Proclaiming the Gospel comes with a price, the price of persecution. The Holy Father focused on this aspect of evangelization during his homily at Casa Santa Marta this morning.
In a passage in the Book of Wisdom, the first reading in this morning’s Mass, the wicked said among themselves: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.”
The Holy Father compared the first reading to the Gospel of St. John which recounted Christ being persecuted for preaching publicly. In the history of salvation, he said, “in the time of Israel, and even in the Church, the prophets have been persecuted.” The prophets, he continued, were persecuted for calling on those in power to return to the path of God.
“Jesus hid Himself, in these last days, because His time had not come yet; but He knew what His end would be, how His end would be,” he said. “And Jesus is persecuted from the beginning: we remember when, at the beginning of his preaching, he returns to his country, he goes to the synagogue and preaches. Immediately, after a great admiration, they begin [to say]: ‘But we know where he’s from. He is one of us. With what authority does he come to teach us? Where has he studied?’ They disqualify him! It is the same discourse, no? ‘But we know where he is from! The Christ, instead, when he comes no one will know where He is from!’ To disqualify the Lord, to disqualify the prophet to take away his authority!”
Jesus, the Pope went on to say, was disqualified by those in power because He fought against those who “caged the Holy Spirit.” However, the history of persecution does not end with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many are persecuted for the faith not only from the outside, but also from within the Church. “When we read the lives of the Saints, how many misunderstandings, how many persecutions have the Saints suffered through, because they were prophets,” he said.
“Also many philosophers of the Church have been persecuted. I think of one, right now, in this moment, not so far from us, a man of good will, a true prophet, who with his books reproached the Church from straying from the path of the Lord,” the Pope recalled.
“He was summoned quickly, his books were put on the index [blacklisted], they removed him from his seat and thus this man’s life ends — not too long ago. Some time has passed and today he is beatified! How is it that yesterday he was a heretic and today he is beatified? It is because yesterday those who had the power wanted to silence him, because they did not like what he said. Today the Church, that gives thanks to God and knows how to repent, says: ‘No, this man is good’. Even more, he is on the road to sainthood: he is beatified!”
The Pope also highlighted the persecution suffered by Catholics today in countries that prohibit religious freedom. “I dare say that perhaps that there are as much or many more martyrs today than in the early days, because in this worldly society, in this society that is a bit tranquil, that doesn’t want problems, they say the truth, they announce Jesus Christ,” he said.
“But there is a death penalty or prison for having the Gospel at home, to teach the Catechism, today, in some parts! One Catholic from these countries told me that they cannot pray together. It is forbidden! They can only pray alone and hidden. But they want to celebrate the Eucharist and how? They celebrate a birthday, they pretend to celebrate a birthday and there they celebrate the Eucharist, before the party. And – it has happened! – when the police arrive, everything is ‘Happiness, happiness. Happy Birthday’ and they continue with the feast. Then, when [the police] leave, they finish the Eucharist. That is what they must do, because it is prohibited to pray together. Today!”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis recalled the example of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, one of the founding fathers of the Jesuit China Mission in the 17th century, who was often rejected or misunderstood. However, the Pope noted, “he obeyed like Jesus.”
There will always be persecutions, misunderstandings! But Jesus is Lord and this is the challenge and the Cross of our faith. May the Lord give us the grace to go on His path and, if it happens, even the cross of persecutions.” (J.A.E.)