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“Do not be afraid… By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
—Luke 21:9, 19
Have you ever visited a church or historic building that took your breath away? I imagine we have all had that experience at least once in our lives… or at least I hope we have.
A few months ago, I took my friend Jim to see the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee. I had visited the historic Franciscan church a few times, but Jim had no idea what to expect as we walked through the large wooden doors and up the steps of the vestibule into the body of the church that Sunday morning.
We timed our visit poorly, entering while communion was being distributed. As the choir sang a beautiful setting of the text “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (from Psalm 34), I had just started to slide into a back pew to wait for Mass to end when I realized my friend wasn’t with me. When I looked back at the doors, I saw him, staring into the great space, his hand over his mouth, and tears streaming down his cheeks. It was his first time in a church in a number of years and he was overwhelmed by both the beauty of the basilica and by the Presence he felt there.
When I read this Sunday’s Gospel, I imagine the pilgrims (or tourists) admiring the Temple having a similar reaction to the one Jim had when we visited St. Josaphat’s. It’s also easy to imagine how shocked they would have been to hear Jesus’ prediction that the magnificent structure would someday be destroyed: “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.”
Jesus didn’t end with this prediction, however. He continued to talk to the crowd about destruction, terror, and death that will, in many ways, embody the end of the world for his followers. Certainly, life as they know it will come to an end. But, at the conclusion of this passage, Jesus provides words of comfort: “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself will give you wisdom in speaking… You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair of your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
As we all know, destruction, terror, and death fill our world today, just as they did in the days when Saint Luke wrote his Gospel. And yet, this Sunday we are being reminded that even though all hell might be breaking loose around us, Jesus stands with us, offering us God’s wisdom, asking us to give our witness to the world and to offer our testimony with courage and faith. The wisdom of Jesus reminds us that there is, as one commentator observed, “more to life than we can see” (from Living Liturgy).
And so, we persevere in this present moment. While we know that this world will pass away and that nothing—however great, powerful, or beautiful it may be—will last forever, we stand strong in our faith and in the confidence that God is greater than the darkness of destruction, terror, and death: “For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” (Malachi 3:20a—the First Reading). The dark night will end and a new and glorious day will dawn. God keeps God’s promises.
How does the promise of new and eternal life help you to persevere in times of darkness and doubt?
How can you be more faithful in offering your “testimony” to the world about how God is at work in your life?
When have you experienced the power of Christ speaking through you?
Words of Wisdom: “In time of trial it is of great profit to us patiently to endure for God’s sake, for the Lord says: By perseverance you will secure your lives. He did not say by your fasting, or your solitude and silence, or your singing of psalms, although all of these are helpful in saving your soul. But he said: By perseverance in every trial that overtakes you, and in every affliction, whether this be insolent and contemptuous treatment, or any kind of disgrace, either small of great; whether it be bodily weakness, or the belligerent attacks of Satan, or any trial whatsoever caused either by other people of by evil spirits.”—Saint Nilus of Sinai