Looking for a great way to kick-off to Advent?

Look no further.

(And happy feast day, St. Cecilia parish!)

MadonellaWhen I excitedly described my Nov. 6-10 trip to Rome to my mother the other day, the first thing she told me was how she, like me, was taken by the Madonelle that adorn the street-corners and alleyways of the city.  So I thought I’d share a picture of the Madonella near my hotel and Frank Korn’s description from his indispensable book, A Catholic’s Guide to Rome: Discovering the Soul of the Eternal City:

There are also hundreds of Madonelle, statuettes of the Madonna, in niches on the fronts of buildings — especially corner buildings.  Some are simple and unadorned, others ornamental — yet always tasteful.  The best of these date from the Baroque period when they were decorated with stucco and wrought iron.  This practice goes back to medieval times.  The local Madonella was a neighborhood’s way of invoking the blessing and protection of the Virgin Mary.  When the Angelus bells ran out at eventide, votive oil lamps were placed before these miniature shrines.  These lamps helped to light Rome’s streets in the days before public electric illumination.  As late as the end of the eighteenth century, more than two thousand of these Madonelle graced the office buildings and apartment houses of Rome.  Some fifteen hundred have survived to our time, as a walk through the city, particularly the old districts, will reveal.

The entire Nov. 22-23 weekend collection for parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will go to the partisan, scandal-plagued Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

For an explanation of why Catholics should reject the CCHD, see my 2010 letter in the Cincinnati Enquirer.  Here’s an excerpt:

The standard for Catholics shouldn’t be merely to avoid funding groups that oppose our central teachings. I would hope we can take as much for granted! Rather, our standard should be to support organizations with a clearly identifiable Catholic mission or set of guiding principles. That can’t happen when CCHD recipients include highly politicized groups like the Contact Center, whose website masthead once featured the slogan “welfare reform = death,” and the Amos Project, an organization known for shaking down local businesses with unfounded charges of racism. Ditto for the scandal-plagued ACORN, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the CCHD even after it was exposed for various financial improprieties.

Moreover, when it comes to societal problems with a variety of legitimate Catholic solutions, e.g., how best to help the poor, the role of bishops and priests is to inform the laity of the principles they should take into the public square. It’s then up to the laity, not a bishops conference or a chancery — and certainly not the CCHD — to apply those principles to concrete situations in their communities. Part of that application is determining which local groups are worthy of support.

It’s altogether fitting that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), an administrative body with no doctrinal authority whatsoever that Cincinnati archbishop Daniel Pilarczyck once likened to a “league of independent grocers,” has seen fit to endorse the executive order on immigration of Barack Obama, a president with no authority whatsoever to issue legislation.

WASHINGTON—Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, welcomed the news today that the Obama administration will defer deportations for many undocumented immigrants and their families.

“We have a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, and the disadvantaged. Each day, the Catholic Church in the United States, in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes, witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families, when parents are deported from their children or spouses from each other. We’ve been on record asking the Administration to do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters. As pastors, we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children,” said Bishop Elizondo.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, and president of the USCCB said, “There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said so eloquently: ‘Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved.’”

A sad photo-essay from the Daily Mail over in the UK.

St. Peter’s Seminary in Argyll, Scotland was founded in 1964. Large classes of Baby Boomer priests were supposed to be coming, and the most modern architecture was chosen to make it a building of worldwide significance. (And honestly, it’s not bad-looking; there’s some shape to it instead of just blank walls.)

The seminary was closed, then converted into a drug rehab center.

It is now abandoned.

“Joseph and Asenath” is in the news this week, with some tabloid Discovery Channel show breathing heavily about a lost Gospel and (of course) Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene.

The story “Joseph and Asenath” is well-known. It’s an apocryphal (Bible fanfic) story about the Old Testament figure of Joseph, and the wife that Pharaoh gave him, Potiphar’s daughter Asenath. They fall in love before they get married, because they both hear about the good character of the other. But Joseph is reluctant to marry a Gentile. Asenath is upset, and Joseph prays for her conversion. Asenath also fasts and prays to Joseph’s God and is converted. On the eighth day, an angel comes to tell her that her prayer is granted. He finishes the job by miraculously giving her various things to eat (bread, wine, honeycomb, honey that turns to blood — there are a lot of different versions!) and thus transforming her into a Jewish girl. She and Joseph get married and live happily ever after.*

Then there’s a second part, where the same brothers who avenged Dinah by killing her rapist (and the rest of town…) protect their new sister-in-law from Pharaoh’s son, who wanted to marry Asenath instead. This is opposed by some of the other brothers (the kids of Leah and Rachel’s maids), who want to kill Asenath (and Benjamin, while they’re at it) and blame it on Pharaoh’s son. The good guys win, they bind up the bad guys’ wounds, and everybody becomes friends in the end.

It’s a probably Jewish-written apocryphal text. (There is a legal principle in Jewish law that converts are “new bodies,” and therefore anything that applied to their Gentile selves doesn’t apply to their new Jewish selves.)  But Christians liked the story also (love story! angels! Gentiles enter the Covenant!), so there’s about five zillion copies in five zillion vernaculars. Asenath was a popular heroine to Christians of the Middle Ages.

So this particular ms of this widespread story (the ms that is featured in the Discovery Channel show, which is in Syriac and from the 5th century) apparently there’s some comment about “Oh, yeah, and I just told you this story because it’s an allegory for Our Lord and how He brought the Gentiles into God’s family.” The comment is incomplete, so the tabloid documentary guys are theorizing that the missing part said, “It’s an allegory for how that Jesus guy married that hot Magdalene! Totally!”

And apparently idiots are not getting the point. Mary of Magdala may have been a lot of things, but she sure as heck wasn’t a Gentile. Gentile-born Jewish converts and Gentile-descended Christians were the point.

Anyway, I advise you to read “Joseph and Asenath” and ignore the Discovery Channel silliness. It’s a good story.

“Joseph and Asenath” roundup on the Early Jewish Writings site. The story also exists in very early Armenian, Ethiopian, Slavonic, and Latin versions. Article from the Jewish Encyclopedia.

“Joseph and Asenath” translated by Brooks. The foreword lists the medieval Latin, German, French, Icelandic, and Greek versions, among others.

Notes on “The Storie of Asneth,” a Middle English poem. The actual poem. Like the Latin version, this poem has Asenath as a sort of young Belle Dame Sans Merci who falls in love with no man, but is particularly reluctant to marry an ex-slave. However, when she actually sees him she realizes he is worthy of respect, and begins a process of repentance that leads to conversion. This version also reprints Vincent of Beauvais’ Latin text of the story.

Scholarly roundup of news stories and academic reactions at the Paleojudaica site. (The general reaction is “Shyeah, no.” Scholars love “Asenath,” and they teach various versions of the text in various disciplines, so they’re not being shy about it.)

*The other versions are “Joseph wasn’t too worried about it, because Jewish guys were still okay with marrying Gentiles,” “Asenath converted non-miraculously and that counts too,” and “Asenath was the daughter of Dinah, whom you never hear anything more about because she moved to Egypt to get away from her brothers, and then Dinah died and Potiphar’s wife took Asenath as her daughter, or maybe Dinah was Potiphar’s first wife who died.”

Among the catechetical establishment in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, lectionary-based or liturgical catechesis in the RCIA has a near-cult status.  It dominates the resources, texts, and training materials circulated in parishes here, and the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, the format’s biggest booster, serves as a parallel magisterium and finishing school.  (Over the years it’s also served as a very useful pretext for any RCIA director seeking to shut-down the suggested use of a catechism, as your host learned in the last decade.)  All of this is balderdash, of course.  One need not use a lectionary-based format in the RCIA, as this article demonstrates fairly clearly.  In fact, one need not attend RCIA at all to become Catholic; most converts come to the Church from other Christian communities, and the RCIA is specifically for catechumens, i.e., the unbaptized.  In any event, one of the high priestesses of this “near-cult” has been invited by the archdiocesan offices of Worship and Evangelization & Catechesis to speak in Cincinnati and Dayton later this month.  You can find more information here.

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