Men of Emmaus – June 7, 2014

Where: St. Francis
When: 8:00 AM
What: 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4

Looking around the web for some potentially helpful resources, I found the following:

St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians

This is a short and a bit of an odd letter. It primarily focuses upon the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians, not doctrinal teachings. This fact should give pause to Protestants who claim exclusive authority for Scripture, which includes such letters by Paul, rather than the writings of the Church fathers which claim apostolic authority for their teachings. The specifics of the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians are of limited relevance today, but the general character is of great importance.

There are two overarching Catholic doctrinal themes in this letter: apostolic authority and the necessity and ministry of reconciliation. In the face of doubters and false apostles, Paul is forced to reassert his apostolic authority. In dealing with a repentant sinner, Paul exercises his apostolic authority to forgive sins in the person of Christ and to indulge the repentant sinner in comfort rather than require more penance of him, demonstrating the ministry of reconciliation he mentions in the letter.

Paul’s letter does the following things with regard to the Protestant-Catholic divide:

Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:19, 23-24; 2:1, 3-4, 17; 3:2-6; 4:5-7; 5:5; 10:5, 9-11, 16; 12:19; 13:10-11)
Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1, 21-24; 2:1; 6:11-13; 7:15; 10:8; 11:17; 12:14, 19; 13:2-4, 10-11)
Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:17; 3:4-6, 12; 4:5-7; 5:5, 18-20; 10:5; 11:5-6, 10; 13:3)
Affirms the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation (2:5-11; 5:17-20; 13:2)
Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience and repentance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:24; 2:11, 15-16; 5:20; 6:1; 7:8-13; 11:3-4; 12:21; 13:2-5)
Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:6-7; 5:20; 6:1; 7:13; 11:3-4; 12:20-21; 13:5)
Contradicts sola fide (5:10-11, 15; 7:1, 15; 10:15)
Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1; 11:2-4, 12-15)
Affirms the Catholic view of suffering (1:5-7; 4:9-11; 12:7-9)
Affirms the Catholic custom of referring to priests as father (6:13; 12:14)
Supports the Catholic doctrine of praying to dead saints (1:11)
Supports the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory (12:2-4)

The author then comments on a selection of these verses. This could be a useful resource, especially for linking the words of Scripture to what we believe as Catholics.

The author claims that what we just read – Chapter 3 — contradicts sola scriptura. Do we agree? Comments are open.


A Prayer Upon Entering The Workplace

This prayer appears to be well-known, but I thought that I would share it nonetheless:


My heavenly father, as I enter this work place, I bring your presence with me.
Bring your peace, your grace, your mercy and your perfect order into my work. I commit to use them responsibly in your honor.

I acknowledge your power over all that will be done, spoken, thought and decided within these walls. Anoint my projects, ideas, and energy, so that even my smallest accomplishment may bring you glory.
Lord, when I am confused, guide me. When I am weary, energize me. Give me a fresh supply of strength to do my job. When I am burned out, infuse my mind with the light of the Holy Spirit.

May the work that I do and the way I do it bring faith, joy and a smile to all that I come in contact with today.

And oh Lord, when I leave this place, give me traveling mercy.

Bless my family as they go about their day and watch over my home so that it will be as I left it when I return and to always be a place of life and love.

Lord, I thank you for the gifts you have blessed me with.

Lord, I thank you for everything you’ve done, everything you are doing, and everything you are going to do.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I pray, with much love and thanksgiving,


The Devil Made Me Do Or, Maybe Not

Toward the end of last week’s meeting of the Church Guys, the discussion turned to culturally significant movies. One movie stood out for me:  The Exorcist. Coming out in 1973 (December 26, 1973), the movie would be nominated for Best Picture.  I remember watching it behind my parents’ back with my best friend and being truly terrified for weeks.  (I followed my parents’ directions much better afterwards.)  The poster still sends shivers down my spine.


When I looked it up, Wikipedia told me that the movie had been based on events that took place in the Washington, D.C.-area.  Around 2000, an editor for Strange Magazine set out to pull together the “cold, hard facts” about the incident underlying The Exorcist.  Painstakingly reviewing the evidence lead to the conclusion that the events probably weren’t paranormal at all and that most of the background “facts” are urban legend.  Most of the information here comes from the 1999-2000 Strange Magazine article. (The article is quite well done and worth reading. It is well-written, with the Elan of a good detective story.  I encourage you to read the whole thing.)  Unless otherwise noted, the source for the facts about the incident in this post is the linked article.

The Exorcist was based on a story from August 1949.  The news stories suggest that there were paranormal goings-on in Mount Ranier, MD centered on a particular and peculiar boy:

The media first became involved in this case when The Washington Post ran an article on August 10, 1949 titled “Pastor Tells Eerie Tale of ‘Haunted’ Boy.” Written in an almost tongue-in-cheek style by reporter Bill Brinkley, the piece tells an “out-of-this-world” story of a local 13-year-old boy. The story came to light when an unnamed minister gave a speech before a local meeting of the Society of Parapsychology at the Mount Pleasant Library in Washington, D.C.

The media of that era was just like today’s and soon other local newspapers were reporting the story.  By late August, the basics of the story were out and fixed:

On August 19, 1949 The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) featured the article “Priest Freed Boy of Possession By Devil, Church Sources Say.” As the first account to provide any exorcism details to the public, the article opens by saying, “A Catholic priest has successfully freed a 14-year-old Mount Rainier, Md., boy of reported possession by the devil here early this year, it was disclosed today.” While names are withheld, it is revealed that the ritual of exorcism was given after the boy’s affliction was studied at both Georgetown University Hospital and St. Louis University.

Later a 16 or 26 page diary of the exorcism (how long it is, if it really exists, is in doubt) appeared.  Many years later, an aspiring screenwriter wrote a script based on the story, Hollywood snapped it up, and we got The Exorcist.

It turns out, however, that there was a boy.  He did not live in Mount Ranier, Maryland, as reputed; he lived in nearby Cottage City, Maryland.  When the ‘possession’ started, the boy and his family were Lutheran; by the end, they were Catholic.  Although it appears that the Church (at least in DC) approved the administration of the rite of exorcism in the boy’s case, it does not appear to have pronounced officially on whether it did, in fact, involve actual demonic possession.  In a reluctant conversation with the author of the Strange Magazine article, one of the priests (then studying, now ordained) who assisted in the St. Louis rite seemed doubtful:

Halloran emerged as a central figure for his role in the actual St. Louis exorcism conducted by Father Bowdern. In 1949 Halloran was a 26-year-old scholar at St. Louis University studying for a master’s degree and preparing for priesthood. He was called upon by Bowdern to assist the priests in different aspects of the exorcism and today is the one living eyewitness to those events who is still willing to discuss his experiences. In August 1997 Halloran was reassigned from San Rafael Church in San Diego, California to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where today he works as the hospital chaplain

Fr. Halloran’s description is quite different from the movie version:

My questions to Halloran a were met with brief, direct responses.

“Did the boy speak in any languages other than English?”
“Just Latin.”

“Did it appear he understood the Latin he was speaking?”
“I think he mimicked us.”

“Was there any change in the boy’s voice?”
“Not really.”

“When the boy struck you in the nose, did he exhibit extraordinary strength?”
“I don’t know, I never even thought very much about it. It certainly wasn’t [former world boxing champion Mike] Tyson hitting me in the nose or something like that (laughs).”

I asked Halloran to elaborate and describe to me some of the things he witnessed that he could not explain. He paused and slowly said, “I saw a bottle slide from a dresser across the room—there was no one near it. The bed moving….” I interrupted and asked if the bed was stationary or on rollers. He said, “It was on rollers like any bed, but I was leaning on it when it moved one time.”

I inquired about the boy’s spitting, urinating and vomiting, all activities that he was said to have indulged in with great vigor during various points of the exorcism. Halloran responded, “Well, spitting was frequent…it wasn’t significant…there wasn’t any vomiting or urinating that I recall.”

According to the boy’s best friend, though, the boy (and his friend) had taught themselves to spit quite skillfully and in an unusual way.  The rest seems quite mundane.

The boy’s life in Cottage City was that of a troublemaking loner, with a definite mean streak, as related by those who knew him.  He did appear to have symptoms that might be psychopathology and had an otherwise difficult family life — he did not live with Ozzie and Harriet.  Interestingly, his family was Lutheran; the Lutheran pastor told the family to call the family doctor after observing the boy overnight at the pastor’s residence.  Apparently, the doctor simply prescribed “phenobarbitol.”  The Strange Magazine article’s author concluded that the testimony suggests that this set of circumstances did not involve demonic possession and his conclusion seems reasonable:

Personally, I do not believe Rob Doe [a pseudonym] was possessed. There is simply too much evidence that indicates that as a boy he had serious emotional problems stemming from his home life. There is not one shred of hard evidence to support the notion of demonic possession. The facts show that he was a spoiled and disturbed only child with a very overprotective mother and a non-responsive father. To me his behavior was indicative of an outcast youth who desperately wanted out of Bladensburg Junior High School at any cost. He wanted attention and he wanted to leave the area and go to St. Louis. Throwing tantrums was the answer. He began to play his concocted game. For his efforts he got a collection of priests (who had no previous exorcism experience) who doted over him as he lay strapped to a bed. His response was that of any normal child—he reacted with rage, he wanted out. Without delving into the dynamics of psychosomatic illness, there is no question there was something wrong with Rob Doe prior to January 1949, something that modern-era psychiatry might have best addressed. Rob Doe was not just another normal teenage boy.

The author then states:

Each of the parties involved in this case approached it from its own frame of reference. To psychiatrists, Rob Doe suffered from mental illness. To priests this was a case of demonic possession. To writers and film/video producers this was a great story to exploit for profit. Those involved saw what they were trained to see. Each purported to look at the facts but just the opposite was true—in actuality they manipulated the facts and emphasized information that fit their own agendas.

On the one hand, this is undoubtedly true.  As a lawyer who helps clean up workplace disputes when they get to court, the overriding importance of frame of reference beyond cavil.  An employee can honestly and truly believe that what was, in reality, a slight, is simply evidence of a broader conspiracy to get him or her, a great employee.  A supervisor can have it had “up to here” and honestly believe that neutral or good work was poor or otherwise unacceptable.  If the dispute lasts long enough, both employee and supervisor end having permanent rose-colored contact lenses attached permanently to their eyes.

I depart from the author because I think the boy was manipulating as does the author, which de-emphasizes the implicit negative carried by the term “agenda,” especially for the Catholics.  For the Catholics, he did things that a Catholic would interpret as demonic.  For others, he did different things.  I wonder if he did Catholic things for the benefit of his Lutheran family and pastor; ‘demonic’ things for the benefit of others.  There were a lot of agendas, and I view the boy as the primary agenda master.

What about Hollywood and the journalists?  The journalists did a poor job.  The first reporter published it as a “tongue in cheek” report.  The others piled on, but obviously did no work whatsoever.  If they had, there may have been no story at all.

Hollywood, of course, knows a good story when it sees one and The Exorcist was that.  Visual, mysterious, supernatural, religious.  In some ways, it was the anti-The Bells of St. Mary or even the anti-Ben Hur.  There was none of the good nature of The Bells Of St. Mary’s and none of the human complexity so evident in Ben Hur.  But it would be definitely be entertaining.

I have not seen The Exorcist again and do not plan to do so (it really terrified me).  I wonder, though, whether this was a ghost story or an “idiot-religious person” story.  I wonder how the priests and the Church through them were presented? Were they idiots? Were they good-natured rubes? Were they appropriately skeptical? Were they real people? Did The Exorcist‘s drama derive from an all-powerful Satan using humans as playthings or was is it a typical drama: we know the good guy will win, but how?  Was it ambivalent in a way that The Bells of St. Mary’s and Ben Hur were not?

In other words, did The Exorcist mark a cultural turning point in which it became acceptable to mock Catholicism after the hey-day of the 40’s (Going My Way) and 50’s (On The Waterfront) (itself a movie that presents a Catholic priest hero but now as a social activist rather than a spiritual one, a different picture the priests in Going My Way)? Did the The Exorcist reflect an attempt to stereotype (or an attempt to reinforce an already existing generational stereotype) that the essence of Catholicism was superstition, while folks like Timothy Leary gave, er, alternative approaches?  Deciding whether The Exorcist is culturally significant is “which came first the chicken or the egg” problem.  The culture had to be ready first, but did the movie crystallize and give voice to something that people wanted to believe or already, however vaguely, thought?  Hollywood then served up many more horror films like this such as the execrable The Amityville Horror.  But the Baby Boomers quickly got their fill of demonic possession and Hollywood moved on to the ‘demonic’ mad slasher: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Saturday the 14th.  Was The Exorcist a culturally significant film? No doubt.

I will close with a prayer that somehow seems quite appropriate:

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.


A Church Guy Goes To Yale

Rummaging around the Internet, I happened upon Yale Open Courses. They are taped main lecture sessions for a handful of courses that Yale decided to make available. Browsing through the material, “Introduction to the Old Testament” and “Introduction to the New Testament” looked interesting so I checked them out andI decided to take them.

I am beginning with Introduction to the Old Testament for three reasons. First, I am drawn to the Old Testament in a special way. When I have a choice, I proclaim the first reading, which is usually from the Old Testament. The Old Testament is mysterious, a mystery deriving from both cultural and historical distance and a personal lack of familiarity. The Old Testament features a wider variety of style and expression and events and shows in great detail the panorama of humanity.

Second, the Old Testament came first and the beginning is a very good place to start. Since it was God’s plan to prepare His people through the Old Testament for Christ, studying the Old Testament would hopefully prepare me for meeting Christ in the New Testament and every new day.

Finally, I enjoyed the style of the professor teaching the Old Testament course better. Having viewed and begun thinking about her first three lectures, I know there will be much to critique. But Professor Hayes presents her material in a way that is authoritative and respectful.

The first lecture covered Yale administrative stuff (ugh!! – I am glad that I can ignore this), the foundational premises of the class and some substance. an overview of Professor Hayes’ premises. Her discussion of four “myths” about the Bible and how she will deal with “faith propositions” offers some food for thought.

So stay tuned for the first substantive installment of “A Church Guy Goes To Yale” coming next week.

Five Clicks To Jesus: The Wikipedia Game

The fruit of the fifth Joyful mystery is joy at finding Jesus. This is a whole new way of finding Christ.

Wikipedia articles are chock full of links to other Wikipedia articles. The challenge is to start with a random article and find the Wikipedia article on Jesus in 5 clicks or less. So far I’ve been able to do it each time.

Here are five articles chosen using Wikipedia’s random article feature. The first is very tough, the rest are easier. Can you beat my click count? Enjoy!

Chrysomyinae (5 clicks – very hard).

Bottesford, Leicestershire (3 clicks).

158 Koronis (5 clicks).

Cabañas de Ebro (3 clicks).

Leo T (dwarf galaxy) (4 clicks).

Power Is Perfected In Weakness

Catholic social teaching is imbued with an optimism about the our ability to effectively manipulate our world. Guadium Et Spes reflects that joyful hope: we as the People of God working together with God can eliminate structures of sin and bring about a just society. We just need to work hard, seek God’s grace, and all will be well. In many ways, this seems similar to the heady optimism of (at least in the United States) the Camelot generation.

The sociological premise of this approach is that unjust “power structures” exist. An article about individual spirituality put it well:

The optimism and hope of the Fathers of Vatican II that “changes in the economic, political, and social arrangements in our society” can eliminate “poverty and [bring] an end to these injustices” seems to suffer from an internal contradiction. The people who either intentionally or passively adopted the unjust structures which plague society did so because they thought those structures were just, promoted human dignity, and advanced the common good as they saw it. Their understanding, though, was spiritually deficient. Indeed, it is possible to tinker endlessly and get nowhere like some bizarre version of the movie Groundhog Day: we simply trade one oppressive structure for another, trapped in injustice, while congratulating ourselves about our progress. Can we escape?

We can. Escape, though, requires us to recognize the nature of the trap. The trap is that we fight power with power. We fight the assertion of others – that we deem unjust – with the assertion of ourselves – that we deem just. As we seek to be strong, we accept and reinforce the fundamental social injustice: that it is just for the strong to dominate the weak, especially when we are the strong. We tell ourselves that it is all to the good because our intentions and our ends are good. We tell ourselves that this is all OK as we agonize in face of human misery – that of the people who need help and our own need to help them. We also remind ourselves that the weak we are dominating we’re unjust so in some sense they deserve to have our preferences – just as they ate – imposed on them.

Is there a way out? There is. It is hard. It is agonizingly slow. It demands supernatural faith. It demands that rather meeting power with power, we meet power with weakness. It is the way of the Cross.

The Passion was principally a supernatural drama. We can see the root of it in the temptation of Christ in the desert. There, Satan made it easy for Christ to give in. Satan said, in essence, if you acknowledge my power over this world, I will make you King and you can do all the good you want. We know, of course, that this is a trap if for no other reason than the being that was offering the deal. Christ says no. He – the Almighty Master of the Universe – chooses the path of an itinerant preacher, traveling from place to place, proclaiming the Good News and waiting for people to voluntarily accept it. He – the Omnipotent One – chose weakness over power. He refused to play Satan’s game.

But Satan entered into Judas. Satan, through Judas, tried to force Jesus’ hand. “If I force Jesus into a direct, palpable choice between life itself and exercising His power selfishly,” Satan thought, “Christ will surely choose power….giving the lie to all He taught.” The pain of Gethsemene was thus more than fear of physical suffering; it was a battle within Christ Himself about whether to exercise power or to exercise weakness. Christ chose weakness.

Satan’s fury exploded. The physical violence of the Passion that is so shocking is simply the concrete form of Satan’s last desperate attempt to goad Christ into self-assertion. Even at the end, Christ turned away from resentment, refusing to condemn those who had been the instruments of Satan’s plan – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Satan must have known that he had been defeated. Christ had refused to play Satan’s game. Christ showed us that Satan had no power of his own; his only power came from our choice to give Satan that power. When we fight power with power, we invigorate the very structures of sin that so challenge us, so outrage us, so compel us to act. If power is made perfect in weakness, then weakness in imitation of Christ is the path to true social justice.

If this is correct, we need a new approach for the praxis of Catholic Social Teaching. Later posts will attempt, while remaing firmly within the current teaching of the Church, to sketch a way forward that is grounded on weakness, but is not indifferent to the misery we see all around us.

“What is the New Evangelization?” — Feb 25

Feb. 25:
What Is The New Evangelization?

“There is the need for a proclamation of the Gospel capable of accompanying man on his pilgrim way, capable of walking alongside a younger generation.”

Come join the St. Francis Men of Emmaus as we discuss the answer Bl. John Paul II gave to this question in Crossing The Threshold Of Hope (copies in Church library).  We meet in the Youth Room on Saturday mornings for coffee, bagels, and fellowship at 7:45 A.M. and continue until 9:00.
Upcoming:  Pope Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week: From The Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection”, Chapter 1 – The Entrance Into Jerusalem