Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Christ is risen!
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalen went to the tomb, and found the stone moved away from the tomb door. So she came running to Simon Peter, and that other disciple, whom Jesus loved; They have carried the Lord away from the tomb, she said to them, and we cannot tell where they have taken him.

Upon this, Peter and the other disciple both set out, and made their way to the tomb; they began running side by side, but the other disciple outran Peter, and reached the tomb first. He looked in and saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Simon Peter, coming up after him, went into the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there, and also the veil which had been put over Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths, but still wrapped round and round in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw this, and learned to believe. They had not yet mastered what was written of him, that he was to rise from the dead.

The disciples went back home; but Mary stood without before the tomb, weeping. And she bent down, still weeping, and looked into the tomb; and saw two angels clothed in white sitting there, one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. They said to her, Woman, why art thou weeping? Because they have carried away my Lord, she said, and I cannot tell where they have taken him.

Saying this, she turned round, and saw Jesus standing there, without knowing that it was Jesus. Woman, Jesus said to her, why art thou weeping? For whom art thou searching? She supposed that it must be the gardener, and said to him, If it is thou, Sir, that hast carried him off, tell me where thou hast put him, and I will take him away. Jesus said to her, Mary.

And she turned and said to him, Rabboni (which is the Hebrew for Master). Then Jesus said, Do not cling to me thus; I have not yet gone up to my Father’s side. Return to my brethren, and tell them this; I am going up to him who is my Father and your Father, who is my God and your God.

So Mary Magdalen brought news to the disciples, of how she had seen the Lord, and he had spoken thus to her. And now it was evening on the same day, the first day of the week; for fear of the Jews, the disciples had locked the doors of the room in which they had assembled; and Jesus came, and stood there in their midst; Peace be upon you, he said. And with that, he shewed them his hands and his side. Thus the disciples saw the Lord, and were glad. Once more Jesus said to them, Peace be upon you; I came upon an errand from my Father, and now I am sending you out in my turn. With that, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit; when you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound.

There was one of the twelve, Thomas, who is also called Didymus, who was not with them when Jesus came. And when the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord, he said to them, Until I have seen the mark of the nails on his hands, until I have put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, you will never make me believe.

So, eight days afterwards, once more the disciples were within, and Thomas was with them; and the doors were locked. Jesus came and stood there in their midst; Peace be upon you, he said. Then he said to Thomas, Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe. Thomas answered, Thou art my Lord and my God. And Jesus said to him, Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe.

There are many other miracles Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, which are not written down in this book; so much has been written down, that you may learn to believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so believing find life through his name.--John 20

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.--G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles—because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends—you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just as every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point and space of time; so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation.--C. S. Lewis, "The Grand Miracle" in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1970), pp. 80–81

Friday, April 18, 2014

"It Is Finished"

Blessed Good Friday!
What credence for such news as ours? Whom reaches it, this new revelation of the Lord’s strength? He will watch this servant of his appear among us, unregarded as a brushwood shoot, as a plant in waterless soil; no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, as we gaze upon him, to win our hearts. Nay, here is one despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness; how should we recognize that face? How should we take any account of him, a man so despised? Our weakness, and it was he who carried the weight of it, our miseries, and it was he who bore them. A leper, so we thought of him, a man God had smitten and brought low; and all the while it was for our sins he was wounded, it was guilt of ours crushed him down; on him the punishment fell that brought us peace, by his bruises we were healed. Strayed sheep all of us, each following his own path; and God laid on his shoulders our guilt, the guilt of us all.

A victim? Yet he himself bows to the stroke; no word comes from him. Sheep led away to the slaughter-house, lamb that stands dumb while it is shorn; no word from him.  Imprisoned, brought to judgement, and carried off, he, whose birth is beyond our knowing; numbered among the living no more! Be sure it is for my people’s guilt I have smitten him. Takes he leave of the rich, the godless, to win but a grave, to win but the gift of death; he, that wrong did never, nor had treason on his lips! Ay, the Lord’s will it was, overwhelmed he should be with trouble. His life laid down for guilt’s atoning, he shall yet be rewarded; father of a long posterity, instrument of the divine purpose; for all his heart’s anguish, rewarded in full. The Just One, my servant; many shall he claim for his own, win their acquittal, on his shoulders bearing their guilt. So many lives ransomed, foes so violent baulked of their spoil! Such is his due, that gave himself up to death, and would be counted among the wrong-doers; bore those many sins, and made intercession for the guilty.--Isaiah 53
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Loudly I call, but my prayer cannot reach thee. Thou dost not answer, my God, when I cry out to thee day and night, thou dost not heed. Thou art there none the less, dwelling in the holy place; Israel’s ancient boast. It was in thee that our fathers trusted, and thou didst reward their trust by delivering them; they cried to thee, and rescue came; no need to be ashamed of such trust as theirs. But I, poor worm, have no manhood left; I am a by-word to all, the laughing-stock of the rabble. All those who catch sight of me fall to mocking; mouthing out insults, while they toss their heads in scorn, He committed himself to the Lord, why does not the Lord come to his rescue, and set his favourite free?

What hand but thine drew me out from my mother’s womb? Who else was my refuge when I hung at the breast? From the hour of my birth, thou art my guardian; since I left my mother’s womb, thou art my God! Do not leave me now, when trouble is close at hand; stand near, when I have none to help me. My enemies ring me round, packed close as a herd of oxen, strong as bulls from Basan; so might a lion threaten me with its jaws, roaring for its prey. I am spent as spilt water, all my bones out of joint, my heart turned to molten wax within me; parched is my throat, like clay in the baking, and my tongue sticks fast in my mouth; thou hast laid me in the dust, to die. Prowling about me like a pack of dogs, their wicked conspiracy hedges me in; they have torn holes in my hands and feet; I can count my bones one by one; and they stand there watching me, gazing at me in triumph. They divide my spoils among them, cast lots for my garments. Then, Lord, do not stand at a distance; if thou wouldst aid me, come speedily to my side. Only life is left me; save that from the sword, from the power of these dogs; rescue me from the very mouth of the lion, the very horns of the wild oxen that have brought me thus low.

Then I will proclaim thy renown to my brethren; where thy people gather, I will join in singing thy praise, Praise the Lord, all you that are his worshippers; honour to him from the sons of Jacob, reverence to him from Israel’s race! He has not scorned or slighted the appeal of the friendless, nor turned his face away from me; my cry for help did not go unheeded. Take what I owe thee, my song of praise before a great assembly. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the sight of his worshippers; the poor shall eat now, and have their fill, those who look for the Lord will cry out in praise of him, Refreshed be your hearts eternally! The furthest dwellers on earth will bethink themselves of the Lord, and come back to him; all the races of the heathen will worship before him; to the Lord royalty belongs, the whole world’s homage is his due. Him shall they worship, him only, that are laid to rest in the earth, even from their dust they shall adore. I, too, shall live on in his presence, and beget children to serve him; these to a later age shall speak of the Lord’s name; these to a race that must yet be born shall tell the story of his faithfulness, Hear what the Lord did.--Psalm 21:2-32, emphasis added.
After this, the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the palace, and gathered the whole of their company about him. First they stripped him, and arrayed him in a scarlet cloak; then they put on his head a crown which they had woven out of thorns, and a rod in his right hand, and mocked him by kneeling down before him, and saying, Hail, king of the Jews. And they spat upon him, and took the rod from him and beat him over the head with it. At last they had done with mockery; stripping him of the scarlet cloak, they put his own garments on him, and led him away to be crucified. As for his cross, they forced a man of Cyrene, Simon by name, whom they met on their way out, to carry it; and so they reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place named after a skull. Here they offered him a draught of wine, mixed with gall, which he tasted, but would not drink, and then crucified him, dividing his garments among them by casting lots. The prophecy must be fulfilled, They divide my spoils among them, cast lots for my garments.

There, then, they sat, keeping guard over him. Over his head they set a written proclamation of his offence, This is Jesus, the king of the Jews; and with him they crucified two thieves, one on his right and one on his left. The passers-by blasphemed against him, tossing their heads; Come now, they said, thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, rescue thyself; come down from that cross, if thou art the Son of God. The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him in the same way. He saved others, they said, he cannot save himself. If he is the king of Israel, he has but to come down from the cross, here and now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let God, if he favours him, succour him now; he told us, I am the Son of God. Even the thieves who were crucified with him uttered the same taunts.

From the sixth hour onwards there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour; and about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lamma sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Hearing this, some of those who stood by said, He is calling upon Elias: and thereupon one of them ran to fetch a sponge, which he filled with vinegar and fixed upon a rod, and offered to let him drink; the rest said, Wait, let us see whether Elias is to come and save him. Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. And all at once, the veil of the temple was torn this way and that from the top to the bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks parted asunder; and the graves were opened, and many bodies arose out of them, bodies of holy men gone to their rest: who, after his rising again, left their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many. So that the centurion and those who kept guard over Jesus with him, when they perceived the earthquake and all that befell, were overcome with fear; No doubt, they said, but this was the Son of God.--Matthew 27:27-54, emphasis added.
Then the soldiers led him away into the court of the palace, and gathered there the whole of their company. They arrayed him in a scarlet cloak, and put round his head a crown which they had woven out of thorns, and fell to greeting him with, Hail, king of the Jews. And they beat him over the head with a rod, and spat upon him, and bowed their knees in worship of him. At last they had done with mockery; stripping him of the scarlet cloak, they put his own garments on him, and led him away to be crucified. As for his cross, they forced a passer-by who was coming in from the country to carry it, one Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. And so they took him to a place called Golgotha, which means, The place of a skull. Here they offered him a draught of wine mixed with myrrh, which he would not take; and then crucified him, dividing his garments among them by casting lots, to decide which should fall to each.

