Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mistaken For Christ

For some time now, but especially since St. Stephen's Feast and again today with the Holy Innocents, I have been resisting the urge to write something about our identity as Christians in the world and the role martyrdom may have to play in this our life. 

It might be presumptuous or an exaggeration on my part to say that what I want to do (reflecting on the example of St. Stephen but perhaps more on that of the Holy Innocents) is fundamental or basic and would have implications not only for the life of the individual but for the life of the Church in a society, that society being a world or the powers which be in that world which for the most part stand us over and against (threatened by the very thought of us, as Herod was troubled unto folly by the news of the star from the magi come to worship the Universal King). 

I capitulated and decided to write something when I read the little introduction to today's Mass in MAGNIFICAT speaking of the honor accorded to the babies around Bethlehem, they having been mistaken for the Anointed One of God and dying in His place! We don't belong, let us say, any more than the Lord Jesus, Who explained to Pilate that His Kingdom was not of this world. Christ's glory is in His being lifted up upon the Cross. He and we, if we follow Him, are indeed outsiders. His glory, our glory is in being relegated to the cave and manger outside Bethlehem, to being crucified outside of the city of Jerusalem and deposited in a borrowed grave. Is this indeed so for us; is our relationship to this century really adversarial?

"Arise, O LORD, confront them, strike them down! 
Let your sword deliver my soul from the wicked! 
Let your hand, O LORD, deliver me from those 
whose portion in this present life is fleeting. 
May you give them their fill of your treasures; 
may their offspring rejoice in plenty, 
and leave their wealth to their children. 
As for me, in justice I shall behold your face; 
when I awake I shall be filled with the vision of your presence." (Psalm 17:13-15)

Is it only King David, is it only the priest who has the Lord as his portion? Are we not all, the baptized, strangers or sojourners on our way to a better place? There is nothing of apathetic resignation in the awareness that the victory belongs to Stephen, to the Innocents and not to some Forbes list of the world's movers and shakers. One needs to tremble slightly at TV or radio commentary about the Vatican as the capital of Christianity. "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus said it to Pilate.

We needs be shocked by the hateful bombings this year in Nigeria of churches on Christmas, shocked but not surprised. The old expression was that error has no rights. Perhaps it would be better to recognize soberly the absolute intolerance of relativism as ideology, of ignorance and prejudice unleashed and unrestrained, no matter how one dresses or candy-coats it. Very simply, the truth is indeed one and must be striven for, but finds few defenders even in the halls of justice.

We need only recall the Holy Father's discourse at the University of Regensburg (12 September 2006) to help us contextualize a discourse far from new to our world:

"In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."

Jesus prophesied that those who follow Him will be drawn before kings and rulers and all matter of tribunal for the sake of His Name. For His sake, for the sake of reason and of truth, we cannot fail to defend the family, the down-trodden and the unborn. 

I'm going to stop short of a harangue and express the hope and prayer that as we cross the threshold of another calendar year, we might draw hope and courage for battle from the psalmist, rallying to the standard of the Infant King: "As for me, in justice I shall behold your face; when I awake I shall be filled with the vision of your presence."


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