Lately it seems the news headlines have increasingly included stories of persecution of Catholics or the Catholic Church, whether the abortion issue, so-called homosexual “rights”, or the unending slaughter of Coptic Christians and others by Muslim jihadis. The daily barrage of such news stories can leave one feeling as though the whole world has turned against the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. While sometimes I find myself slightly discouraged by the persecution encountered for living my faith, I constantly look for signs of hope from people who have lived through tougher times.
One topic from which I have drawn countless hours of information and insight, is the Holocaust, the attempted and unsuccessful German extermination of the Jewish people. My greatest interest in the Holocaust, I think, stems from the parallel of martyrdom of early Christians and the Jewish people some 70 years ago. It’s almost as if the stories of suffering, brutality, and even hope are somehow transcendent of time and pass from the original Christian persecution around the time of Christ to be embodied in the stories of modern day survivors. Two stories I would like to highlight for you.
The first is the story of Tadeusz Raznikiewicz (featured on Paul Camarata’s Saintcast Podcast) a concentration camp survivor and eyewitness to the last days of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Mr. Raznikiewicz details his personal experiences with “Pater Kolbe”, as well as his own life in the concentration camps.
The second is a podcast called “An Unbroken Chain” by Dr. Henry Oertelt, detailing the events in his life which resulted in his surviving the concentration camps. Although Dr. Oertelt passed away in January 2011, his memories and experiences continue to spread a message of hope.
What does this have to do with being a modern day Catholic in America? Well, currently the Catholic Church is under fire and things only seem to intensify. As it becomes more difficult to openly practice one’s faith, we must remember that we are not called to get by or be accepted by the world. We are called to spread the Gospel, even in the face of persecution. Hope fortifies us in our mission even against the greatest of foes.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes hope:
1817 Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”84 “The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”85
1818 The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.
With that message, we must remember what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in the fields with the message of Christ’s birth, what the archangel, Gabriel, declared unto Mary. Be not afraid.