The 2nd Reading for the Office of Readings on this Wednesday of the 5th Week of Easter, “From a letter to Diognetus” and entitled “The Christian in the world” is one of my favorites. I know that a lot of good people are shocked by news articles about the persecution of Christians world-wide and specifically about the attacks on Catholics here in the U.S. (this morning’s paper carried notice of the vandalism to one of the historic Mission Churches of California) and we often respond or react by asking “why, Lord?” I think it important not to forget that here we have no lasting dwelling place. This reading from earlier times helps me keep things in perspective today. I’d like to draw a couple things from it for a brief comment:
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs… And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives… They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again… To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body… The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments… The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”
Simply stated, if the world were not persecuting us we wouldn’t be doing our job. Simply stated, Baptism implies more than a symbolic physical cleansing. Dying with Christ in the waters of Baptism in order to rise with Him in the glory of the Resurrection binds us to His path to Easter Sunday along the way of the Cross.
We balk at the shunning and the violence against us and all that is dear to us simply because our memories cannot give us the perspective we need to put these acts of aggression into context. At 61+ all my memories are of being mainstream, starting with childhood's pride in a bright and ever-so-Catholic bishop like Fulton J. Sheen. The point would be, however, that in terms of what our 2000 year trek has been, well, maybe this hiatus, let's call it a sort of honeymoon, is over and we're back to what most generations of Catholics before us have suffered.
If we would profess our love for Christ, we cannot be other than faithful sharers in His glorious Passion. We need to get over the idea that we deserve better than the blows and spittle they reserved for our Savior. By the same token, the world needs to get over the idea that we might fail to voice our opposition to their folly: "... the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments."
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI