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The Jewish Past and the Young Priests Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Editor’s Note: Today’s column  and photo  speak for themselves. A lot of our work at The Catholic Thing is energized by writers who are converts. This week we have two anniversaries: Hadley Arkes at two years in the Church and Francis Beckwith at five (on April 26) as a convert, revert, or however you want to see it. I don’t know if the journey from Judaism or from Evangelicalism is longer. I’m just glad both of these men and several of our other writers have made the journey. Aren’t you? If you appreciate what you read here, please make your own contribution to our work by donating by credit card or check today. – Robert Royal
 

“Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters, Led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.” The lines come from that ancient hymn, “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain,” written by John of Damascus (675-749).  And sung at Mass this past Sunday, on the eve of my second anniversary of coming into the Church.  

Through the arrangement of the Mass, the connections to the Jewish tradition are made evident for all who are open to seeing them. Jesus will persistently allude to the Hebrew scriptures as the forerunner for what he is doing, as when he is clearly drawing on the story of Elijah and Elisha (in Kings 1, 19-20) as he tells the young man, ready to follow him, not to linger with the burial of his father (“let the dead bury their dead,” Matthew 8:22). 

Or Jesus will make the connections explicitly when he declares that “everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).  And so, as I’ve remarked to friends, I’ve come to feel even more Jewish in the time I’ve been in the Church.

That sense of things was given a further illumination when my friend Martin Feldman, a notable federal judge and himself a convert, sent on to me Professor Brant Pitre’s fascinating book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. It is widely understood by Christians, not as readily recognized by Jews, that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.  

In the Jewish tradition the sacrificial lamb had to be spotless, and after the blessing and cooking it had to be eaten. Jesus was of course the new sacrificial lamb, and that is the point that makes sense of his otherwise jarring insistence that his body had to be eaten as part of the Eucharist.  

In Jewish practice, the lamb was skewered, with the wood passing “from its mouth to its buttocks.” As one Jewish scholar observed, “the paschal lamb was offered in a manner which resembled a crucifixion.” In Jewish ritual, also, the blessing of the bread and wine was taken to mark the real Presence of God.  

Jesus had drawn upon the precedent of sending manna from heaven; he too would now give bread to eat. But as Brant Pitre notes, it was “the ‘supernatural bread’ of the new exodus”; “the manna of Moses would be transcended by the manna of the Messiah.” That is the “bread” we eat in the Eucharist, the bread that carries the real Presence.

Flashback now to April 9-10 of this year. It’s just after Easter Sunday, and I’m giving three talks to young priests at a retreat at the Longlea estate, deep in Virginia. The retreat was arranged by Fr. Arne Panula, who had brought me into the Church. The priests were in the their late twenties, to the edge of forty, but with one or two older men such as the beloved, sainted – and funny – Ron Gillis, now ministering to a flock in Reston, Virginia. 

They had all come through an exhausting weekend, dense with Masses. Why would they not put their feet up and have long naps? Why would they want to spend time following the weave of argument on matters of philosophy, law, and some vexing issues of the day? And yet these young men said that they found it so buoying for their morale to be in the presence of fellow priests, sharing their concerns – and their sense of mission.

They also found a certain pleasure in listening to talks that someone else had to do the work to prepare. They were also an audience to be treasured – they laughed readily because they listened closely. At times, I’ll unfold a long, winding sentence from Henry James, which cannot be understood until the last word falls into place. And that word has to be repeated: people don’t hear the word because it is a word they are not expecting. 

For the first time in my experience this was an audience that actually heard that last word. What accounted for that? As Fr Arne suggested, these young priests were used to listening closely in confession as people tried to slur, at the end, the words that told the real story.

For me the fascination came in trying to learn more of the “stories” of these young men and what had brought them to their vocations. Two were the sons of men I’ve known, one a gifted teacher, the other a legendary figure in the pro-life movement. But some of the priests came from families that had undergone painful disruptions.  

From what I could gather about the way they dealt with those upheavals, these young managed to summon a wisdom beyond their years, as they sought to make their own moral judgments clear, but to offer to their parents the love that consoles. I had to depart for meetings in Amherst and Princeton, and it was a bit sad to leave the company of these young priests.  

But before I left, Fr. Arne assembled everyone to have pictures taken. As I looked at one picture the other day, it struck me that hope just sprang from that photo. The faces of those men radiated in themselves the surety that all will yet be well – that  the Church, in this coming generation, will be vibrant and manly and joyous.

