09 August 2014

Homily - 10 August 2014 - Those who remain silent are responsible

N.B.: The following homily has been edited to correct a few grammatical errors and to include the paragraph about Saint Edith Stein.

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The experience of these past few days as we awaited the arrival of hurricanes Iselle and Julio has taught us something of the experience of the prophet Elijah. Just as the man of God sought the Lord in the “strong and heavy wind” and in the earthquake, so, too, did we, although in reverse order (I Kings 19:11). Like the prophet, we did not find the Lord in the quaking of the earth or in the driving force of the wind. Whereas Elijah climbed Mount Horeb to encounter the Lord, we looked to two mountains – to Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea – to find the Lord’s kindness and salvation (cf. Psalm 85:8).

Elijah climbed Mount Horeb – the very mountain on which the Lord spoke with Moses - not only to encounter the Lord, but also – and primarily – to flee from the forces of Queen Jezebel whose men sought his life. When the Lord asked him why he was on the mountain of God, Elijah answered, “I alone remain, and they seek to take my life” (I Kings 19:14).

At this very moment, on the other side of the world, at least 100,000 men, women, and children are also fleeing from men who seek to kill them. They fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marked their homes and businesses in Mosul with the Arabic letter nun, the equivalent of our ‘n’. ISIS destroyed many of their homes and the forces of ISIS now seek to take their lives because they are Christians.

ISIS used this letter to mark the buildings and their inhabitants as Nasrani, Christians in Arabic. Arabic names Christians in reference to the Nazarene, to Jesus of Nazareth, to whom they, like us, pledged their lives and obedience in holy Baptism. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria gave these Christians three choices: convert to Islam, pay a heavy annual tax and live with few rights and liberties, or die by the sword. They chose instead a fourth option and fled for their lives. That was four weeks ago, and for the first time in more than 1,600 years, there are no Christians in Mosul.

This week, ISIS overran the largest Christian city in Iraq, Qaraqosh, as the Christian inhabitants fled before them. A man converted to Islam and was martyred anyway. ISIS beheaded children and raped women. Regardless of the damage caused in these Hawaiian islands by Iselle, our sufferings here cannot compare to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Iraq.

As they cry out to God, begging, “Lord, save me!” the Christians of Iraq also cry out to us, demanding, “Where are you” (Matthew 14:30)?! The situation is dire and grim and the world largely simply sits back watching and doing nothing or very little.

Back in January, President Obama likened the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to a junior varsity basketball team; today, though, ISIS controls one third of Iraq and controls military bases in both Syria and Iraq even as it marches towards Baghdad. ISIS has established a new caliphate and Friday threatened to raise the flag of Allah over the White House. This is no idle threat. The swiftness with which ISIS forced the Christians out of Mosul and the hatred and cruelty shown to them clearly demonstrates.

No matter how many miles separate us from the Iraqi Christians, we cannot ignore their plight, nor can we remain silent. They are suffering greatly for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus, the same name that unites us together in the Body of Christ. We cannot ignore them or their needs because, as Saint Paul teaches us, “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (I Corinthians 12:26).

It was not that long ago that people outside Germany looked at the terrors of the concentration camps and asked, “How did they allow this to happen? How did they not see it coming? Why did they say nothing? Why did they do nothing?” Before he was elected Chancellor of Germany, everyone knew what Hitler wanted to do, but no one thought he would actually do then. Then, step by purposeful step, he incrementally began his campaign. It was subtle at first, but in the end deadly and horrific.

Right before our eyes another such genocide is occurring at this very moment in Iraq – we have seen the pictures! What is more, we have known this was coming for months, and we did nothing! History will look back upon us and condemn us with the same questions we asked about Hitler’s Germany: “How did they allow this to happen? How did they not see it coming? Why did they say nothing? Why did they do nothing?” Among the many victims in the camp at Auschwitz was a Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday. She was born to Jewish parents and given the name Edith Stein. She abandoned Judaism for atheism in her teenage years and became a reknowned philosopher whose thought deeply influenced Saint John Paul II. Before her martyrdom in the gas chambers, she said, “Those who remain silent are responsible.” She directed her words to those of her own day, and they are equally directed at those of our own day. Yes, those who remain silent are responsible!

On Friday, Pope Francis issued an urgent plea to his sons and daughters in Christ. “I ask all parishes and communities,” he said, “to offer a special prayer this weekend for Iraqi Christians.” With Saint Paul, we, too, must have “great sorrow and constant anguish in [our] heart[s]” for our persecuted brothers and sisters (Romans 9:2). If we do not, we should beg the Lord to help us empathize with them and to know their sufferings.

While Pope Francis has asked us to pray this weekend for the Iraqi Christians, His Excellency the Most Reverend Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines, on behalf of the Committee of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has called us to pray for the Iraqi Christians next Sunday, August 17th. Certainly there is no reason for us to wait that long; we should pray for them today, and every day!

We should pray that their attackers show them mercy, that peace come to their land, and that justice be served. We should pray that they find shelter and sustenance and that they be allowed to return to their homes. We should pray that they remain steadfast and persevere in the faith of the Lord Jesus, that they hear his voice whispering to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (cf. I Kings 19:12; Matthew 14:27).

What is more, we should fast for them; we should offer our sufferings and inconveniences for them; we should talk about their plight with our family, friends, neighbors, politicians, and strangers; we should, to the extent we can, donate to reliable groups working on their behalf. We cannot forget them! We must remember that, like them, we are N! We, too, bear the mark of nun because we are one with them in Christ Jesus!

Pope Francis has urged us to think of “Christian” not simply as a descriptor for what we believe, but as our very name. He said:

We are not isolated and we are not Christians on an individual basis, each one on his or her own, no, our Christian identity is to belong! We are Christians because we belong to the Church. It is like a last name: if the first name is “I am Christian”, the last name is “I belong to the Church.”[1]

He went on to say:

…you cannot love God without loving your brothers, you cannot love God outside of the Church; you cannot be in communion with God without being so in the Church, and we cannot be good Christians if we are not together with those who seek to follow the Lord Jesus, as one single people, one single body, and this is the Church.

My friends, we cannot claim to love our brothers and sisters, we cannot claim to be members of the Church or even to be Christians without feeling their sufferings and without doing all that we can to come to their aid.

His Beatitude Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Baghdad, recently composed a prayer that he and Bishop Pates have asked us to pray in union with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Although the Patriarch wrote his prayer from the perspective of an Iraqi, there is no reason we cannot pray it as it is because we are all one. Let us, then, pray in the name of our brothers and sisters:


the plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.

Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience,
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.

Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.

Glory be to you forever.


[1] Pope Francis, General Audience Address, 25 June 2014.