A Grain of Wheat – Fifth Sunday of Lent
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies …”
It seems that to adhere to a religion invites persecution. We regularly hear of the persecution and martyrdom of people because of their commitment to a faith tradition.
According to the International Society for Human Rights, up to 80% of acts of persecution are directed at people of the Christian faith. Over 200 million Christians are denied fundamental human rights, solely because of their faith.
There are times when the persecution is violent and involves suffering and/or death. Other times, the persecution is subtle: government pressure, censorship, religious assemblies being forbidden, regulations on what can be allowed, and so on. Items posted on an Internet site can suddenly vanish, minutes after being posted. A person can be pursued and threatened.
There have been increasing numbers of news reports about persecution of Christians throughout the world. I have friends in the Chinese Christian churches. One texted me the link to a Washington Post piece with the headline, “Jesus won’t save you; President Xi Jinping will, Chinese Christians told.” Of course, that particular leader just had himself elected for life.
The article quotes one minor party official. “Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their savior.” He goes on to suggest that they’ll realize their mistakes and think: “We should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.” Canadian political leaders aren’t that brazen. Our leaders are subtler in the ways in which they make it difficult to take our Christian faith seriously.
There have been reports in the reputable media that basically critique the Vatican for capitulating to the Chinese government. The National Post says that, “The Vatican is cozying up to Communist officials despite the fact at least 1,000 church leaders have been arrested and churches ransacked, blown up.”
The news pointed out that as China warms to the Vatican, the persecution of Christians increases. The Economist magazine predicts increasing numbers of crackdowns as the state resumes its strength once Xi gains even more powers.
Persecution of Christians – I suppose that we welcome some of it, as it makes our faith stronger. We hear these words in the Gospel today: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
It was Tertullian, an early Christian author, who stated that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Relatively few of us will experience physical martyrdom because of our faith. But anyone who calls him or herself Christian is called to die to self.
This is a concept found throughout the New Testament. It’s the act of taking up our cross and following Christ. Not one of us knows the way in which we will experience that cross. But, alert and open eyes will help us recognize it when it’s offered. It may be a health situation or the experience of being grossly misunderstood. It could be in the way we are being invited to stand with a marriage partner or a child.
As we continue our Lenten journey, let us reflect on the persecution and martyrdom that takes place throughout the world, even in its subtle and disguised ways in this part of the world. Let’s pray for the grace to have the courage and perseverance we need to carry our cross.