Sacred Scripture

A Thief’s Remarkable Confession

March 30, 2015

Dismas the Good Thief Orthodox icon 16th centuryOften called the “Good Thief” and traditionally known as “Dismas” in the Latin Church, this man is billed as having stolen heaven in his last hour, living up to his profession. It was no sleight of hand, though, no con job that moved the heart of Jesus. As I’ve meditated on the Passion this year, Dismas has occupied my thoughts. How was it that he alone of the two criminals crucified with Christ that day confessed Jesus as king?

While Matthew (27:44) and Mark (15:32) write that both criminals reviled Jesus, Luke tells us something else, a something that reveals an outpouring of God’s grace at the last minute that freed a man chained by evil deeds to see and say the truth in full repentance for a life gone terribly bad. In contrast,

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23: 39)

This thief had no idea what being the Christ meant, or he wouldn’t have tried to incite Jesus to free him so he could escape accountability and go on about his life of crime and ruin. Jesus didn’t come to help us circumvent the laws of His Father and to get us unrepentant ones off scot free from the penalties of our sins.

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

How did the Good Thief know that Jesus had done nothing wrong? Only if this man were Jewish and knew the law well could he have known that Jesus was a victim of a set up. Perhaps he had mingled with the crowds following Jesus, snatching a purse here and there while noting what Jesus was doing. If so, he could not have failed to see the vast numbers of people Jesus cured from all sorts of diseases and paralyses. Maybe he even saw Jesus cast out demons and raise the dead. He knew Jesus was a good man and no criminal. Perhaps he flirted with the idea of giving up his predatory occupation and following Christ instead, but, since he ended up condemned, he apparently lacked the will to shake off the shackles of his greed. Yet God gave him the extraordinary grace among the crowd of vicious blasphemers to declare from the heights of his cross that Jesus was innocent while he and his fellow criminal were surely guilty.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingly power.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Dismas claimed in full faith in front of everyone there that day that Jesus is king with all the powers a king possesses. Among them is to forgive the repentant subject who throws himself on the mercy of the sovereign. Knowing that Jesus was dying and that he himself would die, against all worldly logic that makes no room for what cannot be perceived by the senses, Dismas professed that Christ’s kingdom is real, not of this world, but is of eternity just as He said, and that Jesus prevails over all. Simply astonishing and only possible through the grace of God. A man dying in horrible pain after living a dissolute life seizes eternal life through the eyes of full-blown faith at the last minute.

The same grace God gave Dismas in extremis is open to every sinner any time who honestly admits his trespasses and repents of them. We don’t go to Confession solely because we don’t want to go to hell for our mortal sins, although it can be one motivation. We confess our sins under the power of the grace of God in order to humble ourselves and renew true submission to His will. That grace is free and open to everyone. We have only ourselves to blame if we cut ourselves off from it as the other thief did.

Praise God for what He did for the Good Thief and for what He does every time we make a good confession. Praise God for the grace of humility and repentance and for giving us His beloved Son to teach and lead us along the narrow path. Praise God when we see through the eyes of faith the transcendent world we were created for. Just as Dismas was, we are the primary beneficiaries of His terrible death on the cross. Let us not squander our inheritance.

Image: The Good Theif, Russian Orthodox icon, 16th century

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Monday, March 30th, 2015 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 3 Comments

Advent Spiritual Reading

December 3, 2014

Joseph and Mary Go to Bethlehem, mid 16th century, Hugo van der Goes

Joseph and Mary Go to Bethlehem, mid 16th century, Hugo van der Goes

The Church begins her liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent when we start hearing the prophesies of the Messiah in our Scripture readings at Mass. It’s a great time of spiritual renewal as we anticipate the coming of Jesus and making an offering of ourselves as a birthday present to Him at the crib. We want to be all polished up spiritually to join the shepherds in adoration and thanksgiving for the salvation Jesus has obtained for us, don’t we?

I love the season of Advent, maybe because it’s a bit less rigorous than Lent, but still full of the penitential moments necessary to take stock of where we are and where we need to be as practicing Christians. At SpiritualDirection.com we are being treated to daily meditations by Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., a missionary priest to India, from his 1915 book, The Prince of Peace. Each one begins with Sacred Scripture and then follows with a commentary related to the passage. I’m hooked. So hooked that I downloaded a free copy from ForgottenBooks.com so I could have it as a reference and use it whenever I want…up to a point. Warning: Although the copy is free, ForgottenBooks has blocked certain pages to induce readers to buy a monthly membership at their site in order to read the entire book.

Over the years I’ve seen books by Goodier referenced in other writing and when I saw these meditations on line, I determined to find out more about this missionary. Good missionaries are very special and very fascinating. None of them can be God’s instruments for salvation without spending a lot of time in prayer and Sacred Scripture study. So who is this renowned Archbishop Goodier, I wondered and is his missionary vocation evident in his work? He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page but the Great Harwood page tells us a bit and I found his ordination and service history at Catholic Hierarchy. While his spiritual writings give us insight into his soul and indeed prove his missionary heart, even the bare bones dates and places and a little knowledge of the history of Great Britain in India help us to know him better.

Goodier was born on April 14, 1869 in Great Harwood, Great Britain, the second of five surviving children of William Goodier, a biscuit manufacturer, and his wife, Elizabeth. Here’s what the natives of the 21st century have to say about their town:

ARROD; SNUFFY; is like many small towns or large villages. Quite unremarkable. It is not on a major road, you don’t even need to go through it on the way to somewhere else. It has few buildings of significance to anyone outside and perhaps only one of renown. It has had many distinguished sons and daughters though not many famous. It is not in many tourist guides. It has had little to boast of in sporting success for many years.It’s just a small town in East Lancashire, England with a long history.

Most likely the contemporaries of Goodier would have said much the same thing in the mid 19th century. But it’s not so much where one comes from but what one does with one’s life that matters the most, and so we know that Goodier passed through the rigorous schooling and discipline of the Jesuit seminary to be ordained a priest in 1895. Twenty-four years later on the 15th of December, 1919, he was appointed Archbishop of Bombay, India, now known as Mumbai. He held that office until age 57 when he resigned on October 1, 1926. Throughout these years with the Jesuits he not only established a charity organization to help the poor and build hospitals, he wrote a number of spiritual books, many of which you can find at alibris and other websites, and became acclaimed as a solid source of Catholic spirituality throughout the 20th century. He entered eternity on March 13, 1939 at almost 70 years of age leaving us a continuing inspirational body of work that is once again becoming popular amongst the laity.

Here is part of meditation VII. ” FORESHADOWINGS OF MARY.

” Whence is this to me that the mother of my Lordshould come to me?” ” LUKE i. 43.

1. Though so little is said of Our Lady in the Gospels, there is abundant evidence both there and elsewhere to show that she too was part of the Expectation of the Jews along with her Son; and reason confirms that the two could scarcely have been separated. When the Angel appeared to her, to announce the Incarnation, he speaks as to one who was accustomed to meditate on ancient prophecies; and six months later she breaks out in words that could only have come from one who recognized in herself the fulfillment of many things foretold. Elizabeth’s words, again, disclose one who appreciated to the full the meaning of Mary’s motherhood; and Simeon later is even more explicit. Lastly, the tradition of the second Eve was one which the Jews held dear.

2. In the same way, then, as the great men of the Old Testament prefigured the Son, so did the great women prefigure the Mother; and it is to be noticed that the history of the Jews is studded with the names of great women far more than is the history of any other ancient people. Rebecca secured the inheritance for her son Jacob. The mother of Moses saved him from the waters to be the savior of his people. Anna breaks into her song of praise at the knowledge that she is to be a mother, which song is the back ground for the greater song of Mary herself.

Deborah and Joel each in their turn are the saviors of their people; later come the names of Judith and Esther, each reminding the Jews of that first prophecy: ” I will set enmities between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall crush thy head “; and telling them that in the future the Mother of Him that was to come would have her share in the work of Redemption.

Perhaps it is because I love Sacred Scripture so much that these meditations are so dear to me, and I never get tired of learning the great stories of our salvation history. If you would like quick daily meditations on the coming of Jesus that you can ponder throughout the day, I highly recommend signing up for email notifications at SpiritualDirection.com. I’ve been receiving them for nearly a year now and am very grateful for where they lead me.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 1 Comment

Arise and Walk

November 16, 2014

SS. Peter and John Healing the Lame Man at the Beautiful Gate, 17th century, Bolognese painter

SS. Peter and John Healing the Lame Man at the Beautiful Gate, 17th century, Bolognese painter

A forty year old man, lame from birth, sat on his mat just outside the Beautiful gate of the temple of Jerusalem. This way of life, begging for daily sustenance, was nothing new to him, nor to those who passed him regularly on their way into the temple. Depending on friends to transport him to and from his home was also nothing new. But it probably was never easy to humble himself like that just to live, yet he persevered because he had no other choice.

