The Islamic State threatens to conquer Rome

February 16, 2015

The Islamic State today released a video that purports to show the beheading of twenty one Egyptian Coptic Christians who had been kidnapped during December and January around the Libyan city of Sirte which is around 250 miles east southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast.  An armed group who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, in a strange echo of what took place in Mosul last June, seized control of government buildings in Sirte on Saturday. The executioners of the hostages vowed that the Islamic State will “conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet.”    The Egyptian government launched retaliatory airstrikes on the eastern Libyan city of Derna, a stronghold of Islamic State militants, on the Mediterranean coast about halfway between the Egyptian border and Benghazi.

So will the Islamic State launch an attack on Rome from its new base on the south shore of the Mediterranean?

I doubt that we will see armies flying the black flag marching up the Via della Conciliazione anytime soon.  The groups loyal to IS are one of a hodgepodge of armed militias fighting in the internecine warfare that makes up life in post Qaddafi Libya.  And they are far from the center of the Islamic State’s base of operations in the landlocked area surrounding the Syria Iraq border.  If these armed Libyan IS affiliates ever do manage to carve out some territory on the Libyan coast, hold it, and somehow maintain regular communication with IS central in Raqaa and Mosul they may use it to transport terrorist operatives to Italy and southern Europe or follow that tried and true ancient Muslim practice of launching assaults on Mediterranean shipping, but we are a long ways from that at the present moment.

However we should all note that the world is changing.  The current geopolitical chessboard that puts several obstacles in the path of the Islamic State is growing shakier by the day and the seemingly calm period that we have all lived through since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 is now likely over.  The divisions between Russia and NATO over Ukraine and Russia’s proper place in the world are daily hardening and growing deeper.  While the cease fire agreed to in Minsk may hold for a time it is already looking shaky and will certainly not bring a long term solution to this problem.  Catholics should prepare themselves for the fact that conditions are being created for something this generation has deemed unthinkable, a general war in Europe, to take place.  We shall see.

If that does come to pass, and even if the continent were to avoid the nuclear annihilation that would always be a looming prospect in such a conflict, Europe (and North America) will be changed forever.  Maybe the NATO alliance will fracture and since this seems to be Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal (add to that the abysmal qualities of the current leadership in NATO countries) we should not dismiss the possibility.  If this happened then southern Europe would be more open to Muslim harassment and attack than it has for several centuries.  And if the whole of Europe were weakened by some conflict with Russia then it would be exceedingly vulnerable to such threats.  Again we shall see.

The Muslims have always had the dream of conquering Rome.  They conquered the ancient Catholic Sees of Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage in the first great wave of Islamic conquest in the seventh century.  They took Constantinople during the great explosion of Turkish power in the fifteenth and immediately after tried to move into Italy at Otranto but Rome was saved by the death of Sultan Mehmet II.  They have always wanted Rome but have never been able to lay a finger on it save for one raid in the dark ninth century where Arab marauders actually managed to accost the city and break into old Saint Peter’s basilica (then outside the city walls) before being driven off and never (yet) returning.

So now at least some Muslims are remembering who they are and what their religion is about.  What should Catholics do?  WE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT WE ARE CATHOLIC AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CATHOLIC.  We should learn the teachings of the Church and live them.  Participate in the Sacramental life of the Church.  Go to Confession.  Live your life in a state of grace.  If one is able he should learn Latin and pray the Divine Office in Latin.  Pope Benedict XVI reinstituted the Breviarium Romanum as an optional form for the prayer of the Church when he brought back the Tridentine Mass in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.  Use it. Those Latin words of the Psalter were translated by Saint Jerome before the end of the Roman Empire, when the Mediterranean was still a unified Catholic sea.  Learn them.  Pray them.  Those words are older than Islam.

And 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 a pillar 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!

A prayer for our time

February 9, 2015

The longer form of the St. Michael prayer, written by Pope Leo XIII:

