01 March 2015

Boko Haram Daily News Updates - March 2015

Previous Updates: February 2014

March 1, 2015

Photos from Mount Tabor, where Jesus was transfigured

We hear in the Gospel today that the Lord Jesus led Saints Peter, James, and John "up a high mountain apart by themselves" (Mark 9:2). The mountain on which he led them was Mount Tabor.

Located in the lower part of Galilee, the solitary mountain - in geological terms, a monadnock - reaches a height of some 2,165 feet:

On the way to Mount Tabor, taken on the bus
From the base of the mountain
Although the Evangelists do not specify this mountain in their accounts of the Transfiguration of the Lord (cf. Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-8; and Luke 9:28-36) - nor does Saint Peter in his (cf. II Peter 1:17-18) - there is no doubt Mount Tabor is the mountain they ascended; it is the only mountain in the region.

Even on a cloudy day, the view from the top of Mount Tabor is something to behold:

The first church on the mountain was built around the year 400 A.D.When the Crusaders arrived in the Holy Land, Benedictine monks built a fortified monastery strong enough to defend against the forces of Saladin. However, following the defeat of the Crusaders by Saladin at the Horns of Hattin in 1187, the Benedictines were forced to abandon their monastery. Franciscan friars took over the old monastery in the 1600s and they remain on Mount Tabor today.

The present basilica built in a Roman-Syrian style from the fourth through seventh centuries is the work Antonio Barluzzi:

From within the basilica, one can look through certain places of the floor to the see the rock of the top of the mountain:

Consecrated in 1924, the Basilica of the Transfiguration houses a series of beautiful mosaics:

The Nativity of Our Lord
The Bread of Life
The Lamb of God
The Resurrection of Our Lord
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
In the mosaic depiction of Jesus transfigured, we are able to glimpse something of his majesty revealed to Peter, James, and John:
In this mosaic we see something of what Benedict XVI wrote: "Jesus' divinity belongs with the Cross - only when we put the two together do we recognize Jesus correctly" (Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 305).

In these remaining days of Lent, let us ask the Lord to help us recognize his glory hidden in the Cross, so as to experience all the more joyfully his glory revealed in the Resurrection, both in this life and in the life of the world to come.

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - March 2015

Previous Updates: February 2015 | January 2015 | December 2014 | November 2014 | October 2014 | April - November 2014

1 March 2015

28 February 2015

The Hobbit Party - A book that does not feel quite yet finished

Yesterday morning I picked up a copy of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot by Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards. Ignatius Press published the book a few weeks ago and I've wanted to read it since I learned of its publication.

From the advertisements I heard for the book, I took it to be something like a political vision extracted from the legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien that would provide the framework for a new political party based on the running of things in the Shire (which appeals to me greatly), one that might be able to contend with the ideologies and political parties of our present day (none of which greatly appeal to me).

In this hope I was disappointed, but perhaps my expectations were too high (this is often a problem for me). The Professor, after all, did not set out to write a political philosophy at all but rather to put forth, as he wrote, a critique of "Death and the desire for deathlessness" (Tolkien to C. Ouboter, Voorhoeve en Dietrich, April 10, 1958). 

Because of its largely thematic approach to exploring The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (as well as others of Tolkien's works), and possibly because of having two authors, this is a book that does not feel quite yet finished, almost as if it were a collection of essays simply put into a book without a thorough effort to blend them into a unified whole. The themes explored by the authors are varied and far-reaching: government, farming, the common good, power, Big Brother, freedom, evil, just war, greed, capitalism, socialism, distributism, localism, and, of course, death (to name but a few).

All this being said, however, the book is not without merit.

Rather than putting forth a political vision based on Tolkien's thought, Witt and Richards set out to use Tolkien's thought to bolster a political vision that includes small government, individual freedom, a good use of the land, and the principle of subsidiarity, a task at which they are successful. In this endeavor, and given the current political situation in the United States of America that has been unfolding now for more than a decade, particularly in the form of ever-increasing regulation of seemingly every aspect of life, the book is both timely and needed. Perhaps most remarkable of all, their arguments never descend into partisan attacks but remain at an elevated level so as to set forth a world view with which to make principled - not partisan - political decisions.

