Saturday, December 5

We Are a Pilgrim People

The readings for this Sunday focus on the coming of Christ as a journey, in lieu of this season of Advent. One of the more prominent and underlying themes we can see in various parts of the reading is the theme of pilgrimage, the way or the journey. The original name for the Christian movement was "The Way," before we were first called "Christians" (see Acts 11:26). This hearkens back to Jesus's statement in John 14:6, where he calls himself "The Way." It was a prevalent theme in the Hebrew Bible, as many of the Hebrews were a nomadic people, traveling here and there - also seen in Abraham's wanderings, the Exodus, and the Babylonian Exile. Now, the word adventus, meaning
"coming" or "presence," is a Latin translation of the Greek parousia. In the Christian Scriptures, St. Paul often used the term parousia (see 1 Cor 1:7; 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1,8,9, for example). In the Greek world, it was used in reference to the visit of a high-ranking government official or dignitary1 The term was used to describe how the local citizens of a township would meet the approaching public figures before the figures entered the city walls. In other words, the people would go out and greet the dignitary, welcoming them into the city.

Bearing this background in mind, one of the readings for Sunday says, "stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One... Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you... For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground" (Baruch 5:5-7). Perhaps one way of looking at this passage is an image of masses of people journeying across it to herald the coming (parousia) of the king. This week's gospel, Luke 3, after providing the historical context goes on to explain, "the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" In today's world, we may give John the Baptist's job description as "highway construction." His role was to herald the coming - the adventus or parousia - of Jesus. His role, similar to those in ancient Greece welcoming a dignitary, was to prepare the way and be there to greet and welcome his king.

This September, I made a pilgrimage to Philadelphia. I had gone to Philadelphia in order to see the visiting Pope Francis on his final few days in the United States. This pilgrimage involved walking the length of one of the bridges connecting New Jersey to Pennsylvania, as well as walking several miles on foot within the city in order to finally come to the park, along the road where Pope Francis would be later that day. I had ended up at the park around 7:00am, and it occurred to me that the Pope would not be driving by on his way to the Mass until around 4:00pm. This was a long period of waiting for his coming. The crowd broke into a roar when the man in the white cassock came around the bend, and everyone tried to capture the moment on their cameras (guilty) and join in the excitement of it all.

The event reminded me in many ways of the parousia spoken of in the New Testament and in Greco-Roman literature. It is the closest point of reference I have of what the ancients experienced. A similar thing happened with Pope Francis - although he had already done several things throughout the weekend in Philadelphia, nonetheless, he was still welcomed by a throng of people - a pilgrim people - who had been anxiously awaiting and preparing for his coming. Indeed, the United States had been preparing all year for the coming of the Pope! The question we much continually ask ourselves this Advent, then, is an internal and personal one: how are we preparing for the coming of our king? It was incredible to see the amount of preparation and enthusiasm when Pope Francis announced he was coming to the U.S., but we should also ask ourselves: would we welcome in the stranger, extend a hand to the poor and the needy, help to uplift the downcast and care for the oppressed? The Christian tradition sees God in each individual. Do we recognize God in others? Would we be willing to go out of our cities, or in this case our comfort zones, and welcome in those whom society looks down upon?

The journey of traveling to Philadelphia, the enthusiasm and excitement as we awaited the Pope to come in the hours leading up to his arrival, and the grand welcome upon his arrival were striking to me. But it also raise a convicting question, leading me to wonder how much more we ought to welcome the homeless, the marginalized, the veterans, the immigrants and others in our world today. The growing problem in the United States of immigrants being banned from entering, for example, is in stark contrast to the welcome given to Pope Francis this September. I believe the Pope would agree that if we are to truly live out the Christian message, we too must be willing to go outside of our city walls - or rather, be willing to go beyond our boundaries, our prejudices and the "walls" we have built up - and extend a welcome to the marginalized and oppressed, and the immigrant. This, we may say, is how we go out and welcome the parousia of the king today, all the while remembering that we too are a pilgrim people.

[1] Young, R Garland. "The Times And The Seasons: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11." Review & Expositor 96.2 (1999): 274. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web.

Friday, November 20

The Poverty of Sodom and Gomorrah

One of the stories often cited from the Scriptures in relation to human sexuality is that of Sodom and Gomorrah. The two have become so associated, in fact, that the very term "sodomy" refers to a particular sexual act. Indeed, Sodom and Gomorrah has been connected with sexual acts for a long while, but I would suggest a different way of reading the text. Although the threat of sexual violence may be present in the text, Genesis 19 is not demonstrating that God condemned the cities because of homosexuality, but rather, because they did not fulfill their sacred duty of hospitality - and indeed, greatly violated it. There are other passages in Scripture which speak of Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah 1:9-10 and 3:9 refers to their lack of social justice, Jeremiah 23 refers to their general immorality and Ezekiel 16 refers to the lack of care in Sodom for the poor and the needy.

In fact, Ezekiel 16:49 says, "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." Later Jewish authors wrote that people of Sodom had laws which prohibited their citizens giving to charity or helping the poor. Through modern eyes, we would see this as a social justice issue. When we look at the same passage in Isaiah which speaks of Sodom's sin, it entreats each person to "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow" (1:17). This was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah - they failed to carry out social justice and failed to help the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the orphans and the widows - and Jeremiah indicates that their leaders were unfaithful in marriage.

But this was not the only sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many scholars over the past few decades have put forth the idea that the cities were penalized because of their lack of hospitality. The Ancient Near Eastern practice of welcoming strangers, gifting, clothing, feeding and housing them was extremely important at the time of Genesis 19. We see this echoed in other literature in another part of the ancient world - in Greece. The Homeric tale of The Odyssey focuses on several episodic adventures wherein Odysseus and his men are welcomed, given gifts, clothed, fed and housed. The story can be read as a series of stops to those who are hospitable and those who are not hospitable to travelers. For those who were not welcoming or hospitable, they were penalized or suffered a punishment, as in the case of the Cyclops. This Greek concept of hospitality was called xenia.

Hospitality is also a theme that runs throughout the early chapters of Genesis, especially those pertaining to the Abrahamic lineage - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Bear in mind that the early Hebrews were a nomadic people roaming arid and dry regions, which made the hospitality of others a welcomed rest. It seems, then, that God had a problem with Sodom and Gomorrah not being hospitable to strangers as they should have been in antiquity. In Wisdom 19:13-14, we read that "the men of Sodom did not receive the strangers when they came among them." These strangers include Lot and his family as well as the two angelic messengers, and other. It is clear from Genesis 19 that they were not seeking to be hospitable - but to be hostile. Further, in Matthew 10:14-15 and in Luke 10:7-16, Jesus tells his disciples to accept the hospitality of others and to offer peace to their households as they enter - and he also heavily indicates that the sin of Sodom was their lack of hospitality to strangers.

According to ancient Jewish texts - the Babylonian Talmud as well as the Genesis Rabba - the citizens of Sodom were well known for their widespread cruelty, their lack of support for the poor and the needy and their lack of charity. There are also other stories wherein the Sodomites torture wandering travelers, and another story in which they burn a young woman who had attempted to share her food with a hungry family. This fulfilled the injunction of Isaiah 58:7 to "Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help." It seems evident that those in Sodom, at least, were very inhospitable to strangers. But when their moral and social behavior is compared to that of Abraham's nephew Lot or that of Abraham and Sarah in welcoming the three strangers (Genesis 18), we find the contrast of extreme hospitality and extreme in-hospitality.

A further point is worth noting. The author of the book of Hebrews cautions Christians in regard to hospitality, saying, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). This is what transpired in Sodom when Lot and his family welcomed in the two angels, but the townspeople displayed radical non-hospitality through their actions. 2nd Peter declared that in their actions, these individuals were both ungodly and lawless, and St. Jude refers to their condemnation for wanting to gang-rape strangers, specifically, angels. This is a direct violation of the later command in Hebrews. The act of intended rape would have been an act of radical inhospitality, violence, and not helping the oppressed and the marginalized - not necessarily related to homosexual activity. Instead of welcoming travelers and showing them hospitality, the people of Sodom in Genesis 19 instead - parallel to what is also seen later in the book of Judges 19 - seek to gang-rape, and seek to do violence.

Hospitality was a hallmark of the ancient world, prized above many things. For those living in such areas as the ancient Hebrews, as aforementioned, hospitality was a much-needed and much-welcomed respite from difficult journeys. But the people of Sodom - and other texts indicate Gomorrah as well - directly and consistently violated this sacred duty and became radically inhospitable, even to the point of threatening sexual violence. Their lack of hospitality and Lot's example of hospitality do indeed stand in contrast with one another, and viewing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah through the lens of social justice, one can begin to understand God's discernment over what to do concerning said cities. Let us then be reminded again of the words of the prophet Isaiah, as we go forward in our own lives, "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.... Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help." 

Tuesday, November 17

Confession: The Sacrament of Reconciliation

The doctrine underlying the sacrament of Confession - also known as Reconciliation - found in the Catholic Church and in various forms in the Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and even Mormon churches is easily one of the most controversial among other Christians. Many in other Christian denominations point out that in Mark 2:6-7 we read, "Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 'Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'" (emphasis mine). Based on this verse, the general understanding is, "why would I go to a priest for forgiveness since the Bible says that God alone forgives sins?" This is a bit of a complex question, yet at the same time, a very simple one. So in order to understand why the various Christian denominations continue this practice of Confession or Reconciliation, we turn to the Christian Scriptures. One of the most prominent things found in the teachings of Jesus as seen in the New Testament is the forgiveness of sins. The word "sin" comes from a Hebrew word, haramatia, meaning "to miss the mark" (as if one's arrow would miss its target). Now, it seems that nearly every page or every other page in the New Testament has something about forgiveness. In fact, the first words we have from Mark’s gospels are about forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key concept in Christianity, just as the main theme of the Christian Scriptures is that of forgiveness or reconciliation to God through forgiveness.

We read in John 20:21-23, "Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'" Before Jesus grants them the authority to forgive sins, Jesus says to the apostles, "as the Father sent me, so I send you." As Christ was sent by the Father to forgive sins, so Christ sends the apostles and their successors forgive sins. The Lord then "breathes" on the apostles, and then gives them the power to forgive and retain sins. The only other moment in Scripture where God breathes on man is in Genesis 2:7, when the Lord "breathes" divine life into man. When this happens, a significant transformation takes place. Here too, a significant transformation occurs. Lastly, Jesus says, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." In order for the apostles to exercise this gift of forgiving sins, the penitents (those being forgiven) must evidently orally confess their sins to them because the apostles are not mind readers. This is why the disciples would have had oral confession. That being said - there is nothing in Scripture or in history that says that the successors of the Apostles lost this gift.

In Matthew 18:18, Jesus says something similar - "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." This is more clearly seen in Matthew 16:18, "I tell you you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." St. Peter is considered the first Pope (“Papa”) by the Church. Historically and Scripturally, we know that the disciples appointed successors whom they laid hands on. This transfer of authority also transferred the ability to bind and loose, to administer sacraments such as Anointing, Confirmation, Confession, Eucharist (Communion), and Marriage. We may not question why a Priest or Pastor performs a marriage ceremony, but we do if he administers another sacrament of the church, it seems.

There are other New Testament examples. In 2nd Corinthians 2:10 - St. Paul forgives in the presence of Christ (some translations refer to the presences of Christ as in persona Christi - priests always forgive in the person of Christ, they do not themselves forgive the sins). In 2nd Corinthians 5:18, the ministry of reconciliation was given to the ambassadors of the Church. According to the Church, at least, this ministry of reconciliation refers to the sacrament of reconciliation, also called the sacrament of confession or penance. Then we have James 5:15-16. In verse 15 we see that sins are forgiven by the elders (the bishops, deacons or priests) in the sacrament of anointing of the sick. This is another example of man's authority (through Christ) to forgive sins on earth. Then in verse 16, James says “Therefore, confess our sins to one another,” likely in reference to the men referred to in verse 15, the priests and elders of the Church, although also to your brothers and sisters.

St. James seems to teach us that we must “confess our sins to one another,” not just privately to God. James 5:16 must be read in the context of James 5:14-15, which is referring to the healing power (both physical and spiritual) of the priests/elders of the Church. Hence, when James says “therefore” in verse 16, he is seemingly referring to the men he was writing about in verses 14 and 15 – these men are the ordained priests of the Church, to whom the Church believes sins are to be confessed to, as Jesus gave his power to the disciples, who, through succession and the laying on of hands, have passed this on to priests and bishops of the present day. This, then, is the basic notion behind Confession. In Acts 19:18, many came to orally confess sins and divulge their sinful practices. Oral confession was the practice of the early Church just as it is today. In Matthew 3:6 and Mark 1:5, we see people confessing their sins before others as an historical practice, here to John the Baptist, who is - as priests are considered to be - a representative of Christ, but not Christ himself. 1st Timothy 6:12 seems to refer to the historical practice of confessing both faith and sins in the presence of many witnesses.

It comes as a surprise to some Christians, but in the ancient Jewish church, confession was also a practice. For example, Numbers 5:7 shows the historical practice of publicly confessing sins, and making public restitution. In Nehemiah 9:2-3 we see the Israelites standing before the assembly and confessing their sins publicly and interceded for each other. In the apocryphal works (useful to show historical practice of the time), we find examples of the historical practice of confession. In the Wisdom of Sirach 4:26, God tells us not to be ashamed to confess our sins, and not to try to stop the current of a river. We see this also in another writing from that time period, Baruch 1:14 - again, showing that the people made confession in the house of the Lord, before the assembly.

There are other considerations as well. When I sin, I am not only sinning against myself and against God. I am part of the Body of Christ, so when I sin, I also sin against the Body. When a priest and an individual engage in Confession, he stands in as a representative not only of Christ but of the Church. This brings up another point. Perhaps one of the main reasons we have confession is the psychology of it all. When I sin against somebody, and then confess that to them and ask for forgiveness it feels good to get that off your chest. If you have done something wrong, it can weigh on you. We therefore need someone to talk to, to confess our sins to. This was commanded in James' letter and elsewhere, to confess our sins to one another.

This sacrament is the culmination of psychological research, centuries of Jewish and Christian history, the variety of Scriptural considerations and other such things. It has become Reconciliation between you and the Body of Christ, reconciliation between you and God, and between you and your inner self, so to speak. The Church never says that there is anything wrong with confessing to God directly. Indeed, that is encouraged. Further, public confession was not just an ancient Jewish and Christian practice (also recorded in early Christian literature not cited here), it was picked up by the Irish missionaries early on and made prominent who then developed penitential books and made the sacrament into private confession. Interestingly, today, in Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Anglican worship books that are under twenty years old, in the back is a section with the Rite of Private Confession or the Rite of Communal Confession.

The Second Vatican Council changed the emphasis on private confession, and sometimes a penance service would then come into play when there were not enough priests to fulfill confessional duties. However, by the 1960s many Catholics had stopped going to confession, so the change was not entirely noticed. There have been a number of possible reasons put forth as to why this has happened, such as the opening rite and prayer at mass being seen as forgiving the sins of the community, ecumenical councils and dialogues with other Christians who did not use regular confession and a number of other factors. Although there are still those who go to confession, the Eucharist has seemingly replaced penance or reconciliation as the primary way in which the forgiveness of sins is enacted for many. Protestants hold differing views on forgiveness, but both Protestants and Catholics tend to agree that forgiveness on any level is central to our Christian faith, and that reconciliation between us and God as well as our fellow men and women is crucial to living as the best versions of ourselves.

Sunday, November 1

Finding Meaning in All Saint's Day

All Saint's Day, also known as All Hallow's Day, is the celebration held in the West on November 1 commemorating and celebrating the lives of all saints. It is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and United Methodist churches, as well as several other Christian denominations. In the West, November 2 is All Soul's Day, making October 31 (All Hallow's Eve), November 1 (All Saint's Day) and November 2 the triduum of Hallowtide. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates this feast on the first Sunday after Pentecost - called All Saints' Sunday. In the United Methodist Church, it is celebrated on the first Sunday in November, but is held to remember both saints and former members of the local church who had passed away. However, in Catholic theology, All Saint's Day celebrates all who have attained the Beatific Vision.

The theology behind All Saint's Day is based on the doctrine of the Communion of Saints - believed to be the great cloud of witnesses referenced in Hebrews 12:1. This "communion of saints" was referred to in Christian tradition as early as the Apostle's Creed, which is recited by Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and others. It is the idea that all of God's children - those in heaven and those on earth - are connected. Thus, they are all in communion with one another. These saints are not divine nor do they have any divine capabilities, but as we are all in communion with Christ (Romans 8:32; 1st Corinthians 6:17; 1st John 1:3), our earthly prayers join their heavenly prayers. The idea that there are individuals who heaven who are given the task of presenting our prayers before God is seen in Revelation and elsewhere (in Job, for example). The essential point is that Christians - those from every century and up to the present day - are all part of a large family or community. For some in heaven, Scripture shows that they are given this ability to present our prayers before God not because they can hear it themselves, but because God is giving these “saints” a role to play in the development of the family, a participatory role.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) refers to this belief: We mention those who have fallen asleep: first the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition..." (Catechetical Lecture 23:9). The celebration of All Saint's Day goes back to the ancient Christian practice of celebrating saints and martyrs. In the AD 100s, the Martyrdom of Polycarp 18 said, "Accordingly, we afterwards took up [Polycarp's] bones, more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, so that when being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps" (18).

