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Where Did The Bible Come From?

September 16, 2019

As we stand on the street and offer the Gospel to anyone and everyone, a lot of people tell us that they are not interested in our message or our materials because they already have their answer or they already have their faith. Lutherans are particularly good at letting us know they don’t need a rosary because they are Lutheran. Most of the other Protestant denominations are not as quick to identify their particular church and just say, “no thank you”.

I have struggled to come up with an intriguing response to people who decline a rosary or a pamphlet based on their Protestant faith. I have usually just said something like, “okay”, or “many Protestants pray the rosary too”, but such responses seem more like a comeback than an invitation.

But this last weekend, I was able to engage a number of Protestant pedestrians by asking them if they knew where the Bible came from. About 75% of them stopped to consider the question and some of them tried to offer an answer. Only one person gave one of the correct answers by responding, “God” (which happens to be the answer to every question). Others got the answer partially right by saying, “the apostles”, but the rest of them admitted that they did not know or they offered flawed responses such as “Luther”.

I think this is a valuable question for all Christians. Where did the Bible come from? The satisfying part about the history of the Bible, is that it is purely Catholic. This makes a simple historical question, a great tool for evangelization. I posted a 4-part blog on my personal website several weeks ago. Therefore, I won’t go into detail here. All I will do here is give you a nutshell version of the history of the Bible, so you too, can evangelize Protestants (and reassure Catholics), with some simple and accurate history.

It is always good to start with a point of agreement. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. All Christian faiths teach these two points. But many Catholics and most Protestants do not know that the Bible has always had 73 books, not the 66 books that the Protestants recognize. We know this because in the very early years of the Church, there was no Bible. Instead, there was only oral tradition and scrolls of scripture used in the Jewish faith, supplemented by the occasional letter or writing. But since most of the world was illiterate, oral tradition was the primary means of evangelization and catechesis for the first Christians.

Some of the apostles and early disciples recognized that it was going to be important to write stuff down in case Christ did not return during their lifetime or within the following generation. Remember that St. Paul and many others believed that Jesus was going to return during their lifetime or soon thereafter. Paul actually had to rebuke those who believed Christ’s return was imminent and stopped working and providing for themselves. So within a decade or two after Christ’s resurrection, people started writing stories and accounts about Jesus and his apostles.

After the apostles were all martyred or dead (tradition tells us that St. John the Evangelist was the only apostle to die of natural causes), the early Church fathers began to sort through the writings that had been in use in the early Church. They quickly identified that some were much more accurate and reliable than others. A discussion regarding the authentic works of the apostles or the immediate disciples of the apostles persisted until the fathers arrived at the most important books in the 200’s. But the Bible was not identified quite yet.

As you know, a large portion of the Bible was already in existence by the time of Mary’s Fiat. This portion of the Bible which was in existence in apostolic times is now known as the Old Testament. The problem was, different sects of Jews used slightly different lists of books of the Old Testament. Therefore, different Jews recognized different writings as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, even in apostolic times. This continued through the first few centuries of the early Church.

In about 250 A.D., Origen became the first known person to list the same 27 books of the New Testament that we use today. But other than Origen (who is considered a Church Father), the Church was yet to make a formal declaration. There was still uncertainty about which books belonged in the Old Testament. This was important to the early Christians because they desired to be one Church, unified in doctrine and in practice, as Christ had commanded. Therefore, they needed to agree on which books could be used in celebrating Mass, other liturgical practices and in teaching the faith.

In 367 A.D. St. Athanasius set forth the very first list of the books that were considered inspired and inerrant. He listed 73 books and if you look at the index of your Catholic Bible today, you will see the exact same books that St. Athanasius listed over 1,600 years ago. However, the Church had not yet formally declared any books as inerrant or inspired. This happened for the first time 15 years later, at the Council of Rome (382 A.D.), again in A.D. 393 at the Council of Hippo, later at the Council of Carthage in 397 and 419 A.D. and several other times in history. Each time, the 73 books listed by St. Athanasius were officially accepted and ratified by the Catholic Church. Keep in mind that no other Christian church existed during this entire time. For over 1,500 years, Christians were either Catholic or they were not a follower of Christ.

All Christians accepted the 73 books established by the Catholic Church until the year 1536, when Martin Luther published the Old Testament in the German language. This was the first time a Bible was published with fewer books than St. Athanasius had listed in 367 A.D. (1,169 years earlier).

Why fewer books? Luther had to find a basis for his version of theology. He could not support many of his new beliefs with a Bible that contained all 73 books. In fact, he couldn’t even defend his beliefs with the 66 book Bible either, but what he lacked in proof, he made up for with tenacity. He deeply desired to remove several books form the New Testament as well, but in the end, he was satisfied with removing 7 books from the Old Testament as well as parts of Daniel and Esther.

