Monday, April 30, 2012

Introducing the W2W Series

In my last post, I wrote about my recent experiences discussing faith with a Jehovah's Witness woman who distributes literature in my neighborhood.  My research and discussions have inspired me to write a series of posts on giving a Christian witness to Jehovah's Witnesses.  I plan to use this post as an index page for all of the posts I write for this series.  I'll be abbreviating the series W2W for "Witnessing to the Witnesses."  The first post should be up in the next day or so.

1. First Things 
2. History Lessons 
3. What Do They Believe?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses

It was a Monday morning in the middle of July, and I was baking cookies.  I don't think I had a particular reason to bake them, except that I wanted to have cookies around.  And I was baking them in the morning because it was one of the hottest weeks of the year, and to have the oven on in the afternoon would be more uncomfortable than the cookies would be delicious.

I was still wearing my pajamas, and Elise was acting up, because she's a baby, and babies act up.  And the oven was going off and she was complaining and I was raising my voice and out of nowhere, the doorbell rang.  Oh, and those pajamas I mentioned 2 sentences ago?  Summer pajamas.  Okay for your family to see, not really okay for anybody else to see.

So I scurried to the other side of the house to dig out my robe; all the while, Elise continued to cry.  The doorbell rang again.  "I'm coming!" I shouted in frustration.  I hastily threw on my robe, observed my unkempt hair and tired face in the mirror, and opened the front door to see two smiling, nicely-dressed women, who wanted to share "God's message" with me.

Needless to say, our first encounter didn't last long.  I took their pamphlets, bid them well, shut the door, and paged through the material, observing all the heretical and nonsensical teachings therein.  It figures! I thought.  Tired, hot, undressed, frustrated, and who comes a-knockin'?  A couple Jehovah's Witnesses!

At that time, I knew very little about the JW's (I'll refer to them that way for brevity's sake), except that they weren't actually Christian (they deny Jesus is God), they don't celebrate birthdays or holidays, and they don't accept blood transfusions. 

They came back every month or so, or rather, one of the women did (Peggy); she always brought a different "sister" along.  After going through the motions of a minute or two of small talk and then chucking the pamphlets in the trash after they left a few times, I decided to start reading up on them, in the hopes that I might understand how better to reach them myself.  I reasoned that these are well-intentioned, earnest people who love God and want to do His will, yet they have fallen in with a cult that has brainwashed them into believing doctrines that are entirely pernicious and unChristian.  Why should they do all the talking?  I believe with my entire heart and soul that true Christianity teaches the divinity of Christ (and the Holy Spirit), the immortality of the soul, the bodily Resurrection, the hope of living eternal life in union with God Himself...I could go on and on.  I realized that these women would not have been on my doorstep if God had not willed it to be so.  The opportunity to share my faith was literally knocking on my door.

So I read.  I learned about the history of the Watchtower organization, their false prophecies, their twisted interpretations of Scripture and their controlling structure.  To my frustration, each time Peggy came by, there was one reason or another I couldn't talk with her -- one time, I was in the middle of cooking Elise's lunch; a couple months ago, I was spending a very rare afternoon shopping while Colin watched Elise.  The week before Easter, I came home from an outing to find an invitation to the annual "Commemoration of Jesus' Death" held at the local Kingdom Hall.  Blast, I thought, I've missed her again!

Then, last Tuesday, I was hanging out with Elise during the morning, piddling around doing this chore and that, wearing my jammies and robe.  A few minutes before ten, the doorbell rang.  I wasn't expecting any UPS packages or visitors.  So I prayed to the Holy Spirit and answered the door with a smile.  (I don't include that detail to sound holier-than-thou.  We all need the Holy Spirit to have any hope of evangelizing; I'm just thankful that my poor bum self actually remembered to ask for help this time.)  Of course, it was Peggy -- alone this time.

She handed me the typical monthly publications ("The Watchtower," which focuses on JW's teachings of faith, and the mostly-innocuous "Awake!", which contains articles on how to live your daily life).  She asked me if I had any questions.  So I asked if the JW's believe in the Resurrection.

Peggy told me they do, which is technically false, since they deny the bodily Resurrection.  But she warned me that Easter is a holiday with "pagan origins," pointing out the etymology of Easter is related to the pagan fertility goddess "Ishtar" (which it's not).  I couldn't remember all the details of why this isn't true, but I remembered enough to remind her that in many other languages, the name for the Easter feast is related to Passover (like "Pasqua" in Italian).  She seemed surprised by the answer.

By then, I realized that not only was Peggy on my doorstep, but my landlords were milling around the yard, looking at the trees they'd planted a few years ago, and my still-pajama'd daughter was playing outside with a stick she'd found on the stoop.  Meanwhile, I was in pajamas and a ratty old robe, I had not run a brush through my hair (my very thick hair gets some impressive bed-head), and I had no makeup on.  I was a mess.  But I honestly didn't even care (which I totally attribute to God's help, because typically I would have been beyond mortified and irritated).

