Category Archives: Liturgy

Jun 5 – St Boniface & the Christmas tree


-St Boniface icon in the care of St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“Today we celebrate the feast of St. Boniface (680–754), known in Church history as the Apostle to the Germans. Boniface is regarded as “probably the greatest missionary since St. Paul” for his extensive travels and successful evangelization efforts in modern-day Germany.[1] While he is well known as a great bishop and evangelizer, Catholic legend, based on actual historical events, also holds that Boniface is the founder of the use of a Christmas tree to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

The story of the Christmas tree begins in England, where the very young Winfrid decided to enter a Benedictine monastery over the objections of his parents. Winfrid grew in holiness and piety but yearned to leave the monastery and bring the light of Christ to the pagan Germans just as the monks had brought the Faith to England a century earlier. Winfrid heard reports that Pope Gregory II (r. 715-731) had sent missionaries to Bavaria in 716 and decided to travel to Rome to become a missionary to the Germans. Pope Gregory was delighted at the arrival of the eager Winfrid and after a period of time commissioned him to preach the Gospel in the regions of Thuringia, Bavaria, Franconia, and Hesse. In recognition of his special missionary commission, the pope also changed Winfrid’s name to Boniface.

The newly named monk traveled to Hesse (central Germany) in 721 and “with his tireless activity, his gift for organization, and his adaptable, friendly, yet firm character” achieved great success, including the conversion of the twin chieftains Dettic and Deorulf.[2] Boniface also established Benedictine monasteries throughout his area of evangelization, including the great monastery of Fulda in 744.[3] News of his great achievements reached Rome, where he was recalled by Pope Gregory to provide a status report. Impressed and pleased with Boniface’s efforts, Gregory consecrated him archbishop for all Germany east of the Rhine (without a specific episcopal seat) and placed his territory under the pope’s jurisdiction. Imbued with this new authority and pontifical mandate, Boniface returned to Germany in 723.

Boniface spent the rest of his life evangelizing the areas of modern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. He also became a friend of the Frankish court and helped reform and reorganized the Church in that area. From his missionary travels, Boniface knew that in winter the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Thunder Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor. This annual event of worship centered on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar.

His fellow missionaries were scared and fearful that the Germans might kill them, so they balked when they reached the outskirts of the village on Christmas Eve. Boniface steadied the nerves of his friends and as they approached the pagan gathering he said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.”[4] Boniface and his friends arrived at the time of the sacrifice, which was interrupted by their presence. In a show of great trust in God and born from a desire to enkindle the fire of Christ in the German pagans, Boniface grabbed an axe and chopped down the Thunder Oak of mighty Thor.

The Germans were astounded. The holy bishop preached the Gospel to the people and used a little fir tree that was behind the now felled oak tree as a tool of evangelization. Pointing to it he said,

“This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”[5]

Awed by the destruction of the oak tree and Boniface’s preaching, the Germans were baptized.

Boniface continued his missionary efforts into old age when in 754, he left for a trip to Frisia with fifty monks. Their work was successful and many pagans agreed to receive baptism. When the appointed time came to celebrate the sacrament, a large armed crowd of pagans approached the missionaries. Knowing his time to die was at hand, Boniface discouraged his followers from fighting and said, “Cease my sons, from fighting, give up warfare for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day; the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!”[6] The ferocious pagan attack left Boniface and his fellow companions dead and celebrated as martyrs for the Faith.

His later biographer, Othlo, recalled Boniface’s deep love for the people who he endeavored for so long to bring to Christ:

The holy bishop Boniface can call himself father of all the inhabitants of Germany, for it was he who first brought them forth in Christ with the words of his holy preaching; he strengthened them with his example; and lastly, he gave his life for them; no greater love than this can be shown.”[7]

In the centuries that followed, the Catholic tradition of using an evergreen tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus spread throughout Germany, and German immigrants in the eighteenth century brought the custom to the New World. Although there are many stories, legends, and myths surrounding the founding of the Christmas tree, including the claim that the custom originated with Martin Luther, there is only one story rooted in a real person and a real event: Boniface, converter of the Germans, who destroyed Thor’s mighty oak.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

[1] John Vidmar, OP, The Catholic Church Through the Ages (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2005), 83.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday Catechesis on “Saint Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans”, on March 11, 2009in Church Fathers and Teachers – From Saint Leo the Great to Peter Lombard (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 80.

[3] Boniface placed Fulda under the jurisdiction of the papacy, which was a novel concept at the time. This was the same arrangement for the more well-known monastery at Cluny in the early tenth century.

[4] Fr. William P. Saunders “The Christmas Tree”, Straight Answers article in the Arlington Catholic Herald, available at http://www.holyspiritinteractive.net/columns/williamsaunders/straightanswers/68.asp.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., 46. Quoted in, Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Catechesis on “Saint Boniface”,March 11, 2009.

[7] Othlo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., lib. I, 158. Quoted in, Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Catechesis on “Saint Boniface”,March 11, 2009.

[8] The Washington Post – The Mini Page, “O Tannenbaum*!”, December 6, 2009, SC5. For Boniface chopping the oak tree see Fr. John Laux, Church History – A Complete History of the Catholic Church to the Present Day (Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1989), 221 & Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom (Front Royal, VA: Christendom College Press, 1987), 276.

Did the Ascension really happen?


-Ascension Chapel, Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, UK, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Matt Nelson

“At the climax of the forty days spent with the disciples after his resurrection, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. Catholics have always understood this to be a literal, miraculous event. We believe it really happened—and as a Church we profess it every Sunday.

