CNS Bible Blog: Aliens! Stars also praise and adore God

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

Another lesson that stars in the Bible tell us is that we are not alone. The universe is more than just us, and God is responsible for more than our own narrow neck of the woods. First and foremost, we need a dose of humility when approaching that God, as Job discovered:

Jb 38:1-7  Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

It is easy to see in those words of Job a reproach for thinking we know it all; clearly we don’t. In the list of the things we don’t yet know, however, I find such an enticing description that I feel I am also being invited to know those things. The Bible’s description of creation is inevitably so beautiful that it makes studying nature — being a natural scientist — the answer to a call from God. It is a holy act.

But what I like most about this passage from Job is the way it personalizes the stars — who are described singing together with all the heavenly beings. Who are these heavenly beings? We don’t know — and, of course, that’s exactly the point.

But they, too, whoever, they are, do take delight in praising God:

Psalm 148

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

What does it take to praise the Lord, or to choose not to praise? Such a creature must have the intelligence to be aware that it, and the object of its praise, exists; and it must have the freedom to choose to praise, to choose to love. Intellect and free will are the marks of the soul, the way in which human beings were formed in the image and likeness of God. The writer of the Psalm has no problem postulating such souls in the heavens. Shades of ET!

The moon is one place off Earth where we know there has been intelligent life: us! Even the ancients could see it as a world like ours and speculated on the possibility of other races living there. The bright crater at the top is named Copernicus; like all the major features on the moon, it was named by the Jesuit astronomers Grimaldi and Riccioli in Rome on a map published in 1672. It is interesting that Jesuits would name the most prominent crater on the moon after the astronomer whose theories got Galileo into trouble, a mere 40 years after his trial! (This photograph was taken through the 40 cm refractor telescope at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo by Jesuit Father Manny Carriera.)

There are many places where the Bible makes almost off-hand remarks to other intelligences who love and adore God … or who, in some cases, perished for not recognizing their right relationship with him. In a sense, this science fictional speculation about other creatures in space and time is as old as storytelling, a part of the mythology of all ancient cultures. But if the Odyssey had one-eyed Polyphemus or the twin perils of Schylla and Charybdis, it never bothers to wonder where they came from.

The biblical writer Baruch does wonder, however. And he ends with a delightful vision of the stars, these worshipers in the sky, singing with their bright light to their Creator:

Bar 3:24-35  O Israel, how great is the house of God, how vast the territory that he possesses! It is great and has no bounds; it is high and immeasurable. The giants were born there, who were famous of old, great in stature, expert in war. God did not choose them, or give them the way to knowledge; so they perished because they had no wisdom, they perished through their folly.

Who has gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds? Who has gone over the sea, and found her, and will buy her for pure gold? No one knows the way to her, or is concerned about the path to her. But the one who knows all things knows her, he found her by his understanding.

The one who prepared the earth for all time filled it with four-footed creatures; the one who sends forth the light, and it goes; he called it, and it obeyed him, trembling;  the stars shone in their watches, and were glad; he called them, and they said, “Here we are!” They shone with gladness for him who made them. This is our God; no other can be compared to him.

“Here we are!” shout the stars. How unlike those humans, Adam and Eve, who hid at the sound of God’s arrival.

(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, ©1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U. S. A.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)

CNS Bible Blog: In the stars we see God

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

It is not by coincidence that the word for “heaven” is the same as the word for “sky” in so many languages. To the writers of Scripture, the attributes that we find in the heavens, in contemplating the starry sky, are the same attributes that we find in God.

The first and most obvious attribute of God is his greatness. But one can look even deeper and see, not only grandeur, but also harmony, balance, and beauty. That is what the author of Sirach saw in the way the Creator has made the stars:

Sir 42:24 – 43:10  All things come in pairs, one opposite the other, and he has made nothing incomplete. Each supplements the virtues of the other. Who could ever tire of seeing his glory? The pride of the higher realms is the clear vault of the sky, as glorious to behold as the sight of the heavens.

The sun, when it appears, proclaims as it rises what a marvelous instrument it is, the work of the Most High. At noon it parches the land, and who can withstand its burning heat?  A man tending a furnace works in burning heat, but three times as hot is the sun scorching the mountains; it breathes out fiery vapors, and its bright rays blind the eyes. Great is the Lord who made it; at his orders it hurries on its course.

It is the moon that marks the changing seasons, governing the times, their everlasting sign.  From the moon comes the sign for festal days, a light that wanes when it completes its course. The new moon, as its name suggests, renews itself; how marvelous it is in this change, a beacon to the hosts on high, shining in the vault of the heavens!

