Tag Archives: Church

Were the Apostles Buffoons before Pentecost?

I must admit that there is something attractive and even accurate to the thesis that the Apostles were buffoons before they had the full transformation that happened at Pentecost.  First, Mother Angelica points out that they never seemed to catch anything on their own even as fishermen!  “Jesus chose a bunch of stinky fishermen” she reminds us as to why God chose someone like her to be a cloistered-evangelist to the nations in founding EWTN.

We have Christ’s disciples’ obvious sins, like Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus.  And yet, after the Resurrection, Jesus does not say “Peter, about denying me three nights ago…You can still remain my disciple, but I’m going to have to pass-along this whole first-Pope thing.”   No.  After the threefold denial, Jesus gives Peter on that Sunday beach of the resurrection a full three attempts to move from simply liking Him (φιλεῖς με)  to actually loving him (ἀγαπᾷς με.)  Peter is embarrassed that he can’t honestly answer that he had any form of unconditional love for his friend who just died for him.

Jesus sees Peter’s humility and is not worried.  Our Lord simply says: “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.”  He knows that Peter will live up to the task.  Peter had trusted in himself and fallen hard.  But now, Peter is humbled enough to lead the Church…and Peter himself would be led to a cross where he would one day die, believing he was not worthy to die in the same shape as the Son of God.  His executors agreed, and turned him upside down.

But it wasn’t just their bad fishing skills or their sins that made the Apostles look like buffoons.  Without any blasphemy to the saints (and yes, the saints can be blasphemed) the evangelists made it clear that the Apostles occasionally answered as buffoons: 

Jesus said:  “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.—John 4:11-14

Come on.  Really.  They thought that Jesus Himself didn’t actually know that asleep people wake up?  Apparently not.  No other explanation suffices.

or consider how obtuse they are later on the boat:

And [Jesus] cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.—Mark 8:14

I can hear Homer Simpson saying to Chief Wiggum “I understaaaaand.”   Yes, they were apparently thinking about food when Jesus said something as spiritual as “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.”  This paints a picture of men astoundingly obtuse to the spiritual sense of things.

But now I want to consider some evidence that the Apostles were not buffoons.  First of all, of all Ancient Near-East nations, very few tribes were as literate as the Jews in the first century.  Children began memorizing the torah with honey on the letters at very tender ages.  In fact, they had a large part of the Hebrew Scriptures memorized by the time they were 12 years old.  We live in a time when most priests can not even name the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, so we tend to project our poor catechesis on the Apostles.  But the Apostles would have know the Jewish faith, salvation history and the Hebrew Scriptures through and through and through, long before they met the Son of God face-to-face.  This is a historical reality, not a pious hope.  Just ask any well-read Israeli about first century life out there.

The Apostles were fishermen by trade.  But originally they had “tried out”(like all 12 year old Hebrew boys at one point) to become a rabbi.  This happens by being chosen at the age of 12 or so by a rabbi to be one who learns from him for years.  Many years earlier, the Apostles had probably tried out but failed.  But they had failed only compared to the real brainiacs of the day.  This means that the Apostles would have had a large chunk of the entire Old Testament memorized long before they took their consolation prize of fishing (irony of ironies, considering which rabbi ended up choosing them as adults.)

But we must get rid of this idea that the Apostles were blue-collar morons if we really want to understand 1st century rabbinical Judaism.  In fact, the parents of the Apostles expected them to be religious warriors to liberate Israel from Rome!  How do we know this?  Because half of the Apostles reflect the names found only in the family of Judas Maccabeus, the last family and book of the Old Testament.  Notice that half of the Apostles come from Maccabees in the Old Testament (Simon x 2, Judas x 2, John x 1.)  In fact, only the latter is found anywhere besides Maccabees in the whole Old Testament!  1

But now let’s fast forward to some grown Apostles:  Peter’s brother is Andrew, and today is the feast of St. Andrew (30 November).  The above picture is him instructing one of his early disciples, assumedly in modern-day Turkey.  Similarly, it was Andrew who first introduced his brother Peter to Jesus Christ:

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus.—John 1:40-42b

What was Andrew doing before he brought Peter to Jesus?  Although Andrew may not have gone to sit from a rabbi in one of the main yeshivas (schools,  ישיבה, literally meaning “sitting,” as  you sit at the foot of a rabbi) we often forget that he was already following the greatest prophet of the old and new Testaments:  John the Baptist.  John the Baptist was not Jesus’ schizophrenic cousin in the forest like some movies portray him to be.  John the Baptist is he of whom Jesus said “No man born of woman is greater than him.”—Matthew 11:11.

Notice two paragraphs above that Andrew introduces Peter to Jesus very very early in John’s Gospel.  In fact, it happened in chapter one!  How do we know that St. Andrew was already following St. John the Baptist before meeting Jesus?  Because just a few verses before that, Andrew follows Jesus at the very referral and command of John the Baptist (Andrew’s first own master and rabbi) to do so.  Notice that this happens just before what I described two paragraphs above:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.—John 1:35-37.

Can you imagine those three years of walking next to Jesus under a tree and eleven annoying-but-beloved friends?  They must have wondered:  What would Jesus say next?  Where would He lead them?  What miracle would come next?  Which Pharisee would He anger today?  Life would have been pure adventure.  And yet, and yet…after the crucifixion, they are left with little faith.  Those Apostles are hiding out for fear that they will be the next crucified Galileans, after their master and rabbi was mercilessly tortured and laid in the earth.  Some messiah to liberate Israel from Rome!

But after they experience the Risen Christ, everything changes.  They now believe.  I believe that the greatest proof of the Resurrection is that 11 fearful men, literally hiding from the authorities on the first Holy Saturday, are the same men that traverse the globe and are now responsible for the fact that there are 2 billion Christians on the earth.  How else could Galilean fishermen have gone from as far West as Spain (St. James) and as far East as India (St. Thomas) if they had not stuck their fingers into the nails of the Risen Jesus or the fist into His side?  They were truly transformed.  (Oh, and some say that Thomas made it all the way to China, but I won’t weigh in on that here.)

They have perfect knowledge of Christ at the resurrection, but the perfection of charity comes at Pentecost with Mary at their side, giving them all boldness and miracles to begin the full transformation of the world!  So, yes, I do believe that there was a transformation in the lives and hearts at the Resurrection and even more at Pentecost.  Perhaps even the personalities of the Apostles after the Resurrection and Pentecost are a bit changed.  Either way, grace perfects nature without destroying it.

Because of this, we can be encouraged by the many falls of the personalities of the Bible when we consider how faithful God is to us, even when we are not faithful.  Not that we want this to lead to presumption on God’s mercy, but St. Therese said:  “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall.  Only how many times you get back up.”  In fact, this is truly exemplified in the many stupid decisions of the Apostles before Pentecost, and how Jesus does not only refrain from retracting His love, but He doesn’t retract His friendship, either.  In fact, even their leadership as bishops and Pope of the early Church remains untouched despite all their personality flaws (impetuous, hungry, sleepy, dull, angry, etc) much like what you encounter in priests today, even in the confessional!  As long as they kept the true faith and transmitted it as Christ gave it, falls among the first bishops and pope could be endured.

But we also have to put together the facts to see that the Apostles were not buffoons before Pentecost. They came from arguably the most literate culture ever on the fact of the globe (the Jews, even under occupation) and had memorized more books of the Bible by the age of 12 than most American Catholics will even read in the Bible their whole life.  They were following the second greatest prophet to walk the earth, St. John the Baptist, before they were instructed on the beach by Yahweh Himself for three years, long before Pentecost.  So, yes, the Apostles made some stupid comments in the Gospels and even some serious sins, but they were the most highly-educated fishermen that you ever did meet.


Burial spot of St. Andrew's body that I snapped off the Amalfi coast, Pascha 2016.

  1. This should show any Protestant why it was wrong to take Maccabees out of the Bible, and that first century Jews surely considered it canonical if half of the parents of the Apostles would name their kids after names found only in Maccabees.  

Christ the King

A small percentage of Catholics today are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King.  Another small percentage of Catholics in the world today are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the revolt of Martin Luther.  Where do you fall?  Let this podcast help you decide.

Martin Luther, Catholics and Jews

Luther’s rebellion against the Apostolic Faith turns 500 years old, and yet some Catholics actually consider his “reforms” to be a cause of admiration and celebration.  Instead of theological alarms, lets just do some myth-busting of bad European history.  Let’s consider the truths of German history, both medieval and 20th century.

The First Myth to be busted is that Martin Luther was a gentle, reforming monk.  The truth is that by any modern standards, he was a sociopath.  Like Hitler, Luther chose to incite violence by declaring that “Jews and Papists are ungodly wretches.  They are two stockings made of one piece of cloth.”  He once wrote a book called The Jews and Their Lies (seen below) in which he stated that because God struck the Jews, “We are at fault in not slaying them.”


Later, his invective became even more violent against Jews, for he declared:  “They are our public enemies.”  In his second to last sermon before dying, on 18 February 1546, Luther gave what he called his “final warning” against the Jews.  This was all a precursor and inspiration to Hilter’s “Final Solution.”  In the 1930s, the first major wave of violence against German Jews was called Kristallnacht, crystal-night, or night-of-glass, named because of how many Jewish store-fronts were shattered.   After this initial violence, “Bishop” Martin Sasse, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany “applauded the burning of the synagogues [for]…on November 10, 1938, on Luther’s birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany.”   Heinrich Himmler, head of Hitler’s SS, wrote of his admiration of Luther throughout the Holocaust.  In fact, almost every anti-Jewish book printed in the Third Reich quoted Martin Luther as a major impetus to eradicate the Jewish people. 1


We reach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolt against the Catholic Church.  Some Catholics are actually going celebrate this heretic who hated Jews!  I hope that none of my readers would celebrate this major-inspiration to the Holocaust.  Even secular history will judge those who do.

As a side note before we get to our second short study, it should be noted that there were many heroic Protestants in the Holocaust who stood up to the Nazis and paid the ultimate price of discipleship, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.



The Second Myth to be busted is Pope Pius XII, the Pope during the Holocaust.  Let me say first that I am not sure if most of the bishops of Europe stood as courageously against the Third Reich and axis powers as they should have.  Perhaps Pius XII could have issued more documents, letters and admonitions of resistance to the European people against the Nazi Regime and Mussolini.  However, the facts speak louder than speculation:  The current, online Jewish Virtual Library holds that Pope Pius’ XII saved 860,000 Jews, many of whose descendants are still alive all over the world today.  This Pope was truly a Christian man during the holocaust, not “Hitler’s Pope” as he was dubbed.  His saving of 860,000 Jews was an inspiration to people of the early 20th century, both Jewish and Christian alike.

Pope Pius XII writes one of his wartime Christmas radio messages using a typewriter at the Vatican in this undated photo. On Nov. 4 the Vatican opened a major exhibit on the life and pontificate of Pope Pius XII, highlighting the late pope's actions on behalf of Jews and others who suffered during World War II. (CNS photo/courtesy of Libreria Editrice Vaticana) (Nov. 7, 2008) See PIUS-EXHIBIT Nov. 4, 2008.

One such Jew who knew that he was not Hitler’s Pope was the chief Rabbi of Trieste (Rome) when Mussolini was in power.  Rabbi Israel Zolli was his name.  He was a devout and serious Orthodox Jew as well as a learned scholar of the Talmud and of Semitic literature.  Perhaps because of this, Pope Pius XII was able to lead him to see Jesus as the fulfillment of all Hebrew Prophesy.  This great rabbi of Rome ended up becoming a Catholic.  Rabbi Zolli was baptized by Pope Pius XII himself.  Below, Rabbi Israel Zolli is found walking on the right.  To the left is Fr. Gosselino Birola, the priest who hid Rabbi Zolli from the Nazis on the grounds of the Gregorian Institute during WWII.


  1. Surely a foreseen objection to this blog post is the Inquisition.  I have seen two numbers for how many people died in the Inquisition, both from Jewish sources.  The first number is around 2,000.  The second number is 31,912.  Although it is not a defense, it must be noted that only conversos were tried. (Conversos were those who had faked conversion to Catholicism.)  Although it may not be defended, the reality is that Communism in any day of the 20th century killed this many people in a matter of about a week.  Furthermore, even if we take the liberal estimate of 30,000 dead from the Inquisition, realize that surgical abortion kills that many (31,000) people in ten days in the United States alone.  Worldwide, the oral contraceptive pill probably kills about 30,000 new human beings in a little less than four hours.  Again, no murder is good.  But the numbers must be put into perspective on the Inquisition against the rest of world history.  The religious war started by Martin Luther took about 200,000 lives even before he himself had died.  

Why I Admire Liberal Catholics

This might sound like a sarcastic title coming from me, but it is not.

Except for groups like Byzantines, most practicing American Catholics have a view of the Church and her doctrine that can usually fit into one of these three categories:

Liberals—These are the Catholics who believe that the Church’s doctrine can change not only organically but even essentially. For example, Chicago’s Archbishop Cupich has called Pope Francis’ doctrine “a game changer.”

Traditionalists—These are the Catholics who believe that the Church’s doctrine can not change in its essence. Because of this, traditionalists believe that there is a general apostasy of modernism in the Church, all the way to the top, fulfilling the third secret of Fatima. “Rad-trads” are grumpy about it; “Glad-trads” believe God will work it out in His time.

Neo-conservatives—These are the American Republican Catholics who speak a lot about the “True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist” but never the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” “Neo-cons” are pro-life but few would ever claim that a heresy of modernism has invaded the whole Church.

Here’s a simple truth that flows from logic and Church History:

If doctrine can change, the liberals are correct.
If docrine can not change, the traditionalists are correct.

I’m not talking about the organic development of doctrine as seen in, say, the Christology of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451.)  I’m talking about definitive breaks in capital-T Tradition.  And for this reason, the one group that can not possibly be correct are the neo-cons. Perhaps the neo-cons have not studied study Church History enough to see that there have been several crises in 2,000 years where a small group of faithful (like themselves, actually) may be called to transcend the opinion polls of bishops.  (St. Athanatius is not the only example!)  Or, perhaps the neo-cons know this very well, and they are simply unwilling to lose their soft suburban pastorates or high-paying lay-ministry jobs.  A prophetic witness will always cost either popularity (priests) or money (lay workers making bank.)

At least the liberals who work for publications like America and National Catholic Reporter recognize that Pope Francis’ doctrine is a “game changer.” I admire their honesty and clarity.  Just this weekend, National Catholic Reporter published an article titled Francis: Sexual morality determined case-by-case, even for transgender.  Of course, I disagree theologically with both of them, but journalistically I appreciate their transparency in presenting Pope Francis as he truly is.

Neo-cons, on the other hand, disingenuously twist Pope Francis into their own idea of “strategic” orthodoxy, as seen in this inconsistent article here, published by National Catholic Register.  This is a guaranteed-fail in fabricating a long-gone “hermeneutic of continuity” (a hermeneutic slowly becoming the emperor’s clothes to any neo-con not paid by the Catholic Church.)

So, why do the rest of the conservatives insist on living in that lukewarm middle-ground between traditionalists and liberals?

“I think I know why.   Scratch a conservative—and more often than not you’ll find a traditionalist. But a traditionalist who shrinks from resolving the ambiguity of his own position. This is not surprising. It hurts to change.”—Neil McCaffrey Sr., requiescat in pace+.

15° Sunday After Pentecost


Who caused the crisis in the Church? I did.

“I hereby commit to staying engaged with the suffering of the world, as long as I am alive and as much as I am able.

I commit to this because on the cross no tear is cried in vain, no ache in the heart is unfruitful.

If I will gaze, wide-eyed, at the suffering of the world AND lean in, I will begin to learn what it is to be human, and I will see Jesus.

And there is no other way of being a Christian for me anymore. None whatsoever. If I don’t suffer with/for the world I might as well quit.

If I believe the Gospel—if Jesus really did come to heal me and the whole human race—then I commit to being a vessel of that healing.

His mercy is deep and wide enough for the entire world. Healing humanity is why He lived and died. How can I live for anything else, and how can I not die for it?”—Audrey Assad

Saints Peter and Paul


Most of us Americans picture the early Christians of Rome being physically underground but spiritually free. Then, everything changed in 313 when Constantine’s edict of Milan reversed the course of history, allowing Christians to be physically “above-ground” but spiritually oppressed by the Emperor and Pope who inadvertently became strange bedfellows. The idea of the pre-edict-of-Milan Christians being “more free” is attractive to the American Protestant way of thinking precisely because of the separation of Church and State and preference to reject authority making demands upon one’s own personal way of worship.  1

But those who come to this conclusion are now realizing that the premise must be true. And the premise is essentially the million dollar question of early Church history: Was the hierarchical Church and charismatic Church separate in her very earliest days in Rome? If separate, it means that we Catholics have Apostolic Succession but the Protestants have the Holy Spirit. If united, it means Catholics have both. Why? Because the earliest saints in all of their ecstasies, miracles and tongues would have been subject to their bishop who was either in Rome or in union with Rome.

The funny thing is that this question may sometimes be personified in the life of St. Peter and St. Paul. In most people’s minds, St. Peter represents the hierarchy where St. Paul represents love. Protestants will hesitatingly admit that Peter lives in an unbroken line of Popes (as long as they first point out that Paul corrected him in Galatians.) The Catholic response becomes: “Ok, you guys got St. Paul but we got St. Peter!” (This is essentially “You guys have the charisms but we have the Magisterium.”)

Stop reading my blog if I ever turn my blog posts into a travel log, but I sincerely believe the answer to this question comes from an archeological find.  I was directed to this find by others, and I made it a point to visit a certain location as I spent Holy Week 2016 in Rome (and Easter Week on the coast of Italy.  Yes, it’s hard to be a priest in exile.)  I think the answer to the “million dollar question” is found in a small building called St. Pudens, located less than a kilometer away from the enormous St. Mary Major.  St. Pudens is sunken, as it is surrounded by a Rome that has been rebuilt around her several times.  I took this picture from ground level:


This first century building was the home of a Roman senator named Pudens. After being converted by St. Peter or St. Paul, he was baptized as can be seen from this painting inside his “home,” attended to in his baptism by none other than the juggernaut Apostles Peter and Paul:


He turned his home into a home-Church, as a staging area for the electrifying Christianity of both St. Peter and St. Paul. As Rome became the Central Nervous System for all of Christianity, Peter and Paul needed a influential bridge to the empire and the people. This was fulfilled by Senator Pudens (later St. Pudens in the Catholic Church.)  In fact, Pudens was so important to early Christianity that the Apostle Paul mentions him in his second letter to Timothy:

Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.  The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”—2 Tim 4:21

What this reveals is that the Roman Church was united in her hierarchy and charisms.  This senator-become-saint in his home-become-Church remains a physical symbol of the spiritual union between the hierarchical and charismatic Church. Yes, St. Pudens is dwarfed by the enormous St. Peter’s Church in the distance of the Vatican, but Pudens is still an active parish, containing the relic of the wood upon which St. Peter offered not his first Mass but rather his first Mass in Rome as seen in the first picture below. 2

IMG_1378 IMG_1377

Yes, this Church is still a functioning parish of the diocese of Rome! It is mostly Vietnamese today.  There is a painting above the altar of Pudens with Peter and Paul:


Yes, Paul corrected Peter in Galatians, but this does not mean they were not dear friends!  If you have ever known any middle-easterners, you know that they could yell at each other and still take a bullet for each other.  It is we who have the broken culture in thinking that a silent-backstabbing is better than an honest disagreement.   The hierarchical and charismatic Church remained beautifully united in Saints Peter and Paul,commemorating a first century relationship of brotherly love, respect and evangelization of Peter, Paul and Pudens.


I have been to Rome about five times, but I haven’t been there in seven years. I arrived with the hopes of finding St. Pudens, but ignoring St. Peter’s as if in a lover’s quarrel with the Vatican. (I literally was afraid to look at the Vatican with all the stuff coming out of it these day.) But that first night in Rome, when my priest friend and I came around the corner and saw the Vatican lit up at night, I literally fell to my knees at the sight of it, praising and thanking God for the Church.


I know Christ tells us to not be seen praying in public, but it was dark that night on the Tiber and few could see me. Kneeling, I asked my Australian priest friend (who studies there in Rome) if I could pray for the Church there for a minute. He said yes and put his hand on my shoulder. I had definitely not planned on this. That enormous, glorious building—that I had planned on not looking at as if pouting—completely overwhelmed me with the sense of the glory of 250+ Popes and martyrs shining through it and all around it that night. I felt God transmitting to me a confidence in His Church in an overwhelming feeling of His power.


We returned home, but the priest with whom I stayed in Rome had a spectacular view of the whole city from his roof at night. This overwhelming feeling of God’s power strangely continued every time I went up the roof over those two weeks to pray whenever I looked at St. Peter’s, alit. Every time I looked at the shimmering shining solid St. Peter’s at night, I did not see an individual Pope like I thought I would “see.” I “saw” my bride, adorned with the blood of thousands of Roman men and women who died—in some sense—for me to have the fullness of Faith. I saw that building every dark Roman night like a New Jerusalem already on earth, transcending certain individuals with the Faith that I love so much, uniting Apostolic Succession and extraordinary charisms in her saints, charged with the very glory of the crucifixion.


  1. In fact, Protestant Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels pointed out in 1981 that early Gnostic communities believed that “one’s own experience offers the ultimate criterion of the truth, taking precedent over all secondhand testimony and all tradition.” This was quoted by Kathleen Kautzer in her book (and pay attention to this title) “The Underground Church: Nonviolent Resistance to the Vatican Empire.”  This should set the stage for the false-dichotomy tackled in this post.

  2. The second picture below is the plaque next to the relic.  My best attempt at a translation is: “In this temple, St. Pudens was the first host of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, whose Christian faithful approach to receive the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.”  You can email me any corrections if my Latin is off.