Homily, 1 June 2014
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Acts 1:12-14; Psalms 27:1, 4, 7-8; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11a1 Peter 4: “… whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” “But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.”The following story is told about Mother Teresa:One day she found a young orphan girl who was dying of hunger. So she brought her to a bakery and begged for a loaf of bread for the child. The merchant said nothing, but spat in her face. The saint replied “Thank you for that gift. Now, perhaps something for the child?”It’s a story that tells so much about the Christian witness of St. Teresa, but it is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of living out our call to discipleship. Peter said in the second reading: “… whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” He said it because he meant it -- for he knew, as much as anyone, that the path of Christian discipleship was often a path of suffering.Christian discipleship calls us to respect the human dignity of every person, to love our neighbors, to defend the widow and the orphan, to work for justice and the common good, and to support the dignity of work and the importance of family life.We believe in a challenging moral life. We render unto God what belongs to God. We resist such false gods as materialism, narcissism, racism, and hedonism.Christians can often be out-of-synch with their surrounding cultures or with those in power, and, because of that, being a Christian is often dangerous.Although most Indians revered mother Teresa, there is also a radical Hindu nationalist movement in the country that is hostile toward religious minorities, and they have been responsible for some very violent anti-Christian episodes. In some Indian states violence and acts of intimidation against Christians are now common. In 2008 one of the most egregious incidents occurred: in a widespread anti-Christian rampage over a hundred people were killed, thousands were injured, 5,000 homes burned, and 50,000 people displaced in some 300 villages.In North Korea Christians are viewed as dissidents and are widely and systematically persecuted by the state. Churches have been bulldozed, sometimes with Christians still inside. Thousands of Christians have been rounded up and put into prison camps where they have been starved, beaten, raped and executed. What can bring on such treatment in North Korea? Owning a Bible. It is estimated that one-quarter of all Christians in North Korea are now in prison camps.In Mexico Christians are some of the most outspoken critics of the drug cartels. They speak out for the ordinary people who suffer as innocent victims of the drug wars. Catholic priests and Protestant ministers have been assassinated. So too have Christian social workers, journalists, and others who speak out because they feel it is their Christian duty.I haven’t spoken of challenges and great suffering faced by Christians in Islamic countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, because there is no time now … and I trust that those stories are familiar to you. I have highlighted these other stories to make you aware of the world-wide persecution of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is, as the journalist John Allen has said, a kind of global war on Christians. Too our shame, we haven’t really noticed, though as a group Christians are the most persecuted religious faith in the world.These stories are heart rending and profoundly unsettling. We want to do something, but we are so far away and our situation so different. What can we do?First, raise awareness, beginning with yourself. Read John Allen book “The Global War on Christians”Go to the websites of organization who document this crisis: “Aid to the Church in Need,” “Fides,” “Open Doors,” “The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life,” “The Center for the Study of Global Christianity.”Talk about it with family and friends.Contact your representatives. This is an election year: talk to the candidates about promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world.Second, fight the myth that many of these instances aren’t really cases of Christian persecution: People may say, for instance, that drug lords will kill anyone who get’s in their way, so it’s not really religious persecution. Yet it is most often Christians who get in the way, who are in danger, because they are trying to live their faith. Recall the story of Mother Teresa. Religion isn’t only about what we do in Church but how we live our lives. (It’s something even people in our own country don’t really understand.)Third, provide financial support if you can: Give to Catholic Relief Services and tell them about your concerns. Give to the group “Aid to the Church in Need.”Fourth, pray that violence does not beget violence:Peter also gave a warning: You may incur suffering, “… but let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, or as an evildoer… .” Christians can be as evil as anyone when they give in to hatred and revenge or misunderstand and misinterpret the Gospel. Think of the Rwandan genocides when Christians slaughtered Christians, or the radicalized traditionalist Catholic groups in Mexico that have killed protestant missionaries. Pray that those who suffer persecution recall the Beatitudes and the basic Christian insight that everyone is made in the image of God and everyone is also tainted by sin.Finally, live in solidarity with those who suffer for the faith.Make room for them in your prayers. Take advantage of the religious freedom we enjoy and live out all aspects of the faith.Last Thursday the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. It is a celebration of our greatest hope, that Jesus has opened the Gates of Heaven for those who follow him. As we lined up in procession for the start of mass, someone said to me, “don’t you think it’s good that there are at least 200 people here?” What could I say but “No. I think it’s terrible.”Around the world on Ascension Thursday fellow Catholics courted danger simply by going to mass, while others who wanted to go could not -- because they were in prison camps or the dangers were to great. We can go, yet we do not.I think one of the most important things we can do for any Christian who suffers for his faith is to be strong witnesses ourselves. If you can’t go to mass for your own sake, go to show solidarity with others.