The strange fate of Ukraine

The Feast of Saint Augustine

Today’s Gospel (Mt. 24: 42-51) in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite comes at the time of year when we in the northern hemisphere are drunk and sleepy with summer.  The air has been warm and the trees have been green for a long time now; the fields are ripe for the harvest and the fruit is being plucked from the tree.  The days are growing shorter but no one really notices yet because the gloom of winter is long forgotten.  And the Liturgical calendar is roughly at the midpoint of the long march of the second section of Ordinary Time between the glory of Pentecost and the end of the year and the Advent renewal, so the Church gives us this warning:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect the Son of Man will come.

Who then is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.  Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.  But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

The Son of Man comes to us in many ways.  He will come in glory at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, He will come for each of us individually when our time on this earth runs out, and as the Lord of history He comes to judge cities, nations, and civilizations.  Sometimes these decay at a slow rate and just peter out but more often the Lord comes as a thief in the night when people are sleepy and/or drunk on their own prosperity.

Witness the strange fate of Ukraine.  A year ago the citizens of Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol, and the surrounding towns and villages would all probably go out drinking together on a Saturday night and not think a thing of it.  Today they are slaughtering each other.  These once prosperous European cities are now under siege, being shelled, and being emptied out.  They have become the pawn of world powers seeking to expand their influence in the brutal game of international politics.

As our Lord told Peter, James, and John before He entered Garden of Olives at Gethsemane: Vigilate, et orate!  Keep watch and pray, and above all stay awake because the world can change in a minute!  None of us know the hour or the day for us or for the world we live in.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

Quneitra

The Feast of Saint Monica

Syrian rebels reportedly seized control of the Quneitra crossing today between Syria and Israel today.  Quneitra is the only open land link between Syria and Israel and its use is strictly limited to the United Nations forces patrolling the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel in place since the end of the Yom Kippur War forty years ago.  The term ‘Syrian rebels’ is as always a very nebulous appellation and the composition of the forces who seized the crossing is unclear.  The New York Times (link above) is reporting that al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra is part of the force who took over the crossing while this report from a Syrian state television reporter indicates  that the force included Islamic State fighters

If this is true, and I confess this might be nothing more than Syrian government propaganda, then it is a significant development.  The presence of forces linked to the caliphate a few hundred meters from Israel would add a devastating new dimension to the conflict that could easily spiral out of control.

To give you an idea of the distances involved here is a photo that I took of Quneitra from a hill called Mount Bental on the eastern edge of the Israeli Golan this spring:

 

The town of Quneitra.  The hedges in the foreground are in Israel and the town of Quneitra amongst the scattered trees are behind it.  (taken by me April 25, 2014)

The town of Quneitra. The hedges in the foreground are in Israel and the town of Quneitra amongst the scattered trees that are behind is in Syria (taken by me April 25, 2014).

 

It should be noted that if these are Islamic State fighters then they are far away from their main theater of operations in the north and east of Syria and western Iraq.  But we shall see what comes of this.  It should also be noted that the last time a rebel forced seized the Quneitra crossing in 2013 the Syrian government took in back relatively quickly.  But we shall see.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

 

The Islamic State

The Feast of Saint Louis

Over the past two weeks the United States has begun a military air campaign in northern Iraq to prevent the forces of the Islamic State from advancing into Kurdistan and devastating Kurdish peshmerga forces and to help them regain control of the Mosul Dam.  The Islamic State then withdrew its forces from those locations and its advances in Iraq appear to have, for the moment, been blunted.  So whither the Islamic State?  Whiter Iraq and whither Syria?  What is going on here? Has the insertion of limited US air power in northern Iraq and the entrance of a few hundred military advisers into the country fundamentally changed the situation or not?

The American air strikes have so far been limited and the capabilities of the Islamic State are much more advanced than any terrorist group has had in modern times.  The have begun to actually form themselves into a state in the territories they have taken over and most importantly they have a serious budget.  Seizing large amounts of cash in Mosul, gaining oil revenue from the fields they have captured in Syria, and presumably garnering some sort of tax revenue from their conquered territories makes them essentially a terrorist army, a force that may end up being a serious threat to the current world order.

And while the Islamic State has temporarily paused its offensive in Iraq it has done no such thing in Syria.  Yesterday its forces seized the Tabqa airbase southwest of the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqah in north central Syria, thereby clearing that province of all Syrian government forces.

But here is the issue.  The Islamic State needs to be defeated in both Syria and Iraq and the border between those two countries needs to be reestablished as it was before June.  Unless the United States is prepared to send several hundred thousand ground troops into both Syria and Iraq (which it will not do) then it will need to coordinate with both Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which Barack Obama will be loathe to do, and some sort of working government which does not yet exist in Baghdad and have them work in concert to set things back to the way they were.  Does anyone see that happening?

The rise of the Islamic State and its declaration of caliphate is nothing less than an attempt at world revolution akin to what the Nazis and the Bolsheviks did in the last century.  If it is not strangled in the cradle then this world will be far different by the time the next decade ends.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and for their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

Thanks be to God for… Russia: a historical meditation

The Feast of Saint Peter Chrysologus

Russia has been in the news a lot lately, more so than in any time in the last two decades, and it caused me to think about the checkered history of that vast land.  It occurred to me at some point that Catholic Europe as we knew it in the second millennium, the great saints of western Europe Thomas Aquinas, Dominic, and Francis of Assisi and the nations and cultures of France, Germany, Italy, England, and Spain likely never would have come into being without Russia.

To understand this it is necessary to compare the situation of Europe in the first millennium after Christ versus what it experienced in the second.  At the time of the Incarnation and the beginning of the age of the Catholic Church the Roman Empire had just completed conquering the entire Mediterranean basin, a feat which has never been equaled before or since, and stretched from the British Isles to the Syrian desert.  However the lands in the north beyond the Rhine and the Danube were largely an undiscovered country.  In the third century of the Incarnation however the empire encountered the Goths, the first of the barbarian tribes that either were migrating or being pushed across the vast steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas from Asia into Europe.  This was the beginning of eight centuries of continuous migration and invasion that would sap the strength of the Roman Empire and eventually destroy it.

Into this came the Catholic Church with its message of salvation attempting to build a new civilization on the ruins of the classical world.  In those first centuries after the fall of Rome she was continually harried on all sides however.  The Huns, the Slavs, the Avars, the Lombards all came in on the heels of the Goths and Vandals along the highways of the steppes north of the Black Sea and continued to hammer Catholic civilization.  There was very little political stability in these centuries with the borders of the post Roman barbarian kingdoms shifting constantly like amoebas and the entirety of Christian civilization was consistently under threat from the marauding tribes of Asia in the east and the newly expanding empire of Islam to the south that had shattered the old Mediterranean unity and the Vikings coming in from the north.

Around the year 1000 things began to change.  The strength of Islam waned due to internal conflict, the Vikings slowly were converted from paganism into full membership in the Catholic Church and new state was being formed north of the Black Sea that would forever close the door on the highway from Asia into Europe.  When Prince Vladimir accepted baptism and brought the new state of Kievan Rus with him that road was shut off.  New and organized and united political entities were formed that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and put up a permanent roadblock to any migration from Asia into Europe.  The only power to breach this roadblock was the Mongols in the 13th century but they did not destroy Russia, they only occupied it and eventually withered away.