One day he saw two men, Peter and John, about to enter the temple at the ninth hour (3 o’clock) and asked them for alms. That encounter changed his life forever. Acts 3: 3-8 tells us what happened.

He, when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. But Peter with John fastening his eyes upon him, said: Look upon us. But he looked earnestly upon them, hoping that he should receive something of them. But Peter said: Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, I give thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise, and walk. And taking him by the right hand, he lifted him up, and forthwith his feet and soles received strength. And he leaping up, stood, and walked, and went in with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

Some things that struck me about this passage as I was meditating on it are:

  • This occurred at the 9th hour, the same hour Jesus died on the Cross, the hour of mercy, the hour of freedom from the chains of all evil. Today countless Catholics all over the world recite the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3:00, pleading mercy for sinners everywhere, including themselves, that we all may arise and walk in the way of the Lord as this man did. At three o’clock I will forever think now of that lame man and what God is telling me through that healing.
  • Peter instructed the man to “Look upon us.” The first step in healing is to ask for it. The second step is to look with earnestness and hope upon Christ, who in this case used Peter as His instrument. Anyone who visits Adoration chapels where “favors granted” binders are left for adorers to write of the blessings they have received will immediately know the healing that comes from looking upon Jesus with earnestness and hope. I always find myself humbled and awed at the daily miracles Jesus does for others simply because of their earnest prayers before Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Silver and gold would not fix the man’s lameness but the name of Jesus not only cured the man, but gave him the strength to go out and support himself. He received a new life entirely instead of money. He received much more than he asked for, way beyond what he could have imagined when he begged Peter for money. How powerful that name is! God is so generous that when we ask for all we need in the name of Jesus, He gives us much more than we ask for in terms of grace and blessings even if we don’t get exactly what we want or if it takes time for Him to answer our plea.
  • Peter, as did Jesus sometimes when He healed, touched the man, even though he could have healed him without touching him. Peter was the hand of Christ just as we are to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus to others. Living like Christ we are to allow God to use us to heal the broken hearted, bind up spiritual, psychological, and physical wounds, and bring joy to those in grave circumstances starting with our own families and reaching out to others.
  • Peter seized the man’s right hand. The right hand signifies ownership, power, and control that the person exercises, and can stand for the entire person. In an instant, the lame man went from powerlessness to being able to exercise more control over his life. He was no longer at the mercy of his lameness. He was more free than at any other time of his life to go places and do things, but most especially he was free to adopt all the body postures the rituals of the temple followed in worshiping God. When God heals us from our spiritual lameness, we are able to pursue Him with complete freedom of heart. We receive the grace to exercise more control over our unruly flesh and to resist the false charms of the world.
  • In a way, this man who went into the temple leaping and dancing and praising God is a sign of resurrection. On that final day when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, those who have been faithful to Him will be resurrected with our bodies unto life and will enter into an eternity of joy of which the lame man’s situation is a pale imitation even if it’s a foretelling of what is to come. I look forward to leaping and dancing in the praise of God with my new body some day.
  • We encounter Christ in the confessional where we ask God for the alms of forgiveness and make a firm resolution to “sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.” He gives us a new life every time just as He gave the lame man his legs. Huge weights of sin, making us lame and causing us suffering, are lifted from our shoulders. We can breathe again. The joy of His mercy makes our hearts leap and dance and the lame man did in the temple. Countless penitents have testified to this. We can look at our being freed from our sins as mini-resurrections from the poverty of sin that allow us to testify to the glory of God to fellow sinners who may be hesitating to ask for the alms of forgiveness. The words of the Church, some of the most beautiful of all in the sacred liturgy of this sacrament, send us sinners on our way:

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Perhaps we might ask ourselves,

What do I need to be freed from so as to begin a new life of spiritual wholeness and joy?

Am I humble enough to lay even my most complicated situation in front of the priest and ask for the healing grace of Confession?

Looking back on my life, when was it that I begged God for help and he answered me with far more than what I asked for?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Sunday, November 16th, 2014 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 6 Comments

The Language of the Devil

October 26, 2014

Satan Exulting Over Eve - William Blake, via Wikimedia

Satan Exulting Over Eve – William Blake, via Wikimedia

If we want to be understood, the language we use as we attempt to communicate our thoughts to one another must be clear. This golden rule of communication holds true whether we are “talking out” our thoughts in conversation or writing them down…

So writes D. Q. McInerny, Ph. D., professor of philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, home of the formation of F.S.S.P. priests in North America. Although the chief orientation of his essay, “Clarity”, in the November 2014 F.S.S.P. newsletter is focused on clarity in writing, his chief points apply to all communication. I found his article helped me organize my thoughts concerning the problem of politically correct speech/writing and the use of code words by Church leaders, political leaders, college professors, and the average Joe on the street who takes to parroting word usage and concepts heard in the media without knowing what is really going on nor the true meaning of the words and intentions of the communicator.

My question, How do we answer potently the falsehoods and ambiguities proclaimed around us daily? starts with ourselves. We have the obligation as Christians to speak/write truth with charity which means not wimping out because we’re afraid of being disliked, ridiculed, etc. when we really know what the truth is. It means that we, through prayer and meditation, must have a firm grasp of the truth before opening our mouths or setting our fingers on the keys of our computers. McInerny says:

Clarity, like charity, begins at home. If we want to be clear in addressing others, we must first of all be clear in addressing ourselves. [Bingo!] This is not as easy as it might sound, and it certainly is not something that comes automatically. It is clear thinking that is foundational here; we can talk to ourselves clearly only if we think clearly. . . .

Ambiguity is the direct antithesis, the bane of clarity. Our language can become ambiguous – in consequence of which people simply have no reliable idea of what we are trying to say – simply out of carelessness on our part. If that is the case the remedy is obvious: we must discipline ourselves so that we become ever more careful in our writing. [And thinking and speaking.]

But there is a type of ambiguity which is positively pernicious, and that is ambiguity which is deliberately intended by the writer. [Think here, for example, of Pope St. Pius X’s clear admonitions against and exposure of Modernist tactics of deliberate ambiguity in Pascendi.] This type of ambiguity was identified by a former colleague of mine as “the language of the devil.” When someone deliberately engages in the employment of ambiguous language in writing about issues which have to do, let us say, with philosophy, or theology, or politics, it is with the express purpose in mind of keeping people in a state of disoriented confusion about important issues, whereby they can be more easily manipulated to serve certain ideological inspired ends.

An ambiguous statement is one which can be understood in more than one way, and therein lies its great danger, for it defies all efforts to identify it clearly as either true or false. Ambiguous language is permanently open to a variety of interpretations, some of which can be, and often are, frankly contradictory. If ambiguity is the direct antithesis to clarity, then clarity is its obvious antidote. Clarity serves a dual purpose which is of the utmost importance: it unambiguously identifies falsity as falsity, and – here is its chief benefit – it gives full, illuminating exposure to the truth. And the truth, as we know, is the very font of our freedom.

In light of this we would help ourselves greatly if we made liberal use of the question, “What do you mean?” rather than applauding mindlessly or reacting with fury over written or spoken words. Too much evil is done these days because we make assumptions about what people mean without seeing the ambiguous possibilities in their language and demanding clarification. As Christians we must get to the premises behind the words and discern whether those premises are true or false based on God’s revealed truth and sacred Tradition.

Although most people are not called to confront ambiguity in some official or public role such as bishops, priests, and political leaders ought to do, we are obligated to know the truth and conform our personal actions in accord with it, whether it be in the voting booth or our volunteer activities, or in teaching our children, or in parish activities to name but a few instances. Rabanus Maurus (780-856) tells us in regard to Matthew 5:37, “But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil” that

What you affirm with the mouth you should prove in deed, and what you deny in word, you should not establish by your conduct.

We are obligated to assent to the teachings of the Church whether we fully understand them or not. They are clearly stated in the Baltimore Catechism, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If we don’t fully understand them or are troubled by them, in humility we must ask God to enlighten us through the Holy Spirit. He will always answer that prayer sooner or later. If we do this, we will be able to identify ambiguity and be able to clarify things for ourselves and others. As to our discourse with others, when, armed with the truth, we should not worry about what to say or how to say it to clarify matters, but to count on the Holy Spirit to give us the right words as promised in Mark 13:11.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Sunday, October 26th, 2014 philosophy, politics, religion, Sacred Scripture 4 Comments

Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Continency

September 19, 2014

Fresco of Basil the Great in the cathedral of Ohrid. The saint is shown consecrating the Gifts during the Divine Liturgy which bears his name. Wikipedia

Fresco of Basil the Great in the cathedral of Ohrid. The saint is shown consecrating the Gifts during the Divine Liturgy which bears his name. Wikipedia

The other day I stumbled upon a letter St. Basil (329-379) wrote to a monk about continency. We know from Gal. 5:22-23 that this is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity

The root of the word comes from Latin; con, meaning “together” and tenere, meaning “to hold”. In today’s sex saturated society, continency is most often taught to mean refraining from indulgence of the sexual appetite, especially from unlawful indulgence. Certainly that is true, but it is also much more. The CCC(1832) calls it “self-control” in the English translation. But what exactly is self-control? To what does it extend or what does it encompass?

St. Basil, one of the great Fathers of the Church fleshes out the meaning of continency for us and in doing this causes us to examine our lives for areas where we may not be exercising self-control to the extent that we should.

You do well in making exact definitions for us, so that we may recognize not only continency, but its fruit. Now its fruit is the companionship of God. For not to be corrupted, is to have part with God; just as to be corrupted is the companionship of the world.

Continency is denial of the body, and confession to God. It withdraws from anything mortal, like a body which has the Spirit of God. It is without rivalry and envy, and causes us to be united to God.

He who loves a body envies another. He who has not admitted the disease of corruption into his heart, is for the future strong enough to endure any labor, and though he have died in the body, he lives in incorruption. Verily, if I rightly apprehend the matter, God seems to me to be continency, because He desires nothing, but has all things in Himself. He reaches after nothing, nor has any sense in eyes or ears; wanting nothing, He is in all respects complete and full.

Concupiscence is a disease of the soul; but continency is its health. And continency must not be regarded only in one species, as, for instance, in matters of sensual love. It must be regarded in everything which the soul lusts after in an evil manner, not being content with what is needful for it.

Envy is caused for the sake of gold, and innumerable wrongs for the sake of other lusts. Not to be drunken is continency. Not to overeat one’s self is continency. To subdue the body is continency, and to keep evil thoughts in subjection, whenever the soul is disturbed by any fancy false and bad and the heart is distracted by vain cares. [Today we could specify, not to give in to drugs, pornography, being a shop-a-holic, inordinate watching of television regardless of the subject, being a work-a-holic, excessive expression of emotions such as anger are all continency.]

Continency makes men free, being at once a medicine and a power, for it does not teach temperance; it gives it. Continency is a grace of God….If only there be a little continency in us, we are higher than all.

We have been told that angels were ejected from heaven because of concupiscence and became incontinent. They were vanquished; they did not come down. What could that plague have effected there, if an eye such as I am thinking of had been there? Wherefore I said, If we have a little patience, and do not love the world, but the life above, we shall be found there where we direct our mind. For it is the mind, apparently, which is the eye that sees unseen things. For we say “the mind sees;” “the mind hears.” I have written at length, though it may seem little to you. But there is meaning in all that I have said, and, when you have read it, you will see it.

We can see the fruit of continency in our detachment from all earthly things except what is necessary for living and for loving our neighbor, especially those closest to us. Our purpose of doing all for the honor and glory of God requires a daily crucifixion of inordinate desires opposed to continency. It means not throwing away this fruit God has generously given us. Rather, we should bite into it and taste its sweetness – the companionship of God as St. Basil tells us.

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R. Now and forever!

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St. John Chrysostom on Understanding Scripture

August 18, 2014

Mosaic, St. John Chrysostom, Hagia Sophia, via Wikipedia

Mosaic, St. John Chrysostom, Hagia Sophia, via Wikipedia

“There really wasn’t a real Adam and Eve.”

“Noah? I don’t believe there was a Noah. Way too far-fetched.”

“Jonah and the big fish? Hah! Could never have been.”

“Jesus didn’t really mean it when He said ‘This is My Body’. He was just speaking figuratively.”

These are typical comments I’ve heard from fellow Catholics who easily dismiss Old Testament characters as fictitious inventions of the writer to tell a story, and difficult passages in the New. However, this attitude points to something we all need to be aware of. That is, humility in our approach to Scripture study. If any one part of the Bible isn’t true, then doesn’t that call into question every part? Would it not be better to start with the premise that everything in the Bible is true since God can’t lie? I may not understand what God is telling me, or I may be confused about certain passages. That is the fault of my limited intellect, not God’s Word. Then, should I not seek understanding by following Jesus’ instruction to ask, seek, and knock?

