Arts and Culture

Peace and Persecution

12th and last in a series

FOR SOME REASON, the seventh and eighth Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” and “Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” seem to fit together in my mind. Perhaps it is because peace and persecution seem like opposites. Perhaps the two p’s feed into my love of alliteration. Whatever the reason, the two Beatitudes seem to indirectly illuminate one another. Persecution suggests the disruption of peace, and peace suggests some kind of conquest over persecution.

I have met many people who seem to cause discord rather than peace. Their problem may be more psychological than moral. The people who come to mind seem capable of relating in only a hostile way. After they are present to others for only a brief time, they will insult someone or imagine that someone has insulted them.

I have come into contact with other people that seem to have serious personal problems, have an extraordinary skill at disturbing others and making themselves the center of others’ attention. They seem to have a special “talent” to upset the peace of others. Why and how they developed this skill is a mystery to me.

Pope Francis writes the following: “Peacemakers truly ‘make’; they build peace and friendship in society…. It is not easy to ‘make’ this evangelical peace, which excludes no one but embraces even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, different, beaten down by life or simply uninterested. It is hard work; it calls for great openness of mind and heart, … We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill.”

I once observed two friends of mine, over a period of a year, literally recreate another person’s personality through their loving presence. The person, who was so difficult to get along with, had a very unattractive personality and seemed always ready for combat. My two friends, for one entire year, spent as much free time as possible being lovingly present to this individual. By the end of that year a miracle had happened: her personality had changed dramatically. My other two friends had “made peace.”

Persecution can take many forms. On one occasion, after giving a lecture on atheism to a group in an adult education course, I received what was intended as a compliment, but upon reflection, I understood that it actually revealed a low opinion of religious believers. The lecture had gone very well. There was a lady sitting in a corner who seemed to be very interested in my presentation. As she was leaving the room she said to me: “You’re too smart not to be an atheist!”

In her view no intelligent person should be religious.

About two months ago I watched about five minutes of the Bill Maher television show. Maher started interviewing his guest, a devout convert to Catholicism, by saying: “Can we agree that no intelligent person joins a religion?” I was stunned. I think the audience may have applauded.

The two examples of persecution that I am offering are not the same as suffering martyrdom, but they come under the general heading of persecution. People who are trying to lead religious lives are going to be more and more subject to this type of persecution. My opinion is that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Pope Francis writes the following:

“Jesus himself warns us that the path he proposes goes against the flow, even making us challenge society by the way we live and as a result, becoming a nuisance. He reminds us how many people have been, and still are persecuted simply because they struggle for justice, because they take are seriously their commitment to God and to others. Unless we wish to sink into an obscure mediocrity, let us not long for an easy life, for ‘whoever would save his life will lose it” (Mt 16:25).

Being a follower of Christ can be one of the most exciting lives possible for a human being. That is true also for being a priest. Let’s hope that none of us Christians ever settle for mediocrity. If we take the pope’s vision seriously, we won’t.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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