Is the Ossuary of St. James a Forgery?

In this clip, as I guest host Catholic Answers Live, Dr. Michael Barber and I discuss the controversial case of the ossuary of James. Specifically, we look at the question of whether or not it’s a forgery (I think it’s legit), and how it relates to (of all things) the O.J. Simpson case (!). You’ll see what I mean…watch the video, and enjoy!

Sunday Scriptures: Thessalonian Idle

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In this Sunday’s Second Reading (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time), we heard Saint Paul address the Thessalonians:

Brothers and sisters:
You know how one must imitate us.
For we did not act in a disorderly way among you,
nor did we eat food received free from anyone.
On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day
we worked, so as not to burden any of you.
Not that we do not have the right.
Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you,
so that you might imitate us.
In fact, when we were with you,
we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work,
neither should that one eat.
We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way,
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly
and to eat their own food.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

Saint Paul is extremely forceful and commanding in his instructions to the Thessalonians here – and, by extension, to us. He speaks to both wrongdoers and the congregation as a whole with power: “We command and exhort you…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is the strongest language Paul could have used. And what does Paul command? That certain people in the congregation stop being “disorderly” (which is sometimes translated as “idle”).

It’s not necessarily the case that these people were idle in the sense of being inert or slothful – “couch potatoes”, as it were. In fact, it appears they were quite “busy” in their own way – but not in a good way. They were being what Paul calls “busybodies”. That is, they were spending a lot of time and effort “meddling in the affairs of others” – literally, “minding other people’s business”. The so-called “work” that they were doing was not at all productive or helpful for the community. Rather, it was downright disorderly and harmful.

One is reminded of a maxim from Saint Josemaria Escriva:

You are untiring in your activity. But you fail to put order into it, so you do not have as much effect as you should. It reminds me of something I heard once from a very authoritative source. I happened to praise a subordinate in front of his superior. I said, “How hard he works!” “You ought to say”, I was told, “ ‘How much he rushes around!’”

You are untiring in your activity, but it is all fruitless…How much you rush around!

– Furrow, 506

Mere “busyness” can actually be a hidden form of laziness and love of comfort, not to mention disorderliness. Sure, a person can be running around, doing a whole bunch of “stuff” – but they are not the things the person ought to be doing.

There is also the very real temptation of being a “busybody” in another sense – that of being a gossip. This has always been a temptation whenever and wherever people live together, but it is a constant temptation in parish life – for both clergy and laity. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we simply must stop speaking about others behind their backs.

Saint Paul set the Church a powerful example in this regard, by doing hard, constructive, and productive work (in his case, as a tentmaker). He provided for his own needs, and even those of others, so that he was not dependent on anyone else (cf. 1 Thess. 4:11-12). Although, as an apostle, Paul could have received his living from the congregation, he chose not to. He did this so that he could provide a model for how his disciples should live in the world as Christians.

Saint Paul shows that work well done for God’s glory in any honest profession is the “hinge” of our sanctification in the world. We can sanctify our work, we can sanctify ourselves through our work, and we can also sanctify others through our work.

Sunday Scriptures: We’re Not Angels

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Is it true that after we die, we become angels? If not, why do people speak of the deceased as angels? For example, if a child passes away, people will say things like, “Heaven has gained a new angel”. The short answer is, no. When we die, we do not become angels. However, it is undoubtedly true that many people erroneously believe this – even many Catholics who possess only a cursory understanding of their faith. Indeed, it’s also very common for people to say this type of thing, especially when a child passes away. In fact, I remember reading a bestselling children’s book when I was a kid – it was called “The Littlest Angel”. As you can guess from the title, it’s about a child who dies and goes to Heaven, where he becomes “the littlest angel”.

One of the reasons people think this way is because of a misreading of what Jesus says in this Sunday’s Gospel reading (from Luke 20):

Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Here’s an important distinction to make: When Jesus speaks of those who attain to the resurrection of the dead in the afterlife, he says that they will be like angels, not that they will be angels, as so many misunderstand.

