DAY 322: Acts 1; Romans 1; Proverbs 26: 24-26
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Today we begin the “final” period of our Bible in a Year Journey which the Great Adventure Bible Timeline lists as “the Church.” In doing so, we begin two New Testament treasures. The first being the Acts of the Apostles – which as we heard with our introduction to the Gospel of Luke – is a continuation of Luke’s initial writing – but in two separate books. The other being the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, which of all his writings is the longest and is considered one of the most important.
One factor that both of them deal with – the move from Jerusalem to Rome. As modern readers, we might miss the significance of this likening it to moving from Pennsylvania to Kentucky. But this move is incredibly important. A majority of Jesus’ followers were Jews, who after His life, death and resurrection know the Messiah has come, that Jesus has fulfilled all the hopes and dreams their ancestors had longed for over the centuries.
These at times dense, very human – in all senses of the word – men and women, had now witnessed Jesus ascend into heaven. How does this move from a small sect of Jews to the very ends of the earth? They needed to recognize that in Jesus Christ, Israel wasn’t meant to be the 12 tribes re-unified and resuming where things had gone astray centuries earlier. A New Covenant in Jesus’ own Blood had been ratified – a New Israel has been born. They need to integrate all that they had experienced, all that they had learned, and now become Christ’s hands and feet and voice. This New Israel would fulfill God’s plan that began when He first “chose” His people – they would draw all the world to come to know the one true God.
So it’s good to enter into these two books with the word “universal” in mind. Rome is seen as the vehicle; “Catholic” means Universal – and the mission of the Church is the salvation of all souls through Jesus Christ. Acts will give us a fascinating narrative of how that occurred – while in Romans, St. Paul will emphasize this transition from the old to new Israel by addressing the one thing that all humanity has in common being sin – and the only hope of freedom from that, being Jesus.
DAY 323: Acts 2; Romans 2-3; Proverbs 26: 27-28
Over the years one recurring response that comes up from time to time from someone who isn’t a believer in Jesus Christ will go “I think Jesus was a good moral teacher, but I don’t believe He’s God or that He rose from the dead.” I’ll usually refrain from pointing out that there’s no way they’ve read the entirety of the Gospels to make that point because if you do, you’d agree with C.S. Lewis:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
I usually have to paraphrase that with encounters on campus – but the main objection that people come up with is looking for proof. Namely, how do we know He rose from the dead. One answer is seen in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today – the Holy Spirit. How else do we explain how the same men who had witnessed miracle after miracle, including Jesus raising people from the dead abandoning Him in His hour of need, who even after the Resurrection, even after they encountered Jesus several times are still hobbled by fear (go back and read the Resurrection accounts and note how many times Jesus has to say “do not be afraid”). These men have had their lives turned upside down a few times over by now and understandably were a bit shell shocked by now. I love how even in the recounting of the Ascension, they are still standing there after Jesus has been lifted out of their sight to the point that an angel has to tell them: boys, show’s over – get going. (Another paraphrase there…)
What empowers them to move past the full spectrum of their humanity: sins, weaknesses, doubts, fears, worries? The Holy Spirit. The third person of the trinity now becomes the dominant character from that moment to now. He confirms all that they saw, all that they heard, all that they knew and drives them to trust in Him more than themselves. To boldly go forth and unleash the power of the Gospel, the authority Jesus had bestowed on them. We hear the same Peter who consistently demonstrated through all 4 Gospels the ability to mess up speaking eloquently to the crowd (definitely go re-read that section) as well as perform miracles himself.
This gift of the Holy Spirit doesn’t override any of their humanities. They are still imperfect men prone to sins (as we’ll see). So it’s not like Pentecost removes their free will. They still have to choose to call out to the Lord in prayer, and yield to His movements and direction. But it’s striking to see the transformation which for those sincerely looking for evidence of Jesus’ resurrection would find hard to deny.
But part of the reason people doubt, question or outright reject Christianity is perhaps too many of us have forgotten we too have been equipped with the Holy Spirit. May each of us take some time remembering the sacraments we’ve been gifted with… the awesomeness of how God dwells within us – and be open to His promptings to use us to be “proof” to an unbelieving world.
DAY 324: Acts 3; Romans 4-5; Proverbs 27: 1-3
WE HAVE ALL WE NEED
One frustration for many priests is the amount of administrative work that is expected of them – whether it’s at the direction of the Church or the State. The real world, temporal matters that understandably need to be attended to can be a real nuisance and distraction. And the longer you’re a priest, and assume other duties and responsibilities (like a Pastor or a Director of Campus Ministry as just a totally random example 🙂 ) those only seem to grow. And if we’re not careful, we can start to let those dominate our attention and forget what is most essential – which today’s reading from Acts helps underscore for us.
The beauty of reading Acts 3 is seeing the freedom and conviction of St. Peter. Seeing a man, paralyzed from birth begging for alms, Peter responds: I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.” Astounding everyone, the man does.
The reality is we have all we need to proclaim the Gospel. For some who are financially equipped, they would have silver and gold to offer that could attend to this man’s needs in a way that would’ve been life-changing. For others, the compassion and care of their presence and concern might be all they have to offer. And yes, there are times in fact where God will work a bonafide miracle through our prayers. The point is when confronted with a need, problem, or concern – do we actually believe God is with us and ready to work with us or not?
DAY 325: Acts 4; Romans 6-7; Proverbs 27: 4-6
“When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4: 13) Other translations will describe it not as “wondered” but “they were astonished.” Despite their positions of power and authority, the leaders who had conspired just weeks earlier to eliminate the “threat” of Jesus are now coming face to face with the reality that perhaps that didn’t work out the way they thought it would. That’s putting it mildly. They see the same men who cowered in fear now boldly professing to them that the same Jesus they rejected is the one behind their work, their actions.
There were three things that were key for these “common men” to become bold and courageous: 1 – The resurrection of Jesus; 2 – The power of prayer shared in genuine community and 3 – the Holy Spirit filling and empowering each of the disciples.
It’s a bit frustrating to realize that how often when problems occur in the Church, how quickly some look for a new program, another meeting or dialogue. Not that there isn’t opportunities and need for some of those things. But at the very start of the Church when things were incredibly vulnerable – those three things were essential and incredibly powerful. And the truth is – those three things are still available to us and remain just as powerful.
Jesus is still Risen from the dead… and by our Baptisms and Confirmations we have had an abundance of outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit into each of us. To me what’s missing is conviction in the power of prayer (and greater faith in #1 and #3!)
Father Mike for 325 days has ended every podcast with a request and a promise for prayers and if you’ve had a chance to look on Ascension’s social media sharings of some of the feedback they’ve received the world over, indeed we see many in the world being moved to “wonder” at how a priest reading the bible on a podcast everyday has commanded so much attention and the effect it’s having the world over. Imagine if we continued to do that for all the issues facing the Church and the world?
DAY 326: Acts 5; Romans 8; Proverbs 27: 7-9
Ah, the story of Ananias and Sapphira… been waiting for this day 🙂 If you thought the troublesome chapters and episodes ended in the Old Testament and weren’t familiar with this story, it no doubt caught you by surprise. It seems so harsh. They had sold a piece of property and gave some of the proceeds to the community of believers, so they kept some for themselves was that so wrong? And they don’t even get a chance to repent, is that fair?
The key to understanding this passage lies in how we ended things yesterday in Chapter 4. Joseph (Barnabas), is seen doing the “same” thing – with one significant difference he gives the entire proceeds to the Apostles. Giving everything was his vow of making a complete commitment to Christ and His Church. The believers in this closely knit, intimate community at this pivotal time in the Church’s history would’ve been impressed by this levitical priest’s example and seen how things have dramatically changed with the life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ and with their reception of the Holy Spirit.
Some things haven’t changed, however: sin. Ananias and Sapphira are looking for that same praise and acknowledgment from the community – without making the same selfless sacrifice. They don’t even think about the fact that they were manipulating a vow for their own benefit. And the reference to “Satan entering their heart” evokes memories of someone else who had fallen into that temptation: Judas. Some view this severe punishment as a way God was protecting the unity of this infant Church. But, it’s interesting that this chapter has provoked much thought and reflection throughout the centuries. As far back as the fourth century, Saint Augustine contemplated: “I can believe that God spared them after this life, for his mercy is great … They were stricken with the scourge of death, that they might not be subject to eternal punishment.”
What is not up for debate though is the constant threat of the evil one tempting us into sin. May we call upon the Holy Spirit to make us mindful and attentive to His presence in our lives and yield to Him to always be authentic witnesses for Christ.
DAY 327: Acts 6; Romans 9-10; Proverbs 27: 10-12
THE BLOOD OF MARTYRS
There’s many impressive things about traveling to the City of Rome. The Architecture, spectacular art work from sculptures, mosaics, frescoes all of which has existed far longer than the United States of America has, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by it all. People sometimes talk about it as feeling the sense of “history.”
That would be a more secularized explanation for it. For believers, we look at the reality of how many people died for the Catholic Christian faith from one end of the city to the other. We see how those that witnessed those things rather than fleeing and running away, cowering in fear worried that they would be next – noted those sites, reverently buried these heroes, and prayed at these sites asking the Lord to bless them to be similarly courageous. To equip them with the graces needed to be unstoppable witnesses to Jesus Christ and testify to His power to withstand even death itself.
We see the beginnings of this in the reading from Acts today with the first martyr for the faith, St. Stephen. Things had escalated from imprisoning some of the apostles, calling them before authorities, interrogating, beating and threatening them to now picking not one of the Apostles, but a simple, holy, only recently ordained deacon (Acts 6: 6-7)
While we’ve been reading and hearing some pretty amazing feats that occurred through the Apostles ministry (people trying to get near Peter’s shadow in order to be healed!), today we are humbled to see how those following Jesus’ most ultimate example, innocently laying down their lives will be an even grander testimony and witness than those miracles. Seeing people not getting something (in this life at least) but giving everything for Jesus becomes an accelerant to the fire of the Holy Spirit that was burning in the hearts of the believers to catapult the proclamation of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. As the Early Church Father, Tertulian said in the second-century: “We are not a new philosophy but a divine revelation. That’s why you can’t just exterminate us; the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. You praise those who endured pain and death – so long as they aren’t Christians! Your cruelties merely prove our innocence of the crimes you charge against us…
And you frustrate your purpose. Because those who see us die, wonder why we do, for we die like the men you revere, not like slaves or criminals. And when they find out, they join us.”
DAY 328: Acts 7; Romans 11-12; Proverbs 27:13-14
Ok, so in yesterday’s reflection, I didn’t realize I had jumped ahead and read through Chapter 7 of Acts. It honestly didn’t register till I heard Fr. Mike’s podcast today talking about that part coming. Total brain freeze on that one!
But the good thing is that gives me an opportunity to look at the readings from Romans a bit closer and providentially chapter 11 is one of my favorite chapters from this book. We begin to sense a shift in this portion. Up till this point, St. Paul’s writings have been a bit more theological explanations. But today we start to hear words of praise, glory and worship of God:
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory for ever. Amen!” (1: 33-36)
I imagine Paul as a pretty intense guy. Having been a Pharisee, we know that he was a very intelligent, very passionate man… and just reading all of his letters, we will appreciate that he is very eloquent. Reading the entire letter to the Romans, it almost seems like Paul stumbles into this praise of God. He had been reflecting on the question of what would happen to the Jews who had rejected the long promised, long awaited Messiah. He comes to this reflection that the promises of God are irrevocable. That the “Old Covenant” had forever bonded the people to God. He’s wrestling with that and that is what leads him not to keep debating and trying to come up with more arguments and logic – but simply praising God for His goodness. Knowing that somehow God had constantly made a way for His people who had broken the covenant and seemed doomed and lost before.. Now in Christ Jesus, now after Paul had experienced the intimate and personal love of God for himself, he can’t help but get lost in praise and wonder of God.
As we continue through Romans, you can hear how radically Paul’s life has been changed by his encounter with the Risen Christ. The God he thought that he knew, the God who’s promises were irrevocable didn’t change… Paul changed. And so can each and every one of us who opens their hearts and lives to the Lord.
DAY 329: Acts 8;Romans 13-14; Proverbs 17: 15-17
Sandwiched between two more well-known stories in Chapter 8 of Acts (Saul persecuting the Church and Philip baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch) is this curious story that’s labeled “Simon the Magician.” We’re introduced to him as one of the most well-known individuals in Samaria. Performing feats that were obviously impressive, so much so that he was called ‘great,’ Simon held Samaria amazed by his “magic.” That’s until Philip comes and preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Seeing unclean spirits coming out of people, the lame being healed – they start to recognize true greatness is found in Christ alone. Very quickly people are experiencing conversions of hearts and are baptized – including Simon.
But only a few verses later we’re left to wonder whether Simon experienced a true conversion of heart or was only going along to maintain his own status. Because very quickly we hear Simon looking to buy some Holy Spirit from Peter and John! He’s looking to add God into his bag of magic tricks. Peter quickly points out fatal an error this is. Simon wasn’t looking to conform his life to Christ, but wanted to use some of the signs and wonders those who had come in His name had done as they were proclaiming the Gospel.
Simon the magician reminds us of the importance of how we view, how we approach God. It saddens me when I’ll meet someone who tells me “I did this novena, I said these prayers for 9 days and didn’t get what I was praying for, even though the devotion says ‘this has never been known to fail.’”
It’s good to bring our needs, worries, fears, even dreams to the Lord. He wants us to share what is on our heart and mind – what is unsettling our peace – what we are hoping for – and to share those in our prayer. But always from the perspective that He is God, who is all Good and all Loving. Ultimately He desires to work with and through us to being about what is His perfect will. But it’s His will, not ours. True prayer never fails… but trying to control God – always will.
DAY 330: Acts 9; Romans 15-16; Proverbs 17: 18-20
If you’ve been following along with us for 330 days, by now you’ve probably heard or seen that I’m a fan of the television show on the life of Christ called “The Chosen.” One of my favorite scenes from season 1 comes after Mary Magdalene has been exorcized of her demons by Jesus. She’s still trying to unpack what has occurred as she’s questioned by a Jewish Pharisee who had attempted (and failed) to help her. And she says to him “I was one way and now I am completely different and the thing that happened in between was Him.” It’s such a powerful moment and beautiful line (also made for a great T-shirt and Hoodie, which I have) because it perfectly states what is an utterly remarkable and often difficult to explain occurrence. The radicalness of a conversion.
That came to mind reading the story of the conversion of Saul in today’s reading from Acts. It’s kind of neat that we’ve been reading along for almost a week now one of Paul’s masterpieces in the New Testament, the letter to the Romans, while just two days ago as we were travelling along reading Acts of the Apostles, we hear how he was first known to the earliest of Christians. As a fierce persecutor of the Church – being present (if not an active participant) in the stoning of Stephen, to leading the arrest of others. Encountering the Risen Christ on his journey to Damascus, Saul’s life is transformed.
For each of us, that is true. But it’s never a “one and done” thing. Sure, at Baptism, we experience a change that, to use a word from a few days ago – is irrevocable. We are forever transformed by Baptism and no matter what we say or do, that can never be undone. But more than likely, there are times when we’ve failed, fallen into sin, perhaps grown lukewarm in our faith. And someone came along, something happened that opened us up to Christ’s power in our lives… We experienced a “re-version”, a renewal of our faith. We broke free of a destructive habit or pattern. We were forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we confessed our sins and received absolution… to the point that here we are, day 330 of reading the Bible in a Year.
May we take some time to give thanks for those moments, those experiences, perhaps even identify the Ananias’ in our lives who helped us recover the sense of being chosen by Jesus Christ.
DAY 331: Acts 10; 1 Corinthians 1-2; Proverbs 27: 21-22
AFTER THE CONVERSION
Yesterday, we reflected Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ – how incredibly transformational his conversion was in changing his entire life. To the point that every aspect of his life would be upended (which is one reason his name is changed). It’s one of the most powerful witnesses and testimonies to Christ. Providentially, we begin the First letter to the Corinthians today. Because in this letter we get a sense that just experiencing a conversion doesn’t necessarily result in that type of 180 degree change of life for every person.
2,000 years ago, the Corinthians could have been described as a modern Sodom and Gommorha. Sexual promiscuity and deviancy; excesses in every conceivable pleasure on earth was something that many partook of regularly. About 15 years after his own conversion, Paul arrives in Corinth where he would stay for over a year living with and preaching, ministering to the people there. Paul was amazingly successful in his missionary outreach with many becoming Christian. Sometime after Paul had moved on to another mission, he learned that some of those habits, behaviors, and attitudes that was a part of their pre-conversion life had re-emerged after they had been Baptized.
It’s important for us to have that background and context in mind. We get a sense of Paul’s pastoral zeal for souls that he had poured into – his love and care for them, his frustration and anger tempered with his love for Jesus and recognition of the need for Mercy… and ongoing conversion. A reminder that just because one has met Christ doesn’t remove the human condition, or the possibility of falling again, and needing to re-encounter Jesus again. Which was as timely then and there – as it is here and now.
