As I write this, I am sitting in a quiet, darkened corner of the hotel suite where my husband and our three youngest children and I are enjoying the second week of our vacation along the coast of Maine and Massachusetts. We are delighting in warm sandy beaches, historical sites, sleeping in, and even a bit of restrained shopping at an outlet mall. These two weeks remind me of the very privileged life God has granted my family.
When I scan Facebook to see what my friends and older children are up to and to upload pictures of whales, beaches, and other evidence of our fabulous vacation, I come across other photos. These are brutal, horrific pictures of Christians and other religious minorities being beheaded, raped, hunted, butchered, slaughtered, annihilated. These photos are such a sharp contrast to my pictures that I am jarred to my core and I feel guilty.
I gaze at pictures of the exodus of Christians fleeing to safety and I think of the only exodus I have experienced in the last few days: the caravan of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate highway. The photos of refugees sleeping on the ground, exposed to the elements are strikingly different from our well-appointed hotel with the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. For the past two Sundays, we have assisted at Holy Mass in two different towns. Our greatest concern has been making sure the GPS directions are correct and that we are not late. In Mosul, there are no more churches, and if ISIS is successful, there will be no more Christians.
I am thankful that God has placed my family in privilege and safety. I am grateful that I don’t have to witness the beheading of my sons and my husband or the rape and murder of my daughters. I am thankful that I don’t have to listen to children crying in pain and I don’t have to watch as their helpless parents try in vain to console them. I am thankful that I can live my Catholic faith without any threat to my life. I am grateful but I feel guilty that I am not doing enough for my persecuted brothers and sisters who would give their lives—and are giving their lives—for just an ounce of what I take for granted.
Guilt is a good feeling when it is used to improve an intolerable situation. It is that still, small voice that nudges us out of our complacency and propels us to do more. It reminds us that as we thank Divine Providence for placing us in safety and comfort, we have a responsibility to the members of the Body of Christ whose lives are in peril. Guilt as well as anger, compassion, and solidarity can motivate us to help the plight of persecuted Christians in Iraq and elsewhere.
I wish I had superhero powers so I could swoop into Iraq faster than the speed of light and round up the entire membership of ISIS and lock them up forever on an uninhabited planet. I wish I could rescue, heal, and console every victim of this genocide. But I am not a superhero.
The real superheroes are our persecuted brothers and sisters who are willing to lose everything for their Christian faith. They have found the pearl of great price and they are paying a great earthly cost. They possess a courage that can only be sustained supernaturally in the face of inconceivable horror.
We may not have superhero powers but what we do have is something infinitely more valuable: supernatural help and membership in the communion of saints. And so, we can continue to donate to aid agencies that are trying to help our persecuted brethren. We can march in solidarity and instruct our political leaders to help them. We can change our profile picture to the sign for “Nazarene” and share the latest social media posts about the atrocities. We can continue to speak to our colleagues, friends, and family members so that this injustice remains in the forefront. Because of our love of God and neighbour, we can do all these things in a spirit of prayer and continue to offer up our sacrifices.
Most of us don’t know if we have the courage shown by our persecuted brethren; we have not been tried like they have. But I know that with prayer, God will grant us the courage we need so that we can do our part to create a world where the triune God, the God of peace and love, is worshiped and glorified in every heart. If you feel guilt like I do, and if you realize how privileged you are, then God is already working in you.