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!

The October Prayer

The Feast of Saint Jerome

Here is the prayer (partial indulgence) to St. Joseph prescribed by Pope Leo XIII for the month of October after recitation of the Rosary:

To thee, O blessed Joseph, we fly in our tribulation and after imploring the help of thy holy Spouse, with confidence we ask also for thy intercession.  By the affection which united thee to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by the paternal love with which thou didst embrace the Child Jesus, we beseech thee to look kindly upon the inheritance which Jesus Christ acquired by His precious blood, and with thy powerful aid to help us in our needs.

Protect, most careful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen people of Jesus Christ.  Keep us, loving father, from all pestilence of error and corruption.  From thy place in heaven be thou mercifully with us, most powerful protector, in this warfare with the powers of darkness; and, as thou didst once rescue the Child Jesus from imminent danger of death, so now defend the holy Church of God from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity.  Guard each of us by thy constant patronage, so that, sustained by thy  example and help, we may live a holy life, die a holy death, and obtain the everlasting happiness of heaven.  Amen.

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!

Take this for what it is worth…

The Feast of the Holy Archangels Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

There have been a string of troubling reports in the last week or so coming out of Iraq about its army and their fight against the Islamic State.  Now there is another report coming out of the UK that the Islamic State is again advancing around Baghdad.  I am not certain that Canon Andrew White, who is cited in that report, is actually in Iraq right now.  His blog reports that he went back to the United Kingdom in early September for medical treatment and was in the United States on a fundraising trip as recently as ten days ago.  So there may be some hyperbole in his report of 1,000 Iraqis killed and the Islamic State being within a kilometer of Baghdad.

Still the United States has been conducting airstrikes in Iraq for more than a month now and the Islamic State does not seem to have been seriously crippled by them.  None of the cities they took over in June, Mosul or Tikrit, or even Fallujah have been retaken by the Iraqi army nor does the fighting capacity of Iraq’s armed forces seem to have significantly improved at this time.  There is also the rather amusing report that the first British strike mission on Iraq returned to its base on Cyprus with weapons still intact.  The Defence Ministry statement seemed to vacillate on the question of whether the Tornadoes were on an ‘armed reconnaissance mission’ or simply couldn’t find anything worth shooting at.  It is important to remember that the men fighting for the Islamic State either spent years fighting the US in Iraq or have been trained by those who did.  While the military prowess of the United States and its allies is formidable and could wipe the floor with the Islamic State if it was deployed to its full potential (which it hasn’t been and likely won’t be anytime soon), these men have been up against it before and won’t be so easily cowed by it as they once might have been.

Still Baghdad would be a tough nut to crack for the Islamic State, and I wouldn’t expect them to launch a great onslaught against it anytime soon.  It is a great metropolis and the population is mostly Shi’ite and therefore incredibly hostile to them.  There likely course of action would be to strengthen their hold on areas around the city and to disrupt communications as much as they possibly can while massacring any outlying and isolated Iraqi army units they can find in order to strike terror into the population.  I suspect that their goal for now is to do what they can to completely cut Baghdad off from the north while putting themselves in a position to effect some sort of a siege on the city.  Whether they will be successful is an open question at this point.

And just to remind everyone the border between Syria and Iraq still is open and is being erased.

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!

Cosmas and Damian

The Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian

Two great saints of the East are celebrated today.  The physicians Cosmas and Damian.  The tradition that comes down to us records that they were twin brothers born in Arabia and were martyred by beheading in Syria during the great persecution of Diocletian on September 27, 303.  The ancient tradition also records that they were physicians and healers who accepted no money for their services and used their care of the sick as a prime way of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A church was raised up over their burial site in Syria in the city of Cyrus by the emperor Justinian himself in the sixth century.  These twins were of high repute in the ancient Church as there was a church built for them in both Constantinople and in Rome while their names were inserted into the Roman Canon (now called Eucharistic Prayer I) of the Mass sometime around the fall of the Western Empire where they remain today.

Nine centuries after their martyrdom Saint Francis of Assisi would experience his call in the San Damiano church, named after one of the brothers.  Many of us keep the San Damiano crucifix in our homes perhaps without realizing the ancient roots of this thing

Saints Cosmas and Damian pray for the suffering Church in this world and for the tormented land of Syria where you were crowned with victory.

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 for 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!