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I’m not taking a stand on that specifically because there’s plenty of related verbiage out there, and most gravitate towards the view that confirms their political views anyway.

But here’s an slightly off-topic take.

Consider this:  for a few decades now, the mainstream view of the narrative in question, among Biblical scholars and those formed by them in seminary and divinity school (which would be most those preaching and teaching at most of you)  is that…wait for it…

none of it actually happened  anyway. 

Right?

Am I right?

Brown, Fitzmyer, Meier, etc., etc.

Now, I don’t want to get simplistic about this. It’s not a matter of Modern Skeptical Absolutism v. Literalist Absolutism. The question, for most scholars and their students is not as simple as: it’s all history and that’s why it’s valuable or it’s all myth and only valuable as such.

Subtle distinctions were made and teased out: the Gospel narratives are testimonies of faith rooted in experience, not 20th century histories, and should be treated and studied as such. There is a difference between exploring what the Gospel writers and their Paperback Jesus of History, Christ of Faith Bookcommunities were pointing to Christologically and saying that one or the other dogma can be “proven” historically. This is what drew questions about Brown and others, most famously,  about the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection. They’d say, “The normal methods of historiography can’t prove that these things happened. They’re in another realm of experience.” And it would be interpreted as “These scholars are saying that the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection weren’t historical events that occurred in the temporal sphere.”

Which sometimes they weren’t – and sometimes they were.

One person’s subtlety is another’s obfuscation.

But through the massive popularity of Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah  – THE authority on the infancy narratives from the time of its original publication in 1977 to perhaps the present –  historical skepticism gained the upper hand over more nuanced theological goals. Brown was “conservative” in a sense –this piece is a fair-minded treatment of his work, I think, but this conclusion, from another paper, authored by a (self-defined) non-conservative scholar, captures the essence of Brown’s project from a (liberal) critical perspective. This fellow says that Brown tried to have it both ways – to undermine the historicity of the infancy narratives, but at the same time saying that the essential Christological truths being communicated weren’t dependent on that historicity.  Brown himself says that the historical-critical method has cast doubt on the historicity of the events in the narratives, and that his project is to show that even if there are questions about historicity by 20th century standards, that doesn’t diminish their value to faith. Dawes disagrees, saying,

In pursuing this question I shall take Raymond Brown’s study of the infancy narratives as exemplary. Let me begin by avoiding some possible misunderstandings. I am not questioning the results of Brown’s exegesis. I shall assume that his results are substantially correct, that he has identified what the authors of these narratives intended to convey to their audiences. In his respect, I greatly admire Brown’s indefatigable detective work. Nor do I wish to dispute Brown’s generally negative judgments regarding the historicity of these stories. He produces excellent reasons to believe that there probably were no magi, that there probably was no star, and so on. I have no personal difficulty with these conclusions. What I wish to dispute is Brown’s assumption that these negative conclusions regarding historicity have no theological significance, that we can embrace the theological significance of these stories while no longer believing that the events they relate really occurred.

I am aware that I am not the only person to question this assumption. There are theologically conservative commentators—with whom I otherwise have little in common—who raise similar concerns. Their conclusion would be that we must regard these stories as reports of actual events, for they would otherwise lose their religious significance. I think that such commentators have sound theological instincts, but I have no desire to embrace their conclusion. I agree with Brown that for the most part we cannot regard these stories as historically accurate. But if it is true that the religious significance of these stories depends on their historicity, what follows? 

Point: There was hedging and tentative language, but honestly, the weight of Catholic Biblical scholarship for the past few decades has assumed that the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke have very, very limited value as history.  It’s a pastiche, a midrash composed, not from the memories of those who were there, but from a mix of Jewish tradition, messianic prophecies and concerns of the communities out of which and for whom the narratives were produced.

And it filtered down, of course.

Consider this summary page from the very popular high school textbook by Thomas Zanzig, Jesus of History, Christ of Faith. 

“In fact, in their infancy narratives, Matthew and Luke may have moved beyond historical concerns altogether, focusing instead on insights into the origins of Jesus that only people of faith would be concerned about.”

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Again, let’s not be simpletons about this.  Catholic Biblical interpretation has never been stuck in bare-boned literalism and historicism. That’s not what this is about. In terms of the Flight to Egypt, of course – as the Fathers long observed – the entire narrative in Matthew evokes the life of Moses, beginning here. We observe that, we meditate on it – but does that invariably drive us to conclude that Matthew wove the tale from threads he spun himself, divorced from historical events? It might surprise you to know how many would say “yes.”

So this is simply my typically over-long way of pointing out something that struck me as, well, ironic.

I mean – if we’re characterizing the Holy Family as refugees…does that mean we’re back to saying that the Flight to Egypt actually happened?

Great!

 

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Some related images from my books.

 

More on the root of Jesse here. 

More on the books here. 

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Another great saint.

 B16 spoke about him at a General Audience in 2009.

It’s very appropriate that John’s feast falls during Advent, during our preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation.

(I have re-paragraphed it for ease of reading. Also bolded some key points.)

John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700.

He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.

In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, “In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?… But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?… And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?… And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible” (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90).

We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God. John Damascene remains, therefore, a privileged witness of the cult of icons, which would come to be one of the most distinctive aspects of Eastern spirituality up to the present day. It is, however, a form of cult which belongs simply to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and was made visible. The teaching of Saint John Damascene thus finds its place in the tradition of the universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine foresees that material elements taken from nature can become vehicles of grace by virtue of the invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the confession of the true faith.

John Damascene extends these fundamental ideas to the veneration of the relics of Saints, on the basis of the conviction that the Christian Saints, having become partakers of the Resurrection of Christ, cannot be considered simply “dead”. Numbering, for example, those "amy welborn"whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John states in his third discourse in defence of images: “First of all (let us venerate) those among whom God reposed, he alone Holy, who reposes among the Saints (cf. Is 57: 15), such as the Mother of God and all the Saints. These are those who, as far as possible, have made themselves similar to God by their own will; and by God’s presence in them, and his help, they are really called gods (cf. Ps 82[81]: 6), not by their nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by contingency and its participation in the fire. He says in fact : you shall be holy, because I am Holy (cf. Lv 19: 2)” (III, 33, col. 1352 a).

After a series of references of this kind, John Damascene was able serenely to deduce: “God, who is good, and greater than any goodness, was not content with the contemplation of himself, but desired that there should be beings benefited by him, who might share in his goodness: therefore he created from nothing all things, visible and invisible, including man, a reality visible and invisible. And he created him envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched with the word (logo[i] sympleroumenon), and orientated towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)” (II, 2, pg 94, col. 865a). And to clarify this thought further, he adds: “We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence (tes pronoias erga), to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, (adika), and admitting instead that the project of God (pronoia) goes beyond man’s capacity to know or to understand (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future” (ii, 29, pg 94, col. 964c).

Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.

The optimism of the contemplation of nature (physike theoria), of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it. From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, “should be strengthened and renewed” by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in “being”, but also in “well-being” (cf. The Orthodox Faith, II, 1, pg 94, col. 981).

With passionate eagerness John explains: “It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught (didachthenai aretes hodòn), the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life…. So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)”…. It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man. John Damascene continues: “he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example…. And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended… to his servants… achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God” (III, 1, pg 94, col. 981c-984b).

We may imagine the comfort and joy which these words, so rich in fascinating images, poured into the hearts of the faithful. We listen to them today, sharing the same feelings with the Christians of those far-off days: God desires to repose in us, he wishes to renew nature through our conversion, he wants to allow us to share in his divinity. May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our lives.

More from Ellyn von Huben at Word on Fire

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Every year I take a few minutes and collect links to some of the parishes around the world who are celebrating Bambinelli Sunday. This is just a quick survey, and it’s so very gratifying to see this traditional continue to grow in popularity. All kudos to Ann Engelhart for seeing the possibilities!

More on the book.

The group in Rome that sponsors the St. Peter’s event…has gone Lego this year. Ah, well:

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From B16 in 2008:

God, our Father
you so loved humankind
that you sent us your only Son Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing
these images of Jesus,
who is about to come among us,
may be a sign of your presence and
love in our homes.

Good Father,
give your Blessing to us too,
to our parents, to our families and
to our friends.

Open our hearts,
so that we may be able to
receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks
and see him in all those
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.

 

 

St. Robert Bellarmine, Bayside, NY

St. Benedict, Covington, LA

Divine Mercy, Hamden, CT

St. Aidan Cathedral, Ireland

Holy Family, Belfast

Incarnation, Bethlehem, PA

Elizabeth Ann Seton, Shrub Oak, NY

St. Leo’s, Elmwood Park, NJ

St. Mary Newhouse

Holy Redeemer Ellwood City, PA

Sacred Heart, Eldon, MO

St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mahanoy City, PA

Suggested by the Archdiocese of New Orleans (headline has an error – refers Lent, not Advent)

Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, Ankeny, IA

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

St. Pius X, Loudonville, NY

St. Sebastian, Greenbrae, CA

Assumption, St. Louis

St. Thomas Aquinas, Zanesville, OH

St. John Bosco, Hatboro, PA

St. Bridget, Framingham, MA

Transfiguration, Marietta, GA

All Saints, Milville, NJ

St. Jude, Atlanta

Mentioned in “Equipping Catholic Families.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catharines, ON, CA

Holy Ghost, Bethlehem, PA

Church of the Holy Family, Dunblane

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

Basilica of St. Mary, Alexandria, VA

St. Michael and All Angels, Diocese of Portsmouth, England

St. Michael’s Blackrock, Cork

St. Ignatius Loyola, NY, NY

St. Mark, Shoreham, NY

St. Thomas More, Somerset, MA

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Blessed Miguel Pro is in the  Loyola Kids Book of Saints under, “Saints are people who create.”

