The land that is mentioned the most in the Bible is of course Israel. The land that is most mentioned next is Iraq (home of Nineveh, Babylon, Eden to name a few.) Today, the largest community of Iraqi Christians lives in… Chicago. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians in Iraq have had to flee their homeland and now with the advent of ISIS the very existence of Christianity in Iraq, to which the Gospel was first preached by Thomas the Apostle, is teetering on extinction.
As bad as this is it gets worse. Near the ancient city of Nineveh ISIS goons captured four children all under 15yrs old and told them to "say the words" acknowledging Allah as Lord. But the children all said, "no but we love Yeshua (Jesus), we have always loved Yeshua". "Say the words" and they refused. Then their heads were cut off.
When we teach our children to sing that wonderful "O, how I love Jesus" do we ever envision that might mean the difference between life and death? Do we really let them know that by loving Christ they are in effect taking sides? And that can cost them dearly someday.
When I hear stories like this it makes our celebration of Christmas seem so superficial and trite. We can drive ourselves to distraction shopping and cooking and eating and decorating and miss the whole point. The Iraqi Christians who are still left in Iraq will not be celebrating the Birth of Christ with much fanfare, they can't. However they celebrate, if they can even celebrate must be done in quiet covertness. But I tell you they will not miss the point. Think of that when you don't "feel" like coming to Mass on Christmas: the Iraqi Christians risk their lives doing what we so easily excuse ourselves from.
It is important to remember too that these persecutions of Christians by Islamic radicals are not limited to Iraq and the Middle East. It is happening in Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and Africa. Yet you would hardly know it from the paucity of coverage by the Western media. And when it is covered, like the beheadings in Iraq, the West is somehow blamed. Even our government, especially our State Department, through Imam Kerry, has become the biggest apologist for Islam, ever reminding us that what we are seeing is not "true Islam".
Whether or not it is "true Islam" is something that only Islamic leaders can say. But what we do know is that the practice of Islam has had and has a very violent and wicked expression. And as I have pointed out many times, Pope Emeritus Benedict put his finger on the problem for which he was unjustly criticized. The problem is not political, economic or cultural but rather theological. The spreading of faith by violent conquest is supremely irrational since faith is an action of the soul not the body. A true conversion cannot happen at the end of sword, any conversion would be meaningless. True conversion cannot be forced rather it requires an act of the will and consent of the mind. Therefore as Benedict pointed out, a forced conversion is an unreasonable conversion and that which is un-reason-able is out of step with God's own nature since God is identified with reason. This is what the Gospels reveal to us: "In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh". Our God reveals himself to us as Reason and Love.
At the end of January we will have the opportunity to show our support for the Iraqi Christians as we have invited the local Iraqi Chaldean Catholic community to join us at Mt. Carmel with their pastor and celebrate Mass and share with us their experience, strength and hope.
In the meantime, as you prepare for Christmas remember the more we allow the light that is Jesus to shine on our world the more hope, justice and peace can become a reality. For some reason the world is being drawn back to the very geographical place where Biblical faith was birthed and where Jesus was born and the early Church first flourished. Whatever the reason it is certainly bringing us closer to the return of Christ at the end of time.
May we be found faithful and ready for our Lord when He comes again.
Love, Fr. John B.
P.S. Did you take the ME25 Survey? Like Santa, I'm makin a list and checkin it twice…actually the Survey is anonymous so I can't know who did or didn't but Santa does. Just go to our website or take a hard copy and fill it out! And don't forget to keep up with your Gratitude List!BACK TO LIST