“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.... These things I command you, that you love one another.”
In Saint John’s account of the Last Supper—from the end of the twelfth chapter, through the seventeenth—our Lord is heard giving His last instructions to the Apostles. He had been with them for several years, but knew that soon He would be with them no longer. His Ascension into heaven, which we celebrated this past Thursday, would mark the end of His normal bodily presence with them on earth. While they still could commune with Him in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the time was at hand when He would no longer be around to deal with the forces of the world on their behalf.
One of the things that marks our Lord’s discourse during the Supper is the prediction that those who follow Jesus will not be appreciated by the world. His disciples might very well be persecuted for no other reason than their association with Him, and the knowledge of His truth which is despised by the world. Understand, please, that this prediction is not one of gloominess or unhappiness—rather it is a prediction of reality—and possibly a prediction of eternal glory being derived from heroic faith.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.... If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
As faithful Jewish men, the Apostles were probably not surprised by our Lord’s prediction. They could look back into their own history and see how the prophets had often suffered at the hands of those who did not want to hear God’s Commandments, and His warnings of coming chastisement: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets.” And conversely, they could remember Jeremias’ Lamentation about evil priests and false prophets: “For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her.” The Apostles had only to look back to recent history to see how the Machabees had been persecuted for keeping the Law of Moses. It really was nothing new for religious people to not fit very well into the affairs of the worldly.
What might have been a little more difficult for the Apostles to accept was this passage we heard today: “They will expel you from the synagogues.” To the observant Jew, the synagogues had been places of peace. In every town of any size there was a place where Jewish men would gather every morning to read from God’s Law, and, perhaps, to hear a learned commentary on what had been read. The synagogue was a place where one could hear God’s truth. But now, our Lord was telling them that they could expect to be expelled, precisely because they had the truth—the synagogue would become a place where preaching the truth about the crucified and resurrected Christ would be a crime! The murder of a truth-teller would become a sort of “unholy sacrifice,” perversely thought to be an offering to God!
This expulsion from the synagogues would have its equivalent in Christian times as well. We have a famous writing of Saint Athanasius, one of the very few bishops in the Catholic Church to actively oppose the Arian heresy (the denial of Christ’s divinity). The Arians had taken over everything, even putting the faithful Catholics out of the churches. Saint Athanasius wrote:
The Catholics had been cast out by the Arians who exercised political power with the Emperor. They had been cast out precisely for the same reason the Apostles had been cast out of the synagogues: preaching the truth about the crucified and resurrected Christ—and, in this case, particularly for preaching the truth that Jesus is true God, one with the Father.
The same sort of thing happens every once in a while, when people become weak in their Catholic Faith; lukewarm in their love of God, and feeble in their knowledge of Him. That weakness allows some false “prophet” to come along, assume great power, and dispossess the people from their churches—and, if they are truly feeble, it allows him to dispossess them of their faith—something far worse than the loss of a mere material building. We saw this five hundred years ago in the “Reformation,” we see it today in what the false “prophets” claim to be a renewal
Saint Athanasius went on:
We might ask ourselves just how the Apostles preserved their Faith, even after being “put out of the synagogues”; and how did the Christians of the fourth and fifth centuries do so; and those who suffered under the “Reformation”? And how are we to preserve our Faith in spite of the Modernism which pervades so much of Church and society today?
Perhaps the first line of defense against succumbing to heresy and its attendant persecution is simply to know the Faith. To know it at least well enough that we won’t be misled by the first seductive Modernist argument that comes along.
The second line of defense is suggested right in this same Gospel which predicted the persecution. “When the Advocate has come ... the Spirit of Truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness concerning Me.” That second line of defense is the Mass and the Sacraments; the ability to remain in Sanctifying Grace. If we remain temples of the Holy Ghost it will be impossible to take the Faith away from us.
A third line of defense, was not mentioned today, but only a few days ago we celebrated the feast of Marty as Queen of Apostles:
The Blessed Virgin Mary must always be among our lines of defense!
And finally, there is that “new Commandment” that we have what Saint Peter so nicely put, “a constant mutual charity.” It is so much more easy to deal with difficulty and persecution when one is not alone. So, as Catholics, we are called upon to “love one another,” just as God loves us, who are not always so loveable
By this will everyone know that we have the true Faith, and that we are the disciples of Truth Himself—they will know us because we love one another!
 John xiii:34-35; xv: 17
 John xv: 18-20
 Matthew xxiii: 37.
 Lamentations iv: 13. Mem.
 Gospel: John xv: 26, 27; xvi: 1-4.
 Saint Athanasius, Ibid.
 Gospel: Ibid.
 Collect of the Feast of the Queen of Apostles.