Mal 3:19-20a; 2 Th 3:7-12; Lk 21:5-19
Six years ago on September 11 a major calamity occurred in New York when two airlines were deliberately rammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, leading to the complete collapse of that arrogant and seemingly invincible symbol of American wealth and power. The darkness at noon produced by the pall of dust and debris was only an external sign of the gloom that filled millions of hearts all over the United States and abroad. There was discouragement, darkness, desolation and despair everywhere. Many people even felt that the end of the world was near.
Something similar happened 2000 years ago when the Temple Jerusalem was destroyed. The Temple was the symbol, source and the seal of security, strength and solace of the Jewish people. All their patriotic fervour, their spiritual power, their psychological enthusiasm and their sociological bondedness was concentrated in the Temple. Their very existence as a people, their survival as a race depended on the Temple. The ups and downs in the history of the Jewish people were marked by the ups and downs in the history of the Temple. When the nation prospered, the Temple flourished. When the nation was on decline the Temple fell into ruins. The Jewish history was marked by such repeated ups and downs. Israel was repeatedly invaded, led into exile and subjected to slavery. Each time the Temple was desecrated, destroyed and decimated. Again and again the exiles came back and began to rebuild their lives and their country. Each time the work of restoration, reform and rebuilding began with the reconstruction of the Temple.
However, the destruction of the Temple was never as complete as in A.D 70 when the Jews revolted against the Roman rule and the Romans wreaked vengeance with overwhelming violence and brutality laying to ruins everything in Palestine with special focus on the Temple where no stone was allowed to stand on a stone.
This was a terrible calamity for the Jewish People of whom the little Christian community was an integral part. Therefore the widespread and profound sense of fear, terror, horror, loathing, disgust, anger, anxiety, insecurity, desolation and despair that this cataclysmic event produced among the Jews was also experienced intensely by the Christians, and this is reflected in the so-called “apocalyptic” portions of the Gospels which were still in the process of formation in those terrible days of chaos and confusion, conflict and upheaval, violence and vengeance.
As it always happens in such disastrous times, people harked back to their one source of strength and solace, Jesus, and recalled His words of warning and counsel. Jesus had spoken at different times and in different contexts about the persecutions that His followers would have to endure; of the natural disasters they would have to face; of the wars and violence they would have to suffer from; of the almost certain destruction of the Temple and the nation; and also of the final dissolution of the universe and the Last Judgement. When the little community of believers in Palestine faced persecution, hatred, violence, destruction and ruin, culminating in the terrible ruin visited upon them by the avenging Romans they felt the very pillars of the universe shaking and thought the end of the world was near.
But, a careful reading of the Gospel tells us that it was not the intention of Jesus either to foretell the end of the world or to announce the imminent destruction of the Temple. Jesus did not want to instill fear, create anxiety and warn people of doom and disaster. Rather, the main purpose of Jesus was to give a positive message that no matter how dark the situation, how great the destruction and how terrible the violence, there is always hope in the deepest despair; there is joy in the darkest desolation; there is life in the dreaded death; there is love in the worst possible hatred. There is hope because God is present with His love and care in the most terrible of human situations. Therefore even in the midst of the most unbearable sufferings and pain we need to hold on in hope born of an unshakable faith in God’s love, God’s goodness and God’s care. When everything around us seems to be crumbling down to dust; when the thickest possible darkness seems to envelop us; when despair fills our souls; we need to remember that God is there; that God is in control; that God will never leave us; God will never forget us; God will never abandon us. “Though the mountains and hills may crumble down to dust, my love will never come to an end.”
And so, the message we carry away from to-day’s liturgy is a message of hope; a message patient endurance; a message of absolute trust in Divine Providence. And so we pray; “Keep me in the hollow of your hand. Keep me in the circle of your love; Keep me in the centre of your heart.” That indeed is the main theme of to-day’s opening prayer: “Father in heaven, ever-living source of all that is good, help us to drink of your truth and expand our hearts with the joy of your promises, so that we may serve you in faith and love and know forever the joy of your presence.” This is the joy we are called to sing in the Responsorial Psalm because “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice and fairness.” Therefore in the words of John Paul II who gave a passionate call to the world in 1978 at the inaugural of his universal ministry; “HAVE NO FEAR! OPEN THE DOORS WIDE TO THE REDEEMER.”