Saturday 29 September 2007

Εν τουτο νικα: in this sign conquer...

Εν τουτο νικα

"in this conquer" in ancient Greek:
the Emperor Constantine the Great saw a vision of the Cross before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312AD

This is a book of stories about Catholic laymen - that much neglected and often maligned group in today's supposedly "renewed" and "in touch" circles in the Catholic Church.

It's a collection of stories about men doing manly things that women don't usually do and that Feminists usually hate.

So, therefore, apart from the unfortunate inability of its American authors and publishers to spell the Queen's English properly (and, remember, folks, the English invented English!), it is a good book.

And don't worry, ladies, there's another book, from the same publishers, called Amazing Grace for Mothers in which ladies do heroic things that men don't usually do.

In the Catholic Church we are not afraid for men to be men and women to be women. Indeed, since that's how God made us, we're proud of the fact.

Here's what Christine Trollinger says about the Dad she so obviously loves:

"During the winding down of the war against Japan, my Dad served in the Pacific. One night, he drew night patrol and was assigned to scout for enemy troop movements in the rough jungle terrain. He had just climbed a tree to conceal himself when, seemingly out of nowhere, the entire area beneath the tree was filled with Japanese soldiers. Dad found himself trapped in the treetop for hours, as the enemy decided to camp right beneath the tree.

Barely able to breathe for fear of giving himself away his position, Dad said he spent the time praying for God' protection and asking God to help him. Every prayer he had ever learned swirled through his mind and heart as he waited silently in that treetop. He prayed not to be discovered. And, as time went on, he began to pray for the enemy soliders beneath the tree. He said he could see in his mind's eye our family back home, and he imagined these soldiers missing their loved ones, too.

Up close, the enemy soldiers looked very much like the men in his own unit. While their physical appearance was different and he could not understand their language, he knew that they were God's children, too. They were all men caught up in a war, whch had brought them all to serve their respective countries.

They fought for what they thought was right according to their upbringing and nationality - who might never see their loved ones again should they perish in the jungles of war. As he prayed and watched them, they sat and relaxed around the jungle clearing, laughing and sharing letters and photos from back home, just as my father and his fellow soldiers often did.

As night began to give way to the first light of the morning, my father accepted that in the end he would probably not be returning home. The odds were stacked against him. He knew that he could not remain motionless and undetected for much longer. Having made his peace with God, my Dad began his final silent prayer. He prayed for the men beneath him and for their families and for courage for himself.

Just as my father gave everything over to our Father in heaven and made the sign of the Cross, an enemy soldier spotted his hiding place in the treetop. As my father signed himself with the Cross, their eyes locked. To my Dad's utter amazement, the enemy soldier silently made the sign of the Cross himself, and put his finger to his lips as if to say, 'Be still, my brother, I shall not betray you'. Almost in that very instant, the enemy soldiers began to move out as silently and as quickly as they had arrived.

My Dad never ceased thanking God for his protection that day. And Dad always remembered to pray for his brother in Christ - and enemy solider, whose name he never knew - who had spared his life and surely loved God, too."

This was the victory of the Holy Cross: a victory that made friends of enemies, through the recognition of the sign of the Holy Sacrifice of Christ, the God Who became a vanquished slave and victim for our sakes.

How utterly different from the pagan idea of victory and conquest!

Pagans of old used to consider that defeating their enemies was not enough. They had also to demolish them completely, to immolate them and annihilate them, even, in some cases, by eating their flesh as cannibals so that nothing remained of them. Modern pagans, like the Nazis, tried to immolate and annihilate their enemies, too, as they did with the Jews. The late President Idi Amin of Uganda used to eat his enemies as did the New Guinea pagans of the Kukukuku tribe, the last of the pagan cannibals of that country.

The conquests of our Lord Jesus Christ are entirely the opposite.

He gives us His own flesh to eat mysteriously in the Sacrament of the Altar in the form of food, with the appearance of bread and wine, even annihilating Himself physically and appearing as humble creatures of bread and wine, so that we need never eat the flesh of our enemies, whether figuratively or really, as the gross pagans did and do.

Likewise, His conquests of his enemies and our conquests, too, consist in overcoming them by making them our friends.

This, surely, is the most glorious conquest of all, for neither side loses but, equally, one's enemy is totally vanquished and is no more, because he is now rather one's friend and brother.

What a beautiful conquest! What a glorious victory - none greater can there be!

This is the best and most satisfying conquest of all: when two enemies overcome enmity and, in the name of Christ and His Holy Cross, become friends.

That, truly, makes the Holy Cross a sign that conquers most fully and completely.

In this sign, therefore, let us conquer, and remember what that the Emperor Constantine saw in the sky before he began the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christ:

Εν τουτο νικα



Mulier Fortis said...

A very moving account... thank you so much for posting it for us all to read.

JARay said...

I am sure that your Greek is correct. I cannot find the word for "sign" in my limited lexicon. I take it that it is not a word which is found in the N.T.
I really was impressed by your story of the American soldier up in the tree and the Japanese soldier below who signed to him secretly.
Thank you for this.


Tribunus said...

The word for sign in Greek is, in Latin transliteration, "to semeion" and appears many times in the New Testament.

However, the vision of the Emperor Constantine does not appear in the NT since it happened some 300 years after the NT was written.

The addition of the word "Signo" in the Latin is a free translation that accords better with the Latin.

In fact, the vision simply said "In this conquer" but under the Chi-rho and Alpha-omega symbols with which we are now so familiar, so it was clearly referring to this manner of representing the Cross.

Constantine had the symbol emblazoned on the standards of his regiments prior to the battle. That is how it has come down to us as a great Christian symbol and is often seen on ecclesiastical vestments and the like.

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring. Christ's blood bridges any chasm this world may know.