Be Catholic to Save the World by Grace! Some Words of Encouragement from the Early Church

There are some who would have the Church step back to avoid persecution or giving offense. Perhaps there are assets like buildings and land to protect. And maybe some rapprochement with the world will attract more members. Or so the thinking goes.

But a study of earlier periods of persecution reveals a different plan for the way forward: confidence, courage, boldness, and love—even for our enemies. Let’s look at some texts.

Earlier this week we read from St. John Chrysostom, who knew all about exile and persecution. At a difficult time for him and his flock, he preached from the following text of St. Paul’s:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:18-25).

Of this passage, St. John Chrysostom said,

How the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and his weakness stronger than men! In what way is it stronger? It made its way throughout the world and overcame all men; countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew ever mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless.

Therefore, when a Greek tells me I am dead, he shows only that he is foolish indeed, for I, whom he thinks a fool, turn out to be wiser than those reputed wise. So too, in calling me weak, he but shows that he is weaker still. For the good deeds which tax-collectors and fishermen were able to accomplish by God’s grace, the philosophers, the rulers, the countless multitudes cannot even imagine (from a homily by St. John Chrysostom, bishop, on the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Hom. 4, 3. 4: PG 61, 34-36)).

Such words ought to encourage us as well, for many today gleefully report the decline of faith and of the influence of the Church. 2000 years of history bears witness to the fact that those forecasting the doom of the Church will be long gone, and the Church will still be preaching the gospel.

Indeed, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, the Church has read the funeral rights over everyone who has predicated her demise. Where is Nero? Where is Domitian? Where is Napoleon? Where is Mao? Where is the Soviet Socialist Republic? Indeed, the largest statue of Christ in the world is reportedly being built in Russia right now. Where are so many heresiarchs? What happened to the erroneous philosophies and destructive trends that have been proposed? These things have come and gone; empires and nations have risen and fallen. But the Church is still here. Often persecuted, sometimes growing and sometimes struggling, but here, still here, always here. Twelve fishermen and other commoners with Jesus have established a stronghold in the world.

Scripture says,

Some trust in Chariots or Horses,
But we in the name of the Lord.
They will collapse and fall,
But we shall hold and stand firm
(Psalm 20:8).

But of course this will happen only to the extent that, by God’s grace, we DO hold and stand firm. It will not happen by adopting the world’s ways or fearfully caving in to its demands.

There is a powerful description in Scripture of the time when Peter and John were arrested for causing a commotion in the Temple area (by healing the lame beggar and proclaiming Jesus at the Beautiful Gate).

Now when [the Jewish leaders] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Note that the Jewish leaders recognized that “they had been with Jesus.” Would anyone recognize this about you, or your parish, or your fellow parishioners, or even us clergy? This is our main goal in times like these: that others recognize that we have been with Jesus! In times like these, the Church must be the Church.

And notice this prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, of the early Church under persecution. It takes place just after the arrest of Peter and John, after they had been warned not to mention Jesus again.

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29-31).

In her work on Acts, Dr. Mary Healy notes that they do not pray for safety or for their enemies to be vanquished; they pray to be able to continue to speak with boldness, to bring healing, and to announce Jesus and draw others to Him.

And this should be our prayer: Lord, keep us strong. Keep us bold and filled with love for our enemies and for all those who are troubled and in need of healing. Never allow us to hide or to be concerned for our own safety, but rather concerned only that your glorious and Holy Name bring healing and grace, conviction for our sins, repentance, and therefore mercy. Help us, Lord, to stay faithful, courageous, and bold no matter the threats, the hardships, the persecution, and even the ruthless attempts at suppression. May no one who looks at us conclude anything less than that we “have been with Jesus.”

Courage and holy boldness, fellow Catholics! The only way we will change the world (by grace) is to be Catholic through and through. The world does not know it, but Christ and His Body, the Church, are the only hope. Be authentically Catholic, and by that grace, save the world!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Be Catholic to Save the World by Grace! Some Words of Encouragement from the Early Church

Stages of Persecution

There are many ongoing attempts to erode religious liberty in the United States. In California, a bill has been introduced that would, in certain situations, compel priests to break the confessional seal (I would go to jail before I’d do that). The “Equality Act” (passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month and currently before the Senate) would add sexual orientation and the fanciful notion of “gender identity” to the set of characteristics currently protected by the Civil Rights Act (race, color, religion, sex, and national origin). In April, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Philadelphia’s right to cease placing children into foster care through the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services because the agency will not place children with same-sex couples.

With these and other similar situations in mind, we do well to review the stages of persecution. The term “stages” is particularly important in the U.S. because it is rare for a previously respected segment of the population to become reviled overnight. The typical process is that the descent progresses in stages that grow in intensity. In this way, the Catholic Church, once an esteemed institution in America (along with other Christian denominations), has become increasingly marginalized and now even hated by many. It may help us to consider the five stages of persecution because it seems that things are going to get more difficult for the Church in the years ahead.

