“[My father] was trying to cover my three-year-old nephew with his body. They took the child and shot a bullet in his head.”
This is the fate of Christians in Iraq. This testimony does not come from these latest days when the last Christians in the millennial community of Mosul are being driven out. It comes from 2010. This is not new.
At the time, Christians of the Levant and organizations supporting them in France organized a protest. I took part. We weren’t in the evening news. But that day, in the evening news, there was an interview with Bruce Willis to promote a movie. I understand. Life is full of tradeoffs.
The persecution of Christians happens under a great shroud of silence. Maybe, as John Allen has argued, persecuted Christians are too Christian for the Left to care, and too third-worldy for the Right to care (but, you know, there’s a War on Christmas on). And the worst thing for our governments would be to be seen in non-Christian lands as having any sort of special solidarity with Christians (yes, wouldn’t that be terrible), so better to err on the side of indifference. Right?
This blood is particularly on the hands of the American government, which has a special duty to help them and, I am sure, will do nothing of the sort. As my friend Koz writes [FR], the Christians of Iraq are already dead. We won’t do anything to stop it. No one will.
Today, Christians in Mosul are tagged with the Arabic letter nun, shorthand for a pejorative, which we naturally take up as our own in a sign of defiance.
Some of us have changed our avatars or added the character on social media.
Isn’t that the worst kind of pathetic #slacktivism?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that from a religious perspective signs matter; that the plight of persecuted Christians gets less attention than comparable atrocities and any attempt at “awareness-raising” can perhaps help reduce that delta. But really. Pathetic.
My brothers and sisters are dying, displaced, spat upon, and I write self-righteous blog posts and edit my Twitter profile.
Impotence, shame, disgust. Shame and disgust at myself.
And yet. Yet. Yet there must be joy.
The Pauline hope, the anticipation of the Eschaton: yes, in the fullness of time, every knee will bend, every mouth will proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and every tear will be wiped from every eye. And in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the martyrs will reign as gods in unimaginable joy, their glorified wounds illuminating the new Heavens and the new Earth.
But there must also be joy today. Because for as hard as it is for us in the Modern world, for us who are still infants crawling on the path to sanctity, as Christians we must view martyrdom as an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. Happy are you when you are persecuted for my sake, the Lord tells us. Happy are you when you receive the great privilege of being an icon of the Cross, a mirror of God’s glory revealed in the form of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, of being totally faithful to the Teacher.
As Ignatius the God-bearer writes: “Permit me to imitate my suffering God… I am God’s wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” Read Ignatius today.
A contemporary hymn sings:
If the Father calls you to the work of apostleship,
Quiver with joy! Quiver with joy!
For your names are written forever in Heaven!
Quiver with joy! Quiver with joy!
For your names are written in the heart of God!
Through my tears, I must rejoice, for joy is the proper response of the Christian to martyrdom: joy of testimony, joy of fidelity, joy of Christlikeness, terrible joy of the Cross.
May all Christians give perfect testimony of the total love of Christ and give glory to God in the centuries of centuries.