Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Fiery End

(33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

And so we come almost to the end of church year, and at the end of the year the Scriptures we proclaim always invite us to reflect on the “end times,” on the final destiny of creation.

In St. Luke’s apocalypse, which we have just heard, the end is a described as a time of great distress. It will be preceded by natural disasters like plagues and earthquakes, and even supernatural events like “awesome sights and signs in the sky.” The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a genuine catastrophe in the history of people of God, provided St. Luke’s community with one way to look upon the utter and decisive change that the world was coming to: “there will not be left a stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Jesus’ words can be hard for us to interpret, as we live in a time when we hear unremitting reports of fires, earthquakes, and floods. The bad omens of global warming and new diseases hang over heads. Each day we hear about the wars for which no purpose or end can be imagined. But amid all this, we must listen to what the Lord says in the Gospel today. He says that these things “will lead to your giving testimony.”

All of the troubles and disasters and miseries that this world insists upon for itself, these are all our opportunity to give testimony, to become witnesses of God. Witnesses—in Greek, martyroi, martyrs—those who witness to the goodness and gentleness of God amid all the bad news that this world has to offer.

As the world approaches its end, its final fulfillment in the overwhelming love of God, this is our vocation as Christians. We are to give witness, to give testimony, to be signs that God is good and the destiny that God desires for the world is not something to be feared.

As John Paul II used to say, echoing the words of the Lord himself, “be not afraid!”

Yes, the world will end in fire, blazing live an oven, as the prophet Malachi tells us today. But what is this fire which will bring the world to its final destiny? It is certainly the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God’s own passionate desire for our salvation.

And how could this fire hurt us? We’ve already been through it! As John the Baptist promised, someone was to come after him who would not baptize just with water, but “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16) In our baptism, we have all passed through this fire, our sin and despair burned away and our hearts warmed by the “healing rays” of God’s justice.

And so when it comes to the end of the world, when all creation is consumed and brought to its final destiny in the burning passion of God, we have only to look forward in joyful anticipation to the fulfillment of the promises of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit we have all received.

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