When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, 'As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.' They asked him, 'Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?' And he said, 'Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, "I am he!" and, "The time is near!" Do not go after them. 'When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.' Then he said to them, 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 'But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Standing in the temple square in Jerusalem, surrounded by the crowd, Jesus foretells the destruction of this temple and Jerusalem. He also refers to the end of the world but implies that it is a long way off. He foretells persecution and torture for his followers but they will triumph in the end. They will earn eternal life.
The reason why these verses of St. Luke’s gospel were chosen for today’s Mass is that the Church wants us all to do a bit of spiritual stocktaking. As next Sunday will be the special feast day of the Kingship of Christ, today’s Mass is really the last of our liturgical year. We begin our new liturgical year, the First Sunday of Advent, on next Sunday week.
To help us o be honest with ourselves in our stock taking we are reminded today that this world will come to an end one day. We do not know when or how but that end will come. It will be followed immediately by the general judgement. Christ will come in power and glory to judge the whole human race. Each one will receive the sentence he merited while on earth. The just will enter with him into eternal glory. The wicked will go to their place of suffering, sorrow and remorse.
Long before that comes every one of us here present today will already have faced his or her own particular judgment. It is this judgment which will seal our eternal fate. It is on this judgment that we should try to concentrate today. It is to help and encourage us to do just this that the church brings the thought of the end of the world before our minds. The end of this world will come for each one of us when we draw our last breath. How will we stand in God’s sight when that moment comes? An eternity of happiness or grief will depend on our spiritual state at that moment.
The thought of death is a frightening thought for most people. They would rather put it far from their minds, but of all the other things that can possibly happen to them on this earth death is the one and only certainty. It would be utter folly then to try to ignore it or forget it. It is not the moment or the circumstances or the fact itself of death that matters. The vast majority, even of those dying of a slow illness, do not know that they are on the point of death. What matters is the judgment which follows death. How will we fare in that?
Each one of us can put the following simple question to himself/herself this very moment. How would I fare if I were called before the judgment seat of God today? The best of us would certainly prefer to be better prepared. There is so much good I have left undone, so many faults for which I have not atoned properly, so many uncharitable thoughts about my friends and neighbours in my mind, so many acts of charity I kept postponing, so many acts of thanksgiving and praise I have not made to my loving God.
What of those who have even more serious sins on their consciences? Over two hundred thousand people will leave this world between this morning and midnight. If we were called, and we have no guarantee that we will not be called today, could we dare to face our judgment in our present state? The scripture warns us: “Today if you hear God’s voice harden not your heart.” Today you have heard him speak to you. He has reminded you that your end is coming, that you should put your spiritual accounts in order. This is an act of God’s mercy. He does not need you. It is you who need him. Your eternal future will depend on whether you listen to his call today, as tomorrow may be too late. You can put your accounts straight this very day. Why take a risk with your own eternal welfare?
The Christian who wants to die in the state of grace, that is, in the friendship of God has but one way of making sure of this. He is to try to live always in God’s friendship. The man/woman who does did by living his Christian life daily need not fear death. It may be a sudden death, but it will never be an unprovided for death. Amen.