But the dogma also has its detractors. Some have made a mockery of the doctrine, likening the “flying” Jesus to an Apollo spacecraft, as was a common jest among atheists in the 60s and 70s. Others deny the possibility of the miraculous altogether. Still others, like Episcopalian theologian John Shelby Spong, read the ascension as non-literal and symbolic: “A modern person knows that if you rise up off the Earth (as in the ascension), you don’t go to heaven. You go into orbit.”

Considering such criticisms, how can Catholics defend the reality of Christ’s ascension?

One might sympathize with Spong’s objection above. After all, isn’t heaven supposed to be “beyond” the physical universe? It’s an interesting objection, one to which C.S. Lewis offered what I find to be a satisfying rebuttal. After His Resurrection, it may have been that Our Lord,

“…a being still in some mode, though not our mode, corporeal, withdrew at His own will from the Nature presented by our three dimensions and five senses, not necessarily into the non-sensuous and undimensioned but possibly into, or through, a world or worlds of super-sense and super-space. And He might choose to do it gradually. Who on earth knows what the spectators might see? If they say they saw a momentary movement along the vertical plane – then an indistinct mass – then nothing – who is to pronounce this improbable?”

So it may have been that Jesus, still in bodily form, chose to ascend not to the stars, but simply from the ground as the beginning of the super-physical journey to heaven. This still assumes, of course, that miracles are possible. But are they?

Miracles are by definition supernatural events; and science only examines natural phenomena. To make a definitive claim about whether miracles can occur, one must look beyond, for example, microscopes and rulers and ask if such events are possible on philosophical grounds. Perhaps you have heard some version of David Hume’s objection that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. The assumption is that God, if he existed, would have no right to create a supernatural effect in the natural world. But why not? The believer’s claim has consistently been that God is the First Cause of all physical reality. This means he is the creator and sustainer of the natural laws and the things they govern. He is the supreme Lawmaker.

It is absurd to charge him, then, with breaking his own “laws” since he is under no moral nor logical obligation to cause effects only via the normal physical causal relationships he himself upholds. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga has asked, why can’t we think of the laws of nature as descriptors of how God usually treats the matter he has created? And as we find that so many established theories end up being inadequate to explain all relevant phenomena, how can we say we even know with complete certainty what “the laws” are?

Another step in fortifying our defense of Christ’s ascension is to show that there are good reasons to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. If the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection may be rationally entertained, then so may be his ascension.

One of the most effective ways to make the case for the Resurrection is to use the minimal facts approach proposed originally by scholar Jürgen Habermas. This involves considering the historical facts accepted widely by all experts (most skeptics included), then demonstrating that the resurrection, rather than a natural explanation, is the best explanation for them. Such well-evidenced facts—what historian Mike Licona calls “historical bedrock”—include Jesus’ death by crucifixion, the reported appearances of the risen Christ, the empty tomb, and the sudden conversion of St. Paul, enemy and persecutor of the first Christians.

Another theory is that the disciples were hallucinating when they saw the resurrected Jesus. This hypothesis is plagued from the start by the fact that entire groups claimed to see Jesus at one time (1 Cor. 15:3-6). Group hallucinations are unlikely since people share neither brains nor minds. But even if mass hallucinations did occur, what could explain St. Paul’s conversion? What are the chances that he and Christ’s followers would hallucinate the same risen Jesus? The most tenable explanations for all these events involve a real person, Jesus, risen from the dead after his Crucifixion.

Could the account of the ascension itself be questionable? With St. Luke is our primary source, how can we trust that he is telling us history and not an allegory? John Shelby Spong finds this explanation most likely: “Luke never intended his writing to be understood literally. We have greatly misrepresented Luke’s genius by reading it literally.”

The problem with this reading is that Luke explicitly rejects its possibility. The evangelist clearly asserts in the prologue to his Gospel that his intention is to describe real history. Furthermore, when Luke describes the ascension there is no hint of embellishment, which is strange indeed if he did not intend it literally. In the gospel account he simply tells us that Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:52). In Acts, he writes that Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Cold and clinical, like a serious historian interested only in the facts, Luke just tells us what happened—and that’s it. It is also notable that because the Gospel accounts were written only a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, there would have been eyewitnesses of Jesus still alive to correct or object to Luke’s account. But there is simply no record of such an objection.

Indeed, Luke’s Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles (which are “companion volumes”) have been touted by scholars of ancient history and archaeology as impressively accurate. The great archaeologist Sir William Ramsay famously acknowledged St. Luke as “a historian of the first rank.” More recent studies of Luke’s historical accuracy, such as that by classical scholar Colin Hemer, have further confirmed the deservedness of this high praise. Thus, when Luke describes Jesus’ bodily ascension into the heavens, we have many good reasons to believe that St. Luke was reporting real history, “a narrative of the things which have been accomplished . . . just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:1).”

Love,
Matthew

Counterfeit Christ: Resurrection, only “spiritual”?

“Sit and smile.

That was all I could do, even though I wanted to rebut my debate opponent Dan Barker during his closing speech. Dan was once a Protestant pastor, but ever since his “de-conversion” in the 1980’s he has become a kind of preacher for atheism. In 2015 we debated whether or not God existed, and three years later we were on stage at Minnesota State University to debate a more specific question: “Does the Christian God exist?”

