Sunday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time – Nov 12th/13th, 2022, Lk 21:5-19
Dear brothers and sisters, today, as we approach the end of the liturgical year, the Church asks us to think about and meditate upon the end times, the end of history, about which Jesus speaks. This whole year, known as Year C in the three-year cycle, we’ve been listening to Luke’s Gospel on Sundays, and so here we’re given Luke’s recounting of the end times.
Today’s Gospel principally concerns the time that runs after the destruction of the Temple (which took place in 70 AD) until the end of the world. In other words, we might have the impression that this text has been written especially for us, and, in fact, we’d be right. Christ intends this Gospel for us and to have us apply it to our lives.
Today’s first reading and Gospel together offer us an opportunity to mediate on how “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31). What exists now is passing and fleeting; in particular, Jesus’ prophesy concerning the destruction of the temple, remind us that the things of this world, and especially the physical ones, will all pass away, no matter how stable or beautiful they appear. Likewise, Christ’s words regarding the escalating tribulations, prepare us for the difficulties that are to come. Today, then, let us consider two things: first, what difficulties are to come and, second, how we are to respond to them. What are these challenges, and what is the way that Christians are to answer.
Regarding the first, Christ tells us that “Before all this happens [meaning, the end of the world], 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. . . . 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.” This sounds extreme! Will things really get that bad? On one hand, Christ says that this is the case, and so we believe Him. It’s not like His words here are a one-time discourse. Christ brings up the topic of persecution and suffering for the Kingdom over and over again: indeed, earlier in Luke’s Gospel Christ told His listeners: “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way” (6:26).
If we don’t experience any sort of resistance or objection to our faith, then we really need to ask ourselves: how am I living? Do people even know that I’m a Christian, a Catholic? This doesn’t mean showing off, or offending people. Rather, it means living coherently, to profess one thing with our mouths, and to live it with our actions. An incoherent faith is very comfortable for the world, and so arouses no hatred or persecution, but a faith lived out, even in the smallest and most insignificant moments of daily life, is one that garners the world’s scorn and hatred.
Note that persecution shows what we are made of, and how firm our hearts are set on Christ: He tells us that persecution “will lead to your giving testimony.” By means of persecution, and our reaction to it, we will bear witness to the One who strengthens us.
This brings us to our second point: how are we to react as Christians? What should our answer be? Christ points out two things: first, trust in God, and, second, perseverance. Regarding the first, Christ tells us: “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.” Trust in God means believing that He really will provide for us. There is something interesting in that word, remember. “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand.” It’s as though Christ wants to say, “I’ve told you this before: I’ve told you not to worry or be concerned. I will provide: I have become man to help you and to save you, to get you to heaven. I know how difficult it is, because I too have lived through suffering and persecution. Don’t forget this.”
A holy man of modern times who lived this truth was Fr. Walter Ciszek. The Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek was a Jesuit priest who volunteered to serve secretly as a priest in Russia. Eventually he was discovered and imprisoned for many years, sent to labor camps and eventually to Siberia. He recalls that for a long time he relied on his own strength, but eventually he reached a point during his interrogations that he finally broke down and signed a false confession, and then the Communists tried to have him sign more agreements and become a “counter-spy.” He writes: “I was given a choice: cooperate or be executed. I had been at this juncture before when I had signed my ‘confession.’ I was powerless to cope with it anymore. . . . In that deadlock grip I was afraid. . . . In fear and trembling I cried out. . . . Suddenly I was consoled and the turmoil calmed as I remembered Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane. His words of total self-surrender, ‘Thy will, not mine, be done,’ steadied my soul. . . . He surrendered and as all self-reliance drained from Him He was lifted up, embraced by His Father. Now the way was clear. Follow Him. Join Him. Alone, I too was powerless but as I let go of my will and fears and surrendered, at that moment, I was set free. I saw clearly what I must do: abandon myself totally to God’s Providence, and I did it. I crossed over, letting go of all control of my life ahead. That one decision has affected every subsequent moment of my life. A wave of confidence and happiness warmed my entire body. I had been to the tomb of death and now I was resurrected in Christ. I was still in prison but not imprisoned by myself. I felt relieved of all responsibility for future outcomes. He leadeth me. . . . I told [my interrogator] that I was willing to do whatever they proposed. I was perfectly relaxed and detached and [he] knew I had changed but didn’t know why. When the document . . . to be a KGB counter-spy was put before me, I looked him in the eye, smiled, and simply refused to sign. By surrendering to God, I had finally won the freedom to say no. . . . God choose Siberia for me, and so did the KGB. So be it.”
This is the trust we must have in God; we need to work, but to trust that He will provide for us. As He says: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
This trust, in turn, should help up to persevere, that is, to keep up the faith despite the difficulties: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Imagine, for a moment, that a sports team was losing a game terribly. However, if someone could look into the future and say, “No, but in the end we win this game! We just have to make a great effort now, and we’ll win! Trust me, our victory is guaranteed!” Imagine how hard the team would try. Something similar can be said of our case: no matter how difficult things seem, the victory belongs to God and to those who are His, that is, to us. We just need to work, and trust in God.
Today, we can ask ourselves how we are living: is the faith we profess the same as the way we live? Are we trusting in God and working out our perseverance? Let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Queen of All Saints, for the grace to live lives that are coherent, and to trust in God so as to receive the greatest gift of all: perseverance.
 Cited in Seamus Dockery, Surrender: Father Walter Ciszek: Jesuit Priest/Soviet Prisoner, 27-28.