Friday, September 18, 2009

8th Beatitude: Blessed Are They That Suffer Persecution For Justice' Sake

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.


In this Beatitude we have reached the peak of our quest. Our reward of our efforts is to become worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.


Gregory says,

No longer do we go astray, pinning our hope on what is unstable and subject to change. For earth is the place of variation and flux; but in the things that appear moving in heaven we observe nothing like that, because they do not behave in such a way; but all heavenly things move in their own courses in series of orderly sequence.


The examples we have for this final step are the martyrs of the Church.


Gregory says

It seems that in the last words He holds out to them the highest Beatitude like a crown. For it is truly blessed to suffer persecution for the sake of the Lord. And why? Because being chased by evil becomes the cause of attaining to the good, since separation from the wicked one is made the occasion for drawing near to the Good, that Good that is above every good, the Lord Himself, to whom runs the man who is persecuted. Therefore he is truly blessed, because he uses the enemy to help him attain the Good…

Hence the immediate aspect of the persecution which tyrants unleash against the martyrs is indeed painful to the senses; but the outcome of it exceeds all beatitude.


We all know how difficult it is to deal with those who scheme against us and who do not show their love for us. Gregory uses the story of Joseph as an example. His brothers plotted against him, sold him, yet by this action he became a king over those who had plotted against him. But the persecution in the days of the early Church (which still continues to this days in parts of the world) horrible and was something known by all. Many of Saint Gregory's peers had horrific scars to show this (This is the reason the veiled headgear that monks wear to this day was initiated.). To become blessed because someone has plotted against you, or worse physically harmed you, is not a logical thought. We do not normally see the outcome of inflicted pain as something that is good.


Gregory says,

The fact that the persecution the tyrants inflict on the faithful brings much sensible pain, makes it difficult for the more carnally minded to accept the hope of the Kingdom that is to be realized through these pains. But the Lord, who looks down upon the infirmity of our nature, tells the weak beforehand what is to be the goal of the struggle, so that they may more easily overcome the transitory feelings of pain.


The first martyr Stephen who willingly received the stones that killed him is another example he uses. As Stephen confessed his faith he saw the glory of the Lord shine down on him from heaven. Who else could be more blessed?


Now it is really difficult to prefer what is invisible versus the good things of this world, like the martyrs were able to do.


Gregory says,

Now the soul is in some way attached to the pleasant things of life through the senses of the body. Through the eyes it delights in material beauty, through the ears it inclines to melodious sounds, and so it is also affected by smell, taste, and touch, as nature has disposed to be proper to each. Hence, as it is attached to the pleasant things of life through the sensible faculty as if by a nail, it is hard to turn away from them. It has grown up together with these attachments much in the same way as the shellfish and snails are bound to their covering of clay; and so it is slow to make such movements, since it drags along the whole burden of a lifetime. As such is its condition, the soul is easily captured by its persecutors with the threat of confiscation of property or loss of sonic other things that are coveted in this life; and so it gives in easily, and yields to the power of its persecutor.


But when we God’s grace penetrates our being it is transformed. As Paul says, For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Heb 4:12)


Gregory says,

It cuts through the things that have badly grown together, and disrupts the fetters of habit… He is not pained by the loss of earthly things, but gladdened by the gain of heavenly ones. Therefore he will readily accept every form of torture as a means that will help him to attain to the joy before him: the fire, as a purification from matter; the sword, as disrupting the union of the mind with what is material and carnal. Every device for inflicting pain he will receive eagerly as an antidote against the dangerous poison of pleasure.


Gregory conclude with this:

Therefore affliction is the flower that will yield the hoped-for fruits. Hence let us pick the flower for the sake of the fruit. Let us be persecuted so that we may run, but if we run, let us not run in vain. Let us race towards the prize of our supernal vocation; so let us run that we may obtain. What is it that we shall obtain? What is the prize, what the crown? It seems to me that what we hope is nothing else but the Lord Himself. For He Himself is the Judge of those who fight, and the crown of those who win. He it is who distributes the inheritance, He Himself is the goodly inheritance. He is the portion and the giver of the portion, He makes rich and is Himself the riches. He shows you the treasure and is Himself your treasure. He draws you to desire the beautiful pearl; He offers it to you as it were for sale, if you will trade fairly. In order to gain it, therefore, as if in the market, let us compare the things we have not with those we have. Let us not be sorrowful, then, if we are persecuted, but rather let us rejoice, because by being chased away from earthly honors, we are driven towards the heavenly Good. For this He has promised, that those who have been persecuted for His sake shall be blessed, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever.

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