Bishop’s Reflection: Join with Our Suffering Brothers and Sisters with a Loving Heart

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

It is getting late tonight as I write this reflection.  I want to go to bed but the article is due tomorrow.  I just cannot come up with an idea, a topic.  No, it is not that I cannot come up with a topic, it is that the event that fills my mind and heart is the persecution of Christians throughout the world, especially our brothers and sisters in Iraq. I find it difficult to write because the horror is too big to address, too hard to explain, and maybe more to the point, too hard to bear.

One description from the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Eastern Catholic Church to which the majority of Iraq’s Christians belong, reported on August 7th:

 “The ISIS militants attacked with mortars most of the villages of the plain of Nineveh, during the night of 6th-7th of August and now they are controlling the area. The Christians, about 100,000, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but the clothes on their backs,” said Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako. “An exodus, a real via crucis, Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter.”

We have also heard of terrible acts of violence and the martyrdom of Christians.  I say martyrdom because the Chaldean Christians, our brothers and sisters, are being killed because they refuse to deny their faith in Christ.
This persecution is hard to carry in our hearts.  We may also feel somewhat overwhelmed because the problem seems so big, so far away.  What can we do?

In moments like this we are apt to give up and try to put this tragedy out of our minds.  If I can’t solve the problem, then there is nothing for me to do. This, of course, is wrong thinking. The more we distance ourselves from the realities of the world, the more we are tempted to live our lives superficially and selfishly. We are not expected to solve the whole problem, but we are called by our faith in Jesus Christ to join with our suffering brothers and sisters with a loving heart. So how do we do that when they are so far away?

First, we pray – not a casual prayer but a time of prayer long enough for us to call to mind the suffering of others and to open our hearts to feel some of their pain. In moments of prayer like this, we choose to open our hearts to carry the cross of Jesus and join with the suffering of others. This prayer is not about words but about how when we allow our hearts to be pierced by the suffering of others, in that moment, we find the presence of God and we are changed. Our hearts are warmed to the concerns of others and less on some of our petty concerns. We are also more apt to hear the needs of those around us and help those we can.

Out of our prayer comes our response.  There are ways to help. Catholic Relief Services (crs.org) is giving direct aid to those in need in Iraq and other tragic areas of need throughout the world.  Support this work.  It is the hand of the Church, our family, reaching out to the neediest.  Giving money, time and goods makes the connection with the suffering Church more real to us and it allows us to put our lives into a more spiritual and loving perspective, revealing many of our needs and desires as superficial and selfish.  We cannot hold the suffering need of another person in our hearts who needs water to live without reflecting on the way we use and misuse the gift of clean water and spend money selfishly on special bottled water.

It is not easy to bear the suffering of others but it is what Jesus did and he invites us to pick up our cross.
Do not be overwhelmed when facing the suffering of the world that seems so close today through the media. Do not be afraid to allow some of the suffering of the world into your hearts. In that prayer you will feel the suffering of others who may be far away, but your prayer will reach them and your heart will be changed.  Jesus took on himself the sins of the world and gave us new life.  Can we do any less for our suffering brothers and sisters?  Let us take up our cross and follow Him.

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