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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Category: Scripture Series

Jeff Mirus orients readers to each book of Sacred Scripture in order, through this series of brief commentaries highlighting the nature and purposes of each text.

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“I make all things new”: The Book of Revelation, Part 4

In surveying the last eight chapters of St. John’s Book of Revelation, I am concluding a long series of commentaries on all the books of the Bible by taking a look at God’s final victory. To understand this victory, we need to remember once again that the apocalyptic style of the book portrays a series of snapshots of the battle between good and evil. While in some ways generally chronological, in other ways this is simply a way of looking at the drama as a whole from multiple angles.

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Dramatis personae: The Book of Revelation, Part 3

The pivotal chapter in the Book of Revelation is the middle chapter, chapter twelve. This chapter combines with the two immediately following to give us the most information about the characters at the very center of the struggle between good and evil represented by the entire Book. In addition to the angels and saints taken generally, who are present in various ways throughout, I am referring to the figures of the Woman, the Dragon, and the Lamb.

The Seven Seals: The Book of Revelation, Part 2

Here we have St. John’s visions of the warfare between earth and heaven which characterizes the time remaining before Christ returns in glory. The Book of Revelation describes this in eschatological language, symbolic of the battle between good and evil, God and Satan which fulfill and conclude our history. In this installment, John begins to learn of these things through the opening of seven seals by the Lamb of God, seals which conceal the secrets of the times which lead up to the end.

Apocalypse Now: The Book of Revelation, Part 1

Penned by St. John near the end of his life, the Book of Revelation is the final piece of Divine Revelation, which closed with the death of this last of the apostles. As the name suggests, this revelation to St. John for the Church concerns itself with the consummation of all things, including the end of the world. It is therefore a prolonged exhortation to prepare for God’s judgment.

John: Christ’s message is self-evidently true

John’s letters are thought to have been written during the last fifteen years of the first century, almost two generations after the death and Resurrection of Christ. They capture John’s reflections on the Faith as an old man, not removed from the conflicts of the day (he died in exile on the island of Patmos), but having meditated for decades on the meaning of Christ and His Church. Awareness of this lifetime of spiritual development is essential to a fruitful understanding of the letters.

Peter’s letters proclaim the Faith

In his first letter “to exiles of the Dispersion”, Peter begins with praise to God, through whose mercy “we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you”. The entire letter is an exhortation to live in a manner worthy of so great a mercy and so great an inheritance.

Salvation by faith or by works? James and Jude speak

In my commentary on the books of the Bible, we now turn to the brief letter of St. James and the even briefer letter by his brother, St. Jude. After spending so much time with St. Paul, this makes for a healthy combination. For if Paul repeatedly emphasizes the necessity of faith in Christ, both James and Jude warn us not to forget the importance of the works that we do.

Hebrews: Old covenant fulfilled and eclipsed by the New

The Letter to the Hebrews is a sustained argument about the fulfillment and replacement of the Old Covenant through the institution of the New Covenant. Addressed to those who were well aware of the conflict between the covenants, the text is crafted to prove that the Old Covenant was a shadow of the New, and has found its decisive, permanent and complete fulfillment in the New, which must not be abandoned.

St. Paul warns bishops: Letters to Timothy and Titus

Any objective observer of our own trials in the Church today cannot help but realize how the Body of Christ has been betrayed precisely by religious, priests, bishops, teachers and theologians who constantly distort the teachings of Christ in order to seek favor, position and a good name in our secular culture.

On the art of exhortation: St. Paul’s short letters

These shorter letters reveal the common structure of all Paul’s writing simply because they are so brief. Paul’s standard format begins with a very Christian greeting, then expresses his prayers and thanksgiving for the faithfulness of the community, then offers encouragement and a little basic instruction to keep them on the right track, and finally mentions something of his present circumstances, before closing with particular greetings (if any) and a final blessing.

Ephesians: The remarkable letter that just happens to mention husbands and wives

We cannot avoid endless wrangling over the thirteen verses in Ephesians that deal with the relationships between husbands and wives. We ignore the 118 verses which precede St. Paul’s comments on it (1:1 – 5:21), along with most of the small number of verses in the conclusion which follows (cf. 6:10-20). This is a huge mistake. The whole point of the letter is to explain that the Gentiles have been incorporated into God’s eternal plan and made heirs of His kingdom in Christ.

Galatians: The radical shift from Judaism to Christianity

Going in standard Biblical order, Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins a series of ten shorter letters in which the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to meet the specific needs of a variety of groups and persons. But some of these letters are very rich theologically. Moreover, the main problem...

St. Paul tries everything in Second Corinthians

In this second letter, St. Paul tries nearly everything he can think of to induce the Corinthians to make further spiritual progress. Once again he has postponed visiting them in person, in the hope that he will not have to exercise a harsh judgment when he comes. The apostle employs one rhetorical technique after another to prompt change. Interspersed with these various commendations, accusations and exhortations, Paul also teaches a great lesson about the Christian life.

First Corinthians: Paul’s insistence that we really must grow up

In the first part, Paul rebukes and warns the Corinthians for their worldly Christianity. In the second, he offers spiritual advice on matters that could easily be genuinely perplexing. And in the third, he teaches them about spiritual gifts, including the charismatic gifts, but in a way that sheds further light on what is really the main point throughout: The Corinthians wear their Christianity like spoiled children, and it is time to grow up.

The mystery letter of St. Paul to the Romans

You can imagine the importance of this truth in a period in which God’s chosen people, the Jews to whom Christ came, thought of themselves as a people set apart and made righteous by the Law. But Paul explains that the Law, while good in itself, actually awakens us to sin, and so the Jews turn it into an occasion of sin, even while the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, actually know the moral law through nature, and likewise are guilty of transgression.

The Acts of the Apostles are for the whole world

The main reason the Holy Spirit inspired St. Luke to write the Acts of the Apostles is crystal clear in the pages of that book. But I wonder how many of us who have read and listened to readings from the Acts have realized what that purpose is. Things can be missed when we hear them piecemeal, and...

John’s Gospel: Answering questions for the Church

It is commonly said that the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are “synoptic” (providing a synopsis of the life of Christ) but that the gospel of John is “theological” (probing important questions about the Christian Faith). In earlier installments of this series, I have...

Luke’s Gospel: The Radical Challenge of Jesus Christ

As I mentioned in treating Matthew and Mark, it is difficult to say something truly original in a commentary on the Gospels. Consequently, I have tried simply to highlight an overall theme for each one: For Matthew, Jesus as the Messiah; for Mark, Christ as Son of God; and now, for Luke, the...

St. Mark insists that Christ is the Son of God

In my commentary on St. Matthew’s gospel, I emphasize Mathew’s central theme of establishing, point by point, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah expected by the Jewish nation. In sharp contrast, St. Mark insists from the very first that Jesus is the Son of God. Thus Mark largely bypasses...

Starting the New Testament, with St. Matthew on the Messiah

Having finished my brief commentaries on the books of the Old Testament and wrapped them up into a cozy (and free) ebook, I find that I am ready to begin a similar series of reflections on the books of the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel according to Matthew. But while I can foresee...

2 Maccabees: Judaism in readiness

As I mentioned previously, 2 Maccabees does not extend the history of Jewish resistance to Greek conquest recorded in 1 Maccabees. Instead, it focuses more tightly on one portion of that history. While the second book provides additional details, its chief merit is an exploration of the motives...

1 Maccabees: A shift in understanding salvation history

The two books that close the Old Testament, 1 and 2 Maccabees, are among the most enjoyable to read and the most difficult from which to draw lessons. They are enjoyable because they are all action adventure, covering the remarkable exploits of a priest named Mattathias, along with his sons and...

Four late minor prophets, plus Jonah as a bonus

Wrapping up the so-called minor prophets in rough chronological order, we will now look at those who prophesied after the Babylonian Exile. Ranging from about 520 BC into the 300s, these prophets tend to be more specifically Messianic. It is almost as if the pre-Messianic time is growing short. As...

The minor prophets: Varied voices, including our own

In discussing the twelve “minor prophets”, I began last time by treating the three who were active in the eighth century before Christ. This time I will take up what I call the four “exilic” prophets, that is, those whose mission fell during the period just before or during...

The “minor” prophets: Highly relevant today

The twelve so-called “minor prophets” under the Old Covenant are traditionally grouped at the end of the prophetic books, even though they range chronologically from the 8th to the 4th century before Christ. This is probably because they are short, anywhere from one to fourteen...

Daniel: Champion, visionary, man of prayer

The Babylonian Empire extended from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea to the western end of the Persian Gulf in the period between the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC and its own conquest by Cyrus the Great in 539. It was during this period that Daniel was active as a source of wisdom...

Ezekiel the Watchman: Terror, and Hope

The ministry of the prophet Ezekiel overlapped that of Jeremiah, and his Book is the last major prophetic work in the Old Testament—unequaled until St. John’s Book of Revelations. It begins with apocalyptic visions and offers throughout a dramatic denunciation of the Israelites for all...

