All posts tagged: Scripture

Dying to Christ

“In that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail both king and princes; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life.” My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster follows hard on disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? “For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.” I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I …

Inexhaustible Stories

I repeat my question, but the class stares blankly toward the front of the room and then shuffles with nervous looks at the floor to avoid being called upon. The sun pokes through the little windows on this bright Sunday morning as I teach a Confirmation preparation class for seventh grade students at a small parish in town. At the beginning of the morning I had picked up over a dozen teenagers from a bustling basement cafeteria and embarrassingly stuttered through conversations with their parents as my students translated my English into Spanish. I prepared to begin our class in prayer and looked out to a scene of fourteen-year-olds in varying stages of rapid and unpredictable growth spurts sitting in the tiny chairs of the third grade classroom we had been assigned. The noise of cars whooshing on the streets outside our windows seemed distracting as I asked the class to consider the images used by Christ himself: vines and harvests, mustard seeds and sowers, fig trees and shepherds. As we sifted through our Bibles …

A Chair and a Half

Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he who in his great mercy gave us a new birth; a birth unto hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; a birth to an imperishable inheritance, incapable of fading or defilement, which is kept in heaven for you who are guarded with God’s power through faith; a birth to salvation which stands ready to be revealed in the last days. As any good preacher does, I paid my due diligence and researched the history of 1 Peter for this occasion. It was clear to me that this reading for today was the blessing prefacing a longer teaching; but when was it written and to whom? That’s when I came across this explanation from a commentary: “[We] suggest [an authorship] . . . after the death of Peter and Paul, perhaps A.D. 70–90. The author would be a disciple of Peter in Rome, representing a Petrine group that served as a bridge between Palestinian origins of Christianity …

Imagining the Gospels

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 Jn 1:1–4) There are those beautiful, singular memories from childhood that sear into your brain, sticking with you for mysterious, inaccessible reasons. Some of them are quite insignificant, and when they roll around into the conscious forefront of my mind at odd occasions, I never cease to wonder at what odd chemistry of impressionability and emotional resonance has caused them to be burned into my memory. As I was studying for my Scripture class during last finals week, …

Telling the Story in Teaching Religion

My constant beef with middle school religion textbooks: There is no story. They just contain a hodge-podge of information strung together. Even when a particular grade level’s book has a theme, the chapters still follow each other like a gaudy striped scarf instead of a tapestry that weaves a picture. In one unit of seventh grade, the chapters cover giving alms and St. Francis, the Eucharist, the two great commandments, and then the raising of Lazarus. Now, these are all areas ripe for discussion, which I would love to share with my seventh grade students. However, a random bunch of topics is not memorable. It is not relevant. It leads to students asking questions like, “Am I ever going to need to know any of this?” and “Why are we learning this?” and “How do we even know any of this is true, anyway?” At the beginning of Unit 3 (not ideal, but better late than never) I finally attempted to give all three grades some context. I talked about the story of salvation: God’s …

Effective Catholic Preaching—Part 4

This is the fourth and final installment in our series examining the characteristics of effective preaching in the Catholic tradition today. You could call this a postscript, “What Not to Say or Do in Preaching for Effectiveness.” Here are some admonitions I give myself: Avoid moralizing. We have a lot of moralistic preaching today, I think. I’ve heard moralisms of the right (which usually have to do with sexual morality) and moralisms of the left (social justice). Moralism is moral challenge without the love relationship which makes discipline and right action desirable and achievable. Is there moral challenge in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? You bet, and plenty of it. But it is grounded in a vision of joyful discipleship, as Pope Francis continues to remind us. Before you challenge, you need really Good News to plug people into, making meeting your challenge possible. Avoid using the words should, ought, and must in preaching. However true or well-intentioned, those words sound dictatorial rather than persuasive. Lead people into the arms of God and they will …

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Cultivating the Christian Imagination of the Child

Recently I was talking to a mother of two young children, who explained that she drops her youngest son off at childcare while she attends Mass because “he is too young to get anything out of it.” Implicit in her remark is the assumption that the child, particularly the young child, neither possesses within himself a hunger for God nor is capacitated for worship—that his age prevents him from meaningful participation in the liturgy. She primarily envisions worship in terms of utility. It exists in order for us to “get something.” Cast in therapeutic, moralistic, and individualist terms worship functions either to meet one’s subjective needs, to make one “feel good,” or to make one a generically “better person.” Such a view, both of the nature of the young child and of worship is deeply imprinted on the Catholic imagination in the United States. Children are seen as a distraction to adult worship—hence, the emergence of strategies to get kids out of Mass: “the cry room” and “children’s Liturgy of the Word.” In fact, there …

Ambitious in Humility

Brothers and sisters, in relations with one another, clothe yourselves with humility, because God “is stern with the arrogant but to the humble he shows kindness.” Bow humbly before God’s mighty hand, so that in due time he may lift you high. Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you. Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world. The God of grace, who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish those who have suffered a little while. Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen. (1 Pet 5:5b–11) Entering Notre Dame through the main entrance, one passes by Cedar Grove Cemetery. I sometimes think of the dead, welcoming us to this university, imploring us to use our time here wisely, reminding us that death comes for us all and urging us to think of …

Unrolling the Scroll

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD, men shall speak of you as the …

Effective Catholic Preaching—Part 3

This is the third installment in our series examining the characteristics of effective preaching in the Catholic tradition today. What follows is my complete list of twenty points. The first five have appeared in the first two parts of this series. 1. Every homily must be (the) Good News. (See Part One.) 2. A homily should make one point, and one point only. (See Part One.) 3. Every homily should appeal to all three dimensions of the human person: mind, heart, and will. To what I said in Part One, I would add: a. The appeal to the mind engages both cognition (“left brain”) and imagination (“right brain”). The use of the imagination is crucial to human understanding. Good preaching deploys both discursive and imaginative language. b. The appeal to the heart both arouses and educates the heart’s desire, inviting the hearer to fall in love with Love itself. Preaching doesn’t simply arouse emotion for its own sake. The purpose is to lead the hearer into relationship with the very source of Love. c. The appeal to the will engages the …