Another Chaplain Saint?

I previously wrote about Army chaplain Emil Kapaun, a Medal of Honor recipient killed in the Korean War, whose cause for canonization is being considered by the Catholic Church. In an article about the diverse group of American Catholics being looked at for sainthood, George Weigel at First Things reports that Navy chaplain Vincent Capodanno, a Medal of Honor recipient killed in Vietnam while serving with the Marines, is being considered as well. This excerpt:

The Servant of God Vincent Capodanno, M.M., was born on Staten Island and ordained for Maryknoll in 1957. After seven years of missionary service in Taiwan, he volunteered for the Navy Chaplain Corps and was posted to the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam in 1966. During a battle in the Que Son valley in September 1967, Fr. Capodanno, already wounded while administering the Last Rites to the dying, tried to save a wounded corpsman who had fallen near a North Vietnamese machine gun. The “Grunt Padre” was killed in the midst of his act of mercy and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Physiology of Close Combat

Most people who have never engaged in close combat – the violent, life and death struggle that takes place at close range with weapons ranging from fists to firearms – do not understand the physiological changes that take place in the minds and bodies of combatants. Almost immediately, their bodies start dumping chemicals into the bloodstream that affect the brain, the nervous system, the muscles and the core biological functions. Breathing and heart rate escalate dramatically. Muscles tighten. Vision narrows. Hearing becomes selective. Perceptions alter. The decision making process becomes much less rational and more instinctive. Well-trained combatants resort to muscle memory to execute their combatant tasks without really thinking about them. Still, fear threatens to take over. Learning to control their breathing is one of the most important things that combatants can do to stay mentally in control of the situation. And of course, it is important to stay in control – to know when to apply deadly force, and when to hold your fire. We judge those harshly who make wrong decisions, even in the adrenaline-fueled environment of close combat. I hope that those who have never stepped forward to bear the sword on behalf of their city, state or nation – and who have no idea what armed conflict entails – might temper their judgment with mercy.

Dave Grossman’s On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace is an excellent description the physiological experience of close combat for police and members of the armed forces.

Reading Joseph’s Story after the Exile

One of the questions I ask myself when reading the Old Testament is this: how would post-exilic Jews have heard this story as a report of God’s saving activity? Most of the Old Testament’s narrative texts (Genesis – II Kings) came together in their current form during or after the time of the exile which began in the early 6th century before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took the leadership of Judah into exile in Babylon. The written word helped preserve (and transform) Jewish identity while the people were separated from their former land, their temple and their social institutions. What did the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David mean to the exiles? How did they see God at work in their history, and how did that help them understand their current situation?

As I bring that question to Joseph’s story, I see a few themes that would have been important to the exiles:

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The Diminutive Dog in Matthew 15:26

In Matthew 15:26 the the Greek word κυνάριον [perhaps "little dog" or "beloved dog"] is a diminutive of κύων [dog]. The diminutive can indicate size or affection, but it doesn’t always have this effect.

According to Jonathan Watt in “Diminutive Suffixes in the Greek New Testament: A Cross Linguistic Study,” the diminutive can also serve the function of politely softening the edges of a conversation, especially when there is social distance between the speaker and the listener. This could certainly be the case between Jesus and the “Canaanite” woman.

It can also “express solidarity and common values in certain speech communities, and may be doing so in some New Testament passages.” In this case, Jesus would be using the word in a satirical sense that undermines its social power. Jesus uses the language of the commonly accepted framework [Gentiles are like dogs], but “diminishes” it with the use of the diminutive suffix.


When Peter Started to Sink

Matthew 14:22-33

I hate water. It probably goes back to the swimming lessons I had when I was very young. Some kid held my head under the water and I was filled with panic. The thought of sinking beneath the waves is terrifying. If I were sinking, I would really want someone to reach out, grab my hand and pull me to safety, like Jesus did for Peter.

The gospel reading today tells us about a time that Peter started to sink into the Sea of Galilee during rough weather. Jesus walked on the water out to meet his disciples in the boat. The disciples thought it was a ghost, but Jesus told them not to be afraid. Peter asked Jesus to enable him to walk on water as well, but after a good start he began to sink. Jesus rescued him, pulled him into the boat and the sea grew calm.

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Leithart: Atonement and Ecclesiology


Peter Leithart, from First Things:

If we read the whole gospel as atonement theology, then ecclesiology is integral to it. Jesus’ work includes not only His climactic death for the of the world, but the formation of a people through His ministry of healing, teaching, feasting, cleansing, and exorcism.

When we read the gospels whole, we discover that the cross is the climax of a narrative about the incarnate Son’s founding of the church.

Tisha B’Av


The Jewish day of mourning for Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Ab) begins at sunset tonight. The fast day commemorates the destruction of the temple, first by the Babylonians and later by the Romans, and by extension the exile and the many horrors perpetrated on the Jewish people throughout history.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Mustard Seeds

“Everything you wanted to know about mustard seeds” … and “every spiritual lesson that you might draw from Jesus’ botanical analogy” … is not how I would approach Matthew 13:31-32.

Here’s where I would go.

Jesus and his dirty dozen disciples and his ragtag band of followers are the mustard seed that will ultimately produce the at-hand kingdom Jesus proclaimed.

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A Covenant Model for Atonement

This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.

In First Things, Peter Leithart reviews Michael Gorman’s The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant. Gorman proposes a “covenant model” of the atonement (in contrast with substitutionary atonement, Christus Victor, moral influence, etc).

By as [sic] “covenant” model, he means a model that emphasizes that the “ultimate” goal of Jesus’ death is to realize the prophetic promise of the new covenant by gathering a transformed people, empowered by the Spirit to live in courageous, suffering faith, hospitable love, and peaceable hope. Christ’s death is the source of this community of the new covenant, and, as the community participates in Christ by the Spirit, His death on the cross also provides the cruciform shape of that community’s life and mission. The new covenant model, he argues, integrates what is often separated – ethics, spirituality, ecclesiology, pneumatology, mission – and is able to incorporate the best insights of the more common atonement models into a larger whole. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of atonement, the “how,” the covenant model focuses on the “what”; instead of stopping with penultimate ends of the atonement (forgiveness of sins, for instance) the covenant model highlights the ultimate aim, the formation of a people.

Leithart lauds the book as “compelling” and “helpful” but has a couple of criticisms.

If we claim that the death of a Jewish teacher 2000 years ago changed the world, we’d better be prepared with some answer to the inevitable “how” questions.

Finally, I think Gorman’s argument would have been clearer and firmer if he had paid more attention to the features of the “old” covenant that Jesus fulfills.

Read the whole article.