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Living the Gospel of Life -- Study Guide

Paragraph Thirty-seven


The promise of persecution

When the infant Jesus was presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, the prophet Simeon declared to them, "This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign of contradiction" (Luke 2:34). Jesus himself declared that he had not come to bring peace, but division (Matthew 10:34). This is the essential division between truth and falsehood, grace and sin, life and death. The dynamic at work here is explained in John's Gospel: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (Jn. 3:19-20).

Because of this, Jesus promised that his followers in every age would be hated. "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me" (Jn. 15:18-21).

The Beatitudes proclaim that we are blessed when we are persecuted. We pray to "be made worthy of the promises of Christ," but we should never forget that persecution is one of those promises.

St. Paul certainly learned that lesson. His ministerial activity as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles involved a message that led many of his listeners to conspire to kill him in Damascus, forced him to flee Jerusalem, ran him out of Antioch, threatened his life in Iconima, stoned him and left him for dead in Lystra, attacked and beat him in Macedonia, stormed his residence in Thessolonica, drove him from Berea, abused him in Corinth, assaulted and arrested him in Crispus, silenced him with threats of mob violence in Ephesus and incited two riots in which he was almost killed in Jerusalem, the city in which the Book of Acts ends with a description of plot to assassinate him.

And every social reformer in history was hated. Popularity and success are two different things, and when we undertake pro-life activity, we cannot expect to have both at the same time.

Love has a content

It is important to note here that the bishops mention various types of pro-life activity, and then state that all of these different works "embody our Lord's command to love one another." "Love" encompasses all the different versions of pro-life activity, not just the activities that provide the alternatives to abortion or the post-abortion healing. Some call these the "compassion arm" of the pro-life movement. But that should not lead us to think that those who lobby, or run political campaigns, or stand in protest at abortion facilities, have less love or compassion. When Martin Luther King, Jr. led protest marches against segregation and was dragged away under arrest, he was living out the love and compassion he had for his people who were being oppressed. When people stand up for unborn children in legislatures, before podiums, and on marches through the streets of our cities, they are also living out the same spirit of love that fills the pregnancy centers and the post-abortion healing services.

Discussion Questions

Give some examples of the kind of pro-life activities the bishops praise in this paragraph. What are the common threads between these activities, and what are the distinctions?

Give some examples of social reformers who were persecuted. Why can we recognize them as heroes today, when the people of their own time did not?

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