4th Sunday of Lent
4th Sunday of Lent
The necessity of the cross
We hear in the first reading that they ridiculed the messengers of God, they despised his words and they laughed at his prophets. And in a way we should be neither surprised nor particularly angry. 'The Son of Man must be lifted up' Jesus tells us in the Gospel, He must be crucified, and his body the Church, and each of us who wish to follow him must be crucified, it is the way to resurrection and eternal life.
Church's contribution to the human history
The Catholic Church is the world's biggest and oldest organization. It is over 2000 years old. It has buried all of the great empires known to man, from the Roman Empire to the Communist Empire. It works all over the world, touching every area of human endeavour. It's given us some of the world's greatest philosophers, philanthropists and thinkers, greatest works of art, greatest music, greatest architecture and holiest saints. Its monks taught the world to read, they invented universities they developed the concept of hospices and hospitals; theology and philosophy laid the foundations for the concept of human rights, respect for the individual and western democracy, and its thinkers helped lay the foundations for scientific research.
And in those 2000 years there has not been one year in which somewhere, someone was not persecuting the Catholic Church and killing its members, stealing its Churches and buildings, passing laws against it, ridiculing its priests and trying to destroy it.
Yet the Church remains and recognises that human efforts can neither save nor destroy it. 200 or so years ago Napoleon Bonaparte, powerful ruler of most of Europe was the darling of the educated, anti-catholic liberals, the great hope for an enlightened future free from the oppression of religion. When he threatened Cardinal Consalve, the Pope's representative, with the destruction of Catholicism, Cardinal Consalve replied "Your Excellency, if in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?"
Persecution is still very much with us, we have seen the attempts of non-Christians to destroy the ancient Christian culture of the middle east and to kill or enslave Christians, in parts of Africa Christians and Christian churches are being deliberately targeted, in Indian states I am told anti- Christian laws are being past, the west, here in England, slowly but surely governments are passing laws which Christians cannot support and may have to break.
But we know this is not the first time and, as long as the world continues, it will certainly not be the last.
How to overcome persecution
The Church will of course endure - it is indestructible because Christ its Head is risen from the dead and Our Lady and the Saints are already in glory. The Church has won the battle. But on this earth we must carry the cross with our Lord. We must be lifted up with the Son of Man. And the thing to always remember, the thing that makes the Christian response to persecution so different from the response of others, is that in the end we confess that it is happening because of our sins and our failures. It is for those sins that our Lord goes to the cross, it is to save us from sin that he is lifted up, it is because of us that the cross is necessary and because of sin we must pass through death with the Lord to be raised to eternal life.
The Church will of course endure - it is indestructible because Christ its Head is risen from the dead and Our Lady and the Saints are already in glory. The Church has won the battle. But on this earth we must carry the cross with our Lord. (...) In the end we confess that it is happening because of our sins and our failures. It is for those sins that our Lord goes to the cross...
And so the first step in facing persecution, (even if it is just a work colleague making little nasty remarks) the most effective weapon against it, the way in which it will always be defeated, is what Lent calls us to do again and again; Repent of our sins, fast, pray, give alms, and then we will be ready to join our Saviour on the cross with our eyes fixed on the resurrection and the glory of the Church Triumphant.