What To Read: Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew

(Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series)

Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri

And now for a bit of more serious reading…. Back when I was a Protestant I liked to read Bible commentaries. A Bible commentary is a book which explains, verse by verse, what the verses of a book of the Bible actually mean. A good Bible commentary is written by a Bible scholar who teaches in a seminary or a Christian college, who knows the Bible book in its original language, who is familiar with important archeological discoveries that shed light on the Bible, or important issues about the surviving manuscripts involved.

When I became a Catholic it felt like all the work I did studying Bible commentaries and attending college Biblical theology classes were all in vain. I had to relearn everything ‘in Catholic.’ But finding a good Catholic Bible commentary was not so easy— until the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series came out.

These commentaries are just like the Protestant commentaries I am more familiar with. They are accessible to lay persons, but have enough content to be a reference for pastors/priests preparing a sermon/homily.

One difference, though, is that each section ends with a short ‘Reflection and Application’ section. This is good for the Christian, because Christians believe that we are not supposed to just interact intellectually with the Bible, but apply its teachings to our lives.

This first volume of the series (they don’t have commentaries on the Old Testament books. Yet.) is on the Gospel of Matthew. A Gospel is an account of the life of Jesus Christ, and the four earliest-written Gospels were written by Apostles— leaders of the early Christian church. In the case of the Apostle Matthew, writer of the Gospel of Matthew, we are dealing with an author who was an actual witness of the life of Jesus Christ— Matthew was chosen by Jesus Christ to be one of the ‘Twelve,’ an inner circle of disciples who received more teaching and, in the traditional interpretation, were ordained to be priests/pastors at the Last Supper.

The Gospel of Matthew really starts off telling the story of the Incarnation of the Son of God from the beginning— with a genealogy list. The authors of the commentary are very aware that this genealogy is a stumbling block to some readers of the Gospel— especially those new to Bible reading who start off with the first Gospel.

The whole text of the Gospel, in the New American Bible translation, is provided, which I like because I don’t like having to flip back and forth between two books, a Bible and a commentary. OK, I do that anyway because I prefer the KJV translation (and have one with the Deuterocanonical books.)

Protestants unfamiliar with Bible commentaries may get upset about quotes from Early Church Fathers and saints and the like (even though I first learned about Early Church Fathers from Protestant sources,) but you don’t have to pay attention to these things if you are not interested in them.

I very much enjoyed reading this commentary and I plan to buy and read more in the series. I ALSO intend to buy and read more volumes in the old Tyndale Bible commentary series, which I have liked since my teen years.

Lenten & Wuhan-Coronavirus Greetings from

Nissa Annakindt, her cats & critters, plus new lamb Daisy

Daisy

 

 

 

 

 


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PERSONAL UPDATE:

I have recently finished a short book about blogging, called ‘Getting More Blog Traffic: Steps Towards a Happier Blogging Life.’ I’m currently trying to figure out how to turn my Scrivener project into someone the Kindle Create software can work with. (Wish me luck!)

The Lutheran Rosary & The Jesus Prayer

Rosary with Lutheran Rose on cross.

Many Lutherans (and other Protestants) are uncomfortable at how much the Hail Mary prayer is used in the traditional rosary devotion. One division, or decade, of the rosary has 10 Hail Mary prayers, preceded by the Lord’s Prayer and followed by the Gloria Patri (and possibly the Fatima prayer.)

One way to get around that is to replace the Hail Mary with the Jesus prayer. The Jesus prayer is a very ancient devotion in the Eastern Orthodox church. ‘The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God’ by Frederica Mathewes-Green is a whole book about the Jesus prayer by a convert to the Eastern Orthodox church.

The way to think about the Jesus prayer is this: in those early days in the church, no one had personal Bibles in their home for daily Bible reading. You got your ‘dose’ of Bible from the Bible readings in church. And so hermits and early monks would snatch on some Bible words they remembered and repeat them over and over to get closer to God. It was a way of to ‘pray without ceasing’ as in I Thessalonians 5:17.

The Jesus prayer is: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’  There are many Bible passages in the Gospels in which people ask mercy from Jesus Christ, as in Mark 10:47: ‘And when he [Bartimaeus, a blind beggar] heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.’

In the Eastern Orthodox church it is customary to use a ‘prayer rope’ of knotted wool to count one’s repetitions of the Jesus prayer. Many people make thousands of repetitions of the prayer a day!

In the Lutheran rosary, it is combined with meditating on the rosary Mysteries, or Life-of-Christ meditations, just as one does when one uses the Hail Mary in the rosary. Since the Jesus prayer can be said more quickly than a full Hail Mary, one can pray a rosary more quickly to the end.

The hard part is when you are using an audio or video rosary from Catholic sources to help you learn the rosary. You can learn to say (or think) the words of the Jesus prayer when everyone else is saying a Hail Mary, but it’s a bit of a learned skill. If you want to regularly pray the rosary along with Catholic friends and you just cannot say any part of the Hail Mary, you can learn to pray your Jesus prayer silently and just pray aloud with the Our Father and Gloria Patri prayers. But it is a learned skill. I’d practice with an audio or video Catholic rosary, such as those on EWTN television, before I would try it with real people. (I recommend the ‘Holy Land Rosary’ which is on at 630 Central Time in the US.)

The first step in learning to make the rosary part of your spiritual ‘arsenal’ is to memorize the prayers you will be using, and that includes the Jesus prayer if you will be using it, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri prayer. You don’t want to fumble around reciting the prayers from books if you can help it.

The Jesus prayer, all on its own, has been used as a serious prayer tradition. Using it in your Lutheran rosary is not ‘cheating’ or doing less than a full rosary, but can be a real blessing to you.

Lutheran/Protestant Rosary: The Mysteries

Lutheran Reformer Martin Chemnitz

The rosary prayers are commonly dismissed as ‘just for Catholics,’ but the devotion pre-dates the formation of the Lutheran and other Protestant churches at the Reformation; not only that, the rosary continued as a private devotion, especially among European Anglicans and Lutherans.

It’s certainly more of a Christ-based practice than getting into Transcendental or Eastern meditation using a ‘mantra’ derived from Hindu or Buddhist religious practice.

Many Protestants do use the rosary. When I was a Presbyterian child, I looked in the window of a Catholic church, seeing a rosary in the hand of a statue of Mary, and I counted the beads and tried to reproduce a rosary of my own in knotted string, since I didn’t know anywhere that one could buy a rosary. In college, at the Lutheran Concordia College, I managed to sneak away to a Catholic store in downtown Chicago and buy a rosary and an instruction leaflet. I prayed the rosary in my dorm room. I felt a bit guilty and unlutheran for doing it, and so I confessed to a Lutheran-from-birth friend that I prayed a modified rosary. She may have been a bit offended— she prayed her rosary unmodified.

One of the unique things about the rosary that sets it apart from similar non-Christian meditation is the use of mysteries. Mysteries are a group of Biblical events to think about (meditate upon) while you are reciting the words of the rosary. There are Catholic leaflets that have a small illustration for each rosary mystery.

Commonly one prays a group of 5 mysteries each time one prays the rosary. For each mystery, you say 1 Lord’s Prayer or Our Father, 10 Hail Marys (or substitute the Jesus Prayer), and end with one Glory Be (to the Father.) Catholics sometimes add the Fatima prayer after the Glory Be, but this is a modern addition.

A Lutheran rosary (with Lutheran rose symbol in the cross.)

The Joyful Mysteries are prayed on Mondays and Saturdays, and are optional for Sundays during the Advent/Christmas season. These mysteries tell the story of the birth and childhood of Christ.

The Sorrowful Mysteries are prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays, and are optional on Sundays during Lent. These mysteries tell the story of the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.

The Glorious Mysteries are prayed on Wednesdays and Sundays. They tell the story of the resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and some traditional events related to the end of Mary’s life on earth, and her going to heaven. These mysteries, being outside the scriptures, are often modified in Protestant use.

The Luminous Mysteries are a new addition to the rosary, made by Pope Saint John Paul II. They are prayed on Thursdays. (Before this, the Joyful Mysteries were prayed on Thursdays, and the Glorious Mysteries on Saturdays.) These mysteries are not part of the common Christian heritage of the rosary, but since they are all Bible-based stories about Christ (Christ’s baptism, the wedding at Cana, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper), they are easily able to be used by Protestants as well as Catholics.

The advantage of having the Mysteries is that when you are reciting the prayers of the rosary and your mind starts to wander or daydream, you have the mysteries to force your mind back on a more prayerful track. I myself, as a person with Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) am very distractible, and so I usually keep a leaflet with pictures illustrating the rosary mysteries on hand when I pray the rosary. Keeping my eyes focussed on the picture help me keep my mind on track.

Posts on this blog related to the Lutheran rosary and Protestant rosaries: https://myantimatterlife.wordpress.com/category/western-civilization/christianity/lutheranism/lutheran-rosary/

My earlier posts on the Lutheran rosary are the most popular ones on this blog. I have decided to post a series of posts related to the topic on Saturdays. The next few will cover the four groups of rosary mysteries, and then we will move on to the prayers of the rosary. Next Saturday (God willing): the Joyful Mysteries

Wikihow: How to pray the Lutheran Rosary (12 Steps)

Chemnitz Society blog

 

Nominal Christians in Fiction and Real Life

Particularly for authors who are Christians of one sort or another, or authors who write for the Christian fiction markets, it is important to distinguish between Christians and nominal Christians.

In the United States, a person can follow any religion he likes, or no religion. And he can call himself a Christian whether or not that is particularly true. So there are a lot of people walking around with the ‘Christian’ tag on them who do not meet the normative definition of ‘Christian.’

Some Christians say that real Christians are ones that have had a ‘born again’ experience that they remember, or that have gone forward at a ‘altar call’ in Evangelical churches that have that practice. Other Christians say that being an active Christian can start at the sacrament of baptism, even an infant baptism, and can continue as a child is raised in a Christian home where prayer and church attendance are the norm.

A nominal Christian is a Christian ‘in name only.’ Why does he take the name of Christian? For some people, claiming Christianity as a religion is just another way of saying ‘my family is not Jewish.’ If they have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who were raised as Christians, they feel they are Christian enough— they are just not ‘fanatics’ about it.

Other people honestly think that if they believe in God and sometimes ask this God for stuff, like help in an emergency or a winning lottery ticket, that makes them Christian, unless their family was Jewish or they have taken up Buddhist meditation.

It does not help that in addition to the faithful Christians— Protestant and Catholic— who believe something that a Christian from 200 years ago would recognize as Christian, there are also very progressive Christians who make headlines. For example, some progressive Christians have blessed abortion centers and said that committing abortions is what Jesus would do. That reinforces a perception that in Christianity, anything goes and you can believe any old thing and it can be part of Christianity.

Nominal Christianity is not the same thing as progressive Christianity. Progressive Christians, as far off from the New Testament as their faith can be, are living a faith that they believe is the modern version of Christianity. Nominal Christians aren’t actively practicing any faith at all. They don’t usually know enough about Christianity to know there is something missing in their faith life.

In fiction, nominal Christians play a role in Christian fiction often by being an obstacle or a challenge to active Christians. In the ‘Left Behind’ series, the main characters included nominal Christians who became real Christians after the shock of the ‘rapture’ event.

In secular fiction, nominal Christians are often seen as sensible and non-fanatic Christians by those writers who know little. Though I’ve never read a book in which a man who doesn’t own a Koran, has never fasted for Ramadan, and who has never been to a mosque or said even one of the five daily Muslim prayers is named as a ‘non-fanatic Muslim.’ Muslims are expected to have some hints of their faith in their lives, both in fiction and in real life. Christians should have that as well. If they don’t, but still say they are Christians, we may suspect that perhaps they are nominal Christians.

Authors who know better should never present nominal Christians as ‘better’ Christians, any more than the no-mosque, no-prayer guy is a ‘better’ Muslim. Religions, both in the real world and our fictional worlds, have content. Nominal Christians, or nominal Muslims, or nominal Buddhists lack that content and so should not be representative of those faiths.

Purgatory: Mud-Room of Heaven

Non-Catholic Christians often misunderstand purgatory as a second chance at heaven for damned souls. Nothing could be more untrue! Damned souls go someplace warmer. Purgatory is only for folks who have ‘died in friendship with God,’ which is a Catholic phrase that means ‘born again.’

Purgatory is like a mud-room. The mud-room is at the entryway to a midwestern home. It’s the place where you take off muddy boots and manure covered barn jackets, and put on something cleaner. Using the mud-room makes you ready to walk through the home’s kitchen and living room without getting yelled at for tracking in mud. Purgatory is like that, since it is the place where a soul can get ready for the bliss and holiness of heaven.

Many souls are just not ready to meet God, but they are trusting souls who have tried to follow God in the best way they knew how. They may not have known much, like the good thief on the cross. Or they may have been too proud or arrogant or simply lacked insight, so they may have committed serious sins without being aware of them as something they need to repent of, and confess to God (and the priest) about.

My current devotional reading is a devotional book about the ‘holy souls’ in purgatory. It gives another reason for purgatory— to get souls less attached to worldly things. Imagine an older woman who dies, but is constantly fretting over what her daughter-in-law is doing with her house and possessions. She needs to set her mind on heavenly things and not the horrible wallpaper her daughter-in-law chose for the front bedroom!

Some Christian souls, like martyrs, are deemed to be ready for heaven straight off. Jesus said to the good thief that he would be in Paradise that day. So, either Jesus considered purgatory a part of heaven (the mud-room?) or else the thief was given the grace to go direct to heaven or perhaps spend only 20 seconds in purgatory to get ‘ready.’

C. S. Lewis is considered by many an authoritative model of the modern Protestant Christian, but he admits to a belief that ‘something like’ purgatory is needed to make us fit for heaven.

There are Bible verses held to speak of purgatory. An article by apologist Dave Armstrong lists some of these verses. I would suggest that you read the article to understand more about the Bible and purgatory.

25 Descriptive and Clear Bible Passages about Purgatory: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/25-descriptive-and-clear-bible-passages-about-purgatory

The important thing about purgatory is that it is not a substitute for accepting Jesus Christ as your savior now, or living a Christian life now, or avoiding sin now. Purgatory is for the ‘holy souls,’ not for people who want to ‘have fun’ now and worry about their souls later. When ‘later’ comes, in the form of death, there is no more mercy available for the damned soul. No damned souls are in purgatory, any more than they are in heaven.

As a Catholic convert who was not brought up on belief in purgatory, and who once knew a lot of (often silly) arguments against it, I find myself a little behind on knowing the concept. I recommend two devotional books by Susan Tassone and published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, for other Catholic converts wishing to gain greater knowledge of purgatory and the Holy Souls. [Where do the ‘holy souls’ get their ‘holy?’ Jesus, of course!]

Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/809593.Thirty_Day_Devotions_for_the_Holy_Souls

Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23490846-day-by-day-for-the-holy-souls-in-purgatory

3 Aspects of the Christian Rosary #prayer #rosary

IM001380While most of us grew up thinking of the rosary as an exclusively Catholic thing, the fact is that the devotion predates the Protestant movement and the resulting division between Christians. Christian use of the rosary is not just found among Catholics, but survived among some Anglicans and Lutherans, and has also been revived, often under names such as Christian rosary or Lutheran rosary, in some Christian communities.

Since the rosary is in common Christian use, it is well to think seriously about it. What is the rosary, anyway? There are three aspects of the rosary we might need to study to achieve full understanding.

The Beads

A rosary is a physical set of beads used to count prayers. Many cultures have something similar to a rosary. In Eastern religions, a string of 108 beads is used to count repetitions of a mantra, or religious phrase. In the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, a prayer rope is used to count repetitions of the Jesus prayer.  Muslims are said to use beads to count the many names/attributes of Allah.

A forerunner of rosary beads in the Western church was Paternoster beads, which were used to count repetitions of the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer. These were used by Christians who could not read, or could not afford a Liturgy of the Hours prayer book, which is a devotion based on the Psalms. Repeating the Our Father, and later, the rosary prayers, was a substitute.

The Verbal Prayers

The rosary is also a set of verbal prayers to be recited. They were prayers regularly taught to young Christians at the time the rosary was created. Besides the Our Father and the Hail Mary, they include the Glory Be to the Father, the In the Name of the Father, and the Apostles Creed.

I knew all these prayers, except the Hail Mary, from when I was a Protestant. We sang the Glory Be in our Presbyterian church every Sunday. The Hail Mary prayer can be a stumbling block, but the older version of the Hail Mary is made up of two Bible verses, and the longer version just asks Mary to pray for us. To God. The same way we ask our friends to pray for us. It’s not a form of worshipping Mary, which would be a serious sin. For those who worry, the short form Hail Mary or the Jesus prayer can be used in place of the full Hail Mary.

The Life of Christ Meditations

There is a third factor to the rosary. It is a series of 15 events and topics from the life of Christ that we are to think about while reciting the verbal prayers. Much later, Pope John Paul II added 5 more events, called the Luminous Mysteries. Protestants may use these extra Mysteries or not, as they choose. All are Bible stories known to Protestants, anyway.

The meditations add depth to the rosary devotion and keep us from just mindless and thoughtlessly uttering the verbal prayers. They are the heart of the devotion. There are many Catholic leaflets, books and videos that help us keep these meditations in mind when praying the rosary. I don’t know that there is much of this nature made for various sorts of Protestants, but if you can’t find anything, adapt something Catholic!

The Lutheran Rosary

Martin Luther and the Lutheran Hail Mary

 

“We’re Not Christian, We’re Catholic!”

One of my pet peeves, now that I’m Catholic, is the fact that many Evangelical Christians sometimes use the word ‘Christian’ to mean the totality of people who are ‘saved’ enough to go to heaven, and at other times use ‘Christian’ to mean ‘Evangelical Christian’ or even ‘Evangelical Christian like the ones in our church.’ Since I was brought up in an Evangelical-ish Presbyterian congregation and only converted as a mature adult, I resent being sometimes ‘outside’ the Christian fold in the speech of such people.

Sadly, this thinking has gone beyond messing up Evangelical Christians. I have heard of a Catholic husband who corrected his wife, saying ‘We’re not Christian, we’re Catholic!’ Obviously he had imbibed the idea of ‘Christian’ as ‘Evangelical Christian,’ and may have felt that he was sticking up for the Catholic faith against a faith-compromising wife.

OK, here the fact: ‘Christian’ is a term that applies to all followers of Jesus, no matter their denomination. Or non-denomination. Even in groups that both Catholics and Evangelical/Ptotestants think of as ‘cults,’ like Mormons (LDS), Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are folks who are following Jesus. They may have a lot of flawed doctrines (beliefs) in their heads, but if they are looking to Jesus to save them from their sins, they are part of our ‘tribe.’

Some Evangelicals, aware of this, like to use the term ‘Bible Christians’ to differentiate between themselves and between Christians like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that they consider ‘beyond the pale.’ But from a Catholic perspective, I would resent that. Who is it that preserved the New Testament manuscripts and copied them— not to mention deciding which Christian books were a part of the Bible like Revelation and Romans, and which books, though good, did not make the cut, like the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas? Protestants and Evangelicals didn’t come along until centuries later. So— when Joel Osteen urges listeners who have prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ to get themselves in a ‘good Bible-based church,’ I consider my own Precious Blood Catholic Church to be one.

In my lifetime, popular culture has gone from thinking of Christians as virtuous but dull, to characterizing Christians, particularly those who stand up for unpopular teachings, as ‘haters,’ homophobes, and misogynists. We writers who are Christians need to stand up for Christianity as a whole— not just those bits of Christianity we know from our own denomination or church congregation.

Now, I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with a writer who happens to be Methodist or Lutheran or Pentecostal or Catholic using their own specific faith in their fiction, rather than a generic homogenized ‘Christianity.’ Back when I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I would have loved to read a Christian sci-fi or fantasy novel that mentioned the ‘means of grace’ or quoted from Luther’s catechism. And I now have favorite Catholic authors that are explicitly Catholic in their works.

But we need to face up to the fact that Christianity is divided and this is not necessarily good. Perhaps the best thing an author could do is to try to show Christians acting in unity in spite of divisions, and being kind to Christians from other denominations that the writer believes are very wrong. (For example, I have Amish and a Lutheran family on my fictional starship Destine, which is otherwise pretty full of Catholics. And in another work in progress, I have a group of young Mormon missionaries who volunteer to act as messengers for the Pope, who is in exile in Upper Michigan during the zombie apocalypse. The awkward bit comes when the Pope gives them his papal blessing and one of the Mormon missionaries responds by giving the Pope his own priestly blessing.)

What about non-Christian authors? Well, if you are non-Christian and still want to be respectful to Christianity, rather than mocking it, in my opinion you are being fair-minded and kind. I hope you will recognize that all persons in the many denominations and divisions of Christianity have a claim to be called ‘Christian’ even if some Christians think of ‘Christian’ as mostly ‘Christians-like-me.’ And that Christians can be kind and helpful to one another without ceasing to believe that their own denomination is the most correct. (After all, these days it is common for Christians to seek out another, more correct denomination if they feel their own is in error in an important way— that’s what I did— twice.)