The Christian gospel is truly Good News. The gospel today encapsulates the heart of the Good News, which is simply this, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.” Indeed, it is so wonderful to know that God loves the world. In other words, God loves us all. He has never abandoned us in our suffering and misery. His love is directed at us for all eternity. He wants to save the world. He wants us all to find the fullness of life. He does not wish to condemn us or give up on us.
However, God does not love with words nor even with gifts. He loves us with His entire being. He shows us His love by giving us Himself in His Son Jesus Christ. No greater love can one give to anyone than himself. We can do things for people, we can give them our money and resources, but real giving is the giving of oneself, one’s life and being. This is how the Father demonstrates His love for us. He gives us all that He is. Jesus in turn gave His life to us, His body and soul for our salvation. Such is the love of God. So much so, St Paul remarked, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?” (Rom 8:32-34)
But not all accept Jesus or believe in Him. To accept Jesus is more than just a verbal or even an intellectual assent to Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus said, “On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.” To accept Jesus is to walk in the way of truth and love as revealed by the Lord in His life and in His teaching. This is why the Lord said, “No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.” Rejection of Jesus is ultimately to reject all that Jesus stands for, His identity as the revealer of the Father’s love for us, and Him as the Way to the fullness of Truth, and the Way to fullness of life. This was what St Peter and St John were instructed by the angel to proclaim to the whole world. “Go and stand in the Temple, and tell the people all about this new Life.”
Why are there many against Jesus and the gospel? Jesus explains why. “And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed; but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.” Christianity is under persecution, covertly or overtly in the world today, because the gospel is an affront to what the secular and materialistic world is advocating, namely, individualism, consumerism and hedonism. There is a conspiracy to silence the gospel by emptying Christianity from public life. This is particularly true in the West where once Christianity was synonymous with Europe. Many are not happy with the scripture teachings especially on sexual morality, marriage and fidelity, justice for the human person from conception till death at old age.
This was the case of the Jewish leaders during the time of the early Church. The apostles too were persecuted for preaching in the name of Jesus. The Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin knew that there was something there in the preaching of the apostles. When the paralyzed man was healed, they could not deny the fact. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man that had been healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.” (Acts 4:13f) Again, when they put them in goal, the next day, they “found the gaol securely locked and the warders on duty at the gates” but when “they unlocked the door” they “found no one inside.” The evangelist remarked, “when the captain of the Temple and the chief priests heard this news they wondered what this could mean.” So, they had all the evidence to surmise that divine intervention was at work but they refused to accept.
However, instead of seeking the truth of the matter and getting to the bottom of it, they sought to suppress the truth. The reason given was because they were “prompted by jealousy.” We can appreciate where they were coming from. They belonged to the highest strata of society. They were holding important political and religious positions. They were well protected in their interests. With the apostles’ teaching, their religious and social positions in society were challenged and compromised. Regardless of the truth of the matter, they needed to protect their interests. Thus, they tried to silence the truth by silencing the apostles in proclaiming the name of Jesus. They were not stopping them from healing the sick but simply from announcing the name of Jesus as they would otherwise be put in a bad light. Worse still, people might believe in Jesus and their religious institution would be at risk.
This is still happening in our world today. Christianity is being persecuted in many parts of the world, even in the so-called free world. In some countries, Christians are oppressed, persecuted and prevented from practising their faith. They are marginalized, discriminated and often lack the freedom of worship and the freedom to practise and propagate the faith. The irony is that Christians in so-called Christian countries are suppressed subtly through the promotion of the ideology of secularism and relativism.
However, even more difficult for us in proclaiming the gospel today is the opposition from the mass media, especially the social media. Whatever Catholics teach or believe are being challenged by unbelievers, which include among them, Catholics who are unhappy with the Church’s teachings and doctrines. They demand that we agree with their values and their perspective of the world, on moral issues and what life is all about. The truth is that our teachings are available freely on the social media and circulated freely. When we teach what the world does not like to hear, they get offended and react by accusing us of creating division, causing discrimination, and insulting them. Unless we agree with what they are doing, we will be faulted. They expect us to teach what relativism proclaims, that truth is relativistic and that there is no absolute truth. In other words, we cannot say that anything is better than others, or that it is right or wrong.
But the fact is that light cannot be overcome by darkness, the truth cannot be kept locked in prison. No matter how much the religious authorities sought to cover up their ignorance and sins, it was not possible. This is the significance of the apostles being released from jail and then later on found at the Temple again, preaching to the people. Regardless of the world’s hostile opposition to the gospel of truth and life, the gospel wants to assure us that evil and unenlightened man cannot chain up the Good News. We must not allow the world to silence the truth and the Good News. We must have courage like that of the apostles.
Consequently, as Catholics, we must remember that being a Christian is to suffer persecution. This should not be a surprise to us. Even the apostles were persecuted in spite of their power to perform miracles and preach boldly. If we stand against the world, we will be marginalized. Being a Christian does not mean that we will not suffer. Rather, it means we will not be defeated. Faith gives us that vision and hope that God will protect us as He protected Peter and John. This is what the psalmist experienced. “Glorify the Lord with me. Together let us praise his name. I sought the Lord and he answered me from all my terrors he set me free. Look towards him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed. This poor man called, the Lord heard him and rescued him from all his distress. The angel of the Lord is encamped around those who revere him, to rescue them.”
Whilst we must certainly be sensitive to the feelings of others who are not of our faith, we must however not allow the truth to be stifled or prevented from being proclaimed. We must be respectful of others who do not share in our beliefs and give reasons for our faith. St Peter exhorts us, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Pt 3:15f) We strive to live in harmony with the rest of society. St Paul said, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Tim 2:1f)