Day 2 in Iraq — Tuesday, May 23, 2017 — by Deacon John

On day 2 in Iraq, I woke up with great excitement as it was our first day at Mar Qardakh School. As background, Bishop Bashar Warda, the bishop responsible for the school, invited us to teach at the school during our time in Ankawa. The topic is Catholic Social Justice. We will be teaching the students the foundational principles necessary to progress the Church’s vision of society. It’s very exciting! We started the day with morning prayer, Mass, and breakfast. There truly is no better way to start the day than with the Eucharist! We arrived at the school at around 9am and had orientation meetings with the principal and vice principal. They noted the teaching methodology of the school and assigned classes to each of us. Rodney and Perrin are teaching 7th and 8th grade, respectively, while I’m teaching 10th grade. Perrin and I are both teaching 9th grade. Deacon Fadie is assisting in a variety of ways at the school during this time as well.

When our meetings ended, we were given an opportunity to sit in on a class. We chose to sit in on the 6th grade class where they were discussing the Commandments of the Church. As I came to learn, these are not the 10 commandments that we are taught in catechism and communion classes, but the 6 commandments of the local Church in Iraq that seem to be used for catechesis. As the children were answering and discussing the commandments, I was in awe at the firm conviction of their faith. I left the class inspired by the fact that these kids were firmly convicted in their Christian identity. It was awesome!

We left the class with great fervor and awe regarding the perceived faith of the 6th graders. Shortly after, we met Father Gerald Gawronski. Fr. Gerald is a priest from the diocese of Lansing who felt a strong calling from God to do a mission in Iraq for a minimum of 3 years. Immediately, Father Gerald said something so striking that I will never forget. He said that we must be careful not to romanticize their faith and piety just because they are persecuted. This point hit me hard and it took me a while to really understand what he meant. I met these 6th graders and was legitimately inspired by their faith… but to his point… there is a real temptation to exaggerate one’s faith if I know they have been persecuted. He said that if we do this, it hinders us from serving them in a way that truly addresses the real spiritual difficulties they face. Father Gerald then began to express his thoughts on the struggles in faith in the Chaldean community. He rightly noted the positive cultural faith of the people, but he also noted that the people have not been catechized, and thus risk falling away from authentic Christian living and into a life of sin. Father Gerald noted that his motto for the people is “You can’t love what you don’t know” — and so his focus is on catechizing and guiding people to the knowledge of Christ so that they may love Him. His insight on romanticizing the faith of the persecuted, and the focus on catechesis (knowledge) as the main focus of developing the faith of the people, has served me well so far. I am grateful for this lesson and I’m happy to share it with you all.

This issue of our people not knowing the faith is not limited to Chaldeans in Iraq. This challenge is ever present in America, as well. So many people live their lives with very little knowledge of their faith. How many people do you know don’t go to mass on a normal Sunday? For many people, the last faith formation was their first communion as a 10–11 year old kid. If the faith is not forming them, then culture is. In America, the philosophy of the culture is highly relativistic and truth is replaced by opinion. This reality brings to mind Jesus’ teaching on the two foundations.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24–27)

Jesus said “I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.” John 14:6. I need Jesus, you need Jesus, we all need Jesus. We are a people in need, and our need is fulfilled by God who is gracious to those who call out to Him in humility. Let’s come to know God so that we love God. I challenge you to challenge yourself: go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read about one of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. Read up on God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit. Follow this link and go to Section 2 for knowledge on each Person of the Holy Trinity. Challenge yourself to know God so that you may love Him. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

God bless you. Keep us in your prayers as we keep you in ours.

All for Jesus,

Deacon John