These things are upsetting, but don’t be surprised at it. For the first 300 years of Christianity there was open persecution against the Christians and it is never far away. During the Mexican revolution of 1910, many priests were killed. That’s only a hundred years ago and not far from here.
Because of the scandals in the Church caused by a minority of priests, we all got blamed and hated for it. It is the same with the police right now. Because of a few who are corrupt, they are all getting blamed, which is wrong and we must support our police. It is a frightening time for them, and they have a dangerous enough job as it is. Remember that one out of twelve of the Apostles betrayed Jesus to death. That is a very high percentage.
I always find myself getting angry when I meet hostility towards me as a priest. It is upsetting and yet Jesus told us this is exactly what would happen. ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’… ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ (John 15: 18, 20), so I shouldn’t be surprised.
How should we respond to these things? We look to the master. How did Jesus respond to the persecution and resistance that he met? He gave himself completely to the Father. He prayed continually and trusted in the Father’s providence and in his justice. Before he was arrested, Jesus was afraid and in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed to the Father for courage and strength. He was full of human fear, just as anyone would be. In situations of danger, it is normal to feel fear, but we trust in God because we belong completely to him.
Now is the time to stay close to the Lord and completely focused on him. That’s what the Apostles did for the rest of their lives. Nearly all of them were killed, but they were able to keep going because they entrusted themselves completely to God. They weren’t afraid of what happened around them. They remained focused on God. Wherever they went and met other Christians, they celebrated the Eucharist together. That is what we do too. The Eucharist is not just a nice reminder of Jesus, it really is Jesus. It is the greatest treasure that we have and no one will ever take it away from us.
In Ireland, during what were called the Penal Times, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, which was a time of open persecution against Catholics, they had to celebrate the mass in secret. So they had mass out in the fields, with people on guard. Hopefully we will never have to do that, but no matter what happens, the greatest treasure we have is the mass, because in the mass we receive Jesus himself. I was very inspired to see so many people coming to receive the Eucharist when we had to close the doors of the church. Nothing will stop us from having the mass, even if we have to do it in secret.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and branches. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches… Cut off from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). In difficult times we must come closer to Jesus more than ever, because He is our life and our strength. Only in him does our life mean anything.
Our churches, crucifixes and other symbols are important to us, but remember they are not the church. We, God’s people, are the Church and the Lord is with us no matter what happens. Please God things will settle down and we will be able to continue practicing our faith as normal, but we must also remember what is truly important; that we stay close to the Lord.
With regard to what is happening around us, remember how St. Paul described it, because it is the exact same:
For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil authorities and rulers of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).
Real evil is behind what we are seeing. Evil turns people against people and that is what is happening. How do we fight that kind of evil, with the weapons that the Lord has given us: prayer, the Eucharist, the Scriptures and the support of other like-minded people. In other words, by remaining close to Jesus at all times, because our strength and life is only in him. ‘Do not be afraid.’