The whole passage is about the reality of the resurrection of the body, which is something the Sadducees (Jesus’ opponents here) did not believe in. The way in which we humans are “like” angels is that we will also live for all eternity, either in Heaven or Hell, depending on our response to the Truth. Demons are, of course, fallen angels, who were created to be good, but who freely chose to reject God and his ways. Human persons also have a choice to make: to obey God and remain with him throughout life and eternity; or to reject God’s lordship over our lives and go our own way – with tragic consequences.

But we humans are not disembodied, pure spirits, like angels. God created the human person as a body-soul unity. And to borrow from the rite of Marriage, “what God has joined together, let no one separate”. It is true that when we die, our bodies and souls are separated for a time. But this is not a permanent arrangement. On the last day, when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, our bodies will be resurrected and once again united with our souls. We will then experience the fullness of God’s love in the totality of our persons – body and soul, as God originally intended for us.

Sunday Scriptures: A Forged Letter and a Mysterious Villain

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“Sunday Scriptures” is a series of posts explaining the Sunday Mass readings – helpful for those preparing to worship, or preparing a homily!

In this Sunday’s Second Reading we hear:

We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

–  2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Paul wrote this because some people in the first-century Thessalonian church were absolutely obsessed with the Second Coming of Jesus – so much so that they had even quit their jobs! They expected Jesus’ imminent return to earth, with the final judgment to ensue (this is what “the day of the Lord” means in the Bible).

This had the effect of greatly upsetting other members of the congregation, who were, as Paul writes, both “shaken” and “alarmed”. To top it all off, the false teachers were claiming they were inspired by a “spirit” about these things. Some even claimed that Paul himself had taught this – hence the reference to an alleged “statement” from Paul. They even went so far as to forge a letter from Paul to this effect!

Paul goes on in the letter to set things straight about what must occur before the Second Coming. First, the mysterious “man of lawlessness” must be revealed – a figure identified with the Antichrist (2 Thess 2:3-12; for much more on this see CCC 668-79).

Paul also teaches believers how to live in the meantime. Specifically, they should heed Paul’s advice in his earlier letter to them (known as 1 Thessalonians). He warns them to stop being freeloaders, spending all their time gossiping, and tells them to get to work (see 2 Thess 3:6-14). Paul himself had set them a great example while he was with them. Rather than accepting money from the congregation for his apostolic endeavours (though he had every right to), he diligently worked “night and day” at his outside job (tentmaking) to provide for his own needs and those of others (2 Thess 3:8). In so doing Paul gives witness that one of the best ways to prepare for the afterlife is not to idly speculate about it, but to work diligently and live virtuously in this world.

Sunday Scriptures: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

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“Sunday Scriptures” is a series of posts explaining the Sunday Mass readings – helpful for those preparing to worship, or preparing a homily!

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus’ famous parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

– Luke 18:9-14

The mistake of the Pharisee is not found in his avoidance of sin or in his religious observances, like fasting and tithing. In fact, this is all quite laudatory. His real problem lies in his exalted view of himself. He does not discern his own sinfulness or need of God’s forgiveness. The tax collector, on the other hand, does realize that he is a sinner who stands in need of God’s forgiveness – and moreover, that he does not deserve that mercy.

The Pharisee does not realize that, far from being acceptable to God, he is actually an idolater! What the Pharisee is doing, ultimately, is arrogating one of God’s prerogatives unto himself (this is in fact what the devil does, as scholar Charles Talbert points out) – in this case, the prerogative of judgment. The Pharisee, who says, in essence – “I am not a thief” – is actually stealing something from God.

Now, while it is true that we must judge objective actions as being sinful or not, one can never judge a person’s intentions (what their motives may have been) or ultimate destiny (whether they will end up in either Heaven or Hell) before God.

What the Pharisee did not realize was that the tax collector not only a) knew he was a sinner; but b) had already inwardly repented and asked for God’s mercy. Ironically, the hated tax collector, despised by the Pharisee, is accepted by God. The Pharisee, conversely, demonstrates an attitude that God despises. The self-congratulating Pharisee was not aware of his own sin and thus didn’t feel the need to repent. Not having asked God for forgiveness, he therefore wasn’t forgiven! It was actually the tax collector who “went home justified before God”.

Christians should take note of Jesus’ words by practicing personal humility before God and others, and avoiding haughtiness.

Sunday Scriptures: Biblical Inspiration

2-tim-3-16“Sunday Scriptures” is a series of posts explaining the Sunday Mass readings – helpful for those preparing to worship, or preparing a homily! 

What does the Church mean when she says that the Bible is the “inspired” Word of God?

In this Sunday’s second reading, we read the following, as Saint Paul writes to his young protege, the bishop Timothy:

Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage, through all patience and teaching.

– 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

The important phrase to note is: “All Scripture is inspired by God”. The New Testament was, of course, originally written in Greek. The Greek word that is translated as “inspired” in our English new Testament is the word theopneustos. This word, in turn, is really made up of two other words: Theos, which means “God”, and pneu, which means “to breathe”. Thus, theopneustos literally means, “God-breathed”, and this is what is meant by the English word “inspired”.

In the first book of the Bible, we read that God “breathed” his life into Adam (Genesis 2:7), making him a “living soul”. This gave Adam participation in God’s life. This is related to Scripture, because divine inspiration is very much like divine respiration in Adam’s case – what is very human becomes filled with the life of God. The human words of the Bible are filled with the life and message of God.

Further, the word for “breath” in Hebrew (ruah) is the same word used for God’s Holy Spirit. When we are dealing with the “God-breathed” (inspired) Word of God, that means that God the Holy Spirit is the principal author of Scripture. The human beings who actually wrote the 73 books that collectively make up the Scriptures are called the instrumental authors of Scripture (Saint Paul, for example). They were the means, the instruments God used. These authors did not go into a trance when they wrote. They used their personal freedom, intelligence, education, cultural background, and personalities when they composed the sacred Scriptures. But God superintended the process in a providential manner, ensuring that what he wanted to communicate to us in human language made it into the Bible.

Our Lady of the Rosary and the Battle of Lepanto

battle-of-lepanto-oct-7-1571Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Why is celebrated today, October 7? It was on this day, in 1571, that a battle was fought that changed the very course of history. Christianity was saved from certain destruction in the West.

Christopher Check, writing for Catholic Answers Magazine:

1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

Providentially, God had raised up exactly the right Pope to lead the Church at this critical moment in her history:

Then God intervened and sent one of history’s greatest popes, St. Pius V, who declared, “I am taking up arms against the Turks, but the only thing that can help me is the prayers of priests of pure life.” Michael Ghislieri, an aged Dominican priest when he ascended the Chair of Peter, faced two foes: Protestantism and Islam. He was up to the task. He had served as Grand Inquisitor, and the austerity of his private mortifications was a contrast to the lifestyles of his Renaissance predecessors. During his six-year reign, he promulgated the Council of Trent, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, issued the Roman Catechism and a new missal and breviary, created twenty-one cardinals, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and, aided by St. Charles Borromeo, led the reform of a soft and degenerate clergy and episcopacy.

Check vividly describes the events leading up to the incredible battle at sea, which puts old Errol Flynn flicks like The Sea Hawk or Captain Blood to shame! Read it, and say a rosary in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s powerful intercession.

St Francis of Assisi v Martin Luther

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Not quite Batman v Superman – but actually, it kinda is! Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent had different ways of attacking the same problem. St Francis (whom Jesus commanded to “rebuild” his Church) and Luther had very divergent approaches to reform.

Taylor Marshall, writing on this feast day of St Francis:

Saint Francis of Assisi is perhaps one of the best examples of patience in the cause of reform. When St Francis went to Rome to seek recognition from the Pope, the Pope dismissed him impatiently and told him to go “lie down with the pigs.”

After a little while, Francis returned smeared with swine feces and stinking to high heaven. When the Pope objected, Francis answered, “I obeyed your words and merely did as you said. I lay down with the pigs.” Suddenly the Pope realized that this was a holy man who was willing to obey even in the face of humiliation. The Pope listened to Francis’ vision for renewal and the rest is history.

