Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year to All - 2011 One Year Bible Challenge

Well everyone, 2010 is over and 2011 has arrived. Here is a new year that God has given us - a new year where we can spend more time with Him. I read the Bible last year and I plan on rereading it again this year. As I did in 2010, I will read the Bible all the way through from Genesis to Revelation. http://www.catholicdoors.com/bible/1year.htm I highly recommend reading the whole Bible. You do not have to follow my plan. Here is the link to a list of alternative plans: http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Reading-Bible.htm. There are many plans that can be found either online or at a Christian bookstore. Choose one and follow it.

Some of us are used to hearing readings only from the lectionary, and although this is wonderful, a passage of the Bible can only be fully understood contextually. Come, join with me in reading the Bible. I promise you that it will be worth your time. The Bible never gets old; it is always relevant to our lives and continues to speak to us. I will try to reflect once a week on what I have read in the Scriptures.

I pray that you all may have a safe, joy-filled New Year. May God Bless You All!!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!! May there always be room for Christ in our homes. The most powerful person was not Caesar Augustus, Herod, or Pontius Pilate, but a little baby born in a manger. The Christmas spirit does not have to leave the world after Christmas but should radiate from us all year long. Here is a poem which you all will find very familiar. In the Bleak Midwinter was a poem first, written by Christina Rossetti.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Choices: Are We Willing to Accept the Consequences?

What is a choice? What does it mean for me to have a choice? God gives us all free will; in all that we do we choose to say "yes" or "no" to God, but the choices we make have long-lasting, sometimes even everlasting consequences. This may be hard for us to accept because we are not always willing to take responsibility for the choices that we make.


Eve had a choice. There was the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden, and Eve was physically capable of eating the fruit. However, in choosing to eat the fruit, she not only condemned herself but all of her offspring as well. God does not force Himself on anybody, but the choices that we make do matter and do affect those around us. Women are always talking about choice. As a woman, I am told by my society that what I do with my body, with my life, is a choice. And although I am physically capable of doing whatever I want, it is absolutely necessary for me to realize that in every choice that I make, I am saying either "yes" or "no" to God and His Will. Whatever decision I make, I must be willing to take the consequences for that decision, that choice. (Men, of course, make choices as well, and they must also think of God in all that they do).

Mary had a choice. The angel Gabriel came to her and announced that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the Son of God. As a single woman, she was in a dangerous situation. She could have been killed. However, because she chose to say "yes" to God, Jesus came into the world and saved humanity. From Eve, original sin was born, but from Mary, peace, love, forgiveness, and eternal life was born.

"Everything is lawful for me," but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is lawful for me," but I will not let myself be dominated by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12).

We are daily given the choice to say "yes" or "no" to God. Do we always realize the far-reaching impact that our choices have on ourselves and on the world? Do we always realize that we are in fact saying "yes" or "no" to God? During this Advent Season, let’s start to think about this. It may dramatically change the way we live our lives.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I am the Light of the World. You are the Light of the World

Yesterday, I took a six hour bus trip home, and along the way, it grew dark; I spent my time in the dark reflecting on the greatness of light. It was so dark in the bus that I could not even see my hands. Looking out the window, I could see absolutely nothing except car lights. The lights of my mp3 player and cell phone blinded me. I was awed by light’s power to drive out darkness. But light is incredible in other ways as well. Light (electromagnetic radiation) is emitted in discreet packets called photons. Building on Max Planck’s quantum theory and Albert Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect, Louis de Broglie came to the conclusion that light sometimes acts like a wave while other times it acts as a particle. It can be observed either as a wave or as a particle but never both at the same time. The wave-particle duality of light was explained by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that states that an object’s position and velocity cannot be precisely known at the same time. The relationship between light and electrons is also interesting. An electron can never be seen in its natural state, because as soon as light is shone on an electron it is driven way, and the only way to see an object is to shine light on it. Electrons are too small though to reflect light so the exact position of an electron can never be known. Light is truly a mystery.


All of this reminds me of Christ. As we enter the season of Advent, the darkest season of the year, let’s remember Christ who gives light to an often dark and miserable world. He is a mystery, but we see His work all around us. Unlike light that can be studied by a scientist, Christ cannot be studied, only believed. It is faith that allows us to see this Light.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

But we must reflect this light.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14:16).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What I Have Come to Realize About Faith

There are times when reading the Bible is like staring into a mirror. It doesn't necessary tell you anything new but shows you the Truth about yourself, a truth that you have somehow always known although you have never really acknowledged it before. A few weeks ago, it seems, I fully acknowledged a truth about Christianity (which incidently has everything to do with the Truth about me) for the very first time. And here it is, beautifully voiced by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:

 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord."

I finally understood why I had struggled with the cross for so long. From a secular perspective, the cross is a symbol of death, defeat, and humiliation. Without any knowledge of God, it is impossible to understand the cross, to understand that the cross is not a symbol of death but a symbol of life - a symbol not of defeat but of victory. Now as a Christian, there is something else that I have learned, namely that knowledge does not create faith. This is a strange realization for me since I love reading books on theology. And although these books can certainly be beneficial, they do not create faith. Reason alone can never lead you to faith because reason's limits is this world and faith has to do with the "other" world, what is beyond human knowledge. The most knowledgeable people are not necessarily the ones who have faith while on the contrary the least educated are not the ones most lacking in faith. Often, the opposite is true. Maybe this is the case becuase faith is required before anything we read on God makes any sense. Everything precedes from faith. Maybe having faith is not as difficult to acquire as we may think. Sometimes I find that reading theology, instead of helping my faith, actually makes Christianity merely into an interesting philosophy. We all want proof, but religion is not science. We cannot prove the existence of God. We know that Jesus is God because He said so. This is what Jesus meant in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man when Abraham said, "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16: 31). Miracles are only miracles when seen through the eyes of faith. For Christians, Jesus has risen from the dead. For everyone else, Jesus is still dead. So, I love theology. I love the challenge of reading books written by well-known theologians, but I am starting to realize that the best way to learn about God is to personally ask Him. There is no better way.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31 is All Hallowed Eve/Reformation Day But There is Yet Hope for Christian Unity

Today is a special day for both Catholics and Protestants.

If you are Catholic, October 31 is All Hallowed Eve, the eve of All Saints Day. All Saints Day honors the lives of all saints who have not been officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. For there are many who have gone before us and are with God in Heaven as saints.

If you are Protestant,October 31 is Reformation Day. On this day 493 years ago, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral. On Reformation Day, Protestants recall the lives of the reformers - the most famous ones being Martin Luther and John Calvin.

As you can see, October 31 divides Christians. But there is hope. On All Hallowed Eve/Reformation Day 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification saying,

"In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God's gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.


We also share the conviction that the message of justification directs us in a special way towards the heart of the New Testament witness to God's saving action in Christ: it tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.


Therefore the doctrine of justification, which takes up this message and explicates it, is more than just one part of Christian doctrine. It stands in an essential relation to all truths of faith, which are to be seen as internally related to each other. It is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ. When Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion, they do not deny the interrelation and significance of all truths of faith. When Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria, they do not deny the special function of the message of justification. Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5f) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts."

             - The full document can be found on the Vatican website: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

This is so exciting and definitely made my day. We are now one step closer to unity. Of course, there is a long way to go and I doubt complete unity will be achieved in my life time; however, this declaration is certainly a cause to rejoice. Let us continue to love and learn about and from each other, for it is certainly NOT through hatred and ignorance that Christians will ever achieve unity. God Bless You All!!
               

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ezekiel Part 2: Does Science Prevent Us From Following God?


Ezekiel is sent by God to scare the Israelites into faith.  But is this even effective today? Sometimes I feel that it must have been easier for the ancient Israelites to fear God than it is for us today because while we think we can explain away everything by science, the Israelites were not able to do that. Although God was very much present in the joys of the Israelites’ lives, He was more noticeably present in the midst of their sorrows because suffering was seen as punishment from God. But today, even though science and religion do not in fact contradict each other, many in our society have decided that science has won – that science has found the answer to everything and that God must not exist. When God condemns the city of Nineveh through the prophet Jonah, a whole city stops, repents, and begs for forgiveness. When Ezekiel prophesies disaster and when disaster comes, the Jews see this as God fulfilling his promise, not merely as an unfortunate event. Unlike some, I do not believe that the United States in 2010 A.D. is any worse off than Judea in 550 B.C. but is it any better? We have our own idols and many seem to have forgotten God altogether. Is it our trust in science that has prevented us from trusting and worshipping God? Has science become our God? If this is the case, it should not be so. I feel that the greatest challenge for Christians in the 21st century will be to convince the so-called intellectuals of our society (doctors, professors, scientists, businessmen, etc.) that it is not necessary to empty their brains to follow Christ. While an extreme fear of God like that experienced by Medieval Christians is unhealthy and comes from a grave misunderstanding of the nature of God, a healthy fear prevents one from ignoring Him altogether.  Of course, we must recognize God’s presence at all times. After all, we should not wait for disaster to strike before we decide to honor and respect Him.  
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, "We must recognize God not only where we reach the limits of our possibilities. God wants to be recognized in the midst of our lives, in life and not only in dying, in health and strength and not only in suffering, in action and not only in sin. The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. God is the center of life and doesn’t just “turn up” when we have unsolved problems to be solved."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Beautiful Poem By Carol Wimmer

When I Say...

