Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 30 April 2015 to 26 May 2015

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Homilies

Messages

Regina Caeli

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “There are times when God is silent, a silence which cannot be understood unless we gaze upon Christ crucified.” @Pontifex 21 May 2015
  • “Lord, send forth your Holy Spirit to bring consolation and strength to persecuted Christians. #free2pray” @Pontifex 22 May 2015
  • “Let us invoke the Holy Spirit each day: He guides us along the path of discipleship in Christ.” @Pontifex 23 May 2015
  • “We can observe the Fourth Commandment by loving visits to our aging grandparents.” @Pontifex 26 May 2015

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francis-readingRecently I’ve received several queries about a video message that Pope Francis sent to an ecumenical gathering in Arizona.

A Zenit news story implied that the pope stated that Jesus doesn’t care what kind of Christian you are.

But that’s not what he said at all.

Here are 9 things to know and share . . .

 

1) What were the circumstances of the video?

An ecumenical gathering was held in Phoenix, Arizona last Saturday (May 23), and the organizers—the John 17 Movement—had invited Pope Francis to attend.

He didn’t, but he did send a video message—mostly in Spanish.

You can read the full text of the message (in English) here.

 

2) What did Zenit say about the message?

The Catholic news agency Zenit did a piece reporting on the video message, which you can read here.

The piece was headlined

Pope to US Christian Unity Event: Jesus Knows All Christians Are One, Doesn’t Care What Type

At one point, the text of the story reads:

Francis pointed out that Jesus knows that Christians are disciples of Christ, and that they are one and brothers.

“He doesn’t care if they are Evangelicals, or Orthodox, Lutherans, Catholics or Apostolic…he doesn’t care!” Francis said. “They are Christians.”

UPDATE: Zenit has issued a corrected version of the story here.

 

3) Did Pope Francis actually say that Jesus doesn’t care what kind of Christian a person is?

No. The Zenit story is flatly incorrect.

Both the headline and the passage quoted above mistake the pope as speaking about Jesus when he is actually speaking about the devil—that is, he is saying that the devil doesn’t care what kind of Christian you are.

Here is the relevant passage from the pope’s remarks:

Division is the work of the Father of Lies, the Father of Discord, who does everything possible to keep us divided.

Together today, I here in Rome and you over there, we will ask our Father to send the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and to give us the grace to be one, “so that the world may believe”.

I feel like saying something that may sound controversial, or even heretical, perhaps.

But there is someone who “knows” that, despite our differences, we are one.

It is he who is persecuting us. It is he who is persecuting Christians today, he who is anointing us with (the blood of) martyrdom.

He knows that Christians are disciples of Christ: that they are one, that they are brothers! He doesn’t care if they are Evangelicals, or Orthodox, Lutherans, Catholics or Apostolic…he doesn’t care! They are Christians.

As you can see, Pope Francis establishes a chain of referents for the pronoun “he” (in “He doesn’t care”) that repeatedly identifies the individual in question as the devil.

Jesus is not even mentioned except in the phrases “the Spirit of Jesus” and “disciples of Christ.”

 

4) Would it be a problem if the pope had said that Jesus doesn’t care what kind of Christian you are?

If intended in the absolute sense, yes. That would be a form of the error of indifferentism—the idea that it doesn’t matter what religion you are.

God is a God of truth, and so the truth of one’s religious beliefs matters to him.

 

5) Why does the pope describe his remark as something “that may sound controversial, or even heretical, perhaps”?

Presumably because it’s an unfamiliar thought for many.

The idea that the devil stirs up persecution of Christians without respect to their particular affiliation, precisely because he knows that they are all Christians, is not something that one commonly hears—particularly in an age when many people aren’t even comfortable talking about the devil.

I can imagine any number of modernist theologians taking exception to this thought. That, of itself, could result in it sounding controversial.

 

6) Why did he say it might sound “even heretical, perhaps”?

The most likely explanation is that this is a touch of hyperbole, or exaggeration to make a point.

The pope is speaking informally, and his words have to be understood accordingly.

In Catholic theology, the term “heresy” has a precise, technical meaning: The obstinate post-baptismal doubt or denial of a truth that must be believed with divine faith (i.e., God has revealed it) and with Catholic faith (i.e., because the Church has infallibly defined it as such).

