This blog is an attempt to provide interesting and worthwhile Catholic Adult Education materials, either texts or podcasts I have produced myself, or links to other good resources.
I am doing this for several reasons. One is to act as a means of distributing to interested people recordings I have already made. Another is to advocate for Adult Catechesis within the Catholic Community, which I believe is sorely neglected in most parishes, despite the priority it is given in official Catholic documents on Catechesis.
This is the first session of six in the series “A Catholic Understanding of Scripture: Old Testament Survey” from the Doorways to Formation in the Faith series from the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh. We are using the book “Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction” by Lawrence Boadt. It is somewhere between ambitious and impossible to get an overview of the entire Old Testament in six sessions. I mention in my commentary that it reminds me of a play I saw about a year ago of the Complete Works of Shakespeare in one evening. It was very fast-paced, superficial and amusing, and perhaps that is the best we can do here!
Rather than attempt to dash through an impossible amount of material, I have tried to do two things: to draw attention to some of the fundamentals of the outlook of the Old Testament, and its thinking, theology and culture, and to look at some classic and better known texts as illustrative examples of that thinking.
The principal ideas today are God’s creation of the world, and the the position of human beings in the world as God’s creatures, and the idea of Covenant. We looked in some detail at a section from the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (Dei Verbum Old Testament), stressing the ideas of “Divine Pedagogy”, God’s gradual unfolding of revelation about himself, in ways which were real and true, but in some cases temporary or fragmentary, and also the statement from St. Augustine that “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New”.
The afternoon and evening sessions are notably different, following the questions and observations of the students.
Dr. Chris Clemens is a parishioner of St. Thomas More, Chapel Hill, NC, and is a professor of astrophysics and Chairman of the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of North Carolina. Chris has for many years studied Catholic philosophy and theology, and the relationship between the Catholic faith and the pursuit of science over many centuries. He is ably qualified to address the relationship between the Catholic Faith and Science, understanding the methods and outlooks of both partners to the discussion.
The Pastor of our parish, Fr. Scott McCue, invited Chris to speak on this topic, and here are both the sound recording and Chris’ PowerPoint presentation, so for once we offer both sound and vision!
The recording begins with a prayer led by Fr. Scott, an introduction by Jim Hynes, Chris Clemens’ presentation and then some time for questions and discussion.
2 Maccabees is very different from 1 Maccabees, even though it tells much the same story. The author states (2:23) that his work is an abridgment of a longer five volume work by a person called Jason of Cyrene. However, this work is lost. It was written in Greek, so not included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The style includes marvelous and exaggerated accounts of events, appearances of angelic beings to fight for the Jews against their enemies, and stories which glorify God’s holy martyrs. (6:18-7:42; 14:37-46). Most notably, this includes the first explicit belief in the Old Testament in the resurrection of the body. Note also in 12:38-46 a belief in the efficacy of prayers for the dead, a disputed doctrine at the time of the Reformation.
Thanks to Lucia Stadter for the suggestion of the picture above, ‘Heliodorus driven from the Temple’ by Raphael in the Vatican Palace, an incident recorded in 2 Maccabees 3:7-40
The discussion today is about the central section of Evangelii Gaudium, Chapter Three entitled “The Proclamation of the Gospel”. In it Pope Francis speaks of the task of Evangelization, which requires “the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work.” (n.110) He begins by stating that evangelization is the work of the entire Church, the pilgrim people of God. The salvation which God offers us is a work of his mercy, and the Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the “sacrament of the salvation offered by God.” He draws this description of the Church from paragraph 1 of Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. He asserts the primacy of grace, that is, the initiative and power for evangelization comes from God. (n.112)
In n.115 he begins a discussion of culture, noting that this describes the lifestyle of a given society, and the way its members relate to each other. Cultures as well as individuals need to be evangelized, and Christianity is not tied to one cultural expression, but can be at home in all. This is an expression of the unity brought about by the Holy Spirit, and of the Incarnation of Christ, that he became not a human being in general, but a man in a particular time, place and culture, from which the Gospel could and did spread elsewhere.
Pope Francis then teaches at “in virtue of their Baptism, all the members of the people of God have become Missionary Disciples.” He states that “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Thus we should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are. He then speaks for some time about the evangelizing power of popular piety, pointing out that a simple but deep and sincere faith can be a strong witness even without much academic formation, expressed in customs and symbols more than discursively. This is often best done in gentle and respectful personal dialogue.
In a section entitles “Charisms at the Service of a Communion Which Evangelizes” (beginning at n.130) he stresses that the various charisms need to be in unity with the Church, that there needs to be an encounter of faith with reason and the sciences, and that universities and schools are good places for this. Then follows a long section devoted to the homily and addressed to preachers (n.135-159)
The final section has the grand title, “Evangelization and the Deeper Understanding of the Kerygma”. The word ‘kerygma’ is a Greek New Testament word meaning the fundamental preaching of the good news, that is, of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. He writes of the need for learning and maturity in the faith, but this should not be primarily doctrinal, but growth in the virtues and in the New Commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) He summarizes in a statement which includes three principles,
The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today:
It has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part
It should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom
It should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance .
Pope Francis speaks then of “Personal Accompaniment in Processes of Growth” which one might more simply describe as “spiritual friendship”. He concludes with an appeal for familiarity with the Word of God (n.174-175):
Not only the homily has to be nourished by the word of God. All evangelization is based on that word, listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to. The sacred Scriptures are the very source of evangelization. Consequently, we need to be constantly trained in hearing the word.
The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer. It is essential that the revealed word radically enrich our catechesis and all our efforts to pass on the faith. Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible, while encouraging its prayerful individual and communal reading.
The First Book of Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew, but has been lost, and is known only in an anonymously written Greek translation. That is somewhat ironic, ans it is about the resistance of the Jews to Hellenistic rule, culture and religion. The name means “hammer” and is applied to Judas, third son of the priest Mattathias, the primary leader of the revolt against the Seleucid kings who persecuted the Jews. The book is regarded as non-canonical by Jews and Protestants.
The doctrine of the book is classical Deuteronomistic Judaism, with its emphasis on the necessity of fidelity to the Law. in many ways 1 Maccabees is similar to Joshua or Judges – a series of leaders and their battles against pagan nations. 4:36-61 recounts the purification of the Temple after its desecration, which is the origin of the Feast of Hannukah. This story is also told in 2 Maccabees 10 .
This book is ascribed in its opening verses to Baruch, the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah. It contains five very different parts. The earliest known form of the book is in Greek, though several section were certainly composed in Hebrew. The parts are as follows:
1:1 to 3:8 – A pious prayer of the Exiles, expressing guilt and penitence for the sins which brought about the Exile as God’s punishment.
3:9 to 4:4 – A hymn in praise of Wisdom in the Law of Moses. Note that 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 is one of the Readings at the Easter Vigil
4:5 – 4:29 – Jerusalem bewails and Consoles Her Captive Children
4:30 – 5:9 – Jerusalem Consoled: the Captivity About to End
6:1 – 72 – The Letter of Jeremiah Against Idolatry, in which Jeremiah explains that idols are of human construction and have no power.
The Book of Tobit is unusual in the Biblical canon, though one can say that about many Biblical books! This one was originally written in Aramaic, but until recent discoveries among the Dead Sea Scrolls was known only in Greek, hence it is numbered among the deuterocanonical books. More than perhaps any other it has the form of a religious novel, though it has many affinities in teaching with the Wisdom books. It was written by an anonymous author, probably early in the second century BC.
Tobit, from whose name the title derives, was a pious Israelite among the deportees to Nineveh. He suffers some persecution by his pagan neighbors, in part because of his practice of burying the dead. He becomes blinded from bird droppings falling into his eyes, which leads him to recite a pslam, praying for death (Chapter 3). Meanwhile, in the town of Ecbanta in Media, a pious young woman named Sarah is suffering because a demon has killed her new husband on her wedding night, seven times! She too prays for death, but God hears both their prayers, and sends the angel Raphael to rescue them both. Thus begins one of the most touching and amusing stories in the Bible. It would make a wonderful romantic movie, something in the style of The Princess Bride!
In our second discussion of Evangelii Gaudium we discussed Chapter 2, ”Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment” and Chapter 4, “The Social Dimension of Evangelization”. I chose to do this because these two chapters have a lot of common concerns, with the social conditions in which the Gospel is being preached.
There are two broad sections in Chapter 2, “Some Challenges of Today’s World” listing some of the injustices and challenges to human dignity created by the world in which we live, which make proclaiming the Gospel more difficult, and “Temptations Faced By Pastoral Workers” listing many attitudes and values which obstruct the preaching of the Gospel from inside the Church. So if the first section is an accusation, the second section is an examination of conscience. The core concern of Chapter 4 is the inclusion of the poor in society.
Here is the discussion from the afternoon session:
Here is the discussion from the evening session:
For people who heard neither, I suggest that the evening session was a more interesting discussion!
Here also is an essay I wrote this month for the St. Thomas More parish “More News and Links” monthly magazine on Chapter 2 of Evangelii Gaudium. It is a much briefer read than listening to the discussions:
Some secular commentators have been very upset by Pope Francis’ critique of Capitalism, I think because many think that it is the only show in town, and the only theoretical alternative is Communism. So if Pope Francis is critical of Capitalism, he must be a Communist. This is most certainly not true, but it indicates an ignorance of Catholic Social Teaching and how it has developed over more than a century.
Here is a good article from the National Catholic Reporter commenting on this. In answer to some critics who complain that Pope Francis does not offer an alternative to what he criticizes, here is Caritas in Veritatae, Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter which lays out very comprehensively positive Catholic teaching on “Love in Truth” and justice in the world of Economics.
On the Feast of Christ the King last year Pope Francis published a new Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” which means ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, in which he “wish[es] to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in the years to come.”
I had planned a four-session course of discussions on this document at St. Thomas More parish, on Wednesdays at both 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM beginning January 15th 2014. It was a nice surprise when 30 people arrived for the first session and we had to move to another room to accommodate everyone!
Here are the class notes and the audio recording of the 2:00 PM session.
People were very excited about Pope Francis, and his pastoral approach, reaching out to the poor and marginalized, and had many tales of how he has been inspiring many people, including many who have just about given up on the Church.
We ran out of copies of the book, and I have ordered some more, but people can buy copies of Evangelii gaudium from the USCCB Bookshop.
I am reposting on of Fr. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations which touches upon how one can interpret Scripture. I think it is helpful and illuminating to our studies.
Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Yes, And – Jewish Midrash
Thursday, January 9, 2014
I think we learned the Sic et Non approach in the early Christian period from our Jewish ancestors. They called it midrash. Midrash was a different way of coming to truth. It was simply where you get together and look at Scripture in an open—but faith-filled—way: It could mean this; it could mean that. It might challenge you in this direction; it might invite you in that direction.
Jewish midrash extrapolated from the mere story to find its actual spiritual message. We all do the same when we read anyway, but Jesus and his Jewish people were much more honest and up front about this. Fundamentalists pretend they are giving the text total and literal authority, but then it always ends up looking like what people in that culture would want to believe anyway. (Remember, good Bible Christians in the U.S. Confederacy and in South Africa were quite sure the Scriptures justified oppression and enslavement of black people.)
To take the Scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Serious reading of Scripture will allow you to find an ever-new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition.