Sunday, November 26, 2006

Viva Cristo Rey. Viva.

The Feast of Christ the King

Christ And The Children --Carl Heinrich Bloch (1875)

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
-- Matthew 18: 1-4

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
-- Matthew 19: 13-14

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Incarnation and the Dignity of the Human Person

Pietà, by Giovanni Bellini, 1470s

On occasion I think that I’ve managed to offend both Protestants and some other Catholics with my distaste for Augustinian thought and theology. Granted, St Augustine was a towering intellect, and in his Confessions, recognized as the first autobiography, he writes powerfully and beautifully on grace and faith, but I find myself feeling a growing unease with the neo-platonist paradigm it is built upon. He wrote many beautiful things worth remembering, but in my opinion he also wrote certain things in the heat of battle that have caused theological problems and divisiveness in the long term. Luckily for me, there have been countervailing ways of thought in the Catholic Church, both among the Church Fathers, and in the popular sacramental Catholic sensibilities as they have been lived out by the Catholic laity over the centuries. The best of Catholicism sees grace and sacramentalism everywhere, including physical things. We see creation as essentially good.

In a terrific book written in 2000, The Catholic Imagination, Fr. Andrew Greeley writes in the end notes:

“In a certain sense, the most difficult conflict within Catholicism is between this instinct that nature is revelatory and the Platonism of St. Augustine, who distrusted and feared nature. The former appears to be winning at long last, but only an unwise gambler would bet on its final victory any time soon. Orthodoxy, which has never like Augustine all that much, has avoided this conflict.”

Five years later, a Thomist/Personalist Pope, an optimist with the motto “Be not afraid”, passed on and was replaced by a self-described Augustinian, so there you are… The tension between the traditions continues…

The other night I was watching a video produced by Fr. Michael Himes (a somewhat controversial figure in his own right, according to some circles) for The Mystery Of Faith series on the Incarnation. I thought it was rather interesting, and made for some really interesting points, although I think it danced somewhat close to making Man the center of faith rather than God. I’d be interested in hearing what other people think.

Some notes….

In Genesis 1, during the first five days of creation narrative, God says “let there be…”, and it comes to pass. On the sixth day, in the creation of human beings, there is a matter of deliberation.

Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them
--Genesis 1 :26-27

In the Adam and Eve Story, we are usually used to hearing that the first sin that came into the world through the temptation of the serpent was the sin of pride, or of disobedience.

“Eat this and be like God.” The temptation is to reject what we have heard in Genesis 1. “Don’t believe that you are like God. You, a messy human being? You are nothing like the majestic, glorious God.” The origin of sin, therefore, going all the way back to the Hebraic tradition is the rejection of the goodness and rightness of being a human being. It is one reason why they so rejected the idea of making an image of God, because the human being already was in the image of God, per Genesis 1. The origin of all evil in the world is the refusal to accept the goodness of creation.

God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.
--Genesis 1: 31

The serpent insists, however, that creation is not good, and that you, a human being, are trash. Acceptance of that temptation is what leads to the rest of all evil. The beginning of sin is the despair of the goodness of creation.

The immense dignity of the human person is right at the heart of the Christian tradition, because it flows directly from the Doctrine of the Incarnation itself. We have a tendency to make the Feast of the Ascension into a Divine Bon Voyage, but that is missing the point… The point is not just that Jesus goes back to where he was before, but that what ascends into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of the Father is a human being like us in all things but sin. What unites us with the fullness and the glory of the Father is our shared humanity.

The Christian Tradition must emphasize the immense, dignity, value, and importance of full and authentic humanity.

Any form of spirituality which belittles humanity, which de-emphasizes the goodness and dignity of the human person, far from being a channel to God, is within the Christian tradition, an obstacle to genuine union with God, to truly being like God, to truly being holy.

If this is so, then any work which furthers the dignity of the human person is also a work of sanctification, a work of holiness.

The Church is a sign or sacrament of intimate union with God, and the unity of all humanity.

The Church is called to be a sacrament of two realities that are intimately linked.

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?"

Jesus replied, "The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'
The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

And when Jesus saw that (he) answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
-- Mark 12: 28-34

One commandment stated in two ways, because they are one and the same thing. One cannot be intimately united with God, without simultaneously working for the good of all humanity.

What flows from the Incarnation as the center of our faith is the insistence on reverence for all humanity, including one’s own humanity.

“In reality, the name for that deep amazement at man's worth and dignity is the Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity.”
-- Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis

“The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.”
-- St. Irenaeus

Video and audio lectures by Fr. Himes:

Truly Divine and Truly Human: Believing in the Incarnation

Why the Church?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cowboy heads to Texas...

los lonely boys - heaven

In honor of our friend Cowboyangel heading back to Texas, I thought I'd post this video of Los Lonely Boys playing their hit song Heaven.

This evening, Tom Ashbrook on On-Point interviewed the band (the Garza brothers) on their music and on "Texican" pride. He has them playing a great acoustic version of Heaven too.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Prime Suspect 7

Last night Anne and I were glued to watching the first act of Prime Suspect 7 on PBS Masterpiece Theater. Helen Mirren returns in her role as the hardened Chief Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison, solving another London murder before going off into retirement. We've been big fans of the Prime Suspect series for years, and this is the last one. It's as good as television gets. Catch it if you can...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Death and life are in the power of the tongue

-- Proverbs 18:21

I love the Epistle of James. It’s short, but full of powerful and practical ethics in the Jewish wisdom tradition, and dovetails very nicely with the Gospel of Matthew.
As someone who tries and fails, and tries and fails, and tries and fails, to guard his speech and proclivity towards using a sharp tongue, I do well to remember and heed these words from St. James in Chapter 3:

Power of the Tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.

If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot's inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.

The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

One of the best self-help books I’ve ever read, which also seems to be written in the Jewish wisdom tradition, is Gossip: Ten Pathways to Eliminate It from Your Life and Transform Your Soul, by Lori Palatnik and Bob Burg. It is a wonderful little treatise on the malicious power of gossip and the harm that unguarded speech can do. At the very least, it should be required reading in the workplace, rather than the silliness that gets foisted on employees nowadays like Who Moved My Cheese?

I appreciate this anecdote from the book:
A nineteenth-century folktale tells about a man who went about slandering the town's wise man. One day, he went to the wise man's home and asked for forgiveness. The wise man, realizing that this man had not internalized the gravity of his transgressions, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, scatter the feathers to the wind and return when done to the wise man's house.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the man was happy to be let off with so easy a penance. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers and returned to the house.

"Am I now forgiven?" he asked.

Just one more thing," the wise man said. "Go now and gather up all the feathers."

"But that's impossible. The wind has already scattered them:" "Precisely," he answered. "And it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak."
Palatnick and Burg’s Ten Pathways of Positive Speech:

1 . Speak No Evil. Say only positive statements. Let words of kindness be on your tongue.

2. Hear No Evil. Refuse to listen to gossip, slander and other negative forms of speech.

3. Don't Rationalize Destructive Speech. Excuses like "But it's true" or "I'm only joking" or "1 can tell my spouse anything" just don't cut it.

4. See No Evil. Judge people favorably, the way you would want them to judge you.

5. Beware of Speaking Evil Without Saying an Evil Word. Body language and even positive speech can bring tremendous destruction.

6. Be Humble; Avoid Arrogance. These will be your greatest weapons against destructive speech.

7. Beware of Repeating Information. Loose lips sink ships. Even positive information needs permission before being repeated.

8. Honesty Really Is the Best Policy-Most of the Time. Be careful to always tell the truth, unless it will hurt others, break your own privacy or publicize your accomplishments.

9. Learn to Say "I'm Sorry:" Everyone makes mistakes. I f you've spoken badly about someone, clear it up immediately.

10. Forgive. If you have been wronged, let it go.

Moreover, pay no attention to everything men say, lest you hear your own servant disparaging you, for your own conscience knows that many times you yourself disparaged others.
--Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

The Green and Red of Mayo

The Saw Doctors - The Green and Red of Mayo

I guess it's time for me to join everyone else and post the obligatory YouTube video on my blog.... It was only a matter of time...

Here is a photo-montage of images set to The Green and Red of Mayo by the Irish Band The Saw Doctors.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Religion & Politics Magazine Covers

Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report usually do good business a couple of times a year with cover stories dealing with religious topics.

