The Power of Turning the Other Cheek

We can never forget that we fight for the God of Love.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on February 17, 2017

It was two years ago this month when Beshir Kamel went on television and thanked Islamic State terrorists for not editing out the last words of his brother and the other Egyptian men filmed being slaughtered along a beach in Libya. “Lord, Jesus Christ,” were the last words of the Coptic Christians murdered because of their faith.

The courage and integrity of their witness strengthened Kamel’s faith. “This only makes us stronger in our faith, because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us,” Kamel said to a Christian television channel shortly after the murders. He further explained that his mother is prepared to welcome any of the men involved in her son’s beheading into her house. Kamel himself prayed for his brother’s murderers on television.

What hope and what gratitude.

Strangers in a Strange Land

There are more persecuted Christians today than in the early days of Christianity, sources as varied as the Pew Foundation and Pope Francis will tell you.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput makes two points in his new book, Strangers in a Strange Land: “First, the religious liberty that Americans take for granted is actually quite rare in the world.” And he cautions that even here, “our freedom to preach, teach, and witness our Catholic faith is only as strong as our willingness to live the faith vigorously in our own lives, and to work and fight for it in the public square.”

“We can never forget that we fight for the God of Love. We need to engage with that spirit, even those who hate us.”

Secondly, he writes, particularly as a reminder to Christians: “(W)e can never forget that we fight for the God of Love. We need to engage with that spirit, even those who hate us. The Coptic martyrs and their families — like the early Christians — call us to claim the more excellent way. They remind us that we should bless our persecutors and pray for their conversion, that we should even be thankful for the opportunity to suffer for the sake of Christ. Only that kind of radical love can, in the end, bring victory not on the world’s terms, but the victory of genuine peace in Christ.”

Why does this matter to the world? Because if we care about peace in the Middle East, for starters, having some Christians in the mix is just and right — Christianity has been there since its earliest days. And because they refuse hatred even at machete’s edge. “Christian faith can turn ordinary men and women into heroes,” Chaput explains. “Christians in the Middle East offer us a powerful lesson in how to live as Jesus lived.”

Chaput also quotes from Archbishop Amel Nona, formerly head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, Iraq, appointed after his predecessor was murdered. “(T)he Christian faith is not an abstract, rational theory … but a means of discovering its deepest meaning, its highest expression as revealed by the Incarnation. When the individual discovers this possibility, he or she will be willing to endure absolutely anything and will do everything to safeguard this discovery, even if this means having to die in its cause.”

As Chaput puts it: “In China, India, North Korea and many Muslim nations, harassment and bloody persecution of Christians are now common. As free members of the body of Christ, we need to live our faith all the more zealously for those who cannot. The witness of the early martyrs reminds us that as much as a passionately Christian life is difficult, it’s also a life of joy.”

It’s also the kind of selflessness — based on the Beatitudes — that our selfie-obsessed world needs. It’s the road to the kind of happiness that otherwise can seem not only elusive but downright impossible. The martyrs show the way; they are icons of hope and joy, tilling fields for a culture of forgiveness and love.

 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].

COPYRIGHT 2017 United Feature Syndicate

 

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