Pray for persecuted Christians
Two weeks ago, we celebrated two significant legislative victories – the approval of one bill and the defeat of another.
LB46 (choose life license plates) was signed into law by Gov. Pete Ricketts. This is Nebraska’s first pro-life legislative victory since 2011.
And LB173 (sexual orientation/gender identity non-discrimination) was, once again, defeated in the legislature for lack of support. This bill would have instituted anti-discrimination protection in the context of public accommodations, housing and employment for sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation would have unnecessarily created additional protected classes, harmed small business, infringed upon privacy rights, and violated religious liberty.
However significant these political victories, their significance pales in comparison to the recent terroristic attacks committed by ISIS on Coptic Christians in Egypt on Palm Sunday. The shedding of innocent blood in Coptic churches located in Tanta and Alexandria stand as a stark reminder of the presence of evil in our world. They stand as a direct attack on the beauty of human life and the goodness of true religious freedom and worship.
These attacks also reveal the broader reality of martyrdom in the last century. It is said that the 20th century saw more Christian martyrs than any other time in history.
Martyrdom is a serious and beautiful fact of our faith. As second century church father, Tertullian, stated, the "blood of martyrs is the seed of the church."
The "Martyrdom of Polycarp," another rich text from the early church, rightly puts forth: "We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples."
While we have no shortage of issues and problems to address in our own nation, state and local communities, we must also accompany our brothers and sisters who proclaim Jesus Christ in times of turmoil. We must assist them through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. There could be no greater political help we can offer than the gift of supernatural charity that is demanded of us by our Savior.
In times when hatred of the faith takes on various forms, we are called to act courageously. Most of all, we are called to prayer. Perhaps the prayer below to the new martyrs of our faith might build up our own faith, grant us courage for the journey ahead, and grant us an even greater reliance on Christ, the pierced one:
O new martyrs, you now number among the ancient holy ones. Before the throne of the Almighty, we beg you to keep us particularly in your prayers. Once again we are focused on the mysterious geography where humanity first came into being, and then into contact with the reality of the one God – the lands where all will someday finally be revealed.
Today, we ponder why it is that our attention is continually turned to this region in gasping sorrow, all due to a malevolent force as old as Eden. We know that Christ Jesus is the victor over death, and the victor over evil, but we acknowledge that the victories come only by way of his cross. O new martyrs, you and the people of your region share in that Cross and we, in spirit, share it with you. In the presence of the Perfect Wisdom — the holy, mighty one who imparts all that is true, teach us to pray the words that will bring peace, if peace is possible, or to pray the words of pure worship, contrition and trust, if it is not.
Pray that we may put aside all that is irrelevant to the moment and, looking forever to the East, prepare our spirits for the engagements into which we may be called, whether we live amid these places of ancient roads and portals, or in the most modern of dwellings.
Mary, the God-bearer, pray for us. St. Michael the archangel, pray for us. St. John the forerunner, pray for us. St. Charbel Makhlouf, pray for us. Saints Mariam Baouardy and Marie-Alphonsine of Palestine, pray for us. Blessed Charles de Foucauld, pray for us. All holy men and women, pray for us.
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.