"Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" Matt 5: 10 -11
"We can take special pride in you for your constancy and faith under all the persecutions and troubles you have to bear. It shows that God's judgement is just and the purpose of it is that you may be found worthy of the Kingdom of God; it is for the sake of this that you are suffering now" 2 Thess: 4-5.
Turning to our mentor Fr Henry Coleridge, he explains that "It is a distinguishing feature of the Catholic Church in all ages, that (following Jesus' way) she is to yield to persecution and not resist ill-treatment and injury, and for the same reasons for the sake of her enemies' salvation yield by retiring from the field of conflict, that is in some cases flee, leaving it up to God to rectify the injustices in such a way as to save souls."
In fact persecutions of all forms occur along each step of the Beatitudes and many are from family, friends and fellow Catholics without considering the secularists or other religions.
If we have been climbing up the ladder or mountain of the Beatitudes we will have suffered all the consequences and worldly losses and become so purified and close to God to have achieved the noble role of true Peacemakers. In reaching this peak base camp we may consider that with the pinnacle of our climb in sight there is little left to be done but to complete the easy final climb to the top. However, we cannot stand still for to do so is to slide back down the mountain: onwards we must go progressing towards the ultimate.
Unfortunately, in achieving such a level of holiness and knowledge of God, we will have been accompanied on our journey by an increasing number of enemies and will have drawn the special attention of Satan himself. Perhaps he will utter in a loud cry "let us lie in wait for this virtuous person who annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our breaches of God's Laws and accuses us of playing false. Let us test this person before us with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness and put any endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn this person to a shameful death and see whether God will save such a person who we might even encourage to crumble by utterances against God or giving into grave sins." Familiar words heard by Jesus who was tested in his obedience to God to the very limits in order to make him sin; not one micro-second of his passion and agony did he give in to sin. This was the true triumph of the Cross because Jesus was the only person ever to have beaten Satan back into Hell by not sinning even until death. Because of this Satan remains defeated to this very day, and his only revenge is to acquire only those who sin mortally without repentance: what a worthless quarry (Book of Wisdom 2:12-22).
Even if we are not put to the ultimate test, we will have to endure and thereby overcome many obstacles: there are thorns and pitfalls including mines strewn along our way. However if our intentions are right and we keep going, graces will always be given in abundance to endure even the smallest of crosses. Such graces will help us to also maintain a cheerful countenance, knowing deep inside ourselves that we must be getting closer to God.
All the above leaves us to ponder more on why God permits this suffering in our lives. It is because in achieving, through suffering, increasing virtuous perfection, the reward will be rapid or even immediate access to Heaven, without enduring the purification required by God's justice in Purgatory. Let us now step back and review the process of being persecuted, and a few of the very many forms that define persecution.
Those who, like Jesus, are severely persecuted are personally chosen by God because they have the willingness to serve and obey God, coupled with the necessary faith and charity buttressed by the preceding Beatitude stages. If they are lacking in any of the prerequisite virtues they will not be allowed to be persecuted, as they would fail or compromise their faith. Not everyone is chosen to be such a victim by God. There is a risk that we might believe that we are chosen victim souls and by doing so fail to adhere to our faith: the folly of pride.
Those attacking us as we climb up through the Beatitudes to the pinnacle will do so out of ignorance, envy or hatred of God, His Laws and truth or His Church. In the case of the latter, persecutions are more often inflicted against bishops, priests, religious or the laity at prayer, hence the bombing of Masses.
Many types of persecution are less physical and involve placing barriers between the Pope, bishops, clergy, religious and laity, and the most pernicious is criticising openly the Pope, bishops and clergy by disagreeing with them, ridiculing them or encouraging disobedience against them or church laws and practices. A notable example is provided by those who rebel against the recent reform of the Mass, demand women priests or deacons, encourage contraception, even abortion and so on.
These shrill sirens end up erecting barriers between the laity and their rightful religious leaders. Other barriers are erected by interference in Catholic education and the practising of the true Catholic faith especially the Catechism, and worse still today is the dumbing down of all forms of moral virtue including virginity and purity which are scoffed at.
Coupled with the above assaults will be the suffering brought about by evil tongues, reviling slander and calumny. Sometimes we will be received with an up-turned nose as if something smelly entered the room. In spite of all this we must always remember that the persecuted and persecutors are ultimately controlled by God, and limits are placed to the extent that those trusting sufferers will endure and not fail.
Mothers when refusing abortion today may be rejected by society without regard for their courageous mothering, being left to fend for themselves; those who have more than two children are persecuted by financial penalties inflicted by government; those who to stick to the Catechism on homosexuality and adhere to God's definition of "marriage" may be imprisoned. At the other end of the spectrum those who suffer prolonged illnesses or protracted old age will be pronounced a burden and unnecessary to society, and if they don't kill themselves as an act of civil loyalty are declared selfish and immoral; failure to do so could leave them uncared for and destitute. A notorious professor has declared it immoral to have too many children or to have a handicapped one. These are examples of the many forms of persecutions God's children face.
Within the family trying to obey the Church's teaching on the sanctity of marriage, not practising contraception and bringing up the children in the true faith, especially in mixed marriages, can be a life-long form of hidden persecution suffered daily with sorrow and anguish. Often there are too few people who can provide advice or be called upon for help or sympathy. Often the response can be, "everybody is doing it, what is your problem?" Yet those who stick to God's laws with courage will not be neglected by God, Who when the time is ripe will make all things good, confounding all.
More subtle forms of persecution involve placing a psychological barrier between people and God. These include chatting or being noisy in church, destroying the concentration of others or distracting them in their prayers. Masses which do not follow the laid-down rubrics but are turned into a priest's own invention can be most distressing to some and even discourage them from going to Mass.
How many lapsed Catholics result from placing a barrier between them and the sacraments by the dumbing down of the divinity of Christ, the adoration due to Him and the laws of the church?
Bad behaviour in church or elsewhere by Catholics, especially those who should know better such as bishops, clergy, religious and extraordinary ministers so that they become viewed as hypocrites, hurt the faithful and place barriers between the Church and outsiders. The abuse of children is a case in point. Politicians are notorious for leaving the practice of their faith at the church doors; outside they support all sorts of grave sins within society including abortion, embryo research, IVF, designer babies, mercy killing including assisted suicide, marriages against God's Laws and so on.
They bring a scandal on the Church and erect massive barriers towards evangelisation. Worse still, many have a reputation for being so-called "devout Catholics", whatever this might mean, which in itself is a declaration of ridicule on followers of the Catholic Faith which is difficult enough to adhere to in these times. Added to this brew is the Catholic media which spreads the news of dissension between the reigning Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity giving the impression of a secular rather than spiritual uprising within what should be hallowed halls of worship and charity: they serve the church badly.
The dumbing down of God and the divinity of Christ is the most pernicious psychological persecution and is a form of Communism by stealth. Once the Church was seen as the Portal to Heaven through which only those who had confessed and repented of all sins might enter in holy fear. Instead today, the Church is seen as having little to offer the disenchanted and lapsed followers of Christ or secularists; the Church is seen a irrelevant bundle of mythological rituals out of tune with modern times, following 2000 year old rules: an anachronism.
Today the many personal gods always understand their inventors and accommodate their mistakes (always mistakes and never sins), and no matter what they do in life the doors of heaven will be immediately open to them on their death. Their god cannot support hell or purgatory and is never ever capable of chastisement for the sake of their souls which many don't believe they have. So when funerals occur these are a "celebration of a life" without accepting that the poor person, by some miracle, might be in Purgatory, crying out for prayers instead of emotional words of achievements irrelevant to God. All these erect barriers to belief and are forms of persecution.
So when a person enquires why are our churches emptying, one might respond by saying what is there to go for? The vacuum is being filled by Moslems, and we the see the consequences all around us in the world today. Perhaps the Islamic State is a reminder from God of the fate of the loss of faith in Europe leading to the spread of Islam from 666: a wake-up call for us to return to our Catholic roots now that we have still the freedom to do so?
Turning to the more violent physical forms of persecution leading to red martyrdom, rather than the white martyrdom we have been outlining above, these occur in every generation and this century is seeing more Christians martyred than during the Roman persecutions. These confessors of faith give the highest honour to God which can be rendered to Him. It requires a robust and well-exercised faith to stand firm in the face of torture and a cruelly inflicted death for the faith. Those who suffer such must be extremely close to God whose graces strengthen them in their hour of need so they do not fail.
Persecution has always given rise to the practice of more barbarous demonic malice, more refined and even diabolical ingenuity of torture and death, so familiar during the Inquisition and Reformation, and now by the supporters of the Islamic State bringing in its wake more unfaithfulness, treachery and greater combinations of diabolical cruelty and cunning, than people have had to suffer under other forms of affliction. It is a form of hellish sport in which the powers of evil delight.
Notice the way that Islamic State supporters pervade the world's media gloating over their hellish activities. Perhaps they are the resulting manifestation of the "Culture of Death" so much promoted in the West and Asia. The virtue which withstands such trials requires a very strong faith indeed and immense self-mastery. The people who can bear such fury in peace, resignation, fortitude and without sinning, must indeed have already the Kingdom of Heaven firmly rooted within them; such persecution rightly borne makes them saints in a short time. Peacemakers often have to win the peace by enduring commensurate levels of persecution, and that is why so few exist in the world today.
God always has complete claim on us and all that we possess including life itself. He may in justice exact His claim at any moment. He practically forces on us the choice of obedience even unto death and frequently asks this of whole populations which are asked to choose between death and apostasy, the sacrifice of Catholic laws or the sacrifice of all that makes life dear and pleasant. It may even be God's will for the persecuted to flee their persecutors sacrificing their very livelihood and become refugees in foreign lands as Joseph and Mary had to do and, as in their case, bring many blessings on those who welcome them and by their presence and lives spread the Catholic faith.
We are all called to suffering in this life, but not all publicly for the faith obedient unto death. We however have to suffer in being obedient to the least of God's Laws and such is white martyrdom; this is a life-long and often hidden trial. Obedience and love are what God desires of us, and wherever lack of obedience exists, even in the smallest way, God is diminished in the sight of man as well as His Church.
So we come to the end of this series on the Beatitudes which is such a struggle to follow as it is to write about. It is a largely uncompleted script: only to be completed by each one of us, struggling often alone or with others up the Narrow Way, as Jesus did before us.
That is why life is a pilgrimage and that is why there will be so much joy for those who successfully complete it, adhering to faith in defiance of Satan and his world. It will be our triumph of our cross as Satan is vanquished once and for all from our lives as we enter the Kingdom of Heaven to be greeted by the words "Well done my good and faithful Servant!"
God bless you one and all; may Jesus, Mary and Joseph always accompany you on your journey, and may you greet with joy each and every obstacle you overcome to reach Heaven, where God in the beginning wished us all to be.