The glory of the stars is the beauty of heaven, a glittering array in the heights of the Lord.  On the orders of the Holy One they stand in their appointed places; they never relax in their watches.

But there is a more subtle yet important lesson that the writers of Scripture find in the nature of Creation. It is not enough that the stars are astonishing; what is even more astonishing is that we, also the creatures of this same Creator, have been given the opportunity and the ability to appreciate and understand them. In this, the writers of Scripture see God’s everlasting love for his people.

Notice how the writer of Psalm 8 progresses in this way, from amazement at the glory of the One who made these stars, to the glory of the One who made us able to be amazed:

Psalm 8

To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

For all of that, though, we know that we are weak. We are fearful; and in our fear, we are tempted to trust to our own immediate abilities rather than to trust in God. I certainly remember a time in my own life when I was first sent to Africa, and felt terribly alone and homesick. Sitting alone under the stars was balm to my soul; no

The moon blocks out the disk of the sun in this annular eclipse, photographed with the Vatican Observatory’s Coronado Solar Telescope. Though eclipses are spectacular, they are also predictable; the regularity of the heavens is used in Scripture as evidence of God’s steadfast love for his people.

The moon blocks out the disk of the sun in this annular eclipse, photographed with the Vatican Observatory’s Coronado Solar Telescope. Though eclipses are spectacular, they are also predictable; the regularity of the heavens is used in Scripture as evidence of God’s steadfast love for his people.

matter how much I missed familiar food and friends, no matter how strange I found the culture or the climate, by looking up at the familiar stars in their well-loved patterns of the constellations I knew that I was still in the same world as the one I had grown up in, when I had learned those constellations at my father’s knee.

Jeremiah has apparently had the same experience; he used the regularity of the heavens as evidence of God’s steadfast love in a frightening, unsettled world. And in that steadfastness is our hope for better times.

Jer 31:31-38 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the LORD of hosts is his name: If this fixed order were ever to cease from my presence, says the LORD, then also the offspring of Israel would cease to be a nation before me forever.

The same message is found in the Psalms:

Psalm 136

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;

The sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;

The moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever…

And this takes us finally to the most surprising attribute of the heavens. Not only are they huge, not only are they marching in their paths in a mathematical rigor, but they are also beautiful — with a beauty exceeded only by the wisdom of God:

Wis 7:15-30  May God grant me to speak with judgment, and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received; for he is the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise. For both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts.

For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements; the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild animals, the powers of spirits and the thoughts of human beings, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots; I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.

There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible,  beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle. For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.

For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.

She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail.

(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, ©1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U. S. A.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)

CNS Bible Blog: God’s omnipotence

By Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

Brother Guy

Brother Guy

Over the years, I’ve gotten e-mails from a number of people asking me if planets, stars or constellations are mentioned in the Bible. Of course they are!

There are computer programs you can get that contain the whole text of the Bible and allow you to do global searches on words or phrases. When I just looked up “stars” I came across a number of instances. (And, in the process, I missed one of the most famous ones: the opening from Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”)

But of course, that’s just gathering data. As a scientist, what I do instinctively is to look the data over and try to find trends. And over the next few days I want to share some of these insights here. It’s not just that stars are mentioned in passing in the Bible; what is fascinating to me is how they are used.

The first instance of astronomical objects in the Bible is, of course, the first chapter of Genesis where their creation is described:

Genesis 1:16-19 reads: God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Father Michael Kolarcik wrote a beautiful blog about the opening of Genesis at the beginning of this series: http://cnsblog.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/cns-bible-blog-genesis-chapter-1-is-creation-good/.

I shouldn’t have to remind my readers here that this description, appropriate for the time it was written and the people for whom it was directed, did not intend to describe the science of astronomy, the nuts and bolts of how God made the stars. Instead, it carried a far more important message: that the stars were not themselves pagan

The whole Milky Way can be seen in this fish-eye view of the skies over Mt. Graham, Arizona, the site of the Vatican’s Advanced Technology Telescope, operated by the Vatican Observatory in conjunction with the University of Arizona. Such dark skies are becoming more and more rare, however; even here, the sky glow from the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, both more than fifty miles distant, can be seen as the yellow patches on the right hand side of the picture.

