Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Friday of the Passion of the Lord
April 14, 2017
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana

“Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”   II Corinthians 4:10

An article entitled “The Long Lent of Iraq’s Christians” written by Edward Pentin for the National Catholic Register (April 2-15, 2017) describes the return of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics to their devastated town.   ISIS invaded Karemlash in August of 2014 and began to pillage and destroy.   Nothing was left unscathed.   The Church of St. Addai, the tomb of a martyred priest, Father Ragheed Ganni, the Cemetery of St. George, not to mention the homes of approximately 10,000 Christians were desecrated, violated or destroyed.    In some instances the invaders dug up corpses and decapitated them.    Following the recent offensive, ISIS abandoned the town, and Christian militia guarded the safe passage of what was left of the flock to return and view the damage.  

As I read the article, I thought of Good Friday.   Our Lord experienced a most humiliating death.   To highlight this point, historians tell us that the Roman practice was to crucify the victim completely exposed, i.e. naked.   There is no reason to believe, the commentators say, the crucifixion of Jesus was any different.   How devastating the pain and suffering of the Beloved must have been to those who had hoped that Jesus would be the long-awaited redeemer (Luke 24:21).    How distressing beyond words must have been the sorrow of “the afflicted mother,” how catastrophic the loss to the devoted disciples, how defeating to the hopes of the apostles.    Into this despairing moment is inserted a redefinition.    Could it be that death is not the final end?   Could it be that death is a necessary passing into life for those who have faith?  This redefinition is the message spoken to the two discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus by our Lord:  “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).   

Is it not true that if the Church is the Body of Christ, then the suffering of the members is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ?    If He has died, must we not die as well?    And if He lives, do we not live with Him? 

In the writings of St. Paul he reflects on the sufferings and hardships that he has endured for the sake of the Gospel.   He concludes his thoughts with these words:  “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.   For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (II Corinthians 4:10-11).  

Is this not the story of the Christian life?   This is what it means to embrace our sufferings.   We do it not as some exercise in self-punishment.   Very often the sufferings are not of our making.   They are foisted upon us by malignant forces over which we have no control.   What do we do?   We embrace them with love and courage, an example left us by our Lord Himself who took up His cross and remained obedient to the Will of the Father.  

Let us return to Karemlash.   The correspondent found an 83 year old lady who was too ill to flee.    When ISIS entered her home, they threatened her to renounce her Catholic faith and convert.    She responded, “You can make me into a [prostitute], bury me here, shoot me—I’ll never convert…” and added this question, “Would you want your mother to be forced to convert to Christianity?”     One militant replied, “No,” and they all left her alone.    The correspondent asked her why she thought they had not killed her.   She answered, “I wasn’t afraid of them; I was never afraid of them.   They had weapons, guns, everything, but I wasn’t afraid—because God is with me.”  

That is the faith of martyrs.   That is the faith planted on Calvary that arose on Easter Sunday.   And it is that faith we embrace when we take up our cross each day.   It was that path taken by the Christians of Karemlash and persecuted Christians of every age. 

Let our final words be those of St. Peter, who himself experience the cross:   “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (I Peter 2:21).   May we follow that way of the cross.