A soldier’s death and Lent

I guess the Rev. Jim O’Hanlon, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, heard last week about a 23-year-old soldier from Yorktown who was killed in Afghanistan.

The story of Army Pfc. David R. Fahey Jr. touched him, and O’Hanlon sent out his thoughts, related to the coming of Lent, via email. The subject line read “A life ended too soon.”

O’Hanlon said I could share what he wrote:

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Have you had your annual check up at the Doctor and your cleaning at the Dentist?  Do you have all your forms in to your accountant to get your taxes filed?  Have you called your mother/ uncle/ sister?  How old are the batteries in your smoke detectors?  Is it time for a new oil filter on your car?

If you were to make a list of things you have to take care of how long would it be?  Are there things you should be doing for yourself that get pushed off your “to do list”?  Are you so busy you don’t have enough time to exercise or prepare healthy meals?  Do you keep quality time for the important people in your family and your good friends each week?

How about church?  Some people are so conditioned to church as something you do as an obligation or to please an old relative that there seems to be nothing in it worth while.  Obligation, fear and guilt once filled churches, but that day is fairly gone.  A great many Americans switch their religion or their denomination because they want something that’s not their parents’ church.  They don’t want to go somewhere and have people say, “Hey, it’s Frank and Sally’s kid!  Which one are you?”

Along with a good diet, exercise and recreation you need to check-off care of your soul.  A nice vacation and quality time for an important relationship can warm your soul but there needs to be more.  How is your Karma?  How do you make sense of your life’s journey?  Lent is a time to listen to your soul and see what care and attention it needs. Lent begins on March 9th and for many Christians this is a day to get Ashes marked on your far head.  A mark to remember our mortality and to think about our moral standing and need for repentance.  We will be having services at 11:30am and 7pm.  You may come and just observe or you may want to receive Ashes as well.  If these times don’t work there is also a service at All Souls Presbyterian (just down King Street facing Lyon Park) at 7am (55 Parkway Drive).  Many other churches will also have opportunities.

A teaching assistant in our child care center is just 23 years old and probably doesn’t think much about her health and probably less about death.  On Monday, however, she got news of another 23 year old she knew who had died.  Private David Fahey was killed in Afghanistan.  It is a life ended too soon but what do we believe about death?  Many of us don’t need ashes to remember our mortality.  For others who are young the symbol doesn’t have anything to attach to.  For all of us it is a day and an opportunity to stop and consider who has made us from dust and will welcome us home when we leave that dust behind.

It’s that time of the year again.  Sisters and brothers are coming together to get their soul check up.  How about you?

The fascinating life of St. Edith Stein

On Monday (March 7), Maryknoll’s Father John Moran will speak at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers about the fascinating life of St. Edith Stein — also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Stein’s story is well know. She was born in 1891 to a large Jewish family in Germany (an area that is now part of Poland) and became a prominent philosopher by her 20s. She converted to Catholicism, inspired in part by the mystic teachings of St. Theresa of Avila. She eventually left academia for the Discalced Carmelite Order.

The Nazis had no interest in Stein’s conversion and sent her to Auschwitz, where she had to wear the yellow star of the Jews. Stein died in the gas chambers in 1942.

Stein’s writings grew in prominence throughout the Catholic world, especially her major work, “Finite and Eternal Being,” which attempted to synthesize the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas with modern thought.

Stein was beatified as a martyr in 1987 and canonized in 1998. Her canonization caused a stir among Jewish leaders, some of whom questioned how Stein could be a Catholic martyr when she was killed for being Jewish. Things have quieted down since then, but Stein’s identity and death will likely remain a subject of discussion for some time.

In 2003, the Vatican released an intriguing letter that Stein wrote in 1933 to Pope Pius XI, asking that the Catholic Church condemn the Nazis and their persecution of Jews.

She wrote, in part:

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Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself “Christian.” For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn’t the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors? And isn’t this a black mark on the record of this Holy Year which was intended to be a year of peace and reconciliation?

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Moran, the president of the Edith Stein Guild of America, has given retreats and workshops in Asia, Latin America and East Africa on everything from the Carmelite saints to priestly and missionary spirituality. He served in Taiwan from 1966 to 1985.

His 7:30 p.m. lecture, “St. Edith Stein: A New Doctor of the Church? — An Introduction to her Life and Teachings,” is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the John Cardinal O’Connor Chair in Hebrew and Sacred Scripture at St. Joseph’s.

BYU not kidding about ‘Honor Code’

I’m not a big college basketball fan, but couldn’t help hearing about a top player on the highly ranked Brigham Young team being dropped for the rest of the season for violating the university’s honor code.

It’s a big deal because BYU is apparently a team to watch as the big NCAA tournament nears.

It turns out that the player, Brandon Davies, broke the code by having premarital sex. The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that Davies acknowledged his “transgressions” and apologized to his teammates.

Several people have asked me today about the honor code — along the lines of “Is BYU serious?”

Yes, BYU is serious. In fact, I took note a few months ago when a BYU football player got dropped for the same reason. It got little attention because, well, the team wasn’t all that good.

So now many people are becoming aware of the honor code for the first time. BYU has an Honor Code Office and a website that explains everything you could want to know.

Their “Honor Code Statement” looks like this:

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We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men. . . . If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things (Thirteenth Article of Faith).

As a matter of personal commitment, faculty, administration, staff, and students of Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University—Hawaii, Brigham Young University—Idaho, and LDS Business College seek to demonstrate in daily living on and off campus those moral virtues encompassed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and will

Be honest
Live a chaste and virtuous life
Obey the law and all campus policies
Use clean language
Respect others
Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse
Participate regularly in church services
Observe the Dress and Grooming Standards
Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code

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So students — including athletes — must pledge to be chaste and stay away from Starbucks. They know this when they sign on.

Jay Evensen, a columnist for the Deseret News — another Salt Lake City paper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — writes today about all the ugly stuff that goes on in college sports and why BYU is different.

He writes: “…it’s easy to see why so many people were stunned last week when BYU booted one of its key basketball players for violating the school’s honor code. Those shiny treasures hold so many people in a trance they can’t imagine wanting anything else.”

Brad Rock, a columnist for MormonTimes.com, writes: “Decisions like this take courage on the university’s part. It’s not as though school officials are clapping with glee. Everyone involved knew beforehand there would be embarrassment for both the university and Davies, and almost certain disappointment on the court. Chances of BYU advancing far in the NCAA Tournament aren’t nearly as good. Yet the decision confirmed something BYU espouses: Be what you promised.”

I wondered whether Davies is himself a Mormon. I haven’t found a definitive answer, but I found a sports website that in 2008 seemed to say that he is a Mormon.

The BYU honor code website explains that same-sex attraction is not an issue but that homosexual behavior is, that dress and grooming should be “modest, neat, and clean,” and that students are not welcome in the bedrooms of those of the opposite sex (unless they’re married).

There is a also a process of obtaining a “beard exception for medical reasons.”

Students must normally receive an annual beard exception in order to grow one.

(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)

Pope blames ‘Temple aristocracy,’ not Jews, for the death of Jesus

It will be up to scholars to determine whether Pope Benedict’s exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus in a new book is in any way new for the Roman Catholic Church.

Excerpts released today from “Jesus of Nazareth — Part II” include the pope’s case for concluding that “temple authorities” and not the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion.

According to the AP:

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In the book, Benedict re-enacts Jesus’ final hours, including his death sentence for blasphemy, then analyzes each Gospel account to explain why Jews as a whole cannot be blamed for it. Rather, Benedict concludes, it was the “Temple aristocracy” and a few supporters of the figure Barabbas who were responsible.

“How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus’ death?” Benedict asks.

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All of the media coverage today may imply — or be taken to mean — that the pope is somehow changing the Roman Catholic Church’s position on this key historical and theological question.

Of course, the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate dealt directly with the question. Here is a key passage:

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Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. John 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion. lt. is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.

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So is the pope breaking any new ground today?

Is Benedict downplaying the role of Jews in even pressing for the death of Christ?

The early analysis is that Benedict’s “personal” reflections will aid weight to Nostra Aetate’s stuffier proclamations.

Father James Martin, the Jesuit writer, tells the AP: “A Vatican Council is the highest teaching authority of the church. Now that you have the pope’s reflections underlining it, I don’t know how much more authoritative you can get.”

And Rabbi David Rosen, head of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, puts it like this: “This is a pedagogical tool that he’s providing, so people will be able to interpret the text in keeping with orthodox Vatican teaching.”