17 November 2019
2 Thessalonians 3.7-12
Some years ago, a friend of mine, who had just come back from New York, showed me a photo of people looking at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre as they collapsed to the ground. The expressions on the faces of these people were full of horror, fear and probably most of all disbelief. Two months after the terrible tragedy of the evil terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 nothing remained of these famous Twin Towers but a huge pile of stones where the buildings once stood. Nothing but rubble stood in place of these famous landmarks. Today they have been replaced by a new building named ‘Freedom Tower’.
Before the evil attack no one would have thought it possible that what was one of the centres of world trade and finance could be destroyed. Now we know otherwise. The prophecy of Jesus in today’s gospel is that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would end up likewise, that one stone would not be left standing on another. In that Jewish Temple the pillars were columns of white marble 40 feet high, each made of a single block. The front face of this Temple was covered with plates of gold of great weight. It had taken 46 years to build. Therefore, for the Jews it was simply unthinkable that the glory of their Temple should be shattered to dust but it was. If that could be utterly destroyed like the World Trade Centre was anything safe any more? The very basis of their religious security and certainty was taken from them. What then remained?
More than one commentator after the September 11th terrorist attack in the U.S. said that probably the worst effect of what happened was that now people felt terribly vulnerable. No longer were Americans involved only in wars outside the US. Now on their own soil anything this evil was possible. Where was one to find one’s security just as the Jews asked after the fall of their Temple in Jerusalem? Well, that answer for American Christians is written on their coins if it is accepted. “In God we trust”. But we all know that we can write phrases and speak them without them having a practical effect on our lives.
Is it not true that God often seems absent from our lives? How often do we ask this in time of trial, the sudden loss of a loved one, in time of sickness, adversity, tragedy etc. “Where is God now, where is his help now?” Everything seems hopelessly dark. But if in such moments we remain faithful, there are sometimes new, unknown ways opening up to us. We would never have discovered them were it not for this trial. Later, sometimes we have to acknowledge that God was there after all. Maybe thanks to this suffering I have come to discover or discern better the deeper aspects of life. However, no one would wish this tragedy to happen in order to discover this. And certainly God does not and could not send it just to teach us. But I have to admit that it is not easy to understand why he allows it.
Where was God at times of tragedy? It would seem he still comes as he did in the days of his being with us here on earth when he lived in Palestine. God comes to us in human form. He uses us humans to be his loving and caring presence, to be his concern, his compassion etc. if we allow him. New York’s response was a great example of this. We saw people coming together in solidarity in ways they never did before. There was tremendous concern for those who lost loved ones. There were many, many heroic examples of what is best in the human person – firemen, policemen, religious, very ordinary people risking their lives. We see it too in the efforts of people in times of earthquakes, famines, floods etc sending help both material and human to the affected areas.
Jesus does not deny that these terrible events will happen. But he does remind us powerfully in the gospel that we are not alone. He assures us that ‘our endurance will win us our lives’. He is with us strengthening us in times of trial. It means that even if evil people cause us harm or evil, the person who walks along with Jesus may lose his life as Jesus did but not his spirit or soul.
Today’s liturgy reminds us that we are called, invited, encouraged by his Holy Spirit to persevere as our temples fall around us. Nothing lasts forever, eventually they perish and disappear. What are our temples? Where do we put so much of our trust – wealth, power, a good job, health, another person? What do we need to let go of? These things will pass away but not God.
“In God we trust”. May this be the only true Temple in our lives, which will never pass away or be destroyed. Jesus affirms the great power of God at work in history. It demands that we work to destroy sinful human structures or Temples that are not of God and which enslave ourselves, others.
“Heavenly Father, give me an unshakable confidence in your Fatherly providential loving care Amen.” Why not pray this prayer daily at least to learn to trust God more and more?
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA