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!

.

 

Caliphate: June 29, 2014

On this feast of Saints Peter and Paul the Shura council of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام ) has now, officially at least, transformed the Islamic state into a caliphate, with its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph (الخليفة) of all Muslims and its borders stretching from Aleppo to Diyala province of Iraq.  Caliph is the ancient Islamic term for a position that by the Catholic mind may well considered a combination of Pope and Emperor.  The first four caliphs conquered much of what is now the Islamic world in a series of lightning campaigns that greatly weakened what was left of the Catholic Roman Empire in the east and destroyed the Sassanian Persian Empire during the half century after Muhammad’s death.   After that the position, while remaining powerful, diminished in the eyes of the Muslims as it was occupied by a series of corrupt rulers with the title then being tossed around after the destruction of the Abbasid Empire to whomever was the strongest Muslim ruler of the day before finally landing in the lap of the Ottoman Sultans.  They held it for nigh on half a millennium after they conquered Constantinople and the position was finally eliminated by Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, in 1924.

The importance of this moment will of course only be known in the future.  The Iraqi government is already launching an offensive against the gains made by the Caliphate in northern Iraq but it has brought what can at best be described as mixed results.  This may be a very significant moment or it may be a flash in the pan, but these fighters are determined, cunning, bold, and brutal and that should never be underestimated.

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.

The Primacy of Peter

I had the chance not so long ago to visit the Church of the Primacy of Peter in Tabgha, Israel on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

 

The Church of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha.  It was here on the north shore of the Sea of Tiberias that the events recounted in John 21 took place: the second miraculous draught of fish, the meal by the lake, and the prophecy of Peter's destiny.

The Church of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha. It was here on the north shore of the Sea of Tiberias that the events recounted in John 21 took place: the second miraculous draught of fish, the meal by the lake, and the prophecy of Peter’s destiny.  (Taken by me April 24, 2014)

IMG_2024

Looking out from the shoreline at Tabgha. Roughly the same view our Lord would have had looking out from land to sea that early morning so long ago now as the Seven brought in the last miraculous draught of fishes.  (Taken by me April 24, 2014)

 

 

I will recount here the the 21st chapter, verses 1-19, of St. John’s Gospel in Greek, Latin, and English.  The Greek comes from 1904 text of the Orthodox Church issued by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Latin from the Clementine Vulgate, and the English from the 1970 New American Bible (any typos or mistakes in the text of any of the languages are my own):

Μετα ταῦτα ἐφανέρωσεν ἑαυτὸν πάλιν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοῖς μαθηταῖς ἐπὶ τῆς Θαλάσσης τῆς Τιβεριάδος ἐφανέρωσε δὲ οὕτως. ἦσαν ὁμοῦ Σίμων Πέτρος, καὶ Θωμᾶς ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμο, καὶ Ναθαναὴλ ὁ ἀπὸ Κανᾶ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ οἱ τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου, καὶ ἄλλοι ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ δύο.  λέγει αὑτοῖς Σίμων Πέτρος ὑπάγω ἁλιεύειν. λέγουσιν αὐτῷ ἐρχόμεθα καὶ ἡμεῖς σὺν σοί. ἐξῆλθον καὶ ἐνέβησαν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον εὐθύς, καὶ ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ νυκτὶ ἐπίασαν οὐδέν.  πρωΐας δὲ ἤδη γενομένης ἔστη ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς εἰς τὸν αἰγιαλόν· οὐ μέντοι ᾔδεισαν οἱ μαθηταὶ ὅτι ᾿Ιησοῦς ἐστι. λέγει οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς· παιδία, μή τι προσφάγιον ἔχετε; ἀπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ· οὔ. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· βάλετε εἰς τὰ δεξιὰ μέρη τοῦ πλοίου τὸ δίκτυον, καὶ εὑρήσετε. ἔβαλον οὖν, καὶ οὐκέτι αὐτὸ ἑλκύσαι ἴσχυσαν ἀπὸ τοῦ πλήθους τῶν ἰχθύων. λέγει οὖν ὁ μαθητὴς ἐκεῖνος, ὃν ἠγάπα ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς, τῷ Πέτρῳ· ὁ Κύριός ἐστι. Σίμων οὖν Πέτρος ἀκούσας ὅτι ὁ Κύριός ἐστι, τὸν ἐπενδύτην διεζώσατο· ἦν γὰρ γυμνός· καὶ ἔβαλεν ἑαυτὸν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν· οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι μαθηταὶ τῷ πλοιαρίῳ ἦλθον· οὐ γὰρ ἦσαν μακρὰν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἀπὸ πηχῶν διακοσίων, σύροντες τὸ δίκτυον τῶν ἰχθύων. ὡς οὖν ἀπέβησαν εἰς τὴν γῆν, βλέπουσιν ἀνθρακιὰν κειμένην καὶ ὀψάριον ἐπικείμενον καὶ ἄρτον. λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς· ἐνέγκατε ἀπὸ τῶν ὀψαρίων ὧν ἐπιάσατε νῦν. ἀνέβη Σίμων Πέτρος καὶ εἵλκυσε τὸ δίκτυον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, μεστὸν ἰχθύων μεγάλων ἑκατὸν πεντήκοντα τριῶν· καὶ τοσούτων ὄντων οὐκ ἐσχίσθη τὸ δίκτυον. λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς· δεῦτε ἀριστήσατε. οὐδεὶς δὲ ἐτόλμα τῶν μαθητῶν ἐξετάσαι αὐτὸν σὺ τίς εἶ, εἰδότες ὅτι ὁ Κύριός ἐστιν. ἔρχεται οὖν ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς καὶ λαμβάνει τὸν ἄρτον καὶ δίδωσιν αὐτοῖς, καὶ τὸ ὀψάριον ὁμοίως. Τοῦτο ἤδη τρίτον ἐφανερώθη ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν.

