A century since the beginning of what was called “the war to end war”, we are living in a world in which violence and conflict seem to be gaining ground every day. From the Middle East comes news of ancient Christian communities being wiped out. From Syria and northern Iraq come reports of Christians who refuse to renounce the Faith being crucified, reports of Christian women being sold in slavery to savages, reports of children being dismembered or buried alive because they have been baptised.
It would be quite easy for us to carry on oblivious to all of this, if we wanted to. The liberal media is so reluctant to draw our attention to the persecution of Christians that we could easily bury our heads in the sand and ignore the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ, if we wanted to.
But if it all seems so far away and even irrelevant to us, perhaps we should take note of a chilling warning that was issued recently to the west by the dispossessed Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul. Mosul is a town in northern Iraq, which until less than a month ago was home to one of the world’s most ancient Christian communities. Until a few weeks ago a form of the language spoken by Our Lord, Aramaic, was still to be heard in the streets of Mosul. It is no longer. For 1,600 years the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered continually in Mosul. It is no longer.
Archbishop Amel Shimoun Nona warned us that the forces that have wreaked murder and destruction in his diocese will soon rise up in our own western societies. He said this in such a direct and startling way that I am reluctant to repeat his words verbatim in The Oratory Parish Magazine for fear of being labelled a panic-monger. This prelate, however, is a shepherd who has been driven from his diocese. His cathedral is now a mosque, and those of his flock who have not been slaughtered, or forced to apostatise, have been put to flight. Surely we cannot dismiss what he has to say. His own suffering, and the horrors he has witnessed, give to his words a certain authority.
We might well feel that the values of liberal democracy that we hold dear are under threat. But look more closely at our liberal democracies, and at the sins and the crimes against God’s law that they currently facilitate in our once Christian Europe, and we shall probably have to admit that our liberal democracies have already sown the seeds of their own destruction.
The freedom and democracy that we so cherish cannot be taken for granted. They can only be sustained in a society which values and nurtures virtue, reason and discipline. When a liberal democracy legislates in favour of the killing of the most vulnerable – of the unborn, the sick and the elderly – then it has already signed its own death warrant. When legislation is enacted that goes against the very laws that God has inscribed in nature, then our society becomes ever more hollow, fragmented and vulnerable.
On the natural level, then, things are not looking so good for the future. And in all of this, the Church finds Herself under increasing pressure. Weakened by scandals and religious indifference and by the wounds of division within, it might seem that She is in no strong position to face the challenges that threaten harm to Her from without.
What gives us hope, however, is the promise made to St Peter by Our Lord: “You are Peter. And on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
If we glance at the history of the Church, we shall be amazed to see how She has already survived so many persecutions and crises. Civilisations have crumbled, and the Church has survived them, administering the same Seven Sacraments. Ideologies have risen and fallen on Her right and on Her left, and the Church persists, teaching the same Gospel that She always taught – a Gospel which is unchanging but always fresh and life –giving, because the word of God is unencumbered by ideological shackles and enlivened with the Holy Spirit. Persecutions rage and storm, and always the blood of the martyrs brings forth the green shoots of new life.
And all of this because of that divine guarantee that Our Lord gives to Peter: “The gates of Hell shall not prevail.”
That promise made to Peter has held good for all of Peter’s successors. And this has nothing to do with their personal virtues or weaknesses as incumbents of the See of Rome. Some popes have succeeded Peter magnificently, teaching the Faith as if they were divinely inspired. Others have been lacklustre. Some have been great saints, others notorious sinners. But always, Peter remains the rock of stability and the keystone of unity in the Church. The Faith remains the same and the Church continues to save, sometimes helped by the shepherds appointed to guard and guide the flock, sometimes in spite of them. All thanks to Our Lord’s guarantee of supernatural protection, made to His Bride the Church through His Vicar on earth.
The worst thing that we can do when we are under pressure, as individual Catholics, is to lose our nerve. We are disciples of the Prince of Peace, and if there is to be any true peace in the world, then it is down to us to be courageous and untiring in extending the reign of our Monarch. Only when the Prince of Peace is enthroned in every man’s heart on this planet will conflict be quelled.
Within a few weeks, a Synod of Bishops will open in Rome to discuss the family. Potentially this is a wonderful opportunity for bishops from all over the world to share their experiences and to enrich the spiritual and pastoral life of the Catholic faithful in our age, so strengthening the mission of the Church. At the same time there is pressure on this Synod, from the media and elsewhere, to change the teaching of the Church on issues such as the indissolubility of the sacred bond of Holy Matrimony.
Of course, this can never happen. If it did, it would mean that the Church had been lying to us about a matter of Faith and morals, and that promise made by Our Lord to Peter would turn out to be false. It would be blasphemous even to suggest such a thing. Nevertheless it seems likely that media commentary will generate much doctrinal and spiritual confusion amongst those who allow their understanding of the Faith to be moulded by reports from the television and the newspapers. Any perceived ambiguity and contradiction will be milked for everything it is worth. And the last thing the world needs in the current state of emergency is the decadence of a Church hobbled by dissent, confusion and disunity.
The Holy Father has asked us to make Sunday 28th September a special day of prayer for the Synod on the Family. Please make a note of that in your diaries. And perhaps it might be a good idea to fortify those prayers with some fasting on the preceding Friday
Let us not be Huffington Post Catholics or Sunday Times Catholics. Our Church has been founded on a rock. Pray for St Peter’s successor in these challenging times. Some pundits have built up such impossible expectations for the Synod of Bishops that disappointment on the popular level seems inevitable. Whether or not a pope is in the good books of the BBC or the world’s press, however, is neither here nor there. It is Peter’s God-given duty to feed the sheep with the pure undiluted milk of Christian doctrine in season and out and, if and when the time comes, to stretch out his own arms and give his own life for his flock. Please pray for our beloved Pope Francis, that God will guide him and inspire him. And pray for all of those Christians who suffer persecution today. Pray also that through some miracle of conversion their persecutors will open their hearts and embrace the rule of the Prince of Peace. Extremism is a dirty word. But we do need more extremism in this world, actually: conflict and violence will only be defeated when the religion of extreme love and extreme mercy reigns supreme.