April 27, 2016
Close-up View of Easter Paradoxes
Our readings from the Bible during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass these happy 50 days of Easter—Paschaltide—describe a paradox. You know how that word is defined: “Something seemingly contradictory, or opposed to common sense, and yet still true.”
We believers are used to paradoxes. Just think of the term “Good Friday.” How can the day of the most horrible, unjust evil be considered “good”? Yet, we know, through faith, it is!
The paradox I have in mind is found often and dramatically in the Acts of the Apostles, called “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” the story of the first generation followers of Jesus. In that uplifting book of the New Testament, written by St. Luke, we hear often about two facts, seemingly contradictory: that the Church was flourishing, growing, and spreading, filled with joy, and...that the first followers of Jesus were constantly persecuted! How can the Church be persecuted, yet still grow and be filled with joy!
Yet, I saw a contemporary version of that paradox two weeks ago during my visit to the “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) of Iraq, those 110,000 Christians (with some Yazidis and Muslims) who had fled the extremist cutthroat fanatics of ISIS, in the ancient city of Mosul, and the ancient villages of the plains of Ninevah, to the relative security of Kurdistan.
There, I heard, saw, and embraced so many who, while tearful and downcast over the brutality that expelled them from their homes, and with a deep ache to go back home, were still able to smile over the warm and loving reception they had received from their brother and sister Christians in Kurdistan.
They had special appreciation for their bishops, priests, and sisters who had accompanied them in exile.
The ones who were most beloved were the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena! These brave sisters accompanied the exiles through the 10 hours of exodus from the ISIS swords, helping them carry their babies, prop up their elders, and hold onto the few possessions the IDPs were able to bring with them. The journey and the transition were so arduous that about 20 of the older and frail sisters have since died.
Once they all arrived in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, the sisters united with their Dominican order already there in energetically welcoming and caring for the refugees.
Now about 75 of these sisters are the heart and muscle of the ministry to the IDPs.
We visited their schools, jammed with the displaced children, in simple, makeshift surroundings, now receiving a first class education. One of the sisters remarked, “At first, the children were crying. Now we can’t keep them from smiling.”
We went to their motherhouse, now inadequate, with half the sisters living in the same kind of tiny trailers we found in the camps, without complaint.
We met two of them, both with doctorates from Notre Dame, teaching future priests, religious women, and lay leaders, at “Babel College.”
And we saw them unfailingly joyful, describing their own faith and hope, and that of the suffering people they serve, telling us that the Church there was alive and growing, and spending all their time ministering to the people instead of “taking care of themselves.”
Here’s the paradox: In situations where the Church is comfortable, with a lot of institutions and resources, and where people are free to practice their faith—sound familiar?”—we hear glum news of inertia, lack of participation, and people leaving or not practicing their faith.
In a shattered, violent country, where Christians are killed, threatened, and thrown out of their ancient homes by fanatic bullies, the Church is joyful, dynamic, and growing.
The Acts of the Apostles goes on...
The paradox continues