We have one no less than the great St. John Chrysostom to tell us a thing or two about seeking understanding of Sacred Scripture. He was not only the bishop of Constantinople, he is revered as both a Father and Doctor of the Church and is one of the four great Doctors of the Eastern Church. Born in 349 in Antioch, he earned the appellation Chrysostomos, “golden-mouthed”, because of his eloquent preaching, especially on Holy Scripture. In Discourse Three of his Four Discourses he contrasts the worldly scholars with the straightforward exposition of the truth by apostles and prophets.

3. For those without—-philosphers, rhetoricians, and annalists, not striving for the common good, but having in view their own renown [I naively thought this phenomenon was restricted to our times]—-if they said anything useful, even this they involved in their usual obscurity, as in a cloud.

But the apostles and prophets always did the very opposite; they, as the common instructors of the world, made all that they delivered plain to all men, in order that every one, even unaided, might be able to learn by the mere reading. Thus also the prophet spake before, when he said, “All shall be taught of God,” (Is. 54: 13.) “And they shall no more say, every one to his neighbor, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least to the greatest,” (Jer.31: 34.) St. Paul also says, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the mystery of God,” (1 Cor. 2: 1.) And again, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Cor. 2: 4.) And again, “We speak wisdom,” it is said, “but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world that come to naught,” (1 Cor. 2: 6.) For to whom is not the gospel plain? Who is it that hears, “Blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart,” and such things as these, and needs a teacher in order to understand any of the things spoken?

But (it is asked) are the parts containing the signs and wonders and histories also clear and plain to every one? This is a pretense, and an excuse, and a mere cloak of idleness. You do not understand the contents of the book? But how can you ever understand, while you are not even willing to look carefully?

Take the book in your hand. Read the whole history; and, retaining in your mind the easy parts, peruse frequently the doubtful and obscure parts; and if you are unable, by frequent reading, to understand what is said, go to some one wiser; betake yourself to a teacher; confer with him about the things said. Show great eagerness to learn: then, when God sees that you are using such diligence, He will not disregard your perseverance and carefulness; but if no human being can teach you that which you seek to know, He himself will reveal the whole.

Remember the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia. Being a man of a barbarous nation, occupied with numerous cares, and surrounded on all sides by manifold business, he was unable to understand that which he read. Still, however, as he was seated in the chariot, he was reading. If he showed such diligence on a journey, think how diligent he must have been at home: if while on the road he did not let an opportunity pass without reading, much more must this have been the case when seated in his house; if when he did not fully understand the things he read, he did not cease from reading, much more would he not cease when able to understand. To show that he did not understand the things which he read, hear that which Philip said to him: “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8: 30.) Hearing this question he did not show provocation or shame: but confessed his ignorance, and said: “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (ver. 31.) Since therefore, while he had no man to guide him, he was thus reading; for this reason, he quickly received an instructor. God knew his willingness, He acknowledged his zeal, and forthwith sent him a teacher.

But, you say, Philip is not present with us now. Still, the Spirit that moved Philip is present with us. Let us not, beloved, neglect our own salvation! “All these things are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come,” (1 Cor. 10: 11.) The reading of the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin; ignorance of the Scriptures is a great precipice and a deep gulf; to know nothing of the Scriptures, is a great betrayal of our salvation. This ignorance is the cause of heresies; this it is that leads to dissolute living; this it is that makes all things confused.

It is impossible—-I say, it is impossible, that any one should remain unbenefited who engages in persevering and intelligent reading. For see how much one parable [The rich man and Lazarus] has profited us! How much spiritual good it has done us! For many I know well have departed, bearing away abiding profit from the hearing; and if there be some who have not reaped so much benefit, still for that day on which they heard these things, they were rendered in every way better. And it is not a small thing to spend one day in sorrow on account of sin, and in consideration of the higher wisdom, and in affording the soul a little breathing time from worldly cares. If we can effect this at each assembly without intermission, the continued hearing would work for us a great and lasting benefit.

I can truthfully say that every time I have asked God to help me understand particular verses of Scripture He has eventually given me the light. Sometimes it is in a sermon I hear, sometimes in a conversation, and sometimes it comes from reading a commentary such as Discourse Three or the notes in my study Bible. In all cases, I had to do something to receive the understanding. I had to ask, seek, and knock, sometimes for quite awhile. But when the flash of light came, it was worth all the trouble.

We can never sit back and complain that it is too hard, or dismiss what we don’t understand as fictions, or say we don’t have time to seek the truth. If we do we will never be as holy as God wants us to be because we won’t be letting Him completely into our hearts.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

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