῞Οτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν, λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς· Σίμων ᾿Ιωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με πλεῖον τούτων; λέγει αὐτῷ· ναί, Κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον· Σίμων ᾿Ιωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με; λέγει αὐτῷ· ναί, Κύριεο, σὺ ἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. λέγει αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον· Σίμων ᾿Ιωνᾶ, φιλεῖς με; ἐλυπήθη ὁ Πέτρος ὅτι εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον, φιλεῖς με, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Κύριε, σὺ πάντα οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς· βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου. ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ὅτε ἦς νεώτερος, ἐζώννυες σεαυτὸν καὶ περιεπάτεις ὅπου ἤθελες· ὅταν δὲ γηράσῃς, ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖράς σου, καὶ ἄλλος σε ζώσει, καὶ οἴσει ὅπου οὐ θέλεις. τοῦτο δὲ εἶπε σημαίνων ποίῳ θανάτῳ δοξάσει τὸν Θεόν. καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν λέγει αὐτῷ· ἀκολούθει μοι.


Postea manifestavit se iterum Jesus discipulis ad mare Tiberiadis.  Manifestavit autem sic: erant simul Simon Petrus, et Thomas, qui dicitur Didymus, et Nathanael, qui erat a Cana Galilaeae, et filii Zebadaei, et alii ex discipulis ejus duo.  Dicit eis Simon Petrus: Vado piscari.  Dicunt ei: Venimus et nos tecum.  Et exierunt, et ascenderunt in navim: et illa nocte nihil prendiderunt.  Mane autem facto stetit Jesus in littore: non tamen cognoverunt discipuli quia Jesus est.  Dixit ergo eis Jesus: Pueri, numquid pulmentarium habetis?  Responderunt ei: Non.  Dicit eis: Mittite in dexteram navigii rete, et invenietis.  Miserunt ero: et jam non valebant illud trahere prae multitudine piscium.

Dixit ergo discipulus ille, quem diligebat Jesus, Petro: Dominus est.  Simon Petrus cum audisset quia Dominus est, tunica succinxit se (erat enim nudus) et misit se in mare.  Alii autem discipuli navigio venerunt (non enim longe erant a terra, sed quasi cubitis ducentis), trahentes rete piscium.  Ut ergo descenderunt in terram, viderunt prunas positas, et piscem superpositum, et panem.  Dicit eis Jesus: Afferte de piscibus, quos prendidistis nunc.

Ascendit Simon Petrus et traxit rete in terram, plenum magnis piscibus centum quinquaginta tribus.  Et cum tanti essent, non est scissum rete.  Dicit eis Jesus: Venite, prandete.  Et nemo audebat discumbentium interrogare eum: Tu quis es? scientes, quia Dominus est.

Et venit Jesus, et accipit panem, et dat eis, et piscem similiter.

Hoc jam tertio manifestatus est Jesus discipulis suis cum resurrexit a mortuis.  Cum ero prandissent dicit Simoni Petro Jesus: Simon Joannis, diligis me plus his?  Dicit ei: Etiam Domine, tu scis quia amo te.  Dicit ei: Pasce agnos meos.

Dicit ei iterum: Simon Joannis, diligis me?  Ait illi: Etiam Domine, tu scis quia amo te.  Dixit ei: Pasce agnos meos.

Dicit ei tertio: Simon Joannis, amas me?  Constristatus est Petrus, quia dixit ei tertio: Amas me? et dixit ei: Domine, tu omnia nosti, tu scis quia amo te. Dixit ei: Pasce oves meas.

Amen, Amen dico tibi: cum esses junior, cingebas te, et amulabas ubi volebas: cum autem senueris, extendes manus tuas, et alius te cinget, et ducet quo tu non vis.

Hoc autem dixit significans qua morte clarificaturus esset Deum.  Et cum hoc dixisset, dicit ei: Sequere me.


After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  He revealed himself in this way.  Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of this disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “We also will come with you.”  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”  They answered him, “No.”  So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.”  So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.  So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.  The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.  When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”  So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.  Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”  And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized that it was the Lord.  Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them and in like manner the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  He said to him, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”  He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Amen, Amen I say to you, when you were younger you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.  And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”


John 21 strikes me as being a Scripture passage that is deeper than the ocean and vaster than the expanse of the heavens.  All parts of Scripture contain their own deep hidden significances which can only be revealed by the Holy Spirit, but few can rival this particular passage (that seems to have been added by the human author St. John almost as an afterthought) in being pregnant with meaning.  Where does one start?

I have to say that the picture painted here seems in many ways to be one of the Church at the end of its journey, since the evangelist points out that it was already light and the boat was on the Lake of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberias as he takes pains to call it right here) scarcely one hundred yards from shore.  This is a vision of the Church at the end of time.  A fascinating thing that St. John does at the very outset is to name five of the seven disciples present, but to leave the last two unnamed.  It is curious, because all eleven (Judas was gone and Matthias had not yet replace him) are not there and seven is generally a number associated with perfection by the ancients and the Apostle goes to great length and detail to name Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, and the (two) sons of Zebedee, but he leaves the last two unnamed and no identification is given; he merely says “two others of his disciples.”  Why should this be so?  It is a subject worth the time to meditate on in these dark times across the formerly Catholic world.

Simon Peter begins by saying “I’m going fishing,” or in the more archaic but strangely colloquial and heart warming Douay-Rheims translation “I go a fishing.”  So the apostles go fishing by themselves and fish throughout the night and of course they catch nothing.  The first light of dawn streaks across the sky and they see our Lord standing on the shore but don’t recognize him at first; another hint that this passage paints a picture of the Church far distant in time from the Incarnation.  He tells them to cast their net to the right which they do and the haul of fish is incredible.  Stop trusting in your own efforts Catholic Church!  Rely on the Lord alone and your haul of fish (men) will be more than you can possibly imagine.  St. John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) is still the only one able to publicly acknowledge that it is the Lord when he speaks those famous words to Simon Peter: “Dominus est!”  Upon hearing this Simon Peter wraps himself in a thin garment and jumps into the sea because he his naked, not lightly clad as the contemporary English version has it, but both the Greek and Latin agree that he was in fact naked.  Anyone who has been near the Lake of Galilee in the late spring or summer can relate to how hot it can get there and why a man would be running around in the buff on a fishing boat after working all night.  But of course this is Scripture and not just a short story so there is the deeper theological meaning.  Adam and Eve were naked in the garden and their first act after eating from the the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a rather pathetic attempt to cover their own nakedness.  Christ hung naked and uncovered on the Cross.  And here we have Simon Peter then also covering himself and his nakedness but, as opposed to what Adam and Eve ended up doing, he jumps into the sea and runs to meet our Lord on the shore.  What does this mean?  I don’t know exactly but there is something here worth meditating on.

Our Lord is already cooking bread and fish on the shore.  There is a curious correlation here with the Multiplication of the Loaves that I suppose shouldn’t surprise me since these two events occurred at almost the same spot; the Church of the Primacy of Peter is a short five minute walk from the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.  So there is something to this and, again it is worth meditating on but I do not have the answer.  Our Lord then tells them to bring in the fish they had caught and Simon Peter hauls in the entire catch of fish, numbering 153 large fish, and despite the large haul the net does not tear.  I confess that I do not know what the number 153 signifies; I am not certain that a satisfactory answer has ever been given except that it is a lot of fish and I also have heard some speculation that the ancients knew of 153 different species of fish in the waters of the world.  I am not sure but this whole passage seems to indicate that at the end of time many around the world and of all the races of man will be brought into the Church and before the Lord.  The reference to the net not tearing is an obvious reference to Luke 5 where at the beginning of the time of the Apostles with our Lord they make a large catch of fish and the net tears and many are saved but many also are lost.  Anyone with even the slightest understanding of the history of the Church over the last twenty centuries knows well the painful fulfillment of that prophecy, so we should have equal confidence that before the end of time all of the ruptures will be healed and that we will stand united with Peter before our Lord when he comes.  We have to do our part with prayer and sacrifices and not covering up the light of Christ, but it will all happen according to God’s own time and his own ways whenever that day comes.

Now we come to the famous reconciliation scene between Jesus and Simon Peter after the latter’s threefold denial of our Lord in the courtyard on the night of his trial.  This passage is rendered poorly in English, though it is not the fault of the modern translators alone (Douay-Rheims is equally bad on this score) but of the English language itself.  The language is simply inadequate to express what is really going on in this scene.  The endless repetitions of “Do you love me?” and “Yes I love you.” almost trivialize what is going on here.  In truth the word ‘love’ has been so bastardized in contemporary English that we really don’t have any real understanding of the concept anymore.  When our Lord asks Simon Peter the first time, as St. John rendered it into Greek, “ἀγᾷπας με πλεῖον τούτων” he is not just saying “do you love me more than these?”  The verb here expresses not just filial love or affection but the kind of love that was always rare and that the modern world has really lost any conception of: the kind of love where you pour out your very being for someone else, where you don’t just live for them or die for them but you both live and die for them and you do both every minute of the day,  the kind of love where you pour out your very being for your beloved.  And Simon Peter’s response is “σὺ ἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε.”  The verb that Simon Peter uses here, φιλῶ, is kind of a come down from the verb our Lord uses.  I think that a way of rendering the exchange into English for us to better understand it would be like this:

Jesus said to Simon Peter “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these, will you pour out your being for me?”  And he said to him: “Yes Lord you know that I love you.”…

He then said to him a second time “Simon son of John will you pour out your being for me?”  He said to him “You know that I love you.”

I will pause here and note that when our Lord asks the question the third time, and this will give us a hint as to why Peter suddenly gets so frustrated, he uses the same verb that Peter had been using, φιλῶ.  He asks Simon Peter this third time:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

At this the first pope gets rather frustrated and annoyed and tells God who is sitting there right next to him and has just cooked for him a meal of bread and fish grilled on a charcoal fire, and he tells Him that He knows everything and of course He knows that Peter loves Him.  Our Lord would seem to know that Simon Peter loves Him but He also knows that he is still Peter and that he is not quite there yet, not yet where he needs to be, but that he will be.  My impression, and it is only that, is that our Lord’s unspoken response to Peter when he says the last time “You know everything, you know that I love you” would go something like this: “No, Simon, son of John, you do not yet love me, but you will.”

Hence the prophecy of Peter’s death: “When you were young…”  I have now had the immense privilege to stand both at Tabgha on the north shore of the Sea of Tiberias, where that prophecy was made, and in the place 50 feet under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican before the bones of the Apostle himself where that prophecy was fulfilled.  And I wonder sometimes whether this prophecy of our Lord’s does not apply only to the man Simon Peter himself, but also to the institution of the papacy and by extension to the whole Church.  If the Catholic Church is, as Saint Paul wrote, the Mystical Body of Christ then it would seem that she must be betrayed and handed over by her own to Godless men just as He was; she must be stripped naked and hung on a Cross before the world just as He was; and she must die and rise just as He did.  And despite it all those last words of our Lord in this sequence apply just as much to the current Holy Father, to his successors, and to us as they did to Saint Peter: “Follow me.”

The High Altar of St. Peter's Basilica (taken by me April 26, 2013)

The High Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica (taken by me April 26, 2013)

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary 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.

The Fall of Mosul: the caliphate advances

It seems that the declaration of a renewed Islamic caliphate in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah last January is something that was far more than a publicity stunt and indeed will need to be taken very seriously.  The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام) has apparently taken control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city of nearly 2 million souls, roughly 200 miles north of Baghdad, roughly in the same location as the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire Ninevah.  This is the same group who declared the caliphate just after the New Year in Fallujah and who have been fighting over a broad swathe of western Iraq and eastern and northern Syria for the past couple of years.  The ISIL has apparently seized the provincial government office in Mosul and several other important sites on the west bank of the Tigris River including the airport (with several military aircraft) and several prisons.  Iraqi security forces are reported to have dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and fled once the fighting became serious.  Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki asked his Parliament to declare a nationwide state of emergency and pledged to send reinforcements north to contain the militants.  Mosul is on the edge of the Kurdish autonomous region and its leader Massoud Barzani appealed for international help as thousands of refugees fled to the Kurdish region from the beleaguered city, but he made no commitment for his peshmerga to make any move against ISIL in the city.

Whether this is the start of some new Islamic empire I cannot say, nor can anyone else.  Great movements in history have small beginnings.  The ISIL has seemed to prove itself more effective in Iraq than in Syria where it finds itself at odds with other rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al Assad, but its influence in Syria should not be underestimated.  In any case they seem to have reduced the Iraq/Syria border to a mere line on a map in many areas and they seem to be quite well armed and funded and if they can succeed in holding Mosul then it will be the greatest propaganda coup in the group’s history.

Chaos is spreading in the Middle East and we are seeing how the efforts of a few well motivated individuals can change the course of history.  But there are other means than guns or bombs or vast military offensives.  These are of the world and must perish as the world perishes.  Prayer and sacrifice and the offering of one’s life through Jesus Christ to the glory of the Father will yield eternal results.  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 and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

Pentecost

As I post it is the eve of Pentecost, the Feast of the Coming of the Holy Spirit and the New Creation and the birthday of the Catholic Church.  The exact year of Pentecost is not entirely certain but 33 AD has always been everybody’s best guess.  So I want to wish Holy Mother Church a happy 1,981st birthday.  It is a good day today what it really means to be Catholic and to consider the length and breadth of the centuries that the Church has endured.  What an institution that we are so privileged to belong to!  Let us consider the lives of some of the first Catholics.  Three thousand were baptized that first Pentecost.  So let us think of a seventy year old man that day in the streets of Jerusalem who heard the words of the first pope preaching from the Upper Room and was moved by the Holy Spirit to accept baptism.  Let’s consider his life and the world that he knew.  If he lived in the Mediterranean basin his first memories would have been of life in the Roman world after the assassination of Julius Caesar.  His parents would have recounted to him as lived experience the wars between Caesar and Pompey that fractured the Roman Republic.  They would have told him of Caesar’s unlikely triumph over his opponents and his rise to mastery of the Roman world.  They would have spoken to the child in hushed tones of his assassination on the Senate floor in the way that some of our parents once spoke to us of John Kennedy’s assassination: even though information traveled much slower in that age they likely would have recounted where they were and what they were doing when they heard the first news of that earthshaking event.  When the boy was six years old he would have heard news that he didn’t understand of Octavian’s defeat of Marc Antony at Actium that turned the Mediterranean Sea into a Roman lake and the future Augustus’ own private swimming pool, a feat which had never been accomplished before and has yet to be repeated.  The young man growing into adulthood would have experienced the prosperity, the golden age as it were of the new Empire at its dawn after the civil wars had concluded.  As this man was getting on into middle age he would have received the shocking news of Publius Quinctilius Varus’ ill fated attempt to cross the Rhine and the annihilation of his three legions.  And now in his old age he heard the words of Simon Peter from the Upper Room and was baptized.

This is our heritage Catholics.  He was just as Catholic as we are and we are no less Catholic than he.  It is well to remember this in a culture and society that are rapidly aging and decaying and approaching senility.  What happened five minutes ago is portrayed as ancient history and what we had for breakfast this morning we can no longer remember.  We, as Catholics, are part of in institution that has endured now for just about twenty centuries.  There is nothing like it in the world.  It was old already when the Roman Empire fell, older still when Islam stormed out of the desert, ancient already when the First Crusade was launched, and positively primal when Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.  Yet she wears those twenty centuries well and is still as fresh today as when she was born that Pentecost, because that  same outpouring of the Holy Spirit remains with her.  Do not forget this Catholics.

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.

The Vexilla Regis in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The great ancient Latin hymn Vexilla Regis that exults in the Cross as the banner of Christ the King sung in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Magnificat Custody Choir at the close of the prayer service conducted by the Holy Father Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew:

 

 

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious 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.

The World Is Changing

The world is changing.  Russia’s annexation of Crimea is the first time since 1945 that the armies of a major world power have crossed an international border and seized territory with the intent of keeping that territory for itself.  A revolution in world affairs has just occurred; the passing shadow of this world that we have known for the entire life span of most of the people reading these words has ended.  Many are still putting their heads in the sand about this fact but doubtless it will not be too many more days, weeks, or months (I very much doubt that it will be years) before that is no longer an option.  The Western world’s morality sunk into the toilet two generations ago and is now flushing itself into the sewer, so it would be ridiculous to think that they could keep up their geopolitical domination of the planet in their present moral state.  The world is changing so we must pray.  Pray the Rosary every day.

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 and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.