“By patient endurance you will save your lives.”
Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 RV 15:1-4
seven angels with the seven last plagues,
for through them God’s fury is accomplished.Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire.
On the sea of glass were standing those
who had won the victory over the beast
and its image and the number that signified its name.
They were holding God’s harps,
and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God,
and the song of the Lamb:“Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 7-8, 9
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to rule the earth;
He will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.
R. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord, mighty God!
Alleluia RV 2:10C
Remain faithful until death,
and I will give you the crown of life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 21:12-19
Jesus said to the crowd:
“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.”
Twice in the book of Revelation, John mentions a “sea of glass” near the throne of God. John does not elaborate much about what this sea of glass actually is. Is it water that looks like glass? Is it smooth or rough like broken glass? Does it move like the waves of the sea, or is it stationary? As we know it, the sea is a dynamic, moving force, but “glass” gives the impression of stillness. How can a sea be made of glass? What is John talking about?
Revelation 4:6 says, “Before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” And Revelation 15:2says, “I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire.” In neither verse does John say that he saw a literal sea of glass; rather, he says, “There was as it were a sea of glass” and “I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass.” The words of comparison make a big difference. It is one thing to say you were struck by lightning; it is quite another thing to say you feel as if you were struck by lightning.
Apparently, what John saw was impossible to describe – it was so different from anything he had seen that he was compelled to describe it using a contradictory statement. Expressing the inexpressible may demand an oxymoron. Whatever John saw, it obviously had qualities both of the sea and of glass. Perhaps it had the sea’s motion and expanse and glass’s transparency and purity. Add to that the words “crystal” and “mingled with fire,” and chances are that John was trying to convey the vivid brilliance, vast expanse, and lucid purity of what he saw.
Daniel’s vision of four beasts. Ezekiel’s vision of wheels with eyes. John’s vision of a sea of crystalline glass. Any time the prophets described visions of the spiritual world, they were forced to use metaphorical language, and that can be confusing. Finite human language cannot fully describe infinite things. The human mind is too limited to apprehend all the realities of the spiritual realm. But we have this confidence: the prophets and apostles wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the words they chose are the best possible communication. Daniel, Ezekiel, and John faithfully described what they saw, and we must faithfully attempt to “decode” their descriptions. For now, we see “through a glass darkly,” and, to a certain degree, the “sea of glass” and other heavenly verities will remain mysteries – until we see them for ourselves with glorified eyes and minds.
Recommended Resource: Heaven by Randy Alcorn
Commentary on Luke 21:12-19 from Living Space
Jesus continues his warnings, but now mainly to his own disciples. He foretells experiences and happenings which will be soon realised in the Acts of the Apostles, not to mention in the subsequent history of the Church through the centuries, not excluding our own.
Jesus speaks of abuse and persecution. “They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons…” The term ‘hand over’ is a theme word occurring again and again in the New Testament. John the Baptist was handed over to Herod who put him in prison and then executed him. Jesus himself is handed over first to the leaders of his own people and then into the hands of the Romans who would execute him. And now Jesus tells his disciples that they, too, can expect to be ‘handed over’ and to be dragged before civil and religious courts and “all because of my name”.
Many of the early Christians came in conflict with Jewish communities and were ‘handed over’ to synagogues. Synagogues were not only prayer halls and places to learn the Scriptures but also for civil administration and as places of confinement while awaiting trial.
The charges may be civil or criminal but the real reason will be that the accused are followers of Christ. (China, for example, always insists that the arrest of religious people is because of their violation of civil and criminal laws and not because of their religious affiliation.) As such Christians become objects of fear and hatred, their ideas seen as threatening and even subversive.
But, says Jesus, they are not themselves to fear or be anxious. When the time comes, they will know what to do and what to say. He will tell them what to say and how to answer. A promise that has been vindicated again and again. The really sad thing is that those betraying them to the authorities will often be members of their own household – “parents, brothers, relatives and ‘friends’”. Again, this prophecy sadly has been realised all too often.
“All will hate you because of me.” This is strange and, in a way, makes no sense. Jesus who preached truth, love, freedom, peace, justice and non-violence becomes, in his followers, the object of lies, hatred, imprisonment and torture, division, injustice and the most terrible violence.
“Yet not a hair of your head will be harmed.” Not a phrase to be taken literally because many suffer terribly in their bodies but there is an inner integrity and wholeness that nothing can destroy.
“By patient endurance you will save your lives.” That is, by going through all that our enemies can throw at us we come out at the end people who are whole and complete and who can lift our heads up high. One thinks of, in our own time, Bishop Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maximilian Kolbe and many others. Their memories are treasured and become an inspiration to all of us.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe
Let us pray that we may have the courage to be true to our Christian values whatever the cost. Let us not be surprised that our faith and our religion can create such anger and such hostility. At the same time, we reach out continually in truth and love to dissipate the unjustified fears that our beliefs can engender in others.
We are a threat to false values but we must try hard to help people see where real truth and goodness lie. And we do that by seeking for that in our own lives.
Father Jacques Hamel was killed in his church while saying Mass, July 26, 2016. Martyrs are still with us today.
Francois Murad, a Catholic priest, was kidnapped and beheaded by jihadist fighters in Syria, June 2013
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the last catholic Bishop of Saigon before the Communists took over, kneeling while praying in prison
The way of the world is to promise us the sky and all the pleasures of life that satisfy our ego and the flesh. Indeed, the world entices us to what are pleasurable: food, sex, glory, power and comfort. They assure us of security in this world. But that precisely is the way Satan also tempts us. Just like in the temptation of Jesus, he promises us glory, wealth and power. But one thing the world and Satan does not tell us is the fullness of the truth. Satan is called the Father of lies. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:4) The devil deludes us into believing that we can be happy and fulfilled by living a sensual and self-centered life. On the contrary, one who lives a life of selfishness, self-centeredness filled with pride, anger and envy, enslaved by gluttony, greed, lust and sloth cannot be happy or be fulfilled.
