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What was Shakespeare’s religion? It’s possible to answer this seemingly simple question in lots of different ways. Like other English subjects who lived through the ongoing Reformation, Shakespeare was legally obliged to attend Church of England services. Officially, at least, he was a Protestant. But a number of scholars have argued that there is evidence that Shakespeare had connections through his family and school teachers with Roman Catholicism, a religion which, through the banning of its priests, had effectively become illegal in England. Even so, ancestral and even contemporary links with the faith that had been the country’s official religion as recently as 1558, would make Shakespeare typical of his time. And in any case, to search for a defining religious label is to miss some of what is most interesting about religion in early modern England, and more importantly, what is most interesting about Shakespeare.
We want to know what Shakespeare believed. It seems to us important to know. He is our most important writer, and we want to know him from the inside. People regularly tell us that they do know what he believed, though mainly by showing what his father believed, or his contemporaries believed or, more accurately, what they said they believed—by demonstrating, that is, what was possible to believe.
In 1858, German Princess Katharina von Hohenzollern entered the strict Franciscan convent of Sant’Ambrogio della Massima. Instead to finding the solitude and peace she was looking for she stumbled across a sex scandal of ecclesiastical proportions filled with poison, murder, and lesbian initiation rites. Based on Hubert Wolf’s vividly reconstructed telling of the scandal, we’ve created a short quiz where you can try your hand and unravel the secrets of the Sant’Ambrogio convent.
Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si, will be surrounded for some time by intense debate among and between journalists, columnists, Catholic journals, political leaders, and environmentally-focused scientists and NGOs. In other words, the fight over how it’s received is well underway. In the 125 years or so that papal social encyclicals have been written, their reception has been hotly debated, with the most infamous such episode occurring in the pages of the National Review.
Since the promulgation of the revised missal, popularly known as the Novus Ordo by Pope Paul VI, with the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanun in 1969, a growing call for either a return to the Tridentine Mass or recognition of the legitimate place of such a rite alongside the Novus Ordo has gained an international status. Groups […]
Elizabeth Stuart (1596–1662) was the charismatic daughter of King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) and Anna of Denmark. She married the Calvinist Frederick V, Elector Palatine, at age 16, and lived happily in Heidelberg, Germany, for six years before being crowned Queen of Bohemia at 23 and moving to Prague.
Many incredible stories of healing are recorded in the Bible, but one may wonder if God is still working miracles among us now. In Chosen to Heal: Gifted Catholics Share Stories of God’s Miraculous Healing Power, Laura Wright presents six healers who are active in the world today.
These six individuals – Domingo Setien, Tom Naemi, Father Jose Maniyangat, Stella Davis, Father Richard McAlear, and Father Dan Leary – did not ask to be given the gift of healing. In fact, they were all surprised when they discovered that they had received this gift. But after the miracles started to occur, they opened themselves to being a channel for God’s healing work. Just as Jesus used healing miracles to draw people closer to him, these individuals also use their healing ministry to the glory of God and the opportunity for evangelization.
Chosen to Heal offers a glimpse into the life and ministry of each of these gifted people. Each chapter focuses on one healer’s story, with numerous examples of people healed at their touch or command. Information on how to reach them is also provided, for those in search of their own miracle.
It’s easy to look around at our broken and hurting society and doubt that God is still active among his people, but seeing miracles such as the ones presented in this book reminds us he’s still very involved in our lives. Not only is he with us, but he cares enough about us to continue to provide us with many much-needed miracles. I highly recommend Chosen to Heal as a source of inspiration for God’s people today.
In their National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith, Kyle Longest, Jonathan Hill, and Kari Christoffersen studied a sample of young people for five years, starting when they were 13 to 17 years old and completing the study when they were 18 to 23, a stage called “emerging adulthood.” As illustrated in this infographic, part of the focus was on Catholic emerging adults. As illustrated, the authors found discouraging numbers for young Catholics staying in the faith as they grew up.
Christian Smith is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Social Research, Principal Investigator of the National Study of Youth and Religion, and Principal Investigator of the Science of Generosity Initiative. Kyle Longest is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Furman University. Jonathan Hill is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Calvin College. Kari Christoffersen is a PhD candidate at the University of Notre Dame. They are co-authors of Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church.
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In his study, sociologist David Yamane found an interesting correlation between the type of catechetical sessions used in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process (which an adult who wants to enter the Catholic Church undergoes) and the socioeconomic standing (SES). He found that the lower the SES of the parish, the more they rely on hierarchical and passive pedagogies such as question and answer and lecturing. The higher the SES, the more diversity in their teachings, with more focus on participatory and engaging pedagogies such as liturgy and prayer and discussion.
David Yamane teaches sociology at Wake Forest University. His primary scholarly interest is the sociology of organized religion, particularly Roman Catholicism in the postwar United States. His publications include The Catholic Church in State Politics: Negotiating Prophetic Demands and Political Realities (2005), Real Stories of Christian Initiation: Lessons for and from the RCIA (2006), and Religion in Sociological Perspective (2011). He is author of Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape.
