by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch
I. WEEKLY BRIEF
On April 4, 2017, a suspected sarin gas chemical weapons attack killed at least 85 people and sickened nearly 600 in the northwestern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The origin of the attack was disputed but the US expressed a high level of certitude in blaming the Assad government. In October 2013 Syria had joined the Chemical Weapons Convention vowing to relinquish its arsenal. The Trump administration in the last several weeks sent clear signals that the removal of Assad as president of Syria was no longer US policy. President Trump did not feel he could allow Assad's use of sarin gas as a response to his "peace feeler." On April 7 the US struck the Syrian Shayrat air base with Tomahawk missiles. The US believes that planes from Shayrat initiated the chemical attacks. The Russians were given a warning just before the attack to prevent unintended escalation. This was a clear message that chemical weapons would not be tolerated. In an important way this gives Trump more room for his initiative with both Russia and Syria. Senator McCain and Hillary Clinton both expressed hope Trump would escalate his response and adopt their shared policy of creating a no-fly zone to directly confront Russia and recommit the US to the salafist jihadists now fighting Assad. President Trump is not Barack Obama and even more importantly, he is not John McCain or Hillary Clinton. His attack does not constitute a strategic change yet. It was a measured particular response to an unexpected and reprehensible act that crossed a "type of weapons" line that is also an integral dimension of international relations.
There are two wars in Yemen -- one we should fight and one we should condemn. The fight we should condemn is the Saudi bombing of the Shiite Houthis. This is a hateful religiously based attack led by the young Deputy Crown Prince to curry favor with the Wahhabi clerics in his bid for succession after his father dies. There are a lot of older better men between him and the throne, but he is his father's beloved son and he needs to show the clerics he is serious in his all-out war against Shiites (not Iran per se but Shiites). The war the US should fight is against AQAP and ISIS, both Salafist Sunni groups who have a particular mission to direct attacks against Crusader nations in their homelands. Needless to say the Saudis have not been vigorous in fighting the Sunni Salafists. In fact by degrading Houthi forces, the Saudis have given AQAP much more room to maneuver. Making these critical strategic distinctions based on a knowledge of geography, history and communal loyalties is the only way one can seriously discuss "the war in Yemen." The US needs a group of strong patriotic senators who will open a serious strategic discussion of our enemies, allies, and goals in the Mideast. Long overdue.
I. NATIONS R&G ROUND UP
LIBERALS SEE RUSSIANS AND AMERICAN CHRISTIANS HAVE A LOT IN COMMON - THEY ARE RIGHT: From the Atlantic.
AN INTERVIEW WITH RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGREY LAVROV: Why can't we work with these grownups? The depth of historical and geographic understanding in these conversations should shame the hysteria of John McCain and Lindsey Graham as well as the conspiracy theorists of a "Russian under every bed" Democrats.
ON CHINA - DIPLOMACY NOT ENCIRCLEMENT: A different approach advised.
GIBRALTAR - A BRITISH COLONY ON THE TIP OF SPAIN: Ishaan Tharoor writes a daily column for the Washington Post called World Views. He is full of geographical and historical knowledge and a fine writer. He is pathologically anti-Trump which we can ascribe to his own historical and geographic milieu. Here is his fine introduction with maps of the Gibraltar dispute post Brexit. See also our Map on Monday: Gibraltar.
II. CULTURE OF LIFE, CULTURE OF PROTECTION
A BLACK MAN AND A WHITE MAN ON HOW TO PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE: Mike Pence and Ta Nehisi Coates.
DENNIS PRAGER ON DISTNCTIONS THAT ARE GOD'S SIGNATURE IN CREATION: His speech to Christians living by the Torah. Here is Mr Prager speaking for 40 minutes about the Torah and its huge stress on "separations" (e.g., life & death, animals & humans, God & man, holy & profane, male & female, good & evil).
THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE TRANSGENDERED: Well put.
ANTHONY ESOLEN ON THE LAND O LAKES STATEMENT 50 YEARS AGO ON AMERICAN CATHOLIC UNIVERSITIES: He calls it the Suicide Pact with nary the name of Jesus.
III. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
"They forgot that the liturgical act is not just a PRAYER, but also and above all a MYSTERY in which something is accomplished for us that we cannot fully understand but that we must accept and receive in faith, love, obedience and adoring silence. And this is the real meaning of active participation of the faithful."GETTING TO KNOW ST. BENEDICT: Russell Hittinger talk on Benedict's Dark Ages and ours. Tom Hoopes from Benedictine College on Rod Dreher book 'The Benedict Option.' Patrick Deneen on Benedict Option, as well as Tony Esolen and Archbishop Chaput books.
"Political Europe is rebuked for abandoning or denying its Christian roots. But the first to have abandoned her Christian roots and past is indisputably the post-conciliar Catholic Church."
"...the final purpose of every liturgical celebration is the glory and adoration of God, the salvation and sanctification of human beings, since in the liturgy “God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7)."
"the serious, profound crisis that has affected the liturgy and the Church itself since the Council is due to the fact that its CENTER is no longer God and the adoration of Him, but rather men and their alleged ability to “do” something to keep themselves busy during the Eucharistic celebrations."
Whittaker Chambers understood that there is no West without Christianity, and Christianity fell first in the East. His take on Benedict who brought a MODERATE RULE to bear on a dissipating culture:
Clearly, a cleft cut across the body of Christendom itself, and raised an overwhelming question: What, in fact, was the civilization of the West? If it was Christendom, why had it turned its back on half its roots and meanings and become cheerfully ignorant of those who had embodied them? If it was not Christendom, what was it? And what were those values that it claimed to assert against the forces of active evil that beset it in the greatest crisis of history since the fall of Rome? Did the failure of the Western World to know what it was lie at the root of its spiritual despondency, its intellectual confusion, its moral chaos, the dissolving bonds of faith and loyalty within itself, its swift political decline in barely four decades from hegemony of the world to a demoralized rump of Europe little larger than it had been in the crash of the Roman West, and an America still disputing the nature of the crisis, its gravity, whether it existed at all, or what to do about it?
Benedict had been born, toward the end of the fifth century, of good family in the sturdy countryside of Nursia, which lay close enough to Rome to catch the tremors of its sack, in 410, by Alaric‘s West Goths (the first time in eight hundred years that the city had fallen) and the shock of its sack by the Vandals, who, in 455 completed the material and human havoc that the West Goths had begun. To a Rome darkened by such disasters, Benedict had been sent to school as a boy of fourteen or fifteen. There he was shaken by the corrupt customs of his schoolmates, it is said. But we may surely conjecture that he was touched, too, like sensitive minds in our own day, by a sense of brooding, indefinable disaster, of doom still incomplete, for the Dark Ages were scarcely more than begun.
The boy fled from Rome, or, as we might say, ran away from school, and settled with a loose-knit congregation about thirty miles from the city. There he performed his first miracle. When, as a result, men called him good, he fled again. For, though he was a boy, he was clearly old enough to fear the world, especially when it praises. This time he fled into the desert wilderness near Subiaco, where for three years he lived alone in a cave. To those who presently found him, he seemed more like a wild creature than a man. Those were the years of the saint’s conquest of his flesh, his purgation, illumination, and perhaps his prayerful union with God. They must also have been the years when he plumbed all the perils of solitary austerities and the hermit life, by suffering them.
At any rate, the saint left Subiaco to enter on his first experience in governing a community of monks. He returned to Subiaco, and, in twelve years, organized twelve Benedictine communities. His days were filled with devotion and with labor and touched with miracles. But again human factors threatened failure. St. Benedict with a few companions withdrew to Monte Cassino, some eighty miles southeast of Rome. There he overthrew an ancient altar of Apollo (for paganism was still rooted in the countryside), and there he raised his own altar. On those heights, he organized his community, ruled his monks, performed new miracles, distilled his holy experience in his Holy Rule. There he died at a date which is in dispute, but was probably about 547, when the campaigns of the Eastern Roman Empire to recover Italy from the East Goths had so permanently devastated the Peninsula that the irruption of the Lombards into the ruins brought a new horror rather than any novelty in havoc.
Against that night and that ruin, like a man patiently lighting a wick in a tempest, St. Benedict set his Rule. There had been other monastic Rules before—St. Pachomius’ and St. Basil’s, for example. St. Benedict called his the Holy Rule, setting it down and setting it apart from all others, with a consciousness of its singular authority that has led some biographers to speculate whether he had not been prompted by the Holy See to write it. Perhaps it is permissible to hazard that his authority need have proceeded from nothing more than that unwavering confidence which commonly sustains genius.
What was there in this little book that changed the world? To us, at first glance, it seems prosaic enough, even fairly obvious. That, indeed, is the heart of its inspiration. In an age of pillar saints and furiously competing athletes of the spirit, when men plunged by thousands into the desert, in a lunge toward God, and in revulsion from man, St. Benedict’s Rule brought a saving and creative sanity. Its temper was that of moderation as against excesses of zeal, of fruitful labor as against austerities pushed to the point of fruitlessness, of discipline as against enthusiasm, of continence of spirit and conduct as against incontinence.
It has been said (by T. F. Lindsay in his sensitive and searching St. Benedict) that, in a shattered society, the Holy Rule, to those who submitted to its mild but strict sway, restored the discipline and power of Roman family life. I venture that it did something else as well. For those who obeyed it, it ended three great alienations of the spirit whose action, I suspect, touched on that missing something which my instructors failed to find among the causes of the fall of Rome. The same alienations, I further suspect, can be seen at their work of dissolution among ourselves, and are perhaps among the little noticed reasons why men turn to Communism. They are: the alienation of the spirit of man from traditional authority; his alienation from the idea of traditional order; and a crippling alienation that he feels at the point where civilization has deprived him of the joy of simple productive labor.
These alienations St. Benedict fused into a new surge of the human spirit by directing the frustrations that informed them into the disciplined service of God. At the touch of his mild inspiration, the bones of a new order stirred and clothed themselves with life, drawing to itself much of what was best and most vigorous among the ruins of man and his work in the Dark Ages, and conserving and shaping its energy for that unparalleled outburst of mind and spirit in the Middle Ages. For about the Benedictine monasteries what we, having casually lost the Christian East, now casually call the West, once before regrouped and saved itself.
So bald a summary can do little more than indicate the dimensions of the Benedictine achievement and plead for its constant re-examination. Seldom has the need been greater. For we sense, in the year 1952, that we may stand closer to the year 410 than at any other time in the centuries since. If that statement seems as extreme as any of Salvian’s, three hundred million Russians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, East Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, and all the Christian Balkans, would tell you that it is not—would tell you if they could lift their voices through the night of the new Dark Ages that have fallen on them. For them the year 410 has already come.
[Mr. Chambers' essay forms a part of "Saints For Now," edited by Clare Boothe Luce, published by Sheed & Ward. -- copyright 1952 Sheed & Ward, Inc., New York.]