Monthly Archives: May 2013

James: An Introduction

In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in days of old; that they may possess the remnant of E’dom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this. Amos 9: 11-12

 

Letter of St. James Authorship

The most likely author is a relative of Jesus usually called “the brother of the Lord.” (Matthew 13: 15; Mark 6: 3) He is clearly writing with recognized authority, yet he does not identify himself as an apostle.  He seems to be a figure of great importance in the early Christian community.

James was an eyewitness of the Resurrection, a leader in Jerusalem whom St. Paul identified as one of the “pillars.” (Galatians 2: 9)  He appears as leader and elder of the Jerusalem community at the Council of Jerusalem and as a peacemaker during the circumcision controversy.  According to some ancient sources, he prayed so much, he was known as “camel-knees.”  According to history, he was stoned to death by the Jews in 62 A.D.

Date and Place of Composition

The letter was likely composed in Jerusalem.  Scholars debate the date.  A majority place it toward the end of James’ life; probably late 50s or early 60s.

The Audience

The letter is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.”  It is not unreasonable to think that James felt a particular responsibility for outreach to Israel.  Israel as a united nation was an ideal; not a reality.  And, yet, God foretold that, in Jeremiah’s words, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

The question that occupies many of the New Testament is how in the world is God going to do this.  James sees it as his duty to explain the mystery of uniting the 12 tribes of Israel with the Gentiles under the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

Form

James concerns itself almost exclusively with exhortation to ethical conduct.  It consists of sequences of didactic proverbs discussing responsible Christian behavior.  His letter is a very Jewish work written in very good Greek.  James, a Galilean, probably had many opportunities to learn Greek from the Gentiles there; however it’s more likely that James used a secretary as Paul frequently did.

Parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount

This fact is one of the reasons I chose the Letter of St. James as the study.  I really love the Sermon on the Mount and reread it quite frequently; especially when my confessor suggests that I do it again.  There are approximately 50 parallels between them.  We will point them out as we go along.

James the LessNext time:  Trials and Temptations (James 1: 1-8)

Meditation:  1.  Have you ever been in a situation where you needed wisdom but didn’t know where to turn?  2.  Have you ever faced a trial and didn’t think you could endure it?  3.  Have you struggled with temptations?

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@Home with the Word: a Bible Study Guide to the Letter of St. James

We will be using Dr. Scott Hahn’s and Jeff Cavins’ @Home with the Word for this study.  This series is very, very old.  My guess is that it is at least 11 years old and probably older.  My copy is from 2002.  I doubt that it is available anywhere.  The website that is referenced in my copy isn’t active and is for sale.  However, I like the way it is laid out and hope that everyone will follow along and do the exercises with me.  (We will also use the Catechism of the Catholic Church; hereafter referred to as the CCC.)

 

The Structure of Each Study

Prayer:  It is important that we start our study with a prayer.  The CCC says, “the Church ‘forcefully and specifically exhorts’ all the Christian faithful. . .to learn  ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3: 8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . .Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man.  For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles'” (CCC 2653)

Have you ever:  These questions are designed to engage us in relating what we read to our own lives.

Memory Verse:  It is important to hide God’s Word in our hearts and meditate on it day and night.  I suggest that we write down the memory verse on an index card and carry it with us until it becomes a part of our thinking.  Another idea is to highlight the verse in our Bible, too.  The CCC also speaks about the heart that is nourished by the word of God when in prayer.  (Read CCC 2654)

Points to Ponder:  This section is designed to employ the various senses of scripture in order to dig deeper into the word of God.  The four senses of Scripture are literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.  These are all very biblical ways of looking at Scripture and “reading it for all it’s worth.”  God gives us nuggets of gold in His Word.  Points to Ponder should help us mine for them.

Rome to Home:  Each study will draw on the wisdom of the papcy.  In other words, from time to time, papal writings will be recommended.

Let’s Talk About It:  This is the heart of the study.  This is where we will roll up our sleeves and do some investigating, thinking, and praying.  Each study will contain 8-12 questions.

Windows of Opportunity:  How do we put the Word into practice?

Home Improvements:  This will be a personal section that is reserved for our personal resolutions.

James the LessNext time:  Introduction to James

Preparation:  A preliminary reading, quickly, of the Letter of St. James.

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Remembering them. . .

I am grateful to all those who gave their lives so that I might live freely here in the USA.  In memory of them, we are taking time off and will resume posting on Wednesday.

Today might also be a good time to pray the Divine Mercy for our country and its leaders and for ourselves, too.

Until Wednesday, God bless you and God bless America!

 

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Activate the Holy Spirit

We need the Holy Spirit if we are to be evangelizers in God’s Hands.  He strengthens us with His gifts.  He will embolden us with a holy boldness to step out and share the faith even when we are afraid to take that risk.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  (Gal 5: 22-23)

Let’s stop here and reflect on each of these fruits of the Holy Spirit.  How may each one have an effect on the way I evangelize?  Which of these fruits do I think I need the most in order to be effective in the New Evangelization?

If we are to fulfill our role well in sharing the faith, we must maintain an active prayer life.  Remember, we can’t save others.  Only God grants faith and saves immortal souls.  Our role is to pray, fast and offer sacrifice as we give reasons to believe so that the person may receive the gift of faith & salvation.

We need the Holy Spirit to enrich our prayer life so it nourishes our soul.  Prayer will make God’s truth our truth.  If we listen to God in meditative prayer, the truth of the faith will be such an integral part of our life that they truth will be apparent to others without us trying to make it apparent.

An Act of Faith

O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine Persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that He shall come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe these and all the truths that the holy Catholic Church teaches, because you have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Next tiMC900436065me:  Not sure yet.  🙂

Meditation:  Is something holding us back from living our faith in such a way that makes others want to know more about it?

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Why do some lose faith in God?

“Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world.  What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”—Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei  (n. 15)

If we truly believe in and love Jesus, we will have great joy.  We can’t keep this joy to ourselves.  We must pass it on.  This is our role.  This is our duty.

The New Evangelization

So what is the New Evangelization?  It is calling everyone to have faith in God as He is revealed by Jesus.  It is recommitting to a personal love for Christ in union with His Church.  It is discovering a life of grace through the Sacraments.  It is receiving the Bible as the Word of God, anew.

Stakes are high—eternity in Heaven or Hell.  To evangelize is the loving thing to do.

Factors that cause loss of Faith

Rationalism:  Rationalists believe that science will eventually uncover every mystery of the universe.  They fear that God is a simplistic way to accept life’s unknowns.

Politics:  Political ideologies can be detrimental to the Faith.  In America, for instance, party loyalty is sometimes placed above God and the Church.  (Think pro-abortion Catholic politicians.)

Materialism:  Insists that only the material world exists and that spirituality has no impact on “real” life.  Many people consider economic success to be more important than moral integrity, holiness, or eternal life in heaven.

Doubts:  Science cannot disprove God’s existence, so prominent atheists make God, the Church and Christians in general appear as bad characters.

Neo-Gnosticism:  According to this way of thinking, Church dogmas and moral teaching merely manifest the Church’s desire to control people’s lives, and so all Church teaching is suspect.

Skepticism:  Some people simply do not want to be fooled by anyone so they hold themselves aloof from making a faith commitment.

Immorality:  Some forms of immorality deaden the soul to the need for God.  Some people take their sinful  life as normal and do not want to change.  Or they might fear change because they are so full of pride that they identify their ego with their sinful behavior.

Loss:  Some people lose faith in God because God did not answer their prayers in a dire situation the way they wanted.   So they reject Him and choose not to believe.

In order to evangelize people, we need not only to recognize these factors, but also be sensitive to the varying spiritual conditions and needs of the people to whom we present the Gospel.  Therefore, we must listen to their stories, concerns, fears, angers, questions, doubts, and needs.  This sensitivity is how we “learn to scratch where the other person truly itches.”

 

The face of heresy in Dante's Inferno.

The face of heresy in Dante’s Inferno.

 

Next time:  We need the Holy Spirit

Meditation:  Read 1 Cor 12-14; Romans 12: 3-8 and Eph 4: 4-16 for the next time.  How many of the gifts of the Spirit are mentioned in more than one list?

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The Liturgy

I wanted to be finished with this study of the Year of Faith by Pentecost.  We are about a week behind, so we should finish by Friday.  I will be praying over what to do next.  I was leaning toward the Epistle of St. James because there are about 50 parallels between St. James and the Sermon on the Mount.  Or, we could do Matthew 25?  If you have any ideas, let me know.

Before we begin, let’s read Jesus Institutes the Eucharist in Luke 22:  14-20.

At the Last Supper, Jesus gives His Body and Blood to the apostles in the Eucharist so that they can have eternal life.  Then, He commands the apostles to “do this” so that they can bring eternal life to us.  He simply requires us to believe in Him and His words, and to believe that He truly gives His flesh and blood for us to have eternal life.