It was the third hour when they crucified him. A proclamation of his offence was written up over him, The king of the Jews; and with him they crucified two thieves, one on the right and the other on his left, so fulfilling the words of scripture, And he was counted among the wrong-doers. The passers-by blasphemed against him, shaking their heads; Come now, they said, thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, come down from that cross, and rescue thyself. In the same way, the chief priests and scribes said mockingly to one another, He saved others, he cannot save himself. Let Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross, here and now, so that we can see it and believe in him. And the men who were crucified with him uttered taunts against him.

When the sixth hour came, there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour; and at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani? which means, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Hearing this, some of those who stood by said, Why, he is calling upon Elias. And thereupon one of them ran off to fill a sponge with vinegar, and fixed it on a rod, and offered to let him drink; Wait, he said, Let us see whether Elias is to come and save him. Then Jesus gave a loud cry, and yielded up his spirit. And the veil of the temple was torn this way and that, from the top to the bottom. The centurion who stood in front of him, perceiving that he so yielded up his spirit with a cry, said, No doubt but this was the Son of God.--Mark 15:16-39, emphasis added.
To thee, O Lord, I look for refuge, never let me be ashamed of my trust; in thy faithful care, deliver me. Grant me audience, and make haste to rescue me; my hill-fastness, my stronghold of defence, to save me from peril. Thou dost strengthen and defend me; thou, for thy own honour, dost guide and escort me; by thee protected, I shall escape from the snare that lies hidden in my path. Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou, God ever faithful, wilt claim me for thyself. Let fools provoke thee by the worship of false gods; for me, no refuge but the Lord. I will triumph and exult in thy mercy; it was thou didst pity my weakness, and save me when I was hard bestead; before the enemy’s toils could close around me, the open plain lay at my feet.

And now, Lord, have compassion on my distress; vexation has dimmed my eyes, frets me away, soul and body. My life is all grief, my years are but sighs; for very misery, my strength ebbs away, my frame is wasted. Openly my foes deride me; even to my neighbours I am a thing of utter scorn; my friends are adread, and the passer-by shuns my contact; I am lost to memory, like a dead man, discarded like a broken pitcher. On every side their busy whispering comes to my ears; peril all around, so powerful the conspiracy that threatens my life. And still, Lord, my trust in thee is not shaken; still I cry, Thou art my God, my fate is in thy hand; save me from the enemy’s power, save me from my pursuers! Smile on thy servant once more, and deliver me in thy mercy; Lord, do not let me plead in vain. Disappoint the wicked of their hopes, hurl them down thwarted into the abyss; let silence fall on those treacherous lips, that spoke maliciously of the innocent in the days of their pride and scorn!

What treasures of loving-kindness, Lord, dost thou store up for the men who fear thee, rewarding their confidence for all the world to see! Thy presence is a sanctuary, to hide them away from the world’s malice; thy tabernacle a refuge from its noisy debate. Blessed be the Lord; so wondrous is his mercy, so strong the wall of his protection. I thought, bewildered, that thy watchful care had lost sight of me; but I cried out to thee, and thou thereupon didst listen to my plea. Love the Lord well, you who worship him; the Lord keeps faith with his servants, and repays the actions of the proud above measure. Take heart, keep high your courage, all you that wait patiently for the Lord.--Psalm 30:2-25; emphasis added.
As they led him off, they caught hold of a man called Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and loaded him with the cross, so that he should carry it after Jesus. Jesus was followed by a great multitude of the people, and also of women, who beat their breasts and mourned over him; but he turned to them, and said, It is not for me that you should weep, daughters of Jerusalem; you should weep for yourselves and your children. Behold, a time is coming when men will say, It is well for the barren, for the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never suckled them. It is then that they will begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us. If it goes so hard with the tree that is still green, what will become of the tree that is already dried up? Two others, who were criminals, were led off with him to be put to death. And when they reached the place which is named after a skull, they crucified him there; and also the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus meanwhile was saying, Father, forgive them; they do not know what it is they are doing. And they divided his garments among themselves by lot.

The people stood by, watching; and the rulers joined them in pouring scorn on him; He saved others, they said; if he is the Christ, God’s chosen, let him save himself. The soldiers, too, mocked him, when they came and offered him vinegar, by saying, If thou art the king of the Jews, save thyself. (A proclamation had been written up over him in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, This is the king of the Jews.) And one of the two thieves who hung there fell to blaspheming against him; Save thyself, he said, and us too, if thou art the Christ. But the other rebuked him; What, he said, hast thou no fear of God, when thou art undergoing the same sentence? And we justly enough; we receive no more than the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing amiss. Then he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him, I promise thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.

It was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in the midst: and Jesus said, crying with a loud voice, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit; and yielded up his spirit as he said it. And the centurion, when he saw what befell, gave glory to God; This, he said, was indeed a just man--Luke 23:26-47, emphasis added.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Problems with "Cosmos"

A run down of reactions here, with the concluding comment:
Ironically, if the writers of “Cosmos” had handled the Bruno segment a little differently, by also profiling others like Copernicus, Galileo and the above-mentioned Digges with the honesty and complexity their stories demand, they would have found allies instead of antagonism in the Catholic community who simply want their history told fairly, the good along with the bad. That shouldn’t be too much to ask from those who say they’re committed to verifiable truth.
Another response here. A sampling:
We’re barely seconds into this farrago and we have our first lie. “Everyone” knew the earth was the center of the universe? Wow, who’s going to tell Copernicus? Kepler? Stigliola? Diggs? Maestlin? Rothmann? Brahe? All of them believed in models of the cosmos that were not considered orthodox, and lived at the time of Bruno. All of them escaped the fire, and indeed weren’t even pursued by the Inquisition. Right here we have the major lie at the heart of modern anti-religious scientific propaganda: the war between faith and science. We’re supposed to just assume this ignorant backwards world of the past hates smart people. Tyson himself says it matter-of-factly: “How was [Bruno] spending New Year’s Eve [in 1599]? In prison, of course.” Of course! Because that’s what the Church does to smart people! Bad church! Bad!
Links and a lot more in the original.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pope Francis, Papal History, and Real Faith

One response to those Catholics who find Francis a hard Pope to accept. Excerpts:
The Church isn’t meant to be analyzed at this kind granular level, at this kind of speed...

Hell, we had a pope dig up the rotting corpse of another pope, subject him to trial, find him guilty, strip him of his vestments, cut off the fingers he used for blessings, and cast the remains into the Tiber … and we’re still here.

And we always will be.

Although I usually refuse any label other than just plain “Catholic,” I am a political conservative and a dedicated Ratzingerian. The transition to Francis was jarring. His language can be imprecise and his pontificate feels like a bit of a high-wire act at times. I like my liturgy formal, my theology clear, and my popes in mozzettas.

That said, I can’t help but admire his approach. His analogy of the Church as a “field hospital” for souls is precisely right. He’s an appealing face for the Church. There are times to collect ourselves and focus on fundamentals, theology, and liturgical forms, and times to get down in the mud with sinners.

I’m not at all comfortable in the mud with sinners, taking risks, but that is my problem and my failing, not his.

Many of these Catholics are reacting exactly like the liberal Catholics they like to deride, trusting in the Magisterium of Me rather than in the Magisterium of the Church. They are doing to Francis what they never would have tolerated anyone to do to Benedict.

I’m not exactly sure what they think will happen because Francis reaches out to sinners or eschews some of the trappings of the office. The worst that can happen, has already happened.

In a history that begins with the murder of the Son of God and includes the execution of all of our founding leaders, Arianism and dozens of lesser heresies, schisms, the sacking of Rome, the shattering of Christendom in the Reformation, dueling popes, the Cadaver Synod, Alexander VI, the loss of the papal states, the abuse crisis, and any number of other terrible moments, the idea that we’re sailing into some new nightmare of the Church because Francis mutters “Who am I to judge?” about priests who have same-sex attraction is laughable...
Read the rest--he's got some great points about faith and the Apocalypse.

And of course we face the reality that almost every time a Papal comment is reported, it is usually misreported, distorted, turned inside out and upside down, losing a large chunk of itself in the process, and emerging on the front pages of newspapers and the headlines of cable news as a barely recognizable shadow of itself. It happened for John Paul II. It happened for Pope Benedict. It happens for Pope Francis. Recognize this, and always make sure to hunt down what the Pope said in its raw form.

Monday, April 14, 2014

40 Days in the Desert

It's the boot camp of Christianity--though J must confess that this Lent has been one of my weakest in my life. Prayers appreciated as we head into Holy Week. Anyway--an important reminder of something perennially true. Excerpts:
...Some years ago, I was approached by a rather angry woman who, having heard my sermon on the seriousness of certain sins (which were in the readings of the day), expressed great indignation that I would preach on such topics. She said, “I come to church to be consoled and have my spirits lifted, not to hear old-fashioned warnings about judgment and sins.” She felt quite a “righteous indignation,” and was most certain that I had transgressed a fundamental norm, namely, that religion exists to console, and that any challenge to one’s moral stance, (except perhaps caring for the poor), is intolerant and way out of line.

Indeed, many today have this kind of attitude: that it is their birthright not to be troubled or vexed in any way by something people might say, especially a preacher who claims to represent God! The “God they worship” would never trouble them. They will have Jesus for their consoler and best friend, but not their Lord, and certainly not their judge. And never mind the literally thousands of verses from Scripture in which Jesus himself speaks sternly and warns of sin, death, judgment, and Hell. They will have none of it, and are certain that “the Jesus they know,” would never raise his voice at them or challenge them even for a moment. Never mind that the real Jesus says to take up our cross and follow him.

With spiritual battle having been removed from many people’s spiritual landscape, the idea that the Lord would summon us to battle, or ask us to choose sides, seems strangely foreign, intolerant, and uncompassionate.

Even more dangerous, these modern conceptions not only distort Jesus, but they downplay the presence and influence of Satan. This is a very, very bad idea. Even if we cease fighting against Satan, he will never ceases his sometimes very subtle attacks on us.

Jesus called consistently for prayerful, sober vigilance against the powers of evil and sin. Like it or not, we are in a battle. Either we will soberly and vigilantly undertake the battle, or we will be conquered and led off like sheep to the slaughter...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Happy Palm Sunday

A meditation. Excerpts:
This is Christianity: We must die to live; we must sacrifice to receive; we must surrender the natural in order to receive the natural made supernatural by grace.

So let us welcome our King, the Son of David, with hosannas. Let us lay our palms beneath the feet of His mount, and never forget that the palm is an ancient symbol of martyrdom. He comes, yes, this crucified and risen King in His glory, and mercies stream from His hands and side. He is radiant, yes, a light to the nations — but remember that this light searches all, sees all, calls us to repent of all sin, to struggle with every vice, to lay everything down in order to receive Him, for when we receive Him, we receive all that is good along with Him.

Do not be afraid, for Christ is with us. The science of the Cross is the wisdom of God, and a path of life and light for us all, if only we have the love and humility to walk it...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

That Whole "Jesus' Wife" Thing

Aside from the point that anything that refers to the Bride of the Bridegroom might actually, you know, be referring to traditional Christian theology about Christ and His Church. this is a pretty good overview of the whole affair. Excerpts:
I tend to believe, along with many others, that the evidence of modern forgery is pretty strong, but if it makes the other side happy, I’ll concede that it was written in the 8th or 9th century, in which case, we have a giant nothingburger with a heaping side order of hype and some extra anti-Christian dipping sauce...

Short version: This is potentially an 8th or 9th century text that tells us nothing about early Christian history. The probability of modern forgery has not been conclusively eliminated by testing, and textual issues that suggest forgery have not been convincingly rebutted.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"The Passion of the Christ" is Awesome

Mark Shea explains why it's so often so completely misunderstood. Excerpts:
...The film itself generated enormous controversy, of course, hitting all kinds of cultural and aesthetic buttons. Some of this was due to the sheer violence of the film, some of it was due to the (I think unfair) charge of anti-semitism against it. And a lot of it was due to the fact that many people simply had no background for seeing the very clear theology inherent in it. In many ways, it was Mel Gibson's meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. It was marinated in imagery that, to a Catholic, was as clear and beautiful as (to a non-Catholic) it was opaque and mysterious.

For instance, I remember reading one critic remarking the Gibson had apparently randomly inserted peaceful moments from earlier in the life of Christ into the narrative, simply to give the viewer a reprieve from the violence. But in fact, every frame of that film is there for a theological and artistic reason. So, for instance, as Jesus arrives at Golgotha, we suddenly cut to the Last Supper and Jesus unwrapping the cloth holding the bread he will consecrate as the first Eucharist. The scene then cuts back to Jesus being stripped of his clothes. He is nailed to the cross--and as he is lifted up on it the scene cuts back to Jesus at the Last Supper elevating the bread, giving thanks, and saying "This is my body". In short, Gibson is using a cinematic vocabulary, here and throughout the film, to say what Catholics say in every Mass. For the same reason, he shows Mary--Jesus' greatest disciple--kiss the bloody feet of Jesus and come away with the Precious Blood on her lips: it's the filmic way of saying "This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant..."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Best Explanation of the Immaculate Conception.

Yes. Exactly.
That is the best explanation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception I've ever read. Why?

Because that's the point on which Protestant friends and interlocutors always get hung up--how could Mary need the salvation offered by Jesus if she never sinned?

And the answer, of course, is that she was conceived immaculate and never sinned by the grace which came through her Son and Savior.
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.
The order of events is unusual, yes, and yet Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is eternal, and so all events in his personal experience are similarly eternal--standing outside of time.

All grace comes through Jesus Christ. No grace enters time and history except through Jesus Christ, including all grace in the lives of the Old Testament folk, all grace in the lives of people who've never heard the Gospel, and all grace which enters the lives of Christians--even though Jesus comes later in time than the folk of the Old Testament.

All grace comes to Mary through Jesus, just as much and more than the grace which comes into the lives of anyone else.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
It's all in Doctor Who, all in Doctor Who--goodness me, what do they teach in schools these days?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

Chesterton describes it all best.
Gloria in Profundis
There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Catholics in the Heart of the Land of Islam, and Other Surprising Facts of Global Catholicism

John Allen lays out some interesting points in his recent piece, including the following starkly true statement. Excerpts:
...The typical Christian in the world today isn’t a middle-class white male in Dubuque pulling up to church in his Lincoln Continental. She is an impoverished black mother of four in Nigeria, or a Dalit grandmother in India, or an exploited Filipina maid in Saudi Arabia. They often face hardships that are hard for most American Christians, accustomed to material comfort and lacking any real experience of religious persecution, to fathom.

Until you get that, you won’t see the full story of Christianity in this era...
Click and read.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Seeing Jesus When He Turns Up

The essence of Christianity is that God was one of us, and is, and will be forever. And that he can be encountered in every human being, as the Anchoress shows so well. Excerpts:
My mood being what it was, I wasn’t interested in finding out. I kept my head down, and my eyes lowered, and as I approached the steps I could hear him asking, “which one? This one? This one? Which door?”

Finally looking up, I realized the man was talking to me. “Which door?” he repeated, moving quickly from one to the other. “This one? I’m going to open the door for you! I’m the doorman! I’m waiting to open the door for you, if you’ll let me.”

“If you’ll let me…” those words struck something inside me, and made me feel guilty. I was too ungenerous to allow someone else to be generous. I know this about myself; it is an old flaw, and a deep one.

I let him open the door, and thanked him, but not warmly. I felt intruded upon, in exactly the way that shy, introverted people can feel burdened by simple exchanges of pleasantry that come so naturally for others. Why, oh why did people have to put themselves in my way, and inflict themselves upon my consciousness — forcing me to engage when I am so intent on only doing so on my own terms! Grouse, grouse.

Settling into my pew, still disturbed by the doorman in a way I couldn’t quite understand, I breathed deeply and asked God’s forgiveness for my unpardonable me-ness. I began to catalogue for him the prayer intentions I had brought with me — for a young woman and a young man, both battling breast cancer; for my family members sick in body, or mind and spirit; for a missing jetliner and grieving families; for the priest I could see preparing in the sacristy — a shy fellow, himself, who always inspires me to pray for him. Opening my Magnificat, I happened on a quote from the Servant of God Catherine deHueck Doherty:
The mercy that we must give to others includes that of standing up for the poor, the lonely, those who have no education and cannot stand up for themselves. It means to engage in what we call social justice on behalf of our brother. That involves opening ourselves to being pushed around and crucified. This always happens to those who stand up for others…

Lent is here to remind us that the mercy of God is ours provided we embrace his law of love; provided we realize that it’s going to hurt, and hurt plenty, but that the very hurting will be a healing. That’s the paradox of God, that while you hurt, you heal. That’s true healing.

The sea of his mercy is open before us. Lent definitely and inexorably leads us to it and makes us think about what it takes to swim in it.
Oh, busted!
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Seeing is Believing: The Demonic, the Skeptic, and the Christian Empiricist

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. - Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio.
Mark Shea discusses the demonic and why folks believe it exists. Excerpts:
...Devils are facts of our universe. They are not psychological projections, myths, or legends (though, of course, the mind of man takes them–as it takes everything other concrete reality of creation–and makes up stories about them so that devils, like kings, lamps, ants, elephants, and grasshoppers, become part of the vast legendarium that man has been creating ever since he spun the first yarn around a campfire. But just only a fool would conclude that elephants are unreal because somebody once told a tale about one that could fly, so only a fool conclude that devil cannot exist because he once saw a picture of horned gent with a goatee in red tights...
Years ago, I heard a Black Pentecostal pastor in Spokane talking about a time he and some other local non-denominational pastors had been asked by a family they knew to come and pray for their granny who, her family said, “had an evil spirit”. One of the pastors was of a more modern frame of mind—the sort of frame of mind that fancies itself “open-minded” by closing itself off to the very possibility of the supernatural ever actually occurring. He somehow found himself invited to this meeting of pastors who were going to the house of this family to pray for granny. The liberal pastor reluctantly agreed and joined the circle as they gathered round granny and began to ask God to intervene on her behalf.

The doubting pastor happened to have taken up a position right behind granny, perhaps due to his reluctance to look at her face during what he considered to be a hugely superstitious bit of medieval hocus pocus. Granny, who was quite long in the tooth and rather frail, submitted to the prayer, but as it went on she began to act oddly and, quite suddenly reached behind her (over her shoulders), seized the doubting pastor and lifted him clean off the ground.

“That kind of thing changes your theology,” observed the Black Pentecostal pastor drily.
...Rationalist skeptics love to pride themselves on being tough-minded empiricists with the courage to follow the evidence wherever it leads–and to accuse Christians of relying on dogma in the teeth of the evidence.

Rubbish. Nine times out of ten it is the materialist who is the kneejerk dogmatist.

“Even if all the sick in Lourdes were cured in one moment, I would not believe [in miracles]!” – Emile Zola
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the sort of worldview espoused by Dan Brown, who's quite busily encouraging every sound scientist and reasonable person out there to become a materialist magician--to accept the occult as one more branch of science and to study it seriously in the hopes of regaining the knowledge so viciously suppressed by Catholicism and the rest of the Christians of the world.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What's His Line? The Miraculous

Archbishop Fulton Sheen may well have his beatification miracle! Excerpts:
...The reputed miracle involves the unexplained recovery of James Fulton Engstrom, a boy born apparently stillborn in September 2010 to Bonnie and Travis Engstrom of the Peoria-area town of Goodfield. He showed no signs of life as medical professionals tried to revive him. The child’s mother and father prayed to Archbishop Sheen to heal their son.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

The Vatican’s medical advisory panel ruled that there is no medical explanation for the healing of the baby. The ruling means that a board of theologians will now review the case. If they approve the case, its consideration could pass to the cardinals and bishops who advise Pope Francis on beatifications.

If the case reaches Pope Francis, his approval would recognize Archbishop Sheen as “blessed,” the final stage before possible canonization as a saint...
Want to see him in person?.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On the Unity of Christians

I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.--Ephesians 4:1-6
John Paul II (soon to be canonized a saint) reiterated the Gospel call for the unity of Christians in his encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint. Excerpts:
Ut unum sint! (May they be one)...The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigour to the Council's call and reminds us of our duty to listen to and put into practice its exhortation. These brothers and sisters of ours, united in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.

Christ calls all his disciples to unity. My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more with determination, repeating what I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1994, at the end of the meditation on the Via Crucis prepared by my Venerable Brother Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. There I stated that believers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world's tendency to reduce to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must profess together the same truth about the Cross.1 The Cross! An anti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its meaning, and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life. It claims that the Cross is unable to provide either vision or hope. Man, it says, is nothing but an earthly being, who must live as if God did not exist.
And Pope Francis had some rather poignant words to speak on the same subject. Excerpts:
...Is Christian unity a priority for you?

Pope Francis: Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.

I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: "I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest's." This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don't ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in. We need to take these facts into consideration...
The martyrs, the greatest Christian witnesses to the faith and the truth of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, challenge their brethren, separated and divided in the face of tremendous challenges from the world, the flesh, and the devil these days. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, as Tertullian wrote, and perhaps also the bond of charity which holds the whole together, mediating the Holy Spirit, opening a door through their sacrifice as Jesus did.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Odd Thomas Movie is Out!

And I'm excited, especially when every review seems to be complaining about the things Koontz put into the story for a reason.
  • Wacky tone: Yes. Exactly.  Odd's got an odd way of speaking and writing. There's a certain amount of Forrest Gump monotone in the midst of impossible situations, a certain depth of humility which affects his entire worldview and the way he approaches the world. Everyone who's read the books knows that and wants it in the movie.
  • Prediction versus payoff: "...In adapting Dean Koontz's series, Sommers nails the hero but bungles the world-building. Odd predicts mythological violence, but the climactic wreckage we see on screen is too real for what should play out as weightless entertainment. The tonal confusion persists through a mawkish epilogue that optimistically sets up a sequel, but by then it's too late: We have no reason to return to this world..."  But that precisely misses the point. The sort of violence we've come to accept as being "all too real" is precisely the sort of violence that's mythological in scope and size.  We can summon fire from the heavens, rain poison on our enemies, draw down the sun to blast those who oppose us--that is, we can drop napalm, chemical weaponry, or nukes on our opponents.  We live in mythological times.  Most of our movies don't appreciate that, and slog forward with a weird, realpolitik determination--nothing to see here, move along, nothing strange that we choose Machiavelli over St. Matthew or find WMD a permanent part of the foreign policy discussions.  Odd Thomas is an apocalyptic series, a modern chivalric romance, all incarnated into a supernatural thriller. The "tonal confusion" isn't confused at all--it's unusually clear eyed, and that's why it's popular.
It sounds like they did a good job. The author certainly liked it. Excerpts:
It is so wonderful that I am whacked flat by happiness. It makes no missteps, races forward with unrelenting momentum, is gripping, and has great heart, and even has an excellent score! It is a totally fresh wind in the genres upon which it touches, and we felt that we were seeing one of those rare productions with the potential to dramatically alter how other filmmakers approach such movies in the future.
Theater information and links for ordering it here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Shopkeeper Refuses Service Over Gay Marriage

Huh.  Elizabeth Scalia has the story (from over a year ago). Excerpts:
So, you know all this brouhaha, all these hysterics about how bakers, and photographers, and other service-providers who routinely work for gay clientele (but draw a line at serving gay weddings because they feel it imperils their souls) are horrible people?

And you know the whole “if you think that way, then you’re a bigot,” thing, because governments and pundits have taken it into their heads that it is their job to define “sin” to another person?

And you know that whole, “refusing to serve someone because they think differently than you is all Jim Crow-y and immoral?”

Yeah, well…so much for that.
A gay stylist in Santa Fe refused to cut New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s hair due to her stance on same-sex marriage. KOB-TV’s Stuart Dyson reports.

A Santa Fe hairdresser is waging his own boycott of sorts: He is denying service to the governor of New Mexico because she opposes gay marriage.

Antonio Darden, who has been with his partner for 15 years, said he made his views clear the last time Gov. Susana Martinez’s office called to make an appointment.

“The governor’s aides called not too long ago wanting another appointment to come in,” Darden told KOB.com. “Because of her stances and her views on this, I told her aides, ‘no.’ They called the next day asking if I’d changed my mind about taking the governor in, and I said ‘no’ again.”

Martinez has said marriage should be between a man and a woman. Darden, who said he has cut the governor’s hair three times, said he won’t serve her unless she changes her mind about gay marriage.
Darden apparently feels that it would go against his own personal moral code — his individual conscience — to cut the governor’s hair. He does not see this decision as an act of “intolerance.” In his mind, he believes that to cut her hair would be to co-operate with evil — a kind of sin, if not against God, then against his own reason and beliefs. He may fear that serving to the governor could be misconstrued as an affirmation of her views.

And no one in the press is arguing differently on the governor’s behalf...
Links in the original.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Living the (Secret) Gift

Coolness in the life of WH Auden.  Excerpts;
W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.

I learned about it mostly by chance, so it may have been far more extensive than I or anyone ever knew. Once at a party I met a woman who belonged to the same Episcopal church that Auden attended in the 1950s, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in New York. She told me that Auden heard that an old woman in the congregation was suffering night terrors, so he took a blanket and slept in the hallway outside her apartment until she felt safe again.

Someone else recalled that Auden had once been told that a friend needed a medical operation that he couldn’t afford. Auden invited the friend to dinner, never mentioned the operation, but as the friend was leaving said, “I want you to have this,” and handed him a large notebook containing the manuscript of The Age of Anxiety. The University of Texas bought the notebook and the friend had the operation.

From some letters I found in Auden’s papers, I learned that a few years after World War II he had arranged through a European relief agency to pay the college costs for two war orphans chosen by the agency, an arrangement that continued, with a new set of orphans every few years, until his death at sixty-six in 1973.

At times, he went out of his way to seem selfish while doing something selfless. When NBC Television was producing a broadcast of The Magic Flute for which Auden, together with Chester Kallman, had translated the libretto, he stormed into the producer’s office demanding to be paid immediately, instead of on the date specified in his contract. He waited there, making himself unpleasant, until a check finally arrived. A few weeks later, when the canceled check came back to NBC, someone noticed that he had endorsed it, “Pay to the order of Dorothy Day.” The New York City Fire Department had recently ordered Day to make costly repairs to the homeless shelter she managed for the Catholic Worker Movement, and the shelter would have been shut down had she failed to come up with the money...

The whole piece is well worth a read.

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