Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity


The history of Bethlehem goes back to the time of Jacob and Rachel. The town is important to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Bethlehem is situated eight kilometers (five miles) south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills and is 2361 feet above sea level. Today it is a Palestinian territory with both Muslims and Christians seeing themselves as Palestinians.
Bethlehem means ‘house of bread,’ in Hebrew and ‘house of meat,’ in Arabic. ‘House of Bread’ is meaningful to Christians who believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life. For Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the Eucharist (the bread shared in Communion) after consecration is the real body of Jesus.
'I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh' John 6:51

Not far away is Rachel’s Tomb, revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Rachel was Jacob’s most beloved wife and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
“So Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, at Bethlehem.” Gen 35:19

Ruth, the Moabite Woman
We also read of Bethlehem in Scripture in the Book of Ruth, a story that takes place during the time of the Judges. Ruth, a Moabite woman, was the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Naomi and her husband had fled Bethlehem in the land of Judah during a famine. After her husband and sons died, Naomi returned to Bethlehem and Ruth went with her, accepting her mother-in-law’s country and God as her own. Ruth married again, this time to an important landowner of Bethlehem, Boaz, and they became the ancestors of King David and eventually, Jesus.
“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife ... and she bore a son ... and they named him Obed. This was the father of David’s father, Jesse.” Ruth 4:13 ff
The City of David
Bethlehem was King David’s birthplace and is called ‘The city of David’. David was the second King of Israel in c.1000 BC.
“David was the son of an Ephrathite from Bethlehem of Judah whose name was Jesse.” I Sam 17:12

Years later, the prophet Micah, who lived in the 8th century BC, prophesied that a ruler would be born in the small, and by then, unimportant town of Bethlehem.
“But you Bethlehem, Ephrath, the least of all the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel.” Micah 5:2

Birthplace of Jesus
The Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, report that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth in Galilee, in the north. The Romans had called for a census and everyone was to travel to his ancestral city to be registered.
“So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” Luke 2:3
Two Church Fathers attest to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Justin Martyr (c. 100- 165 AD) and Origen (185-c.254).
“Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth Christ and placed Him in a manger and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.” Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho. chapter LXXVIII)
“In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians.” (Origen Contra Celsum. book I, chapter LI)

The Church of the Holy Nativity
St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, travelled to the Holy Land to find places which had been significant in the life of Jesus. She had the grotto, where people said Jesus had been born, made into a chapel and in AD 333 construction was completed on the basilica. This structure was destroyed by fire in AD529 during the Samaritan Revolt and the present Basilica was built in AD565. The entrance to the Basilica is a very low doorway known as the Door of Humility. Some say that the real purpose of the low door was to prevent enemies riding their horses into the sacred place,
The actual place that is believed to be the site of Jesus' birth is marked by a 14-point silver star set in marble on which are written the words Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus est (Here the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ). The Church is now administered by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscans) and Armenian Apostolic authorities and is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world.
Bethlehem Today
Today the town of Bethlehem is under the control of The Palestinian Authority and has been since 1995. The present mayor is a Christian woman, Vera Baboun. Both Christians and Muslims count themselves as Palestinian but the majority are Arab Muslims. Many of the Christian Arabs have left in the past few years depleting the population of Christians. The total population of Bethlehem is 27,000.
Citizens of Bethlehem, including Muslims, depend on tourism and Christian pilgrimages for their livelihood.

Sources
The New Jerusalem Bible New York: Doubleday & company, Inc. 1970.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.
Website of BBC News Church with a Turbulent History. 4 April 2002. Accessed December 14, 2010.
Website of New Advent – Catholic Encyclopedia. article on Bethlehem accessed December 15, 2010.
Website of Wikipedia – article on Bethlehem. accessed December 15, 2010.
Terra Sancta, Documentary (2009) by the Franciscan Media Centre aired on Salt and Light Television, December 17, 2013.
Photos by L. Shelstad

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Immaculate Conception: what does it mean?


Meeting at the Golden Gate, Giotto.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8, is often confused with the Virgin Birth. What does it mean?
Some think that the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. Jesus being conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary without a human father is known as the Virgin Birth, not the Immaculate Conception.
Neither does the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception mean that Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit or that her own birth was a ‘virgin birth’. In the 4th century there was a popular belief that Mary’s birth was a virgin birth and in the 16th century the belief that she was born of the Holy Spirit circulated. The Church condemned both of these beliefs as error in 1677.
The famous painting, “The Meeting at the Golden Gate”, by Giotto, depicts Joachim kissing his wife, Anna as they celebrate the knowledge that they will be parents. Some interpreted the kiss as the moment of conception. The actual Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not say anything about the generative act of Mary’s mother and father. Most theologians, today, believe that Mary was conceived in the usual manner.

In the proclamation, Ineffabilis Deus of December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as follows: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was from the first moment of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted of almighty God, and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”

Some object to the doctrine because it seems to contradict St. Paul who says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Did Paul mean that everyone actually commits sins - even infants? Or could he have meant that everyone is subject to original sin, which then does not contradict the fact of Mary’s being preserved from original sin.
Examining the doctrine of the Catholic Church more closely, we see that like all descendants of Adam, Mary by her humanity, was subject to original sin. Because she was to be the mother of the Christ, God intervened in a special way and preserved her soul from the stain of that sin and its consequences. This intervention was ‘in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race”. Mary was then, saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, as are all believers, but in ‘anticipation’ of those events. She said, ‘yes’ to God and accepted His will for her life. Because she was redeemed by Christ, she could declare in her Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in Christ, my Saviour” (Luke 1:47).

The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary, "Hail, Mary, full of grace", (Luke 1:26) is said to point to her sinlessness ie fullness of grace.

Others point out that this is a doctrine that sprang up out of nowhere when it was declared in 1854 and was not believed by the early church. An examination of the writings of the Church Fathers in the very early years of the Church will show:
- that the Church Fathers spoke of the Virgin Mary’s “exemption from defilement” (Hippolytus, “Ontt. in illud, Dominus pascit me”) Hippolytus ?-AD236
-that she was “worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate” (Origen, “Homily i, in diversa”) Origen AD185-254
-that she was “immune through grace from every stain of sin (Ambrose, “Sermon xxii in Psalm cxviii). Ambrose c. AD337-397.
The theologian, Duns Scotus, developed the idea: "Decuit, potuit, ergo fecit, it was becoming that the Mother of the Redeemer should have been free from the power of sin and from the first moment of her existence; God could give her this privilege, therefore He gave it to her".
We see from this small sample of early theologians, that the doctrine of Mary’s preservation from sin was believed very early in the Church.
Early writers also referred to Mary as the ‘Second Eve’. Eve was created without original sin but sinned when she disobeyed God. Like Eve, Mary was without original sin, but unlike Eve, Mary agreed to do God’s will. She is the fulfillment of the proto-evangelium in Genesis 3:15 -16 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head while you strike at his heel.”


In the Catholic Church, Dogmas are defined when there is a controversy over them or when emphasis of a belief already in existence will help the faithful. In other words the belief is not new but is ‘defined’. In the case of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, there was no controversy at the time it was defined, but Pius IX felt it would help the faithful by inspiring devotion to the Virgin.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brother Andre: The Humble Doorman


St. Joseph's Oratory Montreal, Quebec.

In Montreal's district of Côte-des-Neiges, The Oratory of St. Joseph rises on the north slope of Mount Royal. Its construction began in 1924, but it was not inaugurated until March 19, 1955.
At 124 m., it is higher than both St. Paul's in London (111 m) and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (90 m). In 2005 the Oratory was added to the List of National Historic Sites of Canada on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. But the story of the man behind the Oratory is even more amazing.
Alfred Bessette's Early Life
Alfred Bessette was born August 9, 1845 in Saint-Grégoire d'Iberville, a small town southeast of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was the eighth child in a family of twelve and both his parents died when he was still a child. Little Alfred, now an orphan, found work in villages nearby and later went to work in the mills of New England.
After returning to Canada in 1867 (the year of Canada's Confederation) he joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross. At first, the Congregation, a teaching order, was somewhat reluctant to accept the frail and uneducated Alfred but in the end they did. He took the name of Brother André and was given the job of doorman (or porter) at Notre Dame College. He also rang the school bells and helped in the laundry and the infirmary. Throughout his life he suffered from stomach pains and was unable to eat much of the food served at the school but he never complained.
A Doorman at Notre Dame College
As a doorman he had the opportunity to meet many people and when talking to them they often gave him prayer requests. He would lay these prayers before St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary's husband, and many were cured of their illnesses. Brother André became well-known because of these cures even though he insisted, "It is not me, God is responsible, Saint Joseph is responsible."
The Chapel is Built
In 1904 Brother André and his friends built a small chapel across the street from the College in honour of St. Joseph. For twenty-five years Brother André received visitors in his tiny office connected to the chapel. The chapel and Brother André's room nearby are still there and are visited by over two million people each year.
Construction of the Basilica
Eventually the chapel was too small for the daily stream of sick and needy people coming to see the doorman for prayer. After several expansions of the chapel, work on a crypt was begun and in 1924 workers began to construct the basilica.
When the Depression hit in 1936, many felt the work should be stopped. Brother André, however, declared that, since it was not his work but that of St. Joseph, they should place the statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished shrine. "If he wishes to be covered, he'll take care of it." In two months people had given enough money to continue construction.
Brother Andre's Death
Brother André died two months later on January 6, 1937 and nearly a million people lined up to pay respects to the little doorman of Notre Dame College.
Canonization
In 1978, Brother André was declared venerable and in 1982, Pope John Paul II declared him blessed. On October 17, 2010 the 'humble doorman' was canonized (the final step of sainthood) by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.
Sources
Dubuc, Jean-Guy Brother André and Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal. Strasboug, France: Editions du Signe. 1995.
Turcotte, Jean-Claude Cardinal. Montreal's Porter and Heaven's Gatekeeper. in Lampstand. Toronto: Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Fall, 2010.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Woman's Right to Her Own Body

If a woman has a right to her own body, which of the actions below does a woman have a right to do? Is it legal (in your country)? Does it only affect the woman herself or does it harm others?


- use heroin?




- not use a seatbelt when driving?


- wear a hijab?




- abort her baby?





Using heroin is destructive to your body but does it hurt anyone else? It can be harmful to others if you encourage others to use heroin or sell it to others, you steal to support the habit or you drive when you are high and kill someone. But most of all you hurt yourself. However, in most countries, using heroin is illegal and rightly so.

Not wearing a seatbelt when you are driving is also illegal in many countries. It is illegal in Canada to drive a car and not have your seatbelt on. But if you are in an accident and you aren't wearing a seatbelt and you get hurt or are killed - you only did damage to yourself. No one else (except those who love you) was hurt by you not wearing a seatbelt. And yet it is illegal to do so and rightly so.

What about wearing a hijab or scarf? It seems many people get very upset about women wearing a hijab even though it harms no one. If a woman covers her face and cannot be seen it could be argued that this is a security risk - she could not be identified after a crime, for example. The argument that a weapon could be hidden while wearing a hijab does not hold water because you could hide a weapon under a cap or hat more easily than a light scarf. And non-Muslim women wear scarves that are not the hjiab. Covering one's head is something that both women and men do in cold weather and there is no uproar about it. Some argue that women may not want to wear a hijab and are forced to do so by their father or husband. They should be free not to wear a hijab but we would have to admit that there are women who do want to wear it. There are also women who are forced to do other culturally based actions by other people that they may not choose to do on their own. If women can wear a hijab it should follow that women for whom this is not part of their faith should be free of not having to cover their heads - even in countries where they are a minority.
What about having an abortion? It is true that women should be free to do what they want with their own bodies. However a baby in utero is not part of a woman's body. The baby is dependent on the mother's body but it is not part of the mother's body. The baby may have a different blood type than the mother and the baby has a unique DNA. Having an abortion is, in many countries, legal. Of all these examples it is the only one that does harm to another. And yet it is legal.



Strange, isn't it?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan Martyrs

The White Fathers, a congregation of priests from Europe, began to preach the Christian faith in Uganda in 1879. They were received peacefully by King Mutesa, the ruler of Uganda. A number of young men who were pages in the King’s court believed in Jesus and the priests began preparing them for baptism by teaching them the Christian faith.

It was during this time that King Mutesa died and his son, Mwanga, became king. Mwanga was a man of corrupt morals who used the young pages for his sexual pleasure. Joseph Mukasa, the chief page who was a Catholic, tried desperately to protect the young pages in his care from the king. At this time King Mwanga had a visiting Anglican Bishop murdered and Joseph Mukasa denounced the King’s action and was beheaded for his bravery on November 15, 1885.

Charles Lwanga, who was 25 years old, was appointed Chief Page in Mukasa’s place. Lwanga was a dedicated Christian and protected the boys from the King just as Mukasa had done. On the night that Mukasa was killed Lwanga and others went to the White Fathers to ask for baptism as they knew their lives would be in danger. In the following week another 100 boys were baptized.

When King Mwanga learned that fifteen of the pages were studying the Catholic catechism he was furious. He lined them up and asked those who were Christians to step forward and fifteen boys, ages 13 to 25 came forward. When the King asked if they would recant or keep their faith they answered, “Until death.” Their hands were bound and they were taken to Namugongo a two day walk away. One of the boys cried out, “God will rescue me. But you will not see how because he will take my soul and leave only my body.” The men cut him to pieces and left his body on the road.
On the Feast of the Ascension, June 3, 1886 Charles Lwanga was taken and burned at the stake. Just before he died he cried out, “My God!”
King Mwanga continued to persecute Christians and 100 more people, Catholics and Protestants, were tortured and killed.

Charles Lwanga and his companions were beatified in 1920 and canonized in 1964 by Pope Paul VI. Charles Lwanga is the patron saint of African Catholic Youth Action.

Today 41.9% of Ugandans are Roman Catholic, 35.9% are Anglican, 4.6% are Pentecostals and 12.1% are Muslim. The remaining belong to other Protestant denominations or tribal religions. (nationmaster.com)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

St. Thomas More: A Man For All Seasons





Thomas More was born in London, England on February 7, 1477, the only son of Sir John More, barrister and judge and his wife, Agnes. When he was thirteen years old, More went to live in the household of Cardinal Morton, who was then the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop noticed his young protégée's superior intellect and sent him to study at Oxford. In 1494 he began to study law.
More considered entering the priesthood but discerned he was not called to the priesthood when he realized that he desired married life. At the age of 28 he married Jane Colte with whom he had three daughters and one son. In 1511, when the children were still very young, Jane died. Soon after More married a widow, Alice Middleton, who was seven years older than him. It was said that she was 'without beauty or education' but she was devoted to the children and More and the marriage seemed to have been a happy one.
More's fame as a lawyer grew and he was chosen by Cardinal Wolsey to go to Flanders to protect the interests of the English merchants there. It was during this time that he began to write his most famous book, Utopia, which was published in 1516.
In October, 1529, More succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Chancellor of England, a post never before held by a layman. King Henry VIII considered More his friend and would often visit him at his home in Chelsea. He enjoyed More's conversation and admired his character.
Shortly after his first speech as chancellor in 1529, a royal proclamation ordered the clergy to acknowledge Henry as 'Supreme Head of the Church' in England. More resigned his post and firmly opposed Henry's divorce (which had been prohibited by the Pope) and as well as his usurping the role of the Pope as Head of the Church.
Shortly after Henry's marriage to Ann Boleyn in 1533, the Act of Succession was passed and persons of the court and parliament were required to take an oath that the children of Henry and Anne would be the legitimate heirs to the throne. This ignored Mary, the daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon, who had remained a faithful Catholic, as a legitimate heir to the English throne. More refused to take the oath and to acknowledge the King as the head of the Church and was consequently sent to the Tower of London. While there he continued to joke with his family and friends when they were allowed to visit but when he was alone he spent his time in prayer.
On July 1, 1535, More was indicted for high treason and perjury at Westminster Hall. Although he denied the charges, he was found guilty and was beheaded on Tower Hill July 6, 1535.
His last words were, "I die the King's servant, but God's first." He is one of several Patron Saints of lawyers and politicians.
Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn, was raised a Protestant and eventually became Queen Elizabeth and head of the Church of England. Although she is remembered as ‘Good Queen Bess’ she had many Catholic priests hunted down and killed for celebrating the forbidden Catholic Mass. Mary for a short time was also Queen and because she had Protestant noblemen killed is known as ‘Bloody Mary’.
The story of Thomas More's life has been excellently told in the movie, A Man for all Seasons (1966), starring Paul Scofield as More. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann. The film won six Academy Awards.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Korean Martyrs: The Seed of the Church

Tertullian wrote in AD197, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Nowhere is this truer than in Korea.

Missions in Asia
When Franciscan and Dominican missionaries went to China in the 13th century, they found that some Chinese were already familiar with the Christian gospel as Nestorian Christians had come in the 7th century. Nestorius taught that there were two separate natures of Christ (human and divine) and Nestorianism was condemned as heresy at the First Council of Ephesus (AD431) and at the Council of Chalcedon in AD451. From then on Nestorius broke with the rest of the Christian Church.
Roman Catholic missionaries, including St. Francis Xavier, went to Japan in 1549 to take the Gospel to the Japanese people. And in Thailand priests who came with Portuguese traders began to teach the Christian religion in the 16th century. In Viet Nam and Cambodia Catholicism was brought by French colonists and priests accompanying them.
Christianity Comes to Korea
It is odd then that by the 16th century no missionaries had entered nearby Korea. At this time some educated Koreans began to study Christian books that had been brought from China. Through their search for truth many of these believed and became Christian. They gathered in house churches without the presence of any priests or other religious teachers. These house churches were led by educated lay people of the Korean aristocratic classes. We can see that the beginning of Christianity in Korea was unusual.
In the middle of the 18th century a Chinese Catholic priest entered Korea secretly and found 4,000 Catholics there! The Christians then sent a party to Beijing to ask the Bishop to send priests to them. Two Chinese priests were sent but were not able to stay long. Almost forty years after, in 1836, missionaries from the Paris Foreign Mission society sent priests to teach and give the sacraments.
Paul Yun Ji-chung (1759-1791)
In 1791 Paul Yun Ji-chung, a member of a noble family, converted to Christianity through the witness of his cousin. Other members of his family became Christians as well. When Paul’s mother died Paul followed her wishes that she be buried according to Catholic rites rather than the traditional Confucian rite. When investigated and arrested by authorities, Paul refused to deny his newfound faith. This brought about the first of persecutions of Christians in Korea. Paul Yun Ji-ching was the first member of an aristocratic class to be martyred for his Christian beliefs. Other members of the nobility were killed along with him. They were the first generation of Korean Christians.
Kim Taegon Andrea (1821-1846)
Saint Kim Taegon Andrea (1821-1846), known in English as St. Andrew Kim, was the first Korean-born Catholic priest. Kim’s parents were converts and Kim was baptized at age 15. Later he went to study at a seminary in Macau and also spent some time in the Philippines. After nine years of study he was ordained in Shanghai, China by the French Bishop there and returned to his homeland to evangelize.
The Josean Dynasty, which was Confucian, was in power and persecuted Christians. Many were martyred during this time. This new learning was said to undermine the teachings of Confucious especially the divisions of class and it was seen as subversive to the state. Official documents give details of trials, sentences and means of torture to the Christians. By 1866 there were only 20,000 Catholics in Korea as 10,000 Christians had been killed in persecutions spanning over one hundred years.
Andrew Kim was tortured and beheaded at the age of 25 in 1846. He was one of several thousand Christians who were executed at that time. Eleven members of his family, including his father, were also martyred. Seventy-nine of the martyrs were beatified (recognized as Blessed) in 1925. Twenty-four martyrs were beatified in 1968 by Pope John Paul II. And on May 6, 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized (recognized as Saints) Andrew Kim and 102 of his companion martyrs. These included men and women and children.
Kim’s last words were recorded as:
"This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning.”
Catholics were not allowed to practise their faith freely in Korea until 1895.
Protestant Missions
The first Protestant missionary to Korea was Robert J. Thomas, a Welshman who was with the London Missionary Society. He arrived from China in 1865. In 1866, when attempting to re-enter Korea on an American ship, he was killed along with the entire crew of the ship.
Korean Catholics Today
The total population of South Korea in 2014 is 50.2 million: 6.6% of the population are Catholics, 19.7% are Protestants (all Protestant denominations), 23% are Buddhist and 47% claim no religion. There are 328 Catholic Schools, 40 Catholic hospitals, 513 homes for the elderly and handicapped, 35 Bishops, 4,261 priests, 516 male religious (Brothers), 9,016 female religious (Sisters) and 14,195 lay catechists.

Visit of Pope Francis
On August 16, 2014 Pope Francis beatified (declared Blessed) Paul Yun Ji-Chung and 123 companions during Asian World Youth Day Celebrations in Seoul, Korea.

20th Century Martyrs
The beatification process has been begun for priests and monks who died between 1940 an 1950 while undertaking evangelization missions. As well, John Song Hae-bung, a lay missionary, was martyred during the Korean War and thrity-six memebers of the Order of St. Benedict died in labour and prison camps between 1949-1952.

Sources

BBC news website accessed August 17, 2014

Salt and Light broadcast of the Mass For Beatification of the 124 Korean Martyrs. August 16, 2014.

Vatican Insider website accessed August 17, 2014
http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/corea-del-sud-corea-del-sur-south-korea-martiri-martires-martyrs-31931/

Wikipedia website. Paul Yun Ji-chung. accessed August 17, 2014.
Wikipedia website. Robert J. Thomas. accessed August 17, 2014.