In our first reading, we see Jeremiah under attack for preaching God’s word. Eventually, Jeremiah’s life is spared. In the gospel, we see John the Baptist hated for upholding the moral teaching about marriage. He lost his life.
There was violence in the old days. There is violence today. In the Middle East many Christians have lost their lives for being loyal to their faith. In western society many people are hated because of their pro-life stance for the unborn, the immigrant and the elderly, for their efforts to abolish the death penalty, and for their loyalty to the Church’s teaching about marriage. In some cases there is physical violence. Often there is the violence of ridicule, social rejection and political pressure. Even the treasured freedom of conscience is under attack here in America.
The words of the late Cardinal Francis George come to mind. He said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
Later in commenting about this statement, Cardinal George added, “I was talking to a couple of troubled priests who are worried about the secularization of our culture. I was telling them they should take the long view, step back, and renew their confidence in the providence of God. I was saying that even if the worst possible case scenario happens, we’ll be okay.”
Jeremiah had confidence in the providence of God, as did John the Baptist. They must have viewed their challenges “sub specie aeternitatis (from the standpoint of eternity).” In the words of J.R.R.Tolkein, “No man can estimate what is really happening sub specie aeternitatis. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success – in vain: preparing always the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.” Jeremiah and John the Baptist certainly prepared the soil. We can too.
These are tough times. But by the grace of God we were made for these times. We may lose our heads, but we will not lose our integrity as followers of Christ.
Fr. Alan Phillip, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California. http://www.alanphillipcp.com/