“For days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a rampart about you, and surround you and shut you in on every side, and will dash you to the ground and your children within you, and will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you have not known the time of your visitation.” These stern and foreboding words are taken from St. Luke’s Gospel, used on this ninth Sunday after Pentecost.
They are all too clear in meaning, and serve as a striking reminder of the hatred which the enemies of Christ have for Him and His Church. Indeed, He warns in John’s Gospel that the servant cannot expect better treatment than the master: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20) The passages presented today by Holy Mother Church are not gentle, but are rather a firm teaching of the faith to Her children. She wishes to ensure that Catholics are constantly reminded of the fleeting nature of life, and to be prepared for persecution, rather than be caught unawares.
An athlete prepares constantly for his race, training himself in every aspect that will improve his performance on the day, visualising the course, predicting any obstacles, and steeling himself for them accordingly. He is aware of the pain he must endure in his training, and the pain he will undergo on the race day itself, but because he is desirous of the goal he is able to bear with these hardships. It is likewise in the spiritual life and in the spiritual battle which all are called to partake in by virtue of their baptism, and given the strength to do so by virtue of Confession, Confirmation, and regular Holy Communion. Just as with an athlete’s fitness, a soul is either progressing or regressing in virtue, for one cannot remain stagnant in the pursuit of God. Hence, the Church is not a Church of softness and laxity, but rather, like a good coach, She constantly guides, encourages, and prepares Her children for their trials.
In this way, therefore, the words of today’s Gospel have an import which, while perhaps initially foreboding upon first glance, are important to dwell on. The day will certainly come when the enemies of God, who are the enemies of all His followers, will present themselves around the faithful souls in the Church, “and will dash you to the ground.” Such a thought is not a hypothesis, nor the words of some crazed fear-mongering doomsday prophet. Rather they are the words of Christ, God-Incarnate, who came down to earth to die for man’s sin. They must, as such, be taken seriously.
Indeed, in the same passage, the Redeemer warns against the misuse of the Church. “And He entered the temple, and began to cast out those who were selling and buying in it, saying to them, It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves.”
The admonition which Christ gives to the tradesmen is one which applies in every age also: the Church is a house of prayer. If those inside the Church neglect this aspect, peopling the Church with noise, scandal, desire for money or power, instead of offering true and worthy homage to God, then in truth the very ramparts of the Church which ought to be a defending wall, will seem to be the walls which oppress Her children. The Church is full of sinners and wayward men, yet in Herself is the spotless bride of Christ. Such wayward men will seek to besmirch the spotless garment She wears, tearing down the stones of the Church – “will not leave in you one stone upon another” – out of hatred for God and for His truth.
When this persecution from within is coupled with persecution from the world also, and the protecting walls of a God-centred society are turned into the in-prisoning walls of a satanic-centred society, then the persecution of faithful souls will be most grievous.
In such moments, all might seem lost, the battle over, and resistance of no merit. Yet it is not so. The great act of redemption came about through the terrible passion and death of Christ, and so too the Church must undergo this passion in faithful imitation of Her Spouse. Nor will Her members be left unassisted, for God does not turn His ears away from those who seek Him. We are reminded of this in the words of the Introit: “Behold, God is my helper, the Lord sustains my life. Turn back the evil upon my foes; in Your faithfulness destroy them, O Lord, my protector. O God, by Your name save me, and by Your might deliver me.”
Almost by means of a training plan, the Church also presents on this day also the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in which he outlines the steps necessary for the pursuit of virtue, in order to prepare for the attacks against the faith. The great Apostle warns against the follies and pleasures enjoyed by those amongst the world, in order that faithful souls might wean themselves away from such things, and be drawn only to those which are of God.
“Brethren: We should not lust after evil things even as they lusted. And do not become idolaters, even as some of them were, as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, even as some of them committed fornication, and there fell in one day twenty-three thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents. Neither murmur, as some of them murmured, and perished at the hands of the destroyer.”
St. Paul clearly states how such words are to serve as a warning for those desirous of seeking God, noting that “they were written for our correction, upon whom the final age of the world has come.” He warns against undue pride and presumption, which is a sure path away from the spiritual life: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
But the Apostle also ends with a word of encouragement, reassuring the Church that no matter the trials which God permits to befall us, they are not unconquerable. God ensures that the graces offered to each soul are sufficient to defeat the temptation or trial which the soul is undergoing. This is a great reassurance, for no matter how heavily the stones are torn down around us, God will not permit His Church to be defeated: “May no temptation take hold of you but such as man is equal to. God is faithful and will not permit you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also give you a way out that you may be able to bear it.”
Thus, the Church presents a harsh, but necessary passage from Sacred Scripture, designed to ensure that Her children are presented with the tools to equip themselves in the spiritual battles which they are to face. Like a good coach would for an athlete, the Church