Guest Post by a Priest of the Diocese of Sacramento: Reflections on the Rancho Tehama Shooting

Some might not be aware that on November 13-14, five people were killed and 18 others were injured by a single shooter at eight different locations (including an elementary school) in a small unincorporated community in Northern California. This submission is by the Very Reverend Avram Brown, a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento. /QMB

I went for a long drive Wednesday night.  You’ve probably been on longer drives, of six, ten or twelve hours.  I drove for just two hours, but in the pouring rain, in the darkness, it felt like a long time.  You’ve had that experience, where the wipers are swiping through the streaking drops, and the headlights reaching through the rain into the black.

I was going to a place I’d never been before, so I had the small glowing light of my GPS directing me to turn left here, bank right there.  Here in the California valley the land is completely flat, so flat you can flood fields for rice seedlings, but we’re surrounded by the foothills that lead into the mountains.  My route led me into those foothills, so I went from the ruler-straight valley roads to the winding rolling country highways where the autumn oaks stretched their bare branches over the road like skeleton hands.

I arrived at my destination at a tiny community center in a tiny town, a public building like you’ve been in before, which is just walls and a roof, and this one with its “Maximum Capacity 90” sign inside.  When I arrived the space was already crowded and continued to fill so we were far exceeding the sign’s instruction.  I found there four other priests, and about that many Protestant pastors, amidst the families, adults and children: some holding the tiny candles that today are powered by batteries.

We were gathered there for the familiar purpose of Catholics in the month of November, to pray for the dead. We were also there to remember those who were hurt, who were wounded in the violence of the day before. One of the pastors had a wireless microphone, which we passed around to the different members of the gathering, so they could share their story.

What stood out the most was gratitude.  Parents described their gratitude for the teachers whose quick response had saved the lives of their children.  Teachers shared their thankfulness for the children who been so brave, and that they had lived.  We had a lot of tears, and still some fear and anger.

When I was handed the microphone, I reflected on the moment when Jesus encounters his friends Martha and Mary, and they lead him to where their brother is dead.  That’s the one place, I pondered, where we find Jesus weeping in the Gospels.

I described how close Jesus is to us when we weep for the departed, and reflecting on how the disciples saw how close Jesus was to his Father, I invited the gathering to pray the prayer that Jesus taught them.

For us who believe, we don’t know what fear, what violence, we will have to face in our lives.  But we do know the one who has conquered death, whose light shines through every darkness.

A lot of things in life can offer us happiness, comfort, or soothing.  But we have to ask each of them how they handle death.  And if they don’t have an answer like our God can give, that’s our cue to leave them behind and embrace the one whose death gives us life.

I’ll always remember the dark road I drove and the candlelit gathering I found at the end.  And I hope when I arrive at my last day, I’ll embrace the one who has the answer for every death.  And I hope I’ll find you there.


A Reader Request for Holy Week

I read a piece that you wrote on your blog about the first-century Jews and the Paschal Sacrifice. I was hoping that you would repost that piece. I think about it at Holy Week.
Thank you

I’m happy to oblige! Huzzah for reader requests!

First-Century Jews and the Paschal Sacrifice: why “Lamb of God” should mean far more to us

(Originally posted April 10, 2014 here)

For those of us who lack multiple degrees in theology, ancient history, and sacred scripture, diving into exegesis isn’t much different than Aristotle recognizing a Nike “swoop” or President George Washington thinking the Apple Computer logo is just a cute drawing of the favorite fruit of the original owner of his teeth. While idioms and hidden meanings abound in any culture, it’s difficult — or nearly impossible — to extract all of the meaning that is present.

In this article, I hope to share just a bit of the missing context that would be helpful to understanding what we mean when we refer to Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God”, and to discuss how deeply important this term is to understanding what First-Century Jews and early Christians would likely have automatically perceived regarding Jesus, secondary to living in that age.

I. Jesus Christ is the “Lamb of God”.

At every mass, following the consecration, we recite the Angus Dei:

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
grant us peace.

Francisco de Zurbarán, Angus Dei, c. 1635-40

Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei, c. 1635-40

As Catholics, we are familiar with the imagery — or at least we think we are. The Catholic Church teaches that St. John the Baptist, the “Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner” points out Jesus as “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (CCC 523). And, the lamb figures prominently in John’s Apocalypse, for example at Revelation 21:14, where the lamb is said to have twelve apostles.

Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

The Church teaches that “Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,’ and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the ‘blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ (CCC 613).

Ghent Altarpiece; The central "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" panel, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

Ghent Altarpiece; The central “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” panel, by Jan van Eyck, c. 1430–32

And, inasmuch as Jesus as Lamb of God is developed as part of the New Covenant, it draws from the shared understanding of God’s chosen people (the Jews) and the Old Covenant. In other words, there is more there to Jesus as Lamb of God than what’s found in the New Testament.

II. The Paschal Sacrifice began with the Jews

Much of God’s early relationship with the Jews concerns a sacrificial offering, and the lamb is singled out by God as a preferred form of offering. In Genesis, we see that God tests Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice his son Isaac, but Abraham is righteously obedient and faithful; he tells his son that “God himself with provide the lamb for a burnt offering.”) (Gen 22:8, CCC 2572).

Passover, engraving published 1670 in "La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain", 1670

Passover, engraving published 1670 in “La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain”, 1670

Then, in Exodus, God seeks to free his people, and orders that a year-old unblemished male lamb be sacrificed to God in each household, whose blood is to be placed over the doorposts of the homes of the Jews in Egypt so that the angel will know to pass over those houses in carrying out God’s command to take from the Egyptian captives their first-born sons.

It is from this sacrifice to God that Passover came to be celebrated in Jesus’ own time, and Jesus as an observant Jew would have been very familiar with the sights, sounds, and smells of Passover in Jerusalem.

In How Christ Said the First Mass or The Lord’s Last Supper, Rev. James Meagher recounts how Josephus tells the story that to count the numbers of Jews present for Passover in Jerusalem, one year Herod Agrippa ordered the kidneys of the sacrificed lambs to be counted, assuming one lamb for ten people so that “…we learn that 12,000,000 persons offered the Passover sacrifice that year, which was known as the ‘large Passover.'” And based upon this, Fr. Meagher posits that “We can then imagine the vast crowds, who clamored for the death of Christ and what a multitude saw him die.” (p. 174).

III. First-Century Jews (including Jesus and his disciples) understood the Passover primarily as a Sacrifice

Passover of the Jews, Marcantonio FRANCESCHINI

Passover of the Jews, Marcantonio FRANCESCHINI

According to Brant Pitre’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, it would be difficult for the modern person (“who probably has never witnessed a single animal sacrifice”) to imagine “just how much blood would have been poured out by the priests at Passover.” But Pitre states that for the first-century Jews, including Jesus and his disciples, the fact of Passover as a sacrifice — with several thousand lambs slaughtered in one day — would have been impossible to forget.

Description:Full-page miniature, upper register: the slaughter and the preparation of the Passover lamb, smearing the posts of the doorway with blood (Ex. 12:22), lower register: two couples by spread Seder tables raising cups of wine.  Origin:Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

Description: Full-page miniature, upper register: the slaughter and the preparation of the Passover lamb, smearing the posts of the doorway with blood (Ex. 12:22), lower register: two couples by spread Seder tables raising cups of wine.
Origin: Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

According to Pitre, “No one living at the time of the Temple could have ever had any misconception about the fact that the first-century Passover was first a sacrifice and then a meal,” which is the reverse of the way that it is viewed by moderns today, due to the fact that the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., and ended ritual sacrifice under the Mosaic Law. (p. 61-2).

In terms of sacrifice, according to the Mishna, the paschal lamb would be roasted, on “a spit, made of wood of the pomegranate tree,” which “should be taken, put in at the mouth and brought out at the vent thereof. The paschal sacrifice must not be roasted on an iron roasting spit or on a gridiron.” (Pesahim 7:1).

This description is somewhat difficult to visualize, but Pitre explains (citing to the research of Israeli scholar Joseph Tabory) that after the lamb was sacrificed in the Temple, the Jews would insert “thin smooth staves” of pomegranate wood through the shoulders of the lamb and in addition to this, they would also “thrust” a skewer through the Passover lamb’s mouth “and brought out at the vent thereof,” i.e., the buttocks. (Pesahim 5:9, 7:1). Thus, “Tabory concludes, ‘An examination of the rabbinic evidence… seems to show that in Jerusalem the Jewish paschal lamb was offered in a manner which resembled a crucifixion.'”

IV. To First-Century Jews, Jesus would not be the only Lamb they had seen Crucified

Description:Decorated initial-word panel at the beginning of the Haggadah. Within the panel, beneath the initial words, a family is seated at a spread Seder table, while a servant is flaying and roasting the Passover lamb. The text is surrounded by an ornamental frame inhabited by animals and hybrids.  Origin:Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

Description: Decorated initial-word panel at the beginning of the Haggadah. Within the panel, beneath the initial words, a family is seated at a spread Seder table, while a servant is flaying and roasting the Passover lamb. The text is surrounded by an ornamental frame inhabited by animals and hybrids.
Origin: Spain, N. E. (Catalonia)

According to Meagher, “The pomegranate, ‘grained apple,’ called in Hebrew rimmon, was extensively grown in the Jordan valley and around Jerusalem at the time of Christ. The stick was extended so that its lower end passed through the tendons of the hind feet, and the cross-piece of the same kind of wood passed through the tendons of the fore feet. The operation was called ‘crucifying the lamb.'” (p. 175).

John the Baptist identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God”, and the way that he was put to death by the Romans was visually consonant with the practice of paschal sacrifice in the Temple!

Meagher points out that “The lamb rested entirely on and was roasted on its cross, and foretold the dead Christ hanging from his cross. Seeing this crucified paschal lamb, a striking image of the Crucified, the Rabbis of the Talmud left out the details of the sticks passing through the tendons of the feet.” (p. 175). We can set aside for the moment why the rabbis might have done this, but the point remains that even without a more detailed description, First-Century Jews and early Christians would have recognized the connection between the lambs crucified in the Temple, and Jesus crucified at Golgotha.

V. In comparison to Today, the First-Century Jews and Early Christians recognized another dimension to “Lamb of God”, as shown by the Paschal Sacrifices in the Temple

Description:Full-page miniature of two Israelites roasting the paschal lamb.  Origin:Spain, Central (Castile)

Description: Full-page miniature of two Israelites roasting the paschal lamb.
Origin: Spain, Central (Castile)

Despite Meagher’s assertion that the Rabbis of the Talmud left out some of the details of visualization of the lamb as crucified, “…other writers (Justin Martyr and the early Fathers) describe the lamb thus roasted on his own cross, emblem of the crucifixion coming down from the days of the Hebrew kings.” (p. 175). Pitre also agrees and cites St. Justin:

For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of a cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 40). (Pitre, p. 63-4).

For the first-century Jews and early Christians like St. Justin, Jesus as Lamb of God was not mere metaphor, but was visually confirmed to them by their having witnessed the Passover sacrifices in the Temple.

And, while the lamb remains a powerful symbol for Jews celebrating Passover in these times, the only actual sacrifice that takes place today occurs upon the altars of the Church, where Christ is continually represented in an unbloody sacrifice to God, in unity with that day nearly 2,000 years ago, when Our Lord — among thousands or even millions of other sacrificial victims that were positioned in cruciform just as He was — offered Himself once and for all for our salvation.

Description:Full-page miniature, upper right: the Dance of Miriam (Ex. 15:20), upper left: the master of the house distributing the matzot (unleavened bread) and the haroset (sweetmeat), lower right: cleaning of the house, lower left: slaughtering the Passover lamb and cleansing dishes (hagalat kelim).  Origin:Spain, N. E., Catalonia (Barcelona?)

Description: Full-page miniature, upper right: the Dance of Miriam (Ex. 15:20), upper left: the master of the house distributing the matzot (unleavened bread) and the haroset (sweetmeat), lower right: cleaning of the house, lower left: slaughtering the Passover lamb and cleansing dishes (hagalat kelim).
Origin: Spain, N. E., Catalonia (Barcelona?)

Leaders of this Age: Where are your Successors? And Finally, who cares?

Christian Martyrs of Rome, pray for us.

Christian Martyrs of Rome, pray for us.

The Catholic Church is on the wrong side of History. Those who remain under her shelter are Obstinate Fools, who prefer their Hate to the promises of the Age.

This narrative — along with evermore strident charges of bigotry ennobled by the mantle of constitutionality — is widely expected to deliver the silence of remaining dissent, or at the very least a new calm to the “marketplace of ideas”.

The Crucifix, along with the triregnum and crossed keys, are nothing more than anachronistic flags of another (hateful, hypocritical) confederacy. It is promised that whatever follows is so that all this hate can be swallowed up by rainbows. Then (and only then) will true peace prevail.

St. Stephen, pray for us.

St. Stephen, pray for us.

It matters not, say the benevolent, that never before in the history of human civilization has there been a definition for marriage as anything other than between man and woman. Take note: it is entirely possible, simple fools, to recast objective and fundamental reality. In fact, this is required so that #LoveWins.

Can we be very surprised by any of this? After all, it was Pontius Pilate who asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” and by this expression he showed himself to be a partaker in the same invincible ignorance suffered today. It was Pilate who first personified the notion that Truth is fungible, unascertainable, or relative.

Aggravating such ignorance is that the Question is never in earnest, but rather (mostly) rhetorical, offered as terms of surrender to one’s fallen nature. It is almost as though the worst offenders know their own idiocy, but are already too burned (or burdened) by acedia to do anything other than submit to the demands of the crowd. We might even feel justified in righteous indignation — because it is all so dumb, but that too is part of the Mystery of the freedom God gives us.

Sts. Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Barbara and Cecilia, pray for us!

Sts. Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Barbara and Cecilia, pray for us!

Do not be tempted to forget that the Word is yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our Lord says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake” — He is, at this moment in history, speaking to us. Do not discount the supreme Gift of such a blessing! Rich is the reward for those blessed by the Lord!

In Fr. Robert Barron’s book Catholicism, he quotes the late Francis Cardinal George concerning the appearance of the cardinals on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica in April of 2005 following the announcement of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. According to Barron, “the news cameras caught the remarkably pensive expression on the face” of Cardinal George, and when reporters asked him later what he was thinking, George responded:

“I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? Where is the successor of Caesar Augustus? Where is the successor of Marcus Aurelius? And finally, who cares? But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.’ “

St. Sebastian, pray for us.

St. Sebastian, pray for us.

Joyfully walking with Jesus means that we can follow the Cardinal’s example and accept that many will call us bigots, and worse. They will tell us we hate whilst spewing their own invective. Spit on our priests. Troll our blogs. Vandalize our churches. Disrupt our liturgies. Remove us from secular public life. We can and must love those who do these things. We can and must forgive them as Jesus forgives us. Everything to follow has already happened countless times before — and He told us not to worry about it. 

Meanwhile, to the Leaders of this Age, where are your successors, and finally, who cares?

Some pressing prayer intentions:

– For our godson (just a few months old, born with a chromosomal deletion; he’s very small) who went to the pediatrician and tested positive for RSV. Praying a hospital admission is averted. And for said godson’s father who interviews for a job tomorrow.

– For the grandmother of a family with whom we are very close, recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that has metastasized.

– For the repose of the soul of our brother-in-law’s cousin, who recently died while still a young man to an extended illness.

– For our two youngest kids, sick this week with normal crud.

– For anyone suffering depression, anxiety, or despair, that they be comforted by the saving mercy of our Lord.

– For a safe and fruitful Walk for Life 2015 in San Francisco this Saturday.

– For conversion of hearts, and the reconciliation to the Church of several close loved ones.

– For two personal intentions.

Will you please pray?

The Souls in Purgatory Cannot Pray Themselves to Heaven

We (members of the Body of Christ, alive today here on earth) are the Church Militant. This is an important thing to understand today, on the Solemnity of All Saints, the eve of the Commemoration of All Souls.

Nice. God finally installed wi-fi.

Occasionally I get a page view from Vatican City, but just imagine the credibility of a blog that “Dispenses Orthodox Catholic Joy” and is visited by non-Militant members of the Church!

We the Church Militant cannot be certain which members of the faithful of God belong to the Church Triumphant (among the Communion of Saints in Heaven) or the Church Suffering (undergoing the purifying fire of Purgatory). We don’t see the “stats”; God is the admin. We can, however, give thanks to God for Purgatory, and ponder the extent of such loving Mercy that even in death, God makes provisions for us. 

The Church Suffering (those souls in Purgatory, destined for Heaven) cannot pray from themselves. It is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the dead. But prayers aren’t useful for everyone who has died. Why do we pray, and for whom do we pray?

We do not pray for the souls in the Hell. A soul in Hell sends itself there and cannot escape. Such a prayer would be fruitless.

We do not pray for souls in Heaven. A soul in Heaven is already in that perfect state of Beatitude; essentially a person in Heaven is a saint; we might ask a saint to pray for us, but we do not pray for a saint. There is nothing added by our prayers to the blessings poured out upon the souls in that are already in Heaven.

We pray for the souls in Purgatory, who like just about all of us, undergo spiritual purification after death before joining our Lord in Heaven. Purgatory is not necessarily fun, because it is a type of separation from God. In fact, it might be painful. It might be lonely. It might even be frightening. A soul in Purgatory will want to leave, because Heaven is in sight and Purgatory is supposed to be temporary.

Because souls in Purgatory cannot pray themselves out, it falls to us to pray to God and the saints for them. When I pray for souls in Purgatory, I can’t help inserting a rather self-serving prayer that someone will take pity and pray for me when my time in Purgatory comes.

Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day. The Church offers a plenary indulgence on November 2 for the faithful who (1) visit a Catholic Church and while there pray for the souls in Purgatory (say one “Our Father” and the “Apostles Creed”, one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Holy Father’s prayer intentions), (2) receive Holy Communion, and (3) go to confession within 20 days (before or after) of All Souls’ Day. You can also gain a plenary indulgence (one soul in Purgatory for each day) between November 1 and November 8 by visiting a cemetery and praying there.

In order for these indulgences to qualify as “plenary” (i.e., complete remission of all temporal punishments of sin for the soul in Purgatory = go straight to Heaven) you must be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin. Because of the question of one’s own “attachment to sin”, it’s difficult to know whether your spiritual work of mercy on behalf of the faithfully departed in Purgatory will qualify as plenary or partial. That’s okay, and in a way has the upside of leaving us unconcerned with any focus upon the “merits” of our “work” and once again reliant upon God and His graces. Just do the spiritual work and let the Lord sort out the merit.

As much as we are called to make our lives an expression of caritas, but sometimes lack the means (due to time, lack of money, or some other obstacle) to care for the physical well-being of others, we can all pray for the dead, out of love, regardless of our particular situation. This type of work for the good of the Church has great merit in the eyes of God.

On Grotesques: Gargoyle and Chimera

Famous gothic or neo-gothic cathedrals feature ornate decoration: in addition to animals, statues and stained glass, there are also “gargoyles” stationed atop parapets and buttresses, peering down on us and surveying the landscape.

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Krzysztof Mizera

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Krzysztof Mizera

A “gargoyle” is actually a type of a “grotesque” that has a functional purpose: a true gargoyle directs rain water away from the roof and masonry of the structure, carrying the water through a decorated downspout. The word is from the French, meaning “throat” or “gullet”.

A “grotesque” that is not truly a “gargoyle” is actually called a “chimera”, or for the gamers out there, a “boss”. But nowadays we use the term “gargoyle” whether it carries water or not. It may be impish or devilish, fantastic or fierce, animal or supernatural, tortured or torturing, humorous or menacing.

The use of grotesques in architecture is not purely an innovation of the West, or the Church. Rather, various cultures have their own examples. But as it regards the Church, grotesques, apart from any practical function, also deliver a message to the faithful: evil exists, but is unwelcome insideEvil can’t stand to be any closer to God. The church is a sanctuary. 

York Minster; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Digital Designs

York Minster; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Digital Designs

Catholics understand that the church building is a “sacred place” that is designated for divine worship (1983 CCL 1214). Every church houses at least one tabernacle within which is contained the Eucharist — the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

A church is the ordinary place for the celebration of the Mass, which in the Eucharist brings about “our union with the Church in heaven” (Lumen Gentium, 50).

Heaven is literally brought to Earth inside a church, and we are accompanied not just by statues or images, but the company of angels and saints themselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV says that in God’s presence “are countless hosts of Angels,” serving Him “day and night”, gazing upon the glory His face, glorifying “without ceasing” so that “we, too” confess God’s “…name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven…..” Our celebration is not fully understood without acknowledgement that God’s angels and saints join us at every Mass.

The grotesques outside, as well as the saints and angels represented within a church are all human works, for the most part. But if eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, then the heart has at least imagined. At times the imagination glimpses upon Divine Inspiration, setting down by human expression a thing that is True.

20140729_100919_AndroidLikewise, the Catholic home is the sanctuary of the Domestic Church (N.B.: has a priest blessed your home? Invite him over, serve him a meal, and ask him to bless it).

A few years ago, my sister was an art student and took a pottery class where she sculpted a rather peculiar piece. Though not a true gargoyle, it could be called a chimera and is stationed outside our house. It scares the children. It scares me a little, too.

When I look at it, I think that it presents a good expression of Sin.

The face is beautiful, but anonymous. We cannot even be sure whether it is a man or woman. He is Adam. She is Eve. He is me. She is you.

Sin does not care who you are. You are the lowest common denominator to Sin: just another human soul. Depending on your holiness, you might be more or less a prize to Sin, but all that this means is that Sin thinks it gets to twist the lance a little deeper into the Lord’s side; for Sin, understanding is lost to its own hatred.


Sin doesn’t necessarily prickle you with its claws or even alert you to its presence. It can climb on gently, like a trained rider on a willing stead. It lulls us into complacency so that it can easily install itself and get settled before making any announcement. The expression of the face suggests beguilement, a lack of awareness.

Sin shows you its own sight, a jaundiced eye that truly deceives. Sin filters what you hear, whispering dissension and anxiety. This chimera of ours serves as a reminder to set a guard against Sin, and never forget its potential, just like the ancient ones of medieval Europe.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

St. Mary Magdalene as an Example of Perseverance

July 22 is the Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene. From the Office of Readings is a homily by Gregory the Great (Hom. 25, 1-2, 4-5: PL 76, 1189-1193) in which St. Gregory explores the Magdalene as an example of perseverance:

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

Ivanov, Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena, c. 1835

Ivanov, Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena, c. 1835

Summer + Camping = Outdoor Mass

DSC_0165Mass is usually held in a church. But, have you ever attended mass at an “outdoor church”?

On our most recent coastal retreat (which also included a visit to the first Russian Orthodox Chapel in North America south of Alaska and to Russian River Brewing Company) we all piled into the car on Sunday morning and traveled for over an hour (for a 13-mile trip) along a one-lane, only partially paved, curvy mountain road (which resulted in some white knuckles for the Quartermaster) to arrive at a tiny village called Cazadero, where there is an outdoor church called (and I am not joking about this) — St. Coleman’s!

It’s news to me that there is a St. Coleman, but an Internet search reveals that there are several churches dedicated to this saint here in the United States. According to this, St. Colman of Cloyne was the first bishop of Cloyne (Ireland) who was baptized by St. Brendan at the age of 50. Someone with an affinity for the pun must have suggested him for this outdoor church. I wonder if he can help perform any miracles with broken (lantern) mantles!

DSC_0168The church is sheltered from the road by a stand of tall redwoods on one side and a sloping hill that climbs up into the forest on the other side. The church just received an installation of fresh redwood pews (with kneelers), and features a “natural” altar composed of a huge redwood slab fronted by moss-covered boulders. A crucifix carved from wood is framed before a majestic redwood slightly behind and to the left of the altar.

The liturgy was beautiful. There were 4 cantors accompanied by synthesized piano, but despite the piano, only one or two hymns were of the not excellent Haugen/Haas ilk. The other hymns and accompaniments were rather orthodox. There was no liturgical weirdness;  it was refreshing and gladdening that this wasn’t a place where someone had come up with an “anything goes” mentality for the celebration of mass outdoors. It is one of the most beautiful outdoor churches, and a true church in terms of its layout and its permanence. The roof is the heavens and the walls are the nature surrounding it.

DSC_0167Father “did the red, and said the black”, and delivered an excellent homily on the Ascension which, for its theme, discussed the fact that the Ascension (and Pentecost) points to the “reconciliation” of Heaven and Earth — that we should not be seeking after the idea of “being delivered” from this world in favor of Heaven, but rather looking for this reconciliation here and now (especially at mass!).

As I stated, mass is usually said in a church, and outdoor churches are rare. What other circumstances permit the celebration of mass outdoors? Canon 932.1 says that mass should be said in a “sacred place”, but this is the ideal. In essence, if a “sacred place” is available for use in the celebration of mass, it should be used. It would not be proper to (for example) have a mass under tents in the parking lot of a church. If the church is available (and everyone who wishes to attend the mass can fit inside), it should be used.

But a “sacred place” is not required in order for mass to celebrated. If it were, there would be problems for military chaplains, missionaries in remote places, priests who are traveling and not near a church, etc. There are balancing factors, but the point (as I understand it) is not to make it all about the novelty of outdoor liturgy (or do things which would not otherwise be unsuitable) but rather about the necessity and importance of the Divine Liturgy. We the faithful need the mass, and the Church does not limit its celebration to instances where a “sacred space” is available; the importance of the mass itself eclipses even ordinary requirements. If celebrated properly, a mass outdoors can (and should) be just as reverent and spiritually fruitful.

