This Sunday we begin Holy Week. Our Lenten journey has led us to the final hours of Our Lord’s life, in which he suffered torture and death on the Cross.
All through his ministry, Jesus had prepared his disciples for his Passion. He told them that he would have to suffer many things, that he would be rejected, insulted, humiliated and killed.
He also told us that if we believe in him and follow him, we must be ready to suffer these same things.
“A servant is not greater than his Master,” he said. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
These are serious words in which Jesus invites us to imitate him completely, to the point of laying down our lives for his Gospel. And he goes even further. He tells us that persecution is a blessing, a pathway to joy and happiness for those who believe in him and seek his Kingdom.
The seventh and final Beatitude he gave us is: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
In many ways, this is the most demanding of the Beatitudes — and the most realistic. Jesus was always totally honest with his apostles. And he is totally honest with us.
Jesus calls us to follow him. But he wants us to come with our eyes wide open. Again and again he tells us we must “count the cost” of discipleship. He wants us to know that if we follow him, it will mean suffering and loss.
And we see this all around the world today. In many places people can’t wear a crucifix or go to Mass or be seen reading a Bible in public. There are men, women and children being killed every day, for the “crime” of believing in Jesus.
Persecution comes in many forms. In our country, we do not face violence. Instead, we deal with the “soft” persecution of those who want to banish Christianity from having any influence on our secular society.
It is becoming clear that in the years ahead, believers and Church institutions will face increasing pressures to abandon our beliefs as “the price” for living in our society.
Pope Francis has explained: “We will … have persecutions, because the world does not tolerate Christ’s divinity, it does not tolerate the preaching of the Gospel, it does not tolerate the Beatitudes.”
Persecution is a consequence of witness. As followers of Jesus, we are given a mission. We are called to propose Jesus as the meaning of life and the meaning of creation and history. We are called to announce the new way of life that he has shown to us, the way of the Beatitudes.
Jesus is a scandal and an insult to those who would like to live as if God does not exist. And the Beatitudes are a scandal and an insult to the values and “certainties” that people in our secular society live by.
The Beatitudes challenge our obsession with wealth and the arrogance of our approach to creation and human life. They condemn our indifference to the sorrows of our neighbors, and all the injustice and lack of mercy we find in our homes and neighborhoods. The Beatitudes also call us to confront the uncleanness we find in our hearts, and all our failures to make peace and stop oppression.
We only have one heart and our love cannot be divided. We cannot serve two masters, as Jesus said.
So we should expect persecution. But we should never accept it.
The Beatitude of the persecuted tells us what Christian love requires in a world of poverty, suffering and death. This Beatitude — like all of them — calls us to action in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Jesus wants us to fight religious intolerance and defend the basic human right to freedom of conscience.
God willing, most of us in this country will never suffer violence for our beliefs. But as disciples of Jesus, we will not avoid persecution for our faith in him. “Persecution” also includes the daily tensions and harassments we face, the challenges to our beliefs, the pressures to keep our faith to ourselves or to compromise our values.
We don’t face our persecutions alone. We go with Jesus, who carries his Cross before us and gives us strength and courage in our weakness. This is the truth of this Holy Week we are about to begin.
So let’s keep one another in prayer in this week. Let’s pray to always stay close to Jesus, following him with love, offering our sacrifices day after for day.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to watch over and intercede for all those in our world today who are persecuted for their faith in her Son.