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“Hail, Full of Grace”: On the Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation di Corciano

Today’s Gospel on this Solemnity of the Annunciation is the famous account of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel from Luke 1:26-38. It includes some indirect proof for two major Marian dogmas of the Church – the Immaculate Conception (which was recently celebrated on Dec. 8), and the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. It also gives us part of the biblical roots of the “Hail Mary”.

When the archangel Gabriel greets Mary, it marks the only recorded incident in scripture that an angel greets someone by their title, not their name. “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This, of course, is the first line of the “Hail Mary”, with the second line, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, from Luke 1:42. So much for the ridiculous argument that the prayer is “unbiblical”.

But what of those dogmas? Speaking of the phrase, “Full of Grace”, in the original Greek of Luke’s Gospel, it is an interesting term: kecharitomene. It means, literally, “one who has been made full of God’s grace” (biblical translations that render this term “highly favored one”, or something to that effect, don’t cut it) . It’s a past perfect term, meaning that, at some point in the past, Mary was made perfectly full of God’s grace. This condition extends out into the future, into eternity. This is exactly what the Immaculate Conception is all about – that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin. If one is perfectly full of the grace of God, there is no room for sin.

With respect to the perpetual virginity, Gabriel explains to Mary that she will bear the Messiah, and at this point he has said nothing about Jesus being conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk 1:34). A very strange question for a young woman to ask, who, as we have already been told, was engaged to be married. Unless, that is, she had already intended to remain a virgin, consecrating herself wholly to God.

This post was originally published as “Mary of the Annunciation”

Cardinal Collins Takes Trudeau to Task

Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, penned a powerful letter today to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regarding the Trudeau government’s regrettable recent decision to donate $650 million to international organizations that promote abortion and contraception.

The full text of the Cardinal’s letter is below:

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons, Ottawa

March 10, 2017

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I am writing to express my deep concern and disappointment at your government’s decision to provide $650 million to support “sexual and reproductive health programs” globally. While it is commendable and necessary to foster initiatives that further the rights of women and young girls worldwide, your public comments suggest that unless a woman has access to abortion or contraception, she is not empowered or able to realize her full potential.

I simply remind you and your colleagues that we have no rights at all unless we are afforded the right to life. That decision was made for you and for each one of us by a woman, determined and committed to bring a new life into this world.

It is praiseworthy to offer international aid; it is arrogant for powerful, wealthy nations to dictate what priorities developing countries should embrace. Pope Francis has cautioned the rich and powerful West against the danger of “ideological colonization,” in which such countries and organizations offer funding to help further a particular social agenda. Do we empower women by making sex selective abortions more accessible? Money spent on promoting abortion and contraception could be spent on vaccinating millions of women and girls against malaria or other diseases. $650 million could help build a lot of schools or universities, pathways to knowledge for future female leaders of our world.

Our country could learn from a number of inspiring examples of outreach and care that support women worldwide. Very often these programs are offered by faith-based, non-governmental organizations, which are usually the first to arrive and the last to leave any area of crisis or need. They understand the reality of the local situation, and respect the dignity of the people who live there.

Canada is blessed with prosperity and a wealth of resources. Surely we can do better than imposing a distorted vision of the empowerment of women on the people of countries that deserve our support to respond effectively to the challenge of their most pressing needs.

I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you regarding this critically important issue.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Cardinal Collins

Archbishop of Toronto

I have to think that, at some level, this is Trudeau’s response to President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. federal funding for abortion-provider Planned Parenthood on an international level. And if I were you, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the PM to give His Eminence a call to chat about this. Ostensibly Catholic, Trudeau is, as one prelate described him, “a 19th-century, anti-Catholic secularist, wearing the garb of a metrosexual millennial”.

Having said that, even Justin Trudeau is not beyond the transformative reach of Christ. We should pray for his conversion, especially this Lent. In the New Testament, Saint Paul urges us to pray for government leaders: “Therefore I exhort first of all that you make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” (1 Tim. 2:1-3). It’s worth remembering who was the Emperor at the time of Paul’s writing: the crazed Nero, who had Christians thrown to the lions and burned as human torches.

Trudeau is not crazed, as Nero was. Let us pray that he reads the Cardinal’s letter with goodwill and openness to reason, and regains belief in the sanctity of all human life, and human rights for all humans. As the noted philosopher Dr. Seuss put it: “A person’s a person, no matter how small”.

 

BREAKING: New Dead Sea Scrolls Cave Discovered

Cave 4 (credit- Cale Clarke)

This is an absolute bombshell.

My professor, Dr. Craig Evans, emailed me and some of his other students earlier this week, alerting us about an amazing discovery made in Israel, something he was sworn to secrecy about until the official announcement could be made today. It’s the kind of announcement that biblical scholars and, indeed, anyone who is concerned about the world of Jesus of Nazareth dreams about making: a new cave has been discovered in Israel, most likely containing more of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dr. Evans, writing for the Logos academic blog:

The last Dead Sea Scrolls cave, linked to the ruins on the marl shelf at the mouth of Wadi Qumran, was discovered in 1956, bringing the total number of caves to eleven — eleven caves containing the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, ceramic jars, and a number of other artifacts.

For sixty years archaeologists and looters have been searching for a twelfth cave. Would another one ever be found? Most didn’t think so. This is what makes the announcement from Hebrew University so astounding: A twelfth cave has been discovered!

The cave that has been discovered has been unsurprisingly dubbed “Cave 12” (What did you expect? The Batcave? Already taken, sorry). Here’s what was inside:

Not only were six scroll jars recovered, but small fragments of parchment and papyrus, as well as at least one linen used for wrapping scrolls.

Scientific testing of the ceramic should confirm its link to the ruins and Qumran and to some of the other jars found in nearby caves. DNA testing of the parchment could confirm links to some of the scrolls whose origins have to date not been determined. The presence of the jars and the linen wrapper confirms that Scrolls used to be in this cave (and same applies in the case of Cave 8).

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are not Christian documents, but they are vitally important for understanding Jesus and his world. They show what many Jews who were roughly contemporaneous with Jesus believed about the coming Messianic age. As Evans notes:

The Qumran Scrolls are also important because they shed a great deal of light on the Judaism of Jesus’ day and a great deal of light on specific teachings of Jesus and his early followers.

For example, an Aramaic scroll from Cave 4 speaks of a coming figure who will be called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” who will be “Great” and who will reign forever. The parallels with the Annunciation of Luke 1 are obvious. Another scroll from Cave 4 anticipates the coming of God’s Messiah who give sight to the blind, heal the wounded, raise the dead, and proclaim good news to the poor. The parallels to Jesus’ reply to John the Baptist are quite apparent.

Even Paul’s “works of the law” terminology finds an important parallel in a Cave 4 letter concerned with legal matters.
The Melchizedek Scroll from Cave 11 forecasts the coming of one who seems to be God himself, possessing the power to forgive sin, heal, and defeat Satan. Examples like these — and there are many more — should make it clear how important the Scrolls are.

Dr. Evans and another of his students, Jeremiah Johnston, have also published a piece today on FOX News, arguing that the Scrolls rightfully belong to Israel.

And, just in case all of this wasn’t enough to digest already, there is an extremely strong possibility that a thirteenth cave may also exist nearby! This one is even more promising, because the cave mouth has been sealed over (indicating that it may never have been looted). The coming days and weeks are going to be very, very interesting times for biblical scholars and archaeologists alike.

Share this article on social media and spread the word about this amazing discovery!

Sunday Scriptures: 1 Corinthians Overview

1 Corinthians

Over the next few weeks, the second reading at Sunday Mass will be taken from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians). This week, we read the first few verses of chapter one:

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
and Sosthenes our brother,
to the church of God that is in Corinth,
to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,
with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Cor 1:1-3)

Here’s some background on the letter. As scholar Richard Hays points out, anytime we read one of the New Testament letters, we are really reading someone else’s mail! Of course, these documents have been canonized as sacred scripture, and are indeed the Word of God. So, there is always a message from the Lord for us when we read them. But in another sense, as Hays notes, Paul probably would have preferred that some of the “issues” the believers of Corinth were dealing with were not broadcast to the ages. There’s a lot of embarrassing stuff here – everything from sexual immorality within the congregation, to lawsuits among church members, to divisions, factions and personality cults; and much more.

Thankfully for us, this letter was preserved, because it reminds us that there really was no “golden age” in Church history, even in the beginning, where everything was perfect and all were perfectly holy. We in today’s Catholic Church are still dealing with the same old sins. Human nature is no different. “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, as the saying goes. We can use Paul’s letter to figure out how best to deal with problems like these in today’s Church.

And thankfully for us, God’s grace is still just as powerful now as it ever was back then. God is still in the business of salvation and redemption. As Paul notes in today’s reading, the Corinthians (and us) are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be holy” (1 Cor 1:2).

But, what does being called to holiness really mean?

This Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:29-34) reminds us that Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit on us in Christian baptism. And our baptism calls us to two things, which can never be accomplished without the help of God’s powerful Spirit : 1) Holiness (becoming a saint); and 2) Apostolate (sharing our faith and helping others to become saints, too). Let’s focus briefly on the first point, that of holiness.

As one writer is fond of saying, becoming a saint means becoming “the best version of yourself”. It also means becoming more like Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It is Jesus’ truth and life poured through our unique personalities, situations, and vocations. But we must cooperate with Jesus in this process. God does the heavy lifting, of course, but it doesn’t happen without effort and willingness on our part.

As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote:

“They have the stuff of saints in them.” At times you hear this said of some people. Apart from the fact that the saints were not made of “stuff”, to have “stuff” is not sufficient. A great spirit of obedience to your (spiritual) Director and great readiness to respond to grace are essential. For, if you don’t allow God’s grace and your Director to do their work, there will never appear the finished sculpture, Christ’s image, into which the saintly man is fashioned. And the “stuff” of which we were speaking will be no more than a heap of shapeless matter, fit only for the fire…for a good fire, if it was good “stuff”!

(The Way, No. 56).

The Reality of the Christ: Part 2

savior

Matthew and Luke are the only two Gospel writers who include an infancy narrative in their biographies of Jesus. According to the most widely accepted theory about how the Gospels were composed, Matthew and Luke wrote independently of one another. That is, Matthew did not have a copy of Luke’s Gospel on his desk when writing his Gospel, as it were, and vice versa.

Having said that, it is amazing that these two birth narratives almost never cover the same events! But in the few instances that they do, they are in agreement. The famous biblical scholar Father Raymond Brown pointed out eleven points (reproduced in Monette, The Wrong Jesus, pp. 108-109) at which Matthew and Luke’s accounts are in accord with one another:

1. Mary and Joseph are legally engaged but haven’t lived together (see Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27,34).
2. Joseph is from King David’s lineage (see Matthew 1:16,20; Luke 1:27,32; 2:4).
3. Angels announce the forthcoming birth of the baby (see Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:30-35).
4. Mary becomes pregnant as a virgin (see Matthew 1:20,23,25; Luke 1:34).
5. The child is conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 1:18,20; Luke 1:35).
6. An angel proclaims that the child’s name will be Jesus (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31).
7. An angel states that Jesus is to be the Saviour (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:11).
8. The birth of Jesus happens after Mary and Joseph began living together as spouses (see Matthew 1:24-25; Luke 2:5-6).
9. Jesus is born in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-6).
10. Herod the Great is in power during the time of the birth of Jesus (see Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5).
11. Jesus is raised in Nazareth (see Matthew 2:23; Luke 2:39).

The fact that these two independent sources on Jesus’ infancy are in agreement on all these major details gives us greater confidence that we can trust these accounts.

Sunday Scriptures: Third Sunday of Advent 2016

matthew-11

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Matt 11:2-11), John the Baptist, who by this time has been imprisoned by Herod, sends messengers to ask Jesus if he is the promised Messiah. Have you ever wondered why John did that? Have you ever wondered why Jesus doesn’t simply answer, “Yes”? Read on!

Indeed, Jesus’ reply to the imprisoned John the Baptist (Matt 11:2–6; cf. Luke 7:18–23) is seen by some commentators as not Messianic. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Jesus never personally believed he was the Messiah. When asked “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3), Jesus answers in what appears to be a vague manner, using words from Isaiah 61: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matt 11:4-6).

A very important clue as to why Jesus answered the way he did was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls were written roughly around the time of the Advent of Jesus Christ – between the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. Although they were composed by a sectarian, apocalyptic Jewish sect, they do shed light on what Jews who were roughly contemporaneous to Jesus believed about the coming Messiah.

One of the most important Scrolls that was discovered, known as 4Q521, says this:

For the heavens and the earth will listen to his Messiah…For he will honour the devout upon the throne of eternal royalty, freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twisted…and the Lord will perform marvellous acts…for he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the meek, give lavishly to the needy, lead the exiled, and enrich the hungry.

One can easily see by comparing these two texts why it was that John asked the question about Jesus’ Messiahship, and why Jesus replied the way he did. It was assumed that when the Messiah arrived, according to 4Q521, “prisoners would be set free”. The righteous John, at this time languishing in Herod’s prison fortress at Machaerus, is wondering why Jesus hasn’t sprung him in a “prison break” of sorts. Jesus replies to John by noting that his marvellous works indeed match up with the deeds of the expected Messiah, in line with the teaching of Isaiah 61 and 4Q521. For Jesus to be any more explicit than this would arouse the attention of the secular authorities, prior to the completion of his Messianic mission. However, attentive Jews would have understood Jesus’ claims. Thus, in a culturally relevant manner, Jesus is inviting his fellow Hebrews to consider the evidence of his ministry and draw their own conclusions.

Sunday Scriptures: First Sunday of Advent

adventcandles

This Sunday is the Church’s “New Year’s Day”, as it were. It’s not only the first Sunday of Advent, but also the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Church. It’s a great time to start over, start fresh, and try to live our faith better. So, as we make our Catholic “New Year’s resolutions” about how to live Advent well, we need to keep some important points in mind:

The first thing we need to remember is that the season of Advent is not the season of Christmas! This is very difficult for us to do, because our culture has completely forgotten this truth. The culture at large wants to either A) eliminate all religious references to the season at all – for example, calling it simply the “Holiday Season”, or B) celebrating Christmas prematurely, within the season of Advent.

In the first case (A), cultural relativism – with a particularly virulent hatred for Christianity – seeks to eliminate all references to the divine at this time of year. But we really can’t escape the truth. Even the word “holiday” actually means “holy day”.

However, for Catholics, the second problem (B) is much more of a temptation. It has become quite common for people to “pull back” the feast of Christmas into Advent. The Church teaches us that Advent is actually (much like Lent) a season of penitential preparation for the great Feast of Christmas. This is one reason why many dioceses have an annual “Advent Confessions Day”, just as in Lent. This is also why Mass readings during Advent focus on the Second Coming of Christ and the Great Judgment – we need to put our lives in order and be ready to meet the great King.
The Church even encourages fasting during Advent. Without a fast, there can be no feast at Christmas. Other penances, like prayer and giving to the needy, get us spiritually ready for Christmas (cf. CCC 1434).

In stark contrast, cultural practices like office Christmas parties and other festive gatherings prior to Christmas encourage sumptuous feasting – and tragically, in so many cases, dissolute and downright dreadful debauchery. One should take to heart the words of Saint Paul from this Sunday’s second reading:

Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:11-14).

Prayer, penance, and preparation. That’s the recipe for living Advent well. The great Feast of Christmas will be all the sweeter for us as a result.

Sunday Scriptures: Christ the King

inri2This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This Sunday also marks the end of the liturgical year. In today’s Gospel (Luke 23:35-43), we read about the crucifixion of Jesus. Speaking of Jesus’ kingship, Luke here mentions the titulus (Latin for “title”, referring here to the the inscription above Jesus’ cross) that read, “This is the King of the Jews”.

It was very common in the Roman practice of crucifixion in late antiquity to affix a titulus either to, or above the cross of the condemned. As criminals were usually crucified in public places (as was the case with Jesus of Nazareth), this practice enabled passerby to discern exactly what offense a condemned criminal had been found guilty of, which led to that person’s death sentence. These public executions fostered a great deterrent to those who would dare to challenge the might of the Empire.

Interestingly, as scholar Craig A. Evans points out, this inscription is in all likelihood the first thing that was ever actually written down about Jesus of Nazareth. And, although unintended by Jesus’ tormentors, it expresses a powerful truth about his identity.

Luke’s account of the death of Jesus is the only Passion Narrative taht mentions the so-called “good thief” who is promised “Paradise” by Jesus. Luke here shows the two possible responses to the crucifixion of Christ. On one hand, there is the response of the religious leaders of Jerusalem (and the Roman soldiers): “The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.’ Even the soldiers jeered at him” (Luke 23:35-36). Jesus is crucified alongside two criminals (probably insurrectionists). One of the two “reviled” (literally, “was blaspheming”) Jesus, echoing the insults and abuses of the rulers.

On the other hand, the other criminal rebukes his companion (vv. 41-42), noting that Jesus is not only innocent (“this man has done nothing criminal”), but that he believes Jesus will somehow survive his ordeal – an incredible act of faith (“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”). As hearers of this Gospel, we are clearly encouraged to identify with this man, making the same request to our Lord.

Luke’s Gospel will go on to demonstrate that Jesus, although condemned by the Sanhedrin and Pilate, will indeed be vindicated – and that by a much higher authority: Almighty God. Jesus’ powerful Resurrection means that the inscription on his cross proved to be true, in a way his enemies never expected. Jesus is indeed the Messiah (the Christ), and the King of the Universe.

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

2-thessalonians-3

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.