The Lands of Zabulon and Nephtali

Populus qui ambulabat in tenebris, vidit lucem magnam.  “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is. 9: 3).”  This great messianic prophecy from the prophet Isaiah was included in last Sunday’s (January 26, 2014) first reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  The entire passage that forms the reading was an extraordinary prophetic utterance at a time when the ancient Kingdom of Israel was experiencing one of its darkest moments and it seems to possess an equally extraordinary relevance for our own time.  Let’s just take a look at it (Is. 9: 1-2) and see what there is to see here.  First the Greek from the ancient translation of the Septuagint:

Τοῦτο πρῶτον ποίει, ταχὺ ποίει, χώρα Ζαβυλων, ἡ γῆ Νεφθαλιμ ὁδὸν θαλάσσης καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ τὴν παραλίαν κατοικοῦντες καὶ πέραν τοῦ  Ιορδάνου, Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν, τὰ μέρη τῆς Ιουδαίας ὁ λαὸς ὁ πορευόμενος ἐν σκότει, ἴδετε φῶς μέγα – οἱ καταοικοῦντες ἐν χώρα καὶ σκιᾶ θανατοῦ, φῶς λάμψει ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς.

From the Clementine Vulgate:

Primo tmepore alleviata est terra Zabulon et terra Nephthali: et novissimo aggravata est via maris trans Jordanem Galilaeae gentium.  Populus qui ambulabat in tenebris, vidit lucem magnam,; habitantibus in terione umbrae mortis, lux orta est eis.

And finally the Douay-Rheims English translation:

“At the first time the land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephtali was lightly touched: and at last the way of the sea beyond the Jordan of the Galilee of the Gentiles was heavily loaded.  The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen (Is. 9: 1-2).”

A rich prophetic utterance from Isaiah here.  First it is necessary to look at the situation of the lands of Zabulon and Nephtali during the prophet’s lifetime.  They were part of the northern kingdom of Israel.  This kingdom had its capital at Samaria about 75 miles north of Jerusalem and was composed of the ten tribes who separated from their southern neighbors after the death of David’s son King Solomon some two centuries before.  Isaiah was a southerner and the southerners generally regarded the northern kingdom as less pure in terms of religion.  The northern kingdom covered a larger area and was closer in proximity to the population centers of the pagan kingdoms such as Tyre, Sidon, and Damascus that surrounded it than the more isolated southern kingdom of Judah was.  Pagan ideas crept into the life of the northerners and all throughout the history of that kingdom it was continually reproached by God’s prophets (Elijah was based in the north and had continual confrontations with the northern king Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel) for their lack of fidelity to the Covenant and their worship of foreign gods.  Then during Isaiah’s lifetime catastrophe struck.  The Assyrian army struck and annihilated the northern kingdom in 721 B.C.  The kingdom was destroyed and the ten tribes, following the general policy of the Assyrian empire at that time, were deported from their land and scattered among the nations.  These are the celebrated ‘ten lost tribes’ that every crackpot archaeologist worth his salt has claimed to have found everywhere from Zimbabwe to Minnesota.  But in truth they disappeared and lost their identity as the People of God.  This was the reward for their constant and unrepentant infidelity  The land though was resettled completely by pagans and plunged into darkness.

This is what Isaiah saw in his lifetime.  To prophesy that a great light would come from the lands of Zabulon and Nephtali, the Galilee as it was starting to be called, was courageous indeed, and would have seemed absolutely ludicrous to any of Isaiah’s hearers.  But, many centuries later, such a thing did happen.  The greatest Light that has ever come into the world walked through these lands.  Our Lord, God Himself, would come into the lands of Zabulon and Nephtali and proclaim that the Redemption of mankind was at hand.  It is a lesson in how history and human memory work that during his life on earth our Lord was continually excoriated by the Jewish leadership of his day that he could not be a prophet because no prophet ever came from those lands.  Those lands that had been plunged into darkness first by the treason and infidelity of the northern kingdom and then by its dissolution and the permanent destruction of its inhabitants.  But Light did  shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  This is the way God works, is it not?   And it is a passage that can in fact not only be applied to geopolitical circumstances  but to our own individual lives as well.  All of us walk in darkness and into our lives we must let the Light shine.

But let’s come back to the idea of lands that were long ago plunged into darkness.  Might a great Light not shine once more in them?  Is it impossible?  As we have seen it has happened before.  Fifteen centuries ago the Middle East and North Africa were solidly Christian, but they being were ripped apart by schism and controversy and division that would not heal.  Then in the seventh century the armies of Islam emerged from Arabia and cut off the Middle East and North Africa.  Over the long centuries that followed the greatest apostasy in Christian history occurred with the Church diminishing greatly in strength and numbers in the Middle East and in Egypt and disappearing completely in North Africa.  Darkness fell upon those lands with the advance of Islam.  Might a great Light shine again there in the future, at some hour known only to God?

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

The Pope and the Patriarch at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Holy Father Pope Francis is scheduled to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land May 24-26, 2014.  There he will meet with representatives from all of the ancient churches in Jerusalem including the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The Pope states that he was inspired to do this by Bartholomew’s invitation at his installation (the first attended by a Patriarch of Constantinople in more than a millennium) last March.  Deo gratias! and wonderful news!

The Courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that covers the ground where our Lord was crucified, died, and rose from the dead in Jerusalem (taken by me August 1, 2011).

The Courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that covers the ground where our Lord was crucified, died, and rose from the dead in Jerusalem (taken by me August 1, 2011).

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, 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 that peace be brought to this earth.

A New Caliphate or a Publicity Stunt?

For anyone interested in the future of the Middle East and the restoration of the Catholic Church to its ancient position there this should be a subject of interest.

A new caliphate was declared as al-Qaeda militants took control of the city of Falluja in western Iraq. They subsequently declared the restoration of the Islamic caliphate which has been dormant since Mustafa Kemal deposed the last Ottoman Sultan in 1924. This may only be a publicity stunt as no particular individual was named as the new khalifa but the military position of these men seems stronger than it ever has been.

In any case these militants have bases in both western Iraq and eastern Syria and if they remain unchecked they possess the potential to redraw the borders of the Middle East. Time will tell and the will of God is a mysterious thing to us mortal men. The world is changing however and we all must continue to pray. 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.

Merry Christmas!!!

Today is the celebration in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church of the Solemnity of the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord: Merry Christmas!  Today the Creator of all things comes as a frail and helpless little child to live among us.  The turn of the age was when Mary, the Mother of God, said yes to God through the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation and today that change is manifested in the form of an infant lying in swaddling clothes in a manger in a cave on a hillside.  There is much to this.

 

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The wire star above and to the right of the doorway marks the spot under which Jesus Christ was born (Taken by me August 3, 2011).

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The wire star above and to the right of the doorway marks the spot under which Jesus Christ was born (Taken by me August 3, 2011).

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Memory of a Mass Conversion

December 12 is the Feast Day in the dioceses of the Americas of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the peasant boy Juan Diego in 1531 changed the course of history.  This was a signal moment of grace for the world and for the Western Hemisphere.  In the decades after the apparition of the Blessed Mother the pagan gods native to this continent were banished to the darkness from which they came, and the Church was triumphant from the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego.

The increasing secularization of the Americas in our own time should not blind us to what an achievement this was half a millennium ago.  And it should also remind us that mass conversions are a historical fact and they are just as possible in our own time as they were in the 16th century or in the 4th century.  The whole of the Mediterranean basin was converted by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the early Church in the days of Rome.  The barbarian tribes who overwhelmed the Western portion of the Empire in the succeeding centuries were then also converted by the same Spirit and the same Church.  As were the Americas following the intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

And yes, there was the mass apostasy of the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean to Islam, but that need not be permanent.  If there have been mass conversions in the past then it is reasonable to believe, despite the darkening skies of our own day and time, that there will be mass conversions in the future.  And mass conversions begin first and foremost with prayer.

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.  Our Lady of Guadalupe pray for us!

Pope Saint Damasus I

December 11 is the Feast Day in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church of Saint Damasus I who was pope from 366 until his death on December 11, 384.  Though he reigned some three centuries before the assault of Islam on the Christian world his work was instrumental in establishing the institutions that would preserve the Church in Europe during the long centuries that followed the Muslim armies’ splitting the Mediterranean in two.

Firstly it is to Saint Damasus that we owe the Vulgate, as much as to Saint Jerome, for it was Damasus who inspired Jerome to undertake this task.  It is hard to imagine how the Western Church would have survived its separation from the East and from the lands of Christ’s birth and earthly activity by the advance of Islam.  It was Jerome’s unified translation of the Old and New Testaments done at a time when the Greek of the New Testament was still a living language in the East and when the Western Church still had access to ancient biblical texts in both Hebrew and Greek that disappeared in the anarchy of the succeeding centuries.  This unified and authoritative translation would sustain the Church in the West for the next 1200 years and for 900 of those years after the rise of Islam until the chaos of the Protestant Revolt arose in the 16th century.

