It has never been easy to be a Christian, and it never will be.
The responsorial psalm today speaks of those who rise up against God and His chosen one, whom the Gospel reveals to be Christ. The Jews themselves, of course, were already persecuted for following the One True God and refusing to participate in the worship of pagan gods and the Roman emperors. Then when Jesus came, He and His followers were soon persecuted as well. The first reading shows how the first Christians saw that this psalm applied to themselves.
One might say that there were times when it was easy to be a Christian, like during the Middle Ages when most of Europe was Catholic, or even today in countries where there is still a high rate of Christian religious practice and cultural influence. I would say that it can be easy to call oneself a Christian, but it is never easy to be a Christian. It is easier in some circumstances than others, but never simply easy.
This is because the tendency to sin is always present in us, even after we recognize and accept Jesus as our Savior through the sacrament of Baptism, and even if we seek forgiveness and strength in Confession, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments. And since we are naturally social, we tend to share our sinfulness. Peer pressure rarely pushes us to the heights of holiness.
But God knows this, and sends us extra help: the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in the Gospel reading today, we must be born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the Kingdom of God. We receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and that relationship is particularly strengthened at Confirmation. Speaking of which, don’t forget to pray for the young people in our Confirmation class, who will receive that sacrament this Friday!
Before Confirmation, the candidates come and have an interview with one of us priests. One of the questions I ask them is which of the gifts of the Holy Spirit they particularly want. I’ve been impressed by how many have mentioned the gift of courage. These young people experience how difficult it is to truly be a Christian, and are turning to God for help. The apostles and disciples of Jesus in the first reading also ask for the strength to preach Christ and do Christian works “with all boldness”, and they receive that gift when they are “filled with the Holy Spirit”. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to full all of us with His gifts, perhaps especially courage and fortitude, that we may think, speak and act as true Christians, boldly living lives of virtue and bearing witness before our world to the truth and joy of Christ’s resurrection.