24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
The Gospel today presents a rather timely incident given the current uproar in the in the Moslem world supposedly over a video that is definitely insulting to Mohammed, but a video that was produced by a private crank individual and has been seen by virtually no one, Muslim or non- Muslim. The most extreme Islamic political elements have been fanning the violence simply by reporting that such an anti-Muslim video has been made and is up on the internet. Four innocent Americans have been murdered by the mobs aroused by political operatives of the Islamic extremists who desire the destruction of and/or subjection of western societies to Islamic rule.
This latest uprising occurred one day short of a similar uprising around the Muslim world again based upon a report, again generated and circulated by the political operatives, supported by the most extreme Muslim religious leaders, which suggested that the Pope had deliberately insulted Islam in his academic address at Regensburg, Germany. The passage that was seized upon contained the words not of the Pope but a 14th Century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos who wrote them in a dialogue with a Muslim scholar, a kind of debate over things like Muslim practices of forced conversion and Jihad, holy war. Anyone who had actually read the speech would see immediately that the Pope in no way said he agreed with the words of Palaiologos, but it made no difference. The Muslim religious leaders demanded an apology which the pope unfortunately gave them, though in a qualified way. The whole Pakistani parliament had viciously condemned the Pope, and there was no retraction after the Pope’s apology. They took it as an admission of guilt, pure and simple. There is no appeasing this element of Islam. The Church understood that until the 20th Century, and in the future it will have to learn this lesson anew at great cost.
In the end, neither the Pope’s address nor the recent video were the true causes of the protests and violence. The true cause is a deep seated hatred in a substantial. political movement in Islamic countries, and in a growing number of the masses duped by these leaders. In the recent incident, the cause was a deep seated hatred of Western civilization in general and of America specifically, along with Israel seen as America’s puppet in the Middle East. But in the case of the Pope we see the deepest hatred of all, the hatred of Christianity as a rival religious power, which makes it a rival political power since it has informed western civilization historically, and is seen as informing it even today by the masses of Islam so informed by their religious leaders, even though much of what was formerly Christendom is not gone, replaced by a deep seated secularism that now informs Europe as a whole and slowly but surely America. The Pope is seen as the icon of all that the Islamist leaders hate and fear, western imperialism and western religion;
So what has this to do with today’s Gospel? A lot. First of all, in this passage from Mark, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, and we know that in Matthew’s account that confession is filled out where Peter adds, “the Son of the living God.” The Church has always understood this passage not only as Christ’s personal institution of Peter as the Rock, the one who will confirm and guarantee the faith of the Church in Christ, but also as the declaration through Peter of the Church’s foundational belief that Jesus is the Son of the living God. What this means is further explained in the last Gospel to be written, John, where the prologue declares that Jesus is the Eternal Word, the Eternal Word is God and Son of the Eternal Father, and that the Word has become flesh in the womb of Mary. Thus Jesus is God.
This is the bedrock teaching of the Christian faith – that Jesus is truly God and that God is only one God, but that in God there are three persons in the absolutely one being of God. The non-negotiable belief that Jesus is truly God made flesh has always been a scandal to the other great monotheistic religions. It was and is nonsense for the religion of Israel, which Christianity recognizes as divinely established as the preparation for the Messiah. And much later, 5 centuries after Christ, it was declared heresy in the books of the new religion of Arabia and the Middle East founded by Mohammed. Both Islam and Israel have asserted that the divinity of Christ is simply a myth created by the Christian Church (and supposedly never claimed by Jesus himself). The Koran, while honoring Jesus as the holiest of men and a prophet, absolutely denies his divinity and boldly asserts that a proper reading of the Christian Bible proves that it was the leaders of the Church itself who distorted its own Bible. Thus Islam tries to split Jesus from the Church – Jesus is a holy man who never claimed to be anything but a prophet, and the Church is a blasphemous institution that created his divinity and the three gods that result. The Pope is the chief heretic.
It is for this reason, the blasphemy of the Church, that Christians in Moslem lands are barely tolerated and are forbidden to advocate their beliefs lest they corrupt or convert Moslems to believe in this Christian blasphemy regarding Jesus and in the polytheism that this false Christian belief supposedly promotes – three gods, whom the Koran identifies with Allah, Jesus and Mary. Thus the Church has no true religious freedom in any Moslem dominated land, and in almost all of these lands, it is extremely dangerous to publicly profess the faith in Jesus’ divine sonship confessed by Peter in the New Testament and in the many Church Creeds that antedate the birth of Islam in the middle of the 6th Century.
