By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 2/24/12 in The Madera Tribune
A joke tells of a notorious anti-Catholic who reluctantly agreed to go to a Mardi Gras carnival with a friend. Walking about the fundraiser, the pair passed a musician who played his guitar while his pet monkey collected coins. Without hesitation, the anti-Catholic placed a generous handful of coins into the monkey’s hat. His perplexed friend complained, “I thought you didn’t like Catholics.”
“I don’t,” he replied, “but they’re so cute when they’re little.”
That we are — with or without tails. But all “little ones” can be challenging too, even if innocently.
A catechism teacher supposedly decided to test her class to see if they understood her lesson that we can’t earn entry into paradise. “If I had a big garage sale,” she asked, “sold my house and car, and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“No!” the children answered.
“If I loved my family, never disobeyed my parents, and always cleaned my room, would that get me into heaven?” she said.
Again, they cried, “No!”
After several similar questions, the proud teacher happily continued, “Well then, how can I get into heaven?”
A boy shouted out: “You gotta be dead first!”
Children do astonish us.
My own conception in the summer of 1973 surprised my parents. My mother had been informed by a doctor that she would be unable to have another child after the birth of my sister Maria in 1969. Yet my then 38-year-old mother conceived me.
“We thought we were through with blessings,” my mom told me when we discussed our family history April 25, 2010.
“I thought in a way the timing was wrong,” my dad admitted.
At the time, a disappointing investment had forced my parents and their four children to move back in with my grandparents.
“I must have been depressed so her father came,” my dad said. “He said, ‘What’s the matter, Joe?’… I said, ‘You know I made a mistake with the property… and now I find out that your daughter — my wife — is pregnant…’
“He says, ‘… When the Lord gives you a baby the Lord gives you a loaf of bread to feed it.’ … That snapped me to [and] you were very welcome.”
I was born in early March at Madera Community Hospital and would be baptized nine days later at St. Joachim Church.
I might not be alive today if I had different parents facing the same circumstances. On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the “right of privacy” was “broad enough to encompass” a right to abortion, which until then was outlawed or restricted in the 50 states.
I’m not the only survivor. The mother of Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos football team, had been told by her doctor that at age 37 the pregnancy posed a high risk to her life and that the “mass of fetal tissue,” a “tumor,” had to go. Pam and Bob Tebow refused.
But these stories are nothing compared to those of Gianna Jessen, Melissa Ohden, Claire Culwell, Ana Rosa Rodriguez, and others who literally survived abortions. A search on YouTube or elsewhere will reveal their tales.
Gianna Jessen’s story may be known best after having been reported by the Telegraph, the BBC, and other media. The 34-year-old was born in Los Angeles prematurely after a failed abortion.
“I survived so I could stir things up a bit, and I have a great time doing it…,” she said in a speech at the Victoria, Australia, Parliament House in 2008. “I was delivered alive… after 18 hours” in a saline solution. “I should be blind, I should be burned, I should be dead, and yet I’m not.”
Oxygen deprivation from the procedure left her with physical atrophy and cerebral palsy. Her adoptive mother was told she would never be able to walk or even sit up. Yet Gianna has run marathons and is a talented singer-songwriter in Nashville.
Mother Teresa said, “God is using Gianna to remind the world that each human being is precious to him.”
A few weeks ago I had a chance to see a movie, “October Baby,” inspired by Gianna’s past. My ticket to the advance screening was courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Fresno, but members of Christian churches around the San Joaquin Valley packed the theater. I laughed and cried during the gentle uplifting film.
“October Baby” will publicly debut in Fresno on March 22.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 2/17/12 in The Madera Tribune
A U.S. tourist in Ireland marveled when he spotted familiar bottles of American beer behind the counter of a pub. “I see you have Bud Light over here now,” he commented.
“Yes,” said the bartender. “But we only drink it for Lent.”
The true tale was one of many swapped by visitors to the Chicago Tribune website three years ago. Another told of a university roommate who resolved to give up pizza for Lent. Normally his friends wouldn’t have been impressed, but when he abstained from the college staple from the first weekend of December through final exams later that month they took notice.
No one had the heart to direct him to a calendar.
I’m grateful someone did so to me. I realized Wednesday will mark the solemn day when Maderans of all walks of life will stretch out their hand to a classmate or co-worker and intone the traditional greeting: “You’ve got a smudge on your forehead.”
