We Are All Nazarenes

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Mt 5:4). Why? Because the world isn't right, and we need to remember that. According to Pope Francis, one of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is to become comfortable and at home in this life. That leads to complacency, to a sense that everything is all right because I'm all right.

My fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ are being crushed. Are we aware? Are we praying?

The most recent spasm of persecution has erupted in the Middle East, ancestral home of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, among other religions. We forget sometimes that even though many people think of the Christian faith as a Western or European religion, Christianity has ancient roots in the Middle East because it began there. The first Christians reached out from the land of Israel to the people from every nation under the sun, beginning on the very first Pentecost (see Acts 2:5-12). There are Christian communities in the Middle East - in Iraq, for instance - which have existed continuously from the time of their first evangelization during the days of the early Church right up to the present day.

Or rather, in some places, there used to be.

The militants of ISIS, who have recently declared the establishment of a caliphate, or Islamic state, in portions of Iraq offered our brothers and sisters in Christ a stark choice and a deadline of last Saturday: convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax (essentially protection money) to retain dhimmi (second-class) status, leave, or die.

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) is reporting that very few took the option to convert, and most Christians chose to accept an exodus toward a very unpromising future. The homes of Christians are being marked for looting with the Arabic letter for "n," standing for Nazarene. These are the homes of those who worship Jesus the Nazarene.

"Today our brothers are persecuted ... they are banished from their homes and forced to flee without even being able to take their belongings!" said Pope Francis in his Sunday Angelus message.

Those same militants are blowing up churches, evicting monks from their monasteries, and essentially wiping out a Christian heritage over a millennia old.

And this is not the first such persecution. Far from it.

"Though you would never guess it from the paucity of coverage in the major news media, there is a fierce persecution of Christians going on in the Middle East," said Fr. Robert Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary, in a recent article at NRO. "In Egypt, convents and churches are being burned to the ground and Copts, members of one of the most ancient Christian communities, are being routinely harassed, tortured, and arrested ... And the sheer shock of these extreme instances can allow us to overlook the fact that in Saudi Arabia Christians are not permitted to build churches or to practice their faith publicly in any way."

But the persecution of Christians today is much larger than the Middle Eastern situation, however bad that is. Noted journalist and Vatican expert John Allen summed up the situation bluntly in a piece for The Spectator on Oct. 5, 2013.

"Consider three points about the landscape of anti-Christian persecution today, as shocking as they are generally unknown," Allen said. "According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.

"According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth," he continued.

"According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a 'situation of witness' each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.

"In effect, the world is witnessing the rise of an entire new generation of Christian martyrs," concluded Allen, author of The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. "The carnage is occurring on such a vast scale that it represents not only the most dramatic Christian story of our time, but arguably the premier human rights challenge of this era as well."

And the persecuted Church is begging for the rest of the Body of Christ to take a stand, to speak up, to pray, and to send aid. "We need more than words now, we need concrete actions, we need the solidarity of Christians worldwide, not to be afraid to talk about this tragedy", said Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul, speaking to Vatican Radio over the phone from Nineveh province in Northern Iraq.

Jesus demands nothing less.

In the Diary of Saint Faustina, we read that Jesus was not content with Faustina simply believing in His mercy. He demanded that she show mercy as well:

...I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it. I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbour: the first - by deed, the second - by word, the third - by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. ... even the strongest faith is of no avail without works. O my Jesus, You yourself must help me in everything, because You see how very little I am, and so I depend solely on Your goodness, O God. (Diary, 742)

We are challenged to have mercy on all - family, friends, and fellow Christians, yes, but on our enemies as well. We must send aid to the Middle East through agencies such as the pontifical organizations Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and Caritas Internationalis. We must promote peace and reconciliation through seeking out our neighbors, loving them and getting to know them, and writing to our elected representatives to bring attention to the human rights catastrophe that is the global persecution of Christians. We must pray for the persecutors and the persecuted, for the conversion of hearts and minds, for peace for all nations, for the Lord God's will to be done in the world.

On July 24, we celebrate the memorial of St. Charbel Mahklouf, a Maronite Catholic monk and wonderworker from Lebanon. Let us ask him to pray for all the persecuted Christians, that they may receive aid. Let us ask him to pray for us who are not persecuted, that we may remember to tell the stories of our brethren who are driven from their homes, whose churches and monasteries are being destroyed, whose possessions have been seized, and whose heritage is being wiped out.

St. Charbel, ask God to grant us hearts on fire with love for our brethren and for the enemies of the Church, that we may tirelessly send them material and spiritual help. Help us not to be complacent because we ourselves are safe and well, but may we always have solidarity with the poor and oppressed, performing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to aid them. Amen.

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