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  Word To Life

Sunday Scripture Readings, Jan. 30, 2011

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

January 30, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle A Readings:

1) Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

Psalm 146:6-10

2) 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a

One can walk through the doors of most any Christian church in the United States on a Sunday morning and find a place that is conducive to singing, praying, hearing a word of encouragement or challenge from the Bible and expressing one's faith in Jesus.

In many Catholic parishes in this country, one can even visit a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and where people often stop to adore Christ present in the Eucharist. I admit to being one of those thousands of Christians who perhaps take these privileged opportunities for granted -- at least, until I received a notice that many would toss in the garbage as "junk mail."

Iraq has been in the news frequently as a site of war, a place on the other side of the globe where U.S. military personnel have served. But there is a story that often doesn't make the news: the widespread persecution of Christians there.

According to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association -- whose mass mailing I received -- this home to a large population of Chaldean Catholics is in crisis, illustrated by the statistic that the Christian community has shrunk from 20 percent of the total population in 1932 to 3 percent in 2010.

But statistics are inadequate to describe the church bombings, the robberies, the unemployment, the disruption of children's education, the displacement and the breaking apart of Christian families who are targeted for violence. Throughout the cradle of apostolic faith that is the Middle East, Christians who have historically lived in peace are currently suffering even to the point of death.

In today's Scripture readings, the prophet Zephaniah speaks of a "remnant," "a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord." Matthew's Gospel portrays a people who are closest to the heart of God: those who are "poor in spirit," who "hunger and thirst" for righteousness, who are persecuted for God's sake.

These familiar and beautiful words of Jesus, so often quoted, describe concrete situations and evoke the faces of men, women and children struggling to live their faith even today -- our brothers and sisters in Christ. The next time I walk into a church without fear of reprisal, I will carry them with me in my heart and in my prayers.


How have you remained ignorant of the plight of your persecuted Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world? What can you do to grow in solidarity with and assist those who are suffering persecution today?


"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).


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