Fr. Paul's Homily
Things do happen that shake us to the core; when we might lose all sense of direction, hope and meaning.
“Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” said the voice over the radio. It was the voice of David Johnston from his monitoring station on the North flank of Mount St. Helens. It was May 18, 1980. What Johnston had witnessed, as he called in his warning, was the largest landslide in recorded history. A magnitude 5.1 earthquake had caused a wave of earth and ice to rush down the side of Mount St. Helens at 150 mph. By the time it petered out, the landslide had entombed 24 square miles of forest.
This landside in effect left the mountain which contained a volcano with no cap. Without a cap of earth to keep it sealed under pressure, Mount St. Helens then exploded, sending a 100 story high mixture of ash, magma, rocks and sand spreading a path of destruction 10 miles wide as it plowed down valleys and over ridges at speeds near 700 mph. There were 57 fatalities that day--including David Johnston. Neither he nor his trailer was ever found, both presumably hurtled into the next valley and buried in debris. (1) Such destruction as the eruption of Mount St. Helens produced was unthinkable . . . until it happened. But it did happen as the unthinkable so often does.
The unthinkable does happen at times. Recently, one of our parishioners underwent surgery for a back problem; a few days later she was almost completely blind. Now she is trying to cope. Sometimes things happen which shake us to the core. What do we do, where do we go? Our Gospel is about the end times and the unthinkable happening…let’s talk about this.
We are near the end of Mark’s Gospel, right before he enters into the Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday narrative. He has just witnessed the giving by the poor widow, two small coins into the Temple Treasury, praising her for her generosity. The Apostles, total miss the point (as they often did) and speak about how magnificent the Temple building was. Jesus responds to the apostles by prophesizing that the day will come when one stone will not be left on top of another stone of the Temple (a prophecy fulfilled in 70 A.D. by the Romans). Jesus continues to speak about the end times, saying, “In those days, after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.”
As modern people, we think of the Universe and its vastness, with planets, stars and galaxies. But for the ancient Israelites of Jesus’ day, they would have been thinking of the fourth day of creation when God created all the lights…the sun, the moon and the stars, so that they would “shed light upon the earth.” Have you ever thought about what it would be like if there were no lights and we were forced to live in total and complete darkness. What would we do? Can you imagine how totally our lives would be turned upside down, leaving us without a clear sense of how to function in the world. Without light, we would lose much of our bearing.
Jesus is warning the disciples that the time is coming when they will have no clue about where to go or what to do. Everything they have ever held onto will fall apart; there will be nothing left to guide them. This would be experienced by the disciples at the crucifixion when all would be taken from them.
Has there been a time in your life when devastation hit and your life lost its direction or meaning. I think of the young pastor on the north side of Indianapolis whose 29 year old, pregnant wife was killed in a robbery. Can you imagine how his life must feel like “the sun is darkened and the moon will give no light.”
So what do we do in the midst of our devastation or our loss of all light and direction? The Gospel says, “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” In the image given to us in the scriptures, when the end arrives and all darkness fills the earth, then Christ will become the source of all glory and power. Chris is our Light. The End Times devastation moves us beyond this world; beyond the securities of personal wealth or strengths, to a source of strength and glory that cannot be devastated; cannot be destroyed; cannot be in darkness…Jesus the Christ.
We are called to practice the Final Days. What do I mean? Each of us will go through very difficult times in our lives when we will lose our bearing and it will seem like the “sun has darkened and the moon will give no light.” Each time this happens, we are called to “practice” turning to the Lord. When you lose your job, lose your spouse, lose your children; when you hear the cancer word or find yourself in the midst of tragedy, where do you turn? Can you imagine what mothers and fathers, husbands and wives are doing now in Parish, France, following the attacks on Friday where over 120 people were killed? Do we cry out to the Lord, knowing that he is the only source that is eternal? Do we practice trusting in the Lord.
When we are truly hurting in our hearts, we turn to those who are closest to us, who will understand. The same is true with God. When we are truly hurting, if we have come to know the love and power of God, we will turn to him and seek him out.
Suffering never leaves us alone. But suffering leaves us with a choice: do we turn to God or do we turn to despair, bitterness, the bottle or the drug of choice?
Sometimes we wonder when the End will be. We frequently see people who are predicting the end. When Jesus was asked this question, his response was, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels I heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It might be tomorrow or it might be 10,000 years from now. No one knows. We should not live in fear, but we should live in expectation and with vigilance. Jesus warned against those who grow lax and ignore what they should do.
But anticipation of the End Times should not be a source of fear, but of God’s promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. Even if the entire world would pass away, God will still be with us.
Allow me to end with a story about Charlton Heston when he was filming the movie, “Ben Hur”. Heston practiced for weeks to learn how to drive a team of horses behind a chariot. It was the most exciting scene in the movie, one that we all remember.
After several weeks of practice Charlton Heston went to the director and said, “I think I can drive the chariot all right but I’m not at all sure I can actually win the race.” The director responded, “You just stay in the race and I’ll make sure you win.” Maybe that is Christ’s message to us today, “You just stay in the race and I’ll make sure you win.” No one knows what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future. God holds the future and we are God’s children. Do not be afraid.