The End or the Beginning by Rev. Stanley J. Krempa
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here - the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."
Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen"? He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in may name, saying, "I am he,' and 'The time has come.' Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 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."
Today’s Gospel is both grim and hopeful. It is about something far deeper than cosmic collapse. Jesus gives us three powerful truths on which to reflect as we approach the end of one church year and the start of another.
The first truth arises from the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple must have been a stunning sight. The stones from which it was built are estimated to have weighed between 10 and 40 tons. They were carved so precisely that no mortar was needed to keep them in place.
The section of the Temple that is visited today (the so-called “Wailing Wall”) is not even part of the original Temple, but a section of the western side of the outer Temple courtyard, a huge gathering space before people entered the Temple itself. It must have been a wonder to behold. Yet, Jesus says that this magnificent Temple will be destroyed.
In fact, it is not only physical structures such as the Temple that eventually collapse but the political structures we create that will collapse as well.
Consider the empires that have come and gone: the Roman Empire, the British, the Spanish, the Ottoman, the French, the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine, the Russian, the Persian, the Japanese, the German empire or Reich, the Mongol, the Austro-Hungarian and many more. Human history is a huge graveyard of extinct empires. They all had their day in the sun and then went into decline either by conquest or decay.
The church has been witness to all this. An empire that has endured is what has been called, “the empire of souls” or the communion of saints. This is the Kingdom of God and His Church. This spiritual kingdom will endure. The powers of the earth rise and fall. Only the Kingdom of God lasts.
The second point the Lord teaches us is that conflict, tension, conquest and persecution will be part of the human life and of the church’s story throughout time. In fact, history teaches us that peace is not the usual state of affairs. War is. Whether that war is political, military, commercial or ideological, it is not an exception to human life. War will be with us until the end of history. Enduring peace will come not from political negotiations but only from God. God’s peace is a peace that the world cannot give.
The third point the Lord makes is that by faithful perseverance to the Gospel and our union with Christ, we will be saved because we are part of the Kingdom of God.
Empires come and go. Leaders come and go. Political philosophies come and go. What remains is the empire of souls, founded on the death and Resurrection of Christ.
We can then understand Malachi’s prophecy in today’s first reading. The final conflict, the ultimate purification will come in God’s good time and with it will also come final healing (the “sun with its healing rays”). That is why the early Christians looked to Christ’s return not as a time of terror but of final redemption, healing and peaceful repose. The Lord’s return is not the end but the beginning of perpetual peace.
St. Paul insists, however, that we are not to sit back, fold our hands and wait for the Lord to return to do the heavy lifting. Rather, we are to do what Jesus commanded us to do, to preach the Gospel and to bring people into the Kingdom of God. The work of the church and of every parish in her is not to sit back and await the end. The church is not meant to be a waiting room. Rather, it is the headquarters of the work of expanding the reach and population of Christ’s empire of souls. Each of us is called to be part of that expansion and reach.
Christ’s “empire of souls” is the one empire that will last forever. We call it the “communion of saints and life everlasting.”
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