The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Questions and more questions...

Sometimes questions have unexpected answers. For instance...

Worldwide, when it comes to deaths attributed to hate crimes, what religion is most represented among the victims?

No, the answer isn't Islam. Actually, 75% of the deaths from hate crimes are of Christians. In a recent press release the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) included this statistic and also stated that "Each year 170,000 Christians suffer because of their beliefs. The total number of faithful who are discriminated amounts already 100 million. This makes Christians the most persecuted religious group.” (Click here to read the COMECE press release)

When was the last time you were persecuted for your faith? Was your parish church ever burned down by an angry mob? How many times has the government prohibited your priest from celebrating Mass or barred your children from receiving religious education? Has your bishop ever been imprisoned simply because he was your bishop? How about your pastor? Have any of your fellow parishioners been beaten or murdered solely because of their faith? Have you ever been fired from your job because you were a Christian?

If you live in the United States or Europe it's highly unlikely you have experienced any of these forms of overt persecution. But millions of Christians throughout the world have and continue to suffer today. The European bishops stated that "Europe cannot remain passive. The European Union must take the co-responsibility for the protection of religious freedom in the world.”

Well, if it's true for Europe it should be true for the United States as well, and as citizens we should demand action on the part of our government. Of course, one problem is that many Western so-called democracies are led by people of little or no religious faith. Having exiled themselves from the remnants of Christendom, they're not particularly fond of the Catholic Church which is always raising moral red flags in the face of the electorate. I suspect they tend to view all religions as irritants and their adherents as fanatics. And so I wouldn't expect a lot of support from folks who probably aren't really all that bothered by reports of religious persecution.

Sadly most politicians are motivated solely by the next election. (As you can guess, I really don't care much for today's politicians regardless of their party affiliation.) One way to get their attention on any moral issue is to make them believe their reelection depends on it. And the best way to do that is to get the electorate energized. We have spent decades trying to stop the horror of abortion, but we've focused most of our energy on politicians. We should have been focusing on the people, the man and woman in the street and in the pews. Over the years I've walked alongside a lot of bishops and priests (and deacons) on pro-life marches in Washington and elsewhere, but I've heard very few pro-life homilies from those same men. When was the last time you heard someone preach on the Church's teaching on artificial contraception? After all, as Pope Paul VI accurately predicted, the contraceptive mentality would ultimately lead to the legalization of abortion and other symptoms of the culture of death. When was the last time you heard a homily address the persecution of Christians throughout the world? Or the dangers of homosexual "marriage"?

We clergy have failed the laity on many of these moral issues. The only issues we preach about are the "safe" ones, the politically correct ones, the peace and justice issues that generate nothing but nods of agreement in the pews. Everyone wants to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to help the immigrant, to rehabilitate the prisoner...and rightly so. But what about that culture of death? As one deacon told me, "My pastor ordered me not to preach pro-life homilies. He feels they make too many people uncomfortable." I suspect he also worries that all those "uncomfortable" parishioners just might leave their checkbooks at home on Sunday.

And so, it looks as if it's up to the laity. The only way we will turn the tide and create a culture of life, the only way we will give relief to persecuted Christians is through the prayer and efforts of individual Christians. They are called to take the truth of the Gospel to their families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, schoolmates, golfing buddies, local politicians -- to everyone -- and to do it one person at a time. After all, that's exactly what the new evangelization is all about.

Let me conclude with another question on another subject. The US bishops have said and written a lot about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, which would presumably include some form of amnesty. I really have no problem with that, just not as a primary solution to the illegal immigration problem. My question is: Have you ever heard our bishops address the causes of illegal immigration? In other words, why do millions of people leave their homes and make the dangerous journey to the United States? We all know the answer to that, and I can only assume the bishops do too. But have you ever heard them publicly condemn the corrupt and authoritarian governments of these nations? Have they joined with the bishops of those nations to explore ways to change these governments and encourage education and free-market economies that give people real opportunity? Just asking. After all, attacking the cause of a problem is always more productive than just treating the symptoms.

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