Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homily for Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Destruction of the Temple, the End of the World, Luke 21, 5-19

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867) by Francesco Hayez displayed in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Venice, Italy

As we come to the end of the liturgical year, the Church focuses our attention on the last things. The readings are more ominous with more apocalyptic language. They give us a warning of events that are yet to come.

The Gospel of Luke speaks to us of the Second Temple which was built in 515 BC. This Temple was a magnificent architectural achievement. The Jews were in awe of it. For them, it seemed to represent the enduring nature of the world. They could hardly believe such a place could ever be destroyed.

Jesus used the opportunity of preaching in the Temple to speak about the end of time. Jesus predicts “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." (Luke 21, 6)

Christ’s prophecy was literally fulfilled forty years later.  In 70 AD,  the Roman military commander and future Roman Emperor, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.  The Arch of Titus, in Rome, commemorates his victory over Jerusalem to this day.

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, was present in Jerusalem when the Temple was destroyed. After describing the destruction of the countryside for ten miles surrounding the city, he recounted:

These Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself. At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched some what out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there wion, passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward, the Jews made a great clamor, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered anything to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing...thus it was the holy house burnt down...Nor can one imagine anything greater or more terrible than this noise; for there was at once a shout of the Roman Legions, who were marching all together, and a sad clamor of the seditious, who were now surrounded with fire and sword... the people under a great consternation, made sad moans at the calamity they were under...Yet was the misery itself more terrible than the disorder; for one would have thoughtthat the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it. (Josephus, Antiquities xi. 1.2)

To give a detailed account of their outrageous conduct is impossible, but we may sum it up by saying that no other city has ever endured such horrors, and no generation in history has fathered such wickedness. In the end they brought the whole Hebrew race into contempt in order to make their own impiety seem less outrageous in foreign eyes, and confessed the painful truth that they were slaves, the dregs of humanity, bastards, and outcasts of their nation. ...It is certain that when from the upper city they watched the Temple burning they did not turn a hair, though many Romans were moved to tears. (Josephus, The Jewish War, p. 292)
Christ’s purpose in foretelling this event is not to satisfy the people’s curiosity, but to help them to keep faith when he is betrayed and turned over to evil men. After he rises and sends the Holy Spirit on his disciples, he will send them into the world. They will need to be strong to endure their own betrayals and persecution. God never wills evil to occur, but his power is so great that he can bring good out of evil.

Pope St. Leo the Great (ca. 400-461 AD) spoke of this when he said “Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.” The enemies of Christ and his Church may seem to triumph for a time, but Christ by his death and Resurrection has won the ultimate victory for life. We will experience that ultimate victory at the end of time.

The prophecy of the destruction of the Temple has a double meaning. It applies to the destruction of the Temple that occurred in 70 AD. It also applies to the destruction of the world at the end of time. While we will probably not live to see the end of time, everyone on this earth will eventually experience death. We need to prepare ourselves for eternity. Pope St. Leo the Great reminded us of the fleeting nature of the world:

Short and fleeting are the joys of this world's pleasures which endeavorsto turn aside from the path of life those who are called to eternity. The faithful and religious spirit, therefore, must desire the things which are heavenly, and being eager for the Divine promises, lift itself to the love of the incorruptible Good and the hope of the true Light.

In one of his letters St. John the Apostle says “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2, 15-17)

Given the fleeting nature of the world, some may be tempted to flee from the world and wait for the end to come, but the Church reminds us that we are not a sect fleeing the world, but a community of faith called to renew the world.

The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes reminds us of this when it says:

We have been warned, of course, that it profits us nothing if we gain the whole world and lose or forfeit ourselves. Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectation of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress dearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society.

When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise - human dignity, sisterly and brotherly communion, and freedom - according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom "of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." Here on earth the kingdom is mysteriously present; when the Lord comes it will enter into its perfection. (GS#39)

Some may have a more monastic or contemplative vocation, but even contemplatives need to pray for those in the world. Most of us are called to be in the world, to be its salt and light, and transform it according to God’s plan.

In 1976, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II attended a Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, PA. In his farewell address he said:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, the Gospel versus the anti-gospel. This confrontation lies within the plan of divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church must take up.

Thirteen years later in 1989, Pope John Paul II witnessed the fall of Communism in Poland and then in the rest of Eastern Europe, a fall that he helped to bring about.

Just as Communism fell in Eastern Europe, so also we can defeat the culture of death. In 2000, Pope John Paul II encouraged us not give in to

...that type of defeatist mentality which claims that laws opposed to the right to life - those which legalize abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and methods of family planning opposed to life and the dignity of marriage - are inevitable and now almost a social necessity. On the contrary, they are a seed of corruption for society and its foundations. The civil and moral conscience cannot accept this false inevitability, any more than the idea that war or interethnic extermination is inevitable.
  Therefore, the Pope reminded us

no effort should be spared to eliminate legalized crime or at least to limit the damage caused by these laws, but with the vivid awareness of theradical duty to respect every human being's right to life from conception until natural death, including the life of the lowliest and the least gifted.

