My parents live in the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan. It is a sparsely populated diocese and they have many priests from foreign countries. Their parish priest is from Zimbabwe. Recently, he took a trip back home and shared with the parish that when he travels there, he will not wear his roman collar; if he did, there is a good chance he would be killed for being a priest. He shared that the local bishop requires the priests in Zimbabwe to wear the collar, regardless. He knows many who have been killed.
I know a Franciscan friar who can’t be named because every few years, he goes to Saudi Arabia to minister to Catholics. Very secretive; if he is caught he will be executed along with those he is there to serve.
I know a Chaldean Catholic priest from Iraq who serves a local community here in my home state of Michigan. He told me the story of his sister who was shot and killed when she exited her Church in Iraq—because she is Christian. He also knows of Christians who have been crucified in Iraq by ISIS.
When I was taking classes at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, I met a Chinese seminarian named Joseph. His bishop sent him to the United States for his seminary education because he could receive the formation and education without being harassed. He shared with us that it was almost certain that when he went back to China, he would be arrested as soon as he landed.
Sisters and brothers, 2 Maccabees 7:1-14 provides a detailed and graphic description of a mother and her sons being tortured to death for refusing to give up their faith and continuing to adore the one true God. This story can be told today in our times and in many places in the world. Christians are being tortured and killed because of the name of Jesus.
“You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever…It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.”
The story says that even the king and his attendants marveled at the courage of these young men.
The Gospel story from Luke 20:27-38 tells of a challenge by the Sadducees regarding the resurrection of the dead at the end of times. The Sadducees only considered the books of Moses to be scripture and so would not give any weight to the story from Maccabees which teaches about the hope of the resurrection, or from the prophet Ezekiel who had a vision of flesh wrapping around bones with new life and taught that God would make us rise up from our graves. Jesus affirms the resurrection and offers his followers the hope of eternal life. (It is easy to remember the party at the time of Jesus that did not believe in resurrection, the Sadducees…it is sad, you see, that they did not believe.)
There is a line from Psalm 17, “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Don’t we all feel like hiding at times when the world ridicules us for professing our Christian faith; when the world mocks us for speaking the Gospel message? Many of us live our lives as Christians hiding in the shadow of God’s wings. We go to Church and leave our faith at the door when we leave on Sunday. We buy into the culture’s refrain that it is OK to practice your religion inside the walls of your Church, but don’t bring it out to the public square.
We are fortunate that for now, we can take the Gospel to the public square. You may be ridiculed but you will not be executed. I say ‘for now’ because history has shown that when the faithful are silent and complacent, rights and freedoms are taken away. We have to stop being a pious group of Christians who sit inside the walls of our Churches and meet with our pious prayer groups in the Church basement and instead, go out and be the “Visible Face of the Church.” When I made my profession as a Secular Franciscan I promised to “give witness to the Kingdom of God…to be a visible sign of the Church…to be the light of Christ in the world…a faithful witness and instrument of the Church’s mission among all people.” (taken from the Rite of Profession, Permanent Commitment to the Gospel Life, Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order)
Preaching the Gospel is always controversial. It has been for 2000 years. The Franciscan Action Network is often criticized for taking a stance in defense of the individual rights of persons created in the image of God. The dignity of the human person as an individual is the cornerstone and foundation of Catholic Social Teaching. Caring for the individual person transcends the social and political order. This is not just me talking; it comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that was promulgated during St. John Paul II’s pontificate.
Paragraph 1930 states: “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority…It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights.“
I’d like to end this reflection with the prayer from 2 Thessalonians 3: 3-5:
“But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you are doing and will continue to do. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.”