The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the U.S. population of Christians is dwindling as atheists, agnostics and the unaffiliated replace them (Religiosity, Church Attendance Fall Sharply, Oct. 18th). A few pages later, Jillian Kay Melchior observed in her “Houses of Worship” column (Hong Kong’s Spiritual Battle) that as Xi Jinping assumed power in China he imprisoned pastors, tore down churches and replaced images of Jesus with his own. She concluded: “In times of persecution, the Chinese church has gone underground, meeting in small groups. … Today’s protester may be tomorrow’s house-church leader.”
This Sunday’s Mass readings are full of such examples of how religious persecution gave our faith eternal life. We start with the famous Book of Maccabees (2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14) in which a family chooses to die rather than give up their faith.
It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
Once Christ’s disciples started to live that example after their Master’s crucifixion, Paul asked the faithful to pray for them and for deliverance from people who would twist and pervert their teachings. This is from Sunday’s second reading from his letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thes 2:16-3:5):
Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.
As we read in our 21st century media, believers still face the danger about which Paul warned us. The ultimate Christian belief is that we are destined for eternal life. During Jesus’ earthly life, it was the Sadducees who took it upon themselves to sentence people to eternal death in this earthly realm. In Sunday’s gospel reading (Lk 20:27-38), Jesus explains for us the nature of what lies beyond that.
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward. … Jesus said to them … “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Fear of death is a despot’s best friend. Why not live like the Maccabees–who loved Christ before Jesus lived, died and lived again–to show how living’s done?