All posts by Patrick Angiolillo

New York University PhD student, Hebrew & Judaic Studies // MAR, Yale Divinity School '16 // AB, Boston College '14 // @CatholicHow Contributor

Speaking the Same Language

Aramaic Jesus

(Tomb-stone. 1 cent. C.E. Private collection)

by Patrick Angiolillo

Language is communication. Without language, whether written or spoken or in whatever medium it may be, one is unable to communicate with others in a meaningful, relational way. When we ask how God communicates with humanity, language necessarily plays a role in this inquiry. This is perhaps why there may be such high stakes surrounding the answer to the question What language did Jesus speak? Continue reading Speaking the Same Language


The Role of the Catholic Biblical Scholar: An Ongoing Consideration

by Patrick Angiolillo

As one semester comes to a close and another opens its doors, students and teachers alike are gearing up for their continued quest for knowledge. With all the buzz of applications, papers, and conferences, it is not difficult for me, a Masters student, to lose opportunities to reflect on what exactly it is I and my fellow students—especially we students of religion or theology or divinity—are doing when we engage new semester with new texts and new questions.

I have come to no deep conclusions, no profound realizations about this process, this career, even. On one level—quite superficially, perhaps—we are engaging in historical investigations. Myself, especially, as a student of biblical studies, or the even more obscure Second Temple Judaism, am easily claimed as one chiefly concerned with the production, reception, and interpretation of ancient texts. As are my closest colleagues, although some perhaps prefer the dirtier side of things, digging through archaeological remains in order to answer sometimes the same but often quite different questions of our shared historical investigation.

But on a deeper level, I often wonder what it is we are doing, for ourselves or for our churches, or our communities. Perhaps some of my friends in ethics have more practical answers, as ethics—or at least my impression of it—is principally concerned with, well, generating an ethic, a code, an understanding of things such that we can prescribe and proscribe with the effect of bringing about the good (or The Good). Maybe that is a simplistic or stuffy, dated impression of ethics, but it nonetheless implies the fundamental practicality of the discipline. Those friends engaged in studies of divinity, too, have a practical edge over me. Training for CPE or learning the essentials of pastoral care, as well as engaging in broad theological study, have wide ranging applicability and very practical use. Helping a parishioner struggle through the death of a loved one, or helping a student understand an explanation of the Trinity are, for instance, beautiful expressions of the practical dimension of these disciplines.

But then there is the biblical scholar. Continue reading The Role of the Catholic Biblical Scholar: An Ongoing Consideration

A Liturgically-Minded Poet

by Patrick Angiolillo

Among my favorite poets is the little known, but tremendously talented twentieth century Jewish American poet Samuel Menashe. His was something of a late-bloomer in the literary community, at least in terms of his recognition. Indeed, late in his life, he won the Poetry Foundation’s Neglected Masters Award, receiving it in the first year of its presentation. But his poetry, regardless of it’s critical review, is some of the most concise expression of the deep and profound matters of life and faith.

The English Movement poet Donald Davie described Menashe’s verse as “liturgical”; indeed, he classifies Menashe’s poetry as expressly “un-literary.” Rather, Menashe’s is a “very insistently linguistic” poetry. As an educated American Jew, Menashe grew up with Yiddish, but learned English early on, and has acquired French by his teenage years. And, knowing his story, I would guess he was not unfamiliar with Hebrew and Italian, as well, if not even more languages than those.

Menashe was a words man. Continue reading A Liturgically-Minded Poet

There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

by Patrick Angiolillo

Earlier in January, the story broke that the popular book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,  written by Alex Malarkey and his father, is a hoax. The book, which details Alex’s journeys to and from heaven while  suffering a coma after an unfortunate car accident as a child, was all fabricated by the boy in order to garner attention. He publicly admitted to this fact in an open letter.

This story finds itself as one of the latest installments in a somewhat new (although, actually quite old) phenomenon known as “heavenly tourism.” This sub-genre of Christian literature (perhaps equally to be called a sub-culture of Christian culture) is probably not as familiar to Catholics as it is to some Protestants. But either way, it is a movement within the Christian faith in which people claim to have experienced a journey to and back from heaven in their lives. Another example than Alex Malarkey’s is  Todd Burpo’s. His is a similar story, in which Burpo experienced heaven while undergoing an emergency surgery as a young boy. The details are recounted in his co-authored book, Heaven is for Real, the veracity of which has been maintained by author and publisher.

Whether or not we believe folks today who say they have had visions, or out-of-body experiences, or other kinds of journeys to heaven is not really a doctrinal matter.  Nothing in their stories makes absolute claims on the Christian faith. We can, if we please, ignore their tales and go on professing the Creed in perfect peace…

But we are curious, aren’t we? We’d just like to know, wouldn’t we? Continue reading There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

by Patrick Angiolillo

In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters on January 7, as well as those others in the ensuing days, we have seen the swift response from the world, not least of all from the people of France themselves.

Immediately following the tremendous events of that day, leaders the world over spoke out against the form of radicalized, fundamentalist religion that led the Muslim gunmen to commit their heinous act of violence. Pope Francis, along with French bishops, as well as French Imams, and hosts of political leaders from different countries have voiced their sorrow and rage in reaction to the terror attack. The hacktivist group known as Anonymous even released a video in which a speaker, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, declared war on radical terror organizations like Al-Qaeda. The group claims to already have shut down a French terrorist website.1

While these reactions all share a deep opposition to the acts of violence witnessed, the particular response from different figures is, understandably, quite different. The hacktivist group has already begun their campaign to shut down terror websites, just as political leaders and government agencies have already mobilized their respective responses to the attack.

Religious leaders, however, have a different kind of role in the matter. Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office expressed, in a matter of hours after the attack, the pope’s—and the Church’s—opposition to this example of the radical use of religion: “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justified: the life and dignity of all must be firmly guaranteed and guarded; any instigation to hate refuted; and respect for the other cultivated.” Indeed, he added that the pope said he “joins the prayers of the suffering and wounded, and of the families of the dead.”2

A religious leader or a religious group has a different responsibility in the aftermath of crises like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Religion itself, and, as we see today, Islam in particular, has been abused by the ideologizing forces of terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL). The leaders of these religio-poltical groups use religion—use God—in order to justify their twisted agendas. Pope Francis summarized the phenomenon this way: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”3

What, then, is the responsibility of the world’s religions, and of world religious leaders in the wake of such attacks? How does our Catholic faith play into this puzzle? Continue reading Je Suis Catholique: A Catholic Response to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

What Are We Waiting For?

by Patrick Angiolillo

The Advent season has arrived. For many this is a favored season in the liturgical calendar. In the American Northeast, the days grow shorter and the air exponentially chillier, but the joy and warmth of this season of expectation provide the necessary retreat from the wintry weather descending upon us all. But as we enter into this Christian season of waiting, which may more properly be understood as a season of welcoming, or coming—the word advent comes from the Latin adventus, a combination of ad (to, toward) and venire (to come)—we might do well to ask what exactly it is we are waiting to arrive?

The readings from the first Sunday of this Advent give us the answer, and remind us what this season, and every season, is truly about.

The reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah (NAB 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) reminds us of our relationship to God. God is the Father, and “our redeemer you are named forever.” Our salvation is from and by God; God alone. In the passage selected, the prophet laments the sinful state—the hardened hearts—of humanity. He cries out to God, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” And “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” He decries the state of his brothers and sisters, among whom “There is none who calls upon your name.” But he concludes with a reaffirmation of God’s relationship to us: “Yet, O LORD, you are our father.” Regardless of our sinful state, God is the source of our being and our salvation, and we pray for his presence to be made certain among us. Lamenting, we call out that God would walk among us as he did in Eden (Gen 3:8). Indeed, David too invokes God to shine forth from his heavenly throne that we might be saved by him (Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19).

Continue reading What Are We Waiting For?

A Curious Incident of Ecumenism in the Night

by Patrick Angiolillo

The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.

So beings “An Order for Compline” from the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church.

As a recently matriculated student to Yale Divinity School, I have found myself in a new place, with new friends, and among new religious traditions. At Boston College, I was never for lack of Mass, prayer, or all things Catholic. As a member of several Catholic student groups on campus, I had ample opportunity to discuss everything from the Bible to Church teaching to recent issues facing the church and her leadership. “My cup overflows,” as the Psalmist writes.

But, as with many things, life kept moving, even though I probably did not want it to. I graduated. And now I have begun my studies in Bible here at YDS.

I have already connected with the school’s Roman Catholic Fellowship group, and I have fast become a regular at the college’s Catholic Chapel, the aptly named St. Thomas More chapel. I have, in my several short weeks here, already dug my roots into the soils of New Haven.

