I have never felt comfortable about praying for religious freedom. In fact, I have always felt downright uneasy about it in my spirit; as if I were not praying in a way that agreed with the Holy Spirit that lives within me. For this reason, I have to confess that I am not in solidarity with many Catholics, including Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in regards to praying for our delivery from religious persecution and for government established rights to practice our faith.
The Precepts of Discipleship
Being that Jesus said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:10), does it then, therefore, follow that if we pray not to be persecuted that we are asking for the kingdom of heaven not to be ours?
Being that Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11), does it then, therefore, follow that if we pray to be excused from insults and persecution that we are asking not be rewarded in heaven?
One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Tertullian in 197 C.E. Concerning a persecution yet unknown to modern Catholics in the United States, he wrote,
“Crucify us, torture us, condemn us, destroy us! Your wickedness is the proof of our innocence, for which reason does God suffer us to suffer this. When recently you condemned a Christian maiden to a panderer rather than to a panther, you realized and confessed openly that with us a stain on our purity is regarded as more dreadful than any punishment and worse than death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, accomplish anything: rather, it is an enticement to our religion. The more we are hewn down by you, the more numerous do we become. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”
If it is true what Tertullian wrote, does it then, therefore, follow that by us praying not to be persecuted for faith that we are positioning the Church in this country to not enjoy the bloody fruit of martyrdom, which is heroic growth?
The Lesson of Discipleship
Last summer a friend of mine asked me if I would be participating in my diocese’ events for the Fort Night for Religious Freedom, and I told her that I don’t pray for freedom for religious persecution. I said, ‘if I were to pray for something it would be for more religious persecution to come, because it is only when our faith gets tested, does our faith get real.’
The lesson of discipleship in Christ, the lesson of sacred Scripture, and the lesson of sacred Tradition is not that we should flee or that we should ask to be excused from persecution. It is not that we should bargain our way out carrying our Cross. It is not that we should look for the easier route to Mount Calvary. Everyone who has ever avoided persecution, avoided their cross, or looked for an easier route has also avoided spiritual growth. People as such are not those who Christ Jesus said were blessed and rewarded. People as such are not those who Tertullian said would experience growth in their Church.
Indeed, the quickest way for the Catholic Church in the United States to fade into irrelevance is to continue to ask not to be persecuted. For to ask for such a thing is to be something other than like Christ Jesus. There is nothing interesting or special or apostolic about a Church that isn’t being persecuted. There is nothing challenging about living a society that doesn’t ask us to leave our conscience in the Church. Again, it is only when our faith gets tested that our faith gets real. Therefore, if we are asking the government to excuse us from this beautiful test that God has allowed, then what our Church is saying is that she doesn’t want us to have real faith.
Catholics Praying for Religious Freedom is Backwards Thinking
Now, I’m not asking you to be like me and not pray for religious freedom. I’m not asking you to be like me and jump for joy when you hear about Christians being forced to choose between whom they will serve – God or state. No, all I am asking you is to want more for the Christian community than what Satan does. What the adversary knows is that when we are not persecuted we are just a lukewarm people; fading into dull happenstance of everyday pointlessness. In contrast, he knows that when we are persecuted, we are a blessed people on fire; fighting the good fight for righteousness sake. The former of these two people are dead ones he prefers most.
Religious persecution and attacks on conscience isn’t something for Christians to asked to be excused from. These are things that Christians should be excited about having the opportunity to experience through God’s grace!
There was a time when Christians prayed to be martyrs, but in this day in age they pray not to be. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25).
© 2013 David L. Gray. All rights reserved.