Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Quiz: Scripture or Shakespeare?

April 29, 2016

William Shakespeare Portrait     This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Arguably, behind the King James Bible, no English literature has been as celebrated as Shakespeare’s works. But can you tell the two apart? Which of these passages are verses from the Bible and which are quotes drawn from Shakespeare’s plays? (Highlight to reveal the answers.)

  1. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
    ● Archangel Raphael in Tobit 5:23
    ● Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream ◄◄◄
  2. “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition…”
    ● Judas Maccabeus in 1st Maccabees 4:19
    ● King Henry in King Henry V ◄◄◄
  3. “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
    ● Psalm 119:103 ◄◄◄
    ● Juliet in Romeo and Juliet
  4. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
    ● King Solomon in Proverbs 16:18 ◄◄◄
    ● Brutus in Julius Caesar
  5. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
    ● King Solomon in Proverbs 22:6 ◄◄◄
    ● Lady Macbeth in Macbeth
  6. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend…”
    ● King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 6:13
    ● Lord Polonius in Hamlet ◄◄◄
  7. “…Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things…”
    ● Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:23 ◄◄◄
    ● King Lear in King Lear
  8. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
    ● Jesus Christ in Mark 8:36 ◄◄◄
    ● Antonio in The Merchant of Venice
  9. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    ● St. Stephen in Acts of the Apostles 6:16
    ● Prince Hamlet in Hamlet ◄◄◄
  10. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…”
    ● St. Paul in 1st Corinthians 13:4 ◄◄◄
    ● Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing
  11. “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, and for thy maintenance commits his body…”
    ● St. Paul in Ephesians 5:34
    ● Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew ◄◄◄

So how did you do? Leave a comment and, as it is written somewhere“Do the part of an honest man in it.”

Time Travel & God’s Prophesies

March 3, 2016

Many science-fiction stories have explored the idea of traveling through time and changing the past. For example, 1980’s “The Final Countdown” imagined a modern-day U.S. aircraft carrier being transported back to 1941 and facing the choice of either thwarting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or allowing history to play out unchanged. In the early 1990’s, the TV time traveler Dr. Sam Beckett would “Quantum Leap” into other people’s lives, “striving to put right what once went wrong.” Just last fall, the internet hotly-debated the morality of going back in time to kill Adolf Hitler when he was still too young to have chosen or have committed any crimes.

ITardiss it possible to go back in history and change the past? There’s good reason to think that it is logically impossible. Here is why: Imagine traveling back in time and, by some tragic accident, killing your grandparent as a child. This would mean that one of your parents would have never been born… so you would have never been born… which raises the question: who killed your grandparent? Or imagine a time traveler’s intended history-changing mission succeeding, such as stopping JFK’s assassination. If so, then there is no cause for the time traveler to have ever been sent back from the future at all. This sort of logical contradiction is called a paradox.

Most serious time travel stories avoid this paradox problem using the premise that the past can be visited but never truly altered. Time travelers simply fulfill the role they have always played in those past events. Any and all attempts to avert some disaster in history will either prove useless or actually contribute to bringing about the calamity.

Time travel is merely fantasy, but the prophesies of God, which have correctly foretold future events, are very real. Consider, for instance, these passages from the 22nd Psalm written by King David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit some 1,000 years before the coming of Christ:

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? … All who see me mock me… Like water my life drains away; all my bones are disjointed. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me. As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue cleaves to my palate… They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. … I will live for the Lord…”

This psalm is clearly fulfilled in Christ’s sufferings on the cross; the onlookers’ gloating mockery, the gambling over his garments, his dehydration and laboring heart, wounds cutting to his bones. What other form of torture is there that pierces the hands and feet? Jesus spoke this psalm’s opening words even while sharing the psalm’s closing hope in a life restored. These events were accurately described a millennium before they occurred.

God prophesying future events raises questions about human freewill. If Jesus’ crucifixion could be long foretold then what responsibility could Judas, Caiaphas, or Pontius Pilate possibly bear for their roles in the Passion? The answer is that Eternal God, from his vantage point outside of time, can behold all of history, including the free choices that each of us make. C.S. Lewis reconciles God’s knowledge and our freedom in these passages from his book “Mere Christianity”:

“…God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way— because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him.”

God’s knowledge of our free choices does not make our choices any less free. As St. Augustine once noted, “Just as you do not compel past events to happen by your memory of them, so God does not compel events of the future to take place by his knowledge of them.” God’s divine knowledge does not strip us of human freewill, but it does permit him to communicate perfect prophesies to his people concerning events further along our timeline. Such prophesies concern not only the Messiah’s life, but our times and future as well.

Jesus Christ has already victoriously prevailed. His Second Coming in glory is foretold and assured, and his people’s final victory over sin and death is prophesized and certain. This is the connection between time travel stories and the prophesies of God: like the futility of time travelers attempting to avert some historic disaster, any and all attempts to prevent the ultimate triumph of Christ will either prove useless or actually contribute to bringing about the coming of his Kingdom. The enemies of Jesus schemed to destroy him and his movement, but their very plotting led to the fulfillment of his mission and the birth of the Church. This knowledge is a cause for Christian endurance and joy, even amidst our times of struggle. We know that we are free to serve a faithful role in helping bring about the great, holy, happy ending of history.

Jesus is Risen, Not Undead

February 26, 2016

All the classics of horror are Catholicism twisted. Vampires are the shadow opposite of Jesus in the Eucharist; they prey on the blood of others to possess eternal life apart from God. Depictions of Frankenstein are distortions of the Mystical Body of Christ, with the dead parts of many monstrously combined as one. And what are zombie stories but corruptions of the Resurrection? A new friend of mine teaches a faith formation class with a 5th grader who periodically pipes up saying, “Jesus was a zombie.” So, this week, she taught them about how Jesus is different from zombies.

Zombies are typically said to be created by a virus or a magic spell, but Jesus lives by the power of God. Zombies lose their memory and intellects, but the risen Jesus knows his friends and converses with them. The bodies of zombies decay and they can be “killed,” but the risen Jesus is free from corruption and can die no more. Zombies “desire” to kill people, but Jesus would give them life. (What other differences can you find with your family?)

After seeing The Passion of the Christ in 2004, I heard a fellow seminarian say that the movie ending with Jesus walking from the tomb on Easter morning frustrated him—he want to see what happened next, he wanted the story to continue. Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of seeing a new film which tells that story: Risen. In it, a Roman soldier named Clavius is tasked by Governor Pontius Pilate to find the body of Jesus the Nazarene and end rumors of his resurrection. Only about a dozen people were in the theater on opening night, so if you want to enjoy this highly-recommended film on the big screen you should make a point to see it soon.

 

The Screwtape Letters, Illustrated

November 11, 2015

I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence
which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.

—C.S.  Lewis, in his preface to The Screwtape Letters
(A great book you should certainly read.)

 

 

 

Four Cheeks Turned — 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 22, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

When attacked, our natural response is “fight or flight,” but Jesus suggests a  supernatural response: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Since the Jews regarded the left hand as unclean, they would reflexively strike with the right hand. If the right cheek were hit, then one had been backhanded with contempt. Responding by turning the other cheek neither attacks not retreats, but insists on being regarded as an equal, whom one must strike (if at all) with an open hand. Jesus wants us to stand our ground in the face of injustice, assertively but lovingly, in hopes that the offender will reconsider his ways. Jesus modeled this response when he was struck during his trial before Annas:

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:19-24)

Another saintly example was shown by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Though reports vary, Mother Teresa was once begging bread from a baker for her orphanage. When the baker responded by spitting into her hand, she replied to effect, ‘I will keep this for me, but please give something for my children.’

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, a bishop welcomes an impoverished convict to join his table and sleep at his home. However, that night, Jean Valjean steals his host’s silverware and goes away. The police catch him and take him to the bishop. Looking at Jean Valjean, the good bishop exclaims, “Ah! here you are! I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?” Jean Valjean opens his eyes wide and stares at the venerable Bishop “with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.” The bishop’s turn of the cheek spares the thief’s freedom and saves his soul.

And finally, a true story from a modern marriage: A woman’s husband had a terrible temper and every time it flared she would say, “That’s just like you to lose your temper!” But then, following a stroke of insight, she began responding differently. The next time he began to fly of the handle she told him, “That’s not like you to lose your temper,” and he nearly fell out of his chair. Even the kids looked at her funny, but she stuck with her new resolution. Months later, while at a restaurant together, he became irritated by the slow service. He started to fume about it, but then he suddenly stopped, turned to her, and said, “That’s not like me to lose my temper, is it?” This time, it is said, she nearly fell on the floor.

Was it true the first time the woman declared that it was not like her husband to lose his temper? The claim did not match his previous behavior, but perhaps he changed because she revealed to him that his uncontrolled anger was quite unlike the father, husband, and Christian man he truly and deeply wanted to be. This is the sort of realization and conversion we are to hope for in turning the other cheek.

Plus, a fifth story: “If a teen mugs you for your wallet…

The Giving Tree — Tuesday, 8th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

March 1, 2011

Do you remember The Giving Tree, that very green childrens book by Shel Silverstein? It’s a story about a boy and the tree that loved him. When he is a boy, the tree gives him her leaves to play with and her apples to eat. However, when the boy becomes a young man he comes asking for money, so that he can buy things and have fun. Since money doesn’t grow on trees, she gives him her apples for him to sell. Time passes, and he comes back, this time asking for a house. The tree lets him cut off her branches so that he may build one. Later, much later, the boy returns again, but he is now a much older and sadder man.”I want a boat that will take me far away from here,” he says. “Can you give me a boat?” The tree offers her trunk and he takes it. He fashions a boat, and sails far away. After a long time, the boy returns, now a very tried and very old man. The tree is now just an old stump. He has taken everything, but she still gives. The story closes with these words: “‘Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’ And the boy did. And the tree was happy.”

Now if The Giving Tree has always been one of your favorite books, that’s ok. If it has a special place in your heart, don’t let me or anybody take that from you. But, as for me, this book has always bothered the heck out of me. Even when I was a kid, the story filled me with indignation. Do you know what I’m taking about?

It’s the boy! The selfish, ungrateful boy, who never gives anything back. He receives everything the tree has to give and he never says, “Thank you.” He takes everything she has to give, uses all of it up on himself, and he never says, “I’m sorry.” This book would have been so much better if he just said “thank you” at the end. Does this kid’s behavior in the story of The Giving Tree bother you like it bothers me? If so, then you and I should make sure that we’re not doing the same in our own lives.

So who would be the “giving tree” we take for granted in our lives? Our moms and dads come first to mind. They’ve given us life, food, shelter, clothing, and love our entire lives. What have we given back to them? They probably don’t need your material support right now, but they would appreciate signs of your love. (It’s probably no coincidence that Shel Silverstein dedicated The Giving Tree to his own mom.) But there is another “Giving Tree” we can take for granted, who is even greater and more generous than our parents. I speak of God, and of Jesus Christ, “from whom all good things come.” What should we do for our parents and for God? We should honor them with our words. We should obey them in our actions. We should be grateful for everything and show it.

For God, we do this by way of sacrifices. (This Eucharist is a thanksgiving sacrifice. The name itself means thanksgiving in Greek.) Yet our sacrifice is not merely what happens here at church, but the offering of our whole lives. Those who make no sacrifices for God in their daily lives bring nothing to His altar. What do we have to offer Him today? What will we have to offer him tomorrow?

Jesus Christ is The Giving Tree. At this sacrifice, let us say to Him, “I’m sorry, for misusing your gifts.” Let us say, “Thank you, for your generosity to us.” And let us say, “I love you,” because that will make Him happy.

Holy Reading — Wednesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 11, 2010

If a saint, like St. Scholastica or St. Benedict, were coming to speak at our parish tonight, would you come out to listen to what they had to say? The queen of Sheba (thought to be present day Ethiopia) traveled hundreds of miles just to hear the wisdom of King Solomon. What would you be willing to offer in time and treasure to listen to the wisdom of a saint today? In truth, we can encounter their wisdom today and at fraction of the queen’s effort.

The saints of both modern times and centuries long past wrote their wisdom in books, which are easily assessable for us today. Jesus observes that food which comes from outside and passes through us cannot defile. The saints’ holy books, however, can sanctify us, if we hold on to their words with a receptive heart.

As it is written: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Spiritual reading is important for the growth of the Christian disciple, so commit yourself to beginning some holy reading that interests you.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

September 20, 2009

Somewhere, in an underground lair, a secret hideout, or a den of iniquity, we find a criminal mastermind, or a mad scientist, scheming a nefarious plot. “Mah-ha-ha-ha,” the villain manically laughs. “Once I unleash my evil plan, evil will conquer the world.”

This is the way of villains as we often find them in comic books. Comic book bad guys love doing evil for evil’s sake. But we should realize that this isn’t why people do bad things in our world. In the real world, nobody does evil for evils sake. Every single person acts to achieve some real or perceived good. Sinners simply go about the pursuit of happiness in wrong ways. Bad people are not bad because they’re trying to do bad things. Unrepentant sinners actually feel justified in what they do.

For instance, in Jesus’ day, influential people said, “That Jesus from Nazareth so obnoxious. Let’s have him condemned and see how he holds up then.  If he’s really holier-than-thou, a son of God, then God will come to his rescue—otherwise he gets what he deserves.” People still rationalize like this today. It’s easy to come up all sorts of reasons for doing bad things rather than what is right:

“Lying? What I said isn’t technically untrue. Besides, it’s only a little white lie.”

“Angry? Is it any wonder that I get so angry when I have to deal with stuff this.”

“Stealing? The way I see it, they make plenty of money, and I deserve more than what they pay me.”

Activities outside of marriage?  “What’s the big deal? It’s all consensual, and nobody’s getting hurt. Besides, we love each other.”

It’s not only “bad people” who say things like this. Each of us fall into embracing lies like these sometimes. But what is the antidote for rationalizing aside our sins? The cure for this is a prayer life with Jesus Christ.

When the apostles came face to face with Jesus inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent, for they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Coming into Jesus’ presence, who is the embodiment of Truth, the reality of what they had been doing  became clear for them. Their false illusions completely faded away, like the smoke from a blown out candle.

We should spend time in conversational prayer with Jesus Christ every day, allowing Him to form us, build us up, and console us. When you receive the encouragement, confidence, and consolation which Christ is eager to give you in prayer, when He acknowledges you as His own brother or sister, as His good friend, as a favored child of His Father, fears dissolve and you live in peace—a peace in which cleverly-devised excuses are no longer sought for and no longer necessary.

August 6 – The Transfiguration

August 17, 2009

Today, Peter, James and John see Jesus in a new light. The light they see does not shine on their teacher from another source. This light originates from within the person of Jesus Himself. At the Transfiguration, these apostles come closer to realizing Jesus’ full glory and dignity; that He is more than a teacher, more than a miracle worker, and more than the messiah. He is divine, the Son of the Ancient One.

We are human, not divine, but Christ wants to divinize us. He wants to make us more like God. Coming to appreciate who Jesus really was changed how the apostles related to Him. In the same way, knowing that everyone you meet will someday be transformed should influence how you relate to them.

My closing words come from C.S. Lewis and his book, The Weight of Glory:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”