Elizabeth II – Why was She “Anointed?”

By , September 30, 2010 4:54 am

I am one of the very few people left around who remembers when young Princess Elizabeth was crowned as Queen of England and its far-flung empire back in 1953.  If you are another one of those who remembers that event, you might also remember that in the course of the ceremony the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed the head and forehead of the young woman with oil that had been blessed.

Oil?  Why was that?  The anointing ceremony in the Anglican Church is a reflection of the influence of Judaism that continues to a certain extent in Christian culture and tradition.  Oil?  Why oil?  To get the answer to that you have to go back into the economic and social conditions of ancient times, and for us the time of Jesus.

The oil that we are talking about is olive oil and it was an extraordinarily valuable and useful commodity.  Oil was used to provide lighting, cooking, healing and for trade.  When ancient people wanted to mark an event as something very special and noteworthy, they would take some of that valuable material and ceremonially pour on the head or on the hands of the person being anointed.  When the Prophet Samuel selected David as the king, he was anointed.  Anointing gradually worked its way into various Jewish ceremonies.

Tomorrow let’s look at the fact that the Christians drew upon these Jewish traditions and used them in their own sacred rites, most especially several of the sacraments.

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Nothing Succeeds Like Success….or Maybe?

By , September 29, 2010 4:39 am

The vast majority of people are fairly satisfied with their local church or synagogue.  They don’t spend a lot of time or worry about other people’s churches.  We all wish each other well or at least we should!

About 20 or 25 years ago, some observers of church developments began to see that a new entity had arrived on the horizon where dynamic pastors, who were invariably great speakers and sales persons, were able to draw themselves an ever-increasing number of people on Sunday morning.  More people require more room therefore the churches had to be ever larger.  Thus, we entered into the era of the megachurch and they can now be found in major cities all over the United States.  However, Houston, Texas has more than any other city.

Megachurches have a lot in common physically and organizationally.  They are big.  Lakewood Church in Houston can handle nearly 25,000 people for one service on a Sunday morning.  They bought the former basketball arena from the City of Houston and it is filled on Sunday!  Megachurches provide counseling, bowling alleys, golf tournaments, scripture courses, excellent music, etc., etc.

Is the megachurch the style of the future?   I think not.  Thoughtful people are already beginning to ask about the validity of the megachurch.  What they seem to have in common is that the star preacher, who brings it all together, is going to talk mostly about success, good health, prosperity and the blessings of God poured upon those who believe.  There doesn’t seem to be much mention of the cross, of suffering, of poverty in the world, of struggle for justice.  There is nothing wrong with a bowling league connected to a church but the followers of Jesus have to deal at least occasionally with the reality of sin, injustice and pain.

At least one megachurch pastor is having doubts as to whether or not this modus operandi is the best way to present the message of Jesus Christ.  I am thinking especially about Reverend David Platt, pastor of a megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama who, after years of leading that church, has written a book called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.  His book criticizes the megachurches stating that they have become corporations competing for market share by offering social centers and all the things I mentioned above.

If the megachurches are to succeed in terms of a complete presentation in the message of Jesus Christ, they are going to have to embody involvement, sacrifice, discipline, acceptance of the reality of pain, and be committed to a struggle for justice.  Let’s pray that they do.

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Yet Another Tourist Experience – Back to Rome!

By , September 28, 2010 4:33 am

Do you need another great tourist experience?  Yesterday, I mentioned that if you were planning a trip to Rome you should make every effort to visit the excavations beneath the main altar of St. Peter’s which archaeologists have identified as the cemetery where Peter was buried following his martyrdom in 66 AD.  That tour requires some special preparations and a reservation but they are easy to secure.

Yet another wonderfully historic spot in Rome are the excavations under San Clemente.  This church is about one mile from the Coliseum walking in the direction of the forum.  When you come to this spot, you will see a dirty, ugly, old 13th century church.  Don’t be discouraged.  Beneath this 600-year-old church, you will find that archaeological excavations have uncovered the ruins of a 4th century basilica.  It is in fairly good shape and wonderful mosaics still adorn the walls.

Archaeologists asked themselves, why was this church built and why was it named in honor of San Clemente the successor of St. Peter?  They dig some more!  And beneath the 4th century basilica is a Roman house of the 1st century BC and they are certain that this is the home of St. Clement.  At this point, you are about 40 feet beneath the city streets.

