13 November 2022
Today’s first reading comes from the Book of the Prophet Malachi. Malachi prophesied shortly after the construction of the Second Temple in the 5th century BC. This was a time when the Jews, having been liberated from exile in Babylon and been able to return to the Promised Land and rebuild their city and Temple, should have been more faithful than ever. Once again, the Lord had liberated them: that remnant who had remained faithful to the Lord throughout the exile. And yet, here we have yet another prophet having to (as prophets always do) warn the people of Israel against what comes from faithlessness, idolatry, and laxity in their worship of the Lord. As the prophets always do, he presents the options facing the people – destruction vs healing. And what stands in the void between these two possible paths? Faithfulness.
In the gospel, Jesus is standing in front of the same Temple that had just been rebuilt in Malachi’s time. By now, this is an old building – several centuries old! To the people admiring it, it must have seemed eternal, unchanging, steadfast. And Jesus predicts its destruction! For Jews, the destruction of the Temple would equate in their minds to slavery… so Jesus was effectively predicting that they would be slaves and exiles once again! His prophecy certainly came to pass some 40 years later when the Romans destroyed the Temple (and Jerusalem) and laid the blame for their actions on the Christians. So began a long period of persecution of the Christians in the Holy Land and throughout the Roman Empire.
Jesus, in the same vein as the many prophets before him, laid out two stark and contrasting messages. Death, destruction, and chaos on the one hand, and a message of consolation, encouragement, and vindication on the other. Again, what stands in the void? Faithfulness. And more than that now – discipleship and communion with him. However, he speaks not quite as categorically as the prophets. What he says has some significant nuance. He doesn’t say that those who walk in his name will be spared the chaos and tribulation – in fact, quite the opposite. He says that people will be persecuted BECAUSE of his name, and perhaps even put to death.
BUT… he adds that not a hair of their heads will perish. Surely, he doesn’t mean they will not perish in their earthly lives. He has just said that they might be put to death! He must be referring to something more valuable, significant, permanent and enduring – that which only Jesus can offer and bring about, our eternal life with him in heaven. The contrast still exists between the chaos, noise, and tumult of the world, and the peace and vindication that comes from faith – but this contrast requires more than just the senses and observation of historical epochs; it requires the eyes of faith and the perspective of eternity.
No more starkly is this contrast seen than on Good Friday. The noise and chaos of Jerusalem on that day was deafening with cries of “crucify him” along with the jeers and mocking of the passers-by. There was an earthquake, and the veil of the Temple was torn in two. To the senses, the scene spoke of destruction, defeat, despair. And yet, the patient and the faithful, after three days, witnessed that what was taking place eternally in that moment was in fact a great victory over sin and death, and eternal act which won for us our salvation. The cross was steady while the world was turning.
This is, in fact, the motto of a great religious order of the Church, the Carthusians. These monks live out this motto by withdrawing from the noise and chaos of the world to focus on God alone. It is not a cliché, but a reality by which we are invited to live our lives, not just in a monastery. These monks speak of how, when we still the noise of the world, we are confronted with something more important – the noise of our conscience, our recognition of our mortality, our sin, our weakness. It is these realities onto which the light of Christ much shine and in which the healing and transformative grace of the Lord is active.
We seem, in the modern world, to be fearful of silence. We fill every moment with noise from the TV, radio, internet, etc. Silence seems to scare us. Perhaps because of those very things which the monks say are the most important to confront, and which we can only do when we allow the noise of the world to drift into the background. Jesus could have been speaking to every generation, not least of all ours, when he described the chaos of the world – nations rising up against nation, famine, martyrdom. The chaos and noise that surrounds us is not only limited to the global sphere; it is present in our own country, city, communities, workplaces, families, and perhaps even marriages. The Lord invites us all to the disposition of faith and discipleship, and the monks show us practically that an inner stillness (facilitated by exterior silence) is an important key to this disposition.
Perhaps this week, we can consciously seek to include more silence in our lives – in places or moments in our day. Even if it is as simple as turning off the radio in the car and praying the rosary during our commutes. The stillness is an important disposition in our prayer life as well – rather than filling our prayer with the noise of giving God a “to do list” of things he must fix, let us rather adopt of position of silent receptivity in meditation on his Word, and contemplation of his love.
Of course, Mary is always the perfect example of how we should live. Mary is a wonderful mother and intercessor, but we sometimes neglect her important role as the model disciple – the one who teaches us how to respond to and follow her son. Certainly we see chaos in her life: found to be with child when unmarried, forced into exile in Egypt, losing her child in the Temple, becoming a widow when Joseph dies, witnessing her son’s persecution and death.
She is not described as inactive; she involves herself all the time in helping and encouraging others, at the wedding in Cana, and with the apostles and disciples especially during the early Church. But what the evangelists choose to emphasise about her demeanour is her “pondering all these things in her heart”. In the midst of this chaos, she trusted that her fiat and subsequent co-operation with the will of God in all things would bear fruit. She may need infinite patience and deep trust in her God. But she knew he was active and present, and when she pondered all these things from the perspective of eternity and salvation, the chaos and noise disappeared into the background. Remaining faithful at all times and in all things, and remaining close to her son would bear fruit in this life and in the life to come.
May we, indeed remain faithful as she does, knowing that indeed the cross is steady while the world is turning. We can pray with St Charles de Foucauld the beautiful Prayer of Abandonment that sums up this disposition.
Father, I abandon myself into your hands, do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands, I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart; For I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself: To surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.’ AMEN.