The Glory of Persecution
There is no calling so high as to be persecuted for Jesus’ sake.
May 8 of this year, Pastor Artur Pawlowski was intercepted on the highway. Heavily armed SWAT police surrounded his car. He was cuffed and dragged away, awaiting a 4-year-sentence in Canada. His crime: he opened his church and lead the faithful in worship. The news went viral. Within weeks, feces and nails were thrown at his house and arsonists torched his garage. Earlier this month, Pastor Artur lead a prayer rally in Portland. Antifa thugs attacked the crowd with paintball gunfire and mace, while shouting: “God has abandoned you!” All year, he has been warning Americans and Canadians to prepare for what is ahead: “The enemy is not hiding anymore.” “It’s here.” “Wake up or else.”
We live in a wonderful time. I do not say this sarcastically. We are blessed. What did Christ promise us? “You will be hated by all because of My name” (Matthew 10:22). He even glorified our persecution. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). Too many Christians today are angry or depressed. It is not justified. In fact, it is not acceptable for Christians. We have forgotten what it means to be Christian. We are not called to the “American dream.” We are called to a life of bearing the cross. We have to be brought down before we can be exalted.
Jesus Christ tells us about two kinds of people.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
The Pharisee was accomplished. He was professional. He was moral. He was probably even tall, dark, and handsome. Some people have it all. Yet, there is no room in heaven for this kind of man. God is looking for the broken hearted and the humble. The tax collector is the hero. He is small and unimpressive. He does not even look up. He stands before God, completely unworthy, and asks for mercy.
Why is humility so important?
Fr. John Konkle was asked to preach at a funeral a few years back. In his sermon who taught: “The innermost abyss of our hearts calls out to the very depths of God. The depths are downward, to a place of lowliness, a place of humility.” He goes on, “[Humility is] cultivated in us as we allow ourselves to be humbled by God, wounded by Him out of His great love for us…In this state of humility, in the depths of our own soul, we come to the place where He is.” I want to repeat this: “In this state of humility, in the depths of our own soul, we come to the place where He is, where He has been waiting for us all along; we are finally with him.”
Where is God? You cannot find him until you are humble. A self-satisfied man does not have room for God. When we are strolling along to the soundtrack of self-praise, we do not have ears to listen for God. This is why we fast before Mass. Midnight comes on Saturday night. We are forbidden from touching food until after the Eucharist. No eggs, no coffee, we come to the altar rail with empty stomachs. It is a perfect illustration. You have to be hungry in order to appreciate the Body of Christ. We have to become humble, before we can grasp our need for God.
Do you want to be happy? You can only be happy when you rest in God. Do you want to rest in God? You have to let the world crush you. The blessed life is a life of sacrifice.
“All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
Elder Roman Braga used to tell stories of his upbringing in Romania. He lived in a village next to a monastery, where their whole life revolved around the bells of the church. They spent hours at church, standing or kneeling through long vigils. One day, the young boy was so worn out in prayer that he could barely stand. His mother looked down and encouraged him, “Son, you have to be tired in church. It is the least you can do for Jesus Christ; He died on the Cross for us.” That was enough for the simple, pious peasants. Christ hung on the cross. We can do our part too.
Too many love songs. All those hits, from Elvis Presley to Lady Gaga — pop music has muddled up our heads. We think love means fuzzy feelings (I like Elvis, but that misses the point). Love means dying to yourself for another. Love means waking up in the middle of the night to a crying child. Love means quitting your job or being publicly insulted if it means standing up for your faith. Love means coming to church, again and again, even if we are tired. Love means forgiving a parishioner who offends you. Love means caring for someone who hates you.
We say we love God. Sacrifice is the proof of love. With each sacrifice, our heart fills up more with God.
What do we make of all the troubling events in the world today? We have to wake up to it. Pastor Artur Pawlowski is right. “The enemy is not hiding anymore.” “It’s here.” Do you really think it was a coincidence, during the shut-downs, that bars and strip clubs were open (“essentials”) and churches closed (“nonessentials”). This is not about health. There is a force in our times that is trying to squeeze out Christianity. Over 56 churches in Canada were burnt down or vandalized this year. Dig deeper than the headlines. This is not about racism. This is about hate and menace for God. It will be in our backyard tomorrow.
Covid-19 is not going away. The lockdowns are not over. Political animosity and cultural battles will escalate. It is a manifestation of the soul of our culture. We need to get it — and we need to rejoice.
Being angry or scared is not acceptable. It is not Christian. We have to stop and repent. This our chance to shine as Christians. The early martyrs were torn apart by lions with smiles on their faces and hymns on their lips. Those martyrs would have given an arm or a leg to get to live in the 21st century. They understood the privilege of suffering for Jesus Christ. They were joyful, because God was in their heart.
The Antifa mob was wrong. God has not abandoned us. If we are faithful, we will get to witness God’s grace on a level more profound than we ever thought possible. The lower we go, the higher God lifts us. The persecuted are blessed because the persecuted belong to God.
Christ is with us. Be joyful.