Category Archives: Church

Jews reclaim Jesus

Jews reclaim Jesus as one of their own
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

The relationship between Jews and Jesus has traditionally been a complicated one, to say the least.
As his followers’ message swept the ancient world, Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah found themselves in the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, position of being blamed for his death.
Mainstream Christian theology’s position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.
Jews, for their part, tended largely to ignore Jesus.
That’s changing now.
In the past year, a spate of Jewish authors, from the popular to the rabbinic to the scholarly, have wrestled with what Jews should think about Jesus.
And overwhelmingly, they are coming up with positive answers, urging their fellow Jews to learn about Jesus, understand him and claim him as one of their own.
“Jesus is a Jew. He spent his life talking to other Jews,” said Amy-Jill Levine, co-editor of the recently released “Jewish Annotated New Testament.”
“In reading the New Testament, I am often inspired, I am intrigued. I actually find myself becoming a better Jew because I become better informed about my own history,” she said.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a media personality who recently launched a bid for a U.S. House seat, argues in his own new book, “Kosher Jesus,” that “Jews have much to learn from Jesus – and from Christianity as a whole – without accepting Jesus’ divinity. There are many reasons for accepting Jesus as a man of great wisdom, beautiful ethical teachings, and profound Jewish patriotism.”
And Benyamin Cohen, an Orthodox Jew who spent a recent year going to church, admitted that he’s jealous that Christians have Jesus.
“He’s a tangible icon that everybody can latch on to. Judaism doesn’t have a superhero like that,” said Cohen, the author of the 2009 book “My Jesus Year.”
 “I’m not advocating for Moses dolls,” he said, but he argued that “it’s hard to believe in a God you can’t see. I’m jealous of Christians in that regard, that they have this physical manifestation of the divine that they can pray to.
“There could be more devout Jews than me who don’t need that, but to a young Jew living in the 21st century, I wish we had something more tangible,” he said.
The flurry of recent Jewish books on Jesus – including this month’s publication of “The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ” by Daniel Boyarin – is part of a trend of Jews taking pride in Jesus, interfaith expert Edward Kessler said.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, Christian New Testament scholars rediscovered the Jewish Jesus. They reminded all New Testament students that Jesus was Jewish,” said Kessler, the director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, England, which focuses on relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
A generation later, that scholarship has percolated into Jewish thought, he said, welcoming the trend: “It’s not a threat to Jews and it’s not a threat to Christians.”
For Jews in particular, he said, “It’s not so threatening as it was even 30 years ago. There is almost a pride that Jesus was a Jew rather than an embarrassment about it.”
Boteach agrees, writing in “Kosher Jesus” that “Jews will gain much from re-embracing him as a hero.”
“The truth is important,” Boteach writes. “A patriot of our people has been lost. Worse still, he’s been painted as the father of a long and murderous tradition of anti-Semitism.”
Boteach aims to claim, or reclaim, Jesus as a political rebel against Rome and to exonerate the Jews of his death. But Boteach’s book has attracted plenty of criticism, for instance for blaming the Apostle Paul for everything he doesn’t like about Christianity, such as hailing Jesus as divine and cutting his ties to Judaism.
“Paul never met Jesus, and Jesus certainly never would have sanctioned Paul’s actions and embellishments,” Boteach argues about the apostle who wrote much of the New Testament. “Jesus … would have been appalled at how his followers would later define him.”
“Jews will never accept his divinity. Nor should they,” Boteach writes, in one of many instances of presuming to know what Jesus really thought and meant. “The belief that any man is God is an abomination to Judaism, a position that Jesus himself would maintain.”
He cherry-picks the Gospels to to suit his arguments, writes in casual modern idioms (calling Pontius Pilate a “sadistic mass murderer” and comparing him to Hitler), and gets wrong the most basic details of the Passion story, such as the amount of money Judas took to betray Jesus.
Other experts in the field label Boteach’s book “sensationalistic,” and call him a “popularizer,” but Kessler sees “Kosher Jesus” as part of the trend of Judaizing Jesus. Cohen, the “My Jesus Year” author, offered some support for Boteach even as he expressed doubts about the book.
“I understand what Shmuley is trying to get at there,” he said, but added: “I don’t think anyone has the right to say ‘This is the definition of Jesus,’ especially a rabbi. He’s not ours to claim.”
Levine, who teaches New Testament and Jewish studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, also framed Jewish efforts to study Jesus in terms of mutual respect.
“Speaking personally as a Jew, if I want my neighbors to respect Judaism, which means knowing something about Jewish history, scripture and tradition, I owe my Christian neighbors the same courtesy. It’s a matter of respect,” she said.
She urged Jews to “become familiar with the material and make up their own mind as to how they understand Jesus.”
Ironically, she added, Jews can understand their own history more thoroughly through studying the life of Jesus.
“The best source on the period for Jewish history other than (the first-century historian) Josephus is the New Testament,” she said.
“It’s one of those ironies of history that the only Pharisee writing in the Second Temple period from whom we have records is Paul of Tarsus,” she said. ” ‘The Jewish Annotated New Testament’ is designed in part to help Jews recover their own history.”
But she also wants Christians to use it to understand Judaism more deeply, she said. While many Christian leaders acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew, she said, not many know much about what that means.
“Many Christian ministers and educators have no training in what early Judaism was like,” she said. “Not to take seriously first-century Judaism seems to dismiss part of the message of the New Testament.”
Cohen, the “My Jesus Year” author, found that Christians were very interested in Judaism during the 52 weeks he spent going from church to church.
“Many Christians look on Judaism as version 1.0 of their own religion. Because of that historical relationship, they’re interested in a lot of the theology of Judaism,” he said.
For his part, Cohen learned much that surprised him. “I was shocked when I went to church and heard them give sermons about the Old Testament,” he said. “I had no idea Christians read the Old Testament.”
“One week, I went to church and the pastor gave exactly the same sermon my rabbi did the night before about Moses and the burning bush, and the pastor did it much better,” he continued.
Cohen came away from his Jesus year with a clear understanding of what he believes.
“People ask me all the time if I believe in Jesus. Do I believe he exists? Sure. Do I believe he’s your God? Sure, I have no problem with that,” he said he tells Christians who ask.
“I understand Christians’ love for Jesus and I respect that,” he said. “If anything, I learned a lot from them and did become a more engaged Jew, a better Jew, and I appreciate my Judaism more because I hung out with Jesus.”

