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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Monday, January 27, 2014

St. Theresa of Avila - the Hands and Feet of Jesus

Text of remarks made at Holy Family Catholic Church, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin,  at the conclusion of January 27, 2014  funeral Mass for Kathleen (McCabe) Schuessler Pedi   - 
who was born February 14, 1926, and born to eternal life January 24, 2014

I would like to thank two people, my sister Julie who took care of Kathleen in 1979 after our father died.  You set aside your own life to care for your mother when she needed help.  Thank you so much.   And I thank my sister, Jeanne, for taking the lead in caring for Kathleen the last five years when she was at Hillside Manor Nursing Home, as she declined with her Parkinson’s condition.  We are so grateful.
Kathleen, ten years ago
May I please take you back to a time,  more than 50, almost 60  years ago when my mother,  Kathleen,  was having her children.  And she had eight of us.  She always said, "I have five beautiful daughters, and three fine sons."   But here I would like to go back to those first years, and then to what I'll call the  St. Joseph School era in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  (Kathleen also attended St. Joseph School in the 1930's.)   I see in this new beautiful Holy Family Church pieces from  the old St. Joseph stained glass windows that I used to stare at as a  child at  daily Mass which all of us school children attended. I see today the amazing scene of the birth of Jesus and the Magi over here [to my left], and the ascension of Jesus over here [to right].    Will you please use your imagination and go back with me to this great time of our lives.  
St.  Theresa of Avila said this:
Christ  has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses …
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet ....

             Today I say to you that hers was the body.  Hers were the hands.  Hers were the feet.   And hers  were the eyes, those beautiful Irish eyes.  Yes, she danced with her feet, and played violin with her hands.   But for us it was much more.    When we were so little that we  didn’t know anything about  Jesus, Kathleen was like Mother Theresa to us. Kathleen  was the only Jesus that we had.  Here are two examples:  
            When Christine was two she almost died from  pneumonia. Christine was so sick that she got very tiny. That's how Kathleen gave her the nickname, "the wee one."   But Kathleen nursed her back to health.
            The earliest memory of my entire life came from  our Marr Street house in Fond du Lac.  You won’t believe this, but I remember from my crib, when I was no more than two years old, waking up to this baby Mary crying, and  who would not stop crying.   We have all heard of those weeks and months when  Mary would not stop crying.  And picture this for Kathleen.  She is a young mother of about 30, with this crying baby, and with a two year old and a three year old, and she is pregnant with Christine.   Many moms would lose their cool facing this, would be overwhelmed.   But Kathleen did not lose her cool.  She loved that baby Mary, and she held her in her arms night after night,  to where she finally stopped crying.  Kathleen did not just survive those years of young motherhood.  She thrived on those challenges.  She loved that time of her life.   
            It’s freezing cold today, 8 below zero outside.   To my memory, the weather  was always like it is today  in January when we were small – below zero.  But if this were 1965 we would have been playing tackle pom pom on the St. Joseph school playground today.  Yes, our teachers (Sisters of St. Agnes)  let us play.   They would let the snow stay on parts of the concrete schoolyard, and we stormed out there at recess and got it  packed down from playing  those running and tackling games on it.  We also played king of the hill on the snow piles created by the plowed snow.   What does this have to do with Kathleen?   She had to get all the gear for us – the coats, those face mask ski hats, the mittens and gloves, and help us load it all on every day, so that we could get out and walk to school two blocks away, and be prepared to handle those wonderful school recess periods out in the cold.     There were 700 of us baby boomers crammed into St. Joseph School.  The sisters had to let us out.  My best memory of those days with Kathleen was the oatmeal.     The hot oatmeal that Kathleen made every morning  helped a lot when it was 13, 14, 15 below zero, and we had to get to school.
            Kathleen  rarely raised her voice.  We lived in a giant old house 136 Sheboygan Street and  the eight of us would be spread out all over it, in different spots.  (Thanks to my brother Jim, who made arrangements with the owner,  we are going to go through that house later today.)  Christine was usually  in the study “den” with her two imaginary friends, named Cottie and Cootie.   But when mom called for you, she  wouldn’t shout for you.  She would quietly go to you and ask you to take out the garbage or clean the kitchen.   There was no yelling.   Even when John and I were playing catch in the dining room and  broke the Jesus statue she didn’t yell.  She just cried, and then she forgave us.   
            When we had some trouble in our house,  at about age eight I could sense it and was bothered by it.   In the middle of this I  remember asking  Kathleen, “Mom, what was the best time of your life?”  She said, “Right now is pretty good.”  About two years later, again some things were going wrong, and I went to Kathleen again and said, “Mom, tell me, what was the best time of your life?”  She said, “I would say right now is good.”   Fr. Tom talked about that in his tremendous homily.  Thinking of that raises this question:  Was Kathleen Pollyanna?  No, she was not Pollyanna.   She was gifted with the ability to endure suffering with composure.   
            As everyone has been saying over the last couple of weeks, nursing home staff included,  Kathleen was all about sacrificial  love, the eyes, hands and feet of love which St. Theresa described.   My sister Julie said, “She lived  a quiet kind of love. “
On that subject of what love means, I will close with this, which was Kathleen’s  personal teaching  to me.   We were at Schreiners Restaurant, Kathleen and I, and  Jeanne and Christine were there with us.   It was May, 1980, just a couple of days before I would be getting married.  My sisters were looking straight at me, to make sure that I was listening to what Kathleen was going to say to me about how I needed to treat my beautiful new bride, Katy.  Kathleen’s words were simple.    She said to me,  “Tom, be kind,  be kind.”
                                                                                                              Tom Schuessler
                                                                                                                          January 27, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Four Senses of Scripture

Here is some excellent material on how to read the Bible:

The senses of Scripture
115      According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
116      The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
117      The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs. 
The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.
The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction.”
The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
118      A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:
The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 115-118 (footnotes omitted). 


Present with Jesus - Anamnesis

Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." David Bennett and Jonathan Bennett make these comments on remembrance: 
The Greek word for remembrance, anamnesis, does not imply simple psychological recollection. Enlightenment rationalistic assumptions have clouded many an interpretation of Jesus' words here. The word anamnesis, as it was often used in ancient times, means to bring the past into the present and the present into the past. In the Eucharist, we truly experience Christ's life, death, and resurrection, and Christ is made present to us, and we are made present to Him. This is far more dynamic than merely remembering something. 

The Jewish celebration of Passover  is precedent to defend this  description of the liturgical experience of anamnesis.  The CCC states:  "In the sense of Sacred Scripture  the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 1363. 

Dave Armstrong in this blog post has done a great job citing the OT authority and Jewish sources which confirm that Jewish thought promotes this liturgical idea of making past events present and real.  Our modern minds have great difficulty making the past present because we live by what Gerhard von Rad calls "the law of historical exclusiveness."   Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology Vol. 1(New York, Harper & Row Trans. 1962), at page 110.   "We have to further consider that in their presentation of religious material the peoples of antiquity were not aware of the law of historical exclusiveness, according to which a certain event or a certain experience can be attached only to a single definite point in history.  In particular, events bearing a saving character retained for all posterity, and in that posterity's eyes, a contemporaneousness which it is hard for us to appreciate."  Von Rad at page 110.

Another version  of this post appeared here August 8, 2012. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mary's Understanding of Jesus

With these words to the angel  Mary the mother of Jesus became the first believer in Jesus:

And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.   Luke 1:38  (RSV).

It took great courage for Mary to consent to God's plan, and to accept this pregnancy while she was not yet married to Joseph.   She knew that some in Nazareth would see her pregnancy as a great scandal, and yet as stated in verse 38 she freely  consented to it.  For this reason we honor Mary as the blessed mother of the church.

While we revere the mother of Jesus, she was human,  and it is not impertinent to ask this question:  Did Mary struggle to understand the identity and mission of her son?   Ben Witherington III said this in Bible History Daily: 

In Luke’s birth narrative, Mary is the first to be told that Jesus will be the messiah. Luke adds that she “treasures the words” the angel Gabriel speaks to her. But Mary is also puzzled by the divine message; she is “perplexed” when the angel greets her and must “ponder” the meaning of his words (Luke 1:29; see also 2:19).      

Quoting Luke chapter 2 and also the late Fr. Ray Brown, Witherington explained that for Mary to fully understand Jesus, she needed to experience the ministry of Jesus, and his death and resurrection:

Twelve years after the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Holy Family returns to Jerusalem and Jesus returns to the Temple, this time by himself. Mary and Joseph search for him frantically for three days. When at last they find him listening to and asking questions of the teachers in the Temple, Mary asks, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus responds, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But, Luke reports, “they did not understand what he said to them … [but] his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:48–51). The late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown wrote: “Luke’s idea is that complete acceptance of the word of God, complete understanding of who Jesus is, and complete discipleship is not yet possible. This will come through the ministry of Jesus and particularly through the cross and resurrection.”

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/mary-simeon-or-anna-who-first-recognized-jesus-as-messiah/  (Bible History Daily online article February 12, 2013, an article originally appearing in Bible Review).

We honor Mary for saying yes to God in that first encounter with the angel.    But from that encounter she  did not immediately gain a complete understanding of God's plan.   Over her life Mary grew in her understanding of Jesus.   (Jesus himself grew in wisdom and  understanding.  Luke 2:52.)    Mary  needed time to witness and  experience the life of her son,  and to reflect on the meaning of his death and resurrection.   Her  gradual  growth in understanding is normal and to be expected.       The story of Mary has a happy ending.   In  Acts 1:14 Mary is present  when the apostles gather in the upper room after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.     

 After Jesus had left this world  and as the church begins its work, Mary has full understanding of Jesus.    We know  from Mary's  presence in that upper room that she had become a revered disciple of our Lord.  I picture Mary providing Luke with precious eyewitness testimony of the history of  Jesus'  birth and his early life which we find in Luke chapters 1 and 2, and that testimony would have included these beautiful stories of  Mary's  early struggles to understand.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Gospel Women

What is the significance of "the women" in the life of Jesus and in the testimony of the early church?  To address this I am looking at Luke chapter 8 and Acts chapter 1.  Luke says this:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Mag'dalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joan'na, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. 
Luke 8:1-3 (RSV) 

Discussing Joanna in chapter 5 of his book, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels  (Eerdmans 2002) Richard  Bauckham argues that Jesus  has two groups of close followers in the Gospel of Luke: the twelve and the women. Joanna  provided financial support for Jesus and the twelve.  Joanna was most likely from an elite Galilean Jewish family and married a Nabatean who held a very prominent position in Herod’s court.  See this book review  of  Gospel Women by Kenneth Litwak in   Review of Biblical Literature (Vol 6 2003).

We rarely hear that that Jesus had two groups of close followers, the twelve and the women.  This passage from Luke chapter 8 which ties the presence of the women to Jesus' "preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom" is a powerful statement showing that Bauckham is right to say that "the women" are Jesus' second group of close followers.   Acts chapter 1 further supports the idea: 

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Acts 1: 12-14 (RSV).

Here you see "in the upper room"  those who knew Jesus  from the beginning, the eleven,  the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, and "the women." 

This post is a revision of the post of August 4, 2012.