Category Archives: Science and Christianity

Sunday Devotional: I will come to you

Three Sundays ago, the universal Church remembered our Lord Jesus Christ’s Ascension, when He left this mortal world, not to return until the End Days. In leaving, our Lord bade a last farewell to His faithful disciples and, knowing full well how bereft they would be, He made sure we are not abandoned. He promised that although “the world will not see me anymore . . . I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:19, 18).

Jesus made two promises to ensure we would not be left “as orphans”:

(1) The Father will send the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Triune Godhead. As Jesus said:

John 14:16-17

“And I will ask the Father,
and He will give you another advocate
to help you and be with you forever —
the Spirit of truth.
The world cannot accept Him,
because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.
But you know Him,
for He lives with you
and will be in you.” 

(2) We will have His Body and Blood:

John 14:18

“I will not leave you as orphans;
I will come to you.” 

How thoughtful and loving our Lord is!

1 Corinthians 11:22-26

Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Today, the universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, when we remember and celebrate the new Covenant that our Lord made with His Body and Blood, with all who believe in Him. In so doing, Jesus transformed the tribal religion of Judaism into a universal faith. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews 8:13:

In speaking of a new covenant,
He makes the first one obsolete.
And what is becoming obsolete and growing old
is ready to vanish away.

Our Lord said in Mark 14:22, “Take it; this is my body.”

Do you doubt His words?

Have you heard of the Lanciano Eucharistic miracle?

20 years ago, my Godsister joandarc and I went on a pilgrimage to Italy.

Among the places we visited were the wondrous Sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel in Mount Gargano and the Church of San Francesco in Lanciano. In the latter was a glass case containing a brownish substance.

Church of San Francesco, Lanciano, aka Shrine of the Eucharistic Miracle

As described by TheRealPresence.org, during the middle of the 8th century, a Basilian monk doubted the Real Presence in the Eucharist — that at consecration, bread and wine become Christ’s true body and true blood.

The doubting monk was celebrating Mass one day. As he intoned the words of consecration, “suddenly the monk saw bread turn into Flesh and the wine into Blood,” according to documents at the Sanctuary of the Eucharistic Miracle in Lanciano, Italy.

Today, more than 12 centuries after the Lanciano miracle, the transformed host and wine are preserved still, despite being exposed to atmospheric and biological agents:

  • The Host-Flesh is light brown and appears rose-colored when lit from the back.
  • The Blood is coagulated into five globules, irregular and differing in shape and size, of an earthy color resembling the yellow of ochre.

Scientific investigations of Lanciano were conducted since 1575, most notably in 1970-71 and taken up again partly in 1981, by Dr. Odoardo Linoli, head of the clinical analysis laboratory and of pathological anatomy at Arezzo Hospital, and Dr. Ruggero Bertelli, professor of anatomy at the University of Siena.

Linoli and Bertelli came to the following conclusions:

  • The flesh is real human flesh, the blood is real human blood.
  • The flesh is heart tissue — of the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and the left cardiac ventricle.
  • The flesh and blood have the blood-type AB, which is the same blood-type found on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium or Oviedo Cloth — the piece of cloth that is believed to have covered Jesus’ head after the crucifixion.
  • In the blood were found proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as are found in the sero-proteic make-up of fresh human blood, as well as the minerals chloride, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium.

According to “The True Presence,” in 1973, the UN World Health Organization’s board of governors appointed a scientific commission to investigate Lanciano. After 500 examinations, the scientists verified the 1971 findings and declared the tissue to be human.

There have been other Eucharistic miracles elsewhere since Lanciano. See here, here, and especially the website “The Eucharistic Miracles of the World” that was the work of a devout Italian boy named Carlo Acutis before he died from a brain tumor in 2006 at the tender age of 15.

To conclude, Christ is with us through the Holy Spirit, and in His Body and Blood, which makes it all the more terrible and reprehensible that state governments, ostensibly to “contain” the COVID-19 “pandemic,” had barred Catholics and other Christians from attending church service, including the receiving of the Holy Eucharist, which is life itself.

Tell our Lord your troubles and fears.

And tell Him, often and always, that you love Him with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and with all your strength. ❤️

May the peace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you,

~E

Sunday Devotional: Whoever loves me will keep my word

John 14:23-29

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”

“Whoever loves me will keep my word.”

