Today is the next to last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next Sunday is the Solemnity of Christ the King, then a new liturgical year begins with Advent two weeks from now. Today’s readings encourage us to reflect on how we’ll handle the ending commemorated next Sunday: the end of days when Our Lord returns in glory.
In today’s First Reading the prophet Malachi describes the wicked on the Day of the Lord as burning away in a flash. Stubble burns quickly and intensely. The just will see the same event as warmth, light, and healing. Even though Our Lord foretells persecution and calamities, we should focus on why he is coming, as the Psalm today reminds us: “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.” The only people who don’t want justice are bad people, whether through their actions or their omissions, and their injustice will be swept away, no matter how enduring it seemed. The just will experience moments of pain: the prophet tells us the Day of the Lord will bring healing, which implies that there’ll be healing needed. It will require endurance, not resignation.
In today’s Second Reading Paul warns against those who have faced the possibility of the Day of the Lord’s imminence by not working and not living their lives normally. If everything occurs as Our Lord describes in today’s Gospel that attitude is a recipe for disaster. Perseverance requires work and grace. When we’re put on trial it won’t just be our spiritual toughness, but the Holy Spirit that will help us endure and realize that even as we suffer we give witness, and the Spirit gives witness through us. Our suffering and perseverance will inspire others to believe and be saved as well.
In today’s Gospel the disciples ask when the Temple will end, and the Lord starts to explain when the world as we know it will end: his Second Coming. Our Lord gives some signs but doesn’t give them exactly what they’re looking for: a signal. He describes calamities: social upheaval, wars, natural disasters, and persecutions. All of those have existed and will exist during the Church’s pilgrimage on earth, even before the end of history and Our Lord’s return in glory. Our Lord won’t give us a signal, but he will give us the secret to survival: perseverance. Our Lord predicts the destruction of the Temple, but also addresses the question of whether this will signify the end of the world. His disciples didn’t understand it at the time, but he was preparing us all for the long haul. Obviously on a natural and human level we’d have to be terrified by the thought of such events, but Our Lord invites us today to live these things on a supernatural level: with faith in him and hope that good will triumph.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord prepares us for when our faith is put on trial. It’s not some future eschatological and apocalyptic moment: even today Christians are ridiculed, labelled, even beheaded for professing their faith. Our Lord said we’d be a sign of contradiction in the world, so it’s no surprise that when we give witness to him there’ll be a reaction. It may not be a civil court, but our family, the public square, our school, or our workplace. It’s what makes us think twice before saying grace at meals around those we don’t know well, about putting a crucifix or holy card in our cubicle or dorm where others might see, about seeing our faith as something, alongside politics, that should not be brought up in polite conversation.
Our Lord gives us the secret to breaking this little internal stalemate between a desire to share our faith and a fear of how it will turn out: trusting in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does the talking, if we are living a life that is attentive to the Spirit. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll show how little of our faith we really know and live: that’s the Spirit telling us to work on our prayer life, our lifestyle, and our understanding of the faith. You may find that puts you “on trial” before your family, friends, and colleagues, but it also gives you the spiritual resources to give witness to Our Lord and a great peace knowing you’ve suffered something for the sake of his name.
Readings: Malachi 3:19–20a; Psalm 98:5–9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12; Luke 21:5–19. See also 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II, and the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and Wednesday.