Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12
The final beatitude is for those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ, which is the summit of all blessings in this life. At the canonization of the Martyrs of Uganda, Pope St. Paul VI said, “Who could have predicted to the famous African confessors and martyrs such as Cyprian, Felicity, Perpetua and — the greatest of all — Augustine, that we would one day add names so dear to us as Charles Lwanga and Matthias Mulumba Kalemba and their 20 companions? Nor must we forget those members of the Anglican Church who also died for the name of Christ. These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only the mind of man might be directed toward persecutions and religious conflicts but toward a rebirth of Christianity and civilization! Africa has been washed by the blood of these latest martyrs, the first of this new age (and, God willing, let them be the last, although such a holocaust is precious indeed).” The Holy Father sets the Catholic attitude towards persecution and martyrdom by praying that persecutions might end while, at the same time, seeing them as a gift from God for the life of the Church.
We are blessed when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, but only when we are reviled falsely. It may be that the accusations against us are true, or that we’re persecuted for some other reason and not for the sake of Christ. This blessing is reserved for those who are accused, reviled, and persecuted falsely for faith in Christ. Members of the Church are falsely accused of many horrible things, including being spies or traitors because of our allegiance to the pope. The term papist (from papacy) was originally an anti-Catholic slur (one that we can proudly make our own).
To those who are being persecuted St. Gregory the Great says, “What hurt can you receive when men detract from you, though you have no defense but only your own conscience? But as we ought not to stir up willfully the tongues of slanderers, left they perish for their slander, yet when their own malice has instigated them, we should endure it with equanimity, that our merit may be added to.” First, remember that insults, persecution, and even physical violence cannot hurt your soul, nor rob you of the grace God, nor deprive you of salvation. Only you can do those things to yourself. Second, be concerned for you persecutor and pray for them, because their sins do hurt their own souls and their hope of salvation. Finally, endure it with patience. Try not to complain or to give in to it. When St. Therese of Lisieux gave in under extreme torture, she retracted it as soon as she returned to her right mind. St. Gregory adds, “Yet ought we sometimes to check our defamers, lest by spreading evil reports of us, they corrupt the innocent hearts of those who might hear good from us.”
About the blessing awaiting those who are persecuted, St. Augustine said, “Do not suppose that by heaven here is meant the upper regions of the sky of this visible world, for your reward is not to be placed in things that are seen, but by ‘in heaven’ understand the spiritual firmament, where everlasting righteousness dwells. Those then whose joy is in things spiritual will even here have some foretaste of that reward; but it will be made perfect in every part when this mortal shall have put on immortality.”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.