Sunday, April 1, 2018

An aside on this Easter day

Dear Friends,
I know I promised to write about priest’s’ wives, but it’s Easter and I would like to talk about something else, so next week I’ll continue to talk about the fascinating topic of the possibility of priests in the Amazon basin having wives or of wives having priests, if you are not a chauvinist like me. Fascinating. Can’t wait. 
Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I want to recommend a movie. It’s called “Risen”. (2016 starring Joseph Fiennes) It’s the story of a Roman soldier who is assigned the task of finding the body of Jesus of Nazareth after his tomb is discovered empty. He finds the body sure enough; the problem is that it is alive and walking around.
The movie is excellent archeologically, theologically and really a cliff hanger.  The first thing about the movie is that there is no “hill of Calvary”. Jesus is not taken up a hill to be crucified. That’s exactly accurate historically. Jesus was not crucified on a hill far away. He was crucified in a quarry downtown. The traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion was just outside one of the main gates of ancient Jerusalem. Romans didn’t want to waste a perfectly good execution. It was meant to be horrible and very public. The point was, “Do bad things against Roman rule and this is what will happen to you.” The movie is not explicit about the location of the tomb, but the scriptures say that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea in which Jesus was buried was right there in the same abandoned quarry. Therein lays the problem. Because Jesus’ execution was public, his burial and his empty tomb were also public. The movie spins out the theory that they had to find the body in order to end the ridiculous story that Jesus had risen from the dead. That is the central point of the movie. No one can deny the tomb is empty. No one has ever denied the tomb was empty. They just want to explain the empty tomb with anything but a miracle.
Another great point about the movie is its tremendous portrayal of the resurrection. Most people think of the resurrection as resuscitation. Jesus wakes up, stretches, yawns and walks out of the tomb. Risen portrays the resurrection in a completely different way. The resurrection is an EXPLOSION!  Jesus doesn’t walk out of the tomb. He explodes out of the tomb. I am sure you know about the Shroud of Turin. It is the most mysterious archeological artifact in existence. It has been the subject of more man hours of scientific research than any other similar artifact and still they cannot quite explain how it was made.
There were radio carbon dating tests in the last century that claimed to date the shroud to the middle ages, but those tests have been pretty much proven to be only those of a medieval patch that was sown on to the cloth. In other words the sample taken from the cloth was not really the cloth. More recent tests of vanillin content and other linen properties date the Shroud to the time of Christ. Whether you claim that the shroud was the burial cloth of Christ or a medieval forgery, you still can’t explain how the burn marks on the cloth were made. That’s what makes up the image, faint burn marks that rest on the top fibrils of the top fibers of the cloth. Take a razor blade, scrape the cloth and the image disappears.
So, there is this perfect negative image of a tortured, spear-pierced, thorn-crowned, crucified Jewish man that couldn’t be really be seen until the invention of photography. The cloth is covered with a kind of limestone dust that comes only from Jerusalem, and soaked with blood and blood serum that was invisible until the invention of ultra-violet lights. There also seem to be coins on the eyes of the fellow that were minted by Pontius Pilate around 29 AD. The cloth is covered with pollen from plants that bloom in spring only in the area of Jerusalem.
So maybe it’s a really, really good medieval forgery, or maybe it’s the real thing. Either way, there is no way to explain exactly what made those burn marks which have such unique photographic properties, including photo negativity and three dimensionality as well as holographic information. Well, there wasn’t until recently.
It seems that an intense explosion of ultraviolet light can make those kinds of marks, at least according to researchers from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) in Italy. The Shroud is far beyond the capability of medieval forgers. "(Our) results show that a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can color a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin.” The explosion of intense light would have had to be only billionths of a second in duration to make the marks without destroying the cloth. Furthermore at the present time there aren’t enough lasers in the world to scorch a cloth so instantly with such perfect precision.
So there you have it. The Shroud of Turin was formed by an instantaneous explosion of light brighter than the sun. Another interesting observation comes from Dr. Isabel Piczek, a particle physicist. She holds that the image on the Shroud shows the total absence of gravity. The shroud represents an event horizon. In other words the laws of the universe demand gravity, space and time, a least since the Big Bang in which the universe began. The Shroud seems beyond time, space and gravity. The body represented in the cloth seems to stand outside these physical necessities. I think of the words of the Nicene Creed, “Light from light, True God from true God.”  I think, too, of another quote from the Gospel of Luke (16:31) “'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Rev. Know-it all

Sunday, March 25, 2018

What do you think of a married priesthood?


Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I have heard that they are thinking of allowing some priests to marry somewhere in some jungle far away. What are your thoughts?  I thought priests were supposed to be unmarried celibates.
Sally Bates
Dear Sally,
I think you are talking about a Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2019 in which bishops from Latin America’s Amazon region will meet to discuss issues confronting the church in that part of the world. One of the most pressing issues is the lack of clergy in the area. It is rumored that the possibility of ordaining married men may be on the agenda.   
What do I think of it? "Do not move your neighbor's boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.”  Deuteronomy 19:14 And for good measure, Deuteronomy 27:17: ”Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary mark.” Job 24:2: ”Some remove the landmarks; They seize and devour flocks.” Proverbs 15:25: “The LORD will tear down the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Proverbs 22:28 “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set”. Hosea 5:10: “The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary. On them I will pour out My wrath like water.”
Six separate times the Bible forbids monkeying around with boundary stones. When the Bible says something six times, I’d pay attention. Why shouldn’t you move an ancestral boundary stone? You can never get it back quite the way it was, and soon you are going to find out why it was there in the first place. I remember an old Lithuanian priest, Fr, John Plancas. When he saw them taking the confessionals out of the churches, he shook his head and said, “Soon they’ll figure out why they put them there in the first place.”  Change happens. It’s supposed to happen, but how and why it happens is very important. 


Celibacy has a long and disputed history in the church The Council of Elvira (306) is apparently the first official meeting of the church that required clergy to abstain from sexual intercourse. "Bishops, priests, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives.” This may refer to the period immediately preceding the celebration of the Eucharist as is the practice in the Eastern Church Catholics and Orthodox even for the laity. Around 390, the Council of Carthage decreed that, “It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites (deacons)…, to observe perfect continence, (as) the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed... It pleases us all that bishops, priests and deacons, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.” Note the phrase “serve at the altar.”  The implication, in light of well-known custom among eastern Christians, is that when they are serving at the altar they refrain from relations as a kind of fasting.
Saint Hilary of Poitiers (315–68), a Doctor of the Church, was a married bishop. Pope Felix III (483–92), whose father was almost certainly a priest, was the great-great-grandfather of Pope Gregory the Great (590–604). Pope Hormisdas (514–23) was the father of Pope Silverius (536–37). It is unknown whether they lived a normal conjugal life after their ordinations. The First Council of Nicaea (325) considered ordering all married clergy to refrain from conjugal relations, but the Council was dissuaded from doing so by a monk, St. Paphnutius of Thebes. (Some scholars doubt the existence of St. Paphnutius and say that clerical marriage was allowed because of pressure by Emperor Constantine the Great. The point is moot. Even when something is forbidden, it is not forbidden unless it was going on, and Paphnutius is a really cool name. You can’t make up things like that.)  It seems to make great sense that one fasted from intimacy for a stated time before the offering of the Eucharist, as is still done in eastern Catholic and eastern Orthodox communities. 