The whole Milky Way can be seen in this fisheye view of the skies over Mount Graham in Arizona, the site of the Vatican’s Advanced Technology Telescope, operated by the Vatican Observatory in conjunction with the University of Arizona. Such dark skies are becoming more and more rare, however; even here, the sky glow from the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, both more than 50 miles distant, can be seen as the yellow patches on the right side of the picture.

gods nor the random result of pagan gods messing about in the primordial chaos, as the mythological stories of the neighboring nations would have it. Rather they are the result of the one true God’s deliberate act of creation. For the first time, we are told that everything in the universe, including the lights in the sky, are but creatures … things made by God.

And because the stars are God’s creation, they are under God’s rule. We see that in Job 9:1-10: Then Job answered:  “… how can a mortal be just before God?  If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength who has resisted him, and succeeded? –  he who removes mountains, and they do not know it, when he overturns them in his anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond understanding, and marvelous things without number.”

Orion is perhaps the most famous constellation; the Bear, the Lion, the Pleiades are references to the familiar constellations of Ursa Major, Leo, and the famous star cluster in Taurus. These descriptions of the constellations are found without much ambiguity in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, while the Hebrew version uses words that ancient commentators usually connect with those constellations, though some argue that different stars are actually meant. Which stars are being talked about really doesn’t matter for our purposes, however. The important point is that even the stars are made by God.

That’s a pretty big God, even if your understanding of the universe is limited to seeing the stars as points of light in a dome relatively close overhead.

The power of God over the universe is most directly inferred in Psalm 147: Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure …

As we saw in Genesis where Adam is given the task of naming the animals, to give a name is to claim ownership — and responsibility. You don’t bother naming something that you don’t care about.

And if God cares about the physical universe, so shouldn’t we?

(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, ©1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)

CNS Bible Blog: How will we recognize him? (Luke 24)

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

Has your boss ever said to you, “Go to the airport and pick up John Doe, who is coming in for a business meeting.”? Your response is immediate and automatic: “How will I recognize him?” And you hope that your boss will name several easily recognizable characteristics, such as his height and the color of his suit coat.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were not able to identify the stranger that walked into their midst. They did not recognize Jesus. They did not recognize his physical appearance or the sound of his voice. They did not recognize him on human terms.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who has been briefing English-speaking journalists on synod speeches at the Vatican, commissioned Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul of the Mount of Olives Monastery to paint this icon of the Emmaus story’s two main scenes. (CNS photo by Father Thomas Rosica. Used with permission)

So when did they recognize him? When he gave himself to them. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Lk 24:30). They recognized him when he gave himself to them in the Eucharist. In other words, they recognized him when he gave himself to them on divine terms in the sacrament of his body and blood. At the beginning of the journey they did not recognize him on human terms, but at the end of the journey they recognized him in his divinity before he vanished from their sight (Lk 24:31).

The story of the road to Emmaus has many lessons for us and we wish to focus on only one: The active agent in revelation is Christ himself. We can’t recognize our savior on human terms while using our human skills. We don’t recognize Christ just by walking down the road and discussing “the things that have taken place in these days” (Lk 24:18). Rather, we recognize him when he opens the Scriptures for us and breaks the bread for us. We are actors on the stage when Revelation takes place but we never have the lead role. The main actor is always Christ, our savior. He reveals himself on the road to Emmaus, on the road to Damascus, and on the road of life.

Synod note: The Emmaus story has surfaced several times in the course of the synod. Don Pascual, superior general of the Society of Don Bosco — men dedicated to youth work — told the synod, “It is both a story of what happened and a programmatic itinerary for evangelization.” The story tells where we are going and how to get there. Where: to Jesus. How: walking together.

Like many youths whose hopes have been dashed, the two men on the road were deeply disappointed in the community they left behind back in Jerusalem. They were walking out on it. Everything about “the things that have taken place back there in these days gone by” had gone wrong.

Jesus walks together with them, on the way. Between the community they left and the community to which they return in the end, there is Jesus.

Evangelization outside the context of community is dangerous and false, Don Pascual insisted. Connecting with community, at a new depth, heals and restores hope. Jesus connects with community. Jesus restores hope.

CNS Bible Blog: Salvation: God’s great gift to all

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

“Who can be saved?” This question was raised by the disciples in Chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel. Each of the evangelists provides an answer based on his understanding of who God is. Let’s look at the answer that we find in the Gospel of Luke.

St. Luke says that God is a most generous gift-giver and his goal is to give the gift of salvation to everyone. Luke begins to paint this picture of God in Chapter 3, Verse 6: “All people shall see the salvation of God.” This verse is a direct quote of Isaiah 40:5 and Luke uses it to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist. And the very next verse says that the crowds came out to be baptized by him. John told them that they had to repent if they wanted to receive the gift of salvation. And they did. And that crowd included tax collectors and soldiers. Much to the chagrin of the Pharisees the gift of salvation was offered to “all” and John showed them how to repent (for example, if you have two coats you must share with the person who has none).

A worn edition of the New American Bible rests on a book cart during a New Testament class at St. Luke Church in Brentwood, N.Y. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

In Luke’s Gospel, the public ministry of Jesus is also introduced by a quote from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor” (Lk 4:18 and Is 61:1). In the first century A.D. the term “poor” was more than a financial term. It also referred to those who were ritually unclean — like sinners and tax collectors. Zachhaeus was a sinner and a tax collector and very rich. But he was poor in the moral and spiritual sense. He was saved because he repented and made restitution for his sins. He received the gift of salvation which Jesus extended to him on behalf of his most generous heavenly Father.

Those who were financially poor were doubly poor because they were also “poor” in the realm of ritual cleanliness. They were “poor” according to the Pharisees because they could not afford to purchase the ritual offerings for the temple sacrifices. In the mind of Christ, the Pharisees themselves were poor. They were ritually clean but “spiritually poor” because they “neglected justice and the love of the Lord” (Lk 11:42). Nevertheless, Jesus went to their homes for dinner and extended God’s gift of salvation to them. Then they had to decide if they would repent and accept the gift.

It’s time to return to our opening question: “Who can be saved?” Luke says that every person will be saved if they seek God with a sincere heart and accept God’s gift of salvation.

Synod note: The Gospel of Luke uses the word salvation more freely and more generously than the other Gospels. When Jesus starts off his inaugural preaching in his home synagogue, he assures his hearers — in gracious words — that he brings good news, the decisive year of God’s favor. His words and his person are anointed to do just that: spell out favor, freedom, release, decisive recovery.

Jesus, a capable Bible reader and bold interpreter of God’s Word, retrieved from the Prophet Isaiah the word ‘good news’ (Is 40:9, 41:27, 52:7, 61:1). While many other prophets might have been prophets of “woe,” “judgment” and “condemnation,” Jesus’ message was other: glad tidings, good news, eternally good news.

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford gave eloquent witness in the synod: “Forgiveness of sin has always been another word for Gospel.”

CNS Bible Blog: Teachable moments in Luke, Chapter Four

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is never called rabbi. Instead he is called teacher (didaskalos) and he teaches by proclaiming the Word and by giving witness. We find examples of both in Chapter Four of his Gospel.

First example: the temptations in the desert. When Jesus needed food the devil tempted him to turn the stones into bread. He said no and taught us that we need to look at our need for food in the context of all of our needs. We need food, but our need for the Word of God is a more basic and more important need. When Jesus was thinking about his mission, the devil tempted him to transform his divine mission into a political mission. The devil said, “I will give you authority over all the kingdoms in the world.” Jesus said no and taught us that political power should never be an end in itself. He came from God and so do we.

St. Luke the Evangelist is depicted in this window from Worcester Cathedral in Worcester, England. (CNS/Crosiers)

St. Luke the Evangelist is depicted in this window from Worcester Cathedral in Worcester, England. (CNS/Crosiers)

He used spiritual values to build up the reign of God on earth and so should we. He did not set aside his divine mission and neither should we. When Jesus was thinking about his identity as Messiah, the devil tempted him to jump off the temple and force God to rush in and save him. Jesus said no and thereby taught us not to try to manipulate or control God. Jesus taught us to accept the human condition as he did. (And living with the law of gravity is part of the human condition.) He knew that he could fulfill his mission within the limitations of being human and he taught us that we can do the same. The mission is challenging but we can fulfill it without being superhuman. So what is this mission? The answer is found in the next teachable moment.

Second example: Jesus describes his mission. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus, the teacher, says that he and we have received this mission from God: “To preach Good News to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” This mission statement is a direct quote of Isaiah 61:1-2. Well, almost!

Jesus leaves out the line about divine vengeance. Jesus does not have vengeance on his agenda. Rather his agenda is to bring everyone to the table. He wants everyone in his circle of friendship: the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. He is determined to find ways to free them from the chains that hold them down. He wants everyone at his table. That’s what he means by the year acceptable to the Lord. Everyone has a place at the table.

