Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Be not deceived!

Today's readings for Mass include the gospel reading taken from the gospel according to St. Luke. It begins simple enough, with people in the temple speaking, probably idle chit chat between pilgrims who were visiting Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. They were commenting on its ornate appearance. Jesus speaks up and directs their attention away from the outward appearance of the temple and tells them that all that they see there will eventually disappear, and the temple will be no more. This must have come as a surprise to the people gathered there, for Herod's Temple was enormous, and from what I have read must have been a sight to behold, so naturally they would have asked Jesus, "WHEN?! AND WHAT SIGNS WILL WARN US OF THE IMPENDING DOOM?!" Jesus' response is quite interesting: "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.' Do not follow them!" So many people think they are privvy to secret knowledge of the time of the end, but Jesus himself admonishes us to beware of such people and to certainly not follow them. How many times have I heard people say, "It's a sign of the times," or "The Lord is coming in my lifetime." The truth is, Jesus answers those people in the next verses: “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.” In other words, the "signs of the times" are present in every generation and are not unique to the end. Life will be going on as is usual on planet earth.

What are we to make of all of this? The message I perceive is simple enough. First of all, the notion that Herod's Temple would come to an end is not especially prophetic, although in reality it was destroyed by the Romans in the sack of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. The truth is, we humans are caught up in the grandeur and majesty of the things that we create. This in and of itself is not a bad thing as long as we realize that they are not everlasting. Every building, road, bridge, tower, etc. made by human hands will fall prey to decay with time, so Christ admonishes us to keep this in mind. Next, when Jesus speaks of nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom, he is telling us that human empires will come to a similar end. We only have to look at Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome to see that every empire comes to an end. Not one of the empires that existed in the Mediterranean at the time Jesus lived is extant today. And yes, even the good old USA will one day be a relic in the history books.

So, what exactly is Jesus getting at? I think he is telling us that our focus should not be on the things around us that are here today and gone tomorrow. On the contrary, our focus should be on things eternal, i.e. God. We should not become focused on the grandeur of a gothic cathedral or the beauty of a religious icon, rather we should allow that grandeur and beauty to be a window to the eternal, something that lifts our focus away from the intricacies of the art itself to the awe of the Almighty. He even makes the point that we should not concern ourselves with the end times for even this will take our focus away from God, who is eternal and will lead us on the right path regardless of the events which lead to the end. All of this brings us fickle human beings back to the wise words of Christ, "See that you not be deceived" by the passing world, but keep your eye on the Lord.

On another note, today is the memorial of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, and since I am a musician active in service to the Church, I will close my blog with this invocation for her prayers:

St. Cecilia, pray for us that we make music in our hearts to God and manifest our love for Him in our daily deeds. Amen.


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