Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Exodus - Fact or Fiction and “A History of the Jews”

This post is from a blog I do as part of a men’s prayer group at the Basilica of St. Peter, Columbia, SC. Recommendation of an impressive book is included.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Massacre of the Innocents

Saturday December 28 on the Catholic Liturgical Calendar is a Feast day in memory of The Holy Innocents, those slain by King Herod in fear of a new King having recently been born, eventually to replace him as King. If only Herod had known that he had less than a year to live!

Much academic analysis of Sacred Scripture of the last century seems aimed at disputation of details, and many scholars have disputed the story of the Massacre of the Innocents found only in Matthew 2. There is no proof of, or absence of, the events reported, but it is refreshing to find some detailed, well referenced, analysis supporting the reasonableness of the Biblical account. I just stumbled on this Paul L. Maier article which has helpful information about 1st Century history and context, an interesting analysis of the mind of Herod, some surprising details, and a surprising ending. Don't start reading unless you have ten or fifteen minutes to get to the end. The article (which is not Sacred Scripture) is HERE.

Part of the problem in defending these mysterious Bible stories is that we read into them more than is actually written, especially in art. For example, here is an influential 1590 painting depicting the Massacre of the Innocents. Imaginations sometimes run wild, and that seems to be excessive artistic license taken with these simple lines in the Gospel According to St. Matthew. (Matthew 2:16-18)

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Maier, by the way, is a historian and novelist and a prominent Lutheran leader, writer, and spokesman. You can read about him HERE.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Life in Christ and Getting a Job

Saint Peter Chrysologous was a bishop of the early church, a preacher so skilled in his presentation of the Truth that he is known as the "Doctor of Homilies." He was born about 350 years after the resurrection of Jesus and lived about 70 years, finally as Bishop of Ravenna, a city in northern Italy and the capital of the Western Roman Empire. His preaching probably drew large crowds in that populous city. Maybe it was a mega-church.

But maybe his crowds were smaller because St. Peter Chrysologous spoke simple and direct Truth about what it means to be transformed rather than conformed to the ways of this world. This morning the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours included this paragraph from one of his homilies. (This screen shot is from the Universalis APP.)

Well, those are not personal qualities that we would tend to point out and brag about on our applications for employment in the 21st century are they? They are somewhat other worldly. It is fascinating to me that this comes on the heels of reading, just this week, an inspiring book about the Monks of Mepkin Abbey and the philosophy which guides their personal and business lives. And, yes, they are in business, formerly poultry and eggs and currently mushrooms. So, I suppose that if one wanted to join the Monks, to be employed, so to speak, at Mepkin Abbey, those qualities recommended by St. Peter Chrysologous are the ones that would offer a chance of success.

I'm keeping this post short like Father Peter's famously short homilies. For better explanation and understanding of how it is not only possible but beneficial and even life-changing to follow his counter-cultural advice in the 21st century, buy and read Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks. Having visited them several times and having participated in service projects there, I can vouch for its truth. You can download it to your Kindle from Amazon for about $10 and read it in three or four hours. Then you may want to read it again. I certainly need and want to do so because I have a way to go to follow Father Peter's sound advice.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Baptismal Sticking Points


When I was received into the Catholic Church in 2011, it was after a few months of weekly meetings in a membership class on Catholic theology and practice, preparation for and reception of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), and presentation of documentation of my April 15, 1951, baptism at the First Baptist Church, Maryville, TN. I had been eight years old and had “walked the aisle” on March 30, 1951, in response to the traditional Baptist end-of-service invitational hymn, probably on the first or second of the unknown number of verses of “Just as I Am,” and confessed faith in Jesus as my savior and asked to be baptized and received into the church. That simple process is a key element of Baptist “liturgy.”

To be asked to provide that ancient history was a bit surprising to me at the time because I knew that the baptismal practices of Catholics and Baptists were quite different, and that my former Baptist church would have required re-baptism of former Catholics wanting to become Baptist. Here are brief summaries of the key beliefs of the two.

Baptist Baptism

  1. Only for “believers” who have reached the “age of accountability” and “made a decision” for Christ
  2. By total immersion in water
  3. An act of obedience and testimony by the believer
  4. Symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the believer’s death to sin, burial, and resurrection to new life in Christ.
  5. May be repeated if some new level of commitment or conversion is reached or if the baptized person feels his or her conversion at the initial baptism was not sincere (enough).

Catholic Baptism

  1. For any who have never been baptized and desire entry into the Church, the Body of Christ, following a period of instruction about the faith.
  2. For the children, even infants, of Baptized and Confirmed believers who promise, in faith, to instruct and raise those children and infants in the faith of the Church. Full membership in the Body of Christ requires Christian Education and the Sacrament of Confirmation at an accountable age.
  3. Immersion is fine but not required. Baptism must be by water, with right intent, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  4. An act of Grace by the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through which the baptized are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God.
  5. Done once only since the effectiveness depends only on the Grace of God and not on the person baptized or the person doing the baptizing. To doubt is an expression of lack of faith. (Baptism done by force, with wrong intent, in some name other than that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or in lemonade or beer instead of water, is not considered valid. Throughout Sacred Scripture, washing with water is always a symbol of cleaning and removal of sin.)

The bottom line is that Catholics take the act of Baptism, done properly and with proper intent, very seriously and will not re-baptize Christians who have been so baptized. Catholics do, however, welcome the chance to educate and Confirm such persons in the Catholic faith. The results of that process depend on The Holy Spirit at work in the lives of all involved.

Reconciling the Two

I have never doubted the validity or sincerity of that innocent and childlike “conversion” and baptism I experienced at age 8 in the Baptist Church, but I have learned that conversion is not a “once and done” thing but a life-long process of learning and serving, examining and confessing, and increasing commitment, a process that I have observed both Baptists and Catholics experiencing.

I remember an insightful statement by a Lutheran seminary professor: “Don’t be concerned about whether you have crossed some imaginary or subjective line. Just focus on making progress in the right direction.” 

To oversimplify a bit, I would say that the line to be crossed is key in Baptist theology while Catholic theology focuses more on continually moving in the right direction toward the holiness commanded by Jesus. I suppose that is why Catholics are accused by the “faith alone” adherents of “works righteousness.” Well, anyone familiar with the New Testament will know of lots of uses of such imperatives as study, work, endure, persist, fight, finish, etc. as well as to instances of failure or falling away by believers. And all those “works” can be done in perfect (or even imperfect) faith.

At least two things we Catholics and Baptists can agree on are:
  1. Baptism is important
  2. We are saved by grace through faith and it is not from us but is a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
Catholics just see more complications and more divine mystery in the underlying processes and identify even whatever good works we may do as not of ourselves but as gifts of God.

What About Those Other "Denominations?"

And then there are the Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God, etc. understandings of Baptism. Below are some official statements from church websites. At most of the links there is much more explanation than the simple screen shots I have posted.

Southern Baptist




Lutheran (ELCA)


Presbyterian (PCUSA)


In spite of the varied understandings of the practice and meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism, we all agree that it is the entry point to the Christian Church, the Body of Christ. We can probably also agree that there is just one Truth. We just don't agree exactly on what that one Truth about Baptism is. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Gospel of John Movie (2003)

This dramatization of The Gospel According to St. John is a work of art, beautifully staged and acted, the words coming directly from Sacred Scripture, the American Bible Society’s Good News Bible, nothing omitted and nothing added. A viewer can read along with the movie. Simply summarized, it is a pure proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. It begins with creation, placing Jesus, the Word, with God and actually being God, at the creation, and ends with his post resurrection, pre ascension, appearances to the disciples. Scottish actor Henry Cusick and Canadian actor Daniel Kash are excellent as Jesus and Simon Peter. Christopher Plummer is the narrator.

I don’t remember when I first heard of the movie or watched it, but I found it very helpful a dozen or so years ago with Lutheran Confirmation classes of students around age 12. They were spellbound. And I found it to be a perfect aid and conversation stimulator in an Adult Bible Study of John’s Gospel.  The faintest praise I have read is an Associated Press quote on the DVD box: “Thought Provoking Entertainment.” I suggest it may also be, for some viewers, Life Changing Entertainment resulting from belated realization of who Jesus was and is and what He did and does, and what He asks of his followers.

This Wikipedia article gives details of backers, artists, cast, and musical score and points out the one controversial and sometimes questioned scene in the movie, the silent presence of Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper. I would guess she was not present there, but the Gospel of John certainly considers her a prominent member of the close followers of Jesus. And, in writings of the first century and earlier, it was not unusual to omit mention of women. The scene at the Wedding at Cana, Mary, Mother of Jesus, instructing the servers to “Do whatever he tells you,” the dialogue with the woman at the well and her resulting evangelization of her community, the interactions with Mary and Martha, and the important role of the women at his resurrection all speak to the importance and prominence of the women followers of Jesus.

Check out the movie. If you get through Jesus’s dialogue with the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John Chapter 4, I predict you will be hooked and will end up watching the movie more than once. And of course, it is no longer necessary to buy the DVD (photo above) since the movie is free on Amazon Prime (Average Rating of 4.5) and on YouTube as well.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost 2019 - Eight Years Catholic


I was received into the Catholic Church at Pentecost 2011 and, in 2016 wrote a blog post titled Pentecost 2016 – Five Years Catholic. Three years later, I wrote this one without first reading the earlier one. There are a couple of common themes and some new current thoughts, but I just enjoyed going back and reading the earlier one and think it was better. I believe there is a lot of truth in the (approximate) words of Flannery O’Conner: “I don’t know what I think until I read what I wrote.” But, here goes with the current thinking.

Becoming Catholic

It is common among Catholic Christians, and Christian Catholics, to share how and when and why we became Catholic. Some are so-called “cradle Catholics,” born to Catholic parents, baptized and confirmed in a Catholic church, perhaps educated in Catholic schools and married in a Catholic ceremony and sometimes with little knowledge about or interest in other Christian faiths. 

Some are convicted, converted, and reborn former atheists or agnostics drawn into the Church by the Holy Spirit. 

And many are "converts," former Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, or whatever Christians who became convinced that the Catholic Church, with all its warts and wounds and problematic history, really is the Church that Jesus established and left people in charge of when he returned to the Father and is the Church with which they want to be in full communion. They too  usually credit the Holy Spirit with motivating their move.

The Question of Authority

Many in that latter group had come to believe that the Catholic Church has divinely assigned authority, under Holy Spirit guidance, over theological issues and argue that the Church is not a democracy subject to the whims of its “members,” many of whom may be still more conformed to the world than transformed by the Holy Spirit. (And, yes, some Catholic leaders with that authority have been imperfectly transformed also, but they still bear the responsibility and are accountable for their actions.) 

I have generally put myself in that “looking for authority” group, having been baptized Baptist and having served and worshiped in Baptist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, experiencing some discomfort with so-called Baptist Distinctives, Presbyterian Predestination, and Lutheran open discussion and votes on current theological issues such as  requirements for ordination and holy matrimony. 

In my case, that search for authority was not based on belief that the Catholic Church majesterium is and always has been right all the time or to relieve me of responsibility for having a well-informed and well-formed conscience, but to acknowledge the authority and to say to those Catholic leader/servants, “It is your responsibility to open yourselves to The Holy Spirit and to understand, explain, and defend true theology. Get to work!”

Building Christian Unity

There is a second key issue I sometimes forget that increased my interest in the Catholic Church, and that is the fragmentation of and competitive squabbling among Christians and the resulting damage to the witness of the Church. I was reminded of it by the Daily Mass readings for June 6, 2019. 

First was from Acts 23:6-11. The “Jews,” the Chief Priests and the whole Sanhedrin, Pharisees and Sadducees, had been assembled to confront Paul, recent Christian convert and troublemaker, and hopefully hasten his martyrdom. But Paul was a very smart guy, a Jewish Roman citizen, well-educated and familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and all the political and theological current issues.

Paul went right to the dividing issue, resurrection, which the Pharisees believed in and the Sadducees rejected: "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead." With that comment, the unity of the anti-Pauls was destroyed: "When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. “Martyrdom delayed! 

And then, in the Gospel reading, there was this from Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer,” part of his John 17 farewell to his disciples: Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: "I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me."

Note the last phrase, the evangelistic purpose of Christian unity: “…that the world may believe that you sent me.

I first got interested in the idea of Christian unity while living in Japan (1992-1995), enjoying worship and service at St. Paul’s International Lutheran Church, and seeing the confusion, in a nation that was 2% Christian, caused by the multiplicity and diversity of mostly western groups claiming the name of Christ. I specifically remember a co-worker telling me that, yes, his relative is a Christian, a Mormon, and another co-worker, asking me what is going on when he sees a Christian church in the USA on TV and someone is putting his hand on another’s forehead and the latter then falls to the floor unconscious. Well, how does one explain away those difficulties people face in believing that the Father sent the Son?

So, a second important reason for my interest in Catholicism, beyond the structure and authority, was that I wanted to cast a vote in favor of Christian unity by submitting to and being received by the Church that Jesus established and left someone in charge of, promising the Holy Spirit as guide.

Moving in the Right Direction

I have no expectation that all Christians are going to join together in the Catholic Church anytime soon, but I do have a reasonable expectation that all Christians, Catholics included, may eventually obey the two Greatest Commandments and replace criticism and competition with love for each other. After all, the key theologies expressed in the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, both recited at every Catholic Mass, must be of primary importance and must provide some common ground that can keep most of us from arguing more complicated issues which may not be resolved for hundreds of years. 

Resolving Complicated Issues

The primary complicated issue is differences in understanding of The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, that, as explained in John Chapter 6:52-71, has been a dividing issue since the very beginning. It may keep us from full communion but need not prevent cooperation in love and service. A key point for meaningful dialogue in the direction of Christian unity in Truth is that concerned Christians in all faith traditions should be able to respectfully explain not only why they believe as they do but also why those in other faith traditions believe as they do. None of the beliefs are without some, sometimes misunderstood or out-of-context, Biblical foundation.

The "Full Gospel" Church

I have some hope that more and more Christians will recognize that my occasional somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of the Catholic Church as the “full-gospel church” has some merit and will investigate. After all, we have The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the promises of salvation and resurrection, the Greatest Commandments and Great Commission, The Great Cloud of Witnesses, the saints, daily and frequent Sunday Masses, Church Fathers, Martyrs, seven Sacraments, The Real Presence, Mary the Mother of God whom “all nations will call blessed,” Women’s Sodality, Men’s Knights of Columbus. St. Vincent de Paul Society, abbeys and convents, monks and nuns, pilgrimages, and enough optional personal practices of piety to suit any taste. 

Since Vatican II, we even celebrate Mass in the language of the people as recommended 500 years ago by Father Martin Luther. And, we offer bingo to seniors for fellowship and entertainment, though I’m not sure where that came from. Finally, we have the 700+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church which explains the faith in four sections (Creeds, Sacraments, Christian Living, and Christian Prayer), topics that should sound quite reasonable to any Christian and to any agnostic or atheist interested in Christianity. At least the last two should sound reasonable, and those are good starting points. 

Common Ground

Oh, and back to that first, perhaps confusing sentence containing the terms “Christian Catholics” and “Catholic Christians.” I intend the first to imply those cradle Catholics who are experiencing continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance and the second to imply Christians for whom reception into the Catholic Church has been one major event in their continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance. We all have something in common, wherever we are right now, the importance of sharing that continuing conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Penitential Psalms & Lent

Morning Prayer seems most beneficial when it results in some searching beyond the provided texts and “learning” of some new things about Sacred Scripture, theology, or Church history. The quotes around that word in the previous sentence suggest that I don’t usually remember much from such searches and depend on some personally written summary I can refer to later. There is joy in organizing and summarizing information in a way that will be useful. So, here is one such simple summary.

Today (3/8/2019), one of the Morning Prayer readings is Psalm 51. I was inspired (or inclined) to look it up in the Catholic Study Bible, 2nd Edition (NABRE) and found this commentary: “A lament, the most famous of the seven penitential Psalms…” The first word of Psalm 51 in Latin is Miserere (have mercy).

For the record, here are the seven Penitential Psalms including a key phrase from each:
  • Psalm 6: Have pity on me Lord, for I am weak (vs. 3)
  • Psalm 32: Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide (vs. 5)
  • Psalm 38: I acknowledge my guilt and grieve over my sin (vs 19)
  • Psalm 51: Have mercy on me God, in accord with your merciful love (vs. 3)
  • Psalm 102: Lord, hear my prayer; let my cry come to you (vs. 1)
  • Psalm 130: But with you (Lord) is forgiveness and so you are revered (vs. 4)
  • Psalm 143: Show me the path I should walk, for I entrust my life to you (vs. 8b)

All seven have traditionally been identified as Psalms of King David, famous for his adultery, murder, disobedience, and love of and by God.  No wonder these Psalms are associated with and used during Lent!

I was aware of the Penitential Psalms but not of the first documentation of Christian recognition of them nor of recognizer Cassiodorus, sixth century monastery founder and author of Exposition of the Psalms. An interesting quote is in this link about the exposition: “Cassiodorus, like many patristic commentators, saw the psalms as the necessary starting point for Scriptural study: one should learn the psalms first, he suggests, and only then move on to the New Testament, for they serve as preparation for it.” Anybody out there who has “learned the Psalms?”

And according to this link, the seven were part of Jewish liturgy as early as the third century and have sometimes been associated with the Seven Deadly Sins.

And below is some penitential music, Miserere Mei.