God of Surprises—Turning the Greatest Murderer of His People into His Greatest Evangelizer

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According to Luke 5:26, “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today.’” From the onset of Jesus’ ministry the followers of Jesus become astonished at his works. As a perfectionist and control-freak, my natural inclination is to seek regularity and pattern in daily living. While I enjoy reading about sudden plot twists from the comfort of my armchair, I did not handle tons of surprises in my life well.

Most choices I make only occur after being carefully calculated and thought out. Today started no differently. Always planning ahead, I woke up quickly going over the list of my agenda for the day: get breakfast ready for the wife and kids, take my son to school, exercise, take younger kids to library, get more cereal—this perhaps was the most important as to avoid a meltdown from my 4 year old tomorrow morning—  and finally drop the kids off at daycare before going to work. WHEW! If I was not already tired I am now after writing that sentence! Hopefully, you have not grown weary yet. My daily routine planted its grip on me which grants me stability, but the downside is I am not as open to wonder and awe as easily.

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The paradox with seeking complete control of your life is that anxiety seems to follow close behind. Although I had a productive day errand-wise when it came to writing this article I initially hit a roadblock. Anxiety set in. What to write about? How would I be able to compose engaging material that without being forceful in my thought? The words of St. Paul came to assuage my concerns. He proclaimed, “”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:6-7). Paul of Tarsus’ conversion story always appealed to me.

Throughout this week I thought a lot about the surprising [and questionable] reasoning of God to select a former mass murderer to serve as his primary evangelizer in the early Church. See the thing about God’s will and plan is that it goes above man’s mere superficial gaze. The God of Paul, the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a being of great surprises. God surprised me today When I looked up the daily Mass reading for April 17th,[today!] I almost stood up from my desk in awe! The first reading for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter comes from Acts 7:51-8:1A—the stoning of Stephen. Stephen’s murder represented the height of Saul’s sin. I truly do not believe my ponderings on St. Paul were mere coincidence. God planted a desire in my heart—the same day that the Mass readings were about his past failures!—to look to Paul’s journey toward conversion as a testament of Divine Mercy.

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Among the most sinister characters in the New Testament, Saul led the assault against Christians. However, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles the same individual goes by the name Paul, became a household name in the early Church, and preaches through the ancient world the Good News of Jesus Christ. How is that possible? Answer: The God of the Universe loves to surprise. The plot twist involving the former persecutor of Christians is just one example of God’s mysterious, yet amazing plan of salvation.

The pride and self-righteousness of Saul prior to his conversion speaks directly to my own struggles with hubris and judgmental attitude towards others of different backgrounds. Acts 9 contains the conversion story of Saul. Traveling to Damascus, a bright light from the sky blinds him and Saul falls to the ground. Receiving temporary blindness for three days, the Lord moves in the heart of Saul during his period of darkness. After being healed from his blindness, Saul is baptized and takes the new Christian name of Paul—and the rest of the story is history.

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Does your own pride cause myopia in your spiritual life? Are you in a place in your life where it would not be a bad thing to be knocked off the high horse of hubris? Have past actions caused innocent people to suffer? These are questions I reflect on today— and need to regularly ponder—as I sojourn through life. Am I currently Paul? Or have I acted like a Saul lately?

St. Maria Faustina detailed this truth about God’s mercy in Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul“A soul does not benefit as it should from the sacrament of confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it recovery” (113, page 63). I would not be surprised if the memory of St. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 acted as a seed planted by the Holy Spirit as the Polish saint wrote these words. God’s write a perfect story with imperfect story. St. Paul is a testament to this fact. I am given hope by learning to trust in God’s surprising and unexpected details in his plan of salvation!  

