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 | By Sean O’Neill

Now, here is the news: Sharing the gospel in difficult times

In March last year, in Birmingham, England, a Catholic woman named Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for silently praying outside an abortion clinic. One of the two uniformed police officers commented to her, “You’ve said you’ve been engaging in prayer, which is the offense.” Similar instances have occurred in the United Kingdom. It does remind us of the oft-repeated trope: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Thankfully, official anti-Christian persecution has not yet reached that stage in the U.S., but there is no doubt about the general trajectory of the world. What this means for us as Catholics is that if we choose to share our faith with others, even with family and friends, as Jesus commanded us to, the stakes may soon be higher. Do we have the courage to stand up for what we believe? Will we be faced with increasingly severe punishments for professing our Catholic faith?

Of course, the Lord does not expect us to demonstrate heroic virtue simply by using our meager ration of bravado and tenacity. To accompany his Great Commission, he also sent us the Holy Spirit. And it is quite certain that without the strengthening, encouraging, and powerful presence of that third member of the Holy Trinity, there is little chance of our bearing up joyfully under whatever oppression may come. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, times of persecution have always been accompanied by an extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit and by huge crowds of people joining the Church. The fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit are always lavished on those who proclaim their belief in the God of love.

When the apostles were arrested and had to stand before the high priest and the council to give an account of why they were preaching the gospel, as we find in the Acts of the Apostles, the treatment they got was rough, but “… they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.” (Acts 5:41-42)

Like the apostles, we are witnessing to the fact that God loves us. We are testifying to the truth that there is hope for everyone amid the mayhem, and that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5) We are proclaiming the good news that God forgives sin, holds out salvation to all those who repent, and wishes to draw all of his children into a loving relationship with him.

July is the month of the Precious Blood of Jesus which speaks to us of the death of our savior, by which we were ransomed from eternal damnation. The precious blood of Our Lord points to the Good News of salvation which reconciled us to God. That is the very news that Jesus commanded us to preach.

How would it be if you were in a crowd of people at the side of a lake, watching someone floundering and drowning just offshore, and you were the only one who knew how to swim? What would you do? In just the same way, we know that, as Christians, we possess the good news of salvation. We also know that many are drowning for want of hope, desperate for some sign of relief from the surrounding evil. If my own experience is anything to go by, there is a silent majority of people who would welcome the message of the gospel if only there were someone who could tell them what it is.

If we are hesitant, or even terrified, to share our faith, have we forgotten that it is good news? Do we experience it as good news? What difference does faith in Jesus make in our lives? That is what we have to offer. 

The world is changing. Tolerance for the Christian religion is being eroded. Will we be arrested for being Catholic? Such a thing would have seemed inconceivable even 10 years ago. But who knows what will happen? For now, it is time to step out in faith and spread the joy of the kingdom of God.

Sean O’Neill is the editor of FAITH Magazine.