Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is This (Social) Justice? Part 2

I appreciate the comments to Part 1. Let me try to give my thoughts on this issue and the associated dilemma we face. I will give my recent experience chronologically.

On Monday, our speaker for RCIA gave the talk on social justice. It was a well balanced discussion that properly presented the hierarchy of for-sure-don'ts such as abortion vs. think-about-its like buying coffee from a "green" company. There was still a point at which he indicated that the Church teaches we need to open our hearts to all immigrants, including-- with dramatic pause and critical stare-- illegals. In the context of the RCIA class, it all went down pretty easily.

Then Tuesday came, and we got the news of the Cottonwood bus accident. Then on Wednesday on my way to work I heard the (alleged) name of the guilty driver-- Morales. My spidey senses tingled and, much like JThorp's boss I wondered in very short order whether this woman was an illegal immigrant. Unlike JThorp, however, I don't feel like it's a "sad" situation to think this way, nor is it even sadder that my intuition was borne out.

I thought this way because we have created a social dynamic whereby following the law has become optional for a hefty segment of our population, namely illegal immigrants. I truly believe that by becoming passive and lax about immigration, the message is that laws can be ignored. Such is the case here-- this woman didn't have a license; clearly doesn't have any driving skill; and is thus a deadly menace on the road. In fact, she had already been picked up by local police for erratic driving-- they didn't think it was all that unusual that a "Morales" would be driving that way without a license and thus they didn't report her to immigration authorities so she could be deported. That's the real "sad" situation, that the apathy toward legal authority is now so commonplace that the cops in Cottonwood didn't feel like they should do anything about it. They could have saved those children's lives.

So, I completely disagree with our RCIA speaker that I need to "welcome" illegal immigrants. I don't. But at this late hour, when it's not practical to kick 12 million illegals out, we should at least deport any illegal that commits a crime. The Catechism says that's OK.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Congrats to Laura the Crazy Mama!

Laura had her new baby boy Thomas Harold yesterday. Her sister has provided all the details on Laura's blog, so run over there and read all about it!

The world is a little brighter this morning, and about 9 lbs. 4 oz. crazier.

Is This (Social) Justice? Part 1

In the midst of hearing details concerning the recent tragedy in Cottonwood, MN I believe we Catholics have had a thorny dilemma handed to us, as we are torn between our Church's direction to open our hearts to all immigrants, including illegals, while expecting them (and ourselves too of course) to obey the law of the land. I don't believe these elements of our faith as Catholics are mutually exclusive; in fact, they are complimentary.

If you don't know the story, here is one link to a local news outlet with some details that will explain what happened.

Bottom line: a woman apparently ran a stop sign at high speed, crashed into a school bus and killed four children, and injured several more and the bus driver and another vehicle's driver. This woman didn't have a license, used a name that was false, worked at a factory nearby and is most likely an illegal immigrant.

The CCC only has one paragraph (2241) that seems to wrap together the facets of illegal immigration and our response to it:

"The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens."

Children can be (and are) sadly killed by full-blown American citizens and legal immigrants on an all-too-frequent basis; that's not really the true issue at hand. The thorny problem we face is how to "welcome the foreigner" if it means overlooking the "juridical conditions" of their presence here in the United States? I will try to pull this together in Part 2, but I'd like to wait a couple of days and get others' thoughts on this question.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Get That Sponge Wet!

I recently got some really good advice during Confession, that got me thinking. One of my (many) faults is my propensity to be uncharitable toward others, especially my impatience with their faults and my skepticism about their motives.

My confessor asked me to consider making myself like a sponge for God's mercy; as a sponge dipped in water will rapidly absorb a great deal of water, I should more fully open my own heart to His unending mercy so that I might more easily and readily use it in my relations with others. It was a very nice way to help me and I did some reflection on it (this was actually my penance, so I can't take credit for being a much of a philosopher).

Once a sponge is soaked in water, what then? A fully-loaded sponge is no good unless you use it for something; left sitting it will eventually dry up and become useless. So too with God's mercy if we don't apply it in our daily lives, as Father suggested to me. And the neat thing about a sponge is that the water in it can be discharged very quickly, or moderately as needed. And not to worry, because the dry sponge is readily replenished once again, for as long as we need. Finally, to complete the analogy: if God's mercy is the water for our sponge, then it comes from a bottomless bucket.

I invite you to meditate on this imagery. I hope it helps someone as it did me.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Taking of Life...

To follow up somewhat on my last post about the Church's consistent approach to the sanctity of life, I thought it might be instructive (for me!) to refer back the Catechism. And so it was.

Two of the the bigger issues debated far and wide, are abortion and the death penalty. Politically, they have been used by both conservatives and liberals to try to prove hypocrisy by the other: how can one be against abortion as a "life thing," but be for the death penalty; or be against the death penalty as a "life thing," and be pro-abortion? I believe there is a general (mis)understanding of how the Church views these issues; that is, many folks think the Church teaches that both abortion and the death penalty are morally wrong. In fact, the Church's position are these issues are very different: one (abortion) is morally wrong in all cases; the other (death penalty) is permissible and is in fact a moral obligation of the civil authority, under certain circumstances. To wit:
  • "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law..." CCC 2271
  • "Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense..." CCC 2272

  • "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm." CCC 2265
  • "Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor... Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." CCC 2267
The CCC is such a wonderfully written and formative work, and a treasure for which Catholics should never lose their appreciation.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Amazing Recovery

Many of you many have already heard of this story-- a woman was declared brain dead after a brain aneurism, and her family eventually decided to take her home to die. But, the woman suddenly "awoke" and is now doing fine.

I think there are a couple of messages in this story.

One, hope is a good thing. "Miracles" do happen sometimes. If I understand the terminology correctly, "brain dead" means no brain function, no basic processes such as breathing, and no chance of recovery; this woman was kept alive with at least a breathing tube. So her recovery seems extraordinary.

Second, the aspect of the story that really piqued me as a Catholic: so much of the secular, modern world races us toward death. "No hope, time to pull the plug," was the message. This woman's family relented and agreed. Of course the Church does not require extraordinary means to keep one alive, so I suppose taking her off life support would be deemed permissible, as long as food and water was not removed.

I guess my thought here is that, as tough as these situations are, we should do what we can to follow the Church's holistic position on the sanctity of life.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Are you saved?

At the root of question is are you forgiven; are you saved from the wrath of God?
The gospel today is the Lord ’s Prayer as found in Mt;
“…and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”

Followed by;
“…If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you…”

This is a prayer that will always be answered. This is an act that will always gain merit.
If you do this you will be forgiven and saved.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Meditating on Readings: First Sunday of Lent

One of the recent insights the RCIA class received from Father Becker, during his talk on the Eucharist, was the benefit of ritual at the Mass. In addition to the unity it provides to all of the faithful, the ritual during the Liturgy allows us to more deeply contemplate the Eucharist. I've taken this to heart and have begun to meditate on the power and meaning of the Eucharist before and after I've taken Communion, and I would have to say I'm very grateful for Father's advice. I'd like to start doing this more in other ways that I approach my faith, meditating on the meaning rather than just the literal language of it. I don't intend to be some kind of "armchair theologian," but just to try to get deeper into meditative prayer.

In today's readings, we get an opportunity to reflect on the wonderful construction of, and relationship between, the Old and New Testaments. We covered this in the RCIA class' Dismissal today and again it was a real help to me. The two readings juxtapose the Fall in the Garden, and Christ's temptation after forty days of fasting in the desert.

A few good reflections that came out Father's homily and our subsequent discussion:

  • As Paul points out in the second reading, there was one sin which condemned Man and one atonement that saved Man.

  • Eve (mankind) and Christ were both tempted by food, honor, power and eternal life. Jesus is explicitly offered kingdoms while Eve is deceived into thinking that she and Adam can become "like gods," implying all of the things that Satan offered Jesus. Of course, Mankind fell but Christ resisted.

  • There were two "named trees" in the Garden: Knowledge (of good and evil) and Life. Once the first forbidden fruit had been eaten, God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden lest they eat of the tree of Life and live forever with their "damaged" selves. We continue the struggle in our damaged own selves. It would take Christ's atonement for their sin to bring Mankind back to eternal life in our eventual glorified bodies.

  • At a more basic level, Jesus' temptation reminds us that we are constantly being tempted with things that are "delightful to look at." We must keep up the fight and resist, using Jesus as our example.

  • Christ was fully human when he was tempted; this should give us hope that we humans can ultimately perservere against sin, with the aid of the Sacraments and the Holy Spirit.

  • We must remember that Satan is very clever. Not only does he fool Adam and Eve with the luscious fruit, and ultimately uses their pride against them, but he actually quotes Scripture in tempting Christ the second time, in the manner that Christ used Scripture to rebuff Satan's temptations. Be on guard against the things that might make you feel good now, but are really leading you to sin.

God bless us all during this Lenten season!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Lenten Practice

I read this;

The Church lives, wherever the corporal works of mercy are practiced:
feeding the hungry
giving drink to the thirsty
clothing the naked
giving shelter to strangers
liberating prisoners
visiting the sick
burying the dead

The Church also lives, wherever the spiritual works of mercy are practiced;
correcting sinners
teaching the ignorant
giving counsel to the doubters
comforting the distressed
enduring the troublesome
forgiving those who offend us
praying for the living and the dead

Then I wondered since the family is the domestic church why can’t our family do each of these over the next 38 days? There is no reason.
The spiritual acts of mercy describe any given day in the Germanicus household; we will just be more intentional about finding “teaching moments”
As far as corporal acts of mercy I want to put in a plug for a CRS program called “Social Safety Net”. This is from the website

Safety Net Program Overview
A "safety net" is assistance for extremely vulnerable individuals who are unable to meet the most basic needs for survival and human dignity. Individuals may be unable to meet these needs due to an external shock - such as natural disasters or war - or due to socioeconomic circumstances, such as age, illness, disabilities or discrimination. Such individuals are usually completely dependent upon outside resources to meet their basic food and livelihood needs.
CRS, in its commitment and challenge to live out the tenets of Catholic social teaching (CST), takes as its point of origin the inherent dignity and equality of the human person. CST focuses on "those members of society with the greatest needs (who) require the greatest response and attention."
CRS recognizes the responsibility of the State and civil society to provide for the basic needs and the common good of its people. To encourage the fulfillment of this responsibility, CRS supports civil society by "strengthening the capacity of local organizations to advocate for improved government services to meet basic needs." (Applying the Justice Lens to Programming, CRS Occasional Paper, July 1998)
However, when governments and local communities are unable or unwilling to provide for the basic needs of the most vulnerable, there is a moral imperative for the broader human community to respond. This is the basis for CRS' safety net programming.
Who Do These Activities Reach?
The most vulnerable include the following:
· Persons residing indefinitely in institutions, such as the terminally ill, those who are severely disabled mentally or physically, or elderly pensioners.
· Persons temporarily housed in institutions, including children and adults who are hospitalized or participate in residential rehabilitative services or skills training.
· Persons temporarily in need of assistance while living in the community, including marginalized individuals or households that are unable to adequately care for themselves, either due to a mental or physical disability, illness, age, destitution, or low social status, but who are not under the care of an institution.
In some cases, those who are extremely vulnerable will remain so for an indefinite period of time and may need assistance for the rest of their lives.
In other cases, vulnerable individuals may only be temporarily in need of assistance such as orphans or the temporarily displaced. Later, they may be able to care for themselves.
Background of CRS' Safety Net Program
The purpose of safety net programs - also referred to as "non-emergency humanitarian assistance" or "general relief" - is to meet individuals' immediate food security needs while creating a foundation for more sustainable food and livelihood security.
The needs of the extremely vulnerable include:
Basic health care
Lack of adequate food is often the greatest threat to extremely vulnerable populations. Safety net programming seeks to meet immediate food needs, while at the same time providing the necessary services and training to allow individuals to become food secure. Using food aid from the U.S. government, CRS provides food to safety net populations through institutions or communities.
CRS also works with and through local institutions to provide complementary assistance such as medical care and counseling, education, or skills training, to individuals who have the opportunity to meet their food and livelihood needs in the future. At the broader level, CRS works to ensure that the most vulnerable populations will be cared for in the future by building institutions' capacity and by lobbying host governments for improved safety net care.

Inspirational Excerpt

One of the books recommended by Serviam! has been a great source of inspiration for me: "In Conversation with God," by Fr. Francis Fernandez. This is actually a series of volumes with readings for each day. I found this excerpt (which is actually taken from "Time to Believe," by A.G. Dorronsoro) within the reading for Ash Wednesday, in writing of Lent and our possible lukewarmness to it:

"...we should immediately refer it to this type of examination: 'I do not seem to have the ability to perservere: I am not close to Christ. I am not cheerful: I am not close to Christ. And Christ is saying: Come on! Turn around! Return to me with all your heart!'

It is time for each one of us to recognise that he is being urged on by Jesus Christ. Those of us who sometimes feel inclined to put off this decision should know that, now, the moment has come. Those of us who are pessimistic and who think there is no remedy for our defects should know that the moment has arrived. Lent is starting. Let us look on it as a time of change and hope."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Prayer and Fasting

Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday – the great pseudo holy day of obligation. Lent is the penitential season of prayer and fasting; one (prayer) grasping for the things of God and the other (fasting) releasing the things of this earth.

But while both are necessary tools in the spiritual life, they are not equals.

As Christians, we just know that we should strive to always pray more deeply, more often. Many saints say it is possible to receive the grace to live your life as a prayer, constantly aware of God’s presence. To be in constant, conscious communion with God is something that is as extreme as it gets, yet it is what we are made for. To be too prayerful is never itself a sin - it’s a gift.

But the same thing can’t be said for fasting, or self-denial. Self-denial is a little like salt in that it is great when used right, but if too much of too little is used it just messes things up. I’m going to go out on a limb here had say that there aren’t a lot of people overdoing it with the salt today. Overall I’d say our world is not quite as salty as it should be, but you can find some pretty extreme examples.

The attitude toward fasting and self-denial has undergone quite a change over time. What was a completely accepted practice in times past is looked at with shock and horror today. And what we think of as fasting and self-denial would have, at one point in Church history, been considered self-indulgent.

Here are a couple examples of extreme asceticism I found interesting.

The “Stylites” were a group who practiced a very unique form of self-denial. They would climb to the top of a pillar and live there, spending all their time praying, fasting, and occasionally preaching. In one case, a man climbed to the top of a pillar and spent his entire life on it until he died – 67 years later!

The “Dendrites” choose to live their lives in a tree. Often they would chain themselves to a branch up in the tree to assure that their feet would never again touch the filth of the fallen world.

The “Grazers” or Boskoi, refused shelter of any sort, choosing instead to live their lives outdoors exposed to the elements. They would wander around the countryside (some stories claim they did this on all fours) praying, singing, and eating nothing but grass.

There are many examples, with some trends I've noticed. More from the east than west, more from the early Church than the later, and more from the religious than the laity, and most interestingly more Saints than other.

It may seem strange that the Church point to someone who spent 36 years on the top of a pillar only a few feet wide and over 50 feet tall out of love for God and tell us he's a Saint. But we can trust that the gift God has given to him was greater than our understanding of it - and be thankful that same gift hasn't be regifted to us.

Though not many of us are called to extreme levels of asceticism, we are all called to some. Even outside of Lent. I’ve been told before that a good rule of thumb is that if someone else notices your self-denial, you maybe over doing it - God desires us to get the flesh under control and in its proper place, not destroy it. It’s not the fasting or self-denial that is the goal, it’s our sanctification.

As St. Jerome said:
“Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection.”

But I pray that we're all challenged and lead to climb up our own pillars this Lent leading us to encounter God in a way that previously would have seemed ... impossible.

Have a great Lent!

Monday, February 4, 2008

The First Crusade - The Conclusion

While all the action around Nicaea and Antioch was taking place, a major event in the Moslem word was also occurring. An Arab Moslem group known as the Fatimids arose out of Egypt, and took Jerusalem from the Turkish Moslems by force. This was an important development for the Crusaders as they made their way to Jerusalem, though they may not have know it.

With Jerusalem now out of Turkish hands, the Turkish cities along the Crusader’s path did not have the same motivation to attack and slow the Crusader’s advance. The Arab Fatamids had just taken the city from the Turks and they saw little reason to stop the Crusaders from marching down and smacking them. If the Crusaders agreed not to attack their cities, the Turkish Moslems would provide them a few supplies and allow them to pass unimpeded.

So with little resistance, the Crusaders marched to Jerusalem and on June 1099 they put the city under siege. But once again, things were looking rough for this group. Just as it was at Antioch, their supplies were low and with the water supply failing, the summer heat took its toll on the army.

Also like Antioch, Jerusalem was a well-fortified city with large walls. The Crusaders at one point made an attempt to attack and breech the city’s walls but failed miserably. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, news came that the Fatamids had raised a massive army and it was marching their way.

