Monday, December 26, 2016

Joy To The World!

"Joy To The World" is a traditional and popular Christmas carol. The lyrics to the carol were first published in 1719. The music is attributed either to George Frideric Handel or Lowell Mason. In either case, the musical origins are likely from the late 18th/early 19th centuries.

Current performances of this carol reflect it's musical heritage. It is frequently sung by formal choirs with sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, or informal choirs made up of a group of friends or neighbors. The formal choir performances are often accompanied by orchestras. These performance characteristics expectedly imbue the carol with a 19th century feel. Though quite beautiful and stirring, these renditions are not exciting, in this writer's opinion.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Come, Come, Emmanuel!

The days leading up to Christmas are a time of reflection and anticipation for Christians around the globe.  Christians are looking forward to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In many ways Christians adults become child-like in their excitement. It's not the excitement of getting that new toy you asked Santa for, but an excitement for the joy and hope that Jesus brings into this fallen world. It's a mature excitement. It's a chance to reflect on the errors of the past year and to commit to start again, with a rebirth of Christian faith, hope and love.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Come Let Us Adore Him

Christmas is a time for joy and gifts. It's a time to enjoy the company of relatives and friends, especially if they live far from you. It's a time for a traditional Christmas turkey (or goose, or duck, or ham, or whatever you traditionally eat for Christmas). It's a time a children ripping open the wrappings of their gifts, to see what Santa gave them.

But for Christians, Christmas is oh so much more than that. It is one of the holiest times of the year. It's the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our King. It's a time to reflect on the past year, good and bad. It's a time to look to the future, a rebirth of our commitment to Jesus.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

One Step Away

Temptations take many forms. Some are quite overt, as in viewing people as objects to satisfy our pleasures instead of as children of God, the sin of lust. Or, being so jealous of others and whatever they have, that we wish they would lose their material and/or spiritual gifts, the sin of envy. There is also wrath, flying into an uncontrolled rage to the extent of wishing or imposing physical harm on someone else.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: One Minute Aquinas

About a year or so ago, I became interested in understanding the writings of Thomas Aquinas. I saw that his seminal work Summa Theologica is a 26-volume set which I chose not to purchase. Instead I bought Shorter Summa. I started reading it maybe three or four times, each time getting a little farther, but soon becoming overwhelmed by the depth of St. Thomas's thoughts.

In one of his Word On Fire podcasts, Bishop Robert Barron discusses Thomas Aquinas. Bishop Barron explained the layout of the Summa Theologica, stating that it was composed of written answers to questions that St. Thomas had received in the many question and answer groups in which he participated. The first part of the Summa deals with Sacred Doctrine and God; the second part is concerned with man, sin and grace; the third part with Jesus's Incarnation and life, and the sacraments. The show notes page for Bishop Barron's podcast also contains links to several books that he recommended to assist in understanding the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have not yet read any of those books; however, I have read The One-Minute Aquinas, a book that I received as a present.

The One-Minute Aquinas (Kevin Vost, PsyD, Sophia Institute Press) presents an overview and a simplification of the Summa Theologica. Like the Summa, it is broken down into three parts: God, man, and Jesus Christ. However, it it presented in a different order: man is presented first, then God, and finally Jesus Christ. Dr. Vost states early in the book that read the Summa in the order in his book, not the original order of the Summa. In the author's opinion, this order makes for an easier understanding of this great work.

Each section begins with a theme addressed in the Summa, followed by a listing of the original sections in the Summma where the questions which generated the theme were discussed. Each of these mini-chapters, as it were, are short, generally about three pages (hence the name 'one-minute'). The author distills and summarizes Saint Thomas responses, and discusses interpretations of the response to clarify what was being said. Breaking the Summa into these shorter bites allows one to read one or a few in a sitting, then contemplate their meaning.

As an example, the first question is 'What Do We All Want? Happiness'. Here, St. Thomas has explained that we all want happiness, and that there are two kinds of happiness: imperfect happiness here on earth, and perfect happiness consisting of the beatific vision of God in heaven. This part of the book then continues to discuss the soul and its eleven passions, virtue, vice and sin, and grace.

The second part of The One-Minute Aquinas discusses God. The first question in this second part describes what St. Thomas wrote as to how we should think about God. The book proceeds to clarify that God exists, what God is and is not, and the Blessed Trinity. The final part is about 'Who Is Christ?'. It explains why God became man, Christs' life and what made it perfect, and the sacraments.

Scattered throughout the book are 'Dumb Ox' boxes. St. Thomas was a large man, with a quiet demeanor. This caused the other students in the University of Paris to call him the 'dumb ox' from Sicily. The 'Dumb Ox' boxes are St. Thomas's answers to questions that you may have had regarding life, such as 'Is It A Sin To Love Wine?' (Dumb Ox Box #2).

I found the book to be a great resource. I read it twice, in an effort to better understand Saint Thomas's viewpoint. The One-Minute Aquinas has given me the background to be more confident about reading and understanding The Shorter Summa. From there, I may even tackle the Summa Theologia.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Behold! The Lamb Of God!

I have attended Mass in probably 25 to 30 different Catholic churches over the past 35 years, including the Basilica in Rome when the Pope celebrated Mass. The churches have been in several different countries, as well as across the US. I've heard Mass in Spanish, Italian, the Queen's English and, of course, American English. There have been probably 60 different celebrants, with voices that ranged from almost inaudible to booming movie-themed god-like.

Why am I telling you this? Because among all of these celebrants, there is only one that really vocally impressed on me the fact that Jesus Christ is present in the host. What did he do? you ask. Here it is:

When most celebrants of the Mass hold up the host just before Communion, they say "Behold the Lamb of God" in a manner much as they have spoken the rest of the Mass. It is a conversational sentence. It sounds like a standard prayer. However, when this one particular priest (and I'm sorry I don't even remember his name) held up the host, he proclaimed (not said) "BEHOLD!! (pause) THE LAMB OF GOD!" (pause). Take a minute and envision how he said those words. 
The way that he proclaimed the words drew everyone's attention to the altar, whether they were previously paying attention or not. I was half expecting a light to shine down on the host from heaven. It was as if he was a court crier, announcing the entrance of the king – and he was, the King of kings, the Lord of lords. He was declaring, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus Christ was present in the host.

As I reflected on the way he spoke, no declared, those words, I thought that, in some ways, it’s too bad that all celebrants don’t use that type of emphasis on those words. Many of us, occasionally or frequently, attend Mass but don’t attend to Mass. We sit in the pews, absently reciting the prayers, half-listening to the homilies. We forget that we are celebrating Mass. Yes, it is a celebration, not just a requirement to be met or a box to be checked weekly. We don’t enter in to the full meaning of this great celebration: a time to reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yes, sometimes we have to be shaken out of our stupors and the distractions and problems of our everyday lives. Calling our attention to the fact that The Lamb Of God, Jesus Christ, is present during Mass may just help us to remember the truth.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Book Review: Encountering The Manuscripts

I never gave much thought as to how the New Testament came to be written. I had assumed that someone carefully compiled the various writings sometime in the late 1st century, and that an intact New Testament existed from that time. That being said, I was frequently confused by footnotes in my study Bible such as “Not found in most reliable manuscripts” or “scribal addition”. What did these footnotes mean in relation to the Bible? These questions and more were answered by the book “Encountering The Manuscripts” by Philip Comfort.

This book is a combination of biblical history and interpretation, and the study of the evaluation of the text of the various manuscripts in an attempt to discern the original wording of the Greek New Testament. It is a fact-based book, packed with information. I personally read this on a Kindle, which I found to be somewhat difficult due to the many pictures of portions of Greek manuscripts which are included as education for students studying these manuscripts. While the presentation is somewhat clearer on the computer-based Kindle app, I would expect the best presentation to be found in a physical book.

Encountering The Manuscripts begins with a background on manuscript production in the early Church. This chapter provides a critical basis for the remainder of the book. For example, it explains that a primary route of information transmission in the first century (and before) was oral. (This fact alone explains the text in Deuteronomy 6:4-7 instructing parents to repeat “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” to their children continually.) Thus, believers were first presented with the oral proclamation, which was followed by written documents. Rereading the Gospels and Epistles with this in mind clarifies some of the wordings found in these writings, for example Luke 1:1-4. The first chapter also contains information as to how the writings were produced (the Apostles did not necessarily actually physically record their teachings), how they were approved by the  creator, and the presence or absence of Nomina Sacra (for example IHC for Jesus).

In subsequent chapters, there is a listing and explanation of which manuscripts (from the Greek) and printed editions (interpretations of the manuscripts) the author considers to be significant. It is here where one finds that, with few exceptions, no extant manuscripts exist. The various books of the New Testament were assembled and interpreted from fragments of manuscripts (some containing only a few words) which were found scattered across the region from Italy to Egypt. This was eye-opening to me, and revealed some of the difficulties that have been encountered in the mere act of assembling the New Testament.

A further chapter describes the history and use of the Nomina Sacra, and how various scribes and writers incorporated them into their manuscripts. The author details that some of the Nomina Sacra were quite universal, while others may have been used by only one or a few scribes. As well as scribal variants, variants also existed across time. In addition to the Nomina Sacra changing with with time, the actual Greek writing varied depending on the particular time period of the writing. These variations presented both an opportunity and a curse. The various styles of writing assisted in assigning the dates that the particular manuscript was actually produced. However, the variations in the text increased the difficulties unraveling the original wordings of the original manuscripts.

The author ends the book describing the various approaches that are taken to get at the original wording. As with most fields of inquiry, there are many approaches and, while individual investigators may favor one or another, frequently multiple approaches are needed to extract the desired information. Philip Comfort strove to present the various approaches faithfully, though he did express his opinion as to the best way to approach dating of the manuscripts and reconstructing the original documents. Being no means an expert in the field, I could only rely on the author’s insights and experience to guide me here.

In addition to his writings, the author has included pictures of the manuscripts in an effort to highlight his points, and to accentuate the difficulties faced by those studying the manuscripts. If one studied these examples, one can see pretty clearly the detail that the students of ancient text must comprehend and know in order to be effective in their task. One also has the opportunity to see what types of information is available for the study, from small fragments up to several page manuscripts. The incorporation of these images was not only invaluable to students, but they also presented the layman with challenges faced by those studying the manuscripts.

I found the book overall to be fascinating and quite informative, though somewhat dry in places. As a student, this book would seem to be a valuable resource in the study of the manuscripts. As a lay person, as I said, some parts were dry. But the book did give me an new appreciation for the mere fact that we have a Bible. It also provided much insight as to the history of information transmission and writing as it took place some 2000 years ago. One can only have respect for those who can piece together these partial jigsaw puzzles into a coherent message.