The world is a dangerous place to be a Christian.
Persecution against Christians across the globe is widespread and urgent. Praying for the persecuted Church should be among our daily intentions. Protecting religious freedom and freedom of conscience should be among the highest priorities of every government.
I have been praying this week for the Church in Kenya, where there have been a string of killings and abductions of priests. But on any given day, we could pick any part of the world and pray for Christians being persecuted there.
As Pope Francis said again recently, “There are more martyrs today than there were at the beginning of the life of the Church, and martyrs are everywhere.”
As we prepare to celebrate the solemnity of All Saints’, I was reflecting that martyrdom has been a “fact,” a consequence of Christian witness, since the very beginning. We read about the persecution of Christians in the pages of the New Testament and we remember martyrs from every age in our liturgy and in the calendar of the Church.
We are not all called to be martyrs. But we are all called to be saints.
We are not here to just drift through our days, only responding to what comes next or accomplishing the tasks set before us. God intends our lives, our journey through time, to have a purpose and a destination — eternity, heaven, the love that never ends.
We are made for the holiness of God. And holiness is for everyone, not just the chosen few. “This is the will of God, your holiness.” St. Paul wrote those words to all of us.
To become a saint, you need to take Jesus as the pathway for your life, living as a child of God, conforming your life — your thoughts and words, your actions and attitudes — more and more to the image of Jesus, the Son of God.
In a practical way, holiness is not about devotional practices, it is about habits of the heart.
To become a saint is not a decision you make once, but one you have to make many times each day. It is a daily struggle to overcome the “old self,” the selfishness and sin in our nature, and trying to become a “new creation,” loving as Jesus loved, without measure, laying down our lives as a total gift to God and to our brothers and sisters.
Putting your life in God’s hands, trusting completely in his love for you, striving for holiness becomes an adventure in discovering the meaning of your life, in all its beauty and mystery. You discover a destiny that lies far beyond the constraints and limited definitions of a technological, consumer society.
None of this is easy. There is no Christian life without the cross, without trials and suffering, without a kind of daily “martyrdom of the spirit.”
We do not face persecution the way Christians do in other parts of the world. But in this country, we are slowly watching our religious freedoms being eroded by an aggressive secularism that not only marginalizes belief and believers, but is also spreading confusion about what being human means.
Our society needs religion and its needs the witness of Christian believers — to wisdom, empathy, forgiveness and mercy. Part of the cultural and political crisis we face today is that we have lost the capacity to think differently about our future; we have lost any sense of the divine horizon of our lives.
The saints tell us that every time of crisis is a crisis of saints.
Our times call for a heroic Christianity, but not a heroism of big speeches or grand gestures. There is a quiet, “hidden” heroism in Christian living, being missionaries and apostles in the circumstances of our daily lives, not worrying about the pressures to conform to our society, not worrying about what other people may say.
We change this world by changing our hearts and changing the way we live. Our call is to follow God’s path for our lives, the beatitudes, living for the love of him and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, seeking justice and mercy, being peacemakers.
Jesus was honest in telling us that following him may lead us to be falsely accused and persecuted. It is always a good examination of conscience to ask whether we are prepared to die for our faith in him.
But he also promised that he would never leave us, so we go with him, seeking to serve him and our brothers and sisters, trusting in his love and knowing that he will give us courage and strength in our weakness.
Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.
And let us continue to pray for all those who are suffering and being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.
May our Blessed Mother be near to them and give them hope. And may she help all of us to be faithful in our struggle to be saints.