Once this new space opened up a new situation came into being in Europe.  There was internecine and fratricidal warfare to be sure but there was no longer the constant threat of massive, culture destroying invasion from the east.  The Church recovered her footing and launched the Crusades to save Constantinople from the Turkish threat and to recapture the Holy Land for a time.  The nation of France came into being and rule from Paris became a fact of life for ever greater parts of what had been Roman Gaul.  The kingdoms of Castille and Aragon accelerated the work of the reconquista and began to drive Islam out of western Europe and form the modern nation of Spain.  There was a flowering of scholastic theology in Italy and a greater devotion to the religious life, and the first beginnings of the Rennaissance.  The High Middle Ages were in full swing and the foundations of the modern world, with all of its glories and defects, were being laid.  All thanks to the formation of a unified political entity that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas and cut off the highway of invasion from Asia.  Thanks be to God for Russia.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

What is Islam Part 4: The Mother of God in Islam

The Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne

The Second Vatican Council in its declaration on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions Nostra Aetate declared that “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems… (who) also honor Mary, His (Jesus’) Virgin Mother, and at times they also call on her with devotion.”  That is true, as far as it goes, but incomplete.  There are very important differences in the understanding of the Virgin Mary’s role in human history which reflect on the entirely different worldview that the Catholic has regarding his Creator, his relationship with that Creator, and his destiny.

The Qur’an relates the story of the Annunciation twice, both in sura 3 (The Family of Imran) and in sura 19 (Maryam).  Both of these episodes reveal a strong familiarity with Saint Luke’s account (they both begin with the message of the angel to Zechariah concerning John the Baptist and an altered version of his subsequent dumbness) of the same event, but both are also a manipulation and a strategic mutilation of this event and its significance for the human race.

The accounts in sura 3 and sura 19 are slightly different but for our purposes in this brief post they serve the same function.

Here is the account given in the Qur’an in sura 19, Maryam (16-22):

وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ مَرْيَمَ إِذِ انتَبَذَتْ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا مَكَانًا شَرْقِيًّا ﴿١٦فَاتَّخَذَتْ مِن دُونِهِمْ حِجَابًا فَأَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهَا رُوحَنَا فَتَمَثَّلَ لَهَا بَشَرًا سَوِيًّا ﴿١٧ قَالَتْ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِالرَّحْمَـٰنِ مِنكَ إِن كُنتَ تَقِيًّا ﴿١٨قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَنَا رَسُولُ رَبِّكِ لِأَهَبَ لَكِ غُلَامًا زَكِيًّا ﴿١٩ قَالَتْ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ وَلَمْ أَكُ بَغِيًّا ﴿٢٠ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ قَالَ رَبُّكِ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ ۖ وَلِنَجْعَلَهُ آيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَرَحْمَةً مِّنَّا ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرًا مَّقْضِيًّا ﴿٢١ فَحَمَلَتْهُ فَانتَبَذَتْ بِهِ مَكَانًا قَصِيًّ

English translation by Maulana Muhammad Ali

And mention Mary in the Book.  When she drew aside from her family to an eastern place.  So she screened herself from them.  Then We sent Our spirit and it appeared to her as a well-made man.

 She said: I flee for refuge from thee to the Beneficent, if thou art one guarding against evil.

 He said I am only bearer of a message of the Lord: That I will give thee a pure boy.

 She said: How can I have a son and no mortal has yet touched me nor have I been unchaste?

 He said: So (it will be).  Thy Lord says: It is easy to Me; and that We may make him a sign to men and a mercy from Us.  And it is a matter decreed.

 Then she conceived him; and withdrew with him to a remote place.

Notice anything missing there?  Let’s take a look at Saint Luke’s (1: 26-38) account of the same event written more than half a millennium before in the Douay-Rheims Challoner translation:

 And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And the angle being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

 Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

 And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.  Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.  And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

 And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

 And the angel answering, said to her: the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.  And therefore also the Holy which shall  be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.  And behold they cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with here that is called barren:  because no word shall be impossible with God.

 And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.

Just looking at these two passages alone, one from the Qur’an and the other from the Gospel of Luke, one can see immediately the depth and richness of the Catholic Faith compared to the paltriness of Islam.  In Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation the depth of the human being’s relationship with God that comes to its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ is in full view while in the Qur’an things happen in a strange and nonsensical way: the spirit of Allah appearing to Mary in some eastern place as a well made man?  What is that?  But we are getting beyond my point here.

