Sunday, September 8, 2019

Jimmy Akin's "The Bible Is A Catholic Book"

Over the past five years I've come to a conclusion: If Jimmy Akin took the time to write it, then it is worth reading. His new release, The Bible Is A Catholic Book, is another terrific example why.

When Akin addresses a topic, no matter how well you have seen it covered in the past, he can be trusted to come at it from a slightly different angle, with data you have yet to unearth. In this book, instead of diving straight into the composition history of the biblical texts and the development of the canon, Akin takes us back to the beginning - actually, before the beginning - to the Second Person of the Trinity, the definitive Word of God, of Whom "all of God's other words are shadows" (p.13).

God has communicated with man since the time of his creation, tens of thousands of years ago. Only in the past five thousands years, however, since the development of writing, has it been possible for revelation to take written form. For the vast majority of man's time on earth, he has been a completely oral creature. Information, God's revelation included, came down in oral tradition, in a controlled, accurate way via tradents - authorized bearers of tradition - via techniques such as chiasm, meter, melody, and rhyme.

When Akin does begin discussing the composition of the OT and NT texts, his work is top-notch. Two quick points that jumped out at me:

  • The OT speaks of authentic prophetic works - those of Ahijah the Shilonite and Iddo the Seer - that Providence, subsequently, did not allow to come down to us (2 Chronicles 9:29).
  • It is false to say that God was silent for the 400 years prior to the birth of Christ.

Akin addresses a number of points that have demanded my attention over the past few years:

  • Different groups within first century Judaism - the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes and Jews in the Diaspora - had their own set of books that they recognized as inspired.
  • The oft-repeated datum that the OT canon was settled at the Council of Judaism is a scholarly myth.
  • Christianity received the deuterocanonical texts - exactly as it did the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures - from its earliest Jewish members; and it did so centuries before Rabbinic Judaism definitively rejected them.
  • One cannot speak of a unified biblical canon in Judaism until at least AD 200.
  • The abysmal literacy rates in the first century made the vast, vast majority of believers dependent upon the oral proclamation of Scripture in the synagogue and Eucharist.
  • If God had intended for the Church to operate on the principle of sola scriptura; then Christ would have sat down to pen a book or, at the very least, seen to it that the printing press was available in the apostolic age.

I love the way Akin expresses this final point:
It's easy to see why the idea of sola scriptura became popular when it did and among the people that it did. The Reformers were at least moderately well off and had new printed Bibles, and now the invention of the printing press had made the idea of everyone having his own Bible at least conceivable. 
     But for all prior Christian history, sola scriptura was simply an impossibility. This has doctrinal implications because God doesn't ask the impossible. Since sola scriptura had never been possible, it had never been God's plan. If it had been, God would have started the Christian age after the invention of the printing press, just as he began giving the Jewish scriptures only after the invention of writing (p.150).
The man has a way with words. His discussion of how texts were composed in the first century is illuminating. I never knew at what great personal expense Paul must have produced his epistles: Even among the literate, it was common to hire a professional scribe. There was also the cost of materials, pre-publication drafts, as well as the common practice of the author retaining a copy of the work. Romans alone, with its excessive length in first century terms, would have cost Paul more than $2000 at today's rates! I was also completely taken aback to learn that in Paul's First Epistle to Timothy (5:18) he may quote from Luke's Gospel (10:7) as  "scripture." (We already know that, around this same time, Peter referred to Paul's letters as such.)

The Bible Is A Catholic Book is chock-full of novel insights and solid scholarship. The portion on the Church's efforts to preserve and translate Scripture throughout the middle ages dispels a host of anti-Catholic myths. You're going to have to check that out for yourself, though; the family is calling me!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Author Interview: Jesse Romero

It is hard to miss the buzz in Catholic quarters surrounding well-known evangelist Jesse Romero’s new book, The Devil in the City of Angels: My Encounters with the Diabolical (TAN Books, 2019). What caught my attention in Romero’s story was how he first encountered demonic spirits not in his work as a Catholic evangelist but earlier, in his career as a Los Angeles deputy sheriff. He witnessed supernatural manifestations that police academies never dream of addressing with their cadets; but these encounters helped propel him deeper into his Catholic faith. As Jesse’s faith matured and he began sharing the gospel, his path crossed a number of others – baptized Christians – whose involvement in the occult opened them to demonic oppression and possession. Romero accumulated a wealth of knowledge regarding spiritual warfare, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for readers.

Shane Kapler: With Scripture and the Catechism being so clear on Christians not having anything to do with seances, astrology, psychics, etc., why do you think so many Christians still dabble in the occult? And as a follow-up, what are the occult practices in which they most frequently engage?

Jesse Romero: Baptized Christians are hungering for the mystical and other worldly, we were hard wired that way.  Many people are simply 'curious', just like Eve, that’s what got her in trouble, wanting to discover the unknown. Many people are drawn to the occult because they are low information Americans who have a malformed, uninformed, misinformed conscience and the allure of the occult is all around: psychics, tarot card readers, fortune tellers, healers online and also renting a storefront in your neighborhood. You also have the pop culture (music, movies) that promotes that occult as well as the best-selling 'Harry Potter books.'  Tempting people to dabble in the occult is one of the ordinary activities of demons.

Kapler: You write a great deal about spiritual warfare. What type of spiritual warfare is reserved only for exorcists, and what type is the work of the laity? Is there a line that the laity does not have the spiritual authority to cross?

Romero: Priest have the authority to engage in healing, deliverance and exorcism. There are two types, a minor and a solemn exorcism. Any priest can engage in minor exorcism, a solemn exorcism requires the permission of their bishop. Lay people can help priest in healing, deliverance and exorcism as support and intercessors. A priest has universal authority to heal and liberate a person from the diabolical, while a lay person has authority over those under his authority. A husband and father has authority to pray healing and deliverance prayers over his wife and children. Lay people can pray healing and deliverance prayers for themselves. The ones that I have been praying every day for over ten years are the prayers.

Kapler: In the gospels, Jesus exorcised demons with a simple command. We see Paul appearing to do the same with a spirit of clairvoyance in Acts 16. Would you share your thoughts as to why exorcisms today are a much more protracted process? Why does the rite of exorcism often need to be repeated a number of times for a person to finally gain freedom?

Romero: Several reasons, first, more people are living in mortal sin, there are less baptisms, less couples marrying in the Church, so that means there are less people praying in the Church Militant. Exorcist have told me that this effects their prayer sessions. Also, most energumens (possessed) people continue to live in mortal sin, therefore the demon may get driven out through the session but they come right back because the person lacks sanctifying grace in their soul which keeps them out. Many peoples’ lives are so disordered; they do not have properly formed consciences based on the Word of God and their wills are weak as a result of habitual sin. Therefore, they lack the courage and fortitude to follow the exorcist protocol to live in a state of grace. Ninety percent of the deliverance is done by the spiritually afflicted person; ten percent of it is done by the priest. Exorcism is not magic; it’s hard work which requires the spiritually afflicted person, by an act of the will, to fully cooperate in pursuing a life of holiness.

Kapler: In your book you share your own experience in deliverance ministry, how to arm ourselves against the devil's activity in our lives, as well as ending the book with prayers you have found very effective in countering the demonic. If someone finishes your book and wants to receive further, solid formation in this area, where would you send them or what written resources do you recommend?

Mr. Romero: The three books on Catholic spiritual warfare that I would recommend are:
1. Deliverance Prayers for the Laity by Fr Chad Ripperger
2. Manual for Spiritual Warfare by Paul Thigpen
3.  Lord Prepare My Hands for Battle by Jesse Romero 

Kapler: Thank you so much, Jesse.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Eucharist, Mary, and Redemptive Suffering

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24).  
It is a mysterious but incredible reality:  the suffering God allows into our lives, when accepted and lived with trust in his Love, become an actual participation in the sufferings of the Crucified, allowing us to be formed more truly his image – the very goal of our Faith.  And, as Paul said above, because we are "members of one another" (Rom.12:5; Eph.4:25), this grace is of benefit not just to us, but to the entire Body.  This teaching, far from casting aspersions on the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice, proclaims its superabundance.  We believe that his sacrifice redeems us so profoundly that it transforms us from mere creatures of God into sons and daughters.  It transforms us into cells of Jesus’ Mystical Body, inserting us into the Life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the only Son. This reality is there in the theology of Paul, and unpacked for us in the teaching of the saints and doctors.  What I had never recognized before was how it was contained in Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist.

 "This is My Body …. This is My Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."  This Body and Blood — Jesus received them from his mother Mary.  He clothed himself with her flesh, her blood, and offered Himself to the Father "in" them.  That is the mystery of redemptive suffering that the Lord wants to continue in you and me — to clothe himself with our very persons and lift our sufferings up into his own, making them part of his eternal offering to the Father (Heb.9:14).  As with Mary, he requires our consent to bring about this supernatural reality, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

We see Mary, fully engaged in this Mystery, there at the foot of her Son’s Cross.  Which of us parents haven’t imagined looking up and seeing our own children hanging there in the sun — their bodies ripped, blood flowing down their limbs, suffocating under their own weight.  It is the most monstrous suffering imaginable, but God allowed it into the life of his beloved Mary.  Her Son was dying to redeem the world, and her heart was pierced right along with His (Jn.19:34; Lk.2:35). Jesus was suffering there before her eyes, in the flesh he took from her; but through the chords of grace he was suffering in and through her person, gazing up at him, as well.  Through it all, the Holy Spirit maintained Mary in her fiat, "let it be to me according to your word;" and Scripture tells us that he made her suffering fruitful for the Mystical Body, "[Mary,] a sword will pierce your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk.2:35).  The mystery of redemptive suffering spoken of by Paul in Colossians 1:24 is graphically manifested by Mary at the Cross.

I don’t see any romance in pain, and I don’t desire it; but part of reality is recognizing that God allows me to pass through it.  It is not an end in itself, but a potentially powerful means: "For Jesus’ sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil.3:8-11).  So I need to call out for the grace to unite my sufferings to those of Jesus, to allow him to lift me up toward his Father, "This is My Body…This is My Blood."  I need to pray each day for the grace to persevere through suffering; Jesus told us the stakes are high, "Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Mt.24:12-13).
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Through, With, and In Him.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls – what Christian isn’t curious to know more? Who were the Essenes, the Jewish monks responsible for producing them? My New Testament instructor back at Duchesne High School was adamant that John the Baptist was one of their number and that Jesus and the Holy Family were lay members of the larger Essene movement. He noted some interesting parallels, but I was uneasy with his conclusions. At age fifteen, however, I had no idea how to go about critically evaluating and responding to his claims. 

As the years passed and my study of the faith deepened, I saw the scrolls referenced in various books and understood how they could assist Christians. For example, the Protestant Reformers set St. Paul’s statement in Romans 3:28 that we are “justified by faith apart from works of law” in juxtaposition to the Church’s historic belief that final justification was a result of faith and good works – works that resulted from obeying the moral law. When the Church read Paul’s statement about being justified apart from “works of the law,” it understood him to mean “apart from works of the [ceremonial] law,” i.e. circumcision, dietary restrictions, animal sacrifice, etc. Well, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, exegetes and theologians finally had an historical witness to what “works of the law” meant in first century Judaism: In agreement with the Church, the scrolls use the phrase in reference to ceremonial matters. The scrolls’ impartial testimony is wonderful news for all Christians committed to ecumenism. I saw this to also be true in regard to Catholicism and Protestantism’s different Old Testament canons, but I’ve already gone into detail about that elsewhere.

What I want to share with you today is a fantastic new resource I have discovered regarding the scrolls: Dr. John Bergsma’s Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Revealing the Jewish Roots of Christianity (Image, 2019). While I have gleaned important points about the scrolls in my reading on other subjects, Dr. Bergsma has written a work that simultaneously introduces readers to the to the scrolls and zeroes in on the first century Jewish context they provide for gaining greater clarity on the words and actions of Christ and the apostles. Once I started reading I didn’t want to stop; before I made it to the final chapter, my yellow highlighter had bit the dust. 

Doctor Bergsma provides such a wealth of information. I had never heard, for example, that the Essenes’ main compound at Qumran was constructed along the desert road the Messiah was expected to travel toward Jerusalem, with Qumran acting as a literal fulfilment of Isaiah 40:3 (“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord”). I had also never read that the Essenes believed there were active prophets among them. Bergsma describes their messianic expectations: a priestly Messiah of Aaron and a royal Messiah of Israel. He also discusses a competing idea found in the scrolls – the return of the ancient king-priest Melchizedek with godlike powers to free Israel from sin and Satan. Doctor Bergsma makes a convincing case for John the Baptist’s involvement with the Qumran community at an early point in his life and for connections between the dualistic imagery prevalent in the scrolls and that found in the Gospel of John. There are chapters focusing upon baptism, the Eucharist, priesthood, celibacy, the indissolubility of marriage, and the structure of the Church. I may not agree with every individual conclusion – and Bergsma is upfront that many must remain provisional – but I gleaned insight after insight.
In my opinion, one of the strongest features of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls is the numerous quotations from the scrolls themselves, especially the Community Rule and the Damascus Document, which outlines the history, aims, and rules of the movement. The one that stays with me the most, though, come from a scrap discovered in Cave 4:
Great will he be called and he will be designated by his name. He will be called son of God, and they will call him Son of the Most High…His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom.
One is immediately struck at the similarity to Gabriel’s announcement to Mary in Luke 1:31-33. The correct interpretation and meaning of the text is of course debated, but it is fascinating to say the least. In Luke’s Gospel we read of the private revelation given to the elderly Simeon regarding the Messiah’s nearness (2:25-27); might another private revelation have been given to a holy soul at Qumran? 

If you have always wanted to know more about the Dead Sea Scrolls but didn’t know where to begin, I think this is the perfect book to start with. Not only will you grow in knowledge of these important documents, you will also stoke the flames of love for your Catholic Faith.