Pope Francis dedicated his April 4 homily to the theme of persecution, noting that although many of the trials saints have endured still happen today, there is always hope because “Jesus is Lord.”
“All the people whom the Holy Spirit chooses to tell the truth to the People of God suffer persecution,” the Pope expressed to those present in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse chapel, noting that Jesus “is precisely the model, the icon.”
The pontiff began his reflections by returning to the day’s Gospel, taken from John, in which Jesus alludes to his heavenly origin, for which the people attempt to arrest him.
Emphasizing that “today's Gospel is clear, no?” Pope Francis pointed out that “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,” but that after great praise, people begin to whisper, saying “‘But, we know where he comes from ... he is one of us…with that authority comes he to teach us? Where did he study?’”
“It is the same old thing,” he observed, noting that “they ... write the Lord off, write off the prophet in order to take away his authority.”
Highlighting how the prophets “are all persecuted or misunderstood,” the Pope went on to describe how history repeats itself in the Church, from the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion until today.
Reflecting on how numerous saints have suffered persecution because they were prophets, the Roman Pontiff noted that “many thinkers in the Church were persecuted as well,” and recalled the story of a man “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,” the Pope explained, recounting that this man “was summoned in short order, his books were placed on the index, they took away his teaching positions – and thus, this man’s life ended – and it was not so long ago.”
Now that time has passed the man is a blessed, the pontiff continued, asking “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 repentance, says, ‘No, this man is good!’ Moreover, he is on the way to sainthood: He is a blessed.”
Vatican Radio's summary of the homily failed to indicate to whom the Pope was referring.
Observing that all who seek to tell the truth of God endure persecution, Pope Francis emphasized that Jesus is our model in this because he took upon himself “all the persecutions of his people.”
“I dare say,” he added, “that perhaps there are as many or more martyrs now that in the early days,” because they proclaim the truth and Christ Jesus in a world that is in love with ease and which seeks to avoid problems.
Noting how in some places of the world today, “there is the death penalty or imprisonment for having the Gospel at home, for teaching the Catechism,” the Pope recalled how a Catholic from one of these countries confided in him “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? They throw a birthday party, they pretend to celebrate the birthday there and (have Mass) before the ‘party,’” he explained.
“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).”
Going on, the pontiff highlighted that “they have to do so, because it is forbidden to pray together: in this very day,” affirming that persecution “is the way of the Lord: it is the path of those who follow the Lord.”
Concluding his reflections, Pope Francis emphasized that the story always ends in resurrection, but only by enduring the way of the cross.
“Always ... there will be persecutions, misunderstandings,” however “Jesus is Lord ... and that is the challenge and the cross of our faith,” he affirmed, praying that the Lord give all “the grace to go on his way, and if it happens, even with the cross of persecution.”