Dead Sea Scrolls open our eyes to first-century Judaism

{mosimage}The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was the 20th century’s biggest archeological story.

It had the romance of the desert: Bedouin lads, poking into dry caves near the ancient Dead Sea settlement of Qumran in early 1947, find traces of a mysterious Jewish sect from the time of Jesus.

Coming when it did, on the eve of the post-war surge of new Bible translations, the unearthing of the scrolls caused astonishment by bringing to light the oldest texts of the Old Testament Scriptures in existence.

Pray for the artistic commitment to truth

Catholics who pray the Liturgy of the Hours know that the intercessions frequently guide us to petition God for the arts.

Not that artists nowadays care whether we pray for them or not. (They are more likely to be grateful that Christians no longer have the power to censor or suppress them.) It has been a long time, after all, since churches commissioned artworks that were important in the history of art, and since artists had anything better than contempt for Christianity, its teachings and institutions.

Parental rights in the spotlight

The Alberta government recently enacted controversial changes to its human rights code that affirm the fundamental right of parents to intercede in the classroom on matters related to the moral education of their children.

In a decision regarded as a victory for religious freedom, Bill 44 amended Alberta’s Human Rights Act to give parents the right to remove their children without academic penalty from classes which include discussion of sexual orientation, sexuality or religion. The amendment requires teachers to notify parents if the sensitive topics are scheduled for inclusion in formal lessons. Informal or “incidental” classroom discussion is not covered by the requirement.

Irish scandal should inspire anger and prayers

{mosimage}I entered the Catholic Church, ten years ago, with my eyes wide open. Or so I believed at the time.

Like everyone else who doesn’t live on a desert island, I knew about the clergy abuse and cover-up scandals that had begun to rock the church a decade before. In defending my decision to become a Catholic against non-Catholic friends and family, who were appalled that I had joined a church in which such abuse had taken place, I adopted a hardly unusual line of argument.

The Catholic Church, I told them, is constructed of crooked, diseased wood, liable at any time to produce bad fruit. The stink of this fruit had brought its existence to the attention of church authorities, who, after some initial foot-dragging, began to clean out the orchard and compensate those who had been poisoned. The system had worked, at least to my satisfaction. This argument belonged, of course, to the “few bad apples” variety.

'Hollywood trash' is not so harmless

{mosimage}When it comes to Hollywood trash, you can’t beat the combined efforts of director Ron Howard, novelist Dan Brown and actor Tom Hanks.

Angels and Demons, their first collaboration since The Da Vinci Code, features the usual slanders against the Catholic Church, along with dollops of the occult, a suppressed secret society and a smattering of advanced science. The official Vatican newspaper has described the resulting farrago as “harmless entertainment.” I’m not so sure.

Movies speak to a common bias

{mosimage}Angels and Demons, which opened May 15 in North America, is the type of movie that can fill large theatres for weeks with people who like murder mysteries filled with action, interesting settings and suspense to the very end. It also takes the type of liberties with church history and modern-day reality that usually characterize movies with a strong Catholic component.

The movie is a prequel to The Da Vinci Code and describes a vendetta against the Catholic Church by a “centuries’ old secret society,” the Illuminati. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, is asked by the Vatican to crack a secret code after the Illuminati kidnap four cardinals considered front-runners to be the next pope, and threaten to kill one an hour and then explode a bomb at the Vatican.
Unlike The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons is not a direct challenge to the foundations of Christianity. (The Da Vinci Code’s plot was based on the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children together, whose descendants live today.) While there are enough errors and stereotypes in Angels and Demons to annoy many Catholics, even the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has dismissed it as “harmless entertainment,” and jokingly suggests that bored moviegoers could entertain themselves by counting the mistakes.


The good and bad of modern communications

{mosimage}Nobody reading this needs a lesson from me about how deeply modern communications technologies have penetrated our lives. You probably watch television, listen to the radio, keep in touch with family, friends and business colleagues by telephone, and you likely have a cell phone.

Even if you don’t toil on a computer to make a living, you may have one at home for everything from online banking to social networking. You might also use your computer to keep up with church news: the Vatican recently launched its own YouTube channel with a message from Pope Benedict XVI.

No silencing the March for Life

Next week, thousands of pro-lifers will gather in Ottawa for the annual March for Life. As they have every year for the past 12 years, they will promote respect for life at all stages, from conception to natural death, through prayer, Mass and a walk through downtown streets ending at Parliament Hill. Some MPs will attend. Clergy and at least one archbishop are planning to attend. There will be witnessing by members of the Silent No More abortion awareness campaign. Last year there were about 8,000 marchers. This year, there may be more.

If you’re a member of a pro-life group or Catholic media organization, or a regular Register reader, you probably know all this. If you only know what the mainstream news outlets carry, you probably don’t. Despite a large number of attendees and the presence of senior clergy and parliamentarians, the march has rarely attracted much media attention. Sometimes a handful of pro-abortion protesters will show up and make noise, creating a photo opportunity or two. Last year a police officer was injured directing traffic, but news reports still didn’t name the event that had caused the need for traffic direction. In the United States, the annual March for Life is at least 10 times as big, but the media situation is about the same.

Nuclear deterrence theories are obsolete

{mosimage}Most people in 21 countries, nuclear-armed and not, now support the elimination of nuclear weapons, according to a survey conducted late last year by the Washington-based polling organization World Public Opinion.

In 20 of the 21 nations surveyed — the total included Canada, the United States, Russia and most European powers — majorities ranging in size from 62 to 93 per cent favoured an international agreement that would lead to the destruction of existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons and halt the spread of nuclear weapons technology to countries that don’t have it. (The single exception to this pattern was Pakistan, where only 46 per cent favoured such a scheme.)

Easter Contest 2011

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Ages 6-8 Part 1

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Ages 6-8 Part 2

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Obama the right man, despite pro-choice stance

{mosimage}Along with a clear majority (54 per cent) of American Catholics who voted in the recent U.S. presidential election, I cast my ballot for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. And along with at least some of these Catholic voters, I picked Obama after a time of soul-searching.

I agreed with his liberal, interventionist policies on the economy, his ideas about America’s relationship with its friends and enemies, health care reform, the deplorable war in Iraq and other matters. I disagreed with Republican candidate John McCain’s stands on virtually every issue, from economics to Iraq.