I’ve been thinking a lot about something: so many of us complain that Catholic culture just isn’t what it used to be. We fear that we will lose privileges in society, as if we were children fearing punishment. We look at Christians in countries where their faith is illegal and fear that the West will follow suit. But Christians in those countries have a different perspective on the matter. They tell us not to feel sorry for them, because they consider the persecution a blessing. “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12.)
I’ve been researching the issue:
What do we observe of the difference between them and us?
- The Christians there are on fire for their faith.
Suppose someone likes to go to church because it makes him (I use a universal he because the Bible does) feel good about himself rather than out of any love for God. In the West, he simply goes every Sunday to “pay his dues.” But in Saudi Arabia or North Korea, going to church or refusing to deny Jesus could get him ostracized, arrested, or even killed. What worldly thing could motivate him to be a Christian at such a huge cost? This weeds out the lukewarm believers, leaving only the most devout.
In addition to this kind of natural selection, the suffering to which they are subjected purifies their faith even further. Hence Chinese Christians refer to prison time as “going to seminary.”
Meanwhile, we complain if our television sets malfunction, if our bosses are not as friendly as we wish, or if the coffee we order is not exactly as we would like it. In those countries, if someone complains about a headache, his faith is called into question, and he accepts the rebuke.
- Scarcity motivates them, abundance makes us complacent
In many countries, a copy of the Bible is contraband. A person can get arrested for simply owning one. Hence they are not easy to come by. Someone might be blessed with a single page of the Bible; he then memorizes it, and passes it on to another Christian in his community who will do the same. When Christians there go to prison, they wish they had more Scripture memorized; in fact, this is their biggest regret.
There are people who risk their lives to go into those countries and give out Bibles. Someone who is blessed with owning a whole Bible is as happy as you or I would be at winning the lottery. In China, Bibles are so scarce that pastors only give them out to those who memorize all of Psalm 119 (118 for those of us who use Douay-Rheims).
By contrast, we don’t read or study the Bible anywhere near as much as we watch television or “surf the Internet.” Those who do often don’t memorize, and those who memorize often only know a few isolated verses by heart, and these are usually limited to a few topics. I have memorized the Sermon on the Mount (among other passages of similar length), and I would rather know this than 100 separate verses.
We can access our Bibles on our phones, so it isn’t that urgent to us; after all, we think, the Bible isn’t going anywhere. If persecution arose in this country, we would regret this kind of thinking.
Similarly, they rarely have a chance to meet with other believers, so they spend hours at worship services despite the risk involved.
In addition, many of these countries are poor, which means that people have to rely more on God and have few or no possessions that can distract them. The rich man who wouldn’t give up his money and possessions to follow Jesus prompted Him to say, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Yet most of us in the West are richer than that rich man. Our weekly food budgets will buy more than he would have put on the table when he threw a party. Our doctors can easily cure diseases that would have been a death sentence for him. He could hire musicians, but we can buy an MP3 for a buck online. If the rich man’s prosperity led him to turn away from Jesus, what is our prosperity doing to us?
- They have less time, so they redeem it
Similarly, the knowledge that one could be taken to prison or killed at any moment on account of one’s faith motivates them to do their good works while they can. They spend a lot of time growing their faith and are bold in evangelizing, no matter what it will cost them.
We, on the other hand, think we have all the time in the world, so we spend lots of time on entertainment now and wait until later to do what’s important. In reality, God has not promised us a “later;” anyone could die at any moment.