Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Welcome to the Ever Persecuted Church!

Of the many reasons that my (former) partners and I have written of answering the title of this blog, this is one that I've never mentioned but I do so now. Persecution. You would have to have your head solidly buried in the sand to miss the fact that of all the great religions the world over, only Christianity, and her members, is constantly bashed, battered, and attacked.

And among the many splinters and shards of a broken up, post-Reformation, post-Modern, Christianity available to the modern person trying to choose a faith home, only one church embraces it's history of persecution and that is the Catholic Church. All the others shy away from this, if not flee it outright. They do what Karl Rahner, SJ warned of instead.

They, "try by every means and with dubious zeal to demonstrate that Christianity is also the best and most reliable recipe for a happy life in this world, forgetting that the only way in which this can be [true] is precisely by not caring whether it is so or not."

By the time I joined the Church, I had seen enough white-wash jobs along the way to know that a Christianity that promises you health, happiness, and prosperity on this earth, is full of holes like swiss cheese and belongs on a sandwich with heaping helpings of baloney. Christ and His Bride suffer because they are Truth.

The fellow who wrote the following words thinks the same thing too. Published around the turn of the last century, this was written by Fr. Cornelius Joseph O'Connell who, many of you may be pleased to know, was not a Jesuit. It's a three part discussion on the "ever persecuted Church," and today I give you part one to start out with, and promise the others in rapid succession.

The Catholic Church, the Ever Persecuted and Suffering Spouse of Christ

"Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."—Matthew, 16:18.

Nearly nineteen hundred years have passed since these words fell from the lips of our Divine Saviour. And yet, through all this long period, they have never ceased to have a triumphant verification. We know too well how cruelly they have been assailed by the strong arm of worldly power; we know the attempts which error, irreligion and apostasy have repeatedly made to disfigure their divine integrity; and most ungrateful of all, how the unworthy lives of many in the household of faith are ever seeking to degrade and nullify their spirit and effectiveness.

Nevertheless, in face of all this, they sound as full of truth and life this day as on the day they were first uttered. In other words, the Church of Christ, of which this promise is the solid foundation, has withstood, during these long centuries, all the persecutions of her enemies; has baffled every assault and defection of heresy; and survived the painful scandals of her own children.

How could it be otherwise with an institution which always carries along with it the promise and protection of Almighty power? Has not the declaration gone forth that even heaven and earth must give way before the Omnipotent word of God?

We read in the Gospel: "Heaven and earth shall pass away but My word shall not pass away." Now, of all the solemn words of God, none can be accounted more solemn and enduring than the word which says: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

It is not to indite the trials and calamities of the Church that I have chosen this ever memorable text; nor with a view of showing you precisely how, in spite of them all, she still stands in the world, like the Jewish Temple of old, the only Temple of God's true worship and salvation. But, looking at all it has been her lot to endure, I would thereby seek to win your sympathy towards her as the ever persecuted and suffering Spouse of Christ, and endeavor to make you feel that your interest in your Church should always be the counterpart of the interest you ought to have in the sufferings of her Divine Founder.

You need not be told the great void there must be in the life of any Christian who does not meditate on the sufferings of his Saviour. Such a one can hardly be said to have, properly speaking, a part in Christ at all; since Christ, as we know, was all suffering, from the moment He entered this life until He left it. Besides, we are taught that every spiritual benefit, every grace, every blessing, comes to us only out of His sufferings. We eat the bread of sorrow in our spiritual life no less than in our temporal life.

We can well understand that an unthinking child may receive bread from the hand of its parent, without giving any thought or heed of the sweat and toil and privation which has had to furnish it. But that a Christian—one come to years of thought and intelligence—that such a one should be daily receiving benefits and graces, without reflecting on all the pain and sorrow of their divine source, is to carry thoughtlessness too far. It is almost to become, as the Psalmist says, like unto the horse and the mule, that have not understanding, and therefore go to their food out of blind appetite or caprice.

But Christ and His sufferings are now living in His Church; He is united to this Spouse and made one with her by a union closer than any we can conceive of. Yes, you know and firmly believe that Christ lives in His Church; that His saving blood runs in every vein; that His sacred heart beats within her; that His unchangeable truth sustains her; that His Almighty power carries her in her course down through the centuries to every new-born generation; and in our own day and generation she stands before us the same living, suffering spouse that came from His pierced and aching side upon the cross.

Like Himself, His Church came also a stranger and an alien into this world of wickedness; hence the world has ever striven to get rid of her rebuking presence. Her early life, like His own, was cradled in cruel hardship, in terror of enemies and in flight before their destroying rage. She too had her terrible Herods, only they were called by other names. They were the Neros, the Domitians, the Diocletians of three hundred years of her exterminating persecutions. Later on these enemies bore other names, but their spirit was still the spirit of Herod and of Nero. For instance, when England's proud monarch abjured its ancient faith, some even of her royal sovereigns followed the example and sought the glory that belongs in history to the impious Julian the Apostate.

Even the boasted nineteenth century with all its enlightenment could not be without a persecution of Christ's Church. And these latest oppressors have gone as far as they dare go; that is, they leave Catholics their lives but rob them of their priests, their sacraments, their churches; of all in fine, that makes this life endurable to those whose hopes are centered in another.

Do you think that this incessant war of persecution, coming in one shape and another, is directed against mere human beings; that it is simply men rising up in rage and destruction against their fellow men? If it were only that there would be no such thing as religious persecution; for we never hear of one religion persecuting another when the religion of Christ is not in question. All the gods of old were welcome and protected in imperial Rome, except the God who made heaven and earth. And in the same way all religions are allowed to live in peace but the religion of Jesus Christ.

The reason of this He Himself gives us: "They have persecuted Me," He says, "and so they will persecute you." In other words, they will persecute you because of my life of faith and hope and love that is in you through my Church.

Only by means of these God-given virtues is the Church reared upon Christ, its "chief corner stone, in whom," as Saint Paul says to the Ephesians, "all the building being framed together, groweth up into a holy temple of the Lord, in whom you also are built together unto a habitation of God in the Spirit." Were it not for this welding of our life in the life of Christ in His Church, Satan, with his angel strength, would have shattered it long ago, for the real antagonism is not Satan against us, but Satan against Christ, through us, who are Christ's members. In every persecution therefore it is Christ who is aimed at.

The first bitter persecution of Satan was against His own person in Pilate's court, when He was bound and scourged and scoffed at. And in every subsequent one He is hurt in His members. In them He is bound and scourged over again; in their sufferings His wounds are open to bleed afresh. This is to us a truly mysterious dispensation that the current of our Redeemer's mercy should ever flow through suffering. However, it is not for us to question or to complain.

A far juster cause of complaint is that Christians in general should take so little account of it. It is a sad thing they should give so little thought and study to the Kingdom of Christ, and so much to the history of earthly kingdoms; especially when the former has been set on the earth as the sun in the heavens, to be its light and warmth and life.

There are Catholics who will tell you all about earthly thrones and dynasties, their rise and career, who were their heroes, what their triumphs and perils and duration, yet they would feel no blush at being ignorant of what has befallen God's Church, what dangers and trials she has encountered, the glory of her martyr-heroes of every age, and the career they have opened the world over for new harvests of souls.

Ah, if Christian hearts were more with Christ, this could not be so. They would not then be always seeking the living among the dead. They would know that the Church has passed in triumph over empires; that she has buried lordly nations who persecuted her in the past, and that she will live to bury those who are persecuting her now, for Christ, who is her life and strength, "is the same yesterday, today and forever."

Do not suffer any such apathy to rest upon your souls. Always bear in mind that you are of the lineage of Christ, that His Church is your true home, your everlasting kingdom. Rejoice then in her triumphs. Have sympathy in her life of sorrow. Help on her heavenly purpose. In a word do for the Church always what you would do for Christ himself, because the Church is the spouse of Christ.

Go to Part II.