The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Thu, 26 May 2016 14:34:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Water and the Spirit in John’s Gospel Thu, 26 May 2016 04:58:01 +0000 When Jesus speaks to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s Gospel, Christ speaks of being born from above in water and the Spirit. What does this mean?  In order to understand this, we must first of all realize that this is just one small piece of the jigsaw puzzle that John has given us.  When viewed through the overall lens we see that John is actually sending a message which extends through the entire first few chapters of his Gospel: the necessity of baptism as a means to salvation.  One of the recurring symbols used by John is that of water. In fact, a good rule of thumb, when reading John: whenever you see water mentioned, re-read the passage as if the water referred to baptism, and you’ll probably see an insight you missed before.

Baptism Comes from Heaven

This focus is in place from the very start of the Gospel.  It is no coincidence that John’s Gospel opens with “In the Beginning,” which recalls Genesis, and specifically, the creation story. (This is an important detail to note whenever reading John: the first line of any narrative sets the scene. For example, in the next chapter, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, when he is literally—and figuratively—“in the dark”).


The parallels between John 1 and Genesis 1 are too deep to be explored in this blog post, but it is important to note a few similarities. In Genesis 1, God’s first creation is light.  The second creative act is separating the waters of heaven from those on earth.  Chapter One of John opens with a prologue stating how the light comes from the Word (Jesus), and the light shines in the darkness.

The Gospel next introduces us to John the Baptist. The very first person named in the Gospel is someone who baptizes. This reveals the importance of baptism in the eyes of the evangelist. Also, read in the light of Genesis, we see even here a difference between John’s symbolic baptism (water of the earth) and Jesus’ sacramental baptism (waters of heaven), which the baptist himself confirms a few verses later: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one … whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

Baptism Transforms

Chapter Two of John’s Gospel continues this theme.  In the Cana wedding, Jesus did not have to perform the miracle as he did.  Jesus could have simply multiplied the wine, as he will do with the loaves and fishes in Chapter Six.  They could have simply continued to pour the wine from skins which would never have run dry.  But Jesus instead chooses to start with water. Only after the water is poured into ritual purification jars does it become wine. This links the water with a ritual, and one of purification.  Also, the wine can be taken as a prefigurement of the Eucharist, another sacrament of initiation. But in order for the good to come, Jesus begins with water.  Our faith journey begins with baptism!

Baptism Reveals the Kingdom 

In Chapter Three, as I mentioned above, Nicodemus is told by Christ that he must be born “of water and the Spirit.”  But as if the water mentioned here was not enough to point us to baptism, what is the very next thing that Jesus does? He goes out with his disciples to baptize.


Chapter Four of John tells the story of the Samaritan lady at the well.  The location in Samaria is important, since it’s showing that Christ is not just for the Jews. At the well, Jesus tells the woman about the water he can give her.  When the woman hears of the rewards Jesus offers, she asks how she can take part in this.  The Lord is willing to work with her, once she faces and moves beyond her sins.  There is another new aspect of baptism revealed here; we see that baptism washes away the sins of the past.

In Chapter Five, we see the man waiting to be healed at the pool of Siloam.  The reader may be confused at the manner of healing.  If water represents baptism, then Jesus’ response to the man does not seem congruent with previous chapters, in that he does not use the water.  Specifically, it differs from Cana, where he chose to use water.  In the context of Cana, and the obvious effort that John has made to show the importance of baptism, it would seem that Jesus would work with the tools he has, and assist the man to the water.  Instead, he heals him directly.  It is important to remember that baptism, like all sacraments, was instituted by Christ.  It is the way he gave man to bring people into the Church.  He, however, having created the sacraments, is not limited by their rites.

An application of the above would be those described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1259-1260) as having (or would have had) an explicit desire to receive baptism, but for whom the rites and trinitarian prayers were not said.  Such a baptism of desire, though, is no less of a baptism: they are indeed born “from above (the Father), in water (Christ is the source of living water, as he told the Samaritan Woman), and the (Holy) Spirit.”

