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Cradle Catholic with a lot of questions; such as, why am I just figuring this stuff out now?

January 26, 2011

Can you name all twelve disciples?

There are discrepancies within the four gospels, so I guess it depends on whom you ask.  It’s only complicated by the fact that many of the disciples were known by more than one name.  Regardless, there does seem to be consensus about the number twelve, which is probably a reference to the original twelve tribes of Israel over whom judgment will be made (Matthew 19:28).  Here’s a quick rundown on the who’s who among Jesus’s disciples. 

The following is a list of the 12 disciples from the Gospels of Mark and Matthew:

  1. Peter
  2. Andrew
  3. James, son of Zebedee
  4. John
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew, son of Talemai
  7. Matthew
  8. Thomas
  9. James, son of Alphaeus
  10. Thaddeus
  11. Simon the Zealot
  12. Judas Iscariot
The Gospel of Luke conforms to the previous two gospels, with the exception of the following two points:

  • Thaddeus is called Judas.  Thaddeus has been identified with Jude, brother of Jesus, Jude of James and Judas Thaddaeus – but not Judas Iscariot
  • Simon the Zealot is refered to as Simon the Cananean – they are though to be the same person.
The Gospel of John does not name all the disciples, but it does refer to the “Twelve,” which is thought to reference the group.  Within John the following disciples are mentioned:

  1. Peter
  2. Andrew
  3. the sons of Zebedee (probably James and John who were borthers)
  4. Philip
  5. Nathanael – may be the same person as Bartholomew, but it is not known
  6. Thomas
  7. Judas Iscariot
  8. Judas (besides Iscariot) – probably Thaddeus
A New History of Early Christianity by Charles Freeman

January 23, 2011

How to Become a Saint, A Five Step Guide

Becoming a saint is a very long and difficult task that can only be accomplished with a lot of religious support at various levels after you die. Here’s a basic rundown of the necessary steps in the process.

Step One: Traditionally, death followed by a five year period, at a minimum. This waiting period can be waived by the Pope.  In recent time, this requirement has been waived for the beloved Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.  Consequently, the process for initiating sainthood began immediately following each of their deaths.

Step Two: Recognition of Heroic Virtue - This step must be initiated by the bishop of the local diocese. The life and writings of the individual are examined to determine whether theological virtues of faith, hope and charity were evident. It must also be determined that the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude were observed to the highest degree. If investigation concludes favorably the canonization process is officially launched and the candidate is declared “Venerable.”

Step Three: Beatification and the First Miracle. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican resumes the investigation at this point. A lead investigator is selected by the Congregation to congregation to look into miracles attributed to the candidate. Miracles are expected to be instantaneous, complete and unexpected. Influence over extraordinary events that cannot readily be explained by science are also accepted.
For example, in the case of Mother Teresa, a miracle was officially attributed to the holy woman in 2002. It was reported that a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman healed after a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture was placed on it.
Following completion of the investigation, the Congregation determines whether to recommend beatification of the candidate. The pope then chooses whether or not to declare the candidate “Blessed.”

Step Four: Investigation resumes to await a second miracle. Two documented miracles must be associated with the candidate in order to be considered for sainthood. The first must occur during the individual’s lifetime - the second following beatification.

Step Five: Canonization. The new saint is given a feast day in the Church’s Universal Calender.

References: The Big Book of Woman Saints by Sarah Gallick and Making Saints by Kenneth Woodward

January 21, 2011

What’s different about the Catholic Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are taken from Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5 of the Old Testament. Within these verses are actually 14 separate directives. How these statements are grouped together to form the 10 commandments has resulted in the creation of three different (Catholic, Jewish and Protestant) versions of God’s laws.

The First Two Commandments
The Catholic commandments begin with the statement “I am the Lord, your God, you shall have no other Gods than me.” This commandment is recognized by Catholic, Jews, and Protestants. Protestants recognize versus 4-6, which immediately follows, as the second commandment. This reads:
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Catholicism, following in the Jewish tradition, does not recognize this directive as a separate commandment. Rather, Catholics believe that the ban on polytheism implies that false worship, explicitly described in versus 4-6, is forbidden.

The Last Two Commandments
Catholic commandments break away from both Protestant and Jewish versions regarding the last two Catholics commandments. Exodus 20:17 states:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Catholics divide this statement into two directives - You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (9th Commandment) and You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods (10th commandment). The concepts of coveting (9th commandment) and adultery (7th commandment) are treated as separate forbidden activities in Catholicism. Jewish and Protestant versions consolidate the ban on coveting more generally - coveting your neighbor’s wife is not given special mention. Instead, the final Jewish and Protestant commandment is “you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” So if anyone asks you if you know the Ten Commandments, perhaps your first response should be - which version?

References: The Roman Catholic Church by Edmund Hartley; The Ten Commandments: Sounds of Love from Sinai by Father Alfred McBride and O.Praem

January 14, 2011

Was Jesus Born During the Spring?

There is a lot we don’t know for sure about Jesus’s birth. Such as - the year and the date. In fact, the gospels present different and even contradictory narratives regarding all aspects of this important event. The most familiar version, featuring shepherds, a star and the flight to Egypt is actually a blend of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. (An interesting fact is that neither Mark nor John, the earlier written gospels, wrote about the birth of Christ.) Matthew and Luke did not provide an actual date for the event. The most commonly accepted range concerning the birth year is between 7 and 4 BC. This would place Jesus’ birth during the reign of King Herod, as the gospel of Matthew suggests. To help us determine time of year, we can look to Luke 2:8, which states “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” It is cold and rainy during the winter in Judea and sheep would be placed in corrals. In spring, shepherds would stay with their flocks night and day, tending new births. It follows that Jesus had a spring birthday. 

So where did the December 25th date come from? December 25th was one of the dates speculated as Jesus’s birth by the early Christians - along with January 6 and March 28. During early attempts to Christianize the Roman calendar, some dates and festivals were absorbed. The majority consensus of biblical scholars is that the date of the winter solstice and the birthday of Mithras (an ancient sun god) were converted to what we now know as Christmas by early Christians to strategically win over pagans. 

Resources: Scripting Jesus by L. Michael White

January 13, 2011

How did Pontius Pilate die?

Arguably, Pilate is the is the best-known governor in all of history.  Pilate was made “praefectus” – the Roman equivalent of governor – of Judea from 26-36 AD.  The governorship of Judea was a relatively non-prestigious post, especially if compared to a parallel position in much wealthier Egypt.   The extent of Pilate’s responsibilities during his remarkably long term as governor included keeping order, collecting taxes for Rome, and serving as the Emperor’s local representative.  Recorded letters of complaint from the Jewish philosopher Philo to the emperor suggest that Pilate was not well liked by residents of Judea.

His political career ended in 36 AD following his dismissal by Emperor Vitellius.  According to Eusebius ("Hist. Eccl." ii. 7), Pilate was banished to southeastern France. It is there, as the tradition goes, that Pontius Pilate committed suicide relatively soon after following a series of misfortunate events.

References: A New History of Early Christianity by Charles Freeman

January 10, 2011

Why didn’t early Christians just visit Christ’s tomb to prove that it was empty?

To answer this question, I guess you have to understand the burial process in Judea at the time of Jesus.  It’s believed that the sort of tomb that Jesus was buried in was meant as a temporary storage place.  Following decomposition of the body, the tomb would be emptied.  All remaining bones would be transferred to their final resting place in family tombs. The tomb would, most likely, be then reused.  Given that tombs were regularly emptied, they were not permanently sealed - rather they were shut with doors that could be pushed away when necessary.  The practice of tomb reuse  is supported by both Matthew 27:59-60 and John 19:42, who state that Jesus’ tomb was new and unused.  This is a significant notation recorded in two gospels, and it suggests that other tombs were older and reused.

References: Scripting Jesus by L. Michael White

January 8, 2011

The Most Significant Archeological Finds Corroborating the New Testament

In many aspects, the study of Jesus’ time on earth has always been controversial.  The different narratives of the gospels present varying interpretations of Jesus and his teachings that we are left to reconcile.  He is portrayed as a sage, messiah, and teacher.  While religion relies on faith above all else, increasingly more of us are seeking to find comfort in facts to support our beliefs.  Interestingly enough, where the gospels have presented opportunity for scientific, archeological corroboration, they have been proven extremely accurate. The importance of these findings is not that they confirm all biblical claims, after all, much of this evidence was not material in nature in the first place.  Rather, archeological findings present a strong case regarding whether the gospels are trustworthy.  The following is a list of some of the most significant finds.
  1. The Pontius Pilate inscription.  In 1961 a stone inscription was discovered in Caesara.  While part of the inscription is missing, the stone is a dedication of a stone from Pilate to the Emperor Tiberias in 26-36 AD.  The inscription provides proof of both the Pilate’s existence as well as his position as prefect during the time of Christ.  The inscription reads “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, made and dedicated the Tiberieum to the Divine Augustus."
  2. The corroboration of the roman style of crucifixion.  The bible makes many mentions of crucifixion as a means of excecution, in terms of Christ's punishment and others.  Previously, some skeptics thought the Romans used ropes to affix legs upon a cross. The discovery of bones of a crucified man from first-century Palestine cleared up this misconcention.  The bones suggest nails were driven through the ankles and his leg bones were broken.  The remains of this man, named Johanan confirm the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.
  3. The corroboration of biblical places mentioned in the Gospel of John.  Archeologists have unearthed several places mentioned specifically by the gospel of John.  This includes:
    • The pool of Siloam (John 9:1-7)
    • Solomon’s porch at the temple precincts (John 10:22-23)
    • The five porticoes of the poll of Bethesda by the sheep gate (John 5:2)
    • Jacob’s well at Sychar (John 4:5)
    • The “pavement” where Pilate tried Jesus (John 19:13)
References: "Discoveries from Bible Times", by Professor Alan Millard; "Jesus Under Fire", by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

January 7, 2011

The best time to go on a holy pilgrimage to Rome

There are many interesting places to visit and things to see on a Holy Pilgrimage.  Rome has many of the popular pilgrim destinations such as the Appian Way, the church Quo Vadis, and the Basilica of St. Paul Without the Walls.  However, if you are planning a Holy Pilgramige when is the best time to go?  During a Holy Year, which is also known as a Year of Jubilee, that is, if you can wait. 

What is a Year of Jubilee?
The Year of Jubilee has roots in the Old Testament.  According to Leviticus 25:10, “Thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee." The Year of Jubilee was a designated time of joy and universal pardon.  Because of its Old Testament roots, the Year of Jubilee is recognized by both Jewish and Christian faith.  There has not been continuity between the Jewish and Christian Jubilees, since the celebration of the first Christian Jubilee in the year 1300.  Boniface VIII, who instituted the first Jubilee intended that it should be celebrated only once in a hundred years,

Why wait?
Catholics believe if you make a pilgrimage to the Vatican and Rome during a Holy Year you will be granted remission of sins and universal pardon.  A Holy Year begins with midnight mass on Christmas Eve after the Pope opens a Holy Door in each of the four great basilicas in which the pilgrims are required to visit.  At the end of the year, the door is closed – and bricked up.

When is the next one?
Historically, these have occurred about every twenty-five years, beginning in the year 1300 AD.  However, since the year 1900 there have been eight – the last one being in 2008.  If you do the math that's a lot more frequent than every 25 years.  While the date of the next Holy Year has not been declared, chances are the next one will be held in 2033 at the latest. 

Resources: The Vatican and Other Christian Holy Placesby Victoria Parker

January 6, 2011

The Differences Between Creationism and Intelligent Design

Intelligent design is the search for God’s existence through science. Scientists seek to prove it through particular intelligent design of features in organisms. Essentially, they try to explain miracles beyond what can be rationalized by natural selection/breeding. Creationism, on the other hand, is the belief that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being. Overall, the roots of Creationism are based in biblical fundamentalism and narrow, literal readings of the bible. 

Legal Issues

Teaching creationism is banned form being taught in public schools by the U.S. Constitution, thanks to the requirement of a separation between church and state. On the other hand, it is possible that teaching intelligent design could be legal. While intelligent design seeks to prove the existence of God through science, in the absence of proof, it is neutral on the topic of religion. If God is found to belong to a spiritual realm outside of science, as many believe, intelligent design fails in its mission to instruct. There would be no reason to teach it, but if you did include in a public school curriculum it would not be illegal.

Despite the efforts of intelligent design proponents to distance themselves from creationism, gradually over time, the lines btween the two distinct theories have become increasingly blurred. This is largely because proponents of creationism have tried to pass the two terms off as synonymous in cases where the legality of inclusion in public school curriculums was at stake. So far, this has not been successful. Unfortunately in the process, it seems to have tarnished the image of the more scientifically-rooted intelligent design theory.

References: Evolution and the Christian Faith by Joan Roughgarden

January 5, 2011

Jesus's Brothers and Sisters

There’s something fascinating about the thought of Jesus having siblings.  It just seems so normal.  Plus wouldn't it be great to hear their accounts of Jesus?  In general, most Protestants believe that Mary bore children other than Jesus. They point to the significant amount of scriptural support for their existence from various Gospels.  The most frequently cited passages come from the similar words of Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 – “Then they scoffed, "He's just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us." They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.”  The following passages also appear to offer support of the siblings' existence:
  • Matthew 27:56: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
  • Mark 15:40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;
  • John 20:17: Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God
  • Mark 3:31-32: And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, 'Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.
  • Galatians 1:19: I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother.
Seems pretty straight-forward; however, it directly contradicts the belief in the “Perpetual Virginity of Mary.” Catholicism has traditionally upheld that Mary was an ever-virgin her whole life.  Jesus was her only son, whose birth was miraculous.  The above mentioned “siblings” are interpreted as spiritual brothers, children of Joseph by a previous marriage, Mary's sister's children, or as Joseph's sister's children. It can be legitimately argued that the Greek terms for "brothers" and "sisters" in these verses could also refer to male and female relatives, because terms such as “cousin” did not exist at the time.  However, does the Bible mention the perpetual virginity of Mary? No, not directly.  The strongest support for the perpetual virginity belief comes from the Protoevangelium of James, which was written probably less than sixty years after the conclusion of Mary’s earthly life.  According to the Protoevangelium, Mary was vowed to a life of perpetual virginity.  It was eventually necessary for Mary, to have a guardian or protector who would respect her vow of virginity. Consequently, Joseph, an elderly widower who already had children, was chosen to be her spouse.  So what is the answer?  Not sure, but it is fascinating.

References: http://www.catholic.com/library/Mary_Ever_Virgin.asp and “Scripting Jesus” by L. Michael White

January 2, 2011

The Top 8 Symbols Associated with the Holy Spirit

In many ways, the Holy Spirit is the most mysterious and least understood of the Holy Trinity.  It is invisible, a source of inspiration, and a means of growing close to Christ.  It dwells here on earth among mankind in order to carry on the mission of Christ.  However, the last person whom the Holy Spirit spoke directly through was John the Baptist.  What are some indications this invisible force is present today?

Here's a list of the top 8 symbols that have been frequently connected to the Holy Spirit. 
  1. The dove.  One of the most familiar images of the spirit is a dove.  There is a well-known bible passage/biblical event associated with this symbol found in Matthew 3:16, "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him."
  2. Water.  Water holds a lot of symbolic value, during Baptism where the Holy Spirit is present, we are reborn.
  3. Fire.  At Pentecost it revealed itself in this form, transforming the disciples that were present.
  4. Anointing Oil.  We are anointed with oil just as Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit's presence.  The oil serves as both a symbol and a reminder of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Cloud and Light. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit worked through clouds and light to reveal or obscure God's messages.
  6. The Seal.  The Holy Spirit prepares the heart and mind to be in perfect harmony with Jesus by placing a seal, which is a permanent mark on our souls.
  7. The Hand.  Where hands are laid in order to heal it is said to be the Holy Spirit that is the healing agent.
  8. The Finger.  Holy Spirit is sometimes depicted as the "finger of the Father's right hand."
References: The Everything Catholicm Book by Helen Keeler and Susan Grimbly

January 1, 2011

How to Perform an Emergency Baptism

Although it is typical, and preferred, for a priest or deacon to perform a baptism ceremony at a church in front of family and friends, anyone can perform an emergency baptism.  Example of emergency situations could include a serious car accident or sudden illness where a clergy member is not present.   Tradition in the Catholic faith has taught that babies that die prior to being baptized are sent to limbo rather than heaven. It is not required that the person performing the baptism be baptized or even Catholic.  The way in which people are baptized differs little from one Christian religion to another.  The Catholic Church recognizes all denominations of Christian baptisms, however, in case you even are in the position where you need to perform an emergency baptism, here are the typical elements you should keep in mind:
  1. Make the sign of the cross.
  2. Pour water over the child’s head while saying the following “(Child’s name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19).  The water should be poured in three distinct intervals – hitting the child’s head when you say the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It’s important to quote Matthew word for word – this is a requirement set forth in the Didache, a manual of church discipline that has been used by Christians beginning in the first or second centuries.
  3. If possible, place a small amount of perfumed oil on the child’s forehead as a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment.
  4. That’s about it.  The most important elements are water, the quote from Matthew, and an earnest desire to perform a valid baptism.  If you have these three things you can perform an acceptable baptism in an emergency situation.
References: Understanding Catholicism by Bob O'Gorman and Mary Faulkner