“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me.”
Since the persecution of Peter and Paul and the other apostles, Christians have endured the wrath of the godless for living their beliefs. The history of our faith is filled with accounts of martyrs who stood when God asked them to stand.
For example, around 400 AD, there was a little-known hermetic monk named Telemachus. He felt that God was calling him to Rome, and so he packed what little he had into a sack and off he went. After arriving in Rome, he found himself witnessing gladiators engaged in combat to the cheers of the crowds. Telemachus was so offended at what he saw, he entered the arena and separated the gladiators, reportedly saying, “In the name of Christ stop!” For the offense of interrupting their entertainment, the crowd stoned him to death. But when Emperor Honorius heard the story later that day, he was so moved that he banned gladiator games forever.
Through every age, Christians have stood for righteousness despite the consequences, even standing for those who were not Christians. Among the over 3000 Catholic clergy who were martyred in World War II was Blessed Titus Brandsma, who spoke out against Nazi anti-Semitism and religious censorship; he was martyred at Dachau in 1942. Also was Saint Maximilian Kolbe who took the place of a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz and was martyred in 1941. Today, Catholics are being martyred in Iraq, Syria, China, Africa and around the world.
For ages, people have said “some day you will have to stand and defend what you believe.” That statement is wrong. Every day, people have had to stand and defend what they believe. Even here in the United States, Christianity and Catholicism is under attack. Today, Christians are persecuted for refusing to bake cakes or take photographs for homosexual weddings. Today, Catholics are under attack for our objection to pay for government-mandated birth control and our stance that marriage is between one man and one woman. Today, the forces of darkness are attacking Ten Commandment murals, crosses on hillsides, “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, “In God We Trust” on our currency, prayer by student athletes in the locker room, mentioning God in commencement speeches, and in comment threads on internet websites. Make no mistake: these godless attacks on what we hold dear will only grow more determined as the forces of darkness tally victory after victory.
Whether it’s stopping gladiator games or refusing to bake a cake, we are all called to stand when God asks us to stand.
Are you prepared to stand for God? Will you take courage from Ephesians 6 and put on the full armor of God so that you can do battle against the forces of darkness in this world? Will you stand like a knight, wearing the breastplate of righteousness and the belt of truth, defended by the shield of faith and armed with the sword of the Spirit, “so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand”?
In the days and months and years to come, your faith in God will be put to the test. But always remember what God told Joshua: “Behold I command thee, take courage, and be strong. Fear not and be not dismayed: because the Lord thy God is with thee in all things wherever you shall go.”