NB. A 2009 Roman homily preached at the Angelicum's English Mass.
St Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
Anything that can be put together can be taken apart. Anything fixable is breakable. If it can be composed, formed, or united, it can be decomposed, unformed, and disunited. The material universe rises from the play of order and chaos, making and unmaking. You do not have to be a mystic to realize that impermanence is the way of all things. Visit a maternity ward. And then a graveyard. The two are inevitably bound together by the passage of time. Some of us find this truth to be a source of anxiety, a point for jumping off into the abyss of meaninglessness. Some are indifferent, challenged nonetheless by the competition to survive. And others are delighted at the prospect of death, rushing headlong to their end, encouraged by the possibility of immortality. Since humans started thinking about the purpose of their lives, each of these responses to impermanence—anxiety, indifference, and delight—each of these has had its philosophical and theological defenders. The gospel preached by Christ and his Church offers another alternative, another way to live the joys and pains of passing through God's creation: permanent renewal, persistent peace.
Pointing to the temple and its splendor, Jesus says to the crowd, “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.” For a people whose lives are centered on the worship of God, such a prediction must have shocked them. How can something as monumental, as stable as the temple crumble? How can our connection to God be thrown down? They want to know when this horror will occur and how will they know that it is coming? Jesus gives no date, no day and time. He doesn't even hint at a season. Instead, he points them to the impermanence of creation, the chaos of human life: earthquakes, famines, plagues, insurrections, wars, awesome signs from the sky. Had someone from the crowd yelled out to Jesus, “But these happen all the time!” Jesus would have answered, “Yes, they do.” Those with eyes to see and ears to hear would have taken his point. We are always in the midst of destruction, the failure of creation's fall. Therefore, put your love, your hope, your faith in the only place left untouched by the currents of chaos. Store up all you treasure in the promises of eternal life.
Does this mean then that we must abandon creation to its fate? Do we run for the hills with our guns and provisions, waiting for The End? No. Though we may be tempted to hide from the world while we hold out against the enemy, our charge as followers of Christ is to save the world not abandon it. Jesus doesn't predict the destruction of the temple in order to warn the crowd away from its fall. He warns them of its collapse so that they will know where they should store their treasured faith. Not in buildings or votive offerings or adornments. But in their humble and contrite hearts. What our Father wants from His children is that we should live as if the temple has already been destroyed, as if we were already in His presence—face-to-face—daily, even now. Then, like Christ, our trust in Him is lived in the world as a sign of His love and mercy. We are His temples; we are His tabernacles. And as such we are—ultimately—indestructible.
Christians do not have the luxury of anxiety, indifference, or a heroic delight in death. All of these abandon us to the currents of The Fall. All of these tell us that we have no purpose, no goal, that there is nothing more, nothing beyond the stones and mortar of a universe well-made to fall. Instead, we are vowed to travel through this world as living, breathing sanctuaries of His presence. Having placed all we love, all we hope for, all we trust in in the hands of the One Who brings us peace, we become His peace, the peace among wars and insurrections, tools for rescue and renewal.
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