Blessed are those who are persecuted

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2009
Reproduced with Permission

Persecution is inevitable for all who belong to Christ, because what the believer gives witness to in witnessing to Christ is always beyond the comprehension of those who belong to the world. The world is proud (1 Jn 2, 15), and what the world does not understand, it regards not as something above its comprehension, but always below it, as is typical of the proud when they encounter something larger than themselves; for the proud do not acknowledge that which exposes their own limitations.

And so religious, for example, who vow chastity, poverty, and obedience in order to witness to a higher good are more or less regarded as quaint and gullible. So too are those faithful to the spouse of whom they have grown tired, those who choose to give up a new chapter of excitement that a younger prospect might promise. Worse are those who burden themselves with the hard work of rearing more than one or two children because they believe human life has intrinsic goodness and that the work of good parents extends well into eternity.

Such people are not just different to worldly eyes. They are irritants that, like Christmas bells, announce a way of life that exposes the darkness of the world. And so the world has to respond, because it does not love peace, despite what may appear to be the case. The world cannot impart peace, because it does not have it, nor will it live peacefully with its enemy, the Church. It must extinguish all opposition, however long that might take, and so persecution is part and parcel of the Church's existence.

There are many dark moments in the lives of the faithful. The darkest are those in which we cannot manage to see any good we might be doing for others; every act of charity seems to dissolve into a void of irrelevance. But persecution is an evident sign that the Church is doing something right.

The final beatitude about the blessedness of those who suffer persecution is so important that it is repeated twice. The first formulation indicates that those who are persecuted on account of what is right are blessed; the final formulation calls "blessed" those who are persecuted on account of him. In other words, Christ is the standard of what is right, not man.

The marvellous thing about Christ's Passion is that we now have power in persecution, namely his power, because he was persecuted, and whatever he touches, he makes holy and imparts to it his power to give life. That is why the cross is "all power". Life in him is first and foremost about being poor in spirit, but it is finally about sharing in his suffering, because He entered into our darkness. Suffering is the point at which our lives converge with his; it is our point of encounter and the permanent locus of our power to redeem and heal the world.

Unfortunately, persecution is the predominant theme of those who, in order to hide their own depravity, have made themselves perpetual victims. But there is only one victim, and that is Christ who is both priest and victim. His persecution is our salvation and the perfect expression of the divine love. If we are persecuted, it is not by virtue of ourselves, but by virtue of belonging to him. Something about us repels those in darkness: "If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you (Jn 15, 18).

But when Christianity is seen as nothing more than one religion alongside others, another body of universal moral teaching, an ideology that is meant to help make this world a heaven on earth, persecution is inevitably taken as a sign that something is wrong. This causes some to rework the faith to make it more palatable to the world. This is well meaning, but it is rooted in a basic misunderstanding of the Incarnation. Jesus is "God entered into" the suffering of every human person, giving it His own life. We participate in Christ's saving work ultimately by sharing in that life, which is a way of the cross.