Archive | June, 2010

‘The Life of Man is the Glory of God’- Reflection for Mass of June 28, 2010

28 Jun

Monday, June 28, 2010
Memorial: St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr
Readings: Amos 2:6-10, 13-16; Psalm 50: 16bc-23 (R:22a); Matthew 8:18-22

About two weeks ago I spoke with a journalist on the subject of heresy, admittedly not a topic that I think about often. “What is heresy? Who are heretics?” were the basic questions asked of me. As it was suggested to me, I had in hand the definition of heresy from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.”[1] Unfortunately, that definition only got me a few minutes into our three-hour conversation.

With my mind drifting while I was preparing to meet the reporter, I thought briefly of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” directed against the Gnostics.[2] In the second century, these Gnostics were teaching heretically that the spirit was imprisoned within our corrupt material bodies and that it could ascend to eternal life only upon our physical death. Irenaeus’ main counterpoint was that body and spirit were created by God, were good and will ascend together to eternal life.[3] Any mention of Irenaeus’ treatise, though, would have been even more futile in my discussion with the journalist.

Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” however dense, nevertheless contains some magnificent quotations. Perhaps his most well-known is this, included in today’s Office of Readings: “Life in man is the glory of God. The life of man is the vision of God.”[4] Here, St. Irenaeus provides not so much a denunciation of heresies but a tremendous testimony to the dignity of humankind, created in God’s image, and in turn to our dependence on God.

To lose our notion of these two fundamental truths, I posit, is the ultimate heresy. Pride that disregards God and thus cannot have a proper grasp of human dignity is as seductive in our time as it was in the era of St. Irenaeus. The wilful ignorance of God by the ancient Israelites at the height of their prosperity drew the ire of the prophet Amos. Today we hear from Amos the startling finale of the six “oracles against the nations,” of which the first four are directed against foreign peoples, the fifth is against Judah, and the sixth is a scathing criticism of the ancient Israelites’ decadence.[5] This was not what Amos’ target audience wanted to hear; Israel was reminded that it, more than other nations, had benefitted from God’s grace in its history, having been delivered from Egypt and from the Amorites.[6] Israel, more than its neighbouring peoples, knew better than to have abandoned its covenant with God.

As Amos’ oracle shocked the ancient Israelites, our Psalm response in today’s liturgy still has an alarming character. Not many Christians can or ought to ignore this warning: “Remember this, you who never think of God.”[7] The repetition of these words, however disturbing, should make us think and pray: How often do I think of God? How often do I adore and thank God? How often do I embrace the divine gift of my vocation above “a place to lay [my] head”[8] or above religious or secular ritual,[9] however important these are? Most of us are quite adept in such areas, but we can always improve with regular and attentive prayer.

Without denying the corruption of sin, we must remember the presence of God and unite ourselves to Him. God, St. Irenaeus wrote beautifully, is with us as “a constant goal toward which to make progress.”[10] In His love for humanity, God sent His Son, the Christ who “revealed God to [us] and presented [us] to God.”[11] Let us pray that we might be ever mindful of that relationship between humankind and God- Father, Son and Spirit- to whose glory and by whose abundant love we are given life everlasting.

WRS


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089.

[2] The word “Gnostic” comes from the Greek gnosis, for knowledge. Gnostics in general believed that secret divine knowledge had been revealed to them that had not been granted to all Christians as a matter of faith. Valentinus, of whose writings only fragments have survived to the present, was the particular target of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies.” See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.1.

[3] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.6.

[4] Ibid., IV.20.7.

[5] Philip J. King, “Amos,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:246.

[6] Amos 2:9-10.

[7] Psalm 50:22a

[8] Matthew 8:20

[9] See Matthew 8:21-22. Jews in Jesus’ time had great reverence for the dead, and much emphasis was placed on proper burial to honour deceased family members. The teaching to “let the dead bury their dead,” designed to shock first-century hearers, should be understood as an example of a hyperbolic proverb. The point of this saying is that discipleship of Christ must take precedence over ritual, although the latter might be of profound importance. This instruction is not that the rituals themselves are wrong or trivial, but that they, too, come from God. However, these are subordinate to the greater gifts of fellowship and mission in Jesus Christ. See also the Lukan parallel of today’s Gospel reading, found in Luke 9:57-62.

[10] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.7.

[11] Ibid.

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Do Not Judge, so that You May Not Be Judged- Reflection for Mass of June 21, 2010- St. Aloysius Gonzaga

21 Jun

Monday, June 21, 2010
Memorial: St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Readings: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18; Psalm 60: 1-3+, 5, 10-11 (R:6b); Matthew 7:1-5

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”[1] Jesus’ simple teaching recorded in Matthew’s Gospel has been one of the most misinterpreted. For good reason, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his Homily prior to entering the conclave that elected him as Pope Benedict XVI, spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism”[2] that threatens our world. That relativism, which “does not recognize anything as definitive”[3] but proposes a logically incoherent system whereby one cannot or ought not to judge one principle to be truer than another, was not what Jesus advocated.

On the other hand, especially in our North American society, persons become engrossed in show trials or legal dramas, or television programs that present real-life civil cases whose palpable animosity is made accessible to the viewing public. While the viewing of many of these programs is not wrong per se, their popularity may suggest an obsession with reproachful judgment of others from the comfort of our homes to which Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel reading more directly applies.[4]

Notably, Jesus’ saying about judgment is explained through the use of hyperbole.[5] Those in Jesus’ time or in the target community of Matthew’s Gospel would likely have appreciated the hyperbolic humour in the saying about taking “the log out of [one’s] own eye” before removing “the speck [from one’s] neighbour’s eye.”[6] At the same time, profound caution to be aware of our own faults before those of others and of our need for forgiveness is conveyed by this instruction.

The proscription against judging others does not bar us from distinguishing good from evil; in fact we must constantly differentiate these as faithful and rational moral agents. However, that teaching is deeper than merely judging and acting morally; by it Jesus draws us into the mystery of God’s bountiful mercy. As God is merciful toward us, we must not condemn, lest we likewise be condemned, but we are to act mercifully toward our neighbour. We ought to even exercise that mercy pre-emptively, just as God anticipates our sins and our struggles, and is ever-present to assist, to console, and to forgive us.

As we profess in our Creed, we believe that Jesus Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That judgment, though, is founded on merciful love that is God’s very nature. Thus, we pray during the first Eucharistic prayer in intensely moving words: “Though we are sinners… do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.”[7]

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose memorial we celebrate today, especially understood this mercy of the divine judge that we are called to replicate. A prince by birth, he placed himself at the service of the plague-stricken hospital patients in Rome. He contracted the plague himself and died at the age of twenty-three years.[8] In his humility, St. Aloysius thought it “better to be a child of God than the King of the whole world.”[9] Let us pray that we might follow the example of St. Aloysius of consecration to our one true King and Judge.

May we, through the intercession of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of youth, come to a greater love for God, be preserved from sin, and at the hour of death be welcomed into the embrace of God’s mercy by which we are judged and by which we conduct ourselves toward one another.

WRS 


[1] Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37

[2] Joseph Ratzinger, “Cappella Papale, Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice’:  Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, Monday 18 April 2005.” http://www.va/gpII/documents/homily-pro-eligendo-pontifice_20050418_en.html. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] This paragraph is derived from the video reflection for 21 June 2010 by Fr. Michael Manning, SVD, posted on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. See http://www.usccb.org/video/reflections.shtml

[5] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:75.

[6] Matthew 7:5

[7] The Catholic Liturgical Library, “Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon), Mass of the 1970 Missal.” http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/Text/Index/4/SubIndex/67/ContentIndex/22/Start/9. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[8] “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, June 21,” in Living With Christ, Large Print Edition,  Vol. 16 No. 6 (June 2010), 168.

[9] Quote Catholic, “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga: Child of God.” http://www.quotecatholic.com/ index.php/holiness-devout-life/st-aloysius-gonzaga-child-of-god/. Accessed 20 June 2010.