The reason that priests in the Latin west are celibate is probably because Western Christians became accustomed to daily mass following the custom of the monasteries. Both east and west, monks celebrated daily Mass and included intimacy as something from which they fasted in preparation. Non-monastic priests and laity only fasted at certain times of the year and in preparation for the Holy Eucharist. Where mass was offered every day, it makes sense that the celebrants be unmarried. It seems that in the Latin west celibacy began to be the usual custom around 400 or 500 AD. In the Greek speaking east celibacy has never really caught on except among monks and bishops. 
The rule of thumb is this: a married man may be ordained, but an ordained man may not marry. If a man is called to Holy Orders and comes with a wife, well, he comes with a wife. If he doesn’t come with a wife, be he single, or a widower, he may not marry after ordination. Married deacons in the west are ordained with this condition. If they are married, they promise not to marry a second time. That’s how it has always been. Unlike the Greek east, our custom in the west is not to ordain married men to the presbyterate except by rare exception.  Why the long history? Because I want to make the point that there is nothing innovative or heretical about ordaining married men. We do it now. We have always done it.  I know that I will get some complaints from hyper traditionalists who are so traditional that they disregard tradition, but history is history. 
HOWEVER, I’m not sure that ordaining Amazonian men is a good idea at this time or in the manner being contemplated. There are problems.
1)   Money. If you are going to have married clergy who are full time you had darn well better pay them a decent wage. If you don’t they will find interesting ways to make money. I remember hearing of the situation in a distant country where it was common for indigenous priests to have common law wives and children. The locals preferred the missionaries from America over their own clergy, because the Americans didn’t demand exorbitant fees for sacraments. “How shameful!” I hear you say Hold on. If a man has a wife and a slew of kids he must think about how he is going to feed, clothe, house and educate them.  A man’s natural concern should first be his own family. This is natural and even holy. Familial responsibilities will limit the clergy in unexpected ways. Priests don’t like to offend their bishops or their congregations but will occasionally take a bold strand when they believe it to be a matter of conscience. Had I a wife and kids to feed my conscience would be a lot more picky. I ought to take the brave stand even if it means getting kicked of the parish, but do I have the right to make my family homeless for the sake of my conscience which I may just be mistaking for my bad temper.                                                                      
2)  Danger. I have served in really bad neighborhoods most of my life. Had I a wife and children, you bet I would prefer the north suburban parish to the inner-city parish. The priest may be hero, but it is only natural and noble to want the best for one’s wife and kids.
3)  Sex. It is a very painful thing for a community when its priest falls afoul of the sixth commandment. It is really painful and a source of really enjoyable gossip when the priest’s wife or kids get caught in a compromising situation.  I just read about a Roman Catholic priest of the Anglican usage who was recently arrested. His wife had been having a fling, I believe with a member of the congregation. The priest kidnapped her, drove her all over the city hitting her, yelling at her and blaring heavy metal music. He stopped at their parish church where he made his wife kneel at the altar as he threatened to choke her. This went on for 18 hours. According to his wife, Father took nude photos of her which he threatened to send to everyone in the parish. I assume this will not happen a lot but when it does, believe, you will hear about it. Divorce and abuse will probably happen just as commonly as they happen among the general Catholic population and when there is trouble in the rectory, there will lots of kind people who will want to console the pastor, or console his long-suffering wife, and I don’t just mean by bringing them hot chocolate and cookies. Get ready.
4)  Kids. Most of the pastor’s kids I have known are great people. However, some of them spend lives in therapy because dad took better care of his parish than he did of his family. Preacher’s kids can be just great, and no one notices. It’s expected, after all. See the preacher’s kid’s name on a police blotter or on the evening news and just watch the fun.  I have been told that it is hell to be under the constant scrutiny of a congregation.  It is especially tough when you are thirteen and ticked at your parents who of course are perfect because you, poor sap, are the preacher’s kid.
5)  Lunch.  I had a fun experience a while ago. I have a good friend who married a Greek Orthodox girl. I often visit them at their home. Every time I go to some great celebration and her family is there, they look very nervous. I thought this was because I am Catholic. My friend told me that it had nothing to with Catholicism. It is just that it’s unusual for a Greek priest to go to Sunday lunch at a parishioner’s home especially without his wife. Just imagine the scene “Honey I am going to the widow Woopenwurst’s for lunch after church. I’ll be back around 5.”  Her response: “You’re what?” We in the west are used to the priest being part our lives and families. He won’t be, or least shouldn’t be when he has a wife and family of his own. My friend explained that when a priest comes by to visit, it isn’t usually a fun moment. It means someone had died, or at least soon will. We in the west are used to a certain closeness and even informality with our priests. In the east it just ain’t so. There is a wife to help make sure it ain’t so. Shall I continue? I might as well take the plunge.
I have probably insulted most people already, but now I will take on a real challenge. CLERGY WIVES!!!! I’ll save that for next week at this point it would probably good to have a wife who would wisely tell me to cool it.
Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Do people still believe that Shroud thing?

(The Rev. is taking a break and is offering this article from March, 2015)

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Is it true that there are still Neanderthals that believe the shroud of Turin is the real thing even after it has been clearly disproven by science?
Yours,
Alba Leavnutin

Dear Alba,
I am sure that you are referring to the carbon dating tests that were done on a corner of the shroud in 1988. They dated the shroud to around 1300AD, exactly when the shroud appeared in France. Case closed. The thing’s an obvious fraud. 

I’m not so sure. The tests done on the shroud were amazingly badly done. They were supposed to take ten samples from all over the shroud. They took one sample from the most contaminated corner of the shroud, a corner that had been held repeatedly by dirty medieval hands over the course of centuries. The corner they took is clearly different in appearance from the rest of shroud, especially when photographed by instruments that are able to determine chemical composition by means of light waves. That corner is chemically different from the rest of the shroud. In fact, it seems to have been made of cotton and rewoven sometime in the Middle Ages or early renaissance. 

Dr. Ray Rogers, who thought the whole shroud thing was nonsense after the carbon dating tests, and was enraged at the Binford-Marino theory that the sampled area was a patch. He had some of the shroud threads from that exact area in his possession and set out to disprove the whole Binford-Marino theory. He ended up doing exactly the opposite. He discovered that the sample they tested had been a patch! His work confirmed by Dr. Villareal of Los Alamos labs in New Mexico. He and a team of nine scientists from Los Alamos examined the material from the area of the carbon 14 sampling. This is what they found in 2008.

“The age-dating process [in 1988] failed to recognize one of the first rules of analytical chemistry that any sample taken for characterization of an area or population must necessarily be representative of the whole. The part must be representative of the whole. Our analyses of the three thread samples taken from the Raes and C-14 sampling corner showed that this was not the case.”

Add to this the tremendous financial benefit that accrued to the English team and the British Museum, especially Dr. Michael Tite who supervised the tests, and the whole thing stinks like Limburger cheese.

Nor did he (Michael Tite, the project supervisor) shy from exploiting his laboratory's 'success' in its work on the Shroud in order to raise £1 million pounds to found the Edward Hall Chair in Archaeological Science, a post shortly after taken up by the British Museum's Dr. Michael Tite. This directly secured the laboratory's future." (Wilson, I., 2001, "Obituary: Professor Edward Hall, CBE, FBA," BSTS Newsletter, No. 54, November, p.59).

In other words, Dr. Michael Tite was able to raise one million pounds from anonymous businessmen for a job well done in debunking the shroud and with this money was able to provide a nice post for himself at the British Museum. (That’s $1,870,000 dollars in 1988 dollars when a million dollars was real money!) The whole thing stinks! 

Now the cherry on the cake! That one sample taken from a dirty mismatched corner of the shroud instead of ten pieces from all over the shroud was cut into four pieces and sent to carbon dating labs in Oxford, Zürich and Tucson. The three labs all came up with different medieval dates that went from more recent to less recent as they moved down the sample. This was fairly odd. The conclusion of the “patch” theorists is that the sample had less contamination on one end and more on the other in a fairly consistent manner. 

In addition this testing was supposed to happen under the greatest secrecy until the results were all in. I happened to be in Albuquerque, not that far from Tucson, at a wedding that summer in 1988. At the rehearsal dinner when all the guests were happily liquored up, I struck up a conversation with a physicist from a rather prestigious local institution. I said something like, “Hey, how about that shroud test?” He suddenly got very solemn and shook his head, indicating by a few choice words and grunts that the results were in and they proved that the shroud was a medieval fake.  

In other words, I knew the test results a month in advance of the National Enquirer! I’m nobody! I don’t know science from a bowl of pudding. Still, I was in on one of the supposed greatest secrets of the era a month before the rest of the world. If that doesn’t convince you that the supposed tests were a bunch of stinking fish wrap, well, nothing will. Those tests were done contrary to scientific protocol on a dirty, probably repaired corner of the shroud, the fellows supervising the tests made a bundle on the bragging rights and I, a Midwestern rube, knew about the results well before they were announced.

If that’s your idea of science, perhaps your driving privileges should be revoked before you hurt yourself. People say that those who believe in the shroud are indulging in wishful thinking. The opposite is just as easy to maintain. Those who believe science has said anything that demystifies the shroud are indulging in wishful thinking themselves. They are more befuddled than Bigfoot believers. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Did the Syrophoenician woman teach Jesus to be tolerant?



Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I heard some theologian or other say that in the Gospel a few weeks ago the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter ended up teaching Jesus to be more tolerant. Jesus said to her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She challenged him to see that his ministry extended beyond the Jews. Even Jesus is open to seeing things in a new way. Is this possible that Jesus was a narrow-minded bigot who had to learn a thing or two from a Lebanese lady?
Please help! 
Kay Nanite

Dear Kay,
I wouldn’t worry too much. Whoever said this must be just a pop theologian. They come and go like the fins on a sixties’ Buick. If he’s Fr. WOW! today, he’ll probably be Fr. Who? tomorrow. The great heretic priest, Fr. Arius of Alexandria, rocked the Church in the early 4th century. The trouble he caused lingered around for about two or three centuries, but sanity prevailed in the end. He claimed that Jesus was not really the co-eternal Son of the Father, but sort of a first creature who got a great job promotion and was divinized. No real “Son” of God, no real Holy Trinity. This appealed to the Roman emperors who had just legalized the Christian religion. The word emperor doesn’t really mean super-king. It was Latin for “generalissimo.” Military commanders like neat chains of command. We Christians believe God is a family, not a military pecking order. Still, Arius’ ideas appealed to the emperors as having a much tidier theology than the Catholics. Armies are easier to handle than families. Because of his very convenient theology, Arius had some powerful backers, and St. Jerome, one of the orthodox foes of Arius, said that the world "awoke with a groan to find itself Arian." It seemed that everyone was jumping on the Arian bandwagon. After all, if the emperor and a lot of bishops agreed with Arius, who are we little people to disagree with our betters? 
The truth, it seems, is not a democracy.  Arianism fell out of fashion despite its popularity. Theological fads come and go. The Truth of Christ, the Tradition and the Scriptures remain. Now back to the question at hand and our pop theologian. The passage under discussion is Matthew 15:27 and following;
 “A Syrophoenician (Lebanese/Canaanite) woman ... cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel... It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” She said, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”
I don’t mean to sound fussy, but the reason I call the fellow a pop theologian is that he can’t be much of scholar. He hasn’t read the text. Pop theologians always assume that their opinion is unquestionable, so they never question it themselves. The reason I say he can’t be much of scholar is that he tried to reconcile what seems to be a cruel statement on the part of Christ without looking at the Greek text of the New Testament. No matter what translations say, the word “dog” does not appear in the passage. In Greek, kýōn is the word for dog. A dog was a mangy, semi-feral, scavenging canine. The word that is used in the text is   kynárion which means, puppy. It is a diminutive of kýōn. 

A dog is one thing and a puppy quite another. Jesus called her a puppy. Who doesn’t love a puppy?  Even I who only like animals if they are properly cooked like puppies. Puppies are members of the family. Jesus is drawing her out in a way that is gentle and even kind. In this story, I see Jesus smiling. Jesus knew all along what He intended to do, or better said, what the Father wanted Him to do. He wanted this woman to know how much her daughter’s healing really meant to her. Would she humiliate herself for the love of her daughter or would her ethnic pride be more important to her?  It is to be remembered that Jesus, too, humiliated Himself in the encounter. He was a Jewish rabbi. A phrase at the time was “gentile (non-Jewish) dog.”  Gentiles were unclean, as were dogs, especially gentile women!  She had humbled herself in asking, just as did the Roman centurion in Luke chapter 7 about whom Jesus said, “I have never found faith like this anywhere, even in Israel!”  Humble obedience is an essential component of faith, and Jesus told her that her humble love for her daughtered was true faith.  In using the word puppy, He makes her a beloved member of the family of God which is made up only of the humble.
Our pop theologian doesn’t seem to understand that Jesus power was not arbitrary. Jesus didn’t work miracle on a whim or by His own will. He only did what the Father told Him to do. “I always do what is pleasing to Him (the Father).”  (John8:29) And again, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me.” (John 5:30) Jesus didn’t work miracles because He was God. He worked them because He was the new Adam. His miraculous power came not from Him but from His Heavenly Father.
This is a completely different way of understanding the divine power of Christ. It was the function of his Sonship and perfect obedience.  Jesus “…did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being found in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6, 7) This means that Jesus left the throne He shared with His Father, taking off the prerogatives of divinity like a garment which He left on the heavenly throne. He humbled himself for love of His Father and for love of us. He never ceased to be God, the Son of God. He never ceased to be the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity. He never ceased to be perfect, since the perfection of the God is sacrificial love. In his humanity, Jesus certainly learned. The creator of the world learned carpentry form St. Joseph and Jesus, the Word of God learned Aramaic on His Blessed Mother’s lap. But he did not learn to be less racist from a Canaanite woman. He did not learn moral truth from anyone. He was and is moral truth.  The only instruction that Jesus needed was the Father’s voice, and this He always heard clearly, despite what you may have heard to the contrary.
Yours,
the Rev. Know-it-all.