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!

 

 

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.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Today is the great feast of the Carmelite order which was founded by a group of hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine during the era of the Crusades in the twelfth century, and brought back into Europe during the succeeding centuries.  Mount Carmel is the battle between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al during the reign of the apostate king Ahab in the eighth century before Christ, and the Carmelite order has always had a special devotion both to the Blessed Mother and to the prophet Elijah as the supreme examples of the mendicant contemplative life.

At the present moment there are anti-missile batteries on Mount Carmel placed there by the Israeli government to protect the nearby city of Haifa from rocket attacks coming either from Lebanon or the Gaza Strip.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel pray for us!

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.

Another small step toward the end of Iraq…

The Feast of Saint Augustine Zhao Rong and his Companions

Another small yet not insignificant step toward the dissolution of that grand creation of a now long dead empire: the Republic of Iraq.  The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud Barzani today withdrew (in Arabic here) all Kurdish ministers from the cabinet of Iraq’s central government headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.  This comes a day after Maliki accused the Kurdish regional government of harboring terrorists from the Islamic State in its domains.

Turnarounds are always possible, but Iraq seems unlikely to keep on existing in the form we have known it.  I suppose that Iran could throw an immense weight of forces into fighting the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq and make a supreme national effort to destroy the wannabe caliphate led by its remarkably uncharismatic khalifa before it gets a real head of steam going.  Possible, always possible but unlikely.  Or Russia could decide that they don’t want a jihadi empire rising up to their south and decide to give serious backing to Maliki, but after his lightning annexation of Crimea Vladimir Putin no longer seems able to get out of his own way in Ukraine so I would be dubious on that.

Or there could always be a good old fashioned divine miracle, but one really does wonder at this point why the Lord of history would be interested in saving the Iraq that we have known.  In any case those things are beyond my comprehension.

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.

Summorum Pontificum at seven

July 7, 2014 Today is the 7th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s  motu proprio Summorum Pontificum that brought back the 1962 Missal of Saint John XXIII back into widespread use as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  Thank you Pope Emeritus for bring back some beauty and some of the divine majesty of Catholic Liturgy back into the world! Now just for the heck of it why don’t we imagine this Mass being offered at a cathedral in Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli, or Tunis?  It would be a different world.

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 status 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!

A return to the Sundays of Ordinary Time

The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

After a long but incredibly significant detour through the history of the redemption and salvation of mankind during Lent and Eastertide we have finally returned to the Sundays of Ordinary, or Ordered, Time.  The last Sunday of Ordinary Time that we celebrated was the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time on March 2nd.  The season of Ordinary Time actually started on June 9, the Monday after Pentecost, but because of the Solemnities of Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi (in the United States), and this year Saints Peter and Paul, this is the first trip back to the numbered Sundays.  And here we will stay until the end of November when the year will turn over once more at the beginning of Advent and the cycle of the Incarnation and the Redemption will begin anew.

This long march of the second part of Ordinary Time is always a good time to reflect on the Incarnation, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord that we have spent the first part of the year celebrating and to work on how we can incorporate these great Mysteries into the seeming mundanity of our day to day lives.  

And remember this: Ordinary Time is not ordinary!  It is just the less than wonderful translation chosen by the Church in the English speaking world to reflect the ordered nature of the Sundays that follow Christmas and Pentecost.  In the ancient calendar employed by the Extraordinary Form the Sundays of what we know as the first part of Ordinary Time following Christmas are simply numbered as the “nth Sunday after Epiphany” and those after Pentecost are numbered, unsurprisingly, as the “nth Sunday after Pentecost.”  Probably a better way to do it but those decisions are above my pay grade!

And remember all through Ordinary Time and beyond: 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 (now extremely troubled) 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!