Christ is not a Corpse by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "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."
Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen"? He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in may name, saying, "I am he,' and 'The time has come.' Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
"Before all this happens, 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. It will lead to your giving testimony. 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. 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, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."
We are often tempted to seek heaven on earth. Such a fault usually begins innocently enough among those inflamed with love for Christ. Their enthusiastic proclamation of the Gospel necessarily continues with zeal for Christian action. The social teaching of the Church at the service of the Gospel does reveal the splendor of an authentically Christian way of life. But with the business of apostolic endeavors in feeding the poor and promoting Christian justice, it is all too easy to be distracted by human success and to take our eyes off the source of our success, Jesus Christ. We are easily reduced to fixating on the wok of our hands in a vain search for success based on our efforts alone.
In the Gospel this week the people are fixated on the work of their hand. In the presence of Christ, they are preoccupied with "how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings." The response of Christ suggests their interest in misplaced, implying they have lost their sense of God's presence. They needed to be reminded that the costly stones and votive offerings had a lone purpose: the glory of God, not the glory of man.
Christ's words are ominous as He comments on their misplaced affection: "All thet you see here - the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down." Describing the tribulations, He warns further: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. Before all this happens, 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."
As the Church understands these words throughout the centuries, the end times will some day be upon us. The world will come to an end, and the end will be preceded by a terrible persecution. But in a sense, every generation lives in its own "end times." The persecutions of the early Church in part fulfilled this prophecy of Christ. In our own way, we all will experience our own "final confrontation" with evil in partial fulfillment of the prophecy. The warnings of Christ are chilling and possibly discouraging. With the promise of persecution, what is the meaning of worldly success? If the forces of evil effectively punish good deeds, why bother at all with apostolic works of charity?
Certainly, earthly powers conspire against Christ and His Church with great "success." Recently an influential American billionaire investor said it would be easy to solve today's problems in urban education. His solution? "Make private (read, "Catholic") schools illegal, and assign every child to a public school by random lottery." This year the city government of San Francisco lambasted the Vatican as "meddl(ing)" and "insult(ing)" for reaffirming its teaching against adoption by homosexual couples, and urged Church officials to disobey the teaching authority of the Church. Any discouragement Catholics face can be reinforced by what appear to be insurmountable edifices of human power.
Secularists measure success in self-aggrandizement and dollar signs. From their point of view, followers of Christ seem to be on the losing team. But Catholics (and many non-Catholics of goodwill) are confident in the demands of Christian truth. Christians define success as living up - or struggling to live up - to the truth of Christ. Only when we recognize our absolute dependence on Christ dare we beg the Lord to grant "success to the work of our hands." (Psalm 90) Fidelity is the condition of authentic success. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, we are called to be faithful to the Lord. Our success, in human and material terms, is merely the result of divine favor.
If we do indeed suffer persecution for Christ, we can rejoice because the words of Christ are fulfilled in us: "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:18-20)
Cause to worry? Not really. Christ is not a corpse nor is He an artifact of history. He is risen. He consoles us with His divine presence and sustains us in our apostolic zeal in a promise that is truly liberating: "Remember, you are not to prepare your defense before, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. .... You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."
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