By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
“’They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.’”
In the comfort of a developed country, with friends and family sitting in our pews on a Sunday morning, listening to a homily that assures us God’s love, Catholics in the Western world have a difficult time understanding Jesus’ warnings of persecution and physical death. So much of it seems like needlessfearmongering, conspiracy theory, and irrational fundamentalism.
Perhaps Jesus’ disciples living in the oppressiveRoman Empire, which often killed its problems rather than solved them, as well as living with an increasingly desperate Jewish Nationalist sect, the Sanhedrin, who was also willing to use force to advance its agenda, would prompt Jesus to state the obvious: becoming Christian will put the believer at odds with his neighbors. Nothing less than God’s own Holy Spirit could empower new believers to face such adversity. Nothing less than John’s revelation of Christ’s return could instill such hope into Christian who knew that torture and death awaited him. Nothing less than Jesus’ prophecies and later His resurrection could counter the leviathan of the world. Such difficult times called for difficult words, and this explains Jesus’ warnings.
Nevertheless, these words still apply throughout the ages. The first three centuries of the Roman Empire witnessed the torture and death of thousands of Christians. Even after Christianity became the state religion, the Arian heresy acted as the oriflamme of persecutors who set their sights on eliminatingorthodox Christians for the next three centuries.
After Rome declined in the West, Muslim armies from the east soon swamped the Mediterranean and nearly all of Europe, slaughtering Christians or enslaving them while endangering Christendom for nearly a millennium. Pagans like the Huns, the Mongols, and the Vikings also joined in attacking Christians during this time.
At the tail end of Muslim hegemony, which ruled over most of the Eastern hemisphere with the exception of Western Europe, the Protestant Reformation arose, breaking up Christendom with bloody wars and national rivalries would last indefinitely and lead to renewed persecutions and divisions.
With the religious wars casting the shadow of skepticism over religion in general, political movements such as socialism, nationalism, fascism, or some other ideology promising heaven on earth soon led persecutions against the church once more. Whenever a revolution or civil war broke out (i.e. the French Revolution, the English Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the Bolshevik Revolution, etc.),Catholics would lose no matter which side won.
Today, the tradition of persecuting Christians still holds strong, for even if new threats to the Churchsprout up, the old ones tend to linger and sometimes even worsen in their terror. The Muslim world continues to viciously persecute Christians with impunity. Nationalists and Socialists in Asia continue to brutalize Christians without a murmur from the media. Although not physically militant, skeptics and secularists in the West openly defy and marginalize the Church through deceit and mass scandal. As a result, many Christians in the West have succumbed to ignorance, vice, and delusion. The world goes up in flames, and we laugh, doubting its reality as we create our own. At least those who suffer a physical death because of their faith can look forward to a heavenly reward; those who trade away their baptismal birthright for uninhibited dissolution—like Esau trading away his birthright for a bowl of redstew—have nothing to hope for after the party ends.
As usual, Jesus speaks for all times, not just His own. This is a fallen world, and the cross neverdisappears. Until He comes again with His angels, Catholics will have to endure the adversity of the world. Seeking the good, the true, the beautiful will separate us from the majority, who seek the bad, the false, and the ugly. Even when offered as a choice, one good and one evil, the former often proves too difficult while the latter proves so easy. Persecution is easier than conversion; ignorance is easier than wisdom; hatred is easier than love. As long as this remains true, devout Catholics will have enemies in their midst, both inside and outside the Church, for even “parents, brothers, relatives, and friends” will become hostile.
Fortunately, God will come to out aid if we let Him. Jesus, the Word Himself, will supply the words of our defense. He will inform (and reform) our hearts, if not our minds, with the Truth. He will save those who stay with him and persevere for His sake. For this, we should be happy, even grateful. In our faith, we have hope, and in our hope we can truly love. Our enemies cannot make such a claim. Our struggle will end, and in this struggle we will find true joy, but their struggle never ends, and, after so muchpleasure-seeking and ridicule, they will inevitablyfind true sadness.