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  • Writer's pictureThe Hermit of Antipolo

Persecution (A Perspective on Covid-19 Part 24)

Today’s reading: Acts 8:1-8

After the martyrdom of Stephen, “on that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria” (v.1). Aside from death and imprisonment, people’s lives were severely disrupted, being forced to leave everything in their lives behind and face an unknown future elsewhere.

But in every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. What could be good in a situation where many are persecuted, put to death, imprisoned, or exiled? It was this: the gospel was further proclaimed and spread. “Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” (v.4).

Persecution of the Church has continued up to this time, varying in severity and in location. Religions other than Islam are totally banned in Saudi Arabia. Christian churches are allowed in China but controlled and dictated to by the state. Various Muslim countries allow churches but strictly prohibit proselytization of their citizens. Most Western nations, including Christian ones, have become antagonistic to Christianity and are severely restricting religious freedom.

And now we have COVID-19. This pandemic has succeeded in what oppressive regimes have failed to do. It has closed churches, shut down public religious activities, and deprived the Catholic faithful of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. What happened in the persecution of the Church then was this: “Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.” (v.3). Allow me to paraphrase this to reflect our current situation. “Satan, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; shutting down house after house and dragging in men and women, he handed them over for lockdown.”

COVID-19 has brought us death, imprisoned us in our homes, and upended our lives. That is the dark cloud. So what is the silver lining? There are quite a few things.

* The Christians then were scattered; we today are gathered in. But being shuttered in our homes has allowed us more time to pray, to be with our family, to read the Bible and to study the faith.

* The Christians then lost everything of crucial importance to them, not just their lives and their freedom, but their homes and possessions. Today, with severe economic disruption resulting in loss of work and income, we are discovering simple living. We do not after all have to buy a lot of material things, nor go out and spend money in restaurants, malls, games and concerts.

* The Christians then were being prevented from practicing their faith. We today are deprived of the sacraments and are unable to go out to do mission. But we are now appreciating more what we have been deprived of, and we are discovering new ways with which to carry on our mission, especially the use of social media.

The Christians then must have been very disheartened and discouraged. But they persisted and the Church continued to grow. We today must not be disheartened nor discouraged, but persist, endure, persevere and keep going at our mission. We must be more aware of spiritual warfare. We must never take for granted the mercy and love of God.

If we do so, then what can we expect?

* “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.” (v.5-6). As people in the world have been stripped of their distractions, as people have become desperate, they should be more open and pay attention to the One who can truly save them. We need to proclaim the Messiah and Lord.

* “For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.” (v.7). People today are infested by a virus, but worse, infested with sin. People are unclean and living unholy lives. Many are paralyzed with fear and loss of hope. Many are crippled, not just in movement for those in their hospital beds, but in their ability to earn a living, to socialize, and to move about freely. But in faith the afflicted were cured. The world today is desperately and feverishly looking for a cure for COVID-19, but what is more important is health for the soul. If we repent and turn back to God, then we will be healed of our infirmities. And God would then even cause a medical cure for the pandemic.

* “There was great joy in that city.” (v.8). Today, with this worldwide pandemic, we are in mourning. But if we see the spiritual realities in this dire situation, and allow God to show us His mercy and love, our lamentations will be turned into joy.

We Christians have been locked down, locked up, locked in, locked out and locked off. What we need to do is to lock on. To lock on is to fix our gaze on something; that is Jesus. To lock on is to aim at a moving target and not be distracted; that is our mission, being constantly aware of the moves of Satan, and keeping engaged in spiritual warfare.

Despite oppression and persecution, Christians need to keep moving forward in their life and mission.

* * *


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