FIRST POINT - There is nothing more remarkable than the destiny of the Church of God on earth. She is a vessel launched on the ocean of time, and destined to be buffeted constantly by wind and storm. The persecution which she shall suffer at the end of time shall be, it is true, the most terrible of all, although in every century of her existence persecutors have arisen against her. The first enemy with which she had to contend was Judaism. The Jews, who had put Jesus to death, wished to stifle His religion in its very cradle; the high-priests, the doctors, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the chiefs of all the people were against her. But it may be asked: Was it necessary that so much opposition should be raised against her who was so weak, so small, and on the first day of her existence? The answer is No, emphatically No, if she had been a human institution. But she was not a human institution; she was divine, and God who had founded her sustained her. And far from falling a victim by persecution, she acquired countless disciples. Driven from Jerusalem and Palestine, she sends her apostles to all parts of the world, and to the conquests she had already made she shall add new ones; but she shall purchase them as she did the first — at the price of the best blood of her children. Hardly had the Church spoken to pagan nations that word which announced the glad tidings, than she counted innumerable disciples — at Athens, as well as at Rome; among the Scythians, Arabians, and Persians, as well as among the Egyptians. At the sight of these triumphs idolatry trembled for its false deities. The emperors took up arms against this new power and began the era of blood and persecution. From one corner to the other of the Roman empire the Christians were tracked by savage beasts; denounced as traitors, placed under the ban of the empire as infamous people, they were put to the rack and the flames and the lions; every citizen was ordered to denounce them, and every governor of a province was charged to put them to death. It was a prodigy unheard of, and history would not believe it if it were not compelled to record it in its annals. But the order of things was reversed. Causes have produced effects opposite to those which they should have produced. The Caesars, instead of stifling religion, had given it a new life. Edicts of proscription propagated it more rapidly than it would have done by the peaceful preaching of millions of apostles; the blood of the martyrs had become the seed of Christianity. Who cannot see here the finger of God? But it was not enough for the Church to have combated against Judaism and idolatry. Intestine strife, more terrible for a society and a kingdom than external foes, arose to show clearly that God sustained His Church. The great heresy which threatened the Church with ruin commenced in the fourth century. It was propagated and came to life under different names until the sixteenth century, when it made its grand development. The apostles of heresy were sometimes powerful in words and works. Has it not produced an Arius and a Luther? Heresy opposed the Church more terribly than the Roman emperors. Arius found assistance in the legions of the Emperor Constance. Luther was supported by the German princes and the revolting peasants. But the same power which caused the Church to triumph over the Jews and pagans made her triumph over heresy, and the new triumph was another proof of her divine origin. Rationalism in its turn declared war against the Church, and what a war! As bold as the prince of Jewish priests and Roman emperors, it attacked individuals and went so far as to shed blood. It was more impious than heresy, since it was not limited, to a contest on some disputed point of doctrine. Rationalism attacked everything. Rousseau denied revelation; Hume held that the distinction between good and evil was arbitrary; Helvetius preached materialism; Diderot made Atheists; Voltaire combined them all — at the head of the philosophic cohort he was soldier and general. At this epoch everything was employed to destroy religion — resources of genius and admi- rable talents, scientific studies and historical evidences, calumnies and sarcasm, but the Church triumphed over them all. The triumph she has won in the sequence of ages over all her enemies must assure us, in the midst of trials which assail her now, that she shall rise from them, as ever, purer and more glorious.
SECOND POINT — What we should do in time of persecution. Our first duty is to humble ourselves before God and strive to appease His anger. All the evils which bring sorrow to the Church, all the trials by which human society is afflicted come from the sins of men. Perhaps these trials are provoked by our own personal iniquities. We should then strike our breast, and by our tears appease the tempests which our crimes have unchained. This was the conduct of the saints. The prophet Daniel was not responsible for the sins which occasioned the captivity of the Jews in Babylon; however, he numbered himself among the guilty ones. ''We have sinned," he said; "we have committed iniquities. We merit only confusion for our sins, we, our kings, and our princes, and our fathers.'' The holy priest Esdras thus spoke to God: "My God, I am covered with shame and I do not dare to lift my eyes to Thee, because our iniquities have ascended to heaven." Strive to entertain these sentiments so suitable to a Christian heart, and in the trials which beset the Church here below be careful lest you regard yourself guiltless. In the troubles which afflict the Church we should not content ourselves with being humble; but we should pray for her. This duty our blessed Saviour points out in the Gospel of today, when He says: "Pray that your flight be not in the winter." This He recommends most formally in the words of Ezechiel: "I have sought for a man who would restrain my anger against my people, and I have not found him, and I have been forced to give full vent to my vengeance." These words, "I have sought for a man," should make us tremble. Alas, perhaps you are that unthinking soul who betrays the cause of the Church by neglecting its interests and by doing nothing for her glory. When God seeks some one to arrest His anger, it is a sign He wishes to pardon, and if He does not pardon it is our own fault; we have not prayed, or we have prayed without suitable dispositions. Henceforth, fulfil this duty with greatest fidelity. Pray with a pure heart, with fervor, with perseverance, that God may shorten the days of trial for good Christians. Ask that His Church may increase and flourish more and more every day, until the coming of the great day, which shall see all the enemies of our divine Saviour conquered. Our third duty in the time of trouble and scandal is to cling most tenaciously to the teachings of the Church. "There shall arise" says the Saviour, "false Christs and false prophets; if then some one tells you Christ is here, or there, do not believe it. To follow this warning remember these two principles:
First, the faith of the Church is invariable; that which was believed in the days of the apostles is still believed, and shall be believed to the end of the world. Thus every novelty should be rejected, every new doctrine should be condemned beforehand and should not seduce us. To believe and to be saved: this is all the Christian should know and practice.
The second principle which shall preserve you from all error is that the Church is Catholic, that is to say, is universal. It follows that Christ is neither in this or that sect. Be on your guard against every particular doctrine; remain firmly attached to the Church which is Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman; whose faith is as old as herself and as extended as the world. She is the pillar of truth on which you must stand in the midst of the fluctuating and uncertain teachings of the times in which we live. She is the bark of Peter which has lived through tempest and storm, and which shall securely conduct you to the haven of safety.
Source: Short Instructions for Every Sunday of the Year and the Principal Feasts, Imprimatur 1897