Surprising Words

One of my daily emails comes from the good people at Merriam-Webster and their “Word of the Day.” The definitions are good, but it is the etymology of the words that I find fascinating. Who knew “desultory” was connected to the circus.

“The Latin adjective desultorius, the parent of desultory, was used by the ancients to refer to a circus performer (called a desultor) whose trick was to leap from horse to horse without stopping. It makes sense, therefore, that someone or something desultory “jumps” from one thing to another. (Desultor and desultorius, by the way, are derived from the Latin verb salire, which means “to leap.”) A desultory conversation leaps from one topic to another and doesn’t have a distinct point or direction. A desultory student skips from one subject to another without applying serious effort to any one. A desultory comment is a digressive one that jumps away from the topic at hand. And a desultory performance is one resulting from an implied lack of steady, focused effort.”  [Merriam Webster]

Just a little something interesting on a Friday afternoon after Christmas.

The Light Shines in the Darkness

Easter Vigil at Sacred HeartWhen I was in Kenya, everyone looked forward to getting their hands on Time Magazine’s Year in Review and Life Magazine’s The Year in Pictures. Given the mail in Kenya we would receive these two magazines, along with the Christmas cards – all about 4-5 weeks after Christmas. I have to admit we would dive into the magazines to see what had happened in the world that somehow never quite made it to the slums where we lived. I always went to the back of the magazines to see what famous person had passed away and to see what other key news there was to glean – oh man!, the Doobie Brother’s broke up! Continue reading

Me? Are you kidding?

TheAnnunciationThe angel Gabriel was sent from God…And coming to [Mary], he said, … now at this point you’re expecting me to say “Hail, full of grace!” For good reasons, we Catholics hang on to that translation which is rooted in the Latin Vulgate “Ave gratia plena” – literally “hail, full of grace” – but that is not what the original Greek (Chaire kecharitōmenē) says. A literal rendering from the Greek would be “Rejoice, highly favored one.” So let’s start over: The angel Gabriel was sent from God…And coming to [Mary], he said “Rejoice, highly favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Continue reading

The Power of Waiting

thepathofhopeAdvent is a season of waiting. Sometimes the goal of our waiting is not exactly clear in our minds; yet we wait. I wait for an idea or at least the seed of an idea for this weekly column. There are times I am just waiting for just a quiet spot within the day, hoping that an idea will surface. It has been a busy day. Plus the production schedule for the bulletin is pushed forward so that our publishing company employees will have time off at Christmas. I am writing this article more than 11 days before you are reading it. Mass, hospital, wedding rehearsal, bulletin – run, Father, run! Continue reading

How Can This Be?

TheAnnunciationIn response to this angelic announcement, Mary asks a question reminiscent of Zechariah’s query, “How can this be?” She had not had sexual relations with a man. Ultimately, the purpose of Mary’s question (v.34)—which leads to Gabriel’s answer (v.35) and the giving of a sign (v.36) and word of reassurance (v.37)—is to emphasize that all of this is God’s doing. Continue reading

Favored and Troubled

TheAnnunciationConfluence. Luke’s narrative style is on display as he deftly moves from the “annunciation” concerning John the Baptist to the one concerning the salvation of all humanity. There is a confluence of temporal and chronological markers, and the reappearance of Gabriel. The “sixth month” recalls v.24, and seems to imply that Elizabeth has only now come out of seclusion. This prepares for the sharing of the news of her pregnancy in v.36 and her subsequent welcome of Mary (vv.39–45). Yet geographically and socio-religiously we move away from the center (Jerusalem and the Temple) to the margins of the nations (Nazareth in Galilee). Gabriel, God’s messenger, is the connector, pointing to the God’s Word active in the world. Continue reading


