What could “tough love” possibly have to do with the dual sense of consolation I experienced last month in a special prayer service? My wife and I gathered with our parish family to express solidarity with fellow Christians and to see more clearly our need for trust in Our Lord and the Blessed Mother.
Praying with Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians
This heightened awareness of shared peace and hope has stayed with me throughout June. I describe it as “tough love,” not in terms of stern correction for my personal carelessness and indifference, but in terms of agape best appreciated during tough times. Such times arise when one’s faith is challenged, perhaps even persecuted. Contemplation about today’s persecutions, occurring in our own lives or others’, plus gratitude for assistance in enduring those attacks, have prompted this testimony:
On May 30, our parish hosted a quiet hour of prayer in the presence of a compelling icon of Mary under the title of Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians. The image is transported around the United States by the Knights of Columbus. It depicts the Blessed Mother, with the Child Jesus over her heart, spreading her cloak over a diverse group of recent Christian martyrs from around the world. (Download the prayer card here.)
Parishioners meditated on the hatred now faced by Roman and Eastern Catholics, as well as other people of faith, in many lands. We prayed for these persecuted victims as members of our extended family. Our reflections combined pain, empathy and reliance upon God for protection that transcends earthly borderlines.
The "Faith of Our Fathers" and modern day martyrs
Then, on June 16, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and also Father’s Day, my wife and I joined a congregation in singing the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers” during Mass. Particular lyrics struck me and brought me back to that hour with the icon:
Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers! Holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!
I later stumbled upon a Crux news story about Pope Francis’ recent apostolic visit (May 31-June 2) to Romania—a country whose “history is marked by a long list of Orthodox and Christian martyrs” killed under totalitarian regimes.
Francis made remarks praising the progress that has occurred in relations between Catholics and the country’s largely Orthodox leadership. He credited the growth of “reciprocal knowledge,” through which people of different faiths “discovered that they are not strangers, but brothers, sisters and friends.”
He said Romania lately was experiencing an “ecumenism of blood.” He noted that blood-brother apostles Peter and Andrew were said to have converted the country to Christianity. “They remind us that there exists a fraternity of blood that precedes us … and has never ceased to nourish and sustain us on our journey.”
A family of faith in the Body of Christ
I once again thought back to Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians. This mother wants to unite and accompany her diverse, sometimes frightened family, which is capable of boldness despite its brokenness. The Church reminds us we are a family whose “fathers” suffered persecution in the hope of passing down a faith that makes us one in Christ’s love. Romanian history points to brothers and sisters who labored to convert hearts.
What a betrayal of the Body of Christ if we not only become indifferent to the suffering caused by tyrants’ rebellions against God, but also persecute our own brothers and sisters based on varying paths toward him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life! We’re called to togetherness under Mary’s protective mantle. She joins with our heavenly Father and our earthly kin to point us toward the unity found in the saving charity of her Son.
Now, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (June 28) resounds the unity written in that icon. Our fractured world should drive us back to that message, back toward each other. Gratefully aware of our inheritance, we need to humbly receive the “tough love” the Lord’s own pain and compassion offers us, as individuals and family.