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.

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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!

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Amateur Night: How the Media Covers the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI prays in front of the image ...

In my article about Pope Benedict renouncing his papal authority I told you to be cautious of the media’s coverage of the upcoming conclave. While I expected their reporting to be high on conjecture and low on facts, I can’t believe just how far out in left field some of these “news reports” and editorials are. If you were to piece together comments from various anchors, you would think that the Catholic Church is a horrible institution for not seriously considering a pro-contraception, pro-abortion, married woman as pope. The reporting is almost so ridiculous that even the best writers of all time for Saturday Night Live wouldn’t be able to come up with a parody of the coverage since the coverage is already a parody on shoddy news reporting.

I present the contenders for “worst recent news coverage of the Catholic Church.”  Thank you Creative Minority Report for doing the legwork of collecting these gems.  I would find them hilarious if they were meant as satire.  But unfortunately, they’re serious and are probably highly influential on people’s opinions and perceptions of the Catholic faith.

  1. ABC News:The Catholic Church not in touch with modern society
  2. MSNBC Panelist: Sotomayor for Pope
  3. E.J. Dionne — The best choice for pope? A nun
  4. Conclave & The Media: The Silly Season
  5. CNN vs The Catholic Church
  6. Hoping the Next Pope Isn’t Catholic

Many of these reports follow a similar template.  They automatically dismiss any of the Church’s doctrines that run counter to what is generally accepted in modern society regardless of their moral merit.  Actually, the reports are not only dismissive, but pretty much say the Church’s teachings are wrong and outdated and need to be changed with the next pope.  And not one of these reporters actually interview a priest who would explain why the Church holds certain teachings.  Instead, it is much easier to show anti-Catholics (or not well-catechized Catholics) voicing their frustrations with the Church under the cover of reporting on Pope Benedict‘s renouncement and the conclave.

I told you that the media was going to treat the choosing of the next pope like a political election.  Just go back four months to the presidential race and you will see the same template.  Instead of reporting news and getting stories from multiple, credible sources, the media just airs their progressive wish list and demonize doctrine that has stood the test of time for almost 2000 years.  I think the media has been so relaxed in its duties of holding politicians responsible for their actions that they no longer understand what it means for someone to uphold their core doctrines and principles.  The media doesn’t care if politicians ignore the Constitution (or the equivalent documents in other countries) and so they can’t begin to understand why the Church doesn’t arbitrarily change her doctrines to be more popular.  They act like the pope can wave a magic wand and make artificial contraception no longer sinful behaviour which shows a serious lack of understanding of one of the largest religions on the planet.  This type of irresponsible reporting is scandalous because it leads astray Catholics who aren’t well catechized and turns public sentiment against the Church.

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

The decent of the holy spirit by Tizian (1546)

Many Catholics have come down with an acute case of noncatechisisitis.  Symptoms include believing biased news reporting of the Catholic Church and not understanding core Church doctrine.  The remedy is to pray and meditate on the Third Glorious Mystery — The Decent of the Holy Spirit.  So many people need the aid and guidance of the Holy Spirit right now, especially the cardinals as they choose the next pope.  But we also need the Holy Spirit to increase our faith in the moral correctness of the Catholic Church.  I’m not Pope Benedict or even a Fr. Robert Baron when it comes to completely understanding the theological foundation for Church doctrine on requirements like non-married priests or male-only priests.  But I pray that the Holy Spirit will open my heart and give me the faith to embrace these teachings.  In a way, the Holy Spirit has the ability to bypass our minds and let us know the deeper truths God imprinted on our souls.  We live in deliberately confusing times.  But the Holy Spirit will lead us through them if we only take the time and effort to listen to God with an open heart through prayer.

Have you encountered any anti-Catholic or just plain ignorant reports on the Chruch from supposedly credible news outlets?  Feel free to tell your story in the comments.

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Is Morality an “All or Nothing” Proposition?

I read many articles dissecting Paul Ryan‘s answer on the abortion issue in the vice presidential debate last week. Ryan’s response disappointed many people when he said he would support laws that outlaw abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother. Because he added that exception, many people dismissed his entire stance as not being genuinely pro-life. You can read more about it on the political blog or news site of your choice. But to me this appears to be one of many case where people dismiss someone’s intentions or efforts to do good (or reduce the amount of bad) because it doesn’t instantly bring about the fullness of Jesus‘ teachings. It seems like every election season there isn’t just a battle between two candidates, but also between the “all or nothing” and “incremental improvement” camps as well.

We have to be careful when evaluating people’s intentions to bring about an eventual good end. For example, someone’s moral position cannot introduce an evil as a way of bringing about good (“the ends don’t justify the means” argument). But often, like Paul Ryan’s approach, no new evil is introduced by reducing the number of abortions in the general case and making exceptions in the edge cases for now (with the possibility of tackling them later). It’s accepting a political reality that the greatest good comes about one step at a time and rarely happens all at once. Nearly everything in life comes about in steps whether it be education, physical skills, spirituality, laws, and culture.

In my opinion, the “all or nothing” approach comes from people who are trying to justify their support of a position the Church opposes by making some sort of shaky moral equivalence  It’s a convenient way of convincing yourself that all politicians are really just the same so it doesn’t matter in the moral sense who you support. For some people, since Romney and Ryan would not outlaw 100% of abortions right away, they are just as pro-choice as Obama and Biden so the is no moral difference between the two on the abortion issue. I feel silly just writing that and hopefully you feel silly reading it. But if you’ve been on the Catholic Answers forums long enough, that is exactly the type of false logic many people hold.

Taking the logic of the “all or nothing” crowd, why should we help the poor since we cannot eliminate poverty entirely? Why should we treat the sick if we can’t end all illness instantly? Why fight for reforms in the justice system since our legal system will never be perfect? Why fight for freedom and liberty for some people if we cannot free all people around the globe? We fight these battles because we know that while we cannot help everyone, we do help many. After all, what is charity but trying to make small differences in some people’s’ lives? While I would love to wake up tomorrow to a world where there are no abortions, I’ll take a world where there are fewer abortions tomorrow than there are today. And if we all have that mindset where we fight to reduce the number of abortions tomorrow (even if just by one) then one day we might wake up to a world where there are no abortions at all. And those we save along the way will turn out to be our neighbours, our friends, our co-workers, our brothers or sisters, maybe our spouse, our parents, and so many other people who touch our lives who otherwise would not exist if we rejected every measure to do good because it wasn’t the ideal solution.

What Does the Rosary Teach Us?

What does the rosary teach us about how to face these social, political, and moral issues? Does it teach us that we should keep fighting for what is right and make small gains where we can or should we accept nothing less than the ideal solution? Jesus taking up His cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery represents how the greatest good comes about one step at a time. Imagine how painful it must have been for Jesus, tired and beaten, to carry His cross to His crucifixion. Every second must have seemed like an eternity of anguish and despair. But Jesus showed resolve and determination knowing that His suffering was to bring about the salvation of all humanity.  Jesus’ Passion was a slow process that had its literal ups and downs but was always moving in the direction of redeeming all of humanity. And so we should remember this mystery when the things that we want and fight for don’t seem to come fast enough. We must remember that God‘s time is not our time. His plan may not necessarily be our plan. But we should all strive to live like Jesus in His Passion where we must endure the challenges and hardship understanding that living our faith is a process, not something that can happen instantly.

Icon of the Pentecost

Another rosary mystery that comes to mind when I think about how we must show patience for God’s plan is the Pentecost in the Third Glorious Mystery. When God sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles, the world did not instantly change that day. In fact, the outside world remained the same. And the Holy Spirit did not fill the apostles with the power to instantly convert all people to the fullness and truth of Jesus’ teachings. The apostles still had a long journey in front of them that would take them to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel. The Church continues that mission thousands of years later of converting one soul at a time. Jesus’ message of love exists today because the early Church showed patience and endurance in spreading the Good News and didn’t quit because they couldn’t instantly convert the hearts and minds of all humanity.

What are your thoughts? Should we accept small and sometimes imperfect solutions to problems or do we wait and accept nothing less than the ideal solution?

 

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Pray with the Facts: Faith vs. the HSS Mandate

I received this newsletter from the good people at One More Soul, a website dedicated to fostering God‘s plan for love, chastity, marriage, and family. This is probably the most comprehensive discussion about the dangers of the Health and Human Services Contraception Mandate you will find anywhere. It approaches the issue of forcing people to offer contraceptive coverage in health care plans from multiple fronts — religious, political, philosophical, medical, economic, and sociological.  It has more than just Catholic commentary and theology that you might find in other publications. Many of the articles about the medical, economic, and sociological dangers of artificial contraception are from well-regarded doctors and scientists using data collected from studies and experiments.

Stand Up for Religious Freedom

This is a dense, 24-page newsletter so don’t think you can read through it casually in a few minutes. It does demand time and focus to get the most out of these articles. But I believe it is important to read every article to get the full scope of the challenge the faithful face in this world that is growing ever more hostile to people publicly living according to their religious convictions. It’s also important to read the medical articles so that you are aware of just how dangerous birth control pills are and the widespread damage they cause to individuals, marriages, and society.

I urge you to read these articles and share them. But also keep these articles in mind while you pray and meditate over the mysteries of the rosary. Because this battle over the HHS Mandate isn’t just about two large, faceless forces (the government and the Catholic Church) fighting over power and control. The issues of birth control, abortion, and the role of religious liberty has in our society affect millions of people whether it’s a business owner that must choose between his faith or his franchise or the young woman who the media, politicians, and abortion industry has deceived into thinking that a birth control pill is no different from a vitamin pill. Millions of people need your prayers.

Without prayer, we are like the apostles after Jesus’ death — hiding in a locked room scared of doing anything. But with the power of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, we find the strength to go out and publicly proclaim God’s truth like the apostles did on Pentecost which we remember when we pray in the Third Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  Learn the facts, listen to God through prayer, and then let the Holy Spirit work through you to help all those in need (especially those who don’t even know they need help).

I’m going to stop talking now so you have time to go and start reading these articles. Seriously, visit the One More Soul website, bookmark it, share it, sync the newsletter on all your smart phones, e-readers, and tablets and start reading and praying today!

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Our Lady’s Messages: January 2011

Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Hol...
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January 2, 2011 Message to Mirjana Soldo

Dear children; Today I call you to unity (communion) in Jesus, my Son. My motherly heart prays that you may comprehend that you are God’s family. Through the spiritual freedom of will, which the Heavenly Father has given you, you are called to become cognizant (to come to the knowledge) of the truth, the good or the evil. May prayer and fasting open your hearts and help you to discover the Heavenly Father through my Son. In discovering the Father, your life will be directed to carrying out of God’s will and the realization of God’s family, in the way that my Son desires (wishes). I will not leave you alone on this path. Thank you.

Mary brings up the very important concept of family.  She wants us to understand that none of us exists solely as individuals, but that we are all connected through God.  We are all each other’s brothers and sisters and Jesus calls us to take care of each other.  But much like siblings in a family, we often find it difficult to get along with each other.  One only has to watch the evening news to catch a glimpse of how we treat our brothers and sisters.  But we don’t mistreat each other only through outright crimes.  I’m sure all of us can think of times when we have treated others badly or unfairly.  If we are all part of God’s family then we must look like a very dysfunctional one to say the least.

However, God assumed Mary into Heaven so that She could be our Heavenly mother.  And one thing moms do is keep peace and order amongst quarreling siblings.  As She says in Her message, She will not leave us alone on our journey through life.  She is a very patient mother in that no matter how far we may stray She will always help us get back on the right path towards family unity.  But just because She guides us doesn’t mean She will do all the work for us.  We have a choice.  We can either follow the path God lays before us or not.  Mary asks that we pray, fast, and try to discover God in our lives.  Praying and fasting for guidance are important.  I find it amazing how much more time someone spends deciding and evaluating what clothes, cars, homes, and other possessions to buy.  And yet, it seems like we so quickly dismiss our relationship with God without ever really meditating and contemplating what that relationship means.  All Mary wants us to do is stop and think seriously about it through praying, fasting, reading the Bible, and attending Mass.

January 25, 2011 Message

Dear children! Also today I am with you and I am looking at you and blessing you, and I am not losing hope that this world will change for the good and that peace will reign in the hearts of men. Joy will begin to reign in the world because you have opened yourselves to my call and to God’s love. The Holy Spirit is changing a multitude of those who have said ‘yes’. Therefore I desire to say to you: thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary says that She still has hope that all of us will turn towards what is good.  Again, She shows great patience with us since it seems like the world is anything but good and peaceful.  And while it is easy to feel defeated when you look around and see so much pain, suffering, and evil, Mary asks us just to simply say yes to God.  All it takes is that little spark of motivation to live for God’s kingdom and Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the saints in Heaven will multiply that spark one hundred times.  The apostles were only twelve men and yet when the Holy Spirit came to them in the Pentecost they went out and spread Jesus’ message and built the Catholic Church.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit can do wondrous things when we let it lead us.  All we have to do is make the conscious choice to say “yes” to God.

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