The Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto took me to task last evening – with an able assist from the prophet Hosea at this morning’s Mass.
To be honest, Cardinal Collins wasn’t speaking only to me. There were a few dozen other folks in the audience, too, as he delivered the 2016 Fr. John Kavanaugh SJ Lecture at Saint Louis University. The topic: The Situation of Christianity in the Middle East.
I went in, expecting something like a socio-political exposé, I suppose. What I heard instead was an exhortation: to keep my eyes fixed on the Lamb as the source of my salvation.
It was an exhortation…to look beyond the struggles and terrors of the present age. An exhortation to live as Christians have lived in every age, since the earliest days of the church. Cardinal Collins introduced the point by quoting the last verses in the Bible, which read in part:
‘Do not seal up the prophetic words of this book, for the appointed time is near. Let the wicked still act wickedly, and the filthy still be filthy. The righteous must still do right, and the holy still be holy.’
For many Christian communities in the Middle East, this call to faithfulness is all too real. They are shedding their blood today. Their places of worship have been obliterated – including in Mosul, the Iraqi city that was until recently home to some of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.
Still, persecution isn’t the only threat Christians face, the Cardinal said. Seduction may be a more potent danger – the risk we run in aligning ourselves too closely with a culture that is rotten at its core.
I thought about the Cardinal’s warning as I reflected on my own reaction to recent developments in the U.S. political arena.
I haven’t exactly been driven to despair by the way the presidential nomination process has been playing out – not all the way, anyway. But I’ve been creeping pretty close to the edge. It’s unfathomable to consider how our system could produce front-runners who are so deeply flawed: One who willingly breaks laws she has sworn to uphold; the other, a demagoguish buffoon who ceaselessly panders to our fears and self-centeredness.
But are they, in fact, flawed candidates? Or simply potential nominees who reflect the state of the union, a culture growing increasingly rotten at its core?
Hearing a passage from Hosea at Mass this morning helped clarify things a bit for me. The prophet tells his people,
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
It’s a call to look beyond politics for our salvation – a call that’s as old as the hills.
Following the call comes with a cost – as the blood of the modern day martyrs shows, Cardinal Collins said. And that’s where the exhortation comes in. We can find the strength to live holy lives, in every circumstance, if we train our eyes to see what is real: The Lamb, victorious, upon the throne.
Few have stated the case as well as St. Edmund Campion, Cardinal Collins said. He quoted from martyr’s famous “Challenge to the Privy Council,” delivered just before the Jesuit priest died at the hands of Queen Elizabeth I in 1581.
Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily…[who] are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes.
Be it known to you that we have made a league…cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons.
The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored.
It’s a call to action that would be familiar to Christians in every age…and certainly one worth meditating upon amid the trials, persecutions and seductions of the present day.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.