Monthly Archives: May 2016

The F-22 Raptor – The Baddest Fighter in the World

If you are a military buff as I am, you will appreciate this video of the F-22 Raptor defeating 5 F-15 Eagles in simulated combat. The F-15 is known as the very best fighter in the world. Well, it was anyway, until the F-22 came on the scene. With stealth technology, avionics, and maneuvering ability unparalleled. Well, check out this video and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ7MwfcjCa0

Want to see a vertical takeoff? Check this out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=totzfPN4hWQ

Unreal!

 

Is the Assumption of Mary Historical?

In an earlier blog post I wrote about the biblical evidence for the Assumption of Mary. And in my book, Behold Your Mother, I go into even more detail on the topic. In this post I want to deal with the question of history when it comes to the Assumption. Is there compelling historical evidence for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

In summary, the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary began with an historical event that is alluded to in Scripture and has been believed in the Church for 2,000 years. It was passed down in the Oral Tradition of the Church and developed over the centuries, but it was always believed by the Catholic faithful. Let us examine the facts:

1. Archaeology reveals two tombs of Mary that still exist today, one in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus. The two tombs are explained by the fact that Mary had lived in both places. But what is inexplicable apart from the Assumption of Mary is the fact that there is no body in either tomb. And there are no relics. Anyone who would peruse early Church history knows that Christian belief in the communion of saints and the sanctity of the body—in radical contrast to the Gnostic disdain for “the flesh”—led early Christians to seek out with the greatest fervor relics from the bodies of great saints. Cities, and later, religious orders, would fight over the bones of great saints. This is one reason why we have relics of the apostles and so many of the greatest saints and martyrs in history. Yet, never was there a single relic of Mary’s body? As revered as Mary was, this would be very strange, except for the fact of the assumption of her body.

2.On the historical front, Fr. Michael O’Carroll, in his book, Theotokos – A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pg. 59, says:

We have known for some time that there were wide-spread “Transitus Stories” that date from the sixth century that teach Mary’s glorious Assumption. It was the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII that re-kindled interest in these stories of the end of Mary’s life. In 1955, Fr. A.A. Wenger published L’Assomption.

Indeed, and Fr. Wenger found a Greek manuscript that verified what scholars had previously believed to be true. Because there were whole families of manuscripts from different areas of the world in the sixth century that told a similar story of Mary’s Assumption, there had to be previous manuscripts from which everyone received their data. Fr. Wenger discovered one of these earlier manuscripts, believed to be the source later used by John of Thessalonica in the sixth century in his teaching on the Assumption. Fr. O’Carroll continues:

Some years later, M. Haibach-Reinisch added to the dossier an early version of Pseudo-Melito, the most influential text in use in the Latin Church. This could now, it was clear, be dated earlier than the sixth century…V. Arras claimed to have found an Ethiopian version of it which he published in 1973; its similarity to the Irish text gave the latter new status. In the same year M. Van Esbroeck brought out a Gregorian version, which he had located in Tiflis, and another, a Pseudo-Basil, in the following year, found in Mount Athos.

Much still remains to be explored. The Syriac fragments have increased importance, being put as far back as the third century by one commentator. The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century.

This is significant. Recently discovered Syriac fragments of stories about the Assumption of Mary have been dated as early as the third century. And there are undoubtedly more manuscripts to be found. It must be remembered that when we are talking about these “Transitus stories,” we are not only talking about very ancient manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts, but we are talking about two different “families” of manuscripts written in nine languages. They all agree on Mary’s Assumption and they presuppose a story that was already widely known.

Gnostic Fable or Christian Truth?

What about those who claim the Assumption of Mary is nothing more than a Gnostic fable? Or those who claim the historical narratives about the Assumption of Mary were condemned by Pope Gelasius I? James White, on page 54 of his book, Mary – Another Redeemer? goes so far as to claim:

Basically, the first appearance of the idea of the Bodily Assumption of Mary is found in a source that was condemned by the then-bishop of Rome, Gelasius I! The irony is striking: what was defined by the bishop of Rome as heresy at the end of the fifth century becomes dogma itself in the middle of the twentieth!

Mr. White’s reasoning fails for several reasons.

1. Even if it were a Papal document, Decretum Gelasianum would not be a “definition” by the bishop of Rome declaring the Assumption of Mary to be heresy, as White claims. The document does not make such an assertion. It gives us a rather long list of titles of apocryphal books after having listed the accepted books of the Bible. That’s all. One of these titles declared to be “apocryphal” is referred to as: “Liber qui appellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio sanctae Mariae,” which translates as “A book which is called, ‘Having been taken up, that is, the Assumption of Holy Mary.’” White evidently thought this document condemns as untrue the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. But it did not. As a matter of history, this document does not condemn any doctrines in the books it lists at all; it declares the books themselves to be apocryphal and therefore not part of the canon of Scripture.

This would be something akin to the Church’s rejection of The Assumption of Moses and The Book of Enoch as apocryphal works. The fact that these works are apocryphal does not preclude St. Jude (9; 14) from quoting both of them in Sacred Scripture. Because a work is declared apocryphal or even condemned does not mean that there is no truth at all to be found in it.

2.There is real question among scholars today as to whether what is popularly called the Dectretum Gelasianum was actually written by Pope Gelasius. According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Faith, p. 462, it was probably written in the sixth century (Pope Gelasius died in the late fifth century) in Italy or Gaul and was most likely not a Papal work at all. In fact, it was falsely attributed to several different Popes over the years.

3. If the teaching of the Assumption had genuinely been condemned by the Pope, great saints and defenders of orthodoxy like St. Gregory and later St. John Damascene would not have taught it. Further, we would have found other writers condemning this teaching as it became more and more popular throughout the world. And we certainly would not see the Assumption celebrated in the Liturgy as we do as early as the fifth century in Palestine, Gaul in the sixth, universally in the East in the seventh century, and in the West in the eighth century. Far from a condemnation of the Assumption, this reveals just how widespread this teaching truly was.

Why Don’t the Earliest Fathers Write About the Assumption?

The most obvious reason would be that when Gnostics, who were some of the main enemies of the Faith in the early centuries of the Christian era, agreed with the Church on the matter, there would have been no need to defend the teaching. In other words, there is no record of anyone disagreeing on the matter. We don’t find works from the earliest Fathers on Jesus’ celibacy either, but that too was most likely due to the universal agreement on the topic. Much of early Christian literature was apologetic in nature. Just like the New Testament, it mostly dealt with problem areas in the Church that needed to be addressed.

Even so, it is not as though there is no written evidence to support the Assumption either. According to Fr. O’Carroll (Theotokos, 388), we now have what some believe to be a fourth-century homily on the prophet Simeon and the Blessed Virgin Mary by Timothy, a priest of Jerusalem, which asserts Mary is “immortal to the present time through him who had his abode in her and who assumed and raised her above the higher regions.” Evidently, there was disagreement in the circulating stories of the Assumption of Mary as to whether she was taken up alive or after having died. But whether or not she was assumed was not in question. Indeed, the Church even to this day has not decided the matter of whether Mary died or not definitively, though she does teach Mary to have died at the level of the Ordinary Magisterium, for example, in Pope Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus, 17, 20, 21, 29, 35, 39, and 40.

Rethinking St. Epiphanius

I believe St. Epiphanius’ work needs to be re-examined when it comes to the Assumption of Mary. This great bishop and defender of orthodoxy may give us key insights into the antiquity of the Assumption, writing in ca. AD 350. In his classic Panarion (“bread box”) or Refutation of All Heresies, he includes eighty-eight sections dealing with scores of the most dangerous heresies of his day. But in sections 78 and 79, he deals with one particular sect comprised mainly of women called the “Collyridians.” Evidently, this sect was “ordaining” women as “priestesses” and adoring Mary as a goddess by offering sacrifice to her. St. Epiphanius condemns this in the strongest of terms:

For I have heard in turn that others who are out of their minds on this subject of this holy Ever-virgin, have done their best and are doing their best, in the grip both of madness and of folly, to substitute her for God. For they say that certain Thracian women there in Arabia have introduced this nonsense, and that they bake a loaf in the name of the Ever-virgin, gather together, and attempt an excess and undertake a forbidden, blasphemous act in the holy Virgin’s name, and offer sacrifice in her name with women officiants.

