Out of Iraq: the Gospel Message Writ Large – UPDATED

Our Lady of Salvation Church, Iraq

In the gospels, Our Lord made it very clear that to claim His salvation and his Name was to put oneself at odds with the world. His cross is a sign of contradiction, and our lives are meant to be, as well. In truth, Christians should be happy, not angry, when the world despises them; it despised Him, first. If the world loved Christians, or loved the church, it would indicate that the church (or the Christian) has become too much “of the world.”

And where is the glory in that? Where is the salvific message?

A long time ago I wrote here:

Martyrdom is not about justice – it is not about reasonable death. It is about exactly the opposite, it is about facing down what is completely unreasonable and unjust and offering oneself to the cause of what is just, is reasonable. And yes, there is victory in it. But belonging, as it does, to the realm of the Supernatural, that victory is not always obvious and clear. Still, we all know that simply because a thing is not obvious does not mean it is untrue.

As we move closer to Advent, our Sunday readings become more disturbing; they speak of end times and persecutions and terror and injustice, in order to more profoundly engage us in remembering once more that the True Light has come, does come, is coming, and that darkness cannot overcome it. This week, Deacon Greg Kandra has done a masterful job of weaving together that hope, our scriptural narratives, and the horrors of our present age, in a dynamic and moving homily that you must read:

Exactly two weeks ago, late on a Sunday afternoon, a young woman named Raghada al-Wafi ran to her local church, with some wonderful news to share with the priest who had married her: she was going to have a baby. She asked the priest for a blessing.

He was happy to give it.

It ended up being one of the last acts of his life.

Moments later, the priest, Raghada and her unborn child were slaughtered. They were among the Catholic faithful killed by terrorists at a Baghdad cathedral – Our Lady of Salvation — on October 31st.
One week after the attack at Our Lady of Salvation, the people who worship there went back. But it wasn’t like before. And it wasn’t like just walking into this church today. They had to walk past police barricades and military trucks. They had to pass a security checkpoint and be frisked for weapons. But, incredibly, they went back. They had to. They walked into a sanctuary pock-marked by bullet holes, with bloodstains on the ceiling, bloody palm prints on the walls. They removed the pews. And they set out candles in the shape of a giant cross.

One of the parishioners put it so simply, and so beautifully. He said that he returned because the week before he hadn’t finished his prayers. I need to finish them, he said. A woman with a bandage around her knee told a reporter “We forgive them. We’re not afraid. They gave us blood and we give them forgiveness.”

Emphasis mine. What could so succinctly sum up the message of Christ? It echos Christ on his cross: Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.

This is a powerful lesson, coming to the world, out of Iraq: that “an eye for an eye” may feel like justice, but it runs contrary to the Good News of Christ, which frees us from that sort of vengeful and never-ending cycle of dubious “justice” – surrendering it all to the better judgment of the Father, and thereby releasing us from our pain, and from those instincts that would separate us from heaven.

It is, perhaps, a lesson that American Christians need to read about, and internalize and ponder; so much blood has been spilled in our long wars, but it is blood spilled “over there,” and not immediately before our eyes. The blood matters, whether via bombs in the Middle East or via forceps in an American abortion mill; it cries out for peace, and yet, as the prophet Jeremiah laments, “there is no peace.”

American Christianity has become very wound up in the world, and that carries the risk of self-interest eclipsing what we are supposed to be about, at our core, which is not nationalism. The swamp of politics can easily engulf our passions until we forget where our primary focus belongs: on the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

I accuse myself. I have been wrestling for a while with the direction in which are heading since 9/11. Too long engulfed in the swamp, I had not realized how deeply I had sunk into a pit. Our country has gone shrill; it has lost the capacity to sit quietly and contemplate, because so many of us have been so busy feeling, and taking offense, and not minding our own business.

Perhaps we must begin to recapture some stillness, and spend some time reacquainting ourselves with the sort of quiet strength that our spirits gain through prayer, and through generous spirits. Jesus may have unleashed a whip upon the moneychangers, but he didn’t spend all of his energies in that sort of confrontation. The example he left us was less about the knotted rope, and more about respectful engagement: he listened; he made his points succinctly, and sometimes wryly, and he never stooped to name-calling, vituperative language and sneers. His victory was, in fact, incredibly quiet.

We need to work on that, work on getting our souls in right order, every day.

At mass this week, the Gospel reading was about the ten lepers healed by Christ. He told them to show themselves to the priests, and as they traveled they realized they had been made clean. Only one leper came back to thank Jesus, and Christ said, “your faith has saved you.” They all got cleansed, but nine went forward into the world, and lost sight of Christ; they had an encounter with Jesus, and then walked on, leaving him behind.

Only one of the lepers got saved – the one who made the effort to move toward Christ.

It’s not a one-time thing. We must turn away from the world, and toward Christ, every day.

Please read Deacon Greg’s homily and send it around! We need to be reminded that we have been ransomed and at a price. We need to recognize our dignity. We need to remember who we are, where we have come from, and that we have been charged to let the world know we are Christians “by our love.”

And we need to remember that we should take the greatest joy in being despised by the world, and in loving those who hate us, for Christ’s sake.

A great idea:
Send letters to the Christians of Baghdad

This morning, Maria Teresa Landi, friend of a friend, came up with an extraordinary idea: send letters of encouragement to the Christians of Baghdad, who are suffering horrible persecution and killings. They are the Church’s modern-day martyrs.

By day’s end, the Nuncio at the United Nations was offering his diplomatic pouch (direct mail). He proposed to have all letters and messages sent to him by Tuesday night in a package and he will send the package to the Nunciature in Iraq on Wednesday morning.

Please address your emails to the families to His Beatitude Emmanuel Delli, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad at tonuncio@gmail.com. He will print out the emails and put them in the pouch.

“Why does the Body of Christ remain silent?”

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    Jesus Christ is the savior of the world.

    But although He is the Savior, the Redeemer, He does not do it alone. He calls us to join Him and help Him in the work of salvation. Starting first with Mary, His Virgin Mother, without whose help He never would have even been born, He asks all of us to similarly carry Him within us, to be one with Him.

    And to be one with Him means also being one with His Passion, participating in His redemptive suffering. The hate and persecution that one faces as a follower of Jesus, as a Christian, are a part of His Passion, with we making up in our own flesh what is lacking in His sufferings. In willingly taking those sufferings upon ourselves, we help Him in that work of salvation, we carry the Cross just a bit.

    That is our calling. That is what we ought to expect.

  • http://amongwomenpodcast.blogspot.com/ Pat Gohn

    “…surrendering it all to the better judgment of the Father, and thereby releasing us from our pain, and from those instincts that would separate us from heaven.”

    A lifetime ago, a friend of mine told me about her going to jail to forgive the men who gang-raped her daughter and several others, after the men forcibly entered a party at a house where they were not invited, but that they had chosen at random to get their kicks.

    When I asked her why she did it, she, without batting an eye, told me the same thing: she forgave them so she could be free of it and move on.

    Was offering forgiveness to those vile and unrepentant perpetrators a waste of time? I cannot say what it may have meant to the guilty prisoners. But I know what it did for her.

    Forgiveness free victims in supernatural ways that we cannot always rationally explain, but your words, dear Anchoress, come remarkably close.

  • Mila

    It is hard to understand what it means to be “in the world but not of the world”. It is hard not to give in to our basest instincts wishing to visit vindication on the perpetrators of this, because we tend to forget that vindication belongs to the Lord. Forgiveness is hard, and so is martyrdom. And yet, that is what we are called to do and be. Thank you, Anchoress, for reminding us of what we should do for Christ’s sake.

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  • Emily

    Beautifully, beautifully written. It brought tears to my eyes. May God welcome the martyrs into his eternal kingdom.

  • elmo

    Thank you for this post and for a means of offering love to our brethren in Iraq. :)

  • Susan T.W.

    Tomorrow, Nov. 14, is a special day to remember our persecuted, suffering brothers and sisters in the Lord. We should remember them daily, but tomorrow is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. In giving my presentations, I will speak of this particular church and the Christians’ Christ-response. May the prayers of the saints reach the hearts of the heartless.

  • Anne B.

    “A lifetime ago, a friend of mine told me about her going to jail to forgive the men who gang-raped her daughter and several others…”

    I wonder if her daughter has forgiven them.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Great post Anchoress

    NOW! For Christ sake people, let’s keep it up every day when and/if we can! :)

    God Bless Peace

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Let us pray for the persecuted church.

    Let us not shove our fingers in our ears, and loudly chant, “LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, LA, ALL’s WELL!” when it cries out.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    We Christians in America cannot forgive—because we are not the ones who suffered (Not yet, at least.) We can only forgive those sins committed against us.

    Nor can we, or should we, talk easily, or casually, about being hated by the world, because we haven’t suffered the level of persecution Christians in the Middle-East have; we’ve had it easy (so far.) We can only pray for the persecuted church, and that the time of trial pass us by.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Anne B., yes, I do wonder if the daughter has forgiven them, and how she feels about her mother making peace with the men who attacked her.

    Sadly, the world can easily forget the evil that men do—and call it “forgiveness”; and the world always wants to move on, and put all the bad stuff behind it.

  • NanB

    Wonderful post, Anchoress. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq are suffering, we can help by praying fervently for them and for the conversion of their persecutors.

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  • Ethan

    An eye for and eye is the way of the revengeful, it’s never about justice, but satisfying the lust of revenge under the pretense of justice. True justice, the way that comes from mature realist, is to ensure it will not happened again, not to revenge just to gratify revenge lust. Ensuring it won’t happen again sometime may need application of an eye for a hug, or an eye for the whole Gaza.

    Short-sighted compassion will blindly push for forgiveness despite of the possibility of the evil be repeated again. If the perpetrators repeated their evil destruction again, and another series of victims suffer again, is that still compassion for the future victims? Forgiving doesn’t mean letting the perpetrator free reign to repeat again. Forgiving is about the state of heart of not wanting to exact the same evil. But forgiving doesn’t preclude from stopping future evil. The realists can forgive while also start war to prevent future evil.

  • Irenaeus

    “[Jesus] never stooped to name-calling, vituperative language”

    Actually, it might be argued he *did* — “You brood of vipers! … Blind guides!” etc., esp. in Matt 23, when railing on the scribes and Pharisees. But I take your point, more broadly. Jesus is far from a FOX or MSNBC talking head or stuffed shirt.

    Theologically, it’s important to remember that the imitatio Christi has certain limits, because Jesus (according to Christian faith) was no mere man or prophet but rather the incarnate God on earth. He can thus do things and say things that we’re not necessarily to do or say. Thus, instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” a better question is “What would Jesus have me/us do?” That keeps us firmly under the direction of our Master.

    Great post, by the way…I find your writing in these deeper, more serious posts simply inspiring.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    So much for nation building.

    Our soldiers fought and died. . . to establish yet another Shari’a-ruled Islamic state, where persecution of minorities, especially non-Islamic ones, is the norm. And, even as we speak, there have been more anti-Christian bombinbs, and more persecutions. Iraqi Christians are now trying to flee the country that betrayed them; is America going to take them in? Ha, ha, ha, don’t be silly! We can build that lovely new mosque at Ground Zero, though. (Not to do so would be insensitive!) And, oh, oh, oh, was somebody even thinking of burning a Koran? Oh, my, how awful!

    Let us, indeed, pray for the Iraqi Christians—and ourselves. We need it.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Really, we can help the Iraqi Christians best by minding our own business, and not saying mean things! Remember, an eye for an eye will not help!

    (Not that the unarmed Iraqi Christians, vastly outnumbered by their Islamic “compatriots” couldn’t even begin to mount their own defense, let alone an actual assault; and is this really the sort of nation our troops are supposed to be building over there, and is it worth it? And aren’t they supposed to be preventing inter-religious attacks, such as this? No, no, we shouldn’t talk about this.)

  • Gail F

    RS: I don’t think that “minding our own business” is going to help Iraqi Christians or anyone else — if by minding our own business you mean paying no attention and by “not saying mean things” you mean not saying anything at all. If you mean we shouldn’t draw attention to people who are likely to get attacked because of it, I understand. But if you mean we should just go about our business and hope for the best, well, that doesn’t usually turn out so well for people who are being murdered.

  • Teresa

    Writing letters to the Christians is an excellent idea. However, I shall also write a letter to my Senators and congressman and ask why our soldiers are not even allowed to protect those poor souls. I’m not talking about our soldiers going on an attack, but at the very least, offering some protection as long as we are already there. Standing by and doing nothing is not something we should expect.

  • Elizabeth scalia

    Actually, Gail, if you hit the link attached to “minding each other’s business,” it’s pretty clear I am talking about stupid things like whether a kid who wants to put a flag on his bike should have to answer to others about it. That sort of busybodyness is doing us some real harm. We spend a lot of time worrying about other’s business instead of taking care of our own relationship with God.

  • Newgate Ludd

    I rarely read Catholic blog sites because I find they aren’t particularly Catholic or Christian show indications of a anyone having read the Gospels. But this one touched me and gives me hope. Being a Christian is incredibly hard. We are called to love our enemies and not even in a philosophical manner but to physically forgive those who have wronged us.

  • Joe C

    Wow! I accuse myself, at times, as well. This was a wake-up call for me to stop thinking I need to “do something” about all the injustice to the persecuted Christians, and now I can, by Prayer! Keeping my eyes toward Him. Thanks.

  • Elaine S.

    Too many people think forgiveness means 1) excusing a wrongdoer from all punishment, or 2) pretending that what they did was “no big deal” and can be forgotten about.

    It means neither. Forgiveness simply means not yielding to hatred or malice toward the wrongdoer, and continuing to desire what is best for them in the eyes of God.

    Of course what is best for them isn’t necessarily what is EASIEST for them. In the case of a vicious sociopath (rapist, murderer, etc.) it includes keeping them as far away from other potential victims as possible — up to and including the death penalty (Catholic teaching does NOT consider it inherently evil, but does raise serious questions about its appropriate use) or life imprisonment.

    And in the case of a hostile foreign power determined to impose tyranny on its subjects, it means fighting back against them. One does NOT do an unjust aggressor any favors by allowing their aggression to continue unchecked!

    It is entirely possible and appropriate to forgive murderers, rapists, domestic abusers, etc. and still insist that they be appropriately punished or restrained from doing further harm. Pope John Paul II forgave the man who tried to kill him — but he didn’t try to get him sprung from prison, as far as I know.

  • Iris Celeste

    I have been having Masses said for the intentions of the Guardian Angels of the countries involved (pretty much every country in the Middle East.) I know what the sacrifice of the Mass is. I know that God won’t turn down a request that is in accord with His will. I know that those who are in Heaven know God’s will better that any on earth can know. Therefore, I have had Masses celebrated for the intentions of Saints, Guardian Angels, Archangels, and the Blessed Virgin. Finally, there is constant prayer and offering of my life and suffering. That is what I have chosen to do for peace. Thy will be done; in all things praise the Lord.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I never feel comfortable with the end of times readings. These are not my favorite Biblical passages. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they just don’t feel spiritual like other parts of the Bible.

    I wonder if we can get special considerations to allow the Iraqi Christians to immigrate here. I think they would be model Americans.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Gail F., I was being sarcastic; I was referring to the remark about “Minding our own business” in the original post itself.

    No, I don’t think “minding our own business” is the answer here at all; but I fear many Christians, and Westerners in general, are going to do exactly that, whilst giving themselves a great big pat on the collective back, for their Christian martyrdom (when we’re not the ones being martyred) and our “forgiveness” of those who are killing Christians in Iraq (we might be in need of some forgiveness ourselves.)

    Yeah, all that nation bulding in Iraq sure paid off, by jingo! (That was sarc.l, by the way, as was most of my comment #14.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Sorry, Manny, it looks like we’re going to be bringing in more Palestinians instead—not to mention all those wealthy Saudis, and Saudi “Students” who come and go in this country as they please—and all the Islamic Somali refugees being re-settled here.

    Nobody cares about the Iraqi Christians.

  • Maria V.

    Thank you much Ms.Scalia for this – a chance to do something meaningful, for our brethren in Iraq !

    And what a beautiful image it is , in that church !

    The power of The Cross dispalyed so well …as we contemplate what might have been , if anything remotely similar had been done againt the people who claim to be of peace ..our seemingly muted responses not to be seen as that of not caring but of the power of mercy and hope and trust , in a Mighty God who sees all..just like our own brethren here who had undergone years of racial discrimination have been able to forgive and rise above the enemy holds of lingering hatreds… unlike many who have not recieved such graces …

    Thus , may this atrocity too serve for His glory !

  • Maria V.

    P.S – read in haste , to realise that only letters and emails could be sent at that address ; would try to search to see if any other items could be too !

  • http://www.assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com Assistant Village Idiot

    Caution here. Christians were targeted because of the reaction it would provoke in America: “Oh dear, we never should have gone because look at them now.” It may be that we never should have gone, but don’t get played.

    The helpless are in a different position than the powerful when it comes to justice. Their last remaining responsibility is spiritual, and so it puts that responsibility in high relief. The powerful have more complicated tasks. The complexity often obscures moral clarity in their (our) thinking, and they need to be called back to simple moral distinctions often. But that does not give observers the right to pretend that the whole situation isn’t complicated.

  • Gail F

    R.S.: I see what you meant now.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Assistant, what reaction has this massacre caused in America, aside from a few blogs? It’s mostly being ignored, in favor of Sarah Palin’s show about Alaska, Dancing with the Stars—or it’s tut-tutted about, with a few “My, how sad, but what can you expect?” comments.

    We’re getting played, but not in regards to Middle-Eastern Christians; fact is, we’re more interested in appeasing Islam, than we are in helping persecuted Jews and Christians. A threat—not even to a human being, but to the Islamic holy book, the Koran, stirred up more white hot fury than the church atrocity did! (Even though the Koran was spared, and the assault on it never took place.)

    Objecting to the Ground Zero Mosque generates more rage than killing Middle-Eastern Christians; “racist!” “Islamophobe!”

    If the terrorists’ clever plan was to drive us out of Iraq by using Middle Eastern Christians as hostages, I think it’s failed. Oh, we’ll get out, eventually, but only because we want to show Islam that we’re good guys, and not oppressors.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a terribly complicated situation, and the powerful, who are soooo very wise, have sooooo many more complicated tasks to perform, unlike the oppressed, who are supposedly, to “fulfill their last remaining responsibility”—which I guess means they should just die and get it over with. (Religious leaders in the West will make pretty speeches about their courage, and “forgiveness” once that happens.)

    The situaion isn’t complicated at all. But it’s true that we’ve lost our moral clarity.

  • Doc

    These massacres were likely not committed with an international agenda in mind. They were more likely an expression of Jihad. Brigitte Gabriel described this same phenomenon in Lebanon in the 70′s when Lebanese Christians were murdered in the same manner and were ignored by the West. Not all Muslims believe jihad should be performed in this manner, but those who do are certainly sanctioned by the Koran.

  • SAF

    Let’s also donate to Aid to the Church in Need, an organization which tries to help Iraqi Christians. (Even Catholic Relief Services has had to pull its volunteers out of Iraq due to the dangerous conditions there.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Yes, Doc, the killings probably are being done in the service of Jihad. Rather than being aimed at the West, the West might actually be encouraging them, by its indifference. After all, it didn’t intervene in Darfur, where Christians were being killed, or Egypt, where Islam persecutes Coptic christians; Christians are being driven out of Bethlehem, and the Palestinian territories, and our government’s only response is to give the latter more money.

  • Fr Patrick of Monterey

    Since this attack occurred and I have friends/parishioners from Iraq, I have preached about the experience repeatedly. It struck me this last Sunday how the words of the Gospels must have touched those who gathered at Our Lady of Salvation Church: ‘and all will hate you because of Me.’ These fellow Catholics inspire me and give me hope for the Faith.

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