Sat, 26 July 2008
History has shown that Christians do best when they approach the Bible comprehensively. Many have profited in Bible study by availing themselves of ample background information, prayerfully reading through the text, considering the opinions of worthy commentators and carefully pondering those elements of the story not expressly stated in Scripture.
A good backdrop for a study of the Book of Galatians is that the Jewish people historically classified men into two races: Jews and Gentiles. In the Apostolic age, however, Christians began to believe that humanity had three races: Jews, Gentiles, and Christians born anew in Jesus Christ.
For centuries, theologians assumed Paul wrote this epistle to the ethnic Gauls in northern Galatia. In the 20th Century, many began to consider an earlier early dating of the epistle and put forth a strong argument that Paul wrote instead to the Jews and Gentiles in southern Galatia. This latter position seems more credible for many convincing reasons, such as the fact that there is no reference to the Council of Jerusalem in the book and that the Galatian names listed in the epistle are from the south. Commentator F. F. Bruce recently stated that Galatians was the earliest of Paul's letters, composed just before the Council of Jerusalem.
The issue of whether living a fully Christianity life required circumcision had great significance for the early Church, especially considering the lack of anesthesia and the rabbinical practice to use a stone knife for the procedure. History leaves few details about the Judaizers specific to Galatia, but it is likely that they traveled from church to church to spread their positions and claimed a commission from the pious and powerful James, Proto-Bishop of Jerusalem.
From the onset, Paul passionately affirms that his message is from God, not from man (cf. Gal 1:1). He then juxtaposes the grace and peace of Christ's gospel with the troubling perversions that come from the Judaizers. He writes, "even if ... an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8). Not treating the issue as a mere discussion of doctrinal theory, he passionately points out all that is essential to know Jesus Christ and live in His resurrection.
After reflecting on Galatians, a number of questions emerge: What place should Jewish teachings and the Old Testament have in the Church? Who or what tries to pervert the gospel in this age? What is essential to live the Gospel? How do we best live out that which is essential?
Music: Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A Major performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra
Fri, 18 July 2008
To celebrate the Year of St. Paul, we begin now a study of the Epistle to the Galatians, a work which is authentically Pauline. The most argumentative and passionate of all his letters, it speaks to an extremely contentious issue in the early church: whether a Gentile male had to be circumcised to be considered fully Christian. Theologians aptly recognize this epistle as "spiritual dynamite," and the ways Luther and others interpreted this book ignited the Protestant Reformation.
Galatians is well-renowned as a book that celebrates Christian liberty. Paul posits that if Jesus Christ is solely sufficient for our salvation, then a Christian's life must remain unadulterated by an outdated legalism and non-Christian philosophies.
To provide a bit of historical background, after persecuting the Way and undergoing a dramatic conversion, Saul (only later called Paul) began his ministry outside Damascus. A few years later he presented himself to the Church in in Jerusalem, who quickly sent him to Tarsus because of his infamous reputation. While Paul was in Tarsus, a mass influx of Gentile Christians entered the primarily Jewish Church in Antioch. The problems that arose when these Gentiles intermixed with Jewish Christians presented a dire problem, especially considering that the latter group had safeguarded their pedigree for generations. Barnabas traveled to Antioch to survey the situation for the Church of Jerusalem. Overjoyed at the conversion of so many Gentiles, he soon realized that these new Christians need an experienced teacher and called Saul from Tarsus to take the office.
One day, while the leaders of the Church of Antioch were at prayer, the Holy Spirit said to them, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). Heeding this command, the Church sent them to Cyprus and then to Asia Minor where they ministered to southern Galatia.
Upon returning to Antioch, Paul found troublesome Judaizers coercing Gentile Christians to undergo circumcision. When Peter arrived in Jerusalem, Paul contested the practice of the Apostle of eating only with Judaizers or by himself, whereas he used to eat freely with Gentiles. After Paul publicly rebuked Peter about this, the matter was decided at the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50 (cf. Acts 15). Although many scholars debate over the dating of Paul's letter, the fact he does not mention the council's decision in Galatians clearly places its composition prior to A.D. 50.
Studying this epistle reveals that Paul is far more than just a cantankerous character. Rather, he emerges as a staunch defender of all that is essential to the Gospel, one who is more than willing to stand up a powerful school of legalists to uphold the truth.
Amidst all the theological arguments in this book, Paul takes great care to describe a living spirituality in which Christians experience the full life of Christ: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal 2:20).
Music: Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 by Johannes Brahms, performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Sat, 12 July 2008
Patrick Brennan was born and raised in suburban Rochester, NY by his faithful Catholic parents. The oldest male in a homeschooling family of five children, Patrick often volunteered as an altar server and lector at his parish. As he matured, however, his engineering mind found it increasingly difficult to believe in something he could not understand. Unsatisfied with the lack of fellowship at his parish, he was never challenged to foster a spirituality which embodied more than the abstract sentiment that "God loves you."
Everything changed in Patrick's life when his father lost his job. In one year, his family moved four times while his father looked for work, eventually settling in Wisconsin; the more his family moved the more Patrick's faith wavered. As the financial situation grew grim, he began to earnestly pray for their well-being. After months of frequent prayer, his father received a rare call-back for a job interview. In the days leading up to the interview, Patrick doubled his prayers and trusted that God would finally come to the aid of his family. The sad news that his father did not get the job crushed Patrick's struggling faith. Within a few months, he did not consider himself a Catholic but a Deist who suspected religion was nothing more than a show. At this point, the 17 year-old stopped praying altogether and got a job to help support his family; if God would not attend to their needs, he would have to be the one to carry the family on his shoulders.
In time, Patrick began to apply to colleges. Always computer-savvy, he decided to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology to become a Software Engineer. As he was departing for college, his mother handed him a Bible. He immediately handed it back to her and said, "I don't need this."
Soon after arriving in Rochester, an old friend invited Patrick to St. Titus Fellowship at the St. Irenaeus Center. Although only a small group at the time, the fellowship at St. Titus opened his eyes anew to the Catholic faith. As he began to regularly attend this Friday night fellowship, he more and more saw that faith was not simply "a glimmer of light that merely touches our lives, no, it is a torch that each of us needs to carry -- it's a way of life."
When he returned to Wisconsin over Christmas break, he began to read the Bible he once told his mother he did not need. As the next few academic terms passed, Patrick witnessed great growth at St. Titus Fellowship. While the group increased in numbers and its fellowship deepened, his faith grew strong like iron strengthened by iron. He now realized that his main purpose in life was to strive for Heaven.
Patrick's family still has its struggles, but he is thankful that God's grace has brought them through their darkest hours. He now realizes that were it not for the brothers in Christ he met at St. Irenaeus, he would not be Catholic today.
Dick Graham was also born in Rochester, NY to a faithful Irish Catholic family. After serving in the Navy and graduating college, he married and started a family. Though he never doubted his Catholicism, the responsibilities fatherhood and a career were so pressing that Dick never inquired why the Church taught what it did.
After his retirement, he began to study his Catholic faith and eventually ventured into anti-Catholic Fundamentalist chat rooms on the Internet. After a few years of serious study and frequent discussion with Protestants on the Internet, Dick began to win theological debates. It was at that time that Dick founded CARS, the Catholic Apologists of Rochester Society. The aim of CARS is to enable Catholics to grow in their knowledge of the faith, particularly by studying Scripture and the Catechism.
Music: "Foggy Tam Set" from album "Wild Wood" by Shira Kammen. www.magnatune.com
Sat, 5 July 2008
Many have some familiarity with the apparitions at Fatima. In this talk from the Men's Breakfast of January 2008, Gene Michael surveys Our Lady's apparitions to the three Portuguese children from an intriguing vantage point: Mary's message to men. Devoted husband and father of two, this former Battalion Chief within Rochester's Fire Department currently leads Credo, a Pro-Life apostolate, and directs the esteemed website RochesterCatholic.Com.
The story of Fatima begins in 1915 when an eight-year-old Lucia (Lucy) Santos observed a bright light an angel known as the "Angel of Peace". Three times in 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to Lucy and her two cousins, seven-year old Jacinta and eight-year-old Francisco Marto. After asking them to pray for the reparation of sins and the conversion of sinners, this angel taught them to revere the Blessed Sacrament through prostration and prayer, and even brought the Eucharist to the children.
In May of 1917, the three children witnessed a woman "more beautiful than the sun" hovering above an oak tree. She held a Rosary in her hand and instructed the children to return to the spot five more times, on the 13th of each month, ending in October of that year. During this year, Mary instructed the children to pray five decades of the Rosary daily to bring peace in the world. On one notable occasion, Mary revealed that Lucy and Jacinta would spend eternity in Heaven, but that Francisco "would have to pray many Rosaries" to achieve this reward. Far from advocating the notion that one can earn salvation, Mary's words spoke to the difficulty of traveling the road that leads to Heaven (even for an eight-year-old), and to the necessity of frequent communion with God in prayer. Our Lady continuously asked the children to make reparation for sinners by penance and warned them that they would suffer greatly.
In June, Mary warned Jacinta and Fancisco that they would be taken to Heaven very soon but that Lucy would remain on earth to venerate her Immaculate Heart; she assured the children that all who embraced her Immaculate Heart - which is entirely and perfectly united to the Jesus - would be given salvation. The "Secret" of Fatima was the focus of July's apparition. The secret is usually referred to in three separate parts: (1) World War I will end; (2) another war will begin if men do not repent from sin; and (3) a widely debated, long-confidential secret regarding great turmoil within the Church. Mary instructed the children in making First Saturday devotions and to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, warning that proper execution of these two tenets would stifle Russia's errors and prevent another war. The other critical portion of the children's experience with Mary on July 13, 1917 was a vision of Hell that left them with a great fear of eternal damnation.
In August, anticlerical governmental authorities incarcerated the children and forced them to miss their rendezvous with Our Lady. Although their lives were violently threatened by these men, the children would not recant. Several days later, Mary appeared to the children, encouraging them to sacrifice for sinners through penance and mortification. The children heeded this message by each fixing a coarse rope around their torso, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Our Lady's September vision contained a foreshadowing of the great miracle to take place that October 13th and a prudent instruction to remove their penitential ropes while they slept.
70,000 Portuguese citizens, journalists and photographers traveled to the place of Mary's apparitions to witness this miracle. Heavy rains had turned the countryside into a quagmire and awaited a great miracle. Soon, the crowd witnessed the "Miracle of the Sun", where sun seemed to dance and to change color. During this miracle, Mary spoke to the children, warning men not to continue to offend God, already greatly perturbed by their actions. As Our Lady departed for Heaven, the sun plunged toward earth on a path to annihilate the crowd. The people panicked and began to confess their sins. At the last moment, the sun ceased and retreated to its normal position; the crowd then found themselves and the countryside completely dry. Those journalists in attendance covered this story in dozens of newspapers, including the New York Times.
As she was dying of influenza, Jacinta spoke to Lucy, saying, "So many people falling into Hell ... tell everybody that God gives graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Priests must be pure, very pure. They should not busy themselves with anything other than the salvation of souls. The disobedience of priests to their superiors and the Holy Father greatly displeases our Lord."
Some have expressed that the message of Fatima creates undue focus on Mary, one that can lead a Christian away from Jesus. But St. Louis de Montfort's words remain true: "The more a soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it will be consecrated to Jesus Christ."
Fatima is extremely relevant to the modern Christian, especially the Christian man. The errors of Russia have indeed spread throughout the world and the moral, causing Christians to question their moral and spiritual identity. Rather than retreat in the face of troubles in contemporary Church and society, God has called modern men to live lives of sacrifice for the good of their families and the world. Armed with an interior devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, lives lived in active service for evangelization and the pro-life movement will please God and help save many souls.