Closing thought: You will find a number of teachable moments in Chapter Four of the Gospel of Luke. Let Jesus be your teacher and let his message filter down from your head into your heart.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks during the opening meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible at the Vatican Oct. 6. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Synod note: “Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” Each synod participant — bishops and priests all, professional word-crafters, sometimes thought to be wordy — has a mere five-minute intervention. And then the sound system automatically shuts down. Period. Automatically done.

Jesus, in the synagogue in Capernaum, did not have a mike. He had a scroll that he returned to the synagogue official. He sat down. All eyes were on him. And he said all he had to say — in less than five minutes: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Full stop. End of homily. Done.

CNS Bible Blog: Luke – a great new energy source

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

St. Luke was familiar with a great new energy source long before solar power or wind turbines or geothermal energy became a part of everyday conversation. His new energy source was spiritual and it came to him when he became a Christian. When he received the imposition of hands he was filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to go forth and proclaim the Good News. He gave witness to this new energy source by emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit. He mentioned the Holy Spirit 14 times in his Gospel — more than twice the number of references in Matthew and Mark combined.

His faith enabled him to see that the Holy Spirit gave strength to Zechariah so that he could proclaim a most important prophetic message: “God has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” He saw the Holy Spirit giving energy and spiritual strength to John the Baptist during his years of fasting and praying in the desert. Luke said that the Holy Spirit kept Simeon alive until he could see the Messiah of the Lord. He described our savior’s temptations in the desert and how the Holy Spirit gave Jesus power so that he could emerge victorious over the devil. When Jesus began his public ministry while visiting the synagogue in Nazareth he was anointed by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit gave him strength and ministry for his mission: “To bring Good News to the poor. To proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free. To proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Then Jesus called forth disciples and apostles to help him with his mission and told them that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say during times of persecution.

A painting at an old Franciscan convent in Bolivia shows the Holy Spirit descending upon disciples in native Bolivian dress. (CNS/Octavio Duran)

And this is where we come into the picture. We are the modern-day disciples who are sent forth on the same mission. And we find the challenge of that mission to be overwhelming until we remember what Pope John Paul II said in “Redemptoris Missio: “The Holy Spirit is the principle agent for mission.” The Holy Spirit will provide us with the strength we need to fulfill the mission of Christ, our savior. With that in mind I encourage you to read Luke’s Gospel once again. I think that you will see that the Holy Spirit is the never-ending energy source for those who serve the kingdom.

Synod note: “Come, Holy Spirit!” — the main prayer at the synod’s opening assembly.

The synod on the Word of God is just as much a synod on the Spirit of God. Word and Spirit, the right and left hands of God the Father, St. Irenaeus used to say. The Spirit is action-oriented. The spiritual action of the Holy Spirit, for readers, is aimed at appropriating the spirit of the Word. The Spirit helps us sense the spiritual sense of the Word.

Reading the words of the Bible is good, but just a cut below appropriating the Word in faith. The synod members invoked the Holy Spirit, on the church, also on all readers of the Word: Come!

Luke’s Gospel, often called the Gospel of Prayer, always has Jesus praying, full of the Holy Spirit, just before the most significant events that occur and before decisions he makes. Jesus is impressed with the Spirit of God early on (Lk 4:1) and the Spirit remains on him (4:18).

Come, Holy Spirit!

CNS Bible Blog: Do you like surprises?

By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service

Father Jerry Schik, OSC

Father Schik

Father Lewandowski

Father Lewandowski

Much of the excitement around a birthday or Christmas celebration comes from the surprise gifts that we receive. If you like surprises you will find a treasure chest in the Gospel of Luke. He continues a tradition which we find in several books of the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, in Deuteronomy 7:7 we read that God created quite a stir by selecting “the smallest of all nations” to be his chosen people. Luke’s Gospel contains a superabundance of passages which remind us that God’s ways are not our ways and God is frequently catching people by surprise.

Here is a short list of some of the surprises that are found in the third Gospel:

– Elizabeth is elderly but she conceives and bears a son and he becomes the forerunner of the Messiah.

– Mary is a virgin and she conceives and bears a son and he is the Messiah.

– God’s messengers (the angels) bring the Good News of the Messiah’s birth to the lowly shepherds and not to the leaders of the nation.

– God is throwing down the rulers from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.

A church window depicts the Transfiguration of Christ, in which Moses and Elijah are seen with Jesus in a glorified state before the apostles Peter, James and John. (CNS/Crosiers)

A church window depicts the Transfiguration of Christ, in which Moses and Elijah are seen with Jesus in a glorified state before the apostles Peter, James and John. (CNS/Crosiers)

– God rejects the prayer of the Pharisee, the professional leader of prayer, and accepts the prayer of the sinner, the humble tax collector.

– The Samaritans are despised by the Jewish leaders but they come across as heroes in the parable of the Good Samaritan and in the cure of the 10 lepers.

Luke has a plethora of surprise stories in his Gospel. It is readily evident that he wants to emphasize how God’s action in our world is not in line with what people expect. I have given you only a short list of his surprise stories. Your mission, should you accept, is to pore over the pages of his Gospel and find the rest.

Synod note:  The liturgical aid for the opening liturgy of the synod at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls contained five full-page illustrations from the St. John’s Bible. The image of the Transfiguration captures something of the surprise of God for the three most intimate disciples of Jesus.

The artist paints in delicate black letter at the bottom of the page these words: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” And above, between Elijah and Moses, we see a white-faced Jesus-figure — like a photo negative reversing black and white — draped and spangled in rays of gold, dappled with shimmering white speckles of glitter, dazzling with hazy boundaries that envelop and shade off into heaven above, earth below, and every space of light around him. Color without line. The transfiguration light surprises and dazzles because it can’t really be seen with the naked eye. It glows golden.  It is the light by which we see.

Far down in the right-hand corner, concealed and softly revealed in faint silver letters — as if it were a reverent shushed whisper — the artist writes: “Listen to him.”

CNS Bible Blog: Ruth, Chapter 2 – Love and integrity

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

I sat down with the Book of Ruth and started reading Chapter 2. Following what is described as an Ignatian method for reading and praying with the Scriptures, I imagine myself as a character in the story.

I am Boaz. The potent one. I know who I am, I know what I have. I count my blessings and give thanks to God every day. But I am not young anymore and I have been waiting for something to happen. When I watch over my slaves, I pray. When I walk my fields, when I touch my gold, I pray. Sometimes I gently ask, sometimes I howl in pain and longing, sometimes I whisper under my breath, sometimes I rage in frustration. I am asked to wait; the time will come.

She is not a girl anymore. She arrived yesterday and I already know everything about her. Ruth had been married for 10 years. Now she is widowed. What she has done makes my heart beat faster: left everything out of love for her mother-in-law. She is a passionate one. One who follows a dream. Maybe the foreigners’ dreams are bigger than ours. How far have I ever walked for a dream?

Someone will have to marry her, that’s the law. It will be a bit of a haggle since I’m not first in line. She is on offer, though, and I can be the buyer.

I get all confused when she takes the initative. She just lies there at my feet at night, offering freely what I thought I had to buy dearly. I tremble. Then I remember how she said, when we first met: “You have comforted me with your consoling words; would indeed that I were a servant of yours!”

Does she feel what I feel? Or is she doing what she has to do to get a husband, any husband? How will I ever know?

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who have to do whatever it takes to get by. Who find themselves in situations and systems not of their own making, and still make the best of it. That they may find love and understanding, and keep their integrity.

CNS Bible Blog: Ruth, Chapter 1 – Guided by a dream

By Uta Sievers
Special to Catholic News Service

Today, I sat down with the Book of Ruth and started reading Chapter 1. Using a method for reading and praying with the Scriptures that is attributed to St Ignatius Loyola, I took a step inside the story.

I am Ruth. I went with my mother-in-law Naomi and never looked back.

It was an easy decision for me. It was much harder for her to accept my decision. I love her and always will. There is no sacrifice in this decision for me. I feel closer to her than I have ever felt to my own mother; I love her more than my life. Naomi and I, we walk hand-in-hand, even though we might not touch each other. We brave the desert storms. We have the same direction: her people, who — through my love for her — are my own people. Her God is my God.

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

(CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

Naomi isn’t always the easiest woman to be with, especially since her whole family died in Moab. She has been taking this as a sign that God is unhappy with her, but I think that’s not true. I’m sure God just had other plans for her. That’s as far as I know him, this God. The strong one. The one who saves. The one who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The one who has dreams for us. I am following one of those dreams. I have always been the dreamer in our family, my husband never really understood that. But his God did. Praying to the God of Israel felt easier than praying to our gods in Moab. So I followed Naomi to be with a people that knew their God, a people who had met him, personally. Apart from praying with them, I also have to find work there. And possibly a husband. Someone with my kind of spirituality would be nice.

As I step out of the story, I pray for all those who leave everything behind, guided only by a dream.

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