I pressed on.  "Do you believe Jesus is God?" I asked, already knowing the answer.  "No," she replied with a smile.  "We believe He is God's Son."  (So do we: Trinity, yo!)  But then she went on to say that Jesus was God's first creation, which I emphatically denied.  She showed me a few Scriptural passages in an effort to back up her claims.  I asked her if she'd like to come in and talk about them.  She said she didn't have time then, but she offered to come back.  We decided to meet again on Thursday to discuss the Trinity specifically.

She did come back.  We had an almost two-hour discussion last Thursday, and this past Thursday, she came back for almost two more hours.  Behind the scenes, I spent a possibly embarrassing number of hours reading even more about the teachings of the Watchtower Society, the proof-texts Witnesses are taught to use when attacking true Christian teachings (which, of course, they consider false), and Scriptural passages and explanations to use when evangelizing to the Witnesses.  I had many pages of notes.

Are you breathlessly awaiting the outcome of our meetings?  Well, so am I, and frankly, I'll probably never know.  We went back and forth the whole time for both sessions; she ceded no ground, even when confronted with Scriptural passages which were obviously contrary to JW beliefs.  The Watchtower Organization works as a cult: Witnesses are never allowed to question, and risk being shunned ("disfellowshiped") by family and friends if they do.  So I'm not surprised that Peggy didn't suddenly abandon her beliefs -- even someone who hasn't been brainwashed is unlikely to do that!

But I do believe the Holy Spirit planted a seed, and I believe the time I invested in learning about the JW's and praying for guidance was worthwhile.  I'm going to start a series of posts highlighting some of the best resources I've found and some of the specific lines of questioning that I thought were most fruitful.  I hope that these posts are helpful to anyone who feels called to provide an authentic Christian witness to the Witnesses.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Special Shout-Out

Our parish has a lovely new program in place called the "Secret Sister" program.  (It's not unique to our church, but this is the first time we've done it here since I moved to the area five years ago.)  It works like this: you fill out a questionnaire about your interests, your family, your special days (birthday, anniversary, etc.), you favorite holidays and foods, and your prayer requests.  All the questionnaires are collected, and each woman is assigned a "secret sister" who sends her notes of encouragement and prayers throughout the year (with the help of the responses on the questionnaire).  So I'm someone's secret sister (and I can't say who!), and someone else is my secret sister.

My secret sister sent us some beautiful handmade gifts for Christmas: a scarf, beret, and fingerless gloves for me (in my favorite color, no less!), a scarf for Colin, and a blanket for Elise.  She also sent a gift certificate to the Green Bowl, a fantastic restaurant here in State College.  I was so delighted and grateful!  It felt funny to not be able to thank her (somehow I don't think the return address on the package from "Secret Sister Lane" was actually hers), but I was happy to know I could thank her eventually (the "revealing" get-together is supposed to take place in June).

Oh!  But then.  A few days before Easter, an adorable card arrived, with SNOOPY on it, whom I have loved since early childhood.  It was from my secret sister, and part of her note said this:
I hope your prayer needs are being taken care of.  You don't post about them very much on the blog, but I have been really enjoying your 40 Things posts!
ON THE BLOG? ON THE BLOG? YOU READ MY BLOG?  THAT IS TOO AWESOME!  I'm glad you enjoyed the 40 Things posts!

Secret Sister of Secret Sister Lane, thank you for the beautiful Christmas gifts and Easter card!  And thank you especially for your prayers.  They are beyond value.  God is taking care of me and my family in ways that I never could have imagined.  The prayer requests I wrote about on the questionnaire are still very much needed, but progress is being made little by little all the time.

Secret Sister, thank you for brightening my life.  Thank you for reminding me of what it means to be part of the Mystical Body of Christ.  I pray that God will bless you and your family always.  And I can't wait to meet you!


Monday, April 16, 2012


I've been tagged!  Kayla at The Alluring World tagged me last month (Katie at NFP and Me did, too, since she tagged all of Cathsorority), while I was still in the thick of my 40 Things Lenten posts.  I already had the pleasure of doing one of these "Elevensies" posts (my term, affectionately borrowed from hobbits) a few months ago, so I'll be bending the rules a bit, but I figured I'd have a little more fun with it.

  1. The first rule is to post these rules. I almost didn't.
  2. Post a photo of yourself then write 11 things about you/your life. 'Kay.
  3. Answer the questions for you set in the original post. Yep, x2
  4. Create 11 new questions and tag people to answer them.  Nah, did that here.
  5. Go to their blog/twitter to tell them you have tagged them.  Nah.
At Sesame Street Live!  Not sure what Elise was checking out...
1. My husband's name is Colin, and it recently occurred to me that some of my readers might be pronouncing that wrong in their heads.  It's pronounced CALL-in, not COLE-in!  Most folks pronounce it his way; I think the few I've heard calling him "Colon" were influenced by Colin Powell's prominence.

