Two Antiochs

Every year during the Easter season, Mother Church has us read Acts 13. The Apostle Paul has sailed to Cyprus, and now to Asia Minor. Then he traveled inland to Antioch in Pisidia.

antiochs-mapSidenote: There are two kinds of people. People who clearly understand the difference between Antioch in Syria and Pisidian Antioch, and people who can’t even spell Antioch or Pisidia or Syria.

The two New-Testament locations named Antioch were separated by the same distance that Martinsville, Va. is separated from Cincinnati, Ohio, which is a little further than the drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles.

One of the ancient Antiochs was a major commercial and cultural center, one of the great cities of the world. Namely, Syrian Antioch. The other was a small outpost, high on a plateau, a retirement village for pensioned Roman centurions. Pisidian Antioch.

No offense to anyone, but people who want to be taken seriously as readers of New Testament are required to be in Category #1, when it comes to knowing about the two Antiochs.

Because: When Paul arrived in Pisidian Antioch, it was a place where people had heard of God. A lot of them had heard of Moses and King David. Some of them had even heard of John the Baptist. But no one knew that the Christ had come. So St. Paul told them.

My point is that this is where we live. In the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, St. Paul gave a nice straightforward speech. He explained what had come to pass–namely the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. He explained how this affected his audience, namely that now they had a chance to repent and believe. Some of them did.

We live under similar circumstances, and we have the same opportunity. St. Paul, pray for us! That we might have the same zeal for souls as you had. That the Lord might use us, like He used you, to help souls find Christ and get to heaven.

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Setting Sail from Syrian Antioch

Sent forth by the holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4)

Speaking for myself, I feel a fairly deep sense of reverence for the verses of the Acts of the Apostles that we read at Holy Mass today. Barnabas and Saul sailed from Antioch on the Orontes, and they made for Salamis, on the east end of the isle of Cyprus. And thus began…

Aeneas
Aeneas
The missionary journeys of St. Paul. The one whom St. Thomas Aquinas calls “The Apostle.”

Anyone ever heard of Odysseus and Aeneas, the heroes of the ancient pagan epics? Crafty, brave, muscular warriors, irresistible to the ladies. Odysseus and Aeneas sailed like Barnabas and Paul sailed, hoisting canvas in the Mediterranean wind, putting their future entirely into the hands of higher powers, into the hands of destiny.

But the drama of the ancient heroic pagan epics does not hold a candle to the adventure lived by the Apostle, the bookish Pharisee from Tarsus. Odysseus and Aeneas had wind, wit, will, and wanderlust. St. Paul had the Gospel of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit. Odysseus and Aeneas left the legacy of successful sons of fortune. St. Paul built up the Church of God.

What the Apostle bequeathed, time has not erased. And I don’t just mean his letters–written in the throes of complicated circumstances, the particulars of which we can only begin to grasp–letters which nonetheless deliver to us the enduring Word of God.

No, not just his letters in the New Testament. St. Paul’s amazing adventure across the Mediterranean gave birth to Christian communities, to local churches, flowing with the sap that gives life to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

Even though St. Paul lived a celibate life, he became a father in a way that Aeneas never did. Aeneas was revered by the ancient Romans as their father. But the chaste Apostle makes the lady-killing Aeneas look less-than-virile by comparison.

The Apostle sailed the Mediterranean in order to give to the poor the Good News of Jesus Christ. He hardly did it by swashbuckling, dashing gallantry. He made extra money by spending his days making tents. Not exactly romantic.

But, sailing hither and yon across the Mediterranean, St. Paul lived the adventure of divine love. Every day he grew closer to Christ, by sharing what he knew of Christ with others. And what greater adventure could there be?

Don’t we want to be on the boat, setting out from Antioch, with Barnabas and Saul? The wide sea opening before us, with the prospect of souls on all the father shores, with whom the Lord is asking us to share His love?

That adventure awaits us even now. That ship is sailing even now. The adventure that St. Paul lived is by no means over. In truth, it has only just begun.

Hamlet (Deleted Scenes)

ASC HamletRecently saw a semi-competent performance of Hamlet, shortened to approximately 2.25 hours running time by extensive cutting of lines. And something dawned on me…

With each passing year, I relish all the more the two unabridged Hamlets that I possess: The Arkangel Shakespeare audio, on three CDs. And my most-prized worldly possession, my DVD of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, 1996.

I listen/watch to both at least once a year, religiously. It takes a number of sessions to get through these unabridged renditions, to be sure. Four or five late evenings to watch, six to ten drives hither and yon to listen.