In their reflections on the power of the ring and the force it exerts on those who desire it (on everyone, that is, except Tom Bambadil), Witt and Richards rightly conclude,
The lesson is old and oft forgotten: even well-intentioned leaders are tempted to annex to themselves more and more power in their efforts to fight evil and improve the lot of their people. In such cases, the potential for good lies in plain sight, while the danger of unchecked power seems distant, abstract, and quite manageable. What distinguishes the wise leaders of The Lord of the Rings is their ability to see past this illusion (73).
While acknowledging that "there is no unique form of government that will ensure" a freedom properly to a civilized people (103), Witt and Richards propose a few aspects of such a freedom gained from a thoughtful reading of Tolkien:
  • "A free and therefore lawful society, at a minimum, will never force a person to choose among alternatives all of which commit him to some intrinsic evil, such as violating the rights and dignity of himself or another" (102).
  • "People in a free society will have broad freedoms in the market" (102).
  • "...a richly free society allows its people to pursue freedom for excellence; it encourages rather than discourages them to pursue their own calling and passion" (102-103).
  • "We know empirically that a free economy, of all the options, best coordinates the gifts and needs of a diverse population" (103).
The authors are right to note what others frequently miss, that Tolkien's "thought taken as a whole is quite pluralistic" (155), but that Tolkien still "beat the drum of small government when the rest of the world was running headlong into arms [sic - there are other similar errors throughout the book] of Big Brother" (154).

Were I editing The Hobbit Party, I would have taken the authors' Epilogue and made it the Forward. Doing so would have given a fuller sense of purpose and direction to the text of the book.

In their Epilogue, Witt and Richards suggest that what Tolkien called the work of "reenchantment" begins
...by rejecting not just an ideology but a subtle process, long at work among Western democracies, that leads by slow degrees from a free Shire to a place where creative energy and opportunity give way before the twin opiates of false equality and an all-embracing administrative bureaucracy (187).
This is a good summary of the overall argument of The Hobbit Party, but to put it even more succinctly, the authors are right to assert that "what [Tolkien] consistently opposed was democracy put in the service of socialism and the tyranny of the majority, and he tended to fear the worst in such matters" (189). There is every reason to have the same fear regarding the current situation in the U.S. - and elsewhere - today.

At the same time, though, if I were editing The Hobbit Party, I would take the Foreword by James V. Schall, S.J. and make it the Epilogue.

In his Foreword, Father Schall rightly suggests that "the reading of Tolkien at any adult age makes you young again. But it also makes you wonder if you are wise, with the kind of wisdom we find in Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, and the forces of good that populate Gondor and the Shire" (9). Such a statement, turned into a question, would be a good end to The Hobbit Party and an excellent way to motivate the reader to ask himself if he also has the political wisdom of Tolkien.

Yet, as I said earlier, this is a book that does feel quite yet finished. Although Witt and Richards do not create a new political party - the Hobbit Party - the political thought they highlight in their book could well lead to the creation of such a party, a political party based on the freedom inherent in the dignity of the human person. Let us hope the book will soon be completed.

New record lows set in Springfield, Illinois

According to the National Weather Service, two new record low temperatures were recorded yesterday in Springfield, Illinois:

I don't know why the NWS still writes in capitals and with line breaks, but I don't feel like taking the town now for fix either.

Frankly, I'm very glad I missed these two new records; I'm not quite sure how I would have withstood such cold temperature, especially given what I am growing accustomed to here in the Eternal City.

The high temperature yesterday was, I believe, 62ºF which afforded a very pleasant to spend part of the afternoon, both before and after my early afternoon Latin class:

Back in Illinois, the temperature would not have been warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt while reading the book, but the sun seems to shine more warmly over Rome. I began the book yesterday and finished it a few minutes ago, in the spot under the same warm sun with a temperature of only 59ºF. And it's not quite Spring yet, either.

After this, Illinois may be the death of me.
The minus 12 degrees recorded at 6 a.m. Friday shattered the previous record low for Feb. 27, readings of 3 degrees below zero in 1888 and 1934.
That, combined with expected temperatures ranging from 4 degrees to around 26 degrees Saturday "may be enough to bring it (the monthly average temperature) down some — enough to crack the top 10," said John Parr, meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Lincoln. "It's possible."
Through Thursday, the average monthly temperature for Springfield this month was 21.6 degrees. The 10th coldest February here since records started being kept in 1879 was a 21.2-degree average in 1914.
It is unlikely that this February will end up being colder than last February, when temperatures averaged 20.1 degrees and put February 2014 at No. 7 on the coldest Februaries list.
The coldest February on record here is 1978, when temperatures averaged 16.6 degrees. Second coldest was February 1979, with a 17-degree average.
- See more at: http://www.sj-r.com/article/20150227/NEWS/150229469#sthash.zs1rKHpY.dpuf

27 February 2015

Fish on Fridays: A remembrance of God's mercy and the promise of the resurrection of the body

N.B.: The title to this post has been corrected

Although Catholics are not required to eat fish on every Friday, it has long been customary to do so. Indeed, the custom of eating fish on Fridays and not meat earned Catholics in some parts of the world the disparaging title of "fisheaters."