There are two common liturgical responses to this. The first emphasizes the self-effacing character of the Lenten season as the ash besmirched Christian offers a weak smile and replies, “Um… thanks.” The responsorial alternative, usually spoken rather than sung, explains about weeks of spiritual preparation before the holy day of Easter. This explanation is largely ceremonial as it does not prevent the same greeting from being offered the following year — or sometimes even later the same day.
Ash Wednesday is the ancient gateway for 40 days of renewed prayer, repentance, self-denial, and compassion for those in need. This time of Lent, a word that originally meant “spring,” alters the routines of Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, some Baptists and Mennonites, and others every year.
I’ve always been grateful for the fellowship and reminder to renew my commitment to God, which often involves examining my own life and working at refocusing my scattered attention. There has never been a year when I felt the effort was unnecessary.
The season of Lent draws its inspiration, in part, from the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the desert after his baptism in the Jordan River by his older cousin John. There in the wilderness Jesus fasted and prayed. Afterwards he recalled scripture as he resisted the temptations of the demon Satan. Then Jesus began his public ministry.
One would hope that Christians imitate this retreat of Jesus into the wilds not only to better prepare themselves to withstand attractions to evil but also to ready themselves to minister to those around them.
Those in need, physically or spiritually, are never absent in any era. Jesus promised as much (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7), and he asked us not only to serve but to love our neighbor as our self (Matthew 25:37-40; Mark 12:30-31).
“What a comfort is this way of love!” wrote the Carmelite nun Térèse Martin. “You may stumble on it, you may fail to match the grace given, but always love knows how to make the best of everything; whatever offends our Lord is burnt up in its fire, and nothing is left but a humble, absorbing peace deep down in the heart.”
So why do Christians begin such a time as Lent with ashes?
I am reminded of the poem “Spring and Fall” by Victorian poet and convert Rev. Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, that he wrote nine years before his own death. In it, he described the tears of a fictional girl at seeing the barren woods of the fall season.
“Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving? / Leaves, like the things of man, you / With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? / Ah! As the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder / By and by, nor spare a sigh.”
Though no one had told her, he said, her heart had heard and her spirit had guessed the deeper meaning behind these empty trees. “It is the blight man was born for, / It is Margaret you mourn for.”
In naked branches and in ashes, we see foreshadowings of our own death. The illusion of our own immortality quivers, and if we are honest so do we.
In that moment, we can hide like a frightened child. We can chill our hearts to such thoughts. We can protest. We can cry. We can surrender to an inevitable doom.
Or we who are Christians can trust the embrace of the death-conquering God we claim to love and follow.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 2/11/12 in The Madera Tribune
One morning after Mass, a little boy supposedly announced, “Mom, I want to be a priest when I grow up!”
“That’s fine with me,” she replied, “but why?”
“Well,” he said, “I have to go to church on Sundays anyway, and I’d rather stand up and talk than sit down and listen!”
I suspect President Barack Obama feels the same way about the recent wave of Catholic sermons across the U.S. against a policy of his. His administration decided to go ahead with requiring employers to cover sterilization, contraception, and devices and drugs such as Plan B and Ulipristal (“Ella”) that — similar to RU-486 -- can be used to induce abortion.
What has sparked public protest from 169 U.S. Catholic bishops, the 53 bishops of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in North America, the National Association of Evangelicals, 154 Democrat and GOP congressmen, and more is the lack of a broad exemption for religious organizations.
The religious exemption is so narrow only places of worship would be included. Religious schools, universities, hospitals, charities, and more would have to obey it after a one-year delay. The rule would then override state laws, which are generally far less severe if they exist.
In the past, U.S. bishops have warned they’d shut down Catholic hospitals rather than violate their conscience rights and pay for things they consider immoral. The impact would be big.
There are more than 600 Catholic health care institutions in the U.S. — 12 percent of all that exist (PJ Kennedy & Sons, 2004). One in six U.S. residents are treated in one each year, according to the Catholic Health Association of the United States.
A fictional joke is told of a man who required surgery after a heart attack, and awoke to find himself in a Catholic hospital. He complained that he had no health insurance or savings to pay, so a nurse asked, “Do you have a relative who could help?”
“I only have a spinster sister,” he said. “She’s a nun.”
The nurse frowned and scolded, “Nuns are not spinsters! They’re married to God.”
He replied, “Good! Send the bill to my brother-in-law.”
Religious hospitals have to do just that often enough, but that is part of why they exist — to serve. It is unfair for those they and other religious groups serve to be caught in this crossfire between faith and politics.
In their work to reduce poverty, members of Catholic Charities USA — a charitable bureau of the U.S. bishops — provide services for more than 10 million people each year regardless of religious background. Many Catholic Charities affiliates in two states and Washington D.C. are already closing their branches in response to state legislation. Now imagine the entire system disbanded.
Perhaps the bishops are raising the stakes so high because what is at risk — religious liberty -- is that important.
As St. Joachim Church associate pastor Rev. George Pallyathara, OSJ, preached Sunday, “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.” Most U.S. Catholics and Evangelicals agree. A Rasmussen Reports survey Wednesday found 65 percent of Catholic and 62 percent of Evangelical voters oppose the new health insurance rule.
Despite many voices opposing it, Catholic military chaplains were silent, and not by choice. Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services e-mailed a pastoral letter about the issue for the chaplains to read from the pulpit Sunday in all military chapels, but the U.S. Army said no. Do not.
Elsewhere, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in January that ministers (whether pastors, rabbis, or imams) cannot sue their churches for employment discrimination. This was no surprise. The U.S. has long recognized a First Amendment “ministerial exception” to discrimination laws, which allows religions to only appoint members of their faith as leaders, permits Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and some Protestant denominations to only ordain men, celibacy requirements, etc.
Yet it was the Obama administration that long pressed the case against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church. The administration argued religious groups had no more right to pick their leaders than a social club, and that an employee could not be a minister if she had secular duties also. As Chief Justice John Roberts remarked, even the pope would fail that test. Obama’s own appointee, Justice Elena Kagan, called the stance “amazing” in a bad way, and the court called it “extreme.”
Sadly that’s just a taste of it all. Obama has opened a wide battlefront between government activism and religious liberty, and some resist and pray.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously posted on Facebook (not published)
In case others have the same questions, I am sharing questions I have been asked by those skeptical of my religious beliefs and my answers. The questions may be abridged for privacy or clarity reasons. My answers express my personal understanding as a devout Christian (Roman Catholic to be specific). I reserve the right to misstate, change, or otherwise bungle my answers.
UNCERTAINTY OF GOD
... there may be a god, there may not. No one can be 100% certain either way. Live and let live I say! I just enjoy a bit of a debate every now and again.
January 12, 2012, at 3:20pm
There is a difference between being 100 percent certain and being convinced. (Hint: The threshhold is lower for being convinced.) :)
January 12, 2012, at 8:18pm
UNCERTAINTY OF THE BIBLE
... seeing as you are so well versed in the Bible, you will be very aware that it got a serious re-edit by 12th century monks because they felt that some of the information was "unsuitable", shall we say, for "ordinary" people to know.. so it was edited or simply left out. How can a tertiary source like the translated, re-edited bible, still be seen as the absolute Truth?
January 13 at 1:09am
... As for whether monks significantly "re-edited" the New Testament in the 12th century, that is not really correct. But even if it were so it would be irrelevant. We now have most of the text of the New Testament on papyri that date back to A.D. 250, and a complete version (Sinaiticus) on parchment dating from A.D. 350.
January 13 at 8:22am
Brainwashed from birth.
January 13 at 8:22am
I prefer a brain that has been washed to a dirty mind. ;) ...
January 13 at 8:23am
haha, good comeback!
January 13 at 8:23am
IGNORANCE OF GOD
But how do you know a lot about god? Does he speak to you? Or are you going on the word of an old book. What about Muslims and Jews etc.
January 13 at 9:41am
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam believe humanity can know about God because God chose to self-disclose. This self-disclosure to humanity is referred to as "public revelation" and is expressed, in part, in the Bible.
Disclaimer: Judaism doesn't accept all of what Christians term the Bible of course, and Islam accepts the whole Bible per se but distrusts the reliability of the text.
January 13 at 9:47am
But God never spoke to me! I have never read the bible!
January 13 at 9:48am
President Obama has never spoken to me personally either. But if I wish I can find out what he has said.
January 13 at 9:49am
what about people that live in the Amazon that have never been discovered by civilization? Are they going to hell because they don't have access to the bible?
January 13 at 9:51am
Opinions differ on that.
For example, the apostle Paul claimed in one of his New Testament letters that those who lived without reference to "the Law" (meaning the moral code of God) would be judged according to their own conscience.
My denomination, Catholicism, would agree with Paul and say that those people in the Amazon who had no opportunity to learn about public revelation would not necessarily be damned.
Some of the other Christian denominations would say they would go to Hell.
In short, reread the first sentence of this comment. ;)
January 13 at 9:55am
HELL IN A HANDBASKET
What kind of God would send someone to suffer for eternity in hell just for not worshipping him?
January 13 at 9:57am
To answer the question of why God would allow someone to go to hell for eternity, one must first grasp the concept of hell itself.
Hell is more than a place. It is also a state, and that state of being can be experienced even in one's lifetime. What is this state of being and place? Hell is a place and state of the rejection of God and all that directly reflects God.
This rejection has a great quantity of ramifications, because God is a being that possesses the fullness of the qualities of being: all-beautiful, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, etc. To reject God is to, ultimately, embrace ugliness, weakness, ignorance, hate, and more.
Moreover, when one turns away from the gift-giver, one is also spurning the gifts... I will cut short my explanation unfinished though rather than ramble on over long.
January 13 at 10:04am
My parents gave me life! But they don't demand worship! I will go through life being nice to people but according to you, people can rape and murder as long as they repent to god afterwards. So I'm going to hell and they're going to heaven. Where's the justice there? :(
January 13 at 10:05am
Shall I continue my explanation then ... of why God would allow anyone to remain in the state and place of hell for eternity?
Yes, hell exists because people have the choice to accept or reject God. We make that decision every day of our lives by how we choose to be and act, and God respects that choice for all eternity. If we do not wish God to be with us in our lifetime, God allows us to exist without being able to perceive God for all eternity.
In short, the worst and most torturous aspect of hell is not any physical suffering. The most terrible part is being insensible to the presence of God. We are eternally blinded to God, and not by a violent deprivation of our senses but because we willfully closed our eyes.
By "blinded" I don't mean we forget that God exists or are unaware of God in any way. But we are no longer able to appreciate or comprehend anything that resembles God. In a way, it would be like a light to bright for us to witness without pain and being unable to discern any details....
Be right back. Telephone call.
January 13 at 10:16am
what do I have to do to accept god into my life then? It all feels so one sided when I pray.
January 13 at 10:18am
Each human has the choice to accept God into one's life, because God has offered that option to us.
I won't claim that we deserve that option. The happiness from recognizing and appreciating God's presence transcends what any human could "earn" in any way.
But the flip side is that the choice is real. We can accept God or reject God. The reason why rejecting God has such terrible consequences is because the presence of God is such a wonderful gift to us. Even an atheist sees God's reflected presence in one's life in every experience of true beauty, love, goodness, and joy. All of us, whether we believe in God or not, take it for granted, so we fail to realize the fullness of what rejecting God entails.
Hence we think hell is horrible because of fire, torture, or whatever. But what makes hell a tragedy is that inability to comprehend and appreciate God and anything god-like.
We can lament that we have such a choice to make, but that would be like grieving that a stunningly attractive, intelligent and good-hearted woman asked you out for a date. If one turns down that offer, who is to blame for having to return to a cold, empty, and solitary apartment afterwards?
As for how does anyone accept God into one's life, it comes down to daily choices. Despite what some may believe, it isn't just a one-time decision. Every day of our life, one has to welcome God into one's life.
In many ways, but the most basic one is "prayer," which is simply a much-misunderstood term for communication (the word "pray" originally meant "to ask"). As with any relationship, communication is key... and yes, it should be two-way.
How can it be two-way? By not just speaking but also listening. We can listen to God by hearing what God self-revealed, especially in the person and words of Jesus.
Another way we choose God is by, like in any relationship, making a conscious effort not to offend. It helps to have friends who also want God in their lives, because they won't be annoyed or antagonistic when you bring God along with you. In fact, they can be a great support.
January 13 at 10:56am and 11:12am
GAMBLING ON ETERNITY
if atheism is wrong, our faults dont necesarily have to be as bad as to send us to hell, mostly to the purgatory... if religion is wrong, we live our lifes limited by fear and the hope of an afterlife...
is a life of religion one marred by fear and hope? For argument's sake only, I will assume you are correct.
Now let us consider the alternative as you see it: "if atheism is wrong, our faults don't necessarily have to be as bad as to send us to hell." There is uncertainty in this proposition as you describe it. Atheism may or may not result in hell. For argument's sake again, I will presume you are absolutely correct.
Now then, let us ponder this further. What is hell? For expediency, I will simply quote a dictionary's opinion: "hell |hel| noun. 1. a place regarded in various religions as a spiritual realm of evil and suffering... perpetual... 2. a state or place of great suffering; an unbearable experience." In short, hell is an unending unbearable existence of suffering.
And the alternative option? Heaven. "a state of being eternally in the presence of God after death. a place, state, or experience of supreme bliss." (New Oxford American Dictionary) In short, heaven is an unending existence of ecstasy in the presence of God.
So here stands your life's wager as you and the dictionary describe it:
Option 1: About 100 years or less of "fear and hope" + (nothingness or infinite years of bliss with God).
Option 2: About 100 years or less without such "fear and hope" + (nothingness, infinite years of unbearable suffering, or infinite years of ecstasy)
It seems to me that Option 1 has better odds.
i simply dont agree on puting the need of an afterlife along with the creation of laws and morality... imposing morality is unethical... ethics are more urgent than morality, morality is simply a guess... we should focus on the urgent and the evident which is physical reality, instead of superstition on the non physical. we dont need religion to create ethics, we simply need religion to not feel bad about dying...
we don't need religion to create ethics. I and my Christian denomination (Catholicism) agree on that. But religion, if true, does potentially help us to correct our ethics when they become skewed if we are willing to listen.
As for whether imposing morality is unethical, it can be at times. But it can also be an act of sanity, such as when a society establishes laws and punishments for murder, theft, and rape. The consciences of others should be respected, but not all activities or ideas should be unopposed.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 9/11/97 in The Madera Tribune
The Friends of Madera County Library have been wondering what you’re doing here. Some friends they are, eh?
In case you haven’t heard, the Friends plan on self-publishing a book titled, “Why We’re Here,” on the origins of Madera County residents. They’re asking locals to submit a story of 250 words or less on where they came from, either personally or as a family.
A local fast food clerk once asked my dad where he was from. My dad replied, “Germany.”
She persisted, “No, what country do you come from?”
My dad repeated himself, “Germany.”
“Oh,” she said with obvious disappointment, “I thought you were from someplace in Europe.”
In elementary school I would have dreaded having to write a 250-word essay, but now I cringe for the opposite reason. This column, for example, usually runs more than 750 words. How do you compress an oak tree back into an acorn?
My family dates back to at least the 12th century at Vorhelm in western Germany. At that time, records reveal that one of my forebears sold himself to the local bishop to avoid being drafted for war duty. After the war ended he bought his freedom.
In A.D. 1812, the Rieping homestead had to quarter French troops since it happened to be on the supply route during Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia.
About 1929 my grandfather Heinrich asked for his inheritance early and moved his young family of four to Klein Karlshoeh in Silesia, now western Poland. Despite this my family suffered again from war when Adolf Hitler followed in France’s footsteps by invading Russia. My uncle Hugo had been drafted into service, and his horse stepped on a mine during the attack on Stalingrad in Nov. 1942. My uncle had turned 19 only days before he died.
My father Josef, the eighth of 11 children, had a mischievous streak, like myself. At age 6, he found a naturally hollowed tree in the woods near his home. Discovering that the inside looked like a chimney, he decided to light a fire in it. Nazi soldiers spied the smoke and suspecting an enemy plot soon arrived on the scene. Josef fled and evaded the soldiers in the woods for hours before finally escaping home late that night.
When Josef returned home, he expected to be punished for his extreme lateness. But after hearing the truth my grandfather praised him proudly, and made sure he ate before going to bed. At the time my dad was confused at this leniency. He later realized my grandparents feared to openly criticize the Nazi government, or they would have.
Nonetheless, in 1945 Russian soldiers came to the door of the farmhouse asking for Heinrich Rieping. My grandmother Helene used the excuse that she was washing dishes to send my father, then age 8, to lead the soldiers to her husband, who was in the fields raking hay. My dad obeyed, and the soldiers took Heinrich away to a prison camp.
That July a Roman Catholic priest warned Helene that authorities intended to put her family into a prison camp as well. At his urging, she fled west with her eight children — the youngest was only 3. Josef turned 9 during the long trek. After bribing a border guard not to shoot for five minutes, the family safely made it across the kilometer-wide border, known as “no man’s land.” The story of my family would continue, and Josef’s would lead across the ocean to the U.S.A.
How do you compress an oak tree into an acorn? God does it every autumn, and in the same way the sum of a family’s history is written in you and I. All of us are a product of the past, and that is why history is important.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 12/26/97 in The Madera Tribune
“On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day [the 25th of Kislev] it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes and cymbals ... For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise.”
— 1 Maccabees 4:54,56
The fourth candle will be kindled this evening, and so continues the eight-day Jewish festival of lights (AKA the feast of dedication, feast of Maccabees, Hanukkah, and Chanukah) which commemorates the reconsecration of the Temple of Jerusalem (c. 165 B.C.) after being recaptured from the Syrian Greeks, or Seleucids.
The history revolves around the Joarib family of priests, and in particular Judah “the Maccabee” (d. 161 B.C.), glorified in G.F. Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus.” Following the lead of his father Mattathias, Judah and his four brothers spearheaded a revolt against the Seleucid dynasty, who waged several violent campaigns against the Jews.
The trouble began with the prohibition of local religions by the King Antiochus Epiphanes, who seized a remnant of Alexander the Great’s kingdom in 175 B.C. Circumcision, holocausts, sacrifices, libations, and other observances of the law were outlawed. Some Jews apostasized (“left the faith”), while others were forced into hiding.
“A man could not keep the shabbat [meaning ‘sabbath’] or celebrate the traditional feasts, nor even admit that he was a Jew.”
— 2 Maccabees 6:6
In 168 B.C, King Antiochus sent an Athenian senator to Jerusalem to force the Jewish people to abandon their faith. The senator dedicated the Temple of Jerusalem to the “Olympian Zeus.” All were forced to partake in sacrifices to Greek and pagan gods or face the penalty of death. All the scrolls of the Jewish law that were found were torn then burnt.
When a Jew came forward to sacrifice to Zeus, fury overcame the priest Mattathias and he slew the apostate Jew at the altar, as well as the king’s messenger and enforcer of the sacrilege. Mattathias tore down the altar to Zeus, and then he and his sons fled to the mountains with others who wished to keep their faith.
Mattathias led a successful war against the Seleucids, and after his death his five sons continued an ultimately victorious guerrilla war against the supporters of the king. Before and during this time, many Jews died rather than forsake their traditions and their God.
“Thus, two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall. Others, who had assembled in nearby caves to observe the shabbat in secret, were betrayed to Philip and all burned to death. In their respect for the holiness of that day, they had scruples about defending themselves.”
— 2 Maccabees 6:10-11
Scholars and rabbis differ on why Judah received his famous nickname, Maccabee, which has come to refer to the two Jewish books of this period and the heroes in them. The most popular explanation however translates Maccabee as “hammer” (in Hebrew “makkebet” or “makkaba”) in reference to his crushing victories. A variant theory argues that the name refers to the peculiar shape of his skull, a “makban” or hammerhead.
Others believe the name Maccabee is an acronym for the scripture verse “Mi kamokha ba’elim Hashem” (“Who is like unto thee among the mighty, O Lord!”), inspiring words that Judah may have carried into battle. The use of Hebrew acronyms as names came into use around the turn of the millennium.
“After him they brought the sixth brother. When he was about to die, he said: ‘Have no vain illusions. We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such astonishing things have happened to us. Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.’”
— 2 Maccabees 7:18-19
So why is Hanukkah also known as the festival of lights? The Jewish Talmud records that when the rededication of the Temple began no supply of pure olive oil could be found, except enough for one day’s burning. The person sent to purchase more oil wasn’t able to return until eight days later, and yet the oil lamps miraculously continued to burn.
Thus it was that the eight-branched Menorah candelabrum has become an appropriate symbol of the holiday, which really celebrates how the seeming impossible is truly possible with God. Shalom!
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 11/07/97 in The Madera Tribune
"Though blind men see no light, the sun doth shine.
Sweet cakes are sweet, though fevered tastes deny it.
Pearls precious are, though trodden on by swine;
Each truth is true, though all men do not try it."
— Robert Southwell, "Of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar"
LANCIANO, Italy — By late Friday morning, this Maderan's tour bus rode into the city of Lanciano for a lunch break. That afternoon, we pilgrims would catch our flight at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Rome for Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Our tour guide Sylvia Puppio led the 11 Californians from the bus to the little Church of St. Legontian. We were to meet again near there an hour later to continue the last leg of our journey through Italy.
In the back of this church sat an alleged 1,200-year-old miracle of the Eucharist, where the bread and wine of Communion had reportedly become Jesus' flesh and blood in a visible fashion.
Except for Sylvia, all silently prayed for a time before leaving to eat or shop. Another group of European and Middle-Eastern pilgrims filled the pews as my fellow pilgrims left one-by-one.
As for myself, I wasn't overwhelmed at the sight before my eyes. As a Catholic, I had always believed and don't recall ever doubting that Jesus truly became physically present in the bread and wine of Communion at mass. For me, appearances could not change what the scriptures and early Christians so clearly attested (I.E. Mat. 26:26-28; John 6:51-58; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-32).
Sylvia had warned us earlier that we weren't allowed to take photographs of the Eucharist out of reverence. But several pilgrims — including myself — couldn't resist taking at least one shot. I prayed first to ask God permission to take His picture even though this was discouraged. If He did mind, I asked that the photo wouldn't come out ... and when I returned I discovered that it hadn't.
"I stooped to see the wonder, when, behold!
Within the cup a Countenance divine
Looked upward at me through the trembling wine,
Suffused with tenderest love and grief untold."
— Frederick Tennyson, "An Incident"
In the eighth century Frentanese city of Anxanum, a Basilian monk who had been studying the science of the day began to doubt the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. How could Jesus be physically present when the apparent nature of the bread and wine didn’t change? While celebrating mass one day, he interiorly begged God to help him know for sure that Jesus was present in the bread and wine, he later claimed. After the two-fold consecration during mass, the outer edge of the large Communion host publicly appeared to transform into flesh, and the wine into blood. It seemed his prayers had been dramatically answered.
The blood, now kept in an old rock-crystal cup, coagulated into five irregular globules and has a yellowish earthy color. The light brown flesh, minus the bread center which wasted away, has sat in a silver Ostensorium since 1713.
A scientific investigation was conducted in 1970-'71, and partly in 1981, by Prof. Odoardo Linoli, a professor in anatomy and pathological histology and in chemistry and clinical microscopy. Prof. Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena assisted. Their conclusions were that the flesh and blood are real flesh and blood, belong to the human species, and have the same blood-type: AB.
The flesh consists of muscular tissue of the heart: the myocardium, endocardium, the vagus nerve, and the left ventricle of the heart. The blood contains proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as the sero-proteic make-up of fresh human blood. They could not explain how this flesh and blood, which had been left exposed to atmospheric and biological agents for 12 centuries, could remain preserved and fresh, despite signs of age in the ancient tissue.
"And I heard Agnus, Agnus Dei,
Pleading for man with Love's own breath;
And Love drew near me,
And Love drew near me
And I drank Life through God’s own death."
— Alfred Noyes, "The Strong City"
Too soon the hour of prayer passed. I made sure this time to be at the designated meeting place a few minutes earlier than requested. I would not be late this time, and happily endured the tardy return of a few shopping pilgrims.
We travelled westward, and upon arriving in Rome at half-past three we were delayed by a necessary detour. The bus driver, who had driven in a relatively subdued fashion during our travels, began to drive more like the other drivers with a heavy pedal. We had to reach the Da Vinci airport in time or miss checking in for our 5:25 p.m. flight.
"Your journey here has ended," announced Sylvia as we passed a statue of Leonardo da Vinci holding a model of the primitive helicopter he thought up.
She wouldn’t have another tour group until Thursday, but she stayed at the airport to help us all check-in and lingered behind to watch her odd bunch of 'tourists' off. I couldn't think of anything to say at the last, so I said farewell with a silent bow which amused her.
All of the pilgrims felt a bit sad to leave Italy, but all were excited and eager to go on to Medjugorje.
"Thou art the Way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul...
I'll not reproach
The road that winds, my feet that err.
Art Thou, Time, Way, and Wayfarer."
— Alice Meynell, "'I Am the Way'"