Baptism, like all sacraments, was instituted by Christ.  It is the way he gave man to bring people into the Church.  He, however, having created the sacraments, is not limited by their rites.

Let’s review what John has revealed so far regarding baptism.  Chapter One describes the difference between the baptism of John, and the heavenly waters of Jesus. In Chapter Two, we read of a transformation in our very nature that comes from the waters of baptism.  Jesus tells Nicodemus in Chapter Three of the connection between baptism and heaven.  Chapter Four reveals the sanctifying power of baptism with regards to sin. Chapter Five shows that baptism by desire can occur outside of the sacramental norms. With each chapter, something new is revealed. In short, John layers baptism’s roles, revealing it to the reader in bits and pieces, as such: Baptism comes from heaven (Chapter One), it transforms (Cana), it reveals the Kingdom of God (Nicodemus), it washes away the sins we carry with us (Samaritan woman), if we desire to receive it (man at the pool).

Perhaps you have noticed other examples of symbolism in John’s Gospel. Feel free to share in the comments.

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You May Just be Seeing the Tip of St. John’s ‘Iceberg’ Wed, 18 May 2016 15:20:16 +0000 I still recall my first Scripture class in college. The professor spent the entire first class telling us how “dangerous” it is to study the Bible because it would destroy many of our preconceived (and immature) notions about Christ and his Church. “Most people,” he maintained, “function from what their parents and pastors have told them about the real Jesus rather than what the texts actually say . . .  and to do so is not only dangerous but woefully short-sighted.” He invited us to shed the “water wings” and the “kiddie pool” of spoon-fed biblical study, bidding us into the deep of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). By the end of the first class, I was ready to tear into my own (oft unopened Bible). However, upon exiting it occurred to me to ask one glaring question, “Professor, why are we stopping with only the Synoptics and not also studying the Gospel of John?”

He pointedly quipped, “Ah, you must learn to swim before you attempt to scuba dive.”


This response left me wanting to know more, so I did what any normal brat of God would do. Rather than perusing my assigned reading in the Synoptics, I read the entire Gospel of John in one sitting. It was long and deep, but nice. Several passages of dialogue were confusing and several details went right over my head. In the end, it was as though I was watching a foreign film with only sporadic subtitles. I knew nothing about St. John, his history, nor the fact that he, himself, was most likely the “disciple whom Jesus loved” that he kept referring to throughout his own writing.

Truthfully, I had no background to help me navigate this deep sea of God’s grace that we call the fourth (and final) Gospel. My professor was right, this was like scuba diving and to experience the depths of the Holy Spirit’s inspired brilliance, the average swimmer needs some training and some tools. So, if you’d like to go even deeper into the Gospel, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • St. John is often referred to as “the beloved disciple” because he was Jesus’ closest friend.  The younger son of Zebedee, John was the one who rested upon Christ’s breast at the Last Supper (John 21:20), the one entrusted with the ongoing care of Christ’s (and our) Mother, Mary, from the Cross (John 19:25) and the only apostle not to die a martyr’s death (John 21:20-23). Early traditions maintain, too, that following Pentecost, the Blessed Virgin Mary went to live with St. John in Ephesus, where he served as bishop.
  • St. John’s Gospel was probably written for Jewish Christians, and it is filled with verses from the Old Testament.  It was most likely written after the other Gospels; St. John fills in a lot of the details left out by the others, and shares unique stories and moments not previously recorded.
    • Imagine for just a moment where we’d be without John’s Gospel contribution: The Wedding Feast at Cana, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, the Bread of Life discourse, the raising of Lazarus, the washing of the feet, the extended dialogue with Pontius Pilate, the episode with Mary and John at the Cross, and the Resurrection appearance on the Sea of Tiberias. These are but a few examples of gorgeous and poignant passages we would not have had it not been for the Spirit breathing through St. John’s blessed pen.
  • St. John emphasizes the fact that Jesus is not “just another guy.”  Christ is both God and man.  God became man so that human beings could live with God in heaven.  God created the world in Genesis 1, and now Jesus is working a new “spiritual creation” in the lives of his followers. His entire Gospel is highly symbolic, rooted in the Old Covenant all the while pointing toward the New. It is only when we comprehend the dual nature of Christ that we can come to comprehend the purpose of his mission and the glory of the Church he instituted on earth.
  • John’s Gospel is a constant invitation for the reader to advance forward from the “simple” reading and plunge into the sacramental waters. For St. John, everything points us back to the Church and her Sacraments. Different types of biblical writing try to accomplish different things: sometimes writing is historical; sometimes it’s symbolic.  John, however, weaves together both the symbolic and historical into an unprecedented and gorgeous tapestry of faith.  Take the story in John 9 of the man born blind, for instance. This story is both historical and symbolic. In this episode, Jesus literally heals a blind man (historically true) while teaching us about baptism (sacramental and symbolic) at the same time. The fourth Gospel is much like an iceberg, where ninety percent of its greatness is below the surface. (Pack your scuba gear!)

