When the World is at its Worst, the Church Must be at its Best
by Marilyn Borst
Lessons from the Faithful Church in Difficult Places
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote seven letters as he traveled to Rome to answer to the charge of being a Christian. Since he knew that he would never recant his faith, he also realized that he was traveling forward to his own death, and indeed, St. Ignatius was one of the early “high profile” martyrs of the Church. His letters, which date from around 107, are addressed to one fellow bishop and to six congregations most of which lay along his route through Asia Minor (modern Turkey), such as at Ephesus, Smyrna and Philadelphia. In those letters, he not only sends a message of encouragement but also speaks words of correction and concern over issues within that particular church which Ignatius, because of the respect in which he was held, knows will be heard. His pastoral words still resonate with power and truth today:
"For the work we have to do is no affair of persuasive speaking; Christianity lies in achieving greatness in the face of the world's hatred."
"When you meet frequently, the powers of Satan are confronted, and in the presence of your collective faith, his evil intentions crumble."
"Life begins and ends with two qualities: faith is the beginning and love is the end, and the union of the two together in God."
Evil and love…the two constant realities in the Christian life, but our faith equips us to confront the evil together because of the love given to us through Christ’s death on the cross.
Similarly, Revelation 2 and 3 give us a glimpse into the Church struggling to be faithful in its work and witness during difficult times. Too often, we see Revelation in terms of its complexity instead of the comfort it offers. Simply stated, Revelation answers the question, “Who is really in charge?” for it gives us a glimpse of history from a divine perspective. And despite the struggles and challenges of those Churches, we hear Christ’s words “I know…I know…I know….” Christ is never absent from His Bride, the Church. Her hard work, her perseverance, her intolerance of wicked men, her deeds, her endurance, her struggles, her poverty, her faithfulness.
The Church in many parts of the world today honors Christ in its faithful witness despite opposition, oppression and even persecution: Cuba, Pakistan, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria… The timely word of Revelation 8 – to the Church of every age – is that God hears the prayers of His faithful and those prayers participate in His purpose. Prayer is not an activity of last resort, but the action of the highest urgency – it is, in fact, the most important thing we can do…and so we should be much on our knees for the Church in difficult places…now more than ever.