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While our culture may not privilege religion as it once did, Hollywood has not shied away from rolling out a number of big-budget biblical movies in recent years. Why? Because they make money! Darren Aronofsky’s Noah grossed more than $360 million; Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings made over $265 million; and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ? More than $600 million (making it the most profitable R-rated movie of all time!)

And while the profitability of these movies (and the influence that money has on their production) could be a topic unto itself, I bring this up simply to point out an interesting fact about our time: despite the lack of religiosity in our world, secular society continues to make mainstream movies about the Bible. The average person with no background in religion and who never attends church can still know the stories of the Bible by virtue of Hollywood’s interest in them.

Which presents an interesting question for us as Christians: is this a good thing? On the one hand, it’s great that people are taking an interest in the Bible and that our story is reaching people who would otherwise not hear it, but on the other hand, what version of the story are they actually hearing? When Ridley Scott is our evangelist, there’s no telling what people will walk away thinking about the Bible.

This week on the podcast, Tito and I discuss a few notable biblical movies we’ve seen, what we think of them, and how we can go about evaluating the effectiveness of movies in the future.

Are you excited? Have you been counting down the days with anticipation, filled with joy? Can you barely control yourself? Today’s the day!

The day for what, you ask? Advent beginning, of course!

If you’re not overwhelmed with excitement for the season, not filled with anticipation like a child, I can understand. Advent and Christmas can be extremely busy and even difficult times for many adults. The simplicity of the season as a child—making gingerbread houses, writing letters to Santa, and getting a pile of presents—has long since faded, and it has left many adults wondering, “what is there to get all that excited about? What are we even waiting for?”

This Advent, join me each week as I offer a reflection on the Sunday readings and the season, journeying together towards our great feast. This week, I look at the sense of excitement that we used to have as kids and suggest that there might be a pretty big reason to wait with anticipation as adults.

 

It is often jokingly said that in the “divorce” of the Reformation, the Catholics got the liturgy and the Protestants got the Bible. A reflection of the fact that Catholics emphasized the sacramental nature of God’s revelation while Protestants whitewashed their churches and made the Bible the only thing that mattered, historically, there was definitely a difference in emphasis, and one can understand why the stereotype was born.

This annoys the heck out me.

Like all stereotypes, the kernel of truth that existed 500 years ago has been so overgeneralized that it is, at this point, more of an untruth than anything else, and serves to create a false dichotomy. Just because some Protestants made the Bible their only authority and rid themselves of all other forms of divine revelation doesn’t mean that Catholics have any less reverence for it or that Sacred Scripture is any less important to forming our doctrine. The Reformers may have given up a sacramental worldview, deferring that identity to the Catholics, but the Catholics never gave up their emphasis on Scripture (and, maybe more accurately, weren’t subject to overemphasizing its importance as the Reformers did.)

What I am getting at with this? Often, out of this misunderstood part of history, Catholics face a criticism from fundamentalist Christians that many do not know how to answer. Thinking that Catholics do not care about the Bible and seeing that some of our beliefs are not explicitly stated in Scripture, some will say to us, “Your doctrines are made up” or “read the Bible and you’ll see how wrong Catholicism is.” I would say that I get a comment on a YouTube video to this effect on a weekly basis.

This week on Catholicism in Focus, I hope to address this issue by explaining the Catholic perspective on Scripture. We have the utmost respect for its words and maintain that it is the inerrant Word of God to guide our lives (not to mention that we proclaim as much or more of it at our liturgies than Protestants do). For Catholics, it is an essential form of divine revelation, but certainly not the only form. Looking at how the Bible was compiled, how God interacts with the world, and what Jesus did to form the Church on earth, we recognize that there is more to God’s authority than what is written in Scripture.

If you’ve been a Christian for longer than a minute, you’ll no doubt have heard a few criticisms of the Bible; if you’ve read the Bible yourself, you’ll no doubt have some of your own. While it stands as the accepted canon of divine revelation—the “Word of God” for Christians—the contents of its pages are far from perfect, with discrepancies in historical accounts, lists of names, specific commands, and perspective on moral issues. It would take nothing at all to pick a passage, read it out of its context, and find a separate passage that seems to be in contradiction with it.

And opponents of Christianity do.

So, what do we do as believers? Do we just accept that our Sacred Scripture is flawed, that it falls short in being a source for life, and just relegate it to the category of ancient literature, something to be read out of fascination but having no bearing on our life?

Hardly.

In this week’s Catholicism in Focus video, I look at the many forms of contradiction in the Bible (yes, we need to accept the premise that there are contradictions right from the start) and share why it remains the “inerrant” book that we have always known it to be.

The following is my homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary time, year B.

Jealousy is an interesting thing. Anyone here ever been jealous of someone or something? Felt that burning inside you? Anyone ever do something reckless because of it…? Maybe I should stop asking questions.

