The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Thu, 05 May 2016 04:13:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Preparing for Pentecost with Scripture Tue, 03 May 2016 04:36:23 +0000 So, how’s your Easter going? We are living the great Fifty Days of the Coming of the Holy Spirit, the Pentecost, seven weeks of seven days in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit flow in abundance upon the newly baptized and the entire Church. The early Christians referred to the Easter Season as the Season of Pentecost (in fact, Eastern Christians still call this time “Pentecostarion”), which was crowned on the fiftieth day of Jubilee with the feast day that we call Pentecost Sunday. As we draw near to the Feast of the Ascension and the original “novena” or “nine days” of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to come upon the Church, we can allow the Sacred Liturgy to guide our personal prayer in a beautiful way.


The Church of course reads the Acts of the Apostles exclusively during the Easter Season, the great book which narrates how the Holy Spirit worked in the first graced days of the life of the Church. On Ascension Thursday the Church proclaims Christ’s promise in Acts 1:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.

The rest of the book of Acts tells the story of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise. Many times as a pastor I have recommended to someone that they read Acts of the Apostles straight through—it has always proved to be a transforming experience. It is filled with so many stories of courage, trust, and power, as well as fascinating historical and geographical detail. Pick it up and read a few chapters during these days of prayer to the Holy Spirit!

Between Ascension and Pentecost, each night at Vespers (Evening Prayer) the Church gives us a short reading from the New Testament about the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul tells us we are God’s children, crying out “Abba, Father!” and learning how to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8). The great Apostle to the Gentiles also tells us of the Wisdom that comes from on high and that the Spirit makes our bodies holy temples (1 Corinthians 2 and 6). He instructs us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5).

The revised Roman Missal gives the beautiful option of an extended Vigil of Pentecost, and the chosen readings can also guide our prayer as the Church points out to her children the prefigurements of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament: the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), the Fire of God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19), the prophecy of Ezekiel about the dry bones coming to life (Ezekiel 37), and the prophecy of Joel that the Lord will pour his Spirit upon all mankind (Joel 3). In response to these the Church prays the great Psalms of the Holy Spirit, primarily Psalm 104, which she prayed at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” Other psalms included in the liturgy of Pentecost are:

  • Psalm 33 – The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world
  • Psalm 107 – “His love endures forever”
  • And the canticle of the three young men in the fiery furnace giving praise to God (Daniel 3)

Lastly and most importantly, the Church as always entrusts us to the care of the Virgin Mary, who joined the Apostles in prayer in the Upper Room as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1). The Church prays at the Vigil of Pentecost, “Like them, let us, too, listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God.”  The Word gives us new birth in the Holy Spirit, and under Mary’s intercession we ask the Lord to “sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation.” May she, the Woman clothed with the sun, kindle in our hearts the fire of God’s love and so renew the face of the earth! Come, Holy Spirit!!

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So Was King David Real? Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:34:26 +0000 Our current culture is a strange mix of skepticism and gullibility. When it comes to believing the Bible—rather than believing it as the Word of God—we are being trained to doubt everything about it, while at the same time believing that the scoffers and doubters are the ones who really know better. In the area of biblical scholarship, it really is a shame that someone who is considered “learned” can undermine truth with one or two articles or theories.

One such argument has been that King David did not exist, citing there is no record of him outside of the Bible. However, in the last few decades of excavations in the Holy Land, evidence has come to light that has doubting scholars looking foolish in my estimation. Yet there will continue to be those who prefer to believe the scholars’ unbelief rather than the obvious truth.


The ruins of Khirbet Qeiyafa, a tenth century BC Judean city

The first good piece of evidence concerning the existence of King David was from an inscription found in the early 1990’s in excavations in the ancient city of Dan, the northernmost ancient city in Israel. The inscription mentions “the House of David” on what is called the Tel Dan Stele, a stone with an inscribed account of a victory of the King of Damascus over the ruling kings of Israel and Judah. House of David is synonymous with kingdom of David, so the term “House of David” means that there was a King David.

Another clue to the existence of the kingdom of David are the many excavations of fortified cities with four-chamber gates. These ancient cities in Judah date to the tenth century BC, roughly the time of David and his son Solomon. The latest fortified city to be found is located near the Valley of Elah, where David defeated Goliath. On this high hill, referred to in the Bible as Shaaraim (meaning “gates” in Hebrew), a protection wall with the standard four-chamber gate was uncovered in excavations from 2007-2013. This city was positioned closest to the land of the Philistines and served as a lookout over the activity of the Philistines in the valleys below (1 Samuel 17:52).

One of the other finds is David’s royal palace in Jerusalem, David’s capital (2 Samuel 5:9-12). There is a scarp of land south of the Temple Mount referred to as the City of David. This area was inhabited originally by the Jebusites until they were conquered by King David and made into the residential and civic part of Jerusalem. During the time of King Solomon, the first temple was built to the north of the City of David and became the religious center of Jerusalem. There is now an archaeological park that can be easily visited to view what is believed by most to be the palace area built by King David. In what is termed “Area G” a man-made ancient rock wall that had been pondered upon for years has now been identified as the support for the palace of King David.


The Tele Dan Stele mentions the “House of David”

It is becoming harder and harder to come up with explanations that deny the existence of King David and cast the Bible into a mythical light like the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. King David, the Kingdom of Judah, and the House of David are all real. It takes a lot of effort to explain them away. And every season of digging in the Holy Land brings to light things that only the Bible mentions. One such example from 2015 locates a citadel built by the Greeks as mentioned in the book of 1 Maccabees. In Jerusalem, very close to the City of David, an excavation uncovered the citadel and artifacts dating to the period of the Maccabean Revolt. Though scientists and scholars may still want to disprove everything the Bible claims, the more that is uncovered, the more is brought to light just how accurate the history is in the Bible.

So please place your faith in God’s Word and use science to back it up rather than tear it down. Jesus truly is a descendant of a real human king who walked this earth and is recorded in the Bible.

There are many more resources that prove the historicity of King David. Learn more about the archeological evidence by following the links below:

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St. Mark’s Action-packed Gospel Mon, 25 Apr 2016 04:00:31 +0000 As we celebrate the life of St. Mark, it’s appropriate we reflect on his greatest gift to us – the Gospel of Mark.  Though it’s the shortest of the four Gospels, it is no less rich, complex and powerful.

Imagine you are sound asleep and dreaming, when suddenly your bedroom door bursts open, and someone shining a bright light in your face, shouts “WAKE UP! Get up!! You’re going to be late!!!” That’s what the opening of the Gospel of Mark is like.  There is no infancy narrative, no genealogy or prologue, but simply a fiery prophet shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”


And if you want to be prepared for this Gospel, you better put on your spiritual running shoes if you hope to keep up with Jesus because he is a man on the move.

There are a million things we could say about this Gospel, but let me share a simple structure for following the movement of the Gospel—Mark’s unique shape and style for telling us the Story of Jesus and a key metaphor for understanding his portrayal of our Lord.

The Saving Shape of the Gospel of Mark

  1. Wilderness (1:1-15)
  2. Galilee (1:16-8:21)

     The Way of Discipleship (8:22-11:11)

  1. Jerusalem (11:12-14:52)
  2. Tomb (14:53-16:8)

This structure is called a chaism, a literary pattern where the themes or terms in the first part of a text are reversed and repeated in the second.

The lifeless Judean wilderness where John is preaching is mirrored at the end of the Gospel by Christ’s passion, death and entombment.  Next, the focus turns to Jesus’s time in specific geographic areas (Galilee and surrounding Jerusalem).  At the center of the chaism (8:22-11:11) is the Gospel’s heart or central message: the way of discipleship.  It answers the questions, “What does it look like to truly follow Jesus?  What are the costs, challenges, and consequences of being identified with our Lord?”

The key metaphor for Mark: Jesus the Action Hero

As I said in the introduction, Mark portrays Jesus as a man on the move.  This is a Gospel of action and Jesus is an ultimate action hero.  “I’ll be back!” is credited to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Jesus was the first to make that claim (Mark 8:31).  Our Lord is purposeful, determined, and moves with a sense of urgency.  Jesus is like an impatient lover rushing to his Passion.  One of the ways Mark communicates this is his use of the Greek term euthus, which is translated in English as “immediately.”  It’s used over forty times in Mark (for some perspective, it’s only used three times in John and Luke).  In fact, “immediately” is used twelve times just in chapter one.

He’s not just on the move, he is moving with power and authority. The terms, power and authority are used nearly twenty times in Mark.  His first miracle demonstrates his power over demons (1:21-28).  Whether it’s demons, death, disease, defilement, defective bodies, or destructive storms – all submit to his power. In rapid fire succession, especially in the opening seven chapters, Christ is taking back all the ground lost to the powers of darkness.  In evocative language, he is breaking into our world and “binding the strong man” (Mark 3:27, Catechism, No. 539).

But it’s on the Cross that we see Jesus as the definitive action hero. Here he not only saved a few, but the whole world from sin and death.  Here he definitely conquered the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).

And that ties back to Mark’s structure: the way of discipleship is the way of the Cross (Mark 8:22-11:11).  To take up our Cross and follow the Lord is to crucify the old selfish ways of thinking, speaking and acting.  It is modeling for the world the message of God’s divine love: to make a full, free, faithful and fruitful gift of ourselves.  As Anthony Bloom says, true “love is difficult. Christ was crucified because he taught a kind of love which is a terror for men, a love which demands total surrender: it spells death.”

But our spiritual death in Christ leads to true life, to joy, freedom and restoration, what the gospel truly means, “Good News!”

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The Wonder of Woman Wed, 20 Apr 2016 04:01:26 +0000 The height of comic book popularity coincided with the ravages of World War II in which survivors longed for virtue to triumph, and superheroes fought alongside them against the forces of evil to ensure a swift conclusion.

Surveying the dearth of women in the comic book superhero landscape, Harvard trained Doctor of Psychology, William Marston, sought to reconcile it with his own experience and appreciation of strong women influences who were not soldiers or necessarily physical “fighters” themselves.

Of his pen, Wonder Woman was born, becoming the most popular, long-running comic book character behind only Superman and Batman. A new kind of superhero, one who “would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love,” Wonder Woman funneled enormous mental energies into superhuman strength.

Her lasso of truth, indestructible shield-bracelets, royal tiara-sword, and other superhuman, but mostly defensive, powers and weapons assisted her in fighting for justice, love, and peace.

A careful student of sociology and psychology, Marston observed, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. [T]hey don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness.

“The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Why create a character, when we know a real Wonder Woman?

The Woman

The Bible doesn’t offer many specifics about Mary, but we know she was a wonderer (Luke 2:19). Did she ruminate over the Genesis account, considering that the woman was Evil’s first object of interest on earth? In the Garden, it is woman whom the serpent approaches, the one upon whom his active, envious hatred is first unleashed, and what terrifying separation followed.


Does Mary wonder if she is “the woman” at the center of salvation in Genesis 3:15? “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Enmity is hatred. Oh, how Evil hates the woman. “This passage in Genesis is called the proto-evangelium (‘first gospel’): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers. Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the proto-evangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the ‘new Eve’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 410-411).

As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot develop into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’—or else not.”

Approaching Eve first seems to have been a deliberate strategy, as though Satan knew or suspected that she was somehow foundational to it all and to convince her would be the key to destroying the whole structure. That, to me, along with Eve’s resultant dispossession of authority and subjection to Adam, suggests that Eve both enjoyed and abused some sort of profound influence prior to the Fall.