In the United States of America, such has practice has not been customary since November 27, 1966 when the then-National Conference of Catholic Bishops removed the penalty of sin from the eating of meat on Fridays:
Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law. Our expectation is based on the following considerations:
  1. We shall thus freely and out of love for Christ Crucified show our solidarity with the generations of believers to whom this practice frequently became,especially in times of persecution and of great poverty,no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church.
  2. We shall thus also remind ourselves that as Christians, although immersed in the world and sharing its life, we must preserve a saving and necessary difference from the spirit of the world. Our deliberate,personal abstinence from meat, more especially because no longer required by law, will be an outward sign of inward spiritual values that we cherish.
Every Catholic Christian understands that the fast and abstinence regulations admit of change, unlike the commandments and precepts of that unchanging divine moral law which the Church must today and always defend as immutable. This said, we emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent. We stress this so that "no"scrupulosity will enter into examinations of conscience,confessions, or personal decisions on this point (Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, 23-25, emphasis mine).
That being said, the Bishops also expressed their hope that every Friday of the year would find Catholics in the United States of America substituting the non-eating of meat with some other form of perhaps, such as
doing volunteer work in hospitals, visiting the sick, serving the needs of the aged and the lonely, instructing the young in the Faith, participating as Christians in community affairs, and meeting our obligations to our families, our friends,our neighbors, and our community, including our parishes, with a special zeal born of the desire to add the merit of penance to the other virtues exercised in good works born of living faith (27, emphasis mine).
Each of these are worthy, pious, and holy things to do, but, regrettably, this hope has not born great fruit over these past forty-seven years as Catholics generally treat Friday as any other day of the week, if not as a particular day of celebration, in keeping with the secular culture, with little recognition of Christ's love poured out for us on the Cross.

Even so, Catholics in the U.S.A. are still bound by the requirement of canon 1251 to abstain from the eating of meat - in Latin, carnis - at least on the Fridays of Lent.

There is a linguistic reason as to why Catholics are allowed to eat fish on Fridays - even during Lent - and not meat, as Jimmy Akin explains: 
The most fundamental reason, however, is that in Latin and in the major European languages (French, Spanish, etc.), the word for “meat” never includes fish. Since the custom, for the Latin Rite of the Church, arose in Latin and Romance-language areas, it reflects this fact.
In fact, in English at the time arose, the same was true. The word “meat” at that point signified any and all food. To denote what we today call meat, the word “flesh” was used, and it too excluded fish. The system of classification that was used in English divided “meat” into “flesh, fish, and fowl.”
Since that time, the term “meat” has become restricted to what you find attached to the bones of mammals (flesh) and the bones of birds (fowl), and sometimes to what you find attached to the bones of fish, but that use is not universal even today.
In any event, the custom of eating fish but not flesh on Friday stems from this word usage in Western languages, in which there was a division between fish and what we today call “meat.”
For this custom, minimal as it is, Catholics in some parts of the country are still criticized or at least questioned, though they are rarely any longer derogatorily referred to as fisheaters. Sadly, most Catholics do not know how to respond to questions about why we do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent.
The most common objection given against this Catholic practice is that the custom began solely in order to benefit the fishmongers of Rome some centuries ago. This claim, of course, is sheer rubbish, both because Catholics are not required to eat fish (and so such a decree, if there was one, would not really benefit the fishmongers) and because no one who makes such a claim can point to a historical connection or decree. What is more, too, Catholics have been abstaining from meat on Fridays long before anyone attempts to make the fishmonger assertion.

But surely there is more than a linguistic reason as to why we are allowed to eat fish on Fridays? Of course, there is, though - in my estimation - it likely came later.

I've shared before that in his Liber Festivalis [Book of Festivals] (later 1400s), John Myre offered one reason - and to me a convincing one - as to why can eat fish on Fridays:
For when God, for Adam’s sin, cursed the earth and the land, he cursed not the water; wherefore it is lawful for a man to eat in Lent that which cometh of the water.
This has long seemed a good enough reason to me as to why Holy Mother Church permits us to eat fish on Fridays, even on the Fridays of Lent. But if this reason does not convince you, consider this explanation given by Saint Isidore of Seville (d. 636) in his De Ecclesiasticis Officiis:
We are certainly able to eat fish, because the Lord accepted one after the resurrection. Neither the savior nor the apostles have forbidden this (1.45[44].2).
The penances we take up on Fridays are, after all, intended to help us recall the sufferings the Lord willingly endured for us. His suffering, of course, did not end with his Death, but culminated in the Resurrection. The time of our resurrection, though, has not yet come, and so we now willingly take up some form of penance to join our sufferings to his.

If we, then, eat fish and not meat on Fridays as we remember the Lord's death, it can be an opportunity for us not only to give up the pleasure of a steak or a pulled pork sandwich (one of my favorites) but also an opportunity to remember the Lord's mercy and the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Amen. 


Barb, the Franciscan Mom, told me I should include the recipe for a delicious tuna pasta I found in one of Mr. Food's cookbooks:
  • 1 lb rainbow rotini (any pasta will work, but this one gives it some color)
  • 1 can (6 1/2 oz) solid white tuna, packed in water, drained (I usually use two cans)
  • 6-7 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed is best, and a little more never hurts)
  • 1/2 cup chopped freshly parsley (or 6 teaspoons dehydrated flakes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (a little more never hurts)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper (a little more never hurts, but not much more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed (the secret ingredient; again, a little more never hurts, though too much goes too far)
 Not only is it delicious, but it couldn't be easier. In fact, it's maybe too good for Lent!

26 February 2015

Ignoring Hitler did not stop him, and ignoring the Islamic State will not stop it, either

For reasons that I cannot fathom, NBC did not cover the kidnapping of some 150 Assyrian Christians by the Islamic State. NBC was not alone in this, as Telemundo and Univison also did not cover it, and ABC and CBS gave it only a passing mention.

It has been suggested for some time now - by those both within and without the media - that the media should not cover the activities and atrocities of the Islamic State because doing so gives them more exposure and turns the jihadists into celebrities.

As you might imagine, I have never agreed with this line of thinking because it is akin to saying, "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." It seems to indicate a certain line of thinking that if we ignore the Islamic State it will lose influence and fade away. This is simply foolish and very dangerous.

The argument makes as much sense as arguing that the media should not have covered the growing influence and strength of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis or the horrors of the Holocaust. No one - so far as I have seen - would make this argument about the Nazis, so why use it in reference to the Islamic State?

In many ways, though, too many people - both within and without the media - did in fact remain silent. They refused to see evil, hear evil, and speak of evil and so Hitler rose to power and he and his Nazis moved to eradicate the Jews, as this video demonstrates all too well:

Because people did not speak out and act forcefully when they knew full well horrendous evils were being committed by the Nazis, 11,000,000,000 were killed.

It happened not that long ago, and it can happen again today. I dare say it will, unless we change our response to the Islamic State.

Ignoring Hitler did not stop him. Ignoring the Islamic State will not stop it.

A prayer for peace in Syria

The U.K. branch of the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need has published the text of a prayer for peace in Syria composed by the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios II of Damascus:
Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to Paul your apostle in the sky above Damascus,
and who appeared to Ananias in his house,
just as you gave them your love, power and peace,
so we ask you, at their intercession, to save Syria from every evil.

We beseech you, through the intercession of your Mother, Mary ever-Virgin,
to whom you never refused grace,
to give us and your brothers and sisters in Syria
the ability to help bring peace to this land,
which you made the starting point of your light and love to the whole world.

May it become once more a land of peace, love, fellowship and stability
and be a beacon to the entire world.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for Syria.

St Paul, pray for all Christians in the Middle East.


Boko Haram Updates - February 2015

Regular readers of this blog know of my deep concern for the Christians suffering persecution throughout the world, especially in Iraq and Syria and also in Nigeria.

I've been following the growth in strength and territory of the Islamic militants of Boko Haram in the north east of Nigeria for many months now, providing continuing updates here since 26 February 2014.

Since the despicable activity of Boko Haram only continues to increase while most of the world remains either oblivious or indifferent to the extreme suffering wrought on so many in the name of Islam, I have decided to alter my coverage of Boko Haram by providing ongoing monthly updates (as I have been doing with the activities of the Islamic State). This series will be re-posted periodically on the blog itself, but will also remain easily available at the top of the side bar.

Previous Updates: 26 February 2014 - 29 January 2015

28 February 2015
27 February 2015
26 February 2015
25 February 2015
24 February 2015
23 February 2015
22 February 2015
21 February 2015
20 February 2015
19 February 2015
18 February 2015
17 February 2015
14 February 2015
13 February 2015
12 February 2015
11 February 2015
10 February 2015
9 February 2015
7 February 2015
6 February 2015
5 February 2015
4 February 2015
3 February 2015
2 February 2015
1 February 2015

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - February 2015

Previous Updates: January 2015 | December 2014 | November 2014 | October 2014 | April - November 2014

28 February 2015
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23 February 2015
22 February 2015
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