The Witness of the Greatest of Men
Jesus warned His Disciples about the coming persecutions so that they would not be surprised when they experienced them. He told them, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” He repeated what He had taught them on the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Jesus had seen God’s Prophets unjustly persecuted by kings and religious leaders. Even His Forerunner, John the Baptist, was persecuted and ultimately decapitated by King Herod at the encouragement of his immoral wife Herodias. Why? What crime had John committed to suffer such punishment? He dared to tell Herod that God’s Law forbade him from having his brother’s wife. His immorality had become a public scandal and it violated God’s eternal Law.
Throughout human history, powerful and corrupt men and women have persecuted and destroyed the people who questioned or challenged them in the name of God and His Laws. These men and women used different tactics to either win their critics over or to do away with them. First, they promised riches and glory to them for their silence. If this approach failed, they resorted to threats, slander, persecution and even death. For example, the Jewish religious leaders used slander and false accusations to undermine the teachings and miracles of Jesus. When this did not work, they crucified Him. The empress Eudoxia used threats and exile to silence St. John Chrysostom; but she failed. Chrysostom preferred to die in exile, faithful to God rather, than to succumb to her devious palace intrigues and abuses of power.
In our recent past and present, we have seen the same abuse of power by unworthy and immoral leaders. We saw it in the Nazis, the Fascists, who persecuted and attempted to exterminate an entire group of people. We saw it among the communists, who ruthlessly silenced their opponents. We also saw it among the capitalists, who allowed “white-collar” criminals to plunder our banks at the taxpayers’ expense. Sadly, we have seen the same shameful practices among religious leaders. Though they were ordained to preach and uphold the moral law of God, we have heard of numerous scandals involving theft, fraud, and sexual misconduct that have scandalized the faithful and undermined the moral authority of the Church.
As we commemorated the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, let us not be surprised when we hear of persecutions. Our Lord Jesus Christ warned us about their coming. They fell upon St. John the Baptist, who was honored by our Lord as “the greatest man ever born of a woman.” As we paused to honor him twenty-one centuries later, it is his greatness that moves us.
All his persecutors and all the other persecutors of human history are remembered as an anathema, as abusers of their power.
As for ourselves, let us bear witness to the truth and uphold God’s eternal Law, without worrying about any repercussions. God is in charge and He always has the last word, both in this life and the eternal life to come. His Grace will enable us to carry our Cross to victory.
Fr. John P. Angelis
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