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Tuesday, March 27, 2018
LAST CALL to Register for "Weapons of Our Warfare" 2018 CFN Conference in Chicago
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I will be attending.  I encourage you to learn more and register now!

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Monday, March 19, 2018
Litany of Belgian Saints
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Image Source: Copyright (C) A Catholic Life Blog, 2018.  Image of St. Nicholas Church in Brussels, Belgium.  See Flickr for more information.


As I recently shared in regards to my travels in Belgium, the country has fallen far from its days as a truly Catholic practicing nation.  Please join me in praying this Litany of Belgian Saints:


St. Abel of Reims
St. Acarius
St. Aibert
St. Saint Alena
St. Alice of Schaerbeek
St. Amalberga of Maubeuge
St. Amalberga of Temse
St. Amandus
St. Amandina of Schakkebroek
St. Arnoul of Cysoing
St. Bavo of Ghent
St. Begga
St. John Berchmans
St. Berlinda of Meerbeke
St. Julie Billiart
St. Boniface of Brussels
St. Celsa and Nona
St. Chrodegang
St. Colette of Corbie
St. Father Damien
St. Domitian of Huy
St. Saint Drogo
St. Ermin of Lobbes
St. Gérard of Brogne
St. Gertrude of Nivelles
St. Gerulfus
St. Saint Ghislain
St. Godelieve
St. Godwin of Stavelot
St. Gondulphus of Berry
St. Gudula
St. Gummarus
St. Guy of Anderlecht
St. Saint Hadelin
St. Himelin
St. Idesbald
St. Itta of Metz
St. Juliana of Liège
St. Lambert of Maastricht
St. Landelin
St. Landrada
St. Albert of Louvain
St. Lutgardis
St. Marie of Oignies
St. Martin of Tongres
St. Saint Oda
St. Pharaildis
St. Poppo of Stavelot
St. Reineldis
St. Relindis of Maaseik
St. Rimbert
St. Rumbold of Mechelen
St. Saint Ava
St. Libert of Saint-Trond
St. Victor Scheppers
St. Trudo
St. Vincent Madelgarius
St. Mutien-Marie Wiaux
St. Wivina (abbess)
St. Yvette of Huy
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Sunday, March 18, 2018
A Tour of Catholicism in the Netherlands and Belgium
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Over the past few years I have been privileged to travel to several great Catholic nations and cities.  The Vatican, Rome, Florence, Munich, Madrid, and Vienna are just a few of the European cities I’ve explored in the past two years.  My travels have taken me to forgotten shrines, mountain monasteries, precious relics of incorruptible saints, and some of the most sacred places on earth.

This year I wanted to take a different route. I wanted to travel to those formerly Catholic cities in the Netherlands and Belgium – cities where the Faith was attacked by the Protestants and where the Church’s martyrs grew in vast numbers.  These cities have as of late largely been attacked with the assault of liberalism, modernism, and secularism.  Nowadays, few souls remain attached to any religion and in the Netherlands over half of the population is irreligious.  Catholics make up the next largest share but the total number of citizens who belong to any religion is shocking low at 32%.  Belgium – while on paper seems much larger in number of Catholics – has been infected with liberalism since their constitution in 1831.  The nation is a proponent of euthanasia, abortion, and same-sex “marriage.”  Alas, these two nations have fallen far from their more glorious and faithful past.

So this March I endeavored to travel to these nations and pray for the souls there.  I wanted to see the relics that remained, venerate the Catholic shrines there, and pray along the way for the souls who need prayers.

Amsterdam

My journey started on March 3, 2018, as I arrived in Amsterdam.  The city is home to a few Catholic destinations – the main one being St. Nicholas Basilica which is located just a few minutes’ walk from the Amsterdam Central Train station.  The Basilica has a collection of religious murals and above the high altar is the crown of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1486 - 1519. In a country of few Catholic places of worship compared with Protestant ones, the Basilica of St. Nicholas is actually the city’s main Catholic Church.  Built in 1887, it was only declared a Minor Basilica recently on its 125th anniversary.

The Basilica is beautiful and well worth a visit. They even offer Latin Vespers each Sunday at 17:00, and while there I had the chance to sit and pray along as they chanted Traditional Gregorian Vespers – a true rarity to find!


The next day in Amsterdam started with a morning Mass at St. Agnes Church, which is run by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.  Located just 20 or so minutes via tram from St. Nicholas, the church is staffed by several priests and Confessions can be heard in either Dutch or English, since English is known and spoken by virtually all of Amsterdam’s residents.  The FSSP parish is a true gem of Faith in a country that needs our prayers.

Utrecht


After a few days in Amsterdam, I ventured down to the true religious heart of the Netherlands in the city of Utrecht.  There I visited the beautiful Church of St. Willibrord which offers the Traditional Latin Mass and also paid a visit to the city’s Cathedral, which was taken over by the Protestants after the Protestant Reformation.

The highlight of Utrecht is the city’s towering Dom Tower, a true testimony of the great dedication of the past people for Utrecht and the Kingdom of the Netherlands for the Faith.  The Gothic style Tower is the largest church tower in all of the Netherlands at 112.5 meters high. Join me in praying for the conversion of these people through the intercession of The Martyrs of Gorkum, St. Willibrord, St. Oda, St. Bernold, and the other saints of the Netherlands.

