Reflecting on the whole of salvation history, Pope Francis considered the many episodes of persecution experienced by the prophets, as Jesus himself reminds the Pharisees. “In the history of salvation,” said Pope Francis, “in the time of Israel, even in the Church, the prophets were persecuted.” The prophets were persecuted because they said, “You have taken the wrong path! Return to God’s way.” Pope Francis went on to say that this message is one that those who are in power and have lost their way never find pleasing.
“Today’s Gospel is clear, no? Jesus hid, in those last days, because His hour had yet to come – but He knew what end he would make, and how He would make it. Jesus is persecuted from the beginning: when we remember the beginning of his preaching, He returns to His country, goes to the synagogue and preaches. After great adulation, the voices begin almost right away to murmur: ‘But, we know where He comes from… He is one of us… with that authority comes He to teach us? Where did He study?’ [Thus] they write Him off. It is the same old thing: ‘But we know where He is from! Christ , however, when He comes, no one will know where he is from. Write the Lord off, write off the prophet in order to take away his authority.”
The prophets, sai Pope Francis, “are all persecuted or misunderstood,” pushed aside – a situation that does not cease to repeat itself after Christ’s death and resurrection, but continues even in the Church. “When we read the lives of the saints, Pope Francis said, “how many misunderstandings [have there been], how many of the saints have suffered persecution… because they were prophets.”:
“Many thinkers in the Church were persecuted, as well. I think of one, now, at this moment, not so far from us: a man of good will, a prophet indeed, who, in his writings reproached the Church for having lost the way of the Lord. He was summoned in short order, his books were placed on the index [the list of works that were banned or restricted to experts because of their problematic, erroneous and even heretical content], they took away his teaching positions – and thus, this man’s life ended – and it was not so long ago. [Now] time has passed, and today he is Blessed. How is it, though, that he, who yesterday was a heretic, is today a Blessed of the Church? It is because yesterday, those who had power wanted to silence him because they did not like what he was saying. Today the Church, who, thanks be to God knows repent, says, ‘No, this man is good!’. Moreover, he is on the way to sainthood: He is a Blessed.”
“All the people whom the Holy Spirit chooses to tell the truth to the People of God suffer persecution,” said Pope Francis – and Jesus “is precisely the model, the icon.” The Lord took upon Himself “all the persecutions of His people.” The Holy Father went on to note that Christians continue to suffer persecution even today. “I dare say,” he added, “that perhaps there are as many or more martyrs now that in the early days,” because they tell the truth and proclaim Christ Jesus to a worldly society in love with ease and desirous of avoiding problems.”:
“There is the death penalty or imprisonment for having the Gospel at home, for teaching the Catechism, today, in some parts of the world. A Catholic from one of these countries told me that they cannot pray together. It is forbidden. People can only pray alone and in secret – but they want to celebrate the Eucharist and how do they do? They throw a birthday party, they pretend to celebrate the birthday there and [have Mass] before the ‘party’. It has happened. When they see the police arrive, they just hide everything and [continue with the birthday party-cover]. Then, when [authorities] leave, they finish the [Mass]. They have to do so, because it is forbidden to pray together: in this very day.”
This history of persecution, he remarked , “is the way of the Lord: it is the path of those who follow the Lord.” Pope Francis went on to say that this story ends as always in Resurrection, though only by passing by way of the Cross. The Holy Father then turned his attention to Fr. Matteo Ricci, SJ, an evangelizer of China, who was not understood, either. “He obeyed as Jesus did, though,” said Pope Francis. “Always,” he continued, “there will be persecutions, misunderstandings. Jesus is Lord, however, and that is the challenge and the Cross of our faith.” The Pope concluded, asking God to give us the grace to go on His way, and if it happens, even with the cross of persecution.”