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Pope’s Morning Homily: Denial of Conscientious Objection Is Persecution

At Casa Santa Marta, says devil is behind the persecution brought by culture and modernity

There are two types of persecution against Christians, says Pope Francis: that which makes martyrs and that which could be dubbed “polite persecution.”

The Pope said this today during his homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, reported Vatican Radio. His homily was drawn from the First Reading, which tells of the martyrdom of Stephen.

“The tradition of the Church calls him the Protomartyr, the first martyr of the Christian community,” Francis noted. However, even “before him there had been little martyrs” who suffered persecution under Herod. “From that time until today there have been martyrs in the Church, there have been and there are.” There are “men and women persecuted only for confessing and for saying that Jesus Christ is Lord: this is prohibited!” Indeed, this confession “at certain times, in certain places, provokes persecution.”

This is clearly manifest, the Pope stated, “in the passage of the Acts of the Apostles that we will read tomorrow: after the martyrdom of Stephen, a great persecution breaks out in Jerusalem.” Then, “all the Christians fled, only the Apostles remained.” Thus, persecution, Francis said, “is the daily bread of the Church: after all, Jesus said so.”

When we are tourists in Rome, the Pope continued, “and we go to the Colosseum, we think that the martyrs were those who were killed with the lions.” However, martyrs are not limited to those killed in the Colosseum. In reality, martyrs “are men and women of every day: today, with Easter Sunday just three weeks ago.” The Pope said this in reference to the Christians who died at a park in Pakistan on Easter Sunday.

They were “martyred just for celebrating the Risen Christ,” he said, and “thus the history of the Church continues with her martyrs.” Because “the Church is the community of believers, the community of confessors, of those who profess that Jesus is Christ: she is the community of martyrs.”

Persecution, the Pope noted, “is one of the characteristics, one of the traits of Church, which pervades her entire history.” And “persecution is cruel, like that of Stephen, like that of our Pakistani brothers and sisters three weeks ago.” It is cruel “like what Saul did, who was present at the death of Stephen, the martyrdom of Stephen.” Saul “went into houses, seized Christians and took them away to be judged.”

Culture, modernity and progress

There is, however, also “another kind of persecution that is not often spoken about,” Francis noted. The first form of persecution “is due to confessing the name of Christ” and it is thus “a clear, explicit type of persecution.” The other kind of persecution is “disguised as culture, disguised as modernity, disguised as progress: it is a kind of — I would say somewhat ironically — polite persecution.”

You can recognize “when someone is persecuted not for confessing Christ’s name, but for wanting to demonstrate the values of the Son of God.” Thus, it is a kind of “persecution against God the Creator in the person of his children.”

In this way “we see every day that the powerful make laws that force people to take this path, and a nation that does not follow this modern collection of laws, or at least that does not want to have them in its legislation, is accused, is politely persecuted.”

This is a form of “persecution that takes away man’s freedom,” and even the right to “conscientious objection! God made us free, but this kind of persecution takes away freedom!” Thus, “if you don’t do this, you will be punished: you’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside.”

“This is the persecution of the world,” the Pontiff continued. And “this persecution even has a leader.” In the persecution of Stephen, “the leaders were the scribes, doctors of the law, the high priests.” On the other hand, “Jesus named the leader of polite persecution: the prince of this world.” We see him “when the powerful want to impose attitudes, laws against the dignity of the children of God, persecute them and oppose God the Creator: it is the great apostasy.”

‘I am with you’

Thus, “Christian life continues with these two kinds of persecution,” but also with the certainty that “the Lord promised not to distance himself from us: ‘Be careful, be careful! Don’t fall into the worldly spirit. Be careful! But go forward, I will be with you.”

In his concluding prayer, Francis asked the Lord for “the grace to understand that a Christian’s path must always continue forward amid two kinds of persecution: a Christian is a martyr, that is, a witness, one who must bear witness to Christ who has saved us.”

This means “on the journey of life, bearing witness to God the Father, who created us.” On this path a Christian “must suffer many times: this brings so much suffering.” But “such is our life: Jesus is always beside us, with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.” And “this is our strength.”

Readings provided by the US bishops’ conference:

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Lectionary: 274

Reading 1 ACTS 7:51—8:1A

Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one,
whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.
You received the law as transmitted by angels,
but you did not observe it.”

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice,
covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them”;
and when he said this, he fell asleep.

Now Saul was consenting to his execution.

Responsorial Psalm PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 7B AND 8A, 17 AND 21AB

R. (6a) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
My trust is in the LORD;
I will rejoice and be glad of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of men.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 6:35AB

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the bread of life, says the Lord;
whoever comes to me will never hunger.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 6:30-35

The crowd said to Jesus:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:

He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”

So they said to Jesus,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

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