Tag Archives: Catholic Church

What Do You Believe?

It is a question I asked my children often when they were in high school and for a few years after.  I still ask them once or twice a year, and when they ask me for advice (not often, but when they ask) the question above is always the opening query.  Philosophy, for the little our education system teaches these days, is still the foundation for making sound decisions, and it is important for each person to remember what their own foundation is periodically.  Some call it ‘centering’.  I prefer ‘foundation’.  One builds character on some foundation.

Consider the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs.  Has your mind already jumped ahead to which of them had the stronger foundation of faith or belief to last out life’s storms?  Do you already know who or what your own ‘Big Bad Wolf’ is?  This simple childhood story represents Western philosophy education at its basic level and typically in the home.  Then, there’s the popular culture book “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. What is taught in education today?  A myriad of concepts come to mind and to discuss them would veer off my intent here.  What is relevant is that each of us finds some level of commitment to some principle of life, and we move forward with our lives.  Few venture beyond what was learned in middle school or high school, testing what they believe in their forays into their work or through their college years and beyond.

For all the years I asked the question of my children my point was to know what they chose to hold true from what their mother and I taught them, and what they picked up along the way on their own to strengthen or replace those lessons.  It remains a question they don’t like answering,…yet.  One day, I hope the example with have their own children squirming in a chair.  This is not some sadistic plot but an effort to get them ready for their own ‘Big Bad Wolves’.

For all the asking of what they believe, they have never turned the question back on me.  I can’t say why because it would be speculative, and that is always a mistake when building friendships.  However, I have been doing some reading about how to continue to build this friendship with my children I am prompted by the author to answer the question posed for myself.  In all my fifty-seven years, no one has ever asked me. I’ve been studying theology at the Master’s level for three years, and the question hasn’t come up there either.  I’m certain my actions have demonstrated for those around me, especially my children, what I believe.  The deeper answer is why?

“Why am I Catholic?”

Simple answer is, I believe. Sure, I was born and raised, schooled through grammar school. But I joined the Navy, for crying out loud, and stayed 20 years. With all I’ve seen, why ‘stay’ Catholic?

Because, for all I’ve seen, it is True, and the Church remains a repository of Truth, and that Truth is carried to every corner of society, every day of the year. The reason the Catholic social networks are as strong as they are is because the embodied spirits of the people let the life of Christ shine through in what they do, some a little, some a lot, and some in everything they do.  Catholic health care makes up one sixth of the healthcare economy in the U.S.  Catholic Charities is the largest relief organization in the world.  The Catholic school system, from grammar school through high school, and into post secondary education, is the largest private school system in the world.  These are the works of the Church that come from the faith.

What the public hears more of, though, are the sins of the Church.  Of course, it’s what we expect.  Two-percent of our priests have committed unspeakable acts in the past several decades.  Movies portray these same servants in poor light since the 1960’s.  Long forgotten is Pat O’Brian’s portrayal of Father Flanagan, founder of Boy’s Town in the 1940’s.  The Exorcist was a pop-culture phenomenon and now a ‘new’ fall drama on a major TV network.  Charlton Heston’s Moses in the 1956 Ten Commandments is now dependent on implied illusions of a child messenger because of Christian Bale’s bump on the head, a far more earthly portrayal of the myth-history.  The modern stories of Saint Pope John Paul II and Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta can hardly keep up with the world’s reminders of our real sins and culture’s distortion of both our work and our theology.  Zombies and vampires are somehow more believable than God becoming man and sharing our embodied spirit existence here on earth.

I still choose to believe.  I continue to be inspired by the Spirit.  I continue to hold that when I attend Mass I am at an intersection of this material world and the spiritual heaven. And in receiving what appears to many as only bread and wine, I affirm that it is the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God as described in the Gospels.  It is both an act of Faith  and an act of Will of my Conscience.

If you ask yourself the title question, what answer do you come up with?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Drop of Water, a Taste of the Divine

March 25, 2015

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… May God prevent me from writing heresy and may His grace protect my readers from the Tempter.

Imagine…a calm, still pond on a warm summer’s morning. The sun has risen above the horizon. The mist is dissipated off the grasses and the mirror that is the surface. No chill on the light air, no breeze disturbs your skin.

From the cloudless sky, a single drop of water falls into the center of the pond. You hear the plunk break the quiet morn. You watch as silent waves move ever outward from the center, ring after ring after ring of small waves grow ever wider and wider and wider. They move into and push the reeds, the cattails, and the grass on the shore. Another drop falls, again in the center.

You know how this happens, this formation of waves. The drop strikes the water. It pushes it aside. The surface rises up around it as it falls through. Then, the surface falls back on itself, closing in some air to make that ‘plunk’ sound. Then, the surface falls back and makes another wave. And on it goes…

The bread is raised, this work of human hands, and with it the sacrifice of our lives.

A drop of water goes into the wine, “as He humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”  It too is raised.

…and in a moment, a flood of Divinity is dropped into both, into the middle of the pond of our lives.

Can you hear it? The ‘plunk’ of the Divine splashing into your life? Can you feel it, the surface of the Divine rolling back over top of you? Are you enveloped by it, the successive waves flowing over and through you? Will you let the energy carry you to the reeds and the cattails, the grasses and the shores?

The wave will reflect off the shore and return. It will cross those coming toward it from center as it returns to center. Sometimes the waves rise together, sometimes they diminish each other but they continue so long as the center is fed by that from above.

Each moment of consecration is a moment of Divine intervention, connecting a timeless heaven to the temporal earth. Each moment of consecration is an overt act of God to redeem us, to touch us, to strengthen us. Accepting this gift is to taste the Divine, to drink in all the Wisdom we can hold and carry it forth into the world, to roll into reeds and cattails and weeds and grass, to strike the shores of our lives and return to the Center to drink again.

May we crawl on humble knees to taste the Divine in the Eucharist in every mass we attend. May we learn to bask in the same in adoration.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…

In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo Moral Hysteria

SONY is hacked and blackmailed. Free Speech by U.S. Citizens is claimed to be assailed by foreign governments. A motion picture release is halted and millions of potential dollars are lost. A weekly newspaper of satirical nature insults the prophet Mohammad and Islamic clerics cry ‘foul’ and swear out a Jihad against the paper. Some French citizens swearing allegiance to Islam attack the paper and kill five people.

The Pope speaks up a week later aboard his airplane in route to the Philippines. The Pope says no one should kill in the name of religion, and no one should slander religions. The media fascination with the Pope might be over. The Pope, though, is speaking from his see. What transpires next remains to be seen.

Free speech? Really? It seems Western Society has forgotten something fundamental. Freedom is only half of an equation. Freedom in inextricably connected to Responsibility. ‘Je Suis Charlie’ is a wonderful sentiment. But it is only an exercise of half a principle. What will those millions who held the signs, and the millions more who Tweeted and FaceBooked their support actually DO?

I trust what they will not do is to look to find the connection between ‘free’ speech and the connected responsibility. For those few who might look, I’ve provided a simple start. Psalm 15, especially verses two and three are a beginning. Following the Psalm, additional verses are provided, both for the proper practice of ‘free’ speech and cautions against improper practices. For a complete list, pick up one of the most read ‘self’-help books ever written. The Jewish Torah, the Christian Bible, and, yes, even the Qu’ran give us insights on speech and how it should be exercised. My choice is the second tome, but you might find one of the others more to your tradition. Here’s hoping the folks at Charlie Hebdo, and the rest of the media, from one extreme of the spectrum to the other will do some more studying before they write again as well.

Links to four stories, including the Pope’s interview, are at the end of this post.

“Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” “Glory to God in the Highest” “Allah Akbar!”

Psalm 15

Who Shall Abide in God’s Sanctuary?

A Psalm of David.

1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; 3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; 4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; 5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Suggested care when speaking?

Job 6:30

Is there any wrong on my tongue? Cannot my taste discern calamity?

Job 27:4

my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit.

Psalm 34:13

Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.

Psalm 35:28

Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.

Psalm 37:30

The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice.

1 Peter 3:10

10 For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit;

 

Perhaps, caution should be exercised?

Job 15:5

For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty.

Job 20:12

“Though wickedness is sweet in their mouth, though they hide it under their tongues,

Psalm 5:9

For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.

Psalm 12:4

those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own—who is our master?”

Psalm 31:20

In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues.

Psalm 57:4

4 I lie down among lions that greedily devour[a] human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords.

Proverbs 25:18

18 Like a war club, a sword, or a sharp arrow is one who bears false witness against a neighbor.

 

Related Links

http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-je-suis-charlie-20150114-story.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11344044/Charlie-Hebdo-new-cover-featuring-Prophet-Mohammed-launched.html

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/13/hollywood-s-je-suis-charlie-hypocrisy-a-hotbed-of-censorship-champions-free-speech.html#

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-on-charlie-hebdo-dont-kill-in-gods-name-but-dont-insult-faith-22658/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+catholicnewsagency%2Fdailynews+%28CNA+Daily+News%29&utm_term=daily+news

 

Family Theology

No one was more surprised than me when the conversation at the breakfast table in the restaurant began with “Well, who do you think the first Christian was?” You see, the priest asked that question at mass this morning. The mass was dedicated to the Baptism of Jesus on the Church calendar, so naturally the priest talked about the sacrament and the event in the Jordan. He took the conversation one-step further, though, and discussed some possibilities about who the first Christian might have been. He hoped the question would provoke conversation beyond the handshakes at the end of mass. For our family, his question was a success.

Never before have I been able to engage anyone in my family in this kind of discussion. My mother has been engaging in bible study courses for a couple of years now. My sister has been through her own journey of faith with the loss of her husband and our friend two years ago. My wife has been reading and studying scripture for three years come this April. However, no one, and especially not any of these three, would ever attempt to engage with me in any of the simplest conversations I might try to start. Consequently, I started into a Master’s course of study in theology just to satisfy my own curiosity and conversation. OK, Father, how is it you moved this conversation forward? Or, should I just attribute the movement to the Holy Spirit working through you to open curiosity in them?

Now, it’s not about whether there is any theological proof coming out of this conversation that will cause trembling within the earth and result in new insights that will suddenly bring about the apocalypse. The Spirit doesn’t work this way. This conversation is about getting those of us who profess Christians talking again about our faith. At Scrambler Marie’s in Findlay Ohio this Sunday morning, Father Mike Hohenbrink had moved people to talk together after mass. Here are the three theories that came about through the conversation.

My wife spoke first. She states Mary was the first Christian. She was the first one to know Jesus was coming and by her acceptance of her part in Salvation history her faith was placed in God and her commitment made her the first to believe in her Son’s mission. I supported her thoughts, pointing out it was Mary who brought Jesus to the point of producing his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Though He protested, he followed her urging and turned water into the best wine of the feast. My wife was happy with that. Then, I must have crossed a line. I pointed out one could not fully comprehend the decision without having known of the resurrection and ascension. One could not take action to demonstrate faith in Jesus’ message without having witnessed these two events. Her protest was immediate! “If you think giving birth isn’t an action of faith you have another think coming! I stood, rather sat, corrected as I laughed. At a table filled with women, there was nothing else to say… and be safe!

Conversation turned to some of the suggestions Father had received at an earlier mass. Someone suggested Able was the first. Another Abraham. Several of the apostles were mentioned, especially Peter and Paul. John the Baptist figured into the conversation. Jesus’ cousin and the new Elijah, he knew of Jesus’ mission. Acts of the Apostles tells us the word ‘Christian’ was first used in Antioch. I raised the argument Paul makes in Romans that Abraham was the first to act on faith and his action resulted in a covenant that created the nation of Israel. Paul’s argument was to confirm that Israel as a nation was still the chosen people of God, and that the Hellenists he was talking to were grafts onto the vine of the new Chosen People through Jesus Christ. My wife said she would never argue with Paul, but her choice is still Mary.

My thoughts still go with two considerations. Those who were the ‘first’ Christians had to have witnessed or known of the crucifixion and resurrection and then make an act of faith to demonstrate that faith. It was at Pentecost that the first Christians made their profession through action. Peter and the other ten, with Mary and others present, stepped onto a balcony and spoke the words of salvation to thousands of Jews from around the world. That day is the day I think the first Christian were revealed, even if it would be years until the term was used in Antioch.

Today, though, other Christian were talking about salvation history, from the second generation recorded in the Pentateuch through Abraham, our Father-in-Faith, to Mary’s commitment to the Incarnation of the Word, through Paul the Apostle and the bringing of the Word to the Hellenist world, we laughed and talked, oblivious to those around us. Who knows who else overheard our conversation and may have wondered themselves about the events we were discussing. We’ll never know. Just as we’ll never know who the very first Christian was. The Spirit was working through our parish this morning, and now the Spirit is working through you. The new Evangelization has begun.

“You want me to what?”

“Wow! He really sacrificed his body on that play, didn’t he?” we might exclaim while viewing a sports game. Someone is so committed to their professional sport they allow themselves to be hurt. Do we do the same for what we believe? How important is our body to our Christian life and how do we discipline ourselves to demonstrate this commitment. Paul wrote two simple sentences at the beginning of Romans chapter twelve I think are worth some consideration.

Paul opens chapter twelve of his Letter to the Romansr by asking us “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). He asks us to do this through God’s mercy. Perhaps we should ask in the same manner each day in our prayer. Each of us has our own issues with our bodies, either naturally or driven by the constant bombardment of images in our culture. Would you agree that our culture today has a worship of the human body? (short pause, look about the room for some sign of agreement). Commercials about exercise clothing and equipment pepper our early morning and evening media. The fit must stay fit. Commercials about food flood our televisions. Mornings tempt us with lunch ideas, mid-day with supper restaurants, and late at night ‘they’ want us to think of breakfast. Drug companies flood the airwaves with their products telling us the multitude of physical ailments their products relieve and encourage us to talk with our doctors. Images of ‘the beautiful people’ fill our television shows and movies, the footers and side bars of our computers, and saturate the fashion media from Gentleman’s Quarterly to Vanity magazine. Let’s face it, would you rather look at Taylor Swift or Rob Lowe, or would you chose to pin up Gimley the Dwarf or an orc from the Lord of the Rings? A more obvious truth is that we all live somewhere in between both fantasies and most often we are not in the blissful Coca-cola commercial of the former nor the epic battle of the latter.

Each of us in this routine must have something we can offer as prayer and sacrifice. Perhaps the first consideration we should make is how much of this modern worship we take upon ourselves. Health is important, this is true. It is so important that before Jesus forgave sins in the most prominent recollections of the Gospels, he first healed peoples’ physical maladies. We absolutely have a responsibility to remain as healthy as we are able. Exercise and sport are important values in our society. Exercise keeps us able to do the routine physical requirements of life, especially for those of us who work at desks or on factory lines. Sport is as important a social event as it is exercise. Both can begin and end with a simple prayer of promising God this is meant for his worship, that we may acquire the health necessary to carry out the work we offer to him.

This exercise can also interfere with that work we are to give and other gifts and works we are supposed to offer. How often does that late Saturday night game make us late for Sunday worship? Probably closer to home for the many of us with children are those Sunday morning traveling teams that have us playing sport instead of attending mass. Perhaps for those singles here, or those whose children are grown, the morning run or swim takes precedence. Do we allow those to come first, and attending church to renew our communal commitment second?

There are those of us that are overwhelmed by those food commercials. Something gets to us and we find ourselves munching from a box or stirring that bowl of ice cream while watching that media that is driving us to do so. Do any of you see the irony of what you are doing when while eating a bowl of cereal that commercial comes onto the television advertising the cereal? Or does that irony hit you when the weight loss commercial comes on as the spoon reaches your mouth? How much of a sacrifice is it for us, individually and as a whole, to decide dinner was enough for our health, and we need to not eat past those moments at the table? And, referring back to Sunday mornings, how difficult would it be for most of us to meet the pre-Eucharist morning fast, letting our bodies cleanse themselves just that small bit before receiving the Body of Christ within?

Many of us are ill or do have maladies to bear in our lives. Pain is not something our society requires us to live with or through. Much of our medical profession and pharmaceutical company investment is made in the area of pain relief. Cancer is constantly in front of us whether we are personally affected or not, again through the media. We are not inundated with photos of the disabled, the mentally ill, or the aged. We are inundated with those suffering hunger, famine, and disease overseas, as we are asked to share our wealth. How do we bear any of this? October of 2014 saw stories of those one would not accept pain, suffering, and responses by those who would, when an Oregon woman made it her last effort to announce to the world she would commit suicide to avoid a painful death due to brain cancer. We are becoming desensitized to euthanasia, as we have become desensitized to abortion.

A Christian response to this is to do as Christ did. First, for all of us to offer our pain and suffering, at whatever level we suffer, to God for his purpose. Perhaps we will reduce the suffering of souls who have taken their own lives. More immediately, we will surely strengthen our own character through our forbearance. Volunteering in hospitals and clinics may be another choice we have. Some churches run a ‘Shepherds Hope’ clinic for the poor and indigent. Most often, we are probably asked to simply pray for someone who is sick. By doing so we strengthen our commitment and offer them peace in their suffering. This is well demonstrated in the media, in the 2014 movie ‘Heaven is for Real’. The media sometimes works for what we believe.

Each situation we have discussed requires a decision, based on what we believe and by what principles we have decided to live. Each decision is a small mental exercise. Each time we make a decision, we reinforce what we believe. Changing those decisions to match our spiritual goals is not easy. Encouraging others to do so is more difficult, for in our culture, in our hearts, which of us would ask that someone’s suffering continue?   Paul asks us to pray in this short paragraph he wrote. “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2) My prayer for you is the same. Good night (day) and may God bless you with the grace to remember to pray in and about all these things.

Works Cited

The Letter to the Romans. The Catholic Study Bible. Senior, D. GenEd. New York; Oxford UP. 1990. Print.

Anchor Snagged in the Bone Yard

I don’t know how it happened. Suddenly, the ship of life just jerked to a halt. Normally, I don’t get pensive until near or on my October birthdate. This year life just decided to raise the demeanor a bit early. How that anchor loosed from the chocks isn’t known. Now that it is, it has to be addressed and secured. You see, this last two weeks three of the mentors in my early life passed on. It seems they always go in threes. I wondered after the second who the third would be. I found out this evening.

The first to pass was one of my priest-mentors from grade school. I attended St. Michael’s School in Findlay Ohio, graduating the 8th grade in 1974. The priest’s name was Fr. Gerald Robinson. You might recognize the name. His notoriety caught the national spotlight for a few days this past month. (see the links below) Fr. Gerry introduced me to the documents of Vatican II and Captain Queeg. The Caine Mutiny was my first study in moral theology. Fr. Gerry didn’t call it that. And, Fr. Gerry didn’t cut me any slack due my fourteen years of age. Strawberry’s taste good to me today, but the lesson is still a bit fuzzy. Fr. Gerry’s entanglement with the law happened ten years after he taught me. I was in the Navy, a place he had tried to go but was not permitted by the Bishop. It would be another twenty or so years before prosecutors would convict him of murder. I was in Florida at the time. Returning home in the past couple years I was able to visit him once. We exchanged a few letters. We talked of Victor Frankl, of the similarities between prison life and the military. I sent him a couple of my theology papers, hoping to rekindle the ‘lessons’, but his schedule, and now more probably his health, kept him from responding. He was buried today, quietly, and without media presence. I didn’t even know the funeral was scheduled. I’m sure the family wanted quiet for their own grief. Eternal rest, Fr. Gerry… and thank you.

Marge Ryan was my seventh and eighth grade history teacher at St. Michael’s. Classes shifted around in the buildings during my seven years in the Catholic primary school. My class started out in the 19th century building at 422 Western Ave in Findlay. I was in the second grade and Sister Carol was a young and vibrant nun in the order of the Sisters of Charity. By seventh and eighth grade we had shifted through all the buildings. Mrs. Ryan’s classroom was on the northwest corner, the first floor. Those of you who know me or follow this web-log know I concentrate on history and politics about a third of the time. You’re getting an extended lesson from Marge Ryan. Her thorough guidance moved us beyond the dates and events to the reasons why things were happening. Mr. Clinton wasn’t the first President to have indiscretions in the White House. Nor was JFK. Mr. Harding probably wasn’t either, but I learned about his researching and writing a paper for Mrs. Ryan.

Marge made us look beyond history to life. Organizing three-day Ohio History trips, there was fund-raising to do. We sold candy bars, among other projects, to pay our way. The oldest of eight kids, I had a lot of selling to do. Convincing people it was a worthy cause, keeping the records of sales, making the orders, delivering product, collecting payment, and counting the profit to know whether I covered the costs were all part of the lesson. Who knew a history teacher was going to teach us business skills? I didn’t. I learned them still.

She also taught us about long-term projects before we grew into high school. The project she expected us all to build was a history book for Ohio. Every map we drew, every day trip we took, and every paper we wrote was to be catalogued, filed, mounted, and ordered as her syllabus directed. I made my cover out of ¼” plywood. I was looking at it just yesterday, remembering Marge. Eternal rest, Mrs. Ryan… and thank you.

I arrived at the funeral home for Marge’s family’s liturgy and rosary, Catholic traditions on the night before the funeral mass. Community prayer with the family and for the deceased is an affirmation of the continuation of the spirit’s life in addition to the sharing of grief. I met my Mom there. She was a friend of Marge’s for many of the last several years. She reintroduced me to Marge’s son, Rob. I hadn’t seen Rob since he graduated ahead of me from St. Michael’s. Still, as in most reunions, I was glad to shake his hand. Some others from the parish were there, but I didn’t see anyone I recognized. I had an hour before the service, so I went to a real bone yard.

Visiting the family gravesites is something I do when I’m pensive. The cemetery is close to the funeral home. Well, it’s a small town. Everything is close to everything. My father lies there. I knelt at his side. My brother-in-law is there. We lost him last year. Parrot Head! And, one of my grandson’s is there. John Walter wasn’t with us but a couple of minutes when his mother brought him into our world. He taught us some incredible lessons. I knelt to remember them all. But it was the trip back to the funeral home where I found the third ‘death’ I would face, and this one struck me hardest, because part of me died when I saw it.

You see, the grade school buildings Fr. Gerry met me in and talked with me, and the same building Marge Ryan’s classroom was in where I learned those history and business lessons? Those buildings are now demolished. A fire a few years back did a lot of damage and the parish long before that had built a new building to house all the grades on its campus on Findlay’s east side. I rode my bicycle to those buildings. I played basketball. I even learned of death first there when our classmate, and son of a fourth grade teacher, died in a road-side hit-and-run. Billy Schilling was a ‘turd’ and we didn’t get along. Why did he have to die so young? I learned of miracles too. Another teacher’s son had a brain tumor. Wasn’t it a miracle that the doctors were able to remove it? Wasn’t it a miracle that he would learn to walk, talk, and become self-sufficient? To a grade-school kid in a Catholic school, it was a miracle. Stevie Hildreth is grown into Steve Hildreth, and he takes care of himself quite well these days.

422 Western Ave

The buildings are gone. A pile of bricks and beams is all that’s left. The metal seems to have been collected and scrapped into bins. There won’t be anything left next time I see that property. The contractors are working efficiently. Every brick they pick up is a memory of a teacher’s life, a child’s life, a community’s history. Time rolls its ceaseless course, the race of yore…

Pulling up this anchor has really muddied the waters. All sorts of names and memories came pouring forth; Barb Burger (now Logsdon), her friend Sandy Doyle, Hank Kramer and Doug Wellington, Sharon Haugh, Kevin Flanagan and Eddie Finsel, Theresa Richards (Sister Theresa, for a long time not), Mike Zehender, Stuart Stoll, my first ‘brothers’; Doug Alt, the Walsh sisters (twins); I met Mark Cervanka’s parents at the funeral home; Mark lives in Washington state now; Karen Hemker (her mom taught sixth grade), of course, there’s Jill Rooney (Weckesser), my first ‘crush’, and Cindy Costa (Laird) who’s father was a mentor through Scouting and beyond, and whom I should have had a crush on and connected with sometime along the way; Pat and Katie Veit, where are you? How many have I forgotten? The bricks would know.

Anchors dredge up a lot of mud in lakes and rivers, and Lifeline is a boat on a clay bottomed lake. Friendship’s anchor, my first boat and in Florida, also stirred up a lot of bottom sand when pulled up. Losing these three mentors has dredged up a lot of memories. Part of my own life is gone. Time to secure the anchor again and get underway. There’s a lot of ocean left to sail in my life, God willing. What lessons to I have to learn, and what lessons am I required to pass on, whether knowingly or (k)not. Father Gerry got to see some of what his good work did before he moved on. I’m sure Marge saw some of her students’ later works as well, just none of mine. And the school, well, if I get a few pieces of wood from the rubble, it’ll see some more of the lessons passed to me by other mentors.

Anchor’s aweigh! Under way, shift colors…

Late log entry: Holy crow’s nest, I’ve committed the ‘husband’s feaux-pa’. If I leave this out, I’m in trouble, and if I put it in, well, I’m still in trouble, it’s just my penance is that everyone else knows… That school building’s gymnasium and cafeteria, where the fire happened? That’s where our wedding reception was held. Mike Zehender was my best man. Stuart Stoll a groomsman, both classmates of mine at St. Michael’s. Mindy tossed her bouquet in the gymnasium. The New Folk guitar trio played in the cafeteria. I believe (another classmate) Barb Burger’s future mother-in-law (Caroline Logsdon) helped serve refreshments. The day was haze-gray, a prelude to many others I would see serving in the Navy. All that remains now is the concrete foundation. Our marriage? Like all that last 35 years and continue, its famous. I love you, Mindy!

News about Fr. Gerry

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/07/04/priest-convicted-killing-nun-dies-in-prison/

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/priest-convicted-killing-nun-dies-prison-24430393

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/briefs/cns/20140709.htm

Marge Ryan

http://thecourier.com/obituaries/2014/06/24/1403583063/

St Michael’s School

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHSdWD8S4E8

 

Did it really happen, that ‘crucifixion’ story?

My wife just rolls her eyes (not really, but its a good metaphor) when she looks at questions like this as I approach them in my studies.  So do my faithful Christian friends.  For all of us the event is just one of those ‘givens’ required of believers.  This one is coupled with the resurrection of His body.  The two events are the core of salvific act that completes God’s promise to His chosen people.

But what about others who are not so faithful or even believing in Christianity?  What about those who are skeptical scientists who require proof?  Is the imaginative ability of a non-believer strong enough to comprehend billions of people following the way of life proclaimed by a man who was so publicly humiliated for claiming to be God that he was crucified?

Those who are professionals in historical studies will recognize the basics of the research to follow.  Those who are professionals in history and theology will recognize this as just an opening essay to what others have made careers from.  The essay to follow was prompted as a requirement for my course of study in the Synoptic Gospels.  What ever its value, I offer it to the reader for entertainment and/or inspiration.

April 26, 2014

A Quest For The Historical Jesus: The Crucifixion

          “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live,…”(Gal 2:19,20) Paul wrote this as part of a letter to one of the communities he established in what is today modern Turkey and scholarship places the time of the letter between 48 A.D. and 54 A.D. The timing is dependent upon which part of Galatia to where it was addressed. This is only fifteen years after the crucifixion of Jesus and it will be another fifteen years before the first Gospel evangelist will put the event in the context of a full book on the mission and message of Jesus of Nazareth. The purpose of this project is to review some of the historical evidence available two-thousand years after the event of the crucifixion of Jesus and see if what is called the Salvific act passes the scrutiny of modern historical methods.

History is something considered as a record of past events that were, are, and continue to be of importance to human civilization. Writing history was a hobby, it was a means of demonstrating a thought process and the foundation for one’s believe in why the world and humans exist as it does at the time of the writer’s project. An item or event is considered historical, Jesus for this project, when it is considered “having once existed or lived in the real world, as opposed to being part of legend or fiction or as distinguished from religious belief” (dictionary.com, #3). For something to have historicity means for it to have some plausible authenticity. The criteria for this authenticity is to have multiple and independent attestations, to have coherence between these, to find a discontinuity so implausible that no one would make it up, to find it would create an embarrassment for anyone to repeat making researchers wonder why anyone would repeat it, and to discover other events that could only have occurred if the event under question actually did occur. The method of this essay will present some evidence of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and evaluate the evidence against these criteria.

The Gospel of Jesus is firmly rooted in the Jewish religion. Matthew, Luke, and John all record Jesus stating that He came to fulfill the law. Let us begin with the law of witness, then, before considering what the Evangelists wrote. The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles was written between the tenth and the seventh century BC. “…archaeology has provided enough evidence to support… the Deuteronomistic History was substantially shaped in the seventh century BCE” writes Israel Finkelstein in his book The Bible Unearthed (Finkelstein and Silberman, p. 14). Deuteronomy is a restatement of Mosaic Law in writing as writing technology became more wide spread. Therefore, from Mosaic Law “The testimony of two or three witnesses is required for putting a person to death; no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness” (Deu. 17:6). We will make the assumption and derive from this Law the requirement for any event in Jewish history to require affirmation of a minimum of two witnesses. We have four witnesses in the Gospel Evangelists since all four of the canonical writers record the death of Jesus through crucifixion. Paul becomes a fifth witness through the introductory scripture of this essay, though a secondary source as he is teaching what he had received, not witnessed directly.

The Evangelists all write about the crucifixion. It is the Salvific Act in Christianity and cannot be left out of the story whether synoptic or theological. Mark’s account describes simply that another person was forced to help Jesus carry the cross, and upon arrival at a place called Golgotha Jesus was offered a sour drink, was crucified, and His garments were gambled over by the guards. Mark reports an inscription hung over Jesus reading “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). Mark reports two others were crucified with Jesus. Details of how one was crucified were not important. The literate audiences of the period would know those. Matthew spends time to write twelve verses, two paragraphs, on Jesus carrying the cross, being crucified, and dying. Matthew includes the same details of the assist in carrying the cross, the offering of a sour drink, the gambling and the inscription. Luke gives us more to color the march to Golgotha, which he translates as ‘skull’, by offering a view of crowds along the way, the women of Jerusalem. There is no sign announcing Jesus’ crime, however a passerby jeers at Him and repeats the written description of King of the Jews given in Mark and Matthew. Luke reports more invoked scripture by Jesus, and the events of the Temple curtain tearing in two. John’s version includes the same inscription and adds an argument between the Chief Priests and Pilate over what Pilate wrote. Pilate prevails. John removes the Cyrenian’s help in carrying the cross, and the offer of body numbing drink offered to the condemned.

John writes in greater detail about the crucifixion, providing us with an opportunity to decide if he was present throughout the crucifixion and therefore “…the disciple there whom He loved,” (John 19:26, partial). John does not go into the gruesome detail of the action of crucifixion. However, where Luke describes some disciples being present. “…but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him…” (Luke 24:49), John writes of himself and three women being close enough for the dying Jesus to recognize them and speak to them. “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple there whom He loved, he said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26 complete). This will be an important concept when the discussion of historicity is taken up in later paragraphs.

If this were being discussed during a period immersed in the Jewish culture it would more than satisfy the eyewitness requirement, with the consistency of details between the reports according to Mosaic Law to give historical truth to the event of the crucifixion of Jesus. However, this is the twenty-first century and the ‘science’ of writing history is over one-hundred years past the time when such recollections or formulations would be accepted. Today’s historians and scientifically religious require the corroboration of more than those vested in promoting their religious vision do. Other evidence external to Christianity must also recognize crucifixion beyond the pillars of witnesses of that group.

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish Pharisee of the period of Jesus as recorded by the Evangelists. He was an expert in Jewish law, fought against the Romans, was captured and acted as interpreter for the Roman army in the siege of Jerusalem, even lobbying his fellow Judeans to surrender and allow the city and the residents to survive. These are facts learned because Josephus became a Roman citizen and wrote his own biography and two works concerning the Jews, one of the wars fought by them and another called Antiquities to help the Romans understand his people. Flavius Josephus wrote during the same time as the Evangelists. He specifically comments on several events concerning the crucifixion of Jesus. The Wars of the Jews Book 2, Chapter 9 he writes “No Pilate, who was sent as procurator into Judea by Tiberius,” (Whiston, p. 608) confirming there was such a Procurator in Judea in the time of Tiberius Caesar. Josephus confirms the person of John the Baptist existed in his Antiquities. It is in Book 18 Chapter 5 where he writes “…as a punishment of what he (Herod) did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue,” (Whiston, p. 484). This demonstrates the precursor person to Jesus and the person’s mission, written about by the Evangelists. The object of this essay, the crucifixion, is confirmed in Antiquities as well. Book 18 Chapter 3 contains this passage; “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man,” (Whiston, p. 480). Continuing, “He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,” (ibid). Flavius Josephus, Jewish Pharisee, army general, and Roman citizen confirms the condemnation of Jesus and His execution by crucifixion. He does so, not as Roman citizen but as one of the Pharisees, one of the leaders of the Jewish people at the very moment of the event. Finally, Josephus reports again later in Antiquities that Jesus is Christ when he tells of the stoning of James, Jesus’ brother. “Ananus… assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others…” (Whiston, p. 538).

Tacitus was a Roman administrator, orator, and prosecutor. He also wrote histories and in his Annals book 15, he writes of the burning of Rome by Nero. Four of fourteen districts remained untouched by the fire that burned for five days. Three were completely wiped away and the remaining seven had only a few houses still standing. Nero put the blame on Christians. “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular” (Church and Brodribb, Book XV). Tacitus gives us Christ, Pilate, and seventy years after the event of the crucifixion, he gives us a community of people faithful to this crucified Christ.

James Jeffers tells us more about the use of crucifixion in his project, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era. Jeffers’ research tells us about Rome putting down a rebellion in 4 BC. “Varnus brought into Judea three legions (about fifteen thousand men)…His campaign ended with the crucifixion of two thousand Jewish prisoners” (Jeffers, p. 124). Writing on tools of governance, “Crucifixion was usually reserved for slaves and vicious prisoners of war, although it was inflicted on citizens from time to time. This form of punishment existed for centuries before the Romans came along. For example, Alexander the Great practiced it” (Jeffers, 158). Jesus’s crucifixion was just one of the times Pilate would have to deal with religious groups during his tenure. Roman soldiers went into Samaria to deal with a prophet claiming to be a messiah. “A number of people died in the incident. Samaritan leaders complained to the legate of Syria, who ordered Pilate to return to Rome to explain his actions to eh Emperor Tiberius” (Jeffers, p. 131). Pilate would never return to Judea.

Remaining faithful to the method of the essay requiring two witnesses, it is demonstrated that two Roman citizens acknowledge the crucifixion of a Jewish prophet by the name of Jesus. One of those witnesses places himself within the body of legal experts of the Jews at the time. The second is a legal prosecutor and historian writing within seventy years of the event. Moreover, there is evidence presented by a modern historian of the period surveyed showing crucifixion was used by the Romans as punishment, and a form of punishment used for centuries prior to the event being reviewed. The final step for this project is to check for authenticity of the material reviewed.

The first criteria given is whether multiple independent attestation is available. This project demonstrated the Jewish requirement for witnessing events as well. It has been demonstrated through the scriptures of the New Testament no less than five witnesses wrote of the crucifixion. Paul implied the crucifixion as early as 49 AD. The Gospel Evangelists did so over four decades, the last being John. John can be considered a true eyewitness if it is accepted that he is ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ and therefore at the foot of the cross. Beyond the Christian writers, Flavius Josephus, Jewish Priest become Roman Citizen and Tacitus, a Roman prosecutor and historian both acknowledge the crucifixion of Jesus.

Coherence in the stories of the Evangelists is so close it must be suspect. It is acknowledged in academic circles that at least two of them used a third as a source for their writing. These occurred half a generation after Paul wrote to the Galatians. Their accounts could be discarded if it were not for Flavius Josephus’ accounting. Josephus’ position as a Pharisee at the time of the event, before any general acknowledgement of a Christian community, lends strong credence to the coherence of Paul and the Evangelists.

Discontinuity seems absent. Jeffers’ reporting of the frequency with which crucifixion was used and that is was used for centuries makes the crucifixion of Jesus plausible. Josephus and Tacitus both discuss the presence of Pilate in Judea during the period in question. Again, with Josephus we have the admission to being part of the Jewish hierarchy of legal experts at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Embarrassment would be an understatement. Crucifixion was a horrid means of punishment that ended with death. Jeffers reports, “The condemned person’s weight was supported for the most part by his arms. Muscle spasms, cramps and insects added to the pain, and death usually came through gradual suffocation. Romans sometimes broke legs to increase the weight and bring death more quickly” (Jeffers, p. 158). Still, five men wrote about their leader being crucified over the course of fifty years and tell stories about their proclaiming it throughout the empire without fear. They were not embarrassed.

Necessary explanation, the requirement of one event having to occur in order for a secondary event to occur presents a reason for recording the event in different community’s formal writings. Paul would not have written he had been crucified with Christ if Christ had not been crucified. It would have made for frightening metaphor and who would continue to listen, except that for Paul’s audience it was so outrageous it must have had some truth attached to it. The Gospel writers would not have written about the crucifixion for any popular reason. They were admitting to being followers of a blasphemer and presenting themselves for persecution and death as well. Tacitus provides the best example from this essay. Tacitus could write of Nero’s use of Christ and the Christians because a community had formed around one who was put to death and the community believed it to be an act of salvation.

A parish Bible study group might be presented with this information as a lesson or in answer to a question concerning the historic event of Jesus’s life. This group should be aware of the Deuteronomic Law specifying two witnesses. It is an important concept for this topic and for the commissioning of the disciples by Jesus to go out and preach. The comparison of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion could be used if time allowed, but for answering a question, an overview of the common details of the location, witnesses present, and sign posted by the guards at Pilates command could suffice. Beyond the Gospel accounts, it is plain that there are two Roman citizens writing about the crucifixion, that they were both legal experts at the time they were writing, responsible for details involved and judging the people of their time. One even places himself in the event itself. Finally, the crucifixion event passes modern history discipline techniques. It can be stated factually, that the person of Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to die by the Roman procurator Pilate, and was crucified to carry out the sentence.

 

Works Cited

Church, A. and William Jackson Brodribb. Trans. The Annals by Tacitus. 109 A.C.E. the Internet Classics Archive. (1994 – 1999) Web  http://classics.mit.edu/index.html Downloaded April 2014.

Dictionary.com, LLC. On-line mobile electronic resource. 2014. Web.

Finkelstein, I. and Neil Asher Silberman. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel And The Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York. Touchstone. (2001). Print.

Jeffers, J. The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era. Downers Grove. Inter Varsity Press. (1999) Print.

Senior, D. GenEd. The Catholic Study Bible. New York. Oxford University Press. (1990) Print.

Whiston, W. Trans. The Works of Josephus. Peabody. Hendrickson Publishers. (1987) Print.