Many of the saints had to pay a heavy price in order to follow Jesus, respond to His call, and live out their Catholic faith—and quite often the strongest opposition they faced in doing so came from some of their own family members. For instance, in the 14th century St. Catherine of Siena was the youngest of twenty-five children, and because her parents’ finances had presumably been stretched to the breaking point, they strongly wanted her to marry someone wealthy. Young Catherine refused, announcing that her life belonged to God, and she wanted to live for Christ alone. Her mother ignored her wishes, and instead nagged her about making herself pretty so as to attract a husband; in response, Catherine cut off her beautiful hair. Her punishment for this act of defiance was to perform the hardest household work and serve the rest of the family—which Catherine did so cheerfully and patiently that her father finally decreed she be left alone and allowed to live in her room as a recluse or hermit, just as she desired. Not every saint got off so easily. St. Leonard was disowned by his wealthy uncle for choosing a religious vocation instead of becoming a physician, and St. Francis of Assisi was publicly disinherited by his father. Some of the saints actually suffered violence at the hands of their loved ones because they put God’s will first in their lives. For instance, in the 6th century St. Hermenegild, the royal son of a Spanish king, refused his father’s order to renounce his Catholic faith, and so his father promptly had him executed. A similar fate was suffered by the child martyr Blessed Christopher of Mexico early in the 16th century, and in the 9th century St. Flora and her friend St. Mary were both beheaded after being denounced by an angry and unforgiving Muslim—namely, Flora’s own brother. Similar tragedies still happen today; in some parts of the world, converts to Christianity can suddenly find themselves rejected and disowned by their families, and are sometimes even threatened with violence by parents and siblings. It’s always possible that in choosing Jesus, we may alienate other people, including some of our loved ones—but only if we’re willing to put Christ first, regardless of the cost, are we truly His followers.
One of the reasons there’s so much injustice in the world is that it takes courage to do the right thing—and courage is often lacking. Six centuries before Christ, the city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians; the prophet Jeremiah announced this was a well-deserved punishment from God, and advised his countrymen to surrender. His enemies wanted him to be put to death for speaking the truth, and Zedekiah—a weak, frightened king—refused to protect him, even though the prophet had done nothing wrong. It took a foreigner, a courageous servant named Ebed-melech, to talk the king into releasing Jeremiah, thus preventing a grave injustice. Six hundred years later, of course, no one saved Jesus from an unjust death—though He freely accepted it, referring to it in the Gospel as “a baptism with which I must be baptized,” and admitting that the prospect filled Him with great anguish. Nevertheless, He had the courage to fulfill His mission, and He wants a similar resolve to be present in the hearts of all who would follow Him—even if it means experiencing family opposition and division. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the sacred author speaks of Jesus, saying, “Consider how He endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” We are indeed supposed to keep the example of Christ always before us, for in this way we’ll be given the strength, courage, and desire to do what’s right.
Because we love our families, relatives, and friends, we want them to be united with us one day in the joy of Heaven—and it worries and saddens us if their beliefs, values, and lifestyles are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. During safety instructions on an airliner, the flight attendant will announce that if oxygen masks drop from the ceiling in an emergency, it’s proper procedure to put on your own mask first, and then help anyone with you needing assistance; this assures you’ll both be able to continue breathing safely. In the same way, if we’re worried about a loved one who rejects our Catholic faith, the right thing to do is to take care of our own spiritual needs first—by remaining true to Jesus. Then we’ll be in a position to help the other person by our example, compassion, and prayers. Compromising our faith for the sake of a false peace is always a bad bargain; having the courage and integrity to put God first gives us the best chance to influence others, for when they experience a personal crisis, they’ll remember that we were true to our principles, and will be more likely to turn to us for guidance and help.
Do you have family members, relatives, or former friends who look down on you, mock you, or even reject you because of your Catholic faith? If so, remember that Jesus Himself had this experience, for Scripture tells us that even some of His own relatives considered Him out of His mind [Mk. 3:21]. Have you ever been in any sort of argument or controversy because you refused to go along with crowd, or insisted on doing what was right? If so, remember that you were uniting yourself with Jesus, Who came not to establish a false peace, but to cause division by witnessing to the truth. Do you find it difficult to be honest in a dishonest age, to reject the materialism and self-indulgence promoted by our society, and to oppose the destructive values of our culture of death? If so, remember that Jesus conquered sin and death by remaining true to His mission, and that if we try to remain faithful to Him, we will share in His triumph. We must never cease praying for the conversion of sinners, including any of our own misguided loved ones; we must always be willing to help them, accept them in a loving and non-judgmental way, and be ever-ready to forgive their offenses against us—but we must never compromise our faith or allow their opposition to weaken our commitment to Christ. No one in this world can save us from sin or grant us everlasting happiness in Heaven; only Jesus can do that—as long as we strive to be faithful to Him. Many of the saints who suffered terribly at the hands of family members later had the joy of seeing their loved ones converted, and now rejoice together with them in the Kingdom of God—and these same miracles of grace can still happen today. The greatest service we can offer our families and loved ones is to remain true to Jesus—for in this way, the Good News of salvation is being proclaimed through us, and all things become possible.