In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns his followers of imminent persecution. On one level this admonishment is directed toward the members of the early church who practiced their religion as outlaws within the Roman empire during the first three centuries. Indeed, the trials and tribulations that Jesus describes became realities for Christians in the years following his death. However, there is also a sense of timelessness to this passage that extends even to present day.
Since 2003 the Christian population of Iraq has shrunk from 1.5 million to 300,000, due to religious persecution. Threats and attacks of terror by Muslim extremists have caused Christian Iraqis to make a choice between their religious beliefs and their homeland. What’s truly amazing is how many individuals have chosen to not abandon their religious identity and have continued to walk with Christ wherever the road may lead. Just imagine someone making you choose between either going to Mass every week or abandoning the comforts and routines of everyday life.
My local parish has teamed up with other churches in the city to receive displaced Iraqis within our community. But even this process will take roughly two years to complete because of legal processing delays. As one body in Christ, we must not take our own religious freedom for granted and forget about our fellow Christians who are still fighting for this privilege.
Finally, we may wonder in today’s Gospel reading why Christ instructs his followers on trial “not to prepare your defense beforehand.” The point here is not that religious conviction is incompatible with rational justification or a reasonable defense. Rather, quite the opposite—it is religious persecution that is incompatible with rational justification. Thus, it is futile to construct a logical defense of one’s beliefs when placed on trial and the prosecution is working beyond the bounds of reason. The best we can do is have faith in the Lord and remain perseverant throughout.
Eric Chitambar ‘05
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