Hadley Arkesis the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and the Director of the Claremont Center for the Jurisprudence of Natural Law in Washington. D.C. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
 
 
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written by Bangwell Putt, April 24, 2012
... and behind each of those vibrant, manly, joyous men is a mother's "yes", beginning with Mary and, especially now, continuing on in women who must actively decide and choose to provide a loving space within which a child can grow "in wisdom, age, and grace".

May God grant that this feminine understanding and wisdom will not be lost.
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written by Other Joe, April 24, 2012
"And He was laid in a manger". Another strange symbol, a manger is used to hold food. He was born among livestock where lambs are born, and then placed in the feed crib. At the hour of His birth, He was offered as sustenance for the flock in full accordance with Jewish tradition and longings.
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written by Grump, April 24, 2012
Professor Arkes, a poignant column and inspiring. As a lapsed Catholic struggling to find my way back into the fold, I draw strength from your words and experiences. The Hound of Heaven is ever on my trail.
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written by Another priest, April 24, 2012
I would love to know the Henry James sentence. Would you share it with us?
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written by Austin Ruse, April 24, 2012
Grump, you are lapsed? Come home, Grump! All is forgiven. You should go to confession today and then to Mass! YOu are missed terribly.
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written by Ray Hunkins, April 24, 2012
Professor: A beautiful message conveyed with beautiful words.
Grump: I read your words closely whenever you offer them. Your journey is nearing its destination. God bless you.
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written by Austin Ruse, April 24, 2012
Grump, I bet if you do become unlapsed, you will begin signing your comments here as Hap instead of Grump.
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written by Scott W, April 24, 2012
As Bangwell Putt's comment suggests, we are now living in an age where women are applauded for NOT having an abortion or contracepting (completely). Egads!
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written by Grump, April 24, 2012
Austin, I am a grandpa and am known in the family as Grump because of my general sourpuss disposition. I'm trying to making my way back to the Church but there are many, many stumbling blocks, although a daily dose of TCT hopefully is helping remove them.

ishop Sheen said in one of his telecasts that whatever punishment God had for him was not as much as he deserved. I can't imagine that a saint like the good bishop should be punished at all. I've confessed many times but never feel truly forgiven.
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written by Manfred, April 24, 2012
Dr. Arkes: You and I, in fact all Catholics, should feel very blessed as it was Christ Himself Who said:"No one can come to me unless he is enabled to do so by my Father." (John 6, 66)
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written by Hadley Arkes, April 24, 2012
"Another priest" wrote to ask about that sentence from Henry James. It's from a story called "The Abasement of the Northmores." I'll point out to the audience that even if someone is sitting right next to me, that person will often miss the last word precisely because it isn't the word he is expecting. And this was one of those instances in which one really doesn't know what the writer is saying until very last word falls into place. (It's a useful device for gently inducing people in the audience to listen closely. But one time, in a talk at Johns Hopkins, I saw no sign of life in the eyes in the audience after I rolled off this line, and so I dropped two paragraphs from the talk I'd prepared. The long sentence should be spoken rather than read I'll type it here, but in order to set off the last word, I'll use ellipses. The narrator is speaking of Lord Northmore and says:

He had made politics, he had made literature, he had made land, he had made a bad manner and a great many mistakes, he had made a gaunt, foolish wife, two extravagant sons and four awkward daughters--he had made everything, as he could have made almost anything, thoroughly ... pay.


Apart from that, I'm quite touched by Grump's note, by Ray Hunkins's generous note of welcome and encouragement, and by Austin's direct appeal--his concern not to waste any more days, but to draw the long lost son to a warm welcome back home.


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written by Louise, April 24, 2012
Mr. Grump:

Just do it.

The stumbling blocks, whatever they are, will take care of themselves.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 24, 2012
Dear Grump,

There is a place waiting for the blessed Grump at the table! You make me smile with delight. Have you read Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia? There's a wonderful character in The Silver Chair, called Puddleglum. He's a Marshwiggle, temperamentally disposed to thinking that the worst will probably happen. But the same hardheadedness is also a saving grace. I guess you might call it a frolicsome and childlike hardheadedness. So various are the saints! Maybe a Puddleglum isn't granted so many of the sweeter consolations of the faith; this I don't know. But if it is true, then that's just a particular way for someone to be faithful and saintly, and will be rewarded with its own glory. Come back and be Grumpy with us.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., April 24, 2012
One of the reasons why I dislike some of post-Vatican II liturgical trends is preciesly that the public celebration of the Sacred Sacrifice now seems totally divorced from its theological roots and is, therefore, incoherent. I am not being just a stick in the mud who enjoys pointing out that this is not what council Fathers had in mind. The continuity with the History of Salvation expressed by the word and deed of the Mass, espeically during Easter Week, not only enrich the faith and understanding of Catholics but form an attractive bridge for both Jews and Protestants. I wish that in this Easter Season leading up to Pentecost priests all over the world would use this wonderful, utterly priceless article as a basis for homilies on what IT is all about. And Dear Grump, please do go to Confession and Communion; The joy that you bring to your confessor alone will be enough to light up the city of Rome for at least a day and make choirs of angles rejoice.
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written by Dave, April 24, 2012
Dear Grump, Lord knows there is much about which to be grumpy. Thank you for your honesty in sharing your situation with us. But there's much about which to be joyful as well. I think all of us here know what it feels like to go to Confession, or to pray, or to go to Holy Mass and even Holy Communion and not feel a blessed thing, a glimmer of consolation. The good news is that the mercy of the Lord is unleashed when we repent and return, whether feel anything or not: it's the act of the will, which comes from the heart, that He rewards. I join everyone here in urging you to wait no longer. With best wishes and regards.
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written by Grump, April 25, 2012
Thank you all for your kind encouragement. Your prayers are appreciated although I feel mine get no higher than the ceiling.
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written by Grump, April 25, 2012
Postscript: You have succeeded in persuading me to go to confession this Saturday, which will be my 70th birthday. If nothing else, I thank God for getting my biblical allotment of years and for people such as you. I am going to unload on that poor priest and then take communion on Sunday for the first time in decades. On Monday, I will still be Grump to all who truly know me, but perhaps a little less grumpy.
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written by Brad Miner, April 25, 2012
Grump. God bless you, brother.
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written by Fr. Arne Panula, April 25, 2012
Dear Grump, There will be very many praying for you between now and this coming Saturday. And may this Fourth Sunday of Easter -- whose Entrance Antiphon is "The merciful love of the Lord fills the earth...," whose First Reading is about a healing by the firsts priests (Apostles), whose Second Reading reminds us "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God...," and whose Gospel is about the Good Shepherd -- be the happiest, most glorious Sunday yet of your life!
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written by Hadley Arkes, April 25, 2012
The credit must go to Austin for that effrontery of pressing our friend Grump to come back in. With his usual directness, Austin started something. But I think we should all be clear that Grump surely had prepared himself for this move--otherwise it's hard to account for why he should have become such a dedicated reader of these columns. I don't think we should flatter ourselves that we were the ones who brought him back. As he said, he felt himself pursued by the Hound of Heaven. But there is no doubt that he has made himself the object of such tender affections from our circle of writers and readers, and the star of the day. I think it's clear that if we knew where he was living, and what church he was attending for communion, so many of us would try to be there to be with him. I wish he could feel more directly the warmth of the people he has touched.
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written by William, April 25, 2012
Amen to that.
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written by Austin Ruse, April 25, 2012
Way to go Hap! Way to go.
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written by Randall, April 26, 2012
Hurrah, Mr Grump! All the Saints and Angels are rejoicing over you! Glory to God in the highest!!
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written by Grump, April 26, 2012
Professor Arkes, you are partly right in assuming that a gentleAnudge from Hadley and others was instrumental. And as a "dedicated" reader of TCT articles, I've felt a constant tug as alluded to in the following quote from Evelyn Waugh:

"The Roman Catholic Church has the unique power of keeping remote control over human souls which have once been part of her. G.K. Chesterton has compared this to the fisherman's line, which allows the fish the illusion of free play in the water and yet has him by the hook; in his own time the fisherman by a 'twitch upon the thread' draws the fish to land."

So far I have avoided the hook, but I feel the twitch and perhaps in time I'll be the next Catch of the Day.


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written by Grump, April 26, 2012
I should have said .. a nudge from Austin and others...
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written by debby, April 27, 2012
dear grump,
i hope you are still checking in, as i am woefully behind in my TCT reading and only just read this. you have been on my heart a little extra lately-i just mentioned you to someone while telling him about TCT site.
i am THRILLED to tears reading your intention for Holy Confession and Holy Communion. i will be remembering you with all the rest of our family here (at TCT) both on Saturday and Sunday!!!! i am screaming and jumping up and down- i'm so gloriously excited for you and all those you love! xoxoxoxoxo! ALL GLORY AND HONOR TO OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AND HIS ADORABLE MOM!

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