By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
Jesus Christ is the gentlest, meekest and kindest of Kings, it seems as though He should have no enemies at all. But He has in reality many and powerful adversaries who savagely attack not only His sacred Person and His health-giving institutions, as has been seen already, but also hurl themselves against the ministers bidden by Him to carry on His beneficent mission.
As long as He lived on earth, Jesus had it at heart to protect His beloved disciples against the persecutions and outrages of the Jews. While we see that He Himself kept silence under the inuendoes or calumnies of His enemies, He was immediately fired with holy wrath if evil tongues sharpened them selves against His beloved disciples. At the beginning of His bitter passion, when His brutal captors seized Him and bound Him with ropes and chains in order to lead Him to the tribunal of Annas, He—forgetful of Himself —was not oblivious of His dear friends; but turning to His torturers, commanded them to let those go in peace and not dare to touch His beloved ones. (John XVIII, 8.) The hour of the power of darkness had then arrived and the Pharisees thought this a fit occasion to display their hatred against the disciples of the Nazarene also. But He; like a hen who gathers her chickens under her wings, stayed bravely and bore alone the ferocity of the hawk. So was Jesus anxious to protect His little flock from the fury of His sworn enemies. And why did He do this? Because He knew the feebleness of His disciples; and He was well aware how great was their natural weakness and inconstancy, notwithstanding their protestations of attachment and love for Him. Therefore, He did not permit that they should have to undergo any struggle on His account, before they should have been fortified and confirmed in faith and holy charity by the Holy Ghost Himself.
But after the apostles were invested with virtue from on High, Jesus Christ, like an emperor who sends armed and trained troops to the battle-field, commanded them to issue forth from the supper room and expose themselves to all sorts of persecution in fulfilling the exalted mission entrusted to them. And the warfare soon began. For there straightaway arose against the new champions of the Gospel a terrible persecution, and the Church was empurpled with the disciples' blood. Stephen, in the East, was the first who opened the way for an innumerable multitude of valiant martyrs, who sealed the faith of Jesus Christ with their blood. In the West, the Gentiles, converted to the faith of the Saviour, were quick to consecrate with the martyrdom of thirty-eight heroes (called the martyrs of Nepi) their alliance with this King of love.
But nascent Christianity had to suffer yet more cruel trials from the efforts of the devil. Hardly was faith in the Nazarene propagated in the world than the Church was made the butt of persecution on all hands. Jews, moved by envy, sought to arrest its progress by malicious designs, while the pagans, seeing their idols shattered by the virtue of the holy cross, strove to suffocate the faith in blood. And thence forth what was the life of the Church through out the ages but an alternation of bloodthirsty attacks on the part of her enemies and splendid victories won by her disciples?
Among the attacks which came from pagan ism, the first were the inhuman persecutions engineered, with every subtle and violent means, by the Roman Emperors, who, enraged against the name of Christian, thought to ex terminate the believers in Jesus Christ by the sword. Above all, the holy soil of the Eternal City became the scene of innumerable martyrdoms, after it had been consecrated by the blood of the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter, and by that of the Doctor of the Gentiles, St. Paul.—"Happy and blessed is the city of Rome," exclaims St. John Chrysostom. "Not indeed for gold or for columns of marble, not for empire over the whole universe, not for statues and images of heroes, but because it possesses the bodies of those two luminaries of the Church, who for her are like two bright eyes, more resplendent than the midday sun." 1
No sooner had our divine Saviour returned to His Father than His disciples, and in particular His ministers, priests and pontiffs, were made targets of the bitterest hatred. To take them prisoner and put them to death became the principal occupation of the rulers of the world. It seemed as though the devil, finding himself unable any longer to wreak his infernal hatred on Jesus, leveled it at all those who continued His work on earth. But our meek Lord had forewarned them of this when He said: "lf the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated me before you!' (John XV, 18.) — "The disciple is not above the master, nor the servant above his Lord" (Matth. X, 24.) And so Jesus Christ comes to be persecuted, not in Himself and His works only, but also in the ministers He sends to accomplish His mission of salvation, life and peace. But are the ministers of Jesus Christ hated by the pagan world only? No, indeed. For there have never been ages or countries in which heretics and bad Christians have not vented their fury on the Church. Even in this time of advanced civilization, persecution rages, meekly perhaps, but none the less cruel and ferocious. While a daily press throws mud at Our Lord's servants with a liberal hand, an atheistical and immoral literature points them out as enemies of patriotism and progress.
Every imaginable false and evil charge is accumulated against their ministry. Some Governments, inspired by a malicious sect, treat them as sworn enemies of law and order.
What Christian heart would not weep bitter tears in seeing the august Vicar of Jesus Christ made the butt of contradiction, jeers, scorn and hatred? Oh, how well does the sad lament of Dante fit this time of ours: "I see in His Vicar Christ made captive: a second time I see Him mocked, I see the vinegar and the gall renewed and Him slain between living thieves." 2
Besides the subtle and satanic onslaught waged against the ministers of Jesus Christ, we must not omit to make mention of those persecutions of which we have had recent examples in the case of the martyrs of Annam and Thibet, and of those who succumbed during the French Revolution. In times nearer our own, we have seen the ill-treatment inflicted on the Christians in Ouganda and on the clergy in Paris during the Commune; in Portugal and Spain during the recent upheaval, in Turkey, and even now in Mexico.
It seems as though the earth, having drunk up the blood of God made Man on Golgotha, still thirsts for more; and as it can no longer drink that divine blood, it seeks to quaff the blood of His followers, more especially His faithful ministers.
But if we see Jesus so combated and contradicted in His servants, would our love for Him inspire us to do nothing? Would we look on indifferently and apathetically at the persecutions leveled against those who represent Him on earth, whom He loves with special benevolence, whom He has made the pastors of His flock? No; such a spectacle can not leave us indifferent. Mindful that the in juries which Jesus receives in His ministers, are not less bitter to His heart than those directed against His work and against His Holy Person, we shall seek to make honorable amends to His Heart, pierced as it is by the cruel persecutions His servants undergo.
Therefore, let us seek generously and with all the force of our souls to welcome with docile minds and affectionate hearts the laws and wishes of the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff. Let us not fail to honor Our Saviour's ministers, in word and deed, for they represent His most sacred Person for us. Let us not allow anybody depending on us to despise the clergy or show them anything but befit ting respect.
Jesus, our sweet Saviour, we promise to venerate Thee in Thy ministers, not less than in Thy saving works and in Thy lovable Per son. We promise to comport ourselves as Thy faithful subjects, adorable Sovereign of our Hearts, always showing a profound respect for the authority of Thy Vicar on earth, a perfect submission of mind and will to his commands, a generosity of heart in furnishing the necessities of Thy ministers and in co operating with them in the great work of the sanctification of souls. Then we may hope, when we quit this world, to hear the consoling invitation: "Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." (Matth. XXV, 21.)
1 In Epist. ad Rom. Serm. XXXII in Moral. Exhort.
2 Purgatorio XX, 87-91. Trans, by Thomas Okey.