Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious
Reading 1 RV 5:1-10
It had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals.
Then I saw a mighty angel who proclaimed in a loud voice,
“Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth
was able to open the scroll or to examine it.
I shed many tears because no one was found worthy
to open the scroll or to examine it.
One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep.
The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed,
enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne
and the four living creatures and the elders
a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.
He had seven horns and seven eyes;
these are the seven spirits of God sent out into the whole world.
He came and received the scroll from the right hand
of the one who sat on the throne.
When he took it,
the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders
fell down before the Lamb.
Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense,
which are the prayers of the holy ones.
They sang a new hymn:“Worthy are you to receive the scroll
and break open its seals,
for you were slain and with your Blood you purchased for God
those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.
You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 149:1B-2, 3-4, 5-6A AND 9B
Sing to the LORD a new song
of praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion rejoice in their king.
R. The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
Let them praise his name in the festive dance,
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.
R. The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches;
Let the high praises of God be in their throats.
This is the glory of all his faithful. Alleluia.
R. The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
If today you hear his voice,
harden not your hearts.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 19:41-44
As Jesus drew near Jerusalem,
he saw the city and wept over it, saying,
“If this day you only knew what makes for peace–
but now it is hidden from your eyes.
For the days are coming upon you
when your enemies will raise a palisade against you;
they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides.
They will smash you to the ground and your children within you,
and they will not leave one stone upon another within you
because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Commentary on Luke 19:41-44 From Living Space
Jesus is now on the last stage of his mission. He approaches Jerusalem, which will be the scene for the last great act of his life – his passion, death and resurrection. From here too will rise up the new community founded in his name, commissioned to continue the work he had started.
As he approaches the city he weeps over its tragic end. He implies that, if the city had received him as Lord and King, it might not have met the fate that was in store for it. “If only you had known the path to peace this day; but you have completely lost it from view.” The second half of the word ‘Jeru-salem‘ means ‘peace’,shalom. The city had not known the ‘path to peace’, which, of course, was that which led to Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the source of all peace in our lives. And it has hardly known peace since that time, especially where the Jewish people are concerned.
The rest of the passage is a prophecy of what in fact is going to happen to the city. We know that it was besieged by the Emperor Titus in the year 70 AD. However, Jesus’ words are built up from many Old Testament references and seem to refer rather to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC as much, if not more, than that brought about by the Romans. And, as none of the distinctive features of the Roman siege are mentioned, the words seem to date from before that time.
But, of course, it was the Romans who destroyed the city and its huge Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world, was reduced to ruins. The Temple was ransacked and its most precious ornaments, including the seven-branched candlestick, were carried off. All of this is sculpturally recorded in the triumphal Arch of Titus erected in Rome to commemorate his victory and which can be seen in the Forum to this day.
All this will take place, Jesus says, “because you did not recognise the time of your visitation”. So many failed to recognise in Jesus as Messiah God’s coming to visit them and rejected him.
With the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish faith was dealt a serious blow from which it may be said it has never fully recovered. No temple has ever taken its place for it is felt it can only be on the same sacred site in Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the Jews, a mosque stands on the site today and is not likely to be removed. All that is left of Herod’s temple is the Wailing Wall, where Jews go to lament their lost glory.
For us Christians, there is no exclusively holy place, although certain places are of special significance to us. But, as Paul reminds us, each baptised person is a temple of the Spirit and is to act as such and be respected as such. “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them,” Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 18:20).
Such a gathering may be at a solemn papal Mass in the magnificent basilica of St Peter’s in Rome or it may be Christians gathering secretly in prayer in a labour camp in China. It does not matter. It is the closeness to Christ and to each other that matters and not the place.
When we read today’s scripture readings, we can easily empathize with both Mattathias in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel. Both were very much in touch with the situation of their fellow human beings. They knew the problem and they could anticipate what would befall them if they did not change their lives. Unfortunately, their fellow human beings could not see the truth because of their blindness. So how should they best help them to see the reality of their situation so that they can be saved from their catastrophes?
This, too, is also our question today. Very often we see certain situations so clearly. We know, for example, how a man’s relationship with another woman would lead to adultery and cause a break-up with his family. We see how a person who keeps working like a dog, day and night without rest will eventually suffer a break-down, destroying not only his health but his family as well. We see how a person who smokes and drinks heavily will one day cause himself or his loved ones to die of cancer or a car accident. In all these cases, we do not need any special inspiration from God to understand the consequences of such actions. Yet, there are many people who are so blind to such realities until they encounter them; but by then it is often almost too late to regret. So how do we help such people who are so blinded by their own passions and selfish desires? What would be the best way to bring them out of their precarious path to suffering?
The scripture readings present us with two different approaches to dealing with sinners and those who are recalcitrant. In the case of Mattathias, he was so incensed by a fellow Jew who apostatized in offering sacrifice to the pagan gods that he had him killed together with the rest of the King’s commissioners. For Mattathias, he felt that the best way to transform the situation was to use force. And indeed, besides killing his oppressors, he, his children and some others fled into the desert and started a rebel force to fight against the Roman oppressors.
However, in the case of Jesus, we see Him weeping over Jerusalem because the people would not accept His message of truth and peace. This failure to respond to His message would eventually lead them to their own destruction. Indeed, Jesus’ foresightedness came true because Jerusalem was historically destroyed in the year AD 70. But in spite of His certainty that Jerusalem and the people would be destroyed, Jesus did not force the people to accept His message. He could only extend His invitation, feel with them and pray for them. Indeed, He felt very sorry for His people because they could not recognize the visitation of the Lord. He was helpless in love.
What can we say about these two approaches? Although Mattathias meant well for his people, yet, we cannot but detect a certain selfish element in his action. Firstly, he manifested a kind of intolerance towards his weak fellow Jews. He did not feel with them. By killing his fellow Jew, he was simply imposing his will on him and the other Jews. He put fear into their hearts. The danger for Mattathias is that he could become self-righteous and was certainly lacking in compassion and love. Although we need not question his motives and zeal for the House of the Lord by killing the weak Jew who apostatized, regardless of his good intentions, he lacked charity. Perhaps, like many people during his time, they mistook that fidelity to God and zeal for Him would require them even to kill their enemies. Furthermore, He had confused religion with politics even though it is true that both do overlap in many areas. Indeed, he was fighting for the religious freedom of his people, yet we know that at the same time, he confused the need for religious freedom with political freedom as well. But because he was not clear and discerning enough, his zeal, supposedly for the purity of the faith of the Jews, also became a political struggle against the Roman intruders.
Isn’t it true that very often when we help people we do have selfish motives as well? On the surface we want to help people, but it is also because we have something to gain from it. For example, parents want their children to do well in their studies and often they have to pressurize or nag them into disciplining themselves. In itself, it is a noble thing to do. But quite often when we examine our deeper motives for forcing them to study hard, under the pretext that we want them to do very well in their exams for their own good, we are also thinking of our interests. We want them to do well not simply for themselves but also for our glory and perhaps we even see them as our investments for our old age. Indeed, whatever we do in life, we tend to confuse our love for people and love for self. For this reason, very often, we are intolerant of people who refuse to change even when they have been told of their mistakes. Most anger is always the result of some self-centered needs that are not fulfilled.
But the way of Jesus is so different. One thing is certain, Jesus was weeping over Jerusalem not for Himself but for the people. He was not weeping for Himself; that He would soon have to suffer a miserable death in the hands of His enemies. He wept because He knew His time was near and that He would die soon and if His message was not heeded by the people, they would have missed the opportunity of life that God was offering them. He wept for them in compassion and love. Indeed, it is because Jesus had no selfish motives in helping them that He was not at all angry for their lack of response. Instead, He felt very much with them. He felt sorry for them. But He did not feel the need to force people into conversion. He did not threaten them. No, His way is that of love, compassion and understanding.
Yes, the way of Jesus is the way of God. This is the heart of God’s love. His love for us is unconditional and free. He is free in loving us. God knows that the only way to really win us over is not through force and compulsion but by love and understanding. He knows that once He wins our hearts over in love, then we will come to understand the truth as well. Christianity does not advocate violence of any sort, even in the struggle against religious freedom and social justice. The way of the gospel is one of compassion, forgiveness and tolerance. If we lack patience and tolerance for those who are weak in faith or even compassion for the enemies of our faith, it is because we are also lacking in love. It is this lack of love that blinds us to the truth. But with love in our hearts, our minds will be open to the truth and we will see the situation in perspective. This is particularly true even when we have misunderstandings with people. We are so fixated in our views that we are no longer open to the views of others, thereby feeling that we are the victims of injustice when sometimes we could be the very ones who are acting unjustly.
Indeed, we see this so clearly in our spiritual life as well. Many people do not wish to read the scriptures or deepen their faith nor even come to Church. No matter how much we try to reason with them, they simply have no taste for the spiritual. But when they have been touched by the love of God, they suddenly feel the urge to read the scriptures more, to pray more and to grow in understanding of their faith. Only through an experience of God’s love and compassion, will people then come to search for the truth.
What is true in our relationship with God is also true in our relationship with our fellow human beings. Even though we know that they are in the wrong and we have the truth, we cannot force truth on others. We must first win them over by love, through patient dialogue and understanding. Gradually, when they realize that we truly love them and are ready to hear them out in love and truth, they will one day begin to open their minds to what we are saying also. Yes, the only way to the mind is first through the heart, for the heart knows and understands what the mind cannot know. Only one language, in the final analysis, can speak to all; it is the language of love, not the language of truth. Truth can be understood only through love. This is undoubtedly a more difficult and long way to help a person to come to his senses and come to the truth. But it is definitely more effective and enduring as well.
But to be able to love people freely and patiently, we certainly need to cultivate the heart and mind of Jesus. We need to be filled with the love and compassion of Jesus. Unless we ourselves experience the love and compassion of Jesus ourselves, we cannot give that compassion to others. And the truth is that when we reflect on our own lives, we will realize that God has always treated us in such a way. He has always been patient, forgiving and understanding towards us whenever we turned against Him and His ways. For this reason we need to pray and meditate. Only through prayer and contemplation will we come to experience the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus. With this experience, we will find that we will also be able to love others with the love and compassion that Jesus has for us. In this way, not only can we truly help others to find the truth and therefore find God also, but we also help ourselves to live in love and in the truth.
Above: By the way of Jesus…
John 10:1, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. Did you understand that? Anyone who attempts to enter into Heaven by human effort (works, sacraments, goodness, religious devotion, et cetera) is a THIEF and a ROBBER (because you’re trying to get into Heaven without going through the door. John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” Jesus was asked if few people are going to Heaven. Jesus replied that MANY will seek to enter into Heaven, but only a few will be allowed.
We can feel with Jesus when He shed tears over Jerusalem. He came with a message of peace but the people did not understand. In His infused knowledge, we could see the impending disaster that would befall the city unless the people changed from being revolutionaries to peacemakers. Indeed, this prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans overran the city leaving many dead. Many died of hunger as the city was under siege. In their desperate desire to regain political power, they did not foresee the consequences for their citizens. It led to mass massacres and innocent deaths. Indeed, often political leaders do not weigh carefully the sufferings to the masses and their peoples when they take up arms for battle.
How tragic the words of Jesus when He said, all this happened “because you did not recognize your opportunity when God offered it!” This is true in our daily life. How often have we felt helpless when those whom we advised refused to take heed of our counsel or even premonition! We see our loved ones living an unhealthy lifestyle, eating, drinking and smoking excessively. We know they are overweight and it would be a matter of time before they suffer a stroke or a heart attack. But in spite of our reminders, they could not be bothered till it is too late. Another case in point is gambling. We see someone addicted to gambling. We try to dissuade and encourage the person to cease such activities. But the gambler of course would not admit that he has an addiction. He would tell lies and try to cover up his tracks. He starts to borrow money and then when he runs of resources and his debts begin to mount and the money lenders start to hound him, he starts to cheat, steal and commit criminal breach of trust.
Indeed, there are many stories of people who would not take heed of our advice. It could be asking our children to study hard for their exams. It could be someone who is coping with too much stress at work, more than he could handle. It could be someone becoming addicted to drink and drugs. We know from past experience the consequences for not breaking free from our bondages or a careless lifestyle. We might not have the infused knowledge of Jesus but we would have foresight gained from hindsight. We give advice and often our messages fall on deaf ears. At times, those who hear our advice get offended, become defensive and even attack us for trying to help them. They just want to follow their will and their desires.
Unfortunately, they will have to pay the price for their folly. Sadly, that is how people learn. They need to be brought low and be brought down before they could rise again. Only when a smoker gets cancer, would he then stop smoking. Only when a drunk driver has killed someone, would he then realize how important it is to drive safely and when he is sober. But by then, not only do they suffer for their recklessness but worst of all, their loved ones who are innocent have to bear and shoulder their sins. Their families are destroyed. Their lives are wrecked. They have lost their security. From then on, there is no peace at home. And then we start to regret. “If only I recognized the signs that were warning me already, this would not have happened.” But it is too late to regret because what has been done cannot be undone. Because of our selfishness, pride, self-will, we have hurt not just ourselves but our loved ones deeply.
For this reason, today, in the first reading, we are invited to come to Jesus, the Lamb of God sacrificed for us. Only He can break the seven seals of the scroll and reveal to us our future and our destiny. Only Christ can reveal to us what is to come. Only He can reveal to us the mysteries of life. Jesus who has seven eyes and seven spirits means that He is omniscient. Only He knows the mysteries and the Hidden Plan of God. By coming to Jesus, the Word of God, we can be enlightened in the truth and be convicted of our sins. Otherwise, we live in darkness and confusion.
Jesus is not only the revealer of history and our future. He is also our strength and our fortress. He is called the Lion of Judah. He is the One with the seven horns. Seven stands for perfection. Not only has He absolute knowledge, He has absolute power over His enemies. If we face any trials and difficulties, Jesus as the Lion and with seven horns will ensure victory for us. What we need is the inner strength that comes from God if we are to remain steadfast in times of opposition. He can give us the power to break from our bondages if we are ready to submit our will to the Lord. Indeed, on our own strength we cannot do many things, especially forgiving our enemies, those who have hurt us and all forms of obsessions and addictions.
He has shown Himself to be victorious over evil, sin and death by the fact that He was sacrificed. Indeed, it was His sacrifice on the cross that made Him worthy to open the scroll of life and death. “You are worthy to take the scroll and break the seals of it, because you were sacrificed, and with your blood you bought men for God of every race, language, people and nation and made them a line of kings and priests to serve our God and to rule the world.” With the cross and the resurrection of Christ, He demonstrated to us that nothing is impossible to overcome, not even sin, falsehood and hatred.
Most of all, Christ has “made us a line of kings and priests to serve our God.” Christ wants to share His power with us. We too are made kings in Christ. We are given the power of self-control. To be a king is to learn to manage ourselves before we can manage others. As kings, we are called to govern and to be responsible for those under our care. But we need to allow Christ to rule our lives. To be priest, means that we have direct access to God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike in the Old Testament, where only priests could have access to the sanctuary of God, for Christians, we are the Temple of God and His sanctuary. We are called to worship Him like the saints in heaven, singing praises to God. We read what the saints do in heaven. “The four animals prostrated themselves before him and with them the twenty-four elders; each one of them was holding a harp and had a golden bowl full of incense made of the prayers of the saints. They sang a new hymn …”
So today, let us not miss out on the grace of God given to us. His grace comes to us in many ways each day. His message comes through our friends, a phone call, an email, an SMS or through a movie or a TV drama that we watch. Most of all, His grace comes to us through prayer and contemplation. Let us listen for the voice of the Lord and enter in His peace. (cf Ps 85:8) Only when we obey His word, can we find life. Again the letter of Hebrews warns us, “And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” (Heb 3:18f)
Stopped At The Gates of Heaven
What does it take to enter heaven? Would a bag of M&Ms make the difference, if offered at just the right time?
When you stand by the pearly gates of heaven and St. Peter decides your fate, does he check out your posse too? When you want to head out onto the big back loops of Sugarbush, should you be stopped by the beginners you’re skiing with?
I took my sister’s family cross country skiing this weekend at the North Shore’s famous Sugarbush trail system. Helen had skied a lot in high school but her urban art and architecture career has kept her off the ski trails. None of her boys (husband and two preteens) had ever XC skied.
The Sugarbush trails at Britton Peak start with three perfect beginner loops. From the last of these, Piece of Cake, some of my most favorite ski trails take off. But before we even got to Piece of Cake, the younger cousin had demonstrated his love for falling in the bottomless snow enough times to tire even himself out.
The Homestead Loop starts with the big bomber downhill of Bridge Loop. That’s where our group stopped. My oldest son skied to the lip of the big hill to check it out. I had a BIG bag of M&Ms at the ready.
I chatted and schemed a bit. I had a bag of candy for rewards or bribes. Maybe the better skiers could just take the first bit of Bridge Loop around and catch up with the crowd on the way back. The cousins were ready to turn the corner, stay on the easy trails and loop back to the car. I was ready to go go go.
In the end, we all stuck together. I stood at the gates of heaven and I turned away.
They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But what if you had the chance to love again, to ski that trail one more time…but cannot? Is that better?
Of course it is better…we were out on a gorgeous day on a great ski trail. We had a great time. The Sugarbush trails worked their magic.
But next time I stand at the gates of heaven, I’m going straight through them. Maybe St. Peter would like some M&Ms.
Tags: and they will not leave one stone upon another within you, Anyone who attempts to enter into Heaven by human effort is a THIEF and a ROBBER, His grace comes to us through prayer and contemplation, I am the door -- by me if any man enter in he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture, innocent deaths, Jesus replied that MANY will seek to enter into Heaven but only a few will be allowed, listen for the voice of the Lord and enter in His peace., Lk 19:41-44, massacres, November 17 2016, Prayer and Meditation, Ps 85:8, Psalm 149, rv 5:1-10, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, sufferings, The narrow door, The narrow gate, the scroll with seven seals