There are many unpleasant facts of life we try to avoid thinking or talking about. First among these is our own death. Our life is precious, and we cannot bear the thought of losing it. Nonetheless it is a reality that we need to be aware of and come to terms with. As unpleasant as it may be to think about, it is unavoidable.
Every year in November with the days growing darker and winter fast approaching, we as a Church reflect upon some disturbing and sometimes terrifying realities - our death and the end of the world.
It is one of the articles of faith which we profess boldly in the creed: Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. All of human history is building up to the moment when Jesus will be revealed as the Son of God. At that point, everyone will have to acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. We will all bend the knee before the One who comes to bring justice to the earth. For those of us who have already welcomed his grace into our hearts and proclaimed Him as Lord of our lives it will be a joyful day. But for those who have denied Him and lived only for this world and its pleasures, the revelation of God’s justice will be painful and humiliating.
Our first reading comes from the book of the prophet Malachi. He uses the image of fire to describe the coming day of the Lord saying that it will “blaze like an oven”. Fire can be a very useful thing for us. We can use it for light, for warmth or to cook our food. However, if we fail to respect its power, that same fire can also burn us and destroy our property. In the same way, if we love God and live according to His word, His coming will be a fire that brings us light and warmth. However, if we have not respected Him and have not loved our neighbor, His coming will burn us and destroy all that we thought was important.
And so, every day of our lives we have a decision to make. Will we live according to God’s word or will we live only for our own desires? Will we form our minds according to the Bible or according to the values of the society around us? Will we respect the life and dignity of every human being or will we remain silent while millions of babies are aborted and many millions more live in poverty? We have the power to shape our future by the choices we make today. The day will come, however, when it will be too late to choose, when our destiny will already be set. How it turns out depends on God’s mercy and on our willingness to show His mercy to others today.
It is important for us to keep in mind that, when we preach about the realities of our own death and the end of the world, it is not meant to fill our hearts with fear. It is not God’s desire for us to live in trepidation for the future. Rather we discuss these uncomfortable topics so that we may be converted and change the way we live while there is still time. We also reflect on these realities so that we can learn to trust God more. He has our life and destiny in His hands. If we love Him and listen to His word, we can be sure that He will guide us on the path to life.
Jesus speaks to this in today’s gospel. He tells his disciples who are marveling at the beauty of the temple in Jerusalem that a day will come when it will all be destroyed. This is a shock to them. The temple was a massive structure constructed of large stone blocks which took over forty years to build. It was a marvel of engineering and architecture. Moreover, it was the dwelling place of God on earth. It was unimaginable to the people of Jesus’ day that it could ever be destroyed. Though the disciples are alarmed, Jesus does not tell them this to frighten them. Even when He tells them that they will be hauled off and put to death, He wants them to know that they need not fear. He will always be with them. He wants them not to be afraid but to be aware. No matter what will happen, they can trust that He will provide for them. Nothing can happen to separate them from their Heavenly Father.
We are living in a time of large scale transition in our society and in our world. We cannot tell what will happen and can feel anxious for the future. The world as we know it is passing away. As Jesus said, there are many who claim to have the answer to society’s ills. But there is only One who can cure what is really disordered in the human heart. That is God Himself. He alone can burn away the sin which destroys our families and communities. No matter how well organized governments may be or how sound the economy, if we continue hating one another, lying and cheating each other, our society cannot enjoy peace. Only by humbling turning to God and submitting to His will can we ever find any real solutions to the problems plaguing our world. There is no other way than The Way, Jesus Christ.
And so, as we reflect on these sometimes disturbing realities, we need not be afraid. God will provide us with the strength we need to endure whatever trials may come. And He will provide us with the grace we need to live everyday of our lives in accordance with His word so that, when He does come again we will be ready to embrace Him and bend the knee before Him in reverence and awe rather than in shame and fear.