Hungry For The Bible

There was an article online a while back that stated over half of all Americans have changed their religion at least once. Sadly, ten percent of all Americans are now former Catholics. Nothing demonstrates the need for ongoing education in the faith than that statistic. Weirdly, one of the reasons a woman gave for leaving the Church was” I was hungry for the Bible”.
You have to wonder what happened in that woman’s life. Where was she during all those masses when scripture was read or sung at least three times? At every mass we have a reading from the Book of Psalms, the Old or New Testament and one of the gospels. On Sundays we usually have both the New and Old Testaments read. We cover scripture according to a plan. They are three cycles each lasting a year and over ninety-five per cent of the Bible is covered in a three-year period. In addition most of the mass prayers come from scripture. Most evangelical churches do not cover this much of the Bible.
Hungry for scripture! What Church was it that organized Scripture into the Bible in the first place? What Church has the whole Bible with the parts that were deleted during the Protestant Reformation? Why would you convert to a church whose bible is missing seven books of the bible and parts of two others? Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom. 1st and 2nd Maccabees, plus parts of Daniel and Esther are all missing. These books were part of the Bible for over a thousand years but they were deleted during the Reformation. Not having all of the books of the Bible does cause problems.
One night I happened to sit in on a bible study of the Gospel of John at a Methodist Church. Someone asked a question about praying for the dead and the discussion turned into a heated argument about the issue of judgment. One woman claimed that there could be no judgment for her since all her sins have been washed away by the Blood of the Lamb. Judgment was only for those whose names weren’t in the book of life. The minister insisted that all would be judged and held accountable for the sins committed after they accepted Christ. The problem he had though was he had no scripture to back him up.
How can we be held accountable for our sins if all who repent go directly to heaven? In his theology there are no alternates besides Heaven or Hell. In his bible he can’t find any scripture that hints of Purgatory. Why? That is because his bible is incomplete. The book of 2nd Maccabees is missing. Therefore he can’t back up his belief with 2 Maccabees 12:46 “Therefore (Judas Maccabeus) made atonement for the dead that they may be delivered from their sin.”
One of the interesting parts of the discussion was the issue of whose view was right. The minister said that all of us have to interpret the Bible so we may end up with different interpretations and disagree over what it means. However, the lady who claimed that there would be no judgment for the righteousness insisted there had to be some final authority to decide what Scripture really means.
There is such an authority! It is the Catholic Church! It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that the pope, the descendant of Peter to whom was given the keys of the kingdom, is infallible on issues of faith and morals.
There was a time when Catholics were discouraged from reading the Bible but that time is long over. There was a time when most people were not educated enough to really understand the Bible and the Church feared that we would misinterpret the Scripture as happened in so many churches. Why do you think there are so many different Protestant denominations? That’s because they all interpret the Bible differently not only from the Catholic Church but from each other.
. The reality is that the Catholic Church encourages Catholics to read Scripture. If you go into a Catholic book store you will find many Catholic versions of the Bible. No matter what your reading ability is we have a Catholic Bible you can understand. There are even different Catholic versions of the one year Bible? I found My Daily Catholic Bible in a Daughters of St. Paul’s book store.
There are also plenty of Catholic Bible Studies in parishes. All you have to do is look. There is a video program study program for Catholics. Many parishes use it for small groups. If a group is not available there are guides and resources at Catholic bookstores or Catholic websites on-line. There is The Word Today. The Word Amongst Us helps Catholics to study the scriptures covered in the mass each day.
I taught in a Catholic School. Over the course of my career I taught religion to grades 4 to 8. We used the Bible a lot in class. Our students even had homework in the Bible once they reached fifth grade. That is because we gave all of the CCD and Catholic School students their own copy of the Bible to keep. I know because I was also one of the ushers who raised the money each year at a fish fry and ordered the Bibles.
So why would you leave the Catholic Church because you are hungry for Scripture? We have the entire Bible available to us. Almost all of it gets covered at mass over a three-year cycle. Most priests preach on the Scripture Readings. In addition there are resources like the Magnificat and The Word Among Us that will help you follow the readings even if you can’t make daily mass. There are monthly Catholic studies published in magazine form for the study of entire books over the course of the month.
Of course the Protestant who invited you to leave the Church wouldn’t tell you about all of this. They also wouldn’t tell you much about the sixth chapter of John either. They don’t preach much on John chapter 6:48-59. Why not? The reason is because they deal with what they call a Catholic ritual, the Eucharist. They don’t want you to study these verses because if you did you’d know this wasn’t an empty ritual but the Real Presence of Jesus on the altar.
How could you leave Jesus? This is the Church He created. He created the Eucharist so He could be with us? What more could you want?

Lord, we pray that Catholics get the fact that we belong to a church that encourages us to study scripture, all of scripture. Help us to spread the word and invite those who are hungry for scripture to study the whole Bible. Amen

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Years ago I heard someone talk about the vacation bible school program she was working on. She was going to play the role of Gideon. I wondered to myself in this day and age whether or not the story of Gideon was really what kids needed to learn.
Thinking about it there was a lot in the story of Gideon who defeated an enormous army with only three hundred men. I know as I taught the Old Testament the story of Gideon really spoke to my students. In a concrete way they saw that all things were possible with God. They understood the importance of turning to God and relying on Him. It was also a story that stuck in their minds. All of them seemed to remember Gideon on their final exam.
The question came to me what would I emphasize if I was drawing up a vacation bible school for adults. In a world that seems full of sin should it emphasize the consequences of that sin? Would I talk about how God withdrew His protection from His people when they worshipped other gods? Would I talk about the conquest of Israel by Assyria and Judah by Babylon? It is scary looking at the world today and knowing the stories of the Old Testament.
I doubt if that would work or that God would want us to do that. Fear tactics don’t usually work with adults. God doesn’t really want us to fear Him in that way either.
What then should be the message we want to give the world? What do we want to talk about?
Our message should simply be about the love God has for each and every person. A love so deep that we can’t imagine it. A love that is intense and personal. We are not faces in a crowd to God but people He knows and loves intimately. He knows everything about us, every hair, every cavity, and every cell in our bodies. He knows everything bad that we’ve ever done and He loves us anyway.
We don’t have to earn His love. In fact it is impossible. His love is a gift given to us out of love. We don’t have to become perfect. All He asks is that we accept His love and mercy, that we open ourselves to His love and allow His love to change our lives for the better. He just wants us to respond to His love to the best of our ability.
His love is so amazing! Have you really thought about what Jesus did? He left Heaven to come here to this planet two thousand years ago. He didn’t come now when we have air conditioning, indoor plumbing, running hot and cold water. He didn’t come at a time of modern transportation, of power tools, wall to wall carpet or modern hospitals.
He left Heaven to be born in a smelly stable which was most likely built into a cave or hillside. He came at a time when you had to use the outhouse. You had to carry water. When it was hot there wasn’t even an electric fan. All of His carpentry work was done by the force of His human muscles. His feet were His means of transportation.
Would we have given up Heaven for that? Would we have waited for a more modern era if we were willing to come at all?
I doubt if I would have given up Heaven for a luxury mansion and car, not for a billion dollars. But He gave up Heaven to live in poverty. If we were to see what Nazareth was like then it would probably remind us of a Third World country. Nazareth in the First Century was much more like Haiti than America.
He came to pay the price for our sins. He came to die for us. He didn’t pick Modern America where He could have been executed painlessly by lethal injection. He didn’t even pick Eighteenth Century France when He could have been swiftly guillotined. No He came when Palestine was ruled by Romans who had invented the most painful form of execution ever. But being crucified wasn’t enough. He endured the Scourging and Crowning with Thorns, all for love of each and every one of us. All, because He wanted us in heaven with Him.
That wasn’t all. He couldn’t wait for you to get to heaven. He wanted to be with you now. So He created the Eucharist as a way to be with us. He waits for us to come to Him. He waits 24/7 for us to be with Him so that He may bless us. Think about it Almighty God, all the power of the Universe, the same Jesus who was crucified waits for you in the Tabernacle.
God, Almighty wants a relationship with you. He wants to pour His love on you.
Words are totally inadequate to describe the love Jesus has for each individual. If I wrote for one thousand years I could do no better than hint at the depth of His love. The only way we can communicate about God’s love is by praying to the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and the eyes of those we talk to.
This is the message we have for the World. God is love. He loves you. He wants you to come to Him. He wants to bless you. Don’t worry about teaching people about all the sin in the world. If we simply lead people to Jesus, He will do the rest.