Now, I do of course recognize that actually performing Hamlet on stage poses the enormous challenge: So many friggin lines. And people don’t like to sit for four hours.

But I would like to go on record officially; I would like to proclaim to the world: If you are going to mount a Hamlet; if you are going to perform Hamlet, but Marcellus (after the crowing of the cock, and the fleeing of the ghost, in Act I, scene i) –if, in your Hamlet, Marcellus is not going to say:

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

…If these lines are going to be skipped, in the interest of time, then I would prefer to go for a walk. Thank you very much; all the best; good luck with your production. But I had rather go for a walk than sit for a Hamlet with a lot of missing lines.

jacobi branagh christieHamlet contains two marvelous ‘mysteries,’ in the religious sense of the term.

1. None of the truly important events of the drama actually occur on-stage. And the most important plot element (the history of the genuine love between Hamlet and Ophelia) never even gets mentioned explicitly. To understand just how much they truly loved each other, one must read between the lines of their respective ravings.

2. The plot of Hamlet does not particularly matter. The plot does not satisfy, in and of itself. The plot serves as the trunk of the tree, on which hang the fruits of people saying incredibly interesting things.

At the Hamlet I recently saw, all the appropriate people lay dead on the stage at the end of the play. And we, as the audience, more or less understood why. But it was as if we had just eaten a BLT with no mayonaise. A McMuffin with no egg.

I present here a brief laundry list of lines culled in the production I saw. Tragedy of tragedies, to leave such lines unsaid!

Continue reading Hamlet (Deleted Scenes)”

Two Good Priests Among Many

Conclave Mass 2005 St Peters
Mass “Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,” April 18, 2005

 

“I am the good shepherd,” says the Lord.

Exactly ten years ago last Saturday, two men sat together under the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. Since that day, both of these two men have become very famous. It was the Mass to begin the papal conclave in 2005, concelebrated by all the Cardinal electors. One of these two men soon became Pope Benedict XVI. Eight years later, the other one became Pope Francis.

That day, the first of these two men actually gave the homily. Cardinal Ratzinger was then the Dean of the College of Cardinals, so it was his duty to preach the sermon at the beginning of the conclave. In his homily, he made the point that Christ had brought a time of jubilee, the ‘year of favor,’ to the earth. Pope Francis cited the same idea when he recently declared that we as a Church will celebrate a jubilee year, a Year of Mercy, beginning this December.

Christ has revealed the face of the Father, by dying on the cross for us. Now we live in the time of grace, the time of sincere love, the time of divine mercy. Cardinal Ratzinger said that in April 2005. Pope Francis said it in April 2015.

Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio
Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

I know it might make me sound nostalgic and old, but I think it’s a good idea for us to imagine both Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Bergoglio concelebrating that particular Mass on April 18, 2005.

They both grieved the loss of a beloved friend who had died two weeks earlier. They both, I am sure, could hardly imagine the world without Pope John Paul II.

I am also sure that neither Cardinal Ratzinger nor Cardinal Bergoglio had any serious thought at that moment about becoming pope himself. They were praying fervently at the holy altar, praying that Christ the Good Shepherd would guide them, together with all the Cardinals, to do their sacred duty well.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily that day made a mark on me personally. Of course I was paying attention to everything, watching all the Youtubes, and reading all the translations of everything. It was in that homily that Cardinal Ratzinger gave his famous diagnosis of the “dictatorship of relativism,” the contemporary tendency to tolerate everything except the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have the courage to preach the truth with love, he said.

Now, I myself don’t claim to be any kind of particularly respectable priest. I hope I teach orthodox doctrine, since I hardly have anything else to offer. I have above-average skills in solving crossword puzzles, but that’s about the extent of my talents. So I don’t hold myself out as any great shakes.

But I can honestly say that I have been, and am, willing to die for the fact that there is such a thing as truth, such a thing as The Truth. And that Jesus Christ teaches it, that Jesus Christ is it. If the dictatorship of relativism asks me to choose between Christ the Truth and more days on this earth, I hope to shout Viva Cristo Rey while they shoot, God help me.

Pope Benedict, that day before he became Pope Benedict, was saying: ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’ Now, ten years later, Pope Francis is saying, ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’

Benedict Francis kneelingNewspapermen, breathless anchorwomen, and other associated television chatterers have a tendency to paint a bad Pope Benedict/good Pope Francis picture. Meanwhile, plenty of bloggers, magazine columnists, and experts on the Sacred Liturgy, like to paint the good Pope Benedict/bad Pope Francis picture.