When rebuffed by the pope, Saint Francis could have appealed to Sacred Scripture, showing this his pattern of life was poor and lowly like that of Christ. He might even have contrasted his own “biblical life” against the extravagance of the Papal court. Francis may even have rightly rebuked the abbots, bishops, and cardinals for lacking evangelical witness. Instead, Francis followed the path of Christ. He allowed himself to be misunderstood and maligned, knowing that God would bring about his vindication…and God always does.

Contrast Saint Francis to Martin Luther. Luther did not visit Rome for confirmation of his cause, nor did he respect the structures of the Church. In fact, Cardinal Cajetan met privately with Luther and explained how Luther might modify his message so that Cajetan could have it approved by the Roman Curia. If Luther had moved more slowly and charitably, he may have become “Saint” Martin Luther.

Evocative story about St Francis, to say the least. Lots more in the original post.

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The Cathedral and the “Kathedra”

"Cathedra" at St Michael'sSaint Michael’s Cathedral was rededicated last night – September 29, the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel (patron saint of the Archdiocese). The word cathedral comes from the Greek word kathedra, which means “seat or elevated throne”. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses this word when he says that the Scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ “seat” (kathedra). The kathedra symbolized teaching authority. It was a common practice for Jewish rabbis to sit down while teaching, a practice which Jesus himself took up numerous times in the Gospels.

This image of the “seat of Moses” was transferred over to the Church from Judaism, because the Church is the fulfilment of Judaism; it is Judaism with the Messiah having come. Jesus passed his teaching authority to the apostles, who in turn passed their teaching to their successors, known as the bishops. The “cathedral” became known as the mother church of a diocese or archdiocese, because it contained the chair of the bishop.

Every parish church also contains a chair of this sort, which rightfully belongs to the bishop. But, since the bishop cannot physically be in each parish of his diocese to celebrate Mass every Sunday, he delegates some of his powers to men known as presbyters, or priests. When a bishop visits a local parish, the parish pastor must give way – and give his seat up – to the bishop.

A side note: many ask, “Why do parish churches and cathedrals need to be ‘dedicated’ in the first place?” The reason that these buildings are dedicated (or re-dedicated after being rebuilt, as is the case with St Michael’s) is that they’re truly “houses of the holy” (with apologies to Led Zeppelin). They are consecrated, or “set apart” for sacred use. Worship facilities belonging to many non-Catholic groups are often treated like multipurpose community centres. But a Catholic parish or cathedral is not just any building; it is the very house of God. Why? Because Jesus Christ, in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle.

Was Jesus being cruel here?

Ossuaries on the

In today’s Gospel reading at Mass we hear about three would-be followers of Jesus:

As Jesus and his disciples were proceeding on their journey, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” Jesus answered him, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

– Luke 9:57-62

What troubles many readers is that Jesus seems especially harsh towards the second man, whose father has passed away. Of course, we know that elsewhere, Jesus stressed the importance of a “God-first” lifestyle – that God must come before family. “Whoever loves father and mother…son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). Jesus is not implying that we should not love family – of course we should! But we must love God above all. In fact, only by using this “top-down” approach can we love people as they should be loved in God. Thomas More, a great family man and martyr, knew this full well.

But Jesus appears to many people to be going completely over-the-top in today’s Gospel. Most people read this passage as understating the extreme urgency of following Jesus, no matter what is going on in one’s life. when Jesus calls, you jump up. You follow. But, is Jesus seriously implying that this man should not care for his father in his final hours, and be present for his proper burial? Is Jesus being cruel here?

In a word: no! Far from it. You see, in all likelihood, the man’s father was already dead, and had been for quite some time. The Jews in Jesus’ time practiced what is known as secondary burial. After the deceased had been buried, one year later the family would return to the tomb and collect the bones (the flesh had decomposed by this point). The bones would then be placed in what is known as an ossuary (literally, a “bone-box”) and placed in a niche in the family tomb.

At the time Jesus called this man to be a disciple, he was probably making preparations for the re-interment of his father’s remains – a task that, while important, could have been undertaken by others. If the man’s father had still been on his deathbed, no doubt Jesus would have wanted him to be cared for. But, given that he was already dead, and given who Jesus is – and the criticality of his mission – it is a lot more understandable in this instance why Jesus would call him.

What do you think? Has this passage ever confused you? Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and discuss!