Thursday, May 31, 2007

....and a Cautious Response from Authorities

Caution Urged Regarding Guadalupe Report....No Basis for Certainty That Event Occurred, Official Says

MEXICO CITY, MAY 31, 2007 (Zenit.org).-
An Internet presentation is claiming that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe moved during a Mass for aborted children, but a Church leader urged caution about the claims."Miracle in the Basilica of Guadalupe" has been widely distributed on the Internet. It claims that during a Mass in the basilica in Mexico City, the faithful saw the image of Mary move and a light came from her womb. Some claim to have photographs of the image.

Monsignor José Luis Guerrero Rosado, canon of the basilica and director of the Superior Institute of Guadalupan Studies, spoke of the presentation."It is moving and respectable that devoted people see signs of the divine in daily life, given that even the nature that surrounds us speaks to us of God and of his love for us," he said. "However, in his providence it is unusual, and not the fruit of his desire, that supernatural signs abound. We recall that Jesus defines as blessed 'those who have not seen and have believed.'"

Unconfirmed

"The apparition of Mary Most Holy on Tepeyac was a marvelous miracle, and in the moral order we can see that the Lord continues to carry out innumerable miracles, through the intercession of his Mother," said Monsignor Rosado. But, he added: "The Church is extremely cautious in approving physical miracles.

"Supposing that a natural explanation cannot be found for the light seen in the photographs, all that should be derived from this is that an inexplicable light appeared. "The monsignor continued, referring to the Internet statement, "This does not provide a basis for certainty that 'the image of the Madonna began to move as if to make room for a bright light that emanated from her womb with a ray and divine ring in the form of a human embryo, becoming present before our eyes, the unborn Christ.'"

We reiterate that it is legitimate and touching that one would think God was speaking to them in that way, but it is not, and cannot be, an official confirmation of the Catholic Church, nor of the Archdiocese of Mexico City, and not even of the authorities of the Basilica of Guadalupe."

News from the Guadalupana

From Spirit Daily:

STRANGE LIGHT CLAIMED IN GUADALUPE IMAGE AFTER MEXICO CITY OKAYED ABORTION

An apparent communique from Dr. Jean-Pierre Dickès, president of the Catholic Association for Doctors, Nurses and Health Professionals, reports what may have been an unusual luminosity in the famed image of Mary at the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City immediately after that city legalized abortion.

The event is said to have occurred on April 24 -- the day legislators okayed termination of the unborn up to twelve weeks. However, the similarity to photos taken in 1999 by an American raises questions that require further investigation for authenticity and a check of dates.
"At the end of the Mass, which was offered for the aborted children, the assistant of the congregation was asking herself what the Most Holy Virgin of Guadalupe was demanding of her," reported Father Luis Matos, superior of La Communauté des Béatitudes.

"While many of the faithful were taking photographs of the [tilma] of Tepeyac, exposed and venerated in the Basilica and at the foot of which the crowd of pilgrims filed past on a moving carpet, the image of the Virgin began to erase itself, to give place to an intense light which emanated from her abdomen, constituting a brilliant halo having the form of an embryo. With a centering and an important enlargement it is possible to appreciate the position of the light which truly comes from the stomach of the Holy Virgin and is not a reflection, nor an artifact."
We offer it for your discernment.

The image materialized on the cactus or "agave" cloak of a Mexican peasant in 1531 and was responsible for the conversion of twelve million Indians. It is now largely used as a symbol of "pro-life" causes in the Americas because Mary appears pregnant in the image, which has been proven miraculous.

"An engineer, Luis Girault, who has studied the picture thus produced, has confirmed the authenticity of the negative, and has been able to specify that it had not been either modified nor altered, by superimposition of another image for example," stated the priest. "He discovered that the image (the picture produced) does not come from any reflection, but literally comes from the inside of the image of the Virgin. The produced light is very white, pure and intense, different from habitual photographic lights produced by flashes. This light is encircled with a halo and appears to float inside the abdomen of the Virgin. This halo has the form and measurements of an embryo. In effect if we again examine more precisely this picture by making it turn in a sagittal plan, we perceive inside the halo some areas of shade that have the characteristics of a human embryo in the maternal womb."

[ACIM Press Release - May 1, 2007 - FRANCE]
[http://www.acimps.org/content/view/88/2/]

Justin Time

St. Justin Martyr was a Pagan philosopher who converted at age 30 by reading the Scriptures and witnessing the heroism and faith of martyrs. Justin used his philosophical skills to dispute with pagans and explain the faith, becoming one of the first great Christian apologists. He opened a school of public debate in Rome and was beheaded at Rome in 165 A.D. Today is his feast day.

Here is an excerpt from his First Apology in Defense of the Christians, written around 155 A.D. Note the clarity of his description of the basics: Christology, repentance, forgiveness, baptism.

"Through Christ we received new life and we consecrated ourselves to God. I will explain the way in which we did this. Those who believe what we teach is true and who give assurance of their ability to live according to that teaching are taught to ask God's forgiveness for their sins by prayer and fasting and we pray and fast with them.

We then lead them to a place where there is water and they are reborn in the same way as we were reborn; that is to say, they are washed in the water in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the whole universe, of our Savior Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit.

This is done because Christ said: Unless you are born again you will not enter the kingdom of heaven, and it is impossible for anyone, having once been born, to reenter his mother's womb.

An explanation of how repentant sinners are to be freed from their sins is given through the prophet Isaiah in the words: Wash yourselves and be clean. Remove the evil from your souls; learn to do what is right. Be just to the orphan, vindicate the widow. Come, let us reason together, says the Lord. If your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as wool; if they are like crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you do not heed me, you shall be devoured by the sword. The mouth of the Lord has spoken."

The apostles taught us the reason for this ceremony of ours. Our first birth took place without our knowledge or consent because our parents came together, and we grew up in the midst of wickedness. So if we were not to remain children of necessity and ignorance, we needed a new birth of which we ourselves would be conscious, and which would be the result of our own free choice. We needed, too, to have our sins forgiven.

This is why the name of God, the Father and Lord of the whole universe, is pronounced in the water over anyone who chooses to be born again and who has repented of his sins. The person who leads the candidate for baptism to the font calls upon God by this name alone, for God so far surpasses our powers of description that no one can really give a name to him. Anyone who dares to say that he can must be hopelessly insane.

This baptism is called "illumination" because of the mental enlightenment that is experienced by those who learn these things. The person receiving this enlightenment is also baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets foretold everything concerning Jesus."

Converting Kirk Cameron


I was busying finding out about Justin Martyr when this popped up on my Yahoo. Kirk Cameron has discovered religion and Yahoo has discovered Godtube.


