We don’t observe him on Sunday, but I mention him because
he recalls a time in the Church of Rome when martyrdom
was not just something that happened, somewhere, sometime,
but a day-to-day reality.
On August 6, AD 258 – four days before Lawrence was killed –
Pope Sixtus and four other deacons were also martyred in the same persecution.
Just to give you a flavor of the times:
Sixtus was the 24th pope; and all but three or four of them had died as martyrs.
He knew what he faced.
I dwell on this because you and I are living in a time of martyrs.
Not just the huge numbers that perished during the 20th century;
but right now. Right now!
In Nigeria, West Africa, at least 750 churches have been set aflame;
hundreds have been burnt alive.
No doubt you recall the extremists who kidnapped hundreds of Christian girls.
What I’m going to say now is difficult and delicate:
they practice a kind of circumcision—on women. It’s unspeakable.
No doubt you saw the story of the woman in Sudan who,
while pregnant, was in jail for being a Christian.
Her name is Meriam – that’s Mary in English!
She gave birth to a daughter while shackled.
She was told: convert or die.
Thank God, she was released,
and perhaps you saw her meet Pope Francis a few weeks ago.
they must be “patriotic”—
so Catholics who are faithful to the holy father
are often arrested.
Meanwhile, the ruling communists are not happy to see
so many churches continue to spring up;
so they periodically demolish them,
or else knock the crosses off of them.
They are illegal, as is any celebration of the sacraments.
What Christian worship happens, happens in secret.
And lest you think, well, there must not be many Christians there, that’s not true:
the Saudi economy depends on hundreds of thousands of foreign workers,
large numbers of whom are Christians from poor countries;
and many of whom are treated as little better than slaves.
In Iraq and Syria, a Muslim army is ruthlessly exterminating all trace of Christianity,
which has been there since the time of the Apostles.
First, they go through a village and mark the homes of Christians
with an Arabic letter “n” – for Nazarene: those who follow Jesus.
They take over the churches and knock down the crosses and destroy the artwork.
An ancient shrine to the Prophet Jonah, venerated by Muslims and Christians alike,
they loaded with explosives and blew up.
A church from the 2nd century,
containing priceless artwork and history, was likewise destroyed.
Men and boys who refuse to convert are executed, including by crucifixion.
Adult women and girls are taken captive.
You know the rest--don't make me say it.
This is a genocide.
It isn’t just Christians; it includes other religious minorities,
and even other Muslims who don’t toe the line.
So why go through all this?
One: so you know.
This is the greatest period of persecution the Church has ever faced.
And we are not even touching on the ill winds
starting to blow in Europe and our own country.
Two, to lay this question before us all: what will we do?
I have been wondering what our government would do. A little.
To be fair, President Bush did not do much about this either.
This is not a new problem.
And I have been waiting to see what our bishops will do.
They are calling us to prayer and financial support
for charities that help in these regions.
They may, at some point, issue a call for greater action.
But nothing stops us from acting as a parish, starting now.
So here are some things I would like to propose:
First, I’m asking that we pray the Saint Michael Prayer
after each Mass. Starting with this Mass.
The way we’ll do it is that I’ll kiss the altar,
and then come down here, and kneel with the servers.
You can kneel or stand as you are able.
The prayer is in the booklets in the pews.
Then we'll begin the final hymn.
perhaps by then, the bishops or the pope
will have suggested some other united action.
Second, I ask everyone take this to prayer.
Include it in your daily prayers, your prayers at meals.
You can use the St. Michael prayer, or a Hail Mary or Glory Be, any prayer you like;
but let us all unite in prayer for our fellow Christians who are being slaughtered!
Third, I ask that you consider what other penance or sacrifice you wish to make.
I am going to give up something I love one day a week;
maybe you will want to do the same.
It could be abstaining from meat, or dessert, or beer, or video games.
If someone asks, tell them why!
Fourth, may I suggest we all contact both our political leaders and our church leaders?
I will include the addresses in the bulletin when I can;
but we can look these up on our own.
Feel free to write the holy father and Archbishop Schnurr,
telling them what you are doing,
and asking them to lead us in united efforts.
We can likewise ask our political leaders to do all in their power
to protect the innocent from slaughter.
In the readings, we see God’s power on display,
but not the way we might expect.
Elijah was all fire-and-brimstone.
He was filled with righteous fury at the King and Queen,
who were leading God’s People into idolatry and destruction.
But God reminded him that his power isn’t always seen in fire and storm.
In the Gospel, the Lord’s chosen men were terribly frightened by the power of nature;
Peter was bold to step out, but it didn’t take much for him to be overwhelmed.
We too may well feel totally overwhelmed by the storms that are coming upon us.
What must our brothers and sisters feel as they are driven from their homes?
As their churches are destroyed?
As their loved ones are brutalized?
The other apostles needed to see Peter step out.
Our persecuted brethren need to see us step out!
These storms are nothing! Jesus is everything! Amen!