a kind of time capsule, declaring, “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (Jeremiah 32:15). While the cities walls were being breached, he surrounded the little remnant of Jews with a fortress of hope. Even in his Lamentations, he could say “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:21-23). Speaking through his prophet, the Lord declared, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

When we look around our world today, it sometimes seems there is little reason to hope. And yet, difficult times are the very moments we must “lean into” the virtue of hope, given to each of us at baptism.

Echoing the Lord’s promise to Jeremiah, Pope Emeritus Benedict has said, “Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well” (Spes Salvi, No. 2).

Finally, this hope isn’t for our own consolation and strength. It is meant to be shared! Like Jeremiah we must proclaim this living hope in our word and deeds! I love how St. Peter puts it, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15).

What are some of the concrete ways you can be a herald of hope to those around you?

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