There is much more that can be said about it but this should get you started for another trip in a time capsule taking you back to the first generation of the Catholic Church in Rome. Enjoy!

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Going to Rome? Don’t miss the Scavi!

By , September 27, 2010 6:32 am

Every tourist who makes it to Rome certainly tries to get into St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum.  Naturally, many of them make it over to the Coliseum even if it is just in a taxi ride around the building.

I would recommend that anyone going to Rome for the first time make every effort to visit the excavations below St. Peter’s.  These excavations are extraordinarily interesting.  When Constantine wanted to build a church to honor Peter as the first bishop of Rome, he was able to identify the place where Peter had been buried after his martyrdom in the Year 66.  The cemetery was on Vatican Hill just across the Tiber from the city.  Constantine clipped off the top of that hill and filled in the lower portion creating a level area for the construction of an enormous church, and  that church would last until the 16th century.

The church was approximately the same size as the present St. Peter’s.  Filling in the area on the down side of the hill protected the mausoleums that had been constructed there centuries earlier.  They would actually not be rediscovered until excavations in the 1950’s.  Constantine built the main altar of his church over the exact spot where St. Peter had been buried.  When the present St. Peter’s was constructed in the 16th century, the same spot was chosen.  When you go down into the excavations, you come to the exact spot where Peter was buried following his martyrdom.  It is a very moving experience.

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September 26th, 26th Sunday of the Church Year

By , September 25, 2010 2:44 am

Today, we are still in the 16th chapter of Luke and Jesus continues to put tough challenges before his disciples and, of course, through them to you and to me.  In the Gospel, Jesus uses the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man, very self-satisfied, ignored the suffering of poor Lazarus at the door of his house.  When they both died, it was Lazarus who would be in the “bosom of Abraham” and the rich man would be in torment.  The wealthy man was suffering not because he was rich, but because he was selfish and lacking in generosity and justice.

In the second reading, we get a delightful view of how St. Paul is forming his assistant, Timothy.  He has sent Timothy to be in charge of the church in Ephesus and Paul cannot himself be there since he is in prison but he does give excellent directions.  Every bishop and every parish priest would do well to read this excerpt each day.  Paul is telling Timothy to live a life of integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness and gentle spirit.  He urges him to witness daily to his faith in Jesus Christ and to live life without blame or reproach.  This is a challenge that anyone who aspires to be a religious leader, whether ordained or lay, should look at frequently and honestly.

Onward to Jerusalem.

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She was One of Us, Eleanor Roosevelt

By , September 24, 2010 4:15 am

That title is not original to me.  It is the title of a new book about Eleanor Roosevelt that really tells an extraordinary story of heroism and commitment to justice.  From the time that her husband was inaugurated as president in 1933 until her death in 1962, she constantly strove to assist weaker members of society in this country and across the world.  She worked with activists around the world to develop a shared vision of labor rights as human rights, which are central to democracy.  In her view, everyone had a right to a decent job, fair working conditions, a living wage and a voice at work.  She Was One of Us, by Brigid O’Farrell, published by ILR Press, provides a fresh and compelling account of her activities on behalf of workers and it is a story that needs to be told loudly and clearly today.

During her life, Mrs. Roosevelt was often on the wrong end of jokes.  It was generally known that her marriage to Franklin was not ideal and that their children’s lives were less than successful.  However, she set her goal on making a contribution to poor working people in this country and across the world, and she made a very measurable contribution.

If you want to catch up on the details, take the time to read She Was One of Us.

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Is the Iraq War Really Over???

By , September 23, 2010 9:39 pm

Nearly three weeks ago, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation and announced the ending of the American combat mission in Iraq.  He stated, “We have met our responsibility.  Now it is time to turn the page.”  Although that was good news, there was no roll of drums, no blare of trumpets, no celebration whatsoever.  The reaction by the president and the nation as a whole was the right one, somber.

Our invasion of Iraq was a terrible, costly mistake taking the lives of 5,000 American men and women, wounding more than 20,000, taking 100,000 Iraqi lives and costing trillions of dollars.  It would be great to be able to turn the page but we can’t.

Twice last week there were stories about American soldiers continuing military action.  The incidents were small but there is every reason to think that they will be ongoing for a long time.  In the meantime, Iraq still does not have a well-established government, the tensions between the religious groups are still deep and bitter and the possibility of one or another type of economic or social disaster is very much before us.

We pray for a lot of things and frequently pray for peace.  Let’s hope that all of us will pray fervently that the agony of Iraq is winding down.  While its future is uncertain, the United States, which caused so much of the problem, must still stay involved to help this battered, wounded nation get on its feet with finality.

When we pray for peace let’s pray especially for true peace in Iraq.

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A Catholic Wedding – the Process Goes On

By , September 22, 2010 4:01 am

Okay, things are moving.  They are in love, they are engaged, they have scheduled a church and now they need to work with the clergyman.  The person who ordinarily has the responsibility to witness a couple’s wedding is the pastor of the bride, but in today’s world frequently adaptations are made.  It is really wonderful if the couple happens to know a priest or deacon very well and can have a friend witness their marriage.  That is so much better than having a stranger do it.  But once that choice is made some work has to be done between the couple, the selected clergyman and the diocesan marriage preparation program.

That marriage preparation program doesn’t sound very romantic but it is really a wonderful gift that most parishes and dioceses make available to young couples.  The other  day when I brought up marriage issues for the first time I pointed out that so many times people claim two or three years after a wedding- when there is a lot of pain, conflict and maybe even a threatened divorce – that they never really knew each other.  Local churches try hard to make it difficult for them to say that.

There are many different programs.  Usually, they are run on Sunday afternoons and weekday nights and may go as much as eight to ten contact hours.  Clergy, married couples, doctors, counselors are all fit into the program and they try to alert the couple to the need to really get below the surface and come to grips with the personality, temperament, disposition and habits of the person that they are going to marry.  That “he is a divine dancer,” that “she is the best looking girl in town” are not sufficient reasons for getting married but regretfully sometimes those reasons are paramount in the minds of these young people.

If you are contemplating marriage and the Church offers you one of these programs, take advantage of it. May God give you a generous, faith-filled, happy marriage.

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Engaged to be Married? Do You Really Know Him?

By , September 21, 2010 3:55 am

Tragically, many marriages, including those witnessed in the Catholic Church after preparation, end in divorce with a great price being paid by everybody in the family, especially the children.  While the Church strives hard to assist couples in marrying properly, they recognize the possibility of a break-up and stand ready to help them with what we call Matrimonial Tribunals.

The Church considers a marriage between two baptized people, entered into freely with the intention of a permanent union and open to the possibility of children, to be a permanent Christian Sacrament of Matrimony.  For Catholics, of course, there is the additional requirement that this marriage be celebrated within the context of the Church.  If any one of these factors is missing and if that factor can be proven, the Church will consider declaring the marriage null and void from the beginning.  However, this is very difficult to do and many young people, following divorce, find themselves shocked to see that the Church will not grant them an annulment.

The best way to avoid experiencing this tragedy is to really know the person with whom you are entering into marriage.  The most frequent plea in annulment cases is, “I did not really know him.” “I really did not know her.”  Who is responsible for that?

More tomorrow.

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Planning a Catholic Wedding? Brace Yourself!

By , September 20, 2010 3:44 am

Is someone in the family getting married within the next year or so and are your plans to have the marriage celebrated in the Catholic Church?  Regretfully, that can sometimes be quite an undertaking and I am using my space on this blog to warn people that they need to give advance thought in order to avoid any misunderstandings or mix-ups.

First of all, the engaged couple has to line up a church.  This is not as easy as it might sound because there are very

serious time limitations involved.  For many reasons, most young couples plan to get married on Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening.  For years, I have been suggesting Saturday morning weddings to young couples but so far, nobody has paid any attention to me.  This scheduling reality means that the average parish can only have two formal weddings a week and not every Saturday of the year is available.  Nobody wants to get married on holiday weekends such as

Christmas and Easter.  I would say that the average urban parish can only handle about 80 or 90 weddings a year.  In addition to the fact that most people want to get married on Saturday, weddings also really cluster in June and January, which means even more restrictions.  As soon as you think you have a date, call the Church!

Added to the problems of actually scheduling a church, there are other issues that have to be cared for before the actual day of the wedding.  These can be troublesome and, if not looked at properly, can appear to be difficulties, but it is because the Church is really trying to help the young couple be properly prepared for this awesome event in their life.

More on weddings tomorrow.

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