2. I love learning about anthropology.  I currently have the Wikipedia article for "Cambrian explosion" open in another tab.

3. I thought I liked claymation until I saw the Bert and Ernie claymation segment on Sesame Street.  Blah.

4. It's really warm here today, 85 degrees!  Tomorrow's high is 66.  Spring in Pennsylvania, whoop whoop.

5. That last one wasn't really about me, but gosh, I'm boring.

6. I need some new recipe ideas and inspiration.  Does anyone have any good recipes to share?  Cooking is the only "creative" activity that I really enjoy -- I'm not a crafter, or a scrapbooker, or a photographer, or even a decent decorator, but I love food.

7. Last night I seriously exercised for the first time in weeks, and I felt soooo much better.  I am a total dolt for not exercising and then complaining about how lethargic I feel.

8. I'm planning on going to a talk at the PSU campus tonight given by a Catholic chastity advocate.  Apparently he's a former porn star.  Should be interesting!

9. My car is a total piece of crap.  It's a 2002 Mazda ProtegĂ©5 (hatchback) that I bought in 2006 after I totaled my first car, a lovely '99 Camry, in an idiotic one-car accident on an icy morning.  It has just under 100K miles on it, which makes it middle-aged in my family (and a senior citizen in my husband's).  It's needed all sorts of repairs over the years -- my favorite was last year when the alternator died and it just...stopped working, right after I got off a freeway ramp.  (Don't worry; it was walking distance from our house and Elise wasn't with me.)  Anyway, it's acting up again, and we're afraid it might be the transmission.  Boo.

10. I love red-winged blackbirds.
Don't know much about them, except that they're pretty and I used to see them on the bike trail near my parents' house.
11. My daughter just sat down on my lap and is now chanting, "Elmo? Elmo? Elmo?"  Because that's what the computer is for: Elmo YouTubes.

My Answers to Kayla's Questions:

1. What is one thing that you convinced yourself you couldn't do, only to find out that you could - and did!?  Hmm.  I can't think of anything that I convinced myself I couldn't do that I actually ended up doing. :P  BUT, for a time I had serious doubts that I would ever finish my master's thesis, once I started working full time. Then I got my act together and totally pwn'd that sucka.

2. What is your stupidest fear?  Bees?  Maybe not; they are weaponized, after all.  But it's probably stupider that I'm perpetually afraid that nobody likes me.

3. Are online games sporting events? Why or why not?  I don't consider them sporting events.  To me, a sport entails physical activity.  I think of online gaming as a hobby -- which isn't to say that it doesn't require and develop skills and strategy!

4. What is one food you've always wanted to try, but have never gotten the chance?  I don't think there is one in particular that I've been wanting to try for a long time, but recently I've developed a longing to try authentic southern barbecue.  I'd also like to try the Vietnamese dish pho (a new pho place just opened here).
5. 5 names you WISH you could name your kids - but because you love them, you can't.  This is a great question!  There are a lot of names I like that just wouldn't work for one reason or another.  For example, I love the name Thomas, but my father-in-law's name is Tom (just Tom!) so my husband and I feel like that would be a little weird.  I also love Dmitri and Javier, but neither would go with our last name (or our ethnic backgrounds).  Add Cesare (pronounced CHAY-zah-ray) to that list for the same reasons. (Well, I am 25% Italian, but still).  I think Kateri (like the soon-to-be canonized Kateri Tekakwitha) is a lovely name, but how do you pronounce it?  Internet wisdom tells me that the likely Mohawk pronunciation was Gah-dah-LEE, which I don't particularly love.  My preference would actually be Kah-teh-REE (entirely because of this song), but nobody would be able to figure that out by looking at it.  Thus the primary issue with this name!

6. Are you good at keeping (good) secrets?  I think so.  It's hard for me to keep them from my husband, though.

7. What is the item that has been on your "to do" list the longest?  Writing a story.  Long, short, doesn't matter: I've been wanting to since high school, and it's just never materialized.
8. Would you rather win a complete wardrobe makeover, or home makeover?  That's a toughie.  We are in desperate need of decorations and other items to make our place "homier," but (1) we're renting and won't be here forever and (2) that can be challenging with a toddler.  So I should probably go with the wardrobe makeover; heaven knows I'm desperate in that area, too!

9. Have you ever read the blog Hyperbole and a half before I linked to it just now?  Oh yes I have!  LOVE!!!

10. What is the one housekeeping task that you just cannot leave undone?  I can't stand leaving the bed unmade.  Occasionally I won't get to it before we go out for morning errands, and it drives me crazy to arrive back at the house around lunchtime and see the unmade bed.
11. What are you having for dinner tonight?  Leftover homemade pizza: half with pepperjack, jalapenos, and pineapple, and half with mozzarella, sauteed red peppers, and prosciutto.  YUM!

My Answers to Katie's Questions:

1. Weirdest class you've ever taken?  Probably my introductory course in graduate school.  The only work we did that we were actually graded on was keeping an annotated bibliography of all the course readings and presenting a single Power Point presentation on a book chapter.  Even so, the professor didn't have our grades posted until right before they all would have defaulted to F's because he was so late.  In retrospect, it served as a blueprint for the lameness that frustrated me throughout my two years of graduate school.  

2. If you could only eat 2 foods ever again what would they be?  Guacamole and sweet potato fries.  Because they're delicious.

3. What's your go-to belt it out in the car song?  Depends on my mood.  The last song I felt the urge to belt was Journey's "Ask the Lonely."

4. What's the most OCD thing you do? Obsessing over conversations and social situations after they've occurred, wondering what I might have done that was weird or offensive.

5. Favorite high school memory?  When my senior prom date leaned down as we were dancing and whispered, "I love you."  I love you too, husband!

6. Won't you share your opinion on camping? Love it or hate it?  Allow me to (hopefully accurately) quote my favorite stand-up comedian, Jim Gaffigan: "The only happy camper is the guy leaving the campsite.  He gets to take a shower!"  I've never gone camping; I have no desire to try it.  I enjoy the outdoors, but I don't want to sleep there.

7. Weirdest thing you've ever eaten?  I ate chocolate covered crickets.  They tasted like almonds.

8. E-reader or real book reader and why?  REAL BOOKS.  I have loved books my whole life, and it's just too hard for me to give up the pages, the binding, the much of my life has been migrated over to a screen.  Not my books.  Please.

9. Favorite TV show currently on?  Probably Downton Abbey.

10. What's your favorite award you've won?  I'm thrilled that I won a Phi Kappa Phi graduate scholarship, because when I accepted the award I gave a speech about my beloved undergraduate advisor, who passed away at the end of my junior year.

11. What's your claim to fame?  I asked my husband about this, and his response was, "you're my wife."  It is a rather notorious post.  Colin can be a pretty sardonic chap, especially among other young guys.  Early in his graduate school career, one of his fellow students (a great guy; they were and are friends) made the remark, "Who would want to marry Colin?  He's such an asshole."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Loveliest of Days

Happy Easter!  Christos Anesti!

I hope you all had (and are continuing to have) a glorious Easter!  (I don't think I have any Eastern Orthodox readers, but if I do, have a blessed Holy Week.)

Smile, Elise, we match!
We were in Ohio visiting my family for Easter Sunday.   We had a nice visit, but my mom hasn't been feeling well lately, so please keep her in your prayers. 

On the way back, we stopped at Reyers, the "world's largest shoe store" in Sharon, PA. 
I was ecstatic because they carry narrow shoe sizes.  I have needed a new pair of basic black pumps for about a year, but I have had no luck whatsoever finding a new pair, because my feet are small and narrow, and nobody around here carries narrow shoes.  I tried going the Internet route, only to have to send back two pairs.  Sigh.  But Reyers is AWESOME!  So now I have black pumps. 

Thank you to everyone who read my Lenten series on Catholicism.  It was a labor of love, and it gave me great joy to research and write each post.  You may have noticed that as soon as Easter began, I slid right back into my pattern of not posting every day.  I'm a bit worn out.  

Hopefully, oh so hopefully, during the next few days, I'll get back to being a more faithful blog reader and commenter.  By the end of Lent, it was all I could do to get my own posts up, what with traveling, family visits, keeping house, wifery, and oh right! my darling daughter, who naps about every other day now.

I finally added a gadget to my blog so you can "join" it.  I resisted for a while, because I don't think I've "joined" or "followed" too many myself -- I figured that was what Google Reader was for.  But I've come to realize that that my introverted poor social sensibilities have bitten me in the butt yet again: turns out making blog friend connections DOES matter.  Whoops!  Excuse my awkwardness there.  And join (or "hang out in") my little weez world if you like.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

40 Things #40: The Easter Season

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

I walk in the grocery store in mid-February, and what do I see?  A cart full of half-off Valentines candy, hastily removed from the shelves to accommodate the pastel invasion.  And it's not even Ash Wednesday yet.

On Monday, all the remaining bunnies and chicks and chocolate eggs will be sitting in that half-off cart.  Easter OVER!

Or not.  I understand that Easter products need to be available for purchase before Easter itself, just like Christmas products do.  But the retail cycle has influenced our culture to the point that we forget: the feasts of Easter and Christmas mark the BEGINNING, not the end, of the celebration.

And celebrate we do.  The Easter season lasts fifty days, until the feast of Pentecost.  The church will be covered in gorgeous flowers, the priest will wear white radiant vestments, and our hymns will proclaim glorious alleluia after alleluia. 

The first week is particularly special.  Easter Sunday isn't the only day we call "Easter" -- it's followed by Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, and so on, throughout the whole "octave."  I've learned a lot about the Eastern Orthodox over the years from my Greek college roommate, and one tradition of theirs that I love is calling the week after Easter "Bright Week."  Could any time be brighter?

We're not quite there yet.  But the time for celebration draws near, and we wait with hope.

Friday, April 6, 2012

40 Things #39: The Crucifix

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

A couple weeks ago, Elise and I went to daily Mass on a Friday, which at our parish is the school Mass.  This Mass is usually celebrated by our pastor, and he tailors his homilies to the occasion, telling stories or asking questions of the children.  The story he told at this particular Mass was this:

There once was a traveling priest in Central America who was responsible for ministering to several different parishes.  One year, on Palm Sunday, he was about to leave a particular town to journey around to the others and celebrate Masses there, when he was stopped by a parishioner who begged him to visit a newborn baby who was very sick.  The priest went to the baby's house and baptized him.  It was not likely that the baby would survive.

The priest spent the week traveling around to the various parishes where he was assigned.  At the end of the week, on Good Friday, he returned to the house where the baby lived, fearing the worst.  When he entered the home, he found the baby's father there, kneeling before a crucifix and weeping.  The priest was overcome with sorrow.  "I'm so sorry about your baby," he said to the father.

"Why?" the father asked.  "My baby is well!"  The baby had made a complete recovery.

"Why are you crying, then?" asked the priest.

"Because it's Good Friday.  I'm crying because Jesus died."
I am thankful for the Catholic custom of displaying crucifixes in churches and homes.  Looking at a crucifix helps me to remember, in an immediate, visceral way, the depths of Christ's suffering -- which only demonstrate the vastness of his love.  As Elizabeth Esther wrote:
The Catholic Church addresses death, suffering, agony and ugliness head-on. There is no dancing around the topic, no tidying up. The Crucifix only shocks us if we’ve forgotten what Christ endured. The Crucifix is a shorthand way of reminding us: “Look! Look at Me! Look what I did for you!”
Yes.  Look at what he did for us.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

40 Things #38: The Eucharist

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, "Take and eat; this is my body."  Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28)

Today is Holy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum and a day when we especially remember the events of the Last Supper, Jesus' agony in the garden, and his arrest.  For Catholics, the sacrifice of the Last Supper is not something we remember only today, but at every Mass celebrated every day throughout the world:
"At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 47, Pope Paul VI)

Catholics have always believed that the Eucharist is truly and miraculously the body and blood of Christ.  When we say that it is his body and blood, we do not mean the body and blood of his dead corpse -- rather, we mean the body and blood of his crucified, resurrected body, miraculously unbound by space and time.  All of the Church fathers believed in and taught the True Presence.  For example, Justin Martyr wrote in AD 150:
We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true....For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.  (First Apology)
The Eucharistic presence was taught by St. Irenaeus of Lyons (late second century), St. Athanasius (fourth century), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century), St. Augustine (fifth century), and St. Thomas Aquainas (thirteenth century).  But even earlier, St. Paul wrote about the Eucharist in his first letter to the Corinthians:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.  Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:26-27)
And before St. Paul wrote about the Eucharist, before the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper, Jesus taught about it, the day after he performed the miracles of multiplying the loaves (John 6:1-15) and walking on water (John 6:16-21):
Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent."  So they said to him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"  So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."  So they said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always."  Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst....Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."  The Jew quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give his flesh to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:29-35, 47-58)
Last year, I bought a book called Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, which explores the institution of the Eucharist in the context of first-century Judaism.  I cannot recommend it highly enough; reading it deepened my belief in and love for the Eucharist in many ways and for many reasons.  (Simcha has a great review here.)  Author Brant Pitre helps the reader to understand what first-century Jews were expecting of their Messiah (not that he would simply be a political leader, as I'd heard many times before).  This understanding provides a rich and astounding backdrop for much of what Jesus said and did.

Pitre also looks at how the Jewish Passover was celebrated during Jesus' time (there were some important differences from how the Seder meal is celebrated now) and pairs this knowledge with the descriptions of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion in the Gospels. Considering them together demonstrates that Jesus "united the offering of his body and blood in the Upper Room to the offering of his body and blood on the wood of the cross," making the two events one single sacrifice, a new Passover. 

Why I Love the Eucharist:

Because the Eucharist is Jesus.  When I receive the Eucharist, I am filled with Love himself.

Yes, I really believe that.  When the priest holds up the consecrated host and chalice before communion and says, "Behold the Lamb of God," I believe that I am gazing upon Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose so that I might be "welcomed into the light of his face" and live with him eternally.

There is nothing I love more than the Eucharist.  There is nothing I need more than the Eucharist.  And so I join in the petition of Jesus' followers: "Lord, give us this bread always." 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

40 Things #37: Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

The Rosary has been a beloved Catholic devotion for centuries.  It is a beautiful form of meditative prayer.  When I say meditative, I do not mean the word in the sense of Eastern meditation, which seeks to clear the mind of thoughts.  Catholic meditative prayer is quite different: it's a mentally active form of imaginative prayer.  There are four steps to meditating in Catholic prayer:

1. Place yourself in God's presence.
2. Ask for God's help in praying.
3. Meditate: imagine the scene you are meditating on, using all five senses if possible.  Place yourself in that scene.
4. Give thanks.

When we pray the Rosary, we meditate on events in the life of Christ.  We call these events "mysteries."  There were traditionally three sets of five mysteries each: joyful (Christ's early life), sorrowful (Christ's passion), and glorious (Christ's resurrection and events afterwards).  In 2002, Pope John Paul II added the luminous mysteries, which focus on Christ's ministry and miracles.

While meditating on these events, we pray certain prayers: each mystery begins with an Our Father, then ten Hail Marys, and a "Glory Be to the Father" prayer.  Just as someone may use music to help focus while studying, we use the repetition of these prayers to make a type of "white noise" while meditating on the mysteries.

The Rosary is a Marian devotion, to be sure: most of the prayers recited during the Rosary are Hail Marys.  But, just as Mary's focus throughout her life was on Christ, our focus in praying the Rosary is on Christ, too.  That's what I love most about Mary -- she always leads us closer to Jesus.

During this season of Lent, and especially during Holy Week, I find it particularly helpful to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.  They recall, in a vivid way, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.  They remind me that he suffered not only death, but complete humiliation.  They remind me that his physical suffering was not only on the cross, but on his way there.  They also remind me of his emotional anguish and agony as he awaited his Passion.  And, of course, they remind me that he did all of this for me, for you, and for everyone else, even the soldiers who crucified him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries:

1. The Agony in the Garden: Before he was arrested, Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, asking his Father to "let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).  From Marc Barnes of BadCatholic:
The first blood mentioned in Christ’s Passion comes not from the whips, nor the thorns, nor the cross, but from His anguish of Love....In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. (Luke 22:44). Why are we given this image? Because we’ve already been told: Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many’ (Mark 14:23). We know that His blood is poured out for us. And here we see it: Christ is a living libation, a cup overflowing. Only the Christian can honestly bow before the sweat of Man.
2. The Scourging at the Pillar: "After [Pilate] had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified" (Matthew 27:26).  The Gospels don't give a lot of details about the scourging itself, but a study of Roman executions at Jesus' time indicates it would have been incredibly cruel, humiliating, and excruciating:
As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and Subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.
 From BadCatholic again (can you tell Marc is doing a series on the mysteries this week?):
Christ was naked under the whips, and oh, how we gain from such humiliation! We are the pillar, and our Lover Christ stretches the gift of his body around us, protecting us from the lash of sin. He absorbs the sting of humiliation on his back, the pain that we by all rights should feel, that we might be able to look at God Who is Goodness and not die from shame. He wraps himself around the Pillar — and after all, what is a Pillar? “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Gen 28:22) It is God’s house. It is the Church. What a bridegroom have we!
3. The Crowning with Thorns: The soldiers wove a crown of painful thorns and placed it on Jesus' head to mock him: "Hail, King of the Jews!" They struck him on the head, driving the thorns even more deeply into his scalp (Matthew 27:29-30).  But Jesus told Pilate that "my Kingdom does not belong to this world" (John 18:36).  Soon afterwards, they had this exchange:
So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?"  Jesus answered, "You say I am king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."  Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)
I love this passage.  When Pilate said to Jesus, "What is truth?" he was not asking a sincere question; he was scoffing at the idea of truth.  He was a relativist: he believed that what was true for Jesus wasn't true for him.  And here he made this foolish remark to Truth himself: "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).  The Truth is that the King of Kings himself loves us so much that he was willing to die in humiliation, with a painful crown of thorns cutting into his scalp.

4. The Carrying of the Cross: Reflecting on this mystery can be augmented by recalling the Way of the Cross.  How horrible must this have been!  Remember, Jesus had already been scourged.  And he knew that when he was done carrying his cross, he would have nails driven in his hands and feet.  All along the way, he was mocked, spat upon, and abused.

We each have many crosses to bear in our lives.  But we must never forget that Christ is carrying them with us, and that he carried the heaviest one of all.

5. The Crucifixion: Jesus died in agony.  But what else did he do while he was on the cross?
In the sphere of feelings and affection this sense of the absence and abandonment by God was the most acute pain for the soul of Jesus who drew his strength and joy from union with the Father. This pain rendered all the other sufferings more intense. That lack of interior consolation was Jesus' greatest agony.
However, Jesus knew that by this ultimate phase of his sacrifice, reaching the intimate core of his being, he completed the work of reparation which was the purpose of his sacrifice for the expiation of sins. If sin is separation from God, Jesus had to experience in the crisis of his union with the Father a suffering proportionate to that separation.
  • He forgave the "good thief," who said to him, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42-43).  Think about it: this man, a criminal, not only had the audacity to ask this of Jesus, but in so doing he addressed him by his first name.  The disciples called Jesus Master, Rabbi, Lord, Teacher, out of respect.  But just as this repentant criminal did, we can call upon Jesus using his name, which is "above all other names" (Philippians 2:9), because he has united himself to us.
  • He said to Mary ("woman"), "Behold your son," and to John, "Behold your mother" (John 19:26-27).  Literally, this provided someone to take care of Mary.  Symbolically, he made Mary the Mother of the Church -- this "woman," the New Eve, is now the spiritual "mother" of all the living.
  • He said, "I thirst," and drank wine (John 19:28-29).  This may reference a psalm, perhaps even Psalm 22.  In Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, which I'll be discussing more tomorrow, author Brant Pitre suggests that this was the final cup of wine from the Passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his apostles the previous evening, and that this was part of many signs that Jesus was instituting a new Passover with himself as the perfect, unblemished Lamb.  In its most literal sense, it simply shows Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, expressing an elementary need.
  • He said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46) and "It is finished" (John 19:30) as he died.
O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation. Grant, we beseech Thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that we may both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

