The Old Testament in the Heart of the Catholic Church
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The Christ you receive in fullness when you receive the Eucharist

a.   is a reminder of the Christ you receive from hearing or reading the Bible.
b.   is the same Christ you receive from hearing or reading the Bible.
c.   is not the same Christ you receive from hearing or reading the Bible.


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The meaning of the Bible is

a.   a concept.
b.   an idea.
c.   Christ himself.

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The Bible is like no other book. It is not merely human words ''about'' something - not even human words ''about'' God. There are many books, from many religious traditions (including Catholic books), that are human words ''about'' God. Many of these have some value. Some of them, written by great Catholic saints, have great value, and can genuinely help us move closer to Christ. These spiritual and theological books have been publicly praised by popes and bishops, and read for hundreds of years both by other great saints and by ordinary sinners. The bishops even quote from many of these writings of the saints in the Catechism itself.

But nothing else ever written is, or can ever be, the Bible.

Among all religious or spiritual books ever written or ever to be written, only the Bible literally is God's Word - Christ himself.

This is why at Mass the Church does not read a single word from the writings of even the most holy and learned saints - but only the Bible.

At Mass, we receive the whole Christ, the bread of life, ''taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body.'' [CCC 103] One table, one Word, one Body - one crucified and risen Lord. <<

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Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy || Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings || 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah || Tobit* Judith* Esther 1 Maccabees* 2 Maccabees* Job


Proverbs Ecclesiastes >> Song of Songs << Wisdom* Sirach* || Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch* Ezekiel Daniel || Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

The Old Testament books with a star * are not any more or less important than the others. The star indicates that the Catholic Church definitively professes and knows these books to be part of the sacred writings, the inspired Word of God [cf. CCC 120], but that they are specifically rejected by the Jewish people, and called ''apocryphal'' (of doubtful inspiration) by Protestants.

''Song of Songs'' means ''the greatest Song.'' Most scholars say it is a loosely-organized assemblage of love poems. Many modern scholars confess that they have no absolutely convincing argument for how old the Song of Songs is, how old the love poems in it are (they might be really old), how they came to be together in the Song, and most importantly, how in the world the Song of Songs got in the Bible without even mentioning God once.

A ''seal'' was an identifying mark, almost the presence of the person, worn as a pendant around the neck, set in wax on a document, etc. Read Song 8:6-7, which many scholars say is ''obviously'' the culmination of the book: love is strong (some suggest ''relentless'') as death.

However, over the centuries, the Song of Songs has had many different ''obvious'' meanings. For many centuries, Catholic commentators were absolutely convinced that the Song of Songs ''obviously'' made no references at all to physical love (St. Bernard, for one, ''proved'' this). >>

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Picking up on long Jewish tradition which had identified the bride and groom as the LORD and Israel, Catholic commentators said that the Song of Songs ''obviously'' was a very elaborate allegory regarding the union of Christ and his Church. Still later, the woman in the poems came to be thought of as the Virgin Mary. Some of these passages in the Song of Songs have become part of the liturgy of the Church on feasts in honor of Mary.

Some modern scholars have (shall we say) disagreed with St. Bernard: the Song of Songs is no allegory but celebrates erotic love and desire. They are convinced that the lovers plainly are having full sexual relations. They even remark that the lovers have been identified as bride and groom only by tradition - the text itself does not say that they are actually married.

However, other scholars note the repetition of passages like Song 3:5 in the Song of Songs. Read Song 3:4-5. She's definitely leading him into the bedroom - but then she's stopped. It's not the right time. >>

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In the revision of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, the Church assembled passages from the Song of Songs into a reading that may be chosen for the First Reading of a nuptial Mass. Since whatever else marriage is, it is about what you do when you make babies, this new reading may not have been selected if the Holy Father and the bishops had been convinced that St. Bernard had spoken the definitive last word on the complete meaning of the Song of Songs.

On the other hand, the context of these words of erotic passion and desire (read in church!) is a nuptial Mass in which the couple swears to be true to each other until death and to accept children lovingly from God.

Here, the Catholic Church stands forever in the way of anyone who would say that sex is ''really'' just a momentary experience of pleasure. Instead, she teaches plainly, to anyone who would listen, that erotic passion is very, very important, so important that the only context in which it has its true meaning is the context of a man and a woman (not two men or two women) who make solemn vows to be true to each other for life and to accept children from God with love. Anything less moves you farther from Christ. >>

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Anything less - anything less - does not express the real meaning of erotic passion, and moves you farther from Christ. The Catholic Church has been completely clear about this point for a very, very long time. Our Lord himself taught this to her to help all men move closer to him.

The passages that make up this option for the First Reading come mainly from Song 2: verses 8-10, 14, and 16, and then conclude with Song 8:6-7, as above. Read Song 2 now.

You should also remember that the Song of Songs also still is read by the Church as referring to Mary, and also as referring to the union of Christ and his Church. The different meanings add to each other, and do not cancel each other out. Marriage, as St. Paul noted, is a sign that refers to the covenantal union between Christ and his Church.

Scholars continue to study the Song of Songs, just as they do every book in the Bible, and as is usual for scholars, they have many elaborate theories about what it means. Some of them may even be right.

We know that as man continues to study the Bible and find more of its true meaning, Jesus himself, with love infinitely stronger than death for his one and only Bride and Body, his Catholic Church, continues by the power of the Holy Spirit to protect the true meaning of the Bible through the sacrament of Holy Orders. <<

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Read 1 Kings 17. Elijah is the ''father'' of the prophets [CCC 2582]. The prayer of Elijah to God for the widow's son

a.   confirms the faith of the widow in God.
b.   reveals Elijah's great power to the widow.
c.   shows that it is stupid to ask God for something.

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In early times the Israelites used the term ''Baal'' of the true God, as is evident from certain names of persons and places, such as Baal-perazim (2 Sam 5:20). Later, Scripture gives the name ''Baal'' to any one of several false gods. The ''Baal'' here means one of those. Now read 1 Kings 18:17-40. Mount Carmel is remembered

a.   as the mountain on which God gave Moses the law.
b.   as the place of a decisive test for the faith of the people of Israel.
c.   as the occasion where Elijah wrestled with a messenger of God.

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The Catechism teaches that ''fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions,'' and that a certain event in the Old Testament ''was a 'figure' of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches.'' [CCC 696] What was this very significant event?

a.   A great fire breaks out in the desert and changes people's lives.
b.   Fire from heaven consumes the sacrifice on Mount Carmel.
c.   God gave Adam and Eve the gift of fire in the Garden of Eden.

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The Eastern liturgies of the Catholic Church remember the day of the sacrifice on Mount Carmel very directly at the Eucharist, in which our Lord's sacrifice at Calvary is made present by the power of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Kings 18:37, Elijah prays, ''Answer me, O Lord, answer me,'' and the Lord comes with fire (to Catholics, a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit) to accept the offering. Elijah's exact words are repeated in the Eucharistic prayer of the Eastern liturgies of the Catholic Church, at the invocation of the Holy Spirit just prior to the consecration. <<

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Read 1 Kings 18:40. Elijah gives the order to kill every one of the prophets of Baal, and his order is carried out. This means that

a.   a great evil needed to be eliminated from Israel, and it was.
b.   no one was actually killed as the result of this confrontation.
c.   we are wrong today when we refuse to kill people who are anti-Catholic.

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Read 2 Kings 1:7-8. Elijah's appearance should remind you of a figure from the New Testament (First read Mathew 3:4 to get a hint):

a.   Jesus.
b.   John the Baptist.
c.   St. Joseph.

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Elijah was taken away from earth by a whirlwind. Read 2 Kings 2:9-12. There came to be a tradition that Elijah, who had not died, would return to announce the Messiah. Read Malachi, Mal 3:23 (Mal 4:5 in some Bibles). John the Baptist specifically says that he is not Elijah. Read John 1:19-21. However, Jesus himself says that he is! Read Mathew 17:9-13. Here is what the Catholic Church professes in CCC 718-719:

''John is 'Elijah [who] must come.' [Mt 17:10-13] The fire of the Spirit dwells in him and makes him the forerunner of the coming Lord. In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of '[making] ready a people prepared for the Lord.''' [Lk 1:17]

''John the Baptist is 'more than a prophet.' [Lk 7:26] In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah. He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Israel; he is the 'voice' of the Consoler who is coming. As the Spirit of truth will also do, John 'came to bear witness to the light.' [Jn 1:7] In John's sight, the Spirit thus brings to completion the careful search of the prophets and fulfills the longing of the angels. . . . '' <<

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The first seven chapters of Leviticus are devoted to

a.   hymns of praise to God.
b.   the ritual of sacrifices.
c.   ways to live a moral life.

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Lev 11-16 is devoted to

a.   being holy in the conduct of one's life.
b.   maintaining the laws of legal purity.
c.   the proper ritual for sacrifices.

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The ''Code of Legal Holiness'' (Lev 17-26) emphasizes

a.   being holy in the conduct of one's life.
b.   maintaining the laws of legal purity.
c.   the proper ritual for sacrifices.

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Above all, Leviticus contains many detailed instructions. Leviticus emphasizes that intimacy with God is achieved only in the particular. Catholics agree. There is no abstract or ''generic'' intimacy with God - none at all.

Throughout history, just like today, many people have believed the opposite. Many modern people, exactly like people in the tribes and countries surrounding the Jewish people in ancient times, believe that you don't really have to get too specific to be in an intimate relationship with God. You can pick and choose from among a variety of gods. You can pick and choose from among a variety of religions and behaviors and practices. You can even mix and match according to your tastes.

You may believe this yourself. Deep down you may think that the specifics of ''religion'' couldn't really matter. Deep down you may think that people ought to be able to have an intimate union with God no matter what they believe, or even no matter what they do. Deep down you may think that being Catholic couldn't possibly matter as much as the Catholic Church professes that it does.

So (perhaps throughout your life) you may have to ask yourself: is Jesus in intimate union with one specific, real Bride - or is he still playing the field? Did he freely choose the specific, real Catholic Church to be his Bride, but is now unfaithful? Was he at one time in intimate union with the specific Catholic Church, but has now abandoned her because he found a church more to his liking? >>

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Is he still looking around for his ''ideal Bride'' and in the meantime making a partial commitment to many partial ''Brides'' including but not limited to the Catholic Church? Or is he the type who just can't get enough? Is he ''in love with love,'' passionately and specifically committed - to many different ''Brides'' at once?

As you can see, the New Covenant itself, the intimate and forever union of Christ with his one-and-only Body and Bride, the specific, real Catholic Church, is completely incompatible with the idea that intimacy with God can be ''generic.''

It's obvious that even the thought of generic ''religion'' instantly turns Jesus into the lowest form of life on the planet, and turns the ''intimacy'' he offers into something cheap and coarse and untrustworthy - and entirely un-intimate. It may take you a long time to decide that you want the real thing instead. It's your decision.

We know that if, through no fault of their own, men do not know Christ and his Church, they can be saved if they sincerely try to draw near to God [CCC 847]. However, every single aspect of their partial intimacy with God depends on the full intimacy of Christ and his Catholic Church. [CCC 819]

Being Catholic has to be a free choice - God will force no one to be in intimate union with him: ''The soul only enters freely into the communion of love.'' [CCC 2002] However, if you really want FULL intimacy with God in this life, you must SPECIFICALLY be a Catholic. You must be baptized, and receive our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. That's why being Catholic is so important - and why you are so lucky to be Catholic.

You don't deserve it. You're not worthy of it. You're just lucky.

Christ will never force you to be with him in such an intimate, special, particular, specific way. Every day of your life, whenever you want, you can turn him down. You can walk away. It's your choice.

Yet every man, no matter who he is, can be as lucky as you, if he possesses the knowledge that he can be just as lucky as you, and if that's what he really wants. <<

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The revelation of creation [CCC 288] is inseparable from

a.   the goodness of the universe and of human existence, just as we find it.
b.   the message that man is alone and that the universe has no purpose.
c.   the revelation and forging of the covenant of the one God with his people.

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copyright (c) 2001 John Kelleher. All rights reserved.