Sometimes, even the Church in some ways is like this. We invite non-believers to be baptized. We tell them all about the benefits of being a Christian but we do not warn them about the trials ahead of them. So they get baptized and then come to realize that the Church is not so perfect after all, that there are so many difficult and wounded people in Church. Those who are involved in Church ministry know how challenging it is to get the members to work together. Sad to say, we see division, competition, backbiting and politics fought in the spiritual world as well, just like in the corporate world. So too sometimes in the promotion of priestly and religious vocations, the joys of the religious vocation is presented but they never tell you the truth about the demands, the sacrifices, the trials in the ministry, the struggles of living a life of celibacy, poverty, obedience and loneliness even in community life. Then when these people are ordained or professed, they get a rude awakening to the reality of the imperfections of priests and religious.
But Jesus tells us the truth, plainly and bluntly. He does not simply show us the crown but the thorns as well. He is candid to the point of being blunt. He told the disciples in the gospel, “Men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name.” In another place, He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24f)
Indeed, we will be persecuted, rejected and ostracized when we become the disciples of the Lord. There will be times when the rulers and the authorities cannot stand our guts for speaking the truth, especially when there is injustice and oppression. There will be situations when in speaking for the marginalized or the truth, we will be persecuted and threatened even with our lives. In some cases, even family members ostracize us because we have chosen Christ over the family’s religion. Most surprising of all, even the Christian community persecutes us when we seek to do the right thing in Church or in our organization because their vested interests are compromised. So from within and without we will face the trials and sufferings of being a Christian; the trials that Jesus went through in His ministry, passion and death.
But Jesus also reassures us that our sufferings will not be in vain. The challenges of life are meant to be seen as “your opportunity to bear witness.” Negatively, they may seem to be obstacles but in truth, they are grace moments to reveal to others the love and mercy of God. Hence, we should not be too disillusioned or troubled when we face the trials of the apostolate. Rather, we must thank God and deal with these oppositions creatively and proactively so that we can bring good out of evil, truth out of falsehood, love out of hatred, and life out of death.
Most of all, Jesus also assures us of His divine assistance. He said, “Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.” We are not alone in our struggles to be faithful to Christ. He will send us the Holy Spirit to give us the courage and the strength to endure all our trials. The Lord never asks us to do something without supplying us the necessary talents or graces to accomplish them. The Lord assures us of a definite victory over sin and death.
Indeed, when we look at the history of the Church, particularly the primitive Church, this was what the Lord did. The apostles and disciples of Jesus were very much persecuted, especially in the first 300 years of existence until the conversion of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. Until then, Christianity was outlawed as a religion. Initially, the Christians were persecuted by the Jews and then the Romans. Yet, as we read in the first reading, many Christians chose martyrdom over their lives. They chose Christ before their families. Such was the courageous display of fidelity to the gospel even unto death.
The irony we read in the book of Revelation is that their death is their victory. By dying for Christ, they won victory over death. “Standing by the lake of glass, those who had fought against the beast and won, and against his statue and the number which is his name”, the martyrs witnessed the destruction of their enemies who were judged and condemned. Those who opposed the Lord were thrown down into the glass lake of fire. It is a symbol of punishment. They on their part were repeating the triumphant song of Moses that the Israelites sang when they defeated the Egyptians who were in pursuit of them. “They all had harps from God, and they were singing the hymn of Moses, the servant of God, and of the Lamb: ‘How great and wonderful are all your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are all your ways, King of nations.’”
Yet in their rejoicing, no one claimed any credit. The victory was not due to their strength but the power and might of God. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory, for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness!” (Ps 115:1) The psalmist says, “Sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders. His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation.” On the contrary, they were absorbed in the praise of God, rejoicing in His wonderful love and power. “Who would not revere and praise your name, O Lord? You alone are holy, and all the pagans will come and adore you for the many acts of justice you have shown.” Contemplating on His justice and the salvation God had won for them, they were filled with great joy and gratitude.
Truly, this is what heaven is like when everyone is focused on giving glory and praise to God and no longer thinking of himself or herself. Heaven is to see God face to face and consists of perfect praise and thanksgiving. When man rests in God, his heart is at peace, for no creature and nothing on earth can satisfy the heart of man save for the love of God. Only in contemplating His glory, is our intellect quenched and satisfied. This accounts for why the things of this world are always passing and the happiness cannot be sustained. But what outlasts the pleasures of life is love, everlasting love. With the joy of God in our hearts, we will share with each other the joys of Christ. And all will rejoice with each other so that in sharing and rejoicing together, our joys and happiness increases.
In the light of what is ahead of us, we must therefore endure the trials of life. We must think of the blessed life waiting for us when we will finally fulfill all our desires. We should not fear death but if we live a good life, death is the gateway to fullness of life. We should be happy for our loved ones who returned to the Lord for they are now rejoicing forever in praise and thanksgiving to God. It is they who have already won the victory but we are the ones that are still struggling. But Jesus promised us, “Your endurance will win you your lives.”
Want to be a saint?
Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.
“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he thought maybe he wanted to be a good Catholic.
Lax stopped him in his tracks.
“What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”
Merton was dumbfounded.
“How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.
Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”…
Thomas Merton knew his friend was right.
Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century.
His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself — and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.
But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.
Many of Nguyễn Văn Thuận letters, prayers and sermons have been preserved and published — most are available at fine bookstores and from Amazon.
Road of Hope — The Spiritual Journey of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan
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