I. Stereotyping the targeted group – To stereotype means to apply an overly simplistic belief about a group of people to each individual person in that class.

As the 1960s and 1970s progressed, Christians were often caricatured as Bible-thumpers, simpletons, haters of science, and hypocrites; they were frequently labeled self-righteous, old-fashioned, and backwards.

Catholics in particular were also accused of having neurotic feelings of guilt and a hatred of or aversion to sexuality. We were denounced as a sexist institution and called authoritarian, stuck in the past, and hung up on restrictive rules.

According to the stereotype, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward, repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotype, we are a laughable—even tragic—group caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the “shackles” of faith.

As with any large group, individual Christians and Catholics may manifest some negative traits, but indiscriminately presuming the characteristics of a few to be common to all is unjust.

To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping, and even among those who do the degree varies, but the climate created by its presence sets the foundation for the next stage of persecution.

II. Vilifying the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct

As the stereotyping grew in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not go along with the cultural revolution were described as closed-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, and/or reactionary—basically, bad people.

The history of the Church is also described myopically as little more than a litany of bad and repressive behavior: going on crusades, conducting inquisitions, and hating Galileo and all science. Never mind that there might be a little more to our history: founding universities and hospitals, patronizing the arts, and preaching a gospel that brought order and civilization to the divided and barbaric times that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Our critics won’t hear any of that, or if they do will give the credit to anyone or anything except the Church and our faith.

All of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believers and of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry.

III. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society

Having established the (false) premise that the Church and the faith are bad—even harmful to human dignity and freedom—the next stage is to relegate the role of the Church in society to the periphery.

To many in our secularized culture, religion is seen as something that must go. Perhaps we will be allowed to sing our hymns and preach our sermons within the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.

It has become increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray in public, or in any way bring the Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go; out with Christmas trees. There have even been some public schools that forbade the use of the colors red and green during the “Holiday Season”!

Do not even think about mentioning Jesus or thanking Him in your graduation speech; you may be forbidden to do so under penalty of law. You may talk about Madonna the singer but not the Madonna.

In contrast, the Gay-Straight Alliance club at the local high school is welcome to pass out rainbow-colored condoms to the students. Muslims strangely get a pass but not Christians. No Bibles or Christian-themed pamphlets had better see the light of day anywhere in the school building—separation of Church and State, you know.

IV. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works

Recent attempts to compel us to violate our teachings and consciences are noted above, but there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our right to practice our faith openly. An increasing amount of litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.

Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information about and/or referrals to abortion clinics or to supply “emergency contraception” (i.e., the abortifacient known as the morning-after pill). In 2009, the State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization, and administration of Catholic parishes. A number of Christian students in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they planned to mention God and/or Jesus in their graduation addresses. (More details can be found here.)

A good number of those involved in these clashes feel quite righteous and justified in their efforts to remove the practice of the faith from the public square.

Many of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the number and frequency of the lawsuits and the time and cost involved in fighting them impose a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior pose a growing threat to religious liberty.

V. Persecuting the targeted group outright

If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may face fines and/or incarceration.

In Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.

In our country there are greater protections for free speech, but there has been a steady erosion of religious freedom; some have had to spend long periods in court defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, and ultimately prison.

Unlikely, you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four seem to be firmly in place. One may wish to “whistle past the graveyard,” but it looks to me as if we’re headed for stage five.

Maybe a heavy post could use the accompaniment of a lighthearted video. This animated retelling of Acts 16 is so bad it’s good!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Stages of Persecution

On the Sufferings of St. Paul and the Price of the Gospel

As we turn in this week of Easter to the Acts of Paul section of the Acts of the Apostles, we do well to ponder the kinds of sufferings the apostles endured to announce the gospel and win souls for Christ. In the “softer” Church of the declining West, it is hard for us even to imagine such suffering. How many Catholics today can even bear to rouse themselves to get to an hour-long Mass on Sunday? How many of us clergy will not speak the truth because we’re afraid of getting a raised eyebrow?

All but one of the first apostles suffered martyrdom as well as countless other sufferings before their lives were brutally ended. It is argued that 30 of the first 33 popes died as martyrs, two others died in exile, and only one died in his bed.

We should never fail to thank God for the heroic ministry of the early Christians, clergy and laity alike, who risked everything to believe and to announce the gospel. Having encountered Christ, they were so transfixed by His truth and His very person that they could not remain silent. Even in the face of persecution and death, the apostles declared, simply and forcefully, we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).

As a tribute to them and to the early Church, I present here a catalogue of sorts of St. Paul’s sufferings. We know the most about Paul’s trials, but surely many others also suffered. As you read through what he endured, remember the many others as well. When discomfited by a mere inconvenience or a minor persecution, consider the price that others paid so that we could know Christ and be saved.

In this first passage, God announced Paul’s sufferings to Ananias:

For he is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:15-16).

Here are some of Paul’s own descriptions of what he endured:

  • We are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always manifesting the death of Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).
  • in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
  • in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fasting; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:3-20).
  • Why do I still suffer persecution? [For, if not,] the offense of the cross has ceased (Galatians 5:11).
  • Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  • my doctrine, my manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me (2 Timothy 3:10-11).
  • And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily …. [Indeed] I have fought with beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:30-32).
  • And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
  • You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first … (Galatians 4:13).
  • From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the brandmarks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:7).
  • I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart (Romans 9:1-2).
  • Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me …. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus …. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense [in Jerusalem] no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. So, I was rescued from the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 4:10-17).
  • For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have longed for His appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Lest you think that St. Paul exaggerated in his descriptions, consider the following occurrences documented by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles:

  • Fellow Jews plot to kill Paul in Damascus and he must be lowered in a basket from city walls to escape (Acts 9:23).
  • Hellenists seek to kill him in Jerusalem, so he must flee to Caesarea (Acts 9:29).
  • Paul is persecuted and run out of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:15).
  • Facing likely arrest and stoning at Iconium, Paul flees to Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:5).
  • He is stoned, dragged out of Lystra, and left for dead (Acts 14:19).
  • Paul is opposed by elders and others in Jerusalem (Acts 15:11).
  • He is arrested as a disturber of the peace, beaten with rods, and imprisoned at Philippi (Acts 16:23).
  • Paul is ordered by Roman officials to leave Philippi (Acts 16:39).
  • Attacked where he lodged in Thessalonica, Paul must be secreted away to Beroea (Acts 17:5-7, 10).
  • Paul is forced out of Beroea and must flee to Athens (Acts 17:13-15).
  • He is mocked in Athens for teaching about the resurrection (Acts 17:32).
  • Paul is apprehended by fellow Jews and taken before the judgment seat of Gallio in Corinth (Acts 18:12).
  • He is opposed by the silversmiths in Ephesus, who riot against him (Acts 19:23-41).
  • Paul is plotted against by the Jews in Greece (Acts 20:3).
  • He is apprehended by the mob in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-30).
  • Paul is arrested and detained by the Romans (Acts 22:24).
  • He barely escapes being scourged (Acts 22:24-29).
  • Paul is rescued from the Sanhedrin and Pharisees during their violent uprising in Jerusalem (Acts 23:1-10).
  • Assassination plots are made against him by fellow Jews, who swear an oath to find and kill him (Acts 23:12-22).
  • Paul endures a two-year imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 23:33-27:2).
  • He is shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 27:41-28:1).
  • Paul is bitten by a snake (Acts 28:3-5).
  • He is imprisoned in Rome (Acts 28:16-31).

Paul was executed by decapitation ca. 68 A.D.

Never forget the price that others have paid in order that we may come to saving faith. At every Mass, remember that the Creed we profess was written in the blood of martyrs.

The movie Paul, Apostle of Christ is a worthy tribute to St. Paul and the suffering of the early Christians:

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: On the Sufferings of St. Paul and the Price of the Gospel

Your Life is Not About You, As Illustrated in a Biblical Story

The Acts of the Apostles sets forth an event that amounts to a tale of one Church in two cities or regions. It illustrates well a couple of points: that the Church is always in need of reform and that our lives are not merely about us and what we want. Let’s look at the event in two scenes.

Scene 1: The Church in Jerusalem –

There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him.
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment
. (Acts 8:1-4)

Up until now the Church in Jerusalem has experienced steady growth. To be sure there has been some persecution, but mainly of Peter, John and the other apostles. A passage from earlier in Acts describes a kind of springtime for the Church in Jerusalem following Pentecost:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. A sense of awe came over everyone, and the apostles performed many wonders and signs. …With one accord they continued to meet daily in the temple courts…sharing their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

And yet, just at this moment of growth the Lord permits a persecution that, in many ways devastates the young community. There is the first martyrdom, a widespread arrest of Christians (led by Saul) and a scattering of “all” the community. A worldly perspective may ask, “Why O Lord?! This is bad timing. The Church was just getting her feet on the ground in Jerusalem and you have permitted her to be all but destroyed!”

Yes, the Lord had summoned the Church to the cross. And why? God alone knows the full reason, but we can speculate as to some reasons.

In the first place, the idyllic picture of Acts 2 has already been marred by squabbles and injustice of ethnic origin. The Greek-speaking widows were being neglected, it would seem (Acts 6:1). This may also point to other internal struggles that give the impression that the Church may be losing focus on essentials and that the outward priority of evangelizing is giving way to inward squabbles.

Further, there is the emerging picture of a Church rather settled in Jerusalem. But had the Lord not summoned them to go into all the world teaching, evangelizing, saving and drawing people to the sacraments? (see Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:47). There is no mention to this point of that taking place, or of any plans for it. So, perhaps the Lord permits this persecution to give the Church a nudge out of the nest. In saying they were scattered, we get the image of seed being sown. The blood of martyrs is seed for the Church and persecution fires up the faithful and distinguishes them from the merely fair-weather friends of the Lord. Ecclesia semper reformanda (the Church is always in need of reform).

The upshot of the whole episode is evangelical, for the faith now spreads north to Samaria and into Judah.

Scene 2: The Church in Samaria (The Church and Mission are Bigger than Us) –

Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city
. (Acts 8:4-8)

Here is a very different picture! Having been prodded by the Lord through a permitted persecution, the tears and suffering in one city, in one part of the Church, benefit others in a new and different part of the Church. Demons are being cast out, healings are taking place, the lame are walking, and there is great joy!

The seeds of faith are being sown by the suffering of some and watered by their tears that others be saved and come to joy. A psalm comes to mind: He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:6)

So, the Lord had to prod the early Church to get moving. But this is only so that the work may become more fruitful and many more be saved.

And this points to two hard truths that, if accepted, are liberating:

1.  Your life is not (only) about you.

2.  You are not THAT important.

If we are not careful, we are very prone to become self-absorbed and think that our situation is the only thing on God’s radar. But the truth is, God has everyone’s needs in mind. My life is not simply about me and what I want and need and think and see. My life is also about what others need, and what others see and can contribute. I am not so important that God will sacrifice everything and everyone else just to answer my needs. God might actually ask me to suffer and sacrifice so that others may thrive. Our lives are intertwined with the lives of others. I have surely benefited from the sacrifices others have made, and I am called at times to sacrifice that others may come to know God and thrive. Thus, the Church at Jerusalem was permitted by God a persecution and a suffering so that others in Samaria and throughout the world would come to hear the Gospel and be saved. Scripture says elsewhere:

He who has an ear, let him hear. “If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he will go; If anyone is to die by the sword, by the sword he must be killed.” Here is a call for the perseverance and faith of the saints. (Rev 13:9-11)

In our times of self-esteem, we can go too far and presume that my life is all about me and nothing and no one is more important that me and I what I and my family need. Or we can become very focused on the issues that preoccupy us in the Church in America or think that everyone sees what we see, or experiences what we do. This is myopic. The Church is bigger than me or my parish or my country. The Church is in every land, speaks every language and extends back in time and forward as well. God has a little more on his radar than “me” or our small and temporary group.

This small story from Acts reminds us that the Church is always in need of reform. It also reminds us that the Church is more than me or us. Here is one Church with two scenes. In Jerusalem there is weeping, but in Samaria there is joy. My life is not about me alone. I both benefit from the sacrifices of others and am called to make sacrifices for others. The blood of martyrs is seed for the Church, the tears of the persecuted will often water those seeds. It is a hard but a freeing truth. In heaven we will see what our sufferings accomplished. For now, we must accept whatever the Lord decides, be it suffering or joy, or some combination of both. My life isn’t just about me or what I want. It’s also about you and what you need.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Your Life is Not About You, As Illustrated in a Biblical Story

Why Is There Such Strong Hatred for the Church?

In the final week of Easter, there were frequent references in the readings to the fact that the world would hate true Christians. For example,

If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well (John 15:18-20).

The word “world” here obviously does not refer to the planet Earth itself, but to the collective attitudes, philosophies, economies, priorities, political powers, and cultural stances that are arrayed against God and His teachings. It is an accumulation of demonic influences and sinful human connivances, tendencies, and preferences. Because this “world” involves people, human and demonic, it is capable of hate.

The world hates us to the degree that we are true Christians.

Sadly, many Christians work hard to ensure that the world does not hate them. We do this most often by compromising the faith and hiding whatever practice of the faith we do have. It is also due to a love and preference for the world. While this is often done out of weakness, it is a deeply sinful drive. Scripture warns,

Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

These are strong words to be sure, but deep sinful drives require strong medicine.

If we are on a path to becoming truer Christians, we will encounter increasing resistance from the world and from worldly people who sense that we are not quite on board with the current culturally-blessed belief system. Somehow, they sense an independence and freedom in us that they rightly assess will erode their power.

Let’s consider a few related though distinct versions of the world’s hatred of true Christians.

1.  The world hates us because we cannot be easily exploited by agreeing to part with our money.

Scripture says this of the fear of death:

Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, Christ too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Most marketing schemes exploit the fear of diminishment, which is a version of the fear of death. Find out what a person fears and you can control him. Most people are desperately afraid of rejection, of being diminished in the sight of their fellow human beings.

Many are ensnared by this and are easy targets for exploitation. This fear of diminishment is brought out by delivering the message that you are not measuring up in some way. Here are some examples:

  • You’re not attractive enough.
  • You’re not slim enough.
  • You don’t have the right style or color of hair.
  • You don’t drive the right sort of car.
  • You don’t have a modern enough cell phone,
  • You don’t live in the right kind of house in the right kind of neighborhood.
  • You’re not smart enough.
  • You’re not cool.
  • Your neighbors are laughing at you behind your back because they are richer, more glamorous, and happier than you are.
  • You’re missing out on life because of all your shortcomings.

“Never fear,” the message goes, “$19.95 (plus shipping and handling) will get you our product and make you less pathetic, more esteemed, and less diminished in the eyes of your neighbors.”

When a person is less obsessed with human approval and more focused on divine approval, when he has the “fear of the Lord” rather than the fear of men, the worldly realize that he is less easily exploited. A true Christian is more satisfied with God’s love and therefore less concerned with the world’s esteem and approval. The world senses this and develops a kind of disdain and hatred for the true Christian and for Christianity itself because it cannot so easily exploit the fear of diminishment.

2.  The world hates us because we cannot be easily exploited for worldly power or political gain.

There is power in ideas. Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. Thoughts and ideas are powerful things. This insight is at the heart of the proclamation of the Gospel. No longer be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2). The Church and the world are engaged in a battle of ideas and the battle for the mind.

One of the tactics of the world is to market ideas so as to gain power and influence. This is a worldly sense that if certain ideas and ideologies can be implanted in people, they can then become a base for marketing, politics, and worldly power.

Identity politics, tribalism, race, and highly specific grievances increasingly form a basis for political and worldly power; ideas become ideology.

Reason and shared human values are less the basis for the appeal; fear and competition through organized power become more common. In an increasingly crowded marketplace of divergent ideas, loyalty and an “us vs. them” mentality are insisted upon. Intimidation, both subtle and obvious, is the daily fare.

The world rightly assesses that a true Christian is less easily intimidated. As our faith grows, our ideas become more rooted in perennial truths rather than in the ephemeral views of today. We see things by the light of the Gospel and more quickly understand the errors of much of modern thinking. As we grow in our faith we trust God more and come to delight in the truth He proclaims, experiencing greater liberation. Rooted in this way in clear and lasting truth, we are less easily deceived, controlled, or intimidated. The world and the prince of this world are instinctively aware of this and thus hate us and the faith in which we strive to grow.

3.  The world hates us because our call to moderation threatens their wild excesses.

This is basically the summation of the first two points. The Christian faith calls us to moderation and sobriety. We are taught that happiness is not rooted in the multiplicity of things or pleasures, but in the moderate enjoyment of lawful pleasures. This limits the ability of marketers to sell us more and more. It also limits the inroads of political and worldly philosophies that often traffic in inciting dissatisfaction that others have more that we do. The world rightly perceives that a true Christian is less easily provoked to excessive consumption and less easily enlisted in causes rooted merely in possessions or power.

We are an “ugly” reminder to the world that it has lost its way.

In the Book of Wisdom this form of hatred is described in this way:

Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the righteous and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him in the end…. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them. And they did not know the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense for holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward (Wisdom 2:12-24).

Deep down, the worldly know that what the Church teaches is right. She touches something deep in the consciences of even the most jaded of modern thinkers. Rationalizing away, resisting, and ignoring the still, small voice of God echoing in their hearts is hard work. Even a small poke from the Church through Scripture or her teaching incites loud cries of pain and anger because they know the Church is right.

Perhaps, too, there is vague awareness that the Church is still going to be here preaching the gospel long after this current experiment of a godless and truth-less “culture” has run its course. Indeed, in the age of the Church empires have come and gone, nations have risen and fallen, heresies have been presented and resisted. Yet here we are still, preaching the gospel.

There is something mysterious about the particular hatred that the world reserves for Jesus and His Church.

In the Western world most religions are tolerated, even if largely ignored. Buddhism, Hinduism, and other eastern religions receive a nod from the cultural elites. New Age “spiritual but not religious,” “god-within” movements are often thought trendy and touted as substitutes for biblical religions. Strangely, despite numerous terrorist attacks and an ideology almost diametrically opposed to Western liberalism, the Muslim faith gets a pass.

Don’t even mention Christianity, let alone Catholicism, to most of them. The reaction is often “over-the-top.” It is not enough for them to dismiss us as irrelevant; they actively oppose us with legal efforts to keep our voice out of the public square. Prayer must go. Christmas must be called “the Holidays.” Mangers are forbidden. Even the colors green and red have been banished from some schools during this time. Easter break is “spring break” and Good Friday is just another teacher in-service day. Ramadan and Rosh Hashana are still mentioned by name. One can express almost any motivation for a view—except a religious one (especially a Christian or Catholic one). One can be a proud supporter of abortion and Planned Parenthood and a proud supporter of same-sex “marriage” and other LGBTQ causes, but one cannot oppose these for sincerely held religious reasons without being labeled a dangerous zealot trying to impose your views on others.

The depth of the fear, anger, and hatred is mysterious. If we are so “irrelevant,” why is it necessary to oppose us so fiercely? Do we really have an ability to impose our views? Why are we said to be “imposing” our views when we voice them while others are free to hold and express their views without backlash?

The anger, fear, and hatred is both obsessive and excessive. It is far beyond rational opposition.

Ultimately the mystery is not so deep that it defies explanation. There is evidence in the behavior of cultural elites and worldly leaders that Jesus and Christianity (especially the Catholic part of it) are public enemy number one.

Satan certainly has a raging fear of Jesus. As the “prince of this world,” he spreads his fear to the world. Thus, despite our many compromises with modernity, Catholicism remains the staunchest opponent to the views of most cultural elites. Our doctrines are stubborn things, even for some inside the Church who would like to change them. The Rock of Peter, whatever the human limitations of the individual popes in history, has a great deal of inertia by the Lord’s own design and grace. By God’s own promise, the gates of Hell (an image of power) slam against the Rock but cannot prevail.

The hatred of the Catholic Church is not really mysterious after all. It is a hatred far more cosmic and sweeping than merely that of those who live today. The special hatred for Christ and His Church are the great evidence that He is true Savior and Lord. Satan cannot keep a “poker face” in the presence of Christ and His Bride, the Church. He nervously rages, and all his worldly structures, philosophies, and those he inspires rage with him.

Be sober and yet at the same time amazed at the evidence of the true Church and Faith.

And the dragon was enraged at the woman and went to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. (Revelation 12:17)

Your Life is Not About You, As Illustrated in a Biblical Story

Stoning of Stephen With Saul Holding Cloaks, Fra Angelico
In Wednesday’s reading, the Acts of the Apostles sets forth an event that amounts to a tale of one Church in two cities or regions. It illustrates well a couple of points: that the Church is always in need of reform and that our lives are not merely about us and what we want. Let’s look at the event in two scenes.

Scene 1: The Church in Jerusalem –

There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him.
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment
. (Acts 8:1-4)

Up until now the Church in Jerusalem has experienced steady growth. To be sure there has been some persecution, but mainly of Peter, John and the other apostles. A passage from earlier in Acts describes a kind of springtime for the Church in Jerusalem following Pentecost: 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. A sense of awe came over everyone, and the apostles performed many wonders and signs. …With one accord they continued to meet daily in the temple courts…sharing their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

And yet, just at this moment of growth the Lord permits a persecution that, in many ways devastates the young community. There is the first martyrdom, a widespread arrest of Christians (led by Saul) and a scattering of “all” the community.  A worldly perspective may ask, “Why O Lord?! This is bad timing. The Church was just getting her feet on the ground in Jerusalem and you have permitted her to be all but destroyed!”

Yes, the Lord had summoned the Church to the cross. And why? God alone knows the full reason, but we can speculate as to some reasons.

In the first place, the idyllic picture of Acts 2 has already been marred by squabbles and injustice of ethnic origin. The Greek-speaking widows were being neglected, it would seem (Acts 6:1). This may also point to other internal struggles that give the impression that the Church may be losing focus on essentials and that the outward priority of evangelizing is giving way to inward squabbles.

Further, there is the emerging picture of a Church rather settled in Jerusalem. But had the Lord not summoned them to go into all the world teaching, evangelizing, saving and drawing people to the sacraments? (see Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:47). There is no mention to this point of that taking place, or of any plans for it. So, perhaps the Lord permits this persecution to give the Church a nudge out of the nest. In saying they were scattered, we get the image of seed being sown. The blood of martyrs is seed for the Church and persecution fires up the faithful and distinguishes them from the merely fair-weather friends of the Lord. Ecclesia semper reformanda (the Church is always in need of reform).

The upshot of the whole episode is evangelical, for the faith now spreads north to Samaria and into Judah.

Scene 2:  The Church in Samaria (The Church and Mission are Bigger than Us) –

Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city
. (Acts 8:4-8)

Here is a very different picture! Having been prodded by the Lord through a permitted persecution, the tears and suffering in one city, in one part of the Church, benefit others in a new and different part of the Church. Demons are being cast out, healings are taking place, the lame are walking, and there is great joy!

The seeds of faith are being sown by the suffering of some and watered by their tears that others be saved and come to joy. A psalm comes to mind: He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:6)

So, the Lord had to prod the early Church to get moving. But this is only so that the work may become more fruitful and many more be saved. 

And this points to two hard truths that, if accepted, are liberating:

  1. Your life is not (only) about you.
  2. You are not THAT important.

If we are not careful, we are very prone to become self-absorbed and think that our situation is the only thing on God’s radar. But the truth is, God has everyone’s needs in mind. My life is not simply about me and what I want and need and think and see. My life is also about what others need, and what others see and can contribute. I am not so important that God will sacrifice everything and everyone else just to answer my needs. God might actually ask me to suffer and sacrifice so that others may thrive. Our lives are intertwined with the lives of others. I have surely benefited from the sacrifices others have made, and I am called at times to sacrifice that others may come to know God and thrive. Thus, the Church at Jerusalem was permitted by God a persecution and a suffering so that others in Samaria and throughout the world would come to hear the Gospel and be saved. Scripture says elsewhere:

He who has an ear, let him hear.  “If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he will go; If anyone is to die by the sword, by the sword he must be killed.” Here is a call for the perseverance and faith of the saints. (Rev 13:9-11)

In our times of self-esteem, we can go too far and presume that my life is all about me and nothing and no one is more important that me and I what I and my family need. Or we can become very focused on the issues that preoccupy us in the Church in America or think that everyone sees what we see, or experiences what we do. This is myopic. The Church is bigger than me or my parish or my country. The Church is in every land, speaks every language and extends back in time and forward as well. God has a little more on his radar than “me” or our small and temporary group.  

This small story from Acts reminds us that the Church is always in need of reform. It also reminds us that the Church is more than me or us. Here is one Church with two scenes. In Jerusalem there is weeping, but in Samaria there is joy. My life is not about me alone. I both benefit from the sacrifices of others and am called to make sacrifices for others. The blood of martyrs is seed for the Church, the tears of the persecuted will often water those seeds. It is a hard but a freeing truth. In heaven we will see what our sufferings accomplished. For now, we must accept whatever the Lord decides, be it suffering or joy, or some combination of both. My life isn’t just about me or what I want. It’s also about you and what you need. 

Suffering for the Gospel: Pondering a Picture of Apostolic Times

Death of St. James by Stefan Lochner (c. 1435)

Writing as I am on the Feast of Saint James, likely the first Apostle to be martyred, I’d like to ponder the kinds of sufferings the Apostles endured in order to announce the Gospel and win souls for Christ. In the “softer” Church of the declining West, it is hard for us even to imagine. How many Catholics today can barely rouse themselves to get to an hour-long Mass on Sunday? How many of us clergy will not risk so much as a raised eyebrow in order to speak the truth?

Yet all but one of the first Apostles suffered martyrdom as well as countless other sufferings before their lives were brutally ended. Arguably, 30 of the first 33 popes died as martyrs. Two others died in exile. Only one died in his bed.

We should never fail to thank God for the heroic ministry of the early Christians, clergy and laity alike, who risked everything to believe and to announce the Gospel. Having encountered Christ, they were so transfixed by His truth and His very person, that they could not remain silent. Even in the face of persecution and death, the Apostles declared, simply and forcefully, we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).

In tribute to them and to the early Church I want to present a kind of catalogue of the sufferings of St. Paul. Of him we know the most, but surely many others suffered as he did. As you read of what Paul endured, remember the many others as well, and when discomfited by a mere inconvenience or minor persecution, consider the price that others paid so that we could know Christ and be saved.

In this first passage, Paul’s sufferings were announced by God to Ananias:

•  Acts 9:15-16 – For he is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:15-16).

Here are some of Paul’s own descriptions of what he endured:

•  2 Corinthians 4:8-12 – We are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always manifesting the death of Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
•  2 Corinthians 11:23-27 – … in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
•  2 Corinthians 6:3-20 – … in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fasting; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
•  Galatians 5:11 – Why do I still suffer persecution? [For, if not] the offense of the cross has ceased.
•  2 Corinthians 12:10 – Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
•  2 Timothy 3:10-11 – … my doctrine, my manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.
•  1 Corinthians 15:30-32 – And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily …. [Indeed] I have fought with beasts at Ephesus.
•  2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
•  Galatians 4:13 – You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first ….
•  Galatians 6:7 – From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the brandmarks of the Lord Jesus.
•  Romans 9:1-2 – I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
•  2 Timothy 4:10-17 Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me …. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus …. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense [in Jerusalem] no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
•  2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have longed for His appearing.

Death of St. Paul by Stefan Lochner

And lest we think that St. Paul may have exaggerated his sufferings, consider the following occurrences documented by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles:

 •  Acts 9:23 – Fellow Jews plot to kill him in Damascus, must be lowered in a basket from city walls to escape
•  Acts 9:29 – Hellenists seek to kill him in Jerusalem, must flee to Caesarea
•  Acts 13:15 – Persecuted and run out of Antioch in Pisidia
•  Acts 14:5 – Facing likely arrest and stoning at Iconium, flees to Lystra and Derbe
•  Acts 14:19 – Stoned, dragged out of Lystra and left for dead
•  Acts 15:11 – Opposed by elders and others in Jerusalem
•  Acts 16:23 – Arrested as a disturber of the peace, beaten with rods, and imprisoned at Philippi
•  Acts 16:39 – Ordered by Roman officials to leave Philippi
•  Acts 17:5-7, 10 – Attacked where he lodged in Thessalonica, must be secreted away to Beroea
•  Acts 17:13-15 – Forced out of Beroea, must flee to Athens
•  Acts 17:32 – Mocked in Athens for teaching about the resurrection
•  Acts 18:12 – Apprehended by fellow Jews and taken before the judgment seat of Gallio in Corinth
•  Acts 19:23-41 – Opposed by the silversmiths in Ephesus, who riot against him
•  Acts 20:3 – Plotted against by the Jews in Greece
•  Acts 21:27-30 – Apprehended by the mob in Jerusalem
•  Acts 22:24 – Arrested and detained by the Romans
•  Acts 22:24-29 – Barely escaped being scourged
•  Acts 23:1-10 – Rescued from the Sanhedrin and Pharisees during their violent uprising in Jerusalem
•  Acts 23:12-22 – Assassination plots made against him by fellow Jews, who swear an oath to find and kill him
•  Acts 23:33-27:2 – Two-year imprisonment in Caesarea
•  Acts 27:41-28:1 – Shipwrecked on the island of Malta
•  Acts 28:3-5 – Suffered a snakebite
•  Acts 28:16-31 – Imprisoned in the Rome

Paul was executed by decapitation ca. 68 A.D.

Never forget the price that others have paid in order that we may come to saving faith. Each Sunday, remember that the Creed was written in the blood of martyrs.

Warning: the following video graphically depicts the sufferings of the early martyrs in the arena:

The Fifth and Sixth Marks of the Church

The Nicene Creed fittingly noted four marks of the True Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These marks identify four essential qualities and characteristics the Church has and they distinguish the True Church from any false claimants. Now we, of course cannot add authoritatively to this venerable list. Nevertheless permit me a couple of “prayerful additions” to the four marks of the Church. These cannot join the official list but I humbly submit these “marks” for your consideration to serve in a similar way to distinguish the True Church from false claimants and to give insight into the Church’s truest identity.

The 5th Mark of the Church: Hated. Jesus consistently taught us to expect the hatred of the world if we were true disciples.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20).

Or Again: All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,how much more the members of his household! (Matt 10:22-24)

Or yet again, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

One of the more painful aspects of Church life, yet also one of the aspects of which I am most “proud” is that we are hated especially by the world. It is true that some of the Evangelicals are ridiculed but few can deny that a very special and intense hatred for the Catholic Church and is widely on display. It’s never OK in our society (nor should it be) to scorn Jews or Muslims and to mock or attack their faith traditions. Most of the other Christian denominations (except the Evangelicals) also escape much hatred. But the Catholic Church, ah the Catholic Church, now it seems open season on her. We are scorned, badly portrayed in movies, our history is misrepresented, our sins (and we do have them) are exaggerated, our teachings called bigoted, backward, unrealistic, and out of date. And no matter how ugly, bigoted and inaccurate the world’s hatred is, very few if any express any outrage at how were are treated and misrepresented. Try any of this on the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, et al. and the outrage and claims of bigotry are echoed by the media (and well they should be). Meanwhile Dan Brownet al. get to go on and on about “evil” priests and bishops, a crucifix can be submerged in urine or the Blessed Mother smeared with dung and this is praised as “art” and funded by government grants.

I am not complaining (though these things are wrong). I am actually quite hopeful that this means we are doing something right. We are a sign of contradiction to the world and we are hated for it. We speak the truth to a world gone mad and we hold on to that “old time religion.” That we are hated puts us in good company with Jesus and the prophets and martyrs who stood with him. If we are really doing what we should be doing, the Church ought to experience significant hatred from the world. So hatred by the world is an essential mark of the Church if you ask me. We do not look to be hated. Neither do we look for conflict. But in preaching Christ crucified, in preaching the whole counsel of God and not some watered down version of it we surely do find hatred and conflict comes to us. Some people and denominations try to fit in with the world. They accept its ways and comprise the clear teaching of Christ. But the True Church speaks the whole truth of God in love and does not cave to the world’s demands. The true Church, by Christ’s promise, is hated by the world and those allied and wedded to it. But no need to fear…the sixth “mark” is here!

The Sixth Mark of the Church – Perduring – To perdure means to permanently endure. Here too Christ firmly established this principle and promise to the true Church:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it(Matt 16:18).

There are no governments or nations that have lasted 2000 years. Very little else in this world can claim such antiquity and even if it does can it claim to have remained essentially unchanged in its dogma or teaching? The Catholic Church is one, even after 2000 years. An unbroken line of Popes back to Peter and an unbroken line of succession for all the Bishops back to the Apostles through the laying on of hands. Not bad. Now consider that this is a miracle! If the Church were depending on human beings to exist and stay unified how long do think she would have lasted? Probably about twenty minutes, max. Our history is not without some pretty questionable moments, in terms of the human elements of the Church. That the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church certainly suggests they would try again and again. But here we are, a miracle. Still standing after all these years. Christ is true to his promise to remain with us all days unto the consummation of the world. We, the human elements of the Church may not live teachings of Christ perfectly, but the Church has never failed to teach what Christ taught even (as now) when the world hated us for it. At times we are tepid and struggle to find our voice, but Christ still speaks and ministers even in our weakness. Yes the Catholic Church is a miracle, the Work of Jesus Christ. And thus the sixth Mark of the Church is that she perdures. By God’s grace we exhibit this sixth mark. Nations have come and gone, empires risen and fallen, eras opened and closed, but through it all we perdure.

So there it is, I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic, (and if you don’t mind me saying), hated and perduring Church.

Here’s a very interesting hip hop song by the rapper Akalyte on these two additional “marks” of the Church.