May the Persecuted Find Comfort

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Catholics have always been persecuted, and so has the Church. In today’s world, for those who call themselves “liberal” and presume to deplore prejudice and hold firmly to the notion of “inclusiveness,” a direct attack against Catholics for being Catholic goes against their professed preferences.

Therefore, they do not oppose Catholics because they are Catholic, but because of the various doctrines that are part of the Catholic faith. In this way, “liberals” can persecute Catholics while maintaining the illusion that they are educating them in a spirit of broadmindedness.

The daily news delivers a seemingly endless series of instances in which a Catholic is punished in one way or another because the Catholic teaching he affirms is at variance with the ethic of the world. A recent example, at a Catholic university, speaks for and symbolizes many of these instances. A woman, 15 years in the employ of her school, was suspended because she dared to express, in an informal conversation outside of the classroom, that there are two sexes: male and female. She was charged with hatred against that powerful alliance known by the acronym “LGBTQ” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer).

Holding to the opinion that there are many sexes is considered broadminded. The opinion that there are two sexes — an opinion that flies amidst a flurry of dubious other opinions — should be considered at least tolerable. Moreover, it should also be considered innocuous, since it does not stand to hurt anyone. Yet it hardly qualifies as an expression of hatred. But why is this so? And how did this come about?

Pope Benedict XVI, in the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, states that “man constantly strives for emancipation from God’s will in order to follow himself alone.” It is much easier for a person to follow his ego than to live by the cross and follow Jesus along the “narrow path” that he has set for him. Therefore, Christian doctrine will always be a sign of contradiction to the world. For this reason, the pope emeritus goes on to say, “there will be persecution for the sake of righteousness in every period of history.”

It is not an easy thing to be persecuted. Some Catholics avoid this by watering down their doctrine to the point that their view of life is indistinguishable from that of the world. But the devoted Catholic is a person of faith and is unwilling to barter away his faith for worldly gain.

The Sermon on the Mount offers great comfort for all who are persecuted: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10).

The word “blessed” cannot be stressed enough. Friedrich Nietzsche reviled Christianity because he thought it was a religion of losers. He denounced Christian morality as a “capital crime against life.” The typical Christian, for the founder of atheistic existentialism, was a failure, a person who was unequal to the challenges of life, one who resented those who were stronger, more successful and more alive. “We want the kingdom of earth,” he cried.

The persecuted are blessed for three reasons. They stand as blessed in contrast with those who unjustly persecute them. As Socrates said, long ago, it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one. They are saved from the illusion of self-sufficiency. Secondly, they are comforted by Christ, who suffered persecution unto death. His words are most reassuring. He understands, better than anyone else, the pain of persecution. Finally, the persecuted are blessed because the suffering they experience will be completely washed away when they enter the kingdom of heaven. They are given both comfort and hope. They are not losers, but winners who have a kingdom to gain.

At the same time, comforting as Christ’s words are, comfort is not brought to its completion until one enters God’s kingdom. At that time, past sufferings will seem trivial. St. Paul declared, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Likewise, St. Teresa of Avila said that, from the point of view of heaven, all the suffering we experienced on earth will seem as no more than a single night stay at an inconvenient hotel.

Roy Lessin’s personal story illustrates how the will of God, seemingly expressed in a set of contradictions, can lead to a richer life and bring the Good News of the Gospel to many. He was 40 years old when he entered a hotel in Las Vegas and read, for the first time in English, a Bible, courtesy of the Gideon Society. He began reading Genesis, the locus of that troubling passage in which God proclaims that “he created them male and female.”

The experience led to his conversion to Christianity and the many successful pastoral and educational apostolates he conducted. He is well known for his daily Christian devotions.

In one of his devotional statements, called “Your Life Is a Blessing,” he eloquently captures the liberating paradoxes that lie at the heart of Christ’s message: “The mind of God is different than the thoughts of man. As we follow him, we discover that we lose to gain ... surrender to win ... die to live ... give to receive ... serve to reign ... scatter to reap. In weakness, we are made strong ... in humility we are lifted up ... in emptiness we are made full.”

The persecuted are indeed blessed. May their faith remain strong and unwavering.

Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Waterloo, Canada,

and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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