Tag Archives: Gospel

What to do about Syria, ISIS, Boko Haram…

When I got up yesterday morning, September 10th, I rewatched a video a friend had shared on Facebook that brought home for us Americans what the experience of a child in a place like Syria might be like.

Then I looked at the readings for the day, which included this:

Brothers and sisters:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.

And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one Body.

And be thankful.

And this:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.

And this:

love your enemies and do good to them

And this:

Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.

This, on the eve of 9/11.

We as a world seem to be stuck on whether to welcome refugees from places that are, literally, terrible places to live. Pope Francis has been consistent in urging the developed world to welcome refugees from Syria, Libya, and every other country whose situation is so unstable that residents feel their only hope is to flee. His exhortation this week for every Catholic parish in Europe to shelter at least one refugee made waves, mostly because Catholic Hungary and several other EU nations have been less than welcoming of would-be immigrants. But recall that his very first pastoral visit as pope was to the tiny island of Lampedusa, where he brought attention to the refugees and migrants who lost their lives there in a shipwreck trying to flee North African instability. While it took the image of a 3-year old Syrian to wake up America, Vatican Radio has been covering the refugee crisis from many angles since the beginning of Francis’ papacy. And while Americans may think the US immigration issue is completely different, I would not be in the least surprised if he argued otherwise in his upcoming visit to Congress.

So to those who would say it matters that the turmoil that drives some percentage of the migrants in Europe and most in the Americas isn’t physical violence but economic want, so what? (I suspect the pope will say something about economic inequality to Congress as well.) If what drives you into the hands of con-men and slave-traders and away from your family and community is poverty and starvation rather than bombs and thugs, what difference does it make? 

To those who balk because some, maybe most, of the immigrants are Muslims, so what? Recognize that the region racked by instability is predominantly Muslim, and the so-called Islamic State is not only not truly a state, but is every bit as barbaric toward the faithful followers of Islam who don’t hew to the perverse interpretations of the Koran that its leaders use to defend their barbarity. Of course they want out, too.

And to those who would claim that this is all a front, that the majority of those making the harrowing journey across back roads and wilderness into an undertaking future are actually jihadists seeking to infiltrate Europe and bring it down? Really?

What stumps me is not the refugee situation and our immediate response. What stumps me is how to stop it. Clearly, these regions need to be stabilized in a way that respects human rights and human development in ways that allow decent people to live and prosper in peace. How does that happen?

The Bible is of little help on this. Neither the Gospels nor Paul nor any other New Testament writer envisioned a scenario in which followers of Jesus would have political power.

History is of little help on this. While the world has defeated extremist ideologies in Europe through allied force, the military experience in the Middle East is different, and some of the sectional factions at odds have been fighting for millennia.

And what Jesus says in the Gospel of the day is the hardest message of all: You know those terrorists? The ones who profess death to America? He calls us to love them. 

What that looks like, and how we can love them while stopping the, from hurting others we love, I do not know. The only phrase that gives me a tangible place as an individual to go is this: pray for those who mistreat you. 

That we can do.

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That’s what Christmas is all about, Jorge Bergoglio

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The next few posts are especially for people who aren’t big into Christianity in general or Catholicism in particular. Even if you have never been to a church service of any type, there’s a fair chance you’ve seen the Charlie Brown Christmas special and heard Linus explain Christmas to Charlie Brown, which I paraphrased in this post’s title (Jorge Bergoglio is Pope Francis’ given name.)

Since the pope is writing to members of the Catholic Church, you would think that he wouldn’t need to spell out what the good news is he is calling us to spread with joy. But, just like Linus, he does it simply and eloquently. And often.

First, here is the essential message of the Christian faith, expressed a couple of different times in the document:

“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” (Paragraph 164. All citations are by paragraph, which is how the Church tends to organize documents since they get printed in a bunch of different formats, making page #s less useful.)

Here’s another way of saying it: “Faith also means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity.” (278)

Francis says that grasping this reality, this good news (which is what “Gospel” means), is really the one thing you need to speak about God with others. “What is essential is that the preacher be certain that God loves him, that Jesus Christ has saved him, and that his love always has the last word.” (151) “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.” (39)

This is the message that speaks “to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart.” (165) This is “a truth which is never out of date because it reaches the part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.” (265).

While we will talk a LOT more about evangelizing (which means delivering the good news), it Francis never loses that it’s because this news is so good that we are impelled to share it with others. “With Jesus life becomes richer and…with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize.” (266). “The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?” (264)

If you’ve always thought of religion as believing in a set of rules or doctrines, this talk about love may sound a little strange. But that really is what it’s all about. Quoting his predecessor, Benedict XVI, he says “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (7) “Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (8) “A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.” (266) (that’s my favorite quote of the night, and may show up in some work projects.)

Another theme that comes up a lot is that we often react to this call to evangelize by saying it crimps our style. But Francis says we’ve got it all wrong. “Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills.” (280) “Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.” (10)

OK. So that’s what the good news is and basically what evangelizing, the focus of this whole document, is all about. If you’ve read this far and you have questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them. If you’re really just waiting for some more of the “Francis talking about social problems” stuff, well, here’s the essential piece of where they come from: “Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life.” (274)

And in closing: “We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option [preference] for those who are least, those whom society discards.” (195)