Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter – Jn 6:35-40
Today’s first reading continues where yesterday’s ended: yesterday Stephen was martyred, and today a wider persecution breaks out. Yet, in the midst of these troubles, we see how God brings fruit from what, humanly speaking, seems terrible. In particular, God brings about conversions and the spread of the Gospel. It was Stephen’s prayers that helped bring Saul to heaven, as we read in the Office of Readings for St. Stephen: “Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayers of Stephen.” Saul needed prayers for his conversion, and it was only through his persecution that he received the prayers he needed. Secondly, as a result of the persecutions, Philip heads to Samaria which, as a devout Jew, Saul would have been loath to enter. Perhaps the flight was simply out of self-preservation but with God there are no coincidences, and Philip preaches the Gospel with astounding results. That persecution produces such great fruit is the reason why Saint Thomas More prayed for the grace “to think [of] my worst enemies [as] my best friends, [because] the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.”
Persecution is simply part of life in the Church: we can’t avoid it any more than we can avoid the Cross. Just like any cross, we can choose to reject it or to embrace it. In particular, our response to persecutions needs to take forms: humility and mercy.
Humility is that virtue that reminds us constantly of where we stand before God. We need His mercy and His forgiveness, and we need His help on the way to perfection. Servant of God Fr. John Hardon commented that “Normally God teaches us through the circumstances of our daily lives. Especially those most painful circumstances called other people.” It’s hard to accept persecutions, especially when they come from people close to us, but they remind us of our constant need to be purified, and in the means that God Himself chooses.
Persecution also provides us with an opportunity to be merciful. An incident in the life of Mary Walsh, the foundress of the Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor, shows how the saints lived out this teaching. An early follower of the foundress left and then ask to rejoin the community, only to be turned away by the novice mistress. Out of revenge, the woman spread all sorts of terrible rumors about Mary, and even wrote to the archbishop of New York and Dominican provincial to denounce her. Mother Walsh was, of course, concerned about her community, but, when asked about her reaction to this woman, she simply wrote, “There is only one thing I wish for [her], and that is if she ever needs us, I hope that we will learn of it in time to take care of her.” After Mary Walsh’s death, her sisters were called to care for an ailing woman who, though reluctant at first, finally accepted their care, admitted she was the one who had caused so many problems for Walsh, and was sorry for everything she put the foundress through. In the end, Mary Walsh’s mercy and forgiveness won not one but two souls for Christ: her own, as she imitated Christ, and that of the woman who persecuted her. This is why Saint Thomas says that God’s omnipotence is most properly seen in His Mercy, and why in the Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky writes that “at some thoughts one stands perplexed – especially at the sight of men’s sin – and wonders whether one should use force [we could say, getting angry or taking revenge] or humble love [we could say, being merciful]. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve to do that, once and for all, you can subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.”
Let us pray, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, for the grace to be able to embrace persecutions with humility and mercy, and in this to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.
 From a sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop
 Ann Ball, Modern Saints, Bk. 1, 265.
 Cited in Johann Christoph Arnold, Why Forgive, 16.