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Roger Karban

Ordained in Rome in 1964, Roger R. Karban is a priest of the Diocese of Belleville with scholarly expertise in the Sacred Scriptures. He received a Licentiate in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and did his doctoral studies in Scripture at St. Louis University.

Karban has been the chair of religion departments at Mater Dei and Gibault Catholic High Schools; director of the diocesan diaconate program and is currently the administrator of Our Lady of Good Council Parish, Renault, IL. A part-time faculty member of St. Louis University and Southwestern Illinois College where he teaches the Bible as literature, Karban also teaches adult weekly scripture classes in Belleville, Breese, Carbondale and Lebanon, IL. With the vision of Vatican II, Karban presents workshops, not only in the diocese, but throughout the country.



Roger's Essays

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Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52

The late Raymond Brown’s writings and lectures cleared up a lot of the problems I had with the gospel infancy narratives – especially today’s well-known pericope. Even as a kid, this “lost in the temple” passage didn’t make sense. Why would God’s parents miss a second’s sleep over “losing” him? He’s God! He can take care of himself, no matter how old he is or where he finds himself.

Brown helps us understand something all modern Scripture scholars take for granted: our sacred authors frequently employ sources. They don’t begin writing with just a stylus and blank sheet of papyrus in front of them. They have other sheets of papyrus on their desk, papyrus already written on, writings they’ll eventually integrate into their finished work. Sometimes, as in today’s gospel, it’s easy to notice when one source stops and another begins; at times, other sources have been so closely integrated that it takes an expert to point them out.

Luke used at least two different sources for his infancy narrative. He employed one in which the author included an annunciation to Mary, a narrative which had an angel inform the virgin beforehand about the divinity of her son. In the other, exemplified by today’s lost-in-the-temple passage, the writer seems to have presumed Mary and Joseph only found out about Jesus’ divinity after his resurrection. The child’s parents were legitimately worried when he was inadvertently left behind in the Jerusalem temple. They certainly weren’t faking it.

Among other things, these different sources tell us the early church was convinced there’s more than one way to understand the gospel Jesus in our lives – even contradictory ways. Since all the first Christians thought semitically, they were always interested in the both/and of their faith, not the either/or. Such Greek, analytic thinking didn’t hijack the church until late in the second century, long after our Christian Scriptures took shape.

It might especially be good to remember our biblical sources on this Holy Family Sunday. In my limited experience, no two families are alike; each encounters reality in a unique way. Not only do we experience things differently, we react differently, and, in the process, we and things around us constantly change. Physical punishment, for instance, which I simply took for granted as a child, could now get a parent arrested. Thankfully we see implications of our actions today that we never noticed yesterday. As we grow, families grow; and as families grow, we individually grow.

This directly applies to the Colossian author’s command for wives “to be subordinate to your husbands.” Though such a strict marriage hierarchy makes for smooth running, it reduces one partner to a non-entity. (Just as our church hierarchy often does to the laity.) In order to become the people Jesus intends, we need more than just one source commenting on our relationships.

Some behavior is basic Christianity, no matter what’s going on around us. Husbands, for instance, should love their wives and fathers shouldn’t provoke their children. At all times, as other Christs, we should “put on . . . heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience . . . .” And as Sirach insisted, we should never “grieve” our parents. Even if a father’s mind fail, there’s never an excuse for “reviling” him. When positions switch and we’re caring for those who once cared for us, love should always remain.

But once these essentials are covered, each family must make its own path through life. It’s always good to appreciate that fact, especially during today’s feast. If Luke didn’t think it necessary to employ just one source to tell the story of Jesus’ family, then we shouldn’t be content just to employ one way to imitate Jesus’ love in our families.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Early Christian communities quickly realized they were in on a secret. Not only had they experienced the risen Jesus in their daily lives, but their encounter with him/her made them privy to something they’d never before noticed. The author of the letter to the Ephesians expresses their insight in classic terms: “Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” What people of God once thought to be just the prerogative of Jews, they now understood to belong to everyone on the face of the earth. A tremendous eye-opener! “Things” could never be the same.

Of course, not everyone saw reality through such wide-open eyes. Many of their friends and neighbors still insisted some people were, by nature, better than others, just as they themselves once presumed they were superior to and more chosen than others. But because of their encounter with the risen Jesus, they gradually began to understand all people are chosen by God to carry out God’s will.

This new way of looking at reality sprang from an insight that the risen Jesus they encountered was not a Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. They were coming into contact with a “new creation.” Instead of limiting their experiences; the risen Jesus infinitely expanded them.

As we hear in our Third-Isaiah passage, the prophet believes Gentiles can receive the same perks as Jews, with one condition: they have to convert to Judaism. The non-Jewish nations and kings to whom the prophet refers, will first have to walk by Yahweh’s light. They’re not strictly going to be saved as Gentiles.

This flies in the face of today’s magi narrative, as long as you don’t make these travelers kings, and completely lose the message Matthew is trying to convey by inserting them into his infancy narrative. (A narrative, by the way, in which Joseph and Mary don’t travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Matthew has no Roman census. He presumes the “Holy Family” already lives in Bethlehem.)

Matthew wants his Jewish-Christian community to reflect on who these unexpected Bethlehem visitors really are. They’re not just Gentiles; they’re Gentiles engaged in a profession - astrology - for which, according to Jewish law, they’re to be summarily executed. Yet, though they discover Jesus through forbidden means –star gazing – they actually do something with their discovery. On the other hand, the Chosen People’s experts, Herod’s “chief priests and scribes,” refuse to follow their own Scriptures, and travel the few miles from Jerusalem down to Bethlehem. They’re employing acceptable, Jewish means to discover “the newborn king of the Jews,” yet they never actually come face to face with him. Only the most unlikely people in the neighborhood pull off that feat.

Though I’ve never heard any commentator discuss the topic, it seems these astrologers continue to practice their astrology after they leave Bethlehem. Matthew simply says, “They departed for their country by another way.” They didn’t even have to convert to Christianity to have had an experience of Jesus!

The only thing necessary to experience Jesus is hidden away in one of their gifts: myrrh. Dr. Irvin Arkin, one of my St. Louis U. Profs, once asked, “What would go through your mind if someone gifts you with a bottle of embalming fluid for your birthday?” In Jesus’ day and age, myrrh was usually employed for anointing the dead. The magi’s gift of myrrh can only prefigure Jesus’ death. That seems to be part of the secret we share. Jew or Gentile, if we expect to recognize the risen Jesus among us we must be willing to die to ourselves. If we don’t, we’re going to be following stars in vain for a long time.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

An event we now take for granted once created huge problems for the early church: Jesus’ baptism. As we hear in today’s Acts reading, biblical tradition made it the triggering device for Jesus’ public ministry. Among other things, it shows the historical Jesus began that ministry as a disciple of John.

Yet first and second generation Christians are not only embarrassed about Jesus’ baptism by John, some authors even refuse to mention it. The basic problem is a belief that superiors baptize inferiors. So if John baptizes Jesus, he must be superior to Jesus. That’s exactly how disciples of John argued when they confronted disciples of Jesus, even two or three generations after the latter’s death and resurrection.

Contrary to popular Christian belief, all the Baptizer’s followers didn’t just close up shop and become Jesus’ followers after Herod had their mentor beheaded. A huge percentage continued to believe he was the Messiah. Neither his martyrdom nor Jesus’ ministry altered their conviction of his uniqueness. (According to some scholars, disciples of John were still active more than four centuries after Jesus’ historical ministry!) That controversy seems to have shaped today’s gospel pericope.

Though the passage mentions Jesus’ baptism, it’s not as clearly stated as in the two earlier gospels, Mark and Matthew. Luke simply refers to it in a participial phrase “. . . and Jesus having also been baptized . . . .” More important, this brief mention is preceded by a couple of references – in John’s own “Christianized” words – to Jesus’ superiority. “I am baptizing you with water, but . . . . I am not worthy to loosen the throngs of his sandals.”

Yet it’s significant that Luke copies Mark’s insight that this event contains an annunciation to Jesus. Just as an angel had earlier announced to Mary that her son was to be a special person, so “. . . A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Most readers mistakenly presume the voice says, “This is my beloved Son,” making it an annunciation to others. But according to this tradition, one of the reasons Jesus’ baptism is significant comes from a belief that it was during this event that the gospel Jesus discovers who he is. The commitment contained in that ritual makes it essential to the person Jesus later becomes. Though embarrassing later, Jesus’ baptism made sense when it originally happened.

It also makes sense to have today’s first reading be Deutero-Isaiah’s initial Song of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. At first glance it has nothing to do with anyone’s baptism, yet at second glance it has everything to do with Jesus’ baptism.

The prophet is reflecting on the implications of responding to Yahweh’s call. He never doubts God has called him to prophetic ministry. But he’s to be a prophet like no prophet before him, certainly not a hellfire and brimstone preacher. “Not crying out, not shouting . . . a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench . . . .” He quickly learns he’s unique, with almost no role models on which to fall back.

The gospel Jesus fits into the same category. As a human being, he has no idea what Yahweh’s calling him to become. His annunciation, like all biblical annunciations, was composed at the end, not the beginning, of his life. Though his baptism implies he’s certain of his call, like all our biblical heroes, he puts no limits on his response. We presume Jesus spent a lifetime discovering to what precisely he’d been called.

Too bad Jesus’ historical situation eventually created problems for those narrating his baptism. Reflecting on it might help us in creating our own personal annunciations.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Isaiah 62:1-5; I Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

A frequent Bible Trivia question is, “What was Jesus’ first miracle?” If the accepted answer is, “Changing water into wine at Cana in Galilee,” the game’s creator doesn’t know Scripture. That’s Jesus’ first miracle in John, not in the other three gospels. Each evangelist’s initial miracle sets the theme for the rest of his gospel. Mark, for instance, has Jesus first exorcise a demon in the Capernaum synagogue because Mark’s Jesus believes his followers’ ministry should revolve around eradicating the evil which demons symbolize.

On the other hand, a major theme in John’s gospel revolves around his belief that Christianity replaces Judaism. What better way to show this than, as C. H. Dodd classically observed, have the wine of Christianity replace the water of Judaism. The key to appreciating this scholarly interpretation is to note the jars in which the transformation takes place aren’t empty wine jars; they’re the water jars Jews employ for their ritual purifications. According to Jewish law, once wine has been poured into them, they no longer can be used for purification.

Had the author of John’s gospel engaged in theme music, high on his list would have been the well-known song from Annie Get Your Gun: “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” His Jesus can always be counted on to trump the Judaism of his day and age. According to his theology, the reform of Judaism which this Galilean carpenter introduced actually replaced the traditional Judaism he encountered.

In that sense, Jesus of Nazareth is living up to the concept of the “new name” which Third-Isaiah envisions. Recently freed from the Babylonian Exile, the prophet is plugging into the insight of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah’s theology, the Judaism to be practiced when the Chosen People return to Jerusalem won’t be the Judaism the Babylonians destroyed fifty years before. It’ll be a brand new faith, the one Yahweh originally wanted them to practice.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we should zero in on today’s I Corinthians pericope. Paul brings up something Jewish Christians deeply appreciated: the gifts which the Spirit showers on everyone in the Christian community.

Years ago when I helped screen candidates for the Permanent Diaconate in the Belleville Diocese, one of my tasks was to surface some of the gifts they’d bring to the ministry. I quickly discovered that almost never had anyone before inquired about their “spiritual gifts.” Most didn’t even realize the spirit had given them any. Raised Catholic, they bought into the unscriptural division of clergy and laity. Being a priest implied you were somehow gifted by God. Everyone else had to be content with “leftovers.” Marriage, for instance, was never regarded as a spiritual gift, it was just something everyone who wasn’t “called” to be a priest or nun was expected to do.

Paul of Tarsus would never have tolerated our clergy/laity division. As we hear in our I Corinthians passage, he presumes our imitation of the risen Jesus is much more complicated. If each of us is to be another Christ, we’re to represent Christ in a unique way. That insight was one of the ways Jesus’ reformed Judaism differed from traditional Judaism.

The Apostle clicks off just a few of those gifts for his Corinthian community, mention such things as wisdom, prophecy, tongues.

Our deacon candidates eventually discovered their gifts almost always were things they’d been good at doing their whole life; things they rarely reflected on, gifts they presumed everyone had, yet they’re unique. They simply had to ask their significant others. They told them.

Perhaps it would be helpful this weekend to participate in our parish Eucharist with a sign around our necks with our gift(s) boldly written on it. What would ours say?


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Nehemiah 8:2-4a; I Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4, 14-21

The older I get, the more I’m convinced we must constantly be reminded of the basics of our faith. If we don’t, we’ll eventually find ourselves in the same situation the Chosen People experienced during the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. Though they prided themselves on being the people of the covenant, many had forgotten the rules and regulations which comprised the agreement their ancestors had entered into with Yahweh. They had no idea what their covenant responsibilities actually were.

Yet, instead of lording their ignorance over them, Nehemiah and Ezra encourage them to celebrate. The day they finally discovered what Yahweh wanted them to do was sacred, holy to them and Yahweh. They had started to actually become the people God wanted them to be, living the unique contract he/she had made with them.

As a teacher of Scripture, I’ve at times found myself in parallel situations. In helping people return to the beginnings of our faith, I’ve also experienced opening eyes and ears to things some of my fellow Christians never before realized existed. Take, for instance, today’s second reading.

Many of the Christians I’ve encountered through the years have no idea we’ve been blessed to be molded into the body of the risen Christ, an essential part of the covenant we’ve made at baptism with Jesus of Nazareth, a responsibility we can’t sluff off or replace with our membership in the Catholic Church. Though most of us are content just to keep our “noses clean” and eventually squeeze into heaven, we forget that because of our baptismal covenant we’ve agreed to carry on the ministry of Jesus and become other Christs.

Thankfully Paul of Tarsus clearly understood that responsibility and reminded his Corinthian community about it. Since no one person can carry on Christ’s ministry by herself or himself, we constantly must join together with the other “gifted” people Paul spoke about last week. Each of us plays a part; no one’s contribution is insignificant. Christ’s body isn’t whole if any gift – no matter how “small” - is left out.

A sign we’ve forgotten this essential aspect of our faith has been the Catholic practice of referring to priests alone as other Christs. I certainly presume priests can be other Christs, but they became such not on the day of their ordination, but on the day of their baptism.

When Luke’s Jesus announces, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” is he speaking about what he historically is doing, or is he referring to himself/herself as the risen Christ? The majority of Scripture scholars believe it’s the latter. The only Jesus our evangelist experienced was the risen Jesus. That means Luke is talking about the body of Christ that Paul spoke about.

Notice, Luke’s Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m fulfilling this Scripture passage;” rather he says, “It’s being fulfilled.” That seems to imply the people reading these words are helping in that fulfillment. All of us are bringing the glad tidings, liberating captives, giving sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed, and proclaiming a “holy” year. If we’re not willing to help, God’s word will never be fulfilled.

In one form or another, Christianity’s been around for more than 2,000 years, far longer than our original ancestors in the faith thought it would take to evangelize the world. Perhaps one of the reasons for the delay comes from the fact that many of us accidentally threw away or lost Jesus’ original plans. As the late Ed Hays frequently reminded us: “Jesus’ original followers imitated him long before they worshiped him.” Could we create some place in the liturgy to quote Ed at least once a month? It could easily become one of our essentials we forget.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222

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Each archive file has two articles with the most recent at the bottom.

2019 Essays
January 20 & 27, 2019
January 6 & 13, 2019

2018 Essays

December 25 & 30, 2018
December 16 & 23, 2018
December 2 & 9, 2018
November 18 & 25, 2018
November 4 & 11, 2018
October 21 & 28, 2018
October 7 & 14, 2018
September 23 & 30, 2018
September 9 & 16, 2018
August 26 & September 2, 2018
August 12 & 19, 2018
July 29 & August 5, 2018
July 15 & 22, 2018
July 1 & 8, 2018
June 17 & 24, 2018
June 3 & 10, 2018
May 20 & 27, 2018
May 10 & 13 2018
April 29 & May 6, 2018
April 15 & 22, 2018
March 31 (vigil) & April, 2018
March 25 & 29, 2018
March 11 & 18, 2018
February 25 & March 4, 2018
February 11 & 18, 2018
January 28 & February 4, 2018
January 14 & 21, 2018

2017 Essays

December 31, 2017, & January 7, 2018
December 24 & 25, 2017
December 10 & 17, 2017
November 26 & December 3, 2017
November 12 & 19, 2017
October 29 & November 5, 2017
October 15 & 22, 2017
October 1 & 8, 2017
September 17 & 24, 2017
September 3 & 10, 2017
August 20 & 27, 2017
August 6 & 13, 2017
July 23 & 30, 2017
July 9 & 16, 2017
June 25 & July 2, 2017
June 11 & 18, 2017
May 28 & June 4, 2017
May 21 & 25 or 28, 2017
May 7 & 14, 2017
April 23 & 30, 2017
April 13 & 15(vigil), 2017
April 2 & 9, 2017
March 19 & 26, 2017
March 5 & 12, 2017
February 19 & 26, 2017
February 5 & 12, 2017
January 22 & 29, 2017
January 8 & 15, 2017

2016 Essays

December 25, 2016, & January 1, 2017
December 11 & 18, 2016
November 27 & December 4, 2016
November 13 & 20, 2016
October 30 & November 6, 2016
October 16 & 23, 2016
October 2 & 9, 2016
September 18 & 25, 2016
September 4 & 11, 2016
August 21 & 28, 2016
August 7 & 14, 2016
July 24 & 31, 2016
July 10 & 17, 2016
June 26 and July 3, 2016
Jun 12 & June 19, 2016
May 29 & June 5, 2016
May 15 & May 22, 2016
May 5 & May 8, 2016
April 24 & May 1, 2016
April 10 & April 17, 2016
March 27 and April 3, 2016
March 24 & 26, 2016
March 13 & 20, 2016
February 28 and March 6, 2016
February 14 and 21, 2016
January 31 and February 7, 2016
January 17 and 24, 2016
January 3 and 10, 2016

