In Solidarity with the Persecuted Christians of Iraq and Syria
You may have heard in the news of the horrible plight of the Christians in the Middle East, specifically in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, where fundamentalist Muslims of ISIS, in their attempt to establish a caliphate or Islamic state in that region, have given an ultimatum to Christians who live there. They are either to convert and pay money as a sign of submission, flee the region…or die. Thus, there has been a mass exodus of Christians from Mosul, the largest city of the area. Already the terrorists have tortured and killed a number of Christians.
The vast majority of Christians there are our brothers and sisters who are fully united with us in our Catholic faith as Chaldean Catholics. They likewise recognize Pope Francis as the Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ. We as Catholic Michiganders have a special connection with that region because the largest concentration of Chaldean Catholics outside of Iraq live here in southern Michigan.
Pope Francis has called for the universal Church to pray for our persecuted sisters and brothers there. As pastor of St. John, I offer two concrete ways we as a parish can be in solidarity with them:
1. Pray. Lift them up in prayer. May I suggest gathering your family members and praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary together. As you meditate on the mysteries, reflect on how they are going through their own passion.
2. Fast. Choose a day or two this week and give up your main meal of the day. Offer up that small sacrifice for our fellow Christians who have lost everything, maybe even their loved ones.
The Wheat and Weeds Growing Together at St. John
Last Sunday, I preached on the Sunday Gospel where Jesus teaches us through the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. When the laborers ask the Master if they should pull out the weeds, he responds, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” I shared with you the story of Camillus de Lellis, the once violent soldier of fortune who was addicted to gambling. All indications pointed to the fact that this was a weed that needed to be pulled out, but because of God’s patience and mercy, he was given the chance to blossom and to be among the wheat “who shine like the sun in the kingdom of my Father.” He helped countless sick and dying and empowered others to do the same through the religious order he established. This 17th century giant (literally too because he was 6’6”) was canonized a saint in 1746. We just celebrated earlier this month the 400th anniversary of his passing from this world.
There are other future saints like Camillus de Lellis in this very parish, that is, folks who need the opportunity to turn their lives around through the transformative power of God in their lives. They, however, need our support, not our rejection. As I mentioned in my homily, “I want to encourage all of us here at St. John the Evangelist Parish to have that same heartfelt desire of God for the conversion and salvation of all. Let’s allow that desire to translate into allowing the wheat and the weeds to grow together in our community. Therefore, when we see people in our parish who appear to us as weeds, let us not look upon them judgmentally and shun them, but may we remember today’s parable. Yes, weeds can make life complicated and maybe even unsavory, but, as Jesus revealed to us, the work of salvation is not always a pretty thing. Lest the weeds of pride and selfishness crop up, let us not shy away from it.”
As St. Paul reminds us, we are all sinners and “fall short of the glory of God.” So, let us remember the mercy God has shown us through our Savior Jesus Christ, and be his instruments to show others that same gracious mercy. You can listen to the homily in its entirety on our website: http://www.stjohnjackson.org/2014/homily-fr-chas-7-20-14/.