the_drama_of_salvation_1_1I’m very excited that my new book, The Drama of Salvation, is finally out!

This is the first full-length book I’ve had come out since the best-sellingThe Fathers Know Best.

We got the advance copies a few days ago, and the full shipment will be in our warehouse next week.

It’s going to be available in both hardback and electronic format. Both are available for pre-order right now.

However, I wanted to let you know about another edition that we also have coming out.

This Enhanced Edition is available with the hardback version of the book, and it comes with two bonuses:

1)   I’ll be autographing each copy, personally

2)   It will come with a special study guide that I wrote, with questions to help you get the most out of the book.

See below for how to get your copy.

 

An Important Topic

All of us—every man, woman, and child on earth—are caught up in a drama which will have eternal consequences. In this life, all of us are suspended between heaven and hell.

To rescue us, God sent his son—Jesus Christ—to offer his life on the Cross. This supreme act of sacrifice made salvation possible for all mankind.

Yet now, two thousand years later, few people understand what Jesus did or how it affects us.

Worse yet, there are endless arguments between Christians of different persuasions, leading to confusion on a massive scale.

That’s why I wrote The Drama of Salvation.

In it, I use Scripture and Church teaching to cut through the confusion and provide clear answers on important issues like:

  • What we need to do to be saved
  • Whether salvation is a one-time event or a process
  • Whether penance is part of God’s plan
  • What indulgences are
  • How faith and works relate
  • What the Church teaches about justification
  • How far apart Protestants and Catholics are on this question
  • Whether you have to be a Catholic (or a Christian) to be saved

I’m not aware of any other book that takes on these questions and deals with them in a concise and thorough way.

 

What People Are Saying

I’ve been very gratified by what people who have seen The Drama of Salvation have been saying about the book. For example, well-known author and speaker Steve Ray, said:

“This is a one-stop source to learn all the perspectives distilled down to an understandable and clear-cut conclusion. Using Scripture and Sacred Tradition Akin clears the fog and explains salvation for the scholar and the novice alike. This book should be in the hands of every person concerned with their eternal destiny.”

And Fr. Ronald Tacelli, co-author of the Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, wrote:

“At the banquet table of apologetics, Jimmy Akin’s The Drama of Salvation is the finest of fine crystal. It is a serious work by a serious and supremely gifted apologist on a topic of central concern for everyone.”

 

How to Get Your Autographed Copy of The Drama of Salvation

The special Enhanced Edition of The Drama of Salvationwith autograph and study guide—is available for those who donate to support the apostolic work of Catholic Answers.

If you’re able to give $55 or more then, as a thank you for your generosity, we’ll send you the Enhanced Edition of The Drama of Salvation.

If you’re able to give $75 or more, we’ll also include a hardcover copy of The Handbook of Indulgences, which is the Church’s official book of indulgences and includes the text of the many indulgences you can gain.

Finally, if you are able to give $125 or more, we’ll also include a copy of Tim Staples’ 5-CD set Last Call: The Catholic Teaching on Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.

Whatever amount you can afford, you have our sincere thanks.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you enjoy the book!

Click here to support Catholic Answers and get your autographed copy!

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st-paul-1 (1)Sometimes people in the Bible experience name changes. Some famous examples include Abram (Abraham), Jacob (Israel), and Simon (Cephas, Peter).

In each of these cases, there was a specific reason, and the new name had special significance (thus the name Peter means “Rock,” with Simon being the rock on which Jesus built his Church; Matt. 16:18).

Often, people propose that Paul belongs in this category.

 

Saul, also [called] Paul

When he’s first introduced in Acts, he’s known as Saul, but then later, once his ministry outside the Jewish community begins, Luke starts referring to him as Paul.

The transition point comes in Acts 13:9, where we read:

But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him [Elymas the magician] . . .

After that, Luke regularly refers to him as Paul (except in flashbacks dealing with Paul’s conversion).

Many have inferred that Paul changed his name at this point, and they’ve wondered what religiously-charged significance his new name might have.

