He was small in height and mind (being only three), yet he stood up to the terrorists and gave the world a message that it desperately needs. He showed us what it means to "Be not afraid" in the face of overwhelming evil. In contrast to the utter destruction of evil, he showed us the beauty and goodness of a child - and human life.
KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - We have passed the one month anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad. Close to 60 innocent people were killed and 75 more wounded while they were attending Mass that day on October 31st. The dead included children and two priests. Given the genocidal attacks against Catholics in Iraq in recent years, these victims are martyrs for the faith.
What stands out most for me about that day is a story that Cardinal George told during his final address to the Catholic Conference of Bishops in mid-November about a little boy who confronted the terrorists. This powerful story reminds me of our failure to confront the reality of evil, but it also reminds me of hope.
On that tragic day, "three-year-old Adam witnessed the horror of dozens of deaths, including that of his own parents. He wandered among the corpses and the blood, following the terrorists around and admonishing them, 'enough, enough, enough.' According to witnesses, this continued for two hours until Adam was himself murdered." That is all I know about Adam, but I cannot get his story out of my head. I believe Adam gave us a message for the whole world.
The reason I believe Adam gave us a message is because what he did and said seems so unnatural to me. I find it incomprehensible that a three-year-old child could witness so much death around him, even his mother and father, and then follow the murderers amongst the carnage admonishing them for hours. I would think that most children would be frozen with fear or hysterical, but Adam was not. Rather, out of the mouth of this brave little child came the words of pure truth.
When I first read these words "enough, enough, enough," I sensed that they were exactly what needed to be said, that they were divinely inspired. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, "When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (10:19-20).
In a certain sense, Adam was handed over that day. As a result, I believe this innocent child was inspired and given what to say, that the Holy Spirit spoke through him. I even imagine that the purpose of Adam's short life was fulfilled to a certain extent in those surreal moments leading up to and culminating in his martyrdom. With these thoughts in mind, I feel compelled to try to understand the message, especially as it may pertain to Catholics in America.
Clearly, the message has meaning on more than one level. On the most obvious and immediate level, Adam was telling the terrorists in the Church that day to stop the killing. On another level, we can easily envision Adam telling terrorists to stop the genocide of Catholics in Iraq; but this can be expanded, as Cardinal George noted, to include all persecuted Christians throughout the Middle East, in India and Pakistan, in China and in Vietnam, and in Sudan and African countries. On the most general level, perhaps Adam is telling all of us to look at evil for what it truly is, and avoid doing evil.
This final message may seem obvious, but it is not at all obvious in an age when people think they can decide what is good and evil. Take Frances Kissling. She was president of the National Abortion Federation and president of Catholics for Choice (an anti-Catholic organization) for many years. At present, she is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics. Wanting to justify killing the unborn, at a conference on abortion in October, she said, "We have to get rid of the 'idea' of evil" (emphasis added).
Notice, she does not really want to get rid of evil; she merely wants to justify abortion, which she knows kills children. Thus, we are speaking about moral evil. Also note that this kind of tactic seems to be a pattern for those who want to move away from traditional Christian morality and toward a secular state. This tactic is called moral relativism, though it can go by other names.
Moral relativism is an ethical philosophy. The Catholic philosopher and author Peter Kreeft contrasts this modern philosophy with the traditional view of morality. He says relativism treats moral laws as man-made rules like the rules of a game that children play. But if we create these rules, then we can also change them. Although it is more involved, this comment shows us that moral relativism has no solid foundation.
On the other hand, the traditional view holds that moral laws are not rules but laws based on our nature that we discover, like the laws of science. This helps explain why we say that moral laws are grounded in objective reality, which is a solid foundation, and why they are referred to as the natural law (however, all natural law is ultimately grounded in God).
The Catholic Church holds the traditional view. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the natural law is present in the heart of each person and established by reason. Its precepts are universal and extend to all people. It also determines the basis for our fundamental rights and duties" (cf. 1956). However, it seems that many Catholics have not listened to the Church. For years we have heard that the behavior of Catholics is statistically no different from most other Americans.
Earlier this year a survey of 3,400 Americans was conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Only 60 percent of our fellow Americans said that religion is "very important." Worse still, the poll was based on a question and answer format, and the average score was 50 percent, which is a failing grade. Furthermore, according to this same poll, only 45 percent of Catholics knew that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus and not a symbol.
Those Catholics who fall into the above category clearly do not have the foundation they need to resist the seduction of secularism and moral relativism. The secular lifestyle is a complete rejection of the Ten Commandments: It does not give God the honor due Him. It aborts children and withholds healthcare from the elderly, including food and water, and is attempting to legalize euthanasia. It encourages adultery, fornication and homosexuality. It is a breeding ground for liars and thieves. And the foundation of its politics appears to be slander and character assassination and coveting its neighbor's goods.
This foolish flirtation with moral relativism reminds me of something that Isaiah said: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil . . ." (5:20). If we do not heed Isaiah's warning, certain events can unfold in our country which are typical of societies in decline. Corruption and incompetence increase. Then we lose trust of our government, our institutions and each other. Our laws become unjust, and the government becomes increasingly cruel and oppressive. Then it becomes more difficult for us to meet our needs, and we become fearful and desperate and fall into despair. Not only can we destroy our country, we can also damn our souls for eternity.
Perhaps God in His mercy is saying "enough," and that is why He gave us little Adam at this time. Thanks to Adam's witness we are now forced to look at evil for what it truly is. What happened in Our Lady of Deliverance Catholic Church in Baghdad that day was evil. Terrorism is evil. Evil hated this precious little three-year-old child. It seems to me that Adam's continual admonitions should have brought the terrorists to their knees begging God for forgiveness and holding Adam, shielding him from the nightmare around him. But their response was to murder him. This is pure hatred. This is evil, and it is straight from hell.
Consequently, we can no longer doubt the shocking, objective reality of evil even if we wanted to. We cannot get rid of the "idea" of evil. It is not an abstraction or morally relative. But we can avoid doing evil; we can fight it and we can do good instead. If you still have any doubts, then I invite you to view the accompanying video which contains photographs of the aftermath of the attack at Our Lady of Deliverance. But beware, these scenes are not from a movie; they are real and extremely graphic. Nevertheless, unlike words alone, perhaps these photos can show you the true nature of evil.
In his encyclical, God Is Love, Pope Benedict tells us that hatred and violence in the world are related to a false notion of God and love. Although only a limited interpretation, it seems to me our Pope is telling us that a true and humane solution to the problem of evil cannot be found in secularism or moral relativism; it can only be found in a true understanding of God and love. We find the fullness of this truth in the Catholic Church.
The Church does not dictate morality to us. Rather, the Church opens the truth about ourselves to us, and she offers us the grace to live that truth. When we receive this truth and live it, we can become the solution to evil and the hope of the world. As Catholics living in the most powerful country in the world, it seems we are being called in a special way to be that solution and hope. In this respect, when Adam said "enough, enough, enough, " maybe he was telling us that it is time for American Catholics to lead the world beyond the petty intellectualism (secularism and moral relativism) of our age.
Adam also gave all of us an example to follow in the final hours of his precious life. He was small in height and mind (being only three), yet he stood up to the terrorists and gave the world a message that it desperately needs. He showed us what it means to "Be not afraid" even in the face of overwhelming evil. In contrast to the utter chaos, ugliness and destruction of evil, he showed us the beauty and goodness of a child and human life. Adam also showed us that a person's spiritual greatness has nothing to do with their age. In the last hours of his life, I believe we witnessed a spiritual giant.
We too can become spiritual giants. However, God's plan for each of us is unique. It will entail our own encounters with evil whether in the daily decisions of our life or an extreme situation like Adam. As for me, one thing is certain, I feel compelled to protect little Adam from the nightmare he witnessed, from the pain he experienced, from his violent death; but I cannot. However, I can help others know of him and his message. And if we ask for God's grace and this little giant's intercession, perhaps we can hope to be with Adam in eternity one day where we can hold him and love him.
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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