Thursday, July 30, 2009

Remember the Equalizer?

What a great show that was, some 25 years ago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who Is Mary Magdalene?

I know I've done these permutations before, but I can't find where I mislaid them. No matter; it's worth doing them again.

The Gospel appointed for St. Mary Magdalene's Day (July 22) is St. Luke 7:36-50. She is not named there, but rather assumed to be the woman "who was a sinner" who crashed the party at Simon's house as Jesus was reclining there. She stood behind him, she was weeping, she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with precious ointment. Simon the Pharisee grumbled about this, and Jesus, after rebuking him, blessed the woman.

This account corresponds with St. Matthew 26:6-13 and St. Mark 14:23-9, except that in those accounts the flask is broken and the ointment poured over Jesus' head, not his feet; and in Matthew it was "the disciples" who were indignant, while in Mark it is "some" who were indignant. Mark and Matthew identify Simon as "the leper" whereas he is only called a Pharisee in Luke. None of the three synoptic accounts mentions the woman's name.

Then there is the parallel in St. John 12:1-8, in which "Mary" is named, she anoints Jesus' feet, and wipes them with her hair. And it is specifically Judas who complains, not Simon.

In addition, there is the account in St. John 8:1-11 of the woman caught in adultery, who is unnamed.

In the East, this woman, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany are usually treated as three different women, but not as much in the West. St. Gregory the Great held that they were one and the same: Mary Magdalene is Mary sister of Martha, the woman caught in adultery. Yet St. Ambrose and others left the question unanswered, and the new Roman calendar has capitulated, adopting the Eastern tradition.

But I'm not so sure. I think we're talking about one woman here. Admittedly I am a bit of a Gregoriphile, but that's not why I think his view has merit. Here's my reasoning.

In the first place, the anointing accounts are pretty clearly a match. Enough of the details correspond to leave us with little doubt as to the unlikelihood that two separate such anointings took place, at two feasts held by two Simons where twice a weeping woman's hair wiped Jesus' feet and twice Jesus rebuked her scorners. Too many coincidences would obtain were these separate accounts. And in one of them, the woman is identified as Mary of Bethany.

Moreover, the Lucan account indicates that it was widely known just who this woman was, "a sinner." As in, someone who would also fit the characterization of one having had seven demons, namely Mary Magdalene. It all matches up rather nicely.

St. Mary Magdalene is a central figure in the Gospels. Mary is also an enigmatic figure, likely intentionally so. Shortly after the Lucan account of the unnamed woman with the alabaster box there comes a specific reference to Mary, in the next chapter, as one "out of whom went seven devils." This is part of what leads people to reject the notion that she is the same woman (why would not the evangelist tell us her name in the anointing account, if he did so in the next one?). But perhaps he had reason for not doing so, even as later on in the same chapter he refers to the truths of the Gospel as "mysteries of the kingdom of God."

In addition, the very same pattern can be traced in St. John's Gospel. In St. John 8 the woman caught in adultery is unnamed, but in the twelfth chapter Mary is named as one anointing Jesus' feet.

Perhaps by this kind of reporting the Gospels are relating this to us, that buried in their mysteries we may find Mary, the first witness of the resurrection, who announces it to the twelve, and is remembered as a pure and holy saint, in spite of her many sins. The altar is draped in white on her day. She is one who "became" a virgin. She was filthy, she is clean. She was sinful, she is holy. The great power and result of the forgiveness of sins is manifested nowhere more clearly than in this saint.

That's my view, at any rate.

Monday, July 27, 2009

In the midst of life

. . . we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased."

So run the words of the graveside liturgy, which have always struck me as a concise summation of life on earth: In the midst of life we are in death. We run from highlight to highlight, occasionally smiling and laughing when we can, when we see children and grandchildren grow, when we spend time with friends, when we enjoy a good meal or a good weekend, when we accomplish something good in our vocations, when we celebrate festive occasions, even when we enjoy life's little pleasures (hazelnut coffee, cut crystal glassware, etc.). But between those highlights and scattered about there are troubles, pains, heartaches, tragedies, and death. Always death, always lurking. In the midst of life we are in death.

We like to ignore this little fact, for obvious reasons, and most of us can usually do so without too much difficulty, most of the time.

But sometimes it corners us and we can't escape: a tragic accident, a dread disease, a family crisis.

And at those times, when the laughter ceases, and the heart aches, we find that the presence of loved ones often helps, but ultimately nothing provides succor but the presence of the Almighty, as he condescends to embrace us with his mercy in the blood and resurrection of Christ.

Now can someone tell me why, why in the world, why on God's green earth, would anyone prefer gimmicks and folderol in their church? I mean, how does that help?

Of course I know the answer, and it's a miserable one: those things are just more little diversions. The little funnies, the cute stories, the jokes and puns, all attempts to get us to chuckle and be at ease. They help in that they would have us continue to ignore rather than to overcome those darknesses with which life is beset. And for many people, much of the time, that can work, just as in life.

But that is not why Christ came. In the world you have tribulation. Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

And so, finally, that is why such diversions do not belong in church.

Listen, I did not come to your church to have my troubled heart diverted for an hour. Had I wanted that I could have gone to the movies or read a book; such devices do the trick quite well. I want my heart succored, really helped. I need comfort, and though I know I am not worthy to be comforted, I do know that this is the reason Christ came and redeemed me: to comfort me and promise me eternal victory and gladness. And this is the reason he has built his Church, too: to embrace me and fill me with his life and salvation, and really and truly to drive away death and darkness forever.

On the one hand I do appreciate life's little diversions, and the opportunities I have to chuckle and relax. It's just that I don't want them in church. There I want what Christ came to give me, his eternal promises and his blessed Sacraments.

Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Vacation

I'll be out of the blogosphere for a couple weeks, at least as far as you know. In MacArthurian style, I shall return.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I Knew It

I guess the EPA is not quite as objective as some would have you believe, when it comes to global warming. Which, I might add, also goes for that panel of scientists who fatuously declared a few years back that global warming was reality and that it was caused by man.

Now we're hearing of an EPA guy named Alan Carlin, who was being told to shut up, because he dared to question the findings and the 'settled' view that these things are incontrovertibly so. Whatever may be said about whether or not they are so, the fact that muzzles are being placed on officials who provide alternative views or suggestions indicates that the greens' entire stance was jaded in the first place.

Kudos to Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner for calling attention to this.

Of course, we knew it all along, didn't we.

And with every passing year, I'm becoming more convinced that much--most--of this environmentalism is really a false, Gaian religion.

Roof Project Nearing Completion

So I've been a bit dormant online lately, only because it's rather hard to blog when you're building a new roof for your porch. Whew, it's been tough work, especially in the heat, but now nearing completion, which makes me feel good.