Saturday, March 25, 2017

Jesus' Prayer within the Womb of Mary

Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) said something – actually, tens of thousands of things – that it would do us a tremendous amount of good to meditate upon. In his book Behold the Pierced One, he wrote “[P]rayer was the central act of the person of Jesus…this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls ‘Father.’”[1] This was true at every point of our Lord’s human life, including the nine months he spent in the womb of our Blessed Mother. And because our Lord “enables us to live in him all that he himself lived” (CCC 521), Jesus’ embryonic prayer life is able to massively enrich our own – especially when we are at a loss for the words to pray!

Our Lord’s prayer throughout his first 40 weeks on earth was completely wordless. From the nanosecond his soul and body came into existence, our Lord’s entire humanity was oriented toward the Father. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews heard the prayer of Jesus’ heart in Psalm 40:

When Christ came into the world, he said,“Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,but a body hast thou prepared for me;in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”(Heb 10:5-7; Ps 40:6-8)
Simply by being, by existing as a child, Jesus was at prayer. It was the prayer of surrender, entrustment. Words were not needed. In the heights of his soul, Jesus gazed upon the Father with all the clarity of the saints in heaven. He was “not engaged in the adult business of thinking at all.” Rather, “in the earthly paradise of his Mother’s body, he is resting and seeing and loving and praising the Father.”[2] And his prayer is available to us in our moments of need. No, we do not have his direct vision of the God the Father, but we can gaze upon the God-Man in the Eucharist.

At some point each of us finds ourselves at a loss for what to say to God. It is usually at a time of intense trial. The pain of disease, agony of loss, or sting of betrayal leave us overwhelmed. Our sadness and anger are so acute that we feel abandoned, as if God were a universe away. How do we pray in those moments? We look to Jesus, who desires to draw us into his own prayer.

No matter how deep our pain and confusion, nor how distant we may feel from God, when we visit Jesus in the tabernacle we objectively place ourselves in his presence. When the Eucharist, the Lord’s Body, is reserved in a Tabernacle or exposed to our eyes in a monstrance, we are allowed to kneel and gaze upon our brother Jesus … as He gazes upon the Father. There he is – just as he has been from all of eternity – surrendered to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and offering himself completely to us

When you don’t have the words, put yourself in Jesus’ presence and fasten your eyes upon him. Be with him. In baptism he united you to his own conception by the Holy Spirit. Jesus made you a child of the Father. Open your arms to him and let his Spirit, dwelling within you, “intercede with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). Begin there. In a short time your ability to speak will return and you will be able to make Jesus’ prayer in Gethsamene your own (it’s there in the Our Father). You will be able to open your Bible and pray the psalms he did upon the Cross (Ps 22, 31, and 69), psalms that praise the Father for the resurrection to come, even amidst the pain. But begin like Jesus by gazing upon the Lord and resting in his presence… resting beneath the heart of the Blessed Mother. 

Our Lord's prayer is an infinite source of riches. If you'd like to go a little deeper, I have several articles available here as well as my labor of love, the book Through, With, and In Him.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1986).
[2] Saward, John, Redeemer in the Womb (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993).

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Bible Study?

I bet there are some folks out there who made a resolution to do more Bible study in 2017. Because I'm sure that most of you reading this have Facebook accounts, I wanted to let you know about an online Bible study group beginning this Sunday, January 9th. I was notified about the group a couple of weeks back: A 10-week study making use of my The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics to delve into this beautifully written, theologically dense book of the New Testament. You can learn more about the study and join right here. I'm really looking forward to reading participants thoughts and offering my two cents now and then. Hope you will consider joining!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review: "Communion of Saints" by Stephen Walford

Any time I come across a book with endorsements from Scott Hahn and Fr. Thomas Weinandy (Vatican International Theological Commission) and a foreword from Cardinal Lacroix, it immediately makes my "to read" list. Now that I have finished Stephen Walford’s Communion of Saints, I can unabashedly say that it is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject that I have seen. Its subtitle, The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ, displays the work’s Trinitarian grounding and sweeping scope – the Church militant on earth, suffering in purgatory, and triumphant in heaven. Mr. Walford’s theology is masterfully grounded in Scripture and the Church Fathers, illuminated by tales from the lives of the canonized saints, and further explicated with vignettes from private revelation.

