You wouldn’t be wrong if you observed that it’s becoming increasingly uncomfortable to be a professing Christian in our culture. The good news is, being comfortable or safe has never been part of the job description for a follower of Christ (I’ll bet you’re feeling better already). In fact, Jesus Himself is very emphatic on this point; this passage from the Gospel of John is just one example::
They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them. (John 16: 2-4)
We can see that persecution, even in times and places that claim to be Christian, has been more the rule than the exception throughout the history of the Church. Just take a look at the Saints for today (September 10th) at Catholic.org. There are 59 separate entries for today, most of them martyrs. While many of them are from the same persecution in Japan in 1622, a random sampling finds Saints suffering for the Faith throughout the history of the Church. Let’s take a look and see how, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same:
St. Nemesian, Felix, and Companions
A group of Nicomedian martyrs condemned to labor in the marble quarries of Sigum. They all died in this arduous servitude. The group was comprised of nine bishops from Numidia, along with other clergy and laity. The bishops include Lucius, Litteus, Polyanus, Victor, Jader, Dativus, and a second Felix. St. Cyprian wrote to them from his place of exile. (c. 250?)
We are all familiar with the first three centuries of the Church as a time of persecution. The Romans took particular care to target the leaders of the Christian movement, the bishops. There are places today (Syria and Iraq come to mind) where Christians are persecuted with a ferocity equal to, or even greater than, that under the Romans.
St. Theodard of Maastricht
Bishop and martyr. A disciple of St. Remaclus in the Benedictine abbey of Malniely. Stavelot, Belgium, he succeeded him as abbot in 635, receiving appointment as bishop of Maastricht, Netherlands, in 662. He was murdered by a band of robbers in the forest of Bienwald, near Speyer, Germany, while on his way to defend the rights of the Church against the harsh confiscatory policies of King Childeric II (r. 662-675) of Austrasia. (670)
Imagine needing to “defend the rights of the Church against . . . harsh confiscatory policies”. We can’t think of anywhere today where the state is encroaching on the Church, can we? In any case, here’s a Saint and who didn’t hesitate to stand up for Christ’s Church in the public square.
St. Cosmas of Aphrodisia
A bishop and martyr, born in Palermo, on Sicily. He was named bishop of Aphrodisia, ordained by Pope Eugene III. When the Saracens captured his see, Cosmas was seized and died as a result of harsh abuse. His cult was approved by Pope Leo XIII. (1160)
Speaking of Syria and Iraq, here we see a Catholic Bishop murdered by the Muslim jihadists of the day. While not always as virulent as it is under ISIS, Al Qaeda, and similar groups, persecution of Christians is endemic throughout the Islamic world.
St. Joseph of St. Hyacinth
Dominican martyr of Japan. He was born in Villareal, Spain. The provincial vicar of the Dominicans in Japan, he spoke perfect Japanese. Joseph was burned alive at Nagasaki. He was beatified in 1867. (1622)
Bl. Lucy de Freitas
Martyr of Japan. A native Japanese, she was the widow of Philip de Freitas. Lucy, a Franciscan tertiary, was arrested for sheltering Blessed Richard of St. Anne, a Franciscan priest. Although advanced in age, Lucy defended the faith before the authorities and was burned to death for it at Nagasaki, Japan, on September 10. She was beatified in 1867. (1622)
St. Joseph and Blessed Lucy are just two of a large number of Christians martyred at Nagasaki in 1622; there is no part of the world that has not been baptized with the blood of Christian martyrs.
As noted above, Jesus is not at all hesitant about reminding his followers that discipleship is not a warm and fuzzy business. On the contrary, he says: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) It’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s as ugly and brutal as it was for the Saints above, or as it is for many Christians in the Middle East today; sometimes it’s a much milder variety of uttering “all kinds of evil against you falsely”, as is becoming more common in the United States and other Western countries.
Nonetheless our own sufferings for the name of Christ, even when they don’t rise to the level of serious persecution, are still hardships and injustices. As St. Peter wrote:
Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (1Peter 5:8-11)
St. Peter’s warning is as timely for us as it was for his correspondents back in the first century. We are all subject to the temptation to take the easy way out, a way that seeems easier than picking up our cross and following Christ (see Matthew 16:24). The sufferings of the Saints of the past, and of our fellow Christians throughout the world today, remind us that we are not alone, that they suffer with us just as Christ suffered for us. We can, and should, pray for persecuted Christians around the world just as we ask the Saints of the past to pray for us. Together we can stand firm, steadfast in our faith.
Featured image top of page: Japanese martyrs