"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, December 11, 2017

Matthew Monday: Juan Diego

For the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, our parish had some of the kids dress up in Mexican folk attire.  The girls dressed up as our Blessed Mother (under her Virgin of Guadalupe title) and the boys as Juan Diego, the indigenous man who was the recipient of the 16th century apparitions near Mexico City.

Here is Matthew dressed as Juan Diego.

I’m not going to relate the entire story (you can read it here), but suffice it to say that the image on the poncho was a result of Juan gathering roses in December (a miracle in itself) and when he opened the poncho in front of his local bishop, an image of the Blessed Mother had been impressed from the roses on the poncho.  That poncho is still on display and I believe the analysis of the image supports a stain rather than a painted on by human hands.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation.  You will need to attend Mass if you are Catholic.  And if you’re not Catholic, you may be wondering what the Immaculate Conception is?  No it does not refer to the conception of Jesus, but to the conception of His blessed mother, the Virgin Mary.

This is one of the harder Catholic doctrines to understand, and I admit at one time, despite being a cradle Catholic, I had problems with it too.  I always just accepted it.  Yes, I can understand Mary being without sin—she is “full of Grace.”  But why immaculately conceived?  The explanation that put me over the top was given by Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, O.S.B.  Mother Miriam was born Jewish, converted to Evangelical Protestant, and then over to Catholicism, where she took religious orders.  Here’s her explanation.

That put me over the top, and now I embrace the Immaculate Conception.

So let me clarify that.  There is the typology (something in the Old Testament prefigures something in the New) of the Tabernacle (the holy place where God resides on earth) now being the Virgin’s womb where Jesus will reside for nine months.  How could God reside in any place not holy?  Mother Miriam draws the comparison in language of the Old Testament where God comes into the Tabernacle (Exodus 40: 34-38) and where God comes into Mary’s womb (Luke 1:35).  Compare, first from Exodus:

And now from Luke:

30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”*35And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

So if the Christ child was to reside in the womb and actually develop through the stages of fetal development off of Mary’s body, then she too would need to be of pristine stuff.  She is a creature, but she is a special creature.  So when you see the Tabernacle in a Catholic Church, that box where the hosts reside, think of that, as I do, as Mary’s womb!

By the way, patron saint of the United States is Mary under the title of The Immaculate Conception. I knew that but never knew why. You can read about why here

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Gospel of Mark: Comments and Observations, Part III

This is a continuation of my comments and observations on the Gospel of Mark in a discussion at the Goodreads book club, Catholic Thought. 

Part I can be found here.  
Part II can be found here. 

Part I focused on the primacy of Mark’s or Matthew’s Gsopels.  Part II focused on modern scholarship and the dating of the Gospels.  Part III takes up all the other comments and observations.

⁑ On the Importance of the Sea in Mark ⁑

I found chapter 4 particularly striking for a few reasons.

First, I love it that Jesus climbs into a boat and preaches. Matthew has the sermon on the mount off a hill or mountainside, and Luke has him preach on the plains, I think. But Mark has Him preach off a boat! Herman Melville in Moby Dick has a famous sermon in a church with the pulpit shaped in the shape of a ship's bow. I think Melville is alluding to this scene in chapter 4.

It seems that Mark has Jesus by the sea more than the other Gospels. But that's an impression on my part. I haven't compared.

The other ting that strikes me about chapter 4 is that so much of the chapter is dedicated to the related sower and mustard seed parables. If you look at most of Mark's chapters, at least the early ones, they have about four or five short scenes, one leading to the next, sometimes in an unconnected fashion. (That's why I get the feeling that Mark is summarizing Matthew or something else in those short scenes.) Except for the calming of the sea at the end of the chapter, this is a very unified and focused chapter. And even the calming of the sea brings the chapter back to the beginning where Jesus is on a boat by the sea.