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Vassula Rydén was not living a particularly religious life when her guardian angel first appeared to her. And when God spoke to her, soon after, she was completely unprepared to face her many sins and atone for them. Once she was cleansed, she willingly took on her new role in communicating God’s Messages to the people, as He commanded.
Heaven is Real But So is Hell is Rydén’s story of her ministry. It shares some of the visions God has allowed her to see, as well as many of the Messages she received. Organized loosely by topic, this book touches on all the important ideas God has commanded her to tell us.
Originally, the Vatican disapproved of Rydén’s Messages, issuing a warning against them. However, over time, these Messages have gotten support from priests, bishops, and even Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became Pope. Rydén also claims that many who have seen her speak or have read the Messages have come back to the Church as a result.
I admit, I approached this book with healthy skepticism. But as I’ve also read the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, I realized there are interesting similarities. Both women issued dire warnings that come with potential blessings if we turn from our sinful ways, and both have been ridiculed and scorned by an unbelieving public. I have not read True Life in God, which is Rydén’s official publication of these Messages, but from what I’ve read in Heaven is Real But So is Hell, I see nothing that would be contradictory to my Catholic faith.
Prophets are often misunderstood in the era they’re living in, and their messages are only understood much later. If these Messages are truly from God, they will stand up to the test of time.
Most of us are familiar with the seven deadly sins, but are we also aware of the seven virtues? These are charity, chastity, diligence, humility, kindness, patience and temperance. The fastest way to defeat the deadly sins in our own lives is to work on developing these virtues in their place.
Seven saints provide wonderful examples of these virtues in action. In Seven Saints for Seven Virtues, these saints are presented for us to emulate. Their lives and struggles may have been difficult, but each overcame weakness and developed strong character. In addition to the saints, modern-day people who embody these virtues are introduced, so we can learn how to model them in today’s world. Prayers, suggested Bible reading, and action steps are also provided for developing each virtue.
We are all called to be saints. The lives of the virtuous men and women in this book will guide us as we attempt to follow that calling. All those who try to live holy lives will benefit from reading Seven Saints for Seven Virtues.
From 5-19 October 2014, Pope Francis held the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome. The purpose of the synod was to discuss the Church’s stance on such issues as divorce, birth control, and especially, the legalization of gay marriage. On 13 October, the Synod released a relatio (a mid-term report) on its preliminary findings. Paragraph 50 of the relatio stated:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing them a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
Even though the paragraph was phrased more as a question than a statement, it was immediately pronounced an “earthquake” in the history of Catholicism. Apparent sympathy toward homosexuals delighted liberal Catholics while horrifying conservatives and traditionalists. When the synod concluded, this language was removed from the final version of the document, having failed to acquire a necessary two-thirds vote from participants.
Although the Mother Church has always held synods and councils to reassess doctrines and practices, it presents itself as timeless and immutable. In the nineteenth century American bishop John Ireland mused, “The church never changes and yet she changes.” When change does occur (or is even suggested), conservatives often respond with horror. The paradox of an unchangeable, changing Church creates what sociologist Peter Berger calls a grenzsituation (drawing on the work of psychologist Karl Jaspers), in which a taken for granted reality suddenly appears alien and factitious. To articulate their feeling of betrayal, critics of Church Reform frequently invoke the language of evil and the demonic.
Following the “earthquake” of 13 October, those opposed to the relatio used a variety of strategies to express their dissent including legalistic arguments, suggestions that devil was confusing the synod, hints of conspiracy, and even snippets of prophecy delivered by Marian seers at Fatima and other apparition sites. This response demonstrated the same constellation of forces that occurred in the aftermath of Vatican II when traditionalist Catholics turned to a homemaker from Queens who claimed to see visions of the Virgin Mary. Veronica Lueken, “The Seer of Bayside,” was declared “the seer of age” primarily because her prophecies offered a framework by which traditionalists could make sense of the radical changes of Vatican II. Lueken’s most controversial revelation was that Paul VI––the pope who approved the Council’s reforms––had been replaced by a Soviet doppelganger. Accordingly, loyal Catholics were justified in rejecting Vatican II because it was, in reality, the product of a demonic conspiracy unfolding in the final days.
Today, as in the 1970s, conservative Catholics express pain and outrage that a pope would challenge their understanding of what it means to be Catholic. Some have presented legalistic arguments, citing such documents as a 1986 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith that described homosexuality as “an objective disorder.” But repeatedly, conservatives have articulated their dissent by invoking a dark triad of demonology, conspiracy theory, and millennial prophecy.
On 20 October, Archbishop Charles Chaput gave a talk entitled “Stranger in a Strange Land,” in which he suggested that Catholics were now the targets of intolerance for advocating traditional family values. When asked about the synod, Chaput first specified that he had not been there and that the media might be distorting what was actually said. He then added, “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”
In the Catholic magazine First Things, Peter Leithart discussed the synod in terms of spiritual warfare, suggesting that advocates of gay marriage are the victims of demonic deception. He explained, “When Christians see something that looks like a collective delusion, they’re looking at demonic deception and/or divine judgment. We live in a culture that has venerated idol-ologies of unbounded freedom with relentless zeal, and God has given us over to the logic of our folly.”
Others invoked the language of willful betrayal and conspiracy, rather than demonically-inspired confusion. John Smeaton, co-founder of Voice of the Family, commented, “Those who are controlling the Synod have betrayed Catholic parents worldwide. We believe that the Synod’s mid-way report is one of the worst official documents drafted in Church history.” In this assessment, it is not the synod itself that has betrayed Catholic families, but by a shadowy “them” who are controlling it.
Outside the sphere of mainstream discourse, traditionalist groups have been much more explicit in framing the synod in terms of an apocalyptic war with Satan. Lueken died in 1995, but her followers, known as “Baysiders,” strongly opposed the 13 October announcement. These Last Days Ministries, a Baysider, website, prefaced a report on the relatio with a prophecy delivered by Lueken on behalf of Jesus on 3 May 1978:
The Eternal Father has given mankind a set of rules, and in discipline they must be obeyed. It behooves Me to say that My heart is torn by the actions, the despicable actions, of My clergy. I unite, as your God, man and woman into the holy state of matrimony. And what I have bound together no man must place asunder. And what do I see but broken homes, marriages dissolved through annulments! It has scandalized your nation, and it is scandalizing the world. Woe to the teachers and leaders who scandalize the sheep!”
A Catholic author named Kelly Bowring even speculated that the relatio signaled a the beginning of an prophesied end times scenario, writing:
Will today be remembered as the first day that led to the Church’s prophesied schism? Quite likely yes. By many accounts people are waking up to see that the Family Synod of October 2014 is an officially Vatican-orchestrated work of manipulation. The mid-way report was released October 13th, a day of great spiritual significance.
Like many apocalyptic Marian groups, Bowring has located the relatio within a “theology of history” by finding other significant dates that also occurred on 13 October. On 13 October 1884, Pope Leo XIII composed the prayer to Saint Michael. According to Catholic legend, he did so after a mystical experience in which he overheard a conversation between God and Satan in which Satan was given “time and power” so that he could attempt to overthrow the Church. The “Miracle of the Sun” in Fatima, Portugal occurred on 13 October 1917. The Marian apparitions at Fatima were the most significant in modern history and the three “secrets of Fatima” delivered by the child seers remain the object of intense speculation among traditionalist Catholics. Finally, on 13 October 1973, Sister Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa, a Marian seer near Akita, Japan, delivered a prophecy of a great schism that would destroy the Church. By forming these connections, Bowring can locate new developments like the relatio within a cosmic scheme of history.
These responses––from off-the-cuff remarks equating confusion with the devil, to intricate webs of numerical correspondences––can be read as attempts to make sense of what previously seemed unthinkable. For some, it is easy to dismiss such language as hysterical or even evidence of mental illness. But demonology, conspiracy, and millennial prophecies are all interpretive tools that can be brought to bear in times of crisis. For lay Catholics who feel helpless and betrayed as strangers in Rome attempt to shift the core values of their tradition, these are also discourses of resistance.
Critics of Veronica Lueken claimed she was either mad or a con artist. (One reporter even suggested that her visions were a side effect of diet pills.) But if we examine Catholic tradition as an asymmetric collaboration between lay Catholics and Church authorities, figures like Veronica Lueken are easier to understand. Marian seers do not simply pop up fully formed. Instead events like Church reform create an alignment of social forces in which seers arise. The relationship that forms between seers and their followers creates a charismatic authority that––in some cases––can rival the authority of the Catholic hierarchy. For this reason, it seems likely that as Pope Francis continues to voice his preference for social justice rather than tradition, we can expect a backlash that imbues reform with dark and apocalyptic significance. Like Paul VI, Francis will likely be a pope who gives rise to seers.
Carols bring Christians together around the Christ Child lying in the manger. During Advent and at Christmas, Christians everywhere sing more or less the same repertoire. Through our carols, we share the same deep delight at the birth of a poor child who was to become the Saviour of all human beings.
The carols are wonderfully ecumenical in their origins. Four verses and the tune of ‘Adeste Fideles’ (‘Come all ye faithful’) come from an eighteenth-century Roman Catholic layman, John Francis Wade. ‘Angels we have heard on high’ is a traditional French carol, now commonly sung to a tune arranged by Edward Shippen Barnes (d. 1958), an American organist and composer. The text of ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ was written by Charles Wesley. Its widely used melody is taken from Felix Mendelssohn, who was born into a Jewish family and brought up a Lutheran. Isaac Watts, a non-conformist, composed the words of ‘Joy to the world’. The music, although often attributed to George Frederick Handel, seems of be of English origin.
An Episcopalian bishop, Phillips Brooks, wrote ‘O little town of Bethlehem’, and the tune we normally hear accompanying this comes from Ralph Vaughan Williams.
‘Ding dong merrily on high‘ is sung to a dance tune from sixteenth-century France; the text was composed by an English enthusiast for carols, George Ratcliffe Woodward (d. 1934). We owe ‘Away in a manger’ to a nineteenth-century children’s book used by American Lutherans. The words for ‘See amid the winter’s snow’ were written by Edward Caswell, who became a Roman Catholic and joined Blessed John Henry Newman in the Birmingham Oratory. Sir John Goss, an Anglican organist and composer, provided the musical setting.
‘Silent night, holy night’ was the work of two Austrian Catholics, the priest and organist of a country church. An Irish Protestant, Nahum Tate, probably composed the text of ‘While shepherds watched their flocks‘, which is often sung to a tune taken from Handel.
These and other familiar carols have been composed by members of different Christian communities who lived in various parts of the world. The carols have also proved splendidly ecumenical in their use. No other collection of hymns are sung so widely by Christians when they celebrate one of the two central feasts of their liturgical year.
With a happiness that lights up their faces, Christians sing together the carols. With the birth of the Christ Child, light has replaced darkness, and real freedom has taken over from sin. The beautiful ‘Sussex Carol’ catches the common joy of Christian believers: ‘On Christmas night all Christians sing/To hear the news the angels bring/News of great joy, news of great mirth/News of our merciful King’s birth.’ The words of this carol go back to a seventeenth-century Irish bishop, Luke Wadding. In the early twentieth century, Vaughan Williams discovered the text and the tune that we use today, when he heard it sung at Monk’s Gate in Sussex. Hence it is called the ‘Sussex Carol’.
Such carols bring Christians together around the manger. They blend beautifully text and music to unite us all and lift our spirits at Christmas. But they also remind us that the shadow of the cross falls across the birth of Jesus.
Some carols foreshadow the suffering which the Christ Child will endure for all human beings. Thus the penultimate verse of the traditional English carol, ‘The first Nowell‘, declares: ‘and with his blood mankind has bought’. ‘In dulci jubilo’, a medieval German carol, arranged by J. M. Neale (d. 1866) and entitled ‘Good Christian men, rejoice’, subtly links Bethlehem and Calvary when the second verse repeats: ‘Christ was born for this.’
The carols that feature the Magi and the gifts they offer foretell the passion of Christ. Myrrh is an aromatic resin that was widely used in the Middle East to embalm corpses. From early times Christians understood that gift to symbolize the death and burial of Jesus. ‘We three kings of Orient are’, a nineteenth-century Christmas carol from Pennsylvania, devotes a whole verse to the gift of myrrh: ‘Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/breathes a life of gathering gloom/sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/sealed in the stone-cold tomb.’ Such carols unite Christians with the Magi in worshipping the Christ Child, whose birth is already overshadowed by the cross.
When we sing our favourite carols this Christmas, let us rejoice in their very ecumenical origins and in their use by Christians everywhere. The carols light up our faces with vivid joy. But they also recall how the shadow of Calvary fell over Bethlehem. Jesus was born into a world of all-pervasive pain and suffering.
Featured image credit: Little Twon of Bethlehem, by Phillips Brooks. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The Reformation was a seismic event in history, whose consequences are still working themselves out in Europe and across the world. The protests against the marketing of indulgences staged by the German monk Martin Luther in 1517 belonged to a long-standing pattern of calls for internal reform and renewal in the Christian Church. But they rapidly took a radical and unexpected turn, engulfing first Germany and then Europe as a whole in furious arguments about how God’s will was to be discerned, and how humans were to be ‘saved’. However, these debates did not remain confined to a narrow sphere of theology. They came to reshape politics and international relations; social, cultural, and artistic developments; relations between the sexes; and the patterns and performances of everyday life.
Below we take a look at some of the key events that shaped the Reformation. In The Oxford Illustrated History of the ReformationPeter Marshall and a team of experts tell the story of how a multitude of rival groups and individuals, with or without the support of political power, strove after visions of ‘reform’.
Featured image credit: Fishing for Souls, Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne, 1614. Rijksmeseum, Amsterdam. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Here it is! The book of the day challenge, to recommend a new book or related media every day in 2012. January is complete, and attached for handy download–just click on the above link. February is on the way! “Friend” Litland Reviews on Facebook to see daily recommendations as they post. http://facebook.com/Litlandreviews
It’s easy to understand misogynist Republican men if you view them in the context of the animal kingdom. Males, from fruit flies to men, have an anatomical limitation. They cannot produce eggs, and if they’re mammals like us, they cannot get pregnant or give birth. Their only contribution to reproduction is sperm. And sperm must leave a male’s body in order to fertilize an egg. This means that in the act of mating, males lose control of their most precious biological possession, their sperm. Once sperm leave a male’s body, they are under the control of the female. She can eject them, kill them, block them or allow them to fertilize her eggs. Females are scary creatures!
Among waterfowl, where rape is common, females have evolved vaginas with dead-end sacs, a kind of internal burial ground for an unwanted male’s sperm. The only way males can try to control their sperm investment is by controlling the recipients—females! And males—insects to humans—do anything and everything they can to exert control and subvert female choice. (Of course there are many wonderful liberated men who think with their brains instead of the instrument below their belt, but those who want to make women’s bodies property of the state are not among them.)
Subversion tactics are seen most clearly in insects. Female insects mate with several males and store sperm in their sperm-storage chamber. Scientists have discovered that female choice goes on internally in the female’s reproductive tract. It is within the changing climate of this internal environment that hidden or “cryptic” female choice takes place, perhaps at the level of the ovum itself, in determining which sperm of which male, if any, will be allowed to penetrate the egg’s membrane to achieve fertilization. Such internal female choice may be going on in women, too!
So males across species engage in sperm competition and mate guarding to ensure that only their sperm fertilize their mate’s eggs and sire her offspring. Among insects, some bizarre tactics for ensuring confidence of paternity have evolved.
One tactic is the copulatory plug, a gluey substance secreted by the male to block the female’s genital opening, preventing a rival’s sperm from getting inside. The male damselfly has a kind of scooper on the end of his penis that he uses to scoop out previously deposited sperm before mating with a female. Some male fruit flies inject toxic semen, which thwarts rivals but also hastens the female’s death.
Men don’t use genital glue or sperm scoopers but they do use religion, laws and politics to achieve the same end – controlling women’s reproductive biology. The use of mutilating genital surgery in some 28 countries of Africa and the Middle East wounds about three million young girls every year. The current profusion of ultrasound and “personhood” bills being passed by Republican male legislators across the U.S. are the human equivalent of insects’ copulatory plugs. These men are probably no more aware they are acting out such a primitive biological scenario than are insect males. They are caught up in a form of mass hysteria reminiscent of medieval witch hunts and persecution of women. Indeed, the attempt to vilify Planned Parenthood is similar to medieval persecution of women who gave advice on preventing births.
If the current misogynist movement led by Republican men were not so dangerous and harmful to women and our entire society, it would make an interesting anthropological field study. It’s unprecedented in U.S. history, to see males, primarily in one major political party, using the legal process and available medical technology to turn back the clock, prevent access to, and even ban medical advances that benefit men as well as women. Yes, many women accept their subjugation and support these efforts. But would they if they understood that from a biological perspective, these men are acting as brainless as beetles? With this difference: Male insects are ou
Plan in advance for father’s day! The month of June is dedicated to books for dads and boys…don’t worry, a few dads & daughter books thrown in too! Good list for reluctant readers as well as summer vacation. Enjoy!
Hickem, Catherine. (2012). Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What It Means for You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. ISBN 978-1-4002-0036-8.
What do we know of Mary?
What we know of Mary’s family is that she is of the house of David; it is from her lineage Jesus fulfilled the prophecy. Given the archeological ruins of the various places thought to have been living quarters for their family, it is likely the home was a room out from which sleeping quarters (cells) branched. As Mary and her mother Anne would be busy maintaining the household, with young Mary working at her mother’s command, it is likely Anne would be nearby or in the same room during the Annunciation. Thus Mary would not have had a scandalous secret to later share with her parents but, rather, a miraculous supernatural experience, the salvific meaning of which her Holy parents would understand and possibly even witnessed.
Mary and Joseph were betrothed, not engaged. They were already married, likely in the form of a marriage contract, but the marriage had not yet been “consummated”. This is why he was going to divorce her when he learned of the pregnancy. If it were a mere engagement, he would have broken it off without too much scandal.
Married but not yet joined with her husband, her mother would prepare her by teaching her all that she needed to know. This is further reason to assume that Mary would be working diligently under her mother’s eye when the Annunciation took place.
We know that her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy was kept in secret for five months, and not made known until the sixth month when the Angel Gabriel proclaimed it to Mary. We know Mary then rushed to be at her elderly cousin’s side for three months (the remaining duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy), and that this rushing appeared to be in response to Elizabeth’s pregnancy (to congratulate her), not an attempt to hide Mary’s pregnancy. Note how all of this is connected to Elizabeth’s pregnancy rather than Mary’s circumstances. As Mary was married to Joseph, he likely would have been informed of the trip. Had the intent been to hide Mary, she would have remained with Elizabeth until Jesus was born, not returned to her family after the first trimester, which is just about the time that her pregnancy was visible and obvious.
So we these misconceptions clarified, we can put Mary’s example within an even deeper context and more fully relate to her experience. We can imagine living in a faith-filled family who raises their child in strict accordance of God’s word. The extended family members may not understand, and certainly their community will not, so Mary, Anne and Joachim, and Joseph face extreme scandal as well as possible action from Jewish authorities. But they faced this together steep in conversation with God, providing a model for today’s family.
Although sometimes scriptural interpretations are flavored with modern-day eye, overall this book will be more than just a quick read for a young mother (or new bride, or teen aspiring to overcome the challenges of American culture, or single parent losing her mind). It is a heartwarming reflection with many examples that open up conversation with God. As an experienced psychotherapist, the author’s examples are spot on and easy to relate to. We do not need to have had the same experiences to empathize, reflect, and pursue meaning; we see it around us in everyday life. As such, a reflective look upon these examples can help one overcome an impasse in their own relationship with God and also open the reader up to self-knowledge as Hi
I received an early Christmas present today with the publication of my seasonal story, THE LOST SHEPHERD BOY, in My Light magazine. I wanted to share the story with you as well. Jack Foster, an amazing illustrator who I know through Guardian Angel Publishing, has created a wonderful illustration for the story. He captures perfectly the excited face of young Tomas discovering an unexpected Christmas treat, while his mischievous kitty, Neto, looks on.
“Pope Benedict is 78 years of age. Father O’Collins, do you think he’ll resign at 80?” “Brian,” I said, “give him a chance. He hasn’t even started yet.” It was the afternoon of 19 April 2005, and I was high above St Peter’s Square standing on the BBC World TV platform with Brian Hanrahan. The senior cardinal deacon had just announced from the balcony of St Peter’s to a hundred thousand people gathered in the square: “Habemus Papam.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been elected pope.
Less than an hour earlier, white smoke pouring from a chimney poking up from the Sistine Chapel let the world know that the cardinal electors had chosen a successor to Pope John Paul II. The bells of Rome were supposed to ring out the news at once. But it took a quarter of an hour for them to chime in. When Hanrahan asked me why the bells hadn’t come in on cue, I pointed the finger at local inefficiency: “We’re in Italy, Brian.”
I was wrong. The keys to the telephone that should have let someone contact the bellringers were in the pocket of the dean of the college of cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger. He had gone into a change room to put on his white papal attire, and didn’t hand over the keys until he came out dressed as pope.
One of the oldest cardinals ever to be elected pope, after less than eight years in office Benedict XVI has now bravely decided to retire or, to use the “correct” word, abdicate. His declining health has made him surrender his role as Bishop of Rome, successor of St Peter, and visible head of the Catholic Christendom. He no longer has the stamina to give the Church the leadership it deserves and needs.
Years ago an Irish lady, after watching Benedict’s predecessor in action, said to me: “He popes well.” You didn’t need to be a specialized Vatican watcher to notice how John Paul II and Benedict “poped” very differently.
A charismatic, photogenic, and media-savvy leader, John Paul II proved a global, political figure who did as much as anyone to end European Communism. He more or less died on camera, with thousands of young people holding candles as they prayed and wept for their papal friend dying in his dimly lit apartment above St Peter’s Square.
Now Benedict’s papacy ends very differently. He will not be laid out for several million people to file past his open coffin. His fisherman’s ring will not be ceremoniously broken. There will be no official nine days of mourning or funeral service attended by world leaders and followed on television or radio by several billion people. He will not be lifted high above the crowd like a Viking king, as his coffin is carried for burial into the Basilica of St Peter’s. The first pope to use a pacemaker will quietly walk off the world stage.
In my latest book, an introduction to Catholicism, I naturally included a (smiling) picture of Pope Benedict. But he pales in comparison with the photos of John Paul II anointing and blessing the sick on a 1982 visit to the UK; meeting the Dalai Lama before going to pray for world peace in Assisi; in a prison cell visiting Mehmet Ali Agca, who had tried to assassinate him in May 1981; and hugging Mother Teresa of Calcutta after visiting one of her homes for the destitute and dying.
Yet the bibliography of that introduction contains no book written by John Paul II either before or after he became pope. But it does contain the enduring classic by Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (originally published 1967). Both as pope and earlier, it was through the force of his ideas rather than the force of his personality that Benedict XVI exercised his leadership.
Catholics and other Christians around the world hope now for a forward-looking pope who can offer fresh leadership and deal quickly with some crying needs like the ordination of married men and the return to the local churches of the decision-making that some Vatican offices have arrogated to themselves.
When he speaks at midday from his apartment to the people gathered in St Peter’s Square on 24 February, the last Sunday before his resignation kicks in, Pope Benedict will be making his final public appearance before the people of Rome. A vast crowd will have streamed in from the city and suburbs to thank him with their thunderous applause. They cherished the clear, straightforward language of his sermons and homilies, and admire him for what will prove the defining moment of his papacy—his courageous decision to resign and pass the baton to a much younger person.
Gerald O’Collins received his Ph.D. in 1968 at the University of Cambridge, where he was a research fellow at Pembroke College. From 1973-2006, he taught at the Gregorian University (Rome) where he was also dean of the theology faculty (1985-91). Alone or with others, he has published fifty books, including Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction and The Second Vatican Council on Other Religions. As well as receiving over the years numerous honorary doctorates and other awards, in 2006 he was created a Companion of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC), the highest civil honour granted through the Australian government. Currently he is a research professor of theology at St Mary’s University College,Twickenham (UK).
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Image Credits: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition By Tadeusz Górny, public domain via Wikimedia Commons; Church of the Carmine, Martina Franca, Apulia, Italy. Statues of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II By Tango7174, creative commons licence via Wikimedia Commons
On Sunday, 29 March 1739, two young men, aspiring authors and student friends from Eton College and Cambridge, departed Dover for the Continent. The twenty-two year old Horace Walpole, 4th earl of Orford (1717–1797), was setting out on his turn at the Grand Tour. Accompanying him on the journey, which would take them through France to Italy, was Thomas Gray (1716–1771), future author of the “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”. The pair stayed abroad until September 1741, when an argument saw Gray return to England alone.
Travelling through Catholic domains, they would witness at arms-length one of the longest transfers of papal power in history, only four days shorter than the Interregnum, later imposed by the Napoleonic French, between the expulsion from the Papal States of Pius VI (who died 1799) and the election of Pius VII (14 March 1800). The on-going power struggle between the papacy and Catholic rulers of Europe, particularly with France, Spain and Portugal, had reached new levels of intensity — the latter two objecting in particular to unwelcome Jesuit interference in their treatment (read, “mistreatment”) of native populations in their overseas empires. The issue was still critical twenty years later, when Voltaire, under the pseudonym M. Demand, wrote to the Journal encyclopédique (1 April 1759), in the guise of identifying the real author of Candide, offering in partial evidence reports from the confrontations between Jesuits and colonial officials over their dealings with native populations in Paraguay.
The correspondence and journals of Gray and Walpole chart their travels, visits and discoveries across France and into Italy. The two young English travellers arrived in Florence on 16 December 1739, after a two days’ journey from Bologna across the Apennines. It was only two months before the ancient drama of papal passing and election would attract the attention of the world. Gray reported this news, when it came, to his friend Dr Thomas Wharton, writing on Saturday, 12 March 1740:
I conclude you will write to me; won’t you? oh! yes, when you know, that in a week I set out for Rome, & that the Pope is dead, & that I shall be (I should say, God willing; & if nothing extraordinary intervene; & if I’m alive, & well; & in all human probability) at the Coronation of a new one.
Clement XII (Papa Clemens duodecimus, born Lorenzo Corsini) had been pope from his election on 12 July 1730. He was the oldest person to become pope until Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. Clement died on 6 February 1740, and was eventually succeeded by Benedict XIV (Papa Benedictus quartus decimus, born Pròspero Lorenzo Lambertini), who was elected six months later on 17 August 1740. In a well-known anecdote of the election, Benedict is reported to have said to the cardinals: “If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldrovandi; an honest man, me” (M. J. Walsh, Pocket Dictionary of Popes, London: Burns & Oates, 2006) — though as we will see from a contemporary report below, this is a rather colourless translation of the original.
The Pope is at last dead, and we are to set out for Rome on Monday next. The Conclave is still sitting there, and likely to continue so some time longer, as the two French Cardinals are but just arrived, and the German ones are still expected. It agrees mighty ill with those that remain inclosed: Ottoboni is already dead of an apoplexy; Altieri and several others are said to be dying, or very bad: Yet it is not expected to break up till after Easter. We shall lie at Sienna the first night, spend a day there, and in two more get to Rome. One begins to see in this country the first promises of an Italian spring, clear unclouded skies, and warm suns, such as are not often felt in England; yet, for your sake, I hope at present you have your proportion of them, and that all your frosts, and snows, and short-breaths are, by this time, utterly vanished. I have nothing new or particular to inform you of; and, if you see things at home go on much in their old course, you must not imagine them more various abroad. The diversions of a Florentine Lent are composed of a sermon in the morning, full of hell and the devil; a dinner at noon, full of fish and meager diet; and, in the evening, what is called a Conversazione, a sort of aſsembly at the principal people’s houses, full of I cannot tell what: Besides this, there is twice a week a very grand concert.
St. Peter’s I saw the day after we arrived, and was struck dumb with wonder. I there saw the Cardinal d’Auvergne, one of the French ones, who, upon coming off his journey, immediately repaired hither to offer up his vows at the high altar, and went directly into the Conclave; the doors of which we saw opened to him, and all the other immured Cardinals came thither to receive him. Upon his entrance they were closed again directly. It is supposed they will not come to an agreement about a Pope till after Easter, though the confinement is very disagreeable.”
Boileau’s Discord dwelt in a College of Monks. At present the Lady is in the Conclave. Cardinal Corsini has been interrogated about certain Millions of Crowns that are absent from the Apostolic Chamber; He refuses giving Account, but to a Pope: However he has set several Arithmeticians to work, to compose Summs, & flourish out Expenses, which probably never existed. Cardinal Cibo pretends to have a Banker at Genoa, who will prove that he has received three Millions on the Part of the Eminent Corsini. This Cibo is a madman, but set on by others. He had formerly some great office in the government, from whence they are generally rais’d to the Cardinalate. After a time, not being promoted as he expected, he resign’d his Post, and retir’d to a Mountain where He built a most magnificient Hermitage. There He inhabited for two years, grew tir’d, came back and received the Hat.
Other feuds have been between Card. Portia and the Faction of Benedict the Thirteenth, by whom He was made Cardinal. About a month ago, he was within three Votes of being Pope. he did not apply to any Party, but went gleaning privately from all & of a sudden burst out with a Number; but too soon, & that threw Him quite out. Having been since left out of their Meetings, he ask’d one of the Benedictine Cardinals the reason; who replied, that he never had been their Friend, & never should be of their assemblies; & did not even hesitate to call him Apostate. This flung Portia into such a Rage that He spit blood, & instantly left the Conclave with all his Baggage. But the great Cause of their Antipathy to Him, was His having been one of the Four, that voted for putting Coscia to Death; Who now regains his Interest, & may prove somewhat disagreable to his Enemies; Whose Honesty is not abundantly heavier than His Own. He met Corsini t’other Day, & told Him, He heard His Eminence had a mind to his Cell: Corsini answer’d He was very well contented with that He had. Oh, says Coscia, I don’t mean here in the Conclave; but in the Castle St. Angelo.
With all these Animosities, One is near having a Pope. Card. Gotti, an Old, inoffensive Dominican, without any Relations, wanted yesterday but two voices; & is still most likely to succeed. Card. Altieri has been sent for from Albano, whither he was retir’d upon account of his Brother’s Death, & his own Illness; & where He was to stay till the Election drew nigh. There! there’s a sufficient Competency of Conclave News, I think. We have miserable Weather for the Season; Coud You think I was writing to You by my fireside at Rome in the middle of May? the Common People say tis occasion’d by the Pope’s Soul, which cannot find Rest.
The Conclave we left in greater uncertainty than ever; the more than ordinary liberty they enjoy there, and the unusual coolneſs of the season, makes the confinement leſs disagreeable to them than common, and, consequently, maintains them in their irresolution. There have been very high words, one or two (it is said) have come even to blows; two more are dead within this last month, Cenci and Portia; the latter died distracted; and we left another (Altieri) at the extremity: Yet nobody dreams of an election till the latter end of September. All this gives great scandal to all good catholics, and everybody talks very freely on the subject.
The day before yesterday arrived the news of a Pope; and I have the mortification of being within four days journey of Rome, and not seeing his coronation, the heats being violent, and the infectious air now at its height. We had an instance, the other day, that it is not only fancy. Two country fellows, strong men, and used to the country about Rome, having occasion to come from thence hither, and travelling on foot, as common with them, one died suddenly on the road; the other got hither, but extremely weak, and in a manner stupid; he was carried to the hospital, but died in two days. So, between fear and lazineſs, we remain here, and must be satisfied with the accounts other people give us of the matter. The new Pope is called Benedict XIV. being created Cardinal by Benedict XIII. the last Pope but one. His name is Lambertini, a noble Bolognese, and Archbishop of that city. When I was first there, I remember to have seen him two or three times; he is a short, fat man, about sixty-five years of age, of a hearty, merry countenance, and likely to live some years. He bears a good character for generosity, affability, and other virtues; and, they say, wants neither knowledge nor capacity. The worst side of him is, that he has a nephew or two; besides a certain young favourite, called Melara, who is said to have had, for some time, the arbitrary disposal of his purse and family. He is reported to have made a little speech to the Cardinals in the Conclave, while they were undetermined about an election, as follows: ‘Most eminent Lords, here are three Bolognese of different characters, but all equally proper for the Popedom. If it be your pleasures, to pitch upon a Saint, there is Cardinal Gotti; if upon a Politician, there is Aldrovandi; if upon a Booby, here am I.’ The Italian is much more expreſsive, and, indeed, not to be translated; wherefore, if you meet with any body that understands it, you may show them what he said in the language he spoke it. ‘Eminſsimi. Sigri. Ci siamo tré, diversi sì, mà tutti idonei al Papato. Si vi piace un Santo, c’ è l’Gotti; se volete una testa scaltra, e Politica, c’ è l’Aldrovandé;c se un Coglione, eccomi!’ Cardinal Coscia is restored to his liberty, and, it is said, will be to all his benefices. Corsini (the late Pope’s nephew) as he has had no hand in this election, it is hoped, will be called to account for all his villanous practices.”
Dr. Robert V. McNamee is the Director of the Electronic Enlightenment Project, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.
Electronic Enlightenment is a scholarly research project of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, and is available exclusively from Oxford University Press. It is the most wide-ranging online collection of edited correspondence of the early modern period, linking people across Europe, the Americas, and Asia from the early 17th to the mid-19th century — reconstructing one of the world’s great historical “conversations”.
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Subscribe to only religion articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS. Image Credit: (1) Print Collection portrait file, Thomas Gray, Portraits. Source NYPL Digital Gallery
(2) Print Collection portrait file, B, Pope Benedict XIV. Source NYPL Digital Gallery