Interpreting the Scriptures

Many people like to say that “fundamentalists” or Evangelicals read the Bible literally and Catholics do not. It is not really that simple though. There are many passages that Evangelicals do not read literally. For example, when Jesus says, “This is my Body” they do not interpret these words literally but, rather, conclude that the Jesus should be understood to be speaking symbolically. And we Catholics, who are not usually said to read the Bible literally, do interpret these words quite literally. Another example, When Jesus says that he will build his Church upon Peter whom he declares to be rock, Catholics take these words quite literally to mean that Peter is in fact the Rock upon which Jesus will build his Church. Evangelicals however interpret the rock here to be faith and so the text, which plainly says Peter is the Rock, is interpreted by them to mean that the rock is symbolic for faith. And so on….

So, a simple declaration that Evangelicals and Fundamentalists read the text literally and Catholics do not is simplistic. However, it remains true that Catholics and Evangelicals do have a different interpretive keys. Catholic theology and Tradition has a rather nuanced position in regard to Scriptural interpretation that gives great emphasis to the genre and context of a passage. Some texts which are plain doctrinal statements or historical narrative are interpreted rather literally. However, there are other texts in Scripture which are clearly in the genre of poetry or allegory and hence these should be interpreted that way. Scripture is not merely one book, it is a collection of books written in many different styles. This will affect the interepretation of such books. To a world that wants a simple “slogan approach” to understanding Biblical interpretation a nuanced approach is difficult to stomach. And yet the Catholic approach, though nuanced, is wise since it respects it respects genre, style, and context.

Here are a couple of videos that make rather plain the Catholic approach to Biblical interpretation. The first video is from John Martignoni and is a very brief description of the Literal vs. Literalist interpretation. The second vido is from Fr. Robert Barron and details two key Catholic interpretive principles: the importance of Genre and that Jesus Christ is the interpretive key to to understanding the whole Bible.

Proposed DC Amendment on Same-Sex Relationships

 The Archdiocese of Washington issued the following statement yesterday concerning an ammendment introduced in the City Council aimed at recognizing “Same-sex Marriage.”

The Archdiocese of Washington is deeply concerned over the amendment introduced today by the District of Columbia City Council to equate same-sex relationships with marriage in the District of Columbia by recognizing these relationships from other states.

Marriage is a natural institution established by God and written in the very nature of man and woman and is therefore endowed with its own proper laws.  The equality of men and women and the dignity of their coming together as husband and wife is not merely a fact of religious faith or a creation by civil authorities, but a fundamental reality rooted in human nature and experience.  Civil marriage is reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of its unique ability to bring children into the world and its role in forming a stable and secure foundation for our society. By legally equating unmarried couples with married couples, this bill erodes marriage.

It also is of great concern that an issue that has such significance for the families of our city was introduced in a manner that preempts discussion. We would expect differently in a democratic society.

We urge our elected officials to respect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

 If you who read this blog might permit me a couple of quick observations.

  1. Marriage is fundamentally orientedto the pro-creation and rearing of Children. Hence, by nature it should have special prerogatives and protections, enjoying a unique position in our communities.
  2. You will note that the statement makes no reference to Sacred Scripture. This is because, when the Church addresses the world which has many pluralistic religious views, she makes use of natural law in advancing her arguments. Discussions must be advanced using shared and agreed upon principles and this explains the lack of reference to Scriptures: chapter and verse.
  3. However, since I largely presume that the readers of this blog have something of a religious reference or at least read because they seek to further understand the Catholic view I would like to make a few references to Scripture. Note that when God set forth marriage he made Adam and Eve. (cf Gen 1 – 2). Thus his design in marriage is one man for one woman. Neither same-sex relationships nor polygamous situations are in conformity with this design. Further Scripture says that “For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one flesh(Gen 2:24). From this we have confirmed again God’s plan that marriage is for one man and one woman. Further that it is to be until death do them part. Hence marriage is to be a stable, lasting, life-long union. This makes eminent sense given what else God told Adam and Eve. He said, Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). Here then is another central teaching on marriage: that Children are the expected fruit of every marriage. This indicates the need for stability and for the fact that sexual complementarity is integral to any definition of marriage. (i.e. a man and a woman).  
  4. Ultimately, the attempts of the City Council and other governing bodies throughout the country to overturn the traditional definition of marriage amounts to a rejection of many centuries of human experience. It also disreguards the sincere religious views of large numbers of Christians, Jews and Muslims who hold this understanding.

There are some who say that all this redefinition of marriage stuff is really no big deal and that no one should really care how others live their lives. But, fundamentally Marriage is NOT a private matter. It is a basic pillar of any society and how that society understands and supports this most basic institution has serious and far-reaching implications. The Diocese of Portland Maine recently encountered similar legislative attempts and produced a series of short videos wherein Bishop Richard Malone addressed a number of issues. Among them the claim that this is really “no big deal.”

Another charge is often  leveled at the Catholic Church due to our teaching and position on this is that we are “intolerant.” Bishop Malone also spoke to this claim in this brief video:

The Centurion’s Anguish

Here is another video based on the Passion of the Christ. It is a powerful though imaginary account of the the reflection of the Centurion who was ordered to crucify Christ. As the account goes on he becomes anguished in his cry: “Why Am I killing this man?!?”  In the end he accepts Jesus’  request  that God forgive us and the Centurion comes to faith.

Watch this video! It is long (13 minutes) but well worth the time. If you can’t watch it now, come back later in Holy Week. But watch it. It is very well done.

40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 28 – The Doctor is In

Reason # 28 – The Doctor is in – Alright, I got some news for you.  It’s difficult news, but I’m sure you can take it ! Here it is: your condition is grave, so is mine.  We’ve got some serious stuff wrong with us!  You might say we’ve got a few issues!  Yes, I’ve  got your spiritual “medical chart” and mine open and I’m looking at the test results and the numbers don’t look good.  We’ve tested positive for a number of things: It says we can be dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, immature, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, judgmental, inpatient, and shallow.  It looks like we’ve tested positive for being inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, and just plain sinful.  Further tests indicate the presence of fear, indifference, contempt, impurity, hatred, laziness, cowardice, and anger.  Likewise, greed, jealousy, revenge fullness, disobedience, hardheartedness, pride, envy, stinginess, selfishness, pettiness, spite, self-indulgence, lust, careless neglect, and prejudice. Our “spiritual” medical history indicates that we have sinned against justice, modesty, purity, and the truth. We have committed sins against the human person, the children and the young, innocent and the trusting, the frail and elderly, the unborn in infants, weak and powerless, immigrants and strangers, and those who are disadvantaged.   A set of further test results indicates that we have failed to give witness to Christ, we have failed to join our will to God or give good example to others.  We have failed to seek God above all things, to act justly you show mercy, and to repent of our sins.  We’ve failed to obey the commandments and curb our earthly desires.  We have failed to lead a holy life and to speak the truth. We have failed to pray for others and assist those in need;  neither have we consoled the grieving.

Well, you can see that we’re kind of in bad shape. You might say that I’m exaggerating but I suspect, if you’re honest, that you like me have committed many of These sins if not most of them.  Without a lot of grace and mercy we are in very bad shape!  Indeed, I will say he simply that we are doomed!

But here’s the good news: the doctor is in! Jesus! Likewise, the doctor has a cure:

  1. Daily Prayer
  2. Daily reading of scripture
  3. Holy Communion EVERY Sunday
  4. Frequent Confession, at least 4 times a year, more if mortal sin is a problem!
  5. Frequent doses of the Catechism, the lives of the saints and devotions such as the rosary, and novenas.
  6. Good company and custody of the eyes and ears.

I hope you can see the connection to coming home. We need help; we’ve got stuff going on that will kill us eternally. But Jesus has a hospital: the Church, and Medicine: the Sacraments. Likewise there is spiritual “medical” advice available, the Word of God, sermons, the teachings of the Church and the presence of encouraging doctors and nurses such as the priests, religious, and fellow Catholics.  Whether you and  like to  admit it or not we need regular check-ups and serious medicine. And Jesus is guiding his Church to give skillful advice and distribute powerful medicine. Do you think of the sacraments that way? Many simply think of them as rituals but the truth is they are powerful medicine. I’m a witness. After twenty-five years of seeing the doctor, Jesus and letting him minister to me through Sacraments, the Word and his Church a wonderful change has come over me. I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be.

Come on home. The doctor is in and you know you need him! Reach out for him what ever your struggles.  He’s waiting to minister to you especially in the liturgy and the sacraments. You can’t do it alone. Join us every Sunday at the “holy hospital”, the Church. The Doctor is in!

40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 27 – Christ’s Prayer

Reason 27 – The Prayer of Christ. The scene is the Last Supper and Jesus is praying. At two critical moments his prayer focuses on unity. He prays to his Father in these words: And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.  (John 17:11). So, central to Jesus prayer that fateful night of the last supper was that we have unity.

