Friday, August 28, 2015

The Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist

This is a re-post of a homily by Fr. Eric Andersen, who is currently at St. Stephen's in Portland, OR. This post first appeared on this blog three years ago.

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, on The Passion of St. John the Baptist

“It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” Death has no power over these words (cf. Gueranger. The Liturgical Year. vol. 14., p. 109). A tyrant may put to death the man who speaks these words, but he cannot put these words to death. They are truth itself. “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” This is not a man made law. This is God’s eternal law that cannot be broken without dire consequences.

These are the dire consequences:

“Josephus relates how [Herod Antipas] was overcome by the Arabian Aretas, whose daughter he had repudiated in order to follow his wicked passions; and the Jews attributed the defeat to the murder of St. John. He was deposed by Rome from his tetrarchate, and banished to Lyons in Gaul, where the ambitious Herodias shared his disgrace. As to her dancing daughter Salome, there is a tradition gathered from ancient authors, that, having gone out one winter day to dance upon a frozen river, she fell through into the water; the ice, immediately closing round her neck, cut off her head, which bounded upon the surface, thus continuing for some moments the dance of death" (Gueranger 112).

This feast actually celebrates four events. The first event is the beheading itself. “The second event is the burning and gathering, or collecting, of St. John’s bones” (Voragine, The Golden Legend. Vol II., p. 135). This is called the second martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. His disciples had buried his body at Sebaste, a city in Palestine…and many miracles had occurred at his tomb (cf. Voragine 135). “For this reason the pagans, by order of Julian the Apostate, scattered his bones, but the miracles did not cease, and the bones were collected, burned, and pulverized, and the ashes thrown to the winds to be blown over the fields…” (135). On the day when the bones were collected to be burned, some monks from Jerusalem secretly mingled with the pagans and carried out many of the relics, saving them from destruction. They delivered these to Philip, bishop of Jerusalem, who sent them to Anastasius, the bishop of Alexandria. During the Crusades, many of them were brought into the West and distributed among many churches.

The third event commemorated on this feast is the finding of the head of St. John the Baptist which happened on this day. It is said that when John was beheaded, Herodias had John’s head taken to Jerusalem to be buried because “she feared that the prophet would return to life if his head was buried with his body. Four hundred years later some monks took the head to venerate it in a more proper place. It was stolen and hidden in a cave. The man who stole it revealed on his deathbed where it was, but the hiding place was kept secret for a long time. Many years later, a holy monk, St. Marcellus, had taken up residence in this cave. It was revealed to him where the head was hidden. The head was then enshrined in a beautiful church in Poitiers in France.

The fourth event is the translation of one of St. John’s fingers and the dedication of a church. The finger with which he pointed to the Lord, could not be burned. The finger made its way to Normandy, France where a church was built in honor of St. John the Baptist. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why Ad Orientem? A Short Video Explanation

Here's an instructive video, with this description on You Tube:

Published on Jul 25, 2014
One of the most obvious differences between the Old Rite of Mass and the Novus Ordo is the direction in which the priest faces.

Worship 'ad orientem', or facing East, is an ancient practice going back to the earliest centuries of the Church. Criticised by advocates of the New Mass as 'the priest turning his back to the people', it is nothing of the sort. Quite the reverse, in fact, it unites priest and people in a deep and spiritual way unheard of in most Novus Ordo celebrations.

Here Dr Joseph Shaw explains the ancient roots of Mass facing East, its theological and spiritual symbolism, and why arguments claiming that Mass facing the people was the practice in the early Church are totally spurious.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Fr. Andersen Homily: Becoming New Through Confession and the Eucharist

Homily for Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Fr. Eric M. Andersen
August 2nd, 2015
St. Stephen Catholic Church

Dominica XVIII Per Annum, Anno B

  The philosophers and scientists of Ancient Greece and Rome had incredible intellects: Socrates, Plato, & Aristotle––to name a few. God gave them their intellect as He gives it to all of us. Man can achieve amazing things through the use of his God-given genius. It might sometimes seem like nothing is beyond what man can achieve through science. We turn to science to unlock the mysteries of creation and to reveal the truth. Science is always progressing. Truth however, does not progress. Truth was truth in the beginning, is now, and it ever shall be truth. 
  The great men of antiquity discovered and passed on to us the fruits of their inquiry by the natural use of their minds. Yet, as great as they were, these great men of science from pagan antiquity represent the old man, about which St. Paul writes. The old man has much to commend him. The natural state of man is pretty amazing, by God’s design; but it pales in comparison with the supernatural state of man––also by God’s design. Who, then, is the new man? If the old man is one in his natural state, the new man is one in a supernatural state, elevated by God with sanctifying grace. St. Paul teaches us that we are to put off the old man and put on the new man. 
  St. Thomas writes: “The substance of human nature is not to be rejected or despoiled, but only wicked actions and conduct” (Aquinas. Commentary on Ephesians. C.4 L.7 §241). First, we must be renewed in the spirit of our mind, which refers to our rational spirit. Here is a good example of how pagan antiquity got it right, but not fully. Aristotle observed that human beings are distinguished above all other creatures by their rational intellectual souls. St. Thomas Aquinas is famous for christianizing the philosophy of Aristotle. St. Thomas corrected it based upon his own intellect having been elevated by means of sanctifying grace. Aristotle represents the old man; St. Thomas represents the new man of grace.   

  The ancient Greek and Roman philosophers sought truth, and by the natural use of their reason, they came close. They discovered some truth, but not the fullness of truth. The fullness of truth cannot be discovered by unaided reason. God assists the new man by elevating his intellect by grace through faith. Faith and reason must accompany one another to arrive at a higher truth which must be revealed by God.
  Likewise, Plato and Aristotle, by the natural use of their reason arrived at the truth of monotheism (one God), but they could not arrive at the truth that there is one God in three persons. Unaided reason cannot arrive at that. It must be revealed by God and received with the help of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of knowledge and understanding. 
  Now, I must clarify something. Earlier I spoke of the old man who is natural and the new man who is supernatural. I need to clarify: The true order of nature is the state of original justice, like Adam and Eve before the fall. What we refer to as nature today is fallen nature. The true natural state is restored in us by God in the sacrament of Baptism. God gives us new life, as the new man, by placing His Holy Spirit within us by means of the sacramental life. He tells us “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven…who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn. 6:34). And then the clincher: “I AM the bread of life.” 

  The Church takes this literally. I AM is the name of God given to Moses. Jesus not only identifies that He is God––the very same God revealed to Moses––but He also identifies Himself with a bread from heaven that is greater than the miraculous manna given in the desert. The Manna was miraculous. This bread, however, is not just miraculous, it is even more. This bread from heaven is the Holy Eucharist that we celebrate in this and every Mass. The old man cannot understand this by the unaided use of his reason. We must put off the old man and put on the new man in order to understand what Jesus is saying. We must receive it with the help of the Holy Spirit who elevates our intellect to understand it. 
  But what if I doubt? Am I lacking faith? Is it a sin to doubt? Is it my fault that I doubt? These are good questions. Doubt can be a temptation. What happens when we entertain thoughts that are temptations? We risk giving into the temptation. When that happens, we become like the old man again. Do not despair. Take it to Confession. Confess that you struggle with doubt. Give it over to God. He will renew and refresh each of us as new men, as new women, putting off the old man of doubt. St. Paul says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” In Confession, the Holy Spirit renews our minds and infuses our souls with the supernatural virtue of faith to combat doubt. God will help us, but we must cooperate with Him. 
  By our cooperation with Him––as new men, as new women––we can far exceed in faith what the most brilliant men of old acquired by unaided reason. We may not become geniuses in the eyes of the world when it comes to science, but being renewed in the Spirit, we will come to know the mind of God and to share in His knowledge. We will look upon the Sacred Host in adoration, understanding deeply in our souls that the Eucharist is not just a piece of bread, not just a symbol, but in reality, the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ who is the Almighty and Eternal God. That’s pretty incredible! Now, imagine what the most brilliant of scientific minds could achieve in our day in a habitual state of sanctifying grace through regular confession and worthy reception of Holy Communion. Now, imagine what each of us could achieve in our day in a habitual state of sanctifying grace through regular confession and worthy reception of Holy Communion.