The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Thu, 27 Nov 2014 14:00:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Giving Thanks in Good Times and in Bad Thu, 27 Nov 2014 14:00:37 +0000 Each year as Thanksgiving approaches and I start to review my blessings, I stumble on this from St. Paul:
 “In everything give thanks.” (1 Thess. 5:18).


Everything?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  When things go wrong, I’m supposed to give thanks?  When my husband is laid off and no jobs are in sight?  When the mortgage is underwater?  When illness strikes and the pain won’t go away?

Paul goes on: We are to give thanks in all situations because “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

I used to wonder whether that means it’s God’s will for me to give thanks, or that the situation is God’s will for me and it will work for my eventual good.  Either way, I’ve learned that it is precisely by giving thanks in the difficult times of our lives, that our hearts are lifted above the situation.  Having a thankful heart is not only appropriate in good times, it can help us survive the bad.
 There’s a powerful example of this at the Yad VaShem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, which I wrote about in Psalms the School of Prayer:

As you leave [the museum], there is painted on the wall in red and black letters a prayer. The refrain “And praised … be … the Lord” is interrupted by a litany of the names of prison camps:

“And praised. Auschwitz. Be. Magdenek. The LORD. Treblinka. And praised. Buchenwald. Be. Mauthhausen. The LORD. Belzec. And praised. Sobibor. Be. Chelmno. The LORD. Ponary. And praised.…”

… Is the author praising God for prison camps?  Far from it.  This prayer/poem isolates those evil camps and plunges them into the midst of the praises, surrounding them in the greater power of God and His good. It is cathartic to read. The longer you read it, the more it strengthens you and gives you hope.  Try inserting your own trials in the spaces below, and praying it:  “And praised __________. Be ________. The Lord. _______.”  Amen.

God willing, no one reading this will ever have to confront the depth of suffering represented by that poem.  But in the dark patches of your life, think of the Jews and praise the Lord, taking care to give thanks “in everything.”  If they can do it – so can we.

This post first appeared 11/15/2013 at

Excerpt from Andre Schwartz-Bart, the Land of the Just


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Advent Reflection 3: Modeling the Manger Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:49:48 +0000
Series Intro
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. It spans the spiritual life, inviting us to prayerful penitence and joyful anticipation. In this four-part series, I want to focus our attention on some often overlooked aspects of this amazing season and the even more amazing Story behind it.

In our first post, we looked at the four Old Testament “mothers” of Christ and how they can enrich our experience of the upcoming season of Advent. Last week, we focused on the Holy Angels and how they model our call to be faithful witnesses, devoted worshippers, and workers of mercy. This week, we turn our attention to the object that held the baby Jesus.                                                                                                            the-mystical-nativity(1)

Away in a Manger

I grew up hearing the Nativity story and the words of the angels, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:12). I had seen countless “manger” scenes with a small painted figurine of the Holy Child resting in a little wooden box filled with faux straw. But it wasn’t until I was a grown man that I learned the manger where Jesus was placed was, in fact, a feeding stone trough (they have found several of these in the Holy Land). In fact, our English word, manger comes from mangier “to eat.”

Luke doesn’t want to miss this seemingly ordinary detail. In fact, he uses the term three times in the story (Lk. 2:7,12,16). Why?

One of the most obvious reasons is that Jesus will become the Bread of Life (John 6:25), food for the whole world. It’s doubly significant that it happens in the little town of Bethlehem, which can be translated “house of bread.”

It’s also a sign of God’s great love and humility to be born in such poor circumstances, rather than in a palace fit for the King of Kings. But, for our purposes I want to propose a different reflection on the manger. The manger as us. Here are three ways we can “model” that holy manger this coming Advent Season:

Make space for Jesus

Ancient mangers were created by hollowing out a space in a large stone. What needs to be carved out of your heart, schedule, time, energy, attention and affection to make space for Jesus? Only you can answer that question. Each day presents us countless moments, even if brief, to welcome Jesus into our conversations, tasks and relationships.

Showing hospitality for others

In its own way, that dirty little stone manger showed hospitality to Jesus. Christian hospitality has very little to do with setting a stunning table and everything to do with simply “making room” for another. I can be homeless and show hospitality to another, by opening my hearts and hands to them. In fact, one of the most beautiful ways I can show hospitality (making room) is to visit the homebound. Your presence, warmth, simple gift and listening ear can change someone’s entire experience of the holiday season.

Feed the hungry

I just read a statistic that 1 in 4 children in my state regularly go hungry. That is unacceptable. There are dozens of ministries and organizations we can give a sacrificial offering to this Advent season and beyond to turn this tide. But food is only one kind of hunger. People hunger for acceptance, kindness, meaning, joy and peace. What are some practical ways you can meet those deeper needs by sharing with another the Bread of Life who alone can satisfy?

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Advent Reflection 2: Angels Thu, 13 Nov 2014 16:14:38 +0000 Modeling the Message and Mission of the Angels this Advent


Series Intro
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year.  It spans the spiritual life, inviting us to prayerful penitence and joyful anticipation.  In this four-part series, I want to focus our attention on some often overlooked aspects of this amazing season and the even more Bartolomé_Esteban_Perez_Murillo_023amazing Story behind it.

Hark the Herald Angels

Last week we looked at the four Old Testament “mothers” of Christ and how they can enrich our experience of the upcoming season of Advent. This week I want to focus on some other “supporting actors” in the saving story of this season: the Angels.

A few years ago, I created a presentation called Angels: the Biblical Story of Our Unseen Allies. Although I thought I knew the Story of Salvation very well, I found myself repeatedly surprised to rediscover how present the angels are throughout the Bible Timeline. In fact, every period of the Timeline has angels present and helping at key moments.  Of course, when we reach the infancy narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus, the presence of angels is intensified.

The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce the coming of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:11-19) and brings Mary the amazing news of the conception and coming of Jesus (Lk. 1:26-38). Her husband Joseph will receive two visits from angels (Mt. 1:20-24; 2:13,19).

But my favorite angelic event is the visit to the shepherds (Luke 2:9-15).  Shepherds were among the poorest and marginalized classes of people in the first century.  That’s not insignificant.  The angels didn’t appear to King Herod, a Roman official, or a Temple leader.  They went to the fringes and announced the greatest message of human history to God’s little ones.

Given these different angelic moments, I want to propose three ways we can model the angels that surround the Advent of Jesus:


When the angels announce the Good News of Jesus to the shepherds, it seems the whole of heaven breaks out in response, ““Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk. 2:14).  The shepherds then rush to see the King in the manger.  After encountering the Holy Family, they take up the song of the angels, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Lk. 2:20).  I love that we do this every time we pray the Gloria in the Mass.  We are taking up the song of the angels and echoing the praise of the poor shepherds.  Every Mass is then an invitation to the mystery of the Nativity.  Consider making a commitment to attend Mass more frequently during this Advent Season.  Use the Gloria as a point of meditation during your prayer times.


Angels almost always bring a message.  In the Infancy Narratives, it is a message of hope and joy.  We continue the work of the angels when we become faithful and fearless witnesses of this same Good News to our generation. Advent is a perfect time to share the Good News about Jesus. We can do this in so many ways.  Consider writing a letter to your family and friends expressing what this Good News means to you personally and tuck it in an Advent or Christmas card.  

Works of Mercy

The angelic hosts appeared to the poor shepherds first, a beautiful prefigurement of the Church’s preferential love for the poor. I often think that Mary very likely showed them hospitality when they came to worship her Son, sharing the meager food the Holy Family may have had with them.  Consider a special offering to local or parish-based ministries in your area this Advent.  Invite a widow, widower or single person in your parish to share a meal with your family.  Make a simple bag of toiletries, water and hand warmers to share with the homeless you may encounter.

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Advent Reflection 1: The Mothers of Christ Thu, 06 Nov 2014 20:49:26 +0000 Intro
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. It spans the spiritual life, inviting us to prayerful penitence and joyful anticipation. In this four-part series, I want to focus our attention on some often overlooked aspects of this amazing season and the even more amazing Story behind it.

The Mothers of Christmadonna-of-the-rosary(1)
Advent is a time I grow in my appreciation for Mary, the Mother of Christ and motherhood in general. In the sweeping story of salvation there were many mothers that made Christ’s adventus possible for us.

Matthew’s genealogy highlights some of Christ’s special mothers (Mt. 1:1-17). We tend to avoid or skip over genealogies, thinking they are about as interesting as reading a column of the phone book (do people still have phone books?). The procession of names isn’t intended to be a comprehensive genealogy, but rather a selection of important people, many of them serving as a clue to Jesus’s mission and message.

Breaking with traditional genealogies, Matthew highlights four female figures, each an ancestral mother of Christ that lead us to Mary. Instead of choosing the famous matriarchs like Sarah, Rebekeh and Rachel, the Gospel writer chooses women whose lives were filled with shame and pain (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba). They endured prostitution, widowhood, and even rape. They were “outsiders,” foreigners brought into God’s family through faith and the Lord’s providence. They are a revelation of God’s love in Christ that would soon break into our world to bring healing and wholeness, setting us free from our shameful pasts. Their stories reach their fulfillment in the final mother of the genealogy: Mary. In her Magnificat, Our Lady speaks of God’s “mercy on those who fear him in every generation” like Rahab of Jericho and Bathsheba the Hittite. She praises the Lord who has “lifted up the lowly” like Tamar and “filled the hungry with good things” as he did for Ruth (Luke 1:46-55).

There are many “lessons” we could draw from this genealogy. Let me propose just a couple for the Advent season.

- How may this season of Advent invite me to give Jesus and Mary all the “messiness” of my personal history: all of the brokenness, pain and shame and to trust that it can be redeemed and to find wholeness in Christ?

  • Ask the Lord to show you the “mothers” around you that have Christ hidden within, like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Reach out to them in concrete ways with generosity and mercy.
  • Thank the Lord for the many “mothers” the Lord has made part of your own saving story. If they have passed on, pray for their souls. If they are alive, make a point to do something special for them this Advent season.
  • Finally, in all the busyness that is about to come upon us, carve out some special time for Mary in your spiritual life. At the cross, she became the Mother of all the faithful (see Evangelic Gaudium, No. 285). Rest in her maternal arms, bring her your needs, and ask her to fill you with her love, tenderness and joy this season.
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Meet the Messengers: Malachi Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:15:45 +0000 Meet The Messengers MalachiWhen people tell me they think the Old Testament prophets are irrelevant or simply artifacts of the past, I often point to the prophet Malachi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s close this series by praying it together:

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

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