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Bishop Boyea's Year of the Bible
During this new liturgical year, Bishop Boyea invites us to enter into a closer relationship with the Lord through hearing him in the words of Scripture. We are encouraged to read a chapter of the Bible each day, and reflect on it together with our fellow pilgrims in the diocese. The following reflections from the bishop cover the chapters we’ll be reading from the beginning of Advent on Nov. 29 through Jan. 6. We’ll be offering more insights in upcoming issues. Please visit DIOCESEOFLANSING.ORG to sign up for daily readings sent by text or through email.
We will spend the last four days of this Christmas season reading Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Jesus is the key to Paul’s life, and he wants to ensure that those in the small Christian community of Philippi follow his example.
Philippi is a Roman city, almost a military colony. When Paul, Silas and Timothy crossed over from Asia Minor into present-day Greece, these missionaries encountered a Latin culture which was very different from all their previous experiences. You may want to read Acts 16:9-40 if you would like some background.
Paul and his companions usually met with their fellow Jews when they arrived. However, there were very few of them in Philippi, so the missionaries instead gathered to pray at the riverside, and there met those who would be their first converts – including Lydia from Thyatira in Asia Minor.
Due to hostility from the Roman citizenry, Paul and Silas were flogged, imprisoned and expelled from the town (see 1Thes 2:2). What is amazing is that the new converts remained faithful to Paul and continued to support his ministry, especially through a young man named Epaphroditus.
This letter was probably written, perhaps in segments, around 58-60 A.D., while Paul was again imprisoned, perhaps in Ephesus. This is not a great theological letter, though there is a beautiful hymn to Christ in chp. two. Rather, it is a very personal letter of St. Paul to a community he deeply loved.
Paul knows that his followers are still harassed by the local Roman citizens, and so urges them to be united and faithful. But the central figure is Jesus. Just as Jesus poured himself out for us, so such sacrificial living on our part is vital for any Christian. We are to share Christ’s sufferings. And Paul gives us a bit of his own life story (chp. three), which demonstrates his own full conversion to Jesus. Paul presents himself as a model to the Philippians.
Paul and his colleagues had begun a new ministry when they arrived in Europe from Asia Minor, but the message had remained the same: Jesus Christ. We are to give our whole selves to him just as he has given his whole self to us.
Enjoy this short but deeply loving letter to the small group of Christians in Philippi as we close out our Christmas season.
Between the Christmas season and Lent, we are in a period called “Ordinary Time.” That is why I am now asking us to read St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. He was dealing with some very ordinary problems in Corinth which may help us deal with similar problems today.
Corinth was completely destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C., but rebuilt by Julius Caesar 100 years later. This Roman city became an economic center with a population of about 100,000, many of whom may have been former soldiers. Paul spent a year and a half here, including the year 51 A.D. This came after his rather unsuccessful mission in Athens (you might read Acts of the Apostles, chp. 18, for more background).
Paul established this community. He saw himself as their father. But he was clear that the foundation was Jesus Christ and him crucified. It was what was being built upon that foundation which caused Paul concern. Having received information from Chloe’s household (1:11), and no doubt also from Stephanas (16:15), Paul wrote several letters from his mission in Ephesus, back in Asia Minor. This long letter was sent in late 53 A.D. or early 54 A.D.
Paul used this letter to address a number of very practical issues which were dividing the Corinthian Church. Perhaps, these divisions were a result of a lack of clarity on Paul’s part, or due to the later presence of Apollos or Peter in Corinth, or simply due to the enthusiasm of that young community. Whatever the cause, Paul called them back to Christ, who desired that they be one.
The issues covered are the role of wisdom, what it means to be an apostle, fornication, suing, marriage, virginity, food sacrificed to idols, the gatherings of the community, the Eucharist, charismatic gifts, the resurrection from the dead and the collection for Jerusalem. In the midst of all this, Paul wrote chp. 13, used by many at their weddings, in which Paul lifts up love as the virtue which must guide us all if we are to be one community.
Paul most likely returned to Corinth and, of course, we have another letter to that community, Second Corinthians. However, it is not clear that he was ever able to bring this rambunctious Church into a real communion. Pope Clement wrote a letter to Corinth around the year 100 A.D., and noted the continuation of divisions there.
Divisions, or perhaps diversity, will always exist. Seeking the unity in Jesus is the only solution which Paul offers. As we read these 16 chapters, starting on January 11, let us seek Christ in these ordinary times.
Jan. 27- Feb. 16
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
As we are now in the run-up to Lent, I invite all of us to read the 21 chapters of St. John’s Gospel, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 16. What most clearly led to Christ’s suffering and death was who he claimed to be. John’s Gospel captures that the best.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke speak about the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven as the subject of Jesus’ preaching. In John, Jesus presents himself as the King and the Kingdom. And this is John’s aim as he states: “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (20:31)
Jesus is God with us, as he often points out in John’s Gospel with his many “I am” statements, clearly a reference to God giving his name to Moses back in the Book of Exodus. This Gospel wants us not just to meet Jesus or know about him but to be one with him, to abide in him. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
Besides the first and last chapters which serve as beautiful prologue and epilogue, the rest of the Gospel has two parts. The first part, chapters two to 12, we call the Book of Signs. Jesus does not just perform miracles. Rather, they are demonstrations of his very mission. So, with each sign is a discourse showing the Wisdom of God in Jesus. The second part of the Gospel, chapters 13 to 20, we call the Book of Glory. Even Christ’s death is a moment of glory when the one lifted up draws all to himself.
While there are similarities between this Gospel and the other three, there are also many differences. Scholars have debated how “historical” John’s presentation of Jesus is. At the very least, we can say that John is seeking the deepest meaning of the events of Jesus’ ministry, life, death and resurrection. For this, St. John has often been called, “The Theologian.”
Seeking union with Jesus by reading and reflecting on these chapters of the Gospel of St. John will be an excellent preparation for entry into Lent. For in Lent we will seek to abandon the ways of sin and seek only the way of Jesus. Then we will acknowledge with the Samaritans “that this is truly the savior of the world.” (4:42)
Feb. 17-Mar. 13
We are now ready to begin the Lenten season. And I invite all of us to read the first 25 chapters of the prophet Jeremiah, which will take us to March 13. This is my favorite book of the Old Testament. Jeremiah comes across as the suffering prophet who helps us prepare for the sufferings of Christ at the end of Lent.
The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians back in 722 B.C. In 627 B.C., Jeremiah experienced his call from God during the time of King Josiah’s religious reform movement, something Jeremiah staunchly promoted. Where Josiah proved to be overly political, Jeremiah would turn the attention of the king and people to repentance.
Everything changed in 612 B.C., when Babylon destroyed the Assyrians. The small kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as its capitol, was soon caught up in the struggles between Babylon and Egypt. With Judah seeking political salvation, Jeremiah pushed back, calling for fidelity to God who alone would save them. But both king and people sought independence from Babylon.
Between the first Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 597 and the eventual destruction of the city in 587, Jeremiah was continually at odds with the kings and the other prophets, even to the point of being imprisoned. Finally, he was taken by some Jewish leaders who fled to Egypt, where Jeremiah’s voice ends about 585 B.C.
This book we will read contains material both by Jeremiah and about him. His “Confessions,” where he laments his feeling abandoned by God, where no one listens to him, where disaster is just around the corner, and where he finds no real conversion in the land reveal a prophet beset by his times.
His prophecy is clearly very personal. He saw the infidelity of the nation as akin to adultery. Yet, he wanted everyone to “know” God. This did not mean to know about God, but to experience God even as he did. Still, his experience with God was always a struggle.
Chapters one through 10 contain many of his earliest oracles. Chapters 11 through 20 give us much about his life. Chapters 21 through 25 deal with his last 10 years in Jerusalem.
When Jesus came, some thought he was a new Jeremiah. (Mt 16:14) Perhaps looking at the interior life of Jeremiah will give us some small insights into our Lord’s own suffering as we walk this Lenten journey together.