The Mystery of Faith is the ability to hear God’s voice even in the silence.
Today, while I was praying for the Lost Souls of Purgatory and the intentions of all of you who pray with me, in the silence of my mind my thoughts turned to people who are experiencing religious persecution.
The obvious persecutors are governments in countries like China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. But these are not the only ones – there are others. With COVID restrictions, many of those who have never before experienced religious persecution in countries like Australia and the US, now feel the weight of government interference in matters of the Church and though we can see its civic merit – it grieves us.
But governments are not the only offenders. Partners can also persecute. In 2014, 276 Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria were kidnapped by members of the Islamic Extremist Group Boko Haram and forced to marry their Muslim captors. Most of them were never heard of again.
And then there are the vulnerable and the weak – the elderly and the young. The elderly, who require support to attend Mass, or teenagers and young adults who are convinced it is uncool.
Christ came to call the outcasts – He continues to call them and us – through us.
I heard yesterday, about the Chinese Bishop Han Jingtao who died on 30th December 2020. While I am no expert in such matters, I expect the case to be made for this man’s sanctification in my own lifetime. Bishop Han spent 27 years in a Chinese Communist Concentration Camp for refusing to follow the Church of Chairman Mao. He established the Sisters of Mount Calvary numbering 100 nuns, and had 20 priests in dis diocese. Following his imprisonment, Bishop Han continued to arrange secret gatherings of the faithful community of some 30,000 Catholics, who mostly formed part of the secret underground Church in China. What a wonderful example of faith!
There are others like him, Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died on 5th September 1997, comes to mind. She changed the world, one grain of sand at a time, as she was wont to say. And yet, her private letters to her spiritual advisor reveal a woman tormented by a spiritual isolation that caused her to feel that though she loved God with all her heart that God did not love her. And yet, despite this private anguish, her work inspired some 5,000 nuns to join her Sisters of Charity in service to the world’s poorest of the poor. What a wonderful example of faith!
And then, there are the quiet ones whose names were rarely spoken during their life, but rather invoked after their death. The Maronite Monk, Saint Charbel, who died on 18th December 1898, lived a quiet hermitic life of prayer, tending his garden and making sacrifices in the mountains of Lebanon. He slept on a wooden plank, with a wooden log under his head, ate only potato and herbs and took no comfort in family, friends or warm clothing despite the freezing conditions. Saint Charbel died, during the Holy Consecration, carrying the Blessed Eucharist in his hands. His life was an ongoing sacrifice. What a wonderful example of faith!
These people, and those others like them, who make such great sacrifices for God, illuminate Him to the rest of us. Through them we see God.
Bishop Han spent over a quarter of his lifetime imprisoned and the rest risking imprisonment in his service of God.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta spent her lifetime embodying Christ and His Blessed Mother, in loving all her neighbours as herself and laying down her life as a sacrifice for theirs in service of them, while simultaneously feeling completely abandoned by God in the silence of her heart.
Saint Charbel spent a lifetime alone, in discomfort in a remote and inaccessible part of the world, assuming nobody would ever speak his name again, refusing even the comfort of visiting his mother when he was required to pass by her village.
There is a mystery there for us to ponder. As Saint Gregory of Nissa said, “He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows.”
Perhaps that is the true mystery of life… The search for ever greater connections with our Beloved God, holding firm to an attitude of faith that hears only the GOODNESS of God even in the SILENCE in our hearts.
For with faith, everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.