By KATIE GROSS
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
It seems like every time I write for Father Alfonse’s blog lately, I write about the topic of persecution. I promise that I am not trying to be a downer or play the victim, but the hard truth is that this is a hard society to live in as Christians. It is a society where we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, grow a thick skin, and be ready to answer challenges to our faith. But first and foremost, it is a society that compels us to return to the Gospel, finding Christ as our model for action in persecution.
In today’s first reading, St. Paul is somewhat of a prophet in regards to how Christians are treated in modern society:
“We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”
How profound! You see, what St. Paul realized is that paradoxically, for every beautiful thing we believe about our faith, the world believes the opposite about it. Many members of society believe we are “deceivers”—take the Josh Duggar casefor example. Many believe we are “unrecognized,” a “dying” Church out of touch with the advances of modernity. Many believe we are “sorrowful” or “poor,” imposing an archaic form of life on ourselves instead of embracing whatever false freedomthe world offers us. More succinctly, as St. Paul concludes, many believe that as Christians we “havenothing.”Unfortunately, from the outside looking in, that is precisely how many people view our faith.
From the inside looking out, this negativity is incredibly frustrating. As Christians, we know that by rejecting the Church, society rejects true fulfillment. Here’s a little metaphor. Do you ever notice that the hungrier you get, the more you want junk food? At noon, you may have wanted a salad, but if you go until 2PM without eating lunch, you then want a double fudge brownie. And then, when you give into that brownie, you inevitably feel sick. For some reason, the more desperate you get for food, the more you desire things that will not satisfy your hunger in a healthy way. For some reason, our sinful naturemakes us approach our faith in the same way. The more we desire love, acceptance, community, etc., the more we are tempted to seek counterfeits for these things that will leave us unfulfilled and spiritually sick. For example, a young person may gossip because it makes her feel better about herself, while that dignity she seeks for herself can only come from Christ. An adult may chase after unhealthy relationships, while that love that he seeks can only come from Christ. A person who feels alienated or rejected may resort to despair, while that acceptance and community he seeks can only come from Christ. Paradoxically, they push away the one person that will fulfill them.
Sometimes, we just want to grab these people by their shirt collars and just shake them, yelling, “Don’t you realize that you’re totally missing out! You’ve got it all wrong!” It can make us want to lash out, or cause us to be defensive. We can easily wrap ourselves up in arguments on social media or in conversation in an attempt to defend our faith. We may even have the best interests of the person in mind, desperately wanting them to see that they can find fulfillment in Christ. But what are we forgetting by arguing?
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. We must never forget that Christ is our model in all things. He bore the ultimate persecution and humiliation. And what did he do? “Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
This is where I struggle. I am bold, and I love a good argument. I want to go out and right all the wrongs with some great logical argument. But the truth is, arguments never change hearts. I once heard a homily from a priest who loved the showThe Office, as do I. If you don’t watch that show, here’s a little five minute summary of the whole series—Michael Scott is an egotistical, self-centered man who only changes his ways when he falls in love with a woman named Holly Flax. The thing is,people had told Michael that he was egotistical for his entire life. People had argued with him about being more considerate. But he only changed when he fell in love, and realized that his love for another person necessitated a change in his life.
Only love changes people’s hearts and minds! Even if you don’t know The Office, you surely know the Gospel. Think about the centurion who saw Jesus immediately following his death, hanging on a cross. Seeing his vulnerability and lovingself-sacrifice, he cried, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). Now, imagine how things would be different if Jesus had fought his crucifixion. Imagine if he had preachedfrom the cross that all of his persecutors were bound for hell.There is no way that such behavior or such arguments would have changed that centurion’s heart. The centurion would have written him off as another religious zealot and gone about his way.
St. Augustine is one saint who gets me. Every time I get frustrated, I remember a simple phrase that he once wrote: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” You see, many of us are well acquainted with Anger. Anger is easy. But Courage is difficult. Courage requires us to step back from our selfish desire to argue and follow the self-sacrificial example of Christ.
This is all great and lovely—“flowery language,” as my English teacher once called it. But how do we actually enact the example of Christ in the face of persecution? Say that someone calls you a name for being a Christian. Say that someone gives you a funny look. Say that someone excludes you from conversation. What do you do? Smile and bear it patiently. Sure, be angry at the injustice. But have the courage to bear it as Christ did. In doing so, we can have hope that Christ will use our obedience to his example in order to change hearts and minds.