St. Paul warns us that “all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). In this he is echoing the words of Jesus, who told the apostles that His followers would experience the world’s enmity, just as He did (Jn. 15:18-20), and that discipleship might divide families and lead to controversy (Mt. 10:36, Lk. 21:16). Our Lord also said that some of those who persecute us would actually believe they were thereby serving God (Jn. 16:2-3).
Religion can be very controversial and divisive; our efforts to do what’s right for God’s glory will sometimes subject us to anger, insult, misunderstanding, suspicion or false accusation, and enmity and opposition. These things can happen both to individual believers, and to the Church as a whole. Also, St. Paul teaches of a “mass apostasy,” or falling-away from the Faith, that will occur at some point in the Church’s history (2 Thes. 2:3), and Scripture elsewhere warns of a time when false teachings will lead many astray (Mk. 13:22, 2 Pt. 2:1-3, 1 Jn. 4:1).
Could such events occur in our own day? If indeed a time of religious persecution and division is upon us, how are we to prepare for it? (a vitally -important question, considering that our eternal salvation may be at stake).
The first and most important thing is to strengthen our relationship with Jesus. We cannot hope to withstand life’s challenges on our own— but if we truly know the Lord, His grace will sustain us. Putting Him at the center of our lives is like building on a solid foundation, allowing us to stand secure in the face of whatever storms may come (cf. Mt. 7:21-27).
Secondly, we must be well-informed on the issues affecting our lives as Christians—not relying on the mainstream media, but on solid Catholic magazines (such as Signs & Wonders and This Rock), books from publishers such as Queenship and Sophia Institute Press, good radio and TV shows, and websites such as Catholic Journal, SpiritDaily.com, and Catholic Convert. (Full disclosure: each of these has published some of my own writings from time to time.)
Thirdly, we should be cautious about religious innovations, particularly teachings and practices which seem to go against the Church’s doctrine and tradition. If someone—even a person in a position of authority—says something contrary to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, don’t follow him or her; the person may be one of the false shepherds Jesus warns against (Jn. 10:1).
Fourthly, consider joining organizations such as the Catholic League, Focus on the Family, and the American Family Association, that try to identify threats to our Christian faith and work to defend religious liberty. Also, support and vote for only political candidates who pledge to support and defend traditional moral values.
Fifthly, pray for fellow Christians throughout the world who are already experiencing hardship and persecution because of their faith. We cannot expect God to hear our own prayers if we ignore the needs of others; those who are already on the front lines need and deserve our support.
Sixthly, offer your ongoing prayers, acts of penance, and sacrifices for the conversion of sinners and the moral and spiritual renewal of our country— particularly by praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It’s not too late for our country to turn back to God—and if it does, America will once again receive God’s blessing and protection (2 Chron. 7:14).
Lastly, keep a proper perspective. As one Christian leader said, the Church is persecuted not because it’s losing, but because it’s winning. Christ is victorious, and it’s an actual blessing to suffer for His Name (Mt. 5:11-12). Moreover, Jesus instructs us, “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand” (Lk. 21:28).
No one knows exactly what the future holds, in part because our prayers and act of penance can still alter history and change the course of world events. Nevertheless, Jesus expects us to read the signs of the times (Lk. 12:54-56), take up our cross and follow after Him (Mt. 16:24-25), and reject fear and instead place our trust in Him—for He has conquered the world (Jn. 16:33).