The Resurrection in a violent world

When Christ rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples in his glorified body, he still had his wounds. In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side” (Jn 20:27).

The same can be said of those Christians, many of them Catholics, in Kenya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere who are being persecuted but have allowed the power of the Resurrection to rule their hearts. Their hearts and communities may be wounded, but their wounds are being glorified.

In April 6 remarks, Pope Francis urged us all to continue “the spiritual journey of prayer, intense prayer” and to provide “tangible help in the defense and protection of our brothers and sisters, who are persecuted, exiled, killed, beheaded, only for the reason of being a Christian.”

Their journey through the crucible of persecution is certainly more intimate and profound than our sufferings are, but in spite of the difference in intensity, we should allow their witness to inspire us to let the Risen Lord heal our own wounds. And, as the Holy Father said, we should not fail to accompany our brothers and sisters with prayer and real material assistance.

You may not realize it, but there are more martyrs today than there were in the first centuries of the Church. In addition to the heroism of those who are being martyred in the Middle East and Africa, I am also hearing stories about some of the survivors or those helping them that testify to the truth that Christ is Risen.

“In all the villages, as well as in the camps set up in the city, I found love,” said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, whom Pope Francis sent to the Middle East as his personal envoy.

He told Fides News Agency, “In all the homes and parishes where I went I was told: ‘Your presence is a blessing for us.’ And all the meetings were concluded with a prayer and a blessing. Talking to them, I urged them not to lose hope, ensuring that we have not forgotten and will not forget them. I also encouraged them to look ahead.”

Cardinal Filoni is right. We must not forget our brothers or sisters, even though they live so far away. Tens of thousands of Christians have found refuge in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, where they have been welcomed by parishes and where housing has been provided for them by donations from international and local Catholic charities. Two or three families are crammed into single family apartments, while others are living in unfinished buildings, but they are being supported by the local Church. Despite being persecuted and driven from their homes, the Resurrection is in their hearts.

On Holy Thursday, terrorists from al-Shabaab sorted Christians from Muslims at the University of Garissa College in Kenya and then shot 148 people to death. Just three days later, hundreds of Catholics gathered at the nearby Our Lady of Consolation Parish with their shepherd, Bishop Joseph Alessandro.

One parishioner, Roseline Oduor, recalled how the parish itself was assaulted three years before and said, “Having courage as a Christian, we just have that faith (from) coming to church. We have gone through what Jesus went through.”

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya went to Chiromo Funeral Parlour, one of the places where relatives of the victims gathered to mourn. He consoled the families there, exhorted them to have courage, and to do something that only the Resurrection of Jesus makes possible—forgive the people who killed their children, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren.

In his annual Easter message to the city and the world, Pope Francis reflected on how the Resurrection can turn our hearts away from violence. He said, “Those who bear within them God’s power, his love and his justice, do not need to employ violence; they speak and act with the power of truth, beauty and love.”

The Holy Father also offered a prayer that I would like to share with you. “From the Risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace. We ask Jesus, the victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.”

May we welcome the Risen Lord in our hearts to heal them so that we are able to offer forgiveness to those who offend us, and may the Resurrection be transmitted through our prayers and concrete support to those who are persecuted for the faith. May all people come to know and to receive the mercy and love of Jesus Christ!

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.