The Truth does not fear persecutions of power and does not need its favors. You confirm this separation of the spiritual and the temporal which, in my opinion, is the only one capable of ensuring the triumph of the Church. […] Some rely on chariots, others on horses, but we on the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:8).
Frederic Ozanam, Letter to Édouard Dufresne, February 21, 1851.
- Édouard Dufresne was living in Geneva, where the Catholic Church was a minority against Protestant confession. But little by little more faithful approached the Catholic Church, “in a place in which everything conspired to drown them,” as Frederic says in other part of this letter. Frederic wrote this text to his friend when he learned that the Catholics in Geneva received the donation of a land to build a new Catholic temple.
- Ozanam begins with two blunt statements: the truth “does not fear the persecution of power” and “does not need its favors.” In the context, he is refering to the truth of Catholicism, facing the powers of the world.
- “[The Truth] is not afraid of the persecutions of power”: the Gospel speaks to us on numerous occasions of persecution for Christ and Justice: Mt 5:10: “persecuted for the sake of righteousness … because of me;” Jn 15:21: “on account of my name;” Jn. 15:20: “No slave is greater than his master.” They persecuted Christ and we are his followers. We are like Him. We are not of the world: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you” (Jn 15:19-21). We are not afraid, however, to be persecuted because of Justice. We know who we have trusted in.
- “Does not need its favors”: independent of any power in the world, we believers only put our trust in the Lord of History. We have the guarantee that the construction of His Kingdom (a kingdom of justice, peace, love … that begun 2,000 years ago) continues today, which is in our hands, and that will be completed because God so has assured to us. We Vincentians do it in the way Vincent de Paul and many other Christians taught us: serving the poor and working for their liberation.
- The “separation of the spiritual and the temporal” (Church and State, we may say today) is something that in our time is totally assumed and lived in the vast majority of the countries of our world, except in some totalitarian regimes and theocracies. A few weeks ago we reflected on this topic when we talked about positive and negative secularism, and how Frederic also lived it in his time. This separation, says Frederic, “is the only one capable of ensuring the triumph of the Church.” Ozanam does not say that Christians should not participate in the construction of a better and more just society, especially for the most needy. On the contrary, he himself is an example of how to be “salt of the earth and light of the world” (see Mt 5:13-14) in the midst of society. Frederic points that, when ideologies (of any kind) have been imposed on the whole society, the results have always been negative, and this would happen in the hypothetical case of imposing a particular religion on a State or society. All totalitarianism, of any sign, is intrinsically negative.
Questions for dialogue:
- What is our place in the society in which we live?
- Do we live with faith and hope, even when we may be persecuted?
- Do we pray for persecuted Christians in the world? Do we help them in any way?
- How can Christians collaborate to build a better society for all, especially for those who suffer injustice?