The violence, terrorism, slaughter and religious persecution perpetrated by the Islamic State in the Middle East has horrified the world. The murder of James Foley; Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities being buried alive; and the killing of captured troops disturbingly reveal an intolerant and violent hatred that holds absolutely no regard for the sanctity of human life.
Over the past several decades, Christians have been systematically driven out of the Middle East. Violence, murder, threats and terrorism have forced thousands of Christians to either leave their homelands and possessions or face the very real possibility of being killed.
If current trends continue, few Christians will remain in the lands made sacred by the saving events of the Bible. This bloody and hateful persecution has created a new band of martyrs – women, men and children who have been killed for believing in and loving Jesus Christ.
This terrible situation demands a response from us, as we see our sisters and brothers in the Mystical Body of Christ being brutally murdered. We may feel powerless to directly change such an overwhelming situation, but we can pray, fast, help charitable foundations in the Middle East and speak out against this evil violence.
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving unleash a remarkable spiritual power as we pour forth the love in our hearts for our persecuted brothers and sisters. What might happen if all Christians and all religious believers throughout the world prayed intensively and specifically for peace, particularly in the Middle East but also in our own nation and hearts?
If all believers and people of good will fasted one day a week for peace, how would God use such holy energy and sacrifice? The Bible is filled with examples where prayer and fasting changed the course of human events.
At the end of September, a collection will be raised to help the beleaguered people of the Middle East. Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association have well-organized, grass-roots organizations on the ground that offer food, clothing, shelter, education, refuge and hope to tens of thousands of people of all religions or none. Please be as generous as you can to this most worthy effort.
As the terrorists murder, brutalize, dehumanize, destroy and pillage in the name of God, Christians love, heal, bless, forgive, offer food, shelter and medicine, and work for peace in the name of Jesus Christ. Anyone who uses religious ideology and language to justify violence has fundamentally twisted and perverted the very essence of religious faith.
In his passion, crucifixion and death, Jesus Christ has fully and forever transformed hatred and violence into enduring divine love. In an address to the Italian bishops, Pope Benedict beautifully expressed this truth which lies at the heart of the Christian faith:
“Jesus transforms, from within, the act of violent men against him into an act of giving on behalf of these men – into an act of love.… What he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, he now does; he does not offer violence against violence, as he might have done, but puts an end to violence by transforming it into love.
“The act of killing, of death, is changed into an act of love; violence is defeated by love. This is the fundamental transformation upon which all the rest is based. It is the true transformation which the world needs and which alone can redeem the world. Since Christ in an act of love has transformed and defeated violence from within, death itself is transformed: love is stronger than death. It remains forever.”
To live out this non-violence of the cross is challenging indeed. Conversion begins by fearlessly confronting the violence, racism and hatred in my own heart and asking the Lord to heal it so that I may truly become an instrument of his peace. In our own hearts, families, neighborhoods, workplaces and cities, discord, division and enmity have a powerful hold, yet the Lord calls us to go to those loveless places and situations and put love there, indeed to be love. The world has never needed the powerful witness of crucified, non-violent Christian love more than right now. What a challenge. What a calling. What a gift.