Friday, April 29, 2011

Why the Jesuits Are Dying Out

The numbers for membership in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) are bleak. The average age of a Jesuit in the US is nearly 70, and "Jesuit schools" (including Georgetown) find themselves increasingly devoid of any actual Jesuits.  Most extreme are those schools like Washington Jesuit Academy, which no longer has any full-time Jesuit staff members, and who president isn't even Christian. David Mills has a great analysis as to why. I wanted to focus on one specific reason:
The situation is nearly as bad elsewhere in the country and Europe, though reportedly the Jesuits are doing much better in Africa. A once great religious order is now in the institutional equivalent of a hospice. (Though, let me be clear, I know some wonderful Jesuits.)


One can debate the reasons, but one of them seems obvious. As the author puts it, admiringly: “Jesuits are the archetype of priests with PhDs who protest in the streets or otherwise advocate for causes, often politically liberal ones.”
Forget what you feel about Ph.Ds, street protests or liberal political activism. The central point is that if that's what you want to do, why bother becoming a Jesuit at all? It's not at all any easy process, and takes years of hard work. As Mills explains, this is one obvious reason most young priests are orthodox - a love of the Church the only reason to become a priest:
The average Catholic young man, even if he grew up entirely within the Catholic educational system, knows that he has a lot of choices for what he wants to do with his life. The priesthood and the religious life have to draw him in and appeal to him in a way all the other options don’t.

He can get a Ph.D. without being a Jesuit. He can protest in the streets without being a Jesuit. He can be a political advocate without being a Jesuit. He can do all that and have a family and a job.

What he has to want, if he’s going to join the order, is to be what only a Jesuit can be. And that archetype includes fidelity to the Church’s teaching. Such a young man these days will be religiously serious, which almost always means traditional and believing. If he’s going to be a Jesuit, he’s going to be an old-fashioned one.
This point seems so obviously correct that I'm at a loss to its rebuttal. Certainly, it's not the only factor in play, but it's hardly a shocking thesis that men who are going to give up  marriage, sex and family, and turn nearly complete control of their lives (from where they live to what their occupation is) to their religious superiors want to get something out of it.

If what's being offered is participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ Himself, the ability to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, the ability to forgive sins through Divine power, the ability to call down the Holy Spirit... these things make those sacrifices not only worth it, but insignificant by comparison. But if what's being offered instead is no different from what you'd get at nearly any secular doctoral program in the country, why become a Jesuit?

So the choices modern Jesuits face are to re-emphasize the absolute centrality of the priesthood, or die. Unfortunately, Mills points to some ominous signs that there are Jesuits who'd rather simply see the Jesuit Order die out than turn the reins over to their more theologically-conservative successors. May God protect the Society of Jesus from such influences, and may the Springtime for Evangelization bear real fruit amongst the Jesuits.

Easter and Earth Day

Sunday, in addition to being Easter, was also Earth Day.  Earth Day always falls on the 22nd, and unlike the Philippines, we didn't have the good sense to just move Earth Day to Monday to avoid stepping on the toes of Christians who think the Resurrection of God the Son is more important than "Mother Earth."

But there's no reason to turn this into another battle in the "culture wars."  Instead, why not point out the fact that "Mother Earth," which is to say, "Creation," points to a Creator?  The laws of nature, and all of Creation, point to what the Declaration of Independence refers to as "Nature's God."  Look at how St. Augustine, in a 411 A.D. sermon during the octave of Easter, used the beauty of the Earth to show that we have a loving God:
"Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air, amply spread around everywhere, question the beauty of the sky, question the serried ranks of the stars, question the sun making the day glorious with its bright beams, question the moon tempering the darkness of the following night with its shining rays, question the animals that move in the waters, that amble about on dry land, that fly in the air; their souls hidden, their bodies evident; the visible bodies needing to be controlled, the invisible souls controlling them; question all these things. They all answer you, 'Here we are, look ; we're beautiful.'

Their beauty is their confession. Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not one who is beautiful and unchangeable? Finally in man himself, in order to be able to understand and know God, the creator of the universe; in man himself, I repeat, they questioned these two elements, body and soul. They questioned the very thing they themselves carried around with them; they could see their bodies, they couldn't see their souls. But they could only see the body from the soul. I mean, they saw with their eyes, but inside there was someone looking out through these windows. Finally, when the occupant departs, the house lies still; when the controller departs, what was being controlled falls down; and because it falls down, it's called a cadaver, a corpse. Aren't the eyes complete in it? Even if they're open, they see nothing. There are ears there, but the hearer has moved on; the instrument of the tongue remains, but the musician who used to play it has withdrawn.

So they questioned these two things, the body which can be seen, the soul which cannot be seen, and they found that what cannot be seen is better than what can be seen; that the hidden soul is better, the evident flesh of less worth. They saw these two things, they observed them, carefully examined each one, and they found that each, in man himself, is changeable. The body is changeable by the processes of age, of decay, of nourishment, of health improving and deteriorating, of life, of death. They passed on to the soul, which they certainly grasped as being better, and also admired as invisible. And they found that it too is changeable; now willing, now not willing; now knowing, now not knowing; now remembering, now forgetting; now frightened, now brave; now advancing toward wisdom, now falling back into folly. They saw that it too is changeable. They passed on beyond even the soul; they were looking, you see, for something unchangeable. So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the God who made things, through the things which he made."
Or look at how St. Paul, in Romans 1:18-21, makes the same argument. Paul's point is that there
The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.
These are two sides of the same coin.  Augustine praises those who, seeing nature, come to believe in God; Paul condemns those who see the same evidence for God, but refuse to.  So it's safe to say that Christians have good reason to celebrate Earth Day, since the Earth is a testament to God which even those who never hear the Gospel can see and understand.

Of course, this sort of celebration of Earth Day relegates the Earth as a beautiful gift from God, and as a means to come to see His eternal Power and Divinity.  Those who, instead, turn it into some sort of Gaia-worship are what the Bible refers to as "fools."  Specifically, Paul, in the very next breath from what I quoted above, condemns those who see the beauty of nature, and worship nature (Romans 1:22-23):
While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.
Paul's specific objection is that these idolaters "exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever" (Romans 1:25). Or put another way, Creation can't have created itself. You might as well claim that the Mona Lisa painted herself.  So Creation must have been created by a Creator, and that Creator must have been so wonderful and so powerful that He was capable of creating something so grand and so beautiful.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cardinal George Suspends Renegade Father Michael Pfleger

Cardinal Francis George has done the right thing and suspended Fr. Michael Pfleger again.  It's regrettable, but long overdue.  Father Pfleger is the archetypal out-of-control priest. You've got all the elements:

  1. He's self-obsessed and self-promoting;
  2. promotes heretical views;
  3. focuses on power and politics, rather than self-sacrifice or Christianity;
  4. promotes a heavily political strand of "social justice" theology, to the exclusion of the rest of the Gospel;
  5. ties in with a specific demographic group, alienating Catholics who aren't in that group;
  6. and has a bishop afraid to act against him, for fear of causing a controversy amongst his supporters.


These same elements, with but very slight variations, could be used to describe all sorts of problem priests. Look at rogue priests like Fr. Marek Bozek from St. Louis, who used his clout in the Polish Catholic community to justify women's ordination and schism until he was dismissed from the clerical state, and declared to have excommunicated himself.  For that matter, look at the pedophile Paul Shanley, who used blackmail and his status as a hero among "gay Catholics" to avoid any sort of church discipline at the hands of the cowardly Cdl. Law.  The result is always the same: they gather an adoring following of people, while the Body of Christ is freshly wounded by their obvious need for attention and desire to be celebrities.  The need for attention and the need to be heretical seems tied together -- after all, if they preached the same Gospel as every other Catholic priest, who would pay attention to them? How would they feel more special than other priests if they weren't constantly creating needless controversy?  Spiritual and emotional immaturity -- an inability to act like a grown Catholic man, much less a priest -- seems as much to blame as the rank heresy and the pride.  So to garner a few minutes of fame, they divide the Body of Christ.

To see the case that Fr. Pfleger, just look at the evidence.  Exhibit A goes back to when Pfleger first came to national prominence in 2008. He drew media attention because of his connection with then-Senator Barack Obama. At Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ, Jeremiah Wright invited Pfleger to give a sermon.  As you can see from the video below, he instead gave a mean-spirited political screed attacking Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama's primary opponent, as a self-entitled racist.


I'm not a Clinton fan, but this was wholly inappropriate for a church service.  It was pure politics, and consisted of personal attacks about what was going on in the quiet of Clinton's heart. Obama had the decency (or good political sense) to declare that he was "deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric," and Fr. Pfleger soon apologized. Still, I think a great many Catholics were shocked to see a priest this openly out-of-control.

Exhibit B could be any of a great number of homilies he gave attacking individuals by name from the pulpit. Most notorious was an apparent death threat against a local gun owner, John Riggio:
Pfleger then turns his attention to Riggio. “He’s the owner of Chuck’s. John Riggio. R-i-g-g-i-o. We’re going to find you and snuff you out … you know you’re going to hide like a rat. You’re going to hide but like a rat we’re going to catch you and pull you out. We are not going to allow you to continue to hide when we’re here …” 
“We’re going to keep coming back, and like Reverend Jackson says, it takes civil disobedience, if it takes whatever it takes … we’re going to snuff out John Riggio, we’re going to snuff out legislators that are voting … and we are coming for you because we are not going to sit idly. Keep on fighting, people. Keep on fighting, keep on fighting.”
Now, Fr. Pfelger claims that by threatening to snuff out John Riggio and Chicago's legislators, he was referring to something other than killing them.  Maybe so: nevertheless, it's part of a massively irresponsible string of behavior, particularly by a priest, and particularly from the pulpit.

Exhibit C has to be his support for women's ordination, a view rejected and condemned by the Catholic Church. When asked to recant, he apologized, then denounced his apology. Look at what's happened there. He's gone to Facebook to try and rally his supporters against the views of the Catholic Church, and against the clear instruction of his superior, Cardinal George.

Exhibit D could be Fr. Pfelger's decision to invite the racist, anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, to speak at St. Sabina's.  Or his decision to speak at the controversial Trinity United Church of Christ. Or any of a number of other issues which demonstrate a terrible sense of judgment and a desire to turn the Church into a political group.  This was made clear by Fr. Pfleger's threat to leave the Catholic Church if the bishop gave him an assignment he didn't want.

Finally, look at the fruits of division he's produced. His largely-unchecked heresies are having a detrimental effect on the church that now calls itself the "Faith Community" of Saint Sabina, and his congregation has started a grassroots campaign against Cardinal George, a campaign which the church faith community website actively promotes.


With all of that said, I'm pleased that Cardinal George has done the right (albeit unpopular) thing, and suspended Fr. Pfleger.  If you're wondering, the last straw was when Cdl. George (Pfleger's boss) asked him to become the principal at a Catholic high school, and Pfleger responded by threatening to leave the Catholic Church and join some other church. Clearly, a guy who makes those sorts of ultimatums is in no position to be a pastor of souls.  Seriously, this action, even in isolation, would be grounds for dismissal.  But of course, Pfleger's next move was to start a media fiasco, and make life hell for Cdl. George.

The Cardinal's letter is good (even now, he's trying to give him yet another chance), but this is the best part. After explaining that the move to become principal at St. Leo's was “a proposal, not a demand, even as I urged you to accept it,” Cdl. George continued:
That process has now been short-circuited by your remarks on national radio and in local newspapers that you will leave the Catholic Church if you are told to accept an assignment other than as pastor of Saint Sabina Parish,” Cardinal George continued. “If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish. A Catholic priest's inner life is governed by his promises, motivated by faith and love, to live chastely as a celibate man and to obey his bishop. Breaking either promise destroys his vocation and wounds the Church.  Bishops are held responsible for their priests on the assumption that priests obey them. I have consistently supported your work for social justice and admired your passion for ministry. Many love and admire you because of your dedication to your people. Now, however, I am asking you to take a few weeks to pray over your priestly commitments in order to come to mutual agreement on how you understand personally the obligations that make you a member of the Chicago presbyterate and of the Catholic Church.
With this letter, your ministry as pastor of Saint Sabina Parish and your sacramental faculties as a priest of the Archdiocese are suspended.
He concluded by noting that he'd pray for him, and that:
This conflict is not between you and me; it's between you and the Church that ordained you a priest, between you and the faith that introduced you to Christ and gives you the right to preach and pastor in his name. If you now formally leave the Catholic Church and her priesthood, it's your choice and no one else's. You are not a victim of anyone or anything other than your own statements.
Amen to all of that. I know that Cardinal George is going to get a lot of flack for doing the right thing here, but it's still the right thing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Trust the Apostles over Muhammad or Joseph Smith?

In response to Monday's post, Jon Anthony wroted:
If you take the Apostles' experiences of a Risen Christ as the starting point, then, I admit, the case for the Resurrection is very, very strong. But I'm not so sure Ludemann's confidence is well founded at all.

I mean, its based off the idea that the Apostles wouldn't have endured persecution for something they knew to be false. But doesn't this prove too much? Because these same people, for the most part, claim that the Golden Plates of Mormonism were just made up. 
And if it is true that people willing to endure persecution are such solid witnesses to their claims to have eyewitnessed truth, then what about the claims of the witnesses of these Golden Plates in Mormonism? Even if the plates were a forgery and the witnesses were tricked, what motivation would Joseph Smith have had for carrying on his claims in the face of persecution? If he had none, but did it anyway, why couldn't the Apostles have done the same? If they could have, then there is no reason to have confidence that the apostles had such experiences. 
I'm not saying the resurrection is ridiculous, only that it isn't proved, not even close, by this stuff.
This is a fair question.  When we say that the Apostles had no motive, other than the truth of the Resurrection, to undergo persecution and death, how would this not equally apply to the early Mormonism (LDS) -- or, for that matter, Muslims?  I suggest that there are two critical distinctions.

(1) Joseph Smith and Muhammad had Much More to Gain by Lying

A fair reading of the religious texts, and the histories, of Christianity, LDS, and Islam shows that folks like Joseph Smith had substantially more to gain than folks like the Apostle Thomas. In LDS, Islam, and a whole lot of other systems, the "Prophet" is afforded special privileges. Given that, the beneficiaries of these systems have a vested interest in defending them, even if there are associated risks. Lets look at all three:

A. Christianity
In the case of Christianity, it's true that the Apostles have a position of authority in the Church, sure, but there are no special privileges. They don't get to take more wives, etc., etc. In fact, as 1 Timothy 3 makes clear, church leaders are held to a higher standard than everyone else.  If you were making up a fraudulent religious system, this seems like the least sensible thing to do.

Additionally, look at the emphasis.  Almost all of it is upon Christ, who never writes a word.  It'd be much more suspicious if Jesus had written a bunch of stuff about how He was God and had risen from the dead. That's not what happened. Eyewitnesses recounted it, instead.  Of the Twelve Apostles, the vast majority of them left behind no writings at all.  Of those who wrote, many of them were bit actors in their own telling.  For example, how central are St. Mark or St. Luke or even the Apostle Jude?  St. Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer, has to constantly defend his own legitimacy, since he wasn't one of Jesus' first Disciples, by his own admission.

Of all the early Christians, Paul is closest to the "Prophet" model, in that he received a revelation directly of God, and derived his authority from that. But he's the further thing from self-aggrandizing.  Here's how he describes himself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that He was buried; that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles.  
Last of all, as to one born abnormally, He appeared to me. For I am the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Remember that, as a Jew, Paul had been a rising star. He studied under one of the greatest Rabbis in Jewish history, and was already well established as a young man.  He sacrificed all of that for ... what?  The lifelong shame of having to say, "I was wrong -- I made a name for myself attacking you Christians, and you were the ones who were right all along," coupled with the fact he underwent repeated arrest, whippings, eventually was beheaded.

B. The "Latter-Day Saints" (Mormons)
Let me give you a few examples from the LDS.  First, appended to the Pearl of Great Price, there's an entire book just about Joseph Smith and his family. There's nothing similar in the New Testament -- the Apostles talk about Christ and the Church, and bring in their life experiences only to prove their points.  Second, one of the books Joseph Smith "found" contains a prophesy in which Joseph (son of Jacob) talks about the great seer who's going to come in the future named Joseph (2 Nephi 3:6-25).  It's obviously a reference to Joseph Smith himself -- he's written himself into the story, even though we see nothing about Joseph Smith in any of the Old or New Testament.  When there's a dispute between some of the early LDS, Joseph Smith receives another revelation that he's right and they're wrong, and that he's the boss of the guys he's feuding with (see D&C 30:7)  So LDS is much more aggrandizing of Joseph Smith than the New Testament is of the Apostles. Just read the Gospels and see with what esteem their discipleship of Christ is treated. On nearly every page, you see the Twelve making some embarrassing mistake or other. That, on its own, is evidence that Joseph Smith had much more motive to lie (and to stick with that lie, even under pressure).  Beyond this, Joseph Smith also became President of the Church and Mayor of Nauvoo. He was the final secular and religious authority.

But there's more. Doctrines and Covenants continually praises Joseph Smith, and D&C 132 permitted Joseph Smith to take extra "wives," and threatened Emma Smith (his actual wife) with damnation if she tried to stop him. That is, "God" threatened her by name.  So, by presenting himself as Prophet, Joseph Smith now can have as many women as he wants, and is considered the second (only to Jesus) greatest man in history. There are all kinds of motives to keep up the charade there.  The same can be said of the other men who were involved in promoting the LDS church.  I'm not in any position to say who were duped and who were devious, but giving that all men were allowed to cheat on their wives, again, the motive is there. They wouldn't exactly be the first men in history to create an elaborate cover story to hide the fact that they want to run around town with other women.

C. Islam
Likewise, look at the Qu'ran, in which huge chunks are Allah devoting praise upon Muhammad, and giving him special privileges.  Like Joseph Smith, he gets the privilege of infinite wives:
50. O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.
(Qu'ran 33:50).   Same thing as before. If you're the "prophet" and founder of the religion, you get ladies.  Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad suffered from some marital problems (the curse of multiple wives, it seems).  So "Allah" intervened again:
1. O Prophet (you who are the greatest representative of Prophethood)! Why do you forbid (yourself) what God has made lawful to you, seeking to please your wives. And God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.  
2. God has already decreed for you (O believers) on the breaking of your oaths (to do what is not just and right, and the expiation thereof). God is your Guardian, and He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. 
(Qu'ran 66:1-2).  Muhammad really has to have his arm twisted into getting the privilege to have a bunch of wives, and the privilege to be able to make oaths and then renounce them. After this, by the way, there's a prophesy that if these women don't submit to him, they'll all go to hell and he'll get better wives.

(2) Joseph Smith and Muhammad Had Much Less to Lose

The key to the idea Jon's addressing is this.  People won't undergo torture and death for no reason.  And in the case of the Apostles, it's hard to surmise a plausible reason other than "they truly believed" as a motive for their willingness to suffer and die. After all, they almost run to martyrdom.  Compare this with Muhammad, who was never martyred, and Joseph Smith, who was martyred by surprise.

In Joseph Smith's case, he had started the Nauvoo Legion, a militia of 5000 men. Ultimately, he was arrested for this, and other forms of treason. He'd originally planned to flee the state, but his followers convinced him to turn himself in (for which he denounced them).  He then declared himself like a lamb going to the slaughter, which would have been much more impressive if he hadn't been planning on running away.  At this point, it was far from certain that the jury would even return a guilty verdict.  Nevertheless, Joseph Smith had at least two backup plans.  First, he had someone smuggle a gun to him in prison. And second, he planned on the Nauvoo Legion breaking him out of jail (again, how this is compatible with "lamb to the slaughter" is a bit beyond me).  Instead of the Legion, an anti-LDS mob showed up.  Joseph Smith shot two of them before being gunned down himself, as this Mormon apologetics website concedes.

Muhammad also lived by the sword, but much more successfully, managing to escape his enemies and die of illness.  Now, I'm not claiming that the mere fact that both "Prophets" moonlighted as killers automatically discredits them (although it's definitely a black mark).  But I am suggesting that they weren't simply turning themselves peacefully over for martyrdom, the way that the Apostles did. In other words, in neither case is there any real evidence that these men were up for dying for their faith.  And thus, no particular evidence that they believed their faiths.

Conclusion
LDS made Joseph Smith. Islam made Muhammad. Both went from being obscure figures to superstars within their own lifetimes.  They reaped the rewards of fame, glory, and an unlimited supply of adoring women. On the other hand, St. Paul was already a superstar within Rabbinical Judaism, a student of one of the most famous rabbis of all time, and he renounced his sole claim to glory to join what was viewed as a blasphemous and heretical sect. Then, he willingly went to his death, getting beheaded.

It's quite plausible to see why Joseph Smith might be willing to shoot his way out of jail to get back to the women and glory, or why Muhammad the emperor-prophet would be more than willing to slay those who got in his way. It's pretty unclear to me why the Apostles - again, with nothing to win and everything to lose by lying - would let themselves be tortured and killed by the Romans.

So the idea, then, is not that people will never suffer for a lie.  Rather, it's that people will never suffer for a lie for no reason.  People are, on the whole, pretty sane. If they have to go through a little persecution to keep the adoring following and the countless women, they might think it's worth it. I think the evidence permits one to think that this is exactly what happened with the early Mormon and Muslim leadership (not that you have to think this, but that it's pretty plausible). I don't see how a similar case can be made for orthodox Christianity, without distorting the historical record quite a bit.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Robert Ritchie adds two rather significant details I hadn't known:
  1. Eight of the eleven alleged witnesses would eventually leave the Mormon church or be excommunicated (although some returned).  This includes all three of the first three witnesses, and the four Whitmers.  Put another way, all of the "witnesses" who weren't close relatives to Joseph Smith left or were forced out of Smith's church.
  2. It's not entirely clear that the "witnesses" to the Mormon Golden Plates claimed to have witnessed the plates in an objective sense. Martin Harris and David Whitmer, two of the original three witnesses, described the plates at various points as having been a spiritual, not physical, event. That is, they weren't actually claiming to be eyewitnesses, but to have had trances and visions.
In researching what'd he said, I found a few other interesting details:
  1. After the first three witnesses "saw" the golden plates, Joseph Smith had a "revelation" that no one else would see them. (D&C 5:11-14).  After this, Joseph Smith claimed that eight other people saw them. 
  2. Martin Harris, one of the first three, denied that the last eight had actually seen the plates.  So the witnesses' stories are irreconcilably contradictory, and contrary to the alleged Mormon Scriptures themselves. 
  3. Additionally, in this period, a number of the alleged witnesses attempted to use their status of witnesses to acquire positions of power.  Most notably, David Whitmer claimed that just as he'd seen the golden plates, he also had a vision that he was to leave the Mormon church and start his own church. Mormons believe Whitmer's first "vision" but claim the second one was a delusion or a hoax.Whitmer, and four other members of his family (all alleged witnesses to the golden plates) were excommunicated.
So there was plenty of motive to lie, little collaboration between witnesses, and outright allegations that the others were lying.  But even if everyone was telling the truth, it's not clear that they initially claimed to be describing an actual eyewitness account, instead of a mystical experience.


UPDATE 2: If you're interested, here are the eleven witnesses, starting with the first "Three Witnesses," the only ones initially recognized by Mormonism:

  1. Oliver Cowdery, former "Assistant President of the Church," excommunicated for some time after a leadership struggle against Joseph Smith. May have denied the authenticity of the visions during this period, based upon an LDS poem asking if the Book of Mormon was not His Word simply "because denied, by Oliver?" Despite apparently joining Mormonism, he had a Methodist funeral.
  2. Martin Harris, left Mormonism.  After Joseph's death, Harris became a Strangite, Whitmerite, Gladdenite, Williamite, and possibly a Shaker, before returning to Mormonism again.
  3. David Whitmer, excommunicated. Tried to start his own church because he was a "witness," and claimed additional messages from God (messages universally rejected by LDS Mormons).
  4. Christian Whitmer, excommunicated.
  5. Jacob Whitmer, excommunicated.
  6. Peter Whitmer, Jr., excommunicated.
  7. John Whitmer, excommunicated.
  8. Hiram Page, left the church.
  9. Joseph Smith, Sr., Joseph's father. Served as the first "Presiding Patriarch" until his death, and was a Master Freemason.
  10. Hyrum Smith, Joseph's brother. Served as the second "Presiding Patriarch" (after his dad) and second "Assistant President of the Church" (after Cowdery was excommunicated). Died before Joseph.
  11. Samuel Smith, Joseph's brother. Was on the High Council. Died shortly after Joseph and Hyrum. According to William Smith (another Smith brother), he was poisoned by Brigham Young to stop him from becoming the new LDS President.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Hilarious Way of Proving Baptismal Regeneration

So, there's a Lutheran Youtube channel, "Lutheran Satire," run by a conservative Lutheran (LCMS) named Hans Fiene, and it's hysterical.  While presented pretty tongue-in-cheek, the clips often make serious points on everything from theological liberalism to Evangelicalism, points on which we Catholics can readily assent to.  A few weeks ago, he posted what may be his best clip, this time, on Baptismal regeneration.  The basic premise is that if the Apostles meant to say that Baptism was merely a symbol, they made a lot of mistakes in writing the exact opposite. Or, as the caption on the clip says,
If it's true that Baptism doesn't work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, or give eternal life to all who believe, then why do the apostles say the exact opposite of that every time they talk about baptism?Watch this super true story to find out.


In case you can't watch it, or hate those computer-generated voices, I transcribed it.  The clip starts out by quoting some of those who deny baptismal regeneration, namely, Evangelicals and Mormons:
  • "Water baptism is a symbol of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ and a testimony to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." - Lakewood Church
  • "You're not saved through baptism ... It's not getting wet that makes you a Christian.  If so, baptism is nothing more than superstition." - Mark Driscoll
  • "He that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity... wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell." - Moroni 8:14, The Book of Mormon.
To show the absurdity of this view, which Hans notes is (1) contrary to the universal teaching of the Church for 75% of Her history (1500 years), and (2) contrary to the way the Bible describes Baptism, the clip imagines what it would have been like if the Apostles had meant the Evangelical view. At this point, we're introduced two characters, playing the Apostle Paul and Mark the Evangelist, in which they discover that while they supposedly meant to say Baptism does nothing, they accidentally said the exact opposite, repeatedly:

St. Mark: Hello, Paul.
St. Paul: Hello, Mark.
Mark: So, I was just about to send out the letter to the Romans, but I wanted to double-check something with you first.
Paul: Okay.
Mark: So, you know how Baptism is something the believer does for God?
Paul: Yes.
Mark: And how it's just a symbol?
Paul: Yes.
Mark: And how nothing actually happens in Baptism?
Paul: Yes.
Mark: And how Baptism doesn't actually do anything?
Paul: Yes.
Mark: Okay, yeah. You totally said the opposite in Chapter 6.
Paul: What? What did I write, again?
Mark"We were buried with Him, by Baptism, into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life." [Romans 6:4]
Paul: I don't get it. What's the problem?
Mark: The problem is that you don't say that Baptism represents dying to sin and rising to new life. You say that Baptism accomplishes those things.
Paul: So instead of Baptism doesn't do anything, I said it does everything?
Mark: Yes.
Paul: Oops!
Mark: So maybe you should rewrite that before I send it out, so people don't get confused.
Paul: I don't know, that's a lot of work.  Maybe they'll figure out what I meant by the other stuff I say about Baptism.  Do you remember what I wrote to Titus?
Mark: "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us not because of works down by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit Who He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior." [Titus 3:4-7]
Paul: Saved us "by the washing of regeneration"? So, I ...
Mark:  ... said the exact opposite of "Baptism doesn't do anything' again? Yes.  Also, I'm worried that what you said in Colossians might make people think they should baptize babies.
Paul: What?! Why would anyone do a crazy thing like that?
Mark: Because in Chapter 2, v. 11-12, you refer to Baptism as the "circumcision made without hands." And, of course, Israelite baby boys were circumcised at eight days old.
Paul: Dang it. I really need to stop writing these letters after four glasses of wine. [Pauses, looks at the screen]  ... I mean "grape juice."  Okay, maybe people will figure out what I meant by what the other Apostles wrote. Did Peter say anything about Baptism in his letter?
Mark: "Baptism now saves you."
Paul: [long pause] Well, poo. So as it stands, the situation is that everyone has accidentally said exactly the opposite of what we've meant every single time we've talked about Baptism?
Mark: Pretty much, yeah. Should we call for a Council in Jerusalem to fix this?
Paul: I'm not sure. What's the worst that could happen if we just let it go?
Mark: People will baptize babies for the next 1500 years, before a bunch of Reformation-piggybacking whack-a-doodle Germans magically figure out what we really meant the whole time.
Paul: [Pause] I can live with that. 
After the end credits run, there's a funny post-script:
Paul: Also, what did I write about that other symbol that doesn't actually do anything?  What's it's called... the Lord's Supper.

Mark: Yeah. You don't even want to know.
The point is clear.  If the Apostles thought that Baptism and the Eucharist were merely symbolic, their writings would have sounded dramatically different.  They would have sounded like the way the Mormon Book of Moroni sounds, for example. As it stands, not a single writing of the Apostles suggests that Baptism or the Eucharist is merely symbolic.

Of course, since Hans is a Lutheran, he omits the other example that you could use here: forensic justification. Even the Calvinist scholar and historian Alister McGrath concedes that the Protestant notion of forensic justification (that is, that being saved consists in a change of our legal standing before God, from "damned" to "saved," but not a spiritual change in which we cease acting like damned sinners)  is a "theological novum" invented by the Reformers. In other words, just as the Radical Reformers 'magically figured out' what the Apostles really meant the whole time on Baptism and the Eucharist, Luther and Calvin magically figured out what the Apostles really meant the whole time on forensic justification.  It's equally absurd in each case.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Coming to Know the Resurrected Jesus Christ

First off, credit where credit is due: yesterday was Fr. Kelly's first Easter Mass as a priest, and he hadn't prepared a homily.  He learned from a priest in seminary that the less you try and prepare things (like homilies) yourself, the more room you leave for the Holy Spirit to work through you.  He was nervous beforehand, since it's the biggest Mass of the year, but honestly, trusting the Spirit paid off royally.  His homily was on the centrality of the Resurrection, using 1 Cor. 15:14 to great effect.  Like most great homilies, he dealt with a subject basic enough for the uninformed, but with enough insight that everyone left with something to chew on later.  This post is the result of that homily and my chewing.  I can't take credit for most of these thoughts, but I wouldn't be comfortable simply presenting this as what Fr. Kelly preached -- it's some hybrid of the two.

Anyways, the revelation of the Resurrection is slow and deliberate, and each step is chock full of meaning. Jesus' Death on the Cross was a "public spectacle" (see Col. 2:15): He had a sign mocking Him above His Head in Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, and was killed just outside of Jerusalem itself (John 19:19-20). In stark contrast, no one sees the Resurrection.  God chose to do His most amazing miracle in the presence of apparently no one.  How, then, do the early Christians come to know of the Resurrection, and what are we being told through this?

(1) The God Void

John 20:1-2 gives us the very first discovery of the Resurrection:
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put Him."
Look at that:  the first hint of the Resurrection isn't some glorious sign in the Heaven. Christ reveals His Resurrection first through His absence. When Mary realizes that Christ isn't where He should be, she's taken the first step towards understanding the Resurrected Christ. This step is a virtual necessity. Before you can come to a proper relationship in Christ, you need to realize that you have a "God-shaped hole" in your life: that like the Easter Tomb, Someone is missing.  As Christians, one of our duties is letting folks know that they're missing Christ, because that's where this journey almost always begins.

(2) Reason, and Evidence of Design

After Mary relays that Jesus is missing, the Apostles Peter and John take off to the Tomb (John 20:3-10):
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned home.
Mary Magdalene's first thought was that Jesus was taken by someone: perhaps grave robbers, or perhaps someone faking the Resurrection.  But inside, the presence of Jesus' burial cloth immediately shows this not to be the case.  If it had been grave robbers, they surely would taken the burial cloth.  In fact, that's probably the only thing they would have taken.  Before the Industrial Revolution, woven linens like these were incredibly expensive. And given the circumstances of Christ's Death, and the fact that His other garments were already taken (Mark 15:24), it's unlikely there was anything else of monetary value in the Tomb. The linens would be the most likely thing to be stolen, the Body, the least.

Likewise, if this were the work of charlatans seeking to fake the Resurrection, they would also have wanted the burial cloths.  Shortly before His Death, Jesus raised Lazarus from the Grave (John 11). It happened right outside of Jerusalem (John 11:18-19) and was obviously huge news to both Jesus' disciples and His enemies (John 11:45-47). Someone trying to fake the Resurrection would be trying to mimic the resurrection which had just happened. And yet look how Lazarus emerges from the Tomb (John 11:43-44):
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
So not only does Lazarus leave the tomb still covered in the burial cloth, but others have to help him remove these clothes (a detail we can be sure those people mentioned in conveying the story). The fact that Jesus' Empty Tomb doesn't look like Lazarus' suggests that this wasn't just someone mimicking the Lazarus miracle.

Above all, it's far too meticulous.  This wasn't the work of some thief rushing to escape detection by the Roman guards.  The two parts of the burial cloth were separated, with the sudarium, the part for His Head, rolled up in the corner (the NIV says "folded up"). So there's evidence of order, not of hurry.  And of course, John Dominic Crossan's infamous theory that dogs ate the Body of Christ is shattered by this evidence (unless dogs learned to careful remove and fold clothes).  Once you consider all of the details: the fact that the stone has been rolled away, that there aren't any dead guards, and so forth, a picture emerges. The empty Tomb evidences design, and the kind of design pointing to an actual Resurrection.  The Disciples quickly realize this, and start treating the Tomb as the site of a miracle, not a crime scene.

Like the empty Tomb, our universe is far too meticulous to be anything but the work of God. I addressed before that the atheist theories for the Creation of the universe make no sense: I've mentioned before that Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's theory of the Creation of the Universe requires you to believe that physical laws are the product of the "multiverse," which arose from spontaneous creation, which is the product of physical laws... which, of course, requires a universe or multiverse (or God) already existing.  In other words, within atheism, the multiverse is its own grandfather. Doesn't work.

Design and  reason are at the heart of the classic Catholic case for God.  St. Thomas Aquinas showed a long time ago, in his masterful Quinque Viae (with Knox's excellent summary here), that the universe can't just be an infinite chain of cause-and-effect. Try to start counting from negative infinity, and you'll immediately realize that Aquinas' argument is irrefutable.  You need an Actor outside of time and space to be the First Cause. Likewise, the universe is in motion, and must have been set into motion by something other than itself (a universe at rest can't suddenly go into motion without an external cause). Again, you need an Actor outside of time and space to be the First Mover.  Beyond this, the universe is full of beauty. Scientists try and explain this through natural selection: some animals are brightly colored to attract mates or scare off predators. But that doesn't explain why the stars or mountains are so beautiful, and doesn't really explain why man is imbued with an innate sense of enjoyment and wonderment at it all.

For the Apostle John, this reason and evidence of design is all it takes to come to faith ("he saw and believed"). He looked at the evidence, concluded that the Resurrection was the most likely conclusion, and believed. It's striking that John mentions he wasn't moved to this conclusion by Scripture: "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead."  It's true that Scripture affirms the Resurrection, but many folks find themselves in the same position as Peter and John here.  There are times it's best to make the case from reason and design, rather than "Because the Bible says so."

(3) An Encounter with Christ

After Peter and John investigate the scene, they return home. Mary Magdalene does not (John 20:11-16):
But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him."  
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means Teacher.
A quick note on Mary's faith: throughout all of this, even when she thinks Jesus is dead, even when she thinks someone stole His corpse, she remains faithful, calling Him "the Lord" or "My Lord" whenever she speaks of Him.

This is the final step. We sense internally that we're missing God, we see evidence of Him in the universe around us, and ultimately, but ultimately, our journey isn't over until we come to know Him personally. Not only is He "my Lord" to Mary, but look at the beautiful way that Christ reveals Himself: by calling Mary by name.  As with the Samaritan woman at the well, in coming to know Jesus, we come to more fully know ourselves. This is for two reasons. First, God knows us more intimately than we could ever hope to on our own, and passages like Relevation 2:17 are beautiful reminders of this fact, and second, since we're created for relationship with God, trying to understand who we are apart from Him fails every time. You might as well try to better understand the purpose of your car key by removing it from the ignition.  Like that car key, our full worth isn't visible until we're part of something much bigger than ourselves.

It's not just Mary that Jesus appears to, either. 1 Cor. 15:3-8 describes a number of the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.
What an incredible list.  Five hundred Christians willing to say, not only that Jesus is risen, but that He appeared to them specifically.  And what's more, this isn't even a comprehensive list: He also appeared to the other women who went to the Tomb (Matthew 28:8-10), two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), and to the Apostles multiple times. In the process, He proves there's no other explanation than the Resurrection. The Apostles initially were incredulous, thinking He might be a ghost, but then He took some of their fish and ate it (Luke 24:37-43). That pretty well handles the "ghost" and "mass hallucination" hypothesis.  He also showed them His wounds, to prove that it wasn't some lookalike, and letting them touch Him (Luke 24:39); He separately permitted Thomas to touch His wounded hands and side as well (John 20:27).

This extra step is important. We can show, through reason, that there is a God. But only through Jesus Christ do we learn Who that God is.  No longer need we simply rely on our sense that we're in need of God, or our reason telling us that something didn't arise from nothing. We can read eyewitness testimony supporting Who God is and what He's done. This is something which, to my knowledge, only Christianity offers: historical evidence for their claims about God.  We know the Romans crucified Christ, we know His Body was placed in a Tomb, we know that His Disciples were publicly proclaiming within a few weeks that His Tomb was empty (Acts 2:29-33), and we know that these same Disciples claim to have seen Him. In fact, that hundreds of people testify to having seen Him.  These facts are not in serious dispute, and are well supported by non-Christian sources as well.  Yet there's no convincing counter-explanation of these claims. No one "finds" His Body, or shows evidence of a mass conspiracy. Not one of the Christians who claim to have personally seen the risen Christ reneged, and says it was all some massive and pointless prank.  Scores of them undergo torture and death instead.

We don't have the benefit of getting to bodily meet with Christ in this life, but we do have the benefit of hindsight, the testimony of scores of our forebears about who Jesus was and is, about the fact that He rose, and so forth.  The evidence here plainly shows that He is Risen, and moreover, that He is God. Reason proves these conclusions, but faith must accept them.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!


"Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here; he has risen!
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners,
be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"

- Luke 24:5-7

Today, the Day of Our Lord's Resurrection, reveals the meaning of all that has come before it. On Friday, Fr. Cantalamessa pointed to this, when he explained that in the Death and Resurrection of Christ, the "problem of pain," the question of why a loving God permits suffering and death, is answered:
One cannot say that "Job's question has remained unanswered", or that not even the Christian faith has an answer to give to human pain, if one starts by rejecting the answer it claims to have. What do you do to reassure someone that a particular drink contains no poison? You drink it yourself first, in front of him. This is what God has done for humanity: he has drunk the bitter cup of the passion. So, human suffering cannot be a poisoned chalice, it must be more than negativity, loss, absurdity, if God himself has chosen to savour it. At the bottom of the chalice, there must be a pearl.

We know the name of that pearl: resurrection! "In my estimation, all that we suffer in the present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us". (Rom 8, 18), and again: "He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone." (Ap 21, 4).

If life's race ended here below, we would have every reason to despair at the thought of the millions, if not billions, of human beings who start off at a great disadvantage, nailed to the starting line by poverty and underdevelopment, without even a chance to run in the race. But that is not how it is. Death not only cancels out differences, but overturns them. "The poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham's embrace. The rich man also died and was buried ...in Hades" (cf. Lk 16, 22-23). We cannot apply this scheme of things to the social sphere in a simplistic way, but it is there to warn us that faith in the resurrection lets no-one go on living their own quiet life. It reminds us that the saying "live and let live" must never turn into "live and let die".
Let us rejoice and be glad!

Jerusalem Matins: a Beautiful Way to Celebrate Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday sometimes gets lost in the mix in Roman-Rite Catholicism.  Holy Thursday is huge (the Institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood), Good Friday is huge (Christ removing the curse of sin on the Cross), and Easter Sunday is huge (the Resurrection).  And Easter Vigil on Saturday night is the biggest Mass of the entire year, in every possible sense: it's the longest, most epically beautiful Mass of the entire year.  Usually there are two Readings at daily Mass, and three on Sundays (one Old Testament, one from New Testament epistles, and one from the Gospels).  On Easter Vigil, there are nine, telling the story of the Fall of Man to the Christological prophesies to the account of the Resurrection.  Over about two and half hours, we hear the story of humanity from start to finish, celebrate the Resurrection, invite new Catholics into the Church through baptism and confirmation, and so on.

In comparison, Holy Saturday is sometimes just a "breather" until Easter Vigil at sunset.  After all, the Gospels are nearly silent as to Holy Saturday -- the Apostles are observing the Jewish Sabbath, while their faith in Christ is put to the test.  Not so in Eastern Catholicism.  This morning at 10:30 AM, two of my friends and I went to the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family (UCNS) for Jerusalem Matins, which I'd heard was beautiful:
The Jerusalem Matins is arguably the most aesthetically beautiful service of the entire Christian year. During the Matins, we accompany the Faithful Myrrh-bearing Women and their Companions, who, keeping Vigil at the Graveside, mourn the Crucified Christ. The hymns are hauntingly lyrical and reflect a profound spirituality, expressing the anguish of loss and the yearning for restoration and justice.
The Jerusalem Matins are beautiful: they sing about Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who laid Jesus in the Tomb (John 19:38-42); about Judas, who despaired and hung himself (Matthew 27:3-5; Acts 1:18); about the Virgin Mary's intense longing for Her dead Son (Luke 2:34-35); and about Adam and Eve receiving redemption from Christ in Hades (1 Peter 3:18-22).

I. The Setting: The Church Interior Itself

One of the first things we noted upon coming into the church was that off to one side, they had these charts comparing Byzantine Catholicism and Roman Catholicism.  Here's one of them:


Two things on these. First, they're obviously a well-meaning attempt to show that Roman and Byzantine are complementary forms of worshiping God, and that there's no need for jealousy or rivalry.  As the chart says, "the faith is the same, but we express it differently." Second, these are unintentionally humiliating from a Roman perspective.  The Byzantine Liturgy is beautiful and traditional with traditional iconography, while the Roman Rite Mass is two men and a woman playing guitar next to an "I am the Light of the World" banner, and praises modernity and simplicity. Another chart explains that the Byzantines like churches that are traditional, while Romans like modern architecture.  Ironically, this is the Byzantine church that chart was in:



And here's the Roman Rite Basilica down the block:


So I think it's fair to say that the chart was speaking in generalities. In fairness, the UCNS is pretty traditional from a Ukranian-Catholic perspective. It just seems funky and modern because the architecture is so strange to me.  The UCNS's interior was simple but beautiful:


In the middle of the church, where the cross is in that picture, was a miniature tomb which apparently exists just for Holy Saturday. Three chairs were in front of the tomb, for the three celebrants. When we arrived at about 10:20, we thought we might be in the wrong place, because we were the only two cars in the parking lot.  As it turns out, we were the first ones there other than the celebrants. One was a Byzantine priest in a Roman collar, Fr. Robert Hitchens (seen on the left here); and two other men were with him, similarly clad, sans collar -- I'm not sure if they were priests, deacons, or something else.

