The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Wed, 29 Jul 2015 04:04:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Martha: A Disciple Jesus Loved Wed, 29 Jul 2015 04:04:08 +0000 Mention “the beloved disciple” and most people will think of John.  But John himself identifies other disciples Jesus loved:  “Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (Jn 11:5).  These siblings provided a home-away-from-home for Jesus, a place where he could retreat from the crowds.  All three of them are remembered by Catholics on July 29, but in particular Martha, whose memorial it is.  She’s written about just three times – once in Luke, twice in John – but from those three visits with Jesus a picture emerges of a human, imperfect woman of faith:  a disciple who is learning to follow the Lord.


The “Better Part”

We first see Martha in Luke 10:38-42.  Her name means “Lady,” or “Mistress” – as in “Mistress of the House.”  She’s the older sister, the responsible one, a doer, and she runs an active household.  When Jesus comes into town surrounded by disciples, she opens her home and willingly serves him, creating a place of welcome and rest so others can learn from him. Martha does for Jesus what in Acts, the deacons will do for the apostles:  they serve at tables so the apostles can devote themselves “to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

Service is an important part of being a disciple, and Luke’s depiction of Martha – “distracted with much serving”; “anxious and troubled about many things” – reveals one of its pitfalls.  It’s easy to get so caught up with zeal for the Lord that we forget who we’re serving.  Martha’s sister Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet and ignoring Martha and the work, appears to fall on the other extreme  (what my grandmother used to call “so heavenly minded she’s of no earthly use”).  The ”good portion” or “better part” that Mary chose isn’t better to the exclusion of service, it’s better in the sense that it must come first.  Only when we first tend to our relationship with the Lord, setting our eyes on him and filling up at his spring, as it were, will we have the balance we need to serve without anxious distraction.

Martha reminds me of Peter, the “pope-in-training” who fell under the waves when he took his eyes off the Lord.  Both illustrate the need we all have as disciples to keep our eyes on Jesus, trust, and draw our strength from him.

Martha’s Great Faith

Martha reflects Peter even more directly in John’s Gospel, where he tells of the death of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44).  She shows the same easy familiarity, born of a close relationship and love, that enables Peter to rebuke the Lord (Mt 16:22).  When Martha hears Jesus is coming, she leaves the other mourners to tell him: “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Mary will later say the same thing, but Martha takes it further: “And even now,” she says, “I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (Jn 11:21-22).  Martha knew, in her heart, God’s power over death – much as Abraham knew that if Isaac died, God could bring him back to life again (Heb 9:11).

When Jesus asks Martha if she believes he is the resurrection and the life, she answers “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27).  Only Peter among all the disciples says anything like that in the Gospels, and Jesus responds that “flesh and blood didn’t tell you that;” and “on this rock I will build my church.”  Martha’s declaration of faith is every bit as bold as Peter’s, and there’s a sense in which the Church, built on the rock of Peter, grows with faith like that of Martha.

“Jesus loved Martha.”  You can feel it in Luke 10, in his tender “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled.…”  You can feel it in John 11, as he risks danger to comfort Martha and Mary after the death of their brother, and weeps with them, “deeply moved in spirit.”  And his closeness to this family shines out at the start of John 12, when the Lord begins his final week of life at their home.  It’s a very domestic scene.  Once again Mary is at the feet of Jesus, while Martha serves.  But there is peace, for Martha anyway.  No anxiety, no distraction.  We simply read that “Martha served.”

Martha is the patroness of servants, cooks, and housewives. May she help every disciple find a proper understanding of the value of service and the need to root it in a close relationship with Jesus and faith in him who is the Lord of life!

How does Martha inspire you to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ? (Tweet this) 

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© 2015 Sarah Christmyer


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St. James: Witness and Martyr Sat, 25 Jul 2015 04:21:02 +0000 St. James was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and the first one of them to be martyred. On his feast day it is a good time to reflect on the importance of Christian witness in a world opposed to the gospel.

The current pressure from secular society is for the Catholic Church to amend her beliefs to match what secular society deems as correct, but the truth of the gospel cannot be determined by people outside the Church. The truths of the Church are safeguarded by the Magisterium and ultimately by the Holy Spirit, who reveals the will of God to the Church. This has caused a deep rift between culture and Church, especially in the areas of abortion, morality and the definition of marriage.


If we look at the reason for martyrdom, it is because the gospel is oftentimes opposed to how the world wants to operate. In the case of St. James, it was King Herod Agrippa I who had James killed in order to please the Jewish leadership so it would be easier for Herod to rule his part of Judea. The Jewish leadership was as opposed to the newly formed Church as it had been to her founder, Jesus Christ, who as we all know was put to death. At the time of St. James, all of the Church was under great persecution. Many were arrested or stoned to try to stop the spread of the gospel.

As each day passes, the Faith continues to be under greater and greater opposition from once Christian based countries and also from radical Islam. Jesus told us that this would happen. These are the words he said to St. James in Matthew 24: 9-14:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.

So it should come as no surprise to us that we also must face these tribulations and do all we can to endure through it, continuing to spread the gospel. Let us pray to St. James to give us the courage to endure persecution (Tweet this) and to reaffirm our Faith in Jesus Christ for whom St. James gave his life.

What do you think St. James’ martyrdom means to us today?

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Mary Magdalene: Symbol of the Church Wed, 22 Jul 2015 14:03:21 +0000 There are few figures in the Gospels that are as fascinating to me as Mary Magdalene.  She is mentioned in all four Gospels (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40, 47; Luke 8:2, 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1-18) and yet we know little of her life before Jesus. Luke alone tells us that our Lord delivered her from seven demons (Luke 8:2). Maybe because of the sinful reputation of her hometown of Magdala (Migdal) or her eventual conflation with the sinner woman who broke the alabaster jar over Jesus’s feet (Luke 7:37), some  have associated her with prostitution (see a fuller treatment of those interpretations in the Catholic Encyclopedia).

Mary Magdalene

Today, as we celebrate her feast, I want to focus on her role in the resurrection narratives in the Gospel of John.  Her encounter with Jesus and witness to the disciples gathered in fear, is given a substantial treatment by the Beloved Disciple (John 20:1-18).  It’s a narrative wholly unique to John’s Gospel and one that he obviously didn’t want to be lost to the memory of the Church.  Before we open up John 20, there is an important theme we need to mention that will be a key not only to understanding Mary Magdalene, but the whole Gospel of John, and the entire biblical story, in fact.

A Marriage Made in Heaven

That theme is the persistent image throughout the Word of God of God as a Divine Bridegroom and his people as his Bride. In the Old Testament, it can be traced through the Pentateuch, the Psalms and the Prophets.  In the New Testament, it is most evident in the Johannine writings, especially the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation.

I would argue that all of the key female figures in the Gospel of John are bridal archetypes of the Church. That is, they are “universal signs” for the Church that is called into relationship with it’s spiritual spouse, Christ the Divine Bridegroom.

Among those women in John’s text, Mary Magdalene is second only to Our Lady as a sign of the Church (John 2, 19).

Resurrection Morning

Take a moment to read John 20:1-18 with this theme of Bridegroom/Bride in mind.  In this passage, you discovered that before the break of dawn we find a mourning Mary Magdalene at the tomb.  Her grief is intensified when she discovers that the tomb of Jesus is empty and his body has disappeared.  In haste, she alerts the apostles, and Peter with John have a foot race to the tomb to confirm her words. After seeing the empty sepulchre, the apostles return to the place where they were staying, but Mary remains, inconsolable.  Weeping, she bends to look in the tomb again.  The tomb is no longer empty.  Two angel attendants are now visible, question her about her tears, and then someone stirs behind her.  A gardener moving through the garden.  We don’t have any details about what he may have been doing, but I like to imagine Jesus was pruning a grape vine (John 15), watering a young date palm, or fertilizing a fig tree. It wouldn’t be out of character for the Risen Lord, as we will see him in the next chapter, crouching over a charcoal fire, making breakfast for his friends (John 21).