Since he is speaking to an ecumenical group that consists largely or principally of non-Catholics, he cannot expect them to interpret the word “heretical” in the technical, Catholic sense.

This is further confirmed by the fact that there would be no grounds on which to criticize his main proposition–that the devil stirs up persecution against Christians because they are Christians–as heretical in the technical sense. God has not revealed that the devil does not persecute Christians of all stripes because they are Christians, and the Church has not infallibly defined that God has revealed this.

As a result, the pope isn’t using the term “heretical” in its technical sense. He’s speaking informally and hyperbolically.

Properly speaking, his proposal not only isn’t heretical, it doesn’t even sound heretical.

In rhetorical terms, the function of including the statement is to draw a line under what he is about to say, to call attention to it and invite people to think about it rather than passing over it quickly.

 

7) Is there anything problematic about his statement that “despite our differences, we are one”?

No. He acknowledges both that Christians have differences (true) and that, despite these differences, we also are in another sense one (also true).

Elsewhere in his message, he says:

We will search together, we will pray together, for the grace of unity.

The unity that is budding among us is that unity which begins under the seal of the one Baptism we have all received.

It is the unity we are seeking along a common path. It is the spiritual unity of prayer for one another.

The idea that Christian unity is rooted in our common baptism is a commonplace of Catholic theology.

He also acknowledges that, despite being one in a sense he has already alluded to, we are also seeking “the grace of unity” and that this unity is “budding” (meaning: an incomplete reality).

He is thus seeking to acknowledge both the things that unite and divide Christians.

 

8) Doesn’t the devil hate all human beings?

Yes, but he hates Christians in a special way, because we love and serve Christ.

 

9) How does the pope see the growth of Christian unity unfolding?

He says:

This [the “ecumenism of blood,” our common persecution by the devil] must encourage us to do what we are doing today: to pray, to dialogue together, to shorten the distance between us, to strengthen our bonds of brotherhood.

I am convinced it won’t be theologians who bring about unity among us. Theologians help us, the science of the theologians will assist us, but if we hope that theologians will agree with one another, we will reach unity the day after Judgement Day.

The Holy Spirit brings about unity. Theologians are helpful, but most helpful is the goodwill of us all who are on this journey with our hearts open to the Holy Spirit!

The pope thus sees Christians working to grow closer to each other through prayer, dialogue, goodwill, and openness to the Holy Spirit.

He sees theologians as being able to play a helpful role in this, but he does not envision Christian unity being fully restored in this age simply because of Christian theologians getting together to talk.

Instead, Pope Francis is focusing on practical ways that Christians can “strengthen our bonds of brotherhood” and “shorten the distance between us” in the here and now.

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 30 April 2015 to 19 May 2015.

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Homilies

Letters

Regina Caeli

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “Dear parents, have great patience, and forgive from the depths of your heart.” @Pontifex 14 May 2015
  • “It is better to have a Church that is wounded but out in the streets than a Church that is sick because it is closed in on itself.” @Pontifex 16 May 2015
  • “God is always waiting for us, he always understands us, he always forgives us.” @Pontifex 19 May 2015

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popefrancis

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 29 June 2014 to 12 May 2015.

General Audiences

Homilies

Messages

Regina Caeli

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “When we cannot earn our own bread, we lose our dignity. This is a tragedy today, especially for the young.” @Pontifex 7 May 2015
  • “Let us learn to live with kindness, to love everyone, even when they do not love us.” @Pontifex 9 May 2015
  • “Why is it so difficult to tolerate the faults of others? Have we forgotten that Jesus bore our sins?” @Pontifex 12 May 2015

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clouds

Sometimes people make it sound like the Catholic understanding of how to get to heaven is really complex.

It’s not.

While you can go into any of Christ’s teachings in a lot of very rich detail, he made sure that this one can be understood even by a child.

I can summarize it in two sentences:

(Click here to watch the video online.)

The two sentences are these: To come to God and be saved, you need to repent, have faith, and be baptized. If you commit mortal sin, you need to repent, have faith, and go to confession.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. And we can show each of these things from the Bible.

