Thursday, January 31, 2013

father, son

I'm not a great one for listening to the radio in the car. As a priest in a rural parish I spend a lot of time on the road and I usually use the time for prayer or reflection (esp. thinking about next week's sermon). But yesterday I had to drive to Dublin. Athy was a bottle-neck, traffic crawling so slowly I was hoping a traffic warden wouldn't give a parking ticket. It's hard to concentrate on much when you're progressing in six-inch bursts, so I turned on Lyric, Ireland's classical radio station, as a distraction. 

Why they decided to play Peter Gabriel's 'Father, Son' I don't know. I hadn't heard it before. But driving along listening, I found I had a tear in my eye. My own dad has Alzheimer's and isn't sure of his own name some days. But in the days when he did and the names of those around him and the names of those he loved, he was a lovely man, kind, gentle, and sweet. He's not dead, but I miss him. 

I could empathise with what Peter Gabriel was saying in his song. And wiping away that little tear in my eye (probably caused by a speck of dust) I thought of those who had never had a good relationship with their father ... perhaps had never known their fathers. When they hear songs like that, do they know what he's singing about? When they hear prayers like the Our Father does it repel rather than draw them in?

A reminder I think to cherish our fathers, to be good fathers ourselves, and to do our best to foster good relations between fathers and their children.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

some reasons to read your Bible

I put a Special Note in the weekly 'pew news' for my parishioners this week. It read : 

To both love and understand the Bible is central to our Christian faith. Neither is possible unless it is read regularly and studied prayerfully. In our society Biblical literacy is declining. People simply no longer know as they should the Sacred Scriptures which were given to us by God. The stories and themes are a mystery to them. 

This should be a matter of grave concern to all of God's people. It is through scripture that God reveals himself to us; it is through scripture that we come to know Christ; the doctrines and teachings of our Church are founded on the authority of scripture; & it is from scripture that we have the assurance of God's love for us, his purpose for our lives, and his promise of eternal life. 

I would therefore urge you all to immerse yourself in the Word of God. Make it your aim to read a portion of scripture daily. Commit yourself to study it deeply, either in the parish study group, some other group, or on your own. Encourage others to do so also. And please pray that a love of the Sacred Scriptures will grow daily in the hearts of all.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ordinariate priests and clerical continence

John Cornelius unwittingly sparked a minor internet controversy when he declared he was going to refrain from further sexual relations with his wife once he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest (see Priest's Wife post on it here). Cornelius, who was previously ordained as an Episcopalian, has joined the Catholic Church under the provisions of the Anglican Ordinariate. 

Now, I think most would presume that this is surely a private matter between Fr Cornelius and Mrs Cornelius. But not necessarily so, says the canonist Prof Edward Peters. Prof Peters has written extensively on the subject over the past number of years (see here for his resource page on the subject and here for his 2005 article in the journal Studio canonica). Obviously, it would take more time than someone in my situation has available to go through all the material he provides. But if I understand him correctly, his argument is that married clergy are still bound by the requirements of Canon Law in relation to clerical continence. 

One might imagine that the obligation to continence (refraining from all sexual activity) was abrogated along with the requirement for celibacy (not marrying). But Prof Peters is able to muster a considerable weight of evidence to underpin his contention that on those occasions when the Church ordains a married man, the derogation applies only to his celibacy, not his continence. He specifically notes that Canon 288, which releases permanent deacons from various canonical obligations on the clergy, specifically does not exempt the c277§1 obligation to continence.  

Rome has been silent on this topic. And I think Prof Peters accepts that the common understanding is that when the Church ordains married men, who are for the most part former Anglican clergy, that the requirement for continence disappeared along with their dispensation from celibacy. 

My own presumption is that the intent was to lift the requirement for continence along with that of celibacy and any canonical irregularity about this situation was inadvertent (of course, in law it is not the intent but what the text actually says that matters). And I have no sense that this is a topic of worry for these former Anglican clergy or their current bishops. Certainly none of the blogs I dip into are throbbing with angst over this issue. But if any one should be concerned, in the absence of a definitive declaration from Rome on this, I wonder would c277§3 provide any comfort? It states:

The diocesan bishop is competent to establish more specific norms concerning this matter and to pass judgment in particular cases concerning the observance of this obligation.

That seems to give competence to the ordinary of a diocese to pronounce authoritatively within his jurisdiction as to whether clergy who have been dispensed from celibacy are also dispensed from continence - but not being a canonist, I could be very wrong about this! But if it is the case, while it would not provide universal certainty, but it would allow bishops to give local relief for those who are worried.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Prayer diary

Every week in my parish, as part of the weekly 'notes' where I try to keep folk informed about what's going on in the parish, I produce a little prayer diary. Nothing fancy, simply a verse or two from that day's Gospel for Holy Communion followed by a very short reflection on it. I preface this prayer diary with the following words:

We are a Community of Prayer. We may not gather daily to pray, but we can pray together each day through our Parish Prayer Diary.

It occurred to me that this prayer diary might be of use and interest to those who read this blog (which is, of course, something of a virtual community). Below is the one for this week to give you an idea of what it's like. Let me know what you think. I would probably post future diaries as individual posts for each day rather than the whole lot at the start of the week ... unless, of course, I got a lot of people saying they would rather it all at the start of the week so they could print it off to use when it suited. Anyway, as I said, let me know what you think. 

+ Monday 28 'If but touch the hem of his garment, I will be made well.' Mark 5.28 
The faith of the afflicted woman is inspiring. Pray that you will have even a fraction as much faith in our Lord. 

+ Tuesday 29
'Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?' And they took offence at him. Mk 6.3 
It is easy to find reasons to deny the authority of Christ and his Church has over our lives. Pray God's strength to walk the harder road of faith.

+ Wednesday 30
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison. Mark 6.17 
Herod rejected God's law to pursue the pleasures of this world. But this world does not last. Pray that you do not fall into the same trap as Herod.

+ Thursday 31
Jesus said to his disciples 'Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.' Mark 6.31 
We all need time away from the world to spend in the presence of God. When was the last time you went on retreat? Or even took a quite day, or part of a day, solely for prayer and reflection?

+ Friday 1 (St Brigid's Day)
'I am the good shepherd; I know my own, & my own know me.' John 10.14 
St Brigid, one of Ireland's patron saints, knew Christ to be her Lord, and knew herself to be his. Pray that you will also truly know this and live it.

+Saturday 2 (The Presentation of Christ in the Temple)
'For mine eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared before the face of all people.' Luke 2. 30,31 
Simeon held the Christ-child and knew he beheld God's promise of salvation face to face. We behold that salvation through the eyes of faith. Pray that that faith may grow stronger day by day until you come at last to heaven.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

the spiritual journey of Nehemiah

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading today was from the book Nehemiah, one we don't hear from too often in our cycle of lectionary readings. I wonder, if I were to ask for a show of hands, how many would claim to be very familiar with the story of Nehemiah? I imagine, though I could be wrong, that not many hands would go up … which is a pity, because Nehemiah's story is a fascinating one …

I'm sure you are all aware of what is referred to as the Babylonian Exile, the long period of time when, after Israel was conquered, a great many of the Jewish people were taken into captivity and removed to a foreign land … during this captivity, over the generations, the Jews for the most part became integrated into the society of their captors … or at least as integrated as one could be while remaining a faithful Jew … and many attained positions of power and influence … one such person was Nehemiah, who was a member of the court of king Artaxerxes … we are not entirely sure what his role there was … it is most often translated as 'cup-bearer' but as the story enfolds it becomes clear that Nehemiah was more than just some kind of table servant … he is more like a courtier who is a favourite of the king …

So we can imagine this young man having a very pleasant time in the court of the king, at the centre of the wealth and power of a great empire. And then something happens. He learns that the walls of Jerusalem have been burned – again! One might have expected a care-free young courtier to simply shrug his shoulders and get on with his life of ease and luxury. Or if he felt obliged to do anything, perhaps give a donation towards the repair. But instead, the event provokes what must be termed a spiritual crisis in Nehemiah. Like many living in exile, he had been brought up in his Jewish faith … and he finds that it cuts him to his very heart to discover that the Holy City has been damaged once more.

He is so much affected that he weeps and fasts and prays to the Lord to discern what he might do … not just that day or night, but for many days … and he waits for an opportune time and then one night, while at table with the king, his master notes that his face is sad and asks what he might do to cheer Nehemiah up … and having provoked the question, Nehemiah has the answer ready of course! He wants to go to Jerusalem to repair the wall. And the king grants his request … and so off he goes, having been granted by the king all that he will need to get the job done … and more; he is made governor of the region!

Once on site, Nehemiah lets no one know why he has come, but goes out alone at night to inspect the wall and see what needs to be done. Then he assigns sections of wall to various groups and sets them to work. He faces opposition. Local warlords plot to attack, not wishing to see the wall rebuilt and Jerusalem return to being a power in the area. But Nehemiah learns of the plot and famously has all those working on the wall labour with a spear or sword in one hand and the tools needed to rebuild in the other. The opponents fear to attack what is now an army and the work is done in record time – 52 days.

Somewhere along the way this return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of its walls what began as a spiritual crisis becomes a spiritual journey for Nehemiah. The canny courtier gradually becomes more and more concerned with being a pious Jew and leading his life according to the laws that God has laid down in sacred scripture … and what is more, in restoring the religious purity of God's chosen people. It is about there that our reading for today comes in … where Nehemiah has the priest Ezra reading to the people from scripture all day … and they begin to weep to realise how unfaithful they have been … but Nehemiah tells them to rejoice and celebrate. Why? Because they are God's people and they have returned to him, they are committing themselves once more to live according to his holy Laws.

Would it not be truly wonderful if something similar could happen for us? If we also could gather together as God's people, and hearing his words begin to weep, knowing that we have failed him in so many ways, but then determine to do better … so firmly committed that bitter tears were turned to joy and laughter … as we realised the truth once more of today's Gospel reading that the scripture's had been fulfilled in Christ, and that through him our salvation is assured? … as the truth of St Paul's words in our epistle sank deep into our hearts, and we realised that as Christ's Church we are truly his body … and were completely resolved that we would play our part in that body … and do our best to convince everyone else to play their part also, so that his body would not be wounded by being without even a single, solitary part … And that filled with that joy and resolve, we began our own journey of faith, just as Nehemiah had begun his … on our knees, in prayer, asking God for grace and guidance?

So let us pray that God will strengthen us as he did Nehemiah, so that we may also achieve the seemingly impossible, and just as he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, we may rebuild the walls of Christ's Church in the world. Amen.

Sermon 3rd Sunday of Epiphany  2013 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Samuel visits Cana, part 2

(read part one here)
She took him by the arm and led him through the party-goers to where a strongly built young man was talking quietly with Bar-shemi, the bridegroom. Samuel thought he looked more like someone used to working with his hands than a rabbi.

'It's no good,' said Samuel. 'Even if someone else pays for more wine, Shemi and his family will still be disgraced.' But Mary only laughed.
'Oh, you need not worry about him paying. I doubt my son has a shekel to his name!' 
'But then …?' 
'Shush now. Call some of those other servants here. The ones who are busily trying to look as if they are filling glasses out of empty jugs!' Mary motioned to her son. He raised an eyebrow, but a moment later placed a hand on Bar-shemi's shoulder in farewell, and then came over to where Samuel stood with Mary and the growing group of anxious looking servants. 

'Yes mother?'
'They have no wine,' she said simply. Jesus frowned. 
'Woman, what concern is that to you? And to me?' His mother merely looked steadily at him and said nothing. 'My hour has not yet come.' he said, which Samuel thought strange. His hour for what? Ignoring her son's words, Mary turned to Samuel. 
'Do whatever he tells you.' And then she walked off, heading straight for where the bride stood with a group of her giggling friends, leaving Samuel and the others standing there, looking awkwardly at her son. Jesus sighed. He looked around, and then pointed over Samuel shoulder. 

'Do you see those?' Samuel turned. By the east wall of the house stood a number of large stone water jars.
'Yes, rabbi?' 
'Fill them with water.' 
'With water?' Samuel was confused. Jesus raised an eyebrow at him. 
'What did my mother tell you to do?' 
'She said to do whatever you said, but … yes, rabbi.' Samuel gestured the men towards the stone jars. 

'This is a joke, right?' said one of them.
'Just do as you're told,' snapped Samuel. In truth, he didn't know why he was doing what the lady and her son had said. But for some reason, he didn't dare not to. 
'Right. There's buckets. There's the well. Get filling.' The sun was hot, the well was deep, and soon the men were sweating. The jars were huge, between 20 and 30 gallons each and it took a lot of buckets to fill them. 

'Remind me why we're doing this?' panted one man, as he lugged two full buckets to the jars and started to pour them in.
'Because the wine is all gone and we've nothing better to do,' gasped Samuel, dragging his own bucket to a jar. Soon enough, the jars were full. Samuel wiped sweat out of eyes and turned to find Jesus standing there, a faint smile on his bearded lips. 

'They're full,' said Samuel, unnecessarily. The water was slopping over the mouths and down the sides of the jars. Jesus nodded.
'Now draw some out and take it to the chief steward.' Samuel opened his mouth to ask 'why' but then closed it again. Why bother? The lady had said 'do whatever he tells you' so that is what he would do. 

There was a beaker on the table nearby, made of dark wood. He dipped it into the nearest jar, filled it an took it out again. When he had finished, Jesus had gone. Shrugging his shoulders, he made his way through the crowd to his father. He found him, standing with Shemi and Bar-shemi. Their voices were low, but Samuel could tell from the slump of their shoulders that they were worried. He supposed his father was breaking the news to them that the wine was gone. He tapped his father on the shoulder. He turned, frowning. 

'Yes, Samuel.' Silently, he handed him the cup.
'What's this?' Samuel didn't know what to say. What could he say? 
'Has the cat got your tongue, boy? Speak up!' 
'Drink it,' said Samuel. His father gave him a puzzled look. He looked at the cup. Then a look of surprise came over his face. He brought it up to his face, and holding his nose over it, took a deep breath. A huge smile came over his face. He took a sip, rolled the liquid round in his mouth, and then swallowed. His smile broadened. He took another drink, this time a huge mouthful. 

'Where did you get this?' he demanded. Samuel pointed to the water jars.
'And is there more?' 
'They're full.' Samuel wondered why his father was so exited by a drink of water. But then his father turned back to the other men, and grasped Bar-shemi by the hand. 
'Well, I'll be,' he laughed. 'Everyone serves the good wine first; and then the inferior wine once the guests are drunk! But you've kept the good wine until now!' He clasped Shemi by the shoulder. 'Well done, old friend. You had me worried there for a minute!' He turned to Samuel. 'Well? What are you waiting for? Get the men serving that excellent wine!' 

Samuel scurried back to where the men stood by the water jars. His head was reeling. How could his father call it wine? It was water. Wasn't it?

'Pick up your jugs,' Samuel said to the men.
'Why,' asked one. 
'So you can fill them.' 
'Fill them from where?' 
'From there,' Samuel said, pointing to the jars. 
'But why would we do that? What's the point? They don't want water at a wedding. It's wine they're after. If we fill their glasses with water, they'll throw it in our faces!' 
'My father says to fill your jugs from here, so fill them you will,' said Samuel. With a shrug, the first man did. Suddenly he gasped. 

'It's wine!'
'What are you talking about?' 
'The jar is full of wine!' 
'What do you mean? We just filled them! It's water!' 
'I don't care what we put in it, it's wine now!' 
'So's this one!' 
'And this!' 
'They all are!' 

The men fell silent. They stared at Samuel.
'What is happening here, young master,' whispered one. Samuel shook his head. 
'I don't know. A miracle? A sign from God? I don't know. But I do know we have wine enough for everyone here and more. So let's not let this wedding feast come to a sudden end … serve the wine now and worry about where it came from later!' 

And so they did. The crowd was wildly enthusiastic for the fine wine that had suddenly appeared. Praise was heaped on Shemi and his son for being such excellent hosts. Samuel and the others were rushed off their feet trying to keep everyone's glasses filled. When he had time to draw breath, his tried to find the young rabbi to ask him what had happened, to find out where the wine had come from. Had water really turned to wine? But Jesus was gone. Samuel was to busy after that to worry about it further. The feast went on until late, then there was the clearing away and the packing up to do. The moon was high in the sky before they back on the carts, trundling for home again. Bone weary, Samuel, leaned against his father.

'A good day's work, aye Samuel?' he said cheerily.
'Yes, papa,' he answered sleepily. 
'And no need to worry about the wine after all!' 
'No papa.' 
'That sly dog, Shemi! What a trick, saving the very best wine for last! Where had he hidden it? How did you happen to find it?' 
'The rabbi, Jesus, told me where to look.' 
'And I wonder how he knew where it was? Well never mind. It was a good wedding. A very good wedding.' 
'Yes, papa.' 

As the cart bounced along the rutted track, Samuel thought about Jesus. How could a man change water into wine? No wonder so many followed him! How could one not follow a teacher who could back up the authority of his words with actions like that! What was it his mother had said to him again? 'Do whatever he tells you?' Well, Samuel had something extraordinary had happened. And as he drifted off to sleep he decided that when next he met Jesus he would again do whatever he told him to. A person could not go wrong listening and obeying every word such a man had to say.

 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Samuel visits Cana part one

'I am not happy about this.'
Samuel looked at his father in surprise. His father was looking at the line of laden carts with a worried expression on his face. They were piled high with plates and goblets, rugs and cushions, and all kinds food, and many other things besides. His father was a wedding steward, the man people came to to organise their wedding celebrations. There was no finer wedding steward in all of Galilee. Samuel was puzzled to see him looking so concerned. 
'What is the matter, papa? he asked. 
'It is this wedding today in Cana …' 
'Well, they are poor people …' 
'Are you worried that we will not be paid? Then insist that they pay us before we do the work!' 
His father looked at him with a flash of anger in his eyes. 

'Poor people deserve a decent wedding as much as anyone. The father of the bridegroom, Shemi, was a good customer before the Romans nearly taxed him out of business. I would not shame him now by refusing to deal with him and let the world see that he can no longer afford to hire me. For this family I have already arranged a special low price, and honest folk that they are, they have already paid me.'
'Then why do you worry?' 
'I worry because these good people are so kind and generous. They do not seem to know where to stop when it comes to invitations. Every day, the list of guests has grown longer and longer. I worry that they may have invited too many people and there will not be enough.' 
Samuel eyed the groaning carts. 

'But surely there is enough here for an army!' he protested.
'Yes, yes,' his father said testily. 'Knowing who I am dealing with, I have added extra food. That at least will not be a problem. It is the wine that worries me.' 
'But we do not supply the wine,' said Samuel. 
'That is what worries me. It is outside my control. At a wedding, the time comes when all anyone cares about is the wine. And if Shemi has invited too many, it will not last.' 
'So if it runs out, they simply buy more,' said Samuel. 
'Were you not listening? They don't have the money to buy more. The wine merchants can't afford to pour wine into a wedding for free and they all know that Shemi doesn't have the money to pay them. And if the wine runs out, then Shemi will be disgraced before the world … shown as a man too poor to provide enough wine for even a one-day wedding feast, when most others manage at least three, and others as many as seven!' 

His father sighed and got into the first cart. Samuel climbed in beside him. Behind, the men who would drive the other carts and act as servants at the wedding also climbed up and soon the little caravan was on the road for Cana. As they rattled along in the grey light of early morning, Samuel shivered a little, and leaned into his father for warmth.

'Papa?' he said.
'Yes, son?' 
'If the family does not have the money, could we not help?' His father squeezed him tight. 
'You are a good boy, Samuel. Your words make me proud. But, alas, we can not. The wine dealers would know that it must be we who pay; the word would get out that the wedding steward had had to help him out; and he would be shamed. And even if the wine dealers and their servants could keep their mouths closed, which they could not, Shemi would know, and again he would be shamed.' 
'So what is to be done, papa?' 
'We be careful. You keep an eye on the men. I'll warn them to be careful never to over-fill anyone's glasses. You make sure they heed my words.' 
'I will, papa. And what about the men in charge of mixing the wine and water?' For in Israel, as in all the Mediterranean world, no one drank wine unless it was first mixed with water, sometimes one part, sometimes as much as four if they were especially poor. 
'Good thinking. I will tell them not to mix it too strong' 
'But not too weak either, papa. For if it is too weak, surely that will shame them also!' 
'Agreed. Does two-and-a-half parts water to one-part wine sound about right?' 
'It does.' 
'Then perhaps this wedding will go off without a problem after all!' 

As they trundled along, Samuel fell asleep next to his father. It had been an early start. His father threw his cloak around him to keep him warm. But all too soon they were in Cana at the house of Shemi. Then Samuel awoke and scrambled down and joined the others in setting up tables and piling them with food, setting out glasses and plates, laying out cushions and rugs for the guest to recline on. The day was growing hot, but that was no concern, for his father was not thought the best wedding steward in Galilee without reason. On the carts were also ropes and poles and awnings and in no time a small village of shade had grown up in the place where the wedding feast was to take place.

For the first several hours all was well. The men kept the guests' plates piled with food. Samuel and his father kept a watchful eye on the supply of wine. His father winked at him.
'I think we're going to be all right,' he said softly. 
'I think we are, papa,' Samuel replied, smiling happily, glad to think that this family's special day would not be spoiled. But then his smile faded. 'Or perhaps we will not be,' he said, looking over his father's shoulder. His father followed his gaze, and groaned. Coming along the road was another group of people, almost as many as were already at the wedding. 

'Who can they be?' said his father in near horror. 'Surely they can not be more guests?' But his fears were proved true when Shemi leapt to his feet and roared a greeting at the newcomers.
'My cousins from Nazreth! I thought you would never make it!' As greetings were exchanged, the servants buzzed into the crowd with plates and glasses. Samuel's father drew him a little distance away. 

'Well, it is as I feared. There is no way the wine will last now, not even if we made it ten parts water.'
'Surely they can't all be cousins?' said Samuel in wonder, staring at the throng. His father shook his head. 
'No. I know the family. Only a few are cousins. But one of those cousins is Jesus, that young rabbi everyone is talking about. A great many have become his followers. They go everywhere with him. And it looks like poor, foolish, generous Shemi has invited all of them as well.' 

'Is there a problem?'

Both Samuel and his father jumped. They turned to find a small woman standing near them. She was dressed in blue and even though she was older even than his mother, Samuel thought she was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen.
'Madam?' stammered Samuel’s father. 
'You sounded worried. You're the wedding steward, aren't you? I am Mary, Shemi's cousin. I'm sure you can't have been expecting so many extra. Is everything all right?' 
'Of course, of course,' said his father. 'Will you excuse me? Come Samuel, we have work to do.' He hurried off. But before he could follow, Mary took him by the sleeve. 

'I am sorry,' she said. 'What can I do?' Samuel just shook his head.
'There is nothing you can do,' he said. 'The wine is running out. In fact,' he said, seeing a servant shaking an empty jug over a guest's glass, 'it probably has already run out. My father feared this would happen. We hoped we could make it last, but then …' 
'But then, we came,' said the lady. 'Well, it is my son's fault for having so many people who like to follow him about all over the countryside. So we shall let him sort it out. Come with me!'
 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's nice to be liked!

When a fellow-blogger writes a post like this about your own humble little blog ...

I Really Like This Blog Written by a Church of Ireland priest!
I've only scanned through it so far, but I really like the tone, the layout, the pictures, the typography, and especially the "Protect the Seal" ribbon ("An Issue for All Denominations", a caption rightly proclaims.) I look forward to looking through it at my leisure. Thanks to Hibernicus of the Irish Catholics' Forum for drawing my attention to it. (Now I feel I've done my bit for ecumenism in the Week for Christian Unity.)

... it seems only right and proper to respond in kind. Therefore may I recommend for your reading pleasure The Irish Papist? It is a charming window on the world, written by a Dublin based librarian (now why don't all librarian blog? between the personal anecdotes about irate customers, strange things used as bookmarks, and the fascinating tomes that pass through their hands, they would have an endless supply of insights to pass on to us all). I especially like his brief 'rants' about some of the letters in the Irish Times - he's clearly a man after my own heart! 

So take a look at the Irish Papist ... come on: a librarian who takes issue with, inter alia, some of the nonsense that makes the letters page of Irish Times - what's not to like?! (& the title of the blog is pretty cool too!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fr Brodie and the fiction of Jesus


Hot on the heels of the Fr Flannery affair, comes the latest strange story involving Irish priests. This time it is the turn of Fr Tom Brodie to be in the spotlight. Fr Flannery, you may recall, has been disciplined by his order for questioning that priests were part of Jesus' plans for his Church. Fr Brodie has taken this a step further by suggesting, if reports are to be believed, that Jesus never existed (here & here). Fr Brodie is a biblical scholar, who founded the Dominican Biblical Insitute in Limerick, and made his claims in a book published recently called 'Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus.' The 'blurb' on the back cover of his book reads as follows.

In the past forty years, while historical-critical studies were seeking with renewed intensity to reconstruct events behind the biblical texts, not least the life of Jesus, two branches of literary studies were finally reaching maturity. First, researchers were recognizing that many biblical texts are rewritings or transformations of older texts that still exist, thus giving a clearer sense of where the biblical texts came from; and second, studies in the ancient art of composition clarified the biblical texts' unity and purpose, that is to say, where biblical texts were headed. The primary literary model behind the gospels, Brodie argues, is the biblical account of Elijah and Elisha, as R.E. Brown already saw in 1971. In this fascinating memoir of his life journey, Tom Brodie, Irishman, Dominican priest, and biblical scholar, recounts the steps he has taken, in an eventful life in many countries, to his conclusion that the New Testament account of Jesus is essentially a rewriting of the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, or, in some cases, of earlier New Testament texts. Jesus' challenge to would-be disciples (Luke 9.57-62), for example, is a transformation of the challenge to Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19), while his journey from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and beyond (John 2.23-4.54) is deeply indebted to the account of the journey of God's Word in Acts 1-8. The work of tracing literary indebtedness and art is far from finished but it is already possible and necessary to draw a conclusion: it is that, bluntly, Jesus did not exist as a historical individual. This is not as negative as may at first appear. In a deeply personal coda, Brodie begins to develop a new vision of Jesus as an icon of God's presence in the world and in human history.

Essentially, he seems to be arguing that Jesus never existed, but was a literary creation of the Gospel writers. Fr Brodie is no longer in post at the Institute (whether he jumped or was pushed is a little unclear) and reportedly has been 'banned from any lecturing, teaching or writing while a probe is under way.'

The truly odd part of this story, for me, is that apparently Fr Brodie has held these views since the '70s but has only now chosen to make those views public. I'll leave aside the question as to why one would wish to remain a Christian, much less a priest, under such circumstances. It is beyond me how one could do so while questioning the very existence of the founder of our Church. But how could something like this go undetected for 40 years? Or if detected, unchallenged? Was there no one in his order looking after his faith life in any way? Or was he simply allowed to plough his own furrow until it blew up in his face (to really mix metaphors!)?

This of course is unlikely to end well. Fr Brodie's views are, if they truly are as reported, to put it bluntly heretical. If he continues to publicly espouse them I can see no way that he can continue as a priest in the Catholic Church (or indeed how he could function in any Christian denomination). Those who already do not love the Church will decry any action taken against him as bullying, suppressing scholarship, denying him his right to speak freely, etc. However, it will send message to the world that un-orthodox views are not to be tolerated within the Church, which is surely a good thing. People are already confused enough about what the Church teaches without others muddying the waters with this kind of material.

Please pray for Fr Brodie, his order, friends, & family, & all those affected by this situation. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fr Flannery & the abrogation of power

As  noted yesterday, the issue of Fr Tony Flannery has resurfaced. Many letters in the Times today, for and against. 

So what's going on here? Fr Flannery & his followers see him as a good, faithful priest, facing inquisition level sanctions for merely being honest to what believes. Those against him see him as a man who has strayed so far from Church teaching that he must either comes back onto the straight and narrow or continues on his merry way, which is all the way out of the Catholic Church. Obviously the two views are incompatible.

What provoked this controversy is an article Fr Flannery wrote for the Redemptorist magazine 'Reality.' The magazine is a pay-for-subscription one, so I can't link to to the article. However, the New York Times had a piece  on this a few days ago, which quotes what it says is one of the key reasons why the Vatican ordered action taken against him:

... Father Flannery, a Redemptorist priest, wrote that he no longer believed that “the priesthood as we currently have it in the church originated with Jesus” or that he designated “a special group of his followers as priests.”

Instead, he wrote, “It is more likely that some time after Jesus, a select and privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves, interpreted the occasion of the Last Supper in a manner that suited their own agenda.”

If the NYT are quoting Fr Flannery correctly, it sounds to me as if there are grounds for thinking he is denying some key areas of Church doctrine - the validity of Holy Orders, much of sacramental theology, & the teaching authority of the episcopate and what that flows from that springs to mind. In which case,one can well imagine why the Vatican would wish him to retract his statement ... 

Fr Flannery, however, remains committed to his views on this matter & refuses to be silent any longer. And so this affair will grind on. Realistically, there can be only two possible outcomes: that he ultimately retracts; or he is permanently removed from his ministry. So please pray for him and the Catholic Church in Ireland at this time.

I'd be curious to know what you think on this matter. Specifically, do you think it is possible for Fr Flannery to hold the views that he does and continue as a Catholic priest? 

Monday, January 21, 2013

forget the 25,000 protesters; what about Fr Flannery?

There was a rather interesting response from the Irish Times ('The Paper of Record') print edition today to the the vast rally of between 25,000 & 30,000 who gathered in Dublin on Saturday to demonstrate to the Irish government their displeasure at their proposed abortion legislation (& the pro-choice counter demonstration 200). Nothing on the front page. Fair enough. On Monday, Saturday is a long time ago in journalism. But page eight seems a little far in. Especially, when garnished with a rather snide side-bar trying to put a negative spin on it all.

OK, maybe this is par for the course on this issue. After all, it is no secret where the IT stands.

But surprisingly, there wasn't a whisper in the centre pages reserved for opinion & analysis. I'd have expected something ... this is a huge issue in Ireland right now, and a massive rally against the direction the government is proposing would merit some kind of editorial comment I'd have thought. A musing reflection that if so many are willing to brave the severe winter weather to express their opposition to this, perhaps the government should pause for thought. But nada; not even a 'letter to the editor' from either side, playing the event up or down depending on the side the writer is on (and don't tell me that no one wrote in about this; that's just not possible).

What was on both the front page and the opinion pages was the case of Fr Tony Flannery (here,  here, & here), a Redemptorist priest who was disciplined by his order for publishing writings that were considered not to be in accordance with Catholic teaching. The general thrust of both pieces is that Fr Flannery and his supporters feel he is being unfairly treated. 

Am I wrong to suspect that this is an attempt to deflect? It could be co-incidence. But timing is everything and the timing is suspect. There's been nothing much on this man for months (and truthfully, in the wider scheme of things, how much national importance attaches to the relationship between a single priest has and his order?). And then, less than 36 hours after one of the biggest anti-abortion demonstrations in modern times, he suddenly warrants the front page? It's hard not to suspect an attempt to try and get people to think 'Forget about all this abortion business; that's just old-fashioned 'churchy' nonsense; & we all know how mean and out of touch these churchy types are! Just see what they're doing to Fr Flannery!' 

Call me suspicious; call me cynical. But I call this deflection, damage control, an attempt to move the focus elsewhere.

And if they feel the need to behave this way, does it mean they are worried about how things are going?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

'do whatever he tells you:' a meditation on Christian Unity

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

First of all, thanks to the Monsignor and to all of you for having me here this evening. I have to confess that this is not the first time I have been in your lovely church … I've been at a few of the school services here on previous occasions … but this will mark my first visit to what I might cautiously term a 'normal' congregation!

The theme of the Octave of Christian Unity this year is taken from the prophet Micah: what does God expect of us? I suppose you could say that that is a short question with a long answer … it must be a long answer, otherwise there would be no need for all these thick tomes written by learned men and women dealing with the various branches of theology and Church doctrine. But another way of looking at that is that the 'long answer' is simply the details, the working out the ways and means of complying with what surely be the 'short answer.' And that short answer is, I would suggest, living our lives in the way that God wants us to.

We get a hint of that short answer in today's Gospel reading. Our Blessed Lady, seeing that the wine has run short, tells the servants to 'do whatever he tells you.' I think those words of our Lady are just as applicable to us in every moment of our lives as they were to those servants that day in Cana. For we, of course, must also do whatever it is that Jesus tells us to do.

And when it comes to Christian Unity, we know exactly what it is that he tells usto do: as it says elsewhere in St John's Gospel, in Chapter 17, he tells us to be one just as he and the Father are one. And the sad truth is that we have not done what he tells us when it comes to that. Christ founded one Church; and those who call themselves Christian number around two billion; and that two billion is divided up into literally tens of thousands of denominations. An even sadder truth is that for many centuries many of these denominations were openly hostile to each other … they were a long way away from from those words of Jesus in John 13: 'By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.'

Now, thank God, we are doing a lot better in most places than we have over the last few hundred years … we certainly seem to be doing very well in Castlecomer at least … the great respect that the different faith traditions have for each other is clearly evident, and has been from the first moment I arrived in this parish. And yet, I don't think that what Christ meant when he said we should love one another and that we should be one was that we should all get along a lot better than we used to! It is of course a great start … more than a great start, a wonderful start … an essential step along the road to conforming ourselves to God's will on this matter … but it is still only a step … and many more need to be taken.

What might those steps be? I could not possibly say. I do know that we can not simply seek a false 'one-ness', one that pretends that all differences do not exist … that we will have to find agreement on all the essential theological points … and also that the important parts of doctrine are accepted by all … which might sound like an impossible task … 

but it is something that may not be as unreachable as it seems at first thought … While many believe that some form of corporate unity is impossible, I refuse to believe that God would tell us to do something that we are not capable of achieving. We are a people of hope ... and hope is to be found in the encouraging examples of true unity that do exist ... those Christian traditions where the essentials of the faith are agreed upon and the non-essentials are accepted and respected ... and such encouraging are to be found within both the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church … 

the Church of Ireland because it is what is called a 'broad church', where what is done in one part of the island, or indeed even within the same diocese or city, may seem very different to what goes on in another … one may seem very 'Catholic' while another seems very 'Evangelical' while others are somewhere in between … yet all manage to rub along in union with one another, because they agree on core aspects of Church teaching … 

and in the Catholic Church, because within that there is not only the Roman Rite, to which most Catholics in Ireland belong, but there is also the various Byzantine Rites … and these Rites from the outside may seem very different from Roman Catholics … and yet they are in full communion with the See of Rome …

No doubt we have a long road to travel … but travel it we must, because it is what God expects of us … and if he expects it of us, and we are his faithful servants who are willing to conform ourselves to his will, then we need not doubt that he will also give us the Grace to do as he asks us to do … Grace that I pray that we will all be open to receiving, in the name of God Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon 2nd after Epiphany 2013; the week of prayer for Christian Unity

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sarah and the Baptist, part 2

(the conclusion of Sarah's adventure; for part one, click here)

'Look,' said Sarah pointing to a man who wasn't far from the head of the line. 'Isn't that Jesus, the carpenter, from our village?' Ruben squinted against the glare from the sparkling water.

'Yes,' he said. 'I'm not surprised he's here. His mother told me once that she was a cousin of Elizabeth, the Baptist's mother.'
'Really?' said Sarah, thinking to herself – so, I know someone who knows the Baptist … how wonderful is that? 
'Uncle,' she said 'I want to see Jesus being baptised … it'd be fantastic to see someone I know being dipped, especially if he's a cousin of the Baptist. Can we go down?' 

'I don't see why not,' her uncle smiled. 'But I don't think we have much time if you want to get close … Jesus isn't far from the head of the queue and the Baptist seems to work fast!'

'I'll run ahead and you follow,' said Sarah and off she ran before her uncle could answer.
'Wait for me by the edge of the water!' Ruben called. 

Sarah dashed through the crowd, ducking under arms, one time even sliding between the legs of a particularly fat man because it seemed quicker than going round him. Within moments she was by the river's side … and just in time, because Jesus was wading out to the Baptist. She wanted to call out to him, to let him know she was there watching. But suddenly she felt shy before all those people and the words wouldn't come out. Just before he reached the Baptist, however, Jesus paused and turned, his eyes scanning the crowd. His gaze fixed on Sarah and he gave her a slight smile. Thrilled, she gave him a big wave. His smile broadened and he turned again to the Baptist. 

She couldn't quite make out what was happening, but they seemed to be talking. The Baptist hadn't done that with the others. But then he and Jesus were cousins. They were probably catching up about their families. With a sudden motion, John reached out to Jesus and thrust him almost roughly into the water. He seemed to hold him under for a very long time. Sarah only realised she was holding her breath when she felt a tightness in her chest and took a deep, gasping breath. And still he held Jesus under. Then with a great splash, he pulled him up again.

And then something happened for the rest of her life Sarah couldn't quite understand. The clear blue skies above Jesus seemed to boil and shimmer and turn almost golden, as if she were looking into heaven itself. A voice like thunder rang through the air: 'This is my son, the Beloved: with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.' And out of nowhere a single white dove seemed to appear, hovering above the head of Jesus.

A hand clasped her shoulder. She turned. It was her uncle Ruben, smiling down at her.
'Well, little one; were you in time to see the baptism of our neighbour?' 
'Did you see it, uncle Ruben?' she gasped. 
'The baptism? No, I was still caught in the crowd.' 
'No, well yes, but I meant did you see what happened after? The voice; the dove; the sky – it was like the heavens opened above him!' 
'Above John?' 
'No. Above Jesus?' 

Sarah turned to look back at Jesus, but he was gone. John stood alone in the water. Around them people were murmuring, asking each other if they had heard and seen. Some said they had seen the dove and the sky. Other said they had seen nothing or at least nothing unusual. There was nothing odd about birds flying or the sky shimmering on such a hot day, especially over water. 
'But what about the voice?' 
'What voice? You mean the thunder?' 
'How could there be thunder out of a clear sky?' 
'Why couldn't there be?' 
'Anyway, why would anything special happen when that fellow was baptised? Who was he anyway?' 
'The Baptist's cousin?' 
'Why would the heaven's open for him if the Baptist was the Messiah?' 
'Is it he who is the Messiah?'

Looking around her, Sarah saw that the Baptist was still alone in the water. She glanced at the crowd. In the confusion, the queue seemed to have been forgotten. Sarah seized her chance and waded out to the Baptist. From behind her she heard her uncle call out. She didn't stop and he didn't come after her. As she waded through the cool water, she felt the eyes of John the Baptist on her all the way. When she was a few feet away, she stopped.

'You are the little one my cousin looked at before I baptised him,' he said. 'What is your name child?'
'Sarah. I live in Nazareth too.' 
'Ah.' He looked at the crowd. 'The people seem disturbed.' 
'The things that happened … the sky, the voice …' Her own voice trailed off. 
'You saw it then?' The Baptist said smiling. 
'Didn't everyone?' 
'No. Some can never see something like that, even if it happens right in front of their eyes.' 
'But what does it mean?' 
'What do you think it means?' 

The Baptist looked at her intensely. Sarah swallowed hard. 

'Some on the bank think it means that he might be the Messiah. But that can't be, can it? People say you are the Messiah.' The Baptist sighed.
'I am not the Messiah. I have told them that many times.' 
'So is it Jesus then? Is he the Messiah?' 

She looked earnestly at the Baptist. He smiled at her. 

'That is not for me to say. Only he can answer such a question. And only then when the time is right. I can tell you that compared to him I am nothing. I am not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandal.' 

Sarah was astonished. How could the one that all the people were flocking to talk like that? A thought struck her.

'But if you are so unworthy, then why did he come to you for Baptism?'
'A very good question. I say that, because I asked him that myself.'
'And what did he say?' 
'He said that it must be done to fulfil all righteousness.' 
'And what does that mean?' 

The Baptist laughed at her question.

'It means it had to be that way because it had to be that way. Because it is what God wants, even if we don't understand. And now, enough talk, little Sarah. Hold your breath!'

He took her by the shoulders and swung her round and plunged her under the water. She clamped her lips tightly together and screwed her eyes tightly shut. Her lungs began to feel like they were on fire. Then suddenly she was up in the air again, gasping for breath, rubbing the water from her face with her hands, swinging her curls from side to side to get the water out.

'Back to the bank, child,' said the Baptist placing a hand on her back and pushing her gently towards the waiting people. As she started to wade away, he called after her.

'You have seen extraordinary things today, young Sarah from Nazareth. Never forget them. Remember them all your life.'
'I will,' she called back. 

Her Uncle Ruben helped her from the water.

'You were with him a long time,' he said. 'What did he say?'
'He saw the things that I saw too,' she said. Ruben seemed a little disappointed. 
'So he is not the Messiah then? But surely it is not Jesus? How could the Messiah be a carpenter from our village?' 
'I don't know, uncle,' she said. 'But the Messiah must be from somewhere, mustn't he? I mean, John came from somewhere. Everybody comes from somewhere.' Her uncle laughed. 
'That is very true little one. Perhaps we will have to keep an eye on this Jesus from now on.' 
'I think that would be a good idea, uncle Ruben.' 
'And now it is time to get you back to your mother and father and out of these wet things.' 
'I'm not cold, uncle Ruben,' she said. But she went with him. 

As they made their way through the crowd, in the distance she saw Jesus heading away from the crowds, walking at a very fast pace towards the dessert beyond. As she watched, he stopped and turned. His eyes seemed to move over the crowds until he was staring right at her. He was too far away to see clearly, but she imagined a slight smile on her face. She remembered her promise to the Baptist. 

'I will never forget,' she whispered. This time she was sure that he was smiling. He turned away and in a moment disappeared over the hill.

'I will never forget,' she said again softly. And she never did.

 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sarah and the Baptist, part 1

(this week's story for the children, young & old!)

'Wake up, wake up Sarah!'

Sarah blinked tiredly. Her mother was calling her, but it was still dark. Too early to get up. She burrowed back down under the blanket. But her mother pulled the covers back.

'Mama, no!' protested Sarah, tightening her thin body into a shivering ball. Her mother laughed and lifted her into her arms.
'Up you get, sleepy head!' 
'But it is too early … why do you want me to get up?' 
'Don't you remember? Today we begin our journey to the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. The group leaves at dawn – we must hurry!' 

Then Sarah remembered. Her parents had spoken of little else for weeks. Her father had been working extra hard to save the money so that he could afford not to work for the many days it would take to journey from Nazareth to Bethany-across-the-Jordan and back home again. Her father was a labourer and he worked from dawn to dusk all those weeks, while her mother scrimped and saved so that they might not spend even a copper coin more than needed. But at last they had enough and were ready to set out with all the others from the village who also wished to make the long journey South to see John the Baptist.

Sarah wiggled out of her mother's arms and flung on her rough wool dress and slipped her feet into her sandals. She shook out her thick black curls and ran her hands through them by way of combing them. Her parents were already dressed. They had a hurried breakfast of bread and water and threw on their packs and walked quickly through the deserted streets of the village, Sarah still taking bites of her bread and chewing as they walked.

After a few moments, Sarah saw a group of people in the gloom up ahead. A group of about 20 people stood there, talking softly so as not to wake the others in the village who still slept.

'Benjamin, is that you?' said a deep voice.
'Yes, Ruben' answered her father. 
'Good,' said Ruben. 'You are the last. We can go now.' The others picked their packs up from the ground and began to shuffle sleepily away along the southern road out of the village. 

'Come, now!' said Ruben sharply. 'That will never do! At that pace it will take us a week to get to where we're going instead of four days. Even little Sarah can walk faster than that, can't you little one?'

'Of course I can, uncle Ruben,' said Sarah proudly. She was only a child, but she was strong and fast.

'Take my hand then, and we'll show these tired old people how to walk!' He held out his hand to her and she saw his teeth flash in the starlight. Going to the front of the group, they began to stride along.

'Not too fast, little one,' said Ruben softly as they drew quickly ahead. 'When you travel in a group, you can go no faster than the slowest member. Some are old, and some carry children. So we must go at their pace. But we can not afford to go any slower!'
Sarah giggled. 

As they walked the day dawned. Other little groups from other villages joined theirs on the road until they were part of a caravan of hundreds of people. They walked until mid-morning, when the sun grew hot. Then they stopped for food and to shelter from the burning heat. After eating many slept. Sarah snuggled up to her uncle Ruben. But she was still too excited to sleep.

'Uncle, why do so many go to see the Baptist?' Her uncle smiled.
'Because he tells them that the time has come for them to repent of their sins and he washes them in the waters of the Jordan as a sign they have been cleansed of those sins.' Sarah frowned. 
'But what does 'repent' mean?' 

'A good question, little one,' her uncle laughed. 'It means turn your back completely on what has gone before. It means more than just saying sorry for your sins; it means hating them because they are wrong and vowing never to live like that again.' 
'So why do I need to go to be washed clean? I'm not a terrible sinner … am I?' Sarah looked a little anxious. 

'No, Sarah,' her uncle reassured her. 'You are a good girl. But we are all sinners, even the best of us. We all do things that are wrong. Isn't that true?' 
'Yes,' admitted Sarah, thinking of how she had sneaked a honey cake from the kitchen last week when her mother wasn't looking, and remembering how she had run off to play a few days ago when her mother had asked her to help clear up after supper. 'And will all those who are washed in the Jordan be good forever after, uncle?' 

Ruben laughed again, not unkindly. 

'Who knows, little one? It means that they want to be better. Perhaps they will? The Baptist is a holy man, a prophet sent by God. Many think he may be the Messiah, the one God promised would set us free. If he can free Israel from the Romans, who knows what else he can do? Don't you think?' He looked down. But Sarah was asleep. 

In the cool of the afternoon, they began their journey again, walking until the shadows began to grow long. This time they stopped at a huge camp where those who were travelling to the Baptist met those returning home. Many small fires dotted the night, and Sarah heard excited stories that those who had seen the Baptist had to tell.

'He told me not to be greedy and be happy with my pay, instead of squeezing people for bribes,' said a gruff looking soldier.
'He told me to only collect the taxes due,' said a man who was clearly a tax collector. 'Not to add on extra to feather my own nest.' 
'And did you hear what he called the Sadducees and Pharisees?' crowed an old woman. 'He called them a 'brood of vipers' who were running away from God's anger.' Those nearby roared with laughter. Sarah was amazed. The Baptist welcomed those whom most Jews hated, the Roman's soldier and their tax collectors. And he talked disrespectfully to the religious teachers. Perhaps he was the Messiah, as she heard so many whispering as they walked. Who else would behave like this?

After four days Sarah was tired and wondering if the walking would ever end. Gradually she became aware that the countryside around them was changing. The plants were greener and there was more of them; and the air seemed less dry in her lungs. We must be getting close to water, she thought excitedly. And sure enough, as they topped a small hill, there before them, shining bright blue in the brown landscape was the river Jordan, so wide that Sarah could hardly see the other side of it. If she hadn't known better she would thought she was standing by the sea!

And the people – Sarah had never seen so many together in one place. She had thought the night-camps on the journey huge, but they were nothing compared to throngs she saw here. It was as if everyone from every town and village from here to Jerusalem had gathered in one place! And many of those people stood in a long line, snaking through the crowd. Sarah followed the line with her eyes. 

It led to a tall, lean man, standing in the water. His beard and hair were wild and he wore an odd looking robe, the colour of camel's hair, the end of which was tucked up into the leather belt he wore around his waist. Sarah supposed he did that to keep it out of the water. As each person in the line came to him, he took them by the shoulders with his strong hands and dunked them under the water, holding them down for many seconds, before pulling them back up again.

'That's him,' said uncle Ruben. 'That's John. The Baptist.'

'Look,' said Sarah pointing to a man who wasn't far from the head of the line. 'Isn't that Jesus, the carpenter, from our village?'

 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

(tune in again tomorrow, for the conclusion of Sarah's exciting adventure ... or just click the link here!)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

One miracle or two? Feeding the multitude

I decided to do something a little different for Bible study last night. We've been ploughing through St Mark's Gospel chapter by chapter, looking at it as it comes so to speak. I thought last night it might be interesting instead to look two different passages and compare them: the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand (you can find them both here). Specifically, I wanted the group to discuss whether they thought the passages were what is called a doublet or not (a doublet is where the two passages are essentially two different versions of the same incident).

Looking at the passage, we were disinclined to go with the doublet theory, while accepting that the vast amount of scholars seem to think it is. We thought this for a variety of reasons:

1. St Mark is far closer in time to his sources than we are. He would have known almost certainly if he was simply reworking the same material in two different versions. Yet not only does he include both, he actually indicates twice that they are separate incidents - once at the beginning of the 4000 where he says 'there was again a great crowd;' and a second time at the end of the passage when Jesus and the disciples are in the boat and Jesus refers quite clearly to these as being separate incidents.

2. The passages have similarities but they also have significant differences - should we simply ignore those (except to 'mine' them to see what differing theological emphases they might indicate)?

3. St  Mark's is the shortest of the Gospels and he is quite concerned with brevity. Why would he then retell the same story twice with minor changes?

4. Scholars put great stock in the fact that the disciples ask Jesus in the 4000 where they are to get bread when he tells them to feed the multitude. If they had seen it done before, they wouldn't need to ask this time, runs the argument. But St Mark is always trying to show that the disciples don't 'get it' about Jesus. In fact both passages end with St Mark pointing to their hardness of heart as to who he is and what he can do. It would be quite consistent with St Mark's portrayal that the disciples failed to realise that Jesus was quite capable of feeding a vast crowd in the dessert, even though they had witnessed a previous occasion ... they really hadn't understood the first time! Even after the 4000, in the boat, they think Jesus is talking about a lack of bread even though they have one loaf with them; one loaf would be more than enough for someone who can do what Jesus does ... if they understood what they had just witnessed.

5. Also, I think at least, that the tone of the asking is different in the two stories. In the 5000 their question is almost sarcastic: ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ In the 4000 they simply say: ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert? We don't actually know the time interval between the two stories and St Mark tends to compress the action. If the 5000 had taken place long before, months or even years, then their question at the 4000 might reflect the fact that while they knew Jesus could do it they didn't know if he would - it's not like he does this every time a crowd gathers. Also, the first time they have to go check how much bread is available; the second time they have the answer ready to hand, perhaps indicative they are ready just in case he asks them in order to 'go' with another miraculous feeding. 

All in all nothing earth shattering, nothing likely to get the scholars in a sweat and start revising those books and journals now. Just a simple country rector and a few parishioners expressing their opinion ... an opinion that just happens to come down in favour of the accuracy of St Mark over the scholars!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Horse meat: an offer you can't refuse

There are times when I'm jolly glad I'm a vegetarian. Like every time there is yet another scare about contaminated meat. But this latest story takes the biscuit - horse meat mixed in with the beef. Now that is just YUCK! Yes I know that there are many on the continent that enjoy a nice steak cheval. But that is the continent. In Ireland and Britain Flicka has never been on the menu. And in any event, people are entitled to get what they've paid for ... and if the package says 'beef' then that's what should be in the burger. All beef, not mostly beef (& yes, these products often say 70% beef and the rest is fillers ... but if the filler is mostly a former Grand National champion, then it should say so on the packaging). This nonsense takes the concept of making an offer you can't refuse to ridiculous lengths.

Part of this latest food scandal includes the fact that a lot of these burgers also contained trace elements of pig. A serious matter for those who either just plain prefer to avoid pork, or who must do for religious reasons. Although, to be fair, I suppose that many of those who avoid pork for the latter reason are generally very careful about where they source their meat. Still, no doubt this will cause a lot of angst in the Jewish and Muslim communities. 

I've no doubt that the supermarkets selling this stuff had no idea. But given that some of the products were almost one-third horse meat, someone in the chain of supply knew that Black Beauty's final resting place was in the burger. This kind of thing is a huge betrayal of trust - people are trusting the people who sell them food to let them know exactly what it is that they are buying. Folk have a rights to know what it is they are eating. What's next: Soylent Green

As I said: Yuck, I'm glad I'm vegetarian. There's no chance these ne'er-do-wells can hide Shergar in my lentils. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

mind what you say!

You 'over-hear' some interesting conversations* in waiting rooms, on buses & trains, standing in queues, etc. Here's a story that serves as a good reminder to be careful what you say about people behind their backs ... even in the privacy of your own home!

'Come here. You know what happened to me? I won't mention names, but this mate of mine asked me to get some gadget for him and he'd fix up with me later.' 
'Fair enough. And did he?'
'He did not. And I've seen him many a time since.'
'So what are you going to do?'
'I did it. I called him up and asked him straight for the money. You should have heard the abuse I got!'
'You're not serious! You mean he actually verbally abused you over the phone because you asked him to pay up?'
'Ah, no. He was all sweetness when we were talking. Said sorry, he'd forgotten, and the next time he saw me for sure.' 
'I don't follow. I thought you said he was abusive?'
'He was. But not 'til he thought I'd hung up.'
'I still don't follow you.'
'He thought I'd ended the call when I hadn't. And before he hung up his phone, he started muttering to himself what a so-and-so I was & the cheek I had asking him for money. But my phone was still on and so was his and I heard it all loud and clear. But he had no idea I could hear him.'

You could tell from his voice that his feelings were actually quite bruised by the experience. There he was, thinking he was doing the other person a favour ... only to discover what that person really thought of him. The third chapter of the letter of St James warns of the damage we can do with our tongues if we don't keep them in check ... well, as this story reminds us, it might be a good idea to never say anything out loud about someone that you wouldn't want them to hear; even if you think there is absolutely no possibility that what you said could possibly get back to them.

*obviously, I've changed details of this to protect the identities of those involved in this conversation - but the core message remains the same!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ireland, suicide & abortion

Knowing that a lot of folk who read this blog don't live in Ireland, I'm sure that what's is going on re. abortion at the moment looks pretty complicated, especially the question of the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion. That's because it is. This post isn't going to be a comprehensive look at the details, but it will hit some of the 'high-points' ...

The current situation has its roots in the 1983 Constitutional amendment. The lead up to that was pretty ugly. Anyone who was against it was labeled pro-abortion, which wasn't particularly nice in a country that was extremely anti-abortion at the time. Being against the amendment didn't necessarily make one in favour of abortion. A lot of folk felt that it wasn't needed. Why have an amendment when abortion was already illegal and Ireland so very anti-abortion? And what if the amendment was interpreted by the courts in an unexpected way? Like that could ever happen, said those in favour ...

Anyway, the amendment was carried and we got Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution which states:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
Pretty clear, right? Well it was up until the 'X Case' where the Supreme Court said, inter alia,

44. I am, therefore, satisfied that ... that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother by self-destruction which can only be avoided by termination of her pregnancy.

The judgement is long and convoluted. I am not at all sure how the judges came to their conclusion given what the Constitution says. On the surface, it seems to fly in the face of the plain meaning ... how can the the equal right to life of both mother and child be respected in a situation where the life of one is forfeited in an attempt to rectify the mental health issues of the other? Perhaps it was their interpretation of the word 'practicable'

In any event, it is on the basis of this judgement that the threat of suicide as justification for abortion in Ireland seems a real possibility.  Some commentators are arguing that the 'X Case' judgement was deeply flawed and should be revisited. However, it would almost certainly require a further constitutional referendum to set aside 'X' & frankly I doubt if that is a likely option. There was already a referendum on that issue in 2002 which was unsuccessful, although by a vary narrow margin (the picture at the top are posters from the two sides on that campaign). 

So where does that leave us? Essentially wondering what the government is going to introduce. They seem to be promising a regime that will simply codify current practice, which essentially enshrines the principle of the 'double effect' - no direct abortions, but if a medically needed procedure should have the unintended effect of ending the child's life, so be it. Given the previous history of legal 'unintended effects' in this area, I'm not sure how likely it is that they will succeed in their goal. And I have no idea how they plan to cope with the area of suicide as grounds for abortion without bringing in what is effectively abortion on demand (which is what happened in England). I'm not sure the government really does either ...