 

What Paul Means

The name Paul (Latin, Paulus, also spelled Paullus) doesn’t seem to have much religiously-charged significance.

It means “small” or “little.”

One could try to see this as religiously significant (perhaps being a reflection of Paul’s own religious self-perception; cf. 1 Cor. 15:9 and Eph. 3:8, where Paul talks about himself as the least of the apostles and the least of the Lord’s people).

However, most scholars have thought this implausible and have sought a different explanation.

 

A Victory Title?

Some authors have proposed that Saul took the name Paul at this point because, in this very story, he converted the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus.

In this case, the name would represent a personal victory of his.

Taking names that reflected personal victories was not unknown in the Roman world. For example, the Roman general Scipio was famously granted the agnomen “Africanus” because of his victories in Africa during the Second Punic War. He thus became known as Scipio Africanus.

But this understanding of “Paul” is unlikely. Victory titles like “Africanus” were awarded by the state, and that is not in question here.

Further, Luke introduces the name before the conversion of Sergius Paulus, which occurs in 13:12.

He also doesn’t draw any connection to the conversion. He simply says that Saul is “also Paul” (literally from the Greek; kai ho Paulos).

 

A Culturally Friendly Name?

A more plausible view is that Saul began using the name Paul because it was more familiar to the Gentile audience to which he was now ministering.

This would be basically the same approach that many people take today when they are working in a different culture than the one they were raised in.

For example, a man from China with the name Shen might choose to be called Seán, Shawn, or Shaun when working in America.

Using a name that is familiar to those in the local culture can help smooth social interactions.

That’s something that could be particularly attractive for an evangelist, as a foreign-sounding name could make him seem more like the representative of an alien culture and hamper his ability to get his religious message across.

The use of Paul may thus have been part of Paul’s effort to be all things to all men in hopes of winning them to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

This still leaves a question, though . . .

 

Who Gave Paul the Name?

It is possible that Saul himself picked the name Paul when he began ministering to Gentiles, but Luke does not suggest this. He simply says that Saul was “also Paul.”

This raises the possibility that Saul had this name from his birth—that he didn’t give it to himself; his parents did.

Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38), which meant that he was a citizen of the city of Rome itself.

This means that, in addition to whatever name he went by in the Jewish community, Paul likely had an additional Roman name.

What’s more, he was born a citizen (Acts 22:25-29), which means that his Roman name was likely given to him by his parents, and specifically his father.

He thus was likely Paulus from birth.

 

How Roman Names Worked

Although this wasn’t true of everybody, Romans classically had three names, known as the tria nomina:

  1. Praenomen (“first name”): This was a person’s individual name.
  2. Nomen (“name”): This was a person’s family name.
  3. Cognomen (“co-name”): This was originally an additional personal name, often similar to what we would call a nickname, though its function changed over time. During the period of the empire, many people had multiple cognomens.

Thus the founder of the Roman Republic—Lucius Junius Brutus—had the personal name Lucius, he was of the Junius family, and he had the nickname Brutus (Latin, “the Dullard,” because he faked being simpleminded).

 

Saul, “the One Who Saunters”?

In his excellent book, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, E. Randolph Richards proposes that “Paul” was likely Saul’s cognomen, though he acknowledges it could also have been his first name or family name.

He writes:

Paul did not change his name from Saul to Paul when he began working with Gentiles.

Rather, he stopped using Saul, his first name and began using his surname when he moved into the Gentile world [p. 128].

What’s particularly interesting is the reason he suggests Paul started going by this name rather than Saul:

We cannot be sure why he made this change. Perhaps he was distancing himself from his Jewish heritage, but this is unlikely. We do not see Paul ashamed of his heritage.

More importantly, it is unlikely that the typical person on the street had ever heard of the Jewish king Saul from a thousand years earlier.

Paul likely avoided using Saul because of a very common problem in crosscultural work: one’s name means something negative in another’s language.

In a footnote, Richards adds:

My supernomen [nickname], “Randy,” carries a similar problem in some countries. My colleague Bobby found a problem with his name when working among Muslims in Malaysia. His name phonetically means “pig.”

So what unflattering meaning would Saulos have had? Richards continues:

In his case, Saulos had a negative meaning in normal Greek; prostitutes were said to walk in a provocative, or saulos, manner.

He then adds a footnote to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, noting that saulos can be defined as a “loose, wanton gait,” before continuing:

Since his hearers were unlikely to have heard of Saulos as a name, they might make the unfortunate conclusion that it was some sort of nickname.

Paul probably avoided this problem by using his surname, a common and quite reputable Roman name.

Interesting suggestion!

One can certainly see why a travelling evangelist might not want people thinking he had the nickname “the one who saunters.”

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pope-francis2

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 3 March 2015 to 24 March 2015.

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “May every Church and Christian community be a place of mercy amid so much indifference.” @Pontifex 23 March 2015
  • “Suffering is a call to conversion: it reminds us of our frailty and vulnerability.” @Pontifex 24 March 2015

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Crucifixion_of_PeterSome time ago, I made a surprising discovery in the Greek text of John’s Gospel.

In its final chapter, Jesus says to Peter:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”

(This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me” [John 21:18-19].

The surprising thing is in the parenthetical remark by John: “This he [Jesus] said to show by what death he [Peter] was to glorify God.”

Standard English translations render the final verbal phrase in the past tense (“was to glorify,” RSV, ESV) or with the subjunctive mood (“should/would glorify,” KJV, Douay).

But the Greek doesn’t have either a past tense or the subjunctive mood. Instead, the Greek verb is doksasei, which is in the future tense and the indicative mood.

You could translate the remark, “This he said to show by what death he will glorify God.”

I’ve done some checking on this translation–including checking with one of the best-known scholars of New Testament Greek today–and it’s legitimate. While you could translate the phrase the way it is normally rendered in English versions, the straightforward, future tense translation is also legitimate.

As far as I have been able to tell, the standard translation is motivated by the common belief that John’s Gospel was written late–e.g., in the A.D. 90s–long after Peter’s death in the A.D. 60s.

However, if you go with the straightforward, future tense translation then it suggests the opposite–that John’s Gospel was written early, before Peter’s death (likely in A.D. 67). The same is suggested by other things in the Gospel, which contains clues that it was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

My ears perked up, therefore, when the readings for the fifth Sunday of Lent caused something to click for me that hadn’t before.

They contained this passage, also from John:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

He said this to show by what death he was to die [John 12:32-33].

Notice how similar this is to the passage in which Jesus’ predicts the manner of Peter’s death. The two passages are so close that it would be hard not to see them as deliberate parallels on the part of the Evangelist: First he shows Jesus signifying the means of his own death, then he shows Jesus signifying the means of Peter’s death, and he makes strikingly similar parenthetical remarks to point out the significance of the two statements to the reader.

The two aren’t just similar in English. They are also close in Greek. But what I immediately wanted to know was: What was the Greek tense of the final verbal phrase in John 12:33?

If it was in the future tense then, since the Gospel was obviously written after Jesus’ death (which it records) then that would count as evidence that the later passage was also written after Peter’s death.

But if it wasn’t future tense then it could indicate that there was a difference about the relationship between when the Gospel was written and when the two deaths occurred.

As it turns out, the Greek phrase is ēmellen apothnēskein (“was/was about to die”), and the verb ēmellen (“he was about to”) is in the imperfect tense, which deals with past time (apothnēskein is an infinitive; “to die”).

This does not prove that the passage regarding Peter’s death was written before that event occurred, but it is another data point that is consistent with the idea that John was written before Peter’s death.

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 27 February 2015 to 17 March 2015.

Angelus

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Homilies

Letters

Speeches

Papal Tweets

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baby-missaletteRichard Becker, who describes himself as a “God-haunted lunatic,” has an entertaining rant against the use of missalettes at Mass.

Being a God-haunted lunatic myself, allow me to counter-rant in the same spirit.

In his piece, Becker poses a number of arguments against using missalettes at Mass. Let’s take a look at them:

 

1) The Argument from Van Morrison

Becker’s first argument compares going to Mass to going to a Van Morrison concert, which Becker indicates would be an incredibly thrilling experience for him.

I don’t know Van Morrison’s music myself, but fair enough. De gustibus non est disputandum.

Becker then asks whether, upon going to such a concert, he would Google the lyrics and read along with the stage performance. He says:

Noooo, of course not! I’d soak it all in – a total immersion, listening to and watching a great songwriter give voice to his own compositions, himself, in person! They’re songs I mostly know already by heart anyway, but even if I didn’t, why would I waste that exquisite privilege by reading along?

That’s what I think of when I go to church and see folks with their noses in the missalettes – those little booklets in the pew that contain all the readings and parts of the Mass. Worse still is when their eyes are glued to iPhones or other gadgets as they follow along on apps while the lector drones on pointlessly up front.

Allow me to draw your attention to some of Becker’s key words: “They’re songs I mostly know already by heart anyway.”

That’s a relevant difference. Most people at Mass don’t mostly know the scripture readings by heart anyway.

And far from diminishing the experience, for many members of the congregation, reading along enhances their experience of the readings.

That’s. Why. They. Do. It.

That’s also why people, including me, sometimes Google song lyrics. I don’t know if Becker ever does that, but I do. It’s one of the ways that I help avoid mondegreens.

So I don’t have a problem if people use missalettes at Mass—or, for that matter, their electronic equivalent.

On the other hand, if someone prefers not to use one, that’s fine, too.

And, if I may ask, why should Becker be dismayed by looking around at other people at Mass and seeing if and what they’re reading? On his theory, shouldn’t his attention be focused the lector, to drink in every detail of his proclamation of the readings?

At a Van Morrison concert, wouldn’t he be watching the stage performance and not the other members of the audience?

 

2) The Argument from College

Becker’s second argument also involves an analogy:

It’s like every college student’s worst nightmare: A professor that flashes one PowerPoint slide after another, reading them word for word. Then, as if to purposely add insult to injury, he’ll sometimes pass out lecture notes with the slides already on them. Torture.

As a college student, I had far worse nightmares than that, but I’ll acknowledge that I’d be annoyed if a professor did nothing more than read slides for 60 or 90 minutes.

That’s not what we’re talking about here.

The readings are short, and there are no more than three, max.

It’s more like when you are in a lecture and the professor stops to read an important passage word-for-word.

When that happens, students often turn to it in their textbooks and read it along with him, and they’re unlikely to mind if he reads three short passages from slides during the course of an overall lecture. (I’d also love it for the professor to pass out his own lecture notes!)

 

3) The Argument from the GIRM

Becker then mounts an argument based on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or GIRM:

“The readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone,” the General Instruction explains, “for they are an element of the greatest importance in the Liturgy.” Catch that? Listened to, not scanned, not perused. In the liturgy, the Word of God is meant to be uttered and received.

This argument is of particular interest to me, as the Church’s liturgical law is a subject I happen to know something about.

Unfortunately, the argument does not work because it places too much emphasis on the phrased “listened to,” as if it excludes simultaneous reading.

It doesn’t.

Consider this parallel, also from the GIRM:

The Christian faithful who come together as one in expectation of the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together Psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles (cf. Col 3: 16) [GIRM 39].

This does not mean that we shouldn’t simultaneously read the lyrics of the hymns we sing at Mass. It would be overtaxing the text to say that hymns should be sung, “not scanned, not perused.”

Or consider what the GIRM says about the priest saying the Collect (the opening prayer at Mass, which varies from day to day):

Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression [GIRM 54].

Catch that? The priest is to “pronounce” the Collect. It doesn’t say he should simultaneously read it, scan it, or peruse it. There’s nothing here about him reading from a written text.

 

4) The Alter Christus Argument

Becker then says:

Here’s more from the General Instruction: “When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel.”

The lector thus becomes another alter Christus, parallel to the priest who will confect the Eucharist and give us Jesus to eat. Dei Verbum makes this parallel quite explicit by insisting that in the Mass, the Church “unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body.”

So the lector’s job really is a vital one, but we treat it as if it were purely functional – a task that is required by the rubrics, yet largely irrelevant since we have the text so readily available, usually right there in the pew. “A reading from the First Letter of…,” the lector begins, which ought to put us on the edge of our seats. It’s Christ himself, after all, announcing his Word – the Logos, his very divine Self, enunciated for us, for me!

And yet, what’s our typical response? “Ho-hum (*yawn*), maybe I’ll grab the missalette and read along.”

I’d be rather cautious in saying that the lector “becomes another alter Christus, parallel to the priest.” I’m not familiar with this language being used in Church documents.

While there may be an element of truth here, if pressed to far, this analogy could flatten the sense in which the priest is uniquely an alter Christus.

Nevertheless, lectors—like all ministers at Mass—have an important role, though I question the characterization of people’s typical response as a ho-hum one.

My suspicion is that most people don’t read the missalette at all (though I could be wrong, because my attention is focused on the readings at this point).

To the extent that some of them do use the missalette, my interpretation would be that they are so engaged in the readings that they want to get as much out of them as possible and so they are following along in a way that they find helps them do this.

 

5) The Argument from Protestant Services

Becker argues:

When we’re at Mass, however, we should skip the missalette altogether lest we fall into what is essentially a Protestant approach to the Liturgy of the Word. In keeping with the Reformation precept that everyone should interpret the Bible for himself, many Protestants bring their own Bibles to church and read along as the Scriptures are read. It’s as if they’re checking up on the reader’s accuracy and precision – almost like rabbis peering over the shoulder of a young boy reading the Torah at his bar mitzvah. But if we’re reading, we’re not really listening, and the Liturgy of the Word becomes just another cerebral exercise instead of an incarnated, holistic epiphany.

“If we’re reading, we’re not really listening”? What? Sure we are! For many, that’s augmented listening.

I don’t know what Becker’s religious background is, but I used to be a Protestant, and I’m very familiar with the way many Protestant services are—essentially—Bible studies with hymns.

That’s not remotely what’s going on when Catholics read along using a missalette.

They’re not scrupulously checking up on the reader’s accuracy or precision or trying to test whatever interpretation against what the Scriptures actually say.

There is a difference between reading along so that you can get visual reinforcement of what you are hearing and taking a sola scriptura, “I’m going to interpret this for myself” approach.

 

6) The Argument from the Annunciation

Becker argues:

Sacred Scripture was meant to be received aurally in the liturgy, in the same way that classic iconography depicts the Blessed Mother receiving the Word of via a dove entering her ear. In fact, we call that blessed event the Annunciation because it was St. Gabriel’s “announcement” that itself realized the miracle of Jesus’ virginal conception. “Come and gaze upon this marvelous feat,” St. Athanasius attests, “the woman conceives through the hearing of her ears!” We’re called to do the same during the readings at Mass: To imitate Our Lady in receiving the Lord through hearing a proclamation, much as her cousin Elizabeth “received” an encounter with Jesus the moment she heard Mary’s greeting at the Visitation.

It’s true that Sacred Scripture is meant to be received aurally in the liturgy, but that does not mean it can’t also be receive visually.

This is a false either/or, whereas the Catholic approach is more frequently both/and.

That’s why there are missalettes in the Church in the first place, and why people have used daily missals at Mass for centuries: Because it helps some people to receive it both ways.

The appeal to the Annunciation does not disprove this. If it proved anything, it would prove too much. Why should the analogy be restricted to the liturgy? Why shouldn’t it be applied to every experience?

Bottom line: It’s hard to take exceptional events (like the Annunciation) and make universal rules from them.

 

A Role for Missalettes?

Becker does see some role for missalettes. He writes:

And the missalettes? Should we ditch them outright? I wouldn’t go that far, for there are circumstances when they do come in handy – and are even necessary. For instance, those who are hearing impaired have to rely on missalettes when there are no sign language interpreters or amplification devices available. Plus, let’s face it, sometimes it’s not easy to understand certain lectors, even if you want to.

I’m glad that Becker acknowledges that there is a legitimate role for missalettes, though I wouldn’t restrict it to uncommon cases like people who need a sign-language interpreter or when a lector is so bad at his job that he can’t be understood (in which case, he shouldn’t be lectoring; one of the requirements for the job is being able to read well in public).

The fact is that a lot of people find their experience of the readings augmented if they read along, and if this will help them more deeply assimilate God’s word, I say, more power to them! Read away!

On the other hand, if someone feels he’ll get more out of the readings simply by listening, more power to him, too!

It is more important that the people have a deeper experience of God’s word in the liturgy. How this happens is a secondary matter.

The fact that the Church has received the practice of the laity using missalettes or daily missals in Mass conveys an implicit blessing of the practice.

The fact that the Church has not mandated their use implies a blessing on the practice of simply listening as well.

 

De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum

Some years ago, I had a realization: It was very easy for me to read my personal preferences onto Catholic practice.

If I didn’t find something helpful to me, or otherwise to my taste, I wanted to suppose that it was somehow contrary to Catholic practice, or at least to the way Catholics should practice their faith.

I realized that I shouldn’t do this. As St. Paul wrote eloquently in 1 Corinthians 12-14, God did not make all Christians the same. The Body is not all one part. We all have different gifts, inclinations, and tastes.

I concluded from this that I need to respect the differences that God willed his people to have, and I should not insist that everyone have my own preferences.

If the Church permits something, that should be enough for me, and I shouldn’t look down my nose at those whose preferences are different than mine.

Subsequently, I have tried to take this principle to heart and internalize it. When I am tempted to go beyond what the Church requires, I try to stop and ponder: Is this really something that the Church has a rule about? Or am I in danger of imposing a pious little legalism of my own?

If I conclude it’s the latter, I resolve to mind my own business, to practice my faith in a way that I find helps me, and to respect those with other preferences.

After all, I should rejoice that they are practicing their faith and trying to grow closer to God, even if their way of doing that is different than mine.

 

Implications for the Lector?

I’d like to close with a note of encouragement for lectors who may be chagrined at seeing people use missalettes or daily missals. In commenting on how some lectors are difficult to understand, Becker writes:

I know for myself that if I’m up front reading, and I see folks reaching for their missalettes, I automatically assume that I’m doing a lousy job – that my “proclamation” is not “audible and intelligible” as the Catechism says it should be.

Still, I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself, because I know that many of us grab the missalette and open it up out of habit, regardless of how good the lector is.

I agree that Becker is being too hard on himself. I’d encourage him to take a positive and charitable view if he happens to see people using missalettes when he reads.

It isn’t that he’s doing a bad job. It’s that they want to get even more out of the readings, and this is a way that they have determined they can do that.

Good for them!

And good for Becker for his service to the Church as a lector!

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PopeFrancis-finger

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 2 February 2015 to 3 March 2015.

Angelus

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Messages

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “Jesus intercedes for us each day. Let us pray: Lord, have mercy on me; intercede for me!” @Pontifex 28 February 2015
  • “The heart grows hard when it does not love. Lord, give us a heart that knows how to love.” @Pontifex 3 March 2015

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elijahMany Catholics are aware that Jesus “opened the gates of heaven” and allowed the righteous dead to go there.

The Catechism even says it:

CCC 637 In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.

This leads to a question that comes up periodically: What about figures like Enoch and Elijah, who seem to have been assumed into heaven prior to the time of Christ?

The obvious answer, I’ve always held, is that they were exceptions. As a general rule, heaven was not open to those who lived before the time of Christ, but God is omnipotent, and he can make exceptions if he chooses.

Some of the people I’ve discussed this with seem to struggle with it, and I haven’t understood the source of their difficulty.

God can clearly give the blessings of the Christian age to someone prior to the time of Christ, on the basis of what Christ did. After all, that’s why the Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived. The Catechism explains:

CCC 492 The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: She is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.”

CCC 508 From among the descendants of Eve, God chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of his Son. “Full of grace”, Mary is “the most excellent fruit of redemption” (SC 103): from the first instant of her conception, she was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life.

If God could apply the redemption Christ wrought to Mary before his death and resurrection, then he could similarly apply its fruits to others as well—at least on an exceptional basis.

And the way that Enoch and Elijah’s lives concluded was clearly exceptional.

In Enoch’s case, Genesis 5:24 says that God “took” him, but doesn’t say where. Sirach 44:16 and 49:14 make it clear that he was taken up from the earth, and Hebrews 11:5 adds “so that he should not see death.”

In Elijah’s case, 2 Kings 2:11 states that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” First Maccabees 2:58 adds, “Elijah because of great zeal for the Law was taken up into heaven.”

Both 2 Kings and 1 Maccabees both use the ordinary Hebrew and Greek words for “heaven” (shamayim and ouranos, respectively)—indicating that heaven was where they went.

Recently I was rereading St. John Paul II’s general audience on heaven and noticed that he also acknowledged this:

The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11) [General Audience, July 21, 1999].

It thus seems that John Paul II—who is now himself in heaven—acknowledged the exceptional nature of Enoch and Elijah’s admission to that blessed realm.

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Doctor-Who-death-in-heaven

We discuss the second part of the Doctor Who finale of series 8, “Death in Heaven”. Love, Life, Death and the survival of the human soul: big themes in this epic finale of this season of Doctor Who. How well did the writers wrap up this year’s story line? Hear our thoughts in this episode of ‘Secrets of Doctor Who’.

Join Jimmy Akin, Fr. Cory Sticha, Dom Bettinelli and Fr. Roderick for discussion, analysis and speculation!

Click this link to listen or use the player on the web site.

Links for this episode:

Check out Jimmy Akin’s blog Let’s Watch Doctor Who and Dom Bettinelli & Fr. Roderick’s podcast Secrets of Star Wars! Subscribe to the Feed | Subscribe with iTunes

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Jesus appeared to three of his disciples in the mysterious event known as the Transfiguration. What was happening here? What did it mean? Here are 10 things you need to know!

The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent commemorates the mysterious event known as the Transfiguration.

This event is hard to understand. Why did it happen? What did it mean?

Here are 10 things you need to know.

 

1. What does the word “transfiguration” mean?

The word “transfiguration” comes from the Latin roots trans- (“across”) and figura (“form, shape”). It thus signifies a change of form or appearance.

This is what happened to Jesus in the event known as the Transfiguration: His appearance changed and became glorious.

Before looking at the Transfiguration itself, it’s important that we look at what happened immediately before it in Luke’s Gospel.

 

2. What happened right before the Transfiguration?

In Luke 9:27, at the end of a speech to the twelve apostles, Jesus adds, enigmatically:

“There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

This has often been taken as a prophecy that the end of the world would occur before the first generation of Christians died out.

The phrase “kingdom of God” can also refer to other things, though, including the Church–the outward expression of God’s invisible kingdom.

The kingdom is embodied in Christ himself and thus might be “seen” if Christ were to manifest it in an unusual way, even in his own earthly life.

 

3. Did such a manifestation occur?

Yes, and it is the very next thing that Luke relates: the Transfiguration.

Pope Benedict states that it has been . . .

. . . convincingly argued that the placing of this saying immediately before the Transfiguration clearly relates it to this event.

Some—that is to say, the three disciples who accompany Jesus up the mountain—are promised that they will personally witness the coming of the Kingdom of God ‘in power.’

On the mountain the three of them see the glory of God’s Kingdom shining out of Jesus. On the mountain they are overshadowed by God’s holy cloud. On the mountain—in the conversation of the transfigured Jesus with the Law and the Prophets—they realize that the true Feast of Tabernacles has come. On the mountain they learn that Jesus himself is the living Torah, the complete Word of God. On the mountain they see the ‘power’ (dynamis) of the Kingdom that is coming in Christ” (Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, p. 317).

We thus may have the key to understanding Jesus’ mysterious statement just before the Transfiguration. He wasn’t talking about the end of the world. He was talking about this.

In fact, Luke notes that the Transfiguration took place “about eight days after these sayings,” thus stressing its proximity to them and suggesting that it was the fulfillment of this  saying, concerning the fact that some of them would see the kingdom of God. Mark gives a different number of days, saying it was “after six days” (Mk. 9:2), but these both approximate a week.

 

4. Who witnessed the Transfiguration?

The three who are privileged to witness the event are Peter, James, and John, the three core disciples. (Andrew was not there or not included.)

The fact that Jesus only allowed three of his disciples to witness the event may have sparked the discussion which swiftly ensued about which of the disciples was the greatest (Luke 9:46).

Click here to watch a video about how Jesus answered this question.

 

5. Where did the Transfiguration take place?

Luke states that Jesus took the three “on the mountain to pray.”

This mountain is often thought to be Mt. Tabor in Israel, but none of the gospels identify it precisely.

Click here to learn more about Mt. Tabor (though be aware that the gospels do not actually say which mountain it was).

 

6. Why did the Transfiguration take place?

The Catechism explains it this way:

Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent onto the ‘high mountain’ prepares for the ascent to Calvary.

Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: ‘the hope of glory’ [CCC 568].

 

7. What does Luke–in particular–tell us about this event?

Luke mentions several details about the event that the other evangelists do not:

  • He notes that this happened while Jesus was praying.
  • He mentions that Peter and his companions “were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”
  • He mentions that Peter made his suggestion to put up booths as Moses and Elijah were departing.

 

8. Why do Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain?

Moses and Elijah represent the two principal components of the Old Testament: the Law and the Prophets.

Moses was the giver of the Law, and Elijah was considered the greatest of the prophets.

The fact that these two figures “spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” illustrates that the Law and the Prophets point forward to the Messiah and his sufferings.

This foreshadows Jesus’ own explanation, on the road to Emmaus, of the Scriptures pointing to himself (cf. Lk. 24:27, 32).

 

9. Why was Peter’s suggestion misguided?

The fact that Peter’s suggestion occurs when Moses and Elijah are preparing to depart reveals a desire to prolong the experience of glory. This means Peter is focusing on the wrong thing.

The experience of the Transfiguration is meant to point forward to the sufferings Jesus is about to experience. It is meant to strengthen the disciples faith, revealing to them in a powerful way the divine hand that is at work in the events Jesus will undergo. This is why Moses and Elijah have been speaking “about his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Peter misses the point and wants to stay on the mountain, contrary to the message the two heavenly visitors have been expounding.

As a seeming rebuke of this, a theophany occurs: “A cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’”

 

10. What can we learn from this event?

The Transfiguration was a special event in which God allowed certain apostles to have a privileged spiritual experience that was meant to strengthen their faith for the challenges they would later endure. But it was only a temporary event. It was not meant to be permanent.

In the same way, at certain times in this life, God may give certain members of the faithful (not all of the faithful, all the time), special experiences of his grace that strengthen their faith.

We should welcome these experiences for the graces they are, but we should not expect them to continue indefinitely, nor should we be afraid or resentful when they cease.

They may have been meant only as momentary glimpses of the joy of heaven to sustain us as we face the challenges of this life, to help strengthen us on the road that will–ultimately–bring us into the infinite and endless joy of heaven.

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