This is why some Bibles only contain 66 books today. These are Protestant Bibles and they came 1,169 years after the Catholic canon. The 66 books in the Protestant Bible are the same as 66 of the 73 Catholic books, with the exception of a few chapter of Daniel and Esther. The strange fact is that many Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, believe that the Catholic Church added 7 books to the Bible, when in fact, it is just the opposite.

As Catholics, we need to have a better understanding of the history of the Bible. Few Protestants know that the book, which they claim is the sole and definitive source of truth, actually came from the Catholic Church. The words are from God, but the book that contains the Word is courtesy of the Catholic Church. If Protestants are educated on this issue, they might begin to see the folly of “Bible Alone” Protestantism. You can then walk them through a few very specific questions:

  1. How can you believe in the tradition of “Bible Alone”, when the Bible you revere, was compiled, protected and published by none other than the Catholic Church for centuries before that tradition was taught?
  2. How can you believe in the tradition of “Bible Alone”, when the tradition is not found anywhere in the Bible?
  3. Why would you hold to the tradition of “Bible Alone” when you know that the tradition was developed by people who removed books from the Bible and have taught that it was the Catholic Church who added books to the Bible?

The fact is, many Protestants are uninformed about the history of the Bible because of the answers to these very questions. If Protestant ministers and theologians were to come clean on these facts, it would cause a lot of very faithful Protestants to begin questioning the origins of their particular denomination. That is a very dangerous thing when the origins are of man and not of God. The comparison is especially dangerous because the Catholic Church clearly and easily traces its origin all the way back to Jesus Christ and the Bible very clearly and easily traces its origin all the way back to the Catholic Church.

Keep in mind that this approach is even more persuasive if you are holding your own Bible in your hand as you evangelize people. It is even more persuasive if your Bible is marked up, tabbed with notes and in a condition that shows frequent use.

You can also print a few copies of the pamphlet I prepared, called, How We Really Got The Bible. If you can hand them the pamphlet, they might take some time to read through the information at some later time when they are not concerned about what you might think. The pamphlet turns into a tri-fold pamphlet, which you can slip right into your Bible, for the next time you have a discussion with a friend, family member or co-worker, regarding your Catholic faith.


The Priest and the Levite

September 16, 2019

We are all familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. To many of us, it illustrates Christ’s call to love thy neighbor. In various ways, we all answer that call. We help our neighbor when a storm causes a limb to fall on his driveway or we feed our neighbor’s fish when they are gone on vacation. We might even do more difficult things for our neighbors. Some people volunteer time at community shelters, helping with the homeless. Others may serve as foster parents for neglected or abused children. These are certainly examples that would fit Christ’s call. In these examples, we realize that we are modeling the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel.

But we can’t overlook the priest and the Levite in this parable, even though it is easy to do. In fact, we may intentionally look past the priest and the Levite because we see too much of ourselves in these figures and it makes us uncomfortable. These two figures cause me to think more deeply than the Good Samaritan himself.

St. Teresa of Avila says that one of the keys to knowing you have a deep and personal relationship with Christ is your love for your neighbor. She says that it is difficult for us to recognize our love for God, but that we can all have an awareness of how much we truly love others. It is in our love for others that we can gain some consciousness of the depth of our love for God. But it isn’t just for situations in which love comes easy. We do not achieve discipleship when we show love for those who are close to us and those to whom we have a deep affection. Christ said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6:32-33) We achieve discipleship when we show love for the sick, the unfortunate, the disabled, the victimized, even our enemies. The love Christ expects us to show is love for which we cannot be repaid.

I suspect that the priest and the Levite would have stopped and helped the victim along the road to Jericho if they knew him and liked him. But the priest and the Levite decided not to render assistance for two reasons. First, they were religious men who looked at everything in the world through the lens of a very strict set of laws. The laws they followed meant that touching a person who was dead, wounded or diseased, made them unclean and unfit to carry out their religious rituals until they were cleansed themselves. To them, the stranger lying by the side of the road was not worth the hassle. They likely rationalized that he was already dead or beyond help and that stopping to render any assistance would be fruitless. The second reason is related to the first, but it is exposed by Christ’s constant rebuke of the Pharisees throughout the Gospels. Many of the religious leaders were so tied up in the ritualistic Mosaic laws, they had a very minimal relationship with God and very little love for their neighbors. Christ called these men to a new way of life but many refused to listen. Christ’s new covenant called for an increase of love and a decrease in ritual perfection. Christ made frequent examples of the Chief priests and other religious leaders because of their inflexible adherence to ritual cleanliness and lawfulness, while at the same time, these religious men totally failed to love.

The very first time a child hears this parable, the child knows the right thing to do. The child knows that the priest and the Levite are wrong for ignoring the victim and that the Good Samaritan is right. But somewhere along the path of life, we all lose sight of the divide between the right and wrong in this parable. We all have moments in our life when we behave more like the priest the Levite and the Pharisees.

There are occasions in my life when I have avoided someone because of their disability or illness. I have shown frustration or indifference toward someone who is distraught or victimized. I have avoided a neighbor who needs my help with a problem in his or her life. Each time I have rationalized that it is too messy to get involved and that it would take me away from all the other important things I’m doing in my life. As a child, I would have been drawn to these people in their need but as an adult, I don’t want to get dirty.

If St. Teresa of Avila is right, and I’m betting she is, I have a long way to go in my relationship with God. I think this is what Pope Francis means when he says that a shepherd must smell like his sheep. I’m not a shepherd in the same sense as the pope, but I do need to be willing to get dirty and risk some uncleanliness in my life if I have any desire to love my neighbor and love God.

The priest and the Levite were oblivious to the amazing love shown by the Good Samaritan. They may have gone on to live their lives without any interruption or epiphany. But because they chose to remain clean and upright, they will forever be known as examples of indifference.


Saturday, May 17th Highlights of Street Evangelization

September 16, 2019

SPSE Team Photo SPSE Team Photo SPSE Team Photo

This was the first week for the Lincoln SPSE team to hit the streets!  Saturday, we set up on a street corner close to the farmer’s market from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.  There were 8 of us, thus we each took on an hour – two people at a time.  We plan to be there every Saturday throughout the summer.

There were many fruitful conversations with practicing Catholics, but there were three conversations with non-Catholics that stood out.  Carolyn spoke with a man who had recently married.  He was a baptized Catholic but his parents had divorced when he was very young.  His mother (whom he lived with) was not Catholic and he had only been in a Catholic Church a few times.  He had tried many churches, including Mormonism for a while, but said that he had not yet found the right fit – yet he considered himself a Christian.  He volunteered at City Mission and Matt Talbot and seemed to be open to the faith.  He asked what the closest Catholic Church was and gladly accepted a Rosary.  He said that he had a friend who would likely come with him that was also baptized Catholic, but non-practicing.  Carolyn told him that we will be here at the market all summer so that if he has any further questions, we could help.

The next story was with Jared and Bill talking to an older couple.  The husband was a Baptist, and the wife a fallen-away Catholic.  They were very receptive to a conversation on the faith and gladly accepted the Rosary, Miraculous Medal and SPSE pamphlet on “Reasons to come back to the Church.”

The last story was from Jared and Bill as well.  They noticed a girl sitting on a bench close by that kept looking over.  Bill engaged “Laura” in a wonderful conversation.  She was a PhD candidate at UNL who said she was “searching.”  She was very friendly and open to the faith and accepted a Miraculous Medal and one of every pamphlet we had as well as Scott Hahn’s conversion story DVD.  Bill told her about the extraordinary Newman Center on campus and invited her to a Bible study.


Saints Among Us

September 16, 2019

The canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII is a very exciting experience for Catholics and an excellent opportunity for evangelization and growth in faith. Even though most non-Catholics don’t recognize saints, they do recognize people who have done great things. We live in an age when many people recognize the great things that St. John Paul II, Blessed Mother Theresa (though not yet declared a saint), St. Maximilian Kolbe and others have done. Non-Catholics don’t stop recognizing those things after the person dies, but many of them think the great things stop occurring after the person dies. As Catholics we believe the saints have gone to heaven where they remain just as much a part of the body of Christ as they were here on earth, if not even more so. Because of their exemplary holiness while they fought for truth, beauty and goodness here on earth, they are able to do even greater things for us when they reach heaven and are united with Christ. They are actually even more alive than they were here on earth.

I was born after Pope John XXIII had passed away and I was relatively oblivious to Pope Paul VI because of all the other wonders of youth. Pope John Paul I was only in Peter’s chair for 33 days, so I wasn’t familiar with him either. Therefore, the first Pope I really knew was Pope John Paul II. To me, Pope John Paul II was a larger than life figure who reshaped the world’s relationship with Christ and charted a brave new course for the Catholic Church as it prepared for the new millennium. As I continue to read and learn about him, I know I should have paid more attention to him than I did in my younger years. I don’t know why, but I didn’t even go to see him when he was in Iowa or Colorado. The opportunity never even came up. I suspect that I wasn’t ready for such an experience and God knew it. I do remember watching his last few days on earth by tuning in to EWTN and then watching his funeral as well. That was a very educational and profound experience. That is when I started learning more about the amazing life he had provided to us.

I was actually planning to see Pope John Paul II when I was traveling to Europe in May, 1994. I was in my early 20’s at the time. I was going to visit a buddy of mine, Jimmy, who was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Germany. My plan was to spend a couple of weeks with Jimmy, then hop on some trains and backpack around Europe for a couple more weeks on my own. A priest friend of mine suggested that I may be able to get an audience with the Pope if I could make it to Rome. Rome was in my plans, so we started working on the possibility until the world learned that Pope John Paul II had fallen and broken his leg, requiring surgery and a long recovery. We stopped working on the audience at that point. I still visited the Vatican, but Pope John Paul II was still recovering, so there was no general audience or any other audience on that trip.

I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I was probably closer to Pope John Paul’s heart earlier on that same trip when Jimmy and I visited Krakow and spent some time at Wawel Castle and the amazing Archcathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and Wenceslaus. It was in this church that Karol Wojtyla, who in 1978 became Pope John Paul II, was ordained to the priesthood, offered his first Mass, and was ordained Kraków’s auxiliary bishop. It was in Krakow that St. John Paul II suffered through the Nazis and later the communist attacks on the Church and the people of Poland. Pope John Paul II had a profound love for the Polish people, the history of his country and Krakow. It was difficult for him to accept his election as pope because he felt such an obligation to the Polish people and the struggle they faced with communism before the Solidarity movement finally brought freedom. Saint John Paul the Great was a big part of the Solidarity movement. I often think back on my visit to Poland, which was soon after they had shed the shackles of communism. It was like stepping back in time. I look forward to returning there someday soon.

As for my visit with Saint John Paul the Great, that had to wait until 2012, when Carmen and I visited the Vatican. We were able to pause for a few minutes at his tomb in St. Peter’s, where I was finally able to get physically close to the man who will go down in history as having a positive impact on more human beings that nearly every human that has ever walked the earth. Although he can’t claim to have impacted the most, he’s in good company, as the person who had the most impact was Jesus Christ. Maybe I was finally ready for the experience.

Sts. John Paul the Great and John XXIII are now very close to all of us. The canonization doesn’t make John Paul the Great or John XXIII saints, God has already taken care of all that. Canonization simply recognizes the fact that they are saints. We can welcome them into our lives with full faith and confidence that they will help us unite our own will with Christ and together, do great things in our own small way, in our family or community, but most significantly in our own relationship with Christ. The best way to achieve this is to read about the saints, learn about their lives and then follow their example and inspiration.


Quiet Anticipation

September 16, 2019

The time between Good Friday service and the Easter Vigil Mass is a time of quiet waiting.  Why are we quiet? What are we waiting for?


On Good Friday we experienced the devastation of the Crucifixion.  The sin of the world and our personal sin has put Christ to death.  It appears that death, the world, sin and the devil have won the day.  If we end the story right here (and many do end the story right here), we are left cowering in defeat – lacking the courage to face down the evils of the world.  Instead, we compromise to the evil – we make accommodations such as “oh, its not really that bad”, or “I have to get with the times”, or “peace at all costs”, etc.  Our conscience (the gift that God gave us to judge rightly), if rightly formed, may object to our compromise.  But the devil has a plan:  don’t let us hear our conscience to begin with.  One way he does this is by creating noise.  Whether it is the television, boom box, or whatever, it can serve as a distraction to live on the exterior only, with little interior life.  Holy Saturday is the opportunity to shut off the distractions and create some exterior quite and interior peace so we can hear and follow the voice of conscience.  St. Paul in 1 Thes 4:11 exhorts us to “live quietly” so that we may witness Christ’s peace to a world that so badly need that witness.

The second point for Holy Saturday is waiting.  Christ’s body is in the tomb.  His soul has descended into Hades to rescue the Old Testament saints and bring them to the paradise of Heaven.  Think of the souls of the prophets, the judges, the patriarchs, who labored faithfully in the vineyard, but could not enter heaven because Christ the Messiah had not yet opened the doors of heaven to mankind.  They knew that the fruits of their labors would never be realized in their lifetime, yet they gave God faithful service.  We often do not persevere in the work that God gives us because we do not see the fruit of it.  Or we give up our initial resolve when we are asked to suffer.  Psalm 27 reminds us to wait for the Lord, to take courage, because the Lord is faithful – He will not fail us.  The Lord has conquered death, He has won the victory – just you wait.

May God grant us this spirit of quiet anticipation this Holy Saturday.  It is a good time to go to the Sacrament of Confession to cleanse our soul and renew our conscience.  As the writer of Hebrews tells us:  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”  Heb 12:1.