Out of Iraq: the Gospel Message Writ Large – UPDATED

Out of Iraq: the Gospel Message Writ Large – UPDATED November 13, 2010

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?”

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