In the conversation that follows, Jesus’s identity is first concealed and then revealed by a single word, “Mary.”  Hearing her name, tenderly voiced by the Good Shepherd (John 10:27), she cries in response “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).  Then, “Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).  It’s one of my favorite moments in the Gospels.  A powerful exchange between a disciple and her resurrected rabbi.

When I became Catholic, a deeper level to this moment was revealed. Attending daily Mass on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, I heard the optional first reading for her special day and a nuptial layer appeared.  The reading is from Song of Solomon 3:1-4.  It tells the story of a bride in desperate search for her lost bridegroom, “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not…Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”  This is how we find Mary in the opening verses of John 20, desperately seeking the Lord who is missing.  Then vs. 3-4 helped me interpret one of the stranger moments in the Gospel when Jesus says in many English translations, “Do not touch me” or “do not hold me.”  It is here that the Song of Songs continues to inform our sense of what is happening, “when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go.”  (Song 3:3-4).

Jesus wasn’t holding Mary away at arms length, as I imagined, and many Christian paintings portray.  In fact, she was embracing him, and he tells her she has to let him go now, and fulfill her mission: to be a witness of this encounter and and an “apostle to the apostles.”

Mary Magdalene therefore not only models the courageous and faithful disciple who remained with Jesus through his passion, but she reveals the Church as a missionary Bride to us. Each member of the Body of Christ, must encounter the Lord, as she did.  We must embrace him with love (something we can do every time we receive a sacrament).  But, no faith, no matter how powerful and personal is ever private.  We cannot simply cling to Jesus for ourselves.  He sends us forth, the Good News of our Risen Lord is meant to be shared and lived out by loving others with his tender love.

Through the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene, may we more fully accept Jesus’s invitation to intimacy through the sacraments and like her may we courageously and joyfully carry that invitation to all we meet.

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HIS Story is YOUR Story: Part 5 Tue, 21 Jul 2015 13:58:17 +0000 To enter into God’s story we need to understand how we have come to participate in it. It is true that the divine history recorded in the Old Testament focused primarily on the nation of Israel, but the history and truth that the Israelites died for and taught to their children would one day become the history of a people they knew not.


Even so, throughout the history of the Bible, those who belonged to the covenantal family were cognizant of the fact that the story they were living extended beyond themselves to future generations. Their history with all its triumphs and disgraces would one day become our history as twenty-first century century Roman Catholics. So with the dawn of the New Covenant, Jesus integrated the nations into His universal kingdom, opening wide the gates to Yahweh’s covenantal family. Those who enter through that gate, Jesus, take on a new identity, including a new personal history. Suddenly, all that went before us in that small land of Canaan becomes intimate and important for us today.

Paul describes how Jesus opened the covenantal family to those outside of Israel:

Therefore, remember that at one time you, Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision, which is done in the flesh by human hands, were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh (Ephesians 2:11-14).

For the sake of continuity between the Old and New Testament, the point must be made that neither Jesus nor Paul had plans of starting a new religion, rather, all that they taught and did was an extension of all that preceded them. As Catholics we should never read the Old Testament with an attitude that ties the Old Testament strictly to the Jews, and the New Testament to Christians. “The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 128).

Christians therefore read the Old Testament in light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament, but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. “The New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” (CCC,128-129).

The Bible Is a Catholic History

As Catholics we should embrace both the Old and New Testaments not simply because they are a dynamic unity, but because they have been handed down to us as a precious family heirloom through the expansion of God’s covenantal family (Tweet this). Most people are not deeply interested in the history of someone else’s ethnic or religious group. What captures our imaginations and stirs their interest is reading about their own history.

It is of the utmost importance for the modern Christian to understand what the Apostle Paul is teaching regarding this integration between Jews and Gentiles — Old and New Testaments. In Ephesians 3:6a he says, “the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” In other words, those who have come into the Catholic family have a new history. Israel’s history is now also Catholic history, and as Paul states, Abraham “is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). Pope Pius XI once made the striking observation that “spiritually, we are all Semites” (Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 19)

In Romans Chapter 11, Paul elaborates further on this theme when he “depicts Gentiles as branches from a wild olive tree which have been grafted into a cultivated olive tree” (Ibid., 14). As Gentiles we are allowed to “share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (Rom 11:17). The “root” of which Paul speaks is the line of heroes who have participated in the previous covenants such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon.

