by Melanie Bettinelli on May 24, 2013
AND WAS BURIED
by Melanie Bettinelli
I am reckoned as one in the tomb;
I have reached the end of my strength
like one alone among the dead;
like the slain lying in their graves;
like those you remember no more,
cut off, as they are, from your hand.
You have laid me in the depths of the tomb
in places that are dark, in the depths.
+ + +
When I was growing up I somehow received the impression that all the specific details about Our Lord’s life and death that were not recorded in the Gospels were lost in the mists of time and there was no way we could really know for sure where exactly things happened. Any claims that we did know were pious custom at best, superstition at worst.
But I was wrong. We do know. And while he was in Jerusalem last month, Cardinal Sean celebrated Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the consecration actually taking place at the altar inside the empty tomb where Jesus was buried and from which he rose. I was moved almost to tears seeing the videos and photographs that Dom’s colleague, George Martell, who was covering the pilgrimage for the New Media office, sent back. Go, look. Listen to Cardinal Sean’s homily, it won’t take long.
There’s that. There’s the tomb. Evidence. A reminder.
He was buried.
He was buried. Joseph of Arimethea and the women took his body down from the cross and buried it in a tomb. In that tomb. That place, right there. That tiny space, so small only five people at a time could squeeze in, so that the concelebrating priests had to stand outside, so small an opening that Cardinal Sean had to duck and stoop to enter. Go, look. There, where now there is an altar. There his body lay from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.
There his body lay. Dead. No longer was his soul there. Tradition has it that he descended to the dead, that he went to free Adam and Eve and all the patriarchs and prophets and holy men and women who had died before him. But while his soul was ransacking hell, his body lay there, lifeless, in the tomb.
And there, in the tomb, in that space, something happened. The greatest miracle ever. That lifeless body was resurrected. This, this is the moment on which the whole edifice of the Christian faith is built. That place is where it happened.
But that is a meditation for another day. Right now I just want to think about that tomb, that place.
Two years ago I found my girls, then four and three, playing a game in which they pretended to be in the Tomb with Jesus. I was surprised and delighted to find that they were meditating on the mystery of his burial in the particular way that children do meditate (thank you, Maria Montessori and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for helping me to understand how children’s play is form of lectio divina, a meditation on the Word they have received.) The two of them crouched in my pre dieu and chanted: “I’m in the tomb with Jesus. I’m in the tomb with Jesus.”
At that moment I truly felt I was in the tomb. Everything was so dark and I could see no way out.
But oh how the memory of their chanting voices cheered me for they reminded me that even in the tomb I am not alone. He has been there too. He too has felt abandoned and isolated. He too has felt profound loneliness. He too has felt deserted by God, his plea for help answered only with a no. No, this cup will not pass from you, you must drink it to the bitter end.
My daughters lead me to places I would not otherwise have ventured. What does it mean for me to share in his burial? What does it mean to be in the tomb with Jesus? Not just in the empty tomb after the fact, but there with him. Lifeless, waiting for new life. The strange liquid self of the creature that was once a caterpillar and will one day be a butterfly but now is a sort of soup, hidden in the tomb of the chrysalis.
The other day an ad on Facebook caught my eye. I think it was a hospital soliciting donors with the lure of making a donation in memory of a loved one “who has passed.” I complained on Facebook, “I really hate the euphemism “passed.” Why can’t we just say someone “died”?” But I really wasn’t sure why it bugged me so much. I started to feel almost silly when friends began to explain why they use it, an interesting variety of reflections on death:
I think passed sounds almost more Christian. I know it doesn’t have to sound that way, but died sounds like a final end whereas passed sounds like just another step to something else. In that sense, it might be more comforting as a reminder that there is something more after death.
My mother is Thai, and the parallel euphemism in Thai is a word that can mean “turned” or “spoiled” (e.g. the milk turned), or broken, or wasted. The word is not used for animals - only human deaths. Similarly, we say in English that animals die, but only people “pass away.” So I take such euphemisms as recognition that human deaths are distinct from the death of just any animal.
I often say, when referring to my deceased relatives, that they have passed. To me, they have passed; past the physical. I can’t say they died, b/c death seems like a very final term to use when an organic body expires. The energy of the person, the spirit doesn’t die with the body. Plus, the nitrogen is good for the soil and feeds the still living plants, carrying on that life. In my opinion, we don’t die, our casing expires.
