Elephant Tusk Restored…..

Perhaps you recall, a few months ago, the story of a vandal. Someone broke the left tusk off the statue of an elephant holding atop its back an ancient Egyptian obelisk. This famous work of Bernini is stationed in front of the Roman Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where it has acted as sentry, for centuries. So great was the outrage poured out over such a heinous act that artisans set to work almost immediately. Thankfully it has been repaired. 


This needs to become a law for all “A. I.”. Enough of this “Siri,” “Alexa,” “Cortana”. Do you want to hasten the claims for “equality” with software? Then by all means, give “it” a name.

You Can Now Address Alexa As “Computer” Because Star Trek Is Real Life


Cubs Win! The World is Shaken!

IMG_2733.PNGWhat seemed to be a fixed constant of our Universe — the perennial “next year” for the Chicago Cubs — has finally unravelled after more than a century.

Within this time, there have been world wars, the advent of air travel, radio, television, computers, the Internet, a host of other technological innovations, including sliced bread, as well as all of the societal and cultural changes of the past 108 years. Yet in all that time, never has the famed marquee outside Wrigley declared (except maybe, on April Fools’) the Cubs as World Series Champions.

We lived in Wrigleyville for several years, and after going to class and then clerking in the Loop, I would take the Red Line to the Addison stop. On game days, you could catch a glimpse of the action on the field from the El platform.

As I’d make my way down the stairs from the platform, I’d buy a bag a peanuts from a vendor set up in the station, and walk the few blocks to our apartment. If it wasn’t too far into the autumn, I’d open the French doors to our little patio, and turn on the game on the TV.

It was a surreal experience, watching a Cubs game in that apartment — an outfielder would catch a fly ball or Sammy Sosa would hit a home run, and you’d see the fans cheer on TV, and then, a few seconds later you would hear the roar and din from Wrigley through our patio doors. You could even hear the notes of the organ on the air.

So, while I’m not a “sports guy”, in my heart is a nurtured romance for Wrigley and the Cubs, and a reverence for the pure love of the team’s true fans. I couldn’t be more happy for those loyal North-Siders who, after generations of long suffering patience, have finally breached the gate of baseball paradise.

Even church bells had their say in the Windy City last night.

/ W /

Vatican daily “L’Osservatore Romano” announces new recycling initiative

Rome (Vatican City) – For nearly 155 years, the “semi-official” daily newspaper of the Vatican city-state, “L’Osservatore Romano”, has printed papal discourses, statements, and news of appointments and audiences in its pages. Over the years, in addition to daily issues printed in Italian, the paper has added weeklies in such languages as English, French, German and Portuguese.

All of that adds up to a lot of paper, and particularly since the release of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, questions have swirled within the editorial offices of the newspaper concerning whether it can continue to print without regard for its “eco-footprint”.

Shortly after the Holy Father issued his encyclical, current L’Osservatore editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian began to fret. “Suddenly we have a Pope who cares about the environment, and a news outlet that looks entirely like an anachronism, with its newsprint and Latin motto. Then (on 27 June 2015) we get the motu proprio establishing a new Secretariat for Communications that will eventually absorb L’Osservatore Romano. The optics of this situation matter a great deal.”

According to Vian, the Pope appointed as new Prefect of the Secretariat for Communications none other than Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, “who hates paper.” Ever since his appointment in 2013 to be Director of the Vatican Television Center, “…it’s been nothing but ‘digital’ this and ‘new media’ that. History and tradition means nothing to the likes of him.”


L’Osservatore Romano plan for “newspaper-only” recycling bins within St. Peter’s Square, the first of several locations throughout the Vatican city-state

So functionaries at L’Osservatore wasted no time in infiltrating Casa Santa Martae and embedding themselves “as cafeteria workers” who could discretely pass Pope Francis their idea, unhindered by papal handlers. The plan: recycling bins in St. Peter’s Square, circling the two granite fountains.

According to Vian, it was “This [the bins], or getting rid of the German weekly,” which he admitted no one actually reads but continues to enjoy a “cult following” due to its use for lining the cages of the birds of “high-ranking” clerics.

“Our big break happened one day in January of this year when the Holy Father accidentally dropped the panna cotta on his lunch tray as he was leaving the cafeteria line to join a group of youth from Brazil for lunch at a nearby table. One of our operatives quickly grabbed a new dessert from the line and brought it to Pope Francis, along with a copy of our proposal and a sketch that demonstrates the new bins,” said Vian.

Days later, recounts Vian, “the second assistant to Pope Francis called the offices of L’Osservatore to tell us that the Holy Father had seen the proposal and wanted the recycling bins placed at once, and preferably before the ‘Easter rush’.”

And, soon “we’ll have secured permission for placement of the bins at other major locations, including around the baldacchino inside the basilica, and within the Sistine Chapel.”

Thanks to another Vatican innovation, the future of L’Osservatore is again secure, “for weeks or months, at least.”

A Little Pre-Triduum Mirth

Tomorrow (Holy Thursday) begins the Triduum. My kids keep asking whether Holy Thursday and Good Friday are Solemnities; they are not. Officially, Holy Thursday is Feria Quinta in Coena Domini and Good Friday is Feria Sexta in Passione Dominii.e., “ordinary” days in Holy Week for which there is no obligation to attend Mass (were there such an obligation, it would be particularly difficult to fulfill on Good Friday).

Nevertheless, one misses a great deal if one waits until Easter Sunday to plumb the depths of the paschal mysteries. The liturgical celebrations found in the Triduum will not repeat themselves until next year. Early bird and all that. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

That said, here’s a little something fun (albeit irreverent; I apologize; my sense of humor remains soundly adolescent) for “the night before the night before”:

True story: Long ago, a very-young-and-not-yet-Catholic Quartermaster played the role of the “Pope” in this sketch for a (public) high school variety show. There were three performances in total. This stirred up a fair amount of controversy, since at the high school I attended, a significant percentage of students, staff and parents were….. Mormon!

