Early on living in Rome I learned always to close doors so they latched and to block or latch windows, often the tall, vertical kind that meet in the middle. Why? Because when the wind is blowing, by opening a door in one area, the air flow changes, and – BAM! – a door or window slams elsewhere, sometimes very hard indeed. You learn to take proper steps so that you aren’t shocked out of your socks. In any event, this common experience of life in Italy led to a proverb which I’ll get to later for dramatic effect.
Last week for the Last Sunday of the liturgical year with the Vetus Ordo, the traditional Roman Rite, we heard Christ’s prophecy in the Gospel of Matthew of the destruction of Jerusalem mixed through with apocalyptic images of the Coming, the Greek Parousia, the Latin Adventus, of the Son of Man. Christ was not just a Davidic King and Priest. He was a Prophet. Therefore, it makes sense that He at times would use hyperbolic imagery. But there was nothing hyperbolic about what Christ said about Jerusalem, at least in literal terms. If anything, He was restrained. The Lord spoke also about the end of the world. It would be, in 40 years, the “end of the world” in a sense of traditional Judaism and the old covenant. The Romans nearly completely destroyed the Temple, the only place for sacrifice in their universe. Not only that, the Temple itself was a microcosm of the whole cosmos with its terrestrial plant decorations, its large bronze purification vessel called the “ocean” and the way into the Holy of Holies decorated with stars and heavenly constellations. Their macro and micro cosmos was obliterated with unfathomable brutality by the Romans a scant 40 years, a biblical generation, after the Ascension of the Lord.
This week in our Gospel in the Vetus Ordo we hear a parallel passage from Luke 21, which includes again the day of visitation, the Coming, with dire signs and portents which we are admonished earnestly by the Son of God to heed. Once more, in this parallel to the passage in Matthew 24, the immediate focus is that Rome is coming. What they will see will cause men to “faint with fear and with foreboding”. Indeed, the Romans crucified over 500 Jews a day, according to the Jewish historian and general Josephus, who also wrote that for a month before disaster struck there was a sword shaped red comet in the heavens. A sword looks like a cross, of course. The dire events of 70 AD are intertwined with language about the Second Coming. Hence, we too shall see signs that will make us fearful and anxious to the point that it’ll seem we can no longer bear it.
If the Jews saw their Temple as their cosmos, we Christians sense our Church as being also our whole world, paradoxically in the world and for the world but against the world and not of the world. There are dire signs in the Church and in the world. In Matthew 24, mostly about the destruction of Jerusalem in 40 years, the Lord told His sign-readers to get out of Dodge. Drop everything. Don’t look back. If you are working the field, don’t even turn around to grab your jacket. If you are on the rooftop, don’t go inside to get your iPhone. Leave or die. By contrast, our Mass pericope from Luke 21 emphasizes the Second Coming. Rather than say for us to head for the hills in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says,
“when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28)
“Raise your heads…”
We shall never the leave the Church, even if it seems that all is coming to an end, that the Church is leaving us.
When people are sharply surprised, their instinct is to become smaller. We duck our heads and crouch, reel back.
We have been admonished by the Lord Himself. “Raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
“Look up”, to Heaven, not down to the earthly. “Raise your heads”, don’t slouch as one defeated.
If the Lord had to go through His Passion for His and our ultimate Resurrection, then His Church will have her Passion. The Church is not greater than her Spouse and Lord. Her members are not exempt from the times and the trial and the signs of the times, whatever they may be. “Look up.”
As this new liturgical year begins, and I start a new series of Sunday reflections at the invitation of One Peter Five, what I would have you take aways is this.
It seems like the winds of change and even the winds of war are blowing through the Church. And as Samwise Gamgee said, “It’s an ill wind as blows nobody any good ….”
Now for the Italian proverb: “Chiusa una porta, si apre un portone”. When a door shuts, a bigger door opens.
One thing after another is swirling and going stark raving nuts in the Church, faster and faster. It seems like BAM – BAM – BAM through the house! Is it a surprise? Open a window to let the air in and there will be consequences through the whole place.
When the signs heap up, when they suddenly come – BAM! – do not cower, do not crouch, do not make yourself smaller. “Raise your heads.”
Redemption was at hand in baptism, is at hand in the confessional, and is personally present in the Eucharist. No matter what the producers of wind do in the Church to shake her or transmogrify her into something she will never ever be – I cite now the Lord – “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”. No matter how many doors they slam in our faces, we will not flinch if surprised, flounder if tossed overboard, or flag when we are heaped with unjust burdens.
Greater doors will open.
At the start of a new liturgical year of salvation, thus sayeth the Lord: “Raise your heads.”