Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Henri Boulad: Evangelization Today

On Sunday October 19, 2014 Fr.Henri Boulad, S.J. spoke about  evangelization (Readers can listen to him in French here)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Historical Development and Eradication of Christianity in Iraq


The dire situation of Christians in Iraq is not something that happened overnight. It took many centuries of persecution and displacement by force as the price of division among Christians themselves.

Apostolic Roots 
The Christian movement grew out of Jerusalem  after the Ascension of Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit by the Apostles and their companions at Pentecost. The first task the Apostles undertook was to preach the good news of Christ to their fellow Jews in the Temple and in other cities in Judea.

In the first, second and third centuries AD Christians became involved in a life-and-death struggle with the Roman empire's pagan culture. They were required to sacrifice to the pagan idols and if they refused they often had to be thrown to hungry lions for the crowds to enjoy them being eaten alive in the Colosseum theaters. Ignatius, martyr and the third Bishop of Antioch, experienced this end around 107 AD under order by Trajan, the Roman emperor (98-117 AD), because he was Christian ...Nero had crucified Christians accusing them of burning Rome in 64 AD. He is remembered in Apocalypse (attributed to John the Apostle) as the "Beast" who will come back and his mark is 666, a transliteration of Nero's name in Greek (Revelation 13:18). According to Christopher Dawson, the main achievement of the Church was "the successful domination of the urban Roman-Hellenistic culture." In spite of intermittent persecutions, the Church, nevertheless, became the greatest creative force in the second and third centuries culture.

This is the age of Clement and Origen in the East and Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian in the West. On theologians of the 2nd and third centuries, Jaroslav Pelikan wrote that they could take the Apocalypse of John as their model and repudiate pagan thought just as they repudiated the imperial cult; or they could seek out, within classicism, analogies to the continuity-discontinuity which all of them found in Judaism. According to him, the most comprehensive of apologetic treatises was "Against Celsus" by Origen (Cf.  Pelikan: "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol. 1 - The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition" P. 27). From a sociological perspective Christianity proved to be not a mere sectarian cult but a real society with a high sense of citizenship.

Thomas and Thaddaeus sent to India
There is evidence that the ancient Church in the East expanded through the Apostles Thomas and Thaddaeus as far as India. The Assyrian Church of the East, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India, and the Chaldean Catholic Church claim historical presence in the lands by the lineage of their patriarchs, but especially that the Eucharistic prayer in the Divine liturgy of Addai (Thaddaeus) and Mari dates back to 3rd-century Edessa near Cappadocia (See map).

Large-scale Divisions
Yet, Christian leaders failed to maintain unity. In the 5th century, Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, understood (or rather misunderstood) the true nature of the incarnation of the Word. He preached that in Christ there were not only two natures but also two persons: one from God (the Word) and one created like men who was born of the Virgin Mary. If this is followed, then the Virgin Mary could not be called Theotokos (Mother/bearer of God). For this understanding, Nestorius was excommunicated at the Council of Ephesus under the leadership of St. Cyril in 431 AD, after securing the support of the Pope of Rome. Nestorius was exiled and his followers escaped to Persia and Assyria, the enemies of the Byzantine Christians. It was an opportunity to preach Christ to pagans. Assyria became the center of Christianity in the East. The Nestorians went as far as India. But their numbers dwindled over time.

The Islamic Conquests
In the 7th century. Muslim invaders from Arabia conquered Assyria and ruled it, but for a few centuries Assyrian Christians, including scholars and doctors, played a significant role in Iraq.  By the 8th century Muslims were already divided and each sect attacked the other to regain power of the Islamic Caliphate. Numerous Christians who were not rich enough to pay  the Gezya tax as Dhimmis lost their lives unless they accepted to convert to Islam. 

The Abbasid Caliphate centered its government in Kufa, but in 762 AD the Caliph Al-Mansour founded, and moved his capital to, the city of Baghdad close to the Persian capital of Ctesiphon. Baghdad became a center of learning in science and philosophy that included a large library. The growing dominance of Islam expanded throughout the Middle East and threatened the Christian dominance in Europe when Muslims invaded Spain. To reduce tensions with the Islamic Caliphate and secure trade with the East, the Catholic Frankish Pepin entered into negotiations with the Abbasid Caliph in 762 AD. In 800, as the Roman Emperor Charlemagne was crowned, ambassadors from the Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rashid arrived in Rome and delivered the keys of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem to the new Emperor (Einhard, "Annales", ad an. 800 in "Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script.", I, 187).

More Massacres
In 1258, Baghdad was sacked by the Mongols under Hulago Khan. The Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in Central Asia, spread over most of Eurasia, Russia, China, and the Middle East. In their conquests, large-scale slaughters of local populations took place. Many Christians in Iraq and Syria were massacred, but their remnants managed to survive. Northern Iraq remained predominantly Assyrian Christians who maintained the Aramaic language in their liturgy. By the 14th century, the Assyrian Church of the East existed in the so-called Assuristan (Sassanid), and twelve Nestorian dioceses extended from Peking (Beijing) to Samarkand. However near the end of the 14th century, the Muslim Mongol warlord Tamerlane (Timur) conquered Persia, Mesopotamia, and Syria. Timur had 70,000 Assyrian Christians beheaded in Tikrit and another 90,000 in Baghdad. Following the massacres of Tamerlane, the episcopal see of Ancient Assyria was moved to Alqosh in the Mosul region and Patriarch Mar Shimun IV Basidi (1437-1493) made the office of the patriarch hereditary.

Reunion with Rome?
In 1552, a group of Assyrian bishops from the Northern regions of Amid and Salmas challenged the hereditary c laim of the office of the patriarch and elected Mar Yohanan Suluqa as a rival patriarch. Suluqa was received by the Pope in Rome who in 1553 consecrated him Mar Shimun VIII, Patriarch of the Chaldeans. The link with the Roman Church proved providential as missionaries increased and churches were opened. In the 20th century, the Catholic Church opened a dialogue with the Assyrian Church of the East. In 1994 Saint Pope John Paul II and Mar Dinkha IV Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East signed a common Christological Declaration in which both recognize the legitimate different expressions of Christian dogma on the incarnation of the Word of God and recognize the attribution of Theotokos (Mother of God) to the mother of Jesus.

The New Massacres
The 20th century Iraq was also dominated by political rivalries between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.  Under the Baath Party, dictators governed Iraq for the 2nd half of the century but Christians were mostly secure. In a prolonged war between Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran that started in 1980 and ended in 1988, Iraq sought to protect its territories especially because of fear of Shia insurgency in Iraq after the establishment of a Shiite Islamic government in Iran but each lost significant military forces and each withdrew to its territorial boundaries.

In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait under the pretext that Kuwait was stealing Iraqi petroleum through slant drilling when Iraq needed to pay creditors for money borrowed to finance the Iran-Iraq war. Kuwait's over-production of petroleum kept Iraqi revenues low. In 1991, the United States led a coalition of nations to liberate Kuwait by armed forces and was able to liberate Kuwait and destroy much of Iraq's forces. In 2003, against the moral voice of Saint Pope John Paul II,  the Unites States and allies invaded Iraq stating that it was bringing in democracy to Iraq. The Baathist regime was overthrown and over a few years new governments were formed which were never able to establish security of minorities the country against violent insurgents. Due to continuing threats to their survival, many Iraqi Christians were displaced, settled in other more tolerant countries or became refugees in the West.

In October 2010, Catholics attending Mass in Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church near Baghdad were shot dead by Islamic fundamentalists. And since January 2011, the so-called Arab Spring, supported by the United States government of Barack Obama and Western European powers, caused more violence and divisions along sectarian lines where radical Islamists attacked the religious minorities of Christians and their churches in much of  the Arab world. By 2012, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt had fallen to the Muslim radicals known as the Muslim Brotherhood but Egypt alone was restored to civil government with the help of its army in July 2013. For some 4 years, a sectarian war has been raging in Syria between the government's army (Muslim Alawites) supported by Shiite Hizbullah and armed by Russia against Sunni Muslim radicals supported and financed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is an extremist group of Islamists supported by some Muslim organizations across the globe. It is the latest threat yet to global civilization and security. The IS cruel killing of its opponents started to grow in Iraq in 2013 under the pretext that Sunni Muslims were not given a fair treatment by a majority Shiite government. A splinter group of al Qaeda, its ambitious strategy is to demolish civilizations and cultures that do not implement a strict interpretation of Islamic Sunni Sharia as their laws. While IS targets all nations, its command is to destroy Christianity and Judaism since the are considered infidels


Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Hymn to Jesus

O Jesus My Lord and God: You died to liberate us from death and slavery to sin, and rose to lead us to heaven;
O Beauty of Old: You created us in your image and implanted your beauty in creation;
May your name be blessed as grains and plants grow to deliver fruits in valleys and on your high mountains;
May your name be blessed as the morning nightingale sings to you and the birds on trees praise you;
May your name be blessed as the waves of the sea and ocean move creatures and obey you;
May your name be blessed as the wild animals of the forests beseech your grandeur;
May your name be blessed as scientists explore the vast cosmos and search communication of quantum-entangled particles which your mind makes;
May your name be blessed as neuroscientists attempt to map the human brain and biologists research cells and organs which your mind creates and sustains;
May your name be blessed as your most pure mother Mary blessed you when she visited Elizabeth and when she saw you in the glory of your ascension;
May your name be blessed as Abraham blessed you when he was visited by you in the three missionaries of your servant Melchizedek;
May your name be blessed as Peter blessed you when he spoke of you the Messiah Son of God;
May your name be blessed as Augustine blessed you when he found you in the preaching of Ambrose of Milan and the Biblical witness of Paul;
May your name be blessed as Francis of Assisi sought you to rebuild what was lacking in the living Church and led many to you;
May your name be blessed as the angelic Thomas Aquinas taught your truth with humility and Ignatius of Loyola lived it in his conversion and spiritual discernment;
May your name be blessed as Teresa of Avila climbed the mountain of doubt to be possessed by you and Teresa of Calcutta served you in the dying poor;
May your name be blessed as your little flower Thérèse of Lisieux loved you O Love Eternal and Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed his life for his fellow prisoner in love for you;
May your name be blessed as Pope John XXIII did in convoking Vatican II the greatest Council in history and John Paul the Great restored confidence in the mission of your Church;
May your name be blessed as the saved creation will praise you on that day in which there will be no sunset and no dawning.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Weep?

On Saturday September 13, Pope Francis said Mass in the largest cemetery in Italy to commemorate the centenary of World War I. With a voice expressing anxiety and fear, he brought the attention of thousands of listeners to the planned aggression and wars today citing wars in Syria, Iraq, and the armed conflict in Gaza, Ukraine,and parts of Africa. "War is madness. War ruins everything even the bonds between brothers...War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction...It seeks to grow by destroying - Even today after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a Third War, one fought piecemeal with crimes, massacres, destruction. Humanity needs to weep and the time to weep is now."
We may wish to listen to his voice here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7hY1F3Oryo  

If we listen to him here: http://www.romereports.com/pg158331-pope-francis-warns-of-world-war-iii-en  we will find what he thinks causes war: "Greed, intolerance, the lust for power" said Francis. These motives "are too often justified by an ideology, and when there is no ideology, there is the response of Cain 'Why should I care?'"

Francis' prophecy for the possibility of a global war may be discredited as pessimistic. However, more pastors are also pessimistic about the decline in observing moral values in the Western Christian civilization. But this is hardly the problem of the rich West. Obsession with material possessions increases selfishness which is found in all countries.The big picture reflects fear of threats to survival whether it is because of a distorted radical Islamism, an increasing tension between Russia and NATO, or the spread of Ebola that could kill more people. To address such ugly situation, we may as well return to the gospel. In Matthew Chapter 7, Jesus tells his listeners to start correcting themselves "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7: 3-5). If our spiritual leaders (including patrirachs, cardinals, and bishops) follow Pope Francis in his simple way of living and dressing, Christians will probably imitate their leaders. We need to individually and socially (in community) wake up and return to our loving God. We need to discern the will of God. "Humanity needs to weep and the time to weep is now." Tears of sorrow can be a temporary emotional reaction to fear. Or they can be the beginning of real repentance in seeking God who loves all. Let's recall that there are more Christian missionaries in the world than ever. More children are born everyday that bring joy - more joy than hatred.

In his 2012 book "The Better Angels of Our Nature:Why Violence Has Declined", Steven Pinker at Harvard University provides statistical evidence that there were less victims killed in the two World Wars of the 20th century than there were in the 19th century.

And St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), articulates the vision that in spite of evil God brings good out of everything  (exercised in the discernment of spirits or daily examen). St. Thomas More followed the primacy of conscience in making decisions (exercised in the discernment of spirits  and elevated by the Christian moral teachings).  St. Francis of Assisi too spoke to the beauty of God implanted in creation: Sister Sun and Brother Moon and wrote the hymn of love Make me a channel of your peace.

If we and our pastors follow Jesus as those saints did, we will be contagious in our patience and love to others and this will render in us the peace of Christ. As long as we live, we must hope for a better life here and in heaven. And so we can sing with St. Paul and the early Church the hymn about Jesus Christ "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2, 6-11).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Who Do You Say I Am?

In "Catholicism" first video whose object is Jesus Christ, Fr. Robert Barron comments: Jesus did not say 'What do people think of my teachings.' He asked 'Who do people say that I am' (Mark 8:27). It's hard to imagine another great religious founder asking such a question. The Buddha would not focus on himself, and I say it to his credit, he would say 'There is a way I discovered and I want you to know it.' Mohammed would not focus on himself - He would say 'There is a revelation I received I want you to know it'. Confucius would not say 'It's about me' - He would say 'It's about this path I found'. Then there is Jesus who says 'Who do people say that I am'. The whole gospel really hinges on this point. Jesus identity personally is what it is about, because throughout the gospel he consistently speaks and acts in the very person of God. The reply to Jesus' question depended on how close was the person to Jesus and which prophetic voice they thought was echoed: "Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli'jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." But to those who were close to Jesus, the question "But who do you say that I am?" was answered by Peter "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matt 16: 16). And Jesus answered him "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." (Matt 16: 17)...

You may wish to watch this excerpt here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aZsH-Ca7WU&list=PLnNpkAOswnbkORN1fPLzZuNzvIuh37SN2&index=8

Jesus radiated love in his healing and teachings and approached the crowds with unprecedented authority for saying and acting the truth. The Apostles understood Jesus' mission when, fearful of the authorities after his crucifixion and death, they saw him risen and received the Holy Spirit from him.

In his book "Introduction to Christianity" Joseph Ratzinger bases the evidence of the Resurrection of Christ on the power of love with which Jesus of Nazareth defeats death and mortality in his selfless love of the Father while dying on the cross (humanly speaking: Being in the Other who still stands when I have fallen apart). 

In the New Testament, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central theme that God leads the inspired writer to write and so bring the readers attention to. The story of Jesus walking on the waters of the sea is more than an event to show his power; for it reminds the listeners about Jesus' victory over the waters of the sea considered the abode of death. He is the One who takes Peter by the hand to deliver him from death. He is the One who leads the Church, new Israel, out of the bondage of death and "slavery in the land of Egypt." Every event recounted in the Gospel has multiple meanings; all meant to encourage the young church to persevere in the times of darkness; but more significant they proclaim the body of Christ in the Eucharist as the eternal manna that feeds the new Israel in their journey to New Jerusalem as the manna fed the hungry Israelites in their journey out of slavery - the difference being that while the Israelites who ate the manna died the new "People of God", who eat the body of Christ, will live with him for ever. While the pagan religions were declining, and the Jews were scattered after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the Christian movement gave a new hope to the crowds who listened to the "good news" - the Gospel.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)







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