To keep His word is to abide by His commandments — the ten Mosaic commandments, the “greatest” commandment, as well as the “new” commandment to love one another.

Is it that difficult to keep His word by being good?

Not only is being good good for others and society, it is also good for our own selves — our physical and psychological wellbeing. After all, God would not ask us to do something that is harmful to us.

All of which could explain why studies have shown that:

Keeping His word is good for us!

May the peace of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you,

~E

Sunday Devotional: We must obey God rather than men

John 21:1, 4-9, 12-14

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again
to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias….
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread….
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being raised from the dead.

Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32, 40b-41

When the captain and the court officers had brought the apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders, did we not,
to stop teaching in that name?
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the apostles said in reply,
We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles
to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.
So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin,
rejoicing that they had been found worthy
to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

In my post of January 23, 2022, “Sunday Devotional: Faith, Evidence and Logic,” I made the case for Christian belief not based exclusively on faith, but also on empirical evidence and logical reasoning.

The empirical evidence for Christianity includes the testimonies of percipient witnesses. A “percipient witness” is defined by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary as “A witness who testifies about things she or he actually perceived. For example, an eyewitness.” Those testimonies are critical to the determination of truth in law.

In Jesus’ time when there were no technological devices to record empirical phenomena and events, percipient witnesses were particularly important in providing testimonials about truths.

The Apostles and disciples who were percipient witnesses of Jesus the Christ –some of whom were fed a breakfast of fish cooked by the resurrected Jesus, as recounted in the above passage from John 21 — were willing to die for they had seen and heard because, as recounted in the above passage from Acts 5, “We must obey God rather than men.”

This is how the Apostles were martyred, testifying to the truth they’d witnessed until their last breath:

  • St. Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity, was stoned to death in Jerusalem, c. AD 34.
  • St. James, son of Zebedee and brother of St. John the Apostle, was the first Apostle to be martyred. King Herod had St. James beheaded in 44 AD.
  • St. James, son of Alpheus, was reported by the Jewish historian Josephus to have been stoned and then clubbed to death in 62 AD.
  • St. Jude Thaddaeus was crucified in Syria, c. 65 AD.
  • St. Simon the Zealot ministered in Persia and was sawn in half, c. 65 AD after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
  • St. Peter and St. Paul were both martyred in Rome about 66 AD, during the persecution under Emperor Nero. St. Paul was beheaded. St. Peter was crucified, upside down at his request, because he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
  • St. Mark, a rope around his neck, was dragged to death in Alexandria, Egypt, in AD 68.
  • St. Thomas was pierced to death in India, 72 AD, where the ancient Marthoma Christians revere him as their founder.
  • St. Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas, was burned to death in Syria, c. 80 AD.
  • St. Bartholomew (identified as Nathaniel in the Gospel of John) is believed to have been skinned alive and crucified. He ministered in India with St. Thomas, in Armenia, Ethiopia and Southern Arabia.
  • St. Philip was crucified in Hierapolis, Asia Minor, 80 AD, for converting the wife of a Roman proconsul. He also ministered in North Africa.
  • St. Andrew was crucified in Patras, Greece. He also preached in Asia Minor and modern-day Turkey. Christians in the former Soviet Union say he was the first to bring the Gospel to their land.
  • St. Matthew was beheaded in Ethiopia. He had also ministered in Persia.
  • St. John was the only Apostle who died a natural death from old age, after surviving an ordeal of being thrown into boiling oil. He was the leader of the church in Ephesus and is said to have taken care of Mary the mother of Jesus in his home. In mid-90s AD, he was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the last book of the New Testament–the Revelation.

Ask yourself this:

Why would the Apostles and countless Christians who followed, willingly be tortured and killed for a lie?

And would you, in our troubled time, be prepared at whatever costs to “obey God rather than men”?

May the love and peace of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you, and remember to tell Him that you love Him with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and with every ounce of your strength.

~E

Sunday Devotional: Although we have not seen Him we love Him

John 20:24-29

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him,
“We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side,
I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas,
“Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him,
“My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him,
“Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

In truth, there really is nothing so terribly wrong that the apostle Thomas professed his skepticism about the resurrection, insisting that he could not believe unless and until he himself saw the resurrected Christ. After all, God made us bodily and sensory creatures who rely on our (five) senses to navigate in this world and to determine truth and falsity.

But when Thomas did see Jesus, who had died on the cross but now came into the room through solid walls, Thomas instantly understood the import of the empirical and miraculous confirmation he had sought. Falling down before the resurrected Christ, Thomas proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”

And yet, there are those who, despite seeing and witnessing miraculous phenomena that science cannot explain, still refuse to believe.

Among them were the Israelites who, led by Moses, witnessed and experienced the following miracles:

  1. The ten plagues of Egypt:
    • Water turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-25).
    • A plague of frogs (Exodus 8:2-14).
    • A plague of lice (Exodus 8:17-18).
    • A plague of flies (God sent “grievous” swarms of flies upon all the people and houses of Egypt, covering even the ground, except in the land of Goshen where the Israelites dwelled fly-free. –Exodus 8:20-24).
    • Murrain, an infectious disease, killed all of Egypt’s cattle (Exodus 9:3-6).
    • A plague of boils with blisters (Exodus 9:8-12).
    • Thunderstorm of hail (Exodus 9:13–35).
    • A plague of locusts covering all of Egypt, so that the land was darkened with them (Exodus 10:12-15).
    • A plague of of darkness “which may be felt” so that “they saw not one another” covering all of Egypt, but not the land of Goshen (Exodus 10:21).
    • Death of all first-born in a single night, which spared Israelite first-borns (Exodus 11:1-8; 12:29-30).
  2. The burning bush that was not consumed (Exodus 3:3).
  3. The cloud resting on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 13:21-22; 33:9-10; 40:36).
  4. God appeared in the cloud (Exodus 16:10).
  5. Aaron’s rod changed into a serpent (Exodus 7:10-12).
  6. The parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31).
  7. The parting of the Jordan river near the city of Adam (Joshua 3:14-17).
  8. Manna (bread) from the sky (Exodus 16:14-18).
  9. Drinking water provided the Israelites:
    • Sweetening of the bitter waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23-25).
    • Water from the rock at Rephidim (Exodus 17:5-7).
    • Water from a rock in the desert (Numbers 20:7-11)
  10. Complainers consumed by fire at Taberah, which stopped in response to Moses’ prayer (Numbers 11:1-3).
  11. Enemies of Isralites consumed by fire, and swallowed by the earth (Numbers 16:35-45).
  12. Aaron’s rod “brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” at Kadesh (Numbers 17:1-11).
  13. The walls of Jericho fell down at God’s command (Joshua 6:6-20).
  14. The sun and moon stayed motionless (longer day) to enable the Israelites to win a crucial battle (Joshua 10:12-14).
  15. A mega hailstorm destroyed the Amorite army (Joshua 10:12-14).

Despite having personally seen and experienced the countless miracles, not only did the Israelites constantly doubt God, with tiresome repetition they periodically rebelled from God to worship false idols, that is, demons.

But God repeatedly forgave the Israelites.

Imagine, then, how much He loves us — who believe in Him although we haven’t witnessed the Israelites’ miracles nor seen or touched His wounds like doubting St. Thomas, yet we love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and with all our strength.

1 Peter 1:8-9

Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

So the next time you doubt or falter or despair, take heart.

He loves you very, very, very much.

So much that God Himself did this for you.

See also “Easter Sunday: The science of the miracle of the Resurrection

May the peace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you!

~E

Easter Sunday: The science of the miracle of the Resurrection

John 20:1-9

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.

Below is a reconstruction of what happened from the book, The Truth About the Shroud of Turin (Regnery, 2010), pp. 189-191, by my friend Robert K. Wilcox. No matter how many times I read this, it never fails to move me to tears.

The tomb, a rocky chamber carved out of a hillside, a stone rolled against the door, is dark and silent. Lying on a slab is a long, rectangular cocoon, the hills and valleys of which are clearly the contours of a human body. The body of Jesus lies there, face up, a ribbon around the head and chin to keep the mouth closed, packed on all sides with bags of spices.

At some unknown moment in the dead of night, the air in the tomb becomes electric.

At first the vibrations are minute, the sort that could be detected by sensitive twentieth-century instruments; then they dramatically increase until they shake the ground and blow the boulder from the door.

A glow, faint at first, emanating from the shroud suddenly intensifies until rays of light shoot through the threads, star-filled golden rays filling the tomb and pouring out the door.

For thirty seconds — no more — the blinding, pulsating movement continues.

The source of the activity is the corpse, the body, somehow being revitalized, dematerialized, its mass being converted into energy, pure energy, which in the material world is radiant white light.

The body rises from the slab through the cloth, hovers for a moment in midair, then disappears.

The cocoon collapses. Darkness returns. Shouts of “Earthquake! Earthquake!” diminish as the guards run for their lives. And in the air, the distinct odor of scorched linen.

When dawn comes, the women in Jesus’ life draw tentatively toward the tomb, look in the opening, and see the shroud unopened, still wrapped, but definitely deflated. The body is gone. At sunrise the disciples come. John enters the tomb, puts his hand on the cloth, and presses it to the slab. Jesus is there no longer. The disciples and the women quickly gather up the burial garments — the chin band is still in the shroud — and the spice bags and leave before the Romans can return.

At another time, in another place, when they have a chance to gather their wits, they will discover the figure of their master imprinted on the inside of the shroud. The images would be faint, probably not as dark as the passage of time and exposure to air have made them; and the images would be negative ones, a phenomenon that would also become clearer with the passage of time. Regardless, they would view these images as holy — imprints of their precious Lord. The disciples would pay more attention to the images on the shroud if they weren’t already waiting, with the greatest anticipation, for Jesus himself, who, before his death, had promised to visit them after he rose from the dead.

Reconstruction of the face of the man in the Shroud

Scientists at Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) conducted a five-year study of the Shroud of Turin and concluded that the Shroud is not a fake. Their report, in Italian, is here.

Reporting for La Stampa, Dec. 12, 2011, Marco Tosatti quotes from the ENEA report (bold emphasis supplied):

The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining which is identical in all its facets, would be impossible to obtain today in a laboratory, as discussed in numerous articles listed in the references. This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made.

In fact, today Science is still not able to explain how the body image was formed on the Shroud … the body image is not painted nor printed, nor obtained by heating….

The blood is human, and there is no image beneath the bloodstains; the gradient color contains three-dimensional information of the body; colored fibers (image) are more fragile than undyed fibers; surface staining of the fibrils of the image derive from an unknown process that caused oxidation, dehydration and conjugation in the structure of the cellulose of the linen….

[T]he origin of the Shroud image is still unknown…. [R]egardless of the age of the Shroud, whether it is medieval (1260 – 1390) as shown by the controversial dating by radiocarbon, or older as indicated by other investigations…the most important question…remains the same: how did that body image appear on the Shroud?….

There is no image beneath the blood stains. This means that the traces of blood deposited before the image was. Therefore, the image was formed after the corpse was laid down…. There are no signs of putrefaction near the orifices, which usually occur around 40 hours after death. Consequently, the image is not the result of putrefaction gases….

[The results of ENEA] show that a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation can color a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin, including shades of color, the surface color of the fibrils of the outer linen fabric, and the absence of fluorescence….

[I]t should be noted that the total power of VUV radiations required to instantly color the surface of linen that corresponds to a human of average height, body surface area equal to = 2000 MW/cm2 17000 cm2 = 34 thousand billion watts makes it impractical today to reproduce the entire Shroud image using a single laser excimer, since this power cannot be produced by any VUV light source built to date (the most powerful available on the market come to several billion watts ).

Edicule encasing the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem occupies two of the holiest sites of Christianity:

  1. Where Jesus was crucified (“Calvary” or “Golgotha”).
  2. Jesus’s empty tomb, where His Body was placed and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by an 18th-century shrine called the Edicule.

In 1809, during a partial opening of the Edicule by the architect Nikolaos Komnenos, a “sweet aroma” emanated from the tomb, the same “scent of sanctity” that often accompanies Marian apparitions and the tombs of some saints.

Most recently, in October 2016, scientists undertaking restoration work in the Edicule also smelled a “sweet aroma” when they removed the marble slab that covers the tomb. There were also electromagnetic disturbances: some of the measuring instruments used by the scientists, when placed vertically on the stone in which Christ’s body rested, either malfunctioned or ceased to work entirely.

According to the ENEA report, the image on the Shroud was left by “a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation” — stronger than could be created by any technology currently available to man. VUV is vacuum ultra-violet, a type of electromagnetic radiation.

Imagine how powerful the radiation burst of the Resurrection must have been to leave electromagnetic traces after more than 2,000 years, which were detected by those scientists restoring the Edicule in 2016.

Colossians 3:1-4

Brothers and sisters:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

And so, whatever our troubles, however heavy the burdens that weigh on us, be joyous this Easter Sunday, for our Lord is risen!

~E

Sunday Devotional: Live as Children of Light

Ephesians 5:8-14

Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Today’s reading reminds me of a feature in many near-death experiences (NDEs), which is that often, the experience begins with the individual seeing a bright (but not blinding) light. Sometimes, the individual encounters what is described as a “being of light” of great love.

In contrast are the few reports of unpleasant near-death experiences (few because, I suspect, those with such experiences are ashamed to report them), notably that of Bill Clinton who underwent a quadruple bypass cardiac surgery in September 2004. In an interview on ABC’s “Primetime Live,” he said that during his heart operation, “I saw, like, dark masks crushing, like, death masks being crushed, in series, and then I’d see these great circles of light and then, like, Hillary’s picture or Chelsea’s face would appear on the light, and then they’d fly off into the dark.” (Free Republic)

John 3:20-21

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light, 
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, 
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

May the peace and light of Jesus Christ, Our Lord be with you,

~E

New evidence gives credence to life review in near-death experiences

1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Brothers and sisters:
When this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility
and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

Near-death experiences (NDEs) — events that take place as a person is dying or, in some cases, is already clinically dead — are compelling evidence that there is life after death.

People who have NDEs are called near-death experiencers (NDErs). Medical doctors and other researchers have examined this phenomenon in depth. An excellent book is Evidence of the Afterlife, by Jeffrey Long, M.D. (with Paul Perry).

Among the near-death experiences is the phenomenon of life review, when the  life of the dying person flashes before him/her, sometimes as a three-dimensional, panoramic review of everything significant that had happened in the NDEr’s life. From Evidence of the Afterlife, p. 110:

[The NDErs] view themselves from a third-person perspective. They watch themselves interacting with the people in their lives. They see how they treated others and often step into the other person’s place so they know how that person felt when interacting with them….

A spiritual being sometimes accompanies the person who is having the life review. This being may serve as a kind of loving guide…discussing the spiritual ramifications of the events of the NDEr’s life…help[ing] the NDEr put his or her life into perspective….

[L]ife reviews are often one of the most transformative elements of the NDE.

Now, we have scientific evidence of NDE life review.

Joe Pinkstone reports for The Telegraph, Feb. 23, 2022:

Our life may very well flash before our eyes when we are on the brink of death, according to the first recording of a dying brain.

The discovery was made when a patient died while having their brain activity monitored by experts. Electrodes detected an uptick in activity linked to memory recall and dreaming.

Experts believe this backs up reports and accounts from people who have suffered near-death experiences and claim to have seen their life flash before their eyes.

This is the first empirical data from an actual death to support the theory….

The individual who died was an 87-year-old man from Estonia who had been admitted to hospital after a fall.

He was sent for various scans that found a significant brain bleed and an operation was successful. Afterwards, the patient was stable for two days in intensive care.

But he then began to suffer from epileptic seizures, undergoing at least a dozen episodes, so the clinicians organised an EEG — electroencephalography — to help track and treat the haywire brain activity caused by the trauma.

While the EEG was still ongoing, the patient suffered a cardiac arrest and died, with the data being the first and only time the activity of a dying human brain has been recorded.

This gave the doctors and their colleagues a unique opportunity to study what happens in the brain as a person passes over the threshold from life to death.

They saw that at the time of death, brain activity was very similar to what happens when a person is meditating, dreaming, or reliving past memories….

While all brain waves began to dwindle, gamma accounted for a larger than normal percentage. Previous studies have found gamma waves to be responsible for some high-functioning processes and are intrinsically linked to concentrating, dreaming, memory retrieval and conscious perception.

Dr. Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, who had studied this case, told Frontiers Science News: “Through generating oscillations involved in memory retrieval, the brain may be playing a last recall of important life events just before we die, similar to the ones reported in near-death experiences.”

~E

Sunday Devotional: The percipient witnesses

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, Christ appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.

Two Sundays ago, in my post, “Sunday Devotional: Faith, Evidence and Logic,” I made the case for Christian belief not based exclusively on faith, but also on empirical evidence and logical reasoning.

The empirical evidence for Christianity includes the testimonies of percipient witnesses, which are critical to the determination of truth in law. A “percipient witness” is defined by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary as “A witness who testifies about things she or he actually perceived. For example, an eyewitness.”

Today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is yet another example of percipient witnesses — eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth who, on one occasion, numbered more than 500 people.

Those percipient witnesses told others (“so we preach”) about the resurrected Christ whom they had seen with their very eyes and heard with their very ears. Their first-person testimonies were so powerful that others were convinced of their veracity (“so you believed”).

To quote New Testament Professor Emeritus Mark Allan Powell in his book, Jesus As a Figure in History, p. 9 (bold emphasis supplied):

[F]or me…the Jesus of this story has come to mean…recognizing the story to be grounded in the witness of the Spirit, in the testimonies of saints and martyrs, and in my own life experience…. I think of the story…not as the place where I look for Jesus but as the place where he finds me.

May the love and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

~E

Sunday Devotional: Faith, Evidence and Logic

Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events
that have been fulfilled among us,
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning
and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,
I too have decided,
after investigating everything accurately anew,
to write it down in an orderly sequence for you,
most excellent Theophilus, 
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings
you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom 
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
            The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
                        because he has anointed me 
                        to bring glad tidings to the poor.
            He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
                        and recovery of sight to the blind,
                        to let the oppressed go free,
                        and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is often said that belief in God and Christianity is a matter of faith, which the dictionary defines as “belief that is not based on proof”. By “proof” is meant not the proof of mathematics, but the “proof” of empirical evidence. And so, it is said that, with the grace from God, the believer takes a “leap of faith” across a cavern of lack of empirical evidence, to believe and trust in something intangible that’s incapable of being proved.

Though the existence of God and the assertion that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ cannot be 100-percent proven with empirical evidence –bearing in mind that there are no absolute, 100%-true knowledge in the empirical domain because we have not seen everything in the Universe — that does not mean an absence of evidence. There is also the matter of logic — the employment of reasoning, inference and sound judgment to ascertain truth or falsity.

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke 1 and 4 includes both empirical evidence and logic:

(1) The empirical evidence consists of three pieces:

  • Percipient witnesses: In law, there’s an important concept critical to the determination of truth. The concept is “percipient witness,” defined by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary as “A witness who testifies about things she or he actually perceived. For example, an eyewitness.” The passage from Luke 1:2 makes reference to just that — “those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning” — referring to the apostles and disciples who were eyewitnesses of the person, teachings, behaviors and events of Jesus of Nazareth, including the many miracles He made.
  • Jesus taught in the synagogues: The passage from Luke 4:15 states “He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.” One has to ask how a 30-year-old, unschooled carpenter managed to have a rabbi’s expert knowledge in scriptures as to not just teach in synagogues, but taught so well that he was “praised by all”.
  • Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies: Did you know that the Old Testament had foretold the incarnation, persecution and death-by-crucifixion of Jesus? In Luke 4, Jesus Himself referred to the prophesies when he read “a scroll of the prophet Isaiah,” describing what the coming Messiah would do, including the healing (“recovery of sight”) of the blind. (For other prophetic passages in the Old Testament which were fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, see my post “Sunday Devotional: Book of Wisdom foretold the killing of Jesus“.)

(2) Logic:

The account in Luke 4 continues that after reading the passage from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said to “all in the synagogue” who were looking “intently at him”:

“Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

C. S. Lewis, in a series of BBC radio talks later published as the book Mere Christianity (pp. 54-56), perfectly describes the choices available to us when confronted with Jesus’ startling assertion. Lewis said:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said…would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to…. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

In stark terms, those are our choices. Jesus of Nazareth — whose life, words and deeds, including many miracles, were testified to by countless percipient eyewitnesses — was either (1) insane; (2) a pathological liar or evil; or (3) who he said he was — God.

