Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:10
Now, we’re getting to the end of the Beatitudes, and the last two beatitudes are on persecution. First, those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, or righteousness, and then those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Persecution can take many forms, from being socially excluded to being tortured or killed. However, we shouldn’t take pride in our persecution or brag about being persecuted more than someone else, as if that makes us better than them. Rather, we should persevere in doing the good and speaking the truth regardless of any persecution that comes. The blessings of God are greater than any persecution.
St. Jerome wrote, “For righteousness’ sake He adds expressly, for many suffer persecution for their sins, and are not therefore righteous.” We are not blessed simply because we are persecuted. We may deserve what happens to us, in which case it is just punishment, or we may have brought it upon ourselves by our own actions. A Catholic apologist, Trent Horn, often says that people shouldn’t get upset because of the way that we present the faith, but because of the content of the faith. In other words, if I present the faith in a rude or insulting way, then I shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t want to listen to me. However, if I’ve presented the faith charitably and clearly, and people still get upset, then I have at least done the best that I can. The way in which we speak the truth and pursue the good matters. Doing in good thing in the wrong way or for the wrong reason can still be a sin.
St. John Chrysostom said, “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, that is for virtue, for defending others, for piety, for all these things spoken of under the title of righteousness. This follows the beatitude upon the peacemakers, that we may not be led to suppose that it is good to seek peace at all times.” The Lord blesses those who are persecuted for seeking any good thing, not just for the faith, because all good things come from God. This beatitude includes anyone who is persecuted for trying to live a virtuous life, for defending the innocent, for promoting the truth, for doing good. Remember that the Lord said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and “God alone is good.” Everyone who seeks goodness and truth is, in some way, seeking God, because all truth and goodness come from God and lead back to Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1260, says, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” Those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel can still be saved by genuinely seeking the truth and living it through the grace of God.
How should we react to persecution? St. Paul said, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them” (Rm 12:14), and the Lord said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). It is very difficult to pray for our persecutors and those who have harmed us. First, pray for yourself, that you will be able to forgive them and that you won’t wish harm to come to anyone. Then, pray for them, that they will repent and come to conversion. Praying for someone doesn’t mean we have to accept their actions; it means we love them anyway, just as the Lord loves us even though we continue to sin against Him. Remember that forgiveness is not feeling good about someone or forgetting what they did. Forgiveness means loving them anyway and acting for their good.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.