But I really think we should meditate on the two of them concelebrating that particular Mass on that particular day, April 18, 2005. Let’s see them there, beneath the huge dome, among their brother Cardinals, praying the Mass at the tomb of St. Peter. Praying that the merciful Lord would guide His Church into the future, so that all the people of the world could reach true fulfillment as children of God.

Neither of them were praying, “Lord, make me the pope!” We can say that for sure. And we can likewise be sure that neither of them were praying, “Lord, whatever you do, don’t make Bergoglio pope!” or “Don’t make Ratzinger pope!”

I think we can imagine that they were both humbly praying something like, “Lord, give us the shepherd we need. May Your holy will be done. Give us the loving shepherd, after Your own Heart, that You have chosen.”

Now, how do we know so clearly that they both prayed more or less like this, in their innermost hearts, on that day? Because we know what they both are, deep down. We know what they both have in common, which makes their differences, real as those differences may be, seem small.

Both of these two men, Ratzinger and Bergoglio, Pope-Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis—both have lived their long lives as devout Catholic priests. They are both the same, fundamentally: prayerful, dutiful priests. They both have really only wanted to do one thing: shepherd the flock according to the Heart of Christ. I, for one, admire them both and love them both very much. Above all, because they are such beautiful priests.

Let’s thank the Lord especially at Mass on Good-Shepherd Sunday for all the prayerful, dutiful shepherds He has given us in our lives. None of us would be here right now, if it weren’t for the shepherds we have had. The priests who gave us our sacraments of initiation, who have heard our confessions, and who have fed us from the holy altar with the medicine of immortality, the flesh and blood of Christ our God. Thank you, Lord, for guiding us through the shepherds you have given us!

And Viva Papa Francesco!

Roanoke Catholic School 125th Anniversary Homily

Roanoke Catholic School

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. (John 6:54)

I am not especially good at anything in particular. I do very much enjoy running.

My dear fifth- and sixth graders, I think I was your age when I discovered that I love running. My father ran a 10K, and there was a “Fun Run” for the kids. About a mile or so. I got it into my head that I would run the Fun Run. I remember feeling like I was going to vomit when it was over, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Now, at such a ripe young age of ten, the idea of trying to run a mile in less than five minutes never even entered my wee mind. It was when I was your age, dear eighth graders, that I first met the most demanding man I have ever known in my life. My high-school track coach.

The immortal Coach Oliver 'Skip' Grant
The immortal Coach Oliver ‘Skip’ Grant
The feeling that I was about to vomit …it happened again. A lot. Through many merciless workouts presided-over by Coach Grant.

Then, when I was your age, dear 10th graders, all the stars aligned. It was a crisp spring afternoon. I never owned a pair of racing spikes, but that day one of the seniors on the team had a new pair, so he lent me his old ones. Our meet was held at the school with the finest track in the conference. And I managed to run a mile in 4:56. I guess I have been basking in the quiet glory of that moment ever since.

My point is: I started in one place, a place where the idea of running a sub-five-minute mile didn’t even exist. Then Coach Grant kicked the butts of all his runners into the kind of shape that none of us had ever imagined we could be in. A whole new kind of accomplishment lay within my grasp. I had a new horizon. Thanks to workouts that seemed designed to kill, I managed to reach the goal.

Seems to me that this is what “education” is. We start in one place, where the world is hemmed-in and small, even though we might not even realize it. Then someone generous gives us exercises to do, which we do not want to do.

But, by doing them anyway, we wake up one day, and the world is bigger, wider, brighter, and more interesting. Not only that. Now, thanks to all the toilsome work I have done under the guidance of someone who wants to see me succeed, I actually have the mental and psychological strength to accomplish something beautiful and impressive in this grand world.

For 125 years, right here on this lovely little plateau, teachers have been giving homework. For 125 years, students have been saying to themselves, “I really do not feel like doing all this homework.” For 125 years, parents of Roanoke Catholic students have been hollering in the house, “Have you done your homework yet?” And for 125 years, students here have been getting smarter, and more creative, and more interesting, and more capable.

But that is not all. Sub-five-minute miles come and go. Truth is, all our successes in this world come and go. Smarter and more creative and more capable—all of these can be for the good, but they can also be for the bad.

