Our Christian Brothers and Sisters in Iraq: What can we do? (part two)

My last post was a couple weeks ago, before ISIS began decapitating Catholic American reporters, before the Christians of Northern Iraq began arming themselves and before the United States began mulling an international coalition to take on ISIS and one prospective ally stated that, sooner or later, ISIS must be defeated on the battlefield.

I mentioned in my last post that merely getting Iraqi Christians out of immediate harm was not enough. More needed to be done. In an interview with Huffington Post, Catholic Relief Service’s director on the ground in Iraq said as much, pointing out the issue now is the long-term, “how do we accompany these populations to help them rebuild?”

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As 21st Century Americans, we tend to have a hands-off approach to these types of crises. Too late to Yugoslavia and Rwanda, “we” “helped” in Kosovo by watching NATO bomb Serbs set on ethnically cleansing Albanians from Kosovo. Yet millions have fled Syria in the fighting there, including children forced to march miles across a desert without anyone to guide them.

I’m not calling for us to take up arms against ISIS, but trying to make people aware. We cannot protect our brothers and sisters in Iraq from those who long to kill them for the creed they profess. Nor can the failed government we propped up and then ditched. But we can protect them within our borders, and the question needs to be, why aren’t we? We have the capacity to resettle and help these people rebuild.

I realize that taking people from their own country to another is a last resort, yet it needs to be considered.  It will take political will and legal changes,  but why can’t we bring our persecuted brothers and sisters here to our shores?

Much has been made of the city of Detroit’s rapid downfall. Abandoned homes and ruined warehouses stand were lives were once lived with promise and businesses thrived. Detroit is also attempting to comeback from the darkness, trying to attract new families and Detroit is home to a large community of Chaldean Catholics from Northern Iraq. There is room for growth in old Detroit and a cultural community already exists, are we unable to help spur growth within Detroit and provide a place where people can rebuild their lives there?

In stark opposition to the vacancies of Detroit is the booming economy and of North Dakota – with 25,000 current job openings and 2% unemployment in the state. Though North Dakota is struggling to develop and maintain the infrastructure necessary for its largest expansion since statehood, there simply aren’t enough people for the jobs in North Dakota. The homogeneous culture here may be the hardest thing to overcome – I visited with a friend yesterday who said, “yeah, but we don’t want those people here.” Seeking long-term laborers, North Dakota hasn’t been too picky about who’s been working here and when it could help alleviate a humanitarian crisis, we should do what we can to open our doors.

I realize political and legal mountains need to be moved, but given our responsibility to these people, we need to start thinking of ways to welcome our homeless and abandoned brothers and sisters here, and soon. If not us, then who?

Pray for the Christians of Iraq.

Nazarene(1)

Our Christian Brothers and Sisters in Iraq: What can we do? (part one)

The news that’s been coming out of Iraq the past few months has gone from bad to worse. If you’re like me, you watch, read, or listen in horror to reports of what is truly a genocide. What’s worse, is that our country has a direct role in the events playing out. Whether you believe we were naive to invade Iraq in 2003 or naive to withdraw from Iraq in 2011, make no mistake: Iraq is a country today that is unable to protect is own citizens. Pope Francis is in dismay over the brutality; his personal envoy to Iraq has called for military protection and assistance to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

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I’ve been following the plight of the Christians in Iraq since the horrific massacre at Our Lady Of Salvation Syriac Catholic church on the eve of All Saints in 2010. The group that walked around that church systematically executing beleivers while a 3-year old toddler lay crying out, “enough, enough” in his parent’s arms is the same one that is purging northern Iraq of our Christian brothers and sisters today.

Our Bishops reminded us two years ago that we still have a moral obligation to the people of Iraq. The airstrikes seem to have provided some relief, enough to evacuate some of the most hard-pressed to refugee camps. But our obligation cannot end once our brothers and sisters are within the fences of a refugee camp. The refugees are saying there is little hope of return to their homes, and a crowded refugee camp is no place to live a life.

But it is a place where we can help immediately.

The Knights of Columbus just announced an Iraq fund this week to help with humanitarian aid.

Aid to the Church in Need has launched an emergency appeal at the urging of Patriarch Sako in Baghdad.

The Chaldean Catholic Eparchy (whose members hail largely form Northern Iraq) of the US has launched its own emergency appeal along with the opportunity to Adopt a Refugee Family in Iraq.

Finally, the Saint Catherine all-girls Academy in Detroit is offering full-ride scholarships to high school girls who have fled Iraq.

These are just a few of the efforts I’ve heard of and, next week, I hope to have heard of more and offer some other ideas. But until then, we must pray for all the victims of the violence in Iraq but especially our fellow Christians who are being persecuted for the simple reason that they believe in Christ.

