Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 10-12
Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Memorial)
Light dawns for the just; and gladness, for the upright of heart. (Psalm 97:11)
The psalms are full of promises of reward for the just and punishment for the wicked. The Lord “secures justice for the oppressed” (Psalm 146:7), but he will take away the strength of the wicked (Psalm 37). But why is it that we sometimes see suffering come to the most saintly people we know, while some of those who ignore God’s ways seem to prosper? Most disturbing, why is it that the whole history of the Church shows faithful Christians being brutally persecuted, tortured, and killed. Why doesn’t the Lord “secure justice” for them?
Many centuries ago, St. Augustine used today’s Psalm to help explain this conundrum. The light that dawns for everyone—the sun—shows us only physical reality. But in the eyes of the just, there is a different light: Jesus, the eternal Son. For those who place their faith in him, an inner light shines on the sufferings of this world and reveals a deeper reality: God is King of all creation, and he offers eternal life to his people.
Whether it is at the hands of the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, or the so-called Islamic State, Christians persecuted for their faith have found their faith to be a source of deep comfort and strength. Augustine goes so far as to talk of the persecuted faithful “preaching Christ amid their torments” and finding “joy in the iron-chair,” a cruel instrument of torture. And the good news is that the power of God that brings profound freedom to the imprisoned and happiness to the oppressed is still alive and active today!
Of course, tragedy and injustice continue, as we witness in painful stories like that of the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were martyred this past February. But we should never lose sight of our hope in the Lord. As well as continuing to pray for peace, we need to pray for everyone undergoing persecution right now. As we do, let’s also lift up the times when we suffer misunderstanding or prejudice for our faith. May Christ’s light dawn on his people everywhere, revealing all of these situations as opportunities for his victory to be manifested in our lives!
“Father, show mercy to your people, whether by sparing their suffering or by strengthening them to endure it in the light of faith.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8