LAYING THE FOUNDATION
THE BIBLE & THE CHURCH:
Thank you very much. We have a lot to cover and I hope that you brought your Bibles tonight. Ruffle the pages a little bit so I can be assured that you did. What I would like to do in our time this evening is to focus upon how we as Catholic Christians should relate to the Scripture, and how we as Catholic Christians can help our non-Catholic brothers and sisters understand the Church's teaching with regard to Scripture. That's why the title of the talk is rather provocative: The Bible and the Church, Both or Neither. In titling the talk in that way, I'm throwing down the gauntlet. I'm challenging Catholics and non-Catholics to rethink some old practices and to perhaps break old habits.
Many non-Catholic believers are convinced that the Bible alone is not merely sufficient, but exclusive as an authority for our faith and for our practice as believers. There are many Catholic theologians in good standing with the Church who might contend for the material sufficiency of the Bible: that everything we need to believe and everything we need to do is somehow contained in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly. So it isn't just that the Protestants say, "The Bible is sufficient," because many Catholic theologians can contend that as well. But the non-Catholic, the Bible Christians, the fundamentalist says, "The Bible alone is our sole and exclusive authority. It is the only form in which we find the word of God binding for believers today." I want to challenge the non-Catholic brother or sister in Christ who is either here tonight or who will hear these words on tape or who will get into a conversation with you when you patiently and gently explain the Church's position. I want to challenge them to reread Scripture and to discover that that position is anti-Scriptural and it runs contrary to many different passages that are found both in the Old and New Testaments.
I also have something in store for the Catholics as well. I want to throw down the gauntlet and challenge you to recognize the fact that it's the Bible and the Church, both or neither. If you say, "Well, I'm close to the Church. I've got devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I attend daily Mass, I go to frequent confession, but I don't understand the Bible." Then I want to suggest to you, that if you listen closely to the Church that you supposedly adhere to so closely, you'll discover that there is something woefully deficient, seriously defective about your own relationship to the Church. Because one can't say, "I have the Church, I don't need the Bible," or, "I have the Pope and the blessed Virgin Mary and the holy Eucharist I don't really need to study Scripture." If you're saying that, then you're saying it in a flagrant disobedience to what the popes throughout this century and many other ages have declared, have commanded, have suggested, taught, and invited lay people to do.
Catholic Position Regarding Scripture
Let's take a step back and just remind ourselves of what the Church teaches about Sacred Scripture. Perhaps the best place to turn, just from the very beginning, would be to Vatican II. In 1965 we have one of the most important documents of the century issued, not just for theologians, not just for bishops and priests, but for the ordinary "Joe Six-pack" in the pews. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation is meant for you every bit as much as for the priest here or the Bishop of your diocese. Listen to chapter six, "Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church." There we read the Council Fathers declaring the following: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy she 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 there's an analogy here between the Eucharist and Sacred Scripture.
It goes on, "She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with Sacred Tradition as the supreme rule of Faith since, as inspired by God, and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the Word of God Himself without change." In other words, for the Catholic believer the Word of God alone is supreme. Recognize that we need to make it clear to the non-Catholic believers that we are bound by God's Word and God's Word alone. It's just that the Scriptures aren't the only source for God's Word, just as the Scriptures themselves declare.
We're going to look at 2 Thessalonians 2:15 in just a few moments. There Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they must hold fast to whatever the traditions are that the apostles have passed down either in writing or by word of mouth. So Scripture insists that the Scriptures are not the only source for God's Word; we have Sacred Tradition as well, oral tradition as vouched, as attested by the New Testament itself. The point that I just made a moment ago can be simply stated this way: We do not believe in Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone but we do believe in Solum Verbum Dei, the Word of God alone. It's just wrong to say, "The Word of God is found in the Bible alone." It's contrary to Scripture itself.
Vatican II goes on to say that through Scripture "the Voice of the Holy Spirit resounds in the words of the prophets and the Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all of the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the Sacred Books, the Father who is in Heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them." That, I believe is the heart of it all. It isn't simply that we receive the propositions we must believe; it isn't simply that we receive the moral instruction that we must practice; it's really that we as God's children hear the voice of our Father speaking to us from Heaven, through living oracles, so that we might develop a more intimate friendship with Christ. That's the overarching purpose for Sacred Scripture as the Church teaches it.
The force and power in the Word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church. So it's not just a love letter from our Father in Heaven, it's the force and the power and the energy that we need as believers and the Church needs to support its own life, the strength of faith for her own sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.
So how can Catholic Christians get away with neglecting Scripture, without flagrantly disobeying the Pope and the Council, and the Fathers and the bishops and the priests? How can we appease our conscience by saying, "We don't need to study Scripture because Scripture study is too difficult" -- without flagrantly neglecting, rejecting the commandment of God that reaches us through the Church? It's the Church and the Bible, both or neither! We might say, "We believe that." But, does your lifestyle reflect that? Are you soaking in Scripture? Are you studying it? Are your reading it? Maybe a little bit a day. Maybe a lot each week. But if you won't study God's Word, you won't know God. St. Jerome declared so clearly, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." We've got to read the Bible in the Church because this is the map of the City of God. If you want to know your way around the New Jerusalem, if you want to feel at home in Heaven, you better learn the map. If you want to understand what you receive in Holy Communion, if you want to understand how to communicate the truth of the Holy Eucharist to people who've departed from the Church, who've abandoned the Bread of Life, then you better study the menu, you better learn the ingredients, you better learn about the Passover and the recipe that God prepared for centuries before he finally delivered the Bread of Life in the Eucharistic Liturgy. We cannot excuse ourselves any longer.
We have 20 - 25 million Catholics in the United States who are still aligned with the Church, but I think you all know that the second largest religious grouping now in the United States is not the Southern Baptist Convention anymore; that's 14 million. We now have 15 million fallen-away Catholics. That is the second largest religious grouping in our land. We can't blame the bishops. We can't blame the Pope for not excommunicating so and so, we can't blame the priests for allowing some things to happen in our parish that don't please us. The problem begins and the problem ends with me and with you. I mentioned earlier this afternoon (Program 2) one of the most astonishing statements that comes to us from a Doctor of the Church, St. Theresa of Avila, declared a Doctor this century, one of the two women Doctors, along with St. Catherine of Siena. Here's what she says. St. Theresa of Avila was taught by God that, "All troubles of the Church, all the evils in the world, flow from this source: that men do not by clear and sound knowledge and serious consideration penetrate into the truths of Sacred Scripture." Period. That's strong. All the troubles in the Church and all evil in the world could be alleviated by our learning, and loving and living God's Word in Sacred Scripture. Do we trust God? Do we trust the Church? Do we hear what the Doctors of the Church have declared? This has been the consistent testimony of the Saints and Doctors and all the way back to the Fathers of the Church in the first few centuries. We cannot afford this neglect anymore.
I am not suggesting that the solution to our problem is more Scripture scholars. We've got boat loads of them, and that in many ways is a source of the crisis because so many Scripture scholars have drunk from the wells of rationalism or anti-supernaturalism or existentialism and now they end up de-historicizing God's Word, de-supernaturalizing the miracles in Scripture. We don't need Scripture scholars so much as we need Scripture junkies, people who are addicted to God's Word, people who don't want to live a day without at least meditating on a Gospel passage. I don't ever want to be known as a Scripture scholar; I get uncomfortable when I am introduced that way. I'd much rather be called a Scripture junkie. I want to deepen my addiction to God's Word, I want to encourage you to as well. A bold suggestion: bring your Bibles to Mass. An even bolder suggestion that I scratched out of my sheet here: consider getting rid of cheap throwaway missalettes which I truly suspect condition people to regard God's Word as disposable. It was interesting; I was at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and I noticed that one of the students accidentally dropped a missalette. A Third Order Franciscan walked by, picked up the missalette, kissed it and put it back in the pew. The missalette gives us the Word of God. And I am concerned because these cheap, paperback, throwaway missalettes, condition people unconsciously to regard God's Word as just disposable. It's not disposable; it's indispensable.
Challenges From Scripture and the Church
Listen to the Word of God in Hebrews 4, verse 12, "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Do you want to know what Jesus Christ thinks of you? Do you want to live in a way that truly pleases Him? You can't know how to please Him without meditating upon the Gospels. You won't even know what Jesus Christ is like without contemplating the stories. You've got to get to know Him in a personal, intimate way and Sacred Scripture is essential for that.
Hebrews 5 verse 11-14, the writer says, "About this we have much to say which is hard to explain." The writer of Scripture here in Hebrews 5 acknowledges that what he is about to talk about is difficult to understand. Why is that? He goes on to say, "Since you have become dull of hearing." This is not a new 20th century problem. This goes back to the first century. People are easily falling into the temptation of dullness, of indifference towards Scripture. He says to them, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers...." In other words he's addressing people who have been in the Church for years and years, so they should be signing up for the first century CCD classes to teach the young people. But he says, "No, you need someone to explain to you the very first principles of God's Word." The ABC's. "You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the work of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature." Do you want to grow up as a child of God? Do you want to mature as a son or a daughter of the Most High God? Do you want to have the power, the wisdom, patience, the skill in bringing back people that you love, people that you know, people that you work with to the Lord in His family? That's why we're here.
In Matthew chapter 22, verse 29, Jesus declares in speaking to the Sadducees, "You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God." We have to know the Scriptures but again, hear God's Word: we need the power of God. We need the Spirit of Christ to illuminate the text to make it meaningful for us today. And what I declared last night (Program 2) as a teaching of the Church is something that the popes have always declared: the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Mystical Body. That being the case, we have to read the Bible, but we have to read it in the Church and with the Church and for the Church, because the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures and illuminates them for our understanding is the Soul of the Mystical Body.
Listen to what happens to ancient Israel because they neglect God's Word and what happens especially when the priests neglect their tasks and duty of proclaiming and explaining God's Word. From Hosea 4 verse 1, "Hear the Word of the Lord," Hosea declares, "for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land." That word in Hebrew, for controversy, Reve, is literally a covenant lawsuit. God has a covenant lawsuit to lodge against His people. "For there is no faithfulness or kindness, no knowledge of God in the land. There is," get this, "swearing, lying, stealing, committing adultery." Sound familiar? "Yet, let no one contend and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest." He says, "I'm not going to rebuke the people who are living like pagans, I'm not going to rebuke the hypocrites in the temple or the synagogue, my contention is with you priests." "You shall stumble by day and the prophets shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother" - which refers to the city where they worship -- "for my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Do you hear what the Lord said? "My people" - in the Hebrew that word is 'am, that word literally means kinsmen, it means my family, my children, are wasting away, for what? Lack of knowledge. "Because you priests have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of God, I also will forget your children and it shall be, like people, like priest. I will punish them for their ways and requite them for their deeds."
I believe with all my heart this is a Word of God for us, for here and for now. We are going to be destroyed even as we are now being destroyed as a Church in this land. As a society embroiled in secularism and relativism and humanism, we are wasting away because we don't know God and we don't know God because we've rejected knowledge. We have found better things to do with our leisure time. We have found more entertaining things to do with our money and our energy. So don't blame anybody. I'll blame myself and join me because we have not yet begun to obey. We have not yet begun to love God's Word as we need and as others need us.
