Tag Archives: CNN

Joshua and the Afghan War

At a time we’re preoccupied with the Afghan War how appropriate to hear today in our first reading at Mass from the great Jewish general, Joshua. Ending his career, Joshua gathers the tribes of Israel, not to reminisce about past victories or to plan future battles, but to proclaim for himself and his household, “we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24, 1-2,24-27)

Joshua’s days and the days of the Judges that follow were days of war. The Jews had become “a rough people, barbarized by war.” The general now seeks to know God’s will. Good advice to us? What’s God’s will for war today? 

Today at the US Maritime Academy at Kings Point I offered to the young men and women at Mass what our Catechism of the Catholic Faith tells us about war: 

Avoid it:

“The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war. 2307

All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed. 2308

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: 

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; 
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; 
  • there must be serious prospects of success;  the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. the power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. 2309
  • The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict.The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties. 2312
  • Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
  • Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide. 2313
  • Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons – to commit such crimes. 2314
  • The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace amongnations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. the arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation. 2315
  • The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. 2316

Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, the New York Post, all the media are busy with the politics of it all. Might be better to ask what’s God’s will. 

A Love like God’s

What Paul the Apostle praises in our 1st reading today at Mass and Jesus urges in the gospel is a love that reaches out beyond our friends and those close by. Paul sees this love in the collection taken up by the Macedonians for the poor in Jerusalem. It’s a graced love, Paul says, expanding your care and your vision. Your love is like God’s.(2 Corinthians 8,1-9)

Jesus urges the same kind of love in the gospel. God’s love is like the sun that shines on everyone, life the rain that falls on the just and the unjust. It’s not an easy love, but if you wish to be perfect “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5,43-48)

A couple of years ago CNN carried a story of that kind of love. Paula Cooper was released from the Rockville Correctional Facility in Indiana yesterday, a free woman. In 1985 as a young girl of 15 she decided to steal some money from a 76 year old bible teacher, Ruth Pelke. After smoking marijuana and drinking wine, she went to her home, hit Pelke with a vase and stabbed her in the stomach thirty times–for $10.

Leading the pleas for Cooper’s release, was Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, who said he forgave her shortly after Cooper was sentenced to death.

Here’s the CNN story:

“’I became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that my grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family,’ Pelke told CNN. ‘I felt she wanted someone in my family to have that same sort of love and compassion. I didn’t have any but was so convinced that’s what she would have wanted, I begged God to give me love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family and do that on behalf of my grandmother.’”

“He said it was ‘a short prayer,’ but it was answered.
“’For a year and a half, whenever I thought about my grandmother, I always pictured how she died. It was terrible,’ he said. ‘But when my heart was touched with compassion, forgiveness took place. I knew from that moment on when I think about her, I would no longer pictured how she died, but I would picture how she lived, and what she stood for, what she believed in — the beautiful, wonderful person she was.’”

“Pelke tried to visit Cooper in 1986, but the two didn’t come face to face until eight years later. The two struck up an unlikely friendship over the years, exchanging messages through the prison e-mail system every week. And in 1989, the Indiana Supreme Court reduced Cooper’s death sentence to 60 years in prison.”

“Pelke said he would like to help Cooper with her transition to life outside of prison.
‘I hope that we’re able to go out and have a meal. I’ve told her when she got out of prison I’d like to buy her a computer and I have a friend that would like to buy her some clothes. Hopefully we’ll get together within the next few days and go shopping,’ he said.”

“Pelke said he’s never asked Cooper to explain her actions – ‘There’s not a good answer for that’ — but said she has shown remorse for the killing.
‘She would take it back in a heartbeat if she could, but she knows she has to live with it for the rest of her life,’ he said. ‘She knows she took something valuable out of society. She wants to try to give back. She wants to help work with other young people to avoid the pitfals she fell into.’”

There’s an example of perfect love.

Reflections on AD:The Gospel Continues


There’s a lot on television about Jesus Christ and the gospels this easter season. I watched most of CNN’s series Finding Jesus Christ: Faith. Fact. Forgery; now I’m watching NBC’s AD: The Gospel Continues.

The two programs are very different. CNN’s Finding Jesus Christ. Faith. Fact. Forgery might have been better titled “Looking for Jesus Christ” because that what it does–it looks for proof that Jesus really existed and whether evidences of him, like the Shroud of Turin, stand up to scientific scrutiny.

NBC’s AD is sure he existed, died and rose from the dead and it wants to tell you more about what happened in the last crucial days of his life and afterwards.

I liked AD’s opening segments, in general, but questions arise. AD expands on what the New Testament says about Jesus’ last days. It does what artists, Christians teachers and mystics have been doing for centuries. You might call it a meditation, a speculation, on the life and times of Jesus and leave it at that.

I wonder, however, about the appearances of Jesus risen from the dead in the series, always a crucial question. AD pictures him as artists have long done–he’s the same as before, but now dressed in white. That doesn’t fit the way the scriptures picture him, however, or what we mean when we say “We believe in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

Jesus’ disciples have trouble recognizing him risen from the dead, the gospels say. Does that mean they’ve developed poor eyesight or that belief he’s living is too much for them? The Risen Jesus is unlike Lazarus who’s clearly recognized when he comes from the tomb and then dies again.

In the resurrection, Jesus enters a new way of existence and dies no more. He may still show his disciples the wounds in his hands and his feet; they recognize his voice; thy eat with him. But his resurrection begins a new creation, a new step forward. Paul calls Jesus “the first fruits” of a new era, and we follow him into a new life.

The mystery of the resurrection of Jesus and our participation in this mystery, then, goes beyond our imagination and experience. There’s a danger to thinking that heavenly existence is the same as our present human existence, that Heaven is life on earth, only better.

“Life is changed, not ended.” Our present world will not remain the same; we are not meant to “cling” to it. As N.T. Wright states in a previous blog:

“What is more, the meaning of his resurrection cannot be reduced to anything so comfortable as simple regarding him as ‘contemporary’ in the sense of a friend beside us, a smiling and comforting presence. Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.”

I must admit I had that reaction to the “smiling and comforting presence” of the Risen Jesus in AD.

I have other, minor questions about AD’s historical perspective. I don’t think Pilate and his Roman legionnaires were as heavily involved in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day as they’re depicted. The Romans were more comfortable in their headquarters at Caesarea Maritima than in Jerusalem and left local rulers like Herod Antipas and the temple leaders in control of the city. But that would demand another story line from AD.

Some of the connections AD makes are interesting. I can see the Centurion Cornelius appearing again. I also wondered about Peter’s children. Nice to see his daughter following along. Peter’s mother in law was already a follower, according to Mark’s gospel.

All in all, though, AD can’t beat the gospel story-tellers. Last week, for example, Sunday’s gospel was from Luke’s account of the resurrection, with its fascinating portrayal of the role of women in the resurrection story. They believed; the men didn’t. I’m still thinking of the implications of that.

4th Sunday of Lent B: Unbelief and Skepticism

Audio version below:

Today there’s a great deal of unbelief and skepticism about God and Jesus Christ in our society. I’m watching the CNN series on Jesus on Sunday nights during Lent called “Finding Jesus.” If the remaining segments are like the two I’ve seen so far, I think you will have to find Jesus elsewhere than on CNN. You may end up wondering whether you can find him at all or– just as unfortunate– wondering whether finding him is worthwhile.

Last Sunday’s segment was about John the Baptist. To tell you the truth, as they dramatized John’s life, I found him peculiar and unstable. I don’t think I would follow him and I certainly wouldn’t want him to dunk me into a river of water. The segment suggested that John was the teacher of Jesus, his mentor. I’m wondering what the next episodes are going to be like. Is Jesus going to be portrayed like John? If he is, I wouldn’t want to follow him either.

The mainstream media by nature is skeptical, so it keeps asking questions like: Did Jesus really exist? What did he look like? What are the facts about his birth, his life and his death? Are other gospels out there that contradict the four we know? Have the archeologists found out anything more about him? Was he married? Is there anything new about him?

Nothing wrong with most of those questions except that questions alone wont get you the truth. You can  get buried under facts. You can try to know too many facts. Knowing the facts isn’t necessary to start a friendship, get married, to begin a business, to make a medical decision, or to believe.

But we shouldn’t be surprised– there’s always been unbelief and skepticism. Our first reading this Sunday from the Old Testament tells us that:. “In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity…Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them”… “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets.” Their unbelief led to destruction and exile. (2 Chronicles, 36,14-16) Skepticism and unbelief are nothing new.

In the New Testament passage from John, Nicodemus meets Jesus, but he only comes at night. He’s someone who’s reluctant to believe. He is a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Jews at the time of Jesus. He’s interested in what Jesus has to say but he’s hesitant, perhaps because he’s in the minority, so it’s not the popular thing to do. Or perhaps he can’t understand the dimensions of what Jesus reveals. Jesus speaks of a greater life, a new birth, and Nicodemus can only grasp life as he sees it and lives it.

Some today are reluctant to believe for the same reasons, so they keep asking questions, or give up seeking altogether. You might be in the minority if you believe, for example. You wont be popular with everybody if you believe. You may be confused or uncertain or wondering about the faith you are asked to hold onto.

The interesting thing is the God doesn’t give up on the unbeliever or those like Nicodemus who are uncertain or confused or questioning. God meets you in the night. So come to God with the faith you have. Why doesn’t God give up on us? Listen again to our reading from John’s gospel.

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.

God so loved the world. And the great sign of God’s love is the death of Jesus on the Cross. What greater sign of love could God give?

CNN and John the Baptist

Last night I watched the second of the CNN series entitled Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery, on Sunday evenings during lent. This segment concentrated on John the Baptist. It was partially a dramatization of John’s life, his baptism of Jesus and his own death at the hands of Herod, Salome and her daughter. Periodically scriptural scholars were introduced to comment on John and Jesus. Also interspersed through the segment were reports on the search for the relics of John.

I’m afraid I didn’t like John too much as he was portrayed, fiercely striding through the desert shouting out warnings of a coming judgment. A scary, unstable figure, he seemed to me. Why would anyone want to follow him and let him dunk you in water? The scholarly experts on the program in their comments seemed to be talking about someone else, not the figure portrayed in the series. Were they ever introduced to the dramatic side of the production they were part of, I wonder?

John was the mentor of Jesus according to the dramatization, which makes me wonder how Jesus will be portrayed in the series’ later segments. Will Jesus be another John? I hope not.

John taught Jesus the Lord’s Prayer, the series’ narrator claimed, and Jesus taught it to his disciples in turn. One of the scholarly experts, a young woman who teaches at Notre Dame University, when asked later on her Facebook page what she thought about that, said she didn’t agree with the interpretation. Too bad she didn’t say that on the program itself. What are scholars for if not to keep things in perspective?

Speaking of scholarly perspective, here’s a quote about John the Baptist from Rudolf Schnackenberg, a good New Testament scholar. Obviously he doesn’t see John as the mentor of Jesus.

“When John speaks of the One who is to come, he is thinking of an executor of divine judgment, not so much of him through whom God’s mercy and love are made visible. He expects the kingdom of God to arrive in a storm of violence, in the immediate future, with the Messiah’s first appearance. This vision gives to his summons to conversion its urgent, compelling tone, increased further by the appearance of renunciation and flight from the world which he presents in his own person. From what we know of his preaching, he seems transfixed by the vision of the judgment and finds nothing to say about the salvation the Messiah will bring.” ( Rudolf Schnackenberg Christian Existence in the New Testament, Volume 1, University of Notre Dame 1968, p 39)

3rd Sunday of Lent: Jesus comes to CNN


To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

CNN is running a series on Jesus at 9 on Sundays this Lent exploring the usual questions the networks and cable TV like to explore. Did Jesus really exist? Is that his image on the Shroud of Turin? Are other gospels out there that contradict the four we know? Have the archeologists found out anything about him? Was he married?

According to The Hollywood Reporter the CNN series entitled Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery was viewed by over 1 million people last week and beat out all other networks. I watched the first episode on the Shroud of Turin last week.

I was glad to see the advice Father James Martin, SJ, offered on the CNN site about a series like this one:

“With Lent beginning, and a new CNN series on Christ coming up, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus these days. You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the Son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.

Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.”

Father Martin’s right. A lot of the supposed new revelations and new disclosures about Jesus are unproven and based on speculation and wishful thinking. They don’t negate what we have long known about Jesus. So, I’m not waiting for the final word on the Shroud of Turin to decide whether Jesus existed or not.

The media often rely on stuff like this–sometimes true, sometimes not– to get an audience. Ratings are important to them, but it’s not a good idea to rely on CNN or any of the mainstream media as your main source of information about Jesus. You can end up wondering if we can know him at all.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask questions or take into account new perspectives and information about Jesus. Not at all. We probably know more about his times and culture than has been known for centuries. We have a better understanding of the bible and the New Testament today, thanks to the efforts of modern scholars. Our challenge today is to incorporate what we know now into the faith we have.

For instance, I can listen to John’s gospel describing Jesus entering the temple in Jerusalem. (the gospel we’re reading the 3rd Sunday of Lent) I can visualize that temple. There’s a wonderful model of it created by archeologists and historians in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In fact, they have created a model of the whole city of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.

Dominating the city, the temple was one of the great buildings of the world. It was the religious and political center of the Jewish world of the time. God was present there. It was the center of worship and politics.

When Jesus went into the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers and those who sold the animals he was challenging the religious and political establishment of his time. It was a dramatic symbolic gesture by which he claimed that the kingdom of God was greater than all the beauty, all the power, all the splendor of our earthly kingdoms. He wasn’t just asking for reform; he was announcing a new world. It was present in him. He was the true temple. In his dying and rising he brought resurrection and new life to our world.

Do I think this happened? Yes, I do. Is this what our gospel today is saying? Yes, it is. Jesus made a tremendous claim during his lifetime. He claimed to be divine, to be God’s Son, to be God himself.
“God from God, light from light” we say in our creed. “Born of the Virgin Mary, he suffered under Pontius Pilate, he was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day he rose again.”
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. He’s told us there is a forgiveness of sins, a resurrection of the body and life everlasting. He’s with us all days. He’s with us now.

The New Media

The Iranian revolution is a fascinating event. It’s opened new ground in communications, for example. The commentators on CNN last night said that the government can hardly control the information available through cell phones, Facebook, Twitter. They‘ve blocked the regular channels, like television and radio, and the journalists who work for them, but a wealth of information comes from ordinary people on the streets.

Today as newspapers fold, magazines like NewsWeek scramble to update their formats, television networks look at declining viewers, the new media is growing. When the host on CNN last night asked his guest communication experts where they would  go to follow the Iranian revolution, they mentioned some blogs that are putting together the emerging story–not CNN itself. I wonder if the CNN host said to himself “There goes my job!”

The 18th century founder of my community, St. Paul of the Cross, was a prolific letter writer. Letter-writing was the rage then, the most popular new form of communication of the time, and he used it to reach a wide range of people.

I think he would blog today. I wish, too, that his community would take more of an interest in the new media. It’s a way to speak to the world.