22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

We have an interesting set of readings today. In the first reading Moses tells the people “Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your Fathers, is giving you.”

He goes on to tell them that if they observe the laws carefully, they will give evidence of their wisdom and intelligence to the other nations. This was a tall order. The halakhah, or Jewish law, contains 613 individual laws covering every aspect of life; what you do when you wake up in the morning, what you can and can’t eat, what you can and can’t wear, how to groom yourself, how to do business, who you can marry, how to observe the holidays and the Sabbath, and how to treat God, other people, and even animals.

The halakhah was a handbook for Jewish life and Jews were expected to observe it, as Moses tells them today. These laws are still in effect and many, but not all, Jews follow at least some of them. Whether a Jew eating a ham sandwich is destined for eternal damnation is a question that’s open to debate. But probably not, any more than you and I are going to hell for eating that same ham sandwich on a Friday during Lent.

As Christians, we believe in both Testaments, Old and New. Obviously we wouldn’t have an Old Testament reading as part of most masses if we didn’t believe it. But, look at today’s Gospel. Jesus contradicts Moses! He and His disciples didn’t follow Jewish dietary law. They were eating without purifying their hands, among other things that the scribes and Pharisees are more than anxious to point out.

Jesus responds by calling them “hypocrites”.

Jesus was a faithful Jew. He knew the Scriptures and the halakhah, all 613 laws of it. What’s the deal? What happened between Deuteronomy and Mark’s Gospel? What changed?

Maybe I can clear it up a little bit. When we were children we had to follow a lot of rules. We couldn’t cross the street without holding Mom or Dad’s hand. We didn’t have the experience or the maturity to make good decisions to keep from getting hurt or killed.

We had rules about when we got up and when we went to bed; when to clean our rooms and when to take a bath and brush our teeth. It’s a parent’s job to teach us how to live our lives. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I had more than 613 rules to follow as a kid.

But as we grow and mature, we have fewer rules. We learn to look both ways before we cross the street. We don’t have to hold Mom or Dad’s hand anymore. We learn that if we want to have friends, there are certain rules of hygiene that we have to follow.

Don’t get me wrong. If you leave here today and head up Lafayette Avenue and the light is red, you’d better stop. Not so much because it’s the law, but because there’s liable to be a car coming up Tucker that’s going to cream you if you don’t stop because he has the green light. Traffic laws are there for a reason and we should all follow them to protect ourselves and others.

So, what’s that got to do with today’s readings? The people of Moses’ time were spiritually immature. They needed a lot of rules. But after a few thousand years, God decided that we needed something else. We needed a Savior. He sent us His Son.

Rather than insisting that we wash our hands before meals, Jesus came to offer us something much simpler, and at the same time, much more difficult. He said that nothing that enters us from the outside can defile us. What defiles us is what comes from within. “Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within.” Get rid of those things and you’ll be pure whether you wash your hands or not.

So, what happened between Deuteronomy and Mark? Jesus happened. He came to form a new covenant. Love God. Love your neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What would Jesus do? “Greater love has no man than to lay down His life for his friends.”

Instead of a giant book of laws, we have wall hangings and bumper stickers. It’s all very simple. But in many ways it’s harder than the original Jewish law. Under the old covenant, you could look at the laws and know what you had to do. If you could follow instructions, you could be a loyal and faithful Jew.

You and I have to make decisions. What does “love your neighbor” mean. Does it mean I have to be his best friend? Or does it mean that I just have to tolerate him? When I see a beggar in the street, do I have to give him all my money, or just some of it? Or can I just pass him by, knowing that he’ll probably spend any money I give him on booze or drugs? Is it up to me to make that call? It’s just all so confusing.

But, if we’re going to have freedom, we have to make choices. Sometimes they’re easy choices. Sometimes they’re hard. But the New Covenant gives us free will. We can eat that ham sandwich without a guilty conscience, even though a salad might be a better choice.

Of course, we still have laws. We have those pesky traffic laws. But a speeding ticket isn’t going to send you to hell.

We have Jesus’ words in Sacred Scripture and that’s all we really need. There are thousands of books that have been written trying to tell us how to be good Christians. But one book is all we really need. Hopefully we all have one. It’s called the Bible. A friend of mine calls it B-I-B-L-E; Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.

Also, don’t forget that Moses told the people that they must follow the law to “take possession of the land”. Jesus wasn’t interested in land. He was interested in saving our eternal souls. He gave us a very simple code to follow. “Love God. Love thy neighbor.” That’s it.

He left us with one very important decision to make. Do we want to be Pharisees or do we want to be disciples? It’s up to us.

More on Phil Robertson

Thanks for all the excellent comments on my previous post.  Phil-gate has started a lot of wonderful conversations all over the Internet and in other places.  (You may recall an old-time method of communication where two or more people actually sit in the same room and TALK TO EACH OTHER.  That’s happening too.)  As I said yesterday, this isn’t about Phil Robertson and it’s not about A & E.  It’s about public discussion of religious issues. Some commenters here and elsewhere have cried “foul” wondering why A & E isn’t protected by the same free speech rights as Phil Robertson.  They most definitely are.  The cable cops have not shown up at their headquarters with a warrant for anyone’s arrest.  Yes indeed, they are perfectly within their rights to suspend or even terminate Phil for violating their company policy. But here’s the thing, you and I have a right to demand that our media sources uphold a certain standard.  Obviously for millions of us that standard includes allowing their employees to express their religious views.  If the network wants our business then they should give us what we want.  If they don’t want our business, that’s ok too.  There are a lot of other channels. It’s worth mentioning that an A & E representative was present at the GQ interview.  As part of the ABC/Disney conglomerate, the network definitely could have applied pressure on the magazine to filter Phil’s comments.  They did not.  Hmmmmm. I would like to comment on a comment made by Chaz Peters on my earlier post.

Loved this article. On a side note you mentioned that Robertson’s stance on homosexuality is in alignment with the Catholic Church. Sadly, according to statements from the newest Pope and the conclusions of the Third Vatican Council, the catholic church has changed its official position on that matter. In fact they appear to declare that God has changed His opinion as well. It might be nice if you wrote on this matter as I see it as of far greater concern world-wide than the Duck Dynasty controversy.

This is a misunderstanding perpetrated by the same media that are saying Phil is a racist and a homophobe.  The Pope has actually said nothing of the kind.  What he has said corresponds to the ancient teaching going all the way back to Christ.  “Hate the sin.  Love the sinner.”  Being homosexual is not a sin.  Performing homosexual acts is.  We, as Christians, are not called to judge others even though most of us do it and even think we’re very good at it.  Logically then homosexual men and women are called to be celibate.  Of course our “modern” society laughs at such an old-fashioned notion.  Doesn’t it say in the Bible, or the US Constitution, or the Magna Carta, or somewhere that we all have the right to sexual satisfaction? Sorry but no.  In fact, Scripture tells us that a celibate life is the most excellent life of all.  But why would we expect society to believe that when they either don’t believe anything in the Bible or choose to believe just the parts that suit them? No, Church teaching hasn’t changed.  God’s opinion hasn’t changed.  And, unfortunately, the media’s ability to twist and spin a public figure’s words to fit their story hasn’t changed either.

The media are counting on us to forget this story in a short time.  They hope that Christmas and New Years and other news stories will push Phil-gate out of our consciousness.  Please don’t let that happen.  Stay informed.  Make your feelings known at every opportunity.  I’ve been wondering for years what it would take for Christians to be fed up enough to take some action.  Maybe the time is now.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The Catholics Added Books to the Bible

To deal with this popular myth, we have to look at a little history.  In the early days of the Church, there was no Bible.  Everything was handed on by word-of-mouth.  Because the early Christians generally believed that Jesus was coming back sooner rather than later, nobody saw the need to write anything down.  As time passed the folks decided that maybe there should be some written documentation of Jesus’ life.  Unfortunately, many of the people who wrote about Jesus and His Church weren’t divinely inspired, kind of like bloggers today.

The Bible as we know it today is a collection of those writings that were divinely inspired.  This includes both Old Testament and New Testament books.  The books in question are all from the Old Testament.  It was the Catholic Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. that decided which books to include.  Without getting into a long-winded dissertation on what books came from where, suffice it to say that the Council of Trent confirmed the canon with the seven so-called deutercanonical books in 1543.    The seven books are:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Part of Esther
  • Wisdom
  • Sirach
  • Baruch
  • Part of Daniel
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees

Since it was the Catholic Church that originally declared what books make up the Bible, it’s hard to see how anyone could think the Church added books.  The fact is that the Church added all the books.  So, what happened?

It’s fairly simple.  The books in question didn’t support some of Martin Luther’s ideas.  So, when he published his protestant Bible he left them out.  It was the protestants who changed the books of the Bible, not the Catholics.  Biblical scholars can point out any number of New Testament passages that cite the seven books in question.  James Akin gives an excellent explanation of all this in his article, Defending the Deuterocanonicals.    I recommend it to anyone looking for a more in-depth explanation.

Remember that it wasn’t until 500 years ago that any of this became an issue.  From 393 A.D. until the 1500s, there was no question of what books belonged in the Bible.  It was those wacky protestants, particularly Martin Luther, who started the kerfuffle.

Coming up…Why do we need all those “man-made” rules?  Isn’t the Bible enough?

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Catholics Don’t Read the Bible

bibleFirst a disclaimer, SOME Catholics don’t read the Bible.  Neither do some protestants.  Some Jews don’t read the Torah and some Muslims don’t read the Koran.  But a blanket statement that Catholics don’t read God’s inspired word is just wrong.

One thing that makes it appear that we are Bible-less is that we don’t bring our Bibles to mass.  Unlike many protestant denominations, the Church provides us with a handy book called a “missalette” that contains all the Scripture readings for each week.  All we have to do is to open the book to today’s date and there’s all you need.  Many protestant churches, on the other hand, expect their members to tote their Bible with them to church.  Then the preacher will tell them where to turn in the Good Book to follow along with him.

So, when a non-Catholic brother or sister accuses you of not knowing “chapter and verse” he or she may be right.  But it doesn’t mean you don’t know the Bible, it just means that you don’t know which book is where.  I think we all know the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  We probably also know that Acts of the Apostles comes right after John.  But most of us don’t know the order of Paul’s letters and we sure don’t know where to find all those Old Testament books, especially since we have seven more than they do.  (More on this in a future post.)

I remember growing up in the Baptist church that it was considered a real milestone when you learned to name all the books of the Old and New Testaments in order.  It was an important skill to learn because when Pastor Bob tells you to turn to the third chapter of First Corinthians you’d better be quick about it.  If not, he’ll go on without you.

As far as day-to-day reading of Scripture goes, the Church encourages us to spend as much time at it as we can.  Whether you do or not is up to you.

Another rap you may hear on the Church is that she used to chain the Bibles down in the Church.  That one’s actually true.  But here’s the deal.  Before Gutenberg invented movable type all Bibles were copied by hand.  It took a very long time and a local church was lucky to have one.  They couldn’t just be left lying around where someone might steal them.  The other thing is that most people couldn’t read.  If you can’t read you really don’t need a Bible (or any other book).  Remember that Gutenberg and Martin Luther came along at about the same time, so the Churches that were chaining down the Bibles were Catholic Churches because in those days Catholic meant Christian and Christian meant Catholic.

If you’ve ever studied a Catholic Bible you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of footnotes; a lot of explanations.  That’s because the Bible, like any other book is open to interpretation.  Printed words (like this post) may be read more than one way.  Plus, unless you read Greek or Hebrew, the Bible that you’re reading is translated from its original language.

So, to make sure that people were following an accurate translation, and that they were getting the proper interpretation of the Scriptures, the Church preferred that the people got their scripture at mass, not from some weird translation.  Yes, at one time some translations of the Bible were on the Church’s list of banned books.  These were inaccurate translations usually missing those seven books I talked about earlier.