God writes straight

 

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3 Lessons from Super Bowl LII

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First uttered in 1973 during the National League Pennant race by baseball legend Yogi Berra, the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over” is now a staple colloquialism in American society. Watching Super Bowl LII made me think of this saying over and over. After last season’s epic comeback by the New England Patriots [and major collapse on the part of the Atlanta Falcons] in American football’s biggest stage, nothing is truly surprising to me anymore in the world of sports. We should be prepared for the unexpected! Actually, that is what most of the world received as the clock waned done to 00:00 in Super Bowl LII—a largely unexpected victory of the Philadelphia Eagles over the celebrated, and seemingly invincible juggernaut that is Tom Brady. I want to share three lessons I took from this game and how a sporting event provided some perspective to my spiritual journey.

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  1. Never Give Up: Anyone who has played a sport, whether professionally or at the amateur level knows that the overcome of the game is not done until the closing minutes—or even the final play. Whenever my friends and I played a pick-up game of basketball or football to relieve the stress of finals testing, the games were heated and typically ended in a close score. The first lesson I learned from watching Super Bowl LII is to never give up. It is always worth fighting until the end.

 

St. Paul often uses sports terminology when referring to persistence in the journey of faith. He tells us in Acts 20:24, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Lessons from football, and other seemingly ordinary activities, can translate to the spiritual life. My time on this earth plane of existence is short, but the key is there is still time. God grants us time to have many chances at asking for forgiveness and bestowing mercy on others.

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  1. Be Bold: Another message I gathered from watching Super Bowl LII is that boldness pays off. Several times throughout the game the Eagles head coach decided to go for it on 4th Knowing he had to be gutsy in order to even have a shot beating an NFL dynasty like the Patriots, Doug Pederson, selected a trick play that may go down in football history as the most intrepid play ever—a direct snap to the running back, pitch to the tight end, and pass to the quarterback for a touchdown!

Possessing confidence in his team allowed for Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to boldly go where teams [aside from the New York Giants] went before—hoisting the Lombardi trophy in victory over the dynamic duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Such boldness captivated my attention along with the millions of other viewers of the Super Bowl. Bold and confident people attract others to themselves.

Saint Pope John Paul II was that type of individual. He once stated, “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” His words relate directly to my life situation. Struggling with confidence within my new job, I act in hesitancy that hampers my ability for achieving greater heights. Ironically, playing things safe, both in my professional and spiritual life do not lead to successes. God does not want us to worry about things outside of our control. Witnessing the football game of the year showed me that some risks are worth taking.

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  1. Rely on Him Who Gives Us Everything: During the trophy presentation of the Lombardi Trophy and the Super Bowl LII MVP award, the excitement of the coaches and players possessed a unique quality this time around. Obviously, any sane person would be ecstatic after winning such a highly touted championship event, but the joy the Philadelphia Eagles displayed seemed a bit different from previous awards ceremonies. All of the major figures in the Eagles franchise: owner, coaches, and quarterback—all opened their speeches with specific praises to God.

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Listening to various post-game interviews I came across this video of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. His major message is to recognize our failures and look to God for stability in those tough times. We cling to God during the storms of life. Below is a link to this press conference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s7Ge7GkhO4

Nick Foles told reporters after the game, “I may be in the NFL. We may have just won the Super Bowl, but we still have daily struggles—I have daily struggles. But that is where my faith and family. When you look at a failure in your life it is an opportunity for your character to grow…I would not be out here [playing football] without God, without Jesus in my life.”  God seems to use normal, maybe even trivial stuff—like an NFL football game, to teach me about the importance of perseverance in the faith and cling to Him in time of need. In my daily struggles to grow in holiness, being a better parent, and a more loving neighbor to my fellow mankind I am grateful that God displayed Himself again to me through the ordinary example of a sporting event!

 

The Legacy of the Gospel

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“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi warned the evil Darth Vader moments before his death via  the crimson blade of the Sith lord. I got to admit I thought this line seemed pretty lame as the audience does not get to witness the resurrection or return of Obi-wan in his physical form. I felt a sense of disappointment as I loved this Star Wars character. Years have passed since my first binge watching of the cinematic intergalactic series. New educational experiences, life events, and spiritual moments shaped me into the person that I am currently. Re-watching Episode IV: A New Hope allowed me to view Obi-Wan’s final words in a different perspective—through the lens of hope [no pun intended]!

