Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 7

StMichaelFace

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 7 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

For today’s meditation, let’s consider Simon of Cyrene. 

Simon of Cyrene was a long way from home that day. Cyrene was a town in Africa, a former Greek colony, in the area we now call Lybia. 

He had probably come to Jerusalem for the Passover. He may never have heard of Jesus before that day. It is almost certain that he had no desire to get involved in this execution, much less be forced to help a bleeding, dying man carry His cross to His crucifixion. 

Roman soldiers had enormous power over the civilian population. They could arrest people on their own initiative, kill people who interfered with their duties, use people’s homes and provender to carry out their work and impress anyone they chose to work as free labor for them. 

When Jesus said If someone forces you to go with them a mile, go with them two miles, He was referring to the practice of Roman soldiers. They impressed random bystanders into carrying their loads and functioning as their beasts of burden. It was not a volunteer position, and the person who was forced into labor was not paid. 

That is what happened to Simon of Cyrene. He was evidently among the bystanders, watching the spectacle of three men, carrying the instruments of their execution to the place where they would die. 

The excessive cruelty the Roman soldiers had heaped on Jesus was causing them trouble now. This man they had beaten was so weakened by loss of blood and the injuries they’d inflicted that He fell repeatedly while trying to carry his cross. 

The Romans had a timetable. They were tasked with getting these three men on their crosses and dead before the Passover began that evening. The whole purpose of Jesus’ death was to spare their Governor the problems of an uprising. Breaking Jewish law by leaving these Jews hanging on their crosses alive after sundown might provoke the very uprising the Governor was trying to prevent. 

They didn’t have time to dally with a dead man, walking on the way to His final execution, Who was too weak to get there. 

The solution, for them at least, was simple. They grabbed a man at random, without knowing, as the authors of the Gospels did, his name, and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus. 

Simon doubtless thought this was his unlucky day. Here he’d come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage like the good Jew he probably was. He’d brought his two sons, Rufus and Alexander, and most likely the rest of his family, as well. It was supposed to be a holy time; a time of rejoicing.

And here he was, forced to stand beside this sweaty, smelly, bleeding wretch of a man — this criminal — and lift the heavy cross onto his own shoulders and help the man carry it to his death. 

Day ruined. 

Pilgrimage ruined. 

And yet something unexpected must have happened that day. Because scripture indicates that Simon didn’t just walk away. This indignity he suffered didn’t just fade into part of the family lore about what happened to Dad when we went to Passover in Jerusalem a long time ago.

The Gospel authors knew him. They knew the names of his sons. There is a familiarity about the way they identify him that makes it clear that Simon of Cyrene’s interaction with the followers of Christ went on past that horrible morning when He helped the Son of God carry His cross to Golgotha. 

This is satan’s hour, Jesus told His disciples. But even in this deepest darkness of the worst crime of our human history, the Light shone through. It touched the thief on the cross. It entered the soldier who confessed Him. And it evidently touched and stayed with Simon of Cyrene, as well.

It’s the same today.

Even in the deepest darkness of Christ crucified again in the persecution of His followers, the light of their witness, their fidelity, their awesome faith, shines through. 

These people who, in the face of unbearable terror, refuse to convert away from Christ, refuse to recant and deny Him, are the Light, shining for all of us. 

We need to set their light on a hill and let it shine so that it touches all of indifferent and callous humanity. Our first task as their brothers and sisters is to give their awesome witness to the faith the attention and respect that it deserves. 

Pray for an end to the persecution, yes. 

But in our praying we must pray also that their witness to the Truth is seen and known and honored in every church, before every Tabernacle and in every heart where Christ is worshipped around the world. 

Even in the deepest darkness, the Light still shines. 

Pray that we will have the eyes to see it, the courage to proclaim it. 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 7. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 6
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 6

Michael archangel

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 6 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

Today, let’s meditate on the soldiers who carried out the orders to crucify Our Lord.

Corrupt priests used their influence with the Roman governor of Judea to push him into consenting to the crucifixion of Jesus. This roman governor, whose name was Pontius Pilate, tried to avoid committing this murder, but in the end, he yielded to the pressure from the priests and ordered it.

Who carried out the order?

Roman soldiers.

Roman soldiers scourged Jesus until He was so weakened, probably from loss of blood, that He fell repeatedly on His way to Golgotha. Roman soldiers put a purple robe around his shoulders and a crown of thorns on His head and beat Him and mocked Him. Roman soldiers impressed Simon of Cyrene into forced service to help Jesus carry His cross.

They drove the nails, pulled the cross upright and cast lots for His robe. It was a Roman soldier who thrust his lance into Jesus’ side after His death and was drenched in the blood and water that flowed from it.

What of these men who were just following orders? How, other than as pawns on the stage of history, do they play in this drama?

These were hard men; harder than we can comprehend. First century warfare was man to man; hand to hand. Roman might was based on an infantry formation called the Roman Phalanx. This phalanx required steel nerves and total dependence on the man next to you to hold his place.

Roman soldiers fought as units who depended on one another for their lives. They also, as the Roman peacekeepers in this dusty outpost of Judea, were charged with the bloody business of putting down uprisings among the civilian population. When Pilate ordered the death of worshipers in the Temple, “mingling their blood with their sacrifices,” it was Roman soldiers who did the killing.

They were probably sick of the Jews and their uprisings and God-talk.

The Passover season was almost certainly a dreaded, disgusting time for them, with its crowds, high tensions and boring religious practices. When these men thought of “religion” they associated it with temple prostitutes and wild high drama. Fun stuff.

These religion-besotted Jews with their shalt nots and insistence on taking a day off every week didn’t even follow an entertaining God.

Roman soldiers, as soldiers everywhere, were probably early risers. But the ruckus these hoity-toity Jewish priests raised about the nondescript miracle worker from Nazareth not only disrupted their morning, it most likely got them out of bed early. It cheated them of the slower convivial start to their day.

Instead of enjoying their breakfast with their friends, they had to scourge this Jew.

They were good with the flagellum and whip. They’d scourged lots of people. It took strength, physical endurance and skill to wield the flagellum so that its metal ends dug through the skin and into the muscle below without actually tearing into the vital organs beneath.

Scourging a man almost to death in this fashion was hard, physical labor. This Jesus was to them just an unnecessary piece of work that was forced on them by these impossible people and their insulting religious demands.

Their cruelty with the crown of thorns almost certainly had nothing to do with Jesus directly. He was just a job of work to them. But they were angry. They almost scourged Jesus to death in their anger. Then, they tortured Him with their mockery and cruelty. 

Jesus was not a person to them. He was an addition to their workload and a disgusting annoyance. Truth be told, the devil-driven rage they vented with the whip and later with the crown of thorns was probably aimed more at the priests and the whole Jewish people than at Jesus.

They faced a hard, disgusting task that day. They had to execute two criminals by crucifixion. When Pilate added Jesus’ name to the list, that only increased their workload again. The other two men they were charged with executing were strong enough to carry their crosses. But the soldiers found that they had overdone the beating they gave Jesus.

He had lost so much blood that He couldn’t carry the cross. He fell repeatedly, until finally they had to force an onlooker to help him.

These Roman soldiers were hard men. Callous and cruel men. But they evidently weren’t spiritually dead men, at least not all of them.

Two people converted on that hill that day.

The first was one of the thieves. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, he asked Our Lord. His reward for this simple act of faith was what we all long to hear; Today you will be with me in paradise. 

The second convert was one of the hardened Roman soldiers.

What was it that caused this soldier to exclaim, Truly, this man is the Son of God? 

How did he hear the Holy Spirit, speaking to him? God’s own Levitical priests and the Roman Governor would not hear this Spirit of God, even when, in the governor’s case, he was warned explicitly.

Why was this hardened soldier who had helped drive the nails the one who listened to that small, still voice?

How many of the soldiers and thugs who go out to torture, attack, rape, kidnap and murder Christians in the world today are turning their backs on the call of the Holy Spirit while they do it?

This Roman soldier was not a thug. He was part of a disciplined military unit of professional soldiers who depended on one another for their lives. But he stepped away from the groupthink of that unit and saw Jesus for Who He was. This same soldier had participated in the torture, degradation and ultimately, the murder of Jesus.

Yet the Holy Spirit gave him eyes to look past the blood and gore and into truth of Who he was dealing with.

He knew.

Those who attack Christians and murder them also know. The things they do are condemned first by the natural law that informs all of us that torture, rape, kidnapping and murder of innocence is wrong. There is no ameliorating explanation that can alter the wrongness of these things. There is no reason or excuse or idea that can ever make them right.

Those who attack Christians because they are Christians are also condemned by the voice of the Holy Spirit, speaking inside their consciences, telling them to stop.

It is a simple fact, and an ugly one, that the corrupt priests and cowardly politicians who demand these atrocities send other people to commit them.

Every hand that throws a rock or lights a fuse or lifts a gun against Christians is the hand of the Roman soldiers wielding the whips and driving the nails all over again. Persecuted Christians are Christ crucified, right in front of us. Those who carry out the persecution with their own hands are His executioners.

