God works through means: a story

I’m not sure if we looked at the media coverage of the “miracle priest” in Missouri. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s an early Associated Press account of how a “mysterious priest” “suddenly appeared” and prayed over and anointed a badly injured car accident victim with oil. That piece is headlined “Priest comes out of nowhere to aid accident victim.” Here’s a News-Tribune (Jefferson City, Mo.) follow-up with more details.

The initial coverage looked at how onlookers were looking for the priest who helped the victim and how no photos of the accident scene showed the priest, even though many people had seen him. A perfect August story.

The priest ultimately revealed who he was. That was also covered. A typical example is this New York Daily News piece, which begins:

There’s no mystery to this Father Dowling — he’s a prince of a priest.

But the best story was definitely the one that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The reader who sent it along wrote:

I realize that there as been a lot of coverage of this story but this St. Louis Post-Dispatch article is actually quite good in both explaining Church teaching, letting the “religion” survive the reporting, and it even follows up with a university professor explaining how this event could still be a “miracle” even if God was acting just through a human being.  It is quite good.

Couldn’t have said it better. Reporter Tim Townsend introduces the backstory before adding:

What [the Rev. Patrick Dowling] did next would unexpectedly trigger an international media frenzy over miracles, angels and divine intervention.

After officials allowed him to approach the accident, Dowling reached his arm well into the car to touch Lentz’s head with oil. “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

The prayer was the Anointing of the Sick, an ancient ritual with roots in Judaism that is one of Catholicism’s seven sacraments.

As the priest walked away from the Mercedes, Lentz — a member of an Assemblies of God Pentecostal church — asked him to return and pray aloud with her, which he did. He then moved out of the way so rescue efforts could resume.

Dowling said in an interview this week that he was only doing his job at the sight of someone hovering near death. “You stop and anoint because that’s what Jesus told us to do,” he said.

I loved this story about the mystery priest, but not for “miraculous” reasons. My dad is a pastor and that meant that my childhood was full of random roadside stops where my father would see what help was needed and would pray with and for those who needed help. I thought the lack of photos was a weird detail, but mostly I just liked how it showed that many clergy act as first responders.

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Original sin and anteaters in the Daily News

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Excitement is in the air in Gotham City this week following the introduction of a theology page in the Daily News. This is a welcome addition to the New York tabloid market, though I suspect the desire to inject high culture into the Daily News comes from the need for some gravitas to balance the reporting on the mayoral candidacy of Anthony Weiner — Oh the joy his election will bring to the scribes of New York!

The first installment in this new series began on 27 May 2013 and was entitled: “Mystery of anteater’s ‘Virgin birth’ solved.” It opened with a scientific riddle:

The mystery of how a female anteater fell pregnant despite being separated from her mate for more than 18 months is a step closer to being solved.

Speculation whether this was a unique example of mammalian asexual reproduction or parthenogenesis was set to one side however as the Daily News turned to answers from Catholic dogma.

Bosses at Connecticut’s LEO Zoological Conservation Center were left baffled after mom Armani gave birth to little Archie in April. The apparent “Virgin birth” stumped staff — as anteaters have a six-month gestation period and the critter had not been in contact with any males for more than triple that time. Workers wondered whether it was an immaculate anteater conception or if the male, Alf, had somehow sneaked into her pen sometime in October.

Deep questions here. The use of  an upper case V in Virgin and the lower case b in birth doubtless refers to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Did God become flesh in the form of Archie the Anteater? Think this is but a playful use of half-remembered catechisms? Perhaps, but the discussion continues in a theological light by reference to the “immaculate anteater conception”. However science, not the Holy Spirit seems to have been responsible for the miracle, the paper reports.

But center director Marcella Leone now believes the newcomer was actually conceived through “embryonic diapause” — when a mother puts a fertilized egg on hold in her uterus. It happens when environmental conditions aren’t right, so the mother can keep the egg safe until they are. Armadillos and sloths are known to do it, but anteaters have never been observed doing so, reports Greenwich Time.

The Daily News is not so dumb as to believe the virgin birth is the same thing as the immaculate conception. The virgin birth of Jesus is the belief that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and born while Mary remained a virgin. This is an article of faith among Christians (save for the odd Episcopal bishop here and there and among members of a few sects) and is stated in the Apostles Creed which begins:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary, …

The immaculate conception is a Catholic dogma that holds that Mary was born without the stain of original sin. This belief is not shared by all Christians. The catechism of the Catholic Church states on this point:

The Immaculate Conception

490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.”132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”.133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

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No sex please, we’re Catholic

YouTube Preview ImageThe perils of re-writing another news outlet’s work were on full display this week in an article that appeared in the New York Daily News. Based upon a news story broadcast by Buffalo’s WGRZ-TV,Call him ‘The God Father’: Husband and dad will become Roman Catholic priest — and take vow of celibacy” reports that a former Episcopal priest who upon his re-ordination as a Catholic priest will begin a “sex-free life”, is filled with errors of fact and false assumptions about sacerdotal celibacy.

It is not clear at what point the errors entered into the food chain. Perhaps the subject of the story John Cornelius misspoke; perhaps WGRZ-TV misstated the quotes — or it may have be the fault of the Daily News. Whatever the reason, the only trustworthy fact that I would take away from this story is that former Episcopal priest John Cornelius will be re-ordained as a Roman Catholic priest on 26 Jan 2013.

Beware of everything else.

Let’s start with the lede.

John Cornelius will be ordained a Roman Catholic priest this weekend — and with the blessing of his wife they’re giving up their sex life. Cornelius, a father of three, will become the first married Roman Catholic priest in New York — and Sharyl, his wife of 33-years, has agreed to the whole celibacy thing. “We have decided to do that voluntarily,” Cornelius told WGRZ-TV. “I have always had friends that are Roman Catholic priests and I appreciate what they’ve given up to serve God and the priesthood.”

The story continues:

Cornelius, 64, is a former Episcopalian priest who converted three years ago to Catholicism. He said his old church had gotten too liberal for him. “There was the ordination of the homosexual priest in New England,” he said. “Then it came time for women’s ordination. … It may have been okay for other people, but it was just too much for me.”The article reports Fr. Cornelius retired as an Episcopal priest in 2010 and “jumped at the chance after Pope Benedict issued a directive last year aimed at filling the depleted Catholic ranks with converted Episcopalian priests.”

It closes with the news that Cornelius will serve a “flock of other former Episcopalians at the Fellowship of Saint Alban” outside Rochester and speaks briefly of his faith journey. Let’s pick the low hanging fruit first and work towards the conceptual failures in this story. The chronology offered in the quote by Cornelius is incorrect.

Women priests were authorized in 1976 by the Episcopal Church (though a group had been illicitly ordained earlier). Non-closeted, non-celibate gay/lesbian clergy were first ordained in 1979 in New York city and by the early ’90s a number of dioceses were ordaining gay clergy. And the first “gay” Episcopal bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated in New Hampshire in 2003. The chronology offered by Fr Cornelius is incorrect. And the suggestion that the Catholic Church is free from the controversies surrounding gay or women clergy is not so straight forward.

And no, John Cornelius will not be the first married RC priest in New York.

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