I thought the debate went well. I was able to neutralize Dan’s tactic of scattering dozens of difficult Bible verses in an effort to make the God of the Bible look like a moral monster. By the time we got to cross-examination, I was prepared to dive into one argument Dan had not addressed yet: my evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

But instead of addressing the evidence I raised, Dan just went right back to the alleged atrocities of the Old Testament. It was only during his closing statement, which was the last speech of the night, that Dan addressed my arguments.

He claimed that what really happened after Good Friday was that the apostles believed Jesus’ spirit rose from the dead while his body still lay in the tomb. For them, that was enough to turn defeat into victory; yet modern Christians have misunderstood their theology ever since.

But how can that be true if . . . ?
…St. Paul Believed in a Bodily Resurrection

It’s bad form to bring up new arguments or objections in your closing statement because your opponent has no opportunity to respond to them. I was frustrated, but I held my tongue. I didn’t get the chance that night to rebut Dan’s “spiritual resurrection” hypothesis.

But now I do have the chance—so here’s what’s wrong with it.

First, the earliest testimony we have about the Resurrection comes from St. Paul’s letters, which describe Jesus undergoing a bodily resurrection from the dead. Dan tries to get around this fact by claiming that Paul used a Greek word for Jesus’ resurrection that only refers to spiritual resurrection. Specifically, egeiro, ἐγείρω, which just means “rise” or “wake up.” He does not use the word that means “resurrection” (anastasis (ἀνάστασις), anistemi, (ἀνίστημι) Barker also claims:

“It is perfectly consistent with Christian theology to think that the spirit of Jesus, not His body, was awakened from the grave, as Christians today believe that the spirit of Grandpa has gone to heaven while his body rots in the ground. In fact, just a few verses later Paul confirms this: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The physical body is not important to Christian theology.”

Yet in Romans 1:4 Paul, says that Jesus was “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection [anastaseos, ἀναστάσεως] from the dead.” Contra Barker, Paul does describe Jesus rising from the dead with a form of the Greek word anastasis, (ἀνάστασις). Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses egeiro (ἐγείρω),  and anastasis, (ἀνάστασις) interchangeably when speaking about the relationship between our future resurrection from the dead and Christ’s resurrection. Paul writes:

“Now if Christ is preached as raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται] from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead? But if there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead, then Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται]. If Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:12-14).

Paul’s argument is simple: if we don’t rise from the dead, then Christ didn’t rise from the dead. But since Christ did rise from the dead we can be confident that we too will rise from the dead.

What about to Barker’s citation of 1 Corinthians 15:50 (“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”) and Paul’s general use of the term “spiritual body”? Well, we have to remember what Paul was up against in Corinth.

Pauline scholar John Ziesler believes that Paul was trying to convince people that the resurrection of the dead is not a mere reanimation of one’s corpse. For Paul, the “spiritual body” in the Resurrection “seems to mean something like ‘outward form,’ or ‘embodiment’ or perhaps better ‘the way in which the person is conveyed and expressed’ . . . a resurrection of the whole person, involving embodiment but not physical embodiment.”

When Paul writes, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he is using a Semitism—a Jewish way of speaking—about the natural state of humanity apart from the grace of God. We can’t inherit the kingdom of God without being moved by God’s spirit.

However, that doesn’t mean that in this kingdom we will only be spirits. Spiritual, in this context, refers to a thing’s orientation as opposed to its substance. It’s like when we say the Bible is a “spiritual book” or when Paul writes, “The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (1 Cor. 2:15).

The subjects in these statements are not non-physical, ghostly apparitions but books and people ordered toward the will of God. As St. Augustine said, “As the Spirit, when it serves the flesh, is not improperly said to be carnal, so the flesh, when it serves the spirit, will rightly be called spiritual—not because it is changed into spirit, as some suppose who misinterpret the text.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Easter praise of Christ


-Des Jesusbild des Altars der St.-Michaelis-Kirche in Hamburg, Deutschland (The Jesus picture of the altar of the Church of St. Michaelis in Hamburg, Germany). Please click on the image for greater detail.

“We should understand, beloved, that the paschal mystery is at once old and new, transitory and eternal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal. In terms of the Law, it is old; in terms of the Word, it is new. In its figure it is passing, in its grace it is eternal. It is corruptible in the sacrifice of the lamb, incorruptible in the eternal life of the Lord. It is mortal in His burial in the earth, immortal in His resurrection from the dead.

The Law indeed is old, but the Word is new. The type is transitory, but grace is eternal. The lamb was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible. He was slain as a lamb; He rose again as God. He was led like a sheep to the slaughter [cf Isaiah 53:7], yet He was not a sheep. He was silent as a lamb [cf Isaiah 53:7], yet He was not a lamb. The type has passed away; the reality has come. The lamb gives place to God, the sheep gives place to a man, and the man is Christ, Who fills the whole of creation. The sacrifice of the lamb, the celebration of the Passover, and the prescriptions of the Law have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ [cf Matthew 5:17]. Under the old Law, and still more under the new dispensation, everything pointed toward Him.

Both the Law and the Word came forth from Zion and Jerusalem [cf Isaiah 2:3], but now the Law has given place to the Word, the old to the new. The commandment has become grace, the type a reality. The lamb has become a Son, the sheep a man, and man, God.

The Lord, though He was God, became man [cf Philippians 2:6-7]. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but He rose from the dead, and cried aloud: Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I, He said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.

Come, then, all you nations of men, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb Who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light, I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father.”

-From an Easter Homily by Melito of Sardis, Bishop, (d. 180 AD), found in the Second reading of the Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, during the Octave of Easter.

Love, He is Risen!!! He is TRULY Risen!!!
Matthew

Good Friday: timing of Jesus’ death?


-Entombment of Christ, “La_Deposizione_di_Cristo”, Deposition of Christ/Deposition from the Cross, Caravaggio, 1602?-04?, for the second chapel on the right in Santa Maria in Vallicella (the Chiesa Nuova), a church built for the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri.[1] A copy of the painting is now in the chapel, and the original is in the Vatican Pinacoteca. Oil on canvas, 300 cm × 203 cm (120 in × 80 in), please click on the image for greater detail.

  1.  Hibbard, Howard (1985). Caravaggio. Oxford: Westview Press. pp. 171–179. ISBN 9780064301282.

“The consensus of scholarship is that the New Testament accounts represent a crucifixion occurring on a Friday, but a Thursday or Wednesday crucifixion have also been proposed.[1][2] Some scholars explain a Thursday crucifixion based on a “double sabbath” caused by an extra Passover sabbath falling on Thursday dusk to Friday afternoon, ahead of the normal weekly Sabbath.[1][3] Some have argued that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, not Friday, on the grounds of the mention of “three days and three nights” in Matthew before his resurrection, celebrated on Sunday. Others have countered by saying that this ignores the Jewish idiom by which a “day and night” may refer to any part of a 24-hour period, that the expression in Matthew is idiomatic, not a statement that Jesus was 72 hours in the tomb, and that the many references to a resurrection on the third day do not require three literal nights.[1][4]

In Mark 15:25 crucifixion takes place at the third hour (9 a.m.) and Jesus’ death at the ninth hour (3 p.m.).[5] However, in John 19:14 Jesus is still before Pilate at the sixth hour.[6] Scholars have presented a number of arguments to deal with the issue, some suggesting a reconciliation, e.g., based on the use of Roman timekeeping in John, since Roman timekeeping began at midnight and this would mean being before Pilate at the 6th hour was 6 a.m., yet others have rejected the arguments.[6][7][8] Several scholars have argued that the modern precision of marking the time of day should not be read back into the gospel accounts, written at a time when no standardization of timepieces, or exact recording of hours and minutes was available, and time was often approximated to the closest three-hour period.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_of_Jesus, retrieved on 4/16/2020

  1.  “Niswonger “which meant Friday” – Google Search”.
  2. ^ The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3 pp. 142–143
  3. ^ Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature: Volume 7 John McClintock, James Strong – 1894 “… he lay in the grave on the 15th (which was a ‘high day’ or double Sabbath, because the weekly Sabbath coincided …”
  4. ^ “Blomberg “Wednesday crucifixion” – Google Search”.
  5. ^ The Gospel of Mark, Volume 2 by John R. Donahue, Daniel J. Harrington 2002 ISBN 0-8146-5965-9 p. 442
  6. Jump up to:a b c Steven L. Cox, Kendell H Easley, 2007 Harmony of the Gospels ISBN 0-8054-9444-8 pp. 323–323
  7. ^ Death of the Messiah, Volume 2 by Raymond E. Brown 1999 ISBN 0-385-49449-1 pp. 959–960
  8. ^ Colin HumphreysThe Mystery of the Last SupperCambridge University Press 2011 ISBN 978-0-521-73200-0, pp. 188–190


-by Karlo Broussard

“The narratives of Jesus’ passion and death are among the most sacred elements of Scripture for Christians. For skeptics, however, they’re often used as a punching bag. The claim is that they’re historically unreliable because the Gospels supposedly contradict themselves.

Previously, we looked at two alleged contradictions involving the timing of Jesus’ trial. Yet, critics often raise challenges based on what they believe are contradictions concern the timing of Jesus’ death.

For example, Mark tells us that Jesus ate the Last Supper “on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb” (Mark 14:12), and he died the next day (Mark 14:12, 17). But John places Jesus’ death on “the day of preparation of the Passover” (John 19:14).

Another objection is that Mark and John also contradict each other as to the hour Jesus was crucified. Mark claims it was at “the third hour” (Mark 15:25), which according to the Jewish division of twelve-hour days and nights would have been 9 am. John tells us Pilate questioned Jesus “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14), which means Jesus wouldn’t have been crucified until some time after, probably right at twelve noon according to the same Jewish division of days.

Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman finds in the discrepancy a reason for doubt: “It is impossible that both Mark’s and John’s accounts are historically accurate, since they contradict each other on the question of when Jesus died.”

What should we make of these apparent contradictions? Are they proof that Mark and John can’t be historically reliable, as Ehrman says? Let’s first take the question as to whether Jesus was crucified before or after Passover.

Some have responded to the objection by saying the Sadducees and Pharisees celebrated Passover on different days, and Jesus sided with the Pharisees.

Others, like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, have proposed Jesus may have celebrated Passover in accord with the Qumran calendar, which would have been one day earlier than the celebration of Passover involving the priestly sacrifices of lambs.

Both responses to the objection have merit. But there’s another way that uses the text of the Gospels themselves.

The phrase “day of Preparation” is a Jewish idiom for Friday, the day that Jews made preparations for observance of the weekly Sabbath.

All three Synoptics use the idiom this way and say Jesus died on that day. Mark is explicit: “And when evening had come, since it [the day Jesus was crucified and died] was the day of Preparation [Greek, paraskeuē], that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:42; emphasis added).

Luke is explicit as well. In reference to the day of Jesus’s crucifixion and death, he writes, “It was the day [hēmera] of preparation [paraskeuēs], and the sabbath was beginning” (Luke 23:54).

