Wednesday November 24, 2004 Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Revelation 15:1-4) Gospel (St. Luke 21:12-19)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear what seems to be quite a contradiction. Our Lord is telling us that on one hand they might seize us and persecute us, they might put us in prison, and then He tells us they are even going to put some to death. We will be hated because of His Name and yet He turns right around and says, Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will save your lives. So some are going to be put to death, but you are going to save your life because of your perseverance. Of course, He is talking on two different levels. He is talking about persevering in faith and you will save your life for eternity, even though in this life it may be taken from you. But what He is also getting at, as He makes very clear, is the point that the reason why some are going to be thrown into prison is because it is going to lead to giving testimony. It is going to lead to the point where we are going to be able to show to the world and those who want to destroy the Faith precisely the glory of the Faith.
If we look back through history, we see the various martyrs who stand before judges and magistrates and before those who are about to put them to death, and, one after the next, they are able to give testimony to Christ. That did not save them from being killed, but what it did was very often bring their persecutors to conversion. Now we can look at it and ask ourselves, “Is this something that we are willing to do?” Not that we are necessarily going to have to do it, but are we willing to do it? As we look at our own lives and our own situations are we willing to say, “Lord, if that is what You want, that’s what I’m willing to do.” It is a hard thing for us because by nature we will do whatever we can to preserve our lives, yet what is most important is that we preserve our lives to eternity. And when we look at the witness that we would be able to give, when we look at the fact of being able to save our lives for eternity, that is when all of those who are standing on the sea of glass that we heard of in the first reading would be able to say, “Righteous and true are Your ways,” because we will recognize exactly what God wanted to do with what happened to us.
The only way we are going to be able to do this is if we are already willing to share in the sufferings of Christ, if we are willing to accept the cross in our lives and begin to offer up all of our sufferings, if we are willing even now to pray for our persecutors, to love our enemies, which is exactly what Jesus told us we have to do. It is only going to work if we are already trying to live such a life, that is, a life of virtue, a life of prayer, a life of holiness. That is the only way we are going to be able to die in that way. We would like to sit back and think about what our death would be like, but there is only one way that it is going to be the way we want it to be – and that is if we are living the life that coincides with what our death would be. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, some four hundred years ago, told his followers that the first thing they needed to meditate on was their death. Just go to prayer and ask yourself, “If I were to die right now, what would it look like? And what do I really want my death to look like? How do I want to die?” Then he said that following that you start meditating on what it is going to require to get there because, I suspect, our ideal of what it would be and the reality of what it would be if it happened today might be two very different things.
So that is something we can all consider: “How serious am I about my faith? Would I be willing to give witness to that faith to the very end? Am I willing to persevere through anything for the Name of Jesus Christ?” Keep in mind that never are we going to be able to do it alone – our human weakness is too great to be able to persevere – but only with His grace. And His grace is going to be available to us through prayer. So it still keeps coming back to that same point: If we do not pray we will not be able to do what we want to do. And so that is what we have to be about: living the life that we profess so we can die the kind of death that we would desire and that will give glory to our God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.