Secondly, the passage recounts how Jesus severely reprimanded Peter when Peter rejected the idea that Jesus and his teaching would be so violently rejected that it would lead to his persecution, passion and death. Jesus would be put to death because of who he claimed to be. The High Priest confirms this in Matthew: “He has blasphemed” and the Jewish leaders do likewise in John: “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” Jesus would die because he claimed to be the Son of God, equal to the Father. Jesus warned Peter and the others, that they too must be ready to be persecuted and die for the Gospel, found in both Scripture and Tradition, because it proclaims faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
Christians have always been persecuted for their belief in this doctrine of their Church. In the early years they were persecuted by their fellow Jews who considered them as blasphemers – like St. Paul himself; in later times they were persecuted by the Roman Empire who had its own religion and own gods, including the Emperor, to be worshipped as divine. Later yet, they suffered under the Moslem nations that subjugated Christian lands all around the Mediterranean basin and on up into Spain and the Balkans. They were not, strictly speaking, forced by the sword to convert, but they were “pressured” to convert by being reduced to near servitude, by being severely taxed, and by being subjected to the rigors of the religious law of Islam drawn from the Sharia. So their religious freedom was severely curtailed until they either emigrated or converted to Islam. Even today these Christian minorities cannot make any display of a cross or Christian religious symbol, cannot publicly profess their faith or explain it to Moslems. To proselytize a Moslem carries the penalty of death and to profess ones beliefs in any way that would be considered an insult to Islam also can bring the penalty of death. They live in fear and intimidation, parsing their words, and hoping that no one will denounce them for blasphemy.
Today, an extreme militant form of Islam is on the rise once again, and it ultimately makes little difference how few or how many they are, or whether or not their interpretation of the Koran regarding Jihad is true or false – that is, whether jihad is simply spiritual struggle or is the use of violence to conquer infidels. This new militant Islam represents a mortal threat not only to Christians everywhere, but also to the civilization that grew out of Christianity, even though it is no longer truly a Christian civilization.
Using the global media with skill, Moslems today are no longer simply intimidating those Christians who live directly under their political/religious rule, but are now extending this intimidation to the whole world, to silence anyone who says something objectionable to Islam by quickly generating demonstrations which inevitably produce threats of death, war and other forms of violence. It has been going on for some years now and it is succeeding slowly. If you can intimidate the Pope into apologizing for a speech that is in favor or religious tolerance and against violence in the name of God, then the battle is not far from being won. Indeed, recall that even the New York Times, which champions the freedom of speech as if it were the First Commandment, and not just the First Amendment, actually condemned the Pope for his speech and demanded a deep personal apology to the Moslem world! The world is learning what it has been like for Christians living under Moslem rule – fear and intimidation are their daily fare.
An Italian woman journalist who has written widely on this subject tried to draw attention to this radical Islamic insurgency, which is now worldwide. Oriana Fallaci was a self-described atheist and feminist, and she has been highly critical even of the Church herself for what she sees as its groveling before this new threat to our civilization, and to Christians above all. She, I am sure, would have applauded the Pope and his speech had she not been on her deathbed at the time – she died only 3 days after his speech. She clearly understood the threat posed to atheists like herself, and she understood what would happen to the hard won rights of women in the west should militant Islam ever become our ruler (Iran) – or the power behind the ruler (as it is in Arabia) – or even a secular government which has to pay tribute to the militants to stay in power (Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt). She spoke courageously about this peril, and as a result she had to live her last years in exile in the United States because of the many death threats her writing generated among these fanatical religious militants.
Pope Benedict genuinely loves our Moslem brothers and sisters, but he also understands the critical importance for an honest dialogue concerning the consistency of a use of violence in the name of God and religion with an understanding of God that does not divorce the divine nature from reason, natural rights and natural law. His thesis in that speech at Regensburg was precisely this: that violence in the name of God is inconsistent with the true nature of man, reason, natural rights and natural law as well as faith in the true God. He believes most Moslems agree with this, but that an honest dialogue has to be conducted regarding the justification of violence in the sacred texts of Islam. This dialogue is important for the relations of all religions with secularized societies that tend to identify religious faith with fanaticism and irrationality, and it must take place before the threat of militant Islam leads to even greater catastrophes for all of us, Moslems, Christians, Jews, and atheists as well. Nuclear war is no longer unthinkable should extreme Muslim nations possess the bomb, and Iran is likely to do just that, and soon.
We need the voice of Peter speaking these truths; the world needs a voice that is not afraid to challenge Islam to come to terms with its own extremists. In the end, we desperately need a world that acknowledges Jesus Christ as Son of God And Prince of Peace