At a recent inter-disciplinary meeting of scientists, after the days’ meetings a group of men and women got together at the convention center bar. Encouraged by their own inquisitive minds and a drink or two, they came to the conclusion that humanity had come a long way and were at a point where humanity no longer needed God. So, they deputized one of the scientists to let God know. Continue reading
When Franciscans recount the story of Francis and the leper, one might presume that they are telling a story from a common core, perhaps even an official recounting of the story as approved by a Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. And even if some friars are telling the story from a source different from the “official” record, the different medieval sources used make little difference, yes? Yea… not so much. Every medieval source has its own goal, tone, genre and point of view. And that is especially true in the period beginning some 20 years after Francis’ death (d.1226).
By then the “groups” within the friars had slowly come to the fore and were readily distinguishable. There was no group that was wrong, but then again, each one emphasized one aspect of “the life” they believed Francis wanted for his religious order. These “groups” became sources of history and hagiographic stories about Francis. Each telling of the stories carried their own goals, tone, genre and point of view, ever so slightly shading the account. In its own way, each “source” was essentially battling for the role of custodian of the legacy of Francis. To understand its source, we have to go back into the history of Francis and the early friars. There are many excellent books on the topic. If I would recommend just one, read “Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint” by André Vauchez. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. Vauchez does an excellent job of sorting through the flotsam and jetsam of history and hagiography. Here in this post I will engage in some “hand waving” to give you a sense of the milieu of the day. Continue reading
In today’s first reading we hear from the Prophet Haggai, who ministered in the postexilic period when the Jewish people, under a grant from King Cyrus of Persia, returned to Jerusalem. But it was not the Jerusalem remembered by their parents and grandparents. This was the Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians – Temple, buildings and even the protective walls. Jerusalem was a rebuilding and restoration project of immense proportions. Jerusalem was their national identity – and it lay in ruins. Continue reading
Today is September 23, 2021. It was 20 years ago that Tom Brady became the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots – a job he has had ever since in an amazing career. I received an email this morning from a Tampa Bay Bucs fan who inquired about my position on the possibility of establishing a feast day celebration or at least an optional memorial given the day is otherwise unoccupied by any other special commemoration.
Such things are not up to me…. although I did want to inquire whether this person had set up a home shrine to the GOAT. Continue reading
Next Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Year B of the lectionary cycle with the Gospel reading be taken from Mark 9:38-48. As in the gospel of last Sunday, this gospel also continues the teaching and preparation of the disciples. In the gospel, it seems as thought the preparation is still a “work in progress.”
In seminary exegesis courses one is taught to look for details that indicate a change of scene, location, or other markers to indicate the boundaries of a particular pericope (a technical word used in exegesis meaning “narrative” – and a word that auto-correction keeps wanting to change to “periscope,” which given my history serving on nuclear submarines is kinda’ interesting.). There are no such markers in the text. It is a safe bet to assume Jesus is still in Capernaum, surrounded by the Twelve, with a child in their midst (9:33-37). The expression “little ones” may well also include those given a cup of water because they bear the name of Jesus (v.41).
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe (in me) to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. 44 …. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna… 46…47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, 48 where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:42–48)
Some scholars note that these are likely a series of independent sayings about sin that are inserted here. That might well be true, but the question still lingers, “Why were they dropped in here?” I would offer that there is an implied return to the idea of what it means to serve: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Christian service always has a point of pointing to Christ as the foundation of all service. What could be of greater disservice than to point another towards sin? The opening saying is clear as it sharply denounces such behavior and its resulting consequences. The underlying expression for “to sin” is more literally, “to cause to stumble” or “to scandalize” (skandalizo). This might point to more than simple sin in its varieties of kinds, but more pointedly to a loss of faith. This loss of faith is the sense of the expression’s use in 4:17 and 14:27,29. It is this latter understanding that might be better suited to the consequences. If loss of faith implies loss of the eternal reward of the Kingdom, then the Christian disciple, who is at root of this loss due to their service, suffers the same fate.
Because of the expression “one of these little ones” we easily think of the child references in vv.33-37, but what about the unnamed exorcist “who believe[s]?” How did he or she respond to the disciples trying to stop them from ministering in the name of Jesus? Were the words scandalizing? Were the words used in that attempt as severe as the ones Jesus now uses as he teaches the Twelve? Just as Peter rebuked Jesus and received a direct and pointed reply, so too John and the disciples in this scene.
The punishment by drowning while being weighed down might have been known to the disciples. Acts 5:37 notes the insurrection of the early Zealot leader, Judas the Galilean. The Roman historian Suetonius and the Jewish historian Josephus, both report Judas and his follower’s execution by such downing. But what follows v.42 moves from history to hyperbole.
Among Christians that might argue how to interpret Scripture, one would be hard pressed to find a group that would take vv.43-48 as a literal command of God. But I would offer that all understand the underlying message: each man and woman is a concrete moral agent who is responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions. This is the realism expressed in this very Semitic thought. The radical demand that the hand or foot should be amputated or the eye plucked out, gruesome as those demands are, point to the intrinsic differences between physical life and the absolute value of imperishable life given by God alone. Jesus calls for the renunciation of possessions and family (Mark 10), as well as life itself (8:34) if these things stand in the way of following Jesus. In this same way, Jesus calls for the complete renunciation of a sinful life and activity. These expressions are not a call for radical, mutilating actions, but the continued call for sacrifice to set aside those things that keep you from God. This is emphasized as Jesus moves into the personal: “If your hand…” and “If your foot…” It is a direct plea and teaching for his disciples.
“These sayings challenge us to examine the quality of our discipleship. Is following Christ at the core of our being, something too precious to be surrendered lightly? Or is our Christianity merely a matter of taste and convenience, something we shelve at the slightest difficulty or inconvenience? Belief that is easily set aside cannot be the faith that Jesus calls for among his disciples.” (Perkins, 641)
Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1994) 638-41
Today is the Feast day of St. Pius of Pietrelcina. The saint began life as Francesco Forgione, born in May 1887 in Pietrelcina, a town and comune in the province of Benevento in the Campania region of southern Italy. He was the son of Grazio Mario Forgione and Maria Giuseppa Di Nunzio, one of five children. His family was pious, attending Mass daily, praying the rosary and fasting with great regularity in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. By age five, young Francesco stated that his life would be dedicated to God. He was a dutiful son, tending sheep, but also seemed to suffer from illnesses including typhoid fever. Around the age of 10 he told his family that he was beginning to experience visions. He soon became interested in becoming a Capuchin Franciscan.
When the family inquired about the possibilities they were told that Francesco needed more education. His father, Grazio, temporarily went to the United States to earn income to support special tutoring of their son. At age 15, Francesco entered the novitiate at Morcone, Italy. On January 22, 1903, he took the Franciscan habit and the name of Fra (Friar) Pio, in honor of Pope Pius I – in Italian, “Pius” as “Pio.” After studies he was ordained in 1910 and became known as Padre Pio
On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet, and side. Life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities, and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1920, in an attempt to quell publicity and celebrity, the Vatican ordered Padre Pio to not publicly celebrate Mass or hear Confessions. He complied. The sanctions were soon lifted, but in 1924, and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned with the Vatican denying that the stigmata was due to divine intervention. In varying episodes Padre Pio was again not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed.
Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after 5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time his confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be handled. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that they had never mentioned.
Padre Pio’s life was not without controversy in terms of his conduct and other aspects of his life – but those are for those who wish to research such things. The reports of miracles and other divine interventions on behalf of the prayers of Padre Pio led many to an ever deepening faith. Many people turned to him to intercede with God on their behalf; among them was the future Pope John Paul II. In 1962, when he was still an archbishop in Poland, he wrote to Padre Pio and asked him to pray for a Polish woman with throat cancer. Within two weeks, she had been cured of her life-threatening disease.
Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968. It is surprising to many that he left no letters, correspondence, or records of his faith life, apart from a 1924 pamphlet on the agony of Jesus.
In one of the largest such ceremonies in history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on June 16, 2002. It was the 45th canonization ceremony in Pope John Paul’s pontificate. More than 300,000 people braved blistering heat as they filled St. Peter’s Square and nearby streets. They heard the Holy Father praise the new saint for his prayer and charity. “This is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio’s teaching,” said the pope. He also stressed Padre Pio’s witness to the power of suffering. If accepted with love, the Holy Father stressed, such suffering can lead to “a privileged path of sanctity.”
Partial source: Franciscan Media
In our first reading for today’s Mass, we encounter Ezra. You might ask, “…and who is Ezra?” The genealogy of Ezra (Ezra 7:1–5) traces his priesthood back to Aaron, brother of Moses. He is also called a scribe, well-versed in the law of Moses (7:6), indicating Ezra’s dedication to the study of the Torah, which he sought to make the basic rule of life in the restored, post-Babylonian-Exile community. It was in religious and cultic reform rather than in political affairs that Ezra made his mark as a postexilic leader. Jewish tradition holds him in great esteem. The Talmud regards him as a second Moses, claiming that the Torah would have been given to Israel through Ezra had not Moses preceded him.
Ezra was the one who led a group of Judean exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem after Cyrus of Persia gave them leave to return. Ezra, knowing that the people’s “wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven. From the time of our fathers even to this day great has been our guilt, and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up, we and our kings and our priests, to the will of the kings of foreign lands, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace, as is the case today” (Ezra 9:6-7) emphasized observance of the Torah. He exhorted the Israelite people to be sure to follow the Torah Law so as not to intermarry with people of particular different religions, a set of commandments described in the Pentateuch – as well as other commands.
And yet in the midst of his realization of the many ways the people have sinned and failed to live into the Covenant, Ezra is deeply aware of God’s mercy: “…our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief …. has not abandoned us; rather, he has turned the good will of the kings of Persia toward us. Thus he has given us new life..” (Ezra 9:8-9)
And perhaps that is a lesson for today – to realize that in our encounters with all things, even sin and temptation, God’s mercy and grace and there – always there. Ezra recognized that. Do we?
If you are interested in learning more about this book of the Bible, I would recommend The Bible Project’s 8-minute video. Enjoy.
Next Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Year B of the lectionary cycle with the Gospel reading be taken from Mark 9:38-48. As in the gospel of last Sunday, this gospel also continues the teaching and preparation of the disciples. In the gospel, it seems as thought the preparation is still a “work in progress.” The apostles and disciples have wondered who among them was the greatest, and now it seems they are wondering who should be counted as “among them.”
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” 39 Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
One should not miss the irony in this passage. The disciples were attempting to prevent another from doing what they had just failed to do (9:18). Continue reading
Today is the Feast day of St. Matthew, Apostle and evangelist of the Gospel of Matthew. He is identified as a tax collector for the Roman authorities (Mt 9:9 and 10:3) In passages parallel to Matthew 9:9, both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 describe Jesus’ calling of the tax collector Levi, the son of Alphaeus, but Mark and Luke never explicitly equate this Levi with the Matthew named as one of the twelve. As a tax collector, his fellow Jews would have despised him for what was seen as collaborating with the Roman occupation force. The Pharisees lumped them with “sinners” (Mt 9:11-13) He is noted as being a witness to the Ascension, otherwise, he is unnamed among the accounts of the gospel that often only mention a select few of the Apostles by name. Continue reading
If you would like to read an interesting online short story, consider Scott Alexander’s “Sort by Controversial.” The author imagines a west coast marketing company that accidentally creates an algorithm to generate what comes to be called the “Scissor.” The name scissor seems appropriate as the algorithm is used to create a statement, an idea or a scenario that will create a perfect fissure in and among people. It goes well beyond generating discussion and disagreement. It seeks a nuclear wasteland, take no prisoners kind of fissure. The kind that can leave you absolutely flummoxed that your best friend could possibly disagree with your interpretation of the controversy, followed by escalating fury and paranoia and polarization, until the debate creates the intended goal: nuclear wasteland.
The short story’s protagonist explains the nuclear acceleration: “at first you just think they’re an imbecile. Then they call you an imbecile, and you want to defend yourself. … You notice all the little ways they’re lying to you and themselves and their audience every time they open their mouth to defend their imbecilic opinion. Then you notice how all the lies are connected, that in order to keep getting the little things like the Scissor statement wrong, they have to drag in everything else. Eventually even that doesn’t work; they’ve just got to make everybody hate you so that nobody will even listen to your argument no matter how obviously true it is.”
Sound familiar? The work is fiction, but it makes one wonder.
(p.s. – there is some profanity)