The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Mon, 27 Feb 2017 20:27:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Choosing a Lenten Sacrifice that’s Just Right Mon, 27 Feb 2017 16:31:52 +0000 As Lent has come upon us again, we spiritually focus on penitent preparation for the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. As our Bishops remind us, “In a particular way during Lent, we are asked to devote ourselves to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that ‘remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit.’”


But what if you have not yet decided on your sacrifice for this year? We enlisted the help of our readers and followers, so you can look to them for some suggestions. We conducted a survey of about 1,500 Catholics, asking them about their plans for Lent. The most common category people selected? (They could choose up to four). Seventy-two percent will increase prayer time this Lent. This was followed closely by fasting or giving something up (seventy-one percent).  About eighteen percent selected the third leg of the lenten stool, giving alms, while ten percent selected “other.”  About thirteen percent still weren’t sure, so hopefully they are reading this post to get some ideas.

To help those who are unsure, we asked for  some concrete examples. Daily Mass or adoration were among the most commonly listed ideas. Also, many people will find time for more spiritual reading, whether the Bible, lives of the saints, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When it comes to giving up (the most common phrase listed) some mentioned sweets or alcohol. Others will be fasting from Facebook and other social media platforms. Similarly, some said they will only use their phones to make phone calls. Others chose to take what was already expected and do a little more of it, such as adding additional fasting and abstinence days to the calendar. Others focused on helping the poor, some with donations, others by volunteering at shelters, or taking time to make or donate clothes to those in need. If you would like to share what you are giving up, and see what others have, you can anonymously do so HERE.

Where does the tradition of giving something up for Lent come from? As a liturgical season, Lent traces itself to the early days of the Church. Herbert Thurston points out that, to the earliest Christians, what we think of as Lent didn’t occur annually, but weekly: every Friday was Good Friday, with fasting; every Sunday, Easter, and celebration. As the liturgical calendar developed and Holy Week was fixed annually, in the spring, the fasting and penitential spirit of Fridays expanded to all of Lent.  St. Athanasius mentioned a period of fasting for forty days before Holy Week as far back as AD 331.


Why forty days? This recalls Jesus’ own forty days of fasting in the desert prior to beginning his public ministry. Since Easter is about renewing our own baptism, we annually prepare for our own calling as Christians. We are called to be Christ to the world and reach the poor and the afflicted now as he did 2,000 years ago. So it makes sense, that, just as Christ prepared his body for what was to come with forty days of fasting in the desert, that the Church—the body of Christ on earth—retreats into its own “desert” for forty and fasts days before beginning anew.

For us this desert, instead of lacking food and water, lacks Facebook, or television, or warm showers.  Remember the purpose, though.  It isn’t an opportunity to do something you should be doing already. Nor is it a contest to see who can give up the most, and tell everyone about it. We strip away everything else so that we can focus on our reliance on God. He could make Facebook likes out of stones, but we must learn to live on his word.

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Take Joy in What God Takes Joy in! Thu, 23 Feb 2017 16:51:48 +0000 Joy is one of the constant themes in the Sacred Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. We normally think about joy as a characteristic of a Christian, but the Bible also asserts that God experiences joy. As a side note, when we speak about God having emotions, we can only speak analogously. But, it is important to understand that the Scriptures speaks of God “rejoicing” on a regular basis. The delight he experiences is transcendental, perfect, infinite, and divine.


What Causes the Lord Joy?

Let’s dive into divine revelation to identify three causes of God’s joy and as we do, let’s keep our spiritual ears open to how each of these causes of God’s joy can become deep wellsprings of joy for each one of us.

1. God Rejoices in His Son

God the Father rarely speaks audibly in the New Testament. Virtually every time he is directly heard though he is expressing his pleasure or delight in his Son, Jesus.  Most famously at his baptism and later at the Transfiguration, we hear words similar to this, “This is my beloved [deeply loved] Son, in whom I am very pleased” (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Matthew 17:5).  This is Old Testament language from Isaiah. St. Matthew confirms this by quoting the prophet later in Matthew 12:18, ““Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him.”  In Isaiah 43:1 the Hebrew word translated as “well pleased” is a variant of the verb ratsah which means to be delighted or joy-filled. The Father rejoices in the Son. There has never been a time that Jesus was not God’s Son, so this delight precedes his earthly Incarnation and has been going on from eternity.

The Believer Rejoices in God the Son

It’s no great surprise to discover Jesus is also the object of our joy. How can we think of his great love for us manifested on the Cross and confirmed in the Resurrection and not leap for joy! For us, joy is the inner delight of knowing we are infinitely loved by God and there’s no greater confirmation of that than our Savior’s sacrifice. When I look at the Cross, it produces sadness; it furrows my heart to a deeper repentance and engagement with the Good News. But the Cross is simultaneously a source of joy for me, reminding me of the length and depth of God’s love for every person.

Let us ask for the grace to daily delight in the Son, the gift of the Father through the Spirit to us.

2. God Rejoices in Creation

Anyone familiar with Genesis knows that following the different acts of creation, we are told “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 17, 21, 25, 31). We can all identify with the joy that follows the creation of a good thing, whether it’s something simple like an apple pie or sublime like a oil painting. This idea of God rejoicing over creation is confirmed by St. John Paul II. Speaking of the mysterious “rest” of God on the seventh day (God, after all, never tires or becomes weary), the pope said, “It speaks, as it were, of God’s lingering before the “very good” work (Genesis 1:31) which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight. This is a “contemplative” gaze which does not look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already been achieved. It is a gaze which God casts upon all things, but in a special way upon man, the crown of creation” (Dies Domini, 11). Job learns that even the angels sang at the event, shouting for joy! (Job 38:7).

The Believer Rejoices in the Creator and His Creation

All of creation is invited to enter the joy of their Creator. The Psalms regularly remind us, “The pastures of the wilderness drip, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy” (Psalms 65:12-13). Psalm 98 tells us the trees sing with joy, the rivers clap their hands and the mountains joyfully shout (Psalms 98:8, 12). A key characteristic of joy is it is contagious, especially when that joy begins with our Creator.

One of my greatest joys is when I spend time in creation, whether I’m walking our ranch in Idaho, hiking the hills or snorkeling in the ocean. I have friends who don’t attend Church who are fond of saying “creation is my cathedral.” I wonder if we can’t all faintly hear creation sing its song of worship to its creator and that’s part of the awe we each feel in the great outdoors. I don’t hesitate to remind them that although they may have a legitimately “religious” experience in the woods, this created world is never an end in itself. It’s majesty, beauty, and intelligent design point to the Creator behind it, who is the true and unquenchable source of joy we all seek. Spend some sustained time out of doors in the coming weeks. Rejoice over the beauty of God’s creation and consider composing your own psalm of joy to the Lord.

3. God Rejoices in You!

Wait?  What??  It’s easy to see that God rejoices over his perfect Son, and it’s no great leap to accept his divine delight in the majestic universe he has created …but me? David expressed this same sentiment 3,000 years ago, “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place—What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him?” (Psalms 8:4-5).

And yet, the Scriptures repeatedly confirm you are a source of God’s joy. Here’s two of my favorite passages from the prophets:

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival” (Zephaniah 3:17).

God sings with joy about you! In a marriage metaphor, Isaiah tells us, “For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). Even doubting David would later learn this truth (2 Samuel 22:20).

Certainly God doesn’t rejoice when we sin, but he and heaven rejoice every time we repent (Luke 15:7) and his joy is multiplied when we reflect his own divine qualities in our daily lives. Jeremiah puts it well, “but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24). Micah echoes this language, which we will hear again in this coming Lenten season, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

God’s Joy in Us Sustains Our Joy

Remember our definition of joy above, “joy is the inner delight of knowing we are infinitely loved by God”? When the evening news or life’s soul-sapping circumstances try to steal our joy, we simply return to the truth the Scriptures proclaim and what the old black spiritual intones, “This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me. The world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away.”  Nehemiah reminded his ancient audience discouraged by their own struggles with sin and opposition to their building project, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). After speaking of his departure, Jesus sustained his fearful disciples with these words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

The End

This coming Ash Wednesday will greet us with the sobering words, “you are dust and to dust you will return.” It’s not intended to discourage us but to wake us up to the brevity and fragility of this life. Let us use every moment to rejoice in God the Son, to join creation in it’s song of joyful worship, and be sustained by God’s joyful glance over us as we reflect his qualities to those around us, so at the end of our earthly sojourn we may hear those wonderful words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23).

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Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Tue, 21 Feb 2017 20:32:32 +0000

In this week’s Encountering the Word video, Jeff Cavins reflects on the readings for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are:

First Reading: Isaiah 49:14-15
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Alleluia: Hebrews 4:12
Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

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Holiness—in the Bible and Beyond Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:45:04 +0000 Holiness is ultimately sharing in God’s life and letting his life flow through us. But in order to get to this majestic divine invitation in Christ, God prepared his people gradually along the way. And it’s a pattern that is often repeated in our lives—a need to separate from sin and turn towards God. In what follows, we’ll trace this pattern, leading to Christ and its unfathomable meaning for our lives today.

Old Testament

While ancient Israel was given the calling to be “light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), much of the Old Testament story depicts holiness as separation from the nations—separation from all that is unclean. Leviticus 18:3 captures this sentiment: “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.” Indeed, much of the story in the early going is not just about getting Israel out of Egypt, but getting Egypt out of Israel—that is out of Israel’s heart.


One can already detect this at some level in the meaning of sacrifice for Israel. Initially, Moses’ request to pharaoh is for the Israelites to go on a three-day journey into the wilderness in order to sacrifice (see Exodus 3:18). A clue shows up in Exodus 8:25-26 where pharaoh suggests that they should simply sacrifice within the land of Egypt; but Moses insists that this would not be possible: “It would not be right to do so; for we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God offerings abominable to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?”

The implication (and one seen by ancient Christian and Jewish sources) is that the sacrifice called for is a subversion of Egyptian religion. Many animals in ancient Egypt represented various deities. Thus, in order to eradicate idolatry from Israel’s heart, God calls Israel to ritually renounce the polytheistic idols she has become accustomed to these past few hundred years. The need for this becomes all the more apparent after the golden calf, which likely represents a return to an Egyptian cult (Exodus 32:1-6). And the plagues themselves seem to have this same overarching thrust—Exodus 12:12 describes them as “judgments against the gods of Egypt.”

It is interesting to note that the sacrificial legislation of ancient Israel picks up enormously after the golden calf; that is, while the Tabernacle is mentioned before the golden calf (Exodus 25-31), all the Levitical legislation is not enacted until after the golden calf; in fact, the Levites appear to become the priestly tribe precisely because of the events surrounding the golden calf (see Exodus 32:29). In other words, there seems to be a reason for the intense thrust of holiness as separation—as God’s fatherly response to Israel’s weakness. Ideally, Israel would be light to the nations; but in her weakness, Israel is evangelized by the nations—not the other way around. Accordingly, in God’s providence, Israel needs to be quarantined—a rehab program, as it were.

This divinely-ordained holiness as separation was never meant to be permanent, but was rather a temporary and remedial measure, in order to prepare Israel for her ultimate calling.

New Testament

This trajectory of holiness as separation sets the stage for the New Testament. In fact, the name “Pharisee” likely has the etymological meaning of “separated ones.” Contrary to common opinion, the Pharisees weren’t proto-Pelagians (the later fifth-century Christian heresy that denied original sin, proposing that we can earn our way to heaven by good works). The Pharisees were legalistic, but not in the sense we’re often used to thinking of: they didn’t envision themselves climbing a ladder to heaven, meriting salvation merely by works of righteousness. Rather, they were legalistic in steadfastly maintaining their identity as the covenant people of God. Especially in the wake of the Maccabean revolt (167-164 BC), by the first century, many Jews had a significant fear of assimilation—that they would be simply absorbed into the wider dominant and pagan culture around them.

In this context, the Pharisees band together and put a premium on covenant identity markers—things that preserved and maintained their Jewishness, such as food laws, Sabbath laws, and circumcision. This is why there is such a fuss when Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors: his inclusiveness runs directly afoul of the Pharisaic ideal of holiness as separation.

New Testament holiness reaches to the heart. While the Old Testament does emphasize internal transformation, this is a distinguishing mark of the New Covenant.

The mistake made by the Pharisees here (one which is much easier to see in hindsight) is that this holiness as separation was ordained for a time, but was never meant to be permanent. In fact, already with the calling of Abraham, it’s clear that God’s plan is to establish a universal, world-wide (i.e., “catholic”) family of God (Genesis 12:2-3). The inherent tension, then, is that Jesus is bringing about the fullness of this Abrahamic promise, while the Pharisees are still riding the Levitical wave of holiness as separation. It is worth noting that Paul sees this universal promise to Abraham as nothing short of the “Gospel preached beforehand” (Galatians 3:8).

This is on full display when Jesus touches the unclean—and rather than becoming unclean himself, his power transforms and cleanses the unclean, as with the leper (Matthew 8:2-3). Similarly with the woman who had the discharge of blood for twelve years: she touches Jesus and “power” goes forth from him (Luke 8:46) and she is thereby healed (the Catechism of the Catholic Church sees this episode as an image of the Sacraments—whereby Jesus “touches” us in the present). Likewise, the parable of the Good Samaritan brings this same universalistic message to the fore (Luke 10:25-37).

New Testament holiness further reaches to the heart. While the Old Testament does emphasize (especially the Wisdom literature and the Prophets) internal transformation, this is a distinguishing mark of the New Covenant. This is most clearly seen in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Similarly: “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment’. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Divine Sonship in Christ

For St. Paul, being “in Christ” is no mere metaphor or pious platitude. To be in Christ is to be incorporated into the Savior’s life, and this begins in baptism: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

For Paul, Christ’s life is reproduced in and through each disciple: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17).

In other words, when Paul says, “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), this is no mere metaphor, but the reality of divine life received in baptism. The majesty of what this means is manifest in 1 John 3:1:  “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and so we are.”

As the eminent nineteenth-century theologian Matthias Scheeben put it, “Because we are not mere adoptive children, because we are members of the natural Son, we truly enter into a personal relationship in which the Son of God stands to his Father.” For Scheeben—in Christ—God the Father looks down upon us and loves us as he loves his Only-Begotten Son. This statement should give us pause, for it is truly breathtaking. But it captures the power and reality of divine grace—not merely as God’s favor, but God’s very life dwelling within us. This is the part of salvation that we often forget: salvation is not just forgiveness of sins; it is being incorporated into Christ—and through Christ into the very heart of the Trinity, thereby sharing in the eternal filial relation the Son has to the Father (see CCC 460).

How can we better appreciate, acknowledge, and live out this sublime vocation we have to become children of God? For starters, in our prayer, do we truly approach God as Father, or do we think of him more as Master? If we approach him as Father, we will be more inclined to bring everything that we are—our strengths and our weaknesses—to the Lord; if we approach him as Master, we’ll be inclined to sheepishly only put forth our “good” side, seeking to perfect ourselves first before we approach the throne of grace. And the latter is exactly what the devil wants.

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Tue, 14 Feb 2017 20:33:40 +0000

In this week’s Encountering the Word video, Jeff Cavins discusses the readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are:

First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Alleluia: 1 John 2:5
Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

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