O glorious prince of the heavenly host, Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle and in the fearful warfare that we are waging against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the evil spirits.  Come thou to the assistance of men, whom Almighty God created immortal, making them in His own image and likeness and redeeming them at a great price from the tyranny of Satan.  Fight this day the battle of the Lord with the legions of holy Angels, even as of old thou didst fight against Lucifer, the leader of the proud spirits and all his rebel angels, who were powerless to stand against thee, neither was their place found any more in heaven.  And that apostate angel, transformed into an angel of darkness who still creeps about the earth to encompass our ruin, was cast headlong into the abyss together with his followers.  But behold, that first enemy of mankind, and a murderer from the beginning, has regained his confidence.  Changing himself into an angel of light, he goes about with the whole multitude of the wicked spirits to invade the earth and blot out the Name of God and of his Christ, to plunder, to slay and to consign to eternal damnation the souls that have been destined for a crown of everlasting life.  This wicked serpent, like an unclean torrent, pours into men of depraved minds and corrupt hearts the poison of his malice, the spirit of lying, impiety and blasphemy, and the deadly breath of impurity and every form of vice and iniquity.  These crafty enemies of mankind have filled to overflowing with gall and wormwood the Church, which is the Bride of the Lamb without spot; they have laid hands upon her most sacred treasures.  Make haste, therefore, O invincible Prince, to help the people of God against the inroads of the lost spirits and grant us the victory.

A magnificent oration!  Rich in Sacred Scripture and clear in meaning.  A prayer for our days if there ever was one.

And for those of you troubled by the reference to the enemy of mankind ‘changing himself into an angel of light,’ don’t be troubled.  This is the phenomenon present in every age, but particularly present in our own age, of the ‘shining darkness.’  Think how many ideas or impressions you have had in your own life that if you would only follow them then you would find peace and contentment.  But there is always that other voice in your head telling you to hold back and wait a while.  Consider the possibilities before you take the leap.  And after further reflection (God forbid don’t follow these false lights) and experience you see that these following these supposedly good things will lead to nothing but disaster.  The men out there know of what I speak.  That woman over there sure is beautiful.  And really she does look fine, so why not just let your mind wander and wonder a bit, it is only natural after all.  But we all know to what perils that leads now, do we not?

Now magnify this to the level of human history and the myth of human ‘progress.’  How many horrible ideas that have killed millions of people and possibly destroyed millions more souls at first seemed alright.  In fact they were good and precious and why not?  Why shouldn’t we all be prosperous and rich and if my neighbor won’t let me be rich and prosperous and ‘happy,’ then I will just take all of his stuff and his very life if that stands in the way.  You see how this works.  We have so many examples of it on a mass level since the Masonic coup d’etat in France of 14 July 1789, and humanity just won’t learn.  The only answer to this continuing downward spiral of humanity is the Catholic Church, her Sacraments and her Teaching.

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 Congregation for Divine Worship’s contact info

December 5, 2014

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ mailing address can be difficult to find on the English language internet. This is the body in the Roman Curia to which all liturgical abuses that occur within the context of the Roman Rite, after due notification to the local Ordinary, should be reported,   Pope Francis just appointed a new prefect of this body, His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah, from Guinea who is a fluent English speaker.  If you have reported a significant liturgical abuse to your local Bishop and received no response then contact the Congregation at the following address:

His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah

Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Palazzo delle Congregazioni

Piazza Pio XII, 10

00120 CITTA DEL VATICANO

VATICAN CITY

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 Wednesday 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 two great saints of Antioch

The Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist

The 17th and 18th of October combine to celebrate the greatness of the gifts that the See of Antioch, Saint Ignatius and Saint Luke, gave to the Church.  Antakya is now a dusty and forgotten town in the region of Hatay near the Turkish Syrian border, but in the first century of the Incarnation it was a crossroads of the world and the third city of the Roman Empire after Rome herself and Alexandria.  She was the first great city outside of Palestine to receive the Gospel and she returned much fruit: the Evangelist who gave us the most well written of the Gospels and one of the great early martyrs, who himself knew the Apostles and left us a series of letters written on his way to martyrdom in Rome that give us a vivid portrait of the life Church’s life in the generation that followed the death of that first generation who had seen the deeds and heard the words of Christ themselves.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch was martyred in Rome under the Emperor Trajan likely in the first decade of the second century of the Incarnation.  He is thought to have been born around the middle of the first century and ancient tradition tells us that he was brought from Antioch to Rome on the orders of the Emperor Trajan himself to be martyred in the Colosseum sometime in the first years of the second century.  His seven letters written to the churches of Ephesus, of Magnesia, of Tralles, of Rome, of Philadelphia, of Smyrna, and to his friend Polycarp give a great understanding of the life of the Church during those years immediately following the end of the apostolic age.

In his letter to the Church of Smyrna chapter 8 Ignatius gives us the first written record of the phrase “Catholic Church,” saying “wherever the Catholic Church is there is Jesus Christ.”  He echoes here both the words of Jesus Christ in Mt. 18:20 that he undoubtedly heard from the apostles and St. Paul’s theology of the Church as Mystical Body of Christ.  And the familiarity with which he uses the words “Catholic Church” indicates that his audience already at the beginning of the second century was quite familiar with the concept.  In this chapter he also gives voice for the first time in the written record of the idea of a Catholic living in a particular diocese being loyal to the bishop of that diocese thus providing concrete early support for a concept that has governed the life of the Church ever since.

In chapter 7 of that same letter to the Smyrnaeans Ignatius calls the Eucharist the “flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.”  This is the same theme as that which had only been written down a few years before in Saint John’s Gospel, chapter 6 by our modern rendering.  And it is also unsurprising since both Ignatius and his friend Polycarp were reputed in later generations to have been hearers of the Apostle John.  So yes the idea of the Real Presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament also goes back to the beginning.  It really is remarkable to read Saint Ignatius’ collection of letters to see how many of the beliefs that are central to the life of the Church today were equally central in the generation that followed the apostles.  The collection can be found here.


What can we say about Saint Luke?  He is universally regarded by the ancient sources of the third Gospel which bears his name; he is additionally the author of the Acts of the Apostles, the only volume that gives us a history of the early Church from the Ascension of our Lord stretching to the years just before the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome; and he is mentioned in several of Saint Paul’s epistles.

Saint Luke begins his Gospel with the acknowledgement that others had written accounts of the life and doings of our Lord before him, but that he felt the need to go over all of the facts from the beginning and render his own to the mysterious figure Theophilus.  He speaks of hearing the story of Jesus Christ from “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” who had preceded him.  The first of these must have been Saint Paul.  He acknowledges himself as a frequent companion to Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, including in the famous ‘we’ sections which are the only first person narrative accounts in all of Sacred Scripture including the journey of Paul from Jerusalem to Rome, the place of his eventual martyrdom.  Saint Paul offers vary little biographical information concerning our Lord in his epistles but if you ever wonder what the story he told to his hearers about the life of Christ was it would be wise to consult Saint Luke’s Gospel.

But there were other eyewitnesses too.  Saint Luke was not of Jewish origin, but born a pagan: the ancient sources are virtually unanimous that he was born a pagan in the city of Antioch.  In fact his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are the only books of Sacred Scripture written by someone who was not a blood descendant of Abraham.  And it also seems that he spoke with the Mother of God herself, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He is the only Evangelist who gives us an account of the Annunciation, of the birth of John the Baptist, of the shepherds in the field at Bethlehem, and of the old priest Simeon and his prophecy to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God at the presentation of our Lord in the Temple.  He gives us the great hymns of the Magnificat, the Benedictus (the Canticle of Zechariah), and the Nunc Dimmitis the canticle of old Simeon when he laid eyes on our Lord.  All of these hymns are still used in the Divine Office of the Western Church more than nineteen centuries after Saint Luke’s Gospel was written.

And I would like to stress once more Saint Luke’s relationship with Saint Paul.  It has been said by more than a few scholars that all of Christian theology since has merely been a footnote to Saint Paul.  There is much to recommend this point of view.  And if you want to understand the story that was the source for Paul’s dazzling theology it would be wise to meditate on the Gospel that the great saint and Evangelist of the now decrepit See of Antioch once gave us, and to meditate on the relationship between the concepts illustrated in Paul’s epistles and the stories told in the Gospel of Saint Luke.  And pray for the resurrection of Antioch.

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!

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A good man has passed on from this world

The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Maybe it is not my place to judge whether a man has done good or ill in this world, but for my part Father Benedict Groeschel was a good man.  He died last night.  He was a personality on EWTN for a long time until a car accident a decade ago impaired his abilities.  He had an uncanny ability to distill the great depth and profound Truth of the Catholic Faith into simple and understandable statements that could be understood even by a simple layman like myself.  And what’s more he inspired me to take it upon myself to learn more and to grow deeper in the Faith.

Here is my favorite video clip of Father Groeschel: he spends almost thirty minutes going over the subject of contemplative prayer, but really he is talking about life itself and indeed the final goal of the Christian life:

 

Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.  Requiescscat in pace domnus Benedictus.

Turkey enters the cauldron

The Feast of the Guardian Angels

The Turkish Parliament voted today 298-98 to authorize the use of the Turkish military in Syria and Iraq to fight against the Islamic State.  The motion also authorizes the presence of foreign ‘armed forces’ on Turkish soil to conduct military operations in those same countries.  The Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz stated before the vote that no one should expect any immediate Turkish action, so there may be a bit of a wait before we see how this has changed the situation in Syria, in Iraq, and in the Middle East as a whole.  But things have most definitely changed.

