IN OUR MIDST
—Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven— (Matthew 5:10).
In a poll for the Least Favorite Beatitude, this one would probably win. Our culture
worships movie stars, sports heroes, corporate moguls—not saints. We prefer
the comfy baseball cap to the martyr—s crown. So why does Jesus proclaim that
the persecuted are indeed blessed?
Jesus— style here is not to make rigid rules, but to hold up inspiring models. He asks
us to look with new eyes on the celebrities we may have admired and find hidden
virtues in people who are quiet, unpublicized and principled. If we shift our
sights, we may find them more courageous, uplifting, joyous and creative than
those who once received our adulation.
Relatively few North Americans have suffered the oppression that is well known to the peoples
of Asia, Africa, South and Central America. In countries like Bosnia, Rwanda
or El Salvador, genocide is common, being a catechist can mean risking a life
and the mothers of the —disappeared— mourn their missing children.
You—ve had a glimmer of their experience if you—ve been the spokesperson for an unpopular
but moral cause, the only ethical one in the department, the woman calling the
Old Boys— Club (or the Church!) to equality or a member of any group scorned
by authorities because of their beliefs. You—ll quickly discover what it means
to be —out.— While it pales beside the pain endured in other parts of the world,
it still teaches something about being ostracized for the sake of the gospel.
Those who have undergone persecution are sustained by solidarity, inner freedom and
the knowledge that it doesn—t last forever. Standing with others who believe
in the same cause or have the same oppressor, we at least are not alone.
The persecuted find intimacy with others that can surpass the idle conversations
or superficial ties of relationships that aren—t threatened. Etty Hillesum,
Jewish author of An Interrupted Life, died at Auschwitz when she was
29. At the Nazi concentration camp she called herself —bread shared among the
hungry.— Her journal—s last words resonate with compassion: —We should act as
a balm for all wounds.—
At a deep level, the persecuted are united: Their relationships are based on bone-deep
beliefs. Members of the armed services cherish —war-time buddies— because they
once put their lives on the line together. So our deepest affinities may be
to those with whom we share unpopular beliefs. Christians who take a countercultural
stance find in each other a source of nurture and support.
From the writings of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Oscar Romero,
Edith Stein or the four North American Churchwomen murdered
in El Salvador emerges a sense of inner freedom. As the Gospel
puts it, —Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill
the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body
in hell— (Matthew 10:28). Like the early Christians, Archbishop
Romero predicted he would outlive his own martyrdom: —If they
kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.—
We can learn from the persecuted how much in our lives is superficial, how little
is essential. Those who have been deprived of everything material still find
joy and fulfillment.
Finally, Jesus directs us to place our sufferings in an eternal context. The problem
that looms large right now, whatever it is, does not last forever. The persecuted
teach us to carry our burdens lightly and wear our chains more loosely. They
take God—s mission on earth very seriously, but can laugh at themselves.
The persecutions we undergo may be less dramatic, but we can approach them with
the same three qualities. Like the Polish Solidarity movement, we can —act as
if— we—re free. When we feel diminished by criticism, rejected by the —in— crowd
or demonized by those who disagree with us, there is hope. We can rest in Jesus—
assurance that we aren—t alone, the pain doesn—t last forever and the Kingdom is ours.
Kathy Coffey is the author of many books, including Hidden
Women of the Gospels, Experiencing God With Your Children and
God in the Moment: Making Every Day a Prayer. A retreat
and workshop leader, she lives with her husband and four children
Next: The Beatitudes in John's Gospel
Think of someone who was persecuted. What do you
most admire about him or her?
Talk about a time you were persecuted. Who stood
with you? What did you experience as your "inner
this month's Questions for Reflection
from "God in Our Midst."
By Judith Dunlap
When I feel uncomfortable making the Sign of the Cross in
a crowded restaurant, I think of the martyrs who gave their
lives rather than deny they were Christian. I don—t think
I would ever disavow being a Catholic, but at the same time
I wonder why sometimes it looks like I—m trying to keep it
a secret. After all, here in the U.S. nobody—s going to stone
me for my faith. So why my hesitancy?
We may live in a free society but folks see religion as a
private matter. If you pray out loud, mention the Bible or
talk about what the priest or preacher said on Sunday, your
co-workers are inclined to consider you a religious fanatic.
People may talk behind your back or even laugh at you. Blessed
are those who witness their faith anyway.
Persecution comes in a variety of forms and degrees, from
the ultimate price of martyrdom to the subtle abuse of being
laughed at. (Sticks and stones can break your bones but words
can also hurt.) There may seem to be no comparison between
the gruesome price paid by the early saints and the discomfort
of being left out or talked about, but it still hurts. Sometimes
it takes courage to live one—s faith openly.
Remember the saying of Jesus about not hiding your light
under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). If no one knows you are a Christian,
something is wrong. The best place to begin living faith out
loud is at home. Pray together before meals and at bedtime,
take turns reading the Bible to each other, talk about Sunday—s
Gospel and homily. Let your children see you witness your
faith to the outside world, even if it is just by making the
Sign of the Cross in a crowded restaurant.
Talk about how each family member can let the light of faith shine. How can all of you as a family live your faith out loud?
this month's FAMILY CORNER.