Early on when persecutions increased as did the number of martyrs, local dioceses (a district under care of a bishop) began feast days in order to celebrate all martyrs. The date of this celebration was sporadic and moved around quite a bit, and initially the common feast days were more about honoring local saints rather than the larger communion of saints. But over time the feast day became more and more universal in purpose and intent. St. Ephrem the Syrian (AD 373) refers to a universal feast day for saints. St. John Chrysostom (AD 407) provided a day to the feast - the first Sunday after Pentecost, which, as aforementioned, is when the Eastern Orthodox church still celebrates. The feast, likely around the 8th century, became celebrated more and more on November 1.

On its most basic level, All Saint's Day should be a reminder to Christians that we are all part of a much larger family, and that we should all strive to become saintly and holy in our words and deeds. Following his conversion in 1930s, Thomas Merton was asked by his friend Robert Lax what he wanted to be, now that he was a Catholic. Merton said that he wanted to be a good Catholic. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” “How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him. Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it” (from Seven Storey Mountain). Every Christian should desire to become saintly. Often when we think of saints we may think of the early apostles, the martyrs, St. Francis of Assisi with his austerity and dedication, Mother Teresa and others. But we can all be saints, by living out the Beatitudes and becoming more humble, more loving, and more giving of ourselves.

"All Saints' Day." Catholic Online. Web. 

Bennett, David. "The Solemnity of All Saints Day." All Saints Day. Church Year, 28 Oct. 2015. Web.

Mershman, Francis. "All Saints' Day." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 1 Nov. 2015 .

Richert, Scott P. "What Is All Saints Day?" Religion & Spirituality. About. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Smith, C. "Feast of All Saints" in The New Catholic Encyclopedia. 1967, 318. Print.

Saturday, October 31

Prayer Beads and Thoughts on Marian Dogmas

The early Church saw Mary in a number of ways: as the New Eve, as the new Ark of the Covenant, and as “The Woman.” As some have pointed out, Mary is not a goddess and should not perceived as such, but nor should she be ignored. Mary played an etremely significant role in the birth, life, and death of Christ. She was present in each. She was also present when the Church began at Pentecost. She lived with the apostle John in Ephesus for several years before she passed on from this world. How, then, did the early Christians - and many Catholics - view Mary?

The New Eve
The early Christians identified Mary as the New Eve. The earliest surviving testimony to this is from Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho (AD 160), which describes conversations that Justin had with a rabbi around AD 135 in Ephesus. It was in that city that Justin had been instructed in the faith and where, according to tradition, Mary lived with John. Justin Martyr wrote, "Christ became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience that proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her..." and so forth.

Here, Justin Martyr both compares and contrasts. From him, we move on to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who compares and contrasts the obedience and disobedience of the virgins. He wrote that "The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. The knot which the virgin Eve tied by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary opened by her belief." Then later on he wrote, "If the former [Eve] disobeyed God, the latter [Mary] was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell in to bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin." Tertullian and many others had this idea. Tertullian once said, "As Eve believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other effaced by believing."

Also, quaint fact - some medieval poets noted that the angel Gabriel's Ave (Latin greeting of “Hail, Mary”) reversed the name of Eva, or Eve. Interesting tidbit. The idea of Mary as the New Eve, some scholars suggest, may have been passed down from St. John the Apostle himself, given his associations and connections with several of these early individuals (Justin was taught in Ephesus, Irenaeus learned from John's disciples Polycarp, etc). It was then handed on by St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. John Damascene, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others. Several of the early authors directly called her "New Eve." But aside from the aforementioned - there's another major reason why she's considered the New Eve.

She's "The Woman." This “Woman” is first mentioned in Genesis 3:15. Of course, the early Christians saw Genesis as being highly christological (foreshadowing Christ), so that Jesus was tested in a garden as Adam was (at Gethsemane); like Adam, Jesus was led to a "tree," where he was stripped naked; so forth. The motif of the New Adam, really, is very much developed in John's gospel. It isn't explicit, but the connections between John and Genesis are fantastic. For example, Genesis and John start off with, “In the beginning...” Now, at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2), Jesus interestingly calls Mary "Woman." He didn't call her Mary, or Mother, just "Woman." He does the same thing in John 19:26 when hanging on the cross, and if Revelation 12 symbolizes Mary, she is called "Woman" multiple times there as well. But Jesus' name of Mary also echoes Genesis - it's the name Adam gives to Eve.

Further, as Eve was the "mother of all the living," when Jesus gave us Mary as our mother (in John 19, “here is your mother”), she became the New Eve as the mother of God's children. But here at Cana, instead of leading "Adam" to evil, she prompts the New Adam - Jesus - to do good. In Genesis 3:15, the Protoevangelion, we see a prophecy of Jesus crushing Satan, or so we interpret it christologically. If, then, Jesus is the "he" then the "woman" is therefore both Eve - and Mary.

The Ark of the New Covenant
Several scholars argue that if St. John did indeed write Revelation, then John does indeed portray Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. Many modern Christians interpret the Woman in Revelation 12 as an image for Israel and/or the Church. Now, given Scripture's multiple levels of meaning, that's entirely possible, and perhaps probable. But not the only meaning.

At the end of Revelation 11 we read, "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant was seen..." Now, the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred and honored object that has not been seen or heard of for six hundred years at that point, pops up. But in the entirety of Revelation, nothing more is said about it. That's a bit odd, given its Jewish prominence. Well, chapter and verse divisions were not added until the Middle Ages. So in the original manuscript, Revelation 11 ended and Revelation 12 began - they flowed into one another. Immediately after the temple is open and the Ark of the Covenant is revealed... "a woman clothed with the sun" appears. Many scholars (and ancient Christians) believe that St. John was revealing the Ark as a woman - and indeed as St. Mary.

Now, there's a lot to this identification, but when we consider that this may not only be Mary in Revelation 12, but that she may also be viewed theologically as the Ark of the New Covenant, this elucidates many things. Consider that the enmity between the serpent, clearly identified here in Revelation 12 as Satan, and the child - which we can assume is Christ - echoes again the words of Genesis 3:15 and the enmity between the serpent and the woman's seed (and again, she is not given a name here, but is called "woman"). St. Ambrose believed that this woman was Mary, as did St. Ephrem of Syria, St. Augustine of Hippo, and several others. It's also interesting that the "other offspring" are likely us - the brothers and sisters, given further credence to seeing Mary as a mother figure. Other Marian elements seem to be present in Revelation 12, such as the flight into the desert being a stylized narrative form of the flight into Egypt by the Holy Family. There are several other curious aspects of identifying Mary as the woman in Revelation 12.

One of the more interesting points about Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant is the literary connections between 2nd Samuel 6 and Luke 1. Dr. Scott Hahn in his book Hail, Holy Queen writes, "The greatest difficulty for interpreters seems to be the apparent uniqueness of John's typological insight in Revelation. Where else, after all, is Mary called the ark of the covenant? Yet closer study of the New Testament shows us that John's insight was not unique - more explicit than others, certainly, but not unique. Along with John's books, the writings of Luke are the Bible's other gold mine of Marian doctrine... Luke was a meticulous literary artist who could claim the additional benefit of having the Holy Spirit as his coauthor. Down through the centuries, scholars have marveled at the way Luke's gospel subtly parallels key texts of the Old Testament. One of the early examples in his narrative is the story of Mary's visitation to Elizabeth.

Luke's language seems to echo the account, in the second book of Samuel, of David's travels as he brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The story begins as David 'arose and went' (2 Sam 6:2). Luke's account of the visitation begins with the same words: Mary 'arose and went' (1:39). In their journeys, then, both Mary and David proceeded to the hill country of Judah. David acknowledges his unworthiness with the words 'How can the ark of the Lord come to me?' (2 Sam 6:9) - words we find echoed as Mary approaches her kinswoman Elizabeth: 'Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' (Lk 1:43). Note here that the sentence is almost verbatim, except that 'ark' is replaced by 'mother.' We read further that David 'danced' for joy in the presence of the ark (2 Sam 6:14, 16), and we find a similar expression used to describe the leaping of the child within Elizabeth's womb as Mary approached (Lk 1:44). Finally, the ark remained in the hill country for three months (2 Sam 6:11), the same amount of time Mary spent with Elizabeth."

Why, though, would Luke be so coy about this? Why not just come right out and call Mary a fulfillment of the type of the ark? The well-known Cardinal John Newman addressed this question, saying, "It is sometimes asked, Why do not the sacred writers mention our Lady's greatness? I answer, she was, or may have been alive, when the apostles and evangelists wrote; there was just one book of Scripture certainly written after her death and that book [of Revelation] does (so to say) canonize and crown her." Was St. Luke, in his quiet way, showing Mary to be the ark of the new covenant?

Prayer Beads
A final - and perhaps more controversial point - prayer beads. The use of prayer beads is an ancient practice. It's present in all major religious traditions. Ancient Africans used ostrich shell beads to pray. Islam uses prayer beads to recite the 99 names of God or related elements. Some Sikhs use prayer beads. Some Hindus and Buddhists use prayer beads. Some Anglicans, Lutherans Episcopalians and others use prayer beads. In early Christianity, the Desert Fathers would collect pebbles and use these pebbles to count prayers. Some prayer beads were found in the tombs of early Christian martyrs, and tradition attributes initial usage to St. Dominic (AD 1200s).

As for early practices in regard to Mary, Christians from the earliest of times realized that Mary should not be worshiped. However, as the woman who gave birth to and raised God himself, several hymns were made in her honor (the Egyptian Sub Tuum Praesidium is the earliest on record), as well as artwork and other such things. This is when the use of prayer beads came about. Now, when people think of the Rosary, they may think of the repetitious aspect of the Rosary (as with other parts of liturgy), but let us be reminded that Jesus himself prayed the same prayer multiple times (Matthew 26:44), the book of Daniel shows a prayer with "Bless the Lord" repeatedly used, several Psalms - used of course in Jewish liturgies (services) - have repeated phrases. I never tire of telling my Mom "I love you." Christians never seem to tire of repeating "Amen," Alleluia" or "Praise the Lord" in service.

Also, the prayers used in a common Rosary are scriptural in their basis. Jesus himself gave us the Our Father, the Hail Mary is made up of the words of Gabriel and Elizabeth from Dr. Luke's gospel, and the Glory Be is a praise of the Trinity based on early Christian doxologies (including those used by St. Paul in the New Testament). Prayer beads offer those who need such a thing a physical and tangible object to hold as we pray. It engages us sense-wise, in that while we are orally praying, we are also physically holding beads, which help us to stay focused instead of trailing off. Praying with beads is not intended to simply be a way of repeating prayers, but as a way to meditate. For those who know the words - just as when singing a worship song you know the words to, your mind drifts. So too is this purposed in the Rosary. It is not a prayer to Mary per se, but rather a meditation on the life of Christ. Our hands hold the beads, our words pour forth, and our heart and mind contemplate Christ.

Historically, the Hail Mary - as noted - is Scriptural. The first part of the Hail Mary is entirely the words of Gabriel and Elizabeth, and the only real changes or additions are the names of Mary and Jesus. But that is a non-issue. Then comes to second section of the Hail Mary - "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." This second half was not part of the original Hail Mary, but added later in the sixteenth century. However, its origin is also scriptural. For example, "Mother of God" (Theotokos) sees its root in Elizabeth's proclamation about the "Mother of my Lord" (Luke 2). Also, having a believer pray for another believer is entirely Scriptural. If I ask you to pray for me, I should also be able to ask St. Francis to pray for me, and also Mary, and so forth.

These brief thoughts on Marian theology are ruminations on the doctrinal underpinnings which make up many high liturgical churches, including the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and others. But for any Christian, it is helpful to be mindful and be aware of our heritage, our theological tradition as well as theological insights the Christians throughout history can teach us. Further, the use of sacramentals such as prayer beads helps remind us that as most major religious traditions are connected, so too are we all connected like the beads we hold together in common.

Wednesday, October 28

A Franciscan Perspective on Business, Globalization and Human Trafficking

Earlier this year I attended a talk delivered by Fr. David Couturier, OFM Cap, who spoke on the growing issue of human trafficking within an increasingly globalized world, and his points bear repeating here. Globalization is essentially the notion that our world ought to become – and is becoming – a global community. More to the point, Fr. David defined Globalization as the “ability to transport goods, services, products and people faster and farther is the mega-phenomenon of business with great benefits: cheaper products, more available products and potential to raise standards of living.” But, he noted, “globalization has a downside. If you can transport people, you can traffic people.” In the United States, slavery is commonly held to have ended with the Trans-Atlantic slavery. However, Fr. David notes that he recently spoke to a young girl from Buffalo who was used for sex in human trafficking - Amber. One night she was kidnapped and in a short amount of time, was given drugs and became addicted, and was put into the sex slave business all across Western New York.

Amber spent her days being watched and controlled. Working and living under harsh conditions, she now suffers from PTSD. Amber was in a living hell - “a hell without doors or exits.” She eventually escaped, but it took two weeks for her to get the care she needed. This kind of story is found all across the country. There are more slaves today in the United States than in any time, even more so than in the Trans-Atlantic Slavery of the 19th century. The difference between then and now is in the complexity, in the disguises and in the protection within the US as well as in the complicity of our own lives. We are all, it seems, complicit to some degree. Although globalization can and has led to many good things, it can also lead to modern forms of slavery.

Fr. David explained that human trafficking was the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a human person... through the use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, giving payments or benefits to a person who is in control of the victim... [all] for the purpose of exploitation... to include prostitution of others, forced labor, slavery or similar practices.” One of the major points that stuck out to me the most was the chocolate industry, popular particularly around Halloween, Easter and St. Valentine’s Day. Evidently, much of the chocolate comes from cocoa plants of Ghana and the Ivory Coast of Africa. Many children were used as slave labor, and being beaten, were used to satisfy the sweet tooth of many. Children as young as 10-15 were being forced into this, being paid low wages or no wages at all.

What Fr. David said hit home - “We are the face of human trafficking... Everyday we are eating, wearing, walking and talking slavery. Every one of us, every day, touches and wears and eats products tainted with slavery.” Thinking about where my clothes, my cellular device, my food, my blankets and many other products comes from is revealing. From a cursory look, a few clothing items say “Made in Haiti,” “Made in China,” “Made in Taiwan” and elsewhere. Fr. David asked, “Do we really care as Americans where our goods are coming from as long as it is fast, cheap and available?” One is inclined to think it is because the United States is a very individualistic, hedonistic and minimalistic culture. As a whole, Americans tend to think on a more self-centered, pleasure-based level than in concern for those who are making their products.

The final question, an examination of conscience, is what calls for thought as well as action: how willing am I to make this problem of human trafficking upfront and personal in my own life? How willing am I to work with others to eradicate slave labor from my home and dinner table? That question is a tough question on many levels. It is a convicting question. The Franciscan tradition within Christianity calls for several aspects of response: a respect for human dignity, joy and peace, community, generosity, friendship, solidarity. It calls, essentially, for “compassionate action.” This is not simply an abstract theological concept floating around in the written materials, but a living and active threat to the dignity of the human person that needs to be addressed. If I was asked how I was to make this problem personal in my own life, I would admit not knowing how to fully answer. Awareness would be one way. Human trafficking is such an overwhelming problem, the first question one would ask is “where do I begin?” Being aware of where each of my products comes from is a good start. What to do from there may depend on the company. Do I simply stop shopping somewhere? Do I begin purchasing other products? Would my not-shopping make any difference if the products continue coming?

One of the final points that comes to mind here is the difference between charity and justice. Consider the somewhat graphic image of bodies floating down a river - through charity, the villagers along the river brought the bodies to shore, nursed some to health and had to bury the others. Each day this process would continue, but no one bothered to ask or find out where the bodies were coming from - that would be justice. Social action would be justice. So the question we will have to ask as we now consciously move forward with this information and integrate it into our lives is, “to what extent do we get involved and not simply stop making the purchases, but act out Social Justice for the betterment of our fellow brother and sister?” How do we carry out compassionate action? 

Tuesday, October 27

Luther, Zwingli and Calvin: The Magisterial Reformers

In the 1500s, the Church began to splinter as a result of the Protestant Reformation. There were two primary reformations: the Magisterial Reformation and the Radical Reformation. The Magisterial Reformation was led by figures such as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. This era is important in understanding today's religious context, where we came from, where we are and where we are going. Ecumenical efforts continue between different Christian denominations, and examining the roots of the Magisterial Reformation is yet another step on the road to ecumenism. What began the Magisterial Reformation? The immediate issue that led Luther to protest was the sale of indulgences. This issue led to Luther’s nailing the 95 Theses to the door of a Catholic Church, and after this point, he began to have more and more issues with the Church, and began calling it to reform. The indulgences began in the Crusade period - if you went to Crusade, you would allegedly have your sins forgiven. If you were a martyr, the belief was that you would go straight to heaven.

Unfortunately, this practice developed into a commerce. Pope Leo X wanted to finish building the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, so there were certain individuals who felt that the sale of indulgences would speed along this process. A Dominican named Johan Tetzel entered the picture, and was famous for saying - “when a coin in the coffer doth ring, a soul from Purgatory shall spring.” Luther heard about Tetzel, and became enraged. On All Hallow’s Eve (October 31, 1517), Luther nailed 95 Theses to be discussed in an academic setting to the church in Wittenberg, declaring that if the Pope had the power to free souls from purgatory, then he should do so freely, and out of love. Further, he felt that the Pope should be using the money gained by the sale of indulgences to feed the poor, even if it meant selling St. Peter’s Basilica.

After a series of back and forth with the Church, Luther was called to the Diet of Worms by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Fifth, to recant. He was accused of renewing the errors of Huss and Wycliffe. But he refused to recant, and had challenged the authority of the emperor and the pope. Frederick - who was the Elector who had gained Luther his position at Wittenberg - helped Luther escape to a castle, where - much like Wycliffe before him - he translated the Bible. But unlike Wycliffe's England, Germany did not have a ban on making Bibles. Despite its origins, it became widely popular. Backed by the elector, Luther’s Bible became common in German churches, and the liturgy was also in German. Wittenberg as a result became a very Protestant area.

Before examining further aspects of the Magisterial Reformation, it is important to know a bit more about Luther. Luther almost fell off a horse once during a thunderstorm, and fearing hell and damnation, called out to St. Anne to save him, and he would serve God. He became a religious in the Observant Augustinians in 1505, and was very much into ascetic practices of the time. Luther took flagellation quite seriously. On a personal level, he could not get over the fact that God was a just God. That is, in Luther's eyes, our sins are so bad, and God’s justice is so just, that we can do nothing about it. In fact, Luther’s confessor actually said, “go and actually do something... Then come back to confess.” He was always at confession, deeply stricken with his own anxiety.

After he began shifting away from the Church, Luther condemned many late Medieval practices. He retained baptism, communion, and for a while - confession. He rejected any practices inconsistent with what his view held - he rejected prayers to saints. He rejected the purchase of indulgences. He rejected the participants in pilgrimage. He also rejected bodily asceticism. Luther’s conception of the clergy robbed monasticism of its worth, and robbed clerical celibacy, because for him, there is no ranking among Christians. He felt that if you are saved by grace alone, this has nothing to do with your celibacy. Thus, he and a former nun, Katharina, had six children. Erasmus and Luther wrote a Dialogue on Free Will. They disagreed on the nature of Christian life and reform. Many Humanists stopped supporting Luther, as he saw a problem with free will.

Now, there was an important Swiss Reformer named Huldrych Zwingli. He was deeply impressed by the writings of Erasmus. Erasmus was really (unwittingly, he remained Catholic) the one who influenced the thoughts of Protestants. He was born in 1484 in a Swiss town. His early education took place in Basil and Burn. Zwingli’s outlook was influenced by the political experience of independence by the Swiss Confederacy. He was deeply influenced by Scripture and reform in Christian Humanism, as well as St. Augustine. Erasmus had encouraged study of the original languages (Greek and Hebrew) as Christian Humanism placed a great deal of emphasis on getting back to the original documents. Zwingli was well-versed in these languages, and he met Erasmus in the 1510s. Zwingli was ordained a priest in the Catholic tradition. When Erasmus had published his Greek New Testament, Zwingli made a copy which he carried with him in order to memorize it. Before coming to Zurch in 1519, he preached directly from Scripture in a humanist vein. Normally, the priest would preach on the text of the day. But Zwingli started his career preaching on a theme, using Christian Humanism as his background and foundation.

From 1506-1516, Zwingli was a priest in the city of Glarus, then went to a pilgrim town which contained a monastery. He declared that he could not find Pilgrimage anywhere in the New Testament. In 1518, due to his fame, he was transferred to Zurich. By this point, he began to go against Catholicism. He later clarified that this happened parallel to Martin Luther, not because of him. Two different reformers were following a similar line of thought. Between 1522-1525, he tried to eliminate Catholicism and institute Protestantism in the city. He went full-on trying to eliminate sacraments. During Lent, he decided to eat sausage - something incredibly sacrilegious. The city council decided that all religious issues were to be decided on the basis of Scripture. This took power out of the hands of the priests and into the hands of the laity.

In October of 1523, the council agreed to abolish Masses at the churches. Zwingli deferred to the magistrates as to the timing of the changes. Those critical of his position included future Anabaptists. In 1525, the council mandated infant baptism. The council also established an evangelical communion service, a marriage institution, and a center for studying languages. But Luther and Zwingli still had no problem reading Latin. You could teach in Latin (that was the “English” or lingua franca of the day). Zwingli wanted every aspect of life to be guided by Christian teaching. The Canton of Bern and Basel accepted Zwingli’s ideas. As early as 1524, five Swiss disagreed with Zwingli and defended the traditional faith, banding together in a Catholic Alliance. This led to war in 1531 - but Zwingli was not a pacifist. He died leading soldiers into the battle of Kappel, on November 11, 1531. Zwingli, during his life, was a priest - but did not observe clerical celibacy.

Lastly, we come to John Calvin. Born in 1509, Calvin was significantly influenced by Humanism. He started out as a Catholic (his father sent him for Law and Theology). He studied at the University of Paris. By the time that Calvin is a student, Christian Humanism had become a standard way of looking at things. Humanism had a deeper influence on Calvin than it did on Luther. In his theology we see a more positive role of the Law than we did with Luther. For Luther, God’s law functioned only to drive souls to Christ and restrain the wicked. The Council of Trent, of course, had issues with that. For Calvin, the Law is a guide to Christian practice. For him, Scripture was God’s last will and testament notarized by Christ (notice the legal language). After his conversion to Protestantism in 1536, he departed and passed through Geneva - and met William Farel. Farel begged Calvin to stay. They tried to establish a perfect Protestant society in Geneva. This did not go over well - the people tried to throw things at Calvin’s house, they named their dogs after Calvin and sent dogs after him - so Farel and Calvin were exiled two years later. There was a kind of religion police, so if you did not believe correctly, you could be executed.

In 1541, Calvin accepted an invitation to return to Geneva as they were having a difficult time and they saw his potential. He remained in Geneva until his death in 1564. During this time, Calvin wrote a large tome: Institutes of the Christian Religion, a six chapter book detailing the ideas of Protestantism. It is comparable to the Catholic Catechism. He was a hyper-Augustinian on certain doctrines. He would emphasize God’s sovereignty, and he argued for Predestination (which also came from Augustine). In Calvinism, you do not ultimately know whether or not you have been predestined to heaven or hell - this creates a great deal of anxiety. In 1541, Calvin wrote the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, in which he organized the ministry of the church into four orders - pastors, teachers, elders and deacons. He felt these represented New Testament organization. Calvin died at the age of 54 from an illness.

Bearing their various backgrounds in mind, where did Luther, Calvin and Zwingli agree and disagree in their views of theology? Zwingli’s theological difference over the Lord’s Supper with Luther was highly influential in the history of Protestantism. They sharply disagreed and refused to compromise. Zwingli taught that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist was only spiritual, whereas Luther affirmed the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Luther had a doctorate in Scripture, and was teaching at the Augustinian school (built by Frederick the Elector). When Luther met with Zwingli, there was a particular table they would sit at. Now, Zwingli and Luther vehemently disagreed on the nature of the Eucharist. As a result, before Zwingli arrived, Luther carved on the table “this is my body” so that when Zwingli disagreed, Luther would lift the table cloth and show him the Scripture passage. Various evidences show us that Luther likely never truly meant or wanted to leave Catholicism.