Richard Allen Greene – Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Who are We: Americans or Catholics?

By Louie Verrecchio *
The big Catholic news item in the United States these days centers around the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring nearly all employers to offer health insurance plans that provide zero-deductible coverage for “preventative services” like sterilization and contraception, including drugs that cause abortion.
When the mandate was first proposed, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), citing our Constitutional right to “religious liberty” in light of the fact that Catholic moral teaching forbids such practices, requested a “conscience clause” that would provide an exemption for Catholic institutions.
Apart from allowing an exemption for institutions that fit a very narrow definition, the Obama Administration refused the Conference’s request and the majority of the American bishops have since spoken out, many of them issuing letters in their own name expressing everything from disappointment to outrage; some even going so far as to vow civil disobedience.
Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix, for example, said, “The Administration has cast aside the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.” He said that the rule as it now stands will force us (Catholic institutions) to either “violate our consciences, or drop health coverage for our employees.”
“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law,” Bishop Olmstead pledged.
These sentiments, or ones very similar, were echoed by many in the American episcopate at large, some bishops even had (or plan to have) their letters read aloud at Mass to encourage the faithful to join them in combatting what all seem to agree is an egregious assault on religious liberty.
A number of “conservative” Catholic commentators with whom I have spoken praised the bishops for “answering the wake-up call” and for “taking the gloves off” at long last to lock horns with the Obama administration in so direct and so public a fashion.
For my part, even though I’m all-in with the call to fight the good fight, I see far more to lament than to applaud in this situation, beginning with the fundamental question of Catholic identity that it naturally begs.
If current events indicate anything at all it’s that we really need to take a step back and ask ourselves who we are. Are we Catholics first and Americans second, or vice versa?
Anyone paying attention to the bishop’s rhetoric over the last several weeks would have little choice but to conclude that they consider us to be Americans first and only Catholic secondarily. While this may indeed be the case by neither design nor intent, it’s difficult to deny that this is precisely the message our shepherds have been sending to all concerned.
Needless to say, this crisis of identity didn’t just appear on the scene out of nowhere like a community organizer fresh from a Saul Alinski seminar; rather, it has been brewing over the course of many decades, most notably those following the Second Vatican Council. Recent events, however, do bring the problem and its ill effects into sharper focus.
Just a brief look at the way in which the bishops framed their argument against the HHS mandate from day one makes it is clear that the crisis of which I speak is a major factor in bringing our shepherds to this point where they now finding themselves embroiled in a messy political battle rather than devoting the fullness of their energies more directly toward winning the battle for souls; i.e., teaching, sanctifying and governing the people of God.
For example:
• Instead of claiming recourse to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as one might reasonably expect of the Successors to the Apostles, many of our bishops have approached the matter almost exclusively from a civil liberties angle; busily citing the First Amendment of the Constitution.
• Rather than decrying the objective immorality of such acts as contraception and abortion (regardless of who practices them) and rejecting them as offenses against God and His Divine Law, most bishops are expressing outrage, not on the Lord’s behalf, but on man’s behalf as a violation of personal conscience.
• Rather than chastising our leaders for exceeding the limits of their power by commanding that which is contrary to the laws of nature and the will of God, they are criticizing the government for infringing upon “America’s first freedom.”
I could go on, but presumably you get the point. So now where do we find ourselves? I guess you could say “in a pickle” to put it politely.
For example:
• The bishops are now calling upon the faithful to join them in fighting this assault on our collective Catholic conscience. This sounds great until one considers the fact that the majority of Catholics today see no problem with contraception after decades of having been misled to believe that it’s OK to simply “follow one’s conscience” by wayward bishops, priests and theologians, many of whom spoke and wrote on the matter publicly yet suffered no consequence other than to become overnight liberal icons.
• The bishops are calling on the laity to join them in demanding that the government grant Catholic institutions a broad-based exemption in deference to our civil right to religious freedom. This sounds fine at first blush too until one considers that any claims that are founded on Constitutional law are going to elicit a response that is based upon a political calculation. President Obama and company are no dummies. They know darn well that most Catholics (regardless of employer), as well as those people working in Catholic institutions (Catholic and otherwise), who use contraception or who want to undergo a sterilization procedure (i.e., the majority), will be tickled to death to see this mandate go into effect. These are, after all, hard economic times.
So now what? As I said, this crisis has been decades in the making. No one, therefore, should expect the correction to be either quick or easy, or even painless for that matter.
Getting to the core of the matter of identity, the inimitable Fr. Z is wont to say as often as anyone is willing to listen, “There can be no renewal of any aspect of our Catholic lives and identity without first a revitalization of our liturgical worship.” Needless to say, we have a very long way to go in this regard.
That said, one thing that every faithful Catholic can do right away – from the simplest of laymen to the most eminent of Cardinals – is to make it a point to think, and to act, and to speak on all matters in Catholic terms, as though we are proud to let it be known that we are Catholic first and Americans second.
I know … it sounds way too simple to be of any real value given the gravity of the battle at hand, but doing so, however subtly, underscores the fundamental truth that the Evil One is Hell bent on tempting human beings in our age to deny and with no small amount of success; namely, objective truth exists, His name is Jesus Christ, and He alone is King.

Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio has been a columnist for Catholic News Agency since April 2009. He recently launched “Preparing the Way for the Roman Missal – Where the New Translation meets the New EvangelizationTM” available at www.MissalPrep.com 
Mr. Verrecchio’s work, which includes the internationally acclaimed Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England, Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit:www.harvestingthefruit.com