In his newest film, Minority Report, Steven Spielberg challenges us to
open our eyes and our minds to the futuristic vision he has created, which is
alternately unsettling, hopeful and horrifying.
In the year 2054, Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise) works as the head of
Washington, D.C.—s Department of Pre-Crime. Here, murderers
are not apprehended after breaking society—s law; their future
acts are detected by three psychic individuals (—pre-cogs),
and they are arrested before their future crimes can be committed.
Some officials doubt the reliability of the pre-cogs— visions
but Anderton believes passionately in the system he works
for despite the moral and philosophical dilemmas it presents.
When his own name appears as that of a future murderer, Anderton takes drastic
measures to escape the system he helped create and attempts to prove his own
future innocence. In his struggle to understand what has happened to him and
what lies ahead, he learns that on occasion the three pre-cogs have not all
agreed, creating a —minority report.— Convinced such a report applies to him,
Anderton kidnaps Agatha, the most powerful of the pre-cogs. But there is no
minority report, and Anderton must confront the future that Agatha foresees.
—Can you see?— Agatha repeatedly asks Anderton. This seemingly simple question
applies not only to images of Anderton committing murder, but also to a seemingly
unrelated vision Agatha has of a drowned woman and a man in a black ski mask.
Agatha sees these images again and again. She asks Anderton to see with her
and to solve the mystery that comes to bear on his life—s story and her own.
But Agatha—s words also pose philosophical questions for Anderton and the audience.
She asks her abductor whether or not he can see what she sees; whether or not
what she sees is real. When her vision encompasses the past, the present and
the future, her question of what is real, and her assumption that what is real
can be commonly seen, become surprisingly complex.
Agatha also asks Anderton to see with more than just his eyes. She asks him
to understand what has happened to her, to understand that he must confront
his own loss, to understand that the system he has worked in is not perfect.
Finally, confronting him with the knowledge of his own future actions, she asks
him to understand that he still has a choice.
As the moment she has foreseen approaches, when Anderton is about to kill a
man, she whispers repeatedly, —You can choose.— It is the promise of free will,
ennobling human choice and individual responsibility that ultimately provides
Anderton with the key to reshaping his future—and provides society with the
tools to escape and reform a powerfully invasive government.
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
Andrew Kim Taegon (d. 1846)
To be Catholic and Korean was to put oneself in danger of death in the 1800s.
It was a risk Andrew Kim Taegon was willing to take. Indeed, danger was at the
center of his short life, just as it had been for his father, who was martyred.
It was from his devout parents that young Andrew Kim learned about the faith
that had come to Korea in the late 1700s through contact with Jesuits in China.
Christianity had special appeal to scholars and the well-educated. Meanwhile,
Korea—s rulers saw it as a threat to national customs and traditions and responded
with waves of persecutions.
Andrew Kim, baptized at age 15, was determined to become a priest and keep
the faith alive among the laypeople who had founded the fledgling Church in
his native land. He traveled 1,300 miles to a seminary in Macao, China, and
was eventually ordained in Shanghai to become the first native-born Korean priest.
He returned home in 1845, carefully reentering the country. Within nine months
he was arrested and condemned to death. During his three-month imprisonment
he wrote a letter of encouragement to his people. In September 1846 he was beheaded
at the River Han near Seoul. He was 26. It would be another 40 years before
religious persecution came to an end in Korea. Altogether, 10,000 men and women
In 1984 Pope John Paul II traveled to Seoul to canonize Andrew Kim along with
102 other Korean martyrs, including Paul Chong Hasang. They share the feast
day of September 20. They also share the honor of being the first saints canonized
outside Rome in more than 700 years.
Father Raymond Sullivan, M.M.
As a young man growing up in Brooklyn and later serving in the Navy in World War
II, Raymond Sullivan did his part for the foreign missions: He donated $1 a month
to the Maryknoll Fathers. After earning a post-war degree from Harvard, he upped
his donation considerably. He became a Maryknoll priest and was one of the first
in his generation sent to serve the Church in Korea. That was in 1955.
There he stayed for three decades, continuing the work that St. Andrew Kim
had begun. —It was a missioner—s paradise,— Father Sullivan, now retired, told
Every Day Catholic from his residence in Ossining, New York. The Korean
people exhibited a real enthusiasm for Catholicism, and parish life was vibrant
and exciting. Today, Korea boasts 3-4 million Catholics, an estimated 9% of
the total population. The Korean Church, he noted, is —a remarkable success
During his decades in Korea Father Sullivan worked in mass communication as
well as parish life—whatever he could do to build up the Church. He used the
most modern means available: radio, TV, print. He even instituted a Catholic
Pop Song Award and translated pop song lyrics into English.
Since returning to the U.S. in 1993, Father Sullivan has stayed in touch with
the Korean-speaking communities where he has lived. Where possible, he regularly
celebrates Mass with them in their native language.
—I thank God for the wonderful experiences I had in Korea. It—s something
I never dreamed would happen. It was a great foreign missionary experience for
me.— Father Sullivan returns to Korea this fall for an extended visit with the
people who, he recalls, —welcomed me like family.—
The following material
is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:
of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October
products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan
Oscar Romero: A Shepherd's Diary" (book)
From the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches
Us How to Live" (book)
Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking
Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book)
"Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)
Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)