Pondering Persecution

In this week just before Holy Week we are reading from the 8th Chapter of John’s Gospel wherein Jesus enters into increasingly severe conflict with the temple leaders in Jerusalem. The conflict will ultimately end with Jesus death which we celebrate a week from this Friday.

I wonder if most Catholics today are ready for persecution. It probably doesn’t take a prophet to realize that, as the world around us goes increasingly insane and strays from God’s ways, we are more and more likely to experience persecution. The basic path seems to be this:

  1. Biblically Based moral vision is set aside either as old fashioned or as merely “personal opinion.”  
  2. Tolerance is exulted as the only real virtue.
  3. Insist that all behavior (except perceived intolerance) is to be tolerated.
  4. Accuse anyone who questions newly sanctioned behaviors of being intolerant and thus worthy of increasing punishment. Call them names such as intolerant, reactionary, rigid, unkind, mean, hateful, etc. Generally incite personal dislike of those who hold to traditional biblical morality through such labeling.
  5. Begin the process calling all perceived intolerance “hate crimes”  and start exacting punishment. Start by removing tax exempt status, begin permitting lawsuits for failing to observe all forms of tolerance (Except tolerance of intolerance).  
  6. Exact more punitive measures such as jail time for those guilty of  so-called “hate crime” or intolerance. Declare such people as dangerous since their “intolerance” may cause violence and thus call for their imprisonment.

As the world gets crazier such a process (which is already far along) does not seem so far-fetched. In Canada there are already clergy on trial for the “hate-crime” of opposing so-called “Gay marriage.” You can read more of that  HERE  and HERE. But there are several things to ponder about persecution:

  1. Persecution is normative for the Christian. Jesus exemplifies this in his own life and also teaches: If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:19ff)
  2. Hence, the fact that we are persecuted does not mean we have done anything wrong.  – Too many Christians are swayed by the anger of others into thinking that they have done or said something wrong or inappropriate. While not every tactic we might use is always appropriate, our message, even if delivered with appropriate means will often anger the world. Again, this DOES NOT mean we have done anything wrong.
  3. Refuse to accept and internalize the labels. Just because some one calls you intolerant does not mean that you are. Further we should not be required to tolerate everything. Hence it is appropriate to strongly oppose, to refused to tolerate that which we consider wrong.
  4. Courage– Preaching and living the faith in a world gone increasingly mad will require guts and persistence. We must re-examine our intense need to be liked by everyone and approved by all and prefer nothing to God and his truth.

So, as we see Jesus in the Gospels of this week go into the fray for our sakes, we must admire his courage and pray for similar strength and virtue. Things may get difficult in the years ahead. But listen again to Jesus: In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  (John 16:33).

I preach on this topic at this morning’s Mass. If you’d like to hear more you can listen here: Pondering Persecution (17 Minutes)

Here too is a video clip of John 8 that depicts the increasing opposition that was mounting against Jesus. It is from the Movie The Gospel of John.

Some Old Gospel Wisdom

 Every now and then some one will come past my door and request parish services of some sort. Maybe it’s to plan a wedding, a baptism or a funeral, maybe its for money! And then I look at them and I say, “Who are you?” since I don’t recognize them. “Oh well Father, you don’t know me but my Grandmother goes here, this is our family Church.”  “Oh, I see, but where do yougo to Church?” I usually ask. 😉 The response is usually something like, “Well you Know how it is Father, I don’t get to Church too often….But my mother goes here.”

Well, I got news for you, your Mama’s faith isn’t going to save you. You gotta have your own faith. You have to know Jesus for yourself. There are just some things you can’t borrow. Don’t get me wrong, you depended on your mother and ultimately the Church to announce the True Faith to you. But at some point you have to be able to claim the True Faith as your own. Your mother can’t go to Church for you and she can’t believe in your place.  

Remember the story of the wise and foolish virgins? (Matt 25:1-13)  They were waiting for the groom (in those days you waited for the groom, now days we wait for the bride) to show up for a wedding. Five were wise and brought extra oil for their lamps, but five were foolish and did not not. But the groom delayed his coming and so the foolish ones said to the wise, give us some of your oil. But the wise ones said to the foolish that they could not do this for there was not enough oil for all ten. You see there are just some things you can’t borrow and some things you can’t loan. You can’t loan your readiness to meet God to someone else. You may know what happened. The foolish bridesmaids went off to buy more oil and missed the groom’s arrival and they were not able to enter the wedding feast. In those days when a wedding feast began the doors were locked and no one could enter. Bottom line: You have got to know Jesus for yourself. You can’t borrow your mother’s relationship or readiness. You have to have your own. No one can go to Church for you. You can’t pay to have someone offer your prayers. You can’t borrow someone else’s holiness.

There is an Old Gospel hymn that says, “Yes I know Jesus for myself.” It’s not enough to quote the pastor, its not enough to say what your Mother said. You have to know him yourself. Do you know Him? I didn’t say, “Do you know abouthim.” This is more than intellectual knowing, this is the deep, biblical, experiential knowing. Do you know the Lord Jesus? Have you experienced that he has ministered to you in the Sacraments? Have you heard his voice resounding from the pulpit and in others you meet? Do you know him? Don’t be satisfied that your mother or grandmother knew him. You are called to know him for your very self.

Here are a couple of renditions of the old Gospel classic I mentioned. The first is from the St. James Mass Choir. But then, lo and behold, the second version is sung by a choir from a Polish Girls School! See the original and then enjoy a very different version as the song leaps the Atlantic Ocean and lands in Eastern Europe. What a wonderful world! Crossing oceans and cultures the message remains the same: Yes I know Jesus for myself.

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent – Lighten Up!

In The Gospel in today’s Mass (Cycle B) is one of the most familiar texts of the New Testament. Many can quote it from memory: For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that all who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God sent not his Son in the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16). But it is interesting that most quote only the first part of the passage. But the second half contains a warning and announcement of the essence of our judgement. Jesus says, “Here is judgement, the light has come into the world but some have preferred the darkness….they hate the light and do not come near it.

It is a very profound teaching about the nature of our last judgement. And here is the teaching:   In the end, our judgement is not so  much about God’s decision as about ours. God wants to save us. But do we want to be saved? You might say, “Everyone wants to go to heaven!” But heaven is not just a place of our design, heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its perfection. The truth be told, there are many who do not love God’s kingdom! The Kingdom of God is about justice, mercy, love of enemies, chastity, mercy, truth, love of the poor, and so forth. There are things in this description that many hate! Many today hate chastity and calls for sexual purity. Many do not love the poor and stridently disagree with many fundamental and truthful teachings of the scriptures and the Church. But this is what the kingdom of heaven is! Yes, everyone wants to go to heaven, but it is a heaven of their own making, not necessarily the real heaven. Jesus says in the gospel today that some people hate the light. This is evident today. Hence this Gospel says two things.  First, God wants to save us and invites us to His kingdom. Secondly, not everyone wants to live in God’s kingdom. The judgement in question is not God’s decision, but ours

If you’d like to listen to it my homily for today is here in mp3 format: Lighten Up!  

In this homily we explore the following:

  1. The desire that God has to save us.
  2. But what do we desire? Jesus says some prefer darkness and hate the Light? What does he mean?
  3. Our final judgement is ultimately God’s acceptance of our choice to love or hate the light.
  4. But how is it that some end up hating the light? In effect they go to sleep, enter a moral night-time and come to hate the light like a grouchy sleeper who doesn’t want to wake up and who curses the morning light that bids them to get up.
  5. Well then, walk in the light. Don’t go into moral darkness and sleep such that you grow so accustomed to the dark that you come to hate the light.