Pope Paul VI declared, in the late sixties, "In accord with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, all Catholics now must regard Sacred Scripture as the abiding source of spiritual life." If you won't read Scripture and meditate on the Gospel, then you can kiss your spiritual life good-by. You won't make it. The temptations that are coming in the '90's are far greater than I can describe. I don't know what they are yet, but when they come I can assure you one thing: if you have not stored up God's Word in your heart, you won't stand a chance. This is what Scripture teaches; this is what the Church repeats, "Thy word have I stored up in my heart that I may not sin against Thee." We're going to be sinning against God without even knowing it. We're not going to know what positions to take on certain ambiguous and foggy issues. So far it's been clear, but what's going to happen if schism occurs in the Church? What's going to happen if all of a sudden there's a break in the Church, and people who want to ordain women will break from the Pope and declare themselves to be truly Catholic, and you're stuck without a parish? Then a year later without a tax deduction for our measly contributions (which now amount to 1.4% of our annual income anyway). We want our religion cheap; we'll get it cheap. If we want tospend time learning God's Word, loving it, and sharing it, things are going to change. In fact, if people here take what you've heard here seriously and go home and beginning energetically, praying for help and for grace to study Scripture and to learn it, to pray it, to memorize it, to share it, Long Beach will never be the same. Wherever else the rest of you go home to, your parish will be changed. God is pouring out graces in the 90's the likes of which we've never seen in Church history. In the past He poured graces upon the monks and the hermits and the bishops and the great saints. There is such a lack of saints in our day, that now God is willing to pour out superabundant graces upon the rank and file, the ordinary Catholic, if he or she will respond to a minimum of actual graces that He is giving us.
St. John Chrysostom reminds us how we approach Scripture. We pray, we beg the Lord for the grace and for the Holy Spirit's light. He says, "To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches." Scripture has indescribable riches.
When I read the Bible, and I have time to study it for maybe an hour or two, or three, the only word I can use, the only word I find to describe the state that I'm in at the end of it is inebriation. I discovered that the Fathers used to speak of sobrietas inebria, this sober inebriation, this sober intoxication, where you are drunk with joy, hearing God's Word and discovering His ways. It's going to help you understand why you lost your job; it's going to help explain why your children have left the Church, it's going to show you the way to get them back. The only question is, "Do you love them enough to spend the time and the energy and maybe the money to learn God's Word?"
Scriptural Evidence for Bible Christians Regarding the Necessity of the Church
Now what I'd like to share with you also, is basically designed to help you reach these fallen-away Catholics, these Bible Christians. I want to have you now get a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. If you have one, get it out. I want to give you a series of texts that you should look up and read to understand why Bible Christians, to be consistent, must become Catholic Christians.
Matthew 16, 17-19, perhaps the most important text of all. "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church." Jesus says, "I will build My Church upon this Rock, this Peter, this Petros." Not because of who Simon Peter is, but because of Christ's greatness. Christ can do the greatest with the least. If he can take a man as fickle as Peter was when he was Simon and establish the Church upon Simon, then we can be sure that no matter how bad a pope is, Christ will maintain His Church. For He says, "I will build My church." He doesn't say, "I will build my churches." He didn't say, "We will build My churches"; He didn't say, "You will build your churches and My Holy Spirit will blow and bless." "I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." The gates of Hades symbolized the realm of the dead. The gates of Hades were the barred gates that kept in those who were in Sheol. Or the Greek word is Hades, or the Latin word is purgatorio. Jesus speaks of Gehenna and how people will be there in fire forever where the worm dieth not. But He speaks of Hades where people live in the shadowy, unpleasant state. The Jews have always prayed for their dead, and this statement reflects that.
The dead who are awaiting the Messiah are in Hades, and when Christ builds the Church, He will give to Peter the keys to the kingdom so that the Church will reign over the gates of Hades. You see the connection: the gates of Hades and the keys of the kingdom. What do the keys fit into? The gates of Hades. That's why, in a sense, I am very displeased with these loose periphrastic translations. My version says, "The powers of death shall not prevail against it." Literally it's "The gates of Hades." And the gates fit with the keys because the keys fit in the gates and unlock the gates so we, through Peter and his successors, can experience the release of souls in Hades/Purgatory. He goes on, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, so that whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven." What is Jesus talking about? In order to understand this passage, write in parentheses, Isaiah 22: 20-23.
Isaiah chapter 22 describes how the Son of David, the King of Israel, rules over all of God's people in the Old Testament. But he doesn't rule alone, he ruled with a cabinet of royal ministers. Just as Jesus, the son of David, the King of kings appoints twelve apostles to be his royal ministers. That's why in Matthew 19 He says to the twelve, "You will sit on twelve thrones and rule the twelve tribes of Israel." The Israel of God is the Church of Christ, the Catholic Church. All twelve apostles are given by Jesus, in Matthew 18:18, the power of binding and loosing, but only Peter, Peter alone, receives the keys of the kingdom. Why? Isaiah 22 explains that here you have the King, the son of David, and here you have his royal cabinet ministers. But in between the King and the royal ministers, you have the prime minister. Who is the prime minister? The one to whom the King gives the keys to the kingdom. So when Jesus gives to the twelve the power to bind and loose, notice He gives to Peter and Peter alone the keys to the kingdom. A very clear Old Testament reference to the minister who is given primacy. So we have the primacy of Peter being instituted by Jesus Christ.
When you go back to Isaiah 22, you discover two more things. The keys are called the keys of the House of David, even though David died over a hundred years before. You see, when David died he had a successor in Solomon. When Solomon died he had a successor in Rehoboam and so on. But the king is not the only one who leaves a vacant office at death. When he dies a successor replaces him. But you discover that his prime minister also leaves a vacant office. How do you know the next prime minister? He is the one to whom the keys are passed. So besides Peter receiving primacy from Jesus, he also receives a symbol of dynastic succession in the keys of the kingdom.