Matthew’s use of paraskeuē is a bit more implicit. He identifies the day Jesus died to be “the day of preparation” (Matt. 27:62). He then speaks of Pilate appointing guards to guard Jesus’ tomb on the day “after the day of preparation,” which he clearly identifies as the Sabbath in 28:1.

Even the Gospel of John itself, like the Synoptics, uses paraskeuē to refer to Friday in the other two passages where it’s used.

In John 19:31, the evangelist refers to the day of Jesus’ crucifixion as paraskeuē. But within the same verse it becomes clear that he’s not talking about the day on which Jews prepare for Passover, but the day before the Sabbath, Friday:

Since it was the day of Preparation [paraskeuē], in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” (emphasis added).

Notice the problem the Jews seek to solve is having the bodies on the crosses on the Sabbath. This implies that the day on which the request to remove the bodies is made is the day before the Sabbath, Friday. And it’s that day that John calls paraskeuē, “the day of Preparation.”

This interpretation is strengthened a few verses later when John tells us why they sought a nearby tomb: “So because of the Jewish day of Preparation [paraskeuē], as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:42). They needed to quickly bury Jesus lest they violate the Sabbath rest, which was soon to begin that Friday after sundown.

Given the evidence from both the Synoptics and John himself that the phrase “day of Preparation” is an idiom for Friday, the day of preparation for the weekly Sabbath, it’s reasonable to conclude that’s how John is using it in John 19:14.

But why add the phrase, “of the Passover”?

The term “Passover” doesn’t only refer to the initial Seder meal, during which the Passover lamb is eaten. As New Testament scholar Brant Pitre points out, by the first-century A.D., “Passover” came to be used interchangeably with the seven-day “feast of Unleavened Bread.” Luke provides us with an example: “Now the feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover (Luke 22:1; cf. Lev. 23:6-8; emphasis added).

So, it seems that by adding the extra tidbit “of the Passover” John intends to highlight the special character of that Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath during Passover week.

This provides a possible explanation as to why John says, “that Sabbath was a high day” (John 19:31). It wasn’t just an ordinary Sabbath. It was a Sabbath that fell during Passover week. Consequently, it was a “doubly sacred” Sabbath.

Since John is not referring to the preparation day for Passover, and places Jesus’ crucifixion on the same day that Mark does, Friday, it follows that there is no discrepancy between the two, at least when it comes to the day on which Jesus was crucified.

In fact, all of the Gospels state that Jesus was crucified and buried on “the day of Preparation” (Matt. 27:62; Mark 16:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42)—so all four agree.

What about the hour of Jesus’s crucifixion? Was it 9 am, as Mark says? Or, was John right when he said it took place at noon?

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg explains that just as the Jews divided the twelve-hour night (sunset to sunrise) into four watches, so too they divided daylight hours (sunrise to sunset) into four three-hour increments. And they generally identified the time of events during the day by rounding up or down to the quarter hour.

For example, throughout the Synoptics, almost every time the authors speak of an hour of the day they speak of the “third,” “sixth,” and “ninth” (Matt. 20:3, 5; 27:45, 46; Mark 15:33, 34; Luke 23:44; Acts 2:15; 3:1; 10:3,9, 30; 23:23). The only exception is the parable of the tenant that receives his reward in the “eleventh” hour (Matt. 20:9). But such specificity is required by the parable.

In light of this, Blomberg concludes, “it becomes plausible to interpret Mark’s ‘third hour’ to mean any time between 9 a.m. and noon” (emphasis added). Mark just rounds down to the “third hour” whereas John rounds up to the sixth. John’s rounding up is supported by the fact that he says it was “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14).

Given that Mark and John are approximating the time of Jesus’ death, and they both approximate that time to be some time in the second quarter of the day, we can conclude there is no contradiction.

Ehrman may still reject the historical accuracy of Mark and John. But he can’t do so on the grounds that Mark and John contradict each other as to the day and hour of Jesus’ death.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Easter – stay with us!!


“Jesus and the Walk to Emmaus”, by Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939), please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Do not leave me, O Jesus, gentle Pilgrim; I have need of You.

MEDITATION

God has made us for Himself, and we cannot live without Him; we need Him, we hunger and thirst for Him; He is the only One who can satisfy our hearts. The Easter liturgy is impregnated with this longing for God, for Him who is from on high; it even makes it the distinctive sign of our participation in the Paschal mystery. “If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The more the soul revives itself in the Resurrection of Christ, the more it feels the need of God and of heavenly truths; it detaches itself more and more from earthly things to turn toward those of heaven.

Just as physical hunger is an indication of a living, healthy organism, so spiritual hunger is a sign of a robust spirit, one that is active and continually developing. The soul which feels no hunger for God, no need to seek Him and to find Him, and which does not vibrate or suffer with anxiety in its search, does not bear within itself the signs of the Resurrection. It is a dead soul or at least one which has been weakened and rendered insensible by lukewarmness. The Paschal alleluia is a cry of triumph at Christ’s Resurrection, but at the same time, it is an urgent invitation for us to rise also. Like the sound of reveille, it calls us to the battles of the spirit and invites us to rouse and renew ourselves, to participate ever more profoundly in Christ’s Resurrection. Who can say, however advanced he may be in the ways of the spirit, that he has wholly attained to his resurrection?

COLLOQUY

“O my hope, my Father, my Creator, true God and Brother, when I think of what You said—that Your delights are to be with the children of men—my soul rejoices greatly. O Lord of heaven and earth, how can any sinner, after hearing such words, still despair? Do You lack souls in whom to delight, Lord, that You seek so unsavory a worm as I?… O what exceeding mercy! What favor far beyond our deserving!

“Rejoice, O my soul … and since the Lord finds His delights in you, may all things on earth not suffice to make you cease to delight in Him and rejoice in the greatness of your God.

“I desire neither the world, nor anything that is worldly; and, nothing seems to give me pleasure but You; everything else seems to me a heavy cross.

“O my God, I am afraid, and with good reason, that You may forsake me; for I know well how little my strength and insufficiency of virtue can achieve, if You are not always granting me Your grace and helping me not to forsake You. It seems to me, my Lord, that it would be impossible for me to leave You…. But as I have done it so many times I cannot but fear, for when You withdraw but a little from me I fall utterly to the ground. But blessed may You be forever, O Lord! For though I have forsaken You, You have not so completely forsaken me as not to raise me up again by continually giving me Your hand…. Remember my great misery, O Lord, and look upon my weakness, since You know all things” (Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 7 – Life, 6).

Love,
Matthew

The Power of the Resurrection in Our Bodies


-St Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD)

Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

-1 Cor. 5:6b-8


-by Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., a convert from Episcopalianism

“Christ’s eucharistic presence is entombed within us, that by its power we too may rise to new life.

When we go to the early Fathers of the Church to understand the sense of the great mysteries of faith we are celebrating at Easter, we are apt to be surprised. This is especially true if we go to the Fathers of the Syrian tradition, which represents the most ancient and authoritative approach to Sacred Scripture that we have.

Take, for example, the Scripture lesson given above, which is the classic epistle reading in the Roman Rite. How are we to understand all this talk of the leavening yeast being full of the corruption of malice and wickedness and our feast being made of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth? Especially since it tells us that Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed and therefore we celebrate the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I never understood this “therefore” of St. Paul’s until I read St. Ephrem the Syrian’s commentary on the Gospels.

In speaking of the Last Supper, St. Ephrem counts the three days of Our Lord in the tomb as beginning when He, having been sacrificed in the eucharistic supper by the separation of His body and blood, is “buried” in the earth—that is, in man who is made of the slime of the earth, and in Holy Communion, and in remaining hidden in His members who have received the sacrament as He undergoes His passion and burial; in the following days He rises from the dead through this eucharistic presence and appears again, not under signs, but in His visible, palpable body!

This explains why the Catechism of the Catholic Church sees in the altar of our churches a symbol of the tomb. The Eucharist, which is meant to be “entombed” in our bodies after being sacrificed, gives us the sure power of the Resurrection promised by the Lord in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel.

This sacrificed bread of life is the fresh new bread, free of the malice of sin, pure and uncorrupted by its fermenting leaven. And it forms in us a new power, the very promise of our own resurrection because we have fed on the sacrificed and risen Lord!

The realism of the Eucharist extends not only to the “real presence” but also has real effects in our flesh and blood, which we will experience because we have fed on the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, even the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.

In this sad time, when so many are deprived of the Holy Communion, we can reflect on the power of this sacrifice and sacrament. Perhaps we are being deprived because we had forgotten the great power and dignity and love that the Eucharist contains, and need to begin to receive this gift with purity, free from malice and wickedness, ready for the risen life of Christ.

May He count our desire to receive Him now as the channel of His grace and the pledge of our future resurrection!”

Love, & Easter Joy!!!
Matthew

Bible’s Easter stories are different


-by Cale Clark, Cale’s two most amazing discoveries in life have been that Jesus Christ would forgive him, and that Patricia would marry him. In 2004, Cale returned to the Catholic Church, which was founded by Jesus Christ, after spending ten years in Evangelical Protestantism, with much of that time spent in pastoral ministry.

“Anyone who has read the Gospels in a more than cursory manner has come across what appear to be contradictions between them as they report the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. This is no less true when we consider how they describe the most important event of all: the resurrection of Christ. If this event is not historical, says St. Paul, “our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Speaking of St. Paul: before we consider apparent contradictions in the Gospels’ Easter accounts, we must remember that the Gospels are not our earliest written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection: those would be the letters of Paul. Even if the Gospels had never been composed, there would still be plausible literary testimony of the event, evidence with which a skeptic must deal. 1 Corinthians 15, which discusses the Resurrection, was written as early as A.D. 53, most likely prior to the publishing of at least some of the Gospels. What’s more, this chapter contains an even earlier ancient “creed” of sorts, crystallizing Easter faith in just a few lines (1 Cor. 15:3–7).

Even though the Gospels are not our earliest or only written sources on Easter, discrepancies in how they report resurrection phenomena have caused many to call into question their historical authenticity.

The empty tomb accounts

In Mark (which the majority of biblical scholars contend was the first Gospel composed), when the women disciples of Jesus arrive at the tomb early on Easter Sunday, the stone has already been rolled away. A “young man” in dazzling raiment (in all likelihood an angel) is inside the tomb. In Luke’s account, two men are inside. Matthew’s account has Mary Magdalene and another Mary arriving at a still-sealed tomb, but an earthquake suddenly occurs, whereupon an angel descends and rolls back the heavy stone. Three Gospels, and seemingly three different accounts.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke also give us slightly different lists of exactly which women were present. Mark has these women respond in fear, and states that they said nothing about this to anyone. In Matthew’s account, the two women meet Jesus on their way to inform the disciples of the Easter news. Luke does not say they ran into Jesus but rather that they immediately told the disciples, who didn’t buy their story. Same Gospels, and again, the accounts seem to differ.

So, why the differences?

Ancient biographies

As much as we might want the Gospels to conform to our modern conventions of history writing, they don’t read like contemporary police reports. But that doesn’t mean they don’t contain reliable accounts. In fact, they are perfectly consonant with how the ancients recorded history. The key is to understand the literary conventions of the time, which was  the mid-first century A.D. ,  and how the Gospels fit that mold.

Scholars like Michael Licona have noted that the genre of ancient literature that the Gospels most closely resemble is that of Greco-Roman biography. In reporting the speeches and activities of famous figures, writers utilized techniques in recording history that were perfectly acceptable at the time, such as compression (truncating longer speeches for the sake of brevity). The Gospel writers did this as well: they report that Jesus held crowds spellbound for hours with his preaching, yet his recorded sermons can be read in minutes.

Also, events were moved around in a narrative for thematic reasons. For example, did Jesus “cleanse” the temple at the beginning of his public ministry (John 2:13-22), or toward the end, as in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)? Or did he do it twice? In all likelihood, Jesus’ action at the temple occurred toward the end of his life, enraging the authorities and precipitating his arrest, but John places it at the beginning of his Gospel for symbolic reasons.

A culture of storytelling by memory

We also need to consider the way students (disciples) were taught in the Jewish tradition. Theirs was a culture of memorization. Scholar Craig Keener reports that students in Jesus’ day were capable of memorizing prodigious amounts of speeches and sacred texts. Even so, Jesus’ disciples were not expected to “parrot” his teachings, repeating them verbatim. In fact, if they had, they would have been considered poor students. Jesus himself probably gave different versions of the same basic “talk” as he preached in various settings. One example could be the similarities between the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 and the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:17-49.

Having a proper understanding of Jesus’ message was the key, which was proven by an ability to accurately re-present the essence—or the “gist”—of Jesus’ teachings in a way that would be relevant to one’s audience and its particular needs. The one thing disciples were most assuredly not allowed to do was to invent sayings or deeds of Jesus.

Evaluating the differences

Now let’s apply all of this to the synoptic Gospel accounts of the first Easter. Even though there is variance in secondary details (how many angels were at the tomb, for example), the basic message is the same: Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty of him early on Sunday morning, and the resurrected Christ later appeared to various disciples over a period of time.

What might be some reasons for these varying secondary details?

Ironically, the fact that these accounts are not in verbatim agreement actually enhances the probability that they are historical. Each Evangelist is making use of different sources of eyewitness testimony when composing his Gospel. The Evangelists didn’t “cut and paste” a prefabricated Easter account into their respective Gospels.

There are also literary or thematic reasons for the differences. In Mark’s Gospel, as noted above, the women react fearfully. Fear —even terror—in the presence of the divine is a constant Markan motif. When it comes to describing the most stupendous of all miracles—Jesus’ resurrection—Mark’s not about to change his style.

What of the variances in the lists of women who may or may not have been present? It’s reasonable that they all were present but that each evangelist is highlighting the names of those who may have been personally known or particularly important to his readers. The fact that some women were the first to encounter the empty tomb and the risen Jesus is what’s important here —and this is not something that the Gospel writers would have been eager to admit were it not the case.

The testimony of women in the first-century Jewish world was not considered reliable in a court of law. If one’s goal at this time was to convince readers that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and one made up a story about his being raised from the dead, one certainly wouldn’t present women as the first to discover the empty tomb and meet the resurrected Jesus —unless that’s what actually happened, as embarrassing as this might be in that particular cultural context.

All in all, when the Gospels are held up to the standards of first-century Greco-Roman historical writing, and to the standards of Jewish transmission of rabbinical teaching common to the period, they hold up quite well indeed. This is no less true when one considers their accounts of the (literally) earth-shaking events of the first Easter.”

Love, He is Risen!!
Matthew

Holy Saturday: waiting…

-Shroud of Turin


-by James Hanvey, SJ, holds the Lo Schiavo Chair in Catholic Social Thought at the University of San Francisco.

“We tend to think of Holy Saturday as a day ‘in between’ Good Friday and Easter Sunday, without any particular significance of its own. But this could not be further from the truth. It is a day that resists all of our attempts to understand it, but nonetheless we must ‘live in the realities of Holy Saturday’.

We don’t know what to do with it. Somehow it gets lost between the solemn exhaustion of Good Friday and the excitement of the Easter Vigil. Yet it is not an interlude between acts while the scenery changes behind the curtain. Neither is it a time when God continues to work in some other realm of redemption like the descent into Hell. All that can be done, all that needs to be done, is done on the cross. We must not run away from its finality. It is over; all our lives we will be discovering the depths of that closure. We cannot even begin to appreciate what it means if we do not live in the realities of Holy Saturday. Without the experience of this day neither our hearts nor minds, not even our souls, are prepared for Good Friday or Easter Morning.

It is only human to want to avoid the vast silence of this day, its stillness which stretches out without any promise of relief. It is only human to want to shake off the finality, the shock and numbness of death, to release ourselves from the lingering memory of what we have witnessed. It is only human to want to flee from its emptiness, the stark, hard, unyielding bareness of absence. So we run – either physically, through activity, preparing for the holidays, making things ready for the liturgy; or intellectually and spiritually by anticipating the consolations of Easter. However we do it, we want to escape the aftermath of death, God’s death, and the vacuum which refuses to be resolved or dissolved. On Holy Saturday we all become Pelagians finding every good excuse to make something happen. In the dead time that lies between Good Friday and Easter Sunday we encounter the terror of our own impotence. There is no magic, no word, no clever formula to bring Him back; to restore the dream and secure the hope. We go on living but can we trust life again? Can we trust ourselves again?

We should mourn and start the rituals of grieving for all the unlived lives, all our own unlived lives. But even then Holy Saturday resists all our attempts to change it, to naturalize and interpret it in some sort of therapeutic framework. It is a different sort of time, one that does not move to our rhythms. This day holds us in its bleak starkness. It is not only the trauma of a tortured, disfigured, broken and lifeless body, or the scandal of goodness and innocence systematically dismembered and destroyed. Even the loving rituals of a hasty burial or the familiar routines of religious piety and festival cannot lessen it. Memory cannot leap over the reality of Good Friday to return to happier times. Memory, too, is held disoriented, dislocated and disconnected, a refugee lost in the alien land of Holy Saturday. Deep in the folds of our own bruised and shocked souls moves another more sinister and primal fear. Like a black serpent sensing the closeness of its prey, quietly it uncoils within us, poised to strike: the terror of Death.

This is not death through natural causes. It does not come at the end of a natural process or a long life. Its very unnaturalness shatters all our attempts to make it comprehensible and familiar. It is an inflicted death which reveals the terror of ultimate power: death itself can be instrumentalized. The cross, its torture and humiliation, was the deliberate and ruthless manifestation of Roman power, but it is also the symbol of every regime which makes death its instrument. Not only is this a physical death, it is death as claim and possession; it is death which advertises complete ownership. It makes the body of the victim its own symbol and inscribes its name upon flesh, bone and muscle. ‘You are ours. Here, you see what we can do, if we choose.’

Now the State, the Emperor, the President or the CEO performs the liturgy of their power in the spectacle of a systematic, calculated and carefully controlled death. It is meant to be public spectacle because it is meant to serve subjection through terror. Its purpose is not just to generate bodily compliance, but to coloniZe the imagination and the soul. This is not just the reduction of the will to impotence, but the rendition of being itself to the dark country of which death is only the threshold: the abyss of nothingness and the hell of living without life, of being only a property. We are allowed the illusion of our freedom; to get on with our lives and maybe even prosper, but only on the condition that we acknowledge the gods who can sacrifice us at will on the altar of death.

Only in the silence of Holy Saturday can we see the true terror of the cross. It exposes the ultimate source of the secular gods’ power – the god of this world, the god of despair; the god who can crucify God. On this day, all our dreams fall away, our hopes scatter like dust in the wind; the fragile world we build of meaning, of goodness, of love, is only a poor, ragged shelter in which to hide from the frozen dark of an endless night. If we have the courage to place our ear to the silence of Holy Saturday we will hear a savage laughter. It is the gods of this world laughing at our hope for a savior.

There is also the guilt: could we have done something? In the space of Holy Saturday we have to live with all our betrayals. Even when we have loved to the end, even when we have taken the risks and keep our vigil before the cross, even when we have taken the body and laid it to rest, it is not enough. Our love, our loyalty, all our skill and ingenuity, is not enough. It cannot save him. On Holy Saturday we live the limits of our love. We do not stop loving, but even though our love may be endless, we know it cannot be enough. We love now in pain, in longing; we love now on the cross of our own finiteness.

If we enter into the silence of Holy Saturday, its bareness gives us no distractions. There is nowhere to go but inwards; into the very empty places of our own soul and imagination. Holy Saturday takes us beyond grief and mourning into the deepest purification of our faith. Like the bare altar and the empty tabernacle, this Saturday strips us of all comfort. It even strips away faith itself, leaving us so utterly naked and impotent that we can only wait.

If we can stay in this strange and desolate place waiting, our spiritual eyes become accustomed to this other dimension. We will begin to discern that it has brought us to a way that only Christ has opened up. In the very waiting and living in our own powerlessness, we have already faced the terror of the instruments, the torture, the primal fear that laid its claim upon us. If only we can stay there waiting we will begin to understand that this silence and emptiness is not God’s powerlessness, His death – but His Sabbath: it is an end; it is a completion and it is also a new beginning. It is truly a ‘holy’ Saturday, not an interlude but a hallowing of all of our times of waiting. Without it we would never see into the depths of Good Friday or adjust our understanding to grasp the magnitude and meaning of Easter morning.

In the emptiness of waiting, we begin to learn something that the god of this world cannot bear, the knowledge that it does not want us to know: at the very point of our failure and betrayals, when we taste our own impotence and limit, if we are not afraid to live in His absence, we discover Him.

Holy Saturday is His time. It is the time when we learn to trust His sacrifice of love which death can neither subjugate nor comprehend. In Holy Saturday we begin to see that it is He who has made death His instrument; not to terrorize us into submission, but to call us more intimately to His side. In the purifying darkness of Holy Saturday we discover the Sabbath of our waiting. We come to the end of our way and the beginning of His. It is only Christ Who can carry us over into Easter morning, and so it is with all the Holy Saturdays of our life.”

Love, and the silence of Holy Saturday,
Matthew

Go rest high on that mountain


-please click on the image for greater detail

I know your life
On earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain.
You weren’t afraid to face the devil,
You were no stranger to the rain.

Go rest high on that mountain
Son, your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven a-shoutin’
Love for the Father and the Son.

Oh, how we cried the day You left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve.
I wish I could see the angels faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing.

Go rest high on that mountain
Son, your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven a-shoutin’
Love for the Father and the Son.

Love, Blessed Holy Week,
Matthew