Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where We Got the Bible

I’m currently reading the book Where We Got the Bible by Bishop Henry G. Graham.  Graham is a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism.  The book was first published in 1911 and reprinted many times since then.  The point of the book is that the Bible is a product of the Catholic Church.  So here is a summary of the what and when of the Bible as we currently have it through the eyes of someone who is eminently unqualified … me … but derived from someone who is eminently qualified … Bishop Graham. 

Of course, the books of the Bible were written long before the printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg in about 1450 AD.  The original texts were hand-written on papyrus parchment in Greek and Hebrew languages.  This is true of the New Testament documents written by the sacred authors, St. Paul, St. John, and the others.  I understand that papyrus parchment is extremely perishable, brittle, and delicate and does not last long.  The original documents were also plundered and destroyed by persecutors of the Church in those early years.  No documents written in the original authors’ handwriting survive.  However, thousands of copies were made.  For Catholics, the fact that we don’t have the original documents to fall back on is not an issue, because our authority is not the “Scripture alone,” but the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself.  Church officials made copies of the originals down through the centuries and the originals were allowed to perish.

Catholic monks living in monasteries were subsequently charged with making the copies in their own handwriting and translating them into Latin.  This was a painstaking task and, it is thought, not without the possibility of error or the introduction of heretical words.  However, as time passes, we are assured that the Catholic Church, which was promised to be guided by the Holy Spirit, got it right.  Of course, all Bibles in existence today, both Catholic and Protestant, came through this period in history, the so-called “dark ages.”  Any changes that were made during the Reformation and later by non-Catholic individuals and groups, cannot have the assurance of accuracy since they are not from the Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit.  Examples of errors are the addition of the words “alone” or “only” that were added to the word “faith” and the removal of six books of the Bible by Protestant leaders – books that had been approved to be the inspired word of God by the Catholic leaders centuries earlier.

Today we have many different translations and versions.  The Catholic Church has its approved versions and, of course, uses these approved versions, especially the New American Bible as it is called, in the Bible readings used at Holy Mass. 

I am so happy to be Catholic and to be able to confidently read the version of Sacred Scripture that is the product of the Church that preserved the meaning and intent of the words of Jesus Christ, St. Paul, and others through history.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Our Unworthiness Before God

Today I’m thinking about this passage from Isaiah:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  (Isah 55:8-9).  The ways of God … the thoughts of God ... How high the heavens are above the earth … this is all very difficult to fathom.  It certainly brings to mind our unworthiness before God.  He is our Creator.  He is the Supreme Being who made all things.  He is in his heavenly home.  We are here on the earth where sin is rampant.  Yes, we are not worthy of him. 

St. John the Baptist said it this way about Jesus, who is God:  “I am not worthy to unloosen the thongs of his sandals.”  (Luke 3: 16).  The Blessed Mother even got into the act:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness.”  (Luke 1:46-48).  All of this makes me wonder how it is that we can even approach God, or how we can even dare to ask him for things, or how we can possibly dare to approach his altar to receive his body and blood.  He has the supreme power to reduce us to nothingness.  But he doesn’t.  In fact, out of love he has saved us from our sins if we only have true faith in him.

It brings to mind the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant in Matthew, Chapter 8:  “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.’  He said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’  The centurion said in reply, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.’”  (Matt 8: 5-8).  Jesus then said to him:  “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  (Matt 8:10).  And at that very hour, his servant was healed without Jesus even being present in the centurion’s home.

Catholics recognize the passage from Matthew 8:5-8 above because a version of it is used at Mass just prior to our coming forward to receiving the body and blood of Christ.  Talk about our unworthiness!  Consuming the body and blood of Christ at Mass is the ultimate in our unworthiness!  Here is the exact wording:  “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Even though we are so unworthy of this great sacrament, the Lord expects us to come forward, because it is an act of our faith and Christ rewards us for our faith just as he did the centurion.

I’ve heard it said that the Church uses this expression of our unworthiness at Mass so that in case we have any venial sins on our soul, we can get them temporarily forgiven prior to receiving the sacrament.  What great gifts we have in our faith and in our Church!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Basilica of St. Mary Major

This Saturday, August 5, the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.  I was privileged to see this basilica with my own eyes last fall during my pilgrimage to Italy.  It is the largest church in Rome and the only “papal” basilica dedicated to the Blessed Mother.  It is one of seven papal basilicas and one of the four “major papal” basilicas located in Rome.  Hence the name St. Mary Major.

Like all the famous papal basilicas, it is an absolutely beautiful church.  I’m not a connoisseur of art, but one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the art in this church (see photos).  The thing that I found most amazing is that this church claims to have pieces of the wooden manger in which Jesus was laid after being born in Bethlehem.  These are located in a reliquary beneath the high altar (see photo), a site that is called the Crypt of the Nativity.  This high altar has a canopy over it (see photo) that makes the whole scene simply breathtaking.  There is also a sculpture of Pope Sixtus III.  He is seen seated in a chair and facing the manger reliquary.  Sixtus was pope back in the fifth century when the original structure was built.

The original structure is said to have been inspired by an appearance of the Blessed Mother to a Roman patriarch and his wife in which she asked that the structure be built.  The exact site of the building was inspired by a mysterious snowfall in the middle of summer (August 5 in the year 352 AD).  The snow only fell on the exact area where the church was to be built.  The church was later named Our Lady of the Snows at its dedication.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Atheist's View

The atheist’s view is that we don’t need to believe in God in order to explain how we got here.  The atheist apparently believes that the universe has existed all along and that life simply evolved, that organic and biological substances evolved from inorganic substances … that something like lightning struck a pool of primordial soup and the first organism came to be.  From that moment, chemical reactions occurred over a period of millions of years and two- and four-legged creatures eventually came to be over that span of time, including the intelligent two-legged creature, i.e., man. 

As a chemist, I can understand how one can put forth a theory like that.  I have observed many types of chemical reactions that result in many surprising things.  I have put on many a chemical demonstration in front of fifth grade audiences over the years, and I can attest to the many “ooooohhhs” and “aaaawwwwws” that arose.  And who knows what might be possible when the timing for some selected reactions are such that millions of years are required to produce whatever?  We’ve all heard how, on the surface of the earth, conditions are just right to produce life, include the aforementioned creatures – how the Earth is just the right distance from the sun, or how the atmosphere of the Earth is just perfect, and how if there is any small variation in these conditions, life could never have developed – all things that they say are what they are in order for us to be here.

Even highly complex organisms and parts of organisms are often explained this way.  For example, the human eye evolved because there is such a thing as light, and conditions on the earth over millions of years were just right for chemical reactions to take place that resulted in the formation of an organ that is sensitive to this light and, combined with the brain, allows us to “see” and even discern colors.  Or, for example, the ear evolved because there is such a thing as sound, and conditions on the earth over millions of years were just right for chemical reactions to take place that resulted in the formation of an organ that is sensitive to this sound and, combined with the brain, allows us to “hear” and discern different types of sound.  And, the eye, the ear, and the brain are all contained in one “box,” the head, so that hearing and seeing are each processed through the same brain.  But, hold on, we also have food digestion, waste production, sexual reproduction, and all other bodily functions located within this same organism.  Okay, I get it … chemical reactions over millions of years and the adaptation to the earthly environment.

But what about other things – things that have nothing to do with the human body and its evolution – things that have helped us along and help sustain this life?  For example, crude oil and the extraction of fossil fuels and plastics, or cement and concrete and their use in building roads, buildings, and bridges, or electricity, electrical energy and its useful properties, such that we are able to have modern appliances that work for us by simply “plugging them in.”  Yes, we needed to develop our economies so that we can have a life that sustains millions of people.  Where do all these materials come from?  Even the food we eat.  It seems to me that we are surviving every day on a modern-day multiplication of the loaves.  This is where we don’t have a thing like surprising chemical reactions to explain it away.  These things are simply here for us to use.

Oh, God, help us all, in our modern world, to come to the most logical conclusion.  Help us to know that you do indeed must exist.  Amen.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear."

The picture for this week's My Thursday Thoughts is of "The Sower," the sculpture on the top of the state capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska, on the night of a full moon.

There is one well-known parable that Jesus taught that I especially like.  It is the parable of the sower that was read at Holy Mass this past Sunday.  Why do I like it?  Because the message is so crystal clear!  I also like it because after he articulates it to his disciples, he says the following: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  This simple remark tells us, I think, that the message of this parable is extremely important.  Let us briefly study it and see if we can see why. 

The parable reads as follows (Matt 13:3-8):  “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the path, and birds and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Without reading Christ’s explanation that comes next (Matt 13:18-23), I surmise that the seed is the Word of God which he is “sowing” in our hearts.  Initially, we may be open to hearing it, but almost as soon as we leave the church after Mass, or other religious activity, it takes flight; we forget all about it.  It is gone from our consciousness.  The birds are the devil and his cohorts on our life's path.  (“The birds came and ate it up.”)  Or ... we don’t believe it and the little faith we experienced as it was spoken to us is not enough to sustain it.  A little faith on top of hard-core doubt (rocky ground) is not enough.  Our secular world scorches it and causes it to wither.  Or ... perhaps we were open to it, but as soon as we hear the atheist’s argument against it (remember, we are talking about the Word of God here), we choke.  Ah, the seed that is planted among thorns!  But finally ... we have the seed that is planted in rich soil.  This is when we take this “Word of God” seriously - we take it to heart because it finds itself in an open mind - open to the Word of God!  And it flourishes!  It “produces fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”  We go through life constantly wanting to please God because his Word is in us and we are producing the fruit that God expects. 

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  Check to see if you have ears.  Then go back and read this parable again.  If you have faith that is sufficiently deep, you should see that it is extremely important.  Take it to heart.  Let if flourish!  Let it produce fruit!  You will feel better about yourself because you will be on a path to heaven.  Amen.  Alleluia!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Who Can You Trust?

Who can you trust these days to be completely truthful, to be completely free of bias, and to be completely “right-on?”  You think maybe your clergyman?  You think maybe your congressman?  Maybe your mother/father?  You think maybe your husband/wife?  You think maybe your best friend?  Or maybe someone who always seems to strike a chord with you in every way?  To me, there is only one such source of truth, and that is God.  Okay, you say, but God never speaks to me.  But God HAS spoken to you and to me.  The inspired word of God is Sacred Scripture.  When Jesus speaks, we should listen!  When St. Paul speaks, we should listen!

Today, I’m thinking about this trust, this … faith, and how we should listen!  I’m reminded of the gospel story of the woman who “suffered hemorrhages for twelve years.”  (See Matt 9:20-22, Luke 8:43-48 and Mark 5:25-34).  She came up behind Jesus and touched the tassel of his cloak, thinking that she would be cured.  And she was!  Immediately!  Following this incident, the words of Jesus tell it all:  “Daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in Peace.”  (Luke 8:48).  The woman had great faith.  She placed her trust in Jesus. 

There are some wonderful words of encouragement in St. Paul’s three letters to Timothy and one to Titus.  Allow me to give you a couple of excerpts.  To us (through Timothy), he says:  “Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation.  Avoid profane and idle talk, for such people will become more and more godless and their teaching will spread like gangrene.”  (2 Tim 3:15-17).  To us (through Titus), he says:  “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself to us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”  (Titus 2:11-14).  Meditate on these beautiful words!

When the woman with the hemorrhages was cured, Jesus said “Go in peace.”  Wouldn’t we love to hear those three little words of Jesus directed at US?  But how can we hear them?  Pursue Jesus.  Touch his tassel through prayer.  Go to your private place and pray.  And then listen.  He will turn to you and say “who touched me?”  Then, hear him whisper to you:  “Go in peace.”  Amen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fake News

Let me say right off that I am not a Trump supporter … never have been and never will be.  However, I did vote for him in the last election.  So it is more correct to say that I am a Republican ideology supporter, though not totally.  The main reason I voted for Trump is that I felt it imperative that we needed to retain a reasonable liberal/conservative balance on the Supreme Court.  Of course, there are other issues too, such as religious freedom and pro-life causes, but I am also okay with some liberal causes, such as levying taxes on the wealthy to pay for important things, like infrastructure.

But the issue that is on my mind today is the so-called “fake news” issue and all that goes with it.  Before CNN was created, my only exposure to news (besides newspapers and new magazines) was the evening news on television.  We had Walter Cronkite reporting the news in a late afternoon 30-minute program.  Seldom did he have any guests to be interviewed during the program.  It was a simple reporting of the day’s news.  No bias.  No partisanship.  There was maybe a 2-3 minute commentary by Eric Severeid, but that was it as far as opinion was concerned.  Today’s evening news is similar, thank God.

But on came the concept of a 24-hour news service.  The idea seemed fine at the time, but it has morphed out of control.  To report news on a 24-hour basis, today’s reporters need to either create news or keep harping on the same issues over and over, with members of panels often all talking at once.  Back in the day, we had CBS, NBC, ABC, AP, and UPI.  Today, there are seemingly dozens and dozens of news organizations with names I’ve never heard of reporting news on the Internet and on social media, each trying to outdo the other with sensationalism and, yes, fake news.  Yes, it isn’t just the National Enquirer anymore.  I pass on all news reported by any organization I’ve never heard of.  And it doesn’t matter if they are known for their conservatism or liberalism. 

Now CNN is one that I’ve heard of, of course.  But the bias toward liberalism is present no matter what they do.  There is no simple reporting of news.  The questions they ask their invited guests or their panels are fraught with liberal and Democrat bias.  I’m sorry, but that is not my idea of how news should be reported.  The general public has a tendency to accept such biased talk as truth and it is hurting our country.  I’m all for freedom of the press, but that freedom is being abused today, big time.

This is generally a religious blog, so let me end by referring to an article written by the well-known Catholic apologist Jimmy Aikin in the most recent issue of Catholic Answers Magazine.  The article is about fake news in regard to comments attributed to Pope Francis (and other popes).  Akin says that we should ask ourselves several key questions about the source of the comments before believing what is reported.  Is there a source?  What kind of source?  Is it authentic?  Is it reliable?  What is the level of authority?   These kinds of questions will often have to go unanswered by most of us due to the time required to research it.  In this day and age of sensationalism, however, these are important questions, not just for comments attributed to Pope Francis, but for any news that you may be hearing where you might be asking yourself “is this really true?”  The best policy, I think, is that if it sounds too sensational to be true, it probably is. 

Lord, please come to our assistance.  Amen.