Helping Iraq’s (Forgotten) Christians

I know many readers are probably put off by now about my recent political commentary even if you sit on the same side of the political aisle as I do.  But like I said in previous posts, we live in the real world and rosary prayer and meditation need to play a part in it.  Rosary prayer cannot be something detached and isolated from the other parts of our lives.  It is meant to fuel us and guide us through our our lives, especially the hard parts.

We should turn our prayers toward what is happening in Iraq right now.  Since January, 1.2 million people have been displaced by ISIS and other radical groups.  One group that was already being actively persecuted in the region before January, but are now targeted to a heightened degree is the region’s Christian communities.  Rev. Andrew Write, an Anglican pasture in Baghdad, said “It is as if hell has broken out here and nobody cares.  The situation is so serious and it is very easy to feel forgotten.”

The ultimatum imposed by militants for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed has passed with the collapse of communities that have existed for millennia

Iraq is just one of many places where Christians have been driven from their homes with nothing but the shirts on their backs.  In some places, they are beheaded or even crucified!  Over the last few years churches that have stood for hundreds of years were shut down, vandalized, or destroyed throughout Syria, Egypt, Libya, and other countries.  By some measures, Christians are now the most persecuted group in the world, but as Rev. Write said, nobody cares.

I’m really not qualified to give a detailed analysis of international politics and why there isn’t a more vocal outrage over the world’s besieged Christians.  But here are some of my thoughts.  In the developed world, when we think of Christians we have the image of nicely dressed people attending a suburban church and then going to a nearby coffee house for pancakes and omelets.  Or we think of the majesty of St. Peter’s Square.  Some stereotypical images of the Spanish inquisition, European witch hunts, or the Crusades might come to mind.  Throw all these perceptions together and it forms a picture of a group of people who don’t need any help at best, or are getting what they deserve at worst.

But in much of the world, the Christian communities are no different from the non-Christian communities around them.  It’s not like Christians in Iraq are some wealthy, powerful group that are being toppled by a desperate underclass.  They are farmers, shopkeepers, employees in some business, mothers, fathers, and children just like everyone else.  Their day to day lives are no different from those around them except maybe they have different diets and worship habits.  They don’t have a direct connection to the politics or history of Christianity.  And yet, in their moment of need, many in the international community are silent because of their perception of who Christians are.

This Iraqi Christian should consider himself lucky.  He was only driven from his home and wasn’t beheaded.

Jesus challenges us to help one another personally.  One of my readers commented about my previous article on how Jesus offered a place for those who were left out of the normal hierarchy.  Jesus didn’t espouse politics nor catered to a specific group of people.  Yes, he taught mostly amongst the Jews, but His message was for everyone regardless of religion, ethnicity, time, or place.  We look at the Third Glorious Mystery, Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the courage to go out and teach Jesus’ message to all the world.  And while they preached the Word to religious and political leaders (since they would have the most influence) they also taught to the masses and spread the Word as individuals to individuals.

St. Paul teaching the masses about Jesus Christ

Individuals helping individuals is the core of Jesus’ ministry.  Yes, we still must lean on our governments and religious leaders to help.  After all, it’s religious and government institutions that have the best infrastructure to deliver aid effectively.  And yes, we must pray for those who are feeling so alone and abandoned as forces of evil drive them from their homes and kill them.  But prayer is not the end of our role in helping those in need, it’s the beginning.  Jesus didn’t want people to pray and then wait for governments and religious leaders to officially adopt His Word before living the Gospel.

Now it’s not like we can jump on the nearest plane to Iraq and drive from the airport to the area where Christians have fled.  But we can still help on a personal level.  Please consider donating to the Catholic Relief Services as they do have the means of reaching out to those undergoing hardships that we will (hopefully) never know.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Strategy Behind Banning Public Religiousness

Here are the results of a poll that I’m sure will ruffle a few feathers on both sides of the political and church isle.  A recently released Gallop poll found that one’s “religiousness” is a great predictor of his political affiliation.  It found that those who practices their faith regularly are more likely to lean conservative while someone who is secular leans more liberal.  According to the story on the Blaze:

Among the survey’s findings: Forty-nine percent of very religious people support the GOP, compared to only 29 percent of nonreligious people who do.  Just 36 percent of very religious people support the Democrats, while 52 percent of nonreligious people support the party.

This is where the anecdotal evidence comes out where someone says the poll isn’t true because their sainted grandmother also votes Democrat.  Or their non church-going uncle is an avid Republican.  Of course there will be exceptions to every poll which is why they are reported in percentages to reveal general trends.  It won’t always reflect someone’s personal experience.  Polls also reveal correlations, but not necessarily causation.  We can’t say with any degree of certainty why nonreligious skew towards voting Democrat while religious lean towards voting Republican.

Check your religion at the door!

Now that we have the legal disclaimer out of the way, let’s explore political strategy.  If this poll is true then it explains a lot about our current political climate.  If Democratic policies and their vision for American society appeal more to nonreligious, then the Democratic party will have a vested interest in making society as secular as possible.  A more secular population equals more Democrat votes.  You don’t have to look very hard to see various tactics at play towards that goal:

  • The HHS mandate and rhetoric that one’s faith cannot play any role in how they run their business.
  • The vitriol many liberals show to any pro-life groups or any organization wishing to place any limits, no matter how reasonable, on abortion.
  • The attempt to redefine our Constitutional freedom of religion to freedom of “worship.”
  • Freaking out at any open display of anything even vaguely religious like a piece of twisted metal shaped like a cross at the Ground Zero museum.
  • Openly rigid enforcement of the “separation of church and state” (although that phrase does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution).

My point isn’t to just merely bash Democratic strategy.  I’m sure many of my readers could probably come up with an equally long list of Republicans promoting religion to gain votes and influence.  I just want to point out that we need to tread carefully and explore possible underlying motives whenever a politician either promotes or tries to curb the role of religion in public life.  Call me jaded, but I don’t think many politicians actually act on religious issues from deeply held beliefs, but because it will land their party more votes.

Teach children religion for a better community...
Teach children religion for a better community — religion means reverence – obedience – order, irreligion means chaos – crime – social collapse, parents, wake up! American Legion (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

The Rosary Connection

When I think of religious vs. nonreligious and Democrat vs. Republican, the Second Glorious Mystery of the rosary comes to mind.  When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left His mission to build His Church in the hands of His disciples.  Very early in the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples decree that Jesus’ Church wasn’t exclusive to the Jews but open to everyone.  We also must remember, as Jesus’ disciples today, that we must invite all to experience Jesus’ love and saving grace whether they be religious or nonreligious, Democrat or Republican, Dodger fan or Giants fan, etc.  Some groups may put up more of a fight than others to Jesus’ message and our tactics may need to change based on the situation.  But in the end, the mission hasn’t changed since the disciples saw Jesus ascend into Heaven centuries ago — share His love with everyone.  Jesus didn’t discriminate nor fear the response to the truth.  Neither will we.

Our Prayer

Oh Lord, may we follow in Jesus’ early disciples footsteps and find the energy to promote His truth.  May we not be afraid to promote that truth with anyone regardless of their political affiliation, nationality, gender, or personality.  May we listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to find the right tactics so that Your love best shines forth to all of those who need to hear it.  May we not forget Your charge to the early Church when you ascended into Heaven — spread My Word to the world.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Dulling of Faith

We just remembered the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy in WWII.  Operation Overlord, or D-Day, was a massive operation that forever changed the face of our world.  Thousands of men stormed the beaches and for many of them, the flashes of German gunfire from concrete bunkers was the last thing they would ever see and the deafening sounds of mortar shells was the last thing they would ever hear.

But like many historical events, even the big ones like D-Day, time erodes our memories and emotions of these events.  As the people who experienced these events pass away and all we’re left with are pictures and videos, these world changing moments start to feel less real and meaningful to us.  Washington D.C. burning to the ground in 1812, thousands of men dying at Gettysburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and one day, 9/11, almost start to have as much impact as a work of fiction as time goes on.

D-DAY IMAGE ...
D-DAY IMAGE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

I think we often suffer from time diminishing our faith.  Many of us read the Bible and listen to the Gospels at least once a week during Sunday Mass.  We may pray routinely.  We know what Jesus taught and what He expects of us.  We know the high bar He sets for us to get into His kingdom of Heaven.  And I bet, if Jesus walked into your room and repeated what He said in the Gospels, He would have your complete attention.  You would run out and change anything and everything in your life that didn’t line up with His teaching.

And yet, we often ignore, trivialize, or give lip service to Jesus’ message because He said it nearly 2000 years ago and we didn’t witness it firsthand.  We are like St. Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples told him about it because he didn’t personally see Him.  But Jesus’ teachings are no different today than when He walked this earth.  His teachings are no different through the Gospel than if He came walking through your door right now.  And yet we too allow the trivialities of our present situation to overshadow the greater truths Jesus taught us.

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

I think about my lack of appreciation of Jesus’ truth most when I pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary, The Transfiguration.  I think about how awe inspiring it must have been for the apostles to witness Jesus transform into a figure of dazzling light and to hear God say, “LISTEN TO HIM.”  If we truly believe in the authenticity of the Catholic faith, then we know the Transfiguration was a real event.  God didn’t just tell the apostles to listen to Jesus.  He told all of us!  But ask yourself, do you live with an awareness of that reality?  Or do you often ignore or trivialize the truths of the Catholic faith because you didn’t personally witness Jesus saying them?  Why does a difference of time and place have such a dramatic effect on our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings?

Before you beat yourself up, remember that even the apostles failed to truly believe in Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the realities around them.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration, denied Him.  And all of them, except for John, went into hiding during Jesus’ crucifixion.  They didn’t even have the excuse of being separated from Jesus by thousands of years like we do.  Their cowardice shows just how powerful our human weaknesses are and how they can dominate over our desire to live for God’s eternal kingdom.

And while we may fail to truly believe in Jesus’ message like the apostles did, God came into our lives in yet another form — as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave the apostles that shot of courage and conviction to go out and live and preach the Jesus’ message.  While they may have been lukewarm in their faith while Jesus was alive, they were transformed into true believers on Pentecost.  Even in their fear, the Holy Spirit penetrated their souls and gave the apostles a needed spiritual “kick.”

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Ant...
The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are in need of a spiritual kick.  We may not live in fear of practicing our faith (although more and more Christians are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world).  But many of us do suffer from a sense of passivity in our faith because we haven’t heard Jesus’ teachings directly from His mouth.  But the Holy Spirit, the same one that roused the scared apostles into action, rouses us into action as well.  We only have to provide that small bit of kindling in our souls for the fire of the Holy Spirit to erupt into a bright flame of faith.  That kindling is something as small and as easy as focused prayer, rosary meditation, participating at Mass, and receiving the sacraments.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago.  His message is still the same and the Holy Spirit burns just as bright!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Is Pope Francis Really That Different?

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I want to comment on Pope Francis’ latest interview in American Magazine that raised a stir. It has more progressively minded Catholics giving the pope a big thumbs up while traditional Catholics are squirming in their seats. Some people think that Pope Francis is undoing decades of zealotry and adherence to dogma while others see him simply rephrasing long-held teachings of the faith. In a way, the pope’s comments are a spiritual Rorschach test. Otherwise known as an inkblot test, a subject sees pictures of generic shapes and says the first thing that comes to mind. It helps psychologists determine someone’s state of mind. Like the Rorschach test, Pope Francis’ comments almost reveal more about our perceptions of the Church than what the Church actually teaches.

the ninth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test
What Catholic Church do you see?

Pope Francis’ interview is about 12,000 words long (please read it). The mainstream media and blog outlets mostly fixated on a few statements about how the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” And that “the church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Just look at the headlines:

  • Huffington PostPope Francis: Gays, Abortion Too Much Of Catholic Church’s Obsession
  • New York Times — Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control
  • The Daily BeastThe Pope Confesses Church’s ‘Obsession’ With Gays, Abortion (I was amused by the use of the word “confesses”)

Taken on its own, it sounds like Pope Francis is casting off all those stuffy, cold-hearted rules that previous popes enforced to the letter. But when viewed in the context of the whole interview, you see that he’s saying that our faith and evangelization isn’t primarily about beating people over the head with rules and guidelines. The pope does not want people to blindly obey because people will never embrace the true Catholic Church that way. Instead, he wants people to know that God loves them and the Church dogma and doctrines exist to bring people closer to God’s grace. Essentially, the pope hopes that people will want to follow the Church’s guidelines out of love, not offer blind allegiance. CatholicVote.com has a good article that summarizes the pope’s interview if you want more analysis.

To their credit, many of the mainstream media articles do say that Pope Francis didn’t change Church teaching. This is the same message previous popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests have taught (or should have taught) for years. But when I read the comments in these online articles, I do get the sense that people are projecting their desires on what they would like the Church to be and not actually hearing what the pope says the Church actually is. They only see the aspects of the pope or the Catholic Church that fit their worldview and filter out anything that does not fit. For example, did you know that Pope Francis recently excommunicated a priest for promoting gay marriage and women’s ordination? You probably did not because that doesn’t fit the narrative of the compassionate pope the media portrays and is more in line with Pope Benedict‘s image as “God’s pit bull.”

Same Church, different world, different strategies, different media.

A writer for one of my favorite Catholic blogs, Creative Minority Report, demonstrated how easy it is to sway people’s perceptions of the pope depending on how his words are reported and filtered. I urge you to read this article that has quotes by the pope on the importance of women in the Church, how the Church should focus on helping the poor, how She embraces other faiths, and how humble he is. That describes Pope Francis to a tee right? But the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end is that those quotes all come from Pope Benedict. Yeah, that supposedly detached, rule-oriented pope according to many media outlets. So this is a word of warning that you should perceive the pope or the Catholic faith with caution. Are your views based on your own conscience or on the narrative someone is trying to push?

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

I think we all need a healthy dose of the Fifth Glorious Mystery — Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven. In the interview, Pope Francis said, “Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.” We should pray for help and guidance from Mary, Queen of Heaven. Remember, media outlets and blogs are in the business of selling products and advertisements and making profits. Mary is in the business of saving souls and making sure that as many people as possible will one day live in the peace of happiness of Heaven. When it comes to matters of faith, perhaps we should put down the New York Times, turn off Fox News, and pick up a rosary if we want to know the true Catholic Church.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Pope Said What Now?

Update: This article is not about the pope’s recent statements in America magazine and commented on in the Huffington Post and New York Times.  It is about something he wrote in an Italian newspaper a few weeks ago.  But don’t worry, I’ll discuss the America magazine article in an upcoming post.

A few days ago, Pope Francis wrote a lengthy article responding to some questions proposed by Eugenio Scalfari, co-founder of the newspaper La Repubblica and an atheist. First of all, I find it amazing that the pope can even find the time to read an editorial in a local newspaper, let alone respond to it. I think it shows just how well Pope Francis understands modern tactics of evangelization. He knows that encyclicals are great for diving deep into questions of the Catholic Faith, but if you really want to connect with people you need to communicate in a more casual way using popular media. He might have done more good and educated more people about the Catholic faith in his letter to Mr. Scalfari than what he would have done in ten encyclicals.

The main purpose of Pope Francis’ letter was to address how the Church views atheists regarding their salvation and entrance into Heaven. The pope wrote:

First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that – and this is fundamental – God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.

Now the popular media jumped all over this statement essentially declaring the pope said something like “all atheists go to Heaven” or that He reversed some doctrine; neither which is true. This isn’t the first time the media completely misreported the pope’s comments and certainly won’t be the last. The pope did not unveil a new doctrine, but only reiterated what the Church has taught for generations. The fact that this seems new to everyone, including many Catholics, shows just how little we understand about the Catholic faith.

The Church has always taught that there is no way any of us here on Earth know who will go to Heaven and who will end up in Hell. Yes, we have a lot of guidelines, teachings, and commandments passed on from God through the prophets, His son Jesus Christ, and Church tradition. But there is always that unknown factor that the pope mentions — God’s infinite mercy. We just cannot know who God forgives and why.

Remember, the Church teaches that non-Catholics can go to Heaven if they’ve never had an opportunity to know God’s Church but live according to the natural laws of morality. When we think about this scenario, we often think of some isolated tribe out on a tropical island somewhere who have never seen a bible. But what about the person who never went to Mass growing up? What about the person who is surrounded by people who actively hate the Church or just don’t place any value on organized religion? What about the person whose view of the Church comes solely from sources that misreport the Church’s teachings? What about the fallen away Catholic who just went to Sunday Mass out of obligation but never really participated? Aren’t these also people who never really “knew” God’s Church? The Catholic faith has always taught that these people, including atheists, are also able to find mercy and forgiveness just like the stereotypical “isolated native” that has never seen a church or opened a bible.

Whenever I think about our ultimate fate, I’m reminded of the Second Glorious Mystery — Jesus’ Ascension. When I pray and meditate on that rosary mystery, I remember that Jesus took His rightful place in Heaven at the right hand of God and acts as our final judge. We know that our actions, combined with God’s mercy, will decide whether we spend eternity in God’s kingdom or Hell. We should be thankful that God is infinitely merciful and that whether we end up in Heaven isn’t an in/out, true/false, on/off proposition. Because if it were, I dare say that most people would probably fall short of meeting the requirements to enter Heaven. We all have our failings, but it’s God’s mercy, both through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and at our final judgement, that allow us to live for eternity in His kingdom.

But why must we understand and live by the Catholic teachings when the pope said anyone, including atheists, can go to Heaven? Are devout Catholics just suckers wasting their time going to Mass and receiving the sacraments? Far from it. Remember, the pope said that God’s mercy is infinite, but not automatic. Ask yourself, do you want to rely solely on God’s mercy to enter into His kingdom? Or would you like to actually increase your odds, as it were, by following His Word? Let’s put it another way. Suppose there was a way to learn the winning numbers in the lottery ahead of time. But to learn those numbers, you have to put in years of hard work. Would you do it? After all, you could always avoid the work and just leave it up to chance. Maybe you will get lucky and guess the right numbers. The same goes for salvation, but the stakes are much higher since it’s dealing with our eternal souls. Are you going to leave such an important decision solely on God’s mercy or do you want to put forth the effort now to really earn your place in God’s kingdom?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A World on Fire

There has been so much happening at the intersection of politics and religion lately (it’s a block down the road from the intersection of crazy and truth).  We have the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, abortion standoffs, international issues in the Middle East, Obamacare’s HHS mandate, scandal after scandal, and immigration reform debates.  Political developments seem to come in so fast that if I took the time to write in depth about any one issue, a dozen more would come to the forefront before I could publish it.  So I will leave it to the political news sites to report on the details of these stories.  They have the resources and the audience to go into much more detail than I ever can.  I will stick with what I know — rosary prayer and meditation.

file0001711040321
Overwhelmed by all the bad news lately?

I think it is so easy to read the current headlines and get discouraged.  One would think that the world is on the brink of falling apart completely.  What is wrong or evil are considered virtues.  What was once thought of as good and decent are now seen as hateful and intolerant.  Common sense seems to be in rare supply.  Humanity appears to be in a tailspin from which there is no recovery.  But that type of thinking assumes that the current state of the world is somehow drastically different from the past.  It assumes that there was a time when all was good and peaceful in the world and that recent conflicts are the exception to history.  But can you think of a time in human history when everything was fine?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the world has always been a violent, hostile, and illogical place, especially towards truth, values, and faith.

If you want to see how cruel this world can be to those of faith, you don’t need to look any further than the mysteries of the rosary.  First start with the easy ones — the Sorrowful Mysteries.  Each mystery shows how humanity treats the source of truth and love, Jesus Christ.  He’s betrayed in the First Sorrowful Mystery, scourged in the Second, crowned with thorns in the Third, carries a cross in the Fourth, and is crucified in the Fifth.  Not exactly a pleasant view of how humanity treats people of faith is it?  You can look at other mysteries too if you want to see how hard it has been to live morally.  When you pray the First Joyful Mystery, imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary, an unwed teenager, to learn that God called her to bear His Son.  Meditate on the Third Glorious Mystery and picture the apostles locked in a room out of fear of being found and killed by those who crucified Jesus.  History shows that following God’s plan often presents more challenges and defeats than victories.

End the end, we win!
How does it end? We win!

So what are we, as people of faith, to do?  Do we cast off our religious values and embrace the trends society embraces?  Do we hide our faith so that we don’t offend anyone?  Do we go on the offensive and use every dirty trick in the book to force a better world?  Again, we only need to look as far as the rosary.  When confronted with the difficult challenge of God choosing Mary to bear His son, she humbly puts her faith in His plan.  The apostles, when confronted by a hostile world, found strength in the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, endured the torture and insults the world flung at Him.  Even at His lowest moment in His Passion, Jesus never stopped loving and forgiving.  Jesus practiced what He preached even in His most difficult moments.  And so God calls us to act like Mary and say yes to His plan even when in conflicts with the social norms of our society.  We must remember, like the apostles, the Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus calls us to imitate Him and live according to His truth despite the suffering the world will heap upon us for doing so.

It isn’t all suffering and defeat.  To end on a positive note, remember that this world and our lives are only temporary.  The entirety of human history is but a blink of an eye compared to the enormity of the afterlife.  The problems and turmoil of today, while they may seem large to us now, are nothing compared to the joy and happiness of Heaven.  That isn’t to say that we can turn a blind eye to this world and its problems.  But we must keep everything in perspective.  We fight the good fight but our goal is Heaven, not this world.  Remember, the crucifixion isn’t the last rosary mystery.  We have the entire Glorious Mysteries after that where Jesus conquered death and prepared a place for us in His kingdom.  Our end is not tied to a Supreme Court ruling or the HHS mandate.  Our end is not summed up by bills, laws, and elections.  Our final end is praising God forever in Heaven.  Keep that in mind the next time you read the Drudge Report and feel like throwing your chair out the window in despair.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,