The third element that is important in Isaiah 22 is when Isaiah declares that, "All the inhabitants of the kingdom shall call the one holding the keys," Eliakim the prime minister, they shall call him "Father." Isaiah declares that the one who holds the keys of the kingdom will be called Father, Papa. And you know that Pope is simply the Italian word for father. That's why through the ages we have referred to the successor of Peter as Pope, as our Holy Father. All of this Jesus knew very well from the Old Testament. This was something that the early Church picked up on without any controversy or sense of novelty.
First Timothy 3:15, Paul reminds Timothy in the Church at Ephesus that "the household of God which is the Church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of truth." The pillar and foundation of truth is the Church. Now I used to defend sola Scriptura. I used to attack the Catholic position. But I've got to tell you, I never had a single text explicitly teaching sola Scriptura. But if I had a text anywhere in the Old Testament or the New Testament which said something like this, "Scripture is the pillar and foundation of truth," I would have begun all of my arguments with that text and I would have ended all of my arguments with that text. But you know the only text we have of that kind declares that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, the household of God. Literally the family of God.
You see, when you study the Bible, when you study Church history, what you discover is that the Church precedes the New Testament. Jesus never wrote a single word. Odd, isn't it? If He wanted the Scripture to be the exclusive source for our doctrine, why didn't He write down a page or a word? Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus command any of His apostles to write a single word. He says, "Go out and preach the Gospel." It's an oral communication. I am in no way down- playing Scripture as the written communication of God's Word. If you think so, you've missed the whole first half hour. I'm not downplaying Scripture at all. I am just showing that Scripture exalts Jesus' intention to build a Church, to send out apostles who are to preach, that is, communicate God's Word person to person through living oracles, in an oral way which is far more dynamic and interpersonal than simply what's on a page.
Notice that even when the apostles do write, how many of them write? We got Matthew, but Mark wasn't one of the twelve; Luke wasn't one of the twelve, but John was. So one half of the evangelists were apostles. Look at Acts -- Luke wrote that, not an apostle. Paul wasn't one of the original twelve. We've got James and Jude, apostles. First, Second and Third John. So we've got four or five apostles, out of the twelve writing books. What about the other ones? Were they just too lazy? Disobedient? No, of course not. They understood Christ's commission, and in it there is nothing explicit about writing Scripture. The Word of God is to be proclaimed, it is to be communicated orally and also in a literary mode as well. But what is primary and foremost in Christ's mind and in His words, as Scripture attests, is preaching the Word of God.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, "What you've heard from me, before many witnesses", write down? No, "entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." It's an oral transmission. It's a family. It's the household of God; it's God's family. How much do you write down for your children when you teach them? How many volumes have you penned so far in raising your offspring? More is caught than is taught, and when you communicate orally, you communicate more effectively than when you write because you can put your whole person behind it. You can use your eyes and the inflection of your voice, hand gestures and hugs and whatever else you need to get your point across.
Titus 1 verse 5 - "That is why," Paul says, "I left you, Titus, there in Crete, that you might write some Scriptures so they have a source or an authority?" No. "This is why I left you in Crete: that you might amend what was defective and appoint elders in every town." Why did Paul leave Titus in Crete? To spread around his letters? No. To write down a Gospel? No! To appoint elders in every town. Paul's concern is for the Church and for the magisterium of the Church, for the presbyters, for the priesthood, for the hierarchy.
The Church comes before the New Testament. Get this. The New Testament is alive and kicking. It's alive and worshipping and singing and praying and believing and practicing and preaching long before any of the books of the New Testament were written, much less gathered together and compiled in 393 AD. That's the first time we have an official collection of the New Testament books at the Council of Hippo, and then in 397 at the Council of Carthage. Imagine that, the Church waited for over three hundred years before 27 books were gathered together and formally compiled as the New Testament. What did they do for three centuries? They lived on the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of sacraments just as Jesus and the apostles teach. And so it is today. Again, I am in no way down-playing the importance of Scripture. I am just showing that Scripture itself highlights the Church, the Magisterium, bishops, priest and especially Peter and his successor. We are unfaithful to God's Word if we are disobedient or unsubmissive to the Pope, to the Magisterium of the Church, and to the whole body of the Catholic Church as well.
In Luke chapter 10 verse 16, Jesus sends out the apostles and He says, "He who hears you, hears me. He who rejects you rejects me." So the apostles go forth with the very authority of Christ. The churches that they founded are all part of the Church that Christ builds. If we reject the bishops of the Church who are the successors to the apostles, we may inadvertently be rejecting Christ. People might look at the apostles and say, "I don't like the way he preaches. I can't understand his message. He hasn't showered in two weeks; I can't get near him." Or "He's a Galilean and I'm a Samaritan, and I'm offended by some Galilean neighbors I've got." They can come up with all kinds of excuses, but if you reject them, you reject Christ who sent them, as well as their successors.
John chapter 14 verse 26 - Jesus promises the apostles that He will send them the Holy Spirit who "will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." He said to all twelve - remember, more than half of the twelve apostles didn't write a page of Scripture, but he says to all of them, "The Holy Spirit will cause you to remember all that I've taught you." Everything, that's the way the Church thrived for centuries.
John chapter 16 verse 13, "The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth," so that you'll write it down? No, so that you'll proclaim it in your preaching.
John chapter 21 verse 25 - "There are many other things which Jesus did... the world itself could not contain the books." Do you realize that the world couldn't contain books describing all that Jesus said and did. Does that suggest that, what Jesus said and did, what's not recorded in the Gospels and the New Testament, must not be important? No. But the Spirit will lead and guide the Church into remembrance of all that He has taught. There is just simply a sensus fidelium, a sense of the faithful. In the lay people, in the Magisterium, the Holy Spirit animates the Body of Christ as the Soul of the Mystical Body, bringing us to an awareness of many things that we may not even be conscious about. Think about right now at this moment; what do you already know? Many things that you are not consciously focusing in on. What color is the carpet without looking? Red. Where are we? Long Beach. What is this place? California, wild place, huh? All these things are in our minds, but we're not consciously focused on them. All of the things that Christ said and did are in the Holy Spirit and in the Church because the Holy Spirit animates the Church. When the time is right the Holy Spirit will lead us to recall the things that Christ said and did which apply to our need, to our situation, without us even knowing it. But without any mention of the exclusivity of the Bible. We go on.
Acts chapter 2 verse 42 - "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching," not in writing but in their preaching.
Act chapter 8 verse 31 - Here the Ethiopian eunuch says to Philip, "How can I understand the Scripture unless someone guides me?" He bears a faithful witness to everybody's need. We need guidance when we read the Bible. Christ knew it, so He gives us not just the Holy Spirit but the Church that is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts chapter 20 verse 35 - Here we discover Paul referring to a saying of Jesus that we've all heard since our childhood: "'Tis more blessed to give than to receive.'" Paul refers to this saying of Jesus, but I dare you to search Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and try to find where Jesus said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20 verse 35 is the only place. Now, how then did Paul know that Jesus said it? Because oral tradition is maintained in the Church through the Holy Spirit.
Romans chapter 10 verse 17 - "Faith comes from what is read?" "Faith comes from what is heard." The point of the New Covenant then, is that the New Covenant surpasses the Old. The Old was written and so was the New Testament written. But the New Testament is more than simply written. It is alive and powerful in our hearts and in our lives.
Second Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 15 - I've mentioned it before and I'll say it once more: "Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by writing."
First Peter chapter 1 verse 25 - Underline this one, "The Word of the Lord abides forever and that Word is the Good News which was preached to you." What is the Word of God? That which has been handed down through the preaching of the apostles and their successors. As Catholic Christians, we are bound to God's Word and God's Word alone. Not sola Scriptura; That's "anti-Scriptura," but Solum verbum Dei, the Word of God alone. What is the Word? It is the Good News that was preached to you. Certainly it is also the Word of God contained in the inspired Scriptures.
But Scriptures are difficult to understand. The Scriptures themselves tell us that. 2 Peter chapter 3 verse 15. "There are some things in them," that is, the writings of Paul, "that are hard to understand," which, even back in the first century, Peter says, "the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction as they do with the other Scriptures." So in every age there are people who are unstable in their beliefs, who trust themselves more than the Church that Christ built, and who say, "The Holy Spirit guides me." But they fail to hear Jesus say that the Holy Spirit is given to the apostles and their successors first and foremost to guide them "into all that I've taught you." If we want to follow the Word of God, if we want to obey Sacred Scripture, if we want to be illuminated by the Holy Spirit, then become slaves to Mother Church and learn whatever She teaches. Listen to whatever She declares. That's what it means to be a Bible Christian.
Other Arguments for the Necessity of the Church
Our Bible Christian brothers and sisters who are separated from us need to hear us say these things clearly, gently, persuasively. We have to fit this into our conversations with them at some point. We have to pray to our Lady for help, and for grace to find those opportunities. Sola Scriptura is unscriptural. We've also said that sola Scriptura is unhistorical; that is, the New Testament Church comes before the New Testament books. The New Testament Church leaders are the writers who penned the New Testament books. The successors to the apostles at the Council of Hippo and the Council of Carthage are the ones who compiled the New Testament.
Do you realized that there were many other books besides the 27 New Testament books that were vying for inclusion? Many churches thought the Shepherd of Hermas belonged. Many churches believed the Didache belonged. Many churches thought that 2 Peter didn't belong. Some contested Jude, others thought that Revelation should not be considered inspired Scripture. These are the antilegomena, the books that were spoken against. There are other books too: the Acts of Peter, the Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Gospel of Thomas, these books were regarded by some churches as inspired. Who's to choose?
If Bible Christians hold up the New Testament and say "These 27 books are the only authority." You ask them, "Where did you get those 27 books, why those and not others? Why do you take the decision of Catholic bishops, meeting in Catholic Councils back in the 4th century? Why do you take that at face value? Why do you assume that the Holy Spirit led them to declare what books are inspired, when those same Bishops teach the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the veneration of Saints, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Purgatory, seven sacraments and so on? Why do you think the Spirit guided them with the 27 books, but didn't guide them everywhere else?" How arbitrary can you get? That's illogical, it's unhistorical, it's contrary to Scripture. We can also show how impractical it is.
What would happen to our country if the Founding Fathers left us with a Constitution and then made the closing utterance, "May the spirit of George Washington guide all citizens in interpreting the Constitution."? We would have more than fifty states; we'd have fifty million states. We'd be in an utter state of chaos and anarchy. If the Founding Fathers of our country knew better, don't you think that the founding Father of the Church knew better also?
The Spirit can preserve fallible men from teaching error as truth. The Bible Christian believes that fallible sinners like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John could communicate infallible truth through the Holy Spirit. Can't that same Spirit guide the Church to infallibly proclaim that same truth in all generations? And if the Spirit doesn't, then wouldn't you expect chaos and anarchy? Isn't that what we have now with thousands upon thousands of denominations and sects, so that in every generation Bible Christians have to reinvent the wheels of the Faith? The Trinity is being questioned now by some Bible evangelicals. The Divinity of Christ, the eternality of Hell, and many other doctrines that have always been part of the historic Christian faith are up for grabs in every generation in the teachings of Bible Christians. Because they have the Bible without the Church, they are going to lose both as well. We could cite other problems as well but we're running low on time. U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Statement for Catholics on Biblical Fundamentalism (1987)
What I'd like to do is just draw your attention to a wonderful statement that was issued back in March 26, 1987. It was put together by the Bishops of the United States. The NCCB, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops formed an ad hoc committee on Biblical fundamentalism chaired by Archbishop Whealon of Hartford, Connecticut. They issued this statement on March 26, 1987. It's entitled Pastoral Statement for Catholics on Biblical Fundamentalism. I'd like to call your attention to some outstanding statements that you find there. First of all, it clarifies who the fundamentalists are. "Biblical fundamentalists are those who present the Bible, God's inspired Word as the only necessary source for teaching about Christ and Christian living." It goes on to say, "The insistence on the teaching Bible is usually accompanied by a spirit that is warm, friendly and pious." That's what make fundamentalists so effective: their warmth, their friendliness, their piety, their devotion. "Such a spirit attracts many converts, especially idealistic young people." It goes on to say, "According to fundamentalism, the Bible alone is sufficient; there is no place for the Universal teaching Church, including its wisdom, its teachings, and its creeds and other doctrinal formulations. There is simply no claim to a visible, audible, living teaching authority, binding the individual or congregation."
Why is the appeal so strong for young people? The statement tells us why: "The appeal is evident for the Catholic young adult or teenager, one whose family background may be troubled, one who is struggling with life, morality and religion,"-- get this --"whose Catholic education may have been seriously inadequate in the fundamentals of doctrine, the Bible, prayer life and sacramental living." I've got to tell you, that describes 99% of Catholic young people I meet. Let me say it again. "This is especially appealing and seductive for those whose Catholic education may have been seriously inadequate in the fundamentals of doctrine, Bible, prayer life and sacramental living, whose catechetical formation may have been" -- oh yeah -- "may have been inadequate" in presenting the full Catholic Traditions and teaching authority. "For such a person, the appeal of finding the answer in a devout, studious, prayerful, warm, Bible-quoting class is easy to understand." Indeed it is. And the fault is ours!
Scholars and experts tell us that the cults and the sects and the heresies throughout Church history represent the unpaid bills of the Church. Not that Mother Church is lacking in funds, mind you, but that her children don't even bother signing the check and sending it in the mail. If we were drawing on the unlimited funds of Mother Church we would have more than ample resources to counteract whatever seductive temptations would come by way of Bible fundamentalism. The young people would be prepared; they'd be inoculated. But the fact is, we as parents are failing. We can blame the catechists and believe me, they're sometimes like laboratory scientists experimenting on our young people. It's disgusting to see what has gone for catechesis in the last twenty-five years. But that is no excuse for our neglect. Because the fact is, the teaching of children is an inalienable right and responsibility of parents. We can delegate it but ultimately it's our responsibility. On Judgment Day, we will not be able to pawn off the blame on some catechist or some director of religious education. The burden will fall on our shoulders to explain why our children did not receive the Faith. And there's no hiding behind bad catechists. We'll stand alone.
So for the sake of your soul, bone up on the Bible, study the Sacraments, learn about prayer, memorize the catechism and teach your young people to memorize it. If it's too late because your young people have grown up and gone off, then find surrogate sons and daughters in your parish family, because your parish is truly your family. Find young people and get involved. Pray, but cause some trouble. Get the good catechisms out and into the hands of young people. God help us.
It goes on to say, (The Pastoral Statement) "A study of the New Testament in fact shows that discipleship is to be a community experience with liturgy and headship, and demonstrates the importance of belonging to the Church started by Jesus Christ." This is wonderful. "Christ chose Peter and the other apostles as foundations of His Church, He made Simon Peter its rock foundation and gave a teaching authority to Peter and the other Apostles. This is most clear in the Gospel of Matthew, the only Gospel to use the word 'church.'" It goes on to say, "The history of twenty Christian centuries confirms our belief that Peter and the other Apostles have been succeeded by the Bishop of Rome and the other bishops, and that the flock of Christ still has under Christ a universal Shepherd. For historical reasons," it concedes, -- it's an interesting admission here -- "for historical reasons, the Catholic Church in the past did not encourage Bible studies as much as She could have." Why?
"Printing the Latin Bible, which was the first work printed, was not invented until the mid-fifteenth century." Just a few decades before Luther launched the Reformation. Do you realize apart from Gutenberg, there would have not been Protestantism? The first thing that Gutenberg printed was what? The Bible. Even before the printing press, there were vernacular translations of the Bible -- long before Wycliff in the fourteenth century -- in Norwegian, in French, in German, in Polish, and other languages as well. There were fourteen different authorized German translations the century prior to Luther. The only reason Luther got into trouble was because he wouldn't submit his translations to the Bishops because he knew he had been tinkering with the Greek, adding words that weren't there in the original: Romans chapter 3, verse 28, where he says, "A man is justified by faith alone." And he makes that the battle cry of the Reformation although the word alone is not in the Greek, and he knew it. Yet he insisted on a mistranslation to further his own cause.
It goes on to say, (The Pastoral Statement) "Through the lectionary, the Catholic becomes familiar with the Bible according to the rhythm of the liturgical seasons and the Church's experience and use of the Bible at Mass." But now comes the conclusion. Listen to what our bishops are challenging us to do. "Our challenge now is to get this knowledge into the minds and hearts and lives of all our Catholic people. We need a pastoral plan for the Word of God, that will place the Sacred Scripture"-- get this --"at the heart of the parish and individual life." The bishops say, "We have a crying need to put the Bible at the heart of the parish." "Pastoral creativity can develop approaches such as weekly Bible study and yearly Bible schools in every parish. We need to have the introduction to each Bible reading be prepared and presented by the lector, in a way that shows familiarity with and love for the sacred text." If you are called upon to be a lector, then you study and you contemplate and you pray the readings that you are going to proclaim to the faithful. "In areas where there is a special problem with fundamentalism," -- and what area doesn't have a problem with fundamentalism? -- "the pastor may consider a Mass to which people bring their own Bibles" -- Alleluia! Can you imagine that? -- "and in which qualified lectors present a carefully prepared introduction and read the text without, however, making the Liturgy of the Word a Bible study class."