DSC_0250Since we were camping on this trip with our pastor who joined us on a Sunday evening, we were privileged to celebrate mass at our campsite on Monday and Tuesday. I’ve been camping at this exact campsite for over 25 years, and it’s a really special place for our family, but I never imagined experiencing mass there.

Father reverently celebrated mass ad orientem overlooking the rugged terrain, just a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean. My wife pointed out that on one of the two days, Father’s chasuble — which is a “cream” color — appears blazingly white in several pictures, reminding us of this (but inasmuch as we love Father, and believe him to be a holy and saintly priest, we’re not suggesting something miraculous here, just a special type of light captured by the camera).

Outdoor masses are somewhat rare for most of us who live near a Catholic Church, but if you have not experienced one, I suggest you find an outdoor church or invite your favorite priest camping!


The First Russian Orthodox Chapel in North America…..

IMG_0097 …..south of Alaska, is at Fort Ross, just north of Jenner, California. It was originally built in the mid-1820s as part of the southern-most trading outpost for the Russian Empire in North America, who were there to trade with locals and natives.

Significant numbers of otters and other marine mammals were depleted in this time due to trade and the desirability of pelts, oil, and other materials.

The Fort had no resident priest, although at various times, including around 1836, a visiting Russian Orthodox priest would travel from Alaska so he could conduct marriages, baptisms, and say mass.

One such priest — Father Ioann Veniaminov — kept a journal describing his time at Ft. Ross, and he later became the Russian Orthodox bishop in Alaska, and canonized in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977.





In 1906, a devastating earthquake struck the California coast and decimated the city of San Francisco. The original chapel was also destroyed in the earthquake, but it was rebuilt between 1916 and 1918.



The construction is entirely of wood, and very simple, with a tall cylindrical belfry. There is a small portable wooden altar upon a raised platform and with simple altar rails. Three icons decorate the sanctuary.


Atheists are Wrong about the Burden of Proof

Yesterday I argued that atheism is just another religion, because it requires both faith and belief. A few atheists saw my tweet linking the article, and began tweeting objections to it. As follow up, I have an observation, and one additional point.

First, the observation:

Many atheists consider themselves “rational thinkers”. If a “rational thinker” lumps God together with Santa Claus, Yeti, or something called the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”, I’m reminded of what Admiral Kirk says to Khan in Star Trek II: “I’m laughing at the superior intellect.”

Further note: presuming that an absurd (and exquisitely incorrect) meme constitutes the final word in an argument is also patently contrary to rational thought. Just sayin’.

Second, the additional point:

“Rational thinking” atheists have it wrong when it comes to who has the burden of proof in the existence of God question.

A brief caveat emptor here: I am an attorney; a civil litigator. Because of the types of cases that I handle, I think I have a pretty good notion of the burden of proof in the context of the law, and especially in litigation.

In our legal system, if a person brings a lawsuit against someone, he, as the plaintiff, has the burden of proof. What this means, practically speaking, is that before the plaintiff can prevail (i.e., obtain a judgment), the burden is on him to establish, through clear and convincing evidence, the merits of his claim, and satisfy each element of it.

This is because at law, individual litigants are supposed to be equal to one another.

But did you know that if I, a citizen of the United States, bring a cause of action against the United States Government (i.e., the Sovereign), the law often (there are many examples) provides a different (heightened) burden of proof, sometimes shifting the burden altogether, and a different (heightened) standard of review (e.g., “abuse of discretion”, or “arbitrary and capricious” versus “manifest weight of evidence”)?

The government says of itself: citizens are equal to one another, but not equal to the Sovereign. A different standard applies, by virtue of its sovereignty. Even in our “democratic” system, with a Constitution that expressly holds that government shall not abridge certain rights of its citizens, the government nearly always has a “leg up” at law.

Likewise, if an all-powerful God exists, by virtue of His sovereignty (not to mention His infinite power), He owes us nothing. If an all-powerful God exists, it is irrelevant to the fact of His existence that we believe in Him.

While an atheist is certainly free not to believe (because God gives him that freedom), an atheist is not also right to expect God to prove Himself to anyone. An atheist who considers himself “finder of fact” — like a juror — is simply wrong; rather, he is an arm-chair quarterback; the calls issued from the La-Z-Boy are meaningless and have no impact on the game itself.

After all, if God exists, He is the Sovereign.

He does care whether you believe, but that’s a different story having nothing to do with equity.