This is the website for Little Rock Scripture Study at St. Anthony of Padua, Fresno, California.

As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55: 10-11.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"How Many Are Saved," by Father Robert Barron

Fr. Barron poses a question that has come up in Little Rock Bible Study, which is also posed by the readings from Revelations at this time of the Church year. I think that Barron gives a very good answer; 
his essay can be seen at the original site by going to this link: Robert Barron's column, 12/3/12

For a more scholarly article, which gets to about the same place, here is one from Avery Cardinal Dulles in First Things of February 2008: Who Can Be Saved? 

When I listen to someone like Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens attack Christianity on the basis of Hell's existence, I realize it would be practically impossible to engage them on the topic because what they confidently think they know is so off the mark, at least for Catholics. Find your target, gentlemen, and at least attack us for what we believe rather than for what we don't!

Here is the Barron article, cut and pasted from the original site:

Dr. Ralph Martin, Professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, has written an important book titled “Will Many Be Saved?” The text received a good deal of attention at the recent synod on the New Evangelization, and its opening pages are filled with endorsements from some of the leading figures in the Church today. Dr. Martin’s argument is straightforward enough: the attitude, much in evidence in the years following Vatican II, that virtually everyone will go to heaven has drastically undercut the Church’s evangelical efforts. Why then, if salvation is guaranteed to virtually everyone, would Catholics be filled with a passion to propagate the faith around the world with any urgency? Therefore, if the New Evangelization is to get off the ground, we have to recover a vivid sense of the reality of Hell, the possibility, even likelihood, of eternal damnation for the many who do not come to a lively faith in Christ.

Martin certainly has some theological heavyweights on his side. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the majority of human beings end up in Hell. And the official magisterium of the church has insisted on a number of occasions that missionary work is vital, lest millions wander down the wide path that leads to perdition. Moreover, these theological and magisterial positions are themselves grounded in the witness of Scripture. No one in the Bible speaks of Hell more often than Jesus himself. To give just a few examples, in Mark 16, the Lord says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” And in John 5, he declares, “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” And in a number of his parables – most notably the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 – Jesus stresses the desperate urgency of the choice that his followers must make. 

To be sure, the conviction that Hell is a crowded place has been contested from the earliest days of the Church, and Martin fully acknowledges this. Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus the Confessor all held to some form of universalism, that is to say, the belief that, at the end of the day, all people would be gathered to the Lord. And this view was revived during the era of exploration, when it became clear to European Christians that millions upon millions of people in Africa, Asia and the Americas would certainly be condemned if explicit faith in Christ was truly requisite for salvation. 

The universalist perspective received a further boost in the 20th century, especially through the work of two of the most influential Catholic thinkers of the time, Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Rahner held that every human being is endowed with what he termed a “supernatural existential,” which is to say, a fundamental orientation toward God. This spiritual potentiality is fully realized through explicit faith in Christ, but it can be realized to varying degrees even in those non-Christians who follow their consciences sincerely. The supernatural existential makes of everyone – to use Rahner’s controversial phrase – an “anonymous Christian” and provides the basis for hoping that universal salvation is possible. Basing his argument on the sheer extravagance of God’s saving act in Christ, Balthasar taught as well that we may reasonably hope that all people will be brought to heaven. A good part of Balthasar’s argument is grounded in the Church’s liturgy, which demands that we pray for the salvation of all. If we knew that Hell was indeed a crowded place, this type of prayer would be senseless. 

Now the heart of Martin’s book is a detailed study and critique of the theories of Rahner and Balthasar, and space prevents me from even sketching his complex argument. I will mention only one dimension of it, namely his analysis of Lumen Gentium paragraph 16. Both Balthasar and Rahner – as well as their myriad disciples – found justification in the first part of that paragraph, wherein the Vatican II fathers do indeed teach that non-Christians, even non-believers, can be saved as long as they “try in their actions to do God’s will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience.” However, Martin points out that the defenders of universal salvation have, almost without exception, overlooked the next section of that paragraph, in which the Council Fathers say these decidedly less comforting words: “But very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the world rather than the Creator…Hence to procure…the salvation of all these, the Church…takes zealous care to foster the missions.” A fair reading of the entire paragraph, therefore, would seem to yield the following: the unevangelized can be saved, but often (at saepius), they do not meet the requirements for salvation. They will, then, be damned without hearing the announcement of the Gospel and coming to an active faith. 

So who has it right in regard to this absolutely crucial question? Even as I deeply appreciate Martin’s scholarship and fully acknowledge that he scores important points against both Balthasar and Rahner, I found his central argument undermined by one of his own footnotes. In a note buried on page 284 of his text, Martin cites some “remarks” of Pope Benedict XVI that have contributed, in his judgment, to confusion on the point in question. He is referring to observations in sections 45-47 of the Pope’s 2007 encyclical "Spe Salvi," which can be summarized as follows: There are a relative handful of truly wicked people in whom the love of God and neighbor has been totally extinguished through sin, and there are a relative handful of people whose lives are utterly pure, completely given over to the demands of love. Those latter few will proceed, upon death, directly to heaven, and those former few will, upon death, enter the state that the Church calls Hell. But the Pope concludes that “the great majority of people” who, though sinners, still retain a fundamental ordering to God, can and will be brought to heaven after the necessary purification of Purgatory. Martin knows that the Pope stands athwart the position that he has taken throughout his study, for he says casually enough, “The argument of this book would suggest a need for clarification.”

Obviously, there is no easy answer to the question of who or how many will be saved, but one of the most theologically accomplished popes in history, writing at a very high level of authority, has declared that we oughtn't to hold that Hell is densely populated. To write this off as “remarks” that require “clarification” is precisely analogous to a liberal theologian saying the same thing about Paul VI’s teaching on artificial contraception in the encyclical "Humanae Vitae." It seems to me that Pope Benedict’s position – affirming the reality of Hell but seriously questioning whether that the vast majority of human beings end up there – is the most tenable and actually the most evangelically promising.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Biblical Year of Faith Series

A Biblical Year of Faith is a 14-part series from Little Rock Scripture Study that explores the universal Year of Faith from a scriptural perspective. These articles are being published monthly from October 2012 to November 2013 in Arkansas Catholic, the weekly newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock. To order a subscription, go to Arkansas Catholic. To learn more, visit Little Rock Scripture Study.


Biblical Year of Faith Series (Dioceses of Little Rock)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Numbers 8

Tonight, we'll be starting with Numbers 8, not quite getting Israel on the road again.

Tonight's closing prayer by Thomas Aquinas:

Give Us O Lord, a Steadfast Heart:

Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give us an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give us an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fr. Baron: 7 Great Qualities of a New Evangleist

For our purposes, as students of Numbers, the fourth quality is very important. Why do we need to know the story of Israel to be effective representative of Christ? Watch the video:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book of Numbers, Chapter 7

One of the challenges of reading Numbers is the great amount of repetition. The other is simply trying to understand what it's all about. This morning I'm finding myself especially challenged by Numbers 7, which lists the various offerings given at the dedication of the tabernacle. As our Little Rock Scripture Study guide notes, this chapter is a "flashback."

After the offering of the oxen and carts, each tribal leader brings exactly the same offering. Every offering of an Israelite was for a specific purpose. We can learn from Numbers to more particularly understand, through the Hebrew offering system, our relationship with God.

Offerings of the Tribal Leaders:

Grain Offering: One silver plate weighing 130 shekels, etc.
Burnt Offering: one gold cup of ten shekels weight filled with incense, etc.
Purification Offering: one goat
Communion Sacrifice: two bulls, five rams, five he-goats, five yearling lambs.

The following links are to a very Protestant website, but one which has provides some valuable help:

Grain Offering:I looked for help with what this is all about, and found the following exhaustive (exhausting?) link of grain offerings: The Grain Offering from Here, Bob Deffinbaugh argues (convincingly, to me) that the purpose of the grain offering is to remind an agricultural community (which Israel will become) of its dependence on God for grain, and to put trust in God by offering some of that grain back. This is very close to the rule that manna is not to be stored for the next day, but that for each day, the Israelites are to have faith that God will give them what they need. One of the ways we develop trust in God is to give sacrificially. That's what this is about. (Dependence upon God)

Burnt Offering:
With regard to the burnt offering, Deffinbaugh offers another very scholarly article: Burnt Offering at The purpose of the burnt offering is to make atonement for the sin of the offerer. Christ now occupies to us the place of the burnt offering, having fully atoned for the sins of mankind on the cross. The burnt offering in the OT symbolizes the Israelite faith that God has made provision for their sins. Quoting Deffinbach: "The burnt offing symbolized the Old Testament saint's faith in God, and his intention to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself. (Atonement)

Purification (Sin) Offering: 
While a burnt offering is an offering for sin in general, the purification offering is for a specific, defined sin, one which was unintentional but came to consciousness over time. How can sin be unintentional? That might be a good topic for discussion tonight.

Communion Sacrifice (Deffinbaugh calls this "the Fellowship Offering" in the KJV it is the "Peace Offering"):
The communion offering was eaten by the people for whom it was offered on the day it was sacrificed or on the day after. (All meat eaten by Israel that came from cattle--oxen, lambs, or goats--was offered as a communion sacrifice: think about that the next time you have a hamburger! See Leviticus 17:3--4) The communion sacrifice accomplished much of what the Eucharist accomplishes--it's purpose was to knit the Hebrews together as one people, as the Eucharist unites the members of the Church as the Body of Christ. (Peace with God. Philippians 4.7: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.")

Prayer of Gratitude, Saint Richard of Chichester (1198-1253):

Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits and blessings which you have given me, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for me. Merciful Friend, Brother and Redeemer, may I know yo more clearly, love you more dearly, and following you more nearly, day by day. Amen

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Books of Numbers: KJV Audio

Little Rock Scripture Study is on to the Book of Numbers, started October 2, 2012. Numbers is a daunting book to read. It gives a lot of material used in the organization of Israel as a traveling political body. It can seem repetitive, and frankly, dull. The solution to the reading challenge is to not rush the pace of your reading or to be overly concerned at the beginning with content. Try to get into the rhythm of the language without worrying too much about what it all means. There's more here than we might at first think. Here is a dramatized recording of the entire book, and very well done:

(The Entire Book of Numbers, KJV Beautifully Read, in 3 hours)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Robert Barron: Three Videos on the HHS Mandate

Father Robert Barron has devoted three videos, now, to addressing the Health and Human Services Mandate that Catholic Hospitals must provide, as part of insurance coverage, various means of contraception:

Father Barron comments on the HHS Contraception Mandate

The HHS Mandate: Anti-Catholic and Un-American

Why It's OK to Be Against Heresy: A Response to Dowd and Sibelius

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter 2012: Why the Resurrection is Essential

Craig Bernthal

"Christ the Lord is Risen Today"

I have friends in liberal protestant denominations who believe that the resurrection did not occur and is not really essential for Christian faith. In one memorable conversation, a friend was relating a conversation he had with one of the women in his church. He posed a hypothetical question to her: If it could somehow be proved definitively, that Jesus did not rise from the dead, by DNA evidence, or some other way, what difference would it make to your religious beliefs?

She answered she'd be heartbroken. That she'd never enter a church again.

He thought that this was a very fundamentalist view, the reaction of an unsophisticated person. For him, Jesus was primarily a moral teacher, and the resurrection was a metaphor. He felt that she was naive in believing otherwise, and obviously expected me to be smarter and to agree with him. I said that I was with the woman completely. That if I became convinced the resurrection was a myth, I would be broken hearted, and I would never go into a Christian church again. 

He was surprised. It wasn't what Jesus did that was important, it was where your own heart was.

If you believe that, I said, isn't saying the Nicene Creed, and going through the Eucharist, all dress-up and make believe? Why do it? Why not join the Rotary? Do good deeds without the superstitious trappings?

St. Paul knew what was at stake and confronted the problem early on, and he addresses it in 1 Corinthians 15: 12 - 19:

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ those have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Most to be pitied because we've gotten it all wrong. Most to be pitied because we've constructed a fool's paradise. Certainly the first Christians did not see the resurrection as a metaphor, and they were closer to the events of Jesus' death than we are. Martyrs do not die for metaphors. They die for what they are convinced is the truth, as did Paul, Peter, and probably the rest of the apostles but for John. That is convincing testimony, as is the success of the Church, against all odds, but prophesied, nevertheless, in Acts.

John Updike, in his great poem, "Seven Stanzas at Easter," understands exactly why the resurrection cannot be metaphorical in a real Christianity:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Indeed, let us not mock God with metaphor. Let's allow ourselves to be embarrassed by the miracle. The resurrection, in reality, is the driving force of Christian charity and courage. It gives us joy and makes demands on us. Our joy in the resurrection makes us want to share love with the rest of the world; that joy propels saints like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Maximillian Kolbe, and John Henry Newman, through lives that are often full of suffering. Joy propels our charity. 
Though the Catholic Church argues that the existence of God is a logical certainty, it does not make that claim with regard to the resurrection of Jesus, though it does argue there are good reasons to believe in the resurrection: the New Testament witness, the existence of the Church itself, the personal experience of the living Christ, and if that experience is weak in us, then by the example of the saints--people transformed into what human beings ought to be. We know Christ through the Church, in the Eucharist, through the Unity of the Holy Spirit, in moments of prayer.  
Without the resurrection, it's all dress-up and make-believe. But finally, we know deep down that it's not dress-up and make believe. In some ways, make-believe would be a relief. We could expect so little of ourselves. But its for real.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday, 2012

The bible is undoubtedly the most influential book in Western literature. Painting, sculpture, music, literature--It has left its dominant mark on all of these these for the past 2,000 years. It's influence turns up in surprising ways. Consider this famous passage from Isaiah, the Old Testament reading from today's Good Friday mass:

Isaiah 52:12 to Isaiah 52:13, The Suffering Servant:

52:13 Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14As many were astonished at him--his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men-- 15 so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.

53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; 11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Now consider this song, which would have only been familiar to blue grass fans before the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. Dan Tymanski (with Alison Kraus playing backup fiddle!):

An exact translation? Of course not. But it shows one way that Christians read the bible and are meant to read it--by making it the story of their own lives. The suffering of Christ is meaningful to us. Our suffering is meaningful to Christ. And therefore, our suffering is meaningful to ourselves, so we can write songs about it.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Hi Everyone,

No class on March 27 or on the Tuesday of Holy Week. We are back in business on April 10.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Way

This week we are finishing The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Father Robert Barron on Lent

(Thanks, Debbie, for putting this up on your Facebook page.)

Genesis 38

Last week, we finished with reading the story of Judah and Tamar, Genesis 38. That, given the failure of Judah and his sons to perform their duty to Tamar, provoked a discussion on the Church's position about artificial birth control. This week, I think we need to continue with that discussion, so I'll be bringing copies of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's famous encyclical letter on "the transmission of human life."

You can get that encyclical at the Vatican website:

Humanae Vitae

As time allows, we will continue with Genesis 39 and what follows.