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The end or the beginning?

Gospel Commentary LK 21:5-19

Today’s Gospel is both grim and hopeful. It is about something far deeper than cosmic collapse. Jesus gives us three powerful truths on which to reflect as we approach the end of one church year and the start of another.

The first truth arises from the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple must have been a stunning sight. The stones from which it was built are estimated to have weighed between 10 and 40 tons. They were carved so precisely that no mortar was needed to keep them in place.

The section of the Temple that is visited today (the so-called “Wailing Wall”) is not even part of the original Temple, but a section of the western side of the outer Temple courtyard, a huge gathering space before people entered the Temple itself. It must have been a wonder to behold. Yet, Jesus says that this magnificent Temple will be destroyed.

In fact, it is not only physical structures such as the Temple that eventually collapse but the political structures we create that will collapse as well.

Consider the empires that have come and gone: the Roman Empire, the British, the Spanish, the Ottoman, the French, the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine, the Russian, the Persian, the Japanese, the German empire or Reich, the Mongol, the Austro-Hungarian and many more. Human history is a huge graveyard of extinct empires. They all had their day in the sun and then went into decline either by conquest or decay.

The church has been witness to all this. An empire that has endured is what has been called, “the empire of souls” or the communion of saints. This is the Kingdom of God and His Church. This spiritual kingdom will endure. The powers of the earth rise and fall. Only the Kingdom of God lasts.

The second point the Lord teaches us is that conflict, tension, conquest and persecution will be part of the human life and of the church’s story throughout time. In fact, history teaches us that peace is not the usual state of affairs. War is. Whether that war is political, military, commercial or ideological, it is not an exception to human life. War will be with us until the end of history. Enduring peace will come not from political negotiations but only from God. God’s peace is a peace that the world cannot give.

The third point the Lord makes is that by faithful perseverance to the Gospel and our union with Christ, we will be saved because we are part of the Kingdom of God.

Empires come and go. Leaders come and go. Political philosophies come and go. What remains is the empire of souls, founded on the death and Resurrection of Christ.

We can then understand Malachi’s prophecy in today’s first reading. The final conflict, the ultimate purification will come in God’s good time and with it will also come final healing (the “sun with its healing rays”). That is why the early Christians looked to Christ’s return not as a time of terror but of final redemption, healing and peaceful repose. The Lord’s return is not the end but the beginning of perpetual peace.

St. Paul insists, however, that we are not to sit back, fold our hands and wait for the Lord to return to do the heavy lifting. Rather, we are to do what Jesus commanded us to do, to preach the Gospel and to bring people into the Kingdom of God. The work of the church and of every parish in her is not to sit back and await the end. The church is not meant to be a waiting room. Rather, it is the headquarters of the work of expanding the reach and population of Christ’s empire of souls. Each of us is called to be part of that expansion and reach.

Christ’s “empire of souls” is the one empire that will last forever. We call it the “communion of saints and life everlasting.”

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016