Lord, give me the wisdom and courage I need to talk to people about Your awesome love. Give me opportunities and the words to witness to Your love. Help me to lead people to You.

Was Jesus Speaking To US?

Take a second look at this past Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 13:22-30) and ask yourself does it apply to you. It’s the gospel where Jesus said to strive to follow the narrow way. At one point He said”…then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.” He will say to you in reply, “I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then He will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’” Is that what He will say to those of us who are cafeteria Catholics? I do not know you!
We can claim to be good Catholics, to attend Sunday Mass and even say the rosary but does it matter if we reject the teachings of His Church, if we fail to live out His law of love? Does this reading sound like we can be pro-choice, support same-sex marriage or the President’s Contraception Mandate?
What about the Church’s position on Immigration or helping the Poor? Are we really different in God’s eyes from those who vote pro-choice if we reject the Church’s position on these issues? Aren’t these people created by God? Didn’t Jesus die for them too? Don’t many of them share our faith and history of persecution?
Maybe all of us need to reflect on the gospel of the “narrow way”. Maybe all of us need to examine our consciences and repent.

God Isn’t Finish Yet!

As a charismatic Catholic I often get asked to pray for the healing of other people, many of whom are in their eighties and nineties. There is often the temptation not to bother praying for the healing of a person in their nineties. You wonder if God is calling them home and whether or not God would want you to pray for their healing.
The thing that we have to remember is that if a person is alive God isn’t finish with them yet. As long as they have breath God is still working on them. While the likelihood of a physical healing may not be great, that usually is the last kind of healing that God does. All of us need spiritual healing of some sort. We may also need emotional, relational or intellectual healing.
It is not our job to decide or judge. Our job is simply to pray and let God decide what kind of healing is most needed. Personally, I like to pray for people before the Eucharist asking the Holy Spirit to help them to be open to whatever graces the Lord wants to grant them.
We don’t know everything they need and most often neither do they know. Our prayers may open their eyes to a need to forgive someone or a need to reconcile with someone. They may receive the courage to ask someone for forgiveness.
It is possible that our prayers help them to receive spiritual healing, to recognize a sin or fault that they need to take to the Lord. We may help them to let go of the past, to let go of the anger and resentment they carry over something that happened way back during their teenage years or earlier.
By praying we may help them to focus more on Jesus and less on themselves, to make Jesus the center of their lives before they die. Perhaps God wants them to learn humility.
Often God wants them to learn to trust in Him, not to be afraid of dying but to trust in His mercy. How blessed are we if we get to help someone open their heart to the mercy of God and not be afraid. So many people are afraid of death yet Jesus personally appeared to St. Faustina to tell us we need not be afraid but need to trust in His Divine Mercy.
Maybe all our prayers will achieve is for the person to receive the peace and courage they need to face death. We may be disappointed but what greater grace could they receive? What more could they really need?
God alone knows what they need best. All we are called to do is pray with love and leave the rest up to God. This is a perfect time to pray in the Spirit to pray in tongues and allow God to use us for His purposes.

Great News!

Today’s gospel was the parable about the vineyard. The master went out at dawn, 9:00, noon, 3:00 and 5:00 to hire workers. At the end of the day all were paid the same. Of course those who were hired at dawn were indignant but how many of us really fit into that category?
The good news is that it is never too late to turn to the Lord. Many of us are among the later workers. Very few people who I know really followed the Lord all their lives. Many of us who seemed to have followed Him know that for parts of our lives we just went through the motions. So this parable is really good news, something to remember when Satan reminds us of our past. It is a reminder of God’s awesome love and that He never gives up on us. He will still be pursuing us no matter how late in life we have strayed.
Most of us have strayed away from the Lord at some time in our past. It is easy to do in today’s world to get caught up in all the garbage. Sometimes it happens so gradually you don’t even notice. They’re just little sins, no big deal, just a little cursing, a little cheating, a little drinking, a movie you shouldn’t watch or a party you shouldn’t go to. Everyone does this stuff. It’s no big deal you still go to church but maybe you’re going on Saturday so you can sleep late. Instead of focusing on the mass your mind is on your plans for Saturday night. We start going through the motions. We look good to others but we know we’re not living the life God wants
For many of us it stays that way. We’re no worse than most people and better than all the drunks and druggies out there. We could be doing a lot of worse things. The truth is that we’ve moved away from God. We’re not living the life He created us for and we’re missing out on the relationship He created us for.
Some of us drift away from church completely. We don’t need to go every week. We can pray at home. Church is full of hypocrites anyway. Maybe we only go at Christmas and Easter.
Maybe for some of us things got worse. We committed one sin after another and now we’re so lost that we feel hopeless. We may be alcoholics, users, addicts. Our lives may be out of control due to gambling, pornography, violence, anger or lust. We may even be in jail. We may feel so lost that we can never be found. It is too late for us or so we feel.
Maybe you know someone like I described. Maybe I described your brother or sister, one or all of your children or your grandchildren. Maybe it’s a relative or a friend that has gone through these experiences. Maybe you worry about their souls.
Today’s Gospel Matthew 20; 1-16 about the workers in the vineyard is hope for all of us who are lost, were lost or know someone who is lost. Jesus is saying that as long as one is alive it is never too late to return to the Lord. It doesn’t matter if we’re twenty two or ninety-two. It isn’t too late. No one is hopeless. It doesn’t matter that it is 5:00 and the work day ends at 6:00, Jesus or God is still looking for you to bring you into the heavenly vineyard.
We should be in a celebratory mood every time we hear this gospel. We know or can guess whether we are the workers hired at 9:00, noon, 3:00 or 5:00 Of course we don’t know how long we’ll live but it doesn’t matter. The master paid them all the same. All of us will be accepted by the Lord regardless of what age we turn to Him and try to live the life He created us for. The same is true of your kids or grandchildren. The Lord is still going to be going out looking for them at the 5:00 of their lives. He will still be pursuing them with love regardless of how far they roamed. He isn’t going to give up on them and neither should we. Our job should be to keep praying for them in love.

Thank You, Lord for the hope and promise that You give us in this parable. You are such an awesome God. Thank You for seeking me out at such a late time. Thank You that You are always seeking the lost that it is never too late to turn to You while we live. Amen

Little Things Matter

I live in the Myrtle Beach area and our parish gets many visitors throughout the year even at weekday masses. Often there is a lot we can learn from them.
This week we have a group of over twenty who attend daily mass dressed better than many who go to mass on Sundays. The men and boys all wear slacks with a crease, shoes and shirts with a collar. All of the women wear skirts knee length or longer and a hat or chapel veil. Think about it. They’re on vacation at the beach in August and not only do they attend daily mass but they dress for the occasion. What does that show about the importance of God to them? God is important enough to dress up for, to show respect for.
We may think they’re old-fashioned but is it really old-fashioned to honor God by our dress? Is it really too much of a sacrifice to wear a tie to mass on Sunday or long pants and a shirt with a collar? What are we offering to God? Are we really offering Him anything or do we think He should be happy we showed up?
Do you remember the way things were when we were growing up? Not only did you dress your best for mass on Sunday you were on your best behavior. Girls wore hats or chapel veils and men always took off their hats. You were quiet in church careful to bless yourself and genuflect when you went into your pew or before the Blessed Sacrament. I remember being taught to bless myself every time I went past a Catholic Church in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.
You may ask what difference it makes. Who cares about those things? Those little things helped to give us a sense of the divine that you were entering in the presence of God. I wore my school uniform because it was the only jacket and tie I had at that age and for God you dressed up. We learned to genuflect on our right knee because you went down on your left knee for royalty but God merited more. We had a greater sense of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist that He was really there. Why would we talk to our friends in front of God? We genuflected and knelt before God and prayed as we entered the Church. The little things helped us to focus on the presence of Jesus.
We lost not only the sense of divinity and the awe that we were privileged to be in the presence of God. We lost a sense of the love that God had for us in creating the Eucharist. We also lose out on so many graces because we’re not really prepared to receive them.
We need now to do whatever it takes to bring ourselves back to the awareness of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist so that we can open ourselves out to the graces He wants to give us.
Think about what you can do to regain your sense of awe at the sacrament we are so privileged to receive. How can you better prepare to receive Jesus, God Himself in communion?
We’ve lost something so very precious when we lost our sense of the Divine. We’ve forgotten that the host we receive is really Jesus, the same Jesus who performed too many miracles to be listed in the Gospels; a Jesus who loves us so passionately and yearns to bless us. Communion has become a nice ritual, rather than an awesome encounter with the God of mercy and love who died for us on Calvary.
We need to do whatever we can to regain the sense of divinity, of divine love and power. It doesn’t matter if we’re the only ones who dress up on Sunday or genuflect. It doesn’t matter if we’re the only ones who stay late in thanksgiving. All that matters is Jesus.

There Must Be More Than This!

I look at the world and people around me and wonder how people do it, go through day after day without thinking of or believing in God, without having a relationship with God. What do they do when the inevitable crisis comes? Who do they lean on?
If you look at the statistics less than forty per cent of Americans go to church each week. For many the service might consume one hour of the week. Worse yet many don’t put in the full hour. Some come late. Others leave early. Others are there to please other people and go through the motions rather than put their hearts into it. Others serve as ushers and therefore are distracted during worship.
Many, once they leave the church, may not think of God or pray again until the next Sunday. I know people who think one hour a week is enough time to give God, one hour of one hundred and sixty-eight hours. What would their spouse feel if they were only given an hour a week, a half-hearted hour at that? Would they even still have a spouse?
Then there are those who don’t even go to church at all. Granted there are some Christians who do worship at home because of commitments but these are a minority. Many people spend their Sundays at sporting events, the mall, and movies, on the golf course or in bed. You have to wonder what they worship.
Judging from some of the political criticism an awful lot of people are living without God, at least the God we know and worship.
If you live without God, how do you fill your life? On what is your life based? Is it built on the endless pursuit of wealth, accumulating more and more things? What happens when the economy crashes?
What kind of life is it when you go to work every day and work at a job whose main purpose is to make a profit, where everything is concerned with the bottom line? What kind of life is it when you go home exhausted everyday and crash in front of the television and watch really empty TV shows or sports night after night or go out drinking?
Is that what life is about, an endless round of work, go home and crash where you live for the weekend? Then your weekend ends up full of errands you didn’t have time for during the week, laundry, groceries, the yard, the car or the house. If you’re lucky you might have time to do something you consider fun. Then you go back to work and do it over and over again.
I think it is difficult even when you have a job that you consider meaningful when you do something you like and perform a service to others like medicine, teaching, civil service, fire and police work. As meaningful as these jobs are often we feel in a rut. We keep doing the same thing over and over and it wears us down. The job consumes us. We burn out. We feel empty.
Is that all there is? We go to work, come home and crash then get up the next morning and do it all over again. Is that all there is to life? Do these things over and over until we retire? Live for vacations and weekends? Spend our time and money buying things to fill the emptiness or obsessing over some sports team, politician or celebrity?
There has to be more than this, more than working and going home to crash until we retire and fill the emptiness with things, hobbies or TV. There has to be more than just going through the motions, work, eat, crash, sleep, eat, work, eat, crash and long for vacation, the weekend or retirement. Then find a new pattern in retirement until we die.
We were created for more than this. The purpose of life isn’t to work until we die. We were created for a relationship with God through His Son Jesus. God wants our friendship. We are called to know and love God intimately. God wants an intimate relationship with us. He wants us to open up and share everything with Him, all our joys, the frustrations and problems at work, our hopes and our dreams. He wants to guide our lives so that we have lives of meaning rather than the emptiness we face. He wants to guide and support us through the inevitable crisis and provide what we need. He wants to be the center of our lives, lives that will be far better than they are now. He wants to pour His love on us so that we can bring His love to others.
We were created to serve God not corporations. We were created to bring his love to the world even those we work with. This is our purpose to love and serve our loving God. This is the only way we can fill the emptiness we feel inside and bring meaning to our lives. This is what life is all about and we’ll never be really happy until we do this.

Lord, I am tired of the running around, chasing pipe dreams that don’t satisfy. I am tired of the emptiness of modern life. Fill me with your life, give my life meaning and help me to love and serve You. Amen