According to G.K. Chesterton, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead (Chapter 4 Ethics of Elfland, Orthodoxy). What the great English journalist means is that death does not disqualify a person from impacting the present. The weight of tradition should be pondered and analyzed whenever present life’s realities are discussed. I found the joy of Chesterton’s seminal work Orthodoxy in early 2017. I am convinced my discovery of Chesterton did not simply occur by random chance—Divine Providence directed this seeming coincidence. Fast-forwarding to the beginning of 2018, the words of Obi-Wan and Chesterton, fiction and fact intersected in the event of my grandfather’s death in mid-January. Having been able to process his passing a single word remains steadfast in my mind with I ponder his life—legacy.

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The dictionary defines the word legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”. Legacies pervade nearly all topics and discussions. NFL players always strive to leave a good and lasting legacy—they especially ponder this during the sunset of their careers. Politicians seek legacy that extends beyond their time in elected office. The mark of a great legacy is the ability for it to stand the test of time. Assuming this is the gold standard upon which all legacies are judged, I wager that the legacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest and most permanent of all legacies!

Matthew 28:19-20 details the great commission of Jesus to his Apostles, “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Through the force, power, inspiration, and protection of the Holy Spirit the Good News of the Gospel is able to be passed on from generation to generation without fear of distortion or corruption of Jesus’ message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes this sentiment in paragraph 74,

God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”:29 that is, of Christ Jesus.30 Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:

God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.31

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Death is not a finale for people with believe in and love truth. Instead, authentic love and obedience to the truth of the Gospel leads to an encore of life—life in eternity. A prime example of an “Obi-Wan instance” is the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In the face of his impending death by stoning, confident in Divine Providence he declared, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Similar to Obi-Wan, Stephen did not seek vengeance for his murderers—rather he asked God to forgive them (Acts 7:60). The Early Church Father Tertullian famously said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church“.  St. Stephen’s death acted as a catalyst to God performing arguably one of His greatest miracles—the conversion of Saul [great killer of Christians] to Paul [great evangelizer of Jesus Christ].

Reflecting on the death of my grandfather gave rise to several emotions: sadness, joy, sorrow, and hope. My grandfather left a legacy of a wife of 67 years, eleven children, and a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The greatest legacy he left—was continuing the legacy of the Gospel. Started by Jesus and kindled by the saints through the ages, I am confident my grandfather lived a life worthy to be called a child of God.

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Us to death: If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine [as long as we continue to hope in the Lord]!

 

3 Reasons Why Leaf by Niggle is my Favorite Tolkien Treasure

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As a Middle-earth aficionado, I have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Currently, I am navigating the land of Beleriand as I am reading The Children of Húrin. While these books are creative and profound, my personal favorite Tolkien work [so far this may be subject to change!] does not take place in a mythic land or through the medium of an epic adventure tale. Instead, a short story published in 1945 wins my personal Pulitzer. Leaf by Niggle does not follow hobbits, elves, dwarves, or contain any sinister evil such as Sauron or Morgoth. Instead, the plots details of a simple painter’s journey in the afterlife.

The short story begins by depicting Niggle, an artist, living in a society with little esteem for art. He is continually interrupted by his neighbor Parish who is lame and has an ill wife. Although Niggle views such disruptions as annoying, he still helps his neighbor due to his politeness.

Niggle is forced to take a trip that he is not ready for and spends time at a hospital. Daily work as a gardener is the task that he is entrusted with during his time at the health institution. Throughout this process, the reader hears two unseen voices discuss the progress of Niggle.

It is determined that the artist made advancements and is sent to a new country—the Land of the Tree and Forest of his great painting. Niggle becomes re-united with Parish and together they work the land. Their work brings beauty to the Tree and the Forest. Finally, Niggle bids farewell to Parish as he continues his journey with the shepherd to learn more about the sheep and journey toward the high pastures in the Mountains.