First the vote would seem to have given the United States Air Force the green light, with the permission of the Turkish government, to operate from its base in southern Turkey at Incirlik.  This dramatically decreases the distance that American aircraft have to fly before engaging in combat and will give them more time to operate on station and greater freedom to strike targets.  If this aspect of the situation is taken advantage of then the effectiveness of the air campaign against the Islamic State should see a dramatic improvement.

Now for the tricky part.  Ninety eight Turkish MPs voted against this authorization.  And they had their reasons.  The current Turkish AKP government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu has a long standing grudge against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.  This government had cozied up quite close to Assad in the years leading up to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war but that turned sour when Assad started using his armed forces to attack demonstrators in the early months of the uprising.  Since that time the Turkish government has openly supported and armed several rebel factions inside Syria.  There have even been brief military dust ups along the Syria/Turkey border with a Turkish fighter plane being shot down in June of 2012, several cross border mortar attacks, and a car bombing in the town of Reyhanli on the Turkish side of the border that killed forty three people in May of 2013 for which the Turkish government pinned the blame on Syrian intelligence services.

The deputy chairman of the opposition CHP, as well as a member of the Kurdish HDP party accused the government of wanting to fight the Syrian regime, not the Islamic State.  There is good reason to question the Turkish government’s enthusiasm for fighting the Islamic State since they have turned a blind eye to both supplies and militants going in to the group’s territory and oil coming out from that territory.  So we shall see.  There have been reports for years that the Erdogan government in Turkey wanted to send troops into Syria to establish some sort of buffer zone along the border. This was seen as a part of the AKP Party’s dream of getting more involved in the Middle East, a region the Turkish government had largely turned its back on after the abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate in 1922.  Now they might actually do it.  And how will the Assad regime respond?  Will Turkish troops use the pretext of the Islamic State to march south once again into the old Ottoman lands of Syria and Mesopotamia?  I don’t know but I suspect that if they do so they won’t find the going nearly so easy as it once might have been.

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 nears Baghdad

The Feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux

What is going on here?  The Islamic State appears to be advancing on the Baghdad Airport and nobody cares.  Rear Admiral John Kirby acknowledged (you have to scroll down quite a bit to get to the point where he actually talks about Baghdad in response to a reporter’s question) the presence of Islamic State forces within five miles of Baghdad International Airport but seemed rather dismissive of the whole thing.  Oh, the Iraqis will take care of it; they are actually a lot better than you think.  This seems to be the mantra coming out of Washington.  Do they really believe this?

My own personal opinion is that Baghdad would be a tough nut for the Islamic State to crack.  It is an urban megalopolis filled with several armed militias that are populated by people who would be overwhelmingly hostile to the Islamic State and its ideology.  And the forces of the Islamic State don’t seem nearly sufficient numbers wise to capture and control a city that big.  And one would think that a massive wave of air strikes combined with the complete and rabid hostility of Baghdad’s Shi’ite population would stop any advance of the would be caliphate in its tracks.  Maybe this is what the White House and the Pentagon are thinking?

But one would also have to think that the Islamic State has taken this into account.  So what is going on here?  Probably more than meets the eye, as is usual in these cases.

First of all the Islamic State seems to be a far more formidable organization than a lot of people want to give it credit for.  An organization that can manage the siege of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) in the far north of central Syria on the Turkish border, while at the same time conducting an advance on the Baghdad International Airport 350 miles away as the cruise missile flies and maintaining a fight against the Kurds on the northern stretch of what used to be the Iraq/Syria border while all the time being under threat of US airstrikes throughout their entire theater of operations is not a pushover.

And then there is the strange deer in the headlights posture of the government of the most materially powerful nation in the world: the United States of America.  Its air campaign against the Islamic State has hardly been what one would call devastating; its Secret Service can’t seem to stay out of its own way when it comes to protecting the American President; and now there is a case of Ebola in of all places Dallas, Texas.  Maybe all of the decades of moral insanity in American society have now begun to take their toll, maybe not.  Who knows?

I don’t know what the Islamic State’s plans for Baghdad are.  My opinion is that they would love to find some way to take out the airport and to put the city under some sort of siege and/or drive a significant portion of Baghdad’s population out of the city through terrorism.  But I could be entirely wrong.  Who knows what they are going to do?  But after almost two months of US airstrikes in Iraq and a couple of weeks of those same airstrikes in Syria the initiative clearly remains with the Islamic State and that is not a good thing.

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!