Eastertide: Day 17
Back on the 6th day of Easter, I wrote a blog post about the meaning of the Easter Paschal Candle. In this post, I mentioned how beautiful each candle is and how I am always impressed that the artists who design them can come up with new and inspiring designs each year. In fact, thinking about the wide variety of Easter Paschal Candles made me ponder starting a new Pinterest board, just of Paschal Candles. So I did! If you would like to add to the board or just take a closer look at some of these important candles, follow me on Pinterest and meander through the board.
Eastertide: Day 16
In the blog post yesterday, I showed a drawing that I colored in about 15 years ago. In keeping with the coloring-as-meditation theme, I'm posting this beautiful drawing of the descent of the Holy Spirit from www.looktohimandberadiant.com, one of my favorite websites for Catholic Religious Education ideas.
Pentecost is still far off, on the horizon, so today is good day to download this picture and start working on it. There's still plenty of time to finish it before we will pray "Come, Holy Spirit!"
Eastertide: Day 15
I colored in the picture above close to 15 years ago, way before the current Adult Coloring trend had taken off. It was one of a set of 4 sketched pictures from a color-by-numbers kit. It was my first sustained attempt at a larger coloring project and I like the way it turned out.
The reason I include it here, in this celebration of Eastertide, is that I started coloring it a few days after my father died and I was very sad. I was able to sustain the hours of coloring over several days because I found that it helped with my grief. There was something about the gentle dragging of the colored pencils and the gradual appearance of soft color on a white, blank space, that was helpful and calming. I certainly became a believer in the benefits of coloring that we hear about today, because I know it helped me. (BTW, I'm thrilled with the whole Adult Coloring craze. What a healthy way to rediscover our artistic abilities and produce something beautiful, not to mention supporting the very talented artists who create these designs!)
As the years passed, this drawing took on a different aspect. Instead of remembering the waves of sadness, it slowly became a sign of hope. After all, it shows a watering can overflowing with spring flowers, vibrant greens and beautiful butterflies. All of these are signs of new life, and specifically, signs of the resurrection. The theme of gardening is one of the more beautiful themes that runs through Scripture, and in fact, Mary Magdalene first thought the risen Christ was a gardener - the prophecy became specific and enfleshed in him, in that garden.
Now when I look at this picture, I see a promise. I imagine Jesus' scarred hand holding the handle of the watering can and the water inside is the water that fell from his side, from his heart, pouring out the Holy Spirit onto the earth. This water falls on all of us, and if we respond to it, we will grow into the strong trees, the inspiring flowers, the restful grass - the people we were created to be. Now, when I look at this picture, I think of the future instead of the past, of the day when we will leave this "valley of tears" behind and be reunited with our loved ones in the Garden of Paradise. I have faith that I will see my Dad again. In fact, I hope to see all those I miss who have gone before me, those who died with Jesus and will rise with him. That's the power - and the promise - of Easter.
Although the kit I used is no longer available, you might enjoy one of the kits above.
Eastertide: Day 14
For today's continued celebration of Eastertide, we return to www.thesacredpage.com for a deeper understanding of the Mass readings for today. Seeking a deeper understanding of the Scripture readings we hear each week is one of the most important habits we can create, and certainly a habit that will lead to new understanding, deeper faith, and renewed belief in Jesus' resurrection.
"One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.” It’s a cross between Robert Benton’s “Places in the Heart” and Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day,” and probably a couple other movies I’m forgetting at the moment. Anyway, one of the marked features of the movie is its foreshadowing. Shyamalan introduces all sorts of strange themes associated with the different characters who surround Fr. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), an (Anglican?) priest who’s lost his faith and left his ministry: the strange last words of his dying wife, his brother’s obsession with hitting home runs, his son’s asthma, his daughter’s water-drinking compulsion. The significance of these motifs does not become clear to the viewer until the final scenes, where one discovers that a strong hand of Providence was guiding the life of Fr. Hess through it all.
I see an analogy between Shyamalan’s “Signs” and the convictions of the early Christians about the relationship of the Scriptures to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus was for the early Church like the final scenes of Shyamalan’s movie: all of a sudden, all sorts of diverse motifs from the Scriptures and the history of salvation made sense. They appeared unified, evidence of a strong hand of Providence that had been leading God’s people to a meaningful, climactic moment of salvation all along.
Through the Readings for this Sunday’s liturgy runs the conviction that Christ’s Passion and Resurrection had been foreshadowed all along through Israel’s Scriptures and history.
During the Easter Season, the Church reads significant passages from Acts in the First Reading. However, we don’t read Acts ad seriatim (straight through) on Sundays, because that would get us too far “ahead of ourselves” liturgically. After all, in “liturgical time,” we are still waiting for the Ascension (in the seventh week of Easter) and Pentecost (the eighth week after Easter), both of which are recounted in the first two chapters of Acts. So again, the Church reads key passages from Acts in the First Reading, but “hovers around” the beginning of the book, not wanting to get too far ahead.
In the Second Readings for this season, the Church works through the First Epistle of John, which is a fundamental catechesis for those young in the faith. This reflects the fact that the Church has admitted new members at the Easter Vigil. Moreover, 1 John is edifying reading for the whole Church, as we renew our faith and baptismal commitment in this season.
The Gospel Readings are taken from key passages at the end of the Gospels, recounting events between Easter and Ascension; or else from intensely Christological or Pneumatological pericopes of the Gospel of John, particularly the Last Supper discourse (John 13–17) or the Good Shepherd discourse (John 10:1-18).
1. The First Reading for this Sunday is Acts 3:13-15, 17-19:
Peter said to the people:
“The God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus,
whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence
when he had decided to release him.
You denied the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
The author of life you put to death,
but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.
Now I know, brothers,
that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did;
but God has thus brought to fulfillment
what he had announced beforehand
through the mouth of all the prophets,
that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”
Peter says that the suffering of Christ was announced beforehand by all the prophets. Really? Where? It’s true that there are a few passages which seem to predict the suffering of a messianic figure: Isaiah 53 is the famous one, of course; and Daniel 9 speaks of the Messiah being “cut off.” But Peter claims the suffering of the Messiah is widely prophesied in Scripture, not simply hinted at in a couple of texts.
One of the keys to understanding St. Peter’s claim is to understand how first century Jews and Christians looked at the Old Testament. Essentially, everything was prophetic or potentially prophetic. Thus, passages that we might consider “law” or “history” were also “prophecy.” Thus, St. John takes a law about the Passover Lamb (“not one of its bones shall be broken,” Ex 12:46; cf. Ps 34:20) and understands it as a prophecy of Jesus (John 19:36). Likewise, the historical account of Isaac, the “beloved” son of Abraham, being sacrificed on the Temple Mount in Genesis 22 is also understood in many places in the New Testament as a prophecy of what would happen to God’s “beloved” Son.
But it was especially the psalms that were understood as prophetic. The idea that these sacred songs spoke of the future and of the messiah was not limited to early Christians. The Essenes at Qumran, who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls, understood the Psalms (as well as almost every other part of Scriptures) as describing the End Times, through which they thought they were living. They described David as writing all the psalms “through the Spirit of prophecy” (11QPsalmsA).
And, if you read through the Psalms, it will not take long before you begin to recognize a common pattern: the psalmist will speak of suffering death or mortal travail, of descending to “Sheol,” and then toward the end of the Psalm will praise God for saving his life from the “Pit,” of breaking the bonds of “Sheol,” of restoring him to life. Several Psalms follow this apparent death-and-resurrection sequence. Since such a pattern was not literally true of King David, the presumed author, it must be true of someone else: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of David. This is at the core of Peter and Paul’s early preaching (Acts 2, 13), both making use of Psalm 16 especially (“you will not let your Holy One see decay,” Ps 16:10).
Peter’s message to his brother Jews, members of the Sanhedrin, in this Sunday’s reading is this: “If you will open your eyes, if you will ponder the Scriptures in light of what Jesus of Nazareth has said and done, you too will be able to see the strong hand of Providence in our Scriptures and history, leading up to this moment of salvation which we have witnessed and now share with you.”
Eastertide: Day 12
And now, for a little shot of joy, homemade Easter eggs! We've only started to decorate these hard-boiled eggs in the last couple of years, when my kids are older. Surprisingly to me, they really enjoy making them as teens and young adults. I enjoy all the colors, the lack of stress (because they are too old to make a mess with the dye), being together with them, and, of course, the symbolism of new life. Believe it or not, all of these eggs will be eaten in about 2 - 3 days.
Eastertide: Day 11
For today's continued celebration of Easter, I'm reposting an entry from the website www.aleteia.com. Although this is a well-known Catholic website, followed by millions and featuring articles and news, I often encounter Catholics who have not heard of it. Since part of my efforts with this website is to curate Catholic content that is trustworthy, I feel it is important to point readers over to this site. (And yes, I also occasionally feature non-Catholic writers or articles in the spirit of ecumenism, since Christian unity was one of the very specific prayers that Christ made during the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John, the night before he died. Unity between Christians is so important, in fact, that the universal Church devotes an entire week to praying for it in January.)
This article was written by Nicholas Senz in 2019, and points out how the early Church bridged the Old and New Testaments. Enjoy! And visit www.aleteia.com!
"There are a number of texts of the early Church that Church Fathers mention in their writings, but which were lost to history until recently. Works like the Didache or the authentic letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch were often quoted or referred to with reverence, but were not recovered intact until the last few hundred years, when ancient copies were discovered on back shelves of libraries. Another of these manuscripts, found only relatively recently, gives us the oldest Easter homily we have.
In 1940, the scholar Campbell Bonner published a translation of the work On the Passover by St. Melito of Sardis. A Jewish convert born into the Greek half of the Roman Empire, St. Melito was a bishop in the western part of Asia Minor who died in the year 180. His works are referenced by St. Clement of Alexandria and St. Jerome, as well as other influential early Christian writers such as Eusebius, Origen, and Tertullian.
By all accounts he was renowned for his holiness and regarded as a prophet (a term still used in the early Church for preachers with a particular charism, c.f., Ephesians 4:11).
On the Passover is a rich example of the way the Church Fathers bridged the Old Testament and New Testament. St. Melito lived in a time where this was actually a controversial idea! Not a few Christians thought that the Old Testament was of no worth to followers of Jesus—His own words saying that He had come not to abolish but to fulfill the law notwithstanding—and some, like Marcion, even went so far as to claim that the God of the Old Testament was a wholly different entity from the God of the New Testament.
The Church Fathers, on the other hand, following the example of the New Testament writers themselves, showed how the life and acts of Jesus were foreshadowed in the Old Testament. In the words of St. Augustine, “the new is concealed in the old, the old is revealed in the new.”
Eastertide: Day 10
Possibly the most obvious sign of new life is that of seeds. Seeds, just in and of themselves, are, frankly, astonishing. If you hold a small seed of anything - vegetable, flower, tree - in your hand and look at it, it is really difficult to believe that hidden down there, out of sight, is the blueprint for something that will grow up into something entirely different. Not only does each seed have the blueprint or DNA to recreate itself, but it also knows exactly the order in which to do it. It also knows the time in which to do it. For example, a seed first sprouts roots, down in the unseen dirt. Next, it sends up a small sprout. Then, it focuses on growth. It doesn't get these steps confused and say, try to grow a flower before it has a strong stalk, or put down roots after it has grown a leaf. Everything is ordered for the best possible benefit of the health of the plant.
But there's one more thing to consider about seeds and nature in general, an idea that I came across quite recently in a book called The Desire of Ages: The Conflict of the Ages Illustrated in the Life of Christ. The author is a woman named Ellen G. White, who lived and wrote during the mid to late 1800s and since I had not heard of her before, I did some research and discovered that she was one of the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, with her husband, James White. Ellen herself was a controversial figure, who reported having over 2,000 visions and dreams from God. Some historians have claimed that she was one of the more "important and colorful figures in the history of American religion." (Randall Balmer, 2000) The Smithsonian Magazine even named Ellen G. White among the "100 Most Significant Americans of All Time." She wrote thousands of articles and more than 40 books during the course of her lifetime, many of which are still in print. Her grandson and biographer, Arthur White, writes that Ellen G. White is the "most translated female non-fiction author in the history of literature, as well as the most translated American non-fiction author of either gender." So, even though we would not agree on all aspects of faith, certainly Ellen has some wisdom to share.
Ellen wrote these words in The Desire of Ages:
All created things declare the glory of God's excellence. There is nothing, save the selfish heart of man, that lives unto itself. No bird that cleaves the air, no animal that moves upon the ground, but ministers to some other life. There is no leaf of the forest, or lowly blade of grass, but has its ministry. Every tree and shrub and leaf pours forth that element of life without which neither man nor animal could live; and man and animal, in turn, minister to the life of tree and shrub and leaf. The flowers breathe fragrance and unfold their beauty in blessing to the world. The sun sheds its light to gladden a thousand worlds. The ocean, itself the source of all our springs and fountains, receives the streams from every land, but takes to give. The mists ascending from its bosom fall in showers to water the earth, that it may bring forth and bud.
Doubtless scientific discoveries would nuance Ellen's writings today, but nevertheless, what a fascinating concept. We often hear that creation reveals God, and we tend to think of this in terms of the grandeur, beauty and restorative ability of nature. Those are all true. But lets add the ministerial capacity of nature as well; its ability to take care of others through fulfilling its own purpose. Surely, that's one aspect that is very close to the heart of God. It reminds us to ask ourselves, especially in these days right after the Resurrection, the example of self-sacrifice par excellance - Is my life about serving others? Am I taking my place in the design of creation?
Eastertide: Day 9
Yesterday's blog entry was a simple visual of Easter flowers with the words "Christ is Risen!" written across it. But are there ways that we can actually PROVE that Jesus rose from the dead? According to Fr. Robert Spitzer, there are at least 5 historical ways Jesus' resurrection can be verified.
So, for today's continuing celebration of Easter, I'm reposting a blog entry for scientifically minded folk. This article comes from the Magis Center for Reason and Faith. ( https://blog.magiscenter.com/blog ). The Magis Center is a new venture, founded by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., who is a well-known Catholic author and leader. He is especially known for works like 5 Pillars of the Spiritual Life, on my Bookshelf page, Healing the Culture, and the 3 volume series The Light Shines On In the Darkness, The Soul's Upward Yearning and God So Loved the World. He has recently published a new trilogy, Called Out of Darkness. His special focus is on the intersection of faith and reason, and he frequently explains how science is not at war with faith.
"The doctrine of the resurrection is central to Christianity—so much so that St. Paul states:
"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
—1 Cor 15:13-15
But are there any ways of verifying the claims made by the Christian church about Jesus’ resurrection in glory? As a matter of fact, there are. Through the use of historical criteria, exegetes such as N.T. Wright and Gary Habermas have found five historical ways of verifying the claims made by the Christian church about Jesus’ resurrection:
1. Commonalities in Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Risen Appearances
The Gospel accounts show substantial agreement about Jesus’ transformed embodiment in his risen appearances. Though described in different ways, several characteristics of these accounts are quite similar. For instance, Matthew, Luke, and John all indicate that in his risen appearances, Jesus was divinely and spiritually transformed.
Furthermore, this transformation outshone his former corporeality—so much so that the apostles at first had doubts about whether Jesus was in this divine-spiritual appearance. Jesus overcame these doubts by revealing his identity (and continuity with his former embodiment) through the marks of his crucifixion (Luke and John 20) and through his communication with and missioning of them (Matthew and John 21).
Hence, there are common elements in the three different resurrection narratives that help us verify the claim that Jesus really did resurrect after his death. Matthew, Luke, and John all affirm that, after his crucifixion and death, Jesus appears in a divine-like glory, power, and spirit in which he showed continuity with his former embodiment.
Eastertide: Day 7
For today's entry, I'm reposting a blog from Dr. Bergsma, a noted Theology and Scripture scholar, who does a great job of connecting the Easter Season to Divine Mercy Sunday. He blogs at www.thesacredpage.com I also recommend some of his books on my Bookshelf page to those who want to start diving into Scripture.
"Behind the readings for this Sunday lies a Gospel text which is never read, but whose influence is felt and whose concepts and images serves as a link between the texts that are read. That passage is John 19:34:
John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth — that you also may believe.
The blood and water flowing from the side of Christ is the background for the Divine Mercy image seen by St. Faustina.
This “river” that flows out from the side of Christ is understood in the Church’s spiritual tradition as a river of mercy, but there is also a rich biblical background to this passage of John.
Ezekiel 47 and other passages from the OT prophets foresaw a river of life which one day would flow from the heart of the New Temple in the age to come. Our Lord identifies himself as the New Temple (John 2:20-21) and as the one from whom the river of life will flow (John 7:38). John 19:34 is a sign of the fulfillment of that promise. Ancient Jewish readers would have recognized the significance of the bloody flow from the side of Christ as Temple imagery. During festival seasons prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70, huge amounts of animal blood were generated by the Temple sacrifices. The blood was ducted out of the Temple precincts by a plumbing system which emptied out of the side of the Temple mount, creating a stream of blood that flowed down and joined the Brook Kidron that flowed along the ravine between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. This bloody brook had to be crossed if one entered Jerusalem near the Pool of Siloam. So a “stream of blood and water” would evoke the image of the Temple and the Temple city to the ancient Jewish reader. This phenomenon helped identify the body of Jesus as the New Temple.
Of course, the physical flow from Christ’s side is not the ultimate point. It is a sign of a deeper reality, the true “river of life” that flows from him, which is the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, throughout the Gospel of John, water is employed with reference to Baptism, and blood is only discussed in the Eucharistic discourse of John 6. So the Fathers were right to see in the bloody flow from the side of Christ the River of the Spirit, which comes to us through the sacraments, Baptismal Water and Eucharistic Blood. The sacraments are efficacious signs of God’s mercy.
Now for the readings of this Sunday. The First Reading is Acts 4:32-35: