In the first reading for Monday, April 13, we hear that just after Peter and John were freed from jail, they prayed for deliverance from the threats against them. “As they prayed,” the Scriptures tell us, “the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
We are now in the Easter season. This is a season of boldness when we proclaim that Christ did indeed rise from the dead, that he can heal us of our sins and wounds with his sacrifice on the cross. We are in a time when the mighty works of God are made manifest.
At the Easter Vigil, tens of thousands of people across the globe became Catholics through the miraculous rebirth of baptism; they were strengthened by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, and they were united with the Mystical Body of Christ in the Eucharist. Through the power of the sacraments and God’s gifts of extraordinary grace, we are gradually—sometimes suddenly—transformed.
Just as the first Christians sought the Spirit so that they could “speak the word of God with boldness,” so too should we seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit to enable us to proclaim the faith with courage.
Peter, John, and the rest of the early Church also asked the Lord to notice the threats being made against them and to strengthen them to speak his word “with all boldness” (cf. Acts 4:29-30). We know that threats being made against Christians are nothing new, but today they seem to have grown in number. The Church is threatened in the Middle East by groups like ISIS, but it is also threatened in our country in a more subtle way.
In the past two weeks, gay activists, CEOs and businesses railed against two pieces of religious freedom legislation in Indiana and Arkansas that were designed to protect people of faith from having the government coerce them to violate their consciences.
Opponents of these bills labeled supporters as “hateful bigots,” but they also started boycotts of businesses and individuals who backed the bill, issued death threats, and posting obscene material online to mock them. Ironically, these activists are effectively saying that they cannot tolerate millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims living out their beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the gift of human sexuality.
This is not the first time this has happened in the long history of the Church, nor will it be the last. But we must respond with the boldness that only the Holy Spirit can give to these attempts to push faith out of American society. After all, these efforts to banish faith from the culture are not just discrimination against a group of people; they are an assault against the truths that God has embedded into creation and a demolition of the path to true happiness in life.
After Jesus had endured derision and death, he warned his disciples that the world would hate them as they had hated him (John 15:18). When this came to pass, the apostles locked themselves in the upper room, fearing that the authorities would find them. But Jesus appeared to them, and the first thing he said was, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them the wounds in his hand and his side—evidence that he had gone through the worst fear, suffering and death but was victorious in his resurrection. Finally, he repeated “Peace be with you” (cf. John 20:19), before sending them to bring the Gospel to the world.
When you face derision or threats because of the faith, I urge you to turn to the Holy Spirit and ask him for peace and courage. If we are “clothed with the power from on high” (Luke 24:49), then we will be able to face any assault with confidence and trust in the Father, just as the Apostles did.
May the resurrection of Jesus bring new life to your heart, help you proclaim the truth of the Gospel with boldness and charity, and bless your families in this Easter season!