To me, jealousy is an interesting thing because at the heart of every jealous person, every jealous act, is not over-active passion, but actually fear. You see, when most people say that they’re jealous what they mean is that someone else has something that they really want. “Ooo, you have the new iPhone… you’ve got tickets to the concert… I’m so jealous!” And while we all know what we mean when we say something like this, what we’re actually saying is that we’re envious, that there is something that someone else has that we really want. Jealousy, technically speaking, is somewhat the opposite: to be jealous is to already have something, but feel threatened that someone will take it, to be afraid to lose it. At the heart of the matter is not coveting, not immense desire or passion for something more… it’s fear of losing what we already have.

We see this sometimes in children, don’t we, in our sort of primal emotions? When one sibling gets attention from mom or dad, gets a compliment or gift, they throw a fit, not necessarily because they’re desperate for attention, not because they actually want that gift, but because there is something inside them that says that mom or dad doesn’t love them as much. “That’s not so special. Look what I’m doing!” If their brother or sister gets affection, they think, they’ll be left behind and not loved. They become jealous.

Of course, we can see this sometimes in adults, too. When a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife spends times with their friends, maybe someone of the opposite sex, we see people getting very upset, very defensive. “No, you can’t spend time with that person,” some will even say. Why do they do this? More times than not it is not envy, it’s not a passionate feeling of wanting to spend more time with the other, it’s driven by a fear a losing the person, that by them sharing their love with another person, there won’t be enough love for them. They become jealous.

This is precisely what we see in our first reading and our Gospel today. Fear has overcome our biblical figures. In the first reading, those who were left back at the camp when God blessed the prophets are still able to prophesy. They speak for God and they speak with authority, two very good things. Things that the whole community should be proud of. Moses even says that he wishes the whole nation were given the gift of prophecy, that every single person spoke for God. But the others don’t feel this way. They see it as a threat. For them, if others can prophesy, then what they do will not be special, it won’t be unique. If others are able to do what they can do, then they won’t be as important. They become jealous.

Fast forward a thousand years and we see the same situation playing out once again in our Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are passing along, they find that there are people that “don’t go with us,” they say, that are prophesying in Jesus’ name, performing miracles and speaking for God. Surprise surprise, the disciples don’t like this. “They’re not one of us. We have to put a stop to this,” they say. But Jesus is not threatened, he’s not afraid: “No one can perform mighty deeds apart from me,” he says. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

And it is with those words that we see how irrational jealousy is. We see how selfish, how narrow minded it is at its core.

When we’re jealous, we convince ourselves that the success of another is somehow to our detriment. We convince ourselves that someone else getting something good, receiving acclaim, or being loved by others means that we somehow are not good, that we can’t receive acclaim, that we are less loved. If our parents love our brother or sister, it means they can’t love us as well; that if our significant other spends time with someone else, it means that we are less special; that if someone else does something good, our life is going to get worse; and that if God is glorified through another, God can’t be glorified in us.

And we see it all around us, don’t we? We fear that if another religion is given praise, that something is found to be true in it, it somehow undermines Christianity, and so we try to put them down. We fear that if our political adversaries, those people from the other party, do something good then our side will be hurt, and so we try to put them down.

But how absolutely irrational each of these things are! Out of our fear (and it is most certainly fear!) we convince ourselves that there is only so much goodness to go around and so we must be in competition with everyone else. Out of our fear, we forget that all of us are on the same team, that all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ, that all of us are to be seeking truth and building up the kingdom together, and when something good happens to or through another, when God is glorified through another, all of us are glorified!

Being jealous, as our biblical characters are today, being led by fear, is completely irrational because another person’s gain is not our loss if we’re in this together.

But ultimately, I think there’s something more to this, something even more contrary to what it means to be Christian. If jealousy is a result of fear, a fear of losing something, why would we as Christians every have something to be jealous of? What could we possibly fear losing? As followers of Christ, we are a people who claims to give up all that we have, willingly—to leave everything behind, die to ourselves, and follow Christ from death to life. We are a people that follows a man who lost everything—his reputation, dignity, authority to teach, and even his life—and who calls us to do the same for his sake. The central teaching of our faith is that in losing all that we have, including our lives, we actually gain more than we can ever imagine. The very essence of Christianity is about giving up, about losing what we we have.

And so I ask again: what could there ever be to make us jealous? There is no reason to fear losing what we have, of letting fear weigh us down or cause us to do something reckless. These are the worries of the world, the worries of those who want to hold on to what they have rather than give it up to follow Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly who he says he is, then losing everything we have is actually the best thing that could ever happen to us.

Do not fear what others may take away from you. Focus on what Christ gives you in return for not caring when it’s gone.