The Ironic Catholic has a link soliciting some magazine cover spoofs and tells you where you can go to craft them. My contribution:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Allow me a moment of schadenfreude…

Well, maybe not really schadenfreude, and it’s not about Rumsfeld (although that is certainly noteworthy), but in the wake of last night’s mid-term elections, I want to celebrate a couple of recent positive developments that give me hope that things are moving in the right direction - one political, and one ecclesiastical.

I was tremendously gratified to see Bob Casey Jr. defeat Rick Santorum in the senate race in Pennsylvania. I believe that Bob Casey will turn out to be a very fine senator for the people of Pennsylvania, and this takes me full circle to the very first post on this blog, Why Senator Rick Santorum Had It Wrong.

In another exceedingly positive development, Pope Benedict has replaced Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos with the Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes as Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. Read John Allen’s take on it here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Guy Fawkes Day

I never yet knew a treason without a Romish priest
--Sir Edward Coke, January, 1606

Rumour, rumour, pump and derry,
Prick his heart and burn his body,
And send his soul to Purgatory.

--17th Century Children's Rhyme

Engraving of Guy Fawkes and the boyos, co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, complete with executions 'n heads stuck on pikes.

(Click to see larger image) From Left to Right: Thomas Bates, Robert Winter, Christopher Wright, Thomas Percy, Guy "Guido" Fawkes, Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter.

(Just an aside... I like the fashions of the 17th century. I'd like to wear hats like that to work every day with a flourish. Too bad those hats and coats and doublets and sleeves were in fashion back then and not now, when personal hygeine is so much better.)

In the early hours of November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes, an English Catholic who had served with the Spanish army in Flanders, was discovered in a storeroom under the Palace of Westminster--and with him, thirty-six barrels of gunpowder earmarked to obliterate England's royal family, top officials, and members of Parliament gathered for Parliament's opening day. Had it succeeded, this Gunpowder Plot--a Catholic conspiracy against the recently crowned Protestant King James I and his government--English history would have been shaped by a terrorist act of unprecedented proportions.

On November 5th, all of Great Britain and many of the Commonwealth nations celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, complete with bonfires and fireworks reminiscent of our Fourth of July.

A lot of debate goes around today on whether or not the gunpowder was too damp to have even ignited. Everyone agrees though, that the amount of powder was enough to blow Parliament sky-high and to kill the king and everyone else within it.

The real leader of the plot was Robert Catesby, but as the man found in the cellar of Parliament with the matches in his hands, Fawkes is the man of notoriety (as one quote I saw put it, modern British people remember him as "the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions!")

Here are excerpts from a writeup on the life of Guy Fawkes from the Gunpowder Plot Society by way of the Fawkesian Society Website:

Guy Fawkes was the only son of Edward Fawkes of York and his wife Edith Blake...

Edward Fawkes, who was descended from the Fawkes family of Farnley, was a notary or proctor of the ecclesiastical courts and advocate of the consistory court of the Archbishop of York. On his mother's side, he was descended from the Harrington family who were eminent merchants and Aldermen of York.

Fawkes became a pupil of the Free School of St. Peters located in "Le Horse Fayre", which was founded by Royal Charter of Philip and Mary in 1557. He counted there amongst his schoolfellows, John and Christopher Wright, Thomas Morton (afterwards Bishop of Durham), Sir Thomas Cheke and Oswald Tesimond. His time there was under the tutelage of a John Pulleyn, kinsman to the Pulleyns of Scotton and a suspected Catholic who some believe may have had an early effect on the impressionable Fawkes.

...Fawkes is believed to have left England in 1593 or 1594 for Flanders, together with one of his Harrington cousins who later become a priest. In Flanders he enlisted in the Spanish army under the Archduke Albert of Austria, who was afterwards governor of the Netherlands.

Fawkes held a post of command when the Spaniards took Calais in 1596 under the orders of King Philip II of Spain. He was described at this time as a man "of excellent good natural parts, very resolute and universally learned", and was "sought by all the most distinguished in the Archduke's camp for nobility and virtue". Tesimond also describes him as "a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and chearful demeanour, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observance".