Come and see:



I especially like the section about having "content issues." I'll be sure and use that one with my sons next time they are watching something dubious on TV or internet.

It's not badly put together, and I am not so cynical that I think Kirk Cameron is doing this as his re-entry into big media. However, lingering doubts remain.

Giving the Blessed Virgin Mary Her Due

As a Protestant I was taught growing up that all of this Mary "stuff" was a late addition to, or more precisely a degeneration from, a true "Biblical" Faith.

According to this reading of history Constantine converted, and the downward slide began from there. The Church became a big evil organization, and the Dark Ages descended. In those Dark Ages Mary began to be worshipped and adored with the reverence which belongs only to the Triune God.

Wrong.

Here is a wonderful excerpt from Justin Martyr, who died in 165 A.D., written less than sixty years after the death of the last Apostle. Note the exalted position already given to the Mother of God even at this early date.

True, there has been development and change in the veneration of Mary over the many centuries of the Church's existence. But, like every great teaching of the Church, the seed was there from the very beginning.

Behind Justin Martyr stand the Scriptures themselves,

Mary....
beside Christ at Cana encouraging His vocation,
mourning at the foot of the Cross with young John as Mother of All Disciples,
crowned finally in the book of Revelation with a place of pre-eminent honor,
yet submitted fully to Her Son who is to rule the world.

She is the new Eve.
She is the God-Bearer.
She is the Spoiler of Satan' power.

"We realize that Jesus became man through the Blessed Virgin, and the disobedience caused by the snake ended in the same way in which it had begun.

Indeed, Eve, virgin and intact, conceived of the snake’s words and gave birth to disobedience and death; the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived of faith and joy when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and that the virtue of the Almighty would cover her with His shadow, so that the Holy One conceived in her womb would be the Son of God.

And Mary answered: “Let it happen to me as you have said.” Therefore Mary gave birth to the Child foretold in the Holy Scriptures… By Him, God ruins the snake’s empire as well as that of angels or any people who choose to resemble the snake. God frees from death all those who repent from their sins and believe in Him."

P. S. Tomorrow is St. Justin Martyr's Feast Day. So you'll be reading more from him tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'll close this special Feast Day with a prayer in the Spirit of the Day for Our Lady.... it expresses a true faith in God and our Mother Mary:








Visitation: Christ was there.

I attend Saturday morning Mass at the Convent of the Visitation-School in Mendota Heights on a regular basis. There at the end of Mass the sisters greet each other with the following words:

"God be praised. Good morning, my dear sister."

They bow to each other as they do it.

I think of that action today as we recall the pilgrimage the Blessed Virgin Mary made to visit her cousin Eizabeth. As at the Convent, so it was in the hill country of Judea, in the tiny hamlet.

Elizabeth awaited in joyful anticipation the birth of her son, John ,who would be called the Baptist. She found a kindred joy in greeting her cousin Mary who had come to assist her in her need.

There was fellowship in that greeting,
there was joy,
there was service,
and above all there was Christ.

He was present in the embrace of these two holy women.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of Charity
from her book, No Greater Love.

"As soon as the angel had visited Mary, she went with haste to her cousin Elizabeth, who herself was expecting a child. A nd the child to be born, John the Baptist, leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.

How marvelous! The all-powerful God chose a child yet to be born to announce his Son’s coming! In the mystery of the Annunciation and the Visitation, Mary is the very model of the life we should lead.
First of all, she welcomed Jesus in her existence; then, she shared what she had received. Every time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus the Word becomes flesh in our life – gift of God who is at one and the same time beautiful, kind, unique. Thus, the first Eucharist was such: Mary’s offering of her Son in her, in whom he had set up the first altar.

Mary, the only one who could affirm with absolute confidence, “this is my body”, from that first moment offered her own body, her strength, all her being, to form the Body of Christ. Our mother the Church raised women to a great honor before the face of God by proclaiming Mary as Mother of the Church."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The REALLY BIG Secret

Yesterday I heard Drew Mariani on Relevant Radio interviewing EWTN's Raymond Arroyo about a controversial new book/ movie/ publicity event entitled "The Secret." It purports to share the secret key to understanding the universe, AKA "the law of attraction." From what these gentlemen were talking about, it seems that the message is mixture of thought control, new age jargon and just plain huckster-ish "Prosperity Gospel."

The idea is this: concentrate and imagine what you want and need and it will come to you. This is the great secret of the universe, that your positive thoughts generate positive activity which will result in good things coming to you.

Not since the Celestine Prophecy back in the 1980's has so little tried to masquerade as so much. I have watched more or less patiently these past few years as purpose-driven, Da Vinci Code crazed searchers after Jesus' tomb have all paraded by. Each and all has attracted his or her own fifteen minutes of fame in the media spotlight.

So, I suppose this too shall pass.

However, reading today's gospel account I was struck again by how opposite Jesus' gospel is to this entire line of thought.

Instead of good thoughts and feelings, Jesus offers us a cross.

Instead of external fulfillment based on prosperity, Christ offers eternal happiness and meaning through acceptance of service and suffering.

Instead of the ability to feel good about ourselves, our Lord God gives us the power to do good for others.


"The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell themwhat was going to happen to him.“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to deathand hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,but after three days he will rise.”

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee,came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”He replied, ‘What do you wish me to do for you?”They answered him,“Grant that in your glorywe may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.Can you drink the chalice that I drinkor be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”They said to him, ‘We can.”Jesus said to them, “The chalice that I drink, you will drink,and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to givebut is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them,and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The disciples didn't "get it."

I'm not sure we do either.

And yet our Lord Jesus Christ still beckons whosoever will to come and follow the difficult way.
That's the REALLY BIG secret to a fulfilling life, and life hereafter.

Today He calls us. Newman!

It's a Tuesday that feels like a Monday, a common enough occurence after a three day weekend. A little slow getting started?

Today God calls us once again, as over and over, to take up our daily work and follow Him with joy. The rewards are numerous, as today's Mass gospel reading attests:

Mk 10,28-31.

"Peter began to say to him, "We have given up everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and (the) last will be first."

There are many "Newmans" in this world, Alfred E.Newman from Mad Magazine, Newman from Seinfeld, St John Neumann, my parish patron, and John Henry Cardinal Newman, from whom the college ministry Newman Centers take their name.

From John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), convert from the Church of England, Priest,

Theologian PPS, vol. 8, no. 2

"In truth we are not called once only, but many times; all through our life Christ is calling us. He called us first in Baptism; but afterwards also; whether we obey His voice or not, He graciously calls us still. If we fall from our Baptism, He calls us to repent; if we are striving to fulfil our calling, He calls us on from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness, while life is given us.

Abraham was called from his home (Gn 12:1), Peter from his nets (Mt 4:18), Matthew from his office (Mt 9:9), Elisha from his farm (1 K 19:19), Nathanael from his retreat (Jn 1:47); we are all in course of calling, on and on, from one thing to another, having no resting-place, but mounting towards our eternal rest, and obeying one command only to have another put upon us.

He calls us again and again, in order to justify us again and again, - and again and again, and more and more, to sanctify and glorify us. It were well if we understood this; but we are slow to master the great truth, that Christ is, as it were, walking among us, and by His hand, or eye, or voice, bidding us follow Him.
We do not understand that His call is a thing which takes place now. We think it took place in the Apostles' days; but we do not believe in it, we do not look out for it in our own case. "

Monday, May 28, 2007

This Rich Young Country: a Memorial Day Meditation

Today's gospel reading at Mass (Mark 7:10-27) tells the story of the rich young ruler. He came to Jesus thinking that he had it all "in the bag." He was religiously conscious and somewhat conscientious.

So, he was surprised when Jesus said that there was one other thing he needed to do.... give up his riches to the poor and follow Jesus. He went away sad because he was very rich. He had a bad case of "Affluenza."

I sat in Mass this morning and thought about the state of our country. And I became sad also.

I remain thankful for those who have in the past and continue to this day giving their lives for this country, regardless of the justification or lack thereof for our making war in Iraq. These women and men in our armed forces are laying down their lives for their brothers and sisters, just what Jesus asked us to do.

However, I become sad whenever I think of what this country of ours represents and that God is just in giving recompense. He will call us to account for the gifts He has given. We are the inheritors of vast portions from the world's material wealth. We have been given so very much.

And yet we continue to squander our lives and fortunes in the pursuit of more money, more sex and more power. The third (or fourth) car, the bigger house, the better job, the next conquest all take their place at the top of our minds.

Where is God in all of this?

The vast resources of this great land could be used to help so many, both in our own land and throughout the world. Yet, self absorbtion and self defense as well as self gratification appear to have become the moral norm.

I can only pray and thank God that His Son still issues the call, "Come, follow me."

Will this country listen?

Here is a stirring homily on just this subject from one of the greatest preachers of all time,

Saint John Chrysostom i.e. "Golden Mouth" (around 345-407), Bishop of Antioch, then of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church
He wrote about and against the riches and corruption of the Eastern Roman Empire and often got into trouble for it. But he was very popular with the crowds who flooded the churches to hear him preach. You'll see why. He gets to the heart of the matter.

Homily 63 on Matthew “What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"It was no small forwardness that the young man had shown; he was a man with great desires. While others were coming to Jesus to put him to trial or to ask him to cure their diseases, or those of other people, this young man comes to him to talk about eternal life.
He was like fertile, rich land, but there were thorns there too, ready to choke the seeds (Mt 13:7). Look how he is ready to obey the commandments: "What must I do," he says, "to inherit eternal life?"

... This was not the feeling of any of the Pharisees; they grew furious when their mouths were stopped. But not so this man; he goes away downcast, which is no little sign that he had come not with an evil will but with one too feeble.

He did indeed desire life but was held in subjection by another, most grievous desire... "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me ... At this statement, he went away sorrowful."

After this the evangelist shows why he felt this way by saying, "He had many possessions." For those who have little are not equally held in subjection by their possessions as those who overflow with affluence, for then the love of it becomes more tyrannical.

The increase of acquisitions kindles the flame more, and renders those who possess them poorer; it puts them in greater desire and makes them feel more their “want”. See what strength this passion exhibited here... "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" Not that Christ blames wealth but those who are held in subjection by it."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The voice of the Holy Spirit

For this Solemnity of Pentecost, from one of my favorite Cistercian writers, .....

Aelred of Rielvaux (1110-1167), English Cistercian monk

Sermon on the sevenfold voice of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost


(translated from the French: Sermones inediti, éd. Talbot, Rome 1952, 1, 112-114)



"In the beginning, according to God’s plan, God’s Spirit filled the world, “reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and governing all things sweetly.” (Wis 8:1) But where the Spirit’s work of sanctification is concerned, it was on the day of Pentecost that “the Spirit of the Lord filled the world.” (Wis 1:7)



For it is today that this Spirit of sweetness is sent by the Father and the Son to sanctify every creature according to a new plan, in a new way, a new manifestation of the Spirit’s power and strength. Before this, “the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (Jn 7:39) … Today, the Spirit, coming from his heavenly abode, is given with all his richness, all his fruitfulness to the souls of mortals.



Thus this divine dew, with its diversity and its spiritual gifts, is spread out over all the earth. And it is true that the fullness of the Spirit’s richness flowed down for us from the highest heaven, since a few days previously, through our earth’s generosity, heaven had received a marvelously sweet fruit… Christ’s humanity is all of earth’s grace; Christ’s Spirit is all of heaven’s sweetness.



Thus, a very salvific exchange was brought about: Christ’s humanity went up from earth to heaven; and today, the Spirit of Christ descended from heaven to us… The Holy Spirit is active everywhere; the Spirit speaks everywhere.

Of course, before the Ascension the Lord’s Spirit was given to the disciples when the Lord said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:23)

But before Pentecost, the voice of the Holy Spirit was not heard, his shining power was not seen. And knowledge of him had not been given to Christ’s disciples, who had not been confirmed in courage since fear still made them hide in a locked room. But starting on that day, “the voice of the Lord is over the waters; …it lashes forth flames of fire … and all say, ‘Glory!’” (Ps 29:3-9)





Saturday, May 26, 2007

Eight more gifts from the Spirit

Tomorrow, Pentecost, will be the day we celebrate the gift of God's Spirit to all the church. However, this morning we celebrated the gift of men to God. Eight new priests were created under the hands of Archbishop Harry Flynn and the assembled presbyters with him.

The picture captures the moment of the laying-on-of-hands. Those poor men had to kneel for nearly 30 minutes as first Archbishop Flynn then dozens of their soon-to-be fellow priests laid their hands of blessing upon them.

The eight were:

Greg Abbot
Dennis Backer
John Floeder
Nels Gjengdahl
Mark Joppa
Michael Kaluza
Paul Kammen
Joseph Quoc Thien Vuong

In recognition of this last ordinand, the choir of St Anne's/ St Joseph Hein from North Minneapolis sang a moving ballad in Vietnamese during the ordination called "I, the Priest." It is full of the pathos borne out of the Vietnamese peoples' great suffering and even greater faith.

It also best summarizes the "why" of priesthood, especially the last line. All through the song its lyrics properly identify these men of holiness with the great High Priest and Shepherd who is Light, Salt, the Flower of God's love.

Jesus, I am offering to you my life, my mind, my body and my soul.
I, the priest, am the light for the world.
I, the priest, am the salt of the earth.
I, the priest, am a flower surrounded by thorns, but I will not be afraid.

Like a child cradled in a mother's hands,
like a soldier dedicating his life to protect his country.
I, the priest, am the salt of the earth
so that I may be an acceptable offering to you.

I offer my body and soul in sacrificial love.

These men are called right now to become and live
what we all will fully come to be and live some day in the Father's house....
self-giving reflections of the image of Christ, the Imago Christi.

Lord, haste the day.

Seven gifts to open

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are seven in number, according to theology. Here they are in their original Hebrew Scriptural context, Isaiah 11:1-2:

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

These seven gifts are given in baptism and quickened in Confirmation. They are given to help us get closer to God and be more useful to Him. As a Protestant I was really more familiar with the lists of gifts in the New Testament, primarily in 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4. however,looking at all three lists the corinthians grouping is really talking about functions or activities and the author of Ephesians is really speaking about offices or functions in the CHurch. Both are given "for the common good." And that's great.

But these gifts are given to each Christian personally so that she or he might fulfill God's will in life. They function in Isaiah as descriptors of the Messiah, God's annointed. That helps explain how they got into the liturgy and life of the Church at Pentecost. Jesus was God's annointed, and so are we, through our baptism and gift of the Holy Spirit.

I'll be blogging more about that later, since this is one of the primary themes in the first part of Benedict XVI's new book, Jesus of Nazareth. More on that later.....

But in the meantime, I've been praying this Litany the last week, from Benedictine Daily Prayer . It's a cool summary ofwhat we're seeking on Pentecost.

Through Christ Jesus, the blessing bestowed on Abraham shall descend on the Gentiles, enabling us to receive the promised spirit through faith, Alleluia!

Father, every good gift comes to us through your son Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Give is wisdom to rejoice in your saving deeds.
Give us understanding to deepen our faith.
Give us counsel to guide us to the right path.
Give us fortitude to conquer our weakness.
Give us knowledge to see you wherever you show yourself.
Give us piety to love and trust you as our Father.
Give us fear to revere and praise you as our God.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Make friends with mammon...


... with mammon make friends.

"And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations."

Luke 16:9

From Catholic World News:

Record gift to New York archdiocese comes from atheist

New York, May. 24, 2007 (CWNews.com) -

The New York archdiocese has received a record-breaking gift of $22.5 million from an atheist.
Robert Wilson, a retired financier, has given the sum-- the largest single donation ever recorded by the Church in New York-- to a program that will pay tuition for needy children attending New York's parochial schools.

Explaining his decision to make the grant to a Catholic charity, Wilson pointed out that his money would be used to pay for the education of children, rather than for specifically religious purposes.

While he is not religious, Wilson indicated a deep respect for the Catholic faith. "Let's face it," he told a reporter: "without the Roman Catholic Church there would be no Western civilization."

Strings to a Harp; Music to God's soul

Here is a great piece on unity in the Church, especially the filial bond between presbyters (priests) and their Bishop.

It was penned by St Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians just at the beginning of the second century. Bishop Ignatius was on his way to Rome and facing certain martyrdom. Travelling across across Asia Minor from Antioch, he stopped and met with the pastoral leadership of various churches.

These and Ignatius' other letters show the level of organization already existing in the Church just after the death of the last Apostle, John.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch (? – around 110), bishop and martyr From the Letter to the Ephesians (translation breviary)

"It is right for you to give glory in every way to Jesus Christ, who has given glory to you; you must be made holy in all things by being united in perfect obedience, in submission to the bishop and the presbyters. I am not giving you orders as if I were a person of importance. Even if I am a prisoner for the name of Christ, I am not yet made perfect in Jesus Christ. I am now beginning to be a disciple and I am speaking to you as my fellow-disciples.

It is you who should be strengthening me by your faith, your encouragement, your patience, your serenity. But since love will not allow me to be silent about you, I am taking the opportunity to urge you to be united in conformity with the mind of God.

For Jesus Christ, our life, without whom we cannot live, is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops, appointed over the whole earth, are in conformity with the mind of Jesus Christ. It is fitting, therefore, that you should be in agreement with the mind of the bishop as in fact you are.

Your excellent presbyters, who are a credit to God, are as suited to the bishop as strings to a harp. So in your harmony of mind and heart the song you sing is Jesus Christ. Every one of you should form a choir, so that, in harmony of sound througt harmony of hearts, and in unity taking the note from God, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father... It is then an advantge to you to live in perfect unity, so that all times you may share in God."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We are the world's soul

One last thought before I hit the sack to read a few more paragraphs in this month's First Things. It's 10:30... do you know where your Catholic ID is?




Sometimes it help us to step back and see ourselves as others see us. Here is a refreshing description of who Christians are.... from a second or third century apologist, trying to explain Christianity in terms a Roman would understand.



It's refreshing.... revealing.... reinvigorating.... to see what Christianity looks like to someone whose spiritual eyes are not glazed over from long familiarity.



From a letter to Diognetus (around 200) §5-6; PG 2, 1174-1175 (cf breviary)



"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men.

Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.



And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country...



They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven (He 11:16). Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them."



Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything... A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult... To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.

Crossing the Tiger.... er... I mean Tiber

In the light of my recent post about Francis Beckwith's conversion and other events, I've been thinking all day about the Roman Catholic Church and how tough it is sometimes to "be" here.

A friend of mine once shared with me that he took a tax law course. The professor came in the first day of class and said to the assembled students "You will do well in here if you only remember two things about tax law: it doesn't make sense and it isn't fair."

There are days when I feel like that about the Church, also.

I love Her.
I work for Her.
In my "for-pay" job I deal each and every day with all kinds of Roman Catholics....
from proto-LeFebevre-ites to Post-Modern Dorothy Day fans.

I see the good and the bad in all of them.
Sometimes that gives me indigestion.

Yes, there is a wonderful sense of faith and reason in the Roman Catholic Church,
a strong history of compassion and action on behalf of the poor,
and, of course, the historical connection with Jesus himself.

All these things are important to me as a convert.
And this IS my spiritual Home.

But there are times when I look back across the Tiber
at my my evangelical or Lutheran or Charismatic friends
and I say to myself,
"how much easier you have it."

You can simply decide that "this is my faith, and that's that."

Fewer external measuring devices.
Fewer non-like minded folk needing to be gotten along with.
Less hierarchy, more anarchy.

There lots of greener grass over there in those other Ecclesial Communities.

But then I stop to think about why I am Roman Catholic.

I am here because this is the Church that Jesus founded.
I am here because this is where I have found the ability to live with some measure of virtue in this life and hope of happiness in the next.
I am here because God asks me to be here.

And that's enough.

Ancient monk, modern call

Courtesy of Ford Royer, an Episcopalian Oblate of St Benedict from St John's Abbey, Collegeville, here is a really great article from an Episcopalian magazine detailing the attraction of Benedictine spirituality. I especially love the cartoon!

Ancient monk, modern call

Oblates of St. Benedict apply sixth-century Rule to today's life, faith, foodstuffs

By Ron Beathard for Episcopal Life, May 22, 2007


My friends are dull -- good people; I love them all -- but dull as dishwater. Sometimes they surprise, and this is one of those times.

Buddy, a friend from our Air Force days, was in town on business a few months ago. During one of our conversations, he said he thought it would be cool to be a monk. But he couldn't take it all the time.

"I asked my priest," Buddy started, "the Rev. Dave Halt, if there was a religious organization where by day I could be a monk and pray and meditate and do good works, then, when I punched out at five, go home and read the sports page and eat pizza, watch Seinfeld and eat pizza, then turn on a classic Rocky or Terminator flick and eat cold pizza?

"He suggested I contact the oblates of St. Benedict and read Benedict's book, The Rule. I did and was hooked. It is the world's first international, best-selling, self-help book. It is used in monasteries throughout the world and by people just like you and me. If Benedict could have changed his name to Dr. Benny, he would have a highly rated television show. But he wrote The Rule around 540 -- that is 1,500 years ago."

Oblates are lay members of a monastery, sharing a spiritual union and friendship -- like an adopted child. They search for more fulfillment in their everyday lives and a spiritual life deeply rooted in God. When Buddy started his monologue, I thought he was becoming a Bible-thumping, stand-up-and-clap-your-hands, hug-your-neighbor-and-praise-the-Lord person. He is. But he's doing it quietly. He's an Episcopalian.

"For more than a year, I read and studied and talked to myself and decided to become an oblate of St. Benedict. Last winter, Rev. Dave and I drove to the St. Meinrad Archabbey (it's Benedictine) in southwestern Indiana. I remember walking along the hillside through a cool and cloudless night, that for one brief shining moment all this -- Benedict, the Archabbey, the monks and brothers, and my priest -- were there just for me.

"I took it as a sign. In the church before the altar I made my Rite of Final Oblation. I 'promised before God and all the saints, as my state in life permits, stability of heart, fidelity to the spirit of the monastic life and obedience to the will of God.'

"And Ron, what I learned, you should learn also."

Out of ItalyIn his best professorial tone Buddy gave me a history lesson. There was little order in sixth-century Italy when Benedict lived. Few people remembered the glory days of Rome. Lombars, Saxons, Huns, Picts, Franks and more broad-axed their way through Europe. Fine cities became collections of hovels and garbage. Reading, writing and the arts were rare. Famine and disease were common. The Tiber ran red with wine, thieves stole from prostitutes, and heaven knows how many gods played their dissipated roles. Bored Romans sat in their baths waiting for their Gibbon.

"Who me? Read a scroll?"

Benedict came to this bankrupt Rome to study. And left. He left it for the hills near Rome and built quiet monasteries for quiet men to have the order and stability, to have the serenity and harmony needed to praise and seek God in body and spirit.

Buddy continued, "Here he wrote The Rule -- a short, no-fluff, no-puff guide to life for the brothers. And us. I wish I could have known him. I'll bet if today I saw him at a distance walking through the gardens or praying in the dim candle-glow of the chapel, I would know it was him. Benedict had an ineffable love for life, man and God. He shows me that there are no moments too small to share with God."


Buddy was becoming excited as if he had just discovered something for the first time.
"And," he continued without pause, "Benedictine spirituality neatly dovetails into my Episcopalian spirituality. It's a fit — hand and glove. It's in An Episcopal Dictionary. Look it up."
I did. The Dictionary, in its definition of Benedictine spirituality, states: "The shape of this spirituality was formative for the Daily Office of the BCP."

I've never known Buddy to talk at length about spirituality. "Towards the end of The Rule, Benedictine tells his monks, and us, to 'prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ.' And I realized with a sudden two-by-four to the side of the head that he was not talking about the Christ of miracles and journeys and parables that I was taught and know.

"Benedict is writing about the Christ in my mind and spirit, the dynamic Christ living in the center of my self who, by the grace of God, allows me all the love and freedom I need for myself -- and more than enough to pass along to people I reach. That is the Christ I want to know.

"I pray. Did you know, Ron, there are more ways to pray than there are pizza toppings? I work -- at the office and whenever and wherever I can be God's hands and feet. I study oblates who have walked the journey I am on. And I play. I have a new plasma TV and a freezer full of pizzas."

Buddy has won, and he wasn't even in a contest.

-- Ron Beathard attends St. James Episcopal Church in Cincinnati and is an oblate of St. Benedict, St. Meinrad Archabbey, in Indiana. To respond to this column, e-mail inpractice@episcopal-life.org. We welcome your own "In practice" columns.

Rome-ward bound


"Home, where my thoughts escaping

Home, where my music's playing

Home, where my love lies waiting

Silently for me"

Simon & Garfunkel



Here is some more information on Francis Beckwith's conversion, and from a little closer to home- from Bethel University here in town....

As a Baylor University graduate (B.A., 1979), I find myself fascinated by yet another story of an evangelical coming home to Rome.

I applaud it, in a non-triumphalistic way, of course.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP

Rome-ward Bound


An evangelical converts to Catholicism, and everyone remains friendly.
BY DAVID M. HOWARD JR.Friday,
May 18, 2007 12:01 a.m.Last month, Francis Beckwith--president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), noted evangelical philosopher, "God-blogger" and professor of church-state relations at Baylor University --was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Shortly after, he resigned his presidency and membership in ETS, sending shock waves through the religious blogosphere and parts of the evangelical community.

The ETS executive committee--of which I am a member, as a past president of the society myself--released a statement thanking Mr. Beckwith for his many contributions to the society and expressing its desire to maintain cordial relations with him. The committee also noted that his resignation was appropriate, since the ETS affirms that "the Bible alone . . . is the Word of God written."

The phrase "the Bible alone" in the ETS context refers to the 66 books in the Old and New Testaments of the Protestant canon and thus rules out Mr. Beckwith's continued membership, given that the Roman Catholic Church accepts additional books in the canon, commonly referred to as deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. Mr. Beckwith maintains that he can still sign the ETS statement with full integrity because it does not enumerate the 66 books, but he voluntarily withdrew his membership in the interests of avoiding a rancorous debate in the society.

Responses to Mr. Beckwith's conversion run the gamut. A small number of evangelicals have reacted as if he committed an act of betrayal. Among many more, including us on the executive committee, the response has been one of cordial disagreement on some critical matters, accompanied by an acknowledgment that we nevertheless have much in common as fellow Christians.

Mr. Beckwith's conversion did catch many off guard, though. Not since the 1985 conversion of Thomas Howard, a graduate of Wheaton College , evangelicalism's flagship school, had a scholar of such high profile made the journey "from Wheaton to Rome ." A professor of English literature and prolific author, Mr. Howard was widely read among evangelical intellectuals, and his conversion sparked a similar reaction to Mr. Beckwith's, including a 14-page spread in Christianity Today.

As it happens, I am Mr. Howard's nephew and thus watched his conversion from close range. It was anything but sudden. His (and my father's) family of origin embraced a robust Protestant fundamentalism in the 1930s. But in the 1960s, feeling an aesthetic as well as theological longing, he became an Episcopalian and finally in the 1980s a Catholic. He retains some of the best of his fundamentalist upbringing (a vibrant, personal piety and commitment to historic orthodox doctrine) even as he embraces the full teachings of the Catholic Church.

Mr. Howard was among the first of what has become a steady stream of evangelical converts to Catholicism in the past 20 years. Three who achieved prominence after their conversions were the singer John Michael Talbot, now the No. 1 Catholic recording artist, Scott Hahn, a best-selling Catholic author, and Joshua Hochschild, a professor at Wheaton fired for his conversion in 2006.

A common element among these converts is a strong commitment to the Catechism and papal encyclicals. These Catholics are not generally in sympathy with the theologically liberal wing of the American Catholic Church but are enthusiastic supporters of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI's emphasis on orthodox teaching and practice. In short, they have more in common theologically with evangelicals than with liberal Catholics, and evangelicals themselves, in many respects, have more in common with traditional Catholics than with mainline Protestants. Especially on social and political issues, there is much room for common cause.

Evangelical-Catholic relations have not been this cordial in the past, of course. History is littered with the corpses (sometimes literally) of past conflict, and conversion from one camp to the other was, for a long time, almost unheard of. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65), however--with its more ecumenical outlook--changed the landscape, and relations between Catholics and Protestants in most parts of the world have improved greatly since.

In the U.S. , one encouraging development is Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), an enterprise that began under the leadership of Charles Colson (an evangelical) and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus (once a Lutheran minister and now a Catholic priest). Since 1994, the ECT has issued position papers highlighting "important areas of agreement and disagreement among us."

Francis Beckwith's conversion to Catholicism should be seen in this same light. In an email he states: "My academic work . . . has always dealt with issues and questions that concern all Christians--Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox. My return to the Catholic Church will not change that project." For myself, I can say that I have lost a valued colleague in the ETS, but I remain his brother in Christ and wish him well in his new spiritual home.

Mr. Howard is the dean of the Center for Biblical and Theological Foundations at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What can you do?

"With regard to the fear about whether or not I was in a state of grace, the Lord told me: "Daughter, light is very different from darkness. I am faithful. Nobody will be lost unknowingly. They who find security in spiritual favors will be deceived. True security is the testimony of a good conscience. But people should not think that through their own efforts they can be in light or that they can do anything to prevent the night, because these states depend on my grace.

The best help for holding on to the light is to understand that you can do nothing and that it comes from me. For even though you may be in the light, at the moment I withdraw, the night will come.
This is true humility: to know what you can do and what I can do."

St. Teresa of Avila (+1582) Doctor of the Church, Reformer of the Carmelite order

God will make him a cake

This article is from the Human Life Review, Winter 2007, sent to me by a friend.

It makes my heart cry out, when will we all learn that death is not a choice?

“. . . and God will make him a cake”

by Tom Nolan

We buried little Finn on Saturday. He’s near Harpers Ferry on a hill overlooking the Shenandoah River. Above him is a Marine guard, a casualty of the response to John Brown’s raid. (Why was Robert E. Lee, a Colonel of Army Engineers, commanding United States Marines?) Finally, I thought, our family ordeal is over.

Finbar William was my grandson. Finn was anencephalic, a rare condition where the brain fails to properly form in the womb. It is always fatal. Of course, we had known for months, thanks to sonograms and other wonders of modern medicine. Upon learning of his condition, I hoped for a swift miscarriage—making the best of a bad situation. I wanted “it” over and done with, so my daughter Meg and her husband Frank could get on with their lives. It was not to be. Finn went to full term.

I have always considered myself pro-life. I certainly vote that way. I distinctly remember my response when Roe v. Wade was announced. I was still in the Navy and the skipper encouraged discussions of current events. I argued against the Court’s decision principally because it was not the Court’s business to interfere with the states on such a matter. Secretly, I thought it was probably not right to kill a baby in the womb. My sole ally was Bob, the only Jewish officer in the wardroom. He forthrightly argued that abortion is the taking of innocent life.

When it became apparent that Meg would not miscarry early, I thought that in
this circumstance, abortion was perhaps permissible. It would certainly be understandable in contrast to abortion for “convenience.” After all, I thought, we know the outcome, what’s the point in prolonging the certain outcome? Then Meg gave me a printed copy of a “staff commentary” from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which she found on the Internet. It addressed “Moral Principles Concerning Infants with Anencephaly.” Curse the Internet—I didn’t want to read it. I forced myself to read the expected, but dreaded language—“The Gospel of Life demands unwavering respect for the inherent dignity of babies born with disabilities or illnesses” (emphasis added). Not only no abortion, but also palliative care. And baptism, confirmation, and a funeral. Fine in the abstract, but is it really necessary here, with us? Yes it is, or the teaching means nothing.

I suppose I should mention that I am an Episcopalian. It will be no surprise that I increasingly find myself in disagreement with our bishops. However, the disputes roiling our communion have seemed “small beer” for the past few months. All the arguments seem irrelevant somehow. Do the bishops really consider their preoccupations to be pastoral care? While they display their trendiness to an approving world, real people quietly deal with real problems. I should quickly mention that our little church and its rector have been a rock of support.




Obviously, Meg was raised in our local Episcopal church. I believe that her solid character is due, in part, to her Episcopalian background. When she married Frank she converted to his Catholicism. I raised no objection. My “congenital” anti-Catholicism (what else does the word Protestant mean?) had long ago withered and died as I observed the pro-life movement, which in my case has “morphed” into a broader cultural concern. I greatly admire the Magisterium for its teaching and clear explication of dogma. It is notable that rationality is found in the Catholic Church, while secularists, the “Children of the Enlightenment,” are increasingly incoherent and tawdry (“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries”). In the months and years ahead I suspect that we will all come to value (and need) the counsel of the Catholic Church on matters literally existential.

Meg delivered by emergency Caesarean on Tuesday. Both families were present in the recovery room. I was ill at ease and tried to remain in the background. If conversation was expected, I retreated to “safe” territory, relating to the culture wars. Anything but “it.” Then Frank brought “it” into the room and told us “he” (Finn) didn’t have much time. I had no idea how to act or what to say. Then they started taking photographs! They wanted one with me holding Finn! To say I was uncomfortable is an understatement. Frank thinks my stilted pose in the photo is hilarious. All I need is a pitchfork to be the male figure in Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

Finn was with us for an hour and twenty minutes. His lungs did not form and he never drew a breath. His little heart was strong, but finally surrendered to the inevitable.


The next few days are a blur of family and friends arriving and departing. Then came the funeral and my first tears. When Frank and little Mikey (Finn’s brother) carried the miniature coffin to the front of Saint Bridget’s, my self-control dissolved. It just seemed so wrong. Meg and Frank shouldn’t have to go through this. The reaction of Finn’s older siblings is remarkable. Little Joanie (age three) said “Finn is in heaven having a birthday party, and God will make him a cake.”

Adding to the family’s ordeal, Finn’s aunt (my youngest child) Katie, had an automobile accident on the interstate, returning from college for the funeral. At high speed one of the wheels literally came off. She was uninjured and damage to the vehicle was minimal. I complimented her on her instinctive reactions and driving skills. Katie, however, is convinced that her miraculous preservation is due to Finn’s intercession.

After the funeral, at the reception given by the Episcopalian side of the family, I talked with Father Jonathan, a Dominican priest. He is a gentle giant whom I have admired ever since we met. He finds significance in the fact that Finn was born (and died) on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the unborn. I am not prepared to disagree.


On Sunday I went to Meg and Frank’s house, where Father Jonathan celebrated Mass, and I received his blessing. As I drove home, I was composing in my head this missive. Without warning came a flood of tears for Finn. He was a little boy, not an it, and he’s gone. There will be no go-cart rides or bottle rockets. No fishing the Shenandoah or potato guns. We did not get seriously acquainted and, this side of paradise, we never will.


I think the different reactions to Finn’s short life have to do with our view of suffering. I recognize that suffering exists and cannot be avoided. It must be endured, but is to be minimized. Catholics embrace suffering. They call it “redemptive.” They don’t deny sadness and grief but see meaning in the suffering itself. As Meg put it early in our ordeal, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

To Finn in heaven: Your life on earth was short. But you were a great teacher.

You certainly taught me. If Father Jonathan is right you will teach a host of others as well. If we measure a man’s life by his effect on others, you were truly great.

I am afraid your grandfather is a weak reed. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent that I ever wanted anything other than what your mom and dad did for you. I hope you will forgive me.

Oh, and one more thing, Finn. I also hope you will save me some cake.

Tom Nolan lives near Berryville, Virginia where he writes computer code and cuts firewood. He can be contacted at finbarwilliam@earthlink.net. He has a local school-choice website at http:// www.home.earthlink.net/~educatingclarke.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More good reading from "the wordy German"

Here is a really fine review of the new book JESUS OF NAZARETH : From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI

The Pope's highly personal study of Jesus is a startling break with Catholic tradition

By Pope Benedict XVl, reviewed by A N Wilson

“Everyone is free ... to contradict me.” These words alone will make many jaws drop, for their author, who describes himself modestly as occupying “the episcopal see of Rome ”, is the only writer alive today whose job definition includes the word “infallible”.


From the supposed “Rottweiler Pope” comes this gentle exposition of a simple idea: namely, that the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same, and that faith in Jesus Christ is reasonable.

True, he would say that, wouldn’t he? But remember the historic attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards the academic study of the New Testament and you will see what a very remarkable book this is. The Pope’s book is, he writes, a personal search for “the face of the Lord”, rather than a formal exposition of church doctrine – but this makes its content all the more astonishing. Here we find grateful acknowledgement of the work of CK Barrett, Professor of Theology at Durham , of the Tübingen Lutheran Joachim Jeremias, and many other Protestant scholars. For a pope to write appreciatively of their works even 30 years ago would have been unthinkable. Moreover, the author accepts what the Roman Catholic Church vigorously challenged for decades: the validity of historical and critical study of the Bible.

Older Roman Catholic scholars will be wistful as they read: “I take for granted everything that...modern exegesis tells us about literary genres, about authorial intention, and about the fact that the Gospels were written in the context, and speak within the living milieu, of communities.” Any theologian who wrote those words during the pontificate of Pius X (1903-14) could easily have been branded a modernist, and excluded from a teaching office. Until the mid-20th century, any scholarly critical exegesis of the Scriptures was forbidden by Rome . Most Roman Catholic priests, until the last 20 years, would not have read the books quoted in this work for a simple reason: the pope of the day had forbidden them to do so.

The first scholars to dare investigate the historical Jesus came up with the idea, originating in Germany in the 19th century, that the Jesus of the Gospels was “not yet the Christ”. They claimed it was only later theology that made him the Christ. Ratzinger, by contrast, sets out in this book to demonstrate that the central contention of the Catholic faith – Jesus was both God and man – was told to the disciples by the Man of Nazareth himself.

There are deep problems here that Ratzinger’s book fails to address. Buried in the first three Gospels are sayings which suggest that Jesus only wanted to speak to Jews, that, for example, he regarded the Gentiles as “dogs” unfit to eat from the Master’s table. If this is an authentic saying, how can you reconcile it with the picture of Jesus telling the disciples to go and baptise and teach all nations, at the end of Matthew’s gospel? Isn’t the likeliest explanation that the saying is a bit of genuine oral tradition of the historical Jesus, who was, as many modern scholars believe, a practising Jew who had no ambition to break away from Judaism or begin a new faith for Gentiles?

On the other hand, if that is what you think, how do you account for the very early devotion, not to the memory of Jesus the prophet, but to the Living, Risen Lord? The hymn “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow”, first quoted in the Letter of Paul to the Philippians, almost certainly dates from 20 years or so after Jesus’s earthly life.

Nobody has ever offered a completely convincing explanation of Christian origins. Surveying the extraordinary and life-changing nature of the material in the written Gospels, the author of this book rejects the idea that it came out of the collective consciousness of a nascent church. “The anonymous community is credited with an astonishing level of theological genius – who were the great figures responsible for inventing all this?” (Did I hear a brave voice at the back answering this rhetorical question with the word “Paul”?) Another theory, the one preferred by our author, is that Jesus himself preached about his unique relationship with the father because he was what Catholicism says he is, true God and true Man.

