13 November 2022
Malachi 3:19-20 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12 Luke 21:5-19
Theme: Perseverance in Hope
As we near the end of the Church’s liturgical year, our Scripture readings speak of the end times, of persecution, of plagues and famines, of wars and revolutions, of destruction and betrayal, and of God’s judgement on an evil world. These readings, especially today’s Gospel, confronts us with images of future disaster and leaves us with the feeling that things are going to get worse before they get better, if indeed they are ever going to get better.
We might be inclined to sidestep the challenge of these readings by categorising them as apocalyptic literature – a literature that flourished in times of great crisis and hence not relevant today. However, we should ask ourselves: are we not faced with the greatest crisis in human history, the crisis caused by human-produced global warming? The very survival of human life on Planet Earth, our common home, is endangered, and the fault lies with us. As the UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutierres, reminded the delegates at COP 27 (the international climate summit currently taking place in Egypt), ‘We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing’. Given the severity of this crisis, the failure of world leaders to take decisive and concerted action to address this issue is particularly distressing.
Another disconcerting sign of our times, to which Pope Francis has frequently referred, is the crisis in the world of politics. We are witnessing a noticeable decline in civilised and respectful political debate and the replacement of rational persuasion with invective and slogans. In the words of the Pope, ‘Today in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools in the service of self-interest rather than the common good’ (FT 15). Moderation, self-control, decency and respectful dialogue are no longer seen as virtues to be practised in the public sphere.
Apart from the world of politics, Christianity is also in crisis today. It is marginalised if not banished from the public sphere in the Western world, and persecuted and suppressed in the other parts of the world. By even the most conservative estimates, about 8,000 Christians die each year for their faith. Certainly we are witnessing a new wave of Christian persecution. ISIS has beheaded Christians, driven them from their ancient homes in the Middle East and forced them to choose between conversion or death. William Butler Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming, written after the First World War I and on the cusp of the Irish Civil War, surely rings a bell. The poem speaks of things spiralling out of control:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Our readings today, then, with their apocalyptic language, are very relevant to our current situation and offer a Christian reading of that situation. Unlike Yeats’ poem, however, these readings do not plunge us into despair but provide us with grounds for hope and a positive response. The context in which the readings should be read is that of God’s coming reign of justice, truth and love, as expressed in our Responsorial psalm: ‘For the Lord comes; he comes to rule the earth. He will rule the world with justice and the peoples with fairness’.
Our first reading, written by the last of the prophets, Malachi (the name means ‘my messenger’), sometime in the 5th century BC, speaks of a day of Judgement when ‘all the arrogant and the evil-doers’ meet their comeuppance – and are burned up ‘like stubble’ (Mal 3:19). But, on that day of judgement ‘the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays’ (Mal 3:20) for the Lord’s faithful ones. This reading exhorts us, even when things seem to be collapsing around us, not to be overcome by fear, but to trust in God’s promises and to persevere in faithful service of the Lord.
In our gospel reading from Luke, we see Jesus predicting the terrible catastrophe which would befall Jerusalem almost 40 years later. In the year 70 AD, Jerusalem was besieged by the mighty Roman army. Over a million people were killed or died of starvation during the long siege. The city was destroyed and the Temple burned to the ground. Jesus assures his disciples that, even though they will suffer persecution, they will not be overwhelmed or paralysed by fear, for they will be protected from harm. ‘Not a hair of your head will be lost’ (Lk 21:19). Through the power of his Spirit they are to continue to bear witness to him. Their perseverance will win them their lives. Such words of hope for the future are always needed just as much to day as they were for the first followers of Jesus.
The response to today’s psalm (Psalm 97) yearns for the God who will govern the world with justice and fairness. With our own fears and hopes about the future, we can surely identify with this yearning. Times of suffering can offer the possibility of renewal, of new directions, that may give birth to the hope that, as the prophet Malachi assures us, ‘there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays’ (Mal 3:20). And so we pray: ‘May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you’. (Ps 32)
Michael McCabe, November 2022
To listen to an alternative Homily from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.