But there has been, for me, a conspicuous lack of Catholicity. Or, perhaps more precisely, there is an abundance of catholicity, such that my Catholicism is unique.

This melting pot of Christianity at YDS has its advantages and disadvantages. I have found myself extremely at home with many new friends whose lives have been shaped by a very different forms of the Christian faith. But, equally so, I have found my comfortability stretched and tested at times, particularly with regard to liturgy.

None of this is to pass a value judgment on YDS or any of my Christian brothers and sisters. Indeed, the mission of the school and its demographic composition are not considerations of this article. What I mean to note is the beauty of this community of Christians who have come together to learn, prayer and grow as individuals and groups.

And such has been my project. I have exposed—and will continue to expose—myself to many Christian traditions, to their worship, and to their faith. Continue reading A Curious Incident of Ecumenism in the Night

Remembering the Power of the Apocalypse

By Pat Angiolillo

With the troublesome crises and conflicts erupting the world over, it may seem like something more than violence is brewing in today’s world. Without declaring that “the end is nigh,” I think it is evident to faithful persons of many stripes that evil forces are indeed at work in the world and become all the more apparent in times of war and conflict.

What may be fodder for fanatics and doomsdayers is, I think for the most of us, simple evidence of persistent hatred and violence in our broken human world. It should come as no surprise to anyone that such crises generated by political and religious strife have long been a staple in the human narrative. Ancient peoples record histories upon histories of violent conflict between political powers and, with less frequency, between religious ideologies. Indeed, the Bible itself is home to such histories—conflict between warring Hebrews and Canaanites, between Israelites and Philistines, between Hasmoneans and Hellenists.

Continue reading Remembering the Power of the Apocalypse

Sacred Signs and Symbols: Ad Orientem

By Patrick Angiolillo

I had the opportunity to attend a Novus Ordo Latin Mass celebrated ad orientem for the first time two years ago. It was my first experience of both Latin in the Mass and of the priest facing East, and in this case facing the altar, for the duration of the liturgy.

This experience has in part fueled my academic investigations of ancient Jewish and Christian liturgical texts. Although my intention in my research has been to draw an ever-clearer picture of ancient worship-in-practice, my studies connect to the modern religious experience, and can shed light on why it is we do what we do when we perform certain ritual practices in our religious ceremonies. This includes the ad orientem Mass.

Let me begin in Jerusalem, a place where many great stories begin. The Temple in Jerusalem lies not only at the heart of the ancient city, but at the heart of the ancient Jewish faith as well. Historically, Jews have regarded the Temple as the place where God chose to reside: “the place (המקום) that YHWH your God will choose from all your tribes as a dwelling place to put his name there” (Deut 12:5; cf. ||’s). God’s shekinah, or divine presence, is physically manifest in the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was reserved.

Continue reading Sacred Signs and Symbols: Ad Orientem

Meditating Good Friday
Christ Crucified with the Virgin, Saint John, and Mary Magdalene
by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)

GOOD FRIDAY is a peculiar day. Not only do we call one of the most solemn days in our liturgical calendar “Good” (a fact whose origin still eludes scholars), but the actual celebration on this holy day differs from the familiar weekday Mass at our local parishes. The liturgy of this day, like Holy Saturday, does not allow for the celebration of a Mass. Instead, we are led through several readings, an adoration of the Cross, and a Holy Communion. The whole ceremony, the whole day even, is shrouded in the gravity of the Passion.

So how do we commemorate this day? Well, the liturgy offers us a beautiful way to experience this somber day. Indeed, blessed are we that our liturgical calendar offers us a whole day devoted to reflection on and commemoration of the Cross of Calvary. The readings and rituals on this day allow us to enter into the solemnity of the day.

Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, a four week long retreat, invites his retreatants to recall our Lord’s Passion during the entire third week. In introducing the week, he encourages us to “ask for what I desire” and advises that “[h]ere it will be to ask for heartfelt sorrow and confusion, because the Lord is going to his Passion for my sins.” He further advises, “Consider what Christ our Lord suffers in his human nature, or desires to suffer… begin here with much effort to bring oneself to grief, sorrow, and tears… Consider how his divinity hides itself; that is, how he could destroy his enemies but does not, and how he allows his most holy humanity to suffer so cruelly” (See §§193, 195, 196).

Continue reading Meditating Good Friday