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Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted For Righteousness’ Sake

June 9, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

In our deliberation last week on the seventh Beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9), it was observed that St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes it (along with the sixth Beatitude) as a Beatitude of the contemplative life.
In a very real sense, its lived-out practice is a kind of preparation for unending happiness as a citizen of Heaven (cf. Summa Theologiae [STh] I-II, Q. 69, art. 2). The Beatitude of “peacemakers” is linked by Saints Augustine and Thomas to the gift of wisdom. In volume 1 of The Three Ages of the Interior Life (AIL), Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, asserts that the ensuing inspirations of the Holy Spirit “give us a radiating peace, not only for ourselves but for our neighbor” (p. 170).
According to Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, “Peacemakers are those who love peace and labor to establish peace all around them; they try to heal discord between people and especially seek to reconcile sinners who are estranged from God” (The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism [QACC], n. 870).
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, in slightly different terms, affirms that peacemakers are able to calm troubled souls, to love their enemies, and to find words of reconciliation that put an end to strife (cf. AIL, p. 170). The rewards promised to those who resolutely live out the seventh Beatitude “are the grace now of being specially loved by God as his dearest children and the attainment of heavenly glory, as part of God’s family, in eternity” (QACC, n. 871).
With regard to the goal of the attainment of earthly peace, however, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council sound a cautionary note: “Peace is never attained once and for all, but must be built up ceaselessly. Moreover, since the human will is unsteady and wounded by sin, the achievement of peace requires a constant mastering of passions and the vigilance of lawful authority. But this is not enough. . . . Peace is likewise the fruit of love, which goes beyond what justice can provide” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 78 §§ 1-2).
The eighth and final Beatitude proclaimed by Jesus to preface the Sermon on the Mount will close our reflections on this topic: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).
It is the sole Beatitude that is immediately followed by a comment by Jesus: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
Similarly, it is one of four Beatitudes with a corresponding blessing and woe in the Gospel of St. Luke: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. . . . Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:22-23, 26).
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange describes the eighth Beatitude as “the most perfect of the beatitudes [which] unites all the preceding ones in the midst of persecution endured for justice’ sake. These are the final trials, the condition of sanctity” (AIL, p. 165).
In the words of the Angelic Doctor: “The eighth beatitude is a confirmation and declaration of all those that precede. Because from the very fact that a man is confirmed in poverty of spirit, meekness, and the rest, it follows that no persecution will induce him to renounce them. Hence the eighth beatitude corresponds, in a way, to all the preceding seven” (STh I-II, Q. 69, art. 3, ad 5).
To enter more deeply into the meaning of this Beatitude, it would be useful to examine the meaning of the word “persecute.” Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, states that “the word in Latin is persequere, which means ‘to hound someone’” (Heaven in Our Hands, p. 63).
In A Catechetical Dictionary for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Dr. Joseph Fisher defines it as “to afflict, harass, constantly injure, cause distress, or oppress cruelly” (p. 414).
Fr. Hardon, in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, attests that “since the first days after Pentecost the Church has been persecuted by those who felt threatened by her or who sought to enforce religious conformity or who penalized dissent from accepted or established norms of belief and behavior” (p. 417).
In his Basic Catholic Catechism Course (BCCC), Fr. Hardon unequivocally proclaims that “one recurrent theme in the Gospels is that Christ’s followers may expect the same treatment from others as the Master received from His contemporaries” (p. 109).
In fact, Jesus couldn’t have been clearer in forewarning His disciples: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). St. Paul echoes this teaching in a letter to Timothy: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Even in the Old Testament, this was borne out in that all true Prophets were ill-treated; and right from the start of His public ministry, the enemies of Jesus reviled, persecuted, and plotted against Him.
Elsewhere, Fr. Hardon gives a stern warning regarding the times in which we live, about standing up for the Truth in our daily lives:
“In doing so, you must expect to be opposed. If you are not persecuted, it you are not opposed, if you are not spoken falsely about, if people don’t say all manner of evil against you for Christ’s sake — suspect today your loyalty to the Master” (see www.thereal
presence.org and click on “Beatitudes” in the site index).
The Servant of God goes on to insist that “we are being persecuted in our country, not with fire and sword, but with what is often even more successful: seduction, blandishment, and the sad example of those who still call themselves Christians, but who have betrayed the name of Christ.”
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, citing a penetrating analysis by the Catholic theologian and exegete Heinrich Schlier (d. 1978), comments on a verse in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians that speaks of “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). In our secularized world, persecution often occurs by demonic powers working behind the scenes — through the air — to form public opinion by means of the mass media: radio, television, the Internet, and other varied forms of social media (cf. Beatitudes: Eight Steps to Happiness [ESH], pp. 117-118).
Fr. Cantalamessa goes on to assert that “secularism tends to make faith appear irrelevant or even as residue from earlier stages that human consciousness has surpassed” (ESH, p. 118).
It is important to understand, however, that not all forms of persecution one might endure are praiseworthy and will be blessed by Christ. For example, St. Peter makes a distinction between suffering unjustly as a Christian and suffering justly “as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker” (1 Peter 4:15).
Similarly, in his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul “exhorts believers to conduct themselves in such a way as not to give pagans a reason to blaspheme (see Romans 2:17-24)” (ESH, p. 124).
The ideal attitude for one subjected to unjust persecution on account of Christ is described in stark language by the Apostle to the Gentiles: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate” (1 Cor. 4:12-13).
Furthermore, unjust persecution must be accepted with love, for as St. Paul says: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).

An Amazing Reward

Is such conduct possible in this life? “With men this is impossible,” says our Lord, “but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). It is only with God’s grace that such heights of sanctity can be attained.
For each of the first seven Beatitudes, St. Augustine has assigned a specific gift of the Holy Spirit — this is not the case for the eighth Beatitude. Citing St. Augustine’s commentary entitled The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, renowned moral theologian Germain Grisez, PhD, states: “This last Beatitude returns to the first, forming a kind of circle” (Christian Moral Principles [volume 1], p. 652).
He suggests that it might be said the eighth Beatitude corresponds to a gift of the Spirit without a common name (e.g., “wisdom” or “fear of the Lord”), that is, “a unique gift proper to each Christian, by which he or she is disposed to share creatively and in a personal way in Jesus’ suffering” (ibid.).
The blessing or reward promised by Christ for accepting persecution with patience and resignation according to the designs of God’s holy will — while the world dreads every form of criticism and rejection — is the ultimate possession of the Kingdom of God in Heaven (cf. BCCC, p. 109).
Moreover, an amazing reward is promised even in this life for rejecting the world’s false moral norm of human respect, for freely disdaining acceptance by a secularized and relativistic society. It is nothing less than a deep joy in the depths of one’s heart, an abiding interior joy that is firmly based on the assurance of one’s future heavenly reward.

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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