Summary: We must not marvel that we suffer pain and persecution when we carry the message of Christ to our culture.
Thursday of the 14th Week in Course
Pop singers and bands engage in a ritual–they all do. There’s a warmup act, usually a second or third rate band. It’s their Introit and Gloria, except the praise is of the human act to follow. There’s audience participation, with applause and swaying and dancing and even mini-flashlights or hand lasers. Part of the ritual is the pilgrimage. The band moves from city to city and their fans buy tickets. Only the faithful come–the tickets are too expensive for just anybody. Everywhere they go, they hear thunderous response, because “fan” is short for “fanatic.”
Jesus warns the disciple that it will not be that way for us. For those who follow Jesus and preach the Gospel of forgiveness, repentance and love, there will be no adoring crowds (unless you are the Pope and World Youth Day). We are not asking people to buy our albums and our downloads. We are not asking them for three hours of their time. We are asking people to look deep within themselves and find the hunger for the divine. We are asking them to examine their behavior and find the holes in their hearts that are full of rottenness, fear and hatred. And we are asking, not for three hours or a hundred bucks, but for a commitment to Christ that will last their whole lives. No wonder Jesus tells us to expect rejection and even persecution.
The Popes understand this part of our mission too well. They remember the response to Venerable Paul VI when he issued Humanae Vitae. Universal scorn and rejection. Lukewarm reception by even the bishops and theologians. Yet he was right in all respects. Contraception has led to widespread abortion and infanticide and an increased divorce rate. Economies have been ruptured; the Social Security system is bankrupt because of the millions of young workers who simply do not exist.
They write: The eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews concludes with a reference to those who suffered for their faith (cf. Heb 11:35-38); outstanding among these was Moses, who suffered abuse for the Christ (cf. v. 26). Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated, yet it can have meaning and become an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us; in this way it can serve as a moment of growth in faith and love. By contemplating Christ’s union with the Father even at the height of his sufferings on the cross (cf. Mk 15:34), Christians learn to share in the same gaze of Jesus. Even death is illumined and can be experienced as the ultimate call to faith, the ultimate “Go forth from your land” (Gen 12:1), the ultimate “Come!” spoken by the Father, to whom we abandon ourselves in the confidence that he will keep us steadfast even in our final passage.
Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world. How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer! So it was with Saint Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor. They understood the mystery at work in them. In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil. Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. Christ is the one who, having endured suffering, is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).
Chesterton remarked that we should not marvel at our sufferings and ask God, “why me?” We should instead look at the times when we have had a calm and prosperous life and wonder why we were not suffering. The plain fact is this: Catholics don’t prosper well. We grow best in our imitation of Christ when we are in pain, because it is then that we stop saying, “how wonderful am I!” It is in times of pain and panic that we turn to God and know that we are so weak that we cannot function without His superabundant grace. Because in our last hour, when we are in our final agony, that must be our perspective, as it was the point of view of every one of the saints. We must look with love to the God who put the love in our heart, and ask Him to raise us up from our pain into His protection and His glory.