Thursday, April 19, 2007

Who Would You Pray With?

Imagine you were one of the 120 disciples in the Jerusalem Upper Room described in Acts 1. The eleven, Mary the mother of Jesus, and over 100 others were there, hanging out, praying day and night. A few days earlier out near Bethany, Jesus had just disappeared into heaven, and suddenly the 120 were left alone...or so it would seem.

Tradition has it that there were nine days from Christ's resurrection until the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). In that time, Peter had the foresight to realize that there needed to be a succession of leadership. After some prayer the Apostles drew lots and Mathias was added to the eleven.

But there had to be a lot of uneasiness, possibly confusion, and definitely wonderment about what to do next. Indeed, the disciples lacked motivation and the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Christ had promised would lead them into all truth (John 16:12).

Imagine you’re there. You’ve found a corner in which to sit, pray and sleep. But you’re frightened a little. The horrific, bloody crucifixion of Christ is still etched into your mind’s eye, even if you did keep your distance. At least twice a day now you walk past the corner where the soldiers forced a man to help Jesus carry the cross. You never saw Simon before that day, but now he’s in the room with the others – a few men gather around him talking quietly. When you went out for bread at noon, you noticed that there are still bloodstains on the street where Jesus struggled with his cross. And, now, in the Upper Room, you look across at a lady who forced her way past the guards and wiped Jesus’ face with her veil. She clutches it, still bloody, in her lap. Around her women gather, they finger the cloth as if it was sacred.

You’re alone. No friends or relatives would come near this band of zealots and fanatics. Why you’re here, you’re not sure. But you’re drawn. Who can you talk to? Who can pray with you? Whom do you trust?

As I contemplated this scene during a recent Rosary, it occurred to me that there was one person in that room whom I wanted to talk to and pray with above all others. Of everyone there, one person knew Jesus the best, and whose faith in what was going to happen was the most serene. We had all seen miracles -- the healings especially were amazing. But this person, for decades, had seen and remembered far more than all of us combined. Here was a bastion of faith and grace that probably knew no bounds. But getting past the crowd would be a task, especially for one as shy as me.

I kept looking for a chance. I needed someone to put an arm around me and pray for me. I needed a smile. I wanted hope.

Little by little I found my way to the far end, where many were gathered. I pushed my way past Peter’s large frame. As I peeked past his cloak, the quiet face looked at me and smiled, beckoning me forward. I pulled my cloak close, and sitting on the floor at her feet gathered the courage to say:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed art thou among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me... now, and at the hour of my death. O Blessed Mother, pray for me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Vans, Boats & the U.S. Mail

Conference and boat season get underway at the same time. Not that we plan it that way. It has something to do with the Spring Equinox and Easter, even though it was snowing earlier this morning here in S.E. Michigan.

I go on the road in just over a week for a series of conferences at which Nineveh's Crossing will be exhibiting, and, at a few, I will be speaking. The 15-year old van we had was destined not to make it out of the state again, and Nineveh's Crossing was planning on hauling inventory and exhibit stuff to NC, MN, WI, MD, and points in between. So, on our way back from Florida last month (see an earlier post on this blog), circumstances conspired (Providentially) to commit to the purchase of a new van we had been thinking about for some months. We wanted to attend the conferences without an attending wrecker towing us in. So, here are pictures of the new van ready to go.

I am also posting this for our daughter, April, who lives in Iowa with husband Bob and son Noah. About 18-months ago I had asked April (our family muse and poet) for a name for a distribution company that would hawk Catholic media with a touch of entertainment. I had told her that I wanted the name (and products) to be accessible by non-Christians and non-Catholics. (Another company named after St. Joseph the world does not need.) She thought for no more than 5 seconds and said "Nineveh's Crossing!" So, April, here's what the van looks like. Your mother had said: "If you're going to buy a cargo van, at least put Nineveh's Crossing's name on the side." I always listen to the women in my life. (Oh, stop rolling your eyes. I do listen…sometimes.)

For decades I have wanted to sail to the South Pacific island where an ancestor had sailed as a missionary, was martyred and eaten. When my mother died 10 years ago, she left me enough money to buy the boat, although she did not do this consciously. (I waited until he was well on her way to heaven before I told her what the money she left was for.) John Williams (1796-1839) was the first Christian missionary to the South Pacific. There he started churches, and began inter-island trade in sailing ships he designed and built locally. Sent by the London Missionary Society he had many fruitful years before he was martyred (at eaten) at Dillon's Bay on the island of Erromango, which was part of New Hebrides and today is known as Vaunatu. There are chapels throughout the South Pacific in honor of his work, often with his wife by his side, and where he got to know author Robert Lewis Stephenson. After his death children in Britian raised money to build ships that would bring more missionaries and trade to the South Pacific. Seven ships were commissioned in the H.M.S., from soon after his death until the 1960s. The drawing to the left was the H.M.S. John Williams I.

We looked for eight years for a ship mom's money could afford, and that could ultimately take us to Erromango. When we found the Islander-Freeport 41 in San Diego, we named it "Family Ties", we trucked it to the Great Lakes and Detroit, and then spent the next 6 years fixing it up. Yesterday we commissioned her for her second year of sailing after a lot of hard work. (See picture at the right.) You can see pictures of last year's cruise with the grandkids in the Canadian North Channel at the links on Pam's Home Page.

I mention this here, because as I was waiting for the yard to put Family Ties into the water, we parked the Nineveh's Crossing van next to the J.W. Westcott II as she warmed up her engine for the 112th season of delivering mail to freighters that pass through the Detroit River. The Westcott home dock is several miles down river in the morning shadow of the Ambassador Bridge that links the U.S. to Canada. But for over 100-years the Westcott boats have wintered at the Gregory Boat Basin, Family Ties' home port. (The Basin's buildings in this picture was the WWI factory for the U.S Navy's feet of wooden subchasers.) You can see the NC Van next to the Westcott in these pictures. As I got out of our van, Westcott Captain Sam Buchanan asked me what Nineveh's Crossing was. I told him that I was a filmmaker and that a few years back I had discovered Catholicism and was so surprised by what I found that I decided to produce and sell documentary projects about it. He smiled and said his own family was Christian and then took me to the back of the freshly painted Westcott and showed me the "Jesus" fish plaque they had proudly fixed to the stern of the famous mail boat. (See the yellow circle in the picture. Sam is on the right, and his mate, Toby, is on the left.)

And famous it is. The J.W. Westcott II is the only boat with it's own Zip code, 48222. During the boating season, 24 hours a day, 7-days a week, the Westcott and its back-up boat, the Joseph J. Hogan, come along side the huge freighters underway, and pass everything from mail, to freight, to pizza to the working mariners. A great site with pictures of the Westcott operation and more of its history can be found at: http://www.boatnerd.com/westcott/mailboat.htm

Well, it will be some years before we're ready to take Family Ties to the South Pacific and make our way to Erromango -- but maybe I could get Sam to give me a lift in the J.W. Westcott II, and climb the ladder to an blue water freighter on its way there. (And it didn't get past me that the first two initials of the Westcott are J.W.!)

Monday, April 2, 2007

Statistical Evidence for the "Real Presence"

SHEER LOGIC

I came to Catholicism out of sheer logic and the beauty of an argument with no fallacious nooks or crannies. Strong faith is built on the strength of reason. (See John Paul II’s encyclical letter On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason). Where reason falters, faith crumbles. Like the wise and foolish men in Christ’s parable, you cannot build a sand castle of fallacious arguments; only brick and mortar on a solid rock will weather the storms. And so I have enjoyed the on-going discoveries of how Catholicism holds together and am amazed at little discoveries with big meanings.

While preparing a presentation for Catholic Home Schooling Conferences on the Fundamentals of Logic and Fallacies I was going through the requirements of a “good” argument.” In a good argument, which is a logical presentation of evidence in support of a position, the evidence must be Relevant, Acceptable, Sufficient, and offer a Rebuttal to the best counter arguments. Under the Sufficiency Principle the evidence must be sufficient in kind, number, and weight to convince a reasonable person of the argument’s validity. Under the “kind” category you have evidence that can be historical, statistical, logical, from an expert witness, and so forth.

I have also been using Dr. Ray Guarendi’s and Fr. Kevin Fete’s What Catholics Really Believe DVD series as a source for the presentation’s illustrations. The argument that Dr. Ray and Fr. Fete were pursuing was whether or not The Eucharist was the Real Presence of Christ or simply a symbolic presence? Many Protestants and all Evangelicals will claim that their communion elements of bread and wine (or juice) are only symbolic, and indeed those of us on the transubstantiation side of the argument would agree. You need a priest for transubstantiation.

But as I considered the Real Presence, I wondered what kind of Sufficiency evidence could be brought to bear that was statistical in nature and significant enough to be an emotional support for the argument. (Yes, I am a biased researcher.)

STATISTICAL EVIDENCE

Statistics look at probabilities, ratios, and comparisons that numerically evaluate one group against another. So, I began to create an elaborate spreadsheet that estimated the number of Christian worship services from 34 AD to the present (2007 AD), and of those that involved a communion service, what percent were celebrated with elements that became the Real Presence of Christ versus those that were only symbolic of Christ’s presence.

The calculations involved the logarithmic growth of the world population (from 200 million in 1 AD, to 6.6 billion in 2007), the ramping up of the Christian church (from 0 in 1 AD to 2 billion in 2007), average size of churches, the Protestant Reformation, and that more than just the Catholic Church celebrates the Real Presence. I also considered the change within Protestantism as it perceived the Real Presence, and in the last few hundred years the decrease in frequency of Evangelical communion services from weekly to one every three months.

I reasoned that if the Real Presence were an important aspect of worship to God, then even in spite of the Protestant Reformation, and the more recent decrease in the frequency of Evangelical communion services, there would still be a significant number of communion services where the Real Presence would be celebrated. Before I began my estimate, which can only be described as rough, I thought the number of Real Presence services would be in the 70-80% range.

The results startled me. Of all the communion services since the beginning of the Church I estimate that 99.2% celebrated the Real Presence and only eight-tenths of 1% were symbolic in nature. Today, because of the relative infrequency of communion celebrations in Evangelical churches the number Real Presence services has inched up to 99.6%.

For me that is a significant piece of evidence from the Sufficiency-Kind-Statistical category of a well-formed argument that the “Real Presence” is a force of Natural Law that has been well protected by the Providence of God.

(I will make my data, assumptions and error analysis available to any statistician or historical researchers for further study and refinement. What I’ve begun could be the focus of an interesting study that considered the more refined movements of people, churches, and beliefs about The Eucharist throughout Church history.)