What Was A Prophet Like?

We often like to read from and quote the prophets. But if you’ve ever met a real prophet you know that being in the presence of a real prophet can be very disturbing. Prophets were famous for goring every one’s ox. No one left the presence of a prophet untouched. So troubling were the prophets of old, including Jesus, that most of them were persecuted, jailed, stoned, exiled and killed. Most of the Biblical prophets were beyond controversial they were way over the top. Prophets denounced sin and injustice in the strongest language announcing doom to a nation that refused to repent. Many Israelites thus considered them unpatriotic and downright dangerous. They justified throwing them into prison for their lack of patriotism and for the way their words questioned and upset the status quo and the judgements of those who held power. To many,  these were dangerous men who had to be stopped.

Jesus, though essentially our savior, also adopted the role of a prophet. Listen to these words as he denounces the people of his day for their rejection of his prophetic message. In this they are just like their fore-bearers who rejected the prophets:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you avoid being sentenced to Hell?!  (Matt 23:29ff)

Many of us today like to think that, had we lived in Jesus’ time we would surely be on his side. But, truth be told, prophets can be hard to endure and Jesus had “difficult” things to say for everyone. Honestly, most of us struggle with the truth to some extent. And especially we moderns who prefer a more gentle discourse with large doses of honey and very little vinegar.  We probably would wince as we walked along with Jesus. Jesus was more “plain spoken” than we are usually comfortable with. If we are honest, when we read the prophets and Jesus we will come away with much to repent of.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Consider this video clip. It is of a modern prophet named Vernon Johns. In the early 1950s he was Pastor of the Dexter Avenue  Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. The Black Congregation that hired him was a rather sleepy congregation. In the face of rather awful racial discrimination, they preferred to remain silent and therefore safe. Vernon Johns tried to wake them from their sleep, but to no avail. They were too afraid (yet) to take a prophetic stand. Eventually Vernon Johns was arrested as a trouble maker and the Board of Deacons fired him. But Johns had laid a foundation for the next Pastor of Dexter Baptist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Within a few years Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and the Bus Boycott was on. The rest is history. This clip is of VernonJohns final sermon where in finest prophetic tradition he denounces racism. But NO ONE escapes his vivid denunciations. Watch this clip and behold what it must have been like with the prophets of old, even Jesus. Behold the prophet!  No one escapes! In the end of the  clip, his daughter who had stood against her Father’s zeal sings “Go Down Moses.” The choir director who had also opposed him likewise stands to sing. The seed is planted even as the prophet is led away by the police.

Insights From Psalm 23 – Are you Smarter than a Sheep??

Sometimes a text gets so familiar we lose sight of its meaning. Consider a two thoughts from Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd – Sheep only recognize one shepherd. If another shepherd calls to them they flee in fear because they do not recognize his voice. (see John 10:5) Are you as smart as a sheep? Too often when false shepherds call to us we do not run. We listen to their voices, even though they do not sound like the Lord. These false shepherds tell us to indulge our greed and passions, to give way to lust and vent our anger. Hardly the voice of Jesus. But we listen and often follow them! Sheep have brains enough to run but what about us?

He [the Lord] has prepared a table for me in the sight of my foes, my cup is over flowing. Have you ever thought that the Mass, the holy Eucharist, the altar and table of the Lord are a great sign to you of the victory the Lord has in store for you? Did he not say in John 6: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I will raise him on the last day.”  An old Latin hymn (O Sacrum Convivium) says that in the Eucharist, “a pledge of future glory is given to us.”  Our ancient enemy the devil must cringe with disappointment as he sees us approach the table, the altar of the Lord to be fed with the Body of the Lord.  The Lord has indeed prepared a table for us in the sight of our foe the devil and the devil isn’t happy! Our cup overflows because the Lord’s grace in this sacrament is super abundant for us. It is never lacking and the more we grow the more we can receive. With this promise attached to the altar, why would you or I ever stay away?

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!