Journey’s End, 13TH NOVEMBER 2016
As we draw near to the end of the liturgical year – next Sunday is the last Sunday – the Church is putting this question to each of us: “What do you see as the purpose of your life, or your existence in this world? How seriously should we take the predictions of today’s gospel about the end of this world and the day of judgment?” To help us reflect on this, we should keep ever before our minds this one great certainty, that death puts an end, absolutely and beyond recall, to all our works, all our plans, all the seemingly vital concerns which lend a certain purpose to our daily involvement. Every human soul that has cast off this worldly body goes forth into the unknown like a traveler entering into unexplored territory. But, whereas that soul to the rest of mankind seems to be no more, it is only then really beginning to live, to live a new existence for all eternity, hopefully in the presence of God. It is at the moment that this new life begins that understanding of our former existence will be revealed to us, that God’s plan for each of us, and the role we were given to play while on earth in the spread of his kingdom, will become clear to us. We might well ask ourselves, then, whether we are conscious of playing a part in building up the city of God, the kingdom of God on earth. The readings in the liturgy of these final Sundays of the Church calendar year are meant to bring home to us the necessity of looking beyond our own immediate preoccupations, worries, troubles, interests, that are largely of selfish concern. And they do this by confronting us in a striking manner with the thought of the four last things, namely, death, judgment, heaven, and hell. People who never look beyond this life criticize the Church for asking its members to reflect seriously on these, but there is nothing unpleasant about such reflection, nothing that should terrify us. For if we are exiles on this earth, then as we progress through life, we are drawing ever nearer to our true home, which is heaven, a consideration which should fill us, not with sorrow, but, as St Paul pointed out, a heightened longing “to be dissolved and to be with Christ.”
To understand fully today’s gospel we should remember that Christ, while on earth, made two distinct prophecies, one about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the other about the second coming of the Son of God at the end of time – what the early Christians referred to as the “parousia,” meaning presence or arrival. In the minds of the disciples these two prophecies became fused into one, for to a pious Jew such a catastrophe as the destruction of the Temple could only signify the end of the world. We now know that the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. It had been the largest and grandest of all the three temples on the site, and also the shortest lived. But it is useless speculating about the second coming of Christ, although the first Christians thought it would happen in their lifetime. However, the message for us in this whole narrative is to be watchful, to allow the thought of what is to come to influence our present behavior, to bear in mind always that the trials endured in this life are not to be compared with the glory to come. Nor indeed should we be alarmed by the imagery of wars, earthquakes, famines, stars falling from the heavens. These are Old Testament terms employed by St Luke to denote the coming about of some radical change – in this case the second coming of Christ. If we love God we need never be alarmed, for perfect love casts out all fear. Whatever lies ahead Christ has already encountered; he has gone in front to prepare the way for us. It is with great trust, then, that we should look forward to the second coming of Christ. For, with his coming, death will be no more, nor mourning nor crying will be any more, for the former things will have passed completely away. Until this comes about, we must therefore be always ready and prepared. We must watch; we must pray.
BY: FR. RAPHAEL HESSAH