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PRELUDE

Here we present for you, a fictional story offered for you entertainment and hopefully enlightenment.  The story, entitled Larceny is about twice the length of the episodes on the Catholic Stories page.  Additionally, it is offered for the purpose of illustrating the nature of the following offering; Four People - Four Stories. Again, the story is a fictional account of one of the noted happenings in the incident we find in Luke's gospel.  We hope you find it edifying.

LARCENY 

Clouds, snowy white, like garlands of pure lamb’s wool, amble lazily across an azure sky. Though picturesque, they bring little relief from the sun beating down on this hill outside the walls of the city. Unrelenting from days of constant exposure, drought, and an unusual heat wave, the mid-morning air is stifling, making even breathing an effort. And, though tranquil at the moment, in the distance a bank of menacing black clouds, gathering in the eastern sky, portends something ominous to come.

The hill is deserted, save for the presence of two men suspended on well-worn crosses; stained a dark crimson, and guarded by two soldiers. Parched, the two writhe in agony, their suffering compounded by the ropes and nails pinning each to his tree. Not to mention the ravens that constantly alight to peck at their eyes and the open wounds fresh from last night’s beating. Haunting their minds and further heightening their misery, is the specter of the wild dogs lurking just out of sight; awaiting the inevitable meal their fate will soon provide.

Staring down from his cross, the younger of the two shakes his head as another jolt of pain courses through his body. Silently contemplating his two guards, sheer hatred fills his soul. I’ve seen these two before, he thinks. They were in that cohort we ambushed last week. Through the mask of pain contorting his face, he manages a weak smile. "I killed two of them that day, "he thinks.

The older of the two guards slams his shield into the vertical beam of the cross, and looking up, meets the condemned man’s eyes. Screaming, the satisfaction the condemned derives from his momentary musing, vanishes. Flashing a sadistic smile; the delight in causing more agony is evident on the guard’s gap-toothed, scarred mug.

Slumping in resignation, the mind of the condemned returns to his present reality. “… and what has that gotten me?” he thinks, realizing his hatred and zeal has led him to this moment, this fate … and the amusement of these two barbarians.

His fate … crucifixion

His name … Dismas

The cross stops vibrating; the pain abates, if only slightly, and the hatred he feels returns, though he remains silent. "Antagonizing this ogre would only bring more pain and provide them more enjoyment," he knows. A pitiful, strangled laugh escapes his lips as he shakes his head, his eyes betraying his thought. “These ignorant brutes live for this.”

"I know them … I’ve seen them before in their encampment," he realizes. "The tall one is Livianus; strong as an ox and ugly as a hunchbacked scarecrow. That’s right, scratch your head, you pathetic goon … now, pick the splinters out of your fingers."

"And you, Dascius," looking at the short fat ruffian standing between him and his condemned companion, Gesmas; "you’re a weasel who fancies himself a wolf. How could anyone be as stupid as you and live? If you were any smarter, you’d be a rock."

"Two pigs," he thinks. "I’ve watched you feast on what you steal from the merchants in the city. You give vultures a good name."

The glint off Livianus’ spear flashing by his ear chasing a raven away shakes Dismas out of his reverie. "I guess in some ways I should be grateful," he thinks, pushing on the platform at his feet and raising up to fill his lungs. "At least there’s someone to chase away the scavengers." Looking at Livianus, a muffled snort escapes his lips. "After all, we wouldn’t want to deprive the dogs of their coming feast, would we now?”

 Returning Dismas' glance, contempt fills Livianus' eyes as he spits at the condemned man’s feet. Laughing, Dascius waddles over. "Ah, don’t be so cruel, my friend. Let the swine enjoy this lovely day, and our time together," he grunts, playfully slapping Livianus on the shoulder,

A mirthless chuckle escapes Dismas’ lips. "No, these brutes care nothing about me," he thinks. "They just want to prolong the torture." As the two turn away, Dismas makes a feeble attempt to spit at them. Failing and growing weaker by the moment, Dismas drops his head to his chest and closes his eyes; as if doing so might bring some momentary relief.

The din of a growing commotion catches his attention as Dismas again straightens up. Searching for the cause, he turns his head to see. The sounds of whips, chains and the armor of approaching soldiers mingle with a multitude of voices screaming curses mixed with an occasional plea for mercy.

"Another crucifixion," he thinks. "Why not; after all; there is an unused cross here. Room for one more. Who is it this time; Simon, maybe Eleazar, or … no … maybe Barabbas?"

Preceded by a small phalanx of Roman soldiers, the mob gradually comes into view. Seeing the soldiers, Dismas blinks in recognition. "I know them. The one with the spear is Longinus. And there’s Thracius, a silent but vicious brute, and the others like him; Cornelius, Tacitus, Caius, Herius, Gaius and Salinus. Pigs, every one of them."

"But who is the condemned?" he wonders; looking beyond the guards, confusion in his eyes. "He doesn’t resemble any of the other sicarii* I know."

The object of the crowd’s vitriol comes into view, startling Dismas. “I know him … he’s … Yeshua … the young rabbi from Nazareth; the one everyone is talking about. What has he done to deserve this? Nothing that would offend the Romans so much to cause this," he thinks. "And, sure, the temple elders have no love for him, but do they hate Him so much they’d crucify one of our own?"

The sight of Yeshua, bloody and beaten astounds Dismas. "These brutes must have taken delight in torturing him," he thinks; "he’s barely half alive. Sure, Gesmas and I were flogged, but not like this." Gingerly shaking his head, a wave of pity washes over Dismas; something that surprises him given his own situation.

Shoving Yeshua to the ground and stretching his arms to fit the crossbeam, Tacitus and Gaius set about driving nails through His wrists. Crying out in pain, Yeshua struggles to catch his breath as the two redouble their efforts; seemingly  taking delight in their task. Simultaneously, Cornelius and Thracius lash the young rabbi’s arms to the crossbeam. This done, they raise it and securing it onto the vertical beam, finish driving nails through Yeshua’s feet. Their task complete, the soldiers assume the chore of guarding the three men. Tacitus and Longinus stand watch over Yeshua, Herius and Salinus move to guard Gesmas, while the others station themselves to control the mob.

Climbing a ladder, Caius nails the identification marker to the beam over Yeshua’s head. Flying into a rage at the inscription, the mob surges forward; the pharisees at the forefront and their lackeys surrounding them. "Take down that sign … it is blasphemy," they scream; rushing Yeshua’s cross and cursing the Romans.

Leveling their weapons, in unison, the soldiers step forward. The appearance of the Centurion in charge, Cassianus, mounted on a magnificent black steed, sword drawn, stops the mob in its tracks. "What Pilate has written is written," he bellows; his impatience with the pharisees growing by the minute. “Now step back … now! … I said now! … I’m warning you … I will not say it again.”

Seeing the fury in Cassianus’ eyes, the mob recedes as a semblance of order returns.

"Why are there so few of Yeshua’s supporters here?" Dismas thinks, looking out over the mob. "These soldiers don’t care about this man; they’re just doing what they were ordered by Pilate. And, obviously, the pharisees have gotten what they wanted." Suddenly it occurs to him. "Yeshua’s supporters don’t fear the Romans; they fear the pharisees." Looking even closer at the mob, Dismas weakly nods in understanding. "The rabble are either Barabbas’ supporters, or lackeys, duped, or paid, by the elders. Except for a few women and a couple curious onlookers, this whole mob is a fraud," he thinks. 

The continued presence of Cassianus and the threat of the soldiers, quiets the mob further. As the activity surrounding Yeshua’ cross dissipates, Dismas spies another man; Simon bar Hananiah; the silk merchant from Cyrene. "The soldiers must have forced him to help Yeshua carry the beam," Dismas thinks. "I can understand why; the poor man looks half dead already."

Regarding Simon, an ironic look ambles across Dismas’ face. "Simon, the proud merchant," he thinks, shaking his head gingerly. "Your fine clothes torn, tattered … defiled by the blood of another … rendered unclean. From the welts on your face, the soldiers must have beaten you to make you comply. Poor, poor proud, Simon … in the wrong place at the wrong time."

His part in the atrocity complete, Simon feels Tacitus’ boot kicking him aside. Backing away slowly; silently he fixes his attention on Yeshua and his cross.

Studying the silk merchant, something startles Dismas; the look on his face. "He should be infuriated," he thinks. "Yet it’s not horror, or hatred, or shame; but compassion and peace he sees. What did Yeshua say to you, Simon, on your way up this hill?"

Turning from Simon, Dismas again surveys the mob. Seeing the entourage of Pharisees, Dismas weakly calls to them. Looking at Dismas, then Gesmas, they quickly turn away. Getting no response, their rejection of the both of them causes Dismas’ thoughts to turn to hatred as a look of anger mixed with pure disgust crosses his face.

"Look at who is leading the mob," he thinks. "Nahash, along with Ahaziah, Jahdiel, Bazeus, Zelan and Halim. They encourage our cause, give us with money from the Temple treasury, reassure us of the righteousness of fighting the Romans; only now to turn their backs on us, afraid they might be recognized for their cowardice, and their part in the crimes I am now paying for." Abject disgust animates Dismas’ face.  "Cowards and jackals; hypocrites, every one of you," he thinks.

Watching Nahash incite the rabble, Dismas laughs bitterly to himself.  "Ah, Nahash, the snake, how fitting? And the rest, you all should be called Akbor, a rat. You appear so pious and righteous but if the Romans knew what you are really like, they’d nail you up on these crosses instead Yeshua …"

Dismas’ hatred of the soldiers abates as his disgust at the elders increases. "Yeshua was right; I remember … in the shadows of the temple courtyard that day … what did he call them … oh yea, whited sepulchers, that’s it. … all holy and pious on the outside, but inside nothing but corruption and filth." Shaking his head and looking at the young rabbi, Dismas grimaces. "Yeshua, you sure knew them better than Gesmas and me."

Again, scanning the mob, a lone man watching the spectacle catches his attention. Stunned, Dismas shakes his head. "Barabbas. How can you be here; you were captured last week? Knowing how the Romans hate you; searching everywhere for you, they could not have let you go, could they?" he wonders. At the sight of him, a faint chuckle, laced with irony, escapes Dismas’ lips. "Your hatred and zeal for killing put the rest of us to shame, and yet you’re standing there, free, and I’m up here. Why?"

The sight of Barabbas standing far apart from Nahash and the elders, brings another realization. "If the Romans were to recognize Nahash and his jackals with you, they might understand the truth; it is you and your pack of dogs who support and encourage Barabbas … and us." 

"Yes, Barabbas," he thinks, "right now Nahash and his cronies are more afraid of you then of Yeshua. They’ve gotten what they want; but you, Barabbas; you scare them; as they should be scared. After all, they didn’t lift a finger to save you when the Romans came for you." A weak chuckle escapes Dismas’ lips. "At the first sight of trouble, Barabbas will sell you out, Nahash. You, and all the rest of you. He’ll cut every one of your throats to save his own hide. What was it you said, Yeshua," he thinks silently … “all who live by the sword will die by the sword. I never believed that, but looking at Barabbas and these cowards, you certainly spoke the truth."

A hush falls over the crowd. Curious, Dismas struggles to see the reason. Trying vainly to ignore his pain, he peers into the mob, and spots three women and a young boy approach Yeshua’s cross.  Longinus, seeing them approach, steps forward and with his spear at the horizontal, roughly pushing the women back and knocking the tallest one to the ground.

Standing over the fallen woman, Longinus feels a boot crash into his shoulder. "What in the name of Caesar are you doing!?" Cassianus bellows. Gathering himself, he turns to face his commander. "She claims to be his mother ..." Longinus whines. "Your orders were to" ….

"She is his mother!” Cassianus growls cutting the guard off. "Now help her to her feet," motioning to the woman, still on her knees. Hastily, Longinus complies. Then dismounting, Cassianus approaches the four, comforting the fallen woman. "Go to him," Dismas hears him say, admiring the centurion’s compassion as he shepherds them closer to Yeshua.

Remaining a moment, Cassianus leaves them to their grief. Mounting his horse, he again growls at Longinus. “See no harm comes to them … or else.” Meekly, Longinus turns to obey the order, and with Thracius, and Cornelius immediately forms a cordon around the women. "I wonder," Dismas thinks, "if Cassianus’s concern has rubbed off on the soldiers?" Watching them protect the three women and the boy, it’s as if they are almost apologizing for the things they’ve been tasked to do.

Seeing the centurion resume his position, Dismas studies him. "From the look on his face, Cassianus is taking no pleasure in this," he thinks. "He even seems angry. And then it dawns on Dismas. “Cassianus believes this is a travesty. He believes the young rabbi is innocent."  

A voice, clear and strong captures Dismas’ attention. Turning away from Cassianus, he sees Yeshua speaking. “John, behold your mother; Woman, behold your son. Hearing Yeshua, Dismas shakes his head in wonder. “Even now, again his concern is for others.”

Continuing to contemplate the Romans, a thought occurs to Dismas. "I’m responsible for Yeshua’s being here; He’s paying for my treachery," he thinks. "These brutes see this as a way to exact their revenge on us who attack and murder them. My hatred of them gives them reason to delight in torturing any Jewish man they can." Shaking his head, sadly he realizes the reality of the moment. "And poor Yeshua just got caught up in it."  

Remembering Yeshua's words ...“turn the other cheek, love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you," Dismas shakes his head. Maybe I should have listened." Another tortured chuckle escapes his lips.  "Maybe I wouldn’t be here." Closing his eyes his head slowly sinks to his chest as again he slumps on his cross, exhaustion overtaking him. 

"I was there listening to Him when he spoke of those things that bring peace and virtue to a man," he thinks. "I met Shemai, the blind man Yeshua cured; I know his parents, and I know Janai, the paralyzed man, and Joab the leper, as well. I was there in the shadows and listened to Him forgive Temira who these very same vermin wanted to stone to death."

Looking intently at Yeshua, Dismas comes to a startling conclusion. "This man is who He says He is. No mere man could have performed the wonders, or spoke the words he has; words spoken with authority. He offers peace, truth, and a way of life, Nahash, and these pompous jackals in all heir finery, only pay lip service to."

"What was that he just uttered.  … forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.  How can one forgive such an injustice? How can he, in his condition, think of nothing but the concerns of others? If I had followed his way and not the hatred of Nahash, I would not be here now. I heard his words, and something told me He was the way to happiness and peace. But did I listen, no," he thinks shaking his head ruefully. "And now I am paying for it."

Gritting his teeth, again from the agony of the nails and the ropes cutting into his skin, once more Dismas pushes up from the platform. Though suffocating and realizing his end is near, his conviction to live, at least for just a little while longer, intensifies; the fighter in him won’t let him give up without an effort to stay alive a little longer. Realizing the error of his life, Dismas knows what he must do. 

“If you are the Christ, save yourself, and us with you.” A familiar voice catches Dismas’ attention. Astonished, he realizes his compatriot, Gesmas, has joined the rabble mocking Yeshua.  

Too much for Dismas to handle, he rises up as high as he can; knowing he must speak. Weak, suffocating, and losing his fight, he summons up what little strength he has left, and with one last burst of energy, berates his companion.

 “Do you not fear God, Gesmas; seeing we are under the same sentence? We are receiving what we rightfully deserve for our crimes. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  

Holding himself up one last time, Dismas, turning to Yeshua, summons one final breath.

“Yeshua, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Drained of his last bit of strength, Dismas closes his eyes as another jolt of pain, more intense than anything he has felt so far, wracks his body. Gasping for breath, immediately a second spasm even more intense tears through him. Exhausted, his will to fight gone, Dismas slumps on his cross, his eyes close for the last time, and in what feels like a dream, hears …

… "This day, you will be with Me" …

…and breathes his last.

Storm clouds gather, waves of thunder crash over the hill; lightning, as angry as it is intense, splits a tree in the adjacent olive grove. Seeing the gathering storm, and eager to get his drudgery over with, Livianus prepares to finish the chore. Realizing Dismas is dead and the young rabbi very soon will be, he calls to his companion.  

"You know what to do," he hollers above the chaos. Nodding, Dascius picks up a mallet and steps to the base of Dismas’ cross. Raising the mallet to break the condemned man’s legs, he looks up, pauses, and stops; stunned, his mind unable to comprehend what he sees.

Seeing Dascius’ standing stock still, Livianus, shouts over the storm. "What is it?" Getting no response, he shouts even louder; What is it? Again, hearing no reply, Livianus walks over and wrenches the mallet from Dascius’ hand. Balancing himself to complete the task, Livianus, raising the mallet to strike the dead man’s legs, likewise looks at Dismas’ face.

And, like Dascius, stops, an identical thunderstruck look on his face. Looking at each other, both men shake their heads. A mixture of confusion, fear, and amazement in their eyes, in unison they whisper …

… "He’s … smiling?"

The Scriptures vary in the nature and the identity of the two men crucified with Christ. Bandits, thieves, revolutionaries and insurrectionists among them. Whatever the case, Dismas and Gemas deserved their fate according to Roman law.

It is logical to think Barabbas was most likely next to be crucified, possibly joining both Dismas and Gesmas that same day. Looking closely at Barabbas, especially the name “Barabbas,” we see something interesting. “bar abbas” is an Aramaic patronymic, meaning 'son of the father.' When you consider it, we are all sons and daughters of the Father; our Heavenly Father. We are all 'bar abba.' So, by association, extension, or maybe analogy, is it not true to think the gospel writers are telling us, all of us, we stood with Pilate and Jesus before the mob. Each and every one of us. Did we all deserve the fate that awaited Barabbas; death, in our case, an eternal one? I offer you the resounding answer is, yes. We are all, Barabbas. Yet, by His Sacrifice, Jesus took our place and set aside our sentence. The Lamb of God, sacrificed for the wolves.

The idea that Jesus was a distant stranger to Dismas, and that his conversion was the effect only of what he observed while on his cross, strains credibility. Dismas knew Jesus was a just man, an innocent man, saying to Gesmas, “this man has done nothing wrong.” And he had to know Christ was more than just another Jewish preacher, given his request for a remembrance when Jesus entered his kingdom. After all, one has to know someone, more than just in passing, to know He has a kingdom.

Dismas knew Jesus, yet that knowledge did not prompt him to abandon his crimes. He remained a criminal and a sinner right up to his last moments. Yet in those last moments, Dismas realized where truth, mercy, justice, and love, lay, and offered Jesus the only thing he could; a simple plea for a remembrance. And Jesus rewarded that plea with a promise of Paradise. A paradise that awaits us if we …

Dismas and his story is a lesson for us all. That love and eternal joy is within our reach, right up to the final moment of  life.

The only man we actually know is in heaven, at least from the Gospel accounts, is a thief …

… the thief who stole the Kingdom of God.

  • sicarrii - from a word meaning dagger.  In Jesus' time, the sicarii were men who hid in groups and pulled their daggers from their clothing, killing those who they thought were in league with the Roman occupiers; including Roman soldiers and officials.  They are more commonly known as "zealots" in the New Testament writings. 

Four People

Tongue  planted firmly in cheek, we call this our "not really a donation, donations page."  We are happy to offer "Tony's Town" and other features on a gratis basis and hope you enjoy the happenings of the neighborhood gang.  However, operating a website, ensuring and protecting our reader's identity, and safeguarding information provided to us, comes at a cost.  I really didn't want to simply ask for donations, so instead, I wrote four short stories about four people we meet in our Lord's time among us, and offer them here for a nominal "donation."  If you choose to avail yourself of them, we hope you enjoy.

FOUR PEOPLE - FOUR STORIES

Actions have consequences - an eternal truth; something we all know. These four stories, fictional in nature of course, explore the possible consequences four individuals we meet in the gospels may have faced had their story been explored in greater depth.  And maybe their stories provide a valuable lesson, or insight, into the consequences of their actions.  And possibly, ours.

Here are their stories …

THE GREATEST SERMON NEVER HEARD

No one, priest, Rabbi, evangelist, preacher, minister, deacon, Pope, Bishop or even a layman has ever, or will ever, preach the greatest sermon of all time. Find out why.

THE POSTER BOY

One man just might be the Poster Boy for the multitude of sins we frequently commit but often go without recognition. 

What are they and who is he?

THE OTHER RESURRECTION 

The Lord rose from the dead, Easter Sunday. The Resurrection. Is there a second resurrection story in scripture?  Hmmm, maybe. 

THE PRICE PAID

If you were given the greatest gift a person could ever receive, would you be willing to pay the price demanded?  One man found himself in just that predicament. So, what did he do?

To access the four stories, click here now.



Starry Sky 2

RCIA, the Rite of Christian Inititiation of Adults; now called OCIA,  is the formal process for those adults contemplating entering the Roman Catholic Church; or furthering their understanding and knowledge of its teachings and practices.  Having participated in this program as a leader of discussion groups in the past; in a fictional setting, I offer to you here a number of observations I have taken from my experience. The weekly sessions presented in this series highlight interesting or unusual questions and observations I have encountered.  

Please understand that this offering is NOT to be understood as the standard manner in which RCIA is offered in the dioceses and parishes of the Catholic Church. Each of the week's sessions addresses commonly asked questions pertinent to the topic discussed, and is not intended as an exaustive exploration of said topic. As I've said, it is merely a reflection of my personal experience. Each diocese has its own preferred method and structure for offering the program.  If any reader wishes to explore the Catholic Church more fully through RCIA, please contact the offices of a local parish offering the program.

And please note, RCIA has traditionally, for the last several decades, been what the process of exploring entrance into the Church has been called.  A couple years back, the program's name was changed to OCIA, Order of Christian Initiation of Adults. Oh well, guess some traditions die hard. 

The latest "chapter" follows below.  Please refer to the Archives section following the conclusion of this latest chapter if you are joining us "mid-stream" to catch up with our "class" as they move through the program.  Or to refer back to something presented before.  As a side note, in the week one "session" found in the Archives, you will meet the people who comprise our "fictional" class here at St. Kate's. 

And so our story continues:

WEEK TWO

     “Father, I’d like to ask a question, if I may?” 

     In unison, the people gathered around the refreshment table, turn to listen.

     “Sure Dave, what’s on your mind?” 

     “Well, Father, I was wondering, and this is, I guess, a pretty generic question, but, why ... church … I mean why specifically, the Catholic Church? Why not everyone worshipping their idea of God on their own.  After all, I’ve always considered faith something personal … you know … between me and God.  Why the community thing?”

     The group looks at the priest expectantly, as no immediate answer is forthcoming.

     Gently, Ben clears his throat. “Why don’t well all take our seats,” he says.  “Give Father a moment to collect his thoughts.”

 

     Tonight is the second session of this year’s RCIA class.  For those of you who may have missed the first class and just joined us, while the class is the responsibility of "Uncle" Joey and Ben Foster, the pastor of St. Katherines, Father Bob Scanlon and the associate pastor, Father John O'Malley have joined us tonight. Everyone's grabbed a cup of coffee or some other refreshment and the class is about to begin.  It seems however, that one of the participants, Dave Palmer, just asked a question that is probably quite common among many who question the need and the place of structured religion in their lives. And from the reaction of the group, he is not the only one asking it. 

     What say, we grab a cup of coffee and take a listen to the discussion?

      Topping off his coffee cup at the refreshments table, Father Bob walks to the front of the class.

     “Well, the first and simplest answer I can give is that God commanded it from the beginning in His covenant with Abraham.  Moses codified it in the Torah, and Jesus reinforced it with His words, ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there.’ And for us in the Catholic Church, especially at the last supper when he instituted the Eucharist … Holy Communion for those maybe not familiar with the term … when he said ‘do this in remembrance of Me' is our answer to that call in the form of the Mass.  Something we celebrate each Sunday.  Simply, it is our response to the Third Commandment, 'Keep holy the Sabbath.'"

     “And he urged us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Janice Manning adds. 

     “Exactly, Janice. It is a strong conviction of Christianity that the faith of one bolsters and supports the faith of others. In the Third Commandment, the Church considers those admonitions as a command for a collectively shared form of action and worship. Something that goes back to the first days of the Church. After all, it’s tough to love others if you don’t relate to them on some concrete, or maybe, communal, basis. We as a people need the support of each other … something Jesus recognized and encouraged.

     Father pauses to sip his coffee, then smiles gently.

     Does that answer your question, Dave?”

     “It does,” Dave says, nodding his head. 

     “Any other reasons, Father,” Tony Rice asks? 

     Seems the question is on more than one person’s mind.

     “Well, I could say that’s the reason we have this course of instruction in the first place, but I’ll offer you this.  First, the Church was established to maintain a uniformity of belief and teachings. Jesus founded what is now the Church in Rome on Peter, and his successors, and He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the church, in all truth. 

     Again pausing to sip his coffee, Father Bob wanders down the center aisle of the room and continues.

     “To accomplish this the church has a particularly important function, or maybe, office.  Called the Magisterium, with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, at its head, it is the teaching authority of the church. Its purpose is to set forth clear and uniform doctrine on matters of faith and morals. One teaching that is universal for all, not dependent on the opinions and beliefs of varying individuals.  The position of Rome on matters of faith and morals is uniform in all Catholic churches throughout the world.  Granted, some slight differences in observances and practices may occur in various cultures, but the doctrine, or dogma, is the same for all.

     “Secondly, there is a consistency of the form of our worship; the communal prayer we call the Mass. And although spoken in various languages around the world, its form is uniform, the same everywhere.

     “And third, to comply with Jesus’ words regarding our responsibility to, and concern for, others, it is more effective to address our efforts on behalf of others as a community. The church is engaged in so many areas of education, health care, charity, and other services to those in need that we function far better as a church than as simply individuals.”

     Pausing, Father Bob sips his coffee.  “Again, Tony, does that satisfy your question?”

     “Yes Father …  it’s a good answer. Thanks.”

     “Any time, Tony.  My door is always open, so to speak,” the priest says with a grin. “And be assured, we will look at the various functions of the Church in more detail as we go through the session.”

     “Fair enough.”

     A third member of tonight’s participants in tonight’s session raises her hand. With a gentle smile, Father Bob recognizes her. “Yes, Sandra?”

     “Would you then please explain this idea that the Church is infallible; I believe that’s the word I’ve been told? Sandra Bradshaw asks” I accept that the Holy Spirit is perfect, but the people who are in charge?  I have trouble with that concept.

     “That’s a good question. What caused you to ask, if I may inquire,” the priest says softly

     “Well, on occasion, I have the opportunity to work with several nuns, and last week two of them were discussing some matter which they said was an infallible teaching and must be believed.  I mean, I respect the church, but saying that it can do no wrong is a bit of a stretch to my way of thinking.”

     The priest pauses a moment, the look on his face says he is considering his response.  Clearing his throat, he looks at Sandra and the class.

     “Sandra, I know Ben and Joey have a fairly extensive examination of just this topic planned for a future session.  I'd like you to wait for that because they have structured it well, and I don’t have all the scriptural references at my fingertips to adequately answer your question. 

     Pausing a moment,  a sly smile ambles across the priest's face. "However, I will offer you a short answer now ... don’t want you thinking I’m trying to evade your question.” 

     Sandra smiles gently as Father Bob again sips his coffee. 

     “You used the term ‘no wrong.’  Another word for doing ‘no wrong’ would be impeccable – being perfect.  That is precisely not what infallible means.  In the church’s understanding, infallible means the church, guided by the Holy Spirit whom Christ called “the Advocate” will not teach error, will not teach perverted doctrine. I believe you will find that gospel reference somewhere in the gospel of John.  And please understand this, infallibility applies only in matters of faith and morals. And it doesn’t apply to the person of the successor of Peter, the Pope, or any individual member or either the clergy or the laity. Some mistakenly believe that the pope is perfect and that is what infallible means.   The pope will admit he has his failings, he sins, too.”

     “Would you please amplify on that,” a voice in the back of the class is heard to say?  "Where is the justification for such a concept found in Christ's teachings."

     Father Bob chuckles Like I said, I don't have all the scriptural chapter and verse right here at my fingertips.  But you will find it the gospel of John when Jesus promises the apostles that "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of Truth ...  the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you."

     "That is found in the fourteenth chapter of the gospel of John," Joey interjects, setting down a Bible always available to answer just such questions. 

     "Thank you Joey," Father says, smiling and giving Joey a slight nod of the head. 

     "May I offer something," Ben adds, opening the Bible Joey just set down.

     "Certainly, Ben."

     "In Chapter sixteen of John, Jesus also says, "When the "Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth ..."

     "Again, Ben, thank you. And to finish answering Sarah's question let me offer you this.  If the pope says to bet the mortgage on Lucky Lady to win the Kentucky Derby, keep your money in your pocket, like I would.  The pope probably doesn’t know any more about horse racing than me."

     "And just how much do you know about horse racing," Janice asks, a wicked grin ambling across her face.

     "Well, enought to put a couple bucks on Secretariat in '73," the priest replies, giving Janice a wink.   

     A faint chuckle rolls through the room at Father Bob's jest. "But, back to the subject at hand," the priest says.  "If the Pope proclaims on a matter of faith or morals, speaking as the supreme teacher of the Church, from the Chair of Peter, as we call it, that pronouncement is infallible.”

     “So only the pope can speak with infallibility,” Clarice Evert asks?

     “No,” the priest says. “Actually, if all the bishops of the Catholic Church throughout the world speak in one voice, on matters of say, the death penalty, abortion, the perpetual virginity of Mary the mother of Jesus ... matters of faith or morals ... they are infallible, they are not teaching error.”

     The priest, and the class fall silent.  Then, picking up his coffee cup, Father Bob says, “As I said, Ben and Joey have a more extensive class session on just this topic. There is more to this concept of infallibility than I have offered here. I suggest you wait for that. But I do hope I answered your question.  If you're still wondering, I suggest reading the chapters Ben and Joey cited.” 

     Sandra’s smile, Dave’s nod of his head, and looks of satisfaction on the faces of the group seems to indicate that Father Bob’s words have addressed their concerns … for now. 

     “Okay,” Ben says, as the priest takes a seat.  "That's it for this evening.  Next week we'll be discussing the history of the Church.”


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