19 July 2015

Homily - 19 July 2015

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

This past Monday evening, a great “straight line wind” event struck my home of Quincy, leaving behind a scene of great damage throughout the city. By God’s good grace, no one was injured, but windows were broken, a roof was torn off of at least one building, power lines and light poles were downed, and great and old trees – no small part of the city’s beauty – were blown apart and ripped from the ground. Even the cemeteries were not spared. The city is still working on cleaning up the wake of destruction; soon, though, things will be set right and we will begin the replanting of our beloved trees.

As I returned to Quincy Friday evening after a little more than a week away, my heart was moved with pity both for the city itself and for its inhabitants. Tears formed in my eyes as I saw what happened to the city I hold so dear. Seeing pictures on Facebook and in the news is one thing, but seeing it with my own eyes was something quite different. Even so, the wreckage of what can be seen in Quincy is nothing in comparison with what we learned of one year ago in Iraq, of the devastation the Iraqi Christians continue to endure for whom our hearts must surely be moved with pity.

It was on July 18, 2014 that the world began to learn with horror that the Islamic State had marked the homes and businesses of Christians in the city of Mosul with the Arabic letter noon, the equivalent of our ‘n’. Today, most of the world seems to have forgotten the genocidal act committed by the Islamic State in Mosul, to say nothing of the genocidal activity that continues to this very day.

The Islamic State used this letter to mark the buildings and their inhabitants as Nasrani, a pejorative term to designate Christians in Arabic in reference to the Nazarene, to Jesus of Nazareth, to whom they, like us, pledged their lives and obedience in holy Baptism. The Christians of Mosul – and of other cities, as well, were given three choices: convert to Islam, pay a heavy annual tax and live with few rights and liberties like slaves, or die by the sword. They chose instead a fourth option and fled for their lives. That was one year ago when for the first time in more than 1,600 years, there were no Christians in Mosul. One year later the Christians still tremble in fear as the Islamic State grows in force and size.

The Iraqi Christians walk now in the dark valley and pray that goodness and mercy will not only follow them, but also walk before them and around them (see Psalm 23:4, 6). They beg the Lord to raise up his rod and staff to defend them (see Psalm 23:4). They pray that the Lord’s right hand will be with them, that his arm will make them strong (see Psalm 89:22).

They are not alone in their sufferings. The Islamic state is also persecuting Christians in Syria and in Libya, Egypt, Somalia, and Nigeria as more and more Islamic terror groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabaab pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.

As they cry out to God, the persecuted Christians of the world also cry out to us, pleading with us to come to their aid. The situation is dire and grim and the world largely simply sits back watching, doing nothing or, at best, very little.

No matter how many miles separate us from the Iraqi Christians and our other persecuted brothers and sisters, 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 back 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 it. 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 and Syria and Nigeria and Egypt and Libya and Tunisia and Somalia – we have seen the pictures! What is more, we have known this was coming for months, and we did nothing! History, I fear, 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. She was born to Jewish parents and given the name Edith Stein. She abandoned Judaism for atheism in her teenage years and became a renowned philosopher whose thought deeply influenced Saint John Paul II. Before her martyrdom in the gas chambers, she said, “Those who remain silent are responsible.” Her words were directed at those of her own day, and they are equally directed at those of our own day. Yes, those who remain silent are responsible!

The Catholic News Agency recently reported about George Weidenfeld whom Christians rescued from the Nazis and brought to England. At the age of 95, himself a Jew, he has not forgotten the generosity and courage of Christians who saved him from nearly certain death. In order to repay what he sees as a debt, he has established the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund with the hopes of rescuing at least 2,000 Christians from Iraq and Syria over the next two years. It conducted its first operations last week and flew 150 Syrian Christians to Poland. Mr. Weidenfeld said, “I can’t save the world, but there’s a very specific possibility on the Christian side.”[1] His example forces us to consider what we are doing to save our persecuted brothers and sisters. Maybe we cannot save 2,000 or even 150, but can we save 1? What can we do, and what should we do?

We should pray that the attackers of our brothers and sisters show them mercy, that peace come to their lands, and that justice be served. We should pray that they find shelter and sustenance and that they soon 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). We should pray that they “need no longer fear and tremble” and that “none shall be missing” (Jeremiah 23:4).

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 should beg the Lord to help us empathize with them and to know their sufferings, that we might have “great sorrow and constant anguish in [our] heart[s]” for them (Romans 9:2). We cannot forget them! We must remember that, like them, we are N! We, too, bear the mark of noon 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.”[2]
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.

As we raise our cries to heaven on behalf of our persecuted brethren, may the heart of the Lord be moved with pity for them (see Mark 6:34). May he, hearing our cries and seeing our acts of love, stand by them to give them courage, to refresh their souls, and to give them peace (see Psalm 23:4, 2). As our brothers and sisters suffer in imitation of Christ, may their faithful witness make known the merciful love of God and lead their persecutors to know Jesus Christ whom they persecute. Amen.

[1] “This Jewish man survived Nazi Germany. Now he’s rescuing Christians from ISIS,” Catholic News Agency, 17 July 2015, 4:02 a.m. Accessed 18 July 2015. Available at: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/this-jewsish-man-survived-nazi-germany-now-hes-rescuing-christians-from-isis-20289/
[2] Pope Francis, General Audience Address, 25 June 2014.

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