Fawkes's appearance by now was most impressive. He was a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, flowing moustache, and a bushy reddish-brown beard. He had also apparently adopted the name or affectation Guido in place of Guy. His extraordinary fortitude, and his "considerable fame among soldiers", perhaps acquired through his services under Colonel Bostock at the Battle of Nieuport in 1600 when it is believed he was wounded, brought him to the attention of Sir William Stanley (in charge of the English regiment in Flanders), Hugh Owen and Father William Baldwin.

Fawkes severed his connection with the Archduke's forces on 16 February 1603, when he was granted leave to go to Spain on behalf of Stanley, Owen and Baldwin to "enlighten King Philip II concerning the true position of the Romanists in England". During this visit he renewed his acquaintance with Christopher Wright, and the two men set about obtaining Spanish support for an invasion of England upon the death of Elizabeth, a mission which ultimately proved fruitless.

Upon return from this mission, Fawkes was informed in Brussels that Thomas Wintour had been asking for him. About Easter time, when Wintour was about to return to England, Stanley presented Fawkes to him. It cannot be proved, but perhaps Wintour had already informed Fawkes of the conspirators' intentions, because in Fawkes' confession he states that "I confesse that a practise in general was first broken unto me against his Majesty for reliefe of the Catholique cause, and not invented or propounded by myself. And this was first propounded unto me about Easter last was twelve month, beyond the Seas, in the Low Countries of the Archduke's obeyance, by Thomas, who came thereupon with me into England".

May of 1604, Guy Fawkes met with Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour at an inn called the Duck and Drake in the fashionable Strand district of London, and agreed under oath along with Percy to join the other three in the Gunpowder Conspiracy. This oath was then sanctified by the performing of mass and the administering of the sacraments by the Jesuit priest John Gerard in an adjoining room. (My note. This is not true. It was not Fr. Gerard) Fawkes assumed the identity of John Johnson, a servant of Percy and was entrusted to the care of the tenement which Percy had rented. Around Michaelmas, Fawkes was asked to begin preparations for work on the mine, but these plans were delayed until early December as the Commissioners of the Union between England and Scotland were meeting in the same house. Eventually the work in the mine proved slow and difficult for men unused to such physical labours, and further accomplices were sworn into the plot.

About March 1605, the conspirators hired a cellar beneath Parliament, once again through Thomas Percy, and Fawkes assisted in filling the room with barrels of powder, hidden beneath iron bars and faggots. He was then despatched to Flanders to presumably communicate the details of the plot to Stanley and Owen.

...On 26 October, the now famous Monteagle Letter was delivered into the hands of William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle. Concern quickly erupted amongst the conspirators, but the letter's apparent vagueness prompted Catesby to continue with their plans...

On Wednesday 30 October, Fawkes, apparently ignorant of the letter's existence inspected the cellar again and satisfied himself that the gunpowder was still in place and had not been disturbed. On Sunday 3 November, a few of the leading conspirators met in London and agreed that the authorities were still unaware of their actions. However, all except Fawkes made plans for a speedy exit from London. Fawkes had agreed to watch the cellar by himself, having already been given the task of firing the powder, undoubtedly because of his munitions experience in the Low Countries where he had been taught how to "fire a slow train". His orders were to embark for Flanders as soon as the powder was fired, and to spread the news of the explosion on the continent.

On the following Monday afternoon, the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, searched the parliament buildings accompanied by Monteagle and John Whynniard. In the cellar they came upon an unusually large pile of billets and faggots, and perceived Fawkes whom they described as "a very bad and desperate fellow". They asked who claimed the pile, and Fawkes replied that it was Thomas Percy's in whose employment he worked. They reported these details to the King, and believing, by the look of Fawkes "he seemed to be a man shrewd enough, but up to no good", they again searched the cellar, a little before midnight the following night, this time led by Sir Thomas Knyvett, a Westminster Magistrate and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Fawkes had gone forth to warn Percy that same day, but returned to his post before night. Once again, the pile of billets and faggots was searched and the powder discovered, and this time Fawkes was arrested. On his person they discovered a watch, slow matches and touchwood. Fawkes later declared that had he been in the cellar when Knyvett entered it he would have "blown him up, house, himself, and all".

Early in the morning of 5 November, the Privy Council met in the King's bedchamber, and Fawkes was brought in under guard. He declined to give any information beyond that his name was Johnson and he was a servant of Thomas Percy. Further interrogations that day revealed little more than his apparent xenophobia. When questioned by the King how he could conspire such a hideous treason, Fawkes replied that a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy, and that his intentions were to blow the Scotsmen present back into Scotland.

...The following day he recounted the events of the conspiracy, without naming names, then on the 9 November he named his fellow plotters, having heard that some of them had already been arrested at Holbeche. Guido's final signature, a barely legible scrawl, is testament to his suffering. There is no direct evidence as to what tortures were used on Guy Fawkes, although it is almost certain that they included the manacles, and probably also the rack...

On Friday, 31 January 1606, Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes were taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster and hanged, drawn and quartered "in the very place which they had planned to demolish in order to hammer home the message of their wickedness". Thomas Wintour was followed by Rookwood and then by Keyes. Guido, the "romantic caped figure of such evil villainy" came last. A contemporary wrote:

"Last of all came the great devil of all, Guy Fawkes, alias Johnson, who should have put fire to the powder. His body being weak with the torture and sickness he was scarce able to go up the ladder, yet with much ado, by the help of the hangman, went high enough to break his neck by the fall. He made no speech, but with his crosses and idle ceremonies made his end upon the gallows and the block, to the great joy of all the beholders that the land was ended of so wicked a villainy".

David Jardine, in his book "A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot" (1857), says that "according to the accounts of him, he is not to be regarded as a mercenary ruffian, ready for hire to do any deed of blood; but as a zealot, misled by misguided fanaticism, who was, however, by no means destitute of piety or humanity".

A Dutch engraving showing the executions of the conspirators

Play the BBC’s Gunpowder Plot Quiz game – Race through the cellars against the burning fuse… I missed foiling the plot by a second.

For all of your Guy Fawkes Day party and bonfire needs, check out...

Elaine’s Guy Fawkes page

The Main Menu of the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot Pages:
The Internet's Primary Source for The Gunpowder Plot, Its Commemoration, and Times!

Some ditties...

Remember, Remember

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,'twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!

Polemical song in the style of "a Jesuit priest"

There's a plot to beguile
An obstinate isle.
Great britain that heretic nation.
Why so slyly behav'd
in the hopes to be saved
By the help of the curs'd reformation.

There's powder enough
And combustible stuff
In thirty and odd trusty barrels,
We'll send them together
The Lord can tell whither
And decide at one blow all their quarrels.

When the King and his son
And the parliament's gone
And the people are left in the lurch
Things will take their old station
In the curs'd nation-
And I'll be the head of the Church.

One of the most controversial aspects of the plot is that in the arrests and executions that followed in the aftermath, Fr. Henry Garnet SJ, who had been hiding in crawlspaces and hidden rooms in the homes of sympathetic Catholics for years, was implicated in the plot, captured, and put to death. I'll be writing more on that and the role of the Jesuits later.

Here is Fr, Garnet's last letter before his execution, written to Catholic supporter Anne Vaux:

Should the celebrations as they are currently held be considered as anti-Catholic? This XT3 article opines:

So are fireworks, and ‘bonfire night’ in particular, anti-Catholic celebrations? It all depends how connected we are with the origins. November 5th was designated by King James I (via an Act of Parliament) as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance" and remained in place until 1859. On the actual night of the foiled plot, it is said that Londoners celebrated the defeat by lighting fires in the streets.

But today, surely few are either consciously celebrating the failure of a terrorist act and the punishment of the plotters or revelling in anti-Catholic feeling? For most people, neither religion nor terrorism figures in their thinking. Instead most are simply up for a loud, bright and exciting visual extravaganza they can share with their family and friends for one explosive night.

What about ‘Penny for the Guy’? Well, that’s basically a quick and easy way for young ‘uns to make a few quid. Ask them who the rag bloke in the pull-along trailer’s supposed to be, you’ll probably receive a shrug or a “dunno mate”.

The Gunpowder Plot is both a compelling and fascinating story that has weathered the test of time and its history is worth revisiting. The lesson to be learnt from it is that as a society, we should always stand united against both acts of terror and the religious persecution of any group. Christianity demands nothing less.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The 40 Hours Devotion

"Longinus" pierces the side of Christ with a lance.