This is entirely impious, unlawful, and different from the Holy Spirit’s message, and is thus pure devil’s work . . .

And nowhere was a woman a priest. But I shall go to the New Testament. If it were ordained by God that women should be priests or have any canonical function in the Church, Mary herself, if anyone, should have functioned as a priest in the New Testament. She was counted worthy to bear the king of all in her own womb, the heavenly God, the Son of God. Her womb became a temple, and by God’s kindness and an awesome mystery, was prepared to be a dwelling place of the Lord’s human nature. But it was not God’s pleasure that she be a priest.

These women who were adoring Mary as if she were a goddess would no doubt have been well acquainted with the “Transitus Stories” and would have been teaching Mary’s Assumption. In fact, it appears they were teaching Mary never died at all. This would be in keeping with John of Thessalonica, Timothy of Jerusalem, and others who taught this among Christians. However, these women were taking Mary and the Assumption to the extreme by worshipping her. What is interesting here is that in the midst of condemning the Collyridians, St. Epiphanius gives us, in section 79 of Panarion,a point-blank statement that is very-much overlooked today by many:

Like the bodies of the saints, however, she has been held in honor for her character and understanding. And if I should say anything more in her praise, she is like Elijah, who was virgin from his mother’s womb, always remained so, and was taken up, but has not seen death.

St. Epiphanius clearly indicates his personal agreement with the idea that Mary was assumed into heaven without ever having died. He will elsewhere clarify the fact that he is not certain, and no one is, at least not definitively so, about whether or not she died. But he never says the same about the Assumption itself. That did not seem to be in doubt. By comparing her to Elijah he indicates that she was taken up bodily just as the Church continues to teach 1,600 years later.

A Final Thought

Since the time of the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, there has been much new discovery. We now have written evidence of the Assumption of Mary as far back as the third century. Though it is not necessary for there to be written evidence all the way back to the second-century for us as Catholics because we have Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church first and foremost that has already given us the truth of the Matter, I believe it is really exciting that new historical discoveries continue to be made and once again… and again… and again, they confirm the Faith of our Fathers.

If you enjoyed this and you would like to learn more, click here.

Evangelism in 2016 And Beyond

Pope Paul VI wrote what may well be the greatest single work ever written on evangelism in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, promulgated December 8, 1975. This one letter informs, inspires, and challenges us in ways unparalleled and serves as the perennial document on the topic of evangelization that should be our guide for evangelism in 2016 and beyond.

Among the many points we could discuss in this great letter, here are six that I’ve excised that I consider to be absolutely crucial for all of us who are engaged in evangelism today:

Point #1: Evangelism is not a nice option for Catholics!

In paragraph 5, Our Holy Father hammers the point:

Such an exhortation [to evangelism] seems to us to be of capital importance, for the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation. It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents. It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world. It is able to stir up by itself faith—faith that rests on the power of God. It is truth. It merits having the apostle consecrate to it all his time and all his energies, and to sacrifice for it, if necessary, his own life.

In fact, in paragraph 59, Pope Paul declares evangelism as to be a “Basic Duty” of each and every one of the people of God.

In paragraphs 13-14:

Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it. (14) The Church knows this. She has a vivid awareness of the fact that the Savior’s words, “I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God,” apply in all truth to herself: She willingly adds with St. Paul: “Not that I boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty that has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it” It is with joy and consolation that at the end of the great Assembly of 1974 we heard these illuminating words: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize…

I love the way His Holiness brings in St. Paul’s famous line from I Cor. 9:15-16, “Woe be unto me if I preach not the Gospel, for necessity is laid upon me!” Prophets are great at declaring “woe” on everybody else! “Woe” represents the divine oracle of judgment. This immediately brings to mind the Prophet Isaiah. The Book of Isaiah is laden with “woes” all over the place aimed at Israel as well as the surrounding nations. But notice when Isaiah has a revelation of God and “sees” the Lord, he says, “woe is me” in Is. 6:1-9:

In the year that King Uzzi’ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say…”

St. Paul “sees the Lord” in his calling to evangelize. And just as Isaiah before him, he exclaims “Woe is me!”

Perhaps the reason we don’t evangelize as we should today is we fail to see the awesome nature of the call!

Point #2: This Apostolic Exhortation Dispels Myths!

In paragraph 21, Pope Paul proclaims what we have re-learned all too painfully with the advent of the recent priest scandals: If we do not live the message, our message will not be heard!

Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good… Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization…

Now here comes the myth-buster. How many of us have heard the line famously and falsely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel, use words when necessary?” Not only did St. Francis never say that, unfortunately, that line is often used today as an excuse to avoid evangelizing with words as well as deeds! Paragraph 22 quickly and decisively dispatches that myth!

Nevertheless this [silent witness] always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified – what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” – and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.

Point #3: We must evangelize in keeping with our vocation:

And virtually all vocations are mentioned.

Paragraph 60 emphasizes that each act of evangelism, no matter how isolated it may seem must be seen as “deeply ecclesial.” Paragraphs 63-69 emphasize the fact that individual churches in the Church, religious, etc. each bring their needed charisms to the Universal Church to build up the body of Christ, and 65-69 emphasizes all must be done in union with the Vicar of Christ, the successor of St. Peter. That should go without saying. But for our purpose here I would like to move down to paragraph 70, which shifts the focus to the lay vocation:

Lay people, whose particular vocation places them in the midst of the world and in charge of the most varied temporal tasks, must for this very reason exercise a very special form of evangelization.
Their primary and immediate task is not to establish and develop the ecclesial community- this is the specific role of the pastors- but to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, suffering. The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers which are often buried and suffocated, the more these realities will be at the service of the kingdom of God and therefore of salvation in Jesus Christ, without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is often disregarded.

Wow! Did you catch that word, “suffering?” In every area of life and even in death and suffering, there are opportunities to evangelize. In suffering well, we evangelize. In proclaiming the truth about human dignity in suffering, we evangelize. That could be an entire article in and of itself!

Point #4: The Importance of Truth!

Paragraph 78

The Gospel entrusted to us is also the word of truth. A truth which liberates and which alone gives peace of heart is what people are looking for when we proclaim the Good News to them. The truth about God, about man and his mysterious destiny, about the world; the difficult truth that we seek in the Word of God and of which, we repeat, we are neither the masters nor the owners, but the depositaries, the heralds and the servants.
Every evangelizer is expected to have a reverence for truth, especially since the truth that he studies and communicates is none other than revealed truth and hence, more than any other, a sharing in the first truth which is God Himself. The preacher of the Gospel will therefore be a person who even at the price of personal renunciation and suffering always seeks the truth that he must transmit to others. He never betrays or hides truth out of a desire to please men, in order to astonish or to shock, nor for the sake of originality or a desire to make an impression. He does not refuse truth. He does not obscure revealed truth by being too idle to search for it, or for the sake of his own comfort, or out of fear. He does not neglect to study it. He serves it generously, without making it serve him.

Enough said.

Point #5: No excuses and a Solemn Warning!

Paragraph 80:

Our appeal here is inspired by the fervor of the greatest preachers and evangelizers, whose lives were devoted to the apostolate. Among these we are glad to point out those whom we have proposed to the veneration of the faithful during the course of the Holy Year. They have known how to overcome many obstacles to evangelization.
Such obstacles are also present today, and we shall limit ourself to mentioning the lack of fervor. It is all the more serious because it comes from within. It is manifested in fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope. We exhort all those who have the task of evangelizing, by whatever title and at whatever level, always to nourish spiritual fervor.
This fervor demands first of all that we should know how to put aside the excuses which would impede evangelization. The most insidious of these excuses are certainly the ones which people claim to find support for in such and such a teaching of the Council.
Thus one too frequently hears it said, in various terms, that to impose a truth, be it that of the Gospel, or to impose a way, be it that of salvation, cannot but be a violation of religious liberty. Besides, it is added, why proclaim the Gospel when the whole world is saved by uprightness of heart? We know likewise that the world and history are filled with “seeds of the Word”; is it not therefore an illusion to claim to bring the Gospel where it already exists in the seeds that the Lord Himself has sown?
Anyone who takes the trouble to study in the Council’s documents the questions upon which these excuses draw too superficially will find quite a different view.
It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents- “without coercion, or dishonorable or unworthy pressure”- far from being an attack on religious liberty is fully to respect that liberty, which is offered the choice of a way that even non-believers consider noble and uplifting. Is it then a crime against others’ freedom to proclaim with joy a Good News which one has come to know through the Lord’s mercy? And why should only falsehood and error, debasement and pornography have the right to be put before people and often unfortunately imposed on them by the destructive propaganda of the mass media, by the tolerance of legislation, the timidity of the good and the impudence of the wicked? The respectful presentation of Christ and His kingdom is more than the evangelizer’s right; it is his duty. It is likewise the right of his fellow men to receive from him the proclamation of the Good News of salvation. God can accomplish this salvation in whomsoever He wishes by ways which He alone knows. And yet, if His Son came, it was precisely in order to reveal to us, by His word and by His life, the ordinary paths of salvation. And He has commanded us to transmit this revelation to others with His own authority. It would be useful if every Christian and every evangelizer were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them; but as for us, can we gain salvation if through negligence or fear or shame- what St. Paul called “blushing for the Gospel” (quoting Romans 1:16—I am not ashamed…)- or as a result of false ideas we fail to preach it? For that would be to betray the call of God…

Point #6: Brass Tacks

Paragraph 18:

For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: “Now I am making the whole of creation new” (Rev. 21:5). But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by Baptism and by lives lived according to the Gospel.

This idea of “bringing the Gospel into all the strata of humanity” is peppered throughout Pope Paul Vi’s exhortation and is, in simple terms, another way of saying we are called to be ”leaven” (see Matt. 13:33). In paragraph 53, Pope Paul says we must evangelize those who have not heard the Gospel. In paragraph 54, Those who have heard, be they in the Church or our separated brethren. Here we have ”the New Evangelization” before ”the New Evangelization.” In paragraph 55, we must evangelize unbelievers and skeptics. In paragraph 56, Catholics who do not practice the Faith. In paragraph 59, His Holiness calls us to do so in small associations, small groups. We must become “all things to all men, that by all means we may save some!” (I Cor. 9:22). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 900, immediately comes to mind:

Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.

According to Pope Paul VI, our calling is most clear. The task is daunting, yet we know the Lord is with us. He will never fail to strengthen us for the task. All we have to do is ask… and engage.

If you enjoyed this and would like to get the necessary tools to evangelize, click here.

What a Conference! “OneFaithExperience!”

I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable conferences I’ve been to in a long time. The April 23rd “OneFaithExperience” was a conference extraordinaire!

It was wonderful to see so many of my friends (Fr. Larry Richards, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Hector Molina, Teresa Tomeo, Jerry Usher, and more), and to make new friends like Adam Blai, the incredible “Demonologist!”

Check out this article to get a sense of what we experienced:

http://stlouisreview.com/article/2016-04-28/one-faith-one-day-one

My thanks to all of the folks at “OneFaithExperience” who made this possible!