The Particulars of Rapture

I’ve borrowed the title of this post from a book by Torah and Talmud scholar, Avivah Zornberg, who wrote a book on Exodus by the same name. In an radio interview I was recently listening to, Zornberg presented a beautiful reflection on the Israelite’s crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 15.  One of the things she stresses throughout the interview is the need to move beyond what may from the outset seem like something of a children’s story, and into the deeper and vastly complex realities within this pinnacle event which has shaped the life of the Jewish people, as well as Christianity.

As I mentioned, one of my favorite segments came as a meditation on the deeper reality of the crossing of the Red Sea. Zornberg–drawing on ancient midrashic tradition–says that if we read carefully the text of what is called the hymn of Moses–in which the Israelites rejoice in their salvation from Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and riders, who have been buried in the waves of the sea–we see that the people are not merely singing after they have been saved, but while they are still in the midst of the parted waters. She says that,

the song is an expression not just of jubilation, but of the human situation. Of being in the middle; of being full of fear; the sense of life and death in the balance; seeing what can happen to human beings all around them; and that, there but by the grace of God go I. And so the song is not a simple ditty. It’s a song that human beings sing in the face of mortality.

The text itself says that even while the waters crash down upon the armies of Pharaoh, the Israelites have not reached the end yet. They are, Exodus tells us, walking “on dry ground in the midst of the sea” even as they cry out, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:19, 21).  Zornberg says that,

If one imagines it as people still in that rather menacing corridor, which they know can collapse, because it just has behind them, then the song becomes a different song; and it’s a song of human beings at the edge, between death and life; celebrating life…but at the edge.

In many ways, this is the situation we live in today. Death, sin, violence is all around us. War, corruption, Christians at one anothers’ throats. We know that at any moment we might be overtaken, but in this moment, God’s grace is present. Do we believe that God is actively in the process of saving us even though we are not yet out of the woods? This, I think, is what true Christian hope consists in: knowing that while death seems to have the final word over the present world, Christ has conquered this world and is actively creating a new one–made, no less, out of the material of this fallen world! As the Christian fathers suggest, the same waters which silenced Pharaoh’s armies were the waters in which Israel received a sort of baptism into God’s covenant. God is calling Christians to trudge on through the intimidating waters. We, if anyone, should know that there is light at the other end of the tunnel, that there is hope in the midst of darkness. Jesus proved this, showing us that even crucifixion–the most brutal form of death the world had to offer–could not defeat him. Particularly in this Easter season, if we cannot carry this hope–the hope that suffering really can lead to life–and carry it like an emblem within ourselves as we struggle through the darkness of our times, who is the rest of an increasingly hopeless world supposed to look to?

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The Mass Decoded

Ever wonder what’s really going on at Mass? Ever been asked the question, ‘why do Catholics do that–is it in the Bible?’ Wonder no more! This summer the faculty of the Biblical School will be leading a 5-week journey through the Biblical background of the Mass every Wednesday in June. 

Spots will be filling up fast, so visit to find out about specific talk titles, dates and to sign up today!

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Letters from Creation

For the last couple of days, the weather around our house here in Colorado has been gorgeous; a welcome relief from the cold Rocky Mountain winter. This sunshine and warmth, along with the recent arrival of daylight savings time have combined to make me deliriously happy this week. I awoke this morning however, hoping for a balmy morning run, to find the temperature quite chilly and the familiar feeling of rain and snow in the air. This reality (that it’s really only early April, and not mid-May as the recent weather had suggested) reminded me of an important truth this time of year. Nature itself was reminding me that despite the feeling of summer that had permeated yesterday, summer has not yet arrived. Not coincidentally, I needed a gentle nudge from mother nature to remind me likewise, that Easter had not yet arrived, and that we were, in fact, still dwelling in the relative darkness of lent.

There is a great deal of wisdom in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Vigen Guroian, a Armenian Orthodox theologian (and gardener–not coincidentally) muses about the apt chronological construction of the liturgical calendar. He says,

I have begun to understand the wisdom in the Armenian Church’s stubborn persistence in celebrating Jesus’ birth and baptism together on the sixth of January, as was the ancient practice. Jesus’ birth shines light into this darkling world and commences the death of Death itself. His baptism reveals this world’s true Maker and Ruler and the path of repentance, self-renunciation and sacrificial love that each of us must travel to inherit eternal life. In the same manner, by our personal baptism we not only receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and adoption as sons and daughters of God; we also recapitulate Jesus’ crucifixion, death burial and resurrection. (The Fragrance of God)

Likewise, St. Gregory of Nyssa reminds us that,

the Sun of Justice rose in this cruel winter, the spring came, the south wind dispelled that chill, and together with the rising of the sun’s rays warmed everything that lay in our path. Thus mankind, that had been chilled into stone, might become warm again through the Spirit, and receiving heat from the rays of the Word, might become again as water leaping up into eternal life. (From Glory to Glory)

Our disconnectedness from the created world confuses not only our senses but also our spiritual sensibilities. Could it be the Church understood that the rhythms God built into the earth actually serve as reminders of Him; signposts directing and constantly calling us back to Him? If the Fathers of the Church and the ancient rabbis were correct, then God really wrote two books of Scripture. The first, they claimed, was the book of creation itself; a book which actually teaches us how to better read the second book, that of the written Scriptures.  It’s no wonder then, that the Bible constantly evokes natural metaphors (“the just man is like a tree planted by water…” Psalm 1, “Consider the lilies of the field” Matthew 6:28, etc.).

So I’m grateful. As much as I’d like to go out for a long bike ride, or take my kayak out on the river today, I can’t. The time will come, but it’s not yet. We know indeed that just as surely as the leaves will return to the trees, the crocuses bloom with colorful buds, and the rivers run full again in late spring, that the same Christ who died on a cross on Good Friday, like a tree shedding its leaves and heading for its yearly death, will return renewed and glorious on Easter morning. Really, it seems that the brilliance of God’s created world is that everyone who has seen a tree which appears to die in the fall and knows that come spring, that tree will be resurrected to life once again, has been prepared for the mystery of the cross. Coincidence? I think not. As Jesus said, foreshadowing his own Eucharistic sacrifice, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a grain of wheat.”

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The Parade of the Cross

This lenten season, I’ve been trying to meditate on just what it was that Jesus accomplished when he was nailed to the cross that Friday so many years ago. Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us an interesting insight–and one we probably don’t often think about. In Colossians 2:15, while speaking about the reality of Christ nailed to the cross, he says that Jesus “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” In the original Greek, the term Paul uses for “public example” is actually the word ”parade”. So literally, he says that Christ paraded the principalities and powers of Satan when he was on the cross.

Interestingly, it was the Romans who invented the concept of parades. For them, parades primarily served the purpose of showing off their military victories to other residents of the empire. One of the major features of the Roman parades entailed marching members of the defeated party through the city stripped naked in order to publicly shame them. Indeed, crucifixion itself was a sort of mini parade in which Rome was able to publicly shame any who dared cross her.

But here, Paul says that when Jesus hung on the cross, naked and shamed, he was, in fact, making a “parade” out of the principalities and powers of Satan. This is completely counter-intuitive! Although it seemed as though Jesus himself was being shamed, what the Romans could not see, and what we often miss as well, is that Jesus was actually parading the defeat of the powers of death by his own death on the cross. Death itself was hung on the cross and displayed powerless for all to see. This, I think, is a profound meditation, and one that I certainly have to spend some more time chewing and praying over.  If this is the reality of Jesus when he accepts his suffering in love, what might God be able to accomplish when we embrace our own crosses?

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Dr. Peter Kreeft is Coming to Town!

Save the date! On March 4th, the Catholic Biblical School will be celebrating it’s “Servant of the Word” Banquet honoring Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College. Dr. Kreeft will be recieving our award this year for the great strides he has made in making the Word of God and the teachings of the Church accessable and applicable to the lives of so many Catholics and non Catholics alike. We will be celebrating at Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Boulder beginning at 5:30 pm with a Mass celebrated by Bishop James Conley followed at 6:45 pm by a silent auction, dinner and a talk by Dr. Kreeft.

The following day, March 5th, Dr. Kreeft will be giving a workshop from 8:30 am-3 :00 pm at Christ the King Parish in Denver on the topic of “The Four Last Things–Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.” Please join us for either or both of these exciting events!

Visit or call the Biblical School offices at 303-715-3195 to register today–you won’t want to miss this powerful weekend!

You can also visit Dr. Kreeft’s website to learn more about him and his many books and even listen to a sample lecture:

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The Mute and the Lame- Paralysis of Word and Deed

We’re back from a brief Christmastime respite with a new meditation from Derek Barr in our ongoing series on Jesus’ healings!

By Derek Barr

Have you ever had the sensation around 3 am, when all is dark and quiet, and unexpectedly you hear an out-of-place noise or glimpse an unexplained motion, and you are suddenly paralyzed in both speech and physical response?  You want to scream or jump up and run or fight, but all you can do is lay there motionless and speechless?  What causes this?  Certainly nothing is pinning you down or holding your mouth shut, but you are completely paralyzed in word and deed.  The answer is fear.  It is an internal prison where you are restrained both verbally and physically and, at least for a moment, you are helpless.

This type of fear is usually short lived as once your brain is able to discern that the noise was the weak wall hook giving way to gravity or the movement was the cat jumping from dresser to bed, it gives you permission to relax.  You are free to speak or act at will.  There are other types of fear, however, that cause one to become unable to speak or to perform deeds; this fear is long term and may hold someone in slavery for years or even the rest of their life.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus healing the mute and the lame, those who are paralyzed in speech and in action.  Unlike the blind and the deaf, the mute can see and hear the truth, but their mouth is unable to confess the truth.  Spiritual muteness is the fear to commit one’s life to something greater than one’s self, thus immobilizes one’s mouth.  They do not trust themselves, or even God, to help them follow the Lord in a righteous manner.  They believe if they do not confess the truth or commit by proclaiming their faith, they will not be held accountable and can continue just blabbering along in life.  They avoid saying anything that may be of substance or commitment for fear that they might actually be held to their confession. 

The spiritually lame are similar to the mute in that they can see and hear the truth, can even confess it, but are paralyzed from acting on it.  They live in fear of the rest of the world; “How will they respond to my belief, confession, and Christian action?”  They are immobilized from engaging in good deeds, those deeds that proceed from love of God and neighbor.  They cannot perform the works of mercy, spiritual or corporal, out of fear that someone might think that they are a Christian and be offended by blatant Christian acts.  He or she might think, “It might be politically incorrect of me to act and demonstrate the Christian life.”  Since the 1960s, this has been one of the devil’s greatest weapons against the Catholic Church.  They are allowed to believe what they want, but they dare not reach out to affect the world; they are to be invisible and quiet in order to be tolerated by secular society.  Jesus taught that only love will bring peace; we must love our enemies, not simply tolerate them or –-in the words of a popular bumper sticker—“coexist” with them.  To tolerate is to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of someone or something without prohibition or hindrance (  You simply coexist, without trying to correct your brother who may be destined to an eternity outside of God’s presence.  If you had a friend who thought he could fly off of a tall building by just flapping his arms, would you simply tolerate his view, or just coexist with him in his view?  If you did, you would watch him plunge to his death.  This is not love.  If you loved him, you would confront him and lead him away from such self-destructive beliefs.  You would lead him to the truth.  Jesus calls us to do more than just tolerate or coexist with the world; He calls us to love the people of the world.  He calls us to love them so much that we bring them to our God, so they too can know Him, come to love Him, and be with Him forever.

In the Gospels, Jesus gave comfort by His presence, freeing the mouth to confess the truth.  In Mark 7:37, the people were astonished beyond measure that Jesus brought the mute to speak. It is only through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can speak the truth.  It is only through Jesus that we can be freed from the fear of committing to Him and confessing Him as our Lord.  Paul tells us in Romans 10:9 that, if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that Jesus rose from the dead, we will have the salvation that Jesus brings to us through our baptism (CCC 14,186, 449).  John Paul II said, “The word of faith, the word of salvation, is the word of conversion: from this death which is sin, to the life which is in Christ, crucified and risen.” (Homily Feb 12, 1989) In Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:10 Paul tells us that we die with Jesus in our baptism and are buried with him, but we are also raised with Christ, and as a raised people we confess Him as our Lord (CCC 537, 1227).  In Act 2:38, Peter lays out the formula for our salvation: first we must speak (specifically, we must repent), and second we must act (specifically, be baptized in the name of the Lord) (CCC 1226). We must speak and act.  We cannot be mute or lame in following the Lord.

We must confess our sins, the Apostle John tells us that we have no reason to fear a commitment to the Lord for fear we might sin because he says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, CCC 1847).

As for the fear of what others might think, we should contemplate the words of Jesus in Luke 9:26: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”  If one must fear what others might think of them, only one opinion really counts.  

Fear is an enemy that will defeat us if we allow it; it paralyzes our speech and our action.  Jesus is the cure to this fear, because He is perfect Love.  Again, the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” If we call on Him, He will cast out the fear that causes our inability to speak the truth or act on the truth, leading us to freedom.  As John Paul II said, “Salvation means freedom from fear. Perfect love foras mittit timorem (casts out all fear).  Let us seek the ways which lead from fear to love!” (Homily December 13, 1984)

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What are you doing to flex your Advent muscles this year?

What are you doing to prepare for Advent this year? The Biblical School is offering a unique opportunity to deepen your understanding of this most familiar of liturgical seasons. On Wednesday, December 1st, Scott Powell and Ben Akers will be presenting a free lecture on the meaning of Advent and the Scriptural roots of the Christmas story. Come hear the story come alive at the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization’s Bonfill’s Hall on December 1st from 7-9 pm. It’s free, so bring a friend or family member!

If you can’t make the class on December 1st, Scott will be offering the presentation again at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish in Boulder on December 6th from 7-9 pm. This event is also free.

Don’t let this Advent pass you by without delving into the profound mystery of Christ’s incarnation.

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