As a vowed religious for the Congregation of Holy Cross and one who loves my Christian faith, the news over the past few weeks of the twenty-one Coptic Christians being martyred, as well as the over two-hundred men, woman and children who have been abducted in Syria because of their Christian faith, has brought me to really consider what it means to proclaim “I believe in Jesus Christ! I truly believe in Jesus Christ!” I believe in the Gospel message Jesus has given to the Apostles that has been handed down through the generations. I believe in the Trinitarian love and salvation that has been given to the world through our baptism. I believe that the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, is alive and working in our world today, in every moment of our lives. But, could I endure being kidnapped, or even worse, being beheaded because of my love of Jesus? As one who has taken vows in the name of Jesus Christ to live the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, I hope that I would have the same faith as my fellow Christians in Libya and Syria.
The horrible situations that Christians find themselves in around the world affects the entire body of Christ. The Body Christ, as St. Paul writes, includes all baptized Christians united under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In this sense, I am united and in solidarity with these Christians not only because of our common humanity but also because of our common baptism and our love of the same Lord. This creates a deep bond. I am called to live out my Christian faith the same way the entire body of Christ is called to live out its mission: to proclaim that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
I keep reminding myself in this time of pain and suffering that in some way our compassionate Lord and Father is guiding and protecting us. As we currently find ourselves in Lent, I keep before me the image of Jesus being tempted in the desert for forty days and forty nights. Through the temptations and trials to give up and take refuge in the evil one, Jesus never yielded. Jesus had complete trust and fidelity in God. I believe that more than ever, we need to be Christ-like and have total faith in God. In the midst of such evil and terror, we must never give up hope! The temptations that Jesus faced in the desert could not shake his faith and trust in God. Not only would he not waver in the desert, but while dying a gruesome and horrible death on the Cross, Jesus would never lose sight of the loving Father who cared so intimately for all he created.
As Christians and in particular as seminarians, we need to always be mindful of the deep love God has for each one of us. God deeply cares for us and wants us to be united to him. This love is what gives us the courage to take vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience and to stand up to injustice in the world. And so, when thinking about the martyrs in Libya or the Christians abducted in Syria, I am comforted by the fact that God deeply loves them and is guiding their every moment. I pray that the Lord continue to bless the Christian communities in the Middle East and in North Africa, and to give them the grace of perseverance and a strong faith in God as the healer and lover of all creation.
John Whittaker, C.S.C. is in his first year of temporary vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross. John and his fellow seminarians reside at Moreau Seminary while studying in the M.Div. Program at the University of Notre Dame. He is originally from Cumming, Georgia.