33rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Jesus makes us an ugly promise. We will be betrayed by brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. We will be arrested and persecuted; tried before courts and governors; sent to prison and even executed. We ask Jesus, “Why, Lord?” He answers, “Because of my name.” Because you have heard his Word and answered. Because you have repented and received his mercy. Because you have seen and heard and because you bear witness. His name – Christ Jesus – causes this world to recoil in disgust. This world cannot bear to hear the name of Christ b/c the ruler of this world cannot love or forgive or hope or trust. Power and the corruption power breeds is the lifeblood of this world. Christ, who preaches surrender to God and sacrificial love for others, is deadly poison to those who cannot bear to see their will thwarted. “The day is coming, [says the Lord], blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.” But before that day comes, those who claim the name of Christ will be sorely tested. Those who persevere will pass the test; “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
Now, if all this sounds a bit dreary, a little too much doom and gloom, we can find some comfort in the fact that these prophecies have been coming to pass since the Resurrection. That is, Christians have been persecuted, tortured, and executed all over the world by the world since the first Easter morning. None of this new. We aren't waiting for the Last Days to arrive. They're here. And they've been here since the stone was rolled away from Jesus' empty tomb. Our fundamentalist Protestant friends see the “Last Days” as a future event, happening sometime soon, so they spend a great deal of time looking for biblical clues and matching those clues to world events in order to find out when the Big Day will happen. The Church has always known that Christ's resurrection marks the beginning of these Last Days. So, rather than waste our time with dodgy biblical timelines, we look to history and find that the Church always survives when the world decides to try her. The Church survives b/c her members persist in holding tight to the name of Christ Jesus. When the world offers power, prestige, and applause, those who persevere in Christ respond with fidelity, hope, and sacrificial love. When the world persecutes us, we respond by testifying to Christ's saving power.
We could call this testimony a form of bearing witness. By word and deed in our daily lives we reveal the saving power of Christ to others. We might also think of our testimony as a form of spiritual warfare. By word and deed in our daily lives we battle the worldly powers to expose their emptiness, their hopelessness, and their death-dealing schemes. Lest we come to think that this spiritual warfare is conducted between a great army of Good and another of Evil, remember: the only spiritual battle that matters in the end is the one you conduct within yourself. This kind of war isn't nearly as sexy and exciting as going up against the Forces of Evil with nothing but a rosary and a crucifix, but, alas, Jesus didn't consult any Hollywood producers before he prophesied how the world would treat his followers. We will have to be content with battling our own demons internally, and do all we can to help our brothers and sisters do the same. And this is where perseverance comes in. It ain't about winning the war. The war is won. On the cross, Jesus won the war. My battle, your battle is to persevere in faith, hope, and charity. To hang tough against every temptation to sin. Against every offer to betray your supernatural end in Christ.
“You will be hated by all because of my name but [. . .] By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” We were warned more than 2,000 years ago. We wear the name of Christ Jesus. We are branded his and belong to him body and soul. Because of this, the world hates us. And the world loves nothing more than to watch us hate ourselves. If it can convince you to forget or compromise or dilute the Truth Christ died to give you, then it has a victory. Not a cosmic victory. Just a victory over you. The great servant of Satan, Screwtape, says that his boss' best weapon against the Christian is “contented worldliness,” an attitude of self-assured, self-satisfied preoccupation with the passing stuff of this world. What better way to tempt you into forgetfulness or compromise than to tempt you into being fully satisfied with what cannot endure. Anchor your life in this world, and you will pass when it passes. Remember that you belong to Christ – body and soul – and when the tests come, and they will, you will persevere.
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