I MUST APOLOGISE for the lengthy break in transmission. The summer has been beset by various problems including family illness and a dying cat amongst other minor distractions but all are now resolved and I would hope to be producing posts more regularly.
A few weeks ago there was a story in the UK press concerning a young girl of Christian background who had been placed in foster care on two occasions with strict Muslim families. Needless to say the initial stories about being banned from eating her favourite meal because it contained pork or having her crucifix taken away turned out to be a bit over-hyped but by the time everyone had calmed down at least one Catholic site had been complaining about persecution.
My own opinion was that if you really want to see persecution try being a Catholic in Pakistan or a Copt in Egypt. Human error by a hard-pressed social worker in placing a child in need of care doesn’t quite match up.
A blogging priest joined in with his view on an unrelated issue, namely press reaction to a devout Catholic politician’s expressed views on abortion (he’s against it) and gay marriage (guess what; he’s against that as well!). Why, he wondered, was everyone so anti-Catholic? And he too talked about the road to persecution.
I had been mulling over these matters wondering whether a blog on the subject was worth considering when I realised that today’s gospel (Wednesday 23, year 1) and, not unnaturally Francis Fernandez’ daily meditation in his In Conversation with God series were on this very subject.
In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount today, Jesus says
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
(Matthew’s version (the better known one) usually translates “exclude” as “persecute” and that is the word we use more often. The difference is semantic only.)
So Jesus is calling on us to accept, indeed welcome, persecution. “Rejoice in that day,” He says, “because great is your reward in heaven.”
There is another incident, recorded in Acts ch 5:
And they agreed with him*, and when they had called for the apostles and flogged them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name.
* The ‘him’ referred to here is Gamaliel who had advised the Sanhedrin to let this business run its course. If from God they shouldn’t be suppressing it; if not it would die of its own accord.
It doesn’t take much to realise that Jesus asks us to accept persecution joyfully and the apostles respond positively, rejoicing that they have been allowed to suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus. And yet the whole tone of the response to the incidents I have recorded is a denial of what our faith demands of us, namely that persecution for our faith is a privilege we should welcome.
I must declare my own position here. I doubt if I would welcome persecution any more than the next man! But that is beside the point. I ought to welcome it. Christ asks, even demands, that I welcome it. He demands of his followers that they “take up their cross daily” and the apostles and those who listened knew what that had to mean because, while crucifixions might not have been an everyday event in Judea, they certainly would not have been such a rarity that his listeners would not have understood the point he was making.
Sacrifice and suffering are necessary for our salvation. Christ by His death on the cross has redeemed us but God demands a bit of effort on our part. The least we can do is bear the small crosses of everyday life, like looking after a house while a family member is in hospital or even caring for a much-loved pet in its final days or simply putting up cheerfully with the aches and pains of advancing years.
God does not demand that we seek out persecution; martyrdom is not a privilege that is accorded to many of us; the mundane can be suffering enough sometimes. But our reaction to persecution or to the “slings and arrows” that the world cares to aim in our direction should not be to run away or to pen indignant blog posts or letters to newspapers. If we cannot rejoice at the privilege of suffering for the Name of Jesus at least we should be prepared to face that possibility with equanimity.