Perhaps what makes me uncomfortable with “passed” is that seems to express a desire to skip over the grim fact of the tomb and leap right into contemplation of the resurrection, of new life and new hope. Even for non-Christians there’s an intimation of immortality and a shying away from the grimness of death. We don’t want to think about that dead body. (I’m tempted to add something from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: “Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with the lid on it?”)
And yet. I don’t think we should be so quick to turn away.
Burial of the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy. It’s the last service we can give to a person, to pay respect to the physical remains. For the Catholic, it’s an acknowledgment that the body is a supreme work of the Creator and also a temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s an acknowledgement too that our bodies are not merely shells which hold our selves but are in fact an integral part of that self. I don’t want to anticipate too much the section of the Creed that deals with the resurrection of the body, but these two parts of the Creed are linked of course. We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead—not merely an eternal life as a disembodied spirit—because we believe that our selves are both body and soul. And if God became Man then that body, which grew from a single cell in the womb of the blessed Virgin, is now forever a part of God. That body which lay in the tomb for three days.
Finally, I think of the holy women, the myrrhbearers, who went to anoint his body in the tomb. What an act of love that care for the body. To prepare a body for burial and to commit it to the grave are tasks that in current day America we delegate to professionals. But it used to be an act of love performed by family and friends. An intimate act that in the hypothetical at least I think I’d almost rather not delegate to strangers.
Likewise the act of actual burial. I remember when my grandmother died how disconcerted I was by the fact that the actual burial happens after the mourners are gone. I’m had read about the practice of some cultures where the loved ones help to put the dirt on top of the coffin. It seems as if that small, physical act of burial is akin to many other physical acts of service we perform for our loved ones. As a mother who spends much of my days tending the bodily needs of my family, the idea of burial as a bodily need appeals to me. Changing diapers can be unpleasant and yet it is my job. One I might sometimes wish I could delegate, but which on second thought I’m happy to do as an act of loving service. And if one day I have the sad task of burying one of my loved ones, I think I’d rather do that unpleasant job myself, one last physical act of service.
Yes, I’d rather stand by the grave and dump the dirt on the coffin. I’d rather see it happen than walk away from the nicely hidden site, where the “unpleasantness” of dirt is hidden by fake green grass.
It’s the echo of that act of burial that I see when I visit a Jewish cemetery, like the one where my mother-in-law’s father is buried, and see the small stones placed on top of the grave markers. It is a symbolic participation in the act of burial.
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He was buried. This is the end, the fullness, of what it means that He became man and pitched his tent among us. It meant that at the end of his life, after he had suffered death, his body was placed in a tomb. He shared with us the fate that is common to all mankind. Our God is not a God who is indifferent to our suffering and death. No,he is not distant from us, he is not deaf to our cries when we commit our loved ones to the earth. He is there with them, sealed in the tomb. He knows. He is there in the grim horror of it all.
Death, where is thy victory? Grave where is thy sting?
I’ll end I suppose with this meditation from St. Ephrem, used in the Office of Readings on Friday in the Octave of Easter:
Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.
Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.
He was buried so that there will be nowhere that we can go—no, not even into the halls of Death—where he is not present. And if we join him in the tomb we will surely rise again with him.
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keep us united with your Son
in his death and burial
so that we may rise to new life with him,
who lives and reigns forever and ever.
(concluding prayer from Compline for Friday
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “and was buried”?
Melanie Bettinelli is a very tired mother of five little ones who begs pardon if her words fail to make any sense at all.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 20, 2013
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
I liked this so much better than any other Holocaust book I’ve read with the possible exception of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I wish I had read this at school instead of Anne Frank. But I suspect The Hiding Place is too Christian a book to make it to most school reading lists. And that’s what makes it so very amazing.
The Hiding Place of the title refers not only to the little hidden room at the top of the house in Haarlem where Corrie and her family hid their various Jewish refugees, but even more importantly to the image from the Psalms, God is really the hiding place.
I’ve been hearing about this book for a long time. First, from my former roommate, Niamh. It was one of her favorites. But later from various other sources. Still, it was a quote Niamh posted on Facebook that made me decide it was time to finally check it out:
“He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.
Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
It’s too heavy,” I said.
Yes,” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”
That was definitely one of my favorite moments in the book. Corrie’s father seems like such a wise man.
There is another passage a little later where he displays the same kind of wisdom that moved me even more, though. Corrie is disturbed by her first encounter with death, the baby of a poor family her mother has adopted.