Last week, we had the 40 Hours Devotion at my parish. For one of the hours I was there, I was asked by the deacon to read John 19: 31-37, and to offer a reflection.

Hat tip to Crystal and friends at Friendly Skripture Study for the help.

A reading from the Gospel according to John

Blood and Water…
Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down.

So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe.

For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: "Not a bone of it will be broken."

And again another passage says: "They will look upon him whom they have pierced."

This reading from John takes place right after Jesus has died on the cross and has handed over His Spirit to the Father. The way I had always looked at it, this prior reading about the death of Jesus had always overshadowed and overpowered the one we just heard.

In the enormity of the impact of the death of Jesus, these matters concerning the breaking of the bones of the legs and the spear being thrust into the side of Jesus may seem like incidental details to the larger story, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized that this passage is loaded with historical and symbolic meaning.

John is stressing the importance of his eyewitness account of events here, an account in which he is registering his amazement that out of this catastrophe, God has taken control of this situation and unveiled His plan and purposes in an unlikely sequence of events.

It seems to me that there are two crucial points that John is putting across in this passage. The first is to emphasize that the death of Jesus was a real, physical, bodily death, which means therefore, that the resurrection was going to be a real, physical, bodily resurrection.

The second point we are to take is that Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, Israel’s suffering servant, has fulfilled all of the old testament scriptures and prophecies regarding the Messiah.

Getting back to the first point, John’s Gospel was written about the year 90 to 100 AD, and at that time there were several Gnostic groups and sects competing with the early Church, who were claiming that Jesus did not have a real physical body, but only a spiritual body, or that he did not really die on a cross, but only appeared to do so. John’s Gospel refutes and dispels that very notion.

Let’s look a bit at the history and the circumstance around what is happening here. Why would the Jewish authorities ask the Romans to break the legs of crucifixion victims? In John’s Gospel the crucifixion takes place on the preparation day for Passover. It was imperative for them that the bodies not be left on the crosses overnight or even after sundown with the Sabbath approaching, for according to the book of Deuteronomy, someone who is cursed by being put to death on a tree cannot be left overnight, or else the land will be defiled.

Breaking the legs of crucifixion victims is meant to hasten death. When the legs are broken, the victim hangs completely by the arms, and the chest cavity bears the full weight the body. The victim can no longer prop himself up by flexing his thighs, and it becomes more and more difficult for the victim to breathe. Suffocation is the inevitable result.

The passage says however, that Jesus was already dead, in fact Pilate was surprised afterwards to hear that he was already dead so quickly, so His legs were not broken. Under the Roman law however, the soldiers were required to certify that the crucified victims were dead, which is the reason why the lance was thrust into the side of Jesus. This is the unusual and unlikely scenario that amazed John in how it fulfilled the Old Testament scriptures.

We see in the book of Exodus, the description of the requirements for the preparation of the Passover lamb, where its says…

“It must be eaten in one and the same house; you may not take any of its flesh outside the house. You shall not break any of its bones.”

..And John refers explicitly in the passage to Psalm 34, which says:

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed. Many are the troubles of the just, but the LORD delivers from them all. God watches over all their bones; not a one shall be broken.”

Again, it must be remembered that in John’s Gospel, this is the preparation day for the Passover. At that very time that these events were taking place, those standing on Golgotha could have looked across directly to the Temple in Jerusalem where the Passover lambs were being sacrificed at that very moment. What God has made clear to John is that Jesus has become the Passover lamb – that Jesus IS our paschal sacrifice.

As for the piercing of the side of Jesus, John makes reference to a passage from Zecariah:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition; and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first-born.”

The wine, of course, is an emblem for the Eucharist, and the water for our Baptism.

Fully divine, yet fully human as well… What trust Jesus must have had in His father to face such an ordeal. Perhaps it was the faintest glimmer of hope for the disciples that in the face of what seemed to be such a bitter defeat, there were signs that the prophecies that Jesus had spoken of to them were true. John is OUR eyewitness, testifying that these things are true, so that we may believe. Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe.

In those times when we bear our various infirmities, when we feel crushed or abandoned, when our troubles are many, and like Israel’s suffering servant, we set our faces like flint, the LORD delivers us all, and watches over our bones; not a one shall be broken