The Gospel Today
Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
“They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents,
brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
In our Spirituality course when I was in my freshman year, our class was asked by our professor (who happens to be our Rector, too!) a very thought-provoking question. He mentioned about the current persecution that the Church today is facing given all the news about some issues concerning the priests here and abroad. After that, he dropped the bomb to us: Given the situation wherein we seem to be persecuted—in these trying times, and maybe more so during your time when you become priests, would you still want to serve the Catholic Church?
The Gospel reading for today speaks of the coming persecution of those who follow the Lord. Jesus made such big words and warned his disciples that might had scared them: “handed over”, “put to death”, “hated”. Who would not be? But Jesus’ reassurance that He will give His wisdom and protection.
Following the Lord has its share of challenges. I bet that up until now, my family has not fully understood my decision for entering the seminary and submitting myself to formation. The non-support of my family at the beginning seemed like a little form of persecution. A family member would even taunt me and some cousins from other sects even approached me to say that I should just be a Pastor in their church. I guess, there is really a price to pay for choosing to adhere to God’s invitation. I can say that I am not here for the prize that awaits those who give themselves to the Lord, but to serve the Lord and to be given the chance to be in formation is the reward in itself already. Never mind the hatred from others, nor their frustrations for a decision which I believe was something that I made based on a careful and long discernment.
When things are becoming tough and when there appears to be no hope, I just tell myself: didn’t Jesus tell that this would happen? Then, I must not be surprised when our faith is mocked, when Christians are persecuted in some parts of Middle East, hearing oppositions from the government or when I hear people criticizing the Church. For me, it is to realize that everything is related to the cross that we have to bear for the Church. And as a faithful, I must believe in God and in his assurance that “by perseverance, we may preserve our lives”.
And so I went back to the question: am I willing to suffer for the Church?
That will be measured by my commitment. It is easy to give myself and be arduous about something if everything is fine—when there is the respect of people, when I am recognized and appreciated, when things turn out to be well, when life seems still and evolving as expected. But the real test is when there are no affirmations anymore, when there are already criticisms, when the Church that I belong to is bruised and wounded, when the Lord that I have faith with is mocked and taunted by others, when there are scandals left and right. This is the time for real decision making for me. Am I really devoting myself to the Lord and His chosen vocation for me or am I just here because things are going my way? I believe that when circumstances are not favorable and still I decide to make an act of sacrifice, then there is commitment on my part.
There is a religious persecution happening now in various parts of the world. People are literally killed for their faith in the Lord. But the Lord reminds you and me not to lose heart. Opportunities to suffer with the Church and for Christ is an act of committing myself to the Lord who calls, and my response must be to stand by the Church and be brave as He has been brave for me, there especially on the cross. I am a Christian. I am brave to suffer for the Church because I have a God who was the first who suffered and brave enough to die for me.