While other boys his age imagined themselves one day becoming businessmen or fire fighters, young Bashir Mohammad dreamed of becoming a terrorist.
It all began when he was fifteen years old when his cousin Ahmad too him to a mosque in Afrin, Syria to listen to the fiery rhetoric of an extremist imam. From then on, he imagined himself giving glory to God by killing unbelievers.
And so, when the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, he joined the Nusra front, a radical group with ties to Al Qaeda. However, eventually he became traumatized by the violence and torture he witnessed and, in 2013, returned back to his home town. About that time in his life, he said: “I went to Nusra in search of my God, but after I saw Muslims killing Muslims, I realized there was something wrong.”
Though Bashir abandoned the extremist group, he did not question his religion. In fact, he continued to practice Islam fervently to the point that his neighbors could hear him praying.
Everything changed, however, in 2015 when his wife became sick and close to death. He called his cousin, Ahmad, who had now moved to Canada to tell him how worried he was. In the course of their conversation, Bashir was surprised to learn that his cousin - the same one who had introduced him to violent extremism - had become a Christian. When Ahmad asked if he could pray to Jesus for his wife to be healed, Bashir at first resisted but, wanting to help her in any way he could, he joined him in prayer over the phone.
In the week that followed, his wife began to regain her strength and get better. It was clear to Bashir that his cousin’s prayers to Jesus worked. He then got in touch with a Christian pastor in Turkey. Reading the Bible and participating in prayer groups, Bashir’s anger began to melt away. Both he and his wife became Christians eventually after having dreams about Jesus which they took as a sign that God was inviting them to convert.
Speaking about how becoming Christian has changed him, Bashir said, “There’s a big gap between the god I used to worship and the one I worship now. We used to worship in fear. Now everything has changed.”
Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Our Savior has the power to change the hardest of hearts. Even the most violent of men, like Bashir Mohammad, can be taught to love and to forgive when they encounter His mercy.
As Christians, we have to be clear about this truth. No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus. There is no other Way. There is no other Truth. There is no other Life. Jesus alone brings salvation to the world. No one else was sent by the Father to die for our sins. No one else has conquered death by rising from the dead. In fact, there is no other founder of religion who even claims to be God as Jesus does or who claims to have won for us the forgiveness of sins. Only Jesus. If we desire eternal life, enduring peace and ultimate happiness, there is no one else we can turn to.
Jesus goes on to tell us, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Though God is invisible, He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ. When our Lord speaks, it is God’s voice we hear. Therefore, we can understand the mind and heart of our Heavenly Father when we read Jesus’ words in the Bible. We learn that He is a God of forgiveness and compassion who commands us to love one another. In our search for meaning, we do not have to stumble around in the dark wondering whom we should follow. Jesus has all the answers. If we read the gospels, the truth is there for everyone to see.
We do not only encounter Jesus in the Bible, we also receive Him in the sacraments. At the conclusion of today’s gospel, He tells us, “...whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to my Father.” While Jesus’ words are preserved for us in the Bible, His “great works” are passed down through history in the sacraments. Just as He cured the sick, so the power to heal comes down to us through the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. His power to forgive sins comes down to us through the Sacrament of Confession. And in the most amazing of ways, His very Body and Blood continue to nourish us in the Eucharist. We do not have to travel to distant lands to encounter our Savior. He meets us every Sunday right here in our home town.
Saint Peter tells us in today’s second reading: “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God. We have a loving Father who looks upon us with love. We are “chosen and precious” in His sight. No matter how seriously we may have sinned, chances are we are not as great a sinner as Bashir Mohammad was. Yet he found mercy and peace in Jesus’ name. The same is true for us. We do not have to go on groping for truth and meaning but can turn to Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. He has the words of eternal life. If we go to Him, we can finally lay down our burden and be transformed in love.
(story taken from an article in the New York Times March 25, 2017)