Archive | August, 2016

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

August 26, 2016

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Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

August 29 is the memorial of The Passion of Saint John the Baptist.  It was known formerly as The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

Annual Memorial.  This memorial in honor of the Baptist began in the Fourth Century AD at the dedication of the Church of St. John at Sebaste in Samaria, Israel, where, according to tradition, John’s skull had been buried by his disciples.  This commemoration gradually spread to the universal church, first to the East in the Fifth Century and to Rome by the Seventh Century.

The Historical Event.  The account of the Baptist’s passion is given in two of the four gospels, the original version in Mk 6:17-29, and an edited and shortened account in Mt 14:3-12.  Biblical historians believe that the beheading of John took place at Machaerus, a fort in the desert on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan.  It had been built by King Herod the Great as a desert hideaway, and his son, King Herod Antipas, went there occasionally.

Foreshadowing.  John the Baptist is the forerunner or precursor.  John went ahead of Jesus with his miraculous birth and his unique role as prophet, preacher, and baptizer.  These set the stage for Jesus’ own miraculous birth, as well as his baptism and his ministry as prophet and teacher.  John the Baptist’s suffering and death prefigures Jesus’ suffering and death, and the details in the account of the passion of John anticipate the Passion of Jesus.  Specific similarities include:  John spoke the truth, Jesus is truth; it was the festive occasion of a birthday, it was the festive occasion of Passover; Herodias bitterly opposed John, the religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus; John was arrested and bound, Jesus was arrested and bound; Herod declared John innocent, Pilate declared Jesus innocent; John was held in a prison cell in Machaerus, Jesus was held in a prison cell below Caiaphas’ palace; Herod tried to please his wife, Pilate attempted to please the crowds; Herod condemned John, Pilate condemned Jesus; Roman soldiers put John to death by beheading, Roman soldiers put Jesus to death by crucifixion; John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb, and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and laid it in a tomb.

Larger Gospel Context.  Mark carefully placed the account of the Baptist’s death between two sections on the missionary work of the first apostles.  In Mark 6:7-13 Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two, and in Mark 6:30-33 the apostles return to Jesus to report what they have done.  Mark wants to show that it requires tremendous courage to speak the truth and proclaim the gospel, and that it will lead to bitter suffering.

Gospel Preview.  The Cross is not mentioned explicitly in the Baptist’s passion account, but it is Mark’s underlying mindset.  The death of John is a preview of the death of Jesus, and for John his beheading was his cross.  Everyone who is a disciple must carry their cross.

Spiritual Applications.  The Baptist had a number of outstanding spiritual qualities.   He was a fierce advocate for truth and justice, fought hard for what is right, demonstrated his faith in a very public manner, walked in straight paths and urged others to do likewise, directed attention away from himself to Jesus, had a humble estimation of himself, and endured the suffering that came his way.  These admirable traits serve as inspiration and guidance for our spiritual lives.

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Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 19, 2016

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StBartSaint Bartholomew is one of the original twelve apostles.  In Aramaic, his name is bar talmai, “son of Tolmai,” or the Graeco-Roman equivalent, “son of Ptolemy.”  The only time that he is mentioned in the New Testament is on the four lists of the twelve apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13).  Because he is paired with Philip in the three Synoptic Gospels, and because Philip is paired with Nathanael in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 1:43-51; 21:2), biblical scholars believe that Bartholomew and Nathanael may be one and the same person.

Apart from Bartholomew’s name on these four lists, there is no other information about him in the New Testament.  There is wide agreement among early church historians that Bartholomew went on multiple missionary expeditions preaching the gospel with great fervor and conviction, but there is little agreement about where he went.

In the Fourth Century AD Eusebius reported, based upon Second Century information obtained from St. Pantaenus, a teacher in Alexandria, Egypt, that Bartholomew had gone to India, possibly in partnership with Thomas the apostle.  Pantaenus had visited India between 150 and 200 AD, and when he visited the Malabar Coast he came upon Christian communities that claimed that Bartholomew was their founder and that he had brought them copies of Matthew’s gospel.  Rufinus, another early church historian, reported that Bartholomew went to Ethiopia in North Africa and Arabia which is south of Israel.  Others reported that Bartholomew went to Mesopotamia and Persia, both east of Israel in modern-day Iraq, and Phrygia and Lycaonia, both in south-central Asia Minor or Turkey, possibly in partnership with Philip the apostle.

