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Laughing Beneath the Lash
By Chris Sparks (Dec 25, 2014)
The following is the eighth of an eight-part Advent series on the Beatitudes, which are found in the opening section of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. The Church considers the Beatitudes the very heart of Jesus' preaching.
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt 5:10-12).
When you ask an American, comfortably ensconced amidst the towns of western Massachusetts, writing this from his desk in the Marian Helpers Center, to talk about how blessed it is to be insulted and persecuted and have every kind of evil uttered against us for the sake of Jesus ... well, I'm sure there are Christian brethren around the world who might be tempted to compare me to the friends from the biblical Book of Job.
As Job was being tried by the devil (with God's permission), his friends came and offered their arguments for the justice of God, for the rightness of everything Job was suffering, and assured him he must have done something wrong to have merited such an awful fate. And yet God vindicates Job in the end, condemning Job's friends in these words: "I am angry with you and with your two friends; for you have not spoken rightly concerning Me, as has My servant Job. Now, therefore, take seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a holocaust for yourselves; and let My servant Job pray for you; for his prayer I will accept, not to punish you severely. For you have not spoken rightly concerning Me, as has My servant Job" (Job 42:7-8).
Job then is a type, a foreshadowing, of Christ: the righteous man who suffers because of the designs of God and the actions of the demonic in the cosmic conflict. And he is a type of the Christian martyrs, of those who are blessed for suffering for the sake of righteousness, for the sake of Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see Jn 14:6).
But how can it be a "blessed," a beatific, a happy thing to suffer? How can it be a happy thing to be martyred?
Don't ask me — ask the martyrs themselves. The accounts of Christian martyrdom are full of stories of our brethren in Christ going to their deaths singing hymns and rejoicing in their fate, of outstanding acts of courage and endurance of pain, of true joy in the face of the worst the world has to offer (and the world has plenty of worst to offer!).
Why? Because "rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!" (Neh 8:10). The cross is the sign of victory over the devil, whose machinations failed. Satan "won" the greatest Pyrrhic victory the world has ever seen. Yes, the devil and all his forces managed to get Christ crucified. Yes, the Son of God died. And then He descended into hell, as the Apostles' Creed tells us, and hell lost. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. The Church grew, suffered, and flourished.
There's an ancient saying by the early Christian writer Tertullian: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." In other words, when the Body of Christ is crucified, the world is saved. Grace is unleashed, and the world is changed.
And death is not the end, but only the beginning, the start of a new life in heaven. The resurrection of the dead will come at the end of time, justice shall be done, and all made new. Any suffering upon this earth is temporary, passing, fleeting — and all can be made salvific, as the life and writings of St. Faustina Kowalska demonstrate. She willingly embraced immense suffering for love of Jesus and souls (see Diary, 67, 482, 324, 309, 1032), walking steadfastly in a long tradition (see Col 1:24). As St. Paul said, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us" (Rom 8:18). And he knew suffering! (Rom 11:23-33)
So let us all be joyful in our proclamation of Jesus Christ, no matter what comes. Our brethren suffer tremendously for Jesus these days — we can't be unwilling to do the same. Let us, by the grace of God, be steadfast in joy and faith, no matter what comes.
• Part One: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
• Part Two: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."
• Part Three: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land."
• Part Four: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied."
• Part Five: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
• Part Six: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God."
• Part Seven: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
• Part Eight: "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."