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Persecution: The Eighth Beatitude

October 5, AD2017

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

These verses seem to be written as two beatitudes. But they really say the same thing in different words. To be persecuted for what is right, that is, on account of our faithfulness to Christ, is a blessing. Persecution because of Christ will give us a deep happiness on earth and will be rewarded by eternal life with God in heaven.

A Promise

Fr. Robert Spitzer calls this one of the two “promise” beatitude.[1] The other is “Blessed are those who mourn.” While the other beatitudes specify virtues to be acquired (like meekness or purity of heart), these two tell us the good we can receive if we suffer. In the case of this eighth and final beatitude, we are promised what we will receive if people do bad things to us because of our loyalty to Christ.

Christ was Persecuted

In the life of Christ, we see extreme hatred turned on Him, even though He went about doing only good (Acts 10:38). If we read the Gospels in the light of people’s opposition to Him, beginning with murderous Herod, right through being spat at by passersby during His brutal crucifixion, we will be astonished. These persecutions are even more poignant when read against their predictions in the Old Testament. For example in Psalm 22:6-8:

But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;
“He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Or the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:4-5:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.

Love the Sin and Hate the Do-Gooder

A truism is that Christians should “hate the sin but love the sinner.” We certainly should.

But on the reverse side, those who are hardened in sin and frozen in erroneous thinking hate people who are good. This is something Christ’s public life demonstrated.

Doesn’t it make you want to console Christ? Doesn’t it make you more open to suffering with Him for His cause?

What Does this Beatitude Mean for Christ’s Followers?

Expect that if you are faithful to Christ, people will attack you.

They will gossip about you, slander you, speculate about your motives, and attribute evil to you. Teachers and professors may discriminate against you. At many times in history, and in many places in the world today, Christians face discrimination, violence, and martyrdom.

Christ says whenever this happens we should “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:12).

Dry and Bloody Martyrs

If we are fortunate, the persecution we face will be rather low-grade. A twentieth-century American bishop, Fulton Sheen, coined the phrase “dry martyr” to describe those who are made to suffer for Christ without being killed. There are indeed times when Christ expects us to be dry martyrs for Him, such as when friends tempt us to break the commandments and ridicule us for refusing to turn our backs on God.

However, in America small persecutions are breaking out everywhere against Christians who are not getting in line to support same sex marriage, abortion, gender ideology, and various leftist causes.

How serious will it get? It is hard to say. Who could have predicted in 1525 that in ten short years, Thomas More would lose his head for maintaining the belief that the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church? In a short time, we could lose our rights, our jobs, our property, even our lives. That is fine if that is what God wants to let happen.

Witnesses

In terms of how we relate to others, our society needs witnesses for Christ.

This means not going along with the culture, even if we are pressured to sin. The Holy Spirit gives us special graces in Confirmation to enable us to do what Christ expects of us, and in so doing, to remind others what He expects of them. “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:19-20).

Martyrs without Enemies

Even though others consider us their enemies, we never need to think of them that way. Every one of us has betrayed Christ at some time through our sins, so we don’t have the right to condemn others.

We want to be co-redeemers with Christ to convert the world. Our reward will be to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

[1] Finding True Happiness, 245.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Kevin lives with his wife and seven children in Springfield, IL. He is currently doing freelance curriculum and research projects and teaching. In his free time he writes screenplays, TV pilots, novels, and non-fiction books and articles. His homiletic lectionary-based blog is Doctrinal Homily Outlines. He is also pursing a MA in Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary via distance learning.

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  • Howard

    “If we are fortunate, the persecution we face will be rather low-grade.”

    First of all, the strumpet Fortune has nothing whatsoever to do with this.

    Secondly, what you say is contrary to both the Bible and the saints.

    1. It is contrary to the very passage you cite, in that if the persecution is “rather low-grade”, so will the reward be.

    2. In Acts 5:40-42, we read, “And calling in the apostles, after they had scourged them, they charged them that they should not speak at all in the name of Jesus; and they dismissed them. And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus. And every day they ceased not in the temple, and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus.” How often are we given “rather low-grade” persecution because we are not worthy to suffer any greater persecution? This unworthiness may be due to sin, or it may be due to a weak faith that could not actually endure harsh persecution.

    3. The saints are pretty uniform in embracing suffering for the sake of Christ. In fact, I remember a story about a saint — though I am sad to say I do not recall which one — who was seen in a vision, and stated she wished she could return to life to suffer more for Jesus, and thus to draw nearer to Him.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I was thinking along the lines of St. Paul, who wrote to Timothy, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2). A “quiet and peaceable life” is a good Paul wishes for Christians.

      Isn’t that what St. Thomas More wanted, too? He did all he honorably could to avoid martyrdom.

    • Howard

      You see this in the early Church, too: on the one hand, martyrs were held in the highest of regard, and you see men like St. Ignatius who eagerly hoped for martyrdom — but at the same time, the faithful were strictly warned not to seek it out, because that was a kind of pride in their own strength, and many lacked that strength.

      As for the passage in St. Paul, I would ague that martyrs like the previously mentioned St. Ignatius did have a “quiet and peaceable life” in the sense that matters — peace with God — besides which there is a difference between suffering that is unavoidable and that which can be avoided. We should not make trouble, but we should expect trouble (John 16:33). Perhaps the best analogy is with the Christian attitude toward death. St. Paul longed to die and be united with Christ (Philippians 1:21-26), but he of course did not commit suicide, which is a grave (and potentially mortal) sin.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Thanks for reading and commenting!