In every age, the Holy Church of Christ has had to fight and to suffer contradictions and persecutions for truth and justice. Instituted by Christ in order to extend the Kingdom of God to the world, and by means of the luminous law of the Gospel to lead fallen humanity to a supernatural destiny, that is, to the acquisition of the immortal goods promised by God. However, this is beyond our strength, and the Church has necessarily fought against the passions which sprang up at the feet of ancient decadence and corruption, namely, against pride, cupidity and the unbridled love of earthly pleasures, and against the resulting vices and disorders, which have always encountered the most powerful barrier in the Church.
But these persecutions are no cause for surprise, for they were foretold by the Divine Master and we know that they will last for as long as the world.
Divine sign of contradiction
What, in fact, did He say to His disciples, when He sent them to spread the treasure of His doctrine to all peoples? Everyone knows this: “You will be persecuted from city to city, you will be hated and vilified for my name, you will be dragged before the courts and condemned to torture.” And, to encourage them in their trial, He set Himself as an example: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). This is the joy; this is the reward that He promised them.
No one who has the criterion for a just and honest appraisal of things will be able to explain the reason for this implacable hatred. What evil has the Divine Redeemer done, or what demerit can be attributed to Him? He came down to men impelled by infinite charity; He taught an immaculate and consoling doctrine, extremely effective in bringing men together in peace and love; He desired neither earthly greatness nor honours, He usurped no one’s rights. On the contrary, He was infinitely compassionate towards the weak, the sick, the poor, sinners and the oppressed, and He spent His life spreading divine benefits unreservedly among men.
It goes without saying that, owing to excessive human malice, more deplorable in the measure of its injustice, He became, as the aged Simeon had prophesied, a true sign of contradiction (cf. Lk 2:34).
The Church follows in the footsteps of her Master
It is no wonder, then, that the Catholic Church, purveyor of His divine mission and incorruptible depository of His truth, meet the same fate as her Master.
The world is always the same; constantly opposing the children of God are the ancillaries of that great enemy of mankind who, rebellious against the Most High from the beginning, is designated in the Gospel as the prince of this world. Therefore, in face of the law and of Him who represents it in God’s name, the world revolts in unbounded pride, in the spirit of an independence to which it has no right.
Oh, how many times, in the most tempestuous moments, have her enemies, with unheard-of cruelty and injustice, joined together to wantonly destroy the divine work, to the evident detriment of society! […]
Evil shall not prevail against her!
We do not want the scene of the present sorrowful situation to shake the souls of the faithful’s belief in divine help. God will in due time and by mysterious means provide the final victory.
Our hearts are saddened, but we have no doubt whatsoever as to the immortal destiny of the Church. Persecution, as we said at the beginning, is her inheritance, because God prepares for her higher and more precious goods, by testing and purifying His children. But by allowing vexations and setbacks, He manifests His divine assistance, which provides her with new and unforeseen means of subsistence, by extending her work and preventing the forces conspiring against her from prevailing. Nineteen centuries of life, through all human vicissitudes, attest that the storms pass and do not shake its foundations.
Well may we encourage you, for the present moment brings other signs that leave our faith unaltered. The difficulties are formidable and extraordinary, no doubt, but the events unfolding before our eyes testify once again that God fulfils His promises with admirable goodness and wisdom. Despite the forces that conspire against her, the Church, destitute of all human aid and support, continues to extend her action into the most diverse environments.
No, the ancient prince of this world will no longer be able to dominate as before, for he has been driven out by Jesus Christ, and Satan’s attempts, though they cause many evils, will never obtain the supreme triumph. […]
There are many reasons for hope
The rebirth and reorganization of so many associations that are now bringing joy to the Church is obvious, like the buds that spring from a tree. She neglects no form of Christian piety, whether for Jesus and the most holy mysteries of the Faith, or in praise of His Immaculate Mother, or in honour of the Saints who have shone most brightly for their outstanding virtues.
At the same time, no charitable work is forgotten, for in various ways they seek the religious education of youth, the care of the sick, the moral formation of the people, and the relief of the underprivileged classes. And how rapidly this movement would expand, and how much more useful and fruitful it would be, if it were not often hindered by unjust obstacles and hostile impositions! […]
Therefore, the bitterness has been greatly mitigated, and in the midst of the fierce struggle there is much reason for encouragement and hope. This is a fact that should give the intelligent and dispassionate observer pause for thought and lead him to understand that just as God did not abandon man to his own considerations concerning the ultimate purpose of life, but spoke to him, He still does so in our day, speaking through His Church, visibly supported by divine aid, and by her pointing out where truth and salvation are to be found.
The triumph will not delay
This unfailing assistance should infuse our hearts with the invincible hope that at the moment appointed by Providence the clouds with which they seek to veil the truth will be dispelled, and that the truth will shine even brighter in the not-too-distant future, and the spirit of the Gospel will revive the lethargic and corrupted members of this wayward society. […]
Everyone can cooperate in this imperative and supremely meritorious task: the learned and the writers with their apologia and the daily press – that powerful instrument so abused by our adversaries; parents and teachers, by the Christian education of children and youth; magistrates and representatives of the people, with the firmness of good principles and integrity of character, and everyone, by professing their own faith, without human respect. […]
This is the duty of Catholics; but the ultimate success depends on Him who lovingly and wisely watches over His immaculate Spouse, and of whom it is written: “Iesus Christus heri, et hodie; ipse et in sæcula” (Heb 13:8). ◊
Excerpts from: LEO XIII.
Pervenuti all’anno vigesimoquinto,
19/3/1902: ASS 34 (1901-1902), 515-532