Category Archives: Bible

Sunday Devotional: God of Mercy and of Right & Wrong

Genesis 18:20-21, 23-26, 32

In those days, the LORD said:
“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,
and their sin so grave,
that I must go down and see whether or not their actions
fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.
I mean to find out.”

Then Abraham drew nearer and said:
“Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city;
would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it
for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?
Far be it from you to do such a thing,
to make the innocent die with the guilty
so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!
Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?”
The LORD replied: If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom,
I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

“Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.
What if there are at least ten there?”
He replied, “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”

The Genesis passage above is a sobering reminder that God is a just God, who has inscribed within each of us a moral code of right and wrong. As the Book of Jeremiah (31:33) puts it, that law is “written in our very hearts.”

If we, exercising God’s gift of free will, violates that moral code, knowing already in “our very hearts” what is right and what is wrong, there will be consequences, as the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah discovered, too late.

Genesis 19: 24-25

Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah
brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;
And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain,
and all the inhabitants of the cities,
and that which grew upon the ground.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin, 1852

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin, 1852

If you think the Genesis account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is fictive, you should know that archeological excavations at Tall-el-Hammam, which fits the geographical context of Sodom and Gomorrah at 14 km. northeast of the Dead Sea in contemporary Jordan, confirmed the biblical account.

The archaeological team found stunning evidence that the cities in Tall-el-Hammam were suddenly and completely obliterated in the Late Bronze Age in a “terminal MB2 heat event”. In the words of one of the archaeologists, Dr. Steven Collins:

“…multiple lines of evidence continue to confirm that not only massive Tall el-Hammam, but also its many satellite towns and villages on the eastern Kikkar, suffered some sort of fiery, civilization-ending cataclysm toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age, with the selfsame, well-watered-in-abundance area remaining devoid of settlements for the next 600 years or so [….] The entirety of Tall el-Hammam’s MB2 footprint is covered in heavy ash (from .5m-1m thick), ash filled destruction debris, and other conflagratory indicators….”

See “Archaeologists find evidence of the obliteration of Sodom-Gomorrah“.

Let this sink in: A cataclysmic, “civilization-ending,” “conflagratory” (fiery) “heat event” that reduced Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, making the area uninhabitable for 600 years.

That’s no ordinary fire. Not even a volcanic eruption would do that.

As an example, the ecology of Mount St. Helens in Washington state quickly recovered after the devastating eruptions of May 18, 1980. Within weeks, small mammals like pocket gophers already started meandering through the devastation.

Sobering and frightening though the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah is, remember that God is also merciful and loving. All He asks is that we choose right, and when we go astray, we admit we had done wrong and ask for His forgiveness.

And when we do that, He is overjoyed and envelopes you in His warm embrace, and you will have a peace beyond all understanding, no matter this world’s slings and arrows, abuse and buffeting.

Coming HomeLuke 11:9-13

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

But admitting we’re wrong, of course, takes humility. And humility is sorely lacking in an increasingly narcissistic people and culture, devoted to the worship of the self, of “Do As Thou Will” — that first temptation by the serpent in that first garden.

All He asks is that we are true to what we already know “in our hearts”. Is it so much to ask?

The Greatest Commandment of all is to love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and with all your strength.

And may the joy and peace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you,

~Eowyn

Psychiatrist says demonic possession is real

crucifix repels vampire

Richard Gallagher, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist and a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College.

In an article for The Washington Post on July 1, 2016,  Dr. Gallagher describes some of his experiences. Below is his essay in its entirety.

As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession

By Richard Gallagher, M.D. and Professor

In the late 1980s, I was introduced to a self-styled Satanic high priestess. She called herself a witch and dressed the part, with flowing dark clothes and black eye shadow around to her temples. In our many discussions, she acknowledged worshipping Satan as his “queen.”

I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. That background is why a Catholic priest had asked my professional opinion, which I offered pro bono, about whether this woman was suffering from a mental disorder. This was at the height of the national panic about Satanism. (In a case that helped induce the hysteria, Virginia McMartin and others had recently been charged with alleged Satanic ritual abuse at a Los Angeles preschool; the charges were later dropped.) So I was inclined to skepticism. But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed. Much later, she permitted me to tell her story.

The priest who had asked for my opinion of this bizarre case was the most experienced exorcist in the country at the time, an erudite and sensible man. I had told him that, even as a practicing Catholic, I wasn’t likely to go in for a lot of hocus-pocus. “Well,” he replied, “unless we thought you were not easily fooled, we would hardly have wanted you to assist us.”

So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.

Is it possible to be a sophisticated psychiatrist and believe that evil spirits are, however seldom, assailing humans? Most of my scientific colleagues and friends say no, because of their frequent contact with patients who are deluded about demons, their general skepticism of the supernatural, and their commitment to employ only standard, peer-reviewed treatments that do not potentially mislead (a definite risk) or harm vulnerable patients. But careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained in no other way.

*          *          *

The Vatican does not track global or countrywide exorcism, but in my experience and according to the priests I meet, demand is rising. The United States is home to about 50 “stable” exorcists — those who have been designated by bishops to combat demonic activity on a semi-regular basis — up from just 12 a decade ago, according to the Rev. Vincent Lampert, an Indianapolis-based priest-exorcist who is active in the International Association of Exorcists [IAE]. (He receives about 20 inquiries per week, double the number from when his bishop appointed him in 2005.) The Catholic Church has responded by offering greater resources for clergy members who wish to address the problem. In 2010, for instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a meeting in Baltimore for interested clergy. In 2014, Pope Francis formally recognized the IAE, 400 of whom are to convene in Rome this October. Members believe in such strange cases because they are constantly called upon to help. (I served for a time as a scientific adviser on the group’s governing board.)

Unfortunately, not all clergy involved in this complex field are as cautious as the priest who first approached me. In some circles there is a tendency to become overly preoccupied with putative demonic explanations and to see the devil everywhere. Fundamentalist misdiagnoses and absurd or even dangerous “treatments,” such as beating victims, have sometimes occurred, especially in developing countries. This is perhaps why exorcism has a negative connotation in some quarters. People with psychological problems should receive psychological treatment.

But I believe I’ve seen the real thing. Assaults upon individuals are classified either as “demonic possessions” or as the slightly more common but less intense attacks usually called “oppressions.” A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.) He or she might demonstrate “hidden knowledge” of all sorts of things — like how a stranger’s loved ones died, what secret sins she has committed, even where people are at a given moment. These are skills that cannot be explained except by special psychic or preternatural ability.

I have personally encountered these rationally inexplicable features, along with other paranormal phenomena. My vantage is unusual: As a consulting doctor, I think I have seen more cases of possession than any other physician in the world.

Most of the people I evaluate in this role suffer from the more prosaic problems of a medical disorder. Anyone even faintly familiar with mental illnesses knows that individuals who think they are being attacked by malign spirits are generally experiencing nothing of the sort. Practitioners see psychotic patients all the time who claim to see or hear demons; histrionic or highly suggestible individuals, such as those suffering from dissociative identity syndromes; and patients with personality disorders who are prone to misinterpret destructive feelings, in what exorcists sometimes call a “pseudo-possession,” via the defense mechanism of an externalizing projection. But what am I supposed to make of patients who unexpectedly start speaking perfect Latin?

I approach each situation with an initial skepticism. I technically do not make my own “diagnosis” of possession but inform the clergy that the symptoms in question have no conceivable medical cause.

I am aware of the way many psychiatrists view this sort of work. While the American Psychiatric Association has no official opinion on these affairs, the field (like society at large) is full of unpersuadable skeptics and occasionally doctrinaire materialists who are often oddly vitriolic in their opposition to all things spiritual. My job is to assist people seeking help, not to convince doctors who are not subject to suasion. Yet I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners nowadays who are open to entertaining such hypotheses. Many believe exactly what I do, though they may be reluctant to speak out.

*          *          *

As a man of reason, I’ve had to rationalize the seemingly irrational. Questions about how a scientifically trained physician can believe “such outdated and unscientific nonsense,” as I’ve been asked, have a simple answer. I honestly weigh the evidence. I have been told simplistically that levitation defies the laws of gravity, and, well, of course it does! We are not dealing here with purely material reality but with the spiritual realm. One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand. (The official Catholic Catechism holds that demons are sentient and possess their own wills; as they are fallen angels, they are also craftier than humans. That’s how they sow confusion and seed doubt, after all.) Nor does the church wish to compromise a sufferer’s privacy any more than doctors want to compromise a patient’s confidentiality.

Ignorance and superstition have often surrounded stories of demonic possession in various cultures, and surely many alleged episodes can be explained by fraud, chicanery or mental pathology. But anthropologists agree that nearly all cultures have believed in spirits, and the vast majority of societies (including our own) have recorded dramatic stories of spirit possession. Despite varying interpretations, multiple depictions of the same phenomena in astonishingly consistent ways offer cumulative evidence of their credibility.

As a psychoanalyst, a blanket rejection of the possibility of demonic attacks seems less logical, and often wishful in nature, than a careful appraisal of the facts. As I see it, the evidence for possession is like the evidence for George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. In both cases, written historical accounts with numerous sound witnesses testify to their accuracy.

In the end, however, it was not an academic or dogmatic view that propelled me into this line of work. I was asked to consult about people in pain. I have always thought that, if requested to help a tortured person, a physician should not arbitrarily refuse to get involved. Those who dismiss these cases unwittingly prevent patients from receiving the help they desperately require, either by failing to recommend them for psychiatric treatment (which most clearly need) or by not informing their spiritual ministers that something beyond a mental or other illness seems to be the issue. For any person of science or faith, it should be impossible to turn one’s back on a tormented soul.

[End of Dr. Gallagher’s essay]

~Eowyn

Sunday Devotional: The Messengers

Genesis 18:1-10

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre,
as he sat in the entrance of his tent,
while the day was growing hot.
Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.
When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them;
and bowing to the ground, he said:
“Sir, if I may ask you this favor,
please do not go on past your servant.
Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet,
and then rest yourselves under the tree.
Now that you have come this close to your servant,
let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves;
and afterward you may go on your way.”
The men replied, “Very well, do as you have said.”

Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah,
“Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.”
He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer,
and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.
Then Abraham got some curds and milk,
as well as the steer that had been prepared,
and set these before the three men;
and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.

They asked Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?”
He replied, “There in the tent.”
One of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year,
and Sarah will then have a son.”

3 angels appear to Abraham at Mamre

The above passage from Genesis 18 is one of many passages in the Bible referring to angels, so many that, as (still) Pope Benedict XVI said in 2009, “We would eliminate a significant part of the Gospel” if we did not believe in angels.

The word “angel” is derived from the Greek word angelos, which simply means “messenger.” They are couriers of the divine—incorporeal spiritual beings who act as intermediaries between God and humanity. As St. Augustine (AD 354-430) explains: “Angels are spirits, but it is not because they are spirits that they are angels. They become angels when they are sent. For the name angel refers to their office, not their nature. You ask the name of this nature, it is spirit; you ask its office, it is that of an angel, which is a messenger.” In other words, angels are defined by their function as message-bearers, although this capacity does not exhaust their activities.

To the question of why God would need messengers, the answer is “Of course, not.” God doesn’t need anyone. But our creator God is so bursting with protean creativity that He has fashioned and will continue to create every imaginable and unimaginable, animate and inanimate, that inhabit the fullest range and spectrum of what is possible.

Philosophers and theologians through the ages have offered thoughtful arguments for the possibility and existence of angelic beings. One of the most famous accounts is that by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

According to Aquinas, there are four kinds of substances that are commonly known in the world. They are mineral, vegetal, animal, and human—the last substance being an amalgam of the first three, but with something more. Like animals, human beings have bodies; but unlike animals, humans also have souls, and so are made of both corporeal and spiritual substances. The four kinds of substances comprise a series of grades in the universe, all of which, “participate and represent the goodness of God in various ways.” Aquinas then reasoned that the gradation of substances is completed by the inclusion of another kind of being intermediate between God and humans, which is made of purely spiritual or incorporeal substance. The angelic pure spirits would thus “round out the order of things” because a created universe that does not include such beings will have failed to realize an important range of possibilities.

