At first glance, the next Beatitude can be misleading. It almost sounds as if we are being told to seek out opportunities to be persecuted! But Jesus is really teaching us that we are blessed when we are persecuted and still seek righteousness in spite of it. An easy example of those who still chose righteousness despite persecution are the martyrs of the early church. St. Stephen, St. Cecelia, and others who would rather have died than betrayed their faith. Dramatic examples of persecution and righteousness, yet nonetheless, they are compelling.
We may scoff at these examples, thinking of ourselves as safe from such persecution, but the reality is, the persecution we face is just as dangerous. A physical death to the righteous is nothing to fear. We have already chosen and lived for God throughout our days, we can trust that God is going to give us what was promised: the Kingdom of Heaven. But a spiritual death, when we lose our connection with God, happens all the time. Each time we sin, whether mortal or venial (large or small), we weaken our relationship with Christ. And we should fear that more than any physical death. Without God, there is no Kingdom of Heaven to look forward to.
Persecution comes in all shapes and sizes, but oftentimes in the form of temptation and peer pressure. Drink this, smoke that, try this... it can be incessant and dangerous. Surrounding ourselves with people who tempt us is really just opening ourselves up for persecution when we do make the right decisions. We choose righteousness when we resist those temptations and don't allow ourselves to stray, damaging our most important relationship: God. What may be the death of a particular social status or perception is actually a small act of martyrdom for righteousness, truly choosing righteousness despite others.
In Matthew 16: 24-28, we are reminded that Jesus never said it was going to be easy to follow Him. Righteousness isn't always easy, but it comes with great reward. Review what Jesus taught there and consider what it means to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and follow Him. How does that fit into you actions today? What can you do tomorrow to resist temptation and bear your cross with a righteousness and dignity?
Don't have your Bible handy or a favorite Bible app downloaded? Just click the verses mentioned- they connected to the online Bible source provided by the USCCB!