A Greater Good- Reflection for Mass of June 14, 2010

14 Jun

Monday, June 14, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Psalm 5: 1-2, 4-5, 6+, 12; Matthew 5:38-42

Nine chapters of 1 Kings before the passage that is today’s first reading, the story of Naboth’s vineyard, the chaos began that would bring down Israel’s monarchy. The disorder started in about 930 B.C.E. with the schism between the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel.[1]

From the viewpoint of the author 1 Kings, there were only three righteous kings, all of the south: David, Solomon, and Asa.[2] The forty-one-year reign of Asa over Judah overlaps with those of Jeroboam, first king of the North post-schism, and six kings of Israel, two of whom ruled for two years or less.[3] 1 Kings describes each of these northern monarchs as having done all the evil and worse of their predecessors back to Jeroboam.[4]

The two Books of Kings and the preceding two Books of Samuel, which together comprise the Biblical history of monarchical Israel, are clearly written from a Judahite perspective. The southern kings were not as good, nor were the northern kings as bad as they are made to appear.[5] Nevertheless, significant truth is found in these pro-Judahite and pro-Davidic accounts. Foremost of these truths is the danger of falling to false gods. The alarm is sounded even before the first king is anointed; a danger existed in the Israelites’ plea to Samuel to appoint for them “a king… as other nations have.”[6]

Ahab, the king featured in today’s first reading, was like his northern predecessors in his worship of foreign idols. He had even sealed his dependence on those gods in his marriage to Jezebel. Such worship of foreign deities was the chief evil of the northern kings that prophets like Elijah were sent to suppress.[7] Moreover, Ahab was given a long reign of twenty-two years in which the LORD gave him a chance to set right the evils of his predecessors.[8]

He did the opposite, and worse; Ahab did evil under the guise of keeping religious and social tradition. Ahab’s attempt to acquire Naboth’s vineyard was not wrong in and of itself; Naboth would have been expected by that tradition to give his excess land to his neighbour or to the poor and landless.[9] He refused to do so, which makes me question whenever I read this story why no prophet is said to have criticized Naboth’s lack of charity. Ahab, though, had no right to the land, or to have Jezebel force Naboth to part with his vineyard. On the surface, the actions of Ahab and of Jezebel do not seem wicked; the same ancient tradition in which two witnesses are sent to Naboth to bring a capital charge against him was also longstanding.[10] Here again, though, we see abuse of the vulnerable by those who have power over them. The treatment of Naboth by a king who has fallen for the gods of greed and affluence becomes a question of social justice and a question of to whom we bear allegiance: to God or to someone or something else.[11]

The account of Naboth’s vineyard and again today’s Gospel in which Jesus warns his disciples against the unjust application of a religious law that was designed to mitigate retaliatory violence- “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”[12]– remind us that charity must govern our actions as Christians. That charity must take precedence even over actions that are merely right by legal or by religious tradition.

Let us pray accordingly that our liturgy might strengthen us; that through the Sacrament of the Eucharist we might act with justice and with charity in applying laws that are good in and of themselves to the even greater good of ourselves, of our neighbour, of the world in which we live, and of our relationship with our God.

WRS


[1] Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), 292-294.

[2] David and Solomon enjoyed the Lord’s favour despite their many cycles of sin and repentance. Both are said to have “rested with [their] ancestors” upon their deaths (see 1 Kings 2:10, 11:43). Asa, too, “pleased the LORD like his forefather David.” (1 Kings 15:11) 2 Kings chronicles the lives of two more righteous southern kings, Hezekiah and Josiah (see 2 Kings 16-20, 22, 23:1-30; see also Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 296).

[3] During the reign of Asa in Judah, the following kings came to power in the north of the split kingdom: Nadab (reigned for two years; see 1 Kings 15:25-32), Baasha (twenty-four years; see 1 Kings 15:33- 16:7), Elah (two years; see 1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (seven days; see 1 Kings 16:15-22), Omri (twelve years; see 1 Kings 16:23-28), and Ahab (twenty-two years, the first three of which overlapped with the reign of Asa; see 1 Kings 16:23-34).

[4] 1 Kings 15:26, 34, 13, 19, 25, 30.

[5] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 295-297.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:5

[7] John J. McDermott, “Weekday Homily Helps: June 14, 2010, Monday of the 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Exegesis of the First Reading.” Edited by Diane M Houdek (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010).

[8] 1 Kings 16:29

[9] Ibid. See also Leviticus 25:13-17, which provides for the transfer in ancient Israel during the Jubilee year- every forty-nine years- of excess land from the wealthy to those who had less land. This ideal of charity was often not observed, and its observation was frequently not enforced.

[10] Ibid. See also Deuteronomy 17:6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Matthew 5:38. Jesus’ saying there is based on the Old Testament law written in Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19-20.

Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven- Reflection for Mass of June 7, 2010

7 Jun

Monday, June 7, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 17:1-6; Psalm 121:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12

During my time in Cali, Colombia as a Basilian Associate, I took daily Spanish classes upstairs in the Cultural Centre of our Order’s school there, Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA). On the way down the stairs after each Spanish lesson, I would note the inscription above the landing: “Bienaventurados los perseguidos… porque de ellos es el reino de Dios.”

That verse is the last of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew that we hear in today’s Gospel reading: “Blessed are the persecuted… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[1] Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount includes eight Beatitudes, whereas the Lukan parallel, the Sermon on the Plain, contains four Beatitudes and four corresponding woes.[2] Only two of Matthew’s Beatitudes, the first and the last of the eight, follow Jesus’ blessing with the very Matthean expression, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[3] The kingdom is promised in a special way to the poor in spirit and to those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”[4]

In Colombia, poverty and persecution are ever-present realities; the passage written on the tiles above the stairwell of INSA’s Cultural Centre is therefore all the more striking. The Cultural Centre itself is named after Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, a twenty-year-old lay catechist from the neighbouring Basilian-run parish who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in 1992.[5]

Jesus’ blessings of the persecuted and of the poor, though, are not limited to Cali, to Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, to Jesus physical setting in first-century Israel, or to any particular person or place. The call of God through the Beatitudes extends to all of us.

The section of our Basilian Way of Life on our vow of poverty begins with the first Matthean Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”[6] We might ask what it means for us, here in Canada, to be poor, or to live poverty “in spirit.” If we read farther into the Basilian Way of Life, we are given some possible answers. The last paragraph on poverty begins with the declaration: “All that comes from the creative hand of God is good.”[7] Prior to this, the Basilian Way of Life emphasizes solidarity, accountability, and common life such that no person or community is in need.[8]

Inasmuch as the Beatitudes are blessings from God with everything that is good, they are also mission statements. To understand the Matthean Beatitudes in this way is faithful to the meaning of the Gospel. In fact, in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, John L. McKenzie connects Matthew’s first two Beatitudes, in favour of the poor in spirit and of those who mourn, to Isaiah 61:1-2: “The LORD has anointed me… to bring glad tidings to the lowly… to comfort all who mourn.”[9] While Luke places these same verses on the tongue of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in Nazareth, Matthew makes a less evident reference to them in his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew, Jesus is in continuity with the blessings given through the Law of Moses, and in Luke, Jesus is connected to Israel’s prophetic tradition.

In this manner we are to be, like Isaiah, like Matthew and Luke the Evangelists, and like Jesus Himself, prophets of the Beatitudes and stewards of God’s law, word, and creation. Blessed are those entrusted with such a vocation. The kingdom of heaven is for those who live that calling in truth and in love.

WRS


[1] Matthew 5:10

[2] Luke 6:20-26

[3] Matthew 5:3, 10

[4] Matthew 5:10

[5] Luis Fernando Sánchez, “The History of the Basilians in Colombia.” http://www.basilian.org/Meet_the_Basilians/colombia_history_en.php. Accessed 6 June, 2010.

[6] Matthew 5:3, quoted in The Basilian Way of Life, 14.

[7] The Basilian Way of Life, 24.

[8] The Basilian Way of Life, 16, 20-24.

[9] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:70.

The People vs. Death

2 Jun

The People vs. Death

A Legal Drama Based on Chapter 14 of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s

Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, “Death, Life, and Discipline.”

 Complete overkill. One chunk of brimstone out of five!

– The Hades Town Crier

—-

 Originally submitted for History of Christianity II, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON, Canada, MDiv Year I, Semester 2, 12 April, 2010.

For this course, students were given the option of writing a traditional reflection paper or a creative composition, such as a one-act play, that illustrated an understanding of the history of Christianity of the Reformation. The paper was to be based on one of the final five chapters of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book- a textbook for the course- Reformation: Europe’s House Divided.

In the chapter entitled “Death, Life, and Discipline” on which I wrote, MacCulloch describes the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed responses to death and dying. Reformation-era Reformed Christians tended to be more austere in their approach to death than followers of Luther. However, both groups developed ceremonies where death was mocked in an effort to assuage fears of death in a violent and disease-ridden time. The following drama, set in a contemporary courtroom, is loosely and anachronistically based on that reality, of which MacCulloch writes:

The dismissal of superstitious ceremony around death [by Reformed Christians] was fine in theory, but cross-currents both from above and below opposed these minimal rites of passage. Luther himself… decided when drawing up the instructions for the 1528 Saxon visitation that the Church ought to help people mock their fears of death through a satisfying liturgical drama… Equally, in the Reformed world, many both lay and clerical felt a desperate wish for suitable remembrance of the dead in this world even if nothing could be done for them in the next. 

– Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700 (London/New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 577.

———-

[Death is on trial in a future law court for corruption of humanity. The courtroom is noted for its austere decor, with no artwork on the walls. Its windows are so soiled that little sunlight passes through them. Closing arguments of the prosecution and then of the defence are to be heard, followed by the reading of the verdict. As the scene opens, the Marshall calls the court to attention with three strikes of the gavel.]

 Marshall: All rise!

 [The judge, Hector Faust,[1] enters, walks to the judge’s bench, and is seated. Death, the defendant, shackled and in an orange jumpsuit, is seated in the prisoner’s box. All in the courtroom then also sit.]

 Marshall: This court is now in session.

 Justice Faust: This court calls upon the prosecution to make its closing arguments.

 [The lead prosecutor, Martina Philippa Melanchthon-Bucer, a Lutheran, walks confidently toward the jurors.]

 Melanchthon-Bucer [begins her closing arguments]: Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ…[2]

 Yorick and Horatio,[3] Death’s defence lawyers and devout disciples of John Calvin [loudly and simultaneously]: Objection, your honour! The defendant is being mocked.

 Faust: Objection sustained! Death is not to be mocked. Alas, for I was once a lonely and morose philosopher. I fell in love with dear Marguerite, “an angel in human form.”[4] So drawn was I to her that I related my dreamy vision of Marguerite’s beauty to Mephistopheles. I didn’t know I was speaking with the devil himself. He tricked me, that hellion! At death I was separated from my true love; Marguerite went to the splendour of heaven, and I went to the fires of hell.[5]

 [Faust drops his head into his hands and begins to sob. The spectators wonder aloud whether the judge will be able to continue to adjudicate the trial. Faust, known for many previous such breakdowns on the bench, has always kept a vial of poison with him but has not yet attempted to drink from it. After several minutes, church bells peal in Easter celebration across the street from the courtroom.[6] Faust composes himself and the trial continues.]

 Faust [still sniffling back tears but his voice gaining strength]: But I escaped the grasp of the prince of darkness, came back to earth, studied criminal law, and became a judge. Ha ha ha ha!

 [In the midst of his wicked laugh, Faust coughs up a chunk of brimstone. The stenographer faints when struck by the brimstone and is carried out of the room by bailiffs.]

 Melanchthon-Bucer: May we proceed with the trial, your honour? Your deadly accuracy with regurgitated brimstone is commendable, but, with or without a stenographer, the rest of us have a burning desire to bring this case to a conclusion.

 Faust: Proceed, madam prosecutor.

 Melanchthon-Bucer [visibly angry, addresses the jury]: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the macabre defendant, Death, is on trial before you for the corruption of humanity. I beg you, for the good of the living and the dead, to find Death guilty of that charge. In death, there is no joy, no song, and no pleasure. When one dies, according to our defendant and to the defence, if that person is not one of God’s elect, he or she is destined for the everlasting furnace.[7]

 [A spectator, Daniel, begins to shout from the gallery upon Melanchthon-Bucer’s mention of a furnace.[8]]

 Daniel: Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever; And blessed is your holy and glorious name, praiseworthy and glorious above all for all ages…[9]

 [Daniel collapses and dies before he finishes the Old Testament hymn. A minister, Samuel Luthor,[10] an earlier witness in Death’s trial whose brother is a covert career criminal, stands in the hushed courtroom and begins to lead a long sermon in celebration of Daniel’s life.[11]]

 Faust: Order in the court!

 Samuel: Our beloved brother Daniel has died with Scripture alone[12] in his mind and on his tongue. For that, God will surely receive him into heaven.

 [The sermon continues until everyone in the courtroom falls asleep but Samuel. A spectator from Greece named Eutychus, is sitting too near a window. Eutychus falls out the window to his death, but a doctor descends to the sidewalk, revives Eutychus,[13] and both re-enter the courtroom within the next hour. Samuel Luthor’s sermon is just then ending.]

 Samuel: Let us finish with a good Reformation-era Lutheran hymn. [All, in varying degrees of wakefulness, begin to sing, except for Death, Yorick, and Horatio, who listen in horror]:

 A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing…

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.[14]

[The sky outside, meanwhile, has darkened. Lightning and thunder awaken the sleeping spectators. The courtroom fills with smoke and becomes hot. Satan exits his time machine, the MephistoMover 2050, after it lands in front of the stunned judge and jurors.]

Satan: I resent that hymn! I shall not be so easily felled!

[Satan, irate, has a fire-breathing tantrum that incinerates all twelve jurors and Yorick, Death’s defence lawyer. Faust, realizing that Satan is in his midst and that, without a jury, he will need to reach a verdict on his own, cowers behind the judge’s chair.]

Satan [looking at Yorick, feigning remorse]: Sorry, that was an accident.

[With glee, but pretending to be mortified at Yorick’s death, Death runs to his defence team. He is able to catch Yorick’s charred skull in mid-air.]

Death [looking at Horatio and then at the skull in his hand]: Alas! Poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.[15]

Melanchthon-Bucer: Aha! Death has quite a self-deprecating sense of humour; he even quotes Shakespeare, a product of the Reformation, to mock himself, much to my delight.

Horatio [addresses Samuel Luthor]: See to it that good Yorick is buried in an unmarked grave outside the city, as he has willed.[16]

Faust [while staggering to his chair]: We have a trial to complete, so let’s allow the defence to present its closing arguments.

Horatio [frustrated]: At last! Your honour, in defence of my client I have reason to doubt the veracity of one prior prosecution witness, Mr. Samuel Luthor. He argued that Death has indeed corrupted humanity, but Mr. Luthor has already disrupted this trial with a long-winded sermon. He also stands accused of aiding and abetting his brother in the smuggling of a controlled substance, Kryptonite, into this courthouse, not five minutes ago. You must find the defendant not guilty.

[A scream is heard as Samuel Luthor’s brother is arrested by courthouse security]: Samuel! Samuel!

Samuel [running out of the courtroom]: Here I am,[17] Lex!

[Suddenly a flash of light brings the trial to a halt again. Jesus appears in the courtroom.]

Satan [derisively]: Oh, this is familiar. “Just then the Lord himself appeared in a blinding flash of light, and shouted at the devil…”

Jesus: “Get thee hence to endless night!”[18]

Skeleton of a Catholic bishop from the Council of Trent [from a back corner of the courtroom with an index finger pointed at Satan, and in a raspy voice]: Anathema sit![19]

Satan: If only getting rid of me were that easy. Jesus, how about a poker or chess match to decide this? Of course, I’ll win as I did on that Spanish Train from Guadalquivir to Old Seville.[20]

Jesus: Never again will I play poker or chess with you! You cheated on the train and won one hundred five thousand souls.[21] I’ll avenge that loss; you just wait.

Satan: That was back in 1975. Get over it!

Jesus: And what’s with that time machine? It’s ridiculous!

Satan: Any good anachronist needs a time machine. The MephistoMover 2050 is the latest model.

Jesus [having moved to the judge’s chair]: I hold you in contempt of historical order and of this court, Satan. You are hereby banished to hell for eternity.

Satan: Home sweet home. I’m taking Faust and Death with me! [Starts singing] “Be-el-ze-bub has a devil put aside for me… for me… for meeee!”[22]

[Satan shrieks on the highest note of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Jesus is now even more livid than before.]

 Jesus: Lucifer, you’re not a very bright angel, nor are you a good singer.

Satan: Forgive me, since there’s no singing in hell. My voice wasn’t warmed up, and Freddie Mercury is in purgatory, so I can’t receive operatic rock lessons.

Jesus: Very well. Faust, you go back to hell with Satan. As for you, Death, I find you guilty on the charge of corruption of humanity and sentence you to life.

Death [confused]: Life? In prison? On the top level of a Stool of Repentance?[23]

Jesus: No, just life. A historical change isn’t appropriate here. As God, I transcend history, after all. Your sentence is thus an ontological change from death to life.

[The spectators begin to sing the Easter hymn, “The Strife is O’er”]

Jesus [thinking]: That tune is from the Reformation, but the lyrics aren’t.[24] I am both divine and human, both within time and beyond it. A half-anachronism never hurt anyone. Let’s sing it anyway.

[Jesus begins to conduct the jubilantly singing spectators.]

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun;
Alleluia!

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia![25]

WRS

———-

List of Characters

Daniel…………………………………………. A deranged spectator in the courtroom gallery.

Death………………………………………….. The defendant. 

Eutychus……………………………………… A Greek spectator who needs to avoid sitting near windows. 

Horatio……………………………………….. A defence lawyer and Reformed Christian.

Jesus……………………………………………. The timeless Son of God, as himself.

Jurors…………………………………………. Twelve people with particularly ashen complexions.

Justice Hector Faust…………………… Went to hell as a philosopher and returned to earth as a judge.

Lex Luthor………………………………….. Samuel’s Kryptonite-toting brother of comic book fame.

Marshall of the courtroom

Martina Philippa Melanchthon-Bucer… The lead prosecutor; a Lutheran.

Samuel Luthor…………………………….. A Lutheran minister.

Satan…………………………………………… The anachronistic hellion, as himself at anytime but during the Reformation.

Skeleton of a Catholic Bishop from the Council of Trent.

Stenographer……………………………….. Ought to beware of flying brimstone.

Yorick………………………………………….. A defence lawyer who has been burned- in legal arguments- one too many times; a Reformed Christian.


Notes:

[1] Music with Ease, “La Damnation de Faust, Hector Berlioz (1803-69).” http://www.musicwithease.com/ berlioz-damnation-faust.html. Accessed 9 April, 2010. The name of the judge, Hector Faust, is a combination of the names of the lead character and composer of “La Damnation de Faust.”

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:55-56, New American Bible.

[3] William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet /full.html. Accessed 11 April, 2010. The names of the defence lawyers are drawn from Act V, Scene I of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

[4] Music with Ease, “La Damnation de Faust,” accessed 9 April, 2010.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700 (London/New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 243-244.

[8] Daniel 3:19-51, NAB.

[9] Daniel 3:52, NAB.

[10] Warner Brothers, “Lex Luthor,” http://www.batman-superman.com/superman/cmp/luthor.html. Accessed 10 April, 2010.

[11] MacCulloch, Reformation, 578.

[12] Wilhelm Joseph, “Protestantism,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/ cathen/12495a.htm. Accessed 10 April, 2010.

[13] Acts 20:7-12, NAB.

[14] Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, music by Martin Luther, translated by Frederick H. Hedge, in Christian Prayer (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1976), 1692.

[15] Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Hamlet,” accessed 11 April, 2010.

[16] MacCulloch, Reformation, 577. Yorick is meant in this play to be a caricature of John Calvin.

[17] 1 Samuel 3:1-8, 10, NAB.

[18] Chris de Burgh, “Spanish Train,” Spanish Train and Other Stories, A & M 393143-2 (CD), 1975.

[19] “Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: The Fourth Session, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures.” http://www.bible-researcher.com/trent1.html. Accessed 11 April, 2010.

[20] Chris de Burgh, “Spanish Train,” Spanish Train and Other Stories, A & M 393143-2 (CD), 1975.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” performed by Queen in A Night at the Opera, Hollywood Records B000000OAN (CD), 1991.

[23] MacCulloch, Reformation, 598-599. According to MacCulloch, the top level of the Stool of Repentance was reserved for those who had committed the most serious sins.

[24] Symphonia Sirenum Selectarum, Alleluia! The Strife is O’er, music by G.P. da Palestrina, translated by Francis Pott, in Christian Prayer (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1976), 1627. The music of this hymn was composed by da Palestrina in 1588; the lyrics quoted in this play were added in 1695.

[25] Ibid.