February 16, 2015

Dear Family and Friends of the Diocese of Eau Claire,

It seems that every week we learn of new savagery coming from ISIS (Islamic State in Syria) sometimes called ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant.) The latest is the killing of 21 Coptic Christians at an ISIS base in Libya. ISIS thrives in areas where Middle Eastern nations are weak—Syria, Iraq, and now Libya. Several Muslim nations have retaliated. This week Egypt attacked ISIS bases in Libya. Last month Jordan hit ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS also wants to extend its terror into Europe and eventually to the United States. In Europe ISIS is regularly attacking Jews and people advocating free speech. What is the appeal of ISIS? Why does this group enjoy torturing and killing innocent people—even children? On the surface ISIS is a twisted and extreme expression of Islam, but I think there is something deeper and more psychological.

We have within our human nature an infinite capacity for goodness but also for evil. As the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden explains, God made us for goodness, but in choosing to disobey God and partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil we knew what was evil. From this tree we learned how to harm and degrade others. We became capable of tearing apart what most people designated as good. In choosing wickedness we learned to exert power over others and to delight in cruelty. While it usually took time to build something that was good, we discovered that in a few moments we could destroy that very same thing. In embracing evil we became adept at justifying our behavior in the name of religion, nationalism, or ethnicity. Today it is easy to see ISIS in these terms. What is painful to accept is that with a few poor choices we can become just like ISIS.

Spiritual warfare is real. Sunday’s Gospel reading of Jesus dealing with the devil is indicative of this conflict. As you begin the 2015 Lenten season, renew your choice to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Dedicate yourself again to love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t like acknowledging it, but the temptation of evil is real and nearby. If you question this, ISIS can serve as a sober reminder. With my love and best wishes for a holy Lent, I am,

Your brother in Christ,