Thursday, August 30, 2007

Short Reflection on the Structure of The Lord's Prayer

Like most of you, I’ve been praying the Our Father as far back as I can remember. Praying it every night before bed, as well as every Sunday at Mass. I can even remember family members, catechism teachers, and priests telling me to reflect on the words of The Our Father and to ask the Lord to help me live out a better life with sincerity. Little did I know that it was the CENTERPIECE of the most famous sermon (sermon on the mount) ever preached. Their is no doubt that the Lord’ Prayer is a long awaited gift. As Scott Hahn states, “Certainly, this prayer is itself an answer to a sustained request on the part of humanity: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1).” [1]

Recently, however, I’ve learned something new from the Lord’s Prayer, something that I’ve unable to recognize until now. I’m not going reflect so much on the actual words of the Lord’s Prayer, or their significant meanings, but I am going to look more upon the structure and inner logic of Our Lord’s Payer. I’ve never troubled myself to look at the structure of the Lord’s Prayer to understand how this can be a huge help for all of us when prepare our petitions for the Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer is one unified, compact, model prayer consisting of seven petitions, divisible into 2 parts: the first “God-ward,” the second “us-ward.” With this understanding, lets take a closer look at its structure. The first part is clearly “God-ward,” focused on “Thy name,” “Thy Kingdom,” “Thy will.” The second half, however, turns the attention to us and our needs: “give us,” “forgive us,” “lead us,” “deliver us.” The sequence is significant, because it reverses the instinctive order of our petitions. When we pray spontaneously, we tend to begin with our troubles, our frustrated desires, and our personal wish list. But Jesus shows us that we need to be less self-centered in prayer and more God-centered – not because God needs our praise, and His ego is fragile, but because He’s God, and we aren’t. [1] Now this all may be nothing new to most of you, but it definitely can helped some of us become more aware of how to prepare our own petitions for Our Heavenly Father.

[1] Hahn. Author of Understanding "Our Father" Biblical Reflections on The Lord's Prayer.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Assumption

Last Wednesday, we celebrated The Assumption of Our Blessed Lady. Anxious as I was, I found no difficulty waking up at 6 am so that I wouldn’t miss the 7 o’clock service (Yes, I was that anxious!). Here’s a brief summary of some of the simple facts I’ve recently learned about The Assumption.

In the dogma, the word assumption means the taking of Our Lady, body and soul, into heaven. Some of you might even be a little surprise (just as I was) to learn that The Assumption is earlier than the belief that she was conceived immaculate. Now, I may not have a lot of books on The Assumption, or claim that The Assumption is explicitly taught in the Bible, but one thing that I think is clear to all of us, is the relationship between The Assumption and Church history. Churches have been named after the Assumption for the past millennium and a half. In fact, for 1500 years The Assumption never raised any serious questions, problem, or doubt, among Catholics. Neither Jerome, Origen, Athanasius, Ambrose, nor Augustine contested Epiphanius in what he had written regarding Mary's miraculous passing, and Ephraem described Mary as having been glorified by Christ and carried through the air to heaven [1]. You can’t ignore the beauty of Church History.

To truly understand Our Blessed Lady we must depend totally on our understanding of her Son. When we achieve that, I myself can’t help but notice that everything which flows from her, comes from her being Christ’s mother. So, as our understanding of him grows, our understanding of her grows. Understanding Christ makes it simple to recognize that Christ would want his mother with him in heaven, and not just her soul alone, but body and soul.

In heaven, she represents the human race redeemed; she alone is body and soul, where all the saved will one day be. It is a doctrine of the Church that all men would receive back the bodies from which their souls had been separate at death. That gap between was a result of sin, and Our Lady was sinless [2].

[1] Cf. Ephraem, De nativitate domini sermo 12, sermo 11, sermo 4; Opera omni syriace at latine, Vol. 2, 415
[2] Sheed, Theology for Beginners. pgs 130-131

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Scott Hahn: The Ecclesial Locus of Theology and Exegesis

In his article, The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI [1], Dr. Scott Hahn discusses Pope Benedicts central teachings on biblical theology. Hahn recognizes the fundamentals of Benedicts approach to Biblical text, 1) that the Word of God cannot be separated from the people of God in which the scriptures are revered 2) that Scripture must be read in lightof the living faith of the Church. I've attached the text below to clarify more on these fundamentals. . .

"Benedict does not base his hermeneutic of faith and biblical theology on philo­sophical or methodological preconceptions of his own. Indeed, his approach to the biblical text grows organically from the historical structure of revelation, that is, from the actual manner in which the Word of God was created and handed on.

As Benedict notes, the clear finding of critical exegesis (the interpretation of text/scripture) is that Scripture is the product of the Church, that its contents originated in an ecclesial context and were shaped over long years by the Church’s proclamation, confession, catechesis, and liturgical worship. Considered historically, then, there is an obvious and undeni­able “interwoven relationship between Church and Bible, between the people of God and the Word of God.”

