Sunday of the Man Born Blind
In history, it hasn’t always been an easy thing to be a Christian. Sometimes, like in the first centuries after Christ, you might have to pay with your life in order to serve God. Other times, you might have suffered ridicule, or be cut off from friends or family.
While in recent decades and centuries, it has been safe, even socially preferable at times, to be Christian, the pendulum may be swinging the other way. In today’s world, there is increasing pressure to reject Christian morality, even a Christian world-view. Scripture and Tradition are clear that marriage is for life, and that it’s between one man and one woman. But today? We’re expected to consider any manner of relationship as “normal” - and there are those who would have us approve of more than 2 people in marriage.
Scripture says “And God created them, male and female”. But today? “Well, maybe God made a mistake.I’m a woman in a man’s body”, they might say. And, despite the increasing evidence that gender reassignment therapy results in higher suicide rates , society wants us to operate as if God makes mistakes? I don’t think so.
And it’s not just social pressure that we have to put up with. Recently, there was an incident involving a Catholic hospital in Oklahoma. The Federal Government presented it with a choice to either extinguish a candle in its chapel’s sanctuary or risk its ability to treat patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which would have jeopardized its ability to operate at all.
After a religious liberty law firm informed the government that this was a violation of the hospital’s First Amendment rights, the government backed down. In the words of the vice-president of the law firm, the Department of Health and Human services “has told Saint Francis that it can keep its living flame — a sacred candle housed in the hospital chapel.”
Also, starting in 1989, the government has used RICO laws, originally aimed at racketeering, against pro-life groups.
How do we respond to this? Some might suggest that we take our lead from those on the other side of these culture wars. We should be out there protesting. And there might be value in that, but not as a first line of defense.
But it’s not the best response. Paul wrote to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way”.
And, in his first epistle, Peter tells us, “also be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence”. Know your faith, explain the faith, don’t debate it.
And that’s what we see Paul and Silas doing here. They began with prayer. And the local demon, a spirit of divination possessing a slave girl, constantly followed them, shouting the truth, but in such a way as to become a distraction. And the townspeople who had them arrested talk about them teaching.
They prayed, and they gave a defense of the hope within them.
After their arrest, they were beaten with rods. Ouch.
How would you react to that? I HOPE that I’d react like Paul and Silas, but I know me. Being human, I’d probably be less than polite. But what did Paul and Silas do? About midnight they were praying and singing hymns to God.
David sang, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise will continually be in my mouth”. In his Epistle, we read, “Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise”.
The effect of that prayer and praise? The other prisoners were listening to them. Then when God freed them with an earthquake, and they didn’t use the opportunity to escape, the jailer asked what he had to do to be saved. Although the jailer may have heard their preaching, it was the prayer and praise that ultimately brought him into the Church!
Praise of God has often accompanied martyrdom. More than a century after his event, St. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was to martyred. When he was tied up to be burned, Polycarp prayed, "Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and powers, of the whole creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight, I bless you, for having made me worthy of this day and hour, I bless you, because I may have a part, along with the martyrs, in the chalice of your Christ, to resurrection in eternal life, resurrection both of soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, among those who are in you presence, as you have prepared and foretold and fulfilled, God who is faithful and true. For this and for all benefits I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be to you with him and the Holy Spirit glory, now and for all the ages to come. Amen."
And then there’s St. Lawrence of Rome. Sentencing Lawrence to die, the prefect had a great gridiron prepared with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “It is well done. Turn me over!”
Remember our Lord’s words. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you”.
My brothers and sisters, I hope that we may never be called to martyrdom, but there may be opposition. We don’t know the future, but we DO know how to be ready.
- Praise God in every circumstance. Go inhabits the praise of His people,
- Pray for those who persecute you - Christ said to pray for your enemies.
- Pray for our leaders.
Or, as Paul said, Pray at all times And praise at all times.