Luke 21:5-19
Persevering to the End
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here - the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen?  And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen"?  He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in may name, saying, "I am he,' and 'The time has come.'  Do not follow them!  When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."  Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.  It will lead to your giving testimony.  Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.  You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

Just days removed from the end of the liturgical year, the Gospel accounts take a more apocalyptic tone.  The narratives of the end times - with stories of wars, insurrections, natural disasters, persecutions, family divisions and awesome sights in the sky - can cause one to believe that the end of the world will be anything but a joyful event.  And yet, disciples of the Lord should look toward the end times with anticipation and joy.  Why?  Because the end times will mark the fulfillment of everything that every believer longs for: union with the Trinity and eternal glory.  It is the time in history when the just will receive their reward and the evil be cast away forever, never to burden the virtuous again.  However, the realization of that glory will be preceded by a period of tribulation, purification and suffering.

We should make no mistake - Jesus explicitly warns us that faithful discipleship will incur the hatred of our peers.  In order to secure our lives, we will have to persevere through tremendously difficult times.  The authentic disciple must cultivate the virtue of hope, filial trust in God, in order to persevere.  He cannot accommodate the spirit of the world or succumb to human respect if he wants to be saved.  When all seems lost - when we witness the destruction of nations and the divisions within families to the point of death - the true disciple will remain anchored in his relations with Jesus, the only person who can save us.

Our Lord's words present us with a cosmic view of the days to come.  Living in a materialistic world where prosperity seems endless and we are easily lulled into a spiritual complacency, the essential message of Jesus with regard to the end times can somehow be ignored or dismissed.  This attitude is not dissimilar to the Jews who were marveling at the beauty of Temple, perhaps also thinking that that edifice would remain there forever.  And yet, in less than 40 years, the Temple would be reduced to rubble by the Romans, just as Jesus had predicted.

The end of one liturgical year also means the beginning of a new one, and is a good time to make some "new liturgical year" resolutions.  If there is any lesson we can cull from the Gospel, it is the realization that not only must we persevere to the end in the face of trials, but we must also be prepared for when the end times begin.  Frequent Mass attendance and confession are the most certain ways to prepare for what lies ahead.

Pope Benedict XVI once commented that many people today live as if God does not exist.  They live without hope because they cannot believe that there is life beyond what the human eye can perceive.  The apocalyptic nature of this Gospel presents us with the sobering fact that not only is there life beyond this existence, but that suffering is a necessary component of reaching it.  Armed with the virtue of hope, grounded in deep faith and steadfast in love, may we lift up our hearts daily, longing for the return of the Lord Jesus, who will take us to Himself in glory.

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