Catholic News Watch
September 15, 2006

Mark Alessio

A Miracle in Ephesus

On Sunday, August 20, 2006, as a result of the torrid heat and strong dry winds sweeping across Turkey, 23 enormous forest fires were reported at the same time along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The fires, which struck crowded tourist areas such as Bodrum and Antalya, eventually destroyed 1,200 hectares of forest.

Situated upon the side of Bulbul Mountain (9 kilometers from the ancient Greek city of Ephesus) is the Panaya Kapulu, the “House (or Gate) of the Most Holy One,” a small, two-room structure believed to have been the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Her sojourn to Ephesus with St. John. The physical details of this house and its location – set on a hill, rectangular in plan with a round back wall, apse and hearth, beside which ran a small stream – correspond to descriptions of Mary’s residence in Ephesus written by the Catholic mystic, Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1820).

Fully immersed in greenery, the House of Our Lady, today a shrine visited by both Catholic and Muslim pilgrims, risked going up in flames as fire spread upwards from the bottom of the hill, furiously burning everything in its path. But, the Virgin’s house was spared when the roaring flames came to a miraculous halt just one meter (a little over three feet) short of the shrine.

As reported by Asia News (Aug. 26, 2006), the extraordinary nature of the event was confirmed by an Italian Capuchin, Fr. Adriano Franchini, resident of Meryem Ana Evi (Mary’s house) and superior of the Custody of Turkey:

Yes, we had a rough time .... We feared the wind may change direction and we would be trapped; the speed with which the flames spread and advances among the pine trees was incredible. We had to escape quickly amid tears and desperate searching for relatives, but everyone was able to reach safety. When we came together down in Selcuk (a town at the foot of the hill), the first news that reached us from the helicopters, when they finally arrived, was really bad: everything is burning, nothing will be saved! Then there was a ray of optimism ... at last, towards the evening, there was the realization that the fire had been truly devastating, spreading across a large area and all around Meryem Ana and our homes, but the shrine and homes had remained intact!

According to Fr. Franchini, the fire around the shrine reached the benches outside, where Mass is celebrated out in the open, and stopped there. “Even around our houses, the fire reached the outer wall on three sides,” he added, “and a burnt tree fell on the roof but the flames did not take hold in the residence; even a palm tree one meter from the house was burnt to cinders!”

None of the many pilgrims present were injured and the incident did nothing to stop the influx of tourists and believers, who are currently going in even greater numbers to take stock of the disaster and to admire the miracle.

The Blessed Virgin Assaulted in Prose

This past May saw the publication of The Book of Mary: A Novel, the first “adult” novel by children’s book author, Gail Sidonie Sobat. Sumach Press, the publisher of the book, describes it as “provocative and irreverent,” a tale in which Mary “is a wise-cracking, smart-mouthed teenager writing about  her own misfortunes.” The promotional blurb also announces that, “in the unorthodox portrayal of the world of women during the time of Jesus of Galilee, Sobat sidesteps traditional stereotypes to breathe life into a character who has too often been reduced to a symbol.”

A review of The Book of Mary: A Novel by Ibi Kaslik of Canada’s Globe & Mail states:

The image of Mary depicted by Sidonie Sobat is not the virginal, devoted, passive creature that has been upheld by Christian society as the universal mother figure in the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. Rather, this Mary is both mother and whore; this Mary is a sexually passionate, doubtful, active feminist who faces issues from STDs to cross-dressing. She also runs a shelter for the sick and dispossessed called Wellhouse, as she frets for her soul and her messianic son.

The reviewer, while sympathetic to Sobat’s feminist views and contempt for the Gospels, laments the novel’s “unfortunately weak writing”:

Characters are flat and speak in clichés or eulogies, while the bevy of sentence fragments adds to the one-dimensional style. The fact that Mary uses Yiddish expressions and some characters have Brooklyn accents, while others use British vernacular, undermines the veracity of a narrative set more than 2,000 years ago in the Middle East.

Comment: A mere three months after the publication of Sidonie Sobat’s The Novel of Mary came the publication of Henry Ansgar Kelly’s book, Satan: A Biography (August 2006, Cambridge Press). After beginning his academic career at a Jesuit seminary and being ordained in four of the seven holy orders on the way to the priesthood, including exorcist, Kelly started his “campaign to rehabilitate the devil — to deliver him from evil, as it were.” It is Kelly’s intention that the Satan of the Bible is not evil, or an enemy of God:

Everyone else has said that by the time Satan gets to the New Testament, he is evil, he's an enemy of God, but that's not so. The whole biblical picture of Satan is that of a bad cop to Yaweh's good cop in the Old Testament, and to Jesus' good cop in the New Testament. Throughout, Satan is someone who works for God.

Henry Kelly, 72, is a UCLA professor emeritus of English and the former director of the university's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. "If Satan isn't really in opposition to God and he isn't really evil, then that means the fight between good and evil isn't an authentic part of Christianity," said Kelly. "What I'm saying will be scandalous to some people."

Of course, this trashes what Jesus Christ Himself has told us about Satan, and in the strongest terms. It trashes Catholic exegesis concerning the Serpent of Genesis (and, conversely, the “Dragon” of the Apocalypse), and the entire concept of Original Sin. It trashes the doctrines of Hell and the necessity of the Redemption. Jesus and Satan –good cop, bad cop? Had Kelly ever actually performed an exorcism, he would no doubt have thought differently.