The need to repent is shown by the fact that, right at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus began preaching the gospel, saying “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).

The need for faith is shown when the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes that “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

And the need for baptism is shown when St. Peter flatly tells us: “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

So that’s what you need to do if you want to come to God and be saved: Repent, have faith, and be baptized.

If you do these things, you’ll be in a state of grace, and as long as you remain in a state of grace, you’ll go to heaven.

But we still have free will, and we can still turn our backs on God and fall from grace, to use St. Paul’s phrase (Galatians 5:4).

St. Paul is very clear about the possibility of us committing mortal sin. He tells us: “Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

To turn away from God and commit mortal sin is the opposite of repenting. So when we fall into mortal sin, we need to turn back to God—to repent again.

We also need to have faith.

And then we need to go to confession. This is something Jesus indicated just after he rose from the dead. He came to his disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23)

So Jesus empowered his ministers to forgive or retain sins. In order for a priest to know whether he is to forgive or retain a sin, he needs to know about the sin and whether we have repented of it. That means we need to go and tell him these things, and so we have the sacrament of confession.

_drama-of-salvationSo that’s what you need to do. To come to God and be saved, you need to repent, have faith, and be baptized. If you commit mortal sin, you need to repent, have faith, and go to confession.

It’s all thoroughly biblical.

If you like the information I’ve presented here, you should get my book, The Drama of Salvation. It provides more information about this and many other aspects of salvation—a subject that affects where you and I will spend eternity.

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mark-under-development

I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered my commentary and study guides on the Gospel of Mark from Verbum Bible Software.

Enough pre-orders have been received that the set is now “under development,” as the label by the green status bar shows.

What that means is that they’ve raised enough money in pre-orders to pay for the process of converting the manuscripts into their format, so all of the cool Bible-study functionality will be there when you open the book in Verbum.

They’re doing the conversion now.

The kind folks there called me up as soon as they reached the “under development” stage and let me know the good news.

They were excited about it, as we set a record on this one. Products  often linger in the pre-publication phase for months or even years while the needed pre-orders are accumulating.

We did it in four business days, which is the fastest it’s ever happened for Verbum. Yay!

So thank you to everyone who ordered, and congratulations on setting a new record!

Seeing the reaction to this set has been very encouraging for me, and it’s gotten me back to working on the next commentary, which is on next year’s Gospel: Luke. (It’s already about half done.)

By the way, even though they have enough pre-orders to be converting the Mark set, it’s still available at the pre-publication price of $19.99 (which, to my mind, is a steal, since you’re getting almost 500 pages of Bible study materials!). That price will go up in the future, but you can still pre-order it for that price at the moment.

Thanks again, everybody!

Here are the order links:

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE COMMENTARY ON MARK AND THE TWO STUDY GUIDES FOR $19.99

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT VERBUM AND SAVE 15% WHEN YOU USE THE PROMO CODE “JIMMY1”

 

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 18 April 2015 to 5 May 2015.

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Homilies

Messages

Regina Caeli

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “Amid so many problems, even grave, may we not lose our hope in the infinite mercy of God.” @Pontifex 30 April 2015
  • “The love of Christ fills our hearts and makes us always able to forgive!” @Pontifex 2 May 2015
  • “It is good for us to spend time before the Tabernacle, to feel the gaze of Jesus upon us.” @Pontifex 5 May 2015

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jimmy-akins-studies-on-markOne of my long-term goals has been to write a commentary on the New Testament, and I’m very pleased to announce that this is starting to come to fruition.

A while back, the folks at Verbum Bible Software asked me if I would design some courses for one of their online platforms, and so I set to work writing the text for one.

The result is my very first biblical commentary, which is on the Gospel of Mark (selected because that’s the Gospel used in the Sunday readings for 2015).

 

Things I Learned

It was a fascinating project that I really enjoyed doing, and in the process I learned a lot. Going through a text word-by-word always results in new insights, and there are a bunch of gems hidden in Mark’s text.

Some of the things I learned included:

  • How Mark parallels the growth of Jesus’ reputation among Jews and Gentiles
  • How the Feeding of the Four Thousands is unexpectedly significant
  • How the story of the “widow’s mite” may have a significance that you almost never hear about
  • How the Transfiguration parallels the Agony in the Garden
  • How to understand Jesus’ prophecies in detail
  • How to respond to criticisms of Mark’s Gospel made by skeptics

 

Study Verse-By-Verse or with the Liturgy

I also produced two extensive study guides to help you get the most out of the Gospel:

  • One takes you through the Gospel section-by-section, with questions based on the text of the commentary.
  • The other goes through the liturgy—on Sundays, holy days, and weekdays—and gives you study questions for every day where Mark is used in the readings at Mass.

 

A One-Time Offer

I thought I’d let you know that right now the set of all three resources—the commentary and the two study guides—is available for pre-order for people who use Verbum or Logos Bible Software.

It’s available for only $19.99, and that’s the least expensive that this set will ever be. As a special reward to those who help in the pre-order period, Verbum/Logos gives a special discount that won’t be available again. It’s a one-time thing.

So if you’re interested, now’s the time to order! (And, at less than $20, I personally think it’s a steal. Between the commentary and the two study guides, you’re getting almost 500 pages of solid, Catholic biblical material!)

For the time being, the commentary and the study guides will only be available on Verbum/Logos. I hope eventually to bring them out in other formats, but I don’t know when that will be.

 

About Verbum Software

I’m a big fan of Verbum software, and I use it literally every day in my research.

If you’re not presently a Verbum user, you can learn about it here, and I can save you 15% when you order it if you use the promo code JIMMY1 at checkout.

 

Pre-Ordering the Commentary and Study Guides

If you’d like to pre-order the commentary and the two study-guides for only $19.99, click here.

The more people pre-order them, the sooner they can be converted to the Verbum format and released, so if you have friends who you think might be interested, let them know, too (e.g., by Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.)!

Thanks for doing so, and I hope you like them!

Your pal,

—Jimmy Akin

 

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE COMMENTARY ON MARK AND THE TWO STUDY GUIDES FOR $19.99

 

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT VERBUM AND SAVE 15% WHEN YOU USE THE PROMO CODE “JIMMY1”

 

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pope-francis2

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 11 April 2015 to 28 April 2015.

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences

Letters

Regina Caeli

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “In the Sacraments we discover the strength to think and to act according to the Gospel.” @Pontifex 23 April 2015
  • “We Christians are called to go out of ourselves to bring the mercy and tenderness of God to all.” @Pontifex 25 April 2015
  • “Every Christian community must be a welcoming home for those searching for God,for those searching for a brother or sister to listen to them” @Pontifex 28 April 2015

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surpriseRecently I heard a priest describe something that happened to him in the early days of his priesthood.

From his age, I’m guessing this would have been the mid-1970s.

He said that, for the first twenty-five years of his priesthood, he had really long hair (down to his waist, if he stretched it out) and a full beard.

At one point, he was assigned to a parish and came to know a local gentleman by phone but not by sight.

In one phone conversation the gentleman said that he really respected the priest and wanted his help with his son, who he felt was “going over to the other side.”

By this, he meant that his son was getting rebellious and not wanting to have his hair cut.

The gentleman asked if the priest could come over to dinner and perhaps talk to his son.

“I’d love to come to dinner,” the priest replied.

At this point in the homily, several people in the congregation laughed, knowing the kind of punchline that was coming.

So the priest went to dinner.

But, as for the topic of hair length, he said, “It never came up.”

Big laugh from the congregation.

Personally, I was cringing.

 

A Disclaimer

First, a disclaimer: I get the humor in this situation.

It’s a standard trope: Person A is unaware of a relevant fact about Person B, assumes the opposite, and then gets surprised.

Big laughs.

Comedy fish in a barrel.

I can think of lots of instances where this trope is used, like that episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob and Laura Petrie are driven frantic with worry by the thought that their newborn may have been accidentally switched with the baby of another couple with a similar last name.

They talk to the other couple by phone, and though the other couple is quite sure that the babies weren’t switched, they agree to come over.

When they do, Rob and Laura discover that the other couple is black and thus, if the children had been switched, it would have been obvious. All their worry was for nothing.

A contemporary use of a long-standing comedy trope. For some older ones, just think of all those plays where Shakespeare has women disguised as men and fooling even the men closest to them before the Big Reveal at the end of the play.

Big laughs in the 1500s. Shakespeare used the device in around a fifth of his plays.

Or go back a little further, to when the two disciples on the road to Emmaus suddenly discovered that they had been hosting Jesus himself.

So yeah, there is inherent humor in this kind of situation.

But I was still cringing.

 

What Was He Thinking?

Anecdotes told by priests in the course of homilies are often of dubious historicity and are frequently intended for rhetorical and entertainment value rather than factual accuracy, so the priest may have been embellishing what really happened.

I hope so.

But taking him at his word, what was he thinking?

I imagine that he was thinking he would teach his phone friend a lesson of some sort, such as that you shouldn’t look down on people with certain hairstyles.

After all, the man had come to respect the priest through their phone conversations—enough to ask for help with his son—and yet the priest had precisely the kind of hairstyle that wasn’t to the man’s taste.

Perhaps the priest thought that showing up would provide a dramatic illustration of the point and thus teach the man a lesson—maybe one that would let him get along better with his son.

Maybe these or similarly high-minded things were what were going through the priest’s head.

But if the story is as he told it, there’s something that seems not to have been going through his mind.

 

What He Wasn’t Thinking

What the priest wasn’t thinking about was what his sudden appearance with long hair would actually likely do to the gentleman.

It would likely humiliate him.

In his own home.

In front of his son.

At a time when generational tensions were especially high.

Think about it: The man had gone to significant lengths to set up an encounter between the priest and his son in which he hoped the priest will straighten out his son on the subject of hair length.

And the priest led the man to believe that he was amenable to that plan.

But really, the priest was planning to turn the tables on the father.

The father would have every right to feel betrayed by the priest.

Further, the man may well have told the son that the priest was coming over and would be discussing hair length with him. If so, the father would feel even more humiliated by the priest when the he showed up and reversed expectations.

Even if the father hadn’t told the son about the expected conversation, the son knew his father’s views about long hair. For the priest to show up without warning the father would not only put the father in an embarrassing position, it would enable the son ever after to say, “Well, that priest you like so much has long hair. Why can’t I?”

The priest thus undermined the father’s authority in his own home.

 

What the Priest Could Have Done

Instead of deciding to teach the father a lesson by shock treatment, the priest could have thought more about how he could really help the man.

Instead of simply saying, “I’d love to come to dinner,” he could have said, “I’d love to come to dinner—but there is something you should know first. I have long hair myself, and I don’t want to do anything that would undermine your authority with your son. If you’d like me to come, I’d be honored to be your guest, but I totally understand if you’d rather I not come. I know how delicate situations can be between parents and children, and I don’t want to make your situation any more difficult. I want to do whatever I can to serve you and your family.”

Taking this open, honest, and supportive approach would have done several things.

For a start, it would have avoided making the father feel humiliated, betrayed, and undermined by the priest.

It would have avoided throwing gasoline on a tense family situation (possibly even sparking a family argument after the priest left).

Most importantly, it would not have communicated to the man the message that priests may humiliate, betray, and undermine you in front of your family.

And, as an added bonus, it may have even opened the man’s eyes to the fact that not all longhairs are bad. They can even care about you and try to help and support you.

Taking this approach might have led the man to respect the priest even more.

But if the event happened as the priest related it, he chose a much riskier and less loving path.

 

A Warning for All of Us

Of course, the priest is not alone in taking the kind of approach he did.

We can all fall into that.

Sometimes we rationalize our actions by saying that we’re going to teach a person a lesson by “shock treatment” or “tough love” when in reality we’re just being selfish. We’re not genuinely thinking about how to help the other person.

This is a constant danger in apologetics, and I’ve fallen victim to it myself.

To my shame, I vividly recall times when I took this approach in responding to a non-Catholic or even a fellow Catholic who was being rude.

It’s a human temptation, and it doesn’t just apply in apologetics. It applies in all areas of life.

Of course, sometimes, there is just no way to avoid a blunt lesson.

But frequently, there is—and the fault is ours if we don’t look for ways to be helpful and supportive of others, even when they disagree with us or come off abrasively.

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