Today is the feast day of Saint Monica, who died on this day in 387 AD. She is most well-known for her tireless prayers on behalf of her more famous son, Saint Augustine. As anyone who knows his story (chronicled in his still-bestselling Confessions) knows, ol’ “Gus” was a world-class sinner before God transformed him into one of the greatest saints in history.
Monica had to wait many years to witness the conversions of both her son and her husband, who was a pagan. Eventually she lived to see them both baptized, which probably had to be seen to be believed!
At every conference and speaking engagement I have, at least one parent or grandparent (there are often many more) will ask me how they can best help their children and grandchildren who have fallen away from the Catholic faith. There are many “Monicas” out there today, perhaps more than at any other time in the Church’s history. And there are many practical strategies for these people. In fact, that’s what our Search and Rescue Conference this year was all about! But no technique will be effective in any way without prayer.
One could really say that Monica bore Augustine twice; once physically, and also spiritually. In Augustine’s “second birth”, he was most certainly the child of Monica’s tears. Augustine’s conversion offers much hope to anyone praying for a loved one gone astray. We must remember that our Lord loves these lost souls (and each one of us) more than all the mothers in the world love their children, and that he desires their salvation far more than we can imagine – even to the point of sending his own Son to die, that we may become part of his worldwide (Catholic) family for all eternity.
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In case you missed it, the show is now posted in their archive. Give it a listen!
For Part 1 (with guest Karl Keating, Founder of Catholic Answers), click here.
For Part 2 (with Tim Staples, Director of Apologetics at CA), click here.
Many thanks to Darin DeLozier (Director of Radio), Christopher Check (President of CA), and the rest of the world-class team at Catholic Answers for so hospitably hosting me! My only regret? Not bringing my high-tops, so I could hoop it up in the legendary lunchtime staff pickup basketball games.
I, along with my deadly outside jumper, will be ready next time…and all of us, at all times, need to be ready to offer an answer for the hope that we have (cf. 1 Peter 3:15 ). Catholic Answers helps us to do just that.
My family and I had just spent a great day on Toronto’s Centre Island last week. We had just stepped off the boat that had taken us back to the harbourfront downtown, when we were confronted by about 2,000 Pokemon Go players, standing around in their virtual world, trying to catch a few more pocket monsters. Most of them were oblivious to the actual people trying to get by them and get home.
Now, the Pokemon Go craze, despite people falling off cliffs and driving off roads while playing, isn’t all bad, I guess. It does get some couch potatoes out of the house and (partially) into the real world. There’s an aspect of cameraderie to it, too. It’s a way to meet new people. But, as I walked by the hordes of folks staring at their screens, completely oblivious to the gorgeous full moon, our breathtaking city skyline on a summer night, or any of the people around them – in short, actual reality. I was reminded of a great article by Christopher Check, President of Catholic Answers, about the “e-slavery”, as he calls it, of our times.
Writing in Catholic Answers Magazine, Check notes, speaking of modern smartphones and other gadgets:
These devices and systems too often deliver, like the contraceptive, the opposite of what they promise. They promise freedom but create dependence. Rather than strengthening human relationships, they make them more trivial and more abstract. They addict us to novelty. Far from making the truth easier to uncover, they make the truth harder to discern. Worst of all, they are obstacles to our relationship with the divine.
The personal, social, cultural, and spiritual costs of living in the Age of Technology are interrelated, and they demand more analysis than a single article can offer, but the reflections of G.K. Chesterton on the technology of his own day provide an excellent point of departure for reconsidering what we have so uncritically welcomed into our lives.
Later, Check comments on a great quote from Chesterton, who, ironically, would have been incredible on Twitter (the platform seems tailor-made for his witty one-liners):
“It is the beginning of all true criticism of our time to realize that it has really nothing to say, at the very moment when it has invented so tremendous a trumpet for saying it” (G.K. Chesterton, “The Proper View of Machines,” Illustrated London News, February 10, 1923).
Not only are our conversations rendered more trivial as we make more use of these devices, but our relationships are similarly rendered more abstract. Face-to-face conversation gave way to telephone chats, which have been replaced by e-mail messages and text shorthand. Hiding behind avatars—which is really nothing more than lying—chat-room and Web-forum members imagine they are building friendships with one another, as they recycle URLs and trade meaningless one-liners.
Check goes on to detail how tech, as incredible and beneficial as it is to our lives, can have deleterious effects on society and on human relationships – even our relationship with God. Do yourself a favour and “check” it out. I’d say pun intended, but let’s face it – puns are always intended!
On this Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene, I thought I’d let you know about the incredible excavation going on at her hometown – Magdala, known as Migdal in Hebrew. In 2013 and 2014, I had the privilege of visiting the work at Migdal, along with Dr. Craig Evans, Greg Monette, Dwight Crowell and Jesse Richards. Migdal, which was built just next to the Sea of Galilee, is an incredible archaeological find – it’s unique in that the entire first-century town has been unearthed.
During the great Jewish War with Rome (66-70 AD), the citizens of Migdal themselves destroyed their own synagogue – literally bringing down the house upon itself. They did this to prevent it from being desecrated by the Roman army, who either slaughtered Migdal’s inhabitants, or carried them off into slavery.
I took this photo of some of the original mosaic tile found on the synagogue’s floor. In all likelihood, Jesus stepped onto this very floor while preaching in Migdal, during his years of ministry in the Galilee. In all likelihood, this is where Mary of Magdala first heard Jesus’ message, and became a disciple of the Master. This is absolutely unique. In Capernaum (Kafir Nahum), the impressive synagogue that can be seen today is actually a fourth-century structure, built on top of the foundation of the original structure (made of black basalt stone, which can still be seen on the exterior) extant in Jesus’ time.
In Migdal, we are truly walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
The Faith Explained Conference: Search and Rescue conference this summer was a great success! Hundreds gathered at Saint Joseph’s High School in Mississauga (in the greater Toronto area) to hear Patrick Madrid, Cardinal Thomas Collins, and yours truly talk about how to bring friends and family who have left the Catholic Church back home. Patrick’s the distinguished looking, mustachioed guy on the right (I call him the Catholic Church’s answer to Tom Selleck). I’d like to thank everyone who attended for being there, along with my amazing Faith Explained team, and all of our sponsors who made this event possible. I’d especially like to thank Cardinal Collins, EWTN, Verbum Catholic Bible Software, The Daughters of St Paul, and the Fulton J. Sheen Society for their support.
If you weren’t able to join us in person, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Very, very soon, you’ll be able to download all of the great talks from the conference! Keep watching this space for updates. Our own personal Search and Rescue missions are so crucial, that we don’t want you to be without these resources in your apostolic “toolbox”, as it were. We pray they will help you in your efforts to bring your loved ones to Christ.
Pliny the Younger is another valuable historical source for information on Jesus and the early Church. Pliny was the governor of the Roman province of Bithynia, located in Asia Minor. In the year 112 AD, he wrote to the Emperor Trajan, asking how he should deal with those in his region who have been accused of being Christians.
In the letter, Pliny describes the practices of these “criminals”:
“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
From this passage, we can ascertain a number of facts about the early Church in Asia Minor:
1.Christians met on a “certain fixed day, before it was light”. This is undoubtedly a reference to Sunday worship.
2. The also “sang…a hymn to Christ, as to a God”. This worship involved worship of Jesus Christ. This is early, extrabiblical evidence of Christian belief in the Deity of Christ. In other words, the Divinity of Jesus is not a later “creation” of the Church. Who knows? Perhaps the hymn they were singing is the one St Paul quotes in Philippians 2:5-11.
3. Catholic Christianity, then as now, required adherence to the teaching of the Church on both faith (what to believe) and morality (how to live). We see the latter in Pliny’s description of the 2nd-century believers: they “bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up”.
4. They celebrated the Eucharist. In all likelihood, that explains the reference to their “partaking of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind”. Why did Pliny stress that last point? It could well be a reference to the fact that Christians were thought to be cannibals, because it was said that they ate the flesh and drank the blood of a certain individual when they met for their sacred meals. Some in Pliny’s day even spread rumors that babies were sacrificed for this purpose. This is, of course, a colossal misunderstanding of the Eucharist. Early Catholics did (as we continue to do) eat the true flesh and drink the actual blood of Christ in the Eucharist, albeit in a sacramental, unbloody manner.
All of this corroborates what we know of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church, as presented in the New Testament.
One of the greatest non-Christian historical references to Jesus was made by Josephus, the great Jewish historian. He lived in the first century (c. 37-100 AD), and was a contemporary of many members of the nascent Church.
There are two mentions of Jesus in Josephus’ great work entitled “Jewish Antiquities”. One refers to the condemnation of James, the relative of Jesus who became the Bishop of Jerusalem after Peter’s departure from the city: James was “the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ”, according to Josephus (Ant. 20.9.1). Few question the authenticity of this passage.
Of course, there is the famous “Testimonium Flavianum” (so named because Josephus took on the Roman name of “Flavius”, being known as “Flavius Josephus):
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared” (Ant. 18.3.3).
Scholars believe that Josephus did write this passage, but that it was later edited by Christian interpolators, who added the phrases like “if indeed one ought to call him a man”, “He was the Christ”, and “On the third day he appeared…restored to life”. Josephus was not a believer in Jesus, and certainly would not have written those things.
However, the bulk of what he wrote can be trusted as authentic. This is made even more sure by the fact that an Arabic version of Josephus’ “Antiquities” has been discovered, where the passage in question is present, minus the interpolations.
Josephus corroborates much of what we know from the New Testament’s portrait of Jesus: that he claimed to be the Messiah, was a wise man who was thought to have performed “surprising feats” (miraculous deeds), and that his followers continued to be his disciples in a movement that continued despite his death.
In this series, I’ll be sharing some ancient, non-Christian literary evidences for Jesus. This extrabiblical evidence corroborates much of what we know about Jesus’ life, teaching, and activities that is recorded in the New Testament. This is helpful material to cite when we are dealing with a person who doubts the existence of Christ, and who also refuses to take the New Testament documents seriously as historical sources.
These non-Christian sources had no agenda to promote faith in Jesus. In fact, some of them are outright hostile to the Christian message. This is actually the best type of evidence one could hope for: enemy attestation. When one’s opponent concedes that these events in the life of Jesus did occur, it’s a powerful witness to their veracity.
Perhaps the most important non-Christian source on Jesus is the great Roman historian, Tacitus. Here’s what he said about Emperor Nero’s decision to blame the Christians for the fire that had destroyed Rome in A.D. 64 (a fire quite likely set by Nero himself):
“Nero fastened the guilt…on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of…Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome” (Tacitus, Annals 15:44, c. 116 AD).
Tacitus here confirms that Christians were named as such because of their founder, whom he calls “Christus” (derived from the Latin for “Christ”). Christus “suffered the extreme penalty (referring to crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius (the Emperor at the time) at the hands of…Pontius Pilatus” (the Roman Prefect in charge of Judea). This confirms much of what the Gospels tell us about the death of Jesus.
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