Antwerp

After spending a few days in the Netherlands, I took a train from Amsterdam to Antwerp, Belgium, a city on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands.  And this part of the journey did not disappoint.

I arrived in Antwerp’s central train station and it is one of the most unique central stations of Europe, as it is adorned with over twenty different kinds of stone and features soaring, arched windows.  The station allows in a significant amount of sunlight, which is a welcome sight in a country that has a disproportionate amount of rainfall.
 

My primary destination in Antwerp was the Cathedral of Our Lady, built in 1521.  The belfry of the cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the place contained more triptychs than I have ever seen combined – several famous paintings by Rubens including his legendary works: Elevation of the Cross and his Descent from the Cross are there in triptychs.  I was delighted to also see his impressive painting of the Lord’s Resurrection here in a small side chapel as well.  While most of the Cathedrals I have visited in Europe are free to enter, this one charged a nominal admission fee but it was well worth the price.

The Cathedral itself is a metaphor of the eventual return of the Faith to this part of the world.  Back in 1794, the French revolutionaries - the same ones who murdered nuns and destroyed cathedrals, plundered Our Lady's Cathedral in Antwerp and left it in serious damage.  In fact, the French government sought to completely demolish the building in 1798 but the Cathedral persisted.  At last, in 1816, many priceless works of art were finally restored from Paris as the French liberal government disbanded and the Bourbon Kings were restored to the Throne of France.  During this time, the three Rubens masterpieces were returned and restored to their rightful place in the Cathedral.


The Cathedral itself has undergone significant renovations and completed a major renovation back in 1993. The Cathedral cannot be over emphasized.  No visit to Northern Europe would be complete with this awe-inspiring and art-rich destination.  In fact, of all the museums and Cathedrals I have visited, only the Louve, religious art museum in Florence, and the Vatican Museum had in my opinion a more impressive art collection.

Antwerp is a fascinating town and well worth a short stop.  After roughly 4 hours in the city, I headed back to the central station and passed through Ghent before arriving in my next Belgian stop: Bruges.

Bruges


Hidden in this small, medieval town which features cobblestone streets and the sense of stepping back in time is the wonderful Basilica of the Holy Blood.   The Basilica was built in the 12th century to house a precious relic of the Holy Blood.  The relic is a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ, housed in a vial, brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th century Second Crusade. The cloth itself was collected by St. Joseph of Arimathea himself.


The Basilica features both an upper and a lower chapel.  My visit was only of the upper chapel which feature a Gothic style interior and murals on the wall depicting Thierry of Alsace bringing the relic of the Holy Blood back from the Holy Land.  In 1310, Pope Clement V issued a papal bull granting an indulgence to pilgrims who visited the chapel to venerate the relic.

The relic itself is kept behind a silver tabernacle on a side altar.  What an awe-inspiring moment to pray before a relic of the Blood of Jesus Christ!  Yet, how many of us fail to recall that we truly consume (not just venerate but even truly consume) His Precious Blood – the same Blood! – in Holy Communion.



Also in Bruges is St. Salvator's Cathedral.  Though it has been under major construction in recent years, it is also worth a stop as it is on the way between the basilica and the main train station.  Inside – like the other churches on my pilgrimage – were several beautiful paintings.

After a few hours exploring the city, I ventured via train from Bruges’ central train station on to Brussels, the capital of the European Union and of Belgium.

Brussels

My first stop after leaving the station and arriving in the heart of Brussels near their famous central square – which is considered by some as the top square in the world in terms of beauty – is the Church of St. Nicholas.



Inside this quaint church rests the holy relics of 19 Martyrs of Gorcum.  These martyrs were killed by a Protestant gang on September 7, 1572.  Among their number are 10 Franciscans, 2 Norbertines, 1 Dominican, 1 Augustinian, 4 members of the clergy, and 1 layman.  Truly they represent the Universal Church.

Previously in the 18th century across the street from the Church of St. Nicholas was a Franciscan convent that has since been destroyed.  The relics of the Gorcum martyrs were carried from that convent to the Church of St. Nicholas and kept in a gilded, copper shrine created by Franz-Xaver Hellner.  The shrine is a true work of art and a beautiful expression of Faith.

The shrine rests on four lions.  On the front panel is Fr. Francois van Rooy, one of the martyrs.  On the opposite panel is the Virgin Mary with St. Boniface and the Franciscans van Outers.  Along the sides are the 9 martyrs in robes.  And on the roof are six scenes which illustrate scenes from their life including their imprisonment and martyrdom, carrying them by boat towards Brielle, the last questioning of Guillaume de la Marck, their hanging, the carrying of their relics to Brussels, and their canonization.

Also in Brussels is the Cathedral of St. Michael.  Built in a similar but more modest style to Notre Dame in Paris, the Cathedral is home to some beautiful art.  Inside is a truly unique Baroque pulpit by Hendrick Frans Verbruggen and a large organ which contains 4300 pipes, 63 stops, four manuals and one pedal. Spend some time there praying for the people of Belgium to return in greater fervor to the Catholic Faith.

And finally, worth mentioning is that Brussels too is home to the Traditional Mass of All Time.  While I visited only for one day during the week and did not have the opportunity to attend one of the Tridentine Masses in the city, they do exist in several locations.

Conclusion

Most Catholics do not think of the Netherlands and Belgium as immediate travel destinations. Home to many protestant and irreligious ideas, the Faith has been under assault for years in these countries.  But as my travels illustrated, the Faith lives on.  Inside the cities in Belgium and the Netherlands are testaments of a Catholic past and a promise of a future which we can help attain through our work of catechesis and prayer.  Join me in praying a Pater and an Ave for the souls in these nations.  Lord have mercy!

I also spent the next 5 days in Paris and I will share in a separate article the highlights of that adventure.  For more of my trip photos, please see my Flickr Page.  Also, photos will be posted on my Instagram channel as well.

Note, all images are copyrighted by me and all rights are reserved.
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Saturday, March 17, 2018
Litany of Irish Saints
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Ireland is home to over 300 canonized saints. On St. Patrick's Day, let us honor them and pray for Ireland and the Irish people, especially that they rekindle their Catholicity and ever stand firm in the Church's teachings and in the Faith. This is especially true in regards to the nation's laws on life.

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity one God, have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, pray for us
Holy Mother of God,
Holy Virgin of virgins,
St. Joseph, pray for us.

St. Killian, pray for us
St. Rumold,
St. Livinus,
St. Oliver,
All ye Holy Martyrs, pray for us.

St. Celestine, pray for us.
St. Patrick,
St. Malachy,
St. Macnise,
St. Finnian,
St. Mel
St. Macartan,
St. Eugene,
St. Colman,
St. Felim,
St. Eunan,
St. Laurence,
St. Conleth,
St. Laserian,
St. Aidan,
St. Kieran,
St. Albert,
St. Ailbe,
St. Colman,
St. Finnbarr,
St. Flannan,
St. Munchin,
St. Fachtna,
St. Otteran,
St. Carthage,
St. Jarlath,
St. Nathy,
St. Asicus,
St. Nicholas,
St. Colman,
St. Muredach,
St. Declan,
St. Virgilius,
St. Senan,
St. Frigidian,
St. Cuthbert,
St. Rupert,
St. Celsus,
St. Cataldus,
St. Donatus,
Blessed Thaddaeus,
All ye Holy Pontiffs and Confessors, pray for us.

St. Columba, pray for us.
St. Kevin,
St. Brendan,
St. Canice,
St. Kieran,
St. Columbanus,
St. Gall,
St. Fursey,
St. Fintan,
St. Comgall,
St. Fiacre,
All ye Holy Monks and Hermits, pray for us.

St. Brigid, pray for us.
St. Ita,
St. Attracta,
St. Dympna,
St. Lelia,
All ye Holy Virgins, pray for us.

All ye Holy Saints of God, Intercede for us.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.

V. Pray for us, all you Saints of Ireland.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray

Grant, O Lord, an increase of Thy Grace to us who celebrate the memory of all the Saints of our Island; that as, on earth, we rejoice to be one with them in race, so, in Heaven, we may deserve to share with them an inheritance of bliss. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2018
What Does the Bible Really Teach?
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Note: The following material is largely quoted from A Step Towards Heaven: An Introduction to Religion
Maybe you've seen the stands of books near train stations, bus stops, or the like with people who are Jehovah Witnesses?  They often given out a small book called "What Does the Bible Really Teach?"  If you are interested in what the Bible does really teach, then read out for a concise summary:


The Bible is the inspired word of God.  It contains two main sections – the first is the Old Testament while the second is the New Testament.   The Old Testament contains books collected by the Israelites written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.  The New Testament was written by the Apostles and their followers, usually in Greek. 

There are many different types of literature in both the Old and New Testaments such as poetry, history, wisdom and apocalyptic.  However, even though the Old and New Testaments come from two different sources and contain different types of literature, the Bible is still one book.  The Old Testament foretells the events in the New Testament and the New Testament harkens back to the Old Testament.  Both books contain the word of God.  The First Vatican Council (convoked in 1868) stated -

“These [the Old and New Testament] the Church holds to be sacred and canonical;… because having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church itself.”  (McNabb. pg. 21)
The Bible is made up of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament contains 46 books –
Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy;

Historical books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees;

Sapiential books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom, Sirach;


Prophetic books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

The above list is by the type of book rather than a list of how the books appear in the Bible.  We shall give a sample of each type of literature.


Pentateuch

The first five books of the Bible tell the stories most people know.  The creation of the world -

“In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.  And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters.  And God said: Be light made. And light was made. And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness.  And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day”.  (Genesis 1: 1-5)
The creation of the first woman -
“Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it.  And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam.  And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.  Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.” (Genesis 2: 21-24)
Genesis also tells about the fall of Adam and Eve, their expulsion from Paradise and the murder of Abel by Cain.  We also hear the story of Noah (Noe) in Genesis 6: 11-15.
“And the earth was corrupted before God, and was filled with iniquity.  And when God had seen that the earth was corrupted (for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth,) He said to Noe: The end of all flesh is come before me, the earth is filled with iniquity through them, and I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of timber planks: thou shalt make little rooms in the ark, and thou shalt pitch it within and without. And thus shalt thou make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits: the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.”   
After Noah’s family and the animals have survived the flood, God makes a covenant with Noah in Genesis 9: 11-17.
“I will establish my covenant with you, and all flesh shall be no more destroyed with the waters of a flood, neither shall there be from henceforth a flood to waste the earth.  And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I give between me and you, and to every living soul that is with you, for perpetual generations.  I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me, and between the earth.  And when I shall cover the sky with clouds, my bow shall appear in the clouds:  And I will remember my covenant with you, and with every living soul that beareth flesh: and there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.  
“And the bow shall be in the clouds, and I shall see it, and shall remember the everlasting covenant, that was made between God and every living soul of all flesh which is upon the earth.  And God said to Noe: This shall be the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh upon the earth.”