At last we heard Father’s footsteps winding up the stairs. It was the best moment in every day, when he came up to tuck us in. We never fell asleep until he had arranged the blankets in his special way and laid his hand for a moment on each head. Then we tried not to move even a toe.
But that night as he stepped through the door I burst into tears “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can’t die! You can’t!”
Beside me on the bed Nollie sat up. “We went to see Mrs. Hoeg,” she explained, “Corrie didn’t eat her super or anything.”
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam—when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffled a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need—just in time.”
And of course Father is proved right:
In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty! she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?”
And then as we listened in disbelief she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all—all—on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”
Mama threw her arms around her and they clung together. But I stood rooted to the spot, knowing I had seen a mystery.
It was Father’s train ticket, given at the moment itself.
This book was a treasure house of riches. I definitely need to buy a copy to read again and again. I also love Father’s wisdom when Corrie has her heart broken. I love Corrie sister Betsie and how she sees the good in everything and can find a light in any darkness, even in the most brutal of the SS guards. One of my favorite scenes is when they give thanks for the fleas.
Oh if you haven’t read this one, you really, really should.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 16, 2013
HE SUFFERED DEATH
He was a man of suffering. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers…he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people. (Isaiah 53:3-4, 7-8)
He suffered death. What does this mean? How can God suffer? How can God die?
He suffered death, was buried and resurrected in fulfillment of the scriptures. He had to do this for the salvation of the world. The corrected translation stating “He suffered DEATH” instead of, “He suffered, died..” makes it clear to us believers what He suffered. He suffered death. Many of us have an intimate knowledge what death looks like. A person can rage against the dying of the light or just slip away, but the result is that our loved one is no longer there. Jesus, our savior and God-man, is the ultimate example for us.
We do not have a God who cannot sympathize with our weakness. Jesus suffered the pain of the cross for all mankind. His gentle mother had to stand and watch it happen to her son:
The crucifixion began.Jesus was quickly thrown backward, with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum was then lifted into place at the top of the stipes, and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was nailed into place.
The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.
As Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.
At this point, another phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by the arm, the pectoral muscles, the large muscles of the chest, were paralyzed and the intercostal muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled. Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, the carbon dioxide level increased in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided.
Dr Truman Davis, published at OurCatholicFaith.org
He suffered death. Jesus, who fed the multitudes and raised Lazarus, permitted this outrageous, horrible death to happen to Himself. Even while they taunted Him, He asked the Father to forgive them. We believers do not know the eternal fate of the sinners there excepting the repentant thief. No matter what happened to those who said ‘Crucify Him!’ the days he suffered death, was buried and rose from the dead made it possible for heaven to be opened for us.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour: that, through the grace of God, he might taste death for all. Hebrews 2: 9
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “he suffered death”?
Priest’s Wife blogs at Fear Not Little Flock where she shares her experience of being a Byzantine Catholic priest’s wife in a country that does not expect and sometimes does not accept a married man as a Catholic priest.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 09, 2013
We learned that there is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between the Church’s sophisticated theology of the lay apostolate and the lived spiritual experience of the majority of our people. And this chasm has a name: discipleship. We learned that the majority of even “active” Catholics are still at an early, essentially passive stage of spiritual development. We learned that our first need at the parish level isn’t catechetical. Rather, our fundamental problem is that most of our people are not yet disciples. They will never be apostles until they have begun to follow Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church.
We learned that at the parochial level, we have accepted this chasm between the Church’s teaching and Catholics’ lived relationship with God as normative, and this has shaped our community culture, our pastoral assumptions, and our pastoral practices with devastating results. We discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that many pastoral leaders do not even possess a conceptual category for discipleship. As long as this holds true, the theology of the laity and the Church’s teaching on social justice and evangelization will remain beautiful ideals that are, practically speaking, dead letters for the vast majority of Catholics.
Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. Dom handed me this book a while back and I’ve been reading it slowly for months. It’s the kind of book that I need to chew on, to think over. (And now, having come to the end, I think I need to re-read.) As I read a bit and then let it sit I have found its ideas percolating. I’ve found myself referring to it to help me think about other topics, other books. Weddell’s book is one of those that has drastically changed the way I see the Church and the world of faith and that in a very helpful way.
There are some things I didn’t like about the first time I read it that made it hard to get through, but the second time they seemed less important. The one hurdle I had in reading it was that much of the language felt like “inside baseball.” Weddell’s use of the term “disciple” being the primary example. I felt very uncomfortable with the word “disciple” the first time I read the book because I really didn’t understand how she was using it. As she says in the book, I didn’t really have a mental category for it and it took getting to the end to really be able to stretch my mind around it. The second read through makes so much more sense.
I do think this book is essential to the conversation about the new evangelization. It diagnoses the root problem of the contemporary American Church in rather frightening detail and then sets out a plan to address them. Weddell herself says that there are many gaps in her understanding and many questions left to answer. This book doesn’t try to set out definite answers, but rather lays out what Weddell has learned through more than a decade of her work with the Catherine of Siena Institute, a ministry whose mission is to equip parishes to form lay apostles.
Why is this book so important? Because we have failed:
Only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still “practicing”—meaning they attend Mass at least once a month.
Nearly a third of self-identified Catholics believe in an impersonal God.[. . .] only 48 percent of Catholics were absolutely certain that the God they believed in was a God with whom they could have a personal relationship.
Recently my sister was telling me about the new parish she’d joined and how she was surprised that the pastor devoted a sizable portion of his homily to addressing some specific Protestant objections to Catholicism. When she commented on it she learned that a new evangelical megachurch was deliberately targeting Catholics at that parish, trying to lure them in. According to Weddell, they stand a good chance of being pretty successful unless the Catholic parish takes steps not just to counter the Protestant arguments but to actively nourish the spiritual maturation of the adults in the parish, to help them become intentional disciples.
In the first part of her book Weddell lays out some surprising insights into the normative experience in Catholic parishes and why the old assumptions are not longer valid.
[I really wanted to organize this blog entry and polish it up. But I’ve been sitting on it a week and still haven’t got a vision of what it should be. All I have is a bit list of passages that I marked. So I’m just going to throw up a bunch of quotes with no comment from me. Feel free to comment on any of them. These are from about the first third to half of the book. I want to write a separate post about the latter half or two thirds or whatever of the book. Later.
Anyway. I hope this book opens up some conversations. It hit a lot of nerves and touched on a lot of themes I’ve been exploring and conversations I’ve been having. But I’m in too much of a muddle right now to really do it justice. So better to just do what I can and see what happens, Right?]
What’s wrong with cultural Catholicism as a paradigm
One of the deepest convictions of evangelical culture is that every person, whether raised inside a Christian tradition or not, has a personal decision to make about whether he or she will live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. [. . .] In contrast, Catholic pastoral practice still assumes that religious identity is largely inherited and stable throughout one’s life span. [. . .] What we have taken as normative is, in fact, the far end of the “religious bell curve.”
Since the late sixteenth and early sevententh centuries, the Catholic retention strategy has been (a) childhood catechesis and (b) sacramental initiation. [. . .] Setting out to give every Catholic child a solid catechetical background was an extraordinary vision hat had never before been attempted. The endeavor was deeply influenced by a Renaissance optimism about the power of education. The assumption was that a carefully nurtured religious identity acquired in childhood would endure throughout life.
[. . .]
But the evidence suggests that what worked in the seventeeth century does not work in the twenty-first. Pew researchers found that attending CCD, youth groups, and evn Catholic high schools made little or no difference in whether or not an American Catholic teen ended up staying Catholic, becoming Protestant, or leave to become “unaffiliated.”
Our pastoral practice still operates on the presumption that although most Catholic teens vanish after Confirmation, they will find their way back when they are ready to get married and especially when they have children. One huge problem with this paradigm is that Catholic marriage rates are, in fact, plummeting.
We can no longer depend upon rites of passage or cultural, peer, or familial pressure to bring the majority back.
In the twenty-first century, cultural Catholicism is dead as a retention strategy, because God has no grandchildren. In the twenty-first century, we have to foster intentional Catholicism rather than cultural Catholicism.
+ + +
Personal attachment to Christ is normative
The majority of Catholics in the United States are sacramentalized but not evangelized. They do not knew that an explicit, personal attachment to Christ—personal discipleship—is normative Catholicism as taught time and time again by the apostles and reiterated by the popes, councils, and saints of the Church.
If a living relationship with Christ and, therefore, his Father and the Holy Spirit, does not exist, we have not succeeded in “transmitting” the faith. The faith has not been transmitted unless the Person and the relationship at the center of the faith have been transmitted. And we can’t successfully transmit the relationship at the center of the faith unless we ourselves consciously participate in that relationship.
The common working assumption that we encounter is that personal discipleship is a kind of optional spiritual enrichment for the exceptionally pious or spiritually gifted.
To the extent that we don’t talk explicitly with one another about discipleship, we make it very, very difficult for most Catholics to think about discipleship.
+ + +
Simon Peter’s “drop the net” decision is what we mean by “intentional.” From the moment he dropped his nets to follow Jesus, he was a disciple.
Intentional discipleship is not accidental or merely cultural. It is not just a matter of “following the rules.” A disciple’s primary motivation comes from within, out of a Holy Spirit-given “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
In the twenty-first century, Catholic pastoral practice is still largely based on what could be called an “infant paradigm,” rather than am “adult paradigm.” What do I mean? We often function as though the initiation of a young child into the faith is the practical spiritual norm. [. . .] This paradigm also assumes that a baptized child will pick up the Catholic faith from the family and the parish as naturally and inevitably as he or she learns language and culture. The faith is communicated,and the child trustingly accepts and believes it. The child will inherit a stable, lifelong religious identity and practice from the family and the parish, a Catholic identity that will move seamlessly into adulthood, resulting in slow spiritual growth over a lifetime. There is little expectation of distinct internal turning points, much less of an overt “conversion” experience.
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Our problem is not that there is a shortage of vocations but that we do not have the support systems and leadership in place to foster the vast majority of vocations that God has given us. Most fundamentally when we fail to call our own to discipleship, we are unwittingly pushing away the vast majority of the vocations God has given us.
In the Catholic tradition, the word vocation is not a synonym for vocational career. A vocation is a supernatural mystery that emerges from a sustained encounter with Christ. It is a transforming, sanctifying path and work of love to which Christ calls us. A vocation builds on our natural qualities but carries us far beyond what we would imagine.
+ + +
What do you think? Have you read the book? Are you interested in reading it? You can listen to an interview with Sherry Weddell on Boston’s The Good Catholic Life if you want to get more flavor of what the book is about.
I haven’t yet got to the part that intrigued me most, the thresholds of conversion. Stay tuned.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 02, 2013
HE WAS CRUCIFIED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE
“Christus… suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.”
“…upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross.”
“Jesus… was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross…. Many modern scholars consider … his crucifixion… to be historically certain…”
—Wikipedia, “Crucifixion of Jesus,” accessed May 1, 2013
“…he was crucified under Pontius Pilate…”
The opening phrases of the Creed plunge us into God’s mysterious nature. The creed is finite and made of words; the words drop pins in the map of the Infinite, if only to keep us from getting lost.
- “One” God means “no less, no more,” leaving unsaid the shape and structure of the Trinity.
- “Father,” familiar, stands for shadow of something more real, more fatherly.
- “Almighty” seems straightforward until you contemplate how free we are to wonder at it.
- “Incarnate,” the fleshiest term of all, contains in one word the most bewildering of the mysteries.
But then, all of a sudden, we come up against something that anyone can understand:
He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
Here we have not an article of faith, but an article of history.
It is a news report;
if we take the long view, it is a current event.
Pontius Pilate is not just one man’s name, either.
It means a place,
Anyone who was crucified “under Pontius Pilate”
(note the passive voice)
when it was a Roman province,
ruled by Emperor Tiberius,
by the authority of its prefect,
the fifth man to hold that office,
sometime between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36.
That he was crucified under Pontius Pilate is not only our creed.
It’s also the creed of history,
the academic consensus.
The crossbeam fell into place, and the weight of it drove the tall
upright beam a bit farther into the ground
—this is the pivot-point of the creed, and the pivot-point of history,
a pin not just in our map,
but in all the maps.
That crux is fixed
there and then,
because history is something which does not repeat;
because history is nothing that can be tested or rechecked or
history is not “what happens,”
history is “what happened,”
don’t you think sometimes about him?
Behold the man,
leaving his wife in her bed,
going to his work,
dreary some days like any man’s toil;
If only he could have had that dream,
dreamed that all generations would invoke his name,
he might have been sore afraid indeed.
partly thanks to Pilate,
whose name, or part of it, is carved on a stone found in Caesarea Maritima
(DIS AUGUSTIS TIBERIÉUM PONTIUS PILATUS PRAEFECTUS IUDAEAE FECIT DEDICAVIT)
—we all know that once upon a time, men and women could approach and touch Him at will;
that once upon a time, He could not slip away into the crowd.
There was a time and place that it was all present,
incarnate just a few hours more,
a moment that the world has acknowledged ever since,
one place where the believer’s Jesus is the historian’s Galilean.
no meat in that argument, however the debaters gnaw on context.
If we can all agree on anything, it’s this:
that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
On this pin hangs a living drop that trembles over the dry paper,
and at any moment it may make contact,
swiftly disappear into the page,
from there to silently wick and spread outward, staining the whole.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “he was crucified under Pontius Pilate”?
Erin Arlinghaus blogs at Bearing Blog
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 26, 2013
This is what Adoration looks like. A dozen children, four moms, one grandmother, and an excellent priest who believes that children, yes even the youngest children, can get to know Jesus in this wonderful way. I think the oldest child here is 8. The youngest is Lucia, at 3 months, but the next youngest is a little lad who is only one month older.
We began with O Salutaris Hostia. The moms sang off of printed sheets, most of the kids just listened. But they were hearing it, soaking it in. Then Father gave a nice little talk to the kids, talking about Jesus, inviting them to listen to Him and to bring Him their thoughts and concerns. A short period of quiet and then the children talked about Jesus, explained what they had prayed about, if they wanted to. I had to take Lucy to the back to nurse her as she got quite fussy at this point.
Then a brief prayer, the prayer the little children were taught by an angel at Fatima:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.
Then the children prayed their petitions. There was a little boy who wanted to pray for soldiers and people killed in war, and people in hospitals. Sophie had a bunch. She wanted to pray for all the people who made up their own gods instead of worshiping Jesus. She also wanted to pray for people who couldn’t walk or use their feet and were in wheelchairs and in the hospital. And for people who had died who didn’t know Jesus. She’s never spoken up before, but today she was little miss chatty. Though she hasn’t yet learned not to interrupt.
I’d like to note that mine were the only children running around all the other children stayed nicely put on the rug. Anthony and Ben did actually kneel down once or twice, but mostly they were jumping off that bottom step, kicking the pews, and being boys.
Bella and Sophie both did the thing where they lay down on the floor and kick their feet. But then they both did a passable job of kneeling at the end. And at the very end both stood in line sweetly for a special benediction.
Adoration ended with praying the Divine Praises and singing the Tantum Ergo. There was another song in the middle that I can’t remember. Finally as Father carried the Host back to the tabernacle, we sang Holy God We Praise Thy Name. Sophie’s favorite. I love that the format has room for the beautiful Latin hymns, the sense of the sacred and profound mystery ad ritual, as well as the personal and intimate. No, these kids aren’t quite ready to make a quiet Holy Hour, but they get it. They know they have spent a special time with Jesus. It wasn’t watered down for them but it was made accessible to them.
It’s probably been at least six months since the last time we went. This time I was able to see a profound difference in Ben who was especially sweet today. In the past couple of weeks he’s seemed to have turned a corner and has got over whatever it was that he had against religion and has started sometimes kneeling in church and praying along at dinner and bedtime prayers and even making the sign of the cross sometimes and who was heard to say he wanted to go to Mass to see Jesus. At the end of Adoration he declared: I like to come and see Jesus. And he was very excited about the holy card of St Teresa that he received and the pretty flowers and loved making a cross.
We got there half an hour early, I was planning to let them run off some steam at the playground behind the church but the school kids were there and there were just too many of them. My timid children preferred to go right into the church. Where they proceeded to run up and down the aisles while I nursed Lucia. They said hi to their favorite saints and admired the stained glass.
After Adoration we did a little craft, making pipe cleaner crosses. Perfect fun. Then once the school kids had cleared off the playground, we did go out and run around. And had a picnic lunch on the fly, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, strawberries, apples, raisins, cheese. Gabriel pushed Bella on the tire swing.
Then when we got home, a mystery. A picture of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was leaning against the front step. No note or anything. Um. Ok.
And just for fun, Lucia in her car seat, happy as can be:
When Dom took Bella for a walk this morning he said it was delightful to see the world through her eyes. He saw a yard full of weeds, she said, those people are so lucky to have so many flowers. He saw a dilapidated house, she saw that it was painted a beautiful shade of blue. He saw ratty old silk flowers tossed by the wind, she saw a treasure to bring home to her sister and brothers.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 18, 2013
FOR OUR SAKE
“For Our Sake”
The our in the Creed is a terrible temptation to me.
When people talk about the sacrificial love of Christ, I have a tendency to start doing math. Well, if it was for all of our sake, Christ saved an astounding number of people through his crucifixion. In fact, he saved more people than I can try and picture (even with Knuth Paper Stack Notation). The current population of the United States is over three hundred million. I can write that number down, but I can’t get an intuitive picture of how many people that is. And I can’t actually differentiate it from the number of people in the world (nearly seven billion) or the number of people who have ever lived, let alone the number of people who will have ever lived. It’s an unreasonable number.
Which starts to make Christ’s love feel reasonable.
And as I’m wondering all this, I’ve managed to shrink myself to invisibility in the the great throng of people washed in Christ’s blood. If we’re spreading out his sacrifice among all of us, I’m hardly redeemed by his death. Once we average it out, I can’t lay claim to more than one thorn-puncture. And, honestly, I’m more one platelet in that wound than the wound itself.
Why do I want to flinch away from my personal relationship with Christ’s suffering and death? Well, any number of reasons. Some days I want to shy away from a feeling of guilt —averaged out among us all, the marginal cost of my sin isn’t so large. And some days I just don’t want to look at the grotesqueness of Christ’s crucifixion—I feel a bit like the girlfriend of Van Gogh; what on earth can you say to suffering and sacrifice offered to you as a gift? I have to bite back a “But really, you shouldn’t have. At least not on my behalf!”
But what I received isn’t just the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and suffering, it’s the gift of His love. His love for me, personally, caused him to be willing to endure death on a cross, so that I could have the chance to participate in the perfect love he shares with our Father. If it could have happened another way, He would presumably have done that, but His actions aren’t motivated by a macabre masochism, but by an intense desire to experience the fullness of truth and telos.
It’s His boundless love that moved him to suffer death for me personally, and love isn’t diminished when it’s spread out over many people. But just repeating catechism to myself isn’t enough to cause me to stop trying to use my ‘our’ loophole to minimize the depth of Christ’s love (and my accompanying terror at having a gift I can’t repay).
If I can’t figure out how to think about infinite love spread out over infinite people, I can use that perplexedness as a way to be united to everyone else who feels simultaneously guilty and grateful for receiving such a gift. When I stand next to my my brothers and sisters in Christ and say the word “our” with them at Mass, I don’t need to stand outside them, counting up the census. I can notice that love that overwhelms us, and overwhelms our ability to comprehend its magnitude, has given me one more gift—a way to be united to every other person in the group.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “for our sake”?
Leah Libresco grew up as an atheist but was received into the Church in November 2012. She writes about religion, philosophy, and more musical theatre than you’d expect at Unequally Yoked
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 14, 2013
It is the condescension of the Incarnation, God’s stooping low to join us as one of us, that “blows open” the mind, introducing the human spirit for the first time to an adequate conception of God’s otherness and transcendence. What Thomas implies is this: only a reality that is not a being in the world, even the supreme being, could ever become a creature while at the same time remaining true to itself. The God who comes to join us in Jesus Christ must be a reality with a greater “stretch,” a greater flexibility, a greater power of being than we could possibly have imagined. Whatever notion one might have had of God must be discarded in the presence of the incarnate Word; even the highest titles of praise fall short of the glory revealed in the face of Christ. That God creates and governs the world, that God loves and nurtures the beings of the universe, even that God guides us to a life after death—all that was, to varying degrees, accepted and believed prior to the Incarnation. But that God would become a creature while still remaining God, that God would take on all of the “weakness of his handiwork,” feeling limitation, suffering, death itself, that was simply unimaginable before Jesus Christ. That was simply too great to be hoped for, simply too ludicrous to be believed. In Paul’s terms, “a stumbling block for the Jews and a folly for the Gentiles.”: It is in this unheard of surprise, Thomas hints, that the true revelation takes place, for it is only in this shock that we realize how marvelous God is and therefore what a transcendent destiny is open for us.
If God had not become incarnate, if God had not joined us in our creatureliness, God would remain a limited, finite good, still to some degree restricted in love. In a word, the Christian discovers in Jesus Christ that God’s being is fully ecstatic. God’s nature is to go beyond himself, to step outside of himself, to forget himself in love.
both quotes from Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master by Fr. Robert Barron.
*The image is a sculpture built based on a 3D digital reconstruction of the the body of Jesus based on data from the Shroud. Cardinal Seán and a group of 29 priests of the Archdiocese of Boston have traveled on an Easter pilgrimage to the Holy Land this week and this is one of the photos Dom’s colleague, George Martell, has taken as he’s documented their journey. To see more visit The Good Catholic Life’s blog coverage of the Holy Land Pilgrimage.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 11, 2013
AND BECAME MAN
Nearly everything I love about Christianity is summed up in those words: He became a man. For us.
Before my conversion, I sometimes mused about God. If he did exist, what would he be like? Would he be a distant ruler, an autocrat who took delight in controlling puppets with his endless regulations? Or would he be the warm, fuzzy b.f.f. that some Christians conjured—the blue-eyed, neatly coiffed dreamboat who floated along beside us, making everything peachy?
Neither option was appealing. The first seemed ridiculous. If there was a God, it seemed he would want more from his creatures than staunch adherence to arbitrary rules. On the other hand, if he were too fuzzy and floaty, I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. Were these my only choices—tyrant or cotton candy vendor?
It was in ancient and authentic Christianity that I found my answer and that answer was surprisingly free of the stereotypes to which I’d cynically clung. The God of Catholicism was the source of a truth so rich, so odd, so unlikely, and so profoundly moving that when I actually grasped what it meant—that He became man for us—I could do nothing but drop to my knees.
“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 460 (quoting St. Thomas Aquinas))
As if human existence isn’t strange enough, God decided to join us in the muck. As if He hadn’t already given us enough—in His Word as Scripture, through His guidance, by way of His prophets, and in His patient, repeated revelation—He gave us Himself. He whispered to us the most intimate Word He could speak. He became man.
Love one another as I have loved you.
What an amazing teacher He is. Like all good teachers, He knows that the best way to make His point is to get right down to the level of the student. To say, “Ah, yes, this is how you’re seeing things. I know how it looks to you, but let me show you a new way to understand.” The brilliant teacher leads by example, models the way, says, “Look! This is how I do it. You can do it this way, too. Really. You can do this.”
And became man.
How odd. And how perfect.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “and became man”?
Former atheist Karen Edmisten is a convert to Catholicism and the author of After Miscarriage, The Rosary, and Through the Year With Mary. She blogs at Karen Edmisten (The Blog with the Shockingly Clever Title).
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 08, 2013
This morning at breakfast Bella was busy coloring a picture of the annunciation that I’d printed off for her yesterday. When she’d finished coloring she decided she wanted to add some text. So she found her Bible story book and began to copy out the words from the story: “God sent the angel Gabriel to a little town called Nazareth…” She back to copying them out at dinner tonight (after taking off most of the day for playing) and still at it after Dom had tucked her into bed when I went in to say goodnight.
Once again I was struck at how she finds her own little ways to observe the liturgical events that mean something to her. And also how unschoolers are right, children who are allowed to follow their passions will learn well beyond any curriculum we could set them. If I’d tried to assign copywork, even something a fraction of the length, she’d have melted into a sobbing puddle. But when it was her own idea, she went at it with a will. Catechesis and art and handwriting all accomplished as well as a great satisfaction. She even pointed out to me that she’d done the floor in black and white squares just like Vermeer in his painting of the lace maker.
Something New, Something Other: An Annunciation Diptych Joanne McPortland’s reflection on similarities between artistic depictions of the annunciation and of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ.
There is the certain similarity of positions, although in the Annunciation it is Mary of Nazareth who turns away while the angel my kneel before her, and in the Noli me tangere Mary of Magdala falls to her knees while the Risen Christ turns slightly away. There is the tradition that both encounters occur in a garden—the walled garden (or closed room, with a garden visible beyond) of Mary’s virginity, the burial garden in which the Magdalene mistakes Jesus for a gardener—with its echoes of the reversal of the Expulsion from Paradise. Both begin with a greeting that overcomes fear, and both conclude with immediate evangelical action: Mary of Nazareth hastes to the hill country to be with her kinswoman, Elizabeth; Mary of Magdala speeds to her brothers with the good news.
There are other resonances that act like open and close parentheses. Mary of Nazareth wonders how she can be with child without ever having known the embrace of the flesh; the Risen Christ refuses Mary of Magdala’s fleshy embrace. (Neither is meant as a rejection of the embodied love by which God blesses marriages and families, but a signal that Something New, Something Other is happening here.) A filled womb, an empty tomb. The first time we hear of Mary of Nazareth in the scriptural story of Jesus; the last time we hear of Mary of Magdala.