24 June 2018
The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Luke 1:57-66, 80 + Homily
19 Minutes 20 Seconds
(from the parish bulletin)
The recent dedication of our parish’s shrine of Our Lady of Aradin for persecuted Christians evoked a powerful response. We heard the Our Father prayed in our Lord’s native Aramaic, which is still spoken in northern Iraq along the Nineveh Plain. When the ISIS militants finally were driven out from that area, 1,233 houses of Christians had been totally destroyed, another 11,717 were partially wrecked or burnt, 34 churches were totally destroyed and 329 partially ruined.
Some years ago, I did a television program in Canada with the author Pierre Berton, who had published a book in 1965 called The Comfortable Pew. He was an atheist, albeit one of natural virtue sufficient to disdain the self-satisfaction of those who called themselves Christians but who had become relaxed about the Gospel imperative. A generation before, the ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr had described that sedated kind of Christianity as: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." An English theologian whom I knew, summed up most of the preaching he had heard in the United States: “Might I suggest that you try to be good?”
Laodicean lukewarmness (Revelation 3:16) tends to be discomforted by reports of men and women actually sacrificing all they have for the Faith. In one survey of issues that concern Catholics in the United States, economic matters and changes in the climate are prominent, while the persecution of Christians ranks last.
Saint Francis of Assisi went to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade to convert the Muslim caliph who had him beaten and imprisoned, but then released him with some token gifts. The next year, five friars were beheaded in Morocco. The sight of their bodies, ransomed by the King of Portugal and returned to Coimbra, determined Saint Anthony to become a friar. He made the trip to Morocco, but returned after a grave illness.
The great little man of Assisi wrote in his First Rule for the Friars Minor an instruction just as applicable today for dealing prudently with persecutors of the Faith:
"The brothers who are to live among the Saracens and other non-believers will enter into spiritual contact with them in one of two ways: The first way is by avoiding every conflict or discussion, and being subject to every human creature for God’s sake, while confessing at every moment that they are Christians. The second way is, at that moment when it is seen to be the will of God, to proclaim the word of God . . . because, as the Lord says in the Gospel: 'Everyone who recognizes me before men, I will recognize before my Father in Heaven And everyone who is ashamed of me and my doctrine, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes clothed in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.'”