While there is little agreement about where Bartholomew went on his first missionary journeys, there is wide consensus about where he finished his missionary work.  Bartholomew made his final missionary trip in 44 AD to Greater Armenia, the area in modern-day southern Russia south of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

There are two divergent accounts of Bartholomew’s ministry and martyrdom.  According to the predominant tradition, Bartholomew, through his persuasive preaching, made a large number of converts to Christianity in Armenia.  This angered pagan barbarians who protested vociferously to King Astyages.  The king agreed and ordered that Bartholomew be put to death.  According to ancient Persian custom, Bartholomew was first flayed or skinned alive, and then beheaded.  This took place at Derbend, Albanopolis, in Upper Armenia, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea.  Bartholomew’s remains were placed in a sack and tossed overboard into the sea.

According to another tradition, Bartholomew converted King Astyages to Christianity.  This legend claims that the king’s brother was so infuriated that he ordered Bartholomew be put to death by flaying and decapitation.

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Peace or division, which is it?

August 11, 2016

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Holy Spirit dove

Stained glass window at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Henning, Minnesota

Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he broached the subjects of peace and division (Lk 12:51).  His words were difficult to understand.  He seemed to be in favor of peace one moment, but then he spoke about how he was a reason for division the next.  Was he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?  How can the same person be both peacemaker and a cause for division at the same time?

Jesus placed an enormous value on peace.  He proclaimed the gospel of love (see Jn 13:31-35; 15:12) and his mission was to bring peace.  He began his preaching ministry with the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), and he practiced what he preached, doing everything in his power to bring cooperation, mutual respect, and harmony.  He worked to eliminate rivalries and dissension (see Mk 10:35-45).

Jesus fulfilled ancient hopes as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9:5).  When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “On earth peace” (Lk 2:14).  When Jesus would cure someone, he often would say, “Go in peace” (Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48).  Jesus wanted the Twelve to abide by his word so there would be peace among them (Mk 9:50).  Jesus instructed his disciples that when they entered the home of a host family, they were to say, “Peace to this house” (Lk 10:5).  On the night before Jesus died he said, “Peace is my farewell to you, peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), and his final words to his disciples were, “I have told you this so that you might have peace” (Jn 16:33).  After Jesus rose from the dead, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26).  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), and Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, was dedicated to peace.  He was an agent of peace himself, and he wants peace among families; the Body of Christ, the Church; and the nations of the world.

How is it, then, that Jesus, who was so peace-loving himself, and who wanted peace among everyone else, would also say, “I have come to bring division” (paraphrase, Lk 12:51b).  Jesus hates conflict.  So do we.  Jesus does not want arguing, fighting, or trouble.  But Jesus knew that conflict would be an unintended consequence of his ministry.  When it comes to a family, Jesus knew that his preaching would force the question, “Shall I follow Jesus?”  Some family members would follow him, others would not, and families would be torn apart.  Jesus would have preferred that the whole family would follow him together, but he was wise enough to know that not everyone not accept him, and his heart ached over the fact that some family members would reject him and that families would be divided.

The divisions are multigenerational.  Jesus referred to conflict between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (see Lk 12:53).  In a family that disagrees over him, there are clashes over house rules, prayer in the home, Sunday Mass attendance, church weddings, vacation schedules, and many other issues.  Conversations can be heated.  Feelings often are hurt.  This is not what Jesus wants, but he realized that it would happen.

Jesus wants those who accept him to remain faithful to him, even if others in their family do not.  Where division does exist, faithful Catholics continue to love those who have gone another direction, work for family unity, keep the door open, pray for them, give good example, and try to bridge differences with love and kindness.

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Somebody’s knockin’ at your door

August 4, 2016

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JesusKnocking

Somebody is knocking at your door, and that somebody is Jesus!  Jesus is not your typical visitor.  The usual guest comes at a prearranged time, but not Jesus.  Jesus gets to do whatever he wants, which means that he can come on any day at any time, either today, tomorrow, or a day in the distant future.

