*BEST OF DTB #114* The Catholic Defender: The Immaculate Conception

Posted by John Benko - December 8th, 2013

It was 27 January, 2007 I had been out with the Scouts as we went to a number of villages looking for weapons.

That had been a long day that was very beneficial to us as we were able to find weapons and get some key information.

Once we returned back to Base, I was able to take off and go to a scheduled class I was prepared to give.

The following is what I wrote on the Defenders of the Catholic Faith Message Board:

Beginning this morning, I was outside the wire on mission and didn’t get back until after 18:00 hours. I was in full battle rattle when I got to my room and grabbed my computer and speaker system and made my way to the Division Chapel which was about a mile away. I had to go by foot. I got there to find Father was there with the RCIA class which was real glad I was able to get there. Even though I was 45 minutes late, everyone stayed the whole time to watch the DVD on Mary. That was so cool. A non-denominal preacher happened to be in another room became interested in the subject matter so after I dismissed the class we talked for another hour. It was a good night of RCIA action!!!

As I walked back to my unit, it was night time, very dark. I heard the explosions in the distance, the gun fire. I reflected on some of the questions I covered at this evenings class.

I have Soldiers who were raised as Mormons, Church of Christ, Lutherans, Anglicans, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptists, Non-Denominational, Pentecostals, former Catholics, and non-believers.

They had various opinions based from what they were raised so their questions are very interesting as they were all sharing their journey to the Catholic Faith.

In one way, it reminded me of the first Christians who were Baptised that first day (Acts 2:41) St. Luke writes, “Those who accepted his (St. Peter’s) message were baptised, and about three thousand persons were added that day”.

I thought it was cool that we were continuing the work that Christ commissioned the Church to do.

The teaching on Mary was tonight’s main discussion and the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was a main issue. What a great reflection of the love of God and I continued to walk along my journey back to my room.

I thought of Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heal”.

I thought about that for a while, certainly God knew who this woman was when he said this. This woman can not be Eve as I’ve heard some think because her offspring did not conquer the serpent.

It was Jesus who conquered sin and death, St. Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38).

I felt that the Virgin Mary was the only one who could be the Woman of Genesis 3:15. This is the belief of the Early Church Fathers and the constant teaching of the Catholic Church.

Resting in this truth, my heart just came alive. I continued to reflect on the Immaculate Conception remembering that Gabriel was sent to tell Mary that she was this Woman.

This is very important. Compare the appearance of Gabriel to the Virgin Mary with when the Angel appeared to St. John. Revelation 22:8, St. John writes, “It is I, John, who heard and saw these things, and when I heard and saw them I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. But he said to me, ‘Don’t! I am a fellow servant of yours and your brothers the prophets and of those who keep the message of this book, Worship God”.

I thought about how St. John was with Jesus for three years learning and hearing the Lord’s teaching first hand. He was one of the Twelve, yet he lost himself with the appearance of the Angel.

Compare this with Mary’s response to Gabriel, an Archangel. The Angel first greets Mary with “Hail, Full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). I recalled the original Greek “Kecharitomene” means “having been” or “have already been” graced, Mary is “Full of Grace”, a past perfect participle.

Because God knew who the Woman of Genesis 3:15 would be, at the appointed time, God prepares the Virgin Mary from her very beginning to be the Mother of Jesus.

This does not mean that she didn’t need Jesus, she absolutely did, it is when she was free of Original Sin. It is a singular grace by God to the Virgin Mary that benefits all mankind.

She was protected by God from the Devil from the moment of her conception. St. John writes, “When the dragon saw that it had been thrown to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child (Jesus). But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to her place in the desert, where, far from the serpent, she was taken care of for a year, two years, and a half year. The serpent, however, spewed a torrent of water out of his mouth after the woman to sweep her away with the current. But the earth helped the woman and opened it’s mouth and swallowed the flood that the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus” (Rev 12:13-17).

The Virgin Mary appears to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830 giving us the “Miraculous Medal” that shows Mary standing on the moon and the Devil under her feet.

St Augustine said (354-430), “Since the devil is the head of original sin, this head it was that Mary crushed: for sin never had any entry into the soul of this Blessed Virgin, which was consequently free from all stain”.

As I kept thinking about this, I just wanted to reach out to God and thank him, even in this place. He has given us so much.

I couldn’t help thinking of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous identifying herself, “I am the Immaculate Conception”.

I thought of the wonders God has worked at Lourdes that even today miracles are happening.

I understand that several thousand people go to Lourdes France everyday from around the world.

God promised us signs and wonders through his presence among his Church. As I walked into our Orderly Room, I checked in so they would know I was accounted for. I stopped in talking with the duty personnel and I was overjoyed from all that I was involved in this night.

I could still hear mortar fire in the distance, machine gun fire sporatic, every now and then a real loud explosion, yet it could not dampen my spirit. I dedicated my prayer for those who were in the midst of the fight.

Looking back, what a blessing it was to paticipate in the journey of so many people wanting to become Catholic. Despite the danger we lived, I was consoled with this truth: “You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Recently, Islamic Terrorists have attacked Catholic Churches in Baghdad killing many. Please pray for the Church persecuted today.

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The Catholic Defender: The Longest Air Assualt

Posted by John Benko - July 10th, 2013

It was 1991 during the Gulf War. I was with a small Band of Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division (3-187 Rakkasans).

I was among the early ones to go into Iraq to cut the head off of the snake. While waiting, I was the only member of the Battalion Aid Station that did not catch any major disease.

I thanked the Lord for this favor.Late at night, while keeping radio watch in the Battalion Aid Station, I would pray the Rosary.

I had my trusty New American Version of the Catholic Bible, which has great pictures, to help me meditate. Using my flashlight, those pictures would seem to come to life. By Day, we were always working on our defensive positions, digging in, filling sand bags, and training for war.

I would keep myself in shape by doing push ups, working out with a sledgehammer, sit ups, what ever I could do at the time. Running was out of the question.

That was one giant sand box. There was a particular Captain at our Battalion Trans, boasted of doing 600 push ups in one day. Because I couldn’t let an officer boast of a record, the next day I did 700 push ups and that was never challenged.

When we would be camped out somewhere along the boarder of Saudi Arabia, we would have all our camouflage nets set up, the latrine screen set up, and a makeshift shower point.

Because the temp was 120 plus, we didn’t have to worry about hot water.
Sometimes helicopters would fly low carrying water brevets and other supplies. When they did, the nets and tents would come to life.

A lot like those huge sand storms we would get from time to time. There was this one time our Brigade Commander happened to be visiting our area when one of these helicopters came flying overhead very low.

Everything was flying everywhere and everyone was diving for cover. The Brigade Commander went running out of the tent screaming and pointing to the pilot to land the helicopter. As he kept pointing to land that bird now, the pilot hovered above kind of watching for a few moments. Finally, he did land and he got reamed. We never had that problem again.

Those sand storms would be so thick you couldn’t see a foot in front of you. We always had something going on that would be interesting.

Back at Tent City (right near King Fad Airport), one night we were awakened by the loud noise of plane engines. They were in the airport idling awaiting orders to fly as you could hear them for miles. This night officially began the Air War.

We were no longer Desert Shield, but now Desert Storm. Hussain failed to leave Kuwait and when he missed his deadline, President Bush Sr. was ready to go. We were quickly on alert. Each day we kept up with the news. We were flying over 2200 sorties a day hitting targets and weakening the Iraqi defenses.

Our air superiority quickly took control over the skies and we were thankful that we did not get hit by enemy planes. To this day I’m thankful for our Air Force. Our helicopters were another great advantage in hitting our enemy.

By the time the ground war began, the Iraqi defenses, communication, travel, support were greatly impacted.

Just before the ground war. on the eve of the greatest Air Assault mission, we were preparing to move out when Mass was being offered for us.

I attended the Mass and found myself before TV cameras when leaving the camouflaged tent.

I was given an opportunity to answer questions, I was seen on all the major news stations and ultimately placed in the CNN’s Documentary of the Gulf War narrated by Bernard Shaw.

Mr. Shaw refereed to my prayer as “an answered prayer on the eve of battle”.

We ultimately flew over four Iraqi Divisions who were fortunately bogged down by severe rain.

Rain that is very rare in that area. With the Rakkasans, if it were not raining, it wasn’t training!

At Fort Campbell, we trained extensively using Black Hawk helicopters flying low just above the trees.

Here, there were no trees. It felt like a straight shot. This wasn’t a joy ride like a roller coaster, this was the real deal. We jumped out of the helicopters and into the mud in the Euphrates river valley.

We quickly set up hasty fighting positions until we were able to set up our Battalion Aid Station. I was on the advanced party so we mapped out our position and maintained it until the main force arrived.

There was sporadic enemy activity but the action was limited as we routed any Iraqi troops in the area. I carried a 100 pound plus Ruck Sack during this time. I had an AT-4 (anti-tank weapon), my medical gear, and everything else that everyone else had.
Turmoil was all around us.

One mayor in a nearby town was hung because he supported Hussein, while in another neighboring town, this mayor was hung because he was against Hussein.

We began receiving civilians trying to seek refuge or needing some kind of medical attention. Once, we received a prisoner of war who was brought in to be checked out that had polio as a child. His leg was almost a walking stick. He was being used as an Iraqi officer’s driver. I couldn’t help but have compassion on him. He was part of Hussein’s “Million man Army”?

We held this position for about 30 days when the BBC began broadcasting to the world that there were no American Soldiers left in Iraq. I was part of this team that was sitting at the most northern inward position in the Iraqi Theater of Operations. That was a bit chilling.

On the evening of March 5th, it rained terribly, a monsoon like rain. This was miserable. My foxhole had been swamped, all my things were soaked, the wind was bristling, my poncho was just popping. Water was standing everywhere around us. There was not a dry place to be found as everything had been packed up to leave the next day.

I just sat on an MRE box and waited it out. On a lighter note, after the ground war was officially called off and we had won the war, our Battalion Sergeant Major went throughout our perimeter informing us that we had to conduct police call (clean up the area around us before we left Iraq. That struck us all as odd.

It would be hours before we would leave the area and head for Camp Cobra, which was still in Iraq near the boarder with Saudi Arabia. During these times, it is easy to forget the times when explosions would sound off and we would all jump into our foxholes or cover.

I remember encouraging our Maintenance Officer who was certain we were all going to die. I was able to share the love of the Lord with him.

I remember celebrating Mass with the Catholic Priest who was assigned with us in this place. We would walk the perimeter praying the Rosary together.

There were no buildings in site, no vegetation, it was a miserable place to stay. What made it special for me was my faith. That helped me through this important period of my life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WYv4KsUAPY&feature=related

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*Best of DTB #105* The Catholic Defender: The Lord led me to His Mother

Posted by John Benko - October 17th, 2011

On my way back to our Battalion area, I meditated on what I just told the young man and how thankful I was to the Lord for having His truth in my heart. With this I began to see the Faces of Mary.

It all started as a quiet day on the morning of 6 May, 2009. It was a sunny Sunday morning and I was given an opportunity to sleep in so I woke up about 06:30.

I got up and got myself together preparing to go to Mass at the Division Chapel.

I had to make sure that all our obligations were covered and that gave me ample time to go to Mass at 10:30.

It’s about a 15 minute walk to the Division Chapel but this particular morning, I was excited about the news I wanted to report to the congregation.

For me, the news of Francis J. Beckwith’s returning to the Catholic Faith was huge. He was among the highest Lutheran leaders and highly respected among the Protestant Evangelical academics.

His conversion to the Catholic Faith was like a shot heard around the world. Well, here in Iraq, I heard it and I was anxious to share the news about it.

So, I grabbed my weapon and my gear and I set off to the Chapel. By the time I arrived there, I was drenched, sweating profusely in this 100 plus heat, but it was worth it!

I guzzled down a quick quart of water and prepared for Mass. At the end of Mass, Father would give me the opportunity to announce the upcoming events for the week.
We had RCIA that was currently continuing for many people kept coming who wanted to become Catholic. We had just received about 70 Soldiers for the Easter Vigil earlier in April.

Now I had several more Soldiers who were coming forward to be received into the Catholic Faith. Many from my Battalion! We also had Bible Studies that I was conducting at our Chapel (Warrior Chapel) and at the Division Chapel.

It was at this time that I had the chance to tell everyone about Mr. Beckwith coming home to the Catholic Faith.

I had a number of them come up and asked me more about this when this young man came over to ask me a question. He had originally approached Father, but Father refer ed him to me.

I pulled him to the side and he asked me what an apostle was.

I responded that an apostle was simple one who is sent. That is the textbook definition.

However, I explained that Christ sent his Apostles out into the world after preparing them for three years for the Great Commission.

The Gentleman then identified himself as a “Nestorian” Christian who represented about 5% of the Iraqi Christians in Iraq.

He wanted to challenge me on why the Catholic Church refereed to Mary as “Theotokos” meaning “Mother God”?
I responded with a question of my own, “What is the difference from referring to Mary as “Mother of God” as opposed to “Mother of my Lord”?

I then quoted Luke 1:42-44, “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”.

Notice that St. Elizabeth refereed to Mary as “blessed” twice during this exchange. Notice also that she refereed to Jesus as “Lord” in her womb as well as the word of the Lord.

Adoni was the word used to illustrate “Lord” referring to God. By this time, my Nestorian friend understood my meaning and with that, he had no further questions. He was interested in our bible studies from this point on.

In this way, Jesus led me to Mary, then Mary, as always leads us all back to Jesus.

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*BEST OF DTB #39* The Catholic Defender devotes the Divine Mercy

Posted by John Benko - November 28th, 2010

“SFC Hartley, we have 4 wounded arriving in about 10 minutes, two gun shot wounds and two shrapnel”.

“OK, I’ll call the Chaplain, and alert the Battalion. Make sure that all the teams are assembled and ready”.

“Everyone take your positions, each team assemble as already dictated, we are expecting 4 wounded, one gun shot wound through the back, another through the right arm.

There are two Casualties with shrapnel wounds to the face, back and lower legs”. “As the Gun Trucks pull in make sure that the litter teams bring in the most severe injuries first and place them from this trauma bed on down.

Make sure that all your pieces are ready: I need your suction on hand, need IV ready to go, need plenty of supplies. Make sure the trauma chests are open and ready”.

“Come on people, just as we rehearsed! SPC Jones, I need you to keep monitoring the radio”.
“SFC Hartley, they are coming in”!

“Lets get them in now, bring the facial wound here, I need a line in and make sure you get an airway inserted.

CPT Wilson, here is your first Casualty. Place the Chest wound here in the second bed”

“Get started with him, I will be right back”.

“What are the last two”?

“SFC Hartley, they are delayed”!

“Ok, take them into the last two beds and begin treating their wounds, Doc will be right there”.

“SFC Hartley, this one has a high Blood Pressure of 180/120″

“Keep getting me the vitals every 5 minutes, yell it out. Where is the PA”?

“SFC Hartley, he is on the way, he should be here in just a few minutes”!

“I’m helping on the second bed, I’ll maintain spinal traction and keep the airway open”.

“Sir our second Casualty has a gun shot wound to the back, his vital signs are becoming rapid”.

The above scenario is sometimes a daily routine in a war zone. Sometimes it can happen multiple times a day with many more casualties. Sometimes the result is we lose some of them. That is always a difficult situation.

Sometimes the only thing I can do for someone is pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet! There may not be anything we can do as the wounds were just too catastrophic.

In this scenario, there are so many things happening at once, I have been involved with CPR trying to keep someone alive until the Doc calls it. I would silently pray:

Eternal Father,
I offer you the Body and Blood,
Soul and Divinity,
of Your Dearly Beloved Son,
Our Lord, Jesus Christ,
in atonement for our sins
and those of the whole world

I would be looking around ensuring that all can be done, making sure that the Casualties are packaged and ready for air transport Medevac if the sky is green. If the sky is red that presents problems getting a ground convoy. Continuing in my mind I would pray:

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion,
have mercy on us and on the whole world.

I remember the promise Our Good Lord made to St. Faustina consoling her that for the dying, if someone prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet the soul would find peace.

This hits home for me literally as my Mother would be told she had two days to live. She developed a massive blood clot that lodged in her right lower leg causing it to turn blue.

Without circulation, her leg did not make it. When I arrived at the hospital, the Doctors did not believe she would survive the knife. They gave her two days to live.

My Brother and I took Mom home to die as she didn’t want to die in the hospital, but at home with her family around her.

As soon as we got her in her bed, I elevated her leg giving some comfort, I placed a rosary above the site where it was dead, and bathed the area with holy water and prayer.

Mom’s medication such as Morphine helped at times, but what helped her most was praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet with me.

She felt at peace with herself and she was able to rest. This went on for about 10 days when I had to get an extension on my leave as Mom was living longer that what the Doctors projected.

I was sitting next to her bed when Mom asked me,
“Do you believe that the Lord will receive me when I pass”.

I told Mom, “Mom, you know He will receive you! You can trust in His word and stand on what He says”.

That’s when I began to sing to her a song we sing at Mass, “Be Not Afraid“!

Gigi, my wife, was standing on the other side of the bed when she saw Mom’s rosary on her desk so she gave it to Mom to hold.

As we were singing the song together, Mom was holding her rosary. It was at this point I noticed the rosary change from silver to gold in her hands. What a sign this was for us and I will write here that the Lord gave my Mom another 18 Months.
Mom was finally taken by the Lord on 1 August 2006. I will never forget how the Divine Mercy Chaplet made such an impact for my Mom.

That would lead to the earlier scenario. In the absence of a Priest, without the Anointing of the Sick (Last Rites), the Divine Mercy Chaplet is an important devotion.

I have meet parents of Soldiers who have died that were consoled by me when learning of our dedication of the Divine Mercy Chaplet praying for their Sons.

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