But how would this unity come to be? Is Jesus just praying for a kind of moral unity where we are all nice to each other and “get along” ??  As you might suspect, Jesus has a little more in mind than a mere moral unity. He actually has a plan as to how this unity will come to pass. It is Luke’s account of the Last Supper where this plan is spelled out most clearly. In a sadly comical moment in the Last Supper a debate broke out among them as to who was the greatest! (cf Luke22:24). Imagine, Jesus knows this is his Last Supper and that he will die the next day and he has to endure this sort thing.  He goes on to teach the Apostles that authority is for service, not greatness and personal power. And then, in the midst of all this competition and division Jesus announces his plan for unity. He turns to Peter, calling him by his personal name, Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32).  Jesus warns that the devil would try to divide (“sift”) the twelve and the Church. What is Jesus’ solution? He will pray for Simon Peter and through his prayer for Simon Peter, the Church will be strengthened in its unity. Please pay attention here, Jesus’ plan to unify his Church is to pray for one man, Peter, and through that one man strengthen his Church in unity against the devil who seeks to divide it.  Note that Jesus is not unaware of Peter’s weakness for he refers to it! Peter would have to turn back after his three-fold denial. But it is not Peter’s human strength that is to be the source of unity but, rather, Christ PRAYER for Peter that will unite the Church. Peter strengthens unity in the Church because of Christ’s prayer for him personally.

Down through the many centuries Christ Jesus has unified his Church by praying for Peter and his successors, the Popes. We follow Christ plan for unity only by staying united to Peter and his successors. Every other path breaks away from Christ’s plan and divides the Church. There is an old Latin teaching: Ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia (Where Peter is, there is the Church). In the Nicene Creed one of the four marks of the Church is that it is “one” (I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church…). But as I have tried to show you, we cannot fulfill Christ’s prayer and plan for unity if we are not one with the Pope. Only the Roman Catholic Church fulfills Christ’s prayer and plan for unity. Every denomination and individual who refuses unity with Peter’s successor, the Pope, exists apart from Christ’s plan for unity.

How does all this amount to a reason for coming home? Well let me ask you, “Do you want to fulfill Christ’s prayer for unity?” He prays that we all be one. This is an explicit prayer he made to his Father at his Last Supper. He laid out the plan. Do you want to be part of his plan for unity? Then come home. We cannot have unity without you. Neither can you have unity without  us and without Peter’s successor. In the end the only way we can answer and fulfill Christ’s prayer is to be together in one Church, with Peter’s successor the Pope as the head of that Church. The devil wants to divide you and me. But Jesus is praying for the Pope, and through those prayers alone can we ever hope to have true unity. I invite you to consider fulfilling Christ’s prayer and plan by coming home to Catholic Church which he founded and unites through his prayer for the Pope.

40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 26 – This Really IS Home

Reason # 26 – This Really is Home–  One of the bewildering aspects of Christianity is all the many different denominations that exist. They all claim to be authentically Christian and read the Bible accurately but all of them have differences that cannot simply be ignored. Now the truth cannot come in different versions. If one denomination says, “The Eucharist is the Body of Christ”  and the other says, “It is not, it is only a symbol” , both cannot be right.  How to sort all of this out?  Which of these many denominations, saying many different things, speaks for Christ?

Well, would it matter to you if I said that only one of the contenders was actually founded by Jesus Christ? You see, the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. Of all the Christian denominations only the Roman Catholic Church goes back to the time of Jesus Christ and was directly founded by Him. (I will say here too that the Eastern Orthodox Churches also stretch back to the time of Jesus and the Apostles so one may argue that they too have antiquity on their side but, I will point out in another post, they do not have unity with Peter, an essential quality of the Church Jesus founded.) The many other Christian “Protestant” denominations are actually fairly new and were founded by men, not  Jesus. Martin Luther founded the Lutheran denomination, John Calvin the Presbyterians, KIng Henry VIII founded the Anglican (Episcopalian) denomination and so forth. Even the oldest of these denominations goes back only to the mid 1500’s. That means that the Catholic Church existed for more than 1500 years before any of the Protestant denominations came to be. Generally these denominations are called “Protestant” because they were “protesting” some teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther for example left the Church for what he considered to be very good reasons but the fact remains that he left the Church founded by Jesus to set up his own operation. Others did the same. After many of these denominations were underway, they began to divide off from each other so that, ,these days, there are many forms of Baptists, different Synods of Lutherans and so forth. All of them 500 years old or much less (Many Pentecostal denominations are less than 100 years old). Some argue today (perhaps with a bit if exaggeration) that there are almost 30,000 different Protestant denominations.  

OK, so here’s the choice, A Church more than 2000 years old founded by Jesus himself or a denomination founded by man and rather a new operation at that. But before you answer let me also tell you that in founding his Church Jesus made some promises to the Church: That it would be founded on Peter, that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt 16:18ff) that Jesus would be with it all days until the end of the world (Matt 28:20), that he would anoint the Apostles with the Holy Spirit so that they would remember everything he told them (Jn 16:13), that he would give them and their successors authority to forgive sin(Jn 20:23), to bind and loose (Matt 16:19) and teach with authority such that whoever heard them would be hearing him (Luke 10:16), and that he would lead his Church to all the truth (Jn 16:13).

My point is finally this, If you are going to come home it is here, the Catholic Church. The one Church founded by Jesus Christ. The one Church that stretches back to Jesus himself and received powerful promises from Jesus. The one Church that cannot teach error for then the promise of Jesus that “the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church” and that he would “be with it all days till the end of the world, ” those promises of Christ would not hold firm. I did not say the Church was sinless (I know that because I am in it 🙂 ) but the Church cannot formally propose error for our belief.  The Church may not always live the truth perfectly, but the Church teaches the truth perfectly by Christ’s own promises. This is home. This is the Church Jesus founded and secured by his promises. Come home, it’s right here.

Here is a video that explains how one man, a Protestant Minister found his way home through some of things we’ve discussed:

40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal

Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal– A few years ago I acted in a play. I spent many weeks learning my lines and many hours rehearsing sections of the play with the other actors. Then came the dress rehearsal when it all came together. The purpose of the dress rehearsal is for the actors to experience the final product. The dress rehearsal is as close to the actual play as possible. There is no goofing off, no retakes, this is as close to opening night as possible.

 

In a way, this is what the Mass is. Mass is like getting ready for heaven. But “How is this so?”  you might ask. Well, start with the biblical descriptions of heaven. There are many, but the most consistent image of heaven in the scriptures is that of a liturgy or Mass. In the Book of Revelation (cf 4,5,8, 21) for example the heavenly experience is described in terms that many Catholics should find very familiar. There are candles, incense, hymns of praise, elders (priests) in long white robes (albs), there is first a focus on a scroll (or book) in which are contained all the answers, then the focus shifts to the Lamb on a throne like altar. There are saints and angels all around and songs such as Holy, Holy, and Worthy is the Lamb being sung by the multitude. Does all this sound familiar? If you go to Mass it does! So, in an important way the Mass gets us ready for what we will do in heaven. I always have concerns when some one tells me they find Mass boring because heaven is like a Mass. Granted, not all our Masses are as well celebrated as they could be. But in the end we ought to find joy and peace in the Liturgy, the Mass, since by so doing we start to get used to heaven. Over the years I have started to like Mass more and more. And I am glad, because it means I am starting to like what heaven is, a glorious liturgy of prayer, praise, and communal celebration around the wonderful throne of God.

There is another way that the Mass is like a dress rehearsal. Heaven, you see, is not just some made up place of our design. It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Here too we need to learn our lines and get adjusted and the Mass helps us to do this. Over the years as you attend Mass you are`instructed in the Word of God and thus in the values of the Kingdom of God. At Mass we learn our lines and parts. We learn things such as forgiveness, mercy, love for the truth, chastity, generosity, love for the poor, love for life from conception to natural death, love for God more than for the things of the world, and so forth. All this helps us to get adjusted to the kingdom. And if you like these things you’ll like heaven, if you do not like them you will not want to enter heaven. Here too I have grown used to the Kingdom through my faithful attendance at Mass. Over the years I have come to understand more what the Kingdom of God is really about and I have learned to love these kingdom values. You see, if I don’t know my lines and don’t attend the dress rehearsal to get used to the play when it opens, I won’t be ready. The Mass gets us used to what heaven is really like and to its values; the REAL heaven, not some made up heaven that doesn’t really exist.

So, here’s a good reason to come home – the dress rehearsal. You gotta get used to the REAL  heaven. It takes time to embrace the kingdom of heaven when all we know is the world and its ways. Come! Join the dress rehearsal for heaven, learn its songs, its praise, its values come to learn of and know God. Then when the curtain of this life falls you’ll be ready for opening night: the great feast of heaven. But be careful, if the dress rehearsal is missed, there are often casting changes! You gotta be ready, you gotta come to the dress rehearsal to make the final cut and be ready for opening night.

Here is a video which descibes details of heaven as described in the Book of the Revelation and how they relate to our Mass

 

 

The Man Born Blind in Computer Animation

Some who attended Mass today heard the Cycle A Gospel of the Man Born Blind – John 9. Here is an interesting computer generated video of that Gospel. The animation is a bit robotic at times, but it is an interesting use of technology and Internet to proclaim the Gospel.