Early Christian Worship

“The Acts of the Apostles shows that the early Christians continued worshiping in the Temple, much as Jesus had done.  Yet, Jesus’ new ritual was also practiced by these Christians from the beginning of the Church. ‘ All who believed were together. . .attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising god and having favor with all the people’ “ (Acts 2: 44, 46-47)

The structure of the Eucharist was influenced by Jewish ceremonies.  Some of our Mass prayers come from the synagogue service.  i.e. the dialogue before the Preface.  In the synagogue, this was followed immediately by the Sanctus—a quote from Isaiah 6: 3.

Later Christians continued to develop the prayers of the liturgy in different parts of the world and in different languages.  The amazing things was the similarity of structure throughout the various rites.  (Pentecost truly reversed the Tower of Babel.)

Eventually the structure became set in each rite.  This had a couple of advantages.  First, the community knew what to expect and how to participate.  Secondly, the liturgy could refine the various expressions of faith in each prayer.  These prayers could then teach doctrine while the community was worshiping.  For instance, the Creed reminds everyone of the teaching of our faith.

The Liturgical Calendar

“Another element of Christian liturgy derived from Judaism is the notion of the liturgical calendar.  Jews celebrate four main feasts – Passover, Pentecost, Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles.  Other holy days are also celebrated—New Year, Hanukkah, and Purim.  Furthermore, the rabbis had developed a lectionary cycle for the synagogue.  Its core consisted of readings from the Torah, plus readings from the Psalms and the prophets.

Christians have imitated both elements.  A liturgical year begins with Advent, flowing to Christmas, Epiphany, Lent Eastertide, Pentecost and Ordinary Time, plus a variety of feasts celebrating the events of salvation and the lives of the saints.

Also, a liturgical cycle existed early, with the core being the four Gospels as requisite, plus readings from the epistles and other New Testament books, the Psalms, and other books of the Old Testament.  Just as the covenant sacrifice was preceded by reading the Ten Commandments and the laws, so is the liturgy of the Eucharist preceded by the liturgy of the word of God.  This is meant to stir up faith to further believe the words of Jesus in the Eucharist.”

MC900436065Next time:  Why some lose the faith.

Meditation:  Spend a few minutes after Mass thanking God for the gift of faith.

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The Bread from Heaven John 6: 22-71

If you haven’t done so yet, I would suggest that you stop and read these verses in your own Bible.

6: 27  Food which perishes:  While earthly food is necessary to sustain our life on earth; we need something more to give us supernatural life or to guard us against death. (6: 49)  Only Christ can give us food that satisfies our spiritual hunger and leads us to everlasting life.  Eventually in 6: 50-58, this food will be identified as the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

6: 31  He gave them bread:  This is a reference to Exodus 14: 4.  The manna that was provided by Moses was a food that was perishable.  Even though it had a heavenly origin, it melted away every morning and turned rotten if stored over night.

6: 32  the true bread:  The manna was merely a sign of the imperishable bread that the Father sends down from heaven in His Son, Jesus.

The Bread of Life Discourse:  Invitation to Faith (6: 35-47)

“I am the Bread of Life.”  This is followed by a string of invitations to come to Jesus and believe in Him for salvation.  The import of this metaphorical teaching of Jesus is not lost on the Jews, because they don’t ask Him why He calls Himself bread, but how can He claim to have come down from Heaven.  (6: 41  “Jews then murmured.”–just like they did in the desert about the manna.)

The Bread of Life Discourse:  Invitation to the Eucharist (6: 48-58)

“I am the Bread of Life.”  We are invited to eat the flesh of Jesus and drink His blood.  The impact of this literal teaching of Jesus is not lost on the Jews either, because they ask how is it possible for them to eat His flesh.  (6: 32)  The crowd is thinking of cannibalism, which would be repugnant to them.  They misunderstand because Jesus give us His glorified humanity that was His after the resurrection.  This is why He calls Himself “the living bread.”  (6: 51)

We conclude then that without faith we cannot be united to Christ or recognize Him in the Eucharist.  If eating is believing in 6: 35-47; then believing leads to eating in 6: 48-58.

The Words of Eternal Life

6: 66  His disciples drew back.  This is the only time in the Gospels when Jesus is abandoned by His disciples in such large numbers.  Yet, Jesus does not soften His words or make any effort to clear up any possible misunderstanding.  Instead He asks “Will you also go away?” (6: 67)

6: 68-70  Peter’s profession of faith:  He speaks from his heart because he doesn’t yet understand the mysteries that Jesus has just revealed.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

The Promises of Eucharistic Adoration

The Promises of Eucharistic Adoration

Next time:  Early Christian Worship and the Liturgical Calendar.

Meditation:  Reread John 6: 68-70.  What new insight about my faith have I received from this scripture?

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