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Ann Naffziger :
114 article(s)

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
July 10th, 2014

How does the person doing the reading know to say ‘letter from Paul’ when in the prayer book it just says Corinthians etc.? I’d like to do the readings but I don’t know these details.
Lectors who are doing the readings from the Bible at mass read them from a book called the lectionary. The lectionary is formatted to show the lectors which Bible passages to proclaim in which order on which day. Printed above each reading is the preface, for example, “A letter from Paul to the Corinthians.” After the Bible passage the lectionary prints a conclusion such as “The Word of the Lord” or “The Gospel of the Lord.”
If you are interested in doing the readings at mass, simply approach the priest or any…

July 3rd, 2014

Q: Can you help me understand why in Mathew 6:5-15 it states do not pray in repetitions as the heathens do? But yet it appears that the rosary is said in repetitions? And each week seems to be repetitive prayers in the Catholic church (such as the Lord’s prayer)?
I’m unsure which biblical translation you are reading from that refers to praying in repetitions. A couple of good renderings of the Greek in Mt 6:7 are “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do” or “do not babble like the pagans.” Simple, direct language will do when it comes to prayer – one need not compose a treatise to address God.
Jesus’ teaching in this section is not a criticism of public prayer, which is sometimes called…

March 21st, 2014

Catholics abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent not because of some rule in the Bible, but because of a tradition begun in the early church. Various books of the Bible encourage the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
It wasn’t long until Church leaders began encouraging abstinence from meat on certain days as well. (The required days for fasting (eating less) and abstinence from meat have varied over the centuries.) These practices of self-denial are considered forms of penance. They are meant to be calls of conversion, to get us back on track if we’ve wandered off from our spiritual journeys. Some people find that fasting and abstaining from meat help them…

March 7th, 2014

There aren’t any specific scriptural passages about miscarried children, or even about the fate of infants who die before they are baptized. You may have heard of the hypothesis of “limbo” which developed a few hundred years after the life of Jesus. At that time, theologians were debating what happens to children who die before they have committed any sins but before they have original sin washed away by baptism. If baptism is considered necessary to be saved, it is a theological problem to imagine that without being baptized a tiny infant would go to hell. So the theory of limbo was proposed, suggesting that these children are in a state of “limbo” (related to the words “liminal” or “edges”)…

February 21st, 2014

Q: If we believe and can prove the “Big Bang,” then what do we make of ideas that God created the seventh day for rest? Should we still rest?
The creation stories in the Old Testament weren’t written as science textbooks trying to explain the literal origin of the world. They were “etiological stories” written as a way to grapple with philosophical questions such as “Why are we here? What kind of a being or God created this world? What is our relationship to the rest of the material world?” As such, we can hold a scientific belief in the Big Bang while still holding the values taught in Genesis. In this case, we can continue to “honor the Sabbath” by intentionally taking rest one day a week because of the…

February 4th, 2014

Question: In the Old Testament, God actually spoke or communicated with people. Why has he stopped?
The United Church of Christ has a campaign adamantly reminding anyone who will listen, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma. God is still speaking.” Given the lack of Old Testament prophets around to proclaim “Thus says the Lord your God…” the challenge for us is to discern how God is still communicating with us now.
The writers of the New Testament insisted that God was communicating, primarily through the words and actions of Jesus. Since then, it has fallen to those who pray and study the Bible to tease out how the words of Scripture continue to speak God’s word to us today. There are still…

November 29th, 2013

For millennia, humans have looked upon suffering or evil in the world and asked this question. If God is perfect, then how come our world isn’t perfect? Why is there evil and pain in this world? Did God make a mistake(s) in creating an imperfect world? Does God still make mistakes? Our Catholic teaching answers a resounding “no” to these questions.
Various teachings from the ancient creeds, the early Church fathers, and the Catechism state the following:
“God is the fullness of Being and of all perfection … In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice are all identical… God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us…”…

November 22nd, 2013

Does God have everything already planned and is he completely omniscient? In Isaiah 38:5, God tells Hezekiah he is going to die very soon but Hezekiah begs to the Lord to live and the verse says the Lord changed his mind and added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life. So did he already know he was going to add 15 years to Hezekiah’s life? if so why did he tell Hezekiah he was about to die when he was ill.
This is a question of predestination, an extremely slippery concept that has given theologians fits for all of Judeo-Christian history, caused massive conflicts among various denominations, and is still argued about today. The concept is tricky because scripture includes other examples in which God appears to change…

November 15th, 2013

Since a rapture in the linguistic sense of “the carrying of a person(s) to another sphere of existence” has yet to happen to any human among us (disregarding the issue of Christ’s ascension here), perhaps your question is better phrased as “Will there be a rapture”?
If you ask this question of a fundamentalist Christian, the answer would most likely be yes. They would point to Paul’s statement in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 that
“We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them (those who have already died) to meet the Lord in the air.”
Catholics generally answer “no” to this literalistic reading of scripture. After all, St. Paul’s writing clearly showed…

October 15th, 2013

Q: In simple terms, when God made the covenant with Noah, he said he would not destroy everything he created, including animals, birds, etc., by flood again and gave us the signature of this covenant with a rainbow. The deaths due to floods today, is that just an act of nature and not God?
This is a question that commonly arises after natural calamities such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires. If our God is good and the created world is good – as God declares in the first chapter of Genesis – then how is it that so many still perish in natural disasters today? Why does God allow this? Are natural disasters acts of God’s judgment against humanity?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a resounding…

September 27th, 2013

The verse in question here is the only verse in the New Testament that appears to suggest that Jesus had something “inscribed” on his body. However, such a suggestion is in direct contradiction of a law in Leviticus 19:28 “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you.” Not only would the idea of a Jewish man having a tattoo be shocking, even more so is the suggestion that his thigh would be exposed, something basically equated with public nudity in Jesus’ time and religious culture.
A theory that easily explains such a contradiction is that the book of Revelation was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek as previously assumed. If that is the case, a miniscule copying…

September 20th, 2013

Unknown to many Christians are several ideas, legends, and lore in the Jewish tradition concerning the story in Genesis 22. Christians often refer to this story as “the sacrifice of Isaac,” while Jews generally call it “the binding of Isaac” in order to emphasize that Isaac was not ultimately sacrificed.
Still, other lesser-known alternative endings cropped up outside of the biblical literature in Jewish midrash — commentaries or interpretations of biblical stories usually written by rabbis in the first 10 centuries. In one such midrash, Isaac was wounded when Abraham began the sacrificial act. Isaac was then carried to Paradise where he remained for three years while he healed. In another…

September 13th, 2013

Question: I’m an adult reading the Bible for the first time. The Old Testament contains a lot of violence, including the deaths of women and children in large numbers. How do I come to terms with this violence as opposed to the loving, fatherly God most people identify with?

Answer: Unfortunately, the Old Testament (and parts of the New Testament as well), contain stories of repugnant violence and horrific acts of hostility and brutality that are difficult for us to read and acknowledge as part of our sacred scripture. Sadly, sometimes such biblical stories have even been used to justify more recent violence, from the Crusades to the Holocaust. What if, instead of bypassing and ignoring these troubling

September 4th, 2013

Question: In Luke 12:51 Jesus says “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”What does this mean? It would seem that he would come here to unite?…
Upon first reading, Jesus’ statement here does seem shocking, as does the prediction by the aged Simeon when Jesus was an infant that Jesus was “destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to

August 30th, 2013

Question: I love to fish, so perhaps my question(s) stems from that: It has to do with an image from Matthew 17. Yesterday, I was reading the Gospel for the day (August 12, 2013: Matthew 17:22-27), and it occurred to me that I found some of the details about the story a little peculiar, especially the fish with the coin in its mouth. Does that symbolize something? It seems like such an odd detail that there must be some more significance to it. Is there a reason the fish (or water) is the bearer of money (or financial providence)? I admit I found the fish with the coin a little funny, and I was reading a book called Between Heaven and Mirth (Fr. James Martin, SJ) about how we can misunderstand scripture that was meant to be humorous…

August 26th, 2013

The Old Testament contains a vast amount of material about giving a portion of one’s harvest, properties, or ownings back to God. Many commandments in the Old Testament mandate giving of one’s “first fruits” i.e. the first of the fruit or grain harvest, or the first of the newborn livestock. The Hebrew word for this offering is translated as “tithe” or “a tenth-part” with the emphasis being that the first fruits are intentionally offered.
The New Testament doesn’t adopt the language of tithing or mandate that a particular percent be given for the support of a religious institution. That said, in Mark 12:41-44, Jesus praised a woman who put the equivalent of a penny into the Temple treasury (similar…

July 12th, 2013

Question: Many scholars believe that the Jews were never slaves in Egypt. Is there reason to believe that there was some sort of Exodus and would a lack of Exodus be problematic for our faith?
Attempts to corroborate the historicity of the Exodus as told in the Bible have always been fraught with challenges. No other extra-biblical sources record this event, and because the Egyptians were known for careful record keeping it seems odd that they wouldn’t have recorded it. On the other hand, there are records of Semitic slaves in Egypt, variously referred to as “Habiru” or ‘Apiru’ – words that could easily be understood as “Hebrews.” One historical note mentions the ‘Apiru who transport stones…

July 3rd, 2013

Question: Why does the Catholic Bible include the Maccabees and the Book of Wisdom? And do any other denominations acknowledge the extra books? Why at some point were they considered part of the Bible then a man-made council decided they didn’t belong?

Catholic Bibles contain 46 books in the Old Testament, including seven (Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch) which were part of an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. These books were better known among Greek speaking Jews in the Mediterranean world around the time of Jesus. Today these seven books are variously referred to as the “apocryphal” or “deuterocanonical” books and are usually placed…

June 20th, 2013

Full question: What is a sign (from God)? What “signs” might appear to us today, and how is God still speaking?…
There are many events, supernatural or otherwise, that happen in the Bible, which can loosely be termed “signs from God.” Some appear in dreams, like the image of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:11-22). Others happen during waking hours, as when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15). Some, like those in the Gospel of John (One example — Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding at Cana), are more often thought of as miracles, although the gospel writer used the term “signs.” What they all have in common is that they were unexpected

June 6th, 2013

Because the Bible was written so long ago and in a culture so foreign to our own, it’s a tough book to try to pick up and read from cover to cover. It actually consists of dozens of books of different genres that are not in chronological order, so approaching it like you would a modern bestseller will only leave you confused and frustrated.
For this reason, it’s important to read the Bible with some guidance and companionship. Look for a class or Bible study at your local campus ministry or nearby parish to help you along. Usually these will focus on smaller, more discreet sections of the Bible while giving historical background and context so you don’t get bogged down in some of the more arcane sections. For example,…

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