Friday, March 30, 2007

Washing of feet, sign of extreme humility

Washing of feet, sign of extreme humility

Very soon we will be observing the Holy Week which will culminate in Easter commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. On Holy Thursday we will witness the priest washing the feet of his 12 “apostles”.

This act of Jesus was a revolutionary one which would have been scorned by those in power. By Jesus washing the feet of his apostles he has demonstrated the most extreme form of humility and love for man and this love resulted in the ultimate sacrifice of His life for us on the cross.

As the followers of Jesus, we are asked follow Christ, to humble ourselves, to wash the feet of others especially those under our care. In real life are we willing to demonstrate that humility and love for those below us? Are we willing to sacrifice whatever we can for the betterment of others? These are the questions we must pose to ourselves and ponder over them.

If only we had that humility a lot of troubles would never have occurred. If only George Bush ,Tony Blair and other prominent and respected leaders including our Pope, had that humility of Christ, to go down to meet with Saadam Hussein, the Iraq war might have been averted. Similarly lack of this humility was the cause of violence and war throughout the history of man.

On a smaller dimension if only each one of us had that humility, divorce and family break up with “orphaned” children will be minimal. Our families would be happy and intact.

Every year our priests make it a point to wash the feet of their twelve "apostles". To many it may be just a ritual and they do it as an obligation. In fact the act itself is reminder that they are the servants, not masters, of their parishioners.

The washing of the feet is a lesson not only for the priests but for of us as well. It is a lesson for us in our relationship with those we encounter daily - our spouse, our children, parents, priests, friends and particularly our subordinates. Do we treat them with respect and love?

The washing of the feet is a clear demonstration of Christ’s second great commandment to us – love your neighbor as yourself. Mother Teresa had this great virtue of humility in abundance as she fulfilled this commandment to the fullest.

Let us ask God to also give us this great virtue of humility so that we can in our own small ways, bring about the peace and harmony in our own surroundings.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Does God Answer Our Prayers?

We are His miracle workers among men

To overcome the numerous problems and challenges in life, all of us resort to prayer. Very often ,despite our earnest prayer our problems only seem to get worse by the day. Often we ponder whether God really answers our paryers.This a simple parable that is derived from the Jewish Mishmash may help to answer this question.

A small village in Rural Russia was beset by drought one year and all the crops failed. The village rabbi prayed to the heavens, "Why don't you do something about this dreadful drought?" But the heavens remained silent. So the rabbi organised a charity food drive with the neighbouring villages to feed his people.

When the rains came, they came in heavy and the local river flooded, killing all the livestock. The rabbi again prayed, "Heavenly Father, my people are suffering so much, save us from this flood!" But, again, no help from God seemed forthcoming. So the rabbi lobbied the government authorities to provide financial assistance to replenish the herds lost in the deluge.

Finally, in the wake of the flood, infection and disease ran through the inhabitants of the village. The rabbi prayed once more, "Now surely God you will help us!" But the diseases ran their course. So the rabbi marshalled and organised the able bodied in the village to care for the sick.

Months later reflecting on the tragedies of the past year, the rabbi turned to God and accused Him, "Why did you not answer the prayers of my poor villagers? Why did you not send help to them when we were beset by drought, floods and pestilence?"

After many hours of anguished entreaty, a quiet voice answered the rabbi in the depths of his heart, "Of course I sent help; I sent you!"

Yes, God definitely answers our prayers and sends help with or without our knowledge. We need not even ask him to grant what we want. He knows what is best for us under the circumstances we are in.

Very often he does not give us what we ask for and this may even lead us to despair. But be assured many years later we will realize what he did was indeed right and for our good.

He does not perform miracles and magic to solve our problems. If we are waiting for such acts, we will be sadly mistaken and disappointed. Like the rabbi in the above story, we are his “miracle” workers among men. He has given us our intelligence, talents and skills to perform his “miracles” to help others.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Monday, March 26, 2007

Is Christ for all or an exclusive few? (Main Forum)

posted by Chris, 22.03.2007, 17:00

Is Christ for all or an exclusive few?

Recently I came across a report in my Catholic weekly trying to explain in detail why Protestants cannot receive Holy Communion at a Catholic liturgy. In fact of late in many of our Churches there are announcements and LCD projections reminding the congregation that Holy Communion is reserved only for baptized and practicing Catholics. To me this is quite disturbing as I see it as a discriminating act.

Who is a practicing catholic – one who observes strictly all the rituals of the Church at any cost or one who genuinely carries Jesus into his daily living and in the process ignores some of the rituals?

What about a Catholic politician who abuses his power to subdue his people and amass large amount of wealth? What about glamorous celebrities who live immoral lives against the teachings of the Church?

This discriminatory action of our modern Church poses one important question in the minds of many liberal thinking Catholics – Is Christ for all or is He reserved for an exclusive few?

Holy Communion,I admit, is not a trivial matter and the Eucharist is not to be toyed with, but denying our separated brethren the Eucharist because of their dispute with Catholics is definitely tantamount to revenge especially when this dispute is as ancient as the Church itself. If this is not a spiteful policy then what is it?

The practice of excluding some people from Communion may be Biblically based, and it reflects the mind and heart of the early Church, as they were taught by the Apostles. Wouldn’t it be morally wrong on our part to carry the ancient animosity created by our ancestors onto the present generation of Christians who had no part whatsoever in that ancient dispute?

None will deny that there must be conditions for receiving Christ in Holy Communion. These should be based on the condition of the heart of the receiver and not rituals he performs or group to which he belongs. The fundamental requisite should be faith and a sincere eagerness to welcome Christ into his life.

In a world torn apart by hate and revenge, Christ should an instrument of unity and peace among not only Christians of the various denominations but of the whole human race.

Christ belongs to all, including sinners, not to just a chosen few. He is not the founder of an exclusive club called Christianity or to be more specific Catholicism. Let’s not confine him to this club by imposing man-made rules and rituals. As his faithful we have a far greater obligation, to bring His love to all mankind.



Is Christ for all or an exclusive few? (Main Forum)

posted by Brian Coyne Homepage E-mail, LINDEN, NSW, 22.03.2007, 20:10


In the past we tended to define our Catholicism by attendance at Mass. Self-evidently today massive numbers of people right across the Western world continue to think of themselves as "Catholics" in some fashion — and, at the very minimalist level, by ticking the "Catholic" box on a government census when asked to describe their religion — but they don't actually lay great store in contributing to the collection, fronting up to Mass or participating in the Sacramental life of the institutional Church. I've been asking for about six years now what are the minimal or core requirements a person ought be able to subscribe to in order to claim membership of the Church? Is it, say, a willingness to subscribe to the words of the Apostles' or Nicene Creed? Is it a willingness to give assent to all that's written in, say, the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Or is it some combination of those things plus some other tangible contribution such as attendance at Mass, reception of the Sacraments or some contribution to the collection or in schools fees?

I don't know the answers to those questions and, in broad terms, I am a minimalist. I believe our membership derives from our baptism and ordinarily cannot be taken away because of non-compliance with anything else unless a person engages in some kind of deliberative act to themselves withdraw their membership. (Something I was reading the other day suggests that is also the official attitude of the institution in Canon Law and the guidelines from which bishops operate.)

I'm not then so much asking the question out of some sense of wanting to urge the institution to tighten up its present teachings and disciplines in these matters with a view to kicking out all those who do not comply. I do believe there is an element within the institution who would simply love to be doing that though. I originally started asking the question out of personal curiosity in trying to explore a little more precisely why I claim membership of the institution.

I think the question does need to be asked — particularly in light of Pope Benedict's recent exhortation on The Eucharist — just how important is it for membership, salvation, or just becoming a wholer, better or holier person, for the individual to attend Mass regularly and participate in the Sacraments? That question opens up a whole host of other questions and none of them have easy answers except in the minds of that element who do want to dictate how politicians will vote on every issue and who believe they are the only ones who are already saved by their compliance to all the laws and rubrics.

Cheers, Brian

I'm with you, Chris (Main Forum)

posted by That kid on the Speedwell, Sydney, 22.03.2007, 21:46

I'm married to a devout and deeply thoughtful Anglican. When we go to an Anglican church, I take Communion there (my secret, I'm sure, is safe with you). When we go to Mass, she can't join me. She accepts this - better than I do.

So my thoughts are much the same as those you've enunciated, Chris. If she joined me, who would care? One in fifty of the congregation? The PP? Possibly not!

And - this I'm sure of - not Jesus.

Is Christ for all or an exclusive few? (Main Forum)

posted by Alexander Caughey, 23.03.2007, 03:20

Human beings have a clearly expressed habit of choosing to identify with those whom they consider to be their chosen family. Thus tribal, religious, sexual, sporting and political affiliations through membership of such cultural sub groupings will demonstrate our zealous pursuit of such divisive association. Exclusiveness is the identifying feature of such human voluntary divisiveness. The ugliness that appears out of such membership is easily noted in the violence between the fans of their respective football teams, or the haughty attitude among those who believe that they are better than others, as represented in the chosen race such as the Jews or their immediate descendants, the Catholics or the Orthodox. We could go on discussing the consequences arising from the exclusive behaviour of religious fanaticism, political fanaticism, sporting fanaticism, etc., and then appreciate the choice of so many human beings to reveal their own inadequacies, through such inhumane behaviour.

When visiting the semi-autonomous monastic region of Agios Oros (The Holy Mountain) otherwise Mount Athos in Greece, the various Orthodox monasteries that represent a cross section of national Orthodox churches will oblige the visiting guest to declare his religion, in order to ensure that only the "elect" are permitted to dine at the refractory table with the monks of that monastery. In other words Catholics and Protestants would be obliged to eat their meal, apart from the Orthodox monks and their Orthodox guests. Although the hospitality is free and very welcoming, it comes at a price that chooses to separate the "chosen few" from those who are in need of being saved.

It thus becomes not so much a Catholic problem in denying the Holy Eucharist to non-Catholics, and those who publicly demonstrate that they are "sinners" such as the gays wearing their rainbow sash, but of a willingness among some people to clearly identify them self as more equal in their understanding of perfection, than others. It becomes a problem of the human being, rather than of the behaviour of the leadership of any particular human sub grouping.

The Christ asks us to accept our imperfect behaviour as the reason for us accepting His call to let Him become our guide through life, in all matters. Those who choose to believe that they are the "elect" as a result of fulfilling the requirements of the "law", so often will deny the presence of The Christ in their life, as result of assuming that they are saved from damnation through their own actions. The parable of the sinner and the publican helps us understand that our life is only saved through Our Father's intervention, when asking us to accept our culpability or responsibility for our self destructive actions, and let Him become The Saviour of our life.


The answer is probably yes and no! (Main Forum)

posted by Ian Elmer E-mail, Brisbane, Australia, 23.03.2007, 17:57

Hi Chris,

The issues involved in intercommunion are more complex than your question suggests. No one doubts that Christ is the "Word incarnate" for all, and his salvific death on the cross has universal application. The question of intercommunion between Catholics and non-Catholics at a Catholic Eucharist is, however,another problem.

In several recent posts, I have stressed that the Catholic understanding of the sacraments is best understood in the light of the teaching that the Church is primarily the "sacrament of Christ". The seven rituals we commonly call "sacraments" are "sacraments of the Church" - that is, they serve to make the Church visible. In this sense, participation in the sacraments is limited to members of the Catholic Church.

In paragraph 14 of his exhortation, Benedict makes it clear that his understanding is based on this assumption. He sees the Eucharist as the “causal principle” of the Church. On that basis it is easy to explain why Benedict continues to uphold the traditional view that Eucharist must be reserved for full communion between presently divided Christians. It is not that Benedict views non-Catholics as separated from the body of Christ. It is just that Benedict quite rightly views the Eucharist as the central sacrament of the Church, which makes the Church present and visible. As I have said on numerous occasions, we make the Church visible by putting our feet under the table each Sunday, just as our status as memebrs of the Elmer or Smith family make their identity visible by sharing a common table.