We picked up the missal, and realized that we might be in trouble. Not only was a good chunk of the Matins in Ukrainian, but it was written in Cyrillic, so I couldn't even sound it out (it turns out, one of my friends knows a little Ukrainian).  Plus, it wasn't just sung, it was chanted, so even the parts in English were tricky to sing.  Fortunately, right before it was about to start, another half-dozen people showed up: two young men, and four older women.  One of the men was clearly experienced in chant, and lead everyone else (in both Ukrainian and English).  We Roman Catholics mostly mumble-chanted along, trying our best for the English and just silently praying during the Ukrainian.

Afterwards, Fr. Hitchens came over and welcomed us to the church, and apologized for the light showing, explaining that many in the congregation were older, and had been worried about the forecast rain, and that others struggled with these Matins, because they're only sung once a year, and are hard to sing.

II. Matins Itself

This is, more or less, what it was like, only with fewer singers:


What was striking was how beautiful the words were, giving words to the Mystery of Holy Saturday.  Let me share a few examples, if I may.  It began with a series of stichera, alternating with lines from the Psalms.  For example, in the Third Station, we prayed:
Let Your face shine on Your servant and teach me Your decrees.

We hasten with the Myrrh-bearers and draw near to Your tomb to anoint Your body, O living God.
Tears stream from my eyes because your law is disobeyed.
O thrice-blessed Joseph, you offer your respects to the most pure body of Christ the Lord and Master of life.
Lord, You are just indeed; Your decrees are right.
Those whom He fed in the desert, giving them their fill of manna, have conspired against their Benefactor.
You have imposed Your will with justice and with absolute truth.
Those whom He fed in the desert, giving them their fill of manna, offer Him vinegar and gall.
Of course, the "Myrrh-bearers" are the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning, and "Joseph" is Joseph of Arimathea.  The Psalms quoted are Psalm 119:135-138. In fact, of the course of the hour and a half, I think that all of Psalm 119 was sung, verse by verse, alternating with scenes from Holy Saturday.  Towards the end, we sang:
Come, let us contemplate our Life placed in the tomb , that those who lie in the tombs may live. Come, let us contemplate today the Lion of Judah; with the prophet, let us cry out to Him: You rest and sleep, and who can awaken You, O our King? Arise, in Your power, O Lord, Who willingly gave Yourself for us, glory to You.
Praise Him with resounding cymbals, praise Him with clashing of cymbals. Let everything that lives and breathes give praise to the Lord.
Joseph asked for Your most pure body, and he placed it in his new tomb. For it is fitting that You come forth from the tomb as from a bridal chamber. You have broken the kingdom of death, O Christ, and opened the gates of paradise to mortals; O Lord, glory to You.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.Today the mystical word of the prophet Moses is fulfilled: And God blessed the seventh day. For behold, this is the blessed day of the sabbath, behold, this is the day of rest, on which the only Son of God rested from all His work. In His bodily death which He endured for our salvation, He returns to the glory from which He came; and by His resurrection, He grants eternal life in His goodness and love for mankind.
The theology here is incredibly rich.  Everything from the way it shows that Exodus 20:11 was prophetic of Christ's Sabbath in the Tomb, to the depiction of Christ as the Bridegroom whose bridal chamber was the Tomb (see, e.g., Luke 5:33-35, Revelation 22:16-17), shows a deep understanding of the meanings within Sacred Scripture, and presented in an astonishingly beautiful way.

I'm already planning to go back at some point, preferably for a Divine Liturgy where more people will be there.  It was beautiful and spiritually uplifting.

Holy Saturday

We now enter Holy Saturday.  Christ is resting in the Tomb on the Sabbath, dead. To the believer, this is unthinkable. Literally. When Christ warned the Apostles that He had to die and rise from the dead, they thought He was using some obscure figure of speech (Mark 9:9-10), or tried to talk Him out of speaking that way (Matthew 16:21-23).  Now, the Apostles awaken, to find their Lord dead and gone.  Just as Christ cried out from the Cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), the Apostles must feel a radical sense of abandonment, must feel totally forsaken by Jesus.  


With the benefit of post-Resurrection hindsight, we see that the despair that the Apostles must feel is folly. 1 Peter 3:18-22 explains where Jesus was on Holy Saturday, preaching to the souls in the grave:
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through Whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.
This Gospel of liberation to the faithful departed is known as the "Harrowing of Hell." But to those here on Earth, Holy Saturday was surely a time of trial. We should remember this when we suffer, or feel prone to despair, or feel like God is not with us. There's often much more going on "beneath the surface," beyond simply what is visible to us.

An early Christian sermon, perhaps as early as the second century or as late as the fourth, has a beautiful meditation on Holy Saturday, capturing the gravity of this day. It's not for nothing that Holy Saturday is celebrated:
"What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Good Friday!


Who would believe what we have heard?
To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up like a sapling before Him,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
There was in Him no stately bearing to make us look at Him,
nor appearance that would attract us to Him.

He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
One of those from whom men hide their faces,
spurned, and we held Him in no esteem.

Yet it was our infirmities that He bore,
our sufferings that He endured,
While we thought of Him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.

But He was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins,
Upon Him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.


We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
But the LORD laid upon Him the guilt of us all.

Though He was harshly treated,
He submitted and opened not his mouth;
Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers,
He was silent and opened not his mouth.
Oppressed and condemned,

He was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?
When He was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
A grave was assigned Him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,

Though He had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood.
But the LORD was pleased to crush Him in infirmity.
If He gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through Him.

Because of His affliction
He shall see the light in fullness of days;
Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt He shall bear.

Therefore I will give Him his portion among the great,
and He shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
Because He surrendered Himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;

And He shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.
- Isaiah 53.

Passion of the Christ to Show at the National Mall

This is incredible:

Rally on National Mall in Washington, D.C. to Officially Launch the Campaign to Make Good Friday a National Holiday in the United States  
On April 22nd, 2011 the Campaign to Commemorate Good Friday as a National Holiday in the United States will officially launch its national campaign on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and collection of 1 million signatures.

New York City, NY (Vocus/PRWEB) April 07, 2011
The Campaign to Commemorate Good Friday as a National Holiday will hold an official launch rally that is open to public on April 22nd, 2011 at 12:00 PM to 3:30 PM on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. located between 7th Street and 14th Street. The campaign seeks to generate nation-wide support and collect 1 million signatures which it will use to petition the U.S. Congress to officially commemorate Good Friday as a National Holiday in the United States.

Good Friday is a state holiday in eleven U.S. states including Connecticut, Texas, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and North Dakota. State and local government offices and courts are closed, as well as some banks and postal offices in these states. Good Friday has been an official holiday and day of closure for Wall Street since its inception, with stock exchanges around the world and many U.S. and international banks closed in observance of the holiday.

