Reeson’s Ramblings :: May 14, 2017
A Message from Fr. Radcliffe
Fr. Timothy Radcliffe writes that the Easter season would be incomplete without the story of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr.
Ironically, the first deacons were appointed to look after the distribution of food so that the apostles would be free to preach. But when persecution came, the apostles remained mysteriously silent, and the deacons did the preaching! Stephen is accused by false witnesses of blasphemy against Moses, and this leads to his violent death at the hands of a mob.
This seems to be what is happening today to Christians in many places, especially in Pakistan where anti-blasphemy laws frequently are invoked in the trial or lynching of Christians. In 2013 more than 100 Christians were killed in a suicide bombing of a church in Peshawar. A couple of Christians were burned alive in a brick oven after they were wrongly accused of burning a Qur’an. In too many places around the world, if you are a Christian and if false witnesses have something against you, you are in danger of being stoned like Stephen or beheaded like Paul.
How should we respond? First, Stephen’s words were an echo of Christ’s: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
Whenever there have been terrorist acts by jihadists in Paris or Brussels or the United States, there has been an instant rise in hate crimes against innocent Muslims. They have been shot. Girls wearing hijabs have been harassed. Mosques have been defaced and targeted by arsonists, and hate filled graffiti have been sprayed on walls. Our world is being crucified by gun crime and religious intolerance. Christians are called to witness to our faith by a profound rejection of violence. If not, the future is too awful to contemplate.
In addition to rejecting violence, we must listen. Acts tells us that after Stephen’s death, Philip, another deacon, immediately took to the road and preached: “With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:6-8). Philip’s hearers may not have become Christians, but they listened.
Similarly, there are many Muslims in the Middle East who are open to listen to us, if we listen to them. Many are coming to love the nonviolence of Jesus.
Fr. Radcliffe says that when he visited Baghdad in January 2015, he was told of soldiers who searched for weapons in a Christian home. When they saw the Christmas crèche they said, “You are Jesus. There are no weapons here.”
Later that year, Fr. Radcliffe stayed in Syria, between Damascus and Homs, very near the front line of ISIS, which had taken the local village and destroyed the church. Repulsed by the actions of ISIS, the Muslim villagers offered the Christians their mosque as a place to pray.
In the midst of so much religious persecution and violence today, the story of Stephen tells us:
Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., is former master general of the Order of Preachers and author of Stations of the Cross as well as Take the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmation.