Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Persecution comes in many forms

At our SFO meeting last week, I started the Candidacy lessons (though I will not be officially accepted as a novice until, God willing, next meeting). Then I joined the rest of the group to talk about the writings of St. Francis, which they are studying as part of ongoing formation.

They were talking about Chapter XVI of the "Earlier Rule." This chapter concerns "Those who are going among the Saracens and other nonbelievers."

One person pointed out that the chapter deals with those who are placing themselves in situations in which they might become martyrs for the faith. The person lamented that we don't have those opportunities as easily today, and implied that we are somehow "weaker" for not seeking out martyrdom ourselves.

I pointed out that the rule was for the members of the first order, not us SFOs. We Secular Franciscans have vocations as lay people, husbands, parents, and workers in the world, and we are not as free to seek martyrdom deliberately (though we might face it anyway).

I also noted that we face different kinds of martyrdom. Whenever we stand up for the our faith, whenever we defend the Church, whenever will live as Catholics in the world, we proclaim the faith, and we face possible persecution. We might be ridiculed, or subject to constant verbal attacks, close scrutiny, knowing looks, and so on.

I reported that recently, for example, I had been drawn into a debate with others over the papacy, Africa, AIDs, birth control and condoms at a gathering after my father's funeral! (My mind was understandably distracted; I don't think I did as good a job as I should have.)

The portion of the rule we were discussing says one way to witness is "not to engage in arguments or disputes, to be subject to every human creature for God's sake (1 Pet 2:13) and to acknowledge that (we) are Christians." So simply by living according to the faith and not being afraid to admit what we are, we are "preaching" - and we might be persecuted. At the simplest level we might be labeled as a "religious fanatic," and thus in that way dismissed.

I am one of those prone to arguing and disputing, though I lack the knowledge and patience to do so effectively at times. I should not stop doing that when I can do so in an appropriate way, but I also need to remember that I can preach by simply living out my faith. I need to remember that if I have a reputation as a believer, I have to be careful that all of my words and actions are in keeping with the teachings of the faith and the example of St. Francis.

Pax et bonum


Lee Strong said...

And, of course, we need only think of the false and malicious attacks nows beign direced at the Pope to see the face of persecution.

Jerry-SFO said...

I agree with you, we do face different forms of martyrdom. That is, martyrdom in its essential form, the sacrifice of one’s life in defense of belief and the more common form of “taking up one’s cross. ” Martyrdom has many meanings, each unique to the individual struggling with conscience, faith and action.

It is said that Francis sought martyrdom in his mission to visit Sultan al Malik al-Kamil. True or not, seeking martyrdom is only a small part of the story. What Francis found on his mission of preaching and peace, and the greater lesson, was that this Sultan (a follower of Rumi?) was a deeply spiritual man and that many Muslims he encountered were deeply committed to their worship of God.

Both these men were impressed with the other’s spirituality and they parted friends. Francis was especially impressed with the Islamic practice of call to prayers several times during the day, and the many names of God, taught to him on his mission.

Francis, it seems, may have also come to accept that he would be unable to shake the faith/convert many Muslims, and perhaps that the work that needed to be done was to convert the Crusaders to Christianity—one that reflected Christ’s commandments to love.

Thus we see the development of the tau cross, adopted in part as a way to reclaim the symbol from the Crusaders who wore a red, traditional cross on their chests. The tau symbolizing simplicity and the peace of Christ, the Crusader cross advancing warfare, hatred and death—in the name of God, for the conquest of the holy land.

Let’s also not forget that the original SFO rule required followers not to bear arms. That held until the latest rewrite. These days, SFOs must look to Article 23 of the General Constitution of the SFO where we’re advised to “respect the choice of those who, because of conscientious objection, refuse to bear arms.” Oy veh…could we cave in to militarism any more on this?

Francis, who as a knight followed Christ’s recommendation to soldiers to put down their weapons is mirrored centuries later by the martyred WWII-era SFO, Franz Jagerstatter. Drafted into the German army, he refused to cooperate and was beheaded. A farmer, and now a candidate for sainthood, he left behind a wife and 3 or 4 children. Remarkable. Or as Gordan Zahn called it, “matchless heroism.”

Could it be that Jagerstatter is the answer to those who ask, “what would you do about Hitler?” Perhaps the question isn’t so much would you fight against him, but as a Christian, will you fight for him? Given that Augustine’s Just War theory seems to have trumped Jesus’ mandates for all these many centuries, we must consider that “just war” is not spelled, V-i-e-t-n-a-m and I-r-a-q. “Respect the choice of…conscientious objection,” indeed….

So, for me, when it comes to the issue of martyrdom or carrying one’s cross, Francis found his own way and encouraged his followers to find theirs—wherever that practice led them. (Let’s also remember that Jesus admonished his disciples to pray harder so that the cup He was about to bear would not also fall to them). Could it be He was saying something like, “My martyrdom and death is ENOUGH. Stop the killing!” (What a concept.) Here’s another concept to keep in mind: be careful what you pray for.

Finally, thanks for doing this blog—it’s good to be able to interact with SFO candidates and with our professed brothers and sisters from other fraternities. I will alert another candidate in my group to your work. God blesses you.
Peace and Good,