Saturday, April 14, 2007

A sad story...and a little confustion

I heard in this story about the Vatican's decision not to attend the Yad Vashem invitation. As a person who lived in Israel for a while and someone who visited this particular Holocaust museum, I know that whatever we can do to help improve relations with the Jewish people is a good thing. But, I understand that we have to protect the memory of Pope Pius XII, especially since he has has been defamed largely in the last 35 to 40 years, not only after his death but after years of adulation by the Jewish community over what he did do.

It's sad that the Vatican has to prepare a 3000 page document defending Pius XII before his beatification ceremony
. But I need some help. What the heck does the first story mean by "sparked a row". I'm assuming, contextually, it means that it has upset people but does it mean something else?


The Pope is releasing a book about the life of Christ. My order from Amazon was in about two months ago. I've been patient and, soon, according to this article, it shall be rewarded!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A difference between Catholics and Protestans, though not shared by all protestants

The other day, I blogged about lecturing to a class at Iowa State. It was a great experience for me in overcoming fears and such. I did have a slight annoyance at a fundamentalist that asked the predetermined "Catholics are not a Bible church" question. I say it was predetermined because it really didn't follow from what I had just said to him at all. He asked why the Catholic Church revers Mary and I said because Mary was 1. Jesus' mother who 2. kept things about him in her heart, and was 3 the faithful disciple who stayed with him even to the point of watching him die on the cross. I even 4. cited the magnificat in which the disciple says to Mary, "all generations will call you blessed." I'd say an answer that involved four direct referances to the Bible could be considered fairly well based on the Bible. But, not according to this lad. He had his point and, by god, he was going to make it! He asked if I could see that we weren't a Bible church so I tried to point out to the lad that several aspects of Christianity were developed outside of the Bible but I could tell that this kid hadn't heard a word I said the entire 80 minute presentation. So why should he start now?

As I read over the Pope's Wednesday audience on Ignatius of Antioch (a spiritual hero of mine!), it occurred to me that this is a huge difference between the catholic church and fundamentalist evangelicals. The difference is that Jesus didn't give us a book on which we are individually "thrown to the wolves" in order to interpret and understand it. Christ, a human, handed on the faith to other humans who, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, handed it on to others. The Bible becomes the only way to understand God in the life of an evangelical. And, even though I believe that this is, of itself, contradictory to their central criticism that Catholicism is a man-made religion, I will save that for another day. The more central criticism is that this attitude denies the historical presence of a God who "did not deem equality with God something at which to be grasped" but denied himself and became fully human. This very human Jesus remained present in the church so it is important not to just understand the portrait of Jesus in the Bible but the portrait of Jesus still working through the apostles and their successors to "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

This is at the heart of the message of the Catholic Church. History doesn't end with the death of Jesus and pick up again, rather arrogantly, at my interest. In order to be fully a Christian, we must listen to the sage wisdom of the breadth of Christian history, not just one book, even one as important as the Bible.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The dog I almost bought today!

Here's a link to the dog I almost bought today. He is the sweetest, gentlest, most beautiful dog ever. I hope, someday, I'll be able to get him or one like him.

A year in the life of Christ

It was a big year in the life of Christ. Or at least in our understanding of Christ. You might remember that the big furor last year dealing with a certain book that was being made into a major motion picture. This book and movie that shall remain nameless throughout this homily said that Jesus must have had a mistress named Mary Magdalene. He must have faked his own death and married her and had children because clearly no one can go for an entire life-time without getting married. (look at yourself). Oh, right….well, in any case, despite the dearth in evidence and the ability to transform a group of heretics that believed all flesh was sinful into the group that believed Jesus and Mary were “in the flesh” with one another, this piece of…fiction managed to do well in the theaters. Thankfully, Hollywood tossed us a bone simultaneously by releasing a movie about the birth of Christ called the Nativity. And, while I haven’t yet get the chance to see it, I’ve heard from several people that it’s well done. Recently, another discovery was made that seemed to put scientific fact to the fiction of the movie that shall remain nameless. A grave containing the burial box of Jesus, Son of Joseph. In the cave there are several other boxes, two with the name Mary. A statistical analysis says that there is a one in six hundred chance that this is not the Jesus of Nazareth…pretty good odds that it is. The Christian world looks in confusion. We believe Jesus was raised from the dead bodily. We celebrate his bodily resurrection and bodily ascension. What could this new discovery mean. Then we discover that this “new” archaeological discovery isn’t even all that new. It was discovered in 1980 and deemed unworthy of study by archaeologists. And we discover that it’s not an archaeologist that is forwarding this discovery as the tomb of Jesus and Mary Magdalene but a journalist and a high profile movie maker. Archaeologists are almost unanimous in their laughter at this find and the conclusions of this journalist who simultaneously claims that he didn’t enter into this expecting to find the Jesus of history yet all of his questions and tests are intent of proving that he has.

