By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 29 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
Temple guards bound and led the rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) by torch and moonlight down into the Valley of Josaphat and then back up into the metropolis of Jerusalem, which sat upon a limestone plateau.
At their teacher's arrest, Yeshua's followers scattered. One young man had dared to follow, so a guard seized him by the linen cloth he wore. The panicked man pulled free of it and ran naked into the night. Other disciples, no less desperate, likely hid among the burial caves of the Mount of Olives as fear of death overpowered dread of the unclean dead.
Still others probably climbed the mount to see what might be seen of the city's doings before recovering their courage and returning to its embrace in search of news.
Loud knocks surely roused Yeshua's mother, Mirriam (Mary), that night but they could not compare to her sobs after hearing what the beloved disciple had to tell. Her grief surpassed his shame and anxiety. He could not let her go out alone. The mother ached with all her might for her endangered child and the hour of darkness could not daunt her.
Kepha (Aramaic for "rock" or Peter) too regained his resolve and so he shadowed his rabbi from a safe distance.
As they passed through the slums, those exposed to the heavens would have been rebuffed by the armed guards if they sought glimpses or information of the encircled prisoner. In time, murmur and lament would spread among the poor, who had so welcomed the healing and hope the rabbi brought. Pleas to men and God for mercy seemed unheard.
Yeshua's captors hastened onward to the home of the priest Ananas ben Seth (Annas, son of Seth). By now, Kepha was not the only one following his rabbi. The other, Johanan (John), followed the crowd into the courtyard of the palace, for the household knew the young man. But the gate closed to Kepha until Johanan convinced its keeper to let him in.
As Johanan watched his rabbi's interrogation within, Kepha huddled with others about a charcoal fire in the courtyard, for the night had grown cold. Talk of Yeshua's arrest dominated here as it had elsewhere among those not sleeping.
As the hours passed, the gossip had shifted from shock to scandal. The troubled had voiced their doubts and found no answers to calm them. Suspicions grew. Perhaps the rabbi was yet another false messiah and beneath all the hype about his good words and deeds lay only corruption and hypocrisy. The Galilean may have been exposed at last. How could we have been so foolish? Shame fed anger.
The words battered Kepha's heart and he felt like the only sane man left. Why couldn't they recognize the obvious truth? He stared into the glowing coals and finally blurted his thoughts: no, Yeshua isn't like that. He's a good and loving man. You're twisting everything.
Kepha looked up and all eyes were on him as though he were the lunatic. The gatekeeper expressed her surprise: "You're not one of his disciples, are you?" (cf. John 18:17)
He felt keenly his solitude against the many. Would they turn on him? "No, I'm not!" he replied. Spying another fire in the outer court, Kepha excused himself to seek its safety.
But the woman, who was no fool, followed him and told bystanders: "He is one of them." (Mark 14:69)
Annoyed and scared, Kepha repeated his denial. Listen to that Galilean accent, someone remarked in agreement with the gatekeeper. A fellow servant and kinsman of Melek (Malchus) peered at Kepha and asked: "Didn't I see you in the garden with him?" (cf. John 18:26)
To defend Yeshua, Kepha had tried to kill Melek in that garden, though his clumsy strike slashed only his ear. Now he stood among Melek's co-workers, friends and family. His vulnerability could have been no greater. So Kepha cursed and swore by God: "I know not this man of whom you speak!" (cf. Mark 14:71)
Taken aback by his passion, the others said nothing, and into that silence burst a rooster's cock-a-doodle-doo. Just as the rabbi foretold, Kepha realized.
He blindly pushed his way out into the streets, his chest convulsing as he pierced the night with weeping.
The inquiry of Ananas complete, guards escorted Yeshua to the palace of the priest's son-in-law, Yosef ben Kayafa (Joseph, son of Caiaphas). The locale was prudent, for it held a basement dungeon and sat only 100 paces from Pontius Pilatus' Hall of Judgment.
