May the peace of our Lord be with you; I hope this letter finds you well.
I had a difficult conversation with my daughters last evening, one that I would like to share with you because I believe you will understand and perhaps, help me to understand. There are many topics of conversation with children which make parents uneasy. A child’s first experience with death, a broken heart, personal loss…
You see, many Christian parents–especially in the comforts of the West–discuss how we must give our lives to Christ, but I cannot recall my fellow parents expressing this literally? In fact, I cannot remember the last time I considered my own reaction to the possibility of a martyr’s death.
But you have experienced martyrdom, haven’t you, brothers and sisters, as victim and killer?
I asked my youngest daughter, “If you knew that attending Mass one more time meant someone like ISIS would take your life because you believed in Christ, would you go?”
Her eyes widened as fear swept over her and tears dripped down her cheek. She slowly shook her head and curled into the fetal position on our couch. We were preparing to pray for the recent martyrs in Africa and the Middle East.
And for you, ISIS.
“Why should I pray for them,” she asked. “They killed people, just because they believe in Jesus.” She folded her arms. “They’re evil.”
Her reaction was reasonable enough, many would say, but then Christians have a long history of being unreasonable in faith and love. In fact, the foundation of our faith is grounded in the relentless, undeserved, infinite, passionate, unfathomable, and in many cases unrequited love of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Such love, a love which spends itself into annihilation on behalf of the good of another, is dangerous. Indeed, our Scripture tells us that Christ is the cornerstone and foundation of our faith, that we Christians throughout the centuries are the bricks of the temple–his body–but the blood of martyrs provides the mortar which cements the structure.
“But Jesus tells us to love our enemy–to pray for them,” I said.
“But Daddy they are so mean! Why would I want to pray for them?”
ISIS, I felt like a hypocrite. How could I ask such a difficult of my young daughter when I struggled with the concept myself? I remembered how lonely and terrible I felt as a child, bullied everyday for years, how I hated attending school. Would I have prayed for my bullies at her age?
“The Bible tells us that it is God’s will that none of us perish,” I continued. “That none die separated from his love. God loves us deeply, no matter what? Do you think there is a difference between you lying to your parents and ISIS killing people?”
I shook my head. “Sin is sin in the eyes of God. Sin is when we separate ourselves from God and others. Jesus did not suffer and die for only some sins, and he does not limit his forgiveness for those who seek reconciliation. I pray for you and your sister every morning, that you would be strong and resist sin by God’s grace. Don’t you think ISIS could use the help of your prayer?”
She shrugged and nodded. “So, what do we pray for?”
“Their salvation, their ultimate good, that these martyrs did not die in vain. We should also ask these martyrs to pray for us, that we might have their courage too, the same love and courage that Christ had when he faced the cross for us.”
My daughter considered our conversation for a moment and then relented. “Okay, I’ll pray for them. And I change my mind too…”
She took a deep breath and straightened her back. “I would go to that last Mass, Daddy.”
And so we prayed for you, ISIS. We prayed that you would find peace and solace, that the conflict which ignites your anger would end. We prayed for the families each of you leave behind as you die in battle. Finally, we prayed that the blood of Christ’s martyrs cover the wounds of your hearts and cool your rage, like aloe against a burn, that the last confession of faith of their lips before slaughter might lull your conscience like the song of a nightingale.
Dear ISIS, your violence will never defeat the martyrs, for Christ defeated sin and death by submitting himself to rage and sin–by infecting it with love, grace, and mercy. It will be the same with you. We will infiltrate and conquer you with our love, our intercession before God on your behalf, with our confession of faith. My brothers and sisters, may there always be martyrs for you, that your arms grow tired, your bullets run out, your blades dull upon our necks, and when your rage reduces you to a lonely coal extinguished by our blood, may you kneel before Christ that he might lift you up and transfigure you into the precious diamonds he always intended you to be.
Peace be with you.by