Persecution of Christians and the Ecumenism of Blood

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The following is the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at the Melkite Catholic Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame on Sunday, January 21.

Every year, I look forward to concelebrating the Divine Liturgy with my friend, Father Khaled Anatolios, and to worshipping together with you, the Melkite Catholic community and friends here at Notre Dame. When I was at the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops this past October in Rome, I had the wonderful experience of meeting and getting to know many of the bishops and patriarchs of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches who were all delegates at the synod. At the end of the month, in the synod’s synthesis report, we affirmed how the Eastern Catholic Churches enrich the whole Church and that our unity in diversity is something we should all be grateful for. All of us, Latin and Eastern Catholics, are mutually enriched by our respective traditions within the family of God, the Church.

The first reading today, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, was probably written while Paul was under house arrest or in prison in Rome, not long before his martyrdom. Paul encourages Timothy to remain faithful to what he has learned from him. In fact, he lists nine elements of Timothy’s following him. St. Paul writes to Timothy: “You have followed my teaching, my way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, persecutions that I endured. Yet from all these things the Lord delivered me.”

You may recall from the Acts of the Apostles the persecutions St. Paul endured in his missionary journeys. A persecution broke out in Antioch in Pisidia (not Syria), and Paul and Barnabas were expelled from the city. They then went to Iconium. Because of their preaching, enemies plotted to have them stoned, but they escaped to Lystra. In Lystra, St. Paul was actually stoned and dragged out of the city. 

In his letter, St. Paul is reminding Timothy of all these things to encourage him to be steadfast in the faith, to be ready for persecution and suffering. He writes, “In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” These are sobering words. “All who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” These are words for us to ponder. How do they apply to us? This past week, you may have seen that I released a report from the USCCB committee I chair, the Committee on Religious Liberty. It’s the first annual report we have done on the state of religious liberty in the United St