In today’s Gospel’s that we just heard, Jesus proclaims that there will be the signs of the end of the world; signs to indicate that this is going to happen – that is, the “wars, earthquakes, famine, plaques” and the like. However, while Jesus is affirming our faith that this “Second Coming” of the end of the world is surely to come one day, He did not focus on “when” this is to happen . . . in fact, Jesus added, “this will not happen so soon.” And so, Jesus warned His disciples that they should not indulge in such speculations, “as many will come using my name and saying, ‘I am he’; refuse to join them.”
My brothers and sisters, even as we know that these deceptive false prophets existed since the time of Jesus, thousands of followers of Jesus continue to be attracted – even up till today – to be drawn in by such speculations of when the end of the world is to happen. The most vulnerable people who fall into such deception are those who live superficial lives; lives that are worse still, filled with superstitions.
One of the reasons why it is so easy to fall into such temptations is because many of us live an “insecure” life. When we live in “insecurity”, we will constantly either live in the fear of “death” or we may sub-consciously fool ourselves into thinking that “death” is something that is “far away”. In other words, a person who has such a thinking would fool himself into believing that, if we are 20 years of age, we presume we have another 70 years of life to live; if we are 50 years, we think of 30-40 years of life ahead, and if we are 70 years, we hope to have another 20 years and the like. And as such, many us convince ourselves subconsciously that “early or sudden death is not going to happen to us.”
Last week, someone I know well, Angeli, died of cancer, she was in her sixties. Her doctors gave her three months to live, when she was diagnosed with the illness, but after the Sacrament of Anointing, she lived for another six years. Angeli battled her cancer illness with great courage and more importantly, with deep faith. As a result, she bore her sufferings with great peace and truly edified me and the many people who knew her, especially her younger sister who cared for her. Throughout her illness, Angeli continued to encourage other cancer patients to continue to trust in God and leave everything in His Providence. Whenever Angeli was in great pain, she would always offer up her pain to be united with the Sufferings of Christ, and for the sake and needs of priests and the many others who are in need of God’s strengthen to serve and live in His Love and Ways. Particularly in the last few hours before Angeli’s death, her pain was excruciating; she screamed in pain, but continued to offer them up to God.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as in the life of Angeli, the greatest security in life is to draw strength from God and live with the purpose of loving Him in all situations of our lives; including the trials that come our ways. And when we can live in this manner, there will be peace in the midst of our pain and even at the time of our death.
Actually, we and the whole world know a lot about the realities, the dangers and the fragility of our human existence on earth . . . Even when Jesus warned His disciples about the “wars, earthquakes, famine and plaques and in recent times, the threats of diseases like SARS, Ebola . . . they were not surprising. However, the sad truth seems to be that we prefer to turn away from the reality of our trials in life instead of facing them as Angeli did.
In other words, in addition to Jesus reminding us of the reality of the end of the world at the “Second Coming,” in the meantime, we are each first called to face, the reality that there will surely be challenges and trials that come our way. And, one of these challenges is that we can die anytime . . . regardless of how old we are. This reality is more evident, if we were to visit cancer wards and hospitals and see how they are filled with infants, children and young adults suffering and dying of cancer. ; or people suddenly dying from an accident. Some medical researches tell us that at least 20% of heart attacks happen without prior warnings.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as we reflect on this key first point of today’s Gospel, I am not trying to create fear in us; all I am doing is to highlight the Truth of life and the reminder of Jesus in today’s Gospel that we are called to live our faith more vigilantly, and be more focused on living a more meaningful and wholesome life that Jesus has taught us.
In fact, for those of us who are older, we are called to accept the reality of our daily of the gradual weakening of our physical body, our energies, mental alertness are constant reminders and indications that we are called to be more prepared to meet God our Creator who gave us our life on earth and is waiting for us to return to Him and our original home in heaven. And as we grow older, we are meant to spend more of our time pondering on the deeper truth of life, instead of trying to fight the losing battle of aging superficially by over focusing on trying to keep fit and eating healthy food and the like.
In this light, we are today also reminded by Jesus, in the Gospel to deepen the meaning of God and our relationship with Him in our experiences, and instead of wasting our precious time dwelling on the hurts and wounds of life let us become more open to the forgiving and healing grace of God . . . This is so that our twilight years be one of peace, tranquillity and one of deeper union with God . . . One Jesuit writer says, “Old age should be a time to pause and reflect on and prepare for eternal life and the eternal love that lie ahead. It is a stage of life when the caterpillar is about to become a butterfly . . .” so to speak.
The second key point in today’s proclamation of Jesus is His warning to His disciples to expect the trials and persecutions that will surely come their way . . . as it would for Him. Jesus says, “men will seize you and persecute you; they will imprison you . . . because of my name, but that will be your opportunity to bear witness . . .” to the Good News of Salvation . . . Jesus cautioned them even further by saying, “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair on your head would be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.”
As I conclude, my brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves what this paradox of Jesus mean when He said that we will be persecuted, betrayed and even be put to death . . . but, not a hair on our head would be lost?! Fr Neil Guillemette, a Jesuit Scripture scholar says, “Perhaps, Jesus is saying to us that there is really no harm in dying, since death is the best thing that can happen to us. For it marks the beginning of our eternal joy.” Death will unite us finally and fully with our Beloved God; and such deep longings of our hearts have been longing to be fulfilled from the very moment our heart started beating . . .”
And so, finally, what today’s Gospel is challenging you and I today is that those of us who really desire to live a more vibrant faith should not be looking for signs of the future and what our future life on earth be like, but more importantly, we are each challenged to be more FAITHFUL to CALL of Jesus to live the Good News of Salvation here and now, each of the remaining days we have on earth . . . and so as to be ready to meet our Creator and God, who longs to welcome us into our eternal home in heaven, with Jesus to embrace us as our brother and the Holy Spirit to fill us infinitely with God’s Glory, Love, Peace and Joy for all eternity. Like Angeli, do we not want this to happen to us when we die? If so, then how should we live in more Christ-like ways daily?(Ref: Adapted from: “Hearts Burning, Homilies for the Sundays of the Year, cycle A, B and C), Nil Guillemette,S.J.; St Pauls Philipppines; 2006; pg;437.)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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