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Reconciling Gospel accounts

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Luke, for example, says nothing about the flight into Egypt while Matthew doesn't mention the Temple observance of the presentation.

Father Kenneth
Doyle

Q. In the Gospel for the feast of the Epiphany, Matthew indicates that the Magi visited with King Herod in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' birth and that apparently very soon after their visit, the Holy Family fled to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod and stayed there until Herod had died.

But on Feb. 2, we heard Luke's account of the Christ Child's presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem just a few weeks after his birth, and Luke indicates that the Holy Family returned then to Nazareth in Galilee. How are we to reconcile these different accounts? (Circleville, Ohio)

A. Some Scripture scholars have pointed out what you see as a conflict between the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. (The late renowned New Testament expert Father Raymond Brown once declared that the two accounts "are contrary to each other.")

Other biblical authorities, however, have no problem with reconciling the two narratives. The key, they explain, is to understand that the four Gospel authors wrote for different audiences, and thus each of them did not feel compelled to detail every aspect of the life of Jesus.

Luke, for example, says nothing about the flight into Egypt while Matthew doesn't mention the Temple observance of the presentation. In addition, the Gospel writers sometimes used the word "then" to introduce a particular passage as though the events happened in quick succession, while that may not have been true.

Luke does not say that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth "immediately" after the presentation in the Temple; he simply indicates that Mary and Joseph settled afterward in Nazareth, without specifying how much time had elapsed. So it is quite possible that Luke's narrative allows for a period of time for a flight into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, followed by an eventual return to Nazareth.

Q. If the pastor praises President Donald Trump by name during the course of a homily, isn't that the same thing as campaigning for him? (Grand Island, Nebraska)

A. I believe -- particularly in the midst of a very active and heated political campaign -- that a preacher needs to be very careful about seeming to praise or criticize a particular candidate. Priests are encouraged at all times to share the principles of Catholic social teaching and to encourage parishioners to participate in the political process.

But in a website article titled "Do's and Don'ts Guidelines during Election Season," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is very clear on activities that must be avoided. To parishes, other church organizations and their representatives these guidelines say: "Do not endorse or oppose candidates, political parties, or groups of candidates, or take any action that reasonably could be construed as endorsement or opposition."

In my mind, what the pastor in your question has done is a clear violation of that "reasonably could be construed" provision.

In a further specification of this caution, the Washington State Catholic Conference lists under what the Catholic Church and Catholic organizations cannot do: "endorse or oppose candidates or political parties, or actively engage in political campaigns for or against any candidate or party through homily, newsletter, flyer, poster, bulletin, email, phone, parish website links, social media, or by providing a parish mailing list."

In a document that the national bishops' conference revises periodically called "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," among the subject areas that should be of concern for Catholics in weighing their voting preferences are such things as: human life, promoting peace, religious freedom, the preferential option for the poor, migration, combatting unjust discrimination and care for our common home. That document is available on the USCCB website.

- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service



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