There is yet another horizon.

little last supperLike I said, when I was 10, I didn’t even know what running a sub-five-minute mile meant. When I was 15, I ran one. When you’re 14, it feels like endless studying and tons of homework. When you’re 23, you realize it means that now you have some skills that you can use to make the world better. The whole time, while you’re a pilgrim on earth, you wonder, What’s the meaning of life? And Jesus Christ answers: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever.

There is yet another horizon of ‘education.’ And there is only one coach, only one teacher who can lead us to it, help us reach it, carry us there: Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, Who says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Who says: Give, and more will be given to you. Who says: Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. Who says: Repent of your sins, and believe.

This school rightfully takes pride in all of our success as an educational institution. We commit ourselves to upholding the high standards that have been set by all the Roanoke-Catholic students and teachers and parents and coaches and administrators and staff that have gone before us. This is a celebration of the horizons of success that have opened up in this world for all the people who have come together here to form this institution.

But, above all, we praise and bless and adore our Father in heaven, Who has made us His children in Christ. Roanoke Catholic School has a lot of impressive ambitions. But the most important of them all is: We want to give glory to our heavenly Father.

We say we believe that Christ feeds us with His very own Body and Blood from the altar. That’s the faith of the Catholic Church; that’s the faith of Roanoke Catholic School. The world might think we’re crazy for believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but we don’t care. We believe it anyway.

This isn’t just an excellent school with an illustrious 125-year history. This isn’t just a place of academic and extra-curricular success. This is a place where we meet Christ, the Son of God. This is a place where we learn from Him as His disciples, where we seek His mercy, and where we grow strong in spirit by feeding on His Body and Blood. We have a lot of grand horizons. But the most important one is: Eternal life with God.

Last Day

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day. (John 6:40)

He will raise us on the last day. A last day will come.

Not just a last day of school, or a last day of work, or a last day of the Masters.

There will come a day when we will truthfully say, “No more ‘unscripted’ visits to New Hampshire by aspiring presidential candidates. No more having to charge my cellphone. No more mortgage payments. Todo finito–all these worldly cares.”

ezekiel bonesI guess this is one of those fundamental convictions about reality which separate the believer from the pagan. That a Last Day will come. Justice will be done. Redemption will be won for the servants of Eternal Love.

But, as the Fathers of Vatican II put it in Gaudium et Spes, this cognizance we have of the inevitable Last Day—which cognizance makes all these other days look different, puts them in a different light—this cognizance of ours does not make us despise these current days. It actually makes us care about them all the more.

After all, the Last Day could be today. Tomorrow is the 451st anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, not to mention the day when we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of Roanoke Catholic School. But maybe we’ll never make it to tomorrow. Maybe the Lord will demand our lives from us this very night.

Will I face Him having been fair to all the people I have a duty to be fair to? Will I face Him having cared for people who bear the oppressor’s rod and suffer the whips and scorns of outrageous fortune? Will I face Him, and find mercy for my sins, because I have been merciful to other people myself?

Pagans don’t like to think about such things, I don’t believe. But: attending Mass, when we really think about it, requires us to examine ourselves like this every time. At Mass: here we are, in our bodies, the very bodies which will rise on the Last Day. And here He is, Christ our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament. If this isn’t a dressed rehearsal for Judgment Day, I don’t know what is.

Perfect love casts out fear. We have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, like holy St. Paul did. But when we are used to meeting Christ in the flesh, which we do whenever we go to Mass, we need not fear the Last Day. It won’t be any more terrifying than a Mass at which we could see everything—see everything that we now believe in, without seeing.

Anthony Trollope’s The Bertrams

Above all, I recommend keeping the Ten Commandments. Secondly, I recommend reading Trollope.

I have three of his Barchester novels under my belt. But I will defer commenting on that particular shire for now. (In Trollope’s Shire, the hobbits are Anglican clergymen.) The years march on with the relentless hope of the fertile earth in Barsetshire. We will consider that fundamentally happy world some other time.

In 1859, Trollope took a break from publishing Barchester chronicles. That year he gave us a novel which his devoted fan Cardinal Newman found to be disturbingly “melancholic and skeptical.” Trollope more or less said that he came to dislike The Bertrams himself. But I think it is a heartbreaking masterpiece.

My new favorite person ever, Anthony Trollope
My new favorite person ever, Anthony Trollope

Near the end of The Bertrams, the two bachelors around whom the plot revolves find themselves on-board ship, returning from Egypt to England. (This novel involves a couple elegant interludes in the Arab world.) Also aboard the ship: two young widows, homeward bound, having lost their husbands to disease in colonial India.

One of the widows is particularly pretty. Both take vivacious advantage of the quick intimacy of shipboard life. They need husbands, and they have no intention of losing the chance.

Both of the bachelor-heroes love women back in England. But one of those women is married to a third man, a rising star of Parliament. And the shipboard bachelor who loves her could have been a rising star of the world himself, had he not flailed his way down another path. He resorted instead to bohemian circles and tried to understand the meaning of life and find true religion.

This bachelor has a nasty, aging, avaricious Croesus for an uncle. But the principled young man will not try to curry favor. He has no concern one way or the other whether he winds up in his uncle’s will.

The Bertrams TrollopeIn other words, this young man—George Bertram—has shown himself a willful, splenetic, self-destructive, and irresolute vagabond. He can manage to be faithful to only one thing: his unshakeable desire to live in the truth.

He finds himself on deck with the prettier widow. His future opens before him like an impenetrable night. He rolls the dice, and offers himself to her. She bats her eyelashes, but she hesitates. Maybe this fella doesn’t have quite enough money?

In the nineteenth century, young people had to contend with the question, love or money? Like they do in the twenty-first century. Of course, in the nineteenth century, divorce involved such agonies and ruinations of oneself that is was best regarded as all but impossible. Like in the twenty-first century.

In 1859, the National Review (of England, not the USA) excoriated the newly published Bertrams for unfairly portraying the profession of a clergyman as morally superior to that of a lawyer. We might find that criticism rather laughable now.

What I do not find laughable at all is the beautiful and heartbreaking climax of the novel, which actually occurs near the beginning. (All good stories are at least two-thirds denouement.)

Trollope knew the Holy Land. He despised the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, like many Protestants of his day. We will leave that to the side for now.

But Trollope, like me, loved the Mount of Olives. Twentieth-century Barluzzi churches dot the hill now. But in the mid-nineteenth century, pilgrims just sat on rocks amid the Jewish graves and looked across the Kidron Valley at the Temple Mount, and the city beyond, where the Savior carried His cross and was crucified, and rose.

Trollope put George Bertram on that spot, had him gaze at Jerusalem, had him choose to dedicate his life to the service of Christ and His Church, in a humble country parsonage, fame and money be damned.

But George abandoned his resolution.

The rest is the heartbreaking tale told in The Bertrams, peppered with delightful comic relief, and insight as deep as I have encountered into what truly makes a human soul independent and free.

The Messiah We Actually Got

st albans psalter road to emmaus

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35)

On the way… Where? On the road to… Emmaus.

The two disciples moped along, downcast and directionless. Jesus had been crucified. His body had gone missing. And these two disciples did not understand. Then, on the road, they met a mysterious stranger who wanted to know what was eating them.

“We thought he would redeem Israel. But now our hopes are dashed.”

The stranger replied, “Seems to me you have missed something crucial here. Have you never read Isaiah 52 and 53? Psalm 22, 34, and 69? Exodus 12? Wisdom 2? Zechariah 12?

“What kind of Messiah did you think was going to come? Was the Messiah going to redeem Israel without uniting Himself with the suffering of His people? Without offering Himself as the truly pleasing sacrifice to the Father? Without establishing the religion of the new and eternal covenant?

“After all, the blood of bulls and goats does not atone for sins. Man, left to his own devices, stands helpless before inevitable death. Something that overcomes the separation between man and God had to happen.

“God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways not our ways. Human beings see crucifixion as the most shameful death imaginable. Human beings see what happened on Good Friday as discouraging, depressing, totally dispiriting. But God can turn a wooden cross into a gilded throne. God can turn heartbreak into triumph.”

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaicThen the stranger proceeded to break bread with the disciples, and… Whoa! He has risen from the dead! And He’s right here! And what were we worried about?!

So the two disciples ran back to Jerusalem to tell everyone else. These two disciples, who had despaired only hours earlier, were probably saying things like, “The heavenly Father has turned the Master’s cross into a throne of glory. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The grave could not hold Him, and He can turn bread into His immortal flesh!”

The two probably went on and on like this, and St. Peter was saying, “Yes, I saw Him, too,” and the rest of them were like, “Sure, guys. Sure. Maybe you need to get your heads examined…” Then:

‘Peace be with you, my lads.’

OMG. It’s a ghost!

‘No. Touch the wounds. Touch the nail-marks.

“And, listen, give me some food. Getting crucified, and then rising from the dead, makes you hungry.”

