The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, on Sunday, November 17, 2019 at a Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary for Sacred Heart School for the Arts in Louisville, Kentucky on the Ursuline Campus.
So much for the good news of Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Here is some more good news. “The Amazon is burning, storms are raging, islands are drowning, Jakarta is sinking, aquifers are going dry, species are going extinct, land is changing to desert, and places throughout the globe have experienced one of the hottest summers in history; meanwhile, laws meant to protect our planet are being lifted. As more and more people suffer the pain of the desertification of the planet, the lack of food and clean water, the sinking of their cities, the suffering and desperation of migrants, …the pain of grief and lamentation escalates.” So, says Patricia Bergen, writing in a recent issue of the National Catholic Reporter.
As I thought about these passages from scripture and Ms. Bergen’s article, and I remembered why we are gathered here today, I thought there must be some music that could reflect all of this “good news” we have just heard. I asked Dr. Chipe to work with me on this. Listen and see if we feel Jesus’s words in music. Let the art take you into the feelings expressed in this Gospel. (Music played)
Did you feel it? This is exactly what Jesus wanted his disciples to feel. At least one scripture scholar says that Jesus was probably not inside the temple when He engaged his disciples in this conversation, but he was likely seated on a hillside overlooking the temple and this small group was discussing the beauty of the structure. As the disciples were commenting on the beauty of the temple, Jesus just casually says, “Yes, but it will be destroyed.” They knew that other temples had been destroyed and so they were not surprised, but they wanted to know now so they could be ready.
As a matter of fact, Luke wrote this Gospel about 50 years after Jesus made this prophesy. The temple had been destroyed and the people who were reading his writings knew that. For them it was history. But life had gone on. Persecution had begun. By now all of the disciples that knew Jesus personally were dead. People knew that Paul had been dragged before courts and seemed to be able to defend himself by depending on the Holy Spirit to give him words and courage. So, again what Luke’s audience was reading was history. However, they knew of martyrs in their own day. Jesus is telling his men and Luke is telling his readers, if you stand firm, you will win your souls. Not a hair of your head will be destroyed.
And a few verses later, after additional gloom and doom in verses 20-28, Jesus ends by saying, “But stand up straight…hold your head up…your salvation is at hand.” I couldn’t help thinking isn’t it true in our lives, that it is often darkest just before the light seems to come? Isn’t it true that when we think we can’t go on, God sends someone or some grace that helps us get out of the darkness and helps us begin to see the light? You may have experienced it. Again, to quote Patricia Bergen, “Who could ever believe that this pain could be a blessing? And yet it is. When pain sears the core of the heart, when lamentation fills the Earth and outrage cries out from the deep soul of humanity, this can be the fertile ground from which powerful visions emerge. Pain, lamentation and tears can be a blessing, for these reveal the end of being blind and deaf, the end of denial — and this is reason to hope!”
Not long ago, I heard a talk that illustrates this. The speaker told of one of those terrible events of nature that happened not too long ago. Some here remember when Mount St. Helen in Oregon erupted. It was 1980. The speaker said that a friend of hers who lived in Oregon related the absolute devastation of the lava and ash from the volcano. It ran down the side of the mountain killing everything in its path. There was nothing for miles around but grey ash. But once the ash had cooled somewhat, (this was a year or so later) and cracks began to appear in the surface, wildflowers began to come. They bloomed; they came up in the cracks. They added color to the grey ash that was still there. Today these many years later, people come from all over to see the blanket of wildflowers covering the side of that same Mount St. Helen that was covered with ash. Somehow for me these wildflowers reflect Jesus’ words, “Stand up straight, hold your head up…your salvation; your hope is at hand.”
We are moving into a season of hope, the season of Christmas. Pope Francis recently said, “While hope is a virtue that cannot be seen, it should be the air that a Christian breathes.” He called on the world to be open to the promise of hope in Christian life that is kept alive by the “Spirit that works in us.” He goes on to pray and I join him, “May the Lord give us, to all of us, this grace of living in tension, in tension but not through nerves, or problems. No; in tension through the Holy Spirit who keeps us in hope.”
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.
—Luke 21: 12-19