Friday, October 14, 2016

King Bhumiphol - the Much-Loved King of Thailand

 The Queen Mother holding Prince Bhumiphol with older brother, Prince Anand and sister, Princess Galyani.

Early Life
     On December 5, 1927 a baby registered only as Baby Mahidol was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His father was studying medicine at Harvard.  Few people were aware that his father was Prince Mahidol, the son of Chulalongkorn, the King of Thailand.
    In 1928 Prince Mahidol and his wife, the beautiful Sangwan, returned to Thailand with their family of three: Princess Galyani, Prince Ananda and little Prince Bhumiphol (pronounced Bumipon).  Prince Mahidol, now a graduate of Harvard Medical School, worked with leprosy sufferers in North Thailand at a Missionary Hospital for a while and then went on to improve public health and hospitals in Thailand. He taught preventative and social medicine to third-year medical students.   Prince Mahidol suffered from a chronic kidney disease and died at the young age of 37.  His wife took their three children to Switzerland where they attended school.

Ascension to the throne
    When King Chulalongkorn died in 1910, his eldest son, Vajiravudh became King.  Then in 1925 Prince Prajadhibok, next in line, became King.  He abdicated in 1935 due to ill health but first granted a system of constitutional monarchy to the country after ‘The Revolution of 1932’.  Because Prajadhibok had no children, his nephew, Prince  Ananda became the King at the age of 10.  After a short reign of 11 years, spent mostly studying in Switzerland, he was found dead in his room at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, apparently of a gunshot wound.  The circumstances of his death have never been discovered or, at least, have never been revealed to the public except that he probably accidently shot himself while cleaning his gun.  This left Prince Bhumiphol, his nineteen year old brother, directly in line to be King.  His mother asked permission for him to complete his education in Switzerland first and a Regent was appointed in his place.  Bhumiphol had been studying science but switched to law and political science in order to prepare for his new role as King. 
     In 1946 the young King returned to his homeland to take on his royal duties.  Siam’s name was changed to Thailand in 1949.  It remains a constitutional monarchy and the King was loved and revered by the Thai people.   

Marriage and family
    While in Switzerland, Bhumiphol had met the beautiful  Sirikit, the daughter of the Thai ambassador to France.  She was also a descendent of King Chulalongkorn.  They fell in love and were married on April 28, 1950.  Once when asked why he rarely smiled, the King is said to have answered that the Queen was his smile. 
    The King and Queen had four children: Princess Ubol Ratana, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (who is next in line to the throne), Princess Sirindhorn and Princess Chulabhon.  Princess Ubol was married to an American whom she met while studying in the US.  They have since divorced.  Their son, Bhumi Jensen died in the tsunami that struck Thailand on December 26, 2004 while on holiday in Phuket.

     For years King Bhumiphol was the longest living, reigning monarch in the world, surpassing even Queen Elizabeth II of England.  During his reign of 64 years, there were  27 Prime Ministers in Thailand and 15 coups.  Although he was officially a Constitutional Monarch he played a role in politics in Thailand by showing his approval or disapproval of the government in power in his speeches.  His scientific studies helped him in his work to improve agriculture and flood control in his country. 
     The King was also a talented musician; he played the saxophone and the piano and wrote many musical compositions. 
 In recent years, ill health limited his public duties as King but this void has been aptly filled by his children.
King Bhumiphol died on October 13, 2016 at the age of 88.  Thailand has declared a year of mourning.  He will be greatly missed as one of the great and much-loved monarchs of recent times.

 will never disappoint us

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Why Does the Catholic Church Have Saints?

On September 4 2016, thousands watched as Mother Theresa was 'made a saint' by the Catholic Church.  Was it just because she was a 'good person'?   What is the purpose of a saint anyway

Who are Saints?
St Paul sent one of his letters (now part of the New Testament) to 'to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus' Ephesians 1:1.  They were still alive.  In that way, all believers in Christ Jesus who are faithful to Him, are 'saints'.  We are all called to be 'saints' even though most of us won't be formally and publically recognized as Saints.  Still, there are many Saints canonized every year; the general and non-Catholic public only hears about those who are already well-known (such as Mother Theresa and John Paul II).
The Church does not 'make' a Saint but recognizes the person as a Saint.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, 'But by canonizing some of the faithful, i.e. by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within him or her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the Saints as models and intercessors." Catechism of the Catholic Church 828.

God's Friends and Servants
The Saints are considered God’s friends and servants and they are believed to reign with God in heaven.  Their supernatural gifts have been given to them only by God and therefore they are honoured and given reverence (Latin, dulia).  The Virgin Mary is given a higher form of reverence (Latin, hyperdulia) because she is the mother of Jesus.
The Catholic Church believes that worship (Latin, latria) should be given to God alone.  Of course, Jesus is believed to be God, in the Nicene Creed, “true God and true man”, and therefore he is also worshipped.  The saints, martyrs and even the Virgin Mary are not worshipped as they are not divine beings.
There is of course, “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5) but the Saints are intercessors (prayer partners) and advocates (Rev 5:8, Rev 8:3,4).  The Church does teach that you can pray directly to Jesus for healing. It does not teach that Mary and the Saints will convince Jesus to answer your prayer when He doesn't really want to! (Although some Catholics seem to think this, misreading the story of Jesus' first miracle at Cana.)
The Saints also serve as models for those of us who are still alive.  Some Saints won't mean much to us personally, but some of their stories will touch our hearts.
Every Sunday, Catholics say the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed during the Mass.  They say, "I believe in the communion of saints'.  The Church teaches that the Mystical Church includes: 1. The Church Militant (Christians on earth) 2. The Church Suffering (Christians in purgatory)[1] and 3. The Church Triumphant (those in heaven).

Beatification and Canonization
A beatified person is known as ‘Blessed......” and a canonized person is known as “Saint......”. Usually, someone is beatified first and later if the further conditions are met (two miracles), that person is canonized..
The words used in the actual canonization are: “In honour of ... we decree and define that Blessed .... is a Saint, and we inscribe his/her name in the catalogue of saints, and order that his memory be devoutly and piously celebrated on the ... day ..., his feast.”  The feast day of a saint is commonly celebrated on the anniversary of his or her death.

Procedure for Beatification and Canonization
There are strict regulations about the investigation into the person's life for the cause of sainthood.  The person’s life is examined for reputation, for sanctity and for miracles that have occurred after his or her death.  If the person has written diaries or books, these are examined to see if there is anything contrary to faith and morals in the writings.
Mother Theresa's journey to canonization was very fast (some said she was 'fast-tracked' because so many asked for her to be made a Saint).  And yet, it was 19 years after she died that her canonization took place!   All her writings, including many private letters, were examined during that time.
 The miracles attributed to the intercession of Mother Theresa were the curing of cancer in a Christian Indian woman and the curing of brain abscesses in a Brazilian man.  The Brazilian man and his wife were present in Rome for Mother Theresa's canonization.  
Miracles must be substantiated, for example, healing of a disease must be shown to have no natural cause and are investigated by medical doctors and scientists, not necessarily Catholic.   If there are eyewitnesses to the miracles, they are examined.  In the case of martyrs, there must be proof of the martyrdom.
When the Church was investigating miracles attributed to the intercession of Margaret D'Youville they contacted Dr Jacalyn Duffin, a haematologist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  She told them she was an atheist, and those from the Vatican working with the investigation were fine with that.  She was asked to look at some bone marrow slides and without being told any background, was asked for a diagnosis.  It turned out that her reading of the slides verified that a miracle had occurred.  Margaret D'Youville, a French nun, who started the Grey Nuns of Montreal in 1737 became Canada's first Saint in 1990.  
Dr Duffin was intrigued with the material she found in the Vatican Archives that she investigated hundreds of other stories of miracles.  "To admit that as a nonbeliever, you don't have to claim that it was a supernatural entity that did it," Duffin said, "You have to admit some humility and accept that there are other things that science cannot explain."[2] (quoted in an article by Tom Gjelten,  
I pray that Dr Duffin will one day find that miracles are indeed from God who does exist and that everyone will get to know the Saints better.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York and Toronto: Doubleday Publishing Group Inc. 1995.
Duffin, Jacalyn Pondering Miracles - Medical and Religious. On NY Times website.
Website of the Catholic Encyclopedia/New Advent accessed January 15, 2011.
Gjelten, Tom. How the Catholic Church Documented Mother Teresa's Two Miracles.    accessed September 6, 2016.

[1]  Purgatory is another topic,  Suffice it to say that it is a place of cleansing (or purging) and everyone in purgatory will eventually be in heaven. It is not hell where those who do not believe in God or in Jesus have chosen to go.
[2] Gjelten, Tom. "How the Catholic Church Documented Mother Teresa's Two Miracles. August 31, 2016. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How We Got the Bible.

What are the origins of the Bible? When was it written? Can we believe what it says?

Have you ever wondered how and when the Bible came to be? Of course, most of us know that the Bible didn’t drop down from heaven as a complete book, but many do not know how the Bible came to be.
The Bible is made up of many books written by many authors.  How were the books that make up the Bible chosen?  And what were the criteria for including those books? 
The Old Testament
The Christian Bible is made up of two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the Sacred Scripture of the Jewish people and, because of this, it was the only Bible that Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Christians had.  Originally written in the Hebrew language, it included books of the history of Israel, the writings of the Prophets, and Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon). 
The Jewish Diaspora began when the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BC, and the inhabitants were scattered across the Middle East.  Later, in 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar deported many Judeans (people living in the southern part of Israel known as Judea), although some escaped to Egypt.  When the Jewish people were dispersed to other nations after these conquests, the Jews began to speak the languages of the people where they now lived.  Following the conquests of Alexander the Great people in the conquered areas learned to speak Greek.  Even the Jewish Scriptures were translated from Hebrew into Greek to be read in the synagogues, and this translation is known as the Septuagint.  It was the Septuagint translation that was the Scripture (Old Testament) used in the time of Jesus and the early Church.
The New Testament
The New Testament is made up of the four Gospels (Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of St. Paul, St. Peter and St. John, the Revelation of St. John and a letter whose author is unknown (Letter to the Hebrews).  The Acts of the Apostles was written by St. Luke.  The letters (e.g. Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, I Peter) were circulated to be read in the churches of the Mediterranean area which at that time was part of the Roman Empire.
The canon of New Testament Scripture was set down by Iraneus, a bishop of Lyon, France at the end of the second century (between 100 and 199 AD).  He accepted the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) even though two of them had not been written by Apostles (Luke and Mark).  Luke was a physician who travelled with Paul. Mark was possibly a nephew of Peter.  As there were other letters and gospels circulating at the time, Iraneus’ criteria for the canon were that they were  “... the teachings of the churches in the earliest period, meaning whichever of these writings had actually remained in use since that time.”  Therefore, the books which today are recognized by Roman Catholics, Protestant, and the Orthodox Church as Scripture, were agreed upon well before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD (the 4th century) when they were formally declared to be part of Scripture.
The Catholic Church was responsible for the canon of Scripture (which books should be included) and the preservation of Scripture.  Since it was the only Church until the 15th Century, without the Catholic Church, we would not have the Christian Bible as it exists today.
Textual Criticism
When scribes (usually monks) copied the manuscripts, errors inadvertently crept into the copies.  Textual Criticism is a science which tries to identify and remove errors in transcription in the texts of any ancient manuscript.  The objective is to produce a text which is a close as possible to the original.  Often, in the case of classical manuscripts, there may be only one or two manuscripts in existence.  If there are more than ten, there is a great advantage of knowing what was originally written.  In the case of the New Testament, however, there are nearly five thousand manuscripts in Greek in existence as well as quotations from the books in the writings of others!  Furthermore, the manuscripts of classical authors usually date only from the Middle Ages, but there are manuscripts of the New Testament Scriptures as far back as the end of the 2nd century.  That is, they were written only a century after the original manuscripts had been written.  This means we can trust the words of Scripture more than we can trust the words of classical writings.
What are the Gnostic Gospels?
The Gnostic gospels are 13 volumes that were discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi in Egypt.  All of these books were written in the Coptic language and are probably translations from Greek.  They were believed to have been written in the 2nd century (100-199 AD).
Most Biblical scholars agree that the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were written before AD70, although some put Matthew at 75-80AD.  If this is the case, the Canonical Gospels would be more reliable accounts of the life of Jesus than the Gnostic gospels as they were written closer to the time that he lived.
Before AD70, there would have been witnesses still alive who could have protested any errors in them.  By the 2nd century (when the Gnostic gospels were written) anyone still living from the time of Jesus would have to be over 100 years old.
Inspiration of Scripture
The Catholic Church, as well as the Orthodox Church and Evangelical Protestant churches, believe that the writers of Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit: God is the Author of Sacred Scripture:  "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit," CCC 105 and Dei Verbum 11.
"To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers, that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more," Dei Verbum V 11.
Scriptures in the Church
Before the invention of the printing press, the Scriptures were hand-copied.  The pages were often beautifully decorated as well.  Individuals did not own copies of the Bible and copies were often chained down in the Church, not to keep people from reading the Bible, but to ensure it would be available when someone did want to read it.  In other words, like our telephone books today, 'chaining them' prevented people stealing them.
By this time, Latin was the language used amongst the educated and was the language used in the universities across Europe.  Uneducated people could not read Latin nor could they read their own language, so books in English or German were not necessary in the early Middle Ages.  However, there are some instances of early translations into the vernacular (common) language of the people.  Two examples are: Bishop Ulfilas (318-380) who devised an alphabet for the Goths and translated the Old and New Testaments.  In the 9th Century, St. Cyril and St. Methodius invented an alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet, for the Slavic peoples and translated a Bible for them.
Quotations About Scripture
St. Jerome (AD340-420) said, “Not to know the Scriptures is not to know Christ.” St. Jerome translated the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek to Latin, the language in use at that time.
A document from the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) states, “Among other things that pertain to salvation of the Christian peoples, the food of the Word of God is above all necessary, because as the body is nourished by material food, so is the soul nourished by spiritual food, since, '...not by bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4).
And finally, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997): “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ‘but as what it really is, the word of God.” (103)
Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York, London, Toronto: Doubleday. 1997.
Pope Paul VI. Dei Verbum: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. The Vatican:1965.
The Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent website, accessed October 15, 2010.
The Jewish Virtual Library website, accessed October 15, 2010.