(Click on images for readable versions)

From our 2018 visit to Mexico City and Puebla – the church where Miguel Pro’s relics can be found – except it was Holy Thursday morning that we stopped by, so while the church was open, the museum was not:

 

 

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…and then in the air. Four hour drive to the airport from here (they say) and then a couple flights and then boom! Home!

Which will be great, although this was nice, too:

 

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Gracias, Honduras, 6:30 am, 11/21. Hotel Guancascos.

I’ll be back tomorrow – maybe even late tonight – with Friday takes, and then spend the weekend pulling together my traditional post-trip set of posts summarizing things.

In the meantime, don’t forget Advent is coming – and in particular today, I’ll call your attention to this daily devotional, which begins on the first Sunday of Advent this year, and continues to December 31, 2020:

 

 

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—1 —

Greetings from Honduras!

Before getting into some detail about the last day or so, let me point you to previous posts – we’ve been here almost a week, and if you just click back, you’ll find the daily posts.

Also Instagram, especially stories – for video.

Also – today is the memorial of St. Albert the Great. I have a post about him here, and here’s a page from my entry on him in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

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Please check out all my books!

— 2 —

So, as you can see from the previous entries, every morning this week has been about school. My almost 15-year old studies and practices Spanish from 8-noon every day, we grab lunch, and then go on an adventure of one sort or another. One of the reasons I chose Copan Ruinas as the place for him to study Spanish this time is for that very reason – lots to do in an afternoon timeframe.

Yesterday, we had lunch in a little place – pupusas and a plato tipico made their way to our table. The fellow who served us spoke to us at length in English – not great, but perfectly good. He’d lived in the US for a while, but been deported after an arrest for causing an accident while DUI. He wasn’t resentful – flies an American flag in the restaurant – and says his dad is a legal resident in New Orleans.

Oh, I forgot – in between the end of school and lunch, we ran into and talked with Sa’ad  – a Texan with a law degree from Michigan State who now lives in NYC, practicing a bit of law, making music, and managing musicians, including some from this part of the world. He had been here, meeting up with some friends from Europe and touring the ruins – what was funny was that in looking at his Instagram story, something clicked – I’d noticed this group of American guys sitting down at the place we were eating Wednesday night, and sure enough, in his stories – there’s a video of that meal, and there we are, a quick glimpse in the back. So here’s Sa’ad’s Instagram. 

 

— 3 —

After lunch, we grabbed a mototaxi up to Hacienda San Lucas – an historic hotel up on the hills above the town. There are trails in the forest around the hotel that go by various natural features – a spring, a banana field, up to a rather isolated Mayan settlement – the main focus being Los Sapos – ancient Mayan statues of toads, sacred to them. So we did that, and then relaxed in chairs on the front lawn of the hotel, taking in the view.

(I keep forgetting that it’s November…)

We were told by a couple of people that it was dangerous to walk to or back from the hacienda – it’s about a mile of fairly country roads. I had my doubts, but was prepared to have the hotel call us a mototaxi, but then, as we were sitting there taking in the view, two thin blonde women in shorts came trooping up the hill from the direction of the town. I asked them if they had, indeed, walked from the town, and they said yes, and said it felt perfectly safe. It’s just a little under two miles, so why not?

A good walk – all downhill, so that’s a plus. In lovely country, passing folks as they were coming back from a day of work, either on foot, on motorcycles, or standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of a pickup (very common sight around here – I just assume that someone with a pickup takes whoever wants to go to town from an outlying settlement at any given time.

 

— 4 —

A bit of a rest, then out to dinner at Cafe San Rafael again – I wasn’t feeling another full dinner – I just wanted cheese and wine, and my son says the sandwiches there are some of the best he’s ever eaten.

We didn’t finish the food, and took a box – not sure why since we don’t have a fridge in the room – but we did. And our scent was immediately picked up by a dog who (of course) doggedly followed us through town and to the square. He was not giving up. I put the box behind me. He stayed. He didn’t sit – he just stood right in front of me, the very definition of “hangdog.”

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— 5 –

This morning – photos of the first part of every breakfast, including, this morning, Vietnamese coffee introduced to my son by the inn owner.

 

— 6 —

We have today and tomorrow left here – tomorrow we have an all-day excursion planned, then it’s pack-up time and move on. I was all bound and determined to take the bus to our next destination, but…yeah, I chickened out. I’m telling you – I’m telling you – that if it were a matter of going from A to B, straight shot, it would be one thing. But it’s not. It would, as far as I can tell, involve at least two bus transfers, maybe three. There are no schedules posted online, the busses on these routes are collectivos – passenger vans – and I just have no faith that we wouldn’t be dropped at the first stop and then find no more buses going to where we needed to go for the rest of the day.

So yeah, I splurged on another private driver.

Oh well. I’m spending next to nothing on food, so I guess paying these drivers makes up for it….

 

— 7 —

It’s a major award!

Well, probably not. But two of my Loyola books have earned these honors:

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” Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories was recognized as a winner and Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs & Symbols was recognized as a finalist for Children’s Religious by the 2019 Best Book Awards!

The Best Book Awards honors books from 2017-2019 based on design, content, and overall appeal. “

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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