However, having said that I wonder if some concession should not be made for families whose religious affiliations crosss boundaries bewteen Catholic and Anglican, or Catholic and Lutheran, etc. Should not Eucharistic hospitality be extended to those who are married to Catholics? Such people constitute a level of association that far exceeds that of a mere visitor to the table. In this case, it would be a matter of the old saying that "the exception proves the rule". So while I would applaud Benedict's views from a theological perspective, I would probably find it difficult in practical situations to deny communion to the spouses of Catholics - especially in cases where said spouse is a regular attendee at Sunday
Mass. This exception is certainly one that has been practiced in most Catholic parishes to which I have belonged over the years.



The answer is probably yes and no! (Main Forum)

posted by Alexander Caughey, 23.03.2007, 21:17

I would find it difficult to relate to a view that chooses to differentiate between those who profess to be faithful Catholics and therefore considered entitled to receive the Holy Eucharist, and those who are judged unworthy to receive the Holy Eucharist as a result of belonging to other Christian churches. The Orthodox may receive the Holy Eucharist despite belonging to another church, for their clerical orders are considered valid by the Holy See. Thus some people would appear to be more equal than others to receive the presence of The Christ through the Holy Eucharist, according to the determination of those who are in no position to usurp the role of The Creator.

I should think that The Christ would never distinguish between people who acknowledge their imperfections, when asking The Saviour to share His presence in their life as revealed in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. But of course some human persons have a very pronounced habit of judging those who are worthy to receive the Eucharist.

The Pharisaical hypocritical view that some people are more entitled than others to receive The Christ, merely reaffirms the thinking that Jesus of Nazareth confronted when admonishing the Pharisees for choosing to pay lip service to God, through praise of the Mosaic Laws. For the only requirement that Our Father requires from us, is for us to embrace Him so that His way becomes the way of the repentant lost child.

Our Father never distinguishes between members of the human family, for His love is always for all of His children even those who would dare to judge others as being unworthy, when Jesus of Nazareth patently refused to so do when confronted with the Pharisees accusing the fallen woman. For Jesus knew that none is innocent, especially those who act as judge and jury, over the human family.


Puzzling to an answer... (Main Forum)

posted by Brian Coyne Homepage E-mail, LINDEN, NSW, 23.03.2007, 22:19

Ian, Chris and all,

Something has been really puzzling me about an issue raised in this string. I've just been out driving and during the course of that it suddenly occurred to me what it is. It's not a completely new thought — I've expressed something like this before quite a few times in recent years but your thoughts in this string have led me to a new refinement.

The starting point is this: what, precisely, does it require to call oneself a "Catholic"? I have a feeling most people probably never think about that question in the way I am asking it.

Catholicism is seen as something you are "born into" or "born with" in much the same way that one might be born an Australian, an Italian, a Sri Lankan or whatever. I suspect that most people who fill out the "Catholic" tick box on the government census possibly think of it like that. When asked "what religion are you?", people respond in much the same way as they respond to the question "what country were you born in?" or "what nationality or race are you?"

The statistical evidence seems to be that only a relatively tiny proportion of the population might actually renounce their religion and appear in one census as, say, "Catholic" and in a subsequent one as a "Methodist" or "Hindu".

I suspect the figures are bigger, but not inordinately bigger, of the proportion who might think of their membership of the Church in the way Pope Benedict is describing it in this exhortation on the Eucharist. I'd suspect it might be less than 20% of the baptised population and an even lesser percentage of the total population. In this mind space one's "Catholicism" is seen as something one subscribes to by fulfilling some set of conditions like being baptised, attending Mass, paying some subscription, subscribing to a certain set of rules, or agreeing to abide by some standard of behaviour. In this view membership of a Church is actually not much different to taking out membership of a football club, or thinking of oneself as an old boy or old girl of such and such a school, or it's similar to the process one might go through to become a member of the Melbourne Club, the RSL, Rotary or the Siroptimists.

The new thought I've had is contained in this question: "Can Catholicism really be compared to any other sort of membership we take out?" At the end of everything I really do wonder if "Catholicism" is about identity as all those other kinds of memberships tend to be. I honestly do pick up this sense in the community that there is enormous confusion and differences of opinion on what the ultimate objective of "being a Catholic" is. I have little doubt there is probably just as much confusion in all the other religions. We all say "I'm a Catholic", "I'm a Methodist", "I'm a member of the Bahai faith", or even "I'm an atheist" but there are actually enormous divergences in what people actually mean when they say some of these things.

