As the liturgical year draws to the end and we prepare ourselves for a new one, the Readings presented to us start to get a little uncomfortable. Both the First Reading and the Gospel we hear are considered apocalyptic writings, writings about the end of time—Apocalypse meaning unveiling, seeing things as they truly are. In these Readings we are presented with imagery of fire, wars, revolutions, earthquakes, epidemics, persecution, and suffering. Some people tend to interpret these writings as if they are written in code. They think, There’s code here that tells us when the end of the world will be, and we have to crack that code! Then they start seeing recent natural disasters and wars as a sign that the end of time is near. They hunt these signs, and use them to promote fear about the end of time. There is an alternative way to interpret these texts which I find more accurate: the apocalyptic texts speak of the end of my time. Namely, the time of my own death, that time when I will be called to the presence of my Heavenly Father.
The Church wants to invites us to reflect with hope on the mysteries to come, the Last Things: Death, Judgement, Hell, and Heaven. St Francis de Sales said that we should live everyday as if it were our last, for like the martyrs we heard about last week, we too will one day be called to give witness, and to be witnesses. This is what Christ challenges his listeners to do in gospel of Luke. Politicians promise that things will be great if we vote for them. They promise us success and progress in their efforts to win our vote. But Jesus does the complete opposite. He tells his listeners that if they truly decide to follow him then, “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…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” (Lk 21: 12- 18). He follows this with his key message: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Lk 21:19).
So perhaps it’s not a matter of how or when the world will end, or even a matter or how or when my life will end: It’s a matter of perseverance, perseverance in living our faith in the best and the worst of circumstances. Christ didn’t come to hand out trophies or participation medals. The message of Christ is not a message of triumphalism. The message of Christ is one that eradicates fear in all it’s forms. Fear of suffering, pain and persecution, even the fear of death. Perseverance is at the heart of the message of Christ. We shouldn’t be naive and take this decision lightly without discernment, “many will come in my name” (Lk 21:8). It seems that many who come “in the name of Jesus” try to preach the Gospel of Christ in a triumphant way; they give us the message of Christ and the Gospel without the Cross, without the suffering, without the pain. They present to us a pain-free kind of love. I’m sure that many of us have fallen into this trap more than once in our own lives. We find that we are suffering – in our marriage, in our personal life, in our workplace – and we believe that it’s because things are not going well. We buy into the message that life really should be pain-free. We have only to read today’s Word and look at the crucifix to see that that superficial triumphalism is not part of the message of Christ.
John of the Cross says “At the sunset of your life you will be examined on love.” At that time when God calls us you, when he calls me, we shall be judged by love. How much did we love? How much were we witnesses of love? How did we love those whom we didn’t have to love? How did we love when we didn’t have to love? How did we love when we didn’t feel like loving? Love is something much greater than an emotion or feeling. Love is a decision, even in times of pain and suffering. Have you ever given yourself the opportunity to reflect on your own death, that last divine call? To think about death can be a source of anxiety and fear, or it can be something liberating and freeing, a true act of faith. After a life of perseverance, we place ourselves in the hands of our Father, and allow ourselves to be welcomed into his presence in love.
I remember how my grandfather died. I was a child and his death was more or less expected. He had an illness of the heart and lungs, and we knew that the time of his death was not far away. We watched as his heart rate grew weaker, and his breaths came further apart. We knew that the time had come. Then he said the words that marked my entire view of death. He took his last breath and said, “It cannot be compared.” In those last breaths my grandfather’s life was being “unveiled” to a truer reality, opening his eyes to the face of God. He always strived to be a man of prayer, and to be close to the sacraments, and at the moment of death this helped him to open his eyes to life eternal, to the face of that Father who is Love, and to the face of Christ.
Death is an encounter with Our Father. But this encounter requires us to persevere throughout our lives. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Lk 21:19). Christ is challenging us to persevere, no matter how bad things may get in this life, so that we may be ready to enter into the fullness of the life that God offers when He calls us for the last time. We must persevere in this life so that at the moment of death we may open our eyes and see the face of God whom we so long for. There is no need to fear suffering, pain or death itself, for Christ has already conquered all enemies, and he walks with us. It is then simply a matter of living each day as it comes, in the presence of God, in prayer and charity, with the company of the Holy Sacraments and the Church that Christ founded. Death is not an end in our lives; Death is merely a transition to the fullness of life itself.
As this Year of Mercy comes to an end, let us open our hearts and souls to the mercy of God. Let us ask Mary to show us to persevere every day as if it were our last so that when our time comes, and God calls us to his holy presence, we may give back the life he gave us with trust and confidence.
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