When Jesus straightforwardly asked the disciples who they thought He was, Peter answered with a statement of faith that has come down to us throughout the ages: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus commends him for his answer and says that this insight was the result of God’s grace working in Peter’s life.

In northern Iraq and Syria today there are many Christians who cannot publicly make this statement of faith, even though they believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God. They are being told to convert or die. According to news reports women and children are being kidnapped and sent into slavery. Churches are being destroyed. Christians are being tortured, persecuted and murdered. Tens of thousands of Yazidis are stranded on the Sinjar mountain range without access to food or water. Surely you have seen the dramatic images of helicopter recues. For the first time in 1600 years there is no Mass in Mosul, Iraq.

Despite our desire to cling to the last days of summer, this horrible situation demands our attention and our action. First, we each might do some hard thinking about the value of our faith and the freedom to profess our faith. We can easily presume upon our faith. If you attend Mass on Sundays you might look more deeply into how you witness to your faith during the week and how well you live the way of love given us by Jesus Christ. If you do not participate in Mass on Sundays now is the time to start and to make a priority of praising God on Sundays and standing in solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world.

Second, we need to find our voice in calling for religious freedom and in calling attention to these atrocities in the Middle East. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” — Dietrich Bonnhoeffer.

Contact your legislators, flood their mail boxes with your concerns for these suffering peoples. A threat to religious freedom in the Middle East is a threat to religious freedom here at home. Now is the time for us to put our priorities in order, to put God first in our lives, to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ as our Savior and our God.

Let us not be naive about the threat to religious freedom presented by secularism at home. Let us not become insulated from the suffering of persecuted Christians around the world. Rather, let us cry out to the God of mercy and compassion, begging for the strength to proclaim that, indeed, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Rev James M. McNamara

P.S. I think it is incumbent upon all priests and deacons to bring this concern to parishioners this Sunday.

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