Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Link - Bishops Urge Caution Regarding Girl Scouts

Bishops Urge Caution Regarding Girl Scouts

There have been concerns in Christian circles regarding the Girl Scouts for years (and more recently, the Boy Scouts, as well).  The bishops have recently released a statement urging caution.  While the bishops showed great charity with their statement, they also showed great prudence.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Miracles and the Saints

Miracles and the Saints

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As I considered this post, I thought, “What can I say about the canonization of our two newest Saints?”  Certainly, I could speak about the men themselves forever, but what could I really add to the discussion that hasn’t already been said?

Then, a couple of things happened.  First, I checked my email on Yahoo.  As always, headlines of breaking “news” scrolled past on the home page before I logged in to my In-box.  It occurred to me that by staying up to date on world affairs through Yahoo, I had recently learned that a man caught a really big fish, another man was really happy to become a grandpa, and some family cut their cable and has decided to start streaming their television from the Internet.

In the midst of these current events, I had also been asked a question by one of my students: “Why don’t miracles happen anymore like they used to in the Bible?”

Then I realized what I could write about.  To become a canonized Saint, besides living a life of heroic virtue, two verified miracles attributed to the Saint after his or her death are needed.  Without question, the heroic virtue of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII are the important elements of their lives, upon which their great achievements, as well as their miracles depend.  It is not the miracles that put them in Heaven to be used by God, but their openness to His Grace, manifested in a life of holiness.

However, since we generally can not know for certain whether a person is in Heaven, the miracles are seen as confirmation.  The Church, of course, investigates every alleged miracle thoroughly, and will only acknowledge those that can have no natural explanation.  Without question, there are many miracles the Church will not officially declare due to another possible explanation, however remote the likelihood of it.

Shortly after his death, a French religious community prayed for Pope John Paul II’s intercession on behalf of one of their sisters, who was dying from Parkinson’s Disease, the same ailment the late pope had died from.  The 47 year-old sister woke up completely healed.

More recently, a woman in Costa Rica had been told by her doctors, after suffering a brain aneurism, that she had only days to live.  She prayed for John Paul’s intercession and was miraculously cured.

If you frequented Catholic news sites or radio stations, you may have heard these stories, but most people to this day never have.  Pope Francis dispensed with the requirement for Pope John, who was canonized with only one approved miracle.

My point, however, is that even with the canonizations upcoming, here are three bona fide miracles that have gone essentially totally unreported by the secular press.  And these are not alone.  Miracles, healings the sort of which we read about in the Bible, occur all the time.  A study of Catholic history (from a decent source) reveals innumerable and incredible miracles that have happened from the time of Jesus to our present day.

So why do I have students asking me why miracles never happen anymore?  You would think, for example, that if a man’s foot was crushed and scheduled for amputation, and if his wife, the day before the scheduled operation, put a holy card of a Saint in the cast and prayed for healing; and if the doctors found the leg in perfect health and did not need to remove it; that would be news.  I would expect it to be on every news show, and headlining every news Web site.

But no, an event like that is completely ignored, to make room, perhaps, for a story about a family who has decided to give up cable television.

Our Faith should not need signs and miracles to sustain it, but God gives us these great gifts, presumably, for a reason.  They are a great display of His great power, and in many ways, the continuation of Jesus’s life and ministry.  They also confound atheists and contradict the current materialistic dominant world view.

We wouldn’t want miracles to become the center of our Faith, or turn the humble servants of God into televangelists, but they are a part of our Christian reality.  We should share them with our children, and our atheist friends.  And we should thank God for using them to raise heroes of the Faith to the altar, so that we can have sure role models and intercessors as we strive to follow Jesus more closely.

Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us!

Monday, April 21, 2014

He is Risen!

He is Risen!

Happy Easter!  Jesus is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!  As Christians, we recognize that the Resurrection is the culmination of the Paschal Mystery, the central event of human history.  It is Jesus’s victory over death, the firstfruits of the resurrection of ourselves to everlasting life.  It is also the ultimate sign testifying to Jesus Christ.  The Resurrection proves undeniably that Jesus is who He says He is.
One of the disappointing (but not unexpected) things I saw this Easter was the prominence on Holy Saturday of television programming themed: “Who Really Was Jesus?” and, “The Lost Gospel of Judas.”  These sacred days are never lost opportunities for our pagan culture to revel in blasphemy.  Of course, one reality that our culture has no real answer for is the Resurrection.  As we witness to our atheist or pagan family, friends, neighbors and coworkers this Easter season, the Resurrection is a challenge we can pose to them that demands an answer because, as I said above, if the Resurrection is true, then Jesus is who He says He is.  In this article, I intend to show that the Resurrection is more than simply an article of faith; it is a historically verifiable fact.
To deny the Resurrection, one has to account for four historical realities: 1) Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried; 2) His tomb was empty within days of His burial; 3) Numerous people testified to seeing Him alive again; 4) The Church, which was built on the hope of the Resurrection, became the most powerful and enduring institution on the planet.
How do we know these four things are true?  The fourth is rather self-evident, but the first three are historically verifiable as well.  First, one needs not look at the Gospels as the Word of God to recognize that they are, historically, among the most reliable documents we have from the ancient world.  There have been wonderful books and articles written about this (Lee Stroebel, among others, has done a great service in this regard).  The Gospels were written essentially by eye-witnesses of the events they report, for eyewitnesses of the events.  They were written in close proximity in time and location to the events they report, and they not only corroborate each other, but are corroborated by other ancient records.  If the subject matter was not religious, any historian would take them as the most trustworthy historical documents we possess from the ancient world.
Also, the four facts I mentioned above are reported not only by the Gospels, but by ancient Jewish sources (Josephus probably being the most famous), as well as Roman records.  They are undeniable, which leaves the skeptic with the daunting task of explaining them with something other than the Resurrection of Christ.
1)  The Death of Jesus:  No serious historian disputes this.  We have as much evidence and detail about this event as basically anything that occurred in the ancient world.  There are only two theories I know of that have ever been advanced to try and question it and both are ridiculous.  The “Swoon theory” suggests that Jesus didn’t really die on the Cross; He only appeared dead, and the foolish Romans took him down and allowed Him to be buried while He was still alive.  Then, after some rest in the tomb, He revived.  The notion that the Romans, experts on torture and death, wouldn’t know that a crucified man had died is silly.  It also ignores the fact of the lance to the Heart.  Not to mention, a scourged and crucified man would not have been able to move the stone from the tomb and in that condition would never have inspired his disciples to become heroes and martyrs like the Apostles were.
The other suggestion, advanced by Muslims, is that it was actually Judas who was crucified, and God miraculously prevented people from recognizing him.  This doesn’t answer the fact that Judas was found dangling from a tree by his neck.  It also would not be a claim made by atheists, and in dialogue with Muslims, we likely wouldn’t begin with the Resurrection, but rather more fundamental issues – the nature of God, the persons of Christ and Mohammed, etc.
2)  The Empty Tomb:  If the Resurrection never occurred, it would be the easiest thing in the world to disprove – just produce the Body of Jesus.   Case closed.  Yet, it has never happened.  Why not?  Because the tomb was empty.  The empty tomb was preached almost immediately, in Jerusalem, the location of the tomb.  Again, it would be very simple to disprove.  If the tomb were not empty, no one could have preached it right down the street from it.  Anyone could check.  I imagine that couldn’t have slipped the minds of both the Jewish and Roman leaders.
The other claim is that the Body could have been stolen.  No it couldn’t have.  There was a guard set at the tomb.  How were Peter and the others going to overpower the armed guards, removed the stone, stolen the Body, and gotten away unscathed?  Impossible.  Plus, this theory ignores the witness of the Apostles.  With the exception of John, the Apostles all died as martyrs.  I’m not sure how many of you played April Fools jokes this week, but I doubt any of you would die to testify to their veracity.  James was beheaded, Peter and Andrew were crucified, Bartholomew was skinned alive!  All they would have had to do to save themselves was deny the Resurrection, yet none of them did.  They went singing to their deaths, confident of a reward in Heaven.  No possible way each of them would suffer horrific deaths for the sake of what they knew to be a fraud.
3)  Numerous accounts of witnesses seeing Jesus alive:  Not only do we have the testimony of the Gospels to this, but Josephus, as well as Roman sources, report that people reported seeing Jesus alive after His death.  These claims were made immediately, by many people.  The notion of a mass hallucination doesn’t work because of the many different people who independently reported seeing Christ.  None of these people saw Him in a dream, or while they were in a trance.  Also, none of these people really expected the Resurrection.  And again, it begs the question of the empty tomb.  St. Peter did exactly what we would expect the disciples to do when confronted with stories of the Risen Christ – he checked the tomb.  Both friends and enemies would have done so when reports of people seeing Christ arose (remember, these first claims also started in Jerusalem).  And, of course, the tomb was empty.
4) The Rise of the Church:  The Resurrection was the event that turned a dejected band of seemingly defeated men into the most powerful group on earth.  These blue-collar nobodies – 11 to start – fulfilled the commission to baptize all nations.  They built a Church that outlived the great Roman Empire, tamed the barbarian Europe that was born of the Empire’s fall, evangelized the New World, and has survived attacks from without and wickedness from within for two millennia.  Not particularly likely if the Resurrection was a hoax or a fantasy, and if the Holy Spirit were not with them.
5)  The Shroud of Turin:  One last thing worth mentioning is the Shroud of Turin.  We are not bound by faith to accept the validity of the Shroud.  But just last week, scientific tests confirmed that the Shroud dates to the time of Christ.  There are so many wonderful books that give scientific and historical details testifying to the Shroud.  The image on the Shroud not only testifies to the death of Christ, but also to His Resurrection.
As Christians, Easter is a glorious time of hope, joy, and victory.  But the Resurrection is also a powerful sign to an unbelieving world.  Having even a rudimentary grasp of the basic facts proving the Resurrection (which is all I can claim for myself) can be a wonderful tool, if not to convince others to believe, at least to get them to think.  Open a door, plant a seed, and God will work wonders.

*Please note: The term ‘pagan’ is not meant to be pejorative or an insult to any particular people.  It is only meant to express a certain spiritual reality.