And what does The Book of Mary offer concerning the Woman of Genesis and the Apocalypse? A reviewer’s description of the book’s first chapter says it all:

In the first chapter, entitled "Magnificat" (the title commonly given to the Latin text and vernacular translation of the Canticle, or song, of Mary), Mary writes in detail about her repressed sexual desires for Jeremiah and describes her first sexual encounter with him in an intensely erotic scene. As a means of survival for herself and her illegitimate baby, Mary composes the miraculous incarnation story, using her "best grammar and most artistic calligraphy." Joseph, the carpenter to whom Mary is betrothed, is portrayed as a simple man who willingly accepts Mary’s story and his role in raising Jesus, the so-called Son of God.

By the way, “Jeremiah” is a drug-dealer and Mary’s mother is in on her daughter’s “incarnation scam.” Later on in the book, Mary becomes a member of the Sisters of the Eastern Star, a sisterhood devoted to helping women in trouble. These “sisters” care for lepers, perform abortions, act as midwives and reach out to prostitutes and other abused and battered women.

Interesting, isn’t it? Two books published within three months of each another, one “fiction,” one “non-fiction.” One rehabilitates Satan, the Father of Lies. The other degrades, in the most contemptuous way imaginable, the Immaculate One who crushes his head under Her heel. They go hand in hand. I’m surprised Amazon doesn’t offer both books together as a “twofer.”

On December 10, 1925, the Blessed Virgin revealed the Five First Saturdays devotion to Sr. Lucia. Our Lady appeared holding the Divine Infant, Who spoke these words:

Have pity on the heart of your Most Holy Mother. It is covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to remove them with an act of reparation.

The intention of the Five First Saturdays devotion is to make reparation for the following:

1. Attacks upon Mary's Immaculate Conception

2. Attacks against Her Perpetual Virginity

3. Attacks upon Her Divine Maternity and the refusal

to accept Her as the Mother of all mankind

4. For those who try to publicly implant in children's

hearts indifference, contempt and even hatred of

this Immaculate Mother

5. For those who insult Her directly in Her sacred images.

The authors of such offal as The Book of Mary: A Novel, so eager to trash Our Lady on all five points for which mankind should be making reparation, glory in covering the Virgin’s heart with thorns. Thank God, there are others out there who still “have a heart”, as the old saying goes, and remember the Mother of God with the kindness, affection and respect She so richly deserves.

A “Meathead’s” Double-Standard

In an interview with the Associated Press (Aug. 26, 2006), film director Rob Reiner weighed in on Mel Gibson’s arrest for drunk driving, during which Gibson uttered negative remarks against Jews, remarks which he later described as “despicable.”

"It's not a matter of just apologizing for some words you've said," Reiner, 60, told Associated Press Radio,  “it's to really understand why it is you're anti-Semitic and where those feelings came from."

Reiner made particular reference to Gibson's epic, The Passion of the Christ, recently named the “most controversial movie to date” by Entertainment Weekly. "When he can come out and say, you know, 'My views have been reflected in my work and I feel bad that I've done that,' then that will be the beginning of some reconciliation for him," Reiner told the Associated Press.  "I believe that people can be redeemed and people can change, but that's going to be a very long process," he said.

Comment: Why focus on the prattling of Rob Reiner, better known to posterity as “Meathead Stivic”? Because here is a textbook example of the topsy-turvy modern mindset which attributes more weight to “thought-crimes” than to actual crimes.

On March 30, 2006, Rob Reiner resigned as chairman of the “First 5 California Children and Families Commission” amid allegations of misuse of taxpayer funds. According to the California Insider, a weblog by Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub, State Senate Leader Don Perata became suspicious of ads run by Reiner’s commission because they employed the same tag phrase – “preschool for all” – that was the slogan for a ballot measure being privately pushed by Reiner.

Perata joined several other politicians who questioned the $23 million ad campaign sponsored by Reiner’s “First 5 California Children and Families Commission,” which was created and funded by a 1998 initiative that increased tobacco taxes to pay for children’s programs. They believe it was wrong for a state commission headed by Reiner to use public funds to promote universal preschool at the same time that Reiner was privately pushing a ballot measure that seeks to accomplish the same goal.

Misuse of taxpayer funds to the tune of $23 million? No problem! Say something politically incorrect? Hey, then, you need to be “redeemed” and “changed” and God knows what. I realize that almsgiving is not a race, but I wonder how Reiner’s charitable works (i.e., corporal works of mercy) would stack up to Gibson’s. Well, at least Mel uses his own money, instead of trying to pick the public’s already depleted pockets. Thought-crimes or Real Crimes – which hurt society more?

And, once again, a repudiation of the Passion is prescribed as a prerequisite for atonement, something without which Gibson’s apologies would supposedly lack substance. This obsession with having Mel Gibson denounce his work brought to mind a letter written by Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus/Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan somewhere around 112 A.D. In it, Pliny described his procedure in dealing with those who had been “denounced” to him as Christians:

I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome .... Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ—none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do—these I thought should be discharged.

“Just burn a little incense to your selectively tolerant, moral superiors and curse all that Passion stuff, Mel, and we’ll deign to forgive you – at least, until it’s time to throw all this in your face again when it suits our purposes.” The next time Rob Reiner feels the need to render moral judgments or advice, he may want to heed the following charitable admonition, courtesy of the late Archie Bunker: “Stifle yourself, Meathead!”