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting, “I’ve been saved!”
I’m whispering, “I get lost!
That’s why I chose this way”


When I say, “I am a Christian”
I don’t speak with human pride
I’m confessing that I stumble -
needing God to be my guide


When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong
I’m professing that I’m weak
and pray for strength to carry on


When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success
I’m admitting that I’ve failed
and cannot ever pay the debt


When I say, “I am a Christian”
I don’t think I know it all
I submit to my confusion
asking humbly to be taught


When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect
My flaws are far too visible
but God believes I’m worth it


When I say, “I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain
I have my share of heartache
which is why I seek His name


When I say, “I am a Christian”
I do not wish to judge
I have no authority
I only know I’m loved

Monday, October 4, 2010

Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi!!

So, today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. I absolutely love this saint and not only because he loved animals. I feel as if Francis lived out the gospel better than anybody. Today, I think I’ll just post two quotes from him that have truly inspired me and I’ll write a little reflection after each one. I hope they inspire you as well.

“My brothers, God called me to walk in the way of humility and showed me the way of simplicity. I do not want to hear any mention of the rule of St Augustine, of St Bernard or of St Benedict. The Lord has told me that he wanted to make a new fool of me in the world, and God does not want to lead us by any other knowledge than that.”


The last line has sometimes been translated: "He told me I am to be a new kind of fool in this world.” I wish I had enough nerves to sign all my emails with this quote because to be a practicing Christian in this day and age is to be a fool. And somebody like Francis knew this better than anyone else. Even in the Middle Ages when everyone it seems was Christian, Francis was mocked by many, including his own brothers. But Francis knew what God had called him to do. To follow God’s calling is not always rational by the world’s standards. I’m thinking of a ton of people in the Bible like Moses, Abraham, and Paul who were called to do the absurd.

“Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming self, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou has not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

This quote is the end of a long discourse between St. Francis and Brother Leo over the meaning of true joy. I posted a few months ago chapter 8 of the Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi. Here is the link: http://carnival3christianity.blogspot.com/2010/06/how-st-francis-walking-one-day-with.html

These words from this great saint never cease to render me speechless. Anyone could have foreseen Francis saying that true joy comes from suffering. Yes. But his explanation for this belief is so profound. We cannot “glory” over the good things of the world because all good things come from above, but in patiently suffering, we make the choice to follow Christ even if it would be easier to curse and deny him. All good things we have in life are gifts, blessings that we do not deserve, but to glorify God even in the midst of our suffering is a choice we alone can make.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Christians in the Roman Empire


Healing of the Paralytic (c.235), oldest known depiction
of Jesus found in a house-church in Dura Europos (Syria)
Before I write the second part of my reflections on the Book of Ezekiel I thought I would post something you all may find fascinating. I did a small study on Roman emperors last year; I studied the biographies of emperors from Julius Caesar to Nero written by two ancient Roman historians: Tacitus and Suetonius. Below is an exerpt from Tacitus' account of Nero. Nero burned the city of Rome in 64 AD for no apparent reason and blamed it on the Christians.

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular."

Taken from: http://www.bible-history.com/nero/NEROTacitus_on_the_Emperor_Nero.htm


Roman officials certainly were disgusted by this "mischievous supersition." In A Brief History of the Romans by Mary Boatwright, the author explains why:

“The egalitarian Christian “community”(agape) ignored differences of legal, social, or political status. This alternative approach attracted many individuals excluded from Rome’s elites. Women were welcome in the Christian commuity, too, and they seemed to have played important roles as organizers and proselytizers in the early church.

For these and other reasons, there developed the impression that Christians rejected Roman order and society. Their scriptures advocated peace. Many of their rites and customs were misunderstood. Their “eating the body and drinking the blood of their Savior” was called cannibalism, and their habit of addressing one another as “brother” and “sister” was taken to signify incestuous promiscuity” (p.271).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ezekiel Part 1: God's Relationship With Israel

Alright, I promised you all a reflection on the book of Ezekiel. Here goes. This was a really challenging book for me, probably the toughest book I’ve ever read in the Bible (even harder than Revelation…and that’s saying something). It is hard to follow what God tells Ezekiel. One moment, He seems to condemn the Israelites and tell them that they will be destroyed forever, and the next moment, He says, “You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:28). I am going to post two reflections on this book. Today I’ll attempt to explain God’s intentions for the Israelites.



Ezekiel - Sistine Chapel

God wants to punish the Israelites. However He has a reason for this. It can be summed up in one verse that appears slightly differently in numerous places in the book of Ezekiel. “You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” (23:49). Thus, God, once again, wants to wake the Israelites up to the Truth. Unfortunately, it is not in the good times that people remember the Lord but in the bad ones. By punishing the Israelites through captivity by the Babylonians and Egyptians, God reminds the Jews that He cares about His people, that He desires a relationship with His people and is angered when He is forgotten and even insulted. Ezekiel’s message to Judah is shocking. Yes. But God has plans for the Jewish people and even the Gentiles. God’s anger does not last forever. “For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you” (Hosea 11:9b). God wants to unite all people. “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken” (Ezekiel 34:23-24). And we all know who this new David is. Jesus Christ. In Ezekiel, God compares himself to a shepherd who is in charge of a flock of sheep. “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (34:15-16). Elsewhere God proclaims to the “wicked prince of Israel,” “Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low (21:26). This proclamation is echoed in many places in the scriptures. Hannah sings, “[The LORD] raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor” (1 Samuel 2:8). Mary echoes Hannah in her Magnificat: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). God wants to show the Israelites the Truth. He wants them to see that life is a gift, a sacred gift. He is the Father, the One who gives the gifts, but He wants respect. Will we love God as He loves us? Or will we only recognize Him when it is too late?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Opportunity for Reconciliation Amongst Christians and Susan Boyle Singing

I must confess that in the past two weeks I have been at a loss for ideas for blog posts. I am in the process of reading the book of Ezekiel and I'll be the first to admit that it's really challenging. I hope to be able to post a reflection on some aspect of this book once I finish it (I'll be done in a few days). But right now I have a better idea. In the past few months I have really been looking forward to the pope's visit to the United Kingdom. What I've looked forward to the most is the ecumenical dialogues that this visit will spark. Catholics, Anglicans, and Scottish Episcopalians in particular will, I hope, get to know each other more, and I am truly excited about this. After all, in Europe especially,but in America as well, secularism and relativism are the two greatest threats to Christianity at the moment, and I trust that it will only get worse unless Christians unite, stop bickering, and stand up for the Truth together.

Early this afternoon, Pope Benedict celebrated mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland. And guess who got to sing for the pope? Susan Boyle. I've posted here the link to the video of her performance for you to enjoy. Her voice is breathtaking and her claim to fame is even more so...quite a remarkable woman. Boyle sang I Dreamed a Dream (which made her famous on Britain's Got Talent) and How Great Thou Art.
http://video.stv.tv/?bcpid=37654293001&bctid=610153399001

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Who do you say I am?

“Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” (John 4:12).


“Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (8:53).

Jesus takes up the question and responds to it with another question. “Who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:20b). The disciples explain that “[s]ome say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life” (9:19). Certain Jews say, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48). The crowd’s responses are diverse, but the question still remains. “Who do you say I am?”

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) describes a Rabbi’s quest to understand Jesus. Rabbi Jacob Neusner wrote a book called A Rabbi Talks with Jesus in which Neusner was one of the people listening to Jesus on the mount. Although Neusner was fascinated with Jesus for a time, he ultimately decides not to follow Jesus becomes he comes to the conclusion that Jesus claims to replace the Torah, to replace the Law. Jesus claims to be the same God that as a Jew Rabbi Neusner has been worshiping throughout his whole life. Neusner’s fidelity to his Jewish faith and to the Law that was given through Moses prevents him from accepting Jesus.

The Jews, recalling prophets in salvation history, cannot accept a carpenter’s son to be greater than the patriarchs. They find that Jesus’ claim to be greater than the Law, to be the giver of the Law in fact, cannot be reconciled with their Jewish faith; thus many choose, like Rabbi Neusner, not to follow him. And although Jesus repeatedly attempts to convince the Jews that the scriptures all point to his coming, many cannot take the leap of faith.

“Who do you say I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus also responds to his own question: “Before Abraham was born, I AM!” (John 8:58).

So, who do we say he is? That is the question. We must decide.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Miracles vs. Magic

There is no such thing as magic. I have always believed this to be true. But what about miracles you ask? But miracles are not magic. Although at first sight this may not seem to be the case, a closer look shows that they are in fact two very different, in fact opposing, phenomena. Miracles are an outward show of God’s Grace. Nobody in this world can do miracles apart from God’s Will. No saint manipulated God to perform miracles but God gave the saints miraculous powers because of their great love and devotion to the Creator. Magic, on the other hand, is quite different. Magic is a selfish and manipulative act. Magicians attempt to control the forces of the world and make it submit to him/her. Magic delves with the unknown and sometimes with forces in the world we do not, or do not want to, understand. These are my reflections on the stark differences between magic and miracles. Certainly, white magic is innocent, but I wouldn’t recommend playing with tarot cards or ouija boards.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Discovering God in His Creation: My Trip to Northern Arizona

video

In August 2010, my family and I went on vacation in Northern Arizona and took some incredible photos. The photos in this video come from the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Arizona Snowbowl, the Arboretum at Flagstaff, the Painted Desert, and various other places. The music is by John Michael Talbot. The first song is Thanks to Thee and the second one is Sunrise. Here is an aspect of life we often miss. God in incredible =)


Here is a beautiful Psalm (Ps. 140) that wonderfully expresses how I felt in Arizona:

Praise the LORD, O my soul.

O LORD my God, you are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty.
He wraps himself in light as with a garment;
He stretches out the heavens like a tent
And lays the beams of his upper chambers on
Their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
And rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
Flames of fire his servants.


He set the earth on its foundations;
It can never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
At the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
They flowed over the mountains,
They went down into the valleys,
To the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
Never again will they cover the earth.


He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
It flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
They sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied by the fruit if his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
And plants for men to cultivate –
Bringing forth food from the earth:
Wine that gladdens the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread that sustains his heart.
The trees of the LORD are well watered,
The cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
The stork has its home in the pine trees.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
The crags are a refuge for the coneys.


The moon marks off the seasons,
And the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
And all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
And seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
They return and lie down in their dens.
Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.


How many are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you made them all;
The earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
Teeming with creatures beyond number –
Living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
And the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

These all look to you
To give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
They gather it up;
When you open your hand,
They are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face,
They are terrified;
When you take away their breath,
They die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
They are created,
And you renew the face of the earth.


May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
May the LORD rejoice in his works –
He who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
Who touches the mountains, and they smoke.


I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
As I rejoice in the LORD.
But may sinners vanish from the earth
And the wicked be no more.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the LORD.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Christian Unity to Come to a True Understanding of God

Recently, I finished reading the second volume of Theology of the Old Testament by Walther Eichrodt. In this volume, Eichrodt discusses sin, punishment, angels, death, and immortality as seen through the eyes of the ancient Israelites. The chapter on punishment really caught my attention. In the past few days, I have started to see the connections between ancient Judaism and Christianity. In fact, I find that Christians have gone through almost the same sort of spiritual obstacles, so to speak, as the Jews. In this post, I will attempt to discuss some of these obstacles, mainly the question of sin and punishment and the consequences of the ancient Jews’ and Christians’ responses. I understand that what I will be discussing is pretty controversial, but I will post my reflection anyway so that others can respond to it. I feel that tracing our history can prepare us for what is to come. Although we should be coming to a better and better knowledge of God and his workings in the world, we are just living and reliving the same spiritual experiences. How can we escape from this cycle?

Eichrodt notes that during the Babylonian exile, the Israelites became once again aware of the power of YHWH. After all, Isaiah and Jeremiah strongly engraved into the Jews’ minds the conviction that the Assyrian and the subsequent Babylonian invasions were decreed and willed by God in punishment for His people’s stubbornness to obey. In the book of Lamentations, the poet cries, “How the Lord has covered the Daughter of Zion with the cloud of his anger! He has hurled down the splendor of Israel from heaven to earth; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger” (2:1). Clearly, God’s power is here acknowledged and feared. People felt as if God had abandoned them, and that He would never save them. However, He did, and after returning from the exile, the Jews started to wonder that maybe God was not to be taken so seriously. Instead of seeing liberation from exile solely as a result of God’s free compassion for His people, the Israelites stopped fearing God – that is, until the prophets reminded the Jews of the law and their obligation to keep it. Soon, the law that used to be seen as a means of communication between the Covenant God and His people came to be seen merely as a bunch of rules that needed to be followed. Inevitably, the law overshadowed God. In addition, sin, seen as a violation of the law, was broken down into mortal and venial sins. Some sins had to be worse than other ones. No one can deny that. But eventually, venial sins ceased to be so sinful, and those who felt as if they had not committed mortal sins came to believe that they were without sin. The Israelites came to see sinlessness as a state that could be realized. People came to believe that Abraham and Job had achieved perfection, so naturally, others could too. A great chasm was slowly built between the so-called saints of Israel who kept the law and the sinners who had committed grave sins.

This was the situation in first century Palestine. The Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus encountered really felt as if they were sinless in the eyes of God. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12). Jesus showed these Jews that they were still sinners, grave sinners in fact. By reminding them that all people sin and stand in need of repentance and forgiveness, Jesus uncovered the Truth that had been buried for so long, that “[t]here is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). But surely some sins are graver than others. This we can all agree on.

This is where the concept of purgatory emerges. The early Church needed to address the distorted view that many Jews had of sin and punishment. How can someone accept what happened on the cross if he/she does not feel in need of salvation? Venial sins are sins in fact; so, if the punishment for mortal sins is Hell, what is the punishment for venial sins? The Christians came to believe that only if there was punishment for these sins would all people realize their need for God’s grace. Purgatory was the solution. This is what I believe happened in the early Church.

Why would I care to follow God if there was not a punishment for disobeying Him? Certainly, there is a problem with looking at our relationship with God in this way, but unfortunately the threat of punishment is probably one of the greatest reasons why people worship God. Love becomes secondary. However, in the Middle Ages, the fear of purgatory and Hell came to dominate Christians’ lives to the point that people like St. Thomas More could say that God was the chief jailor of a prison from which no one could escape. Early on, people came to realize that they could not stop sinning, and though they knew subconsciously that Jesus could forgive all sins, people felt as if they could never escape from the wrath of God. In addition, witches were real. With evil everywhere, there was no place for joy, peace, or freedom in religion. It is no wonder that church leaders could exploit this great fear of God to finance grand cathedrals. People were only too happy to buy an indulgence if they could get to Heaven. Although it may seem silly to us that Frederick the Elector of Saxony owned 17,443 relics, he really believed in their power to save. In many ways, Christianity was replaced by a sort of Voodoo.

Martin Luther had a solution. Sola fide. Sola gratia. Ultimately, Luther argued, we are saved by grace alone. We cannot buy our way into Heaven. In this, all Christians agree that he was right. Formerly a distraught monk, Luther was only too glad to find a way out of his predicament. Purgatory, Luther felt, was an obstacle to salvation. It wasn’t a solution anymore. A few centuries later (and thanks to the Age of Reason), the concept of cheap grace dominated Protestantism. Instead of an irrational fear of God, complacency kicked in. Now, instead of flagellants, there were couch-potato Christians. But lest we think that this was solely a Protestant problem, let’s fast forward another couple hundred years. In 1959, Pope John XXIII announced his decision to hold a Vatican council in hopes of bringing about an aggiornamento, or a renewal of the Catholic Church. Fear was still a large part of the Catholic experience, and John hoped to alleviate some of that fear. Unfortunately, the Second Vatican Council was greatly misunderstood, and cheap grace came also to dominate much of Catholic thought.

Neither Purgatory nor grace alone is the cause of a misunderstanding of God. In fact, it seems to me, that for a time they helped the faith of Christians. Christian faith throughout history has swung from extreme to extreme. We must reach a middle ground. We must have a healthy fear of God and realize that punishment exists, but we must also realize that Jesus has made us truly free and accept the gift of salvation he has given us. Only from avoiding extremes can we escape from this cycle. Only from a true understanding of the nature of God can we help build up the Kingdom on Earth. We must rediscover God not to create a new solution to our problems, but to understand His Truth. In many ways and places in the world, Protestants and Catholics are in the same place spiritually. Only by working together can we learn from each other and escape the cycle and accept and worship God fully and completely. This is why reconciliation amongst Christians is so important.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Rabbi's Reflection on the Reasoning Behind Balaam's Murder

Some months ago, I posted a reflection on the story of Balaam in the book of Numbers, and focused on the similarities between this story and Saul's conversion.
(To see my post click here: http://carnival3christianity.blogspot.com/2010/02/oft-forgotten-story.html).
However, at that time I had not read far enough in the book of Numbers to know that Balaam was eventually killed by the Israelites. Suddenly the question arises as to why this is. After Saul's conversion, Paul was given a new life. His past, it seems, was fully forgiven and forgotten, and yet Balaam did not receive this grace. Below is a reflection written by a Jewish Rabbi on Numbers 22:2-25:9. I think it is very intersting.

This portion, Balak, is named for the Moabite King who feared the Israelites as they journeyed toward the Promised Land. The Israelites are encamped on the steppes of Moab opposite Eretz Yisrael and have defeated in battle two different kingdoms already, Sichon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. The Israelites have gained strength since they left Egypt almost four years previously and united as a community and as an army.



Balak wants an edge over the Israelites without engaging them in battle directly and sends for a prophetic specialist, Baalam to curse the Israelites. Baalam is a non-Hebrew prophet. He lives by the Euphrates and Balak’s messengers, elders who are themselves experts in the arts of divination went to find him and bring the king’s plea for help.


Baalam however is reluctant to help. Baalam is indeed a prophet and the Torah records that God speaks with Baalam. How interesting that God has direct communication with a prophet who is dedicated to another religion! Like Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and himself a high priest of the Midianites, God can be present for them.


God speaks to Baalam and tells him that he may not go with the king’s messengers. This Baalam conveys. But the king sends more dignitaries and offers of riches to provide curses against the Israelites. God gives permission to Baalam to go with the king’s dignitaries but will only be able to speak the words that God gives to him.


Baalam disappoints king Balak because even though the king wants the Israelites cursed—blessings flow from Baalam. These blessings are directly from God who becomes manifest to Baalam. Three times, Baalam and the king, Balak, offer seven sacrifices at special high altars overlooking the encamped Israelites. And three times, Balaam’s prophecies with blessings are stated. Balak the king says, “I called you to damn my enemies and instead you have blessed them these three times! (24:10).”


God protects the Israelites and provides great blessings for them even through the mouth of a non-Jewish prophet.


And yet Baalam—though subject to God’s words –is not looked at with favor in Jewish tradition. He represents pagan religion and in the closing words of the Torah portion—the Children of Israel are led astray by the intermingling and marriage of Israelite men with Moabite women who bring them to worship the pagan god—Baal-peor. Later in the book of Numbers, chapter 31 in the war against the Midianites—Baalam is killed for his role in advising the Midianites and Moabites on the weaknesses of the Israelites. He could not curse them—because God’s blessing was stated, but traditionally it is understood that Baalam advised the Moabites and Midianites that the Israelites could be infiltrated and converted thus helping to weaken them!


In 1967, in Jordan in Deir Allah, an archaeological dig discovered a plaster wall remnants with inked inscription in a local dialect with Aramaic and South Canaanite characteristics. These inscriptions were a previously undiscovered prophecy attributed to Baalam! This was written about by Professor Jo Ann Hackett of Harvard University in Balaam Text from Tell Deir Alla.

This article was taken from: http://www.kol-ami.org/rabbi/archive/2007/06/index.html.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Catholic meme


Firstly, I would like to thank puzzled for having tagged me to receive a Catholic meme. I'll post my three favorite prayers here.



1) St. Francis of Assisi's Prayer before the crucifix at San Damiano

Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart,
and give me right faith,
Certain hope, and perfect charity,
Wisdom and understanding,
Lord, that I may carry out
your holy and true command. Amen.


Saint Francis is, to me, one of the greatest Christians who has ever lived. He is loved by all Christians and is even respected by some Muslims. His devotion to God was so complete. He understood the Gospel message, and through his order, tried to live out Christ's words as closely as possible. I love this prayer because it is short and to the point.  Instead of telling Jesus what I want to do each day, I must listen to what He has planned for me to accomplish.

2) The Canticle of Brother Sun

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, 
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven You formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is
beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who
produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon
for your Love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give him thanks
and serve Him with great humility. Amen.

This prayer is so powerful. It is incredible that St. Francis wrote this prayer while he was suffering and near death. There are so many picture books centered on this prayer, and yet people often forget that Francis' appreciation of nature and life was the fruit of his strong devotion to God. I pray this prayer almost every morning.

3)  St. Francis Meditates on the Our Father

"Our Father," Holiest One, our Creator Redeemer, Comforter...
"Who art in heaven," in the angels and saints enlightening them to knowledge, for you, O Lord, are light; inflaming them to love, for you, O Lord, are love; dwelling in them and filling them with blessedness, for you, O Lord, are the highest good, the eternal good from whom is all good and without whom there is no good...
"Hallowed be thy name." May your knowledge shine in us that we may know the breadth of your benefits, the length of your promises, the height of your majesty, and the depth of your judgments...
"Thy kingdom come," that you may reign in us by grace and make us come to your kingdom, where there is clear vision of you, and perfect love of you, and the company and enjoyment of you...
"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," that we may love you with our whole heart by always thinking of you; with our whole soul by always desiring you; with our whole mind by directing all our intentions to you and seeking you honor in all things; with all our strength by spending all the powers and senses of body and soul in the service of your love and not in anything else; and that we may love our neighbor even as ourselves, drawing everything, to the best of our power, to your love; rejoicing in the good of others as in our own, and being compassionate in their troubles, and giving offense to no one...
"Give us this day" --through remembering and understanding and reverencing the love which he had for us and for what he said, did, and suffered for us-- "our daily bread," your Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ...
"And forgive us our trespasses," by your ineffable mercy in virtue of the passion of your Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and through the merits and intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and of all your elect...
"As we forgive those who trespass against us," and what we do not fully forgive, do you, O Lord, make us fully forgive, so that for your sake we may truly love our enemies and devoutly intercede for them with you, thereby rendering no evil for evil, but striving in you to do good to all...
"And lead us not into temptation," hidden or visible, sudden or continuous. "But deliver us from evil," past, present, and to come. Amen.

Is a comment really necessary?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

...that all of them may be one


Mother Teresa and Brother Roger Pray for Peace, Love and Reconciliation


Oh God, the father of all,
you ask every one of us to spread
Love where the poor are humiliated,
Joy where the Church is brought low,
And reconciliation where people are divided. . . 
Father against son, mother against daughter,
Husband against wife,
Believers against those who cannot believe,
Christians against their unloved fellow Christians.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

What We Learn About God in the Book of Job


The Book of Job, like Ecclesiastes, is an oft-forgotten book; however, its message is so important. I feel that many who comment on this book focus on the wrong question. Most people would say that this book is centered on the question: Why is there suffering in the world? I argue, though, that the question that this book really deals with is this one: Who is this God who allows suffering in this world? I say this because God never tells us why there is suffering, but He does reveal much about Himself. We also learn how not to comfort someone who is suffering. But right now, I think I’ll focus on the nature of God as revealed to Job.

Job was ready to confront God. “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (23:10). But when God answers Job, the latter has nothing to say. Suddenly, Job realizes that he was wrong to question God. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3b). Yet, from this encounter, Job learns much about God and the relationship He has with his creation. For one thing, God does in fact care about Job. Eliphaz asks, “Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him?” (22:2). The answer is yes. Firstly, the fact that God cares enough to respond to Job’s complaints is an outward sign that one man is very important. And we know, although Job does not, that God needs this man’s loyalty to prove Satan wrong. How Job responds to his suffering, does matter to God because it affects Him. Job learns that God is caring and yet more awesome than any other being in the universe. God made all the little details of the world. Even the smallest of creatures are important to Him. God’s ways are not man’s ways. He uses His power to confound human standards. Like Mary sings in the Magnificat, “He has shown strength with his arm: He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He has sent empty away” (Luke 1:50-52).

Job never does find out why he suffered; however, he realizes that the God who created the heavens and the earth does not owe an answer to Job. But also, and most importantly, God sees the world in a way that Job can never see it. Because He is not bound by the limits of time and space, God knows what is best. This is what we can learn from this book. No one can explain away suffering except God; and He has chosen to keep this a secret. This may not seem fair by human standards, but this is God, and we cannot control or change Him. This is a very difficult book, but it is worth reading. Especially for us Christians, this book is of immense value; we have a God who suffered, and thus knows us intimately. We know that even Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46b). However, we know that through Christ’s suffering, we were given new life. We can be sure that God desires the best for us even if at times this may not seem so. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Great Thanks to puzzled for the Blog With Substance Award


Firstly, I would like to thank puzzled for having chosen me to receive this award. I am glad that I have been able to engage and inspire my followers, whose blogs, I must say, are fabulous. Blogging, I find, is a great way of sharing ideas.
I long for my blog to be ecumenical, theologically-stimulating, discussion-oriented, warm, and thoroughly Christian. As a Christian, I know that I am not alone. Ecumenism is so important because it is only through ecumenical dialogue that we can ever hope to fulfill Jesus' prayer "that all of them may be one." By discussing works of theologians and my own theological epiphanies, so to speak, I hope to spark dialogue amongst my followers. We have so much in common, so instead of focusing on our differences lets focus on our similarities and through our conversations may we truly come to love and understand each other.

I would like to send this award to: