“In your patience you shall possess your souls.” by Fr. Sean Davidson, MSE
In speaking of the trials that his disciples will have to face, Jesus proclaims: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” The Vulgate Bible has an unusual translation of this sentence: “In your patience you shall possess your souls.” To secure or possess one’s soul means not to lose one’s soul. The Greek word which we translate as perseverance or patience literally signifies cheerful endurance (hypomone). If we cultivate an attitude of cheerful endurance of all of our sufferings, offering them up for the salvation of the world, then we will surely be blessed with the gift of final perseverance. How hard it is to remain cheerful and how easy it is to yield to the spiritual sickness of discouragement. Only the noblest of souls manage to retain their cheerful sense of humor while they are under fire. As G.K. Chesterton once put it: “It is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” The saints were the sanest of people. Saint Edmond Campion was known for his sense of humor in the face of dangers and trials of every kind. As he made his way back to England, and to the certain fate of the most cruel form of execution which awaited him there, he stopped off to visit Saint Charles Borromeo. Campion was traveling in the disguise of a jewel merchant, so as to be able to enter the country. When St Charles made a remark about how strangely he was dressed, Campion smiled and said: “Oh any old thing will do when you’re off to execution in England.” Jokes and witty remarks about the forms of torture awaiting him were never far from his lips until his dying day. No matter what trials we face we must pray for the grace to remain in a state of cheerful, patient endurance. The cultivation of such an attitude will ensure the safe “possession of our souls.”
The themes of the end times and the judgement to come run through the Scripture readings this Sunday. In his discourse on the end times, Jesus alternates between the impending fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. The former is some kind of mysterious prelude to the latter. As Blessed John Henry Newman once said: it is the custom of our God to always send the shadow before he sends the reality. In the first reading Malachi prophecies about how the coming of Christ will be like a blazing fire. Like many of the prophets he makes no distinction between the first and second coming of the Lord. They are both part of one great mystery designed to purify the world of evil. Jesus came into this world as the “Sun of Justice”, but the full blazing light of his glory has not yet been seen. For now, he slowly heals, refines, and purifies all souls who come to him in faith, but there will come a day when the fire of his justice will fully cleanse the visible and invisible realms of creation. From the Monstrance, the mystical sunlight of his Eucharistic presence gently heals and transforms our souls, so that we will be made ready to stand before him on the Last Day. Were it not for his first merciful coming to bestow the gift of his grace to the world, nobody would have been ready to face his coming for justice.
The idea of the Last Judgment often frightens us, but those who love Christ should not be so terrified by the idea of his coming to rid the universe of wickedness. If we have been cleansed from our guilt by the power of his Blood, which we encounter in the Sacrament of Confession, then we can be at peace with the thought of his second coming. In fact, the psalm this Sunday speaks of the rivers “clapping their hands” and the mountains “shouting for joy” at the coming of the Lord. Another psalm speaks of the trees rejoicing at his coming. Innocent creatures, and creatures who have recovered their innocence, have no need to fear the Creator who loved them into existence. Saint Augustine explains this for us: “Then all the trees of the forest will exult before the face of the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He has come the first time, and he will come again. But I wish you to be without anxiety. He who is without anxiety waits without fear until his Lord comes. For what sort of love of Christ is it to fear his coming? Brothers, do we not have to blush for shame? We love him, yet we fear his coming. Are we really certain that we love him? Or do we love our sins more? Therefore let us hate our sins and love him who will exact punishment for them. He will come whether we wish it or not. Provided he finds you prepared, your ignorance of the time of his coming will not be held against you. All the trees of the forest will exult. He has come the first time, and he will come again to judge the earth; he will find those rejoicing who believed in his first coming. If you wish to receive mercy, be merciful before he comes; forgive whatever has been done against you; give of your abundance. Of whose possessions do you give, if not from his? If you were to give of your own, it would be largesse; but since you give of his, it is restitution. For what do you have, that you have not received? These are the sacrifices most pleasing to God: mercy, humility, praise, peace, charity. Such as these, then, let us bring and, free from fear, we shall await the coming of the judge.”
The truth of the matter is that the One who will come to judge the living, the dead, and the world by fire, is the same One who comes to us each day in the Eucharist. There is no distinction between the Christ of the Blessed Sacrament and the Christ of the Last Judgment. The manifestation of his power at the end of time will shake the very foundations of the world, but the Person manifested will be the same One now hidden upon our altars. If we have done all we can to purify our conscience of dead works, and thus feel that we can approach Him in Holy Communion each day, then we need have no fear of approaching Him on the Last Day. By drawing near to the altar for Communion I am professing my readiness to go to my judgment. Every time I enter the line for Communion, I glimpse a preview of the line to the Throne of Judgment.
I once met a man who spends much time in Eucharistic Adoration. When he began to do this thirty five years ago, his wife said: “Who do you think you are? You go to that chapel and kneel beside all those holy people, but you’re nothing but a sinner!” He replied: “I may be a sinner, but I know that at the Last Judgment, when Jesus sees me coming before Him in that line of sinners, He will say: ‘Here’s one I know, this is my friend… he and I spent much time together’.” In Eucharistic Adoration we befriend the One who will judge our souls and decide our eternal fate. As we look upon the fragile white veil behind which He now hides His Holy Face, we cannot but perceive something of His gentle kindness. Yes, He is our Judge, but He is a Judge who loves us enough to remain with us forever behind the humble appearances of the Host, to expose himself to so much mistreatment and indifference in the Eucharist for love of us. It is no wonder that the votive Mass in honor of the Most Holy Eucharist speaks of this as the Sacrament of God’s “loving kindness.” The Blessed Sacrament is our joy and consolation, because it is the living proof that our Judge is a kindly Judge, that our Judge is also our greatest and most faithful Friend!
Fr Sean Davidson – MSE