“My whole world is falling apart.” We’ve all heard someone say that, or maybe we’ve even said it ourselves, at some point in our lives. I think today’s Gospel points to that kind of experience.
But to really get at the experience Luke’s Gospel was getting at, you have to imagine how we would feel if we came to Mass one day and found this beautiful Church demolished and in ruins. I think we’d all be devastated and feel hurt, abandoned, and lost in some ways. And that’s just exactly how the original readers of Luke’s Gospel felt. Luke’s Gospel was written somewhere between 80 and 100 AD, so 50 or more years after Jesus died. And at this point, the glorious Temple of Jerusalem, once stately and glimmering white and gold in the sunlight, now lay in ruins, having been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. For the Jews at that time, the Temple meant everything: it the center of their worship, which was crucial. But in the Temple they also found the symbol of their identity as a nation. It was a sign that God favored them among all the nations on earth and had chosen them to be his own. Jerusalem was no more, and a world ended with it.
But as I mentioned at the start of this homily, we all go through something that makes it seem like the end of the world at some point in our lives. Family, friends and our communities experience various forms of dying and they are never easy. Cancer debilitates a formerly-vigorous and full-of-life friend or relative; a marriage breaks up; an injury makes it impossible to keep a job; aging diminishes a once-vibrant person. And more. Our churches offer more and more empty seats, our nation moves from one crisis to the next, we scratch our heads as legislatures seem incompetent or cantankerous or ineffective, perhaps we are dismayed by the recent election season, or are fearful at the growing violence in our major cities. We might even think of devastating natural disasters like the hurricanes and earthquakes that happen around the world. When we experience any of that, it can seem like the world is ending.
And when things like that happen, it’s hard to find words to express our sadness, fear, pain, and desertedness. It can even be hard to find words to speak in prayer. But Jesus knows this will happen to us and promises that if we persevere, we will gain our lives and that God himself will give us a wisdom in speaking that cannot be refuted. In Christ, we can find wisdom to make painful circumstances occasions for God’s grace. What we experience as difficulties and painful endings, he sees as opportunities to witness to our faith in him.
Very often when catastrophic things happen, people read it as the coming end of the world. Sometimes people even see these things as signs of God’s displeasure at the way humanity has been behaving. But today’s Gospel doesn’t support those kinds of ideas. God alone knows the time for the world’s ending, and he’s not going to provide definite signs. Not only that, but catastrophe is the symptom of evil in the world, and not a sign of God’s feelings about the state of the world, or the depravity of the human condition, or even about our own personal sinfulness.
As the Church year comes to a close, it may be well for us to look back at our lives over the past year and take stock of our growth in faith. Has our relationship with Christ led us to a place where we can weather the storms of life, and hear his voice even when the world is falling down around us? Have we grown in our ability to make God’s presence in our world known when the world around us seems rudderless and adrift? Have we been open to God giving us words to speak in witness to the faith, so that we stand up with integrity for what we believe? If this year has not been a solid experience of growth for us, that needs to be our prayer for the year to come.
I feel the need to comment on the past election season here, because it really calls for us to give the kind of witness that our Gospel reading calls for today. We definitely need to find candidates on both sides of the aisle who respect life and are people of integrity. The vacuum of that causes election seasons like we just experienced. Pro-life people are not extremists, abortion is not healthcare but instead the murder of an unborn person, and it’s never a morally acceptable choice for anyone. The fact that Catholic candidates have caved to outside pressure and ignore that teaching doesn’t make it right for Catholics or anyone. On the other hand we can’t allow pro-life people to behave badly, or their lack of integrity ruins their witness and gives the other side the opportunity to label us as extremists. Somehow, our witness has to get this right; that’s our call in the world.
But remember what Jesus says at the end of the Gospel reading today:
“You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
On the second-to-last Sunday of the Church year, it would have been wonderful for the Liturgy to tie up all the loose ends and give us a happy ending. But that’s not what we have here is it? Why? Because life isn’t that way. Jesus tells us as much today. The message that we have is that, no matter how messy things may be, we can praise our God who is with us in good times and in bad, and promises to lift us up even when the world seems like it is coming to an end.