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Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Jesus who laughs, dances, falls in love

I couldn't begin Holy Week without writing something about the four hour tv miniseries-movie Jesus (1999). As Cura mentioned in a recent comment, movies about Jesus can be more than mere entertainment, and this movie is so for me. It has been woven into my faith history - I watched it the Easter I first participated in the Creighton online retreat. Because of this, I think the Jesus I saw portrayed, one who's gentle, fun-loving, a bit unsure of himself and yet divine enough to raise the dead, will always be a part of how I see him.

Some of the things you'll see in this movie that you don't usually see in others of its kind - an ongoing relationship between Jesus and a still alive (for a while) Joseph, a love relationship between Jesus and Mary of Bathany (nipped in the bud), a Satan dressed in modern garb who tempts Jesus not just in the wilderness but also in the garden by showing him a future in which men kill in his name, and a Jesus who emotes ... who laughs and weeps, skips stones on the Sea of Galilee, gets ticked off, tells bad jokes, and dances the night away.

Jesus is played well by Jeremy Sisto, perhaps best known as the disturbed Billy Chenowith on the HBO series Six Feet Under. Other actors of interest in the movie are Jacqueline Bisset as Jesus' mother, Debra Messing as Mary M, and Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate.

Here's a bit below from a review of the movie by W. Barnes Tatum, Jefferson-Pilot Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Greensboro College, Greensboro, North Carolina .......


Viewers turning on their television sets and expecting to see a recognizable Jesus story have their expectations immediately challenged. Even before the title frame, three brief sequences depict cruelty wrought over the centuries "in the name of Jesus Christ:" mounted crusaders charging with drawn swords; the burning of a heretic; modern trench warfare. The viewer soon discovers that these images occur in Jesus' mind as he dreams about what will subsequently result from, or in spite of, his appearing in the first century. This flash-forward technique is later used in two imaginative encounters between Jesus and Satan, with Satan alternatively depicted as a smarmy guy in a designer suit or a beautiful woman in red.

The attention-getting opening continues through a tightly edited-series of sequences that establish the social setting for the Jesus story as well as the family context for Jesus' life. Rome rules. Jews are a subject people. Pontius Pilate arrives as Tiberius' representative in Judea. Both Herod Antipas and Caiaphas serve at the pleasure of Rome. The arbitrariness and guile of Roman rule become evident; and the issues of taxation and expropriation of property emerge as points of ongoing conflict.

Jesus himself comes from a tightly knit family threesome that includes his mother Mary and his adoptive father Joseph, but no siblings. Their extended family includes as blood relatives Lazarus, his sisters Mary and Martha, and John the Baptizer. The flash-back technique is used to communicate information about the stupendous events related to Jesus' birth and childhood ....

In the telling of this Jesus story, the filmmakers have created the character of Livio, Roman citizen and political insider, whose comment and presence facilitate the action throughout the film. They also highlight the relationship between Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in ways that reflect the later church's contrast between the blessed virgin and the penitent prostitute. But in the film itself, Jesus verbally affirms Mary Magdalene to be a "disciple," an affirmation consistent with recent scholarship ....

Lesser known texts also provide bases for scenes along the way. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, not to be confused with the Sayings Gospel of Thomas, reports an occasion when Jesus at age five makes clay pigeons that he brings to life. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, reports an incident when Pilate created controversy by bringing his Roman standards into Jerusalem. Contrary to the general tendency in the gospel passion accounts to portray Pontius Pilate as a man of keen conscience, the Gospel of Luke reports a saying by Jesus that refers to a moment when Pilate slaughtered Galilean pilgrims in the temple (Luke 13:1-5). So far as I am aware, this incident finds its way onto the screen for the first time, with the obvious intention of showing Pilate to be a man capable of brutal complicity .....

Perhaps the viewers who will have the greatest appreciation of Jesus are those who embrace "love" as the central theological and ethical category of the Christian story and who want to see within that story a fully human Jesus. This possibility leads us back to the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospel of John which opens with the claim that the divine Word has become flesh (1:1, 14).

Among the four canonical gospels, it is this fourth gospel that explicitly develops the theme of God's condescending love: God so loved the world that he gave his Son (3:16). Jesus as God's Son loved his own in the world until the end (13:1). Jesus gave to his disciples the "new commandment" that they love one another even as he loved them; and, by their love for one another, others will know them to be his disciples (13:34-35). Jesus goes on to point out that there is no greater love than dying for one's friends (15:12-13). Also, in this gospel, we are told that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha (11:3, 5); and there appear the enigmatic references to the so-called "beloved disciple" (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).

I consider this Johannine theme of love to be the subtext that often comes to the surface in the film on the lips of Jesus himself. But the second encounter between Jesus and Satan, in the garden on the night before his death, constitutes the theological center of the film that must be experienced, not just read about. Here the viewer is again confronted by flash-forwards of human inhumanity and overhears the dialogue between Satan and Jesus. Satan urges Jesus not to die in vain, since "killing for Christ will be big business through the centuries." Jesus declares: "Through me, God will reveal his love for all mankind." Later he affirms: " I'm in the hearts of men. I will die for the everlasting kindness of the human heart created by the Father, so that man will make His image shine once again. And those who want to will find in me the strength to love until the end."

Certainly, more than all its cinematic predecessors, this film goes out of its way to humanize Jesus. Not only does Jesus find himself attracted to Mary of Bethany, but he assists Joseph with carpentry work. He also loudly laments when Joseph dies, dances with verve, cries over the body of a slain Roman soldier, playfully swings children in the air, and engages his disciples in a water fight at a village well. And then there is the smile, although Jeremy Sisto's smiling face as Jesus can become as predictable as those solemn faces that have preceded him in the role, including the face of Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth. But in Jesus, the words between Satan and Jesus in the garden abide even beyond the end.


- here's a scene from the end of the film which shows Jesus still around in the present day (I will always be with you). It was cut from the American version.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


As you guys have probably noticed, I often use Wikipedia as a reference. I have my reasons - I want to cite sources that are somewhat middle of the road agenda-wise, rather than ones leaning to one side or the other, as is sometimes the case with "privatre" pages. I'm aware Wikipedia is at best a secondary source, that it can itself be slanted, and that it has a tendency to fall into the error of Wikiality - truth by consensus rather than fact :-) - yet still, one would be hard pressed to find a source that can give fairly reliable introductory-level information on subjects as diverse as the medieval Battle of Stamford Bridge and the present day science fiction tv series Stargate Atlantis.

Today I felt somewhat vindicated when I saw that Mark Goodacre, professor of New Testament studies at Duke, had this post at the NT Gateway Weblog ... In Defence of Wikipedia. Here below is most of Mark's post ...

It is becoming fashionable among academics these days to have a go at Wikipedia. This is inevitable for a variety of reasons. Academics are often behind their students in the use of new technology, and this brings about a reaction of fear. We witnessed the same thing with the advent of the world wide web in the 90s and now that fears about the academic value of internet resources has diminished, a new, narrower target has been found. It is an easy target because its open source basis makes it often apparently "unreliable". The presence of errors, curious slants and incomplete information have confirmed many academics' instinctive disapproval of the resource.

Negative reactions to the use of Wikipedia in the classroom, however, are unnecessary and should be discouraged:

(1) Fear of Wikipedia will eventually catch up on critical academics in the same way that fear of "the internet" caught up with academics who were complaining about it ten years ago. It is still recent history that some academics were forbidding students to access any internet resources in the writing of their papers. I well remember regular disparaging remarks about "the internet" taken as a whole. It is now easy for us to see that it was absurd to discourage students to use the internet and instead the way forward was (and is) to guide and interact with our students in their use of internet resources, not least given the sheer number of academic articles that are available on-line. In due course, broadsides against Wikipedia may look as absurd as broadsides against "the internet" now look.

(2) One of the strengths of Wikipedia is that it is much more up-to-date than its print counterparts. Regularly, almost always, students will find much fresher material in Wikipedia than they will in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It is also, of course, becoming ever more comprehensive.

(3) I like the fact that Wikipedia often acts as a gateway and points beyond itself. Its encouragement to all its writers to source their statements sometimes makes it more rigorous than print counterparts, which find it easier to get away with value judgements and even sleights of hand. The multi-author, multi-reader interaction that is at the heart of the whole idea of Wikipedia also helps a great deal in assuring less jaundiced viewpoints and more balance.

(4) Using Wikipedia is risky. That's often taken as a negative ("How can I rely on information found here?") rather than a positive ("How shall I assess the material I find here?"). Criticisms of Wikipedia often proceed from an inadequate model of the educational process, a kind of text book culture in which people find themselves lazily reliant on a limited number of supposedly reliable text books. The sooner that students realize that their text books too should be questioned, the sooner they will begin to learn effectively. This is especially important in the humanities, and nowhere more so than in teaching Religion, where the last thing one wants is narrow reliance on a limited number of viewpoints. It is surely essential for students to embrace the riskiness and uncertainty of our knowledge base in the area, and to avoid the reactionary and lazy temptation to close down the scope of secondary resources consulted.

(5) It is useful, in my experience, to engage with students' use of new technology and resources and not to find oneself lagging behind them. Ideally, it is good to know more than your students do about resources in your own area. Rather than making broad attacks against Wikipedia, therefore, it is far preferable to familiarize yourself with what Wikipedia has to offer in your own area and then you can recommend the best articles in Wikipedia on your area to your students. This is very straightforward to achieve. You know your own area far better than your students know it and it does not take long to assess key articles which you might want to recommend to them.

(6) Where Wikipedia falls short, think about flagging up the offending article for working on yourself or, still better, encourage your students themselves to work on the offending article and engage with them in their updating of it. They will love being involved in this kind of process and it is difficult to imagine any more useful way of getting your students thinking through the necessary issues connected with writing a good encyclopaedia article on the subject. It is a great shame that so many academics have taken the route of criticizing the existing provision rather than attempting to improve it. Do we just sit around and complain about all the existing books and articles that don't do just what we want to do, or do we try to write new ones?

I am not alone, I am happy to say, in this backlash against the negative take on Wikipedia. Last week (H.T.: Gypsy Scholar), this article appeared in the New Republic ..... Wikipedia is good for academia ......

May the backlash continue!


The Stations of the Cross

- Crucifixion from the Stations of the Cross at The Cloisters in New York City. The inscription reads, "Through the Sign of the Holy Cross, from our enemies, our God frees us." - Wikipedia

We have provided an online prayer experience, The Stations of the Cross, to help with this part of the contemplation on the passion. Perhaps we can do one or two "stations" a day, to enter more deeply into the journey of Jesus into intimacy with our suffering. The grace we desire is to experience a growing compassion with Jesus, and to know most intimately, that this is all an experience of his love, for me. ... Creighton's Online Retreat

Although the devotion of the Stations of the Cross is usually done on Good Friday, the Creighton online retreat has us do it this week. I thought I'd try to learn a little more about the Stations of the Cross before I actually do the contemplation. Here below is some of what I scavenged from Wikipedia ....


The Stations of the Cross (or Way of the Cross; in Latin, Via Crucis; also called the Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows, or simply, The Way) refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion ..... The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer to the chief scenes of Christ's sufferings and death ..... The Stations themselves are usually a series of 14 pictures or sculptures depicting the following scenes:

1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus receives the cross
3. Jesus falls the first time~
4. Jesus meets His Mother
5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
6. Veronica wipes Jesus' face with her veil
7. Jesus falls the second time~
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the Third time~
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus' body removed from the cross (Pieta)
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

- Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem. Photograph taken between 1898 and 1946. - Wikipedia

The Stations of the Cross are images of stories about the Passion and death of Jesus Christ. Most of the stories which make up the Stations were drawn from Scripture, and others, such as Saint Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, were taken from tradition. The route traditionally held to have been taken by Jesus to his death at Calvary (Golgotha) in Jerusalem is called the Via Dolorosa or the Sorrowful Way. A very early tradition developed in the Holy Land to follow the Via Dolorosa, stopping and contemplating the events of Christ's Passion at sites or Stations where tradition held that they took place. European Christians on Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands brought back the custom of remembering the Passion through various devotions as early as the 4th century ..... most trace the beginning of the specific devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi or his followers in the thirteenth century during the peak of Franciscan devotion to the crucified Jesus. During times when the Muslim occupation of the Holy Lands made Christian pilgrimage especially difficult or dangerous, the Stations were erected in the local churches as a way of bringing Jerusalem to the people ...


Creighton University has a page for the Stations of the Cross here, and they give a compelling answer to the question of why one should consider doing this emotionally difficult contemplation ...

The most important reason for reviving the practice of making the Stations of the Cross is that it is a powerful way to contemplate, and enter into, the mystery of Jesus' gift of himself to us. It takes the reflection on the passion out of my head, and makes it an imaginative exercise. It involves my senses, my experience and my emotions. To the extent I come to experience the love of Jesus for me, to that extent the gratitude I feel will be deep. Deep gratitude leads to real generosity and a desire to love as I have been loved.

* The alternative Stations of the Cross celebrated by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991.

* Images for the Stations of the Cross by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Liberation Theologist Adolfo Perez Esquivel

- The Stone of the Anointing, believed to be the place where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. It is the 13th Station of the Cross. - Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We'd Be Better Off Without Religion

That was the motion proposed at a debate sponsored by The Times and organised by Intelligence Squared at Westminster Central Hall in London last night. One of the speakers supporting the motion was Richard Dawkins, and here's how the voting went, according to Ruth Gledhill, Religion correspondent for The Times ... The first vote was 826 votes for the motion, 681 against and 364 don't knows. By the end, the voting was 1,205 for the motion, 778 against and 100 don't knows.

Here below is a little from Ruth's column about the debate ...

The motion was: 'We'd be better off without religion.' On his [Dawkins] side were Professor AC Grayling and Christopher Hitchens. Against were Baroness Julia Neuberger, Professor Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey. The incomparable Joan Bakewell was in the chair. At these debates, styled along the lines of Oxford and Cambridge debates but disappointingly less hecklesome, a vote is taken at the start and another at the end .....

Nigel Spivey, who teaches classical art and archaeology at Cambridge and Rabbi Neuberger were particularly anxious to emphasise their non-religious credentials. Julia repeatedly emphasised that she was so liberal as to be almost near to dropping off the edge, and Spivey likewise was keen to make sure we knew he was not one bit religious himself. Oh no. He was just enormously appreciative of the enormous contribution that religion had made to art and archaeology. The religious instinct was an intrinsic part of human nature, he said. It was either there because it was necessary for survival, in a Darwinian sense, or because it was an ineradicable side-product of some other essential gene. I felt here that I was a bit like a monkey, still in thrall to this strange religious gene, and Spivey was a zoo keeper, observing the phenomenon and its benefits. He had evolved to the point where he was aloof to it all himself, but he was happy to nurture and acknowledge it, especially when usefully caged in the prism of arts and architecture. Spivey actually opened the debate on the side of religion! I knew then we'd lost it .....

Not surprisingly, Dawkins had no difficulty at all destroying Spivey's argument. I suspect that they are in fact on the same side. 'Speak for yourself,' he said about the allegation that the religious gene is in us all. 'It is not a part of me. It is not a part of the great majority of my friends in universities in England and the US and elsewhere.' .... And as for Spivey's point that religion had given us the Sistine Chapel and other similar great works, Dawkins correctly pointed out that great artists painted about religion because the Church had the money to pay them. Even Hitchens was right to to note that every brick of St Peter's was paid for by a special indulgence .....

'There are very good grounds to believe there is no actual truth in the claims of religion. I rather liken it to a child with a dummy in its mouth. I do not think it a very dignified or respect-worthy posture for an adult to go around sucking a dummy for comfort,' said Dawkins, perpetuating a common but gross misunderstanding of why people need religion. Some of us, I suspect quite a lot, are not religious for comfort. It is because we need to be battered, reduced, to have our monstrous egos squashed so we can control them properly. Speaking entirely for myself here of course.

Dawkins also compared giving children a religious education to erecting in their minds a firewall against scientific truth, rather like a computer firewall against viruses. He was particularly upset about a well-known Christian geologist who had abandoned his science when it became clear it was not compatible with a literal reading of the Bible. 'He said that even if all the evidence in the world pointed against creationism, he would still be a creationist because that is what the word of God pointed him to.' Well I'd be upset if my son became a creationist but there is no chance of that, not in the Church of England at least.

Dawkins did not have to work very hard to win the argument last night ....

Interesting ... I'd like to see one of these debates sometime. Do they really change peoples' minds, as the voting results of this debate seem to show? One thing that occurs to me is that, as Ruth pointed out, the question was wether the world would be better off without religion, not better off without God. God without religion ... makes me think of that earlier post about the book Spiritual But Not Religious ... I wonder if a personal spirituality could flourish without an institutional religion as counterpoint? As to whether the world would be better off without religion, well, you can probably guess my opinion.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Feast of the Annunciation

Liam scooped me :-) and I'm a day late, but ...

- The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cartomb :-)

I saw this at Targum ....

Jon Sobrino and Karl Rahner

The Tablet has an article about Joh Sobrino SJ this week - Sobrino judgement ignites widespread anger - that discusses the large number of people around the world who disagree with the Vatican's judgement of Jon Sobrino's work.

As I'm still interested in the subject, I thought I'd look through some old issues of The Way to find any articles by Fr. Sobrino, and I came upon one ... Karl Rahner and Liberation Theology.

Here below is a bit of Fr. Jon Sobrino's article .....


During the 1970s a new Church and a new theology arose in Latin America. This article is a personal reflection on what Karl Rahner has meant for me in that context, though I hope that what I say will apply to liberation theology more broadly. I write out of the life-experience in El Salvador that has lead me to read with new eyes the theology I had previously studied, in which Rahner's work was a very important element. I am also writing out of my close personal and intellectual relationship with Ignacio Ellacuria, Rahner's student in Innsbrook between 1958 and 1962. On account of his defense of faith and justice, Ellacuria, as many will know, was murdered on 16 November 1989, along with five other Jesuits and two female workers from the university in which he taught. But we should remember that Ellacuria was not just Rahner's pupil. He took forward important ideas in Rahner's theology, as he sought to express them in his own situation and in a way appropriate for the world of the poor .....

In an interview he gave to a Spanish magazine shortly before his death, Rahner was asked what he thought about the current state of the Church. Rahner replied in terms that have proved themselves only too true: 'in gerneral, we are living through a "wintery season"'. People still quote these words as a kind of lament or protest. But Rahner added something that has, unfortunately, been forgotten: 'however, there are some parts of the Church where there is a very animated, charismatic life, one that yields hope'. He was referring to the creative new developements in churches like those of Latin America .....

And it is well known that two weeks before his death, on 16 March 1984, he wrote a letter to the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima defending Gustavo Gutierrez' theology against the charge of being unorthodox. This theology, Rahner said, was in many ways very original, because it was 'at the service of evangelization in a specific situation'. There was something in the churches of Latin America that attracted Rahner .... their rootedness in lived reality .....

An important part of the new reality emaerging from Latin America was its theology: liberation theology. I do not think that Rahner had any detailed knowledge of it, but he was certainly aware intuitively of the fundamental issues at stake and he supported it. This was by no means something to be taken for granted, other great figures of his generation, such as Jacques Maritain, Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar had no idea of how to respond to this emergent reality. Liberation theology was stammering out its insights without much profundity. It was coming from distant, unknown places, and its future was incertain .....

What struck me in Rahner's theology was was how reality itself was its foundation. The point may seem obvious, but there are theologies that start from preconceived notions in which this priciple is not often observed. Be that as it may, Rahner was outstanding in his fidelity to the real ..... liberation theology's fundimental assertion and conviction is that the poor - and God in the poor - have broken into history. The believer, the human person, has to respond to this reality, indeed correspond to it. We are charged to liberate the poor and, in Ellacuria's phrase, to take them down from their cross. Theology can no longer be the ideology that fosters oppression. None of these convictions is just the result of a theoretical argument; they come from an honest and hopeful option to let lived reality be central, to let it speak, to hear its word, to let it guide us and call forth our response .....

This reality has a mystery at its heart. God is the mystery par excellence, and the human person is the being confronted with mystery. Rahner insists that God is the Holy Mystery ..... Rahner has a deeper sense of God's mystery than other standard progressive theologians, one that is matched in liberation theology. Gutierrez places mystery, God's mystery, at the center ... The inbreaking of the poor person, and of God within them, recalls much of Rahner's account of mystery .....

I have been noting the fundamental influence of Rahner on liberation theology .... Obviously there were some significant differences. Rahner engaged the Enlightenment as represented by Kant; liberation theology engaged the Enlightenment as represented by Marx .... Moreover, liberation theology would now see important gaps in Rahner's theology .... I do not think Rahner ever came to understand Ellacuria's utopian conception of a 'civilization of poverty' in contrast to the 'civilization of wealth' that has never given life or dignity to its minoritie ... Nevertheless, we should not forget his support for the Church and the way of Christian life that was emerging in Latin America in his last years .....

Is there a liberation theology here? The answer to that is not so important. But I like what Pedro Casaldaliga, Christian, bishop and poet of liberation, wrote after Rahner's death:

'What are you doing now?'
the Pope used to ask him (inquisitorially? kindly?).
The theologian used to reply (evasively? magisterially?),
'I am preparing to live the great Encounter'.
And with eighty Aprils, well-pondered,
a hearer of the Mystery in the Word,
he plunged into the absolute future.


Come As You Are

It's said that people tend to notice things that reinforce what they already believe to be true, and subconsciously ignore things that contradict their beliefs. I think this is true for me most times, so I was surprised today when I noticed a hymn on another blog and it "spoke to me". The words of the hymn expressed an acceptance I'd normally file under the wishful thinking category where I'm concerned, because I know, with a deep "felt" knowledge, that I'm not good enough, not acceptable as I am, and never will be no matter how hard I strive, even unto the very end of time :-) But still ...

Come As You Are by Fr. Paul Gurr, O.Carm.

Come as you are. That’s how I want you.
Come as you are. Feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, Loved and forgiven,
Come as you are, Why stand alone.

No need to fear, Love sets no limits,
No need to fear, Love never ends.
Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened
Rest in my love, Trust me again.

I came to call sinners, Not just the virtuous,
I came to bring peace, Not to condemn.
Each time you fail, To live by my promise,
Why do you think I’d love you the less.

Come as you are, That’s how I love you,
Come as you are, Trust me again.
Nothing can change the love that I bear you,
All will be well, Come as you are.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Does God sign off on slavery?

- St. Peter Claver SJ

A couple of days ago on another blog, a Christian commentor stated that slavery was not inherently immoral, citing Leviticus 25:39-43.

The topic is hot now, with the movie out about abolitionait William Wilberforce, and there is an article in this week's Tablet on the subject as well - Dangers, toils and snares ... Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce introduced the parliamentary bill that eventually led to the abolition of the slave trade. But the fight is not over. If the scourge of people-trafficking is to be eradicated across the globe, anti-slavery campaigners will need patience, tenacity and faith ...

Another sign of the importance of the subject is the video made recently by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York on the slave trade (see the YouTube video below). Here's a little bit from the story in the Times Online - Archbishop of Canterbury makes YouTube debut ....

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has made his debut on YouTube. In what will be the first of many broadcasts, Dr Williams is filmed with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, at the former slave market in Zanzibar, now the Anglican Cathedral.

The two archbishops did a joint reflection on slavery during the recent Primates' Meeting in Tanzania to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK, being celebrated this year. The pair were shown two small preserved slave pits, where up to 175 men, women and children were held in appalling conditions, chained and in darkness, often without food and water. Dr Sentamu spent some time at a memorial to the slaves which features some of the original chains used when the market was operating. In the film, Dr Williams says that the experience brought home the reality of the trade ....

Given the disturbing history of Christianity and slavery, I think it's important that Christians affirm that slavery is indeed immoral. To end, below is an excerpt from a letters from Jesuit Peter Claver, one of the early opponents of slavery working in the new world. Wikipedia says of him ...

The apostle was accused of indiscreet zeal, and of having profaned the Sacraments by giving them to "creatures" deemed to scarcely possessed a soul. Indeed, many found the sense of dignity Claver was giving the slaves was a dangerous thing to do. Despite the contempt for him among the merchant and landed classes, his work which he continued until his death in 1654 was supported by the Jesuit Order. His work and writings along with others such as Bartolome de las Casas, while broadly rejected in his time laid the foundation for the eventual rejection of the institution of slavery by the Catholic Church and the European powers by the early 19th Century.

The excerpt ...

"Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We lad aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jeffrey Archer, Judas, Miracles

I noticed mention at the NT Gateway Weblog today of a novel by British politicain Jeffrey Archer - The Gospel According to Judas ...

This story is extensively reported today, but surprisingly little touched on in the biblioblogosphere. Jeffrey Archer, the notorious British popular novelist-cum-Tory-politician who recently spent time in prison for perjury, has collaborated with Francis Moloney of the Catholic University of America in a new book about Judas .... One curiosity. It is only a year since the Gospel of Judas was published, with its accompanying National Geographic documentary, but it is not referenced in any of the media pieces I have seen about the new Archer novel. I suppose it shows what short memories people have ...

And here's a liitle info from The Guardian on the book ...

The cyclical rehabilitation of Jeffrey Archer has completed another astounding turn. Following his conviction for perjury, two years in prison and another four years of more or less self-imposed exile from the media spotlight, Archer is back. Still apparently a member-in-not-very-good-standing of the House of Lords, Archer this week follows his recent thriller, False Impression, with the publication of The Gospel According to Judas: By Benjamin Iscariot, a book which, unlike its author, fairly begs to have its credentials closely examined. It is, insists Archer, not a novel but a "gospel" - it's written in numbered verses, and edged in gold leaf - and it is co-authored by an Australian Silesian scholar called Father Francis Moloney (although the title page has a slightly less generous, "with the assistance of"). It purports to be Judas's account, retold by his son Benjamin, of the betrayal of Jesus. Judas, he claims, never accepted the 30 pieces of silver, and never hanged himself. Father Moloney is on board to keep it real.

Neither the premise nor the title is particularly original, or even controversial; there are about a dozen books with the same name, and last year saw the publication of a second century Gnostic text, The Gospel Of Judas, which posits a revisionist view of the wayward disciple's culpability. It has long been suggested that if Jesus's crucifixion was the fulfilment of scripture then you can't lay all the blame at Judas's feet. Archer's latest book has, however, earned praise from an unfamiliar quarter. Thanks to Moloney's involvement it has the official approval of the Pope and the imprimatur of Archbishop Desmond Tutu - he's the voice of the audio CD (you can hear him do chapter one on Archer's own website) .....

There are some interesting things about the book ... that it's based on the Gospel of Judas that was so much in the news last year ... that it's co-authoring by Fr. Francis Moloney, who apparently had no problems with a portayal of Jesus that's somewhat contrary to the offical Church stance (Jesus as the biological son of Joseph, for example).

What might be considered most controversial about the book is that Judas is not seen as the betrayer of Jesus (no surprise here, as it's based on the Gospel of Judas), though even the Vatican has of late been up on the idea of rehabilitating Judas' image. Myself, I'm fine with giving Judas a break - I can so easily see myself making a terrible mistake of the same nature, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But what disturbs me is that Archer's book shows a Jesus who did not perform miracles ... no changing the water into wine, no walking on water, etc. :-(

I guess most christians fall somewhere along the continuum between strict naturalism (think Jefferson's Bible) and full blown supernaturalism (think CS Lewis' Miracles), and I realized that I lean very hard towards supernaturalism. Did Jesus really perform nature miracles? I can tell you what Hume or Thomas Aquinas or John Polkinghorne think, but really all they have are opinions ... ok, extremely intelligent opinions, but still :-). I can't answer the question of whther the miracles happened or not, so maybe I'll try to answer a different question ... why is it so important to me to believe that Jesus performed miracles? That will probably take a while to answer, so in the meantime, remember this poem about Judas? .....

Saint Brandan
- Matthew Arnold

Saint Brandan sails the northern main;
The brotherhood of saints are glad.
He greets them once, he sails again;
So late!—such storms!—The Saint is mad!

He heard, across the howling seas,
Chime convent-bells on wintry nights;
He saw, on spray-swept Hebrides,
Twinkle the monastery-lights;

But north, still north, Saint Brandan steer'd—
And now no bells, no convents more!
The hurtling Polar lights are near'd,
The sea without a human shore.

At last—(it was the Christmas night;
Stars shone after a day of storm)—
He sees float past an iceberg white,
And on it—Christ!—a living form.

That furtive mien, that scowling eye,
Of hair that red and tufted fell—
It is—Oh, where shall Brandan fly?—
The traitor Judas, out of hell!

Palsied with terror, Brandan sate;
The moon was bright, the iceberg near.
He hears a voice sigh humbly: "Wait!
By high permission I am here.

"One moment wait, thou holy man
On earth my crime, my death, they knew;
My name is under all men's ban—
Ah, tell them of my respite too!

"Tell them, one blessed Christmas-night—
(It was the first after I came,
Breathing self-murder, frenzy, spite,
To rue my guilt in endless flame)—

"I felt, as I in torment lay
'Mid the souls plagued by heavenly power,
An angel touch my arm, and say:
Go hence, and cool thyself an hour!

"'Ah, whence this mercy, Lord?' I said.
The Leper recollect, said he,
Who ask'd the passers-by for aid,
In Joppa, and thy charity.

"Then I remember'd how I went,
In Joppa, through the public street,
One morn when the sirocco spent
Its storms of dust with burning heat;

"And in the street a leper sate,
Shivering with fever, naked, old;
Sand raked his sores from heel to pate,
The hot wind fever'd him five-fold.

"He gazed upon me as I pass'd
And murmur'd: Help me, or I die!—
To the poor wretch my cloak I cast,
Saw him look eased, and hurried by.

"Oh, Brandan, think what grace divine,
What blessing must full goodness shower,
When fragment of it small, like mine,
Hath such inestimable power!

"Well-fed, well-clothed, well-friended, I
Did that chance act of good, that one!
Then went my way to kill and lie—
Forgot my good as soon as done.

"That germ of kindness, in the womb
Of mercy caught, did not expire;
Outlives my guilt, outlives my doom,
And friends me in the pit of fire.

"Once every year, when carols wake,
On earth, the Christmas-night's repose,
Arising from the sinner's lake,
I journey to these healing snows.

"I stanch with ice my burning breast,
With silence balm my whirling brain.
Oh, Brandan! to this hour of rest
That Joppan leper's ease was pain."—

Tears started to Saint Brandan's eyes;
He bow'd his head, he breathed a prayer—
Then look'd, and lo, the frosty skies!
The iceberg, and no Judas there!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jesuit Preaching

Despite the Jesuits' reputation as over-achievers in almost every field of endeavor, liturgy has long been an Achilles' heel ... A classic joke makes the point: "A good Jesuit liturgy is one in which no one gets hurt." - link :-)

And as James Martin SJ notes in Padre, Don't Preach, Jesuit homilies can be, well, interesting ...

