Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – Persecution has been inherent in the Church since its beginnings. We can almost say it is part of its essence. From the moment that the Lord says: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” (Jn 15:20), every true Christian and every Christian community should know that they will be the subject of persecution. The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this when he said: “The Church walks the same path and suffers the same destiny as Christ, since she acts not on the basis of any human logic or relying on her own strength, but instead she follows the way of the Cross, becoming, in filial obedience to the Father, a witness and a travelling companion for all humanity.” (Message for World Mission Day 2009, n.4).
St Augustine said: “The light that is loved by healthy eyes is hated by the sick.” The Church, when it faithfully lives the message of Christ, truly becomes the “light of the world”, and because of this becomes uncomfortable for unhealthy eyes. When the Church proclaims the Gospel fully, it becomes “salt of the earth” which scorches the wounded. We cannot ignore that everyone of us should place our lives in the light of the Gospel and suffer the burning of the salt, given that we must live in a continual spirit of conversion, leaving aside that incoherent part that often is part of our lives. Otherwise, we will only be salt that no longer has any flavour and that should be tossed out in the street, trodden on by passers-by.
Throughout his life, Jesus, and the early Church suffered persecution. In the age when the Book of Revelation was written, the Church was experiencing much persecution, tribulations and confusion (cf. Rev 1:9). However, in the vision of St John a word of hope was proclaimed: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev 1:17-18).
Together with the constant presence of Christ, who won over suffering and death through his Resurrection, the Church finds the strength to persevere, even in the midst of persecution, thanks to the precious gift of the Holy Spirit: Receive the power of the Holy Spirit and you shall be my witnesses (cf. At 1, 8). The Spirit helps with the gift of strength to those whose faith in Christ is tried, and sustains believers in a way that they may go on to offer the supreme witness of martyrdom, if called.
May this Spirit, which is divine light and force, sustains our brothers and sisters living under the trial of persecution. May this same Spirit animates our prayer, that is genuine, passionate and committed. The forms of persecution are different in different parts of the world. In some countries they resort to the use of physical violence, to coercion, and threats. In Western cultures today they discredit, insult and ridicule everything that is Christian. May the Holy Spirit render us authentic Catholic witnesses to Christ, consistent with the Gospel, people who do not adapt to this world (cf. Rom 12: 2). Only those who are willing to suffer for the confession of Christ's name, can truly be his disciples.
Let us pray then this month for our persecuted brothers and, that our prayer is sincere. Let us be open to share some of their sufferings for the confession of the crucified and risen Lord. (Agenzia Fides 25/2/2011)