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Friday, November 15, 2013

JPII and TMIY

A Catholic ministry that I have come to greatly respect comes to us out of the Lone Star State from a former energy derivatives trader, Steve Bollman. In the great jubilee year of 2000, he heard a call from God to found "Paradisus Dei", a lay ministry that serves as an umbrella organization for the program I am involved in, "That Man is You". It integrates faith and reason by incorporating the authentic teaching tradition of the Church with science and statistics. Blessed John Paul II, Pope Leo XIII, St. John Chrysostom, St. Iranaeus and many others are regularly referred to when considering male leadership in four distinct roles: morality, spiritual combat, economic stability, and political integrity. Far from being a strictly American or Texan approach to faith, Steve Bollman gets at the heart of the Universal Church by identifying Christ as the standard of virtue and perfection throughout history, including the Old Covenant pre-figurement of Christ in David, God's anointed king.

The first year of the program encourages husbands and fathers to become "men after God's own heart". David himself received this description, even with tremendous responsibility and temptation. He did, in fact, sin grievously--only to repent of his wrongdoing and accept the consequences of his actions. Therefore, besides the four leadership roles listed above, TMIY identifies five leadership traits to accompany the roles:

1)personal responsibility for one's actions
2)develop clarity of thought
3)maintain integrity of action
4)lay a foundation for the future
5)pay the necessary price

Reinforced by the writings of saints and church fathers (see above) as well as statistics and science necessitating the need for contemporary improvement, the program gives men a chance to hear God's continuous call on their lives and consequently discuss appropriate responses in small groups afterward.

Year two, my current course, is entitled, "Light to the Nations" and focuses in on the family. It draws from JPII's writings on the family as "placed at the heart of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death and between love and all that is opposed to love” (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, #23). Likewise, he called the family the "domestic church" and the "nucleus through which passes all of human history". The timing of this course could not be better for me, as I begin raising my son at the start of my second year of marriage! Indeed, TMIY is timely for many parishes throughout the United States and is recently expanding to pilgrimages in France and Italy.

Speaking of Europe, Steve Bollman does not neglect the effects of 19th & 20th century philosophy on modern thinking. Readily accessible in JPII's Theology of the Body, Steve identifies Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx as the three european architects of the "culture of death" and masters of suspicion. Their influence still plagues the legislation, prejudices, and ideologies of western thought today. In direct contrast to such ideologies, JPII calls for a "civilization of love", the most basic unit of which is the family.

Inarguably, the family is the battleground for either succumbing to the "culture of death" or truly embodying the "domestic church". TMIY's emphasis on male leadership (particularly that of a 'father who is rich in mercy') is much needed throughout the Church to bring about authentic images of Trinitarian communion in marriage and family life. Thankfully, Steve himself and Blessed John Paul II serve/served as excellent examples of 'fathers who are rich in mercy'.

Friday, November 1, 2013

JPII vs. the Da Vinci Code

As promised, the follow up to mentioning Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in the light of Blessed John Paul II is here! With full awareness that Brown's work deserves no refutation on account of its sheer errancy, I am compelled to refute it anyway because of the damage it has done to the faith of loved ones. Not to mention its popularity at the time of its publication, topping the Bible, proves that it must be dealt with, since it was not dealt with in my parish or education. As always, JPII's writings come in very handy, as does the general understanding of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church.

That said, I will outline the two main errors with Brown's magnum opus and the popular evidence in support of his claims:
1) He claims the grail legend points to Mary Magdalene as the grail (Holy Blood and Holy Grail, Messianic Legacy, Da Vinci's "Last Supper")
2) Jesus was not a celibate rabbi (Last Temptation of Christ, Freemasonry, From Ritual to Romance, The Golden Bough)

Since JPII has not published directly against Brown's publication, what he does have at my disposal for refutation of the above are the following:
1) General Audience of December 11, 1991 "Jesus as Bridegroom"
2) General Audience of July 17, 1993 "Apostolic Celibacy"

The questions worth asking are: Did Jesus die and rise at all? Since he did, was it because he was a political leader with a family or the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Has the Church been proclaiming truth about Jesus' celibacy for two millenia, or just controlling the paternity and Apostolic Succession of the Church? Was Jesus more like the Son of God, or just a son of David? Who was the beloved disciple of Jesus, is he the same as who the Bible says he was, namely, John?

I think that for most uncatechized Catholics, these are questions that cannot be answered by the Da Vinci Code alone. In other words, like Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor in its own day, Da Vinci Code will more or less strangle the seed of faith in any average parishioner. Why is that? And is JPII partially to blame for not seeing this attack on the faith? Based on his writings, as I said with the abuse crisis in an earlier post, he informed the faithful of "the one thing necessary" on a weekly basis! His catechesis was specifically geared toward a clearer understanding of sexuality in light of the Gospel of life, both celibacy and marriage alike.

Why such confusion? For one thing, the internet has made information, both accurate and inaccurate, readily accessible. For every one valid document, there may be a handful of "tabloid"-type documents. The Da Vinci Code is exactly that, with the headline reading "Jesus' Secret History Discovered!" or "The Search for the Holy Grail Found in Mary Magdalene!". After all, what has more shock value nowadays: traditional logic and eye-witness testimony, or outrageous hearsay?!

Further proof of Jesus' celibacy can be verifed by his cousin John the Baptist, as recorded by JPII, Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews), and the Gospels:
1) He wore camel's hair, lived in the desert, and ate locusts
2) He was a celibate jew, trained by the Essenes(also celibate)
3) He took a nazirite vow(no shaving, strong drink or contact with death)
4) He identified Jesus as the "Lamb of God who takes away sins"
The life of John the Baptist fills in a few unspoken facts about Jesus' celibacy, explaining the heart of the question brought up by Brown's book:

*Although rare and very unpopular, Jesus was not the only celibate jew (Jeremiah, Daniel, and John were too according to Scripture)

As JPII's General Audience of 12/11/91 reiterates, John the Baptist played a very crucial role in announcing Jesus as "Bridegroom" and "Lamb of God". St. John the Baptist says in Jn. 3:29-30:

I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease (RSV)

Needless to say, the "bride" John the Baptist is referring to is not Mary Magdalene. Jesus calls himself the "Bridegroom" in Mt 9:15 in direct connection with the messiah of Israel, whom John the Baptist says he himself is not. Therefore, since the disciples of John the Baptist thought that perhaps he was the messiah--or bridegroom-- of Israel and he insisted on Jesus instead, then Jesus is precisely the Bridegroom of Israel and not of any isolated woman. In other words, Jesus is the Bridegroom of Israel/Church/People of God/Ekklesia!

As simple as what the above concludes to be true, the Da Vinci Code concludes otherwise and with a lot more esoteric and convoluted information. On a certain level, it does require faith to see Jesus as the messiah and Bridegroom. After all, many of his contemporaries missed the boat. But reason can also help us to realize that JPII, the Bible, and Church Tradition are more reliable than Dan Brown's 'shock value' references.

In fact, in the person of the Pope--the Vicar of Christ--we have a celibate man intent on following the life of Jesus in all of its authenticity. What authenticity does Dan Brown's life follow--Robert Langdon, a fictional symbologist of Harvard?

Two final points to clear up speculation on Brown's "anti-thesis": Jesus' own words on celibacy, and the legend of the grail in classic literature.
The first of the two points needs no explanation, the Scriptural account in Matthew's Gospel speaks for itself:

10 The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." 11 But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." (Mt. 19, RSV)

The second of the two points concerns a pair of long-held interpretations of the grail legend besides that of the conspiracy theorists, namely, the authors of Holy Blood... and Da Vinci Code. The pair hinges on Joseph of Arimathea and St Lawrence the Martyr. The BBC has this to say about Joseph:

The legend states that Joseph of Arimathea became a missionary after the death of Jesus and was eventually sent to England to preach the Gospel. He took with him the Holy Grail, and his pilgrim's staff...After landing in England he made his way to Glastonbury. When he stuck his pilgrim's staff in the ground at Wearyall Hill it overnight turned into a flowering thorn tree...In time Joseph converted thousands to Christianity, including, it is said, 18,000 in a single day at the town of Wells. He also converted Ethelbert, the local king...Joseph went on to found Glastonbury Abbey...He became so well-known and admired that when he died at the age of 86, his body was carried by six kings in the funeral procession (http://www.bbc.co.uk/thepassion/articles/joseph_of_arimathea.shtml).

It also says this about his presence in Sacred Scripture:

The story of Joseph of Arimathea is told in all four gospels. Joseph was a wealthy man who came from Arimathea in Judea. He was a good and righteous man who managed to be both a member of the Council (the Sanhedrin) and a secret supporter of Jesus - which is why he did not join in the Council's actions against Jesus. After the death of Jesus, Joseph asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus' body and bury it properly. Permission was granted and the body was taken down. Joseph, helped by Nicodemus, wrapped the body in cloth with the addition of myrrh and aloes. They buried Jesus in an unused tomb that Joseph may have intended for himself, where it was protected by a heavy stone rolled against the opening (ibid).

Now, if anyone would agree with conspiracy theories on the holy grail, the BBC would! Yet, they give an honest account of his life from the perspective of British legend--since, the grail itself was the source of the quests of Arthurian legend. The Oldest work of literature in line with the BBC's references are Joseph d'Arimathie (c. 1190 AD), an epic poem by Robert de Boron detailing the history of the grail. The decendants of Joseph of Arimathea, not Jesus, guarded the holy grail and were known as Fisher kings. Within the last 100 years, C.S. Lewis re-introduced the title "Fisher king" with his Arthurian fantasy, That Hideous Strength.

But as I said, the grail legend is not limited to England, as the stone chalice used at the last supper now resides in Spain (see agate picture above), and was believed to have been taken there by St. Lawrence the Martyr from Rome. Here is some evidence that the chalice is authentic:

Antonio Beltrán, professor of archaeology at the University of Zaragoza, noted that the cup is formed by a deep red agate, called "Oriental carnelian," with streaks in the form of flames. By its material he asserts that it must come from a workshop in Palestine, Syria or Egypt between the fourth century B.C. and the first century A.D... Jorge Manuel Rodríguez, president of the Spanish Center for Sindonology, explained that although films have always shown "a wooden Holy Grail, […] that material did not comply with the norms of purification of the Jews."
(http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/scholars-on-holy-grail)

and specifically about St. Lawrence:

José Vicente Martínez, professor of ancient history at the University of Valencia, and American researcher Janice Bennet, doctor in Spanish literature both spoke about Pope Sixtus II: martyred in Rome during Valerian’s persecution, entrusted the Holy Grail to Deacon Lawrence to protect it from the emperor. A manuscript by St. Donatus told of this event, said Bennet, as well as the fact that Lawrence was a native of Valencia (ibid).

Notice then, that accounts of the grail in both England and Spain have no mention of Mary Magdalene. Instead, the common thread to grail legend is the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ and the unworthiness of all who seek it! It points toward the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper when Jesus made a new covenant between God and his undeserving people. Sister Madeleine Grace C.V.I says the following:

The saga of the holy grail has been told and retold in various cultures and languages for hundreds of years. The appeal of the quest is universal because it expresses at its deepest level our human desire for union with God. The grail itself has been depicted in a variety of ways, including a chalice or a ciborium with the consecrated host inside. The home of the grail is in the unexplored area of the soul. In variations of the story, it is seen as a temple or castle, in a remote and mysterious place. Ultimately, the grail is identified with the words of Paul, "I live no longer, Christ lives in me." The search for the grail becomes the awareness of Christ abiding within, and this presence is seen most readily in a reception of the Eucharist(http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=982)

As with all relics, including the most recent vials of Wojtyla's blood, the intention of preserving them is to draw devotees closer to Jesus' humanity and divinity. The Da Vinci Code falsely draws readers to a portrayal of Jesus' humanity that is inconsistent with history, the saints, and legends.
Who knows, maybe someday a tabloidist will invent some stories about Karol Wojtyla that are inconsistent with his biographical records. In the face of so much written, visual, and eye-witness evidence (no different from Jesus!), the truth behind the slavic Pope will be preserved until the Second Coming.

For more information on the Valencia grail:
http://www.speroforum.com/site/print.asp?idarticle=4287 http://www.marypages.com/HolyGrail.htm as 2nd class relic of the holy grail given by Joseph of Arimathea
http://holygrailinvalencia.blogspot.com/