Mary has a unique role as one who stands between the Testaments. As Msgr. Eugene Kevane points out, Mary binds together, in a living and indissoluble way, the old and the new People of God, Israel and Christianity, Synagogue and Church. She is, as it were, the connecting link without which the Faith (as is happening today) runs the risk of losing its balance by either forsaking the New Testament for the Old or dispensing with the Old. In her, instead, we can live the unity of sacred Scripture in its entirety (Card. Joseph Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985],107).

The Bible is so very exciting to read because we, like Abraham and David, are stepping into the divine drama, we are receiving the baton, we are walking in the New Covenant. Matthew wrote, “Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt 13:17). How privileged we are to participate in God’s story from the vantage point of the New Covenant.

Dr. Marvin Wilson points out the importance of being acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures when he reminds us that “to be cognizant of one’s past was essential for establishing confidence about the future” (Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 3). Msgr. Kevane agrees by pointing out that the “young people in school today are preparing to live the modern present. But the modern world is the outgrowth of the total past of mankind. The study of the past, therefore, is the key to understanding our modern world of today” (Eugene Kevane, The Advent of Christ Vol II of Divine Providence and Human Progress Series (Catholic University of America, 1962), 1).

No longer do we search aimlessly for meaning, trying to find ourselves. The adoption into the Catholic Church, the New Covenant, gives our life meaning, continuity and challenge. However, it is one thing to have received the Bible as a family heirloom, it is another to live by it.

This post is taken from His Story Is Your Story by Jeff Cavins, a chapter in Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God, by Scott Hahn.

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How Not to Read the Scriptures Mon, 20 Jul 2015 04:59:12 +0000 The first time I picked up a Bible and started to read, I was irritated by the time I got to the third chapter of Genesis. Still in my teens as a denominational Christian, I found trying to understand it arduous and intimidating. Why were Adam and Eve suddenly ashamed after they sinned? Why exactly?


I traced the references in my basic Bible but still didn’t feel satisfied. I finally skipped it but ran immediately into another difficulty. The first book of Samuel in my Bible translation was full of the word emerods. I wondered what the heck an emerod could be and couldn’t tell from the context.

In a frustrated pout, I told God I wasn’t picking up my Bible again unless I got an answer. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl.

Have I mentioned that I’ve never had a question for God that he did not somehow answer?

Never Give Up – Exciting but Confused Beginnings

My mother was an avid reader, and the only bookshelf in our house was the one in my bedroom that ran half the length of one wall. As I was leaving the room one day, my eye caught the title on the spine of one of hundreds of books: Bible Dictionary. Hmmm. I checked to see if emerod was there: “an infected, malignant boil; a hemorrhoid.” For real? I was stunned.

This question-and-answer episode launched me headlong into the most exciting journey of my life: the effort to seek God’s face in the Scriptures. At first, I only read the Bible when I needed an answer for something. I used the Bible like a Magic 8 Ball: ask a question, let the Bible fall open where it may, and start reading.

I asked God where we should buy or build a house. The gospel included a city named Bethpage. Hey, I concluded, that’s just up the road. I located land up for sale at auction and was sure God had told me we should buy land there. We were outbid, and I was shocked and mortified by how wrong I’d been. I learned not to depend solely on my own hunches when reading and discerning God’s voice.

I began a broken practice of talking to God about my life, loves, observations, and problems and reading the Bible for guidance and answers. The Scriptures came alive for me; they spoke to me; had hands that took hold of me; they had feet that ran after me. I read through one book, then another, in no particular order at all.

Then I started a faithful, daily prayer time with the Scriptures. I read until I felt my attention drawn to a word or sentence or passage; I would stop and write it in my prayer journal and ask God what He was trying to say to me. Then I would sit and wait and listen, and write down whatever I thought I was hearing.

Not long after I began the practice, a mentor asked me to help her teach a Bible study. I agreed, but a couple of weeks into the study, she told me she felt like I was supposed to teach it myself. Oddly, I had begun to feel the same way, but figured it was a prideful thought. At that time I had never been in a single seminary class; I knew exactly nothing about anything; I was barely twenty years old. But I tried it and was hooked, and I never looked back.

I settled into a regular routine of prayer and study with the Scriptures, and eventually got some formal theological training. As I learned who God was, I began writing my own Bible study materials. The Holy Spirit seemed to be speaking at every turn as I discovered more about what God was like, His purposes, and his ways.

How Do I Know If My Interpretation is Right?

Although I was insatiable when it came to the Bible, I began to have serious questions about some of the theology I had grown up under – the Rapture, for instance – a curious, unbiblical teaching in which all Christians skip the worst end times sufferings and persecutions.

What made the end-time Christians so special that they could simply abdicate the hard parts that Christians had endured and suffered throughout history? Additionally, denominationalism itself is condemned by the Bible. Where’s the truth? How can we trust what we’re learning is actually true?

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pt 1:20). All Scripture is prophecy, because it all witnesses to Christ (Rv 19:10), so I cannot simply trust my conscience or my parents or my feelings on an interpretation of Scripture if it’s never an individual matter (Tweet this).

And thank goodness, because my insistent, probing questions and dissatisfaction with pat, incomplete, and not-very-well-thought-out denominational answers were beginning to alienate me from my teachers and those I attempted to teach!

God Speaks Through the Church

Eventually, God led me to full communion with the Church, and I discovered 2000 years of the richest, most soaring Bible teaching on earth. The first time I picked up a Catechism I felt as though I had stepped off a cliff into an abyss of Truth.

Our “believe what you want to believe” culture attempts to minimize and marginalize the Church, but the Holy Spirit speaks most definitively through the teaching office of the Magisterium and the history and Tradition of the Church (which includes but is not limited to Scripture). We must study and read Scripture with the Church throughout history in order stay united to the Holy Spirit by whom they were written.

“The pillar and foundation of truth” St. Paul describes is not my Bible, not my experiences in prayer, my denomination or parish, nor my opinions (1 Tm 3:15). This pillar and foundation is the Church. The Church is my measuring stick when discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying to me in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is the very air the Church breathes in order to stay alive. What the Church says on an issue is what the Holy Spirit says about it. Apart from the Church I cannot fully know God’s will for my life in the Bible.

I have heard people say they sensed in prayer with the Scriptures that God was telling them to do something that the Bible or the Church, or both, say is illicit. The Bible does not speak specifically or comprehensively on every circumstance—contraception or stem cell research, for instance—and the Church will never contradict the Bible when it’s interpreted and understood properly.

Certainly, then, the Holy Spirit, who gave birth to both the Church and the Scriptures, would never contradict himself when speaking to an individual. I can never determine the truth of a passage or interpretation of the Scriptures by looking solely at what I think God is or was saying through them. I must know God’s perspective, his wisdom, through the Scriptures and the Church.

God is “Not the Author of Confusion”

The Holy Spirit is not schizophrenic; he will never tell me or another individual something that contradicts the Church. I don’t mean one person in the Church, I mean the Deposit of Faith as handed down to us through the last two thousand years by the Church. If I need direction or confirmation in an area where I sense God speaking in the Bible, I should always search out what the Church has said on the subject.

I can obey the Church, and therefore obey God, but if I disobey the Church, I have disobeyed God himself. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom 13:1–2).

Within the Church, I can hear God speak through the Scriptures. The sacraments are powerful sources of strength and healing, but they are only half the equation.

The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body. In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, but as what it really is, the word of God. In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them (CCC 103–104, emphasis added).

I function in relationship to the Church, so I can hear God speak in, with, and through the Church. In the Church, I have everything I need to confidently experience God in the Bible. Otherwise, am I really studying the Bible at all, or am I hearing what I want to hear and being misled?

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