So, it’s too late to make this long story short, but I’ll wrap it up by saying that yes, Virginia, Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible.  Some may be more faithful readers than others, but most of us read it and enjoy it.  Even if we don’t read the book ourselves, over the course of a three year cycle, regular attendees will have the entire Bible read to them at mass.

Coming up:  About those seven books.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #11 The Early Church Fathers

Let’s face it, Jesus lived a long time ago, more than 2,000 years to be exact.  The writers of the New Testament did a great job of telling us about the life and times of our Savior.  But they could only do so much.  In the Bible that I use most of the time, the New Testament is just about 400 pages long.  Keeping in mind that many of the Gospel stories are repeated by the four Gospel writers, that’s not much space to tell us the whole story.  One of my favorite authors, Tom Clancy, writes huge novels, some over 900 pages, and the stories take place over a few weeks.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters will tell us that the Bible is all we need.  It’s called sola scriptura, the Scriptures alone.  But, we don’t agree.  There were just too many events in Jesus life (and the time immediately after His death and resurrection) that aren’t in the Scriptures.  So, where do we turn for the whole picture.  The Catholic Church believes that many men who wrote about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection who are not included in the Canon of Scripture are authoritative as well.  These men are called the Early Church Fathers.

Chances are you’ve never heard of many of these writers.  Here’s a link to a listing of the fathers along with some of their writings.  Some you’ve probably heard of are Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the GreatSaint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Jerome, Saint John Chrysostom (the patron saint of preachers.  His homilies are brilliant.), Saint Justin Martyr, and Saint Leo the Great. Every Church Father isn’t a saint though many of them were.

The earliest Fathers are called Apostolic Fathers because they were taught by the twelve Apostles.   For example, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who lived during the first century and was taught by John, wrote on the Eucharist among other things.  His is the first known writing that refers to the “Catholic Church.”  Remember, he is believed to have died around the year 100.  He wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.  — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, J.R. Willis translation.

The perpetual virginity of Mary isn’t clearly spelled out in Scripture, thus the sola scriptura crowd don’t believe in it.  But Saint Jerome defined it very clearly in 383.  Again, I could go on for several pages about the Fathers and what they wrote, but I’ll just say that the Catholic Church teaches, and rightly so, that everything we need to know to be faithful Catholics wasn’t written in the New Testament.  In his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul wrote, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter”.

Some things were so well known, so widely accepted, that the New Testament authors just never wrote them down.  Thankfully we have the Early Church Fathers who did write them down and those writings still exist today.

It’s worth mentioning that in the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, one hour is called “The Office of Readings”.  There are two readings each day, one from Scripture and one from the Church Fathers.  Granted, these writings have been translated into English from their original language, but it’s really remarkable how contemporary they seem to 21st century readers.

The Church Fathers were cool!  The put pen to paper and provided us with a rich tapestry of our Catholic faith.  Even cooler, all of these writings are in the public domain.  Follow the links in this post and drill down to find some great reading.

Beginning tomorrow, my Top 10 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic.



40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #19 Scripture and the Mass

Some of our protestant brothers and sisters refer to themselves as “Bible Christians.”  I suppose they do that to differentiate themselves from “non-Bible Christians”.  That would be us.  There’s a wide-spread myth that Catholics are not Bible readers.  I’m sure you’ve heard some people criticize us saying that Catholics don’t own Bibles, or that we own them but don’t know where to find them.  On the surface, this myth may have some basis in truth.  But, lets look at the facts.

First and foremost, there’s the mass.  Just counting weekend masses, there are four selections from Scripture in the Liturgy of the World:  One Old Testament reading; a responsorial Psalm; a New Testament reading; and a reading from the Gospels.  Over 52 Sundays, that’s a total of more than 200 readings.  There is some duplication, and there are some Sundays when a second NT reading takes the place of the usual OT reading, but if you attend mass every weekend for three years, you’ve heard more than 600 Scripture readings.  Of course, if you attend daily mass, the total is much, much higher.  Because we’re a Church of structure, every Catholic Church in the world is supposed to be reading the same readings on any given Sunday.  Then there’s the homily where the priest or deacon, who is a student of the scriptures, relates the daily readings to our daily lives.  (Most of the time.  Nobody’s perfect.)

Some faith traditions give the minister the freedom to choose his own readings.  Face it, there are an awful lot of readings that nobody would use if they didn’t have to, so these ministers tend to focus on a limited selections of readings.

When you pass a lot of churches on Sunday morning, you’ll notice that the worshipers are carrying Bibles.  What’s up with that?  Since the Catholic mass has defined readings, we’re able to publish booklets containing each day’s readings called missalettes.  You don’t need a Bible because the readings are there for you in the pew.  Very convenient.  Of course, when you see a bunch of people walking around with Bibles in their hands, it’s not unreasonable to think of them as “Bible Christians.”

The prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are very Biblical.  The words of the Consecration are taken directly from Scripture.  The Our Father and the Lamb of God are straight out of the New Testament.  We’re constantly exposed to the depth and meaning of the Word of God.  Of course, we’re expected and encouraged to explore the Bible on our own through personal and group Bible studies.

You are likely to run into a couple of arguments from your “Bible Christian” friends about Catholics and the Bible.  1. ” Catholic Churches used to chain down the Bible so the people couldn’t read it.”  As I wrote just two days ago, prior to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, all books (including the Bible) were very rare and expensive.  Plus, there weren’t a lot of people who knew how to read.  If a church was lucky enough to have a copy of Sacred Scripture, the wanted to be sure they kept it.  Saying the Church discouraged Scripture study by chaining down the Bible is like saying the bank discourages financial transactions by chaining down the pens.

2.  “At one time Catholics were forbidden to read the Bible.”  Once Martin Luther opened the flood gates, there were a number of new, unauthorized translations of the Bible.  By this time more people were learning to read but they might not have had the education or the experience to discern whether something called “The Bible” was the real deal.  To protect the laity from being sold a bill of goods, the Church insisted that they get their Word of God from the Church.

The bottom line is that every Catholic should be familiar with the Bible.  We’re encouraged to dig into the Scriptures.  But if all you do is go to mass every Sunday and Holy Day, you will know what the Bible says.

That’s extremely cool!

Sidebar:  To be a “Bible Christian” you don’t have to know what Scripture says, you just have to know where everything is.  In a typical sermon, the minister will say, “Turn to the sixteenth paragraph of the third chapter of the Book of John (today’s Gospel, by the way).  Then he’ll read it to you.  If you haven’t been practicing, by the time you find your place, he will have moved on.  

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #22 We Have the WHOLE Bible

In 382 AD, Pope Damasus laid out the books of the Old and New Testament.  The same listing was promulgated at the Synod of Rome in 382, and again, at the regional councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419).  There were, and still are, 46 books in the Old Testament.  When Martin Luther published his German translation of the Bible in 1517, he left out seven books.  Why would he do that?  Because the books in question didn’t line up with his new theology.  At the Council of Trent in 1546 the Church reiterated her position on which books belonged in the Old Testament.  Some protestants will point to Trent and claim that the Church added books in 1546 which just isn’t true.

The books missing from Luther’s Bible were:  Baruch, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom.  There’s an excellent article at Catholic Answers that goes into more detail about who did what and when, but the bottom line is that many of our protestant brothers and sisters are missing some pretty good stuff.  Tobit is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament.

We Catholics refer to the seven books as deuterocanonical, a good word to know for trivia night.  It means books that weren’t included in Hebrew Scripture but that are part of the Septuagint (The Greek version of the OT).  Some of our non-Catholic brethren refer to them as apocryphal, a more negative term that means “of doubtful authenticity.

The Catholic Church has recognized all of the books of the Old Testament since at least 382.  Your Bible is complete.  Nothing is missing.

That’s very cool!