Walford demonstrates that the Church was not an afterthought on God’s part, but Christ’s chosen partner for disseminating the grace of salvation to the world. Not only was the Lord Jesus’ life prefigured in the Old Testament, but so was His Church’s sacraments and intercession. We, its members on earth, have been called and consecrated to manifest Christ’s life before the world, living the beatitudes just as He did. The Church is the blossoming of God’s Kingdom on earth, the place where Jesus’ Kingly rule is already manifest. As soldiers we fight the Lord’s battles, overcoming the sin within ourselves and the world, assisted by the prayers of our brothers and sisters who have already arrived in the glory of heaven. In turn, we intercede for those of our number who depart this world still in need of purification.

Mr. Walford’s treatment of purgatory is exceptional. In addition to the classical scriptural supports for the doctrine, he has marshalled extensive evidence for the belief in the early Church. I appreciated the way that Walford includes quotes from Scripture and the Fathers in the body of the text rather than directing readers to other works. Readers will come away with a more thorough understanding of “temporal” punishment, the Church’s “treasury of merits,” and indulgences as well as the penetrating insights of St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Thérèse of Lisieux into the nature of purgatory and the means of circumventing one’s need for it. You will also read a number of accounts from canonized saints like Padre Pio and Teresa of Avila that the Lord allowed to be visited by souls seeking intercessory prayer to assist them in their purification.

This book also directs our gaze toward heaven – both its current residents and the life that awaits us there. I thoroughly enjoyed Walford’s narration of miracles investigated in the course of canonizations from the last century. (I, personally, have a great fondness for the writings of St. Louis Marie De Montfort but had never learned of the astounding 1927 healing that led to his canonization!) The scriptural justification and theological explanation for venerating the saints, their relics, and images is well done. I applaud Walford’s treatment of the Blessed Mother as an icon of the Church, Christ’s return, and the resurrection of the body. In a time when we seem deluged by private revelations of the apocalyptic variety, Walford is a voice of sanity directing us to the established Tradition of the Church regarding events that must precede Christ’s return.

Communion of Saints: The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ is a genuine tour de force. Steeped in Scripture and Tradition, Walford deftly punctuates his explanation of this great mystery with saintly insights, private revelation, and personal theological speculation; critical readers should, however, have no difficulty rightly weighing the authority attached to each. If you received an Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, then I can’t think of a better way to put them to use. In addition, all proceeds from this book are donated to Aid to the Church in Need to assist persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Not only will you be reading about the Communion of Saints, you will be acting for its benefit!

Friday, October 21, 2016

John Paull II and the Awesome Communion of Saints

In 1999, Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit to my hometown of St. Louis, MO. I had just married a year and a half before, though, and was living in Illinois, a little west of Champaign-Urbana. I knew a couple of people in my new digs that were making the trip to St. Louis to see him, but I never made an attempt to get tickets to the large youth rally or Mass.

That’s where my buddy Pete, a high school campus minister in St. Louis, came in. Two days before the Pope’s arrival, Pete called to say that he had a few extra tickets to the youth rally and wanted to know if my wife and I could come back to help him chaperone his group. My heart skipped a beat!  One problem: my wife was taking classes at the time and absolutely could not miss on the day of the youth rally. She encouraged me to go nonetheless. I told Pete that I’d need to call him back.

We had moved to eastern Illinois, knowing no one; and the small town where we lived was incredibly unfriendly, so we hadn’t made any good friends. It didn’t feel right to leave my wife there without any support if something should go wrong.

I had seen the Pope once before, in a private audience (of 4,000 people) when I visited Rome, for the canonization of Rose Philippine Duchesne. I was fifteen at the time. In the eleven years between that audience and Peter's invitation, I had come to understand and love Christ's gift of the papacy in a much deeper way, and John Paull II in particular. I had read Archbishop Sheen's autobiography and could not agree more with Sheen's assessment of the Holy Father. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen died only one year into John Paul's papacy, but before doing so he wrote these prophetic words:
I believe that John Paul II will go down in history as one of the great Pontiffs of all times. As one looks over the history of Christendom, it seems that there is a crisis about every five hundred years. The first cycle of five hundred years was the fall of Rome, when God raised up the great Pontiff Gregory the Great....The second cycle of five hundred years brings us roughly to the years 1000, when there was the Eastern schism, but also the decline of holiness in the Church...Gregory VII, who was a Benedictine, was raised by God to heal the crisis....In the third cycle there was a breakup of Christian unity...The great Dominican Pontiff, Pius V, saved the Church by applying the reforms of the Council of Trent and by establishing missionary activity throughout the world. Now we are in the fourth cycle of five hundred years, with two world wars in twenty-one years, and the universal dread of nuclear incineration. This time God has given us John Paul II, who has drawn the attention of the world to himself as no human being has done in history. (Treasures in Clay, 244-5)
Sheen did not live to see John Paul II survive an assassin's bullet, set in motion the fall of Communism, traverse the world spreading the Gospel, articulate and proclaim his life-changing Theology of the Body, and a thousand and one other accomplishments - all by the grace of God. What Sheen did know was this:
Over a century ago, a Polish poet by the name of Slowacki wrote these prophetic lines: "God has made ready the throne for a Slav Pope/ He will sweep out the Churches and make them clean within,/ God shall be revealed, clear as day, in the created world." A polish woman who died in 1972 at the age of ninety-two knew Father Wojtyla as a young priest. Among her effects at death there was found in her prayer book this prophecy of Slowacki under which she had written the lines: "This Pope will be Karol." (Treasures in Clay, 246)
I can rarely recount that story without feeling the pressure of tears behind my eyes. (They are even there as I write them this morning.) I believed that God was at work in Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II; and I had come to love him as my own dear brother, as my own father in faith (as Paul was to Timothy - 1 Tim. 1:2).

As I sat in my Illinois living room, thinking about making the trip to see John Paul II in St. Louis, the Lord let me feel the incredible love I bore this man. The reality of the Communion of Saints was impressed very deeply upon me, and I knew that going to St. Louis could not bring me any closer to that man, than the Holy Spirit had in that moment. Seeing John Paul II, even speaking with him face-to-face, could not increase that union. There was no need to go to St. Louis. No, I needed to stay where I was and be present to my wife. That was what I did, and I have never second-guessed the decision.

We here on earth - as well as those in heaven and those experiencing God's purifying love in purgatory - are joined together in Christ's one, great, Mystical Body. "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it...If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:26-7). Each of us is joined to Christ and, because of Him, simultaneously joined to one another.

I share this not to downplay the awesome experience of physically going to see or hear holy people such as John Paul II. My purpose is to draw attention to one of the tremendous realities encapsulated in the upcoming feast of All Saints Day. In that feast we celebrate all of the brothers and sisters Christ's grace has raised up to the glory of heaven. Jesus has brought them with him into the "cloud" of God's glory (Ex. 24:16-18; Num. 9:15-23; Luke 1:35; Luke 9:30-35; Acts 1:9). And so, when we draw near to the Lord Jesus, we simultaneously draw near to His saints (Heb. 12:22-24).

Today is a day of feasting and inspiration! 
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: "How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church" by Kevin Lowry

Last September, I was asked if I would consider endorsing a new work from my friend Kevin Lowry. I was deeply honored. Sure, there was the element of being asked to give en endorsement when I'm really not that well known; at least 95% of the honor, however, was due to the author. In 2012, I reviewed Kevin Lowry's Faith at Work and considered it the finest book on the integration of daily work and faith out there. Like our Lord's earthly preaching, Kevin communicates the gospel through stories - suffused with humor, honesty, and grace.

I had the blessing of meeting Kevin a few months later, during my first visit to The Journey Home. Kevin was COO of the Coming Home Network at the time, and I was able to grab lunch with him after taping with Marcus. That lunchtime conversation has always stood out to me as (from a personal perspective) the best part of the trip. I couldn't help but feel that the time I spent with Kevin was time spent in the presence of Christ. (If he reads this he will no doubt be cringing at this point - but that's what saint do, right? Their closeness to the Lord only makes them all the more cognizant of their remaining flaws.)

Kevin's new book, How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church, is the often-times hilarious story of how God persistently pursued a rebellious, Protestant preacher's kid (pursuing "a double-major in beer and billiards"), and brought him to a college degree, fulfilling work, committed marriage, and ultimately, the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church. The final third of the book provides Kevin's more intensive answers to the major stumbling blocks encountered by Protestant Christians: the Eucharist, Confession, the Mystical Body of Christ, Mary, faith vs. works, authority, and the Church's imperfections. 

It is an absolutely fantastic book; and I was thrilled to see my thoughts about it included in the opening pages: "When you finish this book, I have no doubt that you will find yourself not just challenged but empowered to open your heart wide to God's transformative grace and the fullness of the Christian faith." At 155 pages it is a page-turner that I had finished the next day. And seriously, who doesn't want an awesome title like "How God Hauled Me..." sitting on the bookshelf? That's an evangelistic conversation starter if I ever saw one - grab your copy here!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Review: "Champions of the Rosary" by Fr. Donald Calloway

This is a legitimate magnum opus. Fr. Calloway continues to outdo himself. His Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon has been advertised as the most comprehensive book written on the Rosary, and I find that point impossible to dispute.

I fell in love with the first chapter. Fr. Calloway titled it, "From the Angelic Salutation to the 12th Century: The Antecedents of the Rosary"; but I refer to it as a biblical theology - the first for the Rosary that I have read. He weaves his theology around the image of a sword, developing the truth to be confirmed throughout the rest of the work: The Rosary is a uniquely powerful weapon for vanquishing Satan. The Rosary has this power because it is "equipped with the only thing capable of defeating him - the saving mysteries of the God-Man" (p.27). The mold for the sword was the Word of God, and the elements poured into that mold, the Our Father and Hail Mary. He discusses the historical development of the Hail Mary, from the joining of the Angelic Salutation (Lk. 1:28) and the Evangelical Salutation (Lk. 1:42) in the sixth century to the addition of its intercessory culmination in the fourteenth. 

Fr. Calloway gives a sweeping history of the Rosary, championing the traditional view that its antecedents were not joined to meditation on the mysteries of Christ's life until St. Dominic Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), was granted a vision of the Blessed Mother, who extended the Rosary to him as a preaching tool to combat the Albigenesian heresy. You will read how the Rosary was employed by popes and saints to not only bring about conversion but win military battles against overwhelming odds (such as at Muret and Lepanto). I learned of miracles and Church-approved Marian apparitions that I had never heard of, such as Our Lady of Laus. Of special interest to me was the section dealing with the modern denial of St. Dominic's role as the original promulgator of the Rosary. Fr. Calloway traces this denial to the early twentieth century work of a Fr. Hebert Thurston, S.J., a priest with ties to the occult and an often-unwarranted criticism of the supernatural elements of the Catholic Faith.

The second section of Fr. Calloway's book is devoted to the great men and women who have championed the Rosary, from well known saints such as Pius V and Louis de Montfort to lesser known individuals, like Servant of God Joseph Kentenich.  Short biographies are provided for twenty-six individuals along with quotes witnessing to the power of the Rosary in their lives.

The third section of the book leads readers in the praying of the Rosary, from providing the texts for all of its vocal prayers to verses of Scripture to meditate upon in each mystery. It's is even capped off with a full-color appendix showing the Rosary in art down through the centuries, as well as paintings commissioned for inclusion in this book from artists Vivian Imbruglia and (what a great surprise, my friend) Nellie Edwards.

Fr. Calloway's Champions of the Rosary is the very definition of a masterpiece.

NEW RELEASE - Oct. 26th

The new booklet is almost here...and it had its humble beginning right here on this blog.

The good folks at En Route Books and Media allowed me to develop those initial reflections into the work pictured at left. What can you expect to find in Marrying the Rosary to Divine Mercy Chaplet ?

The booklet encourages you to intersperse your praying of the decades of the Rosary with a decade from the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I share twenty rosary meditations (and their corresponding chaplet intercessions) that arose during my own marrying of the devotions. In the Joyful and Luminous Mysteries I recognized how our Lord's Cross cast its shadow backward over his entire life. In the Sorrowful Mysteries my understanding of Jesus’ pain was deepened; and in the Glorious our Catholic conviction that the Cross is the precondition of glory was powerfully affirmed. 

When we move from a decade of the Rosary to a decade of the Chaplet we join Mary at the foot of her Son’s Cross, voicing the prayer that filled her Immaculate Heart on Good Friday, “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of thy dearly beloved Son…” With her we join ourselves to Jesus’ offering and intercede for the fruits of his sacrifice to be generously poured out upon the Church and world. 

Each mystery of the Rosary is introduced by a Scriptural reference that you are encouraged to read. My meditation flows from that verse, weaving in other passages of Scripture. We then allow our meditation to inspire the petitions we pray in the Chaplet. By following this pattern (Read - Meditate - Pray), we engage in the first three elements of lectio divina.

The booklet also contains a QR Code allowing you to download a free audio version to help you meditate and pray as you walk and drive.

Oh, and I am incredibly honored to report that the booklet has a foreword from Fr. Donald Calloway (which can be read here) as well as endorsements from Kathleen Beckman, Dr. Kevin Vost, and Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle (here)!

The booklet will be available through Amazon and Barnes & on Oct. 26th (and your local Catholic bookstore not too long after that), but En Route is offering a special 30% discount for anyone who orders directly from them prior to that date. Hope you will take them up on it!  God bless.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Looking to Further Your Catholic Education?

At the heart of all conversions we encounter people. People who, by their example and leadership, guide those who are seeking into fullness of truth. Augustine had Ambrose. Aquinas had Albert the Great. And we, who do we have?

Maybe you have enough disposable income to take coursework through an orthodox college or university. The majority of us do not. We have our minds, our books and an ocean of information on the internet that we aren’t sure if it is fact, opinion, truth or heresy.

We need someone to help us discover truth. And we need a means to be able to connect with that someone, one that is both inexpensive and time manageable.

The Dominican Institute is that someone.

My friend, T.J. Burdick, has created a learning platform for those who seek the timeless truths of the Catholic faith but do not have the economic or scheduling stability to do so. Courses cost less than 10% what you would pay at other Catholic Colleges and Universities and more courses are begin added all of the time. To top it off, each professor has earned their Masters Degree or their Doctorate in their subject discipline and all are 100% loyal to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

This project is exactly what the new evangelization is all about. It creates a space for the Ambroses to meet with the Augustines, the Alberts with the Aquinas’. It places Christ at the center of learning and illuminates the minds of truth seekers in the light of objective truth. What’s more, since St. Dominic is the founder of the Order of Preachers, the site provides evangelistic content worth sharing- videos, memes, posts, you name it, they’re preaching, and they’re winning souls.

Had this site existed when I was going through my conversion, I would have become Catholic a LOT quicker. Even now that I’ve crossed the Tiber, the first place I’ll look to learn more will be through the Dominican Institute. Do yourself a favor and go and explore what they have to offer. I promise you won’t be sorry.

In fact, they are running a massive giveaway at the moment and you could land yourself a free spot in one of their courses on top of a multitude of other free things.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Review: "Navigating the Tiber" by Devin Rose

Navigating the Tiber: How to Help Your Friends and Family Journey Toward the Catholic Faith is a marvelous sequel to Devin Rose's The Protestant's Dilemma (see my review here). In his previous work he masterfully equipped readers with the Scriptural and logical reasons to embrace the fullness of Christian Faith in the Catholic Church. He now shares the fruits of his many years of conversing with friends and colleagues to help Catholics present those facts in the proper way, leading others to consider their positions critically, and (with God's grace) assist them to enter full, visible communion with the Church.

Rose begins his book with the needed reminder that Catholic evangelists are called to be fishers of men (not hunters). He presents a helpful summary of the many different strands of Protestantism from which conversational partners will hale. Rose then begins laying out a blueprint, a logical hierarchy of critical points, we should invite loved ones to consider. 

He directs us to begin with the means of salvation Catholics share with our separated brothers and sisters, Scripture - specifically, how we know, authoritatively, which books make up the Bible, and whether Scripture is the sole medium through which God communicates His Word to us. This of course leads to an investigation of Tradition and Apostolic Succession.

From there Rose moves to specific beliefs that will invariably arise in your conversations - justification and baptism - pointing out the way that both Catholics and Protestants marshal Scripture in support of their differing beliefs. This of course illustrates the fact that Scripture is not self-interpreting and necessitates a God-given means for arriving at its definitive teaching on a host of subjects - even one as essential as how we are saved! This leads directly back to the all-important topics of Tradition and Apostolic Succession and the further introduction of the Church Fathers (whose writings confirm both of the aforementioned elements) and witness to how those closest in time to Scripture's composition understood it.

The book bursts with personal examples, brilliant apologetic content, and equips readers with cut-to-the-chase argumentation stated as positively as you could ever hope to find. You will find chapters devoted to the papacy, Blessed Mother, divorce and contraception, the crusades and inquisition.

Rose offers a real world picture of lengthy process of helping loved ones come home to the fullness of their already burgeoning faith. He reminds us that it is a true dialogue, with its ups and downs, requiring sincere love and patience. I appreciated the way he concluded each chapter with a prayer with which you and those you are sharing the Faith with can bring your interraction to a close as well as boxes containing specific, nitty-gritty evangelization tips and reading suggestions.

Devin Rose is a gifted writer and Navigating the Tiber a valuable help to all desiring to become fishers of men.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review: "Hard Sayings" by Trent Horn

Trent Horn's Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties is an intelligent, well-nuanced response to all those critical of the Church's claim that the Bible is completely free from error.

In the course of just over 300 pages, Horn takes the reader through a tour-de-force of biblical difficulties. In the process of answering these difficulties he illuminates 17 rules for Bible reading that will keep us from reaching wrong interpretive conclusions as well as pointing the way to answering questions posed by others.

What kind of matters does Horn tackle? The work is divided into answering three kinds of objections raised against Scripture:

1) External difficulties - where the Bible appears to make statements at odds with today's science or independent historical records. Examples:

  • Genesis' seven days of creation are at odds with the theory of evolution 
  • In Leviticus 11:13-19 bats are mistakenly identified as a type of birds
  • The Bible teaches the existence of mythical creatures such as unicorns (Job 39:9-10).
  • Lack of archaeological evidences disproves the Exodus narrative.

2) Internal difficulties - where one passage of the Bible seems to contradict another passage. Examples:

  • Differences between the different gospels' accounts of Jesus' baptism and resurrection.
  • Differences in the lists of the twelve apostles (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16).
  • Did Jesus expel the money changers from the Temple at the beginning (John 2:11-25) or end (Matthew, Mark, Luke) of His public ministry?
  • The Bible's use of anthropomorphic language, such as attributing a human emotion, jealousy, to God.

3) Moral difficulties - where God appears to command or endorse a moral evil. Examples:

  • Capital punishment for crimes such as adultery
  • The Bible's "endorsement" of slavery (Ephesians 6:5-8)
  • Uzzah's death when he touched the Ark of the Covenant, in the attempt to keep it from falling (2 Sam. 6:7)
  • God's apparent command to destroy not just enemy combatants in war, but women and children (Deut. 20:16-18;  1 Sam. 15:3)

These are just a handful of the issues that Horn tackles in each of these sections. His responses are meticulously referenced and, although his book seems to addresses all of the difficulties that I have either personally with wrestled or heard raised, Horn's notes and bibliography (eleven pages) point the way for anyone wanting to study these matters in even greater depth. Horn does not offer definitive solutions to every scriptural difficulty examined; in some cases he proposes different solutions, some more probable than others, and wisely leaves the reader free to arrive at his or her own conclusion. 

One comes away from this book with a deep appreciation for the Catholic Church's manner of reading Scripture. It wisely navigates between the opposing errors of biblical fundamentalism on the one hand and the impugning of Scripture's inerrancy on the other. Trent Horn has crafted an expert primer for tackling the apparent difficulties within the pages of the Bible, and I heartily recommend making a place for his Hard Sayings on your shelf.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

THIS MONDAY, AUGUST 22nd - My Return Visit to EWTN's "The Journey Home"

Believe me, no one is more surprised than me. Marcus Grodi came across my The Epistle to the Hebrews and The Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics, liked it, and invited me to come back on the program to share some of the content with viewers. We filmed the episode this past week, and it will air on Monday, August 22, at 8 p.m. Eastern/ 7 p.m. Central. Hope you can tune in or catch it later on YouTube. We discuss Hebrews 10:19-25 as the "New Testament Plan of Salvation" as well as how the author of Hebrews finds the Word of God in not just Scripture, but Tradition. I recall us also jumping into a discussion of the Church Fathers. Please pray that it is received well by those who see it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

So, you wanna go to heaven . . .

This morning on the Son Rise Morning Show I was talking about the "Plan of Salvation" as revealed in the New Testament. Hebrews 10:19-25 seems to encapsulate it perfectly:

The New Covenant Process of Salvation

Hebrews 10:19-25

Jesus’ Life

Given to the Father in the Holy Spirit

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh

We enter by

Faith and Baptism

and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

We continue and grow in Him by our
Grace-Filled Works,  

Membership in Jesus Body
and Participation in her Prayer/Eucharist

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful;

and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and

And, in the end,
inherit Final

all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Visiting Matthew Leonard's "The Art of Catholic"

I recently had the opportunity - on my birthday no less! - to record a podcast with Matthew Leonard, Executive Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. I've written about Matthew's work before, so having the chance to talk with him about The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics was a huge honor. Matthew has released our chat in two parts. Here are links to each with a brief description of the content:

Who wrote Hebrews and why it’s one of the most argued topics in Scripture study
Why Hebrews has special relevance today given the current condition of the world
How Hebrews bridges the gap between the Old and New Testaments
The Jewish background of Hebrews (does that sound redundant?)
How the doctrine of the Trinity is unveiled in Hebrews

How Hebrews lays out the Catholic “plan of salvation” in 7 verses
The grittiness of Jesus’ humanity and how he learned obedience through suffering
What the famous faith “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 teaches us about heaven and the communion of saints
Why critics of Catholicism who say there’s no mention of the Eucharist in Hebrews (“so it can’t be a Catholic book”) are dead wrong

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: "The Porch and the Cross" by Kevin Vost

Christianity has long held that our Faith is a reasonable one. From the recognition of God’s existence to the right use of our sexuality, human reason powerfully reaffirms our deepest convictions as Catholics. Not only do we Christians need to be able to present our beliefs in a logical way, but as our society descends further into secularism it behooves us to be able to show how the traditional understanding of morality and family life are not simply “antiquated religious notions,” but are demonstrably true to any person willing to employ their reason in living according to nature. This is where philosophy, and Stoic philosophy in particular, has always been of value to Christians. As St. Justin Martyr explained in the second century, “In moral philosophy the Stoics have established right principles, and the poets too have expounded such, because the seed of the Word was implanted in the whole human race” (Second Apology VIII, 1). And that brings me to the new book from my friend Dr. Kevin Vost, The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living. I am incredibly gratified that Angelico Press recognized it as an ideal complement to my work of biblical exegesis/apologetics, The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics.

In The Porch and the Cross, Dr. Vost introduces us to the lives, teachings, and legacies of four of the most influential Stoic philosophers – Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Seneca, and the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. (Amazingly, two were historical contemporaries of the Lord Jesus; we even read of Seneca’s brother, Gallio, in Acts 18:12-27!) Unless you are already steeped in the Stoics, I have no doubt that, like me, you will be amazed at what you discover in this book.

Allow me to follow Dr. Vost’s lead and begin with Musonius Rufus. The man was a first-century “pro-life” activist! Not only did he publicly protest the gladiatorial games in Athens, but he also extolled the ancient laws prohibiting abortion and contraception. He taught that marriage was the natural union of one man and one woman, entered into for the beauty of life-long companionship and the welcoming of new lives (hopefully, many new lives) into the world. Parents, and not an amorphous state, bore the responsibility for educating their children –and that applied equally to sons and daughters (since both possessed the same powers of reason).

Dr. Vost then presents us with pride of the Stoics, Epictetus – the slave (his very name means “acquired”) who gained his freedom and rose to prominence as a professional philosopher. Epictetus taught that happiness, no matter one’s state in life, lay in interior freedom. It is what we say to ourselves, and not our circumstances, that determine our emotions and actions; and it is our moral purpose that distinguishes us from animals. He addressed practical means of growing in virtue and combating what we Christians would come to call the seven deadly sins. Is it any wonder that his Handbook was adapted for use in Christian monasteries? Further, Epictetus’ insights  served as the basis for psychotherapists Albert Ellis’s rational-emotive therapy and Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy.

I realize that I have two Stoics yet to discuss: Of Seneca let me simply note that his maxims were especially loved by the early Dominicans and that St. Thomas Aquinas made copious use of them when extolling the virtues in his Summa Theologica. (Is there a stronger endorsement?) Dr. Vost’s chapters covering Marcus Aurelius are truly inspirational – a Roman emporer who embraced simplicity, sexual purity, and was convinced that all human beings, no matter their station in life, possessed dignity. Listen to him for yourself: “[M]y philosophy means keeping that vital spark within you free from damage and degradation, using it to transcend pain and pleasure, doing everything with a purpose, avoiding lies and hypocrisy, not relying on another person’s actions or failings. To accept everything that comes and everything that is given, as coming from the same spiritual source” (Meditations, II, 17). It is the grace of Christ that makes it possible for us to do just that!

The Stoics had their short comings, but Christians have always recognized them as powerful cultural allies in explicating a morality rooted in the natural law and the inculcation of virtue. Dr. Kevin Vost’s The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living (Angelico Press, 2016) is a much needed reminder that Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, has always valued its Jewish and Gentile heritage:  We embrace Revelation and philosophy, faith and reason – all in the service of Christ, Truth incarnate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Thought from the Road to Emmaus

I have shared before how the story of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of my favorites. It overflows with meaning. After years of meditating upon it, I am still coming to new realizations.

This morning, and I don't know what triggered it, I was struck by the way that the disciples' "eyes were kept from recognizing Him" as Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Lk. 24:16, 27). It is a reminder to us of the innumerable times that the Lord addresses us through the members of His Body. We do not register that it is the Lord addressing us; but it is. Let us rejoice anew at the promise Jesus made to His apostles and disciples, "He who hears you hears me" (Lk. 10:16; Mt. 10:4), because He continues to make good on it today through their successors!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Book Review: "Meditations on Mary" by Jacques-Benigne Bossuet

"Elegant" strikes me as the perfect word to describe Meditations on Mary (Sophia Institute, 2015). From the simple beauty and feel of its cover to the profound prose within, one comes away from this collection of Jacques-Benigne Bossuet's meditations with the distinct sense of having been elevated above the coarse and mundane. These meditations from the famed 17th century French bishop and orator are appearing in English for the first time; my sincere thanks to translator and editor, Christopher O. Blum.

This is a compact book but not a "quick read." Like all rich fare it is best consumed slowly. Bossuet's insights are so striking, and his call to self-examination so constant, that I had to limit myself to one or two meditations (there are twenty-four in all) at a time. This makes it ideal to bring into your prayer time.

His reflections upon our Blessed Mother are strike me as "modern" - scriptural, with an abundance of awe, and phrased in such a way as to be sensitive to, and to kindly lead, our separated brothers and sisters to a recognition of their spiritual mother. I fell in love with these words from the first meditation, "The True Eve." After quoting Irenaeus (c.180 A.D.), Tertullian (c. 210), and Augustine (c. 410) as to Mary's role in our salvation, Bossuet continues:
Truly we misunderstand God if we think that his glory would be diminished by being shared with his creatures. God is not like us: in giving away a part, he retains the whole. If this seems strange consider that God is the only one who can give without loss...When he joins his creatures to his work, it is not to unburden himself, but to honor them, and so all of the glory remains his. When the Fathers taught us that Mary was associated in a singular way with the great work of the Son of God, they in no way diminished the Savior's glory (p.3-4).
Or consider the way Bossuet's meditation on the Assumption anticipates John Paul II's Theology of the Body:
Mary's sacred body, the throne of chastity, the temple of Incarnate Wisdom, the instrument of the Holy Spirit, and the seat of the power of the Most High (Lk 1:35), could not remain in the tomb. The triumph of Mary would have been imperfect if her holy body, which was in a way the source of her glory, had not participated in it (p.117).
Authentic Marian devotion is focused not upon our Lady, but the Lord Jesus; and so, Bossuet's meditations constantly progress from Mary to Jesus, and from pondering God's activity to directly addressing Him in prayer. Like the best religious works, it flawlessly weds theology and devotion. I may not affirm every minuscule point that Bossuet makes - likely shortsightedness on my part - but Meditations on Mary is a work of spiritual elegance that I hardily recommend.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Conquering Pornography - A New Course from Devin Rose

Devin Rose is a masterful apologist with a fire for seeing men become all that they were intended to be in Christ. I want to draw your attention to a new, online course that Devin is offering.
Allow me to set the table for you. In this course you will be getting:
  • Nine exclusive videos giving you the strategy to follow.
  • Devin's ebook, Unbreakable Purity, the guide to conquering pornography
  • Access to his Bootcamp, with daily instructions on specific actions to take
  • The option of joining a private forum with other men in the course to encourage one another and share tips
  • The opportunity to email Devin personally anytime you need support or encouragement
If you or anyone you know is suffering from this addiction, I urge you to take advantage of this course. There is a great deal more to say, and you can view course content more in-depth by visiting Devin's website. May the Lord grant you the freedom you are seeking!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Review: "Hounds of the Lord" by Kevin Vost

Hounds of the Lord: Great Dominican Saints Every Catholic Should Know is one of four new books from Dr. Kevin Vost that I have read in the last twelve months. To call his literary output "astounding" hardly does it justice. The amount of research alone, not to mention the exquisite prose and meaty content, is beyond anything I could even imagine producing.

In Hounds of the Lord Kevin widens his gaze from his spiritual mentor, St. Thomas Aquinas, to contemplate the religious order that molded him, the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), now celebrating its 800th years. Using the Thinker-Doer-Lover paradigm, already familiar to readers of his Three Irish Saints, Kevin provides chapter-length biographies of:  The order's founder, St. Dominic de Guzman, Bl. Humbart of Romans, Bl. Fra Angelico, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Martin de Porres, St. Rose of Lima, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Kevin has also included additional page-length biographies of Bl. Jordan of Saxony. St. Hyacinth of Poland, St. Agnes of Montepulciano, St. Vincent Ferrer, Pope St. Pius V, Ven. Louis of Granada, St. Catherine de Ricci, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, and Servant of God Mother Mary Alphonsa Hawthorne.

I don't think one could read of these incredible men and women without finding new inspiration to study, pray, and pour oneself out in love. Kevin's style of writing takes me back to an earlier time; he writes with the intellectual flare and wit of a Bishop Sheen or Frank Sheed. Hounds of the Lord is ideal reading for Lent or any time of year.