October 22, 2014
By Father William Muench
Jesus’ Beatitudes conclude with two beatitudes that tell us that the persecuted are blessed and will find peace and happiness – even in suffering – suffering for their faith.
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven.”
I have never been personally persecuted and I have never had to suffer because I was a Catholic or because I was a Catholic priest or because I stood for a particular cause. So, I must admit I don’t fully understand the strength of faith the persecuted have endured because they stood up for their faith.
I have read their story. I have talked with and learned much from those who have suffered such persecutions. They are truly saints.
Persecutions have been part of the Church since the earliest days – since the time of Jesus. Even now you and I have heard of the persecutions of Christians in various Middle East countries, of places in Africa.
My faith is stronger and strengthened as I learn of the faith and dedication of these present day martyrs. And, yet, I must admit I don’t understand the peace of those who suffer for their faith.
In January, I will join several other priests in a retreat pilgrimage experience sponsored by the Maryknoll fathers. It will be in Guatemala and El Salvador. In this retreat, we will visit the places where several Central American Catholics lost their lives for their faith. This will include the grave of Bishop Oscar Romero, who spoke up for the poor and needy and the injustices brought on them by the leaders of their country. He was then murdered while celebrating Mass.
Also, we will visit where the four American missionary women were murdered, two of them Maryknoll Sisters. There are several other such shrines to the martyred that will be visited. These saints were ready to dedicate their lives to bring the message of Jesus to others – and to help the poor and needy. Their faith and dedication to help others was great yet, cut so short.
These places that we will visit are sacred, made holy by the lives and deaths of martyrs. It will be a religious experience to be there, to pray and meditate there,to absorb some of their spirit.
Many have their faith challenged by such persecutions. They want to do something good, to live good lives, to help others, yet, they are challenged by persecution. This has been the challenge met by many missionaries who have gone off with joy to another land to bring help and Jesus to others.
I want to remind you that persecution has been the fate for so many who have suffered discrimination because of their race, their color, their religion. The history of our country is filled with such persecutions of many of our people. Discrimination is truly a persecution. The scourge of discrimination continues to be part of our land. Yet, so many of those who have suffered – work through it all – and continue to live good and successful lives.
I pray for all who must continue to suffer such. I wish they were not persecuted yet, I find in the strength of their faith and example for myself, an example of what faith can and should be. I realize how blessed they are. The question I must face is whether my faith would be strong enough to face a persecution. I pray that I will continue to learn so much from those who have such suffered terrible persecutions.
The Gospel tells me that Jesus forgave the soldiers from the cross – “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” The Acts of the Apostles tell me that Stephen forgave as he was being stoned to death – “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” My persecutions are so small: slights from some angry person or being ignored or being misunderstood by someone. The lesson for me today from the martyrs of our Church is to be a forgiving person.