Baruch: Jeremiah’s scribe, against hopelessness and idolatry

The Old Testament Book of Baruch is very brief, just six chapters, but it is still divided into three sections, each one fascinating in its own right. The book was nominally composed by Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch, who had to write all of Jeremiah’s visions and prophecies in a scroll,...

A modern lamentation, or jeremiad, on Church governance

When I am not lamenting how tough it is to raise funds for CatholicCulture.org (which is all too frequent this time of year), I’m lamenting the governance of the Catholic Church. As Hilaire Belloc told the Anglican bishop William Temple, it is a sign of the Church’s divine character...

Jeremiah had nothing on us.

Jeremiah is the classic prophet of doom in the Old Testament. He also promised relief in return for repentance and an ultimate restoration of Israel, but since almost nobody paid attention to his prophecies of the destruction of Israel for its sins, Jeremiah had very little opportunity to talk...

Isaiah: The Poet of Salvation

The Book of Isaiah the prophet is the longest book in the Bible except for the entire collection of the Psalms. It is also arguably the most beautifully poetic book apart from the Psalms. In one inspiring passage after another, the prophet faithfully pronounces God’s judgment on Israel along...

Golden threads of Wisdom in the Book of Sirach

In late August, I examined one of the difficult passages in the Book of Sirach (see Did the Book of Sirach pinpoint the Church’s abuse crisis?). Now it is time to give Sirach its place in my series on the books of the Bible. Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) is part of the Wisdom literature,...

The Wisdom of Solomon: Written for the 21st century?

Although I jumped into the Book of Sirach briefly to make a point about the abuse crisis, my intermittent series on the books of the Bible saw its last installment—on the Song of Solomon—back in July. It is time now for the Wisdom of Solomon, usually referred to simply as...

The Song of Songs: Yearning for fulfillment

St. Augustine’s great insight into the spiritual life is perhaps most aptly captured by this famous statement which he addressed to God: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (Confessions, Book 1). If we were asked to identify a...

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity: Ecclesiastes

The Book of Ecclesiastes offers fascinating insights into what the Jewish intellect had grasped of the purpose of life two or three hundred years before Christ. The voice of the book is that of Ecclesiastes, or “the Preacher”, who was King over Jerusalem, and who may be construed in...

Proverbs, read spiritually

It is time, in this series on the books of the Bible, to take a quick look at Proverbs. I also did this back in early 2016, but the purpose then was simply to pluck some of the proverbs that had particularly struck me during my reading in January of that year (see A few pointed remarks (from...

Redemption and Salvation in the Psalms

If so many different kinds of suffering are the subject of prayer in the Psalms*, it is impossible not to wonder how salvation is perceived by their authors. Is the saving power of the LORD invoked for personal health and prosperity in this life, for the ultimate freedom and peace of the Jewish...

Suffering in the Psalms

In the previous installment I stressed that the Psalms are first and foremost a collection of prayers.* As such they inescapably reveal the general themes which are uppermost in the minds and hearts of those who pray: Concern about present suffering and a better future, the thirst for God and the...

The Psalms: Deep questions, with only hints for answers

Reading through the first twenty books of the Old Testament, it is fairly easy to highlight particular themes or dominant purposes in each one which can help people understand them better. Such themes and purposes apply not only to each book but to their place in Scripture as a whole, particularly...

Job’s Controversial Innocence

The Book of Job is a fascinating study of the Jewish grasp of the problem of good and evil in the period following the Babylonian Captivity. While the book teaches a valuable lesson, it is a somewhat negative one—that, in the first place, we cannot know whether someone has been good or evil...

Two strong women of the Old Testament: Second, Esther

The Book of Esther is set in Susa, the capital of Persia, which is ruled by one King Ahasuerus, who has power of life and death over all the communities of Jews who had settled in his territory during the exile. But unlike many in the kingdom, Ahasuerus has good reasons to think well of the Jews....

Two strong women of the Old Testament: First, Judith

Heroines are not lacking in Scripture. In addition to others whom we meet in the various texts, whole books of the Old Testament are devoted to Ruth, Judith and Esther. Eve too is a heroine in her own way, as of course is Mary. In this series on the books of the Bible, it is time for a look at the...

Tobit and Tobias? Their lives are just like ours!

At first glance, the Book of Tobit is one of the most charming and even fanciful in the Old Testament. Tobit, along with Judith and Esther, are known only through the Greek Bible. They were used and regarded as canonical by the earliest Christians and by the Church herself. Commentators often...

Nehemiah’s rightly ordered government

In my previous commentary, I noted that the books of both Ezra and Nehemiah were a continuation of the Old Testament Chronicles, summarizing the principal developments in the restoration of Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile. In Nehemiah, who was named governor of Jerusalem some years after...

Ezra and the exiles: Teaching them—and us—to put God first

When it comes to recounting the post-exilic period in Jewish history—the period during which the temple was restored and worship began again in Jerusalem—there is endless confusion over the naming of the various books that cover it. Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Esdras, 4...

Looking for Justice? Try the Second Book of Chronicles.

Justice is a slippery concept. So often we are punished for things we do inadvertently (consider a traffic accident), and even more often we receive no punishment for evil words or deeds in which we willingly engage. The same is true for all, which makes justice in this world very slippery indeed....

Glimmerings from the First Book of Chronicles

First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, and First and Second Chronicles: These are the books which repeatedly survey the rise and fall of the monarchy in Israel, each with its different emphasis.* I have already discussed Samuel and Kings. The Chronicles were written after the Exile,...

The folly of Kings, 2: Divine justice, Divine mercy, and true hope

After the First Book of Kings, the reader steels himself against the Second Book. It summarizes the reigns of the remaining kings of Israel and Judah up to the Babylonian captivity, the vast majority of whom are summarily dismissed because they “did what was evil in the sight of the...

The folly of Kings, 1: Authority, infidelity and Providence

The two books of Kings* in the Old Testament are essentially a survey of the history of the tribes of Israel under the monarchy. Actually, this quickly became two monarchies, that of Israel and that of Judah. In general, the focus is on the kings and their lineage, whether they served God or not,...

Samuel: A spiritual and political tale of two kings. Part two: David

I have already identified the two books of Samuel as a tale of two kings, and I have amply demonstrated the constant waffling between good and evil which characterized King Saul. Even in the First Book of Samuel, it was obvious that David was constant in his respect for and service to Saul,...

Samuel: A spiritual and political tale of two kings. Part one: Saul

There are no fewer than six books in the Old Testament which cover the period of the monarchy: The first and second books of Samuel (sometimes called the first and second books of Kings), the first and second books of Kings (called the third and fourth books of Kings when the title...

Ruth shows family to be at the center of God’s plan

The Book of Ruth in the Old Testament is very short, only about three times the length of this little essay. It is a charming account of how Ruth, a Moabite who had married one of Naomi’s sons, accompanied her mother-in-law back to her ancestral home in Bethlehem after both her husband and...

Judges: Every man did what was right in his own eyes.

The Biblical book of Judges makes a remarkable point which is just as relevant today as it was before Saul established the monarchy in the eleventh century before Christ: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6). But this may...

Taking Scripture to heart: Joshua’s great lesson

The Scriptural book of Joshua, which immediately follows the Pentateuch and begins to recount Jewish history after Moses, is typically remembered for a few dramatic moments. The book recounts the stopping of the waters of the Jordan River so that the people could cross into the promised...

On the importance of doing God’s will (contra mundum)

I’ve joked several times about how hard it is to slog through the legal/ritual books of the Pentateuch: Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But these do contain a number of dramatic historical episodes, from plagues to wars, including acts of both cowardice and courage—from going...

Making sense of the Old Testament God

In Priestly Atonement, by the Numbers, when I mentioned the apparently harsh measures (such as plagues) which God took to make sure the Israelites did His will, I acknowledged how “difficult it may be for us to grasp the importance of teaching the Israelites in this particular way”....

Priestly Atonement, by the Numbers

As I continue this excursion through the somewhat trying Biblical books of Leviticus, Numbers and eventually Deuteronomy, one of the most important concepts in Numbers that I’d like to introduce is that of atonement. The idea of atonement is absent in Genesis, makes a slight appearance in...

Catholic Social Teaching: Rooted in Leviticus?

There is not as much about social justice in Leviticus as there is about sexual morality. Or is there? We ought to be more aware, after all, that sexuality lies at the very root of the social order. This means that sexual morality, including its focus on the family, is pretty much the sine qua non...

Want to understand sexual morality? Read—and grasp—Leviticus.

Leviticus is a Biblical book which only the Mother of God could love, or so it seems at first glance. This book provides the details of the Israelites’ ritual law, the manner of ordinations, the prescribed methods of celebrating the major feasts, distinctions between clean and unclean...

Called and gifted for glory: An unlikely lesson from Exodus?

When we read Scripture repeatedly, we almost always find something spiritually significant that we had not noticed before. The Holy Spirit enlightens us in different ways at different times. Over the past few days I’ve had this experience with the Book of Exodus. The first thing I noticed...

Scripture is all about connections

One of the most important aspects of Sacred Scripture is the uncanny ability of the far older texts of the Old Testament to point to Our Lord and His salvific mission as recounted in the New Testament. When we consider that the books of the Old Testament were drafted between a hundred and a...

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