40 Things #36: The Church as the Body and Bride of Christ

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

"As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit....Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it."  (1 Corinthians 12: 12-13, 27)

Sometimes, Catholics speak of the Church as the "Mystical Body of Christ."  This expresses the truth that we are united with Christ and, through this union, united with each other.  (We use the word mystical so as not to confuse the Church with the physical Body of Christ.)  From the Catechism:
Believers who respond to God's word and become members of Christ's Body, become intimately united with him: "In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification." This is especially true of Baptism, which unites us to Christ's death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which "really sharing in the body of the Lord, . . . we are taken up into communion with him and with one another." (CCC 790)
This expresses something very beautiful: that we are all united by virtue of our Christian faith, but we also maintain our unique spiritual gifts, as St. Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 12: 28-30. 

I often have to remind myself of this.  To be honest, I often feel like I have nothing to offer, because I constantly compare myself with other people (usually women) and convince myself that I'm coming up short.  But I can't forget that God has blessed me with abundant gifts and I am an important part of the Mystical Body of Christ, united with every other member in Christ.  

Catholics also describe the Church as the Bride of Christ.  How can she be both Body and Bride?  Let's ask St. Paul again:
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'  This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.  (Ephesians 5:28-32)
This is not the only time such a reference is made in the Bible.  John the Baptist refers to Jesus as "the bridegroom" (John 3:29).  Jesus uses the "bridegroom" metaphor for himself in Mark 2:19-20 and uses the "wedding feast" as a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 22:1-4).  In another parable, the "bridegroom" represents Christ (Matthew 25:1-13).

The nuptial imagery is also present in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians: "I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2).  And of course, Revelation uses wedding imagery too:
"One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came and said to me, 'Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'  He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God." (Revelation 21:-9-10)
Just as a husband and wife become one flesh despite being individual people, Christ unites himself to the Mystical Body of Christ while still being distinct from his Bride, whom he has sanctified, and with whom he has entered an eternal covenant (CCC 796).

I love these images, because they help me to not only understand the Church and her relationship with Christ better, but to also better understand the physical realities that are used to represent the Church and that relationship.

Monday, April 2, 2012

40 Things #35: The Divine Name

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

"But," said Moses to God, "when I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them?"
God replied, "I am who am."  Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." (Exodus 3:13-14)

During his earthly ministry, Jesus sometimes spoke of God's name: for example, we can find this in the Lord's Prayer ("hallowed be thy name") and in his prayer in the upper room ("I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world").  What does this mean?

In the Bible, "a name expresses a person's essence and identity and the meaning of this person's life" (CCC 203).  God often changes people's names in the Bible -- Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul.  God's deeply mysterious name -- I AM -- is revealed to Moses by God as he speaks from the burning bush, but his nature and essence are further revealed by Jesus.
In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH ("I AM HE WHO IS", "I AM WHO AM" or "I AM WHO I AM"), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is - infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the "hidden God", his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men. (CCC 206)
God's name is written in Hebrew as YHWH (written Hebrew contains no vowels).  We do not know exactly how it would have been pronounced; vowels have been added to render Yahweh, which may be approximately correct.  A few years ago, the Vatican issued a directive that the name Yahweh must not be "sung or pronounced" during Catholic Masses.  As far as I know, this didn't cause too much controversy among Catholics themselves (I can only think of two hymns, ones based on Psalm 139 and another on Psalm 25 that contained the name), but some people of other faith traditions -- particularly Jehovah's Witnesses -- denounced the directive, claiming that it was trying to separate us from God.

At the time the directive was announced, I was under the impression that it was primarily out of respect and consideration for our Jewish brothers and sisters, who hold that God's name is so sacred that it must never be pronounced or written, lest it be profaned.  This was part of the motivation, and not an unimportant part, but the primary reason for the directive was to simply continue the reverence that Christians have always had for God's personal name, a reverence which was a natural continuation of our Judaic roots.

Even before the time of Jesus, Jews had already adopted the custom of always substituting Adonai, Hebrew for Lord, in place of YHWH; this was translated as Kyrios in Greek texts and Dominus in St. Jerome's Vulgate.  In modern English versions, it is translated as LORD in all capitals.  The Jews of Jesus' time always used Lord to refer to God.

As the Catechism notes, "Out of respect for the holiness of God, the people of Israel do not pronounce his name. In the reading of Sacred Scripture, the revealed name (YHWH) is replaced by the divine title "LORD" (in Hebrew Adonai, in Greek Kyrios). It is under this title that the divinity of Jesus will be acclaimed: 'Jesus is LORD.'" (CCC 209).  

Avoiding the use of Yahweh is not an attempt to separate us from God; it is a gesture of reverence and respect.  Just as the Holy of Holies -- the dwelling place of God on earth -- was veiled in the Temple in Jerusalem, the name of God is "hidden" in our liturgy because it is sacred and holy.  
 The Vatican's directive, a gentle response to the practice of occasionally using Yahweh in hymns written after Vatican II, has helped me to better understand the the infinite and ineffable nature of God.  It has not taken anything away, but has restored the reverence we owe to God in our liturgy.

The beautiful truth is, we can invoke God's name, and we speak it often:
But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. The divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity The Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: "Jesus," "YHWH saves." The name "Jesus" contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray "Jesus" is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him. (CCC 2666)
As Marcel of Aggie Catholics notes, "So, when we pray 'in the name of Jesus' we can only do so because Christ first united us to Himself."  Having both fully human and fully divine natures, Jesus allows us to invoke the name of God directly.  What a gift:
The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and "brings forth fruit with patience." (CCC 2668)
I should note that I was partially inspired to write this post based on the few encounters I have had with a Jehovah's Witness woman in our town.  I didn't know much about Jehovah's Witnesses or their beliefs before she first visited, but in reading the Watchtower publications she's left here and doing some of my own research, I've become much better acquainted with their religion.  It's certainly not a faith that is deserving of her enthusiasm or time, and I'm very sad that she has been deceived by the Watchtower organization.

Jehovah's Witnesses are (as their name implies) very intent on using Jehovah as the divine name; in their New World Translation of the Bible, Jehovah is consistently used throughout the Old Testament, and even throughout the New Testament, despite the fact that none of the original texts of the Gospels or Epistles use it.  Most Biblical scholars agree that, linguistically, Jehovah is a (probably incorrect) translation of YHWH, rendered by combining the Latin letters JHVH with the approximate vowel sounds of the Hebrew Adonai.  This version of the divine name is found in several Bible translations from centuries past (beginning in 1530), but most translations substitute "LORD" nowadays.

Whether it's a mistranslation or not isn't much of an issue.  The problem lies in the Witnesses' insistence that "true Christians" invoke the divine name, and do not make substitutions such as "Lord."  Their most recent publication even asserted that Jesus would have often used "God's personal name" during his ministry, despite zero evidence supporting that claim (and a preponderance of evidence to the contrary). As would naturally follow, those who avoid the divine name in worship (like Catholics) are considered non-Christian.  (Really, that's a rather mild interpretation; they actually consider us wicked and the "Whore of Babylon.")

Despite claiming to the be only "true Christians," Witnesses deny the Resurrection, the divinity of Christ, and the Trinity.  Their founding was primarily concerned with end-times prophecies: several of their "end of the world" dates have already passed, but they continue to believe that Armageddon is right around the corner.  They believe that only 144,000 people will make it into Heaven, a number which has already been filled, and that these were the only people with whom God entered his everlasting covenant.  When Armageddon comes, all of the wicked (everybody who isn't a Witness) will be annihilated.  There will then be a thousand-year period of peace, during which the remaining Witnesses will presumably have to clean up all the dead bodies.  At the end of that thousand years, the Witnesses who have pleased Jehovah (but didn't make the 144,000 cut) will live forever on a "paradise earth"; the rest will simply be wiped out of existence.

There are many good people who are Jehovah's Witnesses.  Their organization works by providing a comfortable, friendly structure for its adherents.  The woman who visits me occasionally always brings a different woman with her; she refers to each as "sister."  She told me that she "didn't have the Scriptures" when she was raising her children, and that the Bible has given her a great deal of comfort and joy.  I have no doubt that this is true.  It gives me great sorrow that her organization promotes so many bizarre teachings which have been considered heretical since the earliest days of Christianity.  All of it bothers me -- the paradise earth, the 144,000 heaven cutoff -- but I am most saddened by the refusal to believe that Jesus is God.

I haven't made much headway in talking with this woman yet, because Elise objects every time (one time she grabbed the Watchtower magazine and insisted the woman take it back -- it was hard not to smile).  I suspect she'll be coming back soon with the April editions of her publications.  I'm praying that the Holy Spirit will guide me in knowing what to say to this sweet, kind lady, who has unfortunately fallen prey to a fundamentally anti-Christian organization that has manipulated her into devoting time to spreading its message, much of which is woefully false and dangerous.