It goes on to say, "We need better homilies, since the homily is the most effective way of applying Biblical texts to daily living." Now's my favorite: "We need a familiar quoting of the Bible by every catechist, every lector and every minister." We should know the Bible so well that we can quote it verbatim, at will, instinctively, reflexively. "We have not done enough in this area." That is the understatement of the decade. "The neglect of parents in catechetics and the weakness of our adult education efforts are now producing..." What? "A grim harvest."
That's what we've got on our hands, a grim harvest. Spiritual abortions. We have physical abortions; they're an unspeakable crime, 1.5 million a year. It breaks the heart of Heaven and all of the saints, especially our Blessed Mother. But the babies that are aborted lose their bodies and their earthly life, but they don't go to Gehenna; they don't go to hellfire. I dare say what might be breaking the heart of our Mother far more are the millions of spiritual abortions which occur with so many baptized young people who are reborn into God's family and then poisoned by false teaching or starved without any of the Bread of Life being fed to them, with all of the bad teaching or with the neglect in the area of catechesis. We have tens of millions of Catholics who are dying on the vine, who are for all practical purposes being spiritually aborted by people in the Church who are more concerned with radical feminism or more concerned with addressing nuclear arms than with feeding their own children. But we can't blame them. We have our marching orders as parents, as faithful lay people. We can't wait for them, we have to obey what God commands us through the Church. We need to educate, to re-educate, they go on to say, "our people, knowingly in the Bible so as to counteract the simplicities of Biblical fundamentalism."
Then the final statement, "We Catholics need to redouble our efforts to make our parish Masses an expression of worship, in which all people, parishioners, visitors and strangers feel the warmth and the welcome and know that here the Bible is clearly reverenced and proclaimed." That's what the bishops are calling upon us to do in our parishes. We need to redouble our efforts to make our parish Masses an expression of worship in which all feel the warmth and welcome and know that here the Bible is clearly reverenced and preached. "The current trend towards smaller, faith- sharing and Bible-studying groups within a parish family is strongly to be encouraged."
Practical Suggestions for Implementing the Bishops' Advice
But where do we begin? We begin tomorrow morning, with five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes in the Gospels. We begin this week with books that will explain from the book of Acts, how Jesus instituted the Church and how Peter functions as its head at every point and every chapter in the book of Acts. Read a commentary and you'll see things that you might not have seen on your own. We need to read the Gospel of Luke to see Jesus' attitude towards women, which Luke highlights more than the other Gospels put together. In this Gospel and this commentary, we'll see how Jesus gives us the antidote to radical feminism and how he shows concern and compassion for the outcasts.
In the Gospel of Mark, some say we'll discover that Jesus did not teach that the second coming was going to happen within His lifetime. I've heard that now from two pulpits during the Mass. Shortly just a few weeks after becoming Catholic, I was in Mass and I heard a priest declare: "Jesus thought he was coming again, in just a few years, so the apostles were misled and they falsely taught the early Church so that everybody was confused." Oh, I see, poor Jesus. No way. If you read Mark and you study a simple commentary, you'll discover that Jesus used language from the Old Testament to describe the end of the world, the Old Testament, the end of the Old Jerusalem, the end of the temple, the end of the priesthood, the end of the sacrifices, the end of the whole Old Covenant, and how that prefigures the end of the real universe itself. But Jesus uses words that we won't understand if we read them with Protestant literalism, or fundamentalism. Catholic commentaries, so simple in their guidance, will illuminate this.
I remember asking my sponsor who brought me into the Church, Chris Wolf. One day we were just talking in his office -- he's a political science professor -- and I had been studying seven years on the problem, "Did Jesus teach that He was coming back soon?" I said, "How do you deal with a problem that when you read certain texts, like Mark 13, you have Jesus seeming to declare that the end of the ages has come, wars and rumors of war and all that?" He said, "Well, I interpret that in light of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the dissolution of the Temple." I said, "Chris, it took me seven years to discover that after much research, how did you get that?" He reached into his hip pocket and pulled out a little Catholic New Testament. "It's there in the footnotes." It took me seven years to reinvent the wheel.
Read the Gospels, meditate on them. Get simple commentaries and go through them. Divide up your time, ten minutes in the Gospels, ten minutes in the commentaries. Go into the book of Acts and see the Church in its seed form, how it's spreading abroad, how it has an ecumenical council in Acts 15, how Peter alone resolves the debate that was ravaging the Church. When Peter stands up and declares his will the debate is settled. Read in the Gospel of Matthew about Jesus' intention to form a Church. Read a commentary where someone like Father Montague explains Isaiah 22 and the keys of the kingdom and the rock that is Simon, and how all of this fits one Church and one Church alone. The Bible Christian Catholic Church. Read this stuff, pray, share it, I urge you to.
One thing I would also like to include. I heard Father Fessio at least twice, I hear Steve and also my wife Kimberly mention home-schooling. I realize that many of you will not be able to home-school. Your kids are grown up or you simply have to have another job just to hold down the fort and the finances. But Father Hardon says, "Catholic home-schooling is the salvation of the Church in the United States." Bishop Vaughn spoke to the National Home-schoolers convention in Virginia; Kimberly and I were with him. He was so excited to see six, seven hundred Catholic parents who were homeschooling. In Steubenville, there are over forty devoted Catholic families who are home-schooling their kids. We get together every week for socializing skills, retreats, for field trips and this sort of thing. It's great. This tape series, Forming Young Catholics Through Home-Schooling is wonderful. Maybe you're going to send them to your parish school, maybe the parochial school is strong and orthodox. But listen to these tapes. This is the best tape series that has ever been produced on how Catholic Home-schooling is not weird; it's normal, it's mainstream. It involves the exercise of Catholic parents' rights. They are fully within their rights to school their children at home. This tape series will do so much good if it could be spread around in the hands of Catholic parents because that is where I am convinced Catholic Bible study will really take off.
Now I want to give to you just a few tips to begin tomorrow. How do I begin reading the Gospels? First of all, take up the Bible with reverence and say to yourself, "God is now speaking to me." Say that audibly; "God, you are now speaking to me." Before you read a single word say, "Holy Spirit, you inspired these words, illuminate my mind to understand them." Say, "Come Holy Spirit, enlighten my heart, my understanding. Help me to recognize the eternal truth that I need to please God." Not only do you begin your Bible reading with prayer, but you end the Bible reading with prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to stamp onto your heart the truths you need for the day. Then say to God, as you begin the reading, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening; here I am, Lord." Read slowly, meditatively, each verse. Don't be afraid to go back and reread them a second time or a third time. Say to yourself, "God, you and I are alone together right now, speak to me, I'm listening." Listen to what Thomas a Kempis says in the Imitation of Christ -- I love this -- "If you want to profit from your reading of Scripture, read with humility, with simplicity and faith. Willingly consult and hear with silence the words of the Saints and let your joy be in the parables of the ancients."
When you read the Gospels, identify yourself with the characters in each scene. So that you are Lazarus in the tree; you are Matthew inviting Jesus to come home for a meal; you are the hemorrhaging woman, because frankly the fact of the matter is that all of the physical diseases of the people healed are signs of our spiritual need. We are spiritually blind; we are spiritually crippled; we are hemorrhaging in our hearts; we are leprous with sin and all of the things that Christ does to heal people, He needs to do to me and to my soul. That's how the Saints and the Doctors of the Church have urged the people to interpret the Bible. So we say with the blind man, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me." I'm blind; I don't see you in the world, I don't see you sometimes in my own life, in my problems and my marriage.
Consider everything that Jesus says in the Gospels as personally addressed to you and to me. When reading the Epistles, listen not only for the voice of Saint Paul and the Holy Spirit, but recognize that the Church is speaking to you, showing you how to grow and mature in your faith, and then form a notebook, gather some sheets together, buy a notebook and make a list of the important Bible texts that really speak to you. The sayings of Christ especially, key texts that answer questions that you've had or loved ones have had. Each day select one of the passages that you read in the past and memorize a sentence or a verse or two and throughout the day, bring it back to mind during your morning and evening reading. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into certain passages that will be a prayer that you pray during the hard time of the day.
There are so many other tips that we could suggest here but the most important tip of all is to read the Gospels. Read them in the Church, read them with the Church, read them in liturgy, read them with a focus on the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, because when you divorce Scripture from the Liturgy, you're tearing the soul out of the body. That's what leads to denominationalism, that's what leads to sectarianism. We need not be afraid of the Bible, if we know the Bible, we will know God's ways, we will understand them as well.
Conclusion: Miracle in Nicaragua
One of my favorite stories, it's a true story that just happened two or three years ago: the believers in Nicaragua who were horribly persecuted by the Sandinistas regime, far more than the American press ever cared to report, especially the Catholics. The Sandinistas, especially Ortega himself, were out to get the Church. When finally Ortega was pressured to offer free elections, which were filled with all kinds of cheating, the believers banded together, Protestant and Catholic alike, in prayer-cells to pray and to fast for a blessed out-come to the elections. But all the experts and statisticians told them the statistics were against them. Chamorro didn't have a chance against Ortega. Ortega was spending what in American dollars would be millions of dollars to campaign. He took off his military fatigues and put on a bluejean jacket and Levi denim slacks. He went around to the young people sponsoring rock concerts, putting up billboards all over the cities in the country, saying, "Vote Dan," listing the ballot-box number and the row. But the people prayed and fasted for God's help. They needed deliverance and they worked together to get it, in the Bible study groups, in the prayer-cells as well.
Then across the country came this urge to ask the Lord for a sign. Not that He owes a sign to anybody. But they began to ask the Lord for a sign, "Lord, show us that you're in this; show us that you'll deliver us," and they worked fervently. As the day of the election approached, everybody said, "Ortega by at least fifteen to twenty percent," it was expected to be a landslide outcome. When the day arrived, Chamorro shocked the country and the world by winning big. It took days for the believers in Nicaragua to get over their own stunned amazement. I mean, when you pray for rain, you ought to carry an umbrella, they say, right? They prayed for this deliverance, but they didn't really half-expect it.
What was unusual, I've heard this from Humberto Belli, who is now the minister of education in the Chamorro government. He was teaching sociology at the University of Steubenville for years. He was a former Marxist and atheist, a fallen-away Catholic who eventually found his way back into the Church. Belli describes how in the week following the election results people began wondering, "We prayed for a sign. Did God give us a sign? We fervently asked, not as though He owed us a sign." But then all of a sudden, one guy looked up and discovered that all around Managua and all around the country side, was this same billboard "Dan." Then it had the ballot-box number and row, "5, 26." So someone got the bright idea, "Why don't we look up Daniel 5:26?" Listen to Daniel, chapter 5, verse 26: "God has numbered your kingdom and brought it to an end." They asked for a sign but never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that Ortega would pay for it! They asked for a sign but they didn't recognize it until they opened up Sacred Scripture.
I think we all should be begging the Lord for a sign that He can deliver us from the unbelievable messes that we have gotten ourselves into: drugs, pornography, abortion, euthanasia, RU-486, homosexuality, the list goes on and on. Any one of those problems would be enough to knock our country out, and now they are all massed against us. We need a sign that God can use the lowly likes of us to bring about deliverance. But don't expect to recognize the sign if you're not going to study Sacred Scripture.
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