As ben Kayafa had already predicted, the rabbi would die so that the people might be spared.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 23 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
Simon "Kepha" (Aramaic for "rock") Bar-Jonah joined with the others in singing the second part of the Hallel (Psalm 114:1 - 118:26). The fourth cup of wine had been poured and blessed at the end of the Passover Seder, a ritual feast he -- like many Jews -- knew well.
But questions about the future most likely held his thoughts even as he sang: "I will praise you: for you have heard me, and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders refused has become the head cornerstone" (Psalm 118:21-22). After three years of gathering support across Palestine, the battle for kingship surely approached. The crowds in Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread so rejoiced in their coming only days ago.
The others clearly felt the same. After the hymn concluded the Seder, conversation about the coming kingdom turned anew into a heated argument about what office each deserved. Their rabbi, Yeshua (Jesus), calmed them all by assuring them they would each dine at his table in his kingdom and sit as judges over the people.
As he often did, the rabbi wished to pray on the Mount of Olives, one of three peaks east of Jerusalem. It offered the best view of Solomon's Temple where, in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle, lay the Ark of the Covenant. There the God of Israel dwelled.
But when they left the house's upper room, Yeshua warned vaguely of a coming test of their faith in him. This surprised no one. No kingdom is established without risk and bloodshed. Speaking what all felt, Kepha promised, "Rabbi, I am ready to follow you, both into prison and to death… Though all turn against you, I never will!" (cf. Luke:22:33; Matthew 26:33)
Yeshua replied Kepha would indeed deny him before a rooster crowed that night. Though gentle, his words struck Kepha like a blow, and it only hurt worse as the others added their own reassurances that they, at least, would be faithful.
The rabbi then shocked them all by asking that they carry money, sacks, and swords as they went out. He had always sent them out without any of these, trusting God and kind hearts would provide whatever they needed. He said tonight they must fulfill scripture prophecy. What did he intend to do?
Two swords were found, and Kepha made sure he kept one of them. Whatever happened, he assured himself he would be ready to act regardless of the cost. He would prove himself.
A full moon guided their way as the 12 men exited the city after midnight and crossed the dry wadi bed of Kidron in the Valley of Josaphat before walking towards the mount, with its burial caves cut into the white chalk and gray flint of the ridge. Like usual, they stopped at the quiet Garden of the "Oil Press" ("Gethsemane") at the foot of the mount.
Leaving behind the other disciples, Yeshua took his most devoted with him further in: Kepha and the two sons of Zavdai (Zebedee), Ya'aqov (James) and Johanan (John). This preferential treatment soothed Kepha's wounded heart a little, but only at first. For the rabbi loosened his self-control and his moonlit eyes shone with wrenching grief, which he himself admitted.
"Stay here, and watch with me," Yeshua asked, and so they did (cf. Matthew 26:38). They saw their teacher, the long-awaited scion of King David, gradually melt fully in sorrow under the olive trees. Kneeling became prostration as he prayed face down in the earth. The hearts of Kepha and the others followed into his gloom, though unintended moments of sleep left them briefly bewildered upon awaking.
After one such nap, Yeshua softly scolded them and urged them to pray to be spared the coming test of faith. As he spoke, a crowd of religious leaders and temple guards came, and Yeshua greeted them. Kepha's fellow disciple Yehuda (Judas), who had left the Seder long before its end, stepped forth from the crowd to kiss the rabbi's cheek to identify him for the guards. Yeshua asked Yehuda why he would betray him with a kiss.
Betrayal. The idea pierced Kepha's groggy mind. While others wasted precious time asking Yeshua what to do, Kepha raised his sword and sliced off the right ear of a nearby man named Melek (Malchus), a servant of the high priest.
But the rabbi told him not to fight and tended to Melek -- healing him! It all made no sense. Courage fled Kepha and the "rock" ran away.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 15 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
I chuckled interiorly when Daniel Barriga, a fifth grade student of St. Joachim School, confidently said Wednesday that the new Pope Francis, age 76, was a soccer player.
Shows how much I know, Daniel.
I returned home that night and learned that the San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer team had proudly tweeted an image of the former cardinal’s membership card that afternoon. The name and photo on it were unmistakably his: Bergoglio, Jorge Mario.
He became a “centennial member” in 2008 on the 100th anniversary of the soccer club, reportedly one of the five most popular teams in Argentina. It was named after a Buenos Aires priest, Rev. Lorenzo Massa, who allowed kids to play soccer in the church’s yard so they wouldn’t get hurt by trams in the street. In exchange, they would go to Sunday Mass.
Pope Francis is known to be an enthusiastic Raven, the nickname given to the team’s fans. A fellow devotee, architect Oscar Lucchini, told the Reuters news agency, “He (the pope) says he lives in a permanent state of suffering for San Lorenzo.”
That’s to be expected. San Lorenzo apparently ranks 12th in Argentina’s Primera Division. I’m sure loyal supporters of similarly… um… challenged sports teams can empathize.
Perhaps he still chanted in Spanish with other fans: “Ole ole ole / ole ole ole ola / ole ole ole, / each day I love you more! / Oh, it’s a feeling / that I carry inside. / I can’t stop! / I’ve followed you / since I was a child. /Come on, San Lorenzo, / come on let’s win!”
Whether fifth graders or popes, people can be full of surprises. Humans are like that.
By now, anyone curious about the new pontiff has probably heard he’s the first Latin American pope, the first non-European in more than 12 centuries (the most recent was Syrian), the first to adopt the name Francis, the first to belong to the learned Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits), and the first with only one lung (he lost his other one from a respiratory infection as a teenager).
Less obvious or unusual, Francis is allegedly an introvert, which doesn’t bother this fellow inward-looking soul one bit. The gift of reflection has its advantages, even if it is less celebrated or popular than the lively energy of the extrovert.
He finds inspiration in the humble life of the deacon and friar St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226), who helped reform the medieval Catholic Church while leading like-minded voluntary beggars who served the suffering.
As archbishop, he cooked “frugal and healthy” meals for himself, according to National Public Radio, and enjoyed fruit, skinless chicken, salads, and an occasional glass of wine. Refusing a chauffeured limousine and the archbishop’s palace, he rode the public metro bus and lived in a simple apartment. He cared for AIDS patients and the seriously sick, worked against poverty and human trafficking, ministered to divorcees, and championed the babies of unwed mothers against priests who refused them baptism.
He also preached and taught the good yet challenging news of Christianity, and earned the wrath of some by opposing abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.
In a February 2012 interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa (“The Press”), he spoke of the “new evangelization” (a term coined by Pope John Paul II) in Latin America:
“We need to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery. We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.”
Asked then about a Vatican document leak scandal, he pointed out the timing of a gathering of cardinals at the start of Lent:
“It is an invitation to look at the church, holy and sinful as it is, to look at certain shortcomings and sins, without losing sight of the holiness of so many men and women who work in the church today. I must not be scandalized by the fact that the church is my mother… And when I think of her, I remember the good and beautiful things she has achieved, more than her weaknesses and defects.”
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 14 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
When the bells of St. Joachim Catholic Church echoed across central Madera, California, well before noon Wednesday, some didn't know what to think. But others knew well the reason.
"The bells just kept ringing, ringing," said Mary Ann Hutcherson, manager of St. Marello Bookstore, "and I see (religious education coordinator) Diana (Saenz) and the ones from this office coming out..." She pointed, imitated an expression of confusion and continued with laughter, "Going, ‘What's going on?' And Zak's (Security One) even drove by like, ‘Why are the bells ringing at 11:30?'... The bells were the other giveaway that we had a pope, because they ring the bells (as if) we were in Rome."
For many Maderans, the first "giveaway" that a new Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis of Argentina, had been elected came from much newer technology than bells.
"My husband (John) came out at lunch, turned on CNN and just at that moment the white smoke was going up. He hollers, ‘There's a pope!' So I go flying to the television set where I am riveted until the pope comes out and just sat in tears, absolutely in tears," said Ellen Bryan, a volunteer at the bookstore. "It sort of gave me faith again in the church."
Her eyes grew wet as she explained. "I thought, ‘We cannot keep going this way.' I mean the image of the church in the world is so bad... among Catholics and non-Catholics... When he came out and he took the name Francis for St. Francis (of Assisi) the reformer, who was called by God to reform the church."
She said she was touched by the lifestyle of the man formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who lived in an apartment, cooked his own meals and frequently rode the bus to work instead of living in the archbishop's residence. He not only publicly preached social justice, but also routinely visited the slums surrounding Buenos Aires.
"The words of (St.) Francis are ‘evangelize always, use words if you have to,' and I thought you know we need that. It doesn't matter what you say. It's what you do that people will watch and learn from. So I just sat there with tears. I found myself praying along (with the new pope)... and just crying."
Her husband, for understandable reasons, felt a different emotion as he waited to find out who the next pope would be.
"He was mad... He kept going, ‘Get this show on the road,' because his lunch hour was almost over... It was funny," she said.
He barely caught a glimpse of the new pope before leaving for work. Yet not all Maderans had to choose between work and papal discovery. As Tom Spencer, principal of St. Joachim School, explained, "As soon as I heard there was white smoke (rising from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican), I announced it over the intercom and told teachers to try to tune in if they could find a way to do it so that the kids could know."
Sister Ana Rosa Gordo of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception teaches fifth grade at the school. After she and her class finished lunch and recess they watched live video of St. Peter's Square until the new pastor of the Catholic Church emerged.
When the principal announced "the pope had been elected it was just... like an explosion of joy, like we have our leader, our father," she said. "So I was excited to see who the pope was going to be... and I was in shock at first. It wasn't one of the cardinals that was on the list of possible popes. But when I saw him walking out (on) the balcony... so calm, his humility, I loved how he asked the people to pray for him, how he prayed for his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, and just that simplicity. It was very touching. I was very excited and thankful to God also."
Her students shared her enthusiasm. Most of them said it was the first time they'd seen a new pope being elected.
"I was so excited!" exclaimed Kai Wong when asked.
Classmate Daniel Barriga, a soccer fan, said the pope would "help us through this mission" in life and especially liked his birthplace "‘cause Barcelona plays for Argentina." Barriga expects the new pope will play soccer.
"He was nice and humble," said Autumn Pecarovich, "because of him asking for a blessing for himself" from all those watching. He bowed his head while others prayed for him.
"I think he'd be like a really great leader... even if you just believe in God and are another religion he can still lead you," Emily Stansbury said.
Not everyone outside the school shares such views however. Renee Roberts, a non-denominational Christian, commented on the election: "I don't care as long as he don't mess up." She had a vague impression the previous pope had done so but couldn't remember what he may have done.
Local Catholics encountered Wednesday naturally had a different response.
"I more or less got a lump in my throat thinking ‘we're back together.' I feel like the church is whole again. Not that it wasn't, but you've gotta have a pope," said Jim Bryan, a dental lab technician.
"When I first heard there's just an overwhelming sense of emotion that comes from knowing that now the decision's been made... I anticipated it being longer," Spencer said. "When it came quickly I found myself really confident that they must have reached that decision very prayerfully and made the decision with a real spirit of unity."
"I didn't know anything about him, but that doesn't surprise me... The ones that the media... or others promote... are not (usually) the ones the Holy Spirit has in mind," said Rev. Carlos Esquivel, pastor of St. Joachim Church and a member of the Oblates of St. Joseph. "What I hope is that he will continue some of what his predecessors have done before him, beginning with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in continuing the Year of Faith and the new evangelization."
