Lord, Be With Them

This morning, I saw the following text begin to trickle onto my Facebook newsfeed:

From Sister Monique, via Filles de la Charite, PARIS

FROM : Sister Monique

Late Sunday afternoon on 1 March 2015, I received a message from M. Francoise, a delegate of the International Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and I managed to reach her by telephone.

She was leaving for Paris, and collapsed at the news she had just received: members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Syria were kidnapped, along with their wives and children. The children were isolated and put into cages. Adults who do not deny their faith will be decapitated, and their children burned alive in the cages. M. Francoise had been in regular contact with several of them before all this occurred. She asked me to transmit the news and make a fervent appeal for prayers for these people, and all who are held hostage.

Let us remain fervently united in prayer, and have as our intention the welfare of all brothers and sisters in our Christian faith who are being held hostage

Now, I have no way of knowing whether this information is true (I haven’t found any mention of it in the media), but it is posted on the website of the Eastern Province (USA) of the Vincentians, a Catholic order of priests and brothers. I would hope that they confirm such accounts before sharing them.

(Please note that there was a publicity stunt in February, in which Syrian protestors dressed children as ISIS hostages and placed them in a cage to protest the Assad regime. So if you see any pictures purported to be the children referenced by the Vincentians, please know that you might actually be seeing images of children who are alive and well – other, of course, than the fact that they live under a brutal, oppressive, even murderous regime.)

But in any event, thinking of the Christian hostages held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq (and we know that there are indeed many of them), I pray, over and over:

Lord, be with them.

Lord, protect them. Comfort them. Strengthen them. Give them Your peace.

Lord, touch the hearts of their captors. Kindle in them the virtues of prudence, justice, and charity. Guide them to feel sympathy, to have mercy, to love.

Lord, help the hostages to know that they are loved and prayed for by their brothers and sisters in Christ the world over. Move us to offer them whatever help and solidarity we can.

Lord, shield them. Cover them. Hold them.

Lord, be with them.

This morning, shortly after I read the disturbing news above, I heard my own child cry. He was fine – just frustrated with his clothing. But his cries were like daggers to my sense of wellness, of stability, of the way the world should be. All I could think of were those parents, having to wrestle with the most horrible decision one could possibly face.

Their children’s cries… surely their children would be crying.

I have no idea what I would do in that situation. No idea. I am cowed just by the suggestion of such a choice. Though half a world away, I feel injured by the kidnappings, the rapes, the mutilations, the beheadings of my fellow Christians in Africa and the Middle East. I am wowed by the grace with which some of those who are actually close to the victims have borne their losses. I feel pain, too, for the Muslims and other non-Christians who have suffered at the hands of ISIS and Boko Haram.

Over and over, I recognize Evil in the work of those extremists. Over and over, I mourn and I pray:

Lord, be with them.

I hope you’re praying too. I hope that you and I and the elderly lady at my church choir practice who lead us in prayer for the Jordanian fighter pilot, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, on the day we learned of his immolation – I hope that we (whatever Faith we call our own) will always far outnumber those who claim to do God’s will, but instead do the work of the one who opposes Him.

Lord, be with them.

The Religious Climate In My Here And Now

I was happy to see that Jen of Conversion Diary was revisiting her “religious climate” questions again this year. I always find the variety of answers she gets to be fascinating. (I’ve just realized that I always italicize the word “fascinating.” It doesn’t seem to work for me any other way.)

I’m not sure how fascinating my answers will be to anyone, as I live in the good ol’ U.S. of A. just like the majority of Jen’s readers, but I thought I’d tackle them nonetheless. Because I really like pondering questions of how religion and society interact.

First, let me (1) characterize my own little corner of the world, and (2) emphasize that this characterization, and all of the answers below, simply reflect my sense of my corner. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of my neighbors or relatives reacted to it with, “Where the heck are you? It’s not like that where I live!”

Just like so much of the United States, my State is distinctly divided along cultural/political lines. We have some very liberal areas and some very conservative areas. We have urban areas and rural ones. We have great wealth and real poverty. We have wealthy/intellectual liberal, urban/poor liberal, rural/suburban conservative. And the factions don’t always mix very well.

Too often, they quite purposefully don’t mix at all. Or if they mix in one sphere (say, the workplace), they feel like they have to keep their political/cultural/religious sides to themselves. It’s quite possible for the conversation in #3, below, to be very comfortable and friendly in one setting and extremely uncomfortable – maybe even laughable – in another. Same place; different mix of people; very different outcomes.

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1. WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

In the greater Washington, D.C. area.

2. WHAT IS CHURCH ATTENDANCE LIKE? ARE THERE MANY CHURCHES?

There are lots of churches. Catholic churches in suburban areas seem to be full. Most of the parishes I’ve attended have been standing-room only for the main Sunday mass(es), less full at Saturday and early-Sunday-morning masses. They’ve had anywhere from 3 to 12 masses per weekend and their sanctuaries have probably averaged 500 seats. That adds up to lots of people.

That said, Christmas and Easter masses seem to draw at least three times as many attendees as “regular” Sundays. They necessitate additions to the mass schedule and/or the addition of an improvised worship space (i.e. a school gym). Which tells me that if all the Catholics in my area actually attended mass on a weekly basis, we’d need to get very busy building churches.

In short, Catholic churches seem full, but for every active Catholic, there must be several more who rarely or never attend mass.

Mainline Protestant churches seem smaller and (from my limited experience) emptier. Evangelical churches seem to have bigger, fuller parking lots, so I’d guess they do better in the attendance department. We also have some (not lots) of “mega-churches,” of which I know little.

We also have a fair number of houses of worship for people of faiths other than Christianity. Our region has so many people from other parts of the world, we’ve got members of just about any faith you can imagine.

3. HOW APPROPRIATE WOULD IT BE FOR A PERSON TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT HE OR SHE IS A BELIEVING CHRISTIAN IN CASUAL CONVERSATION?

Per the above, it depends. It would probably always be minimally acceptable. In some parts it would be accepted and encouraged; in others it would seem strange or even inappropriate.

4. WHAT KIND OF FAITH DO THE POLITICIANS CLAIM TO PRACTICE?

We have politicians of different faiths. Most would claim some faith; few would claim none. But even those who claim a faith in common with their constituents would be unlikely to talk about it too widely.

5. HOW COMMON WOULD IT BE TO SEE A FAMILY WITH MORE THAN THREE KIDS? WHAT ARE THE ATTITUDES TOWARD FAMILY SIZE?

Two to three children is considered normal; four is still mostly “acceptable.” Any number over that – or even three/four if they’re spaced closely together – is usually viewed as strange.

6. WHAT WAS THE DOMINANT BELIEF SYSTEM IN YOUR AREA 50 YEARS AGO? WHAT IS IT NOW?

My sense is that 50 years ago my area was more culturally and religiously conservative, if not politically. People were likely more church-going than they are now. There were far fewer religious minorities, but there was still a good mix of Catholic and Protestant Christians.

But that “mix” would have been in the broad sense. I’m under the impression that people of different faiths are much more comfortable with each other now than they used to be. I think the Catholic and Protestant communities were much more distinct and divided 50 years ago. My (Catholic) grandmother still vividly remembers a terrible experience from her childhood, when her (public) elementary school teacher in a predominantly Protestant rural area went on an anti-Catholic rant in class.

Per my answer in #2, there is much religious diversity. Still, Catholic and Protestant Christianity predominate.

7. DO THE PEOPLE WHERE YOU LIVE SEEM HAPPY WITH THEIR LIVES?

Given the current political stalemate in Washington and how dependent our local economy is on the government (many friends are furloughed right now), people don’t seem too happy at the moment. More broadly, I still sense a general unhappiness/sadness/frustration. Even if one’s own family has survived the economic (and political) crises just fine, they’re likely to have friends or family who haven’t.

Thanks for the great questions, Jen! I look forward to seeing what everyone’s got to say!