Lent Like a Catholic

For many years, I ceased giving up anything for Lent. I came to regard the Lenten fast as a sort of second shot at one’s New Year’s resolution or an attempt to lose weight. For the past three years, however, I have been more diligent about observing Lent through fasting. I’m certain that my marrying a Catholic has something to do with this.

The first year of our marriage, I gave up meat on Fridays during Lent. It wasn’t really that big of a deal to me, as I quickly discovered that I could replace “meat” with unreasonable amounts of fried fish and beer (thanks, Milwaukee). The second and third year, we gave up meat altogether. This proved more challenging, as you can probably imagine. While we weren’t (and aren’t) “over the top” meat-eaters by any means, planning our meals around vegetables was a wholly different experience for both of us.

This year, we decided that giving up meat altogether was something that we were actually looking forward to…in my mind, an eagerness to embark on a fast because it makes you feel good calls the practice into question. Fasts should be difficult, right?

While we continue to observe the no meat on Fridays “rule,” we decided to really go for the gold regarding our “primary” fast. WE GAVE UP COFFEE. That’s right, we put our beloved coffee beans on the top shelf in the kitchen, and we switched to tea. The first week was tough, as a cup of tea in the morning really doesn’t have the same kick as a cup of coffee. What is more, both of us enjoy the taste of coffee so much that tea leaves us wanting. Thus, my current longing for Easter is greater than anything I could express in words.

But the upside of celebrating Lent with a Catholic is that you get to benefit from the “loopholes” that are built into Lent…Catholics call them “feast days,” but whatever. Basically, because every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection, you get to indulge in what you’re supposed to be fasting from and have a little foretaste of the Easter season. And, as my beloved wife (and Catholic friends) have pointed out, if you include Sundays in Lent, you actually end up with something like 46 days. So, on Sunday mornings, I wake up to the smell of coffee brewing downstairs, and nothing says “resurrection” like the aroma of coffee.

But Sundays are not the only loopholes…you also get to “indulge” on a few other days. Today, for example, is the Feast of St. Joseph, so we don’t have to observe our Lenten fast. Thus, I am drinking coffee as I type this. In short, I have found that celebrating Lent like a Catholic is not all bad.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m a sucker for church art projects (especially those created by children). This past weekend, beloved spouse and I were speaking at a church in Whitewater, WI. Before our talk, we were hanging around in the hallway, and I spotted a series of paper crosses. They were decorated with post-it notes containing what appear to be maxims on how to live better, more faithful lives.

Many of the maxims appear to be written in some dialect of Middle English.

A few of my favorites, with translations (pictures below):

  1. tele the shroth (tell the truth?)
  2. de Helfoe (be helpful)
  3. de kine (be kind)
  4. de nise de gade (be nice to God)
  5. pray to Jesus evrebe (pray to Jesus everyday)
  6. dont swar (don’t swear)

photo 3

photo 2

photo 1


Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary or, as it is known in the East, The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos [God-Bearer] into the Temple.

The earliest attestation of this tradition is in the Proto-Gospel of James (Protevangelium Jacobi):

When the child turned three, Joachim said, ‘Let us call the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews. Let each of them take a lamp, and let each stand burning so that the child might not turn back and her heart be captivated by things outside the temple of the Lord.’ This is what they did until they came up to the temple of the Lord. And the priest welcomed her, kissed her, blessed her, and said, ‘The Lord God has magnified your name among all generations. In you the Lord will manifest his redemption to the sons of Israel in the last days.’ He placed her on the third step of the altar, and God showered her with grace. She danced with her feet, and the entire house of Israel loved her (PJ 7:4-10).

From the Festal Menaion:

Having received the fruit of the promise come from the Lord, today in the temple Joachim and Ann offered the Mother of God as an acceptable sacrifice; and Zacharias the great High Priest received her with his blessing.

Into the holy places the Holy of Holies is fittingly brought to dwell, as a sacrifice acceptable to God. The virgins adorned by virtues go before her carrying torches, and offer her to God as a most sacred Vessel.

Let the gate of the temple wherein God dwells be opened: for Joachim brings within today in glory the Temple and Throne of the King of all, and he consecrates as an offering to God her whom the Lord has chosen to be his Mother.


*the image at the start of this post is a fresco from the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel in Padua, painted by Giotto.

Faith Like a Child

A few weeks back, I found myself in the basement of my wife’s church before the Easter vigil. I wandered into a classroom, and on the walls were some images that intrigued me. They were clearly drawn by children, but I cannot speculate as to the nature of the project. There were about 15 total, and I photographed two of the best to share with you. Without further delay, here they are, accompanied by some commentary (click images to enlarge):

Image 1: A fascinating combination of theology and science! In case you can’t make out the captions, let me assist. The rocket ship is God, and the fuel tank and “extra” rockets are “other religions.” The robotic arm of the rocket is Jesus, and the satellite it grasps is none other than the Catholic Church. Now, the captions also stipulate that the rockets on the ship (In addition to the “extra” rockets? I’m not sure.) are the Holy Spirit. The astronauts, of course, are believers. In this case, there is only one astronaut: Spongebob Squarepants. Curious, mad, brilliant. Some questions, of course, arise. First, if Spongebob is a believer, then why is he floating around outside of both the rocket ship and the satellite, both of which would be proper locations for a person of faith (assuming that the satellite is actually a space station). Second, if the rockets are both other religions and the Holy Spirit, then what is the fire? Third, don’t satellites generally detach from the arms that launch them? Or, does this image depict the drawing in of the satellite to God?












Image 2: A theological interpretation of America’s favorite sport. Like the image of the rocket, there are captions. The scene is set in “Catholic Church Stadium.” The Christians are in the home dugout pitted against “other,” situated in the away dugout. Jesus is, quite obviously, the pitcher, and the Holy Spirit is the catcher. Spongebob makes another appearance here, as an outfielder. As was the case with the last image, in this one he is also a believer. More questions, of course. First, what precisely is Jesus throwing to the Holy Spirit? Second, who’s on third? Seriously, I can’t tell. Third, who’s up to bat first?











In case you’re wondering, these were not the only two images in which Spongebob made an appearance, although my fascination with him would certainly imply as much. He was actually in almost all of them, strangely.

Andrew of Crete and the Immaculate Conception

The focus of my research, the Protevangelium of James, is often cited as the earliest expression of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. As a consequence of my research, I have been reading many Patristic homilies on Mary, some of which speak of her birth and childhood.

Today, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I decided it may be fitting to share one. This is from an eighth-century homily, the Canon on the Nativity, by St. Andrew of Crete (translated by Luigi Gambero in Mary and the Fathers of the Church, 394):

Let all creation dance; let David dance as well, for from his line and his seed arose the branch that will bear the Flower, the Lord and Redeemer of all…

Anna was sterile and barren, but not childless in God’s eyes. For from all eternity, she was predestined to be the mother of the chaste Virgin, from whom the Creator was to come forth in the form of a servant.

Unsullied Lamb, who alone, from your womb, gave Christ the wool of our nature, we all celebrate your birth from Anna with songs.

Stigmata and Christian Apocryphal Literature

I spent the majority of yesterday composing a written statement for a fellowship application. Part of this process involved reflecting on the past 10 years of my life – where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve studied, and how all of those things have contributed to my present research interests. Self-reflection can be fun, and it forces you to remember things that you’ve long since forgotten.

As I was trying to come up with an answer regarding why I chose to study Christian apocryphal literature, I decided it might be helpful to think about the first time I even heard about Christian apocryphal literature. The answer, which I did not include in my written statement (because it’s stupid), made me chuckle.

During my senior year of high school, I watched a movie called Stigmata. It had just been released. The movie tells the story of a young woman who becomes possessed by the spirit of a dead stigmatic priest. The young woman receives the stigmata, speaks in foreign tongues, and leads an investigator from the Vatican on a wild goose chase to find a lost gospel that the Church was attempting to suppress. The “lost gospel” in Stigmata is none other than the Gospel of Thomas, discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. At one point in the movie, a priest describes it as “an Aramaic scroll from the 1st century, discovered near the cave of the dead sea scrolls outside Jerusalem. Alameida [the dead stigmatic priest] and I concluded that it is a gospel of Jesus Christ. In his own words: Aramaic.” At the end of the movie, the following text pops up: “In 1945 a scroll was discovered in Nag Hammadi, which is described as ‘the secret sayings of the living Jesus.’ This scroll, the Gospel of St. Thomas, has been claimed by scholars around the world to be the closest record we have of the words of the historical Jesus.”

In retrospect, it’s not a good movie, but my young mind was absolutely enthralled at the time. I remember talking with a friend of mine afterward about how something needs to be done about the Church’s attempts to suppress truth like this…we were both really concerned.

I chuckled to myself as I recalled this experience, as it truly is the first time I became aware that there were “gospels” outside of the New Testament. Like many uninformed viewers of the movie, I assumed in my ignorance that what Stigmata claimed about the Gospel of Thomas was true, and I continued to assume that it was true until I heard otherwise (and I seem to recall embarrassing myself in an undergraduate NT course). Of course, there is little truth in what Stigmata claims about Thomas: it is a codex, not a scroll; it is written in Coptic, not Aramaic; it is from the second century, not the first; it was not found near the Dead Sea (Nag Hammadi is over 200 miles removed); some scholars (you know who you are) consider it to be “the closest record we have of the words of the historical Jesus,” but they are a minority. What’s more, the Dead Sea Scrolls were not isolated to one cave, but were spread out among among eleven!

I suppose this memory is useful, if only to remind us about how much garbage there is floating around about the “lost gospels.”

Anyway, hope you enjoyed my rant for the day.

Enchiridion Biblicum Online

For those interested, I was just made aware that the Enchiridion Biblicum, comprised entirely of Catholic documents pertaining to the study of Scripture, is available online, in English, for free. This is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in theological exegesis, especially in a Catholic context. Not sure how long it’s been up, but it’s new to me!

Find it here.

The Verbosity of George Tyrrell

As part of my preparation for qualifying exams, I’ve been working through numerous works of George Tyrrell, an English Jesuit who was excommunicated in the early 20th century for his affiliation with the “Modernist” movement in the Catholic Church. I will likely dedicate a more substantial post to him at some point, but until that happens, I wanted to share with you an example of Tyrrell’s penchant for run-on sentences.

Abandoning the idea of revealed theology as incoherent, we have therefore to inquire as to the true relation between theology and revelation, that is to say, between that philosophical construction of the other world which has been built up from the data of general experience by the reflection and labour of the understanding, and which belongs to the unity of the whole system of our organised knowledge, and that other construction of the same world which has been more or less instinctively created out of materials supplied by popular beliefs, sentiments, traditions, and views in obedience to the requirements of the religious life, and which is the spontaneous mental self-embodiment of the collective religious experience of whole peoples and communities.

From George Tyrrell, Scylla and Charybdis, 228.

USCCB on the Boehner Bill

A couple of days ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter voicing their concerns with some of the goings-on in Washington right now. You can access the letter in its entirety by clicking here. The letter is short and worth reading in full, but here is a brief excerpt:

As Catholic bishops, we lead a community that brings both moral principles and everyday experience to this discussion. We defend the unborn, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate the young, welcome refugees, and care for the sick, both at home and abroad. As teachers, we offer several moral criteria to help guide difficult budgetary decisions:

  1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
  2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
  3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long- term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.

I wonder how John Boehner, himself a Roman Catholic, would respond to this?

John Paul II and Osama bin Laden

The past weekend was a busy one. Aside from the royal wedding, the news was flooded with news of one man’s elevation to the status of blessedness, as well as another’s violent death.

I learned of the death of Osama bin Laden when I awoke this morning and glanced at Facebook. There, I saw a slew of status updates rejoicing that bin Laden had been killed, and I even saw a few who had changed their profile pictures to images of eagles superimposed on American flags. A quick search on Google led to some assorted news stories about the death, as well as a collection of “tweets” on the subject. One said something like, “I’m so happy that the last thing bin Laden heard was the shot of an American soldier’s rifle.” In the midst of such comments, it is difficult to lose sight of the fact that the object of celebration and joy is the taking of a human life.

I am by no means a fan of Osama bin Laden, and I’m not here pleading for people to somehow realize that he was actually a person of respect whose ideology had simply been distorted by the media. He was a criminal whose capacity to inspire individuals to “go and do likewise” has made the world a more dangerous place. In this respect, perhaps he did deserve to die.

Now, what of the title of this post? What has bin Laden to do with John Paul II?

Earlier today, my wife sent me a link to an article that was originally published in 2006 (republished yesterday), following the release of Mehmet Ali Agca from prison. Mehmet Ali Agca is a name that, for most, doesn’t ring any bells. He is, in fact, the man who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981. The article tells of John Paul II’s visit to Agca while he was in prison, how he talked with him and prayed for him in his cell. The article sums up the issue better than I ever could, so I quote here:

As a follower of Jesus, the Pope gave us a memorable event that mirrored the actions of our savior on the cross. If God could forgive those who pounded the nails into his flesh then no human being is too hard to love. When John Paul II forgave Mehmet Ali Agca he set in motion a mission for all of us to radically rethink what Christian love is all about.

Take from that what you will.

Other bloggers have written on the topic of bin Laden’s death in the past 24 hours or so. Here are a few links for those who are interested:

J. R. Daniel Kirk on “The Economy of Death”

Br. Dan Horen, a Franciscan Prayer for Peace

Michael Gorman, various thoughts