And just when it looked the darkest, a preacher came forward to deliver an amazingly strange yet effective sermon. Who was that preacher you ask? None other than our pal Peter the Hermit. I’m not sure if the fact that they listened to the guy who led a group of peasants to their suicidal death a couple years before speaks more of his skill in communication, or their desperate situation, but listen to him they did.

Peter, on the Mount of Olives (always a fan of the dramatic), told the Crusaders that God told him that to take the city of Jerusalem they must prepare themselves by performing penance. And after that, to march around the walls of Jerusalem three times while singing. If they would have only gone around four more times they would have taken care of the walls.

The Crusaders did what Peter had recommended, along with adding some new siege engines to their arsenal, and were able to breech the walls on July 15th. While there were civilians killed while taking the city, the numbers usually quoted are ridiculously inflated. But now, after thousands of miles and many years, Jerusalem was once again under Christian control, and would remain tat way for the next two hundred years.

And this is where the First Crusade ends.

But what about the huge Fatamid army moving towards Jerusalem? Well it seems that the Crusaders were able to find the camp and stage an ambush. The battle that took place there is known as the Battle of Ascalon. And though the Fatamid army was larger, they were not terribly effective fighters. The Crusaders were able to route the Moslem army and send them into a full-blown retreat. Who knows, maybe the cry of “God wills it!” had some truth to it after all.

The First Crusade - Part 3

Well since Peter the Hermit and his “army” left before the main forces of Europe, they were the first to arrive at Constantinople. Here they combined forces with a group having a little more military experience lead by a knight named Walter the Penniless. It doesn’t take much to imagination what the Byzantine Emperor’s reaction was when they arrived.

A huge group of ragged, pitchfork- wielding peasants wasn’t exactly what Alexeis had imagined. When he told the group to hang out and wait until the actual warriors arrived, they became a little restless. They were convinced that they were on a divine mission and demanded to be ferried across by the Byzantines. Growing tired of them; the Emperor gave in and transported them across the Bosporus Straight.

After actually having a small amount of success with minor raids on small towns, they caught the Turks attention. Peter the Hermit had made a trip back to Constantinople to gather supplies when the Turkish army attacked the group. A few escaped, a few converted to Islam, but the vast majority - men, women, and children - were massacred by the Turks.

But, back to the main story. The knights of Europe and their forces arrived in Constantinople separately. As word of their numbers reached the Byzantine Emperor Alexeis, he became a little worried. While a huge group of peasants wasn’t what he had expected, an army of 50,000 wasn’t either. First of all, that many boots stomping across you land can be slightly disruptive. And secondly, the emperor was interested in not only driving the Turks out, but also regaining the areas he once controlled.

So as the knights arrived at Constantinople, the emperor demanded they take an oath saying that the Crusaders would return any land conqueror to the Byzantine Empire. The commanders were not very happy about this, but consented to doing it because the emperor refused to ferry them across to Asia Minor until they did. And until they all had crossed, the Crusade could not continue.

Once across, the Crusader forces headed for Nicaea. As the Crusaders had the city under siege, the Turkish commander who destroyed the “People’s Crusade” brought his troops up to attack and lift the siege. It seems that the Turks greatly underestimated the Crusaders, possibly thinking that this was another peasant army. But a peasant army it was not, and the Turks were beaten badly and routed. Without a Turkish army to help, Nicaea surrendered to the Byzantine emperor. The first major victory of the Crusades was history.

From Nicaea, the Crusaders began their long march to Antioch. The path from Nicaea to Antioch was a mix of desert and farm fields whose crops the Turks had burned. Marching a long distance over desert land during the summer without food can be hard on a soldier’s morale and health. Instead of accompanying the Crusaders, the Byzantine emperor decided to return to Constantinople and raise more troops (and maybe wait for cooler weather?). He promised that once he did, that he would return to help the Crusaders at Antioch.

In October of 1097 the Crusaders arrived at Antioch. Antioch was a huge city with huge walls which caused a huge problem. The Crusaders laid siege to the city over the winter, but with Antioch’s size, and its ports, it was hard to stop all the food from entering the city. And as time went on the Crusaders, like a group of locusts, had exhausted the land around the city of its food.

With many of the Crusaders dying of starvation, news arrived that a massive Turkish force had been raised and was headed their way. It was a tough situation; starvation, despair, and desertions spiked. Things around camp were a smidge gloomy. Even Peter the Hermit was caught trying to flea.

One knight, Stephen of Blois, feeling the situation was hopeless deserted (yes, he was French) and headed back toward Constantinople. On his way, he met Alexeis coming with a force to help the Crusaders at Antioch. Stephen informed the emperor that the situation was hopeless and that traveling to Antioch with his forces would mean disaster. Alexeis, interested in being more practical than noble, took the advice and returned to Constantinople, deserting the Crusaders when they desperately needed his help. When the word reached the Crusaders, they were furious. After all, they had traveled a long way in pretty nasty conditions to help the emperor out. The oaths sworn to the emperor were now renounced.

But the Crusaders needed to get into the city and it began to look like it would take a miracle. Miracles can come in different forms. Some take the form of mind-boggling events, which run against the very laws of nature. Others look more like finding out that a captain of the Antioch guard is Christian and willing to leave the gate unlocked one night – for a price of course. So during the night, the crusaders entered through an unlocked gate and took the city.

It was great to be in the city, but since they had just spent the last several months starving its population, the Crusaders still didn’t have much to eat. The Turks reached the city’s walls and laid siege to it. It began to look like this would be where the Crusade would end.

But just when it looked the darkest, a mystic had a vision in which he was told where the Holy Spear was buried. Bonus. Without much to loose, the Crusaders began digging at the location, and you know what? A spearhead was found, and new hope was given the Crusaders. Reminding us all that the “mystic having a vision of where the Holy Spear is buried” maneuver should never be written off.

With the current situation, it was decided that the only chance, and honorable way, was to leave the city and meet the Turkish forces head on. The spearhead found was placed at the end of a pole and was carried into battle. The Crusaders gathered together and marched out into battle.

The Turks were completely unaware of the number of men the Crusading forces had. When the Crusaders began pouring out from the city, the Turks realized that this was going to be a much greater battle than they had originally expected. Faced with the possibility of unforeseen heavy losses, the coalition of Turkish forces began to break apart and the force dissolved with very little fighting.

The Crusaders had defeated the larger Turkish army despite what they considered the Byzantine emperor’s treachery and cowardice. Because of this, Antioch would not be turned over to the emperor, and the goal of unifying the east and west would suffer because of it. Next stop, Jerusalem.

To be continued …

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The First Crusade - Part 2

To understand just how humbling this was for the emperor it’s helpful to look at a little of the history between the East and West. When the Roman Empire was at its peak, it included both the east and west, as most empires do I suspect. The East was wealthier and eventually became the center of power. In 476, the western half of the Empire fell to barbarians leaving what was the east now the center.

While “Byzantine” is used today to refer to the eastern half, it was not used then. The east of that period considered themselves the Roman Empire, and the Western Europeans lovingly as the offspring of barbarians.

And there was also little incident of papal legates delivering a document of excommunication against the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Patriarch in turn anathemised (is that a word?) them in 1054. This was the final straw in rising tensions between East and West resulting in the “Great Schism”. With this all happening only a generation earlier, the relations between the two were a little icy.

But the emperor did send out the S.O.S. It was actually sent it out twice. The first went to Pope Gregory VII who immediately began plans to respond with noble hopes that the rift between east and west could be healed. But due to some “complications” at the time in Europe (the Investiture Controversy), Pope Gregory VII was not able to respond.

The second call for help was sent by the Emporer Alexeis I Comnenus to Pope Urban II in 1095, asking the western Christians to have pity on those of the east. Pope Urban II accepted the plea and made an appeal to the Knights of Europe. The Pope gave a speech outlining the atrocities and injustices done to Christians in the East, and especially Jerusalem. The speech, while not quite politically correct by today’s standards, had a great effect on those who heard it. And on November 1095 at Claremont France, the Crusades were born. Mother and child are doing well. It was decided that the Crusade would begin on August 15, 1096. This would allow one year to prepare the men, supplies, and money needed for the journey.

Preachers were sent out across Europe to preach the Crusade. When the population heard about what had happened at Jerusalem, the near impossibility of pilgrimage, and the cry for help from the eastern Christians they responded with great enthusiasm (and a little rage). With the battle cry of “God wills it!” thousands of warriors “took the cross” and made a vow to travel to Jerusalem, delivering mercy and justice along the way.

The people responded to such a degree in fact, that it had to be made clear the Pope was looking for warriors, not common folk to join the Crusade. The commoners were asked to stay home and support the effort any way they could, but to not travel with the warriors causing a burden to them since commoners are much better at eating food than they are swinging swords. Monks and clergy were also forbidden to join without had special permission.

Peter the Hermit was one of the preachers who went out across Europe. Peter was an extremely popular and effective preacher as all hermits are known to be. His preaching convinced thousands of people to take the cross and join the Crusade. But there was one small problem; the people he was convincing were commoners, not warriors. Peter managed to convince the people that God’s protection would be on them since they were fighting for God’s cause. Peter left early with his group of about 35,000 non-warrior types, leaving before the August 15, 1096 date set earlier by the Pope. This group is known as the “People’s Crusade”.

So the warriors of Europe, answering the call for help, set out to rendezvous at Constantinople led by the great knights of Europe. It was at Constantinople that they would gather together and begin their quest to help the Christians of the East and push the Muslims out of Jerusalem.

To be continued …

Friday, February 1, 2008

The First Crusade - Part 1

Ok, so the johnny-come-lately Turks were moving into Asia Minor and were causing quite a little stir. The Byzantine and Persian Empires, the “powers” in the area, had just spent years slugging it out leaving them both weak and not much of a match militarily for the Turks. With the Persians curled up in a fetal position licking their wounds, the Turks had great success taking huge areas of the Middle East including Palestine and Jerusalem.

Arab Muslims had held Jerusalem for a couple centuries before the Turks took it. But the Arab Muslims, knowing that Jerusalem’s only real economic value was pilgrimages, allowed the Christian residents and pilgrims a certain amount of religious freedom.

But when the Turks took the city they kind of went Medieval on the Christians there, persecuting clergy, burning Churches, and killing pilgrims. Now nothing quite kills the tourist industry like killing the tourists, and after a short amount of time the pilgrimages slowed to a standstill.

Moved by compassion and pity, and a vanishing source of income, the Turks realized that the situation needed to change. The Turkish policies aimed at persecuting Christians were softened, but hearts are harder to change than policies and so this had little success in changing the situation. Much of the problem was due to the fact that the Turks were much better at taking land than they were at governing it. The ongoing violence toward Christians and the general lawlessness in the area made pilgrimages to Jerusalem a very dangerous undertaking.

With Palestine under their belts, the Turks now set their eyes on the rest of Asia Minor. The problem was that this land was held by the Byzantine Empire. To solve that problem, the Turks waged a Jihad against the Byzantines. With tensions running high, as they are known to immediately preceding most wars, the Turks and the Byzantine armies gathered themselves together and met in battle at Manzikert in 1071.

The Battle of Manzikert was a complete disaster for the Byzantines. The casualty rate for the Byzantine army would have been much greater, but their ability to run faster than the Turks proved invaluable. Their army was not only crushed and routed, but the Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes was taken prisoner.

The Turks had now taken the entire area of Asia Minor. The Byzantine Empire, which was now all that was left of the Great Roman Empire, was reduced to the area we know as Greece and the city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). With lots of angry men with swords cutting into his empire, the Byzantine emperor had no choice but to ask the only other Christian power in the world for help. He turned to Western Europe and sent out a desperate plea for help.

And we all know how desperate you have to be to be asking Western Europe for help. ;-)

To be continued ...

The First Crusade - Humble Intoduction

A month or so ago Mrs. Serviam! suggested I move away from posting “boring history stuff” and try other more “interesting stuff". So I did – or at least I thought. Last night we were talking and she said she thought I should go back to that “history stuff". Ouch.

So I got the OK from my Mrs. Serviam! to try a small series on the First Crusade. But she told me to keep it light and not to "get bogged down in really boring details". I'm also to shy away from too many names and dates because "people don't really care about those things." I do not claim to be a expert on the subject, but I do have an interest. And with the guidelines I've been given, that should be more than enough.

I’m not sure how many parts to the series there will be, but I can promise you one thing: it will be finished before Lent starts (Ash Wednesday). I’ll not be contributing to the blog during Lent. As great as it is to talk about God, talking to Him is better.

But with that said, let’s begin.