April 6, 2016 // Uncategorized

Rejoicing in dishonor and sufferings

Paul Writing His Epistles, painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, 17th century.

In the Easter season, the liturgy presents continuous readings from the Acts of the Apostles. It is good every year that we hear about the life of the first Christians and the early Church. It is a vibrant Church. We hear about the courage of the apostles as they evangelized and about their willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. We also learn about their joy, a joy that endured even in the face of persecution.

The early Church, as we read in Acts, was filled with missionary dynamism. It remains a paradigm for the life and mission of the Church today. The apostles and early disciples of Christ are models for us of how the Risen Lord acts in and through His people today and of how we are called to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

One of the remarkable things we find in reading about the early Church is that dishonor, persecution and suffering did not deter the first Christians in their mission.  In fact, we read something that is quite astounding. They rejoiced in these sufferings! In the first reading from Acts this coming Sunday, we will hear about the apostles being arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. They were brought in because they had not obeyed the previous order to stop teaching in the name of Christ. The apostles were ordered again to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. When they left the Sanhedrin, Saint Luke tells us they rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

This rejoicing at dishonor seems rather strange. When we are dishonored or shamed because of our faith, we naturally want to defend ourselves or fight back. Who likes to be dishonored? Why would the apostles rejoice at dishonor? It is because by dishonor that they were identified with Jesus, who suffered the greatest dishonor in His Passion and Death. The apostles’ dedication to Jesus was stronger than their desire for human honor or the natural antipathy to shame.  Pain and humiliation, therefore, would not deter them from their mission.

Reading about the persecution of the early Church, we are reminded that Jesus had taught about persecution as a cause for rejoicing. Clearly, the early Christians took this teaching to heart. In the eighth and last Beatitude, Jesus said: Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Then He added: Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5: 10-11).

Experiencing some sort of persecution is a real possibility for Christians today. We think about and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in countries where ISIS seeks to destroy them and Christianity. We think of the Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, celebrating Easter Sunday two weeks ago in a park.  They were attacked by terrorists. We are living in a new age of Christian persecution.

Though we do not face this kind of danger in our country, we might experience insults and dishonor for the sake of the Gospel, for living and proclaiming our Catholic faith, especially those aspects of the face that are not popular. The Lord calls us to rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Rather than react with anger to insults and dishonor, Jesus, the apostles, and the early Christians teach us to respond with love. They teach us also to rejoice.

The apostles rejoiced in being found worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus and the spread of His Church. This was the work of God’s grace in them. It was the work of the Holy Spirit in them. They were not able to rejoice in suffering until they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Saint Peter tells us that when we suffer insult and humiliation because of our love for Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will be with us in His glory:

Do not be surprised, beloved, that a trial by fire is occurring in your midst. It is a test for you, but it should not catch you off guard. Rejoice, instead, in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings. When His glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).

Saint Paul is a great example in this regard. He endured so many trials and sufferings as an apostle. He endured them willingly and joyfully, because He was motivated by a tremendous love for Christ and zeal for the salvation of others. His words to Timothy are also an exhortation to us:

The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit… With the strength which comes from God, bear your share of the hardship which the Gospel entails… Bear hardship along with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus
(2 Timothy 1:7-8; 2:3).

I think we are only able to rejoice in suffering by the grace of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Joy. Joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter who comforts us in all our afflictions. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to desire to be united with Jesus in His sufferings.

I don’t think it’s possible to share in Good Friday if we don’t have faith in what happened on Easter Sunday. We can rejoice in sharing Jesus’ suffering because we know we will come to share in His glorification. The apostles and so many saints did not reject the cross of Jesus; they embraced it. They even rejoiced to share in the cross because it united them to Jesus. It was a way to give praise and glory to God and to share in Christ’s sufferings for the salvation of the world. The joy of suffering is always sustained by the virtue of hope. It is the hope we have of sharing in Jesus’ glory and joy that makes our present sorrows bearable. As Saint Paul wrote:

I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

You can depend on this: If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him; if we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2: 11-12).

Throughout this Easter season, as we continue to read about the life of the apostles and early Christians from the Acts of the Apostles, it is good to meditate on their zeal, their suffering, and their joy. We know it is not easy to walk in Jesus’ footsteps when it is the Way of the Cross. But we walk in faith and with hope in the Resurrection. Suffering can even become a joy when accepted with the love provided us by the Holy Spirit, love for Christ and for others and their salvation.


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