Fundamentalism and Extremism. That every tendency to fundamentalism and extremism may be countered by respect, tolerance, and dialogue among believers.
All religious belief is susceptible to the errors of fundamentalism and extremism. Religious fundamentalism is a point of view characterized by rigid adherence to basic principles or by literal reading of sacred texts. Extremism acts out fundamentalist principles in behavior that is isolationist, intolerant, and even violent.
In this month’s prayer intention, Pope Benedict XVI asks us to pray that respect, tolerance, and dialogue among believers will overcome religious fundamentalism and extremism.
Pope Benedict has stated that religion cannot be imposed, but only proposed with the hope that the truth will sway those who hear it to accept the gospel (Pope Benedict’s Message for the World Day of Peace, 2006).
Pope John Paul II said that forcing upon others “what we consider to be the truth is an offence against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offence against God.”
Other religions affirm the same principle of religious freedom. For example, the Qur’an says “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
Yet, sadly, we have seen fundamentalism and extremism even in those religions that teach against it, including Christianity and Islam. The most extreme expression of fundamentalism is violence and terrorism, “scourges” which, says Pope Benedict, we must combat…with legislation” (Speech to the Bishops of Central Asia, October 2008).
In our world of darkness and confusion, it’s tempting to reduce the complex and unknown into overly simplified doctrines and codes of behavior.
But Christ’s way to the clarity and order we all seek is to respect, tolerate, and dialogue with others. We aren’t looking for the lowest common denominator. We are seeking truth together and finding areas for cooperation in promoting justice and peace in our world. By our respectful words and actions we may attract others to Christ and his Church.
Reflection: In what ways are you tempted by fundamentalism? How are you tempted to have violent reactions to people or situations?
Reading: Romans 12:16-18—Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay evil for evil… if possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
Persecuted Christians. That persecuted Christians may persevere, sustained by the Holy Spirit, in witnessing to the love of God for all, even for those who persecute them.
This month the Holy Father’s mission intention flows out of his general intention. One of the results of fundamentalism is that many Christians around the world are denied the God-given right to practice their religion. The right to faith, conscience, conversion, teaching, practice, and worship was recognized by the United Nations’ 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.
Pope Benedict urges us to pray for persecuted Christians, asking that they persevere in love even for those who persecute them. The Holy Father understands that love like that comes only by the grace of God, that is, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, his friends were full of fear and did not know what to do. So, obeying Jesus, they gathered together in an upper room to wait and to pray. The Holy Spirit descended upon them there, strengthened their faith, and gave them the courage they needed to tell the world the good news. When they did, many believed, amazing even the apostles.
But not everyone believed them. Some opposed them with threats and violence. Yet by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s followers loved even their enemies and bravely continued to witness to the Resurrection of the Lord.
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. Together they form a Trinity of love. Three Divine Persons in one God.
By the power of the same Holy Spirit, we too can be faithful to the challenging words Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good….So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-45, 48).
Let us pray for this Spirit to work in us and in all our persecuted brethren.
Reflection: Like Christians everywhere, Catholics experience occasional discrimination or abuse, sometimes severe. How can you use the power of the Holy Spirit to love those who persecute you?
Reading: Romans 5:5—The love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Prayer of the Month
Father, in your mysterious providence, your Church must share in the sufferings of Christ your Son. Give the spirit of patience and love to those who are persecuted for their faith in you that they may always be true and faithful witnesses to your promise of eternal life.
—From the Votive Mass for Persecuted Christians