If we have dinner guests scheduled, there often is a mad rush to get everything ready by their arrival time.  It would look terrible if there were piles of dirty clothes on the floor, a sink full of dirty dishes, old newspapers on the living room floor, empty pop cans on the tables, and dust on the countertops.  And it would be terrible if there was nothing to offer them:  no beverages, hors d’oeuvres, meal, or dessert.  So we spring into action on a cleaning frenzy as a white tornado roars through the house, and we go on a shopping spree to be sure that the refrigerator and cupboard are fully supplied.  Then, after our guests leave, the mess gradually reappears.

Jesus wants to come over as our guest, and Jesus wants to have dinner with us, but he refuses to be pinned down when it comes to a day and time.  He is a free spirit.  He comes and goes as he pleases.  He is unpredictable.  There are some things that we know for sure, others left uncertain, as Jesus promises, “You can be absolutely sure that I will be coming over to your place, but I just don’t know when yet.”

This leaves us in a quandary.  If Jesus could come knocking anytime, it means I have to be ready all the time, which means that the house has to be clean all day, every day, and it rarely is.  There is a pile of junk here, a mess there, and while I like the house clean, I’ve gotten used to some clutter, it doesn’t bother me all that much, and I don’t want to put that much effort into cleaning.

These are all spiritual figures of speech.  The house represents each person.  The door represents the entrance to a person’s mind and heart.  The dirt and junk represents sin.  A sparkling clean house represents being in the state of grace.

Jesus is a kind and compassionate house guest.  It may seem impolite that he is unwilling to announce his arrival time, but it actually is a blessing.  His delay gives us more time to go on a cleaning frenzy, to sweep out sinful behaviors, vacuum up bad habits, and dust off rough edges.  It is time for the strongest and most concentrated cleanser, the Blood of Christ, which washes away our sins, and for the “white tornado,” the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which confers absolution and restores the sinner to the state of grace.

The delay also gives the homeowner ample time to stock the refrigerator and the cupboard, not with groceries, but with good deeds:  love shared, sacrifices made, food and drink provided, clothes distributed, strangers welcomed, the troubled visited, assistance delivered, donations and alms given, and prayers offered.

Jesus wants us to come to a “new normal” with our homes.  He would like them to be clean and well-stocked all the time, and he would like us to be so irritated with dirt when it appears that we remove it right away.  Somebody’s knockin’ at your door!  That somebody is Jesus!  He wants to come into a clean house!

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The pastoral imagination of Pope Francis and the gospel according to Giovanni Guareshi

August 2, 2016

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Many Catholics remain amazed, fascinated or frustrated by this new-style Pope who speaks in ways we simply do not expect to hear coming from the Chair of Peter. Biographies and analyses are selling like hot-cakes as people try to understand “Just where is this Pope coming from?” But, if one just listens closely, he does provide an abundance of clues.

For instance, last November, Pope Francis journeyed to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence to address the Fifth Convention of the Italian Church. In his address he provided both exhortation and admonition to the assembled bishops, priests and pastoral workers. Among his remarks the following especially catches one’s attention:

The Italian Church has great saints whose examples can help her to live the faith with humility, disinterest and gladness, from Francis of Assisi to Philip Neri. But let us also think of the simplicity of fictional characters such as Don Camillo who was paired with Peppone. It strikes me how in Guareschi’s stories the prayer of a good priest merges with the evident closeness to the people.

Who is this fictional character the Holy Father ranks with the likes of Francis of Assisi and Phillip Neri as a model for the Church’s pastors?

Turns out that Don Camillo was created by the Italian writer and journalist Giovannino Guareschi. The fictional character is loosely based on an actual Catholic priest, Don Camillo Valota, a World War II partisan and concentration camp detainee who, following the war, ministered primarily among displaced Italians in southern France.

Father David Haschka, S.J.

Father David Haschka, S.J.

The Don Camillo stories were first published in the Italian weekly magazine Candido during the years immediately following World War II. They eventually amounted to 347 in total and were put together and published in eight books, only three of which were published while Guareschi was still alive. Subsequently they were made into comic books and a television series that appeared throughout Europe including the United Kingdom. Most Europeans over a certain age are well familiar with the Don Camillo character.

By 1960, English translations of four of these books had been published in the USA and become a staple of American Catholic school libraries and hence influenced the imaginations of many a Catholic school boy who, perhaps, went on to become priests. One might expect that, in the same era, the Italian editions were a staple of schools in the immigrant Italian community in

Buenos Aires, perhaps exercising a similar influence on the imagination of a young Jorge Bergoglio.

Guareschi’s Don Camillo is physically imposing with size 12 shoes and hands like shovels. His physical immensity is also matched by his personality which is by turns playfully mischievous and furiously vengeful. Peppone, the village’s Communist mayor is Don Camillo’s equal in both size and temperament. He serves as Don Camillo’s bête noire but, paradoxically, also as his trusted friend.

Although he is a devout man of God, Don Camillo is not averse to committing little sins if it means thwarting Peppone’s political schemes. While Peppone, although he is a devout Marxist, is not averse to practicing the faith if it means retaining the affection and political support of the villagers. Despite their political differences, the pair have a deep respect for each other – one they unsuccessfully try to mask. In many of the stories, they have to declare a temporary cease- fire in order to look after the interests of the people.

Some of these stories could be read as archetypes for the sometimes stormy relationships between Archbishop Bergoglio and the Argentine Presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner during Bergoglio’s tenure as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

What is most attractive and fascinating about the character of Don Camillo — aside from his regular failures at impulse-control — is his regular conversations with Jesus who speaks to him from the crucifix over the altar of the village Church. Here, Don Camillo finds solace in his mo- ments of defeat but also and not infrequently scolding in his presumed moments of triumph. Here one finds the “gospel” according to Giovannino Guareschi.

In Florence, Pope Francis gestured to the image of Christ in the frescoed ceiling of the cathedral and posed the question: “What does Jesus tell us?” The image on the ceiling was of Christ the Universal Judge seated on the throne of judgment and the proposed words of Christ were those from the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.

But perhaps somewhere in the imagination of the Holy Father is a somewhat different image, the image of Christ on the Cross in a small Church in a small village near the river Poe in northern Italy during 1947. He speaks to a humble but very human pastor who had just vented his frustration with the materialistic tendencies of his people:

“Fret not, Don Camillo,” whispered Jesus. “I know that men wasting God’s grace looks to you like a mortal sin, because you know that I got down from a horse to pick up a breadcrumb. But you should forgive them because they do not mean to offend God. They search desperately for jus- tice on earth because they no longer have faith in divine justice, and just as desperately go after worldly goods because they have no faith in the recompense to come. They only believe in what they can touch and see. The flying machines, they are the angels of this infernal hell on earth which they are trying in vain to turn into a paradise. It is a body of ideas – a culture – that leads to ignorance, because when a culture is not supported by faith, there comes a point where man sees only the mathematics of things. And the harmony of this mathematics becomes his God, and he forgets that it is God who created this mathematics and this harmony.

“But your God is not made of numbers, Don Camillo, and good angels fly in the skies of your paradise. Progress makes man’s world ever smaller: one day, when cars run at 100 miles a mi- nute, the world will seem microscopic to men, and then mankind will find itself like a sparrow on the pommel of a flagpole and will present itself to the infinite, and in the infinite it will rediscover God and faith in the true life. And mankind will hate the machines which have reduced the world to a handful of numbers and it will destroy them with its own hands. But all this will take time, Don Camillo. So do not worry, your bicycle and your scooter are in no danger for now.”

Jesus smiled, and Don Camillo thanked him for putting him on earth.

(From the story “Rustic Philosophy” as it appears in The Complete Little World of Don Camillo published electroni- cally in 2013 by Pilot Productions, Piers Dudgeon – Editor, Adam Elgar – Translator)

Indeed, Pope Francis, if not physically large, is still a powerful and imposing personality. He sometimes finds himself in conflict with similarly powerful ideological adversaries but with whom he shares a deep concern for the welfare of God’s people. He must surely also experience occasional frustration with the increasingly pervasive secular materialism of today’s Catholics. One wonders, does Pope Francis not also, in the privacy of his chapel, receive words of both encouragement and admonition from his crucified Lord along with the occasional smile.

 Father David Haschka, S.J. grew up in Visitation Parish in south Minneapolis and entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1965. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1975. Among a variety of assignments over the years, he has served in this archdiocese as pastor of the Church of St. Luke in Saint Paul from 1994 – 1999 and as founding president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in south Minneapolis from 2005 – 2011. He currently serves as senior associate pastor of St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis.

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