Modern altar in the cell of Saint Jerome underneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  Saint Jerome did much of his work on the Vulgate here under the patronage of Pope Saint Damasus I, to whom he dedicated the work. (taken by me August 3, 2011)

Modern altar in the cell of Saint Jerome underneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Saint Jerome did much of his work on the Vulgate here under the patronage of Pope Saint Damasus I, to whom he dedicated the work. (taken by me August 3, 2011)

Ancient stairs leading up from Saint Jerome’s cell under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It was here that Jerome did much of his work on the Vulgate under the patronage of Pope Saint Damasus I, to whom he dedicated the work. (taken by me August 3, 2011)

Damasus was also a great defender of the primacy of the Apostolic See in Rome.  He rightly attached the Biblical foundation of the See of Saint Peter to the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 16.  He thus firmly and publicly proclaimed the primacy of the Roman Church as permanent and not linked to any decision of a Church Council as the Roman Empire in the West was beginning to collapse, and linked this both to its past and to the future.  This served the Church and Christian civilization well during the long and chaotic centuries after the decline of Roman power and the rise of Islam which shattered the ancient unity of the Christian and the Mediterranean world.

Pray the rosary Monday for the See of Constantinople, Tuesday for the See of Antioch, Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and 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.  Sancte Papa Damase I ora pro nobis!

Saint John of Damascus

December 4 is the Feast Day in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church of the man generally considered to be the last of the Fathers of the Church: Saint John Damascene.  John of Damascus was born in the year 676 and died in 754; his life spanned one of the great hinge points in the history of the world.  The classical world of Mediterranean unity that had sprung up with the poems of Homer thirteen centuries before, continued and flourished with the expansion of Greek culture, colonization, and the might of the Roman Empire which built the highways on which the Church traveled in its first great expansion was now dead.  Islam had come out of the desert four decades before John of Damascus’ birth and during his lifetime it split the Mediterranean in two, a rupture that persists to this day many long centuries later.

Saint John Damascene was a great opponent of Leo the Isaurian’s iconoclast heresy and a strong defender of the veneration of holy images but what earned him the title of last Father of the Church was his compilation of the Orthodox Faith.  In it he catalogues and summarizes the works of the Fathers and the decisions of all of the Councils of the first theologically turbulent seven centuries of the Church’s existence.  It is a marvelous summary of Christian antiquity, an era that was then at its end, and it helped to set the foundation for the maintenance of the Church in the medieval age that was at that moment being born.  Interestingly Saint John Damascene seems to regard Islam as another of the Christian heresies, a claim echoed in the twentieth century by Hilaire Belloc in The Great Heresies (I don’t receive a dime from Amazon, but this book is seriously worth reading by anyone interested in confronting the enemies of the Catholic Church).  There is much evidence I think to support the supposition that, at its beginning at least, Islam was at least greatly influenced by the anti-Trinitarian heresies that had so troubled the Greek East for the three centuries before its birth.  I will do a post on that subject at some other time.

John Damascene was a figure of some note in the court of the Ummayad caliphs in Damascus, holding the position of minister of finance for a time.  He was the last great figure of the Greek East to have gained an influence over the whole Church, East and West, and his life marked the end of an era in the history of the Church and the world.  The land of his birth is the now tortured country of Syria.  Saint John Damascene pray for us and for your native land, that its people return to the True Faith of the fathers of the fathers of their fathers.

Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, for its liberty and its salvation and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome, and for the conversion of the Muslim people.

The Prayer of Saint Francis Xavier

Today, December 3, is the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.  Francis Xavier was the third companion of Saint Ignatius Loyola the founder of the Society of Jesus and the great missionary to Asia during the Age of Discovery in the 16th century.  Possessed by a great apostolic zeal he devoted his life to bringing unbelievers into the Faith and worked tirelessly to this end, preaching the Gospel and achieving many conversions in India and throughout East Asia.  It is one of the tragedies of the Age of Discovery that, instead of penetrating the Middle East and going on from there, the Church was only able to go around Islam and seek to convert the outer edges of Asia while leaving its ancient heartland on that continent untouched, but such is the will of God.  St. Francis Xavier was however the greatest missionary of that age, and established presence for the Church in those regions of the world that continues to this day.  This man who was so devoted to bringing unbelievers into the Church has left us this prayer, reprinted from the 1962 Roman Missal:

Aeterne rerum omnium effector Deus, memento abs te animas infidelium procreatas, easque ad imaginem et similitudinem tuam conditas.  Memento Iesum, Filium tuum, pro illorum salute atrocissimam subisse necem.  Noli, quaeso Domine, ultra permittere, ut Filius tuus ab infidelibus contemnatur, sed precibus sanctorum virorum et Ecclesiae, sanctissimi Filii tui sponsae, placatus, recordare misericordiae tuae et, oblitus idolitriae et infidelitatis eorum, effice ut ipsi quoque agnoscant aliquando quem misisti Dominum Iesum Christum, qui est salus, vita, et resurrectio nostra, per quem salvati et liberati sumus, cui sit gloria per infinita saecula saeculorum.  Amen.

“O God, everlasting creator of all things, remember that the souls of unbelievers were made by Thee and formed in Thine own image and likeness.  Remember that Jesus, Thy Son, endured a most bitter death for their salvation.  Permit not, I beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy Son should be despised any longer by unbelievers, but do Thou graciously accept the prayers of holy men and of the Church, the Spouse of Thy most holy Son, and be mindful of Thy mercy.  Forget their idolatry and unbelief and grant that they too may some day know Him Thou hast sent, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life and Resurrection, by whom we have been saved and delivered, to whom be glory for endless ages. 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 and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the Muslim peoples.  And add in the prayer of St. Francis Xavier for unbelievers at the end if you like.  It can’t hurt.

The Alma Redemptorist Mater and Hermann the Lame

Last Saturday eve was the turn of the season and the turn of the year.  The long march of the second phase of Ordinary Time that began after the second Vespers of Pentecost in May ended this November 30 at the First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent and a new season and new liturgical year began; we now await the coming of the Lord and the Feast of the Incarnation on December 25.

In the Traditional calendar of the Catholic Church’s Latin Rite the seasonal Marian antiphon or anthem changed.  There are four Marian antiphons spaced through the different seasons of the year: the Alma Redemptoris Mater that is sung from the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent to the Feast of the Presentation on the February 2, the Ave Regina Caelorum that is sung from Compline on February 3 to Compline on Holy Thursday, the Regina Coeli that is sung from Holy Saturday night (coinciding with the Easter Vigil) until the Saturday following Pentecost, and the Salve Regina that is sung from Trinity Sunday to the Friday that follows the Feast of Christ the King.  These Marian antiphons are sung at the close of Compline, the last prayer of the day, and were traditionally sung at the close of the Mass to offer all our prayers to God through Mary’s hands.

The current hymn, the Alma Redemptoris Mater:

Alma Redemptoris Mater, qui pervia caeli porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti, surgere qui curat, populo: tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem, Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere.

This great hymn celebrates the wonder of the Virgin giving birth to her Creator and begs for her aid to help those of us who are not worthy, yet seek to rise above our sins.  Tradition ascribes its composition, along with the Salve Regina, to one Hermann Contractus, Hermann the Lame, during the early part of the eleventh century.  In fact Hermann Contractus  was born on February 18, 1013, making this year the 1000th anniversary of his birth.  Hermann Contractus’ life is interesting as it relates to the unity between the East and the West.  He was born the son of a Count, an aristocrat, in Althausen in what is now southern Germany and died a monk on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance on the current border between Switzerland and Germany on September 21, 1054, the year of the great schism between the churches of Rome and Constantinople.

Hermann was crippled and unable to move without assistance for his entire life, but through extraordinary effort accomplished so much intellectual work and contributed these two Marian hymns that gave so much to the character of the Church during the second millennium.  Interestingly enough Hermann is credited with knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Arabic tongues.  Arabic, think of it, a lame monk living on an island in a lake on the modern border between Switzerland and Germany knew both Greek and Arabic in the year 1054.  He died half a century before the Crusades.  This shows that undoubtedly the link between Europe and the East had not been completely broken despite the tumult that had occurred in the previous four centuries since the rise of Islam.

Pray for the unity of the Church for the unity of East and West that we may breathe with both lungs once more: pray the Rosary Monday for the See of Constantinople, Tuesday for the See of Antioch, Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and 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 Feast of St. Andrew: November 30, 2013

Today is the feast day of the first called Apostle, brother of St. Peter and founder of the church of Constantinople St. Andrew.  Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist who went along with the beloved disciple St. John to follow our Lord at the direction of John the Forerunner.  He later introduced his younger brother Simon to the Lord who made of him Peter the Rock on which He built his Church.

Tradition records that St. Andrew went north after Pentecost to found the church of Byzantium on the Bosporus, the future site of Constantinople and later preached in what is now Russia and in what we now call the Ukraine but what was then broadly called Scythia.  He was martyred in the Peloponnese in southern Greece, crucified by the Roman governor.  St. Andrew is the great patron of the East, the older brother of Simon Peter the founder of the See of Rome.  Peter was ordained Prince of the Apostles not by his own choice or merit, but by the will of God.  The East and the West are brothers, the East older while the West is younger but with the Apostolic See of Rome given primacy by its founder, its history, and the inscrutable divine Will.  Pray for the unity of the Church, the unity between East and West, and to paraphrase Bl. John Paul II that the Church may breathe with both lungs once again.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, for its liberty and its salvation, and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

Message of Pope Francis to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I on the Feast of St. Andrew