NOVEMBER 14, 2004, 33RD SUNDAY- HOMILY: Luke 21: 5-19
The day will come when not one stone will not be left on another… By patient endurance you will save your lives. In very recent years men, institutions and governments have invested lavishly money, energy and talent investigating the structure and functioning of the human brain and nervous system. Alain Berthoz, the head of the Paris laboratory of the Physiology of Perception and Action, is one of the leaders in this undertaking. He bases his book on “The Brain’s Sense of Movement” with the observation that “the brain is used to predict the future, to anticipate the consequences of action (its own or others) and to save time. To this end various diverse biological mechanisms developed over the course of evolution…” In today’s Gospel Jesus urges us to make use of this basic function of our brain so that we are prepared for ‘the time of troubles’ that are to mark the end of days. In reply to the apostles’ question as to the exact time to expect this crisis, our Lord replied that the Father is keeping this knowledge to Himself; our part is to be ready always since, as he puts the matter on another occasion, we ‘know not the day nor the hour’ when the Son of Man will come.
Jesus here speaks of the trials of the end-time. But elsewhere in the Gospel he addresses those situations that can and do arise in this meantime in which the course of life as we know it now brings its trials and troubles as well as opportunities for growth in the Spirit. Everyone at some period of life meets with such trials as seem to strain the very foundations of life. To each of us sooner or later such a crisis takes the form of coming to terms with death. Confronting it so that it influences our expectations and decisions may take place at any stage of life. St. Bernard pointed out that the fact of death is the chief manifestation of human misery. This holds true in regard not only to one’s own death but also applies to the death of some loved one on whose presence happiness, security, and the very meaning of life depends. Many avoid such a confrontation until it is forced upon them by the abrupt encounter with serious illness, or by some physical accident. How many in this world will discover in the course of the coming week they have an incurable disease! The causes of human suffering are innumerable: death is but the ultimate threat to a happy earthly life. How many there are who at present already live in hidden unhappiness. One experienced physician begins his book with the statement that “If you were to interview people who are socially successful, well off financially and healthy, asking them this one question: ‘Are you happy?’ the large majority would answer ‘No, I am miserable!’” The Greeks of classical times, some centuries before Christ, were convinced that human happiness is elusive and short-lived, for the gods become jealous when any human finds deep happiness and they arrange to bring about his fall. They saw clearly enough that humans cannot enjoy any full, enduring happiness; the truly happy life is found only in another world- a world which they populated with gods whose life was more than human and whose ways were not always edifying, even judged by the pagan standards the ancients of pre-Christian times were conversant with.
When our Lord began his public life he encountered large crowds of people who sought him out because they were miserable, unhappy in their circumstances, ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ as he Gospel describes them. He showed compassion by healing many and various. But his chief concern was to reveal the way to lasting happiness. He sought to prepare a people acceptable to the Father, worthy to take part in the wedding feast. Toward this end, as we are told in today’s Gospel, he gave warning that we must be ready to stand firm, to endure with patience the inevitable sufferings that will come upon us sooner or later.
Not long after he himself set the example of such trusting endurance by submitting to the Father’s will and undergoing the humiliations and pains of his passion, even unto death. This endurance, however, was not his final word. Rather, he rose to that new life in the Spirit that brought him into the presence of the Father in glory. Among the last words he had spoken to his followers on the night before he died were many assurances that if he leaves them it is only for a short time. Soon he will return to take his own to be with him in the mansion of the Father. Even now, in this Eucharist, if we but open our heart to him in trust and desire, he gives each of us this same assurance. May we be made strong by it and endure, with the joy of sure hope, until the end.*
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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