Friday, June 29, 2007

Solemnity of Peter and Paul, Apostles

Our Holy Father Augustine wrote, "Now, if the line of bishops who succeed one another is to be considered, with how much certainty and advantage do we begin with Peter? He was the figure of the whole Church, and our Lord said to him, 'Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it.' " letter 53 2-3

What is this rock of Peter? A man who denied Jesus, hid in fear, and was obstinate in opening the community to the uncircumcised. And, a man whose love for his God led him to chains and the cross in imitation of his Lord.

Upon what do we place our hearts, our lives? A one Godhead Trinity of Persons bound in love, manifesting that love incarnate in Jesus, God made human, a love that reached into our greatest fear-death, conquering with new life, and continuing to grow and invite into the Trinity of love, through the Spirit, all persons until the end of the ages. That is the legacy of Peter and Paul. They were the first ambassadors of this invitation. They showed us the ultimate answer to the challenge of this love.

God builds upon the imperfect and fallible nature of our humanity with the virtues of the gifts of faith, hope, and love. It is the gift of God's loving life in us that the gates of hell can not overcome. The love of God is infallible and perfect. Our participation and growth in that love is what defines the Church, and our Order's part in it.

Peter and Paul did not always agree on the particulars of how the faith was to grow and spread, or even who and how should initiation be offered, but they both put their lives up for the love and growth of the community to which they ministered, and we honor them BOTH for this. As Christians, may we focus more on what we hold in common rather than what separates us, acknowledge God's supremacy of love and mercy, and respect our differences and diversity of gifts.

I echo the prayer of St. Augustine for my bishop and all bishops, " Lord, teach me what to teach, and teach me what I should hold fast."

Friday, June 8, 2007

"...In All Things, Charity"

The title above is from a famous quote of Our Holy Father, St. Augustine, "In essentials, unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity."

Recently, Father Ragheed, pastor of the Chaldean Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq, was murdered with three sub-deacons after celebrating together Holy Mass, the sacrament of LOVE. Martyred by religious intolerants bent on hate after years of persecution in a land that seems to thrive on intolerance and hatred.

But, the deeper truth of our God is revealed in the following letter and deseves, no...NEEDS to be heard:

Here is a translation of a letter written posthumously to Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni by a Muslim friend of his who is a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Father Ragheed and three deacons were shot and killed in Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday after Mass.

* * *

In the name of the compassionate and merciful God,

Ragheed, my brother,

I ask your forgiveness for not being with you when those criminals opened fire against you and your brothers. The bullets that have gone through your pure and innocent body have also gone through my heart and soul.

You were one of the first people I met when I arrived to Rome. We met in the halls of the Angelicum and we would drink our cappuccino in the university's cafeteria. You impressed me with your innocence, joy, your pure and tender smile that never left you.

I always picture you smiling, joyful and full of zest for life. Ragheed is to me innocence personified; a wise innocence that carries in its heart the sorrows of his unhappy people. I remember the time, in the university's dining room, when Iraq was under embargo and you told me that the price of a single cappuccino would have satisfied the needs of an Iraqi family for a whole day.

You told me this as if you were feeling guilty for being far away from your persecuted people and unable to share in their sufferings …

In fact, you returned to Iraq, not only to share the suffering and destiny of your people but also to join your blood to the blood of thousands of Iraqis killed each day. I will never forget the day of your ordination [Oct. 13, 2001] in the [Pontifical] Urbanian University … with tears in your eyes, you told me: "Today, I have died to self" … a hard thing to say.

I didn't understand it right away, or maybe I didn't take it as seriously as I should have. … But today, through your martyrdom, I have understood that phrase. … You have died in your soul and body to be raised up in your beloved, in your teacher, and so that Christ would be raised up in you, despite the sufferings, sorrows, despite the chaos and madness.

In the name of what god of death have they killed you? In the name of which paganism have they crucified you? Did they truly know what they were doing?

O God, we don't ask you for revenge or retaliation. We ask you for victory, a victory of justice over falsehood, life over death, innocence over treachery, blood over the sword. … Your blood will not have been shed in vain, dear Ragheed, because with it you have blessed the soil of your country. And from heaven, your tender smile will continue to light the darkness of our nights and announce to us a better tomorrow.

I ask your forgiveness, brother, for when the living get together they think they have all the time in the world to talk, visit, and share feelings and thoughts. You had invited me to Iraq … I dreamed of that visit, of visiting your house, your parents, your office. … It never occurred to me that it would be your tomb that one day I would visit or that it would be verses from my Quran that I would recite for the repose of your soul …

One day, before your first trip to Iraq after a prolonged absence, I went with you to buy souvenirs and presents for your family. You spoke with me of your future work: "I would like to preside over the people on the base of charity before justice" -- you said.

It was difficult for me to imagine you a "canonical judge" … And today your blood and your martyrdom have spoken for you, a verdict of fidelity and patience, of hope against all suffering, of survival, in spite of death, in spite of everything.

Brother, your blood hasn't been shed in vain, and your church's altar wasn't a masquerade. … You assumed your role with deep seriousness until the end, with a smile that would never be extinguished … ever.

Your loving brother,

Adnam Mokrani
Rome, June 4, 2007
Professor of Islamic Studies in the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture,
Pontifical Gregorian University