“It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God”

Stuart-george-washington-constable-1797I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s remarkable George Washington: A Life, which makes a case that was once obvious: even with his flaws, George Washington was the greatest and most important man in our history.

He was more than a great man, however: he was a good man, and a man of deep Christian faith who was also remarkably tolerant, and clearly saw that America was a pluralistic nation that demanded new approaches to belief and tolerance.

Given the tenor of his times, Washington’s routine practice of attending religious services for all faiths–including Catholics and Jews–was a radical choice, and speaks to the importance the man placed on faith and freedom of worship.

His letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport shows him at his finest, saying

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

I’m trying to imagine any leader today putting his hand to Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. The outrage and cries of “Theocracy!” would be deafening.

We’re not giving thanks in some abstract way at Thanksgiving, or merely acknowledging squishy feelings of gratitude. We’re giving thanks to an Almighty God, who has made Himself known to us and continues to love and care for us.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and may God bless and guide our country in these dark and challenging times.

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

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Prayer Requests

Please remember the following in your prayers:

  • For A-, a child who was badly burned this week, that he may be given comfort from his pain and complete healing; and for his family, that they may be consoled in this difficult time.
  • For M-, that her doctors may find the cause of, and proper treatment for, a heart defect, and that she may get relief from her physical problems.
  • For J- and R-, as they each face a health crisis in their families, provide complete healing, strength, and freedom from anxiety.
  • For Nicholas Harriman, 14, and Nadia Harriman, 8, who were shot and killed this week, that they may know eternal life and love in the presence of God. For Alexander Harriman, 11, who was shot and is in critical condition; and for Jeaninne LePage, their mother, who shot the three children and herself, and is also in critical condition; as well as for the friends, family, and quiet community where this shocking act of violence took place. Give them all comfort, healing, and love.
  • For all special intentions and petitions.

We ask these things through Christ our Lord,

Amen

Church of Satan Angry That Satanist Murderers Are Called Satanists

 

Actual Satanist

Actual Satanist

The Church [sic] of Satan [sic] is sad and angry that a couple of Satanic murderers are being called Satanists.

They’re not real Satanist like us, they say. They’re “devil worshipers,” which is a different thing!

Why? Because!

Follow this one if you can. The Church of Satan, founded by a comical fraud named Howard Levey (“Anton LaVey”) in the 1960s, is the”true” Satanism because they say so.

Poseur

Poseur

Now, it doesn’t actually believe in Satan. In fact, it’s just bog-standard might-is-right hedonistic Objectivist nonsense dressed up in a Halloween costume to annoy the squares. It’s something mildly clever and alienated teenagers might cook up, which may be excusable in teenagers, but is less so in adults. It’s also completely atheistic, meaning, of course, that it’s not a “Church” at all.

But we’re supposed to believe that’s the “real” Satanism, while actual Satanism as understood for millennia–worship of the Adversary, demonolotry, devil worship–is the “fake” Satanism.

Here’s Peter Gilmore (“Magus” of the “Church” of “Satan”)

Ultimately, when the media promotes devil worshipping criminals as Satanists, then the many productive people who are our members—or those who have aligned themselves with our philosophy without joining—must work harder to rectify such misrepresentation and the consequent prejudice and bigotry they face when they “out” themselves as Satanists to their family, friends, and co-workers. Many decide not to be open about their affiliation, except to a few people who might be open to taking the time to learn the truth about Satanism’s life enhancing, atheist philosophy.

Let me get this straight: their idiot founder named his “philosophy” after the incarnate force of all evil, destruction, lies, and murder–a force worshiped by some and fought by others for a couple thousand years–and now claims that this is the only true Satanism, despite it not being Satanic at all.

I take Satanists like “Pazuzu Algarad” extremely seriously. I accept them at their word as worshipers of the devil, aka Satanists.

And as I’ve written before, Real Satanists Don’t Send Press Releases. And they certainly don’t give interviews to the Washington Post.

The Feast of St. Edmund

Wolf with the head of St. Edmund

Wolf with the head of St. Edmund

I only discovered A Clerk of Oxford this month, but it’s quickly become one of my favorite blogs. The blogger is a medievalist who writes long, fascinating posts highlighted by her excellent translations from Old English.

Today, for the Feast of St. Edmund, she offers generous selections from Ælfric’s Life of Edmund (10th Century), both in the original, so you get the sense of its beautiful alliteration, and then in modern English.

Here’s just a taste to whet your appetite. It has all the elements that make medieval hagiography so utterly fascinating. In this excerpt, the Saint’s head is recovered in a miraculous fashion:

‘Then there was a great wonder, that a wolf was send by the guidance of God to protect the head against other wild beasts by day and night. They went seeking and constantly crying out, as is common for those going through the woods, “Where are you now, friend?” And the head answered them, “Here, here, here!” And so it repeatedly called, answering them as often as any of them cried out, until they all came to it because of its calling. There lay the grey wolf which had guarded the head, and it had the head clasped between its two feet – greedy and hungry, and yet for God’s sake it dared not eat the head, but protected it against wild beasts. They marvelled at the guardianship of the wolf and carried the holy head home with them, thanking the Almighty for all his marvels, but the wolf followed with the head until they reached the town, just as if he were tame, and then went back again to the woods. Then the people of that region laid the head with the holy body, and buried him as best they could in such haste, and soon built a church over him.’

Do read the whole thing, and add her to your RSS feeds. You won’t regret it.

Mark Shea and I On The Radio: Tonight at 6pm EST

The Mighty Shea has a new radio show on Radio Maria, and he’s yakking with me tonight (November 19th) at 6:00 because all the best guests were busy or something.

We’ll be talking about death and ghosts in the Church, maybe some tech talk and some tarot debunking, and possibly recount that crazy summer we toured with Elvis as the guys who gave him his scarves and water while Charlie Hodge was on vacation.

Vincent Price, Joseph Schildkraut, and Boris Karloff photographed at the Fulton Theater in New York, June 3, 1942. Karloff was in Arsenic and Old Lace at the time, while Price was in Angel Street. Schildkraut was an Austrian actor then appearing in a play called Uncle Harry.

Gee, Thanks Oswald: On Distractions In Prayer


This inane quote from Oswald Chambers showed up in my Twitter feed:

Don’t say, “Oh, Lord, I suffer from wandering thoughts.” Don’t suffer from wandering thoughts.

Which is just so … useless. All I could think of was this:

Chambers rails against our “individual natural lives.” But these lives, flaws and all, are what we’re given to work with. We put them in God’s hands and offer them up, but to reject them or suggest they can merely be pushed aside like a bowl of cold oatmeal is absurd.

St. Teresa

St. Teresa

Scrupulously trying to deny the wandering thoughts that occur naturally in prayer in the surest route to failure. We need to glance at them, acknowledge them, perhaps even contemplate them to understand why they are distracting us, and then gently return our minds to the task at hand. Only the most spiritually advanced can ever really find their way into the Cloud of Unknowing, which means the rest of us need to work with what we’ve got. We strive towards mastery of our thoughts in prayer through awareness and discipline, not denial.

Man is embodied soul. Our bodies, our thoughts, our individuality: these are not an unfortunate side effect of creation and the fall, but an integral part of our being. Chambers writes that we need to be “delivered” from our individuality, but this is getting things the wrong way around. We conform ourselves to God, we don’t smash ourselves apart upon Him like waves broken and dissipated on rocks.

In A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation, Martin Laird puts it this way:

The practice is not to sit there trying to have no thoughts or only certain thoughts. As St. Teresa of Avila put it centuries ago, “by trying not to think, we hopelessly stimulate the imagination…. The harder you try not to think of anything, the more aroused your mind will become and you will think even more.” Nor do we push away thoughts in an attempt to generate a dull blankness. Instead we simply bring our attention back to our practice whenever we find that our attention has been stolen. The challenge lies in its simplicity. The practice of bringing the attention back time and again creates what is called a habitus or habit, an interior momentum that gradually excavates the present moment, revealing over time the stillness that is within us all like a buried treasure.

St. Teresa also has this to say:

His Majesty wishes us to learn by ordinary means to understand ourselves and to recognize the share taken in these troubles by our wandering imagination, our nature, and the devil’s temptations, instead of laying all the blame on our souls.

And Brother Lawrence writes in the Practice of the Presence of God:

You are not the only one who is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving. But the will is mistress of all our faculties. She must recall our stray thoughts and carry them to God as their final end.

If the mind is not sufficiently controlled and disciplined at our first engaging in devotion, it contracts certain bad habits of wandering and dissipation. These are difficult to overcome. The mind can draw us, even against our will, to worldly things. I believe one remedy for this is to humbly confess our faults and beg God’s mercy and help.

I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer. Many words and long discourses are often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before God, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man’s gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lord. If your mind sometimes wanders and withdraws itself from Him, do not become upset. Trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to re-collect it. The will must bring it back in tranquillity. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you.

As Laird observes, we can learn from the way Jesus responded to the temptations of the Devil: with a short line of scripture. When distracted, a brief line from the Bible (I find the Jesus Prayer most effective) can short circuit the distraction and bring our thoughts back on track. The thing is not to deny the distraction–which is “Don’t think of a pink elephant” impossibility–but to cultivate techniques for coping with them when they occur.

Because they will occur, and just saying “don’t”–or “stop it!”–won’t change that.

Related:

The Anchoress: On Being Distracted While At Prayer

Five Catholic Things to Listen to on Spotify

Spotify has a pretty deep archive, but its poor tagging and search features make it difficult to burrow into the more obscure corners and find the weird stuff hidden below pop songs and other junk. Here are five things that may be of interest to Catholics.

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Pope John Paul II: Mass in English is not a whole mass, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with oddly mislabeled tracks suggesting this is side two and side one is missing.

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Alec Guinness Reads Spiritual and Religious Poetry and Prose has the Catholic convert reading from Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc and others in that magnificent voice.

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Ensemble Unicorn: The Black Madonna is an album from one of my favorite early music groups. This one is a collection of early 15th century pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat, and it’s the kind of alternately vigorous  and pious music I associate with medieval Catholicism.

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Fr. Benedict Groeschel & Simonetta: The Rosary is a Place alternates prayers and meditations by Fr. Benedict with songs by Simonetta. The songs aren’t to my taste, but your mileage may vary. You can create a playlist that leaves them out and just have Fr. Benedict’s portions.

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G.K. Chesterton: Four Father Brown Stories has “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” “The Blue Cross,” “The Resurrection of Fr. Brown,” and “The Honor of Israel Gow” read by Bill Wallis.

Here’s a bit of Ensemble Unicorn to get you  going.

Verbum 6 is Here

Verbum Bible Software (the Catholic version of Logos Bible Software) is the backbone of my research and writing on religion. It allows me to drill into massive amounts of data with ease. Scripture, original language resources, church documents, history, papal writings, theology, philosophy, commentaries, and, most important of all, a huge amount of patristic material is all part of my Verbum library. I can highlight, annotated, clip, export, compare, and do almost anything I need to do with text. I can’t imagine doing some of the work requires for my masters without it. Most recently, the ghost series drew heavily on Verbum.

Version 6 was just rolled out, and it adds some very nice new features. This video provides an overview, but some of the things added are

The Psalm Browser was the new feature that really caught my eye. It allows you sort psalms by type, author, and more using visual tools.

Ancient Literature Tools gather all ancient resources that refer or relate to a passage.

Timeline and Atlas: These tool allows you situation Bible books and events in a historical context, and locate them geographically.

Cultural Concepts is a search result that gather references to ancient cultural ideas (such as anointing or hospitality) found in scripture.

Bible Book Guides provide various kinds of introduction and background material for each book of the Bible.

Word Sense does a good job at distinguishing among various meanings of the same word.

Factbook functions like a heavily linked encyclopedia within Verbum, pulling up information, links, references, and resources for topics and individuals, such as “carpenter” or “St. Thomas Aquinas.”

Media resources have been expanded with some powerful search features and some nifty new items, such as aerial views of locations as they look in Bibles times, and as they look now.

There are more robust search and language tools, enhanced introductions to Greek and Hebrew, and much more in the update. I’m loving it so far, and plan to write about a couple of features in more depth.

You can buy or upgrade Verbum here, and see the full line of Logos/Verbum 6 tutorials here.

Debunking the Latest “Married Jesus” Hoax

When these stories start to burble up in my RSS feeds, I always swear I’m going to ignore them and wait for them to go away. Just paying attention to them makes people dumber.not_this_crap_again (3)

This one was an easy call, because the articles had the “tell” of pure BS right inside: the name “Simcha Jacobovici,” mostly famous for outlandish claims like the Talpiot Tomb theory, the forged James Ossuary, finding proof of the Exodus, and similar cringe-worthy nonsense. He’s about as credible as that guy who keep claiming to have the body of a bigfoot in his freezer, and I’m not even exaggerating.

Somehow, Jacobovici and his pet conspiracy-theory academic Barrie Wilson have managed to sucker the British Library into supporting his latest bid for attention and money, just in time for a book and media blitz to coincide with the holiday season. It serves everyone’s purpose, I guess:  they get coverage for their books, people remember that the British Library exists and is filled with genuine treasures, and the media gets eyeballs and the chance to stick a knife into Christianity, which they hate.

So What Is The Discovery?

That’s the hilarious part, because:

1)  There is no discovery! It’s an old and well-known pseudepigraphal text called “Joseph and Aseneth,” about which I’ve written from a theological perspective. They’re trying to hide this fact by referring to it as “The Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias Rhetor” (aka Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor) , but that’s simply the larger text in which the Syriac text of”Josepeh and Aseneth” (a late translation of an an earlier Greek text) tale is embedded.

2) Jesus and Mary are never mentioned in it!

The original is a fascinating story about the patriarch Joseph and his marriage to the Egyptian Aseneth, mentioned in passing in Genesis 41:45, and deals with her conversion from idolatry to monotheism.

The only way they can get headlines is by turning an allegorical, novelistic tale of a well-known patriarch into a discovery about the historical Jesus by replacing “Joseph” with “Jesus” and “Aseneth” with “Mary Magdalene.”

Why?

No reason, really, except a complete misunderstanding of early Biblical exegesis, particularly that practiced in Alexandria, which sought Christ in every Old Testament text and tried to draw out the Christological meaning from those texts.

But no, that’s not it! It’s “encoded,” you see, to hide the Real Truth That Will Destroy Christianity Forever No Seriously Guys For Reals This Time.

They see mention of the Lord and the incarnate Word in surrounding (not the main) text and the tale becomes, not a theological lesson, but an encrypted history, because the original writers foresaw that, 1500 years later, a couple of dudes would need make payments on their beach houses.

There is controversy about the text: whether it’s purely late Jewish or a Christian adaptation of Jewish material. It may come from  a Second Temple Jewish context without a Christian influence, or it may be an adaptation of a Jewish original into a Christian allegory. My essay points out some of the Eucharistic elements which might make this second suggestion a viable reading.

They’re trying to make a big deal of the “secret” text “discovered” in the British Library, but of course the Syriac version of “Joseph and Aseneth” was not lost at all. Scholars just hadn’t settled on a context for it.

Let’s even pause a moment and ride along with Barrie and Jacobovici to read this as a Christian text. It’s all very allegorical if it is, and if we do read “Joseph” as “Jesus,” what we have then is an allegorical tale of the marriage of Jesus to the Church, which would be a common image used by early Church writers, particularly of the Alexandrian school. An allegorical reading would be a sensible reading supported by similar texts.

The idea that this proves the literal, historical fact of an actual marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is supported by nothing more than wishful thinking and the desire to undermine Christianity and score an easy payday. There is no text (not even a trace of a text, and texts do leave traces even when they’re gone) that suggests a literal marriage of Jesus. None. That’s a curiously modern obsession.

Try to remember what happened with the last Jesus is Married story that sucked up all the media oxygen, and recall the wisdom of Michael Crichton and his Gell-Mann Effect.

This junk comes around without fail every year. I hate covering it, but I hate fraud and ignorance worse.