Catholic Teaching on Contraception

Catholic Teaching on Contraception: For Married Couples Only?
Condemnation of Contraception Is a Universal Norm
WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a question on bioethics asked by a ZENIT reader and answered by the fellows of the Culture of Life Foundation.
Q: Does the Catholic Church’s condemnation of contraception bind only on married couples or is it a universal moral norm?
E. Christian Brugger replies:
The Church’s teaching on contraception can only be rightly understood in the context of its wider teaching on the nature and goods of marriage.  But the norm itself against contraceptive acts, taught and defended since the early Church, binds universally—in the language of moral theology, semper et pro semper, without exception.  It singles out a particular type of freely chosen behavior, namely, deliberate acts intended to render sexual intercourse infertile.  
Sexual intercourse, the tradition holds, is legitimate and good (and, for Christians, grace-imparting) when and only when it is marital.  Marriage is a one-flesh communion of persons with two defining goods: the unity and perfection of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.  Intercourse that is marital will always respect the full one-flesh significance of the marital relationship by retaining a unitive and procreative character.  
The normative work this does in sexual ethics is primarily negative.  Sexual acts that intentionally disregard either the unitive or the procreative goods of marriage are non-marital and therefore wrongful acts.  Intercourse between non-married partners violates the unitive good, as do all coercive sexual acts.  Contraceptive acts will against the procreative good; they are therefore non-marital, even if between married persons, and so wrongful.  They are wrongful precisely because by definition they entail a will against the procreative good of marriage.  Let me repeat: all non-marital sex is wrongly chosen, both inside and outside of marriage.  Fornication is sex between non-married persons. Masterbatory acts are non-unitive.  Contraceptive acts are non-procreative and non-unitive, insofar as rejecting the procreative meaning of sexual intercourse they do not realize between couples an integral one-flesh union.
Therefore, whenever a man or woman, married or unmarried, engaging in sexual intercourse, believe they will or might bring into existence a new human life, and consequently adopt any action—before, during, or after intercourse—specifically intended as an end or means to prevent procreation, they violate the procreative significance of sexual intercourse.  They contracept.  And contraceptive acts in Catholic tradition have always been judged to be intrinsically evil.  (The method adopted to render sex sterile is incidental to the application of the norm.) 
If contraceptive acts were wrong for married persons, but legitimate for unmarried persons, they would not be wrong per se, would not be intrinsically evil, but circumstantially evil.  Although some Catholics hold this, the view seems clearly to be inconsistent with both the Church’s theological and doctrinal traditions.
Doctrinally speaking, John Paul II taught in Veritatis Splendor (1993) that “contraceptive practices” are intrinsically evil, by which he meant that “the choice of this kind of behavior [by which “the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile”] is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbor” (nos. 52, 80).  
He was teaching no more than his predecessor Pope Pius XI taught in Casti Connubii (1930):“But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good.  Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious” (no. 54).  
It is true that when Pius XII in his Address to Italian Midwives (1951), Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (no. 12, 14; 1968),and John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (no. 32; 1981) reformulate the negative norm against contraceptive acts, they do so in the context of discussions of conjugal chastity in marriage.  But this is, as I have said, because the Catholic teaching on contraception cannot possibly be understood without an understanding of the nature and goods of marriage.  Its consideration therefore should always take place—whether for academic or pastoral purposes—within a wider consideration of marriage.
But not one of their teachings is formulated in such a way as to exclude the application of the norm to non-married couples.  Pius XII for example teaches: “Every attempt of either husband or wife in the performance of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences which aims at depriving it of its inherent force and hinders the procreation of new life is immoral.”  But since he is addressing a gathering of Italian midwives, who are delivering babies for married couples, his reference to “husband or wife” makes perfect sense.  His statements should not be interpreted as absolutely circumscribing the scope of the negative norm to married persons.  
Similarly, when John Paul II teaches in Familiaris Consortio (FC) that the “language” of contraceptive acts between married persons objectively contradicts the language of marital self-giving, he intends to single out the objective harm that these acts do within marriage and to spouses.  But since he taught later in Veritatis Splendor that contraceptive acts are intrinsically evil, semper et pro semper, we know he did not intend his teaching in FC to specifically settle the wider question of whether contraceptive acts are legitimate for non-married persons.
If however doubt still lingers as to the scope of the authoritative Catholic teaching on contraception, an appeal to older formulations should dispel it.  A penitential manual in the 10thcentury written by the Benedictine monk, Regino of Prüm, includes all persons, married and unmarried, within the scope of the negative norm: “If anyone (si aliquis) for the sake of satisfying sexual desire or in deliberate hatred does something to a man or to a woman so that no children may be born of him or her, or gives something to drink so that he cannot generate or she conceive, let it be held as homicide” [1].  This text was incorporated into canon law in the 13th century in the form of the decretal Si aliquis.  The collection of moral norms in which this is found remained part of Western Catholic canon law up to the twentieth century (nearly 700 years!). 
The theological tradition is similarly consistent.  When Thomas Aquinas formulates his argument against contraceptive-type acts, he singles out every deliberate attempt to render a male ejaculatory act (“emission of semen”) incapable of generating.  In fact, his discussion of contraceptive acts is in the context of a discussion of why intercourse between non-married persons is wrong [2].  For Aquinas, this type of act is contra naturam (against nature).  Aquinas’ contra naturam argument against contraceptive acts dominates Catholic theological literature on the question up until the middle of the 20th century.
Since texts of canon law going back 700 years, papal encyclicals in the 20th century and the most influential theological arguments in Catholic history formulate the norm against contraceptive-type acts as universal, applied to every act by every person intended to render sexual acts sterile, the view that the Church’s condemnation only applies within marriage—and therefore does not apply to (i.e., the acts can be legitimate and even obligatory for) fornicators, adulterers and prostitutes—ought to be set aside as inconstant with Catholic traditional teaching.
— 
[1] Churchly Disciplines and the Christian Religion 2.89, PL 132:301; see Noonan, Contraception, 1965, p. 168.
[2] Summa Contra Gentiles, book III, ch. 122, nos. 5, 9. 
* * *
E. Christian Brugger is a Senior Fellow of Ethics and director of the Fellows Program at the Culture of Life Foundation; and the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.
[Readers may send questions regarding bioethics to bioethics@zenit.org. The text should include your initials, your city and state, province or country. The fellows at the Culture of Life Foundation will answer a select number of the questions that arrive.]

