Eleven out of the twelve apostles suffered martyrdom. It is estimated that over twenty thousand Christians were killed in the Roman emperor Diocletian’s “Great Persecution” alone, and millions are denied basic rights every year in our own modern day. It seems that if we wanted a comfortable way of life, Jesus isn’t the path to choose.
That One Kid
Before my sophomore year, I attended a leadership training, at the end of which the participants were expected to deliver a speech. As I was the sole teen to duck out of a Sunday session to attend Mass, I missed half the time dedicated to this speaking opportunity and fell into the fortunate group who ran out of time and never had to speak in front of our peers.
Later, my roommate stopped to chat with an onlooker and explain our program, all the way down to the public speaking where she looked at me to add, “But of course, you didn’t; you had to go to ‘Mass’.” By then I knew: everyone was quite aware that I was “the Catholic.” The only question was, which was more important: the opinions of my peers – and the opportunity to give the speech I had worked on – or my obligation to my faith?
It would have been easier to not do anything; nobody else was concerned with missing church, and I didn’t want to draw extra attention to myself. When I weighed the idea of missing Mass, I could see a smoother weekend; yet I was unhappy. And when I imagined asking to go, I knew it would upset some people but it gave me peace inside. In the end, that peace is what mattered more, and determined my decision.
Pretty quickly, people began to discover I wasn’t on board to go along with just anything. What I believe about right and wrong has meant holding people to the moral standard I know they’ve been called to – when they choose not to hold themselves accountable, though, it doesn’t lead to agreement, or approval. I would later learn that some people I had thought of as friends are also perfectly content to talk about me behind my back with people I know and call me names to people who’ve never even met me, all starting with my decision to uphold my faith.
Graced with Power and Love
Similar to my experience in choosing Mass that weekend, following Christ and living a holy life does not line up with everyone else’s agenda; when you speak against what you know is wrong, you rock the boat most people would prefer to keep stable. This can easily cost you friendships, opportunities, and invitations; it might even demand your family, job, or – as we see with the martyrs – your life. Yet our God is no stranger to this, nor does He ask us to do anything He did not! The truth cost Christ His life as well.
But because He knew it would be challenging, He also prepared us! We weren’t called to a life of fear; in order to be witnesses, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
I firmly believe the Truth will win in the end. I’m not sure if it will win while I’m alive to see it, or if I’ll be long gone and no one will ever know. Maybe nobody will realize that some of these rumors spoken about me are out of anger, and there may be a host of people out there who will never meet me, yet truly believe I am a bad person. I realize I might never live that down. But being angry and hurtful in return won’t get me anywhere, either. It’s a far more powerful strength to be able to remain faithful in the face of hardships; to silently continue standing up for your beliefs with love, rather than cave to the world to fit in.
The Only Way
I believe in a promise I know will never be broken: Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). When I don’t know anything else for certain, I do know I want to spend eternity in Heaven; and I realize if I can’t profess Jesus in this world, why would I even ask for a place in His company in the next? If I can’t admit my beliefs in front of others, how can I look at a crucifix and see how Jesus hung for three hours in front of a crowd to die for me?
The words of Christ are so much more valuable than the world’s. Each of the apostles and every saint that has gone before us would never have chosen to suffer so much if the words of Jesus were not true. The One who would die for us – for each and every one – is only asking that we trust Him in return; that we follow what He has both taught, and what He has lived out on this very earth as well. Did He call us to sacrifice friends? Followers left Him, too (John 6:66). Did He ask us to forgive? He pardoned His executioners with some of His last words (Luke 23:34). There is not a thing He has asked of us that He did not first ask of Himself, or offer us grace to accomplish it if we will accept.
In the end, this life will be over so quickly – yet eternity will be forever. If we build up treasures in this world, that is where our heart will be; but those riches will decay. Or, if we build treasures for Heaven, then our heart will remain there instead; and nothing can steal it (Matthew 6:19-21). Following Jesus isn’t about wild success on earth – it is about eternal life, and joy beyond words. Jesus told us, “My kingship is not of this world” (John 18:36) so this world isn’t where we’re trying to make a name for ourselves, either.
The only time I absolutely wish for my name to be known is when I stand before Jesus on the Day of Judgment, and I want to hear Him tell me “Welcome home!” So for Him to acknowledge me, I will continue to speak of Him; even if it costs me friends, opportunities, “likes,” or my life. It’ll all be worth it for an eternity of joy that won’t fade in Heaven! And it is my hope and prayer that one day I’ll see you there as well.