DAY 332: Acts 11; 1 Corinthians 3-4; Proverbs 27: 23-27
Between yesterday’s and today’s chapters from the Acts of the Apostles, we see a massive shift that for the early Christians was pretty revolutionary. We see the “followers of the Way” (as the early Christians were called) moving away from so much of their Jewish roots as the Gospel message is preached, heard and received by non-Jews. It’s good to remember that the earliest followers of Jesus, those who saw Him as Messiah often times were awaiting the restoration of all that we navigated for hundreds of days in the Old Testament (covering hundreds and hundreds of years of history!) They were mindful of the 12 tribes, the division of the kingdom into two kingdoms. For some, having heard the prophecies and promises of God raising a Messiah they conceived in their minds restoration and unifying of all those earthly realities.
Now we have Peter eating bacon – and non-Jews (the Gentiles) hearing the Good News, receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized. We hear the tension from some in Jerusalem that these “outsiders” were now “in.”
This is a pivotal moment. Not simply in the life of the Church, but the fulfillment of “the Chosen People.” We see the plan for universal salvation through “God’s Chosen People” being fulfilled as what was thought to be this small sect of Jews not breaking through to what eventually will be every corner of the globe.
DAY 333: Acts 12: 1 Corinthians 5-6; Proverbs 28: 1-3
GOOD FRIDAY REVISITED
James is killed. Peter is Imprisoned. In Acts Chapter 12 we encounter some of the darkest of times for the Early Church. There had been persecution, their had been martyrs, but now some of the chosen ones, those Jesus had ordained His priests and commissioned to go out to the world were being targeted. They were not immune to the works of the evil one still violently fighting against the Lord God and enlisting support from any means possible.
Amazingly, we hear “the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12: 24).
The Early Church had experienced the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes they mourned the death of James. Yes they prayed for Peter (who experienced another miracle in his freedom). They started to see and understand very fully that they would see, they would experience all that Jesus Himself had. But James’ brother, John would have his mourning tempered remembering Jesus’ words: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33).
No one enjoys persecution. Few of us desire to experience martyrdom. Yet, our ancestors in the faith remind us not to fear or despair when those possibilities (or perhaps eventualities) occur. To never lose sight that this world is temporary… and that the things, the people that seem hell-bent on destroying us and our faith will arrive at that damnable destination. That God will be glorified and will utilize these ongoing assaults as a way to proclaim His word and move hearts and souls to come to know and love Him.
DAY 334: Acts 13; 1 Corinthians 7-8; Proverbs 28: 4-6
SET TO BE A LIGHT
Acts Chapter 13 is jam packed with notable details from the prayer and fasting of the Church to hear and discern what the Holy Spirit desired next, to the spreading of the Christianity with Churches being founded throughout the known world at the time, to a lengthy address from St. Paul in Antioch. Particularly it’s beautiful for us, having heard the long form of the History of Salvation for the past 333 days to get Paul’s cliff’s notes version today. He summarizes the rise and fall of Israel which sets up the need for Jesus.
But what is pivotal, what is new about this“good news” that Paul is preaching to this audience? “…through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you coud not be feed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13: 38-39) This is a dramatic shift for this audience. The sacrifices, the pilgrimages, the temple, all that they had known and followed – all that had defined them as a people for generation after generation had evolved to bring a fulfillment on a deeply personal level.
Every human being could hear these words and recognize their failures, their brokenness, their sinfulness. Every human being could recognize those things diminishes and distorts their identity, limits them. Now Paul is proclaiming in Jesus Christ a forgiveness and a freedom that they could personally experience and know. We hear the tension and resistance on the part of some – yet for those who do receive this as the good news that it is, the effect is astonishing. The Gospel spreads to Jews and Gentiles. The deepest held desire of the Lord that His salvation reaches to the very ends of the earth begins to unfold.
For each of us as we continue this biblical pilgrimage, hopefully we feel that energy – the Holy Spirit bubbling up within us wanting to utilize us, to amplify our voices, to radiate the joy we have experienced in encountering this Lord and coming to know and love Him deeper. When we have, like Paul, like Barnabas, we become a light to bring salvation. Unlike Paul and Barnabas, though, we most likely won’t need to be sent to some distant regions of the earth unknown to us. He needs us to be that light far closer to home.
DAY 335: Acts 14; 1 Corinthians 9-10; Proverbs 28: 7-9
Healing – mistaking them for gods – stoning them – could there be a day of more of a roller coaster of experiences and reactions for Paul and Barnabas? It’s hard to imagine a more fickle crowd. To have such wide reactions happening so quickly. On the surface reading this it’s a bit surprising or jarring, but the more you reflect on it, it shouldn’t be. When you have an encounter with the power of God, with the proclamation, the one thing you can count on is that it provokes a reaction.
When someone experiences a miracle – like this crippled man being able to walk – that’s amazing, that’s exciting. No doubt they are trying to figure out “how’d they do that?” This crowd was already coming at it from very different vantage points. The greeks are who believed their gods were capricious deities are thinking they have appeared to them and they want to keep them happy and on their side – perhaps do a few more miracles. The Jews are already suspicious hearing their fellow Jews talking about Jesus.
Paul and Barnabas’ refusal to accept their worship, and failure to fight back when attacked by the stones of the crowd demonstrates the confusion that this proclamation brought. They heard and saw something that was wrecking their hearts and minds – calling them to embrace a very different vision then they had carried. This was not a god who was controllable. This was not what some of those who thought they knew who the Lord God was expected.
What’s key though is that Paul and Barnabas’ trust in the Lord working through all this. It’s hard for me to imagine deciding to go back to a city where there was that much drama. Yet, Paul and Barnabas trusted that the Holy Spirit had sent them there, was very much at work while they were there and had protected them while they were there, and that same Holy Spirit continued to work in the hearts of at least some of those who were there that day. Paul and Barnabas return and we read they “strengthened the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith…” (14: 22)
For me the takeaway is that call to perseverance in faith. So often we can get hung up on the response or lack thereof to things. Yet the minute we do that we’ve fallen for the mistake that the greeks had in looking at Paul and Barnabas – thinking we’re gods ourselves. Jesus wants to utilize us to proclaim the gospel… not to change hearts. He will do that. He asks us to trust that – and just to keep persevering in this task.
DAY 336: Acts 15; 1 Corinthians 11-12; Proverbs 28: 10-12
Confrontations are never easy. Few enjoy them (and those that do, probably don’t have a lot of folks who want to be around them) But they are a part of life – people are going to disagree about things. Families, friends, co-workers have to contend with them. And sometimes that might even result in some difficult decisions that we feel sadness or frustration around.
Which is why this chapter of Acts is an important one. Hearing that Paul and Barnabas get to the point that, as the scripture puts it somewhat delicately “there arose a sharp contention” (will have to remember that turn of phrase the next time I have one!) Such that “they separated from each other.” These two who had been on mission together, experienced the power and movement of the Holy Spirit, faced physical death, survived and continued their mission together – it’s hard to imagine what exactly it was that made this contention so sharp. On the surface it’s about whether taking John Mark with them or not on their next mission. But maybe it was Barnabas thinking Paul was too forgiving while Paul thought Barnabas was being a chump. Maybe this touched on a nerve from one of there previous missions, expeditions, or journeys.
Whatever it was, these “Saints” who we admire, justifiably, for their heroic work – we see are very human. And just because there was a “contention” – just because there wasn’t any agreement or coming together of the minds here, didn’t mean it was sinful. It didn’t result in there abandoning their mission. That’s the important lesson to take away. It’s okay to have disagreements and that might even result in a friendship ending, which is unfortunate. Where it becomes sinful is when we allow bitterness to take root, anger to fester. Where we allow the devil to take this tension and it to cause division.
Instead, these two men who were men of prayer, who had the Lord and His mission front and center were able to maturely separate from one another. They enlist others and in fact, this becomes a blessing as now their missionary efforts doubled. God had used this moment of difficulty to do something new in both of their lives and in the life of the Church.
Dealing with confrontations, disagreements, are a tricky thing for sure to navigate in our lives. It’s easy for feelings to get hurt, emotions can run high, people can say things they regret. But we shouldn’t let our fear over those things prevent us from honestly evaluating something and, even more importantly, bringing these things to prayer. Sometimes this unpleasantness could be the thing that catapults someone to making that change in their life from some destructive behavior, or into a healthier job, or a more productive environment that the Lord has been trying to lead us to that we’ve resisted out of being “comfortable.”
DAY 337: Acts 16; 1 Corinthians 13-14; Proverbs 28; 13-15
HOT TAKE ON LOVE
Had to take a break from the Acts of the Apostles today and reflect on this reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This is one of those texts that is widely known whether someone is a regular church goer or not since it pops up at nearly every wedding, is widely displayed on memes, bumper stickers and coffee cups. All for good reason – Paul talking about what love is able to transcend context nearly effortlessly.
