"The world thinks thus: 'These people are idealists or fanatics…' This is what they think."
Just by living the Christian life as Jesus calls, we already reproach the world, Pope Francis said in concluding his general audience series on the Beatitudes. On April 29, he took up the eighth and last Beatitude — “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5: 10).
The reward promised with this Beatitude is the same one promised in the first, a fact that Francis said reflects how these eight statements present a “single route.”
The path of the Beatitudes is one of a Paschal journey that leads from a life according to the world to one that is of God; from an existence guided by the flesh, that is, by selfishness, to one guided by the Spirit.
The world — “with its idols, its compromises, and its priorities” — is in opposition to this type of life. It “cannot but reject poverty, or meekness, or purity, and thus declare that life according to the Gospel is mistaken and a problem, something to be marginalized. The world thinks thus: ‘These people are idealists or fanatics…’ This is what they think.”
Thus, the pope explained, simply living as Jesus calls us is already a reproach to the world.
If the world lives on the basis of money, whoever demonstrates that life can be fulfilled through giving and renouncing becomes a nuisance to this system of greed. This word “nuisance” is the key, because Christian witness alone, which does so much good for many people because they follow it, is a nuisance to those who have a worldly mentality. They experience it as a reproach.
Holiness and life as a child of God is a “beauty which is uncomfortable because it begs that a position be taken: either one allows oneself to be open to the question and to the good or one rejects the light and hardens one’s heart, even to the point of opposition and hounding,” he said.
It is curious, it calls our attention to see how, in the persecution of martyrs, hostility grows to the point of hounding. It is enough to see the persecutions of the last century, of the European dictatorships: how one arrives at this hounding of Christians, against Christian witness and against the heroism of Christians.
However, this shows that the persecution experienced by Christians is also a sign of liberation: “What do those who are rejected by the world for Christ’s sake rejoice in? They rejoice that they have found something worth more than the whole world.”
The Holy Father said we must hope and pray that the many Christians who are persecuted today will be freed of their tribulation. He noted how “the martyrs of today are more numerous than the martyrs of the first centuries,” and added that we “express our closeness to these brothers and sisters: we are one body, and these Christians are the bleeding members of the body of Christ, which is the Church.”
Contempt isn’t persecution
On the other hand, the pope said, we have to avoid reading this Beatitude “in a victimising or self-pitying key.”
In fact, contempt is not always synonymous with persecution: just shortly after Jesus says that Christians are the “salt of the earth,” He warns against the danger of “losing its flavor,” otherwise salt “is good for nothing else but to be thrown away and trampled by people” (Mt 5:13). Therefore, there is also a contempt which is our fault when we lose the flavor of Christ and His Gospel.
Pope Francis urged us to be faithful to the “humble path of the Beatitudes,” to be “not of the world.” And he said that St. Paul is worth remembering here: “When he thought he was a righteous person he was actually a persecutor, but when he discovered that he was a persecutor, he became a man of love, who happily faced the suffering of the persecution he suffered.”
To be excluded and persecuted makes us like Christ Crucified, Francis said, and is a grace. “Welcoming His Spirit can lead us to have so much love in our hearts to offer to the world an uncompromising life in the face of its deceptions and accepting its rejection.”
It’s a life of compromise that is the danger, he said. “The Christian is always tempted to make compromises with the world, with the spirit of the world. This – refusing compromises and taking the path of Jesus Christ – is the life of the Kingdom of heaven, the greatest joy, true joy. And then, in persecutions, there is always the presence of Jesus who accompanies us, the presence of Jesus who consoles us, and the strength of the Holy Spirit who helps us to go ahead. Let us not be discouraged when a life consistent with the Gospel attracts the persecution of the people: there is the Spirit who sustains us on this road.”