In fact, when Frederick the Elector took him into hiding, there was a man named Karlstadt that came around. He took over Wittenburg theologically and became an iconoclast. He inspired his followers to take the body off the cross, and to tear down statues or the saints and Mary. Luther was vehemently against this - he was not an iconoclast. Luther held on to most Catholic practices, but he had to find a basis in Scripture. Luther felt he could only find baptism and Eucharist in the New Testament, though he Luther believed in the Real Presence, and did not like the word “transubstantiation,” but did believe in “consubstantiation.” Essentially, consubstantiation is the notion that the presence of Christ is there, but there is not a change of substance. Christ is only present in the worshiping assembly, so that once the assembly has completed its worship, the presence is no longer in the elements. Luther held that good works were important as an expression of Christian love - they gained you merits (time off in Purgatory, and so forth). Luther rejected the notion that the Mass was a re-sacrifice of Jesus.

Calvin shared many central Protestant convictions with Luther, such as justification by faith alone. Scripture was the basis of legal precedent. He also rejected many Catholic teachings and practices. A profound sense of reverence for God as Lawgiver is found in Calvinism. Calvin's theology is less apocalyptic than Luther’s, and more optimistic about the future. Zwingli and Luther on the other hand both sought to restore biblical faith and practice, but went about it differently. Although Luther retained all traditions not contradicted by Scripture, Zwingli insisted that all that had no Scriptural support must be rejected. He got rid of organs, for example, as they were not in the Bible. He also banned music and other practices not found in the Bible, so as not to take away from hearing the Word of God. Even communion should not be celebrated too frequently, as it could take away from Scripture. Instead, Zwingli held that the Eucharist should only celebrated four times a year, and that people must remain seated.

It is clear that there was a difference of theological opinion among the Magisterial Reformers, but it was primarily figures such as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin who laid the groundwork for the Protestant movement as it continues today. In today's denominations, although there remain many who prefer to debate, there is a growing number of Christians who seek to dialogue over doctrinal differences and similarities, similar practices and so forth. This can lead to not only fruitful discussion but also a growing sense that although our history as Christians has been varied at best, we all remain branches of one tree rooted in the same soil - that of Christ.

“The Radical Reformation” by R. Emmet McLaughlin.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. Volume I. 407-445. Print.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Volume II. 7-161. Print.

Monday, October 26

Early Church Reforms Prior to Martin Luther

Often the Protestant Reformation is seen as the first attempt at reform within the Church, but this does not represent historical reality. Although it was the first major movement of those "protesting" the Church, led by such figures as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, there were those who loved the Church and sought to reform it from within - including monastic reform, the Franciscans, John Wycliffe, John Hus and Girolama Savonarola. Some of these movements or individuals were intentional reformers, while others varied in theological application and practice leading to a perhaps unintentional reform.

Monastic reform was the first of these. During the Middle Ages, many monasteries had been destroyed by Norseman and Hungarians. Some had become abbots by purchasing the office. Various reform movements may have resulted from an attempt to be reconciled to God as the end of the first millennium approached, as Judgment Day seemed immanent. The Clunaics started out as a group that would follow the Rule of Benedict in its entirety. Their focus, however, shifted from prayer and work (ora et labora) to prayer solely, as they felt that one should not go to prayer soiled from working. But at a time when the papacy was at its darkest hour, Clunaic reform in the Church became ideal even for non-Clunaics. Simony - the buying and selling of ecclesiastical posts - became one of the worst evils that needed to be destroyed.

The Clunaics promoted clerical celibacy as one of the main tenants of their reform. At that time, clerical celibacy was not a universal rule, but usually only observed by monks and nuns. This soon changed. A group called the “Patarines” arose, who held that clerical celibacy must be maintained, and that those priests who were married were actually priests with concubines, or harlots. Obedience also became very important. Just as the monks were obedient to their superiors, so the church would be obedient to the Pope. But when many were inspired by the monks of Cluny and continued to make large financial donations, the movement began to decline. The Cistercian movement, however, came into play shortly after. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was one of the more famous Cistercians. He preached ecclesiastical reform, the Second Crusade, and was discouraged theological innovation. The Cistercians opposed the luxury and learning of the Clunaics and preferred simple buildings, Bible study, and ascetic piety. These reforms within the church and within monasticism had wide-ranging consequences.

Then came the Franciscan movement - my community. Similar to the movement of Peter Waldo, St. Francis of Assisi left his home, his wealth and possessions, and taking on a beggar’s habit, began a mendicant movement - a fraternitas. A mendicant movement is those who lived by begging. Starting out as more of a worker’s movement helping to rebuild churches in the Umbrian valley, the movement progressed into more of a brotherhood. St. Clare of Assisi, companion of St. Francis, began the Order of the Poor Clares. Francis had started the Lesser Brothers (Order of Friars Minor) after securing permission from Pope Innocent III. He placed an emphasis on the sacredness of creation (“Brother Sun”, “Sister Moon”) and on the treatment of the Other. The movement, much to the dismay of Francis, became more organized, and more clericalized. But Francis felt he had heard God's voice calling out to him early on in the broken church of San Damiano, "Francis, go and rebuild my church. As you see, it is falling into ruin." The Franciscan charism to this day continues to be a source of inspiration and a call to radical living. The current Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, took his papal name from St. Francis.

Following the early Franciscans, we find the Conciliar movement. The movement came about as a response to schism in the papacy. The movement held that a universal council, representing the entire church, had more authority than the pope. They sought to put an end to practices such as simony and nepotism without substantially challenging Christian dogma. They sought to heal the schisms. Ever since Constantine called the Council of Nicaea, councils were used to solve different crises. The Conciliarists felt that the problem of two rival popes could be solved, but then the question of who had the authority of calling an ecumenical council. So they had both parties call the council. They got rid of both rival popes, and elected Alexander V. After he died, Pope John XIII (the 23rd) was elected. Neither Alexander or John could heal the schism, so the next council called for John’s resignation. He fled, went into exile, and was never succeeded by another “pope.” The next council after this sought to end the schism and rid the church of heresy and corruption - including the condemnation of John Huss. The council in 1430 ended up in controversy, and the Conciliar movement split into two councils. At the Council of Ferrara, in which the emperor and patriarch of Constantinople accepted the formula for reunion, including papal supremacy. Following this, and the Council of Basel, councils became subject to the Pope - not vice versa.

John Wycliffe (1320-1384) was the next significant player in reforms. He lived during the time of the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Papacy (when the Papacy was in Avignon). Wycliffe sought to reform both the life and the doctrines of the church. For example, Wycliffe denied the Real Presence because he saw in it a denial of Christ’s Incarnation. His followers later also denied the Real Presence, as well as transubstantiation. He and his followers were called Lollards, possibly because they were always uttering prayers under their breath. He lived during the time of the Avignon papacy, and as the English tried to limit papal influence, they welcome Wycliffe’s arguments on the nature and limits of lordship or dominion. However, Wycliffe did not agree with the Church’s authority, claiming that the true church was not the pope and his visible hierarchy, but rather the invisible body of Christ (drawing on St. Augustine). He felt that as all Christians were the body of Christ, not only the hierarchy, all should be able to read the Bible - so he translated printed the Bible into English. The Printing Press had not yet reached England, so every Wycliffe Bible had to be written by hand over a sixth-month period.

But the Church did not like this, not because they did not want a common translation for people - but because it was unauthorized, and most people were illiterate (in fact, literacy only increased because people wanted to learn how to read the Bible). They wanted the people to have an authorized version. So in 1382, the Archbishop summoned a court. Wycliffe’s writings were banned, and an earth tremor ocurred so that each side claimed divine wrath on the other. He died in 1384 of a stroke during Mass, and since he died in the communion of the Church, he was buried on consecrated ground. His followers, the Lollards, believed that pastors should not hold civil offices, that the worship of images should be banned, that clerical celibacy and pilgrimages were an abomination, and they rejected transubstantiation and prayers for the dead. The Lollards, like the Franciscans and Waldensians, had gone out two by two to preach. In many ways, the Lollards were forerunners of the Protestant Reformation.

Following Wycliffe, we come to John Huss (1362-1415). In the early 1390s, Huss was a deeply devout man who spent most of his funds on purchasing indulgences. Wycliff’s teachings had made their way to Bohemia, where Huss was the dean of faculty of philosophy at the university. Unlike Wycliffe, however, he did accept the Real Presence in communion, and held the traditional doctrine of transubstantiation. From the Chapel of Bethlehem, he advocated reform similar to the Conciliarists. At first, he was not trying to change traditional doctrines, but only restore Christian life, including the clergy, to the highest ideals. He called the clergy “the Lord’s fat ones,” and aimed his preaching at the highest ranks of the church - including Archbishop Zbynek. The Pisan Pope Alexander V (elected by the Conciliarists) declared that preaching could only take place in a cathedral, monastery or parish church - and the Chapel of Bethlehem was none of these. This at first silenced Huss, but after some soul-searching he changed his mind, and began openly preaching again. In 1410, Huss was summoned to Rome to answer for that act of disobedience and for others that followed. He refused to go, and was excommunicated in 1411.

The conflict with the Pisan papacy created more radical views for Huss. He did not question papal legitimacy, but rather, their authority when they were clearly acting in their own interest and not the interest of the church. He concluded that the Bible is the ultimate authority that the pope and every Christian is held to, and that any pope who does not obey Scripture did not need to be obeyed. But when Pope John XIII declared a Crusade against Naples, he did not hesitate to speak up in protest. He left the country but was later invited to the Council of Constance. Hopeful, he went, having been promised safe passage by by Sigismund - until he was taken aside and tried before Pope John XIII. He did not recant, was imprisoned, and the Pope later fled. While in prison, his followers began administering to cup to the laity in the Lord’s Supper - an action he supported, as beforehand the laity only received the bread. The Council of Constance later rejected the laymen use of the cup. In 1415, he was charged by the leading officials of Konstanz and was led to his death, saying - “you can burn me as a duck, but after me will come an eagle!” Largely prophetic words, given the upcoming Reformation. Many of the issues that Huss had with the Church are echoed in the Protestant Reformation, specifically, in the life of Martin Luther.

Our final consideration in this article is Girolamo Savonarola (1400s), a Dominican friar. He was invited to preach in Florence in 1490, given his fame for fiery preaching. But what he said about the evils of the time, about the contrast between true Christian life and the love of luxury, offended many among the powerful. The man who had invited him, Lorenzo de Medici, was offended, and hired a preacher to attack Savonarola. After he was elected the prior of the monastery of St. Mark, Savonarola did not go to thank Lorenzo, claiming that he owed his post to God alone. Lorenzo and Savonarola made up their differences on Lorenzo’s deathbed, however. When Pietro de Medici took over, the Florentines did not like him, so instead listened to Savonarola. He believed that study needed to be at the center of the needed Reformation, and he was so convinced that the luxuries of the time were vanity that he actually held public burnings in the main square. Dresses, jewelry, wigs, furniture, and so forth. He recommended that Florence establish a republic, and that gold and silver in churches should be sold for the poor. Eventually the government turned against him, and Pope Alexander VI opposed Savonarola. Those who supported him believed he was a prophet, particularly after one of his prophecies came true. But when he could not perform miracles they demanded of him, they too turned on him. After a mob invaded St. Mark’s Monastery, he was captured, labeled as a “heretic,” and killed, although some kept relics of the Dominican friar.

These different reformers are important insofar as they establish something was unhealthy about the Church of God at that time, and was in need of reform. Indeed, the Protestant Reformation led to what is often termed the Catholic Reformation or the Counter-Reformation, which in turn led to the Church calling together the Council of Trent. The decisions at Trent helped to guide Christians for the last five hundred years up until the Second Vatican Council, which changed many things. Perhaps the important thing to take away from all of this historical backdrop is not so much what went wrong, but how these reformers and reform movements helped us along the way, and where we are today in the Christian tradition. We should not grow comfortable with the way the universal body of Christ is now, across all denominations, but ask ourselves if we continue to need reform, and if so, how do we go about reforming, reshaping and how do we go about it in a way that is loving? Therein lies the true challenge.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. Volume I. 407-445. Print.

Mcguire, Brian Patrick. "Monastic and religious orders, c. 1100–c. 1350" in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Christianity in Western Europe c. 1100–c. 1500. Vol. 4. Ed. bu MIRI RUBIN and WALTER SIMONS. 54-72. Print.

Sunday, October 25

Literary Perspectives on Ruth

The book of Ruth tells the story of a quiet, ordinary life in the country - of the woman became the Grandmother of Jesse, Great-Grandmother to King David, and ancestor of Jesus. Ruth is a 4-Chapter Book. Ruth is a perfect idyll in prose. An idyll is a short poem or prose piece depicting a rural or pastoral scene, usually in idealized terms. It can also be considered a novella. The traditional authorship is attributed to the prophet Samuel, but regardless of the author, the pastoral backdrop makes sense given the nature of labor as well as the Hebraic culture at the time this story is set to take place. What follows here is a few brief and cursory thoughts concerning this lovely little book. What insights can we glean if we look at Ruth in a literary context? 
Ruth's introduction begins with “In the days when the judges ruled…” which reminds us of the later stock phrase used after the 1300s, “Once upon a time…”. It also notes “there was a famine in the land.” The previous book, Judges, is set over a couple hundred years with several different judges; when the author states that this is firmly set in the days of the judges it not only roots the story in that period, but tells us from the beginning that a famine is the first cause of narrative trouble that is about to follow. What about the settings? We begin in Bethlehem in Judah, and the country of Moab: the characters are from Judah, and thus have a Jewish background, so we understand that the book will likely have a Jewish worldview or literary understanding. When the men marry Moabite women, a new element is introduced both culturally and religiously within the text – and the return to Bethlehem shows an acceptance of another culture and religion. The road to Judah where Orpah leaves and Ruth stays with Naomi (a crossroads for the three women after a sad end of their husbands) factors into this chapter as well.

Who are the characters? Elimelek is husband of Naomi, he moves his family out of Judah when a famine arrives. He passes away before his sons marry. Naomi is widow of Elimelek and mother of Mahlon and Kilion. Mahlon is the son of Naomi and Elimelek, Mahlon married Orpah. He died ten years after moving to Moab. Kilion is the son of Naomi and Elimelek, Kilion married Ruth. He died ten years after moving to Moab. Orpah was the wife of Mahlon, she was a Moabite. After Mahlon’s death, she leaves Naomi and Ruth afterward and goes back to her people. Ruth is the former wife of Kilion, and a Moabite, Ruth stays with Naomi after her husband’s death to Bethlehem. She also accepts the Jewish God as her god. The townspeople can also be classified this way – when Naomi returns, the people cause a stir. They seem excited at her return, but Naomi acts bitter toward them.
Finally, God - mentioned in passing as “God,” “the Lord,” “the Almighty,” God is the unseen character in the story. Naomi credits him for the bad she has endured (cf. the book of Job).

Now, what insights can we glean theologically from the text? Consider Ruth through the lens of identity: in antiquity your identity was often shaped and given through your town, your nationality and/or the name of your father. For example, in Homer’s epic The Odyssey, after Odysseus has injured the Cyclops he reveals his identity as "Odysseus son of Laertes, King of Ithaca." In antiquity, revealing your name meant that your opponent could have power over you and use your name against you. Ruth’s identity was once tied to her husband and her homeland – Ruth wife of Kilion of Moab – but she becomes by the end of the story someone else – Ruth wife of Boaz of Judah.  Ruth takes on this identity willing, including changing her god, her location and her being (Ruth 1:16-18). We also find several literary themes present, such as the journey or “there and back again” (cf. The Hobbit), kindness, love, compassion, familial bonds.

Another interesting insight is how this book turns on its head the common Hebraic view of the Moabites. Ruth was ridiculed and mocked for being a Moabite. Moab, from who the Moabites come from, was the son of Lot and his daughter. After Sodom was destroyed, Lot's daughters got their father drunk, and both slept with him. Moab was one of the children born to Lot's daughters (Genesis 19:30-36).This was a shameful thing in the eyes of Hebrews - so Ruth was looked down upon. Ruth took her life, which could have been a sad life, and turned it around, making Ruth one of the happiest stories in the entire Hebrew Bible.

It is also interesting to note that Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, setting of the Nativity. Ruth shows us just how "insignificant" this town seems compared to the rest of Israel and Judah. A prophecy, given by the prophet Micah merely a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, says "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans [or rulers] of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2) This was a prophecy regarding the birthplace of one "from ancient times," revealed in the New Testament as Jesus. Bethlehem, a mere country-town in Ruth's day, became the birthplace of the Messiah, savior of the world, just short of a millennium later. Significantly, the book also ends by referring to the genealogy of King David, as Ruth is his ancestor, making Ruth the ancestor of Jesus. We are perhaps inclined to believe that one of the purposes in writing Ruth for the people to hear of humble ancestry for King David, furthered by his early years as a shepherd boy, but it also reminds us that sometimes those with the least have the most love to give.

