What is a Legate? Iraq’s lessons for America
What does it mean to be a Legate? To be an ambassador for Christ and his Church to an often hostile, always uncomprehending world? Each of you will have your own answer, but I’d like to share mine with you.
This past January it came to me in an epiphany as I sat in front of a shattered Catholic church in an Iraqi village razed by ISIS, just after I heard the story of a Yazidi father whose two daughters were kidnapped as sex slaves. I sat on the ground, almost choking on the cordite still lingering in the air, the town protected by only a platoon of brave Kurdish soldiers with rifles. I thought of how we as Americans are protected — by the most powerful military in world history. And I listened.
He gave me all the details, trying to keep together his human dignity, but I could see it was a struggle. There is nothing that undermines a man’s sense of honor like being helpless to protect his loved ones from violence. What he didn’t know is that I understood him better than he could imagine. I lost a daughter to abortion when I was 17 — I found out about it afterward, when it was too late and my daughter was dead. So I know that feeling of humiliation and rage. It’s something no parent should have to experience. That awareness is what drove me to the prolife movement, to protect the vulnerable from violence.
That same mission is what sent me to Iraq, to film a documentary on the threats to religious minorities, especially local Christians. I met with victimized families, courageous Kurdish, Arab and Christian soldiers who were manning the front lines against the ultimate evil — a radical cult that justifies sex trafficking in the name of God, that beheads helpless Christians and Muslims who won’t support them. While the sights, sounds and smells were very different, the spirit I encountered was exactly the same as I see whenever I visit crisis pregnancy centers across America: ordinary, sometimes partly broken people, rallying their strength to confront the face of evil, to serve their fellow human beings as images of Christ.
That’s what I think it means to be a Legate — to lean out of your comfort zone, to look for opportunities to serve the persecuted, to ask uncomfortable questions and be willing to take the heat. We as Americans have the immense privilege of living in a mostly orderly country, in mostly safe neighborhoods with enormous opportunities for social mobility and achievement.
I was born to working-class teen parents. I doubt most of my fellow Legates coasted to success on inherited capital. Instead, most were the beneficiaries of a largely free and transparent economy, with access to education and the chance to develop our talents. Our ancestors fought and died to make sure we had that opportunity.
Most of the world is not so privileged. Billions of people live without secure property rights, protection against tyranny, or the power to change their government. Tens of millions lack food and clean water. More than a billion are denied religious freedom, which we take for granted.
As Catholics, we are even more highly privileged. We have the fullness of truth, the untainted Gospel, along with the richest tools for understanding it — bequeathed to us by popes, councils, saints and scholars. We have no good excuse for falling for modern ideologies of evil, from socialism to radical individualism, from eugenics to euthanasia. We know better and, because of that, we have a duty to step up and tell the truth. We owe it to those who weren’t granted the full gift of faith, which sets us free.
Instead of feeling ashamed or guilty about our privilege, we should pause and be thankful for it. We should roll it around in our heads and appreciate its full extent. Then we should resolve to share it with as many of God’s creatures as possible, in whatever sphere of life we have some influence. You know your business. You know how you could use your expertise or connections to promote the Gospel of Life. Let me encourage you to use the rest of Lent to reflect on how you could best be of service. What great gift did God give you to help lift up your fellow children of God? See if by the time Easter rolls around you can be ready with a plan of action, because the world is battered and bleeding. It needs us to bring it Jesus.
JASON SCOTT JONES is a film producer, author, activist and human rights worker. He is an At-Large member of Legatus.