But as we’ve been navigating this book of Paul for almost a week now, we know the backstory and context a lot better. Paul wasn’t setting out to write a greeting card or poem. He’s been in the midst of being pretty fired up with the Corinthians. He’s pointing out all the things that have inhibited their relationships with one another. He’s highlighting where things have gone astray. They’re claiming to be Christian, but are missing what is most essential – love. They’ve manipulated the meaning of it and Paul’s not having any of it.
It reminds me of when my brothers and I were little and happened to be in the back seat of our car fighting with each other… there were things being said, punches being thrown, cries of “quit it.” It finally reached a boiling point where my father screamed at us we had better stop and that he was going to make us “the love brothers.” Even being young, we kind of ended up in hysterics laughing that he was screaming about love. But the point was made (and was memorable) ultimately there is nothing more important. As Paul demonstrates, it’s worth fighting for. As Jesus demonstrates, It’s worth dying for.
DAY 338: Acts 17; 1 Corinthians 15; Proverbs 28: 16-18
St. Paul has a bit of a reputation for being, well, I guess you could say “frank.” That proceeds from the fact that whenever disputes arise in the New Testament, somehow Paul is involved in them. In fact I’m trying to rack my brain thinking of an instance where that’s not the case. I used to think considering the guy’s past – persecuting the Church – he’d be a little bit meeker and milder when confronting either his fellow Apostles, fellow Christians or those who haven’t yet learned of Christ. But Paul seems to, as they say, put the “b” in subtle.
We have an example of that in Chapter 17 of Acts. After being terrorized in Thessalonica, inciting crowds in Beroea he finds himself in Athens. And the hostility he’s faced has done nothing to temper his passion. Acts describes him as being appalled with idol after idol and seemingly never passing up an opportunity to debate with philosophers.
There is something admirable about this. For Paul, with this conversion, there is no going back. If he experienced any doubts or fears, unlike some of the other apostles and disciples, for Paul they remain hidden to us. While he’s brilliant, well spoken and a good debater, while he’s encountered truth Himself in meeting Jesus Christ, Paul’s far from perfect. We can see that his conviction, his passion makes him a bit thick headed, perhaps coming across as arrogant. Which limits his effectiveness as an apostle sent to proclaim the good news. Here he’s trying to argue with pagans about their beliefs, and use them as a way to argue for Christ which might score some points in the minds of the listeners and even win an argument here or there with them. But it’s not until Paul’s able to humble himself that he becomes immensely more successful in winning souls to Christ.
Paul, like the rest of us, learns that yes, God wants to utilize us in proclaiming the Gospel in our own particular ways – bringing the uniqueness of our personalities to those efforts. But not without recognizing the need to humble ourselves and remember who it was who met us when we were far away from Him, called us into friendship with Him and sent us to share that good news with others who are where we were at one point in time.
DAY 339: Acts 18; 1 Corinthians 16; Proverbs 28: 19-21
One of the nice additions that the Great Adventure Bible provides is the words of Jesus are in red ink. When reading through the Gospels, that proves to be helpful for study and prayerful reflection. But it was somewhat a surprise seeing it in this, chapter 18 of the Acts of the Apostles. We’re so conditioned to think that since this is post-Ascension and the life of the Early Church that we focus on the activity of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Apostles, disciples and all those coming to know and love Christ. We kind of don’t expect to hear words from Christ himself directly.
Yet beautifully, Jesus speaks to Paul one evening in a vision. His words aren’t new, but they are profound – “Do not be afraid…” Think about that. Here’s Paul who’s been stoned and left for dead, attacked, navigating hostile crowds as he’s moved from territory to territory on his mission. And Jesus has to encounter him, has to encourage him with those words “Do not be afraid” continuing with the words of reassurance “for I am with you.”
No matter our age, our education, our life experience or where we find ourselves in our faith journey, Jesus knows… He knows us… He knows how hard life can be… He knows how the world will continue to throw up things that are meant to cause fear and worry and doubt… He knows that even the day to day, monotony of ordinary life can sometimes dull our fervor… He knows despite our hopes and desires, that from time to time we find ourselves simply in need of hearing His words, His reassurance. So simply take them in: Do not be afraid…for I am with you.
DAY 340: Acts 19; 2 Corinthians 1-2; Proverbs 28: 22-24
CORINTHIANS ACT II
Poor St. Paul. He finds that one of his first missions is a bit of a challenge. It’s lack “what-a-mole” – he knocked own one thing in the first letter and now new issues arise. We know that Paul was pretty frank and direct with them. The response was they start questioning him – his motives, his authority, claiming inconsistencies. It’s interesting, to see human nature hasn’t changed much. Few people like having a mirror placed in front of them, forcing them to focus on their errors, their sins. And it’s not uncommon to deflect from that by attacking the messenger.
We hear Paul reiterating himself and his mission does so not in a defensive manner. He reiterates what Jesus has done in His life and the need for that ongoing conversion in the lives of all who follow the Lord. Which means respecting those the Lord sends in His name. We will hear and see a very human side of Paul in which he wrestles with the challenge of praising them for the progress they’re making while trying to continue to correct them. It’s a healthy reminder for us who sometimes are frustrated by the very human aspects of the Church today that this was something that has always been a struggle. But one in which the Lord wants to work with and through every one of us.
DAY 341: Acts 20; 2 Corinthians 3-5; Proverbs 28: 25-28
One clip from Seinfeld that I’ve quoted more times than I can remember was when he was observing (as he normally does) the results of an opinion poll. After surveying Americans about their greatest fears, number 2 was death with the number 1 fear being public speaking. Jerry Seinfeld comically surmised that most people would rather be the person in the casket then the individual who had to give the eulogy!
That came to mind with both readings from Acts of the Apostles and 2 Corinthians. We have Paul confronting very real threats to his life. But he isn’t morbid about it, nor is he anxious about it. In fact he is incredibly courageous. In Acts, he has this conviction from the Holy Spirit that “imprisonment and affliction” awaited him in Jerusalem. I’m not sure if I had that revelation that was what awaited me if I wouldn’t be looking to change my travel plans. To the people in Corinth, Paul writes even more boldly that he joyfully looked forward to death: “We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord…” (2 Cor 5:8)
For most of us, it’s hard to imagine being this unafraid. This is probably one of those occasions where the Saints seem distant and removed from our experience. Where it seems hard to relate to them. I mean personally, at the slightest sign of a headache I’m grabbing for an Advil – it’s hard to imagine being that courageous and bold.
But before we get down on ourselves or think that this is unattainable, the reason Paul is so confident is that he didn’t allow all the setbacks, trials and tribulations up to this point to embitter him. We’ve already seen and heard occasions where his preaching was ignored, rejected – led to people throwing stones at him. We’ve even heard times where Paul was frustrated. But he kept persevering. He didn’t let those things cause him to lose faith in Jesus Christ – nor himself, and his call. And with each new experience, he was able to yield more and more to the Lord. Recognizing that Jesus was with Him in the successes and failures. Knowing that was the thing ultimately that mattered. In time emboldening Paul and making him unafraid of death and public speaking.
DAY 342: Acts 21; 2 Corinthians 6-8; Proverbs 29: 1-4:
WHEN OTHERS DON’T GET IT
Working in campus ministry for over 14 years now, it’s been amazing thinking of all the students who have had to demonstrate real courage when it comes to living their faith. It’s not uncommon to hear a story of where a peer will ridicule another for attending Mass or when one of our members wearing a “Red Hawk Catholic” T-shirt who has a professor make outlandishly inappropriate comments about our faith (which would not be tolerated for any other faith group, but I digress) What’s even more shocking for some of our students is when they are attacked or met with anger from their parents, grandparents, siblings for growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
I’ve had students break down in my office talking about how they’re convinced the Lord is calling them to do something that is a bit intimidating – like changing their major because they feel called to do something more in service than in making money; applying to be a missionary; going on a discernment retreat to pray about a vocation. As nerve wracking as that can be for a young adult to make even those slight moves, what has them in tears is the reaction from those who have loved and cared for them the longest. It’s not shocking to me at this point, but it can be heart-breaking. Because I’m recognizing how even though I don’t know a lot of these families, I do know in their hearts of hearts, these parents and family members want their son, their daughter, their sibling to be happy in life… I also know that it is in listening and following God’s will, that is the way for that to happen. Being with the kids as they navigate this in what is truly a vulnerable and sacred moment is humbling.
That came to mind reading about Paul dealing with the debate over whether to go to Jerusalem or not. The people and friends surrounding Paul all mean well. They care deeply for him. No doubt the stories of other persecutions and word of threats that surrounded them all were not in the back of their minds, but rather front and center. It’s coming all from a place of care and concern. But what these folks don’t realize is that the devil can even manipulate those good hearted desires. Because the minute they are trying to talk Paul out of doing what God Himself was calling Him to do, they’re doing the same thing St. Peter did when he argued that Jesus wasn’t going to die on the cross. That “good intention” earned a “Get behind me Satan” from Jesus.
Fortunately for those coming to Paul, there’s a moment where they are aware they are too fixated on what their perceptions, feelings, and desires are… the scripture says quite simply that these individuals “ceased and said ‘The will of the Lord be done.’”
Navigating life, this world, as People of Faith is only going to get more and more challenging and complicated. The world moving into more post-Christian/secularism is seemingly more hostile to people of faith than at any time previously. The Lord is calling us His faithful people to greater holiness, to be evangelizers, to be Saints. May we be prayerful, attentive to His guidance and direction – and unite in support of one another that the only focus should be “The will of the Lord be done.”
DAY 343: Acts 22; 2 Corinthians 9-11; Proverbs 29: 5-7
WHO & WHAT
In the Acts of the Apostles today, we pick up where Paul had been arrested in the temple for bringing a “greek” person with him – imagining him to be looking defile the temple, the people react with fury. It’s before this furious crowd that Paul shares humbly, simply and clearly his testimony. He a fellow Jew, speaking in their native Hebrew language telling his journey: From one who fiercely persecuted Jesus (through his followers) to now being one of his chief evangelizers.
In Paul’s sharing of his story though, it leaves us with two essential questions “Who” and “What?” When first knocked down to the ground by this great light as he is traveling on the road to Damascus, Paul first asks “Who are you Lord?” and then follows up asking Jesus, “What shall I do?”
In our prayer lives there couldn’t be better questions to ask on a regular basis. “Who are you Lord?” As long as we’ve been a follower, we can probably all agree that how we know him now is different than when we first met Him. Especially throughout this year of doing this Bibe in a Year. There’s always something new to discover or encounter when it comes to Jesus. So asking “Who are you Lord” puts us in the position of desiring to know God, and takes the posture of being attentive. And the more we come to know Jesus, and love Him, and see in Him as the way, the truth and the life – there is no better question to ask “What shall I do Lord?” Do we align ourselves to His will, His desires. Do we want His will, His desires to be ours?
May St. Paul inspire us and pray for us to be as solicitous to the Lord and letting Him use us as He used Paul.
DAY 344: Acts 23; 2 Corinthians 12-13; Proverbs 29: 8-11
Today’s scripture from Acts contains a detail (I don’t think) we find anywhere else in the New Testament… a reference to Paul’s family – specifically that he had a sister and a nephew. Part of the reason there’s little mention of them is I believe he refers in one of his letters to being disowned by his family after his conversion and becoming a Christian. It’s good to highlight these realities just to remind ourselves of the humanity of someone like St. Paul – the things that people can relate to. Paul was someone’s brother and uncle. There wasn’t always unanimity of belief among the family of one of the chief authors of the New Testament. How close or not Paul’s sister and nephew were to him… whether they were believers or not and thought him crazy for becoming Christian. There was obviously still some familial love and concern for him that when this plot is being hatched among the Jews in Jerusalem to kill Paul, and his nephew finds out he puts himself in harms way and warns Uncle Paul.
I just find myself lost in wonder at this whole somewhat random episode. What was the effect of it? Was this the beginning of his families re-considering of what Paul had done in becoming a Christian? Reading Paul and getting a sense of his personality and intensity, I would imagine it would be hard for there to be a full reconciliation unless they started to consider becoming Christian themselves. (Mostly because Paul would probably never “let it go” to “keep the peace.”) But even if they didn’t, there was a love for him on a personal level over-rode whatever animosity, anger, or confusion they had over his decision. Maybe not at this moment, but maybe in the future this led to his family’s conversion, or a reconciliation. Or perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps though it was something that always stayed in their minds and caused some question, some movement?
The point is – God uses it all. We can think that our witness, our invitations, our small (and great) examples of faith aren’t impacting anyone. You’re the only one who goes to Mass. You’re the only one who owns a bible. You feel like the odd one out there in sharing when someone tells you some awful news that they’re all simply commiserating over that you’re going to pray for the situation to be resolved. Just because there’s not a life-giving change discerned doesn’t mean that people aren’t touched, affected, go home thinking and questioning themselves over things. That God isn’t somehow breaking through. I’ve often said that the longest journey is often the one from the brain to the heart. God doesn’t ask us to be perfect, or tally up wins. He asks us to persevere in faith… Trust Him to do the rest.
DAY 345: Acts 24; Galatians 1-3; Proverbs 29: 12-14
By now, we know how much division and distortion had entered into Judaism prior to the arrival of Jesus Christ. Everything from what they believed, how they worshiped, even books that were considered scriptural was debated and caused tension among the groups of people calling themselves “Jews.” God’s Chosen people were not united. Not by God’s design, of course. Humanity, being, well, human, had found ways of using God’s Word, His Law and Commands as an instrument for power and control. Which resulted in more than a few condemnations by the prophets.
As we begin this book of Galatians today, we see St. Paul working hard to prevent those same things from entering into the Churches he helped found in the Roman province of Galatia (which is modern day Turkey). The freedom that Paul, this former devout Jew had experienced in Christ – which radically to him, made salvation accessible to the non-Jewish world had demolished all of those tensions and divisions he had experienced as a Jew. Now he was hearing some of the same attitudes that people had which corrupted Judaism were attempting to do that to these Churches that were so near and dear to Paul’s heart. And even questioning Paul’s authority.
As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well with Paul, which we will hear. He’s angry with those trying to do such things. He’s angry some of his beloved Christians would fall for it. But His love for Christ overrides that with pastoral concern for all of them not to squander the precious gift they have received.
DAY 346: Acts 25: Galatians 4-6 Proverbs 29: 15-17
KEEPING THE PEACE
It’s a bit hard to keep track of who is holding Paul prisoner for what with each passing day. It seems like every chapter we’ve covered the last few days have had stories of plots to assassinate him; interrogations by governors; charges being advanced to higher and higher authorities. It culminates with this tact today. Rather than working with Festus who seemed to want to bring some sort of resolution to Paul’s imprisonment and calm the blood thirsty Jewish authorities who wanted to kill him, Paul pulls out his Roman Citizen card and wants “his case” to be brought before Caesar.
Some can look at all of this as reckless on Paul’s part. That there could’ve been a more stealth way for him to go about proclaiming the Gospel and on a public level to “keep the peace.” But Paul’s actions point out two things. First, it’s amazing that this single man is able to bear witness to Jesus Christ and share his testimony to all the religious and worldly leaders of his day and age. In just the last two days, we hear him speaking to councils of Jews and Romans, Felix, Drusilla, Sadducees, Pharisees, King Agrippa, the High Priest, Chief of Jews, Festus, and elders of the Jews. That’s quite an accomplishment in and of itself – and whether or not those initial listeners had a conversion or not, there were seeds planted that definitely had a long term affect on the expansion of the Church.
The other thing is for us to remember that the things, authorities, powers of this world are all temporary. As much as they impact people here and now and can have a dramatic affect on people’s daily lives, they are limited. They face the same end that all of us will – our earthly death. Paul has since his road to Damascus conversion decided that all that mattered was the Risen Christ. Who was risen after being crucified by the powers of this world. There is no “peace” that can be found in trying to compromise with those powers.
As we likely face rebuke, humiliation, tension or perhaps worse because of our desire to strive to live faith filled, Christ centered lives, may we abandon that unrealistic desire that there’s some way of compromise. The only way to “keep the peace”, the only compromise that the powers of this world permit is a compromise on our beliefs. The only peace is found in Christ Himself.
DAY 347: Acts 26; Ephesians 1-3; Proverbs 29: 18-21
MYSTERY OF CHRIST
After hearing Paul on the defensive, or running hot for a variety of reasons, Ephesians is a very different letter. The Church at Ephesus was blessed having had the apostle John and the Blessed Mother living among them. Paul had spent a few years preaching and teaching there. So his letter doesn’t contain a corrective or defensive tone. Rather he seems to be encouraging and hoping to strengthen their already strong faith.
In particular Paul will try to lead his listeners to unpack the rich treasure of graces we have received in Jesus Christ. Who even though bodily, He has ascended into heaven, is real and powerfully present in the Church. That He comes to make us God’s adopted sons and daughters. And how that involves complicated things that he reflects on such as God’s providence, resurrection, unity, family, spiritual warfare. We will find deep reflections that are worth prayer and reflection.
DAY 348: Acts 27; Ephesians 4-6; Proverbs 29: 22-24
Father Mike has shared daily his request for prayers and promise of prayers… which is something that has also been a part of my daily prayer list. And beautifully Fr. Mike has shared, as have so many on here whether in public on one of our threads or a private message – how people’s lives have been changed by the prayers of others.
We cannot underestimate that or gloss over this gift of faith.
Too many in our world denigrate prayer (for example mocking when people offer “thoughts and prayers” when a tragedy occurs) but even some “believers” will chalk the answering of a prayer as a “coincidence.”
That comes to mind as I’m reflecting on chapter 27 of Acts. St. Luke gives us lots of details about this prison boat. For many on board, they were anxious about their fate – such that they couldn’t eat. Paul seems to agree early on: “Sirs I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” (Acts 27: 10) Days later, as the situation seems to be getting progressively worse an amazing thing happens – Paul has a completely different take: “…take heart for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” (Acts 27: 22) God had sent and angel to him who tells him “do not be afraid.”
The unspoken aspect was that Paul had not stopped praying and interceding. For himself, for his fellow travelers, even for his enemies. At times Paul had experienced fear, at other times he is unafraid and building others up. Even a great missionary apostle like Paul was prone to the complexities of the human heart affected by things outside of his control. What Paul does is key – bearing his heart in prayer before God. He is demonstrates the need to constantly put himself, prayers, intercessions, fears before the Lord. Because he wasn’t the savior of the world. He needed Jesus, even after his dramatic conversion which had radically transformed his life – as much as everybody else did – and still does.
DAY 349: Acts 28; Philippians 1-2; Proverbs 29: 25-27
Coming up to the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles kind of snuck up on us didn’t it? We’ve been with the writings of St. Luke, between his Gospel and this second volume of his work for over a month, which is probably the longest we’ve been hearing from a single human author transmitting the Word of God. But if you weren’t paying attention to the calendar and after 349 days you still havent downloaded the reading plan Fr Mike has been begging you to do for the last 11 months (!!!) – you might not have realized we were coming to the conclusion of St. Luke’s writings. He goes about recounting those latest “acts” – Paul preaching in Rome. Describes it in a similar narrative that he has throughout. There’s no indication this is it.
You’d think that for Luke who was thoughtful, deliberate and intentional in putting this work together that there would be some better closing to his work. For example St. John’s final word was “but there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21: 25). That one always frustrated me. Like John was holding back from us… but he made his point, his volume was at an end.
For St. Luke though, I think this was intentional. When we transitioned from his Gospel to this book, we heard Luke explain “in the first book… I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-2). In a very real sense, he sees the “Acts of the Apostles” very much continues long after he finished writing. Luke’s last recollection has he and Paul now having made it to Rome, the capital of the empire, “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered.”
To them of that day and age, this was their fulfilling Jesus’ Ascension command to go to the ends of the earth. Being in the seat of earthly power, this metropolitan city filled with people who weren’t part of God’s chosen people of the covenant – pagans who had never known the Lord God – and now proclaiming the Gospel was remarkable.
But Luke knew that command was to continue until Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of time. We are very much connected to our brothers and sisters who were first commissioned to proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. We are still in this “final act.” We are now the characters who hopefully history recounts how the Holy Spirit worked in and through to continue to preach and teach the good news that Jesus has given us.
DAY 350: James 1-2; Philippians 3-4; Proverbs 30: 1-6
FROM THOSE WHO KNEW HIM
These last days of our Bible in a Year Journey (!!!) (hopefully, not our last time going through the Bible in a year!) we continue that theme of yesterday of recognizing that -as several of you beautifully quoted “The Chosen” – we are the messengers now. We will hear these “letters” which really aren’t technically letters like we’ve encountered so far. When we’ve heard from Paul so far it was directed to a particular Church and people; often addressing some issue (s) that have arisen since he left town. Of course it being scripture, we recognize that the Holy Spirit was at work where it transcended those times and historical contexts to speak to us here and now. But we recognize the historical context.
Today’s first reading comes from a letter that isn’t directed to any particular group. It’s a “Catholic” (meaning “universal” letter) that was written by St. James (the lesser, who is sometimes mistaken as one of Jesus’ “brothers” – he had no biological brothers since Mary was and remained a virgin before and after the Birth of Jesus… The term translated from Greek for brothers often was a more inclusive term, so James was a cousin of Jesus)
After Jesus’ Resurrection, Ascension and commissioning of the Apostles, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the 12 eventually went off and became “bishops” of Churches throughout the known world. James was tasked to shepherd the Church right there in Jerusalem.
This “universal letter” truly captures that characterization as it contains so much practical advice about living the life of faith – how does that transmit into our everyday life that remains such to our ears 2,000 years later. This is truly a gift of how we can come to know, love and follow Christ coming from those who knew him best.
DAY 351: James 3-5; Colossians 1-2; Proverbs 30: 7-9
NOT ONE AMONG EQUALS
An approach for some in politics and academia when it comes to discussing religion is to somehow lump them all together. Talking about the similarities that can be found among major religions. Highlighting universal aspects that can be found. Even demonstrating how scriptures can sound alike. One of the lines that is often associated with such discussions is that “We’re on different paths to the same destination.” What is sometimes unspoken but implied is that all religions and the different figures that they represent are equally valid. That it doesn’t matter which path you choose.
Church teaching, while wishing to respect other religions and recognizing that God can (and does) work through them, would disagree with that mode of thinking. What’s interesting is that this isn’t a “new” issue – that has come of age with recent dialogues and initiatives to be more inclusive. St Paul is basically addressing this very topic in this letter to the Colossians. For some of the people in Colosse, they might have respect for Jesus as a historical figure, but were placing him along with pagan gods or philosophers. Paul wants to re-focus them on the centrality and preeminence of Jesus Christ, which you’ll hear pretty quickly as we enter into this letter.
It’s an important reminder for us as well. While we want to be respectful and find areas of common ground that bring unity (rather than further division), we have to resist the temptation to somehow diminish who Jesus is and what He has done.
DAY 352: 1 Peter 1-2; Colossians 3-4; Proverbs 30: 10-14
FIRST PAPAL ENCYCLICAL
From time to time, you will hear of the Pope writing what is called a “Papal Encyclical.” They are considered a teaching where the Holy Father is condemning an error or encouraging the faithful on some aspect of the Christian faith. We trace Jesus’ authority for the apostles to exercise this responsibility is Luke 10: 16 as He commissions 72 disciples to go to towns to prepare them for his visit Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.
Like the Letter of St. James, this first letter of Peter is considered a “catholic” (meaning ‘universal’) letter. St. Peter isn’t writing to a particular Church or people regarding an issue that needed correction or clarification. This letter to the larger Church was from probably about 30 years after Jesus’ Ascension (and within years of Peter’s martyrdom). The persecution of Early Christians was accelerating. The faithful who had expected Jesus’ second return to happen imminently after His Ascension were starting to experience fears and doubts.
In this letter, we hear Peter, the first Pope calling on his fellow Christians to remember their identity in Christ, that His resurrection has changed everyone and everything and by our baptisms we are incorporated into that new Life of Christ. While suffering is not something anyone enjoys or to be pursued, it is something that is a part of this earthly life of ours, and certainly will be a part of the life of a Christian who is trying to live a life following Christ.
The timeless message of our first Pope speaks to us calling us to renew ourselves in the identity of Christ. Yes the life of faith inspires, challenges and sometimes confounds us – especially when it runs up against the life of the world. It’s then we remember the words of a more recent Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who said “the world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, but for greatness.”
DAY 353: 1 Peter 3-5; 1 Thessalonians 1-3; Proverbs 30: 15-16
If there’s a word to describe the focus of Paul’s first and second letters to the Thessalonians it would be: Hope. What is the source of their hope, the reason for their hope? Jesus Christ. Of particular interest in this letter – His second coming.
The reality is that since Jesus’ Ascension, that had been the expectation of the Earliest Christians, who thought it imminent. Which when we think about it, imagine if that was our posture – if we lived every day as if this could be the day Jesus was returning, how that might change our priorities, what we categorize as essential.
Paul helps us to frame our hearts and minds on that as he wrote to this Church almost 2 millennia ago. He will guide his listeners to refrain from the extremes of fear or some fantastical imaginations of this event. Instead calling us to live in the freedom that we’ve received in being Baptized into Jesus Christ: Beloved sons and daughters in God. As such, we await this coming in joyful anticipation, and more importantly, hope.
DAY 354: 2 Peter 1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4-5; Proverbs 30: 17-19
The second (and final) letter of our first Pope is one that in our day and age seems especially timely. In recent years, scandals in the Church – and not just of the atrocious sexual abuse scandal, but a seemingly never ending growing one that includes the lack or even loss of faith among leaders – has had a devastating effect on many Catholic Christians. Understandably they’ve felt everything from abandoned, ashamed, furious.
On one level it’s a bit surprising to read and hear that these types of scandals were occurring even in the Early Church. As with many things, we can have a romanticized notion of how things “used to be.” Even after reading the Acts of the Apostles that recounted some very human and very relatable episodes; if you’re like me, memories zero in on the effect of Pentecost in making the first Apostles truly on fire for the Lord – (Peter’s very shadow causing miraculous cures! Saul becoming Paul and joining the 12 – just to name 2).
But 2 Peter reminds us that the human condition – the brokenness of humanity – is something that afflicts every body of every time and age. As Peter recounts that history from the past and condemns that behavior taking place now with false prophets and those who lead people astray, he gives us a good way of handling these things. He is unabashed in calling out the depravity, noting that only “the dog turns back to his own vomit” (2 Peter 2: 22)
And then reminding God’s people of the importance of keeping focused on the Lord’s Coming. Exhorting them to be living “lives of holiness and godliness, waiitng for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” 2 Peter 3: 11-12.
It’s understandable, we want justice, righteousness and restoration to happen to the Church (and everywhere for that matter) yesterday. We grow impatient or worse, discouraged. Yet Peter calls us to not lose faith or hope in the God who by His providence has guided and directed His people from creation to this very moment…. whom a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3: 8). This is a message, a book, that needs to be on “auto-repeat” for us who can grow frustrated by the hypocrisy we see at times. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 16)
DAY 355: 1 John 1-3; 2 Thessalonians 1-3; Proverbs 30: 15-16
TAKE IT FROM A FRIEND
Months ago, when we first read the Gospel of St. John, that John almost seems to brag about being one of Jesus’ closest friends (the “disciple whom Jesus loved”). But one beautiful insight is that the use of that phrase was not simply John referring to himself, but that it’s also an invitation for every one who wishes to experience closeness with Christ.
One way for that to be experienced is by taking advice from St. John on how that can be achieved. In these three letters, John talks about how the core of everything in life all comes down to our understanding of two things: Love and God. And for John those two things cannot be separated and are perfectly found in Jesus Christ.
When we enter into these readings, the full beauty of John’s words can penetrate our minds and hearts, where we not just hear him testifying to what has reshaped the entire trajectory of his life, but find ourselves longing for that to be true for us as well.
DAY 356: 1 John 4-5; 1 Timothy 1-3; Proverbs 30: 24-28
Today we begin the letter of St. Paul written to his co-worker, Timothy about a missionary effort that took place in the mid 60’s A.D. – between his imprisonments in Rome and a few years before Paul will be eventually martyred. It’s interesting to me that we’ve had universal letters like Peter’s and John’s; we’ve had letters to different Churches facing particular issues or answering questions like Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In this, we have Paul writing to a particular person. Why would such a personal correspondence find it’s way into scripture?
Well we can hear Paul speaking about issues of universal concern. Those teaching a false gospel, those corrupting the teaching of Christ, those presenting their own version of who Jesus is – that’s been a problem in the Church from the beginnings of the faith. Paul will speak specifically about things happening in the Church in Ephesus, but that won’t be the only place where these issues will arise.
First Timothy holds a special place in my heart. When I was in seminary and ordained a priest, I was 25 years old. That was for a variety of reasons – my birthday being in November, I was always “the youngest” in my classes growing up (the last to get my drivers license, the last to turn 21!) Because I had entered right after college and had a degree in Theology and Philosophy, I And I was the “youngest priest in the Archdiocese of Newark” for over 3 years. Which became a running joke at a bunch of events – which I must confess I didn’t quite enjoy. I don’t believe anyone meant it this way, but after a while it felt in some ways diminishing. Perhaps if it had only been a year that this was the case, I wouldn’t have been so sensitive. But being the youngest brother in my family and now being the “youngest brother priest” got old kind of quick.
Thankfully one day when I was whining about it to my Spiritual Director he was having none of it. And said two things – 1 – there would be a day I wished I was this age (check… that’s true 🙂 ) and 2 – what was I doing with “my youth” to bring vitality to the Church and the priesthood? Which he closed with by pulling out his bible and telling me to read a chapter of 1 Timothy till I got what he meant: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12.
As we read through these words from one Spiritual mentor to another, may we take a moment to give thanks to all those who’ve been a Paul for each of us!
DAY 357: 2 John; 3 John; 1 Timothy 4-6; Proverbs 30: 29-33
Yesterday I explained one of the reasons 1 Timothy holds a special place in my heart. Having read it and taking it to heart as a young priest. Those lessons continued in a profound way in reading Chapter 5. Part of the reason I was a bit sensitive about being the “youngest priest” in the Archdiocese was that it also touched on a difficulty I had on a much more local level. The fact that often times I was the youngest person in the room in the parish as well. It’s probably why I liked hanging out with the Pre-schoolers in our School so much! Seriously though, there was times when it was hard to feel confident and capable counseling parishioners triple my age.
Paul beautifully addresses that to Timothy in Chapter 5. He doesn’t tell him to abdicate his role or his authority as a Pastor speaking to older members he encounters. What he does is contrast the different ways that this often happens. Rather than “rebuking” those older members, he tells Timothy to “exhort.” The difference is that “rebuking” is often harsh and severe criticism while exhorting literally means “to strengthen.” Paul goes further in terms of saying “exhort him as you would a father… older women like mothers.” That really helped open my mind and heart to a much more effective approach.
But this chapter goes far deeper than just that one insight. That notion of “exhortation” extends and grows in familial terms “see younger men like brothers;” “honor widows who are real widows;” (that’s not a diss against a younger woman who’s lost her husband, but part of the cultural reality of that day and age. An older widow, particularly if she’s without children, was particularly vulnerable and on her own… hence the counsel)
The point for me is that, especially when we grow in our faith lives and insights, it’s understandable (and in fact a responsibility we’re entrusted with) to share our faith with others, especially those closest to us. More than a few times I’ve had students share how they’ve gone home and invited their parents to start going to Mass and then quickly tell them “but they shouldn’t go to communion without going to confession first.” Which in my head I kind of am slapping myself in the head, while asking “and how well did that go over?” Not to diminish the importance of going to confession, especially if it’s been awhile, especially if you’re aware of mortal sin before receiving communion. But what I share with my young friends is the importance of “exhorting” “strengthening” one another. Or in other words – for us to show love, respect for each other.
DAY 358: Jude; 2 Timothy 1-2; Proverbs 31: 1-7
Sorry I couldn’t resist 🙂
Today we hear from another New Testament letter that is probably the least familiar to Catholics.
It’s one of the shortest. There’s some debate about who exactly is Jude (most scholars agree he’s the brother of St. James who authored the letter of James). And curiously, Jude quotes non-canonical works that were familiar to Jews of that day and age. Which for some, they cite as reasons to discard this work.
But the Catholic Church has seen this as another important testimony. We find parallels with the writings of St. Peter, which would not be uncommon that they would be borrowing from each other, emphasizing certain teachings, sharing some of the same concerns over things in the Church. He seemed to have planned to write a lengthier, “Catholic” letter (verse 3) (which if that had ever occurred, seems lost to history) What struck him as more urgent though was warning against false-teachers who were manipulating and confusing Christians – which we’ve seen and heard is not a new theme for these letters.
While brief and filled with some unique traits, what is essential is something we’ve heard from the apostles before: never to compromise the truth of the Gospel, and living that out by being loving and merciful. He also gives an example of one of Fr. Mike’s stated objectives at the start of this journey – that we develop a biblical mindset recognizing our place in the story of God’s salvation.
DAY 359 Revelation 1-3; 2 Timothy 3-4; Proverbs 31: 8-9
A FITTING “FINALE”
So today we begin the final book of the entirety of Scripture! Congratulations!!! God Bless you for your perseverance (well, He has blessed you already with that, getting us to this pivotal moment and all along the way for sure!)
It is written by St. John during the time when he was exiled and is the last “word” of the Bible. We believe that with the conclusion of this book, and John’s death, (the last of the apostles), divine revelation in the form of scripture was closed.
It makes sense then that it will really stand out in contrast to everything else we’ve read up to this point. It is the only book in the New Testament that is apocalyptic meaning, God has shared a vision of the future to John of the consummation of all things, in both the Church and the world.
These first three chapters which we begin today starts with letters addressed to the Churches of that day and time. But it goes beyond what we’ve read in terms of New Testament letters to the Churches thus far. Particularly since there will be references to things that are hard to pinpoint precisely what John saw that corresponded to a specific historical reality that may have occurred, which points us to look at it a bit more symbolically. To hear messages of praise and warning that can be applicable to Christians of every time and age.
Of all the texts we’ve encountered so far, this will most likely be the most challenging. Not simply because of the symbolism and various theories regarding the interpretations, but spiritually so as well. For example, hearing Jesus’ words in the Message to Ephesus (chapter 2) and imagining Him saying to me: I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first (Rev2: 4) one of the first times I encountered that, it caused me to reflect on that in my Holy Hour for days – would Jesus have that against me? How is that accurate? Uncomfortable for sure, but eventually lead to some real breakthroughs for me personally. So don’t be anxious as we delve into this. Trust that the same Holy Spirit that would point something out that might be challenging will work with you to navigate it as well.
DAY 360 Revelation 4-7; Titus 1-3; Proverbs 31: 10-14
CANNOT GIVE WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE
Today we hear another of Paul’s missives to another mentoree… Like Timothy, Titus is a young pastor who’s been sent to lead the Church in Crete. And again, we find that while this is a personal letter there’s universal wisdom that the Holy Spirit endowed Paul with in writing this that speaks to us many miles and many centuries later. In particular, how do we lead others to Christ? How do I discern who can assist in this important task? What do we do when some sinful things – like gossip – run through the congregation? What do we do when we’re exasperated with the whole thing and just want to throw our hands up and just take care of ourselves?
Paul writes to encourage Titus (and each of us) with very practical advice on what we can consider every day difficulties and how to deal with difficult people. It’s why this book seems to be considered a must-read particularly for anyone involved in ministry or leadership. But overriding it also focuses on the ideal of how a congregation should function. People can grow pessimistic that the ideal seems far out of grasp, even many centuries later. But if we’re not convicted on the centrality of the Gospel and striving to make that ideal real in my own life, we can’t be shocked that others around us aren’t or that we’re even finding those of like minds that can be local sources of encouragement, inspiration and accountability.
DAY 361: Revelation 8-11 ; Philemon; Proverbs 31: 16-18
THEY’LL KNOW WE ARE CHRISTIAN
Some of you are singing “by our love” (and some will be thanking me letter when that tune is stuck in your head… sorry if it’s an annoying cover of that as is the case for me right now 🙂 ) For better and for worse, for sure, that has been something Christians have found… even those who aren’t believers recognize that Jesus is pretty insistent on love being at the core of who we are as His followers, since He is Love incarnate.
Now that can take many different shapes and forms. And in our messed up world which has also twisted the meaning of the word “love,” that doesn’t always mean that true love is appreciated when it is given. But we’re not doing it for acceptance by the world or accolades from others. We do it because we have experienced that love from Jesus Christ, and so we know, how transformative it is.
That’s at the heart of this letter from Paul to Philemon. Having journeyed together in this Bible in a Year journey, you have heard that “slavery” in this time and culture was very different than our nation’s history with that horrific chapter. So we have to keep that in mind reading this book. Onesimus the “runaway” slave isn’t running away from some unjust, immoral imprisonment. Most likely he was paying off a debt by his service to Philemon. In that regard, Philemon would have a variety of options on how to deal with this situation. Paul writes urging Philemon, a fellow Christian to chose a merciful, selfless, and generous response. In other words, loving in the truest sense of the word and helping to make that synonymous with Christian.
DAY 362: Revelation 12-14; Hebrews 1-4; Proverbs 31: 19-22
It’s so weird to me to recognize we’re starting the last “letter” of the New Testament today as we are nearing completing reading and journeying together with the Bible in a year. And it seems perfect to end with this letter to the Hebrews. Up until a few centuries ago, it was thought to have been one of St. Paul’s epistles. But biblical scholarship and research had advanced in recent history (amazing to think that as Christians, “recent history” means about 400 years ago! 🙂 ) looking at the writing style and comparing the grammar determined that it’s most likely not from St. Paul. The “true author” remains unknown.
But then again, we know that the true author of this is the Lord Himself. Which is why it’s fitting to end with this book. The letter is being sent to a people who have in a sense experienced a bit of a faith crisis. They’ve tried to remain faithful to Jesus Christ in a world that hates Him and those who follow Him. One of the major themes we will hear in this book is what makes Saints? In short, perseverance in faith. As the writer recounts the rise and fall of Israel, which we know all too well by now – this letter is to encourage all those who receive it, those of 2,000 years ago and you and I today, to look and see how in Jesus we have a superior, eternal answer to the challenges our elder brothers and sisters of the covenant could not have imagined. Which includes Him opening the gates of heaven and uniting heaven and earth in Himself which brings a “cloud of witnesses” that are rooting, praying for us as well.
Imagine that right now- there are Saints in heaven who are praying for us. That know what we’re going through – who point us to Jesus who knows that even more intimately and perfectly. In sort, as God’s people, we’re never alone. What greater news could we receive?
DAY 363: Revelation 15-17; Hebrews 5-8; Proverbs 31: 23-25
ANCHORED IN CHRIST
Good Shepherd – Fish – Dove – are all images that as Christians we’re accustomed to seeing associated with our Faith that come from the early Church that evolved from some of the best known scriptures. Today we come upon the source of another well known and important symbol. The anchor:
We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain – Hebrews 6: 19
I had often thought of that as comforting in that, being baptized, no matter how hard the waves of life pummel at me, or by choice I should stray – that I’m still connected to Christ. That is one of the unfathomable gifts and blessings that Baptism provides for us. But there’s another aspect that I hadn’t thought about before that another commentator had pointed out. How the sacred author of Hebrews continues to remind us of the nature of God. “Sure” – meaning impossible to break, something you can rely on with surety and “Steadfast” meaning immovable, it cannot slip.
This is one of those verses that we need underlined or posted for the next time bad things happen. That no matter what it is we encounter in the here and now, our hope is anchored in Christ who is sure and steadfast.
DAY 364: Revelation 18-20; Hebrews 9-10; Proverbs 31: 26-29
WHERE TO GO
From messages and comments, I get that Revelation has been difficult to navigate. Not sure if this provides any encouragement, 22 years as a priest with 8 years of theological study prior to that, Revelation still remains challenging, confusing, mysterious to me as well. But I’m not frustrated by that. Because, doesn’t that in a sense help validate that this is the “living Word of God” and not just a text or book we read, complete, and can put back on the shelf saying “read that already?” God’s word is alive and active, probing and inviting us to go deeper.
For example, today’s reading from Revelation describing the “Fall of Babylon” – maybe it’s because of the day and time we’re living in hit me in a different way than previously. The angel calling people to “flee the city” stood out. What was the angel telling them – what is the angel telling us?
Get away from anything and everything that is evil.
In the vision, with all the dramatic imagery that has preceded and led up to this moment, it seems pretty cut and dry and obvious, doesn’t it? But in the day-to-day, we’re numb to it. Somewhat subconsciously, we can fall into the temptations of believing that this isn’t so bad; that God is merciful and will just understand; that tomorrow is guaranteed. Those are distortions and manipulations of things (which, who is the master of doing?)
Quite simply the message from the angel isn’t new. But the urgency is: avoid sin. Avoid near occasions of sin. The minute that the radar goes up thinking something’s not right – get away from it.
That’s something we learned about from the earliest days of our biblical journey. Yet something that humanity has struggled with and continues to do so to this very day.
What is different though – is Jesus Christ – who has given us a place to go and how to get there:
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10: 19-25
DAY 365: Revelation 21-22; Hebrews 11-13; Proverbs 31: 30-31
Well here we are. Day 365. An entire year! Its hard to believe, isn’t it? After all that we’ve heard, read, discussed, prayed, reflected, struggled with, been challenged by… After the roller coaster of emotions we experienced and encountered: whether it was just daily life with it’s joys and sorrows its triumphs and set backs that we brought with us as we “pressed play” on the podcast, opened scripture or logged into this group – or something that came directly from opening ourselves to the Word of God – there’s been a lot of ground we’ve covered in 365 days.
That reality always brings a variety of emotions, feelings, responses.
In the world when the month of December comes to an end and we prepare to put a new calendar up there’s a tendency to bemoan the year that’s passed, promote hope for the year to come (what that hope is based on is a whole other question), make resolutions that theoretically are tied to that “hope.” And then by mid- January you will hear stories of how this is the most depressing time of the year. A post-Christmas hang-over that depresses great numbers of people throughout the world.
But, for us, on this the last day of our biblical pilgrimage, after reading through 73 books over 365 days, hopefully we’re in a different place. And in that different place, the word that stands out is Come. We hear it as a hopeful promise “I am coming soon” (Rev 22: 12) we hear it as a present day invitation: “The Spirit and the Bride say, come…. let him who is thirsty come” (Rev 22: 17) St. John eagerly cries out inserting himself into the narrative in the closing words “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22: 20)
Notice you don’t hear regrets over what was, or fears of what is yet to be. The final words tell us that our Good and Loving Father has revealed that no matter what has happened – what will happen – He loves us. Creation, life, itself not being convincing enough, He sent His son Jesus to restore creation, restore life. Who in turn pours out the Holy Spirit so that God Himself would not be found distant in fires at night, on lofty mountains where we needed to shield our faces from, in arks that we couldn’t touch – but right into our very lives. That’s something that at both times remains real and mysterious. You’re not alone if you’re feeling you’ve only just scratched the surface.
Which is why this journey isn’t over, this pilgrimage has just begun. To which the Lord once again invites you, very simply but lovingly: come.