signs of the times
33rd Sunday In Ordinary Time – Year C
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: November 17, 2019
Where is God? Seems like a simple question, one we might find in a children’s catechism. Where is God? But it is an important question for reflection. Our basic Catholic Faith would answer, God is everywhere. There is no place we can go that is away from God. When we come to this church, we do not come here because we believe that God is here but not at my home or where I work or where I study.
It is for this reason that the Church at Vatican Council II called us to “read the signs of the times in the light of the gospel.” We need to read the signs of the times. That is not easy to do, it is not always clear. It means that being Catholic, being in the Church, is not an escape from the world. We cannot avoid the world.
In fact, as Catholics, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to be in the heart of the world, in the midst of the world. Just as our God entered the heart of our world, entered our human history coming among us in Jesus. So, we need to watch, to reflect on what is happening in our world. What is God doing in our world, how are we called to join what God is doing?
Today’s Gospel gives us a few hints about how we are to go about reading the signs of the times as Christians.
First, we see Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. This was the centre for the Jewish Faith. The place for their sacrifices, seemingly essential for their worship of God. It was a beautiful Temple, full of beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. The people are discussing its beauty with great pride. Perhaps like we might be talking as we walk through St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Jesus tells them, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another,…” In fact, about 40 years later his prediction comes true. In 70 AD the Ro-mans attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. The Temple was completely destroyed. 2000 years later there is nothing left of the Temple in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount except for part of one outer wall which we call the Wailing or Western wall.
Jesus is forcing them and us to focus on what is truly important, what has enduring value. Our faith in God must not be placed in temporary worldly things, even things seemingly so important as the Temple or our own churches today. Our own church buildings here at Corpus Christi and Our Lady of Lourdes have been around for about 60 years. How important do they seem to some of you who have been here since they began?
Jesus is reminding us that a building, a human institution, is not where our faith should be placed. God is beyond all of these and not dependent on them. We need to find God at work in the world. Our church buildings are important places to open our eyes to recog-nize God already at work in the world. In our homes, our places of work, our schools. Key question in reading the signs of the times is “What is truly important, what has enduring value?
Second, Jesus encourages not to give in to fear when we experience many terrible things in the world. When faced with wars, insurrections, persecutions, betrayals, he says “do not be terrified”. Many challenges we will face in this life, but in the end “not a hair of your head will perish.” In other words, do not give in to fear, do not be ruled by fear. If we are to read the signs of the times in a good way, we must not be ruled or guided by fear.
There are always religious leaders and political leaders who will try to use fear to control people. Often leading to unhealthy extremism both in politics and religion. Fear is a terrible guide. When we are looking at the signs of the times, to see where God is at work, if our primary influence is fear, then we should examine this very carefully. Fear does not help us to see very clearly where God is truly at work.
Third, Jesus does not give us some false comfort that everything is going to be easy and comfortable. He tells us that there will be suffering before these days really appear. And why will there be suffering? Because we have to be transformed. But, being transformed does not happen easily. Changing is hard, changing from anger, from hatred, from fear, this is difficult.
When someone is in really bad shape, changing that and becoming fit is difficult. Some suffering involved. Starting to work out, to change how I eat, this is a struggle. Being transformed by God into that new being called by Christ, is far more difficult. It is a hard path. The cost of such transformation, especially when we are rooted in anger or fear. Changing this is a difficult path to take.
Where is God? The Church calls us to “read the signs of the times in the light of the gospel.” To find God at work in our world, in our lives. Three things important to do this well.
First, focus on what is truly important, what is of enduring value? Do not be dependent on temporary things that exist such as a church building. God is not locked in a church but at work in the world.
Second, do not give in or be directed by fear. Fear is a bad guide and leads us away from what God is doing.
Third, be ready that joining in what God is doing in the world will be difficult. It will be costly and include some suffering to be transformed into people who are working in un-ion with God.
Reading the “signs of the times” is a call to reflect deeply on the events unfolding before our eyes and to respond to them out of mature faith. Only in this way will we be able to join God at work in our world.