In many countries with a strong Christian tradition such as Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, the Philippines, Mexico, Venezuela, the countries of the Caribbean, Germany, Malta, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Malta and the United Kingdom, the day is observed as a public or federal holiday.

Good Friday is a religious holiday observed primarily by Christians commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary, estimated in the year AD 33 by the Canonical gospels. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Resurrection Sunday.
For more information please visit, http://www.GoodFridayCampaign.com or contact Sharon Jones, Director, phone 212.731.4080 or sj(at)goodfridaycampaign(dot)com.
Of course, this adds yet another worthy event occurring between noon and three.  If you're in D.C., you might check out the Triduum schedule for the Basilica (the papal nuncio, Bp. Sambi, will be celebrating), the Cathedral (Cardinal Wuerl will be celebrating), St. Mary's Chinatown, St. Patrick's, or any of the worthy area churches. To find local churches with Masses in almost any language imaginable (from Latin to Arabic to Old Slovakian to Ge'ez), go here.

If you don't live in the D.C. area, and still want to see The Passion of the Christ today, it seems that the entire movie is available on Youtube today.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why We Celebrate Holy Thursday

This is from a post I wrote in 2009:

Happy Maundy Thursday, everyone! 

For those of you who don’t know, Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday. The word “Maundy” comes from the word “command,” referring to Christ’s command for His disciples to serve. Because Good Friday is the anniversary of our Lord’s death on the Cross, Maundy Thursday is the anniversary of the Last Supper, and everything associated with it. You may be surprised that so much attention is given to the day before Christ died on the Cross, but I would note that John’s Gospel in particular shares this focus. He begins at Chapter 13, and it stretches onwards to the end of Chapter 17. He gives as much attention (4 chapters) to that one meal as he gives to the Agony in the Garden, Crucifixion, and Resurrection combined. Also, remember that for Jews, the day began at sundown, so the Last Supper was actually the kickoff to the Passion, if you will. So it’s a pretty big deal. For Catholics, today celebrates the introduction of a whole lot of things:

The Eucharist: 


Catholics believe that Jesus literally meant what He said at the Last Supper:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
St. Paul seems to have, too, because after recounting Jesus’ words, He says,
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:26-28).
As an aside, this bit about self-examination, respecting Christ’s Body in the Eucharist, and eating and drinking judgment upon yourself is the source of the controversy over denial of Communion to pro-choice politicians. If St. Paul is right, it seems only charitable to refuse them the Eucharist, if it might lead to their condemnation.

Washing of the Feet: See John 13:3-17. Some churches celebrate this by having the priest wash certain congregants’ feet. If memory serves, our parish priest washed my dad’s feet one time, and my dad looked pretty awkward about having this done in front of the whole congregation. In a broader sense, this represents the need for all of us, but especially those in positions of authority, to care for each other, and to help each other out, even when it’s something we view as beneath us.

Baptism, Confession, the Priesthood (Holy Orders): In John 13:8-10, Jesus and Peter have a fascinating dialogue during the washing of the feet:
"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you."
I love Peter’s response here, because I completely understand where he is coming from. What begins as a literal washing of the feet rises to something much more when Jesus begins to use the imagery of Baptism ("Unless I wash you, you have no part with me"). What He says in response to Peter must be read should be read in this context: “A person who has had a bath [Baptism] needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” Obviously, this isn’t true on the literal level: you can bathe pretty frequently, and still need another bath. In other words, once you are baptized, Original Sin is washed away forever. No matter how badly you sin, you can never undo your Baptism. But you can still sin. And so you still need to go to Jesus for forgiveness of those sins. So Jesus hints at a post-Baptism cleansing, but doesn’t lay it out very clearly there exactly what this looks like. After His Resurrection, He explains this in more detail, in what Catholics call Confession, Penance, or Reconciliation (John 20:21-23).

This washing of the feet is also strongly tied to the sacramental priesthood. In the Old Testament, we hear that:
Aaron and his sons shall use it in washing their hands and feet. When they are about to enter the meeting tent, they must wash with water, lest they die. Likewise when they approach the altar in their ministry, to offer an oblation to the LORD, they must wash their hands and feet, lest they die. This shall be a perpetual ordinance for him and his descendants throughout their generations." (Exodus 30:19-21)
A few notes on this. First, it’s restricted to specific Levites, Aaron and his sons, not the whole “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5-6) – in other words, just the ordained priests. Second, it’s tied to being in the presence of God, and offering sacrifice, with the penalty of death.

Now look to what Jesus says in this context. Regarding the Eucharistic sacrifice, He commands of His Disciples, “do this in memory of Me.” (Luke 22:191 Corinthians 11:24). He’s instructing this select group to offer up His Body as a sacrifice to the Father. About the washing of the feet, He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15). That’s the mandate (mandatum) where we get the maundy in Maundy Thursday from. In some manner, these instructions apply to all of us. We should all partake in the Eucharist in memory of Christ, and we should all serve one another. But in a particular way, this applies to His shepherds. After all, even in non-Catholic ecclesial communities, Communion (in whatever sense that term is understood) is almost exclusively administered by the priest or pastor. There’s a general recognition, even if unrecognized, that there’s a reason Jesus addresses this to His Twelve Disciples, rather than to the crowd generally.

For this reason, the custom is for the pope to write and release an encyclical on Maundy Thursday, directed just at the priests. It generally makes for a pretty good read, if you’re interested in how things work between individual priests and the pope.

The Start of Triduum: Triduum is the three-day period stretching from Thursday night to Easter Sunday. It’s considered the holiest part of the Catholic calendar. If you’re like me, your first thought is… that’s not three days. But it is if you use a Jewish calendar, which is how the New Testament measured the three days Jesus was in the grave. Day One is tonight through Friday night, and is the Last supper and the full Passion (from the Agony in the Garden to Jesus’ condemnation, to the carrying of the Cross, to the Crucifixion, to Jesus dying on the Cross). It’s a really intense 24-hours. Day two is Friday night through Saturday night. I like to use that time to reflect upon what the disciples must have felt: to really experience, for 24 hours out of the year, the mental anguish of a dead God. The sense of betrayal, hurt, and most of all, despair, must have been overwhelming. Day 3 begins, in Catholic tradition, with the Easter Vigil, a beautiful Mass that’s really long. If you’re patient, and want to see Catholicism at its very best, this is the Mass for you. It’s an amazing experience, there’s like eight readings when the full Vigil is said, and converted Catholics are brought into the Church. It’s a really joyful experience. To combine the joy of the Resurrection with the joy of entering into the Church was a really smart idea. Good thinking, early Church! After that, of course, comes Easter morning. You’re allowed to go to Mass both at the Vigil and on Easter morning, and receive Communion both times, but make sure you go when different priests are officiating, because sometimes they repeat their same sermon from the night before.

That’s what’s going on today, folks (as well as a preview of the upcoming few days). We celebrate the birthday of four of the Seven Sacraments (Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, and Holy Orders), as well as prepare for tomorrow’s Big Day.

You can find out more about the long history of Maundy Thursday here. It includes some interesting stuff about how the early Church celebrated it – I especially liked the bit about Augustine. Of course, this is an encyclopedia entry, so if you’re really interested, this may not fully satiate you.

Have a safe and blessed Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday!