7th Sunday of Easter
June 1, 2014
1 Pet 4: 13-16
Iona College, New Rochelle
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4: 14).
The introduction to the First Letter of St. Peter in the New American Bible, which is the official Bible of American Catholics, published by our bishops—the one we use in our Lectionary—describes the letter as one encouraging Christians “to remain faithful to their standards of belief and conduct in spite of threats of persecution.” Depending on where and when one lived in the Roman Empire, there might have been outright persecution with the forfeiture of personal goods, imprisonment, torture, and possibly death. Or, as the introduction says, “The problem addressed would not be official persecution but the difficulty of living the Christian life in a hostile, secular environment that espoused different values and subjected the Christian minority to ridicule and oppression.” (Does that sound familiar?)
|The Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and Companions|
at Carthage, 203 A.D., from the Menologion of Basil II
Such harassment, such insults, such persecution, Peter says, are a “share in the sufferings of Christ” and are linked to our share in “his glory” when that glory will be fully revealed, when he “comes again to judge the living and the dead” (Creed). Hence, suffering for and with Christ is a cause for rejoicing. (1 Pet 4:13) It’s a sign of heavenly blessing (4:14).
Those words of Peter are similar to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matt 5:11-12). But “woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way” (Luke 6:26).
One should be ashamed of evil behavior—Peter gives some examples (4:15)—but not of belonging to Christ. “Glorify God because of the name” of Jesus Christ, he exhorts us (4:16).
Persecution is a real part of Christian life in vast parts of the word today, from the Central African Republic (where there was a massacre at Our Lady of Fatima Church last week) and Nigeria (you know about the Christian schoolgirls who’ve been kidnapped) through Sudan (where a Christian mother has been condemned to death for “converting” to Christianity even tho she was raised as a Christian from infancy, because her father was Muslim) and Egypt (where churches have been burned and Christians killed) across the Middle East to Pakistan and in parts of the Far East. People are assaulted, kidnapped, driven into exile, and murdered for their faith.
|Refugees in one of the Salesian compounds in Bangui, Central African Republic (ANS)|
It’s not just a foreign issue. At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington on May 13, Professor Robert George of Princeton University—one of the leading Catholic intellectuals of our age—advised listeners, “The days of acceptable Christianity are over. The days of comfortable Catholicism are past.” He went on to say that our contemporary culture is losing its tolerance for Catholics (and other Christians) who hold fast to the teachings of the Gospel.
The costs of discipleship may be personal, familial or professional, he said. Standing up for the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and marriage—teachings which he said are “not fourth-class Gospel truths” and must be proclaimed with all of the Church’s revealed teaching—may lead to charges of “bigotry” or waging a “war on women” or that Christians are an “enemy of reproductive freedom.” “To believe in the Gospel is to make oneself a marked man or woman,” he said.
Professor George reminded his audience that Jesus triumphed over his persecutors, and the test that we face, if we hope to take part in his triumph “when his glory is revealed” (4:13), is that we be faithful witnesses of the Gospel.
And if we are faithful witnesses to the Gospel, our secular culture is going to oppose us. We’ll be labeled as bigots for maintaining that marriage necessarily includes both mutual love and procreation. We’ll be labeled “anti-woman” for defending the lives of unborn human beings. Our institutions risk financial ruin if they won’t provide contraception, sterilization, and certain forms of abortion, and there’s serious pressure to include all forms of abortion. In Massachusetts and Illinois the Church has already been excluded from adoption services because we won’t place children in homosexual households. You all remember the Legion of Decency? The Legion of Decency’s ratings system as a criterion for acceptable entertainment went the way of the dodo bird a long time ago, and who even knows that the Catholic News Service still reviews and rates movies on behalf of our bishops?
The civil rights movement produced a sense of “black pride.” The women’s movement has promoted not only women’s rights but pride in being a girl or a woman. Other identify movements have done the same. It’s nothing new that on March 17 the Irish put their identity on glorious display. St. Peter is exhorting us to rejoice and take glory in who we are as followers of Jesus Christ, and therefore truly to follow him, even if that means being unpopular, disliked, or harassed. If “the Lord is my life’s refuge,” as today’s psalm says, “of whom should I be afraid?” (27:1).
Unlike 1st-century Christians, those addressed by St. Peter, in 21st-century America we can speak up freely and even push back for our rights and for what we believe is right. That’s why there are dozens of cases in the federal courts right now against the contraception and other mandates of HHS. In the land of the free we shouldn’t have to hide our identity like 1st-century Christians or those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. We shouldn’t be “insulted for the name of Christ” and made to suffer for it by the government, the mass media, or society’s self-styled elites. We can and must continue to defend unborn human life, identify marriage as ordered toward the procreation and raising of children as well as toward mutual love, and speak for the rights of people in our country and around the world to food and shelter, to a decent livelihood, to education, to respect for their persons, and to freedom of conscience.
Our steadfastness in adhering to Jesus, in our words and our actions, depends upon our doing what the apostles did, according to the Acts of the Apostles: “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (1:14). We pray in union with Mary and the whole Church to be filled with the Holy Spirit, who is our wisdom, knowledge, strength, and courage.
 Peter Jesserer Smith, “National Catholic Prayer Breakfast: Era of Comfortable Catholicism Is Over,” National Catholic Register, May 15, 2014, on-line.