Friday, June 27, 2014

Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Modern Saint


What do you think saints are like? Are they rather dour looking? Do they look unhappy? Or even unhealthy? Pier Giorgio Frassati is probably not everyone’s idea of a ‘saint’. In fact he looks more like a model for men’s aftershave or some upscale sportswear or expensive watch ad. He was young, healthy and unbelievingly good-looking. He enjoyed being with his friends and he even 'goofed off' sometimes. Yet, on May 20, 1990, Pier Giorgio was beatified (the step before sainthood) by Pope John Paul II in Rome. As a result of his exemplary life, the Pope called him 'a man of the Beatitudes'. Beatifying or canonizing a person doesn't make them a saint, it is the way the Church recognizes the person as having an exemplary life and one which we can follow in our walk with God.

Early Life of Pier Giorgio Frassati
Pier Giorgio was born in 1901 in Turin, Italy to parents who were wealthy and influential. Frassati's father was Italy's ambassador to Germany in 1921 and was the owner of the liberal newspaper, La Stampa. He claimed to be an agnostic. His mother was an accomplished artist. Her daughter, Luciana, says in her book, "Neither of our parents were devoutly Catholic: our father was an agnostic and our mother was not deeply religious. Our mother and her sister, Elena, would not have missed Mass, but they were never seen by us to go to Communion or to kneel and say a prayer." (Frassati, page 21). Blessed Pier Giorgio's niece, Wanda Gawronska commented (in private communication) that it was the custom of many to take Communion only twice a year which was the minimum required at that time. Ms. Gawronska also relates that for his 18th birthday, his mother gave Pier Giorgio the book, "The Imitation of Christ" with a very meaningful dedication. In any case, his parents sometimes wished their son would not spend so much time attending daily Mass and helping the poor but would devote more time to his studies.

On the way to Sainthood
It seems that Pier Giorgio Frassati had always been drawn to the poor and disadvantaged. Once, a woman with a barefoot child, knocked at the door of the Frassati mansion. Pier Giorgio, then himself a child, immediately took off his shoes and gave them to the barefoot child.
Frassati was known for his kindness and courtesy to all and throughout his brief life he was to give away money, his clothes and his time whenever he met someone who needed them. Once he arrived in Berlin to visit his parents wearing only a light jacket in -12° C weather because he had given his overcoat away. He was active in the St. Vincent de Paul Society that provided for the poor but his unselfishness was often more personal. He would give away his books to fellow students or pay for their tuition secretly and in order to have more money to give away he always traveled third class!
Whenever he was able, Frassati went to his beloved mountains in northern Italy. There he would climb, either alone or with his friends, enjoying the challenge of the climb and his time with others. He also loved to ski. He fell in love with a girl in his group of friends but because he knew his parents did not altogether approve of her for their son he did not pursue the relationship.

Life in Pre-War Italy
In October 1922, the Fascists came to power in Italy. Like many Catholics at the time, Frassati opposed Mussolini and his 'black shirts' but could not do much to stop their power. In Turin he took part in a religious procession during a Eucharistic Congress and also a march to Rome with Catholic Youth groups. Taking part in these activities often ended up with some being detained by the police. When Pier Giorgio was detained he would pray the rosary. Once when the authorities discovered that he was the son of the prominent Alfredo Frassati, he was immediately released but he never took advantage of this privilege. Although Frassati believed Jesus' promise that 'the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church', his greatest concern was of the persecution against it by both Marxism and Fascism.
Pier Giorgio was a member of the student group Catholic Action and was also a lay Dominican. Politically he belonged to the Popular Party for, although he believed in charity, he also believed in reform.

Pier Giorgio Frassati's Illness and Death
Frassati knew that to fulfill his dream of becoming a mining engineer he had to study harder. But even with this goal in mind, his studies never prevented him from visiting the sick. Ultimately it was because of his visits to the sick and poor that at the young age of 24 he contracted polio. After a short illness and much suffering, he died on July 4, 1925 at his family home. Years before, he had written to a friend, 'The day of my death will be the happiest day of my life.'
At his funeral hundreds of the poor and sick that he had helped lined the streets of Turin. HIs parents could not believe this outpouring of love to their son.
In 1981, when his remains were transferred from the family tomb in Pollone to Turin's cathedral, his body was found completely incorrupt. Since then many pilgrims, especially young people, have journeyed to his tomb to seek the courage to follow his example.
For those wanting to know the complete story of his life, Pier Giorgio's younger sister, Luciana, has written an excellent biography of her brother, A Man of the Beatitudes (in Italian Pier Giorgio: I giorni della sua vita).
Patron Saint of WYD in Sydney
Pier Giorgio Frassati was chosen to be the Patron Saint of World Youth Day in Australia in 2008. His body was brought to Sydney for that occasion.

References
Frassati, Luciana. A Man of the Beatitudes. (In Italian: Pier Giorgio: I giorni della sua vita) San Francisco:Ignatius Press. 2000.
Personal communication with Wanda Gawronska, Blessed Pier Giorgio's niece.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lead, Kindly Light: the Story of John Henry Newman


John Henry Newman was born in London February 21, 1801; the eldest of six children. His parents were Anglican and as a child Newman studied at Ealing, a private boarding school where he exhibited an unusual interest in theology, despite his young age.

His later studies were at Oxford and at the age of twenty-one he became a professor at Oxford and a minister in the Church of England (Anglican). His first book was The Arians of the Fourth Century (1833) and he had a great love for the Fathers of the Church. He also wrote poetry and one of his poems was set to music, the well-known hymn, Lead Kindly Light.

Newman and the Oxford Movement

Newman is the best-known member of the Oxford Movement – a group of men whose aim was to invigorate the Anglican Church through spiritual renewal and renunciation of liberalism in the 1830s. They also, at first, condemned what they viewed as the corruptions of the Roman Church. This was Newman's undoing, for in the end his studies of the Church Fathers ultimately led him to that very Church. He discovered that as far back as the Church Fathers, the doctrines of the Church were the same as those that the Roman Catholic Church taught. He said, "When one reads history, he ceases to be a Protestant."

Newman's Resignation from Oxford

In 1841, Newman published Tract 90 in which he claimed that the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England (written in 1563 during the reign of Elizabeth I) were essentially Catholic Doctrine as it had been both in the early church and at the Council of Trent.

A great controversy arose and he was eventually forced to resign both his teaching post at Oxford and his position at the University church of St. Mary the Virgin (Church of England).

Reception into the Catholic Church

In October, 1845, after many years of study and intellectual struggle he was received into the Catholic Church. Two years later he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in Rome and then joined the Oratorians in Birmingham, England. At the age of 78, he was made a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. He died in 1890.

John Henry Newman's Writings

Some of Newman's well-known writings include:

• Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
• The Idea of the University
• Letter to Pusey
• Apologia pro Vita Sua (his autobiography)
In the story of his conversion, told in Apologia pro Vita Sua, he says, "From the time that I became a Catholic...I have been in perfect peace and contentment, I never have had one doubt...and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption."

Sources

Connor, Fr. Charles P. Classic Catholic Converts. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2001

Ker, Ian. John Henry Newman: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1988.

John Henry Newman. Apologia pro Vita Sua. New York:WW. Norton and Company, 1968. p. 184.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Catechism of Hockey by Alyssa Bormes

The Catechism of Hockey. Alyssa Bormes. The American Chesterton Society. 2013



Many catechists have asked themselves the questions; I know I did. Why do parents drive miles to take their children to a hockey game at 5:30 am on a Saturday but complain bitterly that they are expected to attend Mass on Sunday? Why do parents spend hundreds of dollars on hockey equipment but don’t like to spend anything on their child’s religious education? And why do children happily obey the rules and the decisions of the hockey ref but complain about the ‘rules’ of the Church? Well somebody who knows hockey much better than I do, wrote a book about it. Her favourite statement? “Ah, Catholicism is so much like hockey!” And you will be surprised at the comparisons she finds.
If you like hockey, if you play hockey or are a hockey Mom or Dad this book is for you. If your child plays any other game - like soccer, baseball or basketball - you should still read this book. It is especially written with passing the faith of Catholicism in mind and makes pretty good sense. We want our children to succeed in hockey and we want our children to succeed in life. So how do we accomplish these expectations?

Some things Bormes asks us to think about:
- If you play hockey you can't pick out the rules you like and will follow and which ones you won't. You have to take to the complete package. If you changed the rules to something you like better, it ain't hockey!
- If you think hockey is fun but the Mass isn't maybe it's because you understand hockey but not the Mass. I don't understand hockey very well and I guess that is why I don't watch it. On the other hand, I love going to Mass.
- Can we get as excited about Catholicism as we do about hockey? I think we can - I am.
- Maybe sometimes we need to say, if you don't like the rules of the game, play a different game.

The author, Alyssa Bormes, who is from Minnesota, claims that Minnesota is the hockey state. She may be right. My only complaint about the book is that although she mentions Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Maurice Richard and the Stanley Cup she never mentions that all of these are Canadian! I know Canada has only 35 billion people and they may not buy as many books as Americans but would it hurt to at least say that what she calls ‘the ultimate prize’ of hockey, the Stanley Cup, originated in Canada and was a gift from Lord Stanley, the Governor-General of Canada in 1893. For more about the history of the Stanley Cup see https://suite.io/lorraine-shelstad/5fap2vp.
I know a Canadian team hasn’t won it lately (since 1993) but many of the players on American teams learned to skate on the quintessential outdoor rinks of their home country, Canada.

Don’t let that stop you from buying the book which has many words of wisdom about passing on our Catholic faith to our children which is especially relevant in this Year of the Family.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Trinity Western University: Discrimination of Christian Groups?

On April 11, 2014 the Law Society of British Columbia granted graduates from Trinity Western University’s Law School the right to practice law in the province of British Columbia.
Trinity Western University is a private university in Langley, BC which is based on Evangelical Protestant values.
Some individuals and groups (including a group of BC lawyers) disagreed with the Society’s decision because of the covenant TWU students have to sign when they study at the school. The covenant includes abstaining from premarital sex, homosexual behaviour, abortion (as well as drunkenness, cheating and stealing). Students are asked to be responsible citizens both locally and globally who respect authorities, submit to the laws of the country and contribute to the welfare of society.
TWU acknowledges that Canadian Human Rights Laws and the Charter and Section 15 of the Charter protect against and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and that “the courses that will be offered at the TWU School of Law will ensure that students understand the full scope of these protections in the public and private spheres of Canadian life.”

In the preamble and section 3.1 of the Civil Marriage Act of Canada there is also protection against discrimination of those whose religious beliefs do not allow for their participation to perform marriages which are not in accordance with those same religious beliefs:

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;
WHEREAS it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage;

3.1 For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.

This could be understood to include allowing those religious groups to be able to have expectations of students, faculty and employees of their institutions to uphold these beliefs.

On the Law Society of BC webpage (http://www.lawsociety.bc.ca/page.cfm?cid=3891&t=Bencher-meeting-consideration-of-TWU,-April-11,-2014) letters showing support and opposition of TWU can be read under ‘public submissions’. One significant supporting letter is from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association which does not give support easily or without due thought. They state that in many cases they “,,, have been involved with or spoken out about, we have maintained a consistent them of protecting the rights and freedoms of Canadians and the pluralistic and diverse nature of Canada”. (from an e-mail from BCCLA to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, no date given, on the Law Society of British Columbia website)

Referring to deans of law schools who spoke out saying that TWU should not be accredited they go on to say, “ With regard to our first concern, we note that Canada is a country founded upon diversity and tolerance. It is thus startling for deans of publicly-funded university law schools to use their position to attempt to thwart the entry of another voice into academia, particularly where that voice is a religious one. We not that the Human Rights Code of British Columbia expressly provides for religious-based groups, among others, to be exempt from certain of its provision when they grant preferences to members of those groups. Obviously, in order for such groups to survive they must be able to prescribe the conditions of membership of their group and set out their fundamental beliefs.” (from an e-mail from BCCLA to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, no date given, on the Law Society of British Columbia website)

Now a lawyer in Victoria, BC has collected signatures of lawyers in BC who want to re-open the case and have the Law Society of BC change its decision. I call upon people of good will and those who are in favour of just laws to write in to thank the Law Society for their thoughtful and reasonable ruling in favour of TWU’s Law Students and say that you hope they will not change that decision. It is a matter of importance that discrimination against Christian values upon which Canada was founded is discouraged.
The address is:
Mr. Timothy E. McGee, QC, Chief Executive Office and Executive Director
The Law Society of British Columbia
845 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 4Z9

Monday, April 21, 2014

Is the Resurrection True?



The Resurrection of Jesus is considered the cornerstone of belief of all mainstream orthodox Christians. St. Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, our faith.” (I Corinthians 15:14). In other words without the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Christianity has no valid message. The resurrection is the ‘good news'; Jesus has been victorious over sin and death. The Church defines resurrection as the rising from the dead and resumption of life and has always proclaimed its belief that three days after his death Jesus rose from the dead.
Let us examine, then, the events surrounding the resurrection, the arguments against it and the counter-arguments.
Jesus’ Death
The four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) all give accounts of the death of Jesus by crucifixion, the discovery of his empty tomb and the appearances of a living Jesus after his death. The Catholic Church and other orthodox Christians believe in the historical reliability of this Scriptural account. Although the four accounts relate some different details they are basically the same and do not contradict each other.
While in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested and then brought before the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders. Although there were other charges against him, the main charge against Jesus was that of blasphemy. He had claimed to be the Messiah and the Son of God (Luke 22:70,71); a very serious matter in Jewish law. The Jewish leaders brought him before the Roman authorities as they had no authority to execute criminals in the Roman Empire. At first the Romans said it was not their problem. Pilate said he did not find that Jesus had done anything illegal according to Roman Law but in the end, at the insistence of the gathered crowd, he agreed to crucify Jesus, the Roman method of capital punishment at that time.
Reports of the Resurrection
After he was taken down from the cross, Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, and the tomb was sealed by a huge stone at the entrance. The chief priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to place guards at the tomb because they were afraid his disciples would come to the grave, steal the body and then claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus had implied that he would rise from the dead saying, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ (see John 2:19-22). He was referring to his body and not the literal temple. The disciples, however, did not understand Jesus’ meaning until after his resurrection.
In the morning, several guards hurried to the chief priests to report that during the night there had been an earthquake and an angel had rolled the stone away . The guards were struck with fear. The chief priests decided that they would pay the guards to say that the disciples had come and stolen the body while they were sleeping and promised them they would not be punished for the disappearance of the body. The guards must have been well-paid for they agreed to tell that version of the story even though it made them look very incompetent!
The disciples did not go to the tomb on Saturday which was the Jewish Sabbath and it was forbidden to travel. On the first day of the week (Sunday) some women followers of Jesus went with spices to embalm the body. When they arrived they found that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. A man in white clothing, actually an angel, asked them why they sought the living among the dead. He told them that Jesus was not there but had risen from the dead. The women hurried back to tell the disciples the news but they thought it was an idle tale - as usual the men thought that the women were imagining something! But Peter and John wanted to check the story out and ran to the tomb confirming that Jesus’ body was no longer there.
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
After this Jesus appeared to many of his disciples: Mary Magdalene, the twelve Apostles hiding in a locked room in Jerusalem, two believers on the road to Emmaus, two groups of ‘pious’ women and his disciples again on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. St. Paul reports that Jesus also appeared to Cephas (Peter) and 500 believers, many of whom were still alive at the time St. Paul wrote the letter to the Church at Corinth (see I Corinthians 15:5-7).
The Church has always believed the accounts of the Gospel writers but there are several alternate theories of what could have happened.
The Stolen Body Theory
This, of course, was the first theory that was circulated by the Jewish authorities of the time: the disciples of Jesus came and stole the body. According to the Gospel accounts the guards were bribed to lie and say that this is what happened. But, if the disciples had come to steal the body, why didn’t the guards prevent the disciples from rolling away the stone? After all, that is the task they had been hired to do, they were armed and probably outnumbered any disciples who would have come. The guards claimed that they had fallen asleep but surely guards would have taken turns sleeping in order to prevent a theft. Would they have slept so soundly as to not have heard a group of men rolling away the stone? If they had fallen asleep and failed to prevent the theft of the body, they very likely would have been punished. In the end, the money, and the promise that they would not get into trouble for their incompetence, was enough compensation for them to tell the lie. If the disciples did indeed steal the body what did they do with it after? Anyone wanting to discredit them would just have to prove that the body of Jesus had been buried elsewhere.
The apostles spent the rest of their lives preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead. Would they do this for what they knew was a lie? What did they gain from it? Wouldn’t it have been better to keep a low profile and go back to what they had been doing before they met Jesus? Instead many of them died for their faith. Would not at least one of them chickened out and confessed rather than lose his life for something that was not true?
The Swoon Theory
This theory claims that Jesus did not die but was just unconscious when he was put in the tomb. When he revived, he came out of the tomb and was seen alive by his disciples.
Since Jesus had been whipped before his crucifixion and then spent agonizing hours hanging on a cross meant to kill him, it is unlikely that he survived. The Romans were very good at making certain a criminal did not live through crucifixion. Before taking Jesus’ body down from the cross a soldier thrust a sword into Jesus’ side and blood and water poured out. His body is placed in a tomb where there was little air and no food or water for three days. If Jesus was not dead and merely revived was he able to move the heavy stone at the entrance or did someone else move it? If this theory were true, Jesus would need a lot of care after leaving the tomb. If he did recover would he not eventually be seen and recognized by others? The Gospel accounts say that after his resurrection, Jesus only appeared to those who believed he was the Messiah. And if this theory is true, when did he die? One day there would be a dead Jesus and if someone discovered the body, the game would be up!
The Hallucination Theory
This theory proposes that the followers of Jesus so much wanted to believe that he was not dead and that he had risen, that they had visions of him after his death and burial. In their stressful mental state and knowing that Jesus said ‘he would return’ they were susceptible to having hallucinations. It is true that people have had this type of vision after the death of a family member or close friend, however, it is unusual for many people to have the same vision. As well, normally visions do not last as long as the appearances of Jesus did. And why did the visions end abruptly? Luke reports that Jesus ascended to heaven and after that no one saw him again.
The disciples had not really understood what Jesus had said about being ‘raised up in three days’ and only understood his meaning after they had seen the resurrected Jesus. The two men on the road to Emmaus had to have it explained to them by Jesus, whom they did not recognize at first.
The story of the disciple Thomas is interesting in the light of this theory. John writes that Thomas was not in the locked room when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles. When hearing what had happened during his absence, Thomas says he will not believe unless he sees the wounds with his own eyes. Jesus later appears to Thomas, shows him his wounds and even allows him to touch them. If the psychological vision theory were true it is unlikely that Thomas would have this kind of vision. And if the resurrection were not true for any other reason, it is unlikely that any gospel writer would include this story of a ‘doubting’ disciple who eventually believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The Modernist or Myth Theory
The most recent theory is one which says that Jesus’ body remained in the tomb and decomposed and the resurrection spoken of in Scripture is not a literal but a spiritual or supernatural ‘resurrection’. It is meant to portray Jesus’ spiritual victory over death or his immortality in a spiritual sense. Some would also claim that the resurrection crept into the Gospel accounts from ancient religions. However, the Greeks believed in the resurrection of the soul but not the body. Other religions (Hinduism and Buddhism, for example) believe in re-incarnation - the soul living on in another body but not a bodily resurrection. There was a tradition of resurrection of the body in Judaism amongst the Pharisees whereas the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. St. Paul, a Pharisee, used this disagreement to his advantage when on trial, "For the Sadducees claim that there is neither resurrection, nor angels nor spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all these things." (see Acts 23:8)
The Modernist Theory gives rise to the same problem as those in the other theories. Why didn’t someone produce the body of Jesus? There would have been many who wanted to discredit the claim of the disciples. Why has the so-called myth persisted for 2000 years? Why has it been literally believed world-wide by people of many different cultures, education and backgrounds?
Conclusion
As mentioned, the simplest way to disprove the resurrection would have been to produce the body of Jesus. No one was able to do this, in spite of the fact that many would have wanted to show that the disciples had lied. Those who had bribed the guards would have loved to have found the body of Jesus in order to prove that they were right. For the remainder of their lives, the apostles put themselves in danger by preaching the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. They were stoned to death (Stephen), put in jail (Peter, Paul), and crucified (Peter)or beheaded (Paul). Many later believers were also killed by the Romans. In fact, there are still people being killed worldwide for their faith in a Jesus they believe rose from the dead.
Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that they, too, will be raised to everlasting life. "But Jesus said to her (Martha), "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live." John 11:25

Sources
Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. 1962.
Hahn, Dr. Scott. The Bodily Resurrection of Christ. CD Sycamore, Il: Lighthouse Catholic Media, NFP. 2011
Catholic Encyclopedia- New Advent website. Accessed July 8, 2012.
New American Bible. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1970.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Easter and Passover

As we approach both Passover and Easter you may wonder if there is a connection and, if so, what it is.
We know that Jesus was a Jew; his mother, Mary, and step-father, Joseph, were Jewish. His Apostles were all Jewish. They all celebrated the Feast of the Passover every year as Jews have done (and still do) since it was instituted by Moses (Exodus 12).
History of the Passover
The Passover is celebrated to remember the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. If you have seen movie The Ten Commandments, you will remember the plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians in order to let the Hebrews leave Egypt. The final plague was the death of every first-born male. The Hebrews could only escape this last plague by killing an unblemished lamb, sprinkling its blood on the doorways of their houses and then roasting the lamb and eating it together as a family. They were to eat it with unleavened bread (made without using yeast) as they would not have time to let the bread rise before leaving. We will see why this meal is important to both Jews and Christians.
The last plague was the breaking point for Pharaoh who finally let the Israelites leave Egypt (although he regretted it later and chased after them). Moses told the Hebrews to remember this night and observe the Feast of Passover on the 14th of the month of Nisan as a perpetual ordinance for themselves and their descendants: “This is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt; when he struck down the Egyptians, he spared our houses.” (Exodus 12:27) This was a time when they thanked God for their deliverance, came together as a people and it was also a time for teaching younger generations their collective history. It is Passover that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating, many years later, just before Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus was arrested. This is what Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper portrays. But does Passover really have anything to do with Easter?
Jesus and the Passover
The Passover was much more linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus than just occurring at the same time of year. On the 10th of the Jewish month of Nisan the lambs were brought into Jerusalem to be killed for Passover. On the first Passover, the Hebrew people chose one of their own lambs on the 10th of Nisan and killed it on the 14th of Nisan for the family meal. During the time of the prophet, Jeremiah, because the people went to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, a sacrificial flock of lambs raised for this purpose was brought into Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan. People could then purchase a lamb for their family’s celebration of the Passover feast rather than bringing one from their hometown some distance away. The sheep were brought into the city by the Sheep Gate.
It is believed that Jesus entered into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey on the 10th of Nisan. He was greeted by cheering crowds who waved palm branches and cried, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” Luke 19:38. Jesus entered in another gate and came as a King but would be sacrificed like the lamb. This entry is remembered as Palm Sunday, celebrated the week before Easter.
Jesus celebrated the Passover seder meal with his disciples and instituted the Eucharistic meal. We read in Luke 22:14, “Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which shall be given for you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which shall be shed for you.’”(Luke 22:19-20). This was done before Judas betrayed Jesus and before Jesus was arrested. The Apostles did not yet know that Jesus would be nailed to a cross to die. Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection were part of God’s plan to bring people out of bondage to sin and it had been foretold as far back as in the Garden of Eden after the first sin. (see Genesis 3:15)
But Jesus had previously said to his disciples, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." Many left at this saying because they found it a 'hard saying' (John 7) The disciples understood it literally not as a symbol or they would not have left. Jesus did not call them back and say, "Hey, don't take it so literally. I just meant it as a symbol. Just the same as when I said, 'I am the door'." And the early Church took it literally as well - the bread was the Body of Jesus and the wine was His blood.
Three years before Jesus was crucified, John the Baptist had seen Jesus walking by and pointed him out, saying, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Years later, St. Peter would write to the churches, “...you were ransomed by your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” (I Peter 1:18,19) The Jewish people would recognize this reference to the sacrificial lamb of the Passover immediately.
Latin and Anglo-Saxon Terms
Unfortunately, the English language uses the word “Easter” for the celebration when Christians remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. The word, Easter, is thought to originate from Estre, a Teutonic goddess of light and spring and so it was the feast that commemorated the pagan goddess of spring. In German, it is Ostern. The Church in Anglo-Germanic countries often ‘Christianized’ pagan feast days by using the name of the pagan feast or certain symbols of the celebration (such as the Yule tree at Christmas time) for Christian festivals. The symbol would be given a Christian meaning and so change the significance of the symbol. For example, the Christmas tree, an evergreen, came to symbolize ‘everlasting life’ which Jesus promised to his followers. In a similar manner, the eggs and young animals (chicks and rabbits) of Easter came to symbolize ‘new life in Christ’.
Other languages more correctly reflect the Aramaic form of the Hebrew pasach. So we have Greek, Pascha; Latin, Pascha; Italian Pasqua; Spanish, Pascua; French, Pâques; Scottish, Pask; Dutch, Pasen; Danish, Paaske; Swedish , Pask. In the Lower Rhine provinces of Germany the people call the feast Paisken not Ostern.
By the way, the same ‘problem’ arises with the Anglo and Germanic languages using Sunday and Sonntag (referring to the pagan Sun god) whereas the Latinate languages use cognates of Latin, Deis Dominae ‘the day of the Lord’: Italian, Dominica; French, Dimanche; Spanish, Domingo. Dan Brown in his Anglo-centric viewpoint disregards this important fact about language.
The Dates for Passover and Easter
Setting the date for remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus was somewhat complicated and was not settled until years later. The Jewish Passover is set following the lunar calendar whereas Rome (and later the Western Church) followed a solar calendar. The Church could have set ‘Easter’ (the time of celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection) on the same date as the Jews celebrated Passover (the 15th of Nisan) but they desired to celebrate the Resurrection on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as it had originally fallen on that day. Because of the difference in the lunar calendar and the solar calendar the date of Easter would not be the same every year. Eventually the Western Church set Easter Sunday as the first Sunday which occurs after the first full moon following the 21st of March. As a result, the earliest possible date for Easter is 22 March and the latest is April 25th. The Orthodox Church sets the date differently. http://www.zenit.org/article-32165?l=english
References
The Bible. History Television http://www.history.com/shows/the-bible
The Catholic Encyclopedia / New Advent http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05224d.htm
The Jewish Virtual Library http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=99&letter=P

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jacques Maritain: Philosopher of the 20th Century

Jacques Maritain helped to draft the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and re-introduced Thomism for the modern world.


Maritain was one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. He not only helped to draft the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 but influenced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the preamble to the Constitution of the Fourth French Republic (1946). But perhaps his greatest contribution was to adapt the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas to the modern world.

Early Life, Education and Search for Truth
Jacques Maritain was born in Paris in November, 1882. His father was a lawyer who was neither hostile to religion nor attracted to it. His mother, Genevieve Favré, was brought up to believe that the supernatural had no right in the affairs of state. When Jacques was young his parents separated. He continued to have a great thirst for knowledge and read constantly.
While studying at the Sorbonne, Jacques met Raissa Oumansoff, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. They were both involved in protests against the treatment of Russian socialist students at the Sorbonne. As their friendship grew they found joy in their companionship but were plagued about the absurdity of existence and both had many religious doubts. They married in 1906 and shortly after made a pact to commit suicide if their questions about life were not answered within a year. Then they happened to read a book by Leon Bloy, an intellectual who was a Christian and a Catholic. Jacques and Raissa made an appointment to meet him and eventually they became lifelong friends. The Maritains began to study Catholicism and after much soul-searching they were baptized and received into the Catholic Church in June, 1906. One thing that had bothered them was that some people who called themselves Christian did not live up to the teaching of Jesus. Even with these doubts, after their baptism they both experienced peace and joy that they had never known before.
Not surprisingly, Raissa’s parents viewed her conversion as a betrayal to her heritage and Jacques’ mother was immensely disappointed that he had not followed in his socialist grandfather’s footsteps. The Maritains moved to Heidelberg, Germany where Jacques continued his studies. Although Raissa was unwell she continued to read and study at home.
Introduction to Thomas Aquinas
When they moved back to Paris, a Dominican priest and friend, Father Humbert, recommended St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologia to Raissa. She was enthralled by it and passed on her enthusiasm to her husband. They both found answers in Thomism’s rational logic and Jacques said that it was ‘common sense amongst the confusion that reigned in the world’. Both Jacques and Raissa strongly believed, as St. Thomas did, that faith and reason were compatible and not enemies. Scholars have said that Maritain’s most significant contribution in philosophy was to adapt Thomism to modern thought.

Post-War Life and Work
When the Nazis invaded France, Jacques was lecturing at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto. He and Raissa decided not to return to Europe, especially since his wife’s Jewish background was well-known. After the war, Charles de Gaulle asked him to be France’s ambassador to the Holy See (1945-1948). He later taught at Princeton University in New Jersey (1941-1942) and Columbia (1942 -1944) and lectured at The University of Notre Dame and The University of Chicago.

Maritain wrote against anti-Semitism, describing it as a sin against God’s people and, because of these writings, had an influence on those who wrote Vatican II’s statement on the Jews.
Raissa died in 1960 and Jacques returned to France. He lived with a religious community, the Little Brothers of Jesus at Toulouse, until his death in 1973 at the age of ninety-one.

Some of Jacques Maritain’s Books
France, My Country through the Disaster. 1941
Art and Poetry. 1943
Education at the Crossroads. 1943
Christianity and Democracy. 1943
Reflections on America. 1958
Man and the State. 1952
Le paysan de la Garonne. 1967

Sources
Connor, Fr. Charles P. Classic Catholic Converts. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2001.
Myers, Rawley. Faith Experiences of Catholic Converts. Huntingdon, IN: Our Sunday
Visitor, Inc. 1992.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website accessed May 20, 2011.