Since the fall of man, there has been struggle for power and war, usually based on those who want to convert or kill one group of people based on religion. It seems the 21st century is filled with stories of slain Christians, brutal beheadings, and other violence. As the ground is soaked with blood of these martyrs, saints are being made.
There’s a lesser known saint who is a perfect companion in these times for inspiration and intercession: Saint James the Persian (feast day November 27). He was raised in a pious Christian family in the fourth century, married a Christian woman, and served and fought in the Persian military. The shah, or emperor, loved him for his dedication to his country and his high morality and honor, so he gave him a high position in his kingdom. The problem was James was a Christian and the shah hated Christians. He tempted him with power and gifts to lure him gently from God.
And it worked!
James denied the Lord and began worshiping the false gods and ways of the shah. When his mother and wife heard of him denying the Lord, they sent him a strongly worded letter reprimanding him and vowed to disown him until he repented and accepted the Lord as his savior. When he read how much he hurt the ones he loved, including wounding Our Lord, James repented and asked the Lord for forgiveness for turning from Him. Unfortunately, this angered the shah to the point of hatred. The shah asked him directly if this was true. Had returned to Christianity?
James answered, “Yes, I am a servant of my Lord Jesus Christ.”
The shah tried again to sway him back with power, riches and gifts, but this time James would not budge. After this, the shah turned to graphic torture sequence, slowly dislocating all the joints in his fingers and then moving onto all his other joints when he did not disown the Lord.
As this torture went on, many believers and unbelievers heard all that was going on and came to view the hideous torture that was going on. As the people watched, James did not budge from his faith, rather he prayed fervently as each of his fingers and toes were cut off. Even though many people would die just from the pain of dismemberment, through the help of the angels and saints before him, James continued to pray and even stood joyfully and looked cheerful!
Though his fingers, toes, then hands, then feet were one-by-one cut off, James still professed scripture, celebrating the joy in God allowing him to suffer in the name of Jesus, and confessing Jesus Christ was his Lord. After cutting off his appendages at the elbows and knees, the order was to cut his legs at the hip and arms at the shoulder. James finally wept grievously. The suffering had finally been enough to crush his otherwise high endurance for pain in the light of the glory that was promised to him.
After becoming just a torso and head, still alive, they finally cut off his head to end his life. The people, as they were leaving after his death, snuck out parts of his severed body to keep as relics of the future saint.
Though this is gruesome to read, this religious persecution is still occurring around the world. Those Christians who live in Egypt and the Middle East worship in fear of torture or death if they are caught praying or carrying a cross, Rosary or Bible.
Many men were publicly crucified by the Muslim brotherhood when they came to power in 2012. With the uprising of ISIS, Christianity has been declared as their number one enemy. Even passing around pamphlets with a picture of their black flag flying over the Vatican.6 In 2014, there have been several reports of people being tortured or killed for their faith because they would not renounce Jesus as our Savior. In Iraq, Christians are being tied up in the way of a crucifixion to a light pole wearing signs saying, “Bear false witness.”
There have been many reports of mass killings and beheading, not just the Americans hostages like Peter Kassig and James Foley, but school-age children who refused to say they didn’t love Jesus and were willing to die for Him. These martyrs, in the same spirit as St. James the Persian, were strengthened by the Holy Spirit were able to stand up for Jesus Christ no matter what threats and punishment they had to endure in this life. Instead, because of their faith they are with Jesus in Paradise.
How do we communicate with Muslims who may be out to hurt us? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops posted a statement in September 2014 stating:
“Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment—acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten and disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.
Still, it is our belief that the most efficient way to work toward ending or at least curtailing such violence and prejudice is through building networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism, and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims.”9
Pope Francis also addressed this in his Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. On November 28, 2013, he said:
“Dialogue does not mean renouncing one’s own identity when it goes against another’s, nor does it mean compromising Christian faith and morals. To the contrary, “true openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity” (ibid., no. 251) and therefore open to understanding the religion of another, capable of respectful human relationships, convinced that the encounter with someone different than ourselves can be an occasion of growth in a spirit of fraternity, of enrichment and of witness. This is why interreligious dialogue and evangelization are not mutually exclusive, but rather nourish one another. We do not impose anything, we do not employ any subtle strategies for attracting believers; rather, we bear witness to what we believe and who we are with joy and simplicity. In fact, an encounter wherein each party sets aside his beliefs, pretending to renounce what he holds most dear, would certainly not be an authentic relationship. In this case we could speak of a false fraternity. As disciples of Jesus we have to make every effort to triumph over fear, always ready to take the first step, without becoming discouraged in the face of difficulty and misunderstanding.” Source
Even if we don’t live in fear of persecution or death for our Catholic faith, we need to pay attention, pray, and fight for our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering at the hands of radicals. We also need to be sure that we are not lured away from our faith, selling our souls in this temporal world. We need to stay close to our friends and family to make sure they are also not lured by those in Islam trying to take them away from Jesus Christ and use them in their jihad against Christianity.
Pray for us St. James the Persian, that we are able to use your example to stand strong in our faith in the face of physical and mental persecution, and that we are not lured away from the one true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.