Joshua Charles, left, and Alec Torres

The persecuted overcome

  • November 26, 2023

What 11 saints who overcame persecution or betrayal by their religious superiors or fellow clergy withstood is not unfamiliar in today’s Church, argue Joshua Charles and Alec Torres in their new book.

It can be seen, says Charles, in the case of Bishop Joseph Strickland, recently removed by Pope Francis as head of the Diocese of Tyler in Texas.

Charles, co-author with Torres of Persecuted from Within: How the Saints Endured Crises in the Church, told The Catholic Register he considers Strickland “the real deal” and a “heroic defender of the faith,” whilst stating he heard the bishop admit “that not everything he has done has been perfect or prudential.” Strickland is one of Francis’ strongest conservative critics, rebuking LGBT inclusion efforts and claiming the synod could cause further confusion and division in the Church. The 65-year-old blasted the Francis papacy on social media multiple times, including a May 12 post on X stating, “It is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith. Follow Jesus.”

Persecuted from Within profiles 11 saints who came up against similar elements within the Church, the authors argue, but overcame these tormentors to grow in sanctification. 

Among them is St. Padre Pio, who bore the stigmata — the bodily marks, scars or pains corresponding to those of the crucified Jesus Christ — and was viewed by lay people as a model of Christ’s love. However, his growing notoriety sparked jealousy and intense backlash from a faction of priests and bishops. His detractors compelled the Holy See to take action. Pio was forbidden from showing his wounds, banned from writing letters or giving advice and eventually not allowed to celebrate Mass or offer Confession. Pio ultimately withstood this storm, and once these prohibitions lifted, the graces, conversions and healings people experienced in the future saint’s presence multiplied.

Other saints profiled include laypeople from St. Joan of Arc to St. Thomas More, and religious servants, such as Sts. Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross, Alphonsus Liguori and Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

One of the main theses of this document is that this perceived chaotic and divisive period in the modern Church is not without precedent given what the profiled saints contended with while they walked the Earth.

Torres, a writer and communicator with previous experience as a speechwriter for many political figures, including Donald Trump, said this book calls on readers to adopt their charge from God to be truth-seekers and truth-tellers.

“There are some who think it is wrong to talk about problems in the Church or incorrect things their bishop or the Pope may say,” said Torres. “It is a sort of overzealous meekness that refuses to recognize the fact as followers of Christ — we aren’t bishops, we aren’t priests, we have different callings as lay people — we are called to stand for the truth. There are those around us who will be scandalized by what they see, Catholic or not, and we need to be able to express to them with the utmost charity and clarity of our own doctrine why things are wrong.”

Charles, an author, historian, researcher, international speaker and former White House speechwriter, said we should be mindful that a man “who was the least guilty and most innocent was struck down and murdered. He is our model.”

Charles added we can navigate these difficult times if we embrace our call to be suffering servants of Christ

“Pope Gregory the Great (in the Moralia of Job) in the late 500s says heretics do not recognize the Church in its suffering because they love the things of this world,” said Charles. “That’s a warning not just for heretics but for each of us: if we are too in love with the world, if we’re too in love with going about life in a specific fashion that has no disturbance whatsoever, we will not see the mystery of the Church. This includes internal attack, the Judas element and the external Roman element, so to speak.

“St. Francis de Sales said there is nothing more important than maintaining peace of soul. If you’re willing to suffer, you need not be scandalized. If you’re willing to suffer, none of this (turmoil) should surprise you. That is not an answer the natural man wants, but it is the supernatural answer of our faith.”

The authors, both converts, stress there are many positive developments in the Church amid the crises they document.

Torres said trying to exist during a time of great global turmoil without Jesus whatsoever is a much worse problem than feeling ill at ease about the Church.

“That chaos only gets worse if you’re a non-Christian,” said Torres. “I’ve dabbled with that other side of that divide, not just being a Protestant, but being nothing. I never fully got there. I don’t think that we can contemplate, as Catholics, anybody who truly believes and tries to go to Mass, the depths of existential chaos people face outside the Church and friendship with Jesus Christ at all.”

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