Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why Are You Crying Out to Me?

(Based upon the reading from Exodus 14:5-18)

"Why are you crying out to me?" All through the Scriptures, our Lord invites us to call unto Him; however, it appears here that God is rebuking Moses. What is going on? Just to get a perspective of what is going on in our passage from Exodus, let us imagine for a moment that there is going to be an exodus of the population of San Jose, California, which has, more or less, a million people. This exodus is going to take place on foot, with no telephones or other modern conveniences. There would have to be some sort of organization, some sort of leadership. You cannot have a million people led by one person only. He would not be able to communicate with a million people. The people would have to be organized, for example, by communities, with appointed leaders. These leaders would report to the Commander, receive word, and relay that word to their people. I think this was probably the type of thing going on during the Exodus out of Egypt.

Moses is going to tell the leaders of the clans what God told him in Verses 2-4 of Chapter 14 in order for the people to have an idea of what to expect, what was going to occur, so that they would not be caught by surprise. This was all well and good--until they actually saw the enormous Egyptian army coming towards them. Upon seeing this, they forgot what they had been told and became panic-stricken. That is understandable because they were not trained soldiers.

"And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord." Most commentaries say that they prayed to the Lord. I think they were too terrified to pray. I think that, when many people become panic-stricken, terrified, they cry out in fear, forgetting to pray. This is, perhaps, what is going on. Poor Moses is so busy trying to reassure the leaders, to get the leaders to calm their people down, to trust God. There is a possibility that even Moses does not have time to pray. Everything is chaotic. Many commentators say that Moses must have been praying--whether verbal or silent--and that God answers his prayer. I think they say this because the "you" in Verse 15 is singular. Perhaps he did; perhaps he didn't. Everything was chaotic, a lot of blame going on; perhaps the people were on the verge of a stampede because of their fear.

If God had told Moses that he, Moses, was going to hold his staff over the waters, that the waters were going to part, and that the people were going to walk through, on dry lad, then I could easily go along. However, we are led to believe that Moses knows nothing of this. Why would God say, "Why are you crying out to Me?" Can you not hear the thoughts rattling in Moses' head: "Uhh, God, do you see what's going on here? I need help. I'm trying to do what You tell me, but everything is out of control. That is why I am crying out! I cannot control a million people by myself!" That is probably what I would be thinking if I was Moses.

Now, God is viewing the Israelites as a body, with Moses as the head--a type of Christ and His Church. Whatever the people are doing, Moses is doing--albeit he was doing nothing wrong--because he is one of them, the head. This is a picture of Jesus and the Catholic Church. In the Incarnation, Jesus, the Son of God, becomes man. Man has fallen. Jesus has taken on the body of fallen humanity although He has no sin, commits no sin. Fallen humanity must die because it rebelled against Life, separated itself from Life. This is why Jesus had to undergo His Passion and death.

Moses must be considered as one of the rebelling Israelites in this passage because this is prophetic of Christ and His Church. Moses was the head; therefore, he was just as guilty--although he did not commit the sin. The head of the body holds the illnesses of the entire body, even if the illness is not in the head. In like fashion, Christ is the Catholic Church, because the Church is His Body. Notwithstanding the fact that the complaints of the people are directed towards Moses, God views the complaints as being directed towards Himself because Moses is His appointed servant. Because Moses is the leader, the head, although the complaints are from the people, God views them as coming from Moses himself also. Therefore, God says, "Why do you, Moses, cry out unto Me?"

In the Psalms, we read of the psalmist crying out because of his sins. Once again, Jesus had no sin, committed no sin; nevertheless, because He had become human, He cried out, holding out our sins as His. God heard the cries of the Israelites, though they were without faith. Because of Moses--because he did not sin in this--God told Moses to tell them to move forward. God also hears our cries, albeit we being of little faith. Because of Jesus--because He has no sin--the Father tells Him to have us move forward, not because of who we are but because of who He is. Our crying out for removal of all our sins are the cries of Jesus, our Head. Because of our faith, given to us by Christ, because Christ holds them out as His cries, will we not be heard? "Why are You, Jesus, crying out unto Me?" "Father, for the salvation of the people You have given Me!"
--Tommy Turner

Monday, July 20, 2015

Deserted Places and Jesus

After reading the Gospel, the Deacon, or the Priest, acclaims, "The Gospel of the Lord." All reply, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ." Then he kisses the book, saying quietly, "Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away." Now, of course, he is referring to the entire Gospel; but, since the portion read to us is most significant for the day, I attempt to focus on how, through it, "may our sins be wiped away. That brings me to the Gospel reading for the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, from St. Mark 6:30-34. On the face of it, everything seems historical and of no real effect to us today--except the historicity of it. However, let's look a little closer at it.

"The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught." Jesus aand the Twelve reflect the Catholic Church of which Jesus is the Head. They must report to Jesus because He is the Head. Jesus does not commend them, nor rebuke them. Why. Think of the your body. The parts of the body obey the brain, the head. The brain does not commend them nor rebuke them for they are obedient. The Catholic Church is the same: The Catholic Church is obedient to its Head, Jesus Christ. Now, someone will surely bring up Judas. but that is getting into something else. Here, Judas was obedient, as the others were.

Jesus says, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." This is because "people were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. Rest and eating (communion) go together. Nevertheless, Jesus knew there would be a great crowd awaiting. Therefore, what was this all about? They were not going to get their rest--or were they?

"So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place." They went off in a boat by themselves, getting away from the crowd. Jesus is in the boat with them; they are "resting" with Jesus, the Word. They also had bread in the boat, for Jesus is the "bread of Life."

They got into the boat. As you probably know, to me the boat signifies the Catholic Church, the ark. I think it is a beautiful picture, how we rest and commune in the Catholic Church with God.

This morning, my thoughts were expanded more up the "ark" picture. We are taught that the ark also points to the Virgin Mary, our Mother, the Mother of God, because the Son of God was in her womb. Inside of the ark of the Covenant was three things: the two tablets of the Law, a jar of manna, and Aaron's rod. I knew all three items pointed to Jesus. To me, the first two items were self-evident: The Law reflected the nature and character of God--Jesus--and the manna reflected Jesus being the Bread of Life, the true bread from heaven. That left Aaron's rod, which had budded. At first, I was thinking that Aaron's rod reflected the Cross, the rod being used for correction, for guidance. Then the thought occurred: What if Aaron's rod was a picture of the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus' head? The rod had budded. I believe I read somewhere that every time we prayed a Hail, Mary one of the thorns would turn into a rose. The heart of man lies primarily in the mind. God promised that He would take our hearts of stone and replace them with a heart of flesh, that He would put His Law into our hearts--our minds.

But what of the Cross? You cannot have the Gospel without the Cross. The boat--the Catholic Church, the ark. I thought, "That does not make sense." Or does it? The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus presides over every Mass--from the Cross. The altar is a picture of the Cross, the table upon which we commune.

But what of our Blessed Mother, if the ark portrays her? The Virgin Mary was without sin, full of grace. What do we have, that we do not receive? She was without sin, full of grace because of the Cross. The Church teaches that she was in full cooperation with the plan of God when it came to Jesus' Passion and Death. The Virgin was human, and humanity--in order to be redeemed--needed the Cross. She needed the Cross. She is the Lady of Seven Sorrows. How heart-broken she had to have been. She is portrayed as standing next to the Cross. She is not looking up; she is looking down upon another Mary, who is kneeling at the Cross. She is looking down with compassion, with pity, upon the Church, of which she, the Virgin Mary, is part of. She is imparting the grace of her Son upon the Church. The Cross was a crude "resting place" for our Lord, who rested in death upon the Cross. Tradition also has Jesus, after being removed from the Cross, being placed into the Virgin's arms, "resting" in her arms, before "resting" in the tomb. Christ rested upon the Cross, and we "rest" with Him on the Cross because in Him we died.

Now, the boat was also a "deserted place." The waters are a picture of fallen humanity doing what is right in their own eyes--chaos. The boat rode above the waters, "resting" above the waters as the Cross "rested" above the earth. In this "deserted place," the apostes rested and communed with Jesus.

"People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them." I call these people the irresponsibly-responsible people. In times of this passage, people did not get paid weekly or bi-weekly, did not have refrigerators, etc. It is my understanding that they went out daily to obtain their daily food. Hence, these people--the men--were irresponsible in that they were not providing for their families--"if a man doesn't work, he shouldn't eat"--nevertheless, they were responsible in that they were yearning to "see" Jesus. Which group would I have been in? those who went to work, or who went to see Jesus? If I worked to provide for my family, I would be obeying Jesus; if I went to hear Jesus, I would be obeying Jesus. In both instances I would be trying to obey God's word. God would use those that went to "fill me in." It is a Martha-and-Mary thing.

The boat must have been in sight at all times and was not going far because "they hastened there on foot from all towns and arrived at the place before them." Hence, Jesus was not attempting to get away from them; He just desired that the apostles rest a little and eat. Then He was going to have the Church shepherd the sheep, He being the chief Shepherd. The people hastened to get away from their towns, to go to a deserted place where there would be few distractions. They hastened to get away in order that they may have time with Jesus and His Church, that they may rest.

"When He disembarked and saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things." Jesus and His Catholic Church shepherds by teaching and feeding. We are not told what He taught because the important thing is: He shepherds by teaching and feeding, while we rest in Him.
--Tommy Turner

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why Seek For What We Think We Already Have?

Reflections on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B:

Why do we seek for what we believe we already have? The answer is quite evident: We don't. We only seek for what we have lost or what we desire to find. This brings me to our first reading

Things are going well for Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Their king has just been victorious in battle; the economy is great. They believe that God is blessing them, is pleased with them. They have Him; whey should they seek for Him? Although they are involved in "calf" worship; they believe in the God of their fathers, the God of Moses; they just worship Him in their own way. Nevertheless, things are going great, which they rightly attribute to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses. Why should they listen to a prophet from another country, who speaks nothing but gloom and doom? When everything is going well, we do not welcome words of pending doom., especially when we believe that it is God who is blessing us because we are pleasing Him. Why should we change? If things are rough, times hard, okay, let's listen; but, no, not now. The human tendency, the natural tendency is to "do what is right in our own eyes."

Why seek God when we believe we already have Him?
Did we not receive Him in Baptism--we in Christ and Christ in us? Yes. Do we not receive Him in the Eucharist--body, blood, soul, and divinity? Yes. Well, why do we have to seek for what we already have? Don't we just seek Him now when we want something? No. What we seek for is God's name, who He really is. We seek Him constantly because we desire to know Him more, to be as He is. I believe it is St. Augustine who explains that we live by faith, not by sight, yearning to see God face-to-face--by sight. That is the purpose of our pilgrimage. What are we seeking? We are seeking to mature in Christ, to become more and more the image of the Son, Who is the image of the Father.

At the end of last week's Gospel reading, we read that our Lord "was amazed at their lack of faith." Jesus is human; He could, while on earth, only be in one place at a time. He was limited by His humanity. Therefore, He sent the Twelve out two by two to preach that the Kingdom was at hand, to seek to enter the Kingdom. They were to take nothing but a walking stick--a staff, or better, a rod. Think of the staffs, rods, of Moses and Aaron. They were to trust God to fulfill their needs.

Baptism is the beginning of living by faith. We go to Mass, not to fulfill an obligation but because we seek God. We confess our sins because we have fallen--have stopped seeking Him--and we need to be set back on our feet in order that we may continue our pilgrimage, the goal of which is to see God by sight. In the Mass, we give ourselves and our "treasures," exchanging them for Jesus' divinity, for which we are seeking. We receive the Eucharist, receiving our Lord--body, blood, soul, and divinity. This also is living by faith. It is a progressive development, a maturation. A glass can be filled slowly or rapidly; nonetheless, the filling process must always begin from the bottom. When we sin, we cut off the water supply. We are warned that the water supply is going to be turned off, but we do not listen--because it is not what we want to hear. When we do not listen to the Catholic Church, we are stopping the water supply. As I have said before, The Catholic Church is the visible Christ on earth. It is His Body, of which He is the Head. If we do not listen to Christ--through the Catholic Church--the resulting outcome is that we "do what is right in our own eyes." What occurred in the Book of Judges when the Israelites "did what was right in their own eyes"? It makes truth relative. The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ, the ark, the Boat. It will persevere, endure, to the end. If we remain in her--not just think we are in her--we also will come to a successful completion of our pilgrimage to the fatherland: "As for me, in justice I shall behold Your face; I shall be filled with the vision of Your glory"--Entrance Antiphon.

St. Paul reminds us what God has given us in the Catholic Church (Eph 1:3-14) and what awaits us if we submit to Christ through the Church. The Father "enlightens the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call" when we listen (obey) the Church. God does not redeem a bunch of individuals; He redeems a people, a community--the Catholic Church. Protestants are part of the Catholic Church, albeit estranged. Our Lord prays that we be unified; He saves a Body. The Church prays for all members of its Body.

"O God, who show the light of Your truth to those who go astray, so that they may return to the right path, give all who for the faith they profess are accounted Christians

the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ and to strive after all that does it honor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever"--Collect.

We are not like the Jews who sought Jesus because of what He could give them: sustenance for their bodies; no, we seek Jesus for the purpose that He makes us as He is, that we see Him no longer by faith but by sight--face-to-face--that we become His image, as the Catholic Church is His image. Although we individual Catholics are not an image of Christ, the Catholic Church in its doctrine and dogmas is an image of Christ.

"Look upon the offerings of the Church, O Lord, as she makes her prayer to You, and grant that, when consumed by those who believe, they may bring ever greater holiness.  Through Christ our Lord"--Prayer Over the Offerings.

"The sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for her young: by your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are they who dwell in Your house, for ever singing your praise"--Communion Antiphon.

"Having consumed these gifts, we pray, O Lord, that, by our participation in this mystery, its saving effects upon us may grow. Through Christ our Lord"--Prayer After Communion.

Yes, we do seek for what we already have because it is not yet fulfilled in us by sight. Because we are a Body, we pray for all. We will complete our journey as a unified Body; therefore, we pray for those who may forget to pray. We need each other. Then the end of the journey will be upon us, and we will see by sight.

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh (keeps asking) receiveth (always receives); and he that seeketh (keeps seeking) findeth (always finds); and to him that knocketh (keeps knocking) it shall be opened" (Mt 7:7-8). What are we asking, seeking, and knocking for? Not for things, but to know God by Name, who He is.
--Tommy Turner

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida:

Those Days of Depression and Melancholy

For 10 days, I labored over the readings for Sunday, the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time. I knew what I wanted to write about, but I had the most difficult time expressing my thoughts and feelings with words. Much of the time, I had great difficulty focusing on the task at hand, even sometimes really desiring to set down to attempt to write. I would pray, "Lord, You have to help me; I can't do it." I awoke this morning with these thoughts. By God's grace, may they be of benefit.

Psalm 123 is an ascending psalm. We ascend when we turn our thoughts to God and walk in obedience to God's law, walking in obedience to the Catholic Church which explains God's law to us.

But what about those days of depression, seemingly days on end, that we are melancholy? What of those times when even trying to do a little good is a tremendous burden? When everything is so bleak? What of those days when we feel God does not really care for us, will not help us; those days that we really don't care for anything except having a pity-party?  We feel as though there is no one in the world who understands how we feel.

Those are the days that we cannot focus upon God--even if we had the desire to do so. The Scriptures are dry to us; don't mean a thing. They are just words on a page, going "in one ear and out the other, and we simply don't care. What about these days? These are very dangerous times. We know that our feelings are fallen, that they deceive us much of the times; nevertheless, they often dictate how we act and react. We must remember that these are days that Jesus went through.

My mind will often conjure up the thought: "But Jesus is God." That thought, albeit true, can be extremely harmful to me in that the underlying belief is that Jesus is more God than man, which is absolutely, totally false. Jesus, although wholly God, is also wholly man. He had undergone everything that we undergo in order that He may sympathize with us. He went through days of depression, times of melancholy that we cannot even fathom. He had to be tested--experience more than anything we experience. How many times did He feel He was "speaking to the wind," because people--even His own disciples--could not comprehend what He was teaching them, often taking things out of context, misinterpreting what He was saying? We sense this in the times He would say to His disciples, "Ye of little faith."

Was He not melancholy when He had set His face like flint towards Jerusalem, to undergo His Passion? Was He not melancholy to the utmost in the Garden of Gethsemane? Let us try to put ourselves in our Lord's sandals. How would we feel, knowing every livid detail of what we were going to have to suffer? Would we not "cave in"--unless God upheld us, strengthened us? This is how the martyrs were able to undergo their martyrdom; this is the only way that we will persevere. I have heard people say, "I will die for Christ." No, they will not--if God does not strengthen them. This is what St. Paul was referring to when he said, "When I am weak, I am strong." However, he had, thrice, cried out to the Lord.

Although I think I am taking it out of context, I believe St. Augustine's remarks still ring true: "What maketh the heart of a Christian heavy? Because he is a pilgrim, and longeth (always longing) for his country." This is one of the reasons why it is necessary for us to undergo these periods of time. These days of depression, of melancholy need to remind us that we have not "arrived," that this world is our pilgrimage, that our souls long for our "country."

The psalmist may very well have hit the proverbial "rock bottom." He can only must enough strength to lift up his "eyes" to God. This is the times that all we can muster is a feeble "Lord, help me." Our "eyes" are our thoughts. Our help-me-Lord cries must remain upon our lips "till He has mercy upon us." Although we have not been punished to the degree that we deserve, nevertheless we are undergoing more than we conceive that we can bear. "In my weakness, I am strong."

During these times also, we need to be reminded that we are not "islands in a stream," that we are not the only ones undergoing these feelings of depression. The psalmist begins with "I" but quickly reverts to "our." There are other Catholics and other estranged brethren undergoing what we are experiencing--and more so. Our prayers must be for them also. Perhaps, they are so weak, so fearful, that they cannot--or forgets--to cry out to the Lord. Let our cries be for them also, for we are one Body crying out for one another.

When we listen to our Lord by means of the Catholic Church, we ascend. The Spirit enters us and sets us on our "feet," placing us upon solid ground. The Catholic Church is now our Lord's "native place," His Kingdom. However, many are the times that we, individually, are a rebellious people. "Have pity on us, O Lord, have pity on us." Many times our Lord does not perform "mighty" deeds, apart from curing a "few sick people," for our sake, for His love for us keeps us from becoming even more accountable for our sins, our unbelief. Now, meditate upon the Entrance Antiphon:

Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of Your temple (the Catholic Church), Your praise, O God, like Your name, reaches the ends of the earth; Your right hand is filled with saving justice.

Thank You, Lord, for Your Church.
--Tommy Turner

The Historical Jesus

The Historical Jesus
The Historian's Dilemma: "Nothing But The Facts"

Historians have come to recognize that our sparse historical sources -- coming both from ancient pagans as well as from early Christians -- make it difficult for historians to augment Jesus' biographical-historical life over that found in the Gospels. Even though we love and believe in the Christ of faith as portrayed in the Gospels, the human side of our mind might like to have a thorough and accurate biographical history of Jesus that supplements the Gospels. We could think of this as if Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated without a thing being known about him other than that he had been President. Upon his death, we probably would have wanted to know when and where he was born, where he studied law, what kind of a lawyer he was in Illinois before he became President, his role in the Civil War. And how did it come about that a majestic memorial was built personifying him sitting in a chair?

This is roughly analogous to our interest in the historical Jesus. Jesus was purely man as well as purely God. We don't need the facts about His early life in His incarnation as a man. But perhaps in our years of studying the Gospels' we begin to want, for example, details about His foster-father Joseph, who His friends were, who His “brothers and sisters” were (see Mark 6:3) and what “brothers and sisters” meant in the scope of the large extended family that all Jews had, hence whether he had cousins and uncles. What sort of games did He play in His early childhood, when and how did He become a carpenter, and was He good at his craft? Did Jesus at age 10 have a crush on one of the pretty girls in Nazareth? The Gospel authors did not provide us with any of that biographical-historical data, nor anything remotely similar to it.

How did Jesus, a boy before age 12, attain to the wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures that He displayed in his give-and-take with the teachers of the law in the Temple, and what did it mean at that age for Him to “be in His Father's house?” (Mk. 2:41-52). Did Joseph give Him a scolding for worrying himself and Mary for not telling them that He “had to be about His Father's business?” And did He feel chagrin that his mother had been anxious for Him for the three days before she and Joseph found Him in the Temple, i.e., did he sense his mother Mary's “keeping all these things in her heart?” (verse 51). And what role did Mary, His sinless virgin-mother play in teaching Him about the Jewish law as well as generally raising Him to be an obedient boy?

What about Mary's taking charge of Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana? What did that mean to Jesus? The wine had run out, and she informed Jesus, “They have no wine.” (Jn. 2:3). Jesus gave her what might have been a “put-down,” maybe even a “smart-Aleck” question, by saying, “Woman, how does your concern affect me (verse 4)?” Ouch! But notice what Mary did in return. She ignored Jesus' impertinent question and just took charge of the situation by saying to the servers, “Do whatever He tells you!” (verse 5). She didn't say anything to Jesus such as, “Well, are you going to do anything about this?” Knowing more about the relationship between Jesus and Mary, His fundamental human relationship, would certainly be interesting, even crucial in our desire to know about the historical Jesus. The early family life of a person tells us a great deal about someone's personality later in life. How about Mary standing at the foot of His cross, wondering what He meant when He said to her, in a dying gasp, while referring to her and John, “Woman, behold, your son,” and to John, “Behold, your mother.”

No, we don't need to know more such biographical-historical data about the Christ of faith from the Gospels in order to attain His salvation. And it was precisely the Christ of faith that the Gospel authors passed onto us, and not Jesus' human, biographical-historical life. But if we somehow could get a more detailed written account of Jesus as a human being, authorized by the Church as truthful, we would probably want to read it. If we want know about God, we have to know about Jesus, who tells and shows us who God the Father is. The authors of the Gospels, the four evangelists, wrote purposely for believers, and not at all for professional historians. The slender biographical-historical facts that are in the Gospels give us enough information to preserve the necessary faith in Jesus that we need as Christians. However, if we Christians desired to construct a deeper biographical-historical account of Jesus, we would need the skills and training of professional historians in order to augment the life of Jesus presented in the Gospels.

Historians' Difficulty in Using the Gospels as Historical Sources

As a matter of fact, a myriad of historians – literally hundreds of them from the 19th to the 21st centuries -- have made a close study of the Gospels following the technical and scholarly rules of historiography in order to deepen our knowledge of the biographical-historical life of Jesus. Their historical quest was based not on a desire to improve upon the Gospels' presentation of the Christ of faith, but to increase humanity's sense of the historical Jesus. However, the search by historians for the historical Jesus outside of the Christ of the Gospels proves to be a difficult task. The main difficulty in constructing the life of the historical Jesus has to do with the sources that are available to historians. Historians regard the Gospels themselves as sources, but they are not the only sources historians want to have at their disposal. The reason for this is that historians find discrepancies and inconsistencies in the Gospels, and these failures of a unified logic on the part of the Gospel authors violate the primary tools of historical research and conclusions.

Let's consider the major inconsistencies that tend to drive historians away from writing an account of the historical Jesus based entirely on the Gospels as their source. Since the historians start with the Gospels as their principle historical source, there are obvious passages in the Gospels that are either not subject to historical study or are confusing to historians because they seem contradictory. For example, historians can't very well talk about Jesus' miracles as evidence for his earthly life as an historical figure. But the main inconsistency bothering historians in their quest for the historical Jesus is His resurrection, or as historians would say, “His so-called resurrection.”

Here is how historians view the resurrection scenes reported by the authors of the Gospels as contradictory: First off all, the resurrection itself is not narrated in the New Testament. What is narrated is the empty tomb and the apparitions of the risen Jesus. The earliest witness of the resurrection, written probably in 51-52 A.D. is in 1 Cor. 15:3-8, two decades before the first Gospel appears, Mark, in 70 A.D. Paul writes:

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received...that Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that he appeared to more than five-hundred brothers at once... After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all...he appeared to me.” (1 Cor. 15:3-8.). [Further] If you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9).”

Important proof texts of the resurrection appear frequently in Acts of the Apostles, e.g.: “God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death...” (Acts 2:24). All in all the Pauline preaching and Luke's historical record in Acts make it abundantly clear that the resurrection was a primary object of the apostolic proclamation from the very beginning. Peter said of the Twelve before the evangelization depicted in Acts even starts: “Until the day on which he was taken up from us, [we] were a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22). Historians take seriously these proclamations in the early Church of the early Christians' belief in the resurrection, as they are reliable reports by the Church of solid sightings of the resurrected Jesus early on in the Church's preaching and mission.

However, what prevents historians from accepting, not the reliability of witnesses' testimonies to the post-resurrection appearances, but their difficulty in accepting as reliable the original scenes of the post-resurrection accounts themselves, on the third day after Jesus' death as recorded in the Gospels:
(1) In Matthew's Gospel, Mary Magdalen and “the other Mary” are the first to go to the tomb, which still has a stone rolled in front of it. There was an earthquake followed by an angel rolling back the stone to the tomb, and telling the women, who did not go into the tomb, “Go quickly and tell his disciples He has been raised from the dead and is going before you to Galilee...[After seeing Jesus and embracing His feet the women “did Jesus homage.”] Jesus then tells them, “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Mt. 28: 1-10).
(2) In Mark's Gospel, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome go to the tomb with spices. The stone had already been rolled back and the women entered the tomb, seeing “a young man” clothed in a white robe. As in Matthew's account, the women are told (not by Jesus but by the “young man”) to go tell Jesus' disciples that “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.” (Mk. 16: 1-7).
(3) In Luke's Gospel, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, (and unnamed others) take spices to the tomb, enter and find two men in dazzling garments appearing to them and telling them to remember that Jesus had told them he would rise on the third day. The women left the tomb and went to tell the apostles what they had seen and heard, but the apostles thought their report was nonsense. However, Peter got up and ran to the tomb by himself, saw the burial cloths and went home. 
(4) In John's Gospel, Mary Magdalene, by herself, came to the tomb and found the stone rolled back. She ran and told Peter and “the other disciple” (unnamed). The two men ran to the tomb, with the other disciple out-running Peter, looking in the tomb but not going in. Peter, however, enters the tomb and sees the burial cloths. Then the other disciple also entered the tomb. Then both men returned home. Mary evidently had gone to the tomb after the two men, and stayed outside the tomb weeping, and then saw two angels. She turned around and saw Jesus, although thinking he was the gardener. Jesus says to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Jesus in Hebrew, “Rabbouni, which means Teacher...Jesus tells her “stop holding on to me... for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
Historians' Methodology

Historians find these accounts of the resurrection three days after Jesus' death disparate and even downright contradictory. To understand this, we must understand the methods historians use to write history. Two words summarize the demands that professional historians impose upon their exploration of the past: (1) as we have already seen, historians need sources. (2) And their sources must be reliable enough to provide direct evidence that they are genuine and persuasive. The direct evidence of what their sources tell historians about the past would have to be substantial enough to stand up in a court of law proving historians' conclusions.

With regard to historians using the Gospels as sources for finding the historical Jesus, historians have a dilemma confronting them. As suggested earlier, the Gospels were not intended to be objective descriptions of historical facts, but proclamations of the “good news” of the salvation that Jesus brought, written by his followers who wanted to promote faith in Him. But we have more biographical-historical information in the New Testament about Paul than we have about Jesus. That is because Paul wrote letters of which we have the complete subject matter. These letters are written sources providing direct evidence not only about Paul's life as a founder of Christian communities throughout the Roman world, but also direct evidence of geographical, political, social and cultural facts about that world. Jesus left us no writings of His own. Historians have only someone else's writings about Jesus written by third parties.

Therefore, the sources we have about Jesus's life and teaching -- the four Gospels -- are third-party accounts supposedly written by four saints whose names were added as titles to the respective Gospels many years after the appearance of the Gospels in the early Church. The four saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not the authors of the Gospels bearing their names. In fact, the Gospels were written anonymously. The words found in modern Bibles, “the Gospel According to..,” followed respectively by the four names of the men inserted as the Gospels' authors, was a phrase added to the titles of the Gospels in the 15th Century, shortly after 1453 when the printing press was invented.

An anonymous printer in Basel, Switzerland, is known to have added the various numbers designating chapter and verse headings to his printed books of the Bible, making the Bible much more readable to the average person. This same printer is a likely candidate for adding the four phrases at the top of the first pages of the four Gospels, namely, “the Gospel According to...” followed by the names of the four saints who had become popularly designated as the Gospel authors during the Middle Ages.

Analyzing the Four Gospels as Preliminary Sources

St. Mark may have been the only truly named, entitled author of at least a part of a Gospel. Mark travelled with Paul on Paul's first and on part of his second missionary journey, and then was dismissed as having deserted Paul by not continuing his work with him. (Acts 15:38). Mark went to Rome to attend to St. Peter, translating Italianized Latin for Peter, evidently never even going to Jerusalem. Thus Mark was something of a linguist, and may have been the key exponent of getting Aramaic records of Jesus' sayings translated into the original koine, common, or everyday Greek, in which the four Gospels were written, rather than in classical Greek.

However, Mark's whereabouts were also subject to changes in venues that disassociated him from the time needed to sit still and write a full Greek Gospel, or even to train disciples to serve as his secretaries for writing one. Shortly after St. Peter was executed under Nero's persecutions, in 64 A.D., Mark was called by the Christians in Alexandria, Egypt to come and serve as their bishop. This was an appointment he accepted, and after that we don't know when or where he died. There is a tradition associated with both Peter and Mark that Peter dictated a portion of oral remembrances of the gospel to Mark before Mark left for Africa, which made their way into an Aramaic source that Mark probably supervised to some degree, and afterward sponsored the turning of the Aramaic into the final Greek version.

Mark's final Greek version was translated not by Mark himself but by unknown writers, probably in Rome, after Mark left for North Africa when Nero's persecutions of Christians rapidly sped up, making Peter one of its victims. This final Greek rendition was used by the sources who were the eventual supervising editors of both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, permitting us to accept Mark as the first true organizer of a Gospel, which was named for him in 70 A.D.

St. Matthew and St. John both likely would never even have seen a Gospel named for them. That is because they both left Jerusalem and Palestine shortly after the Lord's resurrection and ascension. St. Matthew went first to Antioch, a popular city for early Church leaders establishing a community of future saints and martyrs. St. Matthew is said to have dictated unorganized Aramaic sayings of Jesus to a secretary, but then left it to an anonymous expert in Greek to make the translation from Aramaic to Greek.

Whether before or after the Greek translation was made, Matthew left Antioch and traveled to North Africa, perhaps to Alexandria first, but certainly to Ethiopia, where tradition in the Church's official Martyrology, or the recording of the deaths of the martyred saints, give evidence for his death by execution in Ethiopia. The Gospel named after him is dated as written in 85-90 A.D., perhaps dates that come from an unofficial oral tradition for the date of Matthew's death. The Gospel of Matthew depends heavily on the Gospel of Mark, as does the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Mark is found in 330 verses out of 1068 in Matthew, and 330 out of 1150 in Luke.

St. John is remembered by reliable sources to have taken Jesus' mother, Mary, with him to Ephesus, where he is said to have formed a school of disciples to whom he dictated his Aramaic account of Jesus' life and teaching, that was later (c.95-c.109 A.D.) translated into Greek. John was eventually arrested for not honoring pagan gods and goddesses in Ephesus and sent to the prison island of Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea west-southwest of Ephesus, where either John or an associate experienced the visions set forth in the Book of Revelation, and recorded in the final edition of that book.

John's Gospel is genuinely associated with the Apostle, as he is said to have organized a school of disciples to whom he dictated major portions of his Gospel. Matthew's and John's moving their residences from Jerusalem meant they themselves did not have the time needed to write the lengthy gospels named after them. However, it seems likely that St. John wrote the three Letters named for him. It must be remembered that John's Gospel was separate and distinct from either comparison to or reliance on the other three Gospels, which are grouped together and called the Synoptic Gospels.

St. Luke was called the “beloved physician “when by Saint Paul (Col. 4:14), and was the only Gentile named as an author of a Gospel, as well as of The Acts of the Apostles. Luke accompanied Paul on three of his missionary journeys, and, like Matthew, he too became a co-founder of the church in Antioch, where he was an associate of St. Ignatius (35-107 A.D.), the first bishop of Antioch. Luke eventually returned to his native Greece, where tradition says that he wrote his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles in the most scholarly version of koine Greek when considered with the Greek translations made among the other Gospels translated from Aramaic to Greek. Luke was remembered as having lived alone unmarried and having died at age 84. Luke makes a strong case as an authentic author of Scripture, both of his Gospel and, even more importantly where historians are concerned, Acts of the Apostles.

Luke's action of originally writing in Greek was because his native tongue was Greek and thus the Gospel assigned to him needed no translation from an oral Aramaic dictation to Greek, as was the case with Matthew, for example. The one book in the New Testament that is accepted as truly historical by scholars is Acts of the Apostles, unquestionably written by Luke, and unquestionably a source that projects direct evidence of its authenticity as a source for historians. Luke made use of three main sources for his writing, namely, (1) the Gospel of Mark in a primitive Greek format, as we have seen above, (2) a document called Q, (see next below) from the German word for source, Quelle, and (3) Luke's recording of his own reminiscences from talking to people in Palestine and Antioch who had been either disciples of Jesus or knew direct evidence of Him from friends or neighbors in the early Christian community. Luke's reminiscences came to be called L by scholars, as it was original in and of itself without reliance on either Mark or Matthew.

The Mysterious Q

The German name, Quelle, obviously pricked historians' interest, because they believed that with Q they might have finally found a legitimate original source representing the Gospels as the biographical-historical Jesus. The only problem for the historians was that, as soon as they learned about this, the yearned-for earliest source for much of the Synoptic Gospels, they also found out that while Scripture scholars had extracted Q from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Q itself did not exist as a separate document in its original form. Whereas above we pointed out the close reliance of Matthew and Luke on Mark, Q was taken from the close parallels of verses in Matthew and Luke. Thus, to abbreviate the existence of the pre-source material underlying the Synoptics as direct-evidence sources, we have one strand identified as (1) Mk-Mt-Lk as a single united source, (2) Mt-Lk as another single united source, and (3) Q-Mt-Lk as the third single united source.

Q consists mainly of sayings of Jesus, but includes also material on John the Baptist and Jesus' forty-day fast and His temptation by Satan. Q was a single document, not merely a collection of oral traditions written in Greek as were the Synoptics. Its entire content was used either by Matthew or Luke or by both of them. The order of Q's contents in Luke is nearer to the original than that in Matthew. If, as scholars think, Q was all of an original piece, than it, and not Mark's Gospel written in 70 A.D., would qualify as being the first written Gospel. Unfortunately for historians, they have no way of holding Q in their hands as they do with other sources, including the source material of the four Gospels. These Gospel source materials constitute a collection of writings scattered here and there along with oral remembrances by early Christians, which likewise are not as original as Q. Hence scholars needed to search out other sources, which they have done by leaving Christians sources like the Gospels behind and turning instead to Roman-pagan sources, which we will now turn to.
Roman History as a Source

The first Roman historian relevant to the search for the historical Jesus was Suetonius (75-160 A.D.), who wrote a biography of the emperor Claudius, in which he writes about newcomers to Rome from the east, or Palestine. He says that these newcomers are religiously devoted to a man named Chrestos, which was the Greek spelling of the name Christus, or the Latin name by which Roman Christians referred to Christ. Suetonius also wrote that these newcomers were drawing many Jews into the new religion. Suetonius obviously is a meager source, but he is both a very early and credible one, telling us authentically that Christians were adding to the population of Rome and worshiped Christ.

Next comes a well-known Roman historian who rose to high rank in Rome's government, namely the consul, Tacitus (55-120 A.D.). Tacitus tells us of a fierce persecution directed against the chrestiani, or Christians, under the criminally insane Emperor Nero (37-68 A.D.) Tacitus writes that Christians were believers in a certain Chrestos, who was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (Emperor 14-37 A.D.) Tacitus obviously tells us more than Suetonius does about the early Christians.

Pliny the Younger (c.62-c.114), a successful lawyer and a consul in the east, wrote the Emperor Trajan (53-117 A.D.) seeking instructions on how to deal with a sect of Christian believers on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Pliny reported that these believers assemble on certain days before sunrise and sing hymns in honor of a man named Christ, as though he was a god.

The best written source for modern historians in learning about the historical Jesus is Flavius Josephus (c.37-c.100 A.D.). Josephus was a Jewish historian, who in 66 A.D. joined forces with the Maccabean family in waging war against Romans in Palestine who had desecrated the Jewish temple. In 94 A.D. he published his massive twenty-volume, Antiquities of the Jews, in which he refers to Jesus as follows:
“He as a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man, and accomplished incredible deeds and taught all men who receive the truth with joy. He drew to himself many Jews and many others who came from Hellenism. Although Pilate condemned him to death on the cross at the instigation of the leaders of our people, his early followers remained faithful. For he appeared to them on the third day restored to life, as the prophets sent by God had foretold this and a thousand wonders of him. The Christian sect, which is named after him, survives to this day.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, Section 3).
Summary of Historians' Efforts to Write a Life of the Jesus of History

The writing of the life of the historical Jesus has been the major problem of New Testament scholarship for more than a century. After numerous shifts of opinion, the consensus of scholars is that the life of the historical Jesus cannot be written. The reason is that the sources for an historical biography do not exist. Refinements on this statement diverge all the way from historical skepticism which asserts that the historical Jesus cannot be known, to the conservative position which believes that we lack only an exact chronological scheme.

More persuasive is the historical conclusion that the life of Jesus cannot be written because it has already been written in the Gospels. The purpose of the Gospel writers was not to write a biography of the historical Jesus, but to present His teaching on the Kingdom of God and the necessity for human beings to seek and enter that Kingdom. Jesus was “the way, the truth and the life” for showing what the historical Jesus as we know Him, if only from the Gospels, personified the Kingdom of God in His person. But the Gospel writers did not, and were unable, to present his historical biography.

The compelling personality of Jesus which emerges from the Gospels is one and vividly real, but little effort is made to delineate Him fully. We can believe that the atmosphere of mystery in which he appears reflects the atmosphere of his historic presence. Those who knew Him and related the anecdotes from which the Gospels were written knew that there were depths in Him which they never comprehended. The modern historian will do well to respect their reserve.
--Tony Gilles

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Breaking of Dawn

This from the readings for the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

Lot is one of my favorite characters in the Bible because I can identify with him and because St. Peter, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, refers to him as "righteous Lot." When doubts enter the mind, causing discouragement, remembering Lot gives encouragement, hope, reminding me that all is not lost. It also increases my love of God, reinforcing the the fact God loves us so much that He is faithful to go to extremes--if we are willing--to "keeps us in the fold."

It was "as dawn was breaking" that the angels urged Lot on. There was a "dawn breaking" during the battle for Iwo Jima when Gunnery Sergeant Basilone, U.S. Marine Corps, before being killed in action, would go from foxhole to foxhole, urging Marines forward, knowing that their chances for survival and for the successful completion of the mission depended upon their moving forward, instead of hunkering down, allowing the enemy to "zero" in on them. Today is the "breaking of dawn" for us, just before our Lord, Jesus Christ, returns. The Catholic Church is urging us on everyday by means of the Mass and the seven Sacraments. It is for our safety and for the mission of the Church. We are frail, weak, making excuses, sometimes falling--by virtue of fear: fear of losing something, missing something, fear of not enduring, etc.--nevertheless, God keeps us if we seek Him, cry out to Him, by having others, the Catholic Church, "seize us by the hand, leading us to safety." However, we must not "look back," as Lot's wife did, wistfully desiring to like the world.

God did not rescue Lot and his family for Lot's sake, but for Abraham's: "When God destroyed the Cities of the Plain, He was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living." God did not redeem us for our sake, but His. "And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I will have acted well toward you for the sake of my name, and not according to your evil ways, nor according to your very great wickedness, O house of Israel, says the Lord God" (Eze 20:44). "Help us, O God, our Savior; and free us, Lord, for the glory of your name; and forgive us our sins for the sake of your name" (Ps 79:9). "I acted for the sake of my name, so that it would not be violated in the sight of the Gentiles, in the midst of whom they were, and among whom I appeared to them, so that I might lead them away from the land of Egypt. Therefore, I cast them out of the land of Egypt, and I led them away into the desert. And I gave them my precepts, and I revealed to them my judgments, which, if a man does them, he shall live by them. Moreover, I also gave to them my Sabbaths, so that these would be a sign between me and them, and so that they would know that I am the Lord, who sanctifies them" (Eze 20:9-12). Needless to say, when God works for namely His sake, it is also for our sake.

Although Lot was rescued for Abraham's sake, nevertheless he and his family had to be obedient: They could not look back. Lot's wife did, and was turned into a pillar of salt. The angels seized their hands and led them out, but they could not look back; otherwise, they would perish. Because of our propensity to sin, in our weakness we cry out to God, "Search me, O Lord, and trye me; test my soul and my heart; for Your mercy is before my eyes, and I walk in Your truth." St. Augustine has a great commentary on this psalm: "'Prove me, O Lord, and try me.' Lest, however, any of my secret sins should be hid from me, prove me, O Lord, and try me, making me known, not to Thee from whom nothing is hid, but to myself, and to men. 'Burn my reins and my heart.' Apply a remedial purgation, as it were fire, to my pleasures and thoughts. 'For Thy mercy is before mine eyes.' For, that I be not consumed by that fire, not my merits, but Thy mercy, whereby Thou hast brought me on to such a life, is before my eyes. 'And I have been pleasing in Thy truth.' And since my own falsehood hath been displeasing to me, but Thy truth pleasing, I have myself been pleasing also with it and in it." It is not by our might or intelligence that we are redeemed and endure, but the grace and mercy of God. It is in His mercy that "He seizes our hands and leads us to safety." He does this by means of the Catholic Church and the Sacraments. We walk in His truth when we do do our best to be obedient to the dogmas and doctrines of the Church--even if we do not understand them or agree with them--since they come from our Head, Jesus Christ.

God does not make the Way difficult. He knows better than us what will bring us happiness, for He created us. We must trust Him and the Church He created to guide us. He asks that we desire and work to be the image of His Son, who is the image of the Father. We "look back" when we fruitlessly attempt to change God into our images by maintaining erroneous conceptions of God and His laws.

Jesus got into a boat--the Catholic Church--and His disciples followed Him. The sea is the world, man doing what is right in his own eyes--chaos--"the cities where Lot had been living." Even when He is "sleeping," the world cannot overcome the Catholic Church, even when it "appears" the boath is being swamped by waves. Our numbers may decrease by virtue of those "Catholics in name only" breaking away; nevertheless, the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.

Lord, in Your mercy, seize our hands and correct our wayward thoughts and ways. Dawn is breaking; and soon our Savior, our Redeemer, will be here. We just need to "watch" a little longer, taking one small step forward at a time. We are on a pilgrimage; let us not be distracted.
--Tommy Turner