If this book will not satisfy every puzzled reader, it will explain why the book of the Gospels is carried so reverently at Catholic and Orthodox services – half as if it were a vulnerable child, half as if it were a time bomb that might explode.

One of the best passages in the Pope’s book defines the word Gospel, the saving message, as “not just informative speech, but performative – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters the world to save and transform”.

For much of his argument, he relies upon the testimony of the Fourth Gospel ( St John ), which is written in quite a different style, and attributes to Jesus long discourses that are quite unlike the pithy sayings and stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Most readers of this Gospel see it as reflecting the faith of some 1st-century Christian community. This church already had the Eucharist, so there was no need here for a description of Jesus instituting the Mass at the Last Supper – as you have in Paul’s Letter to Corinth and in the other Gospels. Instead, you have a Eucharistic discourse, after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Ratzinger writes as if it is historical: “Jesus is no myth. He is a man of flesh and blood.” The Jesus of the Fourth Gospel says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” (John 6:54), words that the Pope says “point to what underlies the Eucharist: the sacrifice of Jesus, who sheds his blood for us”.

This would be uplifting if said in a sermon; but does it answer the simple question of the curious – is the Fourth Gospel history?

It is a great pity that this book is not finished. “As I do not know how much time or strength I am still to be given, I have decided to publish the first 10 chapters . ..” But this leaves us not only without the Pope’s treatment of the Infancy narratives – which he says he has postponed to Part II – but also, rather more crucially, without any detailed account of the arrest, trial, and death of Jesus. Until these chapters see the light of day, some of what has already been printed will seem to beg certain crucial questions. Most controversially, post Mel Gibson, the Pope gives no attention to those Jewish scholars who question the likelihood of a blasphemy trial before the Sanhedrin. (“The fact that Jesus’ trial was . . . presented to the Romans as the trial of a political Messiah reflects the pragmatism of the Sadducees” is not a sentence that answers these difficulties).

Yet there is a dogged impressiveness about the Pope’s exposition of scene after scene from the Gospel, a reading that finds it more logical to worship the Christ of Faith in the Gospels than to invent the vestiges of some Jewish prophet who had his words distorted by some later theological genius. Jesus was the genius. That is Ratzinger’s message, and the luminous intelligence of the exegesis will prompt many to respond with an Alleluia.
Wordy as the old German can be, this reader at least felt that he had repeatedly identified what was haunting, indeed frightening about the Gospels. No amount of reasonable liberal “explanation” can evade the voice that comes through them – calling the reader not to a set of propositions, nor to a theory, but to a Person, who is at one with God.

Basil, the Bear and Casting Out Fear

In his most excellent novel Russka, Edward Rutherford traces the history of Russia from earliest historical time to the post-Communist present. In the Epilogue, a distant American ancestor of a monastery's noble founder returns to Russia after the 1991 coup, just in time to observe the reburial of holy man Basil's remains in the newly reconstituted Monastery.

The homily delivered by the Archimandrite Leonid over the bones of Basil tells us how holy men and women are made, and a lot about how we face our fears:

For many years the Elder Basil dwelt in his hermitage praying and giving spiritual guidance; to him also are ascribed a number of miracles. But today, as we have his blessed remains before us, it is to the very start of his life as a hermit that I wish to turn.

It was always said that the Elder Basil had a gift with animals. It was remarked that a large bear would often appear, and that he would find this bear and talk to it like a kindly father to a child; and people therefore decided that he had a gift.

In fact, the opposite was the case. The elder, at the start of his seclusion, was very much afraid when the bear appeared,. so much so that, the first time, he cowered in his little hut all night and almost returned to the monastery the next day. The second night, the same thing happened.
Only on the third night did the elder Basil understand what he must do.

For on the third night, Basil remained outside his hut, seated quietly on the ground. and he said the Jesus prayer:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Not because he asked any longer that his body be saved; but rather that, he considered- "What can this bear do to me, who by God's grace has eternal life?"

And thus his fear of the bear disappeared.
And so my children, we are here not without feart. We know what has passed in former decades in the russian land. But in rebulding this monastery, and in remembering the example of the elder Basil, we know that we must not fear the bear.
We must love the bear. For perfect love casteth out fear.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Physical Pull to God

This weekend is Ascension Sunday in most dioceses of the United States. Ascension is a funky kind of Solemnity of the Church. No one knows quite what to do with it. After all, we've already had the really big festival in Easter. Ascension and perhaps even more so Pentecost hang out on the edge of most churchly consciousnesses.


But Ascension is significant. It shows us where we are going, where our Leader has gone before us.... body and soul, humanity and divinity. The Ascension, like Easter, indicates that the physical body IS important to God and to humanity. We are not simply ethereal soul-beings who shed our physical selves on the way to God. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

The physical IS the way to the Father. Our lives on earth are not the anteroom to a more significant heavenly existence. Our physical existence here is the stuff out of which the afterlife is made.
The Ascension also shows us the power of God to draw us to Himself. As Jesus said to Mary Magdalene and the other Apostles "I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."


There is something fundamentally God-ward in each one of us, no matter what our physical or spiritual state. From conception to natural death we are being drawn into God's love and god's presence, like Jesus who, having descended to become one of us, takes the path of return, drawing us after Him.


Some additonal wise words from Michael Casey's Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer.

A rubber ball held under water submits. Once released, it springs to the surface: and the deeper it is held the more it strains to rise. The human spirit possesses a natural bouyancy.
It can be held down by enslavement to the senses, by aquisitiveness and ambition, by anger and violence, or by what the New Testament calls "cares." It can be held down, but its natural tendency remains dynamically oriented toward God. It can never be entirely satisfied until this upward impulse is allowed freedom.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friends: The Great God Gave Them to Me

There are times when words just won't cut it. This is one of those times.
I am not musical but if I were I'd be writing one very sad song now about someone who seems to have, in modern parlance, "moved on" from a friendship we once shared.

I did, however, find one small snippet of prose which says it all. It's from Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay on Friendship.

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new. Shall I not call God the Beautiful, who daily showeth himself so to me in his gifts? I chide society, I embrace solitude, and yet I am not so ungrateful as not to see the wise, the lovely, and the noble-minded, as from time to time they pass my gate. Who hears me, who understands me, becomes mine, — a possession for all time.

Nor is nature so poor but she gives me this joy several times, and thus we weave social threads of our own, a new web of relations; and, as many thoughts in succession substantiate themselves, we shall by and by stand in a new world of our own creation, and no longer strangers and pilgrims in a traditionary globe. My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me.