What is missing from the account in the Qur’an?  Many things, but one thing in particular: the Blessed Mother’s fiat, the most significant event in human history.  Because here it was that a choice was made.  By the Virgin Mother of God’s yes to God she reversed the choice of Adam and of Eve and made it possible for each one of us to make the same choice each day of our lives.  Her yes brought a new world into being and made all of us sons of God by adoption through her son our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Angelus prayer reminds us that the Blessed Mother’s fiat brought about the Incarnation of God in human flesh and the Redemption of mankind.  And it is a reminder to all of us that our way of participating in our own salvation and that of mankind is to issue our own fiat to the will of God each day of our lives.

This is what the Qur’an denies.  In the Qur’an the answer of the angel to the virgin’s question is simply something along the lines of “Allah can do whatever he wants.”  She neither accepts nor rejects this scenario but conceives and withdraws to a desert place.

And this is Islam’s view of the universe.  Allah is an arbitrary god, giving and taking away often for no particular reason.  Human beings must follow the law as revealed to them in the Qur’an but there is zero sense of any cooperation with the divine will.  Just as they reject the divine Nature of Jesus Christ, in fact because they do this, there is no possibility of a human being sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity because for them there is no Trinity.  For Catholics God is relationship.  For Muslims Allah is necessarily solitary and alone, all powerful, aloof and distant.  In truth Allah must be a dead god, because he has not the life of relationship in him.  Muslims hope to achieve some worldly paradise after death at the whim of Allah but can never hope to share in his life because, in the end, he has none.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

 

 

The slow but steady advance of the Islamic State

The Feast of Saint James the Apostle

Last week while the world was focused on Israel’s high profile invasion of the Gaza Strip other things were happening in the Middle East that may hold far more significance for the region’s future.  The Syrian civil war produced its bloodiest week in the three year long history of that conflict that has killed nearly 200,000 people now.

The vast majority of the casualties were caused when militants fighting for the Islamic State seized a gas field in the southeastern desert and executed large numbers of government soldiers defending it while throwing back the government counter attack.

Now the Islamic State has launched an offensive against the remaining Assad regime presence in eastern Syria near the Iraq border.  The militants of this group seem to have made it a priority to remove the Syrian government entirely from the east near the border as a prelude to officially wiping that border off the map rather than launching any assault on Baghdad in the near future.

They seem also to be securing communication links between the territory they hold in Iraq and in Syria.  If neither the Syrian or Iraqi government can push them out of this territory or prevent its permanent link up sometime in the near future the Islamic State looks like being a permanent feature of the new Middle East that is being created as a result of the carnage in Syria which has now already lasted longer than the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and the destruction of Iraq.  We shall see what comes of this.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

She from whom He cast out seven devils

The Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

The Gospels tell us that early in the morning of the first day of the week, during that hour of the day that is the bridge between darkness and light, a group of women went to visit a tomb in a garden outside Jerusalem.

They came to anoint the body of one who had been insulted, mocked, betrayed by his own, and handed over to godless men to die an ignominious death hung naked on a cross.  He did die there and because of the haste needed to get on with the feast he was hastily placed in a tomb without even the respects due to the dead.  So these women marked the place of his burial and came early that first day of the week.  The were led by a woman named Mary Magdalene, from whom the man in the tomb Jesus of Nazareth, had cast out seven devils.

Seven is the number of perfection or completion in the ancient world and to say that our Lord cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene is St. Luke’s way of telling us that Jesus Christ delivered her from complete slavery to the demonic.  This woman had been delivered from the terror of slavery to the devil and because of that her devotion to our Lord was such that she would not abandon Him even in death.

We should remember this, most importantly because He was of course not dead and He remains very much alive.  We must stay devoted to Him and to his Church in this confused and distraught age.  We must do this because He is not dead and neither is his Church and better days are coming for us all.  And if we do not then what we have may be taken from us and given to others who are now enslaved by devils who will be cast out of them.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity.