11 July 2013

Love in the Time of Persecution

Earlier today I was looking through Pinterest (as one does when they spend their day off being as lazy as possible) and came across this image that I pinned ages ago:


This image just goes so well with the time that has lapsed since my previous post. The best part is when your new way is now The Way. It also pairs with the Gospel reading from this past Sunday from St. Luke. In it, Jesus is sending out disciples to various towns He would later visit and telling them what their journeys will be like.
The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolvesCarry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.
—St. Luke 10:2-12
 Nothing rings truer in my ears these days than the promise of persecution. Jesus warned His disciples of it multiple times:
Then he said to them: Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
And there shall be great earthquakes in divers places, and pestilences, and famines, and terrors from heaven; and there shall be great signs. But before all these things, they will lay their hands upon you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, dragging you before kings and governors, for my name' s sake.
St. Luke 21:11-12
And you shall be betrayed by your parents and brethren, and kinsmen and friends; and some of you they will put to death. And you shall be hated by all men for my name' s sake. 
—St. Luke 10:16-17
If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you...  
St. John 15:19-20
There are three things I want to note, based upon these passages, especially the first one from Luke.

1. Christians will be persecuted.
"I am sending you like lambs among wolves." Jesus states it quite plainly. Family and friends may betray you, you may be brought forth before officials, you may be put to death because of your faith in Jesus Christ. (Just recently, a priest was beheaded in Syria. If that isn't persecution, what is?) He knows what the world is like. He knows what its reaction to Him is and will be. Christians are despised by the world because of Him.

Something that helped me really understand this was a revelation earlier in the week. Christ suffered and was hated by the world. As followers of Him, how can we expect not to experience the same suffering and hatred? (I'm pretty sure I got this from a much better worded quotation, perhaps of a saint, but I am having trouble finding it. If anyone knows, let me know in the comments!)

But there is a great deal of joy in this suffering. St. Peter writes, "But if also you suffer any thing for justice's sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you." (1 Peter 3:14-15) The saints suffered too. St. Bernadette is to have said, "The more I am crucified, the more I rejoice."

St. Therese (my Confirmation saint, for her clear awesomeness) wrote, "I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: "My God I choose all!" I do not want to be a saint by halves. I'm not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing: to keep my own will, so take it, for I choose all that You will!" 

2. We should always continue the race, no matter how difficult.
"Peace to this household," the disciples were prompted to say to those they visited. As the Church Militant, our purpose on earth (aside from serving and loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength) is to bring more souls to Him. There will come a pointrather, several pointswhen people we try to reach will reject our thoughts, our words and us entirely. None of it is as personal as we initially take it. As my fiance reminded me, it is not our tone or our attitude which offends people; rather it is the truth. Christ was not rejected by the world for His tone, but for the Truth He preached, for His claiming to be the Son of God. It is not us persecutors reject, but Christ, which should motivate us even more to pray for their souls.

3. God, Justice, the Kingdom will prevail.
"[I]t will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town." Jesus' final promise in that passage is that justice will be had. Those who are presented with the Gospel and the Truth but reject it will be rejected. They will hear, "I never knew you." So even in our day-to-day struggles, in every conversation, in every time we are told that we have changed, in every negative article, in every further religious freedom restriction, in every hour thinking and praying and trying to find a new approach, we still have hope. The faithful are fighting a winning battle. Love wins.

That is the reality. But the reality also is that these three things go together. We should carry out the work that has been entrusted to us to make disciples. We should not expect to be exempt from suffering or mockery. And then, we should not despair at suffering, but take joy in it, because suffering refines our lives. Suffering makes us like Christ. As Jesus says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it." (St. Matthew 16:24-25) Being a Christian doesn't mean being (merely) nice or pleasant. It doesn't mean supporting certain social causes, though they may have merits. It doesn't mean, as the world often supposes, supporting our own bigoted agendas for the sake of making difficult the lives of others. Being a Christian means embracing the Cross every day, because it is beautiful; because it represents the redemptive work of Christ's suffering, Christ's blood, Christ's death; because it is Love.

Nothing is more important than Love. Without it, God would not have lowered himself down from Heaven to become man. Without it, we would have no redemption. Without it, we cannot hope to advance the Kingdom of God. Let us keep thisdrawing souls closer to the Love of Christat the front of our minds. Let us keep it at the front of our minds even as we face persecution.

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