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?)

Dr. Scott Hahn and “The Fourth Cup”

I’m taking an on-line course on catechesis and the following caught my attention (from Dr. Scott Hahn’s Book, A Father Who Keeps His Promises):

Jesus instituted the Eucharist during the course of a Passover meal. This memorial celebrated God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. At the first Passover, every firstborn son in Egypt perished except those in Israelite families where a lamb was slain and eaten as a sacrificial meal.

Then Moses led Israel out of Egypt to Sinai, where they became God’s family, the “chosen people,” through what is known as the Old Covenant.

The one time Jesus used the word “covenant” was at the Last Supper. There the firstborn Son and Lamb of God fulfilled the Old Covenant Passover in Himself, as a sacrifice for our sins. On that occasion Jesus announced the establishment of the New Covenant (see Mt. 26:27-28).

The cup of wine that Jesus changed into His blood was the “cup of blessing” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16). This was the third cup of wine that was served during the Passover liturgy. There was still a fourth cup remaining, the “cup of consummation.”

Yet, instead of proceeding with the fourth cup, Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives (Mk. 14:26). This was a significant omission, and one that Jesus seemed to notice when He said in the preceding verse: “Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mk. 14:25).

It seems that Jesus intended not to drink the cup that His disciples expected Him to drink.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus three times prayed that “this cup” would be taken away. Later, as Jesus was being led to His execution, He was offered wine and did not take it (Mk. 15:23).

Finally, we read: “After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, ‘It is finished’; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn. 19:28-30).

The “it” that was now finished or consummated was the Passover that Jesus had begun—but interrupted—in the Upper Room. Its completion was marked by Jesus’ drinking the sour wine, the fourth cup.

In other words, what was finished was Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Covenant Passover as He transformed it into the New Covenant Passover. Here we see how the Passover, Christ’s sacrifice, and the Eucharist are all intimately related (see generally, Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1362-72).

Now we too are called to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, which unites us with Christ and with one another in the worldwide (“catholic”) family of God.


Eros Grossly Misunderstood

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 5.51.35 PMIn perusing Facebook, today I noticed a discussion concerning “The Erotic Powers of the Holy Spiritby Elizabeth Duffy at Patheos Catholic.

Everyone thinks they already understand the quest for transcendence, including sexual transcendence. While contraceptives may well impede it, transcendence shouldn’t be a primary aim in itself, and certainly not a point for evangelizing.

What we Catholics preach with our vans filled with kids is that more than even transcendent sex, the family is the center of the Catholic universe, and Mom and Dad don’t presume to say anything other than “Yes” when God sees fit to expand the universe. It may be potentially exciting, in some weird, crazy “I-love-our-family-and-I-love-you-and-I-would-welcome-another-you-and-me-to-this-world!”-way, but that is merely a by-product of the meaning behind it.

According to Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Deus caritas est, the word eros appears only twice in the Old Testament, and not at all in the New Testament, for the writers of which there is a “…tendency to avoid the word eros,” which “clearly” points to “something new and distinct about the Christian understanding of love…” Through the Enlightenment this led to the charge that Christianity had “…poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice.”

Benedict states that “purification and growth in maturity” do not “reject” or “poison” eros, but rather “heal it and restore its true grandeur.” He states that this is first due to the fact that “Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved.”

The Christian faith “…has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to new nobility. True, eros tends to rise ‘in ecstasy’ towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.”

To the extent that Benedict indicates that eros and agape (“ascending love and descending love”) “…can never be completely separated,” he states that the more the two, “…in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.” To become, as the Lord tells us, “a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38)… one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).”

Likewise, any comparisons of “Communion with the Holy Spirit” as sexual in nature, and the “meditative art” of the “feminine climax” as “acted upon externally… by the Holy Spirit” do not properly reflect the “ascent, renunciation, purification and healing” that is described by Pope Benedict with regard to our understanding of eros.

Here we find an attempt to divinize sexual pleasure, and — more troubling still — to impute such notions upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, along with the suggestion that the Holy Spirit employed upon her “erotic powers… to inseminate and co-create“. Unfortunately, Ms. Duffy does not stop there, and invokes her own marital relationship, penetrated with what one friend termed “weird, new age sex magic concepts.”

At his General Audience of November 14, 1979, Pope St. John Paul II, as part of his series of audiences commonly known as the “Theology of the Body”, stated that the “meaning of man’s original unity, through masculinity and femininity, is expressed as an overcoming of the frontier of solitude.” Man’s solitude, JPII teaches us, is also presented as “the discovery of an adequate relationship ‘to’ the person, and therefore as an opening and expectation of a ‘communion of persons.'”

JPII suggests that if we wish to draw from the concept of “‘image of God’, we can then deduce that man became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning… Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.”

Thus, JPII states that the “original meaning of unity” will “possess” an “…ethical dimension, as is confirmed by Christ’s answer to the Pharisees in Matthew 19… [and] a sacramental dimension, a strictly theological one, as is proved by St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians… And this is so because that unity which is realized through the body indicates, right from the beginning, not only the ‘body,’ but also the ‘incarnate’ communion of persons.

Through the sacrament of marriage God lends further order to the natural appetites of men, and delivers grace to truly live out the vocation. Marital ceptive sex is pleasurable and possesses a spiritual quality. However, the “feel-good” of sex (for humans, beyond pure biological function and encompassimg emotional and spiritual elements) does not merit the suggestion that husbands “must be Christ in the flesh” for their wives when it comes to the “spiritual drama in the marriage bed.”

I’m not looking for that sort of mystical union, but thanks anyway.