Perhaps my “favorite” verses in all of John’s Gospel, however, are the final two:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” – John 21:24-25

First, not only are we being given a behind-the-scenes, eye-witness testimony about the second person of the Trinity, but we are getting it from one of his “inner circle” disciples. Assuredly you remember how many times Jesus allowed only Peter, James, and John to accompany him without the other nine (the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and into the haunts of Gethsemane, to name just a few).

Second, here we have scriptural proof that even though the Bible is holy and inspired, it does not explicitly state every single thing Jesus ever said and taught.  The Bible itself admits this point! On a basic level, Sacred (or Apostolic) Tradition is the teaching that the apostles passed on orally through their teaching and preaching. St. John attests to the fact that he was sharing stories not written elsewhere but even with this addition, the fullness of Christ’s teaching is incomplete. He attests not only to the existence but necessity of Apostolic Tradition here. This is the same stance echoed by the great missionary apostle, St. Paul, who commanded Christians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us [apostles, evangelists, and later the bishops of the Church], either by word of mouth [Tradition] or by letter [Bible]” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Thus, we must pay close attention to both the Bible and the Church’s Tradition—the official teaching of the Church.

So the Holy Spirit inspired the human authors of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit guides the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church—the pope and the bishops—so that they will speak and teach the truth (John 16:13).  This is an important point.  God never intended the Bible to be separated from the Church.  The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church in interpreting and understanding the Bible.  The Bible reveals God’s inspired truth, and the Church protects and serves the saving truth found in the Bible.

It is that same Holy Spirit who led and inspired St. John to pen his New Testament letters and his climactic book of Revelation (which we don’t have sufficient time to treat here but great Ascension Press studies do exist to aid you in its “unveiling”).

If St. Mark’s Gospel is considered the “easiest,” then St. John’s is the deepest.  It will immerse you into the Church’s tradition by inviting you ever deeper into the heart of the Sacraments. It will offer you a glimpse at the One who came with power and purpose, at the appointed time, to save us from our sins and from ourselves. It will invite you into the deep, where you might “scuba dive” for years to come and never exhaust the depths of the Spirit’s sea nor tire of its beauty. It’s fitting that such a journey should begin in St. John’s boat . . . where Christ taught and, through St. John’s pen and the Spirit’s inspiration, still continues to do so. Dive in!

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Pentecost: Rush of a Mighty Wind Sun, 15 May 2016 04:03:37 +0000 The story of Pentecost is familiar and it should be. We need to know the story. Pentecost changes everything. In a moment the entire order of humanity changes. Beloved creatures become not just creatures, but instead children of the loving Father. It is through the Spirit that we cry “Abba!” (Rom 8:15). In that moment God, the living God, comes to inhabit human creatures.

Marvel at that!Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Pentecost_-_WGA07442

It is not the idea of God, or a sliver of God, but the real presence of the Living God. The Spirit is God, like the Father is God, like the Son is God. On Pentecost the Spirit invades creation in a new way. The Almighty comes to inhabit our human flesh! He does not do it secretly or gradually. He overwhelms.

Place yourself in the story. It might be helpful to open your Bible to Acts 2:1-4. It is a dramatic scene. The Apostles are gathered together in one place and suddenly from heaven there is a sound “like the rush of a mighty wind.” It does not start as a whisper, or as a gentle breeze. It is not gradual. Scripture says “Suddenly.” The Hebrew word for spirit, ruah, translates to wind or breath. In Pentecost the Ruah of God exploded into reality, filling the room with the sound of a hurricane. It is possible the Apostles, upon hearing the wind, immediately associated this with the Spirit, but—ready or not—there must have been a certain amount of terror.

As if the wind was not enough there then appears “tongues as of fire.” Note, Scripture does not relate to us “flames as those on a candle.” A tongue of fire cannot be found on a candle. The flame is too small. A tongue is how flames leap out of a bonfire and lick into the air. Watch a large fire and you will see that it has a certain wild, unruly danger to it. These tongues of fire do not safely appear in the midst of them, but instead are found “distributed and resting on each one of them.” The Spirit is not distant. His fire is not to warm us from the outside but comes directly to us.

Awe, or fear of the Lord, is one of the gifts we associate with the sacrament of Confirmation. It is not an abstract thing. It is not an intellectual concept. Awe is the natural state when a person encounters the living God. In that moment it was definitely anything but abstract to the Apostles. Even if they understood immediately that this was the presence of God I do not think that would take away the incredible awe. In this moment the Lord reveals that his Spirit is not a tame force. It is wild and unpredictable. It is also clear that this is not a little portion of the Spirit that is being poured out, but that instead it is an overwhelming release of the Spirit, “like the rush of a mighty wind . . . tongues as of fire.”

The story of Pentecost is there for a reason. God wants us to know that he is with us, and that his presence in our lives is not a small portion. It is his fullness, his awe-inspiring, world-shattering fullness.

Considering what we learn of the Spirit through the story of Pentecost, the challenge for the modern Christian is this: Do I believe this same, terrifying, powerful Spirit still resides in the Church? Do I believe this Spirit resides in me? Will I allow the Spirit lordship in my life so that I can encounter and experience awe? Will I invite God to be dangerous and uncontrollable in my life? (Tweet this.)

The Holy Spirit is God. He can not pretend to be anything else. Unless we will give the Lord permission to be who he is, Lord of our lives, Pentecost will be just a wonderful story. When we give him permission, it becomes our reality.

Editor’s Note: This blog post first appeared on on May 24, 2015.

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In Revelation, Mary Embodies the Church Thu, 12 May 2016 14:11:56 +0000 While it may seem obvious to a Catholic that the Woman in Chapter 12 of Revelation refers to Mary, there are reasons why some scholars see not Mary, but an image of Israel or the Church. For example, the woman’s fleeing to the wilderness to be nourished calls to mind Israel in the wilderness being nourished by the Manna (12:6); and perhaps most direct is the reference to the woman being given “two wings of the great eagle” (12:14), which calls to mind Exodus 19:4 and the description of God’s care for Israel “on eagles’ wings.”

Perhaps the best way to account for this is to see here both images at once: Mary and the Church, as the New Israel. In fact, there are a series of parallels between Revelation 12 and John 19 (John’s account of the Passion, with Mary and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross); this is then taken to mean that both passages—John 19 and Revelation 12—are recounting in some sense the same event, the event of the Cross: one from an earthly vantage point (Jn 19) and the other from a heavenly vantage point (Rv 12).


In both passages, we have:

The birth described in Revelation 12 may include elements of the Nativity story, but also includes the Cross as the birth that brings the People of God from the Old Covenant to the New and reconciles us back to God. We can see this by noting the psalm that identifies the birth (Rv 12:5 citing Ps 2:9). This psalm is likely a coronation psalm that was applied to the Davidic king on the day he became king—at which time the king entered into a certain role as adoptive son of God (see 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; Ps 89:27). In other words, the birth described here in Revelation 12 is not just the Nativity, but Christ’s enthronement on the Cross.

In John 19, Jesus refers to Mary as “woman” and entrusts her to the “beloved disciple”; and the beloved disciple takes her as his own mother. Traditionally, the beloved disciple has been understood as St. John; so why call himself the “beloved disciple”? The reason is because John sees his new relationship with Mary as not just pertaining to himself, but to all Christians: he calls himself “beloved disciple” because in taking Mary as his spiritual mother he embodies all disciples. That is, in John 19 on the Cross, Mary becomes the spiritual mother not just of John, but of all Christians. So, we have here in John 19 a “dual maternity,” of sorts—Mary is mother of Jesus and of all Christians.

And similarly in Revelation 12, the woman is the mother of the Messiah (Rv 12:5) and of all Christians: after describing the Woman as mother of the Messiah, the text goes on to describe the “rest of her offspring,” namely, “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rv 12:17). So once again, we have dual maternity in Revelation 12 as well.

In terms of Mary’s relationship to the Church, it’s best to say that Mary embodies the Church; in the words of the Church Fathers, she is an “eschatological type” of the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 967, 972): she has in herself what the Church will have at the end of time in glory. Mariology and Ecclesiology always go together.

So, is the Woman of Revelation 12 Mary or the Church? The Catholic answer is “yes.” And St. John calls us to see both in this one polyvalent image: Mary embodies the Church and both are rightly called our “Mother” in Christ.

How can we grow closer to Mary? For she always points us to her Son—the closer we grow to her, the closer we grow to Jesus.

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He Lifted Up His Hands and He Blessed Them Thu, 05 May 2016 04:13:07 +0000 Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. It is the closing scene in the Gospel of Luke and is recovered again in Acts 1. Luke frames the Ascension within broader theme of blessing.


The Gospel of Luke begins with the priest Zechariah in the Jerusalem Temple. Chosen to carry the prayers of the people of God before the Altar of Incense, he is given the added honor of an angelic visitation. The Angel Gabriel tells him of a son who will be supernaturally conceived and chosen to prepare the way for the Messiah. Because of his unbelief, he was struck mute by the same angel. This is very significant, in part, because this punishment prevented him from extending his hands and offering the three-fold priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 over the gathered crowd (Luke 1:22). Later, when his tongue was loosed, what came out of his mouth? Blessing! It wasn’t the priestly blessing for the people of God, but instead a heaven-directed benediction. This prayer, called the Benedictus, is still recited daily by millions around the world and beautifully recovers the themes of blessing, light and peace from that ancient blessing given to Aaron in Numbers (compare Luke 2:67-79; Numbers 6:24-26). Luke leaves us waiting for that priestly blessing for God’s people.

Interestingly, the first person to offer a blessing in Luke’s narrative is Jesus, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). In fact, Jesus will be the first and last person to offer a blessing in the physician’s Gospel. The Lord’s final blessing comes during the Ascension event, “Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). We don’t know what blessing Jesus spoke over his dear disciples at the Ascension, but I can’t think of more fitting words than the priestly blessing that Zechariah was never able to give in Luke 1:

The Lord bless you and keep you:
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Following the blessing, reversing the movements of Zechariah, Jesus, the High Priest of the new and eternal Covenant also entered a temple. He “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands. . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24) The Catechism reminds us that from this heavenly temple “Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he ‘always lives to make intercession’ for ‘those who draw near to God through him’” (Catechism, No 662; Heb 7:25).

No wonder there is no sign of grief on the part of the disciples at the Ascension! They know where he is going and what he will be doing. Therefore, Luke tells us, “they worshiped [Jesus], and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God (Luke 24:52). Those are our marching orders between the Ascension of Jesus and his final and definitive return: worship him in Word and Sacrament, live daily in his joy (the inner delight of knowing I am infinitely loved by God) and continually bless the Lord in the fellowship of his disciples.

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