Thinking back, for a long period in my life I think I basically thought of my Catholicism as an identity thing and as a "subscription" thing. I honestly did think the Catholic Church, like the Hawkes (a football club in Melbourne), was the best thing going but, better than the Hawkes, I did believe it "had all the answers" and if I backed this pony I was assured that in "the long race of life" it was a sure-fire winner. It was a long and gradual process through which I became disabused of those notions and today I honestly do not find myself subscribing to my faith for any of those reasons. I don't see my Catholicism as some endeavour where if I obey all the rules over my life eventually, on my death, I'll be given some kind of "life membership" to paradise. I honestly do not believe that merely by rocking up to Mass each Sunday, and all those other occasions during my life when I rocked up more frequently, that I was somehow "building up a stack of Brownie points or Grace" that would eventually be exchangeable for this "life membership of Paradise".

Some people seem to see their religion basically as some social justice type endeavour. "Goodness" is acquired by our own acts of kindness and mercy towards self and others. It's by "practising the virtues" of "loving one another as I have loved you" that we eventually become "better people" and again, if we do it long enough and consistently enough, eventually our "goodness" will again be transferable into some "life membership of
Paradise". I must say though, in some who seem to hold to this view there does seem to be increasing scepticism about the "Paradise" bit. If that comes it is seen as "an added bonus" but the "sufficient reward" seems to be increasingly seen as the inherent rewards that go with being a kind, compassionate and just person. I suspect there is increasing scepticism in society about the "after life", "bodily resurrection" and the whole "Heaven and Paradise" bit. It's put in the realm of Mystery, or the sort of chances most of us have of winning Lotto, and we'll enjoy it if it really does exist but there is actually very little thought given to "making it exist" or "making it come about".

Again returning to the new thought that has occurred to me this evening: I do not think "Catholicism", in its ultimate meaning, is something that can be compared to some membership, subscription, birthright, or any of the foregoing thinking paradigms. At its authentic heart Catholicism is not inviting us into some form of "hoop-jumping" or "subscription" behaviour. It invites us into an holistic, all embracing "process" of mind, body, emotions and spirit that is actually only very inadequately compared to any of the other forms of subscription or memberships we take out in our lives. The ultimate aim of the endeavour is "to become perfect as God is perfect". It is literally to "become like God". Now, I am not suggesting though that this is some esoteric activity only reserved for aesthetics, mystics and holy people. Sure, there are a range of capabilities to engage in it just as there are a range of capabilities to be able to engage in sport, or to be able to sing, or to become an intellectual but basically we all have a capacity to engage in "the process of thinking and acting as a Catholic".

At the moment I am reading John L Allen's book on Opus Dei and one detects in the thinking of Josemaria Escriva (the founder of Opus Dei) some of this thinking in his ideas on the sanctification of work and ordinary life. Escriva is not alone in this — much of his thinking I find is very Ignatian and I think all Escriva has done is package it in a new way (along, I suspect, with some great dollops of Tommy Rot that take us backwards instead of forwards — but I'm only a little way into the book so far.)

The thought that occurred to me this evening is this: "Should we not be thinking of redefining our faith/religion not in terms of 'what it requires to be a member (i.e. what subscription one pays or what rules one obeys)' but in terms of a 'process' or 'way' of thinking, reasoning and acting one's way through life and into the next"? This is not some passive endeavour as obedience is portrayed to be in the "hoop-jumping paradigm" but it is a very active pursuit where we literally do endeavour, bit by bit, to think and act in a Christ-like or God-like way? Can you see the difference in emphasis I'm pointing to? There is still a large measure of "obedience" involved but it is a totally different kind of "obedience" to the sort of obedience I think most of us were taught in traditional or orthodox Catholicism.

I'd be interested in the thoughts of others on this general subject if you have the time to think it through and jot your thoughts down.

Cheers, Brian

Puzzling to an answer... (Main Forum)

posted by Ninja, 24.03.2007, 07:56

Hi Chris, Brian, Ian

Only last week, at the funeral of a colleague I found myself for the umpteenth time in an Anglican Church. In the congregation there were to my knowledge individuals of many and varying religious traditions, cultural backgrounds and social groups to name just a few of the obvious distinctions.

Here we all were, drawn together in a singular purpose- to pay our final respects and celebrate the life of someone we knew, worked with, associated with in diverse range of circumstances etc.

The dignity and decorum accorded by the entire gathering in engaging in the service- it was no different to the many funeral services I had attended in the Catholic tradition, left me wondering why it is that as Christians we still dwell on and emphasize our differences rather than celebrate and join in our oneness in Jesus.

I am conscious of the primitive human drive for tribalism but from my perspective Christianity though a chorus of many voices has a single purpose – love for God through love for neighbour and self. I recall many years ago when I first posted on the Cathnews DB I was ostracized for identifying myself as a Christian of the Catholic tradition. The identity reversal came about after long reflection following a number of significant events in my life. I believe that Jesus called us to unity not uniformity because he recognized our human desire for individuality.

Brian, I share your view of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Unfortunately, for most the reality of what it is they identify themselves as begins when they cross themselves at the font on Sunday and ends when they cross themselves once again an hour later. That statement may be harsh but sadly I think it is the reality of how it is. One only has to look around in whatever sphere of endeavour one singles out, to recognize that fact.

I think we need to divest our world view of Christianity as essentially a religious pursuit. If we examine closely the life and message of Jesus, he espoused a ‘way of life’ based on a relationship of love for our Creator through serving our neighbour. Matthew I think quite eloquently articulates Jesus’ words in the ‘Last Judgment’ scenario ‘I was hungry and you fed me…’ and again ‘I want your compassion not your worship’.

Your highlighted words about a holistic approach reminded me of one of the late Fr Bede Griffiths’ books ‘Marriage of East and West’ (I think). In it he writes that underpinning Christianity are head and heart, masculine and feminine dimensions. Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son which presents that eloquent Lukan imagery captures what
Griffiths is alluding to in his book. Unfortunately he writes, in evolving from its Eastern cradle, Christianity has been clothed in Western philosophical thought, loosing its feminine (heart) aspect in the process.

I tend to concur with his sentiments and I feel that somehow you indirectly subscribe to
Griffiths’ thinking as well.

As an aside, you are no doubt aware of the emphasis that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners and Ayurvedic Doctors place on a holistic approach to healing. Allopathic Medical practitioners are only just beginning to recognize the value in this approach.

So perhaps there is still hope- provided she regains her hearing soon, for that radical change of heart to which Jesus enjoined us.

Enjoy your weekend.

I'm a Christ Follower... (Main Forum)

posted by Ian Elmer E-mail, Brisbane, Australia, 24.03.2007, 12:32

Hi All,

When I can find a moment or two I will add a few thoughts to this string. For the moment, I'd just lke to direct your attention to this witty clip on Youtube:

I'm a Christ Follower!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why the interest? ‘Tomb of Jesus’ latest of ‘the threats’ to Christianity

By James Penrice
Our Sunday Visitor

HUNTINGTON, Ind. (Our Sunday Visitor) – The news was meant to be earthshaking. Award-winning filmmakers unveil a documentary claiming scientific evidence that Jesus Christ had brothers, a wife and a child, and did not physically ascend into heaven.

Yet, as biblical scholars and archaeologists lined up to refute their claims – including the man who first documented the evidence in question 27 years ago – this new blockbuster was already starting to resemble some other recent busts.

The book and film of “The DaVinci Code,” claims about the Gnostic “Gospel of Judas” and the alleged ossuary of “James, brother of Jesus,” were all once potentially explosive bombshells to Christianity that were easily defused by scholars. With such predecessors quickly disappearing from the radar, discredited after their 15 minutes of fame, there remains a recurring fascination for developments such as “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” a documentary that aired on the Discovery Channel on March 4. What does our abiding interest in such readily dismissible theories say about us as God’s people? What can we learn from it?

Natural curiosity

University of Notre Dame theology professor Lawrence Cunningham suggests the attraction lies in a combination of two factors: a burning curiosity to know everything about arguably the most fascinating man who ever lived, and centuries of efforts by those looking to debunk his claim of divinity.

Of the former, Cunningham said, “Everything in the New Testament is foreground, there is not much background on the kind of details people naturally have an interest in, such as what did Jesus look like. There is a natural human curiosity and interest in depicting him.” Cunningham said this curiosity was a contributing factor to the development of Christian art, apocryphal gospels and eventually works of fiction such as “Quo Vadis” and “Ben Hur.”

“Jesus is just very interesting, first of all, as a compelling historical figure. He becomes even more fascinating because Christians make transcendental claims about him, which render him more intriguing than other figures,” the theologian said. Cunningham adds to the mix the resulting attempts by esoteric groups during the last few centuries to portray Jesus merely as some great guru of human wisdom, not a divine person, to explain how a story such as “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” is ripe for the picking. It combines elements of all these fascinations.

What to make of it?

Cunningham’s observations beg some soul-searching questions for Christians not certain what to make of the “lost tomb” hype. While it is true the gospels do not fill our appetites to know more superficial details about Jesus, the reason for that absence bears reflection.

The evangelists’ primary aim was not to write a biography of Jesus, but to proclaim his truths of salvation, interpreting the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, rather than being more physically descriptive. Christians risk getting lost in the details if they bypass the gospels’ true message in the pursuit of such knowledge.

The evangelists themselves disagreed on certain details about Easter morning: who came to the tomb, what they found there, what they did immediately afterward. But they were solidly united on the meaning of that morning, that Jesus Christ broke the bonds of death so we can have eternal life. The apostles certainly would not have gone to their deaths defending the number of disciples who came to the tomb on the third day, but they did give their lives defending the meaning of it all.

Scholars say modern-day disciples would be well advised to focus on the true gospel message instead of getting sidetracked by interesting but ultimately irrelevant details.

Allure of history

Mike Aquilina, vice president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio, cites a fascination with history in general as a contributing factor of interest in these stories.

“People have always been interested in antiquity. This is not a new development,” Aquilina said. “Pagans who drew closer to Judaism did so because of its great antiquity and its appeal to history. The appeal was still stronger in Christianity, which drew from the same historical treasury, now enriched by more recent events.”

While maintaining there is a natural curiosity about history, Aquilina said that Catholics by and large are not well versed in church history and so become susceptible to false claims.

“This should be a wakeup call for Catholics to learn about church history,” he said. “People need to find out the truth about history, not what is momentarily capturing the attention of the channel-surfing public.”

That wakeup call should lead also to a deeper awareness of church dogma and doctrine. Each of the recent debunking attempts, from “The DaVinci Code” to the “lost tomb,” have also called into question foundational church teachings. Aquilina encourages the faithful to take advantage of the bountiful supply of resources available to deeply explore the truth of the faith.

“There is so much available,” he said, “it would be impossible to keep up with it. There are so many good resources.”

The positive side

It is cause for concern that Christianity has been pinpointed as a prime target of the “cultural elite” during the last two decades, said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. In a press release issued before the premiere of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” on the Discovery Channel, Donohue wrote, “Keep in mind that no other religion is subjected to such intense scrutiny as Christianity.”

He added, “Prior to 1990, there is no evidence that Christianity was microexamined the way it is today. To be sure, the ‘Jesus Seminar’ was founded in 1985, and its contributors are partly responsible for the current practice of sowing seeds of doubt about Christianity during Lent. Three years later, Martin Scorsese gave us ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,’ but it wasn’t until the ’90s that Christianity was routinely put on the firing line.”

Recognizing this same recent phenomenon, Cunningham finds a positive slant.

“These debunking tendencies are actually a left-handed compliment to Christianity,” he said, “since nobody pays this kind of attention to any other historical or religious figure.”

His point is that Christianity only comes under such intense scrutiny because it is universally recognized as a powerful force in the world. Jesus gets so much attention because of his critical importance to the human race.

As we lay this latest controversy in its tomb, and await the arrival of the next, we can take comfort in Jesus’ eternal truth. As St. Paul taught us in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (13:8-9).

- - -

James Penrice writes from Michigan for Our Sunday Visitor.

Friday, March 09, 2007

NS taking a toll on our children

NS taking a toll on our children

Time to suspend and review its implementation

The dust had hardly settled after the National Service (NS) transport fiasco in January and another tragedy had occurred, the tragic and sudden mysterious death of another trainee ,P.Prema. Hardly 3 years into the National Service programme and we have the death of 10 trainees in different training camps throughout the country.

The majority of parents have expressed not only their unhappiness, displeasure and anger at the way the NS is being run but also their fears of losing their children in the training process. From what we are witnessing we are more and more convinced their fears are not unfounded. The government and the National Service Department must listen and take seriously their views.

Sending our children for the NS training is a very serious and major decision for parents.For many of us it has many emotional repercussions as it is the first time they are being separated from the family. It would be a grievous fault on the part of the authorities to brush aside these tragedies as minor isolated mishaps. These deaths are tragic loss to the families as in some the deceased may be the only hope for their future well being. Imagine the hopes and aspirations the parents would have had after toiling 17-18 years to bring them up only to lose them is sudden tragic deaths. Imagine the anguish of the parents who sent their children alive and well only to return dead a few weeks later.

These deaths have obviously cast doubts on the quality of the training and the safety mechanisms that are in place in the NS. Is the system professional and capable enough to carry military type of training? Has it placed undue stress on the health of the trainees? How efficient and effective are the medical examination and resuscitation facilities? How well trained,equiped and motivated are the trainers in providing the training? Have we got to sacrifice a few of our children in each session of NS? Who are next in line?

No amount of reassurance will be satisfy the parents if it does not address these issues immediately.The NS Department has a lot of soul searching to do and it must do it without any further delay. It should consider the feedback from parents and public seriously. Docility on their part will only create suspicion and doubts in the minds of the people as to the real motives of the NS program

The NS as it is implemented now should be suspended immediately and a full-scale investigation conducted into the way the trainees are recruited, medically checked and subjected to the subsequent training. This is necessary to prevent the loss of more lives in NS and restore confidence in the parents and the general public at large.

Instead of heeding the call of the people to suspend and review the NS the authorities have suggested medical check-ups for trainees and improving the medical care at the training centres.Certainly these are commendable measures but will they stop the deaths at these training facilities?

Looking at the causes of the deaths among trainees so far, they fall into 3 categories:

1. Accident and trauma. This includes drowning and severe fatal injuries.

2. Infections due to exposure of the trainees to remote areas which harbour rare strains of pathogenic micro-organisms.

3. Unknown causes.They could have asymptomatic congenital cardiac or vascular lesions in the brain or elsewhere. Others include epilepsy and bronchial asthma. These individuals are apparently healthy and asymptomatic under normal circumstances, only to suddenly collapse and die on strenuous physical stress.

Normal medical check-ups will never detect these abnormalities. Even sophisticated examinations like CT scan and MRI may not detect them. To detect congenital heart and cerebral lesions we may even need echocardiogram and invasive procedures like angiography. Are these really necessary?

These measures would be mere waste of tax-payers money. Basic medical check-up for a domestic maid by Fomema costs RM 190.One can imagine the huge cost that will be incurred to do this basic medical check-up for the 40,000 trainees in each batch. To this are the other added costs for transport, food, uniform, accommodation, artillery and so on.

From the results of this programme we understand that it succeeds in fostering racial unity among our children of different ethnicity during the period of training and the months that follow. In the long term it fails in its noble aim as the children soon return to a real life environment of racial segregation and animosity in universities and places of work.

The pertinent question here is whether, apart from the risks to the participants, is it cost effective to carry on with this programme of National Service when it brings no long term benefits for racial integration for which it is primarily intended. We have a much cheaper, safer and more effective way to do that – bring such integrated training into our schools from the start.

As Christians we must empathesise and show our solidarity with those who are mourning the loss of their children.Let us pray that God grant our leaders the wisdom and the humility to heed the call of the rakyat to suspend the NS to review its merits and risks.We must have special prayers and intentions for the safe conclusion of our children undergoing this unnecessary stint in the pretext of national service.

Dr.Chris Anthony