Religious persecution of Christians is rampant worldwide, as Pew has noted, but nowhere is it more prevalent than in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where followers of Jesus are the targets of religious cleansing. Pope Francis has repeatedly decried the persecution and begged the world for help, but it has had little impact. Western leaders — including Obama — will be remembered for their near silence as this human rights tragedy unfolded. The president's mumblings about the atrocities visited upon Christians (usually extracted after public outcry over his silence) are few and far between. And it will be hard to forget his lecturing of Christians at the National Prayer Breakfast about the centuries-old Crusades while Middle Eastern Christianswere at that moment being harassed, driven from their homes, tortured and murdered for their faith.
A week and a half after Obama's National Prayer Breakfast speech, 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded for being "people of the cross." Seven of the victims were former students of my friend and hero "Mama" Maggie Gobran, known as the "Mother Theresa of Cairo" for her work with the poorest of the poor. She told me these dear men grew up in rural Upper Egypt and had gone to Libya seeking work to support their families. They died with dignity as they called out to their God, while the cowardly murderers masked their faces.
Rather than hectoring Christians about their ancestors' misdeeds, Obama should honor these men and the countless Middle Eastern Christians persecuted before them.
Monday, there was more horrifying news: ISIL terrorists released a video purporting to show more religiously motivated killing. According to CNN, before beheading and shooting two groups of Christians in Libya, a speaker said, "The Islamic State has offered the Christian community (the opportunity to convert to Islam or pay a tax for being Christian) many times and set a deadline for this, but the Christians never cooperated."
In his daily homily for Mass at the Santa Marta residence, Pope Francis urged the faithful against living as lukewarm pagans who are merely Christian in name, for these are “enemies of the Cross.”
Reflecting on the day's reading from Paul to the Philippians, the Holy Father spoke of two types of Christians: those who advance in their faith, and those who behave as “enemies of the Cross of Christ.”
Pope Francis condemned this latter group as “Christian pagans,” describing them as “worldly, Christian in name,” but living a “pagan life.” They are “pagans with two strokes of Christian paint, in order to appear as Christians.”
There are my Christians today who live out their faith in this way, the Holy Father said. He warned the faithful to be attentive so as to not become like these “Christian pagans,” who are merely “Christians in appearance.”
The downfall of such Christians is their mediocrity, he continued, for their hearts become lukewarm. “Because you are lukewarm, I vomit you from my mouth” the Pope said, citing the Lord's words against lukewarm Christians.
“They are enemies of the Cross of Christ. They take the name (Christian), but do not follow the demands of a Christian life.”
Continuing his reflection on Saint Paul, Pope Francis said these Christians “are citizens of the world,” not of Heaven.
The Holy Father then challenged the faithful to ask themselves if they too exhibit the same worldliness and paganism, and whether they are citizens of Heaven or the earth.
Unlike the citizens of Heaven who await the coming of the Savior, Pope Francis said the citizens of earth are destined for damnation.
You know, in the military, chaplains don’t carry pieces. That’s one of the jobs (protecting the chaplain) that a chaplain’s assistant is tasked with. But not the chaplain himself. They go about their important business unarmed. Remember the Catholic chaplains that were awarded the Medal of Honor? What makes their bravery so stunning, so arresting, and so downright fantastic, is that they did everything while completely unarmed. Alone, unarmed, and unafraid.
Enter Screwtape in a good suit and a Charvet necktie. Three years ago, a leading Canadian writer,
producer, and broadcaster took me out for lunch. He was affectionate and supportive. He acknowledged that my career was going very well, but he wondered why I was limiting my speeches to Catholic and pro-life groups, when I could be speaking to major banks and big businesses for ten or twenty times the fees. Not to mention, he insisted, I could write anywhere I wanted and have anytelevision show I desired. But . . .
“The problem is really quite simple,” he explained over coffee. “It’s okay being a Catholic, and it’s not even too much of an obstacle being pro-life, but I wouldn’t make too much of the abortion stuff if I were you. Oppose euthanasia all you want. But you have to change the gay marriage stance. Not just remain silent on it – they will see through that – but actually make it clear that you have changed your mind. That’s it, that’s all. Not become outspoken, just make it clear that you remain Christian. . .but see no problem with gay marriage.”
The arguments for and against same-sex marriage never change, cannot change, so “transformed” individual responses are the result not of intellectual development but personal reaction. Such a retreat on this seminal, iconic, and Sacramental debate could be the result of a loved one’s anguish, a loss of faith, or something similarly profound if still inadequate. It could also be out of sheer emotional exhaustion, or from the misplaced belief that the Gospel can only be spread if we surrender to cultural imperatives.
The first is understandable but flaccid, the second – and we see the position emerging in some evangelical churches – darkly selective and with quite terrifying consequences.
Or it could be far more banal, as it was when offered me by lunch-pal Screwtape. You see, when we abandon our defense of genuine marriage the world does not say we have changed but that we have matured; if we go along with the crowd on this issue we are said not to have moved from one side to another, but moved from extreme to moderate. It’s a tendentious and wicked vocabulary, a lexicon of anti-Christian disdain.
Turning from truth and denying what is of God can be sweet, sweet temptation. Thomas More gave his head to stay faithful to marriage. I should certainly be willing to give up a lucrative speaking gig or two.
Fifteen things. In 2010 a man named Andrew Hyde gave away everything he owned except for fifteen
things. He kept a pair of pants, 2 shirts, a pair of sandals, a pair of shorts and some underwear. Everything he owned on this earth fit into a small backpack. He did it in preparation for a trip around the world. He also did it to be free from the ties that bind us to the stuff that we own. He called what he did “an adventure in minimalism.” Now three years later he’s living in New York and now he owns around 60 things. Still. Can you imagine streamlining all your worldly possessions down to just 60 things? I probably own at least 60 pairs of shoes. Most of them black. I really can’t imagine living the way Mr. Hyde lives.
But I’d like to give it a try. I look around my house. Why do I hang onto things I don’t use? Why do I keep clothes I no longer wear or that no longer fit? And here’s an even better question: why do I continue to buy MORE stuff? I remember when I was just out of graduate school and starting my first real job. I had an apartment that was barely furnished with anything except books, a stereo perched on an orange crate and a mattress on the floor. I couldn’t wait to fill it with “stuff.” A few years later it took a team of movers and half an 18-wheeler to move my stuff across the country. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten a bit better at consuming less. Maybe. Except for the black shoe thing. But reading about Andrew Hyde has made me want to do some serious clearing-out. As a Catholic I know the story of the rich young man whose only apparent shortcoming was his attachment to the things he owned (Matthew 19:16-26). Just last Sunday at Mass we heard the story of the rich man with the abundant harvest who had great plans to build new and bigger barns to hold all his wealth. Of course God knew the man would die that very night and would never need another barn or enjoy his new money (Luke 12:16-21). When we fall in love with the things of this world, as beautiful as they are, we lose sight of our true home and happiness which is in heaven. Our hearts were made to love a Person. Only when we fix our love on the Creator do we ever find true joy. No amount of stuff will ever satisfy our hearts. There’s the old question: what is enough? The answer: just a little bit more than you have. And there’s the rub. You’ll never have “enough.” You’ll never feel content with accumulating more, consuming more, having the latest gizmo. Your heart was made for so much more than mere “stuff.”
Many more have died since the first of the year and over 500 people were murdered last year.
And again, those numbers are just for Chicago.
Where is the emotion over these deaths?
Where are the calls for justice over these murders?
Why isn't social media aflame over these killings?
The challenge ought to be obvious.
Take all the emotion, take all the calls for justice, take all the anger and all the head shaking in disgust and channel it all into attacking what I consider to be the root causes: moral apathy, fatherless families and a prevalent and violent thug culture.
I challenge Jesse Jackson. I challenge Al Sharpton. I challenge all civil rights leaders and all who are outraged today to apply all this energy toward seeking justice for the far too many that are being murdered in urban neighborhoods across the country.
Let's set aside the demagoguery, the political leveraging, the focus on that which divides and separates and instead do what is right so that evil can be conquered.
Lord, show us humility and grant us unity to get this done.
Mother Mary, pray for us, pray for peace, and point us all toward the Prince of peace.
Pope Francis has just released his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, or “the light of faith.”
The first encyclical of a pope is always closely watched, because it frequently signals the way in which
he intends to govern the Church.
This new encyclical is even more intriguing because much of it was actually written by former Pope Benedict.
Here are 14 things you need to know . . .
1. What is an encyclical?
An encyclical is a kind of letter. Papal encyclicals usually deal with matters of Church teaching (doctrine). Popes write them when they feel they have something important to say about particular teachings.
Although they are not infallible, encyclicals are authoritative.
The word “encyclical” comes from the Greek word for “circle,” indicating that it is to be circulated among different people.
The encyclical Lumen Fidei is addressed to “the bishops, priests, and deacons, consecrated persons, and the lay faithful.” This indicates a broad audience.
The encyclical was originally begun by Pope Benedict in order to commemorate the Year of Faith and to complete a trilogy of encyclicals he had been writing on the three theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity.
The preceding two were Deus Caritas Est, on the theological virtue of charity, and Spe Salvi, on the virtue of hope.
Pope Benedict’s health did not allow him to remain in office, however, and so the draft of the encyclical was inherited by Pope Francis, who chose to complete it.
3. Has this ever happened before?
Yes. In fact, Pope Benedict’s first encyclical was based, in part, on an encyclical that John Paul II had begun preparing but had not finished.
4. Does Lumen Fidei acknowledge Pope Benedict’s role in its composition?
Yes. In it, Pope Francis writes:
These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue — are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own. [LF 7].
5. Does Lumen Fidei sound like Pope Benedict?
Much of it does. It includes many of the characteristic touches and themes of his writings.
For example, it contains many references to history, including early Christian history, Jewish history, and pagan history.
It contains references to the thought of historical figures, including the Church Fathers Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.
It also refers to the thought of recent intellectual figures, including the Catholic thinker Romano Guardini, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, the agnostic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
6. Do particular passages sound like Pope Francis?
This is harder to judge. He is mostly known for his speaking style, and his own voice for a document of this nature may take time to emerge.
One touch that is distinctly Pope Francis, though, is the way he signs the encyclical.
Normally popes give their name in Latin, followed by “PP” (a Latin abbreviation for “pope”) and followed by their number.
Pope Benedict, for example, signed Spe Salvi by writing “Benedictus PP XVI.”
Pope Francis, being the first pope to use this name, does not have a number, so you wouldn’t expect that in his signature.
He does, however, seem to prefer not to use the title “pope,” preferring “bishop of Rome,” instead.
Thus he leaves out the “PP” in his signature and simply signs the encyclical “Franciscus.”
7. How is the encyclical structured? The encyclical, which takes about two hours to read in full, is structured this way:
· Introduction (1-7)
· Chapter One: We Have Believed in Love (8-22)
· Chapter Two: Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand (23-36)
· Chapter Three: I Delivered To You What I Also Received (37-49)
· Chapter Four: God Prepares a City for Them (50-60)
8. What does the introduction cover?
The introduction introduces the idea of “the light of faith” (Latin, lumen fidei) and the role it plays in our lives.
It discusses the inadequacy of pagan, pre-Christian faiths and the neglect of faith in our own time. It also stresses the need to rediscover the role that the light of the Christian faith can and should play in our lives and in society.
A favorite quote, right from the beginning of the encyclical is this:
The pagan world, which hungered for light, had seen the growth of the cult of the sun god, Sol Invictus, invoked each day at sunrise.
Yet though the sun was born anew each morning, it was clearly incapable of casting its light on all of human existence.
The sun does not illumine all reality; its rays cannot penetrate to the shadow of death, the place where men’s eyes are closed to its light.
"No one — Saint Justin Martyr writes — has ever been ready to die for his faith in the sun" [LF 1].
Of course there's more and it's most interesting and educational. Check it out.
And check out The Anchoress, who links to a roundup that includes the poignant observation that the encyclical is "a heartfelt attempt to speak to anyone still searching for God.”
“For transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. But what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion. There is a special means for passing down this fullness, a means capable of engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others. It is the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy.”