Benedict bids us to pay close attention to the history of the early Church and the original inner unity of Word, sacrament, and Church order and authority. That history demonstrates that the institutions and practices of the Church are not artificial or arbitrary later constructs, but organic developments of the people of God’s encounter with the Word of God. Put another way, the structure of revela­tion and of the faith—how the early Church heard the Word and responded to it—is itself the source of the Church’s sacramental worship, its teaching office, and its principles of governance.

As Benedict notes, the criteria for determining which books were truly the Word of God were primarily liturgical:

"A book was recognized as “canonical” if it was sanctioned by the Church for use in public worship. . . . In the ancient Church, the reading of Scripture and the confession of faith were primarily liturgical acts of the whole assembly gathered around the risen Lord."

The Church, then, from the beginning, was understood as the viva vox, the living voice of Scripture, proclaiming the Word but also protecting the Word from manipulation and distortion. As the confessional and sacramental life of the Church were the criterion by which the canon was formed, the Scriptures were intended from the beginning to be interpreted according to the rule of faith or the Creed, under the authority of the apostles’ successors. And again, historically speaking, the Church’s proclamation and interpretation of the Word was ordered to a liturgical or sacramental end—the profession of faith and baptism."

"The original sphere of existence of the Christian profession of faith. . . . was
the Sacramental life of the Church. It is by this criterion that the canon was
shaped, and that is why the Creed is the primary authority for the
interpretation of the Bible. . . . Thus the authority of the Church that speaks
out, the author­ity of apostolic succession, is written into Scripture
through the Creed and is indivisible from it. The teaching office of the
apostles’ successors does not represent a secondary authority alongside
Scripture but is inwardly a part of it. This viva vox is not there to restrict
the authority of Scripture or to limit it or even replace it by the existence of
another—on the contrary, it is its task to ensure that Scripture is not
disposable, cannot be manipulated, to preserve its proper perspicuitas, its
clear meaning, from the conflict of hypotheses. Thus, there is a secret
relationship of reciprocity. Scripture sets limits and a standard for the viva
; the living voice guarantees that it cannot be manipulated."

[1] Hahn, Scott. The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. Pg 12-14

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why Wash in the Jordan?

When we read through the early chapters of the Gospels we might wonder why John the Baptist made Israel wash in the muddy waters of the Jordan? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the prophet to preach in Jerusalem? Or wouldn’t the Temple in Jerusalem have been a better place for the ritual washing of repentance?

John was a prophet, and prophets were known for performing symbolic actions with rich, prophetic meanings. For example, the prophet Jeremiah smashed a pot to symbolize the destruction of the Temple, Hosea took a prostitute as a wife to signify how Israel was an unfaithful bride to Yahweh, and Ezekiel shaved with a sword, not for a closer shave, but to signify the impending invasion of Jerusalem.

Prophets performed provocative acts that were aimed at making a mark in the memory and bringing about a change of heart in their audience. John’s directing the people of Jerusalem and Judah into the Jordan was an action filled with meaning.

The Jordan was a religious and national symbol for the Jews. At the climax of the first Exodus, when Israel escaped from Egypt, Joshua led Israel through the Jordan and into the Promised Land. Crossing the Jordan long ago marked Israel’s release from Egyptian captivity at the beginning of Israel’s possession of the Promised Land. Now John was calling Israel to come back to the Jordan and reenter into the Promised Land. Like their ancestors before them, Israel was to go out to the wilderness and then reenter into the Promised Land. John was offering Israel a fresh start, a new beginning. Isaiah had foretold that the wilderness would be the place of origin for Israel's new exodus. The crowds grew in anticipation and excitement, for it looked like John was beginning the new exodus, the fulfillment of the prophetic promises made by Isaiah – this time not from Pharoah, or even Caesar, but from Satan.

Many wondered whether John might be the Messiah, the one to lead Israel through a new exodus and redemption. John, however, was not the next Joshua. He made it clear that he was simply preparing the way, saying, . .

"I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of
whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
and with fire (Lk 3:16)."

[1] Luke 3:16
[2] Tim Gray, Author of Mission of the Messiah. Pgs. 21-22

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

'Thoughts on Church' - Josh McManaway

Josh McManaway, a young and bright student of biblical studies, has recently provided us his thoughts on Ecclesiology. He asked some very good questions concerning the study of the church in his opening post, "Some thoughts on church." . . .

"For whatever reason, I've been suckered into Ecclesiology. I enjoy figuring out
what exactly the "Church" is. There are a great many blogs out there
dedicated to this topic. However, something I'm noticing is that they
stay only within the New Testament for their views on the Church. Is this proper?
Is the New Testament the handbook on ekklesia? My answer: It's not *the*
handbook. We have to look not only at the New Testament, but also at the history
of the Church and how the Apostolic Fathers viewed Church, etc. How did the
earliest Christians do it after the New Testament period?”

His follow up post has already sparked a great discussion among other readers/bloggers on his site. (A New Testament Student). If you are interested in learning a bit more on the early church and its history, I recommend that you check out his blog.

[1] Josh McManaway /