The covenant is very important as it is the unifying theme connecting all of the books of the Old Testament.  The Old Testament contains hundreds of characters and dozens of stories taking place in different countries written in different styles of literature.  Books of today have a love story or the conquest of a kingdom as a unifying theme.  The Old Testament unites its many different books with how well (or how badly) the characters keep their covenants with God.  Whether it is Adam and Eve breaking the covenant or Noah and God forming a new covenant – we understand that this is the one subtext that is behind all of the stories in the Old Testament.  The Israelites will form other covenants with God through Abraham and Moses while at other times they will break God’s laws and have to be called back through the Prophets.

As Genesis continues, we hear the story of the tower of Babel and then Abram (who later became Abraham).   In Genesis 12:1-5 we hear that God tells Abram to leave his home -

“And the Lord said to Abram: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father's house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.  And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed.  I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and IN THEE shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed:  So Abram went out as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him: Abram was seventy-five years old when he went forth from Haran.  And he took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all the substance which they had gathered, and the souls which they had gotten in Haran: and they went out to go into the land of Chanaan.”

Sarai eventually becomes Sarah and bears Abraham a son named Isaac.  Isaac marries Rebecca and has two sons – Esau and Jacob.  Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him the inheritance instead of Esau who was the eldest (Esau had previously promised to let Jacob have the inheritance for a meal when Esau was very hungry.)  Jacob flees from his brother (who is an excellent hunter) and lays down to sleep –
“And when he was come to a certain place, and would rest in it after sunset, he took of the stones that lay there, and putting under his head, slept in the same place.  And he saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it;  And the Lord leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land, wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed.  And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth: thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and IN THEE and thy seed all the tribes of the earth SHALL BE BLESSED.  And I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land: neither will I leave thee, till I shall have accomplished all that I have said.”   (Genesis 28: 11-15)
As we can see this is another covenant – now between God and Jacob.  Jacob has twelve children, including Joseph.  Jacob is given the name of Israel in Genesis 35: 9-12 -
“And God appeared again to Jacob, after he returned from Mesopotamia of Syria, and He blessed him, Saying: Thou shalt not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name. And He called him Israel. 
“And said to him: I am God Almighty, increase thou and be multiplied. Nations and peoples of nations shall be from thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.  And the land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give to thee, and to thy seed after thee.”
Joseph (of the many-colored coat) is the next story to be told.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and then became the Pharaoh’s vizier after correctly interpreting the ruler’s dream.  Joseph’s brothers visit Egypt because of a famine in their own land and do not even recognize him.  After threatening them with prison for a theft they did not commit, Joseph confesses who he is and welcomes them.  Israel goes down to see his son in Egypt before he dies.  Genesis ends with Joseph’s death.

The book of Exodus tells the story of Moses.  The Israelites multiply in Egypt but are put into slavery.  The Pharaoh even orders that all of the male children be thrown into the river Nile.  To escape this, Moses’ Mother hides him in a basket and puts him into the river close to where the Pharaoh’s daughter is bathing.  The Pharaoh’s daughter raises Moses as her own child and Moses grows up with every privilege.  Eventually Moses learns of his heritage and goes to see the Israelite settlements.  While there, he sees an overseer beating one of the Israelite slaves.  In defending the slave, Moses kills the overseer and is forced to flee out of Egypt.  Moses works as a shepherd and is visited by God as we hear in Exodus 3: 1-10 -
“Now Moses fed the sheep of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Madian: and he drove the flock to the inner parts of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, Horeb.  And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt.  And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.  And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, He called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am.   And He said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.    
“And He said: I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face: for he durst not look at God.  And the Lord said to him: I have seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigour of them that are over the works:  And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey, to the places of the Chanaanite, and Hethite, and Amorrhite, and Pherezite, and Hevite, and Jebusite. For the cry of the children of Israel is come unto Me: and I have seen their affliction, wherewith they are oppressed by the Egyptians.  But come, and I will send thee to Pharao, that thou mayst bring forth my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt.”
Moses is not eager to go to Pharaoh.  He gives all sorts of excuses but God encourages him -
“Moses said to God: Lo, I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them: The God of your fathers hath sent me to you. If they should say to me: What is His name? what shall I say to them?  God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.  And God said again to Moses: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me to you: This is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations.”  (Exodus 3:13-15)
Moses speaks to the Pharaoh but the Egyptian ruler will not give up the Israelites easily.  Twelve plagues are sent to the Egyptians – the water is turned into blood, frogs, gnats, flies invade Egypt.  Illness comes to the cattle and boils on both man and beast.  Hail pelts the land.  Different calamities occur until the last and most terrible plague – the first child shall be killed.  To prevent the Israelite’s children from being killed, God gives specific instructions to Moses which he passed on –
“And Moses called all the ancients of the children of Israel, and said to them: Go take a lamb by your families, and sacrifice.  And dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is at the door, and sprinkle the transom of the door therewith, and both the door cheeks: let none of you go out of the door of his house till morning.  For the Lord will pass through striking the Egyptians: and when he shall see the blood on the transom, and on both the posts, he will pass over the door of the house, and not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and to hurt you.  Thou shalt keep this thing as a law for thee and thy children forever.  And when you have entered into the land which the Lord will give you as He hath promised, you shall observe these ceremonies.”  (Exodus 12:21-25)
This is the origin of the feast of Passover.  After the death of his first born, the Pharaoh allows the Israelites to leave Egypt.  Moses receives the 10 Commandments from God and the Israelites finally reach the Promised Land.

Historical


The historical books continue the history of the Israelites from the conquest of Canaan to the siege of Jerusalem.  Joshua led the people after Moses.  They fought several battles – perhaps the most famous being that of Jericho.  The Israelites were able to carve out a kingdom and the land was divided by lots to the 12 tribes – each tribe having the name of one of Israel’s sons.


This group of books contains the beautiful story of Ruth.   During a time of famine in Bethlehem, a family immigrates to Moab.  The two sons marry Moabite women – Ruth and Orpah.  Tragically, the two sons and the father all die, leaving the mother, Naomi, and the two wives without husbands.  Naomi decides that she will return home to Bethlehem.   She tells the two girls to return to their homes but they protest that they wish to go with her.

“Do not so, my daughters, I beseech you: for I am grieved the more for your distress, and the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.  And they lifted up their voice, and began to weep again: Orpha kissed her mother in law and returned: Ruth stuck close to her mother in law.  And Noemi said to her: Behold thy kinswoman is returned to her people, and to her gods*, go thou with her. 
* To her gods: Noemi did not mean to persuade Ruth to return to the false gods she had formerly worshipped: but by this manner of speech, insinuated to her, that if she would go with her, she must renounce her false gods and return to the Lord the God of Israel. (commentary by Bishop Challoner)
 

“She answered: Be not against me, to desire that I should leave thee and depart: for whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.  The land that shall receive thee dying, in the same will I die: and there will I be buried. The Lord do so and so to me, and add more also, if aught but death part me and thee. Then Noemi, seeing that Ruth was steadfastly determined to go with her, would not be against it, nor persuade her any more to return to her friends: So they went together and came to Bethlehem.”(Ruth 1: 13-19)

Ruth’s story has a happy ending.  She begins to glean the leftover wheat from Naomi’s kinsman Boaz.  Boaz notices Ruth and they eventually marry.  Ruth is King David’s great - grandmother.


The historical books also tell about King Saul and King David.  Samuel had anointed David to be the next King after Saul and Saul was jealous as we read in 1 Samuel 18:6-9 -

“Now when David returned, after be slew the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with timbrels of joy, and cornets. And the women sung as they played, and they said: I Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands.  And Saul was exceeding angry, and this word was displeasing in his eyes, and he said: They have given David ten thousands, and to me they have given but a thousand; what can he have more but the kingdom?  And Saul did not look on David with a good eye from that day and forward.”
Saul even tried to kill David.  David was able to escape but there was now war between the two men until Saul and all of his sons were killed by the Philistines.   David goes on to fight against the Philistines, free Jerusalem and reign over Israel.  His son, Solomon, continues the dynasty and builds a beautiful temple to God.

The books of the First and Second Kings continue the story of the kings.  Unfortunately, Israel falls into decline as the kingdom splits into two and begins to drift away from God. 
There are many other stories in the historical books – Judith, Esther, Samson and Delilia - which teach us more about the relationship between God and man.


Sapiential


These are the books concerning wisdom such as the psalms.  King David wrote approximately 80 of the 150 psalms with other writers including Moses, Heman the Ezrahite, Ethan the Ezrahite, Solomon, Asaph, and the sons of Korah.  There are also a few that do not have any named author. 


The Book of Wisdom is also a sapiential book.  According to legend, Solomon wrote the Book of Wisdom and the Song of Songs.  The following inspirational passage is from the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 3:1-5 –

“But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them.  In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery:  And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace.  And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself.” 
Proverbs also belong to this section.  Proverbs are short sayings such as this example from Proverbs 6:16-20 –
“Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh his soul detesteth: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,  A heart that deviseth wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief,  A deceitful witness that uttereth lies, and him that soweth discord among brethren.  My son, keep the commandments of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.”

The book of Job is also part of the Sapiential books.  Job tells the story of a wealthy, good man who has a wife and several daughters and sons as we hear in Chapter 1 of Job, verses 1-3 –


“There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, and that man was simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil.  And there were born to him seven sons and three daughters.  And his possession was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a family exceeding great: and this man was great among all the people of the east.”

Satan and God meet one day in heaven and start to talk about Job.  God praises Job.  Satan states that of course Job is good – look how successful he is.  God gives Satan permission to do anything to Job except he may not harm Job.  Satan destroys the sheep by fire, the Chaldeans plunder the camels, the Sabeans take all of the oxen and asses and, worst of all, Job’s children are all killed when a violent wind destroys the house.  Faced with this horrendous turn of events, Job reacts -
“Then Job rose up, and rent his garments, and having shaven his head fell down upon the ground and worshipped.
“And said: Naked came I out of my mother' s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord. In all these things Job sinned not by his lips, nor spoke he any foolish thing against God.”  (Job 1:20-22)
Satan is not satisfied.  He asks God for permission to touch Job personally and this is granted.  Satan then afflicts Job with terrible boils from head to foot.  Still, Job is patient and says to his wife –


“If we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil? In all these things Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10)

Job’s three friends – Alpas, Baldad and Sophar – come to comfort him.  They sit with him on the ground for seven days in silence for they see his grief.  Finally Job speaks (Job 3:11-13) -
“Why did I not die in the womb, why did I not perish when I came out of the belly? Why received upon the knees? Why suckled at the breasts? For now I should have been asleep and still, and should have rest in my sleep.”


Job’s friends say that he must have committed some sin for God to punish him so drastically.  Job denies this, stating that he is innocent.  Finally, God Himself speak in Job 38:2-19 -

“Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said: Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou Me.  Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell Me if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? 
“Upon what are its bases grounded? or who laid the corner stone thereof,  When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody? Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth as issuing out of the womb: When I made a cloud the garment thereof, and wrapped it in a mist as in swaddling bands? I set my bounds around it, and made it bars and doors:

“And I said: Hitherto thou shalt come, and shalt go no further, and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves.  Didst thou since thy birth command the morning, and shew the dawning of the day its place?  And didst thou hold the extremities of the earth shaking them, and hast thou shaken the ungodly out of it?  The seal shall be restored as clay, and shall stand as a garment: From the wicked their light shall be taken away, and the high arm shall be broken. 


“Hast thou entered into the depths of the sea, and walked in the lowest parts of the deep? Have the gates of death been opened to thee, and hast thou seen the darksome doors?  Hast thou considered the breadth of the earth? tell me, if thou knowest all things?  Where is the way where light dwelleth, and where is the place of darkness:”

I have quoted from Job in length so you can see the great beauty of the language.  God is telling Job of the things He has done.  Job cannot possibly understand the ways of a God who is so far above him.  Job answers in Chapter 42:1-6 -

“Then Job answered the Lord, and said: I know that thou canst do all things, and no thought is hid from Thee. Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge. Hear, and I will speak: I will ask thee, and do thou tell me. With the hearing of the ear, I have heard Thee, but now my eye seeth Thee.
“Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes.” 

Job has a happy ending.  He has more children, he regains his wealth and lives a long time.
The book of Job discusses the meaning of suffering.  Job realizes that suffering is not caused by his sins even though his friends insist that he must have done something wrong.  In the New Testament Jesus shows us that suffering has redemptive value.


The friends of Job tell him that Job’s sins caused his suffering but Job believes they are wrong.  When different opinions occur in the story, which one should we believe is right?   We cannot interpret the Bible ourselves but the Church has researched, written about and analyzed these passages for generations.  This is why we study the Bible with commentaries – so that we understand how the Church interprets the various passages.


Prophetical


The prophetical books are the books of the prophets.  The prophets are constantly bringing the people back to God.  The office of prophet is not hereditary; it is not passed from father to son.  The prophet receives a message from God which must be transmitted to the Israelites.  The words to Jeremiah are typical of this message which reminds the people of the covenant - 

“And the Lord said to me: Proclaim aloud all these words in the cities of Juda, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying: Hear ye the words of the covenant, and do them:  For protesting I conjured your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt even to this day: rising early I conjured them, and said: Hearken Ye to my voice: And they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear: but walked everyone in the perverseness of his own wicked heart: and I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did them not.  And the Lord said to me: A conspiracy is found among the men of Juda, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  They are returned to the former iniquities of their fathers, who refused to hear my words: so these likewise have gone after strange gods, to serve them: the house of Israel, and the house of Juda have made void my covenant, which I made with their fathers.”  (Jeremiah 11:6-10)
Or, here are the words of Ezeckiel as he tells of his commission from God in Ezeckiel 2:1-5 –
“This was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And I saw, and I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one that spoke. And he said to me: Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee.  And the spirit entered into me after that he spoke to me, and he set me upon my feet: and I heard him speaking to me,  And saying: Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious people, that hath revolted from me, they, and their fathers, have transgressed my covenant even unto this day.  And they to whom I send thee are children of a hard face, and of an obstinate heart: and thou shalt say to them: Thus saith the Lord God: If so be they at least will hear, and if so be they will forbear, for they are a provoking house: and they shall know that there hath been a prophet in the midst of them.” 
As you can see from both examples, the emphasis is on the covenant between the Israelites and God. Prophets also foretold the future.  For instance, in Isaiah we hear of the coming of Jesus Christ –
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”  (Isaiah 7:14)
As with every book of the Bible, there are also stories such as Jonah and the whale as well as Daniel and the lion.

New Testament

There are 27 books in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation


The New Testament begins with the four Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We will quote from the Gospels throughout these lessons as they tell us about the life of Jesus.  Each of the four Evangelists wrote for a different audience and these audiences varied dramatically in terms of culture.  The four Gospels allow us to see Jesus through the eyes of four different writers and the end result is a richer narrative.


Each of the four Evangelists (Gospel writers) has a symbol – Matthew is shown as a winged man, Mark is a lion, Luke is an ox, and John is an eagle.  


Matthew is shown as a winged man because he starts with Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham – thus emphasizing His human heritage.  Mark is represented by a lion – a symbol of strength and courage - because his Gospel details the royal dignity of Jesus.  Luke is an ox which is a figure of sacrifice and strength because he talked about the priesthood of Jesus and the ox is a symbol of His sacrifice.  John is an eagle because his Gospel emphasizes the divine nature of Christ.


Mark wrote the first Gospel around 65 to 70 AD shortly after the persecutions by Nero.  There were probably two main reasons for him to do this.  First, many of the eye-witnesses had died in the persecutions and second, the faith was spreading across the world and a reliable, written account of Jesus’ life was needed.  Mark was not an eye-witness but he knew both Paul and Peter and travelled with them.  Mark’s portrayal of Jesus is dramatic and human.  We start at the Jordan River at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:1-6) –

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in Isaias the prophet: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee.  A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins.  And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Jesus is thoughtful towards others – not only of their spiritual needs but of their physical needs (Mark 8:1-5) –
“In those days again, when there was a great multitude, and had nothing to eat; calling His disciples together, He saith to them:  I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with Me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; for some of them came from afar off.  And His disciples answered him: From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness? And He asked them: How many loaves have ye? Who said: Seven.”
Jesus goes on to multiply these seven loaves and a few fish to feed the multitude.  However, Mark does not portray Jesus as always gentle but at times moved to righteous anger.  When Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem, He saw people selling and buying items (Mark 11:15-17) -
“And they came to Jerusalem. And when He was entered into the temple, He began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the chairs of them that sold doves. 
“And He suffered not that any man should carry a vessel through the temple; And He taught, saying to them: Is it not written, My house shall be called the house of prayer to all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves.”

From Jesus’ last words, it seems that the sellers were even cheating the buyers within the temple itself. 

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels.


The next Gospel was written about AD 80 by the Apostle Matthew although there are also scholars who argue that Matthew wrote his Gospel first.


Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience and his Gospel emphasizes how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. Matthew’s Gospel opens with a genealogical list (Matthew 1:1-6) –

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:  Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren. And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar. And Phares begot Esron. And Esron begot Aram. And Aram begot Aminadab. And Aminadab begot Naasson. And Naasson begot Salmon. And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse.” “And Jesse begot David the king…”
At the end of the list is Joseph, Jesus’ foster-father who features pre-dominantly in the infancy narrative of Matthew.  Again and again, Matthew quotes from the Old Testament to prove that Jesus is indeed the Messiah as in Matthew 2:3-6. 

“And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And assembling should together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ be born.  But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:

“And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.”
In the above passage, for instance, Matthew quotes from Micah 5:2. 

Matthew shows Jesus as a teacher.  Jesus is the new Moses explaining the faith.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a continuation and fulfillment of the commandments given by Moses.

Luke was a Greek writing for the Greeks. 

Luke was not an eye-witness but gathered together as much information as he could as he states in the beginning of his Gospel –

“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a narration of the things that have been accomplished among us; According as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word:  It seemed good to me also, having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mayest know the verity of those words in which thou hast been instructed.”
Luke’s narrative was based on Mark’s Gospel but also contains much original information.  Luke is the only Evangelist who writes of John the Baptist’s nativity, describes the Annunciation and records the Magnificat prayer.  

Luke emphasizes the miracles of Jesus and several of Jesus’ parables such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are unique to Luke.  The parable of the Prodigal Son is in Luke, Chapter 15:11-32 –
“And He said: A certain man had two sons:  And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance.  And not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously.  And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want.  And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine. 
“And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.  And returning to himself, he said: How many hired servants in my father's house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger?  I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee:  I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.  And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him.  
“And the son said to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son. And the father said to his servants: Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry: Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again: was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field, and when he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing:

“And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him: Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe.  And he was angry, and would not go in. His father therefore coming out began to entreat him.  And he answering, said to his father: Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandment, and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends:  But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 

“But he said to him: Son, thou art always with me, and all I have is thine. But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found.” 
This parable tells the story of a young man who wasted everything he had and then returned to his father.  Instead of scolding him, the father runs to him in his haste to forgive him.  Not only that, but the father throws a party to celebrate his son’s return.  When the older son protests, the father does not get angry but explains his reasoning to him.  Jesus tells us this parable to teach us how our Father in heaven reacts to our repentance.  God will not scold or scorn us.  Instead, His graces fly out to us when we are truly sorry for our sins and determine not to sin again - as the younger brother did when he returned home.  Jesus’ parables are short, memorable stories that teach us lessons.

Luke also tells of the second thief that hung beside Jesus at the crucifixion and asked for forgiveness.  Jesus assured the thief that he would be with Him in Paradise.  


The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic Gospels.  The synoptic Gospels contain many of the same narration often with the same words and in the same sequence.  As mentioned before, this is because both Matthew and Luke adopted information from Mark although both Gospels also have some independent material.  The Gospel of John is completely different.  For instance, this is how John’s Gospel begins (John 1:1–5) -

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
John emphasizes Jesus’ divinity.  John does not mention the nativity of Jesus nor does he repeat the parables.  Instead, Jesus teaches us about the attributes of God as in John, Chapter 10, verses 11-15 –
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep.  But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flieth: and the wolf catcheth, and scattereth the sheep: And the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father: and I lay down My life for My sheep.”   
Jesus here compares Himself to a Good Shepherd who watches over His sheep; He will even give His life for His sheep.   Jesus is not like the hired hand who will desert the sheep when a wolf attacks.   Jesus will protect us and save us.  Jesus also compares Himself to a Vine –
“I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman.  Every branch in Me, that beareth not fruit, He will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.  Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.

“If any one abide not in Me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you. In this is My Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become My disciples. As the Father hath loved Me, I also have loved you. Abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love; as I also have kept My Father' s commandments, and do abide in His love.

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled. This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends, if you do the things that I command you.  I will not now call you servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends: because all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father, I have made known to you.”
We can see the profound language that John uses to describe Jesus’ love for us.  Many readers find John especially conducive to meditation.

Acts

The Acts of the Apostles are also addressed to Theophilus – the same person as the Gospel of Luke.  It is therefore thought that Luke also wrote the Acts.  Acts covers the early days of the Church starting with the Ascension of Jesus.  Luke tells of Peter who preached an influential sermon on Pentecost after being inspired by the Holy Spirit.   We read about some of the early Christians who sold their goods and distributed money to those who needed it.  We hear of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the faith, and how he defended himself at his trial.  Unfortunately, Stephen is condemned in Acts 7:56-59 -

“And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him.  And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death.”
As we see from the above passage, Saul persecuted the Christians in the beginning.  In fact he was on his way to Damascus to do this when he was suddenly converted –
“And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him.  And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?  Who said: Who art Thou, Lord? And He: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
After this experience from Acts 9:3-5, Saul was converted to Christianity.  He changed his name to Paul, visited Jerusalem to be sanctioned by the Apostles and then continued to travel and preach for the rest of his life.  He was scourged, beaten, imprisoned and ship-wrecked but persevered.   Acts ends with his arrival, as a prisoner, in Rome.
 


Epistles

The next few books of the New Testament are Epistles or letters.  Most of these are from St. Paul to communities or individuals that he has previously visited or planned to visit.   He explains a doctrine or mediates a dispute.  In an especially beautiful passage, St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the resurrection of the dead.  (First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians 4:12-17) –

“And we will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again; even so them who have slept through Jesus, will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you in the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them who have slept.  For the Lord Himself shall come down from heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ, shall rise first.
“Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air, and so shall we be always with the Lord.  Wherefore, comfort ye one another with these words.”
There are also letters by St. James, St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude.

Revelations

This is the last book of the Bible.  It was written by John who was living on Patmos at this time.  It is uncertain as whether this John was the Evangelist John or another John.  Revelation contains intricate and symbolic language which is difficult for most of us to understand.  However, when it was written during the 90s A.D. this type of writing would have been comprehensible to its readers. 


People would have known its conventions and what to expect.  It is not meant to be taken literally – which is a common reason why many who read it without guidance from the Church interpret it incorrectly.

At the time Revelation was written, the Jewish people had revolted against the Romans (66-73 A.D.) and the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed.   Emperor Domitian was in power until September 18, 96 A.D. when he was stabbed to death.  Emperor Nero, who had persecuted the Christians and had been stabbed to death in 68 A.D., was rumored to be alive and eager to return to the throne to continue harassing the Christians.  We sense this unrest and devastation throughout the book.  There is urgency and tension as John opens the seven seals and then the seven trumpets are blown.    

The last words in the Bible are from Revelation 22:21 – “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.”


Summary

In summary, the Bible teaches us spiritual truths, not scientific ones. The Bible is also one part of Divine Revelation - the other part is Tradition.  This Tradition is found preserved only in the Catholic Church - the religion founded by Jesus Christ.

The Books that are included in the Bible were set over 1,700 years ago.  See the article "The Canon of Scripture" by Sebastian Fama for a more thorough explanation of why the Catholic Bible is the one that contains all the truly divinely inspired Books.


Catholics are taught not to independently interpret the Bible but, we are encouraged to read the Bible.  The Church even attaches special spiritual gifts to those who do so. During the Middle Ages, most people could not read and the word of God was taught verbally and through pictures.  Indeed, that is one reason we have beautiful stained glass windows in Cathedrals.   Yet even from the earliest days of the Church, the Church Fathers encouraged their followers who were literate to read the Bible.  

In relatively recent history, the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII in 1943 encouraged Catholics to read and study the Bible.  Pope Pius XII starts by emphasizing the importance of Holy Scripture –
“Inspired by the Divine Spirit, the Sacred Writers composed those books, which God, in His paternal charity towards the human race, deigned to bestow on them in order "to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work."1 This heaven-sent treasure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals. No wonder therefore that, as she received it intact from the hands of the Apostles, so she kept it with all care, defended it from every false and perverse interpretation and used it diligently as an instrument for securing the eternal salvation of souls, as almost countless documents in every age strikingly bear witness.” (Pope Pius XII. 1943)
Order a copy of the Bible for yourself.  I recommend either the Douay Rheims Bible or the RSV-CE Bible.  You can read the Douay Rheims online for free even. Also, it's important to have an approved and scholarly Bible Commentary on hand.  So please bookmark this free resource: Haydock's Bible Commentary.

But remember, we do not believe in sola-scriptura.  Scripture and Tradition are the two means of Divine Revelation.  After all, there was no Bible for the first 300 years of Christianity and even the Bible says not everything is contained in the Bible (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and John 21:25)!

Source: The above material is quoted a highly recommended book: A Step Towards Heaven: An Introduction to Religion.
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