(steps up on soapbox) Perhaps I've been living under a rock these past few years, but the other day was the first time I ever heard the words Holiday Tree. Holiday Tree. Really? Listen, I completely understand our culture's habit of wishing people a Happy Holiday. Even though I celebrate Christmas, and want to remind folks the real reason for the season, I get why people may not want to assume others share the same views. So they default to the now politically correct Happy Holiday. I get it. But reaching into Christmas tradition and removing the word it is based on is not only insane, but ignorant as well. And I know trees have nothing to do with the religious part of Christmas - but a line has been breached and there is no telling where it will stop. What is next? Nativity scenes will be replaced by a nondescript brick building and labeled Holiday scenes? Ok, ok. Maybe I am overreacting just a bit. But each year it feels like Christmas becomes less and less about Christ and more and more about everything else. In fact, sometimes I wonder if people would even remember Him if they didn't have to mention His name every time they said Christ-mas. Maybe that is why the Holiday Tree thing bothers me so much. Anyway, to be fair each of us is free to act and worship as we choose. That was God's second greatest gift to us. But hopefully you won't blame me if I tell the world enough is enough. It is time to stop diluting our holiday Holy Day. God Bless you. (steps off soapbox)
As many of you probably know, St. Francis is credited with creating the first Nativity Scene during a Christmas Eve Mass. In 1223, he staged a live recreation of Luke's account in Greccio, Italy, to help tell the story of our Savior - and to remind people that their focus at Christmas should be on the birth of Christ, not the materialism of the world. (It is said that that scene was so blessed, that when the cattle ate the hay St. Francis used as a prop, they were cured of all their diseases!) The other day I came across St. Bonaventure's version of that wondrous event and was moved by the following line: "The Man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant in joy..." And that got me thinking ... how many times do I stand before a Nativity scene with that much emotion? Do I treat each scene that I encounter with the reverence Christ's birth deserves? Or do I treat them as just another Christmas decoration? I pray that, during this Advent season, all of us feel the same awe and joy that St. Francis did that night. God Bless you.
"Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" - Jesus Christ, to the Good Thief (and hopefully, someday, to us)
By now you know today's reading is my favorite Gospel passage. Here are some of my thoughts about the Good Thief (St. Dismas) from this weekend:
I wonder if the heever met Jesus. It wouldn't be that unrealistic. There is a chance he heard Jesus preaching as he walked past him. We tend to forget what life was like back then, and surely a figure like Jesus would draw attention as He entered a village.
Did he insult Jesus first?Matthew and Mark both tell us that those crucified next to Jesus jeered Him. Perhaps St. Dismas realized the error of his ways while witnessing Christ's behavior on the cross.
The fact that Jesus tells the St. Dismas that he will join Him in Paradise shows God's unbelievable mercy. Did the Good Thief give a full confession on the cross? It doesn't sound like it. Was he baptized? It doesn't sound like it. So why was he saved? One reason, and one reason only... God's great mercy.
His scene is actually a Station of The Cross. Number 11 to be exact. I sometimes forget that because most churches still have the original Stations up. (As you know, Pope John Paul II instituted a series of 14 new Stations to more accurately align to the Gospels)
His teaches us to act. Now. What if the Good Thief waited to ask Jesus to remember him? We may never know, but we do know that God is always ready to forgive us. He waits for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And yet, few of us take frequent advantage of that.
I pray that one day we all get to hear the same words St. Dismas did - Jesus telling us we will be joining Him in Paradise.
Occasionally, we have guest speakers from other faiths at our church.
This week, we had a priest from the local Greek Orthodox Church come in and talk to us about the similarities and differences in our faiths.
I am embarrassed to say I knew very little about Greek Orthodoxy before that talk - other than that they celebrated Easter on a different date than Roman Catholics do.
But as the title of this blog states, it is no longer Greek to me. I thought I'd share some of the more interesting points from our chat:
The Greek in Greek Orthodox does not stand for the location, but the language. The priest told us that Greek cultural elements are often played up because so many Greek Orthodox members are of Greek heritage, but it is the language that drives the name.