⁑ On Chapter 5 in Mark ⁑

I love chapter five. I think that is Mark at his best constructing a chapter. First you have the demoniac scene, led to Jairus coming to Jesus to save his sick daughter, and while on the way to the sick daughter, the woman with the continuous hemorrhage gets healed, which during the delay, the death of the Jairus’ daughter is announced, upon which Jesus goes to her and raises her from the dead.

That Gerasene Demonic scene has loaded and, in some cases, strange language. In line 2 the demon is referred to as “an unclean spirit,” singular but later we find out it multiple demons, maybe two thousand if there is at least one spirit to a swine. Isn’t it strange that when the spirit sees Jesus, he runs over and worships him (line 6)? Why would an unclean spirit worship Jesus? And the spirit in the next line cries out “What have you to do with me…” “Me” again being singular, but then we find out it’s not a single spirit but many. A Roman legion by the way consisted of anywhere from three to five thousand men. Isn’t it interesting that the two thousand spirits that went into the swine drowned? Spirits are not immortal? They can die? Also it’s fitting that unclean spirits enter swine, which would be unclean animals in Judaism.

Again the sea plays a role here in Mark that I don’t think plays in the other Gospels. Line 17 is another line that baffles me. After Jesus has cured the demoniac and killed the spirits, why do the townspeople “beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood”? So Jesus gets into His boat and sails off to another harbor on the sea coast. That’s where He meets Jairus. Interesting that Jairus is one of the rulers of the synagogue. Jesus seems to be at odds with most of the Jewish rulers, but here Jairus begs him to cure his daughter.

The continuous hemorrhage on the woman is usually considered a non-stop menstrual problem, which like the spirits in the demoniac would make her unclean per the Jewish laws. There is a bathing ritual which Jewish women are supposed to go through after a menstrual cycle to become clean, but this woman has a continuous hemorrhage, which means she can never become clean. Her healing is along the lines of the demoniac who has been cleared of the uncleanliness.

It’s interesting also that young girl he raises from the dead is twelve, which probably makes her pre-menstrual but close in age to her first menstruation. And her being raised from the dead is the opposite of the unclean spirits and swine that go to their deaths.

Despite the questions I can’t answer, I find that a remarkable chapter.

⁑ On Chapter 10 in Mark ⁑

I love this little scene that Mark has in that 10th chapter:

13And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.
14When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
15Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child* will not enter it.”
16Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

That last sentence is so absolutely wonderful: "Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them." It's such a short scene and it has such minimal theological value, and no narrative value, but it's a wonderful little portrait of Jesus the man. Someone who knows ancient literature correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall ever children being expressively loved that way, even in the Old Testament.

Also Jesus rebukes the disciples. How many times has He done that in this Gospel? Jesus seems to always be rebuking in Mark, just like He rebuked the storm in chapter five. I wonder if Mark uses the word "rebuke" more often. Does anyone have access to one of those Bible word frequency software?

⁑ On the Mention of Children in Mark ⁑

There’s one particular passage in Chapter 9 that has special meaning for me. First let me post it, Mark 9:36-37.

36Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them,37“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.

As some who have been in this book club a while may remember, I’ve mentioned that my wife and I adopted a child, our only child. I can’t remember exactly if that passage was read during Mass just before we went off to Kazakhstan to meet the child or in between trips after we had met the child that would be ours (we had to travel out twice) but sometime before Matthew officially became our child that was a Gospel reading. Funny how the Holy Spirit connects you to things. It has always stuck with me that taking in a child was in effect taking in Christ, and coming with the responsibility that goes with it. In many ways I see Christ in my child.

Also, I didn’t quote the entire passage, but let me now add the preceding lines.

33They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.35Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.

Later in chapter ten as mentioned above, Jesus says that “whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” So to enter heaven you have to be like a child, and to be first in heaven you have to accept children or you will be a servant in heaven. Well, as a parent, one does serve one’s child, and can be looked at as a “suffering servant.” So through care of your children is a means of salvation.

It also struck me that perhaps Mark makes use of children more so than the other Gospels. He recounts Jesus raising Tabitha and curing of demons more than one child. I don’t know if a concordance can add up the various children references. But it would be interesting to compare the uses of children between the Gospels.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Gospel of Mark: Comments and Observations, Part II

This is a continuation of my comments and observations on the Gospel of Mark in a discussion at the Goodreads book club, Catholic Thought.  Part I can be found here.  

Part I focused on the primacy of Mark’s or Matthew’s Gsopels.  Part II focuses on modern scholarship and the dating of the Gospels.

Irene wrote: "Many of them are Catholic scholars who are very faith filled, even priests and bishops. Let's not denigrate these modern scholars by calling their faith into question. WE need to keep this conversation..."

I'm not against anyone, believer or not, putting their opinions into the mix. But it can make a substantial difference in the way they read the texts. It comes down to the assumptions. A believer comes with different assumptions to the Gospels that a non-believer does.

Here's an example that happened to me while I was discussing that Canaanite Woman scene with someone who's forum nickname (this was not on Goodreads) is Manichean. I don't know if he's a believer or not, but the Manicheans were heretics, so we know his sympathies are not traditional. His claim was that Christ after calling the woman a dog and seeing her faith learned not to be prejudiced. Let me repeat that: Christ learned not to be a racist.

If you do not assume that Christ is God and all-knowing and sinless, then Manichean's reading is perfectly logical. Manichean's assumption is that Jesus is an ordinary man. But because we know that Christ knows how the woman will react and knows her heart and that Christ a priori cannot sin, then his reading is actually ludicrous.

Now if you believe that Matthew took from the Mark initial Gospel writing, then how did he rewrite the stories with additional information? He either had different information or he lied. Can a Gospel writer lie? A non-believer would say that is open to that assumption, and therefore he might see Mark as the first Gospel. A believer would say that for Matthew to lie is impossible because he is being guided by the Holy Spirit.

My point is assumptions are different for a believer and non-believer and they can radically shape the reading.

By the way, I still maintain that none of the synoptic Gospel writers were aware of each other's texts and that overlapping scenes are from scraps of texts that floated around from which they happen come across if they had the story and didn't if they didn't come across. Now I'm no scholar and I've never heard anyone put out this theory, so take it with a grain of salt.

Yikes, there's a ton to respond to and I probably won't get to it all. Let me address this that Irene stated:

"What I was reacting to was the claim that most who believe that Mark is the first Gospel to be written were secular scholars, those outside the faith."

I don't think I said that and if I implied it, it was not my intention. I fully acknowledge that Mark having primacy is the consensus opinion among scholars today, both within Catholicism and without. I admit, I am arguing counter to the conventional opinion.

To Francis: Yes, apparently Bishop Barron supports the consensus opinion.

To Susan: Thank you for pointing out no one was being disrespectful. I don't see my comments or anyone else’s as disrespectful.

To Kerstin: I agree, the Synoptic problem will never be fully answered. There are holes in all the established theories, including the one I've been pointing out.

With that I want to remind everyone of Joseph's comment, #45. Joseph is a seminary student in college right now. Here's his entire quote:

"I'm just going to jump in that this is hotly debated among professional scripture scholars. There are representatives of both schools at the seminary where I study and we won't know for sure which theory is right until we can ask the Evangelists themselves "So which of you wrote first?"

That is to say that while Mark may be the consensus opinion, it is not absolute. Frankly consensus opinions about ancient texts, not just Christian texts, have the half-life of an gnat's lifespan. Mark may be the consensus now, but in fifty years it's quite possible, if not probable, the "scholars" will move on to another opinion, maybe even go back to the opinion the Catholic Church had for almost two thousand years.

I did a search for those who support Matthew as primacy and found Taylor Marshall does:

I don't know who Christopher Fischer is, but he goes through the history as to why the Catholic Church chose Matthew as first and why he believes it is the first. It's a great read, here:

Let me just conclude, the reason the Catholic Church has long held that Matthew was first was because several of the Church Fathers claimed it, and they further claim that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and was later translated to Greek. Rhetorically it just seems to me that Mark is condensing Matthew, not Matthew elaborating on Mark.

Irene in her last comment above brought out the issue of dating the Gospels. Modern scholars have dated all the Gospels to be post destruction of the Temple which occurred in 70 AD. As far as I can see the sole reason is that Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple, and so the modernist assumption is that the Gospel writers had to wait until the destruction of the Temple in order to write in a prediction. Again this goes back to the assumptions. If Christ is truly God, then He should have been able to predict the future coming of the Temple's destruction.

In my research over this, I found the Catholic Church traditionally maintained that Matthew was written somewhere between 40-45 AD, not post Temple destruction, and that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic (I had never known this, and my next reading of Matthew in its entirety I'm going to look for echoes that have been pointed out) and that Mark followed Matthew, which completely jives with the rhetorical constructions I'm seeing in Mark during this current read. Catholic Answers has a great layout of the traditional Catholic understanding of when and how the Gospels were written. It really behooves a close reading of it, here:

I think everyone should ask themselves this: If you support the dating of the Gospels to post Temple destruction, why are you doing so? If you are accepting the reason that the Gospel writers could not have known of the Temple's destruction until it happened, then you are unconsciously supporting the secularization of Jesus Christ.

Thanks Irene. I'll have to look into those language and cultural nuances that could effect dating. Dating by the Temple destruction is certainly not nuanced and so it’s a vivid mile marker, but perhaps there are more subtle methods that have gone on. I guess I've been scarred by post-modernist scholars when it comes to literature. I have a masters in English Literature and my engaging with professors and articles during school was definitely forming. The scholarship across the university system is so biased against western tradition and religion I learned that once you probe their assumptions, most of their arguments start falling apart. This is especially true with the post-modernist critics who have it as a mission to deconstruct - and by implication destroy established western norms and traditions, whether by intent or by following "the consensus." I've learned that consensus in scholarship means little to me.

As to theology, I've found this fantastic article on Crux, a Catholic online magazine, about how a current crop Catholic theologians - Scott Hahn, Brad Pitre, others - who are now "correcting" (I would have used the word, revising) the modernist scholars of this century. Like I said, "consensus" in ancient texts has a half-life of a gnat's life. Definitely another excellent read:

By the way, Brad Pitre is excellent. I read his Jewish Roots of the Eucharist and it's a wonderful read. Highly recommend it. Also, his new book "The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ" is on sale at Kindle for $1.99. I just bought it yesterday. It got a great write-up somewhere. I don't know how long it will stay at that price. Here:

Here's the concluding paragraph in the Crux article:

"Put simply, the skepticism of Bultmann, Borg, Crossan and Ehrman is out of date. New discoveries have pushed scholarship beyond their fanciful theories and dubious conclusions. The new wave of New Testament scholars readily accept the positive findings of a century’s worth of research, but in the spirit of true scholarship, they have also learned how to be critical of the critics."

So just because I'm in a minority voice, don't think that what I'm arguing is far afield. It's just not with the consensus.

Let me counter with two points. (1) The Catholic Church has always considered both Matthew to be first and Mark to have learned at the feet of Peter. There is nothing mutually exclusive about that. (2) We have all been formed by the modern scholar's timeline of the Gospel's all being post fall of the Temple. As far as I know the only reason for that is that Jesus predicts the fall of the Temple, and so the Gospels have to be after that. Well that's bogus if Christ is God because obviously God can know the future. (Irene above has argued it is more than just the fall of the Temple dating, but until I read that and am convinced, I'm sticking to the modern scholar's lack of faith in Christ.) Historically the Catholic Church argued that Matthew was written in in the early 40's, which would leave a good 25 years for Mark to then work with Peter to write his Gospel.