Facing the ISIS In Us: A homily for the feast of Santo Niño

I never thought I would ever find myself asking, “God, what can we learn from this ruthless group called ISIS?” What could we possibly learn from a group like ISIS that has no respect for other human persons, whether Muslim or not? I was reflecting on this last week when I read of the public execution of thirteen teenage boys in Mosul, Iraq, by ISIS fighters simply because the boys were watching an Asian Cup soccer match between Iraq and Jordan and doing so over a loud speaker. That, in the ISIS ideology, is a crime punishable by death. Are there lessons we can glean from this horrendous act performed by a group that is ready to kill all those who do not agree with their barbaric ideology? Like in the Old Testament, does God still offer us lessons from such senseless brutality?

In reality, we do have some underlying ISIS elements in us whenever we as individuals think that we alone know all the truth and do so all at once. We can think like this murderous group when we forget that the Church itself, our dear Mother, journeys confidently into all truth as guided by the Spirit as Jesus confirmed: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” (Jn16:13) The Church grasps more deeply the mysteries that she bears within her as she travels through human history. She does not grasp all truths instantaneously but journeys on a sure path to the fullness of truth.

As Christians, we must be merciful to persons without compromising on the truths of our faith and morals. But the ISIS in us blinds us to the true, good, and beautiful in others, making us intolerant to those who are different from us in their beliefs and lifestyles. We have ISIS elements in us when we let intolerance for others simmer in our hearts for whatever reason.

In addition, we Christians have experienced God’s love that has freed us from sin. God is continuously patient with us in our struggles to respond to His love for us in Christ Jesus. But the ISIS in us makes us demand immediate and complete change from others. We expect persons to be different from what they are overnight simply because we have told them so many times. We have no sympathy for the struggles of others. We fail to see the Christian journey as a slow process and not as a one-time decision.

Isn’t there some ISIS in us when we move beyond judging actions to judging and condemning persons? We begin to play a role that is not ours to play but God’s exclusive rights. In this blindness, we fail to separate evil from the person who does the evil act. Thus, like the ISIS group, we too can unconsciously long for the elimination of evil by getting rid of the one that we consider evil.

Here in the Philippines, we celebrate the feast of the infant Jesus, called Santo Niño. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus said to his disciples who were hindering the children from coming to Him, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a little child cannot enter it.” The childlike attitude that Jesus Christ demands of us so as to enter the Kingdom of God is completely opposite to the elements of ISIS that we find lurking in our unexamined hearts.

Our childlike attitude implies that we realize and acknowledge that we are not the source of what we have and are. We have received all things from God and we do so in stages. We are not overcome by prejudice because we realize that what others lack, God has not given to them. “What do you have that you have not received?” (1Cor 4:7) This childlike attitude also breeds humility when it comes to the truth that we have because we realize that there are things that we do not know completely now or fully understand that we will understand later. Jesus reminded Peter of this: “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.”(Jn 13:7) We are comfortable to journey in the midst of God’s people in the Church while being aware of and recognizing elements of truths in other faiths. This is the childlike sense of trustful dependence on God and others that counters the dastardly self-righteousness and intolerance of the ISIS in us.

In this childlike attitude, we peacefully accept slow growth in ourselves and in others. Knowing the truth does not translate into action immediately. As God is patient with us, so we bring this same patience to others too. We come to realize that we are sinners too living in a world of sinners and struggling to do the good that we grasp through reason and faith and aided by divine grace. Ultimately, this makes us surrender the usurped judgment seat to God and focus on making good moral judgments ourselves.

St. Paul reminds the Ephesians in the Second Reading that God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as He chose us in Him…to be holy and without blemish before Him. In love He destined us for adoption to Himself through Christ.” Our blessedness is that in Jesus Christ we are called and graced to be God’s beloved children and to have a heart like Jesus’. Thanks to the Blessed Virgin Mary! By her gracious Yes to God at the moment of the Annunciation, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the infant child that she conceived, bore, gave birth to, raised and offered for us too on the Cross.

In truth, we are blessed because we can participate in the childlike heart of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Though His heart is filled with “grace and truth,” (Jn 1:17) His is also a childlike heart, one that is humble before God and humanity. His childlike heart does not judge and condemn others: “For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.”(Jn 3:17). His heart is patient with others as they struggle and He does not destroy the weak and erring but builds them up: “He will not break a bruised reed, or quench a smouldering wick.”(Mt 12:20). Finally, His heart is filled with life and not death: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) We are blessed if we, by divine grace, have a heart like that of Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we may find it revolting to ask and reflect, “What is the ISIS in me?” But without facing and acknowledging the ISIS elements in us, we will never know how blessed we are in the gift of God’s own son in the infant Jesus and how badly we need to share in His own childlike heart.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!

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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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