Power Over Persecution
By Kathy Coffey

—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.

Bone-deep Beliefs

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.

Resting in Hope

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 in Denver.

Next: The Beatitudes in John's Gospel

Questions for Reflection:

•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 freedom"?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from "God in Our Midst."

Subtle Persecution
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.

For Family Response:

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?

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
Minority Report
By Frank Frost

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.

For Media Watch:

What values did you find in the film "Minority Report"?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.

By Judy Ball

St. 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 were martyred.

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 story.—

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:

"Community of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
"The Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October 2000

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

"Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Shepherd's Diary" (book)
"Lessons From the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
"Jesus' 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)

"The Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)


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