Not long ago a member of my Jesuit community recalled that back in the 1960s, he and his pals initiated an informal survey designed to answer the following question: What was the worst homily or sermon ever preached? ...... The Worst Homily, he declared, was one in which the homilist turned his attention to the question of salvation ... "The death of Jesus was pre-ordained by God for our salvation," explained the homilist, "and the person who understood this better than anyone was Mary. In fact," he continued, "Mary was so intent on our salvation that, if the centurions hadn't nailed Jesus to the cross, Mary herself would have done so." ...

I doubt this is truly the rule for Jesuit preaching, but even if it were, there are exceptions ... some of the best homilies I've heard/read are archived at Jesuit Rob Marsh's blog, and to my limited knowledge, no one has yet been injured in the process of his preaching :-) Here below is one of his homilies for Lent (John 9:1-41) ......


Sunday Week 4 of Lent Year C(A)

This is our prayer today: Let us see. Let us not be blind. Dear God remove our blindness! It’s the prayer we will pray for our catechumens on their journey out of darkness to the light of Easter. But it had better be our prayer today too. For we are blind. We are blind because we can see and because seeing is such second nature to us that we think see clearly and without effort. Seeing is so easy to us that we forget we have eyes that have to work at vision and we forget that every vision is a work of imagination. William Blake condemned his contemporaries for “seeing not with, but through the eye.” As if our sight were a window out onto the world rather than a portrait painted with nuance and interpretation. We forget the brush strokes. We forget the sign.

At the beginning of today’s story blindness is a metaphor for sin but by the story’s end blindness has become innocence. To not see at all would save us. The only sin is to see but not see the sign—not see the significance of what we see. We do not see the works of God. It is not our habit. We do not see into the causes of things but content ourselves with glamour. Glamour is an interesting word. Today we celebrate it. It is the heart of Oscar night. But once the word meant a magic spell, a spell cast to hide one thing and show another—a deception, an illusion, a false identity.

This is what we pray to see through today. To see with new eyes what we have done and what God would have us do.

I woke this morning with the blind man. I was going to ask him what it was like to see but before I could get the words out he asked me a question: what is it like to be blind? I ignored him and poured my coffee. But about half way through my bran flakes he spoke again. “What do you see?” he asked me as I read the newspaper. So I gave in and tried to see the world his way. What would he see in the paper, with his fresh vision and innocent ignorance? Not words certainly—all that would be beyond him. What would he make of the pictures? So we looked together.

“Who are all these people?” he asked. They’re models mainly. People payed to look beautiful. He could see their beauty but wanted to know why they were so thin. So thin, so young, and so … moody. “Well, I suppose we like them that way.” “But they don’t look like anyone I’ve met—do you know anyone like that?” “Well not really.” “So where are the pictures of all the real people—like the ones at Church?” “Well you see we don’t put them in the ads because the ads are supposed to make us want to buy things and ordinary people don’t sell.” “They don’t sell?” “No, the idea is that we want to look like the pretty young things or at least we want some of their glamour to rub off on us.” “Does it work?” “Well no … but we still like it.” “You like what? Longing to be someone you can’t be? Yearning to have what you will never have? What?” “I don’t know.”

An Embarrassed Silence. Which I eventually broke. “Look here’s some ordinary people. It’s not all ads you know. This is a newspaper.” Faces of the hungry and old. People being arrested and the ones arresting them. Angry mouths of accusation. Smooth smiles of politicians. Quiet eyes of defeat. Guns and stones and batons. Skies and art and growing things. My blind friend was silent: watching, recognising. Until I turned the page to a large photo of children playing, dancing in a ring of held hands on bare earth against a backdrop of smoking chimneys. “What’s this?” he asked, “is it ugly or beautiful? I can’t tell.” Neither could I. It was both and neither. I read the print. “It’s a picture from a town in Mexico—Juarez—that’s a US factory making copper.” “Who are the children?” “They’re just children—the story says they are playing in a place with unsafe levels of heavy metals like copper … they’re playing on poisoned ground.” “Why? And why is a US factory in Mexico?” “Well it says it’s cheaper to smelt copper there than here because you can pay people less and you don’t have to worry about the pollution you make and that it gives jobs to the local people—mainly women—so everyone benefits.” “You mean except the children with the copper poisoning.” “Well…”

“I came into this world to divide it,” says Jesus, “to make the blind see and the seeing blind.” We see by dividing, discriminating dark from light, foreground from background, colour from colour. We see by dividing, discriminating rich from poor, hurt from healthy, just from unjust.

It is a dangerous prayer we pray today. A dangerous way we walk with Cecilia and Derek. We ask to see and we ask to become responsible for what we see. We ask for the end of our innocence and the beginning of faith.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Jon Sobrino SJ

Jeff has a great post today - A Legacy Being Buried: Jon Sobrino and Oscar Romero. I share his frustration about what seems like the demise of liberation theology. I guess we all should have seen it coming.

There's an article on the subject in The Tablet this week - Iron fist, but velvet glove. It discusses the denunciation by the CDF of Jesuit Jon Sobrino's liberation theology, and notes the Archbishop of San Salvador's decision that he cannot teach or publish until he "recitifies his conclusions."

But here below, I've instead posted part of another article in The Tablet, this one from 2000. In this article - The hand of Opus Dei in El Salvador - you can see the foreshadowing of what's now come to pass ...


Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, is revered in Latin America as a saint because of his support for the voiceless and the poor. But the civil war is over and times have changed. A lay volunteer and researcher in El Salvador assesses the policy of Romero’s successor. Standing in the rose garden of the University of Central America (UCA), where the torn and butchered bodies of the six Jesuits were found almost 11 years ago, it is hard to believe Archbishop Fernando Sáenz Lacalle of San Salvador’s declaration that liberation theology no longer has any place in his country.

Jon Sobrino, the only Jesuit theologian in the UCA not to be killed, tells me I am one of 20,000 people a year who come looking for inspiration from these martyrs, whose faces stare down from the walls. The centre itself, buzzing with activity, visitors, seminars and delegations is a far cry from the garishly restored Metropolitan Cathedral. Here, where Oscar Romero used to appeal for justice to be restored to the poor and suffering, Archbishop Sáenz’s sermons centre on individual salvation and morality. Much has changed in the eight years since the peace accords were signed; and the Salvadorean Church no longer merits the quasi-utopian haze through which outsiders still see it. The country itself is in a state of post-war flux. At one end of this city stands the UCA, at the other, the cathedral – and it is clear which is in charge .....

Under Archbishop Sáenz Lacalle, an Opus Dei man, the strategy has not been to reform liberation theology, but to undo and remove all traces of it. There are frequent denunciations of it by church leaders in the national press; bishops have withdrawn funding and support from key programmes; priests have been strategically shifted, and nuns expelled. Drastic changes have been made to the seminary curriculum, with books containing liberationist teachings banned, conservative rectors put in charge, and seminarians pulled in from pastoral outposts in poor areas. For the visitor, who inevitably has in mind Archbishop Romero’s brave pronouncements from the pulpit in the Metropolitan Cathedral, it is the sermons that most register the change. When you hear them, it is hard to realise you are in El Salvador at all.

This purge of liberation theology and all its works has gone hand in hand with the Church repositioning itself in relation to social and political actors. In light of the recent Florida trial – when two former generals admitted the army’s systematic use of torture and massacre – Archbishop Sáenz’s 1997 acceptance from the military of the title of Brigadier General says much.

According to Jon Sobrino, this apparent rejection of the recent past should not come as too great a surprise. Liberation theology from the outset had the weight of the world against it, after all, and would inevitably provoke division and conflict between Church and state. A Church that is at war with a state is not in a position to suffuse all levels of society, instead of just the poor, with the Christian faith – an objective that has taken on a new force under Pope John Paul II; while a state that is at war with the Church is hard pushed to find moral justification for its existence and policies. An end to the rift offers mutually beneficial outcomes .....


I hope that liberation theology does not disappear - it's not an easy theology to accept or act out, and I admire the nerve and the integrity it took for the Jesuits to put justice next to faith at the top of their list ...

The 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus
December 2nd, 1974 - March 7th, 1975
Decree 4:
Our Mission Today - The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice.

77 28. From all over the world where Jesuits are working, very similar and very insistent requests have been made that, by a clear decision on the part of the General Congregation, the Society should commit itself to work for the promotion of justice. Our apostolate today urgently requires that we take this decision. As apostles we are bearers of the Christian message. And at the heart of the Christian message is God revealing Himself in Christ as the Father of us all whom through the Spirit He calls to conversion. In its integrity, then, conversion means accepting that we are at one and the same time children of the Father and brothers and sisters of each other. There is no genuine conversion to the love of God without conversion to the love of neighbor and, therefore, to the demands of justice. Hence, fidelity to our apostolic mission requires that we propose the whole of Christian salvation and lead others to embrace it. Christian salvation consists in an undivided love of the Father and of the neighbor and of justice. Since evangelization is proclamation of that faith which is made operative in love of others, the promotion of justice is indispensable to it.

Decree 4 of G.C. 32 transformed the identity and ministry of the Society of Jesus
- link

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wendy Farley

From The Wounding and Healing of Desire by Wendy Farley ....

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talanted and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
- Marianna Williamson, A Return to Love, as quoted in Nelson Mandels's 1994 Inaugural Speech

* Read an interview with Wendy Farley.

Pet food recall

Just a quick note for those like me who feed their pet with canned food, and who hardly ever watch the news ...

Pet food is recalled after illness, deaths

A major manufacturer of dog and cat food recalled 60 million containers of wet food after reports of kidney failure and deaths. The pet food was sold as store brands by the Kroger Co., Safeway Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and PetSmart Inc., among others. An unknown number of cats and dogs suffered kidney failure, and about 10 died after eating the affected pet food, Menu Foods said in announcing the North American recall ... Menu Foods said brand names and lot numbers covered by the recall would be posted on today. Consumers can also call (866) 463-6738.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Bones of St. Anthony - Not!

The Temptations of St. Anthony by Bosch

Speaking of guilty pleasures, this week's DVD rental is another disc from the tv series, Poltergeist: The Legacy. You've got to love this episode, The Bones of St. Anthony, in which an archaeologist-theologian and a Navy SEAL set out on the trail of a demon from hell (literally :-) But first, to refresh your memory ...

Poltergeist: The Legacy .... tells the story of the members of a secret society .... Founded in England in the 6th century, the Legacy was established to collect dangerous artifacts, investigate paranormal menaces, and gather information on the supernatural. As the organization grew, it established branches in many of the world's major cities ... most of the action centers on the San Francisco house. The physical house is a large castle-like mansion located on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. The house uses the philanthropic Luna Foundation as a front for its investigations.

And our two main characters for this episode ...

Dr. Derek Rayne (played by Derek de Lint) - The precept of the San Francisco house. He is a brilliant scholar with a mysterious background. Derek is French and holds doctorates in archaeology and theology ..... Nick Boyle (played by Martin Cummins) - A former Navy SEAL who resigned after his commander caused the deaths of the other men in his unit. His father was a member of the Legacy before him. Nick had a brash and impulsive nature which often caused him to clash with the methodical Derek ...

The story went like this ... a nun from the Holy Order of Anchorites of St. Anthony the Great has come from Egypt to San Francisco with what she believes is a fragment of the saint's bones. A black market occult artifact dealer and an unscrupulous scientist have persuaded her to give up the fragment for its DNA ... they promise to clone St. Anthony. Little does the nun know that the fragment is not really a bone chip but instead, a particle of a horn ... a horn from one of the demons St. Anthony fought in the desert. The artifact dealer and the evil scientist know this all too well, and use the horn DNA to create a cloned demon for their own nefarious purposes.

- Derek

The demon the bad guys create escapes from the scientist's lab and begins killing innocent victims. The university which houses the lab calls in the wealthy finger-in-every-pie shell corporation, the Luna Foundation (in other words, The Legacy - Derek and Nick) for help, and they test the fragment of horn, figure out what's happened, and begin to track the creature .

Meanwhile, the nun, who wears an amulet that contains a true piece of St. Anthony's bones, is drawn to where the demon lurks in the dark, dank sub-basement under the university, believing wrongly that it is indeed the cloned saint. Will Derek and Nick find her, and the amulat that may be the only means to destroy the demon, before the creature devours her??? Sadly, no. They find her dismembered body in the tunnels of the sub-basement, sans the amulet ... the artifact dealer and scientist have already snatched it from her still warm corpse, for they've realized they can use it to control the demon.

- Nick

We follow Nick and Derek trough the dim, steamy tunnels until they come upon the shredded body of the scientist ... near his corpse lies the amulet. In the distance they hear the bestial howling of the demon and they realize it must now be tracking the artifact dealer. Derek grabs the amulet and Nick checks his pistol's magazine, and good guys that they are, they strive to find the demon before it eats the artifact dealer.

Before long they come upon the demon but they're too late to save the artifact dealer (this is a cautionary tale, after all). The demon approaches them and they stand stunned for a moment, agast at the sight of this being from the nether regions. Then they manage to get a grip ... Nick shoots the creature a few times, to no effect, and Derek curses the demon in the name of St. Anthony, who had originally bested it, and casts the amulat containing the saint's bones into the creature's gaping maw. This does the trick ... the demon convulses and dies, finally disintigrating and leaving behind the amulet.

The final scene of the episode has Derek entering a secret chamber deep under the Legacy House on Angel Island, to deposit the amulet there among other gathered religious relics and occult artifacts too dangerous to ever again see the light of day.

- The main altar of the hermitage church in Warfhuizen in the Netherlands with a mural of Anthony Abbot and a reliquary with some of his relics. - Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Spiritual Exercises, past and present

I read an interesting paper today - My Expreience of the Spiritual Exercises, by Charles L. Moutenot, S.J.

One of the things noted was the different way in which the Exercises retreat is given now than in the past. The paper cites William A. Barry SJ on what it was like to make the 30 day Spiritual Exercises retreat when he first joined the Order ... at that time it was more of a group "preached" retreat than the individually guided one of today.

Towards the end of the paper, the author discusses a variation of the Spiritual Exercises that's being given more often now, and more often to lay people - the 19th annotation retreat - a retreat in everyday life . This is like the Creighton University Online Retreat that I've mentioned in other posts, and the paper goes into some detail about this retreat.

Here below are the relevant parts of the paper ...


From those I interviewed for this talk, it seems that after the suppression the Exercises were given, at least in Jesuit formation, as a "preached" retreat. This is the way Bill Barry speaks of his experience of the Exercises in October of 1950. "The novice director gave five talks each day, giving us 'points' for the meditation or contemplation that was to follow. (Perhaps some of you were like me. I used to hope that he would talk a long time so that the time for personal prayer would be short.) We saw the novice master once or twice a week for an individual conference. I have no recollection of what happened during those conversations except that I was relieved when I left the room, much as I was relieved when confession was over. I recall feeling like a grunt in the spiritual life since I could not create the scenes in my imagination for the contemplation of the life of Christ. And yet, I do recall having moments out in the woods around Shadowbrook of great longing and love for God, moments which reminded me of similar times before I entered the novitiate. But, as far as I could tell, no one ever expected that we would talk about such moments and their meaning with the novice master, let alone anyone else. For the next 14 years of my Jesuit life I dutifully made the Spiritual Exercises for eight days each year. Again these retreats were led by a director who gave four or five talks each day as points for personal prayer. Usually retreats were given to at least 100 of us so that there was little time for individual conferences with the retreat director." (He relates that the same method was used for his tertianship). "The idea of one on one direction of the Spiritual Exercises never entered our minds during all those years. If someone had ever asked us how we thought that Ignatius gave the Exercises to the first companions in Paris, I suspect we would have presumed that he gave talks such as our novice masters, our tertian directors and our retreat directors did." Barry concludes "..., I am not assigning blame. No one knew any better. None of us were operating out of an experience based belief that God wants to engage each one of us in a personal relationship."

It is instructive to recall the forces at work in moving us away from the group, "preached" retreat to what George Ganns called the "authentic Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius" which are prevalent today ..... the Vatican II document Perfectae Caritatis was published .... "...they are to be renewed by a continuous return to the sources of all Christian life, to the spirit of the founder, and to the originating inspiration of the Institute." This return to the sources inspired and opened up the possibility for a return to the "authentic Exercises." ..... Henry Birkenhauer, tertian instructor at Colombiere College in Clarkston, Mich., wrote that a retreat master "in the sense of a man who 'preaches' a retreat, would have been meaningless to St. Ignatius. In his day, the Exercises were given to one retreatant or very few at a time; and the 'director' was a 'resource person' who briefly explained the subject on which the prayer was to be made and who offered counsel and guidance in the discernment of spirits." ......

(big snip)

Andy Alexander, S.J., Vice President for University Ministry at Creighton University and Maureen Waldrin, Director of Collaborative Ministry, coordinate a retreat in everyday life given over the Internet. The idea began two years ago when they were giving a retreat to 170 Creighton faculty for 6 weeks during Lent 1998. They began to post the Scripture readings on the web. The retreatants asked that they continue through Easter. Andy and Maureen asked why not do a retreat on the Internet inspired by the possibility of a middle annotation for our time. The 18th is for people with little ability; the 19th for people with ability but little time; the 20th for people who have both time and ability. How about people who have the ability, the desire, but who don't have the time, and whose culture is the Internet? What would Ignatius think about our use of this culture? An "online experience of the movements of the Exercises" was born. The web site gets 1000 hits a day from all over the world: an RCIA Director who adapts it for her program; a retreat house which gives the address out as a way of follow-up for those who have made retreats; a parish doing the retreat together; a woman from Haiti who goes to the site when the electricity is on; a woman from Kuwait who is searching for some retreat experience; a Jesuit from the Philippines who prints out the material for others to use. Photos by Don Doll, S.J. illustrate the theme of each week of the Exercises.

The retreat is very simple, very easy to move through. Internet users can jump in anytime and do it at their own pace. Instructions can be found on what to do. Each retreatant can share what they would like of their prayer through e mail. Andy and Maureen screen these sharings and post them for others to read. These notes can be quite personal. "I'm stuck in Second Week". "I have difficulty accepting God's love for me." "This has changed my life." Although Andy and Maureen do not call themselves directors, they do try to respond to such e mails, perhaps 5 to 10 per day. Wanting to avoid any hint of dependency they advise those who join the retreat to get a spiritual director, use a journal, get into a group. Ongoing support for those who finish the retreat can be found on the web site. Larry Gillick, S.J. writes a reflection column based on the Sunday readings to help people to continue to find God in their lives. The retreat, the follow up, cost nothing, except for the time of the coordinators and contributors.

Where is it headed? First, they are reaching people for whom the Internet is a culture and who are thinking less linearly and more in terms of hyper text. Retreatants can easily and instantaneously go back and forth in the retreat, link up with photos, or with documents illustrating, explaining, some point or doctrine, or giving another point of view. Use of this culture requires learning to think this way and to adapt the Exercises to this way of thinking. Second, if and when a wider band width is available - more data more quickly over the Internet - it may be possible to hook retreatants up with directors all over the world who could communicate instantaneously through the Internet with live pictures of retreatant and director, live text and/or voice. Andy and Maureen believe that this is a distinct possibility .....

I see the recovery of the "authentic Exercises" and their attention to religious experience as key in how we use the Exercises in our ministry today. Care in listening to and handling people's experience in giving the Exercises and in spiritual direction is a service of the contemplative space that can open them to a profound trust in God and a willingness to search courageously for God's will .....


- check out the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola here

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

5 + 5 Movie Meme

A meme from Talmida ... here is a list of 5 of my favourite movies and 5 guilty pleasure movies. Wow - the winnowing process was tough! Here are my choices below ...

* favorites ...

1) Lord of the Rings trilogy .... what can I say - the beloved books first read when I was a teen (and many times since), brought to the screen in a really decent fashion! This high-fantasy story of courage, sacrifice, and love is timeless and never fails to touch me.

2) The Mission .... you must have seen this one coming :-) Listed at #23 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores (Ennio Morricone's Gabriel's Oboe), and starring Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro, with emerging roles for Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn, the movie tells of the Jesuit missions (reductions) of the 1700s in South America, and of the political/religious struggles between Portugal and Spain. But it's also about the way a number of Jesuits live out, even unto death, their calling.

3) Open Range ... this is a 2003 western starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, and Annette Bening, which deals in part with the range wars of the 1880s. It features complex characters, a brutally honest shoot-out scene, and an unlikely romance ... freedom, justice, redemption, and love. (I posted about it here)

4) Sense and Sensibility ... this 1995 film was adapted from the Jane Austen novel by Emma Thompson, who also starred, along with Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman, and it was directed by Ang Lee. The story tells of two sisters who are very different in temperment, one passionate, one reserved, and is set against the backdrop of the double-binds of 19th century society. I liked it so much, I bought it, even though it's only in widescreen and hard for me to see.

5) The Mummy ... made in 1999, it stars Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz (and Oded Fehr :-) What's not to like ... Egypt, pyramids, an ancient curse, The Book of the Dead, mummys(!), and a courageous hero.

* guilty pleasures ...

1) John Carpenter's Vampires .... this 1998 film starring James Woods has got it all - vampires, Catholicism, and pathos (and mega-violence). Woods leads a Church sanctioned vampire-killing team, one of the members of which is a Catholic priest armed with holy water, crosses, and a dead language :-)

2) Rowing with the Wind .... a 1988 movie that tells about the friendship between Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, and shows how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein. What makes it "guilty" is that it's not so well written or acted (plus some nudity). But Hugh Grant does a very nice Byron, and really, how many movies do you get to see about Percy Bysshe Shelley?

3) Ever After .... a revisionist Cinderella story from 1998 starring Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott. It's really not bad ... nice scenery, has a mention of Utopia, and Leonardo da Vinci even puts in an appearance.

4) Galaxy Quest .... who could not like this science fiction parody starring Tim Allen, Alan Rickman and Tony Shalhoub? It's worth it just for the aliens.

5) Herculaes ... ok, not really a movie per se, but I couldn't leave out Hercules, played so very well by Kevin Sorbo. Set in a not quite accurate ancient Greece, the show tells the story of the half-divine son of Zeus who spends most of his time helping others ... fun for a Greek mythology fan like me.

- Hercules

Tomb Tidbits

Here are some recent Tomb posts from around blogdom ...

* Mark Goodacre has a post - Jesus Family Tomb Website: Errors and Inaccuracies - on the Jesus Family Tomb Website . Here's one of those he cited ....

- # Gospel of Mary: "Recent controversy has surrounded the role of Mary Magdalene as wife and companion of the historical Jesus. Some scholars believe that remaining by the side of the crucifixion confirms the role of a wife and widow, while others believe that the washing of feet represents an old marriage ritual. Others contest that the Bible never explicitly states that Mary was a prostitute, and that indeed she comes from a royal bloodline that would make for an ideal marriage between Mary and Jesus": I don't know of any scholars who think that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' "wife and companion", or that "the washing of feet represents an old marriage ritual". The latter is not connected with Mary Magdalene in any Gospel (Luke 7.36-50, anonymous; John 12.1-11, Mary of Bethany). It is inaccurate to say "Others contest that the Bible never explicitly states that Mary was a prostitute". It is a fact that she is never called a prostitute. The "royal bloodline" comment here takes us even further into Da Vinci Code territory.

* Stephen C. Carlson has a post - The Talpiot Tomb, James Ossuary, and Statistics - that discusses the statistical analysis of Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D. (U.C. Berkeley, physics) on the tomb. Here's a bit os the post ...

To arrive at his answer, Ingermanson (like many others) assumes that there were 80,000 men in Jerusalem in the appropriate time frame. Using the Rachel Hachlili’s numbers that 14% of the names are Joseph and 9% are Jesus, he figures that there are 1008 ± 32 men in Jerusalem called “Jesus, son of Joseph.” Factoring in the information from the Talpiot tomb that this Jesus, son of Joseph, has two female relatives or associates named Mary and at least two additional people with names of Jesus’s brothers and/or disciples, he calculates that 11 Jerusalem men “fit the profile of the Jesus of the tomb.” Unlike other treatments of the question, Ingermanson does not attribute any significance to the naming variations, e.g. Maria versus Mariamnenon. Now, 1 chance out of 11 is already a low probability that we've got the right Jesus, but Ingermanson goes further: he tries to address the fact that there is also an ossuary for a certain “Judas, son of Jesus” .....

* Jim West has a post - The Tomb that Keeps on Giving - citing an email from Mike Heiser, PhD. Here's a bit of it ...

... Well, it appears that having the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Matthew, and Martha (”Mara”) on ossuaries at one location isn’t as improbable as Jacobovici, Pellegrino, and Tabor would have the world believe ...... I want to draw your attention—and the attention of scholars and interested parties who read your blog—to a SECOND site that has all those names. In 1953-1955, Bellarmino Bagatti excavated the site of Dominus Flevit (”The Lord wept”) on the Mount of Olives. The excavation uncovered a necropolis and over 40 inscribed ossuaries – including the names of Mary, Martha, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus. These ossuaries are not, as far as I can tell, in Rahmani’s catalogue. I’m guessing the reason is that they are not the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (see Rahmani’s Preface). The necropolis was apparently used ca. 136 BC to 300 AD. Here is a link that discusses the site. A few scanned pages of Bagatti’s excavation report (written in Italian) can be found here as well ..... One more really intriguing thing about the Dominus Flevit site is that it is referenced by Jacobovici with respect to his argument about the cross symbol’s antiquity, and Bagatti’s book is in his bibliography. And yet he and Charlie Pellegrino somehow overlooked the fact that ossuaries were found at that site with all the names accounted for. One can only guess whether the omission was due to careless scholarship or an effort to deceive the public ...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Lives of Others

- Georg and Christa-Maria

My sister dropped by today and told me about a movie she saw last night and liked very much ... The Lives of Others. It's German, won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and tells a story set in East Berlin, about spying, music, suicide, and redemption. ... and also about change. I always remember something John Crichton once said about peoples' ability to change ... I think weather changes, and we just keep making the same mistakes. I'm not sure if this movie proves him wrong, but it does make me wonder.

Here below is some of A. O. Scott's review of the movie in the NY Times ...


“The Lives of Others” is haunted by a piece of music called “Sonata for a Good Man,” composed for the film by Gabriel Yared and, at the same time, magically familiar to some of its characters. Like the story that surrounds it — a suspenseful, ethically exacting drama, beautifully realized by the writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck — Mr. Yared’s piece is melancholy, elegant and complicated.

Goodness, as a subject for art, risks falling prey to piety and wishful thinking, but “The Lives of Others,” one of the nominees for this year’s best foreign-language film Oscar, never sacrifices clarity for easy feeling. Posing a stark, difficult question — how does a good man act in circumstances that seem to rule out the very possibility of decent behavior? — it illuminates not only a shadowy period in recent German history, but also the moral no man’s land where base impulses and high principles converge .....

There are two good men in “The Lives of Others,” which starts in Berlin in 1984, and they are presented in counterpoint, never on screen at the same time. One, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), is a successful playwright; the other, Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), is the Stasi officer who spies on him. Georg, tall and handsome, with a mane of brown hair and a natural grace that stops just short of arrogance, leads something of a charmed life, enjoying a measure of official favor without losing the respect of his fellow artists, who are not all as lucky, or as circumspect, as he is. He shares a roomy apartment in an old building (the kind a capitalist real estate agent would describe as “full of character”) with his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a tall, lovely actress who also stars in his plays.

Wiesler, in contrast, appears at first to be a virtual caricature of the unsmiling Stalinist bureaucrat, with a touch of the old Gestapo thrown in for good measure. Wiry and bald, he lives alone in a drab, brutalist high-rise apartment building, distracting himself with state-run television (which reports on chicken farming and declares that “the 10th Party Conference economic policy is solid”) and a quick visit from a prostitute ......

It is not inaccurate to describe “The Lives of Others” as the story of how both men become disillusioned and hasten each other’s disillusionment. But the paradoxes inherent in this story — which are central to Mr. von Donnersmarck’s brilliant exposition of the Orwellian logic of East German Communism — are worth pausing over. It is not simply that Wiesler, the state-sanctioned, clandestine predator, develops a measure of sympathy for his quarry as he listens in on Georg’s private, unguarded moments (“presumably they have intercourse,” he types in his daily report after eavesdropping on Georg’s birthday party). Surely his training would have inoculated him against this kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome.

Rather, even as Georg is driven toward actions that implicate him, for the first time, in dissident activity, Wiesler becomes convinced of Georg’s essential innocence and takes steps to protect him. The plot, as it acquires the breathless momentum of a thriller, also takes on the outlines of a dark joke. The poet and the secret policeman — both writers, in their differing fashions — may be the only two true patriots in the whole G.D.R.; in other words, the only people who take the Republic’s stated ideals at face value. But since the nation itself functions by means of the wholesale and systematic betrayal of those ideals, the only way Wiesler and Georg can express their loyalty is by committing treason.

Wiesler is at first suspicious of Georg, whose social polish and air of entitlement certainly don’t seem very proletarian. But he soon discovers the real reason for his investigation. Minister Hempf (Thomas Thieme), a government official and former Stasi bigwig, is infatuated with Christa-Maria (who is unable to fend off his grotesque attentions), and he wants some dirt on his rival. Wiesler’s boss, Colonel Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) — the closest thing Wiesler has to a friend — is happy to advance his own career prospects by going along with the minister’s wishes. Faced with such corruption and cynicism at the highest reaches of the party, what is a good man — or, for that matter, a dutiful Communist — to do? ......

A terrible sadness lies at the heart of “The Lives of Others” — a reckoning of lives and talents wasted by a state with no good reason to exist apart from the maintenance of its own power. But there are comic, even farcical elements as well: a dictatorship that calls itself a democratic republic is inherently ridiculous as well as malignant .....

Early in the film, Minister Hempf condescendingly mocks the faith in humanity Georg expresses in his plays: “People don’t change,” he says. And in some ways Mr. von Donnersmarck endorses the minister’s point of view, even as he turns its cynicism into cause for hope. Georg and Captain Wiesler, though they occasionally waver and worry, remain true to their essential natures, and thus embody the film’s deepest, most challenging paradox: people don’t change, and yet the world does.


- Captain Wiesler spies on Christa-Maria

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Peacocke and Polkinghorne video interviews

Who knew you could find stuff like this ... an interview (about i hour long) with Arthur Peacocke, and another (about 45 mins) with John Polkinghorne, from Google video. Wikipedia says of Peacocke ...

The Rev. Dr Arthur Robert Peacocke, MBE (b. 29 November 1924, Watford - d. 21 October 2006) was the Vice President of the Science and Religion Forum and of Modern Church People's Union. He was also a Council Member of ESSSAT - The European Society for the Study of Science And Theology. In 1971, he was ordained as a priest in the Church of England. In 1973, he was appointed Dean of Clare College, Cambridge. In 2001, he was awarded the Templeton Prize. Peacocke is perhaps best known for his attempts to rigorously argue that Evolution and Christianity need not be at odds. He may be the most well-known theological advocate of theistic evolution as author of the essay Evolution: The Disguised Friend of Faith? ....

And here below is the interview with John Polkinghorne. Wikipedia says of him ...

John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, PhD, ScD, MA, (born October 16, 1930 in Weston-super-Mare, England) is a British particle physicist and theologian. He has written extensively on matters concerning science and faith, and was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2002 ...