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  1. Clearly Catholic: The main reason I enjoy Leaf by Niggle is due to the clear catholicity contained within the characters, plot, and symbols. Niggle represents everyman—humanity as an individual and as a collective. When I looked up the word niggle in the thesaurus, I learned that the name has synonyms which included: annoy, bother, discomfort, and anxiety. According to Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution of the Church]  7, “On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified.” Niggle also suffered various disturbances of his artwork while he was on a pilgrim journey.

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Another example of how Tolkien clearly infused Catholic thought into his short story is the hospital being an allegory for the cleansing process of purgatory.  Next, the Voices represent the judgment and mercy of God. The English writer conveys the balanced Catholic approach to Divine Mercy and Judgment through the dialogue between the voices on Niggle’s progress:

“Now the Niggle case,” said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor’s.

“What was the matter with him?” said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft-it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful and sad. “What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place.”

“Yes, but it did not function properly,” said the First Voice. “And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself! He never got ready for his journey. He was moderately well-off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers’ wing. A bad case, I am afraid. I think he should stay some time yet.”

“It would not do him any harm, perhaps,” said the Second Voice. “But, of course, he is only a little man. He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong. Let us look at the Records. Yes. There are some favourable points, you know.”

“Perhaps,” said the First Voice; “but very few that will really bear examination.”

“Well,” said the Second Voice, “there are these. He was a painter by nature. In a minor way, of course; still, a Leaf by Niggle has a charm of its own. He took a great deal of pains with leaves, just for their own sake. But he never thought that that made him important. There is no note in the Records of his pretending, even to himself, that it excused his neglect of things ordered by the law.”

“Then he should not have neglected so many,” said the First Voice.

“All the same, he did answer a good many Calls.”

I am niggle 

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  1. I am Niggle: Probably the biggest takeaway I received from Leaf by Niggle this that the titular character mirrors traits found within myself. While Niggle is engrossed in his artwork, I often find myself absorbed in my hobbies of reading and writing. Daily disturbances—such as assisting neighbors in need—annoy Niggle, but he ultimately does the right thing, just not always out of love. In a similar fashion, I struggle to carry out my familial and employee duties without ever lamenting or finding these tasks bothersome. At the end of the day, I will complete my duty because it is right and moral. What I sometimes lack is serving my family and co-workers with love all the time!

Tolkien’s ability to depict the rawness and realness of Niggle urged me to re-read this short story almost immediately upon completing it the first time. As an idealist, I am often color-blind to the real-life situations and toils of daily living. Leaf by Niggle provides clarity into how a person’s life is judged. I am hopeful, yet realistic about God’s mercy and realize I have a purgative road ahead of me in this life [and likely the next life!].

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  1. Purgatory is a Real Process: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Niggle’s trip to the hospital and the Land of the Tree and Forest represent the Christian doctrine of purgatory—a state of existence whereby souls are purified. Purgatory is an ephemeral existence, it is not permanent. It is a stage toward Heaven. However, the process of purgation is not ethereal, it involves a REAL PROCESS of perfection.

Tolkien utilizes allegory to capture this truth. He details concrete examples to describe the purgative experience. Death is the doorway that leads mankind toward purgation [this is assuming they led an imperfect life, but ultimately choose to follow God!]. In Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien represents Death via two character’s the Inspector of Homes and the Driver—brings Niggle to the hospital [i.e. Purgatory]. Listen to the conversation between Death and Niggle:

Next day he felt a good deal better. He climbed the ladder, and began to paint. He had just begun to get into it again, when there came a knock on the door.

“Damn!” said Niggle. But he might just as well have said “Come in!” politely, for the door opened all the same. This time a very tall man came in, a total stranger.

“This is a private studio,” said Niggle. “I am busy. Go away!”

“I am an Inspector of Houses,” said the man, holding up his appointment-card, so that Niggle on his ladder could see it. “Oh!” he said.

“Your neighbour’s house is not satisfactory at all,” said the Inspector.

“I know,” said Niggle. “I took a note to the builders a long time ago, but they have never come. Then I have been ill.”

“I see,” said the Inspector. “But you are not ill now.”

“But I’m not a builder. Parish ought to make a complaint to the Town Council, and get help from the Emergency Service.”

“They are busy with worse damage than any up here,” said the Inspector. “There has been a flood in the valley, and many families are homeless. You should have helped your neighbour to make temporary repairs and prevent the damage from getting more costly to mend than necessary. That is the law. There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint.”

“Where?” asked Niggle indignantly.

“There!” said the Inspector, pointing to the picture.

“My picture!” exclaimed Niggle.

“I dare say it is,” said the Inspector. “But houses come first. That is the law.”

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St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.” We do not know the hour of our death. Just how Niggle was not fully prepared to meet death, we will be surprised at the end of this earthly existence. Thankfully, due to the mercy of God, a process/period of purgation exists. Any lover of Tolkien and Christian allegory will find enjoyment while reading Leaf by Niggle.

How Do I Embrace My Tookish Side?

***“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”***

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This quote comes from the opening pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Readers unfamiliar with the background of this novel may need some context to see the relevance of this passage to today’s topic. Basically, the protagonist of The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins—a hobbit who at the beginning of the story lives a quiet life free from any big adventure or risk-taking. His tranquil existence is seemingly upset upon the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a troupe of adventuring dwarves. The wizard succeeds in convincing Bilbo to join the dwarven expedition to reclaim treasure stolen by a dragon. Bilbo’s role is to serve as the burglar—someone quick and nimble—to steal the gold from Smaug the Dragon. I always found Bilbo’s inner struggle whether to embrace his Baggins [low-risk, simple] side or his Tookish [adventurous] family lineage.

Frequenctly I find myself a chimera—a hybrid—composed of my rational and scientific mentality juxtaposed against my life of faith. According to John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Fides Et Ratio).

Pitting faith against reason or vice versa only frustrates man’s pursuit toward a joyous existence. I know this to be true because I experienced life when I shut out faith and when I land on the other extreme as well and jettison my rational side. Similarly, Bilbo Baggins did not fully embrace reality nor fully attain a fulfilling life until he incorporated the Tookish [faith, adventurous] side. I look to Tolkien’s literary work with a character who resembles myself at my current stage in life. Recently, I have become too logical, too rigid, and too rational in my approach to living. I need to embrace my Tookish side. Below are three concrete ways whereby I may accomplish this goal.

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  1. Laughter: Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” Bold claim. Lacking in laughter, I tend to struggle with being too serious. I think part of my seriousness stems from my desire to control daily events. Amidst the constant curveballs life throws at you sometimes the only thing to do is to laugh. Mark Twain wittingly declared, “The human race has only one effective weapon and that is laughter!” While I dispute the notion that humor is our sole weapon, Twain has a point—laughter serves a remedy to an ailing situation.

Watching television comedies like The Office and Home Improvement with my wife help me re-charge from a toilsome day. The levity of sitcoms provides me perspective on my day. Through the antics of the employees at Dunder Mifflin and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, I learn to deal with stress in a healthy manner. I develop an ability to have faith that things will work out in the end and that I need to embrace the roller coaster adventure of life!

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  1. Out of the Mouths of Babes: According to Matthew 21:16, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” Now this passage is actually a direct quote from Psalms 8:3. This psalm mentions the amazing power of God and His praiseworthy nature. Throughout history, the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” has developed into an idiom to refer to the keen insight the young/inexperienced may be able to provide someone “wiser” or “older”. My children abound with wisdom [even though they are oblivious to that fact!]. While the old and wise wizard Gandalf, solicited Bilbo out of his reserved and cautious hobbit hole, my situation is almost the inverse. My young [wise] children allow me to engage with my Tookish [faith-filled, funny-loving, witty, adventurous] side.

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  1. Listening to the Holy Spirit: Heeding the call of the Holy Spirit is a third way I embrace my “Tookish” side. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, I am only going to focus on two: courage and right judgement. Both gifts I believe to be invaluable for me to pursue adventure in my life. It takes courage to go on a journey—whether it is physical or spiritual in nature. Gandalf provided courage and right judgment to Bilbo in aiding him on his unexpected journey. The author of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose faith permeated his fiction. As his son Michael once said about the impact of Catholicism on his father’s work, “[it] pervaded all his thinking, beliefs and everything else.”  The Holy Spirit enters my life unexpectedly at times in my life granting me courage and right judgment.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Embracing my inherent gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit will allow me to find a healthy balance in my spiritual life. I will learn to embrace my adventurous and jovial side with jettisoning my rational, reserved nature.

As I wrap up, I need to make the following disclaimer: embracing your Tookish side will change you. Be prepared. When Biblo Baggins returns from his long journey with Gandalf and the dwarves, his fellow hobbits viewed him differently. Tolkien writes,

Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be “queer” – except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.

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Do not be discouraged by this news. Whenever I despair about any changes from embracing the life of faith I remember Christ’s words, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)!

Why Catholic Must Have Bible A.D.D Part 6- Old Man vs. New Man

I found the meanings of names fascinating. Discover the meaning of your, siblings, or children’s name(s) and it might generate nice table talk at your next family gathering or shed light on a particular personality trait. The same is true for names within the Bible. Each and every name in the Old and New Testament has a meaning whose knowledge of its enhances one’s ability to learn about the biblical story. For example, the name Jesus means “God saves”—this is key in understanding the purpose of the Gospels in telling us about God’s plan of salvation for mankind.  The name that I want to focus on today is Adam.

First mentioned in Genesis 2, Adam is created by God as the first human. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word āḏām actually translated to “human or man”. This is an important point because as I will demonstrate today is that through a contextual reading of the Old and New Testaments God plan for all of humanity is salvation! There are three ways by which a contextual approach to Scriptures will show Adam as the Old Man and Jesus as the New Man.

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  1. Priest, Prophet, and King- Both Adam and Jesus exercise roles as priest, prophet, and king. I will briefly chart out evidence for all three of these roles and explain why Jesus is the perfect priest, prophet, and king. Regarding Adam, he is a priest because he is asked to tend the garden [which the Early Church Fathers commonly symbolically saw as a foreshadowing of the Temple]. Secondly, Adam had a prophetic role in being called to be a role model for his wife Eve. Thirdly, Adam exhibited kingly dominion over the garden [see Genesis 2:19-20]. In spite of these initial roles, the Old Man [Adam] is imperfect—he is expelled from the garden and blames his wife for eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.. On the other hand, Jesus is the perfection of the roles of priest, prophet , and king. Jesus offers the most perfect sacrifice—himself in the Eucharist offered to God the Father. Next Jesus’ message of God’s love shows him to be a prophet par excellence. Lastly, John 19 shows Jesus as a king and the last Sunday of the Liturgical Calendar celebrates the Kingship of Jesus as well!

 

  1. Disobedience vs. Obedience- Paul juxtaposes the disobedience of Adam versus the perfect obedience of Jesus in Romans 5:15-19,

 But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many. 16And the gift is not like the result of the one person’s sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal. 17For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ. 18In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all.k 19For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.l

Through the eating of the fruit of a tree in an act of disobedience sin and death came into the world. Ironically, it is through eating of the fruit [Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist] of a tree [The wood of the Cross] that grants us salvation and the graces to overcome sin and death!

  1. Eve and Mary’s Role- Another parallel between Adam and Jesus is the comparison of the major women figures in their lives. Eve fell into sin through the temptation posed by the serpent whereas Mary in Luke 1:38 accepts God’s will in being the Mother of Jesus. Moreover, there is a promise in Genesis 3:15 where the offspring of the woman will be at odds with the serpents offspring. I wrote in 3 Reasons Why God May Not Be the Devil’s Greatest Enemy in relation to this topic. I suggest reading this post for more information.

In sum, the New Testament is all about God’s plan of salvation coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He is the perfect man and ushers in a new humanity through the sacramental system whereby we may become ADOPTED children of God. Though we are born to original sin and are connected to Adam at birth, God’s mercy allows us to wash away that original sin through Baptism and increase our family bond with Him through the other sacraments!