2015 Essays
December 25 and 27, 2015
December 13, 20 and 25, 2015
November 29 and December 6, 2015
November 15 and 22, 2015
November 1 and 8, 2015
October 18 and 25, 2015
October 4 and 11, 2015
September 20 and 27, 2015
September 6 and 13, 2015
August 23 and 30, 2015
August 9 and 16, 2015
July 26 and August 2, 2015
July 12 and 19, 2015
June 28 and July 5, 2015
June 14 and 21, 2015
May 31 and June 7, 2015
May 17 and 24, 2015
May 10 and May 14 or 17, 2015
April 26 and May 3, 2015
April 12 and 19, 2015
April 4 and 5, 2015
March 29 and April 2, 2015
March 15 and 22, 2015
March 1 and 8, 2015
February 15 and 22, 2015
February 1 and 8, 2015
January 18 and 25, 2015
January 4 and 11, 2015

2014 Essays
December 25 & 28, 2014
December 14 & 21, 2014
November 30 & December 7, 2014
November 16 & 23, 2014
November 2 and 9, 2014
October 19 & 26, 2014
October 5 & 12, 2014
September 21 & 28, 2014
September 7 & 14, 2014
August 24 and 31, 2014
August 10 and 17, 2014
July 27 and August 3, 2014
July 13 and July 20, 2014
June 29 and July 6, 2014
June 15 and June 22, 2014
June 1 and June 8, 2014
May 25 and May 29, 2014
May 11 and May 18, 2014
April 27 and May 4, 2014
April 19 & 20, 2014
April 13 & 17, 2014
March 30 & April 6, 2014
March 16 & 23, 2014
March 2 & 9, 2014
February 16 & 23, 2014
February 2 & 9, 2014
January 19 & 26, 2014
January 5 & 12, 2014

2013 Essays
December 25 & 29, 2013
December 15 & 22, 2013
December 1 & 8, 2013
November 17 & 24, 2013
November 3 & 10, 2013
October 20 and 27, 2013
October 6 and 13, 2013
September 22 and 29, 2013
September 8 and 15, 2013
August 25 and September 1, 2013
August 11 and 18, 2013
July 28 and August 4, 2013
July 14 and 21, 2013
June 30 and July 7, 2013
Jun 16 & 23, 2013
Jun 2 & 9, 2013
May 19 & 26, 2013
May 9 & 12, 2013
April 28 and May 5, 2013
April 14 and 21, 2013
March 30 and April 7, 2013
March 24 and 28, 2013
March 10 and 17, 2013
February 24 and March 3, 2013
February 10 and 17, 2013
January 27 and February 3, 2013
January 13 and 20, 2013
December 30, 2012, and January 6, 2013

2012 Essays
December 23 & 25, 2012
December 9 & 16, 2012
November 25 and December 2, 2012
November 11 and 18, 2012
October 28 and November 4, 2012
October 14 and October 21, 2012
September 30 and October 7, 2012
September 16 and September 23, 2012
September 2 and September 9, 2012
August 19 and August 26, 2012
August 5 and August 12, 2012
July 22 and July 29, 2012
July 8 and July 15, 2012
June 24 and July 1, 2012
June 10 and 17, 2012
May 27 and June 3, 2012
May 17 and May 20, 2012
May 6 and May 13, 2012
April 22 and April 29, 2012
April 7 (Easter Vigil) and April 15, 2012
March 25 and April 1, 2012
March 11 and March 18, 2012
February 26 and March 4, 2012
February 12 and February 19, 2012
January 29 and February 5, 2012
January 15 and January 22, 2012
January 1 and January 8, 2012

2011 Essays
December 18 and December 25, 2011
December 4 and December 11, 2011
November 20 and November 27, 2011
November 6 and November 13, 2011
October 23 and October 30, 2011
October 9 and October 16, 2011
September 25 and October 2, 2011
September 18, 2011
September 4, 2011
August 21, 2011
August 07, 2011
July 24, 2011
July 10, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 12, 2011
June 6, 2011
May 22, 2011
May 5, 2011
April 10, 2011
May 8th, 2011
April 24, 2011
April 3, 2011
March 20, 2011
March 6, 2011
February 20, 2011
February 6, 2011
January 30, 2011
January 16, 2011
January 2, 2011

2010 Essays
December 25, 2010
December 10, 2010
November 28, 2010
November 14, 2010



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