“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” Jesus (John 15:18-19)
“Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name.” Jesus (Mathew 24:9)
“Be not afraid.” Bl. John Paul II
The first part of this series (click here to read part 1) discussed the radical extremism that marked Christ’s life. His life was threatened at birth, and then after three short years of public ministry, was put to death by the religious/political leaders of the Jewish people: the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t promise his Apostles a rose garden either. Shortly before His death, Jesus told them they had to pick up their own crosses and follow Him. This may not bode well for us, at least from a secular/worldly view, but it illustrates the extremism to which Christ called all of His Disciples in the years to come. This second part in the trilogy of Catholic Extremism will discuss the seemingly irrational methods through which God accomplishes His will on Earth, constantly confounding our Earthly “wisdom”, rising from humble beginnings, and gloriously succeeding when defeat seems imminent. We will also discuss the extremism of some of God’s later Disciples and the persecution they not only suffered from non-Christians, but from those inside the Church.
Our Lord is a God who sees His will accomplished not by declaration and force, but by working through His creations in accordance with their free will. However, when God has a plan, it goes against all human odds and standards. Our fallen worldly values would lead us to believe that God would pick a true champion, someone who is beautiful, strong, intelligent, already famous, etc to fulfill His plans for us. This certainly wasn’t the case when God chose a fugitive wanted for murder and with a speech impediment to lead His people out of Egypt. God didn’t seem to care when He picked David to be the King, fully knowing how David would brazenly sin with Bathsheba. God continued with creation even after those created in His own image broke His only command to them and turned their backs to Him. God never seemed to be impressed by what was deemed valuable or respected among His creations. He always had a way of lowering the mighty through the lowly for the purpose of bringing everyone closer to His own heart.
When God had a message for someone in the Old Testament, those prophets were often reviled and hated. The prophets also were unable to say no to God, just ask Jonah. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong about something, even in trivial matters. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have to ride into a town and tell everyone there they will be killed by the wrath of God and their town destroyed if they do not change their ways? Even before Christ, following God meant actively revolting against the world and saying things that people didn’t want to hear. Being singled out by God was a passage to eternal life, but sometimes a death sentence from this temporal one.
This pattern of irrationality continued into the Gospels and beyond. Jesus did not start His public ministry by organizing state dinners and golf outings with the local politicians. He didn’t post a video on Youtube that allowed Him to catapult to fame when He was a young teenager so as to make millions off of His frenzied fans. This anachronistic analogy may seem somewhat silly, but as previously discussed in the first post, Jesus did none of those things, and neither did the Apostles or early Christian Saints and martyrs.
The early Catholic Church faced many challenges: persecution, execution, imprisonment, slander, and many others. Their way of life, as taught by Christ, was so extreme, so beyond the understanding of so many cultures, that they were seen as threatening by governments and rulers and deemed necessary for extermination. But something happened in the hearts of the people anyway. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were igniting the hearts of the people and fundamentally changing people’s lives. These strange followers of the Christ went against all “common sense” and yet resonated with a peace and joy that were previously unimaginable. They worked miracles, taught peace, and demonstrated the true meaning of love. Despite the many deaths of the early Christian martyrs, the Church spread throughout the ancient world. God triumphed in the face of certain defeat.
God still singles people out for a great Purpose, just as He did the Prophets in the Old Testament. We refer to them as Saints, but their lives are marked by an extremism that calls all of us to reevaluate our lives and strive for a deeper relationship with God. Sometimes His Saints are so extreme that they even suffer at the hands of the Church itself. Padre Pio, the stigmatist who could bilocate and read people’s souls and hearts, was subjected to intense scrutiny and banned from all public ministry, including saying Mass, for many years. He obeyed without a single complaint. Again God triumphed in the face of certain defeat.
Saint Francis of Assisi was cursed and disowned by his own Catholic father and thought to be mentally unstable by many in the community. He was mocked and ridiculed by some, yet others felt compelled to live his way of life. Eventually Francis went on to rebuild the falling Catholic Church. St Bernadette of Lourdes was thought to insane as well, as some in her town wanted her committed to an asylum. The local priest did not believe she was seeing apparitions of the Blessed Virgin until Bernadette quoted her as saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” At that time, Bernadette had not completed her Catechism classes and had not yet received First Holy Communion. She was simple and completely un-noteworthy in every way. Again, God triumphed through the most unlikely candidate.
It is hard to do justice to the many Saints and martyrs in a blog post, but in studying the lives of the Saints in their similarities and differences, it is hard not to conclude that they lived an extreme life compelled by their love of Christ and dedicated to serving others. They live completely against worldly values and remind all of us to change our lives. The Saints are singled out by God not only to convert non-Christians, but to more deeply convert those of us still struggling with one thing or another. It is through renouncing the world and embracing the extremism of Christ that we can actually live fully the tenets of our Faith.
The final part of this series will discuss how Christianity is the only true alternative lifestyle and how we can apply it to our own lives.