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Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

John_Paul_II_1980_croppedHere I am, nearly a week later, to talk about the second of our two recently canonized popes.  Why did it take me so long?  I suppose it was a combination of occupation with other matters, fatigue, and a bit of routine procrastination.

In any case, here’s what I have to say about Saint John Paul II:

First, I’ll try to address the controversy.  Some people have protested John Paul II’s canonization on the grounds that his response to the priestly sexual abuse crisis was inadequate, and perhaps even negligent.

Fr._Marcial_Maciel_LCMuch of the controversy surrounds the sexual improprieties of Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, under his pontificate.

I’ll state my defense very briefly.  May God have mercy on Fr. Maciel; but without a doubt, he behaved disgracefully and, to make matters worse, fooled a lot of people…and the pope was no exception.  Remember, sainthood does not mean that a person was gifted with perfect insight or circumspection in every situation.

Hammer_and_Sickle_Red_Star_with_GlowFurthermore, it may be useful to keep in mind that the sainted pope — born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland — spent his later youth, early priesthood, and most of his episcopacy under Communist rule.  The governing Communist Party regarded the Catholic Church as a major enemy, and it was not uncommon for them to level false accusations against priests and put out propaganda against them.

That being the case, and knowing the great pressure his fellow priests were under by virtue of their sublime duties and societal misunderstanding, he most likely discerned that accusations against priests like Fr. Maciel needed to be taken with a grain of salt.  And unfortunately, this led to the matter not being looked into as it should have.

Pope John Paul I

Cardinal Wojtyla pictured with his predecessor, Pope John Paul I

But I beg of you, please let’s not allow this to shatter this man’s reputation.  It would be a shame to blind ourselves to all of the good Pope John Paul II did on account of what was undoubtedly a painfully tragic, yet understandable mistake.  What good did he do?  Let’s just run through a few brief examples:

1. Youth Outreach

World Youth DayOne of the late pontiff’s most memorable achievements was the inauguration of World Youth Day, which is but one expression of his constant and passionate outreach to the youth and young adults of the world.  In a time of uncertainty and pessimism, he appealed in a kind, fatherly fashion to the hopes and dreams of young hearts, thereby inspiring a whole new generation of faithful people to live their lives on fire for the Gospel.

2. Catholic-Jewish Relations

Yad VashemRelations between the Catholic Church and the Jews had undoubtedly been improving prior to Saint John Paul II’s papacy.  However, the strides he made in the improvement of said relations are truly legendary.  Having grown up with Jewish people as best friends and having experienced something of the horrors of the Holocaust, he saw it as part of his mission to make peace with the Jewish people, famously begging forgiveness at Yad Vashem for the sins of Christians against Jews over the centuries.  He also exhorted Catholics to look upon the Jews not as enemies or “Christ-killers,” but as our elder brethren in faith.

3. Ecumenical Dialogue

Pope John Paul II worked harder than any previous pope toward the cause of Christian unity.  He reached out in friendship to leaders and members of various Christian denominations, and even went so far as to ask for input into what, from their perspective, the papal office could do to aid the aforementioned cause.  He even signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, a document produced by the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation.

4. Teachings on Human Sexuality

Theology of the BodyThis deserves a whole separate post, but I’ll say a few words here.  About two-thirds of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality come from Pope John Paul II (not that he just pulled it out of thin air, but it needed to be “unpacked,” clarified, and developed).  Through his world-famous Theology of the Body, he helped people in a hyper-sexualized and sexually wounded world to understand the true nature of human sexuality…in opposition to two extremes: 1) A puritanical attitude that sees sex as evil or taboo; and 2) A vehicle for selfish pleasure.  In truth, sexuality goes right to the heart of what it means to be a human being — and, specifically, of what it means to be a man or a woman.  Indeed, when a man and a woman united in holy matrimony are lovingly engaged in the act of sex, they are imaging the God in Whose image they are made…the God who is self-giving love.

There are a number of other things I could mention (his pivotal role in the collapse of totalitarian regimes, f0r example); but to give you a sense of the great saint’s deep humanity, I want to leave you with a link to a clip.  I know it can be a pain to jump from one Web page to another — but please, just take a moment to have a look at this; it’s less than two minutes long (stop at 24:58): Interview with a former Swiss Guard member.

May we all learn to be more like this in our daily lives.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us!

Image of “Man and Woman He Created Them” from http://www.amazon.com; remaining images from Wikipedia

 

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First of all, let me assure my readers that the film reviews will resume soon.  I just wanted to touch on this time-sensitive topic as early as possible.

Menorah

I’d like to think that it is providential that we Christians celebrate Advent during the same time that our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights.”

Both peoples — that is, Christians and Jews — have known God’s faithfulness and care throughout the millennia, and the flames of the menorah and the Advent wreath alike call to mind the hope that comes from this faithful God — a hope carried through many turbulent centuries in the midst of turmoil, darkness, and uncertainty.

I’ve discussed the focus of Advent already, if you recall.  But what exactly is Hanukkah all about?

Antiokhos_IV

Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean Revolt, which took place in Israel in the second century B.C. and is chronicled in the Old Testament books titled 1 and 2 Maccabees.  At this point in time, Israel was under the rule of the Seleucid Empire, which inherited the conquered territories of Alexander the Great.

Under Seleucid rule, the Israelites were forced to worship the Greek gods in the Jerusalem Temple.  Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV desecrated the Temple, set up an altar to Zeus there, and outlawed the traditional Jewish religion.

Temple

In order to fully understand why this was such a big deal, we have to understand a couple things.  First, the Temple, for the Jews, represented the entire universe.  It was a place where the Creator, the One Who made and sustained all things, could be given proper worship.  It was here that the Sabbath proclaimed in Genesis, which points to worship as the “vocation” of the whole created world, could be eminently celebrated.

Second, the allegiance of the Israelites to Yahweh, their God, was fundamental to who they were as a people.  If we peruse the Old Testament, we will find that faithfulness to the One True God was absolutely non-negotiable for them.  Fidelity was rewarded with blessings, infidelity with punishment.  Israel was to acknowledge God as her loving Lord and sole source of life, and as the only God in existence:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! (Deuteronomy 6:4)

A revolt against Antiochus’ tyranny was led by Judas Maccabeus (“The Hammerer”), whose followers became known as the Maccabees.  Though Judas himself was killed, the large scale rebellion was ultimately successful.  The Temple was cleansed of its pagan influence and rededicated, and the Jews were able to resume their religious practices.

Hanukkah2

Almost everyone is familiar with the legend in which the victorious Maccabees, upon entering the Temple, could only find enough oil to light the menorah for one night; miraculously, it lasted for eight days and nights, until more oil could be found.

The important thing to remember is that this would have happened in the context of the Temple’s rededication — that’s what the Jewish people celebrate every year when they observe the eight days of Hanukkah.

Advent

Our Jewish brethren light the Hanukkah candles one by one during the season in which we Christians light the Advent candles one by one.  Again, I believe this to be providential.

As we prepare for Christmas, we celebrate and look forward to the coming of the One Who comes to rededicate the real Temple — the world.

Jesus Christ, that strange King born in poverty and weakness, comes to free His cosmic temple from the desecration of the devil, the one who brought death, war, hatred, selfishness, suffering, and turmoil into the world so very long ago.  With His precious Blood, He has ransomed His People and all of creation from death and decay so as to present them to God the Father renewed in Himself.

Yes, we wait for the full realization of this redemption, but:

We know that all things work for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28)

This was true for the Maccabees, and it is true for us.  Just as the ancient Israelites had enough oil to last them until more could be procured, we have enough hope to last us until our Savior comes in glory to renew all things.

And so we have reason to light candles.

Special thanks to my friend, Tom Talbot, for sharing the top photo.  The rest of the photos are from Wikipedia.

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