Look East for the kind of faith that long endures

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So would you die for your faith? We may never know that answer but it is being asked many times over in the Near and Middle East and in Africa and India. Many Christians there are in the midst of persecution and say, “Yes.”

What would we say if someone asked us to denounce Christ or our Catholic faith? Not a problem?

Pope Francis is calling for our attention to the persecution of Christians in these areas. “Like lights in the darkness, Christians facing persecution in the Middle East are resilient against the most staggering odds,” Pope Francis said during a July 7 ecumenical prayer in the southern Italian town of Bari.

The life-giving faith of these courageous men and women should give our faith life. We need to look to the East to find the faith needed here in the West to face the cultural meltdown happening around us.

“We want to give a voice to those who have none, to those who can only wipe away their tears. For the Middle East today is weeping, suffering and silent as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches,” Pope Francis said, noting that the faith of the East can spark faith in the West.

The extermination of Christianity and Christians in the Middle East is ignored by the mainline media and regretfully we Christians sense it is a long way off and different culture and really doesn’t much impact us. It is news but not really life-challenging news. We more or less ignore this time of deep persecution.

Recent reports indicate that Christian genocide and persecution is worse than it has ever been. Christians are persecuted in Somalia, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, Mexico and Canada. Even here in the United States — to some degree — persecution is underway against Christians trying to live out their faith.

Make no mistake, the greatest persecution of a religion is that leveled against Christianity today, though you would never know it from the news. In many other countries, many of them predominantly Muslim, Christians are harassed, beaten, tortured, raped and martyred. Their churches are destroyed, their houses burned. They meet and worship often in secret and risk their lives and their families in the process.

They live in constant danger. About 250 million Christians are under what we call extreme persecution. That means violent oppression. Just about one million have been killed since 2005 but it is, of course, only an estimate. It is impossible to know exactly how many. But we do know Christianity has been drastically reduced in parts of the world where it has existed for 2,000 years.

Christian tradition tells us that Saint Mark brought Christianity to Egypt in the early part of the First Century. Today the seed he planted 2,000 years ago has been almost entirely ripped up and destroyed.

So again I ask, “Would you die for your faith?” Let’s look to the East for inspiration. Here in the West we do not endure violent persecution but rather a spiritual battle. We need fierce faith and yet there is so much lukewarmness and indifference that passes off as the real thing. It is because of convenience that we seek not conversion. We find reasons not to go to church — the music is poor, the homily boring and the Mass is so early on Sunday morning. A 12-minute drive on Sunday morning is a real pilgrimage of faith that is sometimes too much to bear. We might have to change our lifestyle or even deal with sin and guilt if we take this church thing too seriously.

I sense that we Americans spend more time finding ways not to believe in God or go to church than to humbly submit ourselves before the creator and redeemer of our soul. We quote a verse that affirms what we think or feel but neglect the ones that radically challenge our faith. We value hospitality over conversion and tolerance over admonishment of the sinner. We don’t want to upset anyone with a faith that critiques the culture, and so we remain silent. We don’t want to lose any Facebook friends.

Sometimes we just feel overwhelmed in the face of the cultural meltdown taking place before our very eyes. The cultural wars seem to be occurring on multiple fronts: family, marriage, sexuality, life issues, religious freedom, schools, church attendance, the rise of secularism and atheism, and bad notions of personal responsibility and self-control.

Do we speak out and teach that there is absolute truth and moral principles that apply and can determine what is right and what is wrong? Do we criticize our church’s teaching on sexuality, abortion, same-sex marriage — clamoring for the church to get with the culture? Or do we really study the deep truths of the church that can save, refresh and free the human heart?

The crazy part is we can speak out and we can share the faith. There is no radical Islamic terrorist roaming our neighborhoods looking to challenge our Christian faith — no one who will take our life. Would you die for your faith? Regretfully I think many would not because they can’t die to the things that are killing them now. To the gossip, judging, the lies, the porn we watch, the overeating and drinking, the infidelity, materialism and defense of sinful lifestyles and comforts which are killing us.

The Holy Father is right to look East for the faith. There we find a faith that is being tested beyond anything we will experience. We must not remain indifferent to their or our plight.

The Gospel is the same in Nigeria as it is in Anchorage. Repent and believe. Lord, may the lives and trials of our Christian brothers and sisters inflame our hearts to give ourselves to the renewal of this world.

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.


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