Homily, 28 May 2017: Seventh Sunday of Easter
Homily, 28 May 2017: Seventh Sunday of EasterActs 1:12-14; Psalms 27:1,4,7-8; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11a—————Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, … But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer. —————This Easter we have been reading from the First Letter of Peter. He wrote it near the end of his life to a group of five churches in what is now modern Turkey. It’s a short letter: five chapters, one hundred and ten verses. You can read it twenty-five minutes. I suggest that you read it aloud. I read it to Janet last week as we sat on our porch and watched a storm roll by. We were safe, but wary lest the storm intensify. That fit the mood of the letter.Peter wrote this letter because he knew that along with the deep joy and hope given to Christians by the resurrection, persecution and suffering would come as well. He wanted to help them, as Christians, understand how to relate to people inside and outside of the Church.Over the last few weeks we’ve listened to Peter say:• [Because you have been given a living hope] you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials.• If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. … When [Jesus] was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; • Always be ready to give an explanation … for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear …And today we finish with these words: Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, … But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.In other words: don’t suffer for sin, and don’t sin because of suffering. Suffer only for the love of God.—————On Wednesday militants in the Philippines attacked a town killing many people and took hostage a priest and group of church-goers.On Friday terrorists attacked a bus of Coptic Christians killing over two-dozen people, many of them children.From sub-Saharan Africa, through North Africa and the Middle East, South, Central and East Asia, Christians face a constant threat of persecution.Is Peter’s letter still relevant today? You bet it is.Do Christians still heed his message not to sin in the face of persecution? Yes, thank God.—————In September 2014 a group of scholars at Notre Dame and Georgetown Universities received a major grant to study Christian responses to persecution in twenty-five countries around the world. The project is called “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution,” and they released their first report this spring.What they found was that Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent and, with very few exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism. Christian communities respond primarily in three ways. 1. They employ survival strategies: going ‘underground’ or fleeing to safer places. 2. They form associations or alliances with other Christian groups, other non-Christian religions, and secular figures in order to work more effectively for religious freedom.3. Sometimes they use non-violent confrontation to openly challenge their persecution, to expose injustice and to mobilize others to oppose it as well. This strategy sometimes results in martyrdom.Why don’t more Christians respond violently? It has everything to do with the Christian theology of suffering that is encapsulated in the First Letter of Peter.Listen to an exchange reported by a worker for the Open Doors Foundation working in Iraq. She writes:Recently, an Iraqi Christian was asked: “What did this whole business with ISIS do with your faith? Were you not challenged? Did you not lose faith?” And the whole family, the women and the men, said, “Our faith has become stronger.” The man who asked the question said: “How can it be? You had to flee.” And the answer was: “Look, God protected us so we could flee. God protected us so we could be in Erbil, and our faith has become stronger.”—————In the United States we live a pretty good life as Catholic Christians. Most of us never have to face persecution because of our faith, but if we do, it’s what Pope Francis calls “polite persecution.” It’s not trivial, but we know how to deal with it.Because we have it so good here, we can become complacent to the plight of our fellow Christians around the world. But what can we do?Perhaps a good way to start is to go on the web and find a copy of the report. Just search the phrase “In Response to Persecution,” it will come right up. Read it and pay attention to their “Recommendations for Action.”You might also support the papal charity “Aid to the Church in Need” which serves the suffering and persecuted Church throughout the world. They are on the web as well.There is one more thing that we can all do to help. Be a good Christian. Live the faith with some fervor and don’t take it for granted. After all, no one is threatening us for being Christians.As I sat here Wednesday on the Vigil of the Ascension looking out at a church that was less than half full, I thought about those Christians in Iraq. How many of them would be overjoyed to go to mass midweek in a beautiful church in a peaceful country?What would they say to us if they could see how empty the Church was? What would Peter say?