Nazarene(1)  “N” for “Nazarene”

The USCCB is asking us all to pray for peace in Iraq this Sunday. The prayer offered was written by Patriarch Sako for his flock, who are questioning whether they can remain in Iraq or must flee; they are literally praying for their lives. What are we praying for today? Let’s join them in their prayer and do whatever we can to assist them in their need and bring them hope:

Lord, 
The plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience, 
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.
 
Glory be to you forever.

 

 

A Prairie Grotto

Early this week I was traveling in South Central North Dakota for work when, in between towns, I happened upon a grotto in the middle of the prairie.

Prairie Bells Grotto of the Holy Family

The Prairie Bells Grotto of the Holy Family was built in the early 1990s when a farmer, inspired by the ringing of bells in towns and cities he traveled through on an Italian pilgrimage, decided to build a bell tower on a hilltop on his farm, to ring out the “sacredness of family life” across the prairie. The Bells were purchased from a local church that was closing its doors and the tower was dedicated in 1992.

Pope Saint John Paul II declared 1994 the Year of the Family and, together with his family, the farmer collected rocks from his fields, commissioned an Italian sculptor and built the grotto. Then-Bishop of Bismarck, Most Reverend John Kinney (since retired as Bishop of St. Cloud) blessed the grotto that summer and the place still stands as a place of “peace and renewal.”

I found my short visit there to be peaceful and refreshing – feeling the breeze in the warm sun, listening to the songbirds, and watching rain clouds move across the plains to south. I found myself envious of the Vetter family and their special location, wishing that I too had some small tract of land where I could erect a grotto of my own as a silent, steady witness to the faith.

But then I was drawn back to a line from John Paul II on the plaque commemorating the dedication of the grotto:

Families you must testify to the greatness of the vocation of spouses and parents to all families of today’s world in every place on earth. You must give special witness which you alone can give: families to families.

Pope John Paul II

I was reminded that I am called to be a living witness to the peace and truth that the grotto conveys – the “sacredness of family life.” And in order to do so, I’m called to enter deeper into my family life and build up that sacredness, here and now. Maybe someday I’ll have an opportunity to build a shrine or grotto of my own but until then I’m called to something just as trying as building a grotto and maybe even greater.

Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us.

Silence…

Choir Director: “What song should we sing for the third hymn during Communion?”

Liturgical Director: “How about silence?”

Choir Director: “Oh, yeah! I Love that song!”

I imagined some conversation of that sort took place about three weeks ago at a not-to-be-named local Catholic Church in town (not our parish).

Its been a fast-paced month of July. In some ways I can’t believe the month is gone already; in other ways, I can’t believe we’ve done as much as we have and its STILL only July.

First there was a three-day work conference in Grand Forks that coincided with the birth of my brother’s second child, also in Grand Forks. Since Grand Forks is only an hour away from my wife’s hometown, she and the kids spent a day back “home” visiting grandparents while i was “working”; since the the hotel my conference was in had a waterpark, we spent time playing there before driving four hours back to my parent’s place in Northern Minnesota. From there, it was more relative-visiting on the Iron Range, followed by a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior and Duluth on the coldest day in the month of July. In between rainstorms, rapids, cliffs, canals and rollers, the kids all managed to survive with a haggard set of parents who capped the day with visit to one of my wife’s college friends in Duluth before returning to grandma and grandpa’s… The next day consisted of my road trip to the Major League Baseball All Star Game and back in one day. Somewhere between Cloquet, MN and Toivola, MN driving down a deserved county road at 1:20am, I decided I’m getting too old for these kind of road trips…

The next day at my parents was quiet and relaxed, but only in preparation for packing and moving on to my wife’s family’s side of vacation. We journeyed to Park Rapids, MN in time for lunch, a swim at the beach and a pontoon boat ride on Thursday. Then Friday was filled with preparations for a family wedding at the lake, in between tubing, swimming and fishing. On Saturday morning I got to drive to Fargo to pick up Maggie’s grandmother and back to the lake for the wedding.  By the time Sunday morning hit, we were all exhausted and had a 10am check-out time to meet as we packed up 6 adults and 11 children from the rented lake cabin, and my family had a 5 hour drive back home.

We got back home with plenty of time to spare before 6pm Mass at the still-to-remain-unnamed local parish. Yet with unpacking and picking up our dog from some generous friends, we managed to barely make to our pew, or rather, softly padded cushioned seats before the end of the processional. Mass went as you’d expect with 3 overly tired kids attending Mass at a different parish in their town.

And then came Communion, which featured not one…not two…but THREE hymns. The last of which was ironically named Sacred Silence. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against the song (what I can remember of it) but in my limited life experiences when you are singing three communion hymns in a church that’s less than 50% full at Mass, you essentially ensure that there is no sacred silence at Mass, or at least during communion. Why do we sing songs about silence instead of partaking in silence? What are we afraid of?

It was disappointing to me because in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of vacation (and it was a good, fun vacation – I’m not complaining) Mass is an opportunity to anchor yourself against the tide of the rush around you. An opportunity to rest in the peace of Christ’s presence but that seems to happen best in silence. When you allow Him to act upon you; to speak to you.

A few months ago Mike had a great post encouraging us to enter into silence during Lent. In the midst of the business of a rapidly waning summer, the advice still rings true. I was reminded of this when my confessor recently told me that what I’m missing is, precisely, silence right now.

I know we’re all busy, but as July fades, we should take a page from today’s feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who’s famous Spiritual Exercises put an emphasis on silence, and find some time to go to adoration, or sit quietly in front of the tabernacle or even make the time to be still in your home and be silent and let Him renew you.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!

Update: While reading Introduction to Christianity, I came across this money quote from Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger:  “God has spoken. God is word. But this does not entitle us to forget the truth of God’s abiding concealment. Only when we have experienced him as silence may we hope to hear his speech, too, which proceeds in silence.” (emphasis added)

 

Going It Alone

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by our prayers.” –2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It’s no secret that raising kids is difficult work. My wife and I have felt this especially during the last few weeks. Now that our boys are home from the hospital, we have been on a wild ride. When our three-year old and two-year old are healthy and happy, we can balance duties out pretty well. But recently our two-year old developed a fever, and between trying to keep her comfortable, feed our twins, and get some sleep, things got a little out of hand.

Four hours of sleep a night? I can function. But two hours of sleep a night? I’m a drooling, gibbering wreck. When I look ahead to September and going back to teaching for six hours a day, I shudder. How am I going to be a good dad, a good husband, and a good teacher? I wonder. 

Enter this passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in which he states it plainly: there were times in his ministry when events transpired that were beyond his ability to control or endure. Now, don’t get me wrong; raising four kids under four is nothing like being jailed or tortured for your faith. However, there are times when I have been so sleep-deprived, worried, and upset about my inability to control events that I have been utterly powerless to do anything except throw up my hands and say, “God, you have to deal with this. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.”

When I’m well-rested, well-fed and have a lot of time on my hands, I hold in my head the idea that I am in complete control. However, the idea that I can function properly or accomplish anything, great or small, on my own, is a fiction. Even when I believe I am operating under my own power, my body, mind, soul, the earth itself, and the laws that govern the universe are being sustained by a loving and interested God. Our God is intensely concerned with His creation. Every moment He chooses to uphold our collective existence. If He chose otherwise, we would cease to be. Since time began, God has been making a moment-by-moment decision to keep this whole grand universe in motion.

This is the strange and beautiful truth that lies in the midst of suffering: when you suffer, the idea that you can “go it alone” in this world is revealed as a lie. This is not to say that suffering itself is an absolute good. Rather, in the absence of a good (whether that’s health, or rest, or freedom), the lack of it reorients us toward it. When you are exhausted, you naturally turn toward rest. When you are persecuted, you naturally desire freedom. As J.R.R. Tolkien so aptly put it in The Silmarillion, evil is not good, but it is “good to have been” because it presents us with the opportunity to turn back toward goodness and the source of good, namely God.

Thus, “I can’t do this on my own” can turn in an instant from a cry of despair into a recognition of our situation. Once that has been established, we are free to choose God: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope…”

Full-Strength Christianity

“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

You’ve probably heard the above quote by Archbishop Fulton Sheen many times, but it is such a true and important one that I believe it bears repeating again and again. To be honest, I have not had a great number of conversations with non-Catholics about Catholicism in the recent past, but from the bits and pieces I hear in conversation and in the media, this quote is possibly even more true now than when the Archbishop originally said it. Yes, definitely, there are those who have taken the time to study and learn about the history and theology behind all of the Church’s teachings and have still chosen to believe something different. But the vast majority of those who have left the Church have done so with a deep misconception about their faith. This saddens me so much.

I haven’t thought much about evangelization lately. Perhaps it’s the fact that I barely have time to think at all between diaper changes, meals, whines, and the sheer exhaustion of pregnancy. Then I stumbled across this article from Focus missionary Daniel Paris that lit a fire under me. Now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that fire, but at least it’s there. The article explains how difficult evangelization is in the United States because, in his words, Americans have been “inoculated to Christianity”. They have been fed a weakened version of the truth, either through the media’s portrayal of Christianity or through being taught that to follow Christ means nothing more than to be a good person. He writes, “Who wants to follow all these rules and hold all these unpopular political stances and spend all these hours sitting and kneeling and standing when I could abandon this whole religion thing and still be just as ‘good a person?’” 

So how do we combat the vaccine, the weakened version of Christianity that so many have mistaken for the truth? Paris lists some great starting points at the end of his article, but the main takeaway for me was this: “Jesus Christ was not just a good person. He was the Son of God made man, and he died so that we might live in eternal, loving relationship with Him. It is up to us to respond to this invitation by committing our very lives to Him.” It doesn’t matter what the media says. It doesn’t matter what your friends say. It doesn’t even matter how much sin there is in the Church. In the words of Abigail van Buren, “The Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who died for us. Let’s get out there and give people the full-strength version of Christianity!

Everyday Systems

(Again, my apologies that the blogging has been a bit spotty lately. Our twins came home on June 30 and in my spare time I’m usually catching up on sleep!)

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
–Luke 16:10

If there is one constant obstacle to a healthy spiritual life, it is stress. The steady, grinding pressures of a busy life can drown out the still, small voice of God and sap one’s desire to pray. Looking back on the past several months, I feel it was a constant struggle to turn to God in prayer. While my wife was on bedrest and the lives of our two youngest children were in doubt, I often turned to more worldly things for comfort: television, snacks, etc.

Now that a lot of this stress has passed, replaced by the more mundane, day-to-day stress of parenting newborn twins, I’ve finally found the courage to re-examine some of these bad habits that have crept in. Enter Everyday Systems. The author of this website has a bunch of simple ways to build virtue and eliminate vice in your life. It’s not specifically religious, but I think a lot of his wisdom applies to the spiritual life. Simply put, every day is a battle between the better and worse angels of your nature, and you need to engage in that battle through virtue building. I’ve used the “No S” portion of the site and I think it makes a lot of common sense. It’s not about miracle foods or diet methods that will somehow turn you into a Greek god, but simple habit-building. Don’t each snacks, or sweets, or seconds, except on days that start with S (keeping in mind that S also stands for “special,” like your birthday.)

If you’re interested, check out the forums on that site for testimonials and day-to-day updates from people who are on the program. It’s a great set of virtue-building systems.

 

He Knows What He is About

 “God has created me to do Him some definite service.  He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission, I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.

     I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good – I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments.

     Therefore I will trust Him.  Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.

     He does nothing in vain.  He knows what He is about; He may take away my friends.  He may throw me among strangers.  He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about!”

Cardinal John Henry Newman

I heard this meditation today and simply wanted to share it with you. Read it slowly and think about it, there is such depth and beauty here. My favorite line: “He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.” In other words, I am irreplaceable!

“This nation, under God…”

Like most Americans, I will wake up tomorrow ready to enjoy the annual commemoration of the signing of our nation’s Declaration of Independence.

Independence Day has been a big holiday for my family as long as I can remember. Never spent the lake or at a campground, for us it always meant family. One reason is the fact that the Fourth is also my Great-Grandfather’s birthday. For my Great-Grandfather, there is no birthday song like the one he sings in honor of his country, God Bless America.

God bless America, Land that I love.

Stand beside her and guide her

Through the night with a light from above…

I’m a pessimist and so its easy for me to get cynical about the things we see in our country today, the eroding away of freedoms, morals and the basis of society. I even found a lot to be discouraged about in this week’s Hobby Lobby decision from the Supreme Court. Yet despite the darkness I perceive, it can’t be anything like what our nation’s Sixteenth President felt when he looked out at a new cemetery nearly 151 years ago on a field outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  No doubt, the blood of thousands of soldiers that had covered the Gettysburg battlefield between July 1 and July 3, 1863 weighed heavily upon Abraham Lincoln as he uttered one of the most famous lines in our nation’s history:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  

If you’re like me, you question the laws Congress passes and the policies issued from Washington, D.C.; you wonder some days if it may be better to retreat to the hills and regroup; to live life uninterrupted, seeking the True the Good and the Beautiful. If you’re like me, you fear for the kind of nation your children and their children will grow up in, you worry what will be left of religious freedom and the family. When these fears begin to weigh me down, I think of the scene from the Black Gate in the Return of the King and the speech Aragorn delivers when all hope seemed lost.

Someday we may not recognize the nation we live in and we may need to run to the hills, but it is not this day. Whatever that nation looks like, it is not our nation today; whatever that nation is, it is not our nation’s destiny.  On Independence Day,  I’ll stand when the color guard passes by in our town’s parade, because there is still something to stand for.

When my 102-year-old great grandfather stands to sing God Bless America on the Fourth of July, he will sing a prayer which admonishes us to stand beside our nation and guide her.

This day, there is a great task remaining before us and it falls to us, to guide our nation, under God, to a new birth of freedom.

Old Glory

God Bless the United States of America.