Saturday, October 24

The Eucharist and Real Presence in Early Christianity

One of the common theological discussions between the different Christian denominations today concerns the Eucharist (from the Greek eucharista, meaning "to give thanks") - the celebration of the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, the sharing of bread and wine. It has also been called Communion or the Lord's Supper. The Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine (1971) between Anglicans and Catholics declared that it has also been called "holy mysteries, synaxis, mass, holy communion. The Eucharist has become the most universally accepted term." Over the past few decades, a number of churches have made theological leaps and bounds in coming together in agreement over different points concerning the Eucharist. There has been the aforementioned agreement between Anglicans and Catholics, as well as the Roman Catholic/Methodist Statement on the Eucharist (1976), a joint agreement between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Church (1978) and others. However, disagreement remains concerning the doctrine of the Real Presence. In the medieval period, St. Thomas Aquinas took a cue from the writings of Aristotle and used the word transubstantiation to describe the change in substance - he, along with many others, held that there is a point in which the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, hence, it becomes the Real Presence. Although discussion continues on how this takes place (transubstantiation vs consubstantiation and so forth), it may be fruitful as we continue ecumenical efforts to return to our early sources and our roots and see how the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist.

Our earliest account of the Eucharist comes from 1st Corinthians 10:16-17, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf." A further reference is found in the following chapter, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes." Each of these pieces are used in most churches services and Masses today. The primary section here makes up what is called the Institution Narrative of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Other references to the Eucharist are found in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:31-34. Another early reference to the Eucharist is found in an early church manual, Didache 9 (AD 50-120).

But perhaps the most common passage that comes up in this discussion is John 6:51-59, "'I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.' Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' Jesus said to them, 'Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.' He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum." This understanding of Jesus as the body and blood was tied very early on to the Eucharistic, so much so that the Romans began a rumor that the Christians were cannibalistic. Interestingly, the normal word for “eat” is foge in Greek, but here, John 6 uses troge - which means in English, to gnaw or munch on the flesh and drink his blood. That being said, how did the early Christians understand the Eucharist?

Justin Martyr (AD 155, within 50-60 years of the New Testament) is the earliest Christian apologist. In his work, Apologies, he is surprisingly frank, referring directly to the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He is also the earliest person to describe a full-length Mass, which is easily recognizable in Modern Mass today. Others seemingly believed in the Real Presence, such as St. Irenaeus of Lyons. After talking about the blood and body, he notes that "When the mingled cup and the man-made bread receive the Word of God, they become the Eucharist of the blood and body of Christ. From these things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported." Some heretical groups, such as the Ebionites, offered only water instead of wine and water mixed together (which was done because both blood and water flowed from Jesus in John 19). Hippolytus of Rome also gives us a glimpse of liturgical traditions that vanished long ago - for example, the custom of dispensing a chalice of milk and honey, along with the eucharistic elements, during the Easter liturgy. This symbolized the newly baptized Christian's entrance into the true promised land through the sacraments. The chalice of milk and honey is attested to by many other authors as well, including pseudo-Barnabas, Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome.

When I visited the catacombs of Rome, I noted carvings which evoke the sacraments through symbols. One of the inscriptions in the catacombs, the Inscription of Pectorius, reads "Receive the delicious nourishment of the Savior of the saints. Eat, drink, taking the food with both hands." The apocalyptic Vision of Paul from the early-mid AD 200s criticizes those who say that "the bread and cup of the eucharistic blessing are not the body and blood of Christ." Commenting on the aforementioned passage from John's gospel, St. Origen of Alexandria wrote, "What people are accustomed to drinking blood? In the Gospel, the Jews who follows the Lord heard and were offended, and they said: 'Who can eat flesh and drink blood?' But the Christian people, the faithful people, hear these things and embrace them, and follow him who says: 'Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you; for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.'"

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, the Eucharist was identified with the "daily bread" given in the Lord's Prayer in early Christian literature. It is also worth noting that in Genesis 14:14 we read, "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram..." The Church Fathers believed that this prefigured the Eucharist. They also noted that Bethlehem meant the "house of bread," and made the connection to Jesus as the living bread, having been born there. Tertullian of Carthage (AD 222) spoke of the Real Presence in graphically realistic terms: "The flesh feeds on the body of Christ so that the soul might grow fat on God" (On the Resurrection of the Body 8). St. Cyril of Jerusalem is explicit about the doctrine of the Real Presence and Transubstantiation. He says, "The bread and the wine of the Eucharist, before the invocation of the holy and adorable Trinity, were simple bread and wine,; but, after the invocation, the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ" (Mystagogical Lecture 1.7).

He later writes, "The bread of the Eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is no longer merely bread, but the body of Christ" (Mystagogical Lecture 3.3). Elsewhere he says, "Since he himself has declared of the bread, 'This is my body,' who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since he himself affirmed, 'This is my blood,' who shall ever hesitate, saying that it is not his blood? Once, in Cana of Galilee... he turned water into wine, resembling blood. Is it incredible, then, that he should have turned wine into blood?.... What seems to be bread is not bread, though it tastes like bread, but the body of Christ. And what seems to be wine is not wine, though it tastes like wine, but the blood of Christ" (Mystagogical Lecture 4).

Taken as a whole, the New Testament (Luke, John, 1st Corinthians, Acts, Hebrews and Revelation), the Didache (AD 50-120), St. Clement of Rome (AD 85-95), St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 100-107), Pliny the Younger (AD 112), St. Justin Martyr (AD 155-165), St. Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130-202), St. Hippolytus of Rome (AD 215), the Didascalia (AD 200-250), Sts. Abercius and Pectorius (AD 216), the Acts of John (AD 150), the Acts of Thomas (AD 150-225), the Acts of Thaddeus (AD 200s), the Vision of Paul (AD 250), the Acts of Peter (AD 150-200), the Gnostic Gospel of Judas (AD 160-180), pagan rumors of Christians drinking blood and eating flesh, St. Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215), Origen of Alexandria (AD 185-254), St. Dionysius the Great (AD 200-265), Tertullian of Carthage (AD 190-222), St. Cyprian of Carthage (AD 200s), St. Cornelius of Rome (AD 200-250), St. Firmilian of Caesarea (AD 200-270), the Liturgy of Addai and Mari (AD 100-300), Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 280-310), the Anaphora of St. Mark (AD 100-200), the texts from the Council of Nicea (AD 325), St. Sarapion of Thmuis (AD 300-370), the Liturgy of St. James (AD 300s), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 300-350), and many other early Christian writers, apocryphal texts and liturgical texts refer to the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

This was a widely held belief in the Christian Church until the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s. Martin Luther espoused the notion of Consubstantiation, and later Reformers and Protestant movements continued to get farther away from the Eucharist of early Christians - Anabaptists, Baptists, renewal movements such as Pentecostals, Non-denominational churches, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons (who call it "The Sacrament"), and Jehovah's Witnesses seeing it as more of a sacramental symbol. In fact. in many of today's Protestant churches, the Eucharist (often called Communion) no longer has a literal meaning, but is seen as symbolic. Alcohol is often not used in these services either, but instead, crackers and juice or non-alcoholic wine is offered. In Roman Catholicism, the wine is pure grape wine. It cannot be watermelon, dandelion wine or others. In Europe, grape wine is part of culture - but not in the Orient, they have sak√© - and neither do the Africans. Mustum is usually used for priests who are alcoholics (mustum being the pure grape juice).

There was a movement during the late 1960s that said that Jesus used elements of his time - bread and wine was part of their meals, and therefore, we ought to use elements of our time. They felt that since the common food in Palestine was bread and wine and Jesus used those to show his presence, now it was chicken wings and beer - hot wings are for those have really bad sins. But within the Christian tradition, this type of relativism limps. While chicken wings and beer or pizza and Coke may be your common meal in college, for example, it will transition when you leave college to steak and eggs, or sushi, or what have you. If you want to have a prayer service, and as a sign of sharing life together you have pizza and sushi - that may be fine, but when it comes to the Universal experience, this is the capital T Tradition. Where did we really experience Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist traditionally? In the bread and the wine.

On the whole, The early church evidently felt that the Eucharist was very important, regardless of how the Real Presence has been viewed, or how the Eucharist has been celebrated. On a spiritual level, it is also important to remember that Christ's words "This is my body, which will be given up for you" is a motto that Christians ought to live by. Service is an integral part - if not the very foundation - of Christian mission, and when a Christian willingly gives themselves to another in service they are essentially repeating the words of Christ. In doing so, when we offer ourselves in service and in love to our friends, our family, and our neighbor we are telling them "This is my body, which will be given up for you." Christ is calling each of us to come to the point where we will be willing to say, "I offer myself in service - this is my being, which will be given up for you and for all. I will serve and love others to the best of my ability." Thus, the doctrine of the Real Presence may here be read as the need for Christians to make manifest the presence of God through our actions - a call to love and to serve as we continue to journey together.