Two months ago I wrote for the SBC website about God or Nothing, a recent and inspiring book that offers the record of conversations between a journalist and Robert Cardinal Sarah, who hails from the West African nation of Guinea and is Prefect of the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. I quoted the Cardinal saying that the promotion by German bishops of Holy Communion for divorced and civilly-remarried Catholics “seems to me to be the expression of mere ideology that they want to impose on the whole Church.”
In the book he goes on to contrast the Germans’ “expression of mere ideology” to the horrific treatment and outright persecution of Catholics in predominately Muslim countries, persecution he does not say, but I shall, that would not be largely ignored by news media, let alone the German bishops, if the victims were Jewish.
To say that is not to be anti-Semitic, though some may allege otherwise. It is a simple statement of fact. Everybody, Jews included, knows it to be true. If one infers from this that Jews wield great power in the media and elsewhere, he would not find himself contradicted by Joel Stein, “a proud Jew,” who wants his people’s accomplishments known.
By contrast, most Catholics today are either sufficiently indifferent to the Faith they profess as never to assert themselves as Catholics or lack the courage to do so, and thus are rendered, and render themselves, impotent as a moral and political force in the life of society. As a consequence others are able to disparage the remaining faithful still distinguishable from the rest of society and even to blaspheme Our Lord and His Mother with impunity. They can also ignore the concerns of Christians, including the plight of our co-religionists in Muslim lands. This brings me back to Cardinal Sarah.
“I cannot forget the faces,” he says, “of Shahbaz Masih, aged thirty, and of his wife Shama Bibi, who was twenty-four, who were burned alive, thrown alive into a kiln where bricks were being baked, on November 14, 2014, in the province of Punjab, in Pakistan, leaving three children and while Shama was pregnant. Shahbaz Masih and Shama Bibi died in silence, a holocaust offered up to the God of Love. But the victims’ silence does not justify guilty indifference with regard to the fate of thousands of Christians who die every day….
“While Christians are dying for their faith and their fidelity to Jesus, in the West, men of the Church are trying to reduce the requirements of the Gospel to a minimum.
“We go so far as to exploit the mercy of God, stifling justice and truth, so as to ‘welcome’ homosexual persons – as the Relatio post disceptationem from the last Synod on the Family in October 2014 puts it – who ‘have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.’ Moreover, this document goes on to say that ‘the question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development, and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect.’ In fact, the real scandal is not the existence of sinners, for mercy and forgiveness always exist precisely for them, but rather the confusion between good and evil caused by Catholic shepherds….
“While hundreds of thousands of Christians are living each day filled with fear, some are trying to keep the divorced and remarried from suffering: they would feel discriminated against if they were excluded from sacramental communion….”
As I pointed out two months ago, Cardinal Sarah’s book was published and copies sent to slated participants in plenty of time for this past October’s second assembly of the Synod on the Family. Then at the Synod itself the Cardinal delivered a speech that was ignored by the Vatican press office and thus the stenographers calling themselves reporters who covered the assembly, but which galvanized participants, stiffening the backbones of the well-disposed and leaving aghast those who were not. In the speech His Eminence identified today’s two greatest threats to the family: “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism”.
A month after he spoke, Islamic fundamentalists – terrorists of ISIS – killed 130 persons in Paris.
A month after that, in December, a Muslim couple, apparently inspired by the ISIS example, brought this new wave of jihad to the U.S. in San Bernardino, California.
Why am I here recalling these events? It is certainly not in the conviction that Christians should mount a jihad of their own. No form of Christianity, whether the One True Church, Orthodoxy or any Evangelical sect would approbate members spraying a concert audience or office party with automatic weapons fire.
It also needs to be clear that not all Muslims are out to kill or otherwise terrorize Christians. Some will do what they can to prevent it. For example, General Sisi, the President of Egypt who overthrew the radical Muslim Brotherhood government that was supported by the U.S. because it was democratically elected, was present at Mass at St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria this past Christmas. It was a strong message to the country’s Arab Muslim majority: Hands off your Christian neighbors.
I here recall the recent jihadist atrocities because immediately after the last Synod on the Family, Pope Francis travelled to Africa and in the Central African Republic, at a place where, we were told, Christians had driven out Muslims, declared that “Muslims and Christians are brothers.”
Certainly we are brothers in our humanity, and recognition of that is precisely what will prevent Christians from massacring Muslims, but how can we be brothers when it comes to religion, which was the notion Pope Francis intended to convey? True, Pope St. John Paul II once declared during a trip to Morocco that Muslims and Christians worship “the same God,” but let me submit that his predecessors who preached the Crusades would have recognized him as showing thereby that when a pope is not defining he can be as fallible as the rest of us.
Try finding a Muslim cleric who teaches that his Allah (the Arabic word for God) is the same as the Christian Allah. If he is found, he will prove to be about as Muslim as a Mormon is Christian. The Muslim’s Allah is Unitarian. Ours is Triune. Muslims accuse us of polytheism because of it.
Pope Francis’ declaration in Africa points us in the direction I’m headed in writing here as I am doing. Another development moves us further along. That was when, in December, its conclusions were submitted to the Pope by one of those commissions that have proliferated in the post-Vatican II Church almost as often as ones set up by modern U.S. Presidents. May this report be forgotten as quickly as most of those turned in to the White House! It recommended that no effort should be made to convert Jews to the One True Church. Why? Because, the document said, Jews are our “elder brothers”.
I am but a poor layman, but it seems to me, as it might to Cardinal Sarah whose parents were converted from animism by heroic French missionaries, that high Churchmen are forgetting (Who would dare charge them with willful disobedience?) Our Lord’s last commandment: to “make disciples of all the nations.” Was He not serious when He made this the last thing His followers would hear from His own lips?
Doubtless remaining practicing Catholics in Western Europe and North America would do well to concentrate on converting their own peoples, but wouldn’t we be lacking in charity if we simply ignored our Muslim and Jewish “brothers”? In doing so, wouldn’t there be a danger of rendering the religion still more tangential than it already is? If practice of the religion becomes entirely invisible, with what do we confront Islamic jihadists, to speak only of them? With Walmart? McDonald’s? Internet porn?
Personally, I don’t think the situation will arise, or if it does that it will last forever. At some point there will be a new St. Dominic to rouse the tepid, a new St. Louis or perhaps St. Joan to lead us, a new St Philip Neri to teach the centrality of prayer in Christian living. Perhaps one or another of them is already among us but still unrecognized, like Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta to all but a few before Malcolm Muggeridge wrote his book about her.
Also, I read history. I know that in 200 A.D., two centuries after Our Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, there were still no more than about 200,000 Christians in the entire Roman Empire out of a population of fifty or sixty million, and I know not all of them were ready to be martyrs. Plenty of them, like our nominal Catholics today, cast their incense on the altars of pagan gods when the going got tough. Yet a little more than 150 years later Christianity was the state religion
That brought its own problems, not to be discussed here. Nor is it within the scope of these remarks to consider how a Christian should comport himself when he cannot help wondering whether the couple down the hall in his apartment complex could be planning a terrorist atrocity. The task now is to persevere, and to do so: 1) with the awareness that in a Church hierarchically-ordered by Providence there are still Churchmen like Cardinal Sarah, if not many in Western Europe and North America then in lands where most of the world’s Catholics now live; 2) with smarts enough not to think there is a solution, within electoral politics, to problems that are moral and cultural; and 3) with faith that God knows what He is doing.
Yes, evil of many kinds, moral and physical, threaten us, including evil perpetrated by “brothers,” but in Christ we are saved and therefore safe, protected, and ultimately will be triumphant.