The Pope urgently called for "a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life.” (EV#95)

Jesus warns us that there will be opposition and persecution as we seek to fulfill our mission in the world. He says this opposition may even come from family, friends or members of the Church, but we cannot and ust not be deterred. If we’re faithful to our mission, despite this opposition, we will the win the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4, 8) and like Christ we will rise, on the last day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Pope St. Leo the Great, Deliver Us From the Culture of Death!

Above is a fresco of the Meeting between Pope St. Leo the Great and Attila the Hun in 452 A.D. by Raphael. The fresco is found in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

Pope St. Leo the Great was born circa 400 A.D. in Tuscany . He was the Pope from 440 to his death in 461 A.D. In 445, he persuaded Emperor Valentinian to recognize the Primacy of Rome. He clearly explained the doctrine of the Incarnation. His letter defending the Divinity of Christ was read at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Many historians praised him for his diplomacy during the Barbarian invasions. In 452, Pope St. Leo met Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome and persuaded him not to pillage the city.

In 455, a Christian historian named Prosper wrote of the encounter “…for when the king had received the embassy, he was so impressed by the presence of the high priest that he ordered his army to give up warfare and, after he had promised peace, he departed beyond the Danube.”

According to legend, St. Peter and St. Paul could be seen dressed as bishops standing on each side of the Pope holding swords above Attila’s head threatening him with death if he didn’t heed the Pope's pleas to leave the city in peace.

Later, when the Vandals invaded Rome, Pope St. Leo persuaded their leader Geneseric to stop pillaging the city. He was a prolific writer, and many of his writings survive to this day.

Like ancient Rome, Western Civilization is threatened today by corruption within, the ravages of the culture of death – an anti-life mentality that manifests itself through abortion, contraception, sterilization, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, etc. and threats of terrorism from the outside, although home-grown terrorism is also a growing threat.

We need the prayers and example of Pope St. Leo the Great to help us to turn back the barbarians in our time. Pope St. Leo defended life and used diplomacy to turn back the threat of terrorism.

Pope St. Leo the Great, assist us in the work of evangelization and the spread of the Gospel of Life. Help us to overcome the corruption of good morals in our times.  Give us courage to confront the culture of death. We pray that human life will be respected and protected at every stage of development.

Pope St. Leo the Great pray for us, that God will deliver us from the threat of war and terrorism. Grant us peace in our country and peace throughout the world. Help us to build a new culture of life and a civilization of love.  We ask this, and all our prayers, through Christ Our Lord, true God and true man. 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Homily on the Resurrection of the Body Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time Luke 20-27-38

During the month of November, as we see things around us in nature die, the Church asks us to reflect on the mystery of life and death. The month began with the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Throughout this month we are asked to pray for the dead, especially our friends, family and benefactors. Everyone on this earth at some time will experience the loss of someone they love and their own death too.

In the Gospel today Jesus reminds us that the goal of our life is eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven. What I was taught as a child from the Old Baltimore Catechism still holds true today. We were created by God to love him and serve him in this life, and to share eternal happiness with him in the next.

Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. At the end of time, our that our bodies and souls will be reunited. God, who made everything out of nothing, will remake our bodies perfect, immortal and indestructible.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body. On the contrary, the levitirate law required the brother of a deceased man who was childless to marry his brother’s widow. They confront Jesus with a theoretical case of a poor woman who married and then lost seven husbands. They ask him whose wife will she be at the Resurrection, since all seven married her. Their intention was to make the whole question, about life after death, seem ridiculous.

Jesus replies by explaining that in heaven the blessed will not marry as they do in this life, but instead will be like the angels. Jesus could have quoted numerous texts in Scripture to demonstrate the evidence of the resurrection of the body. In the Second Book of Maccabees, a young man is being tortured and killed because he refuses to transgress Jewish law and eat pork. He says to his murderer “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws." (2 Macc. 7, 9) Isaiah 26,19 says “But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.” Daniel 12,2 says “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” However, the Sadducees only accepted the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible.

So Jesus meets them on their own ground by quoting from the Book of Exodus 3,6. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” If there was no life after death the Scripture would have said “I WAS the God of your father…” Instead, Jesus says “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” (Luke 20,38)

This gives us confidence that we will see our deceased relatives and friends again in the Kingdom of Heaven. At the same time, we recognize that while we’re here on earth we must serve the Lord and prepare ourselves and our loved ones for eternity.

The atheist Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the people” because he thought our belief in the resurrection led us to be unconcerned about establishing justice on this earth. On the contrary, our faith in the Resurrection should lead us to be more concerned about fighting injustice. In his encyclical on the Eucharist Pope John Paul II wrote “Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of “new heavens” and “a new earth” (Rev 21:1), but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millennium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens in this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God's plan. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #20)

Our judgment will consist primarily how we treat those who are least among us. Special attention must be given in our times to fighting against the culture of death. Human life is not a commodity. God intended every human being to share everlasting happiness with him in heaven created. Thus every human life is precious. The image and likeness of God is present in every human being from the moment of conception, and must be respected till natural death. Only God can give life and only he has a right to take that life to himself.

If we put our faith in Christ, repent of our sins and work together to build a culture of life through our words, deeds and prayers, we will hear the words Jesus will address to the blessed at the end of time: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25, 34) If we are faithful to Christ and put his teachings into practice in our lives, we can be confident that we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We will see those we love again, and God will remake our bodies perfect, immortal and indestructible.