About Dr. John Bergsma

Dr. John Bergsma, an associate professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville who specializes in the Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Is Anyone Grateful? The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The themes of the Readings for this Sunday focus on the gratitude for God’s salvation.  Gratitude is an important psychological and spiritual disposition.  Dr. Daniel G. Amen, the popular brain researcher and public health spokesman, identifies gratitude as a key character quality of persons with physiologically healthy brains.  That’s right: gratitude affects your physical health, including the shape and functioning of your brain.  This Sunday’s Readings focus particularly on gratitude to God, and how it should be expressed.

Does it Matter How We Treat Others? The 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Does it matter how we treat others?  What does my neighbor’s suffering have to do with me?  Can I continue living in comfort while bypassing those around me who are in misery?

These are questions that the Readings for this Sunday raise, and to which they provide uncomfortable answers.  Let’s read and let the Holy Spirit move us outside our comfort zone.

God and Mammon: The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

As Jesus continues his “death march” to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9–19), he challenges us this Sunday to choose, in a clear and conscious way, our goal in life: God or money.  The First Reading reminds us that wealth was a seductive trap for the people of God throughout salvation history.

Prodigal Son Sunday: 24th Sunday in OT

This upcoming Sunday marks one of only two times in the main Lectionary cycle that we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son proclaimed (the other being the 4th Sunday of Lent [C]).  The Readings are marked by the theme of repentance and forgiveness. 

The Cost of Discipleship: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of the most famous German opponents of Adolf Hitler and Nazism was the Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis executed by hanging in April 1945 for his involvement in a plot against Hitler himself.  Bonhoeffer’s most famous work was a meditation on the Sermon on the Mount entitled (in English) The Cost of Discipleship.  In it, Bonhoeffer parted ways with a Protestantism that understood “salvation by faith alone” as some kind of easy road to heaven.  Bonhoeffer criticized “easy-believism” as “cheap grace”:

Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner? The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In 2005, a quasi-remake of the famous 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner” was released.  Entitled “Guess Who?” it starred Bernie Mac as an African-American father who struggled to deal with his daughter’s Caucasian fiancé (played by Ashton Kutcher).  Much of the comedy of the film revolved around the clash of cultures at the dinner table.  Usually we only share meals with people like us, family members or friends from our own “circle.”  When someone from “outside” comes in, it upsets the our balance. 

“Family Values”: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In recent decades, the term “family values” has almost become a code word for “Christian culture” in American society.  Influential Christian organizations have adopted names like “Focus on the Family” and the “Family Research Council,” and on the Catholic side of things we have “Catholic Family Land” or The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, better known as “C-FAM.”  The natural family unit—based on a husband and wife who have made an exclusive, permanent, public commitment to share a common life and raise children together—has been under such political and social pressure that at times we almost identify Christianity as a social movement to promote family life.

Church of the Poor: The 18th Week of OT

“How I long for a poor Church for the poor!”

 

These were some of the first words of Pope Francis’ pontificate, and the Readings this week seem providentially to support our new pontiff’s emphasis on the spiritual value of poverty.  Texts from the Old and New Testaments remind us that human happiness is not to be found in the accumulation of material goods.  Riches are fleeting and empty.  We are called instead to “store up treasure in heaven, where neither rust nor moth destroy, where thieves cannot break in and steal.”

Bargaining With God: The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

With the Bible Conference going on at Franciscan this week, I have to offer a shorter reflection on the Readings:
Who has the guts to bargain with the Divinity?  Abraham, our Father in , does.  In the Readings for this Sunday, we find united several themes: persistence in prayer, the justice and mercy of God, the generosity of God.

Entertaining God: The 16th Sunday of OT

This Sunday, as we continue to accompany Jesus on his fateful journey to Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke, we are confronted with a pair of Readings in which human beings host a meal for God: Abraham for the LORD in the First Reading; Martha and Mary for Jesus in the Gospel.  But is it really possible for us to “do God a favor” by giving him a nice meal?  We are going to discover that, while God graciously accepts our services, it’s really about what God does for us, not what we can do for him.

A Turn Toward the Passion: The 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

As the Church reads through the Gospel of Luke this year, we reach a transition point in this Sunday’s text (Luke 9:18-24) where the focus of the Gospel begins to shift toward Christ’s coming passion and death.  Sorrowful though his suffering will be, ironically it shall serve as the source of the life-giving “water” about which the other Readings speak.

Faith, Love, and Forgiveness: The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time C

The Readings for this Sunday revolve around a constellation of fundamental issues in our relationship with God: sin, repentance, forgiveness, faith, and love.  Two of the passages used in this liturgy have been battlegrounds in the theological polemic between Protestants and Catholics, but ought not to be so.

Readings for Pentecost Sunday

Let’s take a look at the Readings for Pentecost Sunday Mass during the Day.

 

Ascension Day Readings

In the Northeast and Nebraska, today is Ascension Day.  In the Diocese of Steubenville, as well as in most of the USA, Ascension Day is observed this Sunday.  I wish the traditional observance on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter was retained, but reality is what it is.

Kingdom of Peace: 6th Sunday of Easter

We have arrived at the Sixth Week of Easter, and continue to bask in the glow of the story of the growth of the early Church in Acts, the vision of heaven from the Book of Revelation, and the consolation of Jesus’ words to the Apostles in the Upper Room from John.  It’s a trifecta of glory in these Readings.

Both “Lamb” and “Shepherd”?: The Fourth Sunday of Easter

This upcoming Lord’s Day is often known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” since each year the Gospel reading is taken from John 10, the “Good Shepherd Discourse.”  It’s also often observed as a day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, since priests and religious are visible manifestations to us of Christ in his role as the Good Shepherd.

The Primacy of Peter and the Primacy of Love: 3rd Sunday of Easter

This week is the Third Sunday of Easter, and our readings highlight the primacy of Peter among the Apostles, and the primacy of love in following Jesus.

Just a few comments on the preliminary readings before we concentrate on the Gospel.  During the seven weeks of the Easter Season, the Lectionary reads semi-continuously through Acts in the First Reading (showing the birth of the Church on earth) and through Revelation in the Second (showing the final state of the Church in heaven). 

Divine Mercy Sunday: The Readings

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday of the Octave of Easter, also known as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”  The theme of God’s mercy runs through the readings.

A Whole New World: The Readings for Laetare Sunday

A whole new world  
A new fantastic point of view …

The Revelation of the Divine Name: The 3rd Sunday of Lent

In this third week of our spiritual journey through Lent, the Scripture readings remind us of what we might call the  “Moses stage” of salvation history, and also drive home the theme of repentance during this holy season.

The Second Sunday of Lent: The Beginning of the New Exodus

Slavery is not a good thing.

God’s liberation of the people of Israel from the condition of slavery—an event we call “the Exodus,” literally, “the road out”—is one of the most important events and motifs in the the whole Bible.

Lent as Spiritual Warfare: Readings for 1st Sunday in Lent

At the beginning of Lent, the Church reads to us the account of Jesus doing spiritual combat with the devil in the wilderness, reminding us that Lent is a time of warfare.  Through our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we do battle with the power of the devil in our lives, and with God’s grace, defeat him decisively.

“Duc in Altum!” “Put Out into the Deep!”: Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Readings for this Sunday seem particularly appropriate for the Year of Faith.  In the First Reading and Gospel, we see both Isaiah and Peter, heroes of faith, humbled by their unworthiness, and yet eager to fulfill the mission for which God has chosen them.  As we share their sense of unworthiness, we should also embrace their zeal to share God’s Word.

Why Do People Hate a “Good Person”? The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Readings for this Sunday show both Jesus and Jeremiah facing opposition for speaking God’s truth to their contemporaries.  They raise interesting questions about why it is that the “good person” so often suffers at the hands of others, and offer encouragement to those who experience this suffering.

The Bridegroom Revealed: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday we remain in the afterglow of Epiphany, the celebration of the “manifestation” of Jesus’ divine glory. [Greek epi – phaino = “shine upon” = “reveal, manifest.”]  Epiphany, which once was its own season (like Advent or Christmas), has often been associated with three events from the Gospels: the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana.  These are the first events that reveal or “manifest” Jesus’ glory in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, respectively.  Certain well-known Epiphany hymns (e.g. “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”) make reference to all three events.

Jesus, the Beginning of the New Creation: The Readings for the Baptism of the Lord

The end of the Season of Christmas arrives this Sunday, as we celebrate the event that marked the end of Jesus’ early life and the beginning of his public ministry: the Baptism.

Mary, Queen Mother of the Crown Prince: Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent marks a switch in focus from John the Baptist (on the previous two Sundays) to the events immediately leading up to the birth of Christ.

Rejoice! The Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

This Sunday is “Gaudete” Sunday, from the Latin gaudete, “Rejoice!” which traditionally begins the introit for this Mass, taken from Phil. 4:4.  Many parishes will mark this Sunday with rose-colored vestments (not “pink”—“pink” is not a liturgical color!), and the theme of joy runs through the readings and the liturgy. 

Make Straight the Paths: The Second Sunday of Advent

As we start the second week of Advent, the Church turns her attention from the second coming of Christ to his first coming, and in particular to the figure of John the Baptist, the forerunner or herald of Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year! The First Sunday of Advent

Happy New Year, everyone!  This Sunday, December 2, is the first day of Liturgical Year 2013, which is Lectionary Cycle C for readings on Lord’s Days and Holy Days.  Obviously, it is also the First Sunday of Advent.  Now, the tradition of the Church is to read the Book of Isaiah during Advent, because this prophetic book, more than any other, is regarded as a prophecy of the Coming of Christ (adventus Christi), both his first coming and his second coming.  Thus, if you examine the Sunday Lectionary for Years A and B, and the weekday Lectionary for Advent, you will see that the First Readings are dominated by selections from Isaiah.

Tempus Fugit: The Readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Tempus fugit,” the Romans used to say.  “Time flies.”  It’s hard to believe that we are already at the second-to-last Sunday of the liturgical year.

A Lesson on Faith for the Year of Faith: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we are still in the beginning of the Year of Faith, our Readings for this Sunday give us a lesson in the practice of faith.

Love and Priesthood: The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Readings for this upcoming Sunday revolve around the themes of love of God and perfect priesthood.

The New Exodus: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings for this Sunday revolve around the theme of return from exile for God’s people.  In the Old Testament, we read about God’s people Israel being exiled from their land because of their violations of their covenant with God.  The great Isrealite prophets, however, predicted that God would bring his people back from the places they were exiled, just as he brought them out of Egypt by the hand of Moses long ago.  This is often called the “New Exodus” theme in the prophets.

Suffering and Leadership: The 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Readings for this upcoming Lord’s Day focus on the themes of suffering and leadership: in particular, how Christ, our definitive leader, embraced suffering on our behalf, and so modeled true leadership for all who would follow him.

Embracing Lady Poverty: 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 4th, this past Thursday, was the Feast of St. Francis of Assissi, and as you might imagine it was a big deal here at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  The all-campus Mass was reverent and moving, and the festivities over the weekend, including the annual Medieval Festival, were full of good-natured merry-making.

God Loves Marriage and Children: The 27th Week of Ordinary Time

The Readings for this Sunday provide the homilist with an ideal opportunity to teach Christian doctrine concerning marriage and children.  The opportunity is timely, too, as one of our political parties has taken an official stand supporting “same-sex marriage,” an arrangement that is not intrinsically related to the birth and rearing of children, does not provide the same benefit to society as true marriage, and can never be as optimal for the well-being of children as to be raised by their own biological father and mother.  In the midst of the confusion about the very nature of marriage and its purpose, these Readings shed the light of God’s revelation on how we should live this most intimate aspect of our lives.

Sin is No Match for the Spirit of God: The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our Readings for this Sunday may seem dour at first, dominated by discussion of going to hell and the merits of self-amputation, but the First Reading actually points us in the right direction to overcome sin and hell and live in joy.  We will see how as the Readings unfold:

Gentleness in the Midst of Suffering: The Readings for the 25th Week of Ordinary Time

Looking over the readings for this week, I was reminded of a classic scene from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker find themselves, after a long separation, suddenly reunited—but as prisoners of their common enemy, Jabba the Hutt:

The Paradox of Discipleship: The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

We have been getting a number of rousing challenges from Jesus in the past several weeks, as our Readings have followed the progress of his ministry, and Jesus repeatedly makes clear that following him is not going to be easy in any way.

Jesus the “Reverse Psychologist”?: Readings for the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time

“Reverse Psychology” describes the attempt to motivate individuals to action by telling them to do the opposite of what is actually desired.  The method is based on the assumption of the perversity of human nature.  Since we tend to do disobey whatever commands we receive, why not command what is wrong, and then our natural “disobedience” will result in good?

Faithfulness to the Word of God: Readings for the 22nd Week

The Plains of Moab (Deuteronomy)

The Readings for Mass this week call us to purify our walk with God, and make an examination of conscience: are my “religious” practices helpful, or are they distracting me from what is central in my relationship with God?

The Feast of Wisdom: Readings for the 20th Week of Ordinary Time

A couple of months ago I finally had the chance to watch “Babette’s Feast,” a beautiful movie about a french cook in Denmark who wins the lottery and spends her entire earnings to throw a lavish feast for the two old spinsters she works for and all their friends.

Recognizing True Food: Readings for the 18th Week of Ordinary Time

What does it mean to be a human being?  What are we really?

The answer our children are taught in school is that we are just animals, the result of a long process of accidents in which an amoeba became a fish, became a lizard, became a monkey, became us.  So all we are is a material body, a fluke of the universe, a “selfish gene,” and when we die, that’s it.

Of course, virtually no one can or does live consistently with this “materialist” view of human beings.  Even radical atheists like Richard Dawkins get “mad” at Christians for the supposed “wrong” things they do.  But getting “mad” and moral concepts like “right” and “wrong” make no sense if we are simply material beings, biological robots.

God Likes to Choose the Unlikely: The Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings for this upcoming Sunday are united by the theme of God’s choice of his messengers.  And, as is typical for God, he chooses some unlikely candidates.

1.  Our first reading is from the prophet Amos 7:12-15:

Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos,
“Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah!
There earn your bread by prophesying,
but never again prophesy in Bethel;
for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.”
Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet,
nor have I belonged to a company of prophets;
I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.
The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me,
Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

On Faith, Freedom, and the Fourth of July

For Independence Day, a short reading from one of our founding fathers, on what is necessary for successful governing of a republic.

Dr. John Bergsma — The Mass as Marriage Supper: Square Brides and Sheepish Grooms in Scripture

Dr. John Bergsma — Marital Imagery throughout Scripture

Dr. John Bergsma — The Odd Couple

Deliver Us from Evil: The Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Today is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, a very great feast day in the Church, and it doesn’t seem right to allow the occasion to pass without some comment.

Saints Peter and Paul represent, respectively, the leaders of the Church’s mission to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Gal 2:7). The Church celebrates their feasts on the same day, because the Church’s proclamation of the gospel is founded on their dual mission: “the gospel … is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (i.e. the Gentile)” (Rom 1:16).