Scripture Study Tools

prologus_ioanni_vulgata_clementinaSt. Jerome: if you don’t know anything about him, here’s all you need to be properly introduced:

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

That’s right. If you don’t know the Bible, you don’t know God. That doesn’t mean you have to know everything in Scripture, but it does mean you should be reading the Word, thinking on it, praying with it, and starting your journey. This is standard for all Catholic Christians, especially if we work with teaching others the faith. Over the years of being a TNTT youth leader and trainer, I’ve come to realize this as more and more true (I see it especially when reviewing countless post-camp assignments). So, to help, may I recommend these resources (in addition to the TNTT workbooks) for you and your beloved seedlings, searchers, companions, knights, and fellow leaders.

The original Christian Bible is a small library of 73 select books, books specifically selected by people inspired by God. The Old Testament was assembled by the ancient Jews, the New Testament by the Church Fathers, and the Christian Canon of Scripture was determined by the Church Fathers also. Every Christian owes it to these people who chose these books, which is why we read only these 73 today, and not the other rejected books. You can find more on the Bible’s history and deeper meanings here:

Handouts to prepare for: Seedlings (AN), Seekers (TN), Companions (NS), and Knights (HS)

  1. The 2nd Edition Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (RSV-CE). I love this Bible… the leather bound and hardcover versions are bomb.
  2. Study Bible of the 2nd Ed. RSV-CE, aka: the Ignatius Study Bible. For now, only the New Testament is available in one volume. The Old Testament is being put together right now, and so is only available in individual issues (I have the Genesis issue, which is amazing… I used it to create HTDT based on the whole Torah/Pentateuch). Dr. Scott Hahn is one of the faithful minds behind this study Bible.256x256bb
  3. Free app to read the whole Bible with interactive and in-depth commentary from the Church Fathers. Don’t miss out on this neat tool, called Catena.
  4. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: this series on the New Testament is indispensable for anyone who wants to know the way the Church reads the Word of God. I highly recommend starting with the Gospels (my seminary’s Scripture classes use this series).mark_small
  5. Pocket Guide to the Bible: great introduction to what the Bible is, its history, how to use and read it, and how it’s organized.
  6. Where We Got the Bible: something I read to learn how the Bible came into existence, and how the Catholic Church assembled it and maintained it throughout the ages. Pretty fascinating, considering the Bible is the Church’s book.
  7. If you really wanna get into more Scripture treasures, then read anything by Dr. Scott Hahn and listen to his talks on YouTube. He’s a great speaker to start with. A Father Who Keeps His Promises is a great treat for us who want to know the main theme of the Bible.
  8. Great Adventure Bible Timeline of Salvation History: we all prefer a slick timeline chart instead of a chunk of words, so this is a great visual aid to exploring how the Jews, Jesus and His Church all fit together.
  9. An online Bible in Greek, Latin and English, if you’re down with exploring the Scriptures in the ancient Biblical languages (I haven’t found one for the Hebrew, yet).
  10. And for serious step into deeper Scripture study, try Bibliaclerus. I’ve only used it a handful of times, but it is very thorough and powerful. Almost forgot about it until a friend reminded me!
  11. Don’t forget a Bible Dictionary, too. Yep… handy for looking up key words and names when they come up.
  12. The BibleSmack Game (yep, I finally found a good name for it!). Here are BibleSmack‘s rules and files you need to play this game with others:

BibleSmackNewTestament Cards

BibleSmackOldTestament Cards

TNTTLogo

 

Advertisements

Risen to the Occasion

risen_posterLast week, I viewed the newest film on Jesus: Risen, and while it did not rise to the occasion of my expectations (I had great hopes for it), I did come away with a few highlights (I try not to focus on negatives). Here’s what I mean:

SPOILER ALERT

—–1. All about the Resurrection. We have a film on the Passion of Christ, and here is one about the implications of a man coming back from the dead. Many of us, Christian and non-believer alike, seem to forget that people do not do this: nobody comes back to life after being definitively dead, entombed, and decaying (you bet decay started after three days!) No near-death-experience is possible after a person’s heart is lanced and his body is wrung of blood and water.

Yet here Jesus is, alive (yes, we Christians believe this absolutely, even to the point of death), and not merely a resuscitated zombie of a corpse with gangrenous flesh. Jesus is healthy, strong, powerful, and yet still gentle and smiling. Jesus is glorified.

I don’t know about you, but if my friends abandoned and betrayed me, and my enemies tortured and massacred me, first thing I would do after my resurrection would be vengeance. Vengeance! (Be thankful I’m not God.)

But Jesus? He actually lived (and lives again) what He preached. He loves His friends and His enemies. We see this in the film especially when He even welcomes Clavius, the tribune who ordered Jesus’ heart stabbed, to join Him and His Apostles on their journey.

—–2. Which brings me to the point about Clavius when he says what he wants most in life: “a day without death, peace.” Isn’t that what we all want? A day when life kills death? When death no longer has the final say? When death is not the end? Well, that is exactly what Clavius and we have now in Christ.

Once the resurrection happened, death lost its final say: death died. It means that God is greater than death, that death is nothing, that we should not fear death since Jesus can flick it away like it was a leaf. Imagine Jesus: Oh, I’m dead… boo hoo, what can I do, what can I do… hmmm… I know — I’ll just get up!

It’s really that easy for God. And if He can raise Himself up, what makes anyone think He cannot raise others?risen-an-exclusive-movie-clip-for-tbn-youtube-370

—–3. Lastly, now that Jesus is resurrected, that also means that everything He teaches and says is true (and we gotta follow Him). He really is God. Because if He died and stayed dead, even though He said He would rise, then we would just dismiss Him as a liar or an idiot. But He actually came back. Just remember this: God not only became a human for you, not only was born for you, not only lived for you, suffered and died for you, but He even came back from the dead for you, to love you.

You must be pretty special to Him, for Him to go through all that trouble for little old you…

—–4. So go see Risen if you wanna. Nothing in it really put me off or can make me ward you off, but one thing’s for sure: once I saw it, I don’t think I’ll ever make time for another viewing. It wasn’t that special. The book is definitely better. And yet for a better and more thoughtful review, please see Dr. Taylor Marshall’s here.

mc_risen_fb

Reviewing The Revenant

During the little blizzard today in Detroit, I got the chance to see “The Revenant“. Though the movie is set in the winter of the American Midwest, it was a film on fire. Here are three major points in the movie worth a Holy Smack about:RevenantPoster.jpg




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) The misuse of Christianity: we see Tom Hardy’s character (Fitzgerald) spouting the Lord’s name and calling on God for all the wrong reasons. Most of us do this when we curse God, or use His holy name as a curse, or worse! This is extremely insulting to God, Whose name is power, love, grace, life, truth, beauty, goodness, almighty. To use His name for pathetic things, for things against His will and identity, is offensive. We also see an example of this wickedness when people use God and Christianity as an excuse to do evil: American slavery’s justification that Africans are descendants of Cain (their “mark” is the color of their skin).

In the movie, we also see misuse with the “Our Father” prayer (aka: the Lord’s Prayer) when the captain forces someone to say it under distress and threat of death. Prayer is not a tool for threatening or torturing someone. Prayer is a gift we get to have to talk with God. Its use any other way is a depravity.

—–2) But then the movie shows the correct use of God’s name and Christianity, in two ways. First we see Leonardo DiCaprio’s character (Hugh Glass) approach a Catholic church in his dream. The church is in ruins, its bell is hanging on edge but still tolling away, and its icons are aged but dazzling: it’s the most colorful thing we see all film long. We see the saints, and then we see the crucifix: Jesus on the cross. We realize that it is Glass’ son, Hawk, who is in the church waiting for his father. He holds a fire to the crucifix, letting us see the Lord’s feet.Revenant2.JPG
As Glass enters the church, he finds his only son waiting for him. We also know that his only son had died for him already, earlier in the film. The connection becomes apparent: God lost His only Son, and Glass lost his only son. Glass suffers here with God the Father. At this point, we see a connection with what Glass told his son before: “You are my son”, as in “You are my beloved Son” when God speaks at Jesus’ Baptism (Matthew 3:17). The film is truly a film about a father losing his only son, and learning to suffer with God.

Another insight about this church scene: no matter how broken down the Church appears, the Church remains a place where our loved ones can be found. In the Church Triumphant (Heaven) and Church Suffering (Purgatory, enroute to Heaven), we find reunion with those beloveds we lost. They await us! They are in the Father’s home and they are waiting; we only have to go to the Church to find them. The Church is the family of God, the body of the Lord. So next time you are at Holy Mass, realize that all Heaven is there with you. All the angels, all the saints, Almighty God is there with you, for you.Revenant1.jpg

—–3) Finally, the film shows us Glass surrendering justice and revenge to God’s control. Whenever anyone is so close to a climax, so close to completing (achieving) an intense act, it takes incredible self-mastery and will power to stop. In this case, Glass stops just short of killing Fitzgerald. He remembers that his friend had also lost his family and home to murderers, and his friend said “Revenge is in the hands of the creator.” His friend’s act of letting God be God comes back to set an example for Glass, who says here, “Revenge is in the hands of God.”

Surrendering his quest for vengeance to God is the same as surrendering our quest for justice to God. Actually, it’s the same as surrendering anything to God. When we let God have control, we are letting the person who knows everything, who knows every perspective and nuance and secret, make the call. We don’t know it all to make a good call, but He does.

We also must realize that God loves us more than we love ourselves. Hawk’s murder hurts Glass. But it offends God even more, in fact, infinitely more because God is infinite! And so His love is infinite! So murdering Hawk offends Glass, but offends God forever (unless it is atoned for and repented of). Even more: since God loves us so much and went as far as dying for us, anyone’s murder means that the murderer is spitting in God’s love, saying effectively that He died for nothing. Example: I love my wife, I love her enough to die for her. Someone comes along and says I shouldn’t die for her because she’s not worth it, that in fact she is so worthless that she should be killed. I would be very insulted, because I love her enough to die for her!

But God already did die for us. And everytime we murder, cheat, betray, hate others, we insult God because He loved enough to die for them. We are telling God that He died for worthless people.

And so, Glass’ surrendering of vengeance to God’s providence shows us we should do the same. And by doing so, Fitzgerald’s last taunt falls limp: he says that getting revenge will not bring back Glass’ son. Hawk is dead regardless. And that’s true…

But God can resurrect us all.

And Glass’ act of virtue (surrendering revenge to God) guarantees he and his son will rise and be together again.

—–So as you can see, you should see “The Revenant”.

—–Bonus) Anyone else get the feeling that Glass’ wife was a type of Mary? The way she whispered to him in his memories was like prayers, the way she appeared was like apparitions, guiding him and encouraging him.

—–Bonus 2) Being that the film is set in 1800s America, the church shown most likely had the Traditional Latin Mass (I just had to say it).

Revenant3.jpg

Freedom Is Not Free

Today is Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada). On this day, we remember the veterans who served us by risking their lives to ensure our freedom is protected.

We all know how important freedom is. People die to have it, and heroes die to give it to others (be grateful for them!). But freedom is not actually the highest value, is not the most important thing we can have. Freedom is not even actually free… freedom is a servant. Freedom is merely a slave.

Freedom is only a tool.

And like all tools, we need to use it correctly. In fact, bad things begin to happen when we incorrectly treat something: we do not use bleach to flush our eyes, we do not use sugar to brush our teeth, we do not use a hammer to trim toenails, etc. Instead, we use bleach to do what bleach does best: disinfecting things; we use sugar for what sugar does best: sweeten edibles; we use hammers for what hammers do best: fastening nails.

This logic goes for everything in life, including how we treat ourselves and other people. When we treat others with respect and dignity, we are being moral and good. When we treat others with disrespect and malice, we are being immoral and evil. We do not use people since people are not tools, but there is a way to treat them correctly.*

But as for freedom, many people treat it as the highest value, the end of all goals, when freedom is only a tool that exists for only one thing. Freedom is even useless if this higher goal did not exist. Take a moment and try to figure out what this “higher goal” is.

Answer: freedom exists only so that love can be real.

Example: if someone threatened that you must be their friend, then their friendship is not real, because they are not allowing you to freely decide to be their friend. In fact, stay away from people who do this to you!

Another example: if a man and woman were forced to marry each other, there is no freedom in their choice, and so there is no love (and for Catholics, in this case there is no true marriage).

Final example: if God made you without freewill and forced you to love Him, then that love is actually false, because in order for love to be real, you also must have the freedom to not love. (See my Lego Movie review for more about this! Worth it… trust me.)

Soundbyte: If you cannot say “no”, then your “yes” means nothing.

*So then how does someone use freedom correctly?

By freely choosing to love others, not treating others as objects, as tools, as disposable. Freely deciding to treat everyone with respect and dignity, despite how your emotions may sway or force you (because we cannot decide how to feel, and sometimes our emotions are just plain selfish).

But why should people be treated with love?

Simple: because as Christians, we believe God created all persons in His image and likeness, and we also believe that God is love. And so, all persons are made of His love. Logically then, the only way for us to live is lovingly, and the only way others should live is lovingly, and the only way we should live together is… lovingly.

Our Lady of Victory

Blessed Ash Wednesday!

First, I would like to thank very much the lovely and talented Miss Gwyneth Holston, the artist responsible for the latest Holy Smack holy card featuring this painting:

OLVictoryFront2Small

OLVictoryBack2Small

Our Lady of Victory is the first work I ever had the chance to commission, and if you are interested in commissioning something, please know that my experience working with Miss Holston was an absolute blessing (not to mention she gives generous discounts to seminarians, priests and consecrated religious!).

The original inspiration for this painting originated from this pulpit in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels, Belgium, carved of wood by Hendrik Frans Verbruggen in 1699 (yep, they don’t make them like they used to). When I first saw this photograph, I knew immediately it had to be expressed anew in a painting, and smacked onto a holy card. I mean, just look at it! EPIC PULPIT:

Cathédrale_Saints-Michel-et-Gudule_de_Bruxelles_-_chaire

MaryCrushesSerpentCMYK

AdamEveAmbo

The image of the sculpture and painting are referencing Genesis 3:15, when God promises the protoevangelium (the first gospel) that the woman and her seed would crush the serpent. And I love how Mary and Young Jesus are making very light of it, even though they’re standing over a crocodile of a serpent.

Here’s more about the protoevangelium from Blessed Pope Pius IX:

The Fathers and writers of the Church, well versed in the heavenly Scriptures, had nothing more at heart than to vie with one another in preaching and teaching in many wonderful ways the Virgin’s supreme sanctity, dignity, and immunity from all stain of sin, and her renowned victory over the most foul enemy of the human race. This they did in the books they wrote to explain the Scriptures, to vindicate the dogmas, and to instruct the faithful. These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind — words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, “I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed”[13] — taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. [Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.[14] ]

And why did I name this image and card “Our Lady of Victory”? Well, seeing that ISIS and other militant Muslims, and other anti-Christians are raising their swords against the Church again, it reminded me of the Battle of Lepanto (which would have lost Europe to Islam if our Lady did not give us a miracle from Jesus, detailed here):

To save Christendom, Pope St. Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria, the half-brother of King Philip II of Spain. The forces of Spain, Venice and other Italian city states, and the Sovereign Order of Malta formed an alliance against Turkey. Note: “Catholic” France refused, and the Judas King Francis I financed the Muslim Turks so as to weaken his long time rival, Germany-Austria.

While preparations were underway, the Holy Father asked all of the faithful to say the rosary and to implore Our Blessed Mother’s prayers, under the title “Our Lady of Victory,” begging Our Lord to grant victory to the Christians.

Although the Muslim fleet outnumbered that of the Christians in both vessels and sailors, the forces were ready to meet in battle. The Christian vessels flew blue banners to honor Our Lady and depicted Christ crucified, while the Muslim flags had excerpts from the Quran calling for jihad and death to the infidels.

On Sunday, Oct. 7, 1571, at 11 a.m., the Battle of Lepanto began. At the end of five hours, the Muslims were defeated. Later, while Pope St. Pius V was in an afternoon meeting, he suddenly stood up, went over to the window, stared outside in the direction of the battle many miles away, and said, “Let us no longer occupy ourselves with business, but let us go to thank the Lord. The Christian fleet has obtained victory.”

The following year, Pope St. Pius V established the Feast of the Holy Rosary on Oct. 7 so the faithful would remember not only this victory, but also the powerful intercession of Our Blessed Mother. His Holiness also officially bestowed the title, “Auxilium Christianorum” or “Help of Christians,” upon her. The Venetian Senate had painted on a panel in their meeting chamber, “Non virtus, non arma, non duces, sed Maria Rosari, victores nos fecit,” i.e. “It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors.”

So there you have it. Pray on! Our Lady of Victory! Give us the victory of your Son, Jesus!

*If you’re wondering why Islam is so hostile to Christianity, please see this for starters, as well as stop by Jihad Watch.

**And here’s how Our Lady of Guadalupe is our secret weapon against Islam.

The Confessions of the Joker

Confession2

That’s right… even the Joker is serious about the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation! Have a listen to his conversion story!

Here’s the transcript:

Hi…

Most of you know me as the Joker. When Evan heard about my conversion, he contacted me and asked I could share my experience on Holy Smack. I said, I’d love to, but only if I could say whatever I wanted. He said okay. So here goes…

Last time you saw me, I wasn’t in a really good mood.
I killed people.
For fun.
I almost destroyed Gotham.
For fun.
And I tore down Gotham’s White Knight.
But her Dark Knight… oh, that Bat Man flipped my life around.
You see, while I was in prison, I was kept in isolation, and for good reason. I was insane.
And I never had any visitors. Except for one man.
He was a Catholic priest.
And he told me something I’ll never forget. In fact, I’m gonna tell you what he said, and I hope you’ll never forget it either:

You see, in confession, all your sins just… disappear.
You go into the confessional, and there’s the priest. Just sittin there. You can be anonymous to him, and he doesn’t care. You can tell him anything, even everything, and he doesn’t care. You think you’re sins are special? Original? Yeah… right… there was only one original sin, and Adam and Eve beat you to it long time ago…

Anyway, the priest can’t tell other people what you confess. What’s spoken in confession, really does stay ONLY in confession. He can’t tell your friends (if you have any), he can’t tell the police (yup, separation of Church and State at its best and original form), he can’t tell a recording device, he can’t tell another priest (not even the Pope!), and he can’t tell even your own sweet mother…

That’s called the seal of the confessional. And whatever you confess stays between you and Jesus. In fact, most priests even forget your sins as soon as you walk out the door. The Holy Spirit gives them a holy amnesia, otherwise, can you imagine living life knowing all the sleaze people do? It’d drive you crazy! Not to mention that confession can even get boring after you hear the same sin for the thousandth time… but don’t go out and try to impress a priest now! Trust me, that’s beside the point.

But in confession, you’re in hand to hand combat with the devil. Satan is a fiend. Worse than what I ever was. And he doesn’t want you there. He doesn’t want you anywhere near confession, because in confession, you’re really near the Lord. Confession is actually more powerful than exorcism! And in confession, you’re humbling yourself, and the devil is one prideful, stuck up jerk. And in confession, he’s hiding in the shadows of your past.

And the closer you get to Jesus, digging up your history of sins (and it might me from 5 years back, 20 years back, or maybe even just 20 minutes back), the stronger the light breaks in. Oh man… that light burns, like 10,000 UVA and UVB. And it obliterates the shadows. That’s when you can see the worst sins trying to get away from confession — they want to hide from being exposed. They first try to convince you that they’re no big deal, small fry, no more sins here, just move on. But keep going after them, and they get nasty. Then they try to convince you they’re too big for forgiveness, way too big to be rid of, way too much and you can’t handle it… you’ll be so embarassed by them.

Don’t listen to those lies. In fact, that’s when you know for sure this festering thing has to be purged. So grab it, and it’s black greasy tentacles will freak out. Like some leprous octopus. So drag it out into the light, spit it out in confession, and it’ll scream: “Let me go! Jesus can’t forgive you! You’re disgusting! Leave me alone!”

But that’s it’s last words. Because Lumen Christi — the light of Christ, that’s right, I know my Latin — His light sears and cuts that demon down, and it fizzles off like a fart in the wind. Nothing left. Just… gone.

That’s the power of the priest’s absolution: Christ working through the obedient and docile man, so he can pluck off and chop up the leeches that sucked on your soul. If you need to know how ugly sin is, just look up images of leeches and lampreys and pelican eels, and remember that sin is even uglier.

And now, why am I telling you this? Well because it worked for me.

I went to confession. And I confessed a sin that was festering in me since I was a little 10 year old boy. No matter how much a tried to stop, I just couldn’t keep clean. It haunted me, perverted me, and I lost control of my childhood. I was addicted; I became evil. But I didn’t want to stay this way.

So thank God. Because after that confession, that sin no longer had any control over me, and today, I’m free. Even in prison, my soul is free. I feel stronger and better today than I can ever remember!

And if it can work for me, it can work for you.

Now, all I need to do is try and talk like a normal person again… baby steps… baby steps…

God love you.

Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock

Hello Holy Smack Readers!

On this Memorial of St. Teresa of Avila, may I present to you the first Holy Card I had the honor of designing for Saint Paul Street Evangelization [SPSE], a group of Catholic Apologists and Evangelists who volunteer to introduce Jesus and His Church to others in public, across the United States! I’ve even heard that this card itself has been slowly spreading throughout America’s cities.

One of the priests here at seminary asked if I would be interested in helping with this mission, and needless to say I was humbled and grateful to God for such a chance to offer my talents to this work. I only hope the Holy Spirit continues guiding me in the good fight against hatred and ignorance of the Faith.

Thank you for reading, and I’d like to especially thank the artist who shared her work so generously for this project: Nadia Kelaidinova (please visit her gallery here). May God bless her ever more abundantly!

Lastly, if you would like a card or so, please feel free to leave me a message on the Holy Smack FaceBook page, or email me at EvanPham@HolySmack.com (Of course, you’re also welcome to support SPSE by ordering from their site. The cards are sold for non-profit purposes only to keep the ministry running.)

 

JesusAtDoorCardSample

 JesusDoorBack3Sample