‘Let Your Yes Mean No and Your No Mean Yes’

Didn’t Jesus teach us not to speak with equivocation or ambiguity?

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37).

Does this not also apply to Church authorities? Every day they send mixed signals on matters of faith and morals that had been historically established as revealed tradition and steadfastly upheld for millennia.

In some dioceses priests are expected to accept to Holy Communion remarried couples whose marriages were never declared null based on an understanding of a brief footnote in Pope Francis’ encyclical Amoris Laetitia (e.g., San Diego).  Others bishops see it differently and have forbidden their priests to give communion to those whom Jesus regarded as adulterers (e.g., Philadelphia). And Rome is fine with this?

Moreover, the Pope won’t answer questions. Does he believe in hell? Is there salvation outside the Church? Is homosexuality a sin? Did he know McCarrick was a pervert when he put him in his inner circle? Should Catholic pols that support abortion be denied communion? He refuses to clarify his position on these and other serious matters.

No wonder church attendance keeps dropping. The data supporting the sad statistic that for every one person in the U.S. that enters the Catholic Church six leave was confirmed by Pew Research:

Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious “nones,” as Protestants, or with another religion. By contrast, 2% of U.S. adults are converts to Catholicism – people who now identify as Catholic after having been raised in another religion (or no religion). This means that there are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the faith.

Those wonderful, rich, very well fed German bishops blame it on the failure of the Church to adapt to modern society, especially in terms of sexual morality and gender equality. But Protestant churches who have tried this only accelerated their decline in membership (since its embrace of homosexual bishops, the United Methodist Church in the U.S. has been losing members at a rate of 1,000/week).

Protestant denominations are generally open to change based on a reinterpretation of scripture in light of modern science. But at this point for the Catholic Church change or no change represents a ‘catch-22’ (damned if you do, damned if you don’t). To establish as Church teaching something that contradicts tradition destroys the Church’s credibility. On the other hand, to steadfastly uphold Catholic tradition without equivocation will put the Church in the crosshairs of an increasingly hostile modern world.

The 6.5 that leave the Church for every one received will probably continue for a while, whoever is pope, but at least it’s not ten to one as in the U.K.

…rjt

Political Activity is Not the Service of the Kingdom

The account of the feeding of the 5000 as reported in John chapter 6 is really a tragic story; the same people Jesus had miraculously fed eventually rejected Him. Their expectations were for a political solution to their plight, and a king who can produce food instantaneously for thousands of people would have made a good candidate:

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone (vss. 14-15).

He gives them the slip until they catch up to Him in Capernaum:

And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (vss. 25-26).

Commenting on this passage, theologian Ronald Knox affirms that Jesus had come to provide only for their spiritual plight:

[O]ur lord is disturbed by the earthly-minded ambition on the part of his followers which would make a king of him. …Political activity is not the service to which the true kingdom is calling them.†

The temporal/worldly versus the spiritual/eternal is a theme that persists throughout the discourse:

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal” (vs. 27).

This begins the “Bread of Life” discourse, a prophetic description of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus repeats four times to the crowd of followers that they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. When they realized that this was a reference to cannibalism, they deserted Him, and Jesus did nothing to prevent it because they had understood Him correctly, but faithlessly.

It is possible that this whole dialogue was specifically aimed at the twelve disciples, to whom He asks:

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (vs. 62).

This question, also prophetic since this is exactly what the disciples would experience, puts them in a corner. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words,

“I just told you that to have eternal life you must consume my real body and blood. So how will you do that when I’m no longer here?”

Jesus explains:

“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (vs. 63).

Jesus is reminding His disciples of the distinction between the spiritual and the earthly. They had seen Him change water into wine and feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, etc. That He would provide His body and blood in a spiritual manner should not have been impossible for them to believe.

The dialogue as a whole is a reminder that the mission of Christ and the Church is a spiritual one as opposed to an earthly one. The political issues of today: climate change, the alleviation of poverty, immigration etc., are the latter and are not the priorities of the “true kingdom”, and should not be the priorities of Church authorities today.

…rjt

A Commentary on the Gospels, New York: Sheen and Ward, 1952, p. 225.

Five Reasons to Add Josephus to Your Summer Reading List

The Jewish War is Josephus’ personal account of the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and is indispensable to anyone interested in the New Testament. Once started, it is very hard to put down.

Josephus had been the general in charge of protecting the Galilee from the Roman legions who were on the march. After his capture by Vespasian, who was not yet emperor, he defected to the Roman side and tried to negotiate with the Jews of Jerusalem on its behalf.

His real name was Joseph Matthew but changed it to Flavius Josephus when he was granted Roman citizenship. Flavius was the family name of his patrons, Emperors Vespasian and Titus.

The first reason to read it is that it sheds light on the nature of “mob rule” in 1st-century Palestine. Jesus was the victim of a mob a week after he was hailed a king by one. In Josephus mobs are everywhere and are the source of much of the instability in the region.

The second reason is that you will learn about the incredible intensity with which the Jews believed that religion was a matter of life and death. This was in stark contrast to the Romans and took them by surprise.

The third is that you will find interesting the difference among the various procurators (governors). Some would try to be accommodating to the Jews while others, like Gessius Florus (AD 64-66), simply despised them. The trouble started when Florus, an appointee of Emperor Nero, believed that the Temple in Jerusalem contained immense wealth and he wanted to get his hands on it. His intentional duplicity was meant to provoke the city to rebellion.

The fourth is that there are insights into the bitter relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. Minor conflicts led to major ones, including massacres and pillage.

Finally, the details in Josephus’ reporting of what happened to Jerusalem in 70 AD are quite shocking, an example of God’s justice and retribution on the scale of that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah. It is also a reminder to the Church today that God will not hesitate to chastise when His people have become unfaithful.

The secret to reading Josephus, in my opinion, is not to start at the beginning, a very dry and detailed accounting of the life of Herod the Great. I would recommend skipping these chapters and start with chapter seven, “Judea Under Roman Rule”. This was when the Jews of Jerusalem started having problems with the Procurators, starting with Pontius Pilate.

…rjt

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Jesus’ Prophetic Parable

Note the words highlighted in bold from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:41-45):

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’”

In Matthew’s gospel the “least ones” or “little ones” are  references to Jesus’ followers, who, for the purpose of the parable are neither the sheep nor the goats; they represent the ones whose treatment by the world becomes the standard for which the world is judged. The disciples would have understood this. But it also might have disturbed them since the implication is that they should expect to experience misfortunes as hunger, thirst, prison, etc. Otherwise, they would be no basis for the judging of those who either mistreated them or were hospitable toward them while suffering under those conditions.

The prophetic nature of the parable is reflected in St. Paul’s list of his own misfortunes in his letter to the Church of Corinth:

“We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13).

…rjt

Conflating the Love Commandments

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

Note the exclusivity in Jesus’ words; this love is reserved for the disciples and is contrasted with “all”, a reference to current non-followers. This exclusivity obviously bothers Pope Francis who decided to reinterpret the passage in a recent address:

“Why does He call it a ‘new commandment’? The old commandment of love became new because it was complete with this addition: “as I have loved you,” “love one another as I have loved you.” The novelty is all in Jesus Christ’s love, that with which He gave his life for us” (link).

Continue reading “Conflating the Love Commandments”

Troubling Consequenses of Notre Dame

From the air it looked like a giant burning cross.

What was striking in the fire’s aftermath is that whenever a commentator brought up the dramatic rise in attacks on churches in France they were quickly silenced by the government and the press.

Churches in France are being vandalized, ransacked, and desecrated (and burned) at the rate of about three per day and local police rarely conduct investigations.

In light of my understanding of St. Hildegard’s prophetic visions of the last days, the fire was a clear sign from God that the persecutions of the Church as described in her vision of the Grey Wolf are commencing. Continue reading “Troubling Consequenses of Notre Dame”

Jesus Before Pilate: Five Observations of Fulton Sheen

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri c. 1880

Possessing exceptional knowledge and wisdom, the Archbishop uncovers meanings in biblical texts that would be otherwise easy to miss.

1. After Jesus’ arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin, Friday morning He was taken to Pontius Pilate with a demand for his execution; Pilate responded,

“What charge do you bring against this man?” (John 18:29).

Continue reading “Jesus Before Pilate: Five Observations of Fulton Sheen”

Was Jesus’ Temple Clearing on Behalf of Gentiles?

Court of the Gentiles

After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus headed to the Temple, making a whip out of cords and driving out of the Temple area not just those selling doves and changing money, but sheep and oxen as well. People who’ve studied Temple practices in the first-century find this story curious since this type of commerce was acceptable and necessary. Continue reading “Was Jesus’ Temple Clearing on Behalf of Gentiles?”

Five Consequences of Excommunicating the Governor

Aside from the fact that a dramatic and public excommunication of Gov. Cuomo would be the right thing to do, it could have some very constructive consequences:

  1. It would be a big news story and possibly stimulate discussion and debate on the nature of the law that he signed and the inhumanity behind it. Cuomo gave in to radical feminists who hate babies and actually consider killing them a liberating event. The more this is exposed for what it is, the less sympathy people will have toward abortion rights in general.
  2. The Governor’s response could be offensive (attack the bishop and the Church) or defensive (remain silent and pretend it didn’t happen). He loses either way because he has publicly affirmed his Catholicism. He would probably be defiant, recently stating, “To the Catholic Church, I am sorry about the situation. I’m not sorry about my position. I’m sorry they have taken the position they’ve taken.”
  3. To many Catholics, it would impress a scarlet letter, “E”, on Cuomo. According to the polls, about half of all self-professed Catholics vote democrat. How many of them might be disinclined to vote for a candidate wearing that letter?
  4. It also might have an effect on current and future Catholic politicians to reconsider their stand on abortion.
  5. It might embolden those Church authorities with spines to follow suit and take the battle for the lives of today’s innocents to the streets.

Continue reading “Five Consequences of Excommunicating the Governor”

Lessons from Psalm 51 for the Summit

“…A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

Psalm 51 was the result of a sex crime. It should have been the theme of the summit of bishops in Rome. The abuse, it’s cover-up, and the pain it has caused cannot be undone. More transparency, apologizing to the victims and their families, offers of compensation, are all the right things to do, but won’t undo the damage.

Only a renewed spirit on the part of the clergy as a result of repentance, contrition, and humility will solve the abuse crisis:

“For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (vss. 18-19).

It is interesting that David’s self-reflection on his transgressions, specifically adultery and murder, do not include a mention of either one. The gravity of killing someone’s husband so you can take his wife was less of a crime against Uriah and Bathsheba than a grievous disobedience of God’s law. God sent the prophet Nathan to David charging, Continue reading “Lessons from Psalm 51 for the Summit”