TheAnnunciationSimilar, yet… In many respects our gospel (Luke 1:26-38) is similar to the annunciation of the birth of John. The angel Gabriel appears to announce the birth of the child, and the annunciation follows the pattern of birth annunciations in the OT: The angel says, “Do not be afraid,” calls the recipient of the vision by name, assures him or her of God’s favor, announces the birth of the child, discloses the name of the child to be born, and reveals the future role of the child in language drawn from the Scriptures. After their respective announcements, Zechariah and Mary each ask a question, a sign is given, and the scene closes with a departure. The similarity of structure and content between the two scenes invites the reader to consider the differences between them all the more closely. For example, the first announcement came as an answer to fervent prayer; the second was completely unanticipated. John would be born to parents past the age of child bearing, but the miracle of Jesus’ birth would be even greater. Jesus would be born to a virgin. The announcement of Jesus’ future role also shows that at every point Jesus would be even greater than his forerunner. Watch how these nuances are developed in the course of the details of this scene. Note this narrative comparison also punctuates the beginning of Mark’s gospel which has no infancy narrative: John the Baptist is not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet to come, and not worthy to loosen the strap of the sandal of the one who is to come. Continue reading

The Annunciation – context

TheAnnunciationLuke 1:26-38  26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 Then 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.” 34 But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” 35 And 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. 36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37 for nothing will be impossible for God.” 38 Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Context. From the beginning of the Gospel according to Luke:

1:1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, 3 I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

The preface to the Gospel of Luke’s begins with the Greek (epeidēper) indicating a formal and important undertaking. And well Luke should write such as he intends to write of the things that God has fulfilled among the believers (among us). It establishes that the good news is already planted – not only in that others have already written their gospels – but that this is living tradition (handed down) among the community. These things have been fulfilled by God and part of his faithfulness to his promises.

Luke 1:5-2:52 forms the section referred to as the “Infancy Narratives.” Luke’s account of the conception, birth, and infancy of Jesus is one of his finest narratives. The Gospel of Mark, one of Luke’s sources does not have an infancy narrative to guide him. The Gospel of Matthew has an infancy narrative, but there is every indication that Luke and Matthew had no knowledge of each other’s work. Rather, they composed their accounts separately at a time when the church was reflecting back beyond Jesus’ public ministry to his earthly beginnings.

The traditional preaching outline began with Jesus’ baptism (as is evident in the sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts, and in the structure of Mark’s Gospel). The infancy stories were added to the front of that outline to serve as a prologue to the main narrative. A prologue announces the themes to be pursued in the body of the work. Both Luke and Matthew proclaim the good news in advance in a kind of mini-gospel based on the birth and infancy of Jesus. If Luke’s infancy narrative had been lost before his Gospel began to circulate, we wouldn’t know it had existed, because there are no clear references back to these chapters in the later account of the public ministry. But the reverse is not true — there are many references forward to the later developments. What we know about the infant Jesus comes from the teaching of the adult Jesus and the early church’s reflection on his life, death, and resurrection. Who is this child? He is Messiah and Lord (Acts 2:36). What does his coming mean? He will save his people from their sins (Luke 24:47). A reader’s understanding of the prologue depends on his or her understanding of the rest of the book. It means much more when read a second or third time after the entire book has been read. The infancy narrative grows in meaning the more the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus resound in the faith of the reader.

The immediate context of our passage is one of announcements:

  • Luke 1:5-25: Announcement of John’s birth
  • Luke 1:26-38: The Annunciation of Jesus’ birth

The next scene opens as though it will continue to tell of the birth of the child promised to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Instead, it tells of a greater miracle and the birth of one who would be even greater than John.

Photo credit: “The Annunciation” by Daniel Bonnell

Pope Francis and Pets in Heaven?

Pope-FrancisPope Francis is a magnet for myths and urban legends – remember the one about him going out incognito at night to feed the homeless? – and he may have been the object of another one this week, with reports that he told a young boy that animals will go to heaven.

According to David Gibson of the Religion News Service, there’s no evidence Francis ever said that, despite the fact that it managed to wind up on the front page of the New York Times.

Pope-Paul-VIYes, a pope did once say that paradise is open to animals, but it was Pope Paul VI, not Francis. In the 1970s, Pope Paul VI said, “one day we’ll see our animals again in the eternity of Christ.”

According to Gibson’s reconstruction, the confusion began when Corriere della Sera, Italy’s main daily, ran a piece about some remarks by Francis on the renewal of creation, and the correspondent quoted the line from Paul VI. From there, it became conflated with what Francis had said, and it was off to the races.

Given that Francis has shown himself to be remarkably open to taking questions from the media, perhaps one day soon we’ll have the chance to ask what he actually believes about the salvation of pets.

For now, the first lesson is this: Beware of every breathless report you hear about Francis.

by John Allen Jr., Boston Globe – one part of article
December 13, 2014