With the available empirical evidence and employing our intellect and logical faculties, we should ask ourselves:

  • Did Jesus of Nazareth act in a deranged or psychotic manner?
  • Did Jesus of Nazareth tell untruths, much less habitually lie?
  • Was Jesus of Nazareth evil? Did he hurt, harm, or act with malice toward another? On the contrary, he was kind and forgiving, healed the sick and the blind, and even resurrected the dead!

So, the next time someone sneers at your belief in Jesus being the Son of God, calling your belief a blind and irrational “leap of faith,” you can with confidence declare that your faith has the support of both (empirical) proof and logic. The atheist, however, is woefully deficient in both — a subject for a future discussion.

May the peace and love of Jesus Christ, our Lord, be with you,

~E

Sunday Devotional: The Magi and the Christmas Star

Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

 

The Oxford Dictionaries defines “ephiphany” (with a small “e”) as “a moment of sudden revelation or insight” and “a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being”. The word “Epiphany” (with a capital “E”) refers to “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi”.

Today is the great feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the Magi — an event that had been foretold in Isaiah 60:1-6 some 800 years before the birth of Christ.

Isaiah 60:1-6

Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you….
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you….
Then…the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.

The Magi were wise men, non-Hebrew pagans from the East. Bearing gifts fit for a king — those of gold, frankincense, and myrrh — their coming to Jerusalem to pay homage to “the king of the Jews” shows that they sought, in the messianic light of the Christmas star, the one who will be king of all nations.

It is noteworthy that the first creatures to see the newborn Jesus were his human parents, Mary and Joseph; angels on high; humble farm animals; lowly shepherds; and Gentiles — the Magi.

The Epiphany, therefore, signifies the manifestation of Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the world, not just the Old Testament‘s oft-prophesied messiah of the Jews. God is not a tribal deity, exclusive to only the so-called “chosen people”. Jesus the Christ came for Jews and Gentiles. He came for all of us, no matter our race, gender, language, country, or creed.

As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians 3:6:

[T]he Gentiles are coheirs,
members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise
in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Noteworthy also is the fact that the Magi, as the first Gentiles to find Jesus, were also the first Gentiles to receive His salvific grace. As recounted in Matthew 2:12:

And having been warned in a dream
not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country
by another way.

By the way, astronomers, using software programs reproducing the night sky exactly as it was thousands of years ago, have determined there really was a Christmas Star or Star of Bethlehem — another empirical or scientific confirmation of biblical accounts. David Reneke, news editor of Australia’s Sky and Space Magazine, said: “We found out something startling. It looks like the ‘Christmas star’ really did exist.”

It’s generally accepted by most researchers that Christ was born between 3 BC and 1 AD. On 12 August, 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus appeared very close together just before sunrise, appearing as bright morning stars. It would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m.

But it didn’t stop there. The crowning touch came ten months later, on 17 June 2 BC, Venus and Jupiter joined up again in the constellation Leo. This time the two planets were so close that, without the use of our modern telescopes and other optical aids, they would have looked like one single, brilliant star.

Venus is known as the planet of love, Jupiter the planet of kings, and Leo denotes royalty and power.

How appropriate that these heavenly bodies were pointing to the birth of Jesus the Christ — the King of kings, Lord of lords, the salvific God of love who became human in order to suffer and die for our redemption.

Did you know that last year on December 21, the Christmas star reappeared when the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, seemed to almost merge in Earth’s night sky, just 0.1 degrees apart or a mere one-fifth the width of the Moon. The two planets were closer than they were in almost 800 years, since 1226 A.D., when Genghis Khan was conquering large swaths of Asia, and Europe was still generations away from the Renaissance. (Astronomy)

The next Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will occur in 2080, 58 years from now.

Below is a picture of the 2020 Christmas star viewed from Jerusalem looking toward Bethlehem (source: Earl Tucker Dickerson):

For other passages in the Old Testament foretelling the incarnation of the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, see my post “Sunday Devotional: He shall be peace“.

May the joy of the Epiphany and the peace and love of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, be with you!

~E