Readings: Book of the Prophet Malachi 3:19-20; Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians 3:7-12; Gospel According to Saint Luke 21:5-19
No doubt to the consternation of his hearers, Jesus predicted the destruction of the great Temple in Jerusalem. The people took much pride in their glorious central place of worship and any thought of its ceasing to exist was shocking, to say the least. No one wanted to hear a prediction of the Temple’s destruction, yet we know it eventually came about, and not long after Jesus’ earthly sojourn. We can still see the ruins of the former Temple in Jerusalem and realize in looking at those ruins how enormous and impressive was the structure and how unimaginable its destruction must have been.
As we come to the end of the Liturgical Year, the Church is directing us to meditate on the final times, the end of our life, the end of the world and the coming again of Christ as Judge and Redeemer. Next Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the following Sunday we begin a new Liturgical Year with the first Sunday of Advent.
In today’s first Mass reading the prophet Malachi speaks of the Lord’s Day, that is the coming of the Lord, described as “blazing like an oven,” when the proud and evil doers are set on fire. It is anything but a pretty picture!
Even with such strong imagery, a careful consideration of the end times and the final coming of the Lord is not meant to frighten us, but rather to wake us up to what really matters in life. Contrary to what we might be hearing, life is not about health, wealth, youth and beauty, as our culture teaches, but life in Christ, for which we were created, that is, participating to the full in the life of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The things that cannot fade or vanish, which constitute our life in Christ, are rooted in eternal values that will never disappear. We are being invited by God who loved us into existence to do all we can to possess the “unfading crown of glory,” in the words of the First Letter of Saint Peter, chapter 5, verse 4. This is being offered to us at every moment and extends beyond our earthly existence into eternity.
With this in mind, the beautiful words at the conclusion of the passage from Malachi today are very consoling. The prophet says, speaking in God’s name, “For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings.” Could there be a more consoling image for each of us and for all humankind, that is, consolation under God’s wings?
We live in a world characterized by moral crisis and decay of culture. Life is taken for granted and often discarded. Some have called the present climate a “culture of death.” Despite this reality, Christians are called to moral integrity and to the promotion of life in all its stages. We believe there is a reward for living righteously and penalty for wrongdoing, sure to come in God’s Day of Judgment.
The Lord will come, we are assured in Sacred Scripture and Christian Tradition, and the question remains: Are we ready? Am I ready? We believe that God’s justice and Kingdom of righteousness and peace will surely be established and prevail in the end. We are being offered grace by God to heed his call and to do his will, to be builders of God’s Kingdom that lasts forever.
Our vocation is to work at drawing others to the Good News (the Gospel) we have found and embraced in Jesus Christ. This means truly loving our enemies, joyfully accepting setbacks and sufferings, being patient in adversity, forgiving those who trespass against us, and extending comfort and compassion to those who lack hope or help.
Saint Paul writing to the Thessalonians puts it in very practical terms in the second lesson today: work quietly that you might eat. Don’t keep busy with other peoples’ business, but mind your own. That could sound like “tending your own garden,” and closing in on oneself. Saint Paul doesn’t promote an avoidance of involvement with others, but sticking to what pertains to the welfare of others and not meddling in what is not our concern. This takes practice, prudence, tact, discretion and strength, for which we should pray to the Holy Spirit.
God bestows the needed grace and wisdom to face trials and to respond to the challenges to our faith. Our adherence to Christ doesn’t mean sidestepping spiritual conflict, persecution, suffering and difficulties. Rather, belonging to Christ enables us to face trials with greater courage and love. That is the heart of Jesus’ admonition, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden.”
It is always important to remember that the burdens of life don’t disappear when we belong to Christ, but they do become bearable, because another is at our side, so much so that Saint Augustine could pray in his Confessions (Book III.vi): “But Thou, Lord, wast more within me than my inmost being and higher than what is highest in me.”
If this is so, and we believe it is for all who adhere to Christ, then we should not fear or run away from whatever we experience as a challenge in life.
The reality of a time of destruction and uprooting, the coming of the Son of Righteousness, our Lord Jesus Christ, and peacefully going about our daily tasks are all to be held in balance in our life. Only with God’s help can we do so, filled with joy and confidence that makes us bold witnesses of God’s saving message of freedom and salvation in the Lord.
Our God comes to rule the world with righteousness and the peoples with fairness, Sacred Scripture reminds us. May we be unafraid to let God act in the depths of our being today and always. May our reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord at the Holy Eucharist strengthen us for the journey, until Christ returns to take us home.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB