By Benedict Augustine
“But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison,
led them out, and said,
‘Go and take your place in the temple area,
and tell the people everything about this life.’”
When a person speaks truth, especially to power, orto corruption, or to oppression, or to hypocrisy, those who spread falsehood have no choice but to stop debating. Falsehood cannot overcome truth on truth’s terms; and often, falsehood cannot even overcome truth on falsehood’s own terms since common sense will usually interfere. The person in error who confronts the truth has no choice but to change (convert) or simply stop the speaker. Not surprisingly, those in power pick the latter every time.
During the transition between Emperor Claudius andhis deranged nephew Nero, authority from Rome loosened in the outer provinces of the empire, like Judea. This allowed the Jewish authorities, the Sanhedrin, to impose their own punishments without restraint from Roman authorities against the nascent Christian community. This created even more difficulties for Peter and the apostles: with the religiously eclectic Gentiles who knew next to nothing about Christianity, the disciples could at least establish their churches in relative peace; with a power-hungry Jewish elite hoping to rebuff Rome as well the first Christians, the disciples would have to endure the persecution of fellow Jews as well as the Romans who assumed that the Christians had designs at rebellion as well.
Despite this situation, Peter perseveres heroically.Such was the life of an apostle. Very seldom would a perfect situation arise for the church to spread and prosper. Peter and the early Church coped with the Judiazers and Roman emperors; apostles of the early middle ages struggled with vicious barbarians from the East and North as well as Muslims from the south; apostles of the late middle ages and renaissance continued to deal with the Muslim aggression as well as corruption within the Church;apostles of the baroque and enlightenment periodbore the brunt of the religious wars and the consequent heresy and skepticism afterward; finally modern apostles continue to face secular authorities opposing their efforts.
Throughout history, the apostle has had only one weapon to face his many enemies: the truth of the gospel. As mentioned previously, the enemies who embrace falsehood cannot put out the truth, but they can put out the speakers of truth. Hence, theyphysically imprison and kill the apostles in an effort to silence them.
Today, many countries around the world do the same. Raul Castro, the man with whom the president hopes to do business, imprisoned over sixty Cubans attending Mass and hundreds other speaking out against his tyranny. In China, America’s biggest trading partner, many Christians face imprisonment, torture, and complete silencing. Recently in Kenya, a Muslim terrorist group killed over a hundred Christians attending a university – though more reporters and editorialist felt like discussing the possible discrimination of homosexuals from Christian wedding bakers and photographers in Indiana than the actual massacre of Christians in Africa. Now, as before, Christians speaking the truth have little public support.
Sometimes the pressure to comply with falsehood leads to the construction of psychological prisons. For many, the media, social conventions, and possible political advancement leads many potential apostles to silence themselves and put their ownfaith in prison. Starting from a young age, people are taught to tolerate everything and keep their faith personal. Anyone who defies this lesson faces charges bigotry, kookiness, and social ostracism. This situation leaves only the sleazy comedians andpublic enemies of the Church to flagrantly denounce truth with impunity.
Fortunately, an apostle has God’s help and encouragement to fight through this adversity. God sends His angel to open the prison and command Peter to “tell the people everything about this life.” He says the same to all Christians in prisons, both tangible and intangible, to go and do the same. They can go and tell the world about this life of Christ, this life of His disciples, this life they hope to have one day in heaven. Otherwise, they can stay in prison and let the light of truth go out and live in darkness.
John sums up the ongoing conflict of the apostle succinctly: “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” Those who engage in falsehood and evil, like the Romans, or the Sanhedrin, or the secular and Muslim authorities of today, will not enter into truth-finding dialogue with professing Christians; they will fight dirty and use every vicious tool to bring their foe into submission. Their pride which enslaves them and their victimswill always trump truth. They prefer the darkness.
Christians have the challenge to bring light into thisdark world. No one should treat this as an easy thing. In all times and all places, conversion requires a struggle of both the convert and the apostle. Christ has empowered His Church to support these two parties, not as a refuge for shy Christians but as Pope Francis said so famously, as a hospital for sinners. Like Peter and the other disciples, Catholics today must bravely enter the battlefield and bring back the spiritually wounded. God’s angels have opened the door.