ROME — Pope Francis said Wednesday that an authentic Christian witness provokes anger and hatred in the worldly-minded, which explains the rampant persecution of Christians in the world today.
Reflecting on the gospel beatitude “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the pope said that the practice of Christian virtue stings the ungodly to the core, unleashing hostility and violence.
“Poverty in spirit, mourning, meekness, a thirst for holiness, mercy, purification of the heart, and works of peace can lead to persecution for Christ’s sake,” the pontiff said during his weekly general audience, because “the world, with its idols, its compromises and its priorities, cannot approve of this type of existence.”
The worldly “can only reject poverty or meekness or purity and declare life according to the Gospel to be an error and a problem, and therefore as something to be vilified,” he said, and so the world judges Christians to be “idealists or fanatics.”
“The Christian witness, which does so much good to so many people who follow it, irritates those with a worldly mentality,” he said, and “they experience it as a reproach.”
“When holiness appears and the life of the children of God emerges, there is something uncomfortable in that beauty that calls for taking a stand,” Francis said, “either to allow oneself to be challenged and to open oneself to goodness or to reject that light and harden one’s heart, even to the point of opposition and fury.”
“It is odd and striking to see how hostility grows to the point of fury in the persecutions of the martyrs,” he said. “Just look at the persecutions of the last century, of the European dictatorships, which give rise to fury against Christians, against the Christian witness and against the heroism of Christians.”
And yet in the midst of this vehement persecution, Christians are able to rejoice, he continued, even though they are rejected by the world, because they have “found something worth more than the whole world.”
“It is painful to remember that, at this moment, there are many Christians who suffer persecution in various areas of the world,” he continued, “and we must hope and pray that their tribulation will be stopped as soon as possible.”
“There are so many; today’s martyrs are more numerous than the martyrs of the first centuries,” he said, and “these Christians are the bleeding members of the body of Christ, which is the Church.”
There is, of course, another sort of contempt of Christians that does not qualify as persecution, the pope continued. Jesus taught that Christians are the “salt of the earth” and that when salt loses its taste, it is good for nothing.
“Therefore, there is also a contempt that is our fault when we lose the flavor of Christ and the Gospel,” the pope warned.
“Compromises with the world are the danger: the Christian is always tempted to make compromises with the world, with the spirit of the world,” he said, but it is only by walking the path of Jesus Christ that one experiences “the greatest joy, true joy.”
“So let us not be discouraged when a life consistent with the Gospel draws people’s persecution,” he said.