By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Catholics may consider Jesus’ final beatitude, “blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake,” to also be the final challenge. But the glory of heaven waits on the other side of it, according to Father Charbel Jamhoury, pastor of St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge.  

“The beatitudes are revolutionary,” said Father Jamhoury “… as he (Jesus) is as a person. He presents a model of happiness completely contrary to the world, to what is usually communicated to us. He challenges us to follow him and travel with him the path that leads us to his kingdom to eternal life.”  

The beatitude concerning persecution is not an appendix to the others and is as positive as any one that precedes it, though it may be indirect, Father Jamhoury said. But it is one of the most searching tests Christians will ever face.  

“He (Jesus) was not afraid to ask the disciples and us today if we wanted to follow him and be persecuted and killed as he was persecuted and killed or if we prefer another path,” he said.  

Father Jamhoury emphasized Jesus said, “Blessed are you ‘when’, not ‘if’, they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.” 

Some would say there is more persecution of Christians today than there has been since the first centuries of the Christian era, according to Father Jamhoury.  

“I think a good case can be made for that statement,” said Father Jamhoury. “There have been grievous periods of persecution at various epochs in the long history of the church, but they have generally been more or less localized. Now, however, persecution has been spread throughout the world.” </span id=”7″>

There are roughly 100 million Christians living in nations with persecution, such as China, Nigeria, India, North Korea, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Soamlia. And more than 170,000 Christians are put to death each year for their faith, according to The Catholic Source Book.  

The different kinds of persecution include verbal mockery, public shaming, discrimination, shunning, loss of property, loss of basic human rights, physical beatings, torture and death.  

Father Jamhoury noted that the beatitude does not say, “Blessed are they that are persecuted for being good, or noble, or even self-sacrificing.  

“What then does this beatitude mean?” asked Father Jamhoury. “Being righteous, practicing righteousness, really means being like the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore they are blessed who are persecuted for being like him. What’s more, those who are like him will always be persecuted.  

“To become like him we have to become light. Light always exposes darkness, and the darkness therefore always hates the light. 

“We are not to be offensive; we are not to be foolish; we are not to be unwise; we are not even to parade the Christian faith. We do not do anything that calls for persecution. But by just being like Christ persecution becomes available.”  

On an encouraging note, Father Jamhoury said, “But that is a glorious thing. ‘Rejoice in this’ say St. Peter and St. James. And our Lord himself says, ‘Blessed are you, happy are you’ if you are like that. Because if you ever find yourself persecuted for Christ and for righteousness’ sake, you have, in a sense, got the final proof of that fact that you are a Christian, that you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.”  

Jesus also tells us to rejoice over rejection, said Father Jamhoury.  

“Rejection is a mark of blessing only when it is for the sake of righteousness,” said Father Jamhoury … “When does Jesus say that insults, persecutions and slander are a reason to rejoice? When it’s for his sake. This is a very important point of clarification. There is a danger that we will misapply Jesus’ words. Without this clarification we might be tempted to think that it is a blessing anytime someone insults us.”  

“If we fail to listen carefully to this beatitude, we may draw the false conclusion that every nasty thing someone says about us is a blessing,” said Father Jamhoury. “Sometimes things people say about us aren’t a blessing at all – they’re just the truth. What’s more, (what we sometimes call persecution) is just a natural reasonable reaction to our bad behavior. In such instances people reject us for good reasons. They don’t reject us because we are followers of Christ – they reject us because we are surly; they reject us because we are petulant; they reject us because we are hyper sensitive and hard to get along with.”  

Jesus uses the language of grace, stressed Father Jamhoury. Those persecuted are not paid for their troubles, they are blessed. 

From the time St. Stephen became the first martyr for speaking the truth of Christ, people have died for proclaiming God’s kingdom, said Father Jamhoury.  

In most recent times, on the night of Jan. 7, 2010, a group of eight Egyptian Christians were killed as they left their church after celebrating a Christmas Mass in Nag Hammdi, Egypt.  

“The motive behind the massacre is disputed, but it was carried out by militant Islamic believers,” said Father Jamhoury. “It may have been done in retaliation for an alleged crime against a Muslim girl by a Christian man. If that was the reason, the retaliation was not targeted at the man who committed the crime but at Christians because of their association through religion.”  

Father Jamhoury also signaled out Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt as living out this beatitude. Father van der Lugt considered himself Syrian and refused to leave the Syrian city of Homs during the more than three years he worked there during the Syrian war. In 2017 he was beaten and then shot to death by a masked gunman in his monastery.  

Father van der Lugt’s life mission spread the message to “Go forth by coming back home,” emphasized to Father Jamhoury. It also shows God’s mission is unstoppable.  

Father Jamhoury, a native of Beruit, Lebanon, witnessed persecution’s aftermath of death and destruction during his ministry in that country. He said people living out the challenging beatitude are willing to suffer or die so God’s mission can “go forward.”  

“No one wishes to be persecuted or to be killed. But if my mission is for the sake of God’s kingdom …Yes, in this case, I prefer to be persecuted, rejected and even killed, but not my mission … because it’s sacred,” said Father Jamhoury. “It’s God’s mission to love and serve his people and not mine.”