Spirit of gratefulness

By Brian D’Arcy, CP
From the book: A little bit of healing
If we are to heal our wounded church, prayer will be at the heart of it. Sadly we rarely hear any talk of prayer now in churches. Prayer does not come easily to me, but what is becoming increasingly real is a spirit of gratefulness. I’m not the only one.

There’s an elderly Benedictine monk who lives in America called David Steinel-Rast who says that the beginning of all prayer is gratefulness. ‘The starting point for grateful living is the under-standing that everything is given to us for free, as a gift, starting with life itself. So if we approach our lives that way, feeling like we are open for the surprise of what comes next, then we remain hopeful we can improve our lives’, he says.

Gratefulness begins with being open to surprises. You may not even feel that you can be grateful, or you may feel that you are in-adequately grateful. Just stop and be surprised. Everybody can do that.

‘Before you open your eyes in the morning you can stop and be surprised that you have eyes to open, because there are more than 40 million people in the world who do not have eyes or cannot see with them. You can go through your day and, moment by moment, be surprised about anything and everything,’ he says.

‘This is the beginning of being grateful because the next consideration is “How come I have this? How come this is given to  me?” Once you become conscious that something’s given to you and you didn’t earn it, buy it or achieve it, then you recognise you have to be grateful for it. When you realise that everything is given to you, then you are already on the road to giving thanks.’

He suggests we should have an image of a small vessel filling up. If we keep the vessel small, it will always be overflowing. That means we will have enough and not want more. The problem with the modern world, he contends, is that we want more and more and are never satisfied. The little vessel becomes a huge tank which can never be filled. It means that we are never really grateful.

‘The affluent society makes the vessel bigger and bigger and that is why we find that the poor people everywhere are much more grateful than the rich, who expect to have everything.’

He says the secret is to make our vessels smaller. ‘We can do that by living frugally and by continually asking what we really need and by distinguishing our needs from our wants … It is very important to do this because, in the world in which we live, we cannot just go on taking more than our own share.’

There is no secret to a contented way of life. Start by being grateful. Make your mind up to live gratefully. Very soon it will become more than a feeling – it will become an attitude towards life. The moment you have an attitude of gratefulness, you will be happy.

The monk is absolutely right. If you want to find more about his way of life look up www.gratefulness.org.

We should be grateful to the Lord our God, for putting us to the test, as he did our forefathers. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts, nor has he done so with us. It is by way of admonition that he chastises those who are close to him. Judith 8:25-27

The Shroud of Turin

Dec. 2011 – No scientific explanation for Shroud of Turin, scientists conclude
A new study on the Shroud of Turin has concluded that there is no scientific explanation for the image that appears on the cloth.
After 5 years of experiments, using different methods of coloring linen, Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development said that the image is not the result of any process known to the modern world. The study indicated that the image may have been created by an intense source of light, but no man-made light would produce the required strength.

New evidence confirms age of Shroud of Turin
New experiments conducted at the University of Padua have confirmed that the Shroud of Turin dates back to the time of Christ.
Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement, cooperated with Saverio Gaeta to produce a new book, Il Mistero della Sindone (“The Mystery of the Shroud”), which cites the evidence of the new tests, conducted on fibers taken from the Shroud.
The latest experiments add to the growing body of evidence that suggests the Shroud is indeed the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. One group of researchers, after making Carbon-14 tests, claimed that the cloth was manufactured in medieval times. Several questions had already been raised about the accuracy of that Carbon-14 study; now the new tests provide separate confirmation of a much earlier date.