We (Roman Catholics) share a thousand year history with Orthodoxy.
We both believe in Apostolic succession, the intercession of Saints, share the same bible, believe the Eucharist is actually the Body and Blood of Christ, share the seven Sacraments, and worship in a Mass format.
There are three main differences that he pointed out:
Roman Catholics believe in the Infallibility of the Pope.The Orthodox faith does not, and instead, believes that the Holy Spirit will guide a council (synod) of high ranking bishops. (He likened it to the way the Apostles made decisions after Jesus had died.) They do have a Ecumenical Patriarch, who is "the first among equals" and spiritual guide - but he still only has one vote vs supreme authority.
Roman Catholics believe Mary was free of Original Sin. The Greek Orthodox faith, he said, believes Mary was sinless, but does not believe Original Sin is passed down from one generation to another.
Roman Catholic priests cannot marry. Orthodox priests can marry before ordination. (Orthodox Bishops cannot marry at all)
He mentioned that the Ecumenical Patriarch must sit in Constantinople (present day Turkey), despite they fact that most followers have left the area due to persecution and violence.
In any case, I've always found it helpful to hear about other faiths so that I can understand the similarities and differences. I think that is important as we profess our Faith.
What really moved me about his lecture, though, was that he tried very hard to focus on the similarities in our faiths. He said there are too many people in the world that look for differences and try to drive wedges between things. He thinks of himself as a bridge builder - someone who always looks for a way to bring people together.
I think that is a pretty good message, no matter what your faith.
Did you know that Halloween has roots in Christianity? Halloween is basically an abbreviated form of the phrase All Hallows Eve. Hallow, as a verb, means "to make holy". But as an old English noun, it means Saint. Thus, Halloween is really the eve before our All Saints Day. That part, you may have known. But did you also know that earlier Christians believed that there was less separation between purgatory and earth at this time - thus increasing the odds that we could see spirits - or ghosts. Therefore, we owe some of the traditional costumes to these beliefs. (We can thank commercialism for Power Rangers, Princesses, Minions, and the like.) Over time, however, these roots have been lost. For most people, there is almost no connection between All Saints Day and Halloween anymore. In fact, Halloween is probably a day more associated with devils and evil than Holiness. Which got me thinking ... What if more people dressed up as Saints? Wouldn't that be great? Can you imagine answering the door, asking "And what are you dressed up as?", only to hear "St. John!" or "St. Therese!" What if, instead of giving kids their 50th Snickers bar, we handed them a card with a Saint and a prayer on it? Wouldn't that be refreshing? God Bless.
As you probably know, we are in Liturgical Cycle C - which means almost every Sunday we hear a reading from Luke's Gospel. Given that, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the unique things about Luke and his writings:
Only Luke records the Annunciation, Visitation, the Presentation and Finding in the Temple
We get the Magnificat ("My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord") from Luke's Gospel (1:46-55)
Only Luke writes about Simeon's Song of Praise ("Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace", 2:29-32)
The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Good Thief can only be found in Luke
Luke's Gospel is the longest in the New Testament
Only Luke records our Blessed Mother's words "God has cast down the mighty and has lifted up the lowly" (1:46-55)
The shepherds visiting the baby Christ is found in Luke
Of the Gospel writers, only Luke wrote a sequel (Acts)
Luke was the only non-Jew, New Testament writer (he was likely Greek)
And of course, only Luke wrote that line that inspired many blogs blog across the internet: "Amen, I say to you, today, you will be with me in Paradise."
Ten percent. That is how many lepers returned to thank Jesus in today's Gospel. Just a single foreigner out of a group of ten cured people. I admit, I scoff at the 90% every time I hear this passage. I mean, the nerve of these folks. Our Lord takes time out of His glorious day to perform a miracle for them, and only one has the decency to come back and thank Him? Yes, I scoff at them, even though I go day in and day out forgetting to thank my Savior for the miracles He has done for me. Today alone I have yet to thank Him for the gift of of my life, for the breath I just took. I did not thank Him for the fact that I went to Mass without fear for my life. Nor did I thank Him for the gift of our pastor, my family, or my friends. I did not thank Him for the abundant food I had to eat, the roof over my head, or the fact that I can write this very post. I failed to thank Him for calling me to follow Him, my faith, and everything He has forgiven me for. In fact, I'm starting to think that if I thanked Him for "only" 10% of the miracles He has given me ... it would be an improvement. God Bless.
Let me first start by saying this is not a political post. Nor is it about the tragedy in Syria, and what the right or wrong thing to do there is. But much like my last post, it is about religion in the public arena and how strange, yet refreshing, it is. Even when it comes from somewhere unexpected - like Russia's Vladimir Putin. For those of you that missed it, Putin wrote an Op-ed piece to all Americans in the NY Times this week. Again, I am not going to focus on whether he is right or wrong on Syria, if he is a good person or leader - or any other related topic for that matter. What I am going to focus on is the way he ended his letter. "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created equal." Wow. How refreshing is THAT to see a world leader (other than the great Pope Francis, of course) use this kind of language? Just like last week's comic about Grace, this really stood out to me because of how rare it has become. Equally important, however, is that that statement is true and the world needs to hear it! Forget that it was used in context of the civil war in Syria, or that is was used to counter (perhaps out of context) Obama's statement about Americans being exceptional. We all need to be reminded of our equality, humbleness, and humility - every day. God Bless. And please pray for Peace.
I came across this comic over the weekend. I'm not sure if it is ironic or sad that the part that gave me pause wasn't the whole "texting grace" thing. It was that they were saying grace at all. Or that something so "religious" was being printed in a national comic strip. I miss the days where Peanuts, Family Circus, and other comics regularly included Christian snippets in their humor. I miss the days where our Presidents use to say God Bless America at the end of speeches. And I miss the days where grace was a common event around the family dinner table. Sincerely, Waxing Nostalgic
Thanks to a popular YouTube video, many people have now unfortunately heard of the book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. This is sad, as the author uses the book to present Jesus as just another revolutionary - a violent one at that. Worse yet, he uses incorrect facts, questionable arguments, and cherry picks information to support his claims. In fact, one just need read his excerpt to find numerous issues:
"The most widely accepted theory on the formation of the Gospels holds that Mark's [gospel] was written after 70AD." Not true. As many, if not more, scholars believe all the Gospels were written before that - if for no other reason than they would have recorded the destruction of the temple in 70AD to show Jesus's prophesy had come true. In addition, we know that Acts ends around 60AD (and does not mention Paul's death in 65AD - something Luke surely would have done). Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Luke preceded Acts, which means it would have been written before 65AD.
The author basically claims that because Jesus was crucified (a death reserved for the "crime of sedition") He must have been a zealot and revolutionary. Also not true. The Romans had no choice but to crucify Jesus because he did not deny being a King. That had to be taken as a direct threat to the throne back then, no matter how seriously they believed Him (or the Jewish leaders claims). It would not have taken angry mobs and a crazy man to lead to that. In fact, one wonders if Jesus would have made it onto Pilate's list had the Jews not thrust Him there so forcefully.
In addition, he claims that because two other revolutionaries were crucified next to Jesus, Jesus must have been a violent Zealot. Right. I can hear them now ... "Wait, Titus, make sure we put all the violent ones next to each other. We don't want to mix the violent and non-violent revolutionaries when we mindlessly crucify them."
He claims that the Evangelists do not paint a historical picture of Jesus the man. This is partially true, but does mean it should be disregarded. The Evangelists did not write like historians do today. That wasn't their goal. Their goal was to write pieces of the overall story to further the teachings of Christ. So saying they left out many details of the life of Jesus is true. Tossing them all out because of such is tomfoolery.
Gnostic gospels proved that "even those that walked with" Jesus had diverging opinions over who He was. While true that there must have been varying levels of belief, the author leaves out the fact that many of the gnostic "authors" are believed to have used apostles names to lend weight to their own opinions. Scholars have already poured through these to point out inconsistencies and untruths. P.S. you cannot throw out the New Testament but then use the Gnostic Gospels in your argument!
"The problem with pinning down the historical Jesus is that, outside of the New Testament, there is almost no trace of the man." Isn't this the definition of cherry picking? Let me get this straight ... aside from the most widespread accounts of Jesus's life, there is almost no record of Him. Oh, and disregard the fact that He lived in a time and society that relied on the oral word over the written one. Ok. Gotcha.
The most ironic part of this excerpt, is that the author states that there are only two hard historical facts - that Jesus was a Jew who led a popular movement, and the Romans crucified him. IF that were the case, and we agreed to throw out the New Testament because it didn't agree with the author's thinking, then why would this book Zealot be any different? Why can the author take general information about the time Jesus lived in and come up with a more accurate biography? Its preposterous! It would be like someone two thousand years from now writing your biography based on what people in your country generally were like. Oh, and throwing out your diary, your friend's Facebook posts, and that recommendation your boss gave you since they didn't fit the story.
Bonus material: While I have not read the book (and won't, given the glaring errors), my research led me to other folks who pointed out even more inaccuracies and cherry picking. For example, the author uses New Testament passages where they help him (Jesus was violent because he said "I have come not to bring peace but the sword") but not when they hurt his argument (eg, Jesus stopping Peter from using his sword in Gethsemane). The author also claims Mark does not mention the Resurrection (I guess Mark 16:6 "He has risen" could be confusing) and that Luke does not refer to Paul as an Apostle (I can see how Acts 14:14 "But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this ..." might be unclear).
It is sad that the author believes this method of research is accurate for defining who Jesus was. It is even sadder that many will read this and rethink their faith.
Thus, I end this post with a prayer, and I ask you to join me. I pray that the author will find the true Jesus, and that the readers of his book will use the errors and blatant twisting of information to become even more ardent supporters of Christ.
Over 3 million gather in Brazil to hear Pope Francis (AP image)
I grow more in awe of our "new" Pope every week. To be honest, I was hooked from minute #1, when he chose the name Francis and asked us to pray for him. My admiration grew as I heard that he stopped his motorcade to kiss a baby, took the bus instead of the limousine, and paid his own hotel bill. Then came Holy Thursday. I remember stopping dead in my tracks when I heard he spent that day at a juvenile detention center. This is someone who is going to teach us by example, I kept saying to myself. My admiration is now at an almost-fanatical stage as I read what he told millions of people in Brazil yesterday: "At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity," he said, "Without the grammar of simplicity the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of His mystery." He gets it. All my Catholic life I have been frustrated with the intellectualism of our Faith. So many religious documents can barely be understood by the most learned, so many classes taught as if the students were Theological doctorates, and so many homilies preached as if the audience were only Cardinals. What was missing in all of them was a connection. And to state the obvious, people tend to hang around with principles and people they understand and connect with. Often times, that connection begins with simplicity. After all, Jesus didn't use some sophisticated language when he preached to those around Him. His preferred method was the memorable parable. Pope Francis gets that. I pray that he continues to dazzle us with simplicity in message and action, and that his example converts millions to (and back to) our Faith. God Bless.
Martha and Mary. Heard it for what must be the hundredth time in today's Gospel. The first ninety-nine times I asked what on earth Martha must have been thinking ... fussing about such trivial matters while Jesus was right there in her midst. The one-hundredth time I realized I was her. God Bless.
Today's gospel about the Good Samaritan is probably one of the most famous stories Jesus ever told. Heck, even the term "Good Samaritan" is still used in our vernacular today. I remember hearing the story as a child, and thinking the lesson was so simple. "The third guy is good, because he assisted someone who needed help," I would tell my Catechism teacher. It was quite simple, and there were no other lessons. It didn't matter if the people in the story were black, white, named Raman or Sue. A person was in need, and a good person helped him. Just the way Jesus would want us to live. As I got older, I remember how smart I felt when I learned all the nuances in the story. That the road to Jericho was dangerous and filled with bandits. That the priest and Levite probably didn't help the Samaritan because they were worried about their own safety or purity. That Samaritans and Jews despised each other. Now when I explain this story to someone, I go on and on about these intricate details. And I use modern day examples like Sunnis and Shiites (or some cultures and Americans) to explain the shock value Jesus used. Hearing the story today, though, made me wonder if I over complicate things as I get "smarter". I thought about 6 year-old me, and that maybe it is best to strip away all the noise and focus on the most important point (one we still struggle with today): If someone is in need, we, as Christians, are to help them. Not to think about whether they really need help, or how it might affect us, or what race they are. Just help. Lord knows there are enough people out there that need it.
Did you know that on June 19, a decree was announced, granting priests permission to add Joseph to the Eucharistic Prayer? In Eucharistic Prayer II, for example, you may now hear:
"... with the most Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, with Blessed Joseph, her spouse, with the Blessed Apostles..." Ironically, both of our current Popes have bonds to St. Joseph. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's was, of course, baptized Joseph Ratzinger. And Pope Francis, as we fondly remember, chose The Solemnity of St. Joseph as the date for his inaugural Mass. He also has a spikenard, a symbol of St. Joseph, on his coat-of-arms. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. God Bless.
Yesterday I read Matthew 6, and came across a phrase I wish I remembered more often:
Can any of you, by worrying, add a single moment to your life-span?
Jesus asks His followers this on the Mount, but we should be reminding ourselves of this every day.
Let's face it - we humans are a worrisome people. We worry about our loved ones, our jobs, our finances. We worry about terrorism and nuclear war. We worry about our health, illnesses, aches and pains. And we Worry (with a capital W) about death.
But Jesus reminds us that all this worrying is for naught. God knows what we need. And He has a plan.
So really, the only thing we should be "worrying" about, is whether we are following God's commandments and loving Him to our fullest.
And here I was worried I wouldn't know what to blog about this week!
Did you ever hear or read something about our Faith and say to yourself, "that sounds like something I should have known in first grade"?
If you do, welcome to the club - because it happens to me all the time. This week, for example, I read that every prayer should have the following modes:
In other words, we should start our prayers by praising God, and telling Him how much we love him. Then we should spend time reflecting on our sins and asking God for forgiveness. Next, we should thank God for everything He has given for us.
Then we can ask God for that favor we need, or the blessings we want.
Such a simple formula, and yet, it has eluded me for (mumble mumble) years. Don't get me wrong, I know we are supposed to do each of those. I just never saw it laid out so perfectly like that.
I'm sure it was taught to me. I'm sure one of my Pastors tried to tell it to me. I'm sure I skimmed across it in many a book. It just never hit me over the head like it did this week.
Probably because I was too busy asking God for favors ....
There is so much to write about today's readings, but the one thing that keeps jumping out at me is Paul's epistle to the Corinthians. I remember when I found out that this letter was likely the first written document to mention the events of the Last Supper. At the time, I would have bet $50 it was Mark. Or Matthew. Or the infamous Q. But many scholars believe 1 Corinthians was written around 55 AD, which is about 10 years earlier than the first Gospel and a mere 25 years or so after Jesus' death. One simple letter carries such immense historical significance. I can't stop thinking about that. God Bless. P.S. Did you know 1 Corinthians is the only place the phrase "Lord's Supper" is used in the entire Bible?
I know many people who question Catholicism. It's not that they don't want to believe, per se, but it is that they need more evidence. Or explanation. The Trinity comes up in almost all of those conversations. "How can one Person be three People?" they ask. First I correct them, and explain that God is not a person like us. It is important that they understand that, first and foremost. Yes, Jesus came to us in human form, but certainly God is something much more Spiritual than us. That alone should help us realize that the Trinity is beyond Human example. Then I try to use something earthly to help them along. Take water for example. It can take the form of liquid, ice or steam. Three different forms, but still H2O at its core. Most people usually get this, but can't make the leap from water to God. Then I usually end the conversation by saying that I don't fully understand the Trinity either. This is usually received with confusion. I explain that it is impossible for us to fully understand the Trinity, and many other Mysteries. We can only understand up to a point, and the delta between that point, and the full understanding, is made up by Faith. The difference between them and me, I explain, is not that I understand God's mysteries any more than they do. The difference is the amount of Faith we have. And then I say a silent prayer to the Holy Spirit to strengthen theirs. God Bless.
"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues." - Acts 2:4 Well then, the Holy Spirit must be with me. Half the time, when I talk, people look at me like I am speaking a different language, too! < drum rimshot > A Blessed Pentecost to all of you.
"Lord Jesus, we are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song. May we radiate the joy of Easter and live in the reality of Christ's victory over sin and death." This was my reflection on Friday and I've been reading it since. There is something so beautiful about it. And instead of cluttering it up with my rambling, I'm just going to let it sit there in all its splendor. "Lord Jesus, we are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song. May we radiate the joy of Easter and live in the reality of Christ's victory over sin and death."
The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to continue learning about our Catholic faith. It is important for many reasons, not the least of which is so we can understand God's will for us, and learn to love and obey Him to our fullest. But it is also important so that you can correctly spread the Word. The key word there is correctly. Because incorrect "preaching" is sometimes worse than no preaching at all. For example, last week an NBA player publicly admitted he was gay. This was followed by a prominent sportscaster bashing him on his show, telling the world that homosexuality is a sin. I believe the sportscaster meant well, and I give him credit for speaking up as a Christian in a world where it is not politically correct to do so. But he was wrong. It is not a sin to be gay. According to Catholic teaching, it is a sin to have sexual relations outside of marriage (which can only be between a man and woman). Regardless of whether you are gay, straight, or something in between. But being gay in and of itself is not a sin. Why does this matter? Because when we misrepresent Catholic teaching, we run the risk of people turning their backs on the Faith, or practicing it incorrectly (and teaching others to do the same). Like I said, I believe this sportscaster was trying to do the right thing. But he may have done more harm than good. It highlights the importance of continually learning what the Church teaches so we can help others do the same. God Bless.
Today's first reading starts off simply enough: Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. But what gets lost in that brief sentence is what that journey entailed. Assuming they travelled by land, it would include:
More than 100 miles of walking. At a pace of less than 20 miles per day.
Rugged terrain - with steep roads (over 12,000 feet at its highpoint), deadly flash floods and rapidly changing weather.
Robbers, robbers, and more robbers. Even the Roman soldiers did not travel on this route without a garrison. In fact, depending on what exact route they took, its quite possible they traversed the most dangerous road in the Roman Empire.
Oh and this was most likely after the little episode where Paul was lashed 39 times, shipwrecked, and fell deathly ill.
It is remarkable what Paul, Barnabas, and other disciples did so that we could learn the faith, isn't it?
What really stuck with me this week, was that Thomas gets a bad rap.
Nine times out of ten, he is singled out as Doubting Thomas, not grouped with the other Apostles.
And part of that does wonders for our faith. As Victor so astutely points out in this post, Thomas provided us with even more evidence of Christ's Resurrection.
But the ironic thing - the thing that kept nagging at me all week - was that all of the Apostles were doubting Thomases, were they not?
Jesus told them that He was going to rise on the third day, and they still sat locked in their homes after His death, afraid and confused. It was not until they saw Him that they believed.
Likewise, when Mary Magdalene tells the Apostles that she saw the risen Lord, Luke tells us they did not believe her.It was not until John and Peter see the empty tomb that they believed her.
Weren't they just like Thomas? Did they not need visible proof before they believed?
Don't get me wrong, I don't think we need to add "Doubting" in front of every Apostle's name. Heck, if that were the case, we'd have to add it to all of ours as well. But maybe we can add an asterisk or something next to Thomas' to clarify that he wasn't the only one. Or put air quotes around "doubting" to indicate the irony.
Perhaps I will send a note to our newly elected Pope and see if he will champion this cause for me.
(Yes, I know what you are thinking. You'll believe it when you see it...)