What kind of savior do we think we want? Do we want some pure spirit who has nothing to do with the trials and tribulations of our human pilgrimage? Do we want an ideal for a savior? Or a theory?

Or do we want some kind of human “savior” that grows up in a mansion and goes to Harvard? The kind that wins lots of prizes during an illustrious career and then retires to Cabo San Lucas? The kind that everybody feels comfortable with? So comfortable that, when he is confronted by contradictions and threats, he backtracks in a heartbeat, saying “Oh, no, when I said the Pharisees were a hypocritical brood of vipers, I didn’t mean you…”

No.

I think we want a Messiah Who grew up a carpenter, suffered heroically for His beloved friends, conquered death by dying for the truth, and reigns supreme in a realm too sublime for us even to imagine.

That’s the real Messiah, foretold by the prophets, attested to by the Apostles, who lives with us in the breaking of the bread. The Messiah we never could have foreseen. But Who–now that He has done what the prophecies declared He must do–certainly is the best Messiah possible, the only Messiah possible, our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Four Feeding 5,000s

Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee
Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee (back in ’08)

…Speaking of the idiosyncratic ancient manuscripts that make up our beloved Bible…

Reading St. John’s account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, like we do at Holy Mass today, gives us particular satisfaction.

All four holy gospels recount this miracle, and only this one. Yes, all four gospels tell us about Jesus healing blind people. But in each instance, it’s different blind people. And, yes, of course all four gospels tell us that Jesus rose from the dead. But they recount different appearances of Christ after He rose.

So the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 binds the four gospels together. This miracle is like a strand of golden twine that ties the four books into a single bundle. Must be uniquely important, then, this miracle.

God fed the wandering Israelites with manna from heaven, as Moses led them through the desert to the Promised Land. And, of course, God continues to feed us wanderers with the Bread of sincerity and truth, which we receive from the holy altar of Christ’s sacrifice.

So maybe we can say: The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 offers us the best-possible image of God providing for His beloved people. The moment gives us the singularly vivid picture of Divine Providence. If we can imagine and meditate on the miraculous feeding, then we can begin to grasp how we fit as individuals into the grand divine design.

In his account, St. John tells us what time of year it was. Passover was near. Early spring.

The grand divine design involves our having a springtime picnic together, a picnic that will last forever. He provides the food.

Fact and Mystery, Con’d

The second week of Easter means readings from John, chapter 3, at daily Mass. An extremely fascinating chapter for many reasons. But one of the reasons has to do with punctuation marks.

mark gospel manuscript fragmentSt. John wrote his gospel in what language? Don’t know for absolute sure, but probably Greek. The oldest copies that we possess are in Greek. And the oldest copies we possess have no punctuation marks whatsoever.

So the question arises: Who said the world-famous John 3:16?

Did Jesus say those words to Nicodemus, as part of the conversation narrated at the beginning of the chapter? Or did St. John himself reflect on the conversation, and write “for God so loved the world…” himself?

And who said the words we hear at Holy Mass today? Did John the Baptist say them, as part of his testimony to his cousin? Or did John the Evangelist write them, reflecting on John the Baptist’s speech?

Can anybody help me here? Scholars?

Fact is, the scholars don’t know. John 3, as a chapter, certainly gets the prize for “Chapter When We Most Wish that Koine-Greek Manuscripts Had Punctuation Marks.”

Now, “the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.” (John 3:34)

‘The Bible’ can be an idol, like any other idol. If we think that the Bible is anything other than a collection of ancient manuscripts, written at particular places and times, by particular men; if we think that “the Bible” is some kind of golden token we can easily grasp, magically making us righteous—if we think that, or anything like that, we are idolaters.

Christ blessing Savior World el GrecoThe fact is: the Bible is an unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts, translated by human beings into many languages. We can never really understand the Bible without recognizing this.

That said, when we read one of these handy translations, or if we just listen carefully at Mass over an extended period of time, we also clearly see: This unwieldy collection bears witness to the One Whom God has sent. The One Whom God has sent is a man, the man who knows God, because He is God.

Every word of the unwieldy collection of strange manuscripts, every letter of every word, with or without punctuation—every single jot and tittle is more precious than all the Crown Jewels. Because all these markings on paper, taken together, give us the unique testimony which the triune God has made about Himself.

God has not left us to endure unending silence from heaven. He has spoken. Christ is His Word. And if we want to hear and know Christ, we have to let the unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts become a food for which we hunger more than for breakfast, lunch, and dinner combined.