This persecution should come as no huge surprise to we believers. There have always been people intent on disproving the truth of Christianity. Peter, in our first reading, is articulating the first defense the church offered for her belief. His belief is that Jesus’ ministry began in his baptism and was a ministry “about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” This is consonant with the scriptural message that we hear most other weekends. Peter also says, “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” This point of actually eating and drinking with Jesus was used often to point to the fact that Jesus had a bodily resurrection. A pure spirit need not eat and drink anything since they have no body to sustain. It gives me hope that we will still eat and drink in heaven. I’d miss turkey and stuffing too much otherwise.

The resurrection account in the gospel may seem to leave this question open in a sense. Even though there is no appearance of Jesus, the disciples arose and went to the tomb and found it…empty. Not filled with bone boxes. Of course, there’s a good reason that they didn’t find the bone boxes, because that would have happened a year or so after death. Yet, the early church dealt with a rumor that they stole the body of Jesus and this was their answer; that when they went to anoint the body it was already gone. They didn’t steal the body. They were terrified that someone else had. It only makes sense to them a few hours later when Jesus appeared to them in that upper room in which Thomas is not present.

So, which do we choose to believe? A work of fiction combined with a 25 year old archaeological discovery that most scientists debunk? Or a 2000 year old institution that has consistently told the same story, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again? I imagine most of you have voted with your feet, voted in the veracity of the gospel account, not because I’ve done a lot to strengthen your faith in this homily, not because you have infinite distrust in journalists who dabble in archaeology, not even because the Pope wears cool clothes. You believe for the same reasons Peter, and Mary of Magdala believed so many years ago; because Christ has touched your life in baptism and continues to touch your life with the gifts of his body and blood which he gives to us each Sunday that we gather together in his name. We have faith that will be fulfilled in heaven and, even though we pay attention to the arguments of those who try to weaken our faith, even those only manage to strengthen it because they prove that Christ is still a threat to the institutions that promote immorality and violence. “Christ has triumphed over sin and death,” as one early Christian writer once wrote, “and hell trembles with fear.”

Another brief homily at Easter Vigil

I know what you're thinking! 2 1/2 or 3 hours? Man, I hope his homily is short. Well, you might be interested to know that in the Early church, it was common for a vigil to last all through the night. People didn’t have Swiss watches to tell them the time, instead they used the sun and moon to know when day ended and the next day began. For our Jewish brothers and sister and all in the ancient world, really, a day began and ended at sunset. And, night was the time when evil, or to use a word from the first reading we hear this night, chaos reigned. The people kept vigil by staying with one another through the chaos of night into the light of a new day. We can imagine our Christian ancestors in the faith gathered together on a night 2000 years ago when it seemed like the world was turned upside down because Jesus, the one who was to deliver them from oppression, had died on the cross. They gathered to support one another. They gathered to love one another. They gathered because their grief was too great at the loss of Jesus. The early Christian community emulated that attitude by gathering together the night before Easter. I suggested to Fr. Ev that we should move to this most primitive understanding of Easter Vigil at this liturgy by reading other readings from the Old Testament. I said that we could read from Ezekial about the dry bones that come together when they receive the Spirit of the Lord and I could talk about how, in baptism we receive the same Spirit that enlivened these dead bones and made them whole again. I thought we could read the account of David and Goliath, how David slew a mighty warrior despite his young age. I would talk about how nothing gets in the way of God’s call for us. And of course, I would have to read about the prophet Elisha and the she bears. You do know about the prophet Elisha and the she bears, right? It says in the Second book of Kings “Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. ‘Go up, baldhead,’ they shouted, ‘go up, baldhead!’ The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the children to pieces.” The word of the Lord. I believe the lesson behind that is self-explanatory.

I was set to go all night listening to readings and, unfortunately, Fr. Ev said, “No, we’ll just do it the same way we did last year.” And, being the good and obedient associate pastor, I gave in. The truth is that this liturgy has enough words in it that are meaningful. We see the prominence of fire and hear how God made fire in the creation of the world and spared Moses’ son from the fire. Yet, God’s own son was not saved from being sacrificed. We hear about how God created water and used water to rescue the Israelites from the land of slavery in Egypt. In this liturgy we will see three people who have been preparing for the Easter sacraments escape the scourge of sin and death through the waters of rebirth in baptism. There is so much that happens that, perhaps, I need to try to add to it. Maybe, we all just need a couple moments of quiet to take it all in.