Persecuted Christians “help us not to hesitate to make a stand for Christ,” the pope says at the Sunday Angelus
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. In today’s Gospel (cf. Mt. 10:26-33) the Lord Jesus, after having called his disciples and sent them on mission, instructs them and prepares them to face the trials and persecutions they will encounter.
Going on mission isn’t tourism, and Jesus admonishes his disciples: “You will be persecuted.” He then exhorts them: “Have no fear of men, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known […] What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light […] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (vv. 26-28). They can only kill the body; they do not have the power to kill the soul: do not be afraid of these [men].
Being sent on mission by Jesus does not guarantee the disciples success, just as it does not spare them from failure and suffering. They have to take account of the possibility of rejection and persecution. This is somewhat scary, but it it true.
The disciple is called to conform his life to Christ, who was persecuted by men. He knew rejection, abandonment and death on the Cross.
There is no such thing as a tranquil Christian mission. Difficulties and trials are part of the work of evangelization, and we are called to find in them the opportunity to prove the authenticity of our faith and relationship with Jesus.
We ought to consider these difficulties as possibilities to be even more missionary and to grow in trust in God our Father, who does not abandon his children during the storm. In the struggle to provide a Christian witness in the world, we are never forgotten but always helped by the thoughtful care of the Father. That is why Jesus reassures the disciples three times in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid.”
Persecution against Christians is present in our own day, brothers and sisters. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, and let us praise God because, in spite of this, they continue to bear witness to their faith with courage and fidelity. Their example helps us not to hesitate to make a stand for Christ, bearing witness courageously to him in everyday situations, even in seemingly peaceful contexts.
In fact, one form of trial may also be the absence of hostility and tribulation. In addition to sending us as “sheep in the midst of wolves,” the Lord, even in our time, sends us as sentinels among people who do not want to be awoken from their worldly slumber, who ignore the Gospel’s words of the Truth, building their ephemeral truths. And if we go and live in these contexts and say the Words of the Gospel, this is bothersome and they will not look well on us.
But in all of this, the Lord continues to tell us, as he said to the disciples in his own time: “Do not be afraid.” Let us not forget this word: always, when we are going through some trial, some persecution, something that causes us to suffer, let us listen to the voice of Jesus in our hearts: “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. God forward. I am with you.” Do not be afraid of those who deride and mistreat you, and do not be afraid of those who ignore you or honor you “to your face” but fight against the Gospel “behind your back.” There are many who smile to our face, but fight the Gospel behind our backs. We all know them.
Jesus does not leave us alone because we are precious to him. That is why he does not leave us alone: each of us is precious to Jesus, and he accompanies us.
May the Virgin Mary, model of humility and courageous fidelity to the Word of God, help us to understand that in bearing witness to the faith, success doesn’t count; faithfulness does. Faithfulness to Christ, whatever the circumstances may be, even the most problematic, recognizing the gift of being his missionary disciples.