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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chaos Rising

Here I am, just a few weeks shy of my 70th birthday, and I can't recall a time in my life when both the nation and the world seemed to be moving so rapidly toward the brink of total chaos. One can only marvel at those in the affluent, self-absorbed West who bury their heads in the sand believing all is right in the world.

You'll quickly discover what I mean if you spend a morning or afternoon watching the business shows on CNBC or Fox Business Channel. The denizens of these networks, whether bulls, bears, or creatures in-between, distill everything down to economics. Money and high finance rule. Each apparently believes that, at its core, every problem is related to the economy. Party affiliation or political labels seem to matter little. Their solutions certainly vary, from the libertarian's "anything goes" approach that borders on anarchy to the don't-call-me-a-socialist's "turn it all over to the government" approach that leads only to Orwell's Big Brother. And as they talk, and predict, and cheer and jeer, the stock ticker runs across the bottom of the screen, a constant reminder of the current state of these tiny pieces of the economy. For those worried about the condition of their 401Ks, or who hope their penny stocks will soar into Apple territory, I suppose it's all very addictive. The viewer comes to believe that ultimately  the shape of the future will be determined by the Dow Jones Average.

In truth, the future of civilization will be determined by the battles being waged between ideology and religion, between the many brands of totalitarianism and freedom, between a horrific brand of Islam and civilization itself, between those who worship man as a god and those who worship a Man as God. If you were to ask an al-Qaeda leader or an ISIL follower (or ISIS or whatever these barbarians call themselves today) why they wage war against the West, I'm pretty sure the answer wouldn't focus on economics or NASDAQ futures. They know we are in the midst of a global war, a spiritual war that most people in Western Europe and the U.S. blithely ignore. 

Western elitists, the descendants of a Christendom that no longer exists, are apparently oblivious to the ramifications of what's taking place in the world's unenlightened corners. They don't take the idea of spiritual warfare seriously because they don't take the idea of God seriously. In their enlightened progressivism they believe that society, especially their society, is moving unrelentingly forward. And they believe this despite the global barbarism of the past hundred years. I suspect such thinking often arises from a subtle form of racism that views events in the so-called Third World and the Southern Hemisphere as unimportant or certainly far less important than what happens in the developed world. At best it's the product of a myopic parochialism that prevents one from seeing beyond its self-defined borders. And for some it stems from simple ignorance, abetted by the political correctness that controls much of what passes for education these days.

And yet the war rages and continues to expand. One thing is certain: unlike many in the developed West, the people of Africa and the Middle East know they are in a war zone. Although the Middle East will always be the primary battleground, Africa might eventually rival the Middle East because Christianity on that continent has experienced such remarkable growth. This growth is perceived as a real threat by those who would destroy Christianity. Based on the common, erroneous belief that Christianity, and more specifically Catholicism, is in decline, few Westerners, including Western Christians, are aware of the extent of this growth. For example, how many know that Catholics in sub-Sahara Africa increased from 2 million in 1900 to over 130 million in 2000? -- a remarkable growth rate of over 4% annually. Or that Gallup estimates the total number of African Catholics today at over 200 million? The fact that the growth of the Catholic Church in Africa has outpaced the growth of the continent's overall population is a sign of some very healthy evangelization. 

According to recent study by CESNUR (The Center for the Study of New Religions), among African countries, 31 have Christian majorities, 21 have Muslim majorities and 6 have populations which adhere mostly to traditional African religions. In 1900 Christians in Africa totalled ten million; in 2012 this number reached five hundred million. In 1900 only 2% of Christians in the world were African; today, this figure has risen to 20%. In ten years time Africa will be the largest continental bloc within Christianity, outdoing Europe and the Americas. “This data is still not widely known," stated sociologist Massimo Introvigne, CESNUR’s founder, "but they have a profound historical, cultural and political significance. There are now more practicing Christians in Africa than in Europe. In the long run, this will not only change Africa but Christianity as well, as John Paul II had intuited..."

“Of course, not everyone is happy about this development,” Introvigne added. The sociologist claimed that this growth in the number of Christians across the African continent is likely behind many of the attacks on Christians. “Some Islamic ultra-fundamentalists consider it scandalous that there are more Christians than Muslims in Africa and proceed to persecute and kill Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya. The way the ultra-fundamentalists see it, today the battle which will determine whether the world will be Muslim or Christian is being fought in Africa. And that Islam is losing. This is why they are responding with bombs.” In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood's primary target has been Christians and Christian churches. The same is true of Boko Haram in Nigeria. And the Islamists who carried the Nairobi mall massacre made a point of singling out Christians.

This desire to destroy Christianity isn't restricted to Africa. It's even more apparent in the Middle East. We've heard a lot of talk out of Iraq recently about the potential "genocide" of the Yazidi people by ISIL. And what is happening to that people is certainly horrendous. But how many Westerners realize what's happening to the larger Christian community in Iraq? Indeed, how many know what's been happening to Christians throughout the world, particularly in Muslim-majority countries? Christians in Pakistan and Iran are persecuted, imprisoned and murdered simply because of their beliefs. In Iraq the Islamist jihadists of ISIL are beheading young Christian children and displaying their severed heads on pikes. They are crucifying Christians and staging mass executions of anyone who resists converting to their vicious form of Islam. As a result Christians are fleeing the Middle East and their once-thriving communities have all but disappeared.

About all this our nation has done little, and said even less. Indeed, our selective concern seems almost arbitrary. In 2011, we joined the British and the French and bombed Libya's Gaddafi regime out of existence. Ironically, it's likely more Libyan civilians have died since Gaddafi's overthrow than before. And as the power of the Islamists has increased in that country, so too has the persecution and exodus of Libyan Christians.

Only a year later, when confronted by a far worse situation in Syria, we did virtually nothing, other than draw some imaginary red lines in the sand. The result has been the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians and the growth of ISIL into a formidable military force. And now, with half of Iraq in the hands of ISIL, we limit our response to humanitarian assistance and highly selective air strikes that have only driven ISIL underground where they will resort to classic insurgency tactics. I suspect ISIL, flush with cash and modern weaponry, will only grow stronger. And in the meantime the Christians of Syria and Iraq are being slaughtered by the jihadists. 

After Mass yesterday morning a parishioner asked me, "Are we in the end times? Do you think Jesus will come soon?" I told her I had no idea. Indeed, Our Lord made a point of reminding us that no one knows when the end will come. But He also told us not to ignore the signs. Read Matthew, Chapter 24, and pray for our world, for yourself, and for those you love. Pray that in the midst of the chaos, we will remain true to Jesus Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

I conclude with the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
"...from the beginning the Church lives in prayerful waiting for her Lord, scrutinizing the signs of the times and putting the faithful on guard against recurring messiahs, who from time to time announce the world's end is imminent. In reality, history must run its course, which brings with it also human dramas and natural calamities. In it a design of salvation is developed that Christ has already brought to fulfillment in his incarnation, death, and resurrection. The Church continues to proclaim this mystery and to announce and accomplish it with her preaching, celebration of the sacraments, and witness of charity." [The Joy of Knowing Christ, p. 115]

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