Rejoice in Persecution
We have woken up to a new era in America. The Church has new struggles. For years, the battle against Christianity has been escalating. It has taken a profound leap forward and our fidelity to Christ will be tested in every way. In all of it, we have every reason to rejoice. It is a great adventure, to belong to Christ. We know who wins the battle. We know who is in charge. Even now, even in the darkest struggles of our times, we can rest in peace and joy.
“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51).
Ascension Day comes. Christ is carried up to heaven. The Church is left here on earth, eyes strained upwards, and preparing for battle. The Feast of Ascension is summed up in a word: conflict.
Imagine the disciples. Their eyes were raised up to heaven. Their feet were planted on the ground. Christ ascended. They did not. Christ was risen. Christ was preparing a new world. Christ had also left them behind in a world hostile and angry. On Ascension Day, the Church gives us this challenge: engage in the battle, and keep your heart on Christ.
“I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember” (John 15:26-27; 16:1-4).
We have woken up to a new era in America. A catchy phrase says it all: “Silence is violence.” Have you heard it? It is all the rage in news forums and social media. They insist: “Silence is violence.” It is not enough to tolerate alternative lifestyles. It is not enough for Christians to try to get along with people who disagree. We live in an America now where, if you do not embrace the message, you are a bigot. You cannot be silent. You must join the movement, or you are the enemy. Tolerance has become a crime.
“Let no one deceive you in any way.” St. Paul urged the Thessalonians. Christ will not return until the rebellion comes first. “That day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
I am not always sure American Christians get this. We live in an era of rebellion. Politics, Education, Entertainment, at the heart of it all is an open rebellion against everything True, Good, and Beautiful. It is a relentless rebellion. It will not be satisfied with anything short of the complete overthrow of God. The spirit of the times demands from us complete, unadulterated worship.
Author and theologian, Carl R. Trueman, describes postmodernity as an era of cultural iconoclasm — a society “committed to cultural iconoclasm and to the overthrow of the beliefs, values and behaviors of the past…to the subversion, destabilization, and destruction of the culture’s traditions.”
We cannot get along with this culture. Unless we detach ourselves, we will not have a chance. Unless our day-to-day lifestyle starts looking different, radically different, than the lifestyle of people around us, we will lose our souls. We need to start getting comfortable with a fact: if you are a Christian, you will be hated.
“An hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”
So how should we feel about all this? We should rejoice. Why are Christians scared? Why are Christians depressed? It does not make sense. Struggling is natural, but we have to push through it. Fear, anxiety, and anger are neither healthy nor justified.
“Count it all joy when you meet various trials” (James 1:2).
Count it all joy. Christ has won. The trials are part of our purification. We knew what we signed up for. Christ warned us about all of it. Our hearts should be anchored to the New Jerusalem.
We are living in the Kingdom.
“You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22-23).
What are we doing when we stand here for Mass? We are participating in eternity.
Taken up in vision of the Kingdom of God, the Psalter prophecies:
“My heart overflowed with a good word…In your splendor and your beauty…Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…The queen stood at your right hand in apparel interwoven with gold…The virgins behind her shall be brought to the King…They shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing…You shall make them rulers over all the earth. They shall remember your name from generation to generation’ (Psalm 44:1, 4, 7, 10, 15, 16, 18).
This is the kingdom. This is the Church. This is our life. We stand, live, and breathe in the presence our King, our Queen, and all the saints. No matter what is going on in the world, we are here, in heaven, and merely wait out the restoration of all things.
A Christian lives in two worlds. We are here on earth in a battle. We are with Christ in paradise. We need open eyes and joyful hearts. We have to recognize the spirit of the times, reject it, and brace for persecution. We need to rejoice and rest in the all-powerful presence of our loving savior. We are in heaven, with Christ, in our liturgy, sacraments, and community. Keep your heart in the kingdom and joy in our Lord who has already won.