Rev. Sergio Perez, OSJ, celebrated a public Mass of "Thanksgiving for the Election of a New Pope" in Spanish at St. Joachim Church on Wednesday night. The school too will celebrate it in a fashion. "As news emerges," St. Joachim School will "probably have a small assembly of some kind to introduce the kids to the pope," Spencer said.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 9 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
Note: This column was not published on the intended date.
Today Catholic cardinals of the world have gathered in Rome for an event of historic proportions.
It is so. My birthday has arrived.
Admittedly many, most likely all, of those religious leaders might be more preoccupied with choosing a new bishop of Rome, and the significance of this day marking my coming out of the womb is lost to them.
I can respect that.
So what have I learned in my 39 years of life beneath the lights of sun and moon? Much and little, I'm sure. As I flip through the pages of my life a few years stand out as the most transformative: 1992, 1995, 2000-2003, and possibly 2011-2012.
By the way, I'm literally turning the physical pages of an autobiography I wrote in 1998, although of course I can only see the more recent episodes of my history within my memory.
What did those years have in common? Suffering and the free gift of God's help to change for the better (also known as grace).
As I'm a firmer believer in recycling, I will quote my own words written in '98 to provide one example: "By the end of the summer of 1994, two hometown friends expressed interest in a relationship, which left me pleasantly undecided. But soon another woman absorbed my attention.
"That August at Drake (University), I overheard someone talking about their Confirmation after the close of an Intervarsity (non-denominational Protestant) Bible study I attended, and I eagerly joined her conversation thinking she was Catholic. After a month of friendship, we began officially dating and that lovely Iowan, Amy, slowly wooed and enraptured my heart.
"At first, I resisted taking the relationship seriously since Amy was Lutheran, but by Christmastime I had resolved that issue in my heart and told my parents of my relationship. To my surprise, they had no problem with it and expressed trust in my judgment. Recognizing the difficulties of the situation, we still agreed that true love and the state of one's relationship with God was of paramount importance in a potential marriage.
"Ironically, my life soon revolved more around my relationship with Amy than my relationship with God. In the late spring of 1995, Amy visited my family in California for over a week before returning to Iowa to work as a Bible camp counselor.
"My feelings for her had grown deeply over the past year, and I began to ponder what I would do next summer when I graduated from Drake University. By mid-summer I had talked privately with my father about the possibility of my moving to Iowa after graduation, but I remained torn over whether I should…"
Alas, it was not to be. That summer I worked two jobs simultaneously yet still couldn't muster the needed funds to return to college that autumn. By September I foolishly held three jobs at the same time. My stress put pressure on my relationship, which already had serious cracks of its own, and she wisely broke it off in September.
I quit one of my jobs and spent the extra time praying to God for Amy's well being. Yet I simultaneously hardened my heart towards God, blaming him for my fate, and became deeply depressed for more than a month.
But in those months God opened my eyes and renewed me in hope. As I later wrote to a friend in March 1996: "I have never endured a deeper and greater sorrow than losing Amy. Yet of all the things Amy ever did for me, the most blessed and beneficial action… was (to) break up with me. In that… she has managed to best pierce the layers and layers of self-deception I had surrounded myself (with) far more deeply than anyone ever has…
"This didn't occur overnight, nor has the process finished. So many days I have felt great remorse and conviction at the realization of the depths of my sinfulness and I think, 'At last, the surgeon's knife has excised the last of the cancer.' Yet so many days the knife has cut still deeper, another set of scales fall from my eyes, and my blindness lightens just a little more. Perhaps I resemble a (peeling) onion far more than Saul of Tarsus."
Naturally that was not the end of my journey. I could tell of similar heartbreaks and growth in those other years: 1992, 2000-2003, etc. While some with steady progress may move, I travel on by leaps and falls marked by pain and its (and my) redemption, the greatest gift life and God have given.