Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy New Year

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The New Year fairy stopped by to wish you all a wonderful 2006. She's getting pretty old, but she's still going strong.

Christmas gifts

I received some wonderful gifts for Christmas. These are two I'm excited about. I got Hitchock's movie Rope on DVD. It's a marvelous experimental film inspired by the real-life Leopold-Loeb murder case. There is some wonderful diologue about the meaning and value of human life. I actually created a Rope Bible study for the youth a few years ago.
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I also received Jerry Sutton's book The Baptist Reformation: the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. I'm looking forward to the read, as the story has an impact on all churches, as well as our culture. This is from Richard Land's comment on the book: "Southern Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to Jerry Sutton for applying his academic training in history and his love for his denomination to telling the inspiring and fascinating story of how a people reclaimed their denomination from theological drift to liberalism."

Kenneth Hemphill, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Fort Worth added, "Numerous studies have indicated that denominational health and theological integrity are integrally related. Those interested in church growth will want to study the conservative resurgence in Southern Baptist life."
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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Remembering the Holy Innocents

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Today is Childermas, the commemoration of the innocent male children of Bethlehem who were slaughtered in Herod's attempt to prevent the Magi's words about this newborn "King of Israel" from coming true. The story is recorded in Matthew 2:7-18.

The popular Coventry carol is essentially a lullaby to those children who now rest in Christ as the first martyrs.

Burden: Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child, bye-bye, lully, lullay.
1. O sisters too, how may we do for to preserve this day this poor youngling for whom we sing bye-bye, lully lullay? Burden.
2. Herod the King, in his raging charged he hath this day his men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay. Burden.
3. That woe is me, poor child for thee! And every morn and day, for thy parting nor say nor sing bye-bye, lully lullay. Burden.

It is also a time for remembring all innocent victims, especially those least able to protect themselves--unborn children, the elderly, the infirm, and all others in danger of being euthanized. I commend the article from the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life called "The Pro-Life Argument of Rowan Williams" (the current Archbishop of Canterbury) by Victor Lee Austin. I also recommend their list of "101 Pro-Life Things You Can Do."

From another site, I suggest the information sheet on Abortion and the Early Church.

Let us pray.
We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What is the leading cause of death in the United States?

Take a guess before you peek.

This chart illustrates the greater problem for minorities, such as the African American community in the state of Minnesota.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Chappy Chanukah

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This year, we rejoice with our Jewish friends that December 25th begins the "Festival of Lights" known as Chanukah (also spelled "Hanukkah"), which commemorates of the Dedication of the Jerusalem Temple. The story is recorded in the Christian Old Testament in 1 Maccabees 4:36-61 (which ironically, is not found in the Hebrew Bible). The book chronicles the liberation of Jerusalem from the Hasmoneans.

In the year 167 BC, the truly evil ruler Antiochus VI Epiphanes had a shrine to Zeus erected in the Temple of Jerusalem. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Judah Maccabee ("Judah the Hammer"). By 166 Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful.

After having recovered Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one, and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, oil was needed for the menorah of the Temple, which was supposed to be kept burning throughout every night. There was only enough oil to last for one night, yet miraculously, it lasted for eight days--the same amount of time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil. An eight-day festival was instituted to commemorate this miracle.

The Maccabean movement has a "messianic" character about it. That character may be tied to the one New Testament passage (John 10:22-39) with a direct reference to the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple (Hanukkah). The questions about Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the charge that he makes himself equal to God, and the emphasis on the theme of eternal life suggest that the setting is part of John's effort in his "Book of Signs" (John 1-12) to show that in Jesus, the Jewish festivals and institutions reach their fullness. Certainly, the beautiful prologue of his gospel, which talks about the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ, speaks to the ultimate meaning of this "Festival of Lights."

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . . . He was in the world, and the world was made through him, but the world did not know him. He came to his own people, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:4-5,10-14)
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Sunday, December 25, 2005

When was Jesus born?

It seems like that's one question that my elementary school religion students always ask about this time of year. While we celebrate the occasion on December 25th (and keep celebrating until January 6th), most of them understand that it is not a historical affirmation about Jesus' exact birth day. Or is it?

For those who love celebrating birthdays, it is an interesting question. A few early Church fathers mention it. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria reported that certain Egyptian theologians "over curiously" assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ's birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, though they did this believing that the ninth month, in which Christ was born, was the ninth of their own calendar. Others reached the date of 24 or 25 Pharmuthi (19 or 20 April).

I recommend William Tighe's article in Touchtone magazine rebuking the popular myth about the origin of a December Christmas. In his article, he observes:
It is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus' birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals. Rather, the pagan festival of the "Birth of the Unconquered Son" instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the "pagan origins of Christmas" is a myth without historical substance.

It is important to note also that December 25th is not the winter solstice. I also recommend the fascinating article on Christmas from the old Catholic Encyclopedia.

Merry Christmas

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After completing his marathon of Christmas liturgies, Father Fluffybottom stopped by to wish us a Merry Christmas.

Christmas at the Vatican

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Watching the Midnight Mass this Christmas Eve, I noticed something for the first time that was pretty interesting. I noticed that when the Holy Father held up the consecrated Host to be adored by the faithful, the Swiss guards saluted the Blessed Sacrament.

Homily for the Nativity

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Given at St. Alban's, Arlington on 24 Dec 2005
by The Rev'd Timothy Matkin, ssc

They call them the "thin places." For the Celtic Christians of Scotland and Ireland and Britain, who are among our closest spiritual ancestors as Anglicans, there was great significance to natural places of meeting. They were fascinated by shorelines where the sea met the land, by fjords and rivers, even by doorways of their homes which were the meeting places of outside and the inside. These spoke to them as ways that God uses time and space to meet us and give us glimpse his holiness in the here-and-now.

The native Celtic festivals celebrated times when the world we see and the unseen world seemed to be in close proximity, even to overlap. Of course, to believe in such a thing as a "thin place" you must also believe in a reality which is beyond what we can see, touch, taste and smell. Thin places mean little to those who are convinced that nothing is real that cannot be identified and quantified. Thin places elude those with no longing for transcendence, with no mind for events filled with mystery, wonder, and awe. Events like this holy night in which we observe the vigil of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ—the eve of the Christ-mass.

Every Christmas, we long to capture that sense of wonder and awe. It is the one time of the year when I almost feel like a child again. (Dare I say, to feel like tiny Tim again?) And rightly so. Charles Dickens put it this way, "It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself." The Holy Land has its thin places too. They cover the land. You find them in the towns of Nazareth and Bethany. You see them at the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. You discover them at Cana and Jerusalem.

One of the early thin places mention in the Bible is Bethel. We find the story of Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28. Jacob was the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. And at this point in Genesis, he is traveling to find a wife. He’s also on the run from Esau, after stealing his blessing. Jacob camped at Bethel for the night, resting his head on a stone. He dreamed that he saw there a stairway reaching up into heaven, with angels going up and down upon it.

Above that was God the Father, speaking to Jacob, confirming to him the promises made to his father and grandfather, and pledging to be with Jacob all the days of his life. Jacob awoke suddenly, and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I didn’t even know it." And the Bible says he was sore afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

In the morning, Jacob marked the spot with a stack of stones, which he consecrated as an altar and a memorial. The narrator tells us, that is why this city is now called Beth-el—the "House of God." Later, Jacob unknowingly wrestled with God through the night at Peniel. God gave him the new name Israel in honor of his will to keep up the struggle. And Israel would go on to be reconciled to his brother Esau and to have twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel.

Another thin place is Bethlehem, or Bet-lechem. It means "House of Bread," and the town is called the "city of David" for it was there, in his hometown, that David was anointed by the prophet Samuel as king of Israel. Micah had foretold that, like David, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and that he would rule the throne of his father David for ever and ever. Bethlehem is really a rural village. As it was in David’s time, it is surrounded by flocks of sheep with their shepherds.

It is on this holy night that heaven and earth—the visible and the invisible parts of God’s glorious creation—begin to overlap and intertwine. As simple shepherds gaze up into the dark and starry night sky, it is suddenly filled with the light of heaven. With the brilliance of God’s glory shining all around them, just as Jacob beheld the angelic stairway, these simple shepherds became sore afraid. And the angel of the Lord said, "Be not afraid. I bring good news. This is news of great joy for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

The quiet countryside once punctuated by the baahs of sheep now come alive with the sound of fluttering angel wings and with the music of all the choirs of heaven, singing "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and goodwill to men." What was so special about Bethlehem that night? What made it one of the thin places? It was because there, in a simple village, in a shelter for animals, God’s gift to mankind was unwrapped and presented to the world. The Lord called simple shepherds to come to receive the gift on behalf of all humanity. How simple, yet how wondrous and the ways of the Lord!

Is it not true that the best gifts are the ones we really need. For every time it is used, we are reminded of the wisdom and generosity of the one who gave it. The world was not in need of a prophet or teacher or healer. But the world was in desperate need of a Savior. And so the Angel says, "unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." This is God's greatest gift to the world.

It was on this night that God’s plan of redemption was manifest in the flesh. On this holy night, the ark was opened—the ark of a new covenant. On this night, the immaculate womb of the blessed Virgin Mary gave forth a Son. The old ark contained the Word of God written on tablets of stone; the new ark contained the Word of God, who became flesh to dwell among us. The old ark contained the blossomed rod of Aaron, the high priest; the new ark contained our Lord Jesus Christ—our eternal great high priest. The old ark contained a jar of manna—the bread that God provided to feed Israel in the wilderness; the new ark contained the true bread that comes down from heaven (see John 6). On this night, the blessed Mother bore the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, true God from true God. The eternal manna, the true bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world was manifested to us for the first time in Bethlehem ("House of Bread.")

Which reminds me, I made my first communion on Christmas eve 1991 at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. (Look where that got me.) My own non-denominational church was not offering any Christmas eve or Christmas day services that year. And I wanted to celebrate the festival the right way. I wanted to go to the house of God, the gate of heaven. For me, it was a thin place, it was a holy night, heaven and earth came together. That happens each and every time the Mass is celebrated across the world. The Christian altar is a thin place—it is the gate, or the "meeting-place" of heaven and earth. In celebrating the Eucharist, we go back to Bethlehem and receive heavenly manna at the house of bread. At every Mass, we join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven in their unending hymn of praise to God.

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That night 14 years ago at that big Episcopal cathedral in Seattle, I felt like I was singing with the angels at Bethlehem. And I also knew it was time to receive Jesus as manna. The true bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world is not food symbolizing God; it is, rather, God symbolizing food. I was just beginning to understand that truth. The same Jesus who was born this night in a lowly village, the Son of God incarnate in human flesh and blood, is the same Jesus we offered to us in Holy Communion.

That was a thin place for me 14 years ago. I didn’t know it then, but my life was changed by him who is the author of life itself. This can be a thin place for you tonight. So come—come to Bethlehem, and see him whose birth the angels sing. Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king.

Let us pray.
Almighty God, you have poured out upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My salmon recipe

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To mark the last Friday abstinence of the year, according to the Prayer Book, I wanted to celebrate the occasion by sharing my favorite fish recipe.

1. Buy a frozen whole fillet of salmon (available at Wal-Mart grocery for $5.44).
2. Thaw overnight.
3. Spread on pesto sauce
4. Throw it on the grill and cook med-high for approximately 12 minutes.
5. Prepare a side dish, such as green beans or other veggies.
6. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

For my international readers

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Mi ne komprenas vin. ─łu vi parolas Esperanton?

One thing I never expected when I started this project was to have an international audience, aside from perhaps a few English priests and seminarians. I was genuinely surprised see that Timotheos Prologizes has received hits from the following countries around the globe: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland, Spain, Belgium, Singapore, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Philippines, Iceland, Mexico, Japan, Austria, Thailand, Bahamas, Poland, India, Serbia and Montenegro, Chile, Taiwan, Mauritania, Aruba, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Czech Republic, Argentina, Turkey, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Hungary, Croatia, Malta, South Africa, Vietnam, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia, Uruguay, Norway, Brazil.

That made me think about how I might be able to serve my international clientele. The most difficult obstacle to enjoying a blog is the language barrier. So I thought perhaps from now on I should write every post in Esperanto. It is the most widely spoken artificially constructed international language. It was developed in the late 1870s and early 1880s by Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof. His goal was to create an easy and flexible language as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding. Although no country has adopted the language officially, it has enjoyed continuous usage by a community estimated at between 100,000 and 2 million speakers. Two films have been produced with dialogue entirely in Esperanto. The films were Angoroj in 1964 and Incubus starring William Shatner in 1965.

On second thought, that sounds a bit too labor intensive--especially since I cannot read and write in Esperanto myself. For my international readers, just use a web translator. Of course, I guess you already have if need be.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The ministry of episcope

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Looking at the readings from the Daily Office for today, I thought it would be nice to share St. Paul's words on this Advent greater feria about those who are called to exercise the ministry of episcope (that is, bishops or "overseers").

"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you--if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:5-9).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Happy Birthday Melisa!

I want to wish a happy birthday to my wonderful wife Melisa. I am so blessed to have her in my life. Please check out her website.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Without spot of sin"

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To mark the Octave of the Feast of the Conception of Our Lady, I wanted to add some Anglican texts related to the subject.

I only recently discovered the reference to Mary's innocence in the preface for the Incarnation (used in Christmastide) from the Book of Common Prayer up until 1979. The prayer says:

"Because thou didst give Jesus Christ, thine only Son, to be born as at this time for us; who, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, was made very man, of the substance of the Virgin Mary his mother; and that without spot of sin, to make us clean from all sin."

I also found the following quotes. The first quote is from the Catechismus of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (published in Volume III of the Father of the English Church).

"I believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, . . . was made perfect man, and was conceived in the womb of a woman, being a pure virgin, called Mary, of her proper substance, and her proper blood . . .

I believe also that all this was done by the working of the Holy Ghost, without the work of men, to the end that all that was wrought therein might be holy and without spot, pure, and clean; and that thereby our conception might be clean and holy, which of itself is altogether spotted and defiled with sin.

I believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, without any manner of sin, and without any breach of her virginity; so that by his pure and holy nativity he has purified and made holy ours, which of itself is altogether unclean and defiled with sin."

Archbishop William Wake of Canterbury, outlined the Church of England's poition on Mary in a sermon of 1688 to the members of Gray's Inn.

"We believe her to have been a most pure, and holy, and virtuous creature: that her virgin mind was clean and spotless, as her body chaste and immaculate; and that she was upon the account of both, the most fit of any of her race or sex for the Holy Ghost to over-shadow, and for the Son of the most highest to inhabit. When we consider the firmness of her faith, the fervour of her devotion, the excellence of her humility; we cannot but acknowledge a grace extraordinary in her, working all these eminent and divine qualities."

George Hickes, the Dean of Worcester also commented on the theme of the purity of Mary in one of his sermons.

"God the Father, who was to prepare a body for his eternal Son, . . . would not form it of the substance of a sinful woman, but his own essential holiness, as well as the mysterious decency of the dispensation would prompt him to form it of the substance of one, that like the king's daughter in the Psalm, was all glorious within, and a pure and spotless virgin, both in body and mind. We may also be assured from the holiness of God the Son, the eternal Word of the Father, that he would not . . . deign to be conceived in the womb of any woman, but of such an one, who was a vessel of honour, in whom the Spirit of God did dwell, and whose very body was a temple of the Holy Ghost.

She that was the Mother of God could not be but a very good woman; she that conceived, and bare, and brought forth the holy Child Jesus, the Virgin Mother of Immanuel, . . . surely must have been pure, as he was pure, and holy, as he was holy.

For to use the Apostle's phrase in another sense, the fulness of the Godhead could not dwell bodily in a wicked woman; nor could she be deceived and led away by the serpent, whose seed was to bruise the serpent's head.

Nay to be chosen for the Mother of God, was the greatest honour and favour that ever God conferred upon any human creature. None of the special honours and favours that he did to any of the saints before or since, are equivalent to the honour of being the Mother of God. And therefore we may be sure that God, who said, them that honour me I will honour, would not have done so great an honour to any daughter of Abraham, but to the one who best deserved it, to one of the holiest among the daughters of Israel, to the most heavenly minded Virgin of the tribe of Judah and the royal house of David; who had no superior for holiness upon earth."

I am a feminist*

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Notable feminists: Gloria Steinem, Rosemary Ruether, myself.

I happened to be up late the other night and ended up on the website of the Episcopal Women's Caucus (I know, I know). It was at that point that I made an important life discovery. I am a feminist*. I had always thought I would be out of contention, until I saw the clear and accurate definition of feminism* proffered on the website. Whenever the word occurs on their site, there is this note of explanation, "A feminist is anyone who believes that God created males and females equally human."

That put me squarely in the feminist camp. I thought about who else in the world today might be a feminist also. I began a list:

George W. Bush, feminist
Pope Benedict XVI, feminist
Bishop Jack Iker, feminist
Sean Connery, feminist
Pat Robertson, feminist

By this time, I figured out that it was going to be a really long list. So I thought I might take the opposite approach. Who is not a feminist? This took more thought.

I figured you could eliminate all staunch atheists from the ranks of feminism,* first of all. After all, the clear and accurate definition of feminism* really starts with a belief in God. So I could add people like Marylin Manson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Fidel Castro to the list of those who are not feminists.* You could also list those who are strict evolutionists, like Stephen Jay Gould.

I was stuck for a moment when I thought about Jack Spong. On the one hand he calls himself a feminist* and talks alot about God. Yet he also says theism is meaningless and obsolete, and wants nothing to do with creationism. So I'd have to put him on the "not a feminist" list. Then I thought about the "equally human" part of the definition. It occured to me that of all the people on earth, there was one person who was definitely not a feminist*--one who believes that women are Venusians and men are Martians.

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John Gray, PhD, definitely not a feminist

*A feminist is anyone who believes that God created males and females equally human.

Man fuel

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It is meat and right so to do.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Speculating about the Titulus

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In Thiede and d'Ancona's book The Quest for the True Cross, I came across a fascinating theory about the writer of the Titulus (the plaque on the cross) taken from clues in the Hebrew line. I recommend the book as a whole. It is an interesting investigation. Here is the account from pp. 105-106:

It is, at any rate, possible to advance a sensible theory about the nature of the Hebrew line. However, we still do not know the precise wording of the missing part. A fascinating solution was suggested by a Jewish scholar who has not seen the Titulus in Rome, but has worked on the basis of the Greek text in John 19:19. Shalom Ben-Chorin surmised that the following was the Hebrew line (and the letters which we reconstructed on the actual Titulus are in bold type): Yeshu HaNozri VeMelek HaYehudim. Translated, this means: Jesus the Nazorean and King of the Jews. Ben-Chorin does not explain the philological aspects of his suggestion: obviously, it is not a word-for-word translation of the Latin, which must have been the source language of Pilate's order. But we can accept it as a Hebrew rendering which makes considerable sense: first, name and identification, Jesus the Nazorean, with a normal definite article, Ha = the. Then, the legal causa poenae 'King of the Jews', both parts linked with a grammatically correct 'and' (Ve). Another definite article Ha was not needed before Melek ('King') - even less so as 'King of the Jews' or 'Rex ludaeorum' was the causa poenae taken from Latin, a language without definite articles. Why does Ben-Chorin think that this was the Hebrew text? Consciously or not, he argues, the scribe was offering a rendering that began each new word with highly charged letters. If, as he presumes, Yeshu, HaNozri, VeMelek and HaYehudim were understood as four groups of words, the initial letters were Yod, Heh, Vahv, Heh. And this was the Tetragram, the four letters of the holy, unpronounceable name of God: YHVH.

We could assume that the scribe did not know what he was doing. But we could just as easily assume that he did, if, as we speculated in the last chapter, he was one of those Jews who believed in Jesus. Any Jew who had heard Jesus say those decisive words, which contributed to his sentencing by the Sanhedrin and consequently to his death, 'I and the Father are One' and who believed these words, might easily be inspired to incorporate the Tetragram into the Hebrew line on the Titulus. Small wonder, in any case, that the chief priests protested vehemently. 'Do not write "The King of the Jews", but, "This man said, 'I am King of the Jews'" (John 19:21). Ben-Chorin suggests two possibilities: either they protested against the royal dignity bestowed, even if only ironically, upon Jesus by Pilate; or they protested because they recognized the profanation, as they would have seen it, of the Tetragram. Perhaps they did so for both reasons.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Planning ahead, God’s way

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“I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15

A feast day celebrating the conception of Mary goes back to at least the seventh century. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is now commemorated exclusively as the feast of “the Immaculate Conception.” This is in reference to the dogmatic definition of Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1854, which reads: “From the first moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of all mankind, kept free from all stain of original sin.”

From the beginning of Christian tradition, Mary was taken to be full of grace and free from actual sin. Opinion about the beginning of Mary’s freedom from sin has not been universal. (Oddly, Thomas Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception, while Martin Luther professed the doctrine until his death.) But what is part of the universal tradition is that her “yes” to God goes down to the very root of her being. Mary’s total surrender to the divine will in the plan of salvation is made possible only by the prevenient grace of God.

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The conception of Mary marks the decisive step in God’s plan of redemption—the beginning of the Incarnation. It is from Mary’s pure humanity that the eternal Word of God would take flesh, the same flesh which becomes the sacrificial offering to atone for human sin on the cross.

As St. Paul made a contrast in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 between the old Adam and the new Adam (Christ), the early church fathers carried it through to the contrast between the old Eve and the new Eve (Mary). The new woman’s “yes” begins to reverse the course of the first woman’s “no.” St. Irenaeus of Lyons put it this way: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience. What Eve bound through her unbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.”

Collect for the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
[from the 1928 Proposed Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England]
O Merciful Father, hear the prayers of thy servants who commemorate the Conception of the Mother of the Lord; and grant that by the incarnation of thy dear Son we may indeed be made nigh unto him, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost; one God, world without end. Amen.

Forty years later . . .

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"In this assembly, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we wish to inquire how we ought to renew ourselves, so that we may be found increasingly faithful to the gospel of Christ." --statement of purpose by the Council Fathers from the Message to Humanity issued at the opening of Vatican II.

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Some papers have been prepared to mark the event, and Pope Benedict addressed it in his homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at St. Peter's Basilica.

I shall not attempt to give the definitive historical take on the event here. But I did want to remark that the council documents themselves make very good reading and call for a spiritual study, as one would profit also from the study of John Paul's encyclicals and other books. This was a very different kind of council, and its documents reflect that character. I would say that they have often not been read in that way.

Pope Paul VI (who presided over most of Vatican II) wrote in his Christmas message for 1965:
"The dominant mood of the Council was inspired by the gospel image of the shepherd setting out in pursuit of the lost sheep, allowing himself no peace until he has found it. The awareness that mankind, represented with touching simplicity by the straying sheep, belongs to the Church was the guiding principle of the Council. For mankind, by a universally valid decree, does belong to the Church . . . mankind belongs to her by right of love, since the Church, no matter how distant or uncooperative or hostile mankind may be, can never be excused from loving the human race for which Christ shed his Blood."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

St. Nicholas Day

Getting in touch with my German heritage, I put my shoes out on the doorstep on the Feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (December 6th). If I've been a good boy, Father Christmas will come and leave candy goodies in my shoes . . . not that it's particularly appetizing to eat anything you find in your old shoes, but it's the thought that counts.

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Well, something must've gone wrong. When I peeked out the front door this morning, not only could I not find candy, I couldn't find my shoes either. At least there were no beatings or lumps of coal waiting for me. I'm sure Old Saint Nick was off stamping out heresies or helping someone in distress. Passen die Hazelnussomeletten und Apfel Strudel, bitte.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Can cake ever be too moist? You wouldn't think so from advertising. My wife's birthday is coming up soon, so I've been looking for something to make her. I guess she won't be getting a dry cake. I can't even find "medium moist."

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The bakery goods aisle in my local grocery store.
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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who is that handsome guy?

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Here is one of my past yearbook photos that didn't turn out so well.