Whatever it means, God used the same woman-first approach when the “fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4, NAB). As St. John Paul II reminded us:

God entrusted the human being to woman. Certainly, every human being is entrusted to each and every other human being, but in a special way the human being is entrusted to woman, precisely because the woman in virtue of her special experience of motherhood is seen to have a specific sensitivity towards the human person and all that constitutes the individual’s true welfare (Christifideles Laici, 51).

It was through woman whom the ancient wound first entered, separating herself from God, and herself from man. Woman it would be through whom the Great Re-connect would begin. God began redemption by rewinding to the beginning, the woman, where the sin first rooted, and burrowed, and poisoned. All of time works backward from Mary’s “yes.”

What was she really saying yes to? And what does that have to do with me?

The Wonder

In the cosmic battle between good and evil, woman is said to be the companion and helpmate to man. She is a “helper” or battle partner, “suitable” or “fit” for him, meaning his opposite or complement (Gen. 2:18).

Elsewhere this designation is used for the Holy Spirit, himself (Jn 14:16–17). The actual term used is Paraclete, a battle word that conveys the idea of coming alongside, to surround, advise, guard, protect, and aid.

Edith Stein observed, “The terms woman and offspring [in the proto-evangelium] designate the Mother of God and the Redeemer. This however does not exclude the other meaning; the first woman, to whom Adam gave the name ‘mother of all living creatures,’ as well as all her successors, have been given a particular duty to struggle against evil and to prepare for the spiritual restoration of life.”

The distinction of the female sex is that the “spiritual restoration of life” began with the willingness of one woman to completely obey and follow God in the context of her regular duties and station. What if that’s also true of each woman and the “realm” entrusted to her?

If woman is specially charged with the battle against evil in her professional and domestic realms, might each woman’s assent also mysteriously restore life in those entrusted to her?

Every woman likes to think, Of course I care about having a better relationship. Of course I want a strong influence. Of course I want to be closer to God. But most of the time we only submit to others if they deserve it or if we’re going to gain from it ourselves somehow. We think submission is weak.

When we survey the tangled, contentious messes and gaping deficiencies in our relationships and the sin in our lives, we don’t think first, for example, Let me surrender what I want so he can have what he wants.

We don’t hurry to ask ourselves, How can I be crazy generous in this confrontation, in this day, in this moment? What springs to mind first is rarely How can I receive this person, faults and all?

Instead, we think, I’d love to be less selfish, but he doesn’t appreciate me. Or I want to experience renewal in my relationship, but he has to apologize first.

We prevaricate and deflect behind You go first. You say you’re sorry and I might forgive you. You change and I might change. You be transparent and then I’ll be transparent. You stop fighting, and then I’ll stop fighting.

But “God entrusted the human being to woman” because she has a specific sensitivity to the human person’s true welfare. I am woman; renewal begins with me. I must repent of my gracelessness, return everything involved to God’s provision, re-enter the communion of God’s embrace, and relate to others in and with the supernatural grace that flows from that yes. In doing so, I am open and able to receive those around me, flaws and all.

Mary shows me that spiritual power and authority rests in submission to God. The redemption of my terrifying hot mess begins with me. I, too, must re-enter community in the same way I left it: returning to God, and returning to others. Like Mary, I can receive the word of God in truth and return all that pertains to me to his provision.

In returning I reclaim my rightful dignity and mysterious influence as woman, fearless and immovable. In reclaiming my dignity I am able to safely re-enter relationships, accepting in his grace all those around me with their faults intact; and in re-entering I reproduce the Word in the world.

Like Wonder Woman the superhero, and Mary, Woman of Wonder, we do battle with the forces of evil. We triumph not with fists or firepower, but with submission to the superhuman power of grace. Mary shows us that a woman who does it well reflects the rightful dignity of a true and powerful feminine mystique that carries great spiritual weight.

I am a woman of wonder. I must go first.

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