Similarly, philospher René Descartes (1596-1650) in Meditations On First Philosophy, reasoned that since human beings are composed of mind and body — “a thing that thinks” instead of just a body, which is “not a thing that thinks” — Descartes then concluded that there would also be minds without bodies, i.e., pure spirits or intelligences.

For his part, American philospher Mortimer Adler (1902-2001), who wrote an entire and very serious book on angels (Angels and Us), correctly concluded that in the last analysis, the existence of angels turns on whether God exists for the simple reason that, being divine messengers, angels depend on God for their very creation and existence. In his book, How To Think About God, Adler frames the question concerning the existence of God in the following manner:

“If we are persuaded that the physical cosmos is not the ultimate, inexplicable, and uncaused reality, then we are under a rational obligation to posit the existence of the supreme being as the supernatural—and uncaused—cause that explains the preservation of the cosmos . . . [as well as] its creation.”

In the end, despite his self-identification at the time as a “pagan” (which he defines as an irreligious person who does not worship the God of Christians, Jews, or Muslims), he concluded that “we have reasonable grounds for believing in God, not with certitude, but beyond a reasonable doubt.” Born a Jew in 1902, Adler was an agnostic for most of his life. Although he held a rational belief in a transcendent supreme being, he insisted that he lacked the gift of grace, finding himself unable to cross what he called the “great gulf between the mind and the heart.” In his last years, however, he made that transit. In 1984, bedridden with illness, he sought solace in prayer and finally accepted the grace he had long sought. After a lifetime as a pagan, Adler professed his belief “not just in the God my reason so stoutly affirms . . . but the God . . . on whose grace and love I now joyfully rely.” He died a Roman Catholic, on June 29, 2001.

Guardian Angel

Being powerful pure spirits without bodies, angels are therefore invisible and genderless. Though invisible, they can assume physical form when they interact with human beings, as three of them did in Genesis 18, appearing as three men to deliver to Abraham an important message from God — that Abraham’s elderly, way past menopause wife, Sarah, will bear a son, which of course is a miracle.

Since angels can assume physical form when they interact with human beings, in theory, that form does not necessarily have to be human, which is a fascinating thought indeed.:)

So how do we know when it’s an angel?

When the form, be it human or animal or . . . , delivers an important message, the nature of which always is to urge you toward the good.

Has that happened to you?

For true stories of angelic encounters, go to our “Angels and Saints” page for all the post-links colored green. Here’s a simple but lovely prayer to our wonderful guardian angels, by St. Bonaventure (1221-1274):

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom His Love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard,
to rule and guide. Amen.

And may the Peace and Joy and Love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you this glorious Sunday!

~Eowyn

Sunday Devotional: How we heal America

The national conventions of America’s two major parties will soon convene. The Republican National Convention will commence in a week, on July 18th, in Cleveland, Ohio; and a week after that on July 25th, the Democratic National Convention will begin in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

All signs point to both being tumultuous, with political activists already mobilized in the thousands, determined to wreak havoc. (See “Hacked messages of #BlackLivesMatter leader reveal Obama admin’s plan for ‘summer of chaos’ and martial law“)

Many Americans are looking to one or another of the presidential candidates as the solution for this country’s ills. Again and again, FOTM‘s TrailDust and reader Seumas urge and remind us that the solution is not found in this or that political leader, but in our individual repentance. They are right, for in the end, we have neither power nor control over others. We can only each change ourselves.

Book of Deuteronomy 13:10-14

Moses said to the people:
“If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God,
and keep his commandments and statutes
that are written in this book of the law,
when you return to the Lord, your God,
with all your heart and all your soul.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

And so, the solution for our country’s ills is simple, yet seemingly so difficult for so many:

“return to the Lord, your God,
with all your heart and all your soul”

Good Shepherd saves lost lamb

Please, loving God — God who loves us like a Father; God who loves us so much He suffered and died on a cross for our sins; God who loves us so much He sent His Holy Spirit so that we are not left “as orphans” (John 14:18) — with humility in my heart and tears in my eyes, I entreat You:

Psalm 69:6, 2-4, 14-15, 19

God, you know my folly;
my faults are not hidden from you….
Save me, God,
for the waters have reached my neck.
I have sunk into the mire of the deep,
where there is no foothold.
I have gone down to the watery depths;
the flood overwhelms me.
I am weary with crying out;
my throat is parched….
God, in your abundant kindness, answer me
with your sure deliverance.
Rescue me from the mire,
and do not let me sink….
Come and redeem my life.

Pray for America.

May the Peace and Love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

~Eowyn

Sunday Devotional: ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning’

Luke 10:1-3, 17-19

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.

[…]

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said,
“Lord, even the demons are subject to us
because of your name.”

Jesus said, “I have observed Satan
fall like lightning from the sky.

Behold, I have given you the power
to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions

and upon the full force of the enemy
and nothing will harm you.”

Satan fall like lightningGiven the cultural decay we see around us, it should come as no surprise that Americans’ belief in God and the supernatural has systematically declined year after year.

A 2013 Harris Poll found that:

  • While a strong majority (74%) of U.S. adults still believed in God, that belief was stronger (82%) in 2009, 2007 and 2005.
  • Similarly, 68% believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God, down from 72% in 2005. (And yet only 57% believed in the Virgin birth, down from 60%. See “The Christmas Miracle: Scientific evidence of the Virgin Birth“)
  • 65% believed in the Resurrection, down from 70%.
  • 68% believed in Heaven, down from 75%.
  • 72% believed in miracles, down from 79%.

The above may be called the “feel good” beliefs. Interestingly, with fewer adherents to begin with, there’s also been a decline in belief in “feel bad” ideas. Only 58% believed in the devil and in Hell, down from 62%, although we have the authority of Jesus Christ Himself, who had “observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.”

Indeed, the greatest achievement of the Devil is to convince men that he doesn’t exist.

On May 4, 2013, L’Osservatore Romano published an article, “How the Scriptures Speak of the Devil,” by the theologian Inos Biffi that reviews the presence and role of the devil in the Old and New Testament. The article was reproduced by Chiesa Expresso. Here are the references to the devil in the Bible:

  • “Through the envy of the devil death entered the world” (Wisdom 2:24).
  • The devil is “a murderer from the beginning”; in him “there is no truth”; “when he speaks falsehood, he speaks from what is his own, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
  • Jesus calls the devil “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11).
  • St. Paul wrote extensively about the devil:
    • “with his cunning the serpent seduced Eve” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
    • Those who become lost “following Satan” (1 Timothy 5:14).
    • “the prince of the powers of the air, that spirit who works in rebellious men” (Ephesians 2:2).
    • “snares of the devil” and our battle “against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of evil” (Ephesians 6:12).
  • The first letter of Peter names the “enemy,” “the devil,” or “the accuser,” who “like a roaring lion goes prowling around seeking whom he may devour” (5:8).
  • The letters of John recalled “the antichrist” who must come (1 John 2:18); the “liar” who denies that Jesus is the Christ; the “antichrist” who “denies the Father and the Son” (2:22); “The prince of this world is coming, [but] against me he can do nothing” (14:30).
  • “A great war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon fought together with his angels, but he did not prevail and there was no place for them in heaven. And the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the one who is called devil and Satan and who seduces all of the inhabited earth, was thrown to earth and together with him his angels” (Revelation 12:7-9).

Inos Biffi writes:

This creates an antithesis between two royalties: that of Jesus and that of the prince of this world. The devil cannot tolerate Jesus Christ and seeks in every way to disrupt the divine plan conceived concerning him. As in the desert. […]

Although definitively defeated by the Lord, the devil still tries to ensnare and bring down redeemed man. Peter spoke of his roaring and of his unspent will to harm; Paul urges the taking up of the shield of faith, in order to quench the “fiery arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

[…] the stunning power of Satan: this is so strong and tenacious that only the power of the Son of God can defeat and overcome it […] The devil is able to draw in everything and everyone, but before Jesus he becomes completely yielding. The crucified and risen one re-creates a victorious humanity, removed from the perverse influence of the evil one. The attraction of the devil is replaced by the attraction of Christ, who declares: “When I am raised up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (John 12:32). Only by sharing in the vigor of the slain and glorified Christ are we able to resist the flattery of the serpent from the beginning.

Biffi concludes with a chastisement against “the absence in preaching and catechesis of the truth concerning the devil.” He decries “those theologians who . . . overlook as marginal a fact that is so clear and widely attested to in Scripture itself as is that concerning the devil, maintaining him to be the personification of an obscure and primordial idea of evil, now demystified and unacceptable.” Biff correctly adjudges that “Such a conception is a masterpiece of ideology, and above all is equivalent to trivializing the very work of Christ and his redemption.

Jesus had taught us to pray by asking the Father to deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 5:13). Shall we say that prayer together this glorious Sunday?

Our Father

May the Peace and Joy and Love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you!

Rio Jesus
~Eowyn

St. Paul, whom Christ struck blind

Sometimes God uses a drastic method to get our attention. That’s what happened to an awful man named Saul.

Born c. AD 5 in the Mediterranean city of Tarsus (in today’s south-central Turkey), Saul was a Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin, whose father and grandfather were Pharisees. The Pharisees claimed prophetic or Mosaic authority for their interpretation of Jewish laws. Though a Jew, Saul was by privilege a Roman citizen.

An approximate contemporary of the twelve Apostles, Saul neither followed nor even saw Jesus preach. Instead, being a zealot for Jewish law and traditions, he saw Jesus’ disciples as enemy and dedicated himself to the persecution of the early Christians, most notably the killing by stoning of St. Stephen.

When Saul was in his late 20s, as he was approaching Damascus from Jerusalem on a mission to arrest all Christian Jews in Damascus, he and his company were struck by a great light. Falling to the ground. Saul alone heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul asked the voice to identify himself. The voice answered, “Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.”

Trembling, Saul cried out, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” The resurrected Christ told Saul that in Damascus, he would learn what would be expected of him.

As Saul got off the ground, he realized he had become blind. He was led to Damascus where, for three days, he remained blind and neither ate or drank.

Like all genuine encounters with God — including our own, should we be so graced — Saul’s dramatic confrontation with the risen Christ changed him forever. Now renamed Paul (which means “little”), not only did he stop persecuting Christians, he became a devoted follower of Christ, arguably the most influential early Christian missionary. Perhaps even more important, Paul developed the first Christology — doctrines and theories of the meaning of believing in Jesus Christ.

Imagine the radical changes in thought and belief that Saul’s conversion required. He had to change not only his Jewish conception of who the messiah was, particularly the absurdity to Jews of a crucified messiah, but also the belief in the ethnic superiority of the Jewish people.

More importantly, more than any of Christ’s disciples, it was Paul who fully understood that, by His incarnation, death and resurrection, Jesus replaced the convenant of the Old Testament with a new convenant. This was made clear by Jesus Himself in the Last Supper:

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11.25; cf. Mt 26.27-29; Mk 14.24, Lk 22.20; Heb 8.6, 9.15).

Henceforth, God’s chosen are all who “take up their cross” and follow Jesus the Christ. In other words, what once was a tribal religion — Judaism — is now superceded by the universal faith of Christianity.

Paul was indefatigable in bringing the Word of Christ to both Jews and Gentiles. Through his missionary activity and writings he eventually transformed religious belief and philosophy around the Mediterranean Basin. His leadership, influence and legacy led to the formation of communities dominated by Gentile groups who worshiped the God of the ancient Jews, adhered to the Mosaic moral code of the Ten Commandments, but relaxed or abandoned Judaism’s ritual and dietary teachings since these laws and rituals had either been fulfilled in the life of Christ or were symbolic precursors of Christ.

That is why St. Paul is called the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Without the work of Paul, formerly the sinful Saul of Tarsus, you and I might not be Christians.

Paul’s missionary travels — preaching and establishing Christian nodes and communities — can be grouped into three. As seen in the map below, he traversed the Mediterranean region, in a time when travel was arduous, laborious and dangerous.

~Click map to enlarge~

The 14 letters (Epistles) attributed to Paul in the New Testament were written during ten years of his missionary journeys. It is possible that Paul also traveled to other countries like Spain and Britain. Among the writings of early Christians, Clement of Rome said that Paul was “Herald (of the Gospel of Christ) in the West” and that “he had gone to the extremity of the west.”

Paul was beaten, arrested and imprisoned on more than one occasion. Neither the Bible nor other sources say how or when Paul died, but Ignatius wrote around A.D. 110 that Paul was martyred. According to Christian tradition, St. Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero, on June 29, AD 67 — the same day as St. Peter was crucified upside down.

June 29, therefore, is the joint feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Shortly before he was martyred, St. Paul had written to St. Timothy these famous words:

“I am even now ready to be sacrificed, and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. As for the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love His coming.”

For all these reasons — the sinful, pre-conversion Saul; the post-conversion Paul who turned his back on his past and devoted the rest of his life to Jesus; the Apostle to the Gentiles who taught us about Jesus’ New Covenant; the author of all those letters that teach and inspire “so long as men can breathe, or eyes can see”; the saint who so loves Jesus that he joyfully went to his martyrdom — I love St. Paul with all my heart. I can only hope that, should our time darken to the point when Christians are persecuted as in the days of the early Church, I too will have his courage to “finish my course,” “keep my faith,” and stand “ready to be sacrificed.”

I now conclude this post with my favorite passage — St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 6:10-16:

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Sources used:

  • One Hundred Saints (Little, Brown and Co., 1993).
  • Rosemary Ellen Gulley, The Encyclopedia of Saints (NY: Visionary Living, 2001).
  • St. Paul,” Catholic Online.
  • Paul the Apostle,” Wikipedia.

~Eowyn

St. Peter, the Rock


~Jesus saves Peter from drowning~

St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles

Everything that I have learned about St. Peter, who was previously known as Simon, reveals a very genuine and passionate individual — rough, blunt and outspoken, energetic and full of enthusiasm. More importantly, Peter was flawed and weak, just as you and I are flawed and weak. But Peter’s saving grace is that, despite all his very human flaws, he loved Our Lord, Jesus, with his whole being.

Born Simon, St. Peter was born in Bethsaida. He was married and lived in Capernaum with his mother-in-law in his home (Matthew 8:14; Luke 4:38). He was a fisherman in Lake Genesareth with his brother, Andrew (the first Apostle), and owned a boat.

One day, Andrew told Simon that they had found the Messiah and brought him to meet Jesus. Simon remained with Jesus for some time, accompanying Him to Galilee, Judaea and Jerusalem, and through Samaria back to Galilee (John 2-4). In Galilee, Simon and Andrew resumed their occupation as fishermen, until Jesus formally called the two brothers, as well as the sons of Zebedee, James and John, to be “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). Thereafter, Simon remained with Jesus and heard the Sermon on the Mount and was present (the legal term is “percipient witness“!) during miracles that Jesus performed.

As we discussed in another post, “Do This In Remembrance of Me,” after Jesus spoke of the mystery of receiving His Body and Blood (John 6), many of Jesus’ disciples left Him, and so, Jesus asked his Apostles if they too were going to leave Him and Simon said straight away, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus gave a special place to Simon among the Apostles. Along with James and John, Simon was with Jesus during certain important events — the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:28) and the Agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33). Jesus entered Simon’s boat on Lake Genesareth to preach to the multitude on the shore (Luke 5:3), and when Jesus was miraculously walking upon the waters, Jesus called Simon to come to Him across the waters (Matthew 14:28).

While Jesus was journeying with his apostles, Jesus asked his apostles, “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?

The apostles answered, “Some John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus then made his question specific for His apostles, “But whom do you say that I am?

Simon answered, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus said to him, Blessed are thou, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter (Kipha, a rock), and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”

Then Jesus commanded his apostles that they should not tell anyone that he was Jesus the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21).

Jesus made Peter the head of the community of believers, and that through this foundation of Peter, the Kingdom of Christ could not be conquered, that the spiritual guidance of the faithful was placed in the hands of Peter as the special representative of Jesus Christ. The words, “bind and loose” are not metaphors, but Jewish juridical terms. The position of Peter among the other Apostles and in the Christian community was the basis for the Church of Christ. Therefore, Jesus personally installed Peter as Head of the Apostles and of His Church. The language that is used by Jesus clearly communicates that this foundation created for the Church by Jesus could not disappear with the person of Peter, but was intended to continue and did continue, as history shows, in the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and its bishops, apostolic succession.

During the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles but Peter did not want Our Lord to do so as he opined it would be beneath Jesus. But Jesus said that if He did not wash his feet, he would have no part with Him when Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” (John 13:1-10).

At the same time, however, Peter was not clear about the mission and work of Jesus our Savior, especially His Passion and suffering, as he opined that this could not be happening to the Messiah. So Jesus rebuked him, telling Peter that Satan had desired him that he might sift him as wheat. But Jesus prayed for him that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:31-32). Peter very enthusiastically said that he was ready to accompany his Master to prison and to death, only to be told he would deny Jesus three times: “’Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all the disciples spoke likewise.(Matthew 26:30-35; Mark 14-26-32; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:33-38).

After the agony in the garden, Jesus’ Passion began. He was taken by the Roman soldiers. Frightened by what was happening, the apostles fled, except Peter who stealthily followed his Master to the courtyard of the High Priest. There, overcome by fear and weakness, Peter indeed denied Jesus three times, swearing that he did not know Him (Matthew 26:58-75; Mark 14:54-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-27). At the sound of the cock crowing a third time, Peter realized what he had done remembering Jesus’ prediction, and was distraught with sorrow and remorse for his actions.

How hurtful Peter’s denial must have been for our Lord! — to have a friend and follower deny that he knew Him. Peter’s denial perhaps was even more hurtful than Judas Iscariot’s betrayal….

But, unlike Judas who also belatedly realized the magnitude of his deed, Peter was remorseful and sought forgiveness. And so though Peter’s “sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow….” (Isaiah 1:18)

How absolutely incredible and indescribable it must have been when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). The time that the transfigured Christ spent with Peter and the remaining ten apostles must have been wonderful beyond all imagination and expectation!

Most importantly is when the Resurrected Christ appeared at the the Sea of Tiberias and asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Peter becoming frustrated with this question told Jesus each time that He knew that he loved Him. Jesus then instructed Peter to feed and defend His flock as he said to Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

And then, Jesus prophetically tells Peter how the apostle would die for Him:

“Amen, amen, I say to thee, when thou wast younger thou didst gird thyself and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. And this, He said signifying by what death Peter should glorify God” (John 21:20-23).

After Jesus ascended into heaven from Mount Olivet, Peter and the apostles returned to Jerusalem to await the receipt of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised. Peter, as Christ’s designated leader, appointed Matthias to replace the fallen Judas. (Acts 1:15-26) This was the first appointment to the Apostolic College. And, after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles, Peter delivered the first public sermon, proclaiming the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Our Lord, and won large numbers of converts to the early Church (Acts 2:14-41).

Peter continued to lead the Apostles and the Church, preached the Gospel, performed miracles by the power he had received from God, communicated with the far-flung early Church communities, worked with St. Paul who recognized Peter as the authorized head of the nascent Christian Church. We learn about Peter in the New Testament‘s Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of St. Paul, and in the first and second Letters of Peter. The First Council of Jerusalem set forth a definitive decision concerning the obligations of converted pagans, and between Peter and Paul there was no dogmatic difference in their conception of salvation for both Jewish and Gentile Christians, that these converts were Christian brothers and sisters on an equal footing, that Jewish and Gentile Christians formed a single Kingdom of Christ.

Peter worked and labored in Rome during the last part of his life. He was martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68). Tertullian said Peter was crucified. Eusebius the historian cited the authority of Origen that Peter was crucified upside down.

Peter had requested it, as he thought himself not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his beloved Jesus the Christ.

And so, we end this with a prayer:

O God, who hast given unto Thy blessed Apostle Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and the power to bind and loose; grant that we may be delivered, through the help of this intercession, from the slavery of our sins. Amen.

Sources:

  • The New American Bible-New Testament
  • Catholic Encyclopedia
  • One Hundred Saints, Bulfinch Press
  • Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI, St. Peter’s Basilica, June 29, 2005

To my husband whose patron saint is St. Peter: “Happy Feast Day!”

~Joan

In 1968, Pope Paul VI made an announcement that the bones of St. Peter had been discovered below the Vatican, something that had already been known to a few for over two decades. Read the fascinating account of the discovery in The Bones of St. Peter: The First Full Account of the Discovery of the Apostle’s Tomb, by John Evangelist Walsh.

~Eowyn