We need to pray for these executioners of the Body of Christ. Pray that they will put down their weapons and turn away from this blood sin they are committing against the Son of God. Pray that they will tell the corrupt priests and cowardly politicians to go to hell alone.

 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 6. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 5

St

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 5 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

Our Lord was crucified by a group of corrupt priests and a cowardly politician. Yesterday, we looked at the cowardly politician. Today, let’s meditate on the corrupt priests. 

The Levitical priesthood of Jesus’ day was corrupt. It had become a priesthood that, as Jesus said, does not practice what it preaches. 

This was so widespread that Jesus bluntly warned His followers to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 

He went on with a warning that nothing that is covered up that will not be known, which was a frightening warning for those with the good sense to heed it that all our pretenses to goodness will be shown for the pretense they are when we stand before God. 

Both Jesus and John the Baptist before Him denounced this corrupt priesthood in unforgettable language. When the priests went to where John the Baptist was baptizing people, he said Brood of vipers! Who told you to flee the coming wrath?

Our Lord was no gentler in His condemnation of them. He repeatedly called them Hypocrites … blind guides … snakes … brood of vipers … white washed tombs that on the outside are beautiful but inside are full of corruption. 

The Levitical priesthood was corrupt. It had become a collaborator with the Roman conquerors to keep the people down. It used its power to interpret the Law of Moses to create new and more difficult regulations that it heaped on an impoverished and suffering people. These priests lorded it over the people of God. They used the law to punish and batter them. 

At the same time, the priests themselves lived large on the Roman beneficence. They did not follow the harsh laws they put on the people. Their faith was performance art, not faith. They demanded that the people that God had raised up and led through the desert to this land bow down to them and their pretend holiness.

They were, in Jesus’ words, blind guides.

His description of them to his disciples would fit any fallen priest or clergy today:

… they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

Their priesthood was for themselves, not God and certainly not God’s people.

Jesus condemned them as He condemned no one else. He diagnosed their spiritual poverty in a series of condemnations, beginning each condemning diagnosis with the words Woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees. 

At the end of this long diagnosis of their fallen priesthood, He cursed them by prophesying:

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

This was God made Man, speaking to His own failed priests. It is sobering beyond sobering how God deals with corrupt priests.

It was also inevitable that they would try to kill him. While the people suffered under Roman rule, the priests had a good deal. They lorded it over the people and lived lives of luxury off the Roman fat. They weren’t doing good. They were doing well.

In one of the most chilling passages in Scripture, they discussed what to do about this Jesus the people were following, how to end this threat to their sovereignty and good times.

It appears that they lied, even to one another. Rather than just say the truth that they hated Jesus for exposing them for what they were and they feared His influence with the people, they made up a fantasy about the necessity of committing murder to “save the people.”

Caiaphas, the chief priest, concluded the discussion by telling the others It is better for one man to die than the whole nation. 

This is how murderers justify murder, by claiming that they are doing something fine and necessary with their killing. But in the end murder is always about one thing: Me. 

Caiaphas took it a step further:

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

In other words, he used his full authority as chief priest, as the religious leader who interceded with God for God’s people, to promulgate this plan to murder Christ the Lord. 

In this he was no different from religious leaders today who stand before crowds or go on television and incite their followers to murder and persecute the Body of Christ in the person of His followers. They, like Caiaphas, are using their power as priests to murder innocence. 

Shakespeare famously said, Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. 

Jesus put it differently when He said, To those whom much is given, much is required. 

Priests and religious leaders have been given much. They are entrusted first with the souls of many other people. They are also entrusted with the understanding of God in this world. 

Their smell when they become corrupt is associated in people’s minds with God Himself. 

These corrupt priests who Jesus said, Shut the door of heaven in people’s faces, had already turned their backs on God when Jesus began His ministry. Their priesthood was all about them, their power and the respect they loved to receive. 

But they entered history and became the manifestation of what a fallen priesthood is when they set themselves the task of procuring the judicial murder of God Himself. 

The Scriptures do not tell us that God warned these priests as He did Pilate. So far as we know, He sent no dreams to tell them what they were doing was wrong. He didn’t have to. They, unlike Pilate, had the law and the prophets. They knew beyond doubt that they were committing murder. 

They denied what they didn’t want to see: That Jesus was divine. They were, as He told them, the spiritual descendants of those earlier corrupt priests who had murdered the prophets. 

It is better for one man to die than the whole nation, Caiaphas said. 

How will you escape being condemned to hell? Jesus asked him. 

He is asking that same question of the religious leaders in various countries around the world who use their power over people to instigate the persecution of Christians. 

It cannot be said too many times that persecuted Christians are Christ crucified in today’s world.

Religious leaders who lead their followers in the almost unfathomable sin of attacking, persecuting and murdering Christ’s followers because they are Christ’s followers are these same Pharisees. The same satan who inspired them then, whispers calls to hate and kill in the ears of their descendants today. 

How will you escape being condemned to hell? Jesus asked. 

The question applies just as much to corrupt and fallen clergy today as it did when He first said it 2,000 years ago. 

 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 5. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 4
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Christian Persecution: From the Dali Lama to Great Britain, Six Quick Takes

This week’s six quick takes include examples of the increasing hostility toward Christians and Christianity worldwide.

They range from government punishment of Christian business owners for practicing their faith in Great Britain, to the rise of government harassments and arrests of Christian religious leaders in Eastern Europe. Also included are remarks by the Dali Lama that seem to blame the victims of violence for their own persecution. He specifically pointed to the martyrdom of a Christian missionary in India in which the missionary and his two children were burnt alive as his example.

Please pray for an end to Christian persecution.

1. Open Doors has released is annual World Watch List.  This list details the persecution of Christians around the globe. You can read it here.

2. Great Britain: Christian Bed and Breakfast Punished for ‘Discriminating’ Against Gays   In a victory for the gay agenda, the Christian owners of a Cornish bed and breakfast lost their appeal against last year’s ruling that their policy of restricting double rooms to married couples discriminated against a gay couple.

But, while upholding that ruling, the Court of Appeal warned that a new intolerance should not take root against Christians because of their beliefs about sexual ethics. (Read more here.)

3. Eastern Europe: Persecution on the Rise for Christians in Eastern Europe  Citizens of the former Soviet Union are facing growing restrictions on their religious freedom. On Wednesday a panel of experts in Washington reported that governments are closing more churches, fining and arresting their religious leaders, and destroying church literature.

“Twenty years ago when the Soviet Union fell apart, collapsed, when the Berlin Wall fell, everybody was sort of excited about all the future possibilities. Twenty years later we are again talking about freedom. What happened?” Victor Ham, vice president for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association Crusades, said.

The situation might not be a return to the Soviet era, but the signs spell trouble.

“Churches are being torched, crosses are being burned. There’s a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of negative things appearing in the press about different organizations. So there’s some reason for concern,” Lauren Homer, with Homer International Law Group, said.

The atmosphere is thick with intolerance in these countries. Individual pastors are reluctant to speak out against abuses and restrictions. (Read more here.)

Note: Taiwan is a separate country from China.

4. China: Christian Persecution in China Rises Over 40 Percent in 2012  ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian non-profit organization that monitors religious freedom in China, said in its 2012 annual report on Monday that the Chinese government continues its uptick of persecution against Christians in the country for the seventh consecutive year.

The report examines 132 persecution cases involving 4,919 people, finding that persecution incidences rose 41.9 percent from 2011. Additionally, the number of people sentenced in cases relating to religious persecution jumped 125 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the group’s finding.

Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/christian-persecution-in-china-rises-over-40-percent-in-2012-chinaaid-reports-89542/#bq7CyE4Zal8lCCcf.99

5. North Korea: Most Difficult Place on Earth to be a Christian  For the eleventh year running, this is the most difficult place on earth to be a Christian. One of the remaining Communist states, it is vehemently opposed to religion of any kind. Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture, even public execution. There is a system of labor camps including the renowned prison No. 15, which reportedly houses 6,000 persecuted Christians alone. Despite the severe oppression, there is a growing underground church movement of an estimated 400,000 Christians. (Read more here.)

6. Dalai Lama’s Statements Against Conversion May Increase Christian Persecution  Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said he was against conversions and changing from one religion to another. His position is likely to be seen as support for the policies of the radical Hindu groups and the anti-conversion laws that exist in some Indian states.

During recent speech, he touched on the issue of conversions. “I do not like conversions,” he said, because they have a negative impact [on society]. “The two parties, that of the converted and the community abandoned by him, begin to fight.”

As an example of the negative influence produced by conversions, he cited the violence against the Australian missionary Graham Staines, burnt alive in his car with his two sons, and the violence and destruction still ongoing in Orissa and Karnataka.

This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has spoken against conversions. Last November, at Christ University in Bangalore, he repeated a similar concept: on the one hand, he spoke of religious freedom and on the other of the need to avoid conversions: “Any religion – he said – should be limited to service-oriented interventions, such as providing people education and